Title: A Price To Be Paid
Word count: ~107,300
Characters: Belle, Rumplestiltskin, minor appearances from Maurice, Gaston, Regina, and sundry original characters.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognise from 'Once Upon A Time' does not belong to me.
"Did you get what you needed?" Belle asks wearily, leaning heavily against the stone pillars as she makes her way down the main staircase. Rumplestiltskin is standing in the entrance hall below, his back to her, but he turns at the sound of her voice.
"You," he says accusingly, "are meant to be sleeping." He drops the cloak he's holding, lets it fall onto the table set in the middle of the hall, and moves with quick steps to stand at the bottom of the stairs, his hands held out for her.
"I couldn't," Belle says, and she reaches the final step, takes his hands and tries to smile at him. "I felt sick again," she admits, and he frowns, so deeply concerned for her. She's been so ill, with this pregnancy, struggling to eat and struggling even more to keep anything in her stomach. She's not sleeping well either, and she's growing exhausted from the need to rest and eat. He thinks it's because of his nature, his magic. He looks at her with guilt, sometimes, and she hates it. Belle's not so convinced about it, after exchanging letters with Laura, but she wouldn't like his guilt even if it were true.
"Some tea, perhaps," Rumplestiltskin says, and Belle smiles, manages to nod her head, although she's not enthusiastic about the prospect. The tea made from a particular kind of herbs is the only thing that seems to soothe her nausea, although she thinks it won't be long before she's sick of the taste of it.
Rumplestiltskin sighs, glances her over, his gaze lingering for a moment at the round curve of her belly. His concern melts into a smile then, secretive and pleased, and as always Belle feels a surge of fondness for him, for the private pleasure he gains from seeing her growing fat with his child.
"Did you get what you needed?" she asks him again, and the pleasure is dispelled; he smirks, self-satisfied in the extreme.
"Indeed," he says. "Poor Prince James was so desperate to find his lost love." He bares teeth, a malicious grin, but Belle is used to his glee, his malice, and is no longer afraid of him when he looks like this. "True love," he scoffs. "Well, it will serve my purpose, anyway. If he finds Snow White in time."
"You know he will," Belle rebukes him. "You've planned this all so carefully." He nods his head, his gaze focused elsewhere, and she wonders what he's thinking about – whether it's Snow White and her prince occupying his thoughts, or his son, the eventual goal of all his plans. "Why do you scorn them?" she asks him. "True love is the most powerful magic. You've said it yourself."
"Yes, indeed," he says, almost snapping at her but not quite, stopping short of impatience, but Belle frowns, disliking it. "They're children," he adds, a little softer, focusing his attention back on her. "And far too naïve. But they are…necessary."
"James is older than me," Belle points out, and Rumplestiltskin grimaces, as if he dislikes comparing her to the prince whose cloak he has just acquired. "Well, it's true," Belle says, smiling at him. "If he's a child, what am I?"
"You are my wife," he says, scowling up at her. There is nothing Belle can say to that, and she looks down at their joined hands, still smiling, for she's pleased by the finality of his words, by the way he says it, as if there is nothing more important. "I got what I needed," he says. "And now I must – ah, but no. Tea."
"No, no," Belle protests. "I wouldn't keep you from your work."
"It can wait an hour," Rumplestiltskin says mildly. "You, on the other hand, look close to fainting." He giggles, and Belle rolls her eyes a little. "That wouldn't do at all," he says. "The great Rumplestiltskin, neglecting his wife? It wouldn't do, dearie."
"I'm not going to faint," Belle says, shaking her head at him. She is exhausted, but not feeling faint at all. She's hardly the fainting kind, anyway, and she's had to leave off wearing corsets, the usual cause of women's fainting fits. "Tea," she adds, "would be lovely. If you're sure your work can wait." She leans down, presses a kiss to his forehead. "But I'm not going to faint," she says, and he chuckles, releases her hands so he can press one of his to her stomach.
"I should hope not," he says, distracted now by whatever he feels beneath his hand. "She's restless," he murmurs. Belle smiles widely, delighted as always by him saying such things, and she covers his hand with hers.
"No wonder," she says, "with such a father. You," she enlarges when he lifts an eyebrow enquiringly, "hardly ever stand still."
"And you," he returns, "are clumsy. It's to be hoped our daughter won't inherit that." Belle laughs, shakes her head at him, and then takes his offered arm to descend down the last step. "Tea, then," he says. "And you'll try to eat, hm?"
"I will try," Belle promises, obedient to his wish, although she's not sure what there is in the larder to tempt her with, not when so much makes her feel so wretchedly sick. She lets him lead her across the hall, and he pauses for a moment at the table to make sure the cloak isn't at risk of falling. He treats it as if it's precious, and Belle knows it is; she knows that with the hair he'll find on it, he can create what he's been trying to create for many long years.
"Not long, now," she says softly.
"No," he says. "No, not long now."
I owe a great debt of thanks to my beta-readers, ice_elf and pinkfairy727, as well as Laligin, who read it as well. Pinkfairy727 in particular has been invaluable throughout the process, which started all the way back in March and continued through to mid-August :)
I begin with a premise and an interest in how Belle went from being afraid to comfortable with Rumplestiltskin, something we didn't see on the show itself. I went with the idea that, in the pseudo-historical setting we see, wives were meant to be subordinate to their husbands and that Belle would assume, and would have been taught, that she must be so to her own husband, even if that husband is Rumplestiltskin. I wanted to try to explore how a different relationship with Rumplestiltskin, from the beginning, might alter the way Belle reacts to him. To examine how Belle might become bold and brave within that context, because 'do the brave thing, and bravery might follow' doesn't necessarily imply that she has always been as brave as she becomes. I wanted to look at how she might grow and change within a marriage, for better or for worse, and what might happen to make her truly unafraid of him. To explore how her relationship with him makes her brave, as I believe happened in the show. He enables her to become who she was meant to be, not who her society has always forced her to be. She is brave because of him, not despite him.
By doing so (however successfully or not!) I have shown a different Belle to the one we see and love in the show. But that's the joy of AU fics: they take the characters we love and explore how they would react and grow in situations other than the ones we're given in TV shows, books and movies.
A few of you have mentioned similarities to A Bed of Thorns. I can only say again that any similarities beyond the premise are completely coincidental and unintentional.
Thank you to everyone who's taken the time to read, and particularly those of you who have reviewed (even those of you who have reviewed unsigned, and asked questions or raised points to which I have therefore been unable to reply :P). Some of you have really, really understood what I've been trying to do, and I'm glad about that :)