A/N: Some days ago I took prompts in rumblr, some of them I filled and some I'm still shamefully working on. One of the prompts, from vivacioustavernwench, touched upon an idea I wanted to explore so much I decided to make it into a "short story" (so, around 5,000 words).

Since everyone was so supportive of it I wrote it in one go. Now I'll focus on Nurturing so it will be ready before Season 2 airs.

Original Prompt: AU. Belle becomes the fiercest queen in all the realms. Rumplestiltskin is her open secret paramour.

Summary: As Snow White and her Charming finish "taking back the kingdom" they seek the alliance of the Queen of the Frontlands, who holds power beyond anyone's wildest dreams in the form of her devoted servant and ill-concealed lover, the Dark One.

Rating: NC-17… Hi, have you met me?

Let me know what you think! I love this idea to pieces.

They didn't know what to expect when they were "cordially invited" to the court of Queen Belle, ruler of the Frontlands. They'd heard all the stories, and knew all the gossip, but it was difficult to distinguish myth and slander from truth. Still they accepted the invitation. After all they needed as many allies as they could get.

Snow and James marched in together, in their best finery, she in white and he in burgundy. The throne room was a large affair done predominantly in golds, reds and silvers, with high ceilings and marble floors. There aisle that led to the throne was wide, the few courtiers standing in the shadows behind magnificent pillars, staring, faint whispers following them till they came to bow before the figure sitting in the ornate, gilded throne.

She was pale and petite, smaller than Snow was. Her hair was a rich brown, loosely curled and mostly cascading down her shoulders in free waves. Her dress was a deep blue, strapless and corset-less, the empire waist giving way to layers upon layers of fragile, transparent fabric that pooled around her feet like water. Even in her current sitting position it was quite obvious the gown had a long train, but it was very plain compared to what Snow herself was wearing. The dress could be considered insultingly simple to receive royalty if it weren't for all the gold draped around her. Her necklace was composed of dozens and dozens of gold threads interwoven, delicate by themselves but strong when joined together. It was a thing of beauty, as was the woman wearing it, and it was difficult not to stare at it. Her arms were wrapped in all sorts of bangles, slave bracelets and armlets, locks of her hair braided with strands of the metal, glinting from her hair like hidden treasures. She wore a rather modest crown, leaves and tiny bell-like flowers woven together, the craftsmanship exquisite, looking quite realistic in spite of being made of pure, fluid gold woven into her curls. The gold was not only a luxury that indicated her station but also the reminder of just why she was so revered across the land. That gold had once been straw.

The woman herself had beautiful blue eyes, lips painted a dark red and a serene, not unwelcoming expression on her face. She looked no older than either of them, though some said she was, and watched them with as much interest as they watched her. She responded to their curtsies with a respectful nod of the head and smiled as she welcomed them to her court.

"We're honoured, Your Majesty, that you've agreed to receive us personally," Snow commented, her grip on court politics far better than James, a former peasant masquerading as his deceased twin.

"It was with hope and tentative happiness that we've followed your struggles to claim both your thrones," the Queen said, her voice accented "Neither King George nor Queen Regina have ever been our cup of tea and we in the Frontlands feel nothing but relief to hear news that they no longer control the neighbouring kingdoms. Though we imagine the Evil Queen will continue to create problems, your coronations will hopefully cement the peace we've longed for."

Her lips lifted into a small smile, her hands, folded properly on her lap, caressing the leather binding of a rather old-looking book. Charming allowed himself to relax, feeling his love do the same beside him. It was clear that Queen Belle was honest in her eagerness to see them assume control of their respective kingdoms and presented herself as an ally to them against those who might seek to undermine them. And there was really no more powerful ally than she who sat in the throne of the kingdom of the Frontlands, the narrow strip of land that stood between the Enchanted Forest and the dark domains of the ogres.

"Your support means everything to us, Majesty," Snow White's voice was an interesting mix between respectful and commanding. In a few days she'd be crowned Queen of a large kingdom, a merging of her own realm and that of her husband, which made her and Queen Belle equals. Showing her respect was important, but submission would send the wrong message and could be equally dangerous.

"As it does your coronations," the brunette replied. A murmur rose inside the room, faint at first but increasing in volume. From the shadows cast by one of the many pillars inside the throne room a figure emerged, cloaked in a plain peasant cloak, the design and appearance quite plain but the fabric luxurious if one took the time to look closer. A pair of golden eyes glowed from beneath the cowl, quickly scanning the room, lingering for a moment over the pair of royals to then direct their attention to the throne, and the woman in it.

Both Snow and Charming knew who he was. Once upon a time called the Dark One, a being of incredible powers and great wickedness, he had been sudbdued some years ago by some sort of trance or spell that had forced him into service to the woman who now acted as Queen of the Frontlands, a title she had gained with his help. Once he begun to do her biding, bringing entire armies down on their knees for her and forcing the foulest creatures to retreat at her command they had begun to call him Beast, an overgrown lapdog that jumped at his master's command.

He did not seem to aknowledge anyone in the room, not even Snow and Charming, who had to move out of the way before he knocked them both to the floor. He knelt down a few feet from the throne with a hint of flourish and an enviable grace.

"My Beauty," he greeted, voice full of something deep and strangely yearning. Queen Belle tilted her head to a side and lifted an arm, stretching it in his direction.

"My Beast," she replied, warm and welcoming, the same strange sort of simmering longing in her tone "Come to me,"

The cloaked figure let out a sort of strangled giggle before quickly crossing the distance between them, climbing the few steps towards where the queen sat and falling to his knees at her feet, looking up at her with adoration.

"My mistress," he sighed, as if the mere sight of her soothed some sort of pain inside of him "Your most humble servant seeks your benediction."

She smiled at him, the very picture of kindness and mercy except for something dark and heady that glinted in her eyes, that showed in the way her hands carded through his hair, drawing his hood back, nails scratching his scalp as he hissed in utter bliss.

"Have you done as you were bid?" she crooned close to his ear but loud enough for everyone to hear. A wicked smile crossed his face.

"As always, mistress," he replied, giggling again, his voice high-pitched and mocking "Those slave-traders will never even think to settle around these parts again or incur your wrath ever again."

The Queen beamed down at him, looking utterly radiant and infinitely pleased. She settled one hand beneath his chin as the other caressed the side of his face.

"You've done good, Beast," she praised him, using the hand on his chin to draw his face closer to hers "It certainly deserves a token of our esteem."

The Queen bent her head, her curls partially obscuring everyone's view as she bestowed an open-mouthed kiss into the eager lips of the monster in front of her. He seemed not only to expect it but to crave it, prolonging it even as his mistress drew back, stretching up to keep his mouth locked with hers as long as possible. He didn't touch her anywhere other than her lips, keeping his clawed hands to himself. When it was over he stood up and quickly moved to kneel on the side of the throne, his mouth next to the Queen's left ear as his eyes looked at the new arrivals.

"And what do we have here, mistress?" he asked, as if he was completely giddy with the prospect of visitors "Perhaps another tiring suitor I could dispose of?"

His golden eyes, faintly glowing, focused on the soon-to-be King "James" just as his hands settled around the throne, one falling on the left armrest and the other the back, their grip on the gold possessive and faintly threatening. The Queen didn't seem to mind, lifting a hand to gently pet his hair.

"Not this time, thankfully," she replied "These are the new King and Queen of the lands formerly under the rule of King George and Queen Regina. They've come to secure an alliance with our own little patch of land."

"Smart," he commented, tilting his head and closing his eyes in appreciation for the gentle scratches of his mistress's nails against his sensitive scalp "Though it was foolish to let them both live, in my opinion. It'd have been quite fun to hear tales of the Bitch Queen's demise."

Queen Belle tugged on a lock of hair at the back of his neck, chiding him for his inappropriate words. Rumplestiltskin shivered, the faint ghost of a smile crossing his face. Both Snow and Charming tried to look everywhere but at the imp. They'd heard the tales, and the gossip but still the reality of it shocked them both.

"We decided that we would not begin our respective reigns with spilling royal blood," Snow White felt compelled to state serenely, looking really like quite the queen herself. The imp snorted, which earned him a swat on the back of his head by his mistress. He glared at Snow before moving closer towards his queen, nuzzling her bare shoulder apologetically till she relented and went back to petting him, this time caressing his neck with the soft pads of her fingers.

"A commendable choice, Majesties," the brunette queen's voice reverberated across the room without her having to even raise it "Though I'm afraid my beast has a point. You must be on the alert. Neither former royal will ever accept their downfall easily."

She spoke wisely but it was quite difficult for both royals to pay attention to her words when they could clearly see the Dark one trace one of his claws up and down his mistress's left arm, drawing patterns on the exposed skin and toying idly with some of the gold bracelets, taking time to slip beneath them to properly caress the underside of her wrist. The Queen closed her eyes, resting her head against the back of the throne before she pulled her arm away from the trickster's grasp.

"Later, pet," she whispered, perfectly composed save for her slightly laboured breathing and a look of… something in her eyes. He withdrew his fingers and stood up, going behind the throne to sulk in the shadows, his glowing eyes focused on the pair of visitors, particularly the former peasant. He seemed content to stand and observe, never making a move to interfere, until something else seem to catch his attention, a blank look covering his eyes for a second or two before he breathed out sharply. The Queen immediately stopped talking, beckoning with a quick gesture of his hand for him to move back to his former spot by her side.

"What is it?" she asked, faint concern marring her features.

"Not much, mistress," he was quick to assure her "Just a band of former soldiers to the good King George intent on plundering one of the villages near the South border. We've dealt with them in two separate occasions already."

There was something akin to glee in his voice as he said the last sentence and it unsettled both Snow and Charming.

"I see," Queen Belle sighed, running her fingers through her servant's hair before tugging him closer "You know what must be done, then."

"Third time's the charm," there was something bordering on obscene in the way the imp smiled at his mistress "I'll do only as you desire."

She tilted her head to a side, her mouth so close to that of the creature they shared the same breath between them. Her lips curved into a languid smile and her eyes glittered, holding the trickster's complete attention. She leaned forward, pressing a kiss against the monster's forehead in a sort of blessing, a gesture both loving and sinful.

"End them, my pet."

There was a loud giggle, a cloud of purple smoke and, suddenly, the imp was gone, his voice still floating in the air.

"As you wish."

They retired soon after, Snow and Charming being led to a luxurious set of rooms, a combination of the same simple yet impressive architectural design and opulent touches of gold and marble. Two ladies maids, one from her own household and another provided by Queen Belle came to assist Snow out of her complicated dress and into her nightclothes, and one was braiding her hair just as a commotion was heard outside, in the hallway just outside their door. James made to go investigate and his wife followed, unwilling to leave her husband alone in the strange castle where people screamed bloody murder at midnight. There they saw the beast, the clothes he had been wearing before drenched in blood, as was his hair and most of his skin. He was glancing around at the handful of courtiers and servants still out and about, staring at him with wide eyes, no one daring to move.

"What's the meaning of this?" James asked out loud, positioning himself between the monster and his wife. The imp barely spared a glance at him and the king was about to ask again when the Queen herself appeared, a diaphanous royal blue dressing gown open around her rather simple linen shift, her hair down and most of her golden jewellery missing.

"It's just my servant, King James, coming to report to me. How did things go?"

The trickster executed a rather elaborate bow before straightening, a giggle escaping his smiling lips.

"It was a beautiful slaughter," he replied, the glee in his voice palpable. When he grinned James caught a glimpse of blood on his teeth. The queen looked him up and down, frowning at his appearance and gently approached him, a hand brushing against his cheek.

"Is any of this blood yours, my pet?"

He turned his head to nuzzle against her palm while he kept his eyes fixed on hers.

"They put up a fight, but they only nicked me a few times, mistress. Just a few cuts."

Belle frowned, clearly not dismissing his injuries as he did.

"And the soldiers? Are they all gone?"

The Dark One laughed maniacally, nodding and clapping his hands together.

"Strung them up by their innards, my Beauty. Made pretty little tree ornaments of them, so their brothers in arms will know better than come looking for what isn't theirs to take."

Beneath the veneer of man there was nothing but monster, a feral creature masquerading as a person. But his words, far from upsetting the young Queen, made her smile.

"That's my beast," she smiled fondly before taking a step back and turning to address one of her own Ladies-in-Waiting "Draw a bath in his quarters, will you? This blood needs to come out."

Both the maids behind her curtsied and rushed out and James could swear the imp's whole face brightened up.

"Come, pet," the queen called to him, turning to follow the maids.

"Is… Is the queen going to bathe the beast herself?" Snow whispered to the maid provided to her, her voice laden with disbelief. The girl nodded, escorting the foreign queen back to her room.

"He'll snap at anyone else that approaches him, your Majesty. Only the Queen can manage him most of the time."

Snow nodded distractedly, taking care to turn the key on the lock of the door as soon as the servant girls were out of the room. It'd be a long, difficult night, even snuggled up against her Charming.

A few rooms away the two maids tasked with filling a large claw-foot tub with hot water finished their work, hurrying to scurry away from the Beast's lair. It was a large room, stone walls and floors. Up against the corner was a bed, practical instead of ornamental, made out of solid oak and covered all in furs. Against another corner there was a makeshift alchemist's laboratory and a small library. The third corner was reserved for a spinning wheel near the fireplace, and the rest of the gigantic room was left bare save for the three windows. The room had two doors, one that led to the hallway and another that served as a connection to the Queen's chambers.

They'd placed the tub in the centre, with a stool on one end, a glass bowl, a simple bar of soap and a cloth on one side and some linens and a shift on the other. As soon as the maids retired Rumplestiltskin entered, discarding the blood-soaked cloak he was wearing and tossing it to a corner of the room, knowing it'd be picked up early in the morning to be disposed of. He did the same with his tunic and leather trousers, lamenting to see the boots go. He had other pairs, but those were worn-in and comfortable. Maybe if he asked really nicely his mistress would let him use magic to clean them so they wouldn't be thrown with the rest of the ruined garments.

Naked and reeking of sweat and blood Rumplestiltskin quickly got into the rather large tub, hissing in pain and pleasure as the hot water made contact with his golden skin, some of the cuts in his skin oozing blood already. He could easily take care of them with a simple bit of magic but if he did he wouldn't have the pleasure of having his mistress worry over them later, which he enjoyed quite a lot. He made no move to grasp the bar of soap or the cloth, simply choosing to make himself comfortable leaning against the ceramic of the tub, his arms anchoring him firmly in place with half his torso out of the murky, whitish water, full of oils meant to soothe the muscles and speed the healing process. He rested his head against the edge, relaxing for the first time ever since those royals had come to the palace to steal his beauty's attention with their petty requests and problems.

He had begun to tire of waiting when he heard the sound of a door creaking open and soon he felt the heat of a body directly behind him. His Queen perched on the stool at the head of the tub in nothing but her shift, a flimsy linen number with a collar too wide that tended to leave a shoulder bare and long, loose sleeves she rolled up. Out of the corner of an eye he saw her grab the glass bowl and dip it into the water, pouring the contents into his face and hair. She placed the bowl back down and ran her hands through his hair and down his face, brushing across his neck to reach his shoulders, where she kneaded the muscles, prompting a groan from the beast.

"You're filthy," she whispered against his ear, half-chiding and half amused. Her fingernails worked their way up again, ending up tracing endless patterns against his scalp.

"'m sorry, mistress," the beast hissed, arching his back when she scraped a sensitive spot right over his nape. She let go of his head to lather her hands with the coarse soap, grabbing fistfuls of hair to start washing it with slow, rhythmic movements. He readjusted inside the tub so he could lean his upper body against her front, practically snuggling against her.

"Never mind. I like pampering you every now and then."

A silly smile crossed his lips before he shut them tight as the Queen rinsed the soap off his hair with the aid of the bowl, managing to get most of the front of her shift wet in the process. She moved her attention to his ears, cheeks and neck, making sure to pass the soapy cloth in her hand over each crevice and hidden spot. She bent down to do his shoulders properly, her balance precarious.

"You'll fall, my beauty, if you keep that up," he murmured, turning his head to nuzzle against her chest, a strange sort of rumble emanating from him. His arms went to grip her calves gently, lifting first one leg to dip it inside the bath and then the other "This way's easier."

She made a noncommittal sound but did not remove her legs from the bathtub, instead using the insteps of her feet to caress the sides of his torso. Her hands continued to run the lathered cloth along his chest and shoulders, pausing to knead at the tense muscles of his shoulder blades till she had him moaning in pleasure instead of pain.

"You're so tense, darling," she murmured, a frown settling on her features as she placed a kiss on the crown of his head. He wanted badly to turn around, haul her into the bathtub and have his way with her but his mistress had not given him permission, and he'd obey her. He lived to obey her.

His back was the next thing to get her attention, the tiny cuts present there receiving a kiss before she passed the soapy cloth over them, making them sting briefly. For all its scaly look the imp's skin was even more sensitive than that of a regular human, a fact he felt deeply grateful for when his mistress placed an open-mouthed kiss against a particularly vicious scratch, pressing the flat of her tongue against it, laving the injury with tender care.

"You got careless this time, pet," she whispered against the back of one of his shoulders, letting her lips graze him when she spoke "Not like you at all."

He made a sound between a sigh and a grunt, unwilling to let her know he had been too preoccupied with thinking about a way to get their visitors to leave to pay proper attention to his immediate surroundings. He shivered when she lathered up his arms, lifting first one wrist to her lips and then the other, her teeth scraping against his pulse point in a way that had him hard instantly.

"My Queen…" he hissed out, settling his head against the crook of her neck, rubbing his head against the skin of her throat like he was some sort of overgrown cat. He felt her run the pads of her fingers up and down his arms, tickling him softly and wished she'd let him have her "Please…"

She laughed, a low, throaty sound that made him shiver.

"You're still grimy, my beast," she pointed out, washing up his torso, her thumb "accidentally" rubbing against a sensitive nipple before she went further down, the cloth draping over his hips and teasing his hard cock. He bit his lip, grunting, glad when she decided not to tease him and move to his thighs, washing one first and then the other. By the time she reached his right calf she was all but stretched out over him, her wet and sheer shift giving him a great view of her front, so close he could move his head an inch and capture a nipple between his lips. But the beast was a domesticated animal now, and so followed the rules and waited for permission.

He felt the cloth slide between his toes, his mistress's hands dipping the appendage into the water to properly rinse it.

"There you go," she crooned, smiling down at him beatifically "All done."

She petted his hair again, holding his head against her breasts.

"I'm so pleased with you, my Rumplestiltskin," when she said his name he sighed and shivered "You've served me well today."

"Thank you, my Queen," he nuzzled one of her breasts frantically, knowing that doing so was breaking the rules a bit except she wasn't stopping him "'tis the only thing I want. To serve you," his voice became a growl against her skin "To please you."

"And for that you deserve to be rewarded," she continued, leaving her stool and twisting before sinking into the lukewarm water straddling him.

"Please, mistress," he felt as if his whole body was on edge, thrumming with energy and eager to be set free. Belle caressed his forehead, leaning down to press her lips to the skin there.

"Rumplestiltskin, for the rest of the night until dawn, do as you wish."

He pounced on her the moment she finished talking, his mouth seeking her own and moaning when it opened up to him immediately. His owner tasted divine, always did, like honey and sunlight, and he drank in as much of her as he could, his tongue tracing the roof of her mouth before wrapping around her own, teasing it into a dance they both knew well. His hands plunged into the water, gathering the hem of her shift to lift it up and off her in one swift movement, the drenched fabric landing with a splat a few feet away. He roamed her bare back then, his fingers instinctively tracing the lines of the dagger tattooed there even if he couldn't see it, knowing the mark like the back of his hand, each letter of his name finely etched on her skin. He remembered for a split second her mistress's father, the portly Lord Maurice, who had found his precious dagger by chance, refusing to use it but unwilling to give it up and leave it at the mercy of other men. The blood spell he had performed on it, plunging the weapon to the hilt into the chest of his only daughter, had been supposed to give his bloodline the power to control him, rendering the dagger useless and its power safely kept inside the family, away from greedy hands. Instead it had turned the sacrificial lamb, the lovely little girl named Belle, into the dagger. Oh, how he had resented her without even meeting her for years, a thorn in his side, a looming threat. And oh, how he loved her now, how he delighted in the power she lorded over him. Complete submission to his mistress was the only goal in his life, his one joy. There was such beauty in surrendering to her commands, such unmitigated pleasure in doing as she bid that it almost made him sob.

He ducked his head, leaving her lips to worship her breasts, palming one while gently kissing the other, enjoying the softness and smell of her. He finally drew a nipple into his mouth, suckling contentedly, teasing the other with his clawed nails first and then with pinches and tugs. She moaned her approval, water sloshing everywhere as she writhed against him, arching her back and clutching his head, carding her fingers through his hair. When she rocked her hips unconsciously against the thigh she was straddling the beast decided that the tub was getting small for them and so grabbed his mistress, one arm around her back and the other on her ass as he stood up, easily supporting her weigh in his arms as he exited the tub and moved to her bedchamber. Another day he'd take her against the furs of his bed, one he seldom used, but tonight he wanted to see her lying amidst a sea of satin and silk, a Queen being worshipped in her proper place.

"How you delight me," he whispered to her the moment he had her on her back in her bed, taking one of her wrists in her hand and scraping his teeth against it, pinning the arm to the mattress before repeating the process with the other one "I could spend the night kissing every inch of you."

She smiled, bending the leg between his so that her knee brushed against his strained cock.

"But that won't get you what you need, my pet."

He growled at her, looking feral and unbalanced, and nudged her legs open with his own knee, letting her grind herself against his thigh and moaning when he felt her coat his skin with her juices.

"So wet," he marvelled, looking down at her with awe "So wet for such an underserving slave."

She tugged her arms free, grabbing him by the nape of his neck to draw him near, kissing him with abandon. Somehow she manoeuvred them so she could wrap both her legs around her hips, cradling his lower body and urging him to take her. He finally reached out with his right hand to guide himself into her, whatever ideas of being slow and thorough vanishing the moment he felt the head of his cock be enveloped by her tight heat. It was perfect, she was perfect, and he was powerless to do anything but plunge into her, burying himself to the hilt and pausing for a second, relishing the moment, committing it to memory as he had countless others.

"Move," she begged, voice hoarse and back arching. He flicked her nose, a playful smile on his face.

"Nuh, huh, you don't get to order me till sunrise, my pretty," he reminded her while slowly, very slowly, pulling out before thrusting in again, feeling something coil inside him, a delicious sort of pain he'd ached for all day. Though he took pleasure in going slow at first to torment his Queen he soon grew needy and impatient, his thrusts becoming harder, deeper and faster, finding soon a rhythm they both seemed to enjoy. She was gloriously vocal, calling out his name with a broken voice, urging him to go faster and be rougher. He kissed every inch of her skin he could reach except her lips, unwilling to silence her and, when he felt himself near the end, he dragged a hand down her body, idly flicking her nipple, till she reached her sodden curls, a claw carefully scraping against her clit, soft at first, but with increasing pressure as her cried grew louder and louder.

She came first, shuddering beneath him and digging her feet into his back. He followed her soon after, the tightening of her walls against his cock sending him over the edge. He continued to plunge into her, prolonging her pleasure as much as his before collapsing beside her, spent and content. Dawn broke, a new day peaking across the horizon and the beast curse the summer nights for being so short. His Queen settled herself a feet away, her head coming to lie against one of the many pillows of her bed while he stayed where he was, once more a servant waiting for orders.

"Come here, my beast, I feel rather cold." she beckoned him, smiling when he immediately spooned against her back, both of them drifting off into sleep soon after.

Though both feared for the state of their kingdoms Snow White and her prince Charming resolutely stayed for a week to ensure that the alliance with the Queen of the Frontlands was cemented. Getting to see the Queen was not an easy task, since she spent most of the say with her ministers or surveying her land, seeing personally what her people needed, spending a particular amount of time in an orphanage nearby. Her beast sometimes followed her, staying a few feet away, though sometimes he was nowhere to be seen. The days wore on and the royals grew more uncomfortable during the night, eager both to be back on more familiar settings, till one day James decided that, since the Queen's days were too busy, maybe she'd be more available at night, right before retiring. He knew she spent that time in the throne room, alone usually since the servants had been instructed not to bother her there during the night.

So distracted by thoughts of what needed to be discussed were both that they didn't hear the moaning or notice anything else amiss till they entered the room through an ajar side door and encountered the Queen on her throne, the skirts of her dress draped across the armrests and her legs parted, the creature she was so fond of kneeling at her feet, golden hands on each of her thighs and his face buried in her folds. It didn't take much to guess what was going on or how consensual it was by the way the Queen screamed and the imp caressed her thighs with his clawed fingers, the gesture strangely affectionate. King James recovered first, grabbing his wife by the wrist and dragging her back to their rooms, intent on leaving as soon as possible. He called for the few servants they'd been allowed to bring but, instead, the Queen strode in, dress once again primly covering her. The King mumbled some sort of excuse about an emergency back home that needed to be taken care of.

"We don't wish to abuse your hospitality either, your Majesty," Snow added, not quite able to look at the other woman in the eyes. They still didn't know if the Queen knew they'd seen them in the throne room, and by the pensive and rather morose look in her eyes it didn't appear she was there to give them any sort of explanation. Something heavy seemed to be on her mind, a story stuck in her throat she didn't quite know how to get out. Finally she took a deep breath and begun.

"The Ogres Wars, as you know, have been on and off for centuries. What you might not know is that the true reason for their continuity was not the actions of the ogres, but those of men. War profiteers have been provoking and sustaining a state of war for centuries. Kings and noblemen allowed that, the wars giving them opportunity for sport and a way to keep the population subdued. My father understood that from an early age and did whatever he could to stop the bloodshed, going as far as to risk his life to possess the means to control the greatest power in the land, the Dark One. But he soon realized that the control the dagger provided was an illusion. The monster could twist words and intent and turn it into whatever he wanted. The last command my father ever gave him before he understood that resulted in the indirect death of his steward and old friend. But after that realization he still had a problem: what to do with the dagger, as useless as it was dangerous?"

Seeing she had managed to pique the couple's interest she gestured towards a corner of the room with a rectangular table and some chairs used mostly for breakfasts, sitting down on one side of the table while they did the same on the other. Her expression was carefully blank but resolute as she carried on with her tale.

"My father did what was best for his people. He found a way to tie the power of the dagger to his bloodline, thus ensuring it wouldn't fall on the wrong hands but stay within the family, guarded and unused. The ritual required sacrifice, however, in the form of the life of a member of the bloodline, a product of true love. My father was out of the question, his parents hadn't much cared for each other. But he had loved his wife with a passion and so his child, his daughter, could become the slaughtered lamb needed for the spell. I was nine when I was given a sleeping potion and stabbed in the heart with the Dark One's dagger," Belle paused, her eyes flickering to Snow White for a moment, seeing the younger girl crying "But the spell did not work like it should've. Instead of killing me it fused the dagger into my body, making me the thing needed to command the monster. My father, distressed and fearful, locked me away, the protecting me from whoever came looking to possess that which would enable them to enslave the beast. He refused to call upon the beast itself, saying nothing good ever came from dealing with him, even when one had power over him."

"I was nineteen when my father succumbed to the pressures of fighting ogres and men and died. That day I decided I'd not wait to be taken away and used, I'd decide my own fate. I called upon the dark one, for the first time using the power I'd been given. I wanted to drive the ogres back to their lands, and ensure no man would ever think of profiting off the suffering of other people by maintaining a state of war.

I managed to wrestle him into submission with time, learning how to phrase my commands to make any sort of foul play impossible. With time the part of him that craved submission to the dagger, that thrilled in doing its bidding, grew stronger. He is as you see him now, my most loyal servant. I trust no one like I do him."

Snow White and Charming looked at themselves, trying to process as much of the story as possible.

"Why are you telling us all this?" he asked, honestly curious. Queen Belle smiled, a bittersweet expression that made her look both beautiful and rather tragic.

"You saw me with him. Saw me communing with a monster, and it doesn't take much thought to realize you'd never trust me, unless you knew my story. The bond I share with my beast is no ordinary connection, and I felt it was important you understood that. I want to see you and your kingdoms prosper, ensure peace for many years to come. I will never seek to expand my kingdom, it is here solely to protect the rest of the lands from the ogres and to serve as refuge to those who seek shelter and mean no harm. But in order to do that I need you to trust me. Truth breeds trust."

She took a deep breath and then sighed, looking tired.

"I may never die. Like the Dark One no natural cause will ever claim my life. An immortal queen of a with a powerful creature at her command does not make the best neighbour, and I do not wish you to fear me, so I wanted you to know me a little, so that that knowledge my dispel your fears. This alliance I aim to cement with you has the potential to last for centuries, but it cannot do so if it isn't given a strong foundation."

Husband and wife asked to retire to further consider the whole proposal. Three days later they left the castle with two signed copies of their agreement for mutual aid and support and the permission to call on the Queen of the Frontlands whenever they wished.

"I only caution you that if you call for my help you're willing to take it," she warned them as she saw them off in her throne room "As you've seen I put the common good of the people above my own morals and beliefs. I only ask that if you ever seek my help you're willing to do the same."

When Queen Belle retired later that night, feeling more at peace with the world outside her little kingdom than she'd been in a long while, her obliging shadow once more recovered his place by her side constantly. He'd been reduced to watching her from afar during the royal visit, and he had hated every minute of it.

"Still telling the same half-truths, dearie," he remarked, an amused little smile on his face "Don't trust the pure Queen Snow and the noble King James to appreciate the whole truth of the matter, do you?"

His mistress gave him a dry look, entering her chambers and going straight to the balcony, the summer breeze beckoning her.

"Of course not," she answered, leaning against the balustrade "Besides, what happened is private. That first meeting, the arrangement, the outcome. It's a secret I hold close to my heart."

Her beast wrapped himself around her, burying his face in her hair and breathing in deeply.

"Besides," she added, amused "You would hate for anyone to know all that really happened."

She was right of course. That first meeting when she was nineteen was something he liked to keep between them. He remembered her standing there, hair unbound and clad in a nightgown, ready not to command the Dark One but to make a deal. She'd asked him for his complete cooperation in her efforts to end the Ogre War currently being waged and battle the greed and corruption present in the kingdoms that willingly sent thousands upon thousands to be slaughtered. When her goal was truly complete he'd give him permission to do as he would, and effectively kill her, thus forever ridding himself of his only weakness.

"You'd leave one such as myself with so much power, little one?" he'd asked her, truly intrigued.

"You're not the greatest evil that plagues this lands, Dark One, nor the most vicious. Man can do worse with far less power."

He'd agreed to the deal, dreaming of the day he'd cut her open and watch the life go out of her eyes, and the two of them had set out to strategize, working together to pinpoint the problems and think of the best solutions. He'd thought she'd hesitate to do what was necessary but she'd barely blinked as she'd ordered him to massacre dozens of mercenary troops, or assassinate noblemen in their beds and slaughter ogre after ogre. Every triumph he brought to her would elicit as smile from her, sometimes even a laugh and the heady combination of kindness and ruthlessness had enraptured him. It'd taken them seven years to complete their goal and, on the night she'd finally smiled at him and ordered him to do his will he had tackled her to her bed and deflowered her, having known for a while she desired him as much as he did.

Their first kiss, searing hot and utterly wonderful, had been magic in more than one sense. True Love. Quite befitting, really, for him to fall in love with his one weakness. Over the years he'd wondered why that kiss hadn't rid him of his curse, theorizing that the blood spell done to Belle had made her a part of the curse, and no magic could destroy itself. If anything, the magic of true love had strengthened her capacity to command him and his need to obey her. He was truly fortunate that Belle was probably the one human in the world incapable of abusing such power. Instead all she had asked was to reign over the lands left abandoned by the retreating armies and her father's own territory. He had made her a Queen, and showered her in gold.

His mistress thought it was a matter of intent.

"Why would the magic born of my love for you wish to change you?" she'd remarked one night as she laid on her stomach and let him kiss the tattoo of his dagger on her back.

Yes, he thought, his mind snapping back to the present and the woman in his arms, his beautiful owner. Better the whole truth be kept between them. His Queen always knew best.