A Heart Full of Love
A/N: Interestingly enough, the title for this piece came from one of my favorite musicals, Les Miserables, from a song from that soundtrack. But I felt it suited Belle and Rumple too here. This story is a short prequel to The Gold Standard. Enjoy!
It had been two months since Belle had made the bargain with the Beast, otherwise known as the dark sorcerer, Rumplestitlskin. Two months of being half-chatelaine and half-maid, two months of slowly growing to realize that the man she had made that fateful bargain with was a man, and not the horrible heartless monster everyone else believed him to be.
It had dawned on her gradually, from the day he let her out of the dungeon and gave her a pleasant room in the castle, which he certainly didn't have to do, to the day he'd teased her after she'd broken that cup from that expensive porcelain tea set. She'd expected him to fly into a rage and scream at her, lock her up, or beat her the way her father sometimes did to servants who failed in their duties. Or transform her into wind or seven notes of music. He was, after all, a powerful sorcerer, the most powerful, some said.
But all he'd done was look up and shrug, saying, "It's just a cup."
Those four words had told her more than the most eloquent statement about what Rumplestiltskin cared about. And despite his collection of unique and magical objects, it wasn't things. No man who was a miser, who hoarded possessions would have taken so calmly the destruction of one of his artifacts. No, for all that he had been and done, Rumplestiltskin was not like the nobles she had known in her father's kingdom, the nobles who would have beaten a servant or peasant to death for breaking a cup, or spilling wine on their shirt, or getting mud on their fancy new boots. Those people valued their possessions like they would their children, sometimes more so.
But not him. Not the "beast".
She could not fathom why that was . . . unless . . . he had once come from the common people. Not having wealth tended to make you value things other than what money could buy. Sometimes the poor learned the value of a smile and appreciation for a job well done before a noble would think twice. Belle had learned that hanging around the castle kitchens, from the head cook, Tansy, and her helper, a girl called Alice Carstairs, a pretty country girl sent up to the city to make her fortune. Alice, who like Belle, always had her nose in a book, because the squire's daughter was allowed to daydream. Sometimes, after her work was done.
Belle missed Alice, more sometimes than she missed her father, truth be told. And much more than she missed the arrogant Gaston, her betrothed. Actually, that had been Maurice's idea. He had declared his bookish daughter would waste away into a ghost unless he arranged a marriage for her. Belle would have rather faded away than be married to that popinjay, who loved best to hear the sound of his own voice crowing. But, like so much else, a woman's fate was not her own. Unless chance dictated otherwise.
When chance had, Belle had taken it for all she was worth. She knew her father had been horrified at the prospect of his only daughter being enslaved to a wicked sorcerer like Rumplestiltskin. But Belle had been more horrified at the prospect of being Gaston's wife, forever at the mercy of his handsome narcisstic self. She did not want to be a showpiece a man could dangle on his arm and show off to his friends. She wanted to do something useful, to be something besides an empty-headed pretty fool.
Now she had. She, Belle of the House of Beauchamp, had singlehandedly saved her kingdom from the ravages of the ogres and their kin. By making a bargain with the Dark One in exchange for the lives of her people and her father. It wasn't something a woman was called upon to do . . . or even should do according to the code of behavior she lived under. But Belle had flouted convention before, and doing so then had seemed like the only way to still have a kingdom left.
Her people mattered, her friends mattered, her father mattered more than some stupid rules or her own happiness. She had been taught her duty as a princess as a child by her mother, Alina. Her beautiful gentle mother, who had died when Belle was seven, of a fever no doctor could cure. Since then Belle's mother had been the head cook and the kitchen staff at the palace, who always had time to listen to a young girl's concerns and troubles and always time for a hug or a bite of a sticky bun fresh from the oven. From Tansy Belle had learned how to season a roast and bake cookies and pies. And to love the simple hardworking people who made up her kingdom.
Tansy and Alice as well had taught her that work was work, no matter who did it, and doing it should be done well. Thus she did as Rumplestiltskin bade her, and kept his house and his collection tidy. She also baked and cooked for him, when she found out the famed sorcerer had been living off of bread, butter, carrots and lentil soup, for the most part. That was fine for farmers and peasants, but who would have thought the sorcerer that could spin straw into gold would be eating such fare?
"I'm used to it," was all he said to her one day when she asked why.
"Used to it?" she had asked, but he had walked away, leaving her to ponder how in the world someone like him got used to eating like a peasant? Unless . . . once he'd been one? Once . . .
That night she made a roast beef, with pan gravy and tender asparagus and new potatoes. The items had appeared upon request in the pantry after she'd stood there and said something like, "I wish I had some asparagus and potatoes." That was how she discovered the larder would provide her with most anything she wished or needed.
She also made a strawberry pie.
She would never forget the look of sheer astonishment when she had set the dishes before Rumplestiltskin at supper. He looked like some new page boy at one of her father's feasts.
Then it had been her turn to gape when he told her to sit down and eat it with him. Servants eating with their masters was just not done, not in any kingdom she knew of! Except here, where it appeared the only rules was the whim of the master.
"You want me—your—servant—to eat with you?" she had sputtered.
"Yes. Now sit down."
"But . . . I'm not . . . you can't . . ."
"It's my home, Belle, and I can do what I like and when I like it," he had answered, unfazed. "Now sit and eat before this lovely roast goes all cold. I'm sure you're hungry, with all the work you do around here."
Utterly flummoxed, she had obeyed. The dinner had been superb, she had learned her lessons well from Tansy and Alice, and no one who'd learned under them could fail to be a good chef.
Her sorcerer—since when had he become hers—was mightily impressed. "This is marvelous, dearie. You must do it again some time."
"Oh, I can do it every night. I can cook more than this."
"Can you?" he raised an eyebrow. "How did a princess learn to cook like a master chef?"
She giggled. "Because I was a very unconventional princess, with no mother and a father who was busy all day and didn't have time to smother me with etiquette lessons. So I took cooking lessons instead, belowstairs with my head chef and her helper, my friend Alice."
"Ah. I see. Well, that's all the better for me," he smirked, his odd eyes twinkling. Then he asked, with all the curiosity of a child, "What's for dessert?"
"You'll see," she had teased, liking the light in his eyes, which she had grown used to over time.
He had adored her pie, and Belle had admitted it was her favorite too.
"We should have it every night then."
"Wouldn't you get bored having it all the time?" she queried.
"Hmm . . . yes, I suppose I would. How about every other night? Every week?"
She burst out laughing. "It's clear you're no noble with that attitude." Then she gasped at her boldness.
"I never said I was, dearie," he snorted when she would have apologized.
"What were you then?" she dared to ask.
"Figure it out. I'm sure you're smart enough to do so," he had replied maddeningly.
It had taken her two weeks to be reasonably sure . . . but she had guessed from the first moment he'd sat at the wheel, spinning with the ease of long practice. Magic or not, no one became so proficient without hours of time spent doing this same thing over and over. Belle knew how to spin, because it was considered a womanly art here, but she knew that in other kingdoms, men could spin and sew too, and made their livelihoods doing so.
"You . . . you're a spinner," she said hesitantly one morning as she dusted a section of the curio cabinet.
"The best in my village, once upon a time, dearie," he replied, deftly twirling the wheel about.
She watched him spin, absorbed by the way his long fingered hands took the straw and stroked it onto the wheel, his foot pumping the treadle in one continuous motion. He made it look so easy. The mark of a master. His delicate hands drew out the spun straw into a long glittering thread and twisted it deftly onto a spool. It was like a dance, where the partners were old friends who knew every step.
It was hypnotizing, peaceful, and Belle could have watched him all day.
Except dinner wouldn't wait and she was hungry.
That night they had tender chicken and dumplings, with new peas and carrots, swimming in a rich gravy that Rumplestitlskin damn near licked his fingers over. That and the round loaf of freshly baked bread.
"What's the occasion, dearie?"
"I just . . . felt happy today is all," she said, blushing slightly and looking down at her skirt. It was blue, the color of blue belles, he'd said, and soft as clouds. He'd spun the cloth, chosen it because it matched her eyes, and given it to her without a word. Grateful beyond measure, she'd made it into a dress, not fancy, but not plain either, just right for a servant who wanted to look good for her master. Since when had she wanted to impress him? she wondered.
"Ah. Then I must keep you happy more often," he'd chuckled, and toasted her with his wine glass.
"I . . . I made angel food cake for dessert. With raspberry sauce," she'd stammered.
"Sounds divine. I'm not picky, dearie. You ought to know that by now."
"I know. But most . . . most nobles are. Tansy had to cook six dishes every day to keep them all satisfied. And even then, some still complained."
"Humph! Spoiled wretches! They ought to try eating dandelions and straw."
"Did you?" she asked, her eyes wide as she waited for his answer.
"You'll eat almost anything when you're starving, dearie. Rats, leather, it all tastes good when your belly's touching your backbone."
She was horrified. "You ate . . . rats?"
"And it was considered lucky we could," he answered calmly. "During the Ogre Wars, food was a commodity—and it was one most of the villages didn't have. So . . . we made do."
"M-Made do? But that's . . . horrible! Why didn't your lord help?"
"The duke? He was busy fighting a war, dearie. Had no time for the villagers, except when he needed new bodies to shove into the war machine. Then he came calling. Otherwise . . . we shifted for ourselves." Rumplestiltskin shrugged.
"I would never . . . let my people be reduced to eating . . . rats!" she cried, scandalized.
"You wouldn't," he agreed. "But they're not all like you, Belle. Most don't care one way or the other. It's how the world is."
Not my world! She had thought fiercely. But she had known he spoke the truth.
And she had wondered, alone in her room that night, if that was what had made him what he was?
As the weeks passed, he gave her more and more freedom inside the castle. Now she had full run of the library, which was fantastic, a treasure trove of books and knowledge just waiting to be explored. "Where did you get so many books?" she'd asked one fine spring morning.
"I made deals with people for them. Traded for them. Bought them."
"How did you learn to read? I mean . . . most commoners don't . . ."
"You're right. But I was bright lad and my best friend growing up was old Simon, a hedge healer. He used to be a monastery boy, and the monks taught him the power of the written word. He in turn taught me. Words are power, dearie. They can change the world."
"Ideas are power."
"Ideas are words put into action. Every good sorcerer knows that."
"But you can use magic without saying a thing."
"Sometimes. But the most powerful spells we write down," he said, then changed the subject. "Feel free to use the library, Belle. No knowledge is ever wasted."
She found plenty of new ideas in those books and plenty of tales too. She cherished them, for they allowed her to escape into unknown realms and become someone different for an hour or two. But one idea she had blooming in her heart was not in any book.
And it concerned her master—the heartless beast.
From then on they had many discussions—over books and other things, and he seemed not to mind that she was opinionated and had more on her mind than sewing, raising babies, and picking out clothes for tomorrow. He delighted in her sharp wit, and parried her stabs with his own equally cynical remarks. She found him strangely . . . endearing, the way a grumpy cat is endearing, especially when he curls up in your lap and begins to purr.
Don't be ridiculous, Belle! As if he could ever come to care for you! The princess he turned into his personal chatelaine!
Alice would have giggled wickedly and told her to go for it.
But she was not Alice. And she was afraid to risk her heart.
Until the day he caught her when she fell off the ladder pulling down the drapes.
He had done so easily, without a second thought, as if he spent the day rescuing her from her own foolishness.
And she . . . she had nestled into his arms without a qualm, it felt so . . . natural . . . as if she had been born to fit against him . . . and his arms had held her so securely that she was not afraid of falling, not ever again.
His touch had thrilled her like no other man's ever had. When Gaston had touched her it made her feel trapped, smothered, like a bird in a cage. But when Rumplestiltskin touched her . . . she felt a freedom she had never known, and her heart had thundered in her breast like a runaway warhorse. It was crazy. It was totally unacceptable. But it was there and she could not deny it, anymore than she could deny her own name.
His touch quickened her very soul and made her long to have him run his hands all over her . . . in places no man ever had.
Her face flaming, she had run from the room, hoping he hadn't guessed why she was blushing. Then again, had he been too?
Is he . . . falling in love with me? Am I falling in love with him? Can it be? The princess and the spinner? Or beauty and the beast? It's like some tale in a book! Then again, who said fairy tales can't come true?
She had no answer to her question and she knew she'd never be bold enough to ask him for one.
Now she hung the wash on the line in the garden. Her dress, his shirts. Her apron, his trousers. Then the sheets and towels. As she hung, she sang softly, an old tune Alice had taught her.
"Love has no reason, love has no rhyme,
Romance can blossom any old time . . ."
She reached for her last clothespin and gasped as her hand touched flesh.
"Allow me," he said, smirking at having startled her.
"You scared me!"
"Afraid the big bad wolf would gobble you up?" He hung the last handkerchief.
"Ha! If the wolf tried that I'd give him a good whack with my broom!" she shot back.
"I'd better watch out for the broom then," he snickered and danced away when she went to smack his arm. "That was a pretty sing you were singing. You have a beautiful voice."
"You're just . . . saying that. I . . . only sing when I'm alone."
"You should sing more often."
"Why don't you sing too?"
"Me?" He put a hand over his heart and laughed. "Dearie, when have you ever heard me sing?"
"You . . . when you're making a potion or something, I've heard you . . . sometimes . . ."
"Dancing around a cauldron, sure I can chant things, but the only songs I know are ones men sing after having one too many pints of ale. And surely you don't want to hear some of those."
"I might," she flung back. "If I was in the mood."
"It all depends."
"If you can catch me!" she challenged, then she took off running.
She ran around the mulberry bush on the right side of the path.
He chased her, moving like a cat, faster and faster. "Here I come, dearie!" he cried, then began to sing, "All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel . . ."
"See, you're singing," she cried gleefully.
"I am not! It's a nursery rhyme!" he called.
She ran around the other side, giggling. "Quit chasing me, Rum!" she shouted. "Or else I'll shove you into the mulberry bush!"
"The only place I'll let you shove me, dearie, is on a bed! With satin sheets!" he called wickedly, then he doubled back and grabbed her to him.
Suddenly their mouths were very close, almost touching.
Without thinking, only feeling, she wrapped her arms around his neck and their lips met for the briefest of instants.
Kissing him was like kissing a bonfire, it made her hot and stole the air from her body. She gasped, molding herself to him, his touch making her ache in places she didn't know she could.
He looked startled, as if kissing him were shocking. Then he drew away, as if he had touched hot coals.
"Forgive me. I . . . forgot myself," he whispered hoarsely.
"No. I . . . I wanted you to," she said gently.
"You can't possibly . . . mean that," he shook his head, as if in denial.
"Why?" she asked, genuinely puzzled.
"Because . . . look at what I am. And then look at you. Then ask yourself that question again. You'll see the answer."
"You think you're not able to be loved," she said, understanding dawning. "But you're wrong. You're not a monster, Rum. You only think so. But that's not what I see."
"Then you're blind."
"No. But you see as others see you, not as you are. You think you're irredeemable. But I believe that if you show true remorse and wish to change, you can."
"The things I've done . . . no woman could forgive . . ." he drew away, his face a mask.
But she saw beneath the façade, and to the pain behind his eyes. "She must have hurt you really badly," she found herself saying, for suddenly she could see that his distrust was founded upon rejection and suspected that the rejection had been another woman. He had spoken of a lost son, was it possible his wife had left him and taken the child with her?
Rumplestiltskin bit his lip. Belle's words recalled to him Milah's angry accusations and he winced. "It was my fault. I didn't try hard enough to make her see . . . I was a failure. She's gone now, along with my son."
"Did she leave you?"
"Yes," he replied heavily. She had been taken hostage by pirates at first, but in the end, when they had mocked and jeered at him for a cripple, laughed at his refusal to fight their captain, they had offered her a choice. She could stay with her crippled, cowardly husband, and be a pariah all her days, or come with them for adventure and riches on the high seas, and earn fame and fortune.
"What about Bae?" he cried, stunned. "What about your son?"
She had looked conflicted for a moment. "I'll return someday. With lots of gold and a reputation to match. One better than his father's, at least. I'll be back, and he can be proud of one of us, at least. You can tell him that, if he asks."
"You're abandoning us?" he had gasped.
"No, she's choosing a better life, cripple!" laughed one of the pirates.
Maybe it had been true. All he had known was that she had walked away, anxious to be rid of him, and had left him behind. She had never returned and he knew the reason why. It was because of him that Bae had been left without a mother. For she could not bear to be the wife of a coward, a crippled spinner whose one talent was to spin wool into the finest thread in seven kingdoms.
Now Belle looked at him, with her brilliant blue eyes, and he turned away, his face twisting. "I know well what I am. And you would do well not to mock me."
"Come back!" she yelled as he strode across the garden and back into the castle. "I'm not like her. I won't leave. I . . . I . . . love you," but her claim was made to empty air, as Rumplestiltskin fled back to the sanctuary of his rooms, never hearing her final words.
She stared at the laundry flapping in the breeze and thought sadly, He didn't hear me. Poor man! He's so afraid of losing someone he's closed up his heart in a box. But I'll find a way to free it, and free him. Love always finds a way. And I have a heart full of love, and am just waiting to share it with him.
She walked slowly back to the castle, her hands in her pockets, and thought that their next meeting would end much differently than this one. For against all odds, she had captured his heart, and she vowed then and there to never let it go.