Continuing Tales

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 14 of 17

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Civilised Existence

The splashing of the brook was deafening.

Belle could hear that more than anything else, though there were voices. She felt dizzy, shaken, but she wasn't freezing anymore, not as she had been. Her breathing was unsteady, and she forced her eyes open.

Rumpelstiltskin was there, stepping down into the water, and that woman, that vicious, ruthless woman was waiting. He was talking, quietly, so quietly that Belle couldn't hear, and he was pulling his waistcoat open.

Belle's eyes flew wide when the woman leaned forward and slammed her hand into Rumpelstiltskin's chest. He stumbled back a step, then another, until Belle could almost reach out and touch him. The woman followed, knee-deep in the stream, forcing him to his knees, her hand twisting downwards into his chest.

He gave a hoarse cry, and light blazed, making Belle's eyes burn with the brightness, and then he was falling, slumping down into the water, as if the life had been ripped from his body.

Belle stared down at him, motionless, unmoving, a ragged hole in his chest.

The woman, the Queen, was kneeling there, laughing in delight, and in her hands, something was pulsing, glowing, throbbing with life. It shone like a jewel, and Belle knew what it was, what it had to be, and it could never, never be taken away, not by her, not like that.

Belle's hand closed on one of the rocks that skirted the river. She rose onto her knees, then brought it down hard on the witch's head, and in the same moment, hurled herself into the water, to snatch the heart from the Queen's hand.

The Queen surged up from the water furiously. "You little tramp."

"That's mine, you evil sow," Belle snarled. "How dare you touch it." She clasped the heart close to her chest, pulsing and hot and alive. "He's mine. That means this is mine and no aging witch is taking him from me now."

She could feel something strange, like a thousand tiny little shocks of lightning running over her hands from the heart, and the heart's beat picked up pace, throbbing as fast as her own.

"Give it back," the Queen hissed. Her cloak was caught in the stream, tangling around her like a shadow.

"Not yours to have," Belle retorted. She felt the waves of dizziness receding, as if the heart was giving her strength, and she pressed it to her chest. Both she and the Queen gasped as it sank through her flesh, as if it were her own. Belle's eyes widened, and she looked at the Queen and smiled. "Mine."

The Queen bared her teeth like an animal and blasted a surge of power at her.

Belle knew she should have fallen then, struck down, but no. He was with her, in her, and she lifted her hands together and spread them wide. The blazing ball of flame split in two, dispersing into the air.

"Oh!" she whispered.

"Cute trick," the Queen sneered, whirling her arm, a lash of crackling energy coiling out like a whip, each tail a serpent's head.

Belle stepped in front of Rumpelstiltskin's prone body. "You're really going to try this?" she said. Rumpelstiltskin's coat was still wrapped around her, and it caught in the stream, rippling behind her like a dragon's tail.

The whip struck out, but Belle's hands moved instinctively, calling on the magic she could see and taste in the air, like tiny glowing dust motes caught in a sunbeam. She remembered. It was always there, and what you did, how you guided it, shaped how it responded to you. She thought of Rumpelstiltskin, of his smile, those little laughs, and the joy she felt at being so close to him. Icy walls leaping from the surface of the brook, shielding them from the lashes, shining and transparent as diamond.

She laid her hand against the surface and pushed through as if it was nothing more than a veil, approaching the Queen. The water around the Queen hardened, freezing, and the Queen swore, casting fire spells to free herself.

"You should leave," Belle said quietly. "You should leave, and you shouldn't come back. Rumpelstiltskin will always beat you, no matter what you do, and if there ever came a day when he couldn't, I would be there instead." She smiled sweetly. "And if you think that he's a mean-spirited bastard, you do not want to see me angry."

"I'm not afraid of him," the Queen spat, lashing out with a hand, which was deflected with the mildest of gestures "Or you, some uppity little Princess who fell for her own captor when she couldn't escape."

Belle laughed, lifting both hands and drawing the stream up around them like a barrier, closing them in. Water weeds snaked out, twisting and coiling up the Queen's legs, snaring her arms. The Queen may have protested otherwise, but Belle knew she saw her flinching away.

"That's where you're wrong," she said, stepping a little closer to the Queen. "I didn't fall for him. We fell for each other." She patted the Queen's cheek gently. "Now get the hell off our land."

She lowered her hands, and the world set itself to right. The stream was just a stream. The weeds were just limp shreds hanging from the Queen's sleeves. The body of Rumpelstiltskin was just that, resting in the shallows. Belle knelt to support him, laying his shoulders against the rocks to keep his head above water, brushing aside the comb that lay there. He had troubles enough without being cursed on top of it. His face was grey, and his eyes closed. She touched his hair gently, then his cheek.

The Queen stumbled to the shore, to the boundaries, and bared her teeth like an infuriated cat. "He won't be the strongest forever, little girl," she hissed, whirling and stalking away.

Belle smiled.

The Queen got less than three paces before Belle stepped out of nothing in front of her.

"You forgot your leaving gift," she said.

The Queen tried to step back, but roots shot up through the ground, tangling around her legs, locking her where she stood. "Get away from me."

"You didn't do that when I asked you nicely," Belle said sternly. "I asked you to leave and you give me nothing but threats. I don't like being threatened. I don't like being cursed and almost drowning. I don't like it when someone tries to steal the heart of the man I love."

She could see the Queen trying to gather the power to her, but it shied from her and her hostility. So magic liked to be petted and teased, did it? Belle smiled and closed her eyes and it spiralled around them, binding the Queen in glittering nets of power.

"You hurt it too much," Belle whispered. "You hurt everything too much. That's why it all goes badly for you."

"Stop talking!" the Queen cried, struggling. "Let me go!"

"Hush, dearie," Belle whispered, stepping closer and laying her finger against the Queen's lips. "No more talking." She put her lips close to the Queen's ear. "I'm not a bad person. I don't hurt people. I don't want to hurt you. But you hurt him. You scared him. You would have broken him. I can't forgive that." She drew back to look into the Queen's face. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and thrust the golden comb with its red red roses, plucked from the rocks at the riverside, deep into the Queen's hair.

The Queen screamed and then, she didn't.

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 14 of 17

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