Continuing Tales

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 15 of 17

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Civilised Existence

Silence hung in the air, thick and heavy.

Rumpelstiltskin slowly opened his eyes. For the first time in many years, he felt physically exhausted, even if his body was restored to him. That, he supposed, was the price of having one's heart ripped out.

He took a breath, and caught the familiar scent of his room, his home.

"You're awake," Belle whispered. She was sitting by the bed, her face pale and tired, as if she had barely slept. Her hand caught his, clasping it like a lifeline.

He tilted his head to look at her. He couldn't be sure if the glow about her was the sun streaming in the windows or the residue of magic clinging to her, wrapping around her like a gossamer cloak.

"You sound surprised," he murmured, his voice raw and hoarse. He lifted a hand to rub his face, then gazed at his hand. He was both relieved and disappointed to see it was as it had been for years: inhuman and still shadowed by his curse.

"She took your heart." Blue eyes were fixed on his face. "You let her."

He laughed briefly, his chest aching. "You took it back. I knew you would. My brave hero."

She climbed up onto the bed beside him and nestled against his side. One small hand stole over his chest, resting over his heart. "How did you know I would give it back to you?" she asked in a whisper. "All that power?"

He curled his fingers into her hair. "Because," he murmured, "you're you." He tilted his head to kiss her crown. "You were magnificent."

She leaned up on her forearm to look at him her eyes searching his face. "You know what happened?"

He covered her hand on his chest. "The heart knows," he replied quietly. He was unsurprised when her face crumpled, tears spilling in sheets down her cheeks. "Hush, dearie. Hush. You did what you had to."

"I never wanted to kill someone," she sobbed. "I tried to make her stop."

He drew her back down to rest her head on his chest, stroking her hair. "You only returned on her what she had already done to you, using her own magic against her," he said. He took a breath, then lied gently, "You didn't kill her, not truly. Only a curse, a binding curse."

Her sobs quieted. "Only binding?"

He stared at the ceiling and nodded. "You were struck by the comb, and yet, here you are. If her true love comes for her, I'm sure she would be fine."

She nodded slowly, and rubbed her cheek against his chest. "I can feel your heart," she whispered. Her hand moved in a slow circle beneath his. "It was beautiful, you know. Like a living jewel."

He stroked her fingers. She didn't realise just how great a risk he had taken. The power bound to him, the magic, it was addictive and overwhelming. And yet, there was no one else in the world he would have or could have trusted.

"We're home," he murmured.

She nodded. "Well, I couldn't just leave you lying in the water, could I?" She tapped his sternum with her fingertip. "It's so strange, seeing the world with magic. It's as if the whole world is glowing and everything is linked by golden threads. It let me carry you home." She smiled, just a little, against his chest. "It felt like flying."

His fingers were buried in her hair, and he tried to remember the last time he had seen magic that way. More often that not, it was like shadows, something on the edge of his senses, something terrible and undulating and ready to devour him whole. The deals were a way to keep it in check. A balance. A service and a price. Nothing for free. Since Belle's arrival, it had been less hostile, but it was still far from safe.

"You're very lucky, dearie," he said softly. "It likes you."

She laughed. "No," she murmured. "That's not how it works. It's how you approach it. I didn't understand until I saw how it was with her. If you're cruel, it'll be cruel. If you're afraid, it'll be frightening. If you're in love..." She shrugged. "That's what it felt like to me."

He stared at the ceiling, dazed.

"Rumpelstiltskin?" She kissed his chest. "Is something wrong?"

"You seem to have learned more about magic in an hour," he said softly, "than I have in my whole lifetime."

She leaned up on his chest, her body warm and soft against his. "That's because I actually study," she teased, then leaned down and kissed the tip of his nose.

"I see," he said with a half-smile.

She folded her arms on his chest, propping her chin on her crossed wrists, and gazed at him. "I need to ask you to do something for me," she murmured, tilting her head as he stroked his fingers gently through her hair.


"Don't ever, ever do anything like that again," she whispered, and for a moment, her calm voice trembled. "Don't scare me like that. Even when I put your heart back, you didn't move. I thought you were dead. You were so still for so long."

"Belle," he said softly, brushing her cheek with his fingers.

"If you do," she warned, unfolding one arm to tap his chest with a fingertip, "I'll kill you myself."

"No dying," he agreed, "on pain of death."

"Can you sit up?" she asked.

"I can try," he said, as she sat back. "Why?"

"Because I want to hold you."

He stared at her for a moment, then struggled to sit up. His chest still ached and he looked down. There was a star-shaped scar, where the flesh had torn apart. The Queen hadn't cared for gentleness in the least. It would remain there, he knew, dark magic burned into him, even though it's maker was gone forever.

It was a dizzying thought.

Belle had done what he could never have done on his own. With his heart and her courage and strength, the one person who had never stopped threatening them was finally gone. As much as the scar ached, it felt like a great burden had finally been lifted away.

Belle moved behind him, framing his body with her own and drawing him back to rest against her chest, her arms around his shoulders. She rubbed her cheek against his temple, and one leg wrapped around him, tangled in skirts and bedding.

He leaned back trustingly, closing his eyes, his hands covering hers on his chest.

"Now," she murmured, and the tone of voice made him wonder if he hadn't just arranged himself in a very nice trap of limbs, "I couldn't help notice something, when I brought you back."

"Oh?" he murmured, shivering pleasantly when she kissed his ear.

"My rose," she murmured, nuzzling his throat. "The one you gave me. Is it some kind of magic rose? Before, when I brought you in, it was glowing. I thought it was magic, but I didn't get a chance to look closely. Was it?"

"Oh. Yes." She really did know all the most delightful places to nibble on his neck. "S'Gaston."

The nuzzling promptly stopped.

"Pardon me?"

Rumpelstiltskin opened his eyes, going over what had just been said, then winced. "Ah."

She swatted his shoulder. "Did you turn my fiancé into a rose?"

"Only a little," he said sheepishly.

"Rumpelstiltskin!" she groaned. "I was wrong. You're a very bad man."

He tilted his head to peek timidly up at her. "He does make a much more interesting flower than a man, you have to agree," he said.

She frowned at him sternly, but he could see her lips twitching. "That's hardly the point! When you're feeling like yourself again, we're going to go straight down there and you're going to undo it, so we can send him home."

He squeezed her hands. "And you can send a letter to your father with him if you want," he said. "He was looking for you. I think he would like to know you're safe."

She stared at him for a moment, then wrapped her arms around him and hugged him, as if he had just given her the greatest gift in the world.

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 15 of 17

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