Continuing Tales

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 16 of 17

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Civilised Existence

In the end, Gaston was freed two days later.

Belle was more relieved by Rumpelstiltskin's returning strength than the appearance of the man who was her fiancé. Poor Gaston all but collapsed as the spell was undone, though he groped for his sword at the sight of Rumpestiltskin.

"No," Belle said, catching his arm.

On the other side of the room, Rumpelstiltskin gave a little giggle, back to his old self again. He was even wearing his wretched dragon-coat, making himself look as troublesome as possible. She made a note to throw something at him when Gaston was out of sight.

"I'm here to rescue you," Gaston said before he fell over.

Belle sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Gaston," she said, leaning down to help him sit up. "I don't need to be rescued. I'm fine. I made a deal and I'm not going to break it."

It took several attempts to get him onto the chair, while Rumpelstiltskin cheerfully leaned against the window frame, sunlight glittering on his skin and coat, as if he hadn't had his heart ripped out three days before.

"I see why this one was sent, dearie," he said, grinning. "All strength."

Belle shot a look at him. "If you're not going to say something useful, would you mind not saying anything?"

He bit his bottom lip, as if innocent of any crime, his hands splaying on his chest in feigned shock. He was playing it up and Gaston was looking more and more horrified by the moment.

Belle shook her head with a smile.

She pulled up a chair, and then calmly, and quietly explained to Gaston that no, he could not free her, because she wasn't really imprisoned. No, not even if he was the brave knight who came to fight for her. No, she didn't want to be carried off and rescued, and no, she really didn't need someone to slay Rumpelstiltskin for her.

"I don't understand."

Belle took one of Gaston's large hands between her own. "I know," she said. She looked over at Rumpelstiltskin, who was standing beside his wheel, turning it slowly with one fingertip. He wasn't spinning, just watching the wheel turning. "I don't either, but I'm happy here." She looked back at Gaston. "I want you to go and to be happy too."

When he finally left, he was bearing a letter to her father, and Rumpelstiltskin even managed to be civil to him. It wasn't quite an apology for months spent as a magical flower, but it was close enough.

"Happy?" he asked quietly. He had returned to his wheel, his hand resting on the rim.

She smiled, gathering up the teacups. "Of course," she said. "Why wouldn't I be?"

He looked at her for a moment, then away. "I thought you might have realised," he said quietly, "when you spoke to him." She looked up from the tray, frowning at his tone. "Why you're trapped here. Why you can't leave."

"What are you talking about?" she asked, approaching him, crockery forgotten.

He looked at her. "You remember what you said to me, that night I came to your father's house?"

"Of course. I said I would go with you." She closed her eyes. Of course. The wording was very clear. "Forever. I will go with you forever."

His lips trembled. It wasn't a smile. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"Why?" she asked. "I was there. You told me what the deal was. I chose to accept it. Forever."

"And if I could break the deal?" he asked, gazing at her. "If you could be free to go anywhere in the world? If you were no longer bound to me?"

"'If' doesn't come into it," she said, stepping closer and taking his hand. "Deal or not, I'm going with you forever. Even if it means just this place for the rest of my life, I'm not leaving you, even if you told me to."

His shoulders trembled when he sighed with relief. "Good. Yes. Good."

She tugged on his hand. "What's wrong?"

He looked at her. "I'm happy," he said quietly, searching her face. "I want you to be happy too."

She smiled at that. "My silly little man," she said. "I've held your heart in my hands. I've fought a witch to protect you. I've wooed your library and your bed out from underneath you. Do you think I could be happy with anyone else? Who else could live up to all that?"

He laughed, a short, breathless sound. "I want to give you a gift," he said.

"It's not another enchanted fiancé, is it?"

He smiled crookedly. "How many do you have lying around?"

She laughed. "Only one that I know of." She held up a hand. "And I'm not keen on hair combs either."

"I can't tell you," he said. "It would ruin the surprise." He laid his fingers lightly over face. "Close your eyes."

She obeyed, and giggled as he took her by the hands and led her towards the windows. "Is it something outside?"

"You could say that," he said, releasing her hands. "Now, don't peek."

"Not peeking," she agreed, smiling.

There was a long, breathless moment, and she wondered if he had snuck away, when suddenly, his lips met hers.

She pulled back so sharply that she collided with the window frame, her hands leaping to her lips. "What are you…"

He offered her a small, fragile smile, a faint glimmer of humanity showing through his mottled features. "I don't want to be afraid anymore," he said in a whisper.

Her heart was thundering and she could hear the blood rushing in her ears. He had power. He had everything he could possibly want. He even had her bound to him in word and deed. And he was willing to give it all up.

"Rumpelstiltskin," she whispered, reaching out to touch his cheek.

"Kiss me again?" he asked, his expression hopeful, echoing her own words of so long ago. "It's working."

Belle smiled and kissed him.

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 16 of 17

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