Continuing Tales

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 17 of 17

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Civilised Existence

Rumpelstiltskin was mistaken.

He kissed the girl, the spell was broken, his name was erased from the cursed blade, his terrible powers were stripped away. He was a man once again, nothing more, nothing less. He had believed that he was happy. That was why he had kissed her.

He was mistaken.

What he thought was happiness was only the very tip of a very large and much more incredible iceberg.

He wasn't ready for what was to come, but Belle wasn't about to let him hide from the world anymore. Despite his fears of the reprisals that would await him, and the dangers of the world outside his castle, she insisted that they go. She dragged him back into the light, into the world of people, of adventure, and to his surprise, he found himself growing happier by the day.

She wanted to do everything and anything, as long as it was something, and so they did.

At first, he expected attack at every moment, but when no assaults came and no enemies approached, the fear diminished, little by little until he no longer feared the darkness of the night or the silence before the storm.

They travelled to the furthest reaches of the kingdoms. They walked unscathed, rode unmolested, and even ventured into the canyons of the firebirds without being harmed. Belle swam with mermaids in Seacrest cove, emerging from the waves with strings of pearls and seaweed. They danced in the forest by the light of the fireflies, and for a moment, he could forget his lame leg. They rode the rivers on rafts woven together by the woodcutters of the high mountains, laughing as the rainclouds broke above them.

Everything was an adventure for her, and her enthusiasm and wonder was infectious.

She even instilled such a sense of daring in him that he even offered to visit her hometown with her. Belle's smile was brighter than the sun, and when she introduced him to her father, formally and properly, no longer the monster trading services for servitude, the astonishment on Sir Maurice's face was almost worth all the trouble it had taken them to get there.

"You enjoyed that, admit it," Belle said, some days later when they finally returned to the castle. Both had agreed that adventures were wonderful things, but sometimes, home was good too.

He set down the satchel from his shoulder on the table. There was a fine layer of dust covering everything, but after so many months away from home, that hardly mattered. It felt right to be back, with her by his side.

"Which part?" he asked. "When I fell overboard in the river? When you buried my legs in the sand? Or perhaps when you scared off those bandits by chasing them with my stick?"

She shot an impish smile at him. "All of it. Right up to making my papa almost faint."

He chuckled. "Well, this is something he didn't expect," he admitted. He looked across the room at his spinning wheel. It was strange to see it so dusty and neglected. For decades, it had been his comfort and his diversion. Now, it had been sitting untouched for months while he rediscovered what it was to live.

"You spin," Belle said with a smile. "I'll go and see what monsters are lurking in the kitchen."

He approached the wheel, leaning on his stick. With one hand, he slowly dragged it into a turn, fine dust cascading like smoke to the floor. There was only straw to hand, no wool for the spinning. Spinning straw into twine was possible, by the hand of a skilled spinner, and it took but a moment to find the rhythm.

He closed his eyes, the motion as familiar to him as breathing. The creak of the wheel, the scent of the straw. It brought back the memories of a child long gone, but also the woman still present. He could mourn the loss of Baelfire now, and he felt at peace as he let the straw and twine fly through his fingers.

He didn't notice when Belle returned to the room, until she laid her hands on his shoulders.

"Do you want to know a secret?" she asked softly, sliding her arms around him.

He tilted his head and opened his eyes to glance sidelong at her. "What secret?"

She smiled cryptically, then leaned down to whisper in his ear, "I can still do magic."

The wheel stuttered to a halt and he turned on the stool to look up at her. "That's no joking matter," he said quietly.

She smiled. "When you touch magic, magic touches you," she said, and moved her hand in a graceful circle. The dust swirled away from every surface in the room, leaving it shining and spotless. "Once it touches you, it never lets go."

He stared at her, and for a brief moment, felt a flicker of envy, remembering what he had once been capable of. But he knew he should not be surprised. When she had touched the magic, it had loved her. "How long have you known?" he asked.

She kissed his cheek. "All the time," she admitted. "Why do you think nothing bad happened to us on all our travels?" Her arms were warm around him and she confided, her breath warm on his ear, "I protected what belongs to me."

He trembled at her words, remembering a time when he had done the same, but he had done it with blood and death and, in the end, misery. She suited magic. It looked right on her.

"You shine," he murmured.

She circled him to sit down beside him. "So do you," she said, laying her hand on his thigh. It was like that night again, so many months ago.

He shook his head and smiled. He didn't need magic, not when he had her and his home. "I'm just a man, Belle," he said. "That's all I need to be now."

Her eyes crinkled when she smiled. "A man who just spent half an hour spinning straw into gold," she said.

He stared at her, then looked down at the basket of twine. Twine that gleamed and glittered.

"I don't understand," he said, dazed.

She lifted her hands to frame his face. "Once it touches you," she repeated with a smile, "it never lets go."

He brought a trembling hand up to touch hers. "Like you," he said.

Belle just laughed and kissed him again.

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 17 of 17

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