Continuing Tales

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 4 of 17

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Civilised Existence

The days were crawling by.

Belle was growing more and more frustrated. She had tried departing once a day, each day, for the past week and a half. The result was always exactly the same. It was annoying, but that wasn't what was frustrating her.

The frustrating thing was that he was dealing with the problem by trying to pretend it wasn't there. He acted exactly as he always did: eat, drink, go out - lucky son of a she-dog - make deals, come home, spin. It was as if nothing had changed, as if she had not bared her heart and soul, as if he had not accused her of being a liar and a traitor.

Sometimes, she wondered if throttling him would be considered a crime.

The thing that really restoked the fires of her temper every day, however, was the fact that he wouldn't speak to her. It was like they were starting all over again. He glanced at her from time to time, as if he wanted to say something, then hid his face in his spinning or in a book or just anywhere that didn't mean speaking to her.

For a grown man, he was acting more and more like a shy toddler.

Once, it might have seemed endearing, but now, when she felt like she was going mad in the silence, she wished he would say something, even if it was to boss her around again.

On principle, she refused to clean up after him, which meant that his alchemical experiments were leaving sooty stains everywhere. She stopped preparing his meals or dealing with his clothing. She even would have avoided the main room, if it hadn't been the room with the best chairs for curling up with a book.

The library was taking up most of her time when she wasn't reading. The shelves were a complete disaster, so she appointed herself the task of reorganising the place, no matter how long it took.

Still, when evening came, she would stride into the grand room, pull his favourite chair over to the fireplace and sit down in it, emphatically not paying the least little bit of attention to him. He was the one who was behaving like a child, so let him be the one to make the move back towards adult behaviour.

All the same, she couldn't help but notice that each day, he looked a little more bedraggled.

His ugly, spiked, leathery coat was gone again, for which she was grateful, though she couldn't imagine why he'd decided to hang it up again after just one day. His silk shirts, however, were looking sorrier with each passing day. The sleeves were limp, and even the collars seemed to be drooping.

On the twelfth day, she finally set her book down on the chair and stood up.

"Did you never learn to wash your own clothes?" she demanded, walking over to him and giving his sleeve a tug. "Look at the state of you! Anyone would think you had never seen cloth before."

He looked up at her, wide-eyed and clearly terrified of saying something wrong. "I never had anything silk… before," he said, stilling the wheel with his fingertips.

Belle sighed and tugged at the shoulder of his waistcoat. "Off with it all then," she said. "Go and change and get me all the things that need to be cleaned. You can make the dinner tonight." She plucked at his sleeve again. "I think I may be too busy."

A small, hopeful smile flitted across his lips and he scrambled upright. "I have some trousers…"

"Don't try your luck," she warned, but she had to bite down hard to hide a smile.

He half-skipped, half-ran towards the door, more animated than she had seen him in nearly a fortnight.

She shook her head and returned to her book to wait for his laundry. He might be a silly man, but then, they usually were, and at least this one knew when he had done something wrong, even if his response was to ignore it.

Some two hours and a freshly-cleaned pile of clothing later, she returned to the room for their first dinner together since that unfortunate day. Before that, they regularly sat and talked over a mostly-edible meal, sometimes about deals he was working on, sometimes about a book she was reading.

Rumpelstiltskin was standing beside the table, only a little stiffly, and he offered her a courteous bow. "My lady," he said, drawing a chair back for her to sit down.

My lady.

If only that were true, he could be a man again, and they could both be free.

Her expression showed too much, and she saw him lick his bottom lip nervously, as if expecting a reprimand. The poor, scared little man. No wonder he didn't believe her, when she told him she cared. How much had he been beaten down to believe he was truly worth nothing to anyone?

She smiled quickly, taking the seat. "Thank you," she said, arranging her skirts around her legs.

The relief that crossed his features was touching, and he uncovered her plate before taking his own seat. "I hope you like it," he said. "It's something I used to make a long time ago." He hesitated, then added quietly, "It was my son's favourite."

She looked up at him in surprise. She knew so little about him, and he was so careful to keep everything hidden. To be vulnerable, to be weak, terrified him. His reaction to her kiss, his passion and his obvious fear had made that clear. For it to be known that he had a human heart and a human soul could be fatal. A vulnerability of any kind would leave him open to enemies.

To that woman, on the road. The Queen.

And yet, he offered his son, that secret of his past again.

She smiled at him. "I'm sure it'll be wonderful," she said, motioning for him to pull his chair in and make himself more comfortable. He did so carefully, folding his hands one over the other on the table. "You never did tell me, you know."

He turned his plate, then folded his hands again. "Tell you what, dearie?"

She gazed at him. "About your son," she said.

He looked at his hands, then lifted his head to look at her. "No," he agreed quietly. "I didn't." His lips twitched, almost a brief, sad smile. "Not yet."

Not yet.

It wasn't much, she thought, as she tucked into her food. Two words. But it was so much more than an epic poem of grovelling and apology. And if he was willing to tell her, she was willing to wait.

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 4 of 17

<< Previous     Home     Next >>