Continuing Tales

Storybrooke's Tale of Beauty and the Beast

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Teddy's Twin

Part 37 of 37

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Storybrooke's Tale of Beauty and the Beast

~: Rumpelstiltskin :~

He awoke in the darkness of the bedroom. The curtains were drawn tight, just like he liked them. Sunlight and mornings never were his element.

With a groan he swung his feet to the cold, stone floor, rubbing one of his eyes. He could tell it was far too early for anyone with decent sleeping habits to be awake, but it was cold in the room. Too cold.

He stood lazily. Waking up was by far the worst part of the day. He infinitely preferred the night, the shelter of it. Still, even being "good" or whatever confounded side he'd converted to.

Pants, he reminded himself, his head still bowed. His neck didn't really want to hold up his head just yet. Pants were always a good thing.

He put on a pair he found at random- he would change into something more appropriate later – and half tucked his loose shirt into them. Enough with clothing. Too tired. He had to find someone to blame.

He pulled open the ornately carved double doors rather dramatically, before making his way to the stairs. He was a sorcerer. He could be as dramatic as he bloody well pleased, especially with it being so ridiculously early.

He probably shouldn't have stayed up so late with that potion-

He downed the wide, stone staircase in a trot, twisting the ring on his finger. All the curtains were open. Of course they were. All the early morning sunlight was streaming in, making him blink blearily. Some of the windows were even open- the blasted birds were tweeting sweetly. Oh gods, too much morning all too soon.

He wound his way through several corridors, taking the walk to wake him up, as he poked his head into the vast library.

His library had once been chaos that he would have had to sort through. Now it was all neat, with that favored seat by the fireplace and it held nothing he was looking for. He searched for a moment anyways, because it was a large library, twisting his gold loop even more nervously now, but nothing. The curtains were still drawn in this room. Not a good sign.

He cleared his sleepy mind, trying to think…

What was going on, he wondered, not in the library at this hour?

Before he grinned languidly.

He remembered now exactly where she was.

He appeared behind her in the kitchen, but paused, admiring the view.

His lovely, little Belle was still just as beautiful, wearing blue, her sleeves rolled up and her brown curly hair twisted back so she could work freely on the enchanted stove top. He smiled as he watched her shoulders move, and the exposed portion of her neck was ever so inviting.

He didn't know how he'd ever lived without her, here at Dark Castle, or back in Storybrooke.

He stepped up closer, winding his arms around her slowly so that she froze. He kissed her neck, and whispered pleasantly, "Good morning."

"Good morning, love," and he heard the smile in her voice as she leaned her head back against his shoulder to kiss his jaw. "You're up early."

"I wonder who's to blame for that," he growled, before nipping at her skin. She'd left him alone in the bed. It always woke him up, the cold always reaching him faster than was decent. He'd only rarely been able to sleep in, because her sleeping patterns on rising with the sun were so deplorably consistent. She'd always been fond of mornings.

She shivered agreeably. "Don't you think it's a little early?" she asked.

"Uhmm," he mumbled against her shoulder, "Better to make something good out of it."

She shook her head was the smallest laugh, before pushing forward, "I have food to cook."

He pulled her back roughly against him. "Who said you could go anywhere?"

She tossed her hair in his face, making him wrinkle his nose. "Careful," she cautioned him with a smile on her lips, looking down at herself.

His own hand traveled affectionately across her swollen belly. Five and a half months pregnant. He smiled softly as her hand found his, and pulled it across, holding it still. There was the smallest movement- at first he suspected the wee thing was giving his poor mother trouble, but then the same small movement.

"Hiccups," she giggled. He grinned broadly, feeling the movement again.

He kissed her shoulder again, continuing to feel the movement even as she started frying again. She placed several fresh strips of meat on the frying pan, moving the others off onto a plate. He made to snitch a piece- and his hand was slapped by the spatula.

"Not yet," she scolded.

"You have enough to feed an army," he grumbled, annoyed.

She snorted delicately, "We're going to need it."

"Papa!" the small cry came from the kitchen door. Both he and Belle turned in unison to see a little girl pattering in "Papa, Pearce is playing on the Spinning Wheel again!"

"Good morning to you too, dear one," he smiled at the little blonde, kneeling as she skipped towards him. How she was blonde both he and Belle were still trying to figure out. Belle thought it was the golden potion he'd given her when she'd fallen terribly ill during her pregnancy. He insisted she'd run off with an Umberto character- "You always were so fond of that name," he teased. She would huff at him, angry that he would even pretend she would run off with anyone, especially someone named Umberto.

That illness had been the most terrifying moment of his life, next to the time when he'd watched her get shot. He'd gone to far off places, even daring swordfights, looking for a magic spells, any cure that would work and he'd brought back the most likely, creating a one of a kind golden concoction for her to drink. It had worked, but the result was a blonde, bright eyed child.

Little Persephone bounded into her father's open arms, her rosy cheeks her bright blue eyes a mirror image of her mother's. She was the only one that had gotten her mother's eyes. So far, at least.

"Good morning, Papa!" she chimed.

"Good morning, Sephie," he replied with a smile, hoisting her little three year old self up in his arms. "Now what was this about Pearce?"

"He's gonna prick his finger!" Persephone said, waving her arms about, her little round face pouting in concern. "We have to save him Papa!"

"Then off we go!" He turned back to Belle at the door, who was smiling at him lovingly, and he paused, "Is Ember awake yet?"

"After how late you both were up? I doubt she'd be up until noon if she had it her way," Belle said with that familiar twist of her mouth, "Sadly she can't. Remind her that its Prince Henry's birthday today, and we have a picnic to attend."

"Leave me to wake up the little spitfire," he grumbled ruefully, tugging on one of Persephone's curls.

She pointed at him with her spatula accusingly, "You're the one who keeps her up so late teaching her spell work."

"Papa!" Sephie whined, rocking back and forth in his arms to get his attention.

Belle smiled at him conspiratorially.

"Right!" he touched Persephone on the button of her nose, before he grinned back at Belle. He turned out the door, and headed to find Pearce. And if he was trying to spin then there was only one place he could be.

They had kept the Spinning Wheel up in his work room, where he'd moved it after Belle had left the first time. He hadn't been able to bear being in that room alone, where they'd spent so many afternoons. Now it stayed there because he didn't want his children hurting themselves on it.

Of course it made them all the more curious.

"Papa, let's use magic!" Sephie proposed, bouncing chirpily in his arms again. Sephie really was the spitting image of her mother, only golden. Her little smile was something he could never refuse. Spoiled little dear one.

He paused at the foot of a staircase. "Magic you say?" he pretended to ponder it for a moment. Sephie, though, was not as interested in magic as much as the other two, and was fonder of it helping her. The little princess of the family. Belle said she would grow out of it, that it was something that she had been apt to herself before she'd grown up a bit. Rumpelstiltskin told her wasn't quite so sure that Belle had grown out of it. Belle had made a face in response. He smiled crookedly at his little dear one, "Well, I suppose."

"Yes!" she shrilled with glee, arms extended to the ceiling, and he could only smile at her as the disappeared from the staircase.

The pair of them appeared in his tower of a work room, Sephie still giggling and Rumpelstiltskin put Sephie down on the floor as he viewed the situation.

"I told you Papa!" she pointed.

"Sephie!" groaned a boy's voice, "I told you not to tell!"

Pearce was six years of age, and seven in eight months if you would listen to him tell you, with brown hair that curled at the ends like his mothers, and dark, thoughtful eyes. He slid off of the stool next to the Spinning Wheel, and touched the Wheel to keep it from going around, before clasping his hands in front of him.

Pearce was his most avid learner, his deepest thinker, and out of all the children, the one most willing to be helpful. As his deepest thinker, he was the most strategic. In a game of chess with his older sister he always won, even at five, when he'd been introduced to it. Ember didn't particularly like that.

Pearce enjoyed reading with his mother in the library, almost fonder of adventure stories than his own mother, romping around and acting them out. He babbled about, often performing one role or the next in his free time, plotting out how battles would happen and what would be the swiftest way to slay an ogre.

He often could be found helping, however. He helped his mother in the kitchen, and in the cleaning, fetching things for her when she asked. He used to cling to her skirts as a toddler, but now he was exploring more on his own. Belle had had a panic attack when they hadn't been able to find him one day, but he had been in the gardens weeding, because his mother had mentioned that she wasn't going to be able to work on that until later.

The lad was also fond of helping his father spin.

As a child he had found fistfuls of straw and brought them to him to spin into gold, eager to learn the art. However, it was a higher stage of alchemy, to spin straw into gold, and so he had taught his boy merely to spin, sitting him on his knee as he did so as they worked together. Pearce did want to learn to spin straw into gold. He didn't want to wait until he was seven to start learning magic, like Ember. But he had forced Ember to wait that long, so he had to be fair.

Pearce was far more interested in alchemy than spell casting. Rumpelstiltskin had a time of it keeping him away from alchemist books, where even at age six, Pearce had begun to read.

"Pearce," Rumpelstiltskin started in a disappointed tone.

"But Papa!" Pearce pleaded, "You don't like the mornings! I didn't think you would be up until-." Pearce stopped himself, looking up at his father with a guilty face.

Rumpelstiltskin hid a smile by thinning his lips. Pearce had fully expected not to be caught.

"We talked about this," Rumpelstiltskin chided, kneeling down in front of the lad, "If you want to spin, call for me. I'll be right there."

"But you're so busy all the time," Pearce complained imploringly.

"You're still not supposed to!" Sephie chimed in promptly.

Rumpelstiltskin turned to Sephie, "You go help Mama in the kitchen," he told her, scooting her away. No one wanted to be told by their little sister that they were doing wrong. As she skipped out of the door of his work room, he looked back to a guilty looking Pearce. "I'm never too busy for you."

"But you are! You're always going places," Pearce said, waving his hands in a very familiar way, motioning out of a window.

"I've got to work," and it was true. He had transactions to make, bartering and deal making. He was still a tradesman after all. Not to mention he was in the king's employ, and still a part of the War Council he was still supposed to be attending regularly. Royals and their committees. This is what happened when you picked a side. You got stuck with… responsibilities. "It's what happens when you're an adult."

"Can't I come with you?" Pearce pleaded, his dark, thoughtful eyes round.

This was a daily petition. If not an hourly one. Ever since Ember had gone with him once on a business trip, Pearce had wanted to go with him.

"Not until you're seven." It was a magical number for a reason after all.

He stamped his little foot. Why did his children have to be so darling when he was trying to be serious? He blamed Belle. "Ember can go and she never does! Can't we switch ages?"

Rumpelstiltskin chuckled, standing, "No, son. You're six for a reason." He patted his head.

"What reason?" Pearce wanted to know.

Rumpelstiltskin smiled, urging the lad forward out of the work shop down the steps. "You have to figure that out yourself."

"It's because there isn't one, is there?" Pearce harrumphed.

"No," Rumpelstiltskin said, and again, cursed his children for being so darling, "It's because you have to figure it out. You can't expect me to know everything."

Pearce looked up at him in confusion, "But isn't that why Their Majesties like you? Because you know everything?"

"Not exactly," Rumpelstiltskin tilted his head back and forth, thinking of the Royals. No, they didn't like that he knew everything at all. He grinned down at his boy. "Your mother is making us breakfast before we make ourselves presentable for the picnic today. Are you packed?"

"Yep!" Pearce said excitedly. Prince Henry's birthday was a big celebration, hosted every year, but this year was going to be extra special. He was turning eighteen after all. It made Rumpelstiltskin blink. 8 years. Had it really been 8 years since the end of the curse? Well, he supposed Ember was 7 years old… "Can we get a dragon egg when we're in the city?"

The comment was enough to jar him out of his reverie.

"No," Rumpelstiltskin replied automatically. A dragon egg? Where had that come from? Pearce spent far too much time reading with his mother.

"Why not? I'd take really good care of it," Pearce promised. But he didn't know what he was talking about. A dragon egg turned into an infernal baby dragon, which then turned into a fully fledged, fire breathing and very detrimental problem.

He decided to turn it into a monetary issue, "When you can pay for every cow for that dragon to eat you can get a dragon egg."

"Great! I can get it when I turn seven!" hooted Pearce in triumph, pumping a fist into the air.

"What?" How by the gods had he come up with that answer?

Pearce looked up eagerly, his dark eyes shining, "After you teach me to spin straw into gold, then I can get a dragon!"

Obviously the monetary issue had been the wrong way to go. "Pearce, you can't have a dragon for a pet."

"Why not?" Pearce pouted.

No. No. This was an issue he was not going to lose on. "They can't be tamed."

"What does tamed mean?" Pearce inquired inquisitively. Pearce asked for definitions all the time.

Rumpelstiltskin answered fluidly, "It means it can't be controlled."

"That's why I'll be the first to control a dragon!" oh his children could dream as avidly as their mother. "Papa I bet I could ride one!" Rumpelstiltskin almost choked- his son, a top one of those scaly monstrosities- and he would probably try to do it too if given the opportunity- "Papa?" his boy's voice interrupted the nightmare.

"Let's discuss this when you're much much older," he tried to speak through the obstruction in his throat. Children and their lack of self preservation in want of adventure. Just as bad as their mother. Speaking of dragons, "Why don't you go wake your sister up?"

Pearce shook his head immediately, backing up, "Mama told you to do it."

"How do you know?" Rumpelstiltskin grimaced.

"Because you're asking me to do it," Pearce pointed at himself, his dark eyes wide.

Rumpelstiltskin shook his head with a small smile, "Clever lad. Go help your Mama set the table," Rumpelstiltskin ushered his boy forward, who ran down the corridor and out of sight.

He sighed, and disappeared to his daughter's door. He knocked on the wood in between him and his daughter. Much good it would do if she really got angry. This was her third door since starting her magic lessons. Her mother had declared that the next time she blew up a door they weren't getting her a new one. Thus this door had remained for several months. He wasn't counting on her remembering that detail at such an early hour however.

He knocked again. "Ember."

There wasn't a reply. To be expected.

He knocked harder. "Ember Lynne."

There was a mumbled growl from the other side of the door.

He didn't have time for this. Impatiently he entered the room. It was dark, but he knew where to open the canopy that swathed the four poster bed.

"Ember Lynne, lass, you need to wake up," he spoke to her softly, but he knew she heard him because she harrumphed again.

"It's too early Papa!" she moaned, twisting away so her bedding swathed around her seven year old self. He had been so sure that this stubborn phase was supposed to happen when she was in her teens. The fact that it had come early, or worse, that this was just the beginning, boded ill for Dark Castle and all who lived there.

"It's Prince Henry's birthday," he reminded her, "We have to be at the celebrations." When she only grumbled again, he frowned. Enough with being gentle. He cast a spell that opened the curtains sharply.

"Papa!" she shouted, ducking her head under blankets.

"Ember?" he let his voice sound like a question, a smile slipping over his face.

"I'm not ready to be awake," she muttered from under her sheets, and he raised his eyebrows.

"You're not ready to be awake, hmm?"

He twisted his fingers in the air. He heard her gasp as an invisible magic hand grabbed one of her ankles-.

And flung her upside down into the air.

"PAPA!" she yelled as she dangled upside down, her toes tickling the top of her canopy bed. Ember's thick wild tangle of crimped auburn curls tumbled to the bed as her pointed little nose crinkled. Her large, almond shaped tawny eyes sparked dangerously shrieking defiance. "Papa put me down!"

Thankfully she only had a seven year old's magical capability. And that was dangerous enough. He twisted his mouth into a smile as her eyes met his, "Ready to be awake yet?"

She folded her arms up angrily, frowning in defeat, "Fine."

"Good." And he dropped the spell. She yelped as she fell to a heap onto her bed.

She sat herself up, flipping her mass of curls behind her head, holding her head up high, "When I'm a powerful sorceress I'm going to hang you by your ankles!" she pointed at him, her little bow of a mouth tight.

Ember was normally a clever, levelheaded girl. She was just as fond of mornings as her father was. She liked to wake at her own leisure, and normally they let her. But the occasion warranted the punishment, as it were.

"Oh, I believe it, lass, I believe it," he smiled, and offered her a hand off of her bed, "Do you want to make the bed, or shall I?"

"I can do it!" she sounded more cheerful, and he watched her as she drew a ball of magic from her very small pocket, and cast. The sheets straightened themselves out, and then the blanket unfurled itself across the bed, pillows puffing themselves up before the lot of them toppled on top of one another.

He smiled at her, but she harrumphed.

"What is it?" he asked, rubbing one her small shoulders.

"There's still a wrinkle," she pointed at it, glowering at the offender.

He fixed it with a twirl of his fingers. "Ever the little perfectionist," he bent and kissed her fluffy hair.

"I'll get it right one of these days!" she proclaimed, with a smile.

He nodded in agreement, guiding her out of the door of her bedroom, closing it magically behind them. It had survived another day. "You're much better than you were even two months ago."

"I'll get better even still!" she told him determinedly. Ember was the most willful, which was saying something, though she was responsible. She enjoyed learning, but only if it interested her. She had decided that from now on she was staying up late with her father and learning how to cast spells properly, and watched as he did magic past her ability.

Her mother had not liked that idea at all, saying that she needed her sleep so she could grow. Ember had appeared at her father's side every night anyways. Finally, after the fifth time of putting her to bed one night, she had come to him in tears. Ember didn't cry very often, unlike her sister, who was constantly worrying about monsters in her bedroom at night. He had immediately been concerned, knelt down next to her.

"What is it, lass?" he asked, truly troubled, pulling the blanket she had with her more tightly around her frame. He sent out a search for other magical entities in the estate, searched to see if one of his protective wards had been broken.

Tears overflowed, "I just want to learn, Papa, it's all I want. I'll be good! I'll be the best!"

He felt his heart break in his chest. "Yes, you will, but you need to go to sleep now," he rubbed her shoulders soothingly.

"No, Papa! I want to learn now!" she stepped away, her free hand a fist at her side, her other hand clutching the blanket, her little pointed face screwed up.

"Ember-," he sighed.

"I won't stop, Papa. I'm as determined as Mama, and you said so, remember?" and her tawny eyes were alive with that determined steel that was her mother's, but the sly bartering that was all his own. He was as much to blame for this predicament as Belle was, and it was all mixed in this beautiful daughter of his.

He had given in then. He just hadn't told Belle until about a month ago. And Belle was still blaming him. He got caught between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

He smiled as he sighed, "That you will, lass, that you will."

But she never heard his words. She had already skipped ahead of him, out of sight, waking him from his reminiscences. He had to be on the alert now. His girl wasn't called "little spitfire" throughout the kingdom for nothing.

He felt the tug of magic around the bend of a corridor, and smiled as he continued to pace forward.

"Gotcha!" she shouted, and a blast of magical fire spurted out from her little palms.

He spun cleanly away, appearing right behind her, "Nice try, spitfire." She never really was one for subtly. Pearce had picked up that trait more than she had.

"I'll catch you off guard one of these days," she vowed, her small hands fisting and her almond shaped eyes sparking, though she wasn't angry. She enjoyed the challenge of trying to best her father, "I know I will!"

He smiled wearily, "That's what I'm worried about."

She grinned in appreciation, her tawny eyes dancing dangerously, before skipping on ahead of him. He decided it'd be more beneficial to his health if he appeared straight to the dining room.

They never used the entire dining table when they ate as a family. They all sat clustered at one end, and enjoyed it. He paused in the doorway to the dining hall, which once used to be what Belle called "His Trophy Room."

Belle was setting the last of breakfast down, and his children were all gathered around the table. Belle looked up to smile happily at him, warm and framed by sunlight. It made him catch his breath. Her smile widened- she knew what affect she had on him. He raised his eyebrows to her, a smile playing on his own lips, and stepped forward to join them.

~: Belle :~

Meal times at Dark Castle were quite the spectacle. And after this particular spectacle of Sephie managing to comb oatmeal through her hair, crying that her fork was a "dinglehopper" she had run them all into three separate bathrooms, to hurry and get ready for the journey. She gave Sephie to Rumpelstiltskin, knowing he would have her sparkling clean in a trice. She left Ember to her own devices until she called for help with her hair.

How she and Rumpelstiltskin had managed to have three children with such unmanageable hair was a mystery to her. Ember's hair was self explanatory- Belle's thickness, combined with the crimped curls that made up Rumpelstiltskin's hair, it was bound to be a nightmare. Persephone's hair was cute if she left it alone, but whenever Belle tried to tie it up, or weave a ribbon threw it, the curls ended up in snarls. They normally left Sephie's hair alone due to that, letting it fall in her three year old face in darling golden ringlets. Pearce's hair was almost the worst of all three. Pearce's hair would not lay flat. No matter what they did to it. It stuck out at odd ends, a frazzled mess. Most of the time it was passable if they ran a comb through it, but normally it was not meant to be tamed, and cutting it? Only made it worse. Whenever they tried to cut it evenly, they inevitably missed a bit, and it made it look all the more wild.

Belle helped Pearce into the tub now. The beautiful thing about living in an enchanted castle in meant that there never was any lack of hot water. It could always be charmed warm again.

Belle had gone to get some extra soap made special for hair use when she found a rather depressed looking Pearce.

"What is it Pearce?" she asked, concerned, kneeling next to the bath tub as he glowered at the bubbles in his bath.

"Why won't Papa train me too?" he pouted, and popped one of the bubbles viciously.

Belle sighed herself into smiling, "Because you're not seven yet."

"It's not fair," Pearce told her, looking at her with brown eyes that were so akin in color to his father's. "Ember is always going to be better than me because she's older."

"She's not better than you," Belle assured calmly, and began to soap his hair. "And you'll get to learn soon enough." Oh heaven, two magical children running through the house. The thought alone had her up in the middle of the night worrying, and it hadn't even happened yet. They were going to need to put up wards or something to keep total chaos from reigning. Not that it already didn't, she thought with a small smile.

"Mama, I promise I'll be good! I won't use it to hurt Ember!"

"I know you won't. But no, not until you're seven," Belle reaffirmed, and gave him a bucket to douse his own head with water. He did so with the biggest pout on his face that it made Belle laugh to herself as he looked up at her with a sad lip and his hair plastered to his scalp. "It's ok, Pearce," she assured, standing to help him out of the tub, "You know you get to see the twins today."

"You think Con will be there?" Constantine was one Red's and Jiminy's first set of twins. Irene was the other one, and she liked to play with Alexandria, even though Alexandria was the oldest of the bunch.

She nodded soothingly, "I know Constantine will be there. It's Prince Henry's birthday, remember?"

"Does that mean Richard's going to be there too?" asked Pearce in a fussy tone.

Richard was Snow's and James' first son. Richard was Ember's age, and they ran around together making all sorts of trouble, and often Pearce got the worst of it. "Yes. And also it means that William is coming."

"I don't like Richard," huffed Pearce.

"I know," Belle sighed, scrubbing his arm with a wash cloth, "But with William there you won't even notice." William was Richard's younger brother.

"He likes to pick on me," Pearce moped, offering his other arm to be washed.

Belle stifled a chuckle, but it still reached her voice, as she offered her hand for Pearce to get out of the tub, "He does not."

"He does so!" Pearce declared, stepping out of the tub with Belle's help, "If I had magic-."

"We're not starting that again," she smiled, wrapping him up and rubbing him down fiercely with a towel until he started to laugh. When he was mostly dry, she wrapped the towel tightly around him, his head poking out with his hair sticking up in odd angles. They had to fix that fast before it dried that way. "Magic doesn't solve everything, you know." Like the fact that Pearce's hair could not be tamed.

"Is that why you don't practice magic as much as Papa?" Pearce asked as she found a comb, "Because you think it doesn't solve everything?"

"Maybe," Belle nodded as she knelt down again, "But also it's because I'm too busy trying to make your hair lie flat all the time," and smiled as Pearce giggled as she attacked his hair with new fervor. "What if we shaved you bald?" she teased when it proved impossible with his giggling.

"No! No!" he squealed, burying his wet self into her, his little arms around her waist.

"I'm not going to shave you bald," she told him, and then turned in surprise to see Rumpelstiltskin staring at her. The shiver that crept up her back as she looked at him was one that made her smile hesitantly. He always had that affect on her.

Sephie ran in, dressed in a beautifully bright lavender dress. "Mama look what Papa got me!" She did the cutest twirl that left Belle grinning.

"What's taking you so long?" he wanted to know with a smirk.

She narrowed her eyes at him, but still smiled.

"Papa what'd you get me?" Pearce asked excitedly.

"Your new outfit lad, is lying on your bed," he gestured out of the door. The boy ran for it, towel streaming behind him like a cape.

"I want to see, I want to see!" shouted Sephie, running after him.

"You're going to spoil them," Belle said, walking up to him as he watched his children run down the corridor.

"Going to?" he asked sarcastically, wrapping an arm around her, making her lean against him. She smiled at that. Yes, they already were spoiled. "Nothing but the best for our children," he told her, kissing her cheek, "They deserve it."

"Mama!" shouted Ember from down the hallway.

She shared a knowing look with him, before calling back, "Coming!"

~: Rumpelstiltskin :~

Dressed in their finest, they lined up in the dining hall, Pearce holding the picnic basket for their mother and Sephie rocking back and forth on the spot.

"Alright," he told them in a serious tone. "You know the rules."

"We have to play nice with the royals," Ember huffed.

"Even Richard," Pearce grumbled.

"Especially Richard, even if he doesn't play nice with you," Belle inserted, "And you, missy, don't encourage him," she rounded on Ember, who wasn't the least bit fazed.

"I'm so excited! I get to show Richard some magic!" Ember bubbled.

"That's another thing," Rumpelstiltskin added, "No magic."

"But why?" Ember whined, as Pearce went, "Ha Ha!" Belle shushed Pearce immediately.

"Because," and at this he and Belle shared another knowing look, "We don't need any fireworks going off early."

"But Papa," complained Ember, her little face distraught.

"Not this time, Ember," he told her, locking eyes with her to convey how serious this was to him, "And I'm warning you now, if you use magic today, no magic lessons for a week."

She folded her arms up angrily, turning away from him. Belle sighed, looking to him again. It was going to be an adventure of a day, to say the least.

"Alright, everyone, you know how this goes," he stepped forward, and joined hands with Sephie, who joined hands with Pearce. Belle took the handle of the picnic basket, and Pearce grinned at her as he clasped the same handle even tighter. Rumpelstiltskin looked to Ember, who was still fuming with her arms folded so tightly he wondered if they could ever come apart and work the same again. Belle extended her hand to Ember.

"Ember, dear," Belle spoke soothingly.

She glowered first at her mother, and then at him, but when she glanced back at her mother's patient face, she looked ashamedly at the floor, before uncoiling her arms and giving her hand to her mother. She was more grudging about giving her hand to her father, but did so, her grip tight. He smiled at Belle, and her amazing ability to calm Ember even in her angriest of storms, before speaking up.

"Everybody on the count of three."

The family counted together.

"1," and Pearce glance excitedly at him.

"2!" Sephie shrilled over them all, and Rumpelstiltskin heard Ember mumble the number under her breathe.

He looked up to Belle at the last second, and watched her smile elatedly through, "3."

~: Belle :~

They appeared in the Great Hall of Charming Castle, Sephie and Pearce still laughing, and startling nearly everyone in the area. And the chaos dispersed into groups.

She felt Ember pull away from them roughly, and run right over into Richard, nearly bowling him over entirely.

Richard of the Enchanted Forest Kingdom was eight, with his mother's black as night hair and his father's charming blue eyes, not to mention his father's smirk of a smile. "Hi, Em!"

"Richy- let's go!" she told him, forcing him to put her down.

And the pair disappeared from sight.

Belle heard Parker, Emma's boy who was six, call after them, "Hey guys, wait up!"

Sephie had found the Cricket family's triplets, and Annette, Snow's youngest, all her age, and was already leading them in some sort of parade-

Pearce looked up at her, asking with his eyes instead of his words. She took the basket from him, and nodded, before he went and hunted down Constantine and William.

"Oh Gods," Rumpelstiltskin mumbled as their children ran pel mel from them, into the crowds of nobles, and dwarves and fairies and all sorts of other mythical beings.

Belle shook her head, "And we wonder why they only invite us for holidays and special events."

"I don't wonder," Rumpelstiltskin said, and they shared a knowing look before laughing quietly together.

"Belle! Rumpelstiltskin!" It was Henry, clad in the family colors, grinning broadly, and shook Rumpelstiltskin's hand, clapping him on the back, "Glad you could make it."

"Your Highness," Rumpelstiltskin nodded respectfully, and Belle couldn't help but hide a smile as he pulled his hand away with flutter of his fingers (hand shaking was not Rumpelstiltskin's favorite) and Henry moved to hug Belle warmly.

"Oh, Henry, it's so good to see you," Belle smiled as he released her, "You're looking well."

And he was. He'd grown, lean, not quite fully muscled yet, but his face was longer, more like his grandfather's than Snow's and Emma's, but his eyes were still bright. This world was suiting him well. It had been from the moment he'd stepped into it.

"Thank you. You are - too," he looked awkwardly at her belly. Belle smiled kindly.

"So you're eighteen," Rumpelstiltskin cut in, "Any plans of marriage yet?"

"Not yet. They're coming though," he smiled secretly.

It was no court secret that Henry was fond of Grace, the Hatter Jefferson's daughter. He glanced behind him to look at her warmly.

"Well hurry up, man," Rumpelstiltskin encouraged with false bravado, "You're only young once." He shared a sideways glance with Belle.

"I know," Henry ducked his head, and he was ten again, bashful, and darling.

"Belle!" Snow White waltzed into the picture, followed by her loyal husband. Henry bowed out of the conversation, moving to discuss with other people, "Rumple," she nodded at him respectfully, before turning back to Belle, who threw her husband a sympathetic grin, "Look at you coming right along. This is four, right?"

"Yes," Belle nodded as Snow felt her swollen stomach. Rumpelstiltskin's hand was at her back immediately. He was overly protective, as usual, but especially when she was pregnant.

"And everything's – going ok, this time?" Snow looked up with concern into Belle's mind.

Very subtle, Rumpelstiltskin said irately in mind link. They were always connected this way, but he kept the bond stronger during these sorts of functions.

Well, after the panic over Sephie, and… losing our last, Belle bent her head in sadness, and she felt Rumpelstiltskin's frustration spike at Snow even more. There was even heart ache in happily ever afters. "Yes, everything's going smoothly," Belle assured.

"You'll tell us if you need anything," James assured confidently.

"Of course, Your Majesty," Rumpelstiltskin's voice sounded sticky sweet. She knew that tone as one to beware, even if others didn't pick up on it. That tone meant he was annoyed and wanted them to go kindly jump off a bridge and leave him, or in this case, them, alone. He was still so violent after all these years. It made her giggle.

"Well, we have other guests to attend to," Snow excused herself, and her husband bowed.

"We will see you at the picnic," nodded Belle in a half curtsey, shifting the basket in her arms. Rumpelstiltskin picked it off of her smoothly, and smiled politely as they left.

"Running?" she asked as he began to move them forward, one hand still on her back.

"Running," he nodded, and they smiled together as they exited the Great Hall, people watching them as they went, walking hastily away. Belle grinned. Her husband hated these parties.

~: Ember :~

"Just show me one thing," Richy said encouragingly.

"No, Papa will know," Ember countered.

They were sitting together outside on the grounds, near where the picnic was being held, near the wall, beneath the blossoming trees and out of sight. It was one, at least that's what the great bell had tolled a few minutes ago, and Richy was being as persuasive as ever.

Richy and Ember had been best friends as long as they could remember. They did everything together when they were together, which often meant pranking Alexandria or Pearce. Alexandria was more fun to prank, because she got more upset, but because she was almost a year older than Richard it was harder. Pearce was easy to tease, but more likely to tattle. It was constantly a problem. And then they had to avoid Parker.

Parker was Richard's nephew, which was weird, because Richy was only two years older, but he was always wanting to hang out with Ember and Richy. It was really annoying sometimes. But that was ok. Richy always found a new place to hide in this large castle.

"No he won't," Richy said, "Not if it's a really small thing."

"Yes he will," Ember disagreed, "He knows everything."

"There's no way," Richy shook his head.

"Why do you think he's your dad's best sorcerer huh?" Ember countered, pursing her lips.

"He can't know everything," Richy rolled his eyes. "Watch." He took Ember's face in her hands, and kissed her square on the mouth. Ember stared at his closed eyes before he let her go. She pushed him away, wiped his spit from her face. He was smirking.

"What was that?" she shrieked.

"See?" he said, tilting his head, and laying back on the grass. "If he knew everything he would be angry. And he's not even here."

She stood up, "That was weird!" she fumed, her hands fists.

"I was just proving a point," he shrugged. "Sit down."

"No," she said resolutely.

"Look I promise I won't kiss you again. Just sit," he told her. And- she sat. "See? Now show me a little magic."

"You didn't prove anything," Ember grumbled.

"Sure did!" Richy disagreed.

"I'm tired of this game. Let's do something else," she sighed, and then grinned wickedly, looking at him excitedly, "Let's go ruin Alexandria's tea party."

He perked up at that, "Only if you'll show me magic later."

She rolled her eyes, "Fine. It's a deal."

He grinned just as wickedly, "Deal."

~: Rumpelstiltskin :~

He felt a twinge – what had just happened?

"What's wrong?" Belle asked, looking at him in concern. He and Belle were still on the grass on a blanket, surrounded by other- people. He had tried to find a spot on the outskirts of the grounds, where they wouldn't be bothered too often.

That had not gone according to plan.

Snow and Charming had set up camp near them, followed by Ella and Thomas, and then the whole bloody court was circled around them and they had absolutely no where to run without making it obvious that they were running.

So when Belle asked what was wrong, she already knew he was suffering already from his loathing of courtiers simpering to one another across from him, and that was not what had alerted him to something.

As a father he kept tabs on his children, especially after previous incidents- he knew, even though Sephie was out of sight that she was off with the Cricket triplets and Annette, playing in a sand lot. He knew Pearce, Con and William had snuck off the grounds back into the castle into the library, where they discussed battles of old and invented new. And he knew Ember and Richard were sitting in the trees next to the wall only fifty yards away. A minute ago they had been making fun of courtiers, teasing about how to lift tea cups and wondering how to attack little Alexandria and her little band of followers. He had left them alone just for a moment, had been distracted by Thomas asking him if business was good.

But something had just happened. She hadn't used magic- but magic had been at work.

"Is it-?"

"No," he shook his head.

His Belle was always worried about monsters finding their children.

Rumpelstiltskin had made a lot of enemies, plenty of them sitting with them on the lawn, but most of them were smart enough not to retaliate. Especially to retaliate and threaten his children, or his wife. At least, if they valued their souls.

No, this was different.

"Belle," Emma came to them, balancing her youngest of her two on her hip, "Could you watch Matthew for a bit?"

"Of course," Belle smiled, and took little Matthew from her.

"And what are you going to go do?" Rumpelstiltskin asked with an annoyed tilt of his head. People dumped their kids on his wife all the time, especially Emma. He had little patience for it.

"They're starting up a game of-," she started out guiltily, I was going to go play, and since Belle is pregnant, and she needs to take it easy-."

"It's not a problem, Emma," smiled Belle serenely. You're going to get us into trouble, again, Rumpelstiltskin, she added in his mind.

"I don't care," he mumbled out loud as Emma walked away without so much as a thank you. Emma still wore pants like a man, a fashion that had been taken on by the more aggressive women of court. Belle still wore breeches or hose on occasion, but she looked sexy when she did so, not angry or butch, he thought cruelly. Then again, Emma had grown up in a different world, and – nope, he stopped himself. No excuse. Even if she had shattered the curse, it didn't mean that she had a right to fling her children on other people and "go play."

She had taken to this world better than he had thought, and motherhood, but she still had the tendency to ride around as the White Knight, instead of be a mother. Which was why Parker was so attention needy, at least, in Rumpelstiltskin's thoughts.

"I really don't mind," Belle told him, "And Matthew is darling," she picked the child up more securely, plopping him on her lap, "Aren't you?" How did she manage to be so kind? He would never figure it out. Ever. As long as he lived.

While Parker looked like Emma, golden curls, Matthew looked like August, dark hair and dimples. August and Emma had married here as well, and Emma had even worn a dress for the occasion. It had been somewhat of a miracle.

"When is this extravaganza over again?" Rumpelstiltskin mumbled into her ear. "I'm a recluse for a reason."

She giggled, "Not until tonight, love. You know that. He knew that, huh?" she reverted to her baby tone to make Matthew giggle.

He groaned, but was cut short by her elbow in his gut. She feigned innocence, and he shook his head at her with a small smile of incredulity.

~: Pearce :~

He was his father, and Con was Jiminy Cricket- they were fighting the worst of enemies- the Ogres. Rumpelstiltskin cast a spell as William, who was King James, slashed with a sword at the largest Ogre of them all, the King Ogre.

But there were too many. Jiminy already had a hurt arm. They needed to regroup.

Con was saying, pushing up his spectacles, "And then they ran-."

"Nuh uh! My papa would't run!" shouted William as both Pearce and Con stopped dead way through their game. He had shattered the illusion yet again. The King Ogre rocked on its pedestal, a globe of that other world, Earth, instead of an Ogre now.

"He would so. You would too! This is the Ogre Wars!" Con tried to reason with him, though he was just as mad.

"I would not run!" William stomped his foot.

"William," Pearce grumbled. "You're ruining it!"

"I am not!" William disagreed.

"Are so!" Pearce countered.

"Stop it. We can just say something else happened, ok?" Con tried to make peace with the both of them.

"Like what?" William asked hopefully.

Ugh. He was going to be the best again. He always had to be the best. He had to have the coolest armor and the coolest weapon. He even had to pretend that when Pearce cast a really cool spell that he could cast it too. He was ruining all the fun today. "Like you die because you stayed behind," snapped Pearce, fed up.

"I would not die!" William teared up.

"Would so!" Pearce argued.

"I'm telling my mom!" William shouted, running out of the great library.

Con and Pearce shrugged at each other, before Pearce continued, "The mighty James was slain in battle! We have to go for back up!"

"Agreed!" Con- now Jiminy said, and they ran for it together, grinning.

"And then we appeared back at the castle-."

~: Ember :~

It was late in the afternoon when the parents started to pick up their stuff.

They were going to have to be sneaky about this, and that meant no parents. Richard had wanted to start Alexandria's picnic blanket on fire, but that would have been a little too dangerous. Ember didn't want anyone to actually get hurt, especially Irene. Even though Irene followed Alexandria around, she was still nice most of the time, even if Alexandria wasn't.

Alexandria had curly blonde hair and an annoying expression. And she used to beat up Richard all the time. That had bother Ember to no end. Now she pretended to be too dainty to beat him up, but Ember still remembered the time she'd gotten a black eye after Alexandria had punched her for trying to hurt her after she had busted Richard's lip.

Now, she played victim. And Ember didn't mind one bit that she was the villain now. Her Papa had been a villain for a while, hadn't he?

She strolled up to Alexandria and Irene, who were sitting in a circle on a blanket with a few other courtier girls, hands behind her back, "Hi, Alex."

"It's Alexandria," corrected Alexandria, head held high as she sipped her fake tea.

She used to go by Alex. But now she was too dainty.

"Hi Ember," smiled Irene. Irene was delicate, with pretty sparkling eyes and long dark hair like her mom. Her hello almost made her want to go back on the prank.

"Hi Irene," Ember mumbled guiltily.

Someone stepped up behind Ember. "And hello, little princesses."

The voice made Ember freeze immediately.

"Hello, Sir Rumpelstiltskin," Alexandria said simpering.

She looked up to her papa to see him cringe. "If you'll - excuse us for a moment," and he scooped Ember up and carted her off before Ember could even protest.

"Papa put me down!" she kicked furiously, before he set her in front of her mother, who was holding Lady Emma's baby, Matthew. Mama was looking at her sternly, and Ember felt herself staring at her toes instead of Mama's eyes.

"What did we say about playing nice with the other royals?" Mama asked.

"But Mama-!"

"No buts," Mama stopped her, kneeling down, "Dear one, you know we want everyone to be safe. And that chocolate you were about to give them would make them sick."

"They'd just go to the bathroom a lot," Ember grumbled.

"It's a strong medicine meant for old people. You know how dangerous it would be to little bodies?"

Ember shook her head ashamedly.

Mama touched her cheek, "They could be sick for days."

"That's not what Richy said," Ember mumbled.

"That boy," her father growled.

"You shouldn't believe everything Richy says," Mama said with a disapproving tone, and Ember nodded sadly, "Now, do you promise to play nice?"

"I promise," Ember said whole heartedly, still feeling guilty.

"Good. Now hurry up. I think Richard's looking for you," Mama sounded a little more cheerful. Ember felt better. She turned to go.

Papa stopped her, one of his hands outstretched, his eyes expectant.

She sighed, and took the chocolate she'd been hiding behind her back and handed it to him quickly, before lifting her skirts and running to Richy's side. She was going to have to tell him that their plan was foiled.

~: Belle :~

"Disaster one averted," she sighed, watching Ember run to Richard's side.

"Here comes disaster two," Rumpelstiltskin said in the same tone as William ran right into Snow White.

"What happened?" Belle asked, concerned, switching Matthew over to her other hip.

"The tyke was trying to be the best of them all," Rumpelstiltskin waved his arms, and Belle shook her head with a smile.

"Boys will be boys," she said resignedly as the wailing was heard throughout the entire grounds.

Rumpelstiltskin took Matthew from her, knowing even before she did that the kid was getting too heavy for her.

"Thanks," she told him, her back aching.

"You're welcome," he replied, glowering at the boy.

~: Rumpelstiltskin :~

They had suffered through dinner, and now they were supposed to suffer through dancing? No one had told them this was a ball! He had been told this was a picnic and to expect fireworks at the end of the evening. That was all. This was going to turn into one of those midnight messes.

He and Belle had tried to excuse themselves, saying that they needed to get home, with three wild children to put to bed, but Snow White had insisted, saying that the children had had a room arranged for them, and that a caretaker was already there to help them into some bed clothes. They could stay the night if they wanted to.

To that last bit Belle and Rumpelstiltskin had refused, assuring them though that they would stay into the fireworks were over after a lot of insisting.

"Royalty will be the death of me," Rumpelstiltskin mumbled in her ear. They had been given a room to change in, and it was a miracle that Rumpelstiltskin was still a sorcerer, else they would have had nothing to change into.

"No, that will be your children," Belle sighed, sitting on a couch, "If they don't kill me first." She was talking about how Ember had managed to help Richard prank Alexandria in the end, making her trip down a few stairs by pulling a rug out from under her, which had ended in a scraped knee or two, and a lot of tears. Sephie had led her troop of wolf cubs and Annette to the tallest tower where they had been in peril of falling off, and Pearce hadn't let William play with them again after he had left, insisting that William had already died in the game.

"Dearest," he smiled, kissing her cheek softly as he sat next to her. She was distraught, one hand on her forehead. "Dearest, they're children. This happens. Remember at the Winter Celebration?"

That set her to smiling. Alexandria had managed to set the tree on fire. They had had to evacuate the castle as Rumpelstiltskin had put it out magically. Ella had been horrified.

"And then the Autumn Harvest? The triplets got into the kitchens."

"They ate a bit of everything."

"Wolf cubs tend to eat a lot," he nodded with a hopeful lilt in his tone, "So see? It's alright."

"I know," Belle shook her head, smiling sadly, folding her hands in her lap, "I just wish it hadn't been all three of ours today."

"They're children, Belle," he reassured again, "And honestly, if Ella gives me another dirty look after I say anything, I might just slip a bit of Ember's chocolate to her."

Belle gasped, turning right around with an indignant smile, "You'd better give me that right now!"

"No, no no. I've got plans for it," he grinned wickedly.

She shut her mouth and tried not to smile, but he caught her face then, and kissed her until she kissed back.

Someone burst through the door, "Are you two- oh."

It was Red. Rumpelstiltskin pulled away in frustration.

"Already working on number five, eh?" she grinned wolfishly.

Rumpelstiltskin wondered what the going rate on the black market was for werewolf pelts. He knew their teeth were worth a fortune. Not that he really needed a fortune, but ground up werewolf teeth were a part of a few alchemy potions he'd never tried. What a splendid opportunity.

"What is it, Red?" Belle asked politely.

"Oh, they're just starting the music, that's all. I thought you would want to know. It is Rumpelstiltskin's absolute favorite dance, after all," she winked, before closing the door, with a "have fun!"

The courtiers teased Rumpelstiltskin's dancing prowess. One night, when he had been rather drunk (it wasn't his fault, mind, it had been the fact that August and Emma had been experiencing some marriage difficulties, and Belle had bullied him into helping out August, which had led to a lot of drinking) and he had swept Belle up in his arms and had danced the most scandalous tango with her that the court had ever, or probably would ever see again.

Ever since he'd never heard the end of his ability to tango, and blamed Belle for being entirely too attractive to resist. She had her own problems to deal with after that night. Statements like, no wonder they had so many children, and who knew the old sorcerer was so lithe? She was still blushing now.

"I suppose if we stay up here any longer we're going to get the worst of it," Belle sighed, standing, and made for their clothing.

He didn't care if they got the worst of it, he decided as she pulled her dress over her head in front of a long gilded mirror. "And don't even think about it," she scolded him as he tried to sneak up behind her. She had seen him in the mirror.

"Why ever not?" he asked, wrapping his arms around her, and kissed her shoulder.

"I am not going to have someone walk in on us-."

"We can lock the door," he offered, breathing warmly on her smooth skin.

"That makes it worse," she was doing her very best to resist him, but was watching him through the mirror as his hands snaked around her. "W-we have to go down. I know you don't want to-."

"But this sounds so much more pleasant," he sighed, before kissing her neck.

She turned right around, her eyes steely and determined and he knew he was not winning this one. "No- we have to… but we can leave early."

"It sounds like a deal to me," he grinned easily, and kissed her smoothly.

"You don't play fair, you know that?" she breathed as she broke away.

"I know."

~: Ember :~

She couldn't sleep in this bed. It was weird. Sephie and Pearce had fallen asleep in their beds next to her, and so had the care taker, but she couldn't sleep.

She liked her canopy bed, and everything was too bright, and she didn't like to sleep until late anyways. The music from downstairs was playing prettily, and she focused on that. Downstairs Mama and Papa were dancing. She bet Mama would look really pretty in her dress, and that Papa would be wearing that smile he always did when he danced with Mama.

Her hands were folded behind her head, like Richy did a lot, and her foot tapped the air to the music.

And speaking of Richy-

Someone was opening her door.

Ember sat bolt upright, staring as Richy's face popped in the crevice between the door and the doorframe.

He nodded for her to come outside invitingly.

She grinned, and followed without hesitation, creeping by the care taker, and rushing by him so that he could close the door softly in her wake. They giggled at their triumph.

"They're gonna start the fireworks soon. Wanna go see?" he asked, offering her his hand.

"Yeah!" she replied instantly, and they ran down the corridor together.

~: Henry :~

He swallowed nervously as he led Grace outside to the grounds, away from the party. He rolled his eyes at his grandfather, who gave him the "thumbs up" as they walked away from the music and into the night.

He had timed this perfectly, knew exactly what he was going to do, but he hadn't expected her to look so beautiful. For some reason that made all of this harder, instead of easier. He felt like her looking beautiful should make it easier.

He stopped at precisely the right spot, and could not think of a single thing to say. Normally he wasn't this tongue tied around her. Normally he was just himself, but all of this- and he didn't know what to do. He looked at her in utter amazement, and wondered how on earth and in the wilds of the enchanted forest would she say yes.

She looked up at him then, dark eyes dancing in the moonlight, "You wanted to talk to me?"

"I did," he said, and cursed himself for sounding like he was choking. But he was choking. She was so beautiful, and he couldn't remember the words he had planned, and oh by both worlds he was going to screw this up royally. "I just- I wanted-."

"Henry! Henry!"

It was Parker- his brother to his rescue. Henry bent as Parker ran to him.

He was in tears, "Henry!" he cried, "No one will play with me!"

"You should be in bed," Henry reminded him, kneeling as his brother wrapped his arms around him.

"Yeah, but Ember and Richard are still up," Parker complained.

"They are, are they?" Henry glanced up at Grace, who was smiling behind a hand. "Sounds like trouble to me. But you listen," he made his voice serious, "You go back inside, and get in bed-."

"But!" Parker started to protest.

"And tomorrow-," Henry stopped him, "Tomorrow we'll have a riding lesson, ok?"

Parker's eyes lit up as he beamed, "Really?"

"Yes, but only if you go get in bed now," Henry told him, letting him go.

Parker was running before he even responded, his little six year old feet pattering in the grass, "Ok! Goodnight, Henry! Goodnight Lady Grace!"

That's right, she was a lady, and he was keeping her waiting.

And since was already kneeling.

~: Belle :~

She smiled as Rumpelstiltskin spun her around. It was a good thing he was the best dancer in the entire land, because otherwise she would be sick of it already. But he kept them dancing to keep from having Belle be asked by other men, and to keep from having to talk to many people. Devious as usual.

"The fireworks will be starting soon, ladies and gentleman!" someone announced. "If you would like to move out to the balcony to see them?"

"No thank you," Rumpelstiltskin muttered, "We'll watch it from a tower, thank you very much."

"Oh, please and thank you," Belle nodded appreciatively, and he whisked them away.

He spun her to a stop and Belle giggled as he kissed her quickly.

"We're going to miss Henry's engagement announcement," Belle told him as she headed to the edge of the tower.

"We'll hear about it later, I'm sure," he told her, wrapping his arm around her and the first of the fireworks went off."

~: Ember :~

She and Richy leaned out of the window they'd pried open, watching and gasping as firework after firework went off.

"Can I come back with you and your family?" Richy asked.

Ember frowned, "Why? Don't you like it here?"

"Yeah but it's so boring," groaned Richy, leaning back, "William and Parker cry all the time, and Henry's too cool to hang out with me anymore learning to be a knight and all. I just get really bored."

"I don't think my papa would like it very much," Ember told him.

"I don't like your papa either," Richy retorted.

"That's not what I said," Ember huffed.

"I know," Richy shrugged, "But he's always gone anyways, right?"

"He is," Ember thought, and then was excited. Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all! "Let's ask!"

"Excellent!" Richy grinned conspiratorially with her as the finale of the firework show started. "Then we'll have fun, all the time."

"Let's promise to always have fun," she proposed. She offered him her pinky finger.

He clasped it with his, and the sky lit up with different colors behind them. "Promise?"

"Promise," she smiled confidently.

~: Belle :~

Separating Ember and Richard this time had been more of a nightmare than it was most of the time. They had been awake, as she had predicted, and very much set on Richard accompanying them home.

They had gathered a resolutely asleep Sephie, and a yawning Pearce, and prying Ember from Richard's arms (which Rumpelstiltskin had done a little too viciously) they had finally arrived home. Only to realize they'd left their children's new clothing at Charming castle.

"We'll get it later," he sighed as he shut the door behind him. He'd just put Ember to bed.

"I know," she smiled quietly as she stared out the window. She was so exhausted, but as he came up from behind, she sighed into his arms. It was always a comfort, to know he was there to support her, especially, like now, after she'd had such a long day while trying to hold it altogether, that he would be just as exhausted with her, and yet still hold her.

"How are you feeling?" she asked him, concerned. He had just been subjected to a day of royalty, and had been forced to swallow everything without hesitation.

"A little tired," he confessed, and then kissed her neck. "But not too tired."

She smiled, leaning back to kiss his jaw. "Oh good," she smiled.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her.

"I'm," and she paused to think, "I'm happy."

He snorted, "You're always happy."

"Not always," she disagreed, "But most of the time. It is our happily ever after after all," she wrinkled her nose at him.

"That it is, dearest," he smiled softly, but his eyes danced mischievously. He spun her around to kiss her full on the mouth, breaking away all too soon to finish, "That it is."

Storybrooke's Tale of Beauty and the Beast

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Teddy's Twin

Part 37 of 37

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