In the Land of Love and Gold

The Birthday

Belle closed the book and looked down at Mabel. She was reaching out for the book. Belle gave it to her and she began to flip it over and over.

"That it?" Belle nodded.

"That's it." Belle held up her hands and shrugged her shoulders. Mabel scrunched her face up in disappointment.

"Read it again." Belle smiled down at her.

"I can't you have to go get changed in princess wear." Ruby now came out and looked at the mess and Belle sitting on the ground. Belle grabbed Mabel as she opened the book again. Mabel held the book open and motioned for Ruby to come over. "I'll clean it later." Ruby sighed and went back into the bathroom. Belle opened her door and made her way down to the grand hall.

"Belle! And Mabel!" Mrs. Potts came bolting down the hall. "I thought I lost her." She was panting and Mabel shut the book.

"Oh I'm sorry Mrs. Potts. I got up late last night and I found her there. She's afraid of the thunder." Mabel nodded and Belle noticed the darkened room. "I think we might get more today or tomorrow." Mabel squeaked, dropping the book, and clinging to Belle.

"Alright Belle, I'll make sure that someone is with her for future events." Mrs. Potts reached out and Mabel shied away. Belle picked up the book giving it back to the girl.

"Mabel, Mrs. Potts is going to give you a bath and get your dressed in the finest clothes the kingdom can offer." Mabel looked at Mrs. Potts for a minute then back at Belle and nodded. Belle put Mabel in Mrs. Potts arms. "Afterwards find me; I think my father should meet the new princess." Belle gave Mrs. Potts a look the she read as don't-tell-her-otherwise. Mabel was too consumed in her book to notice. "Alright Mabel, go get even more beautiful for me." Mabel nodded and Mrs. Potts walked away. Belle walked to the mess hall. She looked around, but couldn't find who she was looking for. "Victor." She called to the doctor as he passed her.

"Yes, ma'am?" He stopped and looked at her.

"Have you seen Jefferson?" He nodded.

"Yes, he was heading to the storage room." Belle thanked him and walked to the storage room. When she got there she could hear voices and she opened the wedged door.

"Jefferson." She said announcing herself. He turned with a smile.

"Ah, there she is. Belle I just want to say that our new spinner is quite the storyteller." He reached around one of the racks and grabbed Rumple. He walked out and felt his heart flutter in his chest.

"Princess." He bowed his head. Belle squinted.

"How many times do I have to tell you? It's Belle." She walked closer to the pair.

"Just once more." Rumple looked up through his hair and Belle smiled.

"Jefferson, I was wondering if you had finished that hat for the ball." She looked over at him and he put a hand to his chin.

"The blue one or the red one?" He eyed her carefully.

"The blue one, of course." She giggled knowing he was testing her.

"Ah yes. I did. It will adore your head on the night of the ball." She smiled at Jefferson and Rumple kept his head bowed. She looked over at him.

"Rumple, I didn't know Mabel was afraid of thunder." Jefferson excused himself and began to search for more string. Rumple hesitated in answering.

"Yes. Most of the time it's not bad, but when she's alone it gets worse." Belle nodded.

"I wasn't expecting her to run out and grab my legs last night, so it gave me a bit of a fright, but after some tea and biscuits she was much better." Rumple nodded at her.

"I'm sorry if she scared you. I went out to look for her knowing she would be up looking for me, but when I saw you two head up the stairs I didn't have the heart to take her from you." Belle smiled and Rumple felt weak at the knees.

"I don't want to bring up bad memories, but if your wife were here now I think she would be proud of you both." Rumple felt pain stab at his heart.

"Yea, if." He looked at the ground. He kicked his foot to the floor and she eyed him carefully. There was happy squeals coming from the hallway and they both looked up towards the door. Mabel ran past screaming in joy. Belle laughed and Rumple revealed in the noise. He had to admit a slight smile at seeing his daughter so happy. Mrs. Potts was just behind her trying to grab her. Jefferson popped out and looked around.

"Mrs. Potts is going to have her hands full with that one." Jefferson smirked and his arms were full of spools of thread. He nudged his head towards the door and he was gone. Belle looked at the rags that Rumpelstiltskin was still clothed in. She walked to the bell service and rang for a footman. After a minute or so one appeared and stood by the door, waiting demands.

"Chip, bring Rumpelstiltskin to the service quarters and get him his staff clothes." The boy smiled and nodded. His hair had a cowlick right above his left eye and made his hair unruly. Belle waved to Rumpelstiltskin and he managed to walk to the boy and be lead away. Belle walked out herself and to the garden. The ground was wet and she saw dew drops on the roses. Belle saw her father stalk from the gazebo. When he saw her he smiled. She smiled back and he hugged her as he got near.

"How is our new spinner settling in?" She had her arm through her papa's arm and they walked in the castle. Mrs. Potts was panting and took a deep breath as she straightened at the sight of her employers. Belle laughed and walked over to Mrs. Potts. The maid clasped her hands in front of her and tried to look proper.

"Sorry, ma'am. She's more trouble than Chip was." Belle put her hand on the faithful maid's shoulder.

"Mabel," Belle called and the pattering of little feet could be heard. Soon Belle's leg had a growth on it and Belle reached down to grab the freshly washed tot. She was wearing a pale green dress that fully covered her legs. Belle held her and walked back to her papa. "Look, the king may finally meet the princess." She said aloud and gave her papa a look. He could decipher that look very well and knew what to do. Play along. "I told you papa isn't she the most beautiful girl in all the land?" Mabel played with Belle's hair. Her own hair was put up in wraps to stay out of her face. Her papa put a hand to his chest. Mabel looked over with shining eyes.

"Belle, you are absolutely right. This is the fairest princess in all the land." Mabel smiled and laughed. "I need to get this princess a crown right away." Mabel smiled even wider and clapped her hands.

"I'm princess! I'm princess!" She reached out and Belle held onto her tighter. Belle looked at Mabel and tears formed in her eyes. She may never want Gaston's kids, but she still felt an icy stab through her heart at the thought of never having someone to love and hold and look up to her as Mabel did. Mabel looked over at Belle and noticed her shining eyes. She reached up and kissed Belle's cheeks. Belle coughed and the tears spilled freely. This was as close as she would come to having any children. Her father noticed her distress and Mrs. Potts took Mabel. Maurice took Mabel to get her a princess crown and Belle tried to catch her breath as she pressed herself against the wall. The cool stone chilling her fingers and bringing her to a sense of reality. Belle wiped furiously at her face as she stormed to nowhere in particular. She pressed open the door as her tears fell silently and Jefferson looked up from his creation. He saw her tears and stood up to rush to her side.

"Belle?" He wrapped his arms around her and led her to a chair. She sat down and bubbled out tears. He let her sit and cry for a little, holding her hands and mumbling sweet nothings. Finally he spoke, "What's wrong, Belle?" She calmed down enough to talk to her friend.

"Just the mad ramblings of a woman." She waved her hand with an air of nonchalance. He leaned in close and lowered his voice.

"Is it because of…" He looked down and she closed her eyes before nodding. He wrapped his arms around her and she sighed deeply into his shoulder. He rubbed his hands on her back. "Ruby and I will take care of you. It will be alright." He let go, but continued to hold her hands. "You're going to have to tell him." She shook her head. With a sad smile she chuckled.

"That's the thing," She made a happy noise in the back of her throat. "If I find someone in four months time, that I really love, I don't need to marry Gaston." She was suddenly giddy and couldn't contain her excitement. That man made her skin crawl and she couldn't believe that her father would arrange the marriage to begin with. He was cruel, vile, arrogant, boring, and most of all abusive. Belle loved her papa but sometimes what was best for the country clouded his better judgment. Jefferson smiled manically and lifted her up in a hug. He swung her around and she laughed as her feet left the ground. He set her down with a smile and held onto her shoulders. Someone cleared their throat off by the door and they both looked over in surprise.

Rumple stood with his walking stick in the door way. He was wearing the uniform for the castle and Belle smiled at him. She saw his knuckles turn white where he gripped the walking stick. He looked scared of intruding and he turned his heel to leave. Belle ran forward to stop him.

"You don't have to leave. I was just going to go." She put her hand on his and he looked at where they touched. She saw the emotions flicker in his eyes and she smiled.

"That won't be necessary, Princess." She gave him a look. Jefferson came up behind Belle. He ushered her out carefully.

"You go look for those new suitors." He whispered in her ear and she nodded. She walked down the hall and Rumple urged himself to keep looking at Jefferson. The man in question spun around and went back to his craft. Rumple walked forward into the vast room. Jefferson sat behind a large desk littered with materials and half finished hats. Behind him were a set of large bay windows. The windows looked out over the labyrinth that covered miles of land. He could see people walking around in the greenery. "How is it, Rumple?" The spinner shifted his feet and moved the satchel from his side.

"I have the thread you ordered." He held out the roll and the Hatter smiled with glee. He stood up and grabbed the spool. He walked back over to his desk as he mumbled a thank you and grabbed a hat off of the wire rack. Rumple nodded. He figured he was dismissed and began to leave.

"Rumple." The Hatter called. Rumpelstiltskin turned around with a weary glance. "I think you're going to be here for a long time." The Hatter gave a genuine smile and Rumple looked at his feet. He gave a shy smile before walking out of the room.

xXx

Belle yawned as Ruby took off her dress. Belle looked behind her to see Mabel playing with her crown that Belle's father had provided for her. It was one that Belle used to wear when she was young and she had no need for it any more. "Mabel, come here." The young girl looked up from the crown with a bright face. She put the crown on the bed and scrambled to the floor. She made a sound like 'oof' before scurrying to stand in front of Belle.

"Yes, Belle?" She hummed and stood on her tippy toes to look up at her. Her bright eyes looking expectantly at Belle.

"Do you want me to read you a story before you go to bed?" Her eyes brightened and she nodded. She ran forward and grabbed onto Belle's legs. She reached down and brushed the fine hair on the toddler's head. "Alright, go get ready for bed and I will be there in a minute."

"Do I sleep in my bed?" Belle nodded.

"Princess's only share beds when there are big scary thunderstorms. We don't want Mrs. Potts or your papa to be frightened when they can't find you in the morning." She nodded and hurried off to the nursery. Mrs. Potts could be heard talking to the young lass and Belle sighed quietly.

"She's grown quite attached to you." Belle looked back at Ruby who finished up with the laces. Belle slipped out of her dress and hurried to change into her shift. She put on her night gown and a robe.

"Yea…" Her mind wandered as she thought about the young girl. She thought about the spinner of her father as well. She left the room and blindly made her way to the nursery. Upon arrival she heard crying and it snapped her out of her daydream. She ran to the small bed and Mabel was bawling. Belle wrapped her arms around the girl and that seemed to quiet her some. "Mabel what's wrong?" Belle shushed the tot and cleaned her face with the sleeve of her dressing robe.

"Some – some meanie said I no princess." She hiccupped. Belle shushed her and wanted to gripe at whoever it was that would say such a thing. She had a very good idea who it was. "He said I am snot." She coughed and whined against Belle's chest.

"Sh sh sh, it's okay. He's just jealous because he wants to be a princess too." Mabel laughed and wiped at her running nose. She sniffled and looked up at Belle.

"I'm princess right?" Belle made a look of surprise.

"The king gave you a crown did he not?" She nodded and rubbed her eyes. "Then there is no doubt that you are a princess." Mabel smiled through her watery eyes and looked defiant. "Now are you ready for a story?" Mabel squealed and nodded. She curled up under the sheets and Belle lay next to her. She grabbed one of the few picture books in the room and read the cover. Beauty and the Beast. Mabel reached out and touched the cover, sniffling once. She rubbed her pudgy fingers on the embroidered gold of the cover.

"What's about?" She sniffled a few times before settling close to Belle. She buried her face in Belle's side.

"Let me read it to you. I'm sure you'll love it." Mabel yawned and said no more. Belle began her tale, "Once upon a time there was a prince. He was very cruel and treated everyone with ill well and only cared about himself. On a stormy night an old woman came to his door to ask for bed and board in exchange for a rose, but he cast her out calling her 'ugly' and 'worthless'." Belle looked down at Mabel, who looked longingly at the pictures. "The old woman turned into a beautiful maiden. The prince then begged for her hand in marriage, but she refused and cursed him. 'To be as ugly as your soul until the last petal falls off this rose'." Mabel shrieked a little at the picture of the prince turned beast. Belle chuckled and turned the page. "'Only True Love can break the curse' were her parting words as she vanished. Years later there were two petals left on the rose and the Prince was desperate. A merchant wandered into his castle after a bad storm and made a deal with the man; his life for his daughter. The merchant readily agreed and the next day he returned with his daughter." Belle looked down at Mabel who yawned again and her eyes started to droop.

"Why would she stay with the beast?" Her words slurred with sleep. Belle tilted her head and put her head on Mabel's.

"Because she wants what's best for her papa. You would do anything for your papa wouldn't you?" Mabel nodded furiously.

"I love Papa." She smacked her tongue to the roof of her mouth a few times. "Finish. Finish." She squeaked. Belle chuckled and started to read again.

"The daughter hated it in the castle. She missed her papa and she had to work for days on end cleaning the massive castle. The prince was always kind and treated her fairly though. When she was done with her chores she would sit by the fire and converse with her prince as he clung to the shadows. She had formed a sort of friendship with the prince. One day when she was cleaning she stumbled upon the rose that the prince treasured. It was glowing and was kept under a glass case. When the prince saw her by it he assumed the worst and cast her out despite the deal they made. She ran back to her father." Mabel gasped. She hummed in disagreement.

"She promised." Belle nodded.

"Yes she did." Mabel curled tighter against Belle as she rubbed sleep from her eyes. "The people of the village that the beauty had lived in found out about the deal and left to attack and kill the beast, and the beauty tried to convince them that he wasn't as bad as he seemed, but they didn't listen and stormed his castle. She followed them to warn the prince, but it was too late. The last petal fell off the rose and the beast was dying. She cried as she held him one last time. She kissed his forehead and…." Mabel was snoring slightly and a dab of drool was hanging out of the corner of her mouth. Belle chuckled and put the book away. She carefully removed herself and set Mabel on her pillow. She pets the small girl's hair and kissed her head. "Goodnight, Mabel." Belle blew out the candle and quietly made her way down the hall to her room. Her room was lit by candles and she went around blowing them out until one was left by her bed. She got into bed and closed her eyes. She opened them one last time to extinguish the flame before letting sleep take over her exhausted body.

xXx

The ball was to be the event of the year. Belle was to turn eighteen and she would dance with all of the eligible suitors. Princes, dukes, lords, and kings would come from all over the land to seek her hand in marriage. Belle despised it and wished there weren't these frivolous traditions. She had always dreamt of falling in love and marrying out of love like her mother and father, but fates were cruel and liked to watch nice people suffer. Her father was king for goodness sake! She loved her papa, but sometimes he was simply stubborn beyond belief. Her mother always told her she acted just like her father when she had her mind stuck on something. Belle sighed. The dress fit comfortably on her and her hat that adorned her head matched perfectly with her dress. Jefferson watched as she twirled in front of the mirror. Despite the day she felt entirely too sad. She would be dancing with men who only wanted her for her title and not for who she was as a person. Jefferson got up from his seat and walked forward. He tilted her head up and pouted at her.

"Why are you upset? It's a party, a party for you." He attempted to cheer her up with a smile. She shrugged him off and walked to her boudoir. She sat down on the chair and put her head in her hand. She looked at the carvings in the finely polished wood.

"I know I should be happy, but I can't help but think I won't find the one to get me away from all this." Jefferson knew better than to assume it was a jab at him. He sat down on the foot stool off to her side. She looked in the mirror that was once her mothers. "I don't want to be a prize that must be won. I hate being sold off like cattle." She turned sharply in the chair to look at Jefferson who started to giggle. She glared at him as he finally stopped. "What?" She snapped.

"Nothing, Belle." He sighed and wiped at his face. She softened as she noticed the dark circles under his eyes. He looked more and more tired as the days grew on. She leaned over and took his hand. He looked up with her with a solemn expression. She instantly felt bad for snapping at him.

"Any luck?" He shook his head. She rubbed circles over his knuckles with her thumb in comfort.

"They think she's in another land. My hat can only take me to Wonderland." He looked on the verge of tears. "If she is in Wonderland then two go in and two go out. Meaning I would have to leave someone in that wretched place." He took a deep breath and the solemn expression was gone. He smiled at her and patted her hand. "Come on you have a ball to attend to." He held out his arm, but she shook her head.

"I want to sit in here for a moment before I head out there," She looked back at the mirror. "If you don't mind telling my papa I'll be down in a moment." The hatter bowed and she watched him leave through her mirror. She put her head in her hands and closed her eyes. She saw herself dancing with the man of her dreams and twirling around the dance floor. Everyone disappeared and it was only them as they made grand sweeps across the polished floor. Her eyes gleamed with unshed tears of happiness as she looked into his eyes. His soft brown eyes like the rare chocolate that her father only managed to get when the traveler returned from his escapades in other lands. His eyes changed then to a glittery onyx that sparkled in the bright light. She opened her eyes as she heard someone outside her door. She looks in the mirror to see Rumple passing by her door.

"Rumple!" She called and he stopped in his tracks and looked back, clutching his walking stick with white knuckles.

"Yes, Princess?" He stood at her door awaiting instructions. She got up with a flourish of blue. His eyes widened as he looked at her in her dress and he hurried to hide his blatant staring. She walked to stand in front of him.

"The king and I both agree," She started off and he looked up at her with a questionable gaze. "You can stay if you think that the castle is suitable to your needs." She smiled and he felt his heart give a stutter. Stay? Had he heard her right? They had actually liked his sewing enough to keep him around? He had a grin on his face for the first time since being here.

"You want me to stay here?" She nodded enthusiastically. Her smile blinded him and he had to take a deep breath to keep from cowering. Here he was Rumpelstiltskin the spinner, not Rumpelstiltskin the coward. He would not let his reputation precede him.

"Oh yes. My father and I both have found your spinning to be that of above satisfactory. We wish to keep you as long as we can." She nodded her head and walked out into the hallway. He turned to follow her as she slowly began to walk away. She looked back to see him following her. "Nothing changes except your pay. You shall be paid by the spool." He blanched. Paid? Yes he was paid in town, but normally he only went into town when he was low on money or he needed to sell yarn and those visits were far and few between.

"Oh, Princess, you don't have to do that." He tried in earnest to get her to reconsider paying him. "You have done more than enough by providing Mabel with shelter, food, and clothing. Anything else is beyond generous." Belle looked over at the spinner. She had a sad smile on her lips.

"What about you, Rumple?" He shrugged. He had never had much. He always lived in poverty and he had come to accept that. It was once less thing he had to load onto his back each morning as he rose with the sun to take care of Mabel.

"I couldn't take your money, Princess. Mabel is the only one that needs to be cared for." Belle stopped before the doors to the grand hall. Rumple could hear music playing and people's voices resounding off the large pillars to be muffled by the doors.

"She is being cared for." She said in a soft voice. "It's about time you got cared for, Rumple." She put her hand on his forearm and smiled. He felt warmth spread from her hand throughout his body making him almost feverish. He mentally scolded himself for being the filthy old man he was, but for this moment he enjoyed being the center of her attention. She dropped her hand and walked into the grand hall. Rumple sat there staring at where she previously occupied. He heard the soft pattering of feet and turned around to smile at Mabel. She launched herself into his arms and he huffed as the impact made him stagger.

"Oh Mabel. How are you my darling?" She laughed and played with her father's hair.

"Tired. Belle always up early." Rumple nodded and chuckled. He walked to his spinning room. "What doing Papa?" He looked over at her with a curious gaze.

"Have you ever met Jefferson?" She shook her head and her bouncing brown curls framed her face. "He is a funny man who likes to have tea parties." She giggled and hid behind her hands. Rumple hoped Jefferson was in his room. When he showed up and knocked on the door he was relieved to hear the other man's voice on the other side of the door. Mabel went back playing with Rumples hair until she had a few braids. Jefferson looked up at the spinner with a smirk on his face. Jefferson stood up and addressed the tot.

"Is this the infamous princess Mabel I have been hearing about?" She only quickly glanced at Jefferson. She was focused too much on Rumple's hair. Jefferson knew just how to get her to respond. "I would have thought she would have been taller." Mabel looked over now and scowled at him.

"Hush, funny man." She put her hands on her hips and Rumple put her down. He reached up to loosen the braids in his hair.

"'Funny man'?" Jefferson raised an eyebrow at Rumple. Rumple smirked. "I'll have you know I am highly offended by that remark." He squatted down to look Mabel in the eye. She moved her arms across her chest, but continued to scowl at him.

"How do you have tea parties without any guests?" She asked and Jefferson laughed.

"I had tea parties with my daughter of course." Rumple tilted his head to the side. He didn't know he had a daughter. Mabel brightened. Rumple moved to sit down in one of the chairs. He rubbed his leg as he watched the exchange.

"Daughter? Where she?" Jefferson's face went dark for a second, but it was gone before Rumple could dwell on it. He wondered if he saw it at all.

"She went out traveling. She said she was going to slay a dragon and bring me back its head." Mabel screeched and ran to climb on Rumple's lap. She curled herself in his chest.

"Dragons bad!" She hid herself in Rumple's jacket as if it could save her from the ferocious beast. Jefferson laughed again and rolled onto his back clutching his stomach. Mabel peeked at him and saw him laughing. She snorted and scrambled off the chair. She ran over to him and sat on his chest. "No laughing." She bopped his nose with the heel of her palm. He gasped and grabbed his nose.

"Oh no, I've been attacked by a ferocious princess. Rumple, save me, your daughter is turning into a royal pain." Rumple hid his face at the bad attempt at a joke. Mabel looked proud of herself. She stuck her tongue out and put her hands on her hips. "How about we strike a deal?" She looked at him with a suspicious glare. "I forget you hit me if you agree to have a tea party with me." Her face lit up and she looked back at Rumple. He nodded and she threw herself at Jefferson.

"Deal!" She laughed and got off of him. He got up with a look to Rumple. Rumple returned with a 'you asked for it' look. She bounced up and down as Jefferson set of a small table full of tea and biscuits that he kept in his room on late nights when he didn't get to go downstairs to eat. While Mabel was absorbed in the whole experience Jefferson addressed the spinner.

"So, you staying?" The weary spinner nodded. "I'm glad to have a new pal to entertain." He looked at Mabel. "And I think she likes me." Mabel poured too much tea in his cup and it spilled on his pants. Jefferson's face contorted in pain, but he hid it from Mabel who had a mischievous glint in her eye.

xXx

Belle groaned as she walked to stand next to the drink stand. She grabbed a glass of water and took careful sips. Her feet hurt from all of the dancing and she was irritated with every man she danced with. The tops of her feet her when she danced with the Duke of Alieh. He stepped on her toes every turn. She had danced with countless bachelors and each of them seemed worse than the last. Her last dancer was twelve. His stuck up attitude made her want to storm out of the room. She was done dancing and just wanted to go to bed and curl up with a book. She hoped Mabel would want to read as well. She could always use the company. She wondered if any of these suitors would still seek her hand in marriage if they knew she couldn't produce and them an heir. She finished her water as an older man walked up to her. He was shaky and shifted his feet. From his attire he looked royalty, but he seemed nervous. She set her water down and he walked over to her.

"Excuse me, Princess, would you care to dance?" He didn't look at her as he asked. She smiled at his nervousness. She could tell he was different.

"Of course, just give me a moment here." She reached down and took off her shoes. She hid them under the table and walked over to him. He looked up with an excited grin. He took her hand and led her to the dance floor. A song started they began to dance. Finally someone who was a good dancer. "So are you here to sweep me off my feet and ask my hand in marriage?" She teased. He snorted.

"In my condition? Most likely my servants would have to carry you over the threshold and what says romantic like frail?" She laughed for what seemed like the first time since the dance started. He smiled up at her.

"What's your name?" She leaned in to whisper in his ear. He swung her around with ease despite his proclaimed frailty.

"Zoso." He said with an air of finality. No title? She tilted her head.

"I don't think I remember you on the list, Zoso. But I'm glad you came anyways. You are a savior from these suitors." He laughed and swung her around some more. People stared, but no one dared a comment.

"Princess, should you have your shoes on?" He looked down at her bare feet.

"It's my party and if they have a problem with bare feet they're going to have a shock when they find out where babies come from." Zoso laughed along with Belle and she wished the song didn't end. He stop and held out her hand to kiss her knuckles. He bowed and she walked forward to kiss his cheek. "Thank you for the dance, Zoso." He smiled and nodded.

"Anything to save a fair damsel." He bowed again and disappeared into the crowd. She walked over to the refreshment stand once again and her father came from the crowd. He didn't seem to be fazed like the rest of the people who had watched her dance.

"Are you having fun, Belle?" She dug her heels out from under the table and slipped them on. She sighed.

"Of course, Papa." He smiled and hugged her. "Do you know who Zoso is?" She asked and he tilted his head.

"No I don't believe I do. Why do you ask?" He let her go and she shook her head.

"No reason." Someone came up beside her and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him. She turned with a fake smile and he gave a smug grin.

"Belle, may I?" She huffed and nodded. He took her hand and she pleaded with her eyes to her father as she turned away. He ushered her to dance. She looked forward as Gaston put his hand low on her hip and lead her around the dance floor. "Belle, might I say you look beautiful today." She hid her groan. He jerked her too fast on the turns and her feet had trouble keeping up with his long strides.

"Are you saying I'm not every other day?" He took a moment to process her question. She closed her eyes to refrain from rolling them. She imaged a book in her lap and Mabel at her side as she read aloud. It calmed her down enough to deal with this fop. He pressed her closer to him and she could smell his rancid breath. She turned her head away and scrunched her face up in disgust. His hand traveled lower and she lifted up her heeled foot and pressed as hard as she could onto the top of his foot. He cried out and she stormed out of the now silent room. She took off her shoes and threw open the doors. No one dared follow her as she made her way to the Hatter's room. She opened the door and the sight made her stop in her tracks.

Sitting at a small table filled with small cups and the smell of tea in the air. Pink and fluffy items were strewn all over the table and the occupants that accompanied it. Jefferson and Rumple looked up with shock in their face. They had tons and tons of braids woven into their hair and flowers within the braids. They both had tea in their hands and Jefferson cleared his throat. She burst out laughing as Mabel poured them more tea. She had to double over to catch her breath as she set her shoes on the ground. Eventually she sat down and wiped tears from her eyes as her laughter.

"Shut door!" Mabel said and poured Belle a cup of tea. Belle sighed and nodded. She shut the door and sat between Rumple and Jefferson. They looked nervous, but she smiled at both of them. They smiled back and Jefferson took a sip of his tea. Belle thanked Mabel as she stood up and began to braid Belle's hair. Belle took a sip of the tea and set it down carefully.

"So, how was the party?" She glared at Jefferson. She really didn't want to talk about it. She took another sip of her tea and Mabel finished with the braid. Mabel went to walk around the table, but Belle grabbed her and Mabel squealed as Belle pulled her into her lap.

"You need a braid too." Belle tickled the wiggly child and Mabel laughed. Belle stopped tickling her and started to braid her hair. Mabel nibbled on a biscuit and the room fell into a comfortable silence. "I miss your tea parties, Jefferson. They always were great fun." She said with a sigh. She finished up Mabel's hair and kissed her cheek. "Go on, Princess." Mabel crawled out of Belle's lap and went back to her seat at the head of the table. Belle looked over at Rumple and he blushed as she took in his braids. "I like the braids, Rumple." She sniggered and he hid his face. He reached up to remove them, but she grabbed his hand shook her head. They returned to eating biscuits and drinking tea in comfortable silence. In was ten minutes later when Belle realized she hadn't let go of Rumple's hand. She also was surprised to know she didn't want to. She didn't point it out afraid he would pull back and shut himself off.

She noticed he would avoid topics of conversation when they came up or fall silent when she asked a question. She never pushed him despite all of her curiosity. She knew he would only close himself up tighter and she would never be able to see the man beneath all of his layers. She nibbled on a biscuit as she watched Mabel and Jefferson engage in conversation.

"Nuh uh." Jefferson shook his head and Mabel crossed her arms shaking hers in retaliation.

"Uh huh." She leaned in closer as if that would press her point.

"Nuh uh." Jefferson crossed his arms as well and leaned in as she did. This continued for quite some time before Rumple and Belle burst out laughing. The two bickering looked over at the two laughing with a scowl on each of their faces. Belle hadn't noticed how late it had gotten as she looked out over at the bay windows. The sun was just starting to set over the mountains and Belle yawned. The clouds had cleared from earlier that day and the sunset shone brilliantly in striking colors over the snow capped mountains. Off to the far right Belle could see the horrid red of the Frontlands. She ignored it as she carefully detangled her fingers from Rumple's.

"I think I'm going to head to bed." She stretched and Jefferson watched Rumple's face. Mabel stood up and reached her hands out in 'gimme' hands. Belle lifted her up and yawned. "Good night Jefferson." She turned to Rumple. "Good night Rumple." She enunciated with a soft smile. Mabel rest her head on Belle's shoulder and slowly began to fall asleep. She walked out of the room before either of the men could protest. Jefferson continued to watch Rumple who was still gazing at the door with a glazed over expression. Jefferson leaned over and had a sly smirk on his face.

"So ten days and you're already besotted with the Princess?" Rumple snapped his head to look at Jefferson. A conniving glint in his eye. Rumple shook his head. He tried to convince himself it wasn't true. It was true.

"No." Rumple looked shocked that he had been found out.

"Come on Rumpelstiltskin, tell me the truth." Jefferson weaseled. The spinner kept his mouth shut. He could – wouldn't – answer the prying man's questions about his princess. His princess? He really was mad. "You didn't think I wouldn't notice that you two held hands like two children falling in love. I notice everything, Spinner." Rumple grabbed his walking stick and stood up abruptly. Jefferson was shocked momentarily. He piped up as Rumple moved to leave. "Hurry, Rumple, she has four months to find someone she loves or she will have to marry that brute of a man, Gaston." Rumple was almost to the door. He hesitated. "If you need my help I will do anything in my power to keep that fop away from Belle." Rumple grabbed the door handle and flung it open. He hurried out before Jefferson could speak any more. He was halfway down the hall when he stopped.

He had four months to get his Princess to fall in love with him.

Four months wasn't that long.

He took slow steps to gather his thoughts.

Four months would fly by fast. From what he met of Gaston he was a cruel man with no feeling for anyone but himself. Belle would be used as a slave and nothing better. He shuddered. Would she even fall for him? She had held his hand most of the time through the tea party, but he bet her hands were cold from all of the dancing she had to do. He brushed the thought away.

Four months it is.

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