In the Land of Love and Gold

The Suitors

Rumple, Victor, and Jefferson were huddled in a tight group in the mess hall. They whispered together and as people came by Jefferson shooed them away with vile remarks. The people who were shooed away claimed him mad and hurried off.

"So, you've decided?" Rumple nodded stiffly. Rumple and Jefferson looked at Victor.

"I hate Gaston more than either of you," Victor looks over at Jefferson. "You know that. I would do anything for Belle." Rumple could see the determination and loathe in the other man's eyes and he didn't doubt for a second that he was lying. Jefferson and Victor looked at Rumple.

"Alright, Spinner, once you agree to the terms there is no backing out." Jefferson raised an eyebrow at the crippled man. Rumple nodded. "Do we have you fully on board?" Rumple nodded without hesitation. Jefferson smiled broadly. "Then this will be the first day of the plan." Jefferson looked around as the mess hall began to clear out. He leaned in and motioned for the other two to lean in as well. The group was pressed tightly together. "This is the plan for today…."

Belle turned in her bed. She didn't feel like getting up today. The warmth of her bed was too enticing. Ruby came in and huffed with her hands on her hips at the tangled mound of Belle on the bed. "Come on sleepy head. Get up." She walked over and prodded at the drowsy mound.

"I can't. The sheets have made me one of their own. I can't break their trust." Belle grumbled from under her pillow. Ruby laughed and jumped on the bed. She dug her way under the sheets and Belle turned to look at her friend.

"I see what you mean." They both chuckled. They lay under the blankets just enjoying each other's company. Belle closed her eyes to try to get back to sleep, but it eluded her. She sighed deeply and looked at Ruby.

"Ruby, what if I don't find him?" Ruby reached out for her friend. Belle gave her her hands and Ruby whispered softly to her in a reassuring tone.

"Between me, you, Jefferson, Victor, and Mrs. Potts the man would have to be in a different planet all together to escape us." Belle gave a weak smile. Ruby rubbed her friend's knuckles. Belle relaxed a little at the motion. With a loud bang and a holler her door was thrust open and a loud voice followed after wards. Both Ruby and Belle jumped.

"What a lovely day!" Jefferson spread his arms wide and ran over to the bed. He poked his head under the sheets and saw Ruby and Belle. He got a sly grin. "If I knew both of you were going to be participating I would have worn less clothes." Ruby snarled playfully at him and he put his hands up. "Easy wolfie." He threw the sheets off of both of them and the light made Belle cringe. Jefferson grabbed Belle and pulled her out of bed. He slung her over his shoulder and she laughed as she pounded on his back with her fists.

"Jefferson! Put me down!" She demanded and he responded by laughing.

"Come on, Belle, we have places to be and things to see." She put her elbow on his back and held up her head. She scowled at Ruby who was standing with her arms crossed over her chest. She tapped her foot on the floor. "Oh, Belle you can't leave looking like that. You have to change instantly." Belle smacked his back. He pretended to be hurt. He set her down and smoothed her hair. "Alright you will be out in ten minutes tops or I'm coming in and hauling you around as you are." He walked around her and shut the door. Belle smoothed her shift and walked over to Ruby. Ruby began to get Belle's clothes out. Belle took off her shift and began to get ready. There was a clatter from outside the door and yelling. Ruby hurried to zip up Belle as she ran to the door. She threw it open and Mabel came running into her legs. She hid in Belle's skirts and Belle could feel her tears leak through.

"You bastard child!" Someone yelled and another person yelled 'change of plans'. Belle ignored the second yell.

"Gaston!" Belle yelled. The man in question turned the corner. After a second a reappeared and walked towards Belle with a charming grin. Belle scowled. Gaston leaned over her and she knew he was looking down her dress.

"Yes, Belle?" He ran a hand through his hair and grinned at her.

"I cannot have you using language of that sort in this castle directed at children." He leaned back with a look of shock on his face. He put a hand to his chest.

"What language would that be, Princess?" On his tongue that word sounded odd and Belle wished she could unhear it. She moved, but remembered Mabel under her skirts crying softly. She squatted down and grabbed Mabel out of her skirts. She told the bumbling tot to go in her room with Ruby. Mabel nodded and ran away from the scowling brute.

"Language that is derogatory to children or anyone in this castle." Belle said in a firm voice. Gaston scoffed.

"This isn't a nursery for children of the help. It should be our strapping boys running around these halls. Once we're married, Belle –"

"But we aren't." She said firmly. Gaston's hand moved as if to pull her against him, but something whistled through the air and Gaston cried out in pain. Someone grabbed Belle from the opposite direction and she was running down the hall. Gaston didn't know whether to go after Belle or the person who threw a pin at him, so he took the pin out and threw it on the floor. He was bleeding quite a lot, so he turned to the infirmary. Belle was panting when they finally stopped running and she noticed it was Victor who had grabbed her. Jefferson was waiting for them when they arrived in the drawing room. He was missing a pin from his hat.

"Thank you Victor for dropping her off." He walked up to grab Belle's hand. He whispered in Victor's ear. "Keep the fop busy." Victor nodded and bowed to his princess before leaving the two alone. Belle was trying to catch her breath. Jefferson grabbed her elbow and waited for her to breathe normally before they walked out of the drawing room.

"What was that all about?" Belle asked with a quirked eyebrow. Jefferson shrugged.

"I have no idea. Mabel did nothing to provoke the man." Jefferson thought aloud. He had a wistful tone in his voice. She looked at Jefferson out of the corner of her eye. He bobbed his head from side to side as though by an imaginary tune.

"So what have you planned for me today, Hatter?" He looked over with a mischievous glint in his eye.

"I'm so glad you asked." Belle never worried for her safety around the Hatter. She had made a similar agreement with him as she did Rumple when she was twelve. Jefferson's daughter had been around the same age as Belle and she was wearing a beautiful hat. Belle couldn't help but inquire as to who had made it. When the younger girl had said her father Belle just had to have him in her castle. Jefferson readily agreed and he and his daughter moved in the next day. Then when his daughter was taken Belle had been with him through it all. They had been looking for her for two years. It was impossible to find someone who was taken by a sorceress. Belle's father had been more than generous in helping search for the Hatter's daughter, but there was no mortal force that could find her. Jefferson stopped with an exclamation. "Belle, it seems you have a tear." He moved his hand over the rip.

Belle snapped out of her day dream and looked down at her waist. There was a tear about two inches wide and an inch thick. The fabric was clinging on to her dress just barely. Belle gasped in surprise. How had she not known? Jefferson turned around with Belle in tow.

"I know just the man to fix this." Belle had her hands over the tear hoping no one could see her porcelain flesh underneath. Belle fussed over the fraying strands. She didn't even realize where they were heading as her mind wandered to how she could have not noticed the rip. She was ushered into the room and she grumbled in reply to the gentle prodding. She finally looked up at where she was. The gentle sound of the wheel stopped and Belle felt the blush creep up in her cheeks. Rumple stood up and looked at the two. Belle was still holding her side. Rumple's eyes flashed to her hands then back up to her eyes.

"Is there anything I can do for you, Princess?" Belle looked away and removed her hands. Rumple's eyes trailed down to the tear in curiosity. He walked up to her and tilted his head.

"Would you mind fixing it?" He grabbed a spool of thread that matched relatively well with the color of the fabric and a needle. Somehow Jefferson disappeared and Belle narrowed her eyes at the door. Rumple pointed to the screen across the room. A dressing gown was hanging on the corner. Belle walked over behind the screen and dressed down to her shift. She grabbed the gown and put that on. She walked out with the torn dress in hand. He grabbed it and laid it out on the table. Belle sat down on the stool to her right and watched him work. The look of concentration on his face made her smirk. Belle was too absorbed in her daydream to hear Ruby walk into the room with an exclamation.

"Belle! There you are." Belle snapped her head over and looked at Ruby. Mabel was walking close behind Ruby and when she saw Belle, ran from behind Ruby and jumped on Belle's lap. She promptly began to sob. Rumpelstiltskin dropped his items at the sound of Mabel crying. He turned lightening fast and stared at his crying child. The look of pain and torment on his face made Belle's heart ache. Ruby seemed to have done what she needed and left. Rumple walked over and Mabel reached out with grabby hands and Rumple grabbed her as he sat down himself to keep the weight off his leg.

"Mabel, what's wrong sweetheart?" Belle could hear the protective tone in his voice. Belle tilted her head as Mabel calmed down. She began hiccupping in place of sobs.

"Gaston." Belle said softly. Rumple wrapped a protective arm around Mabel. He held his only child close to him at the name of the abusive knight. Belle felt her heart break in a million pieces at the sight of Mabel reduced to tears and her father holding her with a fierce determination.

"What happened?" Rumple had an edge to his voice she had never heard before. He was normally polite and respectful, but now he had the dauntlessness of a father who would do anything for their child. Belle looked away.

"I don't know. I just know he was involved." Belle lied. She didn't want him to get himself hurt. Gaston wasn't one to back down from a fight even if it meant hurting a lowly spinner. Especially if it meant hurting a lowly spinner. Belle shifted on her stool and Rumple remembered his task at hand. He whispered something to Mabel and she nodded. She climbed off his lap and wiped at her tears. She walked over to Belle as she sniffled and did her grabby hands. Rumple turned around and got back to work. Belle picked up the fussy child. She wiped at her face. Mabel snuggled close to Belle and closed her eyes.

"Thank you, Mama." Belle stiffened, but Mabel didn't seem to notice. Belle hoped that Rumple hadn't heard. From the way he was working on her dress, she assumed he didn't.

"I'm not your mama, Mabel." She looked up with sparkling eyes. She tilted her head.

"Why not? You're the best mama I ever had." Belle felt her heart swell and tears came to her eyes. She put her chin on the tots head.

"Only call me that when we're alone. People will think the wrong thing if they hear you say it." Mabel nodded. She played with Belle's hair for a little while before speaking up.

"I wish you were my mama." Belle closed her eyes. She kissed the top of Mabel's head and rests her head back in its position on the child's head. Belle felt everything that had happened swirl around in her head. Mabel yawned and snuggled deeper into Belle. The even breathing against Belle's skin let her know that the spinner's daughter was asleep. Belle opened her eyes and watched Rumple work. He was deft in his sewing and nothing seemed to bother him. It was as if the real world faded away and the only thing that could disturb him was divine intervention. Belle thought back to earlier. Jefferson was acting strange. He was a strange man, but this was…..deliberate. And who had yelled out 'change of plans' while Gaston was….? Are these two incidents related? Belle waited patiently for Rumple to finish. When he did he stood up and held her dress out. He noticed Mabel on her lap and gave a small smile. Belle wrapped her arms around Mabel and carried the young girl carefully to a stack of fabrics. Belle grabbed her dress and stepped behind the screen again.

She hurried to change and stepped out from the screen. She looked down at the tear and it was hardly noticeable. She looked up and smiled at Rumple. She walked over and thanked him. He looked down.

"I was just doing my job, Princess." She narrowed her eyes. She stepped closer and kissed him on the cheek. His eyes snapped forward to meet hers. She froze as she pivoted to leave. The silence was thick in the room. Belle figured she could cut it with a knife. Something in his eyes pleaded to her and she faced him fully once again. The only thing that changed about him was his hand tensed on his walking stick. She took a careful step forward and his pupils dilated. She tilted her head slightly. His voice cracked slightly as he spoke, "Why do you not tell the suitors you can't bear them an heir? That should eliminate Gaston as a potential husband." Belle looked down.

"My father. Him and his wishful thinking." She twiddled her thumbs. Rumple reached out and put his hand on hers. She looked up again. "My mother had the same curse, but for some reason it broke when they had me." Belle gave a sad chuckle. "Yet it cost my mother her life." Belle took a deep breath to keep her tears at bay. Rumple moved his hand to brush the apple of her cheek. She looked at him with sparkling eyes.

"I'm sorry to bring up bad memories." Belle shook her head with a sad smile. Belle fiddled with the freshly sown dress. She bit her bottom lip and chewed on the skin until it was sore.

"Thank you, Rumple." She said in a soft voice. She turned and slowly walked away. Her dress swished in the silence and Rumple forgot how to breathe for a moment. He looked at Mabel. Mama. He walked over to the sleeping child and pets her hair. He sat down next to her on the fabrics. Mabel sensed his warmth and moved closer.

"Do you really want her to be your mama?" He tried to give Mabel everything she would need in life, but she needed a mother figure. It was hard for him to give her that. "I'm trying, Mabel, I think she might even like me." Mabel only took a deep breath at the statement. "Sleep well, lamb." He walked over to the wheel and began to spin another spool of the vibrant colored thread.

xXx

Belle put her hair up in the mirror. She was to meet a suitor later in the evening when he arrived. She scowled at the idea and it marred the pretty picture of her reflection. She grabbed a pin and stabbed at a wayward piece of hair. She took a deep breath and smiled. She heard the pattering of feet and looked behind her using the mirror. Mabel smiled and ran in. She jumped on Belle's bed and crawled on her stomach to the edge. Belle mocked horror.

"Oh no! It's Mabel! The most ferocious two year old in all the lands." Mabel snapped her teeth and swam through the sea of sheets on Belle's bed. Belle put the back of her hand to her forehead. She sat down dramatically in the chair. "Oh, please, Mabel the Great, spare my life." Belle smiled when Mabel rolled off the bed and scurried to Belle's side. She gave a judging look before jumping on Belle. Mabel tickled Belle and Belle laughed heartily. After Belle pleaded for her life Mabel quit and sat curled up on Belle's lap. There was silence for a while before Mabel looked up with an inquisitive gaze.

"Mama, what's a suitor?" Belle smirked.

"They are evil men who like to steal away beautiful princesses like you." Belle made her hands into claws and grabbed at Mabel. Mabel screamed and hid behind Belle's arm. Belle calmed the worried child. "Where did you learn that word, child?" Belle tilted her head.

"Mrs. Potts was talkin' to the other maids about them." Belle scowled.

"What were they saying, Mabel?" She asked in a calm tone, not to worry the girl.

"That they'll help you hide before you have to marry that bad man." Mabel pouted. "Would you hide from me?" Her lower lip quivered and Belle wiped the start of tears from Mabel's eyes. Mabel buried her face in Belle's chest.

"Never. I would never leave you, Mabel." Belle kissed the young girl's head. Belle picked up the tot and walked out of her room. "The king says that one of those nasty suitors will be here later." Mabel snapped her teeth. Belle nodded. "I will scare them off, so you can be safe, but you have to promise me you will stay with Papa, okay?" Mabel nodded.

"Yes, Mama." She said dutifully. Belle wandered the halls looking for Rumple. She looked first in the spinning room, but it was missing its spinner. Belle tried the mess hall, the hat room, and the grand hall, but her was nowhere to be found. Belle looked at Mabel. She was looking diligently along with Belle.

"Have you seen your Papa?" Mabel shrugged her shoulders. Belle was going to turn the corner when she collided with a solid figure. Mabel yowled in protest and Belle apologized. She reached out an arm to steady the person.

"Papa!" Mabel grabbed for her father and with their help he stayed upright. There was heavy breathing between them and Belle felt her heart in her throat. She swallowed it down as Rumple righted himself. Belle put Mabel down and the young girl hugged her father's leg. He reached a hand down and pets her head.

"We were looking for you." Rumple blushed.

"Sorry, the Hatter was….ordering from me." Rumple knew it was lame to his ears, but he couldn't come up with anything else. She didn't question him about it. In truth the Hatter was coming up with another plan since the last one, a few days ago, was such a success. It only led to a black eye in which Victor sustained from occupying the fop. Somewhere trumpets sounded and Belle groaned. She squatted down to meet Mabel eye to eye.

"Remember what I said." Rumple tilted his head at the exchange. Mabel nodded. Belle straightened and bid Rumple adieu before apologizing once more. They both watched her walk down the hall. Mabel tugged on her papa's pant leg. He made a noise to acknowledge her without looking away from Belle. Only when the princess turned the corner and disappeared from sight did he look down at her.

"Yes, child?" Mabel hid behind his walking stick.

"Do you like Belle?" Mabel's eyes were huge as she waited for the answer. Rumple looked back down the hallway. He used his free hand to card his fingers through his hair.

"I think I might, Mabel. I think I might." He used his walking stick to gently nudge her to move along. "Come on, I have spinning to do and I can show you how to make string." Mabel looked down the hallway before skipping ahead of her father in the opposite direction.

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