In the Land of Love and Gold

Tea Time

"And then I'll – Ahh!" Mabel fell into the pile of fluff from the wool. The pile moved a little to each side before spitting out the toddler. Rumple looked over from his chair and she had fluff woven into her hair and on her face like a beard. She scowled at Rumple as he began to laugh. She shook like a dog and the fluff went flying in all directions. Mabel blew air out of her mouth and soggy pulp fell out. She wiped at her tongue with a kerchief that Rumple had provided. When she was done she snapped the bedraggled fluff out. She handed it back to her papa and he put it in his pant pocket.

"What was that? I didn't hear I think I may have some fluff in my ear?" He tilted his head sideways and pretended to clean out his ears. She stomped her foot.

"Papa!" She picked up a large handful of the left over and ran at him. When she reached him she stuffed it down his shirt and stood akimbo as she retreated to get out of his reach. He opened his shirt and let all the fluff fall out onto the ground. Mabel sat down on the floor as Rumple turned back to the wheel. She picked at the fluff and began to mold it. "Papa, do you think Belle has fought off those suitors yet?" Rumple continued to spin. He tilted his head to the side.

"I can't be sure, Mabel. Why don't you go find the Hatter and see if he can find out for you?" Mabel jumped up with a smile on her face. Tormenting the Hatter was always a great past time. She mumbled out a goodbye to her papa and ran down the hall. She listened as she came to a corner. She didn't want to run into that nasty man again. She heard no one and continued on her search for Jefferson. She stalked along the walls and hid behind hallway items when someone came by. She could hear voices travel from all around the castle and she tried to distinguish if any were Belle's or Hatter's. She finally came to the Hatter's door and saw it was closed. She reached up on her tiptoes to grab the handle with her pudgy hands. Finally she got the door open and burst through. Jefferson jumped away from Ruby, but Mabel didn't notice. She ran forwards and stopped right in front of him. The maid who given her a chocolate scurried out of the room.

Mabel reached up to indicate she wanted to be lifted up. Jefferson hefted her up and put her on his hip. "Yes, princess?" Mabel scowled at him and crossed her arms. She remembered the chocolate and stuffed it in her mouth.

"Where's Belle?" Her speech was impeded by the chocolate, but she soon recovered. He chuckled.

"What, don't you enjoy my company?" She stuck her tongue out. He laughed and walked out of his work room. "I'm not sure. Let's find her together." Mabel looked up at the hat he was wearing. She looked at him with an impish glint in her eye. She reached up and pulled his hat over his eyes and climbed on his shoulders. He gasped in surprise. She sniggered and batted his hands away when he tried to fix his hat. "It's going to be hard for me to look for her when I can't see." He crossed his arms over his chest.

"I'll look, you keep away bad man." She put her head on the top of his hat. He turned solemn and nodded.

"Fine, but tell me when I'm going to run into something." He held up his hand and she held it.

"Deal." They soon fell into a system. Mabel would dig her heel in depending on how close he was to the wall. She would use her left heel if it was to the left of him and she would use her right heel if the wall was to the right of him. She looked for Belle with her newly found height. People looked at the pair curiously, but didn't say anything. Mabel searched the grounds until she sat paralyzed in fear. She whimpered and crawled down Jefferson's back and clung to his coat. She trembled slightly. Jefferson looked over his shoulder and put his hat up just enough to see. Concern was written all over his face. She closed her eyes tight as a booming voice called over the dim roar of the people.

"Lefou!" A small man came running and hurriedly chatted with the brute. Jefferson sneered at the duo. He continued to walk forward despite how Mabel's fists tightened around his coat. She tried to make herself smaller by burying her face in Jefferson's back. Jefferson walked with his head held high past Gaston. When he passed by he reached back and grabbed Mabel. He pulled her to his chest and she wrapped herself in his coat. They continued to walk until they were out of sight from the invalid. Once the coast was clear Jefferson took Mabel out of his coat and she climbed back onto his shoulders. Not long after looking for Belle did Mabel spot her over the crowd. She pointed and hit her heels into Jefferson's shoulders as though he was a horse.

Belle saw a rather large toddler overseeing the crowd. Belle chuckled and walked in their direction. Mabel nearly fell trying to get off of Jefferson's shoulders. Belle grabbed Mabel from Jefferson. Mabel wrapped her arms around Belle's neck.

"Belle, are you okay?" Belle nodded. Jefferson swiped his hat off of his head and gave an eccentric bow. Mabel reached down and smacked his head. "Not you, Hatter." Belle laughed.

"I'm fine, Mabel." Mabel crossed her arms over her chest at the elaborate display by Jefferson.

"Did you slay the suitors?" Belle nodded.

"It was tough work, but I think I got all of them." Belle began to walk as Jefferson eyed her one last time before hurrying off to god knows where. Mabel played with Belle's hair. She put the strands she had in her hand into a braid and moved on until Belle's head was half covered in braids. "If you keep that up you'll put Ruby out of a job." Mabel tilted her head to the side. "You are very good at dressing up my hair." Belle clarified and Mabel smiled.

"Ruby gives me chocolates." Belle looked down at maybe with a raised eyebrow. Mabel hummed and undid Belle's hair to dress it up again. Belle walked sluggishly to her room. The day had left her exhausted and in need of a bath. Belle yawned and Mabel did so as well. Belle smiled down at Mabel as she finally entered her room. Ruby was setting up her bed and Belle put Mabel on the turned down bed. Mabel scrambled off the tall bed and followed Belle to the bathroom. Maids came and went with buckets of hot water for the bath. Mabel looked over the edge of the bath and peered in. She stood on her tippy toes too see into the bottom of the tub.

Belle came up behind Mabel and picked her up. Mabel squeaked and laughed. Belle held her and swung her gently on her hip. She talked softly to Mabel as the maids finished filling up the tub. Ruby as the Lady's Maid hustled all the other chamber maids to work. She thought the day's events over and lost herself in a daydream.

"Belle," Belle focused back into the present. Mabel was fiddling with the lace on Belle's dress collar. "If I'm princess, then are you queen?" Belle smiled. She booped Mabel on the nose.

"No, not yet. I won't be queen for some time." Mabel sighed and wriggled to get out of Belle's grip. Belle put her down and Mabel waddled off. Belle watched as she left. She worried she would find herself in trouble, so she sent a nurse after her. The nurse bowed and left the bathroom. Finally the bath was full and steam rose from the top of the tub. Ruby helped Belle get out her dress and into the tub. Belle sighed as she slowly amerced herself into the water. Belle waved Ruby away and Ruby left the bathroom. Belle stayed in the tub, washing and letting her muscles unwind from the day's tedious tasks. Ever since her and her father had made their deal he had been secretly setting dates for suitors to meet Belle in hopes she will choose someone. So far they had all been dull, pompous, pretentious, or just plain boring. Belle had almost to her dismay fallen asleep during one of these meetings. The man was slow and was constantly wondering off topic or focusing on something other than the conversation at hand.

Belle was finishing up in the bath when the door opened. She moved the bubbles in the water as Mabel stumbled in. Her hair was wet and her night gown was falling off of her. It clung to one shoulder while the other was flapping as she ran. Belle chuckled and reached down out of the tub to fix the toddler's attire. Mabel stood on her tippy toes to make it easier for Belle to fix her clothes. Once that was done, Belle hurried to finish up bathing and Mabel looked around in the large bathroom. Belle got out of the tub and used the linens nearby to dry off. Belle put on a shift and guided Mabel out of the bathroom. Belle led Mabel back to the nursery, after putting on a dressing robe, and was startled to see someone standing there. She calmed her heart which was beating rapidly in her chest. The person turned around and Belle sighed with relief to see Rumple.

"I'm sorry to have startled you, Princess." Belle shook her head and watched Mabel climb into bed. Belle walked forward to say good night to Mabel. As she was leaving a sleepy voice piped up.

"Good night, Papa," A small yawn. "Don't let the bed bugs bite." Her voice faded until she was asleep and Belle listened from the doorway. She moved to go to bed, but a quiet voice announced itself behind her.

"Princess," Belle turned and tilted her head to the side. Rumple walked forward half a step. She clasped her hands in front of her. Rumple looked to be floundering for words. He opened his mouth once then shut it and took another half step forward. Just as Belle was about to speak, Rumple rushed out a set of words,

"Do you mind having tea with me?" She closed her mouth and unclasped her hands with a small smirk.

"Yes, I would like that very much." Belle walked forward and Rumple gave a small smile. "Where is it you would like to go and I shall have tea sent there?" Rumple looks around a little bit before walking in the direction of the library.

"How does the library sound?" Belle smiled and nodded. She walked beside him in compatible silence. The only sound of the torches and Rumple's walking stick hitting the stone. It echoed in the vast hall. Belle saw a maid coming up and she asked quietly if she could have tea sent to the library. The maid nodded and hurried off. They turned the corner and soon the library was just ahead. Once inside Belle instantly headed to the stairs, but when she realized that Rumple wasn't following her she stopped. She realized her mistake and apologized.

"No, Princess, no need to apologize." Belle hurried down the stairs and walked to stand in front of Rumple. She walked to the chair set and sat down in front of the fire. It crackled and made the place feel homely. Rumple followed and sat in the chair adjacent to her. There was a small table between them and there wasn't much silence before the maid came back with two cups of tea and a tray full of sweeteners and such. Belle thanked the maid before shooing her off.

"How do you take your tea Rumple?" Rumple looked over from the fire. He leaned forward to make his tea, but Belle took the tray away. "No, you've been working all day." He stayed forward with an unconvinced look.

"I am the one who invited you to tea, what kind of host would I be if I let you serve me?" Belle raised her eyebrow. She kept the tray by her side while she made her cup. Rumple leaned back with a sigh, his suit bunched up around him making him look smaller than he was. "Milk and honey." Belle nodded with triumphant smirk and began to make the tea jus as Rumple had instructed. Belle handed it to him and as Rumple reached to grab his cup their fingers brushed. Belle blushed and Rumple was so shocked he dropped the cup. The tea spilt all over and both of them gasped as they heard the cup break. Both of them dropped to the ground to pick up the chipped cup. Belle cleaned up the liquid and Rumple ran his finger over the chip in the cup. She looked up from the floor and at Rumple, who was ogling the broken cup.

"Rumple?" Belle put her hands in her lap. Rumple looked up from the cup. He offered her the cup.

"I'm sorry, it's chipped." Belle waved him off and gently took the cup.

"It's only a cup." She says softly and they look at each other in the dying fire light. Rumple looked from her beautiful cerulean eyes to her lips in a quick glance and Belle felt her face flush a brilliant red color. She gathered up her skirts and stood to get him another cup of tea. She set the chipped cup back on the plate and began to make his tea. He stood up hurriedly and sat down in the chair. Belle finished and handed it to Rumple on the plate. He thanked her and was disappointed when they're fingers didn't brush again. Rumple took a sip of the tea and hummed.

"I could never make my own tea this good." Belle blushed and took a sip of her tea.

"Do you like it here, Rumple?" He took a few sips of tea before answering.

"It's very nice, the people are kind and patient with me." He had a faraway look in his eye. He wasn't focusing on anything in particular as he remembered the days as a spinner who was cast out and shunned from the rest of the village. How they treated him. He was lucky enough that he had a daughter, for they were always generous to her and gave her extra pieces of food or a few extra coins. If they were good to her she would be married off to a brute of a man and live as a housewife only able to produce more children. It wasn't the best, but at least she would be accepted.

"Of course, Rumple, why wouldn't they?" Pain momentarily flashed on Rumple's face. Belle lurched forward and grabbed his hand. She moved her thumb in soothing circles on his hand. He looked away for a moment before looking at their joined hands. "Please, understand that you can tell me anything." Belle said softly. Rumple avoided eye contact with her. She was about to give up when he gently squeezed her hand and began to speak.

"I was cast out as a hermit when I returned from the war. A seer told me my wife was with child. She also told me that my girl would be fatherless if I went into battle." He took a shaky breath. Belle listened silently. Her eyes never straying from his face. "So I injured myself to see that my child would have a father. When my wife found out she left the baby with me and never returned." He finally looked at Belle. His eyes were red from holding back tears and his hair fell in his face. Belle had silent tears falling down her face. She wanted to wipe them away, but she didn't want to let go of Rumple's hand. He reached up with his free hand and wipe away her tears. "I'm sorry to tell you that you've hired a coward to work for you." She shook her head.

"No, because of you, your little girl has a father and someone to love her. Who knows what would have happened if your wife stayed and you had died. It was very, very brave of you to endure all these years of pain just so you could take care of your daughter." Belle could barely contain the tears now. She coughed and tried to hold back her emotions, but it was a losing battle. She let go of his hand in favor of wiping at her face to make it look presentable again.

"You put me on such a high pedestal, Princess." Rumple shook his head and gripped his walking stick tighter. Belle stopped crying after a minute or so. She took a sip of her tea to calm her nerves. Her hand shook slightly, but when she grabbed Rumple's hand it stopped completely.

"I put you there because you belong there." It was silent while Rumple pondered what Belle had said. Rumple tilted his head slightly and proposed a question.

"Why did you choose me as your spinner?" He listened to the fire crackle and snap, revealing in the feel of Belle making smoothing circles on his hand with her thumb. Belle tilted her head in mimicry to Rumple.

"Because you seemed the most qualified." He looked away, not satisfied with the answer, but too nervous to continue to pester. "When Mabel ran out in front of that carriage tangled in the softest yarn I had ever felt I knew I just had to have that spinner as a part of my staff. You have not ceased to amaze me." Rumple looked up at Belle with soft eyes. She looked back at him with red rimmed eyes.

xXx

They continued to talk for a long time. The moon was high in the sky when Belle yawned one too many times.

"It's about time you went to bed." Rumple chuckled and drank the rest of his tea. Belle denied him by shaking her head and her beautiful brown locks carefully swished against her angelic face. Her eye lids dropped closed and she shook herself to wake back up. Rumple got up and held out his hand. She gladly took it, hiding another yawn behind her free hand. They walked quietly back to Belle's room. The torches were running low and the light was dim, but they managed to make it to Belle's door. She turned to face him with sleepy eyes. He stood in his uniform, holding himself a little straighter.

"Thank you for the tea." Belle blinked slowly, Rumple thought she was going to fall asleep right there.

"Anytime," He saw Belle take a step closer. "Belle." Belle gasped slightly and he took half a step forward. They were inches apart and each of them only looking at each other's lips. Belle leaned forward to close the distance, but Rumple gently put his forehead on hers. She opened her eyes to see his closed.

"Penny for your thoughts." He tilted his head slightly without removing it from hers.

"You don't know how much I want to kiss you right now." She felt her heart leap in her throat. She felt giddy and wide awake. She wanted this to last forever.

"Then do it." She tilted her head until their lips just barely brushed. Rumple felt an electric jolt run through his veins and he put his free hand on her cheek. She felt warmth spread from where is hand was on her face to the rest of her body, making her body temperature rise. She panted once and he closed the distance between them. Her hands moved to his neck and she wrapped her arms around his neck as she tilted her head to deepen the kiss. Rumple rubbed his thumb on the apple of her cheek and Belle hummed deep in her throat as the sensation sent her nerves on hay wire. One of her hands moved up to tangled themselves in his hair. She gently scraped her nails against his scalp and he moved his hand to pull her closer to him. Belle gasped and the spinner took the opportunity to gently slip his tongue into her mouth. Belle's eyes shot open and she melted in his hands. Her other hand moved down and lay flat on his chest.

"There you are! Do you know what time it is?"

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