Rumple and Belle jumped apart from each other. They were both panting and Belle was blushing. Ruby stood with the door to her bedroom open.
"Belle," She looked over at Rumple. "And Rumpetsteksltin." Belle didn't even bother to correct her. She said goodnight to Rumple and hurried into her room. She shut the door behind her and ran to jump on her bed. Ruby was silent for a second before she completely lost it. "Oh my god!" She ran and jumped on the bed next to Belle. Belle had her face hidden from view, but she could still feel everywhere Rumple touched her. She moved her hand up to her lips and gently touched them. "Belle!" Belle shushed her.
"Shhh, it's late and you'll wake up the whole castle." Belle peeked an eye to look at Ruby. Ruby was lounging next to Belle with a quirked eyebrow.
"You're lucky I was there to catch you two otherwise you would need a cold bath." Belle blushed again and hid her face in the duvet.
"Ruby!" She whispered harshly. She sat up and gasped. "How dare you assume that of me!" They began to whisper harshly at each other, not to wake up the people in the other rooms.
"What. I was just saying. You two seemed all over each other." Ruby put a fist on her hip. The other supported her on the bed. Belle lay back down on the bed with a soft thud. Ruby crawled over to look at her best friend. "Honestly out of everyone I think he is the best choice." Belle looked up at the ceiling. Her hands were on her stomach, keeping the butterflies at bay. She wanted to replay that scene over and over again. So she did, in her head.
"Really?" Ruby nodded. Belle looked over at her friend. "What were you doing up so late? You normally go to bed if I don't get to bed right away." Ruby looked away and played with the coverlet. She tugged at the strings that were fraying from use and Belle leaned forward. "Ruby?" Ruby was still ignoring her. She was very interested in the bed post. Belle sat up, her hair falling in her eyes and her dressing gown slipping off her shoulder. She shivered as a small breeze wafted through the window and hit her exposed skin. She looked down to find her dressing gown open and wondering how it got that way. She blushed and hurried to tie it. Ruby was looking at her with an unreadable look. "Ruby, answer the question." Ruby sighed heavily.
"Fine, I may have mentioned something to Hatter and he may have mentioned something to Spinner." Ruby got off the bed and wiped at her skirts. Belle gasped. She was trying to piece together a solution, but she was coming up empty handed. "Goodnight, Belle." Ruby hurried out of the room and closed the door. Belle was left looking agog in her bed. She recovered and took off her dressing gown and slid into bed. She held the coverlet close to her chest and gently touched her fingers to her lips. She pressed them together in her final moments of consciousness.
"Hey, R," Jefferson called from the far side of the servant's dining room. Rumpelstiltskin juggled his tray and walked over to Jefferson. Victor was sitting, eating porridge. He was silent as Rumple sat down next to Jefferson. Rumple ate a few bites of porridge before Jefferson launched into questions. "How'd it go? Did it work? Did Belle have tea with you? Tell me." He sat facing Rumple with a manic glint in his eye. Rumple held the spoon out on front of him, blowing on it to cool it down. Hatter took a deep breath to throw more questions, but Rumple interceded.
"Yes." It was simple. Rumple wanted to keep it that way as he thought back to last night. He should tell the man who set it up what happened, but he didn't feel ready. Hatter let out his deep breath in an exaggerated sigh.
"Yes? That's all you're going to give me? I set this up for you and all I get is a 'yes'? I know you're a man of few words, but throw me a bone here." Jefferson slapped his hand on the table rolling his head back. Someone nearby jumped at the sudden noise. Rumple continued to eat. He gave Jefferson, who was staring at Rumple like he was God on earth, a sidelong glance. Rumple didn't answer any of his questions. "Rumple, R, Rum, Rumpelstiltskin, buddy," Jefferson tried to get information out of the silent spinner. "Give me something." Rumple set his spoon down and looked over at Jefferson after he searched around the emptying room.
He sighed softly, he felt his cheeks blush and he cursed himself for acting so immature. Jefferson gasped deeply. Rumple looked at him in confusion. "You kissed her!" He said in a hoarse whisper. Victor – who Rumple forgot was there – choked a little on the water he was drinking. Rumple looked around worried. "It's true!" Jefferson jumped up and grabbed his hat he had it under his arm with a triumphant grin. "After lunch we regroup and I will have another plan in motion." Jefferson put on his hat theatrically and Rumple realized why they called him Mad. He was going to protest, but Jefferson was already out the door. Rumple stared in worry at the door that Jefferson left out of. Victor came up behind him and gave him a gentle pat on the back.
"I apologize in advance for anything that he might do." That didn't help Rumple's resolve one bit. He didn't know how long he stood there before little hands wrapped around his leg, shaking him out of his stupor.
"Granny!" Ruby and Jefferson said at the same time. The older woman hobbled around the kitchen. Ruby helped the older lady while Jefferson leaned on the door jamb admiring the pound cake he stole. He had crumbs all over his face and was about to take another bite when it was swiped from his hand. He snapped his teeth on empty air and winced in pain. Ruby gave a sly smirk and ate the pound cake. Jefferson scowled at her, but didn't do anything.
"What!" Jefferson stepped off of the door jamb and walked forward with crossed arms. Granny huffed as she set the tub of water down and looked at the two with her arms on her hips and her gray hair falling in her eyes. Ruby had her mouth full of pound cake and Granny glared at her. Ruby hurried to eat it and began to talk to her grandmother.
"Granny," She looked around. The kitchen staff was bustling around and the loud clatter from the large room made it hard to hear. "Is there somewhere we can talk?" Granny waved her arms around the kitchen.
"Ruby, I have a kitchen to run. What is so import –" Jefferson interrupted Granny's speech. Granny gave him a look that could kill, but Jefferson wasn't fazed. He continued to talk.
"It's pertaining to Belle." Granny put her hands on her hips and stood, looking between the two of them before grabbing the basin of water and heaving it up onto the stove. She left it on the fire to get it to boil. She wiped her hands on her apron and waved for them to follow. Granny walked through the busy kitchen and into the dining hall. There were a few stragglers eating, but it was mostly cleared out. Anyone that was left looked over at Granny and with one glance at her scalding glare they packed up and left. The dining hall was now empty except for Ruby, Jefferson, and Granny.
Granny crossed her arms and her glasses fell down her nose, "I don't have all day." Simultaneously Jefferson and Ruby spoke,
"Rumple kissed Belle."
"Belle kissed Rumple." They both looked at each other with a raised eyebrow. They looked at Granny and she was staring at them with a shocked expression. Her glasses were ready to fall of her face. She grabbed them and wiped at them with her apron. She took a moment to collect herself.
"Belle? Sweet, princess, innocent as a saint, Belle?" Jefferson leaned on a nearby table. He flicked a crumb off of the scarred wood.
"No, the other Belle," He rolled his eyes and Ruby smacked him upside the head. His hat tilted forward into his eyes, but he was otherwise unaffected. He fixed his hat with a scowl.
"Rumple? The shy spinner?" Jefferson was going to speak, but Ruby shot him a look. Normally his wit would make her want to shove him against a wall and kiss him senseless, but they had to keep up appearances. No one was to know about this relationship, not even Belle. So far they had managed to keep it quiet, but they were getting sloppy. Ruby would have to talk to him later about their actions in public. Granny tried to absorb the news as she sat down at the table. She held a hand to her head. A maid came out of the kitchen and looked around for Granny before spotting her sitting down.
"Chief, we need you for dinner preparations." Granny waved her hand and the maid left back into the kitchen. Granny stood up and brushed the wrinkles out of her outfit.
"I will have the rest of this story later." Granny walked out of the dining hall and to the kitchen. Jefferson looked from the ground to Ruby's feet then to her face. They both sat in silence for a moment. They had to have another plan, four months wasn't a lot of time. Jefferson sighed thoughtfully.
A large wall stood in front of Belle. She stopped before she could run into it. Gaston looked down at her with a smile that made her want to take a bath. Belle took a step back and brushed at her skirts. She folded her hands in front of her. She was on her way to visit Jefferson to get the hat that was made for the dress she was wearing. She would be visiting a neighboring kingdom for diplomatic purposes. Their trades had become weak and there supplies no longer were needed. Belle had convinced her father to give them the food they would need until they were financially stable once again. Summer was the best time for Avonlea because of the frequent showers and the rich soil. Gaston stood with that smile on her face. Belle kept her face neutral and polite, but nothing more.
"Belle, looking divine today, if I do say so myself." He put a broad hand to his chest and admired his own muscles. Belle nodded curtly and tried to get around Gaston. Gaston held his hands out to stop Belle. She pulled her hands away quickly. He continued,
"I shall be your escort today. It's best to keep you," His eyes raked down Belle's body. She contained the shiver of disgust it sent down her spine. "In line of sight at all times." Belle decided she would get nowhere with force, so she gave her best fake smile.
"I didn't know you could see anything past your ego." He brushed off the insult with a loud laugh. It echoed in the stone hallway and made Belle cringe at the volume. She took a deep breath and held herself together. "I must get my hat from Jefferson, if you don't mind." Belle moved to go around him, but he sidestepped in front of her, blocking her path. Bell began to get frustrated.
"What's the rush, Princess?" He sneered at her and his rank breath enveloped her nose making her gag. She held back the reflex to save herself any more trouble. Belle tried to move around him again, but he blocked her way. Belle grabbed at her dress and resisted the urge to yell for her guards. She could deal with –
Someone cleared their throat behind Gaston. Belle sucked in a deep breath. Gaston turned around and Belle saw Rumple standing there. He stood straight and he didn't flinch or cower when Gaston turned around. This was a different side to him that she had never seen before. She had always seen the shy, quiet Spinner; this was the warrior that protected the people he loved. Belle had a hard time breathing as she stared at him. She was afraid it would break the trance she was under.
"I believe the lady said she must leave." After a long moment of silence, Gaston laughed loudly again. For quite some time, too. When he finally stopped laughing he glared at Rumple.
"Why don't you run a long, Spindleshanks." Rumple glowered at the taller man. He held firm and gave Gaston an even glare. Belle watched his hand tighten on his walking stick and she was worried he was losing his bravado.
"Leave the princess alone. She has a long drive ahead of her. I don't believe she wants to spend any unnecessary time with you." Belle held her hand up to her face. She gasped at Gaston's expense. Gaston turned his whole body on Rumple and puffed out his chest.
"I think you should leave the politics to the literate." Belle bristled. She didn't know why she took so much offense to a jab at her Spinner, but she felt obligated to get the guards. She was going to yell for the guards when Gaston turned around and looked at her. She stopped and was going to berate him.
"Gaston, leave him alone. I must leave and you will not harm Rumpelstiltskin in anyway. Or his daughter." Belle moved to take a step forward and again she was blocked. Gaston grabbed her arm and she twisted her face in concern for her well being. Gaston was going to lean in closer, but something moved out of the corner of her eye and hit Gaston. He let her go with a cry of pain and looked back at Rumpelstiltskin. Before Belle could react, Gaston pulled his arm back and punched Rumple. Belle screamed as small spinner hit the wall and a sickening crack sounded. Gaston walked over and tried to get back at Rumpelstiltskin, but Belle's screaming had warned the guards nearby. They came running and once they arrived they surrounded Belle. She tried to push through, but they wouldn't let her. Belle watched as Rumple tried to get up and Gaston took his walking stick and shoved him to the ground, hard. She yelled at Gaston to stop, but he ignored her.
Belle saw more people swarming and someone tackled Gaston. The scrawny body belonged to Hatter. Victor grabbed Rumple and Hatter and Gaston fought in the hallway. Jefferson was small, so he easily dodge the brute's punches. Belle was stuck between watching Victor carry Rumple away and Jefferson fight Gaston. Finally a booming voice sounded over the roar of the crowd.
"Enough!" It was silent except for Belle's crying. Maurice walked from the other side of the hallway and pulled Jefferson and Gaston apart. Each of them had their share of hits. Jefferson had a split lip and his left cheek was swollen. Gaston had a steady stream of blood running into his eye and his nose looked broken. Maurice cleared the guards that were standing around Belle. She pushed past now that she was free despite her father's protests. She ran to the infirmary. People tried to stop her, but she continued to run. She shoved open the door and Victor was standing at Rumple's bedside. He was lifting up the man, so he could get his shirt off to assess his wounds. Belle walked quietly to the other side of Rumple, so she was facing Victor. Rumple's eyes were closed and he looked to be asleep.
"Can I help?" Victor nodded and lay Rumple down gently back on the bed. He walked around getting the supplies he would need. Belle pushed Rumple's hair back from his eyes and he moved to respond to her touch. She silently cried and a tear fell on his chest. Victor came back an armful of supplies. He set them down and began to instruct Belle on what to do.
"Sit him up," Belle did as she was told and Victor began to apply a wet cloth on anything that was bleeding. Rumple's chest had a bruise forming about the size of her whole hand. It was a dark blue color with purple marks in the shape of knuckles. Victor finished cleaning him off and told Belle to put him back on the bed. Victor put a salve on his cuts and Rumple hissed in pain. Belle looked over at him incase his eyes opened. They didn't.
"Is he alright?" Victor nodded. He grabbed a roll of cloth and began to wrap up Rumple's chest.
"He is simply unconscious, he should wake up soon. He'll need bed rest until his chest is better. The hit seemed to have cracked a few ribs." Belle frowned at the news. The door to the infirmary opened and Ruby appeared. She looked angry and ruffled. Jefferson was following close behind her. Belle gently put Rumple back on the bed and Ruby launched herself at Belle. She checked for any injuries. Belle reassured her that there were none. Jefferson limped to Victor and Victor cleaned up his cuts and bruises. Victor reached into the ice box and pulled out a block of ice. He gave Jefferson a few pieces and put the chunk of ice back. "Keep those in your mouth on the left side until they melt." Jefferson popped an ice bit into his mouth and hummed as the pain was dulled.
The pitter-patter of small feet could be heard. Mabel came bursting in and when she saw her father she began to cry. Belle blocked Mabel as she ran to see her dad. Belle picked her up despite her protests. "Shh, Mabel, Mabel. You have to be quiet." Mabel stopped her loud crying, but continued to try and reach her papa. "Mabel, your papa is hurt. You have to be careful." Belle put her on Rumple's bedside and Mabel crawled to Rumple's side and put his arm around her. She held it tightly and looked at the door with fiery eyes. "Will you watch out for your papa, Mabel?" She didn't need to nod for Belle to know she would. Belle ushered Ruby and Jefferson out of the healing room. Belle made sure she was the last one out and walked over to Mabel and kissed her forehead and leaned over Rumple and kissed his cheek. His eyes fluttered, but Belle hurried to the door. Belle quietly shut the door and turned to see her father. Maurice looked angry. Ruby and Jefferson stood in front of Belle, creating a triangle. Maurice glowered at them, but they stood their ground. Belle's heart swelled with love.
"Belle." Maurice's voice was gruff. "We need to talk." Belle put a hand on Ruby's shoulder. Ruby looked back and after a nod from Belle they both left. They were reluctant, but eventually it was just Belle and Maurice in the corridor. Maurice walked in the opposite direction of Ruby and Jefferson. Belle followed, her head held high. They arrived at the drawing room and Maurice shut the door. "Gaston tells me – "Belle stopped him right there.
"Whatever he says is a lie." Belle snapped and her father turned on her. She clenched her fists at her side.
"He said that the spinner was going to attack you and Gaston was there to protect you." Belle nearly spit she was so mad. Of course he would say something that was farthest from the truth. Belle stepped forward and challenged her father.
"That is wrong. Rumple was defending me. Gaston wouldn't let me leave the corridor and Rumple stepped in to help me. Gaston grabbed my arm and Rumpelstiltskin got in the way to stop him." Belle showed her father her arm that Gaston had grabbed. Faint marks began to arise on her skin. Maurice gently took her daughters arm into his hand. He looked at the purplish marks that marred her skin. He looked at the size and knew for a fact they couldn't be the under fed Spinner's. Maurice closed his eyes and a tear escaped from his eye.
"I'm sorry, Belle. You still must go to Kelsis. Gaston will not be going with you. I assure you that." Belle nodded and looked down at her dress. In the tussle she had gotten a few blood spatters on the white fabric. Maurice went with her to her room and there was a guard with her at all times when she was finished in her room. Two were standing at her door and they walked with her into the carriage. The half day trip would have Belle arrive at dusk. She hoped the king would be in good spirits despite her late presence.
Belle stepped out of the carriage and discreetly stretched her legs. She walked into the castle and she and her guards were led to a large room with high windows. The castle looked older than its actual age. The drapes were dusty and there were hardly any help. A few older maids here and there wondered the castle. Belle sat in a chair that was pressed next to a table. She sat there looking at the impoverished castle.
"Princess!" A shocked and happy voice sounded behind Belle. She turned and saw Zoso. She tilted her head to the side. Belle stood and bowed in acknowledgment. He bowed in return. "It's awful late to be at the castle." Belle's guards had a firm grip on their swords. Belle waved them off.
"I would have been here sooner, but there was…a discrepancy that needed to be taken care of." Belle avoided direct names or problems. She wondered where the King was.
"I hope no one was hurt during this discrepancy." He sounded sincere and Belle thought back to Rumple, lying in bed wrapped in bandages and Mabel guarding her father. She forced back the tears that threatened to spill over.
"Sadly." Zoso raised his eyebrows. He put a hand on Belle's. She smirked at him. She appreciated his kindness. She wondered how is it he could have lived in the castle at such a high rank and her father hadn't known.
"I didn't know you lived here?" She looked at him curiously. He tilted his head.
"No, I don't. I'm just visiting for the time being." Belle made an 'o' with her mouth. The guards that were watching Belle, straightened up and Belle looked to see the king walking towards Belle. He was a kind man that had been friends of Belle's family for a long time. He was roughly her father's age, but he was in much better health than her father. Belle turned to say good bye to Zoso, but he had disappeared. She looked around for a minute before focusing back on the king. Belle stood and curtsied to the king. He bowed in return.
"So good to see you Belle," He tilted his head and seemed to be listening to something. "But isn't it rather late to be discussing business?" Belle nodded slowly.
"Yes, and I'm sorry for being late. I was finishing up the final touches of what I came here to talk to you about." The king looked nervous as he led her down the hall to the war room. The slender king tried not to show his worry as he walked around the large table in the middle of the room.
"Please," He waved for her to propose her plan. He had his hands behind his back and looked at her with tired eyes. Belle raised her chin and displayed an air of purpose.
"We have noticed that your trades have become weak." The king slouched, hating for his weakness to be shown. "We have decided that we shall no longer ask you to trade with us. We will give a fortnight worth of food for no trade at all. We will give you men for the war on your borders. Or you can choose to take medicine for your ill. One will be supplied. Any time you wish to change just send a message to the king and he will see to it that you will have those needs met." The king put a hand over his mouth. His eyes were shining with tears. He walked forward and cleared his throat.
"I may never be able to repay you." Belle shook her head.
"That is of no concern to us." The king took a deep breath and grabbed a quill lying on the table.
"We'll take your soldiers, to start." Belle nodded and made sure that the king wrote his letter to Maurice before she thanked him. This trade worked because the Avonlea kingdom had began to over crowd. Many villages were full of men wanting to join the army and Avonlea having no need to train new recruits. Belle finally smiled and gave her long time friend a hug. "Tell your father, thank you." Belle nodded. He looked outside at the night sky. "Stay the night then be off in the morning it is much too dangerous to go now." Belle nodded.
"Thank you." A maid showed up and escorted Belle to a spare room. Everything was set and Belle thanked the maid. Her guards stood outside her door. As Belle stripped down to her shift, she slipped into bed and lay there staring up at the ceiling. She thought about Rumple all night and couldn't get a wink of sleep.