‘Grandpa! Grandpa!’ Bae called. ‘Come look!’
Moe French obediently followed where his grandson was kneeling by the big oak tree. Raising the energetic ten years old alone was no easy task, but Moe never complained. Little Bae was the most important thing in his life after Moe’s daughter and her husband died in the car crash five years ago. That meant going on morning strolls through the forest without complaining about his age and condition, which, to be honest, wasn’t bad at all.
’Coming, coming, I’m not as spring as you, young man. What do we have here?′
’A rabbit! He’s hurt, grandpa!′
Indeed, small rabbit with light brown fur was lying on the ground, his right hind leg caught in the snare and bloody. But what made Moe really furious was the fact that it wasn’t a wild rabbit! No, it was clearly a domesticated one, a dwarf lop, that should live peaceful life as someone’s dear pet and companion. Why wasn’t it?
Taking deep breath to calm himself and allowing that it might have gotten lost (but in the middle of the forest?) and now its owner is worried sick, he proceeded to free the poor creature.
’Get the lunchbox from the backpack and empty it, Bae. Then put your scarf in there. We need to improvise to get it safely to the vet.′
The rabbit didn’t protest being held when Moe lifted him and put in the box, covering with his own scarf. The leg wound fortunately didn’t bleed much.
‘Will we keep it?’ Bae asked.
‘Perhaps...’ Moe sighed. He wanted to, he already felt awfully protective about the animal. But they had one rabbit already, two years old female called Belle. Hopefully, she would accept this new addition to their family. Hopefully, the rabbit will make it without complications, the wound looked nasty and the poor creature was exhausted. Hopefully, it will be alright.
‘What do we have here?’ Victor Whale asked with a bright smile. The resident veterinarian of Storybrooke took care of all the dogs, cats, various small pets as well as regular livestock, seeing as some people kept horses, cattle and sheeps. Ruby Lucas was working with him, not veterinarian herself, but a nurse and a receptionist. And once a dear friend of Moe’s daughter.
‘We found a rabbit caught in snares!’ Bae explained anxiously. ‘Please, do all you can to help him!’
‘A wild rabbit?’
’Not exactly,′ Moe sighed, placing the box on the examination table.
Victor pulled aside the scarf and looked closer.
‘Oh my. That’s weird. I would swear it’s Rumple.’
‘Rumple?’ Bae asked while Moe just raised his eyebrows.
′Milah’s pet. She brought him here several times. If that’s him, then he should have a scar on his ear... and yes, he has. Milah asked me, well, told me to treat that, he had it cut and bleeding, but never explained what happened. Now I think that I should have asked many more questions than I did.′
Saying all that, Victor examined Rumple’s leg. Poor rabbit wriggled in pain, but didn’t manage to escape.
’Nasty wound, but the cut should heal just fine, I’ll stitch it. But the bones may be broken. We’ll know more after an X-ray.′
‘Do what you need, doctor,’ Moe said. ’And I’ll talk with Milah about proper pet care.′ There was a not too subtle hint of threat in his voice.
’Well, you might not be able to. Ruby just told me that Milah packed up and disappeared on the horizon with that Killian guy that she was hooking up with for the past few months. And, apparently, her plans didn’t involve a rabbit. It’s so stupid that people think that a pet rabbit can survive in wilderness. Snares aside, he wouldn’t have made it anyway if you hadn’t found him.
‘See, grandpa!’ Bae piped in. ‘Now we had to take him in.’
Moe smiled seeing agitated face of his grandson.
’That we do, Bae. And our princess better learn to share.′
Lying on the forest floor Rumple felt too exhausted to move, even when he heard human steps and voices. He also allowed himself to be a tiny bit hopeful. Maybe humans would help him? His leg hurt like nothing did in his whole life and he was so hungry and thirsty. He didn’t think he would survive much longer.
His human was nowhere in sight. He was so excited to be on a true meadow that he almost missed the moment when she turned away and disappeared in the roaring thing that carried them there. He tried to follow her, but very soon he lost even the sight of her and the thing. He still tried to go in that direction but he got lost pretty quickly. Rumple found himself in the forest and the next thing he knew, his right hind leg was trapped and hurting terribly.
That was a long time ago, though he couldn’t tell how much exactly. He still hoped that his human would come for him, though.
When the new humans, one old and one young, came and freed him, Rumple sighed in relief. His leg still hurt, but not that bad, and he was lying on something soft and warm now, even if the old human jostled him a bit too much.
When they took him to the white human, his hope surged up. Rumple remembered the white human and the weird smells he carried on himself. His human brought him to the white human’s home several times. Now she could come for him and everything would be fine again.
‘Fortunately the bones are intact,’ Victor smiled. ‘I’ve stitched the cut in the deepest place. He’s got painkillers and I advise you to continue giving painkillers to him for some time, along with topical antibiotics. Don’t cover the wound. You need to make sure that he’s eating and pooping normally. This is important, the stress can cause his gut to just stop working, and he had way too much stress than any pet should. If anything worries you, call me. I gave him water and some hay before stitching and he ate, so that’s a good sign.’
’Thank you,′ Moe smiled widely. Fortunately, Rumple wasn’t their first rabbit, they would manage. Which brought on a new set of questions. ‘When can he meet Belle, doctor?’
’Well, I’d give him some time to recover. But he’s going to feel her smell all over your house anyway. Introduce them gradually and watch what happens. Remember that his leg is still healing, Belle is a very energetic rabbit.′
‘That she is’ Moe smiled even wider. ‘Our princess is, however, very nice to strangers, humans at least, and one chinchilla. I hope that these two could be real friends.’
And thankfully only friends, as both had been spayed or neutered by Whale himself.
When Rumple woke up, for a long moment he wasn’t sure where he is. He felt warm and he was lying on something soft, or more accurately, was wrapped in something soft. He remembered the smells though and quickly concluded that he was still at the white human home.
Oh yes, he fell asleep after he finally could drink and eat. He was especially grateful for the water. Then the white human did something with his leg. For a moment there was stinging pain above the cut and then the pain subsided altogether. So much that he even didn’t mind the white human touching his leg further and touching and pressing him in various places in general. The white man has been doing it before. Rumple thought that he just was making sure that Rumple is fine to return him to his human, though the sheer exhaustion didn’t allow him to wonder on it too much. With pain gone and in much safer place than the forest was, Rumple was finally able to relax and sleep. Familiar human and smells also helped.
But now that he rested a bit, he started to wonder when would his human come to get him back home. Surely she should come already.
Just that moment he heard human voices. The white human came back with the old and young humans that brought him here. Rumple perked up immediately. They were going to take him to his human. She must have been worried sick about him. Rumple only hoped that she won’t be too angry at him. She could be really terrifying when angry. The male human who came often to their home was even more scary. Fortunately, he didn’t usually notice Rumple, mostly only when Rumple was getting too jealous and tried to have a bit of his human’s attention. Maybe now his human would be willing to spend some more time with her bunny?
Rumple allowed the old human to usher him into black, human-made burrow, even if it was a bit weird because Rumple could clearly smell another, female, rabbit that was apparently the owner of this burrow. Her smell was everywhere and Rumple was wriggling on the soft lining the whole time when the burrow was closed and shaking, carried by humans to return him to his own one. Rumple just hoped that the other rabbit won’t be too angry to feel the smell he left afterward.
He almost jumped out of the burrow when the entrance opened, only his hurt leg was slowing him down a bit.
He stopped frozen a moment later. Strange smells were filling the place and it wasn’t his human’s place at all! The smells belonged to the old and young humans and to the mysterious female that was the owner of the burrow. Rumple looked around in panic, cowering and sniffing. Why was he here? Where was his human? What happened?
The young human was saying something, making hushing, sweet noises, but that didn’t calm Rumple at all. He needed to hide, to think about all this in some safe place. Without warning he bolted, not minding his hurt leg, and run until he was squeezed into the dark, narrow corner.
’Grandpa, what now?′ Bae asked worried. ‘He hid under my bed. We wouldn’t be able to reach him without moving the bed.’
‘We wont be reaching for him at all,’ Moe said calmly. ‘At least not yet. We’ll give him some time and then we’ll try to coax him out with some food and water. Poor thing must be scared.’
’What about Belle?′
’Our princess is in the living room, behind closed door. She won’t come barging in here for now.′
Some time later, Moe put bowl with water, a handful of hay and a few carrots on the carpet next to Bae’s bed. He and the boy sat down two steps away. Then they waited.
Rumple was making shuffling noises under the bed, but it took him good five minutes to cautiously hop to the edge of bed, and another two to actually cross the distance and start nibbling on food. Moe let him eat peacefully and only after some time he moved closer. Rumple didn’t run away this time.
‘It’s okay,’ Moe said gently, slowly reaching out to stroke Rumple’s head and back. ‘You’re safe here. No one would hurt you.’
Moe put up a rabbit tent for Rumple, so the bunny could have his own space. The tent was new, bought for Belle’s birthday, but Moe guessed that they always could buy the princess another present. In the meantime he put hay into the tent and installed a litter box next to it.
Several hours later, when Rumple seemed comfortable enough with his tent, Moe decided that it’s time to introduce Belle to him.
Rumple curled up in the soft burrow and tried to be hopeful. It didn’t look like his human was going to come for him anytime soon, but it didn’t have to mean that she wouldn’t ever come. He just needed to be patient. At least the old and young humans didn’t want to hurt him. They even gave him food, water and the burrow, as if he were their rabbit. But they had their rabbit, the female one, and Rumple was glad that she had such a nice humans. He would remember them well too.
The moving part of wall creaked and Rumple immediately looked that way, hoping it’s his human.
No such luck, it was the old and young humans, but then he spotted someone else. The mysterious doe. She was small and had dark brown fur. She was sniffing the air and looking in his direction. In quick strides she crossed the distance between them and stood next to his burrow’s entrance
Rumple was taken aback. The doe before him had the softest fur in the world, far prettier than his ordinary, shaggy one. She was so elegant, so graceful. A real beauty. Would she even want to talk to him? He took a step back, glancing at her shyly.
‘Hi,’ she said. ‘I’m Belle.’
She took a step in his direction, sniffing curiously. Rumple too was inhaling her smell, so sweet now, when she was standing so close.
‘I’m Rumple,’ he murmured after a while.
She nuzzled her nose into his neck in a warm, welcoming gesture and Rumple sagged a bit. Only now he felt how tense and alert he’s been the whole time. But Belle made him feel safe in a sense that he probably never fully experienced before and didn’t exactly understand. But it surely felt good.
By now they were both inside the burrow, hidden from humans’ stares. That was good too.
‘Are you alright?’ Belle asked with concern. At his quizzical look, she explained. ‘You look really tired and anxious.’
‘I...’ He whimpered softly, and curled protectively into a ball, trying to compress himself into the smallest possible shape. Memories of everything slammed into him at once.
Belle made cooing, sympathetic noise and nuzzled his ear.
′I’ve got lost,′ Rumple explained, sounding pathetically to himself. ‘I lost my human. In the forest. Something trapped me there, hurt my leg and your humans and the white human helped me. The white human did something to make my leg hurt less.’
’Oh, I know the white human. I’m glad he could help you. I’m sorry you’ve lost your human though. You must be missing him.′
‘Her,’ Rumple corrected. ‘Yes, I miss her.’
‘Hey,’ Belle nuzzled his neck again. ‘I’m sure everything will be alright eventually. And for now, why won’t you sleep some? You look so tired.’
Rumple obediently lied down on the hay.
‘Stay?’ he asked timidly, looking at Belle with cautiously hopeful eyes.
‘Sure!’ Belle lied down next to him, very close, pressed side to side to him. At first he was surprised, but soon he relaxed and drifted off to sleep, inhaling her sweet smell.
Belle woke up first, shortly after dusk. The dim house light coming from outside the burrow told her that her human didn’t go to sleep yet. Such a funny creatures they were, sleeping all the night away. Rumple was still pressed to her side, trusting and relaxed. And very, very sweet in his sleep. He was making soft noises as he breathed and Belle gently nuzzled his ears, just to get more contact, but not to wake him up.
She felt needed and that was a surprisingly sweet, pleasant feeling. She loved her humans, but it was them caring for her, no doubt. Now with Rumple she would be able to care for someone else for real. She wanted to do everything to make him feel happy. He was heartbroken after losing his human, poor thing. He still seemed to have hope that his human would come back for him. It was generally possible, yes, and Belle remembered the time when her humans were caring for a small chinchilla. Chinchilla’s human indeed came for him eventually. But something in her humans’ demeanor, something she couldn’t really name, was telling her that Rumple is staying for good. And that made her both selfishly happy and sad for him.
Well, she’d be there for him. They would work it out together.
Moe sat on the carpet, grunting. He was getting a bit too old for that, but well, vet’s order. He opened Rumple’s tent carefully, smiling at the sight of both bunnies curled up together.
’You’re taking good care of him, princess? Well, now I need to take him for a moment, okay?′
Belle moved as if she was going to shield Rumple from Moe, and Rumple, still very sleepy, tried to hid behind her.
′Now, now, Rumple, come here. It’s just for a moment.′
Rumple allowed himself to be held up and put on Moe’s lap, but the whole time he was wriggling and looking at Belle. When Moe finished applying the topical antibiotic on Rumple’s leg, the bunny quickly, albeit ungracefully, hopped down, where Belle was already waiting, putting herself almost on Moe’s lap too.
‘It’s good to see you so bonded already,’ Moe said, petting first Belle, then Rumple, and finally getting up. ‘The supper will be served soon. I hope you’ll find time to eat it.’
After eating, Belle took him to one of her favorite spots behind large bush with round leaves that didn’t look tasty. She hopped further, behind the big thing that humans used to sit on, and returned with something that reminded Rumple of an animal, but wasn’t really alive.
‘This is my friend,’ Belle said proudly. ‘Of course he’s not as great as you, he’s not even alive, but it’s still nice to cuddle to him.’
Rumple sniffed the stuffed toy curiously, nibbling on its paw. He wished his human gave him such a nice thing. He might feel less lonely when she doesn’t have time for him if he had such a soft, fluffy ‘friend’ to curl up to. It wouldn’t be able to replace Belle though, and for the first time he felt torn about returning to his human’s place. But he missed his human too, and besides, while Belle’s humans were nice to him, giving him food and space, he wasn’t really their. They wouldn’t want to care for him forever. Suddenly, the thought of being once again left alone, in the forest, came to him as a very real possibility and he instinctively cowered and pressed to the toy.
‘Rumple?’ Belle sounded worried. “What’s wrong?′
He looked at her helplessly, not sure how to describe all the things he felt.
‘Do you miss your human?’ Belle guessed.
‘Yes.’ Talking was easier with Belle’s help. ‘She’s not coming for me and I don’t know why. I don’t know what would happen to me.’
It sounded pretty pathetically, but Belle just nuzzled his ear and then licked his nose gently.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘But you are always welcomed here.’
Rumple sighed heavily.
‘No, it’s just for a moment, as long as your humans would keep me. But if she doesn’t come for me? What would happen to me? And why isn’t she coming?’
He nuzzled into Belle’s side, seeking all the comfort she could give to him. His human rarely cuddled him, preferring to just stroke him a bit from time to time. The comfort of curling up to another living creature, another rabbit, was unbelievably great.
‘I don’t know what happened to her, Rumple. But you really are welcome here. I know my humans. I know that they want you to have home here. They’re prepared to keep you forever if you need it. I think they are convinced you do.’
‘And my human?’ Rumple whined into Belle’s fur.
‘How did you lost her?’
‘We were on a meadow,’ Rumple whispered. ‘And then she was again in the roaring thing that brought us there. I couldn’t keep up.’
‘Why didn’t she wait for you?’
That made Rumple pause.
‘I don’t know.’ But she couldn’t... ‘She might have thought that I’m there with her.’
Belle was silent for a moment.
‘What she was like, your human?’
Something in Belle’s voice made him suddenly very defensive.
‘She... she was just my human,’ Rumple said, because didn’t it tell her everything? He felt anxious that Belle expected him to explain such an obvious thing, like he was doing something wrong. ‘I never had any other. She just was and I loved her...’
‘Shh, shh, of course you loved her,’ Belle cut in before he started to panic. ‘Did you feel safe with her?’
Rumple pondered on it for a moment.
‘Most of the time, yes. Sometimes she was angry and then I was hiding. Once... once she threw at me the thing that humans use to drink from. It shattered and cut my ear. But she brought me to the white man and he made it all better.’
‘She didn’t have any right to hurt you. My humans wouldn’t ever throw anything like that at me or at any bunny. They wouldn’t ever hurt us in any way.’
‘But...’ Rumple paused, not knowing what to say. He just closed his eyes and tried to hide his face in Belle’s fur.
‘Did she do anything else that hurt you?’
‘No,’ he sighed, looking at Belle again. ‘Usually she just shouted or was pushing me away, but never really hurt me. Though sometimes another human was coming over, more and more frequently, and he was always scary. The first time he saw me, he grabbed me and lifted, moving me, even upside down, and then almost dropped me, though not really, because he was holding me very tightly, he just pretended...’
Belle was looking at him with wide eyes, and that made Rumple pause.
‘My poor Rumple!’ she exclaimed finally, nuzzling and licking him more. ‘You won’t ever be hurt here. I know it might seem hard to believe, but my humans aren’t like that. They will hold you carefully and safely. They will pet and cuddle you but never forcefully.’
‘No, my human didn’t ever force me to cuddle... In fact she could have cuddle me more...’
‘I will,’ Belle said decisively. ‘I will cuddle you and you will cuddle me every day.’
And to prove it, she pressed herself even closer to him.
Belle was right. Several days passed, his leg healed almost completely, and his human didn’t come. Belle’s humans on the other hand, treated him just like her. They both fed him, petted him, they even cuddled and hugged him. Belle liked being cuddled by them too, but usually she got bored after some time and wriggled away to hop, to explore or to play with something. Rumple preferred to stay on humans’ lap and relax, to relish being petted, flopping over to signalize that he’d like to be stroked on his other side, and never ending it on his own.
‘You’re so cuddly,’ Belle giggled when they settled down for a midday nap, and he tried to touch Belle as much as he could.
‘Is that bad?’ he asked hesitantly. Truthfully, he was anxious about what she’d say. He wasn’t sure how he’d manage if she told him that she didn’t like him being cuddly.
‘No!’ Belle assured him at once. ‘It’s so sweet! But maybe you would want also play more? I can show you my favorite games.’
Rumple pondered it for a moment. Games meant activity and he wasn’t sure if he’d be good at it. What if he’d disappoint Belle? Also, what would the humans say? His human... his old human, perhaps, he sighed in his head, didn’t like it when he tried to move things or was running too much. She usually just put him in his cage and got irritated when he thumped too loudly there.
‘Yes? Oh, sorry, I just... drifted. Are you sure that humans won’t mind?’
‘Of course not! Oh Rumple, did your human let you play at all?’
He didn’t answer, but he also didn’t have too.
‘I’m showing you all the ways to play I know of,’ Belle decided. ‘Playing is great. Humans won’t mind, they are happy and curious when they see me play.’
‘Yes.’ Belle hesitated for a moment. ‘Well, at first, when I came here, they sometimes interrupted me, when I was doing what they thought I shouldn’t. Mostly when I tried to chew on something that they didn’t want me to or dig where they thought I shouldn’t. But we reached compromise. Usually they offered me something else to play, chew or dig in.’
‘I won’t chew on anything,’ Rumple promised immediately. ‘My human didn’t like it too. I was allowed to chew only the things I had in my cage.’
‘What is a cage?’
Rumple was silent for a moment.
‘You don’t know?...’ Then again, in this place he hadn’t seen any cage yet. He and Belle had their soft burrow and were allowed to move freely as they pleased. ‘It’s like our burrow but made of shiny, hard sticks with solid, hard bottom. My human put there hay and my food and water, and my private place, and things to chew on. It was almost twice as big as our burrow. She preferred me to stay inside, though I could observe her, the sticks weren’t closely put. And she was letting me out almost daily.’
‘You mean you were forced to spend whole days in a burrow only slightly bigger than ours?’
‘Well, yes... Its entrance was closed in a way that I couldn’t open.’
Belle didn’t look happy. But she usually looked like that when he talked about his old human. Rumple knew it was because she cared about him, and was unashamedly happy each time. But he wouldn’t abuse this care by telling her things only to get sympathy. Besides, he still wasn’t sure what of the various things his old human did would have that effect on Belle.
‘Rumple, you definitely had to play, and to move more. Rabbits are made for running and hopping, not for sitting in one place forever. It would also help you to lose some weight.’
He turned his gaze sideways at that. Belle noticed earlier that he’s a bit too round. She said it’s because of the food his old human was giving him – too dry, too starchy, too much of the sweet, fruit snacks. Indeed, her humans were feeding them different diet, the same things were available in completely different amounts. Apparently, lack of movement contributed to his problem as well.
‘Hey,’ Belle nuzzled him. ‘It’s not that bad. And when we play more, you’ll be healthier and you’ll feel better. Now let’s sleep, and then we’ll play.’
Rumple cuddled close to her, but while she drifted off pretty quickly, he had a lot harder time to fall asleep.
Playing with Belle included lots of things to pick up and then toss up. She had these light, rustling flakes that humans used, only hers were usually of the more stiff variety and were well scrunched and worn out. She was very adorably excited by tossing up and pushing them alone, as he could have observed while being petted by humans, but having the opportunity to play with him made her ecstatic.
‘Here! Rumple, look! Look how high! Oh, Rumple, it’s so much better to play together!’
Rumple shyly chose the smallest rustling ball of scrunched flakes and took it in his teeth, tossing it up.
‘That was great, Rumple!’ Belle complimented him at once, and picked up the same ball, tossing it up again.
Slowly, he got accustomed to tossing things up. He just never touched anything before Belle didn’t give her okay, not wanting to risk her or her humans’ anger. But the humans seemed to enjoy observing them play, often joining in, tossing balls up as well. In various places new balls appeared from time to time, often with some food attached. Belle loved finding new things and slowly Rumple was learning to love it too, especially having the opportunity to proudly show Belle what he found.
The next thing she introduced him to was digging. His human was angry when he tried to dig in anything but a hay in his cage and he never understood why. Digging meant making more safe space, right? Digging was completely normal and much better than just tossing things up.
Belle took him to the big regular shape that was open on one side and filled with more scrunched flakes. The shape was several times bigger that him and located in a quiet area where humans weren’t coming often. When Belle told him that they can dig in it, he immediately applied himself to it, pushing the small, scrunched balls away, and burying himself deeper and deeper into the shape. The balls moved, falling after him, so the space he could make was only as big as him, and then as big as him and Belle, when she joined him. Only their noses were sticking out from beneath the scrunched flakes and Rumple just felt that everything was right with the world.
There was also the second shape like that, this time filled with hay, located on the opposite side of their human’s home. And the home itself was so much bigger than his old human’s place! Rumple still couldn’t quite believe that they’re allowed free access to most of it. Moreover, regular shapes, like the ones for digging but hollow inside, were present all over the human’s place. They had various shapes and sizes, and from time to time they seemed to move on their own into another places or change completely despite having familiar scent, so they had to find them if they wanted to play in one. He preferred the ones with narrow tunnels, where he and Belle could hide and rest. For Belle, the more complicated passages and corridors, the better. And both loved the ones with lots of entrances and exits.
Rumple was happy. In fact he never was that happy in his whole life. He had Belle beside him all the time, and two gentle, caring humans, who never shouted at him, never pushed him away and didn’t confine him to the small space of the cage for the whole days and nights.
But the final game that Belle tried to teach him, left him scared.
She told him about the most delicious plant growing behind the transparent wall. Rumple didn’t like standing near the transparent wall. He could see grass and open space encircled by walls with no ceiling through it and it always made him think about the meadow where he lost his old human. Belle’s plant was growing between the transparent wall and the grass on the hard ground. The green part of the plant was actually pretty high, at rabbit’s height there was only wood - weird, dead wood shaped into rectangular pieces. On the wood humans placed a hollow full of soil in which the plant was growing. Belle showed him all of it through the transparent wall, explaining that from time to time humans was letting her play on the grass and near the plant. At first she tasted a leaf that has fallen on the ground, then she managed to hop high enough a few times to nib on a tasty leaves hanging from the plant’s branches. And that was the play. To hop high and snatch the leaf. But the leaves on lower branches were already eaten, so Belle thought up a different plan. To snatch anything they’d have to hop on an another wooden shape first, the one lying very close to the plant, and then hop up and forward, catching the leaf and landing from a much bigger height.
‘Wouldn’t humans be mad at us for it?’ Rumple asked carefully.
Belle seemed surprised.
‘Why? It’s just food. They never did anything to chase me away from the plant, and a young one seemed even happy observing me.’
Rumple hoped that humans would provide him with an excuse not to do this, but it seemed that there was no way around it. He hoped that humans wouldn’t let them go through the transparent wall, but two days after Belle told him about the play, they did. Belle was all excited, talking only about the plant and leaves and hops. Rumple carefully followed her, till they were standing next to the thing that become his biggest nightmare. The young human lied down on the grass, not paying as much attention to them as to the beeping thing he had with him.
Rumple eyed the plant. No way, he wouldn’t be able to do it. Not Belle’s way. She was brave, of course she thought anyone could do this. And she wouldn’t approve his only alternative idea, but it was the only way that worked for him in his previous human’s house. And Belle would think that it’s wrong, that cheating and destroying things is wrong. Humans would think it’s wrong. His human threw things at him and hurt his ear for that, and he didn’t even do it purposefully back then. What if humans throw him out for it? But it wouldn’t matter, as Belle would stop liking him. But he also needed to hide his inability to do this properly from Belle, he couldn’t lose her after losing his human too.
Belle was already sniffing the wooden thing next to the plant. Panicked, he pressed himself into ground, whimpering softly. Belle couldn’t know.
But Belle hopped to him quickly, worriedly nuzzling him with her nose.
‘Rumple? What’s wrong? You’re all trembling? Did something happened?’
He didn’t want her to know, but couldn’t really thought up any believable excuse.
In a mad dash he hopped on the smaller wooden thing but no, he didn’t jump up. He just couldn’t.
‘Oh Belle, I’m sorry!’ he exclaimed hopping down. ‘But I’ll get you these leaves!’
If he was going to lose Belle anyway, he might as well give her the parting gift. Before Belle could even say anything, Rumple threw himself with all force he could muster onto the hollow in which the plant was growing. It was up high, he didn’t really reach it, but he hit the wooden thing beneath and the whole structure wobbled anyway, falling to the ground with a loud crack, sending pieces of the hollow and the soil all around. Rumple didn’t dare to look at Belle or in the direction where the young human quickly got up from the grass. That was it, he’d be thrown out. But he lost Belle anyway, so it was okay.
‘Rumple!’ Belle was at his side, but didn’t say anything else before the young human came.
‘What a mess!’ the young human sounded unhappy. ‘Grandpa won’t be pleased. Who would think that it would be such a bunny magnet, first the princess nibbling the leaves and now you!’
The young human picked Rumple up and carried him back through the transparent wall.
‘I have to clear this mess somehow and you’ll wait in my room, Rumple. I see that Belle is going with us, good. I just hope you won’t be up to any more mischief today.’
Belle anxiously followed Rumple and the young human. The human was going very quickly, and Belle was more and more frightened. Was he in a hurry because Rumple was hurt and needed help? Or was he going to punish Rumple?
Fortunately, the young human allowed Belle to come with them. He put Rumple on the floor and checked his paws for injuries. Soon she and Rumple were alone next to their tent and the young human left, closing the moving part of the wall after himself.
But Rumple sat cowered on the floor, looking very unhappy, with his sweet floppy ears hanging down dejectedly.
He looked at her with a lost expression.
‘You didn’t stay? You could have the leaves...’
‘Rumple, I don’t care about the leaves, when you are in trouble! Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself? Be honest!’
‘I’m okay...’ Rumple said sadly, hunching even more. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do. Is... is there something I can do so you’ll like me again?’
Belle was shocked.
‘Rumple, I never stopped liking you! I love you no matter what!’
She cuddled close to him, to show him how much it was true.
‘My sweet Rumple, don’t you ever worry about that. I love you.’
Rumple nuzzled into her, closing his eyes, and Belle felt that most of the tension dissipated from his body, leaving exhaustion and shock over what happened.
‘I love you too, Belle.’
She licked his forehead tenderly.
‘You wanted to give me all the leaves, Rumple?’ she asked carefully.
‘I didn’t know what else to do... I’m so sorry... I was too afraid to hop up to get them as you wanted to.’
‘Why didn’t you say that you are? I wouldn’t make you hop, you know?’
‘I’m sorry.’ Rumple said that without opening his eyes. She felt his breath, where his nose was stuck into her fur. ‘I was afraid that you’ll be disappointed.’
‘Rumple, don’t be. You can be afraid. It’s okay. I understand. Tell me next time you don’t like something, okay?’
‘Okay...’ Rumple sighed. ‘But if humans... if they throw me out, then...’ His voice broke. Now that Belle loved him (loved him!) anyway, he so much regretted destroying the plant. Of course he had to destroy everything, destroy his life with Belle...
‘No one is throwing you out, Rumple. Believe me, I threw over two plants already and I’m still here.’
Rumple looked at her sharply, surprised.
‘But... you’re okay, right? They didn’t...?’
‘What? They wasn’t happy, but they didn’t harm me.’
‘My human threw that thing at me and hurt my ear, when I accidentally threw over her plant,’ Rumple explained quickly.
‘No one would do that here.’
‘Okay,’ he sighed, nuzzling back into her. Everything was okay after all. Everything was okay. He felt very tired and sleepy now. Belle noticed and nudged him to get into the tent. They slept away the rest of the day there. And if the old human seemed a bit too grumpy when giving them food, Rumple trusted Belle to not be scared by it. He was staying with her forever.
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