Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: Once Upon A Time
Character/Pairing: Rumplestiltskin/Belle, could be seen as pre-Belle/Ruby, Ruby
Challenge/Prompt: 1_million_words Say What Friday: "Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life." -- Mark Twain
Word Count: 1,321
Date Written: 3 October 2017
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to their rightful owners, not the author, and are used without permission.
Slowly, Belle shuts the book and looks up with unshed tears still glistening in her blue eyes. She’s read the same page over and over again, and it still doesn’t make any more sense to her weary brain that it did the first three times she read it. She turns as her friend grasps her wrist. “Oh no, you don’t! We’re not done yet!”
The word, Yes, is right on the tip of Belle’s tongue. She’s tired, body, heart, and soul. She doesn’t want to be here tonight. There’s only one place she wants to be, and she can’t be with him. She can’t endorse what he does to others. Standing up to her husband is the only hope she has of saving her friends.
“We’ve got a fresh batch of hot cocoa cooking,” Ruby babbles, “and we can get some of Killian’s rum and -- “
“No,” Belle whispers softly.
“But -- “
“No.” Laying her book down on the diner’s table and turning fully, she takes Ruby’s hand in hers and gives her a gentle squeeze. Looking up into her friend’s eyes, she speaks truthfully, “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Ruby. Really, I do. But I think I just want to be alone tonight.”
“You know I’m here for you.” Ruby’s voice is close to a whine. Belle sees her skirt shift and can easily imagine the tail that’s aching to arch out of her back and really display her anxiety right now.
She stands and hugs her friend tightly. “I know you are,” she whispers, kissing her cheek, “and I thank you, but I just want to be alone tonight.”
Lowering her head, Ruby steps away and gives Belle room. Her friend doesn’t look back, not even to collect her book. Ruby forces herself to let her go and turns to help another table.
Belle’s almost out the door when Will shows up beside her elbow. “Will -- “ she starts, her voice breaking.
“Sh. It’s okay. I know you don’t have feelings like that for me, just like my heart belongs to another. But you can let a guy trying to be a gent walk you home, right? What with it being dangerous and all out there.”
Belle sighs and nods her head in submission. They slip out of the diner together, but true to his word, Will doesn’t try to make her talk or invite him inside when they reach her home. He simply watches as she undoes the lock and steps inside. He steps away himself only when he’s heard her footsteps move safely inside the house. As he walks away, he never sees the shadow behind him.
Belle is entirely unaware of the eyes following her every move. She senses Rumplestiltskin, but then she senses him everywhere every moment of every day. Her tortured mind is never without a thought of her absent husband. As she slips through her house without making a sound and finally succumbs to burrowing into bed, she tells herself it’s just her wishful imagination.
He isn’t here. He can’t be here. She forced him out of town herself. She did what was necessary to keep her friends safe. She did the right thing, even if it broke her heart in the process. She should have a peaceful conscience, but she doesn’t. Every thought takes her back to him. Every hero in every book she tries to read reminds him of all the things she yearned for him to be; likewise, every villain represents the monster of the man she loved and drove away.
She read somewhere once, Belle remembers tiredly, that good books, good friends, and a sleepy conscience are the keys to an ideal life, but no story holds her attention any more and even the best efforts of her friends can not bring a true smile to her lips. What she told Ruby tonight is both truth and untruth: She only wants to be alone, because she doesn’t want to have to face anybody. She doesn’t want to have to keep lying and pretending she’s okay. She doesn’t want to be alone, but she also doesn’t want to have to face anyone.
She turns, burying her head in her feather pillow -- Rumplestiltskin had spared no expense in gifting her with the very best of everything except for the best man he could be, which was all she’d really ever wanted of him --, and finally lets her tears flow. Her shoulders shake until a gentle hand touches them. Then she freezes except for the hand underneath her pillow whose fingers deftly grab the hilt of the blade kept beneath her pillow.
“It’s okay,” Ruby’s familiar voice soothes her. “It’s only me.” She lays down beside her, still on top of the blankets. Her red cape drifts slightly over Belle’s side, further confirming her friend’s identity. “I didn’t want to have to argue with you or make you ignore me, so I let myself in.”
“You broke into my home?” Belle asks, incredulous.
“Yeah. To be with you.” Ruby leans down and chastely kisses the top of Belle’s dark head. “It’s not like you were letting me close earlier.”
“What about your shift?”
“I agreed to work the next two weekends without complaint to be off this one.”
“Granny’s a rough haggler,” Belle remarks, but the first hint of a genuine smile is beginning to pull at her lips. She hasn’t felt like smiling in weeks, but yet there it is, tugging at her mouth now. “You gave up your freedom for the next two weekends in a row to be with me?”
Ruby snuggles closer. “Of course,” she answers without hesitation. “What are friends for?”
“To make life bearable,” Belle whispers, “maybe even worth living . . . “
“I should hope so! I remembered your book,” Ruby adds after a moment, reaching over and laying the book on the bed in front of Belle.
Belle barely glances at it. “It’s not worth reading.” She feels, rather than actually hears, the sharp intake of Ruby’s breath. “Every page I read,” she whispers an admission, “I see his name. I close my eyes, and there he is.” She trembles, barely keeping her tears from starting all over again. The smile, that Ruby had given her so briefly, is already gone.
“Then instead of reading, why don’t you just lay there and listen to a story instead? Let me tell you one. Let me tell you about a girl who didn’t think she was worth saving until her friend insisted on doing just that.” She kisses her head again and holds her tight against her. “Let me tell you about my own story.”
She begins to speak, relating to Belle the story of how she first met Snow White and how it was Snow’s friendship that helped her defeat her own wolf. She feels the tenseness slowly drain out of Belle’s body as she keeps her voice soft and low, whispering over her like a gentle breeze to pull her into Dreamland. She keeps talking as Belle’s breath becomes more gradual and as her friend finally dozes off with Ruby’s arms wrapped around her, providing her her first real comfort, and her first good night’s sleep, since she had to make the hardest sacrifice of her life.
“Rumplestiltskin doesn’t deserve you,” she whispers only when she’s finished her story. Unshed tears shine in her own eyes as she adds in a soft, almost lupine whimper, “Just like Snow didn’t deserve me.” Snow White has her own story now, with her Prince and her children. Maybe together, she and Belle can finally find their own stories too, or perhaps it will prove to be one story, powerful enough when shared together to finally mend both their broken hearts. There’s no way to know, but she doesn’t have to tonight. For tonight, all she does is focus on soothing Belle’s pain and hold her close all night long.