Belle was never one for volatile emotions.
Perhaps, when she was very small, she screamed and cried like any other child. But never after her sixth birthday: not after the cleric came to her room, and told her calmly and seriously that emotions were bad, and she would hurt people if she let them out.
Of course, at six, Belle was too scared of the old man – who told such terrible stories of hellfire and damnation – to question.
(‘There’s a demon within you’, the cleric warned, ‘a foul and evil thing. And it’s your duty to contain it, or your immortal soul will be destroyed in the flames.’)
Only her father knew the truth. And, fortunately, only he was there when, at thirteen, Belle rebelled and let herself explode.
Unfortunately, her bed went with her.
(Every time your weakness lets it burn, the demon is winning)
There was a small fire, not even enough to force an evacuation of the castle, but enough to scare Belle into being more careful.
Gaston seemed a good choice, when he came to Court for her twenty-second birthday party and they danced, and he discussed crop rotations – his duchy was very agricultural, and his family heavily invested in that – and the latest fashions – she, of course, as a woman was meant to swoon at that. He didn’t talk of love, or passion, or foolish romanticism. He was sensible, and stable, and dull as dishwater: Belle was safe from herself.
She didn’t love him, she barely even desired him, and together they could keep their lands safe from the ogre invaders, and their home safe from Belle’s power.
Then Rumplestiltskin came to the castle, and the world changed.
Of course she didn’t tell him: who would want a caretaker who was part demon? For that was what she certainly was. Normal, human girls didn’t start fires when they lost their tempers – normal girls couldn’t light candles just by laughing too hard.
And she wasn’t expecting to see much of him. Of course she’d heard the stories: calling for him was her idea in the first place. He was always out in the world, making deals with the desperate and preying on the innocent. He would leave her to clean, and her life would be calm and predictable, the world safe from her.
She wasn’t expecting to care what he thought of her.
He was a good man: she could see that, under all the lies and tricks and darkness. Sometime, once upon a time, he was a good man. Something evil had taken root in him, and she could relate: she hadn’t chosen her curse, either.
She was so used to controlling and ignoring her feelings, keeping them in check, that when – one sunny and innocuous morning in May – they suddenly flared to the surface, she wasn’t expecting it.
She was scrubbing the pan she’d used for their eggs that morning, and the sun was shining through the window, and she was warm and happy, and she started to sing. Belle wasn’t a singer – her sense of tone was sporadic at best – but she was alone, and Rumplestiltskin was off doing Gods-knew-what, and so she allowed herself.
She was humming, and hardly noticed that the melody was one of his. He liked to sing, his voice even further off-key than hers, usually while he spun, and every now and then he’d invent his own.
She caught herself, and paused for a moment. She wasn’t expecting the massive smile that spread over her face, or the rush of fondness that ran through her when she found herself singing his silly, nonsensical little songs.
That was when the tablecloth caught fire.
(You have to be better than this, or you’ll be truly damned.)
She knew he could sense that something was wrong.
She was avoiding him, as much as she could, reading dull books about gardening and trying to keep calm. Trying not to look at him too long, or listen too closely. But he made it difficult: the harder she tried to be alone, the better he became at seeking her out.
So one day, when she was dusting the shelves and he was spinning, she thought herself safe.
“Why do you spin so much?” The words were out before she had time to think, and she was horrified. What was it about him that so thoroughly banished her control?
“I like to watch the wheel: it helps me forget.” He answered, without looking, with such idle, passive melancholy that her heart breaks a little, although she doesn’t know why.
“Forget what?” There must have been something wrong with her, to engage him so. But he was her friend – her one and only, by his design – and it was safe. There was a well of stubbornness in Belle’s soul that wouldn’t allow her curse to get in the way of everything. Something in her life had to be hers. Something had to be indestructible.
“I guess it worked.” He turned and grinned at her, madcap and brilliant, and she laughed. It was a stupid joke, but he was smiling at her, and it was free and easy, and she couldn’t help but love him.
The room grew warmer, and she could feel the curtains by her fingertips start to smoke.
(What’s wrong with you, you stupid girl? Can’t you see your control breaking? Can’t you see the sin seeping through, and damaging the world?)
She tried to hold it in, went back to her work, and he noticed. He got up from his spinning wheel and came around to stand at the foot of her ladder, staring at her like the most difficult puzzle he’d ever had to solve.
“It’s almost spring, we need to get some light in,” she explained, almost to herself, ignoring him because to look at him is to set the demon free, “What did you do to these curtains, nail them down?”
He frowned, like it was obvious. Like ordinary people keep to the shadows and hide from the sun.
She’d be more critical, if she didn’t understand so well.
She rolled her eyes, and hoped he’d leave. With every fraction of her mind, she wanted him to leave.
Her heart wanted him to stay, and talk to her, and look at her as if she existed. As if she was a person, with a soul worth saving, with thoughts worth more than their ability to remain silent.
But she couldn’t, because she couldn’t let him see.
But then she was tugging – with more force than she needed to, because she had to release those feelings somehow, and she leaves scorch marks in the fabric – and she was falling, and landing in a pair of strong, warm, utterly bewildered arms.
She looked at him, as he gazed with utter amazement at the sunlight showering them both.
And she could feel it, the fire at her fingertips, and she grit her teeth against it.
But his hands were on her back, and his fingers wrapped securely around the side of her leg to keep her stable, and she’d never been so warm. She was burning up inside, and she couldn’t even hope to contain it.
His coat caught fire first, and he yelped and dropped her. He tried to beat it out, but the more miserable and desperate and goddamn scared she became, the worse it was.
The fire was spreading, consuming him, and he was staring at her with an expression she dreaded, an expression she saw in every nightmare. The look of ‘what kind of monster are you?’
(Well done, you just murdered the only man in the universe who might have understood. Now you’re branded forever: a murderess, a demon whore)
She could feel the ice of the clerics’ knives against her skin, and their recriminations slicing and piercing her ears, roaring through her mind until she couldn’t hear, couldn’t see anything beyond their accusations, and the fire consuming every inch of Rumplestiltskin’s form.
She awoke in chains, drained and exhausted but alive.
She expected the ground beneath her to be dungeon floor, cold and hard, and the voice from above to be cool, callous, high-pitched and mocking.
But it was smooth and low, feminine, with malice that slid through. It was a voice made of poisoned honey, and it was laughing, “Good afternoon, fire-starter. I was wondering when you’d awaken.”