Lady Ariel felt dreadfully torn. She’d tried to wreck the marriage between Rumplestiltskin and Belle years ago, but now they were inviting her to their union. Perhaps it was Belle’s idea of putting it to Ariel. Either way, her father - King Triton - had already accepted the invitation.
Still, perhaps it would not be so bad. Maybe she’d meet her own true love there. She tried to put the wedding far from her mind, not wanting to look for trouble.
When they finally arrived in Avonlea, Ariel stepped out of the carriage and looked around the marketplace. They’d stopped here to get an appropriate gift for the future monarchs.
“Oh, excuse me!” A young girl, maybe ten or twelve, said apologetically. She’d run into Ariel.
Ariel gave the girl a small smile, straightening herself back up. “It’s quite alright.” She promised.
“Grace! There you are.” A tall man with a black top hat walked up to the little girl. “What do you think you’re doing, rabbit, hopping off like that?” he scolded her.
“Sorry papa,” The little girl, Grace apparently, apologised. “I saw the Seawald crest on this carriage and I wanted to introduce myself!” she exclaimed.
“You’ve heard of Seawald?” Ariel asked, impressed. She hadn’t thought that many other kingdoms knew about them.
“Yes ma’am! It’s my favourite place to visit,” she admitted. “I’m Grace.” she added with a smile, curtsying in front of Ariel. “And this is my papa, Jefferson.” she said happily, gazing up fondly at her father.
“It’s lovely to meet you Grace. And you, sir.” Ariel said softly, curtsying in return. “I’m Lady Ariel.” She smiled at the girl.
“Oh!” Grace exclaimed in surprise. “Mama and Dad have told me about you, but they didn’t mention how pretty you were!” She said with a little laugh.
Ariel grinned softly at the child’s kindness. Jefferson coughed, looking at her with a sort of doe eyed expression. “Why thank you,” She said genuinely. “But where is your mama?” she asked curiously, glancing over at Jefferson with a wistful expression.
“Mama and Dad are back at the castle, getting ready for the wedding.” Grace explained. “Why are you and papa staring at each other like Mama and Dad do?” she asked bluntly.
Jefferson jumped backward as if he’d been struck. “Never you mind, rabbit,” he chuckled nervously. “So Lady Ariel, have you come to Avonlea often?” he asked.
Ariel shook her head. “No, sir.” she answered slowly, looking down at Grace. “Don’t you only have one father?” she asked quizzically, rather confused.
“No ma’am,” Grace smiled. “I don’t even have only one mama,” she chuckled. “My birth mama died when I was young,” she said quietly, as the trio began to walk together around the marketplace, Ariel’s guards a few steps behind. “Belle is my mama for now, and then Papa is Jefferson, and Dad is Rumplestiltskin.” she explained.
“Oh,” Ariel felt the red stain of a blush creep up her neck. “That makes sense,” she nodded quickly.
“I wish papa had someone like mama Belle though,” Grace chirped innocently. “I’d love to have a stepmother.” her eyes gazed up meaningfully.
“That’s enough, rabbit.” Jefferson said sternly. “We must not bother Lady Ariel.” He looked his apologies at the redhead.
“Oh, no sir, Grace is quite lovely.” Ariel said quickly. “I can see she only wants the best for you.” She murmured.
“Indeed I do,” Grace agreed, smiling up at her father sweetly. “Lady Ariel, what’re you doing in the marketplace? Aren’t you staying at the castle?” she asked curiously.
“Oh, yes, I just wanted to select a gift first.” Ariel answered, smiling. She stole another look at Jefferson as she asked, “Would you like to help me choose? I bet you could help me pick the perfect gift!”
“Oh yes ma’am,” Grace exclaimed happily. “Can I, papa?” she asked hopefully. “I’m sure I’ll be safe with Lady Ariel if you need to go,” she added coaxingly. “Won’t I, Lady Ariel?” she asked.
“Of course, Grace.” Ariel smiled. “You’re welcome to stay with me as long as you like.”
“I will see you later then, rabbit.” Jefferson let out a little laugh. “Please try and be good, yes?” he bent down over to Grace’s size, kissing her forehead.
“I’ll be on my best behaviour.” she promised sweetly.
Jefferson tipped his top hat to Ariel. “I’ll be in the castle if you’ve need of me,” he told Ariel with a smile. “Thank you for humouring Grace.”
“It’s no problem, Sir Jefferson.” Ariel promised, taking Grace’s hand. “I’ll keep careful watch over her.” she said firmly.
“We can play pretend!” Grace said excitedly as Jefferson left, looking up at Ariel trustingly. “You can be my mama,” she said slyly, a plan hatching in her head. “And I shall be your own little girl.”
“Alright then.” Ariel agreed, laughing softly. “Come on then, daughter.” she smiled playfully at Grace. “We’ve got to find the perfect gift that says sorry for trying to kidnap your husband!” she chuckled.
“I think a sorry might suffice, actually,” Grace giggled. “But don’t worry, I will help you.” She chirped. “You could get Mama Belle a book,” she added thoughtfully as they walked.
“Good idea!” Ariel praised her ‘daughter.’ “I’m sure you know her library well enough I won’t get a duplicate, yeah?” she smiled.
“Yes ma’am,” Grace nodded affirmatively. “And for Rumplestiltskin….” she dragged out the vowels in his name thoughtfully. “Maybe Dad would like something sweet.” she suggested. “Chocolate or the like.”
“Good idea.” Ariel repeated, smiling as they walked around the marketplace. “So tell me about yourself, Grace.” she prompted as they ordered the candies for Rumple.
“I’m seven years old,” Grace started obediently. “Belle and Rumplestiltskin let me and Papa come live with them a few years ago, I don’t remember why.” She chuckled. “But they are just about the kindest people I know, save… two, now.” she said softly, looking up at Ariel sweetly.
Ariel smiled, glad to have won the little girl’s affection so easily. “Why thank you, little angel.” she grinned.
Grace smiled her reply, looking around the library before finally selecting a book. “This one,” she declared.
“Alright.” Ariel agreed, making the purchase. “Thank you very much for your help, little daughter.” She added, kissing Grace’s forehead affectionately.
“You’re very welcome mama.” Grace answered, happily leaning into the touch. “So, what do you think of papa?” she asked rather bluntly.
“He seems very nice,” Ariel nodded. “He’s handsome, and it’s clear how much he loves you.” she tapped the girl’s nose.
“Oh yes,” Grace smiled brightly as they walked to Ariel’s carriage. “I’m the apple of his eye,” she giggled. “But I’ve never seen him look at someone quite as doe-eyed as he did you.” she said softly.
“Oh,” Ariel exclaimed with a little laugh. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said quickly. “He just looked at me.”
Grace snorted, getting into the carriage with Ariel’s help. “Let me be the first one to say it - he likes you!”
“I don’t know about that, Grace.” Ariel said with a laugh. “We’ve only just met.”
“Mark my words, mamma,” Grace retorted. “By the end of this wedding, there is going to be another engagement.”
Ariel just laughed, humouring the little girl as the carriage began to move towards the castle.
*~* days later *~*
Ariel accepted, smiling. She had stuck quite close to the two in the past few days. Already, she found herself quite enchanted by the girl who insisted on calling her mamma, and the girl’s father.
They began to dance just as a slow song came on. “So how have you liked Avonlea, Ariel?” The formalities had been dropped almost as soon as Grace and Ariel had arrived from the marketplace.
“Oh, I love the people.” Ariel nodded. “Avonlea is a wonderful kingdom,” she added. “I’m going to miss it.” She chirped.
“When do you leave?” Jefferson twirled her around.
“Tomorrow.” Ariel looked down at their feet, rather upset by the prospect of leaving Grace and Jefferson. She wanted to invite them to come home with her, but she knew it’d never do.
“Oh.” Jefferson too looked rather upset. “Well, erm….” he stepped on her foot by accident in his nervousness.
Ariel chuckled, stepping backwards. “Why don’t we sit? And you can ask me whatever it is.” She suggested.
“Alright.” he nodded and they went to sit together. Grace was busy dancing with her little friends, so they were quite alone now.
“So…” Ariel prompted him, her red hair falling in her face as she gazed up at him.
“Ariel,” Jefferson stammered a little over her name. “I-I know I’m not the prince of anything, the lord of anything either. But everything I have, everything I hold dear… It could be ours, if you’d only say you could learn to love me.” Jefferson’s hands were shaking.
Ariel placed her pretty, white hand over his shaking ones. Her eyes were fast filling with tears as he continued.
“You need not have any care for Grace, ‘less that is your wish.” he assured her. “I know you are-- more than I could ever hope to win.” he finished simply. “But I have found myself fearing the day you leave.”
“I don’t want to go,” Ariel whispered, and Jefferson leaned in to catch her words. “I.. Yes, Jefferson.” she murmured shyly. “I will stay with you, or you shall come with me. But I shan’t be separated from you…. Or Grace.” Her green eyes were full of conviction. “But papa - has he…? Will he let you?” she asked worriedly.
Jefferson nodded quickly. “He granted me the ability to talk to you,” he assured Ariel. “Wait… Yes?” he asked in shock. “You could learn to love me?”
“I already am.” Ariel let out a little laugh of relief. She tugged him closer with her hand and kissed his cheek primly.
“You have made me more than I have ever hoped to be.” Jefferson whispered. He touched her cheek affectionately.
Grace ran up to them as she noticed the affection radiating from the new couple. “What’s going on?” she asked excitedly.
Jefferson took Ariel’s hand, and placed it in Grace’s. “Grace, you were right.” Jefferson broke out in a grin. “She said yes.”
“I told you!” Grace exclaimed giggling, pulling Ariel up out of her seat and wrapping her arms around the woman. “I knew there’d be an engagement!” she yelled happily.
“Shh, Grace.” Ariel laughed softly. “We need not cause a scene.”
But it was already too late. Belle was gliding over to them. “An engagement?” She asked in surprise.
“Yes!” Grace exclaimed cheerfully. “Papa has found a bride at last, and given me a mama.” her eyes filled with glad tears.
“Congratulations, Jefferson.” Belle said sincerely. “And you, Ariel. I hope you’re very happy together.” She said sweetly.
“Thank you..” Ariel said, albeit a little awkwardly as she hung onto Jefferson’s arm. Grace was still wrapped around her.
Now, it isn’t quite the end, but a very happily ever after. Til next time, dear reader.