Thanks to lily moonlight for her help!
"I could buy us cookies, you know." Rumplestiltskin said.
Belle shook her head. "It wouldn't be the same."
"At least we would be safe to eat them."
Without having to take her gaze away from the baking oven, Belle knew that he was smiling. "The cinnamon stars didn't turn out too bad," she said, smiling as well.
"You almost cracked one of your teeth!"
"They weren't that hard!" She chuckled, but he was right of course. Though the experience of baking had been pleasant, the results were quite discouraging. Belle looked around Rumplestiltskin's kitchen. "And what a mess we made!"
Dirty bowls and spoons filled up the sink and flour was everywhere.
"Yes, my love …" Rumplestiltskin beat out flour from his suit jacket. "We better clean that up."
He sighed wholeheartedly and Belle had to giggle. Just that moment, the bell that announced new arriving customers of Rumplestiltskin's shop.
She saw the expression of relief on his face, though he hid it quickly.
He sighed again. "Duty calls," he said apologetic. "I'm so sorry, to leave you now, but …"
"It's almost like you planned it." That would certainly explain why he had insisted to use the kitchen in the shop for the first place. Putting her hands in her hips, Belle gave him a skeptical look.
"Pull out the baking tray when the timer ticks off and try not to burn anything," he said with a smile before he kissed her gently and walked out of the kitchen door.
"Mock me once more and I will throw cinnamon stars at you!" Belle called after him.
She heard him laugh.
"You shouldn't even joke about that," he called back. "Those things are dangerous!"
A minute later Belle pulled out the baking tray just in time to save the double chocolate chip cookies from burning. The damn timer still had two more minutes left! With a smile Belle put the tray on the grate, so the cookies could cool off. They smelled delicious, so there was hope for her baking skills yet.
Eager to present them to Rumplestiltskin (and shame him for ever doubting her), Belle made her way downstairs, just to stop mid step in the doorway to his shop. She was here. The Evil Queen. Regina.
And just like at their encounter in Granny's Dinner a few weeks earlier, Belle didn't know how to react to her. There was that alertness that Belle always felt when Regina was around. Belle's heart beat a little faster, her breath was a little harsher and energy rushed trough her body. Fight or flight. Her first instinct in the dinner had been to run.
Now Regina and Rumplestiltskin stood around the shop counter, across from each other. They both looked … tense.
"This is about Henry, isn't it?" Rumplestiltskin said, his voice icy.
Regina glared at him. "Just tell me what you use."
Neither of them noticed Belle's arrival. What where they talking about? Magic, so much was clear. But to use for what? Belle had no idea why Rumplestiltskin would have to use magic with Henry.
"Didn't you promise Henry to stay away from magic?" Rumplestiltskin taunted now. Then he smiled coldly at Regina. "I see. Times are tough now that his true mummy is back, aren't they, dearie?"
Regina leaned over the counter. "Is it a potion that makes Belle stay with you? Or a spell?"
Belle frowned. Regina believed that Rumplestiltskin would use magic on her? How ridiculous. So far Rumplestiltskin only ever had used magic to push Belle away. He didn't need anything to keep her close. He just needed to let her in. Belle would make sure he knew that as soon as Regina would be gone.
"You're always looking for the easy way." Rumplestiltskin said to Regina.
The queen raised an eyebrow. "At least I try instead of just giving up on the ones I love."
"You told me Belle killed herself!" Rumplestiltskin spat.
Belle couldn't believe her ears. That evil witch had told him what?
Regina just shook her head. "Maybe you did right to stay away from your precious girl." Her words were drowned with face compassion. "You'll just corrupt her."
Rumplestiltskin blinked. "I won't." He looked pale now.
Regina straightened up and crossed her arms. "You haven't changed at all, Dark One" she said and raised an eyebrow. "Don't fool yourself into thinking you're happy now," she added spiteful. "There is no happiness for you. You're not good enough."
Rumplestiltskin opened his mouth but no words came out.
Regina chuckled. "You'll never be good enough and sooner or later your Belle will run for the hills again."
"That's enough!" Belle said forcefully as she walked up to Regina. "Don't speak to him."
Rumplestiltskin stared at her. "Belle …" he murmured.
For the moment being, Belle ignored him and focused on Regina. "You will leave now."
"Whatever you used on her, it's working well." Regina chuckled, looking at Rumplestiltskin.
Belle felt the strong urge to slap her, but she turned her hands into fists. "I pity you," she said. "How lonely and desperate must you be to tell such lies?"
Regina chuckled again and ran a finger under Belle's chin. "Darling, you're so far gone, it's not even funny."
Next thing Belle felt was how her fist made contact with Regina's face. The fist hurt but Regina's shocked expression made up for it. When Regina raised her hand, she was suddenly surrounded by a purple glistening energy that froze her in her movement.
"Don't you dare," Rumplestiltskin growled. He hadn't even moved, still Belle was certain that the magic she witnessed came from him. The energy disappeared. And Regina gasped.
"Chose your next steps carefully," Rumplestiltskin warned her. "The only reason I didn't send you flying across the room was that I made a promise about magic myself."
Without another word, Regina left, her head held high.
The doorbell ringed when the door closed behind her.
Belle took a deep breath. "I hit her! I can't believe I hit her!" Belle shook her head, her fingers trembled and she wrapped her arms around herself. "I hate her so much. Sweet magic, I hit her!"
"You did." Rumplestiltskin said slowly and walked around the counter. With just a few steps he was by her side. "Are you okay, sweetheart?" He placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I hit her!" Sweet magic, she really had hit Regina. Belle shook her head again. She never hit people, never!
Rumplestiltskin frowned. "Maybe you should sit down."
"I never use violence." She looked into his eyes. "But she was making me so angry and –" As she thought about what Regina had done to them, Belle felt the rage coming back to her. Trying to calm herself, she took a deep breath. "Did Regina really tell you I killed myself?" she asked.
"And you believed her?"
He pulled his hand away and looked at the floor. "She told me your father had shunned you because of your affiliation with me and you couldn't bear the …" Rumplestiltskin gulped. " … the shame. It made sense."
Cradling his face in her hands, she made him face her again. "I was never ashamed of my love for you," she said softly.
Rumplestiltskin covered one of her hand with his and leaned into her touch. She could see his love in his eyes. And his doubts.
"I didn't believe one word of what she said, you know?" she added. Still so much doubt. "You don't need magic to keep me close. As long as you let me ruin your kitchen with my baking attempts, I'll stay," she said with a smile. She was forcing the situation a bit, she knew that, but she didn't expect him to get teary eyed.
"I love you," he said.
She kissed him tenderly."I love you too." She kissed him again, before she smiled against his lips. "I have to confess something."
His arm wrapped around her waist and he pulled her closer. "You were too busy eavesdropping to clean up the kitchen?"
"Yes." She chuckled. He knew her to well. "But the cookies turned out great." Her fingers played with the soft hair in his nape. "Now, will you help me?"
"Rumplestiltskin, I've been thinking …" She stole another kiss and pressed into him. "Maybe cleaning can wait."
"Couldn't agree more."
He kissed her long and sweet.
Regina be damned, she would never succeed to get between Rumplestiltskin and Belle. She came to the conclusion that all in all, their Christmas baking had been a success. Because they were together, because they were in love.