AN: To anyone who is not already aware, Skullcrusher Mountain by Jonathan Coulton is one of the greatest songs ever written, ever. Similarly, Rumbelle is one of the most wonderful pairings ever. It was really only a matter of time before my strange mind put these two things together. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Skullcrusher Mountain is not mine. Once Upon a Time is not mine. I can't believe I actually have to put that in writing.
Living in the Dark One's castle wasn't quite what Belle would have expected. For one thing, she wasn't being starved, or beaten daily, or subjected to any unspeakable tortures. Of course, she did have to deal with the fact that other people were occasionally tortured on the premises; but that wasn't particularly common, and most of them really did seem to deserve it. (Admittedly, it probably wasn't a very good sign that she was allowing him to rationalize torture, but she chose to ignore that new development in her character).
But, occasional instances of tortured prisoners aside, it was hardly the eternal nightmare she had been expecting. Mostly things were just… strange. Mostly because of the Dark One himself.
Oh, Rumpelstiltskin could be surprisingly pleasant, even charming, when he wanted to be. He had an unusual but (mostly) good sense of humor. He could also be remarkably considerate, though he would never admit to it. In fact, from time to time, she could almost forget that he was the living embodiment of all things dark and terrible. It didn't usually take long for him to do or say something that would remind her of that little fact, but still.
Such thoughts had been cycling through her mind one balmy summer afternoon, as she was absently polishing an oddly engraved set of silver spoons. Rumpelstiltskin was sitting nearby at his spinning wheel, and somehow their conversation had drifted from how he acquired the spoons (lima beans had been involved) to the stables at Belle's former castle.
"-of course, by the time the grooms managed to grab the reigns Gaston was crying, and Lady Prudence's wig was unsalvageable." Her smile widened at Rumpelstiltskin's chuckle, a touch of warmth blooming in her chest at the sound.
"Well that must've been quite the sight." He gazed off into the distance, contemplative, "And quite the clever horse."
Belle snickered, "Oh, Lemondrops definitely had his own mind; personally, I think he never forgave the head-groom for picking that name, and decided to take revenge on all of humanity." She smiled again at his nod of approval. "And it certainly was amusing…" trailing off, she shot a conspirator's smirk at his raised eyebrow, "I may have had a little difficulty controlling my laughter. Actually, I think Father might have sent me to my room if he hadn't been so annoyed with Gaston."
Rumpelstiltskin stared at her for a moment, before a smirk grew across his face. "Well, well, well. Finding joy in the suffering of others…" He waggled an eyebrow at her, "I do believe there are hidden depths to you, missy."
"Oh I don't know about that," she hid a matching smirk behind her polishing cloth. "Anyway, I wasn't really allowed near the warhorses after that." She shrugged slightly, "Not that I particularly minded, most of them were pretty spoiled. I preferred the ponies we had, they were much nicer."
Out of the corner of her eye, Belle saw the wheel come to a stop.
"Mhmm," she smiled fondly as she thought back, "and they were such funny things, always nosing at your pockets, looking for a lump of sugar or an apple. And they were so easy to make happy; just a scratch on the nose and they'd melt. Really, they were the sweetest things."
The wheel remained still and, peripherally, she saw Rumpelstiltskin trying not to stare intently at her. "I see. So you like ponies then."
Belle shot him a glance, noting the odd tone in his voice (almost as though he was making a record for future use). "I suppose. I certainly liked ourponies anyway."
He didn't stare at her for a moment longer, then nodded once, and began to spin again.
Raising an eyebrow at his odd behavior, Belle sighed and went back to the spoons, deciding to simply enjoy the non-homicidal nature of his mood while ignoring the strangeness.
Another interesting aspect of her life in the Dark One's castle came from the décor. Rather than the tapestries of human flesh, goblets made from human skulls, and hanging cages filled with weeping human prisoners she had expected, Belle had quickly learned that Rumpelstiltskin had a taste for the finer things in life.
The halls of the castle were filled with great works of art, beautiful sculptures, the finest dishes and goblets of all kinds, and, her personal favorite, veritable mountains of books. Every day it seemed there were new treasures fillings the halls, beautiful objects from lands familiar and foreign. It was an adventure in and of itself to discover the new objects, to wonder about them and, when Rumpelstiltskin was in a giving mood, learn about the strange lands from which they came.
Of course, she also had to keep all of these wonderful objects clean, which was certainly a chore, but one she found she didn't mind.
One new arrival appeared one still day on the border between summer and fall. She had been making her rounds, dusting and polishing through the rooms, when she stopped short.
"What in the world?"
Rumpelstiltskin looked up from his cauldron of… bubbling, at her sudden outburst.
She looked back at him, pointing to indicate the large jade statue that had not been there the night before. "What is it?"
The Dark One set down a vial of frog's-spit and walked over to her, "That, my dear," he tapped the strange statue on the head, "is a monkey."
"Mhmm. Specifically, a 'Rhesus macaque.'" He shrugged lightly at her curious expression, "There are no monkeys in this land, so I'm not surprised you've never seen one before. I picked this little fellow up on my last trip to the Forbidden Kingdom, thought it might add an… exotic touch to the place."
Belle reached out, gently running a finger along the strange creature's hand, and smiled. "He's adorable!"
From the corner of her eye, she saw Rumpelstiltskin stiffen somewhat, "Ah." There was an odd tone to his voice as he murmured, "You like monkeys."
She glanced at him, bemused, "I suppose."
Rumpelstiltskin remained stiff for a moment longer, then nodded and turned back to his cauldron.
Belle's eyes remained on his retreating back, a sense of familiarity sweeping over her. Shaking her head, she smiled gently, and went back to her work.
She had certainly never met as many… interesting people before coming to live at the Dark One's castle.
Actually that was one aspect of her new life that wasn't too much of a surprise. There were no terrible meetings with dread demons from forbidden realms of darkness and eternal damnation (at least, not so far as she knew). Nor any unspeakable horrors, the likes of which her mortal mind could not fathom. No, for the most part their visitors (what few they had) were a motley assortment folk from all walks of life, some seeking the Dark One's aid and others following his commands.
It was, somewhat, surprising that only a few of them look as though they had crawled from the darkest holes of the seediest cities. Rather, most of them appeared more like the man who arrived late one cold fall night: well – if oddly – dressed, reasonably clean and groomed, and with pleasant enough manners. He was hardly the sort of man he would have been allowed in her father's courts, but was certainly more enjoyable to be around then any courtier she had ever met. His stories were certainly better.
Mr. Jefferson had been part way through a particularly interesting story of a recent adventure –With monkeys! That flew! – when Rumpelstiltskin finally appeared.
The be-hatted man cut off telling her about the green-skinned sorcerous and her friend who wore excessive amounts of pink, turning to the Dark One with a slight smile. "Well?"
Rumpelstiltskin nodded in approval, "Quite satisfied. And I must say, you certainly found a wide selection in such a short time."
"Yes, well," Jefferson shrugged in mock humility, taking another sip from his wineglass, "that is why you hire me."
Belle chuckled a little at that, receiving a warm smile from the strange man. Suddenly, Rumpelstiltskin was at her elbow, pushing a glass into her hand. She raised an eyebrow, taking the glass. Nearby – though now on the other side of Rumpelstiltskin – Jefferson also raised a brow, looking somewhat confused for a moment.
The two men stared at one another for a long moment and, though she could only see Jefferson's face, she sensed some sort of deep conversation taking place between them. After a moment, the confusion in the traveler's face turned to a sort of shocked understanding, before settling into an expression which implied Rumpelstiltskin was utterly crazy. She couldn't help but agree with that suggestion.
Whatever passed between the men was suddenly cut off by a chorus of howling from outside the castle. That was typical. The bloodcurdling shriek that followed was not.
Jefferson started slightly, then cast a glance at his employer, "And just what was that?"
"Oh, that?" The Dark One smiled, a touch or several of malevolent glee flittering to his face. "Well, do you recall how I've told you to always use the same route getting here? Oh, of course you do. Well it seems that some poor soul tried an alternate route." The howling broke out with greater fervor, and his smile deepened, "Ah, just hear them howl, dear things. Like hungry children. Well," a devilish giggle bubbled from his lips, "not hungry for long I suppose."
Rolling her eyes at the display, Belle reached for another drink, and wondered what it said about her state of mind that such things no longer surprised her.
Though she never would have expected it, and still couldn't entirely believe it, Belle actual found herself enjoying much of her life in the Dark One's castle. More often than not she actually forgot where exactly she was. Rather than some horrible, secret lair of an evil monster it seemed… well, not like a home exactly, but certainly a pleasant place to be.
And then, of course, things happened that shattered that little idea and reminded her that she was, in fact, living in the horrible, not-so-secret lair of an evil monster.
She had entered the – her! – library, completed book in hand and ready to be replaced on the shelf, when she saw it.
It was a strange creature, unlike anything she had ever seen in her most twisted nightmares. A horrible, misshapen abomination that boggled her capacity to comprehend what she was seeing. Its eyes – all of them – landed on her, and the creature made a horrid, torturous noise before it started dragging itself her way.
She screamed. A great deal. She wasn't ashamed of that. Nor was she ashamed of the fact that she jumped on the nearest ladder and scaled it to the top of the bookshelf.
Beneath her, the crime against nature made another sound, almost as if it was begging to be put out of its misery. She could only scream in response.
Moments later Rumpelstiltskin was there, wide eyes darting across the room, "What is it?! What's going on?!"
She managed an inarticulate shout, gesturing at the abomination while maintaining her death-grip on the ladder.
He followed her gesture, stared at the monstrosity for a moment, then looked back at her in confusion. "Alright, so? What's with all the screaming?!"
Belle nearly choked on another scream, attention ripped away from the unspeakable horror to gape at the unspeakable madman. Trying, desperately, to retain some control over herself, she pointed sharply at the thing and strangled out, "Look!"
He looked at the atrocity, then back at her, then at the atrocity once more, before glancing her way again, comprehension slowly dawning on her face. "You… don't like monsters."
Rumpelstiltskin frowned – frowned, because she was already too traumatized to classify the expression as a pout – and shrugged helplessly, "Well what do you want me to do?"
"Get rid of it!"
"Get rid o-" his expression was almost outraged, "Woman, I ruined a pony to make this for-"
Whatever else he was going to say was cut off when the aberration let out a… sound. Her mind couldn't fully process it, some sort of tortured wail that seemed a cross between a horse's scream of agony and a shrieking hoot.
She screamed again.
Rumpelstiltskin sighed, looking utterly dejected, and waved a hand at the fiend which – mercifully – vanished in a puff of smoke and one last, lingering wail.
The second it was gone she was on the ground, sprinting for the staircase. As she reached the first step she heard Rumpelstiltskin mutter to himself. "Maybe I used too many monkeys?"
She didn't want to know. Whatever it was, she didn't want to know. All she wanted was to be nice and safe in her cell, cuddling her pillow, deep in the depths of the Dark One's castle.
Belle found that she quite enjoyed the town of Storybrook. The people seemed nice, she had her own library, and burgers with condiments were definitely one of the greatest wonders she had ever encountered.
That all paled, of course, in comparison to her renewed relationship with Rumpelstiltskin. The – technically not former – Dark One had opened his home to her, this time notas a prisoner. Furthermore, he was clearly making great efforts to not be the malevolent lord of all darkness that most of the town knew. More and more, Belle saw Rumpelstiltskin becoming the man she knew he could be, and she loved him all the more for it.
It certainly didn't hurt that Baelfire – or Neil as he was calling himself – had recently appeared in the town as well, and was actually giving his father a – highly conditional – second chance.
Belle was glad of that on a number of levels; she loved Rumpelstiltskin, she was quickly coming to like Neil, and she adored watching the two reconnect. Furthermore, there was also Henry, Neil's son and Rumpelstiltskin's grandson, who seemed utterly thrilled at the way his family was growing.
All in all, things seemed to be going remarkably well for all involved. She was even managing to wrangle some Rumpelstiltskin stories out of Neil!
She laughed brightly, nearly choking on her tea, "Really? He actually…" she waved a hand.
Neil smirked wryly, "Oh he actually. And then some." He shrugged, "I couldn't believe he did, but he did. Honestly, that was one of the few times when I was more shocked than horrified by what he did as the Dark One."
"Oh, yeah, that did happen too." She sobered a little at that, looking down into her glass. Suddenly, another thought occurred, and she shuddered violently.
"Nothing, nothing. Just…" she shuddered again, "Just remembering one of the more… disturbing moments from back then." Belle shook her head, trying to banish the memory, "Never mind, it only happened once, and no one was hurt. So, anyway, what happened next?" She looked back up at Neil. And froze.
He was staring at her, a look fixed on her face that she recognized immediately. It was the same look she saw on her own face in the mirror, every time she recalled… it.
"No. No he… he didn't…"
Neil shivered, "He did it again. I can't believe he did it again. Wasn't once enough?"
"He…" she swallowed roughly, "Pony-monkey?"
Belle stomach twisted, her traitorous mind bringing up an image before she could help herself.
They sat there in stunned silence, both desperately trying to push away their long repressed memories. With little success.
Several minutes into their traumatized introspection, Ruby stopped by their table. The young woman froze briefly, staring in confusion at the pair. "Are… you guys alright?"
"I don't like monsters."
Ruby blinked again at the perfect chorus, then shook her head. "O…kay… well, uh, Neil? Emma wanted me to let you know that she and Henry are going to be a little late to lunch. Apparently Mr. Gold had something he wanted to give Henry, so their stopping by his shop."
Neil jerked out of his stupor, "What? What could he…" he frowned sharply, "Did he say what it was?"
The waitress shook her head, "No… well, nothing specific. Apparently he did say something about 'finally getting the monkey-ratio right,' but-"
Whatever else she might have been prepared to say was lost, as the pair suddenly bolted from the table, nearly knocking Ruby to the ground, and sprinted out the door.
They reached the pawnshop in record time.
"Papa don't you dare!"
"Henry don't look at it!"
But they were too late. Neil and Belle stared in mute horror at the sight before them. Barely three feet away were Emma and Henry, with Rumpelstiltskin nearby. The (not-so) former Dark One turned in surprise at the sudden disturbance, but the attention of mother and child alike was fixed on the being before them.
In the monstrosity Belle could see shadows of the pony-monkey that haunted her darkest nightmares. But Rumpelstiltskin had not stopped there. Oh no. Within this new atrocity were elements of wolf, of badger, and something distinctly serpentine.
The pony-monkey would have company in Belle's nightmares.
She could see Henry tremble as he stared at the beast. After a moment, he drew in a long, shuddery breath. Belle tensed, and felt Neil do the same. Then it came, a sharp, high-pitched shriek from the poor boy.
Belle bowed her head, eyes squeezing shut, and fought back her own scream of horror. The poor child would be traumatized enough from the aberration, he certainly did not need the adults around him to react in terro- wait, what?
She stared at Henry in shock, then jerked her head to Neil. He too was staring in utter confusion and disbelief. "H-henry…?"
"This is so cool!" The boy rushed over to a preening Rumpelstiltskin, throwing his arms around the man's waist before rushing over to the creature. "Emma! Emma check it out! I've got my own monster!"
Emma stared for a moment longer, before slowly walking towards the boy and his monster, "Huh… you know it's actually kinda cute." She grinned, and reached out to pat one of its heads.
Belle and Neil stared, jaws gaping wide. Slowly, in perfect unison, they turned their eyes towards Rumpelstiltskin. The Dark One shot them a look, at once triumphant and vindicated. He sniffed haughtily, "They like monsters."