stefanie_bean: (anton smiling)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 11: The Culler and the Culled
Pairing: Anton/Original Female Character
Characters: Anton the Giant, Leroy/Grumpy, Astrid/Nova, Original Male & Female Characters, Regina Mills
Rating: T
Length: 3973 words
Notes: Set in Season 2, in Storybrooke, Complete

Summary: Anton the Giant is growing a new crop of magic beans, but what he really needs is a happy ending.


Chapter 11: The Culler and the Culled

Anton lay awake most of the night thinking about the twelve-step meeting, and especially Carl's impassioned story.

Carl obviously had more to say, because he showed up at the St. Isidore rectory right after Mass the next morning. He and Fr. Jacques set out for a walk, without even stopping for breakfast first. Insulted, Madeleine spooned extra oatmeal into Anton's bowl and dumped a few more fried potatoes onto his plate, grumbling how Fr. Jacques was going to wither down to nothing and blow away if he kept skipping breakfast, and why couldn't he just have invited that nice young man in, if they were going to chat?

Anton suspected that Madeleine was irked because Fr. Jacques' and Carl's casual walk deprived her of her normal advantage at the “listening post,” the spot just outside the kitchen window so suited to overhearing the priest's conversations. That was probably the whole point of the walk, anyway. Whatever Fr. Jacques and Carl had to say to one another required complete privacy.

Out in the rectory garden, Anton had just started digging a row for onions when it started to rain. Not just a sprinkle either, but a great gusting downpour which splattered mud all over Anton's robes.

Madeleine gave him a sympathetic look as he rushed through the kitchen doorway to take shelter inside. “Why're you in fancy-dress today? Thought you'd be wearing your overalls if you were heading out to that bean field.”

Anton's muddy giant-land robes were the last of what remained of his former life, and they looked shabbier than ever. Only the embellishments glistened, the bangles and discs made of gold alloyed with platinum. They were his only ornamentation other than his rings, which nestled safe in a strong-box under the floorboards beneath his bed. Fr. Jacques had insisted on it shortly after Anton had come to live at the rectory.

“I know metals,” Fr. Jacques had told Anton. Gold and platinum were valuable, and could serve as a powerful temptation to anyone. So normally Anton's robes were locked up with his rings, but not today.

Anything Anton said to Madeleine by way of explanation was going to sound stupid, but he tried anyway. “It's the plants. They're kind of at of a critical stage right now. They like these clothes. I guess it reminds them of home.”

Amazingly, Madeleine didn't laugh. A moment later, a horn blasted from the front of the church where David Nolan had pulled up. Anton ran, stirring up more mud.

It was a no longer bright-and-early 9:00 AM. The truck bed was full of dwarves, who grumbled a little as Anton climbed in. Because of him, they had to make another stop. It was late enough as it was, how were they supposed to get any work done? David, ever the peace-keeper, remarked that St. Isidore's was on the route to the fields anyway. Leroy just scowled and clambered up front with David.

Anton pointed to the back of Leroy's knit-capped head, which looked as disgruntled as the front of him. “He's not doing much better, is he?”

No one wanted to answer at first. Finally, Dopey said, “He misses Astrid." Anton never could figure out why they called him that, because his casually-dropped remarks often made more sense than most of his brothers'.

Doc said in a lecturing voice, “This is why Leroy always says that when it comes to matters of the heart—”

Anton held up his hand. “I get it. Stop, OK? Just stop.” He wasn't in the mood, on this morning where the best you could say was that it had stopped raining.

Normally David joined them at work in the bean fields, if only for a few hours. This time, though, he pulled up to the sodden acreage and waved for everyone to get out of the truck.

“What's up with Charming?” Leroy groused as they piled out. “Doesn't he know we got work to do?”

All David did was stick his head out the window. “I've got a surprise, guys. Back in awhile.”

Leroy just frowned, turning his displeasure onto the others. “OK, let's go. Half this day's been wasted already.”

Anton had learned not to pay attention to Leroy when he got like that. Instead, he moved from row to row, crooning softly, occasionally brushing the plants with his wide fingers, or stroking the pods swelling with precious cargo.

Leroy passed by, still irritated because David hadn't stayed to work. “Only crazy old ladies talk to plants. You know that, right?”

Anton sighed. He'd given up explaining to the dwarves that while hoeing, weeding, and proper trellising were all critical, the crop needed something else, too. Anton had never raised giant-lings, but it was simple. The crop were like family, and they needed family.

That worked for Anton. Even though he had sown them like a father, he could be their mother, too. While giantesses didn't usually work the crop, they did wander through it as it grew, singing old songs with strange rhymes, half of the archaic words not even understood anymore.

It was one thing to do what you had always done. It was another thing to comprehend why you did it. Brigid would have understood.

The sound of gravel spraying under tires made him turn around. David was back, with Mary Margaret in the front seat next to him, and someone else whom Anton couldn't quite make out at first. Then he gave a start and almost dropped his hoe. It was Emma Swan.

During Anton's time at Dwarf Hollow, Leroy and the dwarves had tried to explain how David and Mary Margaret could be Emma's parents, even though they were so close in age. How that wasn't normal for humans at all, but was instead a by-product of the Curse. At the time, Anton had just shaken his head.

While it made more sense now, Emma's arrival also irked Anton. Emma hadn't come to see him at all. True, he could have sought her out. It wasn't as if they were courting or anything.

Old habits, old traditions die hard, and while human women weren't giantesses, Anton's manners had been pounded into him by hard knocks delivered by multiple sets of older brothers. When you were the youngest and smallest of a giant clan, you didn't get away with the slightest deviation from the straight and narrow, and the number-one rule of manners was that giants didn't seek out giantesses. You didn't look at them when they came to visit, unless they looked at you first, or called you by name. If they turned away, you didn't follow them with your eyes. It just wasn't done.

So when Anton had heard that Emma had returned from New York (wherever that was, but even in Storybrooke people spoke of it with awe), he had hoped she would come to see him. He wanted to tell her of how Cora had enchanted him, and the avalanche of new things which had almost buried him since coming to Storybrooke. Last but not least, he wanted to tell Emma about Brigid.

But Emma never came. That was OK, he told himself over the weeks. She was busy. She had her own work and her own family to worry about. So Anton had stopped thinking about Emma until this very instant, where she stood at the edge of the bean field, mouth open in surprise.

He rushed forward to hug her, manners forgotten, but his spirits fell when she hemmed and hawed, embarrassed to say what had been painfully obvious to everyone else. Finally he came out with the admission before she did. “I'm small.”

An image flashed in his mind, of Brigid lying by his side in the wide bed which filled her small bedroom, wind blowing through the clapboards of her rickety house on the outskirts of town. With a blush he added, “I kind of like it.”

Deep down, though, something cold and dank blew through him, leaving him as unsteady as when he had clung to a thick sewer pipe, hanging over a dark chasm. Nobody had thought enough to tell Emma that after Regina's growing charm had worn off, Cora's enchantment had remained. At least her father should have told her, right? Something ground inside him, like gears out of sync.

It wasn't that he was angry with Emma. But he'd seen David practically every day. It's not like they were strangers. There was no point in being disappointed at Mary Margaret, because even now Mary Margaret looked wan, her face white against her black beret. So while Anton didn't believed in Fr. Jacques' Man Jesus, Anton took to heart all that stuff about forgiveness. That's what they did in Twelve Step, forgiving first themselves, then others. If those in the group couldn't do that, their memories would destroy them.

So while Anton gazed on Emma and her family with sadness, irritation, and love, Leroy snapped at everyone to get back to work, clipping his shears to punctuate his words. With that, the gears within Anton stopped grinding and just slipped off their track entirely. Something inside him gave up. Mara and Carl from last night's meeting, they'd given up, too.

He really needed to sit down and talk with Brigid.

If Emma or Mary Margaret had bidden him to stay and visit with them, he would have simply ignored Leroy's orders. That was the giant way. But neither of the women did, so Anton took that to mean he was dismissed.

Soon after, David Nolan left with the women. Anton approached one of the trellises, where a few of the plants stood out pale against their dark-green sisters, their leaves brown and curled. As he stroked the stems, he chanted a few verses of an old song, listening to what the plant had to tell him in return.

It was the inevitable next stage, the time of the culling.

Only a very few bean plants would actually yield magic beans. The rest you could eat, although the giants didn't, as they boiled up starchy and dry. Of those beans which possessed magic, only a tiny fraction would actually take you through the tunnels between the worlds.

Back at home, when there still was one, the giants gave the weakest magical beans to giant-lings as toys. You could make dolls fly across the nursery, or hide somebody's favorite book by moving it into another cupboard when no one was looking. Some of the stronger beans were good for hide-and-seek, even. You could hide in one of the treasure-rooms and then, just as you were about to get caught, poof! you appeared in the scullery.

Beans which were stronger still served to transport great carts of equipment out to the fields, or could be used to help elderly giants with things they could no longer easily move. So while the vast majority of the beans wouldn't open a portal, they were still useful, even fun.

Out of the thousands of beans ripening on the vines here in Storybrooke, they would be lucky if the crop yielded two or three portal beans. And to get even those, you had to cull.

Anton grasped the weak bean plant with one hand and said under his breath, “I'm sorry. But I have to do this.” Upon Anton's powerful yank, the plant came loose from the soft earth, then almost at once turned brown and began to shrivel.

Leroy ran up, waving his arms. “What the hell are you doing? Are you crazy?”

Atop the piney hills rested clouds lighter than the ones weighing on Anton's spirit. He didn't say anything, just moved slowly up the row, touching each plant, pulling up one after another while the incredulous dwarves watched. Not every plant which he pulled was brown around the edges, either, but he couldn't explain.

Bashful sidled up next to Anton in his slow, shy way, and before Anton could say anything, he reached out and took hold of one of the yellowing plants. Anton said, “Uh, Bashful, wait a minute—” but it was too late.

The plant in hand turned from dark green to charcoal-grey, then started to smoke. Bashful dropped the charred remains with a yell, his palm red and scorched.

At once Doc grabbed Bashful's hand, scrutinizing the burn. “Probably won't blister."

While Bashful poured water on his sore hand, Leroy demanded, "When were you gonna tell us this little botanical detail, Tiny?”

Doc smiled brightly. “Obviously some kind of plant defense mechanism.”

“That's right,” Anton said as he looked over Bashful's hand. “Mud'll work better than water. And no, it won't blister.”

While Bashful coated his hand with so much mud that it looked like a thick, grey boxing glove, Leroy with a disgusted expression called the rest of the dwarves to his side. “Since Tiny here has to undo all our hard work, and is gonna fry us in the meantime, let's go do something productive for once.” He picked up his ax and the others did the same. Before he led them to the far end of the field, he delivered the final wounding salvo, “At least potatoes you can eat.”

While the dwarves cleared the distal end of the field and planted potatoes, Anton walked alone up and down the bean rows, listening, deciding, pulling. Eventually, only about a third of the original plants remained, and the black, smoking pile of culled remnants grew until it reached chest-height. And as he stood staring at the dying work of his hands, the voice of the crop echoed strong in his mind, a song whose haunting refrain returned time and again to one word: betrayal.


* * * * * * * *


By the time David Nolan came back to pick them up, darkness already cloaked the hills and fields. Leroy seemed to have forgotten about their earlier spat, and Anton and the dwarves laughed and joked during the bumpy ride back to town. Anton was just about to rap on the rear window to ask David to drop him off at the intersection closest to The Bread Basket, when Leroy clapped him on the shoulder.

“Why don't you grab some grub with us?” Leroy said, sounding almost pleasant. “Outside of work, you've kind of been a stranger.”

Weariness washed over Anton. He'd been looking forward to helping Brigid close up the restaurant, then kicking back with her and the kids over dinner. Maybe, just maybe, she'd invite him home with her, as she had a few times since the night of the barn dance. That was something to look forward to with sweet anticipation.

Just his luck, the other dwarves chimed in, “Hey, Tiny, why not, come on, it'll be like old times.”

Anton still suffered pangs of guilt over Bashful's bandaged hand. Reluctantly he agreed, trying to hide his disappointment.

The truck pulled up in front of Granny's Diner. As they piled out, at first Anton didn't take Leroy seriously when the dwarf told him point-blank, “Dinner's on you, Anton. The new guy can pay.”

Anton just stared back. “I don't have any money.” That wasn't quite true. He had his wages from Fr. Jacques back in his strongbox, and a handful of coins from the Enchanted Land were shoved deep in the side pocket of his robe. But he didn't feel like going into that distinction at the moment.

“Yeah, whatever,” Leroy said as they entered Granny's, suddenly bright after the cool evening dark. The dwarves chattered noisily as they grabbed two tables. Anton, though, didn't sit down. He stood mute, as if at some critical cross-road. The feeling of wrongness and betrayal grew stronger. Some intense, spider-like curiosity watched the crop even at this very moment, filling him with anxiety.

Slowly he surveyed the restaurant, with the clump of dwarves at their tables. Granny swabbed a food prep counter, grimacing as she pressed. Ruby scooted from one table to another, heels clicking on the linoleum. And while Anton recognized some of the random people stuffed into booths, most of them he didn't, and in his gut he knew with sudden wrenching certainty that he would never meet them.

It couldn't be helped. Because the song with its one insistent lyric wouldn't quiet down.

Anton drew forth two gold coins and slid them over the counter to Granny. She didn't look at them at first, just said in a gruff voice, “What's this for?”

He struggled to remember the right words. “It's for my share of the lunches that were on the tab. And supper for the rest of the guys tonight. I'm not staying.”

Granny suddenly recognized the coins for what they were. She picked them up, eyes gleaming. Instead of putting them into the cash register, she slid them down into the bosom-front of her dress. “Haven't seen any of these since the old life. Wait a minute, I'll get your change.”

“Don't bother,” Anton said, still struggling for the proper words. “It's a tip. Just make sure you split it with Ruby.”

Now the dwarves were mostly silent, but Anton couldn't worry about that right now. The call of the crop rose to almost a scream: Betrayal, betrayal.

Anton stared Granny down until she handed Ruby a wad of Storybrooke money. Ruby caught him looking, and she slid along the counter to Anton's side. “Can I get you a beer, Tiny?”

He shook his head, eyes downcast. Her beauty was breathtaking, but he had other things on his mind. An idea struck him, blinding and obvious, so he leaned in close, his voice soft. “Can I, um, talk to you? Privately?”

Her eyes met his, swift with understanding. Pointing to the food storage area door, she spoke out in a voice loud enough for the dwarves to hear. “Anton, you big strapping man, could you give me a hand with a few boxes?”

“Sure,” Anton said. "I'd love to." The dwarves stared as the two of them retreated into the storage room.

In the tiny storeroom she stood uncomfortably close, almost at his height, so that he smelled her faint perfume and the natural scent beneath, warm and intoxicating. Her whisper came out full of concern. “Tiny, there's something wrong, isn't there?”

“You can feel it too?”

“Ever since you guys walked in.”

“Ruby, I know you got to work, but I need a favor. A big one.”

“I'm not a slave to this place. What do you need?”

“A ride out to the bean field. But we can't make it look like we're going there. And you can't tell anyone. Then—” He halted from embarrassment. “You can't come back to work tonight. You've got to lay low, and if anybody asks you where you were, you were, um, driving around."

“With you. I get it.”

“Sorry. I can't come up with anything better.”

She untied her small, frilled apron. “No problem. Grab those boxes, come on, and follow my lead.”

The boxes of commercial dish soap weighed very little, and Ruby could have moved them herself, but Anton played along. As they left the storage room, Ruby tossed her apron into the soiled-linen basket and gave her head a good shake, swishing her long raven hair. Even this brief motion turned most male heads in the diner, and a few of the women's besides.

“Where d'you think you're going? We got ourselves a full house here,” Granny snapped as Ruby sauntered past.

Ruby just laced Anton's arm in hers, pulling him very close. She strutted past the dwarves with Anton in tow, saying to Granny, “Tiny and me, we're going for a ride.”

Granny gave a disgusted frown, and her tone bordered on ugly. “Ain't it enough that you got one man dangling on the hook? Now you got to go fish for somebody else's?” Her gimlet eyes fixed on Anton. “And you, apparently you got no shame, either. Thought you at least were decent. And you throwing your money around here.”

A pang of fear speared Anton. When this was all over, he'd have to explain to Brigid first thing. Good thing she wasn't a giantess. Giant-men didn't often stray, but when they did, it wasn't unknown for the aggrieved giantesses, their sisters, and sometimes mothers to team up and literally rip off heads.

Leroy glared at Anton, then followed Ruby with his eyes as she paraded through the restaurant. Happy gave Anton a thumbs-up, and as Anton passed Mr. Clark, he swore he heard Clark mutter, “Lucky bastard.”


* * * * * * * *


Ruby's truck was the same glossy red color as her lipstick, so candy-bright you wanted to lick it. As they pulled away from Granny's Diner, the racket in Anton's chest finally started to slow down.

It wasn't until they turned the corner and left the restaurant out of sight that Ruby said, “What's up, big fellow?”

“It's the crop. There's something wrong.”

“Look, I don't mind driving you. But where are we going? And why'd you ditch the dwarves?”

“Just keep going north on this road. Then when you get out of town, make a left by the old mill.” That part was easy. The next question, though, not so much. “Because the dwarves don't understand the crop.”

“There's a lot of crops they don't understand,” Ruby said with a laugh in her voice.

“It's not their fault,” Anton protested. “The crop likes them, mostly. Well, the part about pulling out the weak plants, the sick ones, the dwarves didn't get that. But sometimes you don't preserve a crop at all costs.”

“Tiny, you're losing me.”

“Call me Anton. That's my name. The name my mothers gave me.”

“Tiny was the name which showed up on your ax."

“Those were just letters on a piece of wood. My name's Anton.”

She kept driving. Finally she said, “You're going over the Line, aren't you?”

“Probably. If Brigid wants to.”

“Then why bother with the beans? If they're in danger, why not just let them, well, rot or whatever it is they do?”

The explanation wove itself even as he spoke. “Because I'm the one responsible, not the dwarves. I'm the one who's the last. Oh, wait, make this left turn.”

Ruby swerved the truck around, fast. Then with panic in his voice, Anton said, “Pull over right now. Stop.”

“Stop where? There's nothing here.”

“It's kind of disguised.” But that wasn't what had panicked him. A hundred yards up ahead, right where the bean field started, a car was parked. Sleek, dark, one of those expensive ones. And Anton had a pretty good idea whose it was. In a low, scared voice he said, “Listen, Ruby, you've got to get out of here.”

“Anton, I can't just dump you, especially if there's danger.” Then she looked down the long country road ahead, dark save for a bit of moonlight which skimmed the tree-tops. “Oh, crap, that's Regina's car.”

“That's why you've got to leave as fast as you can.” The singing in his head was muffled by the cloaking spell, but intense all the same. “Please. I'll be all right.” He hoped that was true, and turned to her, full of feeling. “Thanks, Ruby. I mean it.”

“Just don't get yourself killed.” She gave him a quick buss on the cheek, then a friendly shove as he got out of the car.

He waited until Ruby was long gone before trudging up the road to meet Regina Mills, his heart as heavy as his mud-coated boots.

(continued)

* * * * * * * *

Comment (didn't port over from LJ):

inlaterdays on August 10th, 2014 10:04 am (local)

Oh no, Regina. This will not be good.

I wonder how Brigid will feel about Anton's plan to go over the Line?

Good point about Emma not talking to Anton - Anton's story got kind of dropped, as did so many of the non-Charming-family-related characters' stories.

I really like the secondary uses for magic beans. And I actually felt bad for the beans, Anton, and the dwarves during the culling.

You really need to sit down with Brigid, he said to himself. - Yesss, Anton, you do.

I liked Ruby's part in this chapter, too. This story is helping to fill my OUAT hiatus needs.

* * * * * * * *

Me: stefanie_bean on August 10th, 2014 04:26 pm (local)

Yes, this hiatus is getting old, I agree.

If there's genetic variability between giants, of course there would be genetic variability between beans. It was more fun to make it a pretty wide variety.

Re: Anton's story getting dropped: They made such a big deal of Anton "becoming a dwarf," and then after "Lacey" he disappeared (the last time he's seen is going into Granny's during the "New guy pays" conversation.) While I would have loved to see more Jorge Garcia, it was actually to my advantage as a fanfic'cer, because then I could make up my own continuation for his story. It didn't seem like they were going anywhere with him.

Re: feeling bad for everybody: I always worry about not writing happier stories. Somehow I can't get over that attraction to hurt/comfort, though.

Glad you're liking it!



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