Pairing: Mr. Gold/his Belle
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from any aspect of Once Upon a Time.
Summary: They are both stronger now. Belle knows this, and she seizes her happily ever after.
After Regina has, out of sheer overconfidence, played her trump card much too soon; after Gold has been forced to face the fact that his other self had somehow allowed himself to be Royally Fucked Up The Arse; after Sheriff Swan has thrown up her hands at the inevitability of the fact that just as Moe French’s long-lost daughter mysteriously surfaces, the man himself has disappeared completely; Mr. Gold finally gets things back under control. He makes sure that Emma and Mary Margaret - oh so predictably - take Belle in to live with them, the only place he trusts her to be kept safe; he makes sure their mysterious lost duckling comes with an equally mysterious trust fund; and then he begins to make sure that Regina will not only be very sorry, but also very dead.
First he takes away her sense of safety. He unexpectedly emerges from dark corners when she least expects him; he flicks non-existent bits of fluff from his sleeve when he knows the movement will just catch the very corner of her eye; despite the pain in his leg, he crouches down to share with Henry his newest theory about the Fairy Tale identity of Seth or Lizzy or Ted - it doesn’t matter who - what matters is that she fidgets nervously nearby. As he rises again he sets his hand firmly on the lad’s shoulder and looks her in the eye - I gave him to you - do you think I cannot take him away again?
And always he smiles.
Good morning, Madame Mayor; Did you enjoy your lunch Madam Mayor?; I hope you have a lovely evening, Madame Mayor. Everywhere she goes during the day he is suddenly likely to be there.
He begins to walk home each day by way of Sheriff Swan’s residence. Here he pauses, his intention to frighten in abeyance; in fact, his purpose shifts to avoiding all notice. He is here to catch whatever fleeting glimpses he can of the shadows which the three women who live here cast as they pass through the light shining from the windows above him.
One is the ostensible cause of the unnatural surroundings they all find themselves in, and her shadow is all darting good will, flitting around the edges. Another is her daughter and their savior; who stalks through the room lankily, like a cartoon fawn who is all legs and has been forced to grow up within a cursed reality - faking it for all she is worth. The third is his True Love. He knows perfectly well the way her shadow moves - hasn’t she danced through his dreams for countless years? - but in the five minutes he allows himself to linger each day hers is the shade with which he is least often rewarded.
It has never been his intention to seek her out. His protection of her Now is simply what he owes her for his failure to do so Then; for causing her to be tortured and imprisoned. The situation is a distant relative of one of his deals, in fact; there must be balance. To strike the correct balance, though, he must give her back her life free of all ties or weights, and to do that he must not chance that she might happen to forgive him, might still possibly find some lingering scrap of affection for him. After all, True Love is a powerful thing and you never really can tell how it will translate in their current Cursed circumstances. It might not realize that he had given up his right to it when he had driven her out; when he had believed her dead and not bothered to spend the rest of his wretched life searching for her anyway. True Love could not be allowed to overlook this.
Now Gold sits up nights with a bottle of really fine scotch to hand. He begins the memories playing each day at this time, just as the sun disappears into the horizon. They start with her bold acceptance of his bargain, on her own agreement alone; progress lingeringly, lovingly over their laughter-filled, if unconventional, courtship within his halls; move on to taunt him with his betrayal and rejection of her; and finally bludgeon him over and over with his mistake.
After all, it had been only a single mistake he had made. Even if he had sent her away in the heat of the moment, she would have forgiven him that - eventually - and he could have brought her safely back under his protection.
Only a single mistake - believing.
However; saying he had made only a single mistake in this instance was like saying the oceans had come into existence after the introduction of only a single drop of water. He; Rumpelstiltskin, had been taken for the most Royal of fools and there is nothing to do but to pay the price; as is always the case in the end.
So night after night, Gold gradually empties the bottle of really fine scotch into his glass on the way to his lips - there is no need to be crude, after all - and after he has swallowed the last of the amber liquid, he picks up the empty bottle and with a grand flourish uncovers the next mirror; he has acquired a good number of large mirrors recently. He deliberately looks into the glass, which obligingly reflects the whole of him, and smiles his Rumpelstiltskin smile. Some nights, just lately, he even tries out a manic giggle.
He starts small, tenderly laying his cheek against the cool of the glass and caressing the mirror’s smooth surface, he tells it exactly what he thinks of it. “You conniving bitch,” he spits out and teasingly runs the mouth of the bottle through the spittle now sprayed across the face of the glass, forming the letters of his real name with glass on glass.
He raises his principal argument early on, in order to force his point home by repetition if necessary. “You may have fooled me once,” he croons to the glass, “but you’ll never do it again, dearie.” With a swing of his arm he abruptly employs the solidness of the base of his bottle, slamming it against the very edge of the mirror - a targeted strike. The result is a satisfying shower of shards and a substantial chip in the Queen’s outlying border.
He pulls away from the mirror and regards his bottle - intact and reassuring in its heft - and his smile grows; it feeds on his thirst for revenge and his despair over losing the man he could have made himself with Belle at his side. Here, he carries out the torture he should be administering to the person of the Queen who had captured and imprisoned his Lady. Using a two-handed grip he continues systematically to take out the perimeter of the mirror, blow by blow, “Evil - Bitch - Die - You - Filthy - Heartless - Whore.” He grits his teeth and pictures her bones cracking and shattering rather than the glass popping and sparkling in the air around him.
Panting just slightly, a little breathless; he stands glittering, the creases of his shirt and loosened tie now harboring tiny shards which catch bits of the moonlight stealing in through the windows and standing witness. He regards what is left. The center, the heart of her. Low, dangerous, he snarls, “You stole her - you stole her from me and you’ll pay - you’ll pay as no one else ever has.” And then he does what she does; he takes out the heart of her - simple as that, dearie. Control takes a bit of a backseat now as he raises the bottle and gleefully has at it - just like in the old days.
Glass shatters against glass - shatters glass against glass - glass shatters.
When he is done, he is spent and gasping and he invariably slides down the wall begging his Love’s forgiveness, landing in a sea of crystal dust.
Next, he begins to strip away her sense of personal space. She is suddenly finding small dead animals in her house and her office. The first few look like accidents; a swallow which must have flown into the window of the front door and fallen dead onto the porch mat, a mouse in the kitchen which must have lain hidden from earlier discovery under the cabinet overhang, a squirrel that must have come into the lobby with a visitor and somehow made it to her office - died of rabies surely, the nasty rodent.
Then there is a dead, rotting rabbit on top of a laundry basket full of clean clothes and a glassy eyed starling posed brokenly in the middle of the kitchen table. One a day, always in a different place, always ripe enough that she cannot ignore it. Henry thinks this is brilliant.
One morning about six months after he learns she is alive, Belle rings his doorbell.
“I dreamt of you.”
Only the vivid memory he has of her naming him coward stays him on the spot. “Did you?”
“Yes. May I come in?”
He serves her tea in a perfectly intact china cup. It turns out that Miss French - please call me Belle, she says firmly - has a very mixed up set of memories. Perhaps consequently, she speaks like someone who is struggling through the last few days before the impending mental click with which fluency in a new language comes.
“I’m not crazy,” she tells him calmly.
“Certainly not,” he agrees as he offers her the sugar bowl.
“I dreamt of both of you, this you and the lizard you. You were always catching me, one or the other of you. I would fall and you would catch me, so when there was something bad going on in the dreams I would look around for something to fall off of.”
He studies her face carefully before saying, “It sounds to me as if you learned to rescue yourself.”
She sips her tea and nods thoughtfully. “Yes, but I still needed you for the all-important not hitting the ground part.”
He isn’t quite sure how to respond to this.
She leans toward him a bit and continues, “You know, where in real life you’d go splat?”
Startled, he nods.
She smiles. “You kept me from going splat.”
Weakly, he smiles back, and takes a sip of tea. After a moment, he asks hesitantly, “In your dreams, I always caught you?”
“One or the other of you, yes. I could never decide if there was any rhyme or reason to which of you appeared. The lizard you was funnier more often, so sometimes it was nice to see him because I knew he would make me laugh straight away and forget whatever bad thing had me falling.” She tilts her head and seems to study his face. “This you is more serious, but mostly on the surface. You’re funny too,” she assures him, “just - less often.”
“Than the lizard me,” he cannot quite keep himself from adding.
She laughs, and the beauty of it nearly kills him. “See?” Through her subsiding giggles she continues, “When you dream about a lizard man who wears leather and silk it’s really best to be clear about things, don’t you think? Call a lizard man a lizard man and move on with the conversation.”
“Quite,” he manages weakly.
She suddenly sobers. “You sent me away.”
He has never expected to be given this chance and he is not so much of a coward that he squanders it. He forces himself to scrape up some equilibrium and to meet her eyes squarely as he says, “I am very, very, sorry that I did that. It was very wrong of me.”
She nods as if this is exactly what she has expected him to say. “I accept your apology. I’m sorry I was gone so long. I hope you didn’t miss me too much.”
He stares at her. As always, she has not just turned him upside down, she has sent him for a ride in a tumble dryer. After a moment he replies carefully, “Your absence was hardly your fault, my dear.”
“No, but I know you get lonely, and sometimes you need me to come to the rescue.”
“Do I?” he asks - again, carefully.
She laughs again. “Of course you do. Don’t you remember when I saved you from Maleficent? For some reason or other you’d gotten her drunk on currant wine, but you hadn’t hidden her staff properly, had you?” she chides.
He does remember. That frying pan has never been the same.
“I think I’m almost ready to come back. I’ve been feeling much better lately and Dr. Hopper is very pleased with my progress.”
“Come – back?” he asks weakly. This is progressing somehow, and he can’t think of any way to stop it, and his chest is tight, and he can’t think properly, and she keeps sparkling at him and - he realizes he has stopped breathing and forces a shuddering breath.
She nods. “A deal is a deal,” she informs him solemnly as if he, of all people, needs to be reminded of this fact. “Of course I’ll want to go back to volunteering at the library too; you won’t mind that though, will you?”
His mind racing to reconcile this jumbled mesh of Fairy Tale and Curse Reality, knowing this is his last chance to pull himself together, Gold fumbles for a response. He shakes his head firmly and feels a little of his default panache click into place. He forces a grin. “Well, as you can see dearie, my circumstances have changed somewhat.” He gestures around them to the necessarily shrunken house the Curse has made of the dark castle on his grand estate. “I hardly need – full-time help.”
She stills as if he has slapped her and her pleas on the night he rejected her love echo through his head - he is defeated almost before he has begun. In another instant he would have been on his knees before her; but surprisingly, just as suddenly as she has wilted, she recovers and gives him another bright smile. “Then I’ll just come a few days a week. Besides, you know the shop needs more dusting than the house.”
What he knows is that he can’t let her do this. He absolutely cannot let her tie herself to him again, but the thought of refusing her is unbearable. His choice is to either let her ‘come back’ to him, or to once again deny her and turn her out of his home. The impossibility of the latter is a foregone conclusion. “Yes, the shop. Of course. I had forgotten.”
He is rewarded with a reassuring smile. “I forget things sometimes too,” she confides. “But I’m getting better every day.”
After she leaves he sits and stares at the perfectly intact cup she has drunk from; he contemplates the fact that, in the haven of her dreams, he has never let her fall.
He doesn’t see her again for almost a month. During this time he begins to whittle away at Madame Mayor’s sanity. Each day when something dead goes in, something else comes out, something small. One day it is her favorite round, red paperweight; another it is the blue scarf she likes to wear with her paisley skirt. One morning it is the half-empty jar of creamy peanut butter - which she had used just last night to make Henry a sandwich, dammit; another it is her toothbrush.
Then, one bright Monday morning the bell on the door of his shop sounds and he looks up to find her there, radiant and bathed in sunshine.
“Hello. Is today a good day for me to begin?”
He notes immediately that her cheeks are rosier and she has Now fully regained the luscious curves he remembers from Then. She also speaks more easily, fluency finally having clicked into place. She is indeed getting better every day.
He considers trying to talk her out of this, but one look into her determined blue eyes tells him it would be of no use. He sighs. Once upon a time, he tells himself, taking her with him had been a good idea. He gives her a courtly bow and replies, “By all means. Today is a fine day for beginnings.”
She beams at him. “I thought so too. The sunshine and the birds woke me and my first thought was that nothing would make me happier than to see you today.”
She is trying to kill him, but she is not merciful enough to do it with a knife to his heart. He turns from her and gestures to the back room in a manner which he hopes looks dismissive rather than desperate. “You should find what you need in the cupboard.”
She laughs. “Of course I will, unless you moved all my supplies.”
Oh dear, he thinks, and rallies his Belle-scattered wits to keep from upsetting her straight off. “You may find things a little turned around. But don’t worry, we can put everything right soon enough,” he assures her.
Her smile is gentler this time. “Yes. Of course we can.”
He kills her assistant. He hadn’t had any use for the girl in either world, so it is easy to pull her aside and slit her throat. It is even easier to make sure her body will never be found. Consequently, Regina has no one near her to ease her way each day. No one knows how she likes her coffee or that she will be needing lunch around one o’clock. No one picks up her dry cleaning when it is ready, nor does anyone remind her on the days she is supposed to pick up Henry at three o’clock because of his appointment with Dr. Hopper. Eventually she hires a new girl, of course, but it will take time for these things to once again become seamless. In the meantime her coffee is sickeningly sweet and milky, and she has nothing to wear.
Mr. Gold becomes increasingly sure that True Love has it in for him. He tells himself that he shouldn’t be surprised, considering the choices he has made. Belle has laid siege to his life in this reality Now much as she had in the other Then; swiftly and without any mercy at all. He maintains a formal distance between them as much as he can, resorting to the sort of stiff half bows more common to Then in an effort to lend his efforts Now some backbone. She seems to honor the distance for the most part, though her consistently sunny attitude sometimes makes it seem as if she is reaching out to him when she is not actually, physically, doing so.
In short order she has set things Now back to a state very much like Then; except that without the magic that had imbued the pots and pans of his kitchen her cooking is distressingly awful. He cleans his plate of each meal anyway, wishing that just one of them could make use of magic when performing his or her half of this ritual.
After dinner, as the sun sets, is the time which she has most effectively transformed. Each night before she goes home she asks him to play a game of Scrabble with her. He is never able to bring himself to deny her this simple request. She always wins, and she sometimes narrows her eyes and accuses him of throwing the game, but she really is just that good. He loves to watch her as she frowns over the tiles and mixes them repeatedly to reveal the words which are hidden from her in such a dastardly fashion. She also has a devious habit of hoarding the X, Q, and Z to use in convenience-born two or three letter combinations at the very end of the game to get rid of tiles and make unlikely, spectacular scores that send her total into the stratosphere.
He now stays awake nights reliving her gleeful, triumphant giggles over scoring off ‘xi’ on a triple word square.
He begins teaching her how painful life can really be. She keeps finding these little straight pins everywhere. She can’t work out where they’re coming from, but they’re absolutely everywhere. It seems every time she sits down, whether at home, the office, or even in cars, there is one lurking to snag her skirt and bite into her skin. The things are tiny, so most of the time it doesn’t hurt very much if it breaks the skin, but this morning she had stepped full on one when getting out of bed, and that had been a different story all together. It’s infuriating, and her foot is throbbing in her shoe. She’s warned Henry to be on the lookout for the damn things, she doesn’t want him to get hurt.
After about three months he realizes that looking at her has become more pleasurable than painful and the memory of her warbling an off-key rendition of Good Luck Charm as she put together last night’s horrendous casserole is much more real to him than that of her lying on the floor of her dungeon cell where he has just flung her.
He has always dreamed about her but now the dreams are changing. Bloody flayed strips of her delicate skin and her body sprawled broken before him are morphing into the echoing chime of her laughter and her warm, soft hands brushing against much more than just his own.
He still feels that he should stop this whole thing somehow, but a part of him is awakening to the realization that he doesn’t want to deny her anything she wants ever again, and somehow the thing she wants is still him.
She seems to pick up on this shift in his attitude; perhaps he has softened in his manner toward her without realizing it, or perhaps this is simply True Love having another go at him. Whatever the reason, she apparently decides it is time to move on to the next stage of whatever campaign this is she is waging.
She begins to touch him.
She starts small, with fleeting brushes of her hand against his whenever she is close enough. The first time she does this he has to close himself in the back room for twenty minutes before he stops shaking. True Love is really kicking the shit out of him right now.
He arranges for her to have a lesson in loss.
“Henry has been kidnapped!”
Emma looks up from her computer to find Regina coming at her, wild-eyed and waving a piece of paper. “Whoa, hang on, I just talked to him, what do you mean?”
Her eyes go narrow and her tone drops to Bitch. “He’s been kidnapped, and you have to move quickly. If we don’t find him right away, the odds go down by the minute. Look, they left a note.”
Emma takes the piece of paper being shoved at her. She’s noticed that Regina has been looking a little rough around the edges lately, but a kidnapping in Storybrooke - and the Mayor’s kid to boot?
“Read. It,” she insists venomously.
Emma’s eyes widen doubtfully as she takes a deep breath and turns them on the paper. “We have the boy,” she reads flatly. “Regina, this doesn’t even say Henry,” she protests. “And there’s no ransom demand, it’s just a statement of fact. What am I supposed to do with this? Have you even looked for him?”
“Of course I’ve looked for him!”
Wow. Bitch to Shrill in three point two. Emma’s impressed. “Okay, calm down, we’ll -,”
“Don’t tell me to calm down! My son has been kidnapped and you’re telling me to calm down! What will people say?! He’s gone, not in his room, not at the playground, no one has seen him, and there’s this note in his room!”
“Okay, okay. Just, um - sit - down and I’ll start looking for him.”
“What are you going to do?”
Emma turns back to the trembling woman sinking onto the couch, eyes her carefully, and decides that ‘a little rough’ might be kind of generous. Regina looks frazzled, really frazzled, like she’s been living out of a suitcase for a while now and having to make due without any of the comforts of home. Her skin is dry, her jacket looks like it’s been tailored badly, and her hair is bordering on frizzy.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure this is all a mistake. I’m sure he’s fine. I’ll be right back, okay?”
Regina nods and twists her hands together.
Emma steps out the door and looks around. She’s absolutely sure Henry hasn’t been kidnapped. Mentally, though, she shrugs; kidnapped or not, she’ll just have to find the kid. She sets off, deciding on left randomly. Scant seconds later, she comes to the diner and can’t help but see through the window that Henry is in the booth nearest the door drinking a milkshake. He is sitting across from a man and a woman, and Emma thinks - no, she’s sure - it’s Belle and Gold. Granted, that’s a little weird, but it’s still not kidnapped.
“My investigative skills are apparently amazing,” she mutters to herself as she heads in. “Hey.” She slides in next to Henry and steals one of Belle’s fries.
Around the fry, she says, “Regina thinks you’ve been kidnapped. Any chance you didn’t tell her you were hanging with these two today?”
“Really?” Gold’s question, posed in the most incredulous of tones, has her swinging her gaze around to him. He is the very picture of innocence and that makes her narrow her eyes to Lie Detector.
“That’s so strange. We made sure to leave her a note,” he murmurs silkily.
One day, about a month and a half after the touching begins, she asks, “Can we get a puppy?”
He responds, “I’m The Dark One, dearie. I don’t think they give you a pet if you put that on the application for adoption, even in a town which cannot remember.”
She laughs at him and for the first time in this world slips her hand fully into the grasp of his. They are walking from the shop to his house where, upon their arrival, she will cheerfully begin making something dreadful for dinner. He tells himself that he will keep hold of her hand so that he will have a wonderful memory to savor while he consumes it.
“Would you turn our sweet little puppy into a hound of hell?”
With an effort, he divides his attention between her hand and her teasing conversation, not very equally. “Oh yes, I have this handy spell to make his eyes glow red,” he tosses off.
“How about one for slavering? All the really good horrible beasts slaver dreadfully.” She manages to sound terribly excited about this.
“Our hellhound would slaver with the best of them, my dear.” He longs to take her into his arms and kiss the lips which are smiling up at him so happily. He burns to do so much more than that.
Belle celebrates when he first gives her The Look instead of That Look. She has known from the start that she will have to go slowly and that she will have to be very gentle with him. That was how she had managed to make it back to herself, slowly and carefully. So when he finally, finally turns to her with desire in his eyes which is not overshadowed by a guilt heavier than both of their worlds put together, she bakes a cake; okay, she burns a cake and then frosts it generously. One of these days she’s going to take a class, really.
“A cake? Is it a special occasion?”
She hums happily to herself and wonders if it would be pushing her luck to make her next move so soon. She decides it would, but that she’s going to do the brave thing and go ahead with it anyway. “Not especially.” She reaches out and runs her finger through the frosting. She puts her finger into her mouth and makes a sound she hopes is going to send him lunging across the table at her. Unfortunately, it’s a little early for that and instead his mouth just drops open; but she’s pretty sure she’s getting a more satisfactory reaction from another, less visible, body part.
She doesn’t give him a chance to recover, she just goes for it. Reloading with frosting, she hops onto the table and suggests cheerfully, “Try some,” as she leans toward him and moves her hand toward his mouth. Since he hasn’t managed to close it yet, he’s pretty much helpless to stop her from laying her frosting-messy finger on his tongue, and stroking. Instinctively, his mouth closes and to her intense pleasure his eyes flutter closed as well. He then produces a noise quite similar to the one she had made; with a little whimper at the end which she happily accepts as a bonus for the extra effort she has put in today.
The pressure as he sucks at her finger is exquisite, and the stroke of his tongue divine. She closes her eyes and for just a moment imagines that he is better employing his mouth elsewhere on her body.
But it is still too early for that and she has to settle for the less carnal delight of the astonished look on his face as he pulls away from her. For a fleeting second astonishment turns to horror, and she thinks she has misjudged and that he is about to push his chair away from her violently. But something - perhaps it is caused by the fact that her eyes are undoubtedly cloudy with desire - something suddenly eases in him. “Belle,” he murmurs, and reaches to cup her cheek. A related something in her sings in response because it is the first time he has reached for her and touched her; at least in this world.
He has been messing with her dry cleaning from the beginning, of course. Now, at Belle’s inspired suggestion, all of her shoes are suddenly a half size either too large or too small. He has arranged for her television to only access channels which show infomercials, soap operas, or movies starring Meredith Baxter. He regrets the inconvenience to Henry, but they all have to make sacrifices during this process. Every dvd and cd case in her house contains a different disc than it claims it does, and every second light bulb in the house is burned out on any given day. Dickens now comes before Austen on her bookshelves, and Grimm has been re-shelved after Yolen. He admits to himself that he is now really enjoying this part of his plan as each day he steals into her house and smashes a mirror - sometimes on a wall or sometimes in a compact - in addition to leaving her rotting present and selecting that day’s unwillingly-offered tribute.
Their puppy, Clyde, has devoured five of his shoes over the course of a month. Mr. Gold is now considering whether or not to offer up the odd one voluntarily to save frustration, or at least annoyed anticipation of which will next fall victim. A loud bump from the ground floor interrupts his internal debate. He descends to find Belle arrived and she is surrounded by so much luggage he swears she has to have magicked it inside somehow. His first, knee-jerk reaction is that she is leaving and has kindly stopped to say goodbye and collect Clyde for the journey. She has always, after all, wanted to see the world. In his first distress it does not occur to him that she might have a wee problem leaving still-Cursed Storybrooke. He stops at the bottom of the stairs and his hand curls around the head of his cane in a death grip.
She frowns at him. In a courteous tone, she inquires, “Are you not feeling well? You’ve gone white.” When no response is immediately forthcoming she makes a huffing noise and continues, but her voice has turned disapproving and stern, “Don’t go playing sick so that you don’t have to help me move, now. That would very definitely not be gentlemanly.”
His voice decides to take pity on him and allows him to get out, “Move?”
She frowns a little harder. “Of course. We really have to stop confusing Clyde. I think moving him back and forth like this is causing him serious damage. I’m sure he wouldn’t be eating as many of your shoes if we all lived here together.”
He closes his eyes and doesn’t try to stop himself sinking down to rest on the step behind him. When he opens his eyes, a count to thirty later, he finds she is peering at him intently with her nose approximately one inch away from his own. He takes advantage of the angle at which she has tilted her head - he has only a fleeting instant to suspect deliberately - and moves forward to touch his lips to hers.
True Love’s First Kiss is such a powerful thing. It encompasses love and passion out of all measure, joined with a desire to be with your Love for all Eternity. So much power concentrated into so infinitely small a point of space is so very, very dangerous. Thankfully, when you are the proud parents of a beagle hellhound puppy named Clyde, you don’t have to worry as much about getting lost where you shouldn’t because Clyde is always eager to be with you and in his innocence he does not hesitate to tell you so.
Mr. Gold only reluctantly releases his Belle’s lips from their First - in this world - Kiss because he is afraid one of them may drown in hellhound slaver if he does not. He does it grudgingly at best and sourly decides not to willingly hand over the shoe he had been contemplating earlier.
Belle hasn’t been all that concerned about the breaking of the curse. Well, Emma is teaching her to shoot straight and she’s roped Ruby into becoming her sparring partner for sword and spear practice twice a week; but she’s also been doing yoga with Mary Margaret, so it’s really more of a self improvement thing than getting ready for the Final Battle. Mr. Gold has assured her that he is keeping a close eye on things and matters are progressing about as well as can be expected, so she doesn’t worry about it. This distance she keeps makes what happens in the square one morning more surprising than it might have otherwise been.
She is walking home from the library, a heavy bag containing the books she has checked out on her shoulder. She really needs to get a backpack, she thinks to herself; carrying a lopsided load can’t be good for her spinal structure; she has been reading up on anatomy and wound care. She becomes aware that there is a crowd forming over by the gazebo, and she can hear yelling. She very definitely considers not stopping, but then she realizes that one of the yelling voices is Mary Margaret’s and that Mary Margaret is using language that is extremely unusual for her. Belle decides that she should check to make sure her friend isn’t in need of backup.
She doesn’t realize until too late that Regina is here as well. She shudders. She does not turn back, but she advances more slowly, making sure she is fully aware of her surroundings as she does.
Mary Margaret is in a towering rage; David and Ruby on either side of her are clearly the only things standing between Regina and a black eye, or worse. The Mayor is standing in the middle of the square, her arms folded across her chest, smirking. Belle thinks that David should really let go of Mary Margaret’s right arm so that she can slap that smirk right off Regina’s face.
“You evil bitch! You killed my father!”
Oh. Well then, Belle thinks. That explains it. This isn’t Mary Margaret. It’s Snow White and she has regained a particularly painful memory as the Curse slowly erodes toward the Final Battle.
She doesn’t see where he comes from, but he is suddenly there, managing it all, pulling all their strings. His suit is predictably impeccable, and even under the circumstances she allows herself a moment to admire him because he is her True Love and she has been starting to think lately, based upon some aspects of his behavior, that it will no longer be ‘a bit soon for that’ for very much longer. His eyes are hidden behind tinted glass but a slight inclination of his head tells her he has noted her presence. And even without magic he has things sorted in no time, all the while making it seem as if he has done nothing at all. He whispers the right things into the right ears at just the right times, she watches him do it.
The crowd begins to turn on the Queen with rumbles of agreement and discontent, and Regina’s smirk, not really up to par just lately anyway, falters almost immediately. She can tell them all she likes that there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing - do any of them recall meeting Mary Margaret’s father? - but the mood is quickly turning ugly and violent - and maybe some of them now do recall the man in question. Snow White has been coaxed from the forefront of the confrontation, so instead of being in a one on one showdown Regina stands surrounded by hostile townspeople, all of whom have been Cursed by her and an increasing number of whom are beginning to remember that.
Then there are the many who owe something to Mr. Gold; some obligated twice over, once in each world. It’s such an easy repayment too, it hardly costs them a thing to pick up a couple of rocks. Belle smiles.
He is suddenly by her side with a twirling flourish of his cane, again she can’t tell where he came from. “Shall I take your bag for you, dearie?” He is gleeful, the closest she’s seen him to his counterpart yet. This makes her very happy. Instead of handing over her bag she takes some of the books out and lets him share her burden. As she takes his arm and they turn to start home, Belle can hear the noise of the angry crowd swelling behind them.
Mr. Gold tells himself that he really cannot afford this distraction right now. He is trying to steer a colossal, world-crushing Curse through its final stages for pity’s sake. Yet there she stands, his Belle, surrounded by sunshine just as she had been the first morning she came into his shop, her smile as bright as can be. She is wearing a long flowing skirt which reminds him of the dresses she used to wear in their other world. He knows that, Curse or no Curse, he might have already succumbed to her entreaty except that she has brought a picnic basket with her; inwardly he shudders as he considers what she can have done to the food inside.
She has been oddly clingy lately, and he has been just a little bit worried about her because of it. The touching has expanded from hand holding to brushing up against him at the least excuse and running her foot up and down his leg while they eat. While the latter has made meals slightly more palatable, the progression has been wrecking havoc with his self-control. His dreams have been getting increasingly realistic and accordingly frustrating. He wakes panting for release at least once a night now. The fact that the object of his affections sleeps just down the hall these days is also not helping – not at all.
Giving in to the inevitable because she’s started tapping her toe pointedly now, he steps out from behind the counter and takes her hand in his. He runs his fingers over the back of of it lightly, and bows down to lay a kiss there, gentle as a butterfly. He then releases her and takes the basket from her other hand. They walk a short way to a secluded clearing in the woods where they sometimes like to sit and talk. When they arrive he opens the basket, removes the blanket which is folded on top of – he stops and stares – she hasn’t slaughtered a lunch after all. She has packed a can of whipped cream. And a pillow.
It takes him several moments to recover. In the meantime, his lady love spreads the blanket out over the lush grass and removes the plastic wrapper from the can of whipped cream. She waits for him, pillow cushioning her head as she fancies the clouds into animals.
After some time has elapsed, she hears, “Belle?”
She points into the sky and asks, “Does that look like an elephant to you? See, that bit there is its trunk.”
“I’m not sure I can.”
“Nonsense. I can come over there right now and prove you a liar.”
“No, I - Belle, I love you.”
“Of course you do.” She raises herself up on her elbows so that she can see him better. “You should come over here and love me, instead of doing it over there. It’s quite simple really.” He still looks stricken, but she is sure she has not misjudged so she just smiles at him serenely and sits up fully so that she can begin unbuttoning her blouse.
His mouth goes dry. He wants her so much; he wants to caress her soft skin and discover all the places where, if he nips her gently with his teeth, she will gasp with pleasure. He wants to feel the weight of her breasts in his hands and lovingly worship them with his mouth. He wants to feel the heat of her enclose him and he wants to be the one who makes her see shooting stars. He wants to swallow her cries of passion with his kisses and watch her come apart while their hands are entwined. He knows she will be even more impossibly beautiful with love-tousled hair and lustily satisfied blue eyes. Rumpelstiltskin wants.
Belle watches the guilt and fear war with the love and desire in the man who is her True Love and says the only thing that is left. “I love you, Rumpelstiltskin.”
His fragmented heart finally manages to stutteringly piece together the lessons she has been giving him. She has been teaching him that it is all right for him to want because he wants not just for himself but for her too; as she does for him in return.
The details of the rest of that lovely, sun-dappled afternoon are best left between our lovers, but I believe it will suffice to say that all the reading she has been doing pays off tremendously. It happens that they end up forgetting about the whipped cream entirely in this particular instance, but they do manage to remember it the next time.
Happily ever after, of course.