“Not Just A Cup” Wins Best One-Shot Fiction!!!!

I’m happy and honored to announce that my story “Not Just A Cup” won Best One-Shot Fan Fiction in the Once Upon A Fan Awards 2013. I took a gamble submitting a story in which a character of my own creation, Clarice, is a focal point, but people responded quite well. Thank you to everyone for their support! Thank you, my darling Frank, for encouraging me, helping me brainstorm, proofing and suggesting the B.C. Rich Warlock electric guitar for Clarice and having her have a poster of Nikola Tesla himself (not just his coils)! Thank you, Elisa for proofing help! Thank you, Terri, for being designated cheerleader to encourage my writing!

“Until the stars fall from the sky
Until I find the reason why
And darling as the years go by
Until there’s no tears left to cry
‘Til the angels close my eyes
And even if we’re worlds apart
I’ll find my way back to you…By heart.” ~Jim Brickman

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“Not Just A Cup” Nominated in the Once Upon A Fan Awards 2013!

I am happy and honored to announce that my one-shot fiction, “Not Just A Cup” has been nominated in the Once Upon A Fan Awards 2013.
Please consider voting for me! To vote my story, go to http://tinyurl.com/NotJustACup

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#RumBelleProject Action Alert: What does RumBelle Mean to You?

Hello RumBellers, Dearies and Belles,
(Spoiler Alert for anybody who didn’t see the season 2 finale)
Given that season 2 ended with Rumplestiltskin and Belle separated again, and plot development and writing for season 3 will likely start in the coming weeks, I have a little project in mind for us; the #RumBelleProject to be exact. Let’s make it known how much RumBelle means to us and why. The point of this project is to hopefully get to see Rumplestiltskin and Belle together in season 3, in the present day; not just flashback.

Here’s the idea: Leave a comment here, PM me at my FanFictionNet page http://www.fanfiction.net/u/4434150/NicoleMuenchSeidel or tweet me at https://twitter.com/loveautismdogs using the hash-tag #RumBelleProject Say what RumBelle means to you and why, and I’ll compile a page with the RumBelle love from fans to share with Adam Horowitz, Eddy Kitsis, and Jane Espenson, as well as Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin. If you want to comment here, but don’t want to leave your email address, that’s fine; make up a bogus email address if you want. I don’t need your email address…I want your thoughts on RumBelle. I will moderate the comments made here in order to prevent spammers. If you choose to tweet your RumBelle love, but need more than 140 characters, you can use http://www.twitlonger.com just remember the hash-tag #RumBelleProject

RumBelle has helped some fans dealing with various life challenges, like the lost of a loved one, being bullied in school, etc., while other fans love RumBelle, because they are simply awesome. What’s your reason for loving RumBelle? If you want to share this page on Twitter, but need a shorter URL, here it is: http://tinyurl.com/RumBelleProject

I’ll start the ball rolling. Of course, there is Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin, who make RumBelle’s devotion and adoration for each other palpable. No other couple on TV has the emotional depth and synergy of RumBelle. RumBelle captivated me initially because I identified with struggles that my husband and I had in early years, regarding insecurities created by past relationships. Even though we had always been attracted to each other, it took us eleven years to get to our first date, but true love finally won out. Additionally our daughter, who has Autism and will only watch cartoons typically, will only watch is Rumple and Belle for live action entertainment, and being somewhat verbal, she chatters about them and gives all her stuff animals true love’s kiss. Then June 14, 2012, my husband nearly died from a sudden onset of what is commonly called Juvenile Diabetes. While he was in the hospital’s Critical Care Unit for three days as a result of having a blood sugar level of 1265, and I didn’t know if I’d have to find a way to tell our daughter that her father was gone, the one thing that kept me from losing it was watching RumBelle montages on YouTube at night after our daughter was in bed. Those RumBelle videos gave me a hopeful message about the power of love…plus, the line “There’ll be time for everything.” was a beacon of hope. Thankfully, my husband recovered.

Okay, so who’s next? Say whatever is in your heart for RumBelle.

Posted in #Belles, #Dearies, #RumBelleProject, Belle, Once Upon A Time, OUAT, RumBelle, Rumpel, Rumpelstiltskin, Rumple, Rumplestiltskin | 1 Comment

RumBelle Silver Medal Winners

I designed this in honor of RumBelle’s showing in the TV Couples Challenge. Out of 64 couples, many of whom have been around for several years, RumBelle came in 2nd. With 49% of the vote in the final round.
~Rumplestiltskin & Belle~
Congratulations RumBelle Silver Medal Winners
of the Zimbio’s 2013 TV Couples March Madness Challenge!
Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin perform seamlessly together.
They make RumBelle’s devotion and adoration for each other palpable.
No other couple on TV has the emotional depth and synergy of RumBelle.
That is why we love RumBelle.

Posted in Belle, Lacey, Once Upon A Time, OUAT, RumBelle, Rumpel, Rumpelstiltskin, Rumple, Rumplestiltskin | Leave a comment

RumBelle: We Are All…Reunion of Twin Souls

Last night and this morning, I have posted the beginnings of a new story, “RumBelle: We Are All…Reunion of Twin Souls”
This story involves reincarnation. Before RumBelle existed, they were Reimund and Lucienne. RumBelle must find the happy ending that Reimund and Lucienne did not. The Storybrooke side of the story begins 17 days before Emma’s arrival. RumBelle’s cursed memories tell them that they are Gold and ‘tough as nails’ Izzy-B. Gold/Izzy-B have always had a crush on each other, but never pursued it…until the day, Izzy-B decides to make a change in the town that never changes.
To read it, click here.

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RumBelle in the Championship Round of the TV Couples March Madness Challenge

Out of 64 television couples, RumBelle has made it to the Championship Round of the TV Couples March Madness Challenge. Click http://tinyurl.com/VoteRumBelle which is the shortened version of the Zimbio page that works better for voting. Then scroll down, do NOT, click on “Interactive Bracket”, but vote on the poll at the bottom of the page. Then either refresh or press f5 on your computer, and scroll down and vote again. We have 19 hours to go. RumBelle is at 49%. Above is a graphic that I created to remind us why we’re working our rumps off. :)

If you wish to share this, the handy AddThis buttons will help you quickly share this on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Let’s win this to show our appreciation to the creators, writers, cast and crew of “Once Upon A Time”, whose efforts entertain and move us. We can also make this a birthday present for our favorite Dearie, Robert Carlyle…no postage required, and he doesn’t have to wade through a ton of fan mail. ;-)
Please vote and share to get others to vote.

Posted in Belle, Once Upon A Time, OUAT, RumBelle, Rumpelstiltskin | Leave a comment

“Rumpelstiltskin & Belle Metamorphosis Through Love” Chapter 3 “Images and Visions”

“Until the stars fall from the sky
Until I find the reason why
And darling as the years go by
Until there’s no tears left to cry
‘Til the angels close my eyes
And even if we’re worlds apart
I’ll find my way back to you…By heart.” ~Jim Brickman

Author’s Note: The writing and art here are done with great respect, love and gratitude for the talents of Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin, and everyone involved in of Once Upon A Time. I do not own these characters.
All fictions here are written by me, Nicole Muench Seidel

    Since this chapter is particularly long, more than 31 pages; likely the longest I’ll write for this story. For those who can’t read it all in one sitting, to more easily find where they left off, when they come back to it, I have divided it into 3 sections on the chapters page. Click here to read it in sections.
    Warning: The hospital flashback near the end may be disturbing. This chapter will have both fluff and angst. Enjoy! —NicoleMS
    This chapter contains two YouTube musical interludes.

In the blackness, Rumpelstiltskin feels a damp weight compress his chest, as a shrill demented laugh emanates from the being trying to possess him. Belle groans and struggles to reach the lamp to confront the force that has laid claim to their peace.

In a raspy voice, Belle whispers, “Clarice, not again.” With the room illuminated, Rumpelstiltskin focuses his eyes on a two year old girl with brown eyes and curly brown hair framing her impish smile. Clarice shouts happily, “Wake, papa!” Belle yawns and rubs her eyes, saying, “It’s five in the morning, again. Stacking two baby-gates on top of each other didn’t work.”

Belle observes that her words are going completely ignored, as Rumpelstiltskin contorts his face in different expressions, eliciting wild giggles from Clarice. Putting her hand over her mouth, trying to hide any amusement, Belle says in a mildly exasperated tone, “You’re just encouraging her to keep doing this.” Rumpelstiltskin turns and sticks his tongue out at Belle. Belle rolls her eyes and leans towards him and says, “You really think you’re cute, don’t you?” Rumpelstiltskin reaches out and glides his hand across the snug rum pink fabric covering Belle’s significantly rounded abdomen, saying “Based on evidence, I’d say you find me cute too.” Belle smirks, “You have your moments. …but there must be an antidote for ‘puppy dog eyes’.” As his hand lingers upon the home of their newest family member, he says, “If there is, I’ll make sure you never find it, my love.”

Their exchange is interrupted by Clarice presenting a wet object in front of Rumpelstiltskin’s face, “Treasure!”, she gleefully exclaims. Belle eyes the ornamental aquarium treasure chest, recognizing its origin, “Clarice, did you wake your brother?” Clarice bites her bottom lip and says, “Not much.” As Rumpelstiltskin smiles at the response, he continues to make faces and sounds for Clarice’s entertainment. A faint grumbling can be heard in the hall, as someone enters the bathroom. Belle frowns, and Rumpelstiltskin says, “Belle, you needn’t worry. Bae adores Clarice.” The mention of Baelfire inspires Clarice to shout, “Bae-bae, my Bae-bae!” Looking at their exuberant daughter, Belle using a reasoned tone says, “Clarice, we know you love Bae, and he loves you too, but he’d also love a good night’s sleep…and so would the rest of us.” Clarice presses her bottom lip out in an exaggerated fashion, then lays her head on her father’s chest, saying sweetly, “I sleep here.”

Rumpelstiltskin mimic’s his daughter’s exaggerated pout, pulls Belle towards him down to the bed, saying in a childlike tone, “Sleep here. Pwease, momma?” Belle leans in giving his protruding bottom lip a nibble, before initiating an extended kiss, concluding by saying, “Just remember, Rum, the more time she spends in here, the less special momma-papa alone time we have.” Getting the message, Rumpelstiltskin props Clarice back up, kisses her nose, and says, “You should sleep in your big girl bed.” Clarice’s pats his cheeks with her petite, damp hands, then reaches for Belle. Belle gives Clarice a gentle squeeze, stroking her curly hair, and kissing her ear, saying “Come on, sweet-pea. Let’s get you back to bed.” Belle concludes the cuddle and stands, then Clarice stands on the bed. Rumpelstiltskin contently watches the interaction between Belle and Clarice, as Belle picks their daughter up and rests Clarice on her hip, avoiding any pressure on her protruding abdomen. Belle looks down at her belly, then to Rumpelstiltskin, and says, “You think this one will actually sleep?” Rumpelstiltskin shrugs his shoulders and smiles. Belle smiles back, turns away, then walks toward the door, holding Clarice. As Belle reaches the door, Rumpelstiltskin calls, “Belle?” She turns back to meet his smile and ‘puppy dog eyes’, “Yes, Rum?” He responds, “Special momma-papa alone time?” Shaking her head and giggling, Belle feels a rush of excitement overtake her desire to sleep and says, “Maybe, darling. Let’s see how long it takes to get her back to sleep.”

As Belle and Clarice pass through the doorway, their images fade to black, as Rumpelstiltskin’s joyous dream recedes. He is hesitant to open his eyes, as a fear overtakes him. Perhaps it has all been a wondrous dream…Belle coming into his shop, saying she loves him, the talks, the caresses, all of it some cruel trick of his mind, like so many times before. Fighting the futile battle against waking, his senses come alive, noticing a warmth on the left side of his body, the scent of lavender, and a soft weight on his chest. These sensations coax him to open his eyes to the glorious sight of Belle’s head resting on his chest and her arm wrapped around him. The first morning light has begun to cascade into the room. His internal clock has awakened him at his typical time to start the day. Noting that it had been two in the morning before they went to sleep, and his feelings of utter gratitude to have Belle snuggled against him, he decides to close his eyes and try to sleep a while longer. Thinking how unfathomable this seemed a mere twenty-four hours ago, he revels in the blessing of Belle, as he drifts back to sleep.

The mid-morning sun streams into the guestroom, as Belle opens her eyes to the welcome realization that her head was resting on Rumpelstiltskin’s chest. Her eyes adjust to the light, as her eyes gaze aimlessly around the room. Belle’s body, still motionless, is not eager to stir from its cozy spot. Then she hears a slightly raspy, Scottish brogue, “Good morning.” With a stretch and a twist of her body, Belle rights herself to face the voice. Laying on top of the comforter, just as he had the night before is a sleepy eyed, Rumpelstiltskin. Feeling a bit self conscious, Belle looks into his smiling eyes, “Uh, hello…did I pin you down in my sleep?” He replies, “Just a bit.” Pulling back slightly, she says in an uneasy tone, “Oh, I’m so sorry…I hope it wasn’t too uncomfortable to sleep that way.” Rumpelstiltskin, with a tone of contentment in his voice responds, “No need for apologies, my dear, I slept fine.” In fact, it has been the most restful night’s sleep that he has had in centuries.

Rumpelstiltskin asks, “Are you feeling better today?”
Belle responds, “I’m still shaky, but better than I was.”
He says, in a nurturing tone, “Let’s get some breakfast in you, and that should help.”
Belle qualifies, “Just a little bit, not too much.”
“Alright then.”, he agrees…then his tone grows serious, “After breakfast, I have some things I have to do.”, his expression is more like he is asking a question, than making a statement.
Smiling and touching his forearm, Belle directs, “You don’t need to fuss over me. Do what you need to do.”

Rumpelstiltskin says, “I’ll leave you to have some privacy to attend to anything you need to, then I can bring up some breakfast.” In a determined tone, Belle says, “No, thank you. We will dine downstairs. I need to get stronger for our trip, and that’s not going to happen by me lounging up here, like queen of the manor. I need to get moving.” He smiles, pleased both by her spirit and her already strong devotion to his plan to find Baelfire. He grabs his cane and travels across the room to the door, then spots her hospital clothes draped across the back of the chair near the bathroom. He wonders what should be done with them…he doubts that Belle would want them.

Picking up the clothes, a paper napkin falls back onto the chair. Belle, who has been coaxing her stiff, wobbly legs to stand, is oblivious to the activity at the chair. Rumpelstiltskin looks at the paper and feels his body go cold with shock. He looks over at Belle, who has managed a standing position by bracing against the night stand. “What’s this?”, he says, as he walks over and hands her the napkin. A little surprised, Belle quickly sits back onto the bed, “Oh, I had forgotten about that .”, she says with a shy giggle. She looks at his face and is perplexed by the intensity of his expression. She continues, “It’s not very good, but I was trying to draw, using left over beet juice and my spoon. Sometimes, I draw him.”

With a mixture of confusion and urgency in his tone, he asks, “Who is he? How did you meet?” Feeling awkward, since she has never shared her drawings with anyone, Belle stammers slightly, “I, I don’t know…I’ve never met him. He’s just somebody from my imagination.” Rumpelstiltskin stares intently at Belle, as she continues, “Well, this is going to sound crazy, but he’s one of the only three people that I’ve ever drawn. My mother was quite good at drawing and painting, and I remember that it was the only time that she seemed truly happy, but she wanted to do it alone. She begged me not to tell my father.” He questions, “So, you really don’t know this person?” She replies, “No, I wanted to be an artist like Gabrielle, but I was never much good at it.” Studying the rendering of a clearly defined face, Rumpelstiltskin’s forehead crinkles with confusion. Belle says, “One day, when I was a child, I was doodling, not really trying to draw anything in particular, and I drew him. Maybe it was the loneliness of being an only child. He seemed to be a companion, so I kept drawing him.” In Rumpelstiltskin’s face, she observes his desire to know more, hence she continues, while feeling a little awkward about this monologue about herself. “Once I became an adult, I started feeling…well…motherly towards him. I told you it would sound crazy.”

Pressing with another question, he asks, “And the others that you drew?” She rubs her chin and says, “Well, I’d been drawing him for quite a while, then one day, I drew a man with him. He seemed fatherly. I never really saw his face, because the drawings would emerge with his back to me, to the side with his hair obscuring my view, or in shadow.” A tone of urgency clear in his voice, he asks, “You never saw the man…ever?” Apprehensively, she asks, “Why does this matter?” Straining to normalize his tone, he says, “I’m just curious.” As she moves a strand of her hair that had fallen in front of her eyes, a memory begins to emerge. She exclaims, “Wait! I did see him once.” Rumpelstiltskin, sits on the edge of the bed and leans in, he questions, “When did you see him? What happened?” Trying to picture the memory clearly, she says, “Actually, it was shortly before I met you. Gaston and I were to be married soon, and I was distraught at the idea of it. Also, the Ogre War was raging, of course.” He nods in recognition. She continues, “I wondered which was the worse prospect…a quick painful death at the hands of the ogres or the long drawn out misery of being married to Gaston. I went to bed wishing that I could spend my life with someone that I truly loved. I guess my mind decided to grant me that wish, because I had a wonderful dream.”

Trying to sound casual, he asks, “So what happened?” As she begins to have foggy flashes of memory of the dream, she becomes very uncomfortable with his inquiry. A vague look of guilt passes over her face. Belle says, trying to be persuasive, “Isn’t there something else you’d rather talk about, than my silly dream?” “No.”, Rumpelstiltskin says emphatically, “I want you to try to remember what happened in the dream. Tell me what happened.” She starts to see hazy figures and garbled voices, one of them her own. Belle tells Rumpelstiltskin, “In the dream, I was married to the man, and the boy was our son. We were getting ready to leave our home to settle north of the mountain ridge, where there was no war.”

The dream materializes in her mind’s eye. The man speaks, “You’re sure about this?” Her dream self answers, “Yes, it’s what we have to do for his safety.” The man says, “You know what they said about me and the war.” “Yes” she replies, “ and all the matters to me is that you’re here with us. This is our chance for a fresh start. I’m sorry that my fall caused you to leave. People have been so cruel to you about it, but I’m glad we still have you. I’d seen many a wife crumple to the ground in agony and anger at the senseless loss. Every moment, I feared I’d be next on my knees, begging for it not to be true. I’m sorry that they keep calling you that word. It’s not true.”

The man embraces Belle’s dream self, “It’s alright. I’ve survived worse than their name calling. But I almost lost the both of you that night. He was such a wee one to be born that way, and you were so pale and weak, when you wouldn’t open your eyes, I thought I’d go mad with grief.” She rests her head against his shoulder, “You called me back, you know. It was your strength and love that guided me back. We didn’t go through all that, just to risk losing him to this war. He’s ten already…those fools will likely be looking at him soon to fight their stupid battles. I won’t have it. We know where the Ogre hunting grounds are and how to avoid them. It’s time to start over.”

Noticing their son in slumber, the man says, “He’s finally asleep.” Belle’s dream self responds, “Yes, he’s had all sorts of things on his mind today. Did you hear what he asked me earlier?” The man replies, “About having a brother or sister sometime?” She responds in a bright tone, “That would be the question.” With a thoughtful aspect to his voice, he says,”We’re barely getting by now, but the thought crosses my mind from time to time.” “Does it, now? Just the thought?”, she says with a playful tone. She continues, “I know this move is a big change for us, and it’s a bit scary. The land is fertile up north, so we can grow food, then eventually we can start spinning again, once things are more settled. And whatever happens, we’ll get through it like we always do…together. So if a little one comes along, we’ll make do.” The man agrees, “Yes, maybe we’ll see about making a little brother or sister once were up there.” With a lilt to her voice, she replies, “Or…maybe sooner.” Surprised the man asks, “What?…you’re?” She responds, “I don’t know yet, but maybe.”

Belle had been telling Rumpelstiltskin of the conversation, yet she still couldn’t clearly see the man’s face, and his voice was distorted. While telling Rumpelstiltskin of the dream, Belle worried why he was so concerned about the dream. She would have liked to ponder the events of the long forgotten dream, but she was too filled with worry to process it.

Belle feels a twinge of resentment towards him for pressuring her to share something so private…”and for what?”, she thinks to herself. Rumpelstiltskin prods her for more information, “How did you feel about the man?” Stunned by the question, she says, “The fictitious man in my dream, who I’ve never met?”…she knows, but doesn’t want to answer, “Don’t you have things to do today?” Undeterred, he says, “Yes, later, but please answer me.” Belle begins to feel a panic inside her. Though her trust in him had grown through the events of the previous night, it doesn’t feel like he trusts her, and she does not yet trust him to not push her away again. This feels too much like a trick to Belle, like an excuse to prove to him that their relationship won’t work. She wants to prove her love and devotion to him, but wonders if anything would be enough. “Why are you doing this?!? It’s like you’re looking for trouble. I never met him…it didn’t really happen…it was just a dream!!!”, she exclaims.

Though Rumpelstiltskin wants to reassure Belle of his motives, he does not want to tamper with the memory, as it reveals itself to her. He has an urgent need to know the truth. He strokes her hand gently, hoping to calm her. Firmly he says, “I need you think back and remember the man. How did you feel about him?” Her voice cracking, she confesses, “I loved him…I loved him more than I knew someone could love another person…I ached for him. There, are you satisfied?!?” “Please, you must remember him.”, Rumpelstiltskin says in an unrelenting tone pushing her to acquiesce to his request.

She takes the deepest shallow breath that she can comfortably manage with her injured ribs. Closing her eyes, Belle begins to focus more deeply on the dream. She can feel the man’s arms around her, stroking her back, then sliding a hand lower. Watching her face, Rumpelstiltskin can tell she is remembering something pleasurable. She feels the man kiss her, and her knees become liquid. There is something so familiar about the kiss. She feels the kiss continue to slowly explore her mouth. It’s seems as though she can taste him. As Belle and the man break from the kiss, Belle runs her fingers through the man’s hair and gently rubs his ears. She gazes at his earlobe, then her eyes pan to his forehead, eyes, nose and beaming, dimpled smile.” Rumpelstiltskin observes a look of utter confusion wash over her face, and he is certain that he is right.

Belle opens her eyes, staring at Rumpelstiltskin. She cautiously raises her hand, moving his hair to reveal his ear, then abruptly drops the hair, as her hand recoils back. She silently scrutinizes every possible aspect of Rumpelstiltskin’s face, ending on his widening dimpled smile. “How is this possible?”, she finally asks. He asks, “How is what possible?” Rather annoyed by the question, she replies, “You know. It’s why you were fishing for information.” He responds, “Think I know, but I want you to tell me. I need you to tell me, so I can be sure. Did you see the man?” With a tone of wonder in her voice, Belle says, “Yes, I saw him…his hair was a bit lighter, his skin a bit rougher, but it was…you. Not like you were in the castle, but more the way you look now.” Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes glisten with joy.

Still dazed by the memory, Belle says, “I don’t understand why would I dream about you?…and you didn’t look like the person that I met in the Enchanted Forest.” She looks at the napkin, now laying on the bed and asks, “Who?…Is this…him?” Beaming he responds, “Yes, my love, it’s Baelfire.” Belle’s mind is reeling, thinking of all those drawings, over all the years. Knowing Rumpelstiltskin has required Belle to wrap her mind around a lot of impossible things, but this is beyond anything that she can imagine.

Sensing that her confusion is taxing her limited energy resources, Rumpelstiltskin embraces Belle, cradles the back of her head in his hand, and says, “I don’t completely understand it myself, but when Bae was 10 years old, he was going through a rough time. We had been without his mother for a few years. He saw others, having families that we didn’t have. He said that he wished he had a mother that was there with us, and that he could have brothers and sisters. It tore my heart to pieces to know that was something that I could not provide for him.”

Belle looks at him dumbfounded, “So the dream was something real?…yet I was in it?” Rumpelstiltskin sits back, quirking his mouth to the side, “Some of it was real, and some of it came from your mind or somewhere else. When Baelfire was ten, I did seriously consider taking him North of the mountain ridge. I was never keen on leaving because I wanted to be sure that I could provide for Bae, and he had friends in our village, but about the time of his tenth birthday, something just didn’t feel right about the Front-lands anymore. The problem was his friend Morraine. Though they had been friends since they were just wee ones, something had begun to change with them.” Belle smiles in recognition of the change. He continues, “I could see the beginnings of love there. Love that some people never experience. How could I tear him away from that? Now, of course, I wish I had, because Baelfire and Morraine lost each other anyway…because of me.”

Belle cups his hand between her hands, saying, “You did the best you could.” Rumpelstiltskin replies, “Yes, but it wasn’t enough. So that part of the dream was real, but Baelfire’s birth, though it was the most joyous moment of my life, was rather uneventful as births go…from what I understand. I missed the birth itself. Thankfully, he was not in jeopardy, and of course, you were not his mother. His mother was fine during the birthing as well.” His face morphs into a grave expression, “Knowing what it was like to think that you were dead, I don’t even want to imagine how I would have felt if what happened to you in the dream was real. The idea of you almost dying in childbirth…it makes me never…” Belle interrupts, “That part obviously didn’t happen, and we are not letting fear of something my mind made up determine our lives. Besides, in the dream, I survived…you called me back, remember?” She smiles at him coquettishly. Rumpelstiltskin then pulls Belle into an embrace, still shaken by the thought of Belle almost dying.

His brow furrows, and he pulls back from the embrace, “Hold on a second,” says Rumpelstiltskin, “you said that you had drawn three people in your life…Bae, me and?” Belle smiles widely, “As soon as I woke up from that dream, I started to draw. I often forget my dreams rather quickly, but I didn’t want to forget that one. I drew Bae, you and me, so that I could always look at that picture and remember.” Then with a slight frown, Belle says, “I’d love to know where that picture is now…where all the pictures are.” He asks, “Where did you keep them back then?”

With an impish grin, Belle says, “In my special hiding place….I had a very large book of maps of various kingdoms, but inside the book was also a hollowed out secret compartment. I put them in there, away from prying eyes.” He questions, “Your father never saw them?” Shaking her head adamantly, “No, since my mother didn’t want him to know about her pictures, for some reason, I assumed that it would not be a good idea for him to see mine.” Looking down at her hands still cupping his, he smiles and says, “When did you start drawing Bae?” Taking a moment to ponder, Belle says, “Just a little while after my mother died. It was really the only way that I felt like there was a connection between Gabrielle and I.”

After a thoughtful moment, he says, “I’m hungry, and you must build up your strength, so I’ll leave for you to take care of any private issues, then I’ll be back to help you down the stairs to breakfast.” Belle smiles, and says “Okay, I’ll see you shortly.”

A while later in the bathroom, Belle, having brushed her teeth and freshened up, begins to brush her hair. After a moment, she looks at the brush and a moaning whisper escapes her lips, “Oh not again.” She rubs her forehead and slowly shakes her head, looking at the significant amount of hair that she has lost. She runs her fingers through her hair, trying to determine where the worst thinning is.

Rumpelstiltskin taps softly on the door, “Darling, I’m back.” Belle, takes a breath, trying not to reveal her upset. “I’ll be right out.” She flips her hair to the side to cover the most noticeable thinning, deposits the clump of lost hair in the waste basket, and puts a tissue in, hoping to cover her missing locks. She emerges from the bathroom with an uneasy smile. Rumpelstiltskin tilts his head to the side and smiles, “You’re wearing your hair differently. It looks lovely, sweetheart.” A satisfied smile comes to Belle’s face, and she slips her arms around him for a brief embrace.

Minutes later, upon entering the kitchen, Rumpelstiltskin pulls out a kitchen chair for Belle. “Why, thank you.”, Belle says as she gives a small curtsy. Once Belle is seated, Rumpelstiltskin re-adjusts the cane in his right hand has he goes to the refrigerator. He brings a carton of eggs to the counter next to the stove, pulls out a skillet from the bottom cabinet, pours a bit of olive oil in the skillet and turns on the stove waiting for the skillet to heat. His eyebrows rise as he says, “I just realized. I don’t know how you like your eggs.” Belle smiles sweetly, “Any way is fine.”

As Rumpelstiltskin crack the eggs, ensuring that the yolks are intact and no shell fragments contaminate the meal, he notices Belle tapping her finger on the table as her brow is furrowed. “Belle?”, he says softly. She looks at him with sorrowful eyes and swallows hard, “I know I’ve said this, in moments of panic, but I just want you to really understand…I’m very sorry.” He stares gaping at her. “Rumpelstiltskin, I just didn’t realize that Regina was so evil.” A tear trickles out of the corner of her eye and travels down the side of her face, as she lets out a sigh, throwing her head back staring at the ceiling. “I can’t believe I trusted a complete stranger with something as precious as our love. I’m just so sorry.”, she says closing her eyes and pressing the back of her head against the chair. Lost in her moment of regret, she doesn’t process the sound of footsteps assisted by a cane. Belle feels Rumpelstiltskin’s warm hand trace the path of the tear, wiping it away. Her eyes open to see him looking down at her with his hair hanging forward from his face, as the ceiling light filters through creating a halo affect. She is struck by the grief stricken emotion in his face and the knowledge that he would judge himself the least deserving to have a halo. “Belle, don’t do this.” He says softly, “I should have told you.” Clenching his jaw and speaking ruefully, while stroking her hair, “Darling, there are so many things that I should have told you.” He sorrow in his voice makes her heart ache. She reaches up to him, pulling him closer, “It’s alright. Everything’s going to be alright now.” Tracing her fingers over the stubble on his chin, “I love you. We have now.” He strokes her head and tries to mask a questioning thought, as he notices loose hair and some thinning. Belle feels self-conscious wondering if he noticed. He smiles softly and leans closer to her face, “My beautiful, Belle, you always were and always will be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She bites her lip, as he moves in closer, so they are breathing the same air. He inhales deeply, breathing her in, licking his lips as his pulse quickens…lavender he thinks to himself…lavender and something burnt. Burnt! His eyebrows jump up as he pulls back, “The eggs!”

He moves quickly back to the stove, removes the skillet from the hot burner to a cool one. Belle joins him, surveying the extra crispy eggs. She muffles a giggle as she says, “Well, they’re not blackened. I think they’re still edible.” He squints at her incredulously, “I think not. Not for us. This will make a fine meal for the neighborhood cat.” He places the eggs on a saucer for safe keeping for a feline guest, then freshens the skillet and acquires two more eggs from the carton. As he prepares the eggs, he keeps looking back at Belle’s smiling face. He retrieves two slices of bread and deposits them in the toaster. Then gazes longingly at Belle. Pointing at the pan, Belle teases, “Pay attention. I don’t know how many cats you plan to feed.” He leans towards her teasingly, “It’s all your fault.” Blushing slightly, Belle says, “I’m sorry I’m a bit of a distraction.” Grinning widely, Rumpelstiltskin says, “Don’t underestimate yourself, Dearie. You’re an amazing distraction.” The glint in his eyes takes her breath. After a moment, the intensity overwhelms her, and she glance down at the eggs.

Changing the subject, Belle says wistfully, “I loved eggs as a child. The rich color of the golden yolk always reminded me of the sun. I used to pretend that when I ate eggs, I could touch the sun.” A genuinely amused chuckle erupts from Rumpelstiltskin. A bit shyly, Belle says, “It’s silly I know.” He retorts, “No. Not at all. It speaks of an active imagination. Something every child should have. I bet you were quite the precocious lass.” Belle shrugs her shoulders and looks up from behind her lashes, “Perhaps.” Placing the eggs and toast on the plate and handing the plate to Belle, he asks, “Strawberry or Black Raspberry preserves.” With a giddy smile, she declares, “Black Raspberry please.” He hands her the jar of Black Raspberry preserves, and she takes her meal to the table. He begins to make his own eggs and toast, as she smears the Black Raspberry preserves on her toast. Glancing up from his food preparation, “So, is there a childhood story behind Black Raspberry preserves?” Belle pokes an egg with her fork, releasing the still liquid yoke as golden yellow cascades across her plate. Dipping the toast into the flow of yoke, she smiles and says, “Not exactly a story. I just always thought the deep purple of black raspberries and the golden yellow yoke were brilliantly beautiful together.” He nods and smiles, “Indeed. I think yellow and purple are made for each other.” A contented sigh escapes him, as plate in hand, he walks to the table. He hooks the handle of his cane on the edge of the table, and he sits, smiling to realize this is the first breakfast nearly 29 years that he will truly enjoy in this house. Belle notices him studying her intently. “What’s on your mind now?”, she asks. He replies lightly, “Just trying to imagine what you were like as a wee one.” “Odd.”, she replies matter-of-factually. Rumpelstiltskin’s head snaps back slightly with a look of confusion, “Why would you say that?” Belle smirks, raises her eyebrows and says, “That’s what I was told. I didn’t meet people’s expectation for a proper lady.” Giving a faint chuckle, he says, “Well, you exceeded my wildest expectations.” Blushing Belle takes another bite of her toast, then swallows and says, “Plus there’s that other thing.” Sipping his tea, he asks, “What other thing?” Belle’s forehead crinkles slightly, “I don’t remember anything before the age of about six. I thought that everybody was that way, but then I realized my friends could remember things that happened when they were three or four years old. Like I said, ‘Odd.’”

Rumpelstiltskin’s tone grows serious. “Belle, your early childhood notwithstanding, do you remember everything?” Chewing her bottom lip, “It depends on what you me by ‘everything’, but pretty much.” He asks, “What do you mean?” She smiles and her voice becomes studious, “No one remembers everything all at once. It depends on where someone puts their focus. That story you told me about going to the lake as a boy is something you obviously remember, but did you necessarily remember it last Tuesday during lunch?” He smirks and shakes his head, “No, I suppose not.” Belle says, “I get the feeling we are not talking about childhood any more.” In a soft cautious tone, he confirms, “No. Do you remember everything that happened when Regina had you.” Tapping her finger on the table, she frowns, “Not exactly. I don’t know if it’s the effect of the medications that they gave me in the hospital or the fact that I don’t want to remember, but it seems like some of that time is coming back to me in pieces. I have fragments of memories and some foggy memories, but I’d prefer to forget the whole thing.” He retorts, “Belle, love, there may be things about that time that are important to remember.” Reaching out for his hand, she says, “I understand that you’re trying to make sense out of what happened to me, but there is only bad there. I want to focus on the future. We’re together now. Can we just focus on that?” He strokes his thumb across her fingers, deciding not to push, “Alright, darling. Now, I should wait on a hungry feline.” She smiles has he take the saucer with the over cooked eggs and places it on the back porch.

He watches as a gray tiger striped tabby makes its way to the porch. Still watching the cat, he says, “After I get dressed, I’ll be going out to do some errands. I won’t be gone long.” His announcement is met by a strange silence. Rumpelstiltskin turns to see Belle holding the last remnants of her toast and staring out the kitchen window. He quickly moves to the window to search for danger, but sees nothing unusual. “Belle, what are you looking at?” Again there is silence. He walks directly between her and the window and realizes that there is no change. Her eyes don’t seem to be tracking him. Moving toward her and leaning down to eye level, “Belle?” Taking the toast from her hand, she is motionless. His heart starts to pound as he drops the toast on the plate, “Belle, sweetheart…are you in there?” After a tense moment, her eyes meet his and she smiles shyly, “So any way, that’s my silly egg story.” “Are you feeling alright?”, he asks worryingly. Belle smiles and puts her hands on his shoulders reassuringly, “I may not be ready to dance at a ball, but I’m getting better.” Still worried, “Belle, I seemed to lose you for a while there. You didn’t seem to see or hear me.” Feeling self conscious, she says softly, “I must have been daydreaming. I’m fine. Really.”

Later in the guest room, Rumpelstiltskin enters wearing a dark pin striped suit, a shirt striped with alternating shades of medium and dark purple and a tie with iridescent purple and blue swirled patterns. He smiles at the sight of Belle in a yellow sundress with small white rosettes trimming the waist. He sighs, “Beautiful.” Belle smiles coyly, “Thank you. It just appeared somehow on my bed.” Reaching up and adjusting his tie, “Are we going out?” Trying to keep his tone sweet, yet firm, “No, not we. You need your rest, and right now, we don’t want to publicize that you are out of that place. I have some errands to run, but I’ll be back soon.” Taking her own firm tone, sweetness be damned, “Not Regina related errands.” A bit irritably, he retorts, “What if it were? Why would that be a problem?” She folds her arms in front of her and squints at him, “Because we’ve been over this. This is my fight more than yours, and I’m not ready to deal with it yet.” With a slight growl, “Whose fight it is, is a matter of opinion.” With a lightning fast response, “Are you saying my opinion doesn’t matter?” Realizing that in a matter of seconds, he has dug himself a big hole, he takes a tone of reasoned sweetness and says, “Look, there’s no need to argue about this. I’m not on a revenge errand…today. I just need to inquire about what kind of ‘treatment’ you were subjected to, stop by the shop to pick up something, then I’ll be home.” Unfolding her arms and smoothing her skirt with her hands, “Well, alright then.” A big smile spreads across his face as a realization hits him, “Gods, I’ve missed you. I even missed arguing with you.” She slides her hands up the lapels of his suit jacket to his neck and snuggles her head under his chin, “Well, if you make any boneheaded decisions that impact my life without consulting me, you can count on us arguing until your heart’s content.”, then she looks up at him with a sly smile and crinkles her nose. He brushes his hand down the side of her face and says softly, “Please don’t leave the house or let anyone in, while I’m gone…unless, it’s Emma, of course.” Belle questions, “Why would Emma come here today? I’m sure she has better things to do.” Attempting to look innocent, he answers, “I just added that caveat, just in case. After all, Emma seems fond of you.” Belle looks at him a bit suspiciously, but decides not to press rather opting to snuggle her head back under his chin, “Yes, I’ll stay in the house and not open the door for anyone, but Emma.”
By Heart~ Rumbelle Video by Sheree-Lynn Blizzard, Music by Jim Brickman featuring Laura Creamer

    With a satisfied tone, “Good then. I have something for you.” He pulls a cell phone from his jacket pocket. Belle’s brow furrows looking at the device. He continues, “I want you to be able to contact me, if you need me…or even if you just want me.” She smiles appreciatively and studies the device, pointing to a button labeled ‘Contacts’ as she says, “What’s this?” He says lightly, “Press it.” An alphabetical directory of names appears. He puts his hand over her hand, sliding her finger down the surface of the phone to scroll through the contacts until it reaches, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ and presses her finger against the contact. Belle jumps slightly when she hears something chiming in Rumpelstiltskin’s pocket. Removing his hand from hers, he reaches into his pocket retrieving his phone, he swipes his finger across to answer, and puts the phone to his ear, “Hello sweetheart.” Belle giggles, putting the phone in her hand to her ear, “Hello Rumpelstiltskin.” He reaches for her phone and shows her the button to press to end the call. Then he navigates to the menu for music, “I copied Emma’s mp3′s into the phone. I also added some others that I thought you might like.” She smiles at his thoughtful gesture, scrolling through the music library, and then touches his arm before he can leave. Using her other hand to press a section on her phone, Jim Brickman’s song “By Heart” with vocals by Laura Creamer begins to play, Belle says coquettishly, “May I have this dance?” Skeptically, Rumpelstiltskin says, “Dance? Really dearie? I’m not sure either of us can manage that.” Rolling her eyes, Belle says, “We can improvise. Look, I can lean against the dresser, and you can lean against me.” As the music continues to play, she positions herself against the dresser, and tugs him close with his tie. With his cane in his right hand, he slides his left hand around her waist, as she slides her arms around his neck. Swaying slightly and gazing at each other, they move in closer. This facsimile of normalcy, ignites Rumpelstiltskin’s desire to truly hold his Belle. Releasing his cane to prop it against the dresser, his newly freed hand joins its mate around her waist. Belle studies his face, as if trying to commit every detail to her eternal memory, lightly stroking his jawline with her index finger.
    The singer vocalizes, “Until the stars fall from the sky
    Until I find the reason why
    And darling as the years go by
    Until there’s no tears left to cry
    ‘Til the angels close my eyes
    And even if we’re worlds apart
    I’ll find my way back to you…By heart.”

    Belle pulls Rumpelstiltskin closer, as they move as one, devoid of space between them. Listening to each others’ breath and heartbeat, there is a sniffling sound that breaks the nature rhythm. “Darling, are you alright?”, he asks. She responds, “Wonderfully, perfectly alright. I’m just so grateful to be able to be in your arms. I really started to believe that it may never happen.” Stroking his chin across the top of her head, “Well, my love, it did happen, and I plan on doing everything I can to make up for lost time.” The melodic piano strains of the song conclude, and he reluctantly pulls away from her saying, “I should be going love.”, then stroking her cheek with the back of his hand, he adds, “The sooner I go, the sooner I get back to you, my beautiful Belle.” She nods appreciatively at the endearment, and he leaves the room.

    A tall slender man in his late twenties struggles out of bed in his small apartment. His bloodshot, green eyes battle the intrusion of the harsh light of day. Looking at the empty vodka bottle on the floor, he recalls that once again he had drank himself into oblivion, trying to block her haunting, pain stricken eyes from his mind. He runs his hands through his dark wavy hair, as his head throbs from more than his typical hangover. When he had passed out the evening before, this bleak world beat down his consciousness. Now, worlds were colliding with atomic force inside his battered brain. Gasping to catch his breath, he remembers and must finish the quest he started before the curse struck. His cell phone chimes. Pressing on the screen, he reads a text, “Problem #682303! Come in, stat!!!”

    “Damn it!”, he shouts as he picks up the vodka bottle and hurls it against the wall. He must finish his quest. So much rides on it. If it had been anything other than a problem with 682303, he would easily ignore it, but her haunting eyes won’t let him. Sighing deeply, he decides to resolve the problem, as quickly as possible, so he can piece his old life back together. Grabbing his jacket, he rushes out his apartment door.

    A while later, exiting the stairs into the mental ward in the Storybrooke Hospital basement, a feeling of dread gnaws at his stomach. The fear that he will find her near death or worse grips him. He runs the rest of the way to the room of the Jane Doe known as 682303. He sees from a distance the door is open, as the blond Head Nurse glares at him. Reaching the doorway, the sight that he beholds makes his jaw drop in confusion. Before he can speak, the Head Nurse grabs his shirt collar, pulling him into the room with her and closing the door. His dark eyebrows furrow as he tilts his head and asks the nurse, “Why is there a resuscitation dummy in her bed wearing a wig?”

    In a low threatening tone, the head nurse growls, “You did this didn’t you?!? You let her loose!” Processing her words a surprised smile bursts across his face, “The little firecracker escaped?”, a sense of boundless relief fills his body provoking a spurt of laughter. Grabbing his shirt tighter, the nurse says, “There’s nothing funny here! Do you know what you’ve done?…the trouble we’re all in if Regina finds out.” Straightening his shoulders royally, stretching himself to his full height towering over her, he grabs her hand and removes it with a jerk, “I had nothing to do with her escape, but I’m not going to pretend I’m not glad to know she’s free. As for Regina, I have my own priorities to deal with, thanks to that witch.” Nodding toward the resuscitation dummy, he continues, “It looks like you and your little friend there have things under control. So you can take your threats and stuff them! I have better things to do. Good day!” The Head Nurse is stunned by his sudden insolence, leaving her at a loss for words, before he take his leave. Striding confidently, he approaches the stairs, passing the man that he recognizes as Mr. Gold coming from the other direction. A long buried instinct causes the man to nod and give Mr. Gold a half smile, to which he gives a puzzled frown.
    Rumpelstiltskin’s pace slows only momentarily, as he is struck by this peculiar interaction. He does not recognize the younger man, yet the man seems cordial. Quickly brushing aside the odd interaction, Rumpelstiltskin’s pace resumes, as he must find out information about Belle’s time in the hospital.

    Half way up the stairs, the younger man stops dead in his tracks, as he is struck by the realization that Mr. Gold is Rumpelstiltskin. He marvels at the difference in appearance between the dreaded Dark One Rumpelstiltskin and Mr. Gold, but then he smirks to himself, thinking how different his own appearance had been at times in the Enchanted Forest. Something in his hangover ridden mind tells him that there is something he should tell Rumpelstiltskin…but what? Trying to make the connection in his embattled mind, he decides, of course, it must be about his quest. An impulse strikes him to turn around, knowing that Rumpelstiltskin may be just the person to help him with his quest. After all, in spite of his beastly reputation, he had never had trouble with his dealings in Rumpelstiltskin. One must simply pay attention to the details before agreeing to anything. He then halts his pursuit of Rumpelstiltskin struck by another realization. One does not strike a deal with Rumpelstiltskin on a whim. Deciding that Storybrooke is much smaller than the Enchanted Forest, he feels confident that he can find his love on his own. He resolves to scour the town limits, and if that promises to take too much time, he will stop by Mr. Gold’s Pawnshop in a few days to hammer out a deal.

    Rumpelstiltskin walks down the hospital corridor, spying the door to his destination, as an orderly with long, dark, stringy hair holding a mop prepares to enter. Rumpelstiltskin says, “This room is occupied at the present. If you wish to clean it later, I’m certain there will be a need.” The orderly, still processing being both who he was in Storybrooke and who he was in his realm, acquiesces to Rumpelstiltskin and enters another room. Rumpelstiltskin enters the room surveying the gleaming metal drawers, as he waits.

    The blonde Head Nurse of the mental ward nervously double-checks the view from the peep hatch in the door to Belle’s former room. If Regina comes for a visit, Regina needs to be convinced that Belle is still in her room. The arrangement of the resuscitation dummy under a blanket with a brown wig sticking out should be convincing enough the nurse tries to reassure herself. However her stomach still knots at the concern that Regina will catch wise to this ruse. With her head still pounding from whatever was slipped in her drink the night before, she makes unintelligible grumblings as she goes back to her desk. She fumes over the insolence of the dark haired intern’s glee regarding the escape. Upon reaching her desk, the nurse discovers a blank envelope propped against her pen holder. She looks around to see who might have left the envelope, but does not see anyone. She pulls from the envelope a folded piece of paper, her nervousness intensifies as she recognizes the writing as Regina’s simply stating, “Meet me now. You know the place. ~R”. Reaffirming her cover story in her mind, she leaves her desk to go to the meeting place.
    She reaches the door with the sign morgue and enters. Upon entering, she is surprised to note that the room is empty. The nurse grumbles to herself, “If she’s going to have me trudge over here, at least she could be punctual.” “Hello, Agnes.”, says a male voice behind her. Agnes turns, startled by the voice. “Uh, hello, Mr. Gold…I mean…” Rumpelstiltskin rolling his R declares, “Rumpelstiltskin will do quite fine, dearie. After all, we go way back.” Surveying his untelling face, she worries that he now knows about Belle, but she doesn’t want to tip her hand, just in case Belle is not the reason for this impromptu visit. With chin raised high she speaks in a slightly haughty tone, “Is there a reason for this charade, Rumpelstiltskin?” An infuriated laugh erupts from him, “Charade? You’re quite good at those aren’t you, Agnes?…as long as they’re laden with cruelty.” Trying to maintain her haughty tone, “I don’t know what you are implying.” He scowls at her, “Quite simply that you’ve always been a wretched piece of work. Frankly, you were the only child, I never liked. The first time I saw you, you were taunting that beggar girl with a piece of cake.” Agnes replies resentfully, “You had no right to give it to that filthy little urchin. It was triple layer with fudge. She was too common to appreciate such a thing!” He responds, “You were teasing a child that was smaller and weaker than you. I was teaching you a lesson, but you’re a slow learner.” Offended, she retorts, “I was teaching that gutter rat a lesson about her place in society. It would be cruel to have her growing up expecting things to be any different.” He shakes his head and chuckles with disdain, “Alright, enough ancient history. I want to know what happened to Belle, and I want her file…now.” Backing away, Agnes says, “Belle? I don’t know that name. There are no patients here by that name.” He lurches menacingly forward bridging the distance between them, “Look Agnes, I have Belle now, so either you can give me the information that I need to help or…” Agnes interrupts, “There is no file. Regina didn’t want any records.” His eyes become wide and his cheeks draw inward as he violently sucks in a breath, “Oh I’m sure Regina wouldn’t want that!”, then taking a calmer tone, “But I know your little compulsion for order. It’s too much of a temptation for you. You like to have records of your little trophies, so where is it? I want to know all of it…what she was on?…notes about prognosis, reactions, side effects…All. Of. It!” She protests, “There is no file.” Moving in closer as she backs away, “Well, that is unfortunate…for you….because if you have nothing to offer me, then I have no reason to let you live.” “Alright! I kept a little record, but none of that information is in there. I’m a nurse here, and the doctors are the ones who typically make notes of such things, and Belle’s doctor didn’t. Maybe you should go harass him.” Lurching his body forward again, pressing her against the cold steel drawers, “Ah, but Agnes, you sell yourself short. I know that you were the one pulling the strings…it’s your nature. Give me the file with all the records that I know you kept on Belle, or you can learn what it’s like to beg for the sweet release of death.” Turning pale, as sweat appears on her forehead, “Okay, enough…but I have to go get it. It’s not like I keep it on me.” Rumpelstiltskin leans back, resting both hands on his cane with his feet spread, striking a confident pose, “Fine. Go get it. I’ll be waiting. Just remember, there’s nowhere to run from me.” She slides her back across several drawers out of his immediate reach, then walks quickly towards the door.

    Returning with a thick file in hand, Agnes begrudgingly gives the file to Rumpelstiltskin. He gives it a quick cursory look, noting that names of attendants have been redacted, but the charts, notes, etc. appear to be present. He says, “Is this everything? I know Regina brought some magic odds and ends over with her, was anything magical done to Belle while she’d been in this world?” Momentarily forgetting to whom she’s speaking, Agnes scoffs, “Magic?!? Magic is not needed to control someone in this world. Modern pharmaceuticals do the job quite well…Hell, I can make a patient jump of the roof just by messing with his meds.” His nostrils flair with disgust and a menacing look reappears in his eyes, as he growls, “Is this everything you have to share with me about Belle?” Attempting to regain her haughty tone, “Yes, it is complete and in its entirety.” He smiles and tilts his head, “Very well then.” With a wave of his hand, there is a purple light, as Agnes looks at him in fear, feeling her vocal cords constrict. He laughs, “Fear not, dearie. It’s only a temporary case of laryngitis…just long enough to teach you a lesson…that you better heed. You are not to contact Regina in any way to let her know that I have Belle. I am showing you leniency now. However if you contact Regina or harm anyone I care about again, I will know about it, and…”, with a wave of his hand, the cadaver drawer next to her opens, as he lurches forward pressing her against the open drawer, pressing his cane horizontally across her neck, and he whispers in a vengeful tone, “well, just imagine being sealed in one of these that is sound proofed, so no one can hear you scream.” Realizing that his message has been conveyed, he quickly steps back as a warm liquid puddles beneath Agnes. Rumpelstiltskin smirks, turns and walks to the door saying, “Always a pleasure talking to you, Agnes. We must do this again some time.” Taking a few steps into the corridor, he spots the orderly with the long dark hair and says, “Your services are required now.”, then strides away with Belle’s file securely tucked in his coat.

    Rumpelstiltskin enters his pawn shop from the back, careful not to be seen by any Storybrooke residents. In a far, dark corner of the back room, he sees the item that he came to acquire; a small wooden chest. He had avoided opening that chest for almost twenty-nine years, but today, his heart quickens, wondering about the contents inside. After Belle’s ‘death’, he magically insured that Belle’s belongings that were dear to her from her father’s castle came to him collected in the form of this chest. Rumpelstiltskin could not bear to let the man, who he thought had caused her death, have such precious mementos. When he had regained his memory, Rumpelstiltskin decided to keep the chest at the shop, instead of his home to deter the torturous temptation to open it, during late nights when his mind would fill with memories and regrets of his time with Belle. He leans himself and his cane against the shelves as he carefully grabs the chest with both hands and then pivots the chest to tuck it under his left arm. He grabs the cane in his right hand and makes his way out the back door.

    Emma, leaning against his black Cadillac behind the shop says, “Need some help with that?” “Emma, what are you doing here? I asked you to…” Emma interrupts laughing smugly, “You gave Belle a cell phone, so she called me. She was totally on to you. She said that if one of the two of you needed a babysitter, it wasn’t her. Not to come to the house, but swing by here to check on you.” A mixture of frustration and pride fills Rumpelstiltskin at Belle’s impromptu switch of his arrangements. Trying and failing to sound innocent, he says, “Why would she want you to check up on me?” Emma smirks knowingly, “I don’t know…maybe she thinks you’ll try to strangle Regina with her own tongue.” Unable to hide his mirth at the imagery, he exclaims, “There’s a splendid idea!” Shaking her head, trying not to agree, Emma responds, “You do remember that I’m sheriff here, right?” “Ah, yes, Sheriff Swan, but this world is changing fast. Now that people remember who they are, the pedestrian rules of this world are inadequate.”

    Staring him down, “Yeah, right…well, as ‘pedestrian’ as it may seem, I still plan on keeping order.” He shakes his head and smirks, “I’m sure you do.”, with a wave of his hand, purple smoke appears along with a bag. Emma steps back slightly and stares. Pleased with the reaction, Rumpelstiltskin smiles, handing Emma the bag. As she looks inside, he says, “That should more than replace the clothes, that you procured from the disaster relief donations.” Looking warily at them, “Yeah, they’re nice, but since they are magic, can they suddenly disappear?” A burst of laughter jolts out of Rumpelstiltskin, “Oh no, dearie. There will not be unexpected body parts roaming the streets of Storybrooke.” She sighs, “Well, that’s a relief!”

    In a serious tone, Emma inquires, “So did you find out what they did to her in that place?” Nodding solemnly, Rumpelstiltskin responds, “Yes, I’ve got her file. I’ll go over it thoroughly at home. I had just a quick look at it, but it looks like they’ve had her on many drugs. Haloperidol was one of them. How did you know?” Emma sighs, “Let’s call it an educated guess. You need to keep an eye out for reactions.” Worry clear on his face, he asks, “What kind of reactions?” Emma grimaces, “Everyone is different, so I’d rather not say. Just keep an eye on her.” With a tone of determination, he says, “She’ll be fine. I won’t lose her again.” Emma gives him an affirming nod, “Right. Take care of her, Gold. She’s the only one around who can give you a run for your money.” With a bit of a smile, he says, “Don’t I know it. Bye, Emma.” “See ya, Gold.”, Emma says heading to her yellow Volkswagen Beetle.
    Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”

      Rumpelstiltskin enters his house to the sound Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” playing in the guest bedroom. He is struck by the wonder that this is the first time that he has entered his house to have someone here waiting for him…not just any someone, but Belle. For the first time, this house feels like a home. He quietly makes his way upstairs, and peers into her room. He stands in silent awe watching Belle in her yellow sundress and bare feet, propping her pointed foot on the dresser, bending her torso toward her foot in a ballet stretch. Holding the dresser with one hand, Belle moves the leg that is resting on the dresser to stretch out behind her in an Arabesque. Rumpelstiltskin notices a slight tremble in her supporting leg, and he is conflicted as to whether to stop her from further exertion or let her continue in her contented endeavor. He continues to watch as the sun from the window shines through her brown hair, casting shades of copper and gold. Belle contracts her leg bending it, into a Passé position, pressing her pointed foot to the supporting leg’s knee, while her free arm stretches gracefully above her. Rumpelstiltskin is captivated by her form and grace, as she moves her foot down to the floor, then behind, to the side, and finally front completing a Pas de bourrée. As she bends her knees in a demi plié, she hears the sound of Rumpelstiltskin’s cane lightly scrape the floor with a slight shift of his body. She turns to see him watching her, completely enamored. A radiant smile spreads across, Belle’s face, “You’re back.” Raising his eyebrows, he responds, “Hmm, yes, and watching a lovely sight, I might add.” Feeling encouraged by his admiration, she continues with her ballet practice. She asks, “How did your hospital errand go?” Smugly he replies, “Smashingly. I had a good chat with the nurse you told me about.” Feeling a little queasy, Belle asks, “Is she…” Vaguely irritated, he says, “She’s still alive. But she does have quite a case of temporary laryngitis.” With mixed emotions, part of Belle wants to scold him and part of her is giddy at the idea of the nurse being silenced. She opts to maintain a neutral expression and not respond to his statement, lest she encourage such behavior. Sitting the chest from his shop on the floor and her file on the bed, he walks over to her. “Not that I’m not enjoying your delightful ballet, but should you be straining yourself this way?” Stopping her exercise, she puts her hands on her hips, and says, “I must get stronger for our trip. I won’t be a weak link in your efforts to find Baelfire.” Then looking at him coyly, she adds, “Besides when I was younger, I could do quite the spectacular Pirouette.” Moving close looking down at the joyous expression on her face, he says in a tone full of love, “I’m sure you could, and probably still can, but I’d rather you not push yourself too hard just yet. You can spin some other time.” She smiles reassuringly, and says, “Pirouettes are not in my plans today. I’m almost finished.”

      He smiles, and says, “Fine. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He grabs her hospital file from the bed, deciding that perhaps he should read it alone. A few steps into the hallway, a strange electrical sensation overtakes him, nearly buckling his knees. From the guestroom, Belle cries out, “Ru..”, and he hears a thud. “Belle!”, he yells, as he rushes back to the room. She is lying crumpled on the floor shaking. “Oh God, no!”, he exclaims throwing himself down to her without regard for his damaged knee. Her eyes are wide open, dilated and fix as though she does not see him, while the seizure consumes her. He cradles her head, noticing blood at the temple, where her head hit the dresser. He talks to her in sweet, but urgent tones, “Belle, I’m here. Sweetheart, please look at me. I’m here. You’re okay. Please come back.” Fighting back tears, he strokes her trembling form, “Belle, look in my eyes. I’m here.” Putting himself directly in the path of her vacant gaze, “There are those beautiful eyes. Come on, baby, please look at me. Come back, Belle, come back.” After what feels like an eternity, her body stills, her breathing slows, and her eyes seem to regain their essence. Weakly, she begins to speak, “Oh, it happened again. I got the fuzzies.” Stroking her hair, “Belle, I think you had a seizure. This has happened before?” Still cradled in his arms, she nods slightly, “Yes, for a little while now. I’d wake up on the floor of my cell. I never knew how long I had been out, but it was frightening having that happen when I was alone.” She looks up at him with tears in her eyes, and says, “But this time, I felt you pulling me back.” Embracing her more firmly, but still gently, “I love you, Belle. I can’t stand the thought of being without you. No matter where you go, I promise, I’ll always bring you back. I don’t care what it takes.” Belle’s heart flutters, not sure if it is the physical stress or Rumpelstiltskin’s unflagging love, she chooses to believe it is the love. “Rumpelstiltskin, I love you so much. Thank you for being here for me…for saving me again.” The word, “again” surprises him. He could have saved her long ago, but didn’t know she was alive, so he didn’t save her. What could she mean by “again”?…Perhaps when she fell from the ladder or comforting her after nightmares, he thinks. Deciding not to overtax her, as she may have just misspoken in her confused state, he says, “No matter, darling, I will always be here for you.”
      He pulls a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping the spittle that has pooled around her mouth and down her chin and neck. That act pulls her mind from the emotion of the moment to her physical state. Her attention is redirected to her crushing head ache, the stabbing pain in her back, and her extremities, then of course as always, her ribcage. Then flush of bright red comes to her face, as her focus is drawn to her wet skirt. Bringing her hands to her face, in a tone of despair, she moans, “Oh no, I…” Seeing the issue, Rumpelstiltskin attempts to reassure her, “Darling, it’s okay. These things happen.” With tears of frustration in her eyes, Belle protests, “No! It’s not okay. I don’t want you to see this.” In a firm and sweet tone, he says, “Belle, minutes ago, I thought I might be losing you. I don’t care about that.” In a tone of self-derision, Belle says, “Well, I do. It’s not who I use to be.” With a slight smirk, attempting to lighten the mood, “Well dearie, none of us are who we used to be.” Unable to argue with what she categorizes as Rumpelstiltskin Logic, she gives a hint of a smile, relinquishing her protest.

      Trying to summon some strength, “I need to get to the bathroom to get cleaned up and changed. I’ll be out in a few minutes.” A somewhat domineering tone claims Rumpelstiltskin’s voice, “No, you won’t. Your body just had a serious trauma. I’m not leaving you alone.” A growl of frustration escapes Belle’s lips, “Rumpelstiltskin, the first time you see me unclothed will not be a situation like this.” He says reassuringly, “Belle, darling, I won’t be seeing you. I’ll get some towels, a wash rag, a basin and fresh clothes, and you can take care of things with my back to you.” Still uncomfortable with the situation, Belle says reluctantly, “Alright, fine. Thank you.”

      Minutes later, Rumpelstiltskin returns with the aforementioned items, as well as a bag for the soiled clothing and some cleaning supplies. He asks, “Do you want me to help you onto a chair?” Pensively, she responds, “No, thank you. I think I’ll be able to manage better on the floor. But I may need some help getting up after I’m changed.” He places her clothes on the foot of the bed, within her reach, a basin with a wash rag on the floor and hands her a towel. He says, “Now, while you get yourself freshened up. I’ll turn away and make quick work of the floor.” Belle groans in protest, “No, I can clean that up after I’m changed. You shouldn’t have to.” In a serious tone, Rumpelstiltskin says, “We’ve been through this. Your body has been through a lot. I want you to rest. Cleaning this up is not a problem for me.” Sighing, she nods. He turns his back to her, as he sets about his task, and she sets about her task.

      Once both tasks are completed, he helps her into bed. Rumpelstiltskin sits on the bed, then cleans and bandages the small cut on her head, and notes that thankfully, her pupils seem normal. Belle stares down at her lap with a sullen expression. Stroking the back of her neck where the muscles are knotted, he asks, “Sweetheart, are you alright?” She looks up at him with tears in her blue eyes, shaking her head, she says, “No. No, I’m not. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. All that time stuck in Regina’s dungeon, I held the dream that one day I’d be free and return to you. I wanted to be strong and alluring, not a disaster. This is all wrong.” He smirks, “Love, you are far from a disaster, and even if you were, you’d be the most beautiful disaster that ever existed. You, my dear, are the strongest person I know. The current frailties of your body don’t change that….and as for alluring, you can’t begin to imagine the many inappropriate thoughts that I have about you at any given moment.” She blushes and giggles softly, reaching a hand to his cheek and sliding it down to his neck; she gives him a look full of emotion, “I love you so much.” He gently pulls her into an embrace and tenderly rubs the tightened muscles of her back, speaking softly into her ear, “Belle, I love you more than you could ever know, and I’m just so grateful that your alive and here with me.” He hears her sniffle softly, caught up in the emotion of the moment, snuggling her head against his shoulder.

      Pulling away, he smiles excitedly, “I have a surprise for you.” Her iolite eyes smile at him with giddiness. He pulls the chest containing her belongings up onto the bed. “What is that?”, she queries. With a smirk and a secretive whisper, he replies, “I believe it’s a treasure.” Shaking her head in amusement, she persists, “No, really, what is it?” He says slyly, “Well, I’m not sure exactly what’s in it, but it contains some of your things, so it is truly a treasure.”

      Opening the chest, miscellaneous items are revealed: several books, a silver brush and comb set, a small box containing her mother’s necklace, the collar from Belle’s first puppy, a bracelet of dried clover and something quite odd. Crinkling his forehead staring slack jawed into the box, he says, “Belle, why are there decapitated dolls in here? Is there something I should know?” Belle bursts out laughing, “Yes, Gaston was a mean child. Whenever his parents brought him to the castle, he would sneak into my chambers and break the heads off of my dolls. Look! The heads are in there too. I just never got them to stay on, when I tried to fix them.” Then pulling one intact, brown haired blue eyed doll from the chest, she smiles triumphantly. “This one I managed to hide well enough that he never found it.” Looking a bit bemused, he says, “I assume he grew out of this deplorable habit.” Shrugging, Belle replies, “I’m not sure. Even as we prepared to wed, I kept this doll hidden. Who knows what he would have been like with children.”, then in a worried tone, “He can’t get to me here, right?” Sucking in a breath, avoiding eye contact, he says, “No, I’m quite sure I have that matter handled.”

      Preferring to leave the subject of Gaston buried, Belle’s eyes grow wide with excitement as she spies a large yellow book with gold accents. She exclaims, “This is it! You found it!” He suspects that he knows what she is talking about, but is unsure. She opens a book full of maps of various kingdoms. Some have notations written by Belle’s hand. He looks at them in fascination. There are specific routes mapped out strategically. “Planning a trip, dearie?”, not able to resist slipping into his former Dark One speech pattern. She smirks, “Oh yes, an escape; the roads to freedom. Every bit of information that I could overhear about the war front, ogre hunting grounds, weather patterns and anything else that I could find to improve drafting my possible routes to freedom, away from Gaston, went into this book.” Frowning, he queries, “But you never went, why?” Tracing the tip of her finger along her chosen route, she sighs, “The day before I planned to sneak away, my father became gravely ill. I couldn’t leave him like that. By the time he was better, weeks had past and the ogres were closing in. I had lost my chance.”, then biting her bottom lip as a sly smile envelops her face, “Or so I thought. I suppose one never knows what will happen when a man with sparkly skin and long finger nails appears in one’s life.” Leaning in with a wicked gleam in his eyes, he growls playfully, “Glad to be of assistance, dearie.” Then, taking his typical tone, he says, “These routes that you plotted out are brilliant. They’re not obvious. I knew these lands quite well. Most would take what appeared to be the easiest route, not realizing the treachery that belied the simplicity. Hence they’d be doomed to death long before reaching their destination, but your routes have a strategic elegance.” He smiles at her in awe, clearly impressed by the mind that had conjured these unused plans. Smiling proudly, Belle feels happy to have someone who sees the value in the workings of her mind, neither her father nor Gaston would have. This respect is one of the many reasons that she loves him. Rumpelstiltskin ponders the irony of Belle’s earlier notion that she wasn’t alluring. While she is still quite physically beautiful, even in her weakened state, her mind sends his senses reeling. Never has any other woman’s mental acuity been as arousing as Belle’s. She is a challenge, a mystery, and someone in whom he sees a life partner.

      He is broken from his pondering as Belle whispers conspiratorially, “I have something to show you.” He smirks, “Why are you whispering? We’re the only ones here.” Her eyes gleam with devilish excitement, “Because it’s a big secret. That I’ve shared with no one else.” Flipping to the back of the book, with a few manipulations of her dainty fingers, a storage compartment within the book is revealed crammed full of drawings on parchment. Belle reverently lifts the drawing out. There are drawings of Baelfire at various ages. Rumpelstiltskin stares dumbstruck by the sight. It has been an eternity since he has cast his eyes on Bae, yet there he is in picture after picture; some in their cottage, some out in the fields, some alone, some with him, although as Belle said that morning Rumpelstiltskin’s face is never visible. Then he hears a small squeal from Belle. Exuberantly, she hands him a drawing of ten year old Baelfire, Belle with a notably rounded belly, and himself. In her jubilance, she quickly starts to close the distance between his face and hers, but the realization confronts her and she pulls back, licking her lips nervously. He pretends not to notice and squashes the urge to take her lips within his own. He has to be sure first.

      His attention is pulled back to the drawing in his hands, as he asks, “How did I not know you were pregnant?” She stares at him confused. When you had told me about your dream, you had told the dream me that you thought we might be having a baby. Looking at this drawing, it seems quite clear to me. Was I dense?” Belle laughed, “No, no, that’s not it. When I woke and began to draw, my mind was fixated on the baby that was discussed. With my marriage to Gaston nearing, it seemed likely that the dream was the closest I’d ever get to having a child with a man that I loved. So, to embrace that feeling, I embellished the drawing to have me further along in the pregnancy. It just made me happy to look at it and pretend it was really my life.” Sitting the drawing down on the bed, he nuzzled his face into her neck and whispered, “Someday, sweetheart. Someday it will be.” She holds his body against hers, relishing the sensation. Pulling away, he says, “Now, dear one, you must rest.” “Oh come now. I feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin if I don’t do something.”, she protests. He counters, “No more arguments. Lay back and close your eyes for a while. I have some reading to do anyway, and you my dear are a distraction.” Giving him a slightly annoyed glance, she gets under the blanket, lies back on her pillow, sighs, “Love you.”, and closes her eyes.

      Rumpelstiltskin wants to go to his den to read her medical file, but fears leaving her this soon after her seizure. He is under no illusion that Belle is actually asleep, as her body seems to fidget restlessly. Thus, he opts to take the file over to the desk by window, seats himself and opens the thick file.

      Flipping directly to the back of the file, where the earliest entries are, he begins at the beginning, to ascertain how the past almost twenty-nine years of Belle’s life have been spent. The file is redacted of identifying names, and Belle is simply referred to as patient number 682303. He hates the fact that she was a number in their eyes, not a person with a beautiful spirit. He observes that while they had Belle on a myriad of medications right from the start, Belle appears to have been the model of a compliant patient for twenty-eight years. As he reads through the file, he notes that compliance changes the evening of October 24, 2011. That date bangs like a hammer in Rumpelstiltskin’s head. It was that evening that he met Emma at Granny’s Bed and Breakfast. It was that evening that the clock in the tower began to move.

      His head feels like it might split open, as he sees images that he berates himself for not seeing at the time. Belle sitting in her asylum cell with a blank expression, that suddenly becomes one of awareness, anger and determination. She hears someone coming to her cell. Hiding behind the door with her metal food tray in hand, she stands very still as the tall dark haired intern enters the room, with all the force she can muster she swings the tray at his head. “What the…”, he exclaims right before the tray impacts. She is about to run, when a portly male orderly with sandy blond hair enters the room, “Where do you think you’re going?” Grabbing her dinner fork from the cot behind her, she futilely tries to stave off the approach of the orderly. Belle warns, “You better let me go. He won’t stand for this. He’ll kill you if you try to keep me.” The orderly laughs, “There’s no ‘he’ in your life. Just the rubber room, girlie.” The intern tries to regain his balance, as the orderly advances on Belle. She pleads, “Please, I have to…” with one fluid motion, the orderly grabs Belle’s wrist, whipping it around her back and throwing her down face first on the floor, landing with the fork puncturing the skin of her abdomen. The intern yells, “Hey, watch it!” Unphased, the orderly presses his knee into her back, as Belle screams in agony and crunching sound emanates from her body. Urgently the intern moves towards the orderly, but before he can pull the orderly way, Belle is injected with a sedative. The intern exclaims, “Where the Hell did you get that?!?”, as he pulls the orderly away. The orderly smugly says, “I’m always prepared for these loons. Agnes doesn’t mind. They’re her lab rats, after all.” The intern kneels over Belle trying to assess the situation. “Great going, dumb ass. You cracked her ribs.” “And you’re welcome, choir boy. You nearly had your lights put out by a woman. Well, she’s not doin’ jack now.”

      Hearing the commotion, Agnes enters the room. Glaring at the two men and dismissing Belle in a heap on the floor, Agnes says in a haughty tone, “Could you two make a bit more noise? I don’t think they heard you in Japan.” The intern confronts her, “You’re allowing him to carry loaded syringes with sedatives?” She glances at Belle, then back to the intern raising her eyebrow, “Looks like he handled the rabble-rouser quite well…choir boy.” The orderly chuckles. The intern protests, “Patients shouldn’t be subjected to this barbaric treatment.” She sighs, “Yes, your right. This won’t do. Get a gurney and take her to ‘the room’.” The intern protests, “No, wait! She was just a little keyed up. There’s no need for that.” Agnes hisses at him, “Have you forgotten who runs this ward? Keep up your bellyaching, and I’ll make you wish you were dead. It would be a shame if something unfortunate happened to you…or someone else.” The intern doesn’t know why he fears Agnes, but he does. He doesn’t know, who the someone else could refer to, since he has no one, yet he has always felt a foreboding that he could lose someone dear if he steps too far out of line. In a more subdued tone, he says, “She has injuries that need tending…please.” With another dismissive glance at Belle, “She’ll be fine. She needs to learn her lesson first.”, then snapping her fingers at the orderly, “You get the gurney now. I’ll meet you at ‘the room’.” The intern alone with Belle, gently and guiltily rolls her over to face him. He sees a small amount of blood where the fork had jabbed her. He surmises that thankfully it probably didn’t puncture too deep, but it still needs to be checked, cleaned and bandaged. Before he can do any more, the orderly returns with the gurney. Licking his lips the orderly sneers, “Now that’s a nice piece of…”
      “Stop it.”
      Rumpelstiltskin watches the scene play out in his head with a mixture of anger and nausea.
      The orderly leans in reaching for Belle, smirking, “Man, I could just spread those legs and go to town on her.”
      The intern lunges for him, slamming the orderly against the wall, pressing his arm against the orderly throat, he growls, “Don’t you ever! She’s off limits! Are we clear?!?”
      “Okay, okay, don’t get your shorts in a wad. She’s probably too high maintenance when she’s awake. And I like ‘em awake enough to make noise.”
      The intern gives the orderly and repulsed glare, then says, “Enough. Let’s carefully get her onto the gurney.” “Oh Hell. Screw that.”, the orderly says, and before the intern can stop him, the mammoth orderly scoops Belle up and plops her down on the gurney like a sack of potatoes. The intern shouts, “What the Hell! You can’t treat patients like that!” Laughing the orderly says, “No one cares about these whack jobs.”, then looking down at Belle, he notices her barely conscious with a few tears streaking down her face, he adds, “Okay, girlie, we’re taking you to a very special place. Now, you’ll learn how to behave.” She shudders in fear. Though she hadn’t remembered her true self until tonight (October 24, 2011), Agnes and Regina had threatened her many times with going to ‘the room’ if she had ever step out of line, but she had never been there. Now, she was going, and there was nothing she could do about it.
      Belle slips in and out of consciousness. Coming back to awareness with her eyes closed, she senses that she is laying on something. She can’t move, which she attributes to the sedative. She hears the intern talking to Agnes, “I need to take care of that puncture wound and her ribs.” Sternly, Agnes says, “Negative. That’ll keep. She needs to learn her lesson first. This isn’t some hotel you know.” The intern scoffs in aggravation, “So what are you suggesting?” Coming within inches of his face, she glares, “I’m not ‘suggesting’ anything. I’m ordering that the little rat remain, exactly where she is for the next few days.” At that Belle’s eyes fly open, they become wide with fear when she realizes that her arms and legs are strapped down. Unthinking Belle starts to blurt out, “Help me, Ru…”, then stops herself. Leaning against the counter next her, the orderly smirks, “Oh look, she’s calling for her imaginary boyfriend, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Or is it Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?” Agnes rolls her eyes and continues staring down the intern. The orderly continues mocking Belle, leaning so close she can feel his breath on her face, “Oh I know, it’s Rumpelstiltskin.” At that, Agnes whips around and shouts, “Silence! You’re giving me a migraine!” Belle tries to keep her face expressionless. The orderly whispers into her ear, “Nobody cares about you, freak.”

      Rumpelstiltskin holds back a sob, hearing those words, and feeling Belle’s heartbreak from them. She’s been mere blocks from him all this time, and she’s been in misery, while he lived in comfort and worked on his plans. How will she ever really be able to forgive him for not knowing she was alive? He feels that he will never forgive himself.

      As Rumpelstiltskin’s vision of the events continue to unfold, the intern protests, “You can’t be serious! She can’t even get to a toilet to void.” “So put in a catheter and bag her.”, she says matter-of-factually. Aghast, the intern, barks back, “No. We can’t keep violating medical protocols!” Agnes growls, “I don’t give a rat’s ass about your concerns about protocol! These are my rodents. This is my experiment, and you will do as I say, or you won’t like what I do next. Now, do the procedure, or I’ll get him to do it.”, gesturing toward the orderly. In disbelief, the intern says, “Him?!? He’s not qualified to do that.” Agnes sighs, “So?” The orderly pipes up, “Yeah, let me do it. I’d like a look at the goods.” In spite of her efforts to control her emotions, Belle lets out a panicked whimper. The orderly smiles snidely. The intern squeezes his eyes shut in frustration, “Alright, I’ll do it. Just get him out of here. She doesn’t need to be agitated, while I do the procedure.” Agnes is ready to rebuff his request, when the orderly taunts “Oh come on, I wanna hear more about her boyfriend, Rumpelstiltskin.” Agnes says, “Fine. We’ll be back in five minutes. Get it done.” As she grabs the orderly forcefully by the arm, he whines like a child being informed that he is not getting dessert, “Oh man, this sucks!” Realizing that he is too stupid to adequately fear her, Agnes simply growls, “Zip it!”, as they exit the room.

      As the intern sullenly gathers the supplies for the procedure, he whispers, “I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve to be treated like this. I’m sure someone out there cares about you.” As he reaches under Belle’s hospital gown, Belle stares at the ceiling tiles, gritting her teeth. Even with the sedative, Belle feels a sharp pain from the catheter, which in combination with the embarrassment of being forced to submit to a procedure in such a private place, makes her face turn quite red. The intern ruefully thinks how much he loathes subjecting her to this unnecessary procedure, and tries to speak soothingly, “You’re doing fine. I’m almost done.” Then as he finishes, he feels compelled to ask, “Who is he? Is there someone who will help you?…someone I can contact?” Belle suddenly meets his eyes, having a moment of hope. As she speaks, to her dismay she realizes the power of the sedative, slurring, “Rumshin…Rumflshin.” She begins to cry in frustration. She senses that the intern truly wants to help her, but she can’t form the words. Then she remembers what Evil Queen Regina had told her about the curse stripping them of their memories and is unsure “Rumpelstiltskin” is even the name he is known by in this new land. Finished with the procedure, while washing his hands, the intern says, “It’s okay, sweetie, you can tell me later when the sedative wears off. Now, let me tend to your injuries.” Belle nods.

      Just then, Agnes returns with a large, unyielding security guard, “What are you doing?” The intern nervously says, “I was just going to take care of her injuries. It won’t take long.” In a haughty tone, Agnes purrs, “No, it won’t take long at all…because you’re not doing it. I told you, she is here to learn her lesson.” With a snap of her fingers, the security guard grabs the intern, pulling him towards the door as the intern struggles in vain, “Hey, get off me!” Agnes orders, “You will return here in the morning when your shift starts and not before.” Surrendering, the intern pleads, “Leave the light on above the counter, so it’s not completely black in here.” Agnes rolls her eyes, shutting off all the lights, locking the door behind them. In the blackness, strapped down unable to move with searing pain in her back, ribs and abdomen, Belle breaks into a sob. Feeling that her best chance at freedom is gone, she slurs, “Rumshin, helf meee! I lub you…pease come for me!”

      Rumpelstiltskin forces himself not to crumple the file trembling in his hands, as he looks over to Belle still fidgeting restlessly. He wonders how much more her thoughts and body will be tormented by what happened to her. Wearily, he looks back at the file, he sees notations for the next day (October 25, 2011), a dizzying array of words torment his mind: “respiratory distress”, “severe inflammation”, “dehydration” “epidural discoloration”, “convulsions” and “Fever – 105 temp”. His heart feels like it is being shredded by vicious claws.

      The vision of events continues to torment Rumpelstiltskin. The intern, who had made several attempts to return to Belle throughout the night, finally opting to sleep in his car, is finally able to convince the new security guard to allow him entry 30 minutes before his shift officially begins. By this time, Belle has spent ten hours strapped down without any attention to her wounds. The interns fears are realized as he sees Belle sweating profusely, shivering, gasping for air, looking pale and weak. He frantically sets about treating her. Belle rambles repeatedly in a raspy voice that is barely audible, “Rumshin, I luf ew! Helf me!” Trying to calm her, the intern says, “It’s alright, sweetie. It’s alright. I’ll take care of you.” Then gritting his teeth in frustration, he hisses, “Damn! I wish I knew your name.” Somewhere in the delirium, Belle understands, and struggles against her swollen throat and tongue to force as clearly as possible, “Belle. ‘m Belle.” He looks at her astonished and says, “Okay then. Belle it is. Belle, I’m going to need to draw your blood and do other things you won’t like, but I have to do it, because you’re very, very sick.” Belle continuing to shiver, gives him what appears to be a nod of understanding. For all the misery that is ‘the room’, it is incredibly well stocked with equipment and supplies, a fact for which the intern is extremely grateful. There is a blur of events alcohol bath, cleaning and suturing wounds, wrapping ribs, administering an IV and PICC line for antibiotics. He can’t help feeling like he just fell into a war movie. So many of these procedures should have a secondary attendee, he knows he is breaking protocols right and left, but this whole situation in ‘the room’ breaks more protocols than he wants to consider, thus he might as well break protocols to save Belle as time is of the essence.

      Just as he finishes double checking the PICC line in Belle’s upper left arm, Agnes enters, “What the Hell are you doing with her?” Blankly, he answers, “Fixing the mess that we let happen overnight.” Glaring at him, Agnes starts, “I thought I told you…” The intern interrupts, “Do you want her to die? Do you want your little lab experiments exposed? Look at her…look at her…we did this, and I don’t know how much more she can survive!” Agnes generally doesn’t worry about the mortality of patients, as she can always cover her tracks, but this was no ordinary patient. She knows there would be Hell to pay if this pawn were to escape into death. Resolutely, Agnes responds, “Fine. What do you want?” “I’m attending to her to ensure she lives, and security guards are not to keep me from her.” Gritting her teeth, Agnes says, “Fine. But get those straps re-secured.” The intern replies sarcastically, “Of course, because it’s clear she’s ready to run a marathon.” Agnes looks at the frail woman, thinks to herself, “Weak willed little rat!”, then says, “Alright, do what you want for now. But she is never to leave your sight without being restrained.” It’s not really what he wants, but he will take it, since it is a vast improvement over the previous night’s situation.

      Days blur by and Belle’s hold on life is touch and go. The powerful antibiotics have caused thrush, which then needs to be countered with a powerful anti-fungal medication. Finally, three days later, as the Intern awakens from sleeping in a chair in ‘the room’, he sees Belle looking at him with the faintest of smiles and color in her cheeks. He smiles broadly, “Welcome back, Belle.” She speaks softly, “Thank you for saving my life.” He nods, and then says, “I’m Mike, by the way.” Belle smiles, “Hi Mike.” Taking a serious tone, Mike says, “Can you tell me who to contact to help you?” As Belle opens her mouth to speak, Agnes who was listening at the door, rushes in pulls out a couple of vials of medication and a syringe. Mike asks, “What are you doing?” Ignoring the question, Agnes injects Belle, who whimpers, then seems to drift off. Grabbing the vials, Mike realizes that Belle has been given a sedative and an anti-psychotic medication. Dumbfounded Mike can only manage one word, “Why?” Folding her arms, Agnes says, “Look, you’ve had your time with your pet bunny, but she’s my lab rat, and the time for fun and games is over.” Aghast, Mike says, “Fun and games. I saved her life.” Agnes retorts, “Yes, and you did an adequate job. She will be transferred back to her room, and hopefully she’s learned her lesson.”

      Hours later, Mike enters Belle’s room to continue their conversation. “Hey Belle. You feel up to talking.” He receives no response, he says, “Belle?” Slowly she looks at him, “Who’s Belle?” Mike’s stomach drops. Later that night, drinking at The Rabbit’s Hole, he can’t get Belle out of his head. He tries to drink her away, but she’s still there with her lost haunting eyes. He suspects Mayor Mills may be behind this. He has no proof, just a gut feeling, but who would be willing to go up against her? He momentarily considers Mr. Gold, but quickly dismisses the thought, because who really knows whose side Gold is on, and why would he help a random mental patient? So, Mike decides to wait. One day, Belle will be back, and he will find out whatever information he can then.

      Rumpelstiltskin notes a pattern appearing in Belle’s file. There are times that it refers to her being agitated and speaking gibberish. Reading between the lines, he conjectures that those are times that Belle fights her way back to awareness. One of those dates is February 14, 2012, Valentine’s Day. He can’t help but wonder if in spite of being heavily drugged, was Belle sensing his strong emotions and fighting her way back, through the cocktail of drugs swimming in her veins?

      February 14, 2012, Mike enters Belle’s room. She looks at him with a light of awareness in her eyes that catches his attention. “Hi Mike.” Cautiously, he replies, “Belle?” Staring down at her left hand, she answers, “I’m here. I’m always here…just buried most of the time.” Mike sees the despair in her face, and he pulls out a flask, taking a swig. Belle comments, “You’re doing that a lot more lately.” Feeling a bit self-conscious, he says, “This is a tough place to work. Sometimes I need to not feel it so much. I’d offer you some, but with the meds you’re on it would probably kill you.” Belle sighs, “Not sure it would be that bad. Life may be a worse fate.” Rumpelstiltskin cringes hearing those words from his beloved Belle. As his vision continues, Mike says, “Okay, enough of that talk. Let’s figure out how to get you out of here. Who do you know that would help you? Who loves you, Belle? I know there must be someone.” Belle sighs knowing just how insane it will sound, but then reluctantly says, “Rumpelstiltskin.” Mike chuckles softly assuming she’s joking. Then Mike stares at Belle in confusion at her serious and lucid expression. He says to her, “Belle, sweetie, you know he’s a character from a story…right?” Belle sighs, saying, “I knew you wouldn’t believe me.” He counters, “Maybe it’s name similar to Rumpelstiltskin…or another name that starts with R, and your mind just got it confused with all the drugs you’re on.” Belle shakes her head, “No, I’m quite sure. It’s Rumpelstiltskin.” Standing up, Mike says, “I’ll be right back.” Belle replies sullenly, “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.” Mike makes his way to the nurse’s station. Thankfully, no one is around as he grabs the Storybrooke Phone Directory. Returning to Belle, he says, “Well, let’s put the name to the test.” Flipping to the R section, Mike scans through and confirms what he knows to be true, showing Belle, “There is no Rumpelstiltskin in Storybrooke.” Belle looks away, resentment clearly shown in her face and body, “Fine, don’t believe me. I’m just a ‘freak’ after all.” In a soothing tone, Mike says, “Belle, I don’t think you’re a freak. I just think you got the name wrong. Here take a look and see if any of the names sparks a memory.” Belle takes the book and sighs as she starts at the beginning of the R names, “Well, there is a chance he has a different name here.” Mike queries arching his brow, “So he might use an alias?” Belle thinking of the queen’s curse, chuckles ironically, “Something like that.” Mike asks, “Belle, could ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ be an alias? It sounds like a name someone makes up, just to hide their identity. Is this guy bad news?” Not responding to the question of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ being an alias, Belle simply states, “If I can find him, it’s good news for me.” Belle continues to look at the rest of the R names, but none of them feel right. She finishes and growls in frustration. Taking another swig from his flask, he pulls a bottle of fruit juice from his cargo pants pocket, offering it Belle, “If you pretend, maybe you can convince yourself it’s the hard stuff.” Belle smirks, opens the bottle and takes a large gulp, “Thanks! It’s got a real kick.” she says sarcastically, then stares disappointedly at the directory. Mike reaches for it and says, “Look, we’ll figure out another way.” Belle pulls the directory to her chest and says with determination, “I’m not done yet.” Mike smirks, “What ya going to do? Read the whole damn phone book?” Opening to the first page, Belle says, “If that’s what it takes. I will never give up on him.” Shaking his head in amusement as Belle runs the tip of her finger along each name, “You’re quite the little firecracker aren’t you?” Belle smirks at his description of her. Mike continues, “So tell me about this Prince Charming.” Belle rolls her eyes. Mike says, “Sorry, I meant ‘Rumpelstiltskin’.”

      As Belle continues her search through the directory, she says thoughtfully, “He thinks he’s a monster, but he’s not.” With another swig, Mike says sarcastically, “Monster? What does he have claws, fur and lives in a castle.” Without missing a beat, Belle replies, “No, he doesn’t have fur.” Not sure how to take Belle’s response, Mike says, “You know, you’re in a mental ward, so you might want to be careful what you say.” Belle looks at him and says, “I know you don’t believe me, but you’re trying to help me. So I might as well speak freely. I love a very special man, and in my heart, I know he loves me. If he had any idea where I was, I wouldn’t be here. He’d come for me.” Mike stares at her as if confused by the emotion and certainty in her voice, “But how do you know?” Belle smiles, with an air of wisdom about her, “That’s just love. When you love someone, you fight for them. It doesn’t matter that it’s hard or that others might not like it, because love, true love, is more powerful than anything.” Mike feels an ache in his chest that he can’t explain. He’s never had such an experience, yet he feels like he has. Belle resumes her search of the directory. As she begins with the G names, her body starts to tingle. Her heart races at Ginger and is pounding as she looks at Glass. She knows she’s near him. Just then, Agnes barges into the Belle’s room and pulls the directory from her hands. Agnes scolds Mike, “This is for staff. Why does ‘she’ have it?” Mike lies, “It gets boring here. There’s nothing to read, so I thought that was better than nothing.” It was a terrible lie, and all three of them knew it. Belle did her best to keep her face emotionless. She had been so close. She could feel it. Now, she wants to scream and cry in frustration, but she can’t. Agnes says, “And why are you still here? Your shift ended a half hour ago.” Innocently, Mike says, “I was just checking in.” In a haughty tone, Agnes responds, “Well, you best be on your way. It’s time for her to take her meds.” In the moment that Mike sees the size, shape and colors of the meds before Agnes shoves them in Belle’s mouth, his eyes grow wide. She clamps her hand across Belle’s mouth and growls “Swallow them.” Belle sees the expression on Mike’s face and knows no good can come of this. Tears threaten Belle’s eyes, as Agnes holds one hand a tightly over her mouth and the other hand at the back of her head. Some of the pills are dissolving in Belle’s mouth, creating a foul taste. Seeing no way out after long moments, Belle forces herself to swallow the foul brew. A sense of hopelessness takes over, as Mike says, “Those aren’t her regular meds.” Agnes replies nonchalantly, “I’m aware of that. Her meds have been tweaked. Now, go home. I’ll stay with her for a while. Her meds won’t be of much use, if she regurgitates them.” Mike’s and Belle’s eye meet. They both know this battle is futile. Agnes barks, “I said go!” Mike says to Belle, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Miss.” Belle nods and sighs as he leaves. Mike feels like his legs are heavy, as he forces himself to leave her. When he returns to Belle’s room the next morning, seeing her vacant expression, he can tell Belle is once again gone. Later that day, he observes Mayor Regina Mills peeking into Belle’s cell.

      Mike keeps waiting for Belle to reawaken, but Agnes always seems to be ahead of him, with a new concoction of meds. Belle is looking increasingly fail and lost. He has no idea how to help her, so he further medicates himself with alcohol. April 29, 2012 (two weeks before the curse breaks), Mike receives a text to go to ‘the room’, and his heart sinks. When he arrives, Belle is flailing strapped down and Agnes is injecting her with ‘God knows what’. Mike screams at Agnes, as monitor alarms sound, “You’re going to kill her! I don’t think Mayor Mills would like that.” Agnes turns ghostly white. Observing her reaction, Mike says, “I knew it! I knew that witch was involved somehow. This woman is obviously a pawn. I don’t think our Mayor would find a dead pawn particularly useful.” Agnes feigns, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” With steely eyes, Mike says, “Oh, I think you do.”, as he readies a crash cart that he fears he will need any moment now. “She is not a lab rat. She is a person…and my guess is she’s quite valuable to the Mayor, so we will start weaning her off whatever witches brew of meds that you’ve concocted this time. And you will not…I repeat, not toy with her meds again!”

      Rumpelstiltskin pulls himself from his taxing vision, trying to focus on the words before him in the file…”BP 220/130” “seizure” and ”cardiac arrest”. Trembling, he puts his face in his hands, strangled by the realization that a mere two weeks prior to Belle’s return to him, she almost died. He wants to hurl the file across the room, but grabs it with a death grip instead. For all the vile misery that Agnes’ sick experiments bring, there is one tiny; miniscule saving grace…Agnes is very thorough in testing her experiment subjects. Indeed, in any other hospital, there would be road blocks to such involved and expensive tests, but Regina has given Agnes free reign and all the latest and best testing equipment. Rumpelstiltskin reads prognosis regarding liver function tests, a renal panel, cardiac and neurological tests, and he is more terrified than if an ogre were about to rip him limb from limb. Somehow, some way, he must convince Belle to let him heal some of the damage, because the damage is much too extensive to be handled alone by a potion in some tea. As he reads through the file, he finds discussion of the prognosis based on another set of tests. He wants to cry out in agony for Belle. While Belle’s heart is his primary worry, he knows this will be devastating to her. He debates not telling her, but how can he keep something like this from Belle? He can’t. He knows he can’t, and that fixing it magically holds too high of a cost. Just then, he notices Belle sitting up in bed, staring at him. She swallows hard, “What is it? What are you reading?”

      Trying and failing to appear casual, Rumpelstiltskin replies, “Just some paper work dear.” Her eyes lock on him like lasers, “Paper work, regarding what?” He is not at all ready for this, as his mind swims with all he has seen and read. Resolutely, he answers, “It’s your hospital file.” He feels his stomach clench, as she reaches out her hand, and then says, “I want to read it.” “Belle, you’ve had a trying day. Perhaps another…” She cuts him off, “No. Now Rumpelstiltskin!” As he momentarily ponders getting rid of the one page that will upset Belle the most, Belle adds, “I want to see all of it.” A strangled growl rumbles from his throat as he walks, cane in hand, over to the bed and says, “As you wish, darling.”

      Placing the file in her lap, he adds, “The earliest entries are in the back. So if you want to read it chronologically, you start from the back.” Belle cautiously opens the file, as though it were toxic. Rumpelstiltskin observes her tight-lipped expression, as she flips through the file. Shaking her head, she speaks as if talking to herself, “It’s so odd, some of this I remember, but some is really hazy or even a total blank.” She seems to be skimming through the file quickly, perhaps not to dwell on unpleasant memories. He hopes that her haphazard reading will cause her to not engage with the details of particularly upsetting pages. Though she is moving rapidly through the file, it feels to him as though time is standing still as his blood pounds in his ears. As she is nearing the end of the file, she reads a page with various comments pertaining to vital organs. Rumpelstiltskin observes the fear in her eyes and the tension in her body as she trembles slightly. He finds himself holding his breath, wanting to compel her to skip past the next page. However, she turns to the next page and stares, eyes wide and mouth gaping, as her right hand curls into a tight fist. Almost panting, she closes the folder and hands it back to him aggressively. With a razor sharp bitterness in her voice Belle says, “Well, isn’t that just wonderful?!? Take it. I’m done. I am really done.” He reaches for her, as he says, “Belle, it might not…” Jerking away in anger, face reddened, the ghost of tears blazing in her eyes, “Don’t! Just don’t!” Pulling back, yet still trying to calm her, “Belle, sweetheart…” With adrenalin pumping through her body, she bounds off the bed, half stumbling, half running for the bathroom, and yells, “I don’t want to talk about it!”, then slams the door. Rumpelstiltskin sits at a loss for what to do. To see Belle in such misery rips at his very being. He wants to kill Regina, and that shrew, Agnes as well…not by magic, “Oh no, that’s too good for them”, he thinks ruefully. He wants the pleasure of ripping apart each of them limb from limb until they beg for the mercy of death. Indeed, he would go exact his revenge on them now, if he did not fear leaving Belle alone.

      As the day progresses, Belle is highly agitated and hostile. He is not sure how much of her mood is the result of the revelations in her file or the effect of her withdraws from the one remaining med, Haloperidol, that the hospital had been giving her. It is likely both, he surmises. She barely speaks the rest of the day, paces manically and at dinner, barely touches her food. When pressed to drink her special tea, Belle makes a show of gulping it down and slamming the cup on the table with such a force it is surprising that the cup does not break. He can see that she is refusing to acknowledge sorrow, rather nursing a festering rage. He understands her preference towards rage, feeling it is better than falling apart, yet he fears Belle’s embrace of rage. It is not in congruence with her beautiful spirit, yet of even more concern, is the damage it might be doing to Belle’s weakened body. The night ends with them going to bed in silence. Rumpelstiltskin lays in Belle’s bed, on top of the covers, to be near her if the nightmares come.

      Around three in the morning, Rumpelstiltskin awakes to the noticeable absence of Belle in the bed. Startling to alertness, he surveys the room to see her sitting on the window seat absentmindedly drawing doodles in the condensation on the window. Before he can say anything, she speaks without looking at him, “Go back to sleep. I’m fine.” He remains sitting up in bed watching her for a few minutes to see if she will rejoin him of her own accord. Seeing no indication that she plans to move soon, he gets up and joins her on the window seat. He sits and waits for her to speak. After a couple of minutes, Belle says, “I think my mother would have been quite content to have never had a child…she likely would have preferred it. Not I…I always wanted children. Regina just had to take that away too.” Her voice begins to crack, “Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe I would have been a terrible mother.” In a calm soothing tone, he says, “You’re going to be a wonderful mother.” She looks at him incredulously, “How can you say that? You read the same report that I did. I’m a hair’s breath away from being…being…barren!” The dam breaks and Belle begins to sob like a howling storm. Rumpelstiltskin pulls her into his arms and strokes her back, as she cries out all the sorrow that she has had locked away for the past several hours. After several minutes, she says mournfully, “I can never give you a child.” Pulling away just enough to see her face, both his hands wipe her tear drenched cheeks, “You don’t know that for certain. And even if that’s the case, do you think that’s what matters to me? It could have just as easily been me to not be able to provide you with a child. I am a couple hundred years old, you know. Things happen. Would you love me any less?” Argumentatively, she says, “No, but that’s not the point.” With an unwavering tone, he counters, “Yes, it is, Belle; that is the point. I love you no matter what. And there are other things we can try.” In a worried tone, Belle says, “No magic. Not for this. The potential price is too high. We can’t do that to our child.” Trying to steady her, he reassures, “I know. I wasn’t talking about magic. We can research what this realm has to offer. Besides that report was one twisted person’s opinion.” “Based on science!”, Belle counters. He scoffs, “Science knows nothing of the human spirit. You, my dear, are the most spirited person I know. There is still hope.” Bitterly she replies, “False hope. It hurts too much to hope.” He strokes a finger under her jaw line, and says, “There is no such thing as false hope. Hope in its essence is true.” She shakes her head, and then stares out the window. After a moment, he adds, “And if we can’t produce a child, we could adopt one.” A bitter chuckle escapes her lips as she looks at him with her eyebrows raised, “And who is going to give a child to the Dark One and a mental patient?!?” A pained look takes over his expression, and Belle says, “Look, I’m sorry. I know you are just trying to cheer me up…but I don’t want to be cheered up. I’m angry, I’m sad and I’m frustrated. I just want to hate the world right now…especially Regina. Am I not entitled to feel what I feel?” Resolutely, he says, “Fine. I have a project that needs my attention any way.”, then walks out of the room. Belle momentarily wonders what project he could have in the wee hours of the morning, and then loses interest in the thought, staring out the window. She knows she is being unkind to him and hates herself for it, but right now, she just doesn’t feel kind and loving. So much of her life has been systematically chipped away because of Regina’s schemes, and this is just one chip too many.

      Sometime later, Rumpelstiltskin returns with a hammer, a nail, a hand held stud finder and some sort of framed picture. He glides the stud finder along the wall, which is across from the bed. After locating the wall stud, he begins to hammer a nail into the wall. The sound startles Belle out of her thoughts. Getting up and walking over to him, she asks, “What are you doing?” With a smirk, he replies, “I’m improving the décor. ‘We should let some light in’.” Her brow furrows in confusion as her mouth hangs open a bit. Then she sees the picture that he is hanging. It’s her drawing of Rumpelstiltskin, Baelfire and herself, pregnant. Once the picture is securely in place, he steps back and puts his arms around her from behind, pulling her back flush to the front of his body, and whispers next to her ear, “Every morning when you wake up, I want you to look at this picture and know one thing to be true…’anything is possible.’” She stares mesmerized at the picture of their would-be family and leans back into his warm embrace as he nuzzles his face against her hair. Then Rumpelstiltskin adds, “Now, darling, please come to bed. You need your rest, and I need to feel your lovely body next to me.” Belle turns, reaches her arms around his neck, feeling the tickle of his hair on her cheek. Parting, they walk to the bed, he lays on top of the covers, and she lays beneath, resting her head on his chest, Belle sighs, “I do adore you so.”

Posted in Belle, Once Upon A Time, OUAT, RumBelle, Rumpelstiltskin | Leave a comment

More RumBelle Stories Added!!!

“Collaboration of Love”
This is a scan of an acrylic and ink multimedia art piece that I made for a charity auction.

  • Author’s Note: The writing and art here are done with great respect, love and gratitude for the talents of Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin, and everyone involved in of Once Upon A Time. I do not own these characters.

    In addition to my multi-chapter story, “Rumpelstiltskin & Belle Metamorphosis Through Love”, I have added two one-shot fan fictions to this page. “What’s Next?” deals with an unexpected event that happens after Rumpelstiltskin returns from New York. Of course, since he has not yet gone to NY on Once Upon A Time, this is rather alternate reality. “Not Just a Cup” deals with a dilemma Rumpelstiltskin’s and Belle’s nineteen year old daughter is facing. As you can guess from the title, Chip is featured in this story. The character of their daughter is of my creation.

    As for “Rumpelstiltskin & Belle Metamorphosis Through Love”, I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated, but I’m eighteen pages into chapter three. A lot happens in that chapter, including the reappearance of Severe Nurse, so hang in there. I have a few more scenes to write and then it will be done.

    Happy RumBelle reading, Dearies! —Nicole Muench Seidel

Posted in Belle, Once Upon A Time, OUAT, RumBelle, Rumpelstiltskin | Leave a comment

NEWS! December 8th-15th: Once Upon A Time…Fan Community With Kids Auction

The vision for this piece is based upon the plot-line my fan-fiction.
Rumpelstiltskin is the great love of Belle’s life, and she understands that his son, Baelfire, is a cherished part of him. Thus, Belle already loves Baelfire, because he is a part of Rumpelstiltskin, and she wants to actively support Rumpelstiltskin in his efforts to find his son.

This is my Matted/Framed, Rumpelstiltskin/Belle/Baelfire FanArt “Collaboration of Love” 11×14 Acrylic & Ink Multimedia Art Piece. With frame, the size is 16×20 inches. I created this piece and donated to an auction being held December 8th-15th, by Pamela Anneliese Parker’s Facebook group “Once Upon A Time…Fan Community” to raise funds for With Kids http://www.withkids.org.uk a children’s charity for which Robert Carlyle is ambassador. Pam’s group was the first group on Facebook dedicated to Once Upon A Time. There are all sorts of OUAT goodies up for auction. Please check out this auction page http://once-withkids.tumblr.com to see the others. Click here for a direct link to the eBay page for this event.

In the Scotland and the UK, some of the most severe levels of poverty are in the East End of Glasgow. Indeed, reportedly in some areas of Glasgow, the average life span is a shockingly low 56 years. Of course, it is children that are most at risk from the effects of poverty.

Below is Robert Carlyle’s three part interview with With Kids. Please help this worthy charity!
Peace be with you!—Nicole

Please go to the auction page http://once-withkids.tumblr.com to see all the lovely Once Upon A Time related items up for sale for With Kids.

Posted in Belle, Charity, Children, Once Upon A Time, OUAT, RumBelle, Rumpelstiltskin, With Kids | Leave a comment

“Rumpelstiltskin & Belle Metamorphosis Through Love” Chapter 2 “The Very Long Day” Part 2

“Collaboration of Love”
This is a scan of an acrylic and ink multimedia art piece that I made for an upcoming charity auction, Dec. 8th-15th, being put on by Pamela Anneliese Parker’s Facebook group “Once Upon A Time… Fan Community” to raise funds for With Kids, a children’s charity for which Robert Carlyle is ambassador. Details to follow.
*I do not own the rights to these characters.

  • Author’s Note: This is written with great respect, love and gratitude for the talents of Robert Carlyle, Emilie de Ravin, all the cast of Once Upon A Time, all the writers of OUAT, but especially, Jane Espenson, who wrote my two favorite OUAT episodes “Desperate Souls” and “Skin Deep”. The inspiration of the aforementioned talents marks the end of my approximately fifteen year drought in writing fiction. Thank you all!
    All fictions here are written by me, Nicole Muench Seidel
    To my readers, though this is heavily inspired by season one, it will not always be ‘canon’, and since this story has been in the making during the hiatus, it will not be a carbon copy of events from the upcoming season two. I have a particular ending goal for my story, hence season two stories that work with that goal might be included, while stories that are detrimental to that goal will not. In my opinion, Belle is the ultimate ‘Butterfly Effect’ to Rumpelstiltskin and his plans, adding chaos, but also love to his life. I do not own these characters. It is my intent to illuminate the heart of these characters with supreme respect for the talents that created them. So, enjoy the ride.
    P.S. Cyber kudos to those who can figure out the significance of Belle’s patient number. Feel free to leave a comment about this story. Thank you! —Nicole MS

Emma arrives back at Mr. Gold’s house with a plastic grocery bag with a few items of clothing in one hand and her keys in the other.  Knocking on the door, Rumpelstiltskin opens the door almost immediately, as though he were waiting by the door. Rumpelstiltskin says, “Come on in, Emma.” Entering Emma says, “I found some things that should work for her, Mr. Gold.” Rumpelstiltskin nods, “Thank you.  I was just about to go up and check on her.”

Just then, they hear Belle screaming in terror, “No! Please stop!  Please, please stop!”  Emma and Rumpelstiltskin rush up the stairs.  As they ascend, they hear unintelligible screams, seemingly of terror and pain.  Rumpelstiltskin tries to sense what is happening, but he can’t sense her, unlike he was able to only a little while before.  He feels as though Belle is blocking him from sensing what is happening.  As they enter the room, Emma blindly throws the bag and her keys on the dresser.  Both Rumpelstiltskin and Emma are shocked to see Belle writhing in bed, fingernails digging into the mattress, and her back arching, as though to pull her off the bed.  As they reach her, Rumpelstiltskin, moving as quickly as he can with his cane, cuts in front of Emma.  Belle, clearly still asleep, screams in shrill terror, “RUMPELSTILTSKIN!!!”

Rumpelstiltskin hurls himself at the bed and gives her shoulders a shake. “Belle, Belle, I’m here.  Wake up. I’m here!”  Belle startles awake, rearing back as though she might strike someone, then looking all around the room, seeming to not know where she is.  “Belle, it’s me.  I’m here.”  She looks into his eyes and bursts into tears.  “It’s you!  You’re really here!”, she hugs Rumpelstiltskin tightly, as though he is her life raft in a storm.  He feels her heart pounding like a runaway train, trying to run off the tracks.  He feels the depths of her terror.  He has never known her to be this frightened of anything.  Even when he really lost his temper after the kiss, she wasn’t frightened like this.  Stroking the back of her head, “It’s okay.  It’s okay, Belle.  I’ve got you.  You’re safe.”
Sobbing into his shoulder, “I’m so sorry, Rumpelstiltskin.  I love you.  Please forgive me.”
“Shh..don’t worry, Belle.  It’s alright.”

Emma watches the pair in absolute shock.  She has never seen such tenderness from Mr. Gold, and she never dreamed that she would see the day that someone clung to him for comfort.  It is all just beyond her comprehension.

Keenly aware of Emma’s presence and not wanting Belle unwittingly to divulge anything important in an unguarded moment, Rumpelstiltskin whispers, “Emma’s back.”  Belle pulls back, looking up at Emma in embarrassment, “Oh Emma, sorry I’m coming apart over here.”  Emma smiles and says, “I’ve seen worse.”

Belle wiping her face and trying to clear her mind, suddenly remembers a neglected detail, “Oh my, I can’t believe I forgot.” “What?” Emma and Rumpelstiltskin say in unison. Belle asks, “Can one of you get word to my father that I’m alright?” Rumpelstiltskin’s jaw clenches, as Emma asks him, “Who’s her father in Storybrooke?”  Attempting to appear casual, Rumpelstiltskin responds, “Moe French”.  Valentine’s night flashes through Emma’s mind, as she and Rumpelstiltskin share a look. Belle sees the glance between Rumpelstiltskin and Emma and sits straight up, “What?!?  He’s still alive, right?” (Rumpelstiltskin and Emma talk over each other.) Rumpelstiltskin, “Yes, he’s alive.”  Emma, “He’s recovered.”   Rumpelstiltskin and Emma share another uncomfortable glance. An alarmed Belle asks, “Recovered?  From what?”

Rumpelstiltskin trying to calm Belle and change the subject, “Belle, you’re not well.  Don’t upset yourself, we can talk about this later.” Squinting at him in confusion and frustration, “So, you want me to wait until I’m in a good mood to hear something that’s going to upset me?” Though Rumpelstiltskin understands that he can’t hold off on this conversation for long, he had hoped to get through Belle’s first night, without being confronted by it.  However, Belle’s agitated stare makes it clear, that the time is now.

Rumpelstiltskin haltingly says, “Alright then, where to begin?” “It was Valentine’s Day.” Emma interjects, trying to help. “Indeed, it was Miss Swan.” he says, “In this realm, Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to celebrate love with flowers, candy, cards and such.” Belle says apprehensively, “That sounds lovely. Why do I have the feeling it wasn’t?”

Rumpelstiltskin looking for the right words, “Perhaps, I should back up.  You know that Regina told me that you died.  Did she ever say how you were supposed to have died?” Belle searches through the dizzying memories in her head, “Usually, she focused on talking about you…but I know she told me once.  What did she say?”, talking to herself, as much as Rumpelstiltskin.  Belle gasps and brings her hands to her face.  “You said he’s alive…please, tell me he’s alive!”  Grabbing her hands from her face and stroking them, Rumpelstiltskin says, “Yes.  He’s alive.  I told you the truth. He’s alive.”

Confused, Emma interjects, “Okay, I’m lost.  How did she die?  I’m mean…how did Regina say she died?”  Noticing that Belle is too shaken to respond to the inquiry, Rumpelstiltskin responds, “She said that when Belle returned home, she was shunned because of her association with me, and that well, her father had her locked up and ‘cleansed’ by clerics, that for all intents and purposes, they tortured her.” “Oh God!”, Emma exclaims.  Rumpelstiltskin continues, “Regina said that once Belle couldn’t take it any more, she threw herself off the tower.” Somewhat breathless, Emma says, “Wow, that explains a lot.”

Belle, a bit more composed, takes a breath and asks, “What happened to my father?” He explains, “Well, that bring us to Valentine’s Day.  In this realm, your father sells flowers.” Belle struggles to picture her father engaging in such an activity. Rumpelstiltskin, continues, “He had defaulted on a loan to me.  If I had been willing, I could have given him more time to come up with the money that he owed me, but since I blamed him for causing your death, showing him any leniency was not something I was willing to do.  So I took his flower truck that morning, before he could sell enough flowers to get himself out of debt to me.  When I returned home later, I discovered that my house…this house had been broken into and robbed, and I was sure he did it.”

Emma adds, “I found a bunch of Mr. Gold’s stuff at your father’s house.”  Belle trying to process this information, rubs her aching head, “This house.  My father broke into this house?  It doesn’t make sense.  Why?” He says, “Regina put him up to it.” “That witch!”, Belle yells angrily. He goes on to explain, “Though your father stole numerous items, he stole one item that was very precious to me, and gave it to Regina to use as a bargaining chip with me.” A realization strikes Emma, “So that’s why she wanted to talk to you alone.” “Indeed.”, he confirms.
Emma asks, “What was the precious item anyway?”

Sensing that Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t want to tell Emma, Belle asks, “What happened next?” Rumpelstiltskin rubs Belle’s hands, both grateful that she saw his need for privacy, but apprehensive at telling her the next part. In a clear, almost motherly tone, Belle says, “Rumpelstiltskin, tell me the whole truth.  If you hold back, I’ll know.”  He knows she is likely bluffing about having such insight.  Though his skills at spinning the truth are unparalleled, he decides not to chance it, especially considering her father will be more than happy to fill in the ugly details, if he leaves any out.

Taking a deep breath, as though preparing himself to swallow something even more bitter than the reversal spell potion, Rumpelstiltskin begins, “When Sheriff Swan didn’t find him and the item that I wanted.  I took my gun, got some duct tape and rope…”, looking away from Belle’s already horrified eyes, “…I tied him up and threw him into his truck.”  He can hear Belle breathing hard and clearly upset.  He continues, “I took him to my cabin…and”, he hears, Emma fidget as though she’s debating whether to add something, hence he presses forward with his story.  “I stuck the end of my cane in his mouth, and told him that when I removed the cane, I wanted to know where the item was and who put him up to stealing it.” Belle asks in a shaky voice, “So when he answered the questions, you let him go, right?”  Rumpelstiltskin looks at Belle’s pale face and teary eyes, “He didn’t answer the questions.”  “What?!?!  But why?”, she asks clearly dreading hearing more.

Rumpelstiltskin holds her shaking hands, looking into her eyes trying to make her understand, “I don’t know.  Maybe it was his fear that kept him from answering, but he started saying it wasn’t his fault.  When he said that, something happened inside of me.  All I could think of was him causing you to jump to your death…and my guilt for not protecting you from him.  I just couldn’t stand it.  All the pain of your death came flooding back.  I hated him so much for ripping you out of the world.  The thought that it wasn’t possible to see you again, and that your father inflicted such pain on you, cut straight through me and I lost all control.”

Both Belle and Rumpelstiltskin have tears streaming down their faces.  Their eyes lock onto each other, as their hands appear to have a white knuckle death grip, as if they are dangling from a cliff.  He takes a breath and says, “I started  hitting him with my cane.”  Belle’s eyes close, propelling tears down her cheeks with intense velocity, and her whole body shutters as she exhales hard.  Still holding her hands as she opens her eyes to meet his waiting gaze, “Sheriff Swan stopped me, and he was taken to the hospital.”

Belle’s eyes shift back and forth between Rumpelstiltskin and Emma.  Belle suddenly let’s go of his hands, swivels her body to the side of the bed and jumps up, “I have to see him!”.  She grabs the nightstand, as her balance is still compromised.  Rumpelstiltskin says, “Belle, I don’t think you’re in any shape to go anywhere right now.”
“No. I’m fine.”, Belle says in an aggravated tone. Emma interjects, “I hate to agree with Gold, but that might not be the best idea right now.” Begrudgingly, Rumpelstiltskin offers, “He could come here to see you.”
Belle exclaims, “Oh no, I don’t need to see you two at each other’s throats!” Noticing her legs trembling, Emma says, “Okay, Belle.  Let’s get you back to bed, and we’ll figure it out.”  Upset and worried, Belle says, “I should go see him.  What kind of daughter would I be if I didn’t?”  Emma says, “One that needs a little time to recover.  He’s well.  I saw him just a few days ago and he is fine.”  “Emma, forget what I said about contacting my father.  I have to be stronger before I deal with this situation.” she says with a mixture of despair and anger in her voice and expression.

Belle turns to him, and says, “Rumpelstiltskin, would you please get me some water?”
Contrite, Rumpelstiltskin says, “Yes, of course.”  He stands and begins to walk to the door.
Belle says, “Oh and I want to change clothes, so please shut the door.”
He observes Belle and Emma share a look, and knows that Belle wants him out of the room, “As you wish.”

Emma walks to the dresser, puts her keys in her pocket, and brings the bag of clothing to Belle.  “Bet you’ll be glad to get out of that robe.” Belle smiles politely, “It’s a nice robe, but I was feeling a bit odd not having other things on.” Belle pulls the clothes under the blanket and starts dressing herself under the covers.  As she is putting on the pink t-shirt, she yelps in pain from her injury. “You okay.”, Emma asks. “Yes, just a Regina memory biting me.”, Belle declares, “There, done.” Emma sees the odd little scar on Belle’s upper left arm, “PICC?” A little surprised, Belle says, “I think that’s what they called it.  Have you had one?” Emma responds, “No, just saw them at the hospital.  They don’t look like much fun.” Belle confirms, “No, they really are not.” “How long did you have it?”, Emma questions. Belle shrugs her shoulders, “Not sure few days?…weeks?  It’s a bit of a blur.” Emma says, “I’m sure.  You had to be in pretty bad shape, if you had one of those.” Belle’s mind wonders to the confrontation with Rumpelstiltskin and her father.  Explaining her love for Rumpelstiltskin to her father just became much more complicated.  She puts her hands to her temples and mutters, “Oh his temper.”

Emma asks, “Belle, do I need to take you some place else?” Belle looks up a bit confused by the question. Emma clarifies, “To stay, I mean.  Your father’s or somewhere else?” The question startles Belle back to the present moment,  “What? No.  I want to be here.” In a serious tone, Emma asks, “Belle, has he ever hurt you?” Feeling defensive about the inquiry, Belle asks, “Why are you asking me that?  Please say what you mean.” Emma sits on the edge of the bed and takes a deep breath, “When you were having that nightmare earlier, you seemed to be in pain and frightened, and you screamed his name.  Did he hurt you?” Startled by the implication, Belle says firmly, “No…no…that’s not what was happening in the dream.  I was calling for him…hoping he’d save me.” Emma questions, “Why, what happened?” Belle in a determined tone says, “Emma, I haven’t talked to him about this yet. I’m not ready to share this with anyone else.” Backing off the subject, Emma explains, “Oh, okay.  Got it.  I’m just wondering, do you trust him?”

Rumpelstiltskin, with a glass of water in hand, stands by the door waiting for an opportune time to enter.  He heard Emma’s question and is eager to hear Belle’s response.  Belle smiles at Emma and says, “Well, it depends what you mean by trust…trust in what way?  Do I trust him with my safety? Yes.  I’d trust him with my last breath.  Do I trust him with my heart?  We both need to work on trusting each other in that way.  We both made mistakes in the past and paid dearly for them.  Do I trust him to tell me the truth?  No.  I lived with him for two months, and I know he’s usually running some kind of game on somebody.  It’s not ideal, but neither is love.  If I can get him to tell me most of the truth, most of the time, I’ll have to be satisfied with that.” Emma questions, “And it doesn’t bother you, that he could be deceiving you at any point?  How can you live like that?” Rumpelstiltskin shifts his position, riveted by Belle’s response.

“Have you ever been in love, Emma?  The kind of love that you ache like a part of you is missing when they’re not around?” Emma for a moment thinks of Graham and of Henry’s father. “No, that’s never happened to me.” Noting a slight shift in Emma’s eyes when she answered, Belle explains, “Love.  Real love is messy, complicated and often inconvenient, but ultimately well worth the effort.” Rumpelstiltskin smiles at Belle’s words.  Emma looks at Belle with an expression of confusion and wonder.  Belle continues, “I’ve waited too long for this…to be with him.  I’d be a fool to throw it away at the first bump in the road.”  In an astonished tone, Emma says, “It’s one helluva bump.”

Belle agrees, “That’s true.  I’m not certain how to handle it.  I can’t judge Rumpelstiltskin for what he did, especially, with has much as I’ve lost control today.  It makes things more complicated, but I understand why he did what he did. My father will be furious, but I can’t let that stop me from living my life.  I handed over my life to him, gave up my free will, when I reluctantly agreed to an arranged marriage with Gaston, but I won’t do it again.”

Emma exclaims, “Gaston!  That lug nut?!?  You married him?” Belle clarifies, “No, we never married. Rumpelstiltskin came along before the wedding could happen…thank goodness.” Emma raises her eyebrows at the thought of “Rumpelstiltskin” and “goodness” in the same sentence. Belle asks, “How do you know Gaston?” Emma chuckles, “I don’t, but I heard the story, though Gold says a lot of what I heard was wrong.” Belle says, “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘lug nut’, but if that means he wasn’t very bright, it’s a good description of Gaston.”

Rumpelstiltskin smirks and shifts his cane.  Belle notices movement from the light and shadows beneath the door.  In a prodding tone, Belle says, “You can come in, Rumpelstiltskin.”  Rumpelstiltskin opens the door looking a bit like the kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, then his gaze meets Belle’s beaming smile.  Her brightly lit up face is a stark contrast to the sullen expression that she had when he left the room.

“Here you go, Belle.”, he says, as she reaches for the glass with both hands, her fingers grazing his as they exchange the glass.  Once again, he notes how thirstily she drinks, and wonders about what this might tell him about her health.  He looks into her beautiful blue eyes for an extended moment, then sensing a need to go down stairs, excuses himself, “I’ll leave you ladies for a bit.  There is something that needs my attention.”

Belle looks down on the bed and notices the mp3 player wrapped in the blanket, “Oh Emma, here’s your music thing.”  Emma says, “You can borrow it for a while.  It’s my spare.  Maybe later I can show you how to download some songs.”
“Emma, what are you doing here?” “What do you mean?”, Emma asks confused. Belle explains, “I truly appreciate the kindness, but I’m starting to feel like your pet.  Shouldn’t you be with family now?” Awkwardly, Emma says, “Yes, hmm…family.” Observantly, Belle asks, “Avoiding them?” Emma explains, “Family relationships are hard for me to deal with right now.” Belle smiles, “So I’m the perfect distraction.” Defensive, Emma say, “It’s not like that.” Belle puts her hand on Emma’s arm, “It’s alright, Emma, I understand.  Your family is complicated and you’re dealing with a lot.  It’s too much to handle at one time.  I get it.” Emma again sees the Marissa quality of Belle’s eyes, “Plus, there’s this other thing.” A faint crinkle appears on Belle’s brow, “What other thing?” Emma smiles, “You remind me of someone who was kind to me once, and I never really got the chance to pay back that kindness like I wanted.” Belle smiles, “Well, thank you, Emma.  I’m honored that I remind you of a kind person.  I haven’t felt like I’ve always been kind today.”

They hear a commotion down stairs. Emma reacts, “It’s David and Mary Margret…um, I mean my parents.  I told them I’d handle things.  Why are they here?” Rumpelstiltskin, calls up in an exaggerated theatrical tone with a tinge of sarcasm, “Oh Emma, mummy and daddy are here.” Emma says, “Really?  You love that guy?” Belle rolls her eyes, “He’s an acquired taste.” “Like snails?”, responds Emma. Belle shakes her head and smirks.  “Emma, can you help me. I want to get down there.” Uneasy, Emma asks, “Are you sure?  I think he wants you in bed.” Belle responds in a determined tone, “Well, he’ll have to learn that he doesn’t always get what he wants.  Please, I want to be with him, if things get heated.  I think I can walk pretty well, but I need you nearby for balance.”
Emma agrees, “Sure, let’s go.”

Mary Margret says, “What you did to Henry was despicable!”
Rumpelstiltskin responds,  “What did I do to Henry?  As far as I know, the boy is fine.”
At the sound of two sets of feet coming down the stairs, Rumpelstiltskin, Mary Margret and David turn toward Emma and Belle.   Mary Margret and David have stunned expressions on their faces.
Belle asks Emma, “Should I expect a lot of looks like that?”
Emma responds, “You’re living with Gold.  You’d better get use to it.”
Rumpelstiltskin calls out, “Belle, I thought we agreed you’d stay in bed.”
Belle calls back, “I agreed to nothing.  I want to be with you, so stop complaining.”
David asks, “Emma, what are you doing?”
Emma replies, “Helping?”
Confounded, David queries, “Helping him?  Who’s she?”
Belle and Emma leave the stairs and head for the couch in the sitting room.  Rumpelstiltskin puts his arm around Belle, guiding her to the couch, and answers, “She’s the woman I told you about during our little sparring match, Charming.”
“You talked about me?”, Belle says in a surprised and adoring tone.
Rumpelstiltskin responds, “As a matter of fact, I did, briefly.”
As Rumpelstiltskin and Belle sweetly gaze at each other,  Mary Margret and David share an expression of confusion and repulsion.
“You said she was dead.”, David interjects.
Rumpelstiltskin explains, “Regina told me that she died.”
“Well, obviously I’m alive…or heaven is really pink.”, quips Belle.
Rumpelstiltskin, looking at Belle, tries to look unamused by her comment, but a rogue dimple gives him away.

Emma laughs, then says, “David, she’s another member of the Screwed Over By Regina Club.  Regina had her locked up for the past thirty years or so.”
David, who’s in no mood to process this new development, in a flash of anger says to Rumpelstiltskin, “You should be locked up for the things you’ve done.”
Belle exclaims in a panicked tone, “What? No! Leave him alone!”, as she starts to get back up.
“Belle don’t.  There’s no need to worry.” reassures Rumpelstiltskin.
Then Rumpelstiltskin turns to David, “We don’t want to open that can of worms, do we Charming?”
Belle, Emma and Mary Margret, look at David with curiosity and confusion as he seems to shrink a little.
David says, “You took that potion when it could have been used to help Henry.”
Rumpelstiltskin replies, “As I explained to your daughter when she threatened to rip off my head and shove it down my throat, while it could have helped Henry, it wasn’t needed to, obviously.”
Emma, stunned by his embellished depiction of her confrontation with him and how he knew what she was thinking, interjects, “Yes, and you were about to tell us all what that purple crap was.”, giving him a smirk.
Rumpelstiltskin, with a dramatic  flare of his hands, “Quite simple, dearie, it’s magic.”
Mary Margret asks, “But why bring it here, instead of us all going back to our realm that has magic?”
“Because there is something I must do with it here.”, replies Rumpelstiltskin.
“What?”, David asks.
Rumpelstiltskin in a mildly annoyed tone, “Look, not that I’m not enjoying this impromptu inquisition in the middle of my sitting room, but there’s only one person here to whom I feel any need to explain myself to.  And you three,” motioning to Emma, David and  Mary Margret. “are not her.”, resting his gaze on Belle.
Belle, astonished by this declaration, is humbled and hopes that if he can indeed read her thoughts at the moment, offers to give up that honor if he wishes to tell the others.
He gives a barely perceivable shake of his head and says, “This is ours to discuss.”
Emma says, “Let’s get out of here.  He’s not going to tell us anything.”
David says, “No.  Gold, you have to answer for what you did to our family.”

Raising his eyebrows, Rumpelstiltskin asks, “What did I do, dearie?”  Then turning to Mary Margret, “Snow, did I ever tell you how much I admire your ring?  It’s absolutely enchanting.” then crinkling his nose, he laughs and looks at David, “If I hadn’t enchanted that ring for you, you would still be wondering around the Infinite Forest, Snow would still be in a glass coffin, and your lovely daughter would not exist.  Your welcome.”

Mary Margret gives David a questioning look.
“Charming, you didn’t tell her my part in helping to find her?  Not willing to share a wee bit of credit?  I’m wounded.”
David, somewhat cut down to size, perseveres and says, “I’m talking about what you did to our lives since.”
Rumpelstiltskin rubs his chin pretending to think of what he possibly could have done, “Your right, Charming.  I should have been much more persuasive about convincing you not to buy two Valentine’s cards.”
Mary Margret grimaces at the thought of Valentine’s Day, as Emma recalls just how hurt her ‘friend’ was by David’s thoughtlessness.
David in a flash of anger, “You son of a…”
“Aaaaah!!!”, Belle screams in pain.

Suddenly, Rumpelstiltskin’s amusement at besting Charming turns to worry for Belle.  Emma turning to David and Mary Margret, “Let’s get going. We’ll deal with other issues later.”  Then Emma leans down and whispers something in Belle’s ear, and the two women share a look.  As they exit, Rumpelstiltskin wonders why he had not sensed an increase in Belle’s pain.

The door closes and Rumpelstiltskin turns to Belle, “Are you okay?”
Belle reassures him, “It’s not too bad.”
“What did Emma whisper to you?”, he asks.
Blushing a bit, Belle says, “She said my performance was over the top.”
Rumpelstiltskin questions, “So you’re not in pain?”
She replies, “No more than I’ve been in.  I just didn’t want a fight to break out.”
“You needn’t have worried yourself.  I’m quite adept at handling Charming.”, he says.
She asks, “Why were you going out of your way to antagonize him?”
He smirks, “I enjoy playing with Charming.  I always win.”
A little exasperated, Belle exclaims, “Wonderful!  I’m in love with a two year old.  One of these days, your little quips are going to anger the wrong person.”
“As long as it’s not you.” he says placating her.
She smirks, “I’m sure I’ll be at the head of the line.”
With a smile and a tilt of his head, Rumpelstiltskin requests, “Let’s get you back upstairs.”
Belle counters, “Could we stay down here for a while, it’s a bit frustrating just staying in bed?”
He responds, “Just in case we have any more charming visitors, we’d better get you in bed, so they don’t catch on to your deception.”
“We’re concerned about my deception?”, Belle asks raising an eyebrow, then with a reluctant sigh, “Alright, I’ll go.”

Once upstairs and settled in bed, Rumpelstiltskin senses a tension in Belle, as she squints at him.
“Your head again?”, he asks.
Responding in a strained voice, “Yes, it’s not constant, but sometimes I’d swear there’s a knife going through it.”
He sits on the edge of the bed, removing the lavender oil from his jacket pocket, “Here this should help.”
She watches him curiously, as he puts a couple of drops on the tip of his index finger, then lightly massages the oil into her right temple, then repeats the process with her left.  The scent is relaxing, and his touch unto itself is the most soothing experience she’s had in decades.
He says, “You know we really should get some food in you.”
“I had dinner at the hospital.” replies Belle.
In a worried tone, “Yes, and I’m pretty sure I heard you lose it all.”
Belle tries to deter his coddling, “Please don’t fuss over me.  I’d don’t want to be your pet.  I want to be your lov…  your wom…”

An exceedingly pleased smile washes across Rumpelstiltskin’s face, watching Belle struggle to find a word that won’t over reach.  Clearing her throat to regain her composure, not wanting his smugness to get the best of her, “I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll try to eat some dinner, if we can dine together like civilized adults over at that desk.”, pointing to the mahogany writing desk by the window.
“Making deals with me already?”  He says in an amused tone.
Folding her arms and smiling, she says, “Or I could go with my original impulse and not eat.  I can go either way.”
Smiling sweetly, he responds, “No, I like your deal.  I’ll go get us a light supper and be back shortly.”

He returns a while later, having disposed of his suit jacket, looking more relaxed.  He has a tray laden with two bowls of chicken rice soup for them to dine on,  as well as crackers, some fruit salad, some ‘special’ tea and a large glass of water for Belle.  He and Belle work together to get a second chair in place.  Once Rumpelstiltskin has things arranged on the desk.  Belle reaches for the tea first, and says, “Thank you for this.  I think it’s helping some.”  Knowing from their interaction while Emma was there, that Belle is well aware of his deception with the tea, he smiles softly appreciative of her tolerance, “You’re very welcome, sweetheart.”
Her face beams, as his words make her almost liquid.
They commence eating, while gazing into each other’s eyes from across the desk.
Belle comments, “This soup is quite good.  I’m impressed.”
Rumpelstiltskin says, “You seem surprised.”
She replies, “I am.  I did all the cooking when we were at the castle.”
An odd smile appears on his face.  As Belle, clearly dehydrated, quickly drinks down the large glass of water, his eyes are drawn to her left hand.
“Did Regina do that to your hand?”, he asks.
Belle, feeling self conscious and quite aware of his intuitive nature, focuses her thoughts on the incident with her hand, and not the event that precipitated it.
“No, I can’t blame this on her, exactly.  It was more of a failed escape attempt.”
“What do you mean?”, he questions and reaches out and gently strokes her hand.
Belle, presses forward, intently focused on just the question posed, “I had tried to…well…for lack of a better word…’summon’ you a few times.   Then I had an idea.  I remembered when I was young, hearing something about energy that people put out, and how sometimes that energy is greater when a person is under stress or pain.  So I thought if I increased my pain, maybe I could contact you.”

Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes shift down to his soup, as though he’s pondering some great mystery within the contents of his bowl. Belle continues, “So I started beating my fist against the stone wall.  Eventually, I heard a loud pop, felt a pain that went like lightning from my hand all the way to my shoulder, then I just couldn’t bare to hit the wall anymore.” Rumpelstiltskin, looking as though he wants to cry, cups her hand softly between his hands. Belle, sounding slightly maternal, “No.  The sad face has to go.  I’m here, and I’m fine.”

A question comes to his mind, “I thought Regina told you that she had told me that you died.” Belle explains, “She did, much later…but early on, she had a different approach with me.” He asks uneasily, “What kind of approach?”
Belle, in a firm tone, “I’d rather not spoil our lovely meal with it.  I’ll tell you about it some other time.”

Backing off that subject, but wanting to know more about her time after she left the castle, “How did your father react when you returned home?”
“I never went home…I couldn’t.”, she says and he frowns in confusion.  She continues, “If I would have gone home, my father would have set out to marry me off, as soon as possible.  As much as I had abhorred the idea before, I hated it more after being with you.  I knew what it was like to love someone…I knew the desire for the touch of the man that I loved.  Even though I missed my father, it would have been torture to have another man touch me.”

Looking at her with a mixture of love and bafflement, he asks, “Then what did happen?”  She replies, “I felt so lost when I left the castle.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do next.  Then it occurred to me…all those boring gatherings of knights discussing ‘strategic planning’, ‘survival skills’ and ‘what to do if you’re captured by the enemy’ popped into my head.  I hadn’t even thought that I was paying attention, but apparently, I was.  I recalled that there was a cave that had been used by hunters for shelter, that had been cleared by the knights.  So, I decided to look and see if it was still empty.”
In an astonished tone, he says, “A cave?”
“Yes, a cave.  Is that surprising to you?”  Sensing there is no good answer to the question, he says, “Go on with what you were saying about the cave.”

Raising an eyebrow, feeling a mixture of annoyance and amusement at his reaction, “I went there to, as they say, ‘regroup’.  I needed a place to think things through to know what to do next.  I wanted to be close enough to the castle in case you came looking for me.”  A look of guilt claims Rumpelstiltskin’s expression.  Belle continues, “So, I used the cave as refuge for a couple of nights.  I still hadn’t decided what to do.  Then I went to a tavern to…well…as they say, drown my sorrows.  I must say, I couldn’t see what attracts people to such places…it’s really quite noisy.  I got some mead…didn’t like that taste much.  Tea is much more pleasant to drink.”  Rumpelstiltskin smiles at the imagery, knowing a tavern would not be Belle’s type of place.

Belle continues with her story, “There were some dwarves at the tavern, and I overheard one of them talking about a perplexing illness he was having.  I knew right away…he was in love.”  “A dwarf in love?” he questioned, as his mind flashed on the events surrounding the convent’s candle sale last winter.  “Yes, it was absolutely clear.  He was completely smitten, but didn’t know what to do.  I found myself advising him to go find his love and make it work.  I drank a bit more of the mead…I could only stand just a bit.  I suddenly knew exactly what to do…I was going back to the castle, and I would ‘make you’ realize that I loved you and you loved me.”  He has a look of surprise at Belle’s boldness.  “Yes, I know it was ridiculous to think I could ‘make you’ do anything.  I think it was the mead talking…the knights use to call it ‘liquid courage’.”  He nods and smiles.  She continues, “I knew that I would do everything that I could to convince you, but if you still sent me away, I would hop on a ship and explore far away lands.  I didn’t really consider hopping on a ship to be a real option, because I was determined that when I got to the castle, I’d give it all that I had to convince you, and you’d realize that we should be together.  There was still plenty of daylight by the time I neared the castle.  I reached that bend in the road, where there’s a tree that looks like an old woman.”  He nods recalling the location.  “I could just see that castle.  I started thinking about your daily routine, trying to imagine which room you’d be in at that time.  I didn’t want to waste any time.  I wanted to get to you as soon as I could.  I was so excited by my imaginings of you in the castle, that I didn’t pay attention when I heard a twig snap behind me.  Then everything went black, and I woke up in Regina’s dungeon.”

Rumpelstiltskin says, “I thought you would be better off without me.”
In a calm, reassuring tone, Belle says, “Well, you know better than that now.”
Her words are met with a tense silence.  Searching his expression, she detects a festering doubt.  Belle’s body tenses as she repeats emphatically, “You know better than that now.”  Rumpelstiltskin explains, “Belle, I may look different, but that hasn’t altered who I am.”  Belle, becoming more agitated, tapping her finger on the desk, “No, you’re not doing this.  Not again.”
Rumpelstiltskin calmly attempts to rationalize, “Belle, I want to be with you…more than you could ever know.  But I’m not sure it’s right.  I’m still a mon…”  Belle, slightly raising her voice, interrupts, “Just because it’s easier for you to believe that, doesn’t make it true.  Stop thinking that casting me off would be noble, because it’s not!”

In a reasoned tone, he says, “I’m just trying to protect you.  This life that I live is not any woman’s fantasy.”  Becoming hostile, Belle says, “Fantasy?  Let’s talk about your fantasy for a moment.  Your fantasy where I’m better off without you.  What does that look like?  How does it feel?”
Bewildered by her questions, he says, “I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking, but you could have a complete life without me.”  Belle begins to seethe, “Complete life?  What kind of life?  A life alone, without love?  Or do you mean I should convince some poor man to marry me, while I’m always thinking of you?  Which life would you prefer to sentence me to?”

Rumpelstiltskin responds, “Sentence?  I’m not sentencing you to anything.  You could find someone to love.”  She is dumbfounded as she asks, “Do you really think it’s that easy?  Or is that what you tell yourself to make this absurd notion palatable?  I want you to imagine the deal you’re trying to strike with yourself.  Imagine some other man, with his hands all over me, doing things that you have never done, and me baring his children.”  Belle sees a mixture of hurt and anger come to his eyes, she continues, “Would it feel good to you to have some other man bedding me every night?!?”  He yells, “Belle, stop it!  Stop it now!”  Leaning forward on the desk, glaring at him, “No, I want an answer.  Would you enjoy knowing that my flesh would crawl every time he touches me, because every part of me would be screaming and aching for it to be you.” Rising from her chair, the sound of the chair legs scraping against the wood floor, seems to punctuate the mood.  Belle brings her face inches from his as her eyes tear, “Would it make you happy to sentence me to that kind of misery for the rest of my life?!?”  “No, it wouldn’t make me happy!”, he yells, “It would kill me to let someone else have you!”

Slowly easing back into her seat, “Good, then whatever twisted part of you mind that has been entertaining this horrid notion of nobility can throw it away, never to be thought of again.”  Rumpelstiltskin notices Belle’s body shudder from the strain of their confrontation.  “Belle, sweetheart, I’m sorry.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve been involved with a woman. I just don’t know what to do sometimes.”

Belle says, “Neither do I.  I don’t know what I’m doing, but we’re never going to learn, if you’re always looking for a way out.  I just need to know two things right now:  Do you love me?  Do you want to be with me?”
He replies, “Yes, of course I do.  I love you so much, and I want to believe that we can be together forever.”  She responds softly, “Then you need to start believing it.  I wish I could believe enough for the both of us, but I can’t do this all by myself.  You have to meet me part of the way.”
“I’m trying.  It’s just hard for me.”, he says.

Going back to eating, a question emerges from Belle’s lips, “How much of my conversation with Emma did you hear?”  Feeling as though she’s putting him on the spot, “Not much.”  Belle tilts her head and raises her eye brows.  He adds, “I heard some of what you said about us.”  Belle replies, “So you know that I wasn’t completely honest with her about what happened at the castle.”  He nods and sighs, as he knows what this is about, “I never meant to hurt you.” She nods acknowledgment, “It was frightening.  Not because of the curse nor magic, nor your view of yourself as a monster.  I don’t see you that way.  But it was frightening, because you’re much bigger and stronger than me, and I had never seen you so angry.  When you grabbed me like that, then threw me in the dungeon, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”  Mournfully, he says, “Belle, I’m so sorry that I frightened you like that.  I’m so sorry that I…”

Calmly, she speaks, “Look, I understand now that you were protecting me from that rage that was coming.  I saw what you did to the curio cabinet, as I passed by the door on my way out.  I’d rather have skinned knees than the fate of that cabinet.”  Surprised, he says, “Skinned knees?”  She explains, “Yes, when I landed on the stone floor, my knees got a bit bloodied.  But they healed quickly.”  Rumpelstiltskin breaks eye contact with Belle, looking up at the ceiling, fighting the urge to cry.  In all this time, he had never allowed himself to consider that he had caused her physical harm that night, but now he can’t ignore it.  He hurt his beloved Belle.

Reaching across the desk to his cheek, Belle guides his gaze back to her’s.  “It’s alright.  I’m fine now…but it can never happen again.  It would kill me to leave you, but I can’t stay if you rage at me like that.”  Her voice begins to crack from emotion, “I don’t know what I’d do if I had to leave you.  I can’t bare the thought.  But there has to be some line that can’t be crossed, and that has to be mine.  Please don’t ever force me to leave you.”
He leans his head into her palm, “Belle, why do you want to stay?  I never want to hurt you, but I have.”

She moves her hand down to his hand and strokes it.  “I love you more than I knew I could possibly love anybody.  I’ve wanted to be with you for so long.  Now that I’m here, I don’t want to give you up.  You have to understand, over time, we’re each going to do foolish things, and we’ll probably get angry sometimes, but we have to find another way to deal with that anger.  We can’t have something like that happen with children in the house.”  Feeling that she’s overstepped, “I…I mean we could have children visiting, and we don’t want them to see that.”  A knowing smile appears across his face, “No, we wouldn’t want any ‘visiting’ children to see that.  So perhaps, we need to find another way to handle moments of strife.”

Belle asks, “How much do you trust me?”
He replies, “I assume we’re back to the conversation with Emma.”, Belle nods, and he says, “As I told you earlier, I know that you weren’t trying to kill me, when you tried to break the curse.  I trust that you would never try to harm me, and I probably trust you to tell me the truth more than you trust me to do the same.”  “You do have a rather colorful past in that area.”, Belle smiles, looking at the tea cup than back to him.  Conceding the point, he says, “True.  I don’t really know how to answer this question.  I want to say that I trust you completely, but I don’t.  Life taught me the hard way not to trust people.  I don’t want to hurt you, but if I’m going to be honest with you, I have to say that I don’t fully trust you.”

Belle, smiles understandingly, “It’s really is alright.  You didn’t hurt me.  I know that you don’t trust easily.  That’s who you’ve become over time, and I can’t expect that to change with the wind.  We both made mistakes the first time around, and it’s going to take time for those wounds to heal and for us to learn how to trust each other.”

She circles her finger around the center of his palm several times, pondering the beauty of his hand.  Her touch soothes, him so much that he wonders how he ever managed to live without it.  Her eyes leave his hand, as her finger continues to circle.  Looking at him, she says, “Tell me a story.  One happy memory.”  He smiles, “Meeting you.”  She prods him, “No, not good enough.  It can’t involve me.  How about one happy memory from your childhood?”

Incredulously, he asks, “Why would you want to hear about that?” “I’ll make you a deal.”, she says with a mischievous grin.  His eyes twinkle with excitement in anticipate of what kind of deal she might propose.  She proposes, “If you tell me one happy memory from your childhood, I’ll do something to make a new happy memory.”  Intrigued, he asks, “What would that be?”  Her grin widens, as her blue eyes seem to sparkle with excitement, “I’m not telling you.  You have to trust that I can think of something that would make you happy.”  Smugly, he says, “You know, I don’t make deals without knowing what I get in return.”  Folding her arms confidently across her chest, she says, “Those are the terms of my deal.  Take it or leave it…do you trust me?”  He looks down at her finger circling his palm so delightfully, “I’ll take it.  The deal is struck.”

Stalling for time, he says, “I’m not much of a conversationalist, you know.”
In a firm, but pleasant tone, she responds, “Yes, you are.  You’re just out of practice.  I’m not letting you off the hook.”  He smiles at her steely eyed determination, closeing his eyes to think for a moment.  Belle watches his expression attentively and sees it change to something indescribably different from any she has seen before.

Rumpelstiltskin begins, “When I was young, maybe ten or so, we lived on the northern outskirts of the Front-lands.  Though we had the occasional droughts, the stream and lake always had water.  It was my job to get the water.  It was quite a long walk, but I didn’t mind.  I had learned how to pace myself.  My favorite time to go was shortly before sunset.  At that time of day, the lakebed would come alive with colors that I swore were from a painting…not that I’d seen many paintings, as we didn’t have money for such things.”  Belle cupped her chin in her palm, leaning in, as if to fully experience every word.

He continues, “I’d sit by the lake, being quiet as I could, while the lives of the creatures around me became like music.”  His voice takes on a tone of childlike wonder, “That music and the sight of so many creatures, the bugs, all kinds of small animals scurrying around, the fish in the lake occasionally coming to the surface, set my imagination aflame.  I’d wonder about the amazing world that each creature lived in, often oblivious to the trivialities of humans.  I wished that I could be apart of those worlds.  Much later as a man, we lived closer to the lake on the north-western ridge of the Front-lands.  I would take Bae…uh, that’s my son, to the lake from time to time.”  Rumpelstiltskin, slightly startled to have let his son’s name pass his lips, continues, “He seemed as mesmerized by it as I had been.  He’d get the most amazing smile, and his eyes would burn with excitement.  At times, we’d try to skip rocks, but neither of us quite mastered the proper angle to get the rock to skip.  So, most of the time, we just sat quietly.  He’d lean against me, and I’d swear I could hear his heart beating in time with the music around us.”  Rumpelstiltskin smiles, lost in thought of the memories that had long since been buried in his mind.  Belle feels a sense of astonishment, realizing that he hadn’t just lived up to the terms of their deal, a story from his childhood, but gifted her with a story about his son.

He says, “Well, that’s my story.  Was it worth listening to?”
Smiling adoringly, she says, “It was lovely.  Thank you.”
Belle rises from her chair, walks a couple of steps to face Rumpelstiltskin and requests, “Move your chair back a bit, please.”  He does so, studying the nuances of her face.  In the space created between him and the desk, she moves in and sits on his lap. He instinctively wraps his arms around Belle’s waist, cautious of her ribs.  Looking deep into Rumpelstiltskin’s dark eyes, she brings her hands to his face, slowly raking back his hair, and begins to stroke the top of his ears between her fingers.  Rumpelstiltskin sighs and smiles, “You do know my name is Rumpelstiltskin, not Rover, right?”  Leaning her face mere inches from his, Belle whispers with a slight husk to her voice, “Oh hush, don’t pretend you’re not enjoying this…I can tell that you are.”  He slightly bites his bottom lip, as he smiles at her.  Her fingers work their way down to his lobes and behind his ears.  His eyes flutter closed momentarily.  Belle then glides her fingers upward and begins massaging his temples.  Rumpelstiltskin leans into Belle’s neck and inhales deeply.  Feeling Rumpelstiltskin’s nose nuzzling her neck, makes Belle’s heart pound, and she begins to cradle the back of his head.

After several moments, he pulls away slightly to look into her eyes.  Speaking softly with his Scottish brogue clear in his tone, “I’m just curious, dear.  Was this the best thing that you could think to offer me?”, smiling with a provocative look in his eyes.  Cupping his cheeks in her palms, Belle answers, “It’s the best that I have to offer, for now.  I hope it’s good enough.”  A tenderness overtakes his expression, “It’s more than enough, my darling, Belle.”  She looks at him with a love and adoration that no other woman has ever shown him.  He finds himself utterly baffled by her.  Belle loosens his tie a bit, and unbuttons his top button, then works her fingers under his collar and massages his neck.  He pulls her into a gentle embrace as she continues.  Belle leans her head forward, gently gliding her cheek across his head, closing her eyes feeling his hair softly brush her cheek.  Her heart pounds and her breathing quickens.  Rumpelstiltskin’s effect on her is profound, and she is torn between wanting to continue their entwinement and the knowledge that in her condition, she can not offer more than this.  Belle, bides her time, continuing to massage his neck and nuzzle her face against his silky hair for several more minutes, as he glides his hands lightly up and down her back, then slowly, she eases back to face him.  Speaking rather unconvincingly, she sighs, “Well, I’d better get up now.”, then in a slightly sing-song tone, she continues, “I don’t want my bum, making your legs numb.”  He smiles at her, while stroking the small of her back, “My legs are just fine.  No need to stop on their account.”, then with a tone of apprehension, he says, “However, perhaps, it is time to talk about some things.”  Tracing his ears with her fingers, one more time, Belle says, “Alright.”

As she gets up, he notices her wince, “Your ribs?”  “Just a twinge.”, she reassures.  “How about you go sit in bed?  I know that chair is not very comfortable.  I’ll clear away the dishes, and when I return, we can talk.”

Returning, he has another glass of water and an ice pack.  Placing the glass on the nightstand, “You’re starting to feel hot again.  I thought this ice pack might help.”  “Yes, I’m starting to feel like I’m being cooked.”, pressing the ice pack against her neck.  Rumpelstiltskin says, “We can talk later, if you wish.”  In a sweet, but firm tone, Belle says, “No, I can still manage a conversation…especially if it is important.”

Belle, notices him standing awkwardly, looking around as if he is trying to decide where he wants to be.  Belle slides to the left side of the bed, and her right hand pats the bed, “Come sit with me, please.”  Pulling off his shoes, he slides in next to her, as not to face her, as he tries to breathe through the labor of the story that he has never told.  Focusing his eyes on the pin striping of his pants, he begins with a slight shakiness to his voice, “Bae…Baelfire was always a remarkable child.  Even as a wee one, he seemed to have an old soul.  His eyes seemed so wise.”  He feels a lump choke off his ability to speak, as he visualizes Bae.  After an extended silence, Belle raises her hand to his head, brushing his hair from his face, as she leans forward and to the side to look at him,  “You’re doing fine…keep going.  You can do this.”  His eyes meet hers, and he smiles weakly at her nurturing expression, then goes back to looking at the pin stripes.  Belle sits back on her pillow, slightly leaning against him, as she holds the ice pack to her neck on the opposite side.

“Bae and I were alone for quite a while.  We didn’t have much, and I didn’t have friends to look to in a crisis.  I…I was the town coward.”, taking a deep breath, in a tone of disdain, he continues, “I was nothing.  But I had this one great treasure, an embodiment of hope; Baelfire.  Bae made it all worthwhile.”  He can feel her turn and focus her attention on him, but he can not bare to look at her.  “I adored Bae.  He was everything to me.  A few days before his fourteenth birthday, we discovered that the Duke of the Front-lands had lowered the age for those required to fight in the Ogre Wars.  That mad man had lowered it to fourteen.”  He hears Belle make a soft gasp.

“I couldn’t lose him.  I couldn’t have him sent into that slaughter.  So, the only thing that I could think to do was take Bae and run.”  “Of course.” Belle interjects.  He’s somewhat surprised by her logical tone, as though she understands, then is further surprised to feel her hand press firmly against his forearm, as though she was trying to give him her strength.

“We set out at night.  I thought that would be the safest time.  There weren’t many people on the road, as we walked that night.  There was an old beggar.  We didn’t have much, but he seemed in a really bad way, so I gave what I could.  We kept going, but it was slow going with my leg.  A minute later, I heard horses.  I tried to get Bae to hide, but he didn’t seem to see the danger in it.  He was such a brave boy, not like me.  The Duke’s guards, who regularly came to take the children, were on the horses.  They stopped us, and threatened to take Baelfire right then.  One of them recognized me.”

Rumpelstiltskin stops talking, lost in the moment shaking his head.  Belle leans her head on his shoulder, “Was that a problem?”  With a tone of bitterness, “Indeed, it certainly was.  He told Baelfire that I ran from the Ogre war.  …and he forced me to…” choking out the words, “kiss his boot, and when I did, he kicked me.”  Belle reaches out and squeezes Rumpelstiltskin’s hand, and he responds in kind curling his figures firmly around Belle’s hand.  Belle sits up straight and looks at him, “Rumpelstiltskin?”  He looks up to see Belle’s teary eyes.  Their sorrow seem to mirror his own pain.

Belle speaks in a soft, trembling voice, “We can stop, and you can tell me more later, if this is too much.”  He reaches up and strokes her cheek, “No, I’ve waited far too long to tell you this.  After all that’s happened, I need to tell you the story that I promised you at the castle.  The story that I always regretted not telling you.”  Belle embraces him, stoking the back of his head, “Alright, my love, I’m ready to hear your story.”

He continues, “Baelfire, with the help of the beggar, who reappeared at that time, got me home.  I gave the beggar some food, and as Bae slept, I found myself pouring my heart out to this complete stranger.  I was so afraid of losing Bae, and it had been a such very long time since I had anyone to talk to, that I said everything that was in my heart without reservation.”  Rumpelstiltskin clenches his fist and shakes his head, “I later realized that the beggar had alerted the Duke’s guards.  By then, it was too late.  He told me of a…an artifact.  It was magical, and the Duke used it to control the Dark One.  If I stole it, I could control the Dark One or use it to kill the Dark One and take his powers.  The story seemed like an answer to all my wishes.  I could save Bae and end the war.  I thought I could use it for good.  But Baelfire, wise boy that he was, didn’t like the idea.  He saw a danger in it, that I didn’t.  In spite of his feelings, he helped me prepare to set the Dukes castle on fire.  The castle went up in flames quickly, and I got in there and stole the artifact.  Then I sent Bae home, and I summoned the Dark One.  When I saw him appear from nowhere, I startled and dropped my torch.  I tried to stay as far away as I could.  I had decided I’d command him to save Baelfire.  Then he started to talk about Bae.  He said things about him.  Things that I don’t want to repeat.”

Rumpelstiltskin looks at Belle to check her reaction.  She nods her agreement.
“The things he said about Bae cut into my heart.  I had never acted out in anger before, but I just wanted him to stop.  I hated him for what he was saying.  I just…just snapped and used the artifact to kill him.  As he was dieing, I realized he was the beggar.  He wanted me to kill him, because being the Dark One was such a misery.”  “Oh no.”, Belle whispers and wraps her arms around him.  “I was terrified of what was beginning to happen, but quickly the power felt good…intoxicating.  I was sure I wouldn’t be a coward anymore.”

Belle interjects, “Wait.  I don’t understand.”  “What do you mean?”, Rumpelstiltskin asks.  “How could you call yourself a coward?  What you did was brave.  You had a bad leg and no magic, but you walked through a raging fire, and faced the terrifying Dark One.  That’s the most courageous thing I’ve ever heard.”  He stares at Belle in confusion.  To have someone calling him “brave” and “courageous” is unfathomable to him.  Yet Belle with adoring, blue eyes shining upon his face is unabashed bestowing such honor.  Speaking softly, Rumpelstiltskin says, “Well, I…I don’t know about that.”  “I do.  It was very brave!”, she says firmly.  “But it all went wrong.”, he counters.

Belle puts her hands on his checks and gently turns his head to look into his eyes, “Things going right is not a requirement for something to be brave.  What you did was brave.  Why can’t you see that?” His hands move her hands from his face, and holds them in his lap, “Don’t be too adoring.  I don’t deserve it.  When I got home, the guards were in the process of taking Bae.”  He pauses and sighs deeply, “Belle, I killed them.  I killed them all, and I enjoyed it; particularly the one who made me kiss his boot.  I killed them in front of Bae, and he was horrified.  He was so worried about what was happening to me, but I was sure I could handle it.  I tried to use the magic for good.  I ended the Ogre War…”

Astonished, Belle says, “That was you?  I remember reading about some magical force ending the first Ogre war, but I didn’t realize it was you.”  “Yes, I ended the war, and brought the children home, including Bae’s special friend Morraine.  I was so pleased with myself for that achievement that I was blind to how the magic was affecting me.  The magic seemed to connect to all the parts of me that had been stepped on all my life.  It seemed to hold tightly to my pain and anger.  I would do terrible things without giving it a second thought.  Bae couldn’t stand it.  He hated what was happening to me.  He asked me to agree to stop being the Dark One, if he could find a way to make things as they were.  I didn’t want to go back to feeling weak, always vulnerable, but I made the deal.  I really didn’t think there was a way.  Baelfire called upon the Blue Fairy, and she gave him a magic bean to take us to a land without magic.  Bae was so excited to go.  He didn’t want to wait another minute.  He guided me into the forest and used the bean, but when the time came,” taking a deep breath, “…I chose my power over him.”, going silent for a moment, shame covers his face.

“How?”, Belle asks.  Confused, he says, “I’m not sure what you’re asking.”
Belle asks, “What happened…exactly.”  He responds, “I told you.  I chose my power over him.  Isn’t that enough?”  Belle prods him, “No, you said you wanted to tell me this story.  Finish the story…details matter.  How did he use the bean?”  “What difference does it make?”, he asks.  Trying to coax him to continue, she says, “Maybe none, maybe a lot…you said you were going to tell me what happened, so I expect you to honor that.”

With a slight tone of frustration, “Fine.  He dropped the bean on the ground, and a portal opened up.”  Belle presses with questions, “What kind of portal?  What did it look like?  What happened?”  He closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them saying,  “There was a green light coming from the ground, and it started to get windy, like a storm was coming through.  Then…”, Rumpelstiltskin struggles to find the words.  “Then what?   What did you see and feel?”, Belle asks.

“It was like a tornado, and the ground started to slip from under me.  I…I fell…I hadn’t fallen like that, since I became Dark One.  It was disorienting.  When I fell, I sunk the artifact into the ground and held on to it, so that I wouldn’t fall any further.  Bae was pleading for me to come with him, as he held on to my other hand.  I told him that I couldn’t do it, that it would rip us apart.  He became so angry at me for betraying him, and called me a “coward”.”  Rumpelstiltskin’s chest heaves, as he tries to choke back tears, guilt and anger. “Belle, I let go of his hand.”, looking at Belle’s tear streaked face, he had an expression of horrified astonishment, as though he’s experiencing it for the first time.  “The portal closed…and I started to claw at the ground and beg to go with Bae, but it was no use.  He was gone.  I let him go.   I told you, I chose power over Bae.”

Belle’s brow furrows, “When?”  Rumpelstiltskin stares at Belle in confused, frustrated silence.  “When in that story did you choose?”, she asks.  With an edge to his voice, “When I let go of his hand, obviously.”  Maintaining an even tone, “Sorry, but it wasn’t obvious to me.  You love Baelfire…why didn’t you use magic?”  Confused he asks, “What are you talking about?”  “Why didn’t you magically move you and Bae away from the portal?”, Belle queries. Stymied by the question, he says, “It wasn’t that easy.  There was a lot going on.”  Persisting she says, “You were the Dark One…couldn’t you have done it?” “Well, yes, I suppose, but…” he pauses searching for the answer. “But what?  Why didn’t you do it?”, Belle presses for an answer.  Frustrated and confused, he says, “I don’t know. I didn’t think of it. There was so much going on…the ground was about to swallow us, and I don’t know.  Is there a point to this inquisition?”

“Yes, there is.  You. Don’t. Know.  You were the all powerful Dark One, but you didn’t think of using magic, yet you say you chose magic over Baelfire.  Which is it?”  He mutters, “Both, I suppose.”  “You suppose?  You called it a ‘tornado’, talked about your confusion after falling, and you didn’t think of using magic.  It doesn’t sound like you made a choice.  It sounds like you were scared.”  “Yes, I was scared, but is that suppose to make me feel better?  I was a ‘coward’ as always.”

Belle gives a nurturing expression as she tilts her head, “You didn’t make a choice.  You were afraid.  It happens…it’s part of being human.  We have fears to keep us safe…to keep us out of danger.  It keeps us from running into the middle of a field during a lightning storm…or trying to get a closer look at a tornado.”  Straightening her head, and putting her hands back on his cheeks and holding firmly, but gently, “We all get scared sometimes.  It’s okay to be scared.  You love Baelfire, but you made a mistake.  Saying bad things about yourself, doesn’t help that.”  She slides her hands from his cheeks to the back of his neck and softly strokes.  “I always assumed when you said that you lost your son that it was your way of saying he had died.  That didn’t happen.  So that’s good news, right?”

“Yes, but a lot has happened since I lost him.  I summoned the Blue Fairy to get another bean, but she said that was the last one.  I kept suggesting ways to get to him, but that damn fairy kept telling me there was no way to get to him, until I mentioned a curse, which seemed to tweak her.  I’d tried so many ways to get to where Bae had gone…even thought I’d had another bean, but it was a trick.  So, I created the curse that brought us all here.  This is the land where Bae is, and I have to find him.”

Surprised, Belle says, “It wasn’t Regina?”  Rumpelstiltskin responds, “No, I created it, but a curse that powerful required great sacrifice.  I didn’t have the means, nor the desire to make the sacrifice required.”, with a tone of self loathing, “but I made damn sure Regina was fully able to make such a sacrifice.  It was my last option to find Baelfire, and I did it.”

Belle stops stroking his neck, and tries to process all that she’s been told, as she mindlessly stares at a button on his shirt.  She feels overwhelmed to think how many people he might have hurt or killed in his reign as Dark One, yet she understood his desperation…how could he just let his child be drug off to a war?  She is filled with so many conflicting emotions.  Belle remains silent, not wanting to know the details of the sacrifice, as she has seen up close what Regina is capable of and shudders to think what the sacrifice might have involved.  Suddenly, a realization crashes over Belle like a tidal wave, and she shakes as she brings her hands to her face momentarily covering her eyes.

He knew the realization of his misdeeds would be too much for her with which to live.  Tears flow down his cheeks, as he sighs heavily, trying to steel himself.  He pulls her hands from her face, knowing it is likely the last time he will feel her delicate fingers wrapped around his.  “It’s okay, Belle.  Say what you need to say.”  Tears flow rapidly from Belle’s eyes, as she struggles to speak, “Baelfire…he’s the reason that you needed to keep the Dark One curse.”  Rumpelstiltskin nods.  Belle breathes heavy, as a look of utter turmoil claims her face, “The kiss…I almost ruined everything!  It was almost all for nothing…because of me!”…looking away, and closing her eyes, propelling a flood of tears down her cheeks, “No wonder you hated me!”

The turn in Belle’s thinking confuses him, as he grips her hands tighter, “No, Belle, I didn’t hate you.”  She looks at him with wide eyes full of pain, “Why not?  Oh Gods, what I almost did to you!  How can you stand to look at me?”  He pulls her hands to his chest, as his heart thuds against his rib cage, “You feel that?  My heart cries out for you.  I love you.”  She stammers, “But I…” He interrupts firmly, “But nothing!  If I hadn’t been too much of a coward to tell you the truth, when I promised that I would.  Things could have been so different for us.  It’s my fault.  Put the blame where it belongs, on me.” Defiantly, she exclaims, “No!  You’re not taking all the blame for this.  I really messed things up.  I hurt you…I didn’t mean to, but I did.  Rumpelstiltskin, can you ever really forgive me for what I did?”

He pulls her into an embrace, nuzzling his face into her hair, and whispering into her ear, “It’s done. I told you, I forgave you long ago, and I meant it. Please don’t be upset.  It’s not good for you.” She doesn’t speak, but squeezes him tighter, as she rests her head on his shoulder.  After a long while, they part, and he wipes the tears from her cheeks, then lingers to stroke them.

Rumpelstiltskin then sits back, and clasps his hands in front of him. With a casual tone, he says, “Hey, not that what you’re wearing isn’t lovely, but wouldn’t you sleep better in proper nighttime attire?” Belle looks at him, noting his effort to change the subject, smiling softly, shaking her head.  He continues, “You know, you could just think of the kinds of things that you want to wear, and I could make them appear in the dresser…and I wouldn’t even see your undergarments.”  Understanding how important it seems to be to him to pamper her, she chuckles softly, “Alright.”.  She closes her eyes and bites her bottom lip as the thinks, then opens her eyes in time to see a purple glow stream from the edges of the drawers.

Rumpelstiltskin has a satisfied smile.  Belle’s forehead gets a slight crinkle as she ponders a moment, “Wait a second.  Can’t you read people’s thoughts?”  He responds, “Sometimes, but don’t worry I wasn’t reading yours…I was just thinking about carrier doves.”  Belle reaches and swats him with a pillow.

With a mischievous tone, he continues, “You know, perhaps, we should open the window.  We wouldn’t want the dove to break its neck hitting the window.”  Belle laughs and shakes her head, “I don’t think we have to worry about that tonight.”  He continues, “I don’t know…what if a whole flock shows up?” “There’s a flock now?”, Belle giggles.  With an overly persuasive tone, he says, “It could happen.  Then we’d wake up in the morning to find a carrier dove massacre strewn across the front lawn.”  Belle busts out laughing, “That’s quite the optimistic imagination you have there.”

He leans in close, tilts his head and smiles.  Belle raises an eyebrow and smiles, “Rumpelstiltskin, I would very much like to change my clothes, and I have drunk a lot of water and tea tonight, so there are things I need to attend to, and I would very much like to do them alone.”  He gets up, “Enough said.” As he walks to the door, she says, “I’ll open the door when I’m done.”

Approximately ten minutes later, Belle opens the guest room door, wearing a periwinkle blue, chenille robe with ivory lace trim, covering her rum pink, silk nightgown.  Rumpelstiltskin emerges from his room still in his day clothes, and says, “Oh my, don’t you look nice.”  Putting her hands on her hips, giving him a knowing look, she says, “It’s kind of funny.  These clothes are much nicer than what I pictured in my head.  I wonder how that happened?” Grinning widely, “Magic is unpredictable in this realm.  Who’s to say?  I can take another crack at it, if you’d like something else.”  “No need. This will do quite fine.  Thank you.  Plus, who knows what you would come up with next.”, Belle smiles, and tilts her head, leaning flirtatiously in the door way. Rumpelstiltskin moving in closer, “As you wish, my darling.  Is there anything else you need before you go to bed?”  Belle replies sweetly, “No, thank you.  Everything is wonderful as it is.”  “Very good then.”, he slides his hand across her cheek, then pulls her in for an embrace stroking the back of her head.

As they part, Belle says, “Oh wait.  I was wondering, when do we leave?” “Leave to go where?”, he asks.  Belle responds, “To find Baelfire, of course.  You don’t think I’m having you traipse all over who-knows-where without me, do you?”  A smile beams across Rumpelstiltskin’s face, “You want to go with me?”, he says in a jubilant tone.  She declares, “Absolutely!  Baelfire is a part of you, so I haven’t really gotten you back until we find him.  Besides, I want to meet him.  I hope that’s alright.”

Hugging her and nuzzling his face along her soft hair, “That’s more than alright.  I was really hoping that you’d want to go along, because I didn’t want to be without you.” concluding the hug, he slides his index finger across her jaw line to her chin, and leans in inches from her face, gazing into her eyes, “I want the two most special people, in all the realms, to me to know each other.”

“So, when do we leave?”, she asks.  “It’ll be a few days.  I want you stronger, and I assume you’ll want to see your father first.”  Belle nods uneasily at the thought of seeing her father.  “Well then, you need your rest so that you can get better.  So, good night, my love.”  Belle croons sweetly, “I love you, Rumpelstiltskin.  Good night.”  She hugs him and takes an extra moment to run her fingers through his hair, then smiles, and walks to the bed, leaving the door open.

A while later, Rumpelstiltskin climbs under the covers of his bed, looks at the time on the clock; 12:47, and turns off the lamp.  Laying on his side facing the lamp, he closes his eyes.  A moment later, he hears a shuffling across his room, and a slight burst of air as the covers are lifted.  He feels a strand of hair fall across his ear, as Belle whispers, “Rumpelstiltskin.”  He rolls over to see Belle in bed next to him in her rum pink nightgown, and he looks at her both pleased and bewildered.  She softly blows the hair from his forehead, and presses her upper torso against him.  “Belle, you really should be resting.”  Leaning her face temptingly close, she runs her hands over his burgundy silk pajama top and whispers, “I’m fine, darling.  Let me help heal your pain…please.”

In one fluid movement, he rolls her on to her back, closing his eyes, he kisses her deeply, as his hands glide across her back.  Kissing her a few more times, savoring her taste, his lips travel to her jaw, to her neck, as she sighs in pleasure, then to her shoulder, where his hands move the gown from her shoulder.  He breathes her in, and opens his eyes.  He is laying on his side, quickly turning on the lamp to find himself alone in the bed, and the clock with the time, 12:50.  Scolding himself, “What am I doing?!?  I can’t be having that kind of dream about Belle right now.  She’s in too delicate of a state.”  Rolling onto his back, he takes several deep breaths, clearing his mind, resolving not to have such dreams about Belle tonight.

In moments, he is asleep.  In a dirt floor dungeon with rain seeping in from the stone walls, Belle stands, dripping wet, her blue dress that she wore at the castle is streaked with mud and patches of blood.  She is shackled by her ankle and at her wrists, looking emaciated.  Putting her hands to her head in frustration, “Regina, why are you doing this?” Regina, in a dark blue velvet gown with black lace overlay, smiles, “Everyone needs a hobby.”  Belle says sarcastically, “Couldn’t you collect something?” With a wide, toothy grin, Regina says, “Oh, you silly girl, I do.  That said, there are practicalities to deal with as well.  You lived with him for months.  I want to know everything you know.”

In a frustrated tone, Belle says, “There’s nothing to know.  He watched me like a hawk.  He never let me near anything personal.”  Regina squints and says, “I think you’re holding out on me, Belle.  What is precious to him?”
Belle replies emphatically, “Nothing.  I swear.”  “No loved ones?”, Regina asks. Trying to be persuasive, Belle says, “Have you seen him?  He’s a complete recluse…he has lived on that mountain, alone all his life.”

“And yet, he took a shine to you…for a while.”, giving a teeth gleaming grin, “He’s been known, for toying with young things.   You should’ve seen the looks he gave me.” Annoyed, Belle declares, “That did not happen.”  Regina smirks, “Really? What a naive thing you are!  For all you know, someone else is in his bed right now.”  Defiantly, Belle says, “That’s not true.  He wouldn’t.” Regina, clearly pleased that she’s hit a nerve, “Such loyalty…to a man who didn’t want you.”

“It’s not working, Regina.  He loves me.”, Belle says adamantly, while her heart questions Rumpelstiltskin’s feelings.  Regina continues her game, “You were just a little play thing.  A man like that needs a real woman; not a little girl like you.”  With exasperation in her voice, Belle says, “Regina, you do this everyday.  I already told you what I know.  He’s always been alone.  There is nothing that he holds dear.”  Regina crinkles her nose, “Hmm, yeah, I don’t believe you.”  Belle says stubbornly, “Fine. Don’t.”

Belle flinches as a rat scurries across her bare feet.  Smirking Regina taunts, “Tsk, tsk, tsk, look at you.  Look how far papa’s little girl has fallen.  If you tell me what I want to know, you can go home to you father.”  Weakly, Belle says, “I’ve told you what I have to say.”  Nonchalantly, Regina responds, “Fine, just rot here.  Seems a pity to go through all this for a man who will be dead soon.”  Belle’s eyes flashed with rage, through clenched teeth, she yells, “Don’t you dare!”  Teasing, Regina says, “I can hardly wait to see the last breath escape that scaly mouth.”  Belle lunges forward, but her ankle chain would not allow her to reach Regina.  Then Regina’s guard, back hands Belle across the face, “Be careful how you talk to her majesty, maggot!” Regina smirks as Belle, wobbly on her feet, wipes the blood from her lip. Still angry, Belle growls, “Don’t you harm him…your majesty.”

Regina, feigns deep thought, “You know, it would be cruel for me to kill him right away.  Perhaps, I’ll bed him first.”  “Stay away from him!”, Belle yells. Regina, putting her hands on the cell bars and stretches, arching her back.  “Oh the things a man like that could do.  It would be worth a little brush burn to give him a try.  Gods know he’s been wanting it from me for a long time.” Regina let’s out a self amused laugh. “It would be the charitable thing to do before the kiss of death.  I’m such a giver.  …and I’m sure he knows how to give a woman…”  Belle yells, “Shut your lying, hateful mouth!”

“Aw, how rude of me to talk of a feast to someone…”, starting a sing-song tone, “who never had a taste.  Sor-ry, Rumpelstiltskin is a man who wants the delights of a woman, and clearly, you were not woman enough for him to want you.  If you mattered to him, he would have gone looking for you after you left.”, pressing her lips into a pout, “but he didn’t. Too bad, you’re going to rot here for someone who didn’t want you.”

Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes open, as he awakens from the dream, but the dream continues before him.  He sees Belle grasp her head in pain and frustration, as the chain from the shackles on her wrists bangs heavily against her chest.  The realization strikes Rumpelstiltskin, “This is Belle’s dream.  She’s having this dream now.”  He turns on the lamp and grabs his cane to get out of bed.

In the dream, he sees a change in Belle.  She appears weaker, and her voice is barely above a whisper.  “You’re right, Regina.”, tears flow from Belle’s eyes, “He never wanted me.  I don’t know why I’m putting myself through this for him.”  Belle’s voice becomes more faint, as Regina comes closer to hear Belle. “I’ll tell you everything I know about Rumpelstiltskin.”  He watches the two women in the dream as he stands, and begins to walk.  What he sees is unmistakable to him.  He knows these two women better than anyone.

Regina says, “Unburden yourself dear, and you’ll be home with your father by morning.”  Belle nods.  Rumpelstiltskin yells to Belle in his mind, “Belle, don’t do it!  She knows it’s a trick!”  Just then, Belle swings the chain from her wrist shackles over Regina’s head, around her neck and pulls, but with a puff of black smoke the chain passes through Regina’s neck leaving her unharmed.  Regina laughs.  Belle makes a fist and swings wildly as someone who has never been in a fight would do, as she screams, “You witch!”  Before Belle’s punch can land, a wave of Regina’s hand magically propels Belle back, crashing into the stone wall.  Rumpelstiltskin feels the impact, as Belle’s ribs crack.  He is disoriented by the pain, as he cries out in his mind, “Oh my precious, Belle!”  Belle slides part way down the wall, but fights to stand back up.  In a condescending tone, Regina says, “You really are pathetic!  Do you really think he’s worth this?”

Belle struggles to speak, her voice is weak, yet filled with rage, “I love him, and he loves me, but I don’t expect you to understand that, because who in the Hell could ever love you!”  With that, Regina’s amusement at Belle turns to blind rage.  She shoves her hand into Belle’s chest, as Belle screams and convulses.  Feeling Belle’s pain, Rumpelstiltskin crumples to the floor, as his cane jettisons out of reach under the bed.  “Belle, I’m so sorry…I’m so, so sorry!”, he cries.  Belle trying to regain some composure, says bitterly, in weak gasping breaths, “If you’re going to kill me…you might as well do it…now…because you tricked me…into…betraying him…once…but I…won’t do…it again!”

“Kill you?”…Regina gives Belle’s heart a squeeze, as her hand remains in Belle’s chest, and Belle shudders from the sensation of Regina’s fingernails digging into the heart muscle.  Rumpelstiltskin crawls on the floor, writhing in pain, as he tries to reach his cane.  Regina smirks, “I’m not going to kill you.  I might need you someday.”  Regina’s guard suggests, “Your majesty, how about taking her heart.  She’d make a great slave.”  Regina replies, “I don’t know why you’re so interested.  She’d be my slave; not yours.”, dismissing his suggestion, “I can’t take her heart.  If I have need to make a deal one day, Rumpelstiltskin would surely check.  Besides her heart would likely put my vault into a diabetic coma.”  Regina notices a tiny flash of hope in Belle’s eyes.  “Don’t get yourself excited.  If I made such a deal, I’d be sure that you’d be dead by the time he got you home.”  Regina squeezes again, as Belle’s eyes bulge and she shrieks in pain.  “You know, someone once told me, if you do it right, that you can pull a heart from a creature without doing any harm to the creature.  What an idiot!  Where’s the fun in that?!?!”.  Giving another squeeze, Regina leans into Belle’s panting face, “Your pain is my pleasure…and I can to this to you any time I want.”  Regina retracts her hand from Belle’s chest, leaving her heart in its home.  Belle slides down the wall, and crumples into a ball in the mud.  Regina’s guard smiles and kicks Belle in the side.  Regina warns, “Careful now, we have to keep her heart beating…but other than that, I don’t care what happens to her.”

As Regina and the guard leave the cell, Regina says, “What a pity, such an unwanted girl had to fall in love with Rumpelstiltskin.”  Belle sobs, as she drags herself to a drier part of the dirt floor.  “It’s not true.  He wanted me.  Rumpelstiltskin, where are you?” she cries.  Belle is dizzied by blinding pain and difficulty breathing.  Flopping herself down on the ground, she sees an image of Rumpelstiltskin in his Dark One garb, standing before her, looking down his nose at her saying, “I don’t want you any more, dearie.”  Belle sobs harder, as she tries to remember happy moments with Rumpelstiltskin; him giving her the rose and the two of them snuggled in front of the mirror as he nuzzled her hair.

The dream stops, and Rumpelstiltskin sobs, as he finally is able to reach his cane.  Even though the dream is over, he decides he should check on Belle.  He wipes his face and straightens his pajamas, not wanting Belle to think anything is wrong should she be awake.  Guilt ridden over what he just saw, he tries to compose himself.  Then he hears Belle scream, “No! Please stop!  Please, please stop!”  He rushes to her room, even in the darkened room he sees Belle once again writhing on the bed with her fingernails digging into the mattress.  The dream didn’t stop, he realizes, that she was blocking him again from seeing whatever happened next.  He rushes to her bed, shouting, “Belle, wake up!  It’s okay…wake up!”  Just as she is about to scream his name like before, he grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her, “Belle, please wake up!”  Her eyes pop open, as he dodges her fist flying toward an unknown target.  She looks into his eyes crying, “It’s you.  Thank Gods, it’s really you!”  She holds on tightly to him, as he embraces her, and she sobs uncontrollably.

Rumpelstiltskin holds and caresses Belle, letting all her emotion spill out, as he tries unsuccessfully to purge his own mind of all the images and sensations that he felt minutes before.  He questions himself repeatedly, as to how he could have let that happen to his dear, brave, Belle, and what was possibly worse than that, which she is blocking from his view.

Once Belle’s breathing normalizes and her trebling subsides, Rumpelstiltskin pulls away slightly to reach for the lamp and turn it on.  Belle’s face is still quite reddened from the trauma, her eyes are bloodshot, and she looks uncertain as to what to do or say.  Rumpelstiltskin gives her a worried smile, then says, “I’ll be right back.”  Grabbing his cane from the floor where it fell, he stands up and leaves the room.  In his absence, she tries to straighten herself and clear her head.  When he returns, he has a warm washrag in his hand and a forced nonchalant expression that does little to mask his worry.  He walks around the bed to the left side and slides in next to Belle has he had earlier that night.  He offers the washrag, “Here, wipe your face.  It’ll make you feel better.”  “Thank you.”, she says in a soft, uncertain tone.  Wiping her face, the warm, damp fabric soothes her skin that has been made sore by tears and stress.  She wishes it would be as easy to wipe the horrid memories of Regina from her mind.  When she finishes, she notices him staring intently, clearly upset.

Belle says, “You saw my dream, didn’t you?”  Rumpelstiltskin replies, “What makes you say that?”  Slightly biting the inside of her cheek, Belle says, “Well, other than you answered my question with a question, you keep staring at my chest, and not in a way that I would think you might.”  He smirks slightly at the realization that he can’t get anything passed Belle’s observant mind, then replies, “I saw some of it, but the last part was blocked from my view.  What happened then?”  In a clear tone, Belle replies, “I’m really not up to talking about that tonight.  One day, I will tell you, but I just can’t handle it now.”  He nods in agreement, but worries more about what the missing portion of the dream might contain.  Noticing him still staring, Belle says, “My heart’s still in there.”  “Oh yes, of course, I’m sorry.”, trying to cover for any rudeness.  She touches his forearm in a nurturing manner, “It’s alright.  I know that was a ghastly thing to see.”, thinking out loud, “It’s strange…you’d think someone squeezing your heart would be the most painful thing, but to me, the pain and sound of muscles tearing and bones cracking as she entered was the worst part.”  Shaking her head, she continues, “Regina seemed to be going for maximum pain.  Entry was always the worst part.”

“Always?”, he said, weakly, “She did it more than once?”  With a tone of bitterness, Belle replies, “More times than I can count.”  Suddenly, leaving her own thoughts, Belle notices Rumpelstiltskin’s expression, looking violently upset and as through he might vomit from his thoughts.  Belle touches is face reassuringly, “It’s done.  It’s over.  Let’s not think about this.”  With a clenched jaw, he says, “I can deal with Regina quite swiftly.”  “No, I’m the one that had to deal with her everyday.  This is my fight…and right now, I don’t feel up to dealing with it.  Regina can wait.  We need to focus on finding Bae at this point, just let her stew.”

He leans his face into her hand, and ponders, “One more thing…do you have these kinds of dreams often?”  Belle’s eyes shift to the wall, as she thinks, then her gaze comes back to his face, “I didn’t have them when I was in the asylum, because I didn’t remember.  I had nightmares often in Regina’s dungeon, and it seems to be a bit of a trend today.”, then a smile appears on her face.  “I had a nice dream earlier tonight.”  Looking at his pajama shirt, her smile widens, “When I went to bed, you were still wearing your dress shirt.”  “Yeah, so?”, he replies confused by her interest in his attire.  “This is the first time that you have worn this shirt around me, yet I remember it vividly from my dream.”,  she giggles, “Strangely enough, it didn’t seem like one of my dreams.”  “Your dreams?”, he questions.  “My dreams are different…less clear.  The images are blurry and hard to see at times.”  He repeats, “Your dreams?”  Belle, feeling a bit embarrassed by what she has revealed, still can’t help asking the question burning through her mind, “What?  You don’t think women have those kinds of dreams?…Or don’t you think I have those kinds of dreams?”  Rumpelstiltskin leans back from her, as though he senses a trap.  “That’s one of those female questions that has no right answer, right?”  She smirks and nods, “Yes, so how about you stop worrying about the ‘right’ answer and give me the truthful answer.”  He smiles at her, feeling very much that he’s been bested, “Okay, I suppose I never thought of you having those kinds of dreams.”  In a serious tone, Belle replies, “Please don’t put me on a pedestal, that I don’t want to be on.  I’m a woman in love, of course, I have those kinds of dreams.”  Smiling broadly at the thought, he replies, “Yes, ma’am.”

After a moment of eyeing Belle in her rum pink nightgown, as Belle blushes at the attention, Rumpelstiltskin says, “You know I always wanted you, right?”  She smiles, as a look of appreciation floods her face, but he can see a lingering doubt behind her eyes.  Then a question enters his mind, “Did you mean what you said earlier tonight?…I mean…when we were at the castle, had you really considered having children with me?”  She snuggles next to him, “I didn’t know if it was possible with you in that state, and I was so unsure where I stood with you…but yes, I thought about it from time to time.  Actually, the idea, of you changing a nappy, was rather hilarious to think about.”  With mock offense, “Hey, I’ll have you know, that I changed many a nappy in my day.”, then with a serious tone, “Baelfire’s mother was often….under the weather, so I pitched in where I could.”  With a somewhat apologetic tone, “Sorry, I understand.  It’s just that at the castle, you were so fussy at times, that it was comical to think about it.”  He chuckles and leans his head on hers, “The biggest challenge was with a boy, you have to be quick and careful or you’ll have wet walls.”  Belle giggles at the imagery.  He asks, “Do you feel the same now?…about wanting children with me?”  Taking a brief moment to think, “No, I don’t feel the same.”  He sighs, understanding her reservations.  She continues, “It’s more vivid now.”  He looks at her in confusion, as she goes on to say, “At the castle, it was just the occasional stray thought, that I tried to push from my mind, because I didn’t know if we would ever really be together like that.  …but in the dungeon, at times thinking I might not live to see another day, I’d think about the things that I had missed out on in my life.  The funny thing is, for all my talk of wanting to travel, that wasn’t uppermost in my mind.  I mean, of course, I would have loved being anywhere, but in that dungeon. Mostly, I thought about you, and how if I ever escaped, I’d run back to you as fast as I could.  I knew, even if we couldn’t have children, that I would be happy as long as I could live my life out with you.  Just to keep my sanity, I’d fantasize about a life we’d have together.   …and I’d think about how I always wanted to have children with the man I love, and you, my darling, are the one and only.  Since I had been betrothed to Gaston, I thought I’d never have children born out of love.  I mean I still would have loved any children that I had with Gaston, because a child should never feel unwanted, but the idea of doing that with him made my skin crawl.”

Wondering out loud, he asks, “So you still want to have children with me?” Belle smiles and giggles, “Well, not next week…but yes, I’d love to have children with you someday.  How do you feel about that?”  He puts his arm around her shoulders and softly rubs his nose against her ear and whispers, “I’d love having children with you.  I’d love that more than you know.”  She sighs happily, and strokes his shirt covered abdomen.

After a moment, Rumpelstiltskin says in a serious tone, “It was a dagger.”  “What was?”, Belle asks, confused by the change in topic.  He explains, “In my story…how I became Dark One…the artifact, was a magical dagger.  When I became Dark One, my name became inscribed on it.”  “Oh…well…thank you for telling me the rest of the story.”…Belle thinks in silence about the implications, then says, “So, that dagger could be used to kill you or make you do things that you don’t want to do?”  Looking at him for a response, he nods, and Belle shudders at the thought of what the dagger could mean in their lives.  He says, “That’s the only way Regina could kill me.”  Understanding that this is his attempt to reassure her about her dream, she feels anything but reassured.  Sitting straight up and looking into his eyes, with a tone of urgency, she says, “Please tell me that you have that thing well hidden.”  “Yes, Belle, you needn’t worry about that.”  She smiles, but he can tell that she is indeed still worried.  They sit in silence for a while.

Wanting to change the mood, Belle says, “I was thinking about my mother earlier.”  Surprised by the topic, Rumpelstiltskin says, “You’re mother?  You never told me about her before.”  Belle says matter-of-factly, “There’s truly not much to tell about Gabrielle.”  In a surprised tone, he says, “You called your mother by her name?”  “Sometimes, mostly when I talked to my dolls.  The word ‘mother’ didn’t really fit Gabrielle.”  He questions, “How do you mean?” She replies, “She was very distant…not very hands-on, in the mothering department.  Maybe it was because my parents marriage was arranged, and she didn’t love my father.  She just didn’t seem to want me around.  Children know when they’re not wanted.”

Rumpelstiltskin frowns in thought.  Belle continues, “Anyway, a few days before she died, she had me brought to her room.”  Brushing a strand of hair from Belle’s face, he asks, “How old were you when she died?”  Scratching at the small scar on her upper left arm, Belle recalls, “I was eight years old.  I was kind of excited that she wanted to see me.  I didn’t really understand that she was dying.  All I knew was, she actually wanted to see me.  I climbed up in bed next to her, and she put her arm around me.  It felt odd, but nice.  She began telling me a story about a magical land called Oz.  It was so strange for her to talk about or know of such a place, because she hated and feared magic.  Not like my father, who didn’t like magic, until it suited him…like protecting our village from Ogres.  She had a true fear of magic and would get quite upset if anyone brought up the subject.” Rumpelstiltskin’s forehead creases in thought, wondering about the source of Belle’s mother’s fear.  Belle continues, “So, she’s telling me this story…you probably heard it on your travels, but apparently there was this shyster wizard, who had no magic, but he’d get requests for different things and act as through he could make the request happen, but he couldn’t.  My mother focused much of the story on one character.  He was known as ‘The Cowardly Lion’.”

Rumpelstiltskin raises an eyebrow in anticipation of Belle’s point.  “You see there was this lion, who was said to be afraid of everything.  If his tail tapped against him, he might jump sky high from fright.  So, one day, the lion went to the wizard asking for ‘courage’, but the wizard, of course, had no magic to grant any request.  But here’s the miraculous thing that my mother told me, the lion didn’t need the wizard to give him courage, because he was courageous all along.  He just needed to believe it.”  Belle smirks, looking at Rumpelstiltskin, “Interesting story, don’t you think?”  He chuckles softly, shaking his head, then raising his eyebrows, crinkling his forehead says, “You’re quite pleased with yourself, aren’t you?”  With a beaming smile, Belle replies, “One should always be ‘pleased’ with oneself.”, reaching her hand up and stroking his left ear, she squints her eyes at him and says, “Like I said, it’s a very interesting story.  I wonder if there’s a lesson in it?”

Smiling at his spirited Belle, he says, “I have a lesson in time.  It’s 1:55 in the morning, and you need sleep, so that you can get better for our trip.  So, I’ll say, ‘Good night.’”  He strokes the side of her head, then grabs his cane to leave.  Putting her hand on his arm, in a worried tone, “Rumpelstiltskin?  Please don’t leave.  I don’t want to be alone tonight.”  He looks into her soft worried eyes, “If it would make you feel better to have me beside you, then here is where I will stay, love.”

He lays his head down on the pillow next to her, remaining on top of the covers to deter temptation.  Belle reaches for the lamp, and turns out the light, then settles on her pillow.  Then she pops back up and leans over him, “I almost forgot!”, she puckers her lips and softly blows his hair from his forehead.  “I just wanted to know what it was like to do that.  Was it as good as in your dream?”, she asks.  He bites his lip in the process of smiling, “Better.  Much better.”  Belle, snuggles close to him and lays her head on his shoulder, “Is this alright?”  He leans his head against hers and says, “Perfect.”  In a groggy voice, Belle says, “I love you, Rumpelstiltskin.”  He closes his eyes and smiles peacefully, “I love you too, sweetheart.”  Rumpelstiltskin drifts happily to sleep listening to the sound of Belle’s breathing, and the rhythm of her heartbeat against his body.
To be continued…

Posted in Belle, Once Upon A Time, RumBelle, Rumpelstiltskin | 9 Comments