“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.”

This entry was posted in Belle, Once Upon A Time, OUAT, RumBelle, Rumpelstiltskin. Bookmark the permalink.

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