Chapter 3 “Images and Visions” Part A

“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.

    Since this chapter is particularly long; likely the longest I’ll write for this story. I am posting it in three sections 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.
    Warning: The hospital flashback near the end may be disturbing. This chapter will have both fluff and angst. Enjoy! —NicoleMS

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.”
Click to read Part B.

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