Chapter 3 “Images and Visions” Part B

“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

      This section contains two YouTube musical interludes.

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.
      Click to read Part C; the final section of this chapter.

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