Chapter 2 “The Very Long Day” Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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