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Belle twisted her fingers in her lap waiting for Rumple to emerge from the garden where he had been working in the basement all night. She would not assume the worst. There had to be an explanation. Rumple used to tinker all the time in his lab back in the Dark Castle. Maybe now magic was back he was just replenishing stock. It didn’t have to be something nefarious. Whatever it was it couldn’t be something so bad he couldn’t tell her.

She would not allow her good judgement to be influenced by a dream.

The dream in question had started out a pleasant one. She had been in the shop with Rumple and he had given her a beautiful diamond necklace. He really did spoil her sometimes. He had stepped out from behind the counter (she should’ve realised there and then it was a dream by the absence of his cane), grinning like a schoolboy and placed it round her neck, explaining that the occasion for such a gift was for them and that he was going to show her Storybrooke. Though warned that the nightlife was extremely limited. She had kissed him and hugged him, thanking him not just for the gift but for everything he was doing. How he was changing.

Then the illusion was shattered as Dreamy the dwarf barged in on their moment, demanding his axe. Rumple had told him firmly but calmly that the shop was closed. Belle had only met Dreamy twice but never before had she seen him this angry, this…grumpy. He told Rumple that nothing in this shop belonged to him, before he rounded on her, asking how she could be with such a monster, unless she was just a possession too. The beautiful gift her love had given her suddenly felt like a collar than a necklace.

Enraged by this accusation Rumple had seized Dreamy and pinned him against the wall, telling him he could have his axe…buried in his chest. Belle begged Rumple to stop as he began to choke the life out of him. But Rumple, just like in the castle after their kiss, was a man possessed, lost in the thrall of murderous rage and darkness. Gone was the gentle man who’d invited her for a moonlit stroll about town.

‘This isn’t you anymore!’ Belle pleaded.

It wasn’t Rumple the man who turned to sneer at her, but the Dark One wearing Rumple’s suit. ‘Oh it’s me, dearie!’ he trilled. ‘Always has been! Always will be!’

Belle had awoken with a jolt, heart racing. She turned to look beside her at Rumple, to reassure herself that it was all a dream. But his side of the bed was empty. There were noises from the bathroom. Was he downstairs? Belle went to look for him.

The night of her return Rumple had offered her one of the spare room opposite his, complete with an en suite bathroom, wardrobe and bookcase, with a vase of roses on the windowsill and the bedside table. To sleep in a giant feather bed after sleeping on a cold stone floor in the Evil Queen’s tower or a hard cot in the asylum would be like a dream. But to sleep beside her true love would be heaven. Before Rumple could disappear into his room, Belle had plucked up the courage and asked if she could stay with him. Ever the woobie gentlemen, Rumple had hastily assured her that there was no pressure, that he didn’t want her to feel she had to stay with him, that he didn’t expect her to sleep in his room, that she shouldn’t feel rushed into anything, only stopping his gabbling when Belle giggled and kissed him.

They took their time undressing each other. Rumple had just as many layers of his suit as he had with his dragon-hide leathers – jacket, tie, waist coat, shirt, belt, trousers – all Belle had to do was slip out of her dress after Rumple delicately unzipped it from the back and watched it fall. Had she’d married Gaston he would’ve ripped her dress off her like a tearing into a Christmas present and ravaged her like a feast. Rumple had looked at her as if she was a goddess walking upon the earth and he had worshipped her with soft kisses.

Rumple’s body was beautiful too, right down to his scarred leg. He had felt embarrassed that she should see the ugly marks running from his ankle all the way up to his knee, like he was showing something indecent. Until Belle reminded him she had scars of her own. Those around her wrists and ankles from shackles, the circular spots on her temples from shock treatment, the needle marks on her inner forearms, even (Belle hadn’t wanted Rumple to see these, but given what they were about to do it was unavoidable) the scars crisscrossing her back from whiplashes. Those were the scars they could see; the worst scars were on the inside. That made them who they are, that made them beautiful. They had endured their pain and survived. And this was their reward.

After that all misgivings were banished as they came together, drowning in the pools of their eyes, lost in the forests of their hair, shackled to the poetry of their lips. Rumple was very gentle with her, telling her to tell him if he was hurting her. It did hurt at first, but only for a moment. When they climaxed together Belle felt she was finally home. Rumple pulled the covers over them, cradling her in his arms, her head pillowed on his chest over his steady beating heart. She smiled as she felt him press a kiss to the top of her head and felt him smile too when he rested his cheek on it. When was the last time Rumple was so at peace?

Rumple wasn’t downstairs either. But the glass doors leading to the garden were open. Belle slipped outside and searched the darkness. There was a light coming from the basement. Carefully and quietly Belle crept to the window and peered inside. Rumple was sitting fully dressed spinning at his spinning wheel, the threads of gold coiling into a basket. Spinning always helped him think, cleaned the mind and soothed his soul. Couldn’t it have waited till morning? Then he took a pair of scissors and cut a piece of gold thread. He took it over to his workbench and dropped it into a vial of potion. It hissed as a chemical reaction took place and the smoky potion suddenly turned purple. Rumple bent over it, watching it closely. It was difficult to see from here, but from his reflection in the little bottle, he was smiling. Whatever was happening was exactly the result he wanted.

That was five hours ago. Belle had gone back inside and waited in the living room for him to emerge. He would have to eventually. And when he did she would ask him for the truth; plain and simple. Though as Oscar Wilde said, ‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple.’

But she deserved the truth.

The door opened behind her and she turned to see Rumple limp into the kitchen. His face lit up as it always did whenever he saw her. ‘Hey.’

‘Hey,’ Belle returned. She came over, leaning against the breakfast bar. ‘What’re you doing?’

‘I was, uh…going to make you breakfast,’ said Rumple, smiling.

‘No, in the basement.’

Rumple didn’t respond as he opened the door to the fridge.

‘I saw you practicing magic,’ said Belle firmly and seriously, indicating that she wasn’t messing around.

Rumple limped over to her, carrying a large bottle or orange juice. ‘Let’s have breakfast.’

Belle refused to be deflected. ‘No, we need to talk about this,’ she insisted.

‘It was just a couple of spells. Nothing to be concerned about,’ Rumple assured her.

‘Okay, then be honest with me: why did you bring magic here?’

Rumple looked as if it was obvious. ‘I’ve told you – magic is power.’

‘But why do you need it?’

Belle knew that Rumple didn’t love power more than her. He had reasons for stopping his transformation back into a mortal man, and it was nothing to do with being more powerful than Regina.

‘Tell me.’

Rumple opened his mouth but didn’t speak. She had sprung this on him, but it was a simple enough question. How could she understand or help him if he didn’t tell her? When the silence continued to stretch Belle sighed sadly. Rumple was never going to answer her. Maybe this was all too premature. They had barely admitted they loved each other before they were separated for nearly thirty years and after their reunion had started living together. Rumple knew almost everything about her, but she knew next to nothing about him.

‘You don’t need power, Rumple. You need courage…to let me in.’

Rumple dropped his gaze.

‘Until you’re ready to take that leap…I don’t think I can stay here. I’m clearly in the way.’

Rumple’s eyes snapped back to her at that. It pained Belle to do this, but what else could she do? What was the point in her being here?

‘Belle...’ said Rumple weakly.

‘I’m going to get dressed,’ she said, pushing away from the bar and heading upstairs. She glanced back and saw Rumple reflected in the mirror. His shoulders were slumped as he leaned on his cane and he looked despondent. She hated seeing him like this, but it takes two to make a relationship.

Belle chose a blue dress today and red heels. Before she left their room, she took her magic mirror. As she came down the stairs she saw Rumple waiting for her at the bottom. Perhaps he was about to try and convince her to stay. She almost hoped he was and not about to let her just walk out of here.

‘Rumple –’

Rumple holds up one of his grey sweaters to her. ‘It gets pretty cold in Maine this time of year.’

Belle took the sweater. Then Rumple handed her a satchel. She peered inside.

‘Phone. My card. And The Mysterious Island - you said you couldn’t wait to see how it ends.’

Then from the side table he handed her a brown paper bag. It was warm and when she opened it the delicious smell of bacon sandwiches filled her nostrils.

‘Breakfast?’ Belle inquired.

Rumple smiled. ‘Can’t go off on an adventure on an empty stomach.’

Belle smiled. Protection from the cold, a phone for emergencies, money, book and breakfast to start the day – Rumple had thought of everything. And she would look a little odd carrying a large mirror. ‘Thank you.’ She hesitated. ‘Rumple –’

‘It’s okay,’ said Rumple, as if he always knew this was inevitable.

Belle cupped his cheek and Rumple leaned into her hand like a cat starved for affection. ‘This is not goodbye,’ Belle assured him. ‘But if you won’t talk to me I don’t see the point in me being here. And…I need to make my own way in this town.’

‘So you must.’ Rumple swallowed. ‘Belle, I find it difficult…I’ve been alone for so long. You’re not in the way, Belle. I love you. I need you. I’m just…I’m not…I’m not used to sharing my burdens. I’ve always had to carry them myself. Alone. I was barely able to talk to Dr Hopper about my son when I thought he’d come to town. And he turned out to be an imposter trying to steal from me.’

‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what else I can say.’

‘Lunch,’ Rumple blurted out.

‘Lunch?’

Rumple blushed, evidently not intending for it to come out like that. ‘Meet me at my shop around lunchtime. You’re right. I do owe you an explanation, I just…I don’t know where to begin. Please. One cup of tea and you can do whatever you want when I’ve finished. I won’t stop you. However it has to be.’

Belle nodded. ‘I’ll be there. I promise.’

‘Thank you.’

Belle reached up and kissed him and Rumple kissed her back. They embraced. ‘Thank you for everything.’

‘Thank you for coming back to me.’ Very reluctantly he released her. ‘You need anything at all, anything, I’m just a phone call away.’

‘You’d be the first person I’d call.’

Rumple looked flattered.

‘See you at lunch.’

‘Be careful.’

‘I will.’

Shouldering her satchel Belle set foot out the front door and into the new world. Rumple closed the door behind her and rested his forehead against it. ‘Oh Belle…’

*

Rumple was right, it was cold. Thanks to his sweater she was warm, but her bare legs were freezing. Thank Gods for his hot off the grill bacon sandwiches. Storybrooke was so big, where should she go first? Her eyes fell on Granny’s Diner. Inside it looked like a tavern but shinier. She took of Rumple’s sweater, it was nice and toasty in here, and slid into one of the booths. She ordered herself some iced tea and pulled out her book, flipping to the place she’d marked with a letter from Rumple.

 

Belle,

Forgive me. I had to depart ear ly this morning. You were sleeping so soundly I couldn’t bring myself to wake you.

I am out on business, but I should be back just after noon to join you for lunch. I would prefer you not go out alone, as the town is much bigger than one might anticipate, but of course you are free to do so, should you wish. It is simply an advisement, neither a command nor request.

Should you choose to remain indoors, there are several items around the house with which you may not be familiar. We will confront all of them in due time, but I hope to have covered the necessities here.

I assume you will be hungry upon waking. I took the liberty of slicing you a bowl of plums. They are in the refrigerator: the large man-sized metal box next to the stove. Simply pull the handle (it will open towards you), and the bowl will be sitting on the second shelf from the top. Do not be alarmed: the air is much cooler inside. For this reason, please try to remember to shut the door once you have retrieved the fruit.

On the counter next to the refrigerator is a smaller metal shoe-box type contraption. You will see two slices of bread protruding through slits in the top. Push down on the lever so the bread disappears, wait one minute until it pops up, then remove it and place it on the plate I have set out. This box is a toaster. It has, accordingly, made you toast. DO NOT put your hands inside the slits in an attempt to pull the bread out before it has re-emerged. It is VERY HOT inside the toaster. You WILL burn yourself.

Butter is on the dish by the sink. Tea is in the cupboard over the butter. I take it you have not forgotten how to use the kettle. It has been filled with water.

Should you need me, for any reason, please call. I will be upset if you do not. I know we broached the subject yesterday, but a refresher: the telephone is the “silly red upside-down hat with a curly tail” (as you aptly described it), on the table to your right when you wake up. My number is taped to the top.

I love you. I could not wait for lunch to tell you.

Please do try to remember to shut the refrigerator.

Yours,

R

 

Belle had smiled at the letter. So thoughtful of him to look out for her. Rumple had made her feel completely safe and totally independent at the same time. He wasn’t forbidding her to leave the house and he made her silly description of the telephone endearing rather than stupid. And he had made sure to tell her that he loved her before he left. She hadn’t seen the town properly when she was desperately trying to find him, but no matter how desperate she wanted to explore this new world it was sensible to have someone who knew the area. And he was coming back at lunchtime.

After eating her breakfast of plums and toast, Belle tried to wash up her plate and bowl in the sink, though wished she hadn’t mistaken the water pressure switch for the light switch. She had ended up soaking herself and the windows as the water jetted out of the tap, and then couldn’t turn it off again, but at least it wasn’t spraying everywhere.

Next she’d tried to turn on the television like Rumple showed her. Why did these remote controls have so many buttons? Analog, digital, theatre, tools, return, menu, PROG? What was wrong with having a simple off and on button? Either way, all she’d got was static and after clicking every button had surely snarled it into some unmanageable condition. Unable to watch television she settled for reading. She toggled the switch under the lamp, but got a little too enthusiastic with it and ended up breaking that too. Then she got the fright of her life when the telephone began ringing loudly. Rumple had told her how to use it to contact him, but he never told her what to do when the silly red upside-down hat with a curly tail started ringing at her.

When Rumple had come home at lunchtime he had found her in the living room hiding in amidst a pile of books.

‘What are you doing?’ Rumple had asked.

Belle peeked over the top. ‘I’ve made a mess of your things, so I decided to stick with what makes sense to me.’

‘And so you made a fort of books.’

‘Well wouldn’t you?’ Belle mumbled.

Rumple smiled. ‘I certainly see the appeal, yes.’

‘I made tea too, using the kettle you prepared for me. But my tea’s cold now.’ Belle held up her chipped cup.

‘It’s not the ideal way to prepare tea, but I should use this opportunity to show you how to reheat your tea using a device call the “microwave”. It’s quite handy in general.’

While Rumple dealt with the sink he told her to put her teacup in the silver box above the stove with the little door and use the number pad to set it for twenty minutes. If only she hadn’t left the teaspoon in it. Rumple let out a panicked shout for Belle to step back and magicked away the metal spoon. Another Belle-blunder, Belle thought sadly. But far from being frustrated with her, Rumple apologised for shouting at her, wrapped his arms around her and led her back into the living room, announcing he was going to take the afternoon off and spend it with her.

They ended up spending the afternoon in her book fort, using one of the throws as a roof and decorated the inside with Christmas lights. Sitting on the floor, they had talked and laughed and Belle read aloud to him like she used to in the Dark Castle, Rumple spinning while he listened. Together they had christened their fort: Fort Cozy Castle.

The waitress set down another glass of iced tea.

‘Thank you,’ said Belle.

‘Are you okay?’ asked the waitress causing Belle to look up from her book at the dark haired woman in red. ‘That’s your third iced tea this morning. Won’t want to call you a cab.’

‘Oh no, I’ve…I’ve never had it iced before. It’s…it’s delicious,’ said Belle enthusiastically.

‘I haven’t seen you in here before.’

‘I’ve been a prisoner of the queen, until recently. The past couple of days I had been living with my love. But…’

‘Let me guess – bad break up?’

‘No!’ said Belle quickly. ‘I hope not. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. We’re still rediscovering each other. We’re meeting for lunch later. He’s been wonderful. But I just feel a bit useless. All I do is sit at home waiting for him to come back.’

‘Do you have a place to stay? Any family here?’

‘I…I’m not sure. I’m still looking. But I...no, I hadn’t thought about where to stay.’

‘I can ask Granny about a room here.’

‘Really?’

The girl nodded smiling. She didn’t even know her and she was offering her a place to stay.

‘Thank you, uh…’

‘Ruby.’

‘Belle. What I really need though is…is a life. A job.’

‘Well we can always use a few extra hands here. What do you like to do?’

‘I…I do love books.’

Ruby thought for a moment. ‘The library. It’s been closed forever, but, uh, things are changing now. Maybe they need a librarian.’

Belle smiled. So eager was she to get a good look at the library she left her bag and Rumple’s sweater behind. The windows were boarded up or plastered with newspaper, but she was able to peer through a gap. There she saw the dusty books on the shelves just waiting to be read.

‘Excuse me.’

Belle jumped as she saw a scruffy man in a red hat standing there. ‘Oh! You startled me.’

‘I - I was just wondering if you had any spare change.’

‘Oh, no, sorry. I - I don’t have any money.’

‘What - what about a friend? Are you meeting anyone here?’

Belle didn’t like how shifty this man was, looking furtively around and asking if anyone was meeting her. ‘Uh, no. Why?’

‘I just wanted to be sure.’

He grabbed Belle so fast she didn’t have time to scream as he clamped a hand over her mouth as he dragged her away. And there was no one around to stop him. The man bundled her into the back of a shop and pushed her down into a chair. The strong smell of soil and flowers and the sight of gardening tools made her realise she was in some kind of florist. Why bring her here?

‘Why are you doing this?’ Belle demanded.

‘I’m just a man who procures hard to find objects. In this case, the object was you.’

Belle didn’t know what was more insulting, being taken against her will or being referred to as an object.

‘So then who put you up to this?’

It had to be Gaston. Wasn’t she just an object to him? A man in a white cap entered.

‘Belle.’

It was her father. Belle leapt from the chair a hugged him. She hadn’t forgotten what her father did back in their land or forgiven, but he was still her father and she hadn’t seen him in thirty years.

‘Oh, I’ve missed you.’

‘Father…’ Belle sobbed.

Maurice pulled back to look at his daughter. ‘I’m so sorry this is how we had to be reunited. Please understand. I had no choice.’

‘But to kidnap me?’ Belle asked, her voice breaking. Why didn’t he seek her out? He didn’t need to do this.

‘After the curse broke I searched all over for you and discovered the Dark One still had you captive.’

Belle shook her head. ‘He wasn’t holding me captive. I chose to be with him.’

Maurice straightened up, disappointment falling across his face. ‘Are you saying you still believe yourself in love with him? I thought the curse would’ve lifted the spell.’

Belle sighed, exasperated. Thirty years and he still believed her love for Rumple was an illusion.

‘Not this again. Father, I love Rumplestiltskin. No curse can change that.’

‘But you’ve left him.’

‘I’m not with him right now. Doesn’t mean I’ve left him,’ said Belle.

‘Then why didn’t you find me? Why didn’t you come home?’

‘Have you forgotten what you did?’

‘I did what any good father would do for their daughter.’

‘You lied about being sick! You were going to ship me off to the clerics – if you can call them that!’

‘I had to get you away from him! I had to break his hold over you!’

‘Rumple let me go. He released me from our deal. He told me to live my dream, to see the world. And he let me go this morning to give me the space I needed.’

‘So you did leave him,’ said Maurice quickly.

‘We have a few things to work through.’

Belle checked the clock. She was five minutes late for their lunch date.

‘I have to go. He’s going to be wondering where I am.’

Maurice blocked the door. ‘I’m afraid I can’t let you go, Belle. Not until you swear to mw that you no longer love him. That you will never see him again.’

‘I am not a child!’ said Belle angrily.

‘You don’t understand what that man will do to you. What he’s already done.’

‘No you don’t understand! It’s my life!’

Maurice sighed, regret in his eyes and something else she had never seen before, that she didn’t like. ‘Then I have no choice,’ said Maurice heavily. ‘I’m sorry.’ He turned to the man in the red hat. ‘Do it.’

The man grabbed Belle and dragged her towards the door.

‘What? Father. Father, what - what are you doing! Stop!’ Belle shouted, struggling against the man’s grasp.

Maurice smiled, looking disturbingly satisfied. ‘Goodbye Belle. I love you.’

Goodbye? Why was he saying goodbye? What was he going to do to her?

‘Wait! Father!’

*

She had missed lunch. She had promised and she missed it. Rumple would be worried. He had let her go out into an unknown town on her own. Was he looking for her? What if he thought she had changed her mind about meeting him? He had carried her ‘promise’ with him all these years. It had taken her longer than she expected, but she had kept her promise. She had returned home. Just like she promised to meet him today. Rumple knew how seriously she took her promises. He had to know that something was wrong. That something must have prevented her from turning up.

The man – Mr Smee – had taken her to the mines. It would make sense, murder and disposal of the body all in one go. Would her own father really kill her? Was he merely locking her up like Regina did? He said goodbye, like he would never see her again.

Smee bundled her into a cart and handcuffed her to it.

‘Please! Please, please stop. What’re you doing?’

‘Just sending you on a little ride under the town line. Once you cross it you’ll forget who you were in the other land and who you loved.’

So her father wasn’t going to kill her. Just kill the person she was. Regina never gave her any cursed memories. But magic was different here. What if not being given cursed memories meant she’ll have none when she crosses the line? She wouldn’t just lose Rumple, she would lose herself.

Smee pushed a torch into her hand. ‘This should help you find the key. I left it at the bottom of the cart. Good luck.’

Then he pulled a lever, sending the cart on its way.

‘No wait!’ Belle begged him. ‘I’m begging you! Please don’t! Don’t do this! Please!’

The cart turned a corner and picked up speed. She had to get out of here. The town line could be metres away. Belle searched the floor for the key. She seized it and tried to unlock the cuffs. The cart jostled and she dropped the key. She grabbed a rock and smashed it against the chains, breaking it. She scrambled out but lost her footing as suddenly the cart slammed into reverse. She slipped and twisted her ankle, snapping her heel in the process. She looked up to see the cart pulled magically backwards.

Rumple!

Belle climbed to her feet, pulled off her useless heel and hobbled back up the track. There was a clink as her handcuff magically fell off. Up ahead she heard shouting.

‘What the hell have you done?’

‘Where’s Belle?’

‘Where is she, Moe?’

That was Ruby’s angry voice and Rumple and Charming. As she rounded the bend she saw Rumple, Charming and Ruby standing in a united front against Maurice, demanding to know where Belle was and what had happened to her. The empty mine cart stood between them, the broken handcuffs that had been hanging from the side having fallen to the bottom of the cart when Rumple unlocked them. Smee had disappeared.

All four of them looked round when they heard Belle stumbled towards them.

‘Belle…’ Rumple breathed in relief.

Charming hurried to meet her and helped her walk the remaining distance. Rumple limped to join them.

‘Belle, are you all right?’

‘I…I think so,’ said Belle shakily.

‘You remember who I am?’

Belle nodded. ‘I do, Rumplestiltskin. I remember.’

Looking enormously relieved, Rumple smiled and hugged her. Over his shoulder she saw her father looking furious.

‘How did you find me?’

‘Your new best friend has a nose for tracking.’

‘I’m sorry about lunch.’

‘It doesn’t matter. You’re safe, that’s all that matters.’

‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but how is it you remember, but Sneezy believes he’s Mr Clark?’ asked Charming. ‘You went well under the town line.’

‘Regina never gave me cursed memories. I was worried that would mean that I’d have no memories at all. Thankfully we were both wrong.’

She felt Rumple hug her closer, rubbing her back soothingly. Belle gently pulled out of his embrace.

‘Belle, what’s wrong?’ said Rumple, confused.

‘Thank you for what you just did,’ said Belle, ‘but I’m not ready to come home yet. This relationship has no future if you don’t trust me to be completely honest with me.’

‘Belle, that’s not –’

That’s not true? That’s not why I’m here? That’s not fair? Belle never heard the end of the sentence as her father interrupted. ‘I tried telling him that, Belle.’

How dare he look so happy.

‘Come with me, darling.’

‘After what you just tried to do to me?’ said Belle angrily. ‘You’re no better, father. You don’t get to decide what I do or how I feel. I do. If you cared about me, you would’ve listened.’

‘Belle –’

‘I don’t want to see you again. Ever.’

Maurice glared at Rumple.

‘Don’t look at me,’ said Rumple. ‘Belle’s got a mind of her own.’

‘Belle, you’re not thinking straight.’

‘It’s you who’s not thinking straight,’ said Ruby angrily. ‘How could do that to your own daughter?’

‘And I believe Belle has made herself perfectly clear,’ said Charming, cuffing Maurice. ‘Moe French, I’m arresting you for abduction with malicious intent.’

‘I wasn’t trying to murder her!’

‘You tried to kill the person she is.’

Charming pushed Maurice towards the door. He turned to glare at Belle with the same contempt he showed Rumple. ‘You are no longer my daughter. Until this spell is broken, you are nothing but a demon whore.’

Demon whore… Her own father called her a demon whore. Would her mother have called her that too? With that Charming shoved her fath – Moe French – out of the mines. Tears burned Belle’s eyes and she started to cry. Ruby hugged her and she broke down, lamenting the loss of the only family she had left.

Rumple watched her, tears in his eyes too. He couldn’t bear to see her suffer. ‘Miss Lucas, would you be so kind as to set Belle up with a room at Granny’s Bed and Breakfast, please?’

Ruby nodded. ‘Absolutely.’

‘Thank you for your assistance today. I can see Belle is well looked after.’

Rumple started to walk away.

‘Where are you going?’ Ruby called. ‘This wasn’t you?’

Belle raised her head, cheeks wet. Rumple stopped at the door and looked back, cheeks also wet.

‘This was exactly me. All this. All of it.’

Then he was gone.

*

Belle heard nothing from Rumple. He blamed himself for what happened to her. The Evil Queen had abducted her because of her association with Rumple. Moe French had tried to destroy her for the same reason. Because she loved him. And it was only by the grace of the gods that she wasn’t cursed like everyone else, that she was immune to the effects of the town line or she would be wandering around a stranger.

She had cried herself to sleep in her room at Granny’s. The only family she had in this world had rejected her. Demon whore. Not darling, not sweetheart, not his girl – she was demon whore now. No amount of hugs, tissues or Granny’s cookies could lessen the pain. The one person who could was keeping his distance from her, thinking he was protecting her. She had needed space, not to never see him again. Belle knew how it felt to carry guilt. She blamed herself for her mother’s death and she couldn’t remember all the details. She had dawdled in helping her pack the books during the ogre raid. Maybe if she hadn’t they could’ve got out and her mother would still be here. Guilt was like a cancer; you can treat the symptoms but never the cause. But that didn’t mean you had to go through it alone.

Ruby had been a great support the past couple of days. She had given her a roof over her head, even given her a job at Granny’s and the rest had given more knowledge of this worlds technology and cuisine. Her very own Rubipedia. She had run into the real Dreamy – now Grumpy – who was overjoyed to see her again. Just as she had been a sympathetic ear to Grumpy after hearing what happened to him and Nova, he too had been a friendly ear for about Rumple. He clearly didn’t like Rumple either, but respected her decision and said if she needed anything to let him know.

Ruby placed a plate of pancakes in front of Belle.

‘This one is a classic. The syrup, goes on the pancakes. These, um, round things. But I kind of like it when it goes on everything.’

Belle smiled. ‘You know, um… Thank you. I-I mean not just for this, but… For everything.’

‘No worries. And stay here until you’re on your feet. Granny will be fine with it. Oh! I almost forgot.’ Ruby reached under the counter and placed a black box on top. ‘Someone dropped this off for you at the front desk.’

Belle opened the box, revealing a key labelled ‘Library’. For the first time in days Belle smiled. She finished her pancakes and headed straight to the library, key in hand. She unlocked the doors and stopped inside. She looked around at the circulation desk and the rows and rows of books and just imagining what this place could become. To do something loved.

‘We may sit in our library, and yet be in all quarters of the earth.’

The owner of the voice who quoted John Lubbock stepped out from behind a bookshelf. It was Rumple.

Belle held up the key. ‘You gave me the key.’

Rumple shrugged. ‘I heard of your interest and I, uh…I made some inquiries. There’s an apartment for the caretaker if you want it. I do believe Miss Lucas has the fridge and cupboards well stocked. The dwarf has restored the bathroom to a sanitized condition –’

‘Leroy and Ruby? They never said they’d seen you.’

‘That’s generally the idea. They were going behind your back. We wanted it to be a surprise.’

‘Thank you. You’ve given me a home, a job, a life of my own. But this isn’t the reason you haven’t answered my calls.’

Rumple shook her head.

‘My father is to blame for what happened. Not you.’

‘Miss Lucas said much the same. She said that Snow White tried to warn off Prince Charming and the dwarves – many times. That Regina would hurt her through them, that she would kill them like the villagers who had tried to help her. But they stayed. No matter how many times she told them to go, all the close calls, they refused to abandon her. Because they loved her.’

‘Then how are we any different?’

‘I’m a villain, Belle. This town is less than sympathetic towards me. If you left, if I die they’d rejoice in my suffering. And they should.’

‘Ruby helped you. And Leroy and David.’

‘She was worried about you; the dwarf threatened to bury his axe in my chest if I ever hurt. And Charming…it was emotional blackmail on my part. But, Charming by name, is an honourable man and wouldn’t let his personal feelings about me risk the life on an innocent. He’s far too noble for that.’

‘Ruby helped you put all this together. Maybe she cares about you too.’

The corners of Rumple’s mouth twitched a little in a faint smile at the notion. ‘That’s a nice thought. Since Jefferson left with dear Grace, there’s no one else in this town I can call a friend. Present company excluded.’

‘Am I? You won’t talk to me. You go AWOL for days and you think giving me another library makes up for –’

Rumple held up a hand to silence her. ‘No, that’s…that’s not why I’m here.’

He limped a step closer into the sunlight filtering in through a gap in the boarded windows.

‘I came because you deserve the truth… About me.’ Rumple drew a deep breath. ‘I am a coward. I have been my entire life.’

It was on the tip of Belle’s tongue to say he wasn’t a coward, but stayed silent. Rumple had worked up a lot of courage to get here, maybe even rehearsed what he was going to say to her, and she didn’t want to throw him off his stride.

‘I tried to make up for it by collecting power, and the power became so important that I couldn’t let go. Not even…when that meant losing the most important person in my life.’

Belle nodded. ‘Your son.’

Rumple nodded. ‘Baelfire, is his name,’ he added with a smile.

Belle smiled too. Baelfire…a good strong name.

‘After he left, I dedicated myself to finding him. I went down many, many paths. Until I found a curse, that could take me to the land where he’d escaped.’

‘Here.’

‘When I found myself in this little town, there was only one thing left to do – wait for the curse to be broken, so that I could leave and find him.’

‘But instead of looking for him, you…you brought magic.’

‘Because I’m still a coward. Magic has become a crutch that I can’t walk without. And even if I could, I now know that I can never leave this place.’

Belle moved closer to lean against the bookcase. ‘Because anyone who leaves forgets the people they love. So, when you go to look for Baelfire…you won’t know him.’

Rumple bowed his head, fighting to remain composed. ‘Magic comes with a price. Belle, I have to break this new curse,’ said Rumple, his voice breaking with quiet desperation. ‘That’s why I was using magic. That night you saw me down in the basement.’

It not only explained that night it explained why he stopped his transformation after true loves kiss. How could he find his son without magic?

‘I have lost so much that I loved. I didn’t want to lose you again…without you knowing everything.’ Rumple stepped closer and touched her cheek. ‘Goodbye Belle.’

Then he turned and walked away. If he walked out that door she would never see him again. She pushed away from the bookcase. ‘Do you, uh… Have you ever had a hamburger?’

Of all the things to say. But it did make Rumple stop. He turned round, his eyes over bright. ‘Yes, of course,’ he whispered.

‘Well, uh, I haven’t. But I hear that Granny’s makes a great one. Maybe…maybe we could…try it sometime?’

A radiant smile broke across Rumple face, looking at her like she’d answered his prayers. ‘I would like that – very much.’

Belle couldn’t help but grin back at him as he bowed and left the library, still smiling. A breakthrough! Rumple had opened up to her and she had found her place in this town. She wasn’t just Rumplestiltskin’s girlfriend, she was the Storybrooke librarian. She had a new friend and not only that but a friend who supported her life choices. She had lost her father, maybe one day he would come around. And if he didn’t that was his loss. She wouldn’t compromise herself to be accepted by others. She hadn’t for Rumple, Leroy, Ruby or Granny and they loved her for the person she was, just as she loved them, flaws and all.

But most importantly, she felt she understood Rumple better. The world saw a power hungry imp, but Belle saw a man trying to fix his mistakes. A father who just wanted his son back. Maybe she could help him. They had taken a big step. Even though they were living apart, Belle felt they were closer than ever.

They would get there. One step at a time.