Author: NarrowBridge PM
AU set in Neverland, picks up right after Season 1 Finale. Rumplestiltskin and Belle set out to find his son in a land that will challenge and change them in ways even the most accomplished seers cannot foretell. The infamous Dark One will be forced to make the most important, and most costly, deal of his life. Will he choose love, or power?Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold & Belle - Chapters: 42 - Words: 151,521 - Reviews: 384 - Favs: 68 - Follows: 98 - Updated: 06-11-13 - Published: 06-25-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8255331
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: We know it has taken a little longer than usual to update this time, but we hope the length and content make it worth the wait. :)
Disclaimer: We do not own Once Upon a Time. May credit be given where credit is due.
The sky above the sleeping couple slowly lightened, its deep indigo melting into a more peaceful turquoise. Tendrils of a light morning mist swirled lazily over the meadow. Tiny chirps punctuated the morning silence as brightly colored finches weaved through the cattails, foraging for a hearty breakfast of Neverbugs.
A shrill, bloodcurdling scream pierced the early morning air. Rumplestiltskin jolted upright, his heart banging painfully against his chest. His gaze darted about frantically, his confusion amplifying when his eyes fell on Belle, sleeping undisturbed. Removing himself from beneath the flannel blanket he and Belle had ended up sharing in their sleep, Rumplestiltskin rose to his knees, his eyes scrutinizing their surroundings for the source of the scream. Belle began to stir slightly.
"Rum?" She murmured groggily, rubbing a hand over her eyes. Rumplestiltskin did not answer, turning his head to take in the rest of the meadow's expanse. "What is it?" Belle prompted, more alert.
"I thought I heard...Belle, did you—" Another long, despairing scream echoed around them, sounding farther away. Rumplestiltskin jumped to his feet, his eyes scanning the dark tree line behind them. Something about the cry sounded familiar; he was certain he could name its owner, if only he could see them... Belle watched him, sitting up slowly, her brow furrowed in bewilderment. "What's wrong?"
Rumplestiltskin's gaze snapped to Belle's for a moment, confusion and something like fear whirling in its depth. "You didn't hear—" Rumplestiltskin's voice broke off as the unmistakable squelching sound of a blade puncturing flesh reached his ears. A sign of movement on a nearby rotting tree stump caught his attention, and he cautiously took a step closer. Thick, crimson liquid slid sinuously between the rivets in the bark.
After a moment's hesitation, Rumplestiltskin stretched out a hand toward the soaked wood. "Rum?" Belle called out from behind him, rising to her own feet. But he did not answer her, staring silently at the blood which coated his fingers like syrup. Its harsh metallic scent invaded his nostrils; he could taste bile in the back of his throat.
Rumplestiltskin heard a light rustle of leaves as Belle stepped closer; terror seized him. "Belle, stay back!" He yelled, whirling around to see Belle skid to a stop, her face ashen and fearful in the first rays of sunlight peering over the horizon. He turned back to the tree stump.
The blood was gone.
His insides twisting, Rumplestiltskin looked down at his hand. It bore no scarlet stain. He rubbed his fingers together, as though the clean skin were the illusion and the blood the elusive reality.
The snap of a twig behind Rumplestiltskin told him that Belle had disregarded his warning. "What is it?" She asked, her voice breathy with apprehension. "What did you see?"
Rumplestiltskin scanned their surroundings again, his eyes squinted slightly. "Nothing," he murmured, glancing once more at his stainless hand.
"Must have been a trick of the light," he added in response to Belle's disbelieving frown. She scrutinized him, opening her mouth to speak, but Rumplestiltskin did not afford her the time, briskly walking back to their campsite. With a sigh, Belle followed, making a mental note to confront him about this strange behavior later. He began scooping soil into their fire pit with his foot to smother the embers still burning from the previous night, while Belle refolded their blanket and returned it to her rucksack. Before she could tie the bag closed, Rumplestiltskin took it from her, fishing a hand inside and pulling out the little pocketknife he had taught her how to wield the night before.
"Keep this on you," he murmured, pressing the weapon into her palm.
"Rum..." Belle sighed lightly, opening her mouth in protest.
"Please," Rumplestiltskin sighed tiredly, smiling softly in gratitude when Belle curled her fingers around the knife. She placed it in her jeans pocket, shaking her head slightly.
The sun had only just surpassed the horizon when they resumed their trek through the Neverland Forest.
"According to legend," Rumplestiltskin began as he helped Belle over a large, moss-covered tree trunk strewn across their path, "Neverland is an island. We'll be able to properly get our bearings once we find water, assuming we do not encounter any sign of civilization before then."
"Why haven't we seen anyone else yet, Rum? It feels like we're the only two people here..." Belle asked, looking around at their surroundings, a slight frown curving her lips. With a chill Rumplestiltskin thought back to the blood on the tree stump. He quelled the thought, though, not wishing to worry her.
"I don't know. Perhaps my reputation has simply preceded us here, as well," he quipped, smiling at Belle's soft chuckle.
They continued walking in comfortable silence, the rustling leaves beneath their feet the only sound passing between them. After a while, when the sun was just beginning its slow western descent, Belle's attention to the path seemed to dwindle again, and the silence became filled with soft thumps as her feet caught on risen roots and stones. A particularly loud thump, followed by a brief "oh!" of surprise, sounded behind Rumplestiltskin. Turning around, he was surprised to find that Belle's attention was absorbed not in her surroundings, but in a small book and pencil she held in her hands. He recognized the book as one of his unused pocket ledgers.
"What are you doing?" He asked, smirking lightly. Belle looked up suddenly, blushing prettily at being caught.
"The Blue Fairy said the longer we're here, the more we'll forget...So, I'm writing down some important things for us to remember." She grinned, turning the little book toward Rumplestiltskin so he could see her neat, looping scrawl.
Age: Lost count at 26
Place of birth: Avonlea
Reason for traveling to Neverland: To help Rumpel— Rumple— my true love find his son.
Rumplestiltskin laughed loudly at her ingenuity, causing Belle to grin more widely, her blush deepening. "I must say, the idea has its merits," he complimented, smirking at her attempts to spell his name, "But I doubt we will be here long enough to suffer any serious amnesia."
"Well, it is better to err on the side of caution, just in case," she said, smiling. A darkness overshadowed some of the mirth in her gaze then. "I forgot who I was once, and I'd rather not repeat that experience," she added quietly.
Rumplestiltskin opened his mouth to speak but his actions were cut short when a loud crack wrenched through the air, causing Belle to shriek and both of them to instinctually cover their heads as a large piece of bark flew off a nearby tree.
Rumplestiltskin crouched low to the ground, pulling Belle with him. He cautiously stretched his neck high enough to see over the tops of the shrubs in their path. About forty meters away stood a small crowd of raggedly-dressed men, facing their direction. One of them stretched out his arm, his fist clutching a flintlock pistol...
Rumplestiltskin pulled Belle to him, slouching even lower to shield as much of her as possible as another shot rang out. Clutching her hand, he jumped to his feet and led them sprinting deeper into the forest, followed by shouting and the unmistakable sound of running feet.
Their heavy breathing the only sound passing between them, Rumplestiltskin and Belle propelled their feet forward as fast as they could. It was with immense relief that Rumplestiltskin realized this part of the forest floor seemed particularly smooth and devoid of protruding roots. In fact, the roots seemed to have vanished completely, as though the willows were trying to help them evade their violent pursuers. They ran for what felt like years, stopping occasionally to lean against the trees and listen for any sign of their followers. Every stop was short-lived; they still heard the harsh voices of their trackers and the crunching of leaves beneath their feet. Somewhere along the way they chucked off their rucksacks, the decrease in weight enhancing their speed.
After a while the territory around them began to resemble more mountainous terrain, the walls of trees now punctuated by enormous limestone boulders. Rumplestiltskin's lungs felt like fire as they bolted up the side of a steep hill, and the ragged panting he heard beside him indicated that Belle was fairing little better.
They sprinted onwards, their knees throbbing under the strain. Just when they felt certain they could run no more, they spotted it. Incised in the side of an enormous boulder was a narrow cave, hopefully deep enough to conceal them both. As they approached, the vines draped across the entrance gently swayed aside, as though in a gesture of hospitality.
Rumplestiltskin yanked Belle in front of him, encouraging her inside and quickly following after. The cave was about a meter wide, and seemed to stretch at least four meters back. They flattened themselves against its limestone walls, listening as their pursuers' running footsteps approached. A large, bearded man ran past, not noticing the crevasse in the boulder's surface, his cutlass swinging wildly at his hip. As the others' shouts and footsteps grew closer, Rumplestiltskin leaned closer to Belle, placing a hand on her shoulder and silently ushering her farther into the cave.
"Rum..." Belle whispered, but he did not turn, his gaze fixated on the other men who were now sprinting past the cave's entrance. He could still hear several men shouting in the distance.
"Rumplestiltskin..." She whimpered, and the sheer terror laced in her voice compelled him to turn around. Her wide eyes were staring not at the entrance to the cave, but at the stone walls which encased them. Her hands were twisting in the hem of her black shirt; she was trembling.
"Belle?" Rumplestiltskin breathed, but she did not appear to hear him. In the orange sunlight leaking through the vines covering the entrance, he saw her arms wind themselves around her waist, her eyes darting frantically between the cave's walls.
Rumplestiltskin reached a hand toward her arm. When his fingers brushed the crook of her elbow, she jerked away with a cry, shrinking back against the limestone. "No! No, please...no medicine..." He heard her mumble, her eyes staring at him but seeing someone else, someone with a white coat and a vial filled with pain...
Something inside Rumplestiltskin shattered when he saw two tears roll down her cheeks.
He crouched before her, careful not to startle her again with his touch. "Belle, shh... It's all right; you're not there anymore, you're here, with me," he whispered, his fear mounting when she shook her head, her quick breaths beginning to sound more likes gasps.
"Please, please, let me out—I need to—I can't—I can't breathe," she whimpered, her gasping breaths now punctuated by tiny sobs. Her eyes gaped at the stone walls, and Rumplestiltskin knew she was seeing ones covered in cloth and padding. He wanted more than anything to grant her plea, to pull her back into the open air, but he could not. They were still being tracked.
Not knowing what else to do, Rumplestiltskin pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her shaking form. He could hear the men's shouts outside, but they seemed farther now. She stiffened in his embrace, and he moved to withdraw, when she suddenly clasped her arms tight around his shoulders, clutching him even closer. He could feel her tear-stained cheek against his neck.
He rubbed his hand in circles on her back, but her gasping breaths did not slow; he feared she would lose consciousness soon if he could not calm her breathing.
"Belle," he whispered into her ear, "Belle, I need you to listen to me. Can you do that, love?"
She whimpered, clinging to him more tightly.
"Try to slow your breathing, dear. Follow mine." He gently pulled one of her arms from around his neck, placing her hand between their bodies and holding it against his chest. He inhaled and exhaled slowly, rubbing his other hand between her shoulder blades.
At first, she did not respond, merely clutching him with her free arm and sobbing pleas to let her leave, to take her away... But as he continued to breathe slowly, encouraging her to mirror him, he realized her breaths began to sound less gasping, her mumbling quieted.
"That's right, Belle. Breathe just like me." He felt her chest expand against his own; they exhaled together. They sat like that, breathing as one with an occasional hiccup from Belle, until her arm slowly loosened its hold on his shoulders. She pulled away slightly, keeping her hand folded beneath Rumplestiltskin's on his chest. Her petite form still trembled, and when she turned her head to look at the cave walls, Rumplestiltskin cupped her cheek, keeping her gaze fixed on his own. "Just look at me, dear" he murmured.
He was not going to kill Regina; he was going to destroy her, starting with her mind, finishing the job she had tried to start on Belle.
She sniffled a few times, her fist still clutching the front of his jacket. "I'm sorry...it's just...I spent a year in that awful place..."
Belle's words sent a jolt of fear rippling through him. A year? Oh, gods...she did not know. He had not mentioned how long the curse had lasted when he answered her questions, had not explained that the savior had only been an infant when it was cast. She did not know she had been a resident in Storybrooke's psychiatric ward for nearly three decades.
He pulled back from her slightly, opening his mouth to speak...before closing it again. He could not tell her, not like this, not here. He gently pulled them both to their feet, unsure if his actions were a sign of cowardice or chivalry.
"I think they're gone," he murmured, walking toward the cave entrance. He stepped outside, and when Belle followed he saw her relax visibly. The sun hovered over the western horizon, casting a hazy red glow through the trees.
They began to follow a different path, perpendicular to their former one lest their trackers fall back and retrace their steps. They moved cautiously, listening for any sound of pursuit as well as trying to avoid tripping over any obstacles concealed in the waning sunlight.
Something large and silver suddenly whizzed past their heads; as it clattered against a stone ledge they realized it was a cutlass.
Whirling about, they ran in an opposite direction. Branches and vines scraped and scuffed their flesh and they sprinted once more along the forest path. The sun slid beneath the horizon, the absence of light causing Belle and Rumplestiltskin to stumble over protruding roots and stones in their path.
"Rum," Belle gasped as they sprinted, "Your magic! Use it!"
"I—I can't," he panted, his muscles screaming in protest as they ascended a steep hill.
"Now's not—the time—to be—frugal!" Belle cried between ragged breaths, sweat sliding down her temples. "Rum, they're trying to kill—"
"I can't, Belle!" He snapped; he stopped running, pulling Belle's arm so that she turned to face him. "If I use the magic here, I'll never be able to use it again, anywhere," he rasped, his hands clutching Belle's shoulders.
"What? But—but you said—" She stared at him, eyes wide with shock and hurt.
"I lied," he interrupted, and were it not for the fire burning in his exhausted lungs, his words would have been a shout.
Their trackers' yells echoed harshly in the distance; a shot rang out.
"Rum, you must—" Belle started, but Rumplestiltskin cut her off.
"No. We can outrun them." He grabbed her hand, willing his mind to ignore the look of betrayal marring her features, and resumed their frantic sprint through the forest. Their legs quivered as they scaled the remainder of the hill, finally reaching the more level ground of a rocky shelf; their pace quickened.
As they rounded the narrow ledge, the ground suddenly collapsed from beneath their feet.
The rustle of leaves and the dull thuds of loosened stones accompanied their grunts and cries as they cascaded down the steep slope of the rocky hillside. Their arms flailed as they fell, reaching for something, anything, to hold onto, but it was no use. Rumplestiltskin felt something slide from beneath his jacket as he plummeted down the slope.
When they finally reached the bottom of the hill, Rumplestiltskin's momentum propelled him into a tree trunk, knocking the wind from his lungs and causing his vision to go dark.
He came to slowly, his vision returning hazily. He could feel the ground trembling slightly beneath him as their pursuers approached. Squinting against the pain that seemed to consume his whole body, he could make out Belle's sprawled form about a meter away. She did not stir.
He heard footsteps languidly approach his side; a moment later a heavy black boot obscured his view.
Grunting faintly, Rumplestiltskin tried to lift his head, but the effort was wasted as the boot pressed against the bottom of his chin, forcing his head higher with a jerk. His vision blurred slightly as he took in the slim frame donning a crimson coat with intricate gold lacing standing above him. Attached to the end of the man's left hand was a polished, silver hook.
"Rise to your feet, Dark One."
A/N: Uh oh...