A/N: It was either update today or update Friday, so I updated today. Bad news: Third chapter might take a while. Now that I'm trained in my new job, I am super busy. (Sorry)


Belle could listen to Mr. Gold read for hours. His voice is so smooth, the words pouring out with gusto. He never trips over any of the words, and for the hour or two he reads to her, the world makes a little bit of sense.

But he always shuts the book, because they only last so long, and she's reminded.

She's back in her dark, cramped room, with the cold chill creeping over her skin.

It's a blessed thing that the brick in their wall fell, or she'd be in total blackness. And quite without someone to talk to.

She's getting better at talking. The words have always been there, but getting them out is a challenge. Belle's mind is fine, she's sure of it. It thinks and connects the dots and she knows who she is and where she is.

She just doesn't know why.

Why was she in the asylum, talking to a man who looks no more insane than she is?

Belle studies Mr. Gold as he moves about his room. His much bigger room, with an overhead light and a lamp. A bed with a mattress and two blankets. Oh, and a pillow. What she wouldn't give for a pillow. Using her arm wasn't comfortable, and it left her cramped in the mornings, stiff and sore.

It could be worse she supposes.

Though how winding up in the asylum without knowing how or why is pretty bad.

But Mr. Gold seems normal, if a bit skittish. He reminds Belle of a wild deer with his long legs and his wide, frightened eyes. But there is a stubbornness behind his eyes, a strength buried deep she'd like to see more of. Every time she speaks, which is becoming more often as she gets used to the idea of her voice, he jumps.

Like he's afraid of her.

Some small voice whispers that he might be afraid of what he might do to her, but Belle doesn't like that voice.

Mr. Gold had been honest with her. He's in the asylum because being outside makes him violent. He put himself in here for the safety of others.

He's a good man.

And she's not afraid of him.

Belle doesn't know what she's afraid of, but fear follows her around the small room, barely a step behind her as she paces the walls for exercise.

"...since the invention of the kiss, there have been-"

She hears him best when she stands by the hole, but standing in one place for so long makes her legs ache. She has to move, even if it's just to count the steps she takes around the room.

And she's pretty sure she's read The Princess Bride before. Somewhere. It sounds familiar.

Her door opens.

Mr. Gold immediately falls silent. The nurses don't know about the hole. If Mr. Gold's lights are off, they can't tell there's a hole at all, even if they're in the middle of Belle's room (cell, the nasty voice in her head hisses, cell, cell, you're in a cell, get out, get away, run, you can make it) and don't look too hard.

Belle doesn't want them to patch up the hole. How is she supposed to get better at talking to people if she has no one to talk to?

The nurse isn't an option.

Mr. Gold has several different nurses throughout the day. One to check on him at night (Belle doesn't sleep well on her hard excuse for a mattress and watches them watch him), one for the morning, one for the afternoon, and a completely different one if he goes upstairs.

Belle hasn't gone upstairs yet. And she's only got one nurse.

Her nurse frightens her.

"Middle of the room," the nurse orders. She's a tall, broad woman who fills up the entire doorway without even trying. Her mouth is thin and unhappy, and it looks like it hasn't smiled in a very long time.

Belle steps into the center of the room. She tells herself not to look at the bricks to her right. The nurse will see if she does, and she'll put the brick back, cement it up tight so Mr. Gold can't talk to her anymore.

"Time for meds."

Heart pounding, Belle searches for her voice. It's buried, deep in her throat, sliding further down until it's in her stomach, a lead weight welding her to the floor. She swallows. Breathes.

Speak, Belle.

Say something.

"I'm... I haven't eaten... today," she gasps.

She nearly tears up at the sound. Her voice, finally, her voice! She spoke, she said something, she does speak to others after all.

The nurse gives her a hard stare. "Take your medicine willingly, or I'll give it to you myself."

Belle's voice shrivels and dies.

She knows she's five foot two, but as the nurse advances on her, Belle only feels tiny, helpless, and small.

The pills taste bitter, like chalk and rancid water as the taste is left on her tongue. There's so many and the nurse is pushing them all into her mouth, one right after the other. Belle turns her head (no stop, enough, that's enough!) but a rough hand grabs her chin, forcing her mouth open.

The nurse howls. "Bite me again, and I'll make you sleep for a week," she hisses.

Belle can't move, trapped between the wall and the nurse, both equally unmovable, and five pills weigh on her tongue. She tries to swallow them, because if the pills are gone, the nurse is gone, but her throat is clogged and she can't remember how.

The fingers on her jaw increase their pressure. She's sure she can feel her jaw splinter and crack, it hurts. Then the hand covers her mouth and nose. The wall digs into her head, hard thump, loud bang, and stars explode behind her eyes. She can't breathe, she can't breathe, just swallow the pills and she'll leave (leave me alone!).

She gags, retches, and forces the pills and bile down. Her ears ring.

The nurse lets go.

"Now was that so hard?"

She dusts herself off.

And shuts the door behind her.

Belle wants to curl up on the floor and just cry. Her limbs feel like jelly. Her knees can't support her and she slides to the floor.

"That's not right," Mr. Gold says.

There's venom in his voice. It's powerful and dark and ugly, but it doesn't scare Belle. He's angry. He's furious. But she's not afraid of him. She's never been afraid of him. Maybe she should be, but she has no reason to be afraid. It's not that he's not frightening, even being a small man with a limp, he was scary enough to warrant being locked away, but something about him seems...

She doesn't know.

But Belle isn't afraid.

Mr. Gold's hand folds over the brick. He shakes it, testing it, and part of her hopes it wobbles. The nurse would notice a bigger hole, but a bigger hole means being closer to him.

She feels safe with Mr. Gold.

"Belle?"

She feels dizzy.

"I think I have to sleep," she tells him, because the world is blurry and beginning to spin a bit. She doesn't know what they gave her. The medicine might make her sick. Never take pills on an empty stomach, her dad used to say.

Her dad without a face, or a name. She can't remember.

(He didn't want you to go, but you made your own choice.)

"You'll catch your death," Mr. Gold says, and he sounds so wrecked, so concerned that Belle sits up.

The brick wobbles ever so slightly.

"I'll tear the wall down with my bare hands if I have to," he tells her. "Brick by brick, I'll tear the place apart." She can see his face, his eyes so serious on hers. "I'm going to get you out of here."

She believes him.

It might just be the medicine talking, she's pretty sure this is what it feels like to be high, but Mr. Gold promises her he will help her, and it is a promise she knows he'll keep. She feels safe, knowing he's looking after her.

He ducks, and Belle collapses against the concrete, ready to crawl into unconsciousness.

Warmth settles over her shoulders. Something covers her face and she nearly panics, but when her eyes snap open she sees the blanket from his bed being pushed through the hole.

"Stay warm," Mr. Gold orders.

Belle drapes the wool across her body, has a brief moment to wonder at the warmth of a blanket, thin, but thick enough to ward off the chill, and she is out.


She smells bad.

She's pretty sure she looks bad too.

Her hair has always been wild, but the curls are usually lovely. However, she usually has a brush. Or a comb, at least. But instead she's in the dark, wrapped in Mr. Gold's blanket, and her hair is a frizzy, bushy, huge mess.

And she smells.

It's not like she can help it, though. The nurse only ever takes her to the bathroom across the hall once or twice a day, and never for longer than a minute.

Belle shivers. She wants a bath, and she wants it badly enough to ask.

The nurse hadn't asked where she'd gotten the blanket from.

"I told them I wasn't comfortable with two, and to give the blanket to someone else," Mr. Gold told her, smirking down at her. "Powers of persuasion, and misdirection. My nurse simply thinks another nurse gave that to you."

Belle smiles, then giggles, and soon she's laughing outright.

He looks so pleased with himself.

She's back to studying him, and though Belle hadn't thought she liked long hair on men, she rather likes it on Mr. Gold.

"How old are you?" she asks, because she's lived in Storybrooke her entire life and she's never even heard of Mr. Gold.

He shies away from the hole. Belle has to stand on her tip toes to see him.

"Mr. Gold?" (It can't be that bad, and it doesn't matter anyways, the voice sighs, and for once Belle agrees with it.) "I'm twenty two, if it helps."

"Forty four," he says eventually. "You're so young."

She doesn't feel young, and tells him so. "I feel like I've been here forever, and it's starting to show."

Mr. Gold hesitantly scoots closer to the hole. Belle curls her fingers over the brick, wiggling the loose one. His side is warm, and she places both hands through.

"Your hands are freezing," Mr. Gold growls. He takes her hands in his, gently rubbing them.

Belle can't remember the last time anyone touched her so gently.

Mr. Gold, unaware that he's broken her for the moment, blows on her fingers, shocking them into warmth. Belle gasps, and her fingers latch onto his hands.

"Warm," she hums, leaning against the cold brick.

"It's not right," he says for the hundredth time. "They way they treat you."

"I haven't had a bath in I don't know how long," Belle admits. "I'm sure I look as frightening as I smell. You have a private bathroom, don't you?"

"Yes, I do."

He's still holding her hands, gently running his thumbs across her skin, and Belle could just die the touch is so gentle. Safe, warm, careful (caring).

"You look as beautiful as always," Mr. Gold says quietly.

Belle can't process the words, her voice retreating once again, but her ears heard, and her heart rejoices.

If she could speak, if her voice wasn't so afraid, she would tell him the same, because she doesn't think he understands how beautiful he is too. But her voice always flees when she needs it the most (do the brave thing), and she can only offer a timid smile.

"I should ask for a newspaper," Mr. Gold murmurs. "We should know what's going on in the outside world."

Belle yanks her voice back into place. "Tell me about your son."

She tangles her fingers around his, properly holding his hand. Her free hand clutches the blanket around her shoulders, and she listens. Eyes closed as she listens to that amazing voice tell her about the son he'd lost.

"I'll find him," he says, squeezing her hand. "He moved away long ago, to get away from me, but I'll find him. I'll tell him I'm sorry."

Belle, as always, believes him.

"I'll take you with me," Mr. Gold whispers. "We'll go far away from this place, you and me."

She opens her eyes.

He's promising her.

She believes him.

"I'll go with you," she promises.

(Forever.)