So, I'm back, my friends! And I am so excited for this sequel. I think it is going to be awesome, and it's sure to be epic, dramatic, and...of course... romantic!

If you did not read Almost Lover, then I suggest that you read it before you read this story. But, if you don't want to, that is just fine. Let me just give a brief summary of what took place in Almost Lover:

It all began when Belle struck a deal with the infamous Dark One, to go and live with him forever in exchange for the safety of her kingdom and family. Hatred stirred in her heart for the beast, but she never broke her word or fled the Dark Castle.

A friendship slowly began to build little by little as Rumpelstiltskin showed the own goodness hiding away in his soul, and Belle continued to show her bravery. One night, Rumpelstiltskin saved her from death, succeeding in catching her from falling off of a balcony. In that instant, though he denied it, Belle knew there was still good in him, and it was then that he told her to address him by his real name instead of the title of 'master'.

When Robin Hood stole the magic wand from the castle, it was Belle who convinced Rumpelstiltskin to spare the man's life. In that moment, she embraced him for the first time and love began to bloom amidst their hearts.

But then, all was not to be well. One night, Belle disobeyed her master and went to the West Wing, a place he had deliberately ordered her never to go. There, she found his cursed dagger, and Rumpelstiltskin, sensing the dagger's pull, transported home to find it in Belle's possession. Both frightened and furious that she had nearly controlled him, he screamed at her in rage. Belle, too scared to think, fled from the Dark Castle into the woods where she was attacked by a pack of wolves. She screamed out her master's name and he came and saved her, bringing her back to the Castle.

He had been injured and it was Belle who bandaged his wound and took care of him. Rumpelstiltskin told her of his sad story and of the dagger, and of how he had never meant to hurt her. Belle and Rumpelstiltskin forgave each other and nearly had their first kiss, before he pulled away and went to bed.

The following day, Rumpelstiltskin's long-time "friend", Jefferson, visited the Dark Castle in search of a sleeping potion. He easily deduced the feelings stirring between the master and his slave, and he tells Rumpelstiltskin that the only way to know if Belle truly does love him is to let her go and see if she returns.

And so, with a heavy heart, Rumpelstiltskin does just that and Belle leaves the Dark Castle. He knows that she will never return, but he waits for her anyway, hopelessly hoping that she will come back. And she does. Belle, while out walking, had met the Evil Queen who had told her that the only way to break his curse was through True Love's Kiss. And so, Belle kisses him and he slowly begins to turn back into a human. But in an instant, he pulls away, furious that she had tricked him. He, thinking that she had betrayed him, orders her to leave and she goes.

Thus, ends Almost Lover and now begins An Empty Heart.

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He had let her go. Just let her walk away through the doors of the Great Hall and out of his life forever. How could he have been so stupid?! Rumpelstiltskin's mind was awhirl with thought. He was at his spinning wheel trying to forget, and yet all he could think about was that beautiful woman whom he had foolishly fallen in love with.

"Because no one, NO ONE, can ever, EVER, love me!"

"If only you knew how wrong you are, Rumpelstiltskin. Because I love you more than I could ever describe in words."

Had she really meant it? In that moment, Rumpelstiltskin had very nearly forgiven her. His heart had softened at the truth that was so apparent in the voice that was pleading with him to believe her. And yet, he hadn't. Was it only his regret that was telling him that perhaps she had not lied? Maybe, she had been telling the truth after all. And he had scorned her, treated her as if she were a lying traitor. But wasn't that what he had accused her of?

Rumpelstiltskin growled. Stop! Stop! STOP! Just stop thinking about her! For so long he had been trying to convince himself that he didn't need her. That he had been alone for hundreds of years, how should this be any different? But it was different because he could feel the pangs of loneliness. His heart hurt. His heart had hurt only once...after he had lost Bae. And now, he knew, that the last of his heart had been broken the moment she had set foot out of the Dark Castle. And now, he regretted it.

She had said he would. And she was right. How long has she been gone now? Rumpelstiltskin sighed. She had only been gone for two days. How on earth would he be able to cope with this pain for the rest of his eternal life? He doubted it would dull at all. And what about her? Was she feeling the same? If she truly did love him, then she probably was. But if she had been lying...well, then, she was probably smiling slyly. She was probably chuckling behind his back, the back of a weak, love-sick man who was supposed to be a blood-curdling monster.

Just then, the doors of the Great Hall swung open and he cursed silently. He had been too occupied in his thoughts to even notice the distinct pull of magic upon the barriers of his home.

He did not turn to see who the new-comer was. He already knew by the ammonia smell of her magic and the crackling power that radiated off of her form. He frowned. She was not somebody he needed to deal with today or ever again. Not after how she had used Belle to nearly destroy him.

"Flimsy locks, Rumple," the woman stated as she slowly approached him, "Your thoughts must be distracted today." The imp did not say anything and she just waved her hand in boredom, "Ah, well. I am in need of something from you. I have to get rid of a certain pest, a young mermaid girl."

"I'm not dealing today," he said quietly as he continued to turn the wheel underneath his hand.

Regina raised an eyebrow and set her lips in a thin line. "What is it?" She asked, "What have I done now?"
Rumpelstiltskin wished he could just walk right up to her and strangle the life from her. Her voice was like screeching to his already hurting head. Why couldn't she just go away? "It didn't work, Regina," he announced, trying to irk her, "You're little plan failed. Accept it, dearie. You'll never be more powerful than me."

She smirked, "Is this about the pretty girl I met on the road?" She mocked him. "What was her name? Margie? Verna?"

"Belle," he interrupted. He felt a slight pang as her name left his lips.

"Right." Regina sounded displeased. The girl had been blessed with good looks. Did her name also need to emphasize that? She shook the thought away and added, "Well, you can rest assured I had nothing to do with that tragedy."

Rumpelstiltskin's hand stilled on the wheel and he tried to remain calm as he turned to face Regina. He saw that she had had the audacity to make herself a cup of tea from the tray sitting on the table. And, more importantly, she was preparing to drink from his chipped cup. Just before her filthy lips could touch the edge of the cup, he used magic to snatch it away. She looked at him, her face red with anger, but she chose to force a smile. He held the chipped heart close to his heart as he said, "Now. What tragedy?" His teeth were clenched. What on earth was Regina up to?

"You don't know?" Her eyes widened in shock before she smiled and chuckled, "Well, then..." she circled around to the edge of the table and leaned her elaborately buttressed dress against it, "When she left, she went back home to her father. And after her...association with you, no one would want her, of course. Her father and fiance shunned her. Cut her off and shut her out."

"So she needs a h-home?" Rumpelstiltskin could barely register what he was hearing. If Belle needed a home, he would willingly give her one. At this point, his pride no longer played a part. He missed her. That was all there was to it. But, then, his last hope came crashing down like splintering glass as Regina continued.

The Queen laughed wickedly. "He was cruel to her. The girl was locked away in the dungeons. Her father sent in clerics to cleanse her soul with scourges and flame. She cried and screamed but no one came. Eventually, she threw herself off the tower." With a final glimmer of victory in her eyes, she announced coldly, "She died."

The fiend was at a loss for words. Surely, he hadn't heard Regina right? And if he had, she had to be playing some kind of trick. Trying to make him weak when his Belle was truly safe and sound. "You're lying," he protested, but his words sounded hollow to his ears. After all, if Belle did return home, her father would consider her marked by the beast that had taken her. So, the cleansing did make sense. His skin grew bright red with indignation at the thought of her being in such pain because of him.

Regina countered, "Am I?"

Rumpelstiltskin could see the daring in her eyes. Why should she lie about such a thing? If she wanted to destroy him there were so many different ways that she could do so. Why lie about Belle? He clenched his teeth and kept the tears from springing to his eyes. What if Belle truly was dead? He had never even gotten to say a proper goodbye. "We're done," he managed to say.

She sighed, "Very well. But if only there were some way you could see her again, Rumple...one last time." Her words hit their mark: his aching heart. He felt their sting acutely, but focused instead on the anger swelling up inside of him.

"Get out."

She nodded in acquiescence before walking around the edge of the table and swiping her finger across its surface. She looked at the finger and shook her head reprimandingly at the imp. "Place is filthy, Rumple." She leaned close to him and her eyes shone with malice. "You should get a new girl."

He did not retaliate at her jab. He just watched as she walked out through the doors and down the hall. He was alone once again without another single presence in the Dark Castle. And his Belle was dead.

Wait? Dead. And for the first time, the meaning of that word hit him. She had been unable to bear the pain and the torture her father had bestowed upon her. And she had been desperate enough to take her own life by flinging herself out of a tower window. Had she called his name? If she had, he would certainly have heard it. Why wouldn't she have called for him to save her? He blinked back the tears of despair. She had always been stubborn. Belle had been stubborn and courageous to the end. And in the end, she had died a lonely death. One that she, by no means, deserved.

The pain was too much. The fiend fell hard upon the table, gripping it between his fingernails until he left deep scratches in its hard surface. He let out a loud moan of anguish as he fought back the tears from springing to his eyes. No matter how much he loved her, did he really deserve the right to cry over her death? A woman who had seen good in him, whom he had rejected, and thrown away? A quivering hand went up to swipe across his worn face as a sob escaped his lips.

"Dead..." he whispered to the stillness around him, "Dead." He still couldn't believe it. And he had never been able to say goodbye to her properly. To apologize for his wrongs and for hurting her. She had died without knowing how much it had pained him to let her go. And he would never see her again.

The Queen's voice rang through his ears. But if only there were some way you could see her again, Rumple...one last time. If only there was.

WAIT.

There was. Oh, yes. It was a risky venture, especially if she was dead and buried six feet in the ground. He would be left to see her pale white skin and rotting flesh. But, it was a chance to see her again properly. He would be given closure, to know that Regina's tale was true.

And with those thoughts, he waved a hand and the purple smoke of magic curled around his fingertips. When the smoke had cleared, he was holding a beautiful object in his hand. A magic mirror. He had only used it once: to try and find Bae. But wherever Bae had gone, the mirror had been unable to see him. But Belle was still in the magical realm, so it should work.

He took a deep breath and exhaled. Did he really want to do this? What good would it do to see his Belle buried underneath dirt, her body mangled and broken by torture? It would certainly just scar him worse and bleed through into his nightmares.

Rumpelstiltskin shook his head hard. He knew that he had to do this. An inexplicable tugging was upon his heart. He had to see her one last time, no matter how distorted her dead form would be.

He closed his eyes and groped for the magic within the mirror. His mind stretched out and touched the tentative strands of the power. He reached for it and grabbed hold of it with his own magical entities. And then, he thought of Belle and of how much he missed her. "Show me Belle," he commanded the mirror and then he very slowly opened his eyes, fear of what he may see creeping over him.

At first, the surface of the mirror only showed his reflection. And then the glass began to stir to a black background and he squinted for any sign of Belle. So, she was buried under the ground and it was too dark for him to see her. Just his luck. He nearly turned away when he saw the surface of the mirror stir again and he saw a flicker of light.

The light slowly grew bigger and bigger until he saw a small figure. She was dressed in tattered clothes. Her back was leaning against a wall, and her knees were held tight to her chest. Her long brown hair cascaded over her shoulders, hiding her face from view. He heard the slight squeak of a door and heard the click of heels upon a stone floor.

His heart was racing. His blood was pumping. And then the girl's body jumped and he saw her face. He saw the face of Belle. She looked frightened and her eyes shut tight. His heart nearly jumped with elation. She was alive! She had survived after all.

But where was she? Confusion took over his elation, and then anger after that. For just then, he heard an all too familiar voice that now made him feel sick to his stomach.

"He bought it, my dear," her sniveling voice said. The Queen's body was hidden from the mirror but she was clearly addressing the woman at her feet.

"You didn't need to hurt him so. What could you possibly gain from all of this?" Belle asked bravely.

Regina chuckled, "A broken monster is not really a monster at all."

Belle raised her head to look the woman in the eye, "So, what are you going to do with me now?"

"Oh, believe me, I have my own plans for you, dear." He heard the pure malice in her voice and Rumpelstiltskin's heart leapt in both anger and fear. What was she going to do to her? A hand reached out and slapped his Belle's pure white skin. And that was when, for just a fraction of a second, he caught a glimpse of her eyes and it seemed as if she was staring right back at him, pleading with him for help. He blinked twice, too surprised for thought, and then his Belle was lying upon the floor of her prison cell. He saw the outlines of shackles on her wrists and ankles. Her dress was torn and bloodied. Long cuts ran up her arms and legs. Regina was torturing her and all this time he had been oblivious. She was in danger and he had not known.

He allowed the images to float away, and the mirror returned to normal. How had he dared to believe that Regina had been telling him the truth?! Now, he was seething with rage. And he was going to rescue Belle. It was clear Regina had her locked away in her own castle. Getting inside would not be difficult. He could just transport himself there. But how to rescue Belle...he wouldn't be able to just go to her and walk out, free and clean. He needed something to trade for her safety. Something Regina would want. And he knew just the thing.

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"What have you done?" Belle cried out in a mixture of both fear and pain.

"Well, now, I do believe you know." Regina was standing over her crouched form. Belle was laying upon the floor of the woman's apothecary. Her body was squeezed together into a tight ball and Belle was crying.

She sobbed, "But how will this help you? What could you possibly gain from all of this?"

"Put two and two together, my dear," Regina sneered as if the woman at her feet was a delinquent instead of a princess, "I have done so much, and I know that he will not just take my word about your death. He will find a way of discovering that you are still alive, and when he does he will come and rescue you."

"Then why imprison me? Why...why do what you have done?" Her eyes were scrunched closed, futily trying to stop the tears from flowing.

The Evil Queen cackled, "You are daft, aren't you? This will destroy him. I don't want him to just be heartbroken. I want his heart to be ripped from his chest. I want him to feel such pain that he will wish for death before it will ever be given. And it is this, my dear, more than anything, that will destroy him."

Belle shook her head, "Why would you want to destroy him?"

"Well," Regina smiled cruelly, "For one, I don't love him as you do. I could care less whether he lived or died. But if he became weak, a skeleton of who he once was...I will become the most powerful sorcerer in the realm. All people will bow before me, and he will be left to watch as his reign ends and mine comes to fruition. For you see, my pretty Belle, a life filled with anguish and despair is so much more painful than death." She crouched beside the girl and whispered into her face, "Death is too easy."

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So, I wanted this chapter to be a bit long since it is the first chapter. Let me know what you think. I am so excited for this story, and I can't wait to write more! Just like with Almost Lover, I will try to update every Tuesday, as best as I can.

Please Review, my lovelies! I hope that I see a lot of old friends and newer acquaintances to this story!

And welcome to the adventure known as An Empty Heart.

~Lady Gisborne 15 :D