I'm doing this thing on Tumblr where every now and then, I open up the floor to five-word-and-under prompts from the people lurking me. Then, I take the prompts, and write heartbreaking Rumpelstiltskin things.
This prompt was: "I bet you're a dancer."
Gold attends Regina's party as he attends all Regina's superfluous functions—impeccably dressed, and to remind the town who owns it. It's tedious, but not especially strenuous work. He makes an entrance, attracts attention. Stands by the wall until they forget him and then slides off, a word here, there, fingers brushed against the cuff of a sleeve, a tie straightened.
Simple, innocuous things. Easy as a vulture on the wing.
But tonight, it is raining and Regina has not rescheduled because she knows the weather plays bloody hell with his knee. She smiles when she sees him, all teeth and sharp corners.
"You look uncomfortable, my dear. Anything I can get you? Far be it from me to neglect one of my… oldest guests."
A threat, probably. She had a hand in the magic that caged him. Dwarves are crafty, but no one enters the Queen's palace without her knowing. Regina's been dropping hints for years. She wants more than anything for him to remember; she is bored out of her skull. She wants to fight, claws and teeth and wild magic. She wants an opponent worthy of her skills, a blaze of glory, a battlefield.
Gold is an old dragon. He'd rather sleep atop his hoard.
But, as always, he smiles and declines and thanks her for the kind offer. Gives no sign that he remembers. Meanwhile, his knee is shooting daggers every time he shifts his weight and the ache is seething up into his hip. He'll be useless tomorrow at this rate, but he never leaves these parties before midnight. Pumpkins and missing shoes, and all that.
Tonight, though, the supporting cast has changed somewhat. It is nearly 11, far past the boy's bedtime, but nevertheless he spots young Henry towing a woman by the hand, talking a mile a minute and painting pictures in the air. Princess, he reads from his lips, monster and really and Belle and Gold recognizes the woman then.
His stomach rolls. He regrets spiking Regina's punch.
It has been years. So many years. But the wounds, he finds, are still tender. And her nose still wrinkles when she laughs.
Transfixed, Gold watches and cannot stop staring. He knows he should move, should make his last rounds and slip out, but he hasn't seen her in so long—has been so careful in avoiding her.
"Anyway, here," Henry says, stopping in front of him, "nobody ever bothers Mr. Gold. As long as you stand here, I think you'll be okay."
Belle smiles shared secrets at him over Henry's head—she does not remember, she does not—and looks back at the boy, newly ten years old and bursting at the seams with magic his mother is too blind to see.
"Oh, yes?" she asks. "Who's Mr. Gold, then? My prince?"
It is very nearly too much to bear.
"I very much doubt it," he says, and he smiles, feeling the scabbed seams of his heart pull taut. "Haven't the stamina for that sort of adventuring."
Henry eyes him. For a moment, there is something older and wiser in that gaze. But it goes in a flash and he is a ten year old boy again, long past his bedtime.
"Belle doesn't have a prince. Not in this story. Well, I mean, there's Gaston—that's Gus, I think—but he's no good. Belle leaves him behind. You've got to keep an eye out for your beast, Miss Beaumont. Then we can start to break the curse."
Belle laughs. "Seems like a lot of pressure on a new relationship."
At the same moment, across the room, Regina catches sight of her son's stripped pajamas. "Henry! What in the world are you doing up? I sent you to bed hours ago."
Henry grins, rolls his eyes, stifles a yawn. "Gotta go. Bye, Mr. Gold. See you tomorrow, Miss Beaumont." And he's gone.
Gold waits, his back against the wall, thinking Belle—Gabrielle, now. Gabrielle, and he must remember that—will leave as well. Of course she'll go. Make her excuses and flee. No one stays near him for very long. But he should have known better. He knows his history, wears its scars.
She leans against the wall beside him, the constellations of her freckles in all the same places he remembers longing beyond longing to kiss. And she smiles.
"Well, you'll have to be my prince for the night, I'm afraid. I'm in need of a slight rescue."
He doesn't… he doesn't know what to say. Can't remember standing speechless since he'd been hip-deep in sheep. Absurdly, he wants to say, "I love you," but these words are a thousand years too late.
"I'm bound to disappoint you," he says finally; a small, painful truth. "I'm hardly a prince."
Belle grins. Her teeth are sharp and even. "I'll manage."
Easing back into her company is like remembering how to breathe after a lifetime underwater. Like the space between waking and sleeping when everyone he has ever loved is living and happy and he is not in pain. It is a lie, like all twilights, but a comfortable one. Gold finds himself relaxing, half smiling.
From this distance, he can smell her hair. This, of all things, has changed. Modern amenities, he's found, will do that.
"I bet you're a dancer," she says and it startles him into turning, meeting her eyes.
"I bet you're a dancer," she says again and she's still smiling secrets. "Your knee just doesn't know it. Maybe we could convince it?"
She looks predatory. She looks happy and wild and whole. Storybrooke suits her, he thinks. In the same instant, he thinks the world is too small.
"My apologies, Miss Beaumont. I'm afraid I don't dance. But I'm sure if we looked we could find you a frog prince or talking horse to oblige you."
She shrugs. "That's alright. I feel like I've spent my whole life dancing. Don't know why." Her eyes find his, her fingers brush his sleeve. He feels her heat like a wall through his jacket—she is so, so warm. "Though, I thought I might enjoy dancing with you."
"You know," he says, without thinking—the first words he has spoken without playing out the chess game in his head for years upon years. "I have an old book I've been meaning to bring by the library. If you're not too busy dodging suitors, we could…?"
"Talk seventeenth century literature over drinks at your place?" She bites her lip, eyes alight, half laughing, eyebrows arched. "Why, Mr. Gold. If you intend to seduce me, you're certainly going about it the right way."
She hasn't changed, he thinks, and is startled by the searing jolt of joy lighting his chest. She is still so witty and so cunning, and she is still too young and still too kind. And this will all end badly, he knows, just the same as it did before.
But he is still so, so in love. And there are forty minutes left 'til midnight, but Gold does not care.
Gold does not care.
Second chances, he thinks. Missing, matching shoes.
He offers his arm, "Shall we?"
And twines her fingers through with his.