Author's Note: Back again! And so incredibly excited for OUAT Season 2! Who else can't wait to see what the next step in Rumplestiltskin's plan is?
To thank for this update, I should mention xxLunaTerraxx as well as Delea Marie who are, respectively, my most recent reviewer (who ended up reminding me that I had half of this written already!) and my most enthusiastic reviewer (who provided so much inspiration and confidence, even if she didn't know it).

This chapter is a little different in that it focuses on Rumplestiltskin rather than Belle. I had wanted to try exploring him in this fashion for a long time but always felt intimidated about approaching such a dark and complicated character. Through writing what first came to mind and making it work, I managed it. But even here I've only done some shallow exploration of both Rumple and Mr. Gold. I hope I will feel confident to explore him more as I rewatch Season 1 and watch Season 2. Hope you all enjoy!

Cages. It was always cages with him.

That's not to say that he liked them. Quite the opposite, he thought them rather distasteful. But they were familiar and so they were safe. Not protective, per say – he had seen more than one cage ripped through by a beast thirsty for what lay trapped inside of it and just as many broken out of by a creature so desperate for something else. But there is certainly a comfort in familiarity.

And if there was one thing he was familiar with, it was cages.

Born half-lame, he had spent his entire life feeling limited by the trap of his very skin, his own bones betraying him and caging away a child's innocent play and innate freedom. His family's house had been a cage in its own right as well – his parents had rarely let him take foot outside, equal parts concerned for his well-being and ashamed of his disfigurement.

With his body and surroundings being confinements, it only made sense that his mind became one as well. It lured him cleverly inside, at the beginning enticing him with the bait of future dreams ('when I get stronger…') and seductive fantasies ('it won't be like this forever…'). And once he was too far in to turn back, the gates slammed shut and made him deaf and blind to the world around him. The few times he broke from its clutches, all his returned senses noticed was that nothing had changed. So he'd retreat back to the pretty prison he had furnished for himself. However, each time he returned – or maybe it was each time he left – it became uglier and dirtier until his once-sanctuary became a miserable hell full of self-loathing ('how could you be so stupid…') and helplessness ('how can things ever get better…').

But when the entire world itself became a cage ('my son, my son, don't keep me from my Bae!') familiarity's comfort just wasn't enough anymore.

And the desperate creature began to work on breaking out.

If there was one thing that most surprised people about Mr. Gold it was that he preferred coins over paper bills.

Not that he'd ever request that their rents and loans be paid out in rolls of coins – Archie had done so once and Mr. Gold had laughed politely and accepted them but began reinforcing that his debts be repaid in proper paper cash. And it wasn't exactly odd to see him during a Sunday afternoon, on some bench around town and playing with the change in his pockets. Sometimes he'd be counting, sometimes polishing, other times he'd be rubbing them together or stacking them up in his palm. Some days he'd smile while doing so and other days he'd be his usual self but no one had ever dared to ask why this was so.

No one really ever dared to speak to Mr. Gold much at all.

The truth was coins were about the only way he could manage to keep track of time. The years of production on the bits of metal didn't change – no visitors ever paid Storybrooke a visit after all, any change that circulated around now was the same change that had circulated x number of years ago – but every few months or so, Mr. Gold could drop his pennies into the town's infamous well and he'd find a brand new abandoned nickel or dime on the street the next day – one with the current year stamped on it.

As crude a measurement of time as it was, it was more accurate than anything anyone else possessed, even if Regina tried to keep the town unsuspiciously modernized by switching out the few VHS players for DVD ones and swapping the stocks of the Lost Boys Records music store to CDs without anyone being the wiser. He could have almost appreciated the subtlety of it all, if it had been anyone but Regina. Nothing she did would ever impress him.

After all, it would be impossible for her to top her accomplishment of turning Belle against him.

That too was something that influenced his favour of metal coins: there could be nothing about them to relate back to the girl who'd loved him (the girl he'd loved). They were hard and tough beneath his fingers, not at all like soft flesh that bruised while it was dragged repeatedly to the dungeon, and they smelt nothing like filtered sunlight or honeyed tea.

The next nickel he found read 2011. He smiled but didn't smile, happy knowing that he'd soon retrieve one of his loves and hurt that he'd lost them all in the first place.