Savylea prompted: "Just a quick dip, love."
Later, the chance of it will break him.
To think he might have missed her, had he slept well the night before. If he'd not spent the night in cold sweats and blistering regret, if he'd had different dreams—dreams without chipped cups and tea-stains on an old, expensive rug—he might have stayed in.
Instead, Gold avoids his kitchen, avoids his eyes in the mirror, and goes out for coffee.
He is halfway to the diner when he hears the mayor speaking, saying, "Sheriff Swan, I don't think you understand just how delicate the situation is. She must be removed immediately."
And normally, he would not care. Their catfights occur so often, take up the length and breadth of the town with their pointless rage. But today, there is a special note of panic in her voice that intrigues him.
He hears Emma snapping, "Well, she's obviously upset about something. If you'd just calm down and let me talk to her—"
"She is a danger to herself and others and obviously out of her mind. Sherriff Swan—"
"You need to let me do my job, alright?"
And Gold keeps walking, past the diner, towards the square.
He hears Henry, his voice awed and half-scared, "Emma, do you know who that is?"
"Henry!" Quick steps—Regina in her ridiculous heels, he thinks. "What are you doing? Get back in the car!"
Then Emma's voice, lower, "Now is not the time, kid."
"You don't understand! She's not dangerous. Look, you have to talk to her. Ask her about the—"
"Henry Thomas Mills," Regina is past her slim tolerance or patience now. "You get back in that car this instant."
And Gold chuckles to himself, puts a spring in his step. He thinks he might watch, might take home a little something with which to taunt Regina later, her inability to defend herself against some small something with a knife.
(Later, this will haunt him, too. What if he hadn't? What if he'd been feeling kind?)
But Gold limps around the corner, planning insults—
And his heart stops.
Belle is standing in the fountain.
She wears a t-shirt that doesn't fit her, loose jeans. A pair of sandals floats in the water behind her; he thinks they must be hers. Her hair is loose, wild, tangled like thorns. She clenches a switchblade in her right hand.
It is her. It could only, ever be her. He knows each line of her face, the curve of her jaw, the way she holds her hands. She haunts his dreams, his days, his cupboards—he'd know her, no matter what. He'd always know her.
And she stands like a princess—like a warrior—in the fountain with the sun lighting fires on her hair.
"I decide my own fate," a whisper from the past, shouted now, flashing with her knife-blade in the sun. "And I am not going back there. I am going home."
He lurches forward, across the vast gulf between them. She has not seen him yet. Her eyes are on Emma, creeping closer with her sweet, gentle smile.
"Alright, easy there," Emma tries, and it's all wrong. He remembers, he knows—that's never the tone to take with her. "Just put the knife down and we'll work something out, okay?"
Belle bares her teeth. The knife lashes out and Emma jumps back.
"No. This is mine. I am mine. You're not taking me anywhere. I want to go home, so I am going home."
(Later, when Belle is inexplicably terrified of water, he will say, "Just a quick dip, love. Like the fountain. You'll have your knife, no worries." And she will not be convinced, she will only bathe with him, and he will hold her in the water while his heart breaks, the flat of her knife resting cold against his thigh.)
Gold is nearly to the edge of the square. Emma turns, eyes on the mayor, asks, "Does she have any family here? Someone she might trust who could talk her down?"
Regina glowers, ever the petulant child. "She has no one, Sherriff Swan, and I'd thank you to hurry it up."
His blood runs cold.
"No one?" he asks and Regina jumps and he smiles, he's smiling, he can feel his cane cutting runes into his hand. "Now, Regina. I think you know that's not true."
Regina turns. For a brief instant, he sees fear in her eyes. Then nothing. The corner of her mouth twitches upwards, but her eyes are a wall of ice.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean. Legally, she has only her father, and as I'm sure you're aware, he will have nothing to do with her." She shifts, ever so slightly. He does not know the expression on his face, but he must look a terror, because Regina puts herself between him and her son.
"You told me she was dead," he says.
A flicker, something wicked creeping in a rabbit's den.
"Did I?" She smiles, bloodied mouth, sharp white teeth. "Strange, I don't seem to recall that conversation. Are you certain you didn't dream it? Memories of another life, perhaps?"
(Later, when Belle is wracked with nightmares, when she wanders sleepless through his halls, when she crawls in bed with him for the heat, for the company, and presses her forehead against his spine, he will wish upon wishes that he had killed Regina now.)
His mind goes blank, white-hot, tangled with gold threads that burn and whisper and demand. He smiles, sorts through them, looks for just the right one—the one that will turn Regina inside-out, the one that will un-create her, the one that will bring her world crashing down.
But he is old and out of practice. He takes too long. Emma steps forward, inserts herself between them—he has become the biggest danger, now.
"Now, Mr. Gold, you have to stay back, alright? She's got a knife and she's pretty upset. We don't want anyone getting hurt."
He ignores them, heads on. Ignores them both, lets the threads unweave and fall. Emma is nothing. Regina, he will deal with later. He will crush everything she loves. He will destroy her. He will strip her of her power, he will shatter her bones, he skin her inch by agonizing inch until she is nothing—a scarred, disfigured lump of something less than human—and he will make her lover watch.
Oh, he can be cruel. Is this the game she wants to play? He can be monstrous.
But just now, he must be gentle. Because Belle is alive, she is standing in the fountain, water licking up her calves and she is trembling. She is hurting. And he can only hear his heartbeat thudding in his ears.
(Later, she will hold him. Later, he will be the only person she can stand to touch. She will call him her prince, though she flinches when he lifts a hand, and he will not cry. He will, for some long time, not feel anything at all.)
The journey to the fountain's edge seems to take a mile. Gold stops at the stone abutment, and only looks at her.
He tries to smile, tries not to hurt, tries, "Would you like to come home now, Belle?" so gently.
She watches him, her knife ready. He has cornered wolves with much the same expression.
She is too pale, her eyes bruised, her cheeks hollow. He wants so badly to hold her; it takes the will of a war not to move his hand.
"If you like."
Slowly, she lowers the knife. "May I have a different room? I can't sleep anymore in the dungeon."
He will slit Regina from neck to belly and stuff her entrails down her throat. But today he smiles, easy like a feather, and he nods.
"You can sleep anywhere you want."
(Later, he will give her a different knife, this one with a name. An apology for three dungeons she never should have seen.)
She takes her sandals from the water, plants one bare foot on the lip of the fountain and pauses. She looks at him, considering, and asks, "And you're not still angry with me? You did shout quite a lot."
Easy as that, the world opens up from under him. Gold hears the abyss roar.
Oh gods. What has he done?
(Later, he will go to war. He will leave her with a gun in one hand, a knife in the other. And she will be smiling, smiling, and so ready to shoot.)
Gold swallows. His eyes burn and he can't breathe. She is broken. She is not the same. The shards of her are wicked sharp, but she is his and he loves her, and he is sure she still knows his name.
"I do apologize," he manages, past the earthquake in his throat.
Belle nods. She folds her switchblade, slips on her shoes. Water glistens on her fingers as she reaches out to take his hand.
He helps her from the fountain, tucks her close to his side and stares a challenge at Regina.
She is brave—he will give her that. Though her face is white with fear, stark against the death of her mouth, she stands firm between her child and himself.
(Later, when the battle's going badly, he will contemplate killing the child. Later, Belle will laugh and agree he should. Later, he will understand chipped cups can never be made whole again.)
"A little late to protect him now, Regina," he tells her. "You did so want your war."
Regina stands firm, her body a wall before her child, her magic ten thousand kinds of wards.
"Take her. For all the happiness she'll bring you. She's quite broken."
He grits his teeth and smiles. He flicks his fingers, curses the ground on which she stands. Finds she warded herself, her child, but not the car.
"Yes," he agrees, cuts the brakes and damns the tires. "You saw to that."
Emma—single minded as all precious saviors must be—steps forward once again, her face shining idiotic helpfulness. Too close, too quickly, and Belle snaps open her knife again.
To her credit, at least Emma takes a hasty step back.
"What is going on here?" she demands. "Gold, you can't just… take her. This woman's sick. She needs to see a—"
"No," Belle snaps, and the whole world is in her voice. She is broken. She is warped. She is forged far stronger than before. "I am going home. Decide your own fate, Hero. I am minding mine."
"But you can't—"
"I think you'll find we can, Miss Swan," Gold growls, and the monster must be riding high in his face or the sparks from his hands, because she cowers and steps aside.
Later, he will remember the fear in Belle's eyes as she stood knee-deep in the fountain. Later, he will watch her grinning on the battlefield, covered in gore, and he will long for the girl with the laughing blue eyes who couldn't bear to see even a spider hurt.
Later, the chance of it all will break him.
But later, Gold will never look back.