Author's note: Second oneshot for Rumpelstiltskin/Belle. This time... the real world. Please review! And thank you so much for the incredible response to my last oneshot for this wonderful pairing.
Mr. Gold twitched in his sleep, his face contorted into a pained expression.
"I do want to believe, I do," he whispered aloud, "But how can I? Belle- No, wait please, don't-"
Mr. Gold's eyes snapped open and his body lunged upward into a seated position as he awoke from his nightmare. His left hand immediately went to claw at his chest, furiously trying to break through the barrier of skin and rip out his caged heart.
Breathing heavily, Gold looked around his dark room- his room that belonged to a world not of fairytales and not of happy endings. A world without Belle. But this was a good thing of course. It was her presence in his dreams that hurt him the most. Why couldn't his memories of her be snuffed out, as her own life had been? That would be fine. There would be nothing to torment him then.
But he couldn't forget her. Not a single brown hair on her head, not her knowing smile, not the feeling of her lips pressed firmly against his...
Taking in short breathy gasps of air, Gold shook as the tears tumbled down his cheeks, hissing as they collided with the cold wood floor.
"Belle," he moaned, rocking slightly.
Suddenly, Gold heard a noise from outside the window. Freezing immediately, he listened close and heard the pitter-patter of feet on the porch that extended from the back of his house. After a moment, there was a distinct clicking sound, followed by the creak of a door and a soft clunk.
Someone had broken in.
His nerves calming instantly in the face of danger, Mr. Gold's tears vanished into thin air, and he cracked his neck as he picked up the gun on his bedside table. Padding softly across the floor in his socks, he pushed the door open gently and proceeded into the hallway. Peeking around the corner, he could see no one on the staircase or below it.
Very cautiously, he tread down the steps before turning into the dining room. Still no one. Creeping across the room, Mr. Gold paused before entering the kitchen, the room which connected with the backyard porch. Sure enough, Gold could hear very soft breathing in the night's stillness. Holding up the gun firmly, Gold stepped quickly into the kitchen, leveling the weapon at the figure there.
"Oh God please, don't- don't shoot," pleaded the girl. Gold had barely even heard her. As soon as he'd taken in the intruder's appearance, he had stumbled backwards, landing heavily against the wall. The gun dropped from his grip as both his hands pressed against the wall, as if he were trying to get farther away from her.
"I'm... I'm sorry I've broken into your house," the girl continued slowly, her emotions a mélange of fear, confusion, and concern. "Please let me stay. Just for tonight."
A heavy silence hung in the air between the two, as the man remained bug-eyed and the girl watched him cautiously for some sort of response.
"What are you doing here?" he finally whispered, pushing himself off the wall and walking hesitantly her way. The girl forced herself to hold her ground.
"I... I've run away and... they may be coming after me. No, I'm sure of it. They are coming after me. I couldn't run any further so I entered your house. Please, do not throw me out."
"But how are you here?" he continued, his voice hoarse and quiet. "You can't be... here...
"Who are you?" he snapped finally. The girl gave a bit of a frightened start.
"I don't... know," she admitted, her lips trembling.
"You know nothing of who you are?" he demanded.
"No, not at all."
"Then where have you run from?"
"All I can remember is... being locked in that horrid dungeon-"
"Dungeon?" Gold interrupted quickly, evaluating the girl sharply, "That's a strange word to use. Not many people would use that word."
"Cell," she replied nervously, "I meant... prison cell."
"But you said... dungeon," he exclaimed, seeming darkly fascinated by this fact.
"Yes, I suppose I did," she said firmly, "As I was saying, I only remember being held in there and the woman with the black hair would sometimes look in on me, smiling smugly. I don't know how long I was in there, and I can't remember anything about my life before it, not even my name."
The girl searched Mr. Gold's face curiously.
"Do you... know it, sir?"
"How did you escape?" he questioned instead, a slightly bewildered, manic expression still lingering in his eyes. The girl was aggravated that he'd ignored her question, but she wasn't exactly in the best position to be making demands. After all, he could still have her arrested if he wanted. Or he could shoot her.
"The janitor," she answered. "He was drunk, and he let me out. He said that I was a 'pretty thing' and that he'd release me 'in return for a favor'. So... I let him cart me out with his things, but as soon as we were out, I ran. I ran as far as I could. Please sir, what is my name?"
At the end of her speech, Gold's crazed expression had faded from his eyes, but the shock which had been stifling his emotions had also faded. As a tidal wave of passionate feelings came crashing down upon his senses, Gold froze, his body tensing up. The searing anger blazed through him, burning a murderous path in his skin. Flames flickered in the depths of his eyes.
And yet, he had to control himself. He had to remain in control of the situation, and by all means, he could not scare her away. Gold struggled viciously to rope down his hatred and contempt, his wild anger at the one who had lied to him, who had taken precious time from him.
As he did so, the man was silent, his features completely frozen as if he existed in a place outside of time's control. If she hadn't known better, the woman might have been convinced that he was a statue. The minutes passed, and she was becoming very seriously worried.
Should I call 911? she wondered desperately, Is he having some sort of attack?
Finally, Gold seemed to snap out of whatever had been entrancing him as he felt the last bursts of anger yield under his iron will. Straightening up, he smiled innocently.
"And why should I know your name, dearie?"
"You do, I'm certain of it."
"So sorry to disappoint you, but I'm afraid... I do not!" he exclaimed, with some amount of restrained glee.
"I believe you are lying, sir."
"Well now, that's rather presumptuous of you, don't you think?" he whispered dangerously, still smiling at her, "After all, I could call the police right now if I wished."
"The police would help me," she returned defiantly. Mr. Gold seemed to consider this, and then he shrugged.
"Perhaps you're right. Well then. How about this: I could call the 'woman with the black hair'!... if I wished. You would be picked up and dropped back into your little dungeon. How would you like that?"
"You know the woman?" repeated the girl amazedly. "How can you be sure?"
"Oh trust me, I'm sure," he whispered. "It's a small town, dearie."
"Why do you keep calling me that?" she asked frustratedly. Gold's eyebrows rose in his surprise. No one had ever questioned his universal pet name before.
"Force of habit," he replied with a quirky grin.
"Then you do know me!" she concluded triumphantly. The girl was immediately deflated when Gold threw his head back in a short bout of laughter.
"No, you misunderstand me; I use that name for anyone. It is my manner of speech, that is all. However... even though I do not know your name, you will be needing one, don't you think?"
"Yes... I suppose so..."
"Well then! The solution is clear: we must devise one for you. Perhaps... Anna? Ella? Maggie? Esme? Jo-"
"Esme," she cut in firmly. Mr. Gold gave a small smile and inclined his head.
"Esme is... a beautiful choice."
"Sir... what is your name?"
"I am Mr. Gold, but that is of little importance. So, Esme... what is it you want from me?"
"Just to stay the night. That's all I ask."
"Well... I believe that can be arranged," he replied. Esme met his smile with one of her own. Her smile faltered as she saw a treacherous glint enter his eyes. "But it will cost you."
"Cost me what?" she demanded. "I have nothing to give-"
"Ah ah ah! Nothing you own. Just a favor. If I do this for you, you shall owe me a favor. Do we have a deal?"
Esme paused hesitantly. There was foreboding feeling in her heart about this man, and striking an open-ended deal with him seemed like a horrible idea. But if it was true that he could have her placed back in the cell... No. There was no choice.
"Yes. We have a deal Mr. Gold."
After the deal was struck, Gold insisted that Esme sleep in his bedroom with him: she in the bed, he on the floor. Recognizing the look of distrustful anxiety in her features, Gold merely chuckled.
"There are people chasing you, isn't that so? The only way you'll stay safe is by letting me protect you. No one can get into my room without waking me up. You'd be at risk anywhere else in the house."
"And why do you care? Why are you trying to protect me?"
"Well. I need you alive to hold up your end of the deal, don't I?" he pointed out with a smugly innocent smile. Esme was still unconvinced.
"I don't… trust you," she admitted, holding her head up proudly.
"Trust me dearie, I won't touch you." Esme's expression did not change. "If it would... ease your mind, I will disarm my gun and lock it away, and I'll put a knife by the bed so that if I try anything, you have a way to stop me."
"...That's hardly a guarantee."
"Perhaps, but it's the best you have. After all, what are your options? The deal's already been struck, and unless I am verymuch mistaken... you haven't the slightest desire to go back out there. It's me or the world. I reckon I'm the better choice if you want to live through the night." His voice turned to a teasing whisper at the end, sending a chill through Esme at his dangerous words and the almost seductive tone in which they were delivered.
"Fine," she finally conceded, "Show me where I'll be sleeping."
"Would you like to change first?"
"Into your clothes? Unlikely. Just show me where I'll be sleeping. ...Please." Mr. Gold bowed ever so slightly and Esme's brow crinkled at his odd behavior.
"As you wish."
Leading her upstairs, Gold situated Esme in the room and kept watch over her as she hunkered down for the night. As soon as she'd gotten under his covers, Esme turned to face the wall so that her back was to Gold and the rest of the room. Gold considered grabbing blankets to lay out on the floor for his own makeshift bed, but he knew that he would not be sleeping that night.
First of all, if Belle truly was in danger—which he reckoned she was—he had to be sure not to let anything happen to her. Second of all, the very appearance of the young woman tonight had quite set his nerves on fire, and there was no way he'd be able to settle down enough to rest. His mind was ablaze with memories of the past, of a brief time in which he'd thought he was happy. Soon enough however, of course, the "happy" had turned to angry, then resentful, then hateful, and finally... mournful. Despairing. Devoid of all hope and empty of all feeling, numb to the pleasures of the world, feeling only the continual sting of the pain of loss. Among these morbid memories were those of the lies spun to him by the Queen's serpent tongue: lies masquerading as true gold when they were no more than straw. Now that he could see her gilded words for what they were, Gold was more convinced than ever that Regina must be made to pay for her treachery, for her damnable conceit. How dare she think that she could conceal the truth from the powerful Rumpelstiltskin?
All this hatred and contempt roiled quietly in the back of his mind- the dark place of his mind that usually dominated his thoughts. But at this time, there was something different on the forefront of his consciousness.
Desire. Regrets. Longing. Love.
Belle, the girl that he had loved, the girl that still drove him mad in his dreams, had returned to him. Though she did not know him, she had returned to him. There had to be some kind of fate involved; it could not possibly be the mere child of chance.
The shock of seeing Belle in this world was immense, and likely the reason that he immediately slipped back into the use of the pet name "dearie" instead of "dear", the name he used in this world. Seeing the almost phantasmal image of a person whom he had thought existed only in the fairytale world had reawakened his old habits, rekindling his feelings from the time when he was known as Rumpelstiltskin.
A sprinkle of light tiptoed through the window, dusting Esme's rosy cheeks. Her hazel orbs flickered open, blinking a few times to orient herself. Staring into the white plaster walls, a sudden spark of excitement tingled inside of her. Esme threw off the covers and opened herself up to face the airy room.
Mr. Gold quickly rose to his feet from where he had been crouched against the wall.
"What's the matter?" he asked nervously, startled by her sudden movements. Esme simply beamed at him.
"I did it!" she exclaimed, "I broke free, just as I always knew I would. God how I hated being kept locked up like a prisoner. I've always longed for adventure, for the chance to do something grand! Being trapped, caged, never to see the outdoors again... I couldn't bear it."
"You sound as if you truly love nature," commented the man lightly.
"Oh yes," she confirmed.
"And yet I thought you couldn't remember anything before the cell?"
"Nothing specific about my own life, but I could remember the taste of the sky, the smell of the wind, the sound of the stars!"
"Sounds a bit fanciful, don't you think?"
Esme smiled mischievously at him.
"Well, what's life without a bit of fancy?" Mr. Gold was struck momentarily silent by her smile: the bright comfort that he had treasured in his memories, and which was now being presented freely to him once more. Slowly, his own smile quirked onto his face.
"You may be right at that, Esme."
Calming from her energetic realization of her regained freedom, Esme's mouth twisted into a small frown as she examined Gold more closely. Walking over to him, she stopped a few feet away, near enough to peer more closely at his face.
"You look positively haggard," she observed, "Did you sleep at all?"
"Trust me dearie, this is just the way I always look," he replied, smirking. Esme's lips pursed.
"I don't believe you. Were you... staying awake for my sake?"
"Now why would I do that?" he asked quietly, leaning towards her. The shift was subtle, but something in his move and in the tone of his voice restrained Esme from pursuing the question. It would do no good to anger him, especially after he had been so hospitable. Well... hospitable enough. At least he'd let her stay, even if he did frighten her with his antics and strange speech patterns. Esme's heart began to beat faster, thumping loudly in its nervousness.
"Well, thank you for allowing me to stay the night. I suppose I should be going," she said tensely, turning on her heel. Esme looked frantically about the room, searching for something to occupy herself with so that she would not have to look at the room's other occupant.
Hurriedly she made her way to the bed and began straightening the covers, patting out the wrinkles and fluffing the pillow.
"Going... where?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said, "I suppose I'll need to get some new clothes first."
"And how are you planning to pay for them?"
The escaped prisoner stopped her fussing, fear striking her heart like a crash of thunder. Gold was right. How on earth could she maneuver about town without getting caught if she didn't have normal clothes? And how could she get normal clothes without money? How could she do anything without money?
Esme dropped heavily onto the bed, her eyes staring blankly at nothing though her mind was whimpering and screaming, keeping her much busier than she appeared to be physically.
"Luckily for you, Esme, I believe I may have a solution."
The woman's head snapped up quickly, her eyes locking with his as he smiled down at her.
"After all, I still have my end of the deal. You owe me a favor, any favor that I like."
"I still don't understand what I can possibly give you. I own nothing; I don't even have any money."
"As it so happens, there is something very precious which you can give to me. Yourself."
Esme cried out and quickly jumped up, walking around the edges of the room, keeping as far away from him as possible. Gold chuckled.
"Not like that. I assure you, I'm not looking for any sort of... romantic or physical attachment."
"What then?" she demanded.
"I need a maid," he said finally, grinning smugly, "And I have the feeling that you would be perfect for the job. You'll live here with me, I'll supply all the money and clothes you need, and my house stays dust-free. Everyone wins."
"That's ridiculous. I'm not going to stay here forever. I didn't run away from one prison to be trapped in another!"
"Ah, but the deal's already been struck dearie. You can't back out now. Even if you tried, I'd have you whisked away to the dungeon again. Trust me when I say that between my house and that cell, my house is the nicer place to be imprisoned. You'll have your own room and everything, and you'll never have to worry about money."
Esme was quiet for a moment, absorbing all that Gold had said. It certainly was true that agreeing to his demand would reap quite a few benefits for her. Perhaps it was indeed wisest to accept. However, in her heart Esme firmly decided that she would never be held against her will for all eternity. Even as she shook his hand to seal the bargain, she knew that she was not sealing her fate: her life had already been altered once, and it could change again. No matter how high the walls around her, no matter if she was under lock and key, nothing was ever guaranteed to last forever. Nothing could ever hold Esme captive. Not as long as her heart remained elsewhere.