She leads me up the familiar path back to the bedroom; I watch my feet going, keep my eyes rooted to the ground. A thousand questions threaten to envelop my senses, bursting at the back of my mind. I can feel her hand in mine as she leads me like a child that's been sleepwalking.
When we reach the dark bedroom, Belle puts on a light. I stand and watch with a drooped head, chancing looks under my brow to see her. After she's adjusted the covers, she takes my hand again, makes me sit in with my back against the headboard. Tucks a blanket around me. Touches my bare shoulder.
"Must have been cold down there with the windows out."
I think she's been talking for a while, but I only hear this last attempt. Her hand lingers, warm on my cold skin. And yet I'm sure that I'm sweating a little.
"It's warmer in here."
I manage the phrase, but it sounds a mile away, as though the voice was not mine. Perhaps it isn't. But then I'm sure I said it. And I'm sure she said my name.
The questions start to filter through the shock in my mind. I'm not sure I can take the answers yet, but they need asking nonetheless.
"How long have you known?"
"It was just after the earthquake. It was Emma, actually, that helped me to remember."
This strange news affects me despite my mind reeling. I find Belle's face; she is looking down at my chest, her hand still lingering on my shoulder.
"I'd been having these dreams… about you."
I feel a lump rise into my throat.
"Your nightmares," I add as realisation dawns.
"After the quake there were flashes of the same things, but in daytime, whilst I was awake. I went to Emma for help… for a distraction I guess."
It is my turn to nod. She finds my face, meets my eyes, and I know that the shock must be showing. She suddenly takes my face into her hands, soothing my chin with her fingertips.
"She doesn't know anything. Emma. She was just telling me what she knows about you here, how you are with people… the deals you make."
She kisses my forehead, and I let out a long breath.
"And something… just clicked?" I ask.
"Yes… and no," is the reply. "For a minute there I was just myself. I mean Belle. Who I really am. And all I wanted to do was get back to you, and to kiss you again."
I reach a hand up to her hand, push it closer against my jaw. She responds gently.
"Yeah," she interrupts. "Because I knew how you'd caused the quake then. Your magic got loose."
I consider this. There is silence for a moment. Things begin to clear again in my mind, and it feels like it used to in the castle, when I would tell a story of mine, then she would tell one of hers. I wonder if she remembers all of that too.
"And then Caroline's memories came back again, and it was all very confusing. Trying to keep the lives separate; the memories of me here, and me then, and you here, and you then. I don't know how you cope with it."
Finally, there is something I can answer surely.
"It gets easier the longer you live here."
Belle nods. "I'll trust you on that one."
Another questions bubbles its way to the surface, and I can't believe I haven't already asked it.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
And now she smiles, and things feel a little better.
"You were having fun pretending to be someone else. Thought I'd give it a try."
I smile back a little, but something stops me. I look down at the blankets around me.
"It wasn't fun." Her hand drops away from my face. "Not really."
"I realise that now. That's why I've told you."
I just nod. There's a strange kind of jealousy welling in me, that she has been allowed to forget me for so long. And now, as if waking from an unkind nightmare, she finds me here alive and well and so completely in love with her that even a twinge of my usual deceptive ways repulses me. She has stripped me bare. Seen my soul. And worst of all, she knew that she was doing it.
When I look up at her she is smiling at me, and her eyes are lined with water. And the bitterness evaporates.
Perhaps it was what I needed.
"I just," I begin, but find my voice is cracked, another lump catching my throat. But I want to say the words that beg on my tongue. "I-" I begin again, and this time my eyes give me away, as though they have caught the idea to water from hers.
And she saves me the shame, because she kisses me again. My face is wet when we break, and I've no idea if the tears were hers or mine. But now it doesn't matter.
"I really thought I'd lost you."
The words rush out in a single breath.
Belle shakes her head at me. "That's not the Rumpelstiltskin I remember," she says in a bright tone. She wipes the last tear from her face, beaming a smile of pure sunshine. "The spinner I knew would know that a thing once lost, can always be found."
I don't have to work for the smile to be returned this time.
"I think he does now."
She nods at me again, and I can feel her holding back that giggle she does. She is so very happy. So happy that it radiates into me, gives me an energy that mixes with my shocked system, turning me all to nerves and impulse.
I take her waist and pull her towards me, and she lets out the withheld laugh like a bolt of electricity. She climbs into the bed and I lay myself down with her, wrapping her in my arms where she burrows against my skin.
"So…" she says, starting to plant little kisses on my chest. "Can we go back to the part where your clothes were coming off?"
I look down at her, letting out a happy and disbelieving sigh.
- :: -
"Too soon?" I ask, feeling that perhaps he isn't quite over his revelation yet.
But the surprise in his eyes fades, leaves them darker and happier than before. He leads my face up to his and this time the kiss is all his. Power and joy and need tremble on my lips. Then he looks beyond me into the dark corridor that we came from.
"No," he says simply. "But we'd better close that door." Something mischievous flashes in his eyes. "Don't want you getting cold."
I laugh, but it falls away. There is something else. And I know he won't forgive me for keeping secrets twice. It has to be out there now, the whole truth.
"Allow me," I say.
And with a wave of my hand, the door closes.
He sits up in the bed, but still holds me close. He looks at the door. Then at me.
"Don't ask me how it happened," I say before he can speak. "Because you're the one who's supposed to know how magic works. All I know is that I traced the feelings back, and it happened when I stepped on our cup and shattered it."
He huffs out a breath, but it doesn't seem angry.
"I knew it was holding magic," he muses. "I didn't even suppose that it might be mine."
A quiet moment passes, and I wonder once again if things can ever settle between us. And then he lies back down, and takes me down with him. I resume my place on his chest, feel him stroking my hair.
"It was the best place to conceal my powers from me," he says after what seems like an eon.
"Because I never would have smashed it to reclaim them. Even if I'd known."
A warmth spreads into my heart, and I can feel his smile against my forehead.
"I'm going to have to show you how to use them." He says.
I shuffle to see his face, and find nothing but serenity in his expression.
"We have all the time we need."
He manoeuvres to kiss me, another deep kiss, with all the longing I could ever have hoped for. When we break for breath, his eyes glitter like the madman I first met.
"Now dearie, were you still thinking of getting my clothes off?"
Thank you to everyone who has stuck with this fic, and those who have reviewed it have my eternal love. Please stay tuned for more Mr Gold centric fiction in the near future, don't forget to add me to your author alerts!
Lots of love,