Fandom: Once Upon A Time
Genre: AU, Romance, Friendship, Angst
Spoilers: 1.12 Skin Deep
Summary: When people share True Love, they will always find each other. Belle needs a home, and Rumpel knows he's the only one who can provide it.
A/N: Okay, this will be my last Rumbelle fic for a while, I think. I just had a total fangirling frenzy over these two, and needed to write. A lot. Enjoy!
"So she needs a… home?" He hears the word come out, strained and pathetic, and watches as the Queen's smile widens further. It angers him, that he can be weakened so completely, and that it has to happen in front of her, of all people.
She's toying with him: he can see that.
"Perhaps. If the priests haven't found her first."
"Priests? What would they need with her?"
"Oh, Rumpel, you undersell yourself!" The Queen laughs, running her hand along the table as she sidles around toward him. "You are their worst nightmare, they despise you even more than they detest me. You make deals and tempt innocents into wicked ways… and they have a cure for that."
"Where is Belle?"
"If she has any sense? Running for her life. They want to cleanse her, purge her soul, of anything she may have absorbed from you." She leans forwards, enjoying every second of his agony, "And you know what that means."
Her laughter follows him as he runs from the room, out of the doors and onto the stone steps, his blood pounding.
He knows, even as he runs at superhuman speed through the forest, even as he calls her name like some love struck, pitiful Prince, that he won't find her.
He hopes she would come to him. He wants her to think of his home as hers, even as the memory of her leaving – of him casting her out, stony faced and merciless - plays over and over in his mind.
She won't be within a hundred miles of his castle. She'll have run to a neighbouring town – perhaps to friends, or to Sir Gaston's family – for sanctuary. Perhaps her father will have allowed her to stay, even as the disgraced daughter fallen from favour.
He wants to find her in five minutes. He wants her to look up into his eyes, and look at him the way she had that night, before he'd lost his mind.
But he doesn't find her, and that moment never comes.
In the end, he gives up on finding Belle. He searches for months: he even asks after her when he goes to make deals.
But hardly anyone's ever heard of her, and the few who have don't even know she's missing.
So Rumpelstiltskin forgets. He spins like his life depends on it, goes out for days at a time making useless bargains, killing fairies and taking their place, taunting Princesses and turning Princes into frogs.
It's six months before he gets a lead.
That makes it sound as if he's spent all his time looking for her. He hasn't. He assumed that, after she didn't come to him herself for help, she'd finally found that bravery she prized so highly before. That she didn't want or need him.
But six months pass, and he hears her name on a street.
He's just come from convincing a rather gullible and overly chivalrous young Shepherd into becoming a Prince. That night, he's takes a little stroll through the nearest town. The streets are bare, empty and silent, when he hears a shout.
"Come on, I won't tell anyone!"
"No!" The voice is familiar enough to make him stop for just a second, before he shrugs and moves on.
Truth be told, he's become used to hearing her voice sometimes. When it's crowded, or he's feeling a little moody, it'll flash into his mind and a stranger will sound like her, for just a moment.
"Or maybe I will," the other voice counters, "Maybe I'll tell the priests, tell them where to find you. Tell them that Belle, the daughter of Sir Maurice, is right here under their noses."
"No!" Now it's a gasp, horrified and scared. Rumpelstiltskin's heart starts to race, as he walks back a little, following the sound.
"Then come with me. It won't be that bad – especially not for a whore who lived with a demon…"
He hears a grunt, and a girlish scream, and rounds a corner at a run. But when he finds them, the scene is very different to how he'd pictured it.
Belle is standing over the limp, unconscious body of a rather seedy-looking man. She has no remorse on her face as she stares down at her attacker, just a level of anger that Rumpelstiltskin doesn't even recognise on her face.
"Well, that was certainly impressive." He says, needing to say something.
She turns, and the shock on her face would be amusing were it not for the fear and revulsion that went with it. "What are you doing here?"
He walks toward her, taking in every detail. Her hair is shorter, now, and hangs limply around her face. Her eyes are harder, her skin pulled taught against the bones of her face. She's skinnier than before, and dirty: it makes him add the whole Realm to his list of people he blames for her current state.
He's not sure where he fits on that list. He's uncomfortably certain he's at the very top, and pushes that feeling away every time it surfaces.
Since when do Dark Ones feel guilt?
"I was just visiting an old acquaintance. He came into a large… inheritance, and I was bound to inform him. Yourself?"
"You don't care." She brushes some dust off her breeches, although it's a waste of time: she looks like she hasn't had a decent bath in far too long.
"Belle." He doesn't know what to say. He's not comfortable with this emotion, this… pain, that's blossoming in his chest and constricting his breathing.
He's been feeling differently ever since she left. Actually, he's been feeling this way since a little before that, if he's honest with himself.
It started when she kissed him. He'd felt something shift, a little of the hard, dark place inside him he'd grown so used to break off and fall away.
He's a little more human since then. And it's not a comfortable place to be.
"Just go." She spits at him: the echo of his words from before is punishing.
"Are you sure? You don't want a little… assistance?"
The question hangs in the air, and Belle nearly wavers. The offer is so tempting: she knows he could fix everything for her, if she asked. She knows he has the ability to magic this guy into a field fifty miles from here, and to change her clothing so she no longer looks like a beggar or a runaway.
Or he could ask her to come home with him. But after their last meeting, when he'd chosen his powers over her presence in his life – over her love – she didn't dare hope for that.
So she shrugs, and stares him down "I have it covered, thanks. I don't need saving."
"Neither did I, but it didn't stop you from trying." He counters. It's like a dagger through the heart.
"How did you even find me?" she asks.
"I recognised your voice, dearie. It's quite recognisable. The accent, you know."
"Ah. So you weren't looking, then?"
He dodges the question, "A large, evil birdie told me that you were in some distress."
"She said that you had become… homeless."
"That's one word for it." She says, and starts walking down the alleyway. She hopes that he'll get the message, and leave her alone.
She hopes even more that he'll follow her, and keep her company. She hates herself a little bit for that.
It takes a few seconds, but she hears his footsteps following her. "How did this happen?"
"What, you're evil bird didn't tell you? You kicked me out, Rumpelstiltskin. Like it or not, that's what happened. My entire life was in your castle – that was the deal – and no one wanted me back home."
"I let you go." he didn't seem to understand – the master of the twisted bargain couldn't see the consequences of it being broken.
"Yes. And they assumed that meant you'd gone back on the bargain. They waited for the ogres to come back and kill us all: my father wouldn't speak to me for bringing that fear back."
She won't look at him: she can't. So she keeps walking, head held high, out of the town and into the forest.
She feels better here, safer. The trees provide a kind of anonymity, a safety she can't feel when walking in a crowd. He's still behind her, she can sense him following her, but he doesn't say a word.
"Where are we going?"
"I am trying to get as far away from civilisation as possible."
"Because the priests are looking for you?"
He's annoying her now – more than that, she's completely furious, her blood boiling and heart pounding even as she can feel it break all over again, and she whirls around to face him. "Yes. The priests: the big, scary religious guys who think I'm some sort of satanic whore. There's also Gaston's family, who think you murdered him for me, and my father's soldiers, who have been after me since I escaped." She doesn't register any sign of emotion on his face, none at all, and it's so much like their last meeting that she can't help but want to smack the coldness right off his face. "You think I'm homeless? I have a cave in the woods, where so far no one has found me. If that counts as a home, then there's something pretty damn wrong with the world."
"Except for me." He mutters, quietly, and her anger flares again.
"I found you." His tone was soft, almost tender, and it broke her anger into a million different pieces. It was the tone she remembered from her final days in the castle, the voice of her sweetest dreams and most terrible nightmares.
"Oh, please don't say that."
"What? It's only the truth, dearie."
"No, it's so much worse than that! Please don't say it like…"
"Like you've come to rescue me. Because I know you, Rumpelstiltskin, and I know you don't do rescuing."
"What if I have, though?" there's a small, entirely inappropriate smile playing at his lips, "What if I decided to play the hero, and save the damsel in distress?"
"Then I'd say it's a cruel game to play."
She turns back around and storms off, but she doesn't get two steps away before she hears his voice, "They're going to find you."
She looks back at him: his green skin and brown clothing blend perfectly with the forest, "How do you know?"
"Because they always do. Someone always finds you."
"I'm starting to think that someone is you."
"Perhaps." He reaches out a hand, "Come home, Belle."
That floors her. She stumbles a little, but keeps her balance, her eyes glued to his. "What?"
"You need a home, and mine is the only safe place in the world for you."
"You screamed at me. You smashed mirrors and threw pottery – I saw the ruins on my way out. You threw me in a dungeon. You chose your powers over me. You don't get to take that back."
"I'm not asking you to be my caretaker. Or even my companion. Come and stay in a guest room. Avoid me like the plague. You'll never have to speak to me again."
"That's a lie." She knows it, even as she whirls the idea around in her mind, the concept of safety, of being back where she knows she belongs, of a warm bed and a bath and not having to run or fight anymore.
"I need you to be safe." He says, and she can hear how difficult it is for him to admit.
"And you know why that is, don't you?" she tilts her head to one side, watching his face, "The same reason I can't go home with you."
"And why would that be?"
"Because for a moment, you know that the curse was broken. Which means that this is True Love: I love you, Rumpelstiltskin, and you need me to come with you because you love me too. And you can't bear that to be true. Which is why living in the same place wouldn't work, not for long."
"But we can always try."
"It would hurt too much."
"More than the priests? More than having to hide in the forest for the rest of your days? You need a home."
Her resolve shattered, and she sighed, shoulders slumping in defeat. She looked at him squarely in the eyes as she took those last few steps, closing the gap between them, and taking his hand. "Yes, I do."
And it does hurt. It hurts more with every day that he loves her, and can't close the distance between them; with every moment when he's sweet to her, in passing, indirectly, and she wants to kiss him more than she wants to keep breathing.
It hurts for a year, even as they regain some of the friendship they'd lost, even as they start speaking more and more, making up for lost time.
When he disappears in the night, off to make a nefarious midnight deal, she doesn't really care. She's used to him vanishing, sometimes for days at a time. It's then that she does silly things, like trying his spinning wheel to see if she can make gold for herself, and sneaking into his closely guarded bedroom to snoop in the draws.
But then he doesn't return, and after five days she begins to worry.
She wonders the castle, suddenly realising how lonely it is without him hiding behind corners, or lounging at the wheel, or whistling in the hallways. She feels she knows a little of what it was like for him, in her absence.
Although of course, she feels no sympathy. That was entirely his fault.
But at the end of the sixth day, desperation sets in. It's then that Belle gets the best and worst idea she's ever had, born out of a mix of anxiety and acute curiosity.
She takes down the cover from the mirror in the main hallway, the one he screamed into the night she kissed him, when everything in her life was ripped to shreds because of the person on the other side.
"Do you know where he is?" she whispers to her own reflection, feeling stupid even as she does so.
But then, hidden somewhere in the glass, she makes out the image of a woman's face. The woman from the carriage: the Queen.
"Ah. So he found you."
"Where is he?"
"It won't matter, soon enough."
The Queen lets out a long, awful, happy laugh, "Because he's just helped me to end the world."
She knows she isn't at home.
She's cold – home wasn't cold. Home was warm.
Her hair hangs around her face, tickling her sometimes, and she longs to tie it back. But she can't, so she holds it, running her fingers through it. Sometimes that brings the dreams.
She likes the dreams. There's someone with her – she's always so alone, in her not-home – someone who holds her and runs fingers through her hair.
The face that comes to the window in the door is familiar. So is that smile, the one she knows means bad things. The face never says anything: it just watches for a time, then leaves.
She doesn't know where her visitor goes. She has no knowledge of a place beyond these walls, these hard stone walls that feel like an echo of somewhere else, somewhere she knows she doesn't remember.
He's comfortable in this new world. That much the Queen promised, and that much was delivered.
At first, he looks for Belle everyday. If he'd never met her, and didn't miss her, then he'd be Regina's closest ally in this. Life as Mr Gold is certainly more comfortable than life as Rumpelstiltskin, and he likes how everyone here fears him and yet doesn't know why
He knows she has to be here, in Storybrooke, somewhere. He can ID everyone else in a moment – Snow White works at the school; the Magic Mirror is the editor of the local newspaper, and Red Riding Hood spends her days waiting tables in her grandmother's café. But Belle is nowhere to be found.
After a while, he gives up on trying to find her.
Not because he's content without her – he's spent enough of his time playing with and working around True Love to know how infuriatingly powerful it truly is – but because he has an ace up his sleeve.
He counts the days until the Saviour arrives. Until the curse will begin to weaken, and cracks will emerge, and he can go looking once more: until he can find her and bring her back home.