He was never one for storming the castle, or riding into the sunset with a cloak billowing out behind him. He thought princes going off to fight dragons and battling bandits and sorcerers were idiots. He preferred the subtle approach; a deal here, a deal there, all building up into a grandiose plot that nobody would see coming because they watched for dark clouds billowing in from all sides to show that the curse was coming.
But today was no ordinary day. He stood over mayor Regina's body, the blood still seeping from the bullet hole in her chest, the last of her breath leaving her body, the smell of gunpowder bitter in the air. He gazed down at her, saw the horror knowledge brings in her eyes. Too late, she knew that trifling with his emotions was a deadly mistake.
Sheriff Swan was shouting at him, her gun leveled at his head. He obeyed her command to drop his weapon, and smiled as the mayor's eyes lost their horror and their life. She would never be able to hurt anyone ever again. Never. He looked up then and saw the boy, Henry, standing in the doorway. He felt a twinge of guilt at the boy's wide-eyed terror. The same look had been on Bae's face so many years ago.
It didn't matter now. He breathed deeply, feeling at long last a release. The mayor's secret asylum had been found; she was free. After all the torturous years of thinking she was dead, that she had been in pain, that it what his fault, she was free. She stood close by, her expression neither relieved nor horrified. Did she think she was dreaming? Her face was pale, her brown hair knotted and limp, and she stared at him.
The sheriff handcuffed his hands roughly behind his back, but his smile didn't fade. The curse could break or hold; it didn't matter what happened now. Without the mayor, that evil queen, people would have the courage to break the rules. They might even get their happy endings back. He didn't care. She was free, and that was the only happy ending that he needed.
She stepped forward then, staring intently at his eyes. She reached out and brushed his hair out of his face, her cool trembling fingers soft against his cheek.
"Rumplestiltskin?" she whispered breathlessly, as though afraid that he wasn't who she thought, afraid that he was.
"Belle," he said, her name tasting sweet on his lips.
Time around them seemed to stop. He no longer felt the metal cuffs biting into his wrists, nor heard the shouting, nor saw anything but her face. Her beautiful blue eyes stared into his dark brown ones. The world revolved around them alone, and everything was happy, if only for a moment.