Title: Near to the moon
Fandom: Once Upon a Time
Pairing/Characters: Belle/Mr Gold (Rumpelstiltskin)
Series: And west of the moon
Word Count: 4,700
Spoilers: For episode 1.12
Disclaimer: Not mine! The title comes from the classic song East of the Sun (and West of the Moon). I personally love the Billie Holiday version, but the Diana Krall one is stunning, too.
A/N: This is the second of a three story series, the sequel to Near to the sun. Thank you to the fabulous fringedweller for the beta!
Summary: The curse was broken on a Thursday; which, when Belle thought about it, was as good a day as any.
The curse was broken on a Thursday; which, when Belle thought about it, was as good a day as any.
She had plenty of time to think while sitting in a very uncomfortable chair in the hospital next to Gold's (or was he Rumpelstiltskin again?) bed.
He'd been unconscious since the battle four days ago when the Queen finally fell, taking a good portion of the town with her. Belle had no idea what he'd actually done, but she thought it must have been some kind of transfer of power that sucked most of the energy from him.
Every now and then his face would contort and his back would arch and all Belle could do was hold his hand and murmur nonsense, trying to soothe away whatever it was that he saw.
Then on Monday, he woke up.
Belle had fallen asleep, her head pillowed on her arms which rested on his bed, the lower half of her body still in the chair. She woke up to the softest of touches carding through her hair.
She blinked sleepily and saw him looking at her, his expression unreadable.
"Hi," she said.
"Hello," he said, his voice scratchy and hoarse. She sat up, cringing at the stiffness in her muscles from being in such an awkward position. Without taking her eyes off him for very long, she grabbed a cup of water from the bedside stand and gave it to him.
He swallowed almost greedily and then handed the cup back to her. She set it back on the table and then perched on the side of his bed.
"You've been asleep for four days," she said. "I'm glad you're awake."
"How long?" he asked looking confused while trying to sit up before he winced and clutched at his leg.
"Hey, easy," she said putting her hand on his thigh and chest, easing him back down on the bed. "Four days. I'm not sure what you did, but whatever it was, it worked."
"Regina?" he asked, still wincing but letting her massage his muscles which was clear sign that he was still out of it. "She's gone, isn't she?"
Belle nodded. "Yes. Emma did it."
"Knew she would," he said. "So that's the curse over then."
"Looks like," Belle said. He glanced up at her and frowned.
"How?" he asked, tracing the edge of a bruise on the side of her face with his finger.
"Book," she said. "I was in the library when the ground started to shake."
"I tried to look for you," he said his eyes starting to droop, the medication he was on too strong to stay awake for long.
"Shh," she said taking his hand. "I'm fine. Sleep."
"I've got…things to do…to say," he tried to say fighting against the exhaustion.
"Later," she said. "Sleep now." His eyes slid shut and she sighed. "We've got time now."
"There's a door," Belle told him the next day while they walked down the hallway in the hospital. "In a tree where the Mayor's house used to be."
"Let me guess where it leads," he said gritting his teeth as he pushed himself further down the hall.
"A lot of people have already left to go back," she said. "Snow and James. Ella and Thomas. Abigail and Frederick are staying, oddly enough. So are Ruby and Archie. At least for now."
"The boy?" he asked.
"Staying with Emma," she said. "They seem to be able to come and go rather easily."
"Well, they are of this world and that one," he said stopping to brace himself against the wall with his hand, while he massaged at his leg that had stiffened up. Belle knew better than to ask if he needed help, so she leant against the wall looking out of the window opposite them. The sun was high in the sky and the tell-tale signs of spring were sprouting here and there.
"And you?" he asked once he'd straightened up and resumed walking, Belle beside him. He was determinedly not looking at her. "What are your plans, Miss French?"
"Well, I always wanted to see the world," she said. "That hasn't changed."
"Yes, but which one?" he asked with a hint of impatience.
"Like I said before, if you don't know the answer to that," she told him slipping her arm through his, "then you are most certainly not as clever as I thought."
"He's still inside me," he said a few days later once he'd been 'released' from the hospital. Of course, his version of released meant that Belle arrived to find him getting dressed while a nurse and Doc (who was apparently sticking around, at least until the injured were taken care of) argued with him about leaving.
He'd silenced them both with a glare that didn't hold quite as much venom as it used to, but was quelling none the less.
"The Dark One?" Belle asked from her seat next to him on his front stoop.
"Yes. I don't know that he'll ever be gone and I don't dare go back," he said. "At least here he's less powerful."
"I see," she said.
He took a deep breath and then let out a laugh that was so bitter she could almost taste it in the air.
"Oh, Belle," he said. "Don't stay with me."
"Do you want me to go?" she asked her stomach turning.
"It's not a question of want, love," he said and she bit her lip at hearing the word fall so easily from his lips. "It's a question of what's best."
"No one decides my fate but me," she said firmly. "As you well know."
"Do not remain with me because you feel it's your duty," he said his jaw tight, the words forcing their way through clenched teeth. "I do not want pity. You owe me nothing."
"You're absolutely right," she said. "I don't owe you anything. This isn't about debt or a deal or a bargain. It's about what I think would make me happy."
He laughed again, that same bitter laugh that made her want to cry. "You honestly think I could make you happy? Belle, I am—"
"What?" she asked turning to him. "Look me in the eyes and tell me all the things that you are."
"All right," he said facing her. "I'm too old."
"Experienced," she said.
"I'm not planning on climbing Everest."
"It tempers my sweet nature."
"I've got a dark spirit trapped inside my body, mind and soul."
"I spent the last twenty-eight years in a drugged haze in a cell. We've all got our issues."
"I'm terrified of hurting you again!"
They both froze as he clearly hadn't meant to say that and she felt her eyes and throat burn with frustrated tears.
"Good," she said shakily. "You should be. I'm terrified that I'm going to force you into situations that you don't want. So, we're both scared of doing something the other doesn't want." She took a deep breath. "Luckily, I know how to handle that."
"By talking about it?" he offered sounding only slightly mocking.
"It seems to have been working for us these last few months," she said. "Why stop now?"
He stared at her for what felt like forever, but then he said, "I'm not going to be able to dissuade you from staying with me, am I?"
"Not unless you really want me to go," she said. "And you're going to have to have a completely unassailable reason."
He opened his mouth but she talked over him, "Besides, this isn't all about you, you know. I like it here. I feel free and independent in a way that I've never felt before. So, stop being so self-centred thinking this is all about you."
She could tell that she'd surprised him, by the sudden bout of blinking he did. But then he nodded. "Well, then. I guess that's that."
"I guess so," she said. They both stared out into the street for a few minutes before Belle asked, "So, you do want me to stay?"
"Oh, love," he breathed, the word still magic in her ears. "I always wanted you to stay."
The beginning of spring came and went, and soon the flowers were blooming and hope seemed to shine from everyone's eyes. Belle stayed at his house (in her own room, thank you very much) and she did her best to help Emma with the remaining townspeople with their houses and their injuries and with the shock of realizing what had happened. Archie, Jiminy, provided some much needed guidance to those who needed it.
"It's a lot to take in all at once," Emma said to her one day. "I am so glad Henry broke it to me one day at a time."
"What's he up to today?" Belle asked taking a seat next to her on the sidewalk in front of the station so they could just watch the town.
"He's with Snow and James," she said. "You know, a day out with the grandparents." She made a face. "Yeah, that's never going to not be weird."
"So, what are your plans, missy?" Emma asked after a while. "Here or there?"
"Oh, here," Belle said. She shook her head. "There's nothing for me back there."
"You mean he's not back there," Emma said nudging Belle's shoulder with hers.
Belle shook her head. "No. No, I think I'd stay even if he didn't." She frowned. "I think. I don't know. All I know is that there is a world here that I can do more in than I could previously and I want to give it a try."
"Well, good for you," Emma said. "But in case things don't work out with you-know-who, just know you've got friends in high places."
"Thanks, Emma," Belle said meaning it. "I'm kind of curious to see where things go from here."
"Well, they can kind of go anywhere, can't they?" Emma said. "I mean, it's not like we're tied down anymore. Sky's the limit."
Belle smiled and lifted her face to the sun. "Yeah. It is."
A week later, as Belle was heading back to the Gold's house she passed by the ruins of the Mayor's house and saw him.
He was staring at the tree.
Her breath caught in her throat.
The tree itself was a large sequoia that was definitely not indigenous to coastal Maine, but it grew strong and fast. You couldn't see the door until you were right in front of it. Belle wondered if a person who wasn't native to the other world could even see it. As it was, she could feel the magic emanating from it as she walked past.
Gold was just standing there, looking at the tree. He no longer dressed in his full suits, but in a pair of dark trousers and a dark button down shirt, no tie or waistcoat. He'd traded out his usual black and silver-handled cane for another that was made of a rich honeyed mahogany.
Belle watched him as he stared at the tree. When he took a step forward, she had to bite down hard on her lip to hold in her voice. What she was going to say she wasn't sure of, but she knew that this was something he had to do and she was not going to do anything to influence him one way or the other.
He stared at the tree and lifted a hand, as if to touch the trunk.
Belle couldn't watch anymore. Whether he was deciding to stay and this was some kind of ritual of closure, she had no right to witness something so private.
Or, and here was where her heart started to hurt and her stomach started to roll, he was leaving without saying good-bye… Well, she couldn't watch that either. So, she forced her feet to move and she carried on to his house.
A quarter of an hour later, as she was stirring batter for muffins in his kitchen, she heard the front door open and close. It was him.
Her heart stopped hurting and her stomach clenched but with happiness instead of dread.
"I hope you like blueberries," she called out, hoping she sounded normal and not as relieved as she felt. "Because I was in the mood for them."
She heard the tap of his cane grow louder as he approached the kitchen, but she continued to stir the blueberries into the batter without turning around.
"I like them," he said coming to stand right behind her.
Belle's breath caught in her throat for the second time that day, when his hand came up to move her hair away from her neck and he pressed a kiss to her skin. His lips were warm and soft and he managed to instinctively find a place on her neck that was connected to every single nerve in her body and Belle flushed and shivered and her grip on her bowl of batter tightened.
"I like them a great deal," he said next to her ear, his voice gentle and calm.
She turned her head to meet his gaze and he stared steadily back at her with no guile and no agenda.
"Good," she said faintly. "I'm glad."
"So am I," he told her.
They continued to stare at each other for a few more moments.
"We've stopped talking about blueberries, haven't we?" she asked.
He smirked. "Have we?"
Then he turned and went into his office.
Belle blinked at the empty kitchen. Then pressing her lips together to hold in her delight, she went back to her muffins.
"I think I want to leave," Belle said unceremoniously sitting down across from him in the kitchen one morning.
"Oh?" he said, his voice steady, but the hand that held his coffee shook slightly.
"Yes. I wanted to see the world, remember?" she said. "Now, I can."
"Oh," he said.
"Emma and everyone have things in order around here," Belle said. "And I'll probably come back one day. But, I think I need to leave."
She eyed him. "Now, I know you're more than capable of saying something other than 'oh'."
"Oh, for…" She rolled her eyes. "You're coming with me, you daft man."
He jerked his head up and stared at her. "Am I?"
"Of course," she said shrugging her shoulders. "I don't know how to drive."
The corners of his mouth twitched upwards. "I see. Am I to be your manservant, then?"
"Possibly," she said. "If only for a change of pace."
"A change of pace," he repeated quietly. He looked thoughtful. "I think that might be nice."
"Good," she said with a nod. "We leave in a few weeks."
With that, she stood up and walked off.
"Where are you going?" he called out.
"Books! Research!" she called back.
He frowned when he walked in to his front room to find Belle sprawled on the floor, a large map in front of her and travel books stacked next to her and on the sofa behind her.
"Where are we going?" he asked moving to sit on the sofa so he could peer over her shoulder. She flipped her hair over her other shoulder and hid a smile when he tucked a stray curl away. He was so much more tactile than he'd ever been and it made her flush every time.
There had been no more kisses since the one he'd pressed to her neck that day, but she caught him openly staring at her a few times and while she still blushed furiously (it wasn't like she was terribly experienced, all right!) he just smiled this secret smile that had her wanting to grab him and pin him to the nearest flat surface with her mouth.
But they weren't ready, Belle knew. She certainly wasn't and while he had seemed to find some kind of peace after she saw him at the tree, the peace was tentative at best.
Not to mention the fact that they still suffered from nightmares and most definitely had symptoms of what Archie called post traumatic stress disorder. They were healing and while a balance was there, it was still quite fragile.
"To the ocean, of course," she said. She pointed at the Pacific. "See? Ocean."
"Belle," he said. "I am not driving across the entire country."
"Of course you're not," she said. "We're going to share the driving."
"You said you couldn't drive."
"You'll teach me."
"I'm not sure I can be away for quite that long. I can't leave my…" He stopped.
"Your what?" she asked looking over her shoulder. "Your business? Are you honestly planning on just picking up where you left off? Can you really do that?"
He couldn't. He didn't have it in him anymore, she could tell. While his mind was still sharp and she knew the Dark One lingered still, the drive, the need to make deals had left him.
"No," he said eventually. "I can't."
"I mean." Belle felt unsure. "You could. If you wanted to."
"I don't believe that I do," he said looking at her. "I seem to have lost the taste for it."
She smiled and he smiled back, a pure reflex that seemed to be getting easier each time it happened.
"You could give it to Leroy," Belle said with a shrug. "He'd be good at keeping things in order. Or you could sell it off, and invest the profits."
Gold blinked at her.
"I've been reading the Wall Street Journal," she said.
"It shows," he said. He leaned back and picked up one of the many travel books she'd brought with her. "Try the Economist. You might like that one."
Belle hmmed and got out her notebook. "The Economist," she muttered as she wrote it down on her ever-growing list of Things to Read. Then she went back to her maps.
"There are no dates on this," he said one evening when they were eating soup she'd made. She looked over at him and saw that he was looking at one of her possible 'itineraries'.
"I know," she said before dunking a corner of her cracker in her soup. She waited for him to ask why, to protest the lack of a timeline.
But he just hmm'd and continued to eat his soup.
Belle still couldn't quite explain, even to herself, why she loved him. Maybe it was because of how he used to stare so intently at the spinning wheel, how he actually took such care with everything that he did, how methodical he was. Or maybe it was his voice, how it always, even when it was higher pitched, struck a chord somewhere deep inside her.
Maybe it was his hands. Or his eyes.
Or maybe he'd been right and she was just trying to play the hero and trying to tame the beast.
Whenever that particular thought emerged, Belle would stop whatever she was doing and think. She was pretty sure it wasn't that. She wasn't exactly a champion for lost causes. She knew when enough was enough. She did.
At least she hoped she did.
Either way, the whole point of this trip was to not only see the world (or a good bit of it at least), but to heal, both herself and him. And if, at some point, he decided that he wanted nothing more to do with her and wanted to remain alone, then fine. That was his decision.
But he'd have to have an extremely good reason why.
"What are you doing?" he asked as he glanced over at her furiously scribbling when they were eating lunch.
"Budgeting," she said. "I think I've figured out the cheapest way to do this."
"Belle," he said. "I don't know if you know, but I'm not exactly penniless."
"Yes, but I'm hardly going to take your money from you," she said.
"You wouldn't be taking it," he said. "It's being given. Freely."
"But—" she started to say.
"I'm going to be rather inflexible about this I'm afraid," he said. "And considering that I know how to drive and you don't…"
He shrugged his shoulders.
Belle's jaw dropped. "You would, too, wouldn't you? Just dangle the keys in front of my face only to pull them away at the last minute? You sneaky, sneaky man."
"Oh, yes," he said starting to grin. "Did you truly think that would change?"
"No," she said her mouth curving into a grin of her own. "I'm rather fond of it, actually."
"My duplicitous nature? You're fond of it?" he said placing a hand on his chest in mock affront. "Such a terrible girl, you are."
"You love it," she said playfully.
He didn't answer, but his grin never wavered.
"What about a Cadillac?" Belle asked one evening as they sat reading on his porch. Then she shook her head. "Bad gas mileage. And they're sort of like a boat on wheels."
He just huffed a little and continued to read his newspaper.
"Do you actually have a car?" she asked.
"Yes," he said not looking up. "However it was recently damaged by a falling tree."
"Ohhh right," Belle said wincing. "I forgot about that. That street didn't fare very well during everything, did it?"
"It did not," he said.
Belle nodded and went back to her plans. "Ooh, we could get one of those Volkswagen vans?"
The look she got wasn't exactly enthused.
"Fine, fine," she said. "Maybe we should just go with a Toyota. They're pretty decent."
"A Land Rover," he said turning a page of his paper. "A Land Rover Defender that somehow made its way across the Atlantic. It's already been modified and has better gas mileage than most. It will be durable and trustworthy."
Belle stared at him until he looked up.
"I know a fellow," he said blandly. "He owes me a favour."
"I bet he does," she said. "Okay. A Land Rover it is. Sure you don't want a convertible? Or one of those monster trucks?"
He scrunched his face in distaste and Belle had to giggle. "Certainly not."
"Such a snob," she said around her giggles.
She received a glare in return, but there wasn't much heat behind it.
Belle laughed at Emma's anecdote of her latest trip to the other realm that involved a horse and an enchanted drawbridge.
"I am never riding a horse again," Emma concluded. Snow and Ella giggled along with Belle.
It seemed odd to have the two princesses back in Storybrooke, but as long as they didn't stay past midnight, they could come and go. At the moment, they were all sitting on a blanket in one of the parks in town. Belle wondered if it looked as idyllic as it felt.
"So, what's this I hear about you going on an adventure?" Snow asked Belle.
"It's not an adventure, as such," Belle said. "It's more of an extended vacation."
"Yes, but you are trekking across the country," Snow said. "That's a lot of work."
"I'm really looking forward to it," Belle said picking at the leaves of grass poking at the edge of the blanket. "I think this will be really good. For me."
"And him?" Emma asked.
Belle made a face. "People still avoid him in the street and I'm not saying they're not without very good reason, but all the same." She shrugged. "He's made as many amends as he can and he has to live with what he's done for the rest of his life."
"But—" Ella prodded.
"But that doesn't mean that he or I have to miserable," Belle said quietly. "Does it?"
"You're not coming back, are you?" Emma asked, not quite answering the question and Belle could tell that the other women felt uncomfortable as well.
Belle paused. "I'm not sure. I imagine we will. Or he will once he realises that I'm completely serious about driving the whole way. Or he gets tired of me."
Emma huffed out a laugh. "Yeah, like that's gonna happen. That man will follow you to the moon and back."
"But I don't want that," Belle said shredding a bit of grass. "I don't want him to follow me. I want him…"
"Yes?" Snow asked softly.
"I don't want him to follow me," Belle said lifting her chin. "I want him to be beside me."
"Hunh," Emma said looking thoughtful and starting to smile. "I kind of like that."
"Right. Let's go."
Belle looked up from her Fodor's travel guide on Indiana and blinked at him. "What?"
He held up the keys to the Land Rover that he'd driven up to the house the other day. "Your first driving lesson."
Belle looked between his face and the keys and then grinned. She tossed the book on the couch and jumped to her feet. "Let's go!"
A half an hour later after several 'No, that's the accelerator' and 'No, that's the clutch' and 'Downshift, downshift, downshift!'; not to mention all the 'Dear God, you're going to strip the gears!', Belle was actually driving calmly and carefully down one of the back roads of Storybrooke.
She gripped the steering wheel tightly with one hand and lowered her window with the other and smiled broadly as the wind tickled her face and stirred through her hair.
"I like driving," she said to him.
"I'm very glad," he said one hand gripping his cane tightly, the other gripping his arm rest, near the gearbox, in case she forgot which gear she was aiming for.
She rolled her eyes. "You can relax your deathgrip, you know. I've got it now."
"Yes, I recall you saying something similar before startling that man on his bicycle," he said rolling his own window down.
Belle stuck her tongue out at him and he chuckled before saying, "Just don't forget to apply the emergency brake when we park."
A week later, they were ready to go. He'd arranged for someone to take care of the house and Leroy was managing most of the properties that Gold still owned. Belle had said good-bye to Emma and Henry the night before. The boy had given her a crushing hug and as well as a new notebook with a lovely blue fabric on the cover.
"For your new story," he'd said grinning. Belle had kissed his cheek.
"You call me if you need bail money," Emma said. She winked. "Either of you."
Belle had just hugged her tightly.
They left Storybrooke on a Thursday which was, as Belle had previously discovered, as good a day as any.
They were seventy-five miles out of Storybrooke when Belle said loudly, "Stop the car!"
He slammed on the brakes and they both jerked forward. "What? Why?"
Belle couldn't help it and she laughed. "Oh, I'm sorry! I just." She pointed out the window sheepishly. "Bookstore."
He stared at her until the car behind them honked the horn, then he pulled over and turned the engine off. He shifted in his seat to face her. "You do realise that we are not stopping for every single bookstore you see."
"Oh, I know," she said. "This one just called to me."
"Do you think you could refrain from yelling when you hear this call in the future?" he asked slowly.
Belle's palms itched to frame his face and just kiss him. But she didn't.
They weren't there yet.
So instead, she leaned forward and matched his steady tone and answered him with, "I can try."
Then she got out of the car and went into the bookstore.
Naturally, they had their first proper fight after they had their first proper kiss.
But that's in the next story.