A/N: I joined the Rumbelle wars on Tumblr. So this is my first stab at emotionally scarring the lot of you: enjoy!
His top step has always been noisy.
Gold looks up from his reading, sees her standing there, on the top step, staring at him. Her nightdress is glowing in the moonlight, pale as her skin.
He rises immediately, grabs his cane and is three steps from the top within seconds, "What is it, dear?" he asks, afraid of the answer (he can never face his own horrors, let alone hers) "Bad dream?"
She nods her head, then shakes it, her face crumpled in confusion as her hand fists in her hair and tugs. As if the pain will anchor her.
He tries to move forward, but she flinches as he comes closer.
No sudden movements. He keeps forgetting.
Belle stands at the top of the steps, broad beaming smile unshakable and shining.
"I'm going to do it!" she cries, "Today, I make it to the bottom!"
Rumpelstiltskin just smirks; she's tried before, and her dress always snags, or the banister is too dirty and holds her back, or her own fears – few that they are – stop her at the last minute.
"Of course, dearie."
She sticks out her tongue, childishly, and giggles.
"What was it?" he asks, creeping closer, hoping he can be by her side, between her and the steep drop to the hallway floor, before she has time to notice. "Was it the Queen again?"
She nods, stands back to allow him to come up to her.
He can see her tears now: even when she cries, her face is ghost-pale.
Sometimes, he has to remind himself that she isn't really dead. The girl in front of him, the one buried in his arms and shaking and sobbing in terror, is not the woman he used to know. This girl is afraid of her own reflection, pale and alien in the mirror beside her bed. This girl barely knows her own name.
"OW!" he hears her scream from three floors up, and is by her side in a heartbeat.
"What happened, dearie?" he asks, trying for casual and mocking instead of anxious and terrified of her pain, "Something go wrong?"
She glares at him, as if the injury isn't self-inflicted, "I didn't account for the drop at the end." She grits her teeth, but grins, "The speed was amazing though!" Then she winces, and gestures to her ankle, "A little help?"
He's smirking – relieved it's nothing but a mild sprain at worst, nothing a day in bed and a small spell can't fix – as he gathers her in his arms and transports them to her bedside.
She winces as he deposits her – gently, gentler than any action he's performed in the last hundred years, and yet identical to his every motion since she came to his castle – onto the bed and helps her prop her leg up.
His leg throbs as he holds her arm around his shoulders. She's physically in perfect shape: Regina didn't harm one hair on her beautiful head. What's underneath that glossy hair is another matter.
He'd dreamt every night after he freed her from the asylum that one day she'd come back to life. That her strength, so much stronger than anything his magic could fake in him, would be enough to see off any damage Regina could inflict. That he'd wake to find her cooking breakfast in the kitchen; come home at the end of the day to her reading a book in his favourite armchair or quietly tidying his papers away.
He'd spun himself visions of homey domesticity. He'd dreamt of a new version of the life they used to lead: without his curse, or the restrictions of their bargain, or his own selfish distrust holding them back.
But here they are, one year on, and Belle is still crying from nightmares: a mad, thoughtless, terrified child lost in her own home.
He lays her down in her bed, and pulls the covers over her, tucking her in and kissing her forehead.
He runs a hand over her ankle and kickstarts the healing process "Should be no longer than a day, dearie, before you're back on your feet and sliding down banisters once more."
She looks up at him, eyes bright, "Thank you. That was almost… gallant."
He brushes her off, but can't hide his beaming smile. He hopes she'll interpret it as a mocking smirk; knows there isn't a chance in Hell. "You're no use as a caretaker if you can't walk."
She's not buying it: she knows him too well, "My hero."
He bows to her, wishes he had some flower or other princely gift to offer his lady. He settles for a genuine smile of affection, and is pleased when her face flushes in pleasure at the sight.
When she looks at him, her eyes are empty, her expression blank and emotionless.
"Alright?" he asks, praying that tonight will be a good one. Tonight she'll know who he is, and know to respond.
"Yes." She whispers, voice hoarse. She never speaks more than a few syllables at a time. He doesn't know if she even can. He can't hide the defeat in his eyes, the sad little downturn of his mouth.
She doesn't notice: she's too lost in the labyrinthine prison of her own mind.
She lives in a mental place he can never reach. It kills him that the Queen resides there, tormenting her every thought with a lifetime of neglect and mental torture. Regina owns the last little sliver of Belle's soul, and there is nothing Gold can do to wrest it from her grasp.
Belle's face is unmarred, her skin pale and perfect, but her mind is bloody, bruised and scarred.