Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Summary: Rumpelstiltskin can't find the dagger; Mr. Gold takes on his most important case.

Prompt from andachippedcup: "The heart of his world"

The first five were the worst.

Rumpelstiltskin had been frantic. Learning this new world, playing at being stupid to it all. He searched night and day when not attending to the tedium of a cyclical business, where he was forever restarting half deals that wouldn't come due until three decades from now.

The next ten were tedious. He thought—I have time, and instead of searching, which, yes he did, but not with the frenzied hysteria of before, he studied, because he knew Regina sure as hell was preparing likewise.

And then the planning. He prepared early, of course. The thoughts of Savior, conception, and revenge all danced through his head and distracted him from his own dilemma, for he still had not found it, the one chink in his armor, the one thing that could destroy him.

When he hands over the child, he's half tempted to bluff his way into the position of godfather, just so he can have chances to snoop about the house, because were else could it be? Regina's is the only house he hasn't searched in the past eighteen years.

He keeps looking, the fear growing—this growth being the only one of its kind in, with the exception of the little prince, Henry Mills.

He's turned to the woods, where so many of his treasures from the past lives of the denizens of Storybrooke are to be found—the bitch had always been fond of nature and planting, be it bodies or orchards. So he digs.

And digs.

And digs.

He finds heart after heart, but not his. Never his. Bloody hell, the woman just might have him this time.

Then the princess finally arrives, and it feels so much like those first five years, because the clock is ticking and he knows what side he'd like to be on come the apocalypse (but only enough to win him immunity and kill his enemy—they certainly needn't be bosom companions), but he may find himself on the other, literally in her hands, a pawn.

He's just come back from another digging exploration over his lunch break; who needs food, when the thing keeping you alive might be kitchen cutlery for the person you hate most?

He's considering revising his plan—perhaps she's put it somewhere or with someone he'd never expect, like her stepdaughter, or perhaps he'll just be done with it and kill her lap-dog, Sidney and see if this actually draws any sort of response. She did after all have a soft spot for her pets.

He's washing the muck from his hands in the workroom sink, when the bell rings, telling him he has a costumer.

"Hello, is anyone here?" The sound is muffled, but he can make out the words, even in the backroom.

He rolls his eyes, as he makes his way to the front of the shop. Change the scenery, but those looking for deals remained the same as ever—largely demanding and impatient. "You'll forgive me, but the leg has a tendency of slowing me down, dearie," he says, slipping off his sullied work apron.

"Oh, I'm sorry. You could have taken your time."

"Yes, well, you were the one yelling, after all." That is the moment when he actually looks up.

Belle hasn't changed, not in the least. Most importantly, she doesn't look dead.

Suddenly, he realizes that she is looking oddly at him; he's been staring. He clears his throat and moves behind the counter. "Forgive me, but I don't think we've been formally introduced: I'm Mr. Gold."

"I know who you are." He smiles, to hide his laughter. No, you've not the faintest idea who I am, dear. "Everyone knows who you are." Suddenly she takes a deep breath, as if to steady herself and stomps forward, with perhaps too much enthusiasm, thrusting a hand across the glass countertop. "I'm Isabelle French, and I need a lawyer."

He looks from her face to her hand and takes it slowly, shaking firmly but gently—I remember your hands. He wonders what would happen if he has a heart attack, but then settles his face into a well-worn smirk, "Whatever would give you the idea that I could help with that?" He asks knowingly. "I don't believe my shop sign says anything about practitioner of law."

She is staring at their hands. Strange. "Sorry," she pulls her hand back, much too fast into her chest. Covering her heart, he notices. Ever wise, this one. "I get distracted easily. What did you say?"

"I was wondering what gave you the idea I can help you with your search for legal counsel. Now, there are two law offices on both sides of Main." He points a finger in the general direction of the downtown strip. "This, m'dear, is something a bit different," he pats the countertop gently, "a shop of curiosities."

"Yes, but you do it. I know you're a lawyer." The insistence in her eyes and the fact that he still retains much of his magic, at least mental, through the curse tells him something else is at play here.

After all no one comes to him without a deal in mind.

He sighs. "Let's try something else." He walks around to stand across from her, and she, he notices takes half a step back before seemingly forcing herself to hold her ground, "you tell me the truth of why you're here and I'll tell you what I can do."

"I've been to the other offices. They won't take my case." She shrugs and lets her arms fall against her sides, "I've nowhere else to go, but I have to win this."

"Whatever case is this, that you must win, dearie?"

"I need to be emancipated from my father."

He cocks his head to the side. "Forgive me, I don't mean to be rude, but, though you're young and pretty, you're clearly not a minor."

"True, but my father, Moe French, is still my legal guardian."

"Yes, I'm acquainted with your father." Or rather, he is well-acquainted with my cane. "Why is he still your guardian, might I ask?"

For half an instant, his Belle looks nervous, but then she steals herself. "The only way to say it is that I went a little crazy. But I'm better now, and I'm not ever going back there again. I can't. I'll run away first."

"Slow down, dearie. You must forgive an old man, I'm not following. Go back where?" His voice takes on more the accent the curse says is from Scotland, but is actually from lands long since plowed with rue and salt.

"The asylum."

He will kill Regina. Kill the queen. He will water that damn tree of hers with her own blood.

Belle shrugs, amending herself, "Well, not actually an asylum, but the hospital psychiatric ward."

A dungeon by any other name, he thinks. "And how," Gold forces out the words, when all he wants to do is take his shovel and try his hand at searching city hall for Regina's best kept heart. "May I ask, do you come to find yourself released, as it were?"

"It was Emma—Sheriff Swan. She's the one who told me to come and find you, actually. Anyway, I had a friend who found her and told her about me." Her face goes dark like she's in the shadows of memories of dungeons, which of course she is. She shrugs. "I got lucky, I guess." Painfully, she finishes with, "I can't go back."

Belle doesn't notice the two tears that roll down her cheeks, or if she does she makes no move to wipe them away. Brave to the last.

He pulls the handkerchief from his breast pocket more out of movements the curse has written into his muscles than anything else, that and a deep instinct to make her pain stop.

I'd tear the skin from my bones if it would make you light enough to dance again.

He offers the cloth to the girl. "You wont." By all the deities of both these worlds, you won't.

Then he falls back into the comfortable land of professionalism, "And I'm not one to make promises lightly." Gold's mind is reeling. There's so much to be done and red tape to be crossed. Ingredients to potions after all are not easy matters to come by. He looks up abruptly from the list he'd been writing, his hand mid-sentence, "The court date?"

"In two weeks."

"Hm," he mutters to himself, but she catches none of it. He wonders briefly, if she'll think him the lunatic. Finally he looks up, extending the sheet of paper. "Here's a list of the documents I'm going to need from you. Bring them back here tomorrow morning. If there are any you don't have, well, we will go about procuring them."

She takes the paper, with a questioning look, "So you're really going to help me with the emancipation?"

"Not quite," he continues quickly, not wanting to worry her, "I am taking the case, but the proper terminology for what you're wanting is a dissolution of both a guardianship and power of attorney. With only two weeks, we have a lot to accomplish. We will need you to pass a psychiatric evaluation, and though I have no doubts to your passing, it is my good fortune, that the town's only psychiatrist just so happens to owe me a favor."

"Dr. Hopper?"

"Indeed." He comes back around the counter to stand before her, placing both his hands on his ornate cane. " With the doctor's approval, I don't think our challenges insurmountable."

She raises her eyebrows. "Really?"

He smiles, "Truly."

She nods, "You know, that was the last person I thought free of one of your deals."


"Dr. Hopper," Belle smoothes down the flowing cotton of her skirt, the schoolteacher's he presumes. "Well, excepting me of course, but not now." She smirks, taking a step closer. "That is if you're honestly going to help me."

"How could I say no with such a request as this, but I do have one last question: it seems to me that you're clearly wellenough to be on your own. What are your father's reasons? Do you have any idea as to why he wants you committed?"

"I don't know."

"Yes, but you must have some idea."

"I've a guess."

"And it is?"


"Dearie, this whole case is personal." He stares at her, but when she refuses to bend, he continues, "It's no matter, of course."

Then she asks him a question his mind has imagined her asking thousands of times: "What is this going to cost me?"

And he's still just a damned dragon, the kind he used to kill, skin and lounge about in like a second skin, and just as warm too, because he knows no value except in terms of the desires of others. Gold thread to maidens to a six month lease, it's all economics to him, whatever is double the going rate and then some (the some that hurts the most).

This is a chance he's dreamt and fantasized about for decades, centuries even. His Belle is his again and better yet, in his power. It's the moment.

But what to do with this power?

He loves her. He'd like to own her.

It's forever dearie. He's said it before, and it couldn't possibly be that hard to repeat.

Oh, but it is.

He loves her. He could say nothing. And let her go. But gods above oh, it would hurt.

And of course, there is everything in between. Which is what they truly are, after all, him, a man with memories and her, a girl gone mad.

He loves her. He could ask her to be his maid and assistant and make her fall again. Gods, how he wants that. He wants her love and her body and her very soul.

He says, "We need not worry ourselves over price just yet, m'dear."

He loves her. So he plays the coward for her once again. Fleeing from this question and fantasy and dark desire and of course, always, his love for her.

She doesn't smile right away. "What if I can't pay?"

"We'll find a way." Gods he hopes it's true.

Belle nods in a way that makes him think she's still rather sharp for three decades behind bars, but she doesn't press the issue. Instead, she leaves the shop, saying she'll be back in the morning, leaving him to his work.

It's only after he's made a few calls and more than a few threats that he realizes two things. The first, he has forgotten to ask her where she's staying and the second he's short a handkerchief.

Rumpelstiltskin would be lying if he said he'd gotten any sleep the previous night, but when Belle steps into the pawn shop midmorning, again in a dress, pink this time, she finds him as put together as ever. "Good morning, dear. If you would be so kind, flip the lock and turn my sign to closed. We've a lot to do today." He gestures for her to follow him into the backroom, where he's straightened up his work table and set another chair across from his own, along with tea service for two.

Belle pauses looking as if she's forgotten a word, but it's on the tip of her tongue. However, when he gestures for her to take the seat across from him, she does so. "Please, sit."

She accepts the cup and saucer he pushes across the table, with a smile. "It's been too long since I've had tea." She inhales, closing her eyes. "I'll have to remember to pick some up from the grocery store tonight."

Gold smiles, thinking of porcelain, and drinks from his own cup.

She takes a sip, but pauses, again searching for that word. "You know how I take my tea?"

Ah, a slip—he would have to be more careful. "Let's just say, I'm rather intuitive."

They stare, and then he's indulged long enough, "Let's see what you've brought me." He extends a hand, taking the stack of files she's brought for him. It's more than he has expected. "The hospital released these to you?"

"No, Emma helped me. Oh gosh, that reminds me." She pulls a slip of paper from her sundress pocket and hands it across the table. "She told me to give you this."

He unfolds it. You're welcome, is written the sheriff's most un-princess-like hand. He grimaces. He was never one to like others knowing his business, but he couldn't quite complain.

"What's it say?"

Gold smiles, "Oh, nothing you need worry about. Just business between the sheriff and myself." He slides on his reading spectacles, much as he'd like not to, but this is no time for squinting, pride be damned, and turns to the files.

She sips quietly, eyes flitting from him to the curio about the shop. He's mid-way through the first file, when he thinks perhaps he ought to have chosen decaffeinated, for his blood's racing knowing exactly what she's been through (needles and handfuls of pills and all, all alone for the whole of it). "Dearie, it slipped my mind yesterday, I wonder, what are your accommodations? With the sheriff, I presume?"

"No, actually, I'm renting from Ruby, house-sitting really, a small place on my own."

"And you find that arrangement agreeable?"

"Very much; I like being on my own. The house is quite pretty, a bit far off, but I don't mind that."

"The cottage off Sycamore?"

She smiles, "Yes, that's the one. It has the loveliest picket fence."

"Yes, I know the place." Of course he knows it.

"Ruby said it was just collecting dust and that her grandmother worried over break-ins. I think, well, I know they were just doing me a favor. I hope to repay them once this is all over."

Add a walk to the diner before dinner to his to-do list. "I am glad to know you're well accommodated." He circles the name of a physician in Boston, who he will look up, but already is sure does not exist. "Do you have a job, dear?"

She tucks a nervous lock behind her ear, "Not, yet. I didn't know if I'd—"

"Need to make a quick exit?"

She laughs, "Yeah, exactly."

"But however are you—"

"Going to pay?

"I was going to say subsisting."

"Oh," she says, surprised. "My friend, the one I mentioned before, he's helping me, at least for now. He's some money saved up from before."

Gold doesn't know exactly how to feel about that. He'd have to think on it. "I've scheduled you an appointment with the good Dr. Hopper for tomorrow at noon. I thought I could take you over to the office personally."

"That's really not necessary."

"My dear, if you have unlawfully been detained, we need not be over cautious. The same personages that have kept you locked away might also try to sabotage our efforts. As your counsel I think it quite necessary. Consider me a witness, if something were to go amiss."

"Yes, I understand. I'll be here a quarter 'til?"


He continues going through her papers. He must say he's surprised; the sheriff dug up quite a bit. Perhaps Regina is getting overconfident. Gold takes off the glasses and closes the manila folder. "I'm pleased to say, that I think the case looks rather positive."

"How so?"

"Well, for instance, the courts were not updated on your condition bi-annually, as is required of a legal guardian. As well as other records show—"

He stops suddenly, when Belle starts pull herself inward, as if she's wishing the ground to swallow her whole.

"I'm sorry, is your father difficult to speak of?"

Suddenly she sits up tall, girding herself to the world and to him. "No, he stopped being my father a long time ago."

Mr. Gold nods, continuing. "As for the power of attorney he retains, I doubt that will prove too difficult to void, once we've proven malpractice and the obvious fact that he was not acting in your best interest. In addition to the fact that your consent to all of this was dubious at best."


"Unclear, extremely so. You are neither a danger to yourself or the general public, so I see no reason why this case isn't going to go our way." He leans forward, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Of course, there is the little matter of why you were detained in the first place. If not for the reason of mental capacity, it would seem that someone wants you locked away, dearie, and badly."

She scoffs.


"You're wondering who wants me locked away. I have a guess."

"Whoever is it?"

"Considering my luck? God, apparently."

He wants to laugh with her; he wants to cry with her. "Well you have my word that not even divine intervention is going to lose us this case."

Together they clean up the teatime, and Mr. Gold walks her to the door. "Until tomorrow, m'dear."

"Yes, see you tomorrow." Then she snaps her fingers, "Goodness I almost forgot again." She pulls his handkerchief from her purse. "I'm so forgetful. Sorry for running off with this yesterday."

He does not take the item. "Keep it."

"Oh no, I couldn't."

"It's no matter, really, and it does after all match your eyes quite nicely." Said eyes smile, and Gold mirrors her, as she pockets the cloth.

"It's all rather," Dr. Hopper, stammers, "suspect, really."

Belle has enchanted the doctor, of course.

Their session has ended, and she's off using the washroom, while the two men discuss her fate—as usual, Gold can't help but think.

"The files, they're just as you said. It's baffling, what with her history, the extreme treatment methods were just not warranted." The fidgeting doctor takes off his glasses, awkwardly, "It's a mystery. I mean, to what end was she kept there?"

To whose end, to be exact, Gold thinks. "So you have no objections to testifying on her behalf?"

"None whatsoever. I mean, I would prescribe a period of counseling. After what she's been through, emotional turmoil and confusion is to be expected. Counseling would help with her readjustment."

"Fine," he nods curtly, "You need not trouble Miss French with the billing. It will be forwarded to my office."

Archie turns his head to the older man, his mouth agape, when the subject in question returns.

She's in yellow again—Gold thinks it's the only color that does her justice—all smiles. "So, am I crazy?"

The men laugh at the unabashed jest. "The good doctor has agreed to testify for us in court, m'dear."

Her eyes light up. "Thank you, Dr. Hopper." She looks for a moment as if she might cry, but then smiles all the brighter, "you don't know what this means."

Archie smiles back, "We'll make sure you don't go back there again, Isabelle. Though, I was just talking with Mr. Gold about the possibility of—"

Gold cuts him off, "Doctor, we have a number of appointments today and must be on our way." Belle looks between the two of them for a moment, but, when the lawyer puts his hand to the small of her back and ushers her toward the door, she goes gladly. At the door, Mr. Gold turns back, "I'll be in touch, Doctor."

The psychiatrist watches the pair leave. The odd couple, he thinks, his mind supplying the apt trope. She's all sunlight and he's… well, he's the antithesis to sunlight, if there ever was one. They take their time walking toward the downtown, back to the pawnshop, Archie assumes, and when she pauses to pick a flower, Gold watches her like a hawk, as if she's about to disappear. He doesn't need a PhD to analyze that look.

Over the next two weeks they spend at least some measure of the day together (and when they are not together he has his eyes and ears watching for any sign of fowl play).

One evening they take dinner together at the diner. When her fork freezes mid-bite, he immediately knows it was a mistake to take her out in public. Gold turns to the door and sees Moe French standing in the doorway, looking all too healthy and capable, in his professional opinion.

He smiles and nods at the florist, who immediately exits the diner. "I assume you already know it would be unwise to speak with your father prior to the court case?" He asks turning back to face her.

Belle eyes him, "You don't have to worry about me talking to my father."

She still calls him father. Wonders never cease.

Gold continues to eat, but she does not. She's still watching him. "Emma told me what you did to him."

"Did she now." It's not a question.

"What made you so angry?"

He sighs, setting down his fork. Gold takes his time with this answer, dabbing his mouth with the napkin. "He took something irreplaceable."

"So it was what he took?"

Gold chuckles, motioning with a deft hand for the bill. "As you know, Miss French, I'm a lawyer, and possession, as they say, is nine-tenths of the law."

He pays silently, but he can feel her bristle. "You didn't answer my question."

"No, but again—"

"I know. I know. You're a lawyer."

After the run in with her father, they keep to the office and his home, strangely enough.

They've returned to his house after another day with the cricket, going over again and again the possible lines of questioning and the notes on her initial psychiatric analysis.

Gold is clearing away the notes and law tomes from his sitting room table for tea, when he hears her scream.

By the time he makes it to the kitchen she's facing away from him, perfectly normal, pouring steaming water from the kettle into his silver teapot. "What the bloody well happened?"

"Nothing. Sorry." Belle turns smiling, "I heard a noise. Startled myself. That's all."

He eyes her with suspicion. "Don't lie to me."

She shakes her head—you oughtn't play poker or cast lots, dear. "Really, it was nothing." She walks past with the tea, but he blocks her path with his cane.

"I'm not one to repeat myself. I'll say it again kindly only once: do not lie to me."

Then Belle gets angry. She kicks the offending item out from in front of her. "Just let it lie, alright!"

She traipses to the sitting room while Rumpelstiltskin thinks of the last time she'd left him in anger.

"Water's getting cold, or would you rather sulk a bit more?"

That rouses him. He limps in, takes a seat and allows her to serve him. "Well that little outburst certainly explains a bit more about your incarceration," he says, because she's made him not angry, per say, but irked comes close.

Belles sits and spoons in a generous amount of sugar into her own glass. "What is that supposed to mean?" she asks, voice even.

"Who knew you were such a spitfire? It explains the copious amount of sedatives required to keep you under lock and key." It's callous, but then, so is he.

The words run off her like water. "Oh hush. Drink your tea."

Two days later, he takes out his chipped cup and instantly notices that its crack has deepened, the fault line reaching a little farther down. At first he thinks Regina, but it couldn't have been. He would have noticed before now.

Gold puts the cup away; he must have been careless with the washing last time. That must be it. Wouldn't happen again.

Without a steady job, though she does the odd errand for the sheriff or the diner, Belle has a lot of time on her hands. She spends much of it hanging about in the pawnshop.

It's a strange and dark place, but she hardly remembers ever feeling safer. There is one place where she felt that safe, but that's not currently an option.

She's in the backroom curled in an armchair that appeared a few days ago, after, strangely enough, she'd fallen asleep on the step stool she'd used for reading and woken up with a rather stiff neck. She's brought a number of borrowed novels with her in a rucksack, all on loan from Mary Margaret. So intently is she reading that she doesn't even hear Mr. Gold approach.

"You read quite a lot, it appears."

Belle looks up; he's standing right in front of her chair. "Yes, I do. I love reading."

"What is it about the pastime, that you enjoy so, dear?"

"When I read," Belle sighs, slipping a hand between the covers to hold her place, but the actions are habit, for she's watching him. "When I read, I forget," she looks away to the ceiling rafters. "I forget everything that's happened, and I can be happy and free for just a few hours."

"Ah, escapism."

"Yeah, pretty cowardly, I know."

"It is not cowardice to know your limits. You may spend a few hours letting your mind escape its confines, but you always return to reality."

"Don't sugarcoat my actions, Mr. Gold. I know better."

"I am the least likely person to sugarcoat, as you say. Don't be fooled, Miss French. I know cowards, and you are most certainly not a coward."

He wishes then for the bell to ring and summon him to the front, giving him an easy exit from this too-close discussion. However no such luck is to be had. So he turns and leaves her to her stories, because he remembers just who is the coward between the two of them.

The night before the court date, he walks her home from his office—can't be too careful, wouldn't want to come all this way, only to have you absconded with on the eve of your freedom.

It's dusky, and the fireflies dance once they get away from downtown.

As they approach her cottage, he takes in the sycamores that line the way, for which the street's named. They'd a babe's rhyme for this, long, long ago.

Sycamores planted along the street; fairies n'child-thieves ne'ern't meet...

Gold wishes sycamore trees were all it takes. "Are you nervous for tomorrow?"

She's wearing his jacket, because the temperature has dropped with the sun, and past the last of the shops he'd noticed her shivering. "A bit, yes."

"Don't be afraid." They stop at the front gate to the picket fence she loves so. "I'll see to it that you are protected," This time.

Belle smiles, suddenly laughing. She puts a hand to her forehead, "What did Emma call it?" She snaps suddenly, "A 'benefactor.' Is that it, Mr. Gold," Now she's teasing him. "Are you offering to be my benefactor, as well?"

"Something of that nature." He smiles, but now his mind is reeling that she's talked to others about him. "Yes, I suppose, you could say benefactor, if you will."

She slips off the jacket and hands it out to him, but when Gold goes to take it, she does not let go, "And what else could I will of you as my benefactor?"

Now it's his turn to laugh. "Now, now, best to tread lightly on my good charity."

She relinquishes the jacket. "Oh yes, if your reputation is anything to be believed, I know you to be ever so charitable." She giggles at her quip and plays with the latch on the gate. She doesn't look at him when she asks, "Why are you helping me?"

He sighs and decides upon honesty with her for once in his life. "Because you deserve better."

At that, she looks at him.

Coward as always, he turns his head away, back in the direction of downtown. "We have a big day tomorrow; I should let you get some rest." Gold begins to walk away, but her voice stops him.

"You don't have to go, you know. You could come in. Have some tea, maybe?"

"I'd better not."

"I've been watching you. I'm the only person you ever actually talk to, aren't you lonely?"

We've been down this road dear and it doesn't end well, love. No sycamores, only yews and cyclamen.

"Don't worry your head over that. We've bigger problems to solve."

She steps through the gate, and he knows that she is sad, but then he'd only make her sadder, if given the time. "Good night, Mr. Gold."

"Good night, Belle."

The courtroom goes according to plan. Dr. Hopper testifies, and paperwork has all been tracked down, tagged for proper notice, ears been gently reminded that if the mayor has made an offer, he'll double it. So when the judge announces the sentence, with the sheriff present in the audience, just to ensure something resembling fair play, Mr. Gold is not surprised to hear that they've won.

The he hears nothing, because she's thrown her arms about his neck and he's indulging, holding her about the waist just as tightly.

He holds her until her father walks past, at least having the decency to look ashamed of himself.

When the queen leaves, she nods—an acknowledgement of a victory—but her eyes speak of the next battle.

I'll die to keep her safe, and I'll write that vow in your lifeblood, dearie.

Then, now that it's finally safe, he lets her go. He watches as she runs to embrace her friends. The Ms. Swan and Ms. Blanchard, even the wolf-girl came today. He's glad to see her in good hands.

"Mr. Gold, we're all going to the diner to celebrate, come on." She smiles, and he realizes it's his queue to exit. He has much to do, of course, threats for Regina to plan, wards to place about her little cottage, holes to dig, ruminations to stew upon in his den of his deceptively, pink house—a house full of stairs, but of course he's always been a masochist.

"You'll have to forgive an old man, m'dear, I have a number of appointments to make before I call it an early night."

Belle's face falls and just that, the very fact that she'll miss his company makes it all a bit more tolerable. "No, but you must come with us."

He should hurt her; make it easier on them both, but he can't quite form the words. Gold settles on, "I'm sorry. Old souls have even older habits."

She smiles sadly at him. "It's your favorite; Blackberry cobbler day." She starts to go, but turns back squeezing his hand, there's no smile on her face, "You'll regret it."

Oh yes. Every minute. Every life.

Ruby comes up and takes her friend by the wrist, sparing a nervous glance Gold's way, "Come on, let's go!"

"Go on, dearie."

And she does.

When he goes home that night, he finds a to-go container with desert on his front porch. It's sweet as always, but sours in his belly; he does not call to offer thanks.

She gets a job. She sees the fine doctor, who gives him a psychoanalysis he certainly did not pay for every time he drops off the check for her bills.

He misses her so very much. Gold certainly didn't need the cricket to tell him that.

He watches her run around town with the Ruby girl and the others, including her mentally unstable friend who Gold remembers (and remembers hating). They have hats in the same hue. The queen was at least in the right to get rid of that one.

So life returns. He is still in power and meddling and oh, about twelve steps ahead of her fucking highness, but he's heavier, and he does not use his chipped cup every evening as he once did. Wouldn't want to break it any further, after all.

He watches her pass the shop, going ever so slowly; he could catch her if he wanted to, even with the limp. He wonders if she knows that. And on Wednesdays he comes home to desert on his porch.

He dreads it; he dreads it stopping.

It's a Saturday, and he's about to go and terrorize the convent over the renewing of their lease contract, when his phone rings. "Hello."

"Mr. Gold," It's her, but her voice. He's never heard this.

"What is it? Are you hurt? What's wrong?" The words are fast and harried.

"I—I'm fine. I didn't know what else to do, and I know you probably don't want a thing to do with me, but," and then she sobs, once, twice, three time, "but I had to call you. I was out and, oh god, I don't know how to say it."

"Dear, it's alright. Calm down. Where were you?"

"I was gardening and, and, you're not even going to believe me." She's crying again, though with less an intensity. "I have no idea how to even say it."

Oh damn, he thinks. She 's found one of Regina's bloody hearts and she's scared half to death. "I'll be right there."

Mr. Gold drives his Cadillac over, making it there a touch over ten minutes' time. He may have gently ignored a stop sign. Or two. He passes the lovely picket fence to the cottage—the one she now rents for free from Granny, who leases it from him for free. She's given the fence a fresh coat of white wash, he notices. As Gold walks up to the door, he sees three-fourths a row of bushes, alternating hyacinth and peony. A fourth the holes remain empty, her tools scattered about the yard.

He walks in through the unlocked door, a dark specter in her brightly colored little home. "Belle?"

He finds her leaning over the sink in the kitchen. Her shoulders are hunched. He's only seen her this way once, the third day at the castle, when he'd found her crying before breakfast.

Gold stands for a moment, but when she doesn't turn, because surely she heard the cane and his pronounced limp, he enters, going immediately for the kettle on the stove. He finds it cold but over half full. He turns on the gas fire and sets the kettle down to reheat. Only then does he turn to her. "Dearie, I think you should sit down."

"I don't need to sit, but you might."

"If you stand, I stand."

She shrugs.

"Well, where is the item that's got you in this state?" he expects her to point him to the garden.

Instead she doesn't move, only says, "You'll think I'm crazy." Still she stands stock-still. "Then I'll be all alone again."

"Belle, look at me. I will never think you mad."

She nods biting her (perfect) lip. Then, Belle pulls a muddy, wooden box from the stainless steal sink.

However, the box is not one of Regina's.

"I found this and I think—no, I know it's yours."

It's the box in which he hid the knife. It's the box he hasn't laid eyes on for nigh on thirty years. It's the box that could destroy him.

With a less than steady hand he takes it, but does not open the lid. "Did you look inside?"

She nods. "Yes but I didn't need to."

And he wonders, for the briefest of seconds, if she's already stolen the knife out the box and is just trying to find a way to tell him.

"I remembered it, from before." Then, it's Belle's turn to wait. She waits for him to call her crazy. He doesn't. Instead he blinks, astonished.

Good gods she remembers.

He's speechless and dry in the mouth. "What, what else?"

Belle's head snaps to him, "You believe me?" He says nothing, and a muddied hand goes to her forehead, "You knew." The kettle begins to scream, "You knew all along." She looks away, but then seemingly is pulled back to his eyes, "You knew, and you didn't tell me."

"I didn't think you remembered." Rumpelstiltskin waits, but when she doesn't begin shouting, he adds, "How much do you recall?"

"Almost everything, I think."

He sets the box down on the kitchen table; perhaps he should have taken her suggestion and sat. "And do you hate me now?"

Belle looks at him with a great sadness. "No. How could I?"

He blinks, and wonders if this is what that mermaid had felt when she'd finally died to sprout wings.

Belle watches him, as she finally lets go of the sink covered in potting soil, her knuckles white against the dried mud. Hesitantly, she walks to him and touches his face. "I—"

But then he cuts her off.

He cuts her off with a kiss. He takes her face in both his hands; the cane clatters to the floor. Neither hears it, nor the kettle.

The kiss ends at exactly the right time—for they've both been bruised in this life and ought to take it slow as both well know. She's gotten dirt all over his suit; he doesn't care. Belle takes his jacket to the laundry room, saying she will clean it for him.

So in only a vest, tie and shirt he leaves (after they've taken tea which they serve together, for she has to clean up the gardening, and he doesn't know exactly where she keeps her sugar and Earl Grey. It's at this sitting that she censures him on not telling her the truth. "Don't treat me like the cup. I'm not that breakable." Gold smiles, understanding the chip and the scream, "I know you're not, dearie").

She stops him in the entryway, and briefly he thinks, that didn't last long, and that she already regrets it all.

"You forgot, your—you know."

And Rumpelstiltskin thinks he might just die right then and there.

He pushes her outstretched hand (and the box with all its contents) back toward her chest. "No, I didn't; it's where it ought to be."

She opens her mouth to protest but then shuts it and nods, somber.

Belle knows the meaning of what he's doing and with fear and trembling (but bravery too) she crosses her other arm over the arm and box and chest and heart. It's a responsibility she will wield with great care.

"I'll be careful—" She's never been one to hold in her words, but then, her face breaks into a smile. "I'll be careful with your jacket. I know how particular you are with your laundry."

Gold smiles and chuckles. "I have no doubt you will perform perfectly."

Then, he leaves in the comfort known by all those who have found what they've long searched for, and that he'll see her for dinner that night.

A/N: Ever since the lawyer spoiler came out, I've been dying to write this. It's been on my computer about a month. This might be my favorite of all my Rumbelle. Some notes…
- Belle's cottage, think Miss Honey's in Matilda.
- Sycamore: I found this on a tree symbolism blog, I've long since lost the URL to: "Sycamore is the largest of the European maples and was introduced into Britain in the Middle Ages. It is a plain but attractive timber with a white to cream color, which darkens to a gold color over time. Traditionally in Scotland, fine boxes for trinkets were made from sycamore wood."
- Peony: for remembrance and healing; used in the Middle Ages as medication for lunatics.
- Hyacinth: for constance and sincerity.
- Yew: death and rebirth, often used in dagger handles.
- Cyclamen for goodbye and resignation