Disclaimer: I do not claim any ownership of OUAT. I'm just having some fun with the characters.
AN: It has been forever since I posted anything. It's been forever since I wrote anything actually and to get me back into things I asked a friend for a show/ship/character (she chose Rumplestiltskin/Belle) and I snagged a random prompt from a TVD ficathon to use for them. (Should anyone care the prompt was "If it makes you less sad, we'll start talking again. You can tell me how vile I already know that I am.")
He doesn't think about her. He doesn't. It isn't his fault at all that she's touched every single thing in his home and nothing short of a massive remodel - he's thinking tearing it all down, crushing the stones into dust, scattering the dust in a faraway desert, and rebuilding in one of Jefferson's other worlds just might do it - will keep him from remembering her. And remembering someone is not the same as thinking about them. It's involuntary. Everyone who's ever done something utterly embarrassing knows that.
He does dream about her though.
He's very old, even by fairy tale standards, and all that age has given his subconscious ample time to grow and mature into something worse than any grasshopper. It likes to sneak up on him and he can't even be annoyed because he knows it's just him finally sneaking up on himself and doesn't he just deserve it?
This is why twenty days, eight hours, and thirty-seven minutes (not that he's keeping track) after Belle leaves, Rumplestiltskin lays down in his bed, closes his eyes, and abruptly opens them to a tavern. It's a tavern he knows, the one from his hometown. Every detail is just as he remembers it, from the giant rat's head mounted on the wall to young, beautiful Daisy tending bar. Daisy, who's been dead and rotting in her grave since before Belle was born. (He doesn't know where the rat's head's got to and doesn't particularly care.) This only really matters because amidst all this nostalgia, at a table just out of the light from the fire, sits Belle.
He does not want to see her. Even if things were different, if he were just a man and she - well, he wouldn't have her any different - he can't imagine casually running into her in the local tavern after the way they parted, the way they spoke to one another. It would be absolutely inappropriate for him to go over there.
And, this being a dream, the moment he thinks it, it happens. Before he can blink (so to speak) he's crossed the room and is standing before her.
Her head is bowed and agonizing minutes pass while he waits for her to notice him. He feels awkward and small and utterly human. The waiting stretches on and on and he finds now that he's here he can't bring himself to move until she does. It's not worse than facing an imminent death-by-ogre, but it's a close second.
Finally he manages a soft clearing of his throat. Her head comes up and his sigh of relief catches in his throat. This is not the woman who hummed away the hours cleaning a monster's castle, always with a smile on her face. Nor is it the woman who, back straight and spirit strong, walked away from everyone she loved and, later, away from a man she thought she loved. Her eyes are red though her cheeks are dry. Her face is wan and her eyes have lost some of their spark. What little light remains in her eyes is a flickering wariness, like a puppy used to being kicked.
"Belle," he says, the word pulled from him like a thorn from a lion's paw. He sinks onto the wooden bench across from her and reaches for her hands. She pulls hers off the table, into her lap. The simple lack of contact is like a slap and it he collects his thoughts slowly.
It comes back to him that this is a dream, that this is not in fact Belle, and nothing that happens here is real. This thought makes it somehow more important that he go on.
"Belle," he says again. This time he means to say it. It's in a tone particular to parents, a strange combination of coaxing and admonishment. He smiles gently. "I know you don't understand. You're young but you'll learn, as you go on in life, that-"
"I think I've learned enough," she says. The wariness has transformed to anger and though she does not rise from her seat he finds himself looking up at her. "Everyone leaves, isn't that it?" There's a strange lilt to her voice, a dip on the soft vowels that he used to hear in promises that turned out to be empty and nursery rhymes sung to their boy. "Your son left you, I left my family, you left me. Or, I suppose I left you, didn't I? So maybe that's it. Everyone leaves Rumplestiltskin. Me, your son, your wife. Even Death skipped you over for better men." She shrugs and the expression on her face is better suited to a Queen. "I guess I should thank you then. Who knows how long I'd have gone on making a fool of myself if you hadn't sent me away."
She leaves. He's left staring at the space where she sat. The fire fades and he's not sure when exactly the dark stretch of wall becomes the dark expanse of his bedroom ceiling. He only knows that the sun rises eventually and a new day begins.
The Queen visits that afternoon.