Belle French stood composed as ever outside the old Gold home, ignoring the bright lights of the ambulance only a few feet away. She still felt numb; still felt the sabre in her hand. She should have been allowed to finish what she started. It was the least that animal deserved. He was still the same vicious man he had been in the Enchanted Forrest. Even when the curse broke and he regained his memories, he still wouldn't face justice. No one cared but her.
The noise of the ambulance starting woke Belle to the scene around her, and she watched as Horder was pushed into the ambulance on a gurney. Despite their attempts to patch him up, he would still seek greater medical attention. Good.
As the ambulance and Horder pulled away, the Saviour joined her by her car. "Well you didn't manage to cause too much blood loss. That's something at least."
"Nothing, French?" Belle looked up at the Sheriff's tone. To her credit, she seemed a little afraid of her after what she had witnessed tonight. She had warned her not to underestimate her. But nobody expected such violence from the quiet ones. "You attacked the guy with a sword; put a noose around his neck! I mean what did he even do? Steal a few books?"
Belle pulled her lips back in a grimace. "What can I say, Sherriff? I am a book lover."
The Saviour ignored her attempts at downplaying the situation. "You don't do all this for a book. Maybe send out Mister Madison to threaten him, but not this. In there you were talking about how he hurt him, how he took him from you?" There was almost something akin to sympathy in the Sheriff's eyes but Belle could not stand it. She could not tolerate her pity. "Who was he? What did Horder do to him? You know if someone needs help then maybe I can help?"
Belle felt like laughing. When Horder had committed his crimes Emma hadn't even been conceived. What was left of her beloved spinner rotted in their world that was. This was her pain, her fight. She required no sympathy from Emma Swan, nor her help in investigating matters that were no more than forged files and empty graves. "I think you heard that wrong, Sheriff."
The sympathy dropped from her face. "You really don't want to play ball, huh?"
Another pained smile. "We're done, Sheriff. Now if you'll excuse me, it has been a very long day."
Belle made an attempt to leave but Emma grabbed her hand and pushed it into a pair of handcuffs. The silver felt tight around her wrists. "You wanted to prove yourself a threat? Well congratulations, you've proven yourself. Now you get to face the consequences."
She had to suffer the humiliation of being forced into the back of the Sheriff's car. She then watched as the inhabitants of the street slowly left their houses to gossip about her arrest. It would do well for Emma's reputation if she continued to stand up to her, and the Mayor. They would flock to her, stand by her. Belle, however, wasn't so keen on returning to a cell.
All magic came with a price. It seemed vengeance did too.
Rumpelstiltskin waited in the chamber that had once been his bedroom and now seemed would be his prison cell. He'd curled up at the head of the bed, wrapping his arms around his legs. He'd never encountered magic like that before, magic intended to hurt. He understood that she was angry and that she feared he was trying to make her weak. But he loved her; he wanted a life with her. Even if it was to just go back to a time where he was her groundskeeper and she was his mistress. Anything was better than this.
She had come in only once since she had banished him to his room. She had deposited her book, The Princess and the Weaver, on the end of his bed and then retreated back into her castle. She looked like she had been crying. He wanted to comfort her, to tell her that everything was alright and that he loved her deeply. But he couldn't find the words, or the courage to leave the room to find her.
Just as dawn was breaking, the door to his chamber opened. Belle stepped in, her face back to its ghostly pallor, a blood red dress covering the bulk of her skin, her hair piled high atop her head. She looked like she had on the battlefield: before they had met, before they had fallen in love. Before everything.
"What happens now?" he asked, looking to her for guidance, for warmth.
But he did not find it in her eyes. "Leave."
"Leave?" he asked, unsure if he had heard her words correctly. She wanted him to go? What about their deal? What about what he felt for her, and what she felt for him? Where they supposed to just ignore that?
Belle looked to the window, not even having the decency to look at him while she broke his heart. He watched her swallow as she spoke again, her composure never truly slipping. "I don't want you anymore darling."
Belle stepped away from the door, her indication that he should leave. Rumpelstiltskin looked at her, tried to will her to look up and meet his eyes. But she did not. Whimpering to himself he slid off the bed and walked past her to the door. He should have left when he had had the chance, before he truly knew how she felt. He could have imagined then that she did not feel the same. Now all he could think about was her kiss, her touch. Her heart.
Outside the room that had been his, Rumpelstiltskin thought about what awaited both of them. His mistress would retreat to her books, retreat behind her mirrors. She would not open her heart again. And he...he would have lost someone else he cared about and once again he would be tormented by the knowledge that he had not fought for them. He couldn't live like that any longer.
Turning on his heel, Rumpelstiltskin walked back into the bed chamber. Belle was still standing there, gazing out at the ocean. She looked up when she heard his footfalls. She was dignified, he granted her that. But she could not control her eyes, which looked as if they were about to water.
"You were making a life for yourself, Belle," Rumpelstiltskin said, standing in front of and standing up to the most powerful being in all the kingdoms. The woman that he loved. "We could have been happy, together. If only you had believed that someone wanted you for you, and not for your beauty or your power. For you."
Her composure didn't slip once. She was like a statue. "That's a lie. What we had was a lie."
Rumpelstiltskin shook his head. Everything he felt for her was true, and honest, and real. "I don't know what happened to you, Belle, or who hurt you. But you're so broken that you refuse any attempts to mend your heart, to even dream that it could be put back together."
She snorted, mocking his words. "Mend me? Fix me? The situation is quite simple, Rumpelstiltskin. It's not that my heart is broken, it's just that you're not worthy of it. A pathetic spinner whose name is synonymous with coward in half the realms? Men have fought wars for my heart. Men much braver and much more handsome. What makes you think I would give it to you?"
Rumpelstiltskin watched the way her hands trembled. He resisted the urge to reach out and hold her. But he knew she would not accept his touch. "You already have, Belle. Don't deny it." It was he who was trembling now, worried every second that she would turn him to stone. But he had never felt so brave. "I may be called a coward from here to the mountains but I came back. For you. But you've made your choice, sweetheart. And you will regret it. And all you'll have is your empty castle, and your bloody books."
She didn't respond, she just continued to look out the window onto the ocean. It was time to go. Swallowing, Rumpelstiltskin left her side. With every step he hoped she would come after him, hold him close. It wasn't until he got to the castle gates with his satchel underneath his arm that he realised she didn't want to come after him. She didn't want him.
"Pastrami?" Belle ignored the Sheriff's attempts at friendliness. She had had her hair pins and her belt removed. She wasn't in the mood to be friends.
"You know I still owe you that favour," Swan muttered through a mouthful of sandwich. "How about a delicious pastrami sandwich? Great way to make you feel at home in that big old prison cell."
Belle was tempted to tell the blonde sitting across from her that her delightful parents had put her in a cell and used to feed her worms and that not having had anything to eat in a reasonably well heated cell was quite a vacation for her. But she decided better of it. "I don't need to be reminded that you owe me a favour, Sheriff Swan. But when that day comes it won't be for half a sandwich." She leant back against the wall of the cell and muttered to herself. "Would be at least for a full sandwich."
Just as Emma finished that half, Regina walked in with Henry by her side. The Mayor smiled at Belle as she entered. She had been wondering if she would turn up to gloat. Belle had honestly expected her earlier.
"Sheriff Swan I'm giving you thirty minutes alone with Henry. Take him out for pie."
Emma left the comfort of her office and observed the looks exchanged between Regina and Belle. One day ago she would have had no issue leaving the two of them alone, but now...now Emma had seen what was hiding beneath the carefully put together appearance of the book owner. Belle could see she was debating what to do. "You want me to leave you alone? With her?"
Regina looked at Belle, smiling all the while. Emma wasn't her focus anymore. She was. "Twenty nine and a half minutes."
The Sheriff looked to her, checking to make sure it was okay to leave her alone. Belle wanted to have this conversation, especially if little Miss Mayor had what she was after. "Bring me back a slice, won't you Sheriff? Pear, if they have it. Never been a big fan of apple."
Emma nodded and escaped with her son as quickly as they could. Then it was just Regina and her once more, like it had been in the Charmings cell all those years ago. One day - not long from now - it wouldn't be her behind bars but Regina. Belle was looking forward to that day.
"You really wanted to talk to me. I'm touched," Belle giggled, watching as Regina's composure slipped just a little. If she thought Belle would beg for her property back, she would be very mistaken. She had never begged.
"This seemed the only way we could."
Belle pointed to the sofa in front of her cot, smiling every second. "Then by all means please sit down."
Regina's face fell completely as she was forced to sit on the arm of the sofa. Belle knew what this was about now: she had been playing too openly of late and Regina had finally put two and two together and come up with the truth. Still, Belle was going to make her work for it. After the hell Regina had put her through stealing her property it was the least she should do. Compared to Horder, she was getting off lightly. "You know when two people have something the other wants; a deal can alwaysbe made. So tell me Regina, do you have what I want?"
Her smile was back. She looked so much like her mother. "Yes."
Belle tried to not let the relief show through in her body; she didn't want to let Regina have that satisfaction. But her book was safe, the only memento she had was safe. Now she just had to wrangle it out of Regina's bony fingers. "I did wonder why Horder was suddenly so interested in petty theft. I take it you had a little word."
The former queen shrugged. "I merely suggested that the strong take from the weak. He seemed rather taken with the idea."
"I'm sure he did. Of course any normal man would take the television set. Not the books."
"Do you even own a television?" Regina asked. She decided not to wait for a response. "Ms French, we used to get along so well. Has it really come down to this?"
Belle wanted her book; she wanted to check it over for any marks, holes, stains. She no longer wanted to play Regina's pathetic little games. Belle had three hundred years on her. Did she honestly think that she was fit to play against her? "It seems it has. Now you know what I want, what is it that you want, darling?"
"I just want you to answer one question, and answer it without your usual bullshit." Regina was smiling again. So much like her mother. It was a shame, really, considering that she used to be so pleasant. "What's your name?"
"It's Ms French," Belle answered, not missing a beat.
Her answer did not appease Regina, and the scowl that mirrored her mother's appeared. Did she really think it would be that simple? "Your real name."
"You can check legal documents, the lease on the shop...all Ms French. Every moment I've been on this Earth, that's been my name."
Regina was leaning in closer now, desperately trying to make her point clear. "But what about moments elsewhere?"
Belle was really making her work for it. "What exactly are you asking me?"
"I think you know. If you want your property, Ms French, and I know you do, then answer the question."
Belle thought for a moment about how best to answer. She leant forward, her hands curling around the bars. Regina was expecting a simple word. But what would Belle LeFay be without her usual bullshit? "In one of the books your puppet took there was a story about a woman who wanted to marry a king. She called on a sorceress to get her wish and it was granted. But then the sorceress returned, as they always do, wanting her payment."
Regina's eyes had gone cold listening to Belle's little story. She may look younger than Regina, more delicate. But she was old and broken and she did not like being played. "How did it end? Oh yes. The woman offered rubbles, riches; but none of these would serve as payment. The sorceress wanted something precious, the woman's first born daughter." Belle reached over and grabbed Regina's chin, yanking her forward. "Who would grow up and cast a curse and get outsmarted by the bookshop owner. Don't mess with The LeFay. You will regret it."
Belle let Regina fall back to the sofa, shaken by Belle's rough approach. The chains of this world were gone; the remnants of the Mayor and the bookshop owner disappeared. The LeFay and the Queen remained. Giants in a matchbox. "Now, Regina, give me back what's mine. Then I can return to counting the ceiling tiles, and you can return to your administrative throne."
With a smile that was more a grimace, Regina put her hand into her bag and retrieved the book. The Princess and the Weaver. Seeing it made Belle want to cry. If she or Horder had even pressed down a corner of a page she would hurt them both. "Considering how many books you have in your possession, it seems strange you hold so much sentiment for that one. Good story, I assume?"
Belle turned immediately to the tea stained pages where the weaver first met the princess. Biting the inside of her mouth, she stopped anymore emotion showing. They were finished for now. She looked back up at Regina, the book safely put behind her. "Well now that's all sorted out, we can get back to normal. You trying so hard to find your happy ever after and me pulling everyone's strings. Don't fool yourself into thinking it's the other way around."
Instead of hissing a retort, Regina just smiled at her. "We shall see."
There was something behind that smile, something that Belle did not like. But knowing Regina, Belle would find out before long. For now though she did not care for Regina, or this tiny town. All she cared about was her book, and her spinner.
Reaching behind herself, alone at last, she pulled the book into her lap and opened the first page.
Belle was in her library, putting back another shelf of books. Her library had been decimated after that night with Rumpelstiltskin and it had been hard to step into this space and repair the damage. But she had finally summoned up the courage to do so. She could fix the library with magic of course, but there was something therapeutic about putting each book back on its shelf, repairing each book in kind. Her father had created this library for her, the least she could do was put it back by hand.
Her favourite book, the one she adored more than any other, lay next to a tea tray set for two.
In the distance she could hear the doors opening, could hear someone come through her castle. She didn't get her hopes up, didn't dare run to him like she had the night he returned. Just stood and placed book after book on her shelf. Eventually the library doors opened and Regina came swanning in, acting as if she still resided in this castle.
"Flimsy locks, Belle dear. Anyone could walk in."
Belle didn't lift her head from the shelves she was rearranging, just kept placing book after book on the wood. She didn't want to play Regina's games. She had already had enough of that woman - of that family - for one lifetime. When she didn't answer, Regina decided to help herself to tea that was not set for her.
"I need your assistance with something. What do you know about mermaids?" Regina asked, pouring the tea in one of Belle's finest china cups.
"Go visit another library. Mine's closed today."
Regina curled up on the chaise beside the tea, acting the part of the wounded friend. But they had never been friends. "Oh Belle, are you upset with me? What could I possibly have done this time?"
Belle snorted and turned around to face her former apprentice. Regina had made herself comfortable in her home, in the seat she had drunk tea with Rumpelstiltskin, in the room where she had mended and broken her heart in minutes. She tainted this room. "Your attempt to play with my toys didn't work, Regina. You can keep up these pathetic attempts all you like, but darling if your mother was unable to topple me then you certainly will not."
The mention of Cora threw Regina off but she soon recovered herself. When you were a Queen, you could not lose face. "Oh Belle dear, is this about that man I met on the road?" She giggled, putting her tea cup down beside the book. "What was his name? Spindleshanks? Hobblefoot?"
Belle returned to filling her shelves on plant life, her fingers trembling as she put the books away."Rumpelstiltskin."
There was a pause. "Right. Well don't worry dear; I had nothing to do with that tragedy."
Her hand on the book about pumpkins stilled and Belle turned to face Regina, hating the glint in her eye. She was enjoying this; she was enjoying playing with her. Belle knew that she shouldn't give in but she had to know. She had to. "What tragedy?"
Regina picked up the tea cup again and raised it to her lips, that glint still there. "I can't believe you don't know. Well, after your spinner left here, he went back to his little village. The Ogre War killed many and a lot of the townsfolk blame you for not getting there quickly enough. So because of his...association with you, nobody would talk to him. Nobody would buy his wool; nobody would give him anything to eat. He didn't even have a bed to sleep in."
Belle swallowed. She would find him; she would take him home, this home. She could make him comfortable and happy and maybe once the curse was completed they could be happy together. Like they should have been. "Does he...does he need a place to stay?" Belle asked, hating the emotion her voice betrayed. But she hated the idea of him hurting because of her even more. He was good and kind and he should be loved more than anyone in the world. Not reduced to starving in the cold.
But instead of offering details, Regina just laughed. "The black soldiers found him. Their Captain, Horder, had been looking for him for quite some time. Your spinner was a deserter in the last Ogre War and they didn't take too kindly to that. They played with him, tortured him. Eventually they hung him from a tree."
Belle felt tears welling up in the corner of her eyes. She could not lose face like this. Not in front of Regina. "You're lying." He couldn't be dead. She would have felt it. She would have known in her heart that he was gone. Wouldn't she?"
"Am I, dear?"
The door to the library opened in a blink and Belle moved from her shelves to stand by the door. It was time for Regina to leave. "We're done."
"Fine. I have other people to see." Regina slammed her tea cup down on the table and walked over to where Belle was waiting by the doors. She smiled at her as she passed, taking in the sad state of her library. "Place is in a dreadful state, Belle. You should find some new help."
With one last smile, she walked out of Belle's library and within seconds she could feel the magic of her disappearance. Suddenly it was just Belle alone again. She walked over to the small table and picked up the book. Belle opened it to the tea stained pages, reading once more the first meeting between the princess and the weaver. Her tears dripped heavily from her eyes, joining the marks on the page.
He couldn't be gone. He couldn't be. He was going to come through that door and she was going to apologise and everything would be okay. They would be together. Together forever.
Taking the book, Belle stormed out of her library, no longer wanting to remain there. The doors locked behind her, sealing it shut. Outside she wept, still clinging to her book. The only thing she had left of him.
Regina Mills walked through the waiting room of Storybrooke General, not making eye contact with anyone. She had a board meeting in half an hour so she was expected within the premises. But instead of going upstairs she walked over to a door tucked away in the corner, entering the code automatically. Out of the corner of her eye Regina noticed the battered and bloody form of Jeremy Horder but she didn't pay him any attention. He had served his purpose.
The basement steps were cold as usual, and the nurse was in her usual post. With a flourish, Regina presented her a red rose. Today was a good day and she was determined to celebrate it. "For you."
The nurse took it from her hand. "Pretty."
"Well I know how hard you work." Regina turned her attention to the corridor to her left. It was even colder down there. "Has anyone been to see him?"
The nurse shook her head. "No ma'am. No one ever goes to see him."
Grinning, Regina headed down that dark, dank corridor. She walked past the janitor, walked past cell after cell until she found the one she was after. There was a small viewing panel at the top of the door, and she pulled that open to look inside.
The occupant of the tiny cell was huddled in one corner, white hospital robes hanging off of him. His hair was greasy and lank, clinging to his face. When he heard the opening of the panel, his eyes immediately sought the sound. His face was pale but his eyes were still bright. The cell hadn't completely broken him.
"Oh please, please! Where's my boy? Have you seen him? I don't know where he is. Do you know where my boy is?"
He reached for the panel, reached out for someone to help him. But Regina just closed it and walked away. Soon. Soon it would be Belle searching for her happy ending, and indeed she would get it. Her spinner would remember just long enough for him to die in her arms. Love would be Belle's undoing, just as it had been hers.
After all, power always came with a price.