Calonari prompted this picture
This is a Rumbelle AU, which is kind of a Skin Deep/The Price of Gold mash-up, where Belle trades away an unborn child to Rumpelstiltskin in return for her freedom.
Rabbits on the Run
He appears in a shower of gold and stardust. Truth be told, it's one of his grander, more impressive entrances.
The woman in the corner looks up. Well, Rumpelstiltskin would like to call her a woman. She is more like the dirty, haggard shell of what was probably once a very beautiful girl.
She can't be older than twenty-five, but she looks about fifty.
Lady Belle of the Marchlands, the daughter of Sir Maurice. Imprisoned in shame for her illicit affair with a lower knight of her father's court. He knows everything about her, and yet her state still shocks him to his bones.
"You called for me, dearie?" he makes a flamboyant gesture, expresses his triumph. He can always sense the most desperate of the people who call him.
She will accept any terms he offers.
"Yes." She croaks, and tries to move, but she's curled in a little ball in the farthest corner of the tower, and it appears that the stones are all that holds her in one piece, "I did."
"Hmmm…" he eyes her with obvious greed, and not a little bit of disdain. He was once like her, and he knows that emptiness, the wretched hunger in her ice-blue eyes. She believes that magic will solve all of her problems, and that he will provide such assistance.
One day, he'll find someone strong enough to resist, to work their own way out of their own damn mess.
Admittedly, her situation does look fairly hopeless.
He dances across the room to her, kneels before her so his face is level with hers.
"What would you ask of me?"
"I want…" she coughs into her palm, and he hides his alarm when there is blood on her hands, "I want to go."
"Go where? Be specific, now, dearie." But he's a little gentler, a little calmer, because this isn't a grasping peasant wishing to rise above her station, or a King in need of an heir: this is a starving, sick, and dying woman barely out of childhood.
"And what will you pay me, for this service?"
"What's your price?"
"I need something precious, something… special." He sounds out the last word, hisses it into her face. The fear in her eyes is beautiful and awful.
"I don't have anything in the world."
But that's not true. He doesn't know if she knows, but she has something infinitely precious, something deeply and wholly special, which many would ask her to give up without reward.
"You're pregnant, dearie, did you know that?"
And of all the things for her to do, the wretched thing smiles, "Of course. Why do you think that I'm here?"
"Then you have something of value to give, don't you? In payment?"
He's asked this question to a million desperate and grasping women. And all have winced and shuddered, as she does, all have cowered before him as he frightens them. And all have acquiesced; all have given him the one thing that they should have only clutched tighter with the threat of it being taken.
She will agree. If only to save her own worthless little life, she will agree.
"My baby needs a mother." She states, quietly, and oh, there's strength in her. There's some iron in her spine yet.
"Yes, she does; but you, dearie, need more than anything to breathe. Don't you?"
"Yes…" she exhales, and her breath is rancid and sickly. She swallows, and Rumpelstiltskin can see the gleam in her eyes as she imagines that one essential human need, freedom. "My baby will have everything she needs?"
"You have my word." He makes a little bow, head tilted down, then grins up at her, all pointed teeth and rotten menace.
"Words are ashes. Write it down." She croaks, and he can feel her slipping away from him. But he wants the deal, and the baby will die with the mother, so he takes her hand and sends a trickle of magic into her, to wake her from her stupor.
He conjures a pen and parchment from thin air, their deal spelt out in black and white. Her feverish eyes devour the terms, the conditions: every word they've spoken since he arrived.
And she signs it.
And she smiles, like a mad woman, like a demon.
He wants to throttle her, to press his fingers into her jugular vein and save the child from the burden of such parentage. This woman who would abandon her child for one more breath of clean air, and who does so with a gleaming, beaming smile.
But he made this deal, and he tested her to this point, and this is the way that the game is played.
Rumpelstiltskin was a father, once upon a time. He gave everything he had for one more moment with his son. He would have died rather than give up Bae, but that is something this rotten creature could never understand.
He swallows down his murderous, sickening anger and snaps his fingers. They both vanish, and he watches through the looking glass by his wheel as she stumbles through the forest of the Northlands to a village, as she finds sanctuary in a convent.
He wonders if she'll dismiss it, as so many have, as the vision of a woman on the brink, as a fever dream. Perhaps she'll wake alive and safe, and believe herself rescued by a handsome, silent protector.
But no one could call this sickly green-gold skin beautiful, and silence is a virtue denied to demons.
All Isobel can do is run.
It's all she's good for, really, running and hiding in dark corners.
She's brave enough to make escapes: she doesn't fear the unknown. When something makes her life unbearable, she changes it. She doesn't worry about what comes next, she isn't afraid that she won't make it, that she can't hack it on her own. And this is the fact she clings to, as her feet slam against the pavement, and the dawn starts to break, and she is nowhere.
She hasn't stopped running since the day she ran screaming from the hospital, terrified by her mother's wasted body.
She ran from the bullies in the schoolyard, when they jeered at her glasses and books, when they pulled her hair.
She ran from her father, when he spat on her and threatened her lover.
And now, she runs from the love that turned on her, who became jealous and held her too tightly, tried to break her so she couldn't get away.
It's harder, these days, because she feels like she's running for two.
But now, she thinks, now she's finally found sanctuary. When she arrives on the convent doorstep, and the Mother Superior ushers her inside. When she devoutly prays every night, as her mother had, as she hasn't since she was a small child, and the nuns take pity on her.
When Sister Astrid makes room for her in the refectory, and talks her through the steps to taking Holy Orders.
And Isobel isn't a religious fanatic, nor disciplined enough to enjoy a life of celibate silence. But she's been running for so long, and she's come so far, and here she is in this safe, closed little world of women: women who smile at her at dinner, who bless her in communion, who accept her as one of their own.
So she keeps her mouth shut when rebellious thoughts slip into her mind, and says the Lord's Prayer at sunrise, and bows her head when the Mother Superior says grace before her meals.
Isobel's such a skinny thing that no one notices when, as weeks turn to months, she starts to fill out.
She'd come to them that early morning with bruises on her face, starving and desperate. It makes sense that, with security and friendship, decent meals every night and long hours of sleep, she would put on some weight.
She has a glow in her cheeks, starts to show her emotions more on the surface. Sister Astrid is amazed when – in the middle of a rather emotive reading from the Book of Matthew – the usually quiet and reserved girl begins to weep openly.
But the months wear on, and the Mother Superior becomes restless that Isobel isn't showing signs of leaving, finding someplace of her own. But she has nowhere else to go – the idea of leaving Storybrooke is unheard of – and she likes it here, in the peace and quiet of the convent.
She starts to drop hints about trying to join the community, take her Holy Vows and stay here forever.
Because all Isobel has ever done is run and hide, and this is the safest, darkest, warmest hiding place she's ever found.
Astrid is worried when she falls ill, starts to throw up in the mornings and is put off her food. But it's not food poisoning, and she has no other symptoms, and the Mother Superior is looking at her sideways, disapprovingly. Isobel's urge to run starts to pump in her veins once more.
That's the look her father gave her, when he'd caught her and George together. That's the look George himself wore, when she had innocently flirted with a guy in Granny's and he dragged her out by her arm.
As he slapped her face in their tiny, cramped apartment, as he accused her of sleeping around, declared her a slut and a whore.
That look makes her sick to her stomach.
And because she can barely hold anything down, these days, she makes a dash for the bathroom.
It is in that stall that Isobel's mind catches up with her body. And she cries, tears streaming down her face and onto smooth porcelain.
For the life she cannot give this small and fragile thing. For the life she should have had, the way this should have happened, that will never happen now.
Perhaps she's known all along. Perhaps that's why she finally left George, and ran so desperately, and why her every movement suddenly feels so weighty, so heavy with importance. There is a child inside her, breathing her air: the blood of her blood.
She was running for the both of them.
She doesn't even consider getting rid of the baby; but not because she's surrounded by Catholic nuns, or due any particular view on the idea as a concept. She keeps it because here is the thing she cannot run from, the person who has to love her, to give her a chance. Here is the person she has to love unconditionally, and without restraint.
And she does. She feels the child kick beneath her trembling palm, and for the first time since her mama died, she doesn't feel at all alone.
Astrid tries to convince the Mother Superior to allow her to stay, but it's no use. Rules are rules. There are to be no children in the convent, and no mothers with dependents. She is allowed to stay until the baby comes, for the sake of her health and the child's. And then another solution must be reached.
Now she's back to running, running for two.
Gold really, really hates nuns.
They're fairies in disguise, and fairies were never his friends. Even when they had worn sparkly approximations of ball gowns and granted wishes, they had been self-righteous and delusional.
At least, he thinks, the new robes of black and white suit their disposition better.
Fairies were convinced that magic was a tool for good, a life giving force. And who knew better the folly of that than the Dark One? Magic takes everything; magic steals away the very goodness that the Blue Fairy tried so hard to protect.
The same Blue Fairy who stands before him right now, a straight-backed, dark robed vision of cleanliness and order in his chaotic dragon's den.
She has a look on her face like she's smelt something foul, all scrunched up nose and drawn eyebrows. He resists the urge to giggle like his old manic self: having a fairy enter the lair of a monster is always an amusing sight.
This woman helped to send him to prison, once upon a time.
He never got around to thanking her for that.
"Mother Superior," he smirks, "Well, whatever can I do for you today?"
Magic is a funny thing, and this Curse is a doozy. He knows – of course he knows – why she's here. She's here to deliver him his due. She's here to, unknowingly, honour a bargain made long ago, in another world.
She's here to shop in Sir Maurice's starved, sickly and pregnant daughter, and her unwanted child.
They make their bargain, and beneath the white paper and word-processed agreement, 'adoption' and 'legally binding' and 'sound mind and body', lies something else. Under there is a contract signed in ancient ink on creamy parchment. Under there is magic, humming beneath his fingers as he holds it for her.
Then the fairy smiles at him, and he feels a little sick.
For a woman of God, a woman of healing and repentance, the Mother Superior is a malicious little thing.
Isobel feels the first contraction, and she curls on her bed and cries, huge, whole-body wracking sobs. She wraps her arms around her stomach, as if to hold the child inside, as if to prevent this from happening.
She packs her things quickly – there isn't much to pack – and prepares to leave. And she's crying, of course she is: this is the best home she's ever had, and now she's back in the night, back alone in the world.
Astrid couldn't stand to watch; she'd gone to the chapel to pray for her, for her safety and for the grace of God.
The Mother Superior offers to drive her to the hospital. The look in her eyes – too warm, too sweet, too motherly – should have tipped Isobel off. It should have made her turn it down, brave the world on her own.
But she's running for two, now, and she needs all the help she can get.
Astrid comes with them, her last friend in the world. She holds her hand when the doctors dose her up with painkillers, and doesn't even wince when Isobel grips hard, as she pushes the baby from her body. It's a relatively easy birth, and the child barely even cries when she's laid on her mother's breast.
Astrid is the third person ever to hold baby Rose in her hands, slim fingers wrapped carefully around the dark little head.
She hands the baby back to her mother as her head whips around to look at the door.
There's a man in the doorway, resting his weight on his cane. He's small and slight, dark-suited, his expression intent and hungry and mournful all at once. Isobel holds her new daughter closer to her chest, tries to shield her from the intensity of that stare.
Everyone in town knows Mr Gold, and if he's here now, moments after her daughter's birth, then there's something deeply wrong. She feels she might be sick.
"Why is he here?" she asks, and the Mother Superior is smiling.
"He's your salvation, dear. He'll take the baby, and you will return to us, a pure and chaste woman once more."
The girl is scared, and protective of her child. Gold would almost believe it; almost respectit, had he not known her in another life.
This child was abandoned long before she was born. He's simply here to carry her away, to set her free. This new human mind of his needs these rationalisations, sometimes. He needs to know that he isn't a kidnapper, a cruel and heartless thief.
So he enters, wielding an envelope with a copy of their agreement. The Mother Superior had forged the signature, all nice and legitimate. The baby would be his.
But under that, under the veneer of the legal document, lay something more powerful. Their deal was forged in magic and desperation, an extraordinarily potent combination.
That would make her agree to this, not challenge him. Her blood was tied to this deal, to this arrangement.
She would obey.
His face is a mask of calm and geniality, "Well, this all seems very cosy."
And the girl is shaking, jogging her baby, who starts to whimper softly. But it is the timid little nun, sat by the bedside with her hand in the mother's, who says, "You can't have her."
The Mother Superior shoots her an annoyed glance, "Hush, Sister Astrid."
"But he can't, Mother, can't you see? The baby is Isobel's!"
Ah, Isobel. Regina must have been running low on creativity when she picked that one: Sir Maurice's daughter's name had been Belle.
"Don't you worry, Sister, the child will be quite safe with me."
"Rose needs her mama," Isobel says, in a quiet kind of daze, "I am her mama. I go where she goes."
"I'm afraid the terms are fairly specific." He hands her the contract with a snake's smile, slick and gleaming. No one breaks deals with him, in this life or the last.
But she's staring at the page in wonder, smiling despite her exhaustion, and she traces one line with her finger. Only Gold could have seen it glowing, noticed the little sparks of magic that come from the contact of her skin and the page.
She's highlighted a clause in the original deal, a detail he'd hoped to hide. It bleeds from parchment to paper, a further example of the fickleness of magic.
"It says that the child is to remain with its mother." She breathes, and her smile is beatific. He had been right, all those years ago, in that rank and fetid tower prison: in health, in safety, she is a very beautiful girl.
"It says," he replies, slowly, "That the child is mine."
"It says both." Sister Astrid weighs in, and they both turn to look at her.
("My baby needs her mother."
"Yes, she does"
"My baby will have everything she needs?"
"You have my word.")
He had been tricked, all those years ago, blinded by hubris. Who knew better than he to guard and treasure every word? And yet he had thrown them at her feet like shards of glass, and now he paid the price.
The deal is struck: he is obligated to take the child.
He is equally obliged to leave her with her mother.