Belle knew, the second she held the knife, what the writing on the blade signified. It was all spelled out for her, letter by letter: Regina.
She'd seen this knife only once before, in Henry's book. But then it had borne a different name, and she knew – fundamentally, gut-wrenchingly knew – that her one true love had sacrificed himself to save all their lives.
That's what he was trying to say when he'd sent her on this quest: "It's important, dearie. I can only trust you. This map will show you where in the woods to dig, and you must bring back whatever you find. I love you, Belle…" and he'd ghosted the barest touch of a kiss over her lips.
Rumpelstiltskin never kissed her on the lips. He always promised that he would, when Regina was slain and he found his Bae. Belle thought maybe he was just feeling frisky, experiencing some kind of high and lust for both herself and life. She thought it meant he'd change, really change, when she found him again after the fight.
And so she'd run into the woods a woman on a mission, secure in her lover's trust.
Emma told her the rest of the story, a few days later. She couldn't remember the aftermath on her own, everything was just too sudden. Emma said Rumpelstiltskin had made one last deal with Regina; if she would postpone the battle for a single day, he would give Regina his limitless powers.
They'd needed the time. Belle never appreciated how dire their situation was, he'd sheltered her from it at every turn.
Henry said the Dark One could only be killed with a magic blade, but that was a lie too. The Dark One could also bargain itself away to the only woman foolish enough to take it on.
The trap was perfect, of course. Regina was nigh unbeatable, except by her own hubris. Or a secret, crooked knife. A knife that Belle now commanded. Belle was feeling vengeful.
She commanded Regina to bring him back, but she could not. She kissed his pallid, crippled remains. Her misguided Rumpel was gone. If he wasn't already dead, she'd kill him. Trust Rumpelstiltskin to do the right thing in the worst possible way.
She found his note the same week as the funeral. Not many had died, and to those who survived he was a hero.
I love you. I'm so sorry, dearie — we ran out of time. Forgive me someday. Please… I can endure anything, if you'll only be happy and forgive me for leaving this way.
Belle thought she would be sick. It was maybe the truest, least twisted thing he'd ever committed to writing, but it was still a piss-poor goodbye.
She wanted to kiss him and he was gone. He wasn't coming back. If she hadn't needed protecting…
The next ten months were darkness. Emma and Jefferson, by some saving grace, had stopped her from killing Regina outright. Just having the knife was enough; Regina might have all the power that ever is or was to command, but she couldn't raise a finger without Belle's say-so.
Belle banished her. Locked her up in a small, dark space all alone, and commanded her never to leave. When everyone else returned to the Enchanted Forest, Regina would be eternally locked between realms.
In the end, Bae found her. She'd meant to look for him, to find that last scrap of her dear Rum, but could never quite find the courage to strike out. That was a laugh. Wasn't she supposed to be brave? The curse was cracking all around them by the time Bae arrived, and it wouldn't be long before Storybrooke faded to a distant memory.
The happy endings were returning, but Belle knew that the old world held nothing but misery for her now.
Bae was good and kind. He asked her to stand up for him at his wedding, and wanted to hear all about his father's life. It made Belle cough back bile for hours afterward, but she always managed a weak smile and a kind word for Rumpelstiltskin's son.
It took her 10 more months back in Fairy Land before she braved the Dark Castle again.
Belle wore jeans and button-downs now, she'd packed his old dress shirts and mementos away before the change. Nothing would ever persuade her to waltz from room to room in a bodice and full skirts again, because if he wasn't there to catch her when she fell in her coarse denim and wrinkled collars then it was just another day. But if he didn't catch her in her little blue dress… she'd be broken. Belle thought she was broken before, but facing such dire prospects as this she knew better – at best, Belle was chipped.
When Bae came to her three months later, she'd been almost mad again. The Dark Castle was her asylum now, her refuge from the world. People who were chronically lonely didn't notice whether or not they were also alone.
"Bell, I'm sorry it took me so long to find this for you. Emma, Henry and I… we went on a quest. We combed every inch of the continent, and we found the last one." He placed a silvery bean into her trembling hands.
"Will this… take me to him?" She was almost afraid to ask.
"No. No, it can't do that. But you lost so much, if anyone deserves a wish it's you. If you use this bean and wish for a place you could be happy, the magic will do the rest. It will be… hard. I wasn't expecting anything like where I ended up when I crossed worlds all those years ago. At first, I didn't know what to do with myself. But it gave me my family back, in a round-about way, and I think you need that chance too.
"They call it the multi-verse. I read a lot about it when I was growing up. You're going to someplace parallel to our own, maybe not the same place that I went to. It will be familiar, in some ways, but you'll be able to survive. Does that mean anything to you?"
It did. Belle liked to read, she knew a thing or two.
So, Belle took the bean. She took it, but she waited. There was a lot of thinking to do.
In the end, the choice was easy. She packed one of Rumpel's magic trunks, slightly bigger within than without, and stuffed it full of things she couldn't bear to leave. A photo of him. Their tea cup. His shirts (hers now). Their engagement rings. The knife bearing Regina's name. When she couldn't think of anything else sentimental, she started thinking practically. Spools of gold, enchanted things.
It was anyone's guess what they would become when she left this place, or if they would have value. Still, she had to try. She wanted to live, finally. Rumpel was almost two years gone, and she no longer wanted to die in the Dark Castle and shrivel from memory. So that was something.
When she'd loaded the more worldly things, she turned to Rumpelstiltskin's books. Books of magic might be the most useless tokens of all; she could not conceive of any place the bean might take her that was not like Storybrooke. Magic was useless in that world when Rum wasn't gumming up the works with potions and magic wishing wells. Still, he'd touched the pages and treated them kindly. His cramped script lingered in the margins. She packed them all.
Finally, once her trunk was full and every room searched – she couldn't go without saying good bye. What if he was hiding in one of the linen closets like he used to do? Just waiting to leap out and terrorize her. Henry, Bae and Emma were her final farewells.
When she made her wish, she tried to think of a home. Tried to think of hope. But all she could see was his face. His face, and a desire to go as far away from the Dark Castle as any living person could go.
"Rush, get your ass down to the gate! Something's coming through!"
Dr. Rush didn't ask questions, he ran. When he arrived, he started by demanding an out-of-breath status update from Eli.
"I don't know, I don't know! Something's coming through, but we never dialed out. The specs are all over the place, it's not using the ship's power supply. The codes are sporadic at best."
"Shut it down, Rush!" Young commanded.
Rush pushed Eli from the console, but it was already too late. A large wooden box followed by a small brunette girl slipped into the gate room. The system powered down, back to its normal rest, somehow content with their new guest.
Fifteen guns were aimed and cocked at the woman in question.
"Identify yourself," said Young.
"B-belle," she trembled, pulling her button-down close around herself. "My name is Belle."
"Belle, you got a last name? A home world?" asked TJ.
She seemed to give that question a long pause. "My name is Belle Gold. I'm not from a different world, I'm from a different universe."
Rush next saw her again on Kino footage. He was watching the record of TJ's debriefing, ravenous for answers about the mysterious woman who'd compromised his Destiny. Spying on a psychiatric evaluation was entirely unethical, but Rush didn't much care either way.
"Do you know how old you are?" asked TJ, keeping it simple.
"That's… complicated. Can we start with something easier?"
"I think you'd better just try to start with the basics, even if it is complicated. You're human?"
"Yes, I am a human. I think I'm 30, on the outside, but I've been alive for almost 61 years." Well, shit, thought Rush. This was going to be a fun time. He did not need an insane gate-hacker loose on the ship, that much was certain.
And insane she was. The woman – Belle – spun an impossible yarn about a land filled with Fairy Tales and Happy Endings, and a Curse that ruined it all. The worst part? When TJ asked how she'd arrived on the ship – and it was always 'the ship,' they were careful not to declare themselves Destiny lest she prove hostile – she looked the doctor right in the eye and lied. Magic beans? Rush had heard better science from undergrads.
Rush shut down the Kino feed, full of disappointment and disgust. He knew what everyone else was too foolish to admit - this woman could not save them.
They met again, for the first time really, on the observation deck. Belle had been given a room and a set of light duties when her tests concluded that she was, in fact, human. In terms of psychology… TJ assured Young she wasn't violent, and the scanners did not show any irregular activity. Unfortunately, she lacked basic military and paramilitary aptitudes. Still, the rations had never tasted so good.
Young and Greer ran a thorough search of her things, took a few blades into their keep, and reported that the woman – Belle – had some sort of extra-dimensional storage space. An extra-dimensional storage space full of knives, dress shirts, books and gold. What Rush wouldn't do to get a look at that some day.
When they did return her things, they did so on the caveat that the blades remain stored at all times. Belle agreed, and they hadn't had a problem since. Now, when he saw her looking out into the sky, the others were already treating the petite brunette like old news. It had been three months.
For Rush, they were three almost sleepless, caffeine-lacking, nicotine deprived, near-death-experience months. It didn't surprise him that he hadn't had a chance to demand some answers from the little gate-hacker yet. "And how are we liking Destiny, Miss Gold?"
"Missus," she replied without looking, then added: "and I like it ironically."
Nick chuckled at that. "Aye, that is the truth."
"It's funny," she continued, still not looking. "I always said I would control my own fate. Never really cared for destiny. But here I am, lost in space, and wouldn't you know it – Destiny."
"So how did you arrive here, Mrs. Gold? And don't give me the line about beanstalks and wishes. You hacked my gate. You could have destroyed everything."
"I know," she said sadly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to. I didn't really know where I was going. But I'd never do something to damage the people here, everyone's been very kind to me."
She looked at him then, really looked, and the wretchedness and despair that spread like fire over her face nearly knocked Rush over with its intensity.A trembling hand reached out and squeezed his shoulder, reverently.
"N-no. Nothing. I'm sorry!" And she ran away, back to her quarters to weep. What right did he have to wear that face? All she'd ever wanted from that bean was to distance herself from his memory. Not to forget or let him fade, but to escape the oppressive presence of him that percolated through her life. She'd wanted a fresh start.
Now that Belle knew this man was here, this infamous Dr. Rush, she saw him everywhere. Like a fool, she'd traded away a world of magic and intrigue for a stranded crew on a struggling ship. Now she was trapped with somebody who had her dear Gold's face.
Belle honestly contemplated stabbing him once, sure that he must be her own personal demon sent to punish her for not following after Rum. Oh, Rum… he'd be glad she'd taken his name, she knew. They were married in all but deed, and she felt she owed herself the chance to grieve as a widow rather than the Monster's Prize.
If she'd loved him, really loved him, she should have died too. The people who survived their one-true-love weren't whole and good any more; those were the people who became villains.
One day outside the bridge, when Rush cornered her and asked again how she'd boarded Destiny, Belle finally broke. She ranted and screamed, and spilled forth the whole sordid truth about how she was too cowardly to carry on living with his memory haunting their home, how she had nothing left to go back to, and how all her goodness must have died when he died – because wouldn't a good person have done something less selfish than she? Finally, Belle told him about his face, and even threatened to rearrange it for him. She did her level-best to make him leave, not to haunt her any more with the same face and a new voice in this tin-can they could never escape.
But in the end, all he did was look at her a little sadly and twist at the golden band on his finger. Belle recognized him for what he was, then. Not a doppelganger of her husband, but another broken survivor – a pale reflection of herself.
Rush had her reassigned to his lab after that. She kept the peace between him and the others, and — now that she wasn't non-stop crying – she seemed very cool and self-possessed. Things always seemed to work better when Belle was around. Somehow she was lucky.
He was lucky too, Nick decided one day. Belle kept him at least a little sane. When any of the other suffering inhabitants of Destiny tried to boss him around, he bit back fiercely. But Belle.. when the pretty little widow who had a magic box that didn't fit the laws of physics quite right and who carried the memory of her Mr. Gold so reverently it made him cry for Gloria, told him to go eat, go bathe, hand over his dirty clothes, go to bed for the night… for Belle, he could find it within himself to live a little better.
When Young sent her on that first away mission, she'd insisted on strapping a crooked knife to her leg. Young agreed, after a while, and Rush took the opportunity to examine some of her extra-dimensional things.
He had to believe her now. She had books. Magic books, she called them. But they weren't magic at all, they were Ancient, and they helped him slowly chip away at Destiny's myriad of emergencies.
Most of the crew did accept her story about the beans eventually, against the better advice of reason and logic. If it was a lie, the skeptics reasoned, then Belle certainly believed it hook, line and sinker. And Belle was infinitely soft and kind; she inspired them to believe. Even Young didn't have the heart to deny the story any more, and TJ positively embraced it.
But more importantly, they were finally satisfied that Belle couldn't repeat her little miracle at will. She couldn't send them home. They were friendlier after that, and trusted her to do more.
So, when Young slated her for that first mission, Dr. Rush spent the hours pouring over Ancient texts and marveling at what forces of the universe could have brought her to Destiny. She returned safely. He told himself the anxiety was simply an urge to question her about the origin of her books, but part of him was relieved that this woman who understood his grief so well hadn't left him as suddenly as she'd arrived.
Belle couldn't explain the books any better than his own translations; she wasn't even mad that he'd snuck into her space to read them. Ancient – magic, as she called it – had been her husband's domain.
She talked about her Mr. Gold more easily now, at least with Nick. The day she'd called him Nick without stumbling over a series of Rs and Gs, he'd been pleased. Now, she was telling him about the Dark One and his fairly-bargained maid. Her stories captivated him, and he liked her to talk while he scribed equations and sorted data. The sound of her voice had integrated into his process, and silence choked him like a vice.
She was some sort of royalty, he'd finally concluded, though of course she never said it outright. And, as he saw her day-in and day-out in a civilian uniform of jeans and men's dress shirts, he realized that she was keeping her Mr. Gold as close to her skin as possible.
Then, things went wrong. Really wrong. And Belle's somewhat mysterious serendipity was not enough to set them right again. He'd demanded once that she explain her luck, and she said all she ever did was ask Destiny 'please.'
Rush wanted to throttle her for that, but – scientifically – she was right; he'd never tested the 'please' hypothesis. One day, in a real moment of desperation, he'd done it.
Eli just gawked at him.
And it hadn't immediately righted the 40 hours of wrongness that had kept him up 2 days straight, but no one died at least. That was something, he supposed. But he thought he'd better leave the 'pleases' to Belle.
Belle felt useless in an emergency. Swords and shirts and spools of gold served no purpose during Destiny's troubles. She comforted herself, somewhat, with the fact that nothing she'd owned in Storybrooke or the Dark Castle would have helped her survive Destiny. Well, a few pounds of coffee wouldn't have gone amiss.
Her world here revolved around Nick. He didn't make her want to cry on sight any more, and sometimes he would break down beyond her abilities to console him and just scream and shout and rage.. but Belle was used to that. She'd survived the Dark One, encounters with Regina and 28 years at the mercy of the Storybrooke asylum staff. Save the one time she'd looked up at a friendly stranger on the observation deck to see her one true love's bearded face, Belle was unshakable.
She didn't regret Destiny. The bean made a good choice. Nick was her friend these days, not just her surrogate Rumpel, and he was her kindred always.
Then, one day, Nick didn't come back.
"He didn't make it," Young told her stoically.
That was it, then. She had to be her own strength. But it didn't stop her from lying down in his bed, still messy from the last time she'd forced him to sleep in it, to curl up and weep.