So... I suppose I just want to say thank you all for this brilliant ride.
If you've made it this far, I want to thank you for reading, and putting up with my spastic updates, and my general unorganized-ness throughout this fic. I might get myself together in the future. Maybe.
Anyways, thank you all for your support and encouragement throughout this story. I wish I could hug all of you in person.
Belle had absolutely sworn that she wouldn't go back to him, no matter what happened. She had absolutely sworn not to go running back into Robert's arms, not to do anything she might regret or make any rash choices about it.
But then again, that was before she'd read his letter.
On the night before they put their plan into action, Belle had pulled out her flashlight and opened the letter, reading it under the safe blanket of darkness. The page was blank at first, but as soon as her hand brushed across it, words began to form, being written out of thin air.
I know it's a cowardly way to say it, but there are things that must be said, and this is the only way I can bring myself to do it now. As I can't think of a proper way to introduce my next thought, I'll say it frankly.
I heard you in the mirror.
Yes, Belle, I love you. I could never have let you go, but all I wanted was to protect you. I swear, the next time I see you, should you ever choose to forgive an old monster like me, will be the day I marry you.
"What's happening?" Belle looked around frantically as the building began shaking. Cries came from inside the ballroom area, and blue-white lightning streaked across the sky. Gold's eyes went wide with terror, and he pulled Belle inside as quickly as he could. At this point, he wasn't sure what exactly he was going to do, but-
The shaking reached its breaking point, throwing most of the people in the room to the floor, including Belle and Mr. Gold. The wind shrieked through the area, all the doors flinging wide open and people grabbing onto whatever they could in order to stay grounded. Belle was just beginning to wonder if they would survive long enough to figure out what was happening when it all stopped.
In place of the tumult, there was only silence.
Gradually, members of the group looked up, got to their feet. Broken glass clinked on the floor of the room from where cups and dishes had shattered, and the chandelier overhead was hanging at such an angle that it seemed like a wise idea to steer clear of it. Robert had just enough time to check that Belle was alright before determined footsteps rang out, heading straight towards him.
"What was that?" Regina Mills came to a stop, looking down on them with the air of a lion being troubled by ants. Her words were slow, deliberate, each one coming as a breathy exhale. Belle and Robert struggled to stand, attempting to avoid the shards of glass on the floor.
"Well, Regina, darling-" A female voice came from the side. She cleared her throat before continuing, rising to her feet. "I believe they just broke your curse." Maleficent stepped forward from the back of the room, the only one out of the lot that was able to form any sort of organized thought about the minor earthquake that had just taken place. She didn't even look shaken as she walked over towards Regina, smiling the cold smile of a hungry dragon.
"And wouldn't you look at that?" Melissa chuckled. "No one's dead."
"That's impossible." Regina scoffed, whirling to face Maleficent. "The conditions of the curse haven't been satisfied-"
"But they have." Belle's voice echoed quietly across the room. She was thinking hard, her eyes darting around the room and thoughts spinning, when everything suddenly became clear. "There's more than one way to give your life, remember?" She looked towards Robert, who expression shifted into something between panic and joy.
"So what did you do? Whatever it is, I guarantee it won't last. True love's kiss does nothing for my curses, honey." Regina laughed coldly.
"Your curses are vague and shoddy at best, and you don't know my Belle." Rumpelstiltskin rose to his feet, aided by Belle, wit still intact if anything was. He also managed to look extremely calm, which was probably anything but what he was feeling. The Evil Queen came forward slowly, considering his remark and weighing her response carefully. This would be a very bad time to tip the scales the wrong way.
"You have no room to talk, Rumple. If your curse is broken it means you've lost at least some of your magic."
"See, that's where you're wrong again." Gold said, chuckling. His confidence was building by the second, mind racing. "If you'll open your eyes, you'll see that my magic hasn't faded at all. I realize we all habitually tune out our abilities to see magic, but if you'll all kindly take a moment…" he leaned on his cane expectantly, as if waiting for a response from the rest of the room.
The magicians who had crashed to the floor earlier were slowly beginning to rise to their feet. Some had minor injuries, but most were unharmed by the jolt. They seemed to scrutinize Gold for a moment before nods and murmurs went around the room, and even Regina's expression shifted ever so slightly.
The cloud of dark magic around him was just as strong as it had ever been, perhaps even flaring a bit as Belle came to stand closer to him.
Belle didn't know the exact mechanics of curses, but out on the balcony she'd said she wanted forever, and then she kissed him. The first part must have been enough to break the curse, but if true love's kiss really was the most powerful magic in the world, its effects had been added to the curse breaking. Combined with Regina's awful wording, it was definitely enough to make sure he kept his magic.
"Do you know the reason I've survived so long, Regina?" Gold asked, smirking. "It's because I know how to pick my battles. If I were you I would think twice before attempting to enact my revenge in a room full of magicians who are probably not very sympathetic to people like you."
Maleficent was still smiling, standing between the two parties like a referee. She cleared her throat, turning to Regina.
"Not to mention that fact that he could probably get rid of you on his own, but his Enchantress girlfriend doesn't help your chances at all." she said.
"And you aren't going to help me, I presume?" the Evil Queen raised a suspicious eyebrow.
"We aren't friends, Regina. Never have been, probably never will be. A dragon's loyalties lie in old bonds, and you'd best remember that the next time you try to scheme against my oldest friend." Maleficent brushed her hands together, as if cleaning the dust off, and the room fell silent. "Oh, I've been trying to get to you for years, Regina. Seems we've finally won." The Dragon Enchantress looked over towards where Snow and James were standing, and the dark-haired woman stepped out of the crowd.
"You can't solve your problems by being angry, Regina." Snow spoke clearly, making sure that the entire room could hear her. "I am truly sorry for everything you've had to go through, but it doesn't change the fact that hate only breeds more hate." She started to speak again, but Regina was already marching towards her, anger practically radiating from her. Snow stood her ground, set her jaw, determined to hold off Regina herself and to resolve anything that might happen, but things didn't quite go that far.
"Not one more step." Before anyone could guess what was about to happen, Belle was right behind Regina, a firm hand on her shoulder. The Queen spun in an attempt to slap her away, but Belle only caught her other wrist, holding her gaze. "I think you've damaged enough lives in this room. Nobody will hurt you as long as you leave now, and leave quietly."
Her blue eyes blazed, and for one fleeting second Regina was scared of what this woman might be able to do if someone were to push her far enough. However, it was only a second, and rage replaced fear soon afterwards.
"I know you don't know me well, dear, but you should know me well enough to know that I never leave quietly." She sneered, jerking her hands free. There was a flash, Belle was thrown backwards, and the room was filled with a suffocating purple smoke.
"Is she gone?" Belle spluttered through the smoke. It was venting out the windows quickly, but not fast enough.
"For now." Gold confirmed. "But I think we have more important matters to attend to at the moment than whatever Her Royal Grumpyness might be planning."
Belle tried to laugh, but wound up coughing.
One year later:
"Come on, Belle!" Ruby pulled at her arms insistently, hurrying her along.
"Ruby, we've got plenty of time." Belle picked up her long skirts and bustled towards the door. This dress wasn't the most wonderful thing to walk in, but hey- how often do you really wear a wedding dress?
"No, you've got a visitor!" she opened the door to reveal Maurice and Alicia French, teary-eyed and smiling. Belle was almost immediately caught up in a suffocating hug from Alicia, then Maurice.
Her father had made a full recovery after Ruby's ministrations brought him out of the coma. The doctors were still trying to figure it out, actually, but they all claimed to know absolutely nothing. It had taken them a while to come around to the fact that Belle wanted to marry a man over two thousand years older than she, but after meeting with him and hearing what of their story they could tell, Alicia and Maurice had sent them off with their blessing.
"You know, it's going to be extremely strange having a son-in-law older than I am." Alicia said for perhaps the thousandth time. The statement had become sort of a joke between herself and Belle, as she was the only non-magician in the family, and according to Robert marriages between magicians a thousand years apart in age weren't terribly uncommon.
Ruby stepped to the side and let them converse, murmuring things in hushed voices, nodding, and generally trying to be reassuring about an event that Belle didn't need reassuring for.
No, Alicia, (for the hundredth time) I swear it's not Stockholm Syndrome.
Yes, (for the thousandth time) I know for sure.
Ashley had flown in from New York with her daughter Alexandra and her new husband Sean for the event, and Snow was seated next to James somewhere in the middle of the crowd. Maleficent even came out for the occasion, dressed in her usual dusty purple robes, but sporting a far more genuine smile than her dragon-like smirk. Robert was practically to the point of pacing back and forth frantically, but Jefferson made sure he stayed put. There wasn't any point in getting him even more worked up than he already was.
"You're on!" Ruby smiled, pushing Belle forward with a smile. The doors opened, and the small group of people gathered for the occasion turned to see Belle coming down the aisle. The dress was floor length, an elegant, but not overly extravagant piece that left her arms and shoulders bare. She'd picked the dress for the sole reason that it would show her scars- the scars that had caused the two of them to bond so much. If they should be visible on any day, now was the time.
Belle barely noticed the crows or even the priest as she automatically recited the vows that they had rehearsed. She only had eyes for her Robert, her Rumpelstiltskin, her love. It didn't really matter what his name was, did it? Whenever she looked back on that day, the only thing she really remembered after the doors opened was the look in his eyes, the feel of him slipping the ring on her finger, his soft lips pressed against hers.
There was a short reception afterwards, nothing fancy. They wanted privacy, a chance to talk, to touch, to simply be after all the trouble that had led to this point. No unexpected visitors came to crash their wedding like Snow and James, possibly because two Enchantresses and a Warlock were present should anything look even the slightest bit out of place, not to mention the Shifters and the Warriors.
Yes, Regina showing up would definitely not be a good idea if she didn't want to be turned into ash.
Belle and Mr. Gold retired to his Storybrooke home, and Belle continued her magical training. Occasionally they would spend a day in the library, light streaming in through the high stained glass windows, the rose garden in full bloom, wrapped in each other's arms.
"You know, I think if this is forever, I'm probably going to like it." Belle said one day, nestling into his arms. Gold chuckled and pressed a soft kiss to her lips.
"I agree, love. Forever has a much better prospect than I thought."
Well, forever is a long time, and they both knew it wouldn't be without trials and tribulations, but in that one moment, under the many-colored shadows of the stained glass roses, they didn't care.