Disclaimer: As you can probably tell from the fact I'm writing fanfiction, I don't own Once Upon a Time or any of its characters.
"The hell was that?"
Emma Ruth Swan had always had a way with words and a tendency to say exactly what others were thinking. It often got her into trouble, but it wasn't like she could control herself. It was just who she was.
She coughed and shook her head as the offending purple smoke faded. How it had managed to get through the concrete walls and closed windows was beyond her… But pretty much everything that had happened since Henry bit into the apple turnover was beyond her.
"Go get dressed, kid," Emma said, tapping Henry on the shoulder, "I think we need some answers."
"Your parents will be looking for you," Henry pointed out. A knot formed in Emma's stomach.
Truth be told, she wasn't sure she was ready to accept the fact her parents were Prince Charming and Snow White.
He turned towards Mother Superior, "You're the Blue Fairy, aren't you?"
She smiled softly at him, "I am, child. Listen to your mother now; I suspect we have a long day ahead of us."
One of the other nurses ushered Henry towards where his personal belongings had been kept. Emma marveled at Henry's faith. She couldn't speak for anyone else, but she for one had some apologies to dole out to him.
"The smoke was magic, Your Highness."
Emma jerked at the unfamiliar title, "No. No, no, no, I am not doing this "highness" crap. I'm just Emma, or Miss Swan; I am not from your country."
Mother Superior smiled comfortingly, "But you are. You are the Lost Princess."
Emma rubbed at her forehead. Too much for eight in the morning.
"So someone did a crap-load of magic or what? I thought there was no magic…"
"There wasn't… But something changed," Mother Superior frowned, "It works differently, I feel it… Matters are complicated now."
"Tell me about it," Emma grumbled, glancing out the window, "Who the hell would want magic here?"
"Why don't you ask that queen of yours?" Dr. Whale snarled from his seat on a hospital bed.
"Regina? No. She was busy with Henry all night like me…"
Emma's stomach curled as she thought of that golden egg the dragon of a goose had laid when it had been killed. How she had just tossed it up the elevator shaft, trusting a man who seemed to be on her side… But she supposed the only side he was on was his own.
Mother Superior blanched, "Someone much more wicked… The creature that had created the Dark Curse in the first place."
"A manipulative, slippery, silver-tongued devil who'll rip you off as soon as help you out."
"The Dark One."
"Rumplestiltskin!" Belle squealed.
He had scarcely stopped touching her since magic had returned; holding her hand on the car ride home and having difficulty keeping his eyes on the road in favor of staring at her. Now as they made their way home, he was on her heels, grabbing at her as she attempted to escape. He now had her pinned halfway up the staircase against the wall, his eyes warm and his smile tender.
"I really don't know whether I want to kill you or make love to you, Belle, I cannot decide," he confessed, kissing her neck, "Three days… Three whole days you kept this from me!"
"It wasn't on purpose!" She insisted, "You were preoccupied, and I was waiting for the right moment."
He stared at her, "…Baelfire could've shown up on our front doorstep and I'd still have the time to listen to the fact that you are pregnant!" His smile returned, as if that word demanded his joy.
He kissed her again and Belle felt warm clear down to her toes. His enthusiasm was making her a little nervous; neither of them were graceful, and she had read "Gone With the Wind" enough times to know staircases were her enemy in her fragile state. She pulled away from him, grinning at the pout he made at this action.
"It has a heartbeat," she told him, "It's almost twelve weeks old now."
His brow furrowed, "Twelve weeks?"
"I know, I couldn't believe it either. I thought that when it happened…fireworks would go off or something," she fumbled with her pocket, "Here…"
She pulled out the slightly worn picture, something she had kept as close to her as Rumplestiltskin's dagger. She offered it to him and he took it tentatively.
"Please don't be mad at me for doing the first one without you," she begged, "You can go to every single other one, I promise… I just wanted to be absolutely certain before I told you."
Mr. Gold stared down at the sonogram image, his eyes roaming around the being that was no bigger than a plum. Their child, so spectacularly normal… Their child, inside of her, a miracle he couldn't believe he had been granted. His hand shook as he sniffed, then wrapped himself around Belle, crying silently.
"I know, Rum… I know," she cooed.
He allowed himself to cry for a few minutes before straightening and clearing his throat. Belle kissed his nose before maneuvering her way around him to continue up the staircase.
"I need a nap," she decided.
Mr. Gold arched an eyebrow, "A nap?" He followed after her, "You can sleep on the way."
"Oh no I'm not," she pointed at him, "You will get us lost ten minutes out of Storybrooke if I'm not co-piloting."
"I would not," he protested.
"Yes you will," she sat down on the bed, slipping her shoes off, "I've got one word for you; Narnia."
"Oh for heaven's sake, Belle, let it go."
"I will not let it go! We were supposed to get to the White Witch's castle and you steered us all the way to Cair Paravel somehow!" She flipped the comforter over and laid down, "If it wasn't for your issue with wolves, I'm sure they would have directed us there."
"Why would I trust a pack of dogs?"
"Because they worked for her, and they talked."
"Regina talks and I don't trust her," he grumbled, taking a seat at the end of the bed.
Belle flicked the covers over her, "And you picked a fight with a faun."
"Hey, "Daughter of Eve" sounds highly sexual out of context."
She rolled her eyes, snuggling down into the mattress, "Are you going to join me?" She asked.
Mr. Gold snickered, shaking his head, "How on earth could I sleep? I'm far too excited."
Belle sighed, "Fine… But if you're cranky don't blame it on me."
"Well I'm not stopping every hour so that you can use the bathroom."
"Then I'll get sick all over your car."
"And you'll clean it up."
"That is not going to be your duct-tape-esque excuse. If you start getting too emotional, I'll leave you behind and pick you up on my way back."
"Same goes for you, Mr. I-Cry-At-The-Drop-of-a-Hat. Except for it'll be worse, because you're going to be in overprotective mode."
"Damn straight I'll be in overprotective mode, and you are not going to have our child on the side of the road like some trailer trash redneck."
"We'll probably have sex in an IHOP bathroom, because I can't eat pancakes without getting syrup on me and I can't get syrup on me without you licking it off of me."
"We are going to want to kill each other, being in a contained area for so long. So there's going to be daily fighting, and then we'll waste time trying to hide from each other for a moment alone."
"One of us is coming back in the trunk, and it sure as hell isn't going to be Bae."
Mr. Gold grinned, crawling up to kiss her, "I can't wait."
She bumped his chin with her nose as he pulled away, "This is going to be an amazing road trip…"
He nodded, and then left her to her nap.
He was tempted to immediately start throwing things into the Cadillac, but there was something he had to do first. The picture of their child held tight in his hand, he went into the office and pulled out some stationary. He began with one letter, a short one with a greeting, two sentences, and signed with a name Mr. Gold had never been called before. He stared at the picture a little longer before tucking the letter into a new file folder.
He slipped back into the bedroom to see that Belle was already fast asleep, hair in her face and a serene smile on her unconscious lips. She was so beautiful… He could not fathom how she could be his.
It has a heartbeat. It has a heartbeat. The words echoed through his head and he wasn't quite sure why.
Mr. Gold cringed at the knock on his door, retreating as Belle shifted in her sleep. He was hardly to the staircase when another knock came, and then an angry "GOLD!" as he came to the bottom. It was like they thought he could just poof his way in front of them… He snarled and flung open the door.
"Could you please keep it down?" He hissed, "Rose is trying to sleep."
"Belle is trying to sleep," David Nolan corrected him.
It seemed as though it was already time to harass Rumplestiltskin for the Charmings, inducting Emma into the tradition as well.
"Why'd you bring magic here?" David demanded.
"Why did you steal that potion from Emma?" Mary Margaret asked.
"How could you put Henry at risk like that?" Emma snarled.
Mr. Gold sighed, "Quite a questionnaire you've whipped up in the short amount of time you've had… But let's glance over the results. Henry's safe, I presume?"
"For now," Emma grumbled.
"And the curse? Has it been broken?"
"Not completely, or we wouldn't be here," David muttered.
Mr. Gold smirked, "So you assume… And it appears that you all have found the family you've always been looking for."
Emma glared daggers at him, but didn't protest further.
"You should be thanking me, not harassing me in my own home," he insisted.
"Thanking you for what? For making it easier for Regina to have her way?" Emma snapped, "I may have only skimmed the book but it seems like an Evil Queen is a very bad adoptive mother for Henry…especially when she's got it out for his grandparents."
"I trust you'll find a way to restrain her then," he shrugged, "Isn't that what heroes are for? Defeating the villains?"
"You're awfully casual for a guy whose last encounter with the mayor involved duct tape and tying her to a chair," she muttered.
Mr. Gold tried not to grin at the memory, "I can handle Regina."
"What about Belle?"
His heart skipped a beat as he glanced at Mary Margaret. Belle surely hadn't told anyone else… Not before him… But she just looked like a concerned friend.
"You don't have faith in her?" He asked.
"I don't have faith in Regina not playing dirty," Mary Margaret corrected herself.
Mr. Gold straightened, "Belle will be fine," he promised, "However, if it were my son the Evil Queen wanted… I wouldn't spend too much time away from him."
The Charmings finally got the hint and, with final synchronized glares, left his front porch. Mr. Gold closed the door and started slowly back up the stairs.
It had a heartbeat. It had a heartbeat, and so that flicker of light they had tried so hard to conceive could die. Easily.
Mr. Gold went to his office again to write a second letter, a much longer letter, sealing it in an envelope and slipping it into one of Belle's bags.
Belle yawned and stretched as she awoke a couple of hours later, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the drive. She blinked her eyes a few times and noticed a very handsome man sitting at the foot of her bed. She propped herself up on her elbows.
"I think it's a sign of how long we've been married that waking up to you staring at me is actually kind of cute now," she mused.
Mr. Gold half-smiled, "You ready, dearie?"
Belle bit her lip, "About as ready as I'll ever be." She slipped out of bed and quickly made it.
She took his arm and walked with him out of their bedroom, out into the hallway, and down the stairs, chattering all the while.
"Our first major stop is going to be Boston, logically, even though I doubt he'll be that close… But you never know. We can search the surrounding areas tonight, get used to the equipment and making sure that we can use magic outside of Storybrooke… I know you've checked everything over more times than you can count, but still… We can have a nice dinner out like a normal couple, not having to worry about being harassed. I still don't know how Figgy's going to feel about all of this; should we kennel him? I don't like the thought, but it's just one more thing to keep track of… I'm sorry if I'm babbling, I'm just so nervous."
Mr. Gold didn't mind at all; he would miss that anxious babble, her arm entwined with his, being able to feel her and just be with her.
She stopped in the hallway, staring into the living room, "…why are your bags still in here? I would think you'd have enough time to…" She trailed off, slowly turning to him.
This was it. The moment he had been dreading since he had written the letter. He clenched his jaw and tried to be as stoic as possible as Belle stared.
"Why are my bags gone and yours aren't?"
"Because you're going alone," he stated.
Pure fear lit up Belle's eyes, "No, no I can't…"
"Yes you can, Belle."
"No I can't!" Violent heaves of breath jerked out of her as she watched him helplessly, "I can't do this without you, I don't even know what he looks like! How will I ever find him amongst millions of people?!"
Mr. Gold grasped both of her shoulders, looking her dead in the eye, "Yes you can. You know just as much about Bae as I do; you knew August wasn't him."
"I trust you more than I trust myself." His grip tightened as his voice wobbled, "You are my hero, Belle. I know you'll succeed."
"This isn't some stupid quest! This isn't even about a curse! This is Baelfire, your son!" She screamed, "Can't you be brave for him?!"
"For the first time in my life I am doing the brave thing! This town is going to go straight to hell and yet I'm not running!"
Belle tried to take a deep breath, but it didn't calm her in the slightest.
"…why?" She growled, "Why am I going and why are you staying?"
Mr. Gold's hands started to tremble, "…because our baby has a heartbeat, you have a heartbeat, and it terrifies me. The thought of someone coming after you, or hurting our child…" He closed his eyes and shook his head, struggling for composure, "…I just want you safe… If I stay here I can keep them from coming after you… I'll know when it's alright for you to come home, with Bae…"
Belle curled up into him, burying her face into his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her like a shield.
"Please don't send me away, Rum," she choked, "I love you…I want you…"
"Belle, I've made my decision," he insisted, practically snarling into her ear, "You told me once that I didn't have to choose, but I am making a choice now. I choose you…I choose Baelfire…I choose our child… I want all three of you, more than anything I've ever wanted in my entire life. There isn't a single doubt in my mind that you can find him and when you do, I will be here waiting for you, having a carved out safety zone for us when you get back."
She sniffed, "I hate your plans… I hate them so much…"
He chuckled, "Hopefully after this, there won't be any more."
Belle held onto him for as long as she could, but he was gently nudging her towards the door. She wanted nothing more than to handcuff herself to something immovable and refuse to go until he agreed to go with her. Why did it matter what happened here? Regina would be too preoccupied with Snow and Emma to care about what they were up to.
And yet… Her desires were selfish, letting the town dissolve into anarchy when her powerful husband could keep them on a tight leash if he was so inclined. Her friends could get hurt…and poor Henry… No, this was probably for the best, she tried to rationalize, a hand on her stomach. She didn't want to imagine what kind of sick thoughts Regina might have about how to use Belle's pregnancy against her.
Everything she'd need was loaded into her truck, the golden scarab ash orb stuck firmly to the dash. A folder was set in the seat next to her, marked with an elaborate "B". She climbed in and buckled up as slowly as she could manage without Mr. Gold getting suspicious.
"…9:15," she said.
Mr. Gold's eyebrows furrowed, "What, love?"
"9:15. I will call you every night at 9:15," she promised, blinking back fresh tears, "That way I can at least hear your voice, even if I can't be with you."
"Don't be afraid to call more often than that," he assured her, resting a hand on her leg. She glanced at him and fought the urge to wipe his tears away.
His free hand cradled her face so softly it was almost a phantom touch, "Bring back my boy, Belle… Bring him back, and then we can be a family."
Belle caught his lips with hers, and they tried to fit as much passion as they could into it, knowing that this kiss would have to last them months, if not longer. His tongue met with hers and they danced together intricately, memorizing each other desperately.
Eventually they had to pull away, and they replaced their kiss with a tight embrace.
"Please don't kill my cat," she begged, making a sound that was halfway between a laugh and a sob.
"I won't," he promised.
"I love you."
"I love you too."
Belle felt as though she was tearing off a chunk of her flesh as she pulled away from him, unable to meet his eyes. He closed the door and Belle started the engine, checking her mirrors. Mr. Gold stood in the driveway as she backed up, refusing to take one last look at him while he stared at her with all the focus he could muster. He wanted to memorize everything about his Belle; he had made the mistake of not paying much attention to her every movement before he was imprisoned, and he didn't want to make the same mistake.
He couldn't blame Belle for not looking back. A look back could mean changing her mind. He waited until the truck disappeared from sight and stood five minutes longer, staring blankly at the point where she had vanished, before heading back inside to cry or something. He swore there weren't any tears left in him, happy or sad. Then again, there always seemed to be more.
Belle knew if she looked back, then she'd return and throw herself at his feet, begging for him to change his mind. It was the same philosophy for the first time he had made her leave; if she turned around for a final glance at the castle that had been her home for the past few months, then she'd lose all nerve and run back to him. This time there was a lot more at stake than anger or pride if she refused to go; she needed to find Baelfire. He was going to make sure she was safe, and she was going to find his son.
Why did Rumplestiltskin always make her go when neither of them wanted to be parted from the other? It would make the leaving so much easier if at least one of them genuinely hated the other.
Belle pulled into the gas station and got out of her truck, feeling helpless and frustrated and wanting to cry so, so badly. She didn't want to leave… She wanted to be with him…
A large group caught her attention before she pulled the hose out of the pump; a large loud group heading for 108 Mifflin Street. Belle frowned and started to follow, cracking her knuckles. If Regina did anything to hold Henry against his will, they'd be cleaning the former queen's blood out of the sidewalk for a month…
Emma shoved her way desperately through the mob, trying to get to Regina before Dr. Whale did something stupid.
"Leave her alone!"
"Why should I listen to you?" Whale snarled.
She clenched her jaw, "Because I am still Sheriff."
"And because she saved you. All of you!" David addressed the bloodthirsty crowd.
"And because no matter what Regina did, it does not justify this," Mary Margaret insisted.
"We are not murderers here," Emma finished firmly.
Dr. Whale sneered, "Well, we're not from this world," he pointed out, as if Emma hadn't figured that out with the dragon and the potion and true love's kiss and everything.
"Yeah, well, you're in it now."
This didn't seem to calm the rage of the crowd, who had been trapped in an unfamiliar town for years, the majority of them living poor lives… On one hand Emma couldn't blame them. On the other…she was still Henry's adoptive mother, and killing wasn't going to solve anything.
Emma wasn't too great with a crowd, and it was three against several dozen. Odds didn't seem to be in their favor.
"Enough!" A voice cut through the mob's hysteria.
Everything became deathly silent. The only one who moved was Dr. Whale, snorting his derision.
"And what are you going to do, Rose? Stop me?"
"If it comes to that, Victor, yes."
Dr. Whale went from cocky to speechless in a matter of seconds. Regina smirked.
The mob parted and Emma saw Rosaline Gold, wearing almost the exact same outfit as the first time she had seen her walking around town with her nose stuck in a book. Her hair was down and there was a disturbing coolness to her demeanor. She strolled up the walkway purposefully, a panther stalking towards her prey.
It wasn't Rose; it wasn't even Belle. It was someone else, the same someone who had attacked August. People stared in fear and fascination at the woman ascending the front porch steps; the only ones who didn't shrink back were Mary Margaret and Regina.
"How…?" Dr. Whale murmured.
Belle snorted, "Please, I'm married to Rumplestiltskin. You think I don't know everything about this curse, including every single person's true identity?" She made a shooing gesture, "Run back to your laboratory and play with your science, doctor… Leave Regina to those of us who can handle her."
Dr. Whale, perhaps out of fear of her knowing his true identity, complied, slipping away while the rest of the mob watched in nervous anticipation.
Emma opened her mouth, but Mary Margaret rested a hand on her shoulder to stop her from speaking.
Regina chuckled, stepping closer to Belle, "How cute…mere hours into magic coming to Storybrooke and you already think you can reign as you once did. Allow me to be the one to warn you, Caretaker…magic is different here."
Belle smirked, "I know."
Without a single movement, Regina was flung backwards, slamming into the siding of her house. Regina stared in horror as she tried to move, but found herself pinned by an invisible force. Emma glanced down at Belle's left arm and noticed the mark there no longer looked like a horrific birth mark, but as though it had cut through obsidian rather than flesh.
"Fortunately I'm a quick learner," she tilted her head to one side, "But you're all talk."
She stepped closer to the former queen, trapped as a fly in a spider's web. Emma was equally disturbed and admiring of this harsher side of Rose.
"Belle…" Mary Margaret whimpered.
"Don't worry, Snow, I'm not going to kill her," she replied loftily, studying the silent Regina, "Henry wouldn't be too happy with me if I did that. But she should know if she steps one toe out of line…" Belle glanced down at her chest, "…you know I've never taken someone's heart before. I'd have no qualms about practicing on you."
Something akin to fear came into Regina's eyes. Confident that her point had been received, she allowed Regina to slip back down onto her feet. Belle then turned to Mary Margaret.
"If you have any trouble with her, Your Majesty, don't hesitate to bother Rumple. I'm sure he wouldn't mind if it involved getting Regina to behave."
Mary Margaret noticed the politics behind Belle's words; not only did she solidify their leadership in a town full of royalty, but she had implied an alliance between them, and an alliance with the Dark One (though tremulous) was quite valuable. Mary Margaret nodded, folding her arms.
"We should be able to handle her for now, thanks."
Belle returned the nod, then forced a smile as she glanced at Emma, "This must be a huge adjustment for you… You'll be fine," she tried to reassure her.
Emma wasn't about to take assurance from a woman who just force-slapped the mayor against a wall, though.
Belle gave a small bow to the trio, a quick glare to Regina, and then turned to walk away. The mob dispersed, shooting nervous glances at Belle. Mary Margaret hesitated, then shook her head.
"Charming, Emma, take Regina to the station," she ordered before stepping off the porch.
Emma glanced between the pair…her parents… David nodded his consent and Emma bolted after her mother.
"Where are you going?"
"To talk to her," Mary Margaret said bluntly, "Her Caretaker persona's a mask, and I want to know what she's hiding."
"Maybe she's just as pissed off at Regina as the rest of us," Emma said, "The woman has been trying to get her committed for insanity."
Mary Margaret shook her head, "This isn't Belle," she murmured, as if that was an honest rebuttal.
Emma was once again lost in translation. She could get that Rose was actually Belle from "Beauty and the Beast"; she could even get that Gold was both Rumplestiltskin and the Beast. But who was this Caretaker, and who would be afraid of Belle? Just because she was married to Rumplestiltskin? Or because she had a habit of threatening to take people's hearts? And since when could Belle do magic?! All Emma remembered was dancing dishes…
They caught up to Belle at Mater's gas station and convenience store, filling up her truck and glaring at the numbers as if they had done something to offend her. Her eyes were red, Emma noticed now, and while her hair had looked nearly majestic as she stormed up towards Regina it looked disheveled now.
"Belle?" Mary Margaret asked timidly.
Belle's eyes flicked down, staring at the ground, "I'm really not in the mood to talk right now, Snow," she murmured.
"That's alright, we can talk some other time," She was quick to assure her.
"Maybe…" Belle said, pulling the hose out as the numbers stopped rolling and setting it back into the pump, "…I'm going to miss you, my old friend."
Mary Margaret's eyebrows knit in confusion, "What?"
"She's leaving," Emma explained, staring at the baggage in the passenger's seat.
Mary Margaret's jaw dropped, "No…" Belle clenched her jaw, turning towards the driver's door. "I mean, is it even safe for us to leave Storybrooke?"
"Why not? The curse is broken, isn't it?" Belle's chin trembled.
Mary Margaret's heart thudded, "…what about Rumplestiltskin?" She asked quietly.
Belle's nails dug into the door's handle, "He's not coming."
"No. He's staying right here in Storybrooke," Belle's lips curled back as her arm shook with tension, "He sent me away."
"What?!" Mary Margaret exclaimed, "Belle, no, he wouldn't-"
"He doesn't want me here with him!" She snapped, wiping at her eyes, "He told me to leave, so I'm going. As far as his money will take me."
"But you two were-"
"Cursed, and now we aren't," she jerked the door open, then glanced at Mary Margaret, "I'm sorry… True love doesn't always work out."
"You can't give up! Not now!" Mary Margaret pleaded.
Belle shook her head, "I can't change his mind… If he wants me back he has my number," she turned the keys in the ignition, "Goodbye Snow White, Emma."
She slammed the door shut, and the two women stood and watched the Caretaker pull out of the station and onto the main road that led out of town.
Mary Margaret's apartment was solemn, despite the fact that they were a reunited family of four. Ruby had dropped Henry off, who was surprised at the somber mood he had walked in to. That is, until he learned of Belle's departure.
"Just like in her story," he said sadly, "She left the Beast that time too…" He perked up, "…but the Beast came after her and saved her life. Maybe Mr. Gold just needs some time."
Emma wrapped an arm around Henry's shoulders, rubbing the opposite one, "I don't know kiddo. Might be different in Fairytale Land, but here men don't really chase after their women. Especially men like Mr. Gold."
"It doesn't make any sense," Mary Margaret said, as she had been insisting since they had left Mater's, "They've been through so much…what could be different about this time?"
"We're not getting the whole story," Emma stated, "She couldn't even look you in the eye… And after that stunt with the dragon's egg, I don't think anything Gold does is without a purpose. He's planning something, and that means Rose has to go."
"They haven't spent more than a few days apart since he broke her out of Regina's tower," Mary Margaret pointed out, "They don't willingly split up."
"Except for those last four months."
The trio turned towards David, who had been sitting on the edge of Mary Margaret's bed, chin resting in his hand as he stared at the floorboards.
"She's only acted cold to either of us once, and that was when we went to trade for Thomas. Rumplestiltskin himself admitted that Belle and he have one priority higher than their own love… The one thing that had separated them since that first time she left…"
"Ella's baby," Mary Margaret's eyes widened, "You mean Belle might be… That there's something there that wasn't there before?"
David nodded, "I'm almost positive that there's something there that wasn't there before."
"I guess if you want it, it makes sense," Emma murmured, "From what I've seen, they really wanted what wasn't there before."
"What's there?" Henry asked, feeling out of the loop.
The adults exchanged glances and Mary Margaret sighed, "Nothing… It's not polite to spread gossip."
"Just tell me!" Henry begged, "I can keep quiet…"
"Don't you have homework that's due tomorrow?" Emma asked, deciding that she should actually try to be a parent now that being raised by the Evil Queen wasn't an option.
Henry frowned, "I just got over a sleeping curse," he glanced over at Mary Margaret, "Pleeeease can I have a pass, grandma?"
Mary Margaret wrinkled her nose at the unfamiliar endearment, "Henry, if I excuse you from your homework, I'd have to excuse every student from their homework since they were all cursed…" She sipped at her tea, "No wonder they all seem bored; they've been learning the same material for 28 years."
Belle's knuckles were white on the steering wheel as she fought back tears. She was a mile away from the Storybrooke line and she was positive the pain in her chest would kill her before she actually left. She hoped what she said to Mary Margaret would match whatever Rumple's story for her sudden departure would be. Saying she was on a quest was practically begging for interference.
Technically, it was the truth. The bare bones, but still the actual story.
She glanced down at the binder. There was a careful itinerary detailing each stop, Jefferson's map, other maps, a list of facts she had compiled about Bae, and finally Milah's sketch of the fourteen-year-old version of him. Before it had seemed like plenty, but now she wondered if it would be enough. The golden scarab was lightly stirring in the orb, shuffling through the ash. It didn't take too much magic to operate, but since she'd practically be the only source of magic outside of Storybrooke, it might be draining after a few hours of willing the makeshift compass to work.
Half a mile to the city limit. Tears were coming but she blinked them back, needing to concentrate on the road. It wasn't forever; they were only parted until she found Baelfire. Once she found him, then she'd have Rumplestiltskin again, and their little one. They could be a family, so long as she found Baelfire.
Quarter of a mile. She rocked restlessly back and forth, staring ahead.
"I have to find him," she murmured, "I have to find him."
The "leaving Storybrooke" sign was now in view. She grit her teeth together as her arms shook.
"I have to find Baelfire, I have to find Baelfire, I have to find Baelfire," she chanted under her breath, "I have to, I have to find Bae, I have to find my husband's son Baelfire, I have to find Bae-"
Belle crossed over the town line.
A wave of magic came over her, confusing her. What was this? And what was so important about finding Mr. Gold's son from his first marriage? Baelfire…who would name their kid Baelfire? Certainly not Rose.
We Are Both
Mr. Gold cried for a while, of course. He had turned Belle out yet again, this time much harder than the first. But he trusted her, and knew it wasn't forever, so eventually he got back up out of her reading chair and pulled on his big-boy pants.
He glanced down to see the cat staring at him, tilting its head as if wondering why on earth so much water was coming from his eyes. Stupid cat… She should have taken it with her. He sighed, then nodded towards the stairs.
As if understanding, Figaro trailed after him, following him up to the second story. Mr. Gold made a brief detour to their bedroom, and dug out a key that had been tossed into the small metal trash can that he never seemed to need to empty. He then went down the hallway and bracing himself for the worst, unlocked the door.
It swung open to the nursery, a room abandoned since his rage at Miss Boyd. It had been too painful to look at, and so he had locked it.
"What a mess," he muttered, glancing down, "You gonna help me out, boy?"
Figaro blinked, then turned around and trotted off. Mr. Gold growled under his breath. Cats were good for absolutely nothing… He set about cleaning up his mess, something to keep him occupied while he waited for 9:15 to roll around.
Mr. Gold tried to make the most of his sudden bachelorhood. He slept until ten o'clock the next day. He drank directly out of the milk carton for no goddamn reason. He paraded around in his birthday suit until it got too cold and he had to put clothes on. One large supreme pizza served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He watched every gory horror movie he could think of that he had been meaning to see. He got to sleep with all of the covers instead of whatever he was allowed.
By the second day of his bachelorhood, he was tired of it. He missed his Belle, and no matter the fact that his house was now a "man cave", it still depressed him to know he was alone.
Work was no longer about selling things; it was about dealing with people's problems. From the petty to the disturbing, Mr. Gold listened to their complaints like a king with his peasants, mostly just yelling at them for wasting his time. There was some commotion outside today, but Mr. Gold didn't have enough shits to give one about it.
Besides, he was facing the fact that he would have to eat lunch. In the back room. Alone. Maybe he could call her, pretend that she was there… But he was trying to give her her space. She had been plenty upset at the whole "sending me away even though you love me again" thing, and he figured it wise to let her make the first move.
Not that he was anxious. Of course not. He was the Dark One; he didn't wait around by the phone like a school girl.
He had a cell phone for gods' sake. He was not forced to be stationary.
He heard bootsteps on the hardwood floor, not preceded by the opening of the door. He turned around to see a young teenager dipping her hand through the glass of a display case, bringing up a small golden ball. She held it towards him.
"This is mine, you jerk," she muttered.
Mr. Gold smiled, "Finders keepers," he reminded her and she smirked.
If it wasn't for her human appearance, Mr. Gold wouldn't have thought of her as Kit. Katja had found and donned clothes that were similar to the apparel she had worn in their land, including his well-worn boots. The leather pants were new, as was the corset top that he was pretty sure he had seen on Regina.
Katja approached the front desk almost shyly, ghosting through the counter. She bent over as if in a bow but remained there, waiting.
"C'mon, Rump, I know you want to," she grumbled, "Hell, I'd beat myself to death if I could. I mean seriously, I was a total brat."
Mr. Gold smirked but, instead of the hard caning he had imagined during her time as a maid, he settled for a very solid smack to the back of her head.
"I don't care if you were cursed; you were a pain in the arse and I should have pushed you off the clock tower a few times just to shut you up," he stated.
She straightened, fighting the urge to rub at her head. He smiled softly.
"…I missed you, Katja," he murmured.
She smiled back, "Missed you too, Rumproast."
The tender moment ended as Katja jumped up onto the counter, swinging her legs up and sprawling out. He shot her a glare that she didn't seem to register.
"See you've been busy," he muttered, gesturing towards her top.
Katja grinned, "Yup. Gotta hit them while they're distracted and chaotic," she ran a hand up and down her thigh, "The savior has some great taste in pants… I never knew leather could be comfortable…"
"And yet you still haven't found new footwear to confiscate," Mr. Gold remarked.
Katja smirked, "They're my favorites; of course I'm not gonna trade them out. You found out what I took from you for that help with the Reggie hacking thing yet?"
"Of course," he shrugged, "I've just been a bit busy to rake a kid over the coals for thinking a key and her name on some documents means that she gets a two million dollar property," he leaned over her, "You're a minor, pussycat. You can't own property without at least an of-age co-signer."
"That's why I've got your signature on it."
"A poorly photoshopped signature that I can prove is not from the original documents," he winked at her, "Blue ink, dearie. Can't photocopy that."
Katja hissed, "Why can't you be dumb like everyone else?"
"That wouldn't be any fun for you now, would it?" He straightened, pretending to busy himself with something.
She bobbed one of her feet, "Where's Bluebelle?"
Mr. Gold froze, "…gone," he murmured.
"Obviously, but gone where?" She glanced at him, "Did she really leave Storybrooke?"
He frowned, "Since they haven't found her body in a ditch yet, I'm assuming so."
"You haven't talked to her?"
"She hasn't talked to me."
Katja closed her eyes, "You're a shitty husband."
"How long is she gone for?"
"I don't know. A few months, I imagine."
"The hell is she doing?"
"Taking a vacation, drop it."
"Do you need help?"
Mr. Gold looked the former werecat over, "What do you mean?"
"You've had a woman looking after you for a long time; I'm not confident you can function on your own anymore."
His chest swelled at the indignity, "I functioned perfectly well without her before."
"You reek of pizza, cat, and sorrow," Katja said bluntly, bobbing her foot faster, "I'm not suggesting I play house with you; I just think there's going to be a ton of people wanting deals and my usual revenue of ogre-killing isn't going to work in this world."
Mr. Gold smirked, "You want to be my business partner," he surmised.
"Rump & Boots… It has a ring to it," she claimed.
He shook his head, "Since when do you tie yourself down to any one alliance?"
"Look, if we ignore my biological and werecat ages, I've lived plenty of decades due to various magical loopholes, almost three with this curse alone. It's about dang time I settle down."
"Now tell me the truth," he insisted.
Katja opened her eyes, "Besides the fact you've got less walls around you than I've ever witnessed before so you might actually show your care for me? I miss my tail."
He chuckled, "You think I can just grow you a new one?"
"I've seen you turn people into snails. A tail shouldn't be beyond you," she propped herself up on her elbows, "I can work it off, watch the shop while you do gods know what."
"You think I'd trust you in the shop alone? A professional thief?"
Katja huffed, "If you liked this stuff so much you wouldn't be selling it," she insisted, "I can make up a resume if you want it to be official. I graduated from the Academy of Life As A Vagabond, worked as a mercenary, thief, and occasional guard kitty. My hobbies include pissing people off and being adorable, not an easy combo… Oh, and I'm not afraid of the leather dress code that seems to go along with BAMFs."
"You forgot your career objective," he pointed out blandly.
"Getting my tail back and sucking the marrow from Regina's bones."
Mr. Gold pursed his lips, "Tempting…but don't you think marrow-sucking Regina's bones is a bit extreme?"
"Look at this," Katja held up a hand, "She gave me a nail-biting habit. She has to die."
"Your vanity of your cat characteristics is quite astounding."
The door flew open and the pair glanced up.
"Huh… Did you call for a hero?" Katja asked.
"Indeed I did not," Mr. Gold assured her, "I think Mr. Nolan needs help."
"Geezus, princes coming to monsters for help. What has this world come to?"
"This world? I practically made him who he was in the old world."
David didn't pay too much attention to the banter between the pair. He studied the girl sprawled out on the counter as casually as Figaro, taking in her clothes.
"Puss in Boots?" He guessed.
Katja smirked, wiggling a foot, "What gave me away? Did I accidentally purr?" She jeered.
"Play nice, Katja," Mr. Gold warned, shifting his weight, "What can I do for you, Charming?"
David frowned, "Have you heard from Belle?"
Mr. Gold tensed, "What is it to you if I have or have not?"
"Answer the question."
"No, I have not heard from Belle. She left quite upset," he stated.
David was silent, watching the pawnbroker as he tried to gather his words.
"…I think you should call her," he finally said.
Mr. Gold arched an eyebrow, "If I wanted your marital advice, I'd ask for it."
"I mean it, Gold, call her," David took a deep breath, "…there was some trouble with the boundary line."
He suddenly had Mr. Gold's full attention, "…what kind of trouble?"
"Sneezy crossed over, as an experiment… And now he insists he's Tom Clark," he swallowed, "He's forgotten who he is from our land."
Mr. Gold grasped the counter to keep himself steady.
"I just thought you should know," David murmured.
His purpose for the visit fulfilled, David left again.
Katja sat up, watching Mr. Gold carefully. He looked as though he were barely keeping it together.
"I'll see myself out," she murmured before vanishing.
Mr. Gold felt as though ice had formed in the pit of his stomach, heavy and sharp. He had to call her… She had to be alright. There was just no other option, she had to be alright, or else his entire being would have fallen apart. He made his way to the back room and sank down into his desk chair, before slowly pulling out his cell phone.
His fingers shook as he pressed each number, and he added the area code just to stall. He held the phone to his ear, each ring a siren as his heart raced.
"Hey, you've reached Rose. Leave a message after the beep."
He hung up and dialed again. This time, she answered on the fourth ring.
"Hello." Not a question. She knew who was calling her.
He leaned over, raking his fingers through his hair, "I need you to humor me."
"Just…tell me my name." His voice was barely audible, "Please, my sweet Belle, just say my name."
There was a brief pause before her voice came back icily.
"Dialed the wrong number, asshole. This is your wife, Rose."
Belle was serious. She was angry with him.
She let out a breath in a hiss, and he could practically see her pacing wherever she was at, a hotel room maybe, "I know our marriage was just some contract to you… A convenience for both of us… But how could you do this to me?!" She was crying… Belle was crying… "You think it's been easy for me, that I haven't looked at other men and wondered what it would be like?! To be loved and to make love?! But I have been faithful to you through everything! And then you went and cheated on me!"
The accusation ripped through Mr. Gold like a bullet. He was shaking, doubled over in his chair and not believing the words coming from Belle's mouth.
"How could you do this to me?!" She shrieked, fighting off hysteria, "How could you care so little about me as a person that you'd sleep with another woman?!"
"Yes, that whore Belle! I found the letter you gave to her in my suitcase…why the hell was it in there?! Were you really that careless, or is this just your cowardly way of telling me?!" There was some rustling before she cleared her throat, reciting in a mocking tone, " "My darling Belle, I am excited for the life that we are about to build with each other, the life you always dreamed of living with me. I will finally be able to devote myself completely to you once Bae and I are reunited. I know you're scared, and you want me with you, but I can't be with you right now until this thing is settled. Then, I will leave everything for you and Bae. I love you with everything inside of me. It will be alright, I promise. I love you, Rum." Why the hell does she call you Rum?!"
Mr. Gold pressed his lips tightly together so she wouldn't hear him crying.
"I mean I'm out here looking for your estranged son, from your first wife no less, and you're back in Storybrooke counting down the minutes until you can leave me for your little slut! I must be less than dirt to you, for you to disrespect me so completely. And who names their kid Baelfire?!"
He stirred a little, "…you remember Bae?"
"I caught you cheating on me and all you can think of is your stupidly-named son?!" She choked, "Am I just another tool to you, a little pawn that you can just move around because you saved me from living out of my car? Guess what, I have feelings… I might've even loved you!" She paused a moment, trying to control her sobs, "…by the way, asshole, I'm pregnant. With your kid. Because you're the only one I've ever slept with."
The line went dead. The phone fell from his hands. And though his mind could not fathom a single word she had said, his heart did.
His Belle was gone, replaced by a shadow that could never compare to the real her. A shadow that hated him.
He fell to the ground and wept harder than he had in his entire life, howling and clawing at the floorboards. He was too weak to smash things, but the pain still drove such an urge. He cried until his body ached and he was swallowing down bile, pure determination keeping him from vomiting.
He had gambled. He had been greedy and wanted everything. Now he had nothing.
Day One Post-Tragedy
Mr. Gold had no idea how he got home, but he was there, clinging to Belle's pillow for dear life and crying until he ran out of tears. Then he just jerked in spasms of dry sobs. He did not sleep, or eat, or anything except lay on the bed they had shared, cradling a chipped cup like it was their newborn infant.
Day Two Post-Tragedy
Mr. Gold managed to make it out of bed, exhausted from yesterday's weeping marathon. Unable to fight her words out of his head, he turned for help. He drank more booze than he thought was possible, and though it dulled the pain, it did not erase her memory. He held the chipped cup so tight there were cuts all over his hands from where the porcelain had dug in.
Day Three Post-Tragedy
Mr. Gold threw up more than he thought anyone was capable of. He drank some water, his body demanding he lay in their bed to recuperate from the abuse. Through his headache, he managed to form coherent thoughts. He was calmer than he had been, mostly because of how he ached. He accepted the fact that Belle had lost her memory, thought he was cheating on her with herself, and somehow remembered Baelfire. The notes, perhaps?
Day Four Post-Tragedy
Mr. Gold showered, but didn't shave. He dressed, and nibbled on some crackers as more of a necessity than out of actual hunger. He washed his blood off of the chipped cup, and tracked down Baelfire's old ball and the sonogram picture. He went to the stand in the hallway and arranged the items in a little alter, a reminder for every time he passed through exactly what he wanted.
He put it off for a good hour and a half, but finally got the nerve to dial and hang up several times. On the fourth try, however, he finally managed to dial the entire phone number and not hang up.
"Yes?" Rose answered testily.
"Give me five minutes. Five minutes of you listening and me speaking. No interruptions, no hanging up, just hearing me out. Deal?" He asked.
Rose wavered for a moment, "…deal."
Mr. Gold took a deep breath, and began.
"This is not for you, Rose; this is for Belle. I fully realize how crazy I sound, but these words must be spoken, and I know that deep deep down the Belle I love is still there."
True to her word, Rose didn't say a thing, though probably thought Mr. Gold had lost it.
"There was a time that I would've let you go without so much as an attempt to come after you, because I have never believed that I am worthy of you, or that you could love someone like me. But as selfish as it is, I can't let you go now, I just can't. It's not because you're cursed and have no idea who you are, or that you're carrying my child, or even because you're looking for Bae without having any idea what you're doing. I simply cannot give you up." His jaw clenched, "I will not give up on you, because I know that you would not rest until you found a way if I were in your place. I am a coward, and I do not know what I am doing, but I know that I have to do something, because you deserve a man who would go through the fires of hell for you. I want you. I want Baelfire. I want our little one. I want this, all of it, more than I've ever wanted anything in my entire miserable life. So for the first time, I will fight. I will fight because you are worth fighting for, and deserve someone who would fight for you. I will not be a coward, not now, not with everything on the line... But I need something from you. I need your patience, as I always have. Because I have no fucking clue how to win you back, or how I got you in the first place. All I know is the woman I love, the woman I've been learning since the moment she walked out of her father's door with me. So please…please let me fight for you."
His speech was met with silence. He wasn't sure if she was waiting for more, or if she had just blown it off.
"…why did you cheat on me, Gold, if you truly love me?" She finally asked.
He frowned, "Honestly, I have no idea. We will have to explore that later, when you're more susceptible to the truth."
"We're going to have to take this slow… It's not something I can say all at once without you freaking out."
"Why not? What is going on?"
Mr. Gold took a deep breath, "For now… What you need to know is that letter was for you. You are the Belle I was writing to." True to his nature, he hung up before he could hear her reply.
Day Five Post-Tragedy:
Did she expect for him to call her up for an interview? Nope, but she was expecting some contact… Then again his wife did just lose her memory… She really hoped he wasn't dead, because dying of self-neglect was definitely something he'd do.
Hands in her pockets, Katja swung by the pawnshop as she had every day she went to and came back from school (yes, school, she still had to suffer that injustice). Today there was a letter taped to the front door. Because curiosity and cats went together so well, Katja checked it out.
You start on Monday. You better not wear anything similar to what I last saw you in, or else you're going to be spending more time in a magically enhanced strait-jacket.
Katja smiled, and began trying to figure out what would be the best outfit to show up in work would be, tip-toeing on that fine line between getting a reaction and not behaving like his tramp.
Granny's was relatively busy for the time of day, as it had become the unofficial meeting place for most townsfolk. David and Mary Margaret enjoyed a breakfast alone, needing some time for just the two of them to nurture their marriage. Mother Superior and Sister Astrid discussed her options over some coffee, which were primarily leaving the convent for Leroy or staying and keeping her vows of chastity. Jefferson stared adoringly at his Grace, who was trying to catch him up on her life before she had to catch the bus. Regina had found a corner booth, back to Mary Margaret, nursing a pitch black cup of coffee and mulling over ways to get Henry back. It was a relatively peaceful scene until the tell-tale thuds of a cane broke through the noise.
After five days, Rumplestiltskin had emerged from his den. Plenty of time for the rumor mill to make its rounds. Everyone knew what had happened. He knew that everyone knew what happened. And yet the pink elephant remained as he crossed the quiet restaurant to the counter. The only waitress who wasn't afraid of him came forward.
"The usual, to go," he murmured.
Ruby glanced down at his hand, "What's that?"
Mr. Gold glanced down at the package in his hand. He could be bitter, say that it was just a parcel and it was none of her business… But he needed to conserve his energy for more important things.
"She forgot one of her books," he said.
"Oh…" Ruby fled to make his order.
The restaurant went dead silent as someone approached Mr. Gold. He didn't need to glance over to see who it was.
"She finally got away from you then, Beast?" Moe French murmured.
Mr. Gold smirked, "It wasn't especially difficult, since I was the one who told her to go."
"And now she's lost to all of us," he said flatly.
Mr. Gold shook his head, "Not lost. She just thinks she's someone else."
"She's facing the world alone, without anyone to help her-"
"I'm sure she's touched at how much you think of her abilities," he growled.
Granny kept an eye on the drama, ready to break it up at any moment. It didn't matter how big Moe was, she could take him.
Ruby set down a cup of tea to go and Mr. Gold paid for it.
"You're a monster, Rumplestiltskin."
"Indeed I am," he agreed, turning around.
"You're going to let her go, just like that?!"
Ruby tensed as Moe's voice raised, and several of the patrons shifted nervously. Mr. Gold hardly even bat an eyelash.
"Do you know what the difference between a hero's determination and a villain's is, Mr. French?" He queried. The florist didn't respond. "A hero still gives up. A hero still has the option to give up. A hero's determination can make them unbelievably stupid. But a villain?" He shook his head, "They never give up. Their determination makes them clever, trying every possible way to get what they desire," he gestured around broadly, "You've seen it with your own eyes, a woman damning an entire kingdom to misery just to take away the happiness of her foe."
Regina stared down at her coffee. Mary Margaret shifted uncomfortably.
Mr. Gold's eyes narrowed, "Do you know why bad guys die in kid's movies? Because that is the only way to stop a true villain. Over. Their. Dead. Body. Now unfortunately your daughter married a villain, an immortal villain, a villain who hasn't given up on his goal in 328 long years." His lips curled back, baring teeth at Moe, "Nothing will keep me from my family; Belle, my children and I will have our happy ending, together, even if I have to destroy everything in my path to make it happen," he picked up his tea, "We will be happy…if it's the last thing I do."
With that vow, Mr. Gold shouldered past Moe French, ignoring the shocked patrons of the diner, and leaving the restaurant. He had to get to the post office to drop off her well-worn copy of "The Princess Bride", hoping she hadn't given him a fake address.
They had fought pirates, faced his sinister past, slaughtered unicorns, suffered the loss of a baby, survived the death of someone they might have saved, endured prison cells, proved the innocence of a framed princess, insecurities of a son that may or may not want them, been rescued from torture and doubt, faced legions of non-believers of the feelings they had for each other, fought werewolves, cast a dark curse, endured twenty-eight years of civility, and overcame sterility and the boundaries of a small town to finally move towards their ultimate goal.
What was a bout of amnesia in the face of true love?
Just wanna say, now that I can say it, that I've been thinking about the memory loss thing for this story since 2x02. I was unjustifiably upset when 2x11 proved me right and "stole" my idea…and has given me little hope so far. I don't know if I did better or worse than the show with this, but at least Rumple's not being a creepster here.
Since I have you all in one place (presumably), I just want to thank you. Over three hundred favorites, over 4 ½ hundred follows, and over six hundred reviews to date… I had no idea how huge this was going to be when I started. I love and appreciate every one of you, yes even you, little anons who leave nothing but a number to the count of hits or reviewers who don't necessarily agree with the AU-ity of the story. This seriously would be nothing without y'all, and I can't state enough my gratitude for your kindness.
I'm pretty sure y'all would kill me if I left you hanging like this, so be sure to follow me on Tumblr or Fanfiction under ShakespeareanHoneyBadgers for news on the sequel, aptly titled "The Golds". I'm going to take a short break after this beast of a story, take that time to have a promptathon on Tumblr and plan out the much shorter, much less canon, much less structured sequel. I hope to see y'all at "The Golds", which at the earliest will start being written after "Manhattan". I sense mucho backstory that I must know of before I start.
Thank you for going on this crazy ride with me. I'm just glad it didn't crash or break down or something.