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.

Mr. Gold was starting to remember why he didn't bring his wife along on errands.

It had been a pain at best in their old world, lethal peril at worst. If Belle wasn't taking part in a deal in progress, her curiosity would kick in and she'd venture off into the great wide somewhere. Unfortunately in the great wide somewhere, there were dragons, ogres, highwaymen, chimeras, assassins, magic-wielders, Regina and more, and Belle had stumbled across them all in the few years she had been with him.

At least the worst case scenario in this town was Regina, whom they could handle, or her dragon friend, but Belle had already explored the mines so she wouldn't be going back there.

He had only been talking to Marco for maybe ten minutes, discussing the things Mr. Gold had brought for him to fix. He turned to ask Belle if there was something he'd forgotten, only to find her gone. A quick glance at the car told him she hadn't just curled up to read.

He wished, not for the first time, her mark worked here so he could summon her ass back here.

"She's probably in the garage," Marco offered, noticing Mr. Gold's gaze, "Duchess just had a litter of kittens… If I ever get my hands on that alley cat…"

"I'll check there, if you don't mind."

Mr. Gold's life flashed before his eyes; a vision of clawed-up furniture, pissed-on carpets and non-stop mewling whenever Belle was gone. A sense of doom washed over him, and he hoped feebly Belle hadn't found the litter.

No such luck.

He could hear her, crooning over the fleabags and marveling at the cuteness of each one. He made his way over to the dimly-lit corner, Belle sitting in the midst of the hoard. The mother, a sleek white beauty, seemed content to let Belle play with her kids while she took a break. There was already one in her arms and he prepared his very-sensible argument against having a kitten.

Belle turned and he was blinded by her smile. He hadn't seen it since the ill-fated trip to the hospital, and he missed it so. She looked like her old self holding the tiny thing to her cheek.

"Isn't he adorable?!" She exclaimed. Mr. Gold examined it.

Yellow eyes examined him right back, the thing so small it could sit in the palm of his hand. It was black save for its belly, chest, and mouth, as well as the paws and tail-tip that made it look like it had walked through wet white paint. It was cute, Mr. Gold conceded, but so were fairies, and those brought nothing but trouble.

"I can't keep all of them," Marco said, coming up beside him, "If I can't find owners on my own I'll have to take them to the shelter."

Belle gasped as though this was a huge plot twist.

"We can't let him go into the system! Look at this face!"

Mr. Gold gazed evenly at the cat. Belle was the only one he knew who thought animals were equal to people; not greater, not lesser, but one hundred percent equal. He had tried to point out her insanity then of eating them at dinner one night, and all he got for his trouble was a little roasted dragon flung at his face.

That smile…he had suffered greater indignities than this for that wicked little weapon. He frowned.

"Will you care for it?"

Belle stared at him, "What?"

"Will you feed it, clean its box, give it something to scratch up besides my upholstery, take it to the vet's dutifully, and otherwise ensure I never have to deal with it?"

Belle lit up as she realized he was, in his own way, saying she could keep it.

"Yes, of course!" She leapt to her feet, hugging the kitten so tight Mr. Gold feared she'd break it already, "Oh thank you!" She kissed his cheek before dashing off to the car, presumably so he couldn't change his mind.

Mr. Gold sighed and Marco snickered.

"The love of a woman, eh? What a man wouldn't do for it."

"You speak of this to no one and your rent will be mysteriously low next month."

The kitten was in Belle's lap when he got into the car, hunkered down like a deer in the headlights. Belle stroked it and murmured reassurements.

"I think we should exchange it. This one's a scaredy cat." Belle shot him a glare.

"He's going away from the only home he's ever known with two strangers. Of course he's scared." Mr. Gold backed out of the gravel driveway, "What do you have against cats?"

"Nothing, but I have nothing for them, either," he pursed his lips, "I've only liked one cat in my life, dearie, and she was only partially cat."

"So you like dogs?"

"Not particularly," he cocked his head, "I've never understood that duality, like you have to like either cats or dogs. Some people like both and some, like me, don't prefer either of them."

Belle scratched the kitten's chin.

"Then what is your preference?"

"I like sheep," he said plainly, "They're useful, and listen a lot better than a cat."

"You shouldn't talk that way around Figaro; you'll hurt his feelings."

Mr. Gold whipped his head towards her, jaw slacked.

"We've had it maybe five minutes and you've already named it?!"

"Of course I have!" Belle reached over to steady the steering wheel and keep them in the right lane, "It suits him."

Mr. Gold took possession of the wheel again, shaking his head. How was she supposed to know if the name suited it when she barely knew it?

"Don't worry, Figgy," she cooed to the lightly shivering ball of fur, "You'll grow on him. You just have to accept the fact he's a jerk."

III

Marrying Belle might've been a mistake, Rumplestiltskin realized early on. Most women settled down into their homes once they had a husband, and Rumplestiltskin fooled himself into believing Belle would be content in the Dark Castle, brewing potions and keeping careful notes of his deals. It was like he believed he could change her or something.

He knew he was in trouble when he came up to his tower and saw her sitting on one of the work benches, legs swinging, hands on her lap. He froze and she smiled sinisterly.

"What are you up to tomorrow?" She asked cheerily. Rumplestiltskin's stomach prickled uncomfortably and he grinned, striding towards her.

"Nothing interesting," he insisted, fingertips pressed together. She tilted her head.

"I don't believe you."

"That's because you find everything interesting," he paused in front of her, one foot in front of the other, "If you reeeeally want to know…"

"I do."

"There's a town near a valley. A valley infested with unicorns," he wrinkled her nose. Belle perked up, "Have to exterminate them."

Belle looked like he had said he was going to launch infants from catapults just to watch them splat.

"Why would you do that?!" She exclaimed. He splayed his hands.

"Because unicorns are a menace."

"No they aren't! We had a glory of them near our finishing school; the other girls and I used to sneak out to feed them sugar cubes after tea. They were the most gentle, beautiful things I have ever seen."

Rumplestiltskin snickered and Belle fumed, tempted to smack him.

"What's wrong with that picture, Belle?" Belle's eyes rolled towards the ceiling as though the answer was up there.

"…we were all girls."

"You were all pure," he raised his pointer finger, "Unicorns are the exact opposite of most beasties; they exalt purity and detest corruption. They will destroy whatever impurities exist, no matter how minor the fault." He sneered, "They're lovely and kind to children…everyone else gets the horn."

Belle felt the finger poke her in the ribs, and bit back a laugh.

"So they're really that bad?"

"Oh yes. Blade-sharp horn, diamond-hard hooves, hallucinogenic bites… They seem innocent, but there's a hidden darkness to them," his fingers started to prod at her, moving around her middle and trying to find a soft spot, "Like you!"

She giggled and squirmed as he continued to tickle her, waiting until she cried "uncle!" before stopping. She caught her breath before asking.

"Will you teach me how to kill them?"

The question made Rumplestiltskin pause, staring down at her. She tried to read him, to tell what he was thinking, but his eyes were as still as an unbroken pool.

He sighed, "…what's the harm?"

III

Belle and Rumplestiltskin had engaged in many glorious battles with each other, taking turns claiming victories. The Golds had been too cursed to give much more than bitter hints, but that was bound to change now that they were remembering how their other lives went.

Mr. Gold had the sense that this wasn't going to be a battle. No, this was going to be a full-fledged war.

Even the black coffee barely stirred the fog around his head. There had been little sleep last night, and in hindsight he realized turning in early had been his undoing.

He had been slightly conscious of Belle coming in an hour or two after he had gotten under the covers, his mind in the delicious haze of being half-awake and half asleep. There was suddenly pressure on his chest, and something kneading into him. His first thought was that Belle needed to trim her nails. The second, somewhat more rationally, was that Katja was messing with him. He opened his eyes with a great effort, ready to tell her off.

Two yellow eyes stared back at him, and Mr. Gold realized it was just Belle's new pet. The thing was breathing hard, rumbling against his chest. He wasn't sure how it had confused him for Belle, with the lack of padding and all. He picked it up and placed it on the proper chest, its owner grunting in complaint.

Thirty seconds later, he felt it back on his chest. His hand slipped off the edge of the bed and felt for his cane, rising carefully. The cat slid down into his hand and he hobbled towards the door, sticking the kitten out into the hallway.

No sooner was he comfortably back in bed than the mewling started. What cruel god had put such an insufferable frequency into an animal?

"Go get him," Belle's words were muffled by the pillow she was face-down in.

"It's your cat," he reminded her.

"I didn't shut it out," she insisted.

He lay there for a minute, trying to ignore the noise. It was as if the cries were burrowing into his flesh, making it shoot needles of irritation throughout his body. He started to pray that Belle would lose her resolve and go to it…but Belle also had that nasty skill she picked up from reading whenever wherever of blocking noise out. So he rose again, and let the cat back in.

The cat seemed spited by his peaceable efforts to get it to leave him alone, and continued trying to curl up on his chest. He spent the majority of the night shifting around to displace the cat, only to have it find somewhere else on him to lie on. The bed wasn't especially large, so his endless tossing and turning kept his wife up and made her growl like a dragon. He finally nodded off for a few hours before Belle's alarm went off.

He was aware of something between his legs and was justifiably concerned since it was far too small to be Belle. He propped himself up and looked down to see the cat, its head on his crotch.

"I don't mean to disturb you, but I believe your cat's coming on to me," he said.

"Don't be a pervert," she snapped, "It's warm down there, and cats like warmth."

It didn't make him feel any better about the situation, and he nudged the cat lower with his good leg.

Belle graciously took the thing with her when she left, and Mr. Gold gave a solid hour and a half effort to try and regain sleep. One point to the cat, he thought dimly as he finished his coffee, but he'd rather sleep on the couch than with that thing again.

He ran a few errands before making his way to the shop for lunch. The first thing he noticed was the cat on the counter.

"This isn't a daycare," he grumbled, moving towards her.

"He would've been lonely in the house all day," she insisted, passing him his sandwich.

"He should get used to it; we're gone most of the time."

"He's a baby; he needs to have us around for a couple of weeks for security."

"It'll be fine, it's an animal."

"It's a pet!"

"That doesn't need to be sleeping with us!"

"He's in a new place and he's scared!"

Mr. Gold's eyes wandered to the thing in question. Belle had poured it a cup of milk and it lapped casually at it, unperturbed by their rather heated discussion. But that cup wasn't normal. It wasn't whole. There was a chip on the side it was drinking out of. Mr. Gold's knuckles went white as he strangled his cane, using his few shreds of restraint to keep from killing it.

"That's. My. Cup," he snarled.

Belle glanced down, and her eyes widened.

"I'm so sorry… I didn't think… It was the first one I grabbed."

"That's my cup, and that thing is drinking out of it." Belle shrugged helplessly at him.

"It's just a cup."

Yes, it had been just a cup when he had used those words to her that first night. But it became more than that. It became the first thing she had changed in his life, the first ripple; she had chipped something of his and he hadn't thrown a fit (he blamed those eyes). When he thought she had died it was really all he had left to prove she existed, the only thing she had given to him besides an ill-fated kiss.

And now the damned cat was drinking out of it.

Was it back to being just a cup now? His rational side said "yes"… But his rational side was not always in control.

As if the universe decided to save Mr. Gold from something he'd regret in five minutes, a tremor shook the ground beneath them. Bicycles swung. Chess pieces rolled. A book landed on the ground with a dull thud. With one hand he grabbed for Belle and with the other he kept his cup from being knocked over.

The tremor lasted less than a minute, but Belle continued to shake, staring at Mr. Gold.

"Earthquake?" She asked. He shook his head.

"Doubtful."

Belle bolted for the door and he bit back a cry. What if it happened again? That boat wasn't as secure as it should be and if something fell on her… She was gone before he could rationalize warning her. Mr. Gold picked up his cane, lines appearing on his creased forehead.

It wasn't natural… In fact it almost felt like magic.

The cat had disappeared, he noticed. That would worry Belle. He rounded the counter. It was down there, cowering in an opened cabinet. He gave a wistful smile.

"Come on out, boy, no one likes a coward."

He eased himself down onto his good knee, offering a hand to the cat. The cat sniffed at it, then rubbed his face against it and purred. Mr. Gold recalled hearing somewhere that cats didn't just purr when they were happy; they also purred when they were anxious. He patted its head.

"It's alright; I don't think it's gonna happen again," he bapped its nose with a finger, "That's what happens when you drink out of my cup you little nuisance." The way he said nuisance made it almost sound like a term of endearment.

He straightened and went around the shop, assessing the damage. Surprisingly there was none; just many things that needed to be set up-right again. He glanced at the door as the bell tinkled.

"The old mines caved in," Belle announced, eyes wide. Mr. Gold frowned.

"Natural or forced?"

"Natural, from what anyone could gather. Regina looked pretty surprised and unnerved for it to be of her doing."

Mr. Gold took a few strides, setting up the metallic tea set.

"Plenty of magic down there…hidden, inaccessible to most."

"If it wasn't you, and it wasn't Regina… Emma did something," Belle concluded. Mr. Gold nodded his agreement.

She went for the counter and grabbed her purse.

"Alright, I'll go play detective while you babysit Figgy." Mr. Gold looked offended.

"Why can't I play detective and you handle your cat?"

"Because being a detective requires you to be a people person," she flashed a smile at him, "And we both know you're not the social butterfly." She glanced down at his ankle and "awww"ed. Mr. Gold glanced down.

The cat was sitting right beside him, like a heeled dog. He scowled.

"You two have fun bonding!" Belle called before disappearing out the door.

Mr. Gold's eyes narrowed as the animal looked up at him, yellow eyes deceivingly innocent.

"You're her cat, not mine," he reminded it. It rubbed its shoulder against his leg, and he was glad that his slacks coincided with the black fur on the beast.

III

Rumplestiltskin loved the way Belle looked when she was being taught. Bright-eyed, straight as an arrow, he'd seen playful puppies less eager than her. Even if it was the knowledge of how to kill something, it was still knowledge, and he was sure even if he rattled off everything he knew, she would still be hungry for more.

So they stood in the gardens, near a life-size-but-otherwise-shoddy-excuse-for-a-unicorn unicorn. It might've been a rocking horse at some point, or a bench with a mop attached to it, but now it had a champagne bottle on its forehead, christening it a unicorn.

He handed her something that looked like a sickle, black as charcoal and polished as a wave-worn pebble.

"Dragonbone is the only thing that can sever the horn from the unicorn," he said. Belle tried not to look too squeamish, "It's the best deathblow you can give unless you somehow have the strength to bash its skull in." Belle shook her head.

Part of him hoped his bluntness would turn her off to the ordeal. Part of him hoped she'd prove herself as fearless and undaunted as she had always been towards him.

"Second best are the neck arteries…here and here," he tapped each side of the unicorn's throat, and Belle translated it to where they'd be on an actual unicorn.

He circled it and she followed him, getting a feel for her weapon.

"Never get behind one, always in front… A hit to the flank will wound but not kill them… You can try for the ribcage if you're underneath one, but a punctured lung is a horrible death… Cutting a leg is a waste of your time…"

"You've done this a lot," she remarked. He shrugged.

"Enough. You learn fast after the first few impalements."

Belle thought she was going to be sick.

They returned to the head and he began demonstrating the proper swiping method to de-horn the beast. Belle copied a few times and Rumplestiltskin nodded approvingly. He stepped back to allow her room to kill the unicorn, and she took a good swing. The glass stayed attached.

"You're going to have to put in a little more effort, dearie," he chided, "You're slaughtering it, not playing a game of tag."

She tried again and again, a knot forming in the back of her throat. She didn't want to kill unicorns…but she wanted to prove that she was tough enough to be a partner to the Dark One. She loved unicorns; their wise eyes, their warmth, the tickling sensation as they ate sweets from her open palm. She didn't want Rumplestiltskin to be right, to taint those memories that helped her survive finishing school.

But that wasn't the main reason why she didn't want to go along with this, she admitted to herself. She didn't want Rumplestiltskin to be right because, apart from stick sparring when she was little, she had no fighting experience. The only weapon she had held was Gaston's, and that was only for a moment while he bragged about the craftsmanship. She should tell him these things before she was gored to death…but she couldn't form the words.

III

Belle hung back from the crowd, leaning up against a tree as she took in the scene. She tuned in to different conversations, but mostly watched the two power players; Emma and Regina. Emma was working with Graham and at first Belle thought it was just habit. But then the sun caught her hip.

Emma was now Deputy Swan. She had become part of the community, and that was what had caused the collapse. Score one for the good guys.

Speaking of things Regina hated, she was heading right towards Belle. Belle inclined her head.

"Afternoon, Mayor Mills."

"Shouldn't you be working, Miss French?" Apparently her patience was already fried. Belle grinned.

"It's one of the perks of sleeping with the boss; flexible hours," she winked. Regina didn't seem to find it amusing. She sighed, "Mr. Gold was curious about the tunnels collapsing, so he sent me to investigate."

"I'm sure he is," The other woman muttered under her breath.

Regina pursed her lips and Belle watched as she shifted from irritated…to devious.

"You call your husband Mr. Gold," she stated. Belle shrugged.

"Everyone calls him Mr. Gold."

"Even his own wife? Surely you know his first name," she purred, blood red lips curling back.

Regina had purposely not given him one, and had it so no one thought it odd that his first name was a mystery. Not even his significant other.

Belle glanced away, fidgeting with her purse strap.

"Of course I know his first name…"

"Then what is it?"

"Don't you know?"

"I want to hear you say it." There was menace in Regina's tone, trying to bully her into a misstep. Belle was already dancing on the edge, one slip of the tongue away from giving up their advantage.

Belle bit her lip.

"He hates it… It's long and unique, and it's just easier to go by Mr. Gold."

Regina's hand snaked down to Belle's throat, forcing the girl to look at her.

"What. Is. His. Name?"

Belle swallowed, then cleared her throat.

"…Spindleshanks."

Regina pushed her away disgustedly and Belle smirked.

"No, that's not right. Threadwhistle maybe? No, it's Hobblefoot, definitely Hobblefoot."

"You think you're so smart, don't you?" Regina sneered. Belle tried not to giggle, "You think you're brave and heroic, defying the mayor. Let me assure you, Rosaline… You're not. You're just foolish, thinking that hiding behind your lover's reputation will save you," Regina leaned closer, "I'm not afraid of that little man."

"Oh really?" Belle grinned, "I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that."

She tried to take her leave, but Regina blocked her path.

"Could you move?"

"In such a hurry to leave?" Regina jeered.

"Let me go…" Belle met her eyes, "…please."

Regina's eyes bulged and this time when Belle stepped around, Regina didn't follow. Before this conversation she suspected Belle was awake…now she was positive.

Belle smiled to herself, feeling guilty at her indulgence. Mr. Gold had warned her not to overuse the magic word lest Regina try to squirm out of the deal, but the Evil Queen needed to be put in her place today.

Meanwhile at Gold's Pawnbroker, Mr. Gold continued his self-proclaimed war against Belle's cat. His moment of kindness had convinced the furball that it meant Mr. Gold cared for it, and now it was costing him his peace.

Wherever he went, the cat went. If he rearranged or stocked items, the cat would bat at them. If he sat down to do paperwork, the cat sprawled out on top of it and wouldn't move. If he just stood at the counter and stared at the door, it would either rub up against him or sit on the counter, staring at the door as well.

He was contemplating driving the thing home to drop it off when his cell phone rang. He glanced at the screen. She must have sensed a disturbance in the force.

He answered it, "Come back and take your cat with you."

"Having that must fun with Figaro, huh?" She asked, not missing a beat.

"It won't leave me alone or let me work…it's like an annoying version of you." She giggled.

"He's just bonding with you."

"He's supposed to be bonding with you," he complained. Belle sighed.

"Cats are like people; you can't force them to fall in love. They attach to whoever they attach to, and that's the end of that." Mr. Gold thought that was nonsense, but he didn't tell her so.

As though hearing her voice, the cat popped out of whatever crevice it had been hiding in, watching his master thoughtfully.

"Anyway, Emma's become the deputy."

"…aaaah."

"Exactly. Regina's planning on paving over the mines, so if you want anything…"

"GRAH!"

Sixteen little hooks were embedded in Mr. Gold's leg without warning, before launching up towards his hip.

"Yes, it's unfortunate, but what would we do with a glass coffin?"

"No, it's your damn cat," he hissed, the kitten hopping onto the counter innocently, "He's too small to jump up on the counter so he uses me as a ladder! At this rate he'll ruin my suit…"

"Oh hush. You have more suits than I have dresses. Why don't you just pick him up and set him on the counter?"

"Because I don't want him on the counter. No one should be on the counter, but apparently I can't stop either of you without it being considered abusive."

"Hang on, Ruby's on the other line." He was unceremoniously ditched.

Mr. Gold eyed the cat. It was now contently curled up next to the register, because apparently it didn't get enough sleep already.

Belle's voice clicked on, coming out in a rush.

"Henry's missing." Mr. Gold arched an eyebrow.

"Isn't that just status quo?"

"Dr. Hopper thinks he went down into the mines." Oh… Well yes that was worth worrying about. Regina was going to be in hysterics what with her ex-friend being down there and all.

Mr. Gold grinned morbidly, "A new suit says Maleficent eats Henry."

"RUMPLESTILTSKIN!" He smothered a giggle as she shrieked.

"Calm down, dearie, I'm sure he won't get that far through the tunnels. He'd have to cross half the town to get there." Belle took a deep breath.

"I'm going to join the rescue team."

"As you wish, but-" The line went dead. Mr. Gold half-heartedly finished anyway, "…take your cat."

III

Belle was highly uncomfortable with her lack of armor, wearing only some sort of vest under her dress and a wide steel necklace (more like a collar, she thought darkly). Her arms were bare and she was in a comfortable dress, as though she was just a maid again about to do chores. She certainly didn't feel like she was going into a battle, even with the sickle.

"You have an advantage, dearie; you don't look corrupted," Rumplestiltskin said, hand on the small of her back as he guided her into a clearing, "If they so much as get a whiff of me they start charging like minotaurs. You will have time as they approach you; use it. But don't make the first move unless you're sure of yourself. Divide and conquer. Use the trees. Here," he indicated a patch of clover. She eased herself down, "Keep your mark hidden…put your skirts over the blade. You will be stabbed; don't be surprised, just keep fighting."

Fingertips gently touched her chin and she looked up at him. Sometimes Rumplestiltskin was as readable as a locked diary, but right now he was open. He was concerned. He didn't want her in danger. He'd rather she be in the castle, curled up in front of a window or in the gardens… But he loved and respected her far too much to coddle her. If she wanted to be his partner instead of a stay-at-home wife, she'd have to do what needed to be done. Killing unicorns was just one of the beginning steps.

"I won't be far," he promised, pulling away. She continued to look at him until he turned his back, then she opened her book.

She couldn't concentrate on reading, not when she was busy being bait. So she stared at the words on the page, her senses on edge as she waited, and waited.

There was a disruption of white in the green scenery and she glanced up, the breath stolen from her lips. It wasn't just the few she had seen on the school's property; it was a much larger glory, maybe a dozen or more. Their golden horns gleamed in the light, heads turned to consider her. One of the larger ones, probably their leader, flicked his silvery tail and they started up the hill towards her.

The old sensations of wonder and awe filled her, and she wished she had brought taffy or mints or something to give to them. Tears filled her eyes as she saw a foal near the back, beautiful despite its gawkiness with a little stub of a horn. They continued their approach and Belle forgot her book, the sickle, everything. She extended her hand palm-up in a sign of goodwill towards them.

Their heads jerked back, eyes rolling as they squealed, and she realized she had offered her marked arm towards them.

They branched out, circling her with frantic snorts. Their cloven hooves beat at the ground and Belle scrambled to her feet. The circle was tightening, and Belle's terror blossomed at the sight of their coordination. Before she could react, the attacks began.

She screamed as a horn ripped through her arm, then her opposite shoulder, and she fell to the ground as one tried to pierce her vest. She felt around for her sickle, hooves raining down on her as if to smash her into the earth. She grasped it and struck out blindly, hitting nothing. She thrust upwards and cut into flesh. She thrust again and again with few results. She needed to get out, to get away. Rumplestiltskin, Rumplestiltskin!

She crawled on her hands and knees, breaking through the circle, and ran for dear life towards the trees. The ground thundered behind her as they followed, squealing and snorting as though they had gone mad. She ducked behind a tree, and heard a crunch as a horn drove into it. The unicorn gave an almost human shriek as it realized it was trapped. Belle spun around and slashed through its horn. It crumpled to the ground.

Another horn seared through her hip and she twirled towards the attacker, slitting its artery. Sunset pink blood spurted out at her and she screamed, horror and relief never so strong a combo. She felt as though she were swimming in her own mind, heart thudding against her skull as she faced the other unicorns. The only thought she had was of survival. If it was her or them, then she had to choose herself.

It was a blur of white, pink, black and green as she fought, better than she thought possible, as though the little practice had given her everything she needed. One by one she took down the unicorns, even the pain of their horns forgotten. Finally, all that was left was the foal. Nothing that young should be that enraged, she thought vaguely as she raised her sickle.

"I'm sorry," she murmured. It whinnied and charged, and Belle cut into its throat.

As a last act of defiance, it bit her hand, and Belle let it hold on until it went slack.

Chest heaving, she kept taking in ragged breaths, licking her lips. She tasted their blood and it tasted like…strawberry syrup. She closed her eyes and cringed. What a mix this whole fiasco was; pure beings possessed with the need to kill, their blood beautiful and delicious, a young woman turning into a warrior in the face of danger.

"Very good dearie."

Belle opened her eyes and looked over to see Rumplestiltskin a few steps away. His eyes flicked over her, examining her, testing the waters to see how welcome he'd be. Belle looked down at herself, expecting to be as riddled with holes as a termite-infested log.

There was little to show for the pain she had endured; even as she stared a lethal gash on her arm sealed and shrunk until it vanished. She looked up at Rumplestiltskin in confusion.

"They're healers, not that you'd know it from the way they went after you," he said, picking his way through the massacre towards her. He cocked his head in false astonishment, "What, did you think I'd send you out in just a pretty dress and a couple of charmed accessories if they could actually kill you? I may not be a very good husband, but I'd like to think I wouldn't go so far as to send you out on a suicide mission."

Belle felt a little buzz growing in the back of her skull, and she felt a giggle rise in her throat. It slipped out, growing into a laugh, and then a hysterical laugh.

"…you got bitten, didn't you?" Rumplestiltskin grumbled, which seemed absolutely hilarious for some reason.

The world began to tilt and sway; things that were right beside her becoming small as if they were in the distance. She fell flat on her back and laughed until she was gasping for air, the sky turning purple and Rumplestiltskin's skin started to rise and fall like waves.

Somewhere in the back of her head, she realized that this wasn't right.

III

He had spent nearly all of the day with Belle's cat. When he had made it crystal clear that it would be her sole responsibility if he let her have it. He should've gotten her a lamb…

The cat still wasn't fond of riding in the car, hunkered down in the passenger seat like it was a bomb shelter. Mr. Gold briefly wondered what he would think if he had come to this world memory intact. He might've been just as scared of the moving vehicle. Carrying the cat, he made his way up the steps and inside the house at 9:15.

"I'm assuming Henry turned up, then?" He called.

"Yeah, Dr. Hopper found him and Emma pulled them out."

He lumbered towards the dining room, "Would've been nice to know…"

"I didn't want to hear you whine about my cat again," she said simply. Mr. Gold's mood significantly improved as he smelled the intoxicating mixture of lasagna and garlic bread.

Belle glanced up and when she saw her cat, her eyes widened in horror.

"Rumplestiltskin, what are you doing?!" Mr. Gold raised the kitten higher, inspecting it.

"…holding the cat?" He offered.

"By his neck!" Belle jumped to her dear Figaro's rescue, prying him loose from a confused Mr. Gold.

"It was just by the scruff; I wasn't hurting him. Mother cats do it all the time."

"Are you a mother cat?!" She yelled, cuddling the thing to her chest. It gave a low purr in greeting.

Mr. Gold found the question silly and an illogical defense. He obviously wasn't a mother cat, but if it had hurt the cat it would have let him know, no doubt about that. Belle stormed back to her seat, shooting him a glare. He took his own seat uneasily, considering that maybe something else had happened during the rescue of Henry that was putting her on edge…or perhaps Belle was experiencing her monthly and he just needed to be sympathetic and sensitive.

She did eventually set the cat down and they had a pleasant dinner, mostly composed of what gossip she had picked up. Apparently Mary Margaret had suddenly resigned from her long-time volunteering at the hospital. Many theorized it had to do with a date-gone-wrong with Dr. Whale, but Mr. nor Mrs. Gold believed that.

"David'll be coming home from the hospital in a few days," she informed him, clearing the table while he made his way to the sink, "It'll be interesting to see how his amnesia works with his supposed relationship with Kathryn."

"Walk on the beach during sunset says he'll leave her for Mary Margaret in…a week, two tops."

Belle shook her head, "Charming might've done that…but David seems confused. Night out at the movie theater says a secret affair will occur."

Mr. Gold glanced up from the plate he was washing, "That's pretty negative for you." Belle shrugged.

"We're not supposed to be happy, remember? Besides," she leaned on the counter, "We haven't had a night out together in Storybrooke."

"And for good reason," he grinned at her, "They can't handle us."

III

"I want to die," Belle decided, staring up at the alchemy tower's ceiling. She hadn't moved from the table Rumplestiltskin had laid her out on; just the thought of moving brought more pain than was already in her.

The wounds may have healed, but the flesh that had been shredded now throbbed inside of her, making every inch of her ache. She tried to ignore the pain by finding constellations in the mock night sky, so real above her she could've sworn there wasn't a ceiling.

"No you don't. You just want the pain to go away," Rumplestiltskin replied flippantly from not too far off.

"Please kill me."

"After all you've put me through? No, you're an investment now."

"Do you really hate me that much, to keep me alive?"

"I hate you so much it could be mistaken for love."

She closed her eyes and followed him with her hearing, letting the familiar clink of vials and pouring of ingredients soothe her.

"I think I understand why unicorns could be considered monsters now…" She confessed. She was sure he was smirking.

"What? Didn't they offer you a ride on their back as they frolicked through the meadows?"

"'Fraid not," she grumbled, sighing, "I can't make myself hate them though, no matter their nature."

The tinkering paused and bootsteps came towards her.

"That's because you have this odd…affinity with the light inside of people." They stopped next to her, his fingers brushing a curl back from her forehead, "No matter how small, no matter how dim… You see it, and you cling to it."

She opened her eyes, gazing up at him. She knew what she was supposed to see; a towering beast, scraggly hair framing a hideous face. But all she could see were those eyes, flickers of a man dancing in their darkness. The flickers had caught her like a moth, drawn to something she should run very fast and very far from.

They always made her wonder why she seemed to be the only one to see them.

It was a foolish thing to do, when all of his attention was on her to begin with, but even that gaze couldn't make her pain go away. She had never tried it but he had told her she was capable of it… She concentrated on her mark, tracing the vein of magic that ran through it. She then imagined the magic drawing more of itself from outside, beckoning the darkness to grow…

Belle winced as she felt a slap on her wrist.

"Bad dearie," Rumplestiltskin scolded, "No siphoning magic from me. You can barely handle what you've got."

Belle let out a long groan in protest. Rumplestiltskin shook his head.

"So impatient…" He muttered, going back to his work, "You're lookin' at three to four days of bed rest, so I suggest you get comfortable in your misery," he turned back to her, grinning, "You'll be better just in time to help me with a dragon!"

She cringed and rolled her head away in disgust while he giggled. She was glad he thought he was funny, because she certainly didn't think so. A dragon… She better get more armor this time or she was going to accuse him of abuse.

He returned, weaving an arm under her shoulders.

"Come on, up you go." Belle stifled a scream as he helped her sit up, having to rest her weight against him. She looked down at his hand and saw a tube of lightly glowing blue liquid.

"What is that?" She asked.

"Medicine," he said, "A reward for your hard work today."

She looked up at him, and saw the corners of his mouth fighting down a smile. She narrowed her eyes.

"What is it?" She asked. He shrugged.

"Medicine," he repeated innocently, "You'll have to be throwing this back three times a day if you want to get better."

She studied his face, but it was closed to her, keeping its secrets to itself. She slowly reached for it as he undid the stopper. The ring on her finger made her doubt he'd poison her, but Rumplestiltskin didn't like having every detail out in the open.

"Every last drop," he insisted as she put it to her lips. She poured it down her throat and nearly coughed at its bitter taste. She shook her head and shivered.

It took maybe a minute for the effect of the drink to start. Her eyelids were becoming heavy…everything felt heavy, especially her mind. Rumplestiltskin pulled her closer to him.

"Alright, you caught me… I might've mixed the medicine in with a sleeping draught," he confessed with a trill. Belle was feeling too exhausted to have any emotion, be it gratefulness or anger, "Have a nice death-like twelve hours devoid of pain!"

Belle's head fell slack against his chest as she slipped into unconscious. He could never be sure of her reaction to his help; even if she had been begging for death she might've rejected the drink had he said it was a sleeping draught. She really was a funny girl, his Belle. He scooped her up bridal-style and hopped off the table, carrying her down to tuck her into bed. He had long gotten used to the ache the unicorn's healing/damaging blows dealt, which meant he'd be alone in preparing the unicorn carcasses for magical uses. Oh well; he wasn't sure how much more Belle's psyche could take about those awful things.

III

After a few days, Mr. Gold finally had to admit it wasn't Belle's fault. She did clean the litter box, and made sure the cat was fed, and played with it, and let it curl up in her lap while she read, stroking it. Hell, Mr. Gold was jealous of how many kisses that little thing was getting, and he wouldn't mind resting his head in her lap and letting her stroke his hair.

Alas, the feline had chosen, and its favorite parent was the one who didn't want anything to do with it. Such was the way of the cat.

He had kept his distance, but the kitten was persistent, and watching their little dance Belle had accused him of pushing everyone that loved him away. It was a cat. He did not see how that related to any of his failed relationships, because it was an animal. But to keep Belle's psychiatric musings at bay, he tolerated the cat's advances. It was still Belle's cat, though.

"Where the hell did you hide my pens?" Mr. Gold muttered as he looked around the counter for one. The cat had a fascination with batting small rolling objects around until it got stuck under some piece of furniture, thus hiding them until Belle started crawling around on her hands and knees.

The cat didn't respond obviously, deeply immersed in a nap at its post by the register. He looked almost like a guard cat, if there was such a thing, protecting the symbol of wealth. Mr. Gold eventually dug into his breast pocket and pulled one out.

Suddenly, the cat tensed, eyes opening to slits. It emitted a demonic growl that made Mr. Gold nervous. He had never heard the cat give anything close to that noise before, only purrs or mewls.

A few seconds later, the bell rang and heels clicked against the hardwood floor.

"I couldn't believe it unless I saw it myself," Regina snickered.

Mr. Gold glanced at her questioningly. The cat unfurled, stretching out and glaring at Regina as she approached them.

She shook her head, "You get a kitten for a six-year-old who realizes they're not going to have a younger sibling, not for your wife when an adoption agreement falls through."

"It's not a patch, Mayor Mills," he corrected her, "Marco was getting rid of kittens and Rose got to them before I could stop her," he shrugged, "I can't say "no" to her."

"Yes, she's always been your weakness, hasn't she?" Regina glanced at the cat and smiled, "It is cute, though…" The cat glared at her, tail whipping behind it. She reached down, "Hey kitty, how are-"

The cat moved before Mr. Gold could even register it, lunging at Regina's face. The former queen screamed bloody murder as the cat latched on, clawing and biting at her in rage. Mr. Gold stared, wondering if he was imagining it…then, when he realized he wasn't, he started to snicker.

It was at that moment he knew for certain that they were going to keep the cat…and that he might actually grow to care for it.

III

Mmmkay, so I have been accused of ripping someone's soul out, made a lot of people cry, been threatened with doom upon me if I abandon it, made people hate Ella/Ashley more than they already did, and had a reviewer demand other readers to review…

…I might secretly be Regina and not even know it until now.

Anyhoo, I put a kitten and some unicorns in to help ease the pain I put you through. But because I can't write pure darkness or pure fluff for any extended period of time, the unicorns are killer and the kitten is psycho towards Regina. So yeah, good times.

Sneak peek: "The Shepherd" will be the first chapter since the beginning with a lack of Regina Versus Belle, because as fun as writing those two together is, it can't happen every single chapter, repetitiveness and all. Instead, we'll pull some heartstrings as well as bring in Storybrooke Gaston. Because modern media insists we need a love triangle, dammit.