A shape ran by the window.
Belle was sitting up late with a cup of tea, though not from the chipped cup. This was from a plain mug, the delicate teacup locked away in a cupboard somewhere. She didn't want to see it, and she didn't want to think about it.
Rumpelstiltskin was upstairs, asleep, or at least trying to. He always was after their fights.
They didn't fight often, that was true, but when they did it was loud and fierce and painful. He would change, somehow, she just had to have faith. Any human being with the capacity to love would change… she just wasn't certain she could wait on him.
That was when the shape ran by the window.
Belle hurried outside to take a look, leaving her half-empty mug on the table and following the shape down the road. Whoever or whatever it was, it was heading towards the border.
Belle's bare feet padded lightly on the concrete. The night was warm, and the figure in front of her came to a halt in front of the line of orange spray paint marking the way out of town. The way out of yourself, as far as anyone else was concerned.
As she drew closer, the figure became clearer, and the silhouette of Regina Mills took shape, staring at the blankness and the blackness that lay ahead down that road. She must have sensed someone behind her, because she spoke without turning.
"Would you do it?" she whispered. For once, she didn't sound confident, didn't sound proud or sure of herself. She sounded scared. "If you were me, would you do it?"
Belle didn't speak- it was usually best to be silent when you didn't know what to say.
"They all hate me, you know." Regina choked out, shoulders shaking softly. "Even Henry. I did this to them- I took their lives away from them for something that wasn't even their fault, and now we're all stuck here and I'm the only one left to blame." Belle slowly walked over, reaching out to place a gentle hand on her shoulder, and Regina whirled at her touch, tears glistening in the meager light from the streetlamps.
"Of all the people I thought were behind me I didn't think it would be you."
Belle stepped back as the Queen surveyed her face, carful and calculating as always. In truth, they barely knew each other, and had only spoken a few times… After which she'd kidnapped Belle and locked her away for twenty-eight years, so it probably was appropriate for Regina to be surprised. Belle was different, though.
Belle was forgiving.
As forgiving as Snow White, Regina realized, and the thought sickened her. She was the innocent victim, even more innocent than Snow had been. The only thing Belle had done was to fall in love with the Dark One, however preposterous the idea seemed, and she'd nearly been killed because of it.
"Don't do it." Belle whispered. "Please."
"Why shouldn't I?!" she cried, voice echoing in the night. "They gave me a choice back there, and you know they're thinking it. Either they kill me, or I kill myself." Regina turned back to face the barrier briefly. "This is my third option."
"Regina, no!" Belle pulled her back, away from the barrier, speaking frantically. "You remember when you locked me away all those years ago? You gave me a choice."
Of course she remembered. How could she forget?
The true love potion, the one that made you forget your true love, had been offered to Belle multiple times during her imprisonment. She would drink it, and then live the life of a princess in the palace, as a special ward of the queen, not in the dungeons like common scum. And she wouldn't have the pain of remembering any longer.
The girl wouldn't drink it.
Regina had a small bottle placed on every meal tray, and it always came back full, offered it to Belle herself many times, but she wouldn't sway. My memories make me who I am, she would say, even the painful ones. Especially the painful ones.
"Don't drink the potion, Regina. Don't cross that line. You have a choice-"
"I'm not you, Belle." The Queen sighed. "You had hope where I have none. There isn't a life for me here. I may not have a happy ending, but at least I have a chance for a new beginning."
And she twisted out of Belle's grasp.
Somehow, in the act of Regina stepping forward and Belle still trying to pull her backward, things twisted around. Regina was on the wrong side, and Belle's back was to the barrier, blocking her way.
"Move, girl. Get out of my way!" Regina gave a shove to the side, ready to go through with this and damn what she thought, when Belle tripped.
Clumsiness was always her downfall, and now more than ever as she fell backwards across the orange line. Regina reached out, a panicked look in her eyes, but too late, too late.
Belle fell on the other side of the barrier, knocked unconscious with the smack of her head on cement, and the blue light of magic shimmered around her.
Mr. Gold showed up with James and Mary Margaret around a half hour later, finding Regina sitting on the ground, Belle's head in her lap. Her brown hair was matted with blood on one side, but she was breathing normally.
"What did you do?!" James asked, rushing forward. Regina shook her head.
"I was going to go through the barrier." She mumbled. The second Mr. Gold caught sight of Belle, he was on the ground beside her, looking her over, swearing to make Regina pay within an inch of her life for whatever had happened to her. Not tonight- dear God, not tonight- not after what had happened between them, arguing about the killing and the power, and how he loved her but would never take the time to explain what he was about to do or why.
As the Queen babbled out her story, got out what happened between the two of them, realization dawned on Gold. Belle fell through the barrier.
The cut to the head wasn't as bad as it looked, and Belle awoke in a hospital bed only an hour later to a man standing over her. He had brown hair and dark eyes, a kind and concerned expression on his face. She'd never seen him before.
"Belle?" he asked, hand slipping over hers.
"Isabella." She mumbled. "Who are you?" The expression on the man's face slipped from kindness to pain. He looked as though she'd just stabbed him.
"You really don't know me." He sighed, hand falling away. She wished he would leave it- human touch was comforting after being in a padded cell with no visitors. What was she doing upstairs, anyhow?
"Should I?" she tried to phrase her words carefully, but she truly didn't ever remember seeing this man's face before. The way he spoke to her, the way he looked at her… it might have been unnerving if it weren't so incredibly tender.
"No." he shook his head, eyes filling with tears. "No."