Beyond My Reach
Summary: Rumplestiltskin reflects on the three most influential women in his life. If I had to actually set this within a time frame, I'd say his remembrances are taking place in Episode 1 of Season 2, "Broken," after Belle leaves him (only to come back at the end of the episode of course, but then, he doesn't know that at the time).
"I never loved you."
How could she say that to him?
Alright, so perhaps it had not been love at first sight with them – or even second sight, or third. Perhaps not even when they married, it had not been love yet – though he believed she did find him kind, and he did find her comely. They had married, not out of some grand passion for each other, but because it seemed to make sense given their circumstances.
He was slightly higher in social status than her at the time, and she was still attractive, but getting relatively old to be unwed. Despite her beauty, her sharp tongue seemed to have driven most suitors away. But Rumplestiltskin rather liked her biting wit, and he allowed her to speak her mind. For that, she seemed grateful, if not completely enamored of him.
He may not have been the handsomest or strongest man in town, but he was respectful of her, and a good provider, and she could not fault him for that.
Their first night together after the wedding was an awkward affair. It was the earliest experience with intimacy for both of them, and neither quite knew what they were doing. Still, he had enjoyed it, and he tried to make it enjoyable for her too. It was hard to tell what she'd felt then, as they lay side by side, catching their breath, but when he reached for her hand, she didn't pull away, and he began to think that love might grow between them.
And for a time, it seemed that it did. There was no all-consuming ardor, but genuine fondness and affection seemed to come upon them slowly, gradually, almost difficult to notice if one wasn't paying attention. He listened to her input and treated her like a person rather than his property, which was more than many men did with their wives. He was not the dashing hero a girl dreamed of, but Milah began to see that he had a quiet sort of strength to him, and she respected him for it. The respect between them began to grow to like, and like began to grow to love.
When she told him she was pregnant, he was overjoyed. He scooped her up in his arms and whirled her around, both of them laughing, breathless, giddy, and (truth be told) slightly terrified.
"Do you want a boy or a girl?" She asked him.
"I don't care, so long as it's ours," he said. "Oh, and I hope it looks like you. Imagine if the poor child had my features?"
"Eh, you're not so bad-looking. In a certain light."
He chuckled. "Oh, stop, you'll make me blush." He'd kissed her then, and they'd made love with as much passion and tenderness as they ever had.
She'd loved him then, in that moment. He knew it.
Or at the very least, she had been starting to.
But then the Ogre Wars came. And despite the fact that he was no fighter and everybody knew it, he was pressed into service along with the rest.
It was ridiculous. He'd thought so from the beginning. He was a Spinner by trade. He had his skills, but he was no solider and never would be, no matter how hard he tried. He was useless with a sword and even worse with a bow and arrow. He'd have served better spinning clothes for this poor army, durable fabrics for the cold nights in the trenches, but they would not let him do that. Women's work, they sneered at him, even though he knew most of those in his trade were male. And so he was made to train and drill, every day feeling like more of a failure. When the time for battle came, he'd be among the first to die, he knew.
But he couldn't die. He'd promised Milah he'd come back. He'd promised his wife, and he'd promised their unborn child.
So when he stood there trembling on the battlefield, the monstrous ogres standing before him, he'd turned and fled.
He wasn't the only one. Far from it. He couldn't be sure, but he thought less than half the men actually stood their ground. But those who stayed did not take kindly to the deserters, and one of them, one of these "brave" men, threw at lance at their backs, and as fate would have it, the lance pierced his leg.
Pain such as he'd never experienced sliced through him, and he screamed and passed out.
After a while, semi-conscious, he was vaguely aware that some of his fellow "cowards" were dragging him to safety, away from the battle. They could have left him behind and saved themselves, but they didn't.
For this, they were later executed.
But not him.
After seeing his leg would never properly heal, it was decided that living as a cripple and a coward would be punishment enough for him, and he was sent home.
If he expected Milah to be relieved and joyous at his return, he was sorely disappointed.
The love that had begun to blossom between them was gone. It was obliterated by no more than whispers and gossip and sneers. Milah was a prideful woman, and she could not stand being called the coward's wife, the cripple's woman. While her contemporaries were honored widows, she was shunned and scorned and mocked.
But she had just given birth to his son, their son, Baelfire. And she loved her son, even if she didn't love his father, and so she stayed with him.
The biting wit he used to admire, he now came to resent, because all her sharpness was turned on him. A lesser man might have raised a hand to her then, but he never did. To be sure, he came close a few times. He remembers her laughing in his face, daring him to do it, to strike her, and every time he lowered his hand and backed down, defeated, she called him a coward, instead of seeing he was simply too decent to strike a woman, his wife, the mother of his child.
But even then, he didn't think their relationship had been completely unsalvageable. She had asked, often in those early years, if they couldn't just leave this village where he had such a terrible reputation, start over somewhere new and build a better life together. But he, fool that he was, thought he could stay and change people's minds, prove people wrong. He thought it was a sort of courage or penance to stay there. It was stupid, but that was what he had thought.
If he had listened to her and they had left, would she have stayed with him and Bae? Would she have loved him, or would she still have run off with someone like Killian Jones, and let both husband and son think she was dead, or worse?
"I never loved you."
Never? Not even when I spun you the most beautiful dress in town? Not even when you kissed me before I went off to war? Not even when you told me you were pregnant with Bae, and we were both so thrilled that we were ready to burst with joy? Never? Not even for a moment, not even for an instant Milah? Never?!
But her feelings for him didn't matter. Not really. What mattered was that she hadn't just left him, she had left their son. That was the real reason he ripped out her heart and killed her.
At least, that's what he tells himself.
"Can you help me?"
Regina. Cora's daughter. So kind, so gentle, and so guileless, dressed all in white. Regina, standing before him, beseeching him, asking for his aid.
Oh, he's been waiting for this day. He's been waiting ever since he began to teach that insufferable woman she calls her mother.
He hadn't liked Cora at all. She'd reminded him of Milah actually. And not in a good way – as if there could be a good way, after what had happened. But centuries as the Dark One had taught him patience, and he knew Cora would one day give him what he wanted, what he needed, though not directly.
Regina was a babe the last time he touched her, the last time he held her in his arms. Now, she is a woman, a sad, naïve, beautiful young woman, and full of a potential for power her mother could never hope to possess. He knows she will be exactly what he needs, to get to a world without magic, to get to his son, Baelfire.
The fact that he finds her extremely attractive is just an additional benefit. Or an impediment, depending on one's point of view.
It's easy enough to mold her, manipulate her, guide her. At first, he tells himself he should maintain his distance, but the more he works with her, the harder that is to do. The simple fact is, he wants her. He wants her as a man wants a woman, even if he can't properly be considered a man anymore. And when he discovers she is more than willing, he takes her, even though he knows he probably shouldn't.
But after all, Regina is supposed to be his, he reminds himself. Cora made a bargain, and she thought she'd gotten out of it, but no one can break a deal with the Dark One, not really. And just because he enjoys her, it doesn't mean he's getting … emotionally involved. It's just … gods, she's so soft and warm and hungry in his arms, she's just so damn alluring in all her darkness and her innocence (even though nothing is innocent) that he finds himself getting carried away with it all, and growing a bit … fond of her, his Regina, his student, his instrument.
His wicked one.
Still, when the time comes, and they part ways, he doesn't really miss her. She was just a means to an end, after all.
At least, that's what he tells himself.
"I will go with you forever."
Brave, he thinks with admiration. Brave, and beautiful.
He has not allowed himself to reflect much on women's beauty, not since … well, that hardly matters now. But still, the girl before is so … so kind. So gentle …
But not powerful. Mercifully, she holds no magic.
This one does not have to be manipulated or molded or guided.
This one does not have to be used.
Belle, she of the heart-shaped face and shining eyes, literally lets light back into his life. He's kept those curtains shut for years, ever since the … other left him, and when the sun streams through the window and he catches her in his arms, that's when he knows he's really in trouble.
And yet, he can't find it in himself to be too upset about it.
It is Belle he confides in, in a way he never has with anyone before, not since he became the Dark One. Bae is always in his thoughts, but he hasn't spoken of him out loud, not for centuries.
This young woman is so sweet, so unblemished, and so completely under his power.
If he wanted to, he could just take her …
No. He can't do it. Not again. He darkened her (some might say might say he ruined her) because he had to, because it was the only way to get to his son. He cannot do that again, he cannot go through that for a second time. He cannot bear the thought of seeing pain or betrayal in those shining eyes. So, for once in his lonely, dark life, he does the right thing, and he lets her go.
But she comes back to him. Gods help him, she comes back. And his heart swells with joy.
And then it's all ruined, because a simple kiss begins to break him. Undo him.
And he cannot let go of his powers. Not yet. What hope does he have of finding his son without them?
He made a vow. "I will do nothing else. I will love nothing else." Not until he finds his son.
And he cannot put that aside, not even for Belle.
It's not cowardice, no matter what she says. It's not the fear of being rejected, or the fear of hurting or disappointing or betraying another woman he … has feelings for. He's not afraid for her to love him, and he's not afraid to love her in return.
He's not. He's not.
At least, that's what he tells himself.
Thus, his lovers, such as they were. One was his wife, one was his … student, and one was his true love. He's killed one of them, and tried to kill another, and when the third walks out on him for his latest transgression against the second, he knows the truth of it at last.
The truth is that, whatever he felt for them, none of them were ever truly his. They were all maddeningly, infuriatingly close enough to touch, but somehow still always just beyond his reach.