A/N: Just a quick-cute bit of romance between Rumbelle. :3 Set post 'We Are Both' and pre 'Crocodile'.
Thanks so much to Anti-Kryptonite for beta-ing this for me. She did a fantabulous job, boosted my ego and caught all my stupid typos in one fell swoop. And helped me figure out the ending because it was a mess, ladies and gents. xD
Disclaimer as usual: if I owned any rights, there'd be a lot more Rumbelle in OUaT, that's all I'm saying.
A Broken Door
In the Enchanted Forest, the sound of his name had been a siren-song. The inevitable promise of a deal turned a four syllable name into a sound as sweet as honey. He had been able to attune himself to the entire realm, listen to despairing pleas from all corners of the Enchanted forest without ever leaving the comfort and seclusion of his Dark Castle. And when people called him, their desperation was irresistible.
It was strange, then, to hear the name with his ears alone, in a land where it had so infrequently been spoken. In this world, people summoned him with a knock at the door or the jingling of a far-too-cheery bell, a joyous sound that mocked their pain whenever they stepped over the threshold and into his shop. In this world, he was pulled away from his workbench, around the front to the counter by a hesitant, 'Mister Gold?' More often than not, it was some desperate soul looking for a way out of a cage they had wrought for themselves.
But this, this shout of "Rumplestiltskin!" that drifted through the air and permeated the floorboards of the cellar… in this shout he could hear real fear.
And he knew immediately who it was.
Gold—Rumplestiltskin—dropped everything and leapt to his feet. He pulled beakers away from burners, snuffed out open flame with a snap of his fingers, and fled the room before the air had even cooled of magic. He raced up the stairs as fast as his leg would allow—he would have taken them two at a time if he could, but his knee screamed bloody murder and even a steady stream of magic couldn't quite mute its agonizing protest. Perhaps if he had more time, perhaps if magic wasn't so unpredictable here, perhaps if he was relaxed and unshaken and unafraid of what he might find inside – perhaps then the magic would have numbed the pain.
He grit his teeth and reached the top of the stairway. He broke into a near-run through the garden path, pushed through the double-doors into the kitchen, and began to call, "Belle? Belle – where are you?"
"Rumplestiltskin! I- I'm upstairs."
Another staircase, another long climb (and it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't been sitting for the last six hours, hunched in uncomfortable concentration, too busy to remember to move his leg and keep the joint from locking up on him), and he found himself standing outside the bathroom.
He was close enough to hear the sound of quiet whispering, heavy breathing, punctuated by the occasional sob or the weak pound of a fist against the heavy wooden door.
He tried the doorknob. It was locked. "Belle? Are you alright?"
His heart was in his throat – he was choking on images of concussions, broken glass, razorblades. A man holding her head down under the bathwater, blood and water pooling on the tiled floor.
"Rum, help – oh gods, please, Rum."
"What's wrong? Talk to me, darling." He tried to sound soothing, to keep the tremor out of his own voice. But she sounded so strange. He could hear uncharacteristic marks of raw panic in her voice, like spiderweb cracks across a pane of smooth glass. The sound of a harp with broken strings. It clawed at him with familiar urgency.
"The door. It's the door." She paused, and if she was trying to compose herself… it didn't work. Her next words were soft and shook harder than before and he could barely hear her through the thick wood. "It won't open."
He'd never heard her quite this scared. Not even when he had locked her in a dungeon, so long ago – she had been the slave of a monster she'd never met, presumably forever, and she had demanded he let her go. Fear had been there, of course, but it was masked by anger and stubborn determination. Now she sounded shattered, and his heart threatened to crumble in response. She had always been so brave…
But then again, twenty-eight years in a boiler room asylum will do that to a person.
He'd seen flashes of this terror, of course, in the time she'd lived here. Moments of slumbering panic, nightmares that tore whimpers from her throat and tears from her eyes… but he'd always been there beside her during those moments. And she'd been so strong, because however terrifying, her dreams were not real. However closely the walls pressed in on her, she was not trapped.
Now she was.
He could have used magic to blow the door to pieces, shatter it into a thousand splinters and turn the splinters to ash. If he'd wanted, in that moment, he could have disintegrated the entire house and left the two of them standing in open air, surrounded by sunshine and antique furniture. But the last thing she needed right now was a shock, so he tapped gently on the door and told her he'd be right back.
She sniffled and choked back a sob and said, "Hurry."
He returned a moment later with a bucket of tools, though he was certain it felt like an eternity to Belle. After dumping the tools across the floor and grabbing a hammer and a screwdriver from the pile, he worked on prying the doorknob apart. He popped the cover off to access the screws, but they were rusted and ancient and it required heroic effort to keep his fingers steady.
The screwdriver slipped with a 'screech' and a puff of rust, and he swore under his breath.
He let the screwdriver clatter to the ground and wrapped his hands around the handle of the hammer as if it were a sword. The knob resisted five strong blows and cracked apart at the sixth (with the help of a little magic… but only a little.) He dropped the hammer and (after a curt "Stand back!") put his shoulder into the door, pushing it open so violently it slammed against the wall.
Belle flew into his arms before he even had time to speak.
She was draped in a towel and shaking, frigid to the touch as he pulled her close. Her hair was matted, stringy with moisture and curling every which way; water droplets rolled down her shoulders and dripped onto the tiles, making the footing treacherous and threatening to spill them both to the floor. He reached out and managed to stabilize himself against the counter, praying his knee would hold.
Somehow managing to root around in the linen cupboard one handed, Rumplestiltskin grabbed another towel. Several others spilled to the floor, but he unfolded it with a shake and wrapped it around her, rubbing her back and holding her in an embrace. "Hey," he said, smoothing her hair and laying his cheek against the top of her head, "hey, it's alright. You'll be fine – everything's okay."
Everything was not okay, because she had been through more than anyone should ever have to bear (especially her— especially Belle) but he had nothing else to offer but hollow comfort and strong arms.
"Stay with me," she said into his shoulder.
"I'm not going anywhere, darling."
And so he did stay, though his knee did give out and he had to lower them both to the floor, taking a seat on the pile of towels he had spilled from the closet. He draped the plush towels over her, piles of them, all colours and as many as he could manage because his arms weren't enough to warm her and all he could do was hold her—
In the end, it took the better part of a quarter-hour for Belle to calm.
Her sobs finally slowed and she curled into him, her breathing erratic but steadying, heartbeat slowing. Her grip on his shirt eased. His clothes were damp from tears and the leftover bathwater that had drenched her now-drying skin, but he was warm… and for the first time since he entered the room, so was she. He brushed a hand over her hair, pushed tangled strands from her face, rubbed his thumb across her cheek to wipe away lines of tears. He felt a quiver of a smile pass across her lips, and she pushed against his chest, moving away slightly. She eased her back against the cool wood of the under-the-sink cupboard, settling beside him. One hand (still trembling) held the towels in front of her. The other clutched his arm.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
She nodded, eyes red. "Yes- I think so." She didn't meet his gaze.
His voice was rough, as if he had been the one crying, but his smile was gentle. "Good."
They sat in silence for a long time. He half-expected her to stand, square her shoulders, and usher him out. But to her credit, she didn't. She didn't say she was being ridiculous, to wipe the tears from her eyes or try and soldier on through the pain. She didn't try to apologize, to explain herself or reason the fear away. There was a time for bravery (and she had shown that, time and again) – but there was also a time to be brave enough to accept help. A time to be broken and let him hold her while she fought off the memories of dark days. No false fronts.
Pure honesty, and that was brave in its own way.
"I'm sorry," she said, and he interrupted with—
"Oh, Belle, there's no need."
"…about the mess."
He followed her stare, taking in the pile of tools, splinters, and the mangled remnants of the doorknob. Lips curling into a tiny smile, he shrugged. "It's just a door."
"Will it be hard to repair?"
"Not at all." He put his hand over hers, holding it tightly against his arm. "Besides, my darling Belle, you've fixed much more than you could ever hope to break."
There was a sparkle in her eyes that didn't originate from tears.
And he knew what she was about to say. The split second she decided, the moment it formed in her mind, before it reached her lips… he knew.
A name whispered in shadows. (The deal maker.) A name to threaten misbehaving children. (The spinner.) The name of a man who crushed others beneath his boot and sifted their lives through his fingers like so many grains of sand. (The Dark One.)
But he couldn't silence her any more than he could have pried her fingers from their place, now butterfly-light around his bicep. Because she was to bestow upon him the rarest treat—one he did not think he could ever relinquish, even if the world itself was falling to pieces around him. (His name.)
"Thank you, Rumplestiltskin."
From her lips, it was magic.