Come one, come all, welcome to the grand ball

Where the strong run for cover and the weak stand tall

I'm not afraid, I'm not ashamed I'm not to blame, Welcome to the Masquerade

I'm not ashamed, I'm not afraid I'm not okay, Welcome to the Masquerade

Welcome to the masquerade

Thousand Foot Krunch's "Welcome to the Masquerade"

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She couldn't say she was having the best time, but at least she wasn't having the worst.

She had danced with at least six men so far, each of whom commented on her beauty and had not turned their gazes from the breasts that were swelling from the top of her bright yellow dress.

She wished she could guzzle down the wine in her hand and teach the upper-class people around her how to take a drink. However, she was invited to Cinderella's wedding by the princess Snow White herself and didn't want to cause a scene that would embarrass her. The lady and her husband had been too kind to her for her to do that, taking her in when she returned to the land from her travels and being the greatest hosts she could ask for.

However, none of the sites nor the people she met had yet to sooth the heartbreak she had been feeling for a solid year.

She tapped the golden goblet with her nail, feeling a web of depression mixing with the alcohol she had consumed. She missed him a little more every day; his eerie laugh and ridiculous facial expressions. There was a time when she would walk through the village near his castle and consider visiting him, strictly former master/caretaker only.

It hurt to much to remember what they could have been.

What they almost were.

However, she had a dark feeling that she'd be less than welcomed after the way they departed.

Due to her moping, Belle didn't catch the flash of red in front of her until her drink was snatched from her hands.

"I hope you don't intend to get drunk all night." The wolfish little red riding hood quipped as she plopped down beside Belle, soother her flowing red gown with ease, adorned with her ever present red cloak that couldn't be excused, even for a party.

"I'm not much for partying tonight." Belle sighed with a forced smile.

"Oh come on, who doesn't like to party!?"

Belle raised her hand and reached for her drink which Ruby placed far out of her reach. "Come on!" the wolf girl cheered. She stroked a pose like one of a gentlemen. "Dance with me Belle Darling!"

Belle couldn't hold back the wholeheartedly laughter Ruby gifted her for that solid second. She grabbed her red-nailed hand and let her lead her to the dance floor among the couples who thought that the two girls were either utterly drunk or just completely insane.

In the darkest corner of the ballroom, a silver goblet filled with rich wine collided with the floor. A pair of reptilian eyes soaked in the two girls swaying around and laughing merrily at their stupidity.

The Dark One felt his heart, what little bit he had anyway, deplete at the site of the girl in gold.


His Belle.

Alive and dancing and smiling so beautiful.

He felt a thick hotness swell behind his eyeballs and grasped on to every restraint available to keep himself from running over to her. How was this possible! Regina had said-

He growled. How could he have believed such a treacherous lie? Of course she would tell him something like that to hurt him, to break him and lead him into her submission. He had been a fool and spent an entire year losing his mind over her loss.

Should he approach her? Offer her a dance for old time sake just for the distraction of holding her to make sure she was real? Perhaps he should just hang back and watch her dance with her friend. She seemed happier with her anyway…

You're a coward Rumpelstiltskin.

His fists curled at her echoing exclamation. He was a coward, and he'd have to thicken his skin for just a moment if he wanted a word with her…

"You dance beautifully!" Ruby laughed. "I mean that; like a swan!"

Belle rolled her eyes, her cheeks flushed from the movements and light alcohol. "Something they teach you in finishing school other than how to be a good wife."

"No," Ruby sang with a bit of a tease on her tongue, "It would seem as if you dance often, perhaps with a man?"

Belle snorted. "If you count these pompous pigs as men, than yes, I've danced with many!"


The girls giggled so hard they had to lean on each other. Ruby paused however and her eyes looked past Belle, worry and curiosity mixed in her orbs. "Yes?"

Belle pulled from her friend and also turned, her heart stopping the second her eyes landed on the gold-coated man.

"Yes," his slithery voice soothed as his eyes went up and down Belle, "I was wondering if I could borrow your dancing partner for a little while." He did a slight bow. "She is such a beautiful dancer."

Ruby's sisterly arm pulled Belle from her daze. "That she is." She gave Belle a look that said that she had no choice. "I'm going to find Snow." She gave Belle a push that closed the distant between her and the golden stranger. "Behave yourselves!"

Belle whispered a teasing threat before shyly turning back to her lost love. They were quiet for a moment, neither knowing how to approach one another.

Rumpel was a coward, especially in front of a ghost.

"You ought to be a shame of yourself." Belle spoke.

Rumpelstiltskin's eyes lifted, waiting for a verbal disagreement to start between them. However, all he received was Belle's smile.

"Crashing Lady Cinderella's wedding, looking so fabulous…it's despicable."

He couldn't hold back his excited giggle. Same old Belle: being witty even when she was screaming inside.

"Well I do try to dress for formal occasions, dearie."

The sound of her insulting nickname caused a shudder to crawl up her spine, but she held her ground. "And I'm sure this is an occasion didn't involve an invitation being sent to you?"

He giggled. She had figured him out long ago. "Forgetting to invite me to a wedding is like forgetting to invite Death to a funeral—I'm not invited yet I know I'm supposed to be here."

She scoffed. "I'm certain it was an honest mistake."

"But of course! Now, enough about those unmentionables," Rumplestiltskin instructed with a flutter of his fingers, "I do believe I'm owed a dance." His heart jumped as he extended a hand to her, feeling the urge to vomit when she didn't grab it right away.

She smiled at him with a bit of cockiness. Same old flamboyant Rumplestiltskin. However, there was something different in his eyes, something that the darkness couldn't hide.

"That you do." She curtsied slightly and he did his most gaudy bow as a new song picked up over the orchestra. She took his hands and used her smile to hide her surprise at feeling his shivering. It most certainly wasn't cold in the room, and his skin was as warm as it could be. She looked up at him as he pressed his hand carefully on the small of her back, guiding her more into the crowd of eager dancers. This one was to be a slow dance that would allow the participants to get closer than appropriate. This knowledge made Belle blush lightly but she welcomed the contact with Rumpelstiltskin—Gods she missed him so much.

"So what have you been doing?" Rumplestiltskin's dark brawl intersected her thoughts.

She cleared her throat, the warmth of his body soothing the awkwardness of the situation. "Traveling mostly." She spoke excitedly. "Going on adventures, meeting some rather…interesting people." She giggled. "And just enjoying my life really."

"You're freedom, you mean." He established a little sourly than he meant to.

She stared at his shoulder. Was it odd that she somewhat missed the containment the castle offered? She nodded though. "I'm getting exactly what I asked for and enjoying every second of it."

"So you are…happy? Yes?" he questioned more softly, his hand sliding slightly up and down her waist.

She gave him a small smile. "Yes, just homesick, I suppose."

He glanced at her questionably at this. Perhaps at least half of Regina's tale was factual. "Your father shunned you from your own kingdom?"

Belle shook her head. "I wrote him to tell him about my…" she gulped and assorted her next statement carefully, "situation. He wanted me home immediately, but I decided that I was going to take control of my life for once.

He smiled at her approvingly. "That's my girl."

She giggled, blushing slightly at the title he gifted her with. My girl.

"And what of yourself," Belle teased as she spun from his grip and came back to him much closer than they had been, "great Dark One?"

He gulped at the proximity but kept his composure steady by giggling and holding her to him. "Oh, just the occasional life-for-a-life deals and such."

"Ah," she chuckled, "I don't suppose you've been saving villages for exchange for pretty knights daughters now have you?" though her tone was playful, she really wanted to know if he had moved on from her yet.

His years of wisdom had taught Rumpelstiltskin to pick out the bits of emotion from anyone's voice. Though he couldn't quite tell the teasing apart from the seriousness in Belle's (he never really could read her), he knew what her question meant and answered it with a bit of sarcasm.

"I wouldn't call her pretty but she's rather a site."

Belle's head shot up, betrayal and disbelief shining in her glassy blues.

He laughed so loud and hard several near-sober patrons looked his way for a moment—a creature dressed in gold dancing with an angel of similar nature—before turning back to their own business.

Belle smirked, relief washing over her. "The castle's probably filthy now."

"You have no idea." He joked, causing him and Belle to chuckle lightly at the quip. "It seems larger as well." He continued, his hand rubbing the small of her back. "No clumsy caretakers running around, tearing up carpets and curtains or breaking porcelain every time I look up."

She bites her lip as she giggles. "Well I quite enjoy the silence of the roads—no enthusiast giggling every five minutes or constant bouts of yelling at shadows on the walls."

They stop then, and everyone else danced around them. They've missed each other terribly they realize. They've missed the little pet peeves, the quips and harsh comments over tea, and the warmth of another person in the cold castle in general.

She leaned her head on his shoulder. She knew it was a giant leap over their boundaries they had inconspicuously set up during their short waltz, however she wanted—no—needed his warmth, the reassurance that he was truly with her and not some comforting dream.

Rumplestiltskin restrained a gasp. This beautiful amazing girl was leaning into him, unafraid of him or what the people in the room would think of her. And she…Gods she felt warm.

He carefully cupped her waist, keeping his eyes solely on her hair. He felt an agonizing lump form in his throat. He wanted her back so bad he was on the verge of begging. He didn't think he could go home without her. He had thought her dead ten minutes ago; how could he walk away like nothing had changed?

Belle looked up at him, baby blues shining. "What's wrong?"

He smiled as carefully as he could and created a bit of space between them. "I…"

She could see his mask, his masquerade of dances and hidden guilt that he forbade himself to allow her to see.

She clasped his hands. "I've missed you too."

His head shot up. He cursed himself for the hurt in her eyes. He could see her mask, her masquerade of calm and bravery when he could feel the screaming fires under the heat of her skin.

There was suddenly a commotion and several of the dancers were heading to the grand stairwell.

"It's time for the royals to make their grand entrance!" Rumpelstiltskin shrilled playfully.

Belle smiled. "I've met her. She's…overly happy. I suppose all brides are like that, however I never see myself being like that."

"Considering your beaus, I don't blame you."

Belle chuckled and looked at the playful smile she missed so much. She noticed that their hands were still clasped together but that he was trying to slip from it. "You're…"

He nodded slowly. "I have business..."

She inclined. "I'm rather tired any way." She stepped closer to the point where they were a few inches apart.

Rumplestiltskin held his breath as flashes of her kissing him and him throwing her out. He wanted to feel her again, desperately wanted to. However not everything had changed. He still craved his power, still needed to undo the damage he had done years ago with Bae, even if it meant he had to push her away. He steadied himself for the harsh comments and hurt, but Belle's lips never came to his.

He watched as she raised her hand to her lips, pressing her middle and index fingers to them before turning to Rumplestiltskin's tightly sown ones.

He caught on when her delicate skin pressed against his and kissed them, vaguely catching her taste.

"I learned my lesson last time." She commented both with humor and sorrow. "I understand, really, but it still stings." She smiled at him and pulled back, curtsying. "Goodbye, Rumplestiltskin."

He was stone for a moment. She was leaving again, and he had no idea when he would see her again. The fact that she would remain safe and alive under the princess Snow White's care comforted him enough for him to manage a stiff bow. "Goodbye Belle…it was…" he gulped, trying to keep his voice steady.

"You too." She finished for him, nodding once more before turning. Since he could no longer see her face, she allowed her careful smile to drop and let the tears stinging her eyes flow freely. "Goodbye Rumpelstiltskin. Goodbye..."

He stood and watched walk into the shadows, from everything they had built those few moments of spinning and gliding. She was gone once again and he was as empty as before. Perhaps this was the true reason he came to the reception tonight. Faith was giving him a second chance to recoil with his beloved and not claim his part of the deal with the careless ash princess. He wouldn't slip up again. He would go after her later and explain everything, and later when she was safe in his home away from the mirrors, he would find Regina and smite her down.

However, revenge and making amends would have to wait just a little bit longer.

Great applause erupted through the crowd as the royal newlyweds descended into the crowd…