The mayor's office is pale marble and dark curtains with a trapezoidal glass desk that looks not unlike a coffin. It's sparseness makes Belle anxious, or maybe its just the acidic smell of burnt coffee and the wetness of odorless steam tying knots in her stomach.
Mayor Mills inhales, lips poised above the porcelain edge of her cup. "You really should try this."
Belle's toes clench, and she does not meet the Mayor's eyes. "I'm happy with tea"
The Mayor bends forward and takes a sharp sip of coffee, not wincing at flavor or heat. "Suit yourself." She holds the cup near her mouth for a moment, even though she's done drinking, just watching the Belle.
Belle doesn't watch the mayor for two reasons. The first is that she has never been a good watcher; there has always been too much doing trapped in her bones to just watch. Instead, she takes the smaller cup by the handle and sips a little too quickly. The flavor burns sweet. Rose and a strange hint of something more savory. Thyme, maybe.
"May I be candid, Ms. French?"
No, Belle wants to say.
"He's noticed you," says the Mayor.
The ensuing stiff silence is broken only by the tinkle of porcelain against glass as the Mayor sets down her cup. "Of course how could he not, you're always there, lurking like some sort of stray animal, and here I thought after our collaboration you had—"
Belle's shoes stop moving, and she looks up into the Mayors dark eyes with her own, darker ones. "Forgotten him." She punctuates her sentence with a waif of a laugh. "Like you've forgotten Daniel?"
And here is the second reason Belle doesn't watch the mayor. She doesn't have to. She knows Regina the way she knows her own shadow.
Regina's lips purse, but her eyes only narrow a fraction of an inch. "I never should've told you that story."
Belle bites her lip, retreating back into silence, wishing that she wasn't so tense.
"Now, normally I wouldn't care where you spend your time, but it has come to my attention that someone else might."
"Don't be a fool, Ms. French."
"I am very careful."
"He's begun asking qu—"
"Exactly, he's begun asking. He has no memory of who I am or you are, and he won't no matter how many questions he asks."
The mayor pauses and raises a single, wry eyebrow. "Watch the cup."
Belle looks down, startled to see that she is gripping the cup so tightly that her knuckles are bulging. Slowly, she sets it down.
"I'm only trying to be helpful," croons the mayor.
It is only by the grace of god that Belle manages not to roll her eyes at this, but the mayor's tight smile stops her.
"Because if he remembers, well . . ." The smile withers into a half-smirk. "I wouldn't want to be you then."
"I didn't ask for this." The words sound lame even before she finishes saying them.
The mayor's chair creaks as she leans back into it. "No, but you chose it."
The road to Avalon is good to Belle. Many roads haven't been, but this one is well tended with freshly built stone-walls lined with cypresses. Unlike the roads in the Marchlands there aren't many inns, but the nights are mild enough to sleep shelterless.
During the day her pace is quick enough to hum to and the dwarves taught her many of their favorite songs. When her voice gets tired, there is always the far away chattering of birds, or the lowing of the herds of sheep attended to by taciturn dark-haired sheep herds. She tries talking to one, but he only blushes and flees.
When she wakes up the next day there is a small round of fresh goat's cheese next to her pillow and no one to thank for it.
Such is the way of the road to Avalon. It's full of voiceless kindnesses that makes Belle feel more lonely than any cruelty ever had.
Isn't this is what she wanted? Adventure? Seeing the world and all its beauties?
She never thought realizing how wide and wonderful the world is would make her so lonely. Still, she sleeps surprisingly well. Dreamless.
One morning she wakes up early, when the sky is a warm periwinkle and the ground golden with the coming sunrise. The morning flowers are hidden in the ground and she can still taste moonlight and gray night clouds on the air.
The strangeness of dawn is welcoming to Belle as she rolls up her pack and nibbles nervously on the edge of cheese the goat herd left two nights previous.
For the first time in a long time, it is silent.
Suddenly, the cheese tastes rather salty and moist. When Belle tries to swallow, she realizes she is crying. With trembling fingers she wraps up the cheese and tries not to whisper his name.
She hasn't spoken it once since leaving. (Since he kicked her out.)
She imagines that he still watches her, and that if she were to say his name he would whisk her back to his twilight palace. She doesn't want that. It was her choice to leave; she made that decision. He wasn't ready to love her; and if he ever was he would have to take the step to come to her.
But now she is remembers the way his arms felt around her as he caught her tearing down the curtains. His breath had been so warm against her neck. She had tried to bring spring and light in, and for a second he had let her. He had let her. And here spring is now, eternal avalonian spring. He might smirk or sneer at it, but this beauty, this is all she wanted for him.
For them, yes, for them.
This was their final deal. He gets an empty heart and a chipped cup and she gets the spring.
"Rumplestilskin," she whispers.
Still that same out of character silence.
"Rumplestilskin," she says again louder. "I want to make a new deal."
And there is sound.