When she opens the door, she finds him standing in the middle of his shop, surrounded by shattered glass and splinters of wood like the epicenter of a magnificent storm.
She can't read the pain on his face (because of course his expression is smoothed into a mask of perfect serenity)… but she knows.
She knows he shatters things when he feels shattered: she'd seen the state of his castle when he sent her away, the same splinters and glass and a mound of crushed china piled beside the stone wall. She knows he lashes out at himself every time he opens his mouth to berate someone else: his anger is a multi-directional power, a double edged sword. And she knows he destroys things when he can't control them: because at least it proves he still has power.
She knows that behind his calm exterior, the deep, even breaths and the tailored suit, he's as broken as the cabinet at his back.
He glances at her—a slight movement she wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't been looking for the tiny turn of his head, the flicker of his eyes—but makes no reply. Every angle of his body is rigid, every muscle tensed to near-breaking point, all sharp lines and distinct shadowy creases. He's strong and calm in the aftermath of a broken heart, and as beautiful as she's ever seen.
Ever-so careful to avoid the more jagged pieces of debris, she picks her way across the shop.
The mid-afternoon sun bounces through the window and reflects in a thousand pinprick points across the floor, lighting the glass on fire, turning the floor into a whirlpool of gold. The glass crunches and tinkles beneath her feet, and she wishes she weren't wearing such flimsy shoes—flat (that's what they're called, flats) and thin-soled and too much like the slippers she was forced to wear for so many years.
She steps into the centre of the cabinet-maelstrom with him and puts her hand on his shoulder. She can feel him shaking beneath her touch, trembling with taut muscles and a furious tension that helps to cover the rawness of emotional wounds beneath.
He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly before speaking, voice curiously neutral. "What's happened is a change of plans."
"What kind of change?"
He lifts his cane from the ground, shifting his weight more heavily onto his good leg, and places the end against the silver trunk (it's called a suitcase here) he had promised to pack for her. "It seems we will not be needing this," his lips peel back from his teeth and he spits the word like a bad taste, pushing the suitcase off the counter and onto the floor with his cane, "for some time. I'm afraid our road trip has been postponed."
"I'm assuming involuntarily."
He plants his cane back on the ground, leaning on it heavily. His mouth twitches into an almost-smile. Another flick of his eyes to her. "Very perceptive of you."
She runs her hand over his shoulder and then down his arm to rest just above his elbow, gives it a tiny squeeze. The tension leaks out of him slowly—she can feel him relaxing with each steady breath, with each heartbeat, muscles growing supple beneath her touch.
He lifts a hand from his cane and holds it out in front of him, as if testing the weight of his words in his palm. "I—" he pauses a moment, trades her hand on his arm for a position where they can speak face-to-face (his body lined up with hers, a little closer than she might usually expect from him, because he obviously still needs to be near her), and brushes his knuckle along the side of her cheek. And then, as if trying out this strange new taste of honesty and disclosure on his tongue, he says, "I wanted to show you the world."
He shakes his head.
Her confusion must have shown on her face, because Rumplestiltskin folds his hands over his cane and offers an explanation: he tells her of memories, of town borders and magic. Of a dwarf who thinks his name is 'Tom Clark' and may never remember his axe or his brothers or anything, except that he runs a drug store in a tiny American town. Of strange places with far-off (and tantalizingly familiar) names. 'New York' and 'Boston' and 'Philadelphia' and how he wished to whisk her away down the interstate in his black carriage (Cadillac), and see the world, and perhaps she'd never have to return to the town she'd been trapped in for twenty eight years.
She can hear his aspirations crumbling with every used up sentence, brittle and dried as falling leaves. She has only practiced optimism and a thread of hope to offer him, so she steps forward and places her hands on his shoulders. "You can still show me the world."
"One day, perhaps. But not now." He pauses and a line appears between his brows, as straight and solemn as the rest of him. He narrows his eyes. "Belle, are you suggesting…"
"… that you take me on a tour of Storybrooke?" She gives a tiny shrug. "Since we can't leave, I can't think of any better ideas."
His lips curl up and he pulls her closer. Eyes shining with a curious fusion of gratitude and lingering bleakness, he runs his hand along her back. "I warn you, there's not much to see."
Standing with him in the middle of his shop, adrift on an ocean of glass and holding onto him as if he might drown upon her letting go, she curls her fingers tighter against his suit-jacket and the reality of the man underneath. "I'm not worried, Rumple." She presses a kiss to his jaw. "It hasn't disappointed so far."
A/N: A huuuuggeeee thanks to everyone who has read/reviewed/faved/followed my stories so far. I'm honoured and super pleased that you all like my stuff. :)
And a huuuuuuuuuggggggeeeeeee thanks to Anti-Kryptonite, who has been wonderful and patient and super encouraging. She's awesometacular for looking over all my stuff and putting up with my whining and you should all read her stories because they're beautiful. Just a warning, though, they might ruin other fanfiction forever. xD She sets some high standards, she does. THANKS A-K. 8D