Gold barely sleeps. Even with the painkillers, his broken hand is throbbing, the pain bright and intense, a constant reminder of Gaston and his particular brand of brutality.

He should have killed the bastard when he had the chance, and more than once during the night he has to force himself not to get up, his mind racing as he pours over every horrible detail, thinking of all the things he could have done differently, how much worse things had gone if he'd gotten there just a few minutes later...

The only way he's able to make himself stay in bed is by holding Belle even closer to him, pressing his cheek against the crown of her head, breathing in the familiar, comforting scent of her hair.

By the time the grey pre-dawn light starts creeping through his windows, Gold's given up all pretense of sleep. Beside him, Belle's breathing is deep but labored, and Gold thinks again about Gaston's hands wrapped around her pale throat, choking the life out of her. He unconsciously tightens his arm around Belle, and she makes a quiet whimpering sound deep in her throat.

"Sorry, sweetheart," he whispers, soft enough so he doesn't wake her up. He presses a soft kiss against her temple loosens his grip on her, forcing himself to relax. When he does, Belle immediately moves closer to him, throwing one leg over his and pressing her nose into his chest, right above his heart.

Gold smoothes a hand through her hair, promising himself that he's never, ever going to let her get hurt again.

It's late by the time Belle wakes up, the room filled with bright morning sunlight.

Her face looks even worse than it did last night, the bruises a horrible, deep purplish-black. She blinks up at him sleepily, her left eye still not opening all the way.

"Hi," she says, giving him a soft, sleepy smile.

"Hey." He kisses her gently on the forehead, being careful of the bruises. "How're you feeling?"

She shrugs, the borrowed t-shirt slipping down off her shoulder, revealing a patch of white, unbruised skin. "I've been better," she says, her voice raspy from both the sleep and the bruising. "And worse."

"Oh Belle," he says sadly. He wishes she wouldn't say things like that, wishes she couldn't say things like that, wishes he could just erase all of the horrible things that have ever happened to her.

She just shrugs again, and he thinks of her that day when he first met her, standing with the other girls on the corner, not running from him, smiling at him and talking to him about Hemingway. Gold thinks she may be the bravest person he's ever met.

"Do you have to go to work?" she asks sleepily, tilting her head up to look at him and then wincing a little when she stretches her neck wrong.

He shakes his head, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm yours for the day."

The truth is, he thought about going in, thought about filing a report on Gaston - maybe finding some old charge, some outstanding warrant, a goddamn unpaid parking ticket, something that he could pin on him without involving Belle - that would justify Gold hunting him down, making sure he left town like he promised he would. But the truth is, he can't bring himself to leave Belle. He thinks about their conversation from the other night, if she really would leave with him if he asked her to.

He's still thinking about it when Belle shifts beside him, moving so that she's half on top of him, pressing soft kisses against his jaw.

"Belle?" he says, his voice coming out low and breathless.

"Hmmm?" she murmurs, wiggling a little so that she can lick at a spot below his ear. Gold gasps, closing his eyes as she slides one hand down his chest, her skin almost searingly hot through the thin fabric of his t-shirt.

She keeps touching him, and it takes Gold a couple of seconds to get it together enough to find his voice again.

"Belle," he says, more firmly this time. It's just - she should be resting. She's still hurt, the bruises dark and ugly against her smooth white skin. He should be taking care of her, not taking advantage of her. "Sweetheart, stop."

She freezes when he says it, one hand flat on his chest, her face just millimeters from his. "What's wrong?" she asks, looking worried. "Is it your hand?" She glances down at where his bandaged hand is resting gently against her thigh.

"No," he says, smiling softly at her. Here she is, her face a mess of black and blue, asking if he's okay. "My hand is fine, love."

"So what is it?" she says, scraping her nails lightly against his chest and rolling her hips against his.

"Sweetheart..." he says, not sure exactly how to phrase it. It's just that it hasn't been that long since last night and the things that happened to her...Gold doesn't want to take advantage of her vulnerability. "It's not that I don't want to..."

She laughs bitterly. "Right," she says, taking her hand away from his chest and moving so she's not touching him at all. "I'm sure you're just dying to be with a whore like me."

"Stop that," he snaps, harsher than he means to.

Belle flinches, looking hurt. Gold closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

"I want to be with you," he tells her, keeping his voice soft, trying to make her understand. "I do."

She just shakes her head, disbelieving, and rolls over onto her back, staring obstinately at the ceiling.

"It's're hurt, and you should rest." He reaches out and puts a tentative arm on her shoulder, but she shrugs it away.

"I don't need to rest," she says, raising her voice, sounding angry, like the suggestion that she should take it easy after what happened to her last night is somehow incredibly offensive. "What I do need," she adds, turning back onto her side so that she can glare at him. "Is for everyone to stop telling me what to do."

"Of course, love," he tells her, not sure sure what else to say. He wants to give her everything she wants, but. He's just not sure this is what she needs right now.

"I want to do this," she announces. "I want to be with you. And I don't need for you to protect me."

She looks at him through the curtain of her hair, eyes bright and blue and dazzling despite the bruises.

She pulls her shirt off and she's naked above him, and, Christ, her whole left side is just one giant bruise, a mess of purple and black blossoming beneath the skin. Just looking at it makes him wince, but he reaches up with his bandaged hand and ghosts his fingers over her torso, trailing his fingers against the stark lines of her ribcage. The skin there is hot to the touch, warm beneath the bruises.

Above him, Belle's watching him closely. "Okay?" she says, almost defiantly, not flinching away from his touch, even when his fingertips brush against an angry cut below her collarbone.

He nods, waiting to see what she'll do next. She leans down and kisses him again, biting him less-than-gently on his jaw. It's a good hurt, though, and he gasps as she works her teeth against the sensitive skin of his neck.

She moves from his jaw down his throat, nipping at his skin and tracing the pulse point below his ear with her tongue. Gold can't stop touching her, being careful with the bruises, moving his hands over her insistently.

Belle kneels above him, her knees on either side of his hips, and he looks up into the bright blue of her eyes. She's biting her lip in concentration, pulling his shirt off and then running her hands lightly over his body.

He watches her watch him, looking her in the eye, and reaching out to thread the fingers of his good hand through hers. "I love you, Belle," he tells her, feeling like he can't say it enough, like he'll never be able to say it enough.

She goes still above him, her eyes bright as bites down on her lip. "Why?" she asks, sounding legitimately confused.

There are more reasons than he could possibly say, so he doesn't bother, just leans up and kisses her trying to show her what he can't quite figure out how to say.

They spend most of the day in bed, both of them drifting in and out of sleep, until Gold's phone rings, the sound loud and grating in the peaceful quiet of his bedroom.

He doesn't recognize the number on the caller ID, and he gets a sinking feeling in his stomach as he answers.

"Detective Gold?" a girl says, her voice vaguely familiar.


"It's Ruby," the girl says, sounding nervous.

"Ruby," he repeats, feeling strangely relieved. Behind him, he feels Belle slide closer to him, and he turns around and gives her a small shrug. "What can I do for you, dearie?"

"Is Belle with you?" she asks, still sounding unsure.

"Yes," he says, not bothering to hide it any longer. After last night, he plans on Belle always being with him, so he figures it matters little if her friends know where she is.

"Oh thank god," Ruby says, sounding relieved. "Can I talk to her?"

"Just a moment," Gold tells her, turning around and handing the phone to Belle. She takes it from him with a small smile, and Gold gets up and throws his boxers and t-shirt back on before heading out the living room, giving Belle and her friend a chance to talk.

When Belle comes out of the bedroom, she's dressed, wearing her old, ripped up jeans and one of his dress shirts, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows.

"Planning on going somewhere?" he asks lightly, strangely worried about what Ruby might have said to her.

"Maybe," she says, biting on her lip like she's nervous, which in turn makes him nervous. Christ, what did Ruby say to her? "Do you think you could drive me to Ruby's place?"

"Of course," he says, feeling almost absurdly relieved. "Any reason in particular?"

When he turns around, Belle's right next to him, a small smile on her bruised face. "I'm not leaving," she tells him. "I just want to pick up some of my things."

"In that case," he says. "Let's go."

Belle holds his hand the entire way to Ruby's, her fingers soft against his bruised skin. When he looks down at her hand, he notices a greenish line, right beneath the band of her ring, dark and ugly against her skin.

"It's from the metal," she says, and he looks back up quickly, focusing on the road. The last thing he needs is for them to die in a fiery crash because he's examining every bruise on her body.

"Is it too tight?" he asks, even though he can see it's not. It was the smallest size they had at the gift shop, but it's clearly a couple of sizes too large.

"No, it's just the metal," she says again, and he shoots her a confused look. "You know," she says. "Because of the fake gold?"

He raises his eyebrows in confusion. "Not that I mind," she adds quickly, like she's afraid she's offended him. "It'll wash off."

"Or we can just get you a real one," he says, working hard to keep his tone light.

But Belle's grinning at him, even as she shakes her head. "You don't need to do that," she tells him, giving his hand a quick squeeze, and he decides then and there that he's going to get her a new one - a real one, the kind she deserves - as soon as he can.

Ruby's still staying at the crappy motel by the interstate, and Gold parks right outside her room, still feeling a little odd about bringing Belle here.

But Belle needs to get her things, he knows, so he accompanies her to the door. When Ruby opens it, she practically launches herself at Belle, hugging her so tight that Belle winces.

"Sorry," Ruby says, grinning at Belle and then shooting Gold a slightly worried look. "You okay?"

Belle nods ruefully, rubbing one hand across the back of her neck. "Yeah," she says. "I think I am now." She glances at Gold when she says it, like he's the reason things are okay, and he can't stop himself from giving her a half smile. She reaches for Gold's hand again, carding her fingers through his and giving his hand a small squeeze.

Ruby watches them appraisingly, nodding at Gold in what looks suspiciously like approval.

"Well," he says, glancing around at the room. It's kind of dingy, but there don't seem to be any villains or the like lurking in the corners. "I've got some errands to run, and I'm sure you two'd like some time to talk."

Belle starts to protest, but Ruby cuts her off. "We would actually," she tells him. "Thanks."

Before he leaves, Gold double checks that she has her phone. "You'll call me if anything comes up?" he asks, and Belle nods.

"I'll take good care of her, Detective," Ruby tells him, crossing her arms over her chest and rolling her eyes, like it's completely absurd that he might be worried about leaving her alone here after everything that's happened.

Belle must sense some of what he's feeling, because she gives him a reassuring smile. "I'll be fine," she tells him, and he nods, giving her a gentle kiss on the cheek.

Gold heads to the library first, determined to make sure Gaston upheld his end of their deal. And if he didn't, well. It's not like Gold would be crushed if he had to kill the man.

But the library is deserted when he gets there, and the musty caretaker's apartment where he found Belle last night is empty and abandoned.

He considers calling the station, seeing if anyone there has heard anything, but he figures if Gaston had gone to the police, Sheriff Swan wouldn't be shy about hauling Gold in.

He knows there are plenty of places in Storybrooke for Gaston to hide out in, but it's already getting late and he's got one more stop before he picks up Belle, and he figures that should take precedent over the possibility of hunting down a man who should already be gone.

The jewelry store is actually rather busy, filled with shoppers standing at almost every glass case. The store smells vaguely of cinnamon and there's music playing softly from somewhere near the back, a song that sounds vaguely familiar. After just a few moments, he recognizes it - "Jingle Bells," of all things - and he realizes with a slight shock that it'll be Christmas soon. It's been years since he's had any reason at all to care about the holiday, and it's strange, knowing that he'll have Belle with him this year.

Gold dodges his way through the crowds of shoppers, making his way determinedly over to the case with they keep the rings. There are dozens of them, the selection a bit more overwhelming than he was prepared for, and he suddenly longs for the hospital gift shop again. But he takes his time examining the rings, determined to find the perfect one for Belle.

Everything is so bright and sparkling, these huge diamonds that he can't imagine Belle actually liking. It takes him rather longer than he had planned, but eventually, he finds what he's looking for.

It's a simple enough ring, just a plain gold band and a solitary stone, but the bright, dazzling blue of the sapphire is the precise color of Belle's eyes and it looks similar enough to the ring he got for her in the hospital that he thinks she'll like it.

As he leaves the shop, Gold tucks the ring into his jacket pocket, the light weight of it strangely comforting against him.

When he pulls up to the motel, Belle and Ruby are standing outside Ruby's room, looking very young as they lean into each other, talking and laughing and huddling together against the cold.

For just a moment, Belle looks so much like she did that first night, that his breath catches in his throat. But she sees his car and smiles and waves and she's got a faded blue duffel bag in one hand and she's getting into the car before he has a chance to get out and help her.

She waves at Ruby as they drive away, giving the other girl a brilliant smile. She doesn't stop until they've turned the corner and Ruby's out of sight.

"Got everything you need?" he asks, nodding at the bag in her lap. It's rather small for something that's apparently holding all her worldly possessions, but Gold figures they can just buy her anything that she might need. A warm coat, for example, he thinks, noticing the slight bluish tinge of her fingertips.

"Yep," she says, holding her hands up in front of the heater vents and rubbing them together to get warm. Once she's apparently defrosted enough, she takes his hand in hers again, like she's can't stop herself from touching him. "What about you? Get all your errands run?"

"Indeed I did," he says, glancing at her sidelong with a smile.

Neither one of them say much on the drive back to his apartment. Gold's feeling strangely nervous, his stomach flipping a little every time he notices the weight of the ring box in his pocket.

For her part, Belle just leans her forehead against the window, looking out at the ever-darkening streets of Storybrooke, a small smile on her face. The town has been decorated for Christmas, wreaths pinned to the lampposts and white, twinkling lights strung up in the shop windows. He's not sure how he hadn't noticed any of it before today, although he does suppose he's had other things on his mind.

By the time they get to his apartment, it's dark and the air has started to smell like snow. Belle holds his hand on the walk to the building, walking close enough to him that their shoulder keep bumping together.

When they get to the door, the first flurries of snow begin to fall, and Belle turns her face up to the sky, smiling a little as snowflakes land on her cheeks.

Gold has his keys in his hand, but he doesn't open the door, just stands there for a moment watching her. The snow has started to catch in her hair, and she looks almost ethereal in the soft glow of the moon.

"Everything okay?" she asks, looking back over at him. He's still just standing there, .

"Yes, of course," Gold says. There are snowflakes in her eyelashes, glittering softly, and Gold thinks that she is quite possibly the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, and he reaches into his pocket, pulling out the black velvet box and handing it to her.

"What's this?" she asks, opening it. When she sees the ring, she freezes, her eyes huge. "Rum?"

He's not quite sure how to read her expression, if the confusion is a good thing or a bad thing and he feels a sudden surge of doubt, worried he's pushing too hard, too fast.

"It's just..." he says, looking down at the ring, noticing for the first time that maybe it's a bit ostentatious, a bit presumptuous. It's one thing to get her a cheap trinket from a gift shop, but this, this means something. Which is precisely the point of course, but he's suddenly worried that maybe she's not ready for it to mean as much as it does.

She still hasn't said anything, just looks up at him, her eyes strangely bright.

"It doesn't..." he starts again, wanting to explain it doesn't need to mean more than she wants for it to, but she's suddenly launching herself at him, throwing both her arms around him and pressing her face against his neck.

"Thank you," she says, her breath warm and sweet against his throat. A couple people passing by look at them curiously, but Gold can't bring himself to care.

"Do you like it then?" he asks, and she huffs out a laugh, her body shaking a little against his.

"It's beautiful," she whispers, pressing a kiss just below his jaw and then pulling back to look at him again. She takes the ring from the box before holding it out to him.

He raises his eyebrows, and she smiles. "This is how it works, right?" she asks, biting down on her lip like she's trying not to smile too wide.

"Ah, of course," he says, taking the ring from her. She holds out her hand, and he slides off her old ring, rubbing lightly at the grey-green mark on her finger.

Belle grins at him when he puts it on her finger, not bothering to hide her smile anymore. It looks like a perfect fit, the delicate gold band fitting against her finger like it was made to go there. He was right about the stone - it's an exact match for the blue of her eyes - and Gold holds her hand in his, before leaning over and pressing a soft kiss to the corner of her mouth, feeling for the first time in a very long time like everything is going to be all right.

the end