A/N: Warning-there are brief mentions of rape and attempted suicide in this.
Rumplestiltskin groaned as he collapsed into the rickety chair in his small hut of a home and put his head in his hands. His boy's only hope to survive had been to run, and the Duke had caught them. Now he was going to have to watch the only good thing in his life be sent to die in two days.
"Papa?" Rumplestiltskin looked up at Baelfire, who was standing in front of him, his lip trembling. "What—what are we going to do? I don't want to go to war." He shook his head, tears escaping. "I don't want to go."
"Oh, Bae," Rumplestiltskin reached forward and pulled his son closer. "You won't go to war. We'll find a way to save you. We'll find a way."
Bae nodded, wrapping his arms around his father's neck, but Rumplestiltskin could tell Bae didn't believe him. He couldn't blame him—he barely believed himself. He held his son until he was quiet and then gently pushed him away. "Go to sleep, lad. You need your rest."
Bae kissed Rumplestiltskin's cheek and then shuffled off to the straw pallet in the corner, and Rumplestiltskin sighed. There was no way to save his son and the one good thing he had in the world would be taken from him in the morning.
He woke when the fire was low, still in the chair, struck by an idea, an impossible, terrifying, perfect idea, and opened his mouth before closing it again. With his son's life at stake, could he afford his fear? He looked at Bae's sleeping form and made his decision, biting down his fear.
"Dark One…" he swallowed. "Dark One, I summon thee." He waited, but nothing happened. "Dark One, I summon thee," he repeated, but again, nothing happened. Choking down a sob, he murmured one last time, "Dark One, I summon thee. Please. You're my last hope."
He let his head fall into his hands again, stifling his sobs so he wouldn't wake Bae, when a soft voice said, "No need for such desperation, my sweet."
Gasping, Rumplestiltskin bolted upright and stared at the woman leaning against his fireplace. She was dressed like a man in leather trousers and a silk shirt, but had wild brown curls surrounding her head like a halo, sticking out in every direction. He peered at her, trying to see her face, and she laughed, snapping her fingers and making the fire roar again. At the sight, he yelped and jumped backwards, almost collapsing on his knee and waking Bae in the process, causing her to snigger.
"Papa, what—who are you?" Bae said, staring at the woman as he jumped up and ran to Rumplestiltskin, who wrapped an arm around him protectively.
"I'm the Dark One," she said, smiling with pointed teeth, her green skin shifting under the firelight and her golden, catlike eyes sparkling mischievously.
"Why are you here?" Bae said and Rumplestiltskin cursed his boy's bravery.
"That, child, is a question for you ask your father," the Dark One said, studying her black nails. "He's the one who summoned me."
Bae looked up at Rumple, who took a hesitant step forward and pushed his son behind him in the process. "Tomorrow, the Duke will come for my son. He'll send him to the front lines and—and—"
"And you want me to save your boy," she said, looking up and studying Rumplestiltskin for the first time. He nodded, avoiding her eye. "My sweet, I don't give away good deeds. What do you have to offer me for the child's safety?"
"Anything," Rumplestiltskin said immediately and she smiled again, seeming pleased with his answer. Bae's fingers dug into his arm. "Anything I have to give is yours."
"Hmm," she looked around the hovel before returning her gaze to Rumplestiltskin. "I'll tell you what. I'm not too fond of ogres, so I will end the whole war if, and only if, you and your son come to my castle as my servants." She paused. "Forever."
Rumplestiltskin stared at her in shock and then at Bae when he stepped forward. "Deal."
She laughed. "Child, your father must agree as well, though I appreciate your bravery."
Bae looked up at Rumplestiltskin, waiting, and he stepped forward, clutching his stick as he looked up at the Dark One. "I agree."
"Excellent," she murmured, her eyes sparking. "The deal is struck." She snapped her fingers again and the three were no longer standing in the hovel, but instead in a large dining hall surrounded by bookshelves that were packed. "Welcome to your new home…" she paused, staring at the two expectantly.
"Baelfire," Bae said, staring around at the room in wonder. "And my papa is Rumplestiltskin. Milady," he added on as an afterthought.
"I am no lady," she said, leading them out of the room and through the castle.
"Then what would you have us call you?" Bae said, jogging after her.
"Bae," Rumplestiltskin hissed and the Dark One cast an amused glance over her shoulder.
"Your boy is fine, Rumplestiltskin. Curiosity is no crime," she said, stopping in front of a door and turning to look at Bae. "I do have a name, child."
"What is it?" Bae said, peering into the Dark One's eyes. Rumplestiltskin was struck by how small she was as she stood in front of Baelfire, his eyes only a few inches below hers.
"Belle," she said quietly. "My name is Belle." She stared at Bae, but didn't seem to see him, for a few moments before coming back to herself. "This is your room, my sweets." She opened the door and stepped aside to let them pass. It was a small room with two beds, a dresser between them, and a fireplace opposite, but it was larger than their hut, even without the attached washroom.
"This is…" Rumplestiltskin started to say before swallowing. "Thank you, mil—Belle."
"You both do belong to me now, and I like my possessions to be in good condition," she said, waving his thanks away. "I expect tea in the dining room an hour after dawn. You'll find everything in the kitchen, which is just down this hall. We'll discuss the rest of your duties then. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a war to end," she grinned wickedly and Rumplestiltskin shivered at the sharp points of her teeth as she spun on her heel and stalked away.
"I like her."
Rumplestiltskin jumped as Baelfire appeared next to him, watching Belle walk away. "She's the Dark One, son."
Bae shrugged. "Just because she is the Dark One doesn't mean that all she is," he said, turning to sit on one of the beds.
Rumplestiltskin shook his head at his son and got into bed himself.
"Yes, my boy?"
"I'm glad you called her."
Rumplestiltskin sighed. "I am too, Bae. I am too."
At dawn the pair rose and prepared tea, bringing it into the dining room as Belle instructed an hour later. She was sitting cross-legged on the table reading and didn't look up until Baelfire placed the tray next to her.
"Good morning, my sweets," she said, setting her book aside and eyeing them as if they were cattle at an auction.
"Good morning, Belle," Bae said as Rumplestiltskin began to prepare the tea.
Her lips twitched. "Your duties will include cleaning the castle, dusting and organizing my books, preparing my meals, and butchering the children I bring back."
Bae froze and Rumplestiltskin knocked over the cup he had just finished making. He gasped as the tea spilled onto the book Belle had set aside.
"I am so sorry," he said, grabbing the towel Bae had brought in with them and mopped up the tea. He flinched when she put her hand out and she sighed.
"The book, if you will." Rumplestiltskin handed her the book. "It's just a book, my sweet. I've spilled tea on plenty of them myself." She set the book aside again and raised her eyebrows, smirking. "That last task was a quip."
Rumplestiltskin and Baelfire both visibly relaxed and she laughed, pouring herself tea. "Children don't taste very good." Bae stiffened again, but Rumplestiltskin surprised all of them when he chuckled. "I'm glad someone appreciates my humor, even if you're a bit jumpy. Now," she put her teacup down and began appraising the pair again. "You'll find all the cleaning supplies you need in a cupboard in the kitchen. Don't start organizing my books yet—just dust them and move them into the library, which is on the third floor. It's up to you how you want to divide the tasks between the two of you, as long as they get done." She narrowed her eyes at Rumplestiltskin's bad leg.
"Yes, milady," Rumplestiltskin said.
"Belle," she said, glaring at him.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he muttered, staring as his feet. "Belle."
She waved her hand, dismissing them as she picked her tea-sodden book up again, drying it with a flick of her fingers, though the stains remained.
Over the next week, Baelfire and Rumplestiltskin managed to clean their way through the dining room. Rumplestiltskin would dust and sweep as Bae moved the books up to the library, often having to work around Belle where she would be sitting on the table with books and papers spread around her. She ignored him unless to give him instructions, but he was still on edge in her presence.
"What happened to your leg?"
Rumplestiltskin looked up from the puppets he was dusting to see Belle watching him from where she lay on her stomach. "I was a coward and got a coward's punishment," he muttered, turning back to the puppets.
He heard rustling and then her footsteps coming towards him. "And what does that mean, my sweet?"
He glanced at her and saw her leaning against the chair at the head of the table, her head cocked. "I ran away from the Ogre War. Bae was a newborn when I was drafted and I didn't want to leave him fatherless, so I ran, and…"
"And they hobbled you," she said quietly, and he was surprised to see her eyes flash with anger. "They hobbled you for wanting to live for your son." He shrugged and she frowned. "What about his mother?"
"She left a few years after I returned from war," he muttered. "She didn't want to spend her life with the town coward."
Belle made a growling sound and he cast her a curious glance. "If there is one thing I hate in this world, it is parents who abandon their children," she said.
"Well, we have that in common," Rumplestiltskin said and she offered him a small smile, cocking her head again as if he confused her. He smiled back. He hadn't been this close to her before, and for the first time he realized her skin wasn't just green, it was scaly. What surprised him more than her scales was the fact he wasn't repulsed by them. "Why did you want us here?" he said, taking advantage of his momentary courage.
She blinked. "The place was filthy," she said, shrugging. "Besides, I needed someone to organize my books for me."
"There must be more than that," he said, frowning.
She gave him another odd look before speaking slowly. "Children are precious. I wanted to stop a child from going to war, I suppose."
"Then why ask for me as well?"
She smiled and looked down at her boots. "Separating parent and child is the worst crime someone can commit." She abruptly spun on her heel and walked back to the table and he went back to his dusting.
"Rum?" He started at the nickname and turned to see her staring at the fire she kept going all hours of the day, not quite facing him but not facing away either. "Why don't you and Baelfire start having dinner with me?"
He nodded and watched her as she left the room.
The three found an easy companionship over the next few months as Baelfire and Rumplestiltskin began having tea and dinner with their mistress every day. Rumplestiltskin didn't jump every time she moved anymore and Baelfire was as curious as ever, begging her the stories behind the trophies she had displayed. Rumplestiltskin watched as she began to give his son fond smiles and answered his questions easily, though he wondered how much of it was true because it was so fantastic, and he found a surprising peace in their new lives. He was even more surprised when Belle gave him one of the fond smiles she had reserved for his son when he outwitted her at one of her word games. After that, he began to earn smiles more often. They began to learn her quirks, like how she only had tea at breakfast, didn't seem to be aware of anything when she was reading, and her favorite book was the one Rumplestiltskin spilled tea on.
She began to bring the two presents when she returned from making deals, often candy or games for Baelfire and clothes for Rumplestiltskin, though she left him a beautifully carved walking stick made of black granite with golden lines going through it once.
Rumplestilstkin was serving dishes of food to Bae and Belle one evening after she had returned from a deal. She was in her usual spot on the table, her hair more tangled than usual, and Bae was sitting in a chair across from his father.
"Why do you sit on the table?" Bae said, looking up at her.
"'s not ladylike," she said, shoving stew into her mouth as she spoke as if to reinforce her point.
"Why don't you want to be ladylike?" he said, frowning.
She shrugged. "Too much effort, child." She looked away from Bae and Rumplestiltskin saw the flash in her eyes that told him there was more to it than what she was saying and he changed the topic before Bae could press her.
"We've finished moving your books into the library," Rumplestiltskin said, sitting down to eat.
"Oh, lovely," she said, immediately brightening. "You can start organizing them, my sweets. Dreadful task, alphabetizing, but it needs to be done."
Bae and Rumple exchanged a look before Bae said, "Belle, I can't read."
"Neither of us can," Rumple said, pushing his food around with his fork.
"Your duke was going to send you to your deaths and he didn't even have the courtesy to make you literate?" she said and, when Bae nodded, made the growling sound that meant she was angry.
Rumplestiltskin shrugged. "It's never really been a problem."
Belle shook her head in disbelief. "Well, my sweets, I'll just have to teach you both."
"What?" Rumplestiltskin said, staring up at her.
"We'll start tonight," she said, clapping her hands at the idea.
Every night after that she would sit down in front of the fire with them on either side of her and worked her way through the alphabet until she felt they were ready to start reading books. One night, she was helping Rumplestiltskin through a difficult passage, his bad leg stretched out in front of him, when she glanced over at Baelfire and snorted.
"Your son has fallen asleep in the middle of my lesson," she said, tilting her head towards the boy sprawled on his back with the book on his chest.
Rumplestiltskin snickered. "He always did have a mind of his own." Belle laughed, a clear, high sound, and he smiled at her. "Belle?"
"Why do you read so much?"
She glanced up at him. "It lets me be someone else."
"Why would you want to be someone else?" he said, frowning.
"Have you seen me?" she said, laughing again, though it was empty this time.
"Of course I have," he said. "I have been living with you for the past six months, and I don't understand why you would want to be someone else."
She frowned at him, her brow furrowed as she searched his eyes, confusion in hers. "It's not sunshine and rainbows being the Dark One, Rumple."
"At least you can protect the people you care about."
"You mean if I had people to protect," she said, staring into the fire.
"Well, you have us now."
She laughed again, shaking her head. "You and Bae are only here because of a deal, my sweet."
"Neither of us regret making the deal, Belle."
She looked up at him and gave him a hesitant half-smile. "Do you ever miss it? Your old life?"
Rumplestiltskin snorted. "I was the town coward. If people talked to me, it was to taunt me. I could barely feed my son and went hungry more often than not to make sure he had food in his belly. No, I don't miss it."
She gave him a wider smile. "You're a good father, Rumplestiltskin."
"Thank you," he murmured, smiling at Bae. "Though, I suppose I do miss spinning."
"You were a spinner?"
"That would explain why you repair my clothes so well." He laughed and she gave him one her fond smiles, which always made him feel warm inside. She picked up the book again. "Come on, Rum, let's see if we can get you through this chapter."
She tilted the book towards him and he leaned closer to her to read it easier, placing a hand on her knee without thinking. Immediately, she jerked away, growling at him for the first time and fixing him with a glare that could kill.
He stared at her, eyes wide. "I'm—I'm sorry," he stammered.
"You two are ready to start organizing the library," she said, shoving the book into his hands with one last glare before standing up.
"Belle, I'm sorry," he called after her as she walked away. She paused, glancing back at him, her eyes unreadable, and then left him to stare into the fire.
The next morning Belle wasn't there for tea.
"She must have forgotten to tell us she was dealing," Bae said, shrugging, and Rumplestiltskin followed him to the library where they spent the day organizing Belle's hundreds of books. They barely made a dent in it, although they spent the entire working, and when Rumplestiltskin went downstairs to make dinner, they still hadn't seen Belle, even though she tended to visit them while they were working. Bae thought nothing of it, but Rumplestiltskin lingered on her reaction to his touch the night before, sure that it had something to do with it. After all, who would want to be friends with a coward, let alone be touched by one.
He went out of his way to pass through the dining room on his way to the kitchen, but she wasn't there, and he felt a strange pang in his heart, a pang he hadn't felt since the first time his wife looked at him with hatred.
Bae soon joined him in the kitchen and helped him to finish the meal and carry it up to the dining room. Rumplestiltskin almost dropped the water jug he was holding when he saw Belle on the table, not reading for once and watching the fire instead, her legs swinging.
"Belle! You're back!" Bae cried.
She raised her head and smiled slightly at him. "I am, my sweet." She avoided looking at Rumplestiltskin as he placed the water jug on the table.
"Where did you go?" Bae said, pulling himself onto the table next to her.
She reached out and brushed his hair out of his eyes without seeming to realize it. "I was getting your father a present."
"What?" Rumplestiltskin said and she turned to look at him for the first time. She tilted her head towards the back of the room and he turned and gasped. Sitting in the corner next to a window was a large spinning wheel. He could tell it was better quality than anything he had ever spun on before even from a distance. "Belle, it's beautiful."
He glanced back at her and she gave him a small smile, looking up at him through her lashes. "You said you missed spinning, so I thought you might like to have a wheel."
He smiled broadly at her, realizing this was her attempt at apologizing to him. "Thank you. Really, thank you from the bottom of my heart." He had to restrain himself from hugging her. While she may have forgiven him, he doubted she wanted him to touch her again.
"This is lovely, but can I eat?" Bae said, interrupting Belle and Rumplestiltskin staring at each other, and she laughed.
"Go ahead, child," she said. Bae glanced at the two of them again with a knowing smile before filling his plate.
Baelfire carried the conversation throughout dinner, smirking every time he caught Belle and his father smiling at one another, and when he and Belle went to the fire to read, Rumplestiltskin went to the spinning wheel.
That night, after the lights were out in their room and they were both in bed, Bae looked at the lump that was his father in the other bed.
"You like her."
Rumplestiltskin shifted. "Of course I do. She's a kind mistress."
"No," Bae said, rolling his eyes even though his father couldn't see it. "You like her."
"I don't know what you mean," Rumplestiltskin said too quickly.
"Of course you know what I mean."
He sighed. "Bae, she… There's no point in discussing it when she doesn't feel the same way."
Bae snorted. "You are ridiculous."
"What?" Rumplestiltskin sat up and lit a candle on the table between them.
"You're blind if you think she doesn't like you," Bae said. "Actually, I'm pretty sure she's past liking you and has moved on to loving you."
"Papa, you didn't see how she was looking at you tonight," Bae said, cutting his father off. "She spent more time watching you spin than teaching me how to read. I can't tell you how many times I had to get her attention back on me." Rumplestiltskin frowned and Bae sighed. "Just don't reject the possibility, alright?"
Rumplestiltskin nodded before blowing out the candle.
The three fell back into their normal routine with the exception of Rumplestiltskin spinning each night instead of reading, but Rumplestiltskin did notice Belle glancing at him more often than would be normal, Bae giving him a pointed look behind her back each time he caught her watching Rumplestiltskin.
A few weeks after she gave him the wheel, Rumplestiltskin was spinning after dinner and glanced at Belle and Bae in front of the fire, jumping when he saw her standing right behind him instead of with Bae, who was asleep in front of the fire.
"I didn't mean to startle you," Belle said, staring at him. When Rumple waved it off, the corners of her lips turned upwards. "Your son fell asleep during my lesson again."
"He must be tired. He's had to do most of the lifting in the library," Rumplestiltskin said, gesturing to his leg.
"Do you need something?"
She shook her head. "No, I was just watching you spin." He gave her a questioning look and she smiled. "I enjoy watching people do what they love most. They seem so happy."
"I suppose that would be like you when you're reading."
She blinked, surprised, and then nodded. "I suppose so. Why do you like to spin so much?"
Rumplestiltskin looked back at the wheel and frowned. "It helps me to forget the bad things and remember the good things."
"What are the good things?"
He could almost feel her standing behind him and fiddled with the wool in his hand. "Well, Bae, for one. And you."
He glanced up at her, smiling at the shock in her voice and shook his head at her. "Of course. No one else has ever shown me such kindness before. You could have been a slave driver, but instead you've been a friend."
She stared at him, lips slightly parted in surprise, and then reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. "You and Bae are the first friends I've had in three hundred years," she murmured.
Slowly, so she had plenty of time to move, he brought his hand up and placed it on top hers, squeezing it. She flinched slightly, but didn't movie, and her scales were rough and warm against his fingers. They stayed like that, staring into each other's eyes, until Bae snored loudly and they both jumped. She smiled at him again before moving away to settle next to Bae and picking up her own book.
Bae could tell something had changed during tea the next morning. Belle and Rumplestiltskin were glancing at each other more than usual and she seemed to go out of her way to brush her fingers against his when he passed her her tea. She followed them into the library and watched them work, commenting occasionally on a book one of them might enjoy. After dinner, Bae claimed that he was too tired for a reading lesson that night and instead went to tidy up the kitchen, leaving Belle to read and Rumple to spin.
After spinning for a while, Rumplestiltskin became aware of Belle standing behind him the way she had the night before. He glanced up at her and smiled. "Would you like to sit?" he said, scooting over on the wide stool so there was enough room for her beside him.
She hesitated before sitting next to him, their sides pressed against each other, and Rumplestiltskin tried to ignore the way his heart started beating faster. He kept spinning and she watched him. When she sighed, he paused and looked up at her, surprised to find a wistful smile on her face. "You look so happy," she said, leaning into him.
"I am," he said, and then paused, realizing how close her face was to his. She seemed to realize it at the same moment he did, her eyes flicking to his lips and then back to his eyes. "Belle…" he swallowed. "Can I kiss you?"
She stared at him for a moment before closing her eyes and tilting her face towards his in response, surprising him, and he tentatively leaned forward and pressed his lips to her dry ones. She brought her hand up to rest on his neck and kissed him back slowly, as if he would shatter if she pressed too hard, and then withdrew, staring at him in wonder and then confusion as his jaw dropped.
"What's happening?" he said, touching her suddenly pink cheek as he watched the scales on her face give way to human skin and her gold eyes give way to blue ones.
Her brow furrowed and then her eyes widened when she saw her scaleless hand on his neck. She bolted up, knocking over the spinning wheel, and backed away from him, shaking her head. He stood up, briefly registering Bae watching them from the doorway, his smirk fading to a look of confusion. "No no no no no," she muttered, flicking her hands as if to cast a spell, but nothing was happening. "NO!" she screamed before flicking her hands again, causing a flame to burst between them as scales covered her body once more. She sighed in relief and then looked up at Rumplestiltskin, a growl building in her throat. Suddenly, she had him pined against the wall, her forearm pressed against his throat. "WHAT DID YOU DO?" she screamed, the growl growing.
He shook his head. "Nothing, Belle, I swe—"
"YOU ALMOST BROKE MY CURSE. WHAT SPELL DID YOU USE? HOW DID YOU DO IT? WHAT DID YOU DO?"
Rumplestiltskin was desperately shaking his head, speechless at the rage in her eyes, golden again, and then Baelfire was there, pulling at her arm. "Belle, he didn't use a spell, think about it! He kissed you and your curse started to break!"
She wrenched her eyes away from Rumplestiltskin's and stared at Bae. "What are you talking about, boy?" she snapped.
"True love's kiss can break any curse," Bae said and Belle stiffened.
"That's impossible," she hissed, glaring daggers at Bae.
"Why?" he said, tugging at her arm again.
"BECAUSE NO ONE CAN EVER LOVE ME," she screamed, jostling Rumplestiltskin. Bae stood still, staring at her in shock with his mouth hanging open.
Belle and Bae both whipped their heads around to stare at Rumplestiltskin, who was watching Belle. "What?" she said, her anger turning to shock.
"I love you," he whispered and she shook her head.
"That's impossible," she said, her arm at his throat going limp.
"I love you," he repeated and pushed her arm away, grasping her shoulders. "I love you, Belle, and you love me. If you didn't, your curse wouldn't have started to break."
"No one can ever love me," she said again, stepping away from him.
"But I do," Rumplestiltskin said, following her.
"And so do I," Bae said, then frowned. "Though not in the same way Papa does."
Belle shook her head, but stopped moving away from Rumplestiltskin. "You're not thinking right. I'm a monster. I'm not pure or good or anything anyone would want. You can't love me. Neither of you can love me."
"You're not a monster," he whispered, reaching up to touch her cheek.
"Yes I am," she said, staring at him with wide eyes.
"You're not. You have good in you. But even if you were, you would be the monster I'm in love with."
She stared at him and then shook her head and looked at her feet. "You can't ever kiss me, Rum," she whispered.
"Alright," he said, curling his fingers against her cheek.
She grabbed his arm and held so tight she would leave bruises, eyes wild. "Promise me, Rumplestiltskin."
"I promise," he said. "I won't try to kiss you."
She released his arm and glanced between him and Bae, who was watching them with his brow furrowed, before turning to walk away. She paused at the door, glanced back at them, and waved her hand, righting the spinning wheel, before leaving the room.
Rumplestiltskin looked at Baelfire, who looked as bewildered as he felt. Bae shook his head, offering Rumple a shaky smile. "I told you she loved you."
Rumplestiltskin shook his head. "True love," he said. "I thought it only existed in stories, and if it did exist, I never thought I would find it."
Bae shrugged. "Why shouldn't you find it, Papa?"
Rumplestiltskin smiled wanly and ruffled Bae's hair. "Let's go to bed. It's been a long day."
Baelfire and Rumplestiltskin walked into the dining room the next morning to find Belle lying on the table spread eagle with her eyes closed. They exchanged a look as they walked up to her.
"Belle?" Bae said. "Are you alright?"
She grunted. "Perfectly fine."
"Then what are you doing?" Rumplestiltskin asked.
"I didn't sleep well last night," she said, her eyes still closed. "Consequence of a very strange dream."
Rumplestiltskin raised his eyebrows and tried not to smirk at the great Dark One in such a state.
"Was the dream about Papa kissing you and almost breaking your curse?" Baelfire said, earning a look from Rumplestiltskin, and Belle was immediately sitting up and staring at him.
"How could you—" she started to say before pausing, her eyes widening as she turned to stare at Rumplestiltskin. "That was real?" she squeaked.
"Aye," Rumplestiltskin said, turning to the tea tray.
She kept staring at him as he prepared tea and took her cup wordlessly when he handed it to her.
"I'm going to go get some bread," Baelfire muttered before turning and running out of the room.
Belle watched him go. "Smart boy."
"Indeed," Rumplestiltskin said, looking at her. "Belle, why won't you let me kiss you?" She gave him an emotionless look before staring down into her tea. "You'll choose power over love," he sighed, leaning against the table and looking down.
She reached out and put her fingers on his chin, lifting his face so she could meet his eyes, her own sad. "No, but I'm not giving up what I've worked three centuries for." She scowled, as if battling herself before taking a deep breath and continuing. "I do love you—hell, I even love that damned boy of yours—but I can't give up, not when my whole existence has been—is still—dedicated to this."
"What is it?" he said, biting his lip.
She pulled her hand away from him as if he had bitten her. "I'm sorry, Rum." She stood up and walked out of the room.
"Belle?" she paused in the doorway and looked back at him sadly. "For whatever it's worth, I love you."
She gave him a genuine smile. "That's worth everything."
"Everything except for what you're not telling me."
She leaned against the doorframe and closed her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said again before slipping out of the room.
Life in the Dark Castle seemed to continue the same as before, but all three were aware of the new layer to their relationship. They still took their morning tea together, though Rumplestiltskin and Baelfire woke up each morning in rooms fit for kings now. The two still worked all day, though when she was in the room with them, there were looks exchanged between Rumplestiltskin and Belle that Bae pointedly ignored. They still had dinner together, but Belle began to show affection towards both of them. She let Bae fall asleep on her shoulder one night during a reading lesson and when she was alone with Rumple in the library one day, she darted forward and hugged him before leaving the room as quickly as she had embraced him. They fell into a new pattern, one which included Belle scolding Bae almost as much as Rumplestiltskin did and nights of her leaning into him as she watched him spin after Bae fell asleep on the hearth.
"You two are free to go," she whispered one night, watching Rumplestiltskin's hands guide the wheel.
"What?" he said, slowing his spinning and glancing at her.
"I won't keep you and Bae prisoner here anymore."
"Why would we leave?" he said, stopping his spinning completely.
"Why would you stay?"
"Belle, I love you. Bae loves you," he said, shaking his head at her. "That means we want to be with you. Besides, even if we didn't, where would we go? Back to our village where I can be the coward who can barely feed his son again?"
"They'll never know what you did for them," she said, frowning. "They'll never know that the only reason they're alive is because their village coward gave up his whole life to end the war."
"I just wanted to save my son."
"You're brave, Rumplestiltskin, even if they couldn't see it," she said. "Even if you can't see it. It's just not an obvious bravery."
"I'm almost positive that you're the only person to ever call me brave."
"I'm almost positive that you're the only person to ever see good in me, love," Belle said, smiling at him before leaning in to rest her forehead against his shoulder.
Rumplestiltskin hesitantly kissed the top of her head and then laughed when she let out a sound he had never heard come out of her before. "Did you just purr?"
"No," she said, hiding her face in his shirt.
"You did," he said, laughing. "I just made the almighty Dark One purr."
"You're going to make the almighty Dark One hiss if you're not careful," she muttered into his shoulder, but he could hear her smile in her voice. He kissed her head again and laughed as she tried to stop herself from purring again but failed. "Shut up, Rum."
Weeks passed until one night all three were gathered around the fire. Rumplestiltskin was sitting in a chair repairing some clothes Belle had damaged during a deal that he suspected had turned into a swordfight, Bae was sprawled on his stomach on the ground reading, and Belle was sitting next to him with her knees hugged to her chest, watching the flames. Their companionable silence ended when Bae closed his book and sat up, watching Belle.
"Why do you want to be the Dark One?"
Rumplestiltskin froze as she blinked, pulled out of her trance, and stared at Bae. "What?"
"You won't let my papa kiss you, so you must want to be the Dark One. Why?"
"I need the magic," she said, playing with a loose string hanging off the side of her trousers.
"Why?" Bae pressed.
"It's a long story."
He shrugged. "We have time."
"Bae," Rumplestiltskin said. "When people say 'it's a long story,' that normally means they don't want to tell you."
Bae's mouth opened in a perfect 'o' and he smiled sheepishly at Belle. She looked at him, brow furrowed, and then turned her gaze on Rumple, who met her eyes and she sighed. "I'll tell you my story if you want to hear it," she murmured. "But it's a horrible tale. You shouldn't look so happy to hear it, Bae." She brushed his hair out of his eyes and glanced at Rumplestiltskin, who was shocked.
"I doubt it's that horrible," Bae said, scooting back so he could lean against his father's chair.
"You sweet, naïve boy," Belle murmured before turning to Rumplestiltskin. "This isn't a story for children's ears. You're his father. You decide if he can hear it or not."
"How horrible is it?" he said, watching her carefully.
She laughed. "About as horrible as it gets."
He swallowed and then looked down at his son. "Bae, why don't you go to—"
"No," Bae said, shaking his head and staring up at Rumple. "I know I'm young, but I'm not a child. If it wasn't for Belle, I would be dead, and besides, she's the closest thing I've had to a mother."
Belle let out a choked sound and shook her head. "Don't say that," she whispered.
"But you are," Bae said. "I can't remember my mother's face and now when I try to, I see yours." Belle shook her head again and he looked up at Rumplestiltskin. "Please, Papa. I deserve to know what happened to her."
Rumplestiltskin nodded slowly and Bae turned to Belle, his smile fading when he saw her staring at him in horror. "What's wrong? Are you scared of being my mama?"
She laughed again, a cold, empty sound. "No, but I'm scared of what will happen to you. The last time I was called 'mama,' there was no happy ending."
"You were a mother?" Rumplestiltskin said as Bae's jaw dropped. She nodded. "The doll you keep hidden away in the library… Was that…?"
"My daughter's," she whispered and turned back to the fire. "Don't interrupt me. It will be easier for me to just talk, alright?" They both nodded and she sighed, running a hand through her tangled hair. "I grew up… When I was sixt…" She shook her head and sighed again. "Once upon a time, there was a farm girl who loved her father very much. Her mother died when she was just a baby, so it was just the two of them, but the lord who owned their land was cruel and raised rent so high that they couldn't afford it, so to pay off her papa's debts, the girl went to work in the lord's manor when she was sixteen. They thought everything would be fine. She would get wages and her papa could keep the farm and after a few years work she would have enough for a dowry to marry the blacksmith's apprentice as planning.
"That was before she caught Lord Gaston's attention, though. She was a pretty girl, if a bit odd with her head in the clouds all the time, but all Gaston saw was a small waist and blue eyes and chestnut curls, so one night, he summoned her to his bedchamber." Rumplestiltskin gasped and Belle glanced at him, then at Bae, who was staring at her wide-eyed, before flicking her gaze back to the fire. "He used her," she whispered. "Used her as his plaything, and after the first time, when he attacked her, there was no reason for her to even try to fight him off. No one else would want her. She was impure and everyone knew it a year later when she began to swell with his child, not that he would acknowledge that the baby in her belly was his, but everyone knew it. She was more trapped in his manor than ever before, for where else could a woman with a babe but no husband go?
"She almost killed herself in the weeks before her baby was born, but Gaston walked in on her with a dagger to her breast and pulled it out of her grasp before she could plunge it into her heart. She was kept under constant supervision after that. He couldn't let his favorite toy die. So, she lived, and her only hope was that she would die in childbirth like her mama did, and even that was taken away from her. But when her daughter was placed in her arms, she didn't care. She loved the child from the first instant she saw. The baby was the most beautiful thing the girl had ever seen, and she named her Lana, knowing as she did that she would protect that tiny little thing with her life.
"And her life did go on. She was still Gaston's favorite, but he came to her less frequently now that she had a babe in her room with her, and that was an added blessing to the joy Lana brought her. The only reason she stopped trying to kill herself over those next few years was because of her baby.
"When Lana was six, the girl who hadn't been a girl in a long time knew she needed a way out. Gaston would suffocate her and her daughter until Lana's life was ruined as surely as her mother's had been, so she called on the Blue Fairy for help, who gave her a magic bean that would take the two away and into another world, a world without magic, a world Gaston wouldn't even be able to follow them to because it was the last magic bean." Belle closed her eyes and put her head between her knees, taking deep breaths before continuing. Rumplestiltskin and Baelfire watched her, not even daring to move. "She took Lana into the forest near the manor and opened the portal, but just before they jumped through, Gaston tackled her to the ground. He had seen them leaving his house and had followed them, but when he tackled the girl, he knocked Lana through the portal, and—and the girl wasn't able to grab her in time and the portal—" Belle took a shuddering breath and looked up at Rumplestiltskin. "The portal closed with Lana on one side and me on the other. She was six years old. Six years old and forced into a completely different world without her mother, without anyone." Her breath hitched and she covered her face with her hands. Rumplestiltskin wasn't able to stop tears from running down his face and when he glanced at Bae, his lip was trembling as he tried to stop himself from crying too. "After that, I found a way to protect myself from men like Gaston and get to Lana. I became the Dark One and have spent every waking moment trying to create a new portal," Belle's voice was muffled by her hands and she was sitting hunched over, folding in on herself.
Slowly, Rumplestiltskin stood from his chair, limped over to her, sat down, and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. She looked up at him, her face dry but desolate, and grasped his shirt in one of her hands. "She was six years old and I abandoned her. I let my daughter go."
"No," Rumplestiltskin shook his head and placed his hand on her cheek. "No, you didn't abandon her. It's Gaston's fault she went through alone, not yours. It's not your fault, Belle. None of it is."
"Gaston's death is," she said.
Rumplestiltskin let out a cold laugh. "I hope you took your time. Any torture you gave him wasn't enough."
She stared at him, releasing a small choking sound before burying her face in his neck unexpectedly, letting him rock and shush her as she trembled. "So that's why you need magic," he said, watching at the fire.
Belle nodded into his neck. "I'm sorry I won't let you kiss me, but I won't choose you over my daughter. I won't give up hope that I'll find a way."
Rumplestiltskin stroked her hair. "I of all people understand going to desperate measures to save a child. I wouldn't ask you to choose me over Lana any more than you would ask me to choose you over Bae." She made that choking sound again and hugged him as tight as she could.
"Have you had any luck finding a portal?" Bae said as she pulled away from Rumplestiltskin, though he kept his arm around her shoulders.
"I am so close," she growled, baring her teeth. "I haven't been this close since that blasted pirate told me he had a magic bean and then broke our deal. If my plan works, I'll be in a land without magic within a few years."
"We'll be," Bae said, scooting closer, and she gave him a questioning look. "We'll be in a land without magic. I'm going with you."
She looked taken aback and Rumplestiltskin nodded. "Aye. We'll help you find her, Belle."
"And when we do, maybe the four of us can be a family…" Bae said, trailing off as he looked up at her nervously.
"Oh, Bae," she said and held out her arms to him, letting him practically crawl into her lap to hug her, causing Rumplestiltskin to blink back tears.
"So what's your plan?" Bae said, pulling away from Belle to sit in front of her and Rumplestiltskin with his back to the fire.
She laughed, her eyes sparkling, and Rumplestiltskin and Baelfire both leaned closer to her. "I designed this curse…"
Two more years passed with them acting like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one. Rumplestiltskin began spending his nights in Belle's room, curled up around her with his face in her hair when she was there and sprawled on the bed breathing in her scent when she wasn't. Bae turned seventeen and grew until he was taller than both his father and Belle. She was getting more hopeful with each step of her plan going through successfully and even walked around the castle singing on the day Queen Regina threatened Snow White and Prince James, catching Rumplestiltskin and spinning him around in a dance.
"It can't be more than weeks away," she told them excitedly over dinner one night before biting her lip. "And that's why I have go to a deal tonight and let King James capture me," she said quickly, wincing when Rumplestiltskin his fork.
"What?" he said as Bae stared at her, his mouth hanging open with half-chewed food on display.
"I made a deal with Cinderella months ago for her firstborn child. Now that she's pregnant, she's going to try to get out of it by capturing me, the stupid girl," Belle said, staring at her claws.
"And you are going to let her capture you?" Rumplestiltskin said. "Why, exactly?"
"I need be easily accessible for the king and queen as well as Regina," she said, glancing up at him. "They're going to need my advice before the curse sets in, and it will only be for a few weeks, love."
Rumplestiltskin made a sputtering sound as Bae chimed in. "And then another twenty-eight years where we won't even remember each other."
"You won't feel like twenty-eight years has gone by," Belle said desperately.
Rumplestiltskin sighed. "Belle, you know we'll help you with anything, but is this really necessary?" She nodded and he shook his head, slumping his shoulders. "Then we'll miss you."
"I'll miss you as well," she said, frowning as she looked between them. "I really shouldn't have let myself grow so attached to you two."
"Who can resist true love?" Rumplestiltskin said, giving her a sad smile, which she returned before staring into space, her head tilted as if listening to someone who wasn't there.
"There's the summons," she murmured, sliding off the table and staring at her feet. "Stay on the castle's grounds. No one will be able to come through the gate, so you'll both be safe as long as you stay here."
Bae stood up and hugged her tightly and Rumplestiltskin rounded the table to wrap his arms around both of them. Gently, she disentangled herself from them and gave them one last smile before turning to walk away.
"Be careful," Bae called after her. "Mama."
She glanced back at them and masked a sad look with a mischievous grin. "Love, I'm always careful."
Bae snorted as she walked out the door. "And now we wait," he said to his father.
"And now we wait."
And wait they did for weeks, until one day Bae called Rumplestiltskin over to the window to watch a massive purple cloud covering the land head towards them.
"Do you think that's the curse?" Bae said.
"That's the only thing it could be," Rumplestiltskin said, wrapping his arm around his son protectively as the cloud surrounded them.
Nicholas Gold was a good landlord. At least, he liked to think he was. He hated evicting his tenants who couldn't pay, even after multiple extensions, and his rents were fair. The only two buildings in Storybrooke he didn't own were the mayor's home and the small bookshop, which was owned by the mysterious Izzy French. Aloof and antisocial, she moved into the apartment above her shop from Australia after college, opened StoryBook, and kept to herself. She was rarely seen with anyone besides Ruby Lucas, and even that was on rare occasions, and she was never seen with a man, which was surprising considering her good looks. If she wasn't half his age, even Nicholas might have chased after her, but instead he left the fantasizing about her to his son's friends, who always found excuses to go to her bookshop, which was made easier due to Benny Gold working there.
He walked into StoryBook to pick up Ben one evening and she glanced up at him, called out for Ben, and turned back to her work.
"Did you hear there's a stranger in Storybrooke?" he asked, trying to make conversation with her while waiting for his son.
"Really," she said, fidgeting with her dress instead of looking at him.
"I just collected rent from Granny and she was there, checking into the inn," he said, trying to catch her eye. He wasn't sure why he wanted to keep the conversation going, but he didn't want to fall into the awkward silence that was normally there when he picked up Ben.
"Who is she?" Izzy said, glancing up at him indulgently.
"I heard rumors that she's young Henry Mills's birth mother," he said and she raised her eyebrows, interested for the first time. "Emma Swan was her name." She groaned suddenly, her hands flying to her head and her eyes squeezing shut. "Miss French? Miss French, are you alright?"
Ben ran out of the backroom and was reaching his hand out to her when her eyes flew open again and she gaped at Mr. Gold before turning her gaze to Ben, who pulled his hand back and frowned. "Are you okay?"
She put her hand out slowly as if to touch his face before quickly retracting it and shaking her hand. "I'm perfectly fine, B—Ben," she said in a shaky voice. "Just a little dizzy spell. Nothing a little sleep won't fix." She glanced at Mr. Gold before lowering her gaze to the counter. "Off you two go, then. Good night, my sweets."
She didn't meet their eyes as she rushed into the backroom and Mr. Gold stared at the open doorway before clearing his throat awkwardly and turning to his son. "Ready?" he said and Ben nodded, leaving the shop.
They talked about Miss Swan, the latest gossip, but there wasn't any other news until a few weeks later when Ben came tearing into his pawnshop babbling excitedly about his friend Sean. When Ben was a freshmen in high school, Sean, then a junior, had taken Ben under his wings and showed him the ropes. Since then, the two and Ben's oldest friend Hassan had been inseparable, even though Ben and Hassan were seniors and Sean was out of school.
"Slow down, Benny," Mr. Gold said. "What's this about Sean and Ashley?"
"Ashley decided she wanted to keep their baby and when it was born, Emma Swan refused to let Miss French take her, but since she had the contract, she refused to break it unless Emma gave her something in return. Emma agreed to the deal and Ashley kept the baby and Sean finally grew the balls to stand up to his father and is going to help raise it," Ben said so fast that Mr. Gold wondered if he had taken a breath during it.
"Good for Sean," he said, then frowned. "I wonder why Miss French had the contract."
"I guess she's the lawyer Sean's dad went through to arrange it," Ben said, shrugging. "Anyway, Hassan and I are going to get a baby present and bring it by the hospital. I'll call you later."
Mr. Gold nodded, waving his son off.
Weeks later, shortly after Sheriff Humbert died, Ben, Mr. Gold, and Hassan, who had a knack for showing up right before dinner, were discussing the town politics over pasta and Emma Swan's intentions to run for sheriff.
"Izzy is the one who found the loophole about the election and told Emma in the first place," Ben said through a mouth full of meatball.
"Izzy?" Hassan said, smirking. "You're on first name basis with her?"
Ben turned bright red and Mr. Gold smirked back at Hassan. "Didn't he tell you? She offered to read his college essays over for him."
Hassan wolf-whistled. "And to think that Benny, the only one who isn't in half in love with her, is the one to get Izzy French's attentions." He sighed dreamily and Ben rolled his eyes.
"It's not like that, Hassan," he said, scowling at his friend.
"Then what is it like, lad?" Mr. Gold said, cocking an eyebrow.
"I don't know," Ben said. "We're more than friends, but not in a romantic way. It's almost like she's mothering me."
Mr. Gold snorted. "Ben, she's barely out of college herself. I highly doubt she's trying to mother you."
Ben shrugged and Hassan took advantage of his silence. "Have you noticed that hasn't been wearing dresses lately? I, for one, can appreciate the view jeans offer," he said.
"Hassan!" Ben said and Mr. Gold frowned at him disapprovingly as he smirked and changed the topic.
Over the next few months, the new triangle of rivalries grew between Miss French, Mayor Mills, and Sheriff Swan, and the town grapevine loved it. Mr. Gold couldn't walk into Granny's without hearing about how the previously allusive Miss French was suddenly ingraining herself in town politics or the newest catfight she had seemed to found herself in. Whenever he went into StoryBook to get Ben, she would give him a wide smile and draw him into conversation, which prompted Ben to convince him to ask her on a date.
So he found himself limping into her store on Ben's day off and smiling nervously when she came out of the backroom, carrying an armful of books.
"Mr. Gold," she sounded surprised. "I don't normally see you when Benny's not here. Do you need help finding a book?"
"No, actually," he said, stopping to clear his throat, clenching his cane in his hands. "Actually, I was wondering if you were doing anything tonight."
"No, I don't have any plans," she said, furrowing her brow and giving him an odd look. "Aside from plotting my next move to annoy the mayor, of course."
He chuckled, which seemed to please her. "I was wondering—well, I was hoping you would be interesting in dinner. With me. Tonight."
She gave him a half-smile as she set her books down. "You're asking me out on a date?"
He shook his head. "Forget I even asked. I'm sorry to have bothered you, Miss French." He turned to leave but glanced back at her when she laughed.
"I would love to go on a date with you, Mr. Gold," she said, her blue eyes sparkling as she gave him a large smile.
"Oh," he said, blinking at her in surprise. She laughed and shook her head at him. "I'll just pick you up at seven then, yeah?"
"Sounds perfect," she said, biting her lip.
"Good day, Miss French," he said, smiling at her as he turned to leave.
"You can call me Izzy, Mr. Gold."
"Then you can call me Nicholas," he said, glancing back at her from the door.
Izzy frowned. "Nicholas doesn't even suit you," she said under her breath. He gave her an odd look and she returned it with a pensive one before forcing a smile. "I'll see you at seven… Nicholas."
He nodded to her before stepping out and hurrying home, where Ben was sprawled on the couch with Hassan, watching a movie. He looked up as Mr. Gold entered. "Did you do it?"
Mr. Gold nodded and smiled at his son. "I'm picking her up at seven tonight."
Ben whooped as Hassan gave them a questioning glance. "My dad is taking Izzy French on a date tonight."
Mr. Gold chuckled at Hassan's thoroughly impressed gaze as he went upstairs into his study.
A few hours later, he went into the living room to find Ben, Hassan, and a tired looking Sean playing video games. Ben paused it when he walked in. "You're wearing a nice suit," he said, eyeing his father.
"People do tend to dress up for dates, Ben," Mr. Gold said dryly.
"Who are you going out with, Mr. G?" Sean said.
"Izzy French," he said and smiled when Sean's eyes bugged. "Yes, I know. I don't quite believe it myself." He adjusted his cufflinks and walked towards the door. "Don't eat all of the junk food," he called over his shoulder.
"Get some, Mr. G!" Hassan called after him and then there was a sound of punching. "Hey! Ben, don't hit me!."
"Don't talk about my dad getting some from my boss," Ben said and Mr. Gold laughed as he closed the door behind him. By the time he got to StoryBook, Izzy was sitting at the bottom of the staircase on the side of the shop that led up to her apartment, her nose in her book. She looked up and smiled when she heard his cane coming towards her, tucking her book into her purse and standing.
"Hello, Izzy," he said. "You look lovely."
"Thank you," she said, adjusting her gold dress awkwardly. She seemed like she wasn't used to wearing one, which was odd since she had worn dresses all the time before she began to harass the mayor and sheriff. "So, what do you have planned for us?" She looped her arm through his like she had done it hundreds of times before.
Mr. Gold took her to a restaurant by the docks, and though the evening started out well, her laughing and joking with him faded until she was entirely despondent by the time the check came.
They walked back to her apartment in silence and not touching, and when they stopped at the foot of her stairs, Mr. Gold opened his mouth but she cut him off.
"I'm sorry, Nicholas," she said, looking up at him miserably. "I really wanted this to work out, but I can't do this."
"No matter, Izzy," he said, staring at her forehead and jumped when she put her hand on his arm.
"My last relationship… Well, let's just say the way it ended wasn't ideal," she said with a sad smile. "It's just too painful for me to date you."
"What happened?" he said. "That is, if you don't mind me asking."
She sighed and took her hand off his arm, running it through her curls. "He forgot me."
"Izzy, I'm not going to forget you, if that's what you're worried about," he said, catching her hand with his.
"No," she whispered, her blue eyes full of an emotion he couldn't place as she gave his hand a squeeze. "You're going to remember me." He frowned, confused, and she sighed, pulling away from him. "Good night, Mr. Gold. Thank you for dinner."
He watched her until she walked into her apartment, not glancing back at him once, and then he limped home, ignoring the pain in his leg and thanking whatever god was listening that Ben was the only one at the house when he returned. Ben took one look at his expression before going into the kitchen and returning a few minutes later with a cup of tea.
After that, Miss French avoided his eye in the street. Mr. Gold knew there were rumors flying about what happened to make her agree to the first date in as long as anyone could remember and then shun him afterwards. He was getting so many pitying looks he was almost thankful when Mary Margaret Blanchard was arrested for murdering Kathryn Nolan if only because it took attention away from him. He knew Izzy was representing Mary Margaret, but if he listened to the gossip about the situation more than he would have otherwise, Ben didn't say anything and instead speculated about whether the schoolteacher did it with him, and when Kathryn showed up alive, he handed $20 over to his son without complaining.
He followed Miss French's lead and studiously ignored her, even when tempted to intervene when he saw her having a heated argument with the newcomer in town outside StoryBook. After that, he changed his route so he didn't have to pass by her shop anymore and didn't see her until one morning a few weeks later when she stalked into his shop, leading the mayor and sheriff. He raised his eyebrows at the three women known to hate each other standing together.
"Hello, Mr. Gold," Miss French said stiffly before smiling at him. "You wouldn't happen to have any swords, would you?"
"Swords?" he said, his eyebrows shooting even higher on his face. When she nodded, he frowned. "I think so. Give me a moment."
He limped into the backroom and found a pair of swords propped up in a corner. Pulling out one, he returned and handed it to Miss French, who inspected it before frowning and laying it on the counter. "Do you have any others?" she said.
Wordlessly he took the sword up and swapped it for the other, handing it to her again for inspection. Smiling and nodding this time, she pulled out her wallet. "How much?" Not even batting an eyelash at the high price, she handed over money, and he glanced at the mayor and sheriff watching her.
"What do you ladies need a sword for?"
Miss French shrugged, smirking. "Education," she said. "Thank you very much, Mr. Gold." She turned to leave, but before she could, an old cane caught her eye where it leaned against a display case. She picked it up and stroked it oddly before handing it to him. "This cane suits you much more than your current one does, Mr. Gold," she said and led the odd trio out before he could respond. He frowned and looked down at the cane made out of black granite with golden swirls, and shook his head, setting it aside and shoving the encounter out of his head to return to his work.
He was tinkering with an old clock when there was a sharp pain in his temples and memories began to pour into his head so quickly he couldn't make sense of them until they stopped and he started laughing.
He was Rumplestiltskin, the Dark One's true love, and he remembered.
Rumplestiltskin jumped at a shrill ringing before remembering his cell phone, fishing it out of his pocket and glancing at the caller ID. "Baelfire?"
"Papa!" Bae said, laughing as well. "Where are you?"
"At the shop. Are you at StoryBook?"
"Yeah," Bae said. "Iz—Belle isn't here. She left with Emma and the queen and told me that if anything happened to call you to come over and lock the door."
"She must have known the curse would break. She came here too," Rumple said, abandoning his cane for the granite one Belle had handed him that morning and stepping out of the pawnshop. He was faced with a massive purple cloud coming towards Storybrooke. "Bae, do you see that?"
The cloud hit him and he clutched the phone until it cleared and he heard Bae's voice through it again. "How much do you want to bet Belle had something to do with that?"
"I'm not betting you anything since it had to be her," Rumple said and Bae laughed. "I'm coming over right now."
"Okay. I love you, Papa."
"I love you too, Bae," he said before hanging up the phone and limping as fast as he could towards his son. When he opened the door to StoryBook, he had to stagger backwards as Bae tackled him, hugging him tightly. Rumplestiltskin hugged him back before pulling away and nodding towards the shop. "Let's get inside."
He waited for Bae to lock the door to the shop and then let him lead him into the back, where Bae had two mugs of tea waiting and an empty mug set out.
"So what do you think that cloud was?" Bae said, sitting down at the table and pushing a mug towards Rumplestiltskin, who moved a pile of books off the chair and sat down, chuckling.
"Have you been in Storybrooke so long you forgot what magic was like, son?"
Bae frowned. "But I don't understand why she would bring magic here."
Rumplestiltskin sighed and put down his mug. "Son, a large part of the reason being the Dark One appealed to her was so she could stop men from hurting her again like Gaston did. Without magic…"
"She feels helpless," Bae finished for him, tracing invisible patterns on the table with his finger. "He really hurt her, didn't he?"
"Yes," Rumplestiltskin said darkly. "If she hadn't already killed him centuries ago, I would be tempted to do so myself."
Bae raised his eyebrows in surprise but didn't comment. "Well, now she has us," Bae said firmly. They both looked toward the main room as the sounds of someone unlocking and opening the front door carried back to them. Bae jumped up and ran out of the room, Rumplestiltskin following him as fast as his leg would allow. "Mama!"
Rumplestiltskin entered the room to see his son scooping Belle up into a hug and spinning her. She was laughing and looked happier than he had ever seen her, and when she caught his eye over Bae's shoulder, she winked at him.
"Bae, you're hogging her," Rumplestiltskin said. Bae let go of Belle, his smile so big it had to hurt, and watched as she fell into his father's arms. Rumplestiltskin's free hand wrapped around her back and pulled her to his chest.
She moved away from him and he began to protest, stopping only when her lips captured his and eagerly kissed her back.
"I get the whole true love's kiss thing," Bae said, causing Belle and Rumplestiltskin to break apart. "But do you really have to make out in front of me?" His fond smile overrode his complaints and Belle giggled.
"You're happy for us," she said, poking his side.
"Doesn't mean I need to see it," he said and Rumplestiltskin laughed, wrapping his arm around her waist.
"So your last relationship didn't end very well?" he said, squeezing her. She looked up at him with blue eyes, human eyes that showed her emotions so much more than her cat eyes had, and grinned.
"You have no idea how hard it was seeing you two all the time and knowing you didn't remember me," she moaned.
Bae reached out and tugged on her hair, tilting his head. "Your hair is much more manageable here."
"That does tend to happen when you brush your hair everyday instead of not touching it for three hundred years, sweetheart," she said dryly and Bae laughed, tugging again.
"What the hell?" They all looked at the door where Emma Swan was standing with her parents and son behind her, all four wearing similar expressions of surprise.
Belle pulled away from Rumplestiltskin and Baelfire, standing in front of them protectively. "Well, if it isn't the whole royal family," she said, the Dark One again. "What can I do for you?"
Emma glanced at Rumplestiltskin and Bae before speaking. "What the hell was that cloud?"
"Magic," Belle said, smirking.
"And you brought magic here why?"
Belle shrugged. "Magic is power."
"What are you planning, Izzy?" Emma said, stepping towards her.
"My name is Belle, princess," she said, her nose wrinkling.
"What are you planning, Belle?" Emma growled.
"You'll find out tomorrow when I cash in my favor, my sweet," Belle said, smiling up at Emma. "Until then, enjoy your time with your family."
"If you do anything to separate her from us—" Prince Charming said, stepping up next to his daughter, who shifted uncomfortably.
"Calm yourself, Charming," Belle said, rolling her eyes. "I wouldn't dream of taking your daughter away from you again." Snow White frowned at the sincerity in her voice. "I just need a particular service only she can offer me. You should be thanking me for giving you today. The gods know I'm tempted to get her working now."
"What is it?" Emma said, her eyes narrowed.
Belle smiled sweetly. "The reason we're in Storybrooke."
When it was clear she wasn't going to say anything else, Emma frowned.
Snow White looked up at Rumplestiltskin and Bae. "Mr. Gold, are you alright? You don't need to go to the Dark One anymore. We're happy to help."
Belle scowled, but let Rumplestiltskin step forward and answer. "Thank you very much, your highness, but my boy and I aren't here for help. We're here because we want to be." He put his hand on Belle's lower back, smiling at their confused looks.
Prince Charming gasped and looked at Belle. "You told me once you had a true love." His statement was more like a question, and Belle offered him a half-smile.
"Smarter than you look, as usual," she said. "This is Rumplestiltskin and his son, Baelfire. Now, my sweets, if you don't mind, you're not the only family who has catching up to do."
Charming smiled at them and turned to leave, Snow following him. Emma scowled at Belle. "We have Regina locked up and if you cause any trouble, I will have no problem with throwing you in there with her," she said before following after her parents. Henry paused at the door behind her. "Thank you for giving me the book, Miss French," he said before scurrying out after his mother and grandparents.
Belle and Rumplestiltskin were walking down the main street of Storybrooke together the next day, her hand resting in the crook of his elbow and both of them ignoring the strange stares they were attracting. Bae was at the diner with Sean and Hassan so that they could figure out who they all really were, so Belle took the opportunity to find Emma, surprising Rumplestiltskin when she asked him to come with her.
"If I can't keep both of you with me at all times, I'll settle for having one of you at my side 24/7," she had said, though he knew that what she really wanted was his support.
She glanced up at him nervously when they reached Snow and Emma's apartment and he nodded for her to knock.
Prince Charming opened the door and narrowed his eyes at her. "Belle," he said, then glanced at Rumple. "Rumplestiltskin."
"Your majesty," Belle said smoothly, hiding all nervousness. "I'm here to relieve your daughter of her debt to me."
"Let her in," Emma called from within the apartment. "I'd rather get this over with." Charming stepped away from the door to let Belle in, Rumplestiltskin following close behind her.
Emma was sitting on a barstool, her mother leaning against the counter across from her. Snow nodded to Rumplestiltskin as Charming walked over to stand next to her, but Emma kept her gaze fixed on Belle. "So what do you want me to do? Cover up a murder? Give you free reign to terrorize the town?"
Belle rolled her eyes. "Nothing quite so horrible, Sheriff. I seem to remember you have a particular talent when it comes to finding people." She paused, eyeing Snow and Charming. "In fact, your whole family does."
"So you want me to find someone?" Emma said and narrowed her eyes when Belle nodded. "Why?"
"That's my business," Belle said, baring her teeth. "Her name is Lana and she was six years old last time I had information on her. Hopefully that's enough for you."
"I don't care what I owe you, I am not handing over some six year old to you without knowing why," Emma said, standing up.
Belle growled at Emma, who looked taken aback at the sound. "Need I remind you that you owe me, Miss Swan. You will do what I ask, and if you don't… well, why don't you ask your parents what happens to people who don't honor their agreements with me?"
Emma opened her mouth to argue but stopped when Rumplestiltskin stepped forward and put his hand on Belle's arm. "Dear, she might be more willing to help if she knows why," he said, giving her a small smile when she stared up at him. "Think about it. If anyone is going to understand why you're doing this, it would be these three." He nodded towards the family, not taking his eyes off of Belle's.
"Why would we understand?" Snow said and Belle sighed, tearing her eyes away from Rumplestiltskin's to look at the royals.
"Because you three know what it's like to have your child taken from you," she said quietly.
"This girl is your daughter?" Snow said, her eyes wide. When Belle nodded, Emma frowned.
"Why isn't she in Storybrooke?"
"She came through to this world before the curse," Belle said, reaching for Rumplestiltskin's hand and squeezing it.
"That's why you made the curse," Emma said, understanding in her eyes. "To find your daughter."
Belle smiled sadly at her. "My sweet, that's why I became the Dark One."
"You've been the Dark One for hundreds of years," Snow said in horror and Belle nodded miserably.
Snow, Charming, and Emma all stared at her with a mixture of shock and sympathy before Charming cleared his throat. "If she was six years old, how did she come through without you?"
"The same man who pushed her through a portal to this world held me back so I couldn't follow her," Belle said, looking at the ground.
"Please don't ask me that," Belle said, looking at Charming. "Please. I think I've said enough."
"Alright," Emma said, glancing at her father. "So I'm looking for a six year old girl named Lana who randomly appeared in this world, said her mother's name was Belle, and likely talked about magic. Anything else?"
"She could be any age," Belle said. "All I know is that she was six and she was here and alive when you turned twenty-eight. She could have come through on your birthday or fifty years ago."
"Well," Emma said. "It's a good thing I like a challenge." She offered Belle a small smile, who hesitantly returned it.
"Please keep me updated," Belle murmured, turning to leave. "Thank you, Emma."
She kept her gaze fixed ahead of her until she and Rumplestiltskin were in the hallway and the apartment door was closed, and then she slumped against the wall, eyes closed.
"Emma will find her, Belle," he said, cradling her face in his hands.
She opened her eyes slowly and nodded, kissing him back when he leaned down to press his lips to hers.
After that, anytime Belle saw Emma she would give the sheriff a questioning glance and Emma in turn would shake her head, grimacing apologetically.
"Give her time," Rumplestiltskin murmured to her as she lay in his arms one night after moving into his house. "She doesn't have much to go off of." Belle shuddered and pressed her face into his chest, letting him comfort her.
This continued until two months after the curse broke. Belle was sitting on the counter in StoryBook, holding Rumplestiltskin's hand between hers in her lap as he leaned against the counter next to her and they were both laughing at the story Bae was telling them about when he and Hassan found out who Sean was in the Enchanted Forest when Emma walked into the shop.
Bae immediately stopped talking as Belle gave Emma a look that didn't have much hope behind it, but when Emma nodded and held out a manila folder, Belle gasped and slipped off the counter, lunging for the file.
"I'm not sure if it's her, but it sounds like it would be. There's a picture in there, so you can tell me if it's her."
Rumplestiltskin walked up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder. She gave him a tentative smile before opening the folder with shaking hands. There was a newspaper article about a girl found wandering alone in the woods, babbling about magic beans and portals and ogres. Belle poured over it, taking in every word, and then flipped the page, gasping and almost dropping the folder before pulling out a picture and clutching it.
The picture was of a little girl with big blue eyes and black curls and a smile that was undoubtedly Belle's. "This is her," Belle whispered, tracing her fingers over the girl's face. "This is my daughter."
"Good," Emma said, smiling. "She's eight now and in a foster home in Oneida, New York. I'm going to see if my old connections are still good, and if they are, I'll go out to get her since you can't leave Storybrooke."
"Thank you," Belle said, still staring at the photograph as Rumplestiltskin put his arm around her shoulders.
"I'm assuming you're okay with me doing some things that might be less than legal to get her here."
Belle laughed and looked up at Emma, smiling. "Emma, I've waited three hundred years to get her back. You really think I would let some silly little laws stop me?"
Emma grinned. "Glad to hear it. You'll have your daughter back soon."
"Good," she said, smiling as she stroked the picture with her fingertips. "Until Rum and Bae, she was the only good thing to ever happen to me."
"I think we might have more in common than I thought," Emma said quietly, staring at Belle before stepping away. "I'll leave you to your photograph and let you know once I figure out how to get her."
"Emma," Belle said. "Thank you. I know you owed me, but if you're really able to get her back for me, I'll never be able to repay you."
"No, I just want to help," Emma said, shaking her head.
"Sheriff," Bae said, laughing from his position at the counter. "It's no small thing to have the Dark One indebted to you. Take advantage of it."
Emma nodded before stepping out of the shop. Belle turned back towards Bae and Rumple, staring hungrily at the photo.
"So that's my little sister?" Bae said and Belle nodded, leaning into Rumplestiltskin and reaching her hand out for Bae's.
"That's your sister," she murmured, holding onto her men.
A few days later, Belle and Rumplestiltskin closed their respective shops and Bae stayed home rather than running off to try to flirt with Ruby. Belle scowled when the doorbell rang, but when Rumplestiltskin led the whole Charming family into the kitchen, where she was perched on the table as usual, her scowl melted away.
"Henry and I are leaving for New York today," Emma said. "David will be taking over as sheriff while I'm gone." She waved a hand toward her father, who was smiling at Belle.
Belle gripped the edge of the table so hard her knuckles turned white. "You arranged it so Lana could come back here?"
"Once I forge your signature on the adoption papers when I pick her up, she'll be legally yours," Emma said, grinning at the small sound Belle made. "Henry's coming with me. He wants to see what it's like outside of Storybrooke and I figure having a kid along will make her more comfortable."
Belle stepped forward and hugged Emma so quickly that she didn't have time to hug her back. Emma peered at her, frowning. "You know, parents always say that they would tear the world apart for their children if they had to, but you actually did that." When Belle shrugged, Emma laughed, her frown disappearing as she turned to leave. "I'm impressed."
Belle and Bae were laughing at the kitchen table a week later as Rumplestiltskin made chicken soup when the phone rang. Wiping his hands on a towel, he grabbed the phone and shot a look at the table as Bae laughed loudly.
"Mr. Gold?" a woman's voice said.
"Yes," he said. "Who is this?" Belle looked at him curiously.
"It's Emma," she said. "Is Belle there? Lana wants to talk to her."
"Yeah," Rumplestiltskin said, blinking in surprise. "Hold on one second. I'll put her on." He held the phone out to Belle, trying to stop his hand from trembling. "It's Emma. Lana wants to talk to you."
Belle jumped up and ran to Rumplestiltskin so fast her chair fell over. Snatching the phone from his hands, she pressed it to her ear. "Lana?" She was quiet, listening to the voice on the phone, and pressed a shaking hand to her mouth. "Hi, sweetheart." She let out a watery laugh. "I missed you too, baby girl, so much." She smiled at Rumplestiltskin and reached out to clasp his hand. "I can't wait to see you. Can you ask Emma when you'll be here?" Bae stood up and came to stand next to Rumplestiltskin, smiling. "Okay, I'll see you then. Tell Emma thank you for me, alright?" Belle squeezed Rumplestiltskin's hand and grinned at him and Bae. "I love you, Lana." She closed her eyes before whispering, "Bye, sweetheart."
Hanging up the phone, she put it on the counter before pulling Rumplestiltskin and Bae into a hug. "They'll be here two nights from now," she said into Rumplestiltskin's shoulder and Bae grinned at his father over her head.
Belle had refused to prepare a room for Lana, saying she didn't want to jinx it, so she spent the next day flitting from store to store to get anything an eight year old girl might want and the next evening setting it up as Rumplestiltskin watched from the bed.
"Hey," he said, catching her hand and pulling her until she was standing in front of him. "Calm down. Everything's going to be fine. From now on, everything is always going to be fine." She nodded slowly before collapsing on the bed next to him.
"Three hundred years," she whispered, eyes closed.
"Three hundred years," he agreed, leaning down to kiss her cheek. "And one true love found." She smiled sleepily. "And Bae, of course."
She snorted, opening her eyes and smirking. "Yeah, he was a rather unfortunate add-on to you."
"Is that so?"
"Mm-hmm," she murmured, stroking some hair out of his face. "It was a two-for-one deal I didn't think through." He snickered and kissed her cheek again before letting her roll away from him to finish setting up the room much less frantically.
The next morning, Belle went into the shop to finish some things before Lana got into town and when Rumplestiltskin opened the front door to meet her for lunch, Bae close behind him, he stopped at the sight of Emma standing on the porch, her fist raised to knock.
"Emma," he said and looked behind to where Henry was standing next to the girl in the picture. "We weren't expecting you until tonight."
"We made good time," she said and craned her head to peer around him.
"Belle's not here," he said.
"Oh," Emma said, glancing back at the girl, who was staring at Rumplestiltskin. "Do you think you could bring Lana to her?" When Rumplestiltskin nodded, not trusting himself to speak, she crouched down in front of the two children. "Lana, this is the man I told you about. He'll take you to your mom."
Rumplestiltskin took in everything about Lana, who was small for her age and had long black curls that almost hit her hips. She looked up at him with blue eyes that were identical to Belle's. "You're my mama's true love?"
He smiled and knelt down next to Emma, using his cane to steady himself. "Yes. My name is Rumplestiltskin."
She wrinkled her nose. "That's a funny name."
He laughed. "Yeah, I guess it is. Your mama calls me Rum. You're welcome to call me that as well, dear." She nodded and gave him a small smile, peering up at Bae. "This is my son, Baelfire, which is another funny name, so we just call him Bae. We'll take care of you."
"I've never had anyone want to take care of me but Mama," Lana said, her curious smile that was so like Belle's turning into a frown.
Rumplestiltskin paused, not sure what to say, but Bae saved him from figuring it out. "And now you have Papa and me. We're a family." Lana smiled wider and Rumplestiltskin stood up.
"We were just going to go have lunch with your mama. Would you like to come with us?" he said, offering her his hand. She slipped her hand into his shyly and he looked at Emma. "Thank you, Sheriff."
Emma nodded and smiled at Lana. "Don't be a stranger, even if you have to make your mom share you." She put her arm around Henry's shoulders and pulled him away with her. "Come on kid."
They got in Emma's car and drove away as Rumplestiltskin, Bae, and Lana walked down the road.
"Where are we going?" Lana said, clinging to Rumplestiltskin's hand.
"We're going to go by Mama's bookstore to see if she's still there," Bae said. "If she isn't, we'll go to the diner."
"You call her 'mama?'" she said, looking up at Bae.
"Yep," he said and she grinned up at him before looking around at Storybrooke.
They attracted odd looks as they walked, but she didn't seem to notice, absorbed as she was in staring at the town. When they rounded the courner onto the main street, Rumplestiltskin pointed at the StoryBook sign.
"That's her shop," he said as Belle came out of the door, turning back to lock it.
Lana squeezed Rumplestiltskin's hand before shouting, "Mama!"
Belle looked up, surprised, and stared at the trio coming down the street towards her. "Lana?" she said weakly, taking a small step forward.
Lana pulled her hand away from Rumple and ran towards Belle, who dropped her keys and ran as fast as her heels would allow towards Lana, dropping onto her knees in front of her and throwing her arms around her. "Lana, oh, my girl," she choked out, tears streaming down her face as she held Lana as close to her as possible, tangling her fingers in her dark curls.
"Hi, Mama," Lana said, her arms wrapped tightly around Belle's neck, and Belle pulled away to clasp Lana's face between her hands, covering her face in kisses and getting her tears on her daughter's cheeks.
Rumplestiltskin grinned as he and Bae leaned against the storefront, watching mother and daughter. A flash of yellow caught his eyes and he looked down the street to see Emma and Henry leaning against her bug in front of the diner with Snow and Charming. They were all smiling.
Belle stood, picking Lana up so her arms and legs were wrapped around Belle's neck and waist, and beamed at Rumplestiltskin and Bae. The latter leaned down to scoop up the keys Belle had dropped and unlocked the door, holding it open for Belle and Rumplestiltskin to walk in.
"This is your bookstore?" Lana said, wriggling out of Belle's arms to wander around.
"Yeah, love," Belle said, not taking her eyes off of Lana as she turned towards Rumplestiltskin. "Emma?"
"She came by the house looking for you and passed Lana off to me," he said, stepping forward to kiss Belle's temple and wrapped an arm around her when she leaned into him. "I think she wanted to see her parents." Belle made a small happy sound that made Rumplestiltskin smile into her hair.
"Mama," Lana said, turning away from the book Bae was showing her to step towards Belle. "Bae said we're going to be a family." She said it more like a question than a statement and Belle smiled, looking at Rumplestiltskin and Bae before leaning down to kiss Lana's brow.
"We already are one, sweetheart."
Lana and Bae had fallen asleep watching Beauty and the Beast, spread out on the couch. Bae was snoring with an arm wrapped protectively around his sister where she lay curled against his chest. After only a month, the two were as close as if Bae had been at her birth.
Belle stood in the doorway watching them and smiled when Rumplestiltskin wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, leaning against her for support.
"I've spent the last three hundred years searching," she whispered as he kissed her neck. "Searching for a way to protect Lana, searching for a way into this world, searching for a way to break the curse, searching for her. I didn't even realize that I was searching for someone to take care of me when I met you, but I was." She turned in his arms to look up at him, eyes bright. "I'm done searching, Rumplestiltskin. I'm done. I've found everything I need for the rest of my life."
He pulled her closer to him and dropped a kiss to the top of her head as she cried into his shirt. "I love you, Belle."
She pulled away and smiled up at him as he held her face between his palms and wiped her tears away. "I love you so much it hurts," she said and looked over her shoulder at Bae and Lana before turning back to him. "And I love our family too."
He kissed her then and she clung to him, both of them pouring all of their hurts and scars into the kiss, letting them go and focusing on the present, on each other and their children, because they were together and always would be."
"Forever," he whispered into her mouth and felt her smile as she kissed him again.
A/N: You can never have enough Dark One!Belle fics, so here's my attempt. I'm likely going to be adding on some one-shots that take place after this, so if you want to read those, follow this even though it says this is complete. I hope you enjoy it! Please review and let me know what you thought or what you might want to see more of.