A/N: The last chapter! Man was this fun to write! :D I'm so eternally grateful to those who read, reviewed, favorited, and/or stalked this story. You guys make it all worthwhile :3 BIG SUPER MEGA THANK YOU TO MY BETA ANTI-KRYPTONITE! You are AWESOME AND I HEART YOU. And guys, something tells me I'm not done with this universe yet. This story, yes, but these characters? Oh hell no. Not saying there will be a sequel any time soon, but I'm not saying there won't ever be... ;)
He wasn't used to having to ask for help. In the Enchanted Forest he had been the Dark One, and he never wanted for anything, his help being the magic at his fingertips. Magic kept whatever he needed, and several things he wanted, a mere snap of his fingers away. Whatever he couldn't obtain through magic, he got through deals. Sometimes the deals were good, sometimes they weren't, but he learned something with each transaction.
In Storybrooke he was Mr. Gold, and money spoke volumes. Money could buy anything. It could turn a no into a yes. It could put him at the top of any list. Regina had given him what he'd asked for, that deal paying off handsomely. His money bought him comfort, everything he needed, and he never ran out of money. He couldn't spin straw into gold anymore, but the piles he'd had laying around the castle seemed to have transferred into his bank accounts in Storybrooke.
No, he would never have to worry about something as trivial as money again.
And yet there were things money couldn't buy, comforts he only knew because of Belle.
Belle could not be bought. He'd bargained for her, a deal made (his most profitable deal, the deal to top all deals) in order to have her as his, but she hadn't truly been his until he'd let her go. Falling in love with Belle was not something he'd foreseen, and even if he had he wouldn't have been able to prepare for it. One thing Rumplestiltskin knew was that love came quietly, without warning. There were no fireworks, no bells or whistles. Love presented itself when it was ready.
It found you, no matter who or where you were.
And it had found him.
She'd promised him forever, and then she'd promised him forever again. Even telling her everything- his darkest moments (letting Bae go, Milah's heart in his hand), every time he'd run- could not make her let go of that promise. Belle loved him entirely, in a way he'd never thought possible.
It was time he promised her forever too, in whatever way he could.
Mary Margaret and Ruby had agreed to his request quickly, excited, tripping over each other with ideas. Graham had smiled and offered his services, appearing with Archie the next day. Leroy was trading labor for debt forgiveness, but he'd agreed rather quickly as well, rounding up a few more workers with a suspiciously bright glint in his eye. Somehow they all managed to keep the secret, working nights when no one was watching, deliberately not talking about the project unless the subject was brought up by him.
It was odd, having so many people eager to help him. And really they were helping Belle, a fact which he pointed out when Mary Margaret brought it up.
"No, don't you see?" Her hands on his shoulders, making him turn to face the crew he'd assembled. "All these people? Every one of them came because you asked them to. Look at them, Gold. They're not here out of fear for you, or because they owe you money. They're here because you asked them to be."
"Leroy owes me money," he reminded her, feeling the need to point that out.
"But I don't," she said. "Ruby doesn't. Graham doesn't, and as far as I know Archie's never even borrowed money from you." She smiled, nodding at Graham, holding the ladder steady for Archie. "We're all here without incentive."
"You're here because of Belle." But his voice lacked the bite, wonder leaking through instead.
"And so are you."
So were they all. Belle was light, touching everyone around her, bathing them in a warm glow that left them smiling, waiting for more. Everyone who met her loved her, and everyone here would do anything for her. She'd even given some of her love to him, the biggest piece of her heart, trading it for his. It hadn't been an even trade, but the deal had been struck, and he was better because of it.
"You're doing this, all of it, for Belle, but it's still you." Mary Margaret gestured around them, the large space slowly gaining life and color. "This is all you. We're just helping you out. Which is what friends do."
Rumplestiltskin could only stare. She truly was a queen, her heart kind and pure. Mary Margaret didn't remember the deals she'd made with Rumplestiltskin (most of which she probably wouldn't appreciate once she did remember), but she remembered Mr. Gold, the money owed, the items she'd sold or pawned, his cold sneer. But Belle was her friend, and Belle loved him, and so she was here, helping him, willing to lend a smile, trying to get him to see what he seemed to have missed.
Graham leaned against the wall, studying the transformation happening around them. "Not bad," he said, taking a long drink of water. "I'll have to patch up that spot on the roof, otherwise it'll leak. I can paint while I'm up there too, get that done." He tilted his head, eyes narrowed as he tried to picture the finished product. "Any preferences to color? That beige is kind of depressing."
Rumplestiltskin glanced up, unsure. Part of the surprise was keeping it secret, so Belle couldn't know, but now that they were working on the finishing touches, he realized that she actually needed to be here, her input needed to make this work. He wanted her to love every bit of this, and so every single inch had to be perfect.
And yeah, the beige was a little dreary.
Graham straightened suddenly. "You know what, I've got some blue at home I never used. I bet it would really brighten up the place."
Unbidden, the picture of Belle in her blue dress rose to his mind, and he smiled. "Blue," he said. "Yes. Bright and cheery." She'd had more than enough darkness in her lifetime, and he was going to bring as much color to her as he could.
A friendly hand clapped him on the shoulder, the sheriff's wide grin greeting him when he turned. "She's going to love this, Gold."
Words escaped his mouth before he could stop them, but once they were out he didn't regret them. "It's Richard."
"My name," Rumplestiltskin said. "Might as well use it."
Graham blinked, his startle reflex, but recovered quickly. "Alright then, Richard. I'll just go get that paint."
The sheriff departed as Gold made his way over to Archie, struggling to assemble a shelf, staring at the directions as if they were written in Greek.
"Need a hand?" he asked.
"Yes, actually," the cricket chirped. "This is... not going well."
No snide remark came to his lips, no cruel words to mock the other man, just a faint sense of amusement spurred by the lost look on Archie's face. Together they took in the sheer amount of screws, nails, dowels, and other odds and ends that were all supposed to make up a simple shelf.
Rumplestiltskin picked up the instructions, brow furrowing as he tried to make sense of them. Surely this tiny shelf didn't have that many parts.
Okay, maybe it did.
"Well," he said after a moment, "at least we know it'll be sturdy."
Archie chuckled, holding up a wooden plank. "If we put it together correctly."
Richard hummed thoughtfully. He pointed at an odd looking metal piece by Hopper's foot. "That one goes with that piece," he said, watching Archie fit the metal and wood together flawlessly. They shared a brief moment of triumph before tackling the rest.
"Very nice, Doctor Hopper," Rumplestiltskin said, standing back to admire the finished product. It stood proudly, straight and tall.
"Archie," the other man said easily. "Save Doctor Hopper for Wednesdays."
The corner of his mouth twitched, and a hand was offered, as if they were being introduced for the first time. "Richard," he said just as easily, the name slipping off his tongue as if he'd been saying it his entire life.
Archie smiled, taking the offered hand, shaking it once. "We have three more shelves," he said, eyeing the wood scattered around them. Behind them, something hit the floor, Ruby swearing and scrambling to grab the screws before they vanished into oblivion.
"Best get to it then."
Rumplestiltskin didn't have any friends. He had acquaintances, people he tolerated, all afraid of him, not one person he would consider asking for help. Friends were a foreign concept to the Dark One, unneeded, unwanted, and so he had none. But Richard Gold... well, he just might.
He came home covered in three different colors of paint, and Belle laughed at him.
"What on earth have you been doing?" she asked, passing him a towel to wrap his shoes in (he'd stepped in the primer at some point, leaving trails of white wherever he walked).
"Oh, this and that," he said, looping an arm around her waist.
She squirmed and shrieked, his hands leaving multicolored streaks in their wake, brown on her arms, white on her hands, prompting him to run his thumbs across her cheek, just to see if the blue really did match her eyes.
"You look lovely with a bit of color," he announced, rubbing his stained cheek against her neck.
"You're horrible," Belle laughed, trying to push him off. "I was supposed to meet Mary Margaret for dinner and now look at me."
He did, eyes raking over her from the top of her head, white paint in the brown, to her feet, one long streak of blue on her calf where it had brushed his. "Beautiful," he said, pressing a quick kiss to her lips.
"Flattery is not going to get you anywhere," she muttered, trying to sound cross. She swatted at his arm. "Let go, you. Now I have to change."
Or you could stay in, away from the world, he wanted to say, but didn't. She deserved a night out with friends, a night without him to look over their shoulders. Regina wouldn't bother her (a simple please had ensured she would only approach him, not her). Even if the queen tried, Graham was patrolling tonight. He'd keep an eye on Belle, no bribery or threats needed.
Rumplestiltskin trusted Graham. Not with his life, because his life didn't matter, but he could trust him with Belle's. The Huntsman protected those he cared about, no matter the cost to himself (a year spent in Regina's castle, his heart held captive in place of the one he refused to give). That was the kind of person he didn't mind having look after Belle.
That was the kind of person Rumplestiltskin didn't mind calling an ally.
That was the kind of person Richard didn't mind, one day, calling a friend.
Belle found him in his office, head resting on folded hands, something grim and resolute in the air. Her smile faded, but she refused to let it slip entirely.
He didn't look at her, sitting so straight and still he might have been a statue carved out of marble or stone. When he spoke his voice was soft, but there was something sharp in his eyes, his knuckles bleaching white with his grip on himself.
"Regina asked me to find her a child," he said without preamble. "I said yes at first, but then after..." He paused, not needing or wanting to finish the thought. "I wasn't going to. I was going to refuse her."
"And... and something changed?" Belle hazarded, unsure of how to feel. He was seething quietly, very much the Rumplestiltskin of legend (stealing babes in the night, trading names and favors, not someone to be crossed), but he was not angry, or weary, but somehow a mix of both; a tired man and a burned out sorcerer without his magic.
Brown eyes flickered to hers, and then there was sorrow mixed in with the anger.
"The Savior had a child."
The air escaped Belle's lungs in a whoosh. "You found her?" she gasped, the words barely formed in her shock but he heard them. She managed a breath. "And she's a mother?"
Rumplestiltskin's eyes slid closed. "Not... quite," he said. "It would seem she's had a hard life. She gave birth in a minimum security prison at the age of eighteen, just two weeks ago."
Belle sank heavily into the chair beside his. The curse had been active for eighteen years? They had been in Storybrooke, out of their land, away from their home, hidden away from the rest of the world, for eighteen years. Double her lifetime. Eighteen years spent in the Enchanted Forest, eighteen years in Maine.
Belle felt very young.
She felt very, very old.
She was not eighteen anymore, older now at twenty-three (she seemed to have skipped another birthday, celebrated her twenty-third year twice), but the age felt false. And it was, she was so much older, but she did not feel thirty-six either. Time passing and frozen all at once and Belle was at the same time a young girl and a grown woman.
The Savior, Emma, was eighteen. She was Mary Margaret's- Snow White's- daughter. And she had a child of her own now.
"She put the boy up for adoption," Rumplestiltskin said quietly, his lips moving against his tightly folded hands. "The agency contacted me and asked if my client would take him."
The silence that fell was heavy.
"You're going to give him to Regina?" Belle asked with numb lips, already knowing the answer.
Rumplestiltskin lowered his head to rest it on his hands, limbs shaking with what could have been either anger or sorrow or both. "I have to, love."
All that planning, the hundreds of years of hard work, manipulation and secrets, and they'd very nearly stumbled at the finish line. He'd made the curse, made sure there was a way to break it, but the Savior had gone through the portal alone. She would have been raised in this world believing the tales of children's books to be nothing more than stories. She wouldn't be prepared to break the curse. She wouldn't know the first thing about her past.
The Savior couldn't save them if he didn't give her the correct push.
Regina wanted a child. He didn't know why. He didn't want to know. But she would have this child, and him specifically, because one day, ten years from now, it would be the only thing to bring the Savior- Emma- to where she needed to be.
And Belle still would not have a child.
They were careful now. The curse had taken a child from them because they would have been happy, would have loved the child with every fiber of their hearts. So it was snatched away, the curse doing what it was designed to do. If Belle were to fall pregnant again... even if they were to adopt the curse could still...
They couldn't lose another child.
The medicine in this world was far more advanced, and Belle had obtained pills to prevent a pregnancy from happening. Rumplestiltskin wasn't sure how she had fallen pregnant in the first place, time being frozen and all (Ella/Ashley was still heavy with her own child despite all the years everyone was sure were passing), but the curse was creative in its horror. No more happy endings, specific and broad all at once.
He had Belle, but until the curse was broken, that was all he would ever have. It was more than he deserved, more than he'd ever hoped for, but it wasn't his happy ending, not yet. Not without Bae (and maybe, once the curse was broken, a child with Belle's eyes and his nose would be his too).
"The Savior has to come here, and this child is the only way to make that happen."
Rumplestiltskin's eyes flew open. "Okay?" They could not have children together for another ten years, he was going to hand over the Savior's child to their enemy, make the child miserable on purpose (because Regina would not be a good mother, that he knew) so the Savior would rescue him (rescue them all) and all she could say was 'okay'? "Belle-"
"Regina is not a good person," Belle said, as if he needed to be reminded. Her hand found his, pulled it away from his death grip. "But she was once, wasn't she?"
"Until I came into the picture, yes."
She squeezed his fingers. "You gave her a path. She didn't have to follow it, but she did, and that was her choice. And now she is so far down that path she can't turn back, but maybe this will help her." She smiled softly, sadly (because it did hurt, knowing there would be no child for her to hold, but she knew it needed to be done). "Love can do wonders for anyone." More than anyone, they knew that to be true.
He rested his forehead against hers, his other hand coming to tangle in her hair. "My Belle," he breathed. "Always trying to save everyone." An old monster like him didn't deserve a beauty like her.
"Well," she said, gently nudging his nose with hers, "I have always been fond of heroics." She let the smile go, because she didn't need to pretend with him, and she understood why this hurt him because it hurt her too. "Do what you have to, Rumplestiltskin. The curse has to be broken so we can find Bae. And that? That must be done."
So we can find Bae.
"We will find your son," she said, no room for denial or doubt. "It will all be okay in the end."
Many things ran through Rumplestiltskin's mind, his heart unused to feeling so much, so he kissed her softly, tried to tell her without words, even when he used three that always made her smile. "I love you."
It was all he had to offer her, but she took it readily, happily, and gave him her love in return.
"I love you, too," she said, like always.
And Rumplestiltskin, the Dark One, whose soul was said to be so black that he was actually the devil himself, who snatched children away from their mothers, felt warmth at her light.
"I have something for you," he said, taking her hand.
Belle smiled, bouncing on her toes. "Oh?"
"Yes, but first you have to close your eyes." She raised a brow, eyeing him suspiciously. "It's a surprise," he told her, tapping the end of her nose with a finger. "No peeking."
With a shake of her head, Belle complied to his demands and blocked her view of the world, her hand resting trustingly in his. He led her down the street and around the corner, Belle only vaguely aware of the directions changing but having no idea where they were.
"Richard, where are we going?" she asked, hearing him open a door.
"You'll see. You're not peeking, are you?" Rumplestiltskin asked, waving a hand in front of her face to be sure.
"No," she laughed. "What's going on?"
The door shut behind her, the feeling of the wind dancing across her skin and the smell of fresh air being cut off to be replaced with a friendly musty smell and the undeniable odor of fresh paint. It was dark, no light dancing across her eyelids, but Rumplestiltskin's hand was firmly in hers, his warmth barely an inch from her.
"Keep your eyes closed," he said, releasing her hand to stand behind her. She felt him nod (there were others here, she could hear them moving around), and then suddenly there was light, the sound of what could only be curtains being drawn back. She turned to the feeling of each sunbeam, smiling at the warmth.
"Can I open them now?"
His hand ran through her hair, coming to rest at the small of her back. "Alright," he said. "Now."
Belle opened her eyes, blinking to adjust to the sudden brightness.
Then she gasped.
There were books everywhere. Floor to ceiling shelves on the walls, aisles of shelves all around her, shelves on the floor, all filled to the brim with books. There were books on the desk, books on the tables. There was a second story visible from where she was standing, a winding staircase leading up to a wide open room positively overflowing with books.
"A library," she breathed, knowing she was smiling and gaping and couldn't be bothered to care.
"Do you like it?"
"It's wonderful!" She turned, hugged him tight, laughing. "I've never seen so many books in my entire life," she said, releasing him to embrace Ruby and Mary Margaret in turn.
"Good," Ruby said. "We spent two weeks building this place, so you'd better be freaking happy."
"You guys did all of this?" Belle turned in a circle, trying to look at everyone and everything at the same time. "Together?"
"It was his idea," Mary Margaret said, nodding to the smiling man behind him.
"And his checkbook," Graham added with a laugh, nudging Richard with his elbow.
"Aye, my idea and I paid for the materials, but it's all yours, love." Rumplestiltskin dangled a key ring from his fingers, library etched into the metal, which he tossed to her.
Belle nearly knocked Archie over in her excitement. "You gave me a library? Oh my- I have a library!" She couldn't stop smiling, turning to Rumplestiltskin again, her embrace tight. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you."
Rumplestiltskin's arms came around her waist, light pressure from shaking arms, a deep breath to draw courage, and he'd never been more afraid, more nervous in his entire life. "There's more," he said, kissing her cheek.
"More?" Belle blinked, looked around to take it all in. "But this is... this is more than I could have ever imagined. What else could you possibly give me?"
The group was quiet, unsure, because Richard had asked them to help with the library, and that was it. Whatever else he had planned was all him, they had no idea what he was doing (because he was Gold and no one ever knew what he was thinking).
"Me," he said simply, Belle's hand in his.
And he took a single step back.
And got down on one knee.
Ruby's hand flew to her mouth, holding in her shriek. Mary Margaret felt the tears spring to her eyes, her smile so wide it hurt, and the two women grasped each other's hands, nearly vibrating with excitement. Graham and Archie exchanged grins, suspisions confirmed.
Belle knew she was crying and smiling and laughing and shaking all at once and that it probably wasn't the best look, but she didn't care because if he was, if this really was what she thought it was-
"Belle," Rumplestiltskin began, pulling out a ring he'd been carrying with him for months, the diamond sparkling in the sunlight, very aware of his heart hammering in his chest. "You promised me forever. And I'm giving it to you, if you'll have it. If you'll have me." His hands were shaking, his eyes full of hope and joy, the ring slipping onto her finger perfectly, gliding against her skin to rest easily behind her knuckle. "Will you marry me?"
"Yes." She knelt then, lowered herself to his level, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, laughing through her tears. "Yes, Richard, yes."
Ruby let out a loud squeal, jumping up and down in glee. "It's about damn time!" she declared.
Belle turned to kiss him, her lips against his ear, her voice barely a murmur. "Yes, Rumplestiltskin, yes."
They stood together, arms around each other, unsure who was smiling more, him or her, their friends converging around them, laughter and tears mixing, congratulations offered to them both, nothing but sheer joy encompassing them all.
Rumplestiltskin held Belle close.
In ten years, the Savior would come.
In ten years, the curse would be broken.
Then he and his wife would leave this town to find the rest of their family, and the picture (and then he) would finally, finally be complete.
Forever with Belle, with his son, the two people he loved more than anything (more than magic, more than power, more than his own life, his own power) in all of the worlds. He'd do it right this time, and maybe, just maybe, the beast and the beauty could live happily ever after.
After all, what's a fairytale without a happy ending?
A/N: And they all lived happily ever after! For the next ten years anyways... *evil author laugh* BECAUSE THEN EMMA ROLLS INTO TOWN AND MESSES WITH EVERYTHING BECAUSE SHE CAN! AHAHAHAHA! Like I said previously, this story is done, THIS WORLD is not. There might be a oneshot sequel in the future for Mr. and Mrs. Gold (because I am dying to write a story as if Belle has been in the show the entire time and Emma meets Mister Devoted Husband Who's Also This Sneaky Little Bastard We All Know And Love) but life has to leave me alone for a while first. It's such a bully.
Thanks for reading! :D