A/N: While I wasn't at all shocked that Belle and Rumple ended up in different worlds in the finale, it was the magic blue curaçao that had me rolling my eyes and thinking: "really? That's what you're going with?" So let's take a different run at this, shall we? Oh, and obviously I don't own anything. :P
Chase the Sun
Some choices we live not only once but a thousand times over, remembering them for the rest of our lives.
~ Richard Bach
137. True love. Gone in an instant.
The grey door swung open at his touch and he glanced around, taking stock. Blessed solitude: away from both the aloof looks of the mother and the incessant chatter of the boy. He stepped forward, staring morosely at his reflection in the mirror, desperately willing the churning sea of emotions within to still, but without success. Control was fleeting, an illusion barely kept intact by the sheer force of his will and he trembled, unable to shake the stomach-lurching feel of plummeting off a cliff into the unknown.
The men's room in Logan International Airport was thankfully empty and Rumplestiltskin forced his breathing to remain steady. Slow and even. In and out. Concentrate only on that… He briefly closed his eyes. He was so close to achieving his goal. Centuries of single-minded manipulation and herculean effort to find his boy had all come down to this one single trip.
And then he'd know. Know if he was welcome… or if it was all for naught.
His grip tightened on the golden handle of his cane. Nerves were a slowly stifling knot of worry that fed on his uncertainty about finding his son, of having to beg Bae for forgiveness. The memory of the boy's utter fury as Rumple had broken their deal, letting him fall alone through that damn glowing green portal, had stalked his nightmares every night since.
Coward. Why would he even want you back?
The mocking question was a lead weight in his stomach when he caught his own gaze in the mirror. His fingers twitched. A lifetime later and it still felt like mere seconds: the first grasp of a tiny newborn babe on his papa's finger transforming into that of a willful teenager yanking him forward. He had purposely let Bae drop, his son's small hand sliding through his even as his grip tightened around his precious dagger.
A dagger more precious than his son.
No. He wouldn't think about that. The guilt was staggering.
In his mind flashed a better memory: one of a wild mop of curly dark hair and the sheer joy of feeling childish arms thrown around his neck in a big bear hug. Bae had loved him once. Surely he would again.
Then there was the plan he had never even dared to express aloud, not even to the woman he adored. His secret, most precious hope cradled safe within the deepest regions of his being: of rolling back the clock, erasing in an instant the hurt and long painful years of separation from his son. And they could start over. There was an image burned onto his heart of bringing a laughing fourteen year old boy home to his Belle, the loving and compassionate mother he should have had right from the beginning.
And they'd be happy. Bae. Bae and Belle. A family reunited.
He glanced down, feeling the keen wash of disappointment. Things don't always work out the way you want them to. The words mocked him, taunting the flickering illusion that he could ever fix the worst of his mistakes. Here he was on the brink of happiness only to feel as if his world were ripping to pieces like the slow motion shattering of a dream.
Rumplestiltskin turned from the sink, pausing slightly before entering a stall. No matter what happened in New York, Belle wouldn't be waiting for him when he got back. And the pain of that reality threatened to wholly undermine any semblance of calm he possessed.
He jammed the bolt into the lock and paced back and forth: a caged tiger desperately needing to strike out at the one that had crushed his heart; destroyed his darling Belle.
The thunderous blast of a single gunshot echoed in his mind; the memory tearing at his soul.
They'd leaned close to kiss goodbye then there'd been the heart-destroying flash of blue magic as she'd stumbled across the town line leaving a stranger to stare back up at him. She no longer knew she'd once loved an ugly man; could have even been his redemption if he'd but chosen wiser.
Belle's final words to him were a jagged gash of loss, their special chipped cup lying shattered in pieces on the hospital floor and her panicked voice pleading: "Just go. Just go away!"
Memories. They knit us together. Define us. Make us who we are; who we love. And when they're gone? A thousand precious moments obliterated as if they'd never happened at all.
Which was worse? A son who remembered… or a lover who didn't?
It seemed a lifetime ago now. He'd bent in and kissed her by the old wishing well after she awoke from the curse: their first kiss since that ill-fated night even longer ago when he'd shouted and shoved her aside, not believing she could ever truly love him. But she'd said she still did and his heart had immediately soared to the heavens. Her lips were soft and warm and opened to his with a tender eagerness that left him breathless: a glorious dream sprung vividly to life after so many agonizing years trapped alone in the darkness.
A second chance. He could do it right this time. She'd wanted promises he wouldn't seek revenge and when staring deeply into her soul, Rumple could do no less.
As their lips parted, Belle pressed against him, burying her face against his neck and their arms tightened around the other.
He'd waited a beat...
Waiting for the curl of magic that would signify his curse was breaking…
Only it never came and his first terrifying thought was that she didn't truly love him anymore. But she'd said. And she was here, pressing against him as if she never wanted to let him go. And then the anger and hatred of the Dark One returned with a vengeance.
He'd never been good at making the right choice. And he thought he'd utterly ruined it once again, but she'd eventually come back with forgiveness and love in her heart. She'd chosen to stay in spite of the monster. That alone left him bewildered and uncertain.
Later that night he'd offered her his finest guest room and instead she'd stepped into his arms, whispering that it was very nice, but she'd rather share his room. Her lips ghosted along his jaw and he'd been so nervous because he was old and broken and she was young and beautiful, and the last man she'd been with was her muscle-bound fiancé, a dim-witted idiot to be sure, but certainly handsome and… and… gods knows who before that. He was so completely certain she'd be disappointed.
Love is a mystery to be uncovered, she'd said once before, and he fully believed it when they'd first tumbled together into their bed. Desire flared white hot when clothing dropped away and his nerves suddenly vanished at the onset of discovery: the soft curve of a breast that fit perfectly in his hand; her palm smoothing across the small of his back. Skin pressed to skin. It was glorious heat and tender surprise. They'd shared a grin. Her caressing touch was gentle and the slow, purposeful worship of each other's bodies left him breathless and trembling and so very much in need of her.
She was a goddess and he'd never felt so free, her soft mewls of satisfaction when his hands and mouth drifted across her flesh all the encouragement he needed. He was hers, and she was his. Always. It made him feel a little bit braver to be so wholly loved like that.
When he'd finally slipped inside her tight heat he could have sworn there was a blinding surge of magic driving him to come apart in her arms: an exquisite connection of heart and soul and body that would bind them together forever. Hips rocked into hips and they'd easily found their rhythm as if no time had passed and their separation was nothing but a fading nightmare.
"Sweetheart," he'd murmured brokenly against her temple, then: Please, he'd silently begged to whatever deity might be listening.
Rumple laced their fingers together, their hands braced on either side of her head as shared passion arced toward completion. They crested together as one: a tsunami that tossed them against a distant shore, blissfully wrecked. He'd watched in silent awe as, in that moment, she'd mouthed the words: "love you," her soul-stealing blue eyes proclaiming it as absolute truth and he'd leaned down to gently touch his mouth to hers.
He willed it to work.
It was magical… but not extraordinarily magical.
Not then and not any time in the next few weeks when they'd barely stirred from bed, after so many painful years apart, both having discovered an unwillingness to waste another precious second that could instead be spent in touch.
He'd hid his bitter disappointment, not understanding what was wrong, but not wanting to call attention to it either.
Then he'd once more needed his dark magic to find his son and was acutely torn, the entrenched anxiety that he could no longer live without it at stark odds with the shining light she'd brought back into his life.
The eventual crash into reality hadn't been a shock and he didn't blame her for leaving him. It had mainly been his actions that had wrecked their precarious balance. Belle required honesty and that was the hardest thing of all for him to give. He'd realized belatedly that in her deep-seated need to uncover his mystery, she'd smashed headlong into a rock solid barrier he would not lower and so she'd struck out in hurt and disappointment more than anything else.
She'd needed him to trust her with both the good and the bad, but the prospect left him cowering in fear. Her crushing loss finally offset the blinding terror that she would peel back those layers surrounding his heart and discover his singular truth: that he was completely worthless.
So when there wasn't anything left to fight for, he'd explained how it wasn't magic for the sake of magic. It did have a purpose; a plan. He'd given her Bae's name because it was important. He was important and sharing it made him important to them both. The sheer vulnerability of admitting out loud that she was right: he'd always been a coward and then of explaining how his lust for power had cost him his son… it left him jittery and terribly lost.
But he'd done it.
He'd let her in.
Belle made him long to be a better man, no matter the cost… To believe in the possibility that he could be a better man.
It broke his heart to let her go with a final soft caress of her cheek, but he would always let her go if she wished because deep down he hadn't believed she would stay. Not forever at any rate. No one could.
Yet surprisingly, telling her the truth seemed to be all she'd needed and they'd ordered hamburgers the next night, leaving well before their meal arrived. Soft words of reconciliation and love had her fingers dancing on his as they held hands across the table followed by her eyes darkening with lust and longing… The need for each other was simply too great.
She'd dragged him to her room at Granny's because she just couldn't wait long enough for him to get her home. Twining together, they'd laughed and staggered up the stairs in a flurry of groping hands and heated kisses as they'd tried to be quiet, but failed miserably.
He'd hoped it might have happened that night: a night of honest kisses and the first time he'd truly wanted to let her peer into the depths of his heart… but no. The curse remained stubbornly intact, a dark all-consuming blight on his soul that dragged at his stuttering attempts at happiness.
He was still a coward.
The apartment over the library yielded a semblance of space, but more often than not it was ignored. For the life of him, he still couldn't understand why she stayed even as they'd built up a tentative trust as seemingly delicate and fragile to him as wispy gossamer thread. Part of him couldn't banish the doubts: kept waiting for her to discover something horrific and simply walk away and when he'd finally gotten up the courage to ask why she hadn't, even after finding out how he'd ruthlessly killed his wife, her quiet confidence surprised him.
Belle wouldn't ever give up on him because he, Rumplestiltskin, was indeed worthwhile. He didn't understand it. It was shocking. But it was enough.
Until finally at her bedside in the hospital: surely now it had to work. He'd stood, watching her sleep, jaw working under the suffocating weight of his grief. Desperation to have her back finally superseded cowardice and he leaned down to brush her mouth with his, just as tender and feather-light as that very first kiss she'd given him so many years before. For a single thudding beat of his heart he'd thought it had finally worked, had felt the flicker of response from her mouth, saw the briefest hint of that familiar smile she'd give him when he kissed her awake. And then like a dagger slicing through his heart, there was the cold blue of her eyes registering fear instead of recognition.
Her terrified scream echoed down the hall as he stumbled away, his broken heart shattering into dust.
He'd missed his chance; that single narrow window of redemption had slammed shut decades ago, lost to his cowardice and inability to trust.
True Love's Kiss simply didn't work on monsters. And now his Belle was gone forever, her curse just as stubbornly locked in place as his own.
Seething hatred slithered through his heart like poison; boiled to breaking point. Rumplestiltskin jammed his fist into the disposable toilet seat cover dispenser, punching it over and over and over: needing to feel something, to do something that didn't involve wrapping his fingers around that damn marauding pirate's neck and slowly squeezing the life from his worthless body.
Because even now, with her memories gone forever and his happiness lost along with them, Rumple knew in his heart that Belle would not want him to kill the thieving bastard.
Belle. My beloved Belle.
Spent, he slumped backward against the cold tile wall. He'd never felt more alone.
10813. I'm sparing you a lifetime of pain and misery.
She jerked awake dreaming of choking purple smoke and a whirling vortex and the echoing sound of maniacal laughter that didn't seem to have a source: a nightmare that gripped and held and terrified until she tumbled from her hard, narrow cot and landed with a jarring thud on a cold concrete floor.
Chains. On her wrists and ankles. Shouldn't there be chains? She was certain there ought to be chains.
Gaping through the dark strands of her dishevelled hair, Belle whipped her head around, trying to breathe, trying to steady her wildly beating heart… trying to understand. Because… because… She wasn't sure. The dingy grey cell was padded and she sat up; pushed her hair back out of her eyes.
Insane. Delusional Paranoia. Amnesia.
She blinked. What? The thoughts had crashed into her head like a freight train from nowhere and she whimpered a little.
Marks. Marks on the walls. Weren't there marks?
Confusion reigned and an icy chill raced up her spine as she suddenly sensed there were things she was forgetting. They were sliding away like quicksand and the harder she reached for them, the faster they were gone and she didn't know how it was happening; just that it was.
Her father. She remembered her father. And Rumplestiltskin.
Belle suddenly spotted a small tea cup tucked into the corner of her cell and she hurtled across the empty space toward it.
The tangible feel of cool porcelain was infinitely comforting to her fevered mind and she carefully cradled it in her palms, staring intently at the leafy pale blue branch painted on the side. Her thumb worried the chipped edge and she smiled a little.
She was drifting away into nothing, but this was still real. Their cup was real. Their love was real.
Panic set in as the door opened and a uniformed nurse strode in looking harsh and unfriendly.
And suddenly Belle knew about the needles. They made her hazy and lost. "I don't want any more tranquilizers." The words seemed to form on her tongue before she realized she shouldn't know what they meant… shouldn't she?
Maybe she really was insane. Her body reacted regardless, tensing up as the woman approached and she scrambled backward until there was no more place to go. Cornered and desperate, she searched for something, anything that could help, but the room was completely empty save the two of them. And her cup. The chipped cup. She carefully placed it next to her where she crouched on the floor so that it wouldn't get damaged when she… She wasn't sure what she'd do...
"It's for your own good. You don't remember. You're not well."
"I do remember…" Any further words died on her lips. She blinked. What did she remember? Truly? "I…"
Mulan. Belle remembered her friend, the warrior who moved like lightning; who thought a bookish girl could still take down a fiery monster, though ultimately it had been more through her wits and dumb luck than any real technique… Yet she'd seen how the warrior moved: lithe and fast as a striking serpent. If she could just…
The nurse stepped toward her, momentarily distracted while uncapping the end of a syringe and Belle made her move.
"Now don't be troublesome. It's the delusions making you upset. This will help soothe-"
Belle brought a knee up, slamming it into the taller woman's groin with a sickening thud. The nurse grunted and bent over double as she staggered then dropped to her knees. The needle went clattering into the opposite corner and Belle's eyes widened with hope as she catapulted herself toward it.
A strong hand clamped onto her ankle, yanking her back. They struggled and Belle tried to shimmy out of the way only to find herself pinned down, her face pressed into concrete. Her vision turned spotty and she fought for air as she stared forlornly at the tiny cup across the room.
She was going to lose and the thought spurred her to heave her entire body in retaliation. Sheer desperation was the most powerful incentive of all.
Belle managed to land another blow, this time a forearm slamming across the nurse's throat and the woman gagged, momentarily loosening her grip. Belle's eyes smarted as excruciating pain shot up her arm, but her scrabbling fingertips finally closed triumphantly around that which she sought.
She whipped her fist backward as she rolled and pivoted, jabbing the syringe into the nurse's hip and pressed downward on the plunger the second it contacted flesh. The effect was immediate and the woman's eyes suddenly unfocused, rolling backward up into her head and she slumped to the floor.
Shocked that it had worked, Belle grabbed her precious cup and bolted without a backward glance. There was no time to marvel at her success or her freedom would be very brief indeed.
Left. Dead end. Right. Run.
She took off down the corridor and up a set of stairs that twisted up and up and up until she banged unceremoniously out into… into… a hospital ward?
It didn't look right…
She didn't dawdle, hurtling instead through a hallway, around a corner and clattered down another set of stairs, slipping a little at the bottom. Pure gut instinct led her toward a double set of sliding doors and outside for the first time in… as long as she could remember.
Belle didn't know which way to run. Nothing was familiar and yet somehow it was. Words like cars and electricity slammed into her consciousness unbidden. There were people. They were dressed strangely. She averted her eyes while hurrying past a young woman in scandalously short red shorts. Or maybe they weren't strange. She really wasn't sure anymore.
She stared down another side street, desperately looking left then right. Rumplestitskin? Fear had her head whipping down and she intently focused back on her cup when she abruptly realized she could no longer picture her mother. She'd had a mother… right? Entire chunks of her past were bleeding away from her and she felt close to tears.
Where was he?
Belle didn't dare shout his name, not wanting to draw unwanted attention to herself. "What's happening?" she whispered brokenly, but there was no one there to respond as she hurried, turned then stopped, unable to make a decision about which way to go.
Half a block away she saw a tall man walking his dog across the street and another older gentleman with a cane limping away from her.
She thought for a fleeting second she might have recognized the set of the older man's shoulders, but then he was gone and no one was familiar.
Pounding feet resonated behind her and the sound threw her into a blinding panic. The Evil Queen would lock her back up if she was caught.
The Evil Queen? What did that even mean? As if in answer, her mind supplied a flash of dark hair and cruel eyes. She still recalled that much at least.
Dodging and ducking into a park, she lost herself among the trees. Her breathing was laboured and a cramp pinched her side, but she kept going. Then there was the smell of salt water and the pounding of surf as she suddenly found herself exposed on a wide stretch of open beach. Had she come here as a child? She couldn't remember and the sand was heavy and made running an exhausting slog.
Her pursuer closed in and she chanced a hunted glance over her shoulder only to find it far too late. She barely had time to register a man about her age with sandy brown hair and a trimmed beard before the breath was knocked from her lungs with a dizzying thump. He tackled her to the ground and she had to spit hair and sand from her mouth.
"Help me," Belle begged as she struggled uselessly against his iron grip. "Please don't send me back."
He never said a word, merely tugged the cap off a needle with his teeth before jamming it through her shabby hospital gown and into her thigh.
And then… then there was nothing.
When she awoke back in her padded cell she had no idea how much time had passed and the world was sluggish and thick as if viewing another's life through a sooty window.
She didn't fight this time. She hadn't the strength.
A woman was standing over her. Dark hair. Cruel eyes.
"You don't belong outside." Her heels tapped on the concrete as she stepped closer, catching Belle's drug hazed eyes with an intense stare. "You are no one," she finished with quiet emphasis.
"I… I'm… Belle."
The Queen – she remembered that now – leaned forward a little; re-emphasized the words.
Nothing seemed to be the appropriate response and she couldn't think of another anyway.
Fear. It lanced through her like lightning when she spotted what the woman held in her hand. She noticed Belle's expression and her smile turned vindictive.
"Such a sentimental little keepsake." She waved the precious tea cup back and forth a little, just out of reach. "But he no longer remembers that he loved you. My curse has seen to that."
The taunting words sliced deep and true through her heart as the woman leaned forward. What was the woman's name again? Belle tried to force her hand to move and grab the cup, but she was weak and missed. She was so very, very tired.
"You no longer need this, my dear."
It was her talisman. The chipped cup kept her focused and without it she knew she wouldn't remember him. Rumplestiltskin. Belle's eyes watered and a single tear tracked silently down her cheek.
"You can't keep us apart forever. I… I'll…"
She listlessly palmed the tear away with the heel of her hand and frowned, all of a sudden uncertain as to why she grieved. Or for whom.
Her name slipped next into the void and she frantically held onto the handful of shattered memories that remained though those now seemed more delusion than reality.
A cup and the tender press of lips and the spellbinding rush of true love. Yes. That was it. Someone had loved her once…
The dark-haired woman left with a satisfied smirk and she curled up on the corner of her cot, tucking her knees to her chest. She stared blankly into the distance.
"I am no one," she whispered into the suffocating silence.