Belle Gold had adored her husband. That sweet-hearted woman had seen no danger in trusting him with every secret of her inner life, and in doing that she had revealed too many of Belle’s true demons. The knowledge of her faults rested deep in Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes, as his gaze held little of the easy amusement that had been the staple of their relationship in the Dark Castle, and instead was weighed with the protectiveness of someone who had been charged to watch over a weakling.
“I don’t need your pity, Rumple,” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest. “I don’t need an ‘out’. I always knew what I was doing, and you’re not sending me back to the wolves just because a spineless know-nothing girl told you she missed her family.”
“But your father–”
“He’s making noises about my honor now - as if anyone ever cared about that!” Rumpelstiltskin made a noise of protest, but Belle didn’t allow it to become actual words. He had talked enough already. “Do you think he’d be so eager to have me in his home if Mother were still alive? He just wants me to take her place between him and the people who hate him. Give him time to realize that he’s got nothing to worry about, that weak kings are a dime a dozen in this town and no one cares, and he’ll shut up.”
“Belle, sweetheart,” Rumpelstiltskin said, leaning closer. His fingers stopped inches away from caressing her cheek, and he completed the movement only after an awkward pause. “You don’t need to stay.”
“Do you want me to go?”
He drew away, and Belle almost missed the minuscule head shake he tried to abort. Something loosened in her chest, as she realized that even in this world where their original deal was null and he didn’t need to accommodate her, Rumpelstiltskin would still abide by her choices.
“I promised forever, Rumpelstiltskin,” she told him, as if he needed the reminder. Her hands itched to reach out for him, to join that contact to her plea, but it was hard to be the first to touch him in the light of day. “My word is everything I have. Don’t ask me to break it.”
Rumpelstiltskin stared at her, but finally nodded.
Belle Gold had been a pushover, easily led wherever her beloved husband guided her. Until the curse had weakened enough that she'd shown glimpses of her true self, Rumpelstiltskin had avoided that wife in as much as his role had allowed.
But Belle - headstrong Belle, the girl who had learned to stand up to the greatest wizard when she had bent before everyone else, and that only through his encouragement…
Belle, he now gathered into a careful embrace.