Rumplestiltskin craned over the tower ledge; full moonlight illuminated the filthy golden mare, gobbling another apple Belle offered.
To be a fly in that tangled mane. The quickening Rumple had denied all day in the fens brought the palpitations he'd experienced catching Belle yesterday.
“The Dark One’s heart shouldn’t flutter, Dearie.” Taking Rumple's form, the Dark One traipsed the ledge. “Quit stalling—the potion.”
Rumple clenched the glass vial. I'm hideous. He looked from his doppelganger to Belle. And she's beautiful.
“She’s a beautiful gift horse to enchant to send her home.” The imp pointed at Belle.
“I can’t.” The vial turned to ice in Rumple's hand. “The vision—“
“It’ll appear Belle escaped. No taint of dark magic on her.” The imp blocked Rumple’s view. “Stop dallying.”
“I’m not dallying.”
“Spinning the mare's sad tale to Belle isn't dallying? War weary, she was left in the bog. Fortunately, I found her before the wolves finished her. If they were werewolves, she'll need a proper potion." The imp laughed. "Werewolves? Hoping she’ll be afraid to leave? That she'll need you? Love you? Spare yourself that impossible dream.” The imp wagged a finger then vanished.
It is an impossible dream. Rumple swallowed hard.
Best get on with it. He magicked himself outside the stable.
"I’ve found it.” Rumple ignored Belle's smile as he bent to apply potion to the mare’s bloody front leg.
“I named her.” Belle leaned over Rumple’s shoulder. “There's a saying—‘A thorn defends the rose, harming only those who would steal the blossom.’”
Rumple stiffened. “Thorn, fitting considering trouble she's caused me.”
“It’s Rose.” Belle took her weathered reins. “Why did you save her?”
Rumple pressed his hand against Rose's forehead. “She was tromping bog asphodel.”
"Bog asphodel?" Belle asked.
How I'll miss this insatiable curiosity. "It can only be harvested at moontide. I—"
No dallying, the Dark One hissed.
“I'll heal your Rose.” Eyes closed, Rumple worked a spell imprinting Rose with the route to Belle's home.
Back to her fiancé.
Foresight came breaking the spell.
In the great room full of trophies, Gaston towered over Belle.
Crying, Belle's face was marred by bruises.
“What’s the price? Our firstborn?” Gaston glowered. "Never speak his name in this house.”
Belle locked eyes with Gaston. “Rum—“
Gaston struck Belle; she fell against the hearth.
A light touch brushed Rumple's silken sleeve.
"Rumplestiltskin?" Belle's voice brought him back. "Are you all right?"
I'll never send you to that 'home,' Belle. "Just the price of enchantment." Rumple redirected the spell. "There. If Rose is ever lost, she'll find her way back home here."
“Home." As Rose whinnied, Belle added, "She's grateful that Rumplestiltskin's her thorn."
"She's a rarity then." Rumple handed Belle another apple. What did dallying hurt?
Your heart’s fluttering again, Dearie, the Dark One warned. Belle will destroy your blossoming plans.
I’ll find another way. Rumple vowed as Rose nuzzled Belle. If Gaston comes near, he’ll find a thorn named Rumplestiltskin defending Belle.