It doesn’t take long to locate the headstone.
The granite slab shines, new and untouched by the salty Maine elements. A single grave standing alone, apart of the other markers grouped more closely together. By the dying light of the sinking sun, he can just make out the skillfully etched-out name.
Rumplestilskin sinks to the ground, the sight driving him to his knees. Neal Cassidy: Beloved Son, the otherwise plain marker reads. ‘That‘s not his name.’ he thinks dazedly, trembling fingers reaching out, tracing the large N. ‘That’s not his name.’
Baelfire. His son. His baby. His beautiful, beautiful boy.
He’s not sure how long he kneels there, fighting for breath, before he hears the footsteps approaching. Rumpelstiltskin closes his eyes. Twigs snap underfoot as the footfalls draw closer. A moment later small hands grip his shoulders, sliding down to wrap around him and grasp his hands. A shuttering sigh brushes his neck.
“I’m so, so sorry Rumple.”
Rumpelstiltskin resolutely keeps his eyes pressed shut. It’s easier somehow, safer. He’s spent so much time locked away in the dark this last year. Small kisses pepper his shoulder, his collarbone, and the arms holding him pull him closer still. The sun has already disappeared behind the hills and towering pines guarding the small burial ground. Nothing else is said for a very long time.
“You have the dagger,” He finally rasps. He felt it as soon as the damned thing changed ownership as surely as he feels the chilly, evening breeze gusting across his face now. “Regina gave it to you.”
Rumpelstiltskin feels rather than sees Belle nod. He shudders, pressing himself closer. Maybe if he tries hard enough he’ll shed his own skin and crawl into hers, leaving behind this frozen heartbreak. “Good…that‘s…good.”
“They shouldn’t have taken it from you at all,” she hisses fiercely, startling him. Belle breaths harshly for a moment more then squeezes his hands. “They shouldn’t have controlled you like that.”
“I would have killed her,” Rumpelstiltskin breathes. He’s too tired to evade, to pretend, drained and weighed down and heavy with grief and loss. Even righteous rage cannot burn thorough the frozen bolder lodged in his chest. “To avenge Bae. I promised him I would. I promised,” He takes a shuttering breath. “She deserves to die.”
Belle’s arms tighten around him and Rumpelstiltskin braces himself for the disappointment, the condemnation. “I agree with you.”
Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes fly open. Twisting his head around, Belle’s forehead and curls swim into view. Her face is pressed against his neck. “She killed our boy,” And oh, those words bring warm joy for Belle’s amazing ability to love and overwhelming sorrow for what could have been. “She killed him. No one here has lost a child. No one had the right to make that decision. And no one certainly had the right to take away your free will like they did.”
He has absolutely no words for that. None at all. He closes his eyes and lays his head against hers, centering himself. “You…think I should kill Zelena?” Rumpelstiltskin holds himself very still, not sure what answer he wants to hear more.
Belle lifts their clasped hands up, pressing them against his heart. “I don’t know,” She finally whispers. “I think she deserves it. I also think she deserves to rot in a cage for the rest of her life. She deserves to know she failed. She didn’t beat us,” His love pulls their hands up, pressing a kiss to his dirty knuckles, then his palm, then his wrist. “But most of all… I think Bae deserves to have his wishes honored,” and here she pauses, hesitates, then plunges on. “And I don’t think he’d want you to kill again, sweetheart. Even for him. I think he deserves to rest in peace.”
Rumpelstilskin can’t speak. If he tries, everything he’s kept bottled up for 300 centuries will come pouring out and he’s not quite sure what would happen then. Belle gently kisses his palm again. “Do you want your dagger?”
She will give it to him. She will give him his freedom, his power, his magic. He could kill the witch that stole his boy from him, tear her heart out like she had done to him. His heart beat faster just thinking about it and it feels so good to feel anything besides this awful, empty, aching void in his chest. Rumpelstiltskin bears his teeth into what he hopes is a grin, opens his eyes…and sees his son’s gravestone. Neal Cassidy.
“It feels wrong to run away.”
“You were once a good man.”
“You haven’t changed one bit!”
Something bends and breaks inside and Rumpelstiltskin gasps and quakes with the force of it, sinking, sinking forward to clutch at the marker, the last physical link to his son. His son. His Baelfire.
And oh gods he can still see the look in his son’s eyes the first time he killed in front of him. He can still hear, “You coward!” screaming in his ears. And he still can see the look in Neal’s eyes when he realized Rumpelstiltskin had contemplated killing his grandson.
How would Neal look at him if he saw him kill Zelena?
His breath is coming to quick, rapid, shallow. Over the sound of his gasping breaths, he can dimly hear Belle’s increasingly loud cries of, “Rumple? Rumple?!”
“Keep it,” he gasps out, before he changes his mind. “Keep it for me. For now.”
Because he’s Rumpelstiltskin and he never breaks a promise. Because he’s Rumpelstiltskin and all he ever wanted was his family with him and safe and happy. Because he’s Rumpelstiltskin and his boy is his life and he’s still not sure his very bones won’t shrivel and break and turn to ash with his loss. Because he’s Rumpelstiltskin and he doesn’t know how to stop clawing and trying and hoping. Because he’s Rumpelstiltskin and he’s still cowardly and angry and anxious and desperately afraid of being alone.
And Belle, thank the gods, understands. “Yes,” she whispers into his hair, “Yes. I’ll keep it safe. Until you ask for it. I’ll keep it safe for you.”
He grips her hands tight, pressing them again his mouth, hoping the gesture conveys everything he can’t say just yet. And his love presses him closer, holding him together as they kneel at his son’s grave.