The dungeon door whispered open. Its master crossed the threshold on kitten-light feet and entered a silence where even the low rasp of his breath seemed too loud.
His eyes flicked away from Bel—from the woman lying on the bench on the opposite side of the room. She was a spy, a weapon sent by that spiteful witch to unmake him. To linger on the salt trails streaked down her cheeks or the blushes of purple on her arms where his hands had gripped her would be tacit confirmation of the victory she’d nearly achieved.
He set down his burden—a tea tray—on the edge of the bench. Stood. Turned away. He could feel her eyes on his back, though she had neither moved nor spoken.
“Tea,” he said, feeling foolish at once. Of course it was tea. What else was going to be in a tea pot?
Then again, she was a recently-exposed spy awaiting sentencing. For all she knew, it could be hibiscus-flavored poison. And there was an excellent idea, one he’d wish he’d thought of if the thinking of it didn’t make him feel queasy.
He had one foot in the hall with the other rising to meet it when her voice echoed from behind him.
“Well?” she said.
Gone was the caressing cadence she’d tried to bewitch him with early in the evening. Gone even were the fear and confusion, so well feigned. In their place was something sharp, something challenging. She was a sore loser, he decided. Yet what a relief it must be for her to be freed from the masquerade she’d carried on for months.
His tone was full of mocking. “Well?”
“What are you going to do to me?”
He nibbled his tongue thoughtfully. “I haven’t decided yet. I should probably turn you into something. A snake, maybe. Or an apple. Regina’s so very fond of them; I think she’d appreciate the irony.”
When she did not answer, he laced his fingers behind his back and sauntered into the hall. “I’ll have to sleep on it. There are so many possibilities.”
He did turn, then—he had to, in order to slam the door—but he was not fast enough to avoid meeting her eyes. There was a fire in them that caught the fringe of his resolve and set it smoking. He shuddered, then fixed a sneer on his face.
“Don’t look so sore, dearie. You made a good effort of it, at le—.”
“Look at me.” She said.
It was not the place of the prisoner to command their jailor. But he found his eyes dragging up to her, as though she were the one who held the keys.
“Am I lying, Rumplestiltskin?”
He searched her face. There was an answer there, one that made him want to fall at her knees, to murmur apologies into the hem of her dress, to scoop her into his arms and seal forever with a kiss.
“If not to me, then to yourself.” He said, at length.
She closed her eyes, and Rumplestiltskin blinked as though he’d woken from a spell. That he detected no magic in the air only meant that Regina had outfitted her well.
“Sleep well, dearie. Big day tomorrow. Maybe even your last.”
He’d have liked the words to be ominous. He’d have even settled for mocking. But his tongue lay leaden in his mouth, and his body weighed with an exhaustion he did not understand.
The door closed as softly as it had opened, but he did not leave right away. He stood with his ear pressed to the worn wood for some time, waiting to see if she would cry.
He did not know whether to seek validation or loss in her silence.