Sitting at her usual booth at Granny’s Belle twirled the library key in her hand once again. Ever since Rumple gave it to her the meaning behind it was like a heavy weight on her shoulder.
Rumple had let her in, told her the truth and was willing to let her go. And despite the fact that his magic still stood like a barrier between them, she saw the bigger picture now.
Baelfire. Rumple had done everything to find his son.
If he had told her the truth her the first time she kissed him, had he been honest from the beginning maybe they could’ve been together all along. Had he told her at the well, she would be sitting beside him right now, wherever that may be. Belle would’ve never made him choose between Bae and her. Rumple needed to find his son, so she simply had to wait. She had waited for so long already, how much worse could another year or so be. At least she wasn’t chained to a wall or locked in a basement.
The diner became her second home in the evening since it was a lot easier going there than eating alone at home. Ruby was a nice girl, the first real friend she had had in a long time. She made a habit of joining Belle, always telling her something new about this strange and confusing world.
Some things like electricity, indoor plumbing and the medical care were fascinating. Other things, usually anything involving electronic kept confusing her, until someone pointed how it worked.
Belle let the key slide into her pocket when Ruby placed a plate in front of her. She was being introduced to burritos and margaritas.
At least eating a burrito turned out to be a lot easier and less messy than a taco, but Belle was sure Mexican food wasn’t going to be high on her favorite list. The margarita on the other hand was delicious. She told Ruby as much and the waitress nodded promising her something Italian for next time.
The dwarfs returned from the mine by the time they were finished with their meal. And while Ruby helped out for ten minutes Leroy sat with Belle. Between Dreamy and Grumpy she liked his Storybrooke name more, it was uncomplicated and didn’t put so much pressure on a person.
She had been sad when he told her that he hadn’t gone away with his love Nova.
“What the hell’s been Ruby giving you?” He scrunched his face when he saw her drink. “Ruby, bring Belle something decent.” Belle simply laughed along and waited for the news. She could tell that they hadn’t found anything but maybe there was still something left to say.
Leroy’s smile made her feel better, he knew what she was going through. He had been shocked to find out she was Rumplestiltskins True Love but that lasted only for a moment when he realized they had parted again.
Ruby brought his drink to their table and he left after he clinked glasses with Belle. They were drinking to a successful day, one at a time. As long as they were still breathing things couldn’t be that bad.
Ruby slid into the booth again and Belle handed her a slip of paper with questions. She had started writing things down to learn more efficiently. Most of the time Ruby could help out and when she was at loss she consulted Archie. Often this occurred when Belle had been reading literature from previous centuries.
Most questions on that day were about the computer Belle had found at the circulation desk. Ruby had shown her how to use it, but after she managed to turn it on it got even more confusing. She needed another lesson.
Belle drank the last sip of her margarita and thought about her evening. The questions were answered, the meal eaten and Ruby had to get back to work. Leroy was sitting with his brothers and she didn’t want to bother him with her problems. She didn’t want to go home.
“You miss him.” Ruby had a very sympathetic smile and it made Belle feel better instantly.
“I worry about him. I don’t know if he’s eating or sleeping. What if he works himself to death?”
“I’m not so sure that he can die of natural causes.” Ruby mused clearly trying to make her laugh but Belle only managed to grimace. It had been a week since Belle moved into the Library.
“Why don’t you go over to the shop and talk to him?” Ruby’s suggestion sounded like a good idea except for one small problem.
“I told him to give me space.” More accurately she had told him to leave her alone. And she had regretted it ever since. The week she had stayed with Rumple had been the happiest she had ever been in her life. Of course before she had found out he lied to her.
“And that you want to try hamburgers with him. That’s the funny thing: Girls change their mind every time. In fact everyone does. Grab some takeout and go to the shop. You’re allowed to check on him, you know.” Ruby pointed out and Belle promised to consider it.
It was after ten when she finally left the diner and walked short distance to her apartment.
She had her library and a place to live, something useful to do with her time for the first time in her existence. And yet she had never felt so lonely.
Her nights were horrible. Rumple had held her every night during their blissful week, somehow keeping her nightmares away. On her own she slept poorly. She had started using a nightlight to soothe her weariness of the dark, but it was no real substitute for what she missed.
She kept reminding herself that this was good for her. She had spent her whole life as ‘someone else’s’. Maurice’s daughter, Rumplestiltskin’s caretaker, Regina’s hostage. She had almost forgotten who she was on her own and it was time to change that.
But the only thing she really knew at that moment: She was miserable.
After three more days Ruby decided Belle had mulled enough. So when Belle came in for lunch the waitress simply placed a paper bag in front of her. “It’s lasagna and iced tea, you’ll like it.” Two cups accompanied the bag and Belle realized what her friend was doing.
“I can’t take this.” Belle declined vehemently.
“I know: it’s not hamburgers, but I thought you might eat those at a more special occasion.” Ruby evaded lightly moving down the counter pretending to be busy.
“You know that’s not what I meant. I can’t go there!” Belle hissed quietly while following her.
“Sure you can. Just walk inside the shop and say you brought lunch.” Ruby patted Belle’s shoulder encouragingly and fled into the kitchen deliberately ending the conversation.
Belle stared at the food and thought about Ruby’s words. The logical part of her knew that Ruby was right, but her emotional side was just so nervous and unsure that she couldn’t do it.
The longing to see him just for a second and make sure he was all right finally won out and she picked up the bag and cups and walked the short distance to the shop.
She stared at the door and tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
Do the brave thing and bravery will follow. She could hear her mother, imagined how she would give her gentle nudges till Belle finally opened the door and stepped inside.
It was different than the last time she had seen it, but she couldn’t figure out why Rumple would rearrange his merchandise. Since he wasn’t in the front room she made her way to the back of the shop. The sigh had said ‘open’ after all.
She spotted him sitting at his work bench right as soon as she stepped behind the curtain, his back was to her and he was looking through something what seemed to be a magnifying glass.
“Did Timmy fall down the well?” He sounded sarcastic still focused at his work.
“Uhm, no?” She wasn’t exactly sure how to respond as she had never met a Timothy.
As soon as he heard her voice he turned around. To her delight his face lit up and he smiled tenderly at her. “Hey.”
The knot in her stomach eased a little and she smiled back. “Hey.”
They looked at each other for a long while before Belle snapped out of it. “I brought you something to eat.”
She held up the bag as explanation but he kept staring at her in confusion. She lowered her hand again unsure what to do next. She had expected some kind of reaction.
She said his name and that seemed to do the trick. He stood up and cleared some space on the table motioned for her to come closer and together they set up their meal. He brought her a chair while he sat back down on his stool.
It was awkward and forced. The easiness that once accompanied them was gone and they had to figure out a way to be around another.
“Do you like it?” Belle knew it was a stupid question to ask, but she could not think of anything else.
“It’s Granny’s overpriced lasagna. But I would eat dirt, if it meant spending some time with you.”
She flushed and started laughing. She had been wrong, their banter wasn’t gone, just hidden and a little harder to find than before.
They settled in a comfortable silence and Belle kept observing him between bites. He didn’t look like he was starved or sleep deprived. After that thought she chastised herself. He had been fine for over three hundred years before she came along - obviously he could take care of himself.
“Is that really comfortable working in that attire?” At least he had taken off his jacket but nevertheless she couldn’t imagine that his shirt and tie were handy, irrelevant of how great it suited him.
“I think the good people of Storybrooke would die of a heart attack if I brought out the dragon skin and leather pants again.” He flashed her a wicked grin and chewed another bite of lasagna.
She chuckled, trying to deflect another of her blushes with a sip of iced tea. She wouldn’t have minded if he put on the leather pants, in fact she couldn’t think of a better idea.
“How are you?” He asked her gently and she looked at him again.
“I’m good. I’ve been renovating the library. Read some books, too. Well, the first half of every one of them.” She had no clue how to tell him about her nightmares so she just kept quiet. That was her burden to bear, not his.
“How’s your work. Did you find a way to cross the town line?” She was trying her best to show her interest and support. Rumple shook his head and Belle squeezed his hand instead of saying anything. There were no words suitable enough to comfort him.
Too soon they finished their meal and she had no excuse to stay any longer. Taking his cane in hand he accompanied her to the door. “Thank you for caring.”
Belle’s heart broke a little. Did he honestly think she would stop caring after she left?
In an effort to prove him wrong she leaned up and kissed his lips. “I love you. Please, never doubt that.” She didn’t want him to question her feelings. Despite everything she had never stopped loving him.
He stroked her cheek gently a small smile lying on his lips. “I love you too, my darling Belle.”
He kissed her forehead gently and she opened the door ready to leave.
“You’re always welcomed here. Any time.”
She felt like she smiled for the first time in weeks and nodded. It was going to be all right, somehow it would work out.
She made the effort and visited him every couple of days. Sometimes she dragged him along for a walk, other times she asked about the various items in his shop and every other time she brought something to eat. She made sure to never stay longer than an hour and Rumple was always happy to see her. They found their rhythm again, relearning how to be around another.
Strangely enough as she grew closer to Rumple the more Ruby seemed to draw away. It didn’t make sense, because Ruby had been supportive about her relationship. When Granny wore a matching look of worry Belle figured the problem was probably something family related.
She never got around to ask Ruby about it because the dwarfs barged into the diner announcing they had finally found fairy dust.
She joined the celebration, drinking with them and listening to Leroy when he told Granny how he broke through the wall. She had seen Ruby and Billy talking in the corner and somehow Ruby seemed troubled. She decided to help her out, hoping to finally ask her what was wrong. But Ruby just left her standing.
The truth revealed itself when David brought Ruby to the library to hide from an angry mob. She had read about werewolves, she just never imagined meeting one in her lifetime.
After David and Granny left Belle tried her best to cheer her up.
“Think of it as Girl’s night” she joked, but Ruby didn’t laugh. In fact her whole demeanor changed. Belle became wary, she had seen this before. Right before Rumple grabbed her and started yelling. And her Father decided to take her over the town line. “What’s wrong?”
Belle tried to make it better, tried her best to make Ruby see that she was not a monster. And at the moment Belle almost thought she’d succeeded. Then she felt the shackle close around her wrist and Ruby was gone.
When she realized she couldn’t reach the phone panic rose inside of her.
It was like the metal on her arm opened a gate to her memories of Regina’s tower. They were creeping back slowly, making it harder to breath. Tears clouded her vision as she kept looking for a way out of her misery. Every of pull at the chains only led her to hurt herself. She sank to the ground and pulled out a bobby pin from her hair frantically trying to pick the lock. “Rumple!” She started calling out his name in sheer desperation.
And suddenly he was calling out her name. Relief flooded through her while she answered him. As soon as he saw her she felt the dreaded metal leaving her wrist.
Between thanking him and asking about Ruby she managed to stand up and wrap him in a tight hug. She cried against his shoulder, her sobs shaking her body.
Rumple was caressing her hair and murmuring endearments in her ear. Combined with his scent it eased her mind and she relaxed.
“I ruined your suit.” She mumbled apologetically looking at the stain her cosmetics left.
“It’s not important. Let’s get you upstairs.”
As soon as they entered her apartment he ushered her to take a shower, promising her something to eat when she was done.
Standing under the hot spray helped her gain a little focus. Refreshed and dressed in comfortable pajamas she returned to the living area to find a cup of tea waiting for her on the coffee table.
Rumple was sitting on the couch, a plate with scrambled eggs in his hand.
She settled beside him and started eating. He was rubbing her back gently watching her like a hawk.
He gave her a refill of tea when she finished her first cup and nudged her gently into position before tugging at the towel that she had wrapped around her wet hair. He placed a hair tie in her hand before turning her away from him and started brushing her hair gently. She was even more surprise when he started braiding her hair. “Where did you learn that?”
“I was raised by two spinsters, Linda and Glynis. Glynis always braided Linda’s hair. She taught me, so I could do it whenever she wasn’t there.” His tone was gentle and warm, she could hear how much he had loved them.
“They passed away before my wedding.” He reached for the tie. “They would’ve loved you. You remind me of them sometimes.”
She leaned back against him and he wrapped his arms around her kissing her cheek gently.
“Can you stay with me tonight? I don’t want to be alone”. It was easier asking when she wasn’t looking at him directly.
“Of course, darling. Whatever you need.”
She closed her eyes and just concentrated on his arms and his scent. She dozed off for a little while and when she woke up again they were in her bed.
“Shhh darling. Go back to sleep. I’m here” Rumple murmured against her ear, his hand was stroking her stomach.
She had never meant to do it but somehow she couldn’t hold it in any longer and told him everything about her imprisonment in Regina’s castle. He pulled her closer to his chest, never stopping his gentle caress.
“If I had known that you were still alive I would’ve come to get you. I would’ve burned that tower down and brought you home.” Hearing him say that was comforting.
“I know.” She had always known that Regina tricked him.
“Will you tell me about Bae?” Rumple had already told her about his mothers, maybe he was willing to share a little more tonight.
He told her how he crashed his ankle to live and get back to his son. The struggle to give his boy everything that he deserved, how the ogres returned and Bae was supposed to die. The night when he burned down the castle, stole the dagger and killed Zoso. And how he lost Bae because of his own cowardice. And he told her little moments when Bae had made Rumple the proudest man alive.
Tears were filling her eyes when she turned around. “I’m so sorry Rumple.” She kissed him gently and
pushed him down on his back to snuggled against his side.
"You will find him. Don’t worry." She whispered before she fell into a deep slumber again.
Belle woke up alone in her bed.
The heavenly smell from the kitchen meant that he was still there. Rumple was setting the kitchen table when she joined him. “Good morning.”
He was already in his suit and he had made pancakes. It almost felt like they were living together again.
Breakfast was easy, Belle reassured Rumple over and over again that he could leave but he only left after she promised to call him if anything went wrong.
She spent another hour reading Anna Karenina before going downstairs to resume her own work. She had started arranging the books in their proper order, the hard part being that apparently only a third of them were in the right place from the start.
She was wondering why a book on astronauts was in the romance section when the door opened and Rumple called out her name.
Confused she returned to the front. He was standing beside the circulation desk and she noticed that he had changed his clothes. It was also the first time he entered the library after he gave her the key.
“It looks marvelous. I can’t wait till you’re finished.” He said after a look around.
“Thank you. But you didn’t come here to compliment my work, did you?” She was afraid something bad had happened and he was stalling to figure out how to break the news to her. She stepped next to him.
“No, I just wanted to give you this.” He pushed a package on the circulation desk closer to her.
“I don’t need gifts Rumple.” She declined, it was a very sweet way to cheer her up and she just wanted to say so but he shook his head slightly.
“That’s not exactly a gift. You need this.” He placed the box in her hand. The words on the front or the picture didn’t make any sense to her but she could tell it was an electronic devise.
“It’s a portable phone. You charge it and carry it around with you. You can place a call anytime you like.”
You can call for help at any time. He didn’t need to say those words, they were written all over it.
She had never thought she could love him more but that moment proved her wrong. She had no idea how to thank him properly or even explain what he had done for her already.
She kissed him instead, hoping he could feel all that somehow.
When he pulled away suddenly, she was confused, but she recognized the strain on his face. She had almost broken his curse again. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
Rumple pulled her in his arms, cradling the back of her head. “Don’t apologize. You never have to apologize.”
“I thought it doesn’t work here.” Belle was confused, she had kissed him a lot of times and he had never shown any signs of discomfort.
“Do you want to roam around in the shop? I’m sure there are some boxes left that you haven’t opened yet.” She laughed about it and agreed immediately. She wasn’t ready to part yet.
So she started to snoop through several boxes while Rumple was mixing ingredients together.
She found several boxes of clothes with horribly bright colors. She couldn’t imagine that anyone would’ve even considered wearing that.
“What’s ‘Christmas’?” She asked after reading the handwriting on the box.
Rumple explained her that Christmas was a celebration in December where people decorated their homes and bought each other gifts. The whole concept seemed a little strange to her and she decided to read up on it.
She went through the box and found some beautiful ornaments before encountering a cord with little light bulbs attached to it.
“Twinkle lights. I’m sure youwill enjoy them once they’re plugged in.” She wasn’t sure about that. The cord looked pretty simple, what effect could the current make to change that. She made the effort and plugged it in.
As soon as the cord was attached to the electricity the bulbs started glowing in different colors. Belle gasped in delight, she had never seen anything like it before. “This is beautiful.”
She heard Rumple chuckle. “Told you, you would like it.”
She left the shop several hours later with three Twinkle lights. Her childlike glee that she felt had amused Rumple to no end. As soon as she was in her apartment she went to the bedroom and started attaching the lights to her bed and ceiling. They made a far better nightlight than the current one.
Ruby was standing outside her door with a takeout bag in her hand. “I’m here to apologize. I’m so sorry about last night.”
Belle nodded slightly. She knew that Ruby hadn’t wanted to frighten her. She did what she had thought best for Belle’s safety. She hadn’t known about her imprisonment in Regina’s castle.
“Apology accepted.” Ruby looked relieved to hear that and came in.
“What’s in the bag?” Belle wasn’t willing to reject a free meal.
“Fried rice with chicken. And I brought more margarita mix.”
On a whim Belle led Ruby into her bedroom and showed her her masterpiece. It wasn’t dark enough outside yet but it looked comforting already.
“Very cute.” Ruby settled on the floor and unpacked the food. Belle followed suit and grabbed a container. Ruby told her about the night before. “David will find another way. That’s what he and Snow always did. Loosing and finding each other again.”
“If True Love was easy everyone would have it.” Belle agreed before showing her friend her new electronic attachment and asking for instructions.
Ruby explained all functions of the mobile phone in detail. Texting seemed like a great invention. Being able to send small messages to Rumple seemed like an enjoyable thing to do.
She sent her first one the same evening after her fourth drink. She thanked him again for his gift and told him he shouldn’t kill Ruby with looks anymore. And that she loved him. He replied he would try and wished her a good night.