The first time Rumplestiltskin brings a baby home, Belle is appalled.
“Where did you find him?” she cries, taking the poor thing into her arms and trying to soothe him. The poor boy is distraught, and no wonder: Rumplestiltskin’s face takes some getting used to.
“His foolish mother wished to be a rich and powerful Lady.” He shrugs, “Behold my payment.”
Belle is aghast, “That’s horrible! How could you?” memories of her first night, of his quip about children’s pelts, flash in her mind.
Rumplestiltskin bites back, harsher than she’d expected, “Oh yes, trading a child away for personal gain, that’s fine and well; but taking the child and finding him a home? Horrible!”
He’s wound up, his mood fouler than she’s seen it since she almost gave him food poisoning with her – first and last – attempt at paella. And that was a bad mood.
“Okay, okay, sorry!” she looks down at the child, who has quietened somewhat, but looks ready to explode at any moment. “What’re you going to do with him?”
“There are women all over this Realm and the next who are childless and desperate. Fear not, he won’t be motherless for long.” He glances from the baby to her face, his expression unreadable and strange for just a moment (almost soft, almost tender, almost heartbroken) before he waves a hand and turns to leave the room, “Tend to him until it can be arranged. Consider it a new duty.”
He leaves, and Belle – who was always the youngest in her family, and knows nothing of childcare – tries to work out what the hell to do next.
When the baby – she tried to name him, but Rumplestiltskin stopped her – is taken and given to an innkeeper and his wife in the Northlands, Belle cries.
In the three weeks since he arrived, she’d tended him, nursed him with the cows’ milk that appeared by magic each morning, changed him and sung him to sleep. She’d held him against her the night he didn’t stop crying, and rocked him by the fire.
She has an ache, now, deep inside her: a feeling she wishes she’d known about before she swore herself to a spinster’s life in the lair of a monster. The baby is taken from her arms, and given to parents who can raise him as their own, give him a normal life. The boy will be happy there – this much, she made Rumplestiltskin promise – but it isn’t enough.
Her arms feel empty without his solid, warm weight. The first night she is back alone in her room, she cries until the early hours of the morning.
The second time, it’s easier. The girl is lighter, her skin a redder shade of pink, and she settles quickly and easily. Belle doesn’t rock her in the middle of the night; she doesn’t sing her the songs of her childhood, nor share with her stories of home.
Belle has learnt her lesson, and when the parting comes, she can hold in her tears and hand the child over with a forced smile, and the same promise as before.
She has to know she’s giving these children (her children, although she neither bore nor nursed them) their best chance.
Rumplestiltskin doesn’t touch them, once he’s handed them to her. Even when he takes them to their new parents, he takes them in Belle’s basket.
He’s easier, she notices, with the girls. Baby girls can giggle or cry all they like, and all he does is hand them over and walk away. Sons are harder: when she holds them, the first time, and allows her first and last adoring, smiling look into their bright eyes, she can sense his gaze on her.
It makes her wonder about his past, this reaction he has.
But then she’s swept up in the same dance of emptiness and motherhood that each new baby brings. It’s a cruelty, these fleeting encounters; this not-chance to hold a baby in her arms and be, for just a little while, the centre of a child’s universe.
And then Rumplestiltskin comes to her, with that almost-ashamed smile, and tells her that it’s time.
And she hands the baby over, and smiles to show she’s okay, and makes him promise. She always makes him promise.
In that basket, the baby is once more just a ball of flesh and bones and tears: someone else’s son or daughter, someone else’s destiny.
She learns, one long and fateful day, why the boys are so much worse for him. Rumplestiltskin hardly has ‘father’ written all over him, but she has her hunch, and Belle would, in another life, have been a brilliant detective.
She’s wandering the castle, cleaning being a relative term, when she finds a whole stash of baby clothes upstairs.
They’re coarse peasant clothes: they would scratch a child’s skin; make him itch and whimper and cry. She knows children well enough, by now, childless maid though she is, to know that no parent would use these unless they had no choice.
There are pictures, too, drawn in rough charcoal on scraps of stolen paper. Images of a child, and then a young man, scratched into the surface by an unskilled but caring hand. The paper is fragile and curled with age, fading brown at the edges.
She knows, without having to ask, who this boy is. This is Rumplestiltskin’s son.
When she gets up the nerve, later that day, to ask him about it, he is surprisingly willing to tell her. It’s the most she’s ever heard him say about himself, about his own history, and she’s strangely proud of him.
And then he’s letting her go, and she’s running, and she doesn’t know why.
Hope is the worst thing in Belle’s world.
She’d hoped, when they talked, that he would tell her about his child. She’d hoped she could learn who he was, what he is, beyond the creature she knows so well. Behind the scaly gold-green skin, the deals and twists of fate, the carefully crafted half-truths, to look upon the man who drew those pictures.
She’d hoped, when he gave her a flower and bowed, like a gentleman or a knight, that they could be happy. That they could live together in peace, and adore each other as friends and equals and lovers, and known every secret, every spell.
Then he’d let her go, and she ran… but not from him, never from him.
She knows she loves him, and that it will never change. Even before, when the road spread out before her, and she was running, she felt her heart reach for him.
She wasn’t running away, she was running toward.
Toward a life where she could have a baby of her own, where she could hold it to her chest and feel the little heart beat, and sing every song she knew, and tell every story she’d ever heard.
Where she could become attached, and let herself love something with everything she was. Where she could name the child in her arms, and know that nothing could tear it away from her.
So she ran, and ran, and kept running.
And then that woman, that ominous, helpful woman in the carriage told her that she could save him. That she could have everything: the man she loved, and a child, and a normal, happy, wonderful life. The life she’d read about, but never seen. The life she dreamt every night, and woke from aching and empty.
She would miss the magic in his eyes, the extraordinary strangeness of his face, the lilting, maddening voice and manner. But this was their chance, and all she’d ever wanted was to be happy. And now, that dream spread to cover him, too.
But just because a curse can be broken, doesn’t mean that it should. (Not every cursed, damned, and smiling villain wants to be saved.)
Belle has no more hopes. She stares at the stones of the ceiling, the dungeon walls, and only dreams he’ll give her a chance to tell him the truth before he silences her forever.
Isobel’s father kicks her out the day he discovers that she’s in love. And not with that nice young man who teaches Phys Ed at the elementary school, or the baker’s boy who always brought her a cupcake on her birthday when she was a teenager.
She’s in love with her father’s worst nightmare, and she’s no longer his daughter.
Their hatred grew from his treatment of her father, and his refusal to apologise.
Their friendship grew from hatred, from an argument that ended in a kiss, from a wealth of differences and a deep similarity. They’re both trapped, in their own way, and neither one has ever fit.
He’s the town’s deepest terror, and its greatest observer. And all Isobel has ever done is watch the world.
Their love affair started with their second kiss, and rested with her feet in his lap and his hands where they covered hers, and his promises whispered against her skin in the dead of night.
She knows nothing of the world, or of the future. She imagines nothing beyond the here and now.
And she’s never understood why her first love feels so much like a second chance.
Isobel knows, somewhere deep in her bones, that this is something long overdue.
She’s not exactly the maternal type, or experienced in anything like this. For God’s sake, she’s only been in love this one time, and while it feels like forever right now, this is a massive leap into the future. It’s terrifying, watching her world warp and change before her eyes to fit a new shape, a new addition.
She planned a life where she would take over when Mr Wolfe retired from the library, and to spend her days surrounded by books, in quiet solitude.
She looks down again at the little blue cross, and feels like crying. She doesn’t know if she’s ecstatic or wretched, but she knows that this moment, here and now, is the moment when everything changes.
When she tells Gold, he doesn’t say a word for a moment.
There are no whoops of joy, nor any curses or shows of anger or unhappiness. He just stays still, like he’s been cast in stone, and examines her face, “And what will you do, dear?”
She’s given this a lot of thought; of course she has. This is the rest of her life, this will define who she is, this one decision.
It is the easiest decision she’s ever made.
“I’m keeping it. If… I mean, if you’re alright with that?” she’d never thought to ask him, and panic spirals through her.
(What if she gains his child but loses his love?)
He visibly relaxes, and a tentative smile grows into a massive, beaming grin. He kisses her that day like he’s drowning, like they’ve never kissed before.
He’s almost overbearingly attentive, especially when she starts showing. Where before they’d allowed their relationship to be more rumour than proven fact in the town – with her so much younger than him, and everyone’s opinion of his character – he now feels no shame at all. He takes her hand when they walk down the street; he casually wraps an arm around her waist when they talk to neighbours, and kisses her in the diner.
She likes this new side of him, this new warmth. She likes that he no longer treats her like she’s fragile, or unreal; the eggshells he was walking on have vanished into thin air.
He even tells her his first name, one day in the park, when her belly is swollen and her ankles hurt, and she can sense it’s not the whole truth. But ‘Rum’ seems half right, and it fits his strength, the sweetness she always knew was there, and the effect he has on her.
He’s there in the morning to hold her hair back when she’s sick; he brings every strange food she can think of when she craves.
And if, sometimes, she wishes he would let her make her own damn tea, or answer the phone for herself, or run to the store without an escort, then she knows it’s a small complaint.
He looks younger with each passing day, as she watches years of loneliness, of the bitterness he can hide but not too well, melt away like winter snow.
It’s not easy, having a baby in such a strange place. Storybrooke doesn’t feel right, not to anyone, and Isobel has a feeling that one day Rum will tell her why.
It says a lot about how she trusts him: she feels safer just because she’s sure he knows what’s going on. As long as Rum has a handle on what’s happening, as long has he can fend off the Mayor’s saccharine overtures and tell their friends from their enemies, then nothing can touch them.
She holds baby Rose in her arms, and she fits so perfectly, small enough to rest her tiny, dark head in the crook of her mama’s arm and her feet in the palm of her hand.
Isobel whispers the child’s name over and over, and somehow that seems the greatest privilege in the world. She has a daughter, and a husband, and she can say their names over and over and know they’ll never leave.
(Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose)
She smells of soap, and something soft and sweet like talcum powder. Belle has never held a baby before, but this smell is so familiar. She’s been waiting lifetimes for this child, who curls into her breast and sleeps dreamlessly, like the simplest thing in the world.
The bed depresses next to her, and there’s an arm around her shoulders. She shivers at the warm, soft, deep voice in her ear, when it murmurs that she is loved, and she is beautiful, and that their daughter is a princess in disguise.
His long fingers caress the top of their baby’s head, and her name is whispered like a prayer.