There are chains.
The beast lies in shackles on the floor.
She remembers. She remembers well.
My power means more to me than you.
She thought he had changed. The look on his face when he knew her, but she didn’t know him, told her he would have moved worlds for her. But then look on his face when she knew him, when she watched him, when she realised what he had done.
Magic is power.
Anyone with less restraint would have pushed him down the damned well.
Instead, she chose to hit him over the head with a rock.
It took effort to drag him back to the cabin where they had parked the car, but anger fuelled her more than love, devotion, happiness ever could. And oh, there was a lot of anger, building and burning through her.
They could have been happy!
Instead, he’s lying on the floor.
She doesn’t know why he had rope and duct tape and little metal cuffs so close at hand, and some part of her doesn’t want to know, but they’ve served their purpose and he’s lying on the floor with his hands pinioned behind him, and his legs bound, and she staring at his stick.
It’s so tempting to thump the idiot with it.
She turns a chair around, sits on it, leaning her arms on the back. He needs to know just how cross she is with him, and she’s willing to wait for him to realise it. She folds her arms on the back of the chair, one hand still holding onto the cane, and rests her chin on them, just watching him.
It takes a while for him to come around. There’s some blood on his head.
She almost feels bad.
She would have felt worse if he hadn’t just opened Pandora’s box all over again.
With one hand, she turns the stick and gives him a sharp poke in the ribs. He groans, tried to roll onto his back and is stopped by the bound hands. She sees the momentary panic as consciousness comes back to him, and then the relief when he sees her, and then…
Then, there’s the confusion.
He looks like himself again, and that really isn’t what she wanted to see. He tries to sit up and she puts the cane hard to the centre of his chest, pushing him back. “Stay put,” she says. “You have some explaining to do.”
His eyes flick around the room. He knows where they are. He has magic now, and he could get himself out of his bonds in a moment, but he’s willing to play this by her rules. He’s watching and wary and she knows he knows that he’s made a mistake somewhere.
He seems to be the master of them.
“Belle,” he repeats quietly.
She swats his chest sharply with the cane. “Why?” she asks in a whisper. “Why, after everything, after we find each other, why did you bring it back?”
He wants to tell her, she knows that he does, but now, now, he’s seeing a new side, a dangerous side, and he’s still her little coward. She rises from the chair, crosses the floor, kneels and one bond at a time, releases him as she never could in the forest.
His hands clasp at her, as if she’s his last grip on sanity.
“Belle,” he whispers. “Belle, there was a plan, long before you… I thought… you weren’t meant to be a part of this…”
“Your plan,” she says quietly, not encouraging his hold, but not resisting it either. “What was your intent?”
He flinches as if stung. “My intent,” he echoes. “It doesn’t seem to matter what it was.” He looks into her face, desperate and urgent. “Belle, this had to be done. How can I protect you if I’m only a man?”
She gazes at him steadily and calm. “You said yourself I was never meant to be a part in this,” she says quietly. “And now, it’s to protect me?” She lifts her hands, frames his face with them. “Did you ever ask if I wanted your protection, Rumpelstiltskin?”
His lips tremble and she knows his heart is racing, can feel the thrum of it in his skin.
“What can I do?” he asks, small, weak, just a man. “What can I do to make it right?”
She sits back on her heels. “Let it go,” she says quietly. “Kiss me. Make it go.”
For a moment, a heartbeat, she believes he might. He looks at her with such hunger and longing, and she knows he wants nothing more than to kiss her until the sun burns out of the sky and the world turns to ash.
But he doesn’t.
“Not yet,” he pleads, whispers. “Belle, not yet. There’s much to be done.”
“Your plan?” she says, and her voice sounds leaden, near dead.
His hands reach up to hold hers where they still rest against his face. “Once it’s done, then I’m yours, dearie.”
She looks back, blank and tired. She has thirty years of violated memories. She has his rejection from years gone by. And yet this, hurts more. She never believed he would come, and when he was there and weeping and holding her, even before she remembered, she knew there was deep emotion. He can have her, hold her, love her, right here, right now.
“I’m here now, Rumpelstiltskin,” she says quietly. “I might not be when it’s done.”
“Belle,” he whispers her name over and over like a prayer. “Belle, please. I can tell you everything, I swear. I must tell you everything.” His hands are shaking, desperate. “You were right, and I am a coward, but please, please promise you will listen?”
She looks at him, her Rumpelstiltskin, frail and weak despite all the magic in the world.
It’s everything that the night in the cell was not: he’s not silent, rigid, unbending. She’s not calm, cool and steady-handed. Everything is changed. He’s the one who could be cast out. She’s the one who could turn him away.
“I will listen,” she says quietly, “but this time, I can’t promise to stay.”
He nods, clasping her hands tight between his.
Once upon a time, he made a deal with her.
When you return, I’ll tell you my tale.
More than three decades later, he finally keeps his side of the deal.