Mr. Gold could not have imagined a quieter day that rainy afternoon in Storybrooke, Maine. Their cursed corner of the world was sleepy under the light mist that washed the streets and the sharp cold that blew in with it. So it was to his surprise that anything out of the ordinary might happen while he sat behind the cash register and kept his ledger of loans, and it was even more startling when it happened in the form of young Henry Mills shouldering his way into the antiques shop.
“Good afternoon, Henry. To what do I owe the pleasure?” asked Mr. Gold, smiling gently at the bright eyed boy’s face. He did not get many visits from young Mr. Mills, but he did enjoy him, no matter how much he reminded him of his own son. He was a sharp child, bits of his mother and grandparents sparkling through at the best of times. Rain droplets dusted his winter coat and school pack, and as he approached the counter, Gold leaned his elbows on the glass pane and clasped his hands together, pointing at the young one. “Especially it not being three o’clock yet.”
Henry winced, curling his thumbs beneath the straps of his backpack. He glanced over his shoulder to the door before looking back at Mr. Gold, and it was only then that the shadowy antique dealer noticed the genuine concern in the boy’s face. “What’s the matter, lad?”
“I need help,” Henry said haltingly, pausing before gently setting down his backpack. He then turned and ran back to the door, peeking out through the panes before flipping the sign from “Open” to “Closed.”
Mr. Gold tilted his head as Henry walked back, taking note that he seemed to have something bulky hidden inside his windbreaker. When he met Mr. Gold’s gaze, Henry looked near tears. “I know who you are, Mr. Gold,” he paused, taking a moment to look down and rub his eyes with a little child’s fists, sniffling. “I know you’re Rumpelstiltskin.”
The name alone was enough to knock the breath from him, but he remained impassive, his smile gentle. “Is this- ah, Operation Viper?”
“Right, of course.”
“No, not really,” Henry looked miserable, wrapping his arms around the front of himself. “See, I was helping Miss Blanchard at the hospital and- and I did something... bad,” Mr. Gold just nodded for him to continue, and the boy bit his lip for a long moment before mumbling, “Can you keep a secret?”
Mr. Gold stared at the child before him, his throat tightening. “Henry, if you’re in trouble or hurt, you need to find your mother-”
“No!” Henry shook his head quickly, his brown eyes going wide. “She’d never believe me!”
“Believe what, lad?” Mr. Gold leaned forward, furrowing his brow. He was racking his brain to think of what this could entail, but the last he’d heard on the matter, Henry was quite happy with his birth mother being elected as Sheriff. “I’m sure it’s not bad as all that.”
Henry’s eyes welled up with tears, his lip trembling. “I think I killed her!”
Mr. Gold startled at the words, his knee banging against the wooden siding of the counter, rattling the delicate treasures within. He groaned and leaned over himself, his hand immediately grasping his knee in pain, and hissed as he tried to massage the feeling back into it. He was only dimly aware of Henry unzipping his jacket and setting something atop the counter.
When Mr. Gold looked up, eye level with the counter, what he saw stopped his heart.
It was a glass butterfly jar, and inside it lay a very small sleeping girl, no bigger than the size of his thumb.
It was Rumpelstiltskin’s true love.
An extremely and very tiny, little Belle.
For a long moment, he had no words, simply staring at the little thing within the jar. She was curled up on her side, her head pillowed in her arms and knees tucked up to her chest. Her mass of brown curls concealed her face, but he’d recognize her anywhere.
“I didn’t mean to, I swear,” Henry whispered fearfully at the older man’s silence, his words falling out of him. “I just could hear her in that basement so I tried to open it and when I did, something happened, a crash and a huge whooshing sound and then the door fell in and she was shrinking and I couldn’t stop it and then she seemed to get really dizzy and fell down!”
Mr. Gold stared at the jar, looking between his tiny sleeping love to the teary eyed boy in front of him. After a dazed moment of listening to the blood rush in his ears, Gold curled his fingers over the handle of his cane as he scooted closer to the counter, swallowing hard. When he spoke, his voice was hushed as he leant his chin to hover above the counter, looking in at the little thing beyond the glass. “You didn’t kill her, lad. She’s asleep.”
Henry seemed about to pass out, leaning his chin on the counter opposite Gold, whispering, “Are you sure?”
Rumpelstiltskin nodded, tilting his head to the side as he watched the tiny creature. She was definitely breathing, slow and deep. A million questions raced through his mind at what this could mean, why it had happened, how it was possible, but the only thought that rang above all the others was the simple fact his Belle was alive and unharmed.
Tiny, but whole.
After an intense moment of just staring at the sleeping girl, Henry raised his face up, both hands curling on the edge of the counter. “Is this... it’s magic, isn’t it?”
Mr. Gold nodded absentmindedly, nigh physically unable to tear his eyes away. Thousands of questions and possibilities ran through his mind. In the very precise layout of the curse and it's breaking, this had never been something he had prepared for. What did one say when their once-dead lover returned alive, the size of their thumb? He looked at the boy, mouth dry as a bone, and grappled for one question at a time, asking, “Henry... how- why did you come to me with her?”
“She told me to,” Henry said honestly, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Right before she fainted, she told me to find Rumpelstiltskin. It took me awhile to figure it out, but...”
Mr. Gold nodded, rubbing his mouth in thought. “And you said she was in the basement of the hospital?”
Henry nodded the affirmative. “I tried opening the door, and when I did, it... I don’t know what happened, actually,” he winced. “It was like the door exploded or something.”
“Interesting,” Mr. Gold waited a beat, glancing back down at Belle in her jar before looking up at Henry. “Well, that’ll be all.”
“Off with you, lad, I have work to do. Obviously.”
“But-” Mr. Gold walked around the counter and reached down to hand the boy his backpack. “Wait- how does she know you? Who is she? Are you going to help her get back to her regular size?”
“She is none of your concern now, Henry,” Mr. Gold said patiently.
“Mr. Gold, I just gave you a tiny person in a jar. The least you could do is answer my questions.”
Rumpelstiltskin frowned down at him, knowing he was right. The boy did know, and was going to ultimately be the key to getting the savior to believe the truth of the curse. Was it not for the young Mr. Mills, he would not know Belle was in such a state- let alone was still alive . His thoughts must have played out on his face, because Henry beamed up at him. “You owe me.”
“It seems so. Fine,” Rumpelstiltskin put his hand on the boy’s back as they walked slowly to the door. The words were harder to speak aloud than he anticipated. “In... in the enchanted forest, she was my caretaker.”
Henry frowned in thought. “What’s her name?”
Mr. Gold withdrew his hand and flipped the sign back to “open.” Leave it to the golden grandchild of Prince Charming and Snow White to be so damn inquisitive and ask all the right questions. With a pained sigh, Mr. Gold muttered, “Henry, you know you mustn't tell a soul about this.”
“Not even Emma?”
“No, especially not your mother,” Mr. Gold paused, glancing out the window. “She’s not really ready. If we want to get her to believe, it must be thought through and tactful.”
“Right, tactful, that’s a good idea,” Henry nodded seriously, his hands holding onto the straps of his backpack before looking up at Mr. Gold. “But what was her name?”
His heart, as old and unbeating as it often times felt, strained in his chest at the thought alone. When he turned to the young boy to answer, a small clinking sound from across the room froze them both in their places.
“Belle!” a tiny voice called out, muted against glass. Both sorcerer and prince turned to see the tiny girl in the jar rapping her fists against the container and hopping up and down. “My name is Belle!”
Henry was there in a flash, leaning up on the counter and popping the lid of the jar open. Mr. Gold hurried right behind him, moving back around the counter as Henry tipped the jar over slowly and carefully so that Belle could step out. She put her hands on the rim to steady herself, yet somehow still tripped across the edge. Rumpelstiltskin put his hand out quickly to catch her before she could roll off the side of the counter, his heart beating like a hammer as he caught his little love.
Belle threw her arms around his thumb for a moment to regain her balance as he lifted his hand up to eye level. His girl, once dead, was alive and in the palm of his hand.
“Belle?” Rumpelstiltskin’s voice shook perilously.
The girl blew matted, fly away brown curls out of her eyes, throwing them over her shoulder while keeping one arm firmly around his thumb as she leaned against it before beaming up at him with the brightest eyes he’d ever seen since she’d pulled down his curtains. “Hello, Rum!”
“Her name is Belle?” Henry deadpanned. “As in the lady from Beauty and the Beast?”
“Are you alright, dearie?” Rumpelstiltskin asked softly, trying to steady his hand to keep from shaking as he held her. “How do you feel?”
“A little dizzy,” she admitted, sagging against his thumb until she sat down.
Against everything he was feeling, Rumpelstiltskin smiled and felt his eyes sting. “You’re real- you’re alive,” he whispered, sitting back on the stool at the counter.
“Of course I am,” Belle laughed before wrapping her other arm around his thumb and hugging tightly, pressing her cheek to his skin. “Did you think me a dream, Rumpelstiltskin?”
“Oh, I always have,” Mr. Gold whispered softly, his chest hurting in the most exquisite way. She’d always possessed the power of giving him the most tender of heartbeats.
“Wait,” Henry put his hands up on the counter. “You mean... you mean you’re the beast?”
Rumpelstiltskin shot Henry a dirty look, but Belle turned to look at the other person in the room and smiled brightly. “Oh, hello again!” Belle scooted across Rumpelstiltskin’s hand until she sat with her legs swinging off the side of his palm. “Thank you so much- I didn’t think anyone would ever hear me down there.”
Henry looked sheepish, “Sorry about your size.”
“You tried to save me,” Belle said comfortingly. Leave it to his Belle to be able to comfort others when she was the one who’d been changed and manipulated by magic-again-against her will.
“I hope we can find a way to make you normal sized again,” Henry said hopefully, then smiled shyly. “I’m Henry- Henry Mills.”
“Oh,” Belle paused, glancing up at Rumpelstiltskin for help.
“The grandchild of Snow White and Prince James,” Mr. Gold supplied kindly.
“Right,” Belle nodded before smiling back at Henry. “Very nice to meet you, Mr. Mills.”
“So...” Henry glanced between the two of them, his eyes scrutinizing. “Does this mean you’re Rumpelstiltskin’s true love?”
Mr. Gold was sure he could’ve heard a pin drop in the room, and reflexively went very still at the words. Belle tilted her head, keeping her little back to him at all times as she kicked her feet back and forth in the air. “Well,” she murmured doubtfully, and was only barely loud enough for him to hear. “Well, yes,” she sounded so nervous that Rumpelstiltskin felt his heart constrict. Then again, reflecting upon their last encounter, he was surprised that she could find it in herself to even talk about love, let alone admit she still felt it for an old twisted monster like him. Even the size of a doll, she was braver than he could ever hope to be. “Yes, I am.”
“Why were you in the basement?”
“I don’t know,” Belle shrugged gently, glancing back over her shoulder at Rumpelstiltskin. He slowly lowered his hand to the counter and let her step off his palm, brushing her what he then realized was a hospital gown off. Her grey wool tights and white shoes made her appear even clumsier than he remembered. “I’ve just always been there as far as I can remember, until I heard you in the hallway and... now, here I am.”
That was something Gold would be investigating very, very soon.
“Is there...” Henry paused, looking up at Mr. Gold. “Is there anything I can do?”
“You’ve done the most of anyone I know, m’boy,” Rumpelstiltskin said, looking down at Belle as she hopped over the lid of the jar, peering down into the glass case at the twinkling treasures below. “I thought she was gone forever.”
Belle looked up at him quickly, her eyes widening, but she bit her lip instead of asking questions, though he could tell she wanted to. There were hundreds of questions he wanted answers for, too, but there would be time for that. For the time being, his true love was in a dire need of proper clothing, food, and something warmer to wear, and those were all problems he felt took priority first. In such a large, cursed world, anything and everything could happen, and with his true love as tiny as a fairy, Rumpelstiltskin would protect his little Belle until he could find a way to break her spell, just as she had for him once upon a time.