As soon as he is free, he goes to the shop. He does not go to the house; she won’t look for him there. She will look for him among his things, the trappings of his past and the pasts of others, and there she finds him. There she gives him the dagger and his freedom, gives him her heart and her future.
His beautiful, good, trusting girl.
He leaves the jail and waits for relief, for that old familiar feeling of vindication to wash over him like a wave of red righteous anger. It doesn’t come. He’d avenged his son, kept his promise – surely he should feel better. He’d done what was necessary. He did what was right.
Halfway down the street, he is nearly sick.
She’d known where to look for him. He in turn knows where he will find her. In his absence, she has remained at his house. Their house. Their home. He stops on the front steps, leaning for a moment on the balustrade. He is tired, bone-weary, as though weighed down by some impossibly heavy burden. Several deep breaths later, he’s still not positive that he is ready to step inside.
In the early evening light, corners of the house are cast in shadow. He closes the door behind him as gently as he knows how. “Belle?” There is no answer, but his voice is soft and he doesn’t really expect one. The creak of the stairs beneath his feet is slight, but perhaps enough to alert her to his presence.
The linens drape over her body, clinging to the form of the woman he loves neither wisely nor well. “Rumple.” Half-sleep smudges her words; she dozed while waiting for him. He feels his black heart tighten like a fist. “Where have you been?” There is no accusation in her voice. He almost wishes there were.
The lie falls from his lips with frightening ease. “I went to see the baby.” He rests on the edge of the bed, marvelling that the weight in his chest doesn’t splinter the frame. She sits up, covers pooling around her waist. She is clothed, but barely. Her warm arms encircle him and he feels the barest heat of her mouth on his shoulder.
“Come to bed,” she whispers. She presses her forehead to his back and his throat tightens, choking against something that might be either confession or cry. “I’ve missed you.” She smells amazing. He wants to die.
He stands, the movement abrupt enough to throw her off balance. Before she can protest, he mutters something about cleaning himself up and leaves the room. He doesn’t look at her, doesn’t want to see the baffled pain in her lantern eyes. If he sees her, open and honest as she is, he will tell her everything.
In the bathroom, his knuckles go white as he grips the edges of the sink, finally failing to stave off the tide. He stifles the sound, gagging on his misery more than once, staring at his wretched reflection and hating himself so completely he can hardly stand it.
His tears disappear in the shower. He breathes. He tries to think of Bae. My boy is avenged, he assures himself. In his mind, his own voice sounds like a stranger. The price had to be paid. He tells himself that he believes it.
She is still awake and waiting when he emerges, hoping that the red rims of his eyes won’t be noticed in the darkness. He slides beneath the covers and she embraces him at once, her lips finding his with hunger that never ceases to amaze him. But the kiss tastes wrong, sour and undeserved, and after a moment he pulls away. She huffs, frustrated. He doesn’t blame her. “What is it?” she asks, tucking her face beneath his chin.
“It’s been a long day,” he finally mutters. He strokes her hair, tentative and placatory. His next words feel leaden. “We have the rest of our lives.”
Her satisfied hum buzzes against his throat. “Yes we do.” His free hand finds hers with a gentle squeeze. She is nearly asleep already. “I love you.” He grits his teeth.
When he replies in kind, the words burn his tongue.