Rumplestiltskin pushes out of the shop, desperate for fresh air. The door rattles on its hinges as he stumbles across the sidewalk, the visitor bell banging angrily against the weather-beaten wood. Blinding sunlight burns his bloodshot eyes and the crisp, clean breeze is a welcome shock to his lungs after the oppressive, stale air of the shop.
He had prowled around the store like a stray dog after he left Belle at the library, listless and unproductive. It’s strange; working inside the shop for hours never troubled him before. The store is normally his sanctuary, the one place in this world where he can disappear to gather his thoughts and make plans. But this afternoon, the thick cloak of dust and the sharp crackle of magic in the air offers little comfort.
He is, as Belle had noted on the deck of the Jolly Roger two weeks ago, sick of the sight of himself.
There’s a decided chill in the early autumn breeze, and he rubs his hands together to warm them. With no destination in mind, he begins a slow, aimless walk down Main Street, the slight rustling of golden leaves his only companions on the empty sidewalk.
The quiet streets are another indication of how isolated his life has become. No one comes to the shop to browse or make deals anymore, not since he’s been associating with the Evil Queen. But Regina’s doppelganger is little more than a means to an end, and he’s already grown bored with her petty schemes and pouty seductions. He cares only about his unborn son, or so he keeps telling himself.
The endless cycle of his thoughts brings him back to Belle.
Their confrontation in the library earlier today left him exhausted. He’d stalked her, intent on dosing her with magic to accelerate her pregnancy so he could claim his son. Anything to keep his child from hating him the way Baelfire had learned to. Now his vast collection of mistakes has pushed his wife away again, perhaps for the final time.
Cold sweat prickles the back of his neck while the soles of his shoes scrape heavily along the sidewalk, grief washing over him in nauseating waves that bring the taste of iron to his tongue.
Once, Belle saw him as a man she loved and believed in; now she sees only a monster.
He bites down on the inside of his cheek and steps over the curb and into the street. The smell of her fear in the elevator made him sick. Fear. It’s as pervasive a poison as he has ever known. Hatred is so much easier to endure.
Don’t give up, Rumple. I never wanted you to be perfect. I just wanted you to try. Huddled against the back wall of the elevator, Belle had lit a spark of hope in his dark, shriveled heart. While he clutched that vial of magic like a lifeline, she offered him a choice, a chance to make things right. Only Belle would offer precious gift of another chance even in her most desperate hour. He’d accepted, seizing the undeserved chance, then returning the vial back to the shop and hiding it away.
Maybe if he tried harder to explain he could have made Belle understand why he needs to keep control, needs to keep this child safe after allowing Baelfire to slip away. He shakes his head at himself. The time for excuses is long since passed.
Shoulders sagging, he continues to plod down Main Street, stopping in front of the diner. The tables are mostly vacant, but through the window, a familiar flutter of pink fabric catches his attention. He steps closer and peers through the tattered, graying blinds.
Belle. She’s perched on a stool at the counter, nursing a cup of tea. The chance to study her is too much to resist and he moves nearer still, stepping beneath the ivy-covered trellis and into the shadow of a boxed pine tree. She reminds him of a wounded bird, her cream sweater drawn around her shoulders like battered wings that have forgotten how to flap. She takes a tiny sip of tea, and he wonders when she last ate. She should be gaining weight with the pregnancy, but she’s thin—almost gaunt—and deathly pale. All the joyful expectation of motherhood has drained from her face.
Morning sickness is partly to blame for her wanness, he knows, but he imagines the strife between them is more the problem. He’s vain enough to hope she still misses him, even after all he has done. He imagines her all alone, her stomach pitching in the bowels of Hook’s ship, with no one to hold her hair back or to bring her crackers when her belly gurgles and cramps. Had she listened to the verses of poetry he’d recorded for her and their baby, or did she fling the tape out of a porthole where it would sink to the bottom of the sea? His gut twists in misery and he turns away from the window.
Venturing down Main Street had been a terrible idea.
He contemplates turning around and heading back to the shop when a shout ricochets through the thin walls of the restaurant.
Belle is standing in the middle of the diner, her teacup in pieces on the floor. In disbelief, Rumplestiltskin watches her belly begin to expand, rounding with their child. It’s fast, too fast, and another cry of pain and surprise pierces the silent street. Belle wraps her arms around her growing waist, confused, small, and utterly terrified.
The tea. Someone dosed the tea. Regina? Zelena? No. Deep down, he knows it’s the Evil Queen. She’d gone into his shop, stolen the magic, and broken her promise not to harm Belle or the baby. He steels himself for a fight. He’s pathetic excuse for a knight in shining armor, but Belle is vulnerable and the Evil Queen doesn’t have a shred of mercy in her soul.
Gritting his teeth, he charges up the steps and through the diner door.
The pirate and Ms. Swan are hovering over Belle, but they draw back when he approaches. It's as if they never expected him to come this close and don’t know what to do now that he has. Ignoring their challenging stares, he grasps Belle’s quaking shoulders, his own hands shaking with uncontrollable fear. He doesn’t care what they think. All he sees and cares about is Belle.
“Rumple!” Belle gasps, her eyes dark with pain and accusation. “What’s happening? How could…” She cuts herself off with a gasp, the words swelling into another urgent, desperate cry.
He’d been standing right outside when it happened, and the realization of what she must be thinking strikes him like an iron to the head. His grip on her shoulders slackens and he draws his hands gently down her arms to cup her elbows. “Belle, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I know how things must seem, but it wasn’t me. Gods, please believe me.”
The pirate crowds in again, a black eyebrow disappearing into his hairline. “You alright, love?” he asks Belle.
She shakes her head and splays her hands over her belly, her breath coming in harsh pants. The golden shackle he placed on her wrist catches the light filtering through the blinds and his stomach pitches.
No wonder she doesn’t believe him. His past actions haven’t exactly inspired trust.
Rumplestiltskin stumbles back. He wants to tell Hook to mind his own business, but Belle has gone to the pirate for assistance before and she’s the sole occupant of his bloody ship. The fact that it’s Hook rubs salt in wounds both old and fresh but this is Belle’s decision—he won’t rob her of any more choices. Her chin wobbles with indecision, sadness and pain mingling with hope in her expressive face.
Holding her frightened gaze, he holds his hands up in supplication, his palms upturned and empty. With a twitch of his fingers and a puff of smoke, the golden mistake around her arm disappears. He was so frightened of losing another son that he’d created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“I would never hurt you, Belle. Never!” ‘ At least not intentionally,’ he chides himself because to his deep shame he knows he has hurt her . “Please, let me help you. Let me help our son.”
Her blue eyes blaze like flint striking rock while she weighs his words and his heart hammers against his ribs, every staccato beat willing her to accept the truth.
Please, Belle. I did not dose you with that magic.
All at once the space between them is gone, and his arms are full of his wife. She sags against him, her soft lips brushing his collar and he is surrounded by the fragrance of crushed rose petals. The swell of her now-enormous belly presses against his stomach and their son delivers a kick to his gut so strong it steals his breath. The wonder of holding Belle with their unborn child between them is indescribable, and a hot tear traces a line down his cheek.
Belle turns to Hook and Miss Swan who are still standing there, gaping like it’s the bloody circus. “I’ll be fine,” she tells them. “My husband is here.”
Husband. So much enmity between them, yet her trust gives him a confidence that no power in all the realms has ever offered. Ignoring the open-mouthed shock of Granny’s patrons, he sweeps Belle up into his arms and carries her out the door.
He cuts across the street toward the alleyway where his car is parked, and she buries her face against his neck with a sob. If the way she’s pinching his shoulders is any indication, her labor pain has quickly spiraled into unbearable. Her cries remind him of the agony he felt when he hobbled his foot so he could go home to meet Baelfire, and it occurs to him this moment isn’t so different.
Sometimes, whether the battlefield is on literal ground or raging within the soul, a man has to walk away from the war to protect his family.
Even carrying Belle, the return walk to the shop is twice as fast as the one he made to Granny’s. Adrenaline makes his steps quick and purposeful, and within five minutes he’s ducking her head into the passenger seat of the Cadillac and speeding in the direction of Storybrooke General. From her short, harsh breaths and her iron grip on his hand, he knows there isn’t much time before their son makes his grand entrance into the world.
While he drives, one hand holding on to Belle while he steers the car with the other, it dawns on him: never once did it occur to him to use magic.
Another contraction seizes her and she tightens her hold on Rumple’s hand, squeezing until his knuckles pop and sweat rolls down her temples. The pain is excruciating. Gods, it feels like she’s being ripped in two!
She can’t believe she’s sitting in a hospital bed preparing to deliver their son. The baby wasn’t supposed to come for another six months, but why is she surprised? Here in Storybrooke, strange has always been the norm. Even so, she hasn’t taken a single lesson on breathing, done a baby boot camp, or even bought a crib. All she has to welcome their child is a chocolate brown teddy bear and a tiny, baby blanket the color of daffodils which once belonged to her. But thanks to all her babysitting for Snow and David, she’s an expert at changing diapers.
“That was a big one,” she confesses, releasing Rumple’s hand when the pain ebbs again.
“I could tell.” His smile is tender but strained when he leans closer to wipe her sweaty forehead with a cold cloth. She inhales, tucking his familiar scent around her like a blanket. The sweet, cloying odor of magic is blessedly absent; there’s only his crisp, clean aftershave that smells of the ocean on a winter’s day.
The calm, patient Rumplestiltskin at her side is nothing like the one who cornered her in the elevator this morning. It’s as if by accepting his help, a switch has been flipped, establishing an instant if tenuous truce between them. They won’t be able to put themselves back together all at once, but joining forces for the sake of their son is a welcome beginning.
It must seem like madness to others, her consuming love for this man.
She may be in labor, but she’s not blind. Leaving the diner with him today had stunned everyone in the restaurant into silence. When they arrived at the hospital together, the nurses had done double-takes. Gossip travels like lightning in Storybrooke, and by now everyone in town has heard about the trouble between them.
After the warnings and visions from Morpheus, after she’d gone to Emma for counsel and protection, after the golden cuff he fastened on her wrist to keep her under his thumb, after the library elevator this morning, logic dictates that her husband should be the last person she turns to for help.
But with Rumplestiltskin, things are always more than they appear.
Oh, he’s always excelled at hiding behind a mask and he’s certainly fooled her more than once, but there was nothing contrived or calculated about his panic at Granny’s. No matter how hard he tries to conceal his emotions or how much he toys with words, he somehow betrays his tenderness to her. She isn’t sure if it was something in his eyes, the set of his jaw, or his voice...one look at his stricken face and all her doubts were swept away.
Besides, she’s done more than her share of bricklaying to build this wall between them. Unaware of her jumbled thoughts, Rumple pats her cheek with the cloth and grips her hand, preparing her to brace for the next contraction. She hangs onto him with a grateful smile that probably looks more like a grimace.
“Another contraction is coming,” Mother Superior announces, watching the monitor from the foot of the bed. “Belle, dear, it really would have been better if you had come to the convent to have the baby.”
Belle rolls her eyes—if anyone knows another bloody contraction is coming, she does. She sits up to prepare for another onslaught of pain. She appreciates Blue’s kindness, but her advice and presence are both misplaced. A tick of annoyance flashes in Rumple’s jaw and he glares at Blue, his hands flexing into tight knots where they rest on her shoulders. Belle sends him a pleading look. She cannot handle a Reul Ghorm versus Dark One confrontation right now.
“Little late to be changing locations,” a voice cuts in.
Belle breathes an audible sigh of relief. For once, Doctor Whale’s interruption is welcome.
He edges Blue out of the way, pulling up the sheet examine Belle. “This baby is coming now,” Whale says. “Time to push, Belle.”
The dreaded contractions shift almost on command, shooting up her back and tightening her belly until they’re piling up one on top of the other and she can’t draw a clean breath through the agony. Can this be right? The What to Expect book warned that giving birth is painful, but all the baby books in the realms couldn’t have prepared her. Nothing about this experience feels natural. She wants her books (no, not that one !) and her bed and her tea.
Then she remembers Rumple is here. Yes. He can take her home now, this minute, and they can forget all about having a baby and pretend the last three months were a long, twisted nightmare. “Rumple,” she wails, seizing his lapels and dragging him toward her. “I can’t! I can’t do this!”
One hand covers hers where she’s clawing at his suit coat, while the other strokes her sticky, sweaty hair away from her face. “Yes, you can, Belle.”
“No!” She grabs for his shoulders again, shaking her head. How can he be so calm? The pain is unbearable and she’s never been so tired. “I want to go home,” she wheedles. “Can’t you take me home?”
He cradles her face between his hands, his thumbs stroking down her neck in gentle sweeps. “Look at me. Look right here, sweetheart.” She focuses on her husband, drawn in by the gentle pitch of his voice and the golden flecks in his whiskey-colored eyes. “You are the most incredible woman, the bravest person, I have ever known. You can do anything. You can do this. You will do this, and then we—I mean you—will go home.”
Exasperated, she sticks out her tongue, vaguely aware she’s being childish and petulant, but in too much pain to care. “Don’t leave me.”
“I’m right here,” he assures her, kissing her damp cheek. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Doctor Whale orders her to push, and she grips Rumple’s hand and bears down. Through the haze of pain and over the sound of her own screams, she somehow registers his voice in her ear telling her over and over, “My darling, my life, I love you.”
I love you.
Belle is magnificent, more courageous during this whole ordeal than he could have imagined. When their son appears, slippery, warm, and impossibly small, Rumplestiltskin can’t help but grin when he howls his first gasping cry.
Nurses swarm the birthing chamber, eager to examine the baby and check on Belle. There’s no purpose for him at her bedside any longer and before he knows it, he’s standing outside the door again and feeling like a stranger. He drifts through the hospital corridors for an unknown amount of time, finally slumping down on an out-of-the-way staircase in the back corner of the building.
He longs to see Belle and hold his son, but the fear of being rejected looms large and strong. The panic has passed, her labor is over. And after he almost destroyed their family and any hope of a happy future, he can’t imagine her welcoming him into their son’s life when she returns to her senses.
Besides, he has work to do. The Evil Queen needs to be dealt with for dosing Belle’s tea. Dammit, he should have destroyed the vial instead of hiding it away. Torn between vengeance and staying put, he prepares to teleport, resolved to defend his family. Protecting them is the least he can do.
Shit. He lowers his hands and scowls at David Nolan. “I’m not dealing today.”
The princeling has the audacity to look offended. “You think I stalked all over this hospital looking for you because I want something?”
He’s reminded of the day he bribed David to deliver the tape filled with poems to the Jolly Roger. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” he says, feeling peevish and stubborn.
“I’m just the messenger again.” Nolan holds up his hands. “Belle’s asking for you.”
All the anger drains from him, fury pushed out by worry. “Oh gods, something’s wrong! Is it Belle? Our son?”
“Relax, Gold. Everyone’s doing fine. Mary Margaret is sitting with Belle. She’s supposed to be resting but she won’t stop asking questions. And every other one is ‘Have you seen Rumple?’” His smile is wry. “Belle needs you.”
David is still babbling, but Rumplestiltskin is already halfway down the hallway on the way back to his family. Belle needs you. Three words have never meant more.
Even though he’s been summoned, he hovers in the doorway, twisting his wedding ring on his finger. Belle is rocking their tiny son in her arms, cooing softly while the babe blinks up at his mother’s face with wide, trusting eyes. He barely notices when Mary Margaret slips out the door, murmuring something about going for a cup of coffee. He studies Belle’s profile, radiant in a crush of autumn light, and sees a remarkable peace.
A portrait of true love.
“Rumple!” She’s caught him spying, and her faintly scolding tone snaps him out of his trance. “Where did you go? You promised not to leave.”
“I’m sorry, Belle. I thought you meant during…while...” He makes a helpless gesture. Will she never understand? No matter how hard he tries, he’s no good at being a father or a husband.
“Come.” Her smile is wide and welcoming, and she lifts the baby in his direction. “Hold your son.”
He drags a chair next to the bed and gathers his son against his heart. Love, gratitude, and fear rush over him in unbridled waves while he inspects every inch of skin to make sure the accelerating potion hasn’t harmed the baby in any way.
Belle giggles when he draws back his tiny pixie ears to look behind them. “Ten fingers, ten toes,” she informs him. “I counted them all. Twice.”
They sit together for a long time in a silence he finds deeply comforting. He can’t recall sitting this way with her since their idyllic days at the Dark Castle, when he would spin at the wheel and she would lounge on her velvet settee, reading by the light of a crackling fire. The baby sleeps in his arms, cooing sighs punctuated by the occasional sucking moue. Both hands clutch one of his fingers with surprising strength and he simply stares, marveling at the life he and Belle have created. He’d forgotten this part—how someone so little and helpless could also be so strong.
As shadows creep along the walls, signaling the end of this long, strange, miraculous day, he breaks the silence. “Belle, in the diner. How did you know...”
“It wasn’t you who dosed my tea?” She finishes the thought for him, gnawing her lower lip the way she does whenever she’s trying to solve a riddle. “Because I know you, Rumple. Better than you know yourself sometimes, I think. In the elevator, when I asked you to stop, you did.”
Not trusting himself to speak, he nods, feeling as stiff as a wooden puppet. He’d stood on the precipice of complete destruction and been yanked back from the brink by the one person who has always loved him—scars, sins, and all.
“At the diner, it was the look on your face. Terror. I knew you hadn’t done it because you looked as frightened as I felt.” She leans over the baby to cup his face and he rests his cheek in her hand, trusting her touch, allowing himself to be held. “I knew you could never bring yourself to hurt me.”
Her lips tremble with exhaustion and emotion, but her eyes are clear and untroubled. It’s as though she’s truly seeing him again—the real Rumplestiltskin. For the first time since they learned of the pregnancy in the Underworld, he feels as though he has stepped out into the sun.
“I would like to offer you a deal,” he ventures, shifting the baby back into her arms.
She raises an eyebrow at his formal tone and waits for him to continue.
But hesitation still hangs between them, and it’s best not to ask for too much. If she will only give him one thing, he’ll leave them alone for now. He doesn’t know how long he can bear to stay away, to make good on this desperate bargain. Despite his best intentions, his promises always wind up broken.
“All I want is...I just want to know our son’s name.”
“That’s the deal?” Her lip curls at the corner and she seems almost amused. “I can’t tell you… not yet.”
He swallows around the lump in his throat, wondering what he can offer her that she might consider accepting. Clearly, he hadn’t thought this bargain through. “What would you like in exchange?” he asks tightly.
“Oh, Rumple.” She makes a muffled sound somewhere between a giggle and a sob. “I can’t tell you his name because I don’t know. He’s our son. Don’t you think his name is something we should discuss and decide on together?”
The tension in his gut begins to unwind and he relaxes, realizing that she’s trying her best to include him, to press forward with honesty and let the past flutter away. Love floods his heart, making his chest ache. His brave, darling, wonderful wife.
He dares a flippant smile. “You must have a name or two in mind. A scholar like you. Perhaps a hero you’ve read about in the pages of a favorite book?” Although he hasn’t earned the right, he can’t help teasing her a bit in return, enlivened by the fragile peace forming between them. Whether the peace will last remains to be seen, but he will cherish every shining moment without regret.
“What about Rumplestiltskin? For a name?”
He waits for the punchline then snorts when she reclines against her pillows, grinning as though this is the best suggestion ever. “Belle! Be serious. That’s not a name for a baby.”
She lifts her chin. “Why not? It’s your name and he’s your son. I know your father made you feel as though your name was a curse, but maybe this would help you see your name in a more positive light?”
“We’re practically begging for Dark One Junior jokes.” He pinches the bridge of his nose, wondering if Whale had given her too many drugs post-labor. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Belle, and please don’t take offense at this, but I think the ordeal of giving birth has suspended your better judgment.”
“You’re probably right.” She hums in thought. “How about Gideon?”
“Aha! From Her Handsome Hero .” He nods his approval. “Gideon.” He tests the flavor of their son’s name on his tongue and finds it pleasing. “I like it.”
“Then it’s settled.” She beams down at the baby. “Gideon. And for a middle name, perhaps Baelfire? We’ll regale our son with stories of heroes from books and real life.”
“Perfect,” he croaks, sounding like the bullfrogs that splash in the pond behind the cabin. “You were amazing today, Belle,” he says. “So brave.”
“Me? I felt like I was falling apart,” she says, shaking her head. But her face lights up at his praise, and he vows to encourage her more often. “You were the brave one, Rumple. Coming to my rescue in the diner, getting me to the hospital. You didn’t even snap at Blue when she poked her nose in.”
“Afterward, I turned her into a snail in the corridor,” he says drily.
They both laugh as a nurse bustles into the room, clipboard in hand. “You the father?” she asks him.
He flinches as he nods, expecting derision, even to be thrown out of the room. But her plump hands thrust a clipboard and a pen in his face. “Congratulations! Fill these out, please.”
Forms. Documents requesting names, dates, address. He glances at Belle, who is concentrating on helping Gideon to latch on to feed. The awkward intimacy of the moment makes his face suffuse with heat, so he focuses on the paperwork, filling out every blank space except Mother’s Address until he hears contented suckling noises.
“Could you, ah...what address should I give?” he asks quietly, pen poised in the air.
Belle looks up at him through lowered lashes, love and expectation radiant in her face. She covers his hand with her palm. “I was hoping...maybe...45 Shady Maple Lane?”
She wants to go home. He drops the pen on the floor.
Does he really dare hope? Bringing Belle and their son back under his roof is a dream long since shattered. Still, he knows better than to get ahead of himself; the Victorian is a huge, rambling place, and co-parenting in the same house isn’t the same as living as husband and wife and being a family. Even so, he can’t suppress the fresh round of tears pricking his eyes.
“Belle, nothing would make me happier, but are-are you sure?” He eyes her carefully, as though she will snatch the words back at any moment. Perhaps she’s not yet strong enough to be making these decisions.
“I’m sure,” she says with a brilliant smile. “If you’ll have us.”
“Of course I’ll have you, sweetheart. Both of you.” Overjoyed, he lifts her hand to his mouth and kisses her knuckles, bathed golden in the fading evening light, then nuzzles the top of Gideon’s downy head.
Apologies, declarations, and decisions can wait. His family—his everything—is coming home.
Today, the promise of tomorrow is all Rumplestiltskin needs.