"Ayana is doing her homework, Flynn is doing the dishes, and I'm putting my favorite godson to bed! Yes, I am! Yes, I am!"
In the background, she could hear her son let out a squeal as Rapunzel's voice assumed a childish tone that told her she was talking far more to Gideon than she was to her. It made her smile. The image of her best friend putting her son to bed in a scene that was far more domestic than she ever would have thought possible for the girl she'd once known in the Enchanted Forest who was once afraid of her own shadow. And when she considered just how long Rapunzel had been begging her to let her take Gideon for the weekend, she was pleased to hear it was going well.
"Well…I just wanted to check."
"Seriously, things are fine here!" Rapunzel insisted with a small laugh. "What are you doing checking and calling anyway? Wasn't the whole point of the weekend getaway to get away? Spend some time with your husband, remember what it was like to be married instead of just parents?"
She nodded, despite the fact that Rapunzel couldn't see the response. Yes, that was exactly what this trip was about, which was why she was sitting on their bed at the cabin, wearing a new black negligée that was unlike anything she'd worn for months even before Gideon. It was their one-year anniversary. They'd wanted to spend it together in the cabin, far enough to have some romantic distance, but close enough that neither of them would be far if problems arose either with Gideon or the town.
After they'd dropped Gideon off at Flynn's house, they'd come up into the woods. Rumple had made them a delicious dinner which they'd eaten by candlelight. He'd insisted on doing the dishes, she'd insisted on getting changed. But after she'd put her night gown on, she heard the water still running outside, seen her cell phone by the bed, and couldn't resist the urge to fill the time by checking in on their son. It was the longest time he'd been away from either of them…at least since he'd become a baby once more. She knew that he was safe with Rapunzel, but knowing it and feeling it were far different tasks.
"I know, I just...I wanted to check on him. It's only been a few hours, but it amazes me how much I miss him."
"Miss the crying?"
She gave a small snort. "Maybe not that, but at the same time…yes, even the crying."
"Well…worry not. He is being perfectly behaved and saving all his tears for when you come back. I think he actually..."
Rapunzel's voice faded as the door to their bedroom suddenly opened and her husband, the one she was supposed to be spending this time with, stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. Her heart pounded with the fear of discovery. This was supposed to be about them. He'd wanted it to be only them. And here she was talking on the phone with Rapunzel! She hadn't been trying to do it secretively...but she had hoped the call would be over by the time he'd finished the dishes.
She waited for one heartbeat to see what he'd do, how he'd react or who he'd say, but, to her astonishment and relief, he didn't seem surprised, or even upset. Instead, he looked at her on the bed, gave a small smirk and went to the dresser where he placed his watch and began to tug on his tie.
"...really likes it when Ayana does that. I think it terrifies Flynn how good she is with him."
"Tell him we say good night. And that we love him," she requested. "Only two more nights and we'll see him again."
There was a small pause on the other end, where she somehow know that Rapunzel knew what had just happened and she swore she could see her smiling.
"I don't know that he'll understand, but I'll tell him."
"He'll understand. And thank you again, for watching him."
"No problem. Just have you know…have fun tonight," she commented with amusement in her voice.
"Thanks, I'll talk to you later!" she blushed before hanging up quickly. "Sorry," she muttered in Rumple's direction as she tossed the cell phone back onto her bedside table. "I just had to..."
"It's completely understandable," Rumple muttered turning back to her and undoing the buttons at his cuffs. "How is our boy?"
She sighed but offered a smile. "Things are going well. We have nothing to worry about."
"But you are worried."
She should have tried to deny it, but it was only seconds until she let out a small chuckle and nodded. "I didn't know it was possible to worry all the time. Even when I'm not worried."
He smirked and gave a small nod of agreement.
Parenthood had changed them both, without a doubt. Even if he'd already been a parent, Gideon was different than Neal, not in a better or worse way. It was just different. He wasn't a single parent anymore or raising his son in a loveless marriage, and she sensed that was what had truly changed him this time around. He had someone he could rely upon now. She liked that about their marriage.
But this trip wasn't about parenthood, as Rapunzel had reminded her. It was about the pair of them. Not as parents but as a couple. Lovers. They'd had sex since they'd gotten back together six months ago, they'd fallen back in love almost as easily as the first time, but taking the time to be lovers once more, as carefree and wild as they had been during their first trip up here…they hadn't experienced that since their honeymoon, which always left a sour taste in her mouth when she considered what had followed. She wanted this to be new, a fresh start for their marriage. He'd been the one to insist they take this trip but she'd understood the necessity of it. And being alone in the cabin with him, suddenly she saw the benefits of it easily enough.
"Here," she muttered rising onto her knees and holding her arms open. "Let me."
All motions he'd been busy with stopped at her order and with little hesitation he took a step closer to meet her at the edge of their bed and offered his hands to her.
"You look lovely," he muttered as she worked one cuff free easily. "Any particular occasion?"
"Mmm, it's for my husband," she smirked freeing the second cuff and moving on to his tie. "It's our one-year anniversary."
"Ah…the first year…many say the most difficult year."
"Oh! Not us," she rejected with sarcasm. "We've had a picture-perfect marriage all year long."
"Is that so? You think he's earned a look like this then?"
"Certainly," she whispered placing the tie in his hand. But instead of moving away from her, or allowing him to go, she allowed her hands to roam up his chest and behind his neck. She placed her mouth along his neck and followed the curve of the collar bone that her untying and unbuttoning had uncovered. She listened to his sighs and moans, to the song of her heart beating against his own. Kissing was the perfect thing to distract her from the distance between them and their son. It amazed her, after all these months, that her fingers still instinctively reached for long locks, but she was getting used to enjoying the feel of this shorter spikier hair of his. It hadn't been her first choice, but now-
"Belle! Belle!" Instead of a sigh she was surprised to feel his arms at her elbows pushing her away so she could meet his eyes. "Before we get too far along...I have something for you."
Before she could comment about whether or not now was the right time he left her there, on her knees, to begin rummaging through his suitcase. She plopped herself down on the bed so hard it bounced beneath her, and finally, he pulled out a small wrapped package topped with a bow.
Her frustration turned to excitement as she looked it over and all thoughts of timing fled. An anniversary present! He was giving her an anniversary gift! She wasn't sure she could ever remember him giving her a gift, at least not wrapped like this! The library key had been wrapped but not given in person…this was a first. A true grift exchange.
"You shouldn't have," she beamed taking it carefully from his hands and looking the paper over.
"I should have," he corrected. "I was the reason you lost it in the first place."
Too big to be jewelry, too small to be a book. It was about the right shape for perfume but still far too big to be just one. What had he gotten her? Her head was spinning; she couldn't for the life of her determine what on earth she had lost that he'd give back to her.
"Open in," he urged.
With a small girlish giggle and a nod, she pulled the bow apart and unwrapped the paper to reveal a plain, unassuming box. Inside the box-
She felt her smile vanish and she nearly dropped it out of shock. With startled bewilderment, she looked up at Rumple, then back down into its depths half expecting what she saw to disappear or be a trick of the mind. But it didn't, and that meant it wasn't.
"My…my chipped cup!" she exclaimed pulling it free from its packaging to examine it. It was just as she remembered it before Merida had stolen it. The same porcelain, the same pattern, the same dimensions. The same chip in the same place it had always been! This wasn't a copy, it was her chipped cup! Her mind was a mess, and she tried to think through a possible scenario but just couldn't come up with a single way this was possible. He said he'd destroyed it! Been forced to destroy it in order to break free earlier this year! But now there was not so much as a hairline fracture, not even around the shard he'd brought her back after his ordeal!
"But…but how?!" she gawked. "You destroyed it! You brought me a piece back! Right here!"
"And because my mother didn't know the significance of it there was no plan for it in her curse. I found the shard I gave to you in one of my drawers after her curse broke and with a minor enchantment I was able to trace the rest of the broken pieces right back to the forest where I'd left them. They were half buried in the dirt but it was as simple as resurrecting them from the earth. Another small spell put it all back together and undid what I'd done. All, of course, but one bit that is forever missing…"
"The chip," she choked out examining the sharp little indent at the top. She shook her head still in disbelief. It was perfect. Just as if she'd dropped it yesterday, as if it had never weathered in the forest for months before it's rescue, as if it hadn't survived such a terrible curse. It was unbelievable.
"Thank you!" she cried, raising herself up again so that she could kiss him again. It was the only thing that she could give him that might come close to the value of that teacup. The gift she was concealing in her own bag couldn't compare to this. In fact, after this, she was almost embarrassed to pull away and admit she had something for him too. The thought did occur to lie to him and tell him she had nothing and find something better after their trip, but what was ever going to be as impressive or as important as what he'd given her? It was better to just hand her own over now. It wasn't sentimental, but it was something he'd been saying he wanted. At the very least, it was something.
"I was going to give it to you tomorrow. Don't get your hopes up, it's nothing as good as this!" she proclaimed setting her cup safely on a dresser.
"Whatever it is I'm sure I'll love it."
She hoped that was true as she retrieved the large package from her bag and handed it to him. She bit her lip as she watched him unwrap it. One thing was for certain, she deserved points for effort, finding one like he wanted, that wasn't in his shop had taken her and Rapunzel an entire afternoon!
"To take pictures of Gideon, as he grows," she provided as she crawled back up onto the bed. No, it wasn't as sentimental as her teacup, but not a week went by when he didn't mention that he would take a picture of Gideon doing something or other if he only had a camera. And since the only pictures they had of Neal were either photographs that Emma had taken with very little story to go with them or hand-drawn images she's crafted herself, she knew that he'd want all he could carry of Gideon. "It'll all pass too fast, you know. He'll be grown before we know it, they all say so. This way you can capture every moment, so you never have to forget."
"It's wonderful," he whispered with a beaming smile that made her own glow. He was happy, though it certainly wasn't as special as their teacup she was pleased to see it was a well thought out surprise. And there was no reason that the moments the camera would capture couldn't grow to be just as special as her teacup. It would be entirely up to them to see to that.
She watched as he examined it, endlessly curious about the technology behind it. Somethings never changed. She sat on their bed half naked, and he was content to fiddle with that thing, hardly noticing her. He turned it over in his hands and even raised it to his eye testing out the lens-
"Rumple!" she cried with a near giggle as he snapped a picture of her there on the bed in nothing but the revealing negligée she'd bought for this night.
"What?" he questioned with something less than innocence. He acted as though it was an accident, but the grin that he was sporting as he pulled the picture free from the camera told her it hadn't been. Perhaps he had noticed her, then.
"I didn't give it to you so you could do that!" she chastised as he set the camera aside and watched the white framed photograph develop in his hand. She blushed. "You are going to get rid of that, aren't you? You are going to destroy it so no one else will ever see it as long as we live!"
He shrugged. "I have an aversion to getting rid of beautiful things especially when complete, irrevocable destruction is involved."
"Rumple! If I ever find that in an album somewhere-"
"It'll go somewhere safe," he whispered, putting it aside so he could look her over as he stepped closer to the bed. She sighed and rose up once more on her knees so she could put her arms around his neck, secretly wondering if she could grab that photo and throw it in the fire without him noticing. "I'll put it somewhere where it will be for my eyes only as long as we live. For as many memories as I make and cherish with Gideon, I want to make just as many with you. And tonight you look…" he took a step back so as to admire her in a way that made her bit her lower lip and cast her eyes down. His gaze made her blush and nearly cry at the same time. It was the look he gave her that made her feel like a rare diamond or a precious ruby.
"You are a memory I want to keep tonight," he muttered. "The real thing is certainly better than a picture. But after this year…I'm not sure I truly deserve-"
She silenced him, reaching up carefully to press her lips to his before he could finish that sentence. She didn't want to focus on what he was bound to bring up because there was still part of her that thought if she focused too much on that time in their life she would lose her nerve and run away again. If they were going to start comparing then neither of them deserved this. So instead she distracted them both. She let her kiss linger, then let her lips part and tangled their tongues together. She heard Rumpelstiltskin draw a deep breath and felt his hands move to wrap tightly around her waist, then to her back, then one that wandered further down and grasped the black fabric that hung loose there. Her response was quick enough. She didn't need him to do anymore and so she uncurled her fingers from his neck, gripped the open collar of his shirt, and tugged him forward. First, he kissed her as he leaned over the bed, then crawled up next to her, then lay by her side.
She was pleased to see that he was in no rush. He didn't cover her body with his, not right away. Instead, they just lay there. Their soft kisses turned to deep, languid embraces. His hands explored her body moving at will from her cheek, to her neck and shoulder, along her arms and her breasts, over the curve of her hip and upper thigh before moving back up and down again, and finally wandering under her night gown and coming to rest at the skin of her waist. Still, he kept his thumb moving, a constant, caring caress. She didn't know how long they repeated this motion, she didn't know how many kisses passed between them, or when her fingers had opened the buttons on his shirt so that she could touch the skin at his waist, but she didn't care. She wanted to lose track of time. She wanted to allow herself to enjoy every minute of it, every kiss, every touch and caress of love that he left upon her.
He only pulled away when she hummed in pleasure. He left a few more pecks against her lips before he pushed some hair out of her eyes. Her heart raced as she stared up at him, her head comfortable on the pillow his arm provided her. With a deep breath and gulp, she tugged on the hem of her nightdress herself and pulled it up and over her head before dropping it over the edge of the bed and placing her hand against his chest. He was overdressed, still wearing his dress pants and shirt. That needed to be rectified as quickly as possible.
"So tell me…" he whispered as she wound her hand around his neck and kissed his collar bone. "What did I do to deserve all this?"
She smiled as she rolled closer against him. "I believe the phrase I heard was 'happy wife, happy life'."
She smiled again, waiting for him to give in, expecting him to move closer so that they could bind themselves together in the way they were becoming more accustomed to doing in the last few months…but he didn't. As she squirmed to get closer, she felt his arms go ridged and knew she'd said something she shouldn't have. There was no surprise this time when he gently pushed her away, still within reach, just enough for him to look into her eyes. When she stared back the look she saw wasn't the look of love and heat that she expected. It was a look of shock and uncertainty.
"And are you?" he questioned. His voice was soft but his eyes…they were not. They were hard with worry and concentration. Concern. "Are you happy? Again?"
Her heart was racing as she realized that she'd unknowingly opened up a conversation that went much deeper than typical anniversary antics. A conversation about happiness. It might have seemed silly, but happiness was still a topic that made her break out into a cold sweat. A year ago, when they'd been here in the cabin celebrating their marriage she would have said that she was happy, happier than she ever would have expected she could be…but then it had all ended. Before that, the night she'd gotten him back from Neverland, she had been happy, and then he had been taken away from her. And before that, they'd stood together with a bright orange line that represented the town line. He'd stepped over the town line, prepared to finally accomplish his goals knowing she'd be waiting there for him when she returned, and she'd been happy. And then there had been no memory of him at all. It wasn't happiness that she was afraid of, it was what came after. After everything she was conditioned to expect the worst when she was happiest.
"Will you tell me what you are thinking?" he muttered when she'd been silent for too long.
She snorted and managed a smile. She was conditioned to expect the worst when she was happiest, but there was something different now than all those times that she'd been happiest and lost him or herself or their child. It was that question. She'd made a mistake in all those cases in thinking that they were perfect, that because they shared True Love their relationship was impervious to the disasters of anything beyond it. Now she was aware that neither of them believed that. She understood that their relationship at its strongest had the potential to be impervious to the disasters of anything beyond it, but in order to be strong it had to be impervious to the disasters inside of it. They had to be strong together, they had to work at their relationship. And they were. It wasn't just her. He was working too, trying harder to tell her about what he was thinking and doing, to use her when he felt tempted and angry. And she was trying to be less guarded, to take apart the wall she'd built around her heart to protect it from him and let him back inside. They still dwelled behind a wall, but now they were both behind it, and thanks to friends like Rapunzel, that wall had a door that they opened occasionally to others.
"Yes," she breathed at his prompt. "Yes, I am…I am happy."
"But…" she closed her eyes and struggled to get closer to him, despite the fact that she knew it was getting to be impossible. But he took the cue perfectly, stretching his arms across her bare back and kissing her forehead. This was the tough part of working at their relationship. Baring bodies was easy, baring souls was difficult when it had been taken advantage of over and over. She still had to fight the logic in her mind that screamed at her to keep her secrets. But it helped that she was coming to find that it was those times when they needed to confide in one another most of all.
"But I'm used to things going bad when I'm happy," she finally muttered against him. "It always seems like when I'm happiest, it ends too quickly. It makes me worry, even when I'm not worrying about it."
He didn't try to excuse her fears, or defend his role in creating them. He merely let out a deep sigh and let his grip on her tighten. "Things are different now," he muttered. "We are different now."
It was the right thing to say. It didn't deny the past, merely reaffirmed their present and possibly the future. Still, she wiggled back against him, and he loosened his grip to let her so that she could move one of his hands over her breast, to the spot her heart still beat rapidly.
"I understand that here," she muttered before moving her hand to her head. "But here," -she tapped the hand that rested over her heart- "is going to take more time."
It was something that he'd often told her before. It took his head more time to trust than it did his heart. There had been a time she was the opposite, but now it was the same with her. Her heart was healing easily enough, but getting her head to go along with it was going to take more time than they'd had so far. Fortunately, she knew that he was up for the challenge.
Rumpelstiltskin sighed and adjusted her in his arms so that she lay flat on her back on the bed and he bent to kiss the skin between her breasts that trembled with every beat of her heart. She knew what to expect next, but still let out a gasp of shock when she felt his breath on her breast and his lips on her nipple. She drew a deep breath and wrapped her hands over his neck and head, letting the motions of his tongue against her skin curl her toes and arch her back. This was what she'd expected from an anniversary trip.
The cool air tickled her breast when he raised his mouth and glanced up at her. "What can I do to get the message from here…to here," he questioned, rising just enough to kiss her forehead. She was already smiling and aware of how their bodies were beginning to naturally entwine. She was more than ready to put this conversation to bed for tonight along with them. As good as conversations like this were, nothing could be done tonight alone to reassure her that the happiness she felt wasn't going to end, that was something that would take time. But there were certainly strides that could be made tonight to help her heart.
So she put her hands against his cheeks and looked up at himself, braced on his elbows on either side of her he gazed down with a special intensity that told her he was genuinely interested in what she had to say. She could do little more than pray that wouldn't change.
"Just don't let me down again. Be here, for me, for Gideon. Don't let us down."
He nodded. "I won't."
And that was how she learned that he could take steps to heal her head just as he did her heart. It was a surprise that he had responded, truly it had been. He was a smart man, a man who didn't like to make deals without the promise of a return and a man who didn't like to make promises he knew he wouldn't keep. In the past, when she'd asked such things of him he would usually respond with a kiss, an open-ended reassurance because he was too afraid to make a promise that he might be held to or could not keep. This time he'd made it, and she felt…she felt happy. She felt true happiness swell in her chest and force her to breath deep as she fought to keep tears of joy out of her eyes.
She swallowed hard as she ran fingers through short hair and gazed into wrinkled eyes. "I love you," she muttered happily, before leaning up to bring their lips closer together. "I love you so much!"
There were no gentle kisses or a subtle leading into romanticism. Their kisses were immediately deep, as if their conversation had been the foreplay and they'd missed no time at all.
In the hours that followed she couldn't stop smiling.
Neither could he.
They were both slick with sweat and the air smelled of sex and candle wax. But despite the fact that they were alone for the first time in six months, without a baby sleeping in the next room and there was so much more that they could be doing, they seemed happy to recline naked in their bed and stare into one another's eyes uninterrupted. They moved hands over their bodies and through hair, they pulled covers over each other when the air got cold, and they held each other tight when the moment seemed to require it. All the time they smiled.
When her right side got numb and her eyelids finally began to feel heavy, she rolled over, took his arm, and draped it over herself like it was another blanket. She couldn't see his face, but from the way he molded his body against her back and tightened his arms around her, she could tell he was still pleased with himself.
"I promise to love you until the day my life comes to an end," he muttered with his mouth against her shoulder. "You and Gideon. I promise to let you be my light when there is darkness. I promise to do what I must to keep you happy, even if that means not doing something."
She beamed as she snuggled into his arms and let out a long sigh. "Promise you won't stop making me promises," she requested.
"I promise," he whispered kissing her shoulder.
It wasn't possible to smile any more than she already was, but she managed and turned to kiss him just over her shoulder then snuggled back down in his embrace. Promises went a long way to help her head and her heart.
"It's been a long year, my love," she sighed as she finally let her eyes close. A year ago, laying in this very bed with him after their vows she never would have guessed the trials they would encounter. She would never have thought they would have a six-month-old son! And she never would have guessed six months ago that she'd be right back where they were the first night they'd been married, in love again, and perfectly happy.
"Let's hope the years that follow are more like this, Sweetheart."