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Disassociation

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He was on the floor.

Belle had half-hoped he’d vanish, that when he pitched over the line he’d be gone and she could wrap her arms around herself, and mourn, and have done with it. Have done with him. All that time, all that happiness and love and peace, all that hope… and it had all been smoke and mirrors, maintained by blood and deceit and dark, evil magic. Belle had never been angrier in her life, not even at Regina. Regina at least had never promised her the world only to stab her in the back.

He toppled. Fell. His leg gave out. Belle turned away, not wanting to see him like that, like he must have been before, powerless and crippled, friendless and alone. She hadn’t even brought him money or food. She’d left him with nothing at all.

And what would it say now if she relented? Everything that terrible mirror of Ingrid’s had said was true, and still she would falter? He didn’t love her. He never had. Whatever might have happened when she kissed him, so long ago in that long lost castle, whatever he might have said since. However he might have looked at her on their wedding day, on their honeymoon, when she was safe and happy in his arms. He didn’t love her, not properly, not enough. She was just his safety valve. His smokescreen. The innocent maiden he used to throw off the rest of the town as to his true nature, for if Belle loved him then surely he must have changed, right? 

Everyone thought she was so clever, so intelligent, so wise. No one but him had ever known how innocent and naïve, how stupidly and terribly trusting she could be. So desperate to see the good that she ignored all the flashing, blaring warning signs of evil and agony, fire and blood. But he’d seen it; he’d always seen it. And he’d played it like a harp.

She’d left him with nothing? Fine. Let him walk alone from now on; find his own way. Belle was done with thankless sympathy, with uneven bargains. She had been more merciful than anyone could have imagined, and still he’d turned his back on it.

Fine. 

Belle had shaken him awake, held him, soothed him in the night when the dreams of his lost son and his father and the Wicked Witch came upon him. Belle had made sure he ate, slept, bathed, walked, and never let the grief and the trauma eat him alive, as she’d known they threatened to. She’d kissed him, smiled for him, loved him more deeply than she knew how to contemplate, and truly believed – and that was the worst part, wasn’t it? – that that would be enough to save him. That he was on the road to recovery, and into the light. That he’d give up everything dark and terrible that had ruined his life a hundred times over, and try a new path with her at his side. 

Instead he’d been inches from murdering another man in her name when she’d reached him. She had no doubt in her mind that he’d killed Zelena, too, all those months ago, and that time she’d been too trusting and too powerless to stop him. He would have killed Hook to achieve their happy ending, just as he’d have killed Regina, those years ago when the curse first broke, for keeping Belle from him all that time; just as he’d killed Zelena, no doubt with Baelfire’s name on his lips in justification, in vengeance.

She was in love with a man for whom murder was an expedient option, a means to an end. And the thought that he’d have killed twice over for her happiness, and both times assured her, no doubt, that he was blameless and clean, made her sick to her stomach.

Belle couldn’t walk away. She couldn’t. She knew he couldn’t see her, on the other side: he made no attempt to speak to her, or to make eye contact, and she knew how the spell worked. But she could see him.

He was weeping, openly now, curled on the floor like a child, cradling his shattered ankle. Her heart bled for him, and she wanted more than anything to cross the town line too, to cradle him in her arms, kiss his forehead, and help him to his feet. Her Rumpelstiltskin should never be so powerless, so crumpled and so broken. Her Rumpelstiltskin should stand tall and strong, ready for a kiss.

But he wasn’t her Rumpelstiltskin. She didn’t know if such a man had ever even existed. Perhaps he’d just been a beautiful fiction, a fairy tale she’d told herself those long nights of homesickness and neglect in the Dark Castle, to keep out the cold. Perhaps he’d only existed in her imagination, kept alive by her childish belief in happy endings and second chances, in magic that could be bright and sweet and good. 

The man on the floor was a murderer, a liar, a coward, and a traitor. The man on the floor had masqueraded as her lover, her stalwart and loving husband, while he played her for a fool and burned down the town in her name. He would have taken her away from her friends and her father with Hook’s blood on his hands to buy their freedom, and all the while lied to her and told her it was an accident, a cruel twist of fate, and that she needn’t worry.

The man on the floor was not her husband. As far as Belle was concerned, her husband might never have existed at all.

And it was with that thought that those heart-wrenching, terrible whimpers ceased to move her, and Belle felt her feet finally move, one step, then another, then another, away from the town line, away from her broken heart, away from her true love, and away from the murderer sobbing on the floor, just out of reach.