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Salt Water

Chapter Text

Based off of foxmurphy’s Mer!Rumple AU comics, who graciously gave me permission last year to write ficlets based off her works. Enjoy!

-,-,-,-

 First Encounter

Belle French breathed in the salty air of the seaside, dropping her beach bag onto the shelly sand. Storybrooke, Maine certainly lived to its postcard image. It was beautiful and quaint, like a picture from a fairytale book, a perfect place for a holiday.

However, Belle wasn’t just in the tiny town to take in the scenery.

Belle was a Marine Biologist, a career she decided to take up after a childhood in Australia where the ocean life inspired and intrigued her. She had come to the small town after hearing about several unusual occurrences in the usually quiet waters of the Maine coast.

Bait was being stripped from hooks with hardly a warning from the line. Underwater debris would suddenly be lodged into boat propellers causing boats to tear up. It was damaging the local economy that strongly relied on the fishing boats and Belle had been hired by the city to find out what—or who—was causing such disturbances.  

She had only been in town three days and had spent most of it with her reporter friend Merlin Knight, a local of the town, as well as her partner Ariel Benson to get interviews and evidence. Something strange certainly was in the waters of Storybrooke, but she nor her small team would have the chance to find out what until Monday when they would first-handedly explore the bay.

Until then, it was Sunday and Belle planned to catch up on some neglected reading as well to collect some water samples for her work. She pulled out the rugged quilt she used as a beach blanket and spread it out, taking her books and sunscreen and settled to relax.

The wind played on the ocean quietly, undisturbed until a head of matted hair and seaweed rose from the salty depths from beside a mass of rocks, taking in the site of the woman on the beach.

The creature couldn’t quite describe what he felt at the site of her. She wasn’t dressed in the yellow plastics the land walkers who dumped ink and relics into his waters wore. Instead she was woefully underdressed, her skin was as pale as fresh pearl, her hair as shiny as the underwater kelp in the sunlight.

Not to mention she had a pair of long, very lovely legs. Usually the site of the land walkers legs would surge anger and mistrust from the creature, but he did not feel such things at the site of the woman.

She was…beautiful wasn’t close to the definition. Unfortunately, the creature didn’t do a lot of talking thus his vocabulary was limited. But for now, he’d settle on beautiful.

The creature subconsciously edged closer for a closer look, disturbing the water around him.

Belle heard the disturbance and looked up just in time to see…something…duck back into the waters.

“Is someone there?” Belle called out, holding her book to her chest protectively.

Rumple ducked behind the rocks, sinking up into his ears in the water. She had seen him! She unknowingly looked right at him and didn’t scream or throw one of the sharp sticks at him.

He dared a peak from behind the rock. The woman was gazing out into the bay but did not see him. Shrugging, she began packing her things, sticking something quickly in the water and pulling out. He wanted to call out to her, beg her not to go, but she was already walking to the pier, sparing one last glance at the waters before disappearing from his sight.

Despite the surge of loneliness that took him now that she was gone, an additional wave of giddiness spread through the creature.

The woman, she was human, and humans couldn’t be trusted but she seemed so different somehow. She didn’t shout and throw garbage into the waters. She was quiet and picked up after herself and looked at his waters with such admiration.

It was a risk, but he’d find a way to meet her again.

With an idea in place, he turned to go back into the depths of the water, his torn, golden tale lapping behind him.

Chapter Text

Sorry this is late, but I had to refresh my memory on scuba diving by reading Peter Benchley’s The Deep

Thank you all so much for your overwhelming response! I am so glad I finally get to write this

-,-,-,-,-

 A Daring Rescue

Belle looked up from her map and stared out into the turbulent waters as the boat zoomed across the bay. She and Ariel were going to try their luck with diving today, hoping to solve the mystery of what was destroying the boats once and for all.

A local named Leroy had offered his boat for their use. He wasn’t a fisherman but often rented out for romantics who wanted to take their dates out on the bay. The recent boat attacks were a scourge on his business and he wanted it solved as much as the rest of the town.

“Alright Sisters, look alive!” Leroy roared as he eased the boat to a stop roughly 5 miles off the coast. 

Belle gripped one of the railings, feeling her stomach jostle just slightly at the rough stop. Years in boats had made her practically immune to seasickness.

“Great job Leroy.” Belle praised.  “According to the locals, this is where the most activity has been.”

Ariel came sauntering out from below deck, her arms full of scuba gear. Ariel was a certified diver and the best swimmer Belle had ever met. They had met in college and had instantly clicked over their love of anything that existed under water. It had been her to suggest they take the case to come out into Storybrooke and she had kept her spirit lifted when they continued to come up empty on answers.

Their reporter friend Merlin followed her clutching his stomach and looking positively green.

“You okay?” Belle asked her reporter friend.

“I think I’m going to just sit this one out.” Merlin stated, falling unsteadily onto a deck chair.

“That’s fine.” Belle sympathized.

Merlin gave her a thumbs-up as he spread out on the chair.

Ariel and Belle dressed in their swimming gear and prepared for the dive.

“Be careful.” Leoroy warned. “There could be some Jaws shit going on down there.”

Belle and Ariel exchanged good-humored eyerolls before diving into the waters.

Belle remained calm at the change of pressure, letting the weight belt change her momentum as she took in her first careful breath from her oxygen. She opened her eyes to adjust to the low, murky light until she spotted Ariel who was pointing down.

They swam down and saw remains of some of the previous attacks littered on the otherwise undisturbed sand: broken propellers and large shards of wood.

Belle brought out her waterproof camera and began snapping pictures of the damage, easing her way along to try to figure out what was strong enough to swim with such large beams and heave them into boat propellers from underwater. The local police had ruled out another diver a week ago since such a stunt would be too dangerous for one to attempt, but it still had to be something with opposable thumbs at least.

Something human but…not human.

As she puzzled, Belle noticed that her oxygen was getting thinner. Thankfully six months in scuba therapy had taught her how to hold her breath for a maximum of nine minutes, but even a professional couldn’t shake the air of fear that came with the loss of oxygen. She took shallower breaths to limit her oxygen increase.

She turned and saw that Ariel was holding up one of the propeller pieces and putting it into her bag for evidence. She met her eyes and pointed to her mouthpiece and then up. She was running out of oxygen too and needed to refill. Belle gave her a thumbs-up and began her descent to the surface.

Suddenly, a shimmering light reflected off her goggles and crippled her sight. She paused, her scuba instincts kicking to keep her from panicking. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision, beginning to feel lightheaded as her breath-holding reached its maximum limit.

She looked around to gain just how far she was from the surface and caught site of the shimmering, now not nearly as blinding as it moved. She squinted and swam closer despite knowing the risk.

She expected to see some more wreckage but instead saw that the shimmering was from scales.

Scales on a really big fish. As she closed in, the fish dashed towards her, it’s human-like arms flowing behind it.

Belle gasped and lost all her air, black dots beginning to cloud her vision. She gripped the camera, the light causing the creature to shrink back. With the creature distracted, Belle stripped her weight belt and dashed to the surface just as she lost feeling in her legs.

She sputtered and gripped onto one of the legs of the boat’s ladder, exhaustion nearly causing her to lose her grip and fall back into the waters. Luckily, a large pair of strong hands gripped her arms and hoisted her to the boat.

“Oh my God!” she heard Ariel screaming. “Is she unconscious? Does she need CPR?”

“No Ariel, she’s fine. She just got too much water.”

Belle took in several uneasy breaths, her eyes still blinded with the sight of those shiny scales.

What had she just seen?

-,-,-,-

“A giant fish?” the lady mayor snarled, tossing a blurry polaroid down on the table with the rest of the evidence Belle and Ariel had gathered earlier.  “You’re telling me that the thing causing havoc in my harbor is a giant fish?”

Belle flinched under the mayor’s harsh exterior. She certainly looked like a woman to be feared with her immaculate pantsuit and death-defying glare. 

“Yes. Well, I mean, I’m not so sure.”

The lady mayor looked like she wanted to rip Belle apart with her eyes.

“Miss French, I did not pay your way into my town for you to be unsure.”

Ariel stepped in as the mayor’s voice began to rise. “Belle had an accident while we were scuba diving this morning Madame Mayor. She ran out of oxygen and nearly drowned taking the pictures.”

“Very well.” The mayor calmed at last. “You saw a fish. The bay is full of them.”

“Like I said, I’m not sure if it was a fish. It…I think it had arms.”

The mayor stared at her like she was watching an idiot dance naked in public.

“So…it had a fish tail and arms?”

She was mocking her now and Belle, tired and sore, wanted to throw her out of Merlin’s house.

“It was something. A fish alone couldn’t do all this damage to those boats. It had to be…something!”

The mayor looked her up and down. “I thought you were a scientist Miss French, not a delusional dreamer who blames her failures on fairy tale creatures.”

Merlin stepped in just as Belle was ready to lunge. “Regina, it’s been a long day. We’ll give it another go tomorrow and hopefully find more sustainable evidence.”

The mayor bristled. “I’ll have you treat me with more respect than that Merlin.” She grabbed her purse and stalked off the peer, her expensive high heels clanking against the aged wood.

Leroy whistled from his secret hiding spot.

Merlin chuckled. “She’s actually very nice.”

Belle didn’t add, too busy rummaging through the evidence they gathered again.

Merlin looked to Ariel for guidance.

“Belle,” Ariel beseeched. “Please go lie down.”

“Do you think I’m crazy?” Belle inquired instead.

“In general?” Ariel tried to tease but Belle’s glare indicated that she was in no mood for joking.

“I wasn’t hallucinating down there Ariel. I know what I saw.”

“I’m sure you saw something.” Ariel agreed. “We have enough evidence to show that. But we can’t just spout off theories until we photographic proof at least.”

Belle nodded, picking up the polaroid of their mystery creature while Ariel gathered the evidence to take down to Merlin’s basement.

Something unusual and amazing was in the waters of Storybrooke, and Belle was going to find out what it was.

-,-,-,-

Belle set out to the beach around 5 a.m., leaving a white lie of a note to Ariel and Merlin stating that she was going for a jog. Her head was pounding and her sinuses were shot, but she had to know what she had seen and she knew her well-meaning friends would strap her to her bed if she told them she was going back into the water.

Despite it being early June, Maine mornings were cool and Belle was grateful for the physical excursion rowing the boat provided. The sun was peaking over the horizon by the time she got to the area she dived in the day before.

She knew it was a long-shot, that there was hardly a chance she’d see whatever she saw again, but she had to take a chance.

The current began to pick up with the wind and rock the boat roughly. Belle wished she had thought to put her wet suit on before she got into the boat. She tried to carefully change out of her shorts and t-shirt but found the slight movements too hazardous. She decided instead that she’d just slip her gear over her outfit. She tugged on her swimsuit but annoyingly found that she was sitting on one of the legs.

She gave it a rough tug, wanting to get in the water already, but miscalculated the force and fell back, causing the boat to tip on its side and her go sprawling out, hitting her head on the edge of the boat as she struggled for a grip.

Her vision went instantly black, her body loose as she sunk into her cold watery grave.

Several feet away, the creature watched the commotion, believing it was just another human dumping their garbage. He watched the boat tip and several objects sink and then, to his absolute horror, a person.

But not just any person, but the woman he had become smitten with at the beach the other day. The woman he had tried to make contact with yesterday.

He hadn’t meant to scare her when he swam up to her, and hadn’t expected her to nearly blind him with the light she struck him with. He had bitterly begun to rationalize that she was like every other human and that he was a fool for thinking otherwise.

However, seeing her flowing unmoving into the water now caused his protective instincts to kick in. He swam up to her, more cautious this time. He panicked when he saw her eyes clothes and her mouth without the oxygen stick he knew the humans needed to breathe underwater.

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her light body into his arms speeding to the surface. He swam until he found a beachy area—the same beach he had first seen her.

He laid her out on the warm sand, his hands flinching with uncertainty. Her chest wasn’t moving and she had become as pale as pearls.

Air! Humans needed air all the time! Taking a deep breath, he pressed his mouth on hers, breathing his life into her.

“Live.” He cried quietly when he pulled back, cupping her soft cheek with his talon. “Please live.”

Suddenly, Belle began coughing, her throat burning as salt began to splurge out.

Her head was thumping with pain, her entire body exhausted. She looked around, wondering briefly if this was the afterlife. She could hear the water and birds flying far off. When she opened her eyes, she saw a pale, scaly creature staring at her, his reptilian eyes wide with fear, it’s equally scaly hand lifting her head so that she could breath.

“You are real.” She gasped, smiling at him and covering his hand with hers.

The creature nodded, staring at her hand, his first physical touch from a human.

“I am.” He said.

“You can talk.” Belle sighed. “That’s great.”

The creature panicked when her eyes closed again.

“Human? Human wait!” he stopped when he saw her chest was still moving, indicating that she was still alive. Sighing away is fear, he reluctantly released her warm hand and cheek to return briefly to the ocean.

He came back with a blanket of seaweed and covered the human, smiling happily when he saw some of her color coming back. He edged onto the sand and pulled her under a rock so that she wouldn’t be roasted by the sun.

He allowed himself to lay beside her for a moment, knowing he couldn’t stay much longer. If she was seen, she could be taken back to her kind and given proper aid. If he was seen…he’d never see her again. Not alive anyway.

He placed a hesitant kiss on her hand before he returned to the lonely waters. “I’ll be back, little human. I promise.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Looking for a Merman

After three days of bed rest and keeping her head low from the mayor and Ariel, Belle regained the strength to go back to the beach and find the creature again.

She went back to the deserted beach area with a new beach bag in tow filled with anything she thought would work to bait a sea creature. She wasn’t sure at all what one used to bait something that was half fish, half human, so she had worms from the bait shop on the pier as well as several pudding cups because who didn’t like pudding?

She waddled out to a clump of rocks a few feet from sore and placed both the worms and the pudding cup. She then returned to shore and spread her blanket and waited, too anxious to even read. She didn’t have anything to read at the moment anyway. The books she had been reading had been in her bag the day she tipped the boat. They were lost at sea now, and though she had paid the fee for them, the librarian would not allow her to check out anything else out for at least a week.

“I guess I can add ‘book killer” to my resume right under ‘piss-poor biologist’.” Belle chuckled humorlessly.

The mayor was beginning to become relentless in her pestering for answers. Though she understood the mayor’s frustration, she wished she would lay off. The creature, which Belle was more than certain was the culprit, had laid off significantly and Storybrooke’s fishing business had begun to pick up again. But the mayor wanted hard proof of what, or who, the attacker was and Belle hadn’t come up with that part of her plan yet.

She hadn’t told Ariel or Merlin about her experience either. Ariel was her best friend, but she hadn’t believed Belle after her first encounter with the creature. She didn’t hold it against her of course. Ariel was more logical and realistic than Belle, not willing to commit to anything until she could see it in a test tube or on a computer screen. Merlin was just like her. Being a reporter required having hard evidence in the palm of one’s hand where theories and speculations didn’t fit.

She would tell them, as soon as she did have proof and a plan, whenever that would be.

The hours stretched long and uneventful, the cup of pudding and worms staying put. Belle had run out of sunscreen and her back was starting to hurt from sitting upright for so long. She moved to a small enclosure of rocks, the same one she had woken up under three days ago. She smiled at the memory, deciding with certainty that the creature was gentle.

Another hour passed and Belle struggled not to doze off. Being surrounded by the most beautiful scenery on earth was hardly helping. The wind was calm, the waves gentle, no people were around. She was starting to see shapes behind her eyes when a splash erupted the peace. She shot up just in time to see the water sloshing around the rocks, the pudding cup gone.

“Wait!” Belle called out, sprinting into the water until she was knee-deep. “Please come back!” She stopped at the rock cluster hoping to see a glimpse of him. She cursed when she didn’t, glaring at the drying worms in the cup.

There was a sloshing to her right. Belle looked out to see the creature peaking up at her from the waves. For a moment they simply stared at each other, two creatures from too different worlds.

Belle waved at him, then without thinking, dove into the water after the creature.

“No! Little human!” the creature called out, ducking under the water to find her. He froze as she swam up to him, the closest they had ever been (with them both conscious). Unable to stand the salt water for too long though, the human swam to the surface. He considered swimming away, but found himself blindly following her.

He peaked out from the water, watching the human rub the salt from her eyes. He remembered then why he was so enchanted by her. She was unlike any creature he had ever come across—so unlike him.

She turned to him finally, her eyes red and puffy, causing the brilliant blue color to pop. The creature felt overwhelmed under her kindness-filled gaze.

“Hi…” Belle greeted as her vision cleared.

The creature waved hesitantly, feeling self-conscious of his scaly hands and black talons.

Belle swam a bit closer, causing the creature to shy back. She paused as not to scare him or cause him to retreat.

“I…I’m so glad to see you again.” She smiled.

Warmth spread over the creature’s cold cheeks, a strange but not unwelcome sensation.

“I…I…”

Belle held her breath. He had spoken to her briefly during their last encounter, but she had no way of measuring his verbal skills until they spent more time together.

“Go on…” she whispered.

“I…I’m…Hi.”

She chuckled. “Hi. My name is Belle.”

“Belle.” The creature sighed. The sound of the name reminded him of a calm day at sea, where there were no humans dumping black death into the waters, hurting or killing his underwater friends.

“Yes!” Belle shrilled, moving her arms and legs to keep herself afloat. “What’s your name?”

The creature thought on that. Names were special, and he had never considered himself special enough for one.

“I…don’t…have one.” He shrugged. It really wasn’t that important.

Belle frowned. Before her was a gift of nature without a name, a creature who had selflessly saved her life.

She stared at his features. His skin was a pale as the caps of new waves, the only blemishes being the golden clusters of scales on his shoulders, inner elbows, and the top of his hands. His eyes were the same color of his eyes, but rounded like a fish’s. His hair was almost a greenish brown and hung in waves about his sunken face.

“Rumpled.” Belle mused aloud.

“R-rumpled?” the creature repeated.

“Your hair, it reminds me of waves.” Without thinking, she reached out and touched it, only realizing what she was doing until he flinched under her warm hand.

“I’m sorry!” she gasped, pulling away.

“No!” he took her hand and pulled it back to his cold, withered cheek. She wasn’t afraid of him, wasn’t thirsty for blood or his destruction. It was different. She was different.

“Rumple.” He said again, nodding to Belle.

“Rumple.” Belle smiled, her fingertips dancing across his skin.

There were still so many questions, but the creature had a name, a way for Belle to communicate with him.

They had a way to become friends.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Belle watched in memorization as the creature—Rumple—swam around in the shallow waters. She swayed her feet in the salty water, causing small waves to lap over his tail.

She adjusted the towel around her shoulders before reaching behind and pulling her bag forward, pulling out one of her journals so she could finally interview him. Her scientific side wanted to question him on the boat attacks, find out his motive and convince him to stop or at least let her help him find a solution. Her more imaginative side, the part of her that was giddy to have a creature of legend swimming laps at her feet and watching her with awe and openness, wanted to learn everything possible about him.

“So,” she began her interview, “I was wondering if you could tell me about the boats.”

Rumple paused his waddling, swimming up to the shore and spreading out on his stomach in the sand. “Boats?”

“The things you’ve been attacking.” Belle specified like a firm school teacher. And like a school boy, Rumple ducked his head in shame at being caught.

Belle smiled comfortingly. “I just want to know why you’re doing it. I can help you if I know your reason. That’s my job.”

“The ink.” He growled lowly.

“Ink?” Belle inquired. “Like, from squids or octopuses?”

Rumple shook his head. “The…boats? They drop it in the water. It hurts my eyes and gets on my tail. It hurts the turtles and birds.”

“Oil.” Belle clarified, scribbling in her journal. “Is that why you attack the boats?”

Rumple nodded. “When they stop, the ink…oil…stops.”

“So you destroy them so that they don’t come back.” Belle mused, closing her journal. “I know someone who can help.” She said. “I’ll go talk to him, but you have to promise me you won’t attack any more boats.

“But…”

“I know you’re not trying to hurt anyone, but each time you destroy one of those boats, a lot of people go hungry.”

Rumple felt anger tense inside him, not at Belle, but at what she was asking. Each time those boats dumped their black death in the waters, a lot of his fellow sea life went hungry or died before hunger could get to them. Didn’t Belle realize that?

Belle sighed when he shifted away, defiance in his eyes.

“Fine.” She began to pack up and Rumple felt the familiar loneliness seep in.

“Will you come back?” he asked quietly.

“I’ll try to get back tomorrow.” She stated, rolling up her blanket and putting her journal and other gear back in her bag.

“Bye.” He said lowly as she trekked up the sand dune. He didn’t want to fight with Belle, didn’t want her look at him as a monster and felt the need to please her. But he also had a fierce loyalty towards his fellow ocean life, creatures who couldn’t fight for their selves from the wicked scum that was man.

Belle wasn’t like them though. She couldn’t be.

He’d tell her that when she came back tomorrow.

-,-,-,-

Belle didn’t give Merlin and Ariel the complete details of her adventure, simply told them that she found the reason for the attacks and that they needed to work quickly to prevent another. They worked through the night, throwing together the evidence they had collected the last few weeks as well as a fabricated report Belle typed together.

They presented their findings to the mayor, all on edge for her response.

The mayor read over the report quietly, one of her well-maintained eye brows arched in emotionless discontent.

"I must say," the mayor stated when she closed the folder. "I had my doubts Dr. French, but I'm glad to see you found the problem. I would have never guessed mating eels would be attacking boats out of hormone disruption. Excellent work.”

Belle released a breath of relief. She also felt a bit of pride that the mayor finally called her by her professional title.

“Thank you, Madame Mayor.”                                                                                                

“But,” the mayor prompted, causing the group to tense again, “I don’t see a solution to the problem mentioned.”

"I've concluded that if the boats seize their activities around the area of the attack that the eels will eventually tether off. Or better yet, that the owners of the boats need to install a filter into their tanks to better prevent the oil leakage that’s bothering the eels. I have friend in Australia who can help with that."

The mayor frowned at this. "That area of the bay is highly profitable with catch. The boats will have to venture further out into the seas to make up for what they would lose."

"But they'd come home with an abundant haul and their ships fully intact, Madame Mayor." Ariel perked in. "It's a smaller price to pay for the safety of your fishermen."

The mayor looked to two scientists over, and Belle prayed to all higher powers that she would buy the explanation and let Belle move on.

"This isn't their first rodeo, Regina." Merlin chimed in. "If they say this is what you need to do, then you need to do it."

"I wasn't talking to you." The mayor hissed. Merlin simply smirked.

The mayor sighed and gathered her things. "Very well, I will allow this notion on one condition.”

Belle eyed the mayor with distrust and uncertainty. “And that would be what, Madame Mayor.”

The mayor smirked in secret enjoyment for the young biologist’s discomfort. “You have to bring your findings and solution before the town at the next meeting, which is tonight.”

Belle’s stomach dropped. Her public speaking skills were decent at best, but it would be nearly impossible to keep the details of her fake story in order if she had to answer questions from a town of angry fishermen.

Just as she was about to protest, Merlin placed a calming hand on her shoulder.

“She can do it Regina. We’ll see you tonight.”

“Just her and Miss Benson will be enough company, thank you.” Regina turned on her heel after the snarl, leaving behind the smirking journalist and two equally anxious biologists.

As soon as the door closed, Ariel slapped Merlin on the shoulder. “What was that!”

“That,” Merlin defended, rubbing his shoulder, “was showing her majesty that you’re not one of her subjects.”

“That’s a very odd analogy.”

“But accurate.” Belle chimed in, pacing. “She already thinks we’re incompetent, we can’t have the entire town thinking that too. They’ll never stop.” She paused her pacing and turned to her comrades. Ariel was staring at her with uncertainty and concern.

“What is it?”

“I was just wondering if you think we’re incompetent too.”

Belle felt a burst of hurt and panic implode in her head. “What are you talking about?”

Ariel grabbed the report folder and held it out to Ariel. “Mating eels? Belle, you and I know that if eels were the culprit for this there would not be nearly the amount of damage there is. Not to mention eels don’t mate outside of warm waters; it’s April in Maine, Belle!”

“What is going on with you lately? You’ve been going to the beach by yourself, staying there all day, and now you’re throwing some bullshit report out there.”

“I know it seems crazy Ariel-”

“It seems lazy, Belle.”

Belle flinched at the remark but held her tongue.

“Are you just bored with this assignment or is there something in those waters that you’re not telling me about?”

Belle’s tongue was heavy with the truth, but she couldn’t let the words fall just yet. She had to secure Rumple’s safety first.

“Ariel, Merlin, I promise if I survive tonight, I will show you everything.”

“Why can’t you tell me now?” Ariel miffed.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Ariel shook her head. “If that’s what you think, fine.” With that, the redhead turned and stalked out of the basement, slamming the door behind her.

Belle felt tears sting her eyes. She and Ariel had never fought before.

Merlin cleared his throat and Belle wiped her eyes.

“Don’t take it too hard. You know how she is.” He said comfortingly. “Just focus on what you have to do and the rest will sort itself out.”

Belle smiled at him, thankful he was always the level head among them.

“How did you become such a peace-maker?”

Merlin smirked, but there was an intense sadness dragging down the corners of his mouth.

“Let’s just say this isn’t the first time I’ve had to play mediator between two feuding women.”

Belle sensed a story there, but judging by the pain in his eyes, it was not the time nor the place to ask questions.

“I… think I’ll go lie down, piece together what I’m going to say.”

Merlin nodded. “Meeting’s at 8, so don’t be late. I’ll be covering it, you know.”

“Yeah, okay.” she promised as she headed up the stairs. She paused at the kitchen door and briefly considered going back to the docks. She didn’t like how she had left things with her new friend. Belle would be the first to admit that her patience was one of the first things to go when she was frustrated. And really, she had been asking a lot from Rumple after knowing him for a few hours.

Belle sighed exhaustedly and continued up the stairs. She’d apologize to him in the morning, and maybe even take him a pudding cup or two. For now, she had a much-dreaded speech to plan.

-,-,-,-,-,-,-,-,-

Several hours later Belle sat between Merlin and Ariel in the crowd of bored citizens and waited for the mayor to introduce her.

She started playing with her folder of evidence, not even understanding what the mayor was saying now. If this went southside, Rumple’s life could be in danger. There was too much to lose for her to mess up.

Suddenly, Merlin’s hand slid over one of hers, giving it a firm squeeze.

“You have nothing to be nervous about.” He whispered, leaning closer so that they wouldn’t be heard.

“I really don’t want to be verbally thrown off stage if I say the wrong thing.” She confided, trying not to think about how warm his hand was.

“The people here may be aggravated, but they’ll listen to reason if it means feeding their families.”

“I hope so.” Belle sighed.

The mayor cleared her throat, glaring at the whisperers.

“Dr. French?” she barked. “If you and Mr. Knight are done, the town would like to hear your proposal now.”

Belle blushed and released Merlin’s hands, hurrying to the podium as the mayor stepped down, Ariel just behind her. She took a moment to breathe and let the dizziness that overtook her head to clear.

“Good evening.” Belle greeted, her eyes not quite meeting the crowd. “My name is Belle French of the APRF, Aquatic Protection and Research Facility. As most of you know, my partner and I have been stationed here for roughly three weeks to investigate the boat attacks on the harbor.

“Our research concludes that the attacker is actually mating saltwater eels, who attack the boats out of hormone aggravation.”

She paused as the room erupted in hushed astonishment, allowing Belle a moment to compose herself.

“Ma’am,” a thick man in fisherman’s gear stood. “I’ve been fishing these waters for 25 years, and I ain’t ever hear of no eel attack.”

Belle felt a wave of panic at the accusation, but she had prepared for such a remark.

“Our research suggests that because of the early summer, the waters are warm enough to induce early mating. And since eels are not used to the boats during their mating season, their instincts are triggered to attack.”

As the room conversed on this new information, Belle turned to Merlin who gave her a thumbs-up. Despite the encouragement, Belle still felt her palms sweat.

“How do we stop them?” another fisherman asked.

Belle rifled through her papers and held up one with a picture of a filter device on it. “I have a colleague in Australia who has an invention for just this problem. It’s a small filter that catches spilling oil from the boats and-”

“How much does it cost?” someone from the crowd shouted out.

Belle twitched at the interruption. “With the cost of materials and labor, each filter will be roughly $400 but-”

The room erupted with discontent. Belle gripped the podium, holding on to her patience for as long a she could.

Ariel grabbed the gavel off the stand and banged it until the room settled.

“People of Storybrooke,” Ariel boomed, “while this might seem like a steep price to pay, there’s a huge payoff in the long run.”

With room quieted, Belle stepped aside to allow Ariel full access to the podium.

“When I was a kid, my dad worked so much that my family only got a week of vacation time a year. He always chose Storybrooke because it was so homey and beautiful. We used to go down to the beach and the little fish would swim right up to us. It was magical, and I always said I would live here when I grew up.”

Belle couldn’t help but smile at Ariel’s nostalgia. It was refreshing to see her so animated

“That didn’t quite happen, but when I found out about the issues going on in the harbor, I knew I had to help. Because I love this town and it’s uniqueness. And I want to preserve it anyway I can.”

Ariel turned back to Belle and nodded her back in.

Belle took her spot by Ariel, feeling more confident than she had all night.

“My colleague is a brilliant inventor, and I’m sure with some negotiation we can talk him down in his price.”

She watched as the towns folks mumbled amongst their selves, some of them shaking their heads in agreement for the proposition.

“You’ve all been so patient with us, so I promise you,” Belle finished, “my team and I will not leave until the problem is solved.” She turned to the smiling Ariel and saw raw passion in her eyes. “We’ll do whatever we can to help preserve this town, for everyone here and for the future. Thank you.”

Belle closed her notes as the crowd applauded. She could feel her cheeks heating and dared to look up. Merlin had shot from his seat and whistled with his applause, leaving his notepad in his chair. From the other side of the room, the mayor glared at his loud, unprofessional salute. Still, she rose from her chair with the grace of a queen and applauded with the rest of the group, waiting until Belle and Ariel left the stage before she retook her place at the podium.

Ariel pulled Belle behind the stage until they could just barely hear the mayor making her closing speech.

“You really are a horrible speaker.” Ariel teased, pulling her friend into a hug.

Belle returned the affection. “Ariel, listen. About earlier…”

“Say no more.” The redhead insisted. “I trust you Belle. No matter what’s really out there, you found a solution. That’s the reason we’re here.”

Belle nodded, the guilt in her stomach still heavy but not nearly as dense as before. She would tell her friend the whole truth eventually, but only when Rumple and the rest of the aquatic life was safe.

“But,” Ariel continued. “You do owe me for all the headaches.”

Belle groaned. “Don’t tell me…”

“Girls day!” Ariel shrilled. “We’ve been here for an over a week and haven’t been into town yet.”

“Yeah but our work-”

“Will continue once your guy gets here.” Ariel promised. “We deserve a break. You deserve a break.”

Belle chewed her lip nervously. Spending the day with Ariel would mean that she wouldn’t see Rumple tomorrow.

“It’ll fun! Shopping, a good lunch. Maybe we can go sailing?”

Belle craved to reject Ariel’s offer, but her eyes looked desperate. She needed time away from their make-shift lab in Merlin’s basement, needed time with her friend.

“Okay.” Belle agreed reluctantly.

Ariel shrilled, gripping Belle’s hands until they stung.

“Great! I’m going to tell Merlin!”

Belle watched her friend leave and wish she could do the same. Was Rumple even waiting for her or was he too perturbed with her from earlier? She wanted to apologize at least, but now with Ariel mapping out their day, that would be near-impossible.

She chewed on her lip and followed Ariel to the concession.

I’m sorry Rumple.

 

 

Chapter Text

She wasn’t here.

She said she’d come back, but she wasn’t here.

Rumple had waited all day at their place, staying just behind the rock in case she came over the sand dune.

Before Belle, no one would ever come over the dune to the small cluster of beach. That’s why Rumple had chosen it as his own haunts to begin with. He could lie on the sand and swim in the shallow water without the fear of being seen. It had been a contemning kind of loneliness.

But since the day the beautiful human had sat on his quiet piece of paradise, he never wanted that kind of solitude again. When the sun went down that day, it occurred to him that he may not have a choice.

Now in the cool inkiness of night, Rumple wasn’t sure what to feel.

Anger that she hadn’t come? Grief that he may never see her again? Hatred from her earlier request and her very humanity?

All those emotions swam in his mind like the waves at high tide, but he couldn’t take any of them to heart. It was ridiculous to hate someone you’d never see again.

Rumple watched the moonlight flicker over the water in the distance. The beauty reminded him of Belle so much.

“Why Belle?” he whispered. Had he disgusted her that much?

Of course he had. Who would want to gander on a disgusting beast like him every day?

The creature sunk back into the cold waters, willing the tides to wash him to somewhere less painful than this place.

 

Chapter Text

Belle sighed as Ariel drug her down the docks. She would never understand how her friend could walk around all day in four-inch heels and not slow down while her feet where numb from wearing flats.

“Come on Belle!” Ariel shrilled, her shopping bags flapping against her sides. They had spent the day exploring the shops of Storybrooke. The town was small but had a variety of things to buy, and Ariel was a sucker for homemade things like soaps and jewelry. Belle was more practical had only bought lunch for the two them, as Storybrooke didn’t have a bookstore. She was thankful the town had the library, even if it was ill-stocked.

As much as she wanted to have fun with Ariel, her mind kept wondering to Rumple. Was he mad that she didn’t show? Hurt? Relieved?

“Here we are!” the redhead grinned.

Belle lifted her hand to block out the sun so she could look up at the thing Ariel was smiling about. Before her was an ancient ship, well-maintained and bustling with sophistication.

“It’s gorgeous.” Belle commented. “But something tells me you didn’t bring me all the way down here just to admire an ancient relic, now did you?”

“Indeed she didn’t lass!”

The girls followed the call to a man perched on the mainmast, his face shadowed by the afternoon sun. Suddenly he dropped down and Belle jumped away just in time for him to land right in front of her.

Belle blinked back the white dots and whiplash blinding her vision. When it cleared, she saw the gleaming smirk of the rugged man in front of her.

“Hello.” The man greeted, all charming smiles and sparkling blue eyes.

“Hi...” Belle returned politely, though she wanted to give him an earful for nearly landing on her.

“Belle,” Ariel said as she wrapped her arm around her shoulders, “this is Captain Killian Jones.”

“Of the Jolly Roger!” the captain shrilled with an exaggerated bow.

“Charming.” Belle deadpanned. “Ariel, could I talk to you for a second?”

Before the redhead could respond, Belle drug her a few feet away.

“Not that this isn’t completely interesting,” Belle said through a forced smile, “but why did you bring us to this showoff?”

“Okay!” Ariel gasped. “Yesterday during the intermission at the town meeting, I met someone.”

Belle glanced at “the Captain”. “Him?”

“No…well, yes, but he came later.” She pointed just behind him to a man in a white turtleneck coiling rope.

Belle arched an amused eyebrow. “I see.”

“You and me both!” Ariel giggled. “Anyway, he’s third mate on the Jolly Roger and his boss gave him permission to invite us for a boat ride.”

Belle physically blanched. “We? How do I fit into this?”

“Come on Belle! I can’t be on a ship full of hot guys alone! It’s…unlady-like.”

“Ariel, no!”

“Please Belle! We’ve both been stuck in Merlin’s basement for weeks! I want to get out, meet people, maybe have an epic romance! And you deserve the same…and a tan. Please?”

It was on the tip of Belle’s tongue to turn her down, but Belle couldn’t deny Ariel the chance at companionship just because she wanted to be with her sea creature.

“One trip around the bay and then I’m done.”

Ariel squealed, pulling Belle into a bouncing hug. “Great! I’ll ask the Captain where we can change into our swimsuits!”

“That piece of string you bought does not qualify as a swimsuit; and I’ll stick to my shorts.”

“Suit yourself!” Ariel shrugged, turning and waving to the men. “We’re ready!”

Belle reluctantly followed her friend, sparing the sea a longing look before she boarded The Jolly Roger.

Though she tried to stick to Ariel’s side, her friend eventually wondered off with the third mate—Eric, as he introduced himself as—thus leaving Belle with Captain Showoff.

“Comfortable, m’lady?” He inquired as Belle situated herself near the head of the boat where he was steering.

“Yes, thank you.” Belle returned, flipping open the book she had brought with her.

“Could I offer you a drink?”

Belle sent him a look over the pages. “I rather the man who’s steering us in the ocean not be intoxicated, thank you.”

The Captain roared with laughter and Belle briefly wondered if she could swim to shore from the distance.

Luckily, the Captain became blessedly quiet, focusing on steering the ship in to calm waters. Even with the newfound peace, Belle found it difficult to focus on her book or relaxing. Her mind kept returning to thoughts of her sea creature friend. She kept seeing glimpses of him in the waves that brushed along the ship and mistook the sound of the gulls as his tale slapping the water.

“Love, is it?”

Belle looked up at the Captain who was watching her with an amused smirk.

“What did you say?”

The Captain stepped away from the wheel and took a seat on the barrel across from her.

“Only love can put a lady is such a mood.”

Belle glared at him. “I’m not in a mood. Or in love.”

“You are the first woman who hasn’t been completely giddy to be on my ship. And since I know I am the perfect host who can charm a woman into a good time, it must be you.”

Belle scoffed in disgust at the man’s cockiness.

“Perhaps I’m the way I am because I’m in such undesirable company!” Belle shouted at him, jumping from her seat and preparing to find Ariel.

“Are you talking about me or about the poor sap who broke your heart?”

Belle paused mid-step at the Captain’s proclamation. She shot back around and walked towards the smug man.

“Mr. Jones, was it?”

Captain Jones, if you don’t mind.”

“Well, Captain, know this: I am here as a favor to my friend. I have no interest in getting to know you or talking to you. So if you would please just get us back to the docks as quickly as possible, I would quite appreciate it!”

Jones was still, looking over Belle’s flushed cheeks before smiling.

“It’s not love at all, is it? It’s heartbreak.”

Belle’s heart clenched. It was true, as much a she didn’t want to admit it to herself or the man who suggested it. Her heart hurt for her sea creature, to see him and deplete her conscious of the guilt she felt over him.

The captain wordlessly circled her and pulled out a cooler with his foot, pulling out two bottles of beer and holding one out to Belle.

“I’m not much on relationship advice, but perhaps talking about it will ease the pain the foolish bloke inflicted on you.”

Belle took the beer from him, leaning over the wood and looking into the water.

“He didn’t hurt me. I…think I hurt him.”

Jones moved beside her, following her gaze to the waters.

“We always hurt the ones we love without meaning to.” He shrugged and took a sip of his beer.

Belle glanced uneasily at Jones. The comment did not sit right with her, and she hoped he wasn’t on the receiving or receiver end of a bad relationship.

“If he truly loves you, he’ll forgive you.”

Belle snorted humorlessly. “I asked something impossible of him. I asked him to lay down a piece of himself for me, and now that I’ve thought about it I was so wrong to do it. I just…hope when I find him to apologize that he’ll want to hear it.”

“He will.” Jones confirmed. “Lovely lass like you, he’ll probably give you the world.”

Belle rolled her eyes. While Captain Killian Jones was not the wisest when it came to advice, just having someone unsuspecting to tell her dilemma to.

And perhaps there was truth in his word. Maybe Rumple would forgive her, and they could begin anew.

Jones raised his half-empty bottle. “To forgiveness?”

Belle lifted her mostly full one. “To hope.”

Out in the distance, a school of sting rays scattered when the ancient ship blocked their path.

Rumple emerge from the calm waves, glaring at the offending mass that disrupted his sea friends schedule. He recognized the heap of wood. It one of the very few ships on the harbor that didn’t leak the sticky black ink into the waters. However, the humans who boarded it often through their glass bottles and other garbage overboard, sometimes accidentally or intentionally.

Rumple shuddered at the memory of all the turtles and dolphins he’d just barely saved when they got ensnarled in the strange waxy rings or ropes.

No such objects were being thrown overboard today, so Rumple saw no reason to sit and dwell on the despicable creatures above. Just as he was about to dive back into the waters, a movement on deck caught his eye. He sunk down until just enough for his nose-up to be exposed and then eased back slightly.

He gasped when he caught sight of Belle, beside her a man. He couldn’t see Belle’s face, but he knew from experience with every imaginable sea creature that body language was the deciding factor. And Belle’s stance looked tense.

Rumple growled through is sharp teeth, his instincts kicking into full gear. That…creature was the reason she didn’t appear this morning? Had it forced her aboard his ship? Is that why she looked so miserable? He would not tolerate this! With a plan in mind, he dove back into the waters.

Belle felt the jolt before it made its presence known. It was the way the liquid in her bottle began to shake violent before the ship stopped so suddenly that Belle and the captain lost their balance and flew to the ground.

Belle was the first to recover. She grabbed hold of the deck and pulled herself up, her head spinning. She looked out into the ocean, looking for the reef or the bolder that must have caused the crash.

She didn’t quite believe what she was seeing at first, didn’t quite recognize the creature exiting from under the boat until the setting sun hit the golden scales on Rumple’s tail and spine. She gasped, looking around to make sure she was the only witness. By the time Jones finally pulled himself to his feet, Rumple was deep enough to go unseen and Belle relaxed.

“It must be the hinged rudder.” Jones groaned. “Old blasted thing must have gotten caught.”

Belle nodded, turning away from the water. “Did you hit your head?”

The Captain smirked at her concern. “Fear not, I’m very stable.”

“I’m sure.” Belle smiled through twitching lips.

“There’s a radio in my cabin. Come, we’ll call for help.”

Belle glanced back one last time at the waters and followed.

As they reached the cabin, Ariel and Eric were running to them, Ariel’s bathing suit slightly obscure Belle noted amused.

“Belle are you alright!” Ariel panicked, throwing herself into Belle’s arms.

“I’m fine.” Belle assured with a pat to her warm, slightly oily back. “The hinged rudder is jammed. We’re getting help.”

“I need to warn the rest of the crew.” Eric said.

“And I need to grab my things.” Ariel added.

Belle nodded and watched as they scurried off together. She then cautiously entered the captain’s quarters. He was giving a message into the radio so Belle looked around at the maps and outstanding number of books on the shelves. For the first time that day, Belle was impressed with the Captain.

One stack of books caught her attention. The spines read titles such as Merfolk of Myth, Creatures of the Deep, Legends of the Deep. She pulled the top one from the smiling, running her hand lovingly over the ancient cover. She looked around for more books of the nature but didn’t see any. She did however see a slight ajar door just behind the table holding the stack of books.

She stepped closer, intent on opening it. Maybe there’d be more books. Just as she was pulling at the door, the Captain’s hand slammed over hers, closing the door.

Belle’s gaze shot up to meet his blue eyes. There was a look them Belle couldn’t quite place, but his smile was large and bright.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, love. Lots of dangerous fishing gear in there.” He gave her hand a warm squeeze.

Belle snatched her hand from under his. “I’m a marine biologist; I’m more than capable at handling “fishing gear”.”

The captain cleared his throat, obviously looking for an escape on the situation.

He nodded at her hands. “Bookworm, are you?”

Belle clutched the book. “These are…interesting subjects.” Belle commented.

“Much of the world’s ocean is still undiscovered. Who’s to say these books aren’t miscategorized.”

Belle turned to him. “So you believe? In…the existence in these types of creature.”

“Don’t you?” he inquired, that look in his eyes again.

Belle thought about Rumple, about how meeting him had redefined everything she’d ever been taught, everything she had ever known about the ocean she studied.

“I believe…that anything is possible.”

The Captain smiled in appreciation. “Would you like to borrow a few?”

“Really?” Belle returned.

“Well I have to have some way to see you again. How about we go for a drink when you’re done with the books.”

Belle gave him an amused smile. While he was hardly her type and cocky beyond reason, she had honestly been in worse company.

“How about I return the books, and put maybe on those drinks?”

Something on the captain’s face changed, but still he smiled and did a slight bow.

“I’ll endeavor to be patient.”

-,-,-

Within the next hour, a rescue crew came and took Ariel and Belle back to the docks, leaving the crew of the Jolly Roger to discover what had stalled the ship. As it turned out, the hinged shudder was indeed jammed but Jones nor the rescue crew could figure out how such a well-managed ship would suddenly act up.

By the time Ariel and Belle were back on the docks, Belle’s tongue was throbbing from holding it so long.

“Well that was an adventure.” Ariel commented enthusiastically as they walked back to the town.

Belle shrugged. “At least I got some books out of it.” She said, patting her bag.

Ariel waved a piece of paper in her friend’s face. “And I got a number and an upcoming!”

Belle smiled at her friend’s good fortune and guiltily hoped that her new infatuation with Eric would keep her distracted. She needed to see Rumple now more than ever.

 As they reached the end of the beach, Ariel yawned and stretched, shifting through her shoulder bag to find the flip flops she bought earlier that day.

“I’m beat.” She said as she kicked off her heels. “You want to go grab dinner in town, take Merlin back something?”

Belle quickly searched for an excuse. “I would but…I promised our guy I’d give him a call about the filters.”

“You can call him when we get back.” Ariel whined.

“I would, but it’s already,” she spared a look at her phone, “after 8 there so…”

Ariel nodded. “Got cha. Burger and fries?”

“And a sweet tea!” Belle said, her stomach growling with guilt rather than hunger. She hated that she was still lying to her friend, but Rumple almost put them in danger today and she did not want to introduce him to her friends until that business was taken care of.

She waited until Ariel was halfway down the street before she made a mad dash back down the docks towards the secluded beach where she and Rumple always met.

She stalked down the sand dunes, muttering curses under her breath until she reached more stable ground.

“Rumple!” she called out as she stalked into the water up to her ankles. She saw a slight movement behind the cluster of rocks.

“I know your there, come out!”

After a moment, the sea creature moved out from behind the rocks, only his head down to this nose showing.

Belle shook her head and dropped her bag onto the sand, wadding through the water towards him.

“What were you thinking!” she called out to him. “You could have caused a wreck! Someone could have gotten hurt!”

Rumple growled under the water, little bubbles sputtering on the surface.

“Don’t do that.” Belle demanded as she reached him. “Now come up!”

Rumple denied her at first, not liking the look in her eyes. It reminded him of an aggravated. As Belle’s glare intensified, he reluctantly came up to his shoulders.

Belle sighed, her anger diminishing now that she had yelled some.

“Why?” he muttered.

“What?”

His gold, reptilian eyes shot to her, filled with betrayal.

“Why were you with that shark!”

Belle was taken aback by his sudden wave of temper. “Captain Jones? I wasn’t there by choice, trust me.”

“You said you’d come back.” He growled lowly.

“I said I’d try.” Belle fought back. “I didn’t make any promises. But my absence doesn’t excuse what you did today. I saw you swim out from under the ship. You stopped the boat even after I asked you not to.”

“I didn’t make any promises.” Rumple sneered.

Belle gasped at his spite. “Yeah but…” she gaped, trying to find the words to exert her anger. But as he smirked, her frustration overloaded her calm and she screamed, splashing him as hard as she could.

Rumple stared in shock at Belle’s flushed, outraged face. Glaring, he splashed her back just as hard.

Soon, they were splashing back and forth, yelling over the sound of the water.

“Trouble maker!”

“Shark!”

“You could have gotten someone killed!”

“I knew what to do! That ship is full of filth!”

“I was on there; are you saying I’m filth!”

“Maybe I am!”

Belle stopped splashing, slightly hurt.

Rumple felt his anger evaporate like water on a seagull’s back the second he saw her face. “Belle…I didn’t mean it.”

Belle shook her head, letting her arms float in the cool water. “Look, I’ve been eating myself alive all day because I didn’t come and see you. I hated that I asked so much of you yesterday. I just…wanted to help you and Storybrooke and…everyone I could. I guess I was hoping one solution would solve a whole slew of problems.”

Rumple moved to her side, not able to meet her eyes. “You found something? To stop the ink?”

Belle smiled gently at him. “I have someone back home who can fix the oil problem. It’s up to the towns people now.” She reached out and gently lifted his chin, meeting his wide eyes.

“Everything’s going to be okay, Rumple.”

The sea creature nodded, smiling at her gentleness. “I’m sorry too, Belle.”

Belle shrugged. “I think we both jumped into this too fast. How about we start fresh?”

“Start…fresh?”

Belle giggled. “Start new? Reintroduce ourselves, so to speak.”

Rumple pondered the saying and then reached out his scaly hand. “I’m…Rumple?”

Belle laughed and took it in her own; it was so warm. “I’m Belle.”

“Belle.” Rumple sighed. The name still sounded so beautiful, like the breeze on a gentle day at sea.

Belle released his hand after a moment. “Well, I do have to go. I kind of fibbed to my friend to come here.”

Rumple frowned but nodded, following her until she was back on the sand.

“Will I see you again?” he asked quietly.

“I promise.” Belle announced with certainty. “I’ll be here early tomorrow morning. I’ll bring more pudding cups.”

Rumple perked up at the promise of the delicious treat.

She smiled at him one last time. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

He watched her trek up the sand dune, each step lifting the weight that had weighed him down all day. As the moon began to rise, Rumple returned to his den with new thoughts and plans for Belle ran through his head. Maybe he’d bring her a treasure tomorrow.

It wasn’t until he was lying down that night that another thought struck his mind and made his gut turn in anxiety.

That man on the ship…the Captain Jones…there was something about that name that made the scales on his spine stand on end…

But he couldn’t remember what it was.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Are you a Selkie?"

Treasure 1

Underwater friend

-.-.-.-.-

Belle flipped carefully through the books Captain Jones lent her the day before. They were quite old, the hand stitching loose in most places, and irreplaceable if she had to guess by the lack of publisher. They were also very detailed and filled to the brim with information and illustrations on various creatures, some that lived in the waters in present time and some that were things of fiction.

Belle was both mesmerized and uneasy that such books existed. Either someone had a vivid imagination or—somehow—they had captured the specimens first hand.

The marine biologist looked out to Rumple who was floating on his back just at her feet, staring at her with a gentle smile. She looked back and forth at a particular illustration and giggled.

“Are you a selkie?”

Rumple paused his swimming and gave Belle a strange look. “A what now?”

Belle turned the book towards him. “Seals in water, humans on land?”

The sea creature squinted at the book before giggling. “Nonsense! Those are just myths! They don’t exist!”

Belle rolled her eyes and pulled the book back. “They had to at some point.” She muttered, turning to a new page. She paused when she landed on a creature that looked, well, exactly like Rumple.

“Merfolk are indigenous to various regions and adapt to the environments when in said new environment for long periods of time…”

She arched an eyebrow and turned to Rumple. “What does that mean?”

Rumple crawled up the sand bar and laid out beside Belle. “Oh, just that we change whenever we go to a new place. Extra blubber in colder places, more webbing in tropical, and so forth.”

Belle looked over Rumple’s appearance. His skin was a light sea-sick green and slightly wrinkled from the extended stay in the water. His hands were scaly with long black fingernails and fine webbing between his fingers. He had patches of gold scales all over his body, almost like they were armor for his vulnerable places. Nothing about him really gave a direct indication of where he hailed from.

“Where are you from?” she inquired.

Rumple paused, eyes darting around the beach.

“Here and there.” He answered. “I’ve only been in Storybrooke a little while.”

Belle crossed her legs and edged closer. “Where were you before?”

Rumple shrugged. “Some colder places. I stayed there until the native merfolk became too unneighborly.”

Belle’s eyes widened. “So there are other…merfolk…out there? In Storybrooke?”

Rumpled nodded, staring at the waves lapping at the tip of his non-torn fin. “A few in each place, all as rude as the next. None in Storybrooke except me.”

Belle frowned, sensing a tail there. “Is that why you came here? Because they wouldn’t let you stay?”

“Because they didn’t want me.” He snarled lowly.

Belle watched her mer-friend quietly. How could such a gentle-loving creature be treated so wrong, by his own kind no less?

“I’m sorry.” Belle apologized. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

Rumple turned to Belle. His first instinct was to close down, but he hated to see her so sad.

“I’m sorry too, Belle. I’m not…used to this. Talking and all.”

Belle nodded. “I can relate. I mean, Ariel and Merlin are great but…sometimes I feel like I can’t tell them everything, that they’d judge first, ask questions later.”

Rumple barked humorously. “No one deserves to feel that lonely.”

Belle shrugged, turning to the merman. “Is that it? You’re lonely?”

“Lonely but…not alone, not completely.”

“But you said-”

“I wasn’t referring to the merfolk.” He said, blushing at his interruption.

“What do you mean then?” Belle inquired, becoming more excited by the second.

Rumple mused for a moment before hesitantly picking up Belle’s hand. “I really need to show you, if you want to understand.”

Belle stared into his shy, golden eyes. No malice or ill-intent existed there, just the hope of a fellow lonely soul who wanted to show her a part of his world that others could only imagine. It was a humbling honor, and she was not about to pass it up.

She reached into her bag and grabbed her goggles before intertwining their fingers and nodding. With a smirk he began leading her into the water, stopping when it was past her waist.

“Maybe I should go get a boat.” Belle said.

“You won’t be able to use it where we’re going.” He mused, turning on his belly. “Climb on.”

Belle stared at the shiny scales along his punctuated spine. “Are you sure? I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I can do it. It’ll be easier this way.” He looked back at her with a grin and Belle arched an eyebrow in amusement. She carefully eased onto his tail, finding it strangely smooth, and wrapped her legs around his waist and arms around his shoulders.

He began swimming out to sea, far from the familiar waters of Storybrooke. The waves were gentler in the early evening winds, stained orange from the setting sun. A crowd of seagulls began to follow above them, singing “Follow me, follow me.”

“It’s so beautiful Rumple!” Belle called over the sounds.

“Wait until you see the bottom!” he called back.

Belle sensed his plan just in time to adjust her goggles and take a deep breath before they dove underwater.

It took her a moment to adjust to the change in pressure, but years of experience and Rumple’s guiding hands helped her through the moment of uncertainty.

Rainbows of scales flashed them as they entered deeper waters. Below them were reefs filled to the brim with life. It was so magical, something her books couldn’t describe.

Rumple paused suddenly and pulled Belle off his back to his side. Belle nearly lost her breath as a large sea turtle swam up to them. Rumple took hold of her head and led it to the majestic creature, letting her rub her fingers across the deep indentions on his head, signs of an old injury. She turned to Rumple who smiled sadly.

Strong realization hit Belle like a heavy wave. This is what he was trying to protect. He made these waters his home and was trying to share and protect all who inhabited it from the careless humans above.

The turtle bumped against Belle’s chest, nuzzling her like a cat. Belle smiled and hugged the creature, tracing a hand on his shell. As much as she wanted to stay with him longer, her lungs were starting to become heavy. She pointed to the surface and Rumple nodded, taking her hand and pulling her up.

Belle took in a deep breath, pulling up her goggles to rub the stray bits of salt out of her eyes.

“Wow!” Belle breathed, clutching Rumple’s hand. “Rumple it’s beautiful down there!”

Rumple blushed at her praise. “It is. And the creatures…they don’t mind me. We take care of each other.”

“I’ve never seen this area before!” Belle gasped excitedly. “What else is down there?”

Rumple looked out into the horizon. The sun was getting lower by the moment and he didn’t want Belle out in the waters after dark.

“There is another place I wanted to show you…”

Belle smiled gleefully. “Yes, please! I want to see everything!”

Rumple’s smile matched hers and he took hold of her hands, helping her back into the depths.

After she adjusted again, Rumple led Belle to a sea cave under the coral reefs. Belle felt a bubble of nervousness expand in her belly. She had no way of knowing just what was in the cave. An eel or even a shark could be waiting for them and Belle was not a fast enough swimmer to escape, even with Rumple’s guidance.

Rumple seemed confident and unafraid and he entered the cave first, waving her inside. She followed hesitantly but soon lost her worry when she saw the contents of the cave.

All around them were barrels filled with spears, broken fishing poles and even old, rusty swords, chests filled to the brim with ancient coins and jewels, cracked vases and damaged furniture, a china doll with a missing eye, and even a few water-damaged books. Right under a large beacon of light was an aged but complete spinning wheel.

Excited as she was, Rumple reached out and grabbed a rusty fork, the first object of his collection. Belle stared at it in confusion but nodded her head in appreciation before she went to look at the other objects.

Rumple watched giddily as Belle admired his collections. He knew to most it was just things, garbage really, lost or thrown away by unappreciative humans. Despite how he despised said humans for littering in his beloved ocean, he couldn’t help but be fascinated by the things they were able to create. He was thrilled Belle shared his interest. There were so many conversations they could have now, so many places they could go to search for more things.

Neither one of them would be lonely now.

Belle waved him back to the present and pointed to the surface. He took her hand and pulled her from the cave to the gleaming surface.

Belle gasped for air, feeling light she could pass out. She felt herself sinking and clawed at Rumple’s shoulders to keep her afloat.

Rumple’s eyes widened in panic at the sight of her drooping, ready-to-sleep form.

“Belle!” Rumple panicked, popping her cheek gently. “Please! Why are you dying Belle? Please don’t die! I’m so sorry!”

Belle patted his hand as he sobbed. “No, Rumple I’m fine.” She reassured, resting her head against his shoulder. “I was just underwater for too long. I just need to get back to shore, rest a bit.”

Rumple nodded, smiling down in relief at the sleepy human. He carefully arranged her on his back and carried her back to their little space of beach.

 

Chapter Text

The cawing of birds woke Belle early the next morning. When she opened her eyes she could see the beautiful dark purple transition of night into morning as the gentle lap of the low tide tickling her toes.

She sat up to stretch, the seaweed blanket Rumple must have covered her with sliding to her waist.

“Wow.” Belle mused, studying the intertwined seaweed strands. Rumple’s intelligence level continued to perplex and amaze her.

Speaking of the merman, Belle could see his form swimming just past the rock cluster, rising from the water every few seconds to place shells of some sort on the rocks.

Belle waddled into the chilly water, taking her time so that she didn’t bring her temperature down too quickly. She really needed to borrow a wetsuit from Merlin or she was going to catch pneumonia.

“Hey.” Belle greeted as she climbed atop of the rock. She nearly knocked the shells he had gathered back into the water as she tried to steady herself.

The merman shot from the water, jumping halfway on the rock and causing the shells and water to fly.

“Belle!” Rumple greeted excitedly, his face nearly colliding with hers.

Belle laughed and leaned back. “What are you doing?”

Rumple smiled and handed her one of the shells. “Food.”

Belle took it from him and studied it, noticing now that it was a mussel of some kind.

“Oh, thank you Rumple.” Belle smiled, though she grimaced at the salty, squishy texture. She could feel his eyes on her as she ate, watching each empty shell she laid down. He would push more her way, making sure she had enough to eat. It was adorable, but Belle wondered if it had to do with his biology or instinct. She really wanted to know about his kind without treating him like a specimen under a microscope.

“What do you want to do today?” Rumple inquired excitedly when all the shells were empty.

Belle pondered on that. She really should be heading back to the house and prepare for her inventor’s visit, but yesterday had been so magical that she didn’t want to leave. There was so much left for her to learn.

Not to mention she was still groggy from being under water so long and did not want to travel yet.

She glanced around and caught site of the books Captain Jones had lent her, and an idea came to her.

“How about I read to you?

Rumple smiled lightly. “I’d like that. Hop on?”

Belle nodded, adjusting her bag safely behind her as she waited for Rumple to turn on his stomach.

“I’ve got a better idea,” Rumple suggested softly, holding out his arms to her and nodding.

Belle caught on and held her bag over her head as she slid into his arms, squeaking when he used his tail to lift her from the water. She locked her legs around the base of his tail as he swam backwards further, amazed by how quickly they were moving despite her weight.

Finally Rumple stopped and gently rested his hands on her waist and his head on her shoulder, smiling excited as he waited for her to begin reading.

Belle giggled and fished out worn copy of Legends of the Deep and flipped to the chapter concerning the legendary Megalodon.

Rumple scoffed when she finished the first page. “Those over-sized brutes. Glad they stay at the bottom of the ocean where they belong.”

“They…exist?” Belle gasped.

“Of course,” Rumple answered nonchalant. “They feed off whale and squid carcasses. Quite revolting really.”

Belle laughed at his pinched face. “You’ll have to tell me more about what’s down there, one day.”

“I’d like to.” Rumple purred against her shoulder.

Belle sighed and lazily followed the glow down his flickering tale.

 “You know,” she mused as she ran her fingers over the jagged fin. “I never did ask what happened to your fin? Was it one of the boats?”

Rumple paused, lifting his head from her shoulder and staring at the remains of his fin.

Belle glanced back, hoping she hadn’t insulted him, but found him to look quite passive about the incident.

“Hm…oh, well there was a human in…this black skin…the thing you had on the day we met.”

“The day you met me, you mean.” Belle chortled, recalling how she nearly drowned the first time she saw him. The second time went smoother, even when she had hit her head. Third times the charge, as she was actually conscious during their introductions.

“A diver, then?” Belle continued.

“Yes,” Rumple nodded. “But…it had this spear…and it threw it right at me.”

Belle’s breath stilled in her throat. Someone attached Rumple? She hadn’t heard any legends of a diver coming across the merman.

“And the diver hit you?” Belle inquired, nodding at his tail.

“My fin, yes.” Rumple answered, swishing the torn appendage in the salty air. He grimace at the memory, at the still vibrating twinge of pain from the impaling, and even worse, the fear of the diver as it swam closer. He recalled the feel of the squishy sand between his fingers as he gripped the ocean floor, panic outweighing the pain.

“I was pierced, and I had to escape so…” he paused, not needing to say anymore.

“That’s awful.” Belle gasped, turning around to hold onto his shoulders.

Rumple stared at her, the pain in her eyes hurting him more than the phantom ache he felt in the remains of his fin.

“It was a long time ago.” Rumple concluded, smiling in hopes of comforting her. “And…the diver didn’t come after me once I left the area. I found these waters…and you.” He added the last part carefully and lifted a hand to her face, trailing down the soft skin.

Belle smiled, pulling Rumple into her arms. “I’m glad something good came from that horrible day.” she said.

Rumple awkwardly copied her motions until their salty skins were brushing.  

With his face hidden from her sight, the merman could remember the blurry details of that day. There had been no pain when the diver had speared him into the sand, but there had been an indiscernible fear. The diver had had a second spear that Rumple was certain was destined for his throat. A quick decision had him ripping his fin free and slapping the second spear back at the diver, stabbing him in the dead-center of his hand. Even under the water the merman could here the diver’s enthralled screams of pain. Now feeling the intense pain and smelling blood, he dodged out of the area screaming as the remainder of his fin bled and flapped in the currents.

Rumple gulped, the memory making his insides cold.

Belle felt his heartbeat increase against her chest and pulled him back. “Are you okay?” she inquired gently.

Rumple stared into her eyes, so blue and alive like the ocean. The diver hadn’t had eyes, had seemed to have any soul at all. How could Belle come from the same species yet be so different? So…amazing?

Rumple smiled, leaning into her hand.

“I am thanks to you.”

Beyond the safety of the empty cove, an onlooker used an ancient telescope to watch the interaction between the biologist and the merman. Seeing all he needed to see, the onlooker lowered the telescope and turned away, a small dark smile spreading on their lips.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Despite her water-logged body and headache, Belle was positively giddy to go back to the beach to see Rumple. She planned to “borrow” diving equipment from Merlin so she could do some additional exploring with her mer-friend.

However, her inventor from Australia was coming in today and she had to be at the docks with the mayor to meet him. Not to mention Merlin and Ariel were watching her like a hawk since she arrived home at 3 a.m. the previous night.

“Most people don’t sneak in during the middle of the night when they’re “with” someone.” A bed-haired Ariel had commented over late night tea she had made in anticipation for Belle’s return. “Did…something happen?”

“If something did happen, we don’t need the details.” Merlin protested sleepily.

“No.” Belle said quickly. “I just…lost track of time.”

Ariel nodded, but there was a hunger in her eyes for more answers and Belle was almost tempted to spill everything, but it just wasn’t the right time. She swore once Rumple’s safety was guaranteed that she’d tell them both everything, but not until.

Now, at 8 a.m. in the morning, Belle and her lethargic team sat at the tables at a small dock café waiting for the morning ferry to arrive. Merlin was blinking over a cup of hot coffee while the mayor was glaring at him over hers.

“So, Miss French,” The mayor spoke when a waitress brought them a basket of rolls. “this inventor friend of yours is…”

“Brilliant.” Belle answered, knowing she threw the mayor off. “He’ll fix this problem in no time.”

The mayor hummed, unamused. “I should hope so.”

The group remained quiet until Ariel spotted the ferry coming in the distance. They rose as it ported and waited as the mainlanders and tourists exited, side-glancing Belle as she searched for the mystery inventor that would fix all their problems.

Suddenly, Belle smiled and jogged up to a heavyset man with a metal suitcase and stiffened into a soldier’s salute.

“Permission to hug, Captain French?” Belle requested, barely smothering her grin.

The man set down his suitcase and extended his beefy arms. “Permission granted darling o’mine.”

Belle giggled and jumped into her father’s arms, laughing when he lifted her a good foot off the ground and swung her back and forth.

“That…is precious.” Merlin chuckled.

Ariel shrugged good-naturedly. “Glad to see someone has a decent relationship with their father.”

“Indeed.” Mayor Mills muttered, straightening professionally and approaching the hugging duo.

“Captain…French?” she greeted.

The captain in question sat his daughter back on her feet, reaching out to engulf the mayor’s offered hand.

“The only captaining I do nowadays is on my fishing boat back in Queensland. Just call me Moe.”

The mayor pulled back, keeping her smile though her hand tingled slightly. “Very well…Moe. I take it Belle has briefed you in on our dilemma?”

“Gave me the gist.” He stated, picking up the metal suitcase he brought with. “I think I got what you need, but let’s get some breakfast first.”

After a good breakfast, the group was much perkier. Even Mayor Mills let down her over-professional walls and smiled along to one of Moe’s fishing stories.

“Sword fish had to be as long as my boat. Twenty feet at least!”

“Was that before or after the squid?” Belle inquired with a good-natured eyeroll, knowing her father always stretched the truth with his stories. What else were retirees supposed to do?

“Before, I think.” Moe answered before shoveling in his last forkful of eggs. “It was after I met Triton, before I met your mum.”

Ariel scoffed at the mention of her dad. Ariel had grown up in a military family like Belle’s but much stricter and much more crowded, as she was the youngest of seven too-similar sisters. Though the military family was a pain to live with at times, it was the traveling that led her to meet Belle in high school and spark their friendship.

“So you’re a captain and an inventor?” Regina inquired, obviously trying to pull the conversation back to business.

“Yep! I used to design ship turbines and waterproof radios before working my way up to captain. Now that I’m retired, I dabble around in environment-saving tools.” He leaned over to noisily pull the metal suitcase onto the table, pulling from it a small, mesh square no bigger than a coin purse.

“Check this puppy out!”

The mayor cautiously observed the square. “This is…”

“An oil filter. You put this on the end of the oil line and it absorbs any access oil that comes out.”

The mayor nodded. “Perfect. How much do these cost each?”

 “I have a visiting-a-daughter special.” Moe winked at Belle.

“Oh my God dad…” Belle groaned, shooting Merlin a look when he chuckled.

“$150 each.” Moe stated.

Regina mused at the offer, doing a quick calculation in her sharp mind.

“I’ll have to talk it over with the council. I’ll get back with you in a couple of days?”

“No problem! Where am I staying?”

The major smiled proudly. “We have you set up at the bed and breakfast on Main. I’ll be happy to escort you.”

“Sounds great.” Moe stood and stretched, glancing at his daughter. “You don’t mind if I head on out do you?”

“Of course not dad.” Belle stated, feeling guiltily relieved. “But I am taking you out to dinner tonight. No objections.”

“Can’t wait, pumpkin.”

“Dad…”

The group walked the mayor and Mr. French to the mayor’s car and waived them off, bursting in relief and excitement when the car disappeared down the road.

“Yes!” Ariel cheered. “We did it! It’s almost over!”

Belle’s smile faltered at her friend’s proclamation. Once Moe fixed the oil problem, they wouldn’t have a reason to stay in Storybrooke. The institute would give her and Ariel a new assignment and there was no telling when they’d be able to return.

Belle felt her throat tighten at the thought of never seeing Rumple again. Would he be devastated as well?  She had to tell him, had to let him know what could happen.

Merlin’s yawn cut Belle from her muse.

“I’m exhausted. I’m going home to get some sleep.”

Ariel stretched tiredly. “I’m with you. You coming, Belle?”

Belle paused. “Um, no. I’m going to…have another cup of coffee. Then maybe take a walk along the pier.”

 “Fine.” Merlin nodded tiredly. “Come by later and I’ll give you a recommendation for a restaurant.”

“Great bye!”

Ariel and Merlin gave her perturbed looks before heading towards the car.

As soon as she couldn’t see their car, she darted down the docks and across the beach, slowing her speed so that she wouldn’t draw attention.

She was out of breath by the time she found the secret beach, but was still excited to see Rumple perched on a hill of sand, a multitude of treasures surrounding him. She called out a greeting and eyed the objects spread before him curiously as she approached him.

“Belle!” the merman greeted excitedly. “You’re early.”

Belle yawned in response, bustling down to the sand. “I met with my inventor friend.” She relayed.

Rumple’s eyes widened. “Your…you can fix the ink spills?”

Belle smiled. “Yes, soon.”

Rumple shot at her, clutching her to him by circling one arm under her armpit and the other around her neck. Belle recognized that it was his attempt at a hug, awkward as it was.

“Everything’s going to be okay for now on.” Belle assured, hands caressing his scaly back.

Rumplestiltskin pulled back, his eyes much more crestfallen than they should be over such good news.

“You said you were here to the stop the spills. You’ve stopped them, does that mean you’re going away?”

Belle gulped, the absolute distraught on his face breaking her heart.

“Rumple…I…”

She wished she had planned this out better, created a speech at least. She knew her time in Storybrooke was coming to an end and she had no way of stopping it. As soon as they sent their report back to headquarters, she and Ariel would be sent back to Australia until their next assignment popped up, and it would be too dangerous and selfish to ask Rumple to follow her.

But Belle wasn’t ready, and she couldn’t just put Rumple in a cooler and take him with her…though if she found a large enough one at a yard sale she’d look into it. She’d just have to find a way to extend her stay, or at least make use of what time she had.

“Look,” she said, clutching his hands in her own. “No matter what happens after this, I’m not leaving you. I don’t want to leave you.”

Rumple smiled thankfully, lifting their clutched hands to his forehead. It was an odd gesture that made Belle giggle and join him, meeting his eyes and smiling when he did.

 -,-,-,-,-,-,-

Belle wiped a tear from her eye as her sides burned from laughing at another of her dad’s ridiculous stories.

“I can’t believe you would do that.”

“Your mum didn’t either.” Moe chuckled as he sipped on his bottle of beer. He sighed longingly, smiling soberly at the brown bottle. “I miss her so much. She was my partner in crime.”

“I miss her too, dad.” Belle said, placing her hand on top of his.

“She always hoped you’d find a partner of your own.” Moe said pressingly.

Belle rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “We’ve been through this…”

“I know, I know.” Moe laughed. “I just want to see my girl happy is all.”

“I am happy dad.” Belle insisted, and she wasn’t just trying to appease him. Since she came to Storybrooke and met Rumple, she had felt more joyful, more excited to get out of bed every morning.

“You’re not lonely?” Moe asked her intently.

“Of course not.” Belle said. “I have Merlin, and Ariel…”

She stopped when Rumple’s name almost rolled off her tongue. She took a sip of her drink, hoping it had gone unnoticed but her dad had caught it.

“Who else? Have you found someone?” he grinned.

Belle blushed. “Not exactly…”

“The color on your cheeks says otherwise.” Moe teased, making Belle wish the floor would open and swallow her.

“Dad it’s really—”

“Ah Belle! I was wondering if you were going to show up tonight.”

Belle glanced around to see Killian Jones walking toward the bar. She wasn’t sure whether she was glad to see him or not, as his presence may give her father the insinuation that they were involved.

“Forgive me, I didn’t see you had company.” He said in a charming brogue, though he shot her wink. 

“Captain Jones, it’s great to see you!” She greeted much too cheerfully to be real.

Killian held back a snort, giving a slight nod to her and then her father.

“Excuse my intrusion.”

 “No, not at all.” Moe said as he stood, grinning Belle’s way. “I was just about to head back to the inn.”

“Oh no.” Belle sighed disappointedly, though she was praying he would hurry up and go.

“Yep, see you tomorrow m’girl.” Moe said, sending her a wink as he left her alone with Killian.

Belle physically sagged against the bar stool. “Thanks.”

“The conversation sounded a bit strained. I hope I wasn’t…”

“No,” Belle laughed. “You’re actually my hero. He wanted details on my love life.”

Killian chuckled. “My presence might have given him the wrong idea.”

A warm blush traveled across Belle’s cheeks. He really could be a charmer when he tried, though the half-drunken bottle of beer in his hand worried her.

“Well,” Killian sighed, “now that I’ve saved you, I’ll leave you to your peaceful evening.” He gave a slight bow and turned to leave.

“Wait.” Belle protested, not realizing she had said anything until he actually stopped to look back at her.

The books he had leant her were heavy in her bag, reminding her of the proposal he had made the last time they saw each other. She had been a bit cold to him when they met, and he had been nothing but good-natured to her then and now. He didn’t deserve her cold shoulder, even if he was annoyingly flirtatious. She couldn’t judge him until she got to know him, so she might as well start now.

“Let me buy you a drink…for all your help the other day…and tonight.” She chuckled.

Killian took her in, a small, innocent smirk going across his lips.

“I’d like that very much.”

Two hours later the biologist and the captain were giggling furiously over their third round of beers.

“Then,” Killian giggled as he continued with a story he had been relaying. “We had to get peanut butter between the eels teeth to get it to let go of his arm!”

Belle doubled over with laughter. The story was more gruesome that funny, but Belle was too buzzed not to humor him.

“You’ve had a lot of adventures.” Belle chortled before taking a swig from her bottle.

Killian nodded, smiling reminiscently. “The boys and I have seen the world and all its wonders ten times over.” He snuck a look at Belle before he returned to his drink. “But there comes a time in a man’s life when he’s ready to slow down, have less dangerous adventures.”

Belle smirked when she sensed what he was leading to. “I’ve been thinking the same thing, but with my significant other.”

Killian smacked his lips. “You two worked things out then?”

Belle smiled. “We did, and had a quiet adventure as a result of it.”  

The captain hummed and gave her an incredulous look. Belle rolled her eyes at the glint of lust. “Not that kind of adventure, thank you. We haven’t gotten to that stage yet.”

“He must be pretty special to wait for.”

Belle watched the water droplets run down her beer bottle. Though the comment made her want to tell Captain Killian Jones, it did bring up the question of what could be next for her and her merman. She cared for him so much, but she wondered how their relationship could transform. As soon as her father fixed the boats issue, their work in Storybrooke would be done and they would receive their next assignment. Being a marine biologist was her life, and she loved it, but could she really choose between staying in Storybrooke with Rumple over exploring the oceans and saving its inhabitants?

“He is special.” Belle finally admitted. “So special. I’m just not sure if a future for us is plausible.”

Killian eyed her, his fingers tapping on the neck of his bottle. “Why do you think that?”

“Let’s just say…” Belle laughed, then shrugged. “We’re from two different worlds.”

“Indeed.” Killian said, lifting his bottle in salute.

Before Belle could question him, he stood and pulled out his wallet.

“No!” Belle exclaimed, searching for her purse. “This is on me, remember?”

“I never make a lady pay for drinks.” Killian winked, standing unsteadily as he stood to place a few bills on the counter. “However, I would love the honor of walking you home.”

Belle bit her lip as he stumbled a bit. “I live a bit too far out for you to escort me. Perhaps I should walk you home instead. I have your books with me. We could exchange them.”

Killian laughed, the heat of the alcohol hitting her lips. “I think that would be a wise choice.”

Belle slung his arm over her shoulders, his tipsiness causing him to slouch and lose the few inches of height he had on her.

“Just down the docks.” He instructed unevenly.

Belle could see the familiar sails of Killian’s ship. “You live on your ship? How magical.”

“She needs constant attention.” He said with a wink.

Belle lowered her head before rolling her eyes.

Belle slowly led them up the stairs to the deck. Killian nodded to the Captain’s quarters and Belle helped him sit on the bed. She looked around, noticing he had straitened up a bit, which Belle couldn’t help but think he had done so in some kind of anticipation, if not from her than some kind of girl who would have caught his eye.

Belle sighed. It certainly wasn’t going to be her.

She started when Killian suddenly stood. He grabbed onto the table, giving her a pleasant smile.

“I’m going to get a glass of water. Would you like anything?”

“No thank you,” Belle said politely. “I’m just going to put the books back.”

Killian nodded and made the wobblily trip into the kitchen area, leaving Belle to fish the books from her bag and returned them to the stack she had borrowed them from.

True to his word, Killian had indeed been on many adventures and had artifacts from all over the world to prove it. Her eyes scanned the books and maps she saw last time until she saw the mysterious door Killian had stopped her from entering.

Belle glanced over her shoulder and heard the distinct sound of drawers opening and closing, signifying that Killian was still busy in the kitchen. He had been intent on keeping whatever was in there a secret. Belle wondered if it was full of personal belongings, maybe relics of a painful past. Or perhaps it really was just “dangerous fishing gear” and he really thought she could get hurt.

Still, Belle had learned from experience that usually when someone was hiding something, it was worth finding out about. Belle decided she would just take a quick peak, and if she saw nothing, she would close the door and drop the whole thing.

She opened the door just enough for her to step through and pulled the light chord, filling the small room with dingy orange light.

Belle’s eyebrows bowed in question as she looked around the room. It was full of mermaid memorabilia, statues and ancient pictures and books like the one Killian had lent her. She stepped further inside, her suspicions dimming when she noticed nothing incriminating. It would make sense that he’d have an interest in the creatures with his seafaring travels.

She was about to turn around when she noticed something on the small desk. It was a glass case of some sort, the dim lighting barely illuminating it. There was something dark and wrinkled inside it, and light, Belle discovered when she lifted it off the desk.

It was a fin. A piece of one any way.

The discovery made Belle’s stomach drop. It couldn’t be…it wouldn’t be possible…

Belle turned towards the light, holding the glass case to the dingy lightbulb for better illumination.

As the darkened but distinctive golden color washed over her, she watched through the glass as Killian stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

“I would have preferred if you hadn’t found that.” Killian tsked.

Belle slowly lowered the case, hugging it to her chest as she glared at him.

“You’ve sobered up quickly.” She spat.

“Miraculous recovery.” He deadpanned as he stopped and opened a small drawer. In a quick swoop he pulled out a small but still very threatening gun. His lip curled when he saw Belle’s panicked expression

“As I said, there is a lot of dangerous equipment in here.”

Belle gulped, but somehow having a piece of Rumple with gave her the ability to keep her spine straight and her glare firm.

“You said it was fishing gear.”

Killian chuckled, brushing invisible grime off the gun before stepping closer to her. “Emphasis on the fish, but still just as dangerous.”

Belle felt the urge to step back as he edged uncomfortably closer, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of scaring her.

“I know where you got this from.” Belle hissed, her nails scratching into the glass when he stepped right in front of her.

“From your monster.” Killian shrugged. “Years of tracking him and I’ve only gotten this small piece of proof.” He tapped on the glass with the gun as he said it, smirking when he met Belle’s glare.

Belle gulped, but she kept her spine straight and her glare firm.

“How long?” she growled.

“You’ll have to specify on that question love.” Killian said as he brushed up to her, causing Belle to draw back until the back of her legs hit the desk. He directed her into a chair, thus trapping her in the small room with him. “Do you mean how long have I’ve been tracking that beast, or how long have I known that you’ve been cozying with him?”

Belle’s fingers tapped nervously on the glass casing. He’d known about her and Rumple all along, and she had bit the baited hook he’d cast out to her.

“Both.”

Killian shrugged, stepping back just enough to pull a chair out in front of her and sit, the gun still pointed at her.

“My history with the beast is long and quite complicated.” He winked. “I rather talk about you.”

“How flattering.” Belle deadpanned.  “But I have nothing to say to you except that you should put that gun down before you get hurt.”

Killian laughed, charmed by her feistiness.

 “There’s no need for threats, love.” He said, sitting back and crossing his legs. “In fact, I think once I let you go, we’ll be much nicer to each other.”

“I doubt it.” Belle snarked. “But what are you going on about?”

“Let me level with you.” He sighed, leaning forward. “I’ve been tracking this creature for a long time, and I’ve lost a great deal trying to prove his existence.”

“So has he.” Belle growled, tapping a finger against the glass case in her arms.

“He was alive and well last time I saw you two together.” The captain clucked, giving Belle a sordid look-over. “By looks of it, you two were getting quite comfortable with each other.”

Belle’s face tinted pink at his insinuation, but her snark was stronger than any embarrassment she could feel.

“What can I say, I like creatures with scales and class.” She smirked.

“Let’s cut to the chase.” Killian interrupted, disturbing images dancing behind his eyes. In a blink, one of his charming smiles was plastered back on his lips, one that, if Belle were more feeble-minded, she would have fell for the moment she met him.

“How about I just cut out of here…” Belle suggested, trying to ease past the pirate. He pointed the gun at her shoulder and pushed her into the desk.

“Please don’t do that again, Belle.” Killian insisted. “I’d hate to mark an inch of your pretty skin with a bullet, at least not before I present my offer to you.”

“What offer?” Belle spat, eyeing the exit.

“As I said, I’ve studied and chased that beast for some time now.” The captain explained, tapping the tip of the gun against her arm. “And, unsurprisingly, its become charmed by you. Trusts you, even.”

Belle arched a suspicious eyebrow. She did not like where he was going.

“Capturing this beast—dead or alive—could mean more fame and money than I would know what to do with.” The captain explained, and Belle could practically see the dollar signs dancing behind his eyes. “Which is why, if you help me trap it, I’ll split it all down the middle with you.”

“You think me shallow enough that I would put Rumple in harms way for fame and fortune?” Belle scoffed.

“I think you’re smart enough that you recognize a golden opportunity.” The captain explained. “Wouldn’t you like to just see the world rather than study it? You’d never have to work another day in your life.”

“I like my job!” Belle exclaimed. “I have helped save so many species, just like Rumple.”

“Well then think how many more you’ll save with the price tag on that creature’s head. You could save the world.”

“Rumple is part of my world.” Belle fought. “I won’t sacrifice him. His life is precious, to me and so many other creatures. He protects the oceans and ways I can’t! He’s kind and gentle, and creative and he appreciates beauty in ways no one else can.”

The captain observed her, the small smile on his face queer and slightly terrifying, like a shark seconds away from devouring its trapped prey.

“The beautiful girl has fallen in love with the underwater beast.” He scoffed. “Adorable!”

Belle’s argument shriveled on her tongue. Gods be, he was right.

She loved Rumple, and the realization only made her panic more for his safety. Killian was dead-set to kill her friend, and his only hope of salvation was if she calculated her way out this hole.

 “Why is it always the pretty ones who fall for the monsters?” Killian mused aloud. “Pity, really.”

Belle gritted her teeth at the statement, knowing that a snark back would lessen her chances of survival.

“I really do hope you change your mind.” Killian sighed. “I hate to hurt pretty women, and I think in time you and I could develop a rather…” he wagged his eyebrows and Belle struggled not to slap him then and there. “close friendship.”

“What are you going to do to me in the meantime?” Belle inquired after forcing down a gag.

The captain seemed to muse on the question for a moment, and Belle hugged the glass case tighter to her out of concern for herself.

“I’m going to...let you go.” he decided, easing the gun away from her. “I have some hope that you’ll change your mind.”

“And why would you think that?”

“Because, my dear, dear Belle,” Killian laughed. “No one is going to believe a word you say.”

Belle gulped. He was right on that note. Two weeks ago if someone had told her all she had witnessed, she would have thought them insane as well.

Still, that didn’t mean that she couldn’t run to the docks and tell Rumple about the danger he was in.

“Not to mention, I’ve tracked that beast for years. I’ll find him again in a matter of days if you try to tell him.”

Damn.

“Regardless if you help me or not, Belle,” Killian continued, “I’m getting that beast. The only reason I’m getting you the option to help me is because with your help, he may survive much longer.”

Belle shook her head, the idea of Rumple swimming around in a glass case, being poked and prodded by strangers, becoming too realistic for her taste.

Killian witnessed the fear in her eyes, and he stood, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“I really like you Belle,” Killian confided. “I know you’ll make the right decision.”

Belle held her breath when he released her, watching as he unlocked the door and stepped out. She waited until she could no longer hear the echo of his footsteps before she dashed out the door, her chest heaving as she struggled not to let the anxiety of the situation get to her. She needed to stay strong. Rumple’s life depended on it. Her life depended on it.

As she stumbled to the dock, running a finger around the outline of Rumple’s fin.

“Don’t worry Rumple, I’ll figure this out.” Belle pledged. “I’ll protect you no matter what.”