They arrived to the shop only to find it was broken into and the globe was nowhere to be found. Bloody magical barriers have been dropping off one by one, and so the place with hundreds of dangerous magical objects was practically open for everybody to suit themselves. Regina felt the need to break some more things, hard.
Gold sagged heavily against the counter, surveying damage.
'Well,' said Regina angrily. 'We'll simply adjust our technique.'
'We won't.' Gold said tiredly. 'Elixir ingredients are also missing. As virtually everything else we could use to find anyone. It was her. She knew exactly what to take.'
'You should go back home and get some rest,' said Regina authoritatively. 'We won't do anything if you drop dead and free the Dark One. I'll go check in with the Charmings and I'll search my crypt for something useful.'
The most unsettling thing was that he agreed without putting up much fight. That was why, after delivering Gold home, she went to Belle. Before knocking she wondered how much she could tell the little bookworm. Gold forbade her to tell Belle about anything and about his heart in particular. He seemed firmly convinced that Belle should just be happy without him and Regina partially admired that and partially felt unbelievably frustrated. Belle would surely want Gold to come, apologize, explain and gods know what else, though probably not yet, not after such short time. Well, that was not going to happen anyway.
Belle opened the door after a very long time, looking sick and harassed. Regina frowned impatiently.
'We need to talk.'
Bele cringed, squinting her eyes and gestured for Regina to lower her voice.
'Are you hungover, bookworm?'
'That's none of your business, Evil Queen.'
Regina smiled unpleasantly.
'Oh yes, I think it is. But it's quite complicated, so let's talk inside.'
'No. Go away, Regina, I don't have to talk to you. I don't want to.'
'We need to talk about Gold...'
'No way. Not your damn business. Get lost, Regina.'
And the little bookworm shut the door in Regina's face. What a...
'You'll regret that, princess!' Regina called and disappeared.
Belle felt better after slamming the door into Regina's face, but it didn't last for long. An hour later Diana came, with Kay in tow.
'Belle, sweetheart, I've heard that you left your husband... Is there something I can do to help? And how did that happen, when the mirror told you that he's innocent?'
Belle sighed. She really didn't need to explain things all over and Kay standing here and emanating smugness wasn't improving the matter.
She managed to get rid of them as quickly as it was polite, even if she felt a bit guilty. Diana wanted to help. But she also looked like she knew more than she was telling and that was unnerving. Belle didn't need another story from the Fairy Tale Land of how Rumple hurt someone, Kay most probably, for what else would it be?
Perhaps a reasonable person would call Archie now and book an appointment with the therapist, but Belle didn't want to be reasonable. She tried to be reasonable for her whole life and look what it got her. Time to try something new. Perhaps some of Lacey's views weren't so stupid after all. She should borrow some of them. Lacey would never allow anyone to subdue her. Over her dead body.
Still, it would be nice to know what she could do to have normal relationships. Snow White had easily the best marriage among Belle's friends. Belle wanted to learn the secret, maybe she should go and ask. Just like Rumple was asking David, even if ultimately whatever David told him, didn't work.
Curling up beneath the blanket, Belle realized that she was jealous. Snow White had a good marriage and life full of adventures. And she didn't need magic for that. Or books and knowledge for that matter. Life decided to come to Snow White itself, not waiting for her move. Snow did so much and was responsible for so much. Belle wanted her share of responsibility too.
Falling asleep Belle promised herself that the time when she allowed anybody to stop her from living her life was over. She was leaving Storybrooke.
'We did a hell of footwork and searched half the town including Zelena's house,' Regina said without greeting when she popped up in Gold's living room late in the evening. 'Nothing. People didn't notice anything either. She's hiding well. But her house was abandoned, even if magical barriers were holding and took both my and Emma's powers to dismantle.'
Gold frowned. He should have suspected something back when he went to Zelena's house and found the barriers strong as always.
'I'm sure she knows we're looking for her by now.'
Regina absentmindedly conjured fresh water for Thumper, but anger made her splash it on rabbit's fur. Thumper, true to his name, thumped heavily and disappeared behind the table.
'Perhaps we will have to wait for her move,' admitted Regina. 'Everybody knows she's alive by this point and it will be much harder for her to hide. And she can't just use glamour. People will notice a stranger as well. They are suspicious after, well, everything that has happened in Storybrooke so far...'
Regina paused. Then she took a deep breath.
'You should talk to Belle.'
'Leave that alone, Regina.' Gold put as much threat into those words as possible.
'No, I won't. Not when she's the best thing to keep you from having a heart attack and freeing the Dark One. Because I assume it'd be free even with that bracelet. And while I want to believe that the bracelet will stop him, I'm also too much of a realist to assume so.'
Gold shook his head.
'Perhaps. But it's not going to work anyway, so just skip to the next topic, dearie.'
'What the hell, Gold?' Regina bend towards him from her place in the armchair. 'You talk worse than my father. It's crap, utter crap, to be dealing with someone like that. You're just going to hurt her more if you keep this up. You should move your ass and do something!'
'Why do you even care, Regina?' Gold retorted, raising his voice. 'You're the one who held her prisoner to hurt me!'
'Yes, I am, so perhaps you should appreciate what I'm saying twice as much.'
'You're turning into the Charmings, Regina. Always forcing people to do what they think is good.'
'No, I'm doing what I think is good. Or rather right.'
'Yes, because doing the right thing is such a wonderful way to a happy ending. Well, not for everybody, dearie. You are a villain too, don't forget.'
'Oh, I have every intention to forget that stupid label. You said it yourself, our life isn't a fairy tale. I think your little bookworm knows that as well. Don't use it as an excuse for doing nothing.'
'If you forgot, I did the right thing once. And look what it cost me.'
'You think that world is predictable? That it has a sense of justice? Oh, perhaps it's just what I should expect from famous dealmaker Rumplestiltskin, but somehow I thought you have more sense that that. Well, you can't do right things with the assumption that they will be profitable. That's totally not the point. But suit yourself. If you're not going to talk to Belle, then please start looking for some way to restrain the Dark One after your quick death.'
And with that, she disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
Against his better judgment, the next morning Gold went to the library apartment. He didn't bring flowers or other presents, that didn't feel serious enough. Somewhere deep in his mind he knew that Regina was right. You can't do right things with assumption that they will be profitable. That's totally not the point. He knew that once, before taking the curse. He taught this to Bae. It was perhaps because of the cuff, that he was able to act on this again. This and what Belle always was saying – you have to fight for your true love.
Maybe Belle would tell him that she didn't want him. Well, she didn't, she left. But at least he would know that he tried. At least he would apologize once more, because even if Belle didn't want him, he wanted her to know that he didn't want to hurt her. However he eventually did.
She opened the door and he wanted to cry at the same moment. She looked terrible, pale with red eyes and ruffled hair. And it was his fault.
'Belle... I'm so sorry...'
She looked at him frowning and he could tell she was still angry. Maybe he should have waited a day or two? But he might not have the courage then. Though, on the other hand, what did it matter if he had the courage or not. He was trying to make it about himself again, while he should concentrate on Belle.
'Please, be concise,' she told him coldly. 'I'm in the middle of packing.'
'I'm leaving Storybrooke tomorrow morning. I need to make my life mine.'
Without anybody dragging her down or manipulating her. Of course. Of course, she was right. She should go. And she would be safe! Safe from Zelena!
'I understand, Belle. Yes, you should do that.'
She looked at him with wide eyes.
'I expected you to protest...'
'No, I couldn't stop you. You should go, just as you said, make your life yours.’
'I wouldn't be able to come back.'
'But you can call if you want. And about coming back, well, I'm sure it's not so foolproof if one has help inside the town.'
'Oh. Sure. You know that best.'
'I do. You know the town line changed after the second curse. You won't lose your memories for once. There are ways to allow someone to enter the town. This time the town line works much better than the first.'
'Alright. Then take care of yourself, Rumplestiltskin. Goodbye.'
'Goodbye, Belle. And I'm really sorry.'
She closed the door.
He went to his shop and called Regina. She came quickly, apparently frustrated at lack of progress in finding her sister.
'We need to discuss more aggressive tactic, dearie,' he told her without preamble. 'Belle is leaving the town, Zelena won't be able to use her as leverage with me.'
Regina made a face.
'Not what I imagined when I told you to speak with her.'
'It's for the best. It's...'
'I'm fine...' he gasped, pressing one hand to his chest. 'I'm...'
Regina caught him when he lost his balance. The room started to spin and he couldn't breathe. He felt cold sweat collecting on his forehead. This was it. At least the symptoms were obvious and he wasn't alone. Who’d have thought he might have such luck. Perhaps this time he still had a chance to live.
'Gold! Hold on, I'm taking you to hospital!'
He couldn't respond, couldn't really concentrate on anything beside the horrible, burning pain in his chest and stomach. He almost threw up on Regina. There was swirl of color, then noise, then he was moving, there were people beside Regina and he couldn't move, couldn't talk. They were shouting, pulling at his clothes, and it made the pain even worse. Snow Queen appeared, touching him, pricking him with a needle, sticking something to his chest. Then he couldn't keep his eyes open anymore and felt himself drifting away into blackness.
Belle zipped up the bag and sighed heavily. Since her talk with Rumple, the idea of leaving didn't seem so exciting. Her energy somehow disappeared. Maybe because he agreed so easily. Leaving Storybrooke was supposed to be about her being able to tear herself away from everything that tried to control her. When Rumple didn't try, it lost most of its point. Now she felt as if she awoke from a drunken dream. Rumple didn't look well. She was worried.
Her phone rang. Regina. The Evil Queen. Maybe talking to her will help her regain some of the lost momentum?
'Well, princess, I must say I'm impressed. I can't think of a better way to hurt him, and I am the Evil Queen.'
'He's in hospital. He just had a heart attack and is having angioplasty right now. You might want to come. You should be his emergency contact anyway.'
'What?...' Belle had to sit down. 'How?...'
'The usual way, bookworm, I'm sure you can read about coronary in some textbook. I tried to tell you yesterday about that possibility, because that idiot didn't want you to know. I would be mad at him myself, but you still should come. There's much more to the story and it's not the talk for the phone.'
'I'll be there, sure...'
Belle cut the connection. Not trying to stop crying, she run out of the apartment and sprinted the few blocks to the hospital.
'He's still in...'
'Operating room?' Belle cut in. 'Still?'
'No, not operating room, angioplasty isn't open heart surgery, bookworm. We have to wait, anyway, and it's time for you to learn some things about your idiot husband. You can cry along the way, but try to concentrate on what I'm saying.'
Regina hoped that her no-nonsense, hard approach would calm Belle into behaving somewhat rationally, because she really wasn't going to go and support the bookworm emotionally. Just... no. Supporting anyone emotionally simply wasn't something that she did.
'Regina, how should I know I can believe what you're saying?'
Oh great, of all logical questions to ask, she had to pick that one.
'You can't of course. But I insist, because this time what you do will have consequences for everybody. And I'm going to do everything it takes to make you understand and believe. This is not the quantum physics anyway. Can you listen?'
Belle sat on hard, plastic, hospital chair, Regina took the next one. The bookworm put on her best brave or just daring face. Actually, she looked quite like Lacey.
'Good. The curse of the Dark One, the curse that your husband took over three hundred years ago, is corroding his heart. Metaphorically and physically. He knew, for quite a long time, I guess, but now the progress is... substantial. He doesn't have much time if things stay as they are. When his heart dies, the darkness will take over and only the Dark One will remain. We're talking about pure evil unleashed on the town. Short of moving everybody out of Storybrooke, I can't see a solution to that. If we can move everybody out in time anyway, which is too much of a chance to take.'
'Yes, bookworm, that's what I've just said.'
'And you care only about... town? Since when you care about the town anyway?'
'Then believe me that I care about my children.'
'Princess, can we concentrate on important things? You're almost as bad as Gold in logical conversations. At least now, because he's clearly not himself after what my wicked sister did to him. Even in the Enchanted Forest, being batshit crazy imp, he was still logical and sharp. So for the record, I'm pregnant, therefore children. Now, can we concentrate on keeping everybody alive?'
'Don't play the offended, princess. You are his true love. The exact one thing that can slow if not stop the curse. Well, besides cutting off his access to magic, but even as a regular man he'd be much better off with his true love. The cuff may not stop the Dark One after Gold's death either. And we may need his magic if Zelena is going to do something crazy. Not to mention how stressful for him it is to not have magic.'
'So basically you're telling me I should forget everything and love him.'
'And aren't you going to do just that, bookworm? I think that running here like crazy is quite a good indicator.'
'But you think you just have to tell me to do it and I'll do it!'
'And you so hate when people tell you what to do, princess. How hard it had to be on your parents!'
'You leave my parents out of it, Evil Queen!'
Regina smiled unpleasantly.
'I hate it too, you know? And I love ordering people around. But this time I don't think I have to. You know now what the situation is, which he stupidly hid from you, when you could have helped him.'
'I'm sure he had his reasons.'
'Oh come on, bookworm, you're more mad at him than me for this. Of course, he had a reason, he was afraid to be or even to appear weak, as always. He didn't have the guts to put reason before his fears. And now there are consequences. He lost his magic, then you left him and boom, heart attack. You better take care of him, no matter what, because you'll be the first victim of the Dark One. True love, its greatest enemy.'
Belle took a deep breath.
'And you expect me to... to have guts and put reason before my feelings so there'll be no Dark One.'
'I don't get why do you insist that your feelings are so contrary to this.'
'Perhaps for the same reason you are not back with Robin.'
'Perhaps,' she allowed. 'We're not discussing Robin, bookworm. I'm going to go, I have to brief Emma and others on the situation. It's far past time anyway.'
'No, don't go!'
Belle looked just as surprised with herself as Regina felt.
'Don't, please,' repeated Belle, crying. 'Until I can see him. Please?'
'Alright. But no holding hands, no pep talks.'
'No, of course.'
'Good,' Regina sat back on the chair and looked at the ceiling, irritated. Sitting wasn't the best thing to do when she was so worried about someone, but she couldn't really tell Belle that, right?
Regina walked with her to Rumple's room, but didn't enter. She listened carefully to the cardiologist's (Belle didn't want to think of her as Snow Queen) comments, asked some sensible questions that Belle wouldn't think to ask and disappeared in a purple cloud. Belle took a deep breath and entered the single-person room alone.
Technically she knew what 'intensive care' meant. Still, seeing someone (her husband!) for real in it was scary. Rumple was wearing standard issue hospital gown and there were all sorts of wires and tubes on him, that Belle wasn't sure she could explain. She plopped down on another hard, plastic chair and wondered why someone thought that hospital furniture should be so uncomfortable.
Perhaps that way it's easier to clean.
He should be okay this time, the doctor said. He'd gotten to the hospital quickly. The permanent damage to his heart was relatively small. His coronary arteries were unblocked by angioplasty. Few days and he'd be out, back home, with a list of strict rules to follow so it wouldn’t repeat. Hopefully, with magic blocked out, it would be just the same as with any other person.
He should wake up soon, the doctor said. Though for now rest would do him good.
She almost missed it when he woke up, just opening his eyes a bit. She felt so tired that after first fifteen minutes without any change, she started to doze off. But then she shook off last bout of sleepiness and saw he was looking at her.
'Rumple?' she said, gently and caringly, which felt so natural. She reached out to caress his hair and smiled.
He blinked. It took him some time to formulate and articulate question.
'How are you here?... 'S this a dream?'
'No, I'm really here.'
He just smiled, small and happy smile that broke her heart. He seemed to not care about anything else.
'You'll be fine, Rumple. The doctor said you'll make full recovery and be in the hospital for a few days only.'
He looked around as if only now seeing where he was. He frowned.
'You had a heart attack, Rumple. Actually, I should call someone now that you're awake.'
'No!' he reached for her hand suddenly, trying to sit up and failing with a grimace.
'Calm down, Rumple,' Belle held his arm. 'Don't try to get up. Why don't you want me to call the doctor? You know that she should check on you and she'll explain to you your condition.'
'I don't want you to go,' he admitted, not looking at her.
'Oh, Rumple, I wasn't going to leave.' She took his hand in hers, careful to not get tangled in the IV line. 'I was only going to call the doctor.'
'Oh...' he blushed. 'I'm sorry, I just thought...'
'No, don't be.' She took a deep breath. 'Is this my fault, Rumple?... The heart attack?'
He looked at her with open mouth.
'What?... Oh no, no, Belle, you can't think that!'
'Regina said so, very explicitly.'
'Regina! Don't listen to the queen, sweetheart. She's...' he made a distasteful grimace. 'pregnant'.
And Belle couldn't help but giggle quietly, even if that was awfully rude. But Regina would probably said the same if somehow the roles were reversed. He smiled weakly, but only for a moment. He looked at her seriously. He was so pale, she couldn't help but notice. So small beneath the medical equipment.
'It's alright, Belle. It's my fault, I know that.' Tears appeared in the corners of his eyes. 'And I know I just can't be a good husband, I'm so sorry for forcing you to go through all this. This was never going to work, because I can't... I can't... I mean...'
'What, Rumple?' she asked gently, quietly.
'Why would anyone want and love me?' he blurted out.
'What? Rumple, really?...' When he started to turn his head away from her, she reached out and put her hand on his cheek. 'You really feel that no one would? But I loved you, so much. Haven’t you ever believed it?'
He closed his eyes. The heart monitor was beeping more quickly. Belle felt a surge of fear running through her, what if this talk, this stress, would worsen his health? But she had to make him believe! Only then they could heal and that went for his very physical heart as well.
'Belle, you left me,' he said finally, not opening his eyes. 'You see yourself I was right. No one can stay with me out of love. I'd push anybody away. And as I said, it's my fault. Not yours. You did the right thing. And just as you said, I'll recover, so you don't have to worry if... if you do worry.' This sounded hopeful. 'I mean... you can still leave Storybrooke.'
She was exhausted and wanted to hit him and then storm out screaming that he again tries to decide for her what she should do, but that would be outright counterproductive. Belle took a deep breath and decided to actually try the really brave thing.
Talking things through, together.
Oh dear, was there anything harder?
'Rumple. Listen to me. I still love you, even if I'm mad at you for a gazillion things. I... I don't want to leave you. I want my husband back. If he would have me back. Because we both have things to work through. Leaving Storybrooke might have been too rash of a decision. I felt controlled and wanted freedom, but not for this price.'
He opened his eyes, surprised.
'I lied to you, Belle. I used you. The dagger was fake.'
'Yes, I know. You shouldn't have done this. But part of this was probably your curse. It's... weird. From a distance it seems logical, that when you have such darkness in you, then it would influence you. It's just got to be more than power to be used. Perhaps I should have... factored it in. But you know, I saw the man behind the monster. Only the man. And counted all the flaws as belonging to the man.'
Rumple shook his head.
'No, I did it all.'
'Yes, I know. But isn't it a bit like... mental illness?'
'No, mental illness isn't your fault. I took the curse myself.'
'Addiction then?' She sighed. 'Rumple, I don't know. And probably it can't be compared fully to anything. But the curse is real. And it’s the reason your heart is ill.'
'Belle, I don't want you to feel... obligated. I can imagine what Regina told you. You don't have to stay with me to warn off the Dark One. In fact, you should go away as far as possible and stay safe.'
Belle sighed again, even deeper.
'No. I'm not going to give up on you. And yes, I'm fully aware of the danger. Regina explained. In detail.'
'Good, old, dependable Regina,' Rumple snickered and Belle smiled.
'So, is this settled? I'm staying. I'm not giving up on you because I do love you. Which does not mean we don't have lots and lots and lots of work ahead.'
Rumple looked unsure, but he finally nodded, apparently quite shell-shocked.
'Good. Then I'm calling that doctor.'
She stayed with him till late in the evening, no one daring to protest that visiting hours were long over. He was as much asleep as awake, but she wouldn't leave him anyway.
'Belle, you can go, get some rest,' he protested, many times.
'I want to be here with you,' she was replying patiently, exercising her ability to not be angry.
'But why, Belle?'
'Because I love you.'
It felt like talking to a small child and she wondered if it wasn't exactly that. If it wasn't that little boy that was left by his father talking.
She tightened her grip on his hand, petting his hair.
'I just do. Love isn't about why. But if you want I can list things I love about you. Though I'm not sure when I'd be able to finish if at all.'
'It doesn't make sense.'
Belle wondered if it were painkillers (the doctor mentioned morphine) enabling him to be more open or just sheer shock of what was happening.
'Why doesn't it make sense?'
'I don't have anything to offer to you. I'm worthless. Weak. Coward. And now sick and helpless.'
Belle wanted to protest, but so far any amount of protesting hadn’t given her any acceptable results.
'Why do you think so?' She asked instead and felt as enlightened as... never, probably. And a bit ashamed. Was it really so difficult to work out that asking him about his point of view might be a better approach that taking her interpretation and trying to convince him that hers is better? And wasn't it really that different from telling him what to do, the very thing she despised from other people?
'I... I just know. Because it's true. Just look at me and you'll see.'
So not helpful. But maybe still a start of progress.
'Let's talk about you, not me, Rumple.'
'No, Belle, I'm... I'm not important. You still don't seem to understand. I know we agreed you're staying... But earlier you didn't know. I was a coward and I hid it. My weaknesses. But I put you in danger, hoping I can solve it alone and no one would be the wiser... I... I just needed you. I was so selfish. I'm sorry...'
'Shh, don't cry. Don't,' she crooned. 'Shh. I understand. Or I'm trying to. I forgive you for not telling me. We'll work through it so it should not repeat. '
'Yes, ask anything. I will tell you. No more secrets. Even if... even if it'll make you leave.'
'It won't. Whatever you'll say. I promise.'
'You don't have to promise.'
'Well, I already promised you forever.'
'And look how many times we've broken up.'
She bit her lips at that, suddenly feeling like crying herself.
'Oh no, Belle, I'm sorry, don't cry. Every time was my fault, not yours. Belle...'
He looked so incredibly guilty and as if he thought he should just crawl back under whatever he dared to crawl from.
'Shh, it's okay, I'm not leaving. See? I'm still here. No need to be scared. You can tell me everything you think and feel. I won't leave you for being honest. And I'm trying to learn that leaving immediately might not be the preferred method of dealing with things. For some time I've been considering talking first.'
He chuckled and she made a playfully offended face.
'Why, I think we'll both be better off with this.' She went back to more serious tone. 'I promise, I won't walk out on you again. No ultimatums before we really talked to each other. We lived on assumptions for too long. And besides I think that much of what you believe is pure bullshit taught to you by Malcolm, Milah, Cora and Zelena.'
He looked like he wanted to argue, but he clearly didn't have strength for that. She petted his hair, smiling at him and humming calm melody and slowly his eyes closed and face relaxed in sleep.
On her way home, she was met by Archie and Pongo.
'I'll walk with you for a moment if you don't mind,' Archie smiled. 'I heard that your husband had a heart attack. How is he?'
How quickly the news travel, wondered Belle. But in Archie's case she didn't mind and was almost sure that Rumple also wouldn't.
'He still thinks he can't be loved,' Belle sighed. 'After so much time... He should understand already.'
'Well, he may have hard time understanding this,' Archie said.
'Why? I love him so much! Why can't he understand it?'
'It’s just difficult, Belle. Difficult to overcome so many years of learning otherwise.'
'What... what if he never understands?' Belle said in quiet, trembling voice. 'If he won't believe me?'
'That you must ask yourself, I guess. Do you want to live with him and love him even if he won't understand?'
'Yes. It's just so damn hard to see someone you love in pain.'
Archie smiled sadly.