Suddenly Rumple started to toss and turn, apparently having a nightmare. Getting him through all fright and trauma wouldn't be easy too, it would take a lot of time and effort. But at least now that he wasn't hiding from her, she would be able to help for real and much more effectively. So Belle held him, muttering calming words, when he awoke with a sharp cry, terrified and disoriented.
'Belle...' he was crying loudly by this point, but was awake and not confused anymore, sitting up and squeezing her arms. 'Please! Please don't die!'
'Oh, Rumple, I'll be fine. I promise. I certainly don't plan on dying or leaving you. And regarding Zelena, I won't take unnecessary risk too, any. Okay?'
'No,' he shook his head. 'No risks. And just get me past the town line before the Dark One awakes. So I can at least die without fear of hurting you.'
'Shush, Rumple, that won't be necessary. I can't stand the thought of you dying either. And for now you are on the mend, really. It seems the cuff blocks your magic quite well. All that remains is to take care of your health and wellbeing, and we're going to do just that. If you have to leave Storybrooke, I'm going with you.'
She understood however, that he wouldn't want to leave Bae's grave or Henry, or his familiar place, his home. The world was a scary place for him and moving on required much more time than in her case. She felt ashamed when she recalled her talk with Ruby, hurt as she was, she was also being cruel.
'Oh, Belle... I don't deserve it. I don't deserve you.'
'Nonsense, Rumple. I think the curse affects one's heart because the heart is too good to bear such darkness. You're heart is so good that the curse breaks it. So you deserve my heart fully, imperfect as it may be.'
Rumple considered it for a moment.
'You are perfect, Belle. And you're saying I'm dying from remorse? Well, yes, perhaps I am, but I would do it again. I saved Bae back then. He didn't die in war. Had much more...'
Belle gently wiped tears from his cheeks.
'But if there was another way to save Bae? Would you take it? Without power?'
'Yes. I hope anyway...'
Belle smiled. That was enough.
'But Belle, the life we had then... I would want to make it better for Bae. Less humiliating. That was what the curse was promising to me. And what else could I have done?'
'I don't know, Rumple. I just wish you hadn't had to. Though without your curse we wouldn't meet. So many things wouldn't happen.'
'Still... I'm so sorry, Belle... I...' he trailed off, gathering his courage. 'Either way I couldn't be what you deserve.' He looked away, ashamed, lips trembling again. 'I can be either a monster or a coward, only that. I have no right to tie you down...'
A kiss interrupted him, when Belle flung herself at him, not knowing what to do to erase his fears. She settled for a first-hand demonstration, leaving all explanations for later. He shouldn't think that she was with him only as long as he fulfilled her expectations. Rumple startled, but slowly relaxed and then returned the kiss, timidly at first, then more desperately.
Finally they had to stop and breathe.
'You have every right to be with me. And you are so much more than you think you are. Beneath that curse you are a good and deeply loving man. And loved, don't forget that.'
Rumple looked shell-shocked, however he might try to believe her.
'Belle I'm so sorry...'
'For what, sweetheart?'
He made vague gesture with his hands.
Belle bit her lips.
'Rumple, I don't and I didn't want you to feel as if you had to be someone else to be with me. There are things I can't agree to, like you murdering someone, but these things are your attempts to deal alone with other things that we could deal with so much better together. And you don't have to be a... a hero or something to do this. I love you already. Do you understand?'
He nodded, looking miserable.
'I start to... But I didn't until now. I almost ruined everything... Belle...'
'Shh, shh,' she cuddled him closer. 'And I almost fled from the town because I was so sure that I know better what's going on. I must admit that all that kidnapping, imprisonment and so on left their mark. I'm so afraid of being controlled and used. And so I tried to flee away, again, without thinking. And it triggered your heart attack and you almost died. I'm so sorry too. Can we... forgive each other? There are other things to do.'
'Belle, of course I forgive you. I won't... use you. I won't lie to you, I swear. I'm so, so sorry, Belle...'
'And I forgive you. And let's do our best to forgive ourselves, okay?'
Rumple took a deep breath. This was the hard part.
'I'll try. I promise.'
'Me too. And, about what you said earlier. You’re not dying yet, do you get it?'
He nodded, but looked afraid. She hugged him tight.
'And please remember you're not alone.'
'But I'm scared, Belle... I'm helpless again. And I don't believe I can do this, do anything, I can't do anything, I don't know what to do. Nothing ever went as it should unless I had my magic. Only magic allowed me to protect people I love and to make sure they won't be in danger again...'
'Oh, Rumple... You know, I may be only a sheltered princess, I don't know how it is to live a life as hard as yours before the curse. But I still think we can do this. You have your brilliant mind. That's your best asset, not your magic.'
'Always believing in brains, my librarian.'
'Yes,' she chuckled. 'And I know what I'm talking about, sweetheart.'
Two days later Dr Andersen finally cleared Rumple to go home, so Belle entered the hospital walking more lightly than ever.
'Mrs. Gold,' said someone and Belle turned sharply. It was a short, middle-aged woman, dressed in red business attire. Her long, black, curled hair looked like a lion's mane, giving her intimidating look.
'How can I help you?' Belle asked with impatience. The woman smiled knowingly.
'Oh, I think I can help you, Mrs. Gold.'
'And you are?...'
'Oh, forgive me.' The woman smiled like a cat. 'My name is Angela. Your husband knows me, though under my real name. We've met in our old land. Anyway, I have something you might find useful. A book.'
She presented Belle with a small tome bound in red leather.
'Carefully, Mrs. Gold. It's secured with many spells. I removed some, but couldn't deal with all of them.'
'You have magic? Who were you in the old land?'
Angela smiled again, mixing sadness and enormous sense of power in that expression.
'Your husband knows me as Baba Yaga. And no, I don't have magic. Only my knowledge and blood. This book is the diary of Claudius, the first Dark One. I trust that you find all sorts of useful knowledge in here. Good luck, Mrs. Gold.'
And she turned around, leaving Belle in the middle of the hall.
'Wait! Why are you giving this to me? Why now?'
Angela turned her head. 'We are somewhat similar. I think you will make a good use of this book. And of course no one would want to see the darkness unleashed on the town.'
'She always loved to make an impression,' grumbled Gold, following Belle at a slow pace. He would have rather gone much quicker, but Belle was having none of it. She was all smiling and helping, enjoying his release almost more than he did. She had this knowing, cunning expression on her face that told Gold that she had her mind set on keeping him human and coping. Gods, he didn't know how he was going to manage this, but apparently he wasn't allowed to even contemplate taking the cuff off. And he found that he didn't want that anyway, hoping shyly for normal, domestic life with his wife. But was it even possible with Zelena and his failing heart? Villains don't get happy endings, he just hoped that he'd be able to secure one for others. Some monster he was...
'You're miles away again, Rumple,' Belle said holding heavy hospital door for him and leading him to their car. 'Are you thinking of that Baba Yaga?'
'Oh? No, I just... I was thinking that I'm so happy to have you.' He smiled shyly and she returned the smile, beaming.
She waited with questioning him until they were home, he was settled on the sofa and Regina arrived.
'Now, Rumple, who is this Baba Yaga?'
'A wise woman living in the very dark and obscure part of Enchanted Forest. She had great knowledge of magic, even if she wasn't able to use it herself. She's also older than me. I've been meeting her a few times for information. She drives a hard bargain and is much more capricious than I could ever try.'
'She sounded almost like royalty when she was talking to me. She would fit into a government office in every political TV series. I wish we knew more about her.'
'In the meanwhile I suggest opening that book,' Regina said dryly. 'Perhaps there will be some clue. We need something since we didn't find anything in Zelena's house or anywhere else. Seems that Emma will be doing this trip to New York anyway.'
'Not yet. Emma is needed right here.' Gold took the tome and checked it carefully, almost with reverence. The diary of the first Dark One... 'You have to open that, Regina. I tried, but apparently with that cuff it's impossible.'
Regina reached for the book. She concentrated, her hands glowed, but then she dropped the diary with an undignified yelp. She almost blushed picking it up.
'What did you feel, Regina?'
Gold raised his eyebrows.
'Well, I'll just try again.'
She was trying for a good hour, with varying results. Gold tried to advise her, feeling his frustration mount. He could do nothing without his magic. He was sure that with it he'd have had the damn book open in two minutes flat...
'Rumple? Rumple, look at me,' Belle took both his hands in hers, massaging lightly. 'Breathe, sweetheart, a nice deep breath for me. We'll open the book, don't worry.'
He sighed and leaned back, closing his eyes.
'We may take a break if needed,' Regina said, but he interrupted her quickly.
'You just keep working, dearie.' She shot him an offended look, but obediently resumed her ministrations. But then she stopped, looking embarrassed.
'Well, alright, it's me who needs a break. And by 'me' I mean 'we'. I'm calling Emma, maybe she'll be able to do something useful with this.'
'If you have to,' Gold sighed. He really felt tired, not that he remembered feeling anything other. Belle brought them cups of tea - abominable herbal one for him, but at least Regina got peppermint too - and took his hand stroking lightly.
Luckily, Emma was quick.
'So you have a book you need me to open?' she asked, raising her eyebrows. 'How are you feeling, Gold? Heart attack is a nasty stuff.'
'I'm alright, sheriff,' Gold said drily. 'This book supposedly contains the diary of the first Dark One. Baba Yaga already lifted some wards, but there are more. We'd like you to try.'
'Baba Yaga? No shit. Alright, give it to me.'
Regina handed her the tome. Emma frowned and opened the book without thinking.
'What the hell?' demanded Regina. Gold smiled wryly.
'She wanted only to open the book, not to read it. Quite a nice touch to keep every nasty villain out of it.'
Regina looked offended but then she grabbed the book and started flipping through it.
'It's marvelous,' she said, smiling. 'Assuming it's the genuine thing of course.'
Belle was practically bouncing with curiosity.
'Read on, what are you waiting for?'
'It appears that he described the whole story of creating the Dark One curse. And Red Fairy was involved in it. As well as the mirrors. But isn't it strange that just light magic was enough to open it?'
'Well, Emma is the Savior, the product of True Love. But also I suspect that Baba Yaga did the hardest part. She owned the diary and I suppose that her knowledge of magic is even greater than mine. I only wonder what does she plan to gain from that.'
'She's a villain, right?' asked Emma with a frown. 'No wonder she needed someone with light magic to get it open.'
Gold shook his head.
'She's neither a villain nor hero and she has very little magic. Or so it appears, I've never been able to learn her story. She seems to have something to do with the diary and the Dark One curse now.'
It was unsettling to think about Baba Yaga. Until now he wasn't even aware that she was in Storybrooke. Back in the Enchanted Forest she never meddled with his business so he could ignore her. But now?
'Maybe she's the Red Fairy?' said Belle.
'Gods, I hope not,' groaned Regina. ‘We don't need more troubles.'
The next few hours were devoted to group reading of the diary. Rumple was pale and drawn when Belle finally managed to get him to rest, but what they learned was huge. Emma took Regina home, the queen clearly battling with morning sickness that was rather all-day sickness, and Belle helped her husband to settle in bed for a nap. She scooted close to him, in her clothes and atop the sheets, petting his hair with one hand in hope of protecting him from nightmares. She began to reread the diary, looking for some more clues, careful not to close the book accidentally.
They've just learned how the curse was made and Belle's head still reeled from that.
'Read to me, sweetheart,' Rumple murmured and Belle smiled.
'Sure. The fairy tale about the Red Fairy. It's crazy, that we finally know what happened.'
''S not a fairy tale.'
'No. And we'll think how to use that. Together. Now listen and try to sleep.'
Rumple sighed happily and cuddled closer to her.
'For hundreds years, the faeries were led by the queen, chosen from the most powerful and heroic of them. After the death of the White Fairy, defeated by monstrous dragon Fafnir, they stood before choice who will be their next leader. Oh, Rumple, look, Fafnir. In this world he is a part of the Norse myths.'
Rumple grunted something intelligible, not opening his eyes.
'Well, anyway. They chose the Red Fairy, feeling the need for a strong queen in time of danger. And the Red Fairy brought the evil dragon to a fall, trapping him between two mirrors and draining him of his dark power. The mirrors she made herself from ice covering the farthest north seas and enforced with tears of every kind of creature living. After slaying the dragon she was considered the most powerful being in the whole world. She was a demanding queen for her faeries, she dreamed big of the world devoid of darkness and evil, and she chose what seemed the most efficient way to create such a world. She started to suck darkness from human hearts and conceal it in the Vault build on the dragon's grave.'
Rumple shuddered suddenly and Belle looked over at him, concerned.
'The remnants of dragon's consciousness are still in the vault. I wasn't sure then what they were but Belle... They were horrible...'
'Shh. The dragon is slain. And you won't ever have to return to the Vault, I swear it.'
'Every Dark One does, Belle,' Rumple whispered, his voice wavering, his eyes tightly closed.
'Not when we break your curse, sweetheart. Okay?'
'Okay...' he murmured into her side.
'Then listen further. The Red Fairy started with the most despicable villains and locked their darkness in the Vault, changing them into empty shells, for simply removing the darkness didn't fill their hearts with love. But it soon turned out to be a never-ending job, for the new people were born with new darkness. The mirrors were unique, she couldn't make more of them in her lifetime and so she had to work alone, as no other fairy was powerful enough to repeat her feat. Then, frustrated with slow and endless work, she noticed that the darkness can be used as power. She could call on the Vault's power and she alone among faeries was strong enough to force it to obey. Magic is rooted in will and emotions after all, all these dark feelings could not be without their use. And she was more and more despotic in her quest to make the world a better place. She intended to make the kingdoms subject all their people to the ritual of removing darkness by the mirrors. But for many this was unacceptable. We might have agreed if she had wanted only villains and prisoners, or left the choice for each individual alone. But not like that. We became suspicious. She was gathering more and more dark power, being already the most powerful entity among us. She became more and more arrogant and proud, taking people's free will. We, the human kings and lords, decided that this abomination must end.'
Belle paused for a moment, sure that Rumple was dead asleep. But then he tugged at her skirt, prompting her to read.
'We have met with the Red Fairy for negotiation and I had the honor to preside over this event. At this point she was using the Vault's powers without any restraint - to catch people and suck the darkness out of them. She was proud and arrogant just as I expected her to be, never meeting her in person to that day, but she was also so awesome, so charming without intent in her might and power, so queenly... I tried to deny it from the very first moment, but somewhere deep I realized that I fell in love with her. And wouldn't this be an amazing union? The powerful queen of the faeries and the king-sorcerer of the greatest kingdom that this land had ever seen. I was stalling, trying to bring her to our side, so to speak, reason with her, for I still believed she had no right to take away the darkness against people's will. She listened but didn't hear me. We became lovers, but nothing else could have come from it but disaster. She couldn't be with a mortal man as a fairy, she was breaking her laws. And she had a heart hard as stone, unrelenting, and more and more dangerous with each passing day. When she mentioned to me that she was going to rule the kingdoms, that they clearly could not be allowed to be on their own, that they were already so unruly, so content in their evilness, I knew it was time to act. From the very beginning I was asking the Red Fairy to show me more and more about her magic, about mirrors, I studied them on my own as well, and so I was able to prepare a plan...'
'It's sad, Rumple, really. And I so don't like the idea that darkness can be removed like that. It must really take away a part of personality, something that not necessarily is wrong, just misguided, hurt perhaps. Isn't evil learned?'
'Not always,' murmured Rumple. 'There are people who can't really follow moral rules...'
'Perhaps, but that's more like... biological defect? According to this world’s science anyway. And everybody else is learning evil from others.'
'That's why she couldn't ever succeed in her quest. She didn't understand the big picture. Or maybe didn't want to understand, it's more complicated, so much more difficult to do something about. I think she didn't cope well with being unable to fix things.'
Belle smiled sadly, because Rumple obviously was speaking from his own experience as well. She continued reading.
'I prepared the dagger to capture the darkness. I hoped to free the Red Fairy from her evil power and when she had a clear mind, talk to her again. I worked with Reul Ghorm, the Blue Fairy, her closest advisor. Oh, why doesn't it surprise me Rumple! Blue knew it all and didn't share a thing! I have met with the Red Fairy as usual and attacked her with the dagger. I caught her by surprise and succeeded. Well, almost. I managed to bind the darkness to the dagger, but I could not really control it. I was too weak for that. I had to absorb it myself, became what later would be known as the Dark One, and from that point I enjoyed the power too much to try to banish it to the Vault completely. The Red Fairy was defeated, almost killed when the dark powers took me as a vessel. It was clear from the beginning that the darkness had already corroded and devoured her fairy powers. She was still an immortal fairy queen but powerless, managing only the most basic spells and most of them only with the help of some magical talismans. She hid in the deepest forest and the Blue Fairy took over, though from that point the faeries didn't have a queen. I'm still ruling my kingdom but I can feel what a bitter, evil man I’ve become, full of resentment and regrets. I tried to use the power for good but almost always failed. I framed the Red Fairy's mirrors though, and I'm guarding them from faeries and anyone else. I could examine the mirrors in detail, the frames made in a similar way as the dagger allowed me to bind their power to more tasks than simply sucking the darkness out. I'm thereby watching one of the mirrors every day, looking at my happy life with the Red Fairy.'
'Seems like Baba Yaga really might be the Red Fairy,' Rumple murmured, finally falling asleep.
Belle was at the shop and pharmacy at the moment, promising to return as quickly as possible. She was hovering over him like a proverbial mother hen and he had no doubts that she soon would suggest another try at the therapy with the cricket. He was even willing to try. But not before the Wicked Witch vanished from Storybrooke, even if he had no idea how that could happen.
The doorbell rang and Gold felt his blood freezing. His first thought was Zelena. Only after a moment he realized that she would just teleport inside to demonstrate how she could violate his privacy and safety as she pleased. And that it was a small miracle that she didn't already. He was completely vulnerable after all.
He made himself go and look.
It was Baba Yaga, which felt only marginally better, but he unlocked the door anyway and looked at her expectantly.
She smiled. It was a nasty, crooked smile full of self-confidence but there was no malice in it.
'Hello, Mr. Gold. I think we need to talk about some strategy.'
'We can talk. But only once my wife returns.'
She frowned too.
'Perhaps. Did you open the dairy?'
'So you know the origin of your curse?'
'Good. Perhaps we can wait for your wife inside?'
Gold sighed but let her in. They sat down in the living room.
'How is your heart, Mr. Gold?'
'Oh? But I'm asking about something slightly different. How dead is it because of the darkness?'
'I don't think this is any of your business, dearie.'
'It is, very much so. But I see that you don't trust me.'
'I have no reason to.'
'Ah, that's true.' Baba Yaga smiled, reaching into her purse and the next thing Gold knew was the unbearable feeling of falling and spinning, then darkness.
He awoke to frantic shouts of Belle. Blinking, he tried to focus on her face and remember what happened.
'Oh, you’re awake!' Belle sobbed. 'Don't move, I'll call the doctor. Does your heart hurt?'
'No, no, don't, I'm fine, really. This was magic. Fairy dust.'
'Who on earth could?...'
Gold frowned then shook his head to clear that awful, dizzy feeling.
'Baba Yaga. And...' he tugged at his sleeve. 'She took off my cuff. Somehow.'
They looked at his bare wrist for a moment, then Gold tried to stand up, struck with the new thought.
'I can fight Zelena now!'
But before Belle managed to reply, he cried out in pain, clutching his heart.
'Rumple, don't. This is what your curse wants. This would enforce it. Rumple, this will kill you too.'
'But you will be safe,' he whispered pleadingly.
'Safe? The Dark One will kill me first. And I couldn't live happily without you anyway...'
'Belle...' Tears sprang to his eyes, but the pain in his chest receded. When Belle put her hand on his chest it disappeared completely. 'You truly are a wonder.'
'I'll call Regina and let her know what happened. We need to figure out what to do now. But I think there is a way to... to free you from the curse.'
'What?... How could that...?'
'Shh. I wanted to discuss it with you in the evening, after reading some more, but we can read together. It's based on what I've read in the diary. The Red Fairy gathered the darkness with mirrors. I think the mirrors can be used again to pull out the curse from you.'
'Could they? How? You can't use them anyway without magic...'
'Not me. Emma and Regina.'
'And then what? What will happen with that darkness?'
'I think it could be trapped in the mirrors now. They have frames, Claudius added them. Frames are for controlling mirrors, they’re from the same material as the kris dagger.'
'But if not? If the darkness gets loose?'
'It will anyway if you die,' admitted Belle with tears rolling down her cheeks. 'It's worth considering, Rumple.'