No longer than after two hours, The Savior barged into the shop. Gold sighed, placing both hands on the counter in the 'powerful and mean owner of the whole town' act.
'How can I help you this time?' he asked snarkily and a little more bitterly than he wanted.
'What do you know about a boy named Kay?'
Gold raised his eyebrows, taken aback. The Savior didn't waste words and this certainly wasn't what he expected.
'Why do you ask, sheriff?'
Emma sighed impatiently.
'At least don't call me sheriff if you want to play the game of questioning me back. Now, what do you know?'
'I don't see any reason to answer you. Miss Swan.'
'Then maybe I should go to the library and ask Belle?'
'She wouldn't know anything.'
Belle chose exactly this moment to come out of the back of the shop, smiling.
'Emma, hello. Were you talking about me?'
'Sort of. Do you know a boy named Kay?'
'No. Should I?'
Gold raised his eyebrows in his best 'I told you so' expression.
'Miss Swan, if you don't trust me to share any information, I see no reason to share anything with you.'
The Savior considered it for a moment.
'Alright, Gold. Let's talk openly. When we've come back through the portal, we brought something with us, accidentally. Snow Queen's mirror. And Kay was released from it. Now, he accuses you of trapping him in it. Seeing as we caught the mirror from your vault in your castle, I'm quite willing to believe it.'
'I see,' said Gold, looking at her with his eyes squinted. 'Then what possibly can I add to this?'
He noticed that Belle came closer. He really didn't need any past deeds to remind his wife, wife!, of the cursed monster he was.
'I wanted your version of the story.'
'How noble.' He looked at the Savior with hard, unrelenting gaze. 'Yes, I did trap him. He was a thief and he broke the deal we've had. I'm more curious how it was even possible for him to be released from the mirror.'
The Savior looked angry. Good. He didn't dare to look at Belle now.
'Then I'm warning you, Gold, don't go nowhere near the boy or the mirror. That's all for now.'
He answered her with a look that clearly told: how would you stop me?
When the door closed after the Savior, he felt Belle's hands on his shoulders. She turned him to look at her.
'Rumple?' she asked, worried, biting her lower lip. 'Did you really trap this boy in some mirror?'
He sighed, suddenly very tired. He lowered his gaze to the floor.
'I did,' he whispered. 'But I didn't... I didn't want to. He tried to suck me in, caught me by surprise and then it was me or him. Once activated, the mirror has to devour someone to be closed. I put it in the vault, because I didn't know how to get him out. As far as I know, there is no way.'
Belle smiled sadly and rubbed his arms.
'Why didn't you tell this to Emma?'
He blinked. How was he supposed to explain that if she didn't understand it already?
'It wouldn't change anything,' he said dismissively, then wrapped his arms around Belle and hugged her tight. 'Let's not think of it anymore.'
It was easier said than done, because few hours later, when Belle already left for the library, he got a phone call from no one else than his cardiologist, also known as the Snow Queen.
'You lied to me,' were the first, venomous words she spat at him.
He sighed. After his last deception with the dagger, pointing out that he technically didn't lie felt somewhat overrated.
'I needed time to get him out.'
'You trapped him there in the first place.'
'He activated your mirror to trap me. I won't be excusing myself over self-defense.'
'And I'm supposed to believe you?'
'That, dearie, is completely up to you. But maybe you'll think of what you did to him and why, and compare the situations.'
He was rewarded with a long silence, even if what he said was a long shot based on incomplete information.
'Let's say that I believe you,' she said finally. 'I demand that you tell me everything that happened between you and him. No excuses.'
He smiled, albeit a bit sadly.
'That, dearie, has its price.'
'I am listening.'
'Make an appointment for me, as a patient, sometime when there's no people around. No nurses, nobody. Then we'll talk.'
Belle smiled so brightly when she came to the shop after closing the library. He smiled back, as lightly as he could. His wonderful wife deserved all happiness in the world and more.
She kissed him, long and delightfully, burying her fingers into his hair.
'Ready to go home?' she asked, smiling wittily, when they broke apart.
'Of course, sweetheart.'
He couldn't help but walk on her right side, where her purse was. She let him wrap an arm around her waist without comment, but he caught her worried look and almost let go. He would, if she didn't put her arm in a mirroring gesture on his waist.
'Belle...' he said tentatively. 'Would you help me with something when we'll get home?'
'Sure, Rumple.' She smiled, but all the same looked worried, and he gathered all his strength to not sound afraid.
'I... I mean, we... We need to check all the books about the mirror.'
'Snow Queen's mirror? Why?'
'It's very powerful, Belle. We need to know what to expect. And you are good at researching...'
She gave him the brightest smile in the world, so he smiled back, even if he didn't tell her the whole truth. But how could he? Belle didn't need to manage his own mess. He should take care of it himself and then give his Belle everything she deserved. He should find a way for them to be really, truly happy.
It really wouldn't do to scare Belle away at the very beginning.
Belle built a whole castle with books around her. She was sitting on the small patch of the sofa that miraculously was still free. The opened books littered the floor and the table and Rumple magicked more and more to be stacked in high piles.
'There are two mirrors,' he said when he finished bringing the books. 'Two sibling mirrors, each with different properties. The one that Kay was trapped in belonged to Snow Queen once and gave her ice power, but is in fact much, much older than her. The second one I acquired from fairies.'
'It doesn't matter how. And I didn't use it anyway.'
Rumple looked to the side, uncomfortably.
'Rumple? Why? Shouldn't I know what the mirrors can do to search for something new?'
He took deep breath.
'The second one shows you what you regret,' he whispered quickly. 'It can also show true shape of everyone and everything and that's why I wanted it... Well... I locked it in the furthest corner of my vault.'
Belle reached for him, and taking his both hands guided him to sit down on the coffee table in front of her.
'Hey, Rumple. You can tell me.' She rubbed his palms comfortingly.
'It was showing me Bae, happily growing with me in a land where I was a good soldier and returned to him as a hero...' said Rumple in a broken voice. 'But the mirror shows only what you know is already impossible and I feared that I would spent whole days watching it instead of really looking for a way to find my boy...'
'Oh, Rumple...' she quickly hugged him, caressing his hair. He didn't cry, but she could tell that he forced himself not to.
'I'm fine, Belle. Really. Let's search for the information. I didn't tell you about the first mirror.'
'You're sure, Rumple? Maybe you'd want to talk...'
'No,' he cut her off. 'Please, not now. Belle?'
She sighed and released him, sitting back on the sofa and reaching for the nearest book.
'Tell me about the other mirror, Rumple.'
'It shows you the warped, nightmarish version of reality. You can take its power, but there is a price. You become closed, suspicious, cold. You see everyone in the worst light and the world as a bleak place run on hate and indifference. And I suspect that when you're trapped in it... you live in it forever.'
'So... say, if you get trapped in the mirror with regrets...?'
'I don't know!' he said quickly. 'But I don't think it would just grant you the world you'd want. I don't know if it is even possible to trap anyone in it, I've never heard of such case.'
'But you thought of it?...' asked Belle in the softest voice.
'Yes...' said Rumple, and turned, as if ashamed. She quickly caught his hand.
'Rumple, that's natural you'd want to live in a happy world with your son. But I'm proud of you that you chose to fight for him for real.'
She smiled and hoped to convey in that smile all her love and support. Rumple smiled a bit in return, and even if he wasn't completely convinced, that was still something.
'I know of one more thing regarding the mirror that belonged to Snow Queen. It can tell you the truth, just once for each person, but it can tell you the true answer to any question as long as it's a yes or no question. The mirror glows when it's a yes, and darken when it's a no.'
Belle didn't dare to ask if he tried to do this, but he sensed the unspoken question anyway.
'Shortly before the curse, I asked if Bae was still alive...' he whispered. She took his hands again.
'I miss him too, Rumple. We should go visit his grave tomorrow.'
Next morning Gold obediently drove them to the cemetery. He wondered how long would it have taken if not for Belle. Even now he held both hands wrapped tightly around steering wheel to not show how they were shaking.
'Do you want me to go with you now?' asked Belle. 'Or should I wait here?'
He took a deep breath.
'I'll go myself first. You won't mind that?...'
'Of course not.' She kissed him lightly on the cheek. 'I'll wait right here. You can do this.'
He nodded, grateful. Soon he was standing in front of his boy's grave, not really remembering how he walked here from the car.
Not actually believing it is real at all.
'Oh, Bae...' he whispered. 'It should have been me. You should live. I'm so sorry, my boy... My beautiful boy...'
He couldn't exactly force any more words through his constricted throat. He kneeled instead, feeling hot tears rolling down his cheeks.
Pathetic, broken man, who couldn't even give his life for his son, but had to take his son's life for himself.
Grief was silent, murderous thing, cutting deeply and coldly. And it was to stay for the rest of his life. Death never returns what he has taken.
And it wasn't as if he could or wanted to tell it to anyone beside this gravestone. Belle would feel guilty, she may think that he is mad at her for her part in his resurrection. Which he wasn't.
And mostly, he knew he was being selfish. He just didn't want to remind Belle that it would be better to let him be dead. Even when it really would be better and for so many reasons.
But it didn't matter now and he had to think of something else before it became too late.
Just as Belle opened the library, Diana came.
'I need something for Kay! Something about music preferably,' she exclaimed, totally excited. Then in the next second she seemed to remember something and looked at Belle uncertainly.
'What?...' asked Belle, unsure, and not accustomed to getting such looks from Diana.
'Kay told me that your husband imprisoned him in the mirror,' Diana said, furrowing her brows. 'I know you love him, but Belle, I'm worried about you...'
'Did Kay told you why Rumple imprisoned him?' Belle cut in sharply.
'Yes, Rumplestiltskin tricked him. Kay was supposed to receive enchanted violin for his help in retrieving some elixir. Kay didn't manage to do it, but he thought it just means that the deal is void. But Rumplestiltskin in fury actually took the mirror from Kay and trapped him inside.'
'Well, that's curious, because Rumple told me something else.' Belle crossed her arms over her chest. 'And I believe him. Rumple said that Kay tried to trap him in the mirror. It needs to devour someone once activated, so Rumple was just defending himself.'
'Well, I prefer to believe Kay.' Diana looked sad. 'This is horrible, Belle. But... we'll still be friends?'
'Yes, of course, but... Diana, someone is lying here. This is serious.'
Diana bit her lips.
'I don't know what to do. If we both already know who to believe... Well, for now, do you have any books on music and some notes? Kay loves music. He wanted to be a musician when he escaped from Karen.'
'Snow Queen. She's not evil. What happened between Kay and her was... an accident and... well, many years of trying to mend that. I'm still trying to convince Kay of that though.'
Belle went to search for the books, hoping that convincing people that others are better that they look may become somewhat easier one day.
Gold took Belle to the restaurant for dinner, so when they finally got home it was late. He started to feel how tired he really was after all that happened this day: the cemetery mostly, but also long hours alone in the shop when he couldn't stop thinking about Bae. He didn't really want to stop thinking in fact, only that he felt how it's sapping away his energy and how close he would come to just sitting on the floor in the backroom and cry, scream maybe. He managed to get himself together before driving to the library to get Belle, but now, at home, he was exhausted.
And it wasn't as if he'd be able to correct that by drinking the potion that enabled him to not sleep and still function normally. Potion has its price and was meant to be taken sparsely, the smallest amount needed. He wasn't about to get careless and risk anything unnecessarily. He would endure.
Belle went to the kitchen to fix them some fruits. Gold wasn't hungry, wasn't even before the dinner, but if Belle wanted fruits then he'd help her prepare some.
She was preparing her favorite fruit salad, quickly chopping peaches, bananas and grapes, adding them to the bowl. With a smile she handed him a knife and peaches, making sure he washed his hands before.
The knife was sharp and easy to handle, Belle joked that he's so much more efficient than her, perhaps because of all the elixirs he used to prepare.
He smiled slightly. Really, cutting peaches for Belle's fruit salad was so much more preferable to chopping dried or slimy elixir ingredients. Peaches were for Belle, elixirs were for dark deeds all meant to lead to the curse, to Ba...
'Rumple!' Belle cried out and for a moment he looked at her, panicked, not knowing what happened to cause her distress and what he should do to make it better. Then he followed her gaze to his own hands and small pool of blood gathering between the peaches. Somehow he managed to cut himself.
'Oh, it's nothing...' he said stupidly, still clutching the knife in the other hand.
'What? Your finger, Rumple...'
'No, no, see?' he concentrated on his magic and in a moment his finger was whole again. 'But the peaches... I suppose, I will throw them out. I'm sorry, Belle, I wasn't paying attention.'
'Rumple, the peaches are the least important part in that,' said Belle sternly, looking him in the eyes. 'You, on the other hand, are the most. I can't have you cutting your fingers off and not even noticing.'
He just nodded, smiling shyly, trying not to show how pleasant Belle attention is. He was being chastised after all, and should look at least a bit repentant.
'I think we have enough fruits anyway,' said Belle and swiftly cleaned up the table, before he tried to help her. At least he managed to take the bowl and carry it to the living room. Belle liked to sit in front of the fireplace at evenings, even now when sunset was quite late and the weather still warm. She said she just like the way the fire swirls, as if thinking intensely about something or other.
When she joined him, he immediately wrapped his arms around her and she rested her head on his shoulder. Then she took his hand in hers, trailing her delicate fingers along his, much more sturdy and calloused.
'You should be more careful, Rumple,' she said. 'You are distracted. Is there something you want to talk about?'
'No, sweetheart, thank you,' he murmured, kissing her hair and inhaling soft, vanilla scent.
'You were through so much, Rumple. If you need me, you know I'm here, right? You can come to me with everything.'
'Thank you, honey. You are my everything now. My happiness. Just be here, I don't need anything more.' He cuddled her closer. 'I love you, Belle.'
'I love you too,' said Belle, pensively. 'I miss Bae.'
He hid his face in her hair, not sure if he could say anything without his voice cracking. He wanted to comfort Belle, but first he needed to get a grip on himself. Talking about Bae was dangerous, once he started he might not be able to stop, he might break completely, and Belle didn't need him weak and broken. He needed to be strong and worthy to be with her. Even if he started it all with a lie, a deception. Even if all this shouldn't work anyway.
But Belle was the last good spot in his life and heart. And the only one that somehow seemed to keep his curse at bay.
Which practically meant that he was using Belle as a shelter from his curse. As if he didn't hurt her enough.
Yet maybe, maybe he'd manage to find another way to neutralize the curse's unwanted effects and he'd manage to become a man good enough for Belle. Maybe the mirror would be useful, somehow. Then didn't manage to find anything that he didn't already knew but still, that wasn't much. The mirrors, both of them, were bound to have much deeper history and meaning.
Not to mention that at present, they were the only option left that held the promise to be efficient and didn't involve his imminent death.
He become dimly aware that Belle was asking something and he failed to respond.
'Sorry, sweetheart, what was that?'
'I just said that I wish I had an opportunity to say goodbye to Bae...'
He nodded, because what would be a good answer to that?
'At least Emma could do it. Thanks to you. But you endured a whole year...'
'Yes, Belle,' he interrupted. 'It was completely worth it and I would do much, much more to keep Bae alive and give him a chance to talk to people he loved.' He took deep breath. 'I'm tired, sweetheart. Let's go to sleep?'