There was something about small routines that made life easier, decided Gold, coming home for the second time that day. Before the curse broke, Mr. Gold had led an erratic lifestyle, often skipping meals or going to sleep late, caught up with work. Now supper was always at the same hour and he made sure that Belle didn't get too caught in whatever book she was reading. She might read each night till the very dawn and he wasn't about to let his wife go without enough sleep. Belle was doing the same for him, not letting him work too much. Not when there were much more pleasant things to do in the evenings, anyway. He smiled, wanting to already close his arms around Belle and have her body against his.
Yes, routine was good. This was like Belle caring about him, but in that sweet, indirect way that allowed him to pretend that he wasn't all that dependent on her care. Because he was dependent, so much dependent, it kept him together, and he was ashamed he couldn't keep himself together on his own. Every other person, hero or villain, went through terrible things too – and no one seemed to have so many problems as him, the village coward.
He sighed, entering the kitchen and laying his shopping bags on the table, noticing how Belle's eyes lit up at the sight of the chocolate. Perhaps he was forgiven for the eggs.
After the supper, they sat in front of the fire, Belle with a stack of books. She found something about the mirrors and wanted to run it by him.
'There is a small mention of two sibling mirrors that belonged to the first Dark One.'
'First Dark One?' Gold suddenly become more alert. 'There isn't much known for sure about the first one, it's all drowning in legends and made up tales. I managed to discover only that he ruled quite a good part of lands, more than a half of current kingdoms. Somehow the history in Fairy Tale Land is so less appreciated than here. He was known for his collection of powerful artifacts that made him invincible in addition to his Dark One power. Or at least almost invincible I guess.'
'The book is written centuries later, but references older sources. It calls the Snow Queen's mirror the 'Nightmare Mirror' and the other one the 'Dream Mirror'. It states that looking into them could bring up darkness from every soul.'
'Yes, I believe it could... Perhaps the first Dark One made the mirrors especially for that.'
'So he would have people who would be willing to do bad things for him?'
'That's what being the Dark One is.'
'No, Rumple, don't say such things. You sound as if you're saying it about yourself. That's not right. You were able to become a good man.'
He just embraced Belle tightly and tried not to think about the dagger. He wasn't able to become a good man. And Belle was generally too optimistic about people and darkness they carried inside. She didn't really understand how curse's control over him works when she tried to free him from Zelena's cage. Now she might have understood a bit better, but still not everything.
Yet she would understand more both about his past experiences and fears, and about curse's influence, only if he was able to tell her.
And he, cowardly as always, simply couldn't bring himself to do it.
Gold slipped out of the bedroom as quietly as he could. He had an idea of getting something to drink, but once in the kitchen, he just went to the window and looked at the dark, silent street.
He could tell Belle something. He wasn't sure how much would he be able to tell, but maybe when he did, things would be easier for the next time.
But Belle would want him to tell her everything. And if he told her everything, he would break her heart.
And that breaking could go in more than one way.
She would want him without magic. But she was under impression that he was able to be something without the magic.
At least, that was what he had learned through over 300 years. It counted for something, right?
He could tell her how scared he was. He could let her see that he had nightmares of the past year.
And of the past over 300 years too.
But Belle herself went through so much, there was no reason to burden her with that.
Potions allowing for not sleeping and being functional were really handy in that matter.
But yes, he knew that this was broken, twisted, unhealthy thing to do. Every time he did it he felt the curse getting stronger. Every time he didn't do it, he felt enormous urge from it to do.
Because that was the curse's way – finding the desperate piece of one's soul and offering solutions that could make its hold stronger.
He imagined that was what alcoholism or drug dependence was like. An easy, quick way to feel better, that doesn't last for long. And need that never leaves, only can be put to sleep for a while.
And if he was stronger and more courageous, he would fight it better. He was better at it than in Fairy Tale Land, thanks to Belle, but the curse was getting more and more aggressive and sneaky. Or maybe only he was getting weaker and more desperate to just survive the next day without facing things he had no idea how to face.
He wanted to give up and rest. Hand over all initiative to the curse, because fighting it was more and more unbearable. An alcoholic would drink himself unconscious. He would probably go and murder everybody who might be a threat or wronged him in any way. And the curse wouldn't let him stop searching for more and more threats. Not a hard job anyway, he was a coward after all. And grew up in a world where thorough, violent vengeance was practically the only sure way to be safe.
Probably he'd eventually murder all of Storybrooke. Probably Belle first. She was a threat to the curse. She would jump in defense of someone. She would try to stop him.
And she wouldn't even have the real dagger, because his first act would be getting it back.
He realized that he was crying.
He really needed to do something before he would break completely, his heart would die, he would die and the curse would overtake him. Find a way to free himself.
But the True Love's Kiss did not work for him in Storybrooke. He still didn't know why, he was only certain that it was his, not Belle's, fault. He just didn't know how exactly.
But then he would have to live without magic. Completely.
Experimentally, as one who pokes a hurting spot, he withdraw spells that were holding him in, well, presentable shape.
His head hurt from lack of sleep and he felt dizzy. He had to lean on the window to lift his leg a bit, because the pain in his ankle was sharp and unforgiving. And there was that telling tightness in his chest. The blackening, damaged heart. Which would likely still be damaged after breaking the curse - the damage was a price to pay, not part of the curse itself. True Love's Kiss would only stop the progress.
But the progress was far too big already.
Quickly, he redid all the spells.
But he didn't go back to the bedroom for an hour at least. He just sat at the kitchen table and let himself cry.
Was that only her imagination or did Regina look a bit green, Emma wondered.
'Everything fine?' she said in a low voice, when dinner at Charmings' run its course and everybody settled in the living room to rest and talk.
Regina, awkwardly sitting in the new, plushy armchair, shot her a look worthy of an Evil Queen.
Emma wasn't convinced.
'You don't look well.'
'Too much charming love around to not be nauseated,' snickered Regina looking at Mary Margaret and David completely absorbed by gurgling noises that baby Neal was making.
'Excuse me,' Regina mumbled suddenly and almost run in the direction of the toilet.
Mary Margaret looked at Emma questioningly.
'Just a terrible cliché,' Emma sighed instead of explanation. 'Let me handle this one, okay?'
She got up and a moment later was quietly knocking on the bathroom doors.
'Regina? I'm coming in.'
Regina was currently rather a sorry sight, crumpled on the floor and supporting herself with one hand on the toilet.
'Not. One. Word. Swan,' she tried to growl menacingly.
Emma shook her head in understanding and handed Regina a cup of water. Then she closed the door, sat on the floor too and waited.
'Of all things to happen this one is one step too melodramatic,' said Regina eventually.
'So you know for sure?'
'Since this morning. Because I felt like that since yesterday and of course this has to be the most probable explanation for the Evil Queen dumped by her True Love, Robin Hood. Gods, how glad I am that I've cast the curse, without all pop cultural context of this world I would miss two thirds of irony here!'
'You wanna talk about that?'
'Swan, I've been a single mother before. And back then I was inexperienced and evil. I'd say now I have much better chances to do the job right.'
'Sure, also because now you have us. We'll help.'
Regina rolled her eyes.
'Hey, I know it's not easy to start thinking like that. But at the end of the day this actually is better than counting only on oneself.'
'Stop that or I'll get even more sick,' Regina squirmed. 'I'll say it only once, I understand. And now may I return to being angry and grumpy and displeased with everything? Because it's incredibly appealing.'
'Sure. When I had Henry, the peppermint tea was good for throwing up, by the way. And speaking of Henry, he'll be thrilled to be a big brother.'
Regina almost smiled, which was something.
'May I ask what about Robin? When will you tell him?'
'When I will actually need alimony,' sneered Regina, cringing.
Emma raised her eyebrows.
'Swan, what am I supposed to do? I'm trying to learn to let other people be other people and not control them. If I tell Robin now, it will look like manipulation.'
'So you're gonna wait and then pretend that the child is... what? Born by parthenogenesis?'
Regina rested her forehead on the toilet.
'In moments like this I wish I could be an Evil Queen again. I would not care then. Or I would find some idiot who would pretend to be the child's father so I wouldn't have to tell Robin. Or I would use my child to make Robin come back to me. I wanted to do that at first. And now? Of course I'm telling him. I'm telling and waiting for his reaction, and I'm sure as hell he'll want to actually be a father, which means I'm saddled with him for at least next nineteen freakin' years of co-parenting. I suppose this is still a fairly mild punishment for all my crimes.'
Emma looked at her intently.
'You don't hope that this will bring Robin back to you.'
Regina clenched both her fists, digging sharp, red nails into her palms' flesh.
'I do not want Robin back,' she said slowly. 'Robin made his decision. He is with his wife. And I am not going to plead with him to come back, I am better than that. I am not some fragile princess who can't face reality and can't control her impulses. You all don't have to worry, I may not be as evil as I was once, but I didn't forget how to be a queen.'
Belle, having found another bit of the mirror-puzzle, almost run into the bedroom where Rumple was already preparing for bed. Belle meant to join him, but the book caught her attention completely. There's nothing on earth like old legends that are partially true but you just can't be sure which part happened for real and what is a product of wonderful imagination.
Rumple was standing by the window, already in pajamas, with his back to her, so she run to him and caught his arm.
Next thing she knew, she was sitting on the floor, book thrown away and her arm hurt.
Rumple was looking at her with wild eyes, full of horror, frozen in panic. He slumped against the window and sagged onto the floor.
'Oh, Belle...' he whispered. 'Oh no, Belle, I am so sorry, so sorry, I didn't want to, I didn't, truly, Belle, forgive me...'
He was trembling and Belle saw tears flowing down his cheeks until he lowered his head completely, cowering from her gaze and curling himself into a tight ball.
She crawled closer.
'Hey... Rumple?' She touched his arms, very gently, feeling as if she was approaching a little animal, like a rabbit, which might flee any moment, scared by any move too violent.
'Rumple, sweetheart,' Belle took both of his hands and rubbed gently with her thumbs. 'I'm alright. Nothing happened, no harm. There's no need for you to worry. Do you hear me?'
Rumple nodded miserably, still having his head hung low. Belle prodded him to stand up and guided him to sit on the bed.
'If anything this was my fault. I shouldn't surprise you like that.'
Rumple shook his head fervently.
'Not your fault. Never, Belle, of course it's not your fault. Oh, Belle, I hit you. I am so sorry...' Fresh tears started to flow and Rumple pulled away, clearly ashamed.
'Rumple, this is not your fault either. I scared you. And I can see that you are exhausted and worried. I am worried about you. I wish you could talk to me of what happened to you during the last year.'
Her husband shook his head again.
'You know what happened. Bae is dead. I couldn't do anything to save him. I failed. And now I hurt you...' his voice cracked. Belle gently coaxed him to lie on the bed, beneath the sheets.
'I'm not angry with you. You didn't know it was me. You just reacted, don't you remember that I had such moments too, when I was freed from the asylum? It's not your fault. Do you believe me, Rumple?'
He cringed, blinked to chase away the tears, then finally nodded.
'You I believe...' he whispered. 'But I am very sorry, Belle...'
'Shh, I know. I forgive you. Even if there's nothing to forgive in the first place.'
'There is. And how I love you for that, Belle...' He reached for her with both arms, pulling her close. 'You who is with the monster, regardless of what he's done.'
'Rumple, we've been through this. You're not a monster.'
'I am. There are heroes like you, Emma and the Charmings, then there are villains like Cora and her daughter, and then there are monsters. Regina also was a villain, but she changed. Only monsters don't change. They can't change, can't control themselves...'
Belle couldn't suppress her own tears at that point.
'Rumple, please, don't talk like this.'
There was a moment's silence.
'I'm sorry, Belle,' Rumple said finally, with more sober voice. 'I'm sorry. I'm not saying anything more, see? Don't cry, sweetheart, please. Don't cry...'
His voice was now gentle, pleading, soft. He petted lightly her hair.
'Rumple, don't worry about me. I didn't mean it like that. I really think you're not a monster. Okay?'
He nodded, but without conviction. Still, he cuddled closer to her and she did the same, though she started to feel more and more helpless.
The nasty mood didn't leave her for the next day and the day after that. Rumple was attentive, sweet and caring, she could tell he was trying to make up for all the distress he had caused her.
Yet she felt like a hamster running nowhere, only getting tired. Fortunately the next evening she had a meeting with Ruby planned. Rumple assured her multiple times that she should go and was growing uncomfortable at her reluctance and worry. So Belle went to the meeting with strong intention to make it a relief, a battery charging and seek some advice from Ruby. It was wonderful to have a long-term best friend to share her thoughts with, that was something she's always missed, first as a princess with her nose in the books and then as a Rumplestiltskin caretaker. Not to mention the whole kidnapping business. Her relationship with Rumple was something else and it was wonderful to have both a husband and a friend in her life.
'You look worried, Belle,' said Ruby without preamble, but also without bold and demanding tones that Emma was always using. Ruby herself knew well how it is to not really believe in one's own abilities and somehow this made her much safer person to talk to. Belle felt grateful for having such a friend.
'I am,' she sighed. She didn't really wanted to discuss Rumple behind his back, but some advice and some simple relief by talking would be very welcomed.
'What's wrong?' asked Ruby lowering her voice. There was no need for the whole diner to hear them. Perhaps they should have gone to the Rabbit Hole after all.
'It's hard to say...' Belle carefully chose her words. 'And I don't want to say too much, those things aren't only mine to tell. But I'm worried about Rumple. He... He clearly is worried about something himself, but he doesn't want to tell me. I have a feeling that there is more than he lets me see. He's grieving for Bae, of course, and he had a horrible year when Zelena had the dagger, everyone knows that. And I feel alone with it and I don't even know what I should do.'
Ruby looked at her warmly and nodded.
'You're not alone, Belle, you can always come talk to me. And I'm sure there are others that would want to help you. Leroy for once, though I'm not sure with what he'd help. But he'll be surely up to go for a drink, Astrid too. And for more professional help you can always go to Archie. Even if he's a bit distracted by Tink right now.'
Belle shook her head.
'Rumple would be angry if I went to doctor Hopper behind his back.'
'Then until you convince him otherwise, maybe you can dig something up in the library? Surely there must be a book that you can use?'
Belle laughed, even if with tears.
'Ruby, you're right. I can't believe I didn't think of it. I'll search for something first thing tomorrow.'
Ruby sipped her iced tea.
'You know, one day I may ask you to lend me such a book. It would be nice to have some manual to men who think they are monsters.'
Belle frowned. This reminded him of the talk with Rumple two days ago.
'Victor sometimes brings this up,' explained Ruby. 'But then again, I'm a monster too.'
'No, you're not.'
'I ate my boyfriend,' reminded her Ruby gently. 'I'm not telling you this to feel sorry for myself or try to scare you or anything like that. I mean I have some experiences that I may use to understand others, and by others I mean mainly Victor. That's quite precious, and in reverse, I know he can understand more about me than other men.'
Belle felt as if something heavy fell on her.
'That's it, perhaps...'
'What is, Belle?'
'I can't understand Rumple, because I don't share his experiences... Oh, that's so obvious now. I was a princess, and he was a spinner. He still didn't tell me much about these days. I had so much and he had so little, he went through much more than I did. No wonder he doesn't think I can understand.'
Ruby looked a bit guilty, fidgeting with a napkin and tapping her long, red nails on the table.
'I didn't mean it like that, Belle. What I and Victor have can't be the only way to build a relationship. You had a different life than your husband and that's why you can give him new things, things he couldn't gain on his own. I'm sure there is so much you can give.'
'Like your ability to see good in people. I haven't seen anyone poor and in hardships with such a bright, optimistic outlook. Maybe there are such people, but they are rare. And you had a chance to be like that. Use it.'
'That was what started the whole relationship perhaps...' sighed Belle. 'But things were somewhat easier in the Fairy Tale Land. Somehow now there are things I didn't even imagine existed. So much details. And...'
She hesitated. This was Ruby, she could tell her. Ruby wouldn't judge her, right?
'I... I sometimes don't even want to try,' Belle blurted out. 'Sometimes I think this isn't what I wanted. I wanted adventures, right? I wanted to see the world. I wanted to learn everything, see everything, see what life can be. I... I miss this.'
She lowered her head, ashamed.
'Belle, there's nothing wrong with dreaming!'
'But I should help Rumple. I feel there's something wrong. But he is so damn good at not letting it out. And I don't know what is genuine and what is faked. And it's so damn tempting to let it all pass as truth. He covers every problem so efficiently and it's so, so, so tempting to just let him cover it all and not have to deal with it, be happy. I was so happy when we got married, but now... I thought we solved problems, but there are still new ones, and new, and I just want us to be happy, Ruby. It breaks my heart.'
'Oh, Belle.' Ruby took her hand and squeezed. 'Don't worry, you are strong. And Gold is no weakling too, he's so smart and has such knowledge... You'll figure it out. And I'm here for you to talk, remember. And Emma and Henry are Neal's family, meaning they're your family too. You should somewhat share the responsibility, because it's not gonna work if you short-circuit yourself at some point.'
'Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm letting in too much pessimism.' She took a deep breath. 'Small steps,' she decided. 'I'll look for books. I'll be there for Rumple, in small everyday things and I'm sure he'll finally decide to talk, especially if it is something really important. And tomorrow I'll take him shopping. We need some distraction.'