Meanwhile in another part of the hospital, Gold took off his shirt and reluctantly let dr. Andersen lead him to the couch. She looked at him expectantly.
'Mr. Gold? You need to drop all spells if I am to examine you properly.'
Right. He felt embarrassed. Of course he needed to do that, but somehow he managed to forget about it. He closed his eyes and let the spells dissipate.
'How do you feel now?'
'Tired,' he sighed.
'Any discomfort in your chest?'
'No, not yet.'
Dr Andersen took the stethoscope and made quick work of listening to his heart. Then she wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm and Gold wanted only to teleport from here. Only Belle could see him undressed or touch him.
'143 systolic, 85 diastolic,' she said. 'Are you nervous, Mr. Gold?'
'I meant, your blood pressure can be elevated just because of stress. The white coat syndrome. Your pulse is elevated too.'
'I'm not nervous.'
He knew she knew he lied.
'Alright,' she conceded eventually. 'Lie down, please, I'll do the ECG.'
He had it done before, or at least his cursed memories were supplying him with the knowledge. He knew there was no logical reason to be nervous, but lying on the bed and allowing dr. Andersen to stick all the patches to his skin, then waiting patiently until she finished whatever she was reading from the output waves, was almost unbearable.
'For now there are no abnormalities,' she informed him. 'But as you perhaps remember, outside of angina attack, this is the usual for coronary patients. I think we will do an exercise test and echocardiography. Because something tells me you won't agree to an angiogram.'
He looked at her blankly.
'I mean, I can do it all now and alone, while an angiogram requires preparations and more people.'
She had him walking on the treadmill with electrodes and blood pressure cuff attached, until his chest felt heavy and tight, and she made him lie down before and after for echocardiography and another ECG. Then she drew blood, into many vials, promising to test it under a false ID. He lost count of time and wondered if Belle would still accept his explanations for coming home late. She didn't call him yet, but she might anytime.
Finally dr. Andersen let him put the spells back on, dress up and sit in his original place before her desk.
'Well, what can I tell you...' she sighed. 'I don't have an angiogram, but based on available results, I would say that your coronary arteries look like a sewage system or worse.'
She paused for a moment.
'In my opinion, there is quite large risk you would have a heart attack soon after removing your magic if this goes untreated. And it might be a severe one. But there is a lot we can do. For a start, you have hypertension. You may want to change your diet, do more exercises... At least walk more, instead of driving a car. You might also want to lose some weight.' She sighed. 'Please, don't look so offended, I'm helping you here.'
He shook his head.
'No, of course, please continue.'
'I'll give you prescription for medicines along with recommended lifestyle and diet changes. But I want you to consider that the best option for you might be angioplasty. I know it's invasive and it's impossible to keep completely in secret, but at some point this may be your only option. Well, that or bypasses, but we don't want to go there yet. Angioplasty means that you will be admitted to the hospital for a day or two. The procedure requires a catheter, that's a thin tube, inserted into your vein, on arm or leg, then led to the heart and into coronary arteries, where it removes plaques blocking your vessels or implants stints to make them open. You will be conscious but sedated during the procedure.'
Gold shook his head again.
'No. The medicines, please.'
He walked out of the office on shaking legs, holding the prescriptions in a shaking hand.
It was well past nine p.m. when he finally made it home. The hall was dark and empty and quiet.
Oh gods, Belle was angry with him. He really didn't do a good job either of covering tracks or being honest enough. Or being honest at all. He just hoped that whatever hell would break loose it would do so tomorrow. Today he only wanted to scream. Perhaps he should have stayed at the shop. The sleep was out of question and cuddling against Belle apparently as well.
Cuddling was the only thing keeping him together at nights and giving strength to face another day. As pathetic as it was, he didn't know how he'd manage without it.
Cuddling after Belle falls asleep would feel like being a creepy stalker and he didn't want it.
He needed to find another way.
Whisky, perhaps? Magic would erase any hangover. Or perhaps some pain would be a welcome distraction tomorrow.
He bypassed the kitchen altogether, feeling sick at the thought of eating. He just took off his shoes and jacket and sat down in the living room. In the dark he could see the silvery fur of Thumper in his expensive, luxury cage.
Lucky bastard. Sitting there and licking his calcium like the one that owns the world. Next thing he'd be chewing on the carrot, the last one of the bunch Belle put in the cage this morning.
He realized that he didn't hear soft footsteps over the thumping noise of the rabbit's foot on the cage's floor.
'Is everything alright? When did you come home?'
He looked at her surprised and with stinging in his eyes. She didn't sound angry.
Belle came closer and turned on the small reading lamp next to the couch. She sat beside him.
'Everything's okay, sweetheart,' he said, because what else was there to say?
'You don't look okay. You look very tired. Do you want something to eat?'
'No, no, I'm fine,' he protested, apparently too quickly.
'Are you unwell? Does your stomach hurt?'
'No, I'm fine.'
'Rumple, stop repeating that. I can see that it's a lie.'
He stiffened and blinked quickly. She saw his lies. Suddenly he felt the need to bolt from the couch like Thumper might do.
'I'm tired,' he offered, getting up, but slowly. 'I'm just tired.'
'Do you believe it when you say it to yourself enough times?'
He hung his head.
'No,' he admitted quickly.
'I would do anything to help you, Rumple, but maybe you should try talking to Archie? He's a professional that I won't ever be. I don't know how to talk to you.'
She sounded so sad and defeated. She shouldn't. His Belle shouldn't feel bad because of him. He was failing her again.
He sat down again, but not so close to her this time.
'No, Belle, no need. I'm fine,' he tried to tell her in soft, assuring tone, but his voice wavered.
'No, you're not. You're so sad, all the time. I can't bear seeing you so sad.'
Gold took a deep, unsteady breath. And he himself was surprised how he exploded.
'Why can't I be sad, Belle? My son died! Can't I be sad? It's normal, I'm not sick!'
And then he abruptly got up and stormed out of the room, leaving speechless Belle behind. Fifteen seconds later he was back, walking in just as quickly.
'Belle, I'm so sorry!' he said, voice cracking a bit. 'I had no right to raise my voice on you, I'm so sorry. I... I can go to Archie, if you want.'
'Oh, Rumple, it's not for me. I don't want to make you go, I just thought it would help. You must want to go yourself.'
Belle was looking at him tenderly as if he was a precious child, but all the same she expected him to do the impossible, and he knew he would fail again.
'I...' Gold paused, unsure what to do, and looked around, uncomfortably. 'I'll... go and try?...'
She sounded happy.
'Yes. Yes, of course.'
'I'll call Archie tomorrow, make an appointment.'
Appointment. He cringed inwardly. At least the cricket won't strip him or touch him.
'Let’s go to bed, Rumple. You could use a bit more of sleep tonight. Are you sure you don't want anything to eat? Or at least tea? Something warm?'
He shook his head. But while he showered, his Belle made two cups of chamomile anyway and made him drink one when they settled into bed.
And he could cuddle to Belle again after all and the world looked that much better for it.
This was going to be a disaster.
Belle managed to pressure the cricket into finding time for the appointment the very next day, probably afraid that Gold would chicken out. Which he did, but went to the appointment anyway, because it made Belle happy. It couldn't change anything and he wasn't even sure when his control started to slip so badly that he let Belle see too much, but he surely could do it for her. She would feel better and that was what mattered.
He knocked on the cricket's door and was led into the office. It felt ridiculous that once he came here out of his own free will to discuss... Yes. Ridiculous.
So when they sat comfortably in the armchairs, Gold wasn't even able to look straight at the cricket. He wondered if it was acceptable to spend the whole hour sitting in silence, looking at furniture and trying to not show that this made him feel like trapped animal and the worst failure in the whole world.
'We can talk about anything you want, Mr. Gold,' said the cricket in a low, calm voice. 'It's an important step itself that you came here. I am not going to force you to do or say anything. We can stay silent too, if you want.'
'What's the point of this if we don't talk?' Gold said dryly.
'The point is that I want you to understand that no one is going to force you into anything here.'
Gold laughed mirthlessly.
'I was already forced to come.'
He regretted saying that immediately, because it would mean that his Belle was hurting him. And that was not the truth.
'You didn't want to come here,' the cricked nodded as if it was completely understandable. 'Most people are afraid or at least nervous when they are going to a psychological appointment. Talking about things that hurt is difficult and scary.'
'Why do that then?'
He wanted that to sound much more cynical than it did.
'Because more often than not it helps us to feel better and overcome our obstacles.'
Gold shook his head and looked at furniture again. In the corner of his eyes he caught movement, the cricket was going to say something. And before even Gold knew, the cricket was magically frozen in time, with his mouth open.
Feeling uncomfortably warm and cold at the same time, Gold quickly left the office and headed for his shop.
'How was your appointment?' asked Belle first thing when she came to the shop. For the first, or maybe second time, Gold wished that the working hours of the library were longer. At least she could stop calling it 'appointment', perhaps 'meeting' would be acceptable too. But asking her meant admitting it bothered him, so there was nothing he could do.
'We talked a bit,' he said carefully.
'Do you feel better?'
What was he supposed to say? If he said 'yes,' it would be a lie, though perhaps the sheer relief of getting out of that place would count. If he said 'no,' she would press for more details and more appointments. He wanted to teleport away. Away from Belle. Hard to say where to, perhaps to his cabin in the woods.
'It's okay,' Belle moved closer and wrapped her arms around his waist. 'You don't have to feel better immediately. This takes time.'
'Thank you, Belle,' he murmured with genuine relief, though he still was lying to her, if only by omission. Somewhere along the line he managed to learn that this is also a lie, sometimes bigger that the outright one. He wondered if he knew it once, before the curse. If he taught it to Bae, only to forget it himself.
'Let's go home, Rumple.'
'I... I would have to stop by doctor Hopper's office on our way. I forgot something. It will take only a minute.'
He just hoped that no one found the frozen cricket in the past few hours.
'I just wanted to make sure you're alright.'
'I'm not going to murder anyone, now can you go away before I change my mind?'
'But I brought you cookies.'
There was only stunned silence on the other side of the door and Emma decided to take that as a good sign. Indeed, few moments later the door opened and Emma saw slightly haggard and green Regina in a nightgown and robe.
'I didn't wake you up, right?'
'Oh, most definitely no. If you excuse me...'
She disappeared in the bathroom, so Emma let herself in and started to make peppermint tea for Regina and coffee for herself.
When former Evil Queen came back the envy in the look she gave the coffee was unholy.
'So? Have you done it?'
'You have no subtlety, Swan,' said Regina hoarsely and sat behind the table, staring miserably into her tea.
Emma sat down across from her.
'If you didn't, it's alright. Another day then.'
'I feel sick even thinking of it.'
'I'm not pressuring you into talking...'
'You're just worried, yes, I know. Oh, gods, so I told him that he's going to be a father again and he immediately promised to help and demanded that he would have a part in raising the child. So very predictable. Meanwhile maid Marian was staring at us with the most hurt expression I've ever seen, because Robin insisted that we should talk in her presence, because he doesn't have secrets from his wife. He didn't care to think, that maybe I have secrets from his wife. So I made it short and to the point and bid goodbye to teleport home to get violently sick. Tell me, why is it called morning sickness, when it very clearly isn't? I need a drink and I can't have one.'
'Yeah, that sucks,' decided Emma without beating around the bush.
'There was a time when I almost drank a potion to never have children,' said Regina suddenly. 'Because my mother wanted grandchildren and she was going to use me and them without any qualms. Now when she's dead, one would imagine how wonderful would it be to raise a child without needing to protect it from a bloodlusting relative. And suddenly it appears that it's not the only calamity that can fall on the child. Gods, I'm rambling, Swan, have you put something in that tea?'
'Nope, those are your own hormones perhaps. I'm listening and not repeating it to anyone, anyway.'
'I just don't want to be like my mother. I can't stop thinking of all things that I've done to Henry. How I tried to control him. I used magic on him like my mother used magic on me to stop me from doing what she didn't approve of. And Henry is a boy. What if I have a girl? I don't know how to be a mother to a girl.'
'I think you didn't really know how to be a mother to a boy and Henry turned out just fine. More than fine actually.'
'They say half the job is in genes. My genes are evil.'
Emma frowned. Regina full of doubts was starting to seriously scare her.
'That's a bit too much, Regina. You're good now. You've managed to change. Your genes can't be that evil. And the other half are Robin Hood's, so I really don't think you have anything to worry about on that front. Besides, you've managed to raise Rumplestiltskin's grandson to be a very good and kindhearted young man.'
'Old Rumple isn't all that evil,' she said, as if sharing a secret. 'Only infuriatingly stubborn and way too smart for anyone's liking.'
'What?' Regina snorted. 'I loved my father, but I often wished he could be more like Rumplestiltskin. My father was weak. Loving, but completely weak. My mother was doing whatever she pleased to him and to me. Rumple at least taught me how to have power and not be controlled. Helped me to get free from my mother. I hope that little maid of his is smart enough to take care of him now.'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean Zelena, of course. My sweet, wicked sister was even more unhinged than me at my most evil. I like to think that I was at least rational. And I never had such a power over anyone, even as a queen, even having Graham's heart. Or at least that's what I know from books, Rumplestiltskin never wanted to teach me anything about his curse.'
'That's why you returned the dagger to Belle?'
'Yes. I probably should have given it to him personally, but I wanted to do something to show her that I'm not an enemy. I knew she wouldn't keep the dagger for herself.'
The house was quiet when he teleported there. Ominously quiet. He could see the entrance to the basement from where he was standing.
He needed to check the house. Zelena had to have magical artifacts, just like Regina had them. There was a chance that the elixir would be among them.
Slowly, he started towards the main door. It was locked, but Kay's key allowed him to get in without losing time on cracking lingering magical barriers and non-magical rusted locks.
He lighted the lamp with a flicker of his hand, trying to not notice how the hand shook. This wasn't time for feeling sorry for himself. He needed to search the place.
It took him whole two hours and he didn't find anything. Instead it left him shaking and panting. It would be easier to employ someone to do the job, perhaps Robin Hood could do that, just like on his first attempt to steal the elixir before Regina's curse. Yet it would mean making a deal when he was a desperate party. It would also mean explaining things at least a little bit, making himself vulnerable to other people, fearing about secrecy... For the same reason he didn't want to ask Emma to go to New York as a favor for deal with Kay's theft, looking for the elixir in Walsh's shop or apartment. Perhaps he could make a whole story about barriers specifically against him as a reason for needing help. But he had a feeling that Robin would see through the lie.
Not worth it. He had to do it alone.
If only it wasn't so scary for the old coward he was. All the time he felt as if Zelena was going to catch him red-handed and lock him again in the basement.
Was that possible that she hid something there? But he never had seen her doing so.
He sat on the chair, thinking frantically. He should go and check. He knew he should go and check, it would be impossibly stupid to leave it unsearched. The elixir may be there.
But somehow going there was making him tremble and sweat even more than being in her house.
He almost jumped, when his cell phone ringed. Belle. Belle was calling because he was late, the search took him too long because he constantly had to stop to remind himself that it's safe. He should talk to Belle now, calm her down, tell her he'd be home soon. Or better yet, he could teleport himself home right now.
But the basement. He needed to check it. And if he talked to Belle now, she'd hear his voice cracking and she'd ask him what's going on. And he'd try to lie, and she'd know, and would be angry. She told him clearly that he couldn’t deceive her if this relationship was going to work. She would leave him. He himself would have left him and a long time ago at that. Or perhaps he did it, if only metaphorically.
Somehow there was no good solution and that was his fault, he should have been able to deal with this all much better.
The phone stopped ringing.
The basement, then. And after that - home.
'Rumple, where have you been? I was worried! You didn't pick up the phone!'
Belle was angry. Rumple was always telling her if he had something extra to do and was going to be late. Today he didn't say anything, just disappeared and wasn't answering her calls. She was simultaneously worried that something happened to him and that he's up to something not good, to put it mildly.
She loved Rumple and tried to trust him, but in the moments like this every past clash was screaming at her that there's something foul here. She didn't want him to have any secrets because his secrets were about harming other people in vengeance.
When he appeared home, and what's more - by magic, she could at least see that he was unharmed. That left the other possibility even more possible.
'Sweetheart, I'm sorry,' he smiled. 'I really am. I had some additional work in the shop and lost count of the time.'
'I was calling you. Why didn't you pick up?'
'I'm sorry, sweetheart. I was so concentrated on work, that I just ignored it. I thought it's much earlier, didn't think it could be you. I saw it was you just a moment before coming home.'
He looked repentant. He held his head a bit low, casting uneasy glances at her. He took his jacket off, and only in his vest, he looked vulnerable.
But somehow she wasn't sure she believed him just yet.
'What were you working on, Rumple?'
He quickly fished something from his pocked, small, purple box.
'I've been restoring this for you...' he said quietly, offering it to her. She frowned, but took the box. There was the most beautiful necklace she'd ever seen.
'May I?' he came closer, wanting to put it on her neck.
'No, Rumple, wait.' She took a step back, then closed her eyes and sighed. 'Perhaps it's silly, but I have a feeling that you're hiding something from me. That you weren't just working on it the whole afternoon. Tell me, Rumple, were you doing something else today? Something important, that I should know about?'
She looked him straight in the eyes. He, however, were looking sideways. Unsure, nervous.
There was something going on.
'Rumple? And how about the other evening when you were late? Where were you then?'
'Belle, it's just business, there's no need...'
She was surprised herself with her shout, but he practically jumped.
'Belle! Please! There's nothing to tell!'
Apparently he tried to sidestep the issue without lying. Except he already lied about working on a necklace, right?
'Rumple, I thought we understood each other about secrecy? You told me yourself that you trust me and that you want me in your life. But apparently that's not the case.'
He had tears in his eyes, but she forbade herself to be affected by it. If she gave in now, then it would be all for nothing, and he won't change at all.
She put the box on the table.
'I don't think that the present is going to make up for the secrets,' she said sadly. 'You have one more chance: where have you been?'
'I went to see the Snow Queen,' he said quietly, looking at the floor. She sighed with relief at first, but then the implications sank in.
'Why? Was that about the mirror?'
'Among other things. We talked about Kay. I made the deal with her, so I had to go and tell her what I know about how Kay ended up in the Nightmare Mirror.'
'What was the other end of the deal?'
'Information as well. The details about magic spell, that I couldn't learn on my own.'
'Rumple, why magic spells? I thought we agreed that you'll use magic only for very special occasions.'
'I know, Belle, I'm sorry.'
'Well, I'm sorry too. You lied to me and you went to dabble in magic.'
'I'm sorry... Let's not talk about it again.'
'But you must tell me what you needed the spell for. Do you... plan something?'
'Do you plan something that may end up in someone being hurt?'
'No, Belle, of course not!'
'Then what are you planning?'
'Nothing, Belle, leave it alone, please! I'm sorry I was late, and that I didn't pick the phone! I'm sorry I dabbled in magic...'
He sighed heavily, and turned, as if he meant to walk out on her. Belle felt frustrated to the point of seeing red.
'No! No, Rumple! You can't keep me away from everything important! I'm going to talk to Snow Queen then! I know Diana is on shift now and Snow Queen is also in the hospital! I'm going there and I'm demanding answers if my own husband can't talk to me!'
Belle managed to make three steps, when Rumple magically locked the door.
'Belle, I beg you, don't. I'll... I'll tell you later! Please!'
But Belle was staring at the door, white-faced.
Belle slowly shook her head and reached for her purse. Then she took the dagger out.
'Belle...' Gold tried to tell her something, anything, but had no idea what that could be, all he could do was stare at the dagger, this dagger, in Belle's hand, his Belle, his Belle, his Belle...
He woke up on the floor, disoriented, not remembering what happened. He slowly noticed that his legs were propped up on a chair and he had his tie loosened and collar opened.
'Rumple, you're awake...' Belle suddenly came into focus and put something wet and cold on his forehead.
Then he remembered and his eyes became wide with panic.
'No, no, Rumple, don't get up,' Belle caught his arms, forcing him down. 'Please, not yet, you'll faint again.'
Distant part of him wanted to argue that he surely did not 'faint'. This was not something that men do. What was that other term that Karen used? Vasovagal reaction?
Belle sniffed and started to cry.
'Rumple, I'm sorry. But I'm so tired of being treated like... like a pet, a child, something that can't be trusted on its own... And I kind of flashbacked to when you tried to kill Regina despite your promise. And you tried to control me. That was what did it. But then I tried to control you... I shouldn't have used the dagger, I know I shouldn't have, I'm so sorry...'
'No, Belle, no, please, don't, no need to be sorry!' Gold put his legs down and sat up quickly, reaching for Belle with both hands, ignoring how the room was tilting. She immediately buried herself in his arms.
'I'm sorry... Will you forgive me?'
'Of course. No need to forgive anything. I'm the one who should be sorry. Let's go upstairs? We both need rest.'
He got up, not completely steady, but Belle had both arms around his waist.
'Okay,' she agreed. 'But Rumple, are you alright? You've never fainted like that. Was this... Did it remind you...?'
'Yes,' he admitted quickly. 'It reminded me of her. Of what she did to Bae just because I couldn't...'
'Shhh,' Belle hugged him tightly. 'Let's sit down for a moment, okay?' She guided him to the couch and they sat together, cuddling close. 'I'm so sorry for what I've done...'
'No, Belle, you shouldn't be...' He sighed raggedly. She shouldn't be. She was right, he was lying to her. His Belle shouldn't ever feel guilty of anything.
He thought he should tell her at least something. But nothing was able to get past his constricted throat, no matter how disgusted with himself he felt. Some part of him hoped that after today Belle wouldn’t mention the cause of the whole argument for some time.
'I just wish that your curse didn't exist,' sighed Belle. 'That we could be a normal, non-magical couple, without daggers that can control you.'
Gold sighed too.
'But there's no way to change that... None that I know of. The kiss doesn't work here.'
And he felt simultaneously relieved that it didn't. Without magic, he couldn't protect Belle, just as he couldn't protect Bae. He didn't deny that he had done many evil deeds while under the curse, but he took it for Bae. And Bae hadn't been taken to be a child soldier, so it was alright.
Sometimes he wondered if he could pin all the evil he'd done on the curse. But that would be a coward's way out too. And what's more important, it would be admitting to not having free will. And Gold needed control of his life and himself. Needed it long before the curse, needed and dreamed of it when he lost his mother and then his father...
But with his heart blackened completely...
And he'd be a danger to Belle. He would have to tell her finally. Make sure she's safe. If he didn’t find a loophole first.
Belle sounded strong and decisive again and he trembled involuntarily.
'You're taking the dagger back. And I'm not hearing a single word of protest.'
'Yes, sweetheart,' he answered meekly. But he'd hide it at home, where his Belle lived. Maybe under their bed.
'I don't think I'm going to ever understand how much power it has over you. But judging from your reaction today, it's very, very wrong for anyone beside you to have it. No one should be a slave to another.'
'Thank you, sweetheart.'
Belle was gently petting his head.
'Rumple, I was scared of you for a moment,' she admitted after a while.
That made him sit straight and look at her.
'Belle, what? I wouldn't ever hurt you!'
'You have secrets, Rumple. And in the past they almost always involved someone getting hurt.'
That simple statement brought tears to his eyes again.
'I'm sorry, Belle. Yes, I have secrets. But if I promise that I don't want to hurt anyone, will you let me have them?'
'Do they involve you gathering even more power than you have?'
'I don't know. Only as a side effect if at all. It's really about something else.'
'And this isn't something that you can talk to me about?'
She sounded hurt.
'It's not about trust,' he said quickly. 'There are more reasons for secrets than lack of trust. I trust you with my life, sweetheart. I trust you with the dagger.'
'Okay. So promise me that you don't want to hurt anyone and that your goal isn't to gather more power and... and just for now I won't ask further.'
'I promise, sweetheart.'
'Thank you, Rumple,' she smiled and wiped tears from her eyes and cheeks. 'Let's go upstairs now.'