Characters: Rumpelstiltskin, Regina Mills, Belle
Genre(s): Angst, Friendship
Timeline: Timeline: Written after “Ruby Slippers”. Spoilers primarily for Seasons 4 and 5. Speculation on where things will stand after the heroes’ return from the Underworld. Time will tell if they bear out.
Warnings: Spoilers for Season 5
Word Count: 5,183
Story Summary: Belle has awakened, but she is still keeping away from Rumple. Regina decides that it's time to have a talk. Spoilers primarily for S5, especially Ruby Slippers. Some reference canon events from earlier.
A/N: Written after Ruby Slippers aired, but before the return from the underworld.
TW: Mentions of child abuse.
Blame Game Over
Regina pushed open the door of Gold’s shop and strode inside, looking every inch the queen she’d once been. Her serene façade betrayed none of the uncertainty that lurked beneath. Not for the first time, she wondered why she was bothering. The role of confidante was new to her and not one she felt entirely comfortable with. Besides, there was every reason to believe that Gold would throw any attempt at friendliness back in her face. It was something she would have done—had done—back in the day.
Gold wasn’t behind the counter when she walked in, but the tinkling bell over the door summoned him from the back room. He regarded her for a moment with a faint smile. “Madame Mayor,” he greeted her. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Snow was so much better at this sort of thing than she was, Regina reflected. Actually… no, she wasn’t. She was more willing to put herself out, but her wide-eyed earnestness turned grating very quickly and her tact and discretion came and went. Regina reflected that, while she might not know how to reach out very well, after observing her stepdaughter in action, she had a fairly good idea of how not to. She smiled back. “Just trying to be social,” she said lightly.
Gold raised an eyebrow. “Indeed?” He shook his head, his smile yielding to a scowl. “What do you want?” he demanded with quiet menace.
“Nothing I’m prepared to bargain for today, Gold,” Regina bantered back. “I just thought I’d check in, see how you were doing. Nobody’s spotted you outside of this shop in over a week.”
“So,” Gold sniffed, “you came here to check whether I’d suffered another heart attack and had been mouldering on the floor all this time? Sorry to disappoint you, Dearie. I’m quite well. As you can plainly see.” He picked up an item from the glass case below the counter and made a show of turning around to hold it to the light fixture behind him.
Well, she’d known this wasn’t going to be easy. “And Belle?” she asked. “Recovered from the sleeping curse with no ill effects?”
Gold set the item down abruptly on the counter with more force than was warranted. “Stop beating about the bush, Your Majesty.” His voice dropped to a harsh whisper. “What do you want?”
He wouldn’t believe her if she told him; she realized that much. They’d spent too much of the past as adversaries—frenemies, at best—for him to believe her, even if she could have brought herself to say what was really on her mind.
I’m worried about you. I’ve stood where you’re standing and I know it’s not easy. I’d like to help.
The woman who might have said those words aloud was long gone now, victim of an overly-ambitious mother and a corrupting imp. What Cora had started by killing Daniel, the Dark One had finished by teaching her magic.
I’ve gone back to wanting to do the right thing, but not back to the person I used to be.
Instead, she crossed over to the counter, set her purse down on the polished wood surface, and opened it slowly. “I’ve lost track of who owes who a favor, these days,” she said briskly. “So, if it’s me, consider this repayment and if it’s you… I don’t mind having the Dark One in my debt a little longer. You see, Gold,” she continued, making a show of rummaging in her bag, “it was you who taught me about the after effects of a Sleeping Curse. And I know how hard magical components are to come by in this realm. If Belle is having issues,” she pulled out a pendant and dangled it before him, “Henry hasn’t needed this for some time. You can have it back.”
Gold’s eyebrows lifted. For a moment, his veneer cracked and he started to reach for the charm. Then the moment passed and his hand dropped to his side. “You’d be better off giving it to her directly,” he said. “I’m probably the last person she wants to see.” He lowered his eyes for an instant and when he raised them again, they were cold and flat, disclosing nothing. “But of course, you knew that.”
Playing dumb had never come easily to her and she wasn’t about to try doing so now. “I knew you’d had a falling out,” she said with an elaborate shrug. “You’ve had them before and you’ve always come back to each other. I thought this might help speed things along.”
“Why do you care?”
She took a deep breath. “It’s taken a long time and a lot of false starts and wrong turns, but I think I’m finally seeing things turn around for me.” Words he’d spoken to her months ago surfaced in her mind. “As unbelievable as it sounds, I wish the same for you.”
He flinched. Then his lips curved in a bitter smile. “Instead of remembering what I said to you on that occasion, you would be better served remembering what you said to me. Villains don’t get happy endings.” His voice broke on the last syllable and he made a visible effort to collect himself. “Now, I think you should leave. Please.”
Regina’s eyes narrowed. That hadn’t worked since the curse broke. He had to know that. Then she realized. He did know that. He wasn’t ordering her away. He was—for him, anyway—pleading. “Rumple?”
He rested his forearms on the counter and his shoulders slumped forward. “She doesn’t want anything further to do with me,” he said dully. “In fact, she fears that too much time spent in my presence will blacken her soul further.” A breath escaped him as a long sigh. “She might well be right. It’s… not as though we need to look outside the confines of this shop to find support for that theory.”
Regina wasn’t sure if she was hearing an apology or a simple statement of fact. Her curiosity paled, though, as something else he’d said penetrated. “Blacken her soul further…?” she repeated. “What does she think…?”
Rumple sighed. “She tried to help an old acquaintance move on. As it happened, the acquaintance had a not entirely unjustified grudge against me.”
“You killed him.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Shortly after Belle came to my employ. Of course, Hades found a way to turn things to his advantage. He found the man Gaston, gave him a bow and arrows capable of destroying me, and told Belle that he would tear up the contract on her—our—unborn child if I sent Gaston into the River of Lost Souls, or if Gaston did the same to me.”
“She didn’t go along with that,” Regina snapped.
“No, of course not. But,” he sighed, “I was more than willing.”
“Naturally. So… what? She blames herself for not being able to stop you? Because I don’t see how that would blacken her soul any.”
Rumple sighed again. “If it had happened that way…” His voice trailed off. He took another breath. “I had him at my mercy, until Belle—” he caught himself and stopped.
“Belle…?” Regina prompted.
He closed his eyes. “She forced me to release him.”
Regina blinked. “Forced you? Wait. You mean she…”
“She got her hands on the dagger,” he admitted, his voice scarcely above a whisper. “I had no choice. And as soon as he was free, he had his bow drawn and one of his arrows on the string. I… froze. In retrospect, I probably still could have stopped him. Or the arrow, once it had been fired. Belle had ordered me to release him, not to stand there and let him kill me. But I suppose I was still in shock over what had transpired. Over how it had transpired. I hadn’t the presence of mind to defend myself. And then… Belle intervened. She saved my life, by pushing Gaston into the river.” His hands moved to the edge of the counter and gripped it. “Hades told her that the contract was still valid, because his condition had been that either I destroyed Gaston or he destroyed me. Her actions didn’t count. At least, not toward nullifying the contract.
Regina waited. “There must be more to it than that. What else?”
Rumple blinked. “We returned to the shop. She told me that I needed to fix things before I made her darken her soul any further. Then she stormed out and, apparently, paid a call on Zelena. When she returned, it was to put herself under that Sleeping Curse—where she remained, until her father woke her on our return. As she’d planned.” He closed his eyes again and his knuckles whitened on the counter edge.
“Wait. Do you mean to say that that’s it?” Regina frowned, certain that she was missing something. “She blames herself for acting to save your life.”
“By destroying another man’s soul. And while you or I would take a more pragmatic view of the matter, Belle has always…” Rumple sighed. “She may bring out the best in me, but perhaps it’s time to admit that I bring out the worst in her. I always have. And if that’s the case,” he gestured toward the pendant that still dangled in Regina’s hand, “perhaps, it would be best for everyone if you were the person to give her that bit of jewelry.”
Regina was still frowning as she placed the pendant back in her purse. “Very well, Rumple,” she said softly. “I’ll give it to her.”
He nodded and mumbled his thanks as he spun on his heel to retreat hastily to the back room. Regina started to follow him, but then thought better of it. He wanted to be alone and she’d gotten far more out of him already than she’d expected. She let herself out of the shop.
As she walked down the street, though, her jaw set in a tight line. “Damned right I’ll give it to her,” she muttered. This time, she wasn’t talking about the pendant.
Belle was shelving books when she heard a familiar voice behind her. “Pregnancy must agree with you, Belle,” Regina said pleasantly. “That or extended rest.”
Belle turned around to face her, giving the formerly evil queen a good look at her haggard face and the dark circles around her eyes.
Regina raised an eyebrow. “…Or not,” she said in a more concerned voice. “You look like you haven’t slept in days.”
Belle shook her head. “I haven’t,” she admitted. “Not for more than a few minutes at a stretch, anyway.”
Regina sighed. “Well, it’s probably good practice for when little junior arrives. Are you naming him after Rumple, by the way?”
Anger flashed across the librarian’s face. “It might just as easily be a girl, you know!” she snapped.
“My, aren’t we touchy today?” Regina asked coolly. “There must be something going around, I think. I’ve just come from Gold’s shop and he’s probably at least as irritated as you are at the moment.”
Belle was still frowning, but there was something softer in her eyes. “You… you’ve been to the shop,” she said. “You… talked to him?”
“Words were exchanged,” Regina said. “You know how seldom he opens up.”
Belle went back to her book cart. “Actually, that’s not as much of a problem as it used to be,” she sniffed. “He had no problem at all telling me that he was the Dark One again—and that he was done trying to change, and that he loved his power as much as he loved me.”
Regina’s eyes widened slightly. “He loves you as much as he loves his power,” she said, deliberately reversing the order, “he was honest with you, for what might be the first time in ages—if ever, and he was realistic about what it meant.”
“Are you telling me that I should have accepted it?”
Regina shrugged. “You’ve never made any secret of the fact that of all the things he’s done to you, the one you can’t abide is when he’s lied. And he has lied. Repeatedly. And even when he’s told the truth, it’s usually been told in such a way that a person can hear what they want to hear. I’m telling you that, considering he’s known how you’ve felt about his Darkness for a long time, being upfront about where things stood might just be the bravest thing he’s ever done.” She let that sink in for a moment. “Or…”
Belle tilted her head, waiting for the queen to continue. “Or?”
Regina hesitated. “You know, when a person is being blackmailed, they really have two choices. They can give in to the blackmailer’s demands, knowing all the while that those demands might become harder and harder to fulfill… or they can make whatever hold the blackmailer has over them useless.”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“Don’t you think it odd,” Regina said with a mocking smile, “that Rumpelstiltskin would journey to the Underworld to bring Hook back from the dead? After all that history between them? Belle, Emma found out that he was the Dark One again and told him that if he didn’t help her, she was going to tell you about it.”
Belle took an involuntary step backwards. “No,” she said. “No, you’ve got to be wrong. There’s no way that Emma would ever—”
“Force Evil to do the right thing even if it might kill him? Command the Dark One to do their bidding out of desperation?” Regina’s pleasant smile vanished. “You’re right, Belle. After all, Emma’s a Hero. And, for the life of me, I can’t think of another Hero who would ever do anything even remotely like that. Twice.”
The color drained from Belle’s face. “It wasn’t like that,” she said faintly. “And how do you know about…?” She caught herself. “Henry’s book.”
“Not quite,” Regina said. “You know he’s the Author now. And it seems like ever since he got the quill back, it’s been making up for lost time. He sits down and holds it over a blank page and writing appears. There doesn’t seem to be any order to the events, and he hasn’t shown me everything. But, he’s a teenager and they can be sloppy sometimes.” She smiled again. “Actually, I think it’s positive. He used to be much more careful about hiding things like this when I was still Evil.” She passed two pages to Belle. The top sheet showed an image of Belle herself, holding Rumple’s dagger and ordering him to take her to the Snow Queen. “It was on his desk, when I went to put his clean clothes in his room.” She sighed.
“I’m not showing this to you to rub anything in, Belle. There’s a lot in my past that I’ve had to move beyond, and just when I think it has, it can still rise up to haunt me. I deal with it. One day at a time. My point is that life is too complicated to sort everyone neatly into ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’ boxes. And even then, there are plenty of surprises along the way.”
Belle shook her head. “He traded his goodness for power.”
“Or he took on power, trusting that with you on his side, maybe he’d be able to resist certain impulses a bit better.” She sighed. “Darkness and evil are similar, Belle. But they aren’t quite the same thing. Take it from someone who’s had experience with both. I think you could say that Darkness predisposes you to choose evil, but it doesn’t override free will.”
“But if he loves me…”
“He loves power, too. Not uncommon in people who’ve never had it, but been pushed around by those who did.” Regina paused for a moment. “You never met my mother, did you?” she asked.
Belle shook her head, looking somewhat confused by this new subject. “I mean, I knew of her, of course. But no, I’d never met her.”
“She was a determined woman,” Regina said. “Positive she knew the right thing to do and determined to run roughshod over anyone who stood in the way of her ambitions. Including her only daughter.”
Belle’s eyebrows lifted. Regina gave her a faint smile and a nod before continuing. “She wanted me to make an advantageous marriage. Unfortunately for her plans, I loved someone else. His name was Daniel. He was a stable boy in my family’s employ. And when Snow’s father King Leopold spoke for my hand and mother gave it, I was prepared to elope rather than go through with a royal marriage. I assume you know what happened next?”
Belle nodded. “Cora found out about Daniel and…” She reached out a hand to Regina, stopping just short of resting it on her arm. “I’m sorry.”
Regina closed her eyes. “So am I. Especially, because…” she hesitated. “Well, you have to understand something I only came to accept after several long and painful talks with Doctor Hopper. My mother abused me. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and magically. And despite that, I still loved her and I wanted her love more than anything in the world. When she killed Daniel, she told me that it was because she wanted what was best for me. She meant it,” Regina added bitterly, her mouth twisted into a sad smile. “She murdered my True Love in order to give me my Best Chance. And I couldn’t do a thing about it. I was weak. I was powerless. And I was terrified that if she knew what I was feeling about her at that moment, and in the days and weeks that followed, she’d do the same to me. Probably not the most rational fear, considering I couldn’t exactly marry Leopold if I were dead, but I wasn’t being rational at the time. And… when I found out that Snow had told Cora about Daniel, I suddenly had a much ‘safer’ target to hate. If Snow had only kept her mouth shut, Daniel would have lived and we would have escaped together.” Regina locked her dark brown eyes on Belle’s blue ones. “It was infinitely easier for me to put the blame for Daniel’s death on an immature ten-year-old than where it really belonged.”
Belle frowned. “Why… why are you telling me this?”
“I think you know.”
Belle’s face, already pale, turned almost chalk-white.
“I went to the store to give Rumple something to give to you,” she said, reaching into her purse for the pendant. “He made it for Henry to help with the nightmares after he woke up from a sleeping curse. And, in explaining to me why he was keeping his distance, he let loose a few details he probably wouldn’t have, if he weren’t worried sick, because you’ve been shutting him out.”
Belle’s expression hardened. “He knows where I work,” she pointed out. “He can come talk to me if he wants to. But I’m done running back to him like some lovesick puppy while the Darkness takes over more and more of my soul.”
Then Regina did the last thing Belle would have expected. She threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, Belle!” she gasped. “Thank you so much, dear. I needed that!”
Belle frowned. “What do you mean?” she asked uncertainly.
“Well,” Regina said, taking a deep breath to regain control, “let’s see. You choose to chase after a memory crystal instead of rescue a new friend hanging from a cliff. Years later, rather than come clean about what happened and try to make amends, you use the dagger to force your husband to watch over you while you go off to scout out the Snow Queen’s lair. You set yourself up as judge, jury, and executioner to exile your husband from Storybrooke without any kind of deliberation—interesting what happens to even some of the best people, the first time they get their hands on real power, isn’t it? And yet, it’s not until you save the life of the man you love from the already dead fiancé who was trying to kill him that you worry about your soul darkening? Well, my dear, I think you’re forgetting something.”
Belle took another step back and found herself against the book case. “And what’s that?” she asked, sounding as though she were dreading the answer.
Regina smiled. “I admit I can’t say anything about the state of your soul, but I’ve seen your heart, dear. Weeks ago. And it was already starting to darken then.”
“No,” Belle whispered, wide-eyed.
“At the time, I thought it probably had to do with your use of the dagger to banish Rumple, but it could have been Anna, or your trip to the ice castle, or something else I don’t know about. That’s not important. What is important is that you try being honest with yourself. And then try being honest with him. If you’re in love with him, then for pity’s sake, love him, not the image you’ve concocted for yourself about what you thought he could be. Because, for the first time, he is being honest with you.”
“He didn’t even apologize,” Belle said in a choked voice. “It was, ‘this is who I am and if you can’t handle it, we’re done’. I mean,” she sniffled, “he didn’t phrase it like that, but it was what he meant.”
“He’s almost broke himself in two, trying to be the man you wanted him to be. That wasn’t him, Belle. It never will be. I don’t mean he’s doomed to be a villain; he can go back to being the good person he used to be, if that’s what he wants. But the good person you want him to be? That might not be the same thing. And even if it is, he hasn’t been that man for centuries. Belle, I was the ‘Evil’ Queen for…” she did some mental calculations, stifled her vanity, and reminded herself to count the Curse years in the tally, “roughly forty years. It has not been easy to come back from that and I’m still not the person I used to be. Maybe I never can be. That doesn’t mean I can’t be Good, of course, but even now, it’s not always my first instinct. The thing is, the man I’m with now is someone who knew of my past, but accepted me for who I am in the present. You can’t love another person for what you hope they’ll become, Belle. You have to be able to love them for who they are. I think Rumple wanted you to understand that now, before you both hurt each other again. Because as much as he doesn’t want to lose you, he can’t lose himself either. And locking a part of himself away out of fear of what you’d do if he ever slipped would be—”
Belle’s eyes widened. “—The way you acted toward your mother.”
Regina blinked. “I… I suppose it is,” she said, sounding stunned. “With one important difference. My mother always said that love was weakness. She ripped out her own heart in order to be strong. And so, no matter what I did and how hard I tried to win her love, it really was a lost cause. She just… wasn’t capable of demonstrating it. You and Rumple both have your hearts. And if there’s one thing that you keep proving to anyone who cares to look, it’s that love is also strength.”
She handed Belle the pendant. “Rumple wanted me to give it to you,” she said. “Wear it when you sleep and it will help you gain control of your dreams.”
“What good will that do?” Belle asked, closing her hand around the crystal.
“Well, as Rumple explained it, once you control something, you need no longer fear it.”
Belle closed her eyes. “That… really explains a lot, doesn’t it?” she asked faintly.
“What you said before,” Regina said, “about not wanting to run back to him. I’m not saying that you should, necessarily. But that child you’re carrying is as much his as it is yours. Are you planning to keep Rumple away once the baby’s born?”
Belle shook her head. “I thought about it,” she admitted. “My father thinks it’s a good idea. But… I couldn’t. I don’t want my child to grow up fatherless, any more than Rumple did Baelfire.”
“I’d let him know that,” Regina said. “It might allay at least some of his concerns.”
Regina took a deep breath. “Well, I guess that’s everything I came here to say. Take care of yourself, Belle. And… Rumple Junior? Rumpelina?”
Despite herself, Belle’s lips twitched. “Regina?” She slipped the pendant around her neck. “Thank you.”
After the mayor left, Belle waited a full twenty minutes, until she was sure that the other woman wasn’t returning. Then she surreptitiously slipped out of the library and locked the door behind her.
As she walked into the shop for the first time in over a week, she heard Rumple’s voice from the back room.
“I’m closing early today!” he called. Now, Belle could hear his footsteps drawing closer to the curtained doorway. “If you don’t know precisely what it is you need, you’ll have to come back to—” He drew back the curtain and his jaw dropped. “Belle.”
She smiled. “I… came to thank you for the first solid sleep I’ve had since my father woke me.”
Rumple made a show of rearranging some of the knickknacks at the far end of the counter. “You’re quite welcome,” he said formally. “But, really, you should be thanking Regina. It was her charm, after all.”
Belle shook her head. “I know she went to you first. You could have called to ask me to come into the shop. Or waited for me to come on my own.”
“I had no way of knowing when that might be,” Rumple pointed out. “Or if you’d want to take my calls after everything I’ve done.” He sighed. “Everything I’m likely to do in the future. I don’t want to hurt you anymore, Belle, but there are some things about me that are never going to change, no matter how much you’d like them to. If you stand by me, hoping that they will, I’ll keep hurting you every time I let you down. And I will let you down. But I know what the after effects of a Sleeping Curse can be like. I thought using Regina would be the most expeditious way to deliver the remedy.”
“Thank you,” Belle said again. “For putting my needs first.” She waited for him to look up and meet her eyes before she smiled. “You know… there are… too many people in the world who wouldn’t have been as considerate to someone who’d turned away from them so recently.” She winced. “Or even not so recently.”
“I know your reasons, Belle. I can’t even call them wrong ones,” he admitted. “I just… wish things could be different.” He blinked several times in rapid succession, before turning back to the knickknacks.
Belle took a deep breath. “Do you still… like hamburgers?”
The polishing cloth in his hand fluttered to the counter and slid to the floor. “Uh… yeah.”
“I haven’t had one in ages. Maybe we could… go to Granny’s together and get some to bring home. I think we need to talk about things where there’s no Hades holding a contract over our heads or… or names carved on tombstones keeping us in the Underworld or people coming in every few minutes to check out a book or ask your advice. Let’s see if we can figure out where things stand between us and… where we want them to. Together.
While she’d been talking, Rumple had come out from behind the counter and walked over to where she was standing. Now, he drew her into an embrace. She rested her head on his shoulder and hugged him back. “I do love you, you know,” she murmured.
“And I you.”
“It’s just… all of this… And a baby on the way… It’s frightening. I start imagining all the things that could go wrong and… And I hate myself for trying to control you with the dagger. And I’m afraidit could happen again.”
“Because you’re terrified.” Rumple shook his head, but he was smiling a bit. “I’m not sure how much I can hold that against you. Considering. But you’re right,” he admitted, as his smile fell away. “This is something we need to talk about. So, let me lock up and we’ll do what you suggested and get dinner at Granny’s.”
“I… uh, should probably warn you. I think I might want some slightly odd toppings on mine, this time out.” She smiled apologetically. “I think it’s a pregnancy thing.”
Rumple’s smile was back. “Oh?” he said, as he held the shop door open for her. “Then you shall have them. Whatever your—or…” he gestured discreetly toward her belly. “…His… or her heart desires.”
“About that,” Belle said, “I’ve been thinking. Actually,” she looked down at the ground for a moment. “I don’t know that I would have come back here as quickly if you hadn’t sent Regina over with that necklace. She made me face a few things that I probably wouldn’t have on my own. I owe her for that.”
Rumple frowned. “I never told her to—”
“I know,” Belle smiled, slipping her hand into his. “If you were going to send anyone to… to sound me out or try to make me understand a few things, it wouldn’t be her. But I can’t deny I’m here right now, in large part because of the discussion we had. And even if we can’t make things work, Rumple,” her grip tightened on his arm, “I can promise you that this baby will not grow up fatherless.” She flushed. “And we both have her to thank for that. So… if it’s a girl, I’d thought to name her Colette. After my mother. But I think that Regina Colette has a nice ring to it. If you’re okay with it, I mean.” She smiled. “And if it’s a boy, then Baelfire, of course.”
Rumple nodded, but inwardly, he was chuckling at the irony. For all the time that he and Regina had spent as bitter enemies, for all that Regina had done to drive them apart and keep them apart, he now had her to thank for bringing Belle back to him. And, for once, he truly didn’t mind being in her debt. “Of course, Belle,” he said warmly. “As you wish.”
From inside her parked car, Regina watched the two of them walking down Main Street, lost in conversation. She smiled and reflected that it was always satisfying to watch an idea come to fruition. They were talking again. It was a start. And maybe, just maybe, the savior wasn’t the only person capable of bringing about a happy ending or two.