"You would think he'd have learned by now! My goodness, girl. You poor thing."
It was only that evening, and it already seemed like an eternity to Belle. Rumpelstiltskin had just left to get Henry back from Neverland. She sat in the diner, in the corner, book in hand but never opened once, and with a few iced teas sitting at her side. Ruby had told her they'd be on the house for as long as she liked tonight.
Belle had been staring intently on the tabletop for the last twenty minutes, and Ruby had decided to break the ice for like, the tenth time.
She snapped out of her gaze at the sound of the waitress's voice.
"What?" she asked, dreamily, looking up at Ruby like a lost girl. Ruby shook her head, and Granny walked over this time, thinking her granddaughter needed help with this. After all, the past nine times have been a failure to break Belle of this horrible spell she seemed to be under.
"Belle, honey, I really wish you weren't with him. He breaks you apart all the time!" the old women exclaimed.
"No, that's not true," Belle said. "Besides, I had to stay behind. He needed me...to cast the spell over the town." The two knew she was right.
"Belle, it hurts us to see you like this. How can you miss such a...man?" Granny asked.
"Granny," Red nudged her, though that was becoming known to her around town. They weren't exactly the most well respected couple, at least in comparison to Snow and her Prince Charming. Belle looked down at the table again.
"You don't know him like I do. I feel like I just got him back and now he's gone again..." Belle was staring off into space again, but Ruby wasn't about to let that happen.
"Look, why don't you spend the night? It might help you, spending some time with a few friends. I'm sure Ashely would die to get out of her house and away from the baby for a few hours."
Belle politely refused, but she thanked Ruby for her intentions. Granny huffed away, not understanding any of this at all.
Ruby sat with Belle, tired of seeing her blankly staring.
"Look chi-ca," she began. "I may not understand why you love him, but you miss him. Maybe it would help if you had a girl's night. You aren't even reading your book anyway. Come on."
"No, thank you. I think I'll just go back to..."
"Back to where?" Ruby interrupted. Belle took out a set of keys, jingling them in front of Ruby.
"Home," she said slowly, as though trying to comprehend where home was now. The waitress's eyes widened.
"You have the keys to that place?" Ruby exclaimed.
"Of course I do," she said, as though the thought were logical to her, but to Ruby, this concept seemed relatively new. Belle got up and was about to leave the diner.
"He really likes you, doesn't he?" Ruby asked, standing up. Belle looked back at her, nodding. When she left after their moment of silence, Ruby was still in a state of shock.
"Tables, Ruby!" Granny yelled. Ruby went up to her grandmother's desk.
"She has the keys to Rumpel's estate!" the girl exclaimed. "My gosh, she must have it really good with him. I mean, can you imagine? The keys to the Dark One's castle!" Granny merely shook her head, asking Ruby again to wait on tables and get to cleaning up for closing time.
Still, Granny couldn't help but wonder. She could have sworn he only had one set done of those keys. Either she has the only set or he made a magical duplicate. Surely Rumpel wouldn't take his keys with him on that adventure. No, she must have the only set. Ruby was probably just astounded at the thought of Belle already moving in with Rumpelstiltskin. However, this was a common step in relationships. Even the Dark One could have someone.
When she reached the yard, she felt as though she'd walked through a ghost. Something wasn't quite right about it. Out of curiosity, she took a few steps back to see that the air around her bent like water ripples. She could pass through something. No doubt Rumpel's doing. Stepping through again, she heard a loud CLUNK come from behind her.
She let out a small shriek as she whipped herself around to find Grumpy, swinging his axe at the magic.
"What are you doing?" Belle asked.
"Trying to break it," Grumpy said. "What else does it look like?"
"But...why?" Belle asked.
"Gold's got something I need. No offense sister, but I was gonna bust in here anyhow. I guess he beat me to it," Grumpy huffed.
"What is it?" she asked.
"For all the work I put in for him and Regina while we were cursed. Never got our full payments for our labors. Snow and Charming would want us to have our shares," Grumpy said.
Belle didn't know whether to believe this or not, but she did know where she could find the rest of the gold he spun on the wheel. That was a long time ago, and all it did was show a little alchemy. There was no magical ability about it unless Rumpel himself enchanted it. He hadn't casted a spell on it so long as she'd been living there.
"I'll be right back," Belle said, going into the house. After closing the door, she knew she could just leave the situation until Rumpel came back, but she also knew that it would be wrong to do such.
Making her way upstairs, she set the book on Rumpel's bed and found the basement. That was where he spun most of the time. She opened a closet full of wealth and snipped a piece about seven feet long. A foot for each of them.
She came back outside to see him waiting for her.
"What else did he owe you?" Belle asked.
"For you, sister, I'm not asking for the rest of it. I was just gonna take me share since the curse," Grumpy said. Belle smiled, holding out the strands she'd cut.
"A foot for each of you," she said, handing it to him across the barrier. His eyes widened.
"Will he be mad with you?"
"He probably won't even know it's gone. But, just this once, you hear me?" Belle wanted to make herself clear on that last part.
"I hear you, loud and clear. Thanks, Belle," Grumpy smirked.
That night, Belle was heading to bed, locking up the house as Rumpel always told her to do. She shut off the porch light, again, by his instructions, and she closed the curtains downstairs. When she reached his bedroom, she retrieved her book and found a piece of paper on the nightstand.
She sat the bed, taking it from its place and read it to herself:
My dearest Belle,
I do not believe for a moment that this letter will not find you. As you may have observed, I have placed an extra protection spell upon the estate in the midst of your protection spell. I have only done this to ensure your safety while I am away. I hope you are right and that I will find my way home soon. I do not wish to be in Neverland for any longer than need be. I will miss you terribly, sweetheart. I am sure you know this, and I'm sorry for having to leave you so soon.
If there is a way, be faithful that I will find it and I will be home before you know it. I hope the protection spell served you rightly. In case this is your last piece of me, I wish to say a few things.
The first is that I love you, more than you will ever know. You've brought out a goodness in me I thought I'd lost. This has meant more to me than anything else.
Secondly, in case I do not find you again, know that you can remove the protection spell on the house on page 473 of my main textbook of magical influence. It's the only spell on the page. I'm sure Mother Superior can help you. Also know that the gold and everything in the house is yours to keep and do with as you wish.
And finally, I am forever sorry about the pain I am putting you through. If I do not return, I can only imagine your sorrow. For that, I wish I could change, however I cannot. All of the pain you have been through, and you still wait for me to return because you believe in me. There isn't much I can do to mend the past, but the regret is that I may never have the chance to build a future.
Sweetheart, best of luck.
That letter brought her to tears, and she did believe he would return to her. She would never stop believing until his body was brought before her to prove he was dead. If he didn't come home in months, or even years, she would still be waiting for him.
She believes in him, and this letter was only just in case. It was short, but that may have been all the time he had. Belle finally laid her head on the pillow on his side of the bed, taking a deep breath. The scent, his scent, of amber, metal and musk. It was comforting, even though tears spilled all night long. Sleep approached at three in the morning, yet in her dreams, she still missed him horribly.