"We grow accustomed to the Dark – / When light is put away – /
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp / To witness her Goodbye – /
A moment – We uncertain step / For newness of the night – /
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark – / And meet the Road – erect –"
—Emily Dickinson, "We grow accustomed to the Dark –" (excerpt)
"Regina...I didn't expect you back so soon," Zelena, the wicked green witch—who now was not so green—greeted Belle when she entered the sheriff's office. She sat on the small bed by the wall and didn't turn her head until Belle spoke.
"I don't imagine you expected me at all," Belle replied, coming to a halt a few feet from the bars.
Zelena twisted around to face her and scoffed disdainfully.
"What are you doing here?"
"What do you think?" Belle snapped. "You put my Rumple in a cage. I just wanted to see you in one."
"The Dark One has such a soft spot for you. Now I see why. Well, enjoy the show. I won't be in here for long." She gave Belle a sly smile. "Light magic doesn't exact vengeance."
Belle didn't answer.
"Regina has the dagger," Zelena continued. "I know she claims to be forging her new destiny, but I wonder...what sort of plans she might have with it. You know, for your dear Rumplestiltskin. He'll have to do what she wishes. If she has the dagger, he'll have no choice." Her eyes lit up at the awful prospect. "Again."
"Regina's changed. She wouldn't do such a thing," Belle answered stiffly.
Zelena gave her a pitying look.
"You really think that will last?...Oh, didn't she lock you up once for, what, nearly thirty years? You poor girl."
Belle drew herself up.
"Like I said, people can change. Surely even you had some goodness in you once."
Zelena raised an eyebrow.
"And what about you?"
"What about me?"
Zelena smiled—another eerie, wicked smile.
"You may be on the side of the so-called heroes, but you're the Dark One's True Love." The words came out in a near-whisper, like a threat. "Surely you must have some darkness in you."
One Year Ago…
The effects of Regina's fake memory spell hadn't completely worn off.
Belle still had Lacey in her head, still had Lacey's thoughts and inclinations cropping up at random intervals, catching her off guard.
Snow and Henry both suffered nightmares as a lingering side effect of being under sleeping curses. All magic came at a price. Was this Belle's price for waking up?
It had been only three days since she'd regained her memories. Since her dear Rumple had sailed off with the others to rescue Henry.
And while she missed Rumple terribly—and despite her assurances at the dock was not so certain she would ever see him again—a part of her was glad to be able to sort herself out without him around. Without him needing her to be her usual ray-of-sunshine self—the glue holding the shattered pieces of his lonely heart together.
Today, there were cloudy skies on her horizon, and she didn't know how to clear them or if they would ever disappear completely.
She couldn't patch him up the way he'd patched up her chipped cup until she fixed herself.
Until she'd dealt with her conflicting feelings about the memories Lacey had left behind.
Unfortunately, there were traces of Lacey everywhere Belle looked.
Even as Lacey, Belle had lived in the apartment above the library. Lacey, like Belle, had enjoyed reading. Well, 'reading' was a loose term. Lacey liked reading extremely trashy romance novels. Erotica, actually, with a thin semblance of plot.
Not that Belle had skimmed any of the dog-eared pages as she'd re-shelved the books in the library below.
She would never.
She'd bagged up all of Lacey's clothes to give away; they weren't her style; she didn't need them. But she'd let the black trash bag sit in the corner of her bedroom for two days, half-curious to try on some of the tight dresses Lacey wore that drove Rumple to distraction.
Yes, she remembered shamelessly seducing him in the backroom of his pawn shop and plenty of times in public. Just the thought of some of the things Lacey had done in her body made Belle blush with abandon.
Lacey had no shame. Unlike Belle, who underneath her modern clothes was still the proper princess she'd been raised to be. In manners if not in opinions.
Belle knew she had Rumple's heart, but Lacey had owned it. Like she was the powerful one and Rumple was at her mercy. It was heartbreaking but a tiny bit adorable the way Rumple had fallen over himself trying to win Lacey's affections. He'd been a far cry from the man Belle had known in the Dark Castle, who only knew how to deflect and disguise his regard for her.
Yes, those were memories of Lacey's that Belle was actually quite fond of.
It was what came after that shook Belle to her core.
Power had ultimately drawn Lacey to Rumple, not the fragile spark of goodness tucked away beneath several centuries worth of dark deeds and schemes. She'd been attracted to his possessiveness, his ruthlessness, his dark magic and everything it could do for her.
And, true, Lacey didn't love Rumple like Belle did, but she was attracted to him.
A snippet of conversation kept replaying in Belle's head.
You really are as dark as people say.
Darker, dearie. Much darker.
Lacey's stomach had coiled with desire while she watched Rumple wallop the Sheriff of Nottingham with his cane. Knowing that she had laughed at the man's pain made Belle sick to her stomach, but, unfortunately, Belle couldn't separate the horror of seeing Rumple revert to his old ways from the heated exchange of pleasure that had followed.
And she could no longer separate desiring Rumple—desiring him in every way possible—from the power that made him who he was. Even though he'd once told her he loved power more than her. Even though he'd confessed it was his crutch.
Perhaps Belle would have been able to rid herself of the feeling if she hadn't experienced it before, but she had.
Of course I'll protect you.
His words from the evening she'd found him in the pawn shop.
He had protected her, hadn't he?
Maybe not from himself. Not from the fears and misgivings that led him to drive her away.
But he'd rescued her from three evil witches before, and he hadn't let the Sheriff of Nottingham take her virtue. And he'd saved her kingdom, her family. He couldn't have done that without his power. Of that Belle was certain.
She'd once wanted to turn him into an ordinary man, but it wasn't an ordinary man that she'd fallen in love with, was it?
It was a powerful man, a man who took no prisoners. Who confided in no one save his one-time housekeeper named Belle.
She'd loved him before. But she hadn't understood him. She couldn't comprehend why he'd clung on to his power so fiercely, why darkness had so easily seduced him.
Now she knew how intoxicating power could be, possibly because Lacey had been literally intoxicated most of the time she and Rumple had been cavorting about the town.
As much as Belle disavowed power, she held a certain kind of power over Rumplestiltskin. The Dark One.
And if she were honest with herself, Belle liked that.
Not in some twisted way meant to hurt him.
Just in that she knew he would listen to her, even if he didn't listen to anyone else.
There was something wholly seductive about being cared for by a man who cared for no one.
Rumple had once accused her of trying to discover his weaknesses; the Queen had kidnapped Belle because she knew what Belle had not—she was his weakness.
At no time had that been clearer than when her body had been usurped; she wasn't anything like herself, and still he'd stayed by her side. She refused to believe it was merely because Lacey allowed him to give in to his darker impulses without repercussions or rebuke. He'd looked genuinely heartbroken when Lacey hadn't remembered him and genuinely relieved when Belle came back.
He'd told her that she found goodness in others, and if she couldn't find goodness in them, she created it. That she had the power to help him change for the better. That she made him want to be the best version of himself.
Once, she would have rejoiced at that.
Now, she realized that having such power over him came at a cost. The cost being that she could just as easily influence him to do evil as she could influence him to do good.
And now she had inadvertently done both.
How could she move past that?
How could she trust herself to be the force of goodness he needed in his life when the very fiber of her own morality was shredding apart?
She'd always said that Rumple was not the man she'd thought he would be.
But what if she wasn't the person she'd thought she would be?
What if there was darkness in her heart in the same way that there was light in his?
And what if his darkness had called to her, when all along she'd thought it was his light?
Rumple had magically crafted Lacey a necklace, but Belle had wanted one, if only in her dreams.
To make her own destiny. To control her fate. To do something of worth in the world.
Belle had wanted nothing less than that, ever since she was a child.
Her Handsome Hero had taught Belle forgiveness and compassion; it had also taught her that being a hero was a powerful thing.
Rumple was gone.
He had died a hero, but for all that she was proud of him, Belle felt wretched inside. All the power in the world couldn't save him from the task of killing his father and, by so doing, himself.
It wasn't fair. This wasn't how their story was supposed to end. They were supposed to get their happily ever after together. She'd been so sure of it. So stupidly naive and underestimating of how much darkness there was in the world and how much of it had always been directed at Rumple.
Perhaps she'd saved him from the darkness in the end, but who would save her from the gaping hole in her heart where he had been? From the bitterness slowly wrapping its tendrils around the fresh wounds of her grief. Cast out of Storybrooke, she couldn't even mourn his absence properly, in all the places they'd loved each other.
The pawnshop where they'd found each other again.
The pink Victorian house with the bedroom they'd made love in.
The library he'd bought for her, filled with the books she'd so carefully arranged as she'd done in the Dark Castle library.
The diner where they'd had their first proper date.
Every shred of their brief existence together had vanished, as surely as if it had never happened at all.
That was why she so readily accompanied Neal back to the Dark Castle. It wasn't an altruistic endeavor to reunite Neal with Henry. Some part of her would give anything to bring Rumple back. Even if it involved dark magic, which would surely come at a price.
She understood now the ache Rumple must have felt in losing his son and why he done everything in his power to get back to him.
Would there ever be an end to the cycle of loss?
The power of dark magic had brought about Rumple's return, but Neil had been lost and Rumple taken captive by a wicked witch.
Both Rumple's dagger and his mind were lost to him, and Belle had to watch as her newly resurrected love was brought to his knees before he even had a fighting chance.
The next time she saw him, he was in a cage, delirious and spinning, spinning, always spinning.
She took his hand; the simple contact seemed to calm his mind for a moment.
Then he ripped his hand away from her, and the moment was gone.
He didn't look at her when she backed out of the room with tears in her eyes.
The next time she saw him, she'd lost her memories of whatever had happened during the year in the Enchanted Forest. But Rumple was alive, and that was all that mattered. She thought she could break him free from Zelena, take him by the hand and pull him from under her influence by the strength of her belief in them. Her belief in him. Just as she'd started to break his curse with True Love's Kiss.
When would she learn that life was rarely that simple?
That the darkness toyed with its prey before devouring them.
She brought him close enough to her that she could feel his breath on her face when he told her to run.
After Regina gave her the dagger, Belle had planned to immediately go to Rumple and give it back to him. She wanted him to be a free man and to know that she still trusted him, regardless of what Zelena had made him do. But instead of arriving at his shop, she found herself at the sheriff's office where she'd heard Zelena was being kept, her powers stripped from her.
She'd only wanted to see the woman behind bars for herself. She wanted to see with her own two eyes that she couldn't cause Rumple or anyone else in the town more harm.
But now, as she stood so close to Zelena, the darkness she'd been keeping at bay all those days and weeks and months seeped into her veins—thick, gluttonous, and full of rage.
Rumple had well and truly lost his son now, and it was all this woman's fault.
He'd been kept in a cage for over a year, defenceless and going madder by the day, and it was all this woman's fault.
Belle had been powerless to stop her when she'd found him in Zelena's storm cellar, but today Zelena was in a cage, and despite the scornful way she gazed upon Belle, she was the powerless one.
For the first time, there was a real war in Belle's head between what she knew in her head to be right and honorable and what she truly desired in her heart.
She wanted Rumple to be a free man, and as long as Zelena was alive, she threatened that.
"You haven't answered me...dearie," the woman taunted through the bars. She rose to her feet, and Belle automatically edged closer to her cell.
What had she said?
Surely, you must have some darkness in you.
"I don't use dark magic," Belle evaded, keeping her tone light and flat. "I'm not his pupil. I'm not like you."
Or Cora or Regina, she mentally added. Well, she wasn't, was she?
Zelena studied her. She snaked her delicate fingers around the bars and pressed her body against them.
Her gaze pierced Belle's, but Belle didn't look away.
"Well, of course I know that. But then, you're also not how I thought you would be. Shouldn't you be off celebrating with your friends?" She curled her lip. "Or is there something you'd like to say to me?"
Belle took another step forward.
She wasn't the person she'd believed herself to be, either.
"Yes. Yes, there is," she answered.
She was darker.
And maybe she couldn't use magic, but she could use that darkness as a weapon.
"Then go on, dearie. Before they release me to be on my merry way."
Without another thought, Belle pulled the dagger from where she'd concealed it under the breast of her coat, and before Zelena had time to pull back, she plunged it into her heart.
A/N: I recently watched Once Upon a Time for the first time. I loved Rumbelle, but I really hated the path their relationship took after Season 3, and that's...all I'm going to say about that.
This is very Belle-centric because I wish she had been more fleshed out as a character than her scenes in the show allowed her to be. I also wish she had outgrown her persistent naivety concerning Rumple. He is certainly very flawed, but I think it was pretty unrealistic of her to expect him to change so rapidly and completely considering who he's been for so long and all that he's been through.
Thus, this is my feeble attempt to get her to understand how consuming darkness can be.
A very small part of the dialogue with Zelena was taken directly from 3x20 and altered from Zelena's conversation with Rumplestiltskin.
Second part will be the aftermath of Belle's decision.