Oh god, what had she done?
Belle crumpled to the ground in front of the heap of shattered porcelain that had been Zelena.
Before she could think any further, the porcelain dissolved into a mist that swirled up with a life of its own and then disappeared. Belle shuffled back across the floor, unsure if she should expect a grainy apparition to materialize. The dagger lay several feet from her where she had tossed it away; she snatched it up and scrambled to her feet.
Heart pounding, she whirled around the room but saw nothing. No one.
Once it appeared that she would not be attacked by a disembodied spirit, she lowered the dagger and stared at the empty cell where Zelena had been.
Gone. The witch was totally gone.
But what did that mean?
Oh god, what had she done?
The tightness in Belle's chest made it hard to breathe.
No body. No...evidence. That was good, right?
No one would see...
Oh, what was she even thinking about—evidence?! She had killed a person! And she couldn't even be sure that they were dead.
No, no, this wouldn't do. She couldn't think about this now. Regina could come back at any moment, and if she found Belle here, well…
She tucked the now-defiled dagger back into her coat and left the office, quickly.
Cursing her decision to wear heels, Belle ran the short and yet too long distance to Rumple's pawnshop. When she stumbled in the door, delirious with panic, Rumple was behind the counter, inspecting a lamp. He immediately left off when he saw her, and his brow creased with concern at her distraught appearance.
"Belle! Is everything all right?" He stepped out from behind the counter and caught her as she collapsed into his arms.
"Rumple...something...s-something t-terrible has h-happened."
"What is it, sweetheart? You're shaking. What's wrong?"
"I..." Belle took a deep breath. She couldn't get the words out. "I...I..."
She didn't want to say it. She couldn't say it. Saying it would make it real.
Rumple pushed her away to arm's length so that she had no choice but to look at him. His grip on her trembling shoulders was gentle but firm.
"Belle. Look at me. You must calm down and tell me what happened." He tilted her chin up with his fingers so that she looked in his eyes. "Look at me."
She supposed he meant that to be comforting, but she didn't want to look at him, didn't want to see his expression when he heard what she'd done.
In the end, she had no choice. He wouldn't let her pull away.
"I killed her," she confessed weakly.
Rumple dropped the hand that had been touching her face.
"What? Killed who?"
"Zelena." She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep, steadying breath. "Regina gave me your dagger, and I...I didn't mean to, but I went to visit her at the sheriff's office, and I...I killed her." She opened her eyes with that last statement but looked down at their shoes, which were nearly touching from how close they stood.
"Zelena." Rumple's tone made her look back up at his face. Part confusion, part...anger? "What did she do to you?" he demanded. "What did she say—"
"She didn't do anything to me." Belle shook her head adamantly. "I just..." She'd just lost every shred of self-control she had left. "I killed her," she repeated softly, as though she were realizing it for the first time.
His hands on her shoulders, his voice—they were the only things pulling her back from the abyss in her mind, grounding her to herself.
Rumple studied her for a long moment; she wasn't sure if he was re-evaluating her as a person or trying to figure out how to respond.
Maybe a bit of both.
"If you killed her," he finally said, in a tone that left no room for argument, "it's because you knew what a threat she would be if she ever got her powers back. To this town. To everyone."
Oh, if only that were true.
Belle stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his back. She hugged him like she might never let him go.
"No. No, I didn't do it for them. I did it for you. She hurt the man I love. She brought you back just to torture you. She took your son from you. Your son. That's why I...I..." She trailed off and buried her face in his shoulder. "I'm so sorry I couldn't help you before. I'm so sorry."
"Sorry?" Rumple threaded his fingers into her hair, cradling her head. "Oh, sweetheart, it's not your fault. None of this is your fault. No one has ever cared for me as you have." She tried to focus on his voice, on the pressure of his thumb against the back of her neck. She felt like collapsing.
Suddenly, he loosened his embrace. "Belle, wait. There's not time for this. What did you do with the body?"
Her mind was numb; the words barely registered.
"What?" she mumbled.
"The body," Rumple urged, gripping her waist. "Belle, the body...is it still there? In the cell?"
She jolted upright.
The body. Of course he'd need to know about that.
"N-no. She's not there. They'll probably think she escaped somehow. It...it was weird. When she died, she shattered into these porcelain shards, and then, there was like this wind that swept into the cell and carried the grains of the porcelain away. There's nothing left."
Rumple frowned, but if he knew what that meant he didn't offer up such information. Instead, he took her by the wrist and led her to the back of the shop.
"Darling, sit down. I'll take care of this, and I'll be right back." He backed away from her.
"T-take care of it? W-what are you going to do?"
"Protect you. Like I said I would." He turned and made to go through the curtain that separated the backroom from the rest of the shop.
"But you don't need to protect me," Belle protested; she shook her head. "This is my fault. I'll confess to it. Just let me—"
"No!" he snapped, rounding on her. "I already lost my son. I will not lose you too." Then, as if to apologize for speaking so harshly, he brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. "Please," he pleaded in a softer voice. "Stay here. Let me handle this, and we can be together. Forever."
"But Regina knows she gave me the dagger," she argued weakly.
"Regina would never suspect you."
Belle paused, then nodded slowly. That much was true.
It scared her how wrong about people one could be. How wrong about oneself.
"Then they'll suspect you," she said, panic rising in her throat again. "They'll turn against you again. They'll—"
"No. They won't," Rumple answered calmly. "Not if you have my dagger."
"What?" Belle frowned, not understanding.
"If you have my dagger, that means you can control me. Remember?"
"Oh...Oh, that's right." Her eyes drifted to the side of her coat that hid the weapon, but she didn't want to pull it out, even to get rid of it. She didn't want to touch it.
"I'm sure they'd trust you to curb my more...homicidal tendencies," Rumple went on.
Belle shut her eyes again. She felt sick.
"Come on." He took her by the hand and lowered her onto the small bed. "Sit down. I have to go now."
Belle numbly followed his request. She tried to stop her hands from trembling, the hands that might as well have been covered in blood. Once he disappeared through the curtain and she heard the front door clang shut, she searched the collection of knickknacks surrounding her for anything to distract herself from imagining the worst-case scenario when Zelena was found to be missing. It was useless, though. For now, she could only wait and relieve the twist in her gut with the knowledge that Rumplestiltskin would know what to do.
If anyone would know what to do in this type of situation, it would be him.
After a few minutes, she made herself take the dagger out of her coat and set it gingerly beside her on the bed.
She stared at it, still wanting to give herself up, but Rumple was right. What had she even vanquished Zelena for if not so they could be together? And if she confessed, what would be the point but to soothe her guilty conscience? It wasn't as if Zelena's death would be mourned.
Killing a defenseless woman in a jail cell...that wasn't what heroes did. What good people did.
And yet she...she couldn't bring herself to regret it entirely. She'd done it for Rumple; she'd done it because some part of her needed to do that for him. In that moment, she hadn't wanted to be a hero anymore; she had only wanted to protect her love, at all costs.
Belle waited and waited, and after an eternity of minutes, Rumple returned, proclaiming the deed done. He'd magically altered the video footage. Everyone thought Zelena had committed suicide.
At that, Belle started crying, though she couldn't say why she did at that exact moment—exhaustion maybe—and Rumple sat down beside her—putting the dagger away on a shelf—and pulled her close.
"I'm sorry I got mad at you for going after Regina," she apologized through her tears. "I didn't...understand what you'd gone through...thinking me dead all that time. I'm just a silly girl who thinks she knows everything about life because she read it in a book." She cried into his shoulder.
She wanted to say more.
She wanted to tell him that if they got through this, she was going to do better. She wanted to say she was sorry she couldn't be the girl he'd met all those years ago, that life had chipped away at her as surely as it had done that cup. That she no longer recognized herself.
She wanted to say that she'd missed him more than she thought possible, and if he left her again, she didn't know what she'd do.
But she couldn't say anything further because her tears spilled over again, and she couldn't hold back her sobs.
"There, there," she heard Rumple saying, the sound of his voice muffled by her own cries. "That doesn't matter. It's all right. Everything's going to be fine."
It wasn't all right, but she let him say it anyway. Let him rub her back and kiss the top of her head while she sobbed.
This wasn't right either. She should be comforting him. He was the one who'd lost his son, who'd just been freed from his prison. And now she had put this burden on him.
But he held onto her until her tears subsided, and only then did she realize that he, too, was crying.
At first, she feared it was because of her, but then she heard his boy's nickname: Bae. He was shuddering and whispering the name over and over again, whispering how sorry he was.
Knowing he needed comfort wrenched her from her own well of regret.
"Bae loved you. He forgave you. You must know that," she soothed, stroking the back of his neck.
Rumple didn't answer, but he sighed into her embrace.
She didn't know how long they sat there, holding each other like they were anchoring one another in an ocean of heartache and turmoil; the town was still and empty when they exited the shop, her hand clutching the crook of his arm. It was the middle of a deep, moonless night, and everything was dark, so dark that if it weren't for the street lamps Belle would only have seen shadowy, foreboding silhouettes instead of buildings.
But the streetlights cast a soft glow on the sleepy town and lit up even their somber faces, and despite not knowing what tomorrow would bring, they were heading home.
She was holding onto her love, and he was guiding her over cracks in the pavement.
They were taking tentative steps, but they were moving forward, ever forward.
In the dark, but together.
A/N: To be honest, I wasn't sure if Zelena turned into porcelain because of Rumple doing some sort of dark magic or because of the dagger itself or because of her own magical defenses. But to make things easier on myself, I just left that part as it was.
I know this is angsty and then it becomes fluffy in a super heavy way, but I just had to get it out of my system. Thanks for reading! :)