Continuing Tales

Storybrooke's Tale of Beauty and the Beast

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Teddy's Twin

Part 36 of 37

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Storybrooke's Tale of Beauty and the Beast

~: Rumpelstiltskin :~

It had been five days now, he thought as the sky outside her window turned light gray. Dawn was coming. Five nights, as though he hardly needed counting.

Five days since she had been taken to the hospital.

She had awakened once, and only once, and that had been yesterday.

Misty eyed she had woken with a gasp. He had leapt to his feet, to get to her side. He had grabbed her hand as she blinked up at him. Her voice had caught in her throat when she saw him, and then she smiled. He had smiled to, had brought her hand to his lips.

"Am I dead, then?" she asked in a quavering voice.

His reply had been choked, "No," he told her fervently, "No, you're very much alive."

Her smile had faltered, and tears had come to her eyes.

The nurses had rushed forward, had buffeted him out of the way, and by the time he had pushed enough of them aside, she had been forced back to sleep with a drug. He could have beaten them all to splinters with his cane. Sadly he didn't have it with him, and stabbing them over and over again with a needle seemed a little too slow a torture for his liking.

He was in the same clothes that he had been in the night of the Charity ball. He hadn't gone home yet. It was the reason he was without his cane and the reason he looked like such a terrible mess in a torn up tuxedo and a muddied matted mane of hair. He barely noticed though. He barely noticed anything but her breathing.

They had told him that he should leave multiple times. He had told them no, that he would stay with her. They probably wouldn't have let him stay if he wasn't the illustrious Mr. Gold, who could do whatever he pleased without asking. Even if he hadn't been, they couldn't have made him leave, even without magic. He had the town Sheriff on his side, who in turn had the Mayor on the run for her life. He had no intention of leaving her side until he knew she was alright.

If he had had magic this would not have been a problem. He could have kept them out of the room with any of several simple enchantments. However, it was lost to him.

It wasn't as though he was being kept from his magic this time around. That had been a different feeling altogether. It had been bottled, suppressed. Now, it was something, an empty. There was nothing to suppress, because he had nothing to be held in him. He could feel the emptiness within him, like a space in his body. He had the feeling that he always had before he had been the Dark One, all those centuries ago, but now, he knew about all the things he could do.

It was merely the whisper, a whisper that magic was there, and he no longer had the power to control it. There was that whisper that all the residents of the Enchanted Forest felt. If you were brave, and had the money, anyone had the ability to learn to use magic, to build up the stamina and the mental capacity to use it without having it kill you. Most people didn't risk it. It was why there were so many dark magic users, instead of good magic. People using dark magic felt like they had nothing to lose, and therefore went the easiest, most dangerous route.

And not everyone had this opportunity. There were people that had more of an advantage than others. He had learned from that being the Dark One that if he had had the money he would have been one of the great magic users, if he had had the opportunity to learn. It was one of the reasons why he had so easily transitioned into being the Dark One.

Now he was magic-less, an old sorcerer striped of all ability. Now he had to watch others do something he couldn't help with. He had never been able to heal however. Dark magic was incapable of truly helping others. It's one of the prices he'd had to pay being the Dark One. However being entirely magic-less made it worse for some inexplicable reason.

He lamented his inabilities, hated himself for being so helpless. It was worse than being Mr. Gold, far worse. He knew now he never had the capacity to protect her in the way he once could. And how well had he protected her then? She was in this bloody hospital with two holes burned through her. Now what could he do? Nothing. She was totally and completely susceptible. He could do nothing.

Now he had to let science do its work. It was slow, and it was tedious, and no one would give him a straight answer. It was more frustrating than he could express. All he could do was sit. Sit and watch her to see any signs of movement, of a different pattern of breathing even. He watched as they changed her dressings, watched as they checked her vitals, watched them throw him dirty glances because he was there in their work space.

Somewhere in this confounded hospital her father was recovering from his own wound, but he was fairing much better. He was awake, from what Rumpelstiltskin understood. He didn't deserve it. Belle deserved to be awake and well, not that coward…

Rumpelstiltskin deserved to be dead in the ground.

He had considered… he had considered going to the Blue Fairy, who had remembered who she was. He'd felt her pull in the fabric of magic, knew it because he had learned how to tell when and who was using magic. It was something one didn't need magic to know about.

However, he didn't know if the Blue Fairy would help him. He and the fairies had, well, they had a history, and to say the least he had murdered one for her wand. That said nothing about anything else that had happened. He hoped the Blue Fairy would forget his misdeeds in hopes to save her. Belle deserved life, deserved healing from her. If there was no change, or a change for the worse by midday, he would go to her. His pride, his hatred of fairies, didn't matter. Nothing mattered but her.

And if the Blue Fairy refused his request, well, then it was high time he called in that favor Emma owed him. He suspected the fairies would do anything to appease the White Knight prophesied of old, and Emma would surely agree to this cause. Anything to help out a friend.

Morning colored the sky outside in golden pinks and oranges. He watched it light her face, her serene face. Color had come to her cheeks within in the night. He hadn't been able to see, they didn't really keep lights on. It didn't matter. Color meant that science was working. Blood transfusions and what not, technicalities that he didn't care much for.

Her chest rose higher than normal. She took a deep breath, and her eyes blinked awake with the sunlight once more. His breathe caught as she stared out of the window. She always had been fond of mornings.

She looked away from the light, and met his gaze.

There wasn't an immediate smile. He didn't smile either, though relief flooded through his veins, made him stand.

"Am I dead?" she asked again.

Why was this something she wanted so badly? His heart ached at the thought of her passing, made his hands clench at his sides. That kind of turmoil, he'd dealt with it once, but now, now that she was all he had left, it was infinitely more painful to think on- why did she want to leave him?

"No," he said automatically, said stiffly. He felt the uncertainty of the situation get the better of him. He peered out of the door quickly, and found the nurse on hand was soundly asleep at the desk. He looked back at her, and Belle was gazing at him steadily, studying him. He stepped forward, to her side, not sure what to make of this. Not sure why he was so hesitant- wasn't this what he wanted?

"Why are you here, then?" she wanted to know.

Her blue eyes were bright in the sun, her eyes being open at all were such a miracle to him, and he couldn't help but smile at her. Of course her first words would be questions. She was curious even after barely escaping death. She was escaping death, and the thought was as warm as the morning sun. She had always been the strong one, "You saved me," he told her.

"How?" she questioned. Her face was still so calm. There was no returned smile there. It was, unsettling… It was as though she were being cautious. Cautious around him?

He pulled up his chair next to her, sat in it, before pulling out the handle of the tea cup that she had bestowed on him five nights ago, "Well, I'm not quite sure. I know I had reserves of magic in the tea cup, so even the handle alone held some magic. Regenerative, I'm sure. I didn't really mean to store magic there. It happens to all things magical people own. I'm sure you've heard of seven league boots? Some of them aren't intentionally made. Sometimes magic gets stored in things that you wear often, or touch, and magic becomes familiar to them just as it does to the person. I owned a pair once by sheer accident. It was quite obnoxious really. Had to trade for them.

"Anyways, I think that, and the dagger- along with your – kiss… Neither magical object would have worked without that you see. True Love's magic is the most powerful of all, and it ignited, whatever it was that brought me back." He thought that she would have liked to hear that, but when she still held that careful expression, he could only repeat lamely, "You saved me."

She continued to stare at him without expression. "And- your wound- your lung-."

"All healed. My knee's even healed," he stood up again with ease just to show her there was no ache there. When he looked into her face again, he found himself stammer, "I'm- fit as a fiddle, really." He sat back down again with a huff.

"And," she stopped herself, "and you're sure you're not-," she reached for his hand, and he took it in an instant, and she sighed, but continued, "that I'm not-."

He understood what she was asking, "Positive." He was positive about that. He was sure that she wasn't dead. If they were dead they wouldn't be in the same place.

She looked at him sharply, "Prove it."

"If you and I were dead, we wouldn't be together. There are much higher planes of being for the likes of you, my dear," and he caressed her hand in both of his.

She looked away from him, "That doesn't prove anything."

"What do you want me to say?" he asked, his voice thick with emotion. He would say anything, anything if it would convince her to smile.

"Something quite more imaginative, and far less sentimental," she told him with a quirk at her mouth. It wasn't really a smile, but, it was hopeful. She was hoping at least.

It was true. He was being far too sentimental. He didn't know what had gotten into him. Maybe dying did that to a person- it made one cherish more about people than one previously had.

"After having a hole burned through me, I have found myself a lot more sentimental than usual," he shook his head slowly, before flipping the hair out of his eyes, "You'll have to forgive me, my dear. I'll work up my sarcasm again as soon as you're out of this blasted place, never you fear."

She smiled at that, shaking her head, and it was so good to see, even if it was a skeptical smile. "You're not being very convincing."

He rubbed both of her hands in his, his eyes flickering up to meet hers, "I promise you, in heaven there would be a lot less medical equipment."

She laughed, a bright ringing sound that he reveled in. She smiled at him, and it was real. It spread joy across her entire face, and he watched as she tried to sit herself up, and winced as she shifted bandaging of some sort.

"Don't," he told her, standing up immediately to press her shoulders back into the pillows, "stay."

She shook her head, a broad smile over her face as she looked up at him, "You're real-."

"I conscientiously believe so," he agreed, his hair falling around his face.

She made a face at him, "And you're ruining it."

He furrowed his brows at her, "How so?"

She was trying to keep from smiling now, and he wished she wouldn't, "You're quoting things out of my own head, and it makes it so very uncertain."

Ah, she was thinking of one of her new much loved books, "Jane Eyre would be one of your favorites. That's why I read it."

She frowned, "You're still not helping."

He bent to her face, as though to kiss her, halting a breath from her mouth. He stared into her eyes then, and felt mischief creep into them. "Does this help?" he whispered. Her eyes were wide, startled, expectant. Waiting for him to kiss her. He smiled then, and kissed her forehead, before sitting back on the seat and watched for her frustration. Which disappointingly didn't come.

"It is you," she smiled brightly, her eyes keenly following him, and she reached out her hands for him again.

"Finally," he relaxed into his chair, and took her hands. She smiled so brightly, he could barely keep up the façade of mischievous manic. "Now that we've got that out of the way, let's say we discuss more important things."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "More important things?"

"Why certainly." He interlaced his fingers through hers.

"More important things than figuring out whether I'm dead or not?" she was trying to be miffed, he could hear it, but she was really too happy to be anything but. He was the same.

He shook his head at her, "I keep telling you, when death do us part you're going in one direction and I'm going another."

She tilted her head at him, "We'll fix that."

Always so confident, "Ages of misdeeds are a lot to correct, dearest."

"Then I'll just become the Wicked Witch of the West," she teased.

It wasn't funny. "You'll do no such thing," he said darkly.

She grinned, "We'll see what we can do," and then she seemed to notice something, "Why are you such a mess?" she demanded.

He blinked, and then registered, looking down at himself. He felt embarrassed. He hadn't thought about what he'd look like to her when she'd woken up. All he'd wanted was for her to wake up. "I haven't-," he stuttered, and ducked his head.

"And how long have I-?"

"Not long," he answered promptly.

"How many days?" she pressed.

"Five," he answered, feeling abashed.

"Five days?" Belle withdrew her hands, making him look up at her. She had placed bother of her hands on her hips, but the gesture wasn't nearly as scolding as it meant to look since she was lying down. "Rumpelstiltskin if you haven't left my side this entire time I'll be sure I'm dead. Don't you have better things to be doing than looking after me?"

"Not really," he said with a hopeful half smile.

She shook her head, and leaned upwards slightly to get a better look at him. "You're a filthy mess. At Dark Castle I would have made you take a bath immediately."

"Ah, Dark Castle," Rumpelstiltskin leaned back in a stretch, folding his arms behind his head, "Home sounds so peaceful right now."

She nodded, looking reminiscent, "It does." He couldn't help but feel the warmth spread through him at her words. Dark Castle was their home. "How is everyone?" she asked him.

He looked away from where he'd been looking at the ceiling, leaning towards her again, "Everyone? My, my, you expect me to know quite a lot don't you."

She rolled her eyes, and started off smaller, "How is Henry?"

Henry. The boy had visited Belle every day. Yesterday, when he'd heard Belle was recovering enough to wake up, he'd been almost too cheerful. "The little princeling wants to take up sword play, the last I heard." And if he brought that fake sword anywhere near Rumpelstiltskin's face again, he would take the wooden object and chuck it out of Belle's hospital window.

"Fitting," Belle nodded in approval, "How about Emma? Is she adjusting?"

"Rather well, actually. The real witch hunt hasn't started quite yet, but with the chaos in the town, it's not going to be far along," he was trying to edge around that fact, but she asked the right question next.

She was hesitant however, "Did- did the Queen?"

Rumpelstiltskin looked down, "She escaped." True loathing swallowed him again. If he had magic at this moment she would be dead. More than dead. She would be flogged, maimed, subjected to her precious scourges and flaying. He body would be torn apart, inch by bloody inch, strewn about the streets and burned to ashes in magic fire. Her head? He was still debating a spike and a cage, which ever would be more convenient for the eaters of carrion to gnaw at.

Now he could only ball his fists into claws, and hate that he was helpless.

She looked determinedly at the window, her blue eyes full of steel. "I'd better get well soon, then, if I'm going to be useful."

He looked up, though he wasn't surprised. It was his lovely little Belle after all, "You've been quite useful enough," he said, sitting back and self consciously straightening his thoroughly ruined clothing, "I have a nice cellar I plan on locking you in while the whole thing blows over."

Her eyes flashed, "You will not."

He raised his eyebrows at her challenge, "I shall, and I will get someone to guard the entrance."

Her anger lessened, "You won't be there to protect me?"

"No." No he would not. No woman loved a coward, and he was tired of running. He had a score to settle with a witch, "I'll be in the middle of it, quite probably." Especially if he planned on killing Regina himself.

"Fighting?" she sounded dismayed.

He was a little annoyed, "Such a hard concept?" If a grasshopper could fight in this coming war, he bloody well could.

"No," she tilted her head, a smile stealing over her delicate face, "I rather like the image of you with a sword." Ah, she had remembered that if he was alive, it meant that he had no magic, "And I always wanted to take up archery."

He kept his response light, "You can practice in that cellar of yours."

She frowned, "You're not keeping me in a cellar."

He smiled, the challenge accepted, "Watch me."

"Rumpelstiltskin," she sighed, looking from him to a corner of the room, her eyes annoyed, and that little crease in her forehead appeared, "You can't hide me away."

He decided to change the subject, since she couldn't get it through her head that there was no way that she was winning this one, "Anyways, who knows if that's how the battle will be fought. It could be all magic, with Emma being magical."

She smiled at that, "Then we had better go ask someone to teach us war magic."

Why was she always trying to thwart him? "Magic takes time, lengths of it." There would be no way that learning magic in that amount of time would do either of them any good. And it was far too dangerous to her. Magic was a skill for the desperate or for the brave. He didn't care if she was the latter, she was not learning it.

She leaned closer, her eyes dancing, "Nothing worth anything ever came easily," she told him.

He gritted his teeth. "You're going to be in a cellar, remember?"

She was gaining confidence; not a good sign, "I want to see this cellar that you're so certain can hold me."

So did he, "You've never been in a war, dearest, nor do I ever want you to be a part of one."

"I think I'll make that decision for myself, thank you very much," she nodded curtly.

They sat in silence for a moment. He was fuming, but he didn't want her to be truly angry with him yet. He wasn't going to argue further.

"Look at us," she shook her head, "Not even ten minutes of me being awake and we're arguing."

He smiled somberly at that. "It's part of our nature I suppose."

She smiled right along with him, "I suppose it's true." She moved on, and he was grateful, "How is my papa?"

He was happy to answer that question, "He's well, from what I hear. He's awake, and healing."

She nodded with a warm smile, "And Nicholas and Ava?"

He was surprised at that particular question, though he remembered then that they had been at the scene when Regina had taken Belle captive into the woods, "The Tillman's children? I heard them running about the street yesterday." Rather loudly too. He'd heard them even through a closed window. "They seemed rather spritely."

"Good," she was pleased. "How are their Majesties?"

Inevitable question, "They've moved in together. I suppose since they were married once that I have no right to raise an eyebrow, but the rest of the town is somewhat in a state of shock."

"Excellent. I'm glad." She would be. "How long am I going to be stuck here?"

Ah, another inevitable question, "I don't know," he answered truthfully. The idiot doctors hadn't given him a straight answer this entire time, trying to get him to go home instead.

She sighed, not hiding her frustration very well, "If we're going to capture the Queen, we're going to need all the hands we can get."

He shook his head at her immediately, "Not your little hands, my dear."

She pursed her lips, and changed topics again. "What news on that front?"

"They're recreating the war council of old." Henry had said something of the like, telling him in detail about when each meeting was, well, actually, Emma and Prince Charming had come to ask for his help. He had responded with an assurance that he was not leaving until Belle recovered. They had, unlike the hospital personnel, understood.

Belle's eyes brightened at that news, "And you're in it, yes?"

She thought too highly of him, "They've offered me a seat, though I'm not sure what help I would be. I'm skilled in neither tactics or in anything else for that matter." Now that he had no magic, he was useless. Completely useless.

She shook her head at him, "That's a lie. You know the Queen better than anyone else. You could give them insight on that front. You know about the uses of dark magic, and you know how to plan. You can make better plans than anyone else in the world, I'd wager," her smile was a supportive one, "And, I have to say you have several artifacts that could hold great sway over the outcome."

She saw the good even in a washed up old sorcerer. He thought about it momentarily.

"When is their meeting?" she asked eagerly.

He tried to remember what Henry had said, "I - don't know."

"Go find out!" she ordered, startling him.

He looked at her as though scandalized, "I'm not-."

"If you think that I'm going to let you sit here wasting away by me until I can get out of this hospital, then you've got another thing coming." She made a shooing motion with her hands as though brushing him away, "Go!"

He didn't try to suppress his smile, "I'd like to see you make me leave."

She narrowed her eyes at him, "Don't make me get up."

He snorted, "My dear, let's not test anything yet- Belle! Sit back down!"

The impudent girl was sitting up, and it was causing her copious amounts of pain by the look on her face. He leapt up, his hands on her shoulders to force her to stay dormant, but she was obstinate as always. She looked up at him with a determined smile, "Go find out when the war council is, and then come back to tell me what happened."

He shook his head angrily, "I'm not-."

She cut him off, "And could you bring back one of your elementary spellbooks? We can start practicing-."

"You can start practicing magic when you're fully healed!" he snapped through gritted teeth as she still tried to push herself up, "Sit down!"

She stopped wrestling with him, with a smug smile, "Then go."

He glowered at her, "You're impossible."

"I've learned from the best," she tilted her head at him pointedly, "I'll be right here when you get back."

He was fuming, "I'll be back soon," he growled at her.

"I know you will be," she smiled sweetly.

He kissed her forehead again. "I love you," he told her with bitterness.

She laughed at that, "I love you too," she said more sincerely. She bent her head so that she barely missed kissing his lips. He couldn't help himself this time, and kissed her full on. She broke away from him with a giggle, and he crooked his head at her curiously. She pushed at his chest, "Now go."

He looked back at her when he reached the door to her room, and she pointed at him to go with a smile still on her lovely face. Determined, beautiful creature. He would love her until he died no matter how much he didn't want to. "And take a bath!" she called after him as he left. He tried to suppress a smile, but it didn't work.

There was something he had to fix, though, before he went.

He slammed his hand down onto the nurse's desk. The nurse awoke with a jolt, and stared in horror at the town's monster's most terrifying face. "If anything happens to her while I'm gone, I'm holding you personally responsible."

The nurse couldn't even speak, so he was pretty sure the message had been clear.

He paced out of the hospital still shaking his head. How had she managed to make him promise to go to this stupid war council again?

~: Belle :~

She dozed off after he left, for several hours, only to wake up to a frightened nurse sitting trembling in a corner, staring at her.

At first Belle didn't know what to make of her. She was a terrified little thing, and then two thoughts clicked in her head. Belle made a face.

"He's told you to watch me, hasn't he?" she asked the nurse, sounding a little drier than she meant to.

"Um- y-yes," stuttered the nurse. "Is there-?" but she fell short.

Belle shook her head with a smile, "You don't have to. He won't hurt you."

"That's n-not what he said." Poor thing. He must have terrified her out of her wits.

"He pretends to be more vicious than he is," Belle told her, and added, Most of the time, in her head.

"I – I don't know- he beat up your dad pretty good," the nurse pointed out.

"Yes, well," Belle felt her smile turn grim. "Don't worry about him. You can go help the other patients," she reassured her.

The nurse nodded her thanks, before stopping at the door, looking back in confusion, "Are you two- I don't know, are you two-?"

She smiled kindly, but didn't give her the answer she was looking for, "I'm sure they need more looking after than I do."

The nurse left, and Belle fell back into her pillows. She wasn't exhausted, per say, because she had been asleep for so long. No, it wasn't exhaustion. But she was tired. Oh she was tired. She felt like someone had gone and bruised every nerve in her body, and now she was trying to recuperate. But… she was happy. Because the ache meant that she was real. And that he was real.

Rumpelstiltskin had waited to make sure she was alright. He could have been off scheming, but- she didn't think she could ever express how much she loved him. She didn't think she could even begin to describe- she smiled at the thought, felt tears prick her eyes, and then felt really silly, pressing a hand to her mouth.

He was so lost without his magic- she had sensed that. She knew he felt helpless, but he was so much more than magic. He understood others a way no one else could, and could exploit any side he so chose. He was talented and fickle, teasing and prosperous, cunning and quick.

He was the king of all tricksters, the sharpest tack, the brightest bulb, the most enigmatic, the one with the very most forethought, the one with the most potential for the forces of light or dark, and he could be both without ever choosing.

He was everything she loved in the world, the twist at the end of the story, the strongest in his own way. His personality was layered; he was arrogant, yet humble, he was finicky, yet loyal, a coward, yet braver than any lion, and he was a difficult man to love, yet loving him was so easy. What she wouldn't do for him, for him to understand how much he meant to her. He didn't need magic for any of that.

She would help him learn magic again if it meant that much to him. He could never be the Dark One again, never have as much power, but they could learn. He could learn. Once he had hope again, Belle would not continue. She would let him have that realm- it was all his in her mind.

The only problem was that it was dangerous. She hoped that he would be cautious. There were stories of sorcerers and alchemists who believed they could do more than they had power to control. It was how the Dark One had been created, how the Genie of the Lamp came to pass. She didn't know if she could deal with another curse like that, but for now, if it would help- she would help him restore his magic. It couldn't be as hard as all that, could it?

There was a knock on the doorframe, startling her from her reverie.

She peered over to find, "Ashley?"

The blonde smiled half heartedly with a shrug, "Well, I guess its Ella now, but I heard you were awake and I had to come and see you!"

Ruby stepped up behind her, holding up a hand, "Same here."

Belle couldn't believe it, "Ruby?"

"Red," Rub- Red corrected with a similar expression to Ashley's.

"You've both got your memories back?" Belle could only smile, sitting up as they entered the room. Ashley took a seat, while Ruby stood.

"Yup. It's kind of scary, though. Emma and Mary Margre- I mean, Snow White," Ruby shook her head, "This is so confusing. They're coming to visit soon too. They're just in War Council."

"Why aren't you both in War Council?" Belle wanted to know. The princess with the glass slippers and a werewolf on their side had to be valuable assets.

"I didn't want to," Ashley answered with another shrug. "I have Alexandria to watch after. The babysitter can't be there all the time, especially when they're having them twice a day."

"Ditched when it was going in circles," Ruby said nonchalantly, "Until then," Ruby gestured widely at the room.

"Anyways, I thought I'd give you this," Ashley handed her a beautifully hand crafted card. Belle opened it up to look at it.

"A wedding invitation?" she asked, in surprised delight.

Ashley smiled at her encouraging tone, "Yeah, we're moving up the date. I want to have my wedding here, since I've already planned it all out."

Ruby rolled her eyes, "Even though she's technically already married."

"Shut up!" Ashley scolded affectionately, before turning back to Belle, "So you'll come?"

Belle nodded, "Yes, of course."

"And I suppose I'll have to invite Mr. Gold," Ashley said reluctantly, "even though he'd planned on stealing my baby." Belle bit her lip, but watched as Ruby hit Ashley in the arm until she yelped, "Fine. You'll want to sit by him for dinner, then?"

"I- think so?" Belle wasn't really sure what customs on weddings were here, but she was sure that sitting next to Rumpelstiltskin couldn't be a bad thing, "I'm not quite sure what that means?"

"It means you guys are dating," Red said bluntly.

"Dating?" and then she remembered Emma asking about Archie to see if they were in love. If dating meant love, then, "Yes," she smiled fondly. "Yes we're, dating." What a weird way to put it, like a relationship was a calendar or something

"Why?" Ruby asked with a disparaging tone.

"He's so creepy!" Ashley exclaimed, her hands in the air.

"Isn't he dangerous?" Ruby wanted to know.

"No, no," Belle waved her hands to ward off the ridiculous notion, but then remembered the nurse from earlier that he'd terrified, "Though I can't say that he'd never hurt anyone. He's not quite kind, or gentle, but he's – well," she had to stop and think about what he was.

Ashley didn't give her much time to think on it, "If you say so."

Ruby- Red, shook her head at her, "You're weird."

Belle laughed with a quirk in her eyebrow, "Thanks, Red."

Ruby grinned, "Anytime," and then she leaned in, "Are you sure? I mean, I know a couple of guys that are way cute-."

Belle's face straightened, "No, thank you."

"True love can change-," Ashley prompted. "I think."

"Not in my case," Belle told her, trying to hide her annoyance.

"But-," Ashley tried again.

"Ashley, Ruby. I promise I don't want anyone else. I can't even imagine being with anyone else. I love him. I don't want to be parted from him," she told them. Early she had been trying to find words to describe how much she loved him. He was her hope, her dreams. She couldn't even think of it. "Not ever."

There was a slight moment of silence, before Ashley asked, "Are you guys going to get married too?"

She remembered how he'd promised to make her wishes come true, that night of the ball, "Yes, I assume so."

"So weird!" Ashley shrilled.

"What's weird?" it was Emma, leaning against the door frame of Belle's hospital room.

"What happened to war council?" Red asked.

Emma folded her arms, "It's over for the time being. We're convening again tonight," she looked past Red to see Belle, "How are you doing?"

"I'm good," she assured her with a smile.

A new raven haired head popped into the room, "Belle!"

"Snow!" the fairest of them all came at her with open arms, wrapping around her, quite a feat since Belle was lying down.

"How are you, sweetheart?" Snow wanted to know, pulling away to look at Belle's face

"I'm great. I'm feeling really good," she told her honestly.

"I think it's the morphine talking," Ruby stage whispered, "She's talking about marrying Rumpelstiltskin."

"She's in love with him." Emma shrugged herself out of the doorway as they all turned to stare at her, "That is what you're supposed to do when you're in love in fairy tales, isn't it? Happily ever after, and whatever?"

"Yeah, but, he's Rumpelstiltskin," Red said with her hands out in front of her.

"Red," Emma demeaned.

"But it's weird!" Ashley stood up for Ruby.

"Ella!" Snow White chided.

"What?" she sounded scandalized.

Snow White turned to Belle, and took both of her hands, "I'll be there, when you get married, no matter who you're marrying."

"I'm marrying Rumpelstiltskin," Belle said firmly.

"I know, but I wanted you to know that I'm happy for you," Snow White smiled serenely, "He's your True Love. Who can argue with marrying your True Love?" she looked pointedly at Ashley and Red.

"I guess I'll be there too," Red sighed.

"Me too," Ashley agreed, bowing her head in submission.

Emma just smiled at her supportively, putting her thumbs up uncharacteristically, and realizing it too late. Belle hid her smile.

"That reminds me!" Ashley exclaimed excitedly, "I know I haven't asked you guys yet, but, will you guys be my bride's maids?"

"Only if I get to wear red," Ruby put in.

"My colors are powder blue and white though!" pouted Ashley.

Everything was going over her head, making her a little dizzy.

"What are your colors going to be, Belle?" Ashley asked kindly, putting one of her hands on Belle's bed.

"Is one of them going to be gold?" Ruby wanted to know with wiggling eyebrows.

They burst into laughter.

"You all are silly," Belle told them affectionately.

"Count me out of this mess," Emma said, putting her hands up between the gaggle. "I have nothing to do with it."

"Good afternoon, ladies," her favorite voice with that familiar lilt broke into the room, startling all of them but Belle, who tried to peer through the crowd at him. They thankfully parted to look at him, and there he was, looking very clean, she noted with a small smile, "Do you mind if I steal her away?"

Snow smiled.

"Come on, guys, we'll find you some other bedridden girl to terrorize," Emma motioned in a sweeping gesture towards the door.

"Hey!" Ruby was somewhat outraged.

"We weren't terrorizing her!" Ashley sounded mildly appalled, but allowed Emma to drag her away, only peeking in again to say, "I'll come see you for your measurements."

"Measurements?" Belle asked, a little hesitant. What had she agreed to now?

Snow only smiled, "We'll see you later, sweetheart. Get feeling better, alright?" Snow told her, patting her hands before letting them go.

"I'll do my best," Belle promised.

"Bye Belle!" Ruby waved.

They all filtered out, leaving the room a lot less crowded and a lot more peaceful in their wake. Rumpelstiltskin still stood at the door, staring at her. He had cleaned up a great deal, in a new suit and washed hair. He had his cane too. But it was his lingering smile that she loved the most about it all, the way it made his eyes dance softly in the afternoon light.

"Hello," Belle said fondly.

"Hello," he repeated the greeting, stepping towards her finally, "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," she told him, and when he tilted his head ever so slightly she promptly replied, "I promise I'm fine."

"You looked a little bombarded there," he noted, still pacing slowly towards her, and she realized he was holding something behind his back.

She heaved a sigh, "How can they be focused on weddings when there is going to be a war soon?" Belle wanted to know.

"Everyone deals with worry in different ways," Rumpelstiltskin shrugged idly, finally reaching her side, and noticed Belle leaning around him to see what he was carrying.

With a flourish he held up a book. Belle beamed as she read the title, reaching for it, "You brought it!"

He held it away from her eager hands. "Now, you have to promise me that you'll take it slowly."

"We'll take it slow. You're going to learn too," she reminded him pointedly.

"I know more than you do, my dear," he told her somberly.

"I know that," she said cheerfully, "I'm going to need a tutor."

"The Blue Fairy can teach you," he sighed, sitting down in the chair Ashley had abandoned.

He was defeating her purpose entirely! "You sir, are not going back into dark magic."

"We're going to need it, from the sound of the war council," he leaned back into the chair, "I can learn it faster because I already know how to use it-."

"Just because it's easy does not mean its right," she retorted sharply. He looked away from her in obvious disagreement. She reached out her hands to his face, touching his freshly shaven skin with her fingertips, "Please," she asked him, staring into his eyes that darted up to meet hers as she implored again, "Please."

He took her hand and kissed her fingertip solemnly, "You're going to keep bothering me about this until I agree, aren't you?"

"You know me well," she smiled, wrinkling her nose in the process.

He sighed in defeat, "I will do my best to learn it your way, but if it takes too long then-."

Belle cut him off, reaching for the book again, "Well, let's get started then!"

He snorted as he let her have it, "Always eager to learn," he said gently, and she turned from cracking open the old tome to a page that read, "A Sorcerer's Pocket," to turn and smile at him, before leaning down to kiss him.

She broke away to inquire, "Does this make me the sorcerer's apprentice?"

He gave her a dry expression in response.

~: Rumpelstiltskin :~

He shouldn't have been as surprised as he was when she sped read through a fourth of the book. It was the most basic magic book he had brought with him to this world, and he worried it was a little too advanced for her.

But she seemed to get the concept well enough- the fact that magic was all around them, that drawing it on yourself was what was hard, because taking too much meant certain death, that eventually you could store it within once you'd built up enough strength to hold it with you, a sorcerer's pocket as it was called, that took years to create to hold vast amounts of energy. Of course this was all theory for the moment; the actually drawing of energy and storing it within wasn't until a few chapters later.

She picked up everything so quickly, so he was surprised when she closed the book just as they were getting to the part on storing magic within one's self.

"Are you feeling well?" he asked with serious concern.

"Yes," she smiled truthfully. There was a glint of mischief in her eye that made him weary.

He sighed, hunching his shoulders in the motion. She wasn't telling him something.

"There's a war council again tonight, isn't there?" she sounded innocent. She looked pointedly outside to where it was dark now. They had been reading that book all afternoon, discussing the ties and weavings, and how it all worked together. Now she wanted him to go to a war council?

He narrowed his eyes at her. So that's what she was doing. "Yes, there is. But I'm going to skip it."

"No you can't. You have to keep me in the loop," she said encouragingly, "So we know what we need to do when the time comes."

He almost shouted at her. He wasn't going to lose on this front, not when it meant her safety above all else. "You're going to be in a cellar," he reminded her as calmly as he could through gritted teeth.

"We're going to be in the middle of the fight, and we're not going to know what to do if you don't go," she told him, her eyes flashing, but she was still chipper. How she managed it he would never know.

"Belle," he growled.

"Rumpelstiltskin," she hummed, mimicking him. He could only glower at her, but watched as her face softened. "It starts soon. Go," she coaxed, gesturing towards the door, "And leave the book."

He stood to go. "Don't practice anything," he warned harshly.

"I won't," she smiled beatifically, and he turned away with a half hearted grumble, before her voice made him turn at the door, "I love you," she said sweetly, and he couldn't be angry with her. She was far too good. In both senses of the phrase.

"And I you," he half nodded, trying not to smile too much, before he turned to leave.

He was hoping that if he gave her everything now, that she would understand when he did lock her away from the battle without putting up too much of a fight. However, it was only steeling her resolve. He was going to have to do something drastic, like drug her, or put her under a sleeping spell. The question was to that if he could substitute a spinning wheel for something else-

And then he remembered he barely had any grasp of magic now. He sighed frustratedly, letting his cane click down on the pavement harder than was necessary.

Rumpelstiltskin took his cane with him now more for a weapon than anything else. He hardly used it for anything more than a prop, but he was fond of the thing, and it reminded him at least in this sordid world he still had some power without having to use magic.

He hadn't really tested his magic capability, hadn't wanted to be disappointed, but Belle had restored a small measure of hope in him. He knew the whisper of magic, especially with the rift in the curse enlarging with every passing hour, understood it now easily since Belle had reminded him to look for it as she read.

He remembered where he could store magic within him, felt along that pocket. It was easier to store magic, and use it later from there, because then that magic had familiarized itself with you, and was less likely to turn around and bite you in the back when you tried to bend it to your will.

As the Dark One, the pocket had been infinite. He'd barely had a grasp on the fact that there was indeed a pocket at all, because he could store so much magic within it that he barely ever skimmed its surface. As the Dark One he had been given the pocket AND the familiarized magic in one fell swoop. He'd never really considered anything but the magic, but the elementary spellbook had reminded him that all beginning sorcerers needed to learn to make one, which was the hardest part of sorcery.

He felt along that internal pocket now, opened it.

And stopped mid step.

Creating a pocket to store magic in was what took years for sorcerers to develop. He had been surprised to find that he had one still-

But the pocket was so vast!

He had only his magic removed! The Dark One's magic had been removed, but the pocket had remained! Was that even possible? He didn't have any references- the curse of the Dark One had never been broken before-

He had a sorcerer's pocket!

A large one!

An empty pocket, but a pocket none the less!

He wanted to turn back and go to Belle immediately, to tell her the amazing news! He had a sorcerer's pocket!

"Hi Rumpelstiltskin!" smiled Henry, startling him from his reverie. Such a chirpy little voice, "Are you coming to the War Council?"

"Little prince," Rumpelstiltskin acknowledged gruffly, hardly containing his emotion, "What are you doing here?"

Henry motioned for Rumpelstiltskin to go first into the apartment complex, forcing Rumpelstiltskin inside and blocking his escape route, "Well, since I know everyone's story the best, I know where everyone should be," Henry smiled, "And I live here."

"Should be- where?" Rumpelstiltskin wanted to know, leaning around as the boy basically maneuvered him up the stairs to Emma's apartment.

"Should be in the battle," Henry said as though that should be absolutely obvious, and opened the door to reveal a crowd of people Rumpelstiltskin had no interest in at the moment. He wanted to go tell Belle the news.

"Rumpelstiltskin, glad you could make it," Prince James thundered with a grin.

Royalty. Rumpelstiltskin stopped himself from shuddering, before taking his assigned seat in the middle of the mess of people, receiving glowers of loathing from half of the crowd, and weary glances from the other. Only Henry smiled at him as he took a bench seat next to him.

Emma's apartment had been turned into a literal war chamber. There was a radio that hummed in one corner, and the makings of an armory in another. The maps that Jefferson had created with 28 years of observation were pinioned to the walls, with pins in them. On the table was the best map, with pieces like chessmen strewn about it. Rumpelstiltskin was thankful that his seat had arms on it. Some only were stools, and Rumpelstiltskin could only slouch in satisfaction as the discussion started up again.

Prince James leaned on the table, gesturing to the people and to the pieces on the map on the table. Emma stood on her father's right, arms folded as she stared down the situation. Snow White had her feet slung up on the table, something that seemed rather uncharacteristic, but in this meshed up setting of both worlds clashing so violently, he wasn't quite sure what her characteristic was any more.

Next to Emma was August, then Archie, or Jiminy, whatever he was calling himself now, but he was still a man, so he was inclined to call him Archie, and then there was the werewolf clan, the swarm of wingless fairies, the hatless Hatter, Gepetto, the group of dawdling dwarves, and of course Prince Thomas, which made it full circle, with him and Henry nestled nicely between the twittering fairies and the insane hat maker. What a motley bunch they all were.

"We need to take more time teaching everyone to shoot a gun," Emma said bluntly. Rumpelstiltskin felt like groaning. Little knight thinking everything came down to modernized machinery.

"We don't have that many guns here in Storybrooke," Jefferson pointed out, rocking back and forth on his feet, and making Rumpelstiltskin entirely nervous by just standing there. Almost everyone else was sitting. Couldn't he take a hint?

"And bullets run out fast. Pick axes don't run out at all," Leroy reminded them grouchily.

"Yeah, but I'd rather shoot an ogre instead of run at it head on," August half chuckled.

"We don't even know if bullets pierce ogre skin," Leroy retorted.

Rumpelstiltskin sighed in frustration, leaning forward, "How many times have I told you that we don't even know if this will come down to weapons."

"If it does-," Prince James tried to say, but Rumpelstiltskin wasn't finished.

"If it does we will be very well prepared. Until that time," Rumpelstiltskin flourished his hands wide, "I think we need to get our dear Blue Fairy to start teaching our White Knight here magic. Maybe her child too."

Henry looked up at him pleased at that. Yes, he had learned long ago to appease royalty, but he rather liked this one, even if the princeling was too smug for his own good.

"Magic is dangerous though," Snow White said, looking to her child and her grandchild.

"Not if taught by the right person," Rumpelstiltskin waved a hand at the Blue Fairy, "Fairy magic is different than sorcerer's magic, and much easier to learn in a short amount of time."

"But a lot less reliable if you aren't a fairy," someone mumbled.

"Well there is that," Rumpelstiltskin nodded, "I suppose I could attempt to teach them sorcerer's magic, but, all in all, in the amount of time we have, I don't think it would be wise to do anything but."

"It says it's going to be a last battle," interjected the Blue Fairy haughtily. The Blue Fairy was opposed to anything he said, even if it cast her in a light as the superior being. "And if it's a battle we're going to need swords-."

He wasn't going to have it, "Yes a battle, a battle," he waved his hands in a sing song way, "but it never says what kind of battle," he put a hand flat on the table, "It could be a battle of wits for all we know, and if that were the case, we would lose, especially with as narrow minded as we are being," before he bowed from his seating position at Emma, "No offense your Majesty."

"None taken," Emma shrugged, nodding in approval at his statement.

"Why do we even invite him to come if he's going to be so argumentative?" the Blue Fairy wanted to know, jabbing a finger at him, annoyed.

Here they went again, wasting time arguing his purpose on the council. It had been a problem this morning. Rumpelstiltskin sunk down in his seat, and pressed his finger and thumb to the bridge of his nose. He had more important things to test out then sitting through this.

"He knows things about the Evil Queen that we don't," Emma said immediately, coming to his defense.

"And he knows how dark magic can be used-," Henry piped up.

"I can tell you all about dark magic," snapped the Blue Fairy, "Nothing good comes of it!"

Oh he hated fairies and their ignorant little minds.

"But," Rumpelstiltskin snapped and the room went silent with his little whiplash of a word, and he crept into a standing position, "you can't tell what she will do with her dark magic. Your little minds aren't capable of conjuring that amount of evil. That, dearie," he looked pointedly at the Blue Fairy, "is why you keep me around," and he sat back down to signify the end of his little vocalization, before signaling, "Now, if we can move on with Prince Charming's pointless battle tactics."

"He's killed countless people, and ruined countless more lives. Just because he's experienced True Love does not mean that he can be forgiven of these horrors!" the Blue Fairy declared.

"He was going to take my wife's child!" hotheaded Thomas was quick to her aid.

"Who knows if he's even on our side?"

True chaos was about to unleash itself upon the room before a voice snapped, "You guys!" Henry had climbed right up on the table, and was holding his arms wide to get everyone's attention, "Rumpelstiltskin isn't the problem here. He's on our side now, I'm sure of it." Confident child, wasn't he? "And we need him. So let's stop arguing and get back to the real problem here. The Evil Queen isn't going to rest until she gets her revenge, and we have got to stop her."

Snow White had sat up, "Henry's right. We need to stay focused," her hands were flat against the table.

"I've killed people," Red said, defiantly, "And you all still accept me. Why can't you all just accept him, at least until we get back home?"

"We need everyone we can get for our side," James added in his defense.

"We should lock him up!" one of the dwarves shouted. "We can't trust him!"

"Yeah!" agreed a few others.

"I'm done listening to this argument," Emma overrode everyone into silence, "So the next person who brings up whether Rumpelstiltskin is or isn't our ally will get a cheerful beating from me. You got it?" her piercing gaze swept the whole room, "Now, moving on."

Rumpelstiltskin sat back stunned as Henry hopped off the table. He never thought it would be royalty sticking up for him like this one day. He thought they would be screaming for his head right along with the rest, and now that he didn't have magic-

But he had a sorcerer's pocket.

Instantly the meeting became a lot less trivial. The problem was storing magic- he'd never really done it in great quantities before- and he'd done it using other, dark magic. He didn't exactly know where to begin from scratch. It would be his own magic this time, nothing dark to twist him into doing evil, nothing sinister. It would be all his.

He couldn't do more than drawn in a few wisps of the whispering magic though. Drawing in magic took concentration and, well, other magic. It was extraordinarily difficult to do both in the present circumstance, especially with the Blue Fairy throwing him dirty looks.

Maybe, when she got her precious little wings back, he would snip them off and use them in some sort of alchemist's experiment.

He was going to need a place to go, to draw in more magic- a more peaceful place. He'd never really been a Zen kind of person, but it was obviously going to need to find that- and he was going to need to reread the chapter on snaring magic.

"We need spies to go through the woods- Red, we're going to need you to scout out-."

He only heard tidbits of the conversation now. He was hoping it was coming to a close. That, or he could just leave soon. He didn't really feel the need to be there. If he was going to ensnare enough magic to be useful, he could use that as an excuse. Then again, he didn't know if he wanted anyone else to know that he was indeed useful again. He had his own agenda to keep after all.

He had enough to cast a very simple spell however. It was one that often used to amuse him.

He felt the magic spark through him, and he held up his finger in time as the tiny little flame flickered on the tip of his index finger. He smiled thinly, before extinguishing it.

There was hope for them in this war after all.

He got up quietly, hooking his cane in the crook of his elbow, and exited the meeting. He'd had enough of battle tactics to last him an age.

He was practicing flickering fire on and off the tip of his finger as he entered the hospital, something he used to do in that first century of being the Dark One because it had entertained him so. Now he could barely manage it half of the time he tried it. It was the good magic, and it hadn't been in the pocket long enough to be fully tamed. Dark magic wouldn't have taken so long, he was sure of it, but it would be a tad more dangerous

"You're back," Belle said with a smile as he entered, closing the spellbook.

"I'm back," he returned her smile with one of his own, and flicked the fire off of his finger tip, taking his seat next to her, "How are you feeling?"

"Really good," she nodded, "And it's not fair that you can light your finger on fire already," she sounded indignant. "Does that mean-?" she stopped, and looked up at him wide eyed- "You can't already-?"

"I do," he smiled, taking both of her hands in his.

"How do you have a sorcerer's pocket?" she gasped, her eyes bright in joy.

He smiled broadly, shaking his head as he let her in on his secret, "The Dark One's magic left me, not the pocket. I didn't even know- with the lack of magic I just assumed-."

She leapt forward to hug him, and he was left baffled in her arms. She was laughing, the sound so wonderful that he couldn't help but chuckle a little, and hold her to him, taking in the smell of familiar scent of spring that couldn't even be smothered by the hospital.

"I can't believe it!" she sang as she let go of him to look him in the eyes, "A bit of good luck at last!"

"I've had more than my fair share of luck, my dear," he smiled at her, truly happy, her hands slipping into his.

"A sorcerer's pocket," she breathed again, shaking her head, and she beamed, radiating joy. "How much magic have to drawn in?"

"Now there's the tricky part," he sighed, looking away.

"Here," she prompted, making for the book, "I was just reading about it-."

"We can look at it later," he told her, catching her hands again, because at this moment, all he wanted to do was be with her, and enjoy the fact that she was as happy as he was about this. She was always so good-

"You can already use a bit of magic too- it's hardly fair," she teased with a small laugh.

He suppressed a grin, "I've had centuries of practice, dearest. It's only fair I get a bit of a head start."

"A bit of a head start? You can light your finger on fire!" she praised, motioning with her hands, joyous to the point he couldn't help but smile.

"It's a far cry from what I once could do," he wondered if he could ever do what he had once done- but he was so grateful that he had what he did. He couldn't imagine now the bleak outlook he had only hours ago, of trying to recreate a sorcerer's pocket.

"You don't have to start completely from scratch," she smiled sweetly, and he wondered how on earth she got to be so good, and by the gods, why she loved him of all people. Not that he wanted that to change. Oh no, he didn't. He would keep her forever. "But you're doing it the right way, now."

The right way, huh?

He shook his head at her, rolling his eyes, "You're determined to make me good."

She smiled, one of her hands brushing around his face, "We'll try it out on you, and then we'll see if it suits."

He looked at her dryly, "I never was one for choosing sides."

"I know," she said dismissively, "Choose sides this once, and I'll never make you choose sides again."

He narrowed his eyes at her shrewdly, "Now why do I feel like choosing sides once is permanent?"

"It's not," she replied smoothly, though she knew as well as he did that it wasn't the truth. She tried to keep her poker face, "It's just, better than being on your own side, and the good side always wins."

He raised his eyebrows wryly, "How do you figure that?"

She smiled through biting her lip, "Well, for one, the good guy always gets the girl."

Oh she knew how to play, "Does he now?" he asked, taking her hands in his again.

"Yes, he does," she bobbed her head, trying to keep from outright grinning.

He knew how to play too. "So what else is there on the good side?"

She gasped in mock horror, "'What else'? I'm not enough?"

He pretended revelation, "Oh, so you're the girl the men get if they choose good."

"Only one man, and yes," she corrected, nodding once and sounding very princess-like.

"Then I shall do my utmost to remain on this side," he brought her hands up to show exactly which side that was, "That is, if I'm this 'one man' you're talking about."

She twisted her mouth at him, but the smile was in her eyes, "Who else?"

He looked around, "I'm sure there are plenty of other-."

Belle cut him off immediately, "Now don't you start," she snapped playfully.

"Start what?" he faked innocence.

"I'm having none of this. Either I remain at your side, or I am alone. Nothing else, no in betweens," she said firmly, and stoutly and he could only smile at her declaration.

He wrinkled his nose at her, playing the imp, "Sounds a little final, if you ask me."

"Good," his Belle replied curtly, "That's how it's supposed to sound."

"It's a deal then?" he asked evasively.

"What is?" she needed clarification.

His eyes flickered to hers in merriment, "That you're marrying me?"

She gaped momentarily in astonished elation, before finding her tongue, "Is that what you call a proposal?"

"Have I not proposed to you yet?" he pretended to be baffled.

"Um no, I'm pretty sure you haven't." She wasn't very good at hiding her smile, and he was glad. He would forever love the way it lit up her face.

He shrugged, "Well, I suppose that's coming then."

"I hope so," she smiled brightly, leaning in, "You did promise to make all my wishes come true."

He pretended to be remembering, "I did at that, didn't I?" and he continued to ponder, "Seems like there weren't too many things on that list. It could all happen."

"I could make the list longer," Belle told him simply, teasingly.

"No, I rather like your list," he replied, though he wouldn't mind hearing her other ones, "I have a very similar one."

She looked happy at that, her eyes widening. "Can I know what's on your list, since you know mine so intimately?"

Ever the curious girl, "Oh no," he told her with a mischievous grin, "We wouldn't want to spoil everything, now, would we?"

"Even if we make a deal?" she half pouted, her eyes bright with the prospect.

"A deal, dearest?" he leaned closer, "I have everything I want. What could you possibly have that I would trade for?"

"A kiss?" she proposed, hopeful.

"For a whole list? I don't think so," he shook his head, though the draw of her lips was enticing indeed. He could get more out of her though, he knew.

She made a face, her bright eyes narrowing, "This kiss did save your life, you know. You could be a little more grateful."

He had a hard time trying not to grin and give himself away, but his words did that for him, "I am grateful. I was merely thinking one kiss for every item on the list." And there went his idea, slipping right off his tongue, but he didn't really mind too much after he saw her expression.

That cheered her up, though she tried to keep her poker face intact, "I suppose I could agree to that."

He grinned wickedly, "Alright then." He stood to kiss her, and felt her hands pulling him close by his dress jacket. Touching his lips to hers sent a thrill through him- just as shocking and just as sweet as the first time they ever kissed, and he doubted he would ever get over how her taste, how the feeling of her mouth against his would ever diminish in any way. He felt dizzy, All too soon she was pushing him away.

"You now have to tell me one thing," she told him with a small, curt smirk. Belle smirking- it was a scary world.

He sat on her hospital bed. The first one was easy, and one that would come to pass soon. It was time to use his deal with Emma. "I wish that you will recover shortly." It didn't give anything away. Not that he hid from her, but that the art of teasing her was endless enjoyment to him. And it was a wish he wanted to come true. That, and that ridiculous fluttery insect of a person needed a bit of humbling. She would do anything for Emma when she asked, and Emma would do most anything for Belle. He liked this plan.

Sure enough, he had been right about her reaction. She gave him a disappointed look, "That doesn't count."

"Of course it does. That's my foremost wish right now," he told her smoothly, "Now tell me one of yours."

"That wasn't part of the deal!" she proclaimed, looking affronted.

He pulled a face, "I can back out of this deal right now." He jabbed his thumb behind him figuratively.

She pursed her lips, "What happened to honoring all your agreements?"

That was simple to answer, "I've turned over a new leaf."

She narrowed her eyes at him for being thwarted, "Fine. I wish that we could live happily ever after." She smiled softly at him, "No matter what happens next," she added, motioning to the ceiling as though it were the universe. "It's all I really want." She smiled bashfully, "But you knew that."

"That I did," he smiled at his lovely little Belle, and he took her one of her hands in his, leaning across the hospital bed to peer into her face. He pressed his forehead to hers so that her eyes met his, her beautiful blue eyes that he would love forever. He smiled shamelessly, his own eyes dancing, "And it's a deal."

Storybrooke's Tale of Beauty and the Beast

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Teddy's Twin

Part 36 of 37

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