Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: Once Upon A Time
Challenge/Prompt: 1_million_words A to Z: U and V
Warning(s): SPOILERS for Seasons 4 and 5
Word Count: 2,308
Date Written: 25 October 2016
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to their rightful owners, not the author, and are used without permission.
The meadow opens before her like a lush land full of possibilities. She's well aware that anything is possible when you dream, and she knows she's dreaming. She did this to herself, but she saw little other choice. Now Rumplestiltskin will do what he must to protect her and their unborn child, and when it's all over, he'll give her over to her father to wake her with True Love's Kiss. She once thought Rumplestiltskin was her True Love, but the fact that she remains asleep even now just proves again how wrong she was.
He wasn't the man she thought, or perhaps worse yet, he was. She just wasn't willing to accept what was right in front of her face the entire time she loved him, but she's no longer alone. She must think of more futures than just her own. She must think of their child. She saw what having the Dark One for a father did to Baelfire. She saw how he suffered, saw how he eventually gave his life so his father could live, so how the darkness almost consumed him as well when they both thought Rumple was dead.
God, how she mourned for him! During that time, she would have done anything to have her Rumple back, darkness and all. She would have sacrificed anything just as Baelfire was ready to do. But he is back now and instead of taking yet another chance to redeem himself, to become the man he should be, the father his son needed and the husband she needs, he's once more chosen power over love.
He will always choose power over love, Belle thinks, pressing a hand to her belly. This child they should be able to share will not change anything. He won't go good: not for her or for his son or for his new, as-of-yet unborn son. Belle's pretty certain her baby is a boy. They haven't had the opportunity to run any tests or spells, but something inside of her knows that their child will be another son, another chance for her Rumple to redeem himself, but also another chance that, in the end, he will not take. He will squander the miracle of their child if she allows him just as he did Baelfire's love and her own.
He isn't her Rumple. He isn't the father Baelfire needed or deserved, and he will not be the father her baby needs. She'll be better off raising her child by herself, or even with her father, than with him. That horrifying fact brings tears to Belle's eyes even in her dreams. Anything is supposed to be possible in dreams, but even here, it seems impossible for Rumple to ever choose love over power. He will never be the husband she desires or the True Love she deserves. He will never be a good father to any child. He will never be hers. He will always belong to the darkness not because he has to but because he chooses to.
She lets out a shuddering, shaky sigh that seems to send trembles all throughout her body. Her baby shifts uncomfortably in her belly, almost as though he, too, is distraught. She strokes her stomach, murmuring to him, "I won't let him hurt you." Her baby settles, but Belle's nerves are still frayed. Rumple would never hurt her or their child on purpose, but he's already hurt her so very many times. She saw what he did to Baelfire, and she knows their child will fare no better if she lets him know his father.
She must protect him -- from Hades, from Rumple, from all the evil --, and so she has come here. But it will not last. Eventually, her father will wake her, and she will be back in the real world, so full of pain, heartache, and treachery, so full of darkness. How is she going to keep her child safe not just in a world so fraught with darkness but from his own father? She has no magic except for knowledge and love.
And in that is her answer, Belle knows. She tells herself yet again that love is going to have to be enough. She's going to have to protect him from his father and the rest of the world without magic, and she will succeed because of love. She has to succeed.
Tears prick Belle's eyes, and suddenly, up ahead in the clearing, she hears movement. She looks up, her blue eyes growing wide as a handsome, silver unicorn tosses his mane. He blows gentle breath out of his nostrils as he comes back to the earth from a rearing position. He looks at her, his one, big eye turned toward her keeping constant contact with her surprised gaze.
He should be running from her, Belle knows as she inches toward him, but he seems instead to be waiting patiently. The legends all say that a unicorn will only allow a virgin near him, and she is no virgin. She was proud to give her virginity to Rumple, proud to call him her husband, but that was before he dashed all her dreams yet again. Still, when the beautiful animal does not move to flee, Belle continues to inch slower closer to him.
When she's within just a couple of feet of the unicorn, their eyes still locked, she slowly raises a hand. The magical beast stands completely still as she inches ever closer until her hand lays gently upon his long nose. She strokes him, and still he does not run. "H-Hello," Belle speaks hesitantly, not feeling silly at all for talking to him but still expecting him to flee. After all, she's not only not a virgin but is with child.
The unicorn looks at her intently through the gentlest eyes she's ever seen. "I have come," he says, lowering his head and nuzzling his forehead into her touch, "to help you protect your child."
"H-How?" she asks, having forgotten entirely by this time that she is dreaming.
He lowers his head further, his horn nearing her belly. He rubs his horn against the palm of her hand as she gently scratches its base. "I have merely to touch him once," he says, "and he will be protected always."
"Oh, yes! Yes, of course!" a cackling voice Belle knows too well resounds through the empty air around them. Suddenly, Rumplestiltskin appears, in full Dark One mode, immediately behind the unicorn. He waves glittering hands at her and the animal. "What are you waiting for, dearie? Go ahead. You're still quick to condemn me for my use of magic, but let it be something you want and you can't wait to use it!"
"That is hardly the case, Rumplestiltskin, and besides, this is good magic! Pure magic!"
"There is no such thing."
Belle swings her head to look at the newcomer. A Knight on a pure white stallion stands on the unicorn's other side. "All magic," he warns, "comes with a price."
Belle cocks her head slightly to one side, examining the Knight who wields a sword and a large shield with a red cross on it. There's a red V emblazoned upon his chest. She can not see his face for he's completed clothed in armor, but his voice sounds so familiar. "Who are you?" she asks at last.
"Why would you ask such a question, dearie?" he asks, flipping his visor up and causing Belle to stumble back in shock. "You know who I am, my True Love! I am your husband!"
Belle's mouth flies open, but no sound comes out. She mutely works her lips as she stumbles further backward. "Wh-What?!" she finally manages to cry out, her head turning rapidly back and forth between the two Rumplestiltskins. "How?!"
"You already know, dearie," the Dark One sneers. "You were right, of course. I was capable of being good, but I chose to cast that part of me aside." He looks down his long nose at the Knight. "There is all my goodness, freed from me at last!"
"Do not listen to him, Belle! You know who I am, dearest! You know that is merely the darkness talking, not me at all!"
She stumbles further back, looking aghast at the duplicates of her husband surrounding the unicorn. "Belle," the magical animal pleas with her, "I have a gift to give you! Please do not squander it in this confusion over your husband! For your child's sake, let me bless him!"
"Yes, yes, dearie! Do let the beast bless you! Use the magic you're always so angry at me for using! It's evil when I do it, but it's all okay when you do it!"
"It's light magic," she finds her voice to argue. "It's not evil!"
"All magic comes with a price, dearie!" the Knight says again. "Use it, and you're no better than he is!" The Knight lowers his head in shame as he adds, "Than we are."
The land seems to shift underneath Belle's feet. She stumbles but catches herself before she can fall. The unicorn nears her, honorable head still lowered. The images of her husband's two sides seem to merge into one. Then they're split apart again, then one once more, then apart again, then one, apart, one, apart, one --
Apart. "ENOUGH!" Belle screams, crossing her arms protectively over her stomach. "No one is harming my baby!"
"Won't you harm him, though," the Knight asks her, "when you keep his father from him?" He swings down from his horse and begins to approach her, moving slowly as though not to frighten her just as she had done before when she had approached the unicorn. "I love you, Belle, truly -- you must know that --, and I want nothing but the best for our baby."
"Like you wanted nothing but the best for me, Papa?"
The Knight and Belle turn to face Baelfire. The valiant Rumple melts upon the sight of his boy. He reaches for him as he croons, "Of course, Bae -- "
But Baelfire fades from before their very eyes, Rumplestiltskin's fingers passing through him as though he's nothing more than a ghost. Then he's gone entirely, and the cackle of the Dark One echoes through the land. The Knight and Belle both turn to face him just as he reaches out for the unicorn.
"NO!" Belle cries, but Rumple's too quick. He's always too quick for her except when she held the true dagger in her possession. Forcing him to leave Storybrooke, and herself especially, had been the hardest thing she'd ever done, but she'd done it in the hope that losing her would eventually cause him to awaken and realize all the darkness had taken from him. Her plan had backfired, however, as he'd used his wits to gain reentry and more magic than he had in a long time to resurrect Maleficent in the hope that the dragon would defeat Belle's heroic friends.
He had lied to her. He had stood before her in the form of a friend and lied to her, all while looking directly into her eyes. Instead of fighting to win her love, he had tried to trick her into loving him again. He had tricked her into trusting him. He had claimed he only wanted to love her, but it was all lies. He isn't capable of love. He isn't capable of truth. He is only capable of spreading more pain, as he does now, capturing the unicorn with his magic and breaking the noble animal's spirit and neck.
As the majestic animal who had offered his help to her collapses onto the ground with a dying scream, Belle races across the land to beat at the Dark One's chest with her futile fists. He laughs at her -- actually laughs, the cruelest sound she's ever heard. He waves a hand even while she pummels him, and the Knight and his steed simply disappear.
"You held me in your sway once, woman," he says, finally looking at her. She does something she never thought she'd do: She slaps him. The blow echoes through the empty meadow. His head snaps back, then returns to calmly look directly into her tear-filled eyes. He licks his own blood from his bottom lip and grins that feral, sinister smile that's always sent a chill through her.
She's always said she isn't afraid of him, but suddenly, she is. She backs away, her arms dropping protectively over her stomach again. He steps over the unicorn's corpse, calmly following her retreat. "Once you stood between me and power. Once you thought you could save me. I never needed saving from the power. I am the power. I am the darkness, and you will never wield your power over me again."
He strikes her hard across her face, and she falls. She tumbles through the darkness and the echoes of his wicked giggles. She tumbles, head over heels like Alice falling through the rabbit hole, but she doesn't stop tumbling. She doesn't land in an unknown kingdom with things labeled to be eaten and drank or strange animals. She just keeps falling over and over again, her husband's wicked laughter resounding around her.
The one thought she holds to before everything surrenders to darkness is that she still holds her child. She still holds their child, and she must still protect him from the world, from the darkness, and most of all, from his own father. She must protect her child, but how to do so, Belle knows no more than when her journey first began. His father's cruelty wraps around them both, and her world is empty again. There is no light, no love, no answers. There is nothing but darkness and sorrow, and alone in her dreams, Belle weeps.