Title: Beauty Is Only…
Fandom: Once Upon A Time
Timeframe: Season 1 Episode 12, but references events from the life of the series to date.
Disclaimer: I don’t own them – if I did I’d treat them a whole hell of a lot better than ABC do.
Set up: Belle reflects on everything – to whom the reflection is addressed remains unspoken.
I don’t know what it was like for anyone else, when we first came to Storybrooke. I don’t really remember what it was like for me either. I simply went from one state of captivity to another, but… for a split second – one moment of clarity – I remembered before.
Then it was gone, and that clarity became my madness.
It would haunt me in my dreams – when I was able to sleep – those memories of my life before; captivity at the hands, or rather the behest, of the Queen, and before that, a life in which I knew adventure and love… yes, love. Yet, on waking, it was gone, always gone. All of it disappeared as I woke, never to return, each lost moment falling like the petals from a fading flower.
They kept me medicated, though why, when I could remember nothing of who I was, let alone who I had been, I could not say. That, too, was at the behest of the Queen, though she called herself our mayor.
Hindsight asks the question: Of what was she so afraid?
Now, years later, I know that she used me before, back in the enchanted forest, to try and divest the only one who was ever a threat to her of his power. She had played on my blossoming emotions for my captor turned… what? Were we ever friends back then? I believe so, though I don’t think we would ever have named it that. All I know, all I remembered in that split second, that fading moment, was that I loved him and was trying to return to him when she had taken me captive, intending to use me to break him another way.
Some will tell you that love is a weakness, others will name it a panacea. I will tell you – and I truly believe – that love is the only enduring power. It will break curses, and survive any spell; bring the strongest of men to tears, and fill the weakest with a strength and courage beyond compare. In fact, the only way to break the bonds of love – true love – is to break the lover themselves.
That was my reality for 28 years. I had no notion of who I was. My cursed persona was to be an empty shell. How could I love?
If you detect a certain wry or bitter tone to the question, it may be because I hear, or at least feel, others voice similar sentiments about my heart’s choice: “How could you love that?” they say, or view me with pity, or worse try to saveme from what they believe must be some kind of spell I’m living under. They look at Rumple and me, shake their heads, and convince themselves that it must be some kind of psychological malfunction on my part – some version of Stockholm Syndrome – from when I was taken to keep his castle in return for saving my people, or worse they see in it some nefarious doing on the part of the Dark One, to make me love him. All the while they forget what they know – that magic has rules and you can’t enchant someone to love you if the feelings are not there to begin with.
It did begin at the Dark Castle though, that much is true. After hours, then days, then weeks of working, and weeping alone at night in my cell, questioning myself and my apparent foolishness in making the deal that I had, something changed. I stopped feeling sorry for myself, embraced the initial courage that had led me there in the first place and looked beyond my situation, one in which I’d put myself, and little by little came to know Rumple for who he truly isbehind or beneath the powerful sorcerer, the Dark One, the Beastagainst which everyone whispered warnings.
But, it was on that first full day, as Rumplestiltskin explained my duties, tested my mettle with his quip, that the seed which would blossom into a love, true and strong enough to have weathered heartbreak and death, anger and a foolish naivety that led to the worst of betrayals, was planted.
“It’s just a cup.”
I stood there, my heart still caught between beats, hardly daring to breathe for the expectation of a terrible outburst, and those four words unlocked a part of me that allowed me to see deeper into this man than I think anyone ever had before. Those words, and the facetious comment about skinning the children for their pelts translated into a lonely, heartfelt plea.
See me for who I am, Belle, not for what the world would make of me.
It took a while – but I would… I have.
I would spend my nights puzzling him out; compiling what I knew, and in the daytime teased out what little information I could encourage him to part with to add to my understanding of him until I was brave enough to start asking outright those things I wanted to know. The more I came to know him, to suspect the truth of him, the further my heart opened to him, and the deeper my feelings for him became.
Winter turned to spring, and in an effort to bring some light into a place shrouded in darkness – and not just Rumple’s fearful heart – I decided the curtains needed to come down – they could certainly do with a good beating to get the dust out of them if nothing else – only to discover that Rumple had nailed them in place. Nailed! If that didn’t scream of a man hiding from the pain of something traumatic, I don’t know what did.
That was the first time, I think, that Iacquiesced to my new and growing feelings, and began asking questions that would lead us down the long road we’ve taken together. That was the first time we laughed together, and that was the first time I found myself in his arms.
A nail pulled out, the curtain ripped and I fell from the ladder; closed my eyes expecting at any moment to feel the pain of the impact with the floor, and then…
Warmth, strength, a protectiveness that I perhaps didn’t recognize then, but which I’ve come to know – to cherish – and in another split second; a moment between breaths, a world of awakenings passed between us. I had wondered what it would be, how it would feel to be closer to him. All the times spent working, watching him spinning his straw; the mesmerizing movements of his hands that would leave me distracted and hurrying off to service some other room to take me from the thoughts that began flowing through my mind. I’d tell myself it was because I was lonely, or because of the forbidden nature of the thoughts, but truth is, it was only the first small stirrings of a love that had taken root and was seeking to express itself.
So, as I fell into his arms, and for a moment as I opened my eyes to look upon him, gazing back in equal measure of surprise, and – perhaps I hoped – something else than that, that I allowed myself the thought that if I were never to know another in my life, our deal was forever after all, then would knowing himbe quite so bad?
The moment passed, replaced by an awkwardness that we each tried to cover in our own way, but I came back to that question over and over, and would eventually voice it, though with a more innocent connotation that the moment of being in his arms had carried.
It was not so much later, and cleaning upstairs, that I found my way into a room, and there, so carefully folded were clothes clearly meant for a child. It was unexpected, and made me realize that as much as I knew him by then, I reallyknew so little.
I wanted to know. Everything that I didn’t know made the ache in my heart for him at this discovery so much more real, so much… I wanted to go to him, to tell him I understood so much more now – hold him and tell him it would be all right – when in truth, I knew so little, for so much longer.
Instead I turned to sit on the low bed there, and held the clothes to my breast as though I was holding the child to which they belonged, as if I could come to know, by osmosis, this part of his past. The Dark One had a past, and in it was a child, and that meant that everythingeveryone said about him was wrong, didn’t it? He was a man, and a man could be loved… and so help me, though I didn’t admit it to myself at the time, I loved him.
To me, love is layered; a mystery to be uncovered – I told him that too – and here we were, uncovering that mystery piece by difficult, painful piece.
I asked him about the child, phrasing the question as if to enquire first whether the small clothes were from when he was younger, but knowing full well in my heart that they were from his own child, and wanting to know what had happened to him. How I wishI had paid more attention to the answer – oh not the one he gave, but the one beneath the words he spoke, that could have led me to understand far better than I did. That would have led to so much less hurt for the both of us, but perhaps fate knew better, and that was the reason I did not realize that his love of power was driven by a father’s visceral need to find the son he’d lost and bring him home; show him the love that was the shining bright core at the middle of a heart darkened for want of it all; like a diamond at the heart of a piece of coal.
Instead, perhaps because I’d suddenly gotten too close and Rumple feared what his love, his needs, his protection would do to me if he allowed himself to feel it all, he let me go; sent me to town to fetch him more straw to spin into gold. Suddenly, as if hope of otherwise wouldn’t allow him to let go completely, that hope had an exchange… two short lines of conversation that in one way or another have followed us, like a shadow, unacknowledged, through the whole of our lives together.
“But… town? You trust me to come back?”
“Oh no. I expect I’ll never see you again.”
WouldI have left, but for the Queen and that ‘not-so-chance’ encounter on the road? I like to think not. Every step I took along the road toward town was accompanied by thoughts of Rumple and the feelings I already had, but was denying, and hard, to myself.
What would my father have thought if I’d suddenly just turned up on my doorstep at home?
Rumple has since told me that the Queen, in her lies to him, told him that my father had imprisoned me in a tower and had priests and holy men come to exorcise me our time together. There was a time when I would have denied that such a thing could ever be possible just as vehemently as I was my love for Rumple as I fled toward town. Now I know otherwise. Now, I know what faithless, lovelessness my father feels for me. I was a possession to him, a tool, and an object of his pride. Little more.
Many years from that moment on the road, more than three decades from then, Rumple would convey my stupidly naïve wish to my father that he should come and break a curse under which I’d placed myself – another foolish act on my part, of falling for crass manipulation – with the kiss of true and unconditional love that exists between a parent and their child.
My father refused.
He heaped conditions upon his attendance to what may well have been my dying wish, had the sleeping curse not been broken in time, and chief among those was that Rumple leave me alone; no longer to be a part of my life. It is beside the point that at the time, I had made that decree to Rumple myself – another long story best left for a more fitting moment than this – the point is that my father was not the man I believed him to be. He never was.
Our relationship has always been a difficult one. Some will tell you that it’s toxic, abusive, but if that’s true then the abuse has come from both sides, in equal measure, with each of us bearing the guilt of it. I own up to my shortcomings as a lover, a wife… mother to his child, and accept that there were simply challenges that we did not always meet in the best way possible, but the truth is: no matter the way it looks to others, from the outside, and sometimes to myself while blinded by hurt and anger, Rumplestiltskin has only everacted out of love for me, for our family, and the overwhelming desire – a visceral need – to keep us safe.
If others would vilify Rumple for acting as a husband and father should in protection of those he loves beyond all measure, then they must also so judge others, and they do not – so their argument is fatally flawed; invalid.
That day upon the road, the woman who has ever been a catalyst in our relationship – sometimes an enemy, sometimes a friend and often-times something that defies description as is far more difficult and dangerous than either – set me on the path of true love, broke my chains of denial, and sent me back to a man that was already and irrevocably a part of my heart.
“True love’s kiss will break any curse,” she said.
I went to town, ignored the stares, and the looks of confusion, and suspicion; of fear and of pity, purchased the straw to fill my basket – even though I knew deep down that he did not need it – and turned around to retrace my steps, determined in that moment to make him honor his deal, tell me about his son, and use the telling of it to bring us closer, to maneuver the situation to where I might, if my courage did not fail, find a way to bestow that kiss and free Rumple from his curse.
If I had thought about it harder, had I known then what I nowknow, I would have realized that Rumple did not want to be freed from the curse just as much as he didwant to be free from it. He craved the power of the Dark One; needed it for one reason, and one reason alone.
To find Baelfire.
Everything he had done, and would do from that point on had that singular focus: the creation of the Dark Curse that would propel us all into this strange world-without-magic, his hand in the creation of the child that would mature to become the Savior who would break that curse and allow him to bring magic to a magicless world; the twists and turns, and heartaches along the way; everything alwaysfor his son – his family.
But I did not know. I had not seen clearly enough, I acted only selfishly to try and break the curse I perceived as his undoing, to save him, and then to realize our love.
As much as the kiss began to work, it singularly failed to break the curse. He grew angry – furious – but even then, I think I knew, not at me – never at me. As much as our relationship has been tumultuous, Rumple has never acted against me in anger; never raised a hand to me and I truly believe never would. His anger was focused… well, besides being aimed toward the Queen for her interference in our life, it was focused squarely back at himself.
If anything convinced me of that, it was the moment at which I asked him why he would not believe the transformation that had begun in him at my kiss meant that ours was true love, and in a voice filled with impotent rage and pain he growled, “Because no one… no one could ever love me!” And with that, locked me away from him in my tiny cell, where I sat, possessed of an impotence of my own – a naivety, and pain, and yes… anger at the humiliation of it all – to slowly become possessed of a sadness of love rejected – denied – that would come again to a bitter, cold barb with which I would leave him as he dismissed me from his service.
“You could have had happiness,” I told him, still ignorant of the fact that he neededto keep the power lent to him by his curse, for Baelfire’s sake, never once giving a thought to the balancing act that he fought inside of himself ever day of his existence, “If you just believed that someone could want you. But you couldn’t take that chance.”
What, I wonder, might have changed had I truly heardhim when he said, “That’s a lie.”
Instead, in my own anger I lashed out, accusing, naming him ‘coward,’ and warning him – so I thought – that, “No matter how thick you make your skin, that doesn’t change.”
How I should have listened to the hard, calm words he said then.
“I’m not a coward, dearie. It’s quite simple really. My Power…” Did he realize then that I did not understand, and that he would not, or could not afford to explain everything to me there and then? “…means more to me than you.”
The words cut, deeper than I would have thought, deeper than skin, and muscle and bone. I suppose that I should have realized that it proved just how much I loved him, that his rejection hurt so much, but my own hope – ever strong – convinced me that Iwas right and he was sending me away through fear of what our love might mean for him, or for the both of us.
“No. No, it doesn’t,” I protested. “You just don’t think I can love you. Now you’ve made your choice, and you’re going to regret it. Forever. And all you’ll have… is an empty heart, and a chipped cup.”
My voice broke then, as I chastised myself even as the words left my lips. Did I believe that one simple kiss could bring about a Happy Ending?
I’ve learned, through the years, that Happy Endings, and true love isn’t brought about in a single moment. It’s strengthened and proven by facing, together, all the trials that the worlds throw at you, and, through them all, standing strong; accepting the ups and downs, the moments together and apart, the love and the anger, the hate and the forgiveness, and finding yourself, at the end of it, able to look into each other’s eyes, into each other’s souls and to admit, “I understand. I forgive you and crave yourforgiveness. I love you.”