Title:  Loveless

Title:  Loveless
Author:  Demelza
Disclaimer:  Once Upon A Time and its characters belong to ABC, I’m just borrowing them for a bit.
Fandom:  Once Upon A Time
Pairing:  Rumplestiltskin/Belle
Characters:  Rumpelstiltskin, Belle, Regina
Rating:  O13
Warnings:  Angst
Spoilers:  None
Summary:  Rumbelle AU.  Can what is already broken be shattered even worse?

i

Mid-afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows of the library where Isabelle French sat reading a Julian May novel and enjoying a quiet cup of tea, when she heard the loud, whining creak of the main door as it opened.  She set her book down beside her teacup and saucer, a bookmark with red roses on it to keep her place in the novel.  She could hear the footsteps of the afternoon’s first patron, and as she placed her hand against her eight months pregnant belly she wondered if it might be Mary Margaret come to take out another book.   With some effort, she carefully rose to her feet and turned her attention towards Mary Margaret, only, she found herself face-to-face with Regina Mills instead.  Her chest tightened at the sight of the other woman’s smug smirk.

“Mayor Mills,” Isabelle managed, forcing a small smile.  “What can I do for you today?”

“Oh, I was hoping we might have a little chat,” Regina said, placing her hands on the desk and leaning over it slightly.  Her smirk deepened.

Her heart racing, Isabelle swallowed.  “Oh?”

“About your relationship with Mr Gold.”

Isabelle’s gaze dropped then, to the book sitting on the desk in front of her.  She fussed with it for a moment before meeting the other woman’s gaze.  “It’s really none of your business,” she said.

“Oh, but it is my business, Miss French.    I knew the late Mrs Gold.  And you?  You are never going to replace her.”

Isabelle gaped at the other woman.  “What?”

Regina leaned over the desk.  “It’s time you got it through your head that he doesn’t love you, and he will never, ever love you.”

Her breath catching in her throat, it took Isabelle a moment before she could ask, “Why must you be so awful?”

“I’m being truthful,” Regina glowered.

Isabelle could only stare at her.

“You need to face the fact that those three little words you’re desperate to hear him utter?  He’ll never say them to you.”

“Get out,” Isabelle said, her voice low but still loud enough for Regina to have heard.  The other woman glared at her for a long few moments, then finally pushed herself away from the desk and headed toward the door.  It was only as the door closed behind Regina that Isabelle let the tears she had been desperate not to shed fall free.

ii

It had taken Isabelle an hour before she could finally stop crying, and by then she had decided she needed to speak with Joseph.  She locked up the library and drove her powder blue Daihatsu Charade to the seaside home they’d shared these past few months.  His car was in the drive when she pulled in, and as she parked her car behind his she could see he was still sitting in the driver’s seat.

Isabelle let out a slow, controlled breath before unbuckling her seatbelt and switching off the ignition.  She opened the door and by the time she had managed to carefully turn around on the seat to comfortably get up out of the car, Joseph was at her side to help her to her feet.

“I thought we were having dinner at Granny’s tonight?” he asked, peering down at her through his glasses.  He closed the car door, then started them walking towards the front door of the house.

“We were,” Isabelle began after a short time, “But something came up.”

He glanced sideways at her, “Oh?”  He unlocked the front door to the house and let her in before him.

“I had an unpleasant visitor at the library today,” she explained, stopping to wait for him.  She watched as he closed the door behind them and stepped past her to set his keys down on the small table against the wall.

“Oh?” he repeated.

“Regina Mills,” Isabelle said, and Joseph stopped and stood with his back to her.  “She… she made out as if I’m trying to replace your wife.  That… that you don’t care for me, like you did her.  Is that… is that how you feel, Joseph? ”  He didn’t reply, instead he took four steps along the hallway and turned into his office, and Isabelle stood there feeling as if Regina’s cruelty hadn’t been so far from the truth after all.

She took in a breath in a bid to compose herself first before she followed after him.  She stepped into his office and noticed he had removed his satchel and jacket, and had haplessly discarded them onto the armchair near the window.  He stood by the far wall now, his back still to her.

“Joseph, I want to talk about this.  Please,” Isabelle pleaded, but Joseph remained facing the wall.

Tired, and sad, Isabelle turned to leave when he finally spoke.

“Okay.”

She looked over her shoulder at him.

“I told you when this… this thing between us… when it started,” he said, his words coming in stops and starts.  “I can never be the… the kind of man you deserve.”

Isabelle’s gaze fell to the floor then.  Fragmented memories of a night long past flickered through her mind.

Icy air brushed against her bare back where Joseph drew lazy circles with his fingertips, and Isabelle smiled happily before pressing a kiss against his chest.  “I could get used to this,” she murmured.

His hand stilled then, and, after a beat, Isabelle lifted her head to gaze up at him.  His eyes were focused on the far side of the room and a frown had furrowed his brow.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“This… can’t happen again.”

She frowned too, albeit playfully.  “And why not?”

Joseph swallowed, and finally met her gaze.  “I… I can’t be the kind of man you deserve.  I’m not… I’m not looking for love, Isabelle.”

“I know.”  She lightly bit her lower lip.  “Neither am I.”

Joseph’s breath visibly caught then.  “You’re not?”

Isabelle shook her head.  “I’ve had my heart broken too much.”

“Then… we’re agreed?”

“No love.  Just…”

“…comfort,” he finished, and she rested her head on his chest again.  A long, quiet few moments passed before his lazy circles against her back resumed, and when they did Isabelle let her eyes drift shut with an exhale of contentment.

The memory drifting from her mind, Isabelle glanced up at Joseph.  Their eyes met for a brief moment before he looked away.  “So… so what are you saying, Joseph?”  She could feel the swell of emotions returning again, causing her chest to rise and fall fast.  “Are you… are you breaking up with me?”

His stared remained elsewhere for the longest several seconds, when he finally said, “It’s for the best.”

Isabelle’s mouth dropped open.  “For who?” she asked, Joseph didn’t answer.  He turned away from her again, and she stood there, shaking her head in shock and disbelief.

iii

Joseph wasn’t sure how much time had passed since everything had gone so badly tonight.  He remained in his office, not knowing where Isabelle had gone, and felt nothing but hatred for himself for what he’d done.  It was for the best, he tried to tell himself.  Isabelle deserved to be with someone who could her everything she deserved; far more than a roof over her head and a relationship without utterances of love or the kind of affection he didn’t have within him to express.

Letting out a sigh, he lifted his gaze and stared out at the beach.  His breath caught then, and relief and anguish both rushed through him at the sight of Isabelle sitting in her usual spot, weaving blades of grass.  His relief came from the fact she was still here, in spite of the fact he’d told her it was over between them, but his anguish came from guilt at how spineless he was in his treatment of her.  Not just tonight, but the entire time they’d known each other.

She was going to be better off without him.

Wasn’t she?

No.  No, she wasn’t – because he’d hurt her in ways he’d swore to himself he never wanted to.  He’d hurt her worse than he’d ever hurt anyone.   He tried at first to reason with himself that this was all Regina’s doing, and not his own, but that was just his cowardly way of placing the blame on others – and it was something he’d begun to realize over these past months he was especially good at.

Pulling his jacket closed, Joseph made his way down to the shore where Isabelle sat, her head bowed as she wove long blades of grass in her lap.  They had only known each other a few months, but these past two months since they had begun their relationship, he’d learned Isabelle tended to busy her hands with whatever was nearest to her whenever something was troubling her.

At his approach, Isabelle lifted her head to look at him, and he felt his stomach knot when he saw the redness of her eyes and cheeks.

“Isabelle, what is it?” he asked, sitting beside her on the dry but cold stones.

She resumed her weaving, then stopped and lifted her gaze to his.  She opened her mouth a few times, trying to get her words out, and it was only after he reached over and placed his hand on her wrist that she finally managed, “I’m… pregnant.”

The words hit Joseph like a jolt to the chest.

They stared at one another for a long minute, neither saying a word, when finally Isabelle pleaded, “Please, say something.”

“What am I supposed to say?”

“I… I don’t know.  Anything!”

Joseph looked away, his mind racing with a hundred different things all at once.  The news brought back the memory of his late wife telling him she was pregnant, and how happy they’d both been after so many years of trying to get pregnant and never being successful.

This, though?

“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“What?”

He glanced back at Isabelle.  “You were supposed to be on the pill.”

“I am!”

But they weren’t.  Not at first.  And now, now she was pregnant.

Isabelle had moved by the time Joseph realized he’d been lost in thought.  The all familiar sound of the front door being opened brought him out of his reverie, and he found himself holding his breath as he listened for her footsteps.    She was headed down the short hallway, and it was when she reached their bedroom that her soft sobs began to emanate.

You bastard.

iv

Though she tried not to, soft sobs escaped from Isabelle as she removed her meagre belongings from the drawers she and Joseph over shared to her bag, where it sat open on the bed.  She’d sat outside, Braxton hicks coming and going as she formulated a plan of where to go from here.  Granny had reminded her on her more emotional days that there was always a room with her and Ruby if she needed it.  Ruby had already taken on the role of her support person, and had vowed she’d be there when the baby came – whether Joseph liked it or not.  Even Mary Margaret had claimed her as a younger sister and helped her when it came to shopping for the various items she’d need once the baby arrived.

She had so much support, and she knew it should have comforted her that the back-up plan Ruby and Mary Margaret had insisted she have “just in case” would be there at a moment’s notice.  But it wasn’t what she wanted.

She wanted the life she had with Joseph.  He cared about her in the only way he could, and that was all she needed.  She’d never asked for more, and she’d never expected anything different to all he’d given her.

“A roof over your head isn’t enough,” Granny had told Isabelle shortly after her announcement to Ruby that Joseph had asked her to come live with him.

“At least he’s supporting her,” Ruby defended, and Isabelle gave her a small, thankful smile.  “That’s more than I can say for Ashley-” she continued, but Granny cut her off.

“Has he told you he loves you yet?” Granny asked.

Isabelle swallowed, then gave a slight shrug.  “We don’t… that’s not…”

The older woman leaned closer.  “You’re a bright girl, Isabelle.  Don’t waste your life living with a man that doesn’t love you.  You deserve better than that.  Your baby does too.”

“Isn’t it my choice how I live my life?”

“Not when it’s the wrong choice, dear.”

She said nothing as Granny moved away.  It might have been the wrong choice to some people, but wasn’t it her life to decide how, where and with whom she’d spend it?

A sharp pain shot through Isabelle’s stomach and pelvis then, drawing her back to the present.  It passed within seconds, then came again, stronger than before.  She staggered towards the duchess, crying out as she dropped the armful of clothing she held to the floor.

She didn’t hear Joseph’s footsteps thundering down the hallway.  She didn’t notice he was in the room until she was doubled over and could feel something warm and wet running down her thighs.  She touched the wetness with her hands and when she saw the blood she felt as if her heart was about to burst.

Joseph’s hand was at her back then, and Isabelle pulled away from him, sobbing loudly.

“Isabelle, please, what is it?”

She raised her hands to show him, and he was taken aback by the sight.

“The baby… the baby…” she cried.

“…oh, God…”

v

On arrival at Storybrooke General Hospital, the nurse pulled Joseph aside as Isabelle was wheeled into one of the rooms in the maternity suit.  He pulled free of the nurse’s grip, “Please, I have to be in there!”

“You can’t, sir.”

“You don’t understand!  I have to be in there in case something happens!”

“Nothing is going to happen,” the nurse, a young woman about Belle’s age with short, light brown hair said.  “The doctor and nurses are just going to help her get changed, then you can go in.  Everything’s going to be okay, I promise.”

Joseph stared at the closed door, and when the nurse moved away he murmured, “You don’t know that.”

It felt almost like an eternity before the door to the room finally opened and another nurse emerged.  “Mr Gold?”  the woman asked, and he nodded.  “You can go in now.  The doctor’s ready.”

Every worst case scenario Joseph could think of suddenly went through his mind as he stepped into inside and toward the curtained area of the room.  The smell of the room brought back every painful memory of the last time he’d stepped foot in the hospital not so many years ago.  He could hear Isabelle’s soft cries and another nurse’s hushed, reassuring voice, and when he stepped around the curtain he saw Isabelle lying in the bed, dressed in a hospital gown and her hair splayed about her head.

“Joseph,” Isabelle cried, and the nurse moved away from her left side so he could take her place.  He sat beside her on the chair that was there, but didn’t utter a word.  He couldn’t.  He felt numb.

“Well, Miss French,” a male voice sounded, and Joseph looked up and saw Doctor Whale standing there.   Doctor Whale glanced at Joseph for a moment, recognition briefly registering in his eyes before he turned his attention back to Belle.  “It seems your baby has decided to come early.”

She gasped.  “Wh-what?”

He smiled, warmly.  “I’ll set you up on a couple of machines so we can monitor the baby’s heartbeat and then we’ll go from there.”

“But, what about the blood…?” she asked, and Joseph looked at her, then Doctor Whale.

The doctor’s smile widened, “It’s perfectly normal.  You’re going to be fine, Miss French.  You and the baby.  I’ll see you in a bit,” he promised, before excusing himself and motioning for the nurse to follow him.

A swirl of panic and grief going through his mind, Joseph removed his glasses as tears welled in his eyes.  “I lost them both,” he said after a long silence, and he took a few short breaths before glancing at Isabelle.  “Here.  In this room.”

He could see his words had panicked her, and when she stared at him his guilt at all he’d done to her burrowed deeper into his heart.

“After you told me you were pregnant… I knew… I knew I’d sealed your fate,” he cried.

“I’m not going to die,” she said, and he could hear the sadness in her voice.  “I’m not, Joseph.  Our baby won’t either.”

His lip quivering, he nodded.  “I know.  I know, and I… I love you, Isabelle.”

A happy, tear-filled laugh escaped Isabelle’s lips at his words, and when Joseph turned towards her he took hold of her hand in his and pressed a lingering kiss to it, murmuring, “I love you, so much.

“I love you too,” she cried through happy tears.

Joseph moved then, so he was sitting alongside Isabelle on the bed.  “Marry me,” he whispered, and he could see her breath hitch at his words.  “I know I’ve been a coward, but I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life making these past several months up to you.  So… will you?  Will you marry me?”

A mix between a sob and a laugh escaped, and Isabelle nodded.  “Yes.  I will.  I’ll marry you, Joseph.”

Joseph cupped her cheek then, his eyes searching hers, when he leaned down and captured her mouth with his.  The kiss was tender and sweet, just like their first had been, and he knew now what he had denied himself that fateful day: he loved her, more than he’d ever loved anyone before in his life.

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