Title: Beat as One
Fandom: Once Upon a Time
Disclaimer: Don't own!
Warnings: Weird ass dark!Rumpelstiltskin who does not nice things to Belle (no rape though (at least not really...)).
Summary: Jefferson informs dark!Rumpelstiltskin of a certain land's tradition: on the fortnight of the second month of the new year the lovesick give their hearts to the ones they desire. Rumpelstiltskin takes this literally.
A/N: So I swear, this was originally supposed to be a very fluffy, happy, Valentine's Day themed fic and then I thought, "You know, there's going to be a lot of fluffy, happy, Valentine's Day themed fics in the next few days… I think I'll write something dark!" And this was the result. Enjoy at your own risk, everyone :D
The Hatter hung at the mercy of Rumpelstiltskin's fingertips. His scarf pulled higher into the air until his throat turned the same purple as his coat. Lazily, Rumpelstiltskin made the body twist, enjoying how the madman's legs jittered just an inch above the tabletop. Despite his hands' frantic attempts to loosen the scarf's hold, the Hatter, shockingly, still held onto his hat; the battered felt top hat that didn't have a drop of transportive magic left in it.
Useless thing, but he still fingered it like a lover.
Rumpelstiltskin sneered as a spasm drew a bundle of threads from the hat's brim. He let the man drop and at the last second an arm was flung out to keep the hat from being crushed beneath his chest. Stupid. That hat was nothing now and the owner only valuable for his information.
Couldn't very well share that information if he was dying though, could he?
"Come now, slug." Rumpelstiltskin toed the Hatter's knuckles, giggling when they popped and cracked. "Well, not a slug just yet, but you will be—yes indeed!—if you don't tell me why they're gone."
The madman lifted his head and glared. Not a particularly good glare, but his daring was to be complimented. No doubt he'd scrounged it up while safe in the knowledge that Rumpelstiltskin needed him. It was revolting, and the sorcerer spat at the admission accordingly. Disgusting as it was though, broken Jefferson was the one, tenuous link between Rumpelstiltskin and access to a magic-less world.
A link to Bae.
"Why are they gone, dearie?" He threw out a wave of pure energy, delighting in how Jefferson screamed; how his spine warped beneath the onslaught. "Why are they gone? Why are they gone? Why? Why? Oh yes, tell me why!"
"A witch!" His voice was only a croak and the words were accompanied by a shower of bloody spittle. "There was a witch, imp. Or did you expect me to stop her on my own?"
"Oh! There was? A witch, did you say? Lemma see if I understaaaand this." Rumpelstiltskin hopped up onto the nearest table, swinging his feet like a child's. "You found rubies—pretty red rubies!—capable of transporting aaaaanyone to distant lands. How perfect. Perfect for meee! But did you get them?"
Jefferson winced. "You knew they were well guarded. The fairies—"
"Ah ah. Not looking for excuses, dearie." A finger wagged before Jefferson and with each twitch of the digit the room grew colder and colder, until the Hatter was breathing out mist as well as blood. "Did you get them…" Rumpelstiltskin leaned closer. "…or not?"
"Not! No rubies! How sad!—But wait! They were made into shoes! Oh! There's hope yet!" Rumpelstiltskin waved his arms manically. "Those nauseating rats with wings took my rubies and made them into shoes—of all things! Can you believe it, Hatter?" The Hatter groaned. "Tiny shoes, fit for tiny, innocent feet. And as if that weren't enough, they tainted the magic too. Perverted it so that the only place they could travel was home." Disgust laced Rumpelstiltskin's words and for him all words were power. Jefferson felt his skin crawl in response to the emotion. "What an absolute waste, wouldn't you say?"
Rumpelstiltskin dropped to the ground and crouched before the quaking man. "But you know what the worst of it is, dearie?" and here he took hold of Jefferson's chin, causing the skin to burn and the man to howl. "The worst thing is that I STILL COULD HAVE USED THEM." Magic lashed the air, pulling everything into a vacuum around the sorcerer. A vial spun, then splintered into a thousand glass shards, each of which cut through Jefferson's skin.
He cried out, but even blinded by the sting he could have sworn that his scream was too loud—startlingly clear against the gale Rumpelstiltskin had created. It echoed, sounding from below, as if it emerged from his feet as well as his throat.
Jefferson's hat skittered away, unnoticed.
"Don't you seeeee?" Rumpelstiltskin cried. "Magic that has been twisted can be twisted back! You think I'm not capable of undoing what fairies have wrought? I could have used them! But no. You let the slippers sliiiiip away. Into the hands of some witch!" He jumped back, bringing distance between them, lest he slip himself and actually kill the boy. "Tell me, Hatter. Which witch? Someone I know? Someone I can skiiiin?"
The faintest breath could be heard. It said 'east.'
"Bah! That crow. Long gone in Oz, no doubt. Perhaps I'll drop a house on her head." Rumpelstiltskin giggled and began pulling out books that detailed tortures far more horrific than a crushed body. He was calmer now, or at least calming. Jefferson watched and twitched on the floor, trying not to embed himself on more glass. Rumpelstiltskin continued to read as his charge squirmed. It looked as if he'd entirely forgotten the Hatter, but Jefferson was no fool.
"There's still the wardrobe," he ventured after some time. His voice emerged whispery but determined and Rumpelstiltskin's eyes snapped up. "I've heard talk of children who used a wardrobe to reach a land called Narnia. It's a place of eternal winter, formerly run by a lion—"
"I DON'T—" The imp cut himself off. Jumping back to his feet he gripped tufts of his hair in frustration. "Hatter! Eternal winters. Lion monarchies. Does this sound like a land without magic? Because that is what I want!" He marched up to Jefferson and hauled him to his feet, conjured a chair and threw him into it. Jefferson screamed once more, his body protesting the rough treatment. Again though, his scream sounded too loud and… higher in pitch? He blinked blearily as Rumpelstiltskin rolled his eyes.
"My sincerest apologies." He simpered. "And please excuse my new piece. She's rather noisy."
Jefferson heard it clearly then: crying that spiraled up from the stone floor. Muffled, but distinct in its anguish. For all the physical brutality he'd suffered during his months serving this sorcerer, for the first time Jefferson looked upon Rumpelstiltskin with true horror. There'd never been anyone else here before, and he'd always thanked the gods for that.
"Who…?" he managed.
"New maid," and Rumpelstiltskin laughed; fluttered his hands and laughed. "Her father called me! 'Help! Help! Oh we're dying! Can you save us?' Well of course I can. Or so I told him. One promise to protect their stupid little village from ogres and ta da! I've got a pretty town darling all for my own." A thinner wail rose up, chilling Jefferson in ways that the dropped temperature never could. "Of course, people really need to learn to be specific in their dealings. I did promise to protect her kin, but I made no promises about when." Rumpelstiltskin leaned over, batting his eyes innocently. "Is it my fault the ogres raped, tore, and ate them all before I got around to it?"
"Yes," Jefferson snapped. Rumpelstiltskin merely scoffed.
"Well their corpses are quite safe now. No wolves or carrion will be feasting on those bodies, I assure you." More cries. Sobbing. Choking. "… The girl was a bit upset when she found out."
"Oh yes," said Rumpelstiltskin and he danced a little jig.
"How…" despite his revulsion, Jefferson couldn't help but eye the stone floor. No doubt the poor thing was down in the dungeons… which were four stories below.
"I like hearing her," Rumpelstiltskin whispered and he snapped his fingers, causing the volume of the girl's cries to increase. Jefferson jerked, resisting the awful feeling that she was suddenly right beside him. There was only the imp though, humming along as if to the sweetest of music.
"I do wish she'd be brighter though," he mourned. "It's always the crying and the screaming and the tearing of her flesh." His hands fluttered anxiously. When nothing was said in response Rumpelstiltskin stomped his foot. "I gave the girlie a pillow. Plenty of food too! I didn't realize the upkeep of maidens was so demanding." Giving up on sympathy he slithered forward until he was crouched between Jefferson's knees, a claw on either side of his thighs. The Hatter squirmed. "But enough about her, dearie." A cry rose so high it sounded more mouse than human. "I want to hear about lands. Wonderful lands and how I can get to them. Think you can do that?"
So Jefferson told him. He pushed the girl's screams to the back of his mind and focused on speaking. Everything he'd gathered in the two, glorious months that Rumpelstiltskin had left him in peace. News of the wardrobe had been his biggest find, but there were still lots of little bits and pieces to divulge. There were rumors of creatures that passed through the fabric of realities naturally, man-made ships that simulated this process, and a specific form of transportation known as a portkey—though Jefferson was fairly sure those only worked within one world. And of course, there were the snippets of information that seemed useless to him, yet Rumpelstiltskin demanded them in full: anything and everything pertaining to other lands, regardless of its relation to travel. So Jefferson spoke of cuisine, styles, cultures, and beliefs. Gossip surrounding technologies capable of mimicking magic, creatures called Hobbits, and a strange being known only as Wednesday. Three weeks back he'd run into an old man—who was surely not just an old man—who appeared to know everything about other worlds' holidays. Jefferson could hardly see what interest this held for the sorcerer, but he parroted it all as well as he could.
Jefferson spoke for a long time and throughout it all Rumpelstiltskin sat at his feet, his arms padding his chin as he rested it on Jefferson's knee; the parody of a young boy listening to his father. When he'd finished Rumpelstiltskin nuzzled his thigh.
"You're really quite useless," he said. The words were taunting and remarkably amiable. "Anything else?"
"Just this." Jefferson moved slowly, conscious of his wounds, but eventually pulled a stone from his pocket. It was tiny and worn smooth from the ocean. The top had a slight indent. "It was given to me by the man I spoke with. He claims it's a symbol of love in another world. He doesn't know which though."
"Love?" The word came out sounding befuddled, as if Rumpelstiltskin had never heard of such a thing. Perhaps he hadn't. For all that though, he quickly snatched the stone away.
"It's a heart," Jefferson said and at the sorcerer's incredulous look he bent—painfully—to cover half of it with his thumb, showing how each half on its own resembled the shape of a human heart. "Two hearts coming together, imp. Love. Apparently on one particular day— the first fortnight of the second month of the new year—you give your heart to another human that you desire. I haven't a clue if there's any magic involved, but the tradition is taken quite seriously." And with that Jefferson sat back, sagging with the relief that his report was finally over. He had no more information. Whether his employer was content with what he'd already been given remained to be seen.
Rumpelstiltskin was engrossed in playing with the stone though, hardly paying him any mind. Jefferson had just begun to relax, just the tinniest bit, when the girl's cries started up again. The imp had yet to cancel his spell and her voice lashed jarringly throughout the room, making him jump. Rumpelstiltskin, however, merely lifted his head, purring as her anguish reverberated.
"They give their loved ones hearts?" he asked, his voice soft.
"Yes. Though unless there is magic there I doubt it's a literal—"
"Ah, ah." The finger again, wagging and causing Jefferson to instinctually draw back. "You miss the point, dearie. I don't care about them. I care about meeeeee. And there is most certainly magic here." Rumpelstiltskin's eyes flitted across the room, seeming to follow the echo of the girl's cries. He noticed Jefferson's shivers. The imp's eyes dilated and then drew into reptilian slits. "Not to worry now." He said. "She'll be much happier soon. The first fortnight of the second month draws near."
Jefferson took half a second to process the implication of this and then he was out of his chair, legs wobbling underneath him and drops of blood striking the floor. The girl's sobs seemed to be coming directly from beneath his feet and they gave him strength, just enough to stand toe to toe with Rumpelstiltskin.
"You can't," he breathed.
"Oh but I can, dearie. Now it's time for you to leave."
"Didn't you hear? Leave." Rumpelstiltskin's hand rose, curling into a partial fist, and Jefferson felt his own heart squeeze in response. The pain was quick but debilitating. He ended up once more at the sorcerer's feet, studying his dragonhide boots.
"I'll expect more information three months from now," the voice above him said. Followed by: "Don't forget your hat!" and a long series of giggles.
So the Hatter stumbled to his feet. He picked up the tool of his trade and left the highest tower. All through the castle walls the girl's crying followed him, draining his energy and reopening his wounds. There was plenty of guilt when he closed the front doors closed behind him and finally, finally drowned her out.
Sickeningly, Jefferson wondered what her name was.
He found her curled in the left hand corner of the cell, her body half buried under straw. It made her look like a child's puppet: pretty with porcelain skin and curls, still packed away safely in her crate. Opening the cell door was like unwrapping a new toy and Rumpelstiltskin felt like he was peeking at stolen goods. It was an intoxication that left him giddy, for he was a demon of deals and hadn't stolen anything in nigh three hundred years.
"Yes, yes," he giggled. "I really want to play with you."
His puppet was quiet for the first time in hours—sleeping or drained unconscious, he wasn't sure. Though it was perhaps the latter, for her head rested on the stone wall in a manner that left her neck at an uncomfortable, broken angle. She hardly seemed to move.
"Are you dead, dearie?"
Rumpelstiltskin danced inside, sliding until he came to rest by her knees. His puppet had been so determined after he'd told her of her kin. Such resilience. He'd been forced to take away everything sharp and make sure that bits of her dress couldn't hang from any part of the walls. He wondered now if he should have removed her tongue as well, though truly, he hadn't wanted to deprive himself of her screams. There didn't appear to be any blood…
The puppet moaned as he scratched at her ankle. She twitched and kicked.
"Not yet!" Rumpelstiltskin cried. He then lowered his voice when she twitched some more. "Oh goodie goodie. Don't die yet, dearie. I want you to love me first."
Taking the madman's stone from his pocket Rumpelstiltskin held it high, examining the dip at the top. He drew a claw down the stone's middle and snickered when the scraping made his puppet whimper.
"Two hearts," he murmured. "Two thump-thumps stupidly smushed together. You've got one, dearie. Now you just need another. So I'll tell you what," Rumpelstiltskin leaned forward until he was overtop her, nose buried in her hair. "I'll give you mine, yes? Aren't I generous! Deal?" Her cold, limp hand was taken by his; a kiss was nipped against her ear. She gave a small cry.
"Ah ha—deal! Glad we could come to an agreeeement."
Sitting back, bouncing with glee, Rumpelstiltskin slipped the stone into his left hand and held up his right. Never taking his eyes from his puppet he drew his right hand down into his chest and quickly latched onto his heart. He'd never tried doing this to himself before and at first there was an uncomfortable tugging sensation, a feeling of hollowness spreading through his skin. But then it passed, and Rumpelstiltskin was able to drag something free with an audible pop!
"Oh. Lookie look."
It was certainly different from all the other hearts he'd taken. Theirs' were large and pink and sometimes a bit mangled, but always throbbing. His looked small. It barely reached the knuckles of his hand and seemed to be caving in on itself. A little bit oozed through his fingers right then and there, dripping onto the puppet's dress. Rumpelstiltskin couldn't be sure in the darkness, but his heart appeared to be black. Or perhaps slightly green. All hearts taken magically pulsed with energy though, and his was no exception. It didn't light up exactly, but the area around his hands became a mysterious gray.
He quite liked it.
"You should be honored, dearie." Rumpelstiltskin said, moving to straddle her stomach. "This is indeed a once in a lifetime offer!" and he laughed.
Perhaps it was the volume of his giggles, bouncing off the cell walls. Maybe it was the odd, gray light around his heart, alerting the puppet in ways that the torchlight could not. Whatever it was, her eyes flew open just as Rumpelstiltskin positioned his heart above her chest. The response was immediate. Her mouth flew open to scream and her pelvic thrust upwards, desperate to get the thing off her.
"Ah, ah!" Rumpelstiltskin shoved her hips into the floor and ignored the puppet's open mouth. He liked those screams after all and she couldn't reach him with her teeth, though she tried. Instead of giving her the chance at breaking through his scales Rumpelstiltskin shoved his heart hard against her chest, causing the puppet to arch and twitch and scramble. To his astonishment though, the heart began to seep out as quickly as it had gone in. The little bits that broke off clung to her ribcage.
That had never happened before and Rumpelstiltskin growled down at the scene. It did make a fair bit of sense though, he mused. Whenever he bothered with putting hearts back it was always right where they belonged—little people pockets just waiting to be filled up again. This, however, was a tad bit different and as inspiration struck Rumpelstiltskin grinned down at his prize.
"We need to make more room!" he cried and pressed down even harder on her chest. The puppet spasmed and screamed as everything within her—bones, organs, tendons—was viciously moved about.
"There we go," he murmured. "Let's try this again, shall we?"
The blackened heart went in further this time but still seeped out a tad. Frustrated, Rumpelstiltskin peered below the skin. There was room now, but the heart already nestled within her was having none of it. Each time the putrefied mass was forced in beside it the pink heart pushed outward, rejecting the invader. Rumpelstiltskin was quite close to lashing out himself when he noticed that though his heart came back for the fifth time, it had sunk a bit deeper; with each repetition a little more was left behind. It was just being stubborn and though Rumpelstiltskin was not a patient creature, he was very much determined.
The puppet cried.
"Now, now, dearie. Don't you fret. You give your love just a little more time, yes?"
He pressed the heart down again—again and again—delighting when sludgy tendrils started weaving their way into her chest. The puppet screamed; a breathy squeak that still conveyed her pain even if her body was now too tired and broken to fight. She still writhed a bit, her limbs still scratching at the stone floor, but it was all beginning to subside.
The puppet's eyes fluttered once, twice. She opened them, catching his gaze through the film of tears. Weakly her lips formed her first sensible word:
It was a plea, but Rumpelstiltskin heard only the moan. To him it was a moan of ecstasy. Her tears, tears of joy.
"Looooook." He whispered, awed. "You do love me," and he pressed the heart in again, again, again.
The fortnight of the second month of the new year. It proved to be a long night indeed.
Three months to the day the Hatter sat at Rumpelstiltskin's dining room table. When word had risen of a new crop of magical beans being grown he'd immediately told the imp about them and that promising bit of information had, it seemed, warranted him this place of honor.
Jefferson drew a nail along the table's cracked wood, waiting for the imp to appear. He wondered if torture wasn't preferable.
"Here we are!"
Rumpelstiltskin skipped in and, to Jefferson's shock, a young maiden trailed in behind him. She wore a becoming blue dress and her hair curled temptingly about her neck. She carried a tray of tea. "Here we are," she echoed as she set the offerings on the table and Jefferson jerked, recognizing the melodic voice that had been screaming months before. She smiled dully at him.
"Hello," he whispered. Courtesy kicking in, Jefferson stood to take her hand. It was cold as a winter's night and he knew at once that he couldn't bring himself to kiss it. Rumpelstiltskin seemed to sense his thoughts though, and he grinned from where he'd sprawled himself at the head of the table. He twiddled his fingers at the pair.
"Kiss her," he instructed.
So Jefferson bent and wished fervently that he was being physically tortured instead. The maiden gave no response to his kiss; just smiled.
"She's so much happier now!" Rumpelstiltskin chirped, tugging her away and into his lap. The girl sat primly, but she trailed a hand along his boot in a mirroring of the claw he dug into her arm. "Aren't you, dearie?"
"Yes," she said. "I'm so much happier now."
Rumpelstiltskin snatched the front of her dress and tore it down, exposing the girl's breasts. After everything he'd seen, the act of a common drunkard shouldn't have affected Jefferson, but he still found himself looking away. That is, until the familiar growl started deep in the imp's throat. Swallowing bile, Jefferson raised his head to find a sickening aurar emitting from the girl's chest. It was nearly entirely black, stemming from two spots between the top of her breasts and spreading in tendrils across her body; up onto her shoulders and down through her navel. At first Jefferson thought that the black was all encompassing, but after a moment a twinge of red shot through her skin. It was faint, dying, and quickly consumed, but it was there, and that made all that he saw a thousand times worse.
Jefferson had never looked at a naked woman before without experiencing lust, but this girl made him pull back until the blades of his shoulders pressed into the chair. She continued to smile at him. Was there anything left? He searched her face; desperate for the quirk of a frown or the mist of unshed tears; anything to pair with that beat of red he'd seen.
Jefferson found nothing and had to look away again.
"I see," he said. Rumpelstiltskin giggled.
"She loves me!" he crowed.
"I love him," she said.
"And I really must thank you." The imp began doing up the torn buttons of her blouse, re-stitching them with a bit of magic. Jefferson looked back in time to spot the rock around her neck, nearly invisible against the blackness of her skin. A chain of steel was threaded through an indent in the top.
"Thank me?" Jefferson croaked.
Rumpelstiltskin dumped the girl back on her feet; bored now with his little toy. She rose and set about making tea, quickly pouring out cups of sticky liquid. The imp's mind was already elsewhere, pulling droplets into the air and forming them into the shape of beans. He chattered away about lands and little boys, throwing the occasional leer at them both.
When his own cup was placed before him, Jefferson forced himself to look back up at the girl. Her eyes skittered away.
"What's your name?" he whispered, desperate. 'I'm sorry,' is what he meant and, 'give me something.' But the girl just pulsed next to his chair. She emitted a steady, double thrum that pierced through the Hatter's hat and played havoc on his ears.
"I'm puppet," she said and smiled.