The gust of magic slammed into the three closest to the point of origin before dissipating into the air. Belle, Rumplestiltskin, and Bae hit the ground hard, all three slamming down against the asphalt of the half-destroyed street in front of the pawn shop. It took a moment for the world around her to stop spinning, but as soon as Belle was able to sit up she did and looked straight over to her husband who was still flat on his back and staring up at the sky with wide brown eyes. Fear crept in and his name left his lips as she shook him, pulling a strangled cry out as her fingers latched onto the torn sleeve of his jacket. "Rumple?"
"I'm fine," he managed, jaw clamped tight, and his right hand came up to his left shoulder as he sat up. Well, except for that, of course, but getting him to admit an injury was difficult on a good day and this one had been rather trying even in the morning hours of it.
He was covered in small cuts and scrapes, his expensive clothing torn, and his eyes were a little unfocused, but for the most part he looked like he was telling the truth. She glanced past him to see Bae was also sitting up, hand reached around to the back of his head where he'd hit the ground. Rumple looked over to his son, murmuring softly as if he'd been the one fighting the battle against the crazed lead cleric that had tried to destroy everything that they loved, and Belle frowned as she found herself looking at his back.
"I'm fine, Papa," Bae said for the third time and Belle shook her head as she reached out to him, her touch much gentler this time, and offered him a smile.
"I love you," she said simply and some of the tenseness in him seemed to ease.
"And I love you." Rumplestiltskin stood slowly, offering a hand to help her up just as the others were approaching them. She took it and looked back, seeing everyone on their feet again. Hook looked a little woozy from the blow he'd taken earlier, but he was upright for the time being and very cross looking.
"Well, Rumple?" Maleficent asked, eyeing the barely stirring Magnus. "Are you going to finish it or do one of us get the pleasure? His little brats did destroy my shop, but I suppose I'll understand if you want the final blow. He's been after your life, afterall."
Regina snorted. "This man dragged his son up from the Dark One's Vault and used his blood to torture him and my son through a nightmare spell and then brought it into reality. Yes, I think Rumple gets first option here."
Rumpelstiltskin blinked at his former student. "Done playing hero then?"
"I doubt you'll even get an argument from this one," she groused, motioning to where David stood with his daughter.
Belle turned back to look at her husband who was looking at Magnus. The cleric had managed to pull himself into a sitting position, but was now reaching around him as if trying to gain his bearings. His eyes, always sightless but always on them, now remained entirely unfocused and gazed at nothing. "So," he rasped, "are you going to kill me, Dark One?"
"What?" While the word had left most every person that stood waiting, Maleficent's was the loudest. "Why the hell not?"
A slow, calculating smile crossed Rumplestiltskin's face. "Because while he knows nothing about me, I know quite a bit about him now, and living without his magic is worse than death, isn't it Magnus?"
The cleric snarled from his place, making it to his knees before he pitched forward to the street. "Just kill me, Dark One. You've won."
"Yes, I have, and in winning, I choose the most fitting end to you. You're nothing now. Just an old blind man, and I may be a lot of things, but I don't pick on the weak." He turned to Emma. "Do what you want with him, Sheriff. My personal preference would be to toss him across the townline and see what happens to him, but that's just me."
"What about his cohorts?" Robin asked, eyes scanning the seemingly empty street.
"We'll keep an eye out for them, and any of these guys that survived are going to find themselves in the same boat as their leader, I think," David answered.
"Then it's over?" Belle breathed.
Her husband turned to her and offered a smile. "Yes, I believe it is."
"You guys did it!" a voice called from down the street and they turned, seeing Henry barreling down with Ruby not far behind. "You beat him! I knew you would!"
Bae caught him up, somehow managing to fully pick the thirteen year old up and swing him around. "Was there ever any doubt?"
"No," his son answered with a smile that was all his grandfather's. He let go of Bae and wrapped his arms around Rumple, the nearest family member to him. Emma and Regina were quick to join and Belle couldn't help but giggle a little at her husband's long-suffering expression as it quickly became a family group-hug with Henry leading the way.
The next few days were a flurry of what the Charmings decided needed to happen before the kicked Magnus across the townline, and of course Rumplestiltskin needed to be there for the whole damn thing. They didn't seem to understand that he didn't care what they did with him as long as he was appropriately dealt with and he never had to lay eyes on the lunatic cleric ever again, but that's not how they worked. Ever. There were meetings about meetings before what might have been a hearing and a final decision over what his fate would be. Only a handful of his followers had survived the encounter and it was decided that they too would join Magnus in his exile, though Rumplestiltskin heard that piece of information second hand from his son as they sat at Granny's one evening having a dinner just for the two of them.
"We really don't even know what will happen to them, I guess," Bae said before taking a long sip of his beer. "I mean, no one was able to get over the townlines before when Zelena was here because the monkeys got them, right?"
"As far as I am aware, though I was a bit preoccupied during much of that whole fiasco," his father answered with a small smile playing on his lips.
Bae looked a little sheepish. "Guess we both were. Do you know what it'll do?"
"Likely it will wipe their memories. From what I've been able to tell around here the people that came through on the second round of the curse were provided with enough information to function. Perhaps not new identities, but the curse granted them lodgings, clothes, and general information about modern society, from what I can tell. Zelena was certainly aware of all the perks of the era." He sighed and shrugged, his shoulder no longer twinging from the number Magnus had done to it.
"So what happens when there's no persona to replace their actual memories?"
"I'd expect a clean slate, much like what Regina did to Belle when she brought her to this world. Magnus and his little followers will wander around until someone finds them and takes them in. The police will investigate it, but they'll hit a dead end because there's nothing to find. To the outside world that isn't looking for Storybrooke specifically, we do not exist."
"Tamara found it just fine when she came."
"Yes, well, you told her what to look for, didn't you? It's a very subtle spell that shifts the town just out of sync with their realty. They can't quite perceive us unless they know what they're looking for. Her cohort was the same way. He knew where to look, therefore he found us."
"That's… really cool. If I ever said that magic wasn't cool, I was wrong."
Rumplestiltskin found himself chuckling, marveling at the fact that they were sitting at Granny's Diner without so much as an interruption. They'd had lunch and talked as if they hadn't just been fighting for their lives, and as if Rumplestiltskin hadn't died and then Bae died to bring him back. Their lives were truly bizarre, and if someone had asked a spinner in the Frontlands over three hundred years before if he thought any of this was possible, he would have said they were mad. Utterly mad.
Perhaps he was.
Bae took another long swig of his drink and when he set it down, his voice was unsure. "I need to talk to you about something, Papa, and I don't want you to take it wrong or freak out."
"That's never a good sign," his father managed, wishing that he'd ordered something to take his mind off whatever was about to be discussed as well.
"Don't be like that. It's not as bad as it sounds." He took another sip. "You and Belle have been… great to let me stay with you-"
"Bae, we're happy to have you there."
"I know, and it's great to be so close, but you guys are still newlyweds. I mean, seriously, how much time have you guys taken for that?" His smile stretched as Rumplestiltskin's lips tipped downward. "Emma and I have been talking and we think it'd be good for Henry if we got a place for the three of us."
Rumplestiltskin blinked. "That's it?" he managed.
"Yeah…. Were you expecting something worse? Wait. Don't answer that. Of course you were."
His papa snorted, shaking his head. He'd thought it could have been anything between dredging up something terrible from their past or leaving Storybrooke forever. "As long as you're not leaving town," he managed and that pulled a laugh from his son.
"No, Storybrooke's got a certain charm, you know? And it's close to family. That's a must."
His smile warmed his father's scarred heart. "Where are you looking?"
"Not sure yet. I do hear that there aren't a great many renting options here and that the guy who rents most of the apartments is a real hardass. Not sure he'll rent to us."
"I might have a few options," Rumplestiltskin answered with a small smile, doing well to ignore the tease. Henry had told him enough of where he and Emma had been looking that he had a couple of properties in mind already. "I'd be happy to help you find a place for your family, Bae."
"Thank you, Papa." He grinned widely and in that smile he saw his child all grown up. He saw a wish that he'd made so many, many years before fulfilled. It was one that he had made as as he struggled to find a way to reach his boy, and now, for the first time since Rumplestiltskin had taken on the Dark One's Curse, he felt at peace.
"How was lunch with Bae?" Belle's voice drifted in from the back office. He'd expected her to be at the library, but a surprise visit from his wife was never something that Rumplestiltskin would deny.
"It went well. I do fear that our home will become a bit quieter shortly though."
Belle poked her head through the curtains, blue eyes wide and questioning. "Bae's moving out?"
"And in with Emma."
Her expression lightened considerably and she smiled. "Really? That's good news!"
"Mm. I'll miss having him around, but I fear he won't get rid of me quite so easily. I have a couple of open apartments that would fit them nicely and he's going to take Emma to go look."
"True Love wins out," his wife said happily, crossing the showroom and wrapping her arms around his neck. She tipped up on her toes to press a kiss to his lips, and Rumplestiltskin felt a pulse rush through him.
When the finally broke and was certain he was grinning like a fool. "What was that for?"
Belle pulled in a deep breath and continued grinning, her hand coming to the side of his face and he leaned into her touch. "I'm just happy. It's the first moment we've really had to breathe since we came back to Storybrooke. You're here, Baelfire's here, and everyone's safe."
"Well you've jinxed us now," he teased and she gave him a light shove and rolled her eyes.
"Stop it. I'm serious. This is a happy moment, even if Bae is moving out, it's for a good reason. He and Emma are together, Henry has his whole family, and you proved to the entire town you're more than the monster they've seen you as for so long."
Rumplestiltskin tilted his head in question. "What do you mean by that?"
"With Magnus. You could have killed him, but you chose to let him go."
"Now, my dear, don't get ahead of yourself. You know me. I didn't let him go out of the goodness of my heart. He really will suffer."
Belle rolled her eyes again. "I know," she said, though it hardly sounded as if she did. "You never do anything without a reason, even if it's one that you won't even tell your wife. I'm good with secrets, you know."
Thin lips stretched into a smile. "Are you now?"
"Very good. Please, Rumple?"
He laughed at her then and leaned forward to kiss her forehead. "I do love you. Yes, I have ulterior reasons for letting Magnus go, though knowing that he'll suffer without his magic is an added bonus." He waited and Belle looked ready to burst. A calm washed over him and as entertaining as her reaction was he knew she deserved to know the truth. No more secrets, they'd promised, and he meant to stand by it. "No matter the reason, Magnus brought my son back to me. I can't forget that, and while I can't forgive what followed after, killing him would have left me with a debt that I could never repay."
Belle's smile slowly faded as the words seemed to soak into her. "You felt like you owed him something?"
"I ask for payment for my services, Belle, but in the same way I always pay what I owe."
"I know you do," his wife whispered and her clever mind seemed to be turning it over.
He sighed, his hands going to her shoulders and he tried for a smile he knew he didn't quite reach. "I know that's likely not what you wished to hear. I'm not a good man, but you knew that already."
The smile returned and she leaned up to kiss the tip of his nose. "You're a better man than you'll ever know," she told him firmly. "And I love you for it."
"I don't like surprises," Emma groused and Bae tried not to roll his eyes too badly. He didn't need to, their son did it for him. They'd come together with his papa to look at the open apartments that he had near the ocean. Henry had told him that she wanted something with a view and when they'd walked into this apartment they'd both known it was right.
"You'll like this one, Mom," Henry promised.
"I really don't like it when you two double team me."
"Patience," Bae chuckled. "Three steps here. Don't trip."
"If you'd let me look to see where I was going-"
Henry nearly jumped her. "No don't!"
"I'm not looking, kid!" she protested. "Just-" She tripped on the last step, nearly flattening herself against the steps had Bae not caught her. Instead he pulled her up.
"About five steps forward. Henry, get the door."
"Okay, Dad," Henry answered immediately and rushed forward. He slipped the key into the lock and pushed it open so that Bae could lead Emma inside.
She was being very cooperative for all her grumbling and he stopped her in the middle currently unfurnished living room and turned her so that she would face the three large, bay windows looking out over the ocean. "Okay," he whispered into her ear. "Now."
Emma blinked her eyes open and looked straight ahead. Bae didn't dare breathe as he and Henry waited for the verdict and the blonde kept her silence. Her eyes, predictably, went to the windows first, then to the wooden floors, the vaulted ceilings, and all the perks that came with the apartment that was really a three bedroom duplex set right off the beach. "I hate to tell you this, Neal, but a sheriff's salary isn't going to cover something like this."
"Grandpa Gold is the landlord," Henry said as if that explained it all. "He said-"
"Henry, your grandpa doesn't doesn't just give things away, and even if he did, we're not going to take advantage of him like that," Emma said firmly.
"That's exactly what I told him," Bae offered, "and then he shrugged and walked off. We've got the place, if we want it or not, so if you like it…" He stopped, watching her carefully. "Unless you're second guessing us moving in to the same place?"
"It's a really nice place," she mused, still looking. "Are you sure your dad's cool with us being here?"
"Who else is he going to rent to? It's been sitting vacant for thirty years," Henry pointed out.
"I guess it has."
Their son beamed. "Cool! I'll show you the room that I picked out!" He took her by the hand and dragged her down the hallway.
Bae followed at a slower pace, stopping at the master bedroom room that was off to the left. He looked at it and in that moment he thought he could see everything laid out just right. They'd talked about Tallahassee, about settling down and doing whatever came along with that after, but he realized that he'd never known quite what that brought with it. A family, a home, and roots. Those were all things that he'd run from for so long, but now Balefire knew he needed them more than ever, and in Storybrooke, he finally had it.
"Guess this is our room, huh?" Emma said from behind and she came to stand as much beside him as the doorframe would allow.
"If you want it to be."
"Well, I'm not taking that other room. It's tiny."
He snorted a laugh and turned to her. "You really want this?"
"I want to be with you and Henry, however that plays out. I need my family, Emma. I've been away too long."
She smiled at him and he'd forgotten just how much he missed that. She'd hurt so much in the years since he met her and she'd bottled it all away and hidden it behind so many walls. Maybe, finally, a few of those could start coming down again. It would take time, but all things worth fighting for did.
"I've been looking for my family my whole life, so I'm certainly not going anywhere."
"Me neither," Bae agreed.
"Well," she murmured softly, wrapping her arms around his middle and tipping up just enough to meet him halfway in a kiss. "I guess that makes Storybrooke our Tallahassee, doesn't it?"
He grinned, picking her up, kissing her even as he spun her around in their new room. She laughed and held on, the sound more free than it had been in some time. Neither of them had ever thought that they'd find the family that they'd lost, but here, miles and miles away from the city of Tallahassee, Bae and Emma had found home.
Well, I'm sorry to see this one end, but I'm already started on the next full-length story. I've mentioned it before I think. Halfway through this one, when Caiden and Blue are having the conversation that Bae overhears, they talk about the clerics' missed opportunity to come through on the first curse and that line managed to turn into a plot bunny that just wouldn't let loose of my ankle. Burn the Worlds (the next full length) takes place about the time that Neal and Emma are running around together and places Magnus and his clerics (with memories intact) into Storybrooke. Lots of SwanFire, lots of Rumbelle down the way, and some very confused Mr Gold at the beginning :)
Next week, though, if all goes to plan, I will be posting two shorts: Just Another Fairytale and Burning the Embers. Just Another Fairytale is not connected to the new full length, but it does take place right after Rumple takes on the Dark One's Curse and handles some points between he and Bae.
Burning the Embers is a prequel to Burn the Worlds. Hope to see you guys there! It's been a great run with Where Nightmares and Darkness Meet! Thank you for all of your lovely reviews and conversations over PM :)