Summary: What if Emma broke the curse before finding Belle? A fic in three drabbles.
Author's Notes: Post-Skin Deep.
Disclaimer: I don't own Once Upon a Time, nor its take on fairytales.
The Trees Were Right
He'd rebuilt his castle. He wasn't sure why he'd come back to it, especially after having abandoned it so long - maybe because everywhere else was just as un-homely here. Maybe not. But he'd rebuilt it anyway. The wide, winding steps to the dock, the tall doors, the windows full of shattered glass. He couldn't bear to do the tidying by hand so he did it by magic, no longer caring that it left him weak and defencelessly exhausted long before the close of every day.
Regina was gone; his debts and favours were repaid. There would be new ones soon. But not yet. For now he was left alone, in his mended castle filled with gold and magic and the luxury of grief. So he sat at his spinning wheel and tried to remember how to forget.
(But that is not how it began.)
Once upon a time, there was an enchanted forest that became a small town in Maine. And for a long, long time, nothing changed there. Then came a boy, who (eventually) brought a woman, and the trees shifted excitedly as they passed. The trees are always the first to know when things are about to start, thought their communication skills leave something to be desired.
The trees, of course, were right.
Rebuilding even one kingdom after such a curse would have been a gigantic task. Tackling all of them kept the newly restored monarchs and heroes busy enough that nobody was quite sure when Rumplestiltskin disappeared. He had given them the key to breaking the curse, but he'd also given it to the Evil Queen in the first place, and what with the whole power-binding, imprisoning-in-a-dwarf-mine thing, most people weren't altogether comfortable around him. So it was several days before Snow White put the rumours together enough to advise everyone to leave him to his own devices.
"But why?" Prince Henry asked plaintively. "He's a hero now. Why shouldn't I go visit him?"
"Because," she said in a voice she'd learned teaching fourth-graders to sit still, "he probably just wants some time to himself, and we owe him at least that much."
"But he hasn't gotten his happy ending yet. Everyone's supposed to get to be happy now, otherwise what was the point of breaking the curse?"
"Oh, Henry. These things take time. Now go to sleep."
Her grandson did, and she watched him for a long while, feeling guiltily that she'd lied. She had no idea if Rumplestiltskin would ever get his happy ending, whatever that might be. He certainly wasn't be the only one having trouble adjusting, if that's what he'd gone off to do; watching Emma get on a horse for the first time had been funny. Remembering that it was horses or nothing, with no chance of a car until someone reinvented the internal combustion engine, had not been. They'd adapt - many were already forgetting Storybrooke had been real - but it was uncomfortable. She and James had made lists of the improvements they wanted to make just in case they started forgetting too, and she knew most of her peers were doing the same, but everything took time to do.
At least now they had time.
"Henry down for the night?" James asked as she entered their chambers.
"Mm-hm. I can hardly believe how well he's taking all this. I mean, I know we were always close, and he hadn't thought of Regina as much of a mother for years, but winding up in the care of an extended family who didn't even know the relationship existed three months ago..."
"Weird doesn't even begin to cover it. But in a good way!" he added hastily. She grinned and kissed him. Her wonderful, charming husband, who dealt with the change by deciding to teach his grandson football and fencing. There was talk of a league - apparently, men did not give up football.
"Speaking of family..."
"We got a note from Emma," he confirmed.
"Still vanquishing her doubts by rounding up the last of the Queen's soldiers?"
"Mostly. She says she's found another of your stepmother's prisons, and will be bringing home anyone she can find inside."
"Anyone she can find?"
"Apparently it's well-locked." He shrugged, less worried than she tended to be. He'd learned early on to trust that the women of their family could take care of themselves. "We'll have to wait and see. I'm not even guessing who could be left in there, after everything else of hers we've unravelled."
"I'll never understand why she did so many terrible things when she was in power."
"And that," James told her fondly, "is because you could never be evil."
"Never," he declared.
There was only one way to respond to a straight line like that, so she ducked her head and looked up at him with flashing eyes.
"Are you sure about that, darling?"
"I didn't say you couldn't be... a little bit bad," he qualified eagerly, and she had to laugh. Some adjustments - like sharing a royally oversized bed - came easily.
"You're sure this is what you want to do?"
Emma had broken into a tower and found something that looked more like an elaborate cage than a dungeon. There'd been a prisoner there, sleeping the sleep of those who didn't stop trying to escape until magically sedated. They'd gotten lucky, though - pull back the door and the prisoner awoke. Take her out, get some food into her, let her stand in the sun, and the prisoner became a young woman.
Of all the things to want to do, this is what she gets stubborn about.
"I'm going to at least try."
The former sheriff rolled here eyes. Why, exactly, she was escorting this one to Mr Gold's house - Rumplestiltskin's house, she reminded herself silently - she didn't know. But hey, sleeping through the biggest curse in fairytale history had to be rough on the girl, and personally she was due a nice, easy mission.
Tracking down scum had been more fun when they didn't actually try to curse her for bringing them in. Yet this was more satisfying. She was working on figuring that out.
She wasn't a huge fan of the giant staircase Gold had put at his gate, but at least the front door wasn't locked. Her escortee bundled herself into the anonymity of her cloak in what looked a lot like a bout of cold feet, but she led the way in, and Emma followed with a shrug. Whatever else happened, Gold was more than likely to figure he still owed her a favour, so she was pretty safe.
The girl beside Emma shivered as the man appeared.
Well. Man. Greyish-faced sorcerer. Do I really see a difference?
"Should I continue to call you Sheriff Swan, your highness?" he asked archly, and she felt herself bristle. Typical. Less than five minutes into the conversation and he was pissing her off.
"I'm no princess," she corrected. "And we're not here to discuss titles. This is one of Regina's former prisoners. She wants to make a deal with you."
He tittered, hardly even looking at the girl, though she stepped forwards when introduced.
"You'll have to go elsewhere, dearie. I'm not in a deal-making mood."
"Oh, come on," Emma started. And was interrupted.
"Not even for me?"
What the heck's going on now? She actually sounds pleased, and she's been too scared and shocky for that.
Gold stopped dead, staring as Belle pushed back her cloak to reveal dark hair and a wary - defiant - smile.
"What - what do you want?" he asked. He didn't ask her name, or why she'd been locked up, or anything obvious, and Emma started running possibilities fast, because any woman who scared Rumplestiltskin was someone she would've liked to have seen coming. In either world.
"It's simple enough: I want a kiss. What must I bargain with, to get what I want?"
Yeah, or it's something nobody was gonna see coming.
He held out his hand, and the girl ran to him.
"Belle," he whispered, his voice lower by several octaves and hoarse besides.
"It's me, I promise, it's me," she answered answered, throwing herself into him and holding him as if he were the first solid thing she'd touched since leaving her cell. He stood stiffly until her breath caught in a sob, and then his arms went around her in a flash. "I know she said I was dead, but I'm not, I'm here. I'm back. Oh, please..."
Yeah, that's definitely my cue to go. Emma turned away, more than a little shocked. Then again... She paused. She'd always been a snoop. Gee, would you look at that view? Great view. I'm just admiring this view.
"I've had more than enough time to think, and to forgive you for... well, before. You're not going to drive me away again."
Heh. If anyone can out-stubborn him, it'll be her.
"Are you sure?"
"More than enough time to think. I know what I want," she said, and Emma very definitely didn't watch the most dreaded sorcerer left in the enchanted forest cradling Belle's head as though the only precious thing in the world was in his hands. "Please kiss me, Rumplestiltskin."
"For a kiss, my dear, I'll take no coin but love."
"Then you will owe me a lifetime of kisses, and I will love you just as long."
"Done," he agreed, savagely fast, and Emma could hear a long story under the word. Quite possibly one totally inappropriate for children; she was really glad Henry's book hadn't been that detailed.
And that was a really good cue to leave.
She would just... check out that view up close. Until they came up for air. Maybe longer; might be smart to wait for one of them to find me.
Grinning, she started back down the steps, leaving the new couple to their bargain. Sometimes her job really was fun, even with the curses.
"A lifetime of love?" he asked, hardly daring to believe she was here. Here and warm and alive, wriggling in his arms as he kissed her neck. He hoped that was because of his kisses; he couldn't bear to hurt her, but he also couldn't bear to even loosen his hold.
"True - oh! - true love," she amended. "Your curse is breaking, you know."
"I know. Kiss me again, my dear," he breathed, and she obliged, sweet and soft. So yielding he didn't know how to keep from taking her mouth, plundering away every gasp and cry. Her hands were on his neck, his shoulder. He wanted them on his skin, still tingling with magic's passing. He wanted to touch her, to have her and know no one would take her from him again.
"I love you," he told her. He sounded wretched, but she giggled.
"I know. I still like hearing it, though."
He squashed the urge to repeat it a hundred times. Save that for a day they needed a game to play; for now he held her close, held her tightly.
"Can you really love an old villain, my beauty?"
"I already do. I love you, and I want to live with you, and love you, and kiss you over and over every day. Forever."
"Brave, wonderful girl," he praised, just to know if her kisses tasted different when she blushed. They didn't. "You will."
She leaned back. Only enough to stroke his hair out of his face, though, and give him a mischievous smile.
"I think we scared Lady Swan away."
"You'd think she'd never seen a curse broken before." Though now that they were on the topic... "Where were you? I checked every link of the story she told of your death; I've seen the graves your father gave you, both here and in Storybrooke."
"I'm not exactly sure," she admitted with a shrug. "She spelled me to sleep because otherwise I tried to escape. I dreamed of an asylum, or a hospital, or something between the two, but I don't know if that was real."
"Likely," he admitted, hating himself for an instant for not having rescued her. But he hadn't known, and hating even himself was impossible when she nestled her head against his shoulder.
It didn't matter. The curse was the past, and Belle here, with him, was the present. He'd dwell on memories another day.
"Lady Swan told me some of what happened when she rescued me. I think I'm glad I missed it," she confessed.
"You'd have liked Storybrooke well enough, but not at the cost of your memories."
"It would have been funny to see what everyone became. I'm told you were as terrifying there as here."
He flinched, covering it with a caress to her back.
"Do I terrify you, dearie?"
"Only when you want to," she murmured. How he was supposed to take that he didn't know, not with her perfume mingled in the air he breathed, her warmth closer to him than he'd ever allowed. He kissed her, since he had no words, and she smiled. "Did you miss me?"
"From the moment I threw you out," he admitted lightly. Her grip tightened; she'd always been one to ignore his tones and seek his meanings, and he wished briefly he had better ones for her.
"Well. You'll never have to miss me again," she declared firmly, and pulled him in to start on that lifetime more's kisses.