A/N: I am sooooo sorry. I'm a huge asshole. On re-read, I almost murdered myself with where I left it. I dunno what happened, but I just could not gather myself to write a damn word. Combination of work (lost ½ the people, tripled the work), the season being over, vacationing... I don't know, the moons aligning weird? Whatever it was, this chapter was almost totally written so I have no excuse. Please forgive me if you were waiting 3 months for this last bit. If you come back and leave me a review, I don't deserve you, honestly.
Chapter 20: Happy Endings (variably described)
"There you are, Rumpelstiltskin."
The tired goblin rolled his eyes at the blond woman in her dramatic black dress. "I don't feel like playing today, dearie. Made a lot of deals, traveled around the world. You know. Re-establishing my presence."
"I'm not in a playful mood, either." Maleficent sneered. "I am here on deadly serious business."
"I'm sure." He drawled.
"I am here about the dragon." She replied haughtily.
"The dragon?" Rumpelstiltskin blinked in honest surprise. "Has it been eating your livestock?" He hazarded a guess.
"What? No!" She pointed her staff at him, making him dance back in surprise. "I m here to liberate it!"
Emma felt when Rumpelstiltskin arrived back at the castle. Of course she did. Even through the spell-proofing on the dungeon she couldn't help but know where he was at all times. She wondered if that was a product of the curse or the 'true love' nonsense. Though she had to snort at the fact that either were potentially viable options. When had her life gotten so crazy?
But she also felt when the magic slammed into Rumpelstiltskin's- it was like a shudder through his entire being and by extension through her own.
"What the...?!" Emma ran out of the dungeon, ignoring the wards against her senses and running towards Rumpelstiltskin's signature. She quickly ended up at a dead end. "Marvelous." She growled, turning back and frantically trying to find the door in the maze of a castle.
"Emma! There you are! This way!" Belle grabbed her by the elbow and deftly steered her to the nearest exit. Both women gasped when they saw Rumpelstiltskin engaged in a sorcerous battle with a blond woman. "Oh, my." Belle whispered.
"Who is that?"
"Maleficent." Belle gulped.
They both watched in horror as Red came charging on all fours from the bushes, wicked teeth open wide to snap at the sorceress. The wolf was easily intercepted by the sorceress's scepter and was thrown bodily into the marble fountain at the center of the courtyard where she went still.
"Red!" Belle shouted, only not running directly to her love because Emma had her firmly by the scruff of the neck. "Let me go, Emma!"
"Oho, Rumpelstiltskin, you old, dirty dog. Is this your new harem, then? I recall what happened the last time you tried to make a deal for sex... or is this just another set of 'companions'? I seem to recognize that one."
"Silence." Rumpelstiltskin hissed. "Weren't we dueling?"
"But, my dear, it seems I suddenly have a lot more collateral. Did you think you will be able to perform with more than one at a time? Perhaps they will keep each other from crying?"
"I said, be silent!" Rumpelstiltskin roared, leaping at her, a spell glowing orange-red in his hand and clashing into flames against the barrier that Maleficent had constructed.
"I think I have hit a sore spot, have I?" Maleficent grinned. "You didn't tell them about that poor girl, did you? How you traded for her maiden-head, but couldn't 'seal the deal' and ended up just giving her what she wanted? I suppose if I were to cry, would you give me what I want as well?" Maleficent said in a sickly-sweet tone of voice.
Rumpelstiltskin seemed unable to fully form words and was just growling.
"What is she talking about?" Belle wondered out loud.
"She's trying... succeeding in making him mad. Damn if I'm going to let her use me to get to him." Emma snapped back, pulling her sword from the sheath and wishing briefly that she had had time to do more than snatch it from its place leaning against the wall. Armor would likely be helpful. The reflexive snatching of the weapon itself, though, was very helpful.
"Oh, look. One of your little trollops is coming to champion your honor." Maleficent looked positively delighted. "Do you even know what we are fighting about, my dear?"
"Doesn't matter." Emma brandished her sword and settled into a fighting stance beside Rumpelstiltskin, who shot her a confused look. "Why don't you leave, lady. This doesn't have to get any more ugly than it already is."
"Now, now, my dear. Maybe you should leave the fighting to the adults." Maleficent waved dismissively at Emma. Though she assumed the spell was supposed to be invisible, Emma could clearly see the threads of power sent out by the gesture and sliced through them decisively with her sword. Maleficent blinked at her in surprise, beginning to look a bit worried.
"You're going to have to do better than that." Emma smirked. She had always loved saying that, though in the other world she had usually refrained because of how cheesy it was. Here, though? What the hell. She was almost tempted to ask if the older blond was 'feeling lucky'. And a fight would be an amazing way to let off a little... frustration.
"Why, Rumples... it seems you have trapped yourself a hero-type. Be careful, once the spell wears off she will likely slay you." Maleficent seemed to have gotten over the shock of Emma cutting her spell and now seemed amused. "If she weren't going to slay the dragon as well, I would be tempted to let her at you."
"The dragon?" Emma blinked. "Is that what this is about?"
Maleficent scowled at her. "Yes. So just scurry along. If the imp wants to enslave a bunch of women to attempt to prove he actually is a man and not an impotent romantic, I care not. But when he brings the noble creatures into it, I must have a say."
"Stop insulting him!" Emma growled. "And get over yourself, lady. The dragon stays."
"Emma..." Rumpelstiltskin tried to divert the princess' attention. Not happening, though, Emma was in full final-battle-mode at the moment.
"Ah, so you intend to bed the beast, then destroy his heart before you kill him. Very noble of you to sacrifice so. I hope you have a tincture to prevent his seed from quickening in your womb."
Emma was only able to understand half of that, but she was pretty sure she had just been called a slut. "That's it!" She yowled as she charged the woman. Her sword almost cut into Maleficent's neck, but the startled woman ducked just in time. Emma had seen the barrier as a shimmering like a heat haze. But she twisted the edge between the ripples in it and slid through the protection with little trouble. The sorceress had been relying too heavily on the barrier around her and almost lost her life to her complacency.
Maleficent backed up hastily and then began to smoke heavily, roiling out purple in billowing clouds, which snaked over the cobblestones. One brushed through Emma's leg and it felt... cold. But at the same time, it rather burned.
"Emma, get back!" Rumpelstiltskin cried. When Emma just looked up at the towering plume and the sparking flames within it, he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back.
"You know you don't need to go to these extremes if you want a hug?" Emma smirked at him.
"Emma, this is no time for jokes... she's just..."
"Turned into a dragon, right?"
Rumpelstiltskin blinked at her. "Well, yes."
"Perfect, just my luck!" Emma laughed a bit hysterically. Well, a giant snake would be worse. Somehow they were more... viscerally terrifying. The smoke glowed like a wound and Rumpelstilskin pushed her to the left as he dove right. Emma tucked into a roll and came up with sword bared on the impressive fireball that passed close enough that her skin felt tight and she swore she felt her eyebrows burn. Just a bit.
Roaring echoed off the walls of the courtyard and the dragon charged forward, head snaking between the two of them, tongue flicking out aggressively and the baleful eyes turned one to each of them.
Emma almost instinctively pulled in a connection so that she could follow what the woman was saying. She caught the other dragon as well, which surprised her a bit. She hadn't realized it was so clo-
A green-black figure slammed into the more purplish dragon, screaming "Stay away from the Consort!"
Emma fell on her ass at the displacement of air. Which was good, considering the limbs flinging about as the two dragon screamed and wrestled each other.
"What are you doing, fool! I am here to rescue you!" Maleficent screeched back.
"There's a reason why they say turning into a dragon never helps!" Emma cupped her hands around her mouth and bellowed at Maleficent.
"Who says that?" Maleficent asked in confusion.
"Dragon always better! Die crunchy-spell-not-dragon!" The smaller black dragon snapped out, teeth closing just shy of the delicate membranes of Maleficent's wing.
"You will pay for spelling the dragon into a slave!" Maleficent let loose another jet of flames at Rumpelstiltskin.
"We didn't! It wants to be here!" Emma protested. Her heart lept to her throat until she spotted the imp, singed but unharmed, on the other side of the courtyard.
"Hah!" Maleficent scoffed.
"Yes, leave territory-stealer!" The dragon pounced, this time knocking them both into a breezeway and crashing through several stone columns. The wards quivered and Emma gritted her teeth against the noise, devastation and the desire to heal the damage and the wards. There were much more critical things to be worrying about now.
A flicker of movement caught Emma's eye and she turned slightly to be able to see, but not enough that she could not see the writhing dragons. Ruby was up and being helped to a safer location by Belle. Both were being ignored by the combatants. Good.
"The dragon is saying that it wants to be here!" Emma snapped. "Can't you understand it? You are a dragon!"
Maleficent knocked the other dragon back, hissed at it, then threw a dubious eye at Emma. "Don't try to confuse me, hero."
"Emma can understand the beast." Rumpelstiltskin stated.
"Hah! You can't even understand me, imp!"
When Rumpelstiltskin said nothing, Emma had to believe that that was true. "I can understand you, and the other dragon."
"You don't even know its sex or name." Maleficent huffed, though she seemed less convinced. Or more distracted. She was fending off a flurry of attacks, claw and tooth, from the dragon.
"It doesn't have either." Emma swung her blade in frustration. "Now who is making assumptions?"
"I will free the dragon!" Maleficent screamed.
"Do you want me to kill you?" Emma snapped. "I will!"
"And then what, hero? Slay the dragon, get the damsel in distress? You'll have to stuff the imp into a gown, but I think you would be happier just slaying him as well."
Emma's lips twitched at the thought of Rumpelstiltskin in a dress. Maybe later. "I wish it were as easy as a change of clothes..." Emma muttered. If she could just get the imp to swoon into her arms, calling her hero, this would be a hell of a lot easier. This wasn't that kind of fairy tale, though. She turned to 'their' dragon. "Here, dragon, leave off on the false one before she decides to get serious. I can handle her."
"But, Dark-One-Consort... when she was crunchy, for crunchies to take care of. Now a dragon, must defend the nest!"
"I'll handle it, alright? She wants to free you."
The dragon backed off from Maleficent and twisted its head around almost upside-down. "Free this one?" It asked, sounding completely confused. "Means kill?"
"No, she doesn't want to kill you." Emma soothed.
The dragon dropped to its haunches, making the ground shake a bit. "Odd not-dragon."
"What did you do to it? I saw you cast no spells." Maleficent demanded.
"I talked to it." Emma said, slowly, as if to a child.
"Nonsense." Maleficent said uneasily.
"Emma- are we going to need to fight?" Rumpelstiltskin looked hopeful the answer was 'no'. In fact, he looked rather tired. Hell, more than tired- he looked exhausted.
Emma kept one eye on the dragon-sorceress, but took in his pale green skin, the darkness under his eyes. It had seemed odd that he was letting the other beat him so, but maybe he simply did not have the energy? "Well, I may have to, but you can go take a nap. It looks like you need it."
Rumpelstiltskin sighed, rather than scowling, which made Emma even more worried.
She turned back to the dragon-sorceress and rolled her neck before settling in a fighting stance. "I can talk to the dragon. It has something to do with being raised without magic, how I connect to people, and the fact that I can only sometimes understand when people are talking in other languages." Emma flourished her blade. "So, are we going to do this or what? I'm apparently some sort of hero, so I think the rules of this land mean it's a bit stacked against you."
Maleficent snorted in annoyance and seemed to deflate and shrink smaller- no, she actually was growing smaller. The dragon shrank and became a human once again. "You are no kind of hero that I have ever encountered. What hero talks evil out of attacking them instead of jumping at the chance to slay it?"
"Yeah, well. Blame the foster care system." Emma shrugged. "You learn that there are all kinds of evil and good... in that world anyway." She sighed. "I don't want to believe it is so black-and-white here, despite the evidence."
Maleficent crossed her arms over her chest. "Hmph."
"I take it that you are accepting the cease-fire?" Emma smirked. In this case, literally.
"Very well, hero. You are correct that the magic seems to be with you." Maleficent grumbled.
"Would you like some supper?" Belle stepped out from the recesses of the house, smoothing her skirts nervously. "We should have enough for an extra person."
Maleficent just stared at her incredulously.
"I'm certainly starved." Red added, stretching out a kink in her back.
"I think not. There is too much between the two of us for me to be part of his harem." Maleficent sniffed.
"Too bad. You are missing out." Red smirked.
"Nice try, youngling. But I know for a fact that imp has never more than kissed a woman without some liquid courage on board. Even the dryads, nymphs and sylphs complain about his lack of... libido."
"I told you to stop insulting him." Emma snapped.
"Hmm." Maleficent sized her up with her gaze. She stalked forward, her finger tracing Emma's jawline as she smirked. "For you, perhaps- he does seem a bit more... interested." Maleficent murmured into Emma's ear.
Emma glared at the comment. "What?" Was it really that obvious?
"Oh, please, dear. It's obvious he loves you." She shook her head. "I suppose you'll break his heart and he'll spend another few decades moping." She sighed and stepped back. "He's such a bore when that happens." She waved and started to fade out of sight. "Ta!"
And with that, she was gone.
Emma blinked at the after-image of the woman. She felt rather miserable. Everyone was throwing out the 'l' word, but he wouldn't... "I feel like I just got epic battle blue balls." She muttered, depressed.
"Uh... not sure what that means, but, well. It was probably for the best. Imagine having to clean all that blood out of the cobblestones." Belle giggled nervously, shooting a worried look at Ruby.
Emma sighed and moved into the bowels of the manor. She followed her sense of him to the dining room, where she found him already eating. He tensed when she approached. Heart heavy, she sat as far away from him as she could bear... which ended up being pretty close.
"So. People just randomly attack you?" Emma asked.
Rumpelstiltskin shrugged, not looking at her. "Sometimes."
Emma resisted her desire to place her hand on his arm, feeling miserable.
"You seem to be holding up well." He added, finally looking at her. She gasped slightly when his gold eyes met hers.
"Yes, well." Emma said softly. It was easy enough to ignore the singing of the wards when the originator was right in front of her. Especially when there were dragon(s) and the possibility of battle. She was almost ready to get up, her appetite leaving her, when Rumpelstiltskin's hand settled on her arm. She froze in surprise.
"You don't look very well, Emma."
"You're not looking particularly fresh, yourself." Emma said slowly, hardly daring to move.
Rumpelstiltskin sighed and looked away, then back to her. "Belle brought up some points the other day..."
"And you listened?" Emma said dubiously.
"She rather... hammered them home." Rumpelstiltskin smiled wryly. "Are you... unhappy?"
Emma stared at him.
"I mean..." He sighed.
"Of course I'm unhappy." Emma said finally.
"Of course?" Rumpelstiltskin blinked.
"Torn from my home, given all these weird powers, and you..." She stopped, her lips sealing tight. She wasn't going to be rejected a third time, the promising sign that his hand was still on her arm notwithstanding.
"And I'm shoving you away." He said slowly.
Emma huffed a sad laugh.
"Oh here's the foo..." Belle trailed off when the two of them jumped. "Oh, sorry. Not hungry?" She smirked. "Well, then, Red and I will eat in our rooms, won't we dear?"
"Eat, yes." Red replied, eyes dancing.
Red's eyes flicked from Rumpelstiltskin's hand on Emma's arm and then to her lover, looking smug.
Despite coming down from adrenaline and being an emotional wreck, Emma's finely tuned senses caught the look, as well as the vaguely guilty stance of the two women and rapidly snapped two and two together. "You two told that witch about the dragon!" Emma snapped.
"Um." Belle gulped.
"Well, someone needed to do something! You two are ridiculous! The sexual tension is so high that Belle and I have been..." Belle slapped her hand over her lover's mouth.
"Ah, well. It seemed like something sufficiently drastic to bring you out of the dungeon, Emma. You've been down there for a week and your mother has started to send irate jays asking for updates." She rubbed her head and winced.
"You almost got us all killed!" Emma snarled. "What if I hadn't felt it? What if I hadn't come out? What if the dragon hadn't defended us?"
Belle looked down. "It did seem like a better idea before Red..." She stopped, shaking.
Red gathered the smaller woman to her and stroked her back. "If someone hadn't decided on suicide by means of sorceress." She glared pointedly at Rumpelstiltskin.
Emma glanced at the imp, but he didn't deny it.
Belle pulled her head out of Red's bosom to defend her one-time captor. "We knew that he's been really drained. Fighting the True Love magic as well as not being able to regrow all of the power he had stored from before- you know that it all disappeared with the curse." She scolded.
"What?" Emma snapped.
"Not another word." Rumpelstiltskin growled.
"No!" Belle stood away from Red, her face fierce. "You didn't say it but I know it's true. Before you could go months without making a deal, or only piddling ones. I saw the stash of magic, and I'm sure there were more than one. But now, where are they? Smashed! We can both see how tired you are."
"Is this true?" Emma asked, when he didn't deny it.
Rumpelstiltskin sighed. "I did have a large reserve gathered which served to stave off the... more negative aspects of the curse, as well as fund larger deals before they proved fruitful or if they failed."
Emma fingered the dagger from its safe place at her hip. She was never really without it, though learning how to sleep without stabbing herself had been... interesting. "Regardless, you brought the only other large evil here." Emma said flatly.
"Emma..." Belle looked at her worriedly.
"It was a mistake." Red acknowledged. "Even if is partially worked."
Belle continued quickly as she saw the building argument in Emma's face. "Won't happen again!" She squeaked.
"Yeah, because the next Big Bad will be Emma..." Red muttered under her breath.
"Food's under the warming charm, we'll just shut ourselves in our room then. As punishment."Belle said, dragging her lover away, who was sporting a rather lecherous grin.
"Somehow I don't think that will be too much of a punishment for them." Emma said dryly. As they left the room, however, the oppressive silence was back. The two of them needed to talk... but...
"Emma... I'm... not a good person." Rumpelstiltskin said finally.
Emma laughed bitterly at that. "I am fully aware of who you are, Rumpelstiltskin." She shook her head. "In all of your forms. Hell, I even know what the curse feels like." She squeezed her eyes shut, not turning to look at him. "And according to those books, I am about to turn evil from unrequited "True Love"." She mimed the quotes in the air with her fingers.
"Don't say it won't happen." Emma turned now, facing Rumpelstiltskin who was still seated and looking both uncomfortable and very, very tired. "I've been there before. I'm not a particularly good person, either."
"Taking out a broken heart on capturing evil people is still being a hero, Emma." Rumpelstiltskin said softly. "You didn't kill anyone."
Emma raised an eyebrow.
"There were some maimings." He allowed. "But guns are so hard to aim sometimes." He smirked.
Emma moved over and sat back down next to him. In for a penny, in for a pound, she supposed. She took his hands in hers and looked him in the eye. "I'm in love with you." He started violently. Emma plowed on stubbornly, not letting him run away. "And don't give me crap about it being the curse, or this True Love shit, or whatever. I had serious feelings for you in Storybrooke. I loved you when you were crazed in a dungeon; when you were stripped of your powers, helpless and weak; when you were holding a stolen baby." She willed him to believe her. "I don't care about this magic. I will hold off on it like I have been." Which was probably a lie. There was no real way to fight this crap- her own heart and an entire world. But she would figure out how. "Just tell me you don't love me in return."
Rumpelstiltskin swallowed heavily, looking dangerously pale. "It is difficult to tell what is it and what my own desires." He looked away, clenching his jaw. "I am confused." He admitted.
Emma rubbed soothing circles on the back of his hands and waited for him to continue.
"When I look at you, I know part of the thoughts are my own, but parts are assuredly the curse. I cannot separate them like I can other thoughts and emotions. And even those I cannot do well."
"Alright." Emma smiled, making Rumpelstiltskin nervous. "Easy enough to fix." Before he could open his mouth to protest Emma had flooded his aura, making him gasp and then suck in a scared breath as his magic abandoned him. Almost before that registered, however, Emma was there, her magic joining with him and lending him her senses. Rumpelstiltskin was dazed, blinking, when her mouth captured his. He felt the familiar swell of emotion, the need to have her, to keep her, to press himself inside her and make her his.
He almost fell over when she pulled back, only her hand grasping the back of his neck keeping him from keeling over.
"So." Emma said breathlessly. "Now how do you feel?"
"Pretty much the same." Rumpelstiltskin gasped back. Actually, better, if he were being honest. He still could sense like he used to- not trapped to the peasant non-ability. But he was not fighting against the curse-thoughts constantly, either. The full force of the positive, overwhelming... love... he was dizzy with it.
"And if you were to put a label on that feeling?" Emma asked, partly teasing, but partly needing to hear him say it. Ok, mostly because she needed to hear him say it. Her head was hammering against her sternum in lust but more trepidation. If he rejected her again, she really didn't know if she could handle it.
"I love you, Emma." Rumpelstiltskin said, his dark eyes looking at her, soft and gentle.
Emma's heart practically burst at the admission and she captured his lips again. It was unbelievably more intense than it had ever been. She had been able to sense him for so long- now, though, she could tell that he could sense her as well. There was a loop of magic, emotions, sensations and her brain promptly fried.
A pulse of energy shot out from them, not that either noticed, really. But upstairs Red and Belle cheered, perched on the tower the dragon bugled triumphantly. Woodland creatures cavorted in a way that thankfully no one would see, as it would ruin Rumpelstiltskin's reputation forever.
When they pulled apart, Emma was suddenly aware that her elbow was being stabbed by a fork, her ribs awkwardly diverted by the edge of the table. She smiled anyway, though, looking at... what the hell- looking at her True Love. She ran a thumb over his smooth cheek.
Rumpelstiltskin's eyes shadowed briefly, but Emma just snorted.
"Don't you dare even finish that thought." Emma grinned toothily and released the magic back into him, slowly, letting her aura trail through every thread of it. "That was not a comment on your complexion." She repeated the gesture against the pebbled skin that had reappeared with the power.
Rumpelstiltskin felt the groan that rumbled in his throat and stared at Emma. The more... aggressive emotions were added back, and that in addition to her magic was driving him absolutely wild. "I... really don't know what I am doing." He panted. He stood, feeling a bit wobbly, but steadied when Emma followed him and they wrapped around each other. He sighed happily and buried his nose in her hair. She smelled absolutely divine. Part of him wanted to just stay there, but another wanted to bend her over the table and have his wicked way with her. It was considerably easier to contemplate the later without worrying about changing back to his natural form (he already was) or thinking about how empty her mind was, how terrified she was, or other such states that previous females had been in while this close to him.
"We can take it one step at a time." Emma murmured to him. He could hear the smile in her voice. "Though I'm still horny as hell, this is enough for now."
"Now, Emma, don't go getting soft on me." Rumpelstiltskin muttered. "Your dominance is simply enthralling."
Emma pulled back to look at him, an amused curl to her lip. "You, sir, are incorrigible."
Rumpelstiltskin grinned. And for once, it was because he was Truly happy.