A/N 1: This is the final chapter, and I hope that it's a decent ending for all of you marvelous people who have been reading/commenting/all that jazz.
A/N 2: Thank you to everyone who's been reading this and following along! You guys are amazing and beautiful, and I want to hug every last one of you!
Necromancy by Degrees
Emma gets a 911 call as soon as she gets back to the station.
One of Mr Gold's neighbours: another domestic disturbance. She's wanted a word with him since the asylum, but that was hours ago and the man knows how to disappear.
She's there within fifteen minutes, to find windows broken to smithereens, and whole cabinets of trinkets smashed to ruins.
And there's Gold, leant in a doorway, breathing hard and clutching something in his hand. He looks like he's fought an entire war single-handed, like he broke every cup and saucer in the whole town in one night.
He looks at her dazedly as she pulls her gun on him, like he's just woken up from a bad dream, "Emma?"
"What happened here?" she asks, "Did Mr French come back?"
This doesn't look like a robbery: this looks like a bombsite. Gold's cane lies over by a glass cabinet, and she's suddenly certain that he is the cause of this whole mess. He's wrecked up his own home, and she's wondering if maybe Jefferson and his friend from the asylum aren't the only ones who'll be in Archie's office on Monday morning.
"No. I'm perfectly fine, Sheriff Swan. You may return to your duties."
"Oh, no. I got a report of a domestic disturbance from the neighbours: I need to know what happened here."
And for once, he seems at a loss for words. He stumbles, his feet slipping under him, and crumples to the floor, his bad leg stretching out in front of him.
And he was her ally, tonight. He told her truth and helped her rescue Jefferson from an Evil Queen. So she puts her gun in its holster, and goes across to him, and kneels so they're face-to-face.
Everyone needs a friend. Even battered, morally-ambiguous, highly selfish pawnbrokers.
"Did… did you do this?" She asks.
He looks up at her, face ravaged and bitter and oh, so tired. There are legions of dead and wounded soldiers behind those dark eyes of his, and a guilt that believes he killed them all. She wants to hug him, in that moment, but he's still Mr Gold, and tomorrow he might be beating florists half to death in cabins again.
"Is this about that girl? The one from the asylum?" The poor thing is currently curled on her sofa under Jefferson's watchful eyes. Four hours in that place, and he looks at her as if she's his little sister, and some asshole beat her up.
She has a feeling she knows exactly which asshole to blame.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Emma almost wants to smile, because she can tell lies a mile off, and he reeks of self-deception almost as much as she does, "Jefferson looks ready to kill whoever put her there."
"He can start with our exalted Mayor."
This, at least, has a ring of truth in it. Emma adds the girl on her sofa to her already growing list of Regina's victims.
"Why did you leave?"
"We were ready to go."
Emma has a feeling, deep in her gut, that there's something he won't tell her. But she sees Gold as more of a friend than an enemy, despite everything, and so she lets him be. There will be time for interrogations and reunions and confessions tomorrow: now, all she wants to do is take a bath and go to bed.
She rolls herself so she's sat beside him against the wall, and together they lie in dazed and broken in his smashed and ruined home.
Jefferson has Hatter locked up inside, safe and sound, but watching Rumplestiltskin flee weakened the bars somewhat.
He wants to chase after him, tie him down and gag him, force him to hear Belle retell their whole story, exactly as she did in the asylum. He wants to watch the suffering play out across his face, reach into the monster's dragon-scaled chest to tear his heart to shreds with his bare hands.
Belle is sleeping on Emma's couch. The place is becoming an open house for insane runaways, but Jefferson isn't letting the girl out of his sight.
Emma took him in – unwillingly – and he's only able to look in the mirror and see no one but himself because of that. Because of her, because she kept an eye on him and forced him to be sane, because she's still here, watching him with more warmth than he's felt in decades.
Now, it's his turn.
So he pulls the quilt over Belle's thin, shaking form, and goes to join Emma at the table.
They sit opposite each other; her arm is stretched across the wood. He takes her hand wordlessly, and they smile like they share a secret.
"Thank you." He says, after a few minutes of just watching her read her case files.
She looks up at him, "For what?"
"Not thinking I'm a danger to myself and others. If you don't watch it, I'll start to think that you trust me not to poison your food."
"Don't worry about it, I wasn't going to abandon a friend to Regina's 'special care'." She looks across at Belle, "Is she doing okay?"
"She's sleeping," he sighs, heavily, "But she doesn't stop shaking. She's chasing Jabberwockies in her mind, building dartboards for witches."
"Who is she?"
"She's… Rumplestiltskin's lover."
"Who?" she looks at him, blankly, and oh, this will be an uphill battle. But at least she's asking the question.
"Mr Gold. Your pet dragon."
"Gold is capable of love?" she stares for a moment, then something resembling comprehension, a new puzzle piece, flits across her face. Then it's gone, and she laughs and shakes her head, "Today just keeps getting weirder."
"A long time ago, maybe…. He didn't even look at her." His hand is shaking, and Emma squeezes it to calm him, "I could have torn the serpent's head off, Emma. I could have fed his heart to him bit by bit."
"Why? What did he do that was so horrible?"
He looks across at Belle, small and trembling under a borrowed blanket. "He was her family, and he abandoned her. He let the nightmares come and take her away, and now he doesn't even have the courage to look her in the eye."
He looks back at Emma, who's staring at him like she never has before. With warmth, and respect, and something else, something he can't put a name to.
Then, slowly and deliberately, she pushes her chair back from the table, and comes around to stand in front of him. She's dressed as she was the night they met, in a tank top and jeans, her hair long and loose down her back. She looks softer, more vulnerable without her leather jacket armour.
She takes a deep breath, as if steeling herself, and he just watches her, not daring to move a muscle.
Then she leans down, and softly – so softly he might have imagined it – she presses her mouth to his.
It's over as soon as it starts, and she's pulling away, and staring at him with wide and astonished eyes. As if she doesn't know at all why she did that. As if she didn't just kiss him breathless with a simple touch of her lips.
He stands, and everything's slow, everything's quiet and soft and tentative, feeling their way around this new place, these new emotions.
They don't know what they're doing, but he slides a hand into her soft blonde hair, and kisses her as deeply as he can, tries to taste as much of her, feel as close to her as possible before the spell breaks, and they're sent spinning away from each other again.
And she's kissing him back, with just as much attention, just as much care. Theirs is a quiet desperation, a subtle urgency, without the frenzied passion or rapidity he might have expected, had he ever allowed himself to imagine this.
Because they're both of them necromancers, and they've brought each other back from the dead, and living fast and hard is impossible in this languid, limbo world.
Instead, everything is measured, and gentle, and gradual: kissing and touching by degrees. She cups his face in her hands like she's afraid he'll disappear, with a soft, tentative sweetness. He threads his hands into her long, golden hair and adores how soft it is, how it slides between his fingers like water.
It's not a happy ending, but it's the most wonderful beginning he could have hoped for.