Chapter 14: The Town on Edge of Tomorrow
Disclaimer: I do not own Once Upon a Time or any of its brilliant characters. I am merely borrowing them for the purpose of entertainment, and promise to return them in (mostly) pristine condition. Look, I ran out of ways to make this funny, ok?
"There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast;' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable."
― G.K. Chesterton
Life in Storybrooke has always had a sense of routine to it; thirty years without the passing of time can't help but lead to such, and so Gold, the only person who had been awake in a town of the sleep-walking, had grown tired of the monotony.
Gold finds that he quite enjoys this new routine though.
It includes waking up to find Isobel wrapped around him, of kisses and breakfast and his daughter, of work, and then coming home not to an empty house but to his-his-two girls, and diner, and the library, and bed, and feedings with his daughter and happiness.
So much happiness.
It does not usually include Emma and Regina barging into the shop, calling him Rumpelstiltskin and needing a way to save their son.
Naturally, it throws it for a second; but only a second.
Rumpelstiltskin is adaptable, after all.
It only takes a few seconds to parse out all the details of the situation. Regina baked an apple turnover for Emma, but because Regina is little more than a Bond villain, she never learned the value of staying to watch the hero actually take the poison-not a mistake Rumpelstiltskin made twice-Henry ate the damned thing instead, because the boy is too brave for his own good. And then Henry fell into a coma and Regina and Emma decided to work together to save him, and they came to him, because he's Rumpelstiltskin, and that's just what people do. Break something and then come crying to him to fix it.
But Gold has a special fondness for Henry, the brave little boy that believed when no one else did, and so although a large part of him is entirely tempted to tell Regina to go fuck herself and not help, that would mean letting the boy die, and that is unacceptable.
And so Rumpelstiltskin finds himself helping the Evil Queen and the Savior save the boy.
He's done weirder.
And so, he plans, because curses require sacrifice, this is true, but rarely do people remember that so does love. Questing is stupid and over dramatic, but it is also necessary for true love. Which means that Emma-not Regina, and yes, he enjoyed that a great deal-has to go on some kind of quest if she wants to save her son.
So, dragon slaying.
That ought to do it.
Worked for Prince Charming, after all.
But, he acknowledges, as Regina and Emma set off to do just that-and let him just take a moment to say that the looks on their faces when he pulled out Charming's sword are going to amuse him until the day he dies-this is where his intentions get a little…murky.
Because he's serious about helping them rescue the boy, he is, but they don't need the magic he stored away to do that. They've been over this whole thing before with Charming and Snow White-Henry will live as long as his mother loves him enough for her kiss to break the curse, and if she's successful in her quest Gold has no doubt it will work. On the other hand, Gold does need it, because that magic was never meant to free just one person.
It was meant to free all of them.
When he told Emma he didn't have the first clue on how to break he curse, he wasn't lying. He doesn't have the first clue. The second…
Well that's a different matter.
See, the thing about the Dark Curse is, it was not made of noble intentions-nothing so dark could have been. Too say that he made the Dark Curse to find his son is not wrong, but it is also not the whole truth-the truth is more complicated than that. If his son had been his only motive, there were easier ways to go about it; he could have broken into Regina's castle, taken Jefferson's hat-really, it's not like she could hide having such a thing from him-and been on his merry way. He could have found the Blue Fairy or a hundred of her little fairy minions and squeezed until he had enough fairy-dust to take a return trip to the edge of the bloody universe.
So no, while his son had been on his mind, he hadn't been the only motivator.
Sometimes, you just do things to see if you can.
He is perfectly aware of what kind of monster that makes him.
But the fact still stands; the Dark Curse was like no other curse-he had woven that curse using his very own soul, and his power lives in every layer of that curse, and therein lays the problem.
Because there are many, many layers.
Gold hasn't the faintest idea how to break the first one-this layer is for Emma, and only she can break it. But the second layer, this one Gold remembered, and this one Gold secreted away the magic of true love to break.
This is the one that will bring magic back.
Because, the hard truth of the matter is, this is the land without magic. And although most people see the poetry in that turn of phrase, they miss the obvious paradox inherent in it.
They will never make it back to the Enchanted Forrest without bringing magic to the land without magic, because in doing so, it becomes a land with magic. And once they are in a land with magic then really, as they say, all that's left after that is the crying.
Well, not really.
He's drastically over simplifying it-there are other layers of the curse, and then there is Regina to deal with, and oh, how he is going to enjoy that-but the general gist is there. Magic needs to return for the curse to break, and Gold needs the vial he had Charming secret away to do that. And yes, he doesn't know if Emma breaking the curse that has fallen on Henry will break the first layer, but the signs are right-sacrifice, true love, and a child, just to be extra dramatic-and so although Rumpelstiltskin has been dealing with magic for too many centuries to count his chickens before they hatch, his gut tells him retrieving the vial now is a good idea.
Especially because if the curse does begin to break, he's going to need to restore magic before Regina realizes what he's doing and tries to stop him, because as much as he thinks she'd enjoy having her magic back, he knows she'd forfeit it to keep everyone else from getting their magic back, and to keep the curse together.
Regina took the heart of her father to enact this curse, after all.
Gold knows that there is nothing she wouldn't do to keep it together.
If he didn't hate her so bloody much, he might admire her for that.
But he does hate her, for Isobel and for Belle and for so much more, and so, after he's determined that just the right amount of time has passed, Gold pockets a role of duct-tape and heads for the library. His timing turns out to be good-there is no sign of Emma, only Regina standing by an elevator that screams magic, and it's a sign of how preoccupied she is with this situation with Henry that she doesn't notice his presence until he's behind her, a hand to her mouth while the other keeps her still.
"Oh no dearie," he hisses softly into her ear as she startles and tries to fight, his hand silencing any sounds she might try to make, not that Emma could hear her anyways, "You're going to sit down and be a quiet little lass."
And then, all poisonous charm, "Please."
There is no magic in this land yet, but Gold is never without a weapon.
She sits and shuts up.
He regrets the subterfuge, he really does, but it's a necessary evil. Regina can't know that he and Emma are on decent terms, and she can't know what he intends to do with the magic.
He doesn't regret the opportunity to tie her to a chair.
His only regret there is that he uses duct-tape instead of barbed wire chains-hardware store apparently doesn't sell those.
He'd never let anything happen to that boy, but Regina, well…that's a different matter entirely.
It's quick work tying her up-if they ever do get back to the Enchanted Forrest duct-tape is going to be the first thing he tries to recreate-and it's made quicker by the roughness that he uses-tenderness takes time, and there is none of that here. It's a good thing as well, as after a few silent minutes where Regina glares venomously at him and he stares blandly back, Emma, victorious in her quest-and though he had no love for Maleficent, he takes a second anyways to mourn the wicked for no one else will-yells up to start the elevator and so Gold does so, working the mechanism so it won't bring her all the way up, setting his trap.
This he does regret, because Emma is half in shock-dragons do that, no matter how much she believed before-but he needs the magic and in this state Emma would be unlikely to hand it over even if Regina wasn't listening and she did know she could save her son another way. And so he tricks her, uses all the tips he's picked up over the years-lies like an artist about Regina's departure and cajoles as one might a frightened animal.
"Don't worry, dearie," he says, and then, because he can't take this from her and not help, "Just toss the egg up, and you'll be able to go and see your boy and give him a kiss in no time." And it's the most help he can give considering Regina's ears are listening to them, and he hopes she gets it.
It must work-or at least if it didn't she believes he's going to help her, and his is, just not with the magic in this egg-because she throws the egg up, and then, once it's in his hands, he wastes no time in doing an about face and turning to leave-it won't take Emma long to climb out, and he has to be gone by then. He only pauses for one indulgence, bending slightly so he can whisper into Regina's ear as he passes her, still tied up.
"The worst thing," he purrs, sibilant and dark, no hint of the man, only the monster as he strokes the egg with casual absentness, designed to draw her eye, "is losing your child and knowing it's your fault. Perhaps, if he dies, I'll keep your shrivelled little heart beating, so you can try to live every day with the knowledge that it was you that killed him," he finishes, and they both know he means every word.
Regina's look of pained horror is one that she gives him as he leaves with the egg is one that's going to warm him on nights to come for years.
He owed her for she died, anyways.
He makes quick time back to the shop, and when no one follows him, he breathes a quick sigh of relief, and stamps down hard on the trickle of guilt that is forming as he holds the egg in his hands-the boy will be fine, and magic will return.
It's moments like this that, no matter how much he loves Isobel, he really wishes for Belle.
Because well, he is, in every way but one-at least in Isobel's mind-Rose's father. And he loves Isobel, he does-she's not quite Belle, not quite true love-but its love all the same.
He's happy with Isobel and Rose.
But it was Belle that tamed the beast in the Dark Castle-Belle who took a scared, cowardly monster and reminded him how to be a man again, and it was Belle who always knew what to say, and right now, he desperately needs that again.
Because magic returning to this cursed little town is the right thing to do.
But it's also terrifying.
Because Rumpelstiltskin, for all his experience and years of magical use, doesn't know what will happen when he drops that vial into the well. This land without magic made an effective cage for the Dark One for all these years, and in reversing that he doesn't know if the cage will break and he will once again become the Dark One, scales and all; doesn't know if he won't-if he'll remain a man, magicless, or regain magic and retain this human visage.
Worse still, is the fact that he doesn't know what he wants to happen.
His power was never a preference as the Dark One, it was an addiction, and the sneaky part of an addiction is that one does not have to like something to crave it. Magic is power, and Gold likes power, but magic is also a tremendous pain in the ass. Most people do not realize that when the magician warns that all magic has a price he is the one that has paid it the most, and Rumpelstiltskin is no different-far too weary of paying.
And then, of course, there is Isobel and Rose.
He had told Belle, before she strode out of the Dark Castle that his power had meant more to him than her, and this had been another lie that is also a truth. His power had been like a hungry animal-the Dark One like a nest of angry wasps always hissing in his brain-addictive and tempting, but not well liked. But as the monster, alone in his castle he had not been bothered by it overly, because he had seen no alternative. But then there had been Belle-sweet, smart, beautiful Belle with her chipped cups and her falling and her Belleness, and Rumpelstiltskin had seen an alternative and had liked it. But naturally it hadn't lasted-Belle had the power to remove the Dark One from him-to remove it from all existence-and so although Rumpelstiltskin had loved Belle, the Dark One had hated her, feeding his fears of no one ever being able to love him and plots involving Evil Queens.
Rumpelstiltskin had been too much of a coward to fight those thoughts, and so the Dark One had won, and he had lost Belle.
He's terrified that in returning magic, he'll lose her again, and this time with her, their child.
Magic is not worth that.
And yet, he has to do it, and he is still a coward.
Hence his overwhelming desire to talk to Belle.
Of course, because speak of the devil and he shall appear, it's that moment that Isobel and Rose show up at the store, and so at the noise of the bell, Gold hides the vial away in one of his pockets and schools his face into something more normal before he moves to greet his two ladies, both adorable today-Isobel in a blue sundress and Rose in a white onsie with white ribbon roses for buttons.
And no matter the turbulence he is currently feeling, his heart can't help but swell as he takes in the picture they make. They have never mentioned the word love-he feels like he owes Belle the first 'I love you' and he thinks Isobel is afraid it might scare him off if she says anything-but there is love here, in this little family, and Gold is so grateful for every minute of it.
"We thought we'd come visit you at work," Isobel says to him in greeting, bouncing Rose in the sling that she's resting in-a fabric contraption that Gold is frankly terrified of-so that the baby gurgles at him delightfully, and so Gold can say nothing but, "I'm glad you did," and even as he thinks of magic and the well and the Dark One, it's not even a lie.
However Isobel, who is entirely too perceptive must notice something amiss on his face because after a moment she says, voice a mix of light concern and curiosity, "You have your plotting face on."
At that, Gold can't help but smile, but it's a little too close to the truth, and so he tries to play off with a quip, bantering back lightly, "I'm pretty sure that's just my regular face dear."
"Very funny," Belle allows with a smile, but she's undeterred as she continues, voice now more concerned than curious, "What's going on?"
He takes a second to consider how much to tell her, and then he makes a decision. Even if Emma can't crack the curse, he's still going to go to the well and return magic, because if not Regina or someone else will steal it and use it for something else, and then they'll all be in trouble. Now, while Emma and Regina are preoccupied with Henry is the best shot he'll get, and he doesn't want to waste it.
But he also doesn't want to go alone, and he especially doesn't want to leave Isobel unprotected when magic returns, and so having her and Rose come with him is the best solution. That decided, he turns further to Isobel and says casually, not quite the answer she is looking for, "There's a wishing well at the outskirts of town that I was thinking of visiting. Would you and Rose care to join me?"
"I can't think of anything I'd need to wish for," Isobel says after a moment, voice soft, the most becoming of blushes on her cheeks, and Gold's heart can't help but flutter at the emotion he sees in her eyes.
Yes, there is love here.
"Neither can I, my dear," he says, voice just as warm, injecting the things they will not say into his voice so that she will never doubt how he feels about her again. "But it is a lovely day, and I thought a walk and some fresh air might be nice."
"I still think you're plotting something," Isobel says, because she's always been a bright lass, but she says it kindly and so Gold isn't worried, "but a walk would be nice."
And then, as she loops her arm through his, "and a walk with you would be even nicer."
He kisses her for that, quickly and sweetly, because he can't not when she means every word.
She smiles at him fondly in response, and Rose gurgles happily, and so with that, he leads his family out for a walk, and tries to focus on that happy feeling, on the lovely sunshine of the day, the crisp comfort of the air-on Isobel's reassuring warmth beside him and Rose's innocent happiness.
Tries to ignore the weight of the vial in his pocket, and how it has the power to take all of that away.
How a part of him is craving that, even if it means losing everything.
So, needless to say, by the time they've almost gotten to the well, Gold's a bit preoccupied.
He's never going to live down missing the rainbow ring of magic prompted by Emma cracking the first layer of the curse-the curse he made-that sweeps through the town though.
That one will be written on his tombstone. Here lies Rumpelstiltskin, who crafted the curse to end all curses, spent thirty years waiting for it to break and then missed it because he was too distracted while taking a nature walk.
But this is all just hindsight, because he does miss it, too lost in his own mind, and so Isobel's sudden, "Wait," is entirely a surprise, and almost goes unnoticed. And he's still so caught up in his own mind that his answer of, "It's just a little further dear, we can stop then," is little more than a half functioning after-thought; whatever it is they can deal with it when they get to the well, because if he stops now he's afraid he'll never start up again.
But then she speaks again, and the world shifts beneath his feet.
"Rumpelstiltskin, wait," she says, and well, that stops him dead in his tracks and whips him out of his fugue pretty quickly, because Isobel doesn't know to call him that.
True loves kiss. Packs quite the wallop when it's true love doing the kissing apparently.
This, if one was wondering, is where the hindsight about the curse kicks in.
Rumpelstiltskin is entirely too busy being absorbed in Belle to care.
"I remember," Belle says-Belle says-as she walks closer to where he is frozen in place, and before he has time to panic, because not all of the things she remembers are good ones, she wipes away the seeds of fear as she says, nothing but truth in her voice and love in her eyes, the words he once rejected and the words he's been dying to hear again ever since, "I love you."
"Yes," he says to Belle, finally to Belle, not willing to let another second go without saying it, "and I love you too."
She wraps herself around him, careful of the baby still slung across her chest, and they fit together perfectly, and Rumpelstiltskin is unable to do more than press his face into Belle's neck and breathe, so overwhelmed by the feeling of her-emotions so varied they leave him raw and wrecked-and the knowledge that this is Belle that he's holding-Belle who's holding him back like she'll never let him go.
He'd be more than alright with that.
However eventually they do have to draw apart, and when they do Gold can't help but stare at her some more, drink her in and marvel at the wonder that after all this time, this is Belle here with him once again. But it's then that the doubts start to creep in, because this is Belle-Belle who he cast from the Castle for loving him, Belle who he left in Regina's clutches for thirty years and Belle who knows who the father of her child is, and perhaps most importantly, knows that he never told Isobel the truth.
Belle who knows that he's a coward.
This must show on his face, because a bit of the happiness in her eyes begins to fade, and she asks, voice worried, "What is it?"
"I just…is that all?" He returns, neither an answer nor really a question, voice painfully cautious, because he's terrified of saying the wrong thing and losing her forever.
"Have I missed anything?" Belle says, and she seems serious and part of Gold wants to cry while the other part seems to want to hysterically break into laughter because has she missed anything? Really?
Where would he even start?
"It's just…I'm her father," he says incredulously, starting with the most important as he gestures helplessly at Rose, trying to express the thing that has been both his greatest joy and the root of all of his problems since he found out that she didn't know.
"Ah. Right," Belle says in response, a peculiar look in her eyes, voice too expressionless to be any comfort, and then she moves closer to him, adjusts Rose in her sling so that she's laying further off to the side as she does.
And then she punches him in the face.
She's got an impressive right hook for someone so petite.
"That is for not telling me," she says, as his head spins and his jaw aches, and then, as if it's an afterthought, "And for kicking me out of the Dark Castle."
But instead of anger he was so expecting, her eyes are warm with affection, and she moves towards him, curls her fingers softly over the curve of his cheek and kisses the skin she just struck-a benediction and an apology that he can't deserve- before she pulls back, only enough for him to meet her eyes and says, "Silly man," her voice soft, like it's the simplest thing in the world, "you were already her father."
And before he even has time to process that sheer magnitudes of that Belle continues, knocking him even further off his feet as she says, "And as for the other things-we both made mistakes-I was presumptuous and you were a cowardly asshole," which he lets slide because he's so dazed and because frankly he was, "and I forgave you for that ages ago."
And then her whole face softens impossibly more as she says, voice earnest and simple, "And if these months here have shown anything, then you've forgiven me as well, so we're alright."
"It's can't be that simple," he says, reeling, barely conscious he is speaking so great is his shock because of course it can't be. They've got an emotional history that reads like a horror story and there's no way that after everything-everything that he did-that she can have forgiven him-no way that just like that they're ok.
And for the first time in more than thirty years Gold finds himself truly tempted, more so than anything magic had ever promised him, because although it's so tempting to believe, it can't be this easy.
Monsters don't get happily ever after's.
But Belle, brave, beautiful Belle who with nothing more than a sheer force of will and a pure soul took a monster and taught him how to feel againr pins him with those eyes that looked into him and saw a his soul even when he believed he didn't have one and says, voice firm but so kind, "Of course it is. We want to be together, so we will." And then she smiles, an ironic quirk of her lips as she says, her voice making truths out of her words, "This is us, deciding our fate."
And Gold gives in, because he's many things, but first and foremost he's a greedy bastard, and if Belle is willing to take him than he'll not say no again. It probably won't be that easy-they'll fight and they'll disagree, and magic and the Queen will only make that worse, but they'll also make up and they'll have each other, and Rumpelstiltskin knows that will make it all worth it.
This is his second chance, and he'd not have it any other way
"I don't deserve you," he says finally, voice soft, an acceptance but also a truth, as he strokes a hand down Rose's soft cheek, "either of you."
"Maybe not," Belle says, but the smile threatens to split her face takes any sting out of her words, "but you're stuck with both of us now." And then, cheeky and pure Belle, "Think you can handle that?"
"I'll suffer through it, somehow," he says, and she's kind enough not to point out that the smile on his own face is suspiciously close to beaming.
"Git," she volleys back good naturedly, happiness shinning from her eyes, before she's clearly hit by a thought as she asks curiously, "Wait, if the curse broke, why are we still here?"
At that his smile dims, because his clever girl has asked the right question, and this is where the preverbal rubber really hits the road-this is the conversation he's been fearing. But he promised, all those months ago that he wouldn't make the same mistakes he did the first time round, and so he says, voice serious if slightly hesitant, "This isn't like any other curse-it's layered," and here they share a moment of levity, the pleasure of an inside joke before he continues, "Emma only broke the top most layer."
Belle nods at that, but Rumpelstiltskin can almost see the wheels in her clever little head spinning as she asks, voice still curious, but now verging on worry, "What aren't you saying?"
"You aren't going to like it," he warns, stalling, because isn't that the understatement of the year? He chose his power over her once already, and now he's here again, about to restore magic only moments after he got her back.
Not the best argument to show her that he's changed.
"Tell me anyways," Belle says, because she always been too brave and too stubborn for her own good, and Rumpelstiltskin would have had more luck disobeying her if she'd held his dagger in her hands as he finds himself telling her, "We'll never get home until magic is restored-that's the next layer of the curse."
"You're right, I don't like it," Belle says after a long moment, a frown marring her beautiful face and for an agonizing second Rumpelstiltskin thinks that this is going to be the moment where he finally loses her.
But then she continues, voice earnest and soft, "But if you say it's necessary then I trust you," and once what she's said registers, his heart starts beating again only for his breath to catch, because love is one thing but trust?
Trust is, in some ways, entirely more precious.
And at his look of what must be absolute shock, Belle smiles again, the gesture almost rueful as she nestles into his embrace and says, titling her eyes to meet his, "I learned from my mistakes too you know, and anyways, I promised you forever, remember?" and her voice so full of love and trust that really, there's only one thing he can do.
He kisses her.
He kisses her because she forgives him, because she loves him, because she trusts him.
He kisses her because she's Belle, and he's going to kiss her for the rest of his life, magic be damned.
Because this is true love, and this true loves kiss, and it means that they can-will-do this.
To hell with monsters, this is his happily ever after, and he'll never let it go, no matter what the future brings.
That in mind, he steps up and stands at the edge of the well, but he is not alone. His family stands with him, tucked into the crook of his arm, and they love him-trust him-enough to do this with him.
And so, standing on the precipice of the unknown, Rumpelstiltskin smiles.
Forever, she'd said, all those years ago, and he finally believes it.
Finally, he is brave.
He drops the vial.
"True love never lives happily ever after – true love has no ending." - K. Knight
A/N: So that's the end of our tale folks! No, seriously. *Runs and hides from angry mob.* Ok so, there might end up being a sequel in the future (tentatively titled This Blossoming Rose) but this is all I've got for now. I prefer to write around the lines of canon; the road not taken, such as it were, which I can't do without a road in the first place. This story for me was always going to end as a modified-babyfied, if you'd prefer-canon, and there's a reason for that.
Mostly, it's because in reading a lot of the post finale fanfiction, I realized that I had a different feeling than most shippers about Gold's actions in the finale. Most shippers seemed to feel that Gold had done an unequivocally bad thing- choosing his power over everything and most fanfiction I read was about fixing this by giving him a noble reason. Which is a totally valid viewpoint, and it prompted some awesome fic, but for me, I saw the clock move and went-oh, so this is a good thing. Yes, maybe he did it for selfish reasons, maybe not or maybe both-I'm not sure, but I do think that whatever the reason, it was necessary to help break the curse. Additionally, I also think that just focusing on blaming Gold doesn't give Belle enough credit; I think her interactions with Grumpy/Leroy show that's she's grown enough as a character to realize that she made a mistake as well, and that she can give him the benefit of the doubt. This was also why there is no Baelfire reunion in this fic; they haven't done it in the show yet. Ok, so excessively long explanation/rant over, but I hope in doing so I didn't disappoint people who were hoping for a more AU ending-although to be fair I did actually mention this in the first chapter's notes!
But I do have several snippets in the works from this universe (which I've decided to call the This Rose universe), including Belle's POV for remembering, some more Henry and Grace/Paige, as well as why Jefferson still helped Regina so please go check those out when they're eventually posted. Also, Belle punching Rumpelstiltskin in the face was inspired by a comment by lunas_borednow that said that it would be cool if Isobel found out he was the dad before she remembered and then punched him. It wasn't where I was going with this, but the mental image of Belle cold-cocking Gold was too much to resist, and so, voila! The title is also a nod to the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever." Because I'm a geek. That said, thank you so much to everyone who stuck through with me to the end of this; your comments are reviews made this a joy to write. So, for the last time, I hope you enjoyed it, and as always, reviews and constructive criticism are welcome.