Time had repeated in Storybrooke for twenty eight years. The years had passed as best they could, stumbling, fumbling, jumping by, and Rumplestiltskin had not minded the wait because Belle had been with him. He'd do it all again if it meant his son and his wife would be by his side- if even just for a moment- at the end. It flowed with Emma in town, progressing as it should. Cause and effect. Ticking clocks.
They were all affected by time now. Babies born, children and people aging. Love found and lost.
Emma and Regina faced Rumplestiltskin in his shop, and time positively raced around them.
"Something's happened to Henry," he guessed. "Something magical, or you wouldn't be here."
Regina shifted, guilt, fear, anger, and desperation rolling in her eyes. She swallowed before she could speak, mouth snapping shut when Belle emerged from the back room. She locked onto Rumplestiltskin with a wavering gaze.
"Yes," she said shortly.
He felt Belle's hand on his shoulder and used it to steady himself. His idiot apprentice had done something to her own son. To Henry. Her curse probably, the curse that birthed the legend. They would have to hurry.
If Henry was to wake, if the curse (both curses, there were two now, neither one more important than the other, both monumental) was to be broken, they would have to act fast. Emma would have to do exactly what she was meant to. The time for gentle pushing was over. It was time to shove.
From the look of her, Emma was ready to jump.
"What's happened?" Belle asked, fingers tightening on his jacket.
"Henry's..." Emma paused, hands slamming onto the counter, fingerprints smudging across the glass. "Hurt. He's hurt. What can you do?" she demanded.
Rumplestiltskin spoke to Regina. "I warned you. All magic comes with a price." It was not a rule to take lightly or ignore. It was not a rule he made, but it was certainly one he followed. Magic was a powerful, living, painful, pulsating thing. It was not to be controlled or contained. It was to be guided, studied, and gently woven to the user's will.
Magic always, always had a price.
And Rumplestiltskin was done paying it.
"Henry shouldn't have to pay it," Regina cried.
"No, you should, but alas, we are where we are." She should pay. She should pay for everything she'd ever taken from him- from Belle. Stolen years, a false death, the heartbreak and loss she'd given in return, even in Storybrooke.
Belle pressed against his side. "Rumple," she breathed.
A single word, a name spoken to calm him, pull him back from the edge he hadn't known he was staring down. He laced his fingers with hers, gave them one hard squeeze. He was all right. She was all right. They would be all right.
It was time.
"Fantastic, your little wife is aware of the situation. Now save my son."
If it had been Regina, only Regina, he would have refused. But it was Henry hanging in the balance, and Rumplestiltskin would do it for him, if no one else.
"My little wife," Rumplestiltskin sneered at the queen, "also remembers your efforts to keep us apart in both lands. Remind me to repay you for that, among other things."
Belle had always been stronger than him, and she stood beside him now, facing down the woman who'd held her captive and held her captive again. Her hand was perfectly still in his, her shoulders squared, back straight. She met Regina's stare, and held it, blue eyes kind against brown.
A princess stood before a queen with her head held high. Regina had cost Belle a child, and now Belle reached out to help save Regina's son. When she spoke, she spoke to him, her voice steady and soft, calm in the raging storm, the center that grounded them all.
"What do they need?"
Emma's nails scraped across the glass, fingers curling into her palms to form tight fists. "How do we save him?"
Rumplestiltskin smiled. "You'll have to ask Belle," he informed them airily. "She's the one with a dragon in her library."
They sent Emma down the elevator with a sword.
Belle was not entirely certain that was a good idea, and she certainly wasn't in favor of someone, of anyone, getting killed, but Rumplestiltskin had smiled at her softly. Dragons were hard to kill, and perhaps Emma would prove to be even harder, and it would all work out in the end. It had to.
For Henry's sake.
If he woke, but found himself missing a mother...
"How long have you remembered?"
Regina's voice echoed in the empty library, her question forced out, husky and unsure. Belle glanced at her husband, standing between her and Regina, but he was looking at her as well. Belatedly, Belle realized Regina was talking to her.
"Since you put me in the hospital."
Rumplestiltskin's hand was warm against her arm, heat pushing through her suddenly chilled skin.
The floor rumbled beneath their feet, Rumplestiltskin's grip on her tightening when she staggered. They stumbled into the circulation desk, clinging to each other, unsteady with high heels and a cane while a dragon roared and fought and spewed flames under them. Belle hissed when her hip met unforgiving wood, stepping forward into her husband's arms to steady herself as much as him.
Distantly, she heard books hit the ground, plunging from their shelves to lay on the carpet. She'd have to reshelf everything later.
Regina kept one hand on the wall, waiting by the elevator controls to pull Emma up at a moment's notice. "Ten years?" she asked in disbelief. "That's not possible."
"You made the same mistake twice," Rumplestiltskin murmured against Belle's hair, his words aimed to shoot across the room. "You underestimated her."
"I'm not the one who pushed her away," Regina purred smugly.
"No," Belle agreed softly. "But you are the one who did everything in your power to keep me away." She tried to keep the anger from her voice, but after nearly thirty years of darkness and chains and towers and curses it still boiled, simmering under her skin. "I tried to tell you. You couldn't keep us apart, not forever."
"What good has True Love ever brought to anyone?" Regina demanded, voice shrill. "Love is a disease. Your precious husband taught me that."
"No," Rumplestiltskin snarled, turning to face the lonely woman before him. "I taught you that love is weakness. The rest of the lesson was mine to learn." It had been Belle's to teach. "If you believe in it, love is strength."
"You condemn love so easily as you stand shaking in fear for your son," said Belle. "Love means being afraid sometimes, and fear is not weakness. It's just fear."
"He's my son- my son. Something you will never understand."
The rage nearly choked her, spewing the words from her lips as the anger curled in her gut, clenching icy cold around her heart. "But I would have," she bit out, tasting the hot tears as they rolled down her cheeks.
Shock melted into Regina's features, lips parting in an unspoken question. She licked her lips, shoulder rolling. She took a single step back.
"What... what did you say?"
Belle wanted to sob, wanted to hide in Rumplestiltskin's chest and wait for it to all be over, but she held Regina's gaze instead. "I would have," she said weakly, "had you just left us alone."
The heartbreak in Rumplestiltskin's voice, the tangible pain rolling off him finally broke her, and Belle sobbed into her hand, sinking into her husband's arms.
"I know the pain of losing a child." She blinked, forcing the tears out and away to let her look Regina in the eye. "It is not something I wish on anyone."
She wished with every piece of her heart that she could forgive Regina. She wished she could let the anger go, free it and never feel it again, but she couldn't. It hurt, holding onto the anger and blame, but it would not release her, would not let her be. All the years of nightmares and pain, all the suffering her heart endured, Belle wanted to just let it go.
But she couldn't.
And standing before Regina, even with Rumplestiltskin at her back, she was afraid of this woman. This woman who'd used clever words and a silver tongue to play with feelings, locking her away when it didn't work. Who'd snatched her away again when love rallied, who'd cost Rumplestiltskin a child.
One day she would be brave again. One day she would be strong. One day she would be able to forgive and let go.
But that day was not today. Today she was only human, and so on today she could not.
So she would help Regina because it helped Henry, and then she would try- oh how she would try- to let it all go. Because it was right, and the pain and the fear hurt so much. And Regina needed forgiveness and love just as much as Rumplestiltskin did. Even if Belle could not forgive her, she could help Henry, who loved both his mothers, and maybe it would help them all learn to let go.
"Henry will be all right," she assured the terrified mother. "He will be all right."
It was all she could do, all she could give. But she gave it easily, readily, and willingly.
And then, time stopped.
It was a brief pause, a moment of horror and terror when phones buzzed, the hospital calling. Regina and Emma- the Evil Queen and the Savior, two mothers to the same child- ran to see their son. Regina tucked the glass vial into her palm, her grip tight around it as though she was afraid Rumplestiltskin would take it back from her (a vial of the most powerful magic in all of creation and he'd carelessly tossed it to them like he didn't care at all).
Rumplestiltskin watched them go.
"He will be all right," he said. Time held its breath, fast and slow all at once. "I promise you that, sweetheart. Henry will be fine."
It was almost over.
The curse was almost broken.
And Bae, his son, his beautiful son, was almost within reach.
Time took a breath, the sun peeking over the horizon.
And with a burst of magic that knocked more books from their shelves, a taste and feel he would know in his sleep, even after all these years, their world awoke.
Rumplestiltskin tasted the tears before he felt them, but Belle kissed them away, gave him her smile.
"Bae..." he said against her skin. "My son. Belle, my son."
Hope. Something he hadn't felt, hadn't allowed himself to feel, surged through him. It overpowered him, swamping him, shaking his very foundation. He was holding Belle too tight, but he couldn't let go because it was nearly perfect for a single second. His wife, his True Love in his arms, holding him, loving him back. And now they could go.
He could go.
Rumplestiltskin could find his son.
They made to step out into their world, old faces with new names, but as the door opened the sun was blocked, and their old world truly returned with rolling purple smoke, the taste of iron and woodsmoke on his tongue.
Rumplestiltskin stumbled as the magic coiled around him.
He did not want this.
He did not need this.
Magic and prices and deals and fear and it was nothing he wanted anymore. Rumplestiltskin just wanted his family, his son and his wife. There was magic enough in that. He didn't need anymore. But the magic settled in him, caressing him like an old lover.
He turned and kissed Belle hard, hoping beyond hope. If there was magic, then there was True Love's Kiss, and then it would go, he could be done with it once and for all.
But the magic stayed.
And so did Belle.
Rumplestiltskin clutched Belle close, nose buried in her hair. "It's not my price to pay," he gasped. "I don't want this. I don't want it."
"Rumple, shh, you're okay. You're okay. I love you, you're okay."
"Regina," he realized. "She must have- the potion. She brought magic here." He ran his thumb over Belle's cheek, waiting, for surely she would vanish soon. He had magic, and he had Belle, but he could not have both.
Take it back, he wanted to scream. I don't want it. Take it back. I want her. I want them. Not this. Take it back.
Belle gathered him in her arms, pressing soft kisses against his face. "Rumplestiltskin, I love you. Magic or no magic, I love you. I'm here. I'm with you for better or worse." She pulled back enough to kiss him properly, ignoring the stares of their world, the people who knew the Dark One and the fear that he brought. "And we are going to find your son, no matter what it takes."
Above them, the clock tower chimed.
And time marched forward. As it was supposed to.
A/N: Done! The Roles We Play is finished! Now I try to catch up on Love and Superheroes and then get to work on the wrap up for this universe. Thank you so much for reading, and double thank you for reviewing!