A/N: So I have no idea how many people would actually be interested in a story about Rumplestiltskin and Superman meeting, but since L&C is how I found the fandom world and why I first started writing fanfiction, and since I thought too seriously one night about how many similarities Rumplestiltskin and Clark Kent actually have...yeah, this happened. It's the first - and ONLY, because it is HARD - crossover I've ever written, and it's been challenging keeping everything in character, but it was a lot of fun to write, too, at the same time. So hopefully there's one or two of you out there who might enjoy this little foray into a very big 'what if...'
Disclaimer: This story takes place between episodes 3x02 and 3x03 of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, and at the end of episode 2x05 of Once Upon A Time. I made efforts to make sure people from both fandoms could read the story without knowing the other show, but you'll have to be the judges of how well that turned out. Both shows, their characters, and the plot points borrowed for this story belong to others; no copyright infringement is intended.
Strangers To This World
Chapter 1: Inside And Out
Mr. Gold knew something was wrong. He couldn't identify precisely where the disturbance was originating, but as the one who had built the curse that brought him and most of the Enchanted Forest to this world, he was intimately familiar with its twists and turns. So, when he felt abruptly, sickeningly uneasy, he knew that once again trouble was knocking at the door. A little more digging, a bit more concentration and focus—things he'd perfected in the long centuries of his immortal life—and he was able to pinpoint the change.
Trouble at the door, indeed—something was trying to get in.
Odd enough all on its own, but somewhat more dangerous in that Storybrooke was no longer closed off from the world as it had once been. Ever since Emma—the savior he'd prophesied and prepared—had broken the curse, Storybrooke was open to the outside world, and all that was currently protecting it from being invaded by hordes of curious and skeptical people who would either scoff at magic or study it to death was the fact that the cursed town wasn't on any map or listed in any records department in Maine. So that someone was trying to get in now?
Definitely bad news.
Caging a sigh, Gold bit back his disappointment and pulled out the cell-phone he'd just recently invested in, then quickly dialed its twin. Twenty-eight years of living the same, cursed life day in and day out, time frozen all around them, and he'd never needed a phone. But back then he hadn't had anyone he wanted to talk to, and now…now he did.
Just the sound of Belle's voice eased something inside of him, stirred something he'd thought long dead and gone and banished to another world in a flash of unearthly green. Just the sound of her voice, the image of her called instantly to mind—the image he'd carried with him through all those long decades of thinking her dead because of him, an image that had been both comfort and indictment—the startling reminder that she wasn't dead and she didn't hate him, was enough to make him forget that his self-appointed task was still only half-completed.
"Hey," he said, then winced. He was a master wordsmith—whole worlds quaked in fear at his reputation of making deals and twisting meanings and fashioning loopholes that ensured his own agenda was always served—and yet Belle reduced him to the single syllable every time he talked to her.
"Rumple!" Belle exclaimed, and she sounded happy. Happy to hear from him. Happy to talk to him.
Despite himself, a tiny smile curved Rumplestiltskin's lips. It was easy to be Mr. Gold, his cursed identity, the man who'd never known Belle—easy until she appeared, and then he couldn't be anything other than Rumplestiltskin.
The cowardly spinner who'd taken on a dark curse to save his son yet ended up losing him because of it.
The deal-making imp who'd made a deal to save a small village in return for their princess as his caretaker.
The lonely beast who'd fallen in love with the only woman who'd ever loved him and let her go; then, when she'd come back to him, driven her away out of fear and hope and resignation.
The monster who'd thought she was dead and almost ended up driving her away again because he was so afraid she'd leave him if he told her all his dark and twisted truths.
The man she hadn't yet given up on.
"What's going on?" she asked, and he belatedly realized he'd been quiet too long.
"Belle," he said—and smiled. He didn't think he'd ever be able to say her name and not smile now that he knew she was alive and free. But he was about to disappoint her—again, and he was so afraid she would eventually grow used to that and give up trying—and he was out of practice with real smiles, out of practice for hundreds of years, so it didn't last very long. "Something's come up."
"Oh." The disappointment in her voice was audible, and Rumplestiltskin had to tighten his grip on his gold-handled cane, brace himself in order to remain steady. "So…you're not going to be able to make it to lunch, then?'
He hesitated, wanting more than anything to finally introduce her to hamburgers for the first time—wanting more than anything to take advantage of this second, third, fourth, chance she was giving him—but that uneasiness was gnawing away at him, a dangerous presence tapping at his shoulder. If he ignored it, who knew what would find its way inside Storybrooke?
"I can't," he said, hoping she heard his regret. "I wish I could, Belle, but…"
"What is it?" Curiosity turned her voice silver, conjured up images of days in his Dark Castle, following her as she cleaned rooms and brought light to his life window by curtained window. "Maybe I could help."
He didn't want to answer her. He wanted her safe, protected, free to make friends with the werewolf waitress and the grumpy dwarf and the daughter of King Midas, free to enjoy the library he'd given her and the books she so loved and the apartment she'd taken to live her own life apart from him and her controlling father. But…but she'd already left him once because he wouldn't tell her the truth, and he didn't know that he could bear to lose her a fourth time.
"Something is at the town line," he told her quietly. "Something…from outside. From this world. I need to check on it. If people from the outside were to find out we had magic, that we were from another world…well, suffice it to say, none of us would have time for hamburgers—or to continue trying to find a way to bring Snow White and her daughter back from our land."
"Of course!" Belle paused, and Rumplestiltskin could see her as if she were right in front of him—her front teeth nibbling at her bottom lip, a worried crease in her brow just before her silvery-blue eyes alighted with inspiration. "Well, if we can't have lunch at Granny's Diner, then I can bring lunch to you. Let me come with you."
"No." The denial was out immediately, terror like coals in his heart. He'd lost everything in his entire life—he couldn't bear to lose Belle, too. "I don't know what's out there."
"All the more reason for you to have backup, then," she said firmly. There was a smile in her voice when she said, "Please, Rumple. I miss you, and this is the third time we haven't been able to have lunch."
It was a terrible idea, he knew. But she wanted to spend time with him. She wanted to be with him, and he was a selfish, possessive man who was very, very bad at saying no. So he sighed and said, "All right. I'm at the shop."
"I know." She giggled. "That's where you always are. I'll be there in five minutes."
"Be careful, sweetheart." He winced as soon as the words left him—because they were still just tentatively trying to rebuild and rediscover their relationship and maybe it was too early for terms of endearment; because Belle hated other people making decisions for her—but she only laughed.
"I will. And…" Her voice went soft, quiet, tender. "Thank you, Rumple. For telling me. For trusting me."
It was a bad idea to let her come, but at that moment, Rumplestiltskin didn't care.
"I told you, Clark, country roads are notoriously dangerous."
Clark rolled his eyes and steadied the car as Lois slammed the door behind her, tugging the strap of the brown satchel she carried everywhere with her over her shoulder. Their vehicle—rented, thank goodness, because if Lois was this put out about crashing a random car, he didn't even want to think how furious she'd be to lose her silver Jeep—was tilted precariously on the slope leading into the forest, its dented bumper resting against a scratched and banged up sign that read "Welcome To Storybrooke" in bold white lines. It could have been a dangerous accident if he hadn't been so quick to get Lois and himself out of the car, whisking her outside before the car came to a screeching, smoking halt, and he still felt the normal fear that always accosted him when Lois's life was threatened.
"It wasn't the road that was the problem," Clark said, nudging the car just the slightest bit up the slope so that it wasn't in any danger of rolling on top of anyone. "It was the wolf that ran across the road that caused the accident."
Lois narrowed her eyes and trudged through the grassy brush to join him on the asphalt. "Well, there aren't any wolves on Metropolis's roads, which is where we'd be—safe and sound and on the way to a scoop that just might win us another Pulitzer, or a Kerth at the very least—but no, instead you had to beg Perry to send us to this backwards stretch of country no one even remembers exists. And why is that, exactly?"
"Come on, Lois," Clark said with a mischievous grin, daring to rest a hand on the small of her back only because he knew she wasn't really as irritated as habit made her sound. "The Metropolis Star sent a reporter to chase down that lead in Metropolis, and you always say anything the Star goes after can't be real news. Besides, strange smoke—colored smoke—being sighted in coastal Maine is pretty unusual. There's got to be a story here."
"Yes, a story on the dangers of wolves not being quite as endangered as they want us to think they are!" Lois snapped, but an instant later she was rolling her eyes and smirking at him. "You don't fool me—you just wanted a couple days away from Perry and deadlines and Jimmy always interrupting us."
"All right, maybe," he admitted. He leaned back against the sign and tugged on Lois's hand until she sat with him. "It's just…Spencer Spencer's island didn't really work out that well, and…"
"And we're still getting to know each other again," Lois finished for him, voice turning quiet, her hand reaching up to trace the symbol of an S over his chest. A barrier between him and everyone else both when it was revealed and when it was covered by Clark Kent's demure suits and colorful ties. "I know. Maybe you're right—but did it have to be the backwoods of nowhere?"
"Hey, remember when you thought Smallville didn't have anything worth mentioning either?" he reminded her with a glint in his dark eyes.
"Watch it, Kent, there might still not be anything worth mentioning," Lois warned him, but she ruined the threat with a mischievous grin. Taking a deep breath, she surveyed the countryside surrounding them. "So, do you think we're going to have to brave the untamed wild, or do you suppose Superman might be able to fly us somewhere civilized?"
"We can't just leave the car here." Clark looked behind them at the empty road. "This Storybrooke should have a mechanic—we can ask whoever's coming."
"Whoever's com—oh." Lois cut herself off abruptly, and Clark inwardly winced. It had only been a couple weeks since she'd figured out that he was Superman—only a couple weeks since she'd turned down his wedding proposal—and though she was no longer angry at him—though he was no longer afraid she wanted him out of her life completely—they were still a bit hesitant around each other, still a bit wary of saying something the other would take the wrong way. But she only asked, "How far away are they?"
He swallowed a sigh of relief. "Not far, just a minute or two. These woods really seem to muffle my hearing. I almost didn't hear them coming at all."
"The forest is worse for your hearing than a city?" Lois arched a skeptical brow, but then smirked triumphantly. "I told you, cities beat out country any day."
Clark smiled and let the comment rest, but inwardly, he was a bit puzzled. Forests were quieter than cities; it should have been easy to hear the car driving toward them, and yet he hadn't even realized it was on the road until just a moment before. Experimentally, he lessened his fine-tuned control and let himself hear everything around him.
Lois's heartbeat, her breathing, the rustling of her clothing as she stood and paced, the settling of the hot engine parts under the hood of the car, the restful slithering sound of leaves stirred by the wind, the caress of wind moving through textured forest—all of it was clearly audible.
From this side of the sign.
From the other side…it was dull, distant, muffled. As if some kind of barrier were between this side of the "Welcome To Storybrooke" sign and the other side. There was, Clark had noticed, a bright orange line spray-painted across the road, as if to clearly mark the delineation between Storybrooke and outside. But a spray-painted line didn't affect his hearing—nothing did except the vacuum of space and kryptonite.
Clark reached up and fiddled with his glasses, but before he could pull them down and see if his telescopic vision still reached past the line, he caught sight of a black Cadillac coming around the bend.
"I hope they stop," Lois muttered.
"I'm sure they will," he said.
"Not everyone in small towns is as helpful or nice as your parents," Lois said, but she fell silent when the approaching car pulled to the opposite side of the road and stopped about fifty feet back from the orange line.
Both the front doors opened and two radically different people emerged—the driver was a small, slight man who probably didn't even come up to Clark's chin, the ends of his light brown hair dipped in silver, his dark eyes intent and assessing as he studied Clark and Lois. He leaned on a gold-handled cane and walked with a slight limp when he began to move toward them.
His companion, on the other hand, was young and beautiful, dark hair spilling in tamed curls down her back, her eyes blue and sparkling with open curiosity, her hands smoothing her tan skirt. She didn't limp at all, despite the high heels she wore, but she moved to walk by the older man's side and matched his pace without apparent thought or effort.
"Hello!" Clark called to them with a friendly smile. "We're glad to see you."
"Indeed," the man said with an Americanized Scottish accent. His eyes flicked to the car, assessed Lois, then latched onto Clark. He came to a halt ten feet away, still solidly on the opposite side of that incongruous orange line. "A bit of car trouble?"
"An accident," Lois asserted firmly. "You people should really put up a sign warning drivers there could be wolves crossing the road!"
"Ah." A slight twitch at the right side of the man's mouth was all the reaction he made, and yet Clark got the distinct feeling that he was relieved. "Well, we don't get many visitors."
Lois shot Clark a sideways glance that said more than any "I told you so" could, and moved forward. "Well, I'm Lois Lane, and this is Clark Kent. We're repo—"
"Looking for a mechanic," Clark interrupted hastily, careful to keep smiling. He reached out and slipped an arm around Lois, hoping she'd play along with him. "We'd love to be on our way as soon as possible, but we're not going anywhere in this car anytime soon."
The man studied him, and no matter how strange it seemed, a chill ran down Clark's spine. He couldn't explain the uneasiness he felt under the man's gaze, but it was the same kind of chill he'd gotten in Luthor's presence and he wasn't about to ignore it.
"We do have a mechanic," the man said after a long moment. "Let me call the tow company for you. I'll also have to make a call to the sheriff to report the accident."
Clark smiled for all he was worth and used a lifetime of experience at blending in to appear as disingenuous and guileless as possible. Lois was tense beside him, but she was a great undercover reporter and, at least for the moment, she seemed to be following his lead. "I understand," Clark said. "Should we wait here for them?"
"We can surely drive them back to town," the woman interjected, looking up at her companion. "Can't we? That way we could take them straight to the sheriff."
"Wonderful idea," the man said, and for just the slightest instant, he softened. Clark blinked, and it was gone, the stranger just as tense and restrained as before, but Clark was certain he hadn't imagined it.
"Great!" Lois exclaimed, a bit too cheerily, and then she was moving forward, stepping over the orange line and joining the two strangers. Clark would have hesitated on his own, to cross that strange barrier-that-wasn't, but Lois was over there now and there was no way he was letting her go to Storybrooke alone. So he held his breath, and stepped over the line.
Nothing happened. There was no feeling of vertigo, no ripping sensation, no ominous silence. Just a step, from one place to the next. But when he looked up, the man was staring down at the line, at Clark and Lois's feet, and there was something very like bitterness etched across his features. The young woman slipped her hand into his, and the expression was gone as if it had never been.
"Let me just make those calls," the man muttered. He strode back to the car and retrieved a phone, his steps so quick and graceful it was almost possible to forget his limp.
"My name is Belle," the woman said with a pretty smile. She spread out her skirt, almost as if she were about to give a curtsy, before she blushed and held out her hand for them to shake. "And he's Ru—Mr. Gold."
Lois responded, but Clark wasn't paying attention. He normally tried to avoid eavesdropping on other people as much as possible, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something was very wrong with this place, that something was off about this Mr. Gold, and so he fixed a smile on his face and focused his attention on the hushed murmur of Gold's voice.
"—going to have to bring them into town. Can't very well leave them to wander in alone, now can I?"
"All right, fine, I'll meet you at the Sheriff's station, but keep them away from the stables," said a male voice, breathless and rushed and pressured, undimmed by the strange muffled effect Clark had been experiencing from the other side of the sign, clear even though it was only a tiny voice issuing from a cell-phone. "I'll have to leave Regina here with her resurrected fiancé."
"Clark? Clark!" Lois tapped Clark's chest with the back of her hand, yanking his attention away from whatever Gold's reply was.
"What?" he asked blankly.
Belle smiled at him. "I was just wondering if you wanted to sit up front?"
"Uh, no, that's all right. I'll sit in the back with Lois."
"So," Belle pursed her lips as she led them to the car, her eyes fixed on Clark so that he didn't dare let his attention wander to Gold's phone call again, "are you two just passing through then?"
"Yeah, just passing through," Clark affirmed, perhaps a bit too hastily, but he didn't want to risk Lois saying anything to draw suspicion down on them.
"There are lots of interesting places along the coast," Lois smoothly interjected, covering for him as easily as if she'd been doing it for far longer than a few weeks. This time, she wasn't covering for Superman, but it still made Clark feel elated and awed and wonderstruck all at once that she would pick up so easily where he left off. "We didn't get a ton of time off work, so we thought we'd just hit a few over the weekend."
"Well, there's nothing much interesting here," Belle told them with a half-nod, biting her lip as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
"Then we'll be on our way as soon as our car's fixed," Lois said, smiling, and if Clark hadn't known her so well, he would have believed her.
Belle nodded, then looked behind her as Mr. Gold stepped to her side. "Everything figured out?" she asked him, quietly.
"All sorted out," he replied with the shadow of a smile ghosting across his features. He met Lois's eyes, and Clark had to resist the urge to grab her in his arms and leap into the air, carry her far away from the sinister gleam in Gold's eyes, the evasiveness in Belle's posture, the strange barrier-that-wasn't. "You all ready to go?"
"Yep." Lois exchanged glances with Clark, a hint of confusion evident in the slant of her eyes as she studied him, before she slid into the car. Clark closed the door behind her and crossed to the other side to take his seat beside her. Belle and Gold waited a moment before getting in the car, and Clark took the opportunity to lean into Lois and whisper in her ear.
"Something's very wrong here," he breathed. "They're hiding something big."
Lois shot him a look that reminded him she'd been chasing down Kerth-winning prizes when he'd still been writing about knob-tailed geckos for the Borneo Gazette. Ruefully, Clark realized that he would have been better served listening to whatever words Gold and Belle exchanged before they got into the car than trying to warn Lois of something she'd known anyway.
"Thanks for doing this," Lois said, polite and casual, nothing at all to hide. For the hundredth time, Clark thought that she was the one for whom a secret identity would be almost second-nature. "You're sure you don't mind cutting your own trip short to take us to town?"
Gold's eyes slid to Clark's in the rear-view mirror, something shadowed and intent lurking there in murky depths. "I wouldn't dream of letting you make it back on your own."
Polite and courteous, every word pronounced with just the right amount of gracious civility, but it was a civility dipped in the mildest traces of poison. There was a threat hidden in the assurance, and what made it worse was that Clark was pretty sure Mr. Gold didn't care if they noticed the danger. Maybe he even wanted them to.
Clark swallowed and looked out the window as Mr. Gold reversed the car and turned them around to head into Storybrooke—and he noticed that Gold backed up until there was no chance of the car passing the orange spray-painted line even by accident—and he tried very hard to convince himself that he had to have misheard what the voice over the phone had said.
After all, he'd already handled more than his fair share of resurrected fiancés. The last thing he needed after dealing with Lex Luthor returned from the grave and irritating DEA agents trying to date Lois and greedy thieves kidnapping his parents was to get mixed up in something else that would stop him from finding out exactly where he stood with Lois now that she knew he was both her superhero and her best friend.
And to think, he thought dryly—all he'd wanted were a few quiet days alone with Lois.