I don't own Grimm or Once Upon a time.
Note: This story grew out of flipping back and forth on different fansites. What would happen if Rumplestiltskin appeared in the Grimm episode La Llorona? I don't try to explain why he's there. He just is.
As for Valentina's story about Rumplestiltskin, a lot of stories from Fairy-Tale Land have made it to our world. Most of them do get the details wrong.
The woman in white led the three living children down to the riverside. By the water's edge, weeping, she called to her dead children and saw their ghostly images rise from the waves. "Forgive me," she sobbed. "Return to me. I have brought three others to take your place—"
La Llorona started back. There was a figure, dark and shadowy, standing between her and the children in the river. He wore a hooded cloak, his face lost in shadows. But, as he lifted his head, she could feel him look at her.
"You don't get to speak to them," he said. "You don't get to touch them. They don't belong to you anymore."
"No!" She tried to lunge past him, reaching to the river. "No! Children, I'm your mother. I love you. I never stopped loving you—"
The man caught her by the wrist, shoving her back. A part of her knew this was wrong. Great warriors had faced her over the ages only to be beaten back. But, she was dead, and it was no longer in her nature to puzzle over the mysteries of the living, even when she saw his hand. It was clawed and scaled like an lizard's.
"You didn't leave them," he said, tightening his grip on her. "You didn't let them go. You threw them away. And you think anything you do can bring them back?"
"He hurt me," she said. "I loved him, and he left me. For her. I wanted him to feel what it was like to lose everything."
"Oh, was that it?" he laughed, high and piercing. "A word to the wise, dearie, if you want the lover who left you for another to know what it feels like to have his—or her—heart ripped out and crushed to pieces in front of him—or her—then rip the heart out and crush it. Don't bother with proxies. Stories say you date back to the Aztecs. Surely, you could have found one of them to show you how to do it?"
"He needed to suffer! The way I've suffered-"
"Would that be the way you've suffered for hundreds of years trying to make up for the horrible thing you did by doing it all over again on the anniversary? Because, sorry to say it, I don't see him here to appreciate it."
The transformation washed over her. She could feel it. Her face was like a corpse's, with blood dripping from her eyes. She broke free and lifted clawed hands to tear him out of her way. "They're mine! I will have them!"
The hooded man sighed and shoved her in the chest, sending her flying away from the water. "No. Do you understand that word? You know, it's not often I get to feel incredibly morally superior to someone, but you're really doing it for me.
"These are not your children. You threw your children away. You have no claim on them. They aren't yours anymore." He began to advance on her across the grassy shore. "Your husband left a woman so full of hate, she would murder her children rather than see him happy. I'm as glad to see my enemies miserable as the next man, but I've got to side with him on this one—or I would if he hadn't left his children with a psychotic child-murderer. That does make me wonder. Still, he's not the one who's been suffering for centuries, is he? If he owes the gods a debt for what he did, he's not paying for it here.
"That's where I come in. Even now, even when he isn't here to see it, you have to make your children suffer, don't you? It's been centuries, and you'd rather see them in hell with you than some place better without. You may not be able to call them back to you, but you can't bring yourself to cut them free, can you?"
"No," she said, sobbing and trying to reach past. "No, I love them. Truly, I love—"
"Oh, please. If you had a heart, I'd rip it out just to show you how empty it is. Instead—" He turned and looked at the ghostly images hanging above the water. "Children, this woman is not your mother. She calls you with your mother's voice, but it's a lie. A mother takes her children home when they are lost. She doesn't demand they remain lost in the night. A mother—" His voice broke slightly on the word. Trapped in her past though she was, something in that quaver got through to her.
Father, she thought. He meant to say father.
"—A mother who knows she has failed her child once would spend centuries trying to undo the wrong, not recreating it again and again. A mother—" the quaver was there again, stronger this time, "—knows when to let her children go. If they can find peace and happiness without her, she would suffer for eternity rather than deny them that.
"This is not your mother.
"But, in the name of the mother you should have had, I release you. Go home. Go to your rest. Leave these waters. Go."
The children's faces had been blank and empty. As he spoke, they changed. Light came into their eyes. They looked at the hooded man with something new in their expressions, something the woman hadn't seen for centuries: hope.
The man said she had no heart, but she felt something cold clench inside of her in the place it should be as she realized what was happening. "No," she said. "No, don't take them from me!"
The man ignored her. "It's all right, children. Really. You can go."
She screamed, but the children didn't hear her. They looked away from the shore, their backs to her. They seemed to change. Before, they had always been the way they were when they had drowned, their faces pale and dead, empty eyes staring up at her. Now, even when she couldn't see her faces, she could see life and warmth coming back into them. If she had seen their faces, she knew they would be smiling.
She saw them lift their faces to the stars and fade away.
The man walked away from her towards the other three children she had brought to take her dear ones' place. He bent down, asking them if they were all right. She heard his voice from a great distance. The world began to fade around her. One by one, the stars went out.
This time, she knew they would never be coming back.
Nick came running towards the water. He saw La Llorona, ghost or Wesen or something else, leading the children to the water's edge. He tried to yell to the children not to go with her, but they didn't hear him.
We're not going to be in time, he thought.
Then, a dark shadow loomed up in front of the woman.
Nobody mentioned this guy. What's his part in this? Maybe La Llorona was only half the story. Maybe there was another Wesen who helped her kill the children.
"No," the man said.
Nick froze. Hank and Valentina did the same. He wasn't sure if it was their training as police. After all, the man, whatever he was, seemed to be stopping La Llorona. Nick knew better than to endanger hostages when someone showed up that the kidnapper would listen to. But, it might have been something else, something about the man, whatever he was.
He saw the three . . . images, tricks of light, bits of moonlight floating over the river. One moment, he was sure they were nothing more than that. The next, he saw three children, their eyes as blank and cold as dead fish.
Till the man spoke to them. Till they turned away from the woman. Till they vanished, and there was nothing—not dead children, not tricks of light—hanging over the river.
He heard the woman scream, then saw her fade away. The bright white of her gown seemed to dim. She collapsed into the shadows, becoming nothing.
The hooded man knelt down, putting himself on eye level with the children. Nick hurried down, Hank and Valentina running alongside him.
The hood tilted up, but all Nick could see inside was darkness. More than there should have been, he thought, even in this light. "Ah," the man said. "Children, these are the police. Detectives Nick Burkhardt, Hank Griffin, and Valentina Espinosa. Detectives, I trust you can take care of these children? They've had a difficult time."
"You know us?" Nick asked. There was something about the man's voice that seemed familiar. If he was a man.
Valentina drew back from him, her face woging for a moment into its jaguar form. She stepped back, looking wary. "Why are you helping us?" she growled. "What's your price?"
"No price, Miss Espinosa, not tonight. You've already paid enough."
"But, not to you."
"Contrary to popular opinion, that isn't always required." He hesitated. "Five years is a great deal in a mortal lifetime. You've paid it without even the hope of getting back what was lost. I . . . admire that. And this is a night for turning the world upside down, when children play at being monsters and even monsters pay them tribute. On a night like this, even this old beast might choose to do some good. Or do harm in a more helpful way."
"Is—is she gone?" Valentina asked. Her eyes glowed like candles, and Nick heard the hunger in her voice.
"Gone from this world," the man said. "And not coming back. She held her children here, but they were her anchor as well. She could only be in this world as long as they couldn't break free of her. All of them are gone now."
"Was she—was she a ghost?"
The man shrugged. "Do you want me to answer that? There's a kind of wasp that paralyzes prey and lays an egg in it, letting its young eat them from the inside out. Perhaps this kind of Wesen is the same, feeding its young lives till they have enough strength to survive on their own. It would be more like me, don't you think, to pretend to be a hero when all I really wanted to do was destroy her young?"
"That's not what you said to her."
"Wasn't it? Well, believe what you like. Oh, Detective Burkhardt, when you make your report, you might want to say that the woman cast herself into the river when you and your friends managed to rescue the children from her. It makes a better story."
"And just hope no one asks the kids and they don't say different?"
"Oh, but that's exactly what they'll say happen." The man began to turn away.
"Hold it—" Nick said, catching him by the arm. But, his hand closed on empty cloth. The cloak in his fingers fluttered in the wind.
"What happened?" one of the children said. "Where are we?"
The children's story was more or less what the stranger said it would be. The official report was that they'd been hypnotized or drugged. They remembered nothing clearly from the time they were taken till the time they woke up by the river. They remembered walking towards the water and a dark shadow standing up and blocking their way.
"That's when we saw the policemen," Rafael said.
"The woman screamed," the little girl added.
"She ran towards the water," the other boy said.
Valentina listened, answering questions when asked but not offering anything. She looked subdued.
Nick had seen people who had spent years waiting to hear a criminal was caught or that a lost child was living or dead, had seen that kind of exhaustion before, when the long wait was finally over. But, he thought there was more to it.
"That man," he said. "What was he? And, if you tell me he was another ghost—"
"No," Valentina said. "Not a ghost. I don't know for certain what he is. I've only heard stories. Balam have a sense for darkness. Sometimes. I never smelled it on her."
"He—if he's what I think—there's a story I was told. The Spinner, he's called, the Weaver. There was a terrible monster. He had no name, just the Dark One. There was a man—a human man. An army of Wesen—Siegbarste, I think, but the story didn't say—coming to the village where the man lived. He wasn't afraid to die, but he knew the monsters would devour his son.
"But, he also knew where the Dark One made his nest. The man gathered hair that lay in the Dark One's den and wove a net that even the Dark One couldn't break, for his own strength was woven into it. The man demanded the Dark One make a pact with him and swear to save the man's village and his son. In return, he offered up his own heart to him. But, the Dark One only laughed. He said the Wesen would come and destroy all the villagers, including the man, and then the Dark One would be free of his trap.
"The man became angry and drew out his knife. He cut out the Dark One's heart and devoured it. In that moment, he was flooded with the Dark One's power but also with his evil. He went back and destroyed the Wesen. But, in his fury, he also destroyed the villagers, all of them except his son.
"When his son saw what his father had done, he cursed him and fled from him. From that day to this, the Weaver has travelled the world, searching for him and never finding him.
"He's still a creature of darkness but, since it was his battle fury that cost him his son, he binds himself with certain rules. He only uses his powers—he only kills—when others summon him to do it. He makes bargains and deals. But, people who call on him find he always gets the better of them. Most of the stories end with him carrying off his summoners along with their enemies, never to be seen again."