And Emma seized the sword from Gold and drove it straight into the middle of the black miasma that pulsated on the floor. The sword imploded into the darkness; the darkness exploded outward, with a sound like glass breaking, leaving clear daylight in its wake.
And as the curse shattered and splintered around the assembled Storybrooke citizens, Rose -- not Rose, but Belle -- no, not Belle, but both Belle and Rose -- clutched her head and sank to the ground. "No," she said. "No, no, no." Around her, she could dimly see many of the other Storybrooke denizens reacting in different ways. David -- Prince Charming, she remembered -- was also crouched down, weeping, holding Mary Margaret's hands. Snow's hands. Belle thought she might go mad. Leroy -- Dreamy, Belle remembered -- had a light breaking over his face as he held out his hands to Astrid, whose other name Belle didn't know. Mr. Gold -- Rumpelstiltskin, oh! -- was perfectly bland as he helped Emma to restrain Regina, who looked as if she would have liked to kill both of them.
Ruby -- Red -- beside her gasped and clutched at Granny, who seemed thoughtful, as if she suddenly had the answer to seventeen different riddles. Belle turned to her friend.
"Ruby," she said. "Red. I can't, I can't even tell you -- I'm sorry, Ruby -- "
Ruby said to her, "I forgot him, Rose. Belle. I swore I would never forget what I did to him, and I did. Who am I, Belle?"
"You're Red from the Enchanted Forest, whom I have only met once," Belle said miserably. "And Ruby from Storybrooke, who is my best friend. You're both. And I'm Belle, and Rose."
Gold said, his voiced pitched to carry through the crowd, "Everyone remembers now, your Majesty. But the magic is gone." And now Belle remembered that this was to be the case, that Gold would never change back into the impish Rumpeltstiltskin she remembered, that the Queen would never be able to kill with magic again.
Belle pushed her way through the crowd to him. "Rumpeltstiltskin! You knew all the time," Belle shouted at him, accusingly. "You knew, and you let me make a fool of myself with you, and --"
He recoiled as if she had struck him. On his other side, Snow, followed by Charming, was making her determined way to Emma. "Emma," she said. "Emma, my sweet daughter. Oh, Emma." She hugged Emma, whose eyes had filled with tears. "Oh, my darling," Snow said. "Oh, my sweet girl."
Meanwhile, Regina had almost torn loose from Gold, who had clamped onto her wrist. Belle moved swiftly to help Gold hold her. Snow's eyes fell on them. "Regina," Snow said. "You did this. You did all of this. You deprived me of my daughter." She hauled back and punched Regina in the face, and in an instant the two were a flurry of fists.
"Whoa," Emma said, and she and Gold together pulled Snow off of Regina. Snow was not being cooperative, and neither was Regina. Belle and Charming held Regina, who kept trying to hit Snow back.
"She must die," Snow said. The mass of townspeople behind them muttered assent.
"Not at your hand," Charming said sharply to her.
"No," Belle said, without thinking. "Whatever you do to her, you must do to me."
"You're mad," Mary Margaret -- Snow -- yelled. "This woman enslaved us all for nearly thirty years, took my daughter from me, and you think that she's going to get away with that?"
Leroy shouldered his way up to stand next to Snow. "She killed Graham," Leroy said. "Not to mention countless others in the Enchanted Forest. She deserves to die."
Belle faced her. "I'm not saying she hasn't done terrible things, Mary Margaret. Snow. Leroy. Dreamy. But so have I. I made a lot of this curse, Snow. I made it with Rumpelstiltskin, and we gave it to the Queen. We had good intentions -- magic is now destroyed; no one will ever be able to be a Queen or a Dark One, to wield that kind of power again -- but. But. I also bear responsibility. I also was the reason you did not have your daughter." I tried, she wanted to say. I tried to give your daughter the best life she could have, without you. But she knew it would not be enough. "If you kill her, you must kill me as well."
Emma said beside her, unexpectedly, her voice choked with emotion, "She's right about not killing her. I can't tell you how angry I am at her -- I would have done anything to have had you, Mary Margaret, all these years, anything -- but, but. I don't know what you people do in the Enchanted Wastelands or wherever you came from, but Maine doesn't have a death penalty, and as Sheriff I'm not about to let you lynch anyone. The crimes I can charge her with -- that I have proof of -- extortion, bribery, fraud, tax evasion -- are quite enough to lock her up for the rest of her natural life. Think about it. Never to leave confinement. Stripped of all power. Able to watch all the happy endings she thought she had denied everyone else."
"How do we know she'll comply? " Leroy asked.
Emma said loudly enough for everyone to hear, "I'll accept responsibility for her."
The townspeople quieted. Emma was the hero of the hour, after all, and they couldn't very well deny her this, not when she had just broken the curse. Except for Snow, who gave Emma a long, challenging look. Emma raised her head and stared back.
And Henry, who had quietly come up beside Emma, said to Snow, "Grandmother. She is still my adopted mother." Snow blinked at him. And gave Emma and Henry a tiny nod. And took Emma's hand with one of hers, and Henry's with the other.
Regina snarled at Emma, "Better you had killed me. Do you really think you can keep me here?"
Emma said quietly, but loud enough that Belle could hear, "You heard Mr. Gold and Rose, Madame ex-Mayor. There's no more magic now. You pull any more shenanigans, you will be prosecuted for them. Under the rules of this world. You escape, and I'll find you. I will always find you."
Belle knocked at Mr. Gold's door. Although she now thought of herself as Belle, it was hard to think of him as anything but Gold, when he still looked like Gold and not like the Rumpelstiltskin she remembered.
There was no response, but the door was slightly ajar, and she stepped in. She heard Emma's voice.
"Now, you, Mr. Gold," Emma was saying, "have covered your steps rather better than our former Mayor. You appear to have all your certifications and licenses in place, and you've paid your taxes in full every year. I'm sure I should be charging you with something, but there's precious little I can dig up on you."
"My dear Sheriff," Gold murmured, "I do try to be a law-abiding citizen."
Belle peeked around the corner and saw them at Gold's kitchen table. Emma was sprawled across a chair, looking at Gold, who was sitting straight-backed and prim in another.
"Yes," Emma said, looking at Gold steadily, "I understand you're a big fan of laws, and contracts, and deals. Now, I did find one thing that was a little bit... suspicious. Henry. His adoption. Not, perhaps, completely above-board."
Belle saw Gold's twitch. Emma saw it too. "Yep," Emma said, smiling grimly. "That's what I thought. Now... I think we both understand that it's better for everyone, particularly Henry, if we don't inquire too heavily into the circumstances of his adoption. He's been through enough with Regina."
Gold raised his eyebrows. "And you'd like to make a deal, I presume."
"You presume correctly." Emma leaned forward, suddenly intent. "You stay here in Storybrooke for the next five years, where I can keep an eye on you. Until I'm satisfied that you aren't going to harm anyone else. And I won't press charges."
"I give my word that I do not intend, now or ever, to harm a citizen of Storybrooke again," Gold said.
Emma narrowed her eyes. "Pretty good. I believe you. More than I believe Regina, anyway. But I still want you to stick around for a while."
"Is this my version of house arrest?" Gold asked.
Emma shrugged. "If you like." She continued watching him.
Gold said, "Yes. All right. I accept."
Emma smiled at him. "Excellent." She said over her shoulder, "You can come in now, Rose. Um. Belle. Sorry, it's going to take me a while to get used to the names."
Gold looked a bit startled as Belle stepped into the room. "Well," he said. "Belle, now you know what my fate will be, for the time being, at least. And what did you come here to say?"
Emma glanced from Gold to Belle and back again. "I'll just be leaving," she said, and did so.
"I--" Belle started. Stopped. Started again. "I'm sorry for what I said before, by the way. I know you tried your hardest to protect me, without compromising your position here."
Gold closed his eyes and opened them again. "You need not apologize, Belle. I deserve it all, and then some, I imagine."
"And so do I," Belle said. "That's part of it. I'm... twenty-eight years older than I thought I was. I helped commit an enormous offense against all the people I've ever known, and many I know now that I didn't before. I need to figure out what I think about that. I need to figure out who I am. I think I've got to go away for a while, by myself, to straighten myself out. I... I suppose it's not exactly happily ever after, but it's what I need."
He smiled at her, sadly, and Belle was struck by how few smiles she had seen from him, either as Rumpelstiltskin or as Mr. Gold. "You're clever enough, dear, to know that there is no such thing as happily ever after, or unhappily ever after. There's life, which is much too marvelous and complex for that."
"I think," Belle said carefully, "that I'd better go find that out."
"Yes," Gold agreed. "I rather thought you might say that."
Belle filled out the paperwork to transfer to Blackstock College, a very highly regarded small school, for the last two years of her college career. She was fairly sure that Gold had to pull some strings to make that happen, as Rose's grades were none too good at Storybrooke College, but they both agreed that Belle, herself, would have no problems.
"Come with me," she said to Ruby, who had steadfastly kept her Storybrooke name and refused to answer to Red, except sometimes with Snow. "I bet you could get in easily. You're my best friend, I want you there." And as she said this, she found herself wondering: how much of that friendship was false? How much of it was the curse, how much of it would dissipate and be lost with the curse?
Ruby glanced at August, who had become a new staple in the diner. "I don't know," Ruby said softly. "I've got the feeling there's a lot of adventure to be had right here."
Gaston scowled when she told him. "I don't see what's wrong with staying right here," he said. In fact, it was true that most people had elected to stay in Storybrooke, that being the life they knew. A couple of people -- Jefferson and Grace, Snow and James -- had gone back to the no-longer-enchanted Forest, the pathway between the worlds the only magic that now remained in either world. Only a few had left both Storybrooke and the Forest entirely, Belle's own father among them.
Belle sighed, kissed him on the cheek. She knew that she would never understand him and that he would never understand her. Suddenly, for the first time, that was okay. "Let's part as friends, shall we?"
Gaston drew his eyebrows together, but nodded, and gave her a hug.
She went to see Gold right before she left. She stood there, not knowing what to say. Gold sighed. "I can't say I'm happy to see you go," he said roughly.
"I know," she said, looking at her hands. "I'm sorry."
And yet she still could not leave; it was as if there were a spell keeping her rooted to the spot, though of course this could not be the case. This man, whom she had loved through two worlds despite everything, who had waited for her for twenty-eight years-- And as she thought this, he leaned towards her and kissed her, very gently, on the mouth. "What's happening?" Belle murmured, half pulling away, half falling into the kiss.
"That was true love's kiss," Gold said quietly. "Let that break the curse; let that break any hold you may believe I have over you, my dear."
She nodded, mutely, full of conflicting emotions. But at last she could turn away.