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Skin Horse

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"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long, time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real, you don't mind being hurt."

 

-The Velveteen Rabbit


 

He wasn’t really sure what he’d expected. But then, he’d never expected to die at all.

But even if he stretched back into his long-ago memories of his mortal life, death wasn’t at all what he would have thought.

It wasn’t painful; but then he hadn’t been stabbed to death or anything. Just simply evaporated into dust like the fucking fairies he enjoyed killing.

There had been no tunnel of light; but then maybe that was only for people ascending to a better place.

He knew damn well that wasn’t happening to him.

He wondered if it happened to him. The other him. The him who thought himself to be so superior.

He scoffed, not liking to think on him at all. What with his disgusting speech about love and goodness. He’d become that loathsome, worthless spinner all over again and for what? A chit with pretty blue eyes.

He shuddered when he thought of what he’d found once he’d been released from that cell. He’d done the right thing. He’d gone right out to see that she was okay. All he’d wanted was to know that she was alright, and had been living a peaceful life since the day he’d thrown her out. Happy and free of him.

And what had he found when he’d used the locator spell? A pile of fucking bones, bleached white with age.

And it wasn’t even like she’d grown older and passed away, or befallen some accident. She’d been locked away, much like him. But when those supposed heroes defeated Regina, did they never even think to investigate her damned castle?! To make sure she hadn’t been keeping innocent women locked away for goddamned NOTHING?!

No, and as a result Belle had starved to death locked in a tower, all alone. No knight or prince to save her.

Fuck, the one knight who might have saved her…he’d turned into a rose.

Bile rose up in his throat and he clenched his fists, trying to banish the thought from his mind. She was nothing. Just a woman who had been in his life a mere blink in the scale of how long he had lived. He’d never even fucked her.

Him, the other him, the one who was so self-righteous…he’d cried and whined because his wife was gone after spending a life with her. How was that fair? His Belle had barely gotten to live at all!

NO…not his Belle. She’d never been his. She’d never been anybody’s.

It was better just to forget. Spin and forget. Forget that she’d died a slow and painful death. Forget his son had never so much as visited his cell…much less set him free.

No, definitely don’t think about that. It was the rest of the world…the worlds he wanted to hate. Not his son. Not Baelfire.

But there were times it was very, very difficult not to.

 

“Rumple…Rumplestiltskin?!”

The idiotic man blinked at him in astonishment. Rumplestiltskin didn’t recognize him, but then again, he could have killed him decades ago and he’d never have thought of it.

Wherever death had taken him, it didn’t really seem like Hell. Unless his version of Hell was just a very, very boring place.

“Rumple?”

Well, this was a surprise.

“Cruella,” he nodded at her. “I can’t say I’m surprised that death has found you.”

Cruella looked at him oddly, and glanced over at the stupid bearded man.

“No, Cru, he isn’t the one you know,” the idiot said, checking his clipboard. “This is Rumplestiltskin from an alternate universe.”

Cruella rolled her eyes. “Alternate universes. Why am I not surprised? But you know me too, then darling?”

So this Cruella wasn’t the one he’d kept as a guard dog all those years…and occasional bed-warmer.

“Intimately,” he sneered at her, pleased when she balked.

“My name is Arthur,” the idiot said. “I run things down here.”

“And here would be…”

“The Underworld, of course.”

Rumplestiltskin bared his teeth. “I thought Hades ran the Underworld.”

“Hades is dead, darling,” Cruella informed him. “If you’re here, then you must have Unfinished Business.”

He chortled. “My business can never be finished until I have all the Dark One’s power and that pathetic excuse for Rumplestiltskin’s neck in my hands!”

Arthur laughed, and Rumplestiltskin began wondering if it was possible to cause people pain here, if he couldn’t kill them.

“You’ll be here forever, then,” Arthur said. “The Dark One is gone…from all the realms. Everyone is talking about it.”

“And Rumplestiltskin himself has died,” Cruella put in. “…The other one, I mean. But he went straight up to the Good Place.”

“Of course he did,” Rumplestiltskin drawled. “With his pwecious Belle, I’m sure.”

Arthur snorted. “Wouldn’t you?” he said, a suggestive glint in his eye.

Rumplestiltskin’s hand shot out, meaning to choke the imbecile…but nothing happened.

“Nice try,” Arthur said, both he and Cruella laughing. “I just told you, the Dark Curse is gone. And even if it wasn’t, you’re dead. You have no magic here.”

Rumplestiltskin leaned in close. “But I bet I can still find ways to make your afterlife miserable.”

“I’m sure,” Arthur said, unperturbed. “Look, if you don’t want my help settling in…”

“Just stay away from me,” Rumplestiltskin hissed, shouldering past the pissant.

He hated this. He was powerless…weak. No better than that goddamned fucking spinner.

He held his hands up, irritated instead of relieved to see pale, callused skin instead of green scales.

The underworld looked similar to that odd place his other version had lived. A small, quant-seeming town. It was disgusting.

People stared at him with wide eyes, and the ones whose eyes flashed in recognition crossed the street to be away from him. Good.

So what the hell was he supposed to do here? There had to be away to get out. Get back to the land of the living. He couldn’t murder his other version if he was already dead…but he could delight in slaughtering the Queen, the pirate, and those children he’d tried so hard to protect.

It was nice to have a plan, at least.

“I know that look, and it isn’t going to work.”

Rumplestiltskin spun around, eyes widening to see a form he really only recognized from an ugly portrait in that Charming palace.

“…Baelfire?”

“Hello, Father,” Bae said, arms crossing, staying a distance away. “I’m not exactly surprised that you ended up here too. But I know what you’re thinking, and you can’t escape. You can’t undie, no matter what Dr. Frankenstein would like.”

“And why are you here?” Rumplestiltskin asked, despising the way his voice cracked. Loathing the way that…despite the anger…despite the…the hatred, all he wanted to do was go and wrap his boy up in his arms and never let go. “Can’t see why you’d have unfinished business. Had a right good life, didn’t you? Marrying a princess…”

Bae shrugged. “It wasn’t completely real. We were created with a wish. I remember being alive, when in truth I came into existence already wasting away in this place,” Bae glared at him, dark eyes blazing. “I got to watch as you tried to turn my son to darkness.”

Rumplestiltskin giggled. “And it was remarkably easy! Think he’ll wind up here too, someday? Then we can have a proper family reunion!”

“You stay the hell away from my son!” Bae snapped, stepping closer to jab a finger at Rumplestiltskin’s chest. “Even if he does end up here, which he won’t because he’s with people now who love him! Listen…when I heard you were here I had to see you. A part of me hoped…hell, I thought maybe telling you off might be my train ticket out of here. But I don’t fucking care! We may both be stuck here, but I don’t want to see you, you understand me?”

“In death, as it was in life,” Rumplestiltskin trilled, not back away even when he considerably taller son crowded him in.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Rumplestiltskin growled, his temper close to snapping. “Will you lock me in a cage here, too, son? I suppose I should be grateful of the slop I was given. At least I wasn’t left to starve.”

“Your getting locked up was your fault, not mine.”

“Everything I ever did was for you, you ungrateful little…”

Bae scoffed, and Rumplestiltskin wondered if he had any idea how much he sounded like him. “Ungrateful?! You mean you expect me to be grateful you let me go alone through a portal when you had the chance to be with me? Or is it, grateful that you nearly ripped apart the entire realm to cast a Dark Curse?”

“It was the only way I knew to get to you!” Rumplestiltskin snapped, his voice beginning to raise.

“Bullshit! I got back just fine without any damned curse! Without your help!”

“You never even told me! I had to hear from a fucking guard that you were in the realm…under a different name, of course. Didn’t want anyone to know who you were if you were to marry Emma.”

“Don’t fucking say her name! I loved her, and yeah, I didn’t tell her who I was. Like you could possibly understand about love!”

“You’re right!” Rumplestiltskin shouted, not paying attention to the fact that the streets had cleared, everyone seeming to have run for cover. “I know nothing of love! And you…oh you are just a paragon of love then! Love, and goodness! Good enough to let your own father rot in a cell…”

“You deserved your punishment! And I couldn’t see you…didn’t want to see you that…”

“I COULD HAVE SAVED HER IF YOU HAD LET ME OUT!”

Baelfire breathed in, blinking in confusion, and it took Rumplestiltskin a full minute to realize what he’d said.

Her?” Baelfire asked in a quiet voice. “What are you talking about? Who’s her?”

Rumplestiltskin snarled and turned to walk away. “Forget it.”

“No!” Baelfire jogged to catch up, grabbing Rumplestiltskin’s arm, and he tried to pretend that he wasn’t frozen as surely as if Bae had been holding the dagger. “Who the hell is she and what do you mean, you could have saved her?”

“She’d locked her away,” Rumplestiltskin growled out, nearly in a whisper, not looking at Bae. “Regina. She’d done nothing…nothing. Save her…association with me. Regina locked her away and…your precious in-laws never looked in the tower. No one did. She was up there…and no one ever…” he broke off then, fucking damned if he started to get emotional.”

“God…” Baelfire whispered. “Pa...Rumplestiltskin…if what you’re saying…if this…woman had been locked up during Regina’s reign, then…I wasn’t in the realm at the time. I was still just a kid in the Land Without Magic. By the time I got  back…”

Rumplestiltskin clenched his jaw, still not looking at him.

“You’re sure she didn’t…escape or anything?”

Rumplestiltskin let out a manic chuckle. “No. She died, all alone. There were bars on the window…she couldn’t even throw herself off the tower to end it faster.”

“Who was she?”

“No one. Just the maid.”

Without ever meeting Baelfire’s eye again, Rumplestiltskin walked away, and this time, Bae didn’t stop him.

God, he was becoming as big a crybaby as his other self. It was pathetic.

It unnerved him that he’d truly had no idea how long he’d been locked in that cell. When Baelfire had explained that he had still been a child at the time of Regina’s defeat, it finally clicked with Rumplestiltskin.

He supposed it was a quirk of the way he’d been wished up suddenly. And wasn’t that just lovely? An entire realm of people, wished out of thin-air with entire lives and thoughts and feelings and pain. But they didn’t just blink out of existence again once the beloved Emma was done with them, no, they continued living. Living a confusing half-life of someone who shouldn’t, by rights, exist. Living a life where they all must be aware by now that they’re not the real versions. Only unnatural copies.

As if it wasn’t unfair enough just be born. They’d all had to appear for no reason whatsoever.

While talking to Baelfire, Rumplestiltskin had a quick, wild moment where he wondered about her. About Belle. But no…Belle wouldn’t be here. She’d be in Heaven, or the Good Place, or whatever it was. He supposed she was up there with the other him, and the other Belle and…well, he was a disgustingly lucky bastard, wasn’t he?

He allowed himself to fantasize while his feet brought him automatically to a large, pink house, that he knew, instinctively somehow, was for him.

Ah, and this must be cosmic humor. Pink? Really?

But it didn’t really matter to him. He was tired. More tired than he remembered ever being in life. Did the dead sleep?

He opened the door to the house, noting that it was filled with all manner of bric-a-brac. But he ignored it all and headed to where he somehow knew the bed was. It was a large, lonely bed, but the sight of it was surprisingly inviting.

Rumplestiltskin hadn’t slept in over 200 years, but his eyes closed the moment his head touched the pillow. His last thoughts being of two pairs of eyes. One brown and unforgiving, the other blue...and sad.