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Where It All Began

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“Emma turned you into a Dark One?” said Belle, shocked.

Rumple wasn’t surprised, both by what Emma had done and why Hook was here. “And now you’ve come for your revenge.”

Hook smiled. “The thought had crossed my mind. For this lovely piece of hardware,” he said, caressing his hook like a lover, “I think I’ll take your hand. For Milah, your heart. For filling Emma with the Darkness…hmm, I think your head will do quite nicely.”

“So what are you waiting for? Get on with it.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. I’ve been waiting centuries for this moment. And I really want to…” Hook flared his nostrils as he inhaled deeply, “…savour it.”

Hook took a sword off a shelf and slides it across the floor to Rumple. Then he made an over the top hand gesture, much like Rumple used to do, but coming from Hook, he made it look ridiculous.

“Get your affairs in order, dearie, for we duel at noon on my ship!” Hook trilled, and then said in his normal voice, “Where it all began.”

“How poetic,” said Rumple dryly. “But we both know this weapon cannot kill you.”

“Ah, true. That sword can’t kill me. But this one can.”

Excalibur materialised in his hand. Except now the dagger was reattached, so the names Killian Jones and Emma Swan gleamed.

“Excalibur,” said Rumple.

“You have it,” Belle breathed.

“Aye,” said Hook. “Well, now that it’s whole, it can no longer control me. But it can…oh, oh, oh, kill me. All you have to do is take it from me. So, what say you, Crocodile? Shall we finish what we started?”

Unafraid, Rumple nodded. “Indeed.”

Hook grinned and turned to leave. “Oh! I very nearly forgot. There’s only one thing we’re missing.”

In the blink of an eye Belle vanished from Rumple’s side and reappeared pinned to Hook’s side while he held Excalibur to her throat.

“No!” Rumple gasped in horror.

“Well, it wouldn’t be like our first duel if I didn’t steal your wife, with the small caveat that her life really is in danger,” said Hook nastily. “Ah!” he said sharply as Rumple took a step forward, moving Excalibur closer so that it was a mere inch from Belle’s skin. “We wouldn’t want to nick that pretty neck, would we?”

Belle’s breathing was fast and shallow, her eyes flicking from Rumple to the blade that could kill her with a single cut.

“Such a shame to lose something so fine.” Hook leaned in close and sniffled Belle’s hair, knowing that Belle could do nothing to stop him. He turned back to Rumple, his face still close to Belle’s. “You have till noon, Crocodile. Don’t keep me waiting.”

Then in a cloud of red smoke, Hook and Belle vanished.

 

“Once a pirate, always a pirate,” said Regina.

The Heroes and Rumple were all convened in Regina’s dining room, sitting at the round table like a war council meeting, Dark Swan Emma drifting outside the ring and the sword resting in the middle of the table. Rumple had wasted no time in telling them what had happened. And for the first time since Neverland they were all united in the same cause.

“As a man, Hook spent centuries trying to kill me. It makes sense that revenge would be on his mind.”

And once again he was using Belle to do it.

“Why wipe my memory if he was going to announce his plan anyway?” said Emma from the sidelines. “There must be more to it.”

“Yeah, well, even if there is; we only have until noon to stop him and save Belle.”

“What about Merlin’s message?” asked David. “He said this ‘Nimue’ is the key to stopping the Dark One.”

“Nimue was Merlin’s True Love,” said Emma.

“And she was also the first Dark One,” Rumple added.

“I know. How do we find out more about her?”

“Start your search with the Dark One Chronicles. There are many texts that can help us.”

“As much as I appreciate devotion to scholarship; there is an easier way. I am still a Dark One. I can protect you, Gold. You just have to take off the cuff.”

Rumple chuckled. After everything Emma had done? She had put Belle’s life in danger twice now and the first time she herself had ordered his wife’s assassination. He was mildly surprised that none of the others were jumping in to remove the cuff or demanding him to do so.

“You don’t trust me,” said Emma looking around at everyone like they were the ones that betrayed her.

“Well, if the situations were reversed, would you trust me?” said Rumple. “Part and parcel of being the Dark One, Emma. You’re not the Saviour anymore. The thing’s you’ve done make me look tame, don’t they?”

“You would’ve done the same if it were Belle dying.”

“No I wouldn’t. For the same reason I didn’t do the exact same thing to save my son. Because he told me not to. I would never inflict this curse on anyone, least of all the ones I love. You said you’re stronger than I was, the truth is you’re weaker, because you couldn’t let him go.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Yes it do. You’re selfish.”

“So it’s true. You’re here.” Henry entered the room.

“Henry,” said Emma in relief. “I need you to tell them it’s okay to take off this cuff. It’s the only way to figure it all out.”

“No,” said Henry flatly.

“What?”

“You lied to us. About Hook, about everything. Why should we trust you now?”

“Henry, I’m your mother.”

“Are you? Because the mom I knew wouldn’t keep things from me.”

“I thought you were the one person who would understand.”

“I thought you were the one person I could trust.”

“So you can forgive Regina and Gold for everything they’ve done, but not me?”

“They’ve changed. They showed me they changed.”

Rumple felt a rush of affection for his grandson.

“So did I.”

“When we first met, yeah. But the minute things got tough, you didn’t come to anybody. You decided that you would figure it out on your own. We were a team.”

Emma smiled. “Operations Cobra. I remember.”

“But now you just want your dark magic back so you can do it alone. And I’ve seen what you do with dark magic.”

With that Henry ran upstairs.

“He needs time, Emma,” said Regina as Emma made to follow.

Rumple got to his feet. “You should really get to the library. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“You’re not coming?” said Snow in surprise.

“I’m afraid my preparations for this battle can’t be found in a book, Mrs Nolan.”

“But this was your idea.”

“For you and the others, there may be some way to protect yourselves. For me, if I am to save Belle, I have to face this battle alone. If I fall, at least I'll know you’ll look after her for me.”

 

Down in the brig Belle struggled with her bonds. She didn’t know where Hook had gone but she wasn’t going to wait to find out. If she was going to defend herself she needed her hands. She started to rock backwards and forwards to try and shimmy her wrists forwards. Eventually after several minutes Belle managed to get her wrists out from under her arse and after pulling her legs through the gap between her arms her tied hands were now in front of her. Belle lay on her back for a moment, the process wasn’t exactly pain free; her arms had seized up a bit. When it had passed Belle sat up and looked round for something sharp she could use to cut through the ropes. All she could find was a nail sticking out of the wall. It was all she had so Belle started to rub the ropes against the nail and at last her hands were free.

Rubbing her wrists where the ropes had cut into them Belle now set about trying to figure out a way to get out of this room. The door was locked and it opened inwards, so there was no chance of kicking it open.

Unfortunately she didn’t get the chance as Hook appeared in a puff of smoke. Apparently being the Dark One made him too good to walk on human soil or the boards of his own ship. His eyes fell on Belle and saw that she was untied.

“Are you going so soon?” said Hook. “I don’t blame you, love. I wouldn’t hold out hope for the Crocodile showing up.

“His name’s Rumplestiltskin!” Belle snapped. “And Rumple will come for me.”

“Even if he does, do you really think he can beat me now I’m the Dark One?”

“If you have to use magic to win he’s already beaten you.”

Hook approached her slowly, looking up and down like she was a tasty morsel. “You know, I never got a chance to meet Lacey. Racey Lacey...I like the sound of that. Let’s wake her up and see just how much fun she is.”

Belle slapped him across the face so hard he staggered. “Keep away from me!”

Hook rubbed his stinging face and chuckled. “Ooh! Scared of your own darkness? We all have it, love.”

“I can’t believe I trusted you.”

“And Saint Merlin called you the ‘clever one’. And he’s dead. What does that tell you about him?”

“You never gave up your revenge.”

“I was just briefly distracted. Now I can finally make the Crocodile pay.”

“Even if it means becoming the thing you hate? The thing you spent centuries trying to destroy?”

“Means to an end. And so are you. I intend to do more than kill the Crocodile. You’re going to break his heart. You’re going to tell him that there’s too much broken trust between you to ever reconcile. That you have to protect your heart. That there was never any hope.”

“That’s a lie.”

“But he’ll believe it. And it will break him.”

“I’ll never help you.”

“You won’t have a choice.”

Belle knew what Hook was going to do before he’d even raised his hand. Hook was going to rip out her heart and use her, just the same as Regina, as a pawn against Rumple. He was going to force her to say those horrible things to Rumple, to destroy his hope. But Hook’s hand barely touched her chest when a flash of gold light burst from her, burning his hand. Hook yelled in pain. Belle put a hand to her chest. Warmth had spread through her heart where it had hurt Hook.

“What did you do?” Hook demanded.

Belle only smiled. Rumple did more than return her heart. He had ensured no one would ever be able to take it ever again. Rumple was protecting her even now.

“Damn Crocodile,” Hook snarled.

“He just keeps beating you,” said Belle smugly.

“That’s the last time. And there’s no point running, there’s a barrier spell around my ship.”

Hook made to leave but stopped at the door.

“Here. Might as well have this.”

He pulled out a dreamcatcher and threw it to her. Belle caught it.

“There’s nothing interesting on there and you don’t know what I’m planning.”

Hook waved his hand and her memories from the last six weeks in Camelot flowed back into Belle’s head. She remembered talking to Rumple via the rose, giving him a reason to cling to life…she remembered Merlin…Well, aren’t you the clever one,…she remembered Merida, how she helped her save her brothers…she remembered Emma turning Hook into a Dark One when he begged her to let him die and destroy the Darkness…

Belle opened her eyes and saw Hook standing before her, the Dark One. Darker than Rumple ever was. Hook hadn’t even tried to fight back. He was relishing the Darkness and willing to hurt her and the family of the woman he supposedly loved to get his revenge.

“Enjoy your memories, love. Because what’s to come are going to be very unpleasant.”

 

Rumple swung the sword into the counter, checking his reflexes. With each swing he imagined Hook’s face. Well Hook’s and –

The shop bell jiggled. Speak of the witch and she shall appear.

“Hello Dark One,” said Rumple. “Sorry the shop’s in a bit of a mess since you sent Merida here to kill Belle. Forgive me if I don’t offer you tea. What can I do for you today? Because I assume this isn’t just a social visit, or to apologise for endangering Belle’s life. Again.”

“I need help,” said Emma. “To stop Hook, I need everyone’s memories back, including my own.”

“And how do you plan on doing that?”

“Zelena and Hook used squid ink to immobilize me. There’s still some left.”

“And you want me to use this on him during our duel.”

“All I ask is that you last long enough to occupy him while I steal back the dreamcatchers.”

“You confidence is touching. But I won’t need this. This,” Rumple walked over to the safe, “is where that magic belongs.”

“What are you doing? You can’t beat Hook without it.”

“Well, my feud with the captain predates you by centuries. And if I am gonna beat him, I’m gonna do it with honour. And I will.”

“You’re on a suicide mission.”

“Oh, we’ll see. But my stakes…are mine. Yours are far greater. Do you really think you can win on your own?”

“I know I can.”

Rumple chuckled. “Here’s the thing about confidence, Miss Swan…it’s great at starting a fight, not so great at finishing one. Good luck.”

Rumple left Emma in the shop and headed for the docks. When he arrived at the Jolly Roger it looked deserted. He tightened his grip on the sword, not trusting the silence. Or the absence.

“I wasn’t sure you’d show,” said Hook, strutting across his ship.

“And miss my chance to take your other hand?” said Rumple, stepping on board. “Where’s Belle?”

“Well, last day of your life. I thought I’d give her a decent seat.”

Hook flicked his eyes upwards. Rumple looked up and saw Belle tied to the mast high above them, the rope the only thing supporting her.

“No, this won’t do,” said Hook, staring at his bad leg. “This has to be a fair fight. I can’t have your surviving family members blame this loss on your limp.”

“Well, I know I wouldn’t want to face them knowing I was beaten by a cripple.”

With a whoosh Rumple’s leg was repaired. He tossed his came aside.

“It’s been centuries since I stood here a mortal.”

“Oh, you mean when I took Milah? I remember thinking that day. What type of sad little man is too afraid to fight for his own wife?”

“Yeah, well, I’m not afraid anymore. I know I have to fight for the people I love.”

Rumple looked up at Belle. She smiled at him and her smile gave him courage.

“Don’t you mean die for the people you love?” said Hook, drawing Excalibur.

“We shall see,” said Rumple, raising his sword.

And with that they began to duel. Suspended in the air Belle watched as the two men clash metal on metal, until eventually Rumple ran Hook through with his sword. If only Hook wasn’t an immortal.

Hook laughed. “We can do this all day. But until you have Excalibur, it won’t make a lick of difference.”

Hook used his hook to cut Rumple’s arm as he pushed him away. Rumple landed hard on the deck, clutching his bleeding arm.

“They say the first cut is the deepest. Well, they lied.”

Hook pointed the tip of Excalibur at Rumple.

“Well, I have to hand it to you, Crocodile. You lasted a lot longer than I expected. If you’d fought me with such vigor back in the day, I might have given you your wife back. Soiled, but returned. Oh don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her. For everything you took from me, I’m going to finish her nice…and slow.”

The pain in his arm was obliterated by the fire that coursed through Rumple at Hook’s threat.

“Belle and I…we’re going to have one hell of a time! Beauty and the beast!”

“What are you waiting for, Pirate?” the Darkness hissed. “Finish him!”

Rumple used Hook’s distraction to let loose a sandbag, which hit Hook from above. Rumple grabbed Excalibur and stood over Hook, pointing it threateningly at him.

“Well, get on with it, Crocodile,” Hook snarled.

Belle watched from above, holding her breath. Rumple had the sword. He could Kill Hook right now.

“There’s nothing I’d like better than to run you through,” said Rumple, staring down at the man he hated. “But I think…I think I’d rather let you live, knowing for the rest of your life that I bested you.”

“Today.”

Hook disappeared in a puff of red smoke. Overhead Rumple heard a snapping sound and looked up in time to see the ropes break and Belle begin to fall. Excalibur fell to the floor with a clang as Rumple ran forwards and caught Belle in his arms, just as a lifetime ago he’d caught her when she’d fallen of ladder having pulled down his curtains and let the light in. Belle’s arms were wrapped around his neck, her heart hammering from the fall, even higher than the ladder. The ladders that Rumple had banished to the vault after that incident. They looked at each other. Belle’s hand came up to wipe away the residue blood from Rumple’s mouth where Hook had punched him.

“Are you okay?” Rumple asked anxiously.

“Yes,” said Belle breathlessly. “You’re hurt.”

“I’m all right,” Rumple assured her, though his arm was stinging and still bleeding.

Belle shifted in his arms and Rumple hastily set her on her feet. Then she began to undo his tie.

“What’re you doing?” said Rumple nervously.

“Your arm,” Belle explained tying his silk tie around the wound. “We don’t want you to bleed to death before we get it healed.”

“I just need stitches,” said Rumple. “Besides, it’s my first war wound as a hero. I think I’ll wear it with pride.”

Belle smiled. “You did it. You won.”

“Indeed,” said Rumple sadly. “If I’d fought the first time-”

“Don’t,” Belle cut in. “Milah was the coward that day. She pretended to be kidnapped to avoid confrontation. You boarded a ship full of pirates, that was brave.”

“I didn’t even pick up the sword.”

“It wouldn’t have been a fair fight. And Bae would’ve lost his mother and his father all in one day. If it had been Bae taken by pirates it would’ve been different. You broke your ankle to be with him, you went into a burning building and sacrificed your soul to save him. I know you would’ve found the strength to fight. Because you had something worth fighting for.”

“You’re worth fighting for, Belle,” said Rumple softly.

“You let him live.” It wasn’t a question nor an accusation. “After everything he’s done…you must have been tempted.”

“If Hook died I’d feel nothing,” said Rumple. “Everything he has he took first. Betray him or tell him ‘no’ and he’d turn on you. He’s only a survivor when he’s saving his own skin or others are saving it for him. He never changed, he just changed sides. That man is loyal to no one but himself. And once again he threatened you to get back at me.”

“You could’ve finished him off. You could’ve destroyed part of the Darkness, taken care of two evils at once. Why didn’t you?”

“Because that would make me as bad as him. He’s not worth darkening my soul; this is Emma’s mess. But most importantly, this wasn’t about revenge or personal glory; it was to ensure your safety.”

Belle smiled.

“Now we must get back to warn the others.”

Belle’s smile faded at the abruptness. “Warn them?”

“Hook’s plan. The Dark Ones plan.” Rumple touched his wound. “I gave them what they wanted.”

“I thought Hook’s revenge was to kill you?”

“Oh, it is. If he’d killed me during the duel it would’ve been a bonus. I fear he’s got something bigger planned for me and Emma. He wants what the Dark One wants, because it will give him what he wants. What I’ve denied them for three hundred years.”

“What’s that?”

“To escape from hell.”

*

“Where the hell are they?” said Rumple in exasperation. They had searched everywhere; Granny’s, the shop, the attic, Regina’s vault - where were the Heroes when you needed them?

“I don’t know,” said Belle, cancelling the unanswered call to Snow. “None of them are picking up. Something must have happened.”

“It might already be too late.”

“Aye, that it is.”

Rumple and Belle turned to see Hook standing there looking smug for a man who just got his arse kicked.

“Lovely evening for a moonlit stroll. How you used to enjoy them with Mr Scarlet? Classy: your villainous spouses indulge their True Love and you fall into bed with the first lonely pathetic drunk who’ll listen to your tale of woe. Tell me, how long after you banished the Crocodile did you throw yourself at another man? Was it the full hour or did you leave it a week out of respect?”

“Stop it!” Belle shouted.

“Wow, that wasn’t a denial, I was just making that up,” Hook smirked. “First the Dark One, then the White King. You aim high, don’t you? Not the type to go for a lowly, powerless spinner.”

“What do you want?” said Rumple stepping in front of Belle.

“Basking in the glow of my victory.”

“Really? Last time we fought, this sword ended up at your neck.”

“You won the battle, not the war. I took the dagger from you and now you have nothing and never will.”

“Watch it, pirate.’ Rumple tried to swipe at him but Hook disappeared, reappearing behind them.”

“Ah! There’s the Rumplestiltskin we know and love! It doesn’t matter if you’re the purest hero, Belle will never take you back. The only thing you had was your power and now you don’t even have that. That’s why it’s so bloody satisfying to take it from you. Remember how good it felt.”

“Power is only as good as the one who wields it. And you’ve done nothing but parlour tricks.”

“Oh is that right? Well I think you’re really gonna like what’s next. The trick where I finally get my revenge.”

There was a hissing noise right behind them.

“Rumple!” Belle screamed.

Rumple turned but it was already too late. Their fate was sealed.

 

And so were the others when they re-joined them on the street outside his shop. Nimue had just passed through Henry and vanished.

“What the hell just happened to us?!” Regina demanded.

“I think I may have the answer to that,” said Rumple. “Check your wrists.”

They did. They all had the same mark.

“What is that?” asked Emma.

“That is the mark of the Charon.”

“Charon?” asked Henry. “He was the ferryman in the old myths. He navigated a boat…to the Underworld.”

“Smart lad. You see, the Dark Ones only have a temporary pass into this world, like a tourist visa. The only way for them to stay…is to trade places with living souls.”

“Meaning us?” said David.

“Exactly.” Rumple points to the moon above. “And when the moon reaches its peak, the ferry from the Underworld will arrive…and drag us down there.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Speaking of someone who’s died and been there, it’s not.”

Belle took his hand consolingly.

“So how do we stop it?” said Regina.

“We can’t. The Underworld is worse than you can possibly imagine. It’s gonna make you wish the old stories of fire and brimstone were true. It’s gonna make you wish for death. And then the realisation will hit you…that death has already come, and this fresh torture is all that’s left.”

“Gold, you’re scaring Henry,” said Emma hugging her son.

“Good, because we should be scared. This is Death itself. This is a fight we cannot win.”

“No, I’m not marked. I’m not going to give up. There has to be something we can do.”

“You’re right. There us something. Use the time wisely. Use it to say goodbye.”

With that Rumple turned his back on the Heroes, passed Belle as he pulled his hand out of hers and walked back into his shop alone. He walked behind the counter and leaned against the side. There was nothing to do but wait for the end.

The shop bell rang as someone entered. Rumple looked up into the mirror and saw that it was Belle. The thrill and the joy of seeing her standing there passed as quickly as an exploding firework before the world returned to being cold and dark.

“Belle, you should be with your family,” Rumple said without looking round, addressing her reflection. “There isn’t much time; you should be spending it with the ones you love.”

“I am.”

Rumple sighed and turned to face her. “I appreciate it. But you shouldn’t feel you need to keep me company before the end.”

“That’s not why I’m here. I’m not here out of responsibility or charity or obligation. I’m here because if I am to die, I want to be with the one person who matters to me.”

“You have a good heart, Belle. But there’s a difference between wanting me to live and wanting to be with me. I know I’ve hurt you in unspeakable ways. And two days playing the hero isn’t going to change anything.”

“You don’t want me?” said Belle, her voice trembling a little.

“I’m not saying that.”

“Is this because of what Hook said? Is that where this is coming from?”

“No. I’d made up my mind when I saved you from Merida.”

“You don’t want us to get back together?”

Rumple swallowed. “It doesn’t matter what I want.”

“Of course it does! Why doesn’t it?”

“Because no matter what I do; good or bad, hero or Dark One, I’m destined to end up alone. The only thing I’m good for is getting other people their happy endings, making their lives better…because mine never will.”

“Don’t say that,” Belle whispered, tears in her eyes.

“But it’s true. If it isn’t me, fate conspires to rip my happiness away, however small. I’m born, my mother dies. I give my father a magic bean for us to start over, he abandons me for eternal youth. I hobbled myself to be with my family, my wife runs away and leaves us. I sacrificed my soul for my boy, and I still lost him. I spare Hook’s life, and you got shot. I gave my life, my freewill, my sanity to save you and Bae, and Bae died. And if, by some miracle, what we had could be salvaged, we’re going to be dragged to Hell. And I'm the guiltiest. Some people are just meant to be alone.”

“No one’s meant to be alone. You’re not alone.” Belle came right up to him and cupped his face in her hands. “I’m not going to abandon you. Not this time.”

Tears cascaded down Rumple’s cheeks as Belle caressed them with her thumbs, leaning into her touch.

“In spite of yourself, you wanted us to be together. You hoped…”

“I wouldn’t allow myself to hope. If I did…and it was all for nothing, that nothing I did would change anything, I would truly turn to dust. That’s not why I did all this. If we can’t be together, then at least your last thought of me was a good one. That you could…smile when you thought about our time together and not think that it was a waste of time. I love you, Belle. And…I hope I did good.”

Belle smiled. “I knew there was a hero inside there. There’s the real Rumplestiltskin.”

“I’m not a hero, Belle.”

“Exactly. You don’t do good for a reward. Not even because that’s what a hero does or what you think I would do. You do it because it’s right. To protect the ones you love. You’re a good man, Rumple. Your heart is pure. Always has been. You deserve to be loved. I wouldn’t want to spend these last moments with anyone else. I said it’s never too late…please, tell me I’m not too late.”

It was Rumple’s turn to cup Belle’s face in his hand and rested his forehead against hers, a tender action that spoke more than words ever could.

They sat on the bed in the backroom, holding hands, waiting for the moment the Dark Ones would come to claim their souls.

“Was he a better kisser?” Rumple asked. “Will?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Something you – something Regina made you say.”

Belle shrugged. “They were…nice. But his weren’t for me and mine weren’t for him. I think we were just trying to prove something.”

“Prove what?”

“That we didn’t still love somebody else.”

Rumple smiled. “Wow. I never would’ve suspected.”

“What?”

“You and Anastasia. White Beauty – what a partnership!”

Belle laughed and Rumple chuckled.

“What about me? Scarlet Gold – am I going to have to fight Will to keep you? Because I’m not much of a butch.”

“No contest. You could take him out with a bitesize novel.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you regret loving me? The life you could’ve had; traveling the world. You know it’s not too late. There’s still some powder left. You can still have the life you’ve always wanted.”

“And leave you and everyone else to die?”

“Knowing you’re alive and happy will be a comfort.”

“How can I be happy? I’ve tasted life without you and I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want to see one of the wonders of the world, if I can’t see it with you. If you go, Rumple, I’m coming with you. What if I told you to take the powder to save yourself and leave me behind?”

“I’d be a hypocrite and say not a chance.”

“What about you? Any regrets?”

“A whole fleet full. I just wish there was time for a few more. But loving you? Never. So many times I wanted to hate you, and I couldn’t. All my powers of foresight and I never saw this. If I had…knowing how it would end…I’d go through it anyway, just for a taste of what being truly loved feels like.”

Belle smiled and rested her head on his shoulder. “You know you never answered my question.”

“Which one?”

“Why did you want me all those years ago?”

“You guessed it: I was lonely.”

“Yes, but why me. It wasn’t part of your plan to find Bae. And as you said, if you knew it would lead to falling in love you never would’ve risked it – at the time. You could’ve chosen anyone. What’s so special about me?”

“So many things.”

“What did I have that no one else did?”

“Light.”

“What?”

“The Darkness tried to snuff out the light until you’re nothing more than a meat puppet. The only reason I lasted this long was because of Bae. All of my efforts were put to finding him. But the curse finds a way to manipulate your purpose. It’s hard to fight the voices in your head telling you to hurt people, telling you you’re weak, telling you it’s the only way to save your loved ones. It knows what buttons to press. Takes your darkest insecurities and uses it to its advantage. The only way to beat it back was light. My whole dark life, I’ve sought out those who are light. Like you. Sometimes I need someone to stop me before I go too far. Stop me losing my way. Keep me on the right path. Ensure that the light in my heart doesn’t go out. Of course I never anticipated that I would fall in love with you. And never did I dream you would find something in me worth loving. Had I not met you, Belle, I’d be…weaker.”

“And I think you underestimate yourself. You weren’t a waste of time, Rumple. The only waste of time were the times we spent apart. All I could think of in Camelot was how I wish you were there with me. Not just a rose in jar.”

“You remember?”

Belle nodded. “All of it. Camelot. Merida. Merlin. The only one apart from you to notice my cleverness.”

“I like him already.”

“You would have. He’s dead. Hook killed him. Or rather Nimue made him crush Merlin’s heart to cast the curse, but I don’t believe Hook put up a fight. Not if it could get him what he wanted.”

“I’m sorry. You…you thought about me?”

Belle nodded. “They held a ball for us on our first night in Camelot. And I was the only one without a partner. Just me and the rose. Leroy danced with me, but everyone else had their partner while mine was fighting for his life in Storybrooke. I’d have given anything for you to be with me…to dance with me one more time.”

Rumple went over to the gramophone and put the needle on the record. The music they danced to on their honeymoon filled the room. Rumple held out his hand to Belle. “May I have this dance?”

Belle smiled, taking his hand. “You may.”

They waltzed around the room, lost in the music. And when it faded they were holding each other in a close embrace. They looked at each other. Rumple’s eyes flickered to Belle’s lips. He so wanted to kiss her. Belle leaned in just as Rumple decided to risk it and leaned in too. The kiss was tender but full of unsaid things.

The shop bell jingled loudly and they broke apart with a gasp and turned towards the curtain, drawing closer together. Had the Dark One’s come to claim them? But entering the front of the shop he saw that it was Emma and Regina.

“We’re closed,” said Rumple tiredly. “Please go away.”

“No. We’re not going down without a fight,” said Regina. “I bet there are a lot of people in the Underworld who would be thrilled to see you and me.”

“We deserve it. Just because we’re heroes now doesn’t erase a lifetime of villainy. Nor does it make ripping out my wife’s heart for leverage any less evil, your Majesty.”

“How do you know I didn’t apologise to Belle in Camelot?”

“You didn’t,” said Belle coldly as she emerged from behind the curtain. “Not in Camelot. Not when we got back. Not even after it happened. And we all remember now so don’t pretend.”

“Robin was in danger.”

“If Belle was in danger and I ripped out Robin’s heart and threatened to crush it, is that heroic?” said Rumple. “Just because a hero does it doesn’t make it not evil. The Charmings made that mistake when they took Maleficent’s baby. It doesn't justify Emma ripping Violet's heart out to hurt Henry and it certainly doesn't justify you doing it to Belle. We deserve everything we get. And it doesn’t matter. There is no alternative.”

“There might be, but I will need Excalibur,” said Emma.

“The only possible way Excalibur would be of any use would be if-”

“If Emma takes all the Darkness into herself…” Regina hesitated, “…and uses the sword to destroy it.”

“And herself.”

Henry would lose both his biological parents. But it was the only way.

“Belle, please fetch me Excalibur.”

Belle hesitated briefly but went into the office. They heard the sound of a sword unsheathing and a few moments later she walked back in and handed Rumple the sword.

“Excalibur was always destined for the hands of a true hero.”

He held out the sword to Emma.

“That’s it?” said Emma. “You don’t want to make a deal or something?”

“No,” said Rumple. Emma took the sword. “You’re a brave woman, Emma Swan.” As Emma turned and made to leave, he stopped her, “But it might not work.”

“What? Why?”

“Well that blade…it chooses who it finds worthy. And it chooses its miracles.”

“It doesn’t matter. Right now all that matters is I need to be with my family while I can.”

*

They didn’t have long. All too soon they were suddenly all transported to the lake where Hook, Nimue and the rest of the former Dark Ones were waiting to take their place. Rumple held on tight to Belle’s hand and Belle gripped his arm. No way were they going to let death separate them. Not again.

Then as Nimue choked the life out of Emma, something unexpected happened. Hook found his backbone. Using Excalibur he pulled all the Darkness into the sword so that the blade turned black. Now all Emma had to do to end this was run him through and then the job that should’ve been finished in Camelot would be done. Emma would be free, the Darkness would be destroyed and Hook would die from his wounds.

Rumple almost felt sorry for Emma for what she was about to do, to watch another lover die, by her own hand this time, but he was more sorry that she’d given her heart away to such a despicable human being.

“…let me die a hero.”

Even in death Hook was able to make everything about him.

Emma ran him through with Excalibur. In a flash of white light the Dar Swan vanished revealing the devastated Saviour, sobbing over the pirate. The paramedics carried Hook’s body into the ambulance; Emma was being comforted by her mother. Rumple and Belle stood outside the family circle. That’s all they ever were to the Heroes…the outsiders. Apparently family only related to the Charming side of the tree, and with the death of Neal, the Sitltkin’s on Henry’s father’s side were obsolete. Only remembered when the Heroes needed something. With no one to miss them, Rumple and Belle slipped away.

Without either of them saying anything they headed straight home. While Belle went upstairs to change, Rumple searched the kitchen for something to make them for dinner. The cupboards were bare and the fridge was a health and safety nightmare with the expired products. Rumple let out an involuntary noise of disgust and alarm when he peered into an open yoghurt pot, seeing a brief glimpse of something hairy before dropping it into the bin and allowing the lid to slam on that monstrosity.

He headed upstairs to find Belle.

“I’m afraid we haven’t got anything in, Belle. It might have to be a trip to Granny’s or if you want we can get a takeaway or-”

Rumple stopped dead, having just pushed open the door to their bedroom, the sight before him having robbed him of speech. Belle was wearing a long, elegant, green velvet dress. She smiled at him, his look of rapture clearly exactly the effect she was hoping for. Beautiful was not a big enough word.

“Am I in Camelot?”

Belle giggled. Gods, how he missed that laugh. “You never got the chance to see it,” she said, turning on the spot to give him the full experience of the dress that was making his trousers feel tight. “Do you like it?”

Rumple grinned. “A true queen of Camelot.”

Belle held out her hands to him and Rumple took them, allowing Belle to pull him in close. He felt something under his fingers. He raised her left hand. There, glittering merrily on her finger, was her wedding ring.

“Oh, Belle…” Rumple whispered, running his thumb reverently over the ring. “Are you sure?”

“All I want is to be with you. We’re alive. You’re free. Your heart is pure. Now we have a chance of making this work.”

Rumple nodded. “This is all I want. Always has. I love you, Belle.”

It was the first time that Rumple initiated the ‘I love you’. That was always Belle. Only then did Rumple feel confident enough to say it back, as if he thought she had given him permission or afraid she might be repulsed by the sentiment and reject him. Even in the shop tonight, the thought they were all going to die had given him permission to say it, knowing whatever the response, joy or heartbreak, it wouldn’t last for long. Now he felt brave enough, confident in himself and in her to say it.

They kissed.

“I love you more,” said Belle.

“I…” Kiss. “Love you…” Kiss. “Most…” Kiss. “And now, Mrs Gold. I do believe I owe you a Camelot dance.”

Always well prepared, Belle raised a remote control for the ipod. “Music?”

“Shuffle.”

“Anything could happen.”

“Sounds promising. What’s life without risk?”

Belle pressed shuffle and then took Rumple’s hand as they waited for the mystery song to play. A few seconds later ‘Only You’ by Yazoo emanated from the speakers. They laughed. Well, at least it wasn’t Let It Go. And this was Neal’s favourite song. Imagining she was back in the ballroom in Camelot Belle danced with her husband. This was how it was supposed to be, she thought as she twirled. The song ended and they bowed to each other, much like they did when Rumple gave her the rose.

They couldn’t contain themselves any longer. They kissed in fevered urgency. Rumple lifted her up by the legs and deposited her on the bed. They took time undressing each other. It was too beautiful a dress to rip it off with his teeth. Rumple worshipped every inch of her skin with kisses and Belle in turn showed her love for his body, which had always been beautiful to her; the scars on his ankle that marked the bravery of a man who loved his family too much to leave them, his soft greying hair that she could run her fingers through forever, each silver strand showing life experience, the lines around his eyes smoothed out in the absence of pain. And finally, the bruises to his chest and the wound to his arm, his first war wounds as mortal man, a pure hero. When they came together they were at last reunited in body and soul. They clung to each other like they were trying to merge together as one.

Rumple pulled the covers over both of them, Belle pillowed against his chest, tracing circles on his bare skin with her finger and Rumple running his hand up and down her back, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head.

“What’re you thinking?” Rumple murmured at Belle’s contented sigh.

“That two months is too long,” Belle whispered, snuggling closer.

“Never again,” Rumple assured her. “It’s forever, dearie.”

Belle smiled.

“I’ll make you breakfast in bed every morning. What do you fancy, sweetheart?”

“You.”

“Excellent. I don’t even have to leave the bed.”

“You won’t, will you?”

Rumple’s smile faded and he felt Belle grow warm with embarrassment. It was a fair question. Rumple cuddled her closer, lifting her chin to look her in the eyes.

“I’m not going anywhere, Belle. I’m here. I’ll be here when you wake up. I’ll always be here. At home whenever I look up, there will be you. And whenever you look up, there shall I be.”

Belle smiled at the quotation. “Except of course if I’m looking up from the toilet. In which case I’d rather you weren’t in the room.”

Rumple laughed. “Quite right.”

Belle leaned up and kissed him. “We’re going to be okay, Rumple.”

“Yeah,” said Rumple softly as they settled down to sleep. “I do believe the worst is behind us.”

*

Rumplestiltskin…Rumplestiltskin…Rumplestiltskin…

Rumple woke up in darkness. Whispering…there were voices whispering to him…inside his head. No. It can’t be. Emma destroyed it. Rumple stood up and looked all around him. There was no Belle, no light, nothing but whispering coming from a tall mirror. This is just a dream, Rumple told himself as he approached the mirror, just a dream. Whatever’s happening isn’t real. So how come he felt completely awake?

He stood in front of the mirror and his reflection. He looked normal. It was fine. He was fine. The whispering stopped very suddenly. Rumple turned away to look behind him. Still all he could see was the dark. He turned back to the mirror to see-

Nimue.

Rumple reared back in fear and alarm. Nimue smiled.

“Hello Rumplestiltskin.”

“You’re not real,” said Rumple shaking his head. “Emma destroyed you.”

“She thought she did. She multiplied the Darkness so that it could never be destroyed. But self-preservation is what we do best. The Dark One would never allow an advantage without taking one themselves.”

“Excalibur,” Rumple gasped.

“I had to survive. I had to live on should my host ever be destroyed and Hook was the perfect dupe. Excalibur was the problem, Excalibur was the solution. Neat, don’t you think? The sword that would be my doom became my salvation. Hook followed my instructions like the lemon he is. Never asked any questions, just believed it would help him get his revenge. That’s the advantage of personal history; I know all your hiding places. With one of your potions I was able to create an exit strategy. Move from one host to another.”

“What do you mean?” said Rumple, whose mouth had gone very dry.

“You’re a clever man, Rumple. Think. How am I here now? Look in the mirror…and see yourself!”

Nimue raised her hand and Rumple’s hand moved of its own accord. In one mirrored movement, they delve their hand into their clothing and withdrew the Dark One dagger. It had changed. The blade was black and the markings were etched in silver. Rumple started in horror at the name on the blade: Rumplestiltskin.

“No,” Rumple gasped.

“I have missed you. And I’m so happy we’re back where we belong. Together. After all, why would belle want you now? I mean she didn’t before.”

Rumple felt sick. Nimue was right. Belle wouldn’t condone him like this. What if she thought he’d set this up? That this was all some kind of plan to get his magic back? The foundations of their relationship were fragile; all it would take was one word, or in this case two words, to bring it all crashing down. Dark One.

“When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting.”

When Rumple looked up Nimue was gone to be replaced by his Dark One self looking out at him, scared and world wiry. How could he believe he could escape his fate? How could he delude himself that this happiness could last? And the worst of it was Belle had laid in bed with a beast instead of her pure hearted hero. What if she was with child? And if, by some miracle, it was not part Dark One, he or she would be a thousand times better off than to have a father for whom they will always be ashamed.

With a cry of rage and anguish Rumple threw the damned dagger at the mirror where it shattered along with his reflection. He sobbed into the darkness. He didn’t care. There was no one there to watch him. He was alone in the dark.

“Hello Rumple.”

Rumple started and whipped around, his eyes assault by a blinding white light. When his eyes adjusted to the whiteness, he saw a dark skinned man stood before him in sweeping snow white robes, smiling at him, his brown eyes twinkling. Rumple had never seen this man before. But he knew who he was.

“Merlin.”

Merlin held up his hand in greeting.

“But…you’re dead.”

“Well, yes. I think you'd have to say so. I'm more into the fairy-godmother, occasional-appearance sort of thing now. Not unlike yourself. Dead or alive? Real or imagined? Past or present? These things are of no consequence. All that matters now is that you heed my words. Do not give in, Rumple, do not let the Darkness win.”

“It already has,” said Rumple miserably. “Belle won’t accept me like this. I’ll lose her for good and I’ll have nothing to live for. Nimue’s won.”

“Only if you accept defeat. But if you fight, if you let hope into your heart, Nimue cannot be victorious.”

“But without Belle…”

“You talk as if it’s already been decided. How do you know Belle will reject you? She fell in love with you because there was a man and a beast.”

“And I let the beast hurt her.”

“You had lost your son, you had suffered at the hands of the Wicked Witch, you were vulnerable in body and spirit – and Nimue took advantage of that. You’re stronger than she is, Rumple. Stronger than you give yourself credit for. No Dark One in history has been able to hold on their love and humanity as long as you have. I believe you are the one who will destroy the Darkness for good.”

“You thought Arthur was going to be the great king of Camelot. You thought Emma Swan the product of True Love could defeat the Dark One. You thought Isaac Heller was the perfect candidate to replace the Author. I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead, but your taste in picking Saviours is questionable, so you’ll appreciate it if I’m not filled with confidence.”

Far from being offended Merlin smiled. “No, there’s no question it's you. Your fate may have been severed but your path is still the same.”

“What did you say?”

Merlin moved closer. “Let me show you.”

As easily and painlessly as if Rumple’s body was made of smoke, Merlin reached into Rumple’s chest and pulled out his heart. White and pure. Not a trace of darkness. As it pulsed Rumple saw gold lines gleam like cracks over its surface, like Kintsugi, before being obscured once more by the light.

“This is your heart, Rumple. This is no magical cleansing. This is how it’s always been, since the day you were born. And those cracks in your heart, where things didn’t work out quite as you hoped, but you patched yourself up and carried on? That’s where the light gets in.

“That’s why you need Belle. You two share the rarest True Love that has ever existed. Whatever the outcome, wouldn’t Belle rather hear it from you?”

Rumple nodded. He couldn’t keep this quiet. He’d promised himself and Belle that he wanted to love her with courage and honesty. He didn’t choose to be the Dark One. And if Belle couldn’t see that…

“I just want to be happy,” said Rumple weakly.

“And you will,” said Merlin, placing his heart back into his chest. “Give your clever wife my love.”

“Wait!” said Rumple as Merlin made to leave. “You can’t leave me with more questions. This can’t be the last time I’ll ever see you.”

“The dead never truly leave us. They always come back to us, if not I the way we expect.”

“Just tell me one thing: is this real or is this all happening inside my head.”

Merlin grinned. “Of course it is, Rumple! But why should that mean it’s not real? Oh! Baelfire says ‘hi papa’.”

Rumple jerked awake, his heart racing. He was in his own bed, Belle wrapped securely in his arms, her head resting on his chest. For a moment Rumple hoped that it had been a dream, but then the voices started whispering, the dagger was singing to him, calling him home to claim the power. It hummed through his veins, stronger than before, intoxicating, seductive.

“Belle,” Rumple whispered, gently shaking her. He needed to wake her up before he lost his nerve and succumbed. “Waken up, sweetheart.”

Belle moaned and lifted her head. She smiled. “Mmm, what time is it?”

“Nearly dawn.”

“Too early,” Belle mumbled, already settling down. “Way too early. Let’s sleep.”

“Belle, please…” Rumple pleaded.

Belle must have sensed his tone because she sat up to look at him properly. “What’s wrong? Are you not feeling well?”

“I…” Rumple swallowed. “I need to tell you something…”

“Rumple, you can tell me anything.”

“Okay. But it’s…bad.” He took a deep breath. “We failed, Belle.”

“What do you mean ‘we failed’?”

“The Darkness didn’t die. It moved. It still exists…in another host…in me.”

Belle shook her head, smiling as if it was all a joke. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Rumple didn’t smile. Slowly it dawned on her that he was being deadly serious. Her smile disappeared.

“That’s stupid, what – why would you say that?”

“I’m-” Rumple could barely breathe for trying to prevent himself from breaking down. He sniffed. “I’m the Dark One…I have magic…Nimue found a loophole to escape death – and that loophole was me.”

“Rumple, you are not the Dark One, okay? I would know-”

“I didn’t want it to be true either. But I saw Nimue. I can hear them. The voices in my head. It’s stronger this time – I now have the power of every Dark One who ever lived including Emma and Hook. Part of Hook is inside me. And I’m scared. But the thing I’m scared of most is the thought that I might lose you. I couldn’t bear it if you turned your back on me. I needed to tell you, before it’s too late. Before you found out from someone else and they’d use you and your pain against me. I’m sorry, Belle. I’m so sorry.”

Rumple couldn’t look at her. He couldn’t bear to see the shock, the hurt, the betrayal, the shattered dreams, the disappointment, the disillusionment, the tears –

The feeling of her hands cupping his face and wiping away his tears. Rumple made himself look at her. There were tears in Belle’s eyes, but she didn’t look angry. She wouldn’t be offering him comfort for one thing.

“Thank you,” Belle whispered.

“F-for what?” said Rumple confused.

“For telling me.”

She sounded grateful rather than condemning.

“I believe you,” Belle assured him.

Rumple sobbed in relief, turning his face to kiss her palm in gratitude.

“I don’t think the others will, though,” said Belle regrettably.

Rumple shook his head. “I don’t care what they think. I care what you think.”

“How do you feel?” Belle asked anxiously.

Rumple shrugged. “I don’t know. I could handle the curse before, but now? Double the Darkness. What if I lose myself again? What if it consumes me? One light in a sea of darkness. What have I got?”

Belle took his hands in both her own and squeezed them tight. “I won’t let them take you, that’s what you’ve got. And I understand the curse better now. If you lose yourself, I’ll find you again, just as I know you’ll find me. We can fight this together.”

Rumple reached up and kissed her. The voices went quiet.

“Well?” Belle asked hopefully.

Rumple shook his head. “Magic is different here. The curse was not born of this world. It’s like diesel in a petrol engine. Even if we were in the Enchanted Forest, I’m not sure if True Love’s Kiss will be strong enough to destroy it now it’s multiplied.”

“Then we’ll find another way,” said Belle resolutely. “Until then, we’ll just have to kiss harder.”

Rumple smiled weakly. “How did I ever deserve a wife as wonderful as you?”

“Because you’re you.”

They kissed again.

“So what do we do now?” asked Belle.

Rumple sighed. “First, I need you to help me fight a dragon.”

“Dragon?”

At that moment Rumple’s phone buzzed having received a text. The dragon awakes, Rumple thought as Belle, who was nearest, retrieved the phone. It was from Emma.

MEET AT YOUR SHOP. NOW.

 

Emma was already inside the shop when Rumple and Belle entered.

“Now you see, this isn’t the library or Granny’s or some bus station, Miss Swan,” said Rumple, walking round behind the counter. “This is my shop. Unless the sign says ‘open’…you’re not invited.”

“I think I was invited.” Emma glanced at Belle. “I told you to come alone.”

“You told me to meet you; you didn’t say anything about a restricted guest list. I invited Belle. Nothing is secret from my wife.”

“Since when?”

“We both know the truth always come out in the end. Just ask your parents. And I think you’re done using my wife as a pawn against me.”

“I hear whispering. It’s the dagger. It’s calling to me.”

“I know you’re upset-” said Rumple not unkindly.

“It’s here, isn’t it?” Emma insisted. “You have it, don’t you?”

Rumple reached under the counter. “Yes, I do.”

He laid the dagger on the counter, Rumplestiltskin written on it once more.

“You’re the Dark One. Again,” said Emma in disbelief.

“Yes,” said Rumple unenthusiastically. “Wasn’t expecting you to hear it. But then, most ex-Dark Ones are dead.”

“How is this possible?”

“It seems Nimue took precautions. While the sword was in Hook’s possession, she ensured that should things go wrong that she would survive. As fate would have it, a small vial of magic was close at hand. One sprinkle…and plan B was assured. She turned the sword into a conduit. So that while Hook thought he was destroying the Darkness, he was actually… moving it. Channelling it someplace safe.”

“Into you,” said Emma, glaring daggers at him.

“He had no idea. He was too busy being a pawn and getting revenge to question it.”

“Hook sacrificed himself, and you took that from him!”

Emma went to strike him with magic. But Rumple stopped her.

“Do you honestly think that you can hurt me? I now have the combined power of every Dark one who ever lived…including you.”

“You found a loophole, betrayed us all again.”

“Believe it or not I didn’t want this. I was free, the best version of myself, a hero. I was free of the bloodlust and your pirate threw me straight back into the Darkness. Or have you forgotten that he tried to kill us all?”

Emma rounded on Belle. “And you believe this crap?”

“Yes,” said Belle firmly. “I’ve been with him the whole time, when has he had the opportunity to do any of this? If this was all some nefarious plan or convenience Rumple would’ve hidden it from me. But he didn’t. He came to me and told me what happened. He’s changed, Emma. It’s not his fault. He’s learned from his mistakes – he’s even learned from yours.”

Emma glared back at Rumple. “You should’ve died in New York, Dark One.”

Rumple glared right back. “You should’ve finished the job in Camelot, Saviour.”

Emma straightened up. “Well then, Dark One…no that you have your power back…you’re going to do something for me.”

“And why would I do anything for you?”

“Because helping me get what I want is the only way to get what you want.”

“And what’s that?”

“Neal.”

Rumple’s hands clenched on the counter. How dare she bring his son into this? The trinkets and knickknacks rattled loudly as they shook with his supressed rage. Only when Belle placed a hand on his arm did he calm down and they settled.

“Miss Swan,” Rumple whispered; it was taking every ounce of self-restraint he had to stop himself tearing Emma’s throat out, “you are treading on some mighty thin ice. Don’t test me.”

“Don’t test me. Neal for Hook, that’s the deal.”

“Emma, this is insane,” said Belle, trying to make her see reason. “You can’t go to the Underworld.”

“Why not? You brought Rumplestiltskin back when he died.”

“And Neal died. Rumple lost his son. Henry lost his father. All magic comes with a price.”

“I don’t care. Killian’s death wasn’t fair-”

“Not fair? Not fair? Emma, life isn’t fair! Death isn’t fair! If everyone went to the Underworld to save their loved ones, no one would ever die.”

“Belle-”

“I’m still talking! Do you think you’re the only one who’s ever lost someone? My mother was ripped apart by ogres. Snow’s mother died on her birthday and her father was murdered by her step-mother. David’s mother was shot with an arrow. Regina lost Daniel. Robin and Roland lost Marian. You think we don’t know how this feels?”

“You never had to kill the person you love!” Emma shot back.

“I had to banish the man I love, and it killed me!”

“Well, you certainly had a hell of a time at the wake with that drunk Scarlet!”

“And how long after my son died did you wait before you hooked up with the man who stole his mother?” Rumple snapped.

“What?”

“Oh, didn’t you know you were dating your one-time-possibly-nearly-almost-not-quite-step-father-in-law? Quite incestuous when you stop and think about it, isn’t it? Gods help us if you and I got together before that family reunion in New York. Tell me, what kind of man decides that’s a logical progression to go for my son’s mother and then the mother of his child? First a monkey, then Norman Bates…you really know how to pick them.”

“Neal was a three hundred year old car thief.”

“At least he loved you. I didn’t see you rushing to the Underworld to save my son when he died.”

“I didn’t know I could do this.”

“And now you do, you’re only going to save him to get me to help you save the pirate, not because you want him back.”

“And what would Hook say,” said Belle. “He begged you to let him go in Camelot. And you not listening to him is what led us to the Dark Ones marking us all to be damned to the Underworld. He’s taken credit for things he never did. He’s not a hero, Emma. Sacrificing yourself because you screwed up does not make you a hero. If Hook really cared about you – if he’d really changed – he never would have marked us for death. Rumple was the Dark One for centuries and he never did such a thing. He’s been the Dark One again five minutes and he hasn’t harmed anyone yet and he’s being more civil than you are, even without the Darkness. From what I’ve seen the last six weeks, Rumple’s better than most at controlling the Darkness.”

“Fine. If you aren’t going to help me bring back my True Love, then-”

“True Love?” Rumple scoffed. “His kiss took away your magic and it didn’t break the curse in Camelot. True Love? Try last resort. Let’s be honest, every man you’ve ever loved has died. Graham, Neal, Walsh…did Hook promise he wouldn’t die on you? Or did he tell you, the Saviour, that you were his happy ending? You’ve changed, Miss Swan, and not for the better.”

“I don’t have to take this from you. You help me, you get your son back. Everybody wins. Don’t you want to see him again?”

“Don’t you? Or did my son – Henry’s father – mean so little to you? What happened to the strong, compassionate woman who drove into town just a few years ago? Who would stop me from beating a man to death, but was willing to help a woman you’d never met? Where’s that Emma Swan?”

“She grew up. The lake. Dusk. Be there.”

With that Emma left the shop.

“Are you okay?” said Belle.

“No," said Rumple heavily, feeling tired. "I’m sorry, Belle. I’m sorry you got put in that position.”

“You’re not really going, are you?”

“I'm the only who's been there. Plus, my blood can summon the ferry. Belle, if it means seeing my boy again? Bringing him home - only if he wants to…I just...I’ve got to.”

“I know. I just can’t believe I have to lose you again so soon.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think it's better if I stay behind so I don’t get trapped in the Underworld or so none of your past victims can get revenge on you through me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Saves you having to ask.” Belle smiled. “Rumple, it’s okay. I understand. Besides, someone has to look after the little ones.”

Rumple smiled. “Belle Gold: mother to us all. They better not get into the habit of this, or it’ll be you there for their first words – that word will be ‘mama’. I wish you were coming with me.”

“I’ll always be with you.”

An idea hit Rumple. He pulled out a leather box and lifted the lid. Two tiny gold mirrors with handles sat on the velvet cushion.

“Two-way mirrors. We each take one. If we need to talk to each other we just say the others name into it. You’ll appear in my mirror and I’ll be able to talk in yours. If anything happens you tell me. And vice versa.”

Belle reached up and kissed him. “Just…come back to me.”

“I always do.”

 

At midnight by the lake the Heroes, Rumple and Emma stood ready to summon the Charon. How Emma convinced her family to come, and how they thought this was a good idea, Rumple couldn’t fathom. And bringing Henry was just plain irresponsible.

“Do it,” said Emma.

“Are you sure about this?” said Rumple.

“Do it. I’m getting Hook back-”

“No, are you sure it’s a good idea to bring your thirteen year old son?”

He wanted to believe he saw a flicker of guilt in the mother's eyes, but Emma continued to glared at him.

“On your own head be it.”

Rumple sighed and cut his hand on the dagger. He turned his hand so the blood dropped into the water. The fog and Charon appeared. An invisible walkway in the water comes. Emma stepped on first, her parents, Regina, Robin, Henry and Rumple followed, and they walked towards the boat. Just before they stepped on, as he bandaged his hand, Rumple and Henry glanced at each other, the latter holding the swan necklace his father gave his mother. In that one look they had just embarked upon their first secret operation together as grandfather and grandson.

Operation Tallahassee was ago.

While Emma bleated about finding her beau like the Stepford-Swan she'd become, Rumple whispered, “I’m coming, Bae. Papa’s coming.”