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Broken Kingdom, Broken Crown

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Between pulling Excalibur from the stone and realizing that his name was on the blade, Killian Jones basically had one thought running through his head: bloody hell.

 

Because this was...basically the last thing he wanted. (Minus being killed in a burst of magic, but even then would have been expected, somewhat).

 

Killian Jones disliked royalty as a general rule. They were pompous asses, the lot of them, corrupt and completely lacking any honor and sending honorable men to retrieve unthinkable poisons. The royal family of Misthaven was different--they had fought together, bled together, hell he fell in love with the princess (as much as Emma disliked being called that) and thought of her son almost like his own. But it didn't change his general annoyance with those who seemed to get everything on a silver platter because they happened to be born into the right family. Whatever respect and value he had, Killian had earned. 

 

But his name was still on the bloody sword.

 

Emma's eyes kept flicking from Excalibur to him. Her mouth was open and eyes wide in an almost comical expression, but Killian was feeling the furthest possible thing from amusement. The pirate opened his mouth, searching for the right quip, an irreverent comment to assure her that everything was fine. But none were coming, his mind still reeling with what was happening. His eyes flickered from his love to the other two women with them--Belle and Mim. The librarian and the witch were next to each other as always, and while their reactions weren't quite as exaggerated as Emma's, they were obviously no less surprised by the turn of events.

 

"How--I mean, the last person who..." the brunette trying and failing to piece together a coherent sentence. "Just...how?" She glanced over to her lady love, Madam Mim, the witch with purple hair and the closest thing they had to an expert on Camelot after Arthur had turned out to live up to every bad expectation Killian ever had of royalty. The shape-shifter was continuing to look at him with a single eyebrow raised, her expression probably not that far off if Killian had suddenly started growing a second head.

 

She glanced over to Belle, then back to him, and gave a small shrug. "Long live the king?" She commented, tone glib.

 

Bloody Hell.

Chapter Text

At this point the door of the cottage opened suddenly and the witch was revealed standing in the passage. She was a strikingly beautiful woman of about thirty, with coal-black hair so rich that it had the blue-black of the maggot-pies in it, silky bright eyes and a general soft air of butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth. She was sly.

“How do you do, my dears," said Madam Mim. "And what can I do for you today?”

--T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone


 

(You may be asking yourself: how? How could Killian Jones, a man who had been sold into servitude by his own thief father, became a pirate upon betrayal from a king and the death of his brother, and sworn bloody vengeance on the Dark One on the murder of his first love—how could he possibly be the one to pull the Sword from the Stone? These types of prophecies usually call for hero types, the ones with the right bloodline, a legitimate claim to the throne and a pure and noble heart or some other crap, as Emma would likely put it.

To which this author simply responds: you’re asking the wrong questions. Goodness knows Killian Jones is right now.

But this particular story won’t be as effective unless you know how we got here. Not everything mind you, just to the part where things start to get important. So, let’s rewind.)

 

Once Upon a Time, the man who would be known as the Sorcerer was bound in ropes and on the run, almost dead of thirst and exhaustion until he spotted a silver chalice in the midst of a desert—

 

(Whoops, too far)

 

Once upon a time in Camelot, there was a princess who—

 

(Still too far)

 

In the Enchanted Forest, a place also called Misthaven, an Evil Queen schemed to enact a Dark Curse—

 

(You already know all that)

 

Once upon a mid-morning in Storybrooke, Emma Swan had just traveled through time, almost erased herself from existence by preventing her parents from meeting. However, with the help of a devilishly handsome pirate, she managed to fix the timeline, and even save someone previously slated for execution.

 

Worry not, dear readers, this Maid Marian is indeed, Maid Marian. Zelena is an interesting character, yes, but one not needed for this story.

 

We open several days after that little adventure when a very particular purple elephant started stomping its way down Main Street during the blackout...

 

(There we go, now we can start properly. Because this is the point where the story changes, and Killian Jones, the man who will draw the sword from the stone, crosses paths with a certain Mad Madam)

 


 

The first time that Killian Jones met Madam Mim was not under the best of circumstances.

 

Of course, even before he met her he was slightly irritated by the witch’s antics, as the new town trouble maker had decided that the middle of a blackout to cause all manner of mischief. Specifically, turning into a purple pachyderm and trumpeted her way down main street, scaring the daylights out of most everyone in an already stressful situation.

 

Emma and David had pursued her (another excuse given to avoid him) but the shape-shifter was slippery little blighter and got away.

 

All that he could deal with--just another day in Storybrooke after all--if she hadn’t crashed his and Emma’s date. Literally. Bumbling into a waiter and spilling wine all over Emma’s lovely pink dress. She’d apologized and tried to help clean it up of course, but Killian--Killian’s left hand grabbed her by her shirt collar and demanded that Mim do better than apologize.

 

(Yikes, never underestimate the placebo effect)

 

His lady love had asked him to take a down a notch, and Killian let her go. The witch slithering off, and Emma decided to show a bit of mercy by prioritizing their evening over the purple-haired troublemaker. Again, Killian would have been willing to let it go.

 

That is, until the pirate caught her in the middle of an already stressful night trying to break into the library. What the bloody hell she was doing at a library he had no idea. But based on the lilt to her stance and the half-empty whiskey bottle in her hand, she likely thought it was someplace else.

 

“You’re drunk lass, go home.”

 

“ Don’t call me lass.” the witch slurred, her arm growing purple scales and black claws as she obviously intended to break the front window. He grabbed her wrist and she hit him, but he hit back--left hand making firm contact with her eye. The witch tumbled to the ground, more knocked off balance than really hurt.

 

“Well someone’s a bit grumpy, ” She commented, looking back up at him with a sneer. There was a flash of purple, an impact to his shins, and Killian was suddenly on the ground as well.

 

He rose to his knees, and glared daggers at his offending appendage again.

 

“You tell anyone about this you’re dead.” The girl didn’t agree or disagree, and Killian was just a bit too busy with the prospect of the corrupting influence of his left hand to give the witch much further thought.

 

That night, they went their separate ways, with Killian trying to work up the nerve to either go back to Gold’s shop, or grab a meat cleaver and get rid of the blasted thing himself.

 



The first time Emma Swan met Madam Mim, the woman had been an elephant all but charging down main street. Just...tooting her trunk like freaking Dumbo or something.

 

She’d been able to put the identity together rather quickly, The Sword in the Stone had been one of the few Disney movies she’d seen while still an actual kid, and the shape shifting fight Mim had with Merlin had blown tiny Emma’s mind. So, upon seeing the purple elephant, she knew exactly who they needed to have a word with.

 

It was a simple disturbance of the peace, the witch hadn’t actually hurt anyone. But between that and the blackout and the mysterious ice monster from earlier, Emma had probably gotten a little overzealous in the whole ‘flagging down’ thing and straight up chased the elephant. Mim, either afraid of the sheriff/Savior or just being a little shit, ran away.

 

Things did not get much better from there, as a shape-shifter was an understandably slippery person to try and chase after (even if she was always purple). Then there was the matter of the Ice Wall and the whole Snow Queen business and the point was that Madam Mim’s presence was just a colorful thorn in Emma’s side.

 

The morning after her date with Killian, Emma walked into the station to find the witch still asleep in the holding cell. The sheriff noted all the differences between this version and the movie--something of a hobby these days whenever she encountered another formerly fictional character. Where movie Mim was, in her words, ‘an ugly old creep’, her real-world counterpart looked to be around Emma’s age. Beautiful, actually, looking like she walked straight out of a magazine instead of a storybook. Her hair was black with lavender dyed tips, cut into a chin-length bob with soft curls. She was wearing modern clothes too; dark jeans and purple flannel with a simple black t-shirt underneath.

 

“Good morning sunshine.” Emma greeted, casually leaning onto the bars of the cell as the witch stirred awake. “Are you going to tell me why you were trying to break into the library?”

 

The woman stretched and looked over at Emma. “Well, aren’t you gorgeous sight to wake up to.” She greeted, tone flirty. Another thing the movie got kind of right: Mim had a British-ish accent, talking a bit like Killian or Robin Hood.

 

The sheriff just raised an eyebrow.

 

“If this is about staining your lovely dress last night, I promise I can more than make it up to you.” She added, batting her eyelashes.

 

Oh, Jesus Madam Mim was flirting with her to try and get out of trouble. Emma looked over to her father. “She this friendly with you?”

 

“Of course not darling, you’re much more my type.” The witch grinned, but Emma could see something flicker in her eyes--confusion. Probably at suddenly not being able to do magic.

 

Emma grinned back. “If you’re trying to turn into a snake and slither out of there, don’t bother. See that thing on your wrist?” She gestures to the leather cuff. “It keeps you from using magic, and you won’t be able to take it off on your own.”

 

The purplette held up her wrist to inspect the new piece of jewelry. “And here I thought you just fancied me.”

 

“Okay, knock it off. I don’t drop charges just because you bat your eyelashes.” She wasn’t opposed to being flirted with by another woman, but Emma very much preferred her blue-eyed devilishly handsome pirate.

 

The witch assessed her for a moment before giving a shrug, and casually leaning against the wall, all seductive body language gone. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

 

The sheriff rolled her eyes. “Okay Miss--”

 

“Madam.” The purplette corrected.

 

“Madam...Mim.” Emma hesitantly finished because no way was knowing fairy tale characters ever going to stop being a little bit weird. “Your little stunt pulled me away from a very important investigation and interrupted my night off.”

 

Mim rolled her eyes. “To my understanding that’s not generally a punishable offense, sheriff. Or do you prefer princess ?” There was something bratty in her tone there, but Emma didn’t quite care enough to examine it further.

 

“No, but getting shit faced and breaking into a library is. You’re looking at drunken disorderly and breaking and entering, on top of the original public disturbance, so I recommend you start talking.”

 

“Alright, the last thing I remember is running away from you and celebrating my escape with a nice bottle of whiskey.” The witch sighed, and sniffed the air. “Do I smell coffee?”

 

“Coffee is for people who keep talking. Did you celebrate with your friends, Gawain and the Green Knight?” Emma held up the book. That seemed to actually catch Mim’s attention, the shapeshifter sitting up and approaching the cell bars.

 

“This was in your pocket.” Emma held up the ripped out page. It was of the titular Green Knight, armed and armored all in green. A little tacky, if you were to ask her. “Mean anything to you?” She asked. There was a long moment where the witch’s attention was squarely on that piece of paper, an unguarded and slightly sad look on her face. Then she looked back up at Emma, and her expression shifted.

 

“I was plastered, who knows what I was thinking?” Mim tried, giving an insincere smile. Emma didn’t need her superpower to detect the lie there.

 

“Alright, fine, how about who gave you that shiner, do you remember that?”

 

Another shift in her stance, standing up just a bit straighter. “That is an interesting question.”

 

That was when Killian walked in, and both women’s attention turned towards him. The pirate was...adjusting his hook back onto his brace.

 

Huh.

 

“Where were you?”

 

“Sorry, love, I just got your message.”

 

“It’s okay, I just need another minute here.” She turned back to Madam Mim. “You were about to tell me who did that to your face.” Mim’s eyes lingered for on the pirate for a moment longer before snapping back to Emma, coy smile back in place.

 

“No bloody clue, your guess is as good as mine. Must have been quite the party.”

 

Lie.

 

“Alright, but if you remember anything I’ll know where to find you.”

 

“Ever at your service, milady.” The last word was dragged out, almost like a slight. Again, weird.

 

(While the sheriff’s back was turned, Mim made eye contact with Killian Jones and stuck out a forked, serpentine tongue at him. The pirate responded by rolling his eyes, and turning his attention to something that was actually important. Emma Swan.)


 

“Don’t I get my one phone call or something?”



“Who do you possibly have to talk to?”

 

“My father. I want to let him know I’ll be late to afternoon tea.”

 


 

“So is the color natural or do you dye it?”

 

“Hm?” The witch looked up and Emma realized she’d said it out loud. Even with the Snow Queen still out there it had been a remarkably slow day. Mim looked to be on the same page, twirling her short hair into little padawan-braids for lack of anything else to do.

 

Might as well roll with it. “Your hair color. Is it naturally purple or did you change it? With like, dye or magic or something.”

 

“Magic. Tried to dye it first, but it looked terrible whenever my roots grew out.”

 

Truth.

 

“How about you?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Your mother has black hair, and yeah your father’s blonde but not that blonde, you give it a little…” she gesticulated to her own hair “...assistance?”

 

“It’s natural.” The savior didn’t really have the kind of free time to go to a hair salon right now. Or, really, anytime after New York.

 

Emma tries to return to her paperwork. She manages it for another ten seconds before looking up again. “So is your name actually ‘Mim’ or is that just a nickname?” The witch tilts her head. “For the paperwork.” The sheriff gives by way of explanation. (Lie, she’s actually trying and failing to file a drunken disorderly report. Bar fight at the Rabbit Hole, as per usual).

 

“Madam Mim is merely my alluringly alliterative moniker,” the witch smiles, looking unbearably pleased with herself. “Maeve is my actual name.”

 

Truth .

 


 

“Alright, you’ve served your time. Out.”

 

Mim made a show at picking herself up and dusting herself off before holding up the anti-magic cuff. Normally the prince would have hesitated with taking it off a spellcaster they had just imprisoned, but Mim was much more of an annoyance than any real threat.

 

‘ Just a third-rate hex ’ were Regina’s exact words.

 

It’s only after she’s left that David remembers the phone call she’d placed to her father—and the fact that no one came to ask after her.

 

Deciding that he had more important things to worry about than Madam Mim’s potential family drama, the prince went back to work. After all, Anna was Kristoff’s fiance and Kristoff was an old friend, even if David hadn’t actually seen the man in over thirty years. Lord, that sentence made him feel old.

(As if his pre-teen grandchild wasn’t doing that already).

 



David had actually met Mim several weeks ago, during the time where there were flying monkeys about and they hadn’t yet figured out Zelena’s plan.

Missing year or no, he was still technically the sheriff. And that meant responding to public disturbances, such as a bar fight at the Rabbit Hole. Apparently Jack had found the witch in bed with Jill, and responded by trying to break a bottle over Mim’s head later that night. The barfight had broken out soon after.

Someone had just thrown a chair through the front window when he arrived. A wooden chair right through a plate glass window.

“Oops,” the purple haired woman laughed, obviously not sober, and bleeding from the nose. “Did I do that?”

The combination of his badge and status as prince got most people there to calm down and back off. (Which was good, considering the town only had two holding cells and only so many handcuffs.) Not Mim though. Madam Mim just got mouthy.

“You’re not my prince, blondie.” She responded, going back to drinking and be flippant with his questions.

“The big, dumb bloke was being an asshole. Not my fault.”

David wasn’t fooled for a second. “Sure, you didn’t do anything at all to provoke him.”

Mim just shrugged. “I’m sure you’ve already gotten an earful, gods know I have from all his whining. Ruined a perfectly good bottle of whiskey, too.”

“Whining? You slept with his wife!”

“Yes, because perfectly happy women in wonderful marriages just go around sleeping with other people willy nilly.” Another drink. “She was the one looking for a good time, and I was happy to provide one. A shame, he barged in just when she brought in this lovely concoction called ‘whipped cream’--”

David learned two things that day: that Madam Mim was an incorrigible little shit, and that it’s pretty damn hard to try and handcuff a snake.

 



(But back to the present…)

Maeve stilled when she saw the familiar broom leaning against the doorway. There was a fine layer of dust on the broom handle, as if it had been sitting out there for awhile.

Her father wouldn’t be so absent minded. Grabbing the broom, she quickly scanned the area for any magical disturbances. “Father?” She asked, hoping against hope he was just in his workshop, or out on business for the Sorcerer.

But there was no note, no message, nothing. Maeve bit her lip, trying and failing not to think of the worst case scenario.

“Where the hell are you?” She whispered to herself.

 


 

Between trying to find Anna, trying to find the Snow Queen, then trying to find Emma, none of the Storybrooke royals noticed that Madam Mim was looking for someone herself.

Not that Mim would have gone to them if she could help it. The witch had learned a long time ago that you could never depend on royalty.

She was going to find her father herself.

 


 

Over 200 years ago...


Once upon a midnight dreary, there was a figure in a heavy black cloak, carrying a baby in a basket. They were at the edge of the Forest of Eternal Night, a place where very few people wished to be, and at a time of year that most definitely didn’t wish to be outside.

(That’s just a really fancy way of saying that it was winter).

Wasting no time, the figure dropped the babe at the foot of the tree, and with only a moment’s hesitation, started walking back the way they came. The midnight storm was picking up, and anyone with the sense they were born with would be staying inside, trying to huddle as close to the fires as possible or wrapped up in thick, heavy blankets.

(Now, who this person was and where this baby came from isn’t important right now. What’s important is what comes after).

Not too long later, long enough that the figure in the cloak was long gone and the baby in the basket was now crying from cold, hunger, and all around general discomfort, a man appeared.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, no longer a boy, but not yet the old man with grey hair that was vacuumed up by Sorcerer’s Hat, purposely walked towards the crying baby. A mixture of magic and well insulated robes keeping him safe and comfortable amidst the wind and chill.

“Hello there, little one.” The Apprentice greeted, kneeling down to get a good look at the child.

The baby responded as babies often do, and just continued crying. The Apprentice frowned, but understood. “So new to this world,” he commented, gently picking the girl up, “but it’s already been so cruel to you.”

While the man was no nursemaid, a few centuries under his belt in service to the Sorcerer giving him little experience with children, his gentle rockings and warm arms soothed the babe well enough, and she started to fall asleep. For the first time since the Apprentice approached, the crying had stopped.

“There we go…” he sighed, smiling at the baby in his arms, and with little more than a thought, the two of them were no longer out in the midnight snow.

 


 

Weeks passed, and Killian Jones’ situation went from bad to worse to his worst nightmare. He was working, however unwillingly, for the damn Crocodile, and he was going to try and kill Emma. It was too much to ask, really, that the thrice-damned Dark One just enjoy his happy ending,

For once, Killian Jones was actually glad Baelfire was dead, if only so the man wouldn’t have to see what his father had become, and was more than willing to do to Henry’s mother in pursuit of power. Not the power to protect his love ones, but the kind of power that he could hoard like a dragon with gold. Killian had been such a bloody idiot, thinking he could out-blackmail a master manipulator. Thinking that having his hand back would just fix him, fill in the cracks over two centuries of darkness and revenge and bloodlust had sawed into him.

He had just wanted to be a better man for Emma, and had failed spectacularly.

A part of Killian, a small but no less vocal part, encouraged the pirate to take the dagger and drive it straight into the villain’s rotten heart. Avenge Milah, protect Emma, protect Henry, protect all of them, it whispered, and under normal circumstances, Killian would agree. This...group (family) that he’d found meant the world to him, and he would do anything to protect them.

But giving into that darkness wouldn’t help anyone. Killian was a man who never did anything by halves, and if he were to let in that darkness back in, who knew how long it would take for him to shake it off again. All becoming the Dark One would accomplish would be alienating the very family he was trying to protect, just like the Crocodile did with Bae all those centuries ago.

(Hindsight was a funny thing, knowing that the Crocodile’s furious accusations of Milah leaving and abandoning their son were all the more hollow as the man had recently done that himself.)

So Killian tried to keep a lid on things, trying to find a way to save Emma, stop the Dark One, and do that while still maybe being alive at the end of it, but that last one was really a distant third priority, as nothing would come before saving Emma. (Killian Jones was past trying to goad the Crocodile into killing him, but that didn’t mean he valued his own life that highly).

So, yeah, basically his worst nightmare.

The purple witch had stayed mercifully out of sight since being let out of her holding cell. Whenever Killian thought he saw a flash of purple hair or fur or feathers around, there were more important things happening, and it was gone before he could focus on it.

That is, until the spell of Shattered Sight. The entire town was at each other’s throats, the purple witch included.

Upon finding him after Killian failed to retrieve Henry, Mim turned into a rhinoceros and attempted to impale him on her horn. Not fun.

Thank god one of the other Storybrooke residents tried to run her over with their car, otherwise he’d really be a goner. She would be fine...probably. The pirate had more pressing matters to attend to, so as usual the purple witch basically stopped existing to Killian once she was out of sight.



Maeve woke up with a dulled pain in her side, and feeling like her head was stuffed with cotton. Everything was white and shiny and she felt like she was happily cocooned up in warm blankets and okay who gave her opium because she’d sworn that off after the Agrabah Incident(™).

(Apparently this realm, people are generally kind enough to have someone drive you to the physicians after you get hit by a car, even if her rhinoceros hide had taken most of the hit)

“How did you heal up so fast?” Victor asked, looking over the patient.

“One of the many benefits of shapeshifting,” the witch responded, sitting up with a smile. “Also, all the lovely nurses certainly helped the healing process.” She gave a carefree smile, and one of the nurses blushed.

(Suffice it to say that afterward a particularly interesting foray into the supply closet with the witch, Nurse Shepherd was no longer into men).

 


 

The first time Belle met Madam Mim, it had been right after one of the worst points in her life. She’d exiled Rumple across the town line two days ago, and was finally venturing out of the house. She was running out of groceries, and had long run out of tissues.

After indulging in a good long cry, Belle was going to put on her big girl pants and help Hook find a way to release the fairies from the Sorcerer’s Hat, not to mention that poor old man that Rumple ordered him to capture.

They had started by taking the box, and observing it for any markings, symbols, or other indicators of where it had come from, or where they could at least start on hunting down information for it.

That was when Madam Mim entered the library. Belle turned around at hearing the door. While the door wasn’t locked, she hadn’t opened the library so the two of them could get some work done in peace.

“Sorry we’re closed for today.”

Madam Mim made an appeasing gesture, a piece of paper in her right hand. “Just a quick question, it’ll only take a...minute…” The shapeshifter’s face morphed from amiable to surprised in a heartbeat.

“Where the bloody hell did you get that?” The witch demanded, voice suddenly ice cold, and turning from surprise to suspicion.

The two researchers glanced at each other. The hat was an extremely powerful relic, based on how much effort had put into finding it with Anna and then concealing it for himself.

“That’s not important, what is important is how you know what it is.” The pirate challenged.

“Oh I think it bloody well is important,” she continued, staring them down. “Because I knew the man who previously had it, and I knew that he was supposed to guard it with his life.” She held up the piece of paper. It was a sketch of the old man, pretty accurate, with his balding head and full beard. “So if you have it…” she trailed off, eyes hard and giving them a long, assessing look.

Hook’s expression didn’t change much, but Belle could pick up on the rush of guilt the man must be experiencing. Mim didn’t miss it either, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and throwing Killian as if the man was so much a rag doll.

There was a loud ‘crash’ as he hit the book shelves lining the wall. Books flew and wood cracked on his impact. Not so easily beat, Captain Hook sat up. The witch pounced like a jungle cat, wrestling Hook back down to the ground.

To the ground and she’s small. It was like watching a baby lion trying to take down a panther. “What the bloody hell did you do to my father??” She half-growled in his face, keeping him pinned.

But Captain Hook hadn’t survived this long just to be taken out by an incensed little witch. The man was trying to grapple, more to get her off of him than really fighting back.

He would probably have succeeded too, had Mim not suddenly transformed into a sizeable purple-pink boa constrictor. Large enough to wrap itself around Hook’s torso and starting to squeeze .

“Stop it! You’re hurting him!” The librarian tried, but the snake seemed unmoved.

Seeing no other choice, Belle grabbed one of the large reference books, and hit Mim over the head with it. The snake comically dropped to the floor, her grip on the man loosening, and allowing Hook a chance to escape.

“Are you okay?” Belle asked, looking him over for any obvious injuries.

“Bloody fantastic,” the man grit out, rubbing at where the snake had him im a death grip only moments before.

Off to the side, Belle noticed a flash of pink-purple smoke, and the snake was once more a woman with black and purple hair.

“I’ll call Emma—“

“No.” The pirate interrupted. “If her father is who I think he is, then she needs an explanation, not a jail cell.” There was a touch of melancholy to his voice, reminding Belle again how Hook blames himself for what happened with the sorcerer’s hat.

The librarian grit her teeth, feeling another wave of anger towards Rumple.

Five minutes later, tempers had cooled and the three of them sorted things out like actual adults. By talking to each other.

“Your father...is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice?” Belle asked, gently searching the woman’s face for the truth of what she said.

“Aye, now, where is he?” She demanded, just a hair politer than she had before. Baby steps, Belle supposed.

So after that particularly awkward discussion, Mim had all but demanded that she help them find a way to release those trapped in the hat. Eager for another pair of eyes (especially ones with some knowledge of both magic and the Sorcerer) they agreed.

“But first--”

“I’ll, uh,” Mim nudged one of the books with her shoe. “I’ll clean this up.”

 


 

“Can’t you possibly use their magic to just....let them out?”

“I highly doubt turning into a gorilla and just shaking the hat until it fairies fall out is a legitimate option, love.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah, my magic is limited to transformation. Specifically, transforming myself into other creatures. Or parts of them, at least.” She demonstrated, her right forearm now covered in purple scales and black talons serving as fingernails. “Never fear though, I’m well versed in potioncraft, ancient languages, and magical theory.”

 


 

“Any progress, mate?” Killian asked, looking up from his own book.

Mim leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms. For all her goofiness, the witch was a bloody good researcher, especially while extra motivated to release her father.

“Okay so...not gonna lie I’m not entirely sure what this says.”

“You said you spoke Elvish.”

“I do! The main dialect, the one most things get written down in. This is some sort of regional dialect that I’m really not familiar with. Like,” she looked over the ancient tome, “come you all into the deepest cavern--or cellar depends on the usage--and having come may you give your thanks/pants/skin? I don’t know something to the ‘strong one’ or ‘beloved one’ the one who...okay is either going to kill you or bless you and that’s assuming ‘kill’ isn’t a metaphor for sex.”

“When is ‘death’ ever a metaphor for sex?” Belle piped up.

Mim looked up, eyebrows quirked in academic challenge. “The ‘little death’ is a euphemism used across multiple languages to indicate sex. It basically refers to after you just--”

“If I might get this back on track.” Killian interrupted, not particularly interested in having a centuries old witch explain the particulars of bawdy euphemisms. “You said your father kept the relic in a place below the earth before it was taken by the Dark One. Could that be what it was referring to?”

The purplette looked back down at the page. “If it is I really hope my father didn’t try to kiss the dark ones into submission.”

The pirate just sighed, really not in the mood for the witch’s attempts at levity.

 




“So...you were the Dark One’s wife?” Mim asked, as they were closing up the library for the night. The pirate had stalked off in the direction of Granny’s, while the two ladies had found that they lived in the same general direction, and could therefore walk together for a bit before reaching their respective homes. (Belle was still debating whether or not she wanted to move out of the place she had shared with Rumple.)

“Yeah,” Belle weakly confirmed, not particularly up for this conversation. "At least, I was." Thankfully, the witch seemed to pick up on that, and didn’t say anything further.

As goofy Mim could be at times, the witch seemed to be a lot more insightful and clever than she let on. The brunette appreciated that, appreciated that Mim seemed to be the one person she knew right now who didn’t look at her with pity, sorrow, or ‘i told you so’ lurking behind their eyes.

(Belle would come to appreciate a lot of things about Madam Mim)

 

Chapter Text

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,

And every tongue brings in a several tale,

and every tale condemns me for a villain

Richard III, Act 5 Scene 3


 

It had been two weeks, two weeks and they had just barely started to go through the Dark One’s library. Killian shoved the book he’d finished off to the side. There had only been a single, off-handed reference to the Sorcerer’s Hat as some sort of magical prison in the whole book. Meaning the past two days he’d spent going over the thing had been utterly wasted. He ran a hand over his face and sighed, his own frustration starting to wearing on him.

 

It was just...he wanted to fix this so badly. Wanted to take the fairies and the old man and how many others that were trapped. He’d been in his fair share of brigs, not to mention the other times he’d been trapped, helpless to escape--

 

“Sit, lad...don’t forget where your heart lies”

 

“Milah!”

 

“How do you think he paid for the rowboat?”

 

--and has never been one to condemn others to that fate. When he could help it, of course. Normally, he’d just...kill those who got in his way.

 

Which was why he was so desperate to get them out of the bloody hat. Because this, a low moment in a long life filled with low moments, was something Killian could actually take steps towards fixing. So with a huff, he pulled out the next book.

 

“I come bearing gifts!” Mim declared, a wide smile on her face as she stepped through the library door. She was carrying a to-go carrier from Granny’s with three travel mugs, having been sent out earlier to fetch refreshments. “Specifically, tea and coffee. Because caffeine is better than any magic I’ve come across.”

 

With a spring in her step, the witch placed one cup on the table next to Killian, before walking over to Belle at the reference desk. Out of boredom more than anything else, the pirate’s eyes went over to them while he waited for his drink to cool.

 

She pulled a small jar out of her pocket, containing a recognizable golden liquid. “What is that?” Belle asked, opening her mug to pour in a packet of sugar.

 

“Lavender honey. I thought you might like some.” With a thankful smile, Belle spooned a bit of the contents into her mug and stirred it in.

 

Killian didn’t miss the look on Belle’s face as she took her first sip. Nor did he miss the soft, unmasked delight on Mim’s upon seeing her present was well received.

 

“It’s delicious! Thank you.”

 

“It’s no trouble, really.” Her own caffeinated beverage was sitting on the help desk, half-forgotten as she instead watched the librarian enjoy her cup.

 

“Aren’t you going to have some?” Belle eventually asked, glancing towards said cup.

 

“Hm? Oh,” the words seemed to shake the shapeshifter out of whatever trance she’s been in. “Just, uh, waiting for it to cool a bit.” She excused, opening up the lid of the travel mug. Belle had already gone back to her reading, and didn’t notice that it wasn’t tea, but coffee, in Mim’s cup.

 

The mad madam lived up to her name, and stirred in a bit of the honey with the coffee.

 

She dallied just a moment, but upon seeing that the lady was returning to work, went back over to her own desk.

 

Killian turned back to his book, content to let whatever business was happening...happen.

 

But when he glanced back up, he noticed that Mim was still drinking the coffee with honey. Huh .

 

Except it hadn’t just been the honey. After that, it had been the donuts, conveniently all the flavors and types that Belle preferred. After that it had been macaroons, a sweet delicacy that the librarian had offhandedly mentioned once were a childhood favorite she hadn’t had since her mother died.

 

Bloody hell. Mim was interested in Belle.

 

Killian felt a small wave of protectiveness towards the brunette. For as little as he approved or even understood the relationship, Belle had genuinely loved the Crocodile, and would need time and space to process her feelings. Being betrayed by someone you thought loved you...Killian knew how that hurt, and wasn’t a wound that would soon go away.  (As always, fuck you Brennan Jones)

 

Normally Killian wasn’t one to quibble over what happened in someone else’s bedroom, and more than respected people’s right to make their own choices, but Belle wasn’t in the state to be just another of Madam Mim’s conquests. (Because Madam Mim had been around for 200 slutty, sluttty years). Although, based on the soft, yearning looks, it was probably just a bit more than simple lust at work.

 

Still, a talk was in order.

 

He waited until Belle was checking on something in the pawn shop while the two of them were left to continue their research at the library. Again, Killian noticed the little smile on the witch’s face as she watched Belle exit. (Remarkable, what people give away when they think they aren’t looking).

 

He closed the book with a dramatic ‘clap’ to draw attention. As expected, Mim was jolted out of shooting a yearning look at the door.

 

“I think it’s high time we have a talk about your intentions towards Belle.” Killian started, deciding to take Emma’s approach about just ‘ripping off the bandage’ to address the situation.

 

The purplette looked at him, raising an eyebrow “What are you, her overprotective older brother?”

 

“Merely a concerned friend.” He said, remembering the fact that his first two interactions with said ‘friend’ involved lying-slash-trying to kill her. Because of her relationship to the Crocodile. “Belle only recently exiled her husband over the town line for betraying her. For all his faults, they did love each other. I understand that you may be feeling...stressed,” he diplomatically decided, “with everything going on, but Belle really isn’t the type of person who engages in quick dalliances to try and distract from unpleasant feelings. So if that’s all you’re looking for, look elsewhere.”

 

Mim bit her lip, looking away for a moment before meeting his gaze head on. “Okay, first of all, that’s definitely her decision and not yours, friend or not. Second, I assure you, my intentions towards Belle are nothing but honorable.”

 

“Really?”

 

“I know, surprised me too.” The witch’s expression turned more genuine. “I like her. She’s clever, strong, wonderful...it’s been a long while since I’ve just liked someone.” Mim looked off to the side, some memory or other likely going through her head.  She soon looked back at him. “And you’ve...got nothing to say? About that?” She was putting up a good front, but the captain could see the nerves running underneath.

 

He shrugged. “Just that you’d definitely be an improvement on the bloody Crocodile.”

 

She blinked.

 

Killian smirked, trying to put her at ease. “Trust me, Mim, a pirate is probably the last person in the world to look down on someone for that kind of thing.”

 

The witch smirked back, apparently assured he wasn’t about to bite her head off. “Admitting to swinging that particular cutlass more than one direction?” The teasing lilt to her tone informed him that she was feeling better.

 

He rolled his eyes. “I’m no more interested in that particular kind of male company than you are. But if I might get this back on track…” he glanced back at the reference desk. Belle could be back any moment. “If you do fancy her...I’m not saying that it’ll never happen. I’m just asking that you give her some time.”

 

Mim nodded in assent, and they were both back at their respective stations by the time Belle returned.

 


 

 

Okay, so that was bullshit.

 

Another two weeks after Killian’s little talk with Mim, (making four total since the fairies had been sucked up into the hat and the Dark One’s ass had been kicked across the town line), and it had only gotten worse.

 

Because now Killian was sure that it wasn’t only Mim who was interested. It had started a few days after the initial talk with the shape-shifter. The pirate was a tad late to the library, having shared breakfast at the Charming’s loft with Emma. (There were pancakes, and as usual, Killian had a difficult time saying no to the Lady Swan)

 

When he did arrive, quietly closing the door behind him, he found the two women already there and in the midst of conversation.

 

“You must think I was crazy...trusting him like that, thinking he’d changed.”

 

Killian paused, staying out behind the stacks. This was the first time that she’d actually talked about what had happened. Openly, at least, Leroy was enough of a gossip that Killian knew she’d been spending more and more time with the cricket.

 

“No, I don’t think you’re crazy.”

 

It appeared both he and Belle were surprised by that response, based on the loaded silence. The witch decided to elaborate. “I believe you saw good in him, even if he mostly acted like a prick to everyone else. You’re much too smart for it have all just been an act.”

 

It was then that Killian peeked around the shelves. Mim’s back was to him, but he could see Belle’s face. A look passed over the librarian’s face, the look of someone who’d been done a kindness but couldn’t understand it. “I…” She cleared her throat. “Thank you. Not many people have been so...understanding.”

 

The other woman shrugged. “Just because you can’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

 

Belle continued to stare, but eventually looked away, mumbling something about needing to get to work. The pirate made his presence known not long afterward, pretending he’d just stepped in, instead of having witnessed the private moment. Neither woman made mention of him being late, and Killian half-suspected they hadn’t even noticed.

 

That wasn’t even to mention the looks. Bloody hell the looks. Every now and then while reading, he would notice one of the women looking over at the other. It started out as quick glances, the both of them still very much focused on getting the prisoners out of the hat. But as time passed, and the work narrowed, the looks got longer and longer. At this point he didn’t even need to look up to notice them doing it. He could sense the stares now as if supernaturally attuned to his research partners’ unspoken feelings. Both women would occasionally look up, shoot a yearning look at the other, and look back down before they thought anyone else noticed.

 

If this was what Regina had to deal with him and Emma, than Killian clearly owed the woman a drink. Or a bottle. Lord knows Killian needed one, watching these two grown women act like shy schoolgirls.

 

Clearly, something needed to be done.

 

(Also Killian was definitely feeling more than just a bit guilty for putting Mim’s father in the hat. So helping her potentially find love was his way of trying to make it up to her without making it obvious he was trying to make it up to her.)

 

Except...he’d already told Mim to give Belle time before approaching her. And there was no way Captain Hook was going to go back and admit he was wrong about something. (Especially not to the witch, who’d probably tease him relentlessly). So there was only one thing to do.

 

(“You decided to play matchmaker with your study partners?” Emma would ask later, a bit incredulous.

 

“Well if they weren’t going to do anything...”)


 

“You know, to give the witch some credit, her elvish is impeccable.”

 

“Uh, yes, Killian I’ve noticed. Mim’s been a big help.”

 

“As well as an excellent taste in tea.”

 


 

“The purple hair’s interesting, I will admit, makes her stand out.”

 

“Lilac is a lovely color.” Belle commented. “On anyone else it might be...a bit much but Maeve makes it work.”

 

Ah so it’s Maeve now. The pirate thought to himself. That was progress.

 


 

A flyer had been taped to the library’s front door, advertising a neighborhood block party. Apparently, to celebrate the ‘longest stretch of peace’ since the curse had broken (and wasn’t that a sad thought). He’d noticed Madam Mim reading it before entering the building that morning.

 

“Maybe ask Belle to go with you, she could use a relaxing evening.” He suggested, nonchalant.

 

“Shouldn’t we be focusing on translation work, not a bloody party? After all, my father is still trapped.” Mim huffed, walking towards her usual spot.

 

Killian tried to trample down the fresh wave of guilt. “Aye, but I highly doubt that he’d want to you stop living your life while doing so.” The witch didn’t look up from her book, but the pirate could tell she’d somewhat listened to him.

 

Belle came into the library a few moments later.

 

Mim apparently listened to him, because she brought it up after fetching their usual midday refreshments.

 

“Hey, so, I was wondering...that block party that’s happening. Would you...like to go? Together I mean? I’ve never been to one before.” Killian watched the interaction with interest from his own desk.

 

“Is this a...date?” Belle asked, looking up with uncertainty.

 

Mim blinked, obviously taken off guard. “No...I mean if you want it to be, it could...be.” She took a moment to collect herself, make things a bit clearer.

 

It didn’t work. “I—dinner—you--party.” Killian facepalmed. “Bye!” Mim couldn’t have ran out of there faster if the room was on fire, leaving behind a rather confused-looking  Belle and Killian who was honestly just feeling embarrassed on the witch’s behalf.

 


 

“Uh, Archie, it’s Belle. Can we talk?”

 

”Of course, what’s going on?”

 

“Well, I think...Maeve just asked me out to the block party?”

 

“You think ?”

 

“She seems to have gotten embarrassed and tripped over the words. And then...ran out of there.”

 

“And that...bothered you?”

 

“No! Not at all I’m...not opposed to dating other women but...with everything with Rumple, and the fairies, I just wanted to talk to you. Do you think it’s too soon if I were to go out with her?”

 

“Belle, I think what’s more important is whether or not you feel as if it’s too early.”

 


 

“What the hell are you doing?” Granny demanded as the purple haired witch was laying down among the trash bins, and utterly despondent look on her face.

 

“I’m rubbish, so I’m waiting to be hauled away like rubbish.”

 

It was then that Belle appeared, with one Archie Hopper at her side.

 

“I…” she trailed off, looking back to the doctor. Archie flashed an encouraging thumbs up. Belle turned back, and with a determined look in her eyes, made firm eye contact with Maeve.

 

“Well then, if you’re garbage...can I pick you up around six?” The librarian asked, a red flush to her face.

 

The shape-shifter immediately perked up, and had the most ridiculous looking grin on her face as she gave an enthusiastic ‘yes’.

 


 

Belle blinked at the woman standing at her doorstep

 

Maeve wasn’t wearing plaid or leather, but was instead in sensible dark jeans, a light blazer, and a plum-colored button up shirt.

 

“You look…”

 

“Thank you.” The shape-shifter gave a bashful smile, ducking her head. “You’re looking particularly gorgeous this evening as well.”

 

The librarian smiled, and took Maeve’s arm.

 


 

Emma found out about Belle and Mim at a party. An honest to goodness party with the kids left with the sitters and alcohol for sale and fully adult conversations without a curse or a villain or anything else hanging over their heads.

 

Noticing a familiar flash of purple, the sheriff looked over to see that Mim had a new hairstyle, and was sitting with a certain brunette they all knew.

 

Killian had mentioned that librarian and the shape-shifter had been making eyes at each other, but this was the first time that Emma was really seeing it. The brunette had a half empty drink in her hand and was smiling at something the other woman had said. (And Mim was giving a delighted, dopey grin right back at her)

 

Right now Belle gave off a vibe that screamed ‘i just ended a terrible relationship and I don’t particularly care what anybody thinks about what I’m doing and if my ex even breaths in my direction I will beat him to death with a bat’. In other words, about two seconds away from getting trashed and making out with Madam Mim.

 

It was a good look on her.

 


 

The Nolans found out about Belle and Maeve at Granny’s, a few days later.

 

“Belle and Mim, when did that happen?” Snow asked, looking over to where the librarian and the witch were sharing a booth. They both had iced teas, and Belle was stealing fries off of Madam Mim’s plate. There was a half-smitten smile on the librarian’s face that made the princess happy for her friend. She’d only supported Belle’s romantic entanglement with the Dark One because that was what Belle wanted, and genuinely hoped that love would help Rumplestiltskin towards good. But with the revelation of all the man had done—trapping the fairies, trying to kill Emma, leaving the rest of the town to die, taking and almost crushing Hook’s heart—it was better for Belle to cut the losses and try and move on with her life. (Snow had learned that first love wasn’t always the truest love the hard way, with Emma having a very... honest conversation about what actually happened between herself and Neal Cassidy. The Nolans were feeling rather regretful for pushing her towards him after that, and David had the wild impulse to exhume the body just to punch the man in the face.)

 

David looked confused, and glanced over his shoulder. “What are you—oh.” He noticed the look on the librarian’s face and turned back around.

 

“I didn’t know she...was…”

 

“It is the twenty-first century.” Snow cautioned. Back in the Enchanted Forest, those kinds of relationships were not out in the open like that. They existed, certainly, but they were not in the open. (A fifteen-year-old princess had found two scullery maids kissing in a dark corner of the kitchens. It had been embarrassing for everyone involved)

 

“Dating again, I was going to say.” He took a sip of coffee.

 

“Well, I think they’re completely adorable.”

 


 

Leroy was all too happy to spread that particular news over the dwarves’ lunch break.

 

“You didn’t hear it from me, but Belle’s started going out with Madam Mim .”

 

“The shapeshifter?”

 

“One and the same. You should have seen them, they were making eyes at each other during the block party.”

 

“You’d certainly know all about that, wouldn’t you?”

 

“The hell you talking about?”

 

“I don’t know, how’s Astrid doing?” The other dwarf teased.

 

“Worried about her sisters. It was lucky she was out running an errand when Gold had Hook suck up the fairies, or she’d be stuck in there with them.”

 

“She’s lucky to have such a good... friend like you to console her.”

 

Grumpy, as always, was not in the mood. “Shut up, Happy.”

 


 

“It seems a bit soon, don’t you think? She did exile Gold across the town line only a few weeks ago.”

 

“Eh, I think after that disaster of a relationship, the woman’s entitled to do what she wants.” Granny commented, putting in her own two cents.

 

“More like do who she—“

 

“Whale, you finish that sentence and you’ll be gargling your own teeth.”

 

“I’m just saying, a shapeshifter offers some particularly intriguing—“ SMACK.

 

Never let it be said that Granny Lucas made idle threats.

 


 

Belle French has hoped that she and Maeve’s relationship would stay just between them for a bit longer. But as Leroy was one of her closest friends in a small town full of busybodies, it was really only a matter of time.

 

Now, while most of the time when people asked her about how freeing the fairies was going, it was also to get a line on how her and Maeve’s relationship was going as well. Belle had started to master the unamused deadpan look to get people to back off.

 

Like, don’t get her wrong most people were at least trying to be nice about the whole affair, but Belle found that ‘at least she’s better than the Dark One’ seemed to be the main reason people supported her and Maeve. And that was...well...

 

It was a sad statement on Belle’s love life that the fact she doesn’t have to talk her girlfriend down from murdering people on the regular was a marked improvement over her last relationship. Though, as the shape-shifter didn’t seem to have any enemies in Storybrooke probably helped with that.


But it wasn’t just that Maeve was an improvement on Rumple that drew the librarian to the witch. Maeve was clever, thoughtful, made her smile, and had a streak of genuine good in her that Belle didn’t have to poke and prod to get her to show. She was well aware of Madam Mim’s reputation (like the Dark One, references to the ‘mad Madam’ would pop up in her books, and rarely painting her in a positive light) but Maeve had been making the effort to, quote ‘not be such a shitty person’ long before they’d met each other.

Belle thought she was doing good by being by Rumple’s side and encouraging him step by step towards goodness. But the minute her back had been turned, it was like everything had been for nought. It wasn’t until she was with someone who didn’t require her presence to make the right decision and NOT be evil that Belle realized how emotionally exhausting her relationship with her ex-husband had been.

Yes, ex. Even if Rumplestiltskin couldn’t be there to sign the papers (nor would Belle want him to) the symbolic act of dissolving their marriage had felt...freeing. She was coming to terms with the idea that she was never going to see Rumple ever again. And she was starting to get to the place where she was okay with that idea.

Madam Mayor signed off on the divorce papers with a sympathetic smile on her face. And then offered her to grab a lighter so the librarian could burn the marriage certificate herself. Belle knew that she and the former Evil Queen would never be friends, not really, but the gesture had been appreciated all the same.

While Belle knew that a part of her would never really stop having feelings for Rumplestiltskin, she was choosing to start taking care of herself emotionally. She was choosing to move forward and move on with her life.

And Maeve? Well, Maeve happened to be a part of that moving forward.

 


 

It was movie night. If Maeve was going to live in this land, then she needed to start getting acquainted with the different technological marvels within. So, while Belle was working on some translation work in her living room after showing her girlfriend how to work the TV. The librarian had found an old VHS tape of The Sword in the Stone in the children’s section, and Madam Mim was curious to see how her story was told in this realm.

 

Apparently, not very accurately. The librarian half-listened to Maeve’s running commentary as the story progressed, just enjoying her girlfriend’s presence as Belle worked on the budget for the library. (She’d requested a bit more funds for repairs. Regina would think about being thrown into the clock tower and approve it)

 

“Well for one thing, Merlin doesn’t have a beard.”

 

“Wart? Oh gosh that’s clever.”

 

“Of course they got feather-brain right.”

 

“Bloody hell, I’m hideous. I love it.” That caused Belle to look up. The animated Madam Mim was old, with short, wild purple hair, and bright green eyes as opposed to Maeve’s sapphire blue.

 

As the animated Mim was singing about ‘delighting in the gruesome and grim’ the real Maeve let out a snort of laughter, and Belle was glad that this story didn’t seem to insult her the way Peter Pan always insulted Hook (although for good reason, as Rumple’s  little demon of a father was always the hero of the piece). But after that, when she turns into a cat and starts chasing around the sparrow-shifted Arthur, the brunette noticed her girlfriend start to quiet.

 

Belle’s eyes flickered from the TV to back to Maeve. There was a look on her face, a...almost guilty-looking one. “Are you alright?”

 

The purplette looked back over to her. “Just...some unpleasant memories, darling.” She explained (another mark above Rumple, Maeve actually talks to her about things. And while Belle would never demand her new girlfriend tell her everything all at once, it’s better than lies).

 

“Did...something like that happen? Between you and King Arthur?”

 

“Uh--”

 

(“That’s right! Run boy, run!” A mad cackle as her body changed shape to give chase.)

 

“--something like that.”

 


 

(Speaking of not-so-pleasant pasts, let’s move our gaze from the witch to another former villain spending a quiet night in.)

 

Prince Neal was screaming his little lungs out and neither of his babysitters knew how to deal with it.

 

(Well it would be a quiet night in, if it weren’t for that.)

 

The baby somehow managing to accomplish what the Wicked Witch, Peter Pan and the Snow Queen had completely failed to do--making the Savior and Captain Hook feel utterly helpless, and confused as to how to proceed.

 

Emma’s parents had gone out on a much needed date night, of course conscripting their eldest to watch the baby. But Emma had asked Killian if he’d liked to come over, on the assumption that her brother would be pretty relaxed and allowing her and her time together. An assumption she had been very much wrong about. Emma huffed, and gave herself a moment to just sit and think and not get frustrated because getting mad at her brother wouldn’t help anything and shaken baby syndrome is no joke.

 

“Okay so, his diaper’s clean,”

 

“He won’t take the bottle.” Killian added, looking as tired and frustrated as she felt.

 

“He’s not sick.”

 

“Maybe he just needs some attention.” Giving nothing more than a shrug, Killian cautiously walked towards the crib where the screaming was  from. Picking the boy up, he gently rocked the younger brother, and started a lullaby.

 

“My young love said to me,

My mother won’t mind

And my father won’t slight you

For your lack of kind…”

 

The baby prince stopped fussing. Killian scrambled, trying to think of the other lyrics.

 

She walked away from me

And she moved through the fair

And I fondly watched her move here

And move there…”

 

By the time he finished the cobbled together song, prince Neal had finally, finally decided to nod off.

 

“Look at you, mister baby whisperer.” Emma commented, leaning against the doorway and trying not to think about how one Killian Jones, sexy and leather clad pirate, managed to make her lady parts feel all warm and tingly just by singing a lullaby to her baby brother.

 

“Well, if it worked for my mother... “ He shrugged. “She would sing it to us, my brother and I, whenever we were sick or just in need of comfort. I guess the little royal here thought it up to snuff.” He said, now gently placing Neal back into his crib.

 

“It was beautiful.” Emma smiled, as they moved back to the couch. “You never...I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned your mother before.”

 

“She...died. When I was quite young.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

Killian didn’t respond for a long while. Emma knew precious little about her boyfriend’s past, beyond the low points: the death of his first love, Neverland, his brother. She wanted to know more. Such as the mother who sang him lullabies that he still remembered over two centuries later. “What was she like?” seemed like the safest question to start.

 

“Kind.” He swallowed. “Strict when she had to be, but kind. We would bring her flowers from outside, and she would recreate them on her loom. She used to spend hours in front of that thing...but she always had time for us, when it was important.” He looked away, lost in the old, half-faded memories. Playing in the garden with Liam while father was away, and mother was busy at her loom. The two of them pretending to be knights, heroes, bandits, all the things little boys pretended to be. His mother’s smile at the wildflowers they brought her, playing the part of their ‘noble lady’ as she bestowed a token on each of her ‘little knights’. Bread--fresh and warm from the oven.

 

A late night, and trying to keep a candle lit as he waited for mother to return from her delivery to the next town over, but falling asleep anyways.

 

Her blue cloak, bloodied and torn was the last he ever saw of her. Warnings to never play near the woods again, and how the men of the village would go out on wolf hunts to keep what happened to her from ever happening again.

 

He took a deep breath, returning himself to the present.

 

“Ailis. Her name was Ailis.”

 


 

They had a way to free the fairies.

 

The language was old, ancient really and the librarian had never seen it before. Even Mim’s experience with magical languages had barely shed any kind of light on its contents.

 

But Belle, clever, resourceful genius Belle had the idea to reach out to the scholars of the Land Without Magic. One of them had gotten back to her (thank you magic boxes) and now they had a way to free those trapped within the hat.

 

And they had! It worked, Regina waved the Dark One’s dagger over the hat box, and in a flash of light, the rather startled fairies were on the ground, looking scared and confused.

 

As they welcomed the fairies back, the sisters turning to each other for comfort over their ordeal.

 

“My turn,” the shapeshifter smiled, holding out her hand. With only the smallest bit of hesitance from the mayor, Regina handed the dagger to Mim. Another flash of light, and the old man is there, startled and haggard-looking, but alive.

 

Madam Mim dropped the Dark One’s dagger on the stone pedestal, uncaring, as she rushed to her father’s side, wrapping the man in a big hug.

 

“M-Maeve?” The old man asks, looking around. “What’s happened? Where are we?”

 

“You were trapped in the Sorcerer’s Hat. But don’t worry, father, we got you out.” The man returned the hug, glad to be out of whatever ordeal he’d experienced while trapped inside.

 

Belle couldn’t help but smile, feeling Maeve’s secondhand happiness at being reunited with her parent.

 

“Father...this is Belle French, she was instrumental in getting you and the others out. Belle, this is my father, Michael.”

 

(In our realm, the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice had been filled by a certain familiar mouse. And yes, while the last Author did get that detail right, ‘Mickey’ had merely been a childhood nickname, and not one he used as a grown adult.)

 

The man’s eyes flickered between his daughter and the other woman. Soon after though he gave an indulgent, honest smile. “A pleasure to meet you, Ms. French.”

 

Belle smiled as she shook the Apprentice’s hand. “You as well, although you shouldn’t just be thanking me, Killian was a huge help as well.” She said, directing his attention to the dark-haired pirate standing on the fringes of the group, and suddenly looking as if he’d much rather be somewhere else.

 

Both women saw how Michael stiffened, just a bit. “You…”

 

“The Dark One was responsible for what happened,” The librarian rushed to defend. “He was almost as helpless as you were that day.”

 

Maybe not the best choice of words, based on the pained look on Killian’s face, but Belle needed the man to understand who was truly at fault here. Rumplestiltskin and no one else.

 

“Then, I offer my thanks to you as well.” Michael nodded.

The dark haired man gave a pained look, and returned the nod.

 


 

“Whoa, beware of lurking pirates,” the sheriff of Storybrooke commented, coming out of the bathroom. “What are you doing?”

 

“Just...thinking.”

 

“Lurking and brooding, that’s classic combo.” She tried to lighten the mood. “I think heroes can do a bit of bragging and celebrating. Let’s go, it’s a party, we should...buckle some swash or whatever.” Emma was still definitely new at this whole comforting thing.

 

“I’m hardly a hero, the fairies were only in the hat because I put them there.”

 

“You weren’t in control of that, that was Gold. Besides, they’re free now, along with the Apprentice. Mim has her dad back.” Emma insisted. She’d seen them earlier, with Belle introducing the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to iced tea. It was nice, seeing another family reunited. But Killian still had that sad look in his eye, as if he didn’t belong here, didn’t deserve to celebrate an accomplishment that he was very much a part of. “Trust me, you have a mark in the hero column.”


Killian still didn’t look convinced. “I hope so.”

Chapter Text

The course of true love never did run smooth.

--A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1 Scene 1

(This entire show in a nutshell)


 

Of course, with all good things that happen in Storybrooke, Rumpelstiltskin was waiting in the wings to ruin it, by:

 

  1. Tricking them into releasing a giant fuck-off hellbeast that terrorized the town.

 

Mim.” Regina growled, looking over at the shape-shifter.

 

“Don’t look at me,” the purplette defended. “You think I wanted to release an ancient demon that literally feeds on evil? I haven’t exactly spent the past two centuries tending to orphans, as you might recall.”

 2. Bringing the Queens of Darkness to Storybrooke in order to help him darken the Savior’s heart, so they can undo all of the happy endings and get their own. Oh, and last but not least

 3. Impersonating one Killian Jones in order to continue to lie to and manipulate his wife, and get his hands back on the dagger

 

“So you’re over him then, Rumplestiltskin?”

 

“I don’t know if I can ever really be over him, but for now, Maeve makes me smile.”

 

(That’s what you get for snooping, you snoopy snoop)

 

It was Regina who discovered that Gold had returned to Storybrooke, warning the others that whatever he’s planning, it was bad. (And that’s by the Evil Queen’s standards). So of course, the Charmings tried to put the Dark One in check, only to discover that he was one step ahead of them.

 

“The dagger,” Emma insisted. “We need it so we can end this fight before it starts.”

 

“The dagger...I don’t have the dagger Killian does.” All eyes turned towards him, to which the pirate was genuinely baffled.

 

“What, me? I haven’t seen that cursed blade since you commanded the Crocodile to leave the first time.”

 

“You took it from me last night, to hide it where no one could find it.” Belle tried to insist.

 

But, no, as much as that sounds like something he might do, Killian hadn’t seen the librarian at all yesterday. A growing suspicion formed in his mind, and one that he very much didn’t like. “After the lifetimes I’ve spent searching for a way to destroy the Dark One, I’m pretty certain I’d remember holding that dagger in my hand.”

 

“Okay, then if I didn’t give it to you, then--”

 

“You gave it to Gold, disguised as you,” Emma put together, turning towards Killian. “He’s back, and so is his power.”

 

The brunette’s body language fell immediately “Even when I didn’t think he could deceive me any more, he found a way.” She murmured, gaze lowering to the glass countertop.

 

Maeve placed a comforting hand on Belle’s shoulder, bringing her girlfriend in for a half-hug. Killian’s already rousing irritation boiled up into a protective anger at seeing his friend once more heartbroken over her ex-husband’s repeated betrayals and lies.

 

“Banishment was too good for that demon,” he seethed, “we should’ve driven that dagger through his heart when we had a chance.”

 

“Then your name would be written across it.” Emma reminded, voice firm but not hostile.

 

“A small price to pay to ensure the Crocodile wouldn’t come back again.” The pirate insisted, remembering all the ways Rumplestiltskin could hurt his enemies. Not again, not them, not Emma.

 

“I know you’re angry, but we defeated him before and we’ll do it again.”

 

Mary Margaret worried her lip. “The question is how, we don’t even know what he’s planning.”

 

“First we save August,” her husband reminded, as the former wooden man-child was now in the grasp of the Queens of Darkness, likely being tortured for information about the Author.

 

“Yeah, you do that,” Killian added, “I’ll find out the Dark One’s secret.”

 

“How are you going to do that?”

 

“The sea witch...Ursula.” He sighed. “Remember when I said I had a past with her? Now’s the time to use it.”

 

“How?” Ema asked.

 

“By taking a page out of your book, Swan. I’m going to return her happy ending.”

 

From behind the counter, Maeve raised an eyebrow in doubt, but said nothing. The sheriff seemed to share in her hesitance, asking “Can you...really do that?”

 

“Aye. Because I’m the one who took it from her in the first place.”

 


 

 

“How could I have been so stupid?” the librarian sniffled, wiping at her face. “I thought something was off with Killian, but I ignored it. He tricked me again.”

 

“You’re not stupid,” Maeve comforted, keeping Belle wrapped up in a hug. “You’re the smartest person I know.”

 


 

 

“I do hope we’re not interrupting,” Killian greeted a few hours later, after Belle had calmed down. “But we’re in need of the madam’s assistance.” He informed, marching into the pawn shop with Ursula in tow.

 

Belle raised an eyebrow. “And how do I know you’re really Killian?”

 

“Oh now you decide to question my identity?” He sassed, knowing the Crocodile’s acting skills couldn’t have been that good. Even when holding the pirate’s heart his imitation had been stiff and unnatural.

 

“If he were the Dark One, lover girl over here would already be dead.” Ursula added.

 

Mim smiled tight. (She lightly sniffed the air, the Dark One’s glamours are good but they never cover scent) “Fair point. How can I be of assistance?”

 

“The key to getting rid of the Dark One is in here,” he held up the glass bottle containing the shrunken down Jolly Roger. The purplette leaned forward to get a better look. “Is that... your ship?” She glanced up at him, eyes mischievous. “A bit small, isn’t it?”

 

“Careful mate, it’s unwise to insult the size of a pirate’s ship.”

 

“Why? Are we overcompensating for something?” She leaned back up with a smirk.

 

Killian rolled his eyes. “You know more about transformation magic than anyone else in Storybrooke, including how to change your size. You’ve also an expert in potion craft, you must have or can make something that can restore it.”

 

She tilted her head back and forth, thinking. With a smile, she looked back and met his eyes. “You’re in luck, I have just the thing to help.”

 


 

He had done it, reunited Ursula with her father Poseidon, gaining insight into the Crocodile’s plans...and Killian Jones needed a drink. Story of his life, really. He sat by the docks, flask in hand, trying to figure out a way to explain this all to Emma.

 

“You have no idea how easy it is to fall back into the darkness…”

 

“Worse, he plans to fill her heart with darkness. Forever.”

 

In order to get his happy ending, the one he had so callously thrown away by lying to and betraying Belle, Rumpelstiltskin was going after the woman Killian loved. Oh how history repeats himself.  The pirate mused. He lost Bae, takes it out on Milah. He lost Belle, takes it out on Emma...and the whole bloody town… He takes another swig of his flask, disappointed to find it empty so quickly.

 

That was when he heard footsteps approaching. Turning, he noticed the outline of a certain familiar shapeshifter in the light of the streetlamps.

 

“What the bloody hell are you doing here, Mim?” He questioned, not in the mood for whatever childish innuendo or smart-arse comment the purplette would likely pester him with.

 

The witch smiled. “Well, officially, I just happen to be walking by the docks, and I just happen to have a bottle of rum with me. Unofficially…” she tilted her head, “my thoughtful and insightful lady love thought you might want someone to talk to, given everything that’s happened. Not to mention our particular kind of shared life experience…” she trailed off.

 

Half a dozen barbs were at the tip of Killian’s tongue. Telling her to go away, how he didn’t need the witch’s pity...except...Maybe he didn’t want to be alone. Maybe he wanted to talk to someone who might... possibly understand. In the end, he said nothing, and Mim took it as a sign to sit down on the other side of the bench, placing the bottle and two glasses between them.

 

“So...am I allowed to ask what happened between you and the sea witch?” Mim asked, pouring them both a drink. “You did mention something before about taking away her happy ending, and as dirty as my mind is…” She remembered herself, and took a sip of her drink.

 

He sighed, running a hand over his face. “I’m going to need a lot more rum to share that particular tale,” he downed the glass, not looking at her. “But suffice it to say it was because of me that Ursula became that fearsome sea-witch.”

 

Mim hummed in thought. “So, you’re part of her whole ‘supervillain origin story’.” the shapeshifter commented. “Yikes, to say the least.”

 

That was coming from a woman with her own seedy history, as far as he could tell. She had the look in her eyes of someone who had battled with their own darkness, and had their own kind of regrets.

 

“That’s the thing isn’t it?” He mused, more to himself than to her. “It’s one thing to give into the darkness. Quite another to drag someone down into that pit with you.” He took a drink of his rum. Captain Hook had encountered many a vile creature in his voyages, and because of what he did to Ursula, that sweet mermaid turned into one of them. Now, the Crocodile was planning on doing the same with the Savior. Emma was strong, he knew this...but that didn’t make the storm inside go away. Didn’t make the fear release the choke-hold around his throat.

 

The witch hummed. “Fair, fair. Although, I would point out that as much as others may drive us to that particular cliff...poking, prodding, threatening...the choice to jump in is always our own.” The pirate glanced over to his companion, who was staring ahead onto the shoreline as she took another sip of rum. “You made a choice, in hindsight a probably horrible choice, but so did she.”

 

A realization struck him, about how little he actually knew about the woman sitting next to him. He knew her name, he knew her power, he know of her father...but nothing really about her. “Speaking from experience are we?” He carefully ventured.

She looked back at him, an assessing look on her face. Madam Mim let out a small chuckle. "Oh no, I am far too sober to tell you about that particular downward spiral. And we're not nearly good enough friends."

"...Friends?"

The witch shrugged. "I find that I actually like you a bit, when you're not imprisoning my father in magical hats."

"And when you're not trying to strangle me." He countered. She chuckled.

"To Captain Hook and Madam Mim," she raised her glass. "Two absolutely vile villains who decided to try and climb back up out of that darkness, and at least stop being such heartless bastards." She smiled (he'd noticed that, how she smiled and laughed as a way to protect herself, using it like armor).

Killian clinked his glass to hers. "Cheers."

"Thank you...Maeve." He acknowledged, as they parted ways.

She shrugged. "Hey, it's what I'm here for. That and dick jokes."


Maeve stayed over at Belle's house that night. That was good, right? Or was that too fast? The witch certainly had no clue, being much more interested in her girlfriend's safety and watching to see if the Dark One would try to contact his ex-wife.

Guard duty was blessedly uneventful, and now the purplette was attempting to make them breakfast. Orange juice, eggs, bacon...she went over to the toaster. Oh goody, the toast was stuck. Maeve pulled out a butter knife. Danger, here she comes.

But before she could get herself electrocuted, Belle suddenly got up from the counter and walked towards the door, shrugging on her coat.

"Uh...going somewhere? I thought we were going to have breakfast."

"I need to go." She responded, stiff and a little unlike her. "Out...on a walk."

Maeve narrowed her eyes. Okay, what the fuck?


Belle met Rumplestiltskin at the well, at the place that they had been married not too long ago.

He told her the truth, about his blackened heart, about how the Author is the only one who can help him. His wife confessed that she wondered if she threw away the chipped tea cup too soon, and they kissed. For a moment, Rumpelstiltskin was sure that this would work, that he could make everything better.

But then: "Maeve is just such a better kisser than you are," the librarian informed, voice...unnatural. Rumple's brow knit in confusion.

"You're so pathetic...coming groveling back to me like a dog begging for scraps." Belle...Belle wasn't the type of person to say things like that. What was going on?

"This isn't like you, Belle."

"But it is so like me." Regina stepped out of the shadows. "Now forget all this and run along home." The mayor instructed, and Belle obeyed, walking along like a good little marionette.

She really is her mother's daughter, the Dark One had to admit. Finding and exploiting weaknesses.


"How was your walk?" the purplette asked, placing the plate of eggs and toast in front of her girlfriend.

Belle blinked. "Uh...good, I guess? I needed the fresh air, and a chance to clear my head." The witch nodded, but still knew that something was off. The whole...wrongness tugged at her in a way that she couldn't quite explain, but didn't want to press the matter until she could figure out what had happened.

Later, Maeve was walking to the pawn shop, having grabbed them biscuits for afternoon tea. She caught a whiff of a very recognizable, very particular scent. And then she knew exactly what happened.


"Alright, where is it?" Madam Mim asked, barging into the mayor's office.

Regina barely glanced up from her work. "Where's what?"

"Belle's heart. I could smell it all over you earlier, so don't even bother lying to me."

"You can smell enchanted hearts?" The mayor raised an eyebrow. Now the third rate hex actually had her attention.

"A person's heart smells like them, mixed with magic and blood." Mim explained, waving her hand. "Now, as you obviously didn't get a blood transfusion from her, that made what happened rather obvious." She glanced down at Regina's hands. "Also, I know it's in here, I'm just being polite by asking for it."

The mayor leaned back in her chair. "What if I say no?"

"Then I'll have to take it from you." Mim shrugged, as if it was the simplest thing in the world. It didn't even sound like a threat, just...passing along information.

Regina laughed. "I'd like to see you try, swamp witch." She sneered. "Yes, I have your girlfriend's heart. With Rumplestiltskin back, I needed something to hold over him, something to ensure he doesn't just decide to kill us all in one fell swoop."

"And does Belle know about it?" She challenged, tilting her head.

She crossed her arms, only briefly looking away. "Belle doesn't need to concern herself with this. Don't worry, I'll give it back when this is all over. Until then, you'll just have to keep your mouth shut and let me handle Rumplestiltskin."

The madam pursed her lips. "Mmm...no."

"No?" Regina blinked. "Well too bad. That heart is staying where it is."

The shapeshifter huffed, "and here I'd hoped we could settle this the easy way."

"You want it?" Come-" She felt something splash along the front of her blazer, and Regina was suddenly frozen in place. Squid ink, she realized. Mim put a small glass vial back into her pocket, and gently sniffed the air around the mayor's desk.

She wasted squid ink on this? The Evil Queen fumed. She could be using it against Gold or-Wait a second.

Madam Mim was a shapeshifter, a witch with the very, very rare magical ability to take on the form of any animal at will. That would include giant squids.

Opening up a hidden compartment on the desk, Madam Mim retrieved the box containing Belle's red, beating heart. "And I'll be taking that back." She looked up, meeting the gaze of the frozen, furious mayor. "Nothing personal, but I don't trust you. Wait, I guess that was personal." The smug smile on her face made Regina extra extra irritated, and she struggled against the squid ink paralysis. "Oh, don't look so irritated, your highness, I'm sure you're clever enough to make the Dark One think you still have Belle's heart. In the meantime, I'll be putting this back where it belongs." Tucking the box beneath her arm, she left the mayor's office.

Closing the door behind her, Maeve pulled out her cellphone. "Father? It's me. I'm going to need your help with something…"


The door to the pawn shop opened, and Belle smiled at noticing the familiar head of black-purple hair.

"There you are." She brightened. "Brought you dinner from Granny's." Belle informed, gesturing to the to-go bag.

Maeve smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Thank you, darling. But as delicious as that smells, there's something I need to show you." The witch sobered, carefully pulling out a box. Belle blinks down at the sight of a bright red heart. A hand flew to her chest, and the worst case scenario flashed from her mind.

"Is that-"

"Yours." her girlfriend nods. "Regina took it. Wanted to use you as leverage over the Dark One." she huffed, obviously displeased with the Evil Queen's methods. "I objected rather strenuously once I realized what had happened, and thought it best to retrieve it."

That was...a lot to take in, and Belle was frightened by the fact that she couldn't even remember her heart being taken, or anything else being wrong.

"I thought it best to ask first," She pulled a vial out of her pocket, containing a small blue liquid. "This is something that will protect your heart, making sure no one will ever be able to use it to control you ever again. And if someone ever tries…" She smiled. "Let's just say they'll be in for a nasty surprise."

The librarian blinked, having to sort through a whole mess of information she'd just been handed. "Not that I'm not grateful but...why? You go my heart back...why go to the extra trouble of protecting it? I'm not powerful like you, or Regina or Emma…"

"Because there's always the possibility of there being someone else." She shrugged. "Someone who tries to get to your ex-husband through you, or...lord who knows what else. Besides, our madam mayor could stand to be taken down a peg or too every now and then."

"You fought Regina?" She realized, piecing together that Maeve hadn't simply broken into the mayor's office and grabbed it back, but had instead confronted the Evil Queen for it.

Another shrug. "Wasn't really a fight per sey. I may not be able to throw fireballs or teleport like other witches...but what I can do, I do really, really well." Maeve smiled. "Plus, it helps that I'm familiar with the form of a certain cephalopod that's quite useful for dealing with spellcasters."

Belle blinked. "Wait, you can produce squid ink?"

"Yep," Maeve said, popping the 'p' and pulling the stopper out of the vial and handing it over to Belle. "Now, shall we?"

Belle gently took the potion. It was blue, and felt warm in her hand. "Of course." The librarian sprinkled the magic over her heart and felt that same warmth spread over her heart. It wasn't invasive, but comforting, like being hugged by someone you loved. The blue magic surrounded the red heart, forming a kind of...chainmail around it. But then the magic faded, and Belle's heart looked like any other enchanted heart.

"There we go," Maeve smiles, looking down at the heart. "Now, no one can control you...and if they try, they'll be burned by the protection spell."

"Thank you."

Maeve looked at her, a gentle smile and a fond look in her eyes that made Belle's heart flutter, even though the organ still wasn't in her chest. "Really, it's no problem, darling." She assured, completely genuine. "Besides, as someone who rather admires that kind heart of yours, I would absolutely loathe for it to be used against you."

The brunette was half-mesmerized by the look of pure, soft adoration on her girlfriend's face, and thought that perhaps, one day, the witch would hold her heart in a much less literal sense.

(You know, if she hadn't already.)


"Hold on a minute, Mim can produce squid ink?" Mary Margaret asked. After said squid ink had worn off, the first thing Regina had done was call the Charmings.

The mayor glowered. Not only had she been humiliated in her own office, but the squid ink had also stained her blazer. "Unfortunately, yes. It appears her...unique transformation magic gives her a very distinct advantage over other spellcasters." She pursed her lips. "That makes her very powerful to us as an enemy..."

"Now hold on a minute, Mim may a bit...eccentric…" David spoke up over the conference call.

"She's basically the unholy offspring of a lighter and a can of hairspray, but continue."

"But she's never done anything to hurt us, hell she didn't even use the squid ink until you refused to hand over Belle's heart." David continued. "I think we have bigger problems to worry about right now."


(Oh, and let us not forget the other massive betrayal and general all around dickishness Rumplestiltskin pulled: using the Author to rewrite everyone's stories, therefore fucking with everyone's lives and free wills in order to get the Happy Ending he had done absolutely nothing to earn. Himself cast as the valiant hero, with Belle as his loving, obedient housewife. And being perfectly okay with the woman he claimed to 'love' being brainwashed into acting that way. You know, True Love and all that.)

(Snow White and Prince Charming were the new Evil Queen and her Huntsman, Regina was a thief on the run, Killian a cowardly deckhand in service to Blackbeard, and Emma locked away as a madwoman in a tower.)

(Luckily, the day was saved by Henry, stealing a car, navigating the reverse Enchanted Forest all on his own, knocking out Blackbeard, and rescuing his mother. Emma helped save the day by being her general boss ass bitch self, and Killian helped as well, the supposedly cowardly deckhand being twice as courageous as the Dark One could even pretend to be and deciding that he was literally ride or die for two people he met a couple hours ago).

(Hey, you were warned about the narrator having opinions)


Well that was fucking weird. Maeve sat up off the floor of the pawn shop, trying to shake off the aftereffects of...whatever the hell that was. She'd been locked away in a castle dungeon, muzzled, chained, and barely unable to string a coherent thought together. Then she'd been running through the Enchanted Forest, intent on tracking down some kind of scent?

Not important right now. She looked up, and found Belle nearby. She was leaning over Rumplestiltskin's unconscious body….and his heartbeat was growing fainter and fainter. While normally Maeve would callously think 'good riddance' the Dark One dying now in this way could not be good for any of them.


Michael appeared not long after, with the rest of the Charming family in tow. (The pawn shop was getting more than a little crowded).

"Father, I know the Dark One is a right bastard, but-" Maeve looked towards Belle, and sucked in a deep breath. "You were the one who taught me that saving people has nothing to do if they deserve it."

The Apprentice looked at his daughter, and nodded. He took out the box that contained the Sorcerer's Hat, and kneeled down next to Rumplestiltskin.

"He tried to use the hat to free himself from the dagger," Killian recalled, watching the proceedings with understandably mixed emotions.

"This is not unlike that," Michael added. "We're pulling the Darkness from him and containing it."

"Does that mean his heart will be healed?" Belle asked, not wanting Rumple to die, despite everything he's done.

Michael and Maeve shared a look. "Perhaps," the man cautioned. "If the strength is there."

"Honestly...we have no bloody clue." Maeve sighed. "Nothing like this has ever been done before."

"And this is more dark power than the hat has ever been asked to contain." With Emma's encouragement to do what has to be done, the Sorcerer's Apprentice begins to chant an incantation.

"Purest evil, blackest bloom,

Darkness, too, can find its doom."

With an uncomfortable 'squish' he reached down and pulled out the Dark One's heart. It really was completely black, with only a single speck of red left.

Well, that checks out. Emma couldn't help but think. The Apprentice pulled out the hat.

"Never dying, but contained,

Bound inside the falcon's chamber,

Shorn of anger, thornless danger,

There forever to remain."

He held the hat to Rumplestiltskin's heart-his black, charred, pathetic excuse for a heart-and started to vacuum up the inky darkness within. The dagger glowed, and Rumplestiltskin's name was no longer on the blade.

Kneeling down, Michael placed the newly cleared heart back inside Rumplestiltskin's chest.

"He's barely breathing," Belle worried her lip, gently placing a hand over her ex-husband's chest. (Killian didn't miss the look on Maeve's face, the shapeshifter was...conflicted to say the least)

"Rumpelstiltskin was the Dark One for centuries," Michael tried to explain. "A living, former Dark One is...as my daughter said, unprecedented." He waved his hand, and a shimmer of magic covered the unconscious man's form. "This will preserve him, until we discern if we can help him."

"'If?'" the librarian asked, looking up.

But before they could have that conversation, the hat box began to glow. In a way that was literally impossible to be good.

"Everybody get down!" The shapeshifter called, covering Belle as the black magic swirled in the air around them. Angry, untethered, and likely to lash out at any one of them.

"No!" Maeve yelled, watching as the Darkness attempted to flood her father's body, forcing itself down his throat in an attempt to take its former captor over-or perhaps kill him.

Emma reacted quickly, using her light magic to push the untethered Dark One from out of the Apprentice. He collapsed to the ground, but the Darkness was pushed out.

But the Darkness just flew outside, having just been released upon an unsuspecting town.

"Mom, dad, go after it!" Emma ordered.

"Help me get him comfortable." Maeve insisted, carrying her father to the back of the shop with a strength that belied her small frame.


"What the hell was that?" Emma asked, once they had the old man settled The Apprentice opened his mouth to answer, but Maeve pipped up instead.

"The untethered Dark One." Maeve sighed, kneeling beside her father. "A long, long time ago the Sorcerer, Merlin, battled with the first Dark One, and bonded them to the dagger so the Darkness could be controlled. Now, without a human vessel to contain it, we've got an angry, sentient cloud of black magic swirling around that probably, definitely wants to kill, maim, destroy what have you."

"You must...stop...the Darkness…Find Merlin." Michael requested, closing his eyes. Maeve could feel the other two's eyes on her, an unspoken question hanging in the air.

"He's alive. Weak, but alive." She turned back to Emma. "Go! Do your Savior thing!"

The obeyed, racing out into the street.

A short time later, her father started to rouse again. "Maeve-"

"No. I'm not leaving you. Not again." She insisted, voice sharp and sure. "She's the Savior, she'll handle it."

Michael quieted, and the purplette was beginning to suspect he'd fallen asleep when he spoke again. "I'm sorry, Maeve."

"Sorry?" She asked, blinking. "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"

"I left you, all those years ago. Left you alone with the darkness in your own heart. That has been...my greatest regret." He sighed, placing a hand over hers.

The witch shook her head. "No, father, no. I was the one at fault. I was so... stubborn and foolish. I pushed you away." She gave a shaky exhale. "I was an idiot."

"You were hurting," the Apprentice countered. "I thought...I knew you could come back to the light, and that you would only do it on your own terms...but that's no excuse for leaving you alone."

"Alone to drink and fight and whore my way across the realms for decades." She sniffled. "Some daughter I turned out to be, right?" The witch looked away, sadly smiling. Michael cupped her cheek, and met his daughter's eye.

"A daughter who is one of the most brilliant and creative spellcasters I have ever had the honor to teach, and to raise...Who has had to overcome so much, including her own demons. I love you, Maeve, and I never stopped being proud of you."

"Stop that," she sniffled. "You're making it sound like this is some kind of...big goodbye."

The Apprentice just smiled, sadness lurking in his eyes.


Outside, things weren't going much better. In fact, it was a lot more shouty and chaotic, to say the least.

A swirling vortex of doom, gloom, and angry dark magic was circling Regina.

"What the hell is it doing?" Robin demanded.

"Doing what darkness does," Emma guessed, "snuffing out the light."

Robin rushed forward in an attempt to save the woman he loved, but he was thrown back like he was so much a ragdoll.

The Savior had an idea. A bad idea, a really...really bad idea. But she was doing it.

Despite the words of Regina, her parents...Killian...Killian...

She couldn't do this without making sure she told him. Saying it to Neal when she thought he was dying had been easy, in its own way, but this? She had no idea what was going to come after this, who or what she was going to turn into.

"I love you." She said, pressing her forehead to his, and them pushed him away. (Story of her life, really)

Emma Swan plunged the dagger into the vortex of black magic, and let the Darkness take her. A grunt of pain as it crawled over her skin like thorns, digging its way into her body and her heart.

The Savior was swept up in a vortex of evil, with the dagger falling to the street below with a clang.

Emma Swan


Just a lost little girl, who didn't think she mattered…

He's not coming back

I can't be a mother!

Henry!

Give me back my son…

I just watched the man I love die.

Poking prodding, trying to find a way in...


Camelot

The Emma that emerged from the vault in Camelot was not the same Emma that was sucked up by the Darkness in Storybrooke. Her hair was damp, her eyes red, and her clothes going from a sensible sweater to off-grey dress and rough-spun robes. (Homegirl straight up looked like a witch that crawled her way out of a swamp.)

Emma Swan was lost, alone, and afraid.

 

Chapter Text

She is not any common earth

Water or wood or air,

But Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye

Where you and I will fare.

--T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone


 

Camelot, 200+ years ago

 

“What kind of villain leaves a child to die in the snow?” The Sorcerer’s Apprentice shook his head in disgust. He was well aware of the depravities that evil could reach, but his heart wouldn’t allow him to become calloused to it. Not when there was still good, and innocence in this world that must be protected. Like this little one.

 

He held out his hand and conjured a bottle of formula--a wondrous invention in another realm, and something the babe could safely eat. Testing the contents of the bottle on his arm, the man was satisfied that it would be fine and sat down in a nearby rocking chair to feed the tiny person in his arms.

 

“You’re looking rather domestic,” a familiar voice spoke up. Michael looked up with a smile.

 

It was his master, Merlin. Well, a projection of him, to be more accurate. Though he was still trapped inside an oak tree, the Sorcerer still had some measure of power, able to astrally project and appear to other people--even across realms. But the latter took a lot of power and concentration, so it was rarely done.

 

“She was where you said she was,” the Apprentice informed, still feeding the baby. “Although a bit more warning would have been helpful. A few minutes longer out in that cold and…” he shook his head.

 

“You arrived when you were needed.” The Sorcerer assured, stepping forward to get a better look at the girl. She looked like most babies did, with chubby cheeks, baby fat, and only the few wispy beginnings of hair on her head. “She will be important, and help the Once and Future King reach his destiny.” Merlin informed to his apprentice, as wonderfully vague as ever.

 

“Is that a formal prophecy or…?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “Of a kind. Some futures are as clear as cut glass, others...others are more like being handed a manuscript with half the words blotted out.” He grimaced. “I just know the girl will have her role to play, when the time comes.”

 

Michael nodded, and returned his gaze down to the baby girl in question. “If she’s as important as you say...then perhaps we shouldn’t entrust her care to that of strangers.”

 

The Sorcerer’s eyes went from baby to Apprentice. “A babe is an important responsibility, and one not to be taken lightly, Michael.” (He said, as if he wasn’t absolutely delighted by the prospect)

 

“I’ve got a few centuries under my belt, master. Some would say it’s about time,” he chuckled and adjusted the girl to start burping her. Merlin smiled, and agreed with a nod. “I don’t suppose you could be so kind as to tell me if the little one has a name already?”

 

“Maeve. Her mother named her Maeve before...everything.” The Sorcerer responded with a heavy sigh. Michael knew that his master could be dodgy at times, rarely one to give a completely straight answer. Right now, he appreciated it, really not wanting to know whatever domestic tragedy the little one had originated from. What mattered was his daughter’s future.

 

“Maeve, huh?” He looked down at the baby girl. “Then she’s well named. Hello, Maeve.”

 

The baby giggled.

 


 

Storybrooke, Present Day

 

They burst through the curtain to the back of Gold’s shop.

 

“Apprentice, that monstrosity took Emma, where did they go?” Killian demanded, all business. It didn’t matter to him what was happening to the old man, the only thing that mattered was Emma, and getting her back.

 

A finger lightly brushing his cheek, eyes full of what she didn’t have time to say besides ‘I love you’, then her eyes closed to open no more. Dust slipping out between the Crocodile’s hands.

 

“She has gone where all darkness is born...in your realm.”

 

( The Dark One’s Vault, Belle recalled, remembering how Rumplestiltskin had emerged from it in black ooze after his resurrection.)

 

“Then take us there.”

 

“He’s too weak now, he needs time to heal,” Maeve protested. The Apprentice looked at his daughter, and Killian suddenly knew the look in his eyes. The look of someone wasn’t long for this world and knew it. He’d seen enough death to not shy away from the sight, carefully watching the two mages for whatever would happen next.

 

“It is as Maeve said….But this,” a white wand materialized in his hand, “will help. It is a gift from the sorcerer, from Merlin,” he chuckled in fond remembrance “on the day I became his apprentice. In it is all the light magic.”

 

“It can take us to our daughter?”

 

“Not on its own. In order to cross realms, it must be wielded as if was forged. It's both sides of the coin, the darkness, and the light....” He looked to his own daughter, squeezing her hand. “Maeve...use this. Take them to Camelot, for you can wield both the light...and the dark…” He closed his eyes, and the wand dropped.

 

“Father?” the witch tried, “Father!” But it was no use. “Father please, please don’t leave me alone.” She whimpered, sounding pitiful and afraid and everything like the orphan she now was.

 

“You aren’t alone.” Belle stepped forward. “I promise, Maeve. I promise,” the librarian murmured, wrapping her girlfriend in her arms. Trying to be a beacon of stability and comfort and all those other things that had been completely wasted on the Crocodile.

 

Killian clenched his jaw and looked away, trying to trample down the rage bubbling up in him. Why couldn’t the man go and die somewhere else. Away from magic, from everyone, from Emma...then this never would have happened.

 

Snow and David gently guided the two women off into another corner, to be able to grieve a bit more in private. Arrangements would have to be made.

 

“Guess that's my cue.” Regina cleared her throat and stepped forward, picking the Apprentice’s wand off the ground.

 

“Regina--”

 

“The Apprentice said it needs dark magic, so…” she trailed off, vaguely gesturing to herself. After taking a moment to study the wand, the Evil Queen held it up, dignified and serious as she wove it in the air.

 

And...nothing. Killian barely bit down as another roll of anger washed through him. Regina repeated the motion to no effect, her face scrunching up in confusion.

 

“Enough!” The pirate snarled. “You're gonna embarrass yourself and waste our time!”

 

The mayor was still studying the wand, and didn’t even look up when she said, “Watch it! I know what I’m doing.”

 

“Well, that's not enough! You heard the man, it needs darkness. You've gotten soft.”

 

“You wanna see soft?” She glowered, turning towards the pirate. “Why don't I use that hook to show you your intestines?”

 

Killian leaned in just that bit closer. “Well, you've got the fire, love but, not the blackness. Not anymore.” He insisted. “How's this for irony? You've done too much good. Now, you heard the man, we need Mim.”

 

“How the hell is the swamp witch darker than I am?” Regina demanded. “I was literally called the Evil Queen?!”

 

“He said what he said. Mim!”

 

“She just lost her father give her a moment!” Snow White chided, and as desperate as he was, Killian quieted.

 

Madam Mim slowly rose to her feet, Belle at her side. She wasn’t sobbing, or wailing, or really making any other kind of sound. But there was a fire burning behind her eyes. One that was filled with grief and rage and a desire to hurt the world like you’d just been hurt.

 

It was a feeling Killian Jones was all too familiar with.

 

She held the Apprentice’s wand in one hand, and with her other was holding onto Belle’s hand. The librarian's eyes were filled with worry, just wanting to support her ladylove. “Killian’s right. The longer we--” she swallowed, voice tight. “The longer the Savior’s alone with the Darkness, the more opportunities it has to grab hold.” Belle gave a soft smile, but Maeve wasn’t looking at her, she was looking down at the wand. “For centuries, the Darkness has destroyed and taken whatever it bloody well pleases, but that ends now.” She half-growled. “Because we are going to find the Savior, and destroy the fucking Darkness once and for all.”

 

Bold words, and ones he approved of, but it meant nothing without action. Killian waited for her to do what Regina could not and open the portal, but all Mim seemed able to do was stare. “This wand...it needs an object to help me guide the portal to its destination, something that belonged to Emma, something...meaningful to her.”

 

The princess's eyes lit up. “Her baby blanket. It’s back at the loft.”

 

“Alright. We haven’t any time to waste then.” Killian said, ready to rip his way through anything--even the fabric of reality itself--to reach his love.

 

“Not so fast, Captain Guyliner,” Regina spoke up. “We can’t rush into this. They have a baby, Robin and I--all of us have responsibilities here in Storybrooke. Running off half-cocked without telling anyone or making arrangements is stupid at best. Not to mention who knows what we’ll face once we actually find Emma…”

 

“Then make your preparations,” Maeve informed, voice low and level. “Because tomorrow, we ride for Camelot.” With a determined (grieving) lilt to her step, Mim marched out of the pawn shop, Belle at her side.

 


 

 

Belle wrapped herself around her girlfriend that night. The two of them on her bed, shoes off and simply holding each other. Maeve had cried, quiet and subdued for almost an hour until the tears no longer fell.

 

“You can’t blame yourself for what happened,” she tries to sooth, running a hand through Maeve’s black and purple hair.

 

“I don’t,” the shapeshifter answered, her voice hollow. “The Darkness is what killed him. Just as separating it may have killed Rumplestiltskin. Speaking of--” She adjusted herself, turning around so that they were now facing each other. “Shouldn’t you...not that I’m not appreciating your presence, love, but your ex-husband could be dying while we speak. I shouldn’t be so selfish as to expect you to comfort me with no thought to yourself or...him. I would hate for you to regret it.”

 

“I’m exactly where I need to be.” Belle informed, her tone sounding as sure as she felt. As dull and muted as her expressions were, the witch’s eyes widened in surprise. The brunette came up and cupped her girlfriend’s cheek. “Maeve, I came to terms with Rumple being gone from my life after I banished him from the town line. If this is the end...I’m not so callous as to say that I don’t care, because I do. Part of me will always care for him. But I can’t do anything for Rumple now.”

 

The witch simply nodded.


 

Camelot, Present Day

 

Worst. Trip. Ever. Emma couldn’t help but think to herself. Not only was she realms away from her family (not to mention cars, cell phones, and indoor plumbing) but she also had the chronic backseat driver of the Dark One jabbering away in her head.

 

She had managed to make her way out of the woods and onto a dirt road. She’d been walking for a while when she finally managed to spot someone down the road. Someone wearing armor, and had a large, impressive battleax at their side. Probably concerning, but honestly the blonde was just happy that she found someone at all.

 

“Hey!” Emma called out, hiking up her skirts and breaking into a run. “Hey! Excuse me! I need help!” The figure stopped and turned towards her.  “I need directions to Camelot. Do you know the way?”

 

It was then that she actually took on the other person. They were tall, about a good head taller than Emma, and armed and armored all in green. The cloak, the armor, the helm, all the same color…Wait a minute. When she had tried to break into the library, Mim had Gawain and the Green Knight in her pocket.

 

“Well, my lady, you appear to be more lost than you thought.” The figure spoke up, a woman’s voice coming from underneath the knight’s helm. “As you are now, already in the kingdom of Camelot.” They removed their helm, and the woman’s voice matched with the woman’s face. “I am Vivienne de Hautdesert, at your service.” She gave a small bow.

 

Emma stared for a long moment. The Green Knight was a woman. A really, really pretty woman, with dark eyes and dark green hair, braided up so as to not get in her way. Knowing what she knew about Madam ‘massive lesbian’ Mim, this development...well it wasn’t unprecedented.

 

“Oh, uh, hi. I’m Emma.” She nodded in response. “I’m looking for the Sorcerer, Merlin. I think he’s somewhere in Camelot...have you heard of him?”

 

“Most everyone’s heard of Merlin.” The other woman informed with a wide, sunny smile. “Why do you ask?”

 

“I, uh, I need his help.” She offered, glancing away. “Do you know where he is?”

 

Vivienne pursed her lips. “Yes...but it won’t help you.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because while I kind of know where Merlin is, he doesn’t really talk to people. At all.” She informed in a slightly apologetic tone. “I’m really sorry as you’ve obviously come all this way. But if you’re looking for help, you’re better off looking elsewhere.” (And Emma didn’t pick up on a single lie in there). “If you’d like though, I can escort you to the next village.” She offered, readjusting her helm over her arm.

 

The Savior/Dark One scrambled to find a way to get the Green Knight to help her. “Wait do you—do you know Mim? Madam Mim?”

 

The lady tilted her head and blinked. “Another name most everyone knows around here. But if you’re talking personally, I guess you could say I know her.”

 

“You...guess?” Emma was getting more than a bit frustrated with this happy-go-lucky knight. “What do you mean?”

 

“Well, on account of we used to be lovers.”

 

Emma blinked. “What.”

 

“It was years ago. Before I met my lovely, amazing, and beautiful wife, the other Lady de Hautdesert.” The knight bragged.

 

(You heard it here folks, the giant green lesbian used to date the tiny purple lesbian)

 

“That’s uh, good. Good for you.” Emma cleared her throat, feeling decidedly awkward. “We’re friends, Mim and I, back in my realm.” Not exactly the truth, but not really a lie either. They knew each other, and the purple witch seemed nice enough when she wasn't a giant elephant bothering people.

 

Vivienne offered another carefree smile. “A word of advice, my lady, and try to keep that fact to yourself. Unless of course you’re looking to make enemies, in which case, share away.” She idly commented. “Most people in Camelot don’t react kindly to that name.”


“Just tell me where Merlin is!” Emma demanded and suddenly, the Green Knight put a hand to her throat, gasping for hair.

 

Now it was the Green Knight’s turn to question what was happening. "Wha'..." she choked out.

 

“I’m not doing anything.” Emma tried to insist, only for Rumplestiltskin to appear over her shoulder and state the contrary.

 

“Stop it!” she tried to order, but the green haired woman was still choking, falling down to her knees.

 

“T'is not me doing this, dearie. T'is you.” She looked up and found it was the case, pulling back her hand, trembling with both fear and dark magic.

 

“Oh…” Vivienne commented from her place on the ground. “ That explains it.”

 

Emma looked up, her hands still shaking. “What?”

 

“Why you want to find Merlin.” The knight rose up back on her feet, brushing a bit of the dirt off her armor. “You’re the Dark One. Ah, I really should have guessed it.” Vivienne wiggled her finger as if Emma had just managed to pull some kind of clever prank (instead of, you know, trying to choke the life from out of her).

 

Before the new Dark One could say or do anything else-- apologize, explain, snap her neck this time --the Green Knight drew her battleax. Emma took a step back, but the warrior didn’t take a fighting stance or charge or really anything.

 

“Anyway, best of luck with the whole ‘cursed’ business.” She nodded her head in a brief ‘farewell’, and then tapped the end of her weapon on the ground.

 

“No, wait—“ The blonde tried to stop the other woman but it was too late. The Green Knight was gone.

 

“That’s what you get when you just try ‘manners’, dearie. Most people need a bit more...motivation.” Rumplestiltskin commented, once more at her side. “So did you enjoy it? Your first taste of darkness.”

 

Emma just stared forward, not even having it in her to deny it.

 


 

 

The Enchanted Forest, 200+ Years Ago

 

“Darling, what are you doing up this late?”

 

“I couldn’t sleep.” The little boy informed, rubbing at his eyes. Killian Jones was all of six years old, and still scared of the dark.

 

Ailis Jones was a strikingly beautiful woman just north of thirty, with dark brown hair and blue eyes. Liam took after her a fair amount, while Killian looked more like their father, Brennan. Father was away at the moment, leaving mother and sons at home while he attended to some business or other.

 

She was at her loom, straining her eyes to complete her work by candlelight. A recent illness had kept her from working on her weaving as much as she ought to, and the deadline was approaching faster than she liked. Still, the woman always had time for her children, gesturing for her youngest to come and sit with her.

 

“What are you making?” He asked, stifling a yawn.

 

“It’s a story from Camelot,” Ailis smiled, “ about two dragons that were always fighting each other.”

 

She settled her son more comfortably in her lap, and started to talk to him about the story. How a king wanted to build a mighty fortress, but every day when he tried to build it, everything would be knocked down the next day. The little boy nodded, he liked listening to his mother talk...and he liked it so much that he drifted off to sleep.

 


 

Storybrooke, Present Day

 

Killian Jones awoke with a sigh, and not the stereotypical sharp intake of breath and sitting up in bed. He rubbed a hand over his face in frustration--at this rate, he’d barely be able to get any kind of sleep. He was in the captain’s quarters of the Jolly Roger, hoping against hope that the time on his beloved ship--his home for over two centuries--would give him some small sense of stability.

 

But how could he do that, knowing Emma, his light, his Swan, his happy ending, was out there? In gods knew what state, alone.

 

The dream wasn’t fading like most did once he awoke. That was because it wasn’t a dream at all, but a memory. His mother had died when he was so young, and he had lived for so long that specific memories of her were few and far between, leaving Killian mostly with vague recollections. Liam was the one who actually remembered her clearly, and had been the one to try and keep her memory alive as they got older.

 

But then, Mother had just been the first in a long string of losses in Killian Jones’ life. First her, then father’s abandonment, Liam’s death, Milah’s murder, Baelfire...if he didn’t know any better he’d swear he’s cursed to outlive everyone he ever loved.

 

At least you won’t have to worry about that with Emma, he darkly thought, sitting up in bed. (Even if he’s lost the woman he loves to the Darkness, it was a temporary situation. Hopefully.) No use in trying to get back to sleep, so he might as well go over what he was bringing to Camelot.

 

A life at sea didn’t call much for possessions, so traveling light was never a problem for Captain Hook. As for their journey to find Emma...he’d leave it to the others to provide provisions. Killian had the best map he had of the lands of Gramarye, the island Camelot was located on. And by ‘best’ he meant the only map of Gramarye he had. As the only reason he’d ever had to go to there was to stalk the various ships that traveled to and from the island, the pirate captain hadn’t needed much information about the geographical features of the land itself.  It seems that they were going to be relying on Maeve for such a thing.

 

Beyond that though, Killian took his cutlass, his flask, a bit of gold, and his...ring...

 

He called it Liam’s lucky ring, but it had originally belonged to their mother. The one thing they had left of her, really. A silver band set with a black stone, onyx or jet. It had hung on a simple silver chain on his neck under his clothes ever since Liam handed it to him in the midst of that terrible storm. A superstitious part of Killian’s mind, the one that wouldn’t dare whistle on deck in case it ‘whistled up a storm’ and would never dare harm an albatross suspected it was the reason he had survived for so long, beyond just his time spent in Neverland.

 

If you would have given it to her, she would be safe. A part of the pirate’s mind insisted.

 

If he had...she would have been safe…

 

So why hadn’t he given her the ring?

 

He rubbed his eyes again, wishing for sleep but knowing full well that it wasn’t going to come. He’d sleep when he knew Emma was safe, instead off gods knew where doing gods knew what with the power of a demon latched to her soul like a leech.

 


 

 

(In Camelot, Emma had just come across the fiery-haired princess of DunBroch, but you already know that part of the story, so it’s okay if we fast-forward)

 


 

 

They met up at Granny’s the next day. The diner had long been the unofficial gathering hall for Misthaven’s royalty. The usual suspects were all there, the Charmings, the Mills, the Hoods, Granny. Even Doc, Leroy, and Astrid. The dwarves had bristled at the thought of being left behind again, and the fairy decided that she was going to go with Leroy. (After two curses, they'd decided to give the whole 'relationship' the good old retry).

 

Regina would admit to being a bit annoyed, but that had to do more with the general situation, plus the general irritation from seeing the Charming's entourage. That wasn’t a problem, the problem was the fact that the princess and princess were insisting on bringing their infant son with them.

 

“You do remember there’s not exactly the best pediatrics in the Enchanted Forest, right? Or disposable diapers.” Regina reminded, crossing her arms.

 

“If we bring the children with, it’ll be a gesture of peace. That we aren’t scouts of an invading force.” Mary Margaret argued.

 

“It’s a fair point,” Robin had to agree. They were even bringing Henry and Roland along with them, how fair would it be to the Nolans to leave their own son behind for gods knew how long. Even if he was feeling a touch guilty for leaving Marian here with the other Merry Men to guard the town in their absence.

 

The conversation stopped as the door opened, and in walked Mim and Belle, holding hands. The witch had made her own preparations, based on the brown leather satchel at her side. Spellbooks, or ingredients for potions, most likely, if Killian were to wager a guess.

 

Belle was also dressed for whatever happened, with trousers, sensible blouse, and walking boots, a satchel with books and—was that a bell jar with a rose? Killian blinked, but decided that they had much more important things to attend to at the moment.

 

(Yeah, you know, like, rescuing his amazing girlfriend.)

 

“Alright, listen up.” Madam Mim called out, voice clear and strong. “We’re all here because we’re going after the Savior who is now also the Dark One. That is a dangerous combination of light and dark magic and we have no idea what the bloody hell kind of state that we’re going to find her in.”

 

“Emma far too strong to give into the darkness so easily.” Mary Margaret defended.

 

“I’m not saying that she’s going to jump straight to kicking puppies and burning down orphanages. But we need to be prepared for a certain amount of risk.”

 

“So our goal is going to be to find this ‘Merlin’ and then find a way to take the Darkness out of Emma.” Killian added, needing to feel at least a bit in command and control of the situation.

 

“Mim...with your father being the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, do you know Merlin? Where he could be?”

 

The purplette smirked, feeling just mischievous enough to let the Charmings find out the punchline to that particular joke on their own. “Something like that. Anyway...we need a totem of Emma, something that belonged to her…”

 

Mary Margaret offered up the baby blanket. Mim gently smiled, and took it. “This will guide us straight toward Emma,” she assured the mother, trying to give a comforting smile.

 

Looking around to double check everything was as secure as it could be (she honestly wasn’t entirely sure how they were even going to get to Camelot), Maeve took her place at the center of the diner, taking a breath to steady herself.

 

It was then that Killian realized what she was doing. The coy kind of bravado she was trying to exude was just a mask.. Maeve was playing a part, trying to mask or push down the pain of her father’s death. The witch tapped her wand against the baby blanket twice, and the air around them shifted. “Best hold onto something loves, because this is gonna get rough.”

 

There was a coy and dangerously delighted smirk on her face as she raised her father’s wand and twirled it around, the same motion Regina had attempted last night.

 

Zim zaberim zim .”

 


 

When the diner was once more on solid ground, Granny was the first to rise and move towards the window, grumbling at the shattered glass all around them.

 

“Well,” the old werewolf glanced through the blinds. “We sure ain’t in Maine anymore.”

 

Mary Margaret blinked, she and David had been cradling Neal to make sure the young prince wasn’t about to get a case of (magically) Shaken Baby syndrome “Belle, Mim is this--”

 

“Camelot.” The shapeshifter affirmed, and opened up the front door.

 

The purplette looked around for a moment to get her bearings, then took a long wiff of the air.

 

“Maeve?” Belle ventured.

 

“I have her scent.” She shrugged off her coat and changed shape, this time a purple dog with floppy ears and a droopy face. Bloodhound. Belle recognized. One of the best tracking dogs out there.

 

The dog ran out the door, most of the group running after her.


Belle couldn’t help but smile to herself, just a bit. Go get her, darling.

 


 

 

Maeve rushes through the woods on four legs, following the scent of Emma Swan. It had been a long, long time since she’d had to track someone down, and was enjoying the chance to stretch her paws.

 

Making sure she wasn’t going too fast, the witch glanced behind. While Robin and Snow were the two she’d thought best suited to run through the woods, it was actually the pirate who was keeping up with her, running in front of everyone else.

 

Desperate to reach his lady love she supposed.

 

They found the Lady Swan herself soon enough. Not at the Dark One’s vault, as Belle had suspected, but instead at the Standing Stones. The birthplace of will-o-wisps. The Savior was with another woman with firy red hair and a blue dress.

 

At the sight, of Emma’s hand clenched around the other woman’s heart, Maeve felt a stutter in her own chest, and took a step back away. The primary feeling going through her mind was shit, shit, shit.

 

“Swan!” Killian spoke up first. The purplette’s eyes flicked over towards the pirate, as did Emma’s as the rest of the group caught up with them.

 

Knowing that she wasn’t close to the savior, and therefore wouldn’t be much help, Maeve backed away, shifting back into her human form and letting the others take the lead here. Emma and her family argued, the woman insisting that she needed to crush the red head’s heart. Maeve was precisely two seconds away from busting out the squid ink when she saw Mary Margaret reach for the Dark One’s dagger.

 

“We’re not going to take the chance,” the princess insisted, apparently completely fine with overriding her daughter’s free will. (Maeve? Not so much.)

 

“No,” Killian spoke up as Maeve gently grabbed the princess’ wrist. “You can’t do that.  It has to be her choice,” the Dark One’s boyfriend insisted. The purplette couldn’t help but agree somewhat--though as much as she was pro free will, she was also very much anti ‘people getting their hearts ripped out’. So, you know, a bit of mixed feelings on the situation.

 

“She has to die.” Emma insisted, giving the heart a good squeeze. Maeve flinched, (and that didn’t escape Mary Margaret’s attention)


“Look at us,” the pirate further encouraged. "Heroes and villains together for you, because of you. And if we can overcome our demons...then so can you."

 

The blonde gave a half-choked sob, and turned around to look at something behind her. Maeve followed but couldn't tell what had the Dark One's notice. But then, she was pushing the red-headed woman's heart back into her chest, and turned into her lover's embrace.

 

Only after that did Maeve let go of Mary Margaret's wrist. The two black haired women exchanged loaded looks--Mary Margaret was silently questioning, and Maeve really not in the mood to explain. But as her daughter was obviously the priority, the princess let the witch go without saying a word.

 

So, Madam Mim did what her instincts had been all but screaming at her to do since the moment she saw Emma holding that heart--she fucking ran.

 


 

After the others had run off in search of Emma, those that had stayed behind were checking out Granny’s Diner. Astrid and Doc watched the kids as Leroy and Granny ensured that they weren’t about to die in a gas explosion, or all the ripped out wiring was going to set something on fire. Belle herself was sweeping, and cleaning up all the broken glass on the floor.

 

The bell to the diner rang, and the Belle sitting in the diner looked up to see her girlfriend enter.

 

“Maeve, what’s happening, did you find Emma?” She sat up, concerned.

 

The woman herself had a...look in her eyes. Almost like she was scared....but it only lasted a moment

 

“Don’t worry, everything’s fine they found Emma. But I--” She cleared her throat. “I have to leave.”

 

Belle frowned. “What are you talking about? We just--”

 

“I’m not welcome in Camelot,” Her girlfriend informed. “You know how I said that something happened between me and Arthur? Well it…” she let out a sigh, “let’s just say it goes beyond just him. I can’t come with you any further, I’ll only make things harder, get in the way.”

 

“Maeve, you’ve changed since then” She tried to assure, reaching up and cupping the mage’s face between her hands, gently brushing back her black and purple hair. “You’re not the same person who did...whatever it is you did. If you go back there, if you show that you’re here to help…”

 

The witch offered a smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Belle, it’s one thing to, well, stop hurting people, but quite another to force your presence on the people you’ve already hurt. Even I’m not enough of a prick to do that. It’s really for the best if I just...step out of the way. For now, at least.”

 

Before the librarian could ask anything further, Maeve’s ears pricked up with the sound of movement not far away. Not just the footfalls of the rest of the Storybrooke group but also the sounds of a horse at gallop. Seven of them, at least, and approaching quickly.

 

Damnit. There was no time to explain. She glanced out the window, and saw Emma and the others walking towards the building. That meant the riders wouldn’t be too far behind them.

 

Gently breaking away from her girlfriend’s embrace, Maeve grabbed her satchel. “In her is ingredients and components for almost any potion you’ll need while here, along with my grimoire so you know how to put it all together. I promise I’ll keep an eye on things, try to keep in touch but--”

 

Granny and Leroy passed the couple and exited the building to greet the returning heroes.

 

“--you’ll find me when you need me.” The two women shared a goodbye kiss, and then Madam Mim dove out the back window.

 

(Later, Belle would realize her girlfriend had left her jacket hanging off the back of a chair, and realized what she meant)

 


 

“Who are you, and what do you want?”

 

The leader on the white horse spoke first. “I’m King Arthur of Camelot, we’ve come to find you.”

 

Neither the party of knights, nor the newly arrived travelers noticed a little purple songbird sitting among the trees, observing this exchange of cautious greetings from a distance. Watching carefully as one party followed the other to the gates of Camelot.


It continued to go unnoticed, even as Madam Mim transformed herself from songbird to falcon, and flew away.

 

She flew to the west, further and further. From Camelot, the shapeshifter soared over the lands of Gramarye, over forests, rivers and lakes until she reached a mountain range. The tallest among it was called Mount Dragon, named so because the crest of the mountain was shaped like a dragon with outspread wings. Those of the isle knew it all too well—the sharp peaks were treacherous and deadly, killing even experienced mountaineers with its many secret pathways and pitfalls.

 

Of course, those with the advantage of flying could skip it altogether, and enjoy the view. It was beautiful, in its own sort of way.

 

Nestled among these mountains was a stronghold. It was cut from black rock, and looking as threatening and imposing as the natural dangers that surrounded it. The setting sun cast the sky in a crimson red, making the castle seem even more ominous on approach.

 

The purple falcon went past the outer wall with a single flap of her wings, utterly unconcerned. The castle looked as abandoned and empty as she knew it actually was, for Snow White’s Dark Curse had taken not only Madam Mim, but also all other inhabitants of this kingdom. Anyone who would know the way to this castle on foot was safely tucked away in Storybrooke.

 

Well, most who knew the way, at least.

 

Among the half-overgrown garden was a lone figure, sitting alone on a small bench in the quiet courtyard. Upon spotting them, Madam Mim started her descent, seeming to almost glide down on the air.

 

The figure noticed the falcon’s approach at once, sitting up and tilting their head to the side as the bird landed. In a puff of pink-purple smoke, the witch was once more human, and smiling, though it did not reach her eyes.

 

“Archimedes.” The shape-shifter greeted. “It’s been awhile.”

 

“Madam Mim,” The owl nodded. “Welcome back to Annuvin.”

Chapter Text

Villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.

—Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Drumhead”

 


 

Camelot, 25 years before the original Dark Curse...

 

Arthur was cleaning out the stables when he found it. A coat of arms, bright and colorful, and folded up and shoved underneath a box of horseshoe nails.

 

“Sir Ector...what’s this?” The stable boy asked, holding it up for the lord’s inspection.

 

“That is the banner of Uther Pendragon, the last King of Camelot.” Sir Ector sighed, looking a bit...sad. 

 

“I thought that Kay said that we don’t have a king? Why...is that?” The boy ventured.

 

Ector scoffed. “King Uther died without an heir, and now everyone seems to be squabbling over whose arse is going to sit on the throne, and not allowing anyone else a moment’s peace. That’s why Camelot’s referred to as the Broken Kingdom.” Arthur wanted to ask more, but then Sir Ector turned and lead his horse out of the stable.

 

Arthur looked back at the banner, suddenly a bit more intrigued. Kay must have noticed the boy’s interest, because not too long later, because like with anything the stable boy tried to do, Kay made fun of him.

 

“It’s just an old banner. Just tear it up and use it for rags.” The lord’s son scoffed derisively, riding off for a jousting lesson.

 

But Arthur didn’t want to tear it up. It was old, but so...colorful. So the stable boy put it back where he found it, carefully folding it back up and putting it in the chest.

 

Later that night, when the chores were done, the stable boy crept back to the box and took the banner out again. He wasn’t entirely sure why, he just...wanted to. Hugging the red and gold banner to his chest, Arthur ran out towards the big old tree towards the edge of town. He liked to go out there to sit and think.

 

The boy sat beneath the boughs of the tree, and stared at the banner in his hands. It was the nicest thing he had, probably, and he only had it because no one else wanted it.

 

“Hello Arthur,” a voice suddenly spoke out in the darkness.

 

“Who are you! Who’s there!” The boy demanded, looking around, and seeing no one. “Kay, I swear if this is some kind of joke..”

 

“I’m not Kay.” The voice responded with a chuckle. “My name is Merlin, and I’m right behind you.”

 

Arthur spun around, but only saw the tree. He peeked around it, but again no one was there.

 

The stable boy suddenly had a thought. “Wait...are you the tree?” He asked, squinting at it.

 

“Yes I am.”

 

“Is this...some kind of joke? Do you like scaring people by talking to them out of nowhere?”

 

“That does sound funny, but no. I’m stuck here, unfortunately.”

 

“Stuck? What did you do to get stuck in a tree?”

 

The voice was silent for a long moment. “I...tangled with a very powerful spellcaster called the Dark One. And I lost. My name is Merlin, by the way.”

 

“Pleased to meet you,” Arthur responded automatically, still feeling just a bit odd “...wait a minute, you’re Merlin?

 

“Yes,”

 

“Like, Merlin, Merlin, the Sorcerer?”

 

“Again, yes.”

 

The stable boy had heard of Merlin, of course. A powerful wizard who had lived in Camelot centuries ago, but disappeared off the face of the earth. According to legend, he was the one who transformed the lands of what was now Camelot from a desert wasteland to a land of greenery and forests. (He didn’t, that was the gods’ doing. Merlin was just around to see it happen)

 

“You’re the most powerful Sorcerer in the land...and you’re stuck in a tree?” He asked, tilting his head up in confusion.

 

Again, the voice was silent for a long moment. “Yes.”

 

Arthur couldn’t help but laugh at that, just a bit.

 

But that offended the tree, just a bit. “Oh, well then, I guess you don’t want to hear my prophesy about you then. Goodnight.”

 

“What?” Arthur stopped. “No, I-I’m sorry, what prophesy? What do you mean?”

 

Merlin chuckled to himself. “That banner you’re holding?” He looked down at the fabric bunched up in his hands. “It’s yours.”

 

“What?” The stable boy looked back up. “What do you mean?”

 

“King Uther of the Royal House of Pendragon was your father, Arthur. He secreted you and your mother away before you were born, and before he died.”

 

Arthur looked down. His mother...his mother had run off not long after giving birth to him. She hadn’t wanted him, and no one had been kind enough to try and spare that fact from the young stable boy. “But, Sir Ector said--he would have said something, right? If my mother was queen, he would have known her, right?”

 

“Your mother’s identity was...not known in full by Sir Ector.” (This was the point where the Sorcerer needed to do some, shall we say, selective editing. No need to tell the kid about the less than ideal/dubiously consensual circumstances of his birth). “The truth of your parentage was kept even from him.”

 

“But me, I’m--I’m just a stable boy. How can you be sure?”

 

The tree whispered again. “I foresaw it, Arthur. I saw that the lost son of Pendragon would be my great hope. That he would grow up unaware of his heritage, but when the time was right, would find me, pull the sword Excalibur from the stone, and unite a broken kingdom. Destroying the Darkness once and for all.”

 

(I’d pay attention to that bit)

 

Arthur looked down at the banner in his hands. At the red lion, strong and proud and everything he wanted to be but wasn’t.

 

“You, Arthur, are that boy who would be king. This village will become the seat of the great kingdom of Camelot, and you shall rule.”

 

“I’m...going to be a king someday?” The boy asked, looking up, a spark of hope in his eyes.

 

“Yes, and the girl...Guinevere, shall be your queen.”

 

The boy’s smile brightened.

 


 

Camelot, Present Day...

 

“Why would Mim run off like that?” David pondered as the group made their way back to the crash-landed diner. After finding Emma safe and (relatively) sound, there had been a delay in noticing the disappearance of a certain purple-haired witch. “She seemed determined to help get rid of the Darkness last night.” 

 

“I might be able to answer that.” Emma pipped up. “I, uh ran into a friend of Mim’s, the Green Knight. She told me that Madam Mim wasn’t exactly welcome in Camelot, and to not mention her unless we wanted to make enemies.”

 

Killian nodded. “The shapeshifter’s made no secret about her dark past. Perhaps it would be in our best interest to heed this knight’s warning.”

 

“Besides, we don’t even know if she’s run off, she could have just headed back to the diner. To let everyone know the good news.” Mary Margaret added, as hopeful sounding as ever.

 

“She’d better,” Regina grumbled. “Because Mim’s the only one who can use the wand, and without that there’s no easy way of getting back to Storybrooke.”

 

Emma looked down, remembering her last two misadventures in the Enchanted Forest. Both times required her jumping through a lot of hoops (and a fair amount of danger) to get back to Storybrooke. Although, it did have some certain benefits...she looked back over to her leather clad pirate boyfriend.

 

“Don’t worry, Swan, dubious past or not, Maeve’s not the type to leave us stranded. She’ll be back.” Killian assured with those big blue eyes. She smiled, and could almost believe it. But Emma had enough adventures by now to realize that it probably wouldn’t be that simple or smooth.

 


 

Camelot, Fast Forwarding a Few Hours Later...

 

“So the most powerful sorcerer in all the realms...is stuck inside a bloody tree?” Killian grimaced, and had the distinct feeling that somewhere, somehow, Madam Mim was laughing at them.

 

(Would you look at that? A complication)

 

Emma was feeling something quite similar, the Green Knight’s warnings about Merlin not being able to help making all the more sense with the proper and leafy context.

 

“I said the same exact thing the first time I stood there,” Arthur agreed.

 

“And you think we can get him out?”

 

“Oh, we don’t think. We know. Merlin’s prophesies are never wrong.”

 

(Recurring theme alert)

 

“Our home,” David spoke up, “is being threatened by...it’s called the Dark One.”

 

“The Dark One...yes, we’re well aware of that demon.” Arthur agreed, to the father of said demon. “I pray Merlin can help, but first we must free him from his prison.” He gestured to the oak tree.

 

“It is said that one of you is the Savior,” (There was an awkward beat where no on in the Storybrooke group made eye contact with anyone else. Robin Hood gained a sudden interest in his shoes, and Snow White glanced at a large black crow perched nearby) “So which of you is it?” He looked around, expectant.

 

Awkward.

 


 

“Never do that to me again.” Emma demanded, the Dark Magic thrumming in her veins.

 

The newly self-appointed Savior, Regina, scoffed.

 


 

“Do you think we can trust him. Arthur?” Killian asked as they were preparing themselves for this ball. They’d been escorted to their rooms by servants. Separate rooms. (Not that Killian had any problem with sneaking off to see his Swan in the middle of the night, but it was the principle of the thing, really.)

 

David laced up his doublet. “Well, every legend about him paints him as a hero. I’d say that’s a pretty good sign.”

 

“Doesn’t the Land Without Magic also claim that I’m a ‘coward with a perm’ to quote your daughter?” Killian wrinkled his nose, remembering Emma’s laughter once he finally realized how her world portrayed him.

 

“Ah, well, they get a lot of other things right...usually. Although,” David chuckled, “they also claimed that Madam Mim was a crazy old lady that lived in a woods and thought she was a better wizard than Merlin.”

 

“Well, she’s certainly not the one stuck in a tree, now is she?” That earned him another chuckle.

 

They lapsed into silence. Once Killian was even more devilishly handsome than normal, he turned to look at his companion. David had a pensive look on his face, and seemed to be half-lost in his own musings.

 

“What’s on your mind, mate?” The pirate asked, casually. Much like his daughter, the prince seemed to often keep unpleasant feelings buried inside.

 

“Just thinking about Henry, really. He’s keeping up a brave face, but, I’m afraid that’s all it is. Who knows how hard this must be for him.”

 

Bealfire would have known.

 

His hand stilled over tying up his vest. The thought had come suddenly, as did the memories that followed.

 

An impromptu sailing lesson, the wind in his hair carrying the smell of sea salt and enchanted wood. Originally trying to pump the boy for information, before he realized just how much in common they really shared.

 

He draws his power from a dagger?

 

Yes, it’s the only power that could kill him. And the only thing he truly cares about anymore...he chose it over me. My papa abandoned me too.

 

Baelfire--Neal. It had only been a handful of months since his passing, and Killian found himself thinking of the man less and less as time passed. Little things here and there, like how sometimes for a moment he’d see Henry in profile and mistake him for Bae, the name on the tip of his tongue. Then he’d blink and realize his mistake. Remember a lot of other mistakes too, actually.

 

He quickly returned to the task at hand, trying to banish the memories that wouldn’t bring him anything but guilt and regret.

 

Still, he couldn’t help but think, between parental abandonment and dark magic, it seemed history just kept on repeating itself with this family.

 


 

“Am I a bad person, leaving Rumple behind?” The librarian asked, as they were preparing for the ball. She was sharing a room with Granny, and the old woman was helping her with her dress.

 

“What on earth brought that on?” The old werewolf asked, finishing tying up the laces.

 

“I feel bad...that I don’t feel bad.” Belle admitted, moving to sit down at the edge of the bed. “I told myself that I was done with him, I told Maeve that I knew where I needed to be...but maybe I’m just running away.” She looked down at the stone floor as a feeling of nausea rose in her gut.

 

Granny peered over the edge of her spectacles, eyes sharp as ever. “Now you stop thinking that nonsense right now. What were you going to do in Storybrooke? Wait at his bedside as he lies there like a brick, crossing your fingers that he doesn’t die--or that he does, I don’t judge--and wonder what we’re all doing off in Camelot? I happen to remember a rather intelligent brunette skulking in my diner rejecting cheeseburgers for that very reason.”

 

She sat down next to the young woman, and put a reassuring arm around her shoulders.  “You’ve had more than your fair share of heartache because of that man, so don’t waste time worrying over something that you have no control over. Here with us, you can do some good--don’t think I’ve forgotten all the times it was your research that had us save the day. Imagine what you can do with all those magical goodies I bet your girlfriend gave you.”

 

The women hugged. For the first time, Belle felt the full force of a grandmother’s loving embrace. (They live in a pseudo-medieval society with medieval level medicine, people. The average life expectancy is probably like 60 not counting plagues, ogres, or an evil monarch waking up on the wrong side of the bed that morning).

 

Spirits renewed, she finished dolling herself up for the evening.

 

Belle folded up Maeve’s jacket and placed it in a trunk with the rest of her clothes from Storybrooke. After a moment of deliberation, she also grabbed the bell jar.

 

Wherever Maeve was, Belle hoped she was doing okay.

 


 

Maeve was fine.

 

Totally, utterly, and absolutely fine. It wasn’t like her dad had just died in her arms less than 24 hours ago. Nah, it was all good in Mim-town. In fact, she was on her third bottle of whiskey for the evening just to celebrate how absolutely fine she was.

 

It was quite a sight, seeing the colorful witch slumped over the throne room, surrounded by booze and the dust of centuries. Archimedes had known the woman for decades, seen her through a string of highs and lows, and those first frustrating, halting steps towards something like redemption. But he’d never seen her this...broken.

 


 

“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Snow White asked her dwarven companion. Doc shook his head.

 

“Nah, I’ll just end up third wheeling Leroy and Astrid.”

 

Compared to being stuck with those lovebirds all evening, babysitting Prince Neal sounded almost divine.

 


 

For her ballgown, the fairy formerly known as Nova was dressed in seafoam green, with a full skirt and bell sleeves. She felt so beautiful. It was different from her fairy outfit, with the wide hoop skirt, sparkles and frills, but Astrid loved it all the same.

 

“How do I look?” The brunette asked, suddenly feeling shy.

 

Astrid had never been to a ball before. All of the people, and the music, the food the dancing...it was its own kind of magic, she was absolutely sure of it. Could feel it in the air, almost.

 

“You’re the only star I see, sister.” The dwarf smiled, his tone a bit...grumpier than traditional sweet nothings, but the fairy learned to hear the intent underneath long ago.

 


 

After everything that had happened, Belle really hadn’t felt up to dancing. Not wanting to spoil her friend’s evening, she’d taken her rose to a corner of the room to sulk while listening to nice background music.

 

But then that started to feel like she was just feeling sorry for herself, so instead, she went over every little thing she knew about the Dark One, which seemed somewhat contradictory at times--after all, why would a supposedly immortal being need a resurrection spell built into their vault? Or maybe it was the other way around, and the fact there was that back up helped perpetuate the immortal nature of the Dark One curse. It would certainly explain how close the dreamshade came to killing him, with the poison’s magical nature and Rumple’s lack of magic at the time of poisoning likely helped things along.

 

Belle gazed at the rose. Now here they were again, with Rumple on death’s door, and the Apprentice’s final spell being the only thing keeping him alive.

 

A pang came with the thought of that kind old man. She hadn’t gotten a chance to know him that well in the few weeks separating his release and his death, but the love between father and daughter was clear to see, and she’d been so happy Maeve had gotten her father back. After her own mother’s death, Belle had chased her last memories with a single minded determination, even risking Anna’s life.

 

Maeve had stepped away from the situation, from doing something to avenge her father, so they could free Emma from her father’s murderer. The librarian sighed, wishing she had the witch by her side. Maeve shouldn’t be going through this alone.

 

“Lady Belle, was it?” A voice suddenly appeared at her side. She turned, and was surprised by the sight of King Arthur himself.

 

“Your Majesty,” she bowed. After all, while Belle was heiress to a small dukedom in the Enchanted Forest, and had been taught some manners.

 

“I couldn’t help but notice you here on the balcony by yourself. I do hope Sir Gareth’s jig didn’t scare you off of the dance floor,” he joked with a smile.

 

“No, no, I just...haven’t felt in the mood for dancing, to be completely honest.”

 

The king nodded, solem. “Yes, I imagine the threat to your home, especially by one like the Dark One, would weigh heavily on your mind. Still, I would hope that the festive spirit would clear away the worries, if for only an evening.”

 

Belle smiled back, appreciative. As the conversation fell into silence, years of courtly manners and etiquette rushed back.

 

“I was, uh, just wondering about the tapestry .” She pointed to the wall hanging that she’d just noticed. That was mostly a lie, she’d been far more concerned about Rumplestiltskin or Maeve, but it was a far safer topic of conversation.

 

“Oh, that old thing? That depicts the war between my ancestor, King Pelles, and the Horned King of Annuvin.”

 

“That sounds fascinating, would you mind telling me more about it?” The entreaty was genuine, Belle had always loved to learn. (There was a tug of memory at the word ‘Annuvin’, and perhaps the King’s story might jog her memory)

 

Once more, the king gave a polite smile. “Well, I’m not much of a storyteller, but I’ll try my best. Over two hundred years ago, King Pelles, also known as the Fisher King, heard of invaders approaching Camelot.” He gestured to the crowned knight at the head of a retinue of knights, opposite another man, robbed in a deep crimson and wearing a striking horned helm. “Annuvin was a small nation to the far west of Gramarye, but under the Horned King’s rule, it rose to power, conquering its way eastward until reaching the borders of  Camelot. Almost none could match them in strength, especially with the Horned King’s magic.” Based on his tone, Belle could only assume that the King of Camelot had a deep interest in history.

 

“But the Fisher King defeated him, I assume?”

 

“You would assume wrong, my Lady. Unfortunately, my ancestor was defeated, and Camelot would have fallen next had the Horned King not died soon after. But even that wasn’t the boon it should have been, as the Fisher King died without a clear heir, and the division and infighting lasted well into the reign of my father, King Uther.” He sighed.

 

“I, uh, suppose that’s what Excalibur was for? To help prove that you’re the true king?” 


Arthur gave the most genuine smile since their conversation began. “Yes, yes it did.”

 

( And saddled me with a broken kingdom and an impossible quest , the bitter king couldn’t help but think)

 


 

The couple formerly known as Grumpy and Nova were having a wonderful time. They danced ever single dance together, even if neither of them knew the proper steps, and were having a great time. Seeing all of their friends doing the same, twirrling and laughing together...once could almost forget their troubles.

 

All but one, it seemed. Leroy had noticed Belle in the far corner after the last waltz ended, and glancing over to Astrid, he saw the fairy saw her too.

 

The couple made their way towards the melancholy librarian on the balcony. Belle was ignoring the festivities in favor of once more absently staring at the rose jar.

 

“I wanted to come to help Emma and to support Maeve—she did, after all just lose her father.” She sighed and looked out into the night. “But then she just...ran off, and I’m here staring at a flower that’s letting me know how close Rumple is to death.”

 

“Belle, it’s our first day here. We know where Merlin is and you, the Queen—I mean, the Savior,” Astrid corrected as one of the knights passed by, flashing a polite smile and nod. “And Emma, you all working together are going to find a way to fix this.” The fairy assured, placing a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder.

 

Belle offered a tight smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

 

“Your girl’s tough.” He assured, thinking of the wily shape-shifter. “She’ll turn up eventually.”

 

“Thanks Leroy...would you care to dance?”

 

Astrid all but pushed the two friends onto the dance floor.

 


 

“Well,” David sighed, hands on hips. “That was...exciting.”

 

“Oh you mean Percival trying to kill Regina, almost killing Robin, so you killed Percival?”

 

“In a nutshell.”

 


 

Emma belatedly realized that she hadn’t told Killian about the whole ‘lack of sleep’ thing.

 

It made sense, in its own way. If you needed to sleep, all the more opportunities for someone to steal the dagger. Emma huffed at the memory, of feeling the choke chain around her throat when Regina told her to ‘shut up’, or claiming the title of Savior for herself.

 

And then she has the audacity to go ‘you should be thanking me’? Royal bitch.

 

The blonde shook her head, not liking the way the Darkness growled for revenge.

 

As much as she loved drinking in her boyfriend’s looks, staring at him while he slept was starting to feel a bit creepy. (Starting to?)

 

With a careful step, Emma left their room and snuck out to explore a bit more of the castle. Compared to creaky floorboards and often unpleasant foster parents, it was more than a breeze. She walked until she found a balcony in one of the towers, a soft breeze bringing the scent of pine and wildflowers.

 

Emma rested her chin in her hand, and looked out over the landscape below. In the amount of times she’d been in the Enchanted Forest, she’d been way more occupied on not dying and getting back home than to stop and properly appreciate her surroundings.

 

Don’t get her wrong, she’d take indoor plumbing, penicillin, WiFi and onion rings any day, but a legendary fairy tale kingdom certainly had its own perks.

 

Dark One back seat drivers notwithstanding, of course.

 


 

Arthur sat at his place at the Round Table, wine and inspecting the latest addition to their reliquary. A messenger had appeared after the ball, bearing news and an important package bearing Sir Gawain’s seal. That knight was off on a special mission for Camelot, and had sent back  an enchanted cauldron and ladle set, both indestructible. Useful, he supposed, but not really what he was looking for.

 

King Arthur leaned back in his chair, gritting his teeth in frustration.

 

Before he died, the Horned King had been searching for something called the Black Cauldron, a magical artifact rumored to have the power to raise an army of the dead. Any hint to the Cauldron’s present location would naturally be in the Horned King's castle.

 

Previously, Arthur’s attempts had been thwarted by the presence of Annuvin’s current ruler, the Queen Witch. A troublesome woman, and one clever enough to make herself a nuisance if she knew what she was sitting on. If she knew of the Cauldron or that the castle may contain clues to its location, the queen would undoubtedly seek it out for her own purposes. (And based on the fact that there wasn’t a skeletal army already marching its way through Gramarye, he was pretty sure she hadn’t found it either).

 

Not too long ago, the queen and her people had been swept up in the second Dark Curse, leaving their lands empty and abandoned. One would think that would leave her castle and its secrets ripe for the taking. But one would be wrong.

 

Because the Horned King’s castle was located at the top of a nearly impassable mountain range with precisely one path that would lead a traveler up there safely. The other pathways were riddled with pitfalls, narrow ledges, and sudden drops that would make even the most experienced mountaineer brown his pants if he didn’t know the way. So everyone who might know how to navigate that path was in an entirely different realm, and no amount of gold or kingly promises could prod anyone else into trying.

 

For now at least, whatever clues may lie in the Horned King’s castle are currently beyond his reach. Arthur had managed to find a possible work around, but the spell required some rather specific ingredients. Ingredients he sent Sir Gawain out to try and find.

 

Arthur wanted that Cauldron. Its power would grant him an unstoppable force completely under his command with which to defend his kingdom. Everyone and everything that stood in the way of that goal was an enemy to Camelot, and he would strike them down. (You know, like, invading the small kingdom of DunBroch in secret, and killing their king in order to try and claim a magical helm, totally heroic actions like that.)

 

For all his progress, Camelot remained a Broken Kingdom. A Broken Kingdom that Arthur was destined to repair. A goddamn impossibly destiny it seemed, but one he was well and truly stuck with. Because how in the bloody hell was he supposed to repair literally centuries worth of damage and division without magic?

 

Bloody Sorcerer. Bloody Tree, Arthur mentally cursed, not for the first time and certainly not the last.

 

The Dark Curse has come and gone, but the Dark One—or more importantly his dagger— had not been seen in the Enchanted Forest since Lancelot and Guinevere’s quest into the Dark One’s vault. There had been rumors of some activity there last winter but nothing had come of it.

 

But Arthur had all but mastered snatching small victories from the jaws of defeat. Even if Guinevere hadn’t been able to retrieve the dagger five years ago, her quest brought him the Sands of Avalon, guaranteeing her place by his side as his loyal queen. And the growth and prosperity of their kingdom, with the sands doing in minutes what would normally take years to build.

 

Arthur was promised Guinevere, Camelot, and Excalibur--and he would take what was promised to him. By any means necessary.

Chapter Text

A gore-crow came flapping wearily before the approaching night. It came, it did not waver, it took the arrow. It flew away, heavy and hoisting, with the arrow in its beak

Kay was frightened by this, but the Wart was furious. He had loved his arrow’s movement, its burning ambition in the sunlight, and, besides, it was his best one. It was the only one which was perfectly balanced, sharp, tight-feathered, clean-nocked, and neither warped nor scraped.

“It was a witch,” said Kay.

--T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone


 

 

“I still think we should at least try to contact Maeve.” Belle insisted. The women of Team Save Emma were in Merlin’s tower, working on a way to try and free the famous Sorcerer from his chlorophyll prison.

 

“Except she was very clear about her reputation in Camelot. Specifically, how it wouldn’t help us. C’mon. Someone. Witchbane.” Reaching into Mim’s bag, the librarian passed a small bag of the dried herb over to the former Evil Queen.

 

Emma was in the corner with Mary Margaret. “You guys sure you don’t want me to just wiggle my nose and get him out of that tree?”

 

“No!”

 

“Your magic is dark now,” Regina reminded, mixing her potion. “It’s not worth it. It’ll just keep up pretending to be the Savior destined to free him, and we can do this together.”

 

“Regina’s right,” David spoke up from where he was standing by the doorway. Not involved at all in the magical research, just holding baby Neal and feeling totally useless.

 

“I heard someone say a woman was right,” the door creaked open, and revealing a rather chipper King Arthur. “That’s always a safe assumption, isn’t it David?” Their host greeted with a smile, that the Prince of Misthaven returned. Arthur walked over to Regina, who had started mixing her potion. “How are you progressing, madame Savior?”

 

“Uh...progress. Slow but sure.”

 

“Speaking of madams,” Belle stepped forward. “Does the name ‘Madam Mim’ mean anything to you? I’ve seen her referenced as a powerful witch from Gramarye, and a master of transformation magic. If so, her insight could help us free Merlin.”

 

“Madam Mim...hasn’t been seen in over twenty years.” The monarch had a look on his face, like someone was talking to him about something vulgar. The brunette decided to breeze past it.

 

“Well, shouldn’t we at least inquire or--”

 

“Lady Belle,” the king interrupted, his expression turning a bit more serious. “Madam Mim is indeed a shapechanger, but seeking her help would be a fool’s errand. What your books might not have mentioned is that besides a powerful witch, she’s also a black hearted villain. I’ve encountered her before, and she’s as wicked as they come.” He looked over to Regina. “While, Madame Savior, Camelot is a place of new beginnings, I can’t take that kind of chance on a woman who’s been an enemy of my kingdom for centuries.”

 

“Centuries?” David asked. Because with all the craziness in their lives, it was all too easy to forget that despite the fact that Maeve looked to be about their age, she had been running around long before their grandparents had even been born. (Her and Hook. And Rumplestiltskin. Good lord did they know a lot of bicentenarians)

 

“Not a constant threat, I grant you,” Arthur continued, “but when she has appeared in our fair realm, it’s never been with good intentions.”

 

“I...see. Well, it’s uh...marvelous having Merlin’s own books to work with,” she changed the subject with a tight smile. “It’s like talking with the master.”

 

That gave the Crown Princess of Mistaven an idea. “What if we could talk to him?”

 

Emma blinked. “What?”

 

After explaining it a bit, those with the magical know-how agreed that it was actually a good plan.

 

“You are--occasionally--a genius.” Regina praised her friend and stepdaughter, flipping through one of the great books.

 


 

The Crimson Crown, a toadstool with a deadly poison, but extremely useful in communicating across magical barriers. Rumored to grow in Broceliande, otherwise known as the Forest of Eternal Night.

 

Legend or no, protected or no, David finally had something that he could do to help his daughter. (Well, no one likes feeling useless and it’s not like they can binge Netflix to pass the time here)


 

The grimoire was bound with black leather, and obviously old by the binding was firm and the words clear. In Mim’s hand were instructions and thoughts on all sorts of magical matters—invisibility charms, uses of fairy dust, all sorts of potions and magical artifacts—perhaps there would be information concerning Merlin, or even the Dark One! Being centuries old would give someone that kind of insight.

 

But the more Belle read the more troubles she found herself with, instead of less. Because the entries in the grimoire contained some rather...disturbing details and applications of magic. Mermaids drowning sailors, how quickly the venom of Blood Scarabs overtook a victim, potions of inducing madness...all kinds of entries that detailed horrible things being done to people. Things Maeve at the very least observed and did nothing to stop,  with the more chilling alternative being she did some of these ‘experiments’ herself.

 

People change. She reminded herself. But then again, she’d also thought that about Rumple. Been so convinced, she’d been blinded to all the harm he did to their friends and family until it was almost too late.

 

“Belle,”

 

“Killian.”

 

“True Love’s Kiss, I need to know why it didn’t work on you and the Crocodile?”

 

With a sigh, she placed the grimoire off to the side. “Well, it did work, the first time…” she sighed, remembering the brush of his lips on hers, and the first glimpse of flesh instead of reptilian scales. “It awoke the man behind the beast…” She pursed her lips. “But Rumple got scared of a life without power...and he chose power over love.” Looking back it was all rather obvious, how things would turn out. She looked back up at Killian. “You know a curse isn’t a curse if the afflicted wants it.”

 

“That won’t be a problem with Emma.” He moved to walk away.

 

“Killian, wait--” Belle stood, stopping him in his tracks. “I know that we’re going to find a way but--in fair warning it is far easier to hate a Dark One than it is to love one.” She whispered, not forgetting where they were. “So whatever you do, just be careful.”

 

The warning seemed to sink in this time. Killian nodded, and walked away with a purpose. The librarian sat back down, and picked up the black grimoire. With such a stark reminder of her last relationship, everything she was reading about Maeve 

 

She shook her head. People do change, for better for worse, and Belle wasn’t about to let her coward of an ex-husband shake her faith in the good of others. After all, these entries were written by a woman decades or even centuries ago. The Madam Mim that wrote this, and the Maeve she knew were two different people. Because Maeve had decided that she was going to change long before she came to Storybrooke.

 

Spirits lifted, Belle once more started reading. While trying to find the entry she’d been reading, a flash of red caught her eye. Was that--that was the Crimson Crown! Reading the handwritten entry, most of it was a repeat of what Regina had said about the magical toadstool, but with the certainty that it did grow in the forest, and that she had even seen it. And the fact that it was guarded.

 

--don’t ask me who enchanted the suits of armor though. They aren’t much for conversation.

 

Huh. Well, luckily David had Arthur accompanying him on the quest.

 


 

 

Who the hell enchanted suits of armor to defend one measly mushroom? And to the death at that?!

 

David couldn’t help but think that as he dragged himself up to shore. Then he realized that they’d managed to snag the Crimson Crown from him after all, and felt all the more foolish and useless.

 

“The word ‘quest’ means to seek, not to find--it’s the seeking that matters.” The king tried to assure him.

 

“Do you believe that?”

 

“Not truly, no” Arthur admitted. “If the finding is what makes a difference in this world, then that’s what I want. I’m sorry.” From anyone else it would probably sound cheesy and over sentimental, but King Arthur actually made it work. David couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“It’s just...I don’t want to just be remembered as the man who kissed a sleeping princess awake thirty years ago.”

 

“I understand.” Arthur leaned back against the post connecting the bridge to the mainland.

 

“Yes, a large rock decided I was to be a hero, prophesy fulfilled.” He smiled, self-depreciating as the two shared a chuckle. (Technically it was a wizard stuck in an oak tree, but semantics). “But even with that kind of destiny, I’ve had my fair share of troubles, and challenges…”

 


 

Camelot, 20 Years Before the Dark Curse…

 

When the boy who would one day be king met Madam Mim, it was in the middle of a boar hunt.

 

They were in the Forest of Sauvage, on the lands owned by Sir Ector. The lord himself had unfortunately fallen ill, but told his son, the newly knighted Sir Kay, to go out and have fun with the hunt without him.

 

As Kay’s squire, Arthur was to accompany him. Barely a step up from stable-boy really, but now at least Arthur was learning how to use a sword.

 

“Why not let the boy take the next a shot?” One of the other hunters suggested. They already had a boar ready to bring back to the castle, and were only still combing the woods as a way to spend the day. (One needed all sorts of ways to fill time in the days before printing presses, the internet, or Facebook scrolling).

 

Not to long after, they came across another shot. A purple doe in a sunny clearing. All of their eyes widened as they took in the color--it was purple of all things! Not to mention, despite the known sensitivity of the animal’s senses, she didn’t seem to have noticed their approach, lapping up water from a nearby stream.

 

With a smile, the young knight raised his crossbow, imagining all sorts of praised and stories he could tell, of finding and hunting a purple deer.

 

Arthur stepped forward anyway. “You said I could take the next shot.” He reminded, wanting what he had been promised. Sir Kay looked huffy, but nodded his head in a ‘get on with it’ motion.

 

The young man raised his own crossbow and exhaled. Lining up the sights, Arthur couldn’t help but smile as he pulled the trigger.

 

The arrow let fly, but before it struck the deer’s side, there was a puff of pink-purple smoke. The deer was no longer a deer, but a woman. She had caught the crossbow bolt mid-air, and was looking more than a bit annoyed.

 

“Who shot that?” She demanded, in the same tone of voice as an annoyed school teacher, and inspiring the same kind of fear in the grown knights as if they were misbehaving children.

 

Everyone immediately pointed at Arthur who dropped the crossbow like it was a straw and he had just lobbed a spitball. It was as she was stalking towards them that the squire belatedly realized that this woman was a witch.

 

Arthur had pictured a witch being much older, with warts or freckles or other kinds of ugliness. The woman standing before them was actually strikingly beautiful, and looked to be only a bit older than Sir Kay. Her hair was long, gently curled, and of an unnatural lilac color. A darker shade of purple was her surcoat, over pinkish-red robes.

 

Arthur’s brow furrowed, just a bit. Purple was supposed to be for royalty or other Very Important People. Not for witches who lived out in the middle of the woods. 

 

The leader of the hunting party cleared his throat. “I am Sir Kay, son of Sir Ector. These woods are my father’s property, and you are trespassing.”

 

The woman raised an eyebrow. “That so? Well, I don’t see his name on it.”

 

The three hunters drew their swords. One stalked forward towards her. “I’m not afraid of you witch, leave or face the consequences.”

 

“Oh really?”

 

A flash of purple, and a tentacle emerged from underneath her skirt and wrapped around the hunter’s throat.

 

“You should be.”

 

There was a sharp snap of bone—like the crack of a bundle of twigs—and the hunter slipped from her grasp on to the forest floor, his neck at an unnatural angle.

 

The other hunter and Sir Kay immediately turned and fled, leaving Arthur behind.

 

“And you are?”

 

“I-I’m Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon.” He tried to swallow. “The rightful king of Camelot.”

 

“A king, huh?” Madam Mim tilted her head, her gaze predatory and assessing. The squire half-feared to look away.

 

“Y-yes.” Arthur insisted, taking a step backwards.

 

The witch leaned forward, looking the boy directly in the eye. In a low voice, she told him: “I don’t like kings.”

 

He could only try to swallow down the fear as an evil smirk spread over Madam Mim’s face, and 

 

“So, my boy, I’m afraid I’ll have to destroy you.”

 

“Destroy me?!”

 

“Of course I’ll give you a sporting chance,” she assured, stepping back between the trees. “I’m just mad about games you know…” She smiled again, this time more of a psychotic baring of teeth than anything else.

 

“C’mon, get going boy! You got to keep on your toes in this game!” Any pretense of bravery or standing his ground flew right out the window. The boy who would be king turned and ran for his very life.

 

“That’s right! Run boy, run!” Mim cackled as she started to give chase. Through the bushes, the undergrowth, even if he barely recognized where he was or if he was heading the right way, the boy kept running. Pushed ahead by his own adrenaline, and the sounds of her cackling laugh.

 

She chased him right to the edge of the forest line, twisting and turning through the trees as Arthur’s heart felt like it could practically pound out of his chest.  Once he made it to the village square, holding onto the tree and begging for Merlin to do something, did she stop, and just watch.

 

Mim nearly broke a rib, laughing at the boy who called himself a king nearly browning his pants from fear, trembling and crying against a tree. By the gods, she hadn’t had so much fun in years.

 


 

Camelot, Present Day…

 

David was knighted as one of the round table, taking his place at Arthur’s side as Siege Perilous. And yet, despite the exciting day, Guinevere found Arthur once more alone at the round table, looking melancholy. The reliquary chest of their magical finds was on the table next to him.

 

“Today was a difficult day,” the king admitted, revealing the Crimson Crown--that which the Prince of Misthave had thought lost.

 

“You lied to him, to David.” It wasn’t a question.

 

“And it brought me no pleasure.” He replied honestly. “He’s a good man, a noble man, but I must think of my kingdom first.”

 

Guinevere placed a hand on his shoulder, as magically complacent and agreeable as she had been for the past five years. “Of course you must.”

 

“That is always the burden of a king.”

 

It was then that the doors opened, and a familiar Knight strode forward, his armor dirty but his stride self-assured. “Sir Gawain,” Arthur greeted with a smile, quickly placing the toadstool in the reliquary before rising to greet his sworn knight.

 

“Your Majesty,” The young knight bowed, greeting his monarch with a weary smile before clasping his hand. “I am pleased to tell you that I have completed the quest you entrusted to me.” 

 

Only a few days after sending the indestructible cauldron and ladle. (Well it’s not like they have cellphones out here and messengers only run so fast) “You’ve found it? All of it?”

 

“Yes, we believe so.” Two of Gawain’s trusted servants hauled in a large wooden box, placing it on the ground before the monarchs. They bowed out at their king’s swift dismissal.

 

“Arthur?” Guinevere questioned, her brow furrowed. The king of Camelot smiled as he removed the lid with a crowbar. “What is that?”

 

His smile only grew as he inspected the contents within. “Something that is going to help us defend our kingdom,” Arthur smiled, and lifted a horned helmet, charred with soot but still intact.

 

“Or shall we say...someone?”

 

(Uh-oh)

 


 

Camelot, 200+ years ago...

 

Spyglass in hand, the monarch watched the approaching army with some interest. They had conquered their way through the lands of Prydain, and were now at the borders of Camelot.

 

“The Fisher King has quite the host to greet us with…” he mused, looking over the opposing forces from where his own army was seated. Knights, infantry, archers...it was nice to know that the Royal House of Pendragon took this seriously. It was no fun if he was an incompetent buffon, even if it was easier to fight.

 

But no matter, he knew exactly how this was going to turn out.

 

The Horned King looks to the girl next to him. A girl she was, only about sixteen years old. Dressed in red robes trimmed with black, her dark hair tied back into a long braid. A far cry from those around her, all soldiers with large frames, heavy weapons, and spiked helmets to match their king’s. Her face was stubbornly neutral, seemingly uncaring of all around her.

 

“Mim,” he called, and the girl’s gaze snapped over to him.

 

He collapsed the spyglass. “You know what to do.” The Horned King ordered. The shapeshifter said nothing, the barest nod the only sign of acknowledgement as she stalked forward. 

 

About ten paces away from the general’s camp, the witch transformed into an enormous, purple-scaled dragon. Then, she was flying.

 

It was always so marvelous to watch, how she would launch herself into the air, as of gravity itself had no sway. How proud and strong she looked up there, above everything, a symbol of his army and of his kingdom.

 

The Horned King smiled as Mim’s wings cast a large shadow overheard, nearly blocking the sun on the host of Camelot’s army. He smiled even wider as her dragonfire replaces it, burning his enemies to ash.

 

It was good to be the king.

Chapter Text

 

 

An excerpt from A COLLECTED HISTORY OF THE ISLE OF GRAMARYE by Sir Malory, a loyal subject of His Most Royal Majesty, King Uther of the Royal House of Pendragon, upon his ascension to the throne

 

Annuvin, The Black Cauldron, and the Three Treasures

 

Legend has it, in the lands of Prydain, there was once a king so cruel and so evil that even the gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron. There, his demonic spirit was captured in the form of a great Black Cauldron.

 

His name was Arwan, and he was the first king of Annuvin.

 

The day after Arwan was killed, and the Cauldron hidden, the gods called forth their champions and commanded them to return to the iron crucible. More work was to be done.

 

Three items were created from the iron that remained.

 

The first and greatest of these creations, a Grail, the gods kept for themselves, to be bestowed upon others they find worthy. Little is known of the Grail's true abilities, but it is presumed to be an item of incredible power.

 

The second was a Spear, forged with the tooth of a monster, and touched by death itself. They offered this to Scáthach, warrior-woman of Dun Sgathaich. A weapon of last resort to be wielded only by the most skilled and most virtuous of warriors. That way, mankind would always have a way to fight back against the greatest threats.

 

The third and last was a Crown. They offered this to Pwyll, the Prince of Dyved, the one who had hidden away the Cauldron to where it would not be found. The crown could only be worn by those who had earned the right to rule, all others would be burned to ash.

 

These three items became known as the Holy Grail, The Spear of Mortal Pain, and the Iron Crown.

 

The Holy Grail has not been seen since the disappearance of the great sorcerer Merlin. The Spear of Mortal Pain was last wielded by the great hero Cú Chulainn, and upon his death was once more hidden away. The Iron Crown still resides in Annuvin, but none have worn it since the death of the Horned King over a century ago. All who have tried have been burnt to ash, struck down in their hubris for trying to claim what is not theirs.

 

For centuries, the Black Cauldron has lain hidden, waiting, while evil men searched for it, knowing whoever possessed it would have the power to resurrect an army of deathless warriors, and with them, rule the world.

Chapter Text

With a flop and a squak it was sitting beside them, its hairy black beak cocked on one side. It was the witch’s familiar. 

“Open the doors,” commanded Madam Mim, “and Greediguts shall have eyes for supper, round and blue.”

The gore-crow hastened to obey, with every sign of satisfaction, and pulled back the heavy doors in its strong beak

--T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

 


 

After David came back with nada and Regina’s witchbane potion ending up doing diddly squat, Emma decided she needed a breather. ‘Taking a quick breather’ being code for: ‘The Dark One is getting cranky and I don’t want to end up force-choking anyone’.

 

So, yeah. Emma was now staring down Merlin’s tree and barely suppressing the urge to set it on fire. It was really a toss up if that was the Dark One seeping through, or just the Savior’s own frustration with the situation.

 

Luckily, she wasn’t left alone with her thoughts for too long, as she was soon joined by a handsome, leather-clad, ruggedly handsome pirate.

 

“Swan,” Hook greeted with a smile, his steps quickening as he got closer. It wasn’t quite ‘running into her arms’ but he sure did move with purpose. Emma barely got out a greeting before his lips crashed onto hers. A little forceful, but she didn’t much mind.

 

“Hey there,” she smiled and giggled, going in for more as Killian leaned back. His eyes frantically searched her face, despair clear in his expression.

 

“Didn’t bloody work.”

 

Oh. oh. Just breezing past the whole True Love assumption going on there because yowza was she not ready to deal with that, Emma cleared her throat, “I, uh, guess you’ve been talking to Belle."

 

“Why didn’t it work?”

 

“It didn’t work…because then we’d just be right back where we started, with the untethered, swirling black vortex of evil.”

 

“You don’t know that!" Killian insisted

 

"I'm not about to risk it!"

 

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter then.” He pulled away from her, retreating almost as quickly as he’d approached.

 

Emma watched him leave, not finding the words in time before he was out of earshot. Sighing, she ran a hand over her face. Feeling the increasingly familiar weight of her magical backseat driver, Emma turned to see Rumplestiltskin making rude gestures at Merlin’s tree. For once the apparition matched her mood perfectly.

 


 

Killian didn’t go far. Any sailor knew the value of a tactical retreat, and the man needed time to lick his wounds. A shady corner of the castle gardens was as good a spot as any.

 

Mere days ago, before she reached into the Darkness, Emma Swan had told him she loved him. He knew her walls, knew how a lifetime of abandonment and pain had made her scared of opening herself up to love. As someone with his own share of scars, he’d liked them, in his own way. At least, he’d liked being the one to break them down. But now it seems a part of her has retreated back inside them.

 

True Love’s Kiss was a gamble, Killian knew that. But after what she had said, he’d thought--he’d hoped --

 

With a frustrated growl, he sank his hook into the bark of a nearby tree. Again and again, chipping away at the bark until his arm burned with the exertion, and the feelings churning in his gut were at least somewhat subdued.

 

He’d tried it once before, in New York. After a year wallowing in heartache and loneliness, he’d stepped through the portal, and the moment she opened her door, he just knew . True Love’s Kiss could break any curse, so the stories went. A swift kick to the groin had disabused him of the notion, and Killian had been certain that if Emma Swan was his True Love, he was not hers. And he was fine with that.

 

Well, maybe not completely fine, but there were often more pressing matters to occupy his thoughts. But then, after their journey into the past, what he’d once thought impossible had happened. Emma Swan wanted him. Had told him that she loved him.

 

That little nugget of hope had grown in his chest, and once more he’d thought that perhaps--

 

Killian took out his flask and started drinking. Rum and heartache were his oldest friends, after all.

 


 

Upon stumbling into Killian drinking in the garden, Belle couldn’t even say she was surprised. One look at him (and the angry hook marks scratched into the nearby trees) told her everything she needed to know.

 

He didn’t look up as she sat down next to him. “You tried to kiss her.” It wasn’t a question.

 

“Aye. She didn’t even flinch.” He took another drink, not looking her.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

He shrugged, and offered her the rum.

 

Belle wiped the lip with her sleeve and took a sip. The rum was stronger than she expected, and Belle couldn’t understand how he could guzzle the stuff like water. As she considered taking another drink--the past few days were no picnic for her either--the librarian noticed something on the bottom. Tilting it up, she could make out runic sigils scored onto the surface.

 

“A gift from your lady love,” he offered by way of explanation. “So long as they’re intact, the flask will never run out.”

 

Belle couldn’t help but smile. Of course her girlfriend knew how to enchant something to provide infinite booze.

 

They drank in silence for a few minutes, passing the enchanted flask back and forth. After getting a little bit of a buzz going, his noticed the black leather tome Belle had placed next to her on the bench.

 

“Taken to some light reading?”

 

“Maeve’s grimoire,” she hiccuped, handing the flask back to him. “She writes about potions, spells, magical creatures...it’s truly amazing the kind of things she’s seen.” A soft smile spread across her face, “She’s traveled so much, the stories she could tell…”

 

Killian chuckled. At least someone was having better luck in the romance department, even if her paramour was currently absent. Deciding that he was done wallowing for the day, and somewhat curious to see what was inside, Killian reached for the black grimoire.

 

Belle handed it over without a word. Flipping through the pages, he noticed the witch’s handwriting was curiously neat and her spelling impeccable. He filed that peculiar fact away as he continued his perusal, giving more attention to her various sketches until one caught his eye.

 

Excalibur. The sword was instantly recognizable, even if only because it was stuck in a stone. When he actually started to read the witch’s words though, both his mood and his thoughts grew much more sober.

 


 

“You’re right, Henry, the view up here is amazing.”

 

“I’m glad you like it.” The boy smiled, and looked back out at the great view of Camelot, both the village surrounding the castle, and the grand forests that lay just outside of it. Mother and son were enjoying this view from the top of Camelot castle.

 

After her little tiff with Killian, Henry had found her, and told her about the great views from the top of the castle ramparts. Craving the distraction, and meaning to speak to him anyway, Emma had agreed. Now there they were.

 

“You know, with the craziness of everything...I don’t think I ever apologized for dragging you into all this, kid,” Emma sighed. 

 

Emma would usually prefer a root canal over talking about feelings, but her son was always the exception. Making sure that Henry could still talk to her even when bad things were happening made it clear that she loved him and would always have time for him--Emma was pretty sure she’d read that in a parenting book once.

 

The preteen shrugged. “You did what you had to do, I get that.”

 

Her superpower told her that it wasn’t a lie, while her motherly instincts informed that there was more that he wasn’t saying. “You don’t have to say that kid. Even with everything going on, I don’t want you to think you have to put up a brave face for me.”

 

“I appreciate it, but really, I’m fine.” He insisted. “You’re the Savior, and of anyone can handle the Darkness, it’s you. Everyone’s working on this, and we all know that heroes always win.” He smiled, and it was easy to see the bright-eyed kid she’d met a few years ago. The one who believed in fairy tales, and was precocious enough to steal his mom’s credit card and go all the way to Boston to find her.

 

Emma returned his smile with a subdued one of her own. It sounded corny and cheesy, but he was right. She had to hold onto hope that everything would be fine. (She brushed the memory of Hook’s face as the kiss didn’t work. Everything would be fine. )

 

“Besides, we ended up in Camelot, mom. Camelot. ” Henry continued, practically bursting at the seams. “We’re staying in King Arthur’s castle with knights and ladies with those pointed hats. It’s so, so cool.”

 

But soon, the clanking of armor let them know that they were not alone. They turned to see a young man with red hair and freckles nearby. He was dressed like a member of the Round Table.

 

“My apologies, I did not mean to interrupt your conversation. I merely came to resume my watch.” He smiled, earnest.

 

“It’s okay,” Henry excused. “Wait--are you one of the knights of the Round Table?”

 

“That I am. Sir Gawain, at your service.” He gave a small bow.

 

“As in Gawain and the Green Knight?” She asked, remembering the book found in Mim’s pocket, and the lovely green woman she’d met on the road to Camelot.

 

The knight blinked. “There’s a story about you, in the land that we’re from,” Henry rushed to explain. “I’m Henry, and this is my mom, Emma.”

 

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he smiled. “While I cannot stay and talk now, perhaps I will see you tonight at diner?”

 

“Sure!” Henry piped up.

 

As the knight walked away, the young man turned back with a smile. “I told you, mom, Camelot is the coolest .”

 


 

“Killian, what’s wrong?” She’d watched as he stopped on a particular passage in the grimoire, his expression growing more sober. In response, he handed the book back over to her, and pointed at what he’d found. In Maeve’s penstrokes, clear as day, was the sword in the stone. The entry read as such:

 

The most powerful blade in all the realms, Excalibur was forged by Merlin himself to cut immortal ties and make himself mortal. Whether or not it actually does that is unknown, considering its currently stuck in a giant rock. Apparently, only the ‘True King’ of Camelot can get it out.

 

Unlike Dyrnwyn, Excalibur isn’t considered to be just a story--it’s existence is known. It’s more the exact location that stumps people. (There was then a sketch of a very specific lakefront scribbled in the margins, but no other hint)

 

What they also don’t know is the Dark One’s connection to Excalibur, specifically their dagger. The dagger that controls the Dark One is the missing half of the legendary sword, not that you can tell with that half being shoved in a rock and all. Only a handful of people are privy to that information.

 

The pair looked at each other. This...this was new. This could change things.

 

“What do you think?” Belle asked.

 

He rose, and offered her his hand. “I think it’s high time we got a better look at that sword.”

 


 

It was close to noon when Maeve reluctantly started to regain consciousness. She’d spent most of last night (and yesterday night and the night before that) drinking herself into a stupor, dipping into the castle’s once-great wine cellars. For her troubles, she felt like a hammer was keeping tempo on her skull, and the second worst case of dry mouth she’d ever had in her life.

 

(First place was reserved for the morning after the Agrabah Incident. Where, she’d had the absolutely brilliant idea to mix opium and absinthe. Like, a lot of opium and absinthe.

 

She woke up five days later in a brothel, dressed in clothes she didn’t recognize, with three cracked ribs, a purse full of gold, her face on every wanted poster in the city, the worst case of dry mouth imaginable, and no clue what had happened between the two points.

 

And before you ask, she had apparently shown up at the brothel WITH the gold. Handed the matron a handful of coins for the softest bed and to not tell anyone she was there before passing out for twelve hours.

 

Maeve still had no idea what it was she actually did , but whatever it was had her banned from the city on pain of death for the next 50 years.)

 

But getting back to today’s round of poor decision making, she’d passed out last night on the throne, the wooden chair doing no favors to her back. She vaguely recalled reaching for an old, dusty banner to act as a blanket, but now there was a soft, green cape draped over her. Confusion washed over the shapeshifter, until she caught the scent of fresh earth and wildflowers.

 

“Viv?” Suddenly much more awake, she sat up, eyes searching the main hall.

 

“Ah, you’re awake,” the Green Knight appeared from one of the side corridors, smiling and holding a tray containing a teapot and two cups. Maeve couldn’t help but return the smile, and adjusted the cloak. (Those from our world would describe it as turning herself into a burrito)

 

“Here we go,” Vivienne de Hautdesert handed her old friend a steaming cup of tea. The homely scent of honey and mint filled the witch’s nostrils as she took the offered cup. Maeve took a sip, and sighed in pleasure. Yep, the famous de Hautdesert herbal tea was as good as she remembered.

 

“So…” she reluctantly asked. “What brings you by?”

 

Vivienne took a sip of her own tea. “Oberon was concerned about you.” Green eyes glanced up, and Maeve followed her line of sight. A large black gore crow had perched itself on the top of the throne, and its black eyes gazing down at her.

 

“Hey, pretty bird.” She greeted, tone fond. “When did you get in?”

 

“Last night. I had plenty of time to spread my wings after you stuffed me into your purse,” the crow huffed, (although anyone who didn’t have magic, it just sounded like ‘CAW CAW CAW’). “You’re just lucky I didn’t nibble at your precious herbs.”

 

“I keep foxglove and deadly nightshade in there. You’d just poison yourself, and then I’d have stuff you and put you next to Grizzle.” Though her tone was dismissive, the bird knew it to be a loving kind of teasing.

 

“Do you know how creepy I find the thought of you keeping my father’s taxidermied corpse? Very creepy, and my favorite snack is eyeballs.”

 

“If I may interrupt this lovely conversation,” Archimedes spoke up, the owl having flown down at some point. “Perhaps we could move on to a bit more pressing matters. Such as the appearance of the outsiders in Camelot?”

 

“Oh yes,” Vivienne poured herself another cup. “I met your ‘friend’ Emma, the Dark One. You’re keeping strange company these days, Maeve.”

 

“To be fair, it’s a recent development.” Another sip.

 

“Hence why you didn’t tell her about the whole Merlin-tree situation?” To that, the witch just smiled. The omission hadn’t been out of any malice. It was well known where Merlin was and the condition he was in, Arthur likely led them straight to it. Besides, the greatest Sorcerer in all the realms stuck in a tree? That is one of the most hilarious things she’d ever heard of, and just wished she’d been able to see their faces when they found out.

 

“Yes, yes, I’m sure you find my master’s situation to be quite the joke,” the owl huffed. “But the time of his release is drawing near. It is prophesied that the Savior will be the one to free him.”

 

“Did he mention the part about her being the Dark One?” Viv asked. “Because that’s an interesting twist.”

 

“Well, no, but--”

 

“Maybe it’s a case of coming full circle,” Maeve theorized. “The first Dark One trapped him, this one will let him out.”

 

“If she doesn’t succumb to the Darkness first.” The Knight pondered. “In any case, the Once and Future King is supposed to destroy the Dark One after reuniting Excalibur, so either way it’s handled. But, that is not what I came here to talk to you about.” She set down her teacup, and considered the witch. “I want you to come home with me.”

 

Maeve nearly choked on her tea. “I beg your pardon?”

 

“I want you to leave this gloomy castle full of bad memories, and come with me to the Green Chapel. You don’t want to go back to Camelot, and I respect that. But you don’t have to torture yourself by staying here.”

 

“I’m...fine, where I am. Really.” Viv would be more inclined to believe her if Maeve wasn’t reeking of wine and avoiding all eye contact. “Besides, I highly doubt your wife would appreciate that.”

 

“Elaine likes you,” Vivienne defended, “and I’m sure would love for you to visit. It’s been ages since anyone stopped by.”

 

The witch considered. “...will you make more tea?”

 

The Green Knight’s face broke out into a wide smile. “I’ll make you all the tea you want, I promise.”

 


 

Killian and Belle had made their way to the Round Table. They were surprised to find the room unlocked and unguarded, though the fact that Excalibur was currently lodged in its stone probably accounted for the lack of security.

 

“From what I can see, the markings match the design of the Dark One’s dagger.” Belle mussed, inspecting the blade closer. “That would support the idea of being one blade.

 

“Well, we may as well get a better look—“ Killian stepped up onto the table, and reached for the handle.

 

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.” A voice interrupted. His hand stilled and the pair turned to see King Arthur himself, looking surprisingly amiable. “The last man who tried was burnt to a crisp.”

 

“Good to know,” the pirate drew away from the table, stepping down and considering the monarch carefully.

 

“Apologies, your majesty,” Belle spoke up. “We knew your blade had a connection to Merlin, and we hoped there would be some sort of hidden message from him inscribed on it.” Sort of a lie, but not entirely the truth.

 

Arthur nodded. “You could have just asked.”

 

“We were under the assumption you were busy. Ruling a kingdom and all.” Killian suggested.

 

“If I were, then Lady Belle would have had the misfortune of seeing you burnt to ash before her very eyes.” The two exchanged a look. “Besides, I could have saved you the trouble. I can’t tell you how long I spent pouring over the symbols on that blade during the first few years of my reign. So trust me when I assure you there’s nothing there. When Merlin speaks, its either directly to his chosen, or through what he’s left behind. I know him well enough to say that there’s nothing encoded on that sword.”

 

“That may be so…” Killian mused, time careful, “but I couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance between your sword and the Dark One’s dagger.”

 

Arthur paused. “How do you know about the dagger?”

 

“I’ve spent a lifetime trying to end the Dark One’s existence. I know much about the dagger, but what I don’t know about is your blade. Care to enlighten us?” He invited, still a touch hostile.

 

Arthur kept his eyes on the pirate. “Yes. There’s a reason they resemble each other they were forged as the same weapon and then broken in two. I’ve spent years trying to reunite them.” He sighed. “Now, you must understand, this is Camelot’s greatest secret. I am placing trust in your discretion if my people knew my sword had a connection to such as the Dark One...I worry they would come to fear it.”

 

“I’m sure you could simply explain--”

 

“With all do respect, you are guests in our land. I lived in Camelot all my life, and know its people like my own family. So trust my judgment.”

 

Pirate and librarian exchanged a look. “We’ll have to share this finding with the Savior, of course. If she is to free Merlin, then this may be connected to how.”

 

“Yes, of course. But otherwise?” he prodded.

 

“If anyone else discovers this, it won’t be from us, Your Highness,” Killian assured.

 

King Arthur nodded, and as he left, the pirate couldn’t help but feel that there was more to this that he wasn’t telling. (He's totally right about that. Arthur's an entitled dick)

 

(And as for the whole Killian pulling the sword from the stone thing, I promise we're getting there.)

 


 

Camelot, 20 Years Before the Dark Curse...

(And, like, right after where we left off last chapter with the Arthur flashback)

 

Madam Mim let out one last cackle as she turned back into the woods. Watching the self-proclaimed ‘king’ run for his life had been one of the funniest things she’d ever seen. A little mean spirited, perhaps, but the boy deserved it. She’d known his father, and King Uther was an asshole, to say the least.

 

“Was that really necessary?” A voice spoke out from among the trees.

 

“Who said that?” She demanded, scanning the area and finding nothing. It doesn’t mean nothing was there, though.

 

“I mean, he did almost shoot you, but it was clearly an accident.”

 

Even with the sensitive ears of a bat, Mim wasn’t any closer to finding the source of the voice. “I don’t have to justify myself to anyone, especially not random voices in the middle of the woods.”

 

There was a considerate hum, and suddenly one of the trees shifted. Standing before her, armed and armored all in green, was a woman. A very tall, very attractive woman who was holding a battleax like she knew how to use it. The part of Mim’s brain that wasn’t flashing the HOT WOMAN ALERT was suspicious at the figure’s sudden appearance.

 

“Oh. Vivienne de Hautdesert, at your service.” The woman gave a small bow. “I am the Green Knight, defender of the wilds of Gramarye.”

 

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Mim leered, debating the merits of having such a woman pressed on top of her or writing under her. The shapeshifter wasn’t picky and would hopefully have a chance to try both before too long. Unfortunately, the Green Knight wasn’t interested in a good shag (at the moment, that would come later), and instead just started trying to talk to Mim. 

 

The main topic seemed to revolve around why the shapeshifter felt the need to scare a teenager to the point of almost wetting himself, but would make sidebars into much more unpleasant, psychological tangents.

 

“You want to know what I think?”

 

Mim kept walking forward at a steady pace. “No, as that would imply that I care what you have to say.”

 

“I think something very bad happened to you, and you take your pain out on people instead of dealing with it.”

 

That was what caused her to finally stop. She turned back, snarling and baring her fangs. “If that’s the case, then perhaps you should tread lightly.”

 

The Green Knight didn’t even have the courtesy to look scared or concerned. “No. You only kill when provoked.”

 

“And you’re being rather provocative.”

 

“If you were going to kill me, you would’ve done it already.”

 

Glowering, but unable to deny it, the shapeshifter just started walking away, resolute on staying quiet so as to not give any more fuel. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out. The Green Knight kept following her, trying to get her to open up, until the point where Madam Mim set some trees on fire and flew off to the other side of Gramarye just to try and get a bit of peace.

 

She’d managed to find a lovely little tavern in Cornwall and get a good buzz going when a young, dark-skinned man started walking towards her table. Mim bit out a curse and downed a shot of whiskey because no way in hell was she dealing with this shit sober.

 

Because if she was seeing Merlin, that meant she had good cause to be worried. Not because he was going to hurt her or anything. But because if the goddamn Sorcerer deigns to astrally project just to get a word in, there was probably some prophecy bullshit about to unfold and he comes bearing responsibility. 

 

“Mim,” he greeted, sitting down at the table. “You’re looking well.”

 

“Merlin,” she greeted by glowering. “Funny seeing you here. So, here to chew me out about your little golden boy?”

 

He leveled her with a glare. “I’m disappointed in your little stunt. You were supposed to help Arthur reach his destiny.”

 

“I helped . Now he won’t underestimate witches, and learn that if he’s going to go around calling himself king, he’d better have something to back it up.” She smirked, enjoying the annoyed look on his face. It was fun seeing the ‘unflappable’ Merlin be so...flappable.

 

“Is that why you sicced the Green Knight on me?” He put the poker face back on and made a noncommittal shrug, to which she rolled her eyes. “You’re not half as subtle as you think, Merlin.”

 

“Different people require different approaches. I figured she had the best chance of getting through to you.”

 

“Meaning, either you just think I need help meeting women--which I really don’t--or she’s come to drag me back to you-know-where kicking and screaming.”

 

“No,” he protested. “I’m hoping that she’ll be able to convince you. Because despite all of this,” he gestured towards her, “you’re no fool, Maeve. You know that you can’t run away from your responsibilities forever.”

 

She responded with a shrug and another sip. Disappointed to find it already empty, she motioned for the barmaid’s attention.

 

“Having a goal, a purpose, could change you.” Merlin continued. “You could be a great hero, you just need to take the initiative and return to Annuvin.”

 

“Nope.” Mim dismissed. “In fact, I’m just going to aggressively ignore that part of my life until it goes away. Another round,” she requested. “Actually, just bring me the whole bottle.” A gold coin and the purple witch had a glass and a half-full bottle of cheap whiskey all to herself.

 

Merlin wrinkled his nose. “That can’t be healthy.”

 

“And yet I don’t care.” She smiled and downed another shot.

 

“You can’t hold onto that hatred and anger forever. Eventually, you’re going to have to deal with it.” He pressed.

 

“Oh, so now you care about me?” She retorted, face contorting into a snarl. “Because, Sorcerer, the best time for this little pep would have been, oh, about a century ago. So go back to your little shrubbery, and save the speeches for someone who might give a damn.”

 

He raised an eyebrow and stood. “I meant what I said, Maeve. Despite everything you’ve done, you’re better than this. Better than drinking yourself into a stupor every night, and terrifying children because they happen to poke at old wounds.”

 

She snarled. “Bold words, coming from someone both stationary and flammable.” But by the time she looked up again, he was gone. The witch just took another drink.


 

Amazing art of Madam Mim/Maeve by the awesome filenel

 

My own BKBC Fanart

Chapter Text

All philosophers prefer to live in towers...It was the highest room in the castle, directly below the look-out of the great keep, and from its window you could gaze across the open field--with its rights of warren--across the park, and the chase, until your eye finally wandered out over the distant blue tree-tops of the Forest Sauvage.

 

--T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

 


 

Camelot, Ten Years Ago…

 

This may be the happiest moment of Arthur Pendragon’s life. No, you know what? It was . Not two hours ago, he and Guinevere took their vows and became husband and wife. At first, Arthur was saddened that he couldn’t give his bride the splendor and finery she deserved as royalty. But when he saw her, the love in her eyes as she met him before the priest, they could be dressed in sacks and Arthur wouldn’t have cared a bit.

 

Arthur had to scrape and claw for what respect and status he had. Now, he was seated at the head of the table with his new bride, and the entire village of Camelot attending their wedding-feast. His friends, Lancelot and Percival, were at his side, and even Kay had made an appearance. 

 

“I know that this is to be the start of a good marriage, and a new start for our kingdom.”

 

Arthur had the love of a good woman, the respect of the people he would be king of, and a good meal to look forward to. Excalibur and Merlin could not have been further from his thoughts.

 

But, as it seems, there must always be a spectre at the feast. 

 

At the edge of the festivities stood a woman robed in black. No one knew her, and few had even noticed her, but as soon as Arthur finished his toast, she stepped forward.

 

“Madam? Can I help you?” Arthur questioned.

 

“Perhaps, perhaps,” she considered, her voice creaking with age.

 

The old woman straightened up, removing her cloak and hood. “I am the Queen Witch of Annuvin, and I was quite disappointed not not receive an invitation.” Any question of her claim was soon quashed, as there was something dignified in her bearing, something special about her that distinguished her from the rabble that surrounded her. Specifically, it was the gleaming iron crown upon her head, and the fine quality of her purple dress. 

 

The effect wasn’t lost on the royal couple. That meant if this woman was Queen, then Witch was no less valid part of her title. As Arthur had learned, witches were dangerous when crossed. Even if said witch was getting on in years, around fifty years old with silver streaking her hair.

 

“We meant no disrespect--” Guinevere stood, but was silenced by the Queen’s raised hand.

 

“No, no...a young couple has much more pressing matters to think of on their wedding day,” she smiled. “Though as the future rulers of Camelot, you should consider how to use such events more...diplomatically.” She looked about.  “What’s this? Only two hogs and a few chickens for all these guests? Not much for a royal wedding.” The queen clucked her tongue. Arthur ducked away, his cheeks burning in shame.

 

“Which is why I have brought a present.” Chuckling, the woman’s blue eyes sparkled with mischief. She clapped her hands twice, and from the woods emerged more figures, carrying huge helpings of meat on metal platters. “Five casks of wine and five spit-roasted deer, as a wedding present to King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, to be shared amongst you and your guests!”

 

A general cheer rose up from the crowd, and the man who would be king watched as the forgein queen’s servants shared her meat and her wine amongst his wedding guests. Soon enough, as their bellies were filled with good wine and rich meat, toasts were raised to the Queen Witch’s health, with Arthur and Guinevere’s marriage seeming to fall to a much more secondary place.

 

Arthur bit his tongue, and thanked Her Majesty as genuinely as he could.

 


 

With his new position as Siege Perilous, David found himself with a whole new level of status in Camelot.

 

Back in the Enchanted Forest, Snow had handled the court herself whenever possible, although she got no pleasure out of that. “One benefit to being on the run?” She had joked, “is not having to worry about offending someone by where I seat them for dinner.” He’d spent long enough as Prince James at that point to have some idea of what she was saying. The nobility had a special and maddening way of interacting with each other that the shepherd stumbled to navigate. Where smiles could be sharp as daggers, and conversations just another tool in the constant jostling for position and favor.

 

David had little head for politics, and was disgusted to see someone trying to leverage the suffering of their people for their own gain. They’d been lucky enough to find allies in like-minded royalty--those like Cinderella and Thomas, Philip and Aurora--who didn’t play those kinds of games. Plus, having an evil and powerful sorceress queen bearing down on a kingdom tended to sweep away at least a little of the nonsense.

 

Still, David hadn’t missed the looks and comments. Red had told him some of the comments she’d overheard, how he was pretty to look at, and good and a fight, but useless when it came to actually running a kingdom. On that, at least, they were right. Given the choice, he’d pick fighting a dragon over trade negotiations or tax policy any day.

 

Camelot had none of that political nonsense. King Arthur was the center of court life, and it seemed his people followed his example. It was nice to meet another royal who had not only the power, but the drive to do what was best for his people. A good man and a good king.

 

As David was thinking this over, Lancelot was telling Snow White about how they couldn’t trust Arthur and Camelot isn’t what it seems.

 

(I believe the term is: irony)

 


 

Looking out over the main hall, it was easy for Arthur to forget how it was built. How all of what people knew of Camelot these days was built. The Sands of Avalon were enchanted to make what was broken appear whole. Five years ago he had used it on his wife and his kingdom. With the exception of Merlin’s tower, every single building in the capital of Camelot was created through that sand. It turned a village of wood shacks with thatch roofs to a grandiose castle and city of stone. His people loved him for that.

 

(Or maybe it was the magical sand roofie, not that Arthur cared either way.)

 

Soon, he would have it all.

 


 

Gathered in one of their guest chambers, Belle and Killian shared their findings with Regina and Snow White, and David.

 

“How did you find out about that? Arthur said it was Camelot’s greatest secret,” David asked, his brow creasing.

 

Belle held up a black book. “Maeve wrote about it in her grimoire.

 

“How would Mim know about it?”

 

“Merlin forged Excalibur, and her father is-- was Merlin’s Apprentice.” Killian reminded. “But that’s not the point, the point is--”

 

That was when they heard something from the other room. Going to investigate, the pirate almost got his head taken off by a burst of Emma’s magic.

 

One look at his daughter, and David knew she was getting worse. One fight with his wife later, and he had an idea to try and fix it.

 


 

Camelot, 10 Years Ago…

 

With two goblets of wine in hand, Arthur took a break from his dancing and his wife to go towards the edges of the gathering. There the Queen Witch sat, watching the ‘youngsters’ dance while she begged off, citing her aching feet.

 

He had taken a break from the dancing, and came instead bearing two goblets of wine. “May I ask you a question?”

 

She gratefully took it and nodded her head.

 

“You’ve ruled Annuvin for years...making your claim over a kingdom that hasn’t known rule in over a century. As Camelot hasn’t known a true king since my father died, I cannot help but see the similarities.”

 

“Hm, looking for advice, aye?” Arthur nodded.

 

She leaned her head back, considering. “Building a kingdom means building a kingdom. You need sturdy houses, canals, wells, aqueducts...it’s as hard as any quest but without any of the glory. But you’ll need it if you want your people to thrive, even if the logistics of it will have you reaching for the bottle and fantasizing about running off to Misthaven with a pretty young--” she remembered herself. “Well, you get the picture. I’d start with clean drinking water first. Then move onto the houses, as thatched roofs make a happy homes for rats.”

 

That is your advice, infrastructure?”

 

“That’s my practical advice.” She took another drink. He looked away, sighing. “But I’m sensing that you want a little more than that.”

 

The young king tried and failed not to seem too eager. “Well, you’re lucky because the wine is putting me in a nice, talkative mood.” The old queen spent a long moment regarding the young man. She then leaned forward in her chair, her expression bidding Arthur to do the same. He did so, waiting for the words of wisdom.

 

“Let me tell you a little secret: power is where people think it is.” With a nod, she leaned back and took another drink of wine. Arthur blinked.

 

“What?”

 

A considering look, those bright eyes flicking up and down. “A practical example then. Your father is Uther Pendragon, that I do not dispute, but why does that give you the right to rule?”

 

He scoffed with a laugh, “That’s obvious. He was the king, and as he has no other heir, I naturally succeed him.”

 

But the Queen Witch was serious. “But why is that so?”

 

“Because I am his son. His only child.” At her look though, the young man kept talking. “The Royal House of Pendragon has ruled for centuries. This shows that they are meant to rule Camelot.”

 

“How did they rule?”

 

“Well, from what I’ve heard with strength and wisdom and--”

 

“No, no, no, no.” She waved her hand. “Your ancestors kept themselves on the throne because people place stock in blood, and that the child of a king has the right to their father’s throne. Why place so much power in kings when, really, what is a monarch? Just one single person. And what is a king to a mob?”

 

Arthur took a drink of his wine. “Curious things for a queen to say. That you’re no more than any one of your subjects.”

 

She laughed. “I have a few parlor tricks, but take away my magic I’m not much different from any other citizen of Annuvin. What I’m not a fan of inherited power. If I were any other queen, and I had a son, no matter how just or strong or wise I might be--and I make no presumptions to that--he could be a hotheaded idiot, and after my death could ruin all my life’s work.”

 

Arthur sat and considered. He wasn’t so narrow-minded that he couldn’t see the logic in her words. At the same time, he had seen what happened when a kingdom was left without an heir. “What would be the alternative, then?”

 

“Simple, the ones allowed to rule are those who prove themselves worthy of it. We don’t put stock in bloodlines in Annuvin. It’s all this,” she tapped the circlet on her head. “The Iron Crown, granted to Prince Pwyll by the gods themselves. Only the true ruler can wear it, all others are burned to ash. It cannot be inherited, only earned by besting the previous monarch in some way. My decisions affect the lives of thousands, and yet my authority boils down to ‘because the crown says so’.” She laughed to herself and took another drink. “But if I might move back to more practical advice, if you are the king of Merlin’s prophecy, then that sword guarantees your legitimacy and makes rebuilding this kingdom a whole lot easier.”

 

“On that we can agreed.” They clinked their cups together and drank. “But with all you said I must ask...how did you win your crown?”

 

The Queen Witch just smiled. 

 


 

Camelot, Present Day…

 

The old witch had been right, once he had Excalibur, Arthur had the legitimacy and the respect that he hadn’t had before. But the problem wasn’t with his people, it was with his sword. Well, half of his sword.

 

Where’s the rest of it?

How will you take the throne with half the sword?

 

The answer was: lying. He had ridden back to the village and told his people that Camelot was no longer the Broken Kingdom.

 


 

(Yeah, yeah, Killian and Emma are off being super adorable and probably get busy getting busy in a field of middlemist flowers. But you already know how all of that goes.)

 


 

Snow and David had agreed, they needed to get Arthur to reveal his true intentions. With their daughter’s future (and quite possibly sanity ) hanging in the balance, they had to know who to trust.

 

Still, she looked towards the knight traveling alongside her, it was always good to see old friends. Especially old friends that you had thought were murdered by your wicked step-grandmother. 

 

“So,” Snow White eventually asked. “How did you trick Cora?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“I mean, Cora was one of the most powerful sorceresses in the Enchanted Forest, even Regina was afraid of her power. How did you get away?”

 

Lancelot chuckled. “Oh, that is a story…”

 


 

Camelot, 15 Years Before the Dark Curse…

 

The young not-yet-knight stared in confusion. Deciding it was time to make a name for himself, Lancelot had left his mother’s lakeside home, and started to make his way towards the village of Camelot. A journey not most would comfortably take in chainmail armor, but he figured he would have to get used to it.

 

The sword at his side made Lancelot feel much more prepared for whatever he would have to face.

 

But what in the hells was that .

 

A woman was hunched on all fours and eating a raw deer carcass. (Yep, you heard me, a raw deer carcass. Throat slit, its rib bage cracked open--three guesses who’s going to town on this all-you-can-eat gorey forest buffet)

 

“Can I, uh, help you?” Lancelot asked, watching the hunched figure carefully, his hand tight on the pommel of his sword.

 

The hunched over figure turned around. (Ding-ding-ding, it is our favorite feral witch, one Madam Mim). “Oh, hi, I was just, uh--” if she was going to try any kind of excuse for what was going on, it instantly died on her tongue. “Having a bite to eat.”

 

“I can see that.” He commented. “Are you…okay?”

 

“I’m fine,” she hand waved, then frowned. “Actually, you know what? No. I’m not fine, actually.”

 

“Oh-kay?”

 

 Mim turned around to get a better look at him, sitting down on the soft grass of the forest floor. Lancelot purposefully kept his eyes on her and not the pile of entrails mere inches from her. “I mean, the woman I’m in love with is getting married to someone else. Someone she fell in love with and that bothers me.”

 

Whatever he thought she was going to say, that certainly wasn’t it. “That’s...that’s rough.”

 

The black-and-purple haired woman nodded. “But, really what right do I have to be upset about it? None, really!” She threw her blood-stained hands up. “I mean, we were having sex--really great sex--but it’s my fault for never saying anything about how I felt.”

 

“Ah, I see.” Lancelot nodded along. If he ignored the blood and gore it wasn’t too different from running into a stranger at a tavern and letting them vent. Sometimes, people just needed a sympathetic ear. (And, apparently, hunt down and eat a deer with their bare hands)

 

“And Elaine really is a lovely woman,” she continued, “and I can see she makes Vivienne happy. And that’s all I want when you get down to it--Vivienne happy. Even if it isn’t with me…” She sighed wistfully and looked away.

 

Lancelot was kind of hoping this would be the end of the conversation--that he could walk away from this feral person he did not know and had wished to be better strangers with--when she spoke again.

 

“Actually, you know what?” She reached for something at her hip.

 

“Uh, what?” Lancelot took a half-step back.

 

She either didn’t notice his concern or ignored it. “Could you take this off my hands? Seriously, save me from myself.” She took a small pouch off her belt and tossed it over to the knight. Lancelot caught it on instinct.

 

“Uh, sure?” He supposed, “ What...is it, exactly?”

 

“A special kind of Wonderland mushroom spore mixed with essence of leviathan to give it an extra hallucinogenic kick,” she explained. “Someone gets a breath of that, they are out all night.” With a smile that probably came off as more of a grimace, Lancelot carefully placed the bag in his 

 

She looked back down at the deer, then back at him. “Sorry, I’m being rude. Would you like any?” she gestured to the raw carcass meat.

 

“No! Thank you, I’m fine.” Lancelot smiled, hoping it didn’t look too much like a grimace. The purple woman shrugged, and snapped one of the leg bones to suck out the marrow.

 

Not too long later, the woman stood up, wiped the gore off of her face, and walked off into the woods like she didn’t have a care in the world. 

 

Lancelot would later hear stories about the ferocious Madam Mim, the purple witch who prowled the woods and preyed on the innocent. He wouldn’t connect it to the heartbroken woman he met on the road to Camelot—mostly because he’d tried to erase the entire incident from his mind because of how gods-damn weird the whole encounter was.

 


 

Snow White stared at her friend.

 

“You tricked Cora and faked your own death...with magic mushrooms?”

 

“Mushroom spores, technically.” He smiled, looking oddly pleased with himself. “She and her henchmen got one whiff of that, and I managed to make my escape. By the time I formulated a plan and returned, it was too late, and everyone in the village was dead.” His voice filled with guilt. Snow placed a hand on his arm.

 

“And after that?”

 

He shrugged. “I kept moving, helping when I could. I was in the Eastern Empire when I heard tale of the true rulers of Misthaven returning,” he smiled, looking back at her. “But by the time I managed to reach your kingdom, it seemed that another Dark Curse had taken you and your people away.”

 

Snow White chuckled. “It is funny how we keep missing each other.

 


 

(Yadda yadda yadda, Arthur turns out to be a two-faced liar, blah blah blah, you know what happens.)

 


 

“I could go with you.” Vivienne offered once more.

 

Maeve shook her head. While it had been good to stay with her old friend, the change of scenery had made the witch realize how much she was putting off and still running away from.

 

Oberon wasn’t far away, being spoiled rotten with treats from Elaine de Hautdesert. The good lady truly hadn’t minded the visitors, and had been every bit a gracious host.

 

She fidgeted, twisting the ring on her left hand. “Thank you, but no. You’re right I can’t--I can’t avoid Arthur forever. I need to face this head on.”

 

Viv placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m so, so proud of you, Maeve.”

 

The witch flushed. “Well, uh--” she cleared her throat. “Just, keep an eye on Greediguts for me, okay? I should be back in a day or two to pick him up.

 

“Of course.” Before the purplette could leave, Vivienne swooped her up into one of her famous bear hugs. The witch, to her credit, did nothing to stop her.

 


 

Arthur has just finished throwing Lancelot in the dungeon when he got the news.

 

“Uh, sir?” Gawain approached. “It’s the Queen Witch.”

 

“...I beg your pardon.”

 

“It’s the Queen Witch, sir. She’s here and she requests a private audience.”

 

The woman had been thought to have been swept up in the Dark Curse with the rest of her nation. How had she-- Burying his surprise, Arthur collected himself once more into the figure of regality that he was. As he entered the receiving area, he saw that the Queen was alone--his knights rightly assuming the two monarchs wish to speak in private. She was looking up at one of the tapestries on the wall--the one of his parents, King Uther and Queen Igraine.

 

She was dressed in a black cloak, and was not wearing the Iron Crown. He wasn’t sure why that made him pause. Still, he put on a smile and went to greet her.

 

“Your Majesty,” he bowed, approaching her. The woman turned and smiled at him. "How kind of you to grace Camelot with your presence."

 

“Your Majesty,” she returned with a small curtsey. "The pleasure is all mine." Her expression changed into one a bit more serious. "Now, as lovely as it is to see you again, I need to confess a secret."

 

"A secret?" He raised an eyebrow. "I assure you, anything you say here is in the strictest confidence."

 

"Yes, and all I ask is that you let me speak before making any rash decisions."

 

"You have my word as a king."

 

She nodded. Arthur's eyebrows raised in surprise as the figure of the old queen melted away, leaving behind a younger woman with short black and purple hair.


 

what maeve looks like

 

more maeve fanart