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Moments Ever After

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Her eyes fluttered open to a familiar but equally strange sight. She was home. Laid out on the couch just as she'd been when she closed her eyes only…she knew that this wasn't their home. She barely even had to look around not just to know it but to feel it in her body. For starters, this home, this copy of it, was far cleaner than she kept their house, a task that would have been impossible in her younger years, but she had eased up on over the years as her body began to degrade. That was her first hint that she wasn't home. The second and third were much more jarring.

Her husband, and his dagger, were missing from her side. Her gloved hands holding nothing as they were folded over her stomach. And in his absence, the room, the entire house it seemed, was drenched in a gray shadow. Shadows, she hadn't seen shadows since they'd come to the Edge of Realms, not like this.

As she pushed herself up and moved her legs down to the ground, the memory of where her husband should have been, ached more than her old bones did. The air was empty. The space felt lifeless. She supposed it was.

So…this was death.

Her first urge when she finally pushed herself to her feet was to go to the mantle and behold the framed pictures they kept there. Pictures of their life together that had somehow carried themselves over into this forgery. Technically, she didn't need her eyes to see them. She knew each one so well she could easily recall the details even of the clothes they'd been wearing in all of them. Still, she found herself having to squint as she looked up at them.

The darkness was strange. Though there were a million things to think about, it was the darkness that captivated her attention. It was impossible to ignore. After living in this house with nothing but sunlight for decades it was odd to see it in dull hues of grays and blues. It wasn't pitch black. It was merely as though a storm was passing over and the clouds had covered the sun. But not once in all the years since she'd been there, had she ever known there to be a storm.

It was a slow process without Rumple there to steady her, but she eventually made her way across the windows to stare out at the sights she knew only too well.

But they were gone!

On the horizon, the last tendrils of orange and red were disappearing against the ocean she'd watched every day since they'd come here.

Sunset.

It had been so long since she'd seen it! Tears prickled her eyes as she stared out at it, watched as the last bit of it vanished over the horizon and she became aware of something in the yard, in Neal's garden that hadn't been there before. A wooden cross, a rose etched into it, along with her name. A grave marker. She recognized the work of her husband. She forced her hand to her mouth as she let out a cry and looked around, taking in her solitude all over again. This house…it was wrong. And it wasn't how clean it was or the darkness that made it unnatural. It was the fact that for years it had been a home, a place of love for a couple who both felt as though they'd lived too many lifetimes. There were reminders everywhere, the two chairs against the wall, the phonograph on the table, the pictures of the two of them on the mantle…but it was a shell. She'd been wrong. Part of her had hoped when she opened her eyes he'd be there waiting for her. But he wasn't. And as long as she was here, alone, there was nothing here for her.

It was up to him now. It was up to him to ensure that this wasn't permanent. She'd never been one to sit in a tower and wait to be rescued, but this felt an awful lot like that.

"Oh, hurry, my Love," she cried out as she sank down into his chair. She was happy it still smelled like him. It made her smile as she brushed her tears away and sighed. No. It didn't just smell like him. It smelled like them. That unique scent that belonged to neither of them but rather both of them. It came from years of dances and sitting in laps and kisses and long embraces watching that sun set. Now it had. And her only chance of getting that smell back...was him.

"Hurry back, my Love. May your path be clear now. May you find your Guardian, one who is pure of heart to take your burden. May you find your Guardian, before the Darkness finds you."

That was the fear wasn't it. That was the risk in all of this that she'd known from the beginning. She was the strong one. She was his cure, however temporary it may have been. Without her, the curse threatened to overwhelm him again, to run wild, to take him back so that he might never make it to…wherever this place was.

She could dwell. She could continue to sit in this chair and panic, or she could do what she could on her end to help him. To find him, to figure out where he'd-

There was a noise, unlike anything she'd ever heard in this house, outside the door. It was unlike anything she'd ever heard in her life! A long, scraping sound. Wood on wood. If this truly were home Rumple would have been up, dashing to the door, dagger in his hand to investigate and protect her. But she was already dead. And Rumple wasn't here to save her. There was nothing more to fear that could be worse than that. It was up to her. She wiped her eyes, pushed herself out of the chair, and made her way slowly toward the door. The noise…it continued every so often. It wasn't constant, but every few seconds she would hear it again, a bang, a groan, the sound of wood dragging against wood. For a dead person, her heart was hammering remarkably fast as she reached for the knob to her door, opened, and-

She gasped. Her hands once more flying to her mouth as her eyes rounded and she looked around at the space she was in. Suddenly she wasn't on her ledge on the Edge of Realms. Everywhere as far as her eyes could see there was water. The house stayed motionless but she could hear it lapping against the sides, she watched it sparkle and dance before her as a black sky with millions of stars clothed it. And there, at the front steps of her house, was a long boat, and a hooded figure with an oar.

"I've been sent for you Mrs. Gold."

She swallowed hard as she stared at him. In her youth her first instinct would have been to run, frankly, that was still her first instinct, but her old body told her it wasn't possible, and experience told her it wasn't necessary.

Charon. She'd once sat in the shop doing research for Regina on this man. He ferried souls, and she…she was certainly a soul now. He was here for her. To take her on…but to what?

"To the Underworld?" she confirmed. That was as far as she'd go. There would be no moving on, not without Rumple by her side! And if it was determined that he couldn't go with her, then they'd make their home in that Underworld. They'd existed out here in happiness all this time, they could do it for an eternity in the Underworld if that was what was required of them.

"Not exactly," Charon answered quietly. "Not for you. The boss needs to see you."

Her stomach knotted. "Hades?! I thought he was-"

"New management, ma'am," he clarified with a calm but powerful voice. Charon held out his hand for her, offering her assistance onto the boat and she looked around her skeptically, back into their house. Stay? Or go?

"We all have our journeys ma'am, yours is different than his, but alone or together, they all lead us to where we're meant to be," Charon informed her as if he could read her mind. Maybe he could. Maybe it was obvious by the look on her face. Maybe how he'd known to say those words was irrelevant next to what they meant. Oh, she wanted desperately to ask him what that was supposed to mean, to keep hope that it might mean exactly what she was hoping, but she had the unnerving feeling that even if she asked, he wouldn't tell. But the "him" he'd mentioned…that was Rumple. She was certain of that. And if this journey would take her to him, then…

"Lead the way…" she closed the door behind her without looking back, gave the man her hand, and settled into the boat easier than she thought she would have. Then she sat back and listened to the sound of the water lapping against her house. She watched the stars sparkling overhead and twisted her hands in her lap. She hadn't a clue about where she was going, about who the "boss" was that wanted to see her or why, but she had only one prayer…that Rumple be at the end of it. If she was wrong about the timeline, if she had to wait a dozen centuries until the right time came then she'd wait. Eternity without him was no eternity at all. But if she was right, if she'd put the puzzle pieces of that dreaded timeline in Storybrooke together right and he was here…she nearly cried at the thought. What had it been since she'd last seen him? An hour? A day? Twelve years? It was too long.

"Welcome, Ma'am."

She hadn't realized she'd closed her eyes until she opened them and found a location she wasn't familiar with. It was a dock. One that appeared to be underground but looked nearly as grand as a train station they'd gone to in London once. The gray stones were freshly polished, they shined with candlelight, and it all smelled like oranges. It was nothing like what she'd expected from the last time she'd been in the Underworld, but all of that paled in comparison to the surprise man waiting for her when the boat pulled up. A king she'd never in her life expected to see again.

"You!" she whispered as the boat came to a stop before him.

"Me," Arthur answered with a shrug. "I suppose your friend Killian never told you I'd found my calling. The Underworld is my Kingdom now. And rest assured, if you were to walk the streets you'd find it a much better place than the last time you were here. Please…"

He held his hand out for her, but she didn't move. In fact, she only took her eyes off his face for a fraction of a second to glance at the assistance before locating his other hand. The Arthur she'd known had been a trickster. She had never guessed that Charon would lead her here, to a world run by this dangerous man! She'd rather go home if this was some kind of trick! If he was trying to distract Rumple, to get him to come here to save her, to get the powers of the Dark One…that wasn't how his story was going to end. He was going to destroy that curse she couldn't let him be sidetracked.

"What do you want with me?" she questioned making no move to leave. "If it's to get Rumple or the Dark Curse-"

"Oh, no!" Arthur chuckled, quickly waving his hands. He was smiling. Had she ever seen him smile in Camelot? A genuine smile? A smile of sincere amusement like he wore now? It suited him. And it confused her. "No, it's nothing like that, my dear. You have my word, you can trust me now, down here. I truly have found my calling. Here, I'll show you…"

He offered her his hand once more. She glanced back at Charon but his face was hidden by his hood and his arms were wrapped around his oar unmoving. This was the end of the line for her. Somehow she knew he wouldn't take her back no matter what she requested which left her with the option to go with Arthur now or stay in the boat with Charon forever and…he had said their journeys would lead them to the same place. If she was right about the timing, and Rumple was here…

She placed her hand in Arthurs, and with the help of Charon the pair of them got her up and onto the dock before the former King Arthur of Camelot. He took her hand once more, and after a bow placed a kiss upon the back of it.

"You've aged well, princess. You've taken your beauty with you as so many only wish to do."

"What am I doing here?" she insisted, ignoring his compliments. "With you? Why did you send for me?"

He smiled again, that strange friendly smile she'd seen on the boat. "And I see you haven't lost your brains either. In old age that has become a far more prized possession."

"Arthur-"

"Worry not, my Lady. You are here because you are a special case."

"Rumple…"

Arthur nodded.

"He's been waiting for you."

Her heart skipped a beat at his news. Waiting for her. Waiting…because…because she was right! She was right, he had gone first! All those years ago! Here! Alone!

She felt light-headed as she looked around, wondering how to get to the Underworld she knew to find him. She had to. "I have to go! I have to get to him!"

"And so you shall!" Arthur insisted, tightening the grip he held on her hand and grounding her once more. Suddenly he stood before her, one hand behind his back the other stretched out before the dock as he offered a small bow. "I'm here to take you to him. If you'll come with me this way…"

She held her breath, confused and untrusting. He could be lying. Smile or not, this could all be a trick. Some kind of ruse. Rumple might not even be here!

Arthur sighed as he straightened and looked her in the eye. "I promise, I give my word as guardian of the Kingdom I preside over, that only pleasant things await you, if you'll come with me."

She knew it was stupid to trust him, the Arthur she'd known hadn't been worthy of anything, much less trust. But the way he'd said it…she had no choice. If he wanted to take her for some kind of trap then why not just take her? She was old, movement was difficult, overpowering her without Rumple was the easiest thing in the world. There was no reason to lie. Why would he want to anyway? She had terrible opinions of him, but she'd hardly been solely responsible for what happened in Camelot. She could think of a lot of other people he'd rather take his revenge on than her so…what choice did she really have? He offered his arm, and she put her hands around it for the stability as they began to walk. But that didn't mean she intended to go easily into the unknown.

"Why is Rumple with you?" she questioned. "Why isn't he here, out there, in the Underworld?"

"Well...like you, he's a bit of a special case," Arthur explained casually, matching her slow pace as the went up some stairs. "Actually, he's what makes you a special case as well. Normally people come to the Underworld to sort out what they couldn't in life before moving on. You and your husband, it would seem you'd already sorted out all you needed."

"Except finding each other," she corrected as they came to the top of the staircase.

"That's why I had you summoned directly," he informed her as they began to stroll through what looked like a long hallway. It was well lit, the gray stones matched what she'd seen on the dock, and her shoes echoed as they walked. "You see, being the former Dark One, and one who has died before, there was a much different place for him to go than the rest. And now it's time for you to join him there."

The hallway went on, but they turned a corner that brought them into a round room. There were no windows, only a table of dark wood and a vase of red roses which sat upon it in the middle. On the opposite side of the room, there was a door.

"He's been waiting for you," Arthur repeated as motioned to the door, his meaning was clear.

There. That was it? It was really that simple? She just opened the door and Rumple would be there?

Her heart felt as though it was going to burst from her chest. Rumple was on the other side? But…what was on the other side for them?

"Where does it lead?"

Arthur sighed. "Nowhere. Anywhere you like. All I can tell you is that it leads to your husband on the other side and from there...on."

She had tears in her eyes again and suddenly her chest began to heave because it all seemed too good to be true. Too easy. Nothing they'd ever done, including death, had been this simple for them before. To walk through a door and find him waiting, no dragons to slay, no curses to break, no evil to destroy seemed…unlikely. All it took was a boat ride and she was there?

"Rumple's here?" she cried in disbelief, her voice cracking on the emotion.

"Yes," Arthur assured her. Strangely enough, she was coming to believe entirely in every word he said. "Your suspicions were, as usual, right on track, Belle. He's been waiting for some time, but it moves differently beyond that door. Then again, I believe you are used to that concept as well."

She smiled through her tears. Yes. Yes, she was used to such things. And she would have answered, but she was crying too much to confirm it for him. There was a feeling inside of her. One that she'd never had before, where all doubt and fear were slowly drained from her body. She had no worries about what would happen if her plan didn't work, no fear of what her husband would become, no terror of something lurking in the night to spoil their plans, no distrust of who'd delivered the news. There was just…onward.

"What happens after?" she blubbered, wiping her eyes. She couldn't seem to keep them dry anymore.

"You move on as the gods see fit."

"Together?"

"Oh, that much has always been certain, even from the very beginning," Arthur scoffed. "For even if you were separated in death, you would move heaven and hell to be side by side once more."

Emotion over overrode anything she'd been thinking as tears fell freely from her cheeks onto the stone below. Yes. Yes they would! Anything to make sure their family-

Sense overcame her once more, and she realized that she'd crossed the room and had her hand on the door's handle when she thought of one last thing.

"My son?" she questioned, looking back at Arthur. He was smiling, a look she was coming to find truly did suit him well.

"You'll be able to keep watch over him from where you are, as well as over your grandchildren."

Her smile and tears returned almost instantaneously.

"Grandchildren...we…we have grandchildren?"

"Many." Arthur smiled and stepped around the table to where she was with a white cloth in his hand that he used to wipe away the tears on her face. "Happy, intelligent, and well-loved they will be. Your legacy will live on long after you both and the good you've created will outweigh the sins of the dagger. Your other son has been waiting quite a long time to see you as well. So…if you're ready…"

There was no need to question whether she was ready or not. She wanted to see Rumple, she wanted to see her husband again. Without a final breath, she pulled the door open.

Chapter Text

The world was dark and bright at the same time. There was blackness all around her, but white smoke, like clouds, where she walked. She didn't need a mirror to know that she was young again. She felt no longer bent, or broken, or sore, or fragile. The hair that fell down over her bare shoulder was brown, just as soft as it had been in her youth. Her skin was clear brown spots and tight, wrinkle-free! She felt like she was shinning. The dress she wore now should have weighed on her, but she felt not a single pound now. In fact, she was suddenly so happy that she felt she might float away. But, wonderful as she felt, all that paled in comparison to what she saw across the darkness.

A figure walking, wandering. It was a gate she knew better than her own.

"Rumple," she muttered. Her voice echoed through the chasm, and the figure paused, looking around, searching. "Rumple!" she called.

He turned toward her.

She wished for light, and there was light. She was only vaguely aware of the well beside her, the well that had played such an important part of their life as they'd lived. As they'd lived…

He could see her now. There wasn't a doubt in her mind about that. He stood frozen, looking her over as she stood in her yellow dress, beaming. She understood the feelings etched into his face. It was unbelievable, that after everything, it truly was just as simple as walking through the door. And yet, every step they'd taken to get to this place had been a battle. It was a battle she'd fight a million times over again to get here. To see that look of relief and ease on his face, to see him cross the room quickly enough to reach her; to place her hands once more into his own and have him stare down into her own eyes.

She couldn't cry. It was too beautiful to spoil with tears and blubbering. Her beast, her prince, her handsome hero-he'd done it! She knew he would. She'd been right! She'd known it all along! No one but he could have managed whatever he'd overcome to get here. He was no ordinary man, after all.

"I knew you'd make it home," she stated as he beheld her now.

"Yes," he breathed as his hands tightened over her own.

She laughed, giggled as she hadn't since she was a girl, then launched herself at him quickly, moving her hands to his shoulders. She kissed him with a fervor she hadn't had in her body in what felt like decades. His hands went from her waist to her back, drawing her in deeper until he parted to look her over once more, forever more.

Whether she was nineteen or ninety, he looked at her like she was a sparkling treasure and his love for her made her belly flutter all over again. Always.

That was a gaze she could live with for an eternity.