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Brave and Brittle

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As Rumplestiltskin returned home with his True Love, his mind and heart were both writhing in anguish. He wanted...needed to finish what he started with Zelena. He needed blood and vengeance for what she did to him, to Bae. But so long as Belle held the Dagger, such desires were impossible. Regina had decided that her mad half-sister would not be executed, and as such commanded Belle to keep the Dark One in check. For all his power, Rumple was still a slave to the weapon that bore his name.

 

He toyed with the idea of switching the Dagger with a fake, a tactic his father once called, “follow the lady”. But no, that could only lead to trouble. Besides, if he meant to do right by Belle and be the man she fell in love with, he would have to rebuild the trust that had frayed after so many lies and deceptions.

 

And more frightening, he might have to allow himself to be vulnerable.

 

Perhaps a part of him was still the same cowardly spinner that was tricked by Zoso all those years ago. Rumple had been the Dark One for so long that the idea of revealing his inner feelings, his doubts and fears, was almost alien. His pride railed against the thought, his ego demanding no weakness. Ultimately, his heart won out. He had lost his son many times because he chose to be the Dark One instead of a father. He’d nearly lost Belle in a similar fashion. No more. It was time for a real change.

 

So now he stood before the woman he loved in their bedroom, hands trembling as he gripped his cane, “Belle...there’s something I need to say.” His voice was steady, but the thick tone belied how close he was to cracking.

 

The librarian’s brow furrowed, “Rumple, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

 

The pawnbroker took a very deep breath, “There is something you don’t know...something no one knows, and I’d rather you kept secret once I tell you.”

 

Belle could only nod in confusion, “Of course, you can tell me anything.”

 

Oh how he hoped that was true, “It’s about Zelena. And...it’s about what happened while she held me prisoner.” Now the tremors spread up Rumple’s arms to his shoulders, “You already know the things she forced me to do to the people of the town. But what you don’t know is…the other uses she had for me.” The Dark One paused, recognizing the signs of his beloved’s mind working to decipher his words.

 

As the implication dawned on her, Belle’s eyes widened, “You...you don’t mean she...”

 

But Rumple could only give a melancholy nod, “A long time ago, before I began influencing Regina to cast the Dark Curse, I selected Zelena as my apprentice. She had talent, and a lot of power. But she fell in love with me.” Tears began to well up in his eyes, “I rejected her of course. I couldn’t risk her using my heart to cast the Curse. She didn’t take it well. And now...when she had the Dagger, she had unfettered control of me. She could force me to do...anything...” A strangled sob tore it’s way from the former spinner’s throat as this final shame was brought to light.

 

Through watery eyes Rumple watched Belle’s reaction. He honestly didn’t know what to expect. Disgust, that the man she loved was so weak as to allow a demented witch to violate him? Pity, that such a fate had befallen the great Dark One? It was his great shock however, when Belle’s face morphed into a mask of unbridled fury.

 

-Brave and Brittle-

 

Belle French considered herself a hero. Well, perhaps not so great a hero as Emma Swan or Prince Charming. But she at least was certain she was a good person. She knew right, she knew wrong, and she knew the lines that one could not cross. But now she forgot all of those concepts as she was faced with a horror she’d never dreamed possible. She’d agreed to keep Rumple from killing the Wicked Witch because she feared that it would cause him to backslide as he did before. And she wanted her True Love back, not the power hungry fiend that was the Dark One at the height of his evil ways. But this revelation, that a twisted woman could...could rape the man Belle loved with all her heart and escape justice...

 

No.

 

Belle clenched her hands into fists. To hell with right and wrong. To hell with the world existing in black and white alone. If Zelena lived it meant she could try for the Dagger again. Logically Belle knew she was not capable of protecting the talisman of the Dark One. She had no magic, she was no fighter. The weapon would be safer in Rumple’s hands. Of course the moment Rumple had total control of himself it was probable he would visit his wrath on the imprisoned villain, but Belle failed to see the problem. That woman had hurt Rumple, had abused him in so vile a fashion that it left him broken inside. And Belle wanted nothing more than to chase that pain away. She wanted her lover to be whole and at peace. If Zelena’s death was the price for that, so be it. Perhaps that made Belle a bad person, but in this case she couldn’t bring herself to care.

 

Without another word Belle stalked over to a locked cupboard in the corner of the room. Drawing a small key from her pocket, she unlocked the door and opened it. Within lay the Dagger, the metaphysical shackle of the Dark One. Belle felt sick to her stomach when she realized she had held Rumple in thrall the same as the Witch did. No one should control him ever again. Taking the blade from the shelf she returned to where Rumple stood weeping. Blue eyes met brown as she held the weapon out to him, handle first, “Do what you have to...and then come home to me.”

 

The look of shock was punctuated by a soft gasp. Rumple raised a shaking hand to take the Dagger from her. Taking a deep breath, the Dark One nodded to Belle, “Thank you...” In a cloud of scarlet smoke, Rumplestiltskin was gone. Wrapping her arms around herself, Belle collapsed onto the nearby bed. Her body was wracked with sobs as she grieved for the pain Rumple had suffered.

 

-Brave and Brittle-

 

The Wicked Witch of the West sat on the jail cell cot brooding. Her worthless sister had her pendant, leaving the redhead powerless. And worse, the former Evil Queen could apparently use white magic now. Zelena scowled, cursing her younger sibling. Regina couldn’t keep her locked up forever. She would reclaim her pendant and have her revenge. Or perhaps she’d kill Rumple this time and become the Dark One herself. Now that Zelena had punished his rejection she had no more use for Rumplestiltskin. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps, “Regina. I didn’t expect you back so soon.”

 

“I don’t imagine you expected me at all, dearie.”

 

Speak of the devil. Zelena turned to face her old master, “What are you doing here?”

 

“What do you think?” retorted the Dark One.

 

“You can’t kill me Rumple,” Zelena’s tone was mocking, “I saw Regina take your Dagger.”

 

The man on the other side of the bars gave a contemplative nod, “She gave it to Belle.”

 

The Witch’s mouth curled into a confident smirk, “And she wants me dead?”

 

However smug Zelena’s expression was, it paled in comparison to the supercilious leer that Rumple gave in return, “You have no idea.” From behind his back he revealed the Dark One’s Dagger, “I’d wager to say that right now, it’s her fondest wish.”

 

Zelena’s smile faltered as her eyes widened, and with a frantic move she scrambled to her feet to get as far from Rumple as possible. It couldn’t be. That bookworm put the Dagger back into the Dark One’s hands? It had to be a trick, a forgery to scare her. But the old sorcerers’ next words murdered that hopeful notion, “You see...there’s something that happens when you fall in love. I mean really find the one meant for you. I don’t imagine you would understand it. After all,” Rumple sneered at the woman, “You’ve never felt love a day in your life. But when you love someone...truly love them...you can tell them anything. You can lay bare your deepest truths, and never fear that they will judge you.”

 

The Wicked Witch was shocked. Rumplestiltskin, the invincible Dark One, had admitted to his little wench that Zelena had used him sexually? It was as if the world had been turned upside down. She had no time to ponder this new reality as Rumple continued his tirade, “Belle knows what you did. And she wants you to pay for it. And as for me...I would never deny my lady’s wishes.”

 

Zelena blinked, and found that Rumple was in her cell, “Wait...” She begin to back away until her back hit the wall, “Wait...I’m powerless now.” Rumple’s smirk only grew as he took a step towards her, “R-Regina’s got my pendant...” Zelena begged, “My magic’s gone! I can’t hurt anyone!!!” But the Dark One just kept moving ever closer, “I can’t...why?” The Witch’s words were nearly a whisper.

 

Rumple’s eyes narrowed, “If you can ask me that...you truly are mad.” Quicker than thought the vengeful Dark One seized Zelena by her throat, slamming her against the brick of the cell wall. Forcing Zelena to face him, Rumple glared, “You sought to control something you couldn’t possibly fathom. And now...” his eyes became two obsidian orbs and when next he spoke, it was with a hellish voice no human could ever possess, “It will punish for it.

 

Then the screaming began.

Chapter Text

Rumple wiped his sweat dripping face with a handkerchief, his will working overtime to reign in the Darkness. The parasitic entity writhed happily within him, like a well fed python curling around its’ digesting prey. He only hoped It would be content with the offering he’d supplied, granting him temporary peace. He shuddered as his gaze fell upon the still twitching form of Zelena, the Witch still breathing in spite of what she’d endured. Rumple hated the woman, hated that she’d enslaved him, violated him, took his son from him forever. But as he looked upon her now, he felt only a detached sort of pity.

 

When Rumple had unleashed the consuming power of the Darkness, he hadn’t quite known what to expect. It was not an ability he’d ever used before, having no need for it. However several prior Dark Ones had employed it to great effect, using it to absorb the life force of targets while causing them unspeakable torment. Such as it was now with Zelena. Roughly twenty minutes after the process had begun, Zelena’s screams had grown so violent that her jaw distended, causing the corners of her mouth to split along her cheeks. It was a gruesome sight, the torn visage of the Wicked Witch. But upon the fifty minute mark the shrieking cries softened to wet choking noises deep in the redheads’ throat, and the convulsions wracking her body had calmed to the occasional tremor. There was little left of the maniacal villain that had terrorized Storybrooke for the past month, only a ruined shell.

 

With a sigh, Rumple waved a hand over Zelena’s face, repairing the ghastly damage, “I’m not sorry for what I’ve done to you now,” he whispered, “You deserved it. But...I am sorry for my part in what led you to this moment.” No time to dwell on that however. It was time to finish this. From his coat Mr. Gold drew a small vial. Within was a fast acting poison, used by many royals as a last ditch effort to avoid capture by enemies. Opening the cap, Rumple poured the liquid down Zelena’s throat before placing the vial in her hand, “Rest now, Zelena. If you see your mother in the Underworld, give her my regards.” Rumple watched as the choking sounds softened to nothing as the light faded from emerald eyes. It was as they said in that movie Belle was once so fond of. Ding dong, the Wicked Witch is dead.

 

With trembling fingers Rumple closed Zelena’s eyelids, before standing up and teleporting back out of the cell. Now there was only to cover his tracks. Weaving his magic around the room, he cleaned every finger print he’d left over the past hour, erasing any physical proof. Finally he modified the security footage on the camera. It would show only Zelena pacing through her cell, fuming and ranting before finally breaking into tears and taking the poison herself. No one would ever know the Wicked Witch of the West was murdered. His task complete, the Dark One disappeared in a puff of smoke.

 

-Brave and Brittle-

 

Belle had been unable to sleep waiting for her True Love to return. Needing something to distract her, she’d made a pot of tea and lay in bed trying to make some headway on the latest book she’d discovered, A Song of Ice and Fire. But her brain would not shut up, worry surging through her like a raging river. She had become an accessory to murder, enabling Rumple to take a human life. For so long the librarian had tried to keep Rumple from indulging his baser tendencies, demanding that he be the man she knew he could be rather than the monster that others saw. But Belle had thrown all her morals and thoughts of good and evil aside because her love had been so deeply wounded. And what was worse, she couldn’t find it within herself to be sorry. Zelena had been a deranged villain, but did she not deserve a chance to redeem same as Rumple and Regina? Ostensibly yes, and yet Belle had chosen to condemn her to death.

 

Perhaps it was simply the nature of the Land Without Magic. In Misthaven very clear lines were drawn between good and evil, the spectrum only running in black and white. Here it seemed there were no pure heroes, only people doing the best they could. The lines of morality were blurred, and between black and white lay endless shades of gray.

 

The former noblewoman was shaken from her musings as her True Love returned. Belle took in the sight of the Dark One, concern filling her. Rumple looked exhausted, perhaps for the first time since she met him. His hands trembled as he stood at the foot of their bed, and his eyes...his eyes seemed darker. As if his pupils were dilated enough to swallow his iris’s. She said nothing, waiting for any information he wished to volunteer. At last he spoke, “It’s done. Zelena won’t hurt anyone ever again.”

 

In an instant Belle was moving, rising from the bed to wrap Rumple in a warm embrace. His arms wound around her waist, burrowing his face in her chestnut hair. For a time they were silent, simply holding each other. At last Belle pulled away, just enough to look into her lovers’ eyes. Her arms stayed firmly around his torso as she began her questions, “Are you...are you all right?”

 

“No. Not yet...but I will be.”

 

Belle nodded her understanding, “What happened?”

 

The former spinner gazed back into the eyes of the librarian, “To slay her...I used a power I’ve never tried before. It wasn’t pleasant, but the Darkness demanded I let it punish her as well.”

 

Belle’s brow furrowed, and she asked the question she’d never before had the courage to voice, “Rumple, what exactly is the Darkness? I read through everything I could find, all the books in your collection. None of them have any details about how your curse works.”

 

“That’s because it’s not a curse, Belle.” Rumple moved them to sit on the bed, still holding her close. She felt herself relax into his arms. This was good. This was security. There was nothing but the two of them, connected by their love for one another. Rumple ran his fingers through her hair as he explained, “It’s a living entity. A parasitic spirit that possesses It’s host utterly. No Dark One has ever managed to suss out where It came from, or how It became linked to the Dagger. The Darkness keeps that information close. All I know...all we know, is that it Is ancient, evil, and hungry. Wherever It came from...It was never meant to be here.”

 

Belle shivered and scooted closer, “So...all those terrible things you did...It made you do them?”

 

Rumple only gave a melancholy shake of his head, “I’m afraid not. The Darkness will influence the host, twist their perception of the world and warp their minds and bodies. But ultimately, my choices were my own.”

 

The brunette pulled herself up into the Dark One’s lap, cupping his face in her palm, “You may be the Dark One, but you’re still a human being.” Belles eyes sparkled with unshed tears, “And human beings aren’t perfect. I wanted you to be this person who would never make mistakes, never be anything but good. But now I realize...you can’t be. There’s no such thing. I just have to accept you for who you are. The good and the bad.” Her voice hitched slightly as she leaned close, pressing her lips to his in a slow kiss. When she pulled away her tears were falling, “And I do. I’m not going to have unfair expectations of you anymore. I love you, Rumplestiltskin.” By now Belle was reduced to hiccuping sobs, “I lost you before, many times. I don’t want to lose any more time. I want to be with you for the rest of my days. I want you to be the first sight I see in the morning, and the last when I fall asleep. I want to raise a family with you. I want to be your wife.”

 

Rumple gazed at the woman on his lap with adoration, and not a little awe. He never thought this could happen. He knew that Belle always saw the good in him, the heart of the man he once was. But now here she was, accepting him completely. The Dark One was sure if the entity sharing his body hadn’t glutted Itself on Zelena’s agony, It would be raging against this moment of purest love. But the fiendish essence remained stagnant, for the moment at least. And Rumple would not waste that moment.

 

Carefully moving Belle back to the bed Rumple rose to his feet, “Wait here.” Dashing to his study, Rumple moved aside a painting to an apparently empty wall. Waving his hand, he dispelled the illusion cloaking his private safe. A snap of his fingers released the spellbound locks, causing the door to swing open. There it was, the small velvet box he’d kept safe since before Neverland. He was pleasantly shocked when he discovered this new curse had restored all his possessions, especially this one. Plucking the box from the safe, Rumple reset the protections and returned to the bedroom. Holding the box behind his back, he smiled at the love of his life, “I’ve waited so very long to do this” Belle stared back at him in mute wonder. Rumple knelt before his Beauty, presenting the small box, “Belle...you have brought me more happiness than a beast like myself deserves.” He held up a hand to stop her protests, continuing, “I’d long ago given up any hope of happiness, aside from finding Bae. But then I met a noblewoman, full of courage and honor, willing to sacrifice herself for the safety of her people. I know I may not have shown it, nor even realized it myself, but I think that was the moment I first fell in love with you. And ever since that love has grown, filling my dark heart with joy and light.” Metaphorical light of course, “Belle French, my True Love,” Rumple opened the lid to reveal a beautiful yet humble diamond ring, “Will you marry me?”

 

He’d barely finished speaking when he found his arms once again full of a crying woman. But he knew these were tears of happiness, “Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!!!” Belle exclaimed as she showered his face with kisses. The Dark One’s arms encircled his now future wife, holding her close as tears of joy ran down his face. The dismal past was behind them now, it was time to look forward to their happily ever after.

 

-Brave and Brittle-

 

The spell of Time Travel was not so simple as the Wicked Witch of the West believed. It was archaic, ancient even. And there are many secrets to it, lost both by accident and design. The most crucial at this moment was the catalyst. Unbeknownst to Zelena, there was a secondary condition to the final sacrifice needed to create the portal. The death could be either an innocent life...or the life of the caster.

 

As the redheaded Witch’s body lay cooling on the floor of the cell, a viridian mist seeped from her parted lips, drifting through the bars out through the nearby window. It formed a serpentine shape, increasing in speed as it floated over the town of Storybrooke, making it’s way to the farm where Zelena once lived...

Chapter Text

The first thing readily noticeable when Emma Swan walked through the door of Granny's diner was the fact that 'walking' was a generous term. 'Stumbling' was far more accurate. The next standout feature was the dark circles under the reinstated Sheriff's eyes, the product of a sleepless night listening to her infant brother cry. She was, to put it frankly, a mess. Luckily as she sat at the bar Ruby was ready with a fresh cup of coffee. The reinstated Sheriff smiled gratefully, “Thanks Rubes. You’re a lifesaver.”

 

The werewolf beamed at her, “Can’t have the Savior falling asleep on her feet.”

 

Emma hid the tightening of her smile behind her mug, “Right. Can I get my usual to go?” As Red left to put the order up, Emma heaved a sigh. The title of Savior rankled her even now, an unpleasant reminder of the responsibility heaped on her before she was even born. But her thoughts were interrupted by the bell on the front door ringing. Emma turned to see her son and his mother walk into the diner, a proper smile lighting up the Savior’s face. Henry beamed as he saw her, rushing over to give her a big hug, “Morning Ma!”

 

“Morning kid,” Emma gave him an extra big squeeze before looking up, “Morning Madam Mayor.”

 

“Good morning Sheriff Swan,” the words passed between them as terms of endearment, rather than the tense greetings of opposition they were years ago, “It seems you’ve had a rough night.”

 

Emma nodded her agreement, “Screaming baby. I know you can relate.”

 

“I’m glad I stayed with Mom then.” Henry added his own thoughts.

 

Emma looked from him to Regina, “Well good thing one of us got a decent night’s sleep. How’s your room look, kid? Same as before?"

 

“Pretty much,” he confirmed, “I’ll have to make room for my stuff from New York though.”

 

Emma inhaled sharply, trying to ignore the questioning look from the former Queen, “Yeah...yeah that true.” She decided to change the subject, “So what brings you guys here this early?”

 

“We’re meeting Robin and Roland for breakfast.” Regina answered.

 

“Hey, why don’t you join us, Ma?” invited Henry. But Emma shook her head, “I wouldn’t want to intrude. Besides I have to get to the station.” She spied the Outlaw and his son entering Granny’s, nodding to them politely, “Good to see you Regina. See you later kid.” She gave Henry one last hug before he and Regina went to meet their dining companions.

 

Ruby was there a moment later with a take out bag, “Everything okay?”

 

Emma only nodded in Regina’s direction, “There’s your Savior, Ruby.” She said nothing else as she paid and left.

 

-Brave and Brittle-

 

Ruby frowned as she watched her goddaughter retreat. Emma’s words were spoken with total honesty, not a shred of sarcasm. The waitress looked over to where Regina and Henry were seated with Robin Hood and his son. What the heck was up between the Sheriff and the Mayor? Ruby’s thoughts were interrupted by the bell once again, and she was greeted with a welcome sight.

 

Belle was skipping into the diner, making a beeline for her best friend, “Morning Ruby!”

 

“Hey Belle!” Red leaned close as Belle sat down, “Get this, I may have some wild gossip for...” Ruby’s voice trailed off as a sparkle on the librarian’s finger caught her gaze, “Holy...is that what I think it is???”

 

Belle’s face lit up with a sixteen gigawatt smile, “It is! Rumple proposed last night!”

 

Ruby gasped, “That’s wonderful!” She ran around the counter to give her friend a hug. Even as she did she felt a slight pang in her chest. It was true that Red had nursed a crush on Belle for quite some time, but she knew who the other girl’s heart belonged to. Still it hurt a bit to know she was losing her chance forever. Shaking it off she pulled away to look the brunette in the eyes, “When’s the ceremony?”

 

“Soon,” replied Belle, “It’s going to be small, just us and some witnesses. You know, a maid of honor and a best man basically.”

 

Ruby cocked her head coyly, “Are you asking what I think you’re asking?”

 

The bookworm blushed sheepishly, “I mean...I’d love it if you could be there. You’re practically my only friend, and-”

 

“Belle,” Red finally took pity on the poor girl, “I’d be honored to be your bridesmaid. Just let me know when and where. Oh, and dress code so I have time to raid my closet.”

 

Belle threw her arms around the taller woman, “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

 

“Hey, no worries.” Ruby said, “Like I said, it’s my-”

 

“RUBY!” Granny’s voice rang out from the kitchen, “Back to work! You can talk to Belle after your shift!”

 

“Yes Granny!” Ruby gave Belle and apologetic look, “Call me later.”

 

“Okay. Have a good day!” Belle skipped out the door, intent on continuing her wedding plans.

 

-Brave and Brittle-

 

Emma met up with Hook at the station. The pirate gave his best friend a once over, “You look like hell, Swan.”

 

“Screw you, man.” she grumbled. Despite Killian being a lot more likable after she’d made it clear he would never be getting into her pants, he was still a jerk at times. Emma was still trying to decide if his disruption of her and Henry’s life in New York was a good thing. On the one hand she was happy to see her family again, but on the other...she let the thought die in her mind, “You ready for your first day of job shadowing?”

 

“You know I was in the Navy once, love.” Killian responded with a grin.

 

“The Navy is not the same thing as law enforcement.” Countered Emma as she unlocked the door. She made her way into the main office with Hook at her heels, “Morning greenie.” She called out, checking the cell’s occupant. She was puzzled to see Zelena lying on the floor.

 

Hook scoffed as he stepped to the bars, “What’s the matter, witch? Bed not good enough for you?” The pirate was still pissed off at Zelena for using him to strip Emma of her magic. Clanging his hook against the bars he shouted, “Get up, you lazy sow!”

 

“Killian...” Emma murmured as she moved closer, “I don’t think she’s breathing.”

 

The pirate stopped his yelling and examined the unmoving witch more closely, “Bloody hell...”

 

Emma pulled her friend away from the bars, “Careful, it could be a trick.”

 

“Aye,” he conceded the point, “So what do we do?”

 

The Sheriff bit her lip, “I have to call Regina.”