A/N: Thank you KleopatraVII and phantom's love for your reviews, and to everyone who has followed, favorited, and PMed me.
To answer your question, we will be meeting Malcolm in chapter 2 of Off Script, the next part of this series.
Chapter 33: Back to the Beginning
The shawl changed directions twice before heading towards the north side of town into the woods.
"Gold must be teleporting around," Emma had said when Regina had complained about it. Now, it seemed that he was staying in one place. Emma could not decide if that was a good sign or a bad one.
"What do you think they're doing out here?" Leroy asked.
"Something with the well," Regina said. "It's the only thing out here."
"What can they do with the well?"
"With Rumple's power? Probably a lot of things. It's the source of all the magic in Storybrooke."
"Yes, well, you'd know all about that, wouldn't you?"
"Stop it, both of you," Emma said, sighing. It seemed that she'd spent a lot of time recently saying that.
"Yes," Nova agreed, "We need to work together."
"Do we?" Leroy asked, "We've got your magic and Emma's; why does the Queen even need to be here?"
"Against my father, we need everyone we can get," Bae said.
"What exactly can he do, kid?" Emma asked. She was very aware right now that she had never really seen the extent of Gold's power, and, based on the Book, she doubted that anyone here really had. Except for Baelfire.
But it was Regina who answered. "Basically, anything that doesn't break a rule of magic," she said.
"That's right," Bae confirmed.
"And what are the rules?"
"Magic can't raise the dead. It can't change time. It can't create love, and it can't be destroyed," Regina explained.
"Too bad Disney got it wrong; time travel is a lot better than killing people," Emma groused.
"Until you change the wrong thing and wink the universe out of existence," Regina said.
"Wait," Regina said, stopping suddenly. "Do you feel that?"
"Feel what?" Emma asked impatiently.
"Dark magic," Nova said solemnly, "I feel it too. It feels… it feels…"
"No," Regina said, "That's impossible! Wait here!" And she vanished in a swirl of purple smoke.
"Should we wait?" Nova asked.
"Why should we?" Leroy asked. "I don't trust her."
"She was really worried about something," Emma said; her superpower had told her that much.
"Something that can worry Regina?" Mary Margret said, "It must be bad; we should wait."
"How long?" David asked.
"Nova, do you know what she was talking about?" Leroy asked. "You said you felt it too."
"I do feel it, I'm just not sure what it is. Something just feels… wrong. Very wrong."
"Is it coming from the well?" Bae asked.
Nova looked in that direction and back again. "Maybe? I'm not sure."
She jumped when Regina appeared again just a few feet from her. "We are in big trouble," she said bluntly.
"What's happened?" Mary Margaret asked.
"The curse scroll, the one that created Storybrooke; it's gone. I think they're casting a new curse."
"What? How is that even possible?" Emma demanded. "They don't have magic, do they? Is that what they ordered Gold to do?"
"They couldn't have," Regina said. "Casting the spell takes the heart of the thing you love most; if it was Gold, he'd need his son's heart." Emma glanced at Bae.
Nova gasped, "Belle…"
Regina shook her head with a sneer. "It's not 'a thing you love', it's the thing you love most. He didn't engineer the Dark Curse to find the bookworm, now did he?"
"Let me just check on the radio," David said. "Belle are you there?"
"I'm here," she said, "Have you found Rumple?"
"Not yet; we'll keep you updated."
"All right; thank you."
"Well, that answers that," David said.
"So, if the strangers did it, who did they sacrifice?" Emma demanded.
"My guess? One sacrificed the other. With Rumple's help to set up the spell, anyone with enough belief and the right heart could do it," Regina said.
"So what does this mean?" Emma asked, "Should I go back to Henry? Break this new curse?"
Regina shook her head. "You don't get it, Miss Swan. When the curse takes full effect, you won't even remember that there is a curse; you won't remember who you are!"
"But I'm immune, right? I was immune to the first one."
"Yes, because Rumple set it up that way; he's not pulling the strings on this one!"
"So what the hell do we do?"
"There's only one thing we can do; we need to get that scroll back before the curse takes full effect."
"And then you can stop it?"
"Yes," she said, but something was off.
"You're holding something back; what is it?"
"We need the scroll… but the only way to stop this new curse… is for me to reverse the old one."
"What a minute; Gold said that sends everyone back to where they were when it was cast. It would send you guys to the Enchanted Forest, Bae to Neverland, and Henry…"
"Henry would stay here," Regina said.
"There's got to be another way!" Mary Margaret insisted.
"There isn't," Regina snarled. "Do you think I want this? I might be able to find a way to leave Miss Swan behind with him, but I'll be going back with the rest of you idiots! After everything I've done to keep Henry, you think I'd chose this?"
"Let's just get the scroll first," Emma said, mind racing, "Then we can go from there. Maybe Gold has a loophole. He's good at those."
Regina swallowed hard. "Fine. Let's go." They set out again, only for the shawl to immediately switch directions.
"Now what?" Regina snapped.
"Belle, can you hear me?" David called over the radio.
"Yes; what's going on?"
"He might be headed your way; the shawl just switched directions. We're on our way, but we're pretty far out."
"We don't have time for this," Regina said, and she vanished. With the shawl.
"REGINA!" Emma shouted.
"Belle?" David called again. Belle snatched up the radio; obviously, things were not going according to plan.
"Regina just vanished with the shawl."
"She did?" It should not have been a surprise; Belle did not trust Regina and never would.
"Listen closely. She thinks that the strangers have cast another Dark Curse. She says that we need to get the curse scroll before it takes effect so that she can stop it, but it would mean sending everyone back to where they were when the curse was cast. We think Gold might know a loophole, but he's wherever the strangers are. We're headed back downtown, but you're closer than we are. Call Ruby, she can track Regina by scent. When you find her, tell us where you are. And if you can get the scroll or the dagger, do it."
"If I can get the dagger, Rumple can get the scroll."
"Exactly. We're on our way."
"I can do this."
"Thank you, Belle."
"Well," Hook said, lounging against the door to his cell. "Isn't that interesting. Let me out, love; I can get that scroll."
"You don't want to save us," Belle snapped, "You want the dagger so you can kill Rumple."
"First thing's first; I can't very well get my revenge on the Dark One if I'm cursed."
"Well, fortunately for you, Ruby and I will get the dagger and save the town, and you'll be safe in your cell," she said primly, picking up the phone to call Ruby. Hook pouted but said nothing else. A minute later, Belle was out the door and on her way to the inn.
She didn't make it that far. Rumple was standing in front of the clock tower with Owen. Silent and expressionless, he was using magic to suspend Regina spread-eagled in the air, as she gasped for breath and Owen gloated. Belle ducked back behind the building, hoping they hadn't spotted her. She peeked around the corner again, and Rumple's eyes met hers. His eyes softened, but he could say nothing. Owen, fortunately, was focused on Regina.
What do I do? The radio would be too loud, so she pulled out her phone and called Emma. "They're in front of the clock tower," she whispered, "Rumple has Regina pinned. They don't know I'm here."
"Do you have Ruby with you?" Emma asked quietly.
"No; I can't reach the inn."
"OK, wait there."
"I think he's going to kill her."
"Damn it." Belle heard Emma relaying to the group what she'd told her, while she tried desperately to think of a way to save Regina. Not for her sake, but for Rumple's. And Henry's.
"Hello, love," she heard from behind her, and she spun around, to see Hook reattaching his hook to his wrist, while Smee ran along behind him, a gun in his hands.
"The Sherriff was in a bit too much of a hurry to search us properly, and those locks are quite accessible. What have we here?" He poked his head around the corner, taking a peek at the situation. From the sound of Owen's shouting, Regina was still alive, but would not be for long. He turned back to her. "Well, it seems the Queen's in a bit of a fix. Are the heroes on their way?"
Belle nodded, but she knew they would not get here in time to save Regina from Rumple, or, most likely, Rumple and herself from Hook. She would have to save them. And herself. "Belle? Belle, are you there?" Emma asked over the phone.
Hook smiled and snatched for it. Belle yanked it away form his grasp, but she was up against the wall, and his reach was so much longer than hers. He tried to pin her right hand with his hook, but it bounced off, repelled by magic. Oh, Rumple, you wonderful man! Belle took advantage of Hook's momentary surprise and kneed him as hard as he could in the nethers. He gave a surprised shout, and she hoped it was enough to attract Owen's attention. To guarantee it, she screamed.
"Who's there?" Owen shouted, and she heard a loud thud and a grunt, followed by coughing. She hoped it was Regina. Suddenly, she and both pirates were transported to the middle of the street. Regina was indeed alive, gasping on the ground at their feet, Owen standing over her with the dagger in his hand.
"Well, looks like people are popping up all over," Owen said, his eyes on Hook. "You look pretty good for a dead man. Then again, so did she." Regina grunted as he kicked her. He turned to Rumple, "What else can you do? Can you turn them into stuff?"
"Yes," Rumple replied tonelessly.
"Can you turn them into… I don't know…chickens?"
Rumple swallowed hard. "Yes."
Owen grinned. "Do it."
Hand shaking, Rumple made a gesture, and Hook transformed into a black rooster with a clipped left wing. He flapped frantically, but only ended up staggering around in circles. A second gesture, and Smee became a black and white speckled adolescent who crowed and flew away. That's it… Regina became a black hen who squawked indignantly but didn't flee, and the then Rumple looked at Belle, his eyes full of pain.
She smiled at him. "It's all right," she said, "Go ahead."
Belle, please, please forgive me. He couldn't fight the pull of the dagger, but he tried anyway, pain bursting in his skull. But it was no use. She was still smiling at him when she was surrounded by smoke and transformed into a tiny, brown hen. Belle…
She immediately launched herself straight at Owen, claws extended. No! Owen shouted something incomprehensible as he swiped at her with the dagger, but she was able to clumsily dodge, crashing into him, and scoring his face. Belle shrieked when Owen swung the dagger again, this time making contact. BELLE! But the move had left Owen open to Regina, who attacked his right hand and tore into the flesh so deeply that he dropped the dagger.
Once it hit the asphalt, Rumplestiltskin was his own again, and he lunged for Belle, turning her back into a human as he fell into his arms. There was a deep wound in her side. "Belle!"
"Rumple." She smiled, and all he could think about was healing her. He didn't even realize that that Regina, Jones, and presumably Smee had transformed back into humans until Regina stared shouting at Owen about the curse scroll. Belle stood up, now healed, and Rumplestiltskin, his eyes still on her, reached for the dagger, only for his hand to collide with someone else's. He looked on in horror as Jones picked up the dagger and leveled it at his Rumplestiltskin's eyes, grinning cruelly.
Oh, you have got to be kidding me!
After all that, Rumple had actually let Hook get a hold of the dagger? Regina shook Owen again roughly as she shouted at the pirate, "What do you think you're doing, fishhook?"
"Getting my revenge, love; thought you of all people could understand that."
"I understand that if you don't give that dagger back in the next five minutes, you could kill us all! Owen here enacted a new Dark Curse, and Rumple is the only who might know how to break it!"
"Is that so?"
"Yes, he did," Rumple said flatly, slowly rising to his feet and pushing Belle behind him.
"Then how do we break it?" Hook asked. "Another kiss from the lovely Sherriff? I volunteer."
"Gross," Regina said. "And you think far too highly of yourself."
"It can't be broken," Rumple said.
"All curses can be broken," Hook sneered.
"Technically, yes, but Owen's vision was for everyone in Storybrooke to die. There can be no True Love's Kiss if everyone, including the Savior, is dead," Rumple explained. Belle gasped.
"Rumple, there must be a way to stop this!" the librarian cried.
"Only one," he said, looking back at Regina.
She turned back to Owen, rummaging through his pockets. She found his gun and tossed it away. "Where is the curse scroll?! I know you have it."
"Left jacket pocket," Rumple said. "There will be a price for reversing it," he warned tiredly.
"You think I don't know that?" Her hand closed around it, and she nearly blacked out when it showed her the price. NO!
"Something the matter, love?" Hook drawled mockingly.
Regina went from stunned to enraged in an instant and jumped to her feet, a fireball forming in her hand. "Yes, you sodden pirate! I've just learned what I'm going to have to do to save us all, and I don't have time for your stupid feud with Rumple! Give back the dagger so he can gather the others here; we don't have much time!" Until I have to say goodbye forever. But there was no time to mourn; the curse was already gathering strength. The wind had picked up, and Regina could hear unnatural thunder.
Hook simply huffed, waving the dagger about. "Well, I'm not averse to an audience myself. Dark One," he commanded, "Gather the 'others'."
Purple smoke swirled, and Emma, the Charmings, the dwarf, the fairy, Rumple's kid, and even Henry and the puppet appeared around them in a semi-circle. Henry!
"What the hell?" Booth asked. He spotted the dagger in Hook's hand. "Shit."
"Don't swear in front of my son, puppet," Regina snapped. Not that it will matter soon anyway.
"Hook?" Miss Swan asked, "What are you doing?
"Getting my revenge," he said with a cocky smile. "And none too soon if the Queen is to be believed. So what is it to be done, love?" How about I take that hook of yours and gut you with it?
"Don't call me 'love'," Regina snapped. "And 'what's to be done' is that I have to reverse the first curse."
Henry blinked, confused, "But that…"
"Gold, you've got to have a way around this, don't you?" the Sherriff asked, her eyes pleading. Because there's always a way out for you, isn't there? Not this time. Not for me.
Rumple's gaze never left Hook, as he answered, "No. If she does not do this, we will all die."
"But… you said that if she did that, I'd be left behind," Henry said, his eyes wide.
Regina swallowed hard. Damn it! Damnitdamnitdamit! "He was right," she said, fighting tears. "But you won't be alone. I can leave someone behind to look after you. Emma." And, oh, it burned, but the curse was not giving her another choice; the Savior alone was able to defy the curse enough to allow this.
"Wait, Swan's staying behind?" the idiot pirate asked, "I don't like that."
"You think I do?!" Regina screamed. "It's the price of saving us all! I have to say goodbye to the thing I love most! So if you're going to kill Rumple go ahead and do it, so that I can get on with this!"
"No!" Belle objected.
Henry called out. "Mom!" but she was in no mood to give a damn. This curse was Rumple's as much as hers - why the hell shouldn't he have to give up anything?
Hook shrugged. "All right, then."
"Killian!" Emma said sharply. "Don't!"
Killian sighed, and if Regina didn't know better, she would have called his expression almost wistful. "Sorry, love, I've waited too long for this." He looked at Rumple, sneering, "Dark One, I command you to - duck!"
Killian didn't even think. He spotted Greg staggering to his feet with a gun in his hand, his face twisted in rage as he glared at the Queen. If he made that shot they would all die. At Killian's command, the Dark One threw himself on the ground; the dagger ruffling his hair as Killian threw it expertly, burying it in Greg's heart.
The crocodile wasted no time scrambling for it, Greg gasping and clutching at him ineffectually. Killian watched dispassionately, wondering why the hell he'd just given up his revenge to save all their lives. He'd never actually feared dying; he'd only feared dying with his task unfulfilled. His eyes met the Sherriff's. Maybe that's it.
"Can you save him?" Snow White asked the crocodile.
"Not without taking another life," the Dark One said. "Specifically yours, as you were the one who asked."
"There must be-"
"There's not," the crocodile said flatly, pulling the dagger out. "He's too far gone." Hook didn't know if he was telling the truth, and he didn't care. The magic hunter had stolen Hook's revenge and left him for dead. Let him die.
"Look away, Henry," the Queen said, hurrying over to the boy. The puppet, who was closer, covered the boy's eyes. The magic hunter gasped once more and died. The Dark One stood, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe the blood off the dagger. He met Hook's gaze, but addressed the Queen.
"We have forty minutes. An hour at most." Killian looked at Swan again. That's not enough time.
"The magic hunter said that he took some magic beans before they burnt the field," Hook said, "If we find them-"
"It will do nothing," the crocodile said. "The curse has already been cast, and it does not mater what realm it takes us from; it will take us."
"But if Henry and I can find one-" Swan said.
"No," the Queen cut her off, her voice tearful as she stroked the boy's hair. "It's the price of reversing the curse. I can never see Henry again, and everything will go back to the way it was. No travel between this realm and ours. No beans. And you won't… you won't even remember us."
"What?" the boy asked.
"Regina, that can't be right," Emma objected.
"It is," the crocodile said. "As she said, it would be as if the curse was never cast, as if these events never happened. You cannot remember what never was."
The Queen nodded. "But there is something I can do."
"What?" Emma pleaded, as if the Queen could produce some last minute solution that would negate everything she and the crocodile has just said.
"I can do what I did to everyone else in this town. I can give you new memories."
"You cursed them, and they were miserable," Emma objected. Killian nodded, frowning.
"They didn't have to be," the Queen said, with a small shrug. "I can give you good memories. And I have to. Because it's Henry's best chance, his only chance, at a good life." She took a step towards Emma and gave her a level stare. "I have no choice, Miss Swan; if I want Henry to be safe… and happy… I have to let you win. So I do. You won. He's yours. He'll have always been yours."
Emma shook her head, "No. No, this isn't…" She looked at her parents. "I just found you guys…"
The wind began to pick up more, and they heard another roll of thunder in the distance. Snow White looked towards the sound, then back to her daughter. "And now it's time for you to leave us again. For your best chance. For his."
"No! No… I… I'm not done! I'm… supposed to bring back all the happy endings. That's what Henry always said!"
"Happy endings aren't always what we think they will be," Snow said, her eyes filling, "Look around you; you've touched the lives of everyone here."
"But we're a family." She sounded lost. Hook didn't like it. He didn't like any of this.
"Yes, and we always will be," her mother insisted with a tearful smile, "You gave us that."
"You and Henry can be a family," her father said, "And you can get your wish. You can be like everyone else. You can be happy."
She looked to the crocodile. "Gold! Tell me there's a way out of this! There's always-"
"A price," he said. He wasn't mocking, or hateful, or anything that Hook knew him to be. For a moment, he seemed less the crocodile and more the spinner. Sad. Resigned. "This is it. And as prices go, it's difficult to do better than a second chance with your boy." He looked a Baelfire, who smiled slightly. So you still won in the end, didn't you crocodile?
"But it won't be real!"
"Your past won't," the Queen said. "But your future will. That's what I'm counting on, Miss Swan. His future is in your hands, so don't screw it up."
"But I…" she looked at the puppet.
He smiled at her. "You can do it, Emma. This is your chance; the one I stole from you. You've got this."
She let out a small sob, and Killian would have stepped forward to comfort her if her parents had not immediately embraced her from both sides. "This is your best chance, Emma," Snow White said. "I know you'll make the best of it." The thunder boomed again, and they all looked up.
"If you want to pack anything," the dwarf said, "You'd better make it quick."
What have I done?
Belle insisted that they see Emma and Henry off. Bae nodded in agreement. It mattered little to Rumplestiltskin. He followed where they led, chasing off the pirate when he tried to follow. He'd looked for a moment like he might argue, but a glare from the (soon to be former) Sherriff had set him back a step. He'd fingered his hook as if he were an errant schoolboy picking at his clothing, and said only, "For the record, Swan? I am sorry it's come to this."
"Yeah," she'd said, her tone flat, "Me too."
Then he'd left, probably to ensure that he was taken along with his ship. Rumplestiltskin hoped that the curse landed him back in the Endless Forest. Or Neverland. He looked at Bae. No, not Neverland. "Bae," he said, catching his boy's hand. "You understand…"
"That I'm going back to Neverland?" He asked, turning around. "Yes. But the Shadow is dead, and you'll know I'm there. I know you'll come for me."
Rumplestiltskin nodded, pulling him in for a hug. "Yes. Yes, I will. Or we can look for the beans-"
Bae reciprocated the hug, then stepped back. "I want to say goodbye to Emma and Henry. You have a way to come after me, don't you?"
Rumplestiltskin immediately thought of half a dozen possibilities, and he knew there were more. He nodded again. "Yes, but-"
"Then I trust you. I know you won't leave me there." He said it plainly. Honestly. This wasn't just forgiveness, it was trust. Pure. Untainted by the years of hurt and betrayal. Oh, Bae…
"Never, Bae. I will always come for you."
"And the rest of the Lost Boys?" There was a certain familiarity to it, Rumplestiltskin thought. Nearly three centuries ago, he'd take on a terrible curse to save his boy from a war that devoured children. If only he'd stopped after he'd negotiated the truce with the ogres, none of the sorrow and pain that occurred afterwards would have happened, and he'd have actually been the hero he'd wanted to be. As far as second chances went, he could hardly do better.
Rumplestiltskin smiled. "If that is what you want, Bae."
He nodded. "It is. They need us, Papa."
"Then that is what we will do."
Rumplestiltskin felt a touch on his arm, and he looked over to see Belle, smiling at him. "I know you can do this, Rumple."
He smiled back and she leaned up to kiss him briefly. "Come on; let's catch up."
The scene at the town line was predictably saccharine. Hugs and tears and 'I will always love you's'. Further assurances to Miss Swan that she would be a fine mother to Henry, and that they would be happy together. Truth be told, it was Snow and Charming that were being dealt the worst hand, in Rumplestiltskin's opinion, but he said nothing. They were resilient, these heroes. He had no regrets.
Belle, Bae, and the puppet waved as Emma and Henry piled into the yellow car, Regina, Snow, and Charming watching in silence as their children left them forever. Rumplestiltskin found himself looking away. Perhaps some, then. As the cloud approached them, Bae embraced him, tight enough to steal the wind from his lungs. "I'll be waiting."
But I'd do it again. In a heartbeat.
Regina tore the scroll from its binding and crumpled it, then turned towards the wall of magic approaching them. Magic flowed from her hands, turning Owen's gray clouds purple. The curse washed over them, and Rumplestiltskin felt Bae being ripped from his arms once again.
I'm coming, Bae. I'm coming!
End Part 2
A/N: The first chapter of part three of this series, Off Script, will be posted next week at the usual time.