A/N: Thank you very much to everyone who reviewed, followed and favorited this story, particularly Gwenhyfer and xxxLeanniexxx for your repeated support.
The first chapter of part 5 of this series, Endgame, will be posted next week at the usual time.
Chapter 43: Derailed
Bae looked up. He'd been alone with his father for a couple of hours now, after Belle and Nova had gone to the house to search through the books there. August was standing in the doorway with a pair of coffees and a paper bag. "Belle asked me to bring you something," he said.
"Thank you." He took the coffee. August left the bag on the table and gabbed a stool.
"Any change?" he asked.
"No. Have Malcolm and Zelena been caught?"
"Yeah. Cruella sold them out in about two seconds," he said with a grin. "They and Isaac are swearing up and down that Lily is the one who let them out, but that's impossible because she was with Emma during that time."
"The so it was the Apprentice?"
"That's the popular theory," August said, blowing on his own coffee.
"I gather Maleficent doesn't know how to work the Hat?"
"No. Emma and Regina even went to Blue; she doesn't know either. At least, she says she doesn't, and Emma's superpower says she's telling the truth."
"But it's failed before."
"Right. Leroy has offered to pummel the information out the Apprentice, but…"
Bae laughed silently. "It was nice of him to offer."
They sat in silence for a few moments before August said, "Emma offered to help take your dad across the town line of you and Belle want to do that."
"I don't think they'll let us," Bae said. "The gods. All this time… Papa always used to talk about fate like it was inevitable. I thought he was wrong. Belle thought he was wrong. But… he wasn't. If this is what the gods want…"
Belle would have objected. Henry too, and Nova, and Emma, and her parents. August didn't. Instead he said, "They're dicks."
Bae laughed outright. "Yeah. Yeah they are."
"And Poseidon lied to us. Or got outvoted or something… we could try summoning him again."
"If he was going to help us, he would have already."
"Maybe… probably." Bae sipped his coffee. August stared at him in that searching way he sometimes had. "I feel like you have a plan," he said.
"Not a plan. He said it - Papa did - that if the gods want things happen this way, they will find a way to bring it about regardless of what we do. I don't think we have a choice; it's going to be the Apprentice."
"There is Henry. He's willing. More than. Emma and Regina had to stop him from doing it right then and there."
Of all their options, that was the one that seemed the most promising - and yet was most likely to backfire. What if that is the route the gods are trying to make us take? It was a mess. Deliberately so, Bae was sure. Either way could be a trap. But… "The Author's powers can break the laws of magic. You know Papa's stance on that. If he were awake, I think I know which one he would choose."
August nodded. "OK."
They sat like that for a while, some semblance of a decision made. Bae became aware that he actually was hungry, and he reached for the paper bag, finding a grilled cheese and a cup of soup inside. He was halfway into the sandwich when his phone rang.
"We've found it. I think."
"You found it?"
"The spell. Nova is calling Regina and Emma, and we will meet you there."
"This will work, Bae. He's going to be alright."
"Good news?" August asked.
"I think so. Unless it's another trap."
"Well, if it is, that means we outsmarted the last one. So… that's something."
"I don't know how to do this," Regina said.
"But that's the spell, isn't it?" Belle asked.
"It's the spell to turn on the Hat, yes, but there's nothing here about taking just the curse and leaving his heart behind."
"But doesn't the Hat work by proximity?" Emma asked. "I've seen Gold use it. It's like a vacuum; the closer you are, the more intense the suction."
"And how does that help us when the curse is in his heart?"
"Look here," Belle said, pointing to part of the text, "The Hat consumes magic, but it leaves non-magical objects and beings alone." This has to work. Please, Regina.
"Rumple is not, himself, magical; all his magic is from his curse. If we slowly bring his heart closer to the vortex the Hat creates, it could pull the magic from it."
"'Could' is the operative word there," Regina said. "But it's so deep in his heart, I doubt you can get it close enough to latch onto the curse without taking his heart with it."
"What we need is something to get it started," Leroy said. "Like a siphon." They all started at him. "What?"
"That's exactly right!" Belle said. "And we have just the thing!" She grabbed Rumple's potion bag from the cabinet and tore it open. "Where…? Here!" She pulled out the remains of the True Love potion; it sparkled merrily. "This can't break the curse, but it could loosen it, like the first time I tried to Kiss him."
"That… could work," Regina said. "Like he said: a siphon. It's magic, so the Hat will grab onto it. If it's fighting against the curse at the time…"
"The curse could get dragged in with it," Emma said. "OK, we have a plan. Can we do this here, or is there too much magic around?"
Belle could not help tensing as Regina pulled out Rumple's heart again. It was almost completely black. "I don't think we have time to shop for a better location," Regina said, "But move him out to the main room; I at least need room to breathe. Anyone with magic, stay here; I don't want any accidents." She looked deliberately at Henry.
While David and Bae moved Rumple, Belle retrieved the Hat. She had to trust Regina with the dagger so they could get it out of the box, but Regina rewarded that trust and handed it right back. "Thank you," Belle said.
"Don't mention it. We're ready," she announced.
"And if the Apprentice tries to interfere?" Hook asked. Belle hadn't had the presence of mind to ask him to leave.
"Hold him off," Regina said. They all knew that was impossible, but Hook only nodded and took a position outside the shop. Dove, David, Leroy, and his brothers joined him. Bae knelt with Rumple in front of the counter. Regina placed the Hat on the floor between Rumple and the door.
"Who's going to hold the heart?" she asked.
"I will," Belle said immediately.
"Give someone else the dagger, then; I don't want to know what will happen if it gets caught in the Hat." Belle nodded and held it out to Bae.
"I'll keep it safe," he said.
"Hopefully, in a few minutes, it shouldn't matter," Regina said.
Belle took Rumple's heart and stood off to the side. Emma passed her the True Love potion, then ducked behind the counter with Nova, August, and Henry. Regina looked at Belle expectantly, and she nodded. "Do it."
Regina tipped the Hat on its side. The vortex formed immediately. Belle popped the cork from the True Love potion and poured it on Rumple's heart. She heard an angry hiss that had to be the curse, and Rumple's heart began to writhe in her hand. The potion created a pink haze around the heart, and black threads rose to do battle with it. "It's working!" She tossed the bottle aside and, gripping his heart in both hands, approached the Hat. She could see the pink haze swirling towards it as if blown by a strong wind. Please, please take this damned curse!
The threads began to catch - one, two, then many, and from threads it became ropes, and Belle laughed. Henry cheered. Belle saw a flash of light from the dagger, and the last of the curse stripped away, leaving Rumple's heart a pure, glowing white. "Whoa," Emma said.
Regina titled the Hat upright. "We did it."
"Look," Belle said, showing her the heart, "What does that mean?"
"It means it worked," she said. "Beyond that, I have no clue. I've never heard of a white heart before. Maybe he can tell us." She put it back in his chest.
"Thank you," Bae said.
"Like I said, don't mention it."
Bae showed Belle the dagger. Rumple's name was gone, just as it had been when his curse was broken.
Belle touched his forehead; it remained slack. "Why isn't he waking up?"
"I don't know, but he did just had the magical equivalent of major surgery," Regina said.
"Let me see," Nova said, hurrying form behind the counter. Regina stepped back to let her through. Nova pulled out her wand and passed it over him, from his crown to his knees. "The curse has left him weak. I'm not sure I can heal the damage."
"That spell," Bae said, "The one we used when Papa lost his memory-"
"Yes! I'll get it!" Belle said.
"And we need an object that touched him before he was the Dark One."
"The first time or the second time?" August asked.
"Hey guys?" Regina asked from the back room. "I think we might have a problem."
"What?" Belle asked, ducking under the curtain. Emma was right behind her.
"I returned the Hat to the box, and it doesn't seem very happy about it." The top of the box was no longer solid, but swirling with black ooze as the box itself shook and hopped on the tabletop.
Emma began to ask a question, "Wha-?" but the curse broke free before she could get a word out. The swirling mass of black ropes tore aside the curtain and blasted the front door open in its bid to escape.
"What the bloody hell is that?" Hook shouted
"The curse is free and looking for a new host!" Bae said.
"How do you know?" Emma asked.
"I've seen it before! Right before Papa took it back. It went after Elsa first."
"Good news: Elsa's not here," Leroy said.
"Then who is it after?" David asked.
"I don't know," Regina said. "I don't know why it would have preferred Elsa over Rumple or even me, unless… Elsa is more powerful than I am."
"And the most powerful magic user in town is-"
"Emma," Henry said.
"No," Regina corrected. "The Apprentice. This was what he wanted: the curse for himself." Without a word, Dove, Leroy and his brothers ran off after it. Regina dug out her crystal ball. But her explanation didn't seem right to Belle.
"If he wanted the curse, why stage all this?" she asked. "Why not just attack Rumple with the dagger?"
"Hell if I know. He's at the mansion," Regina said. She lifted her hand and she, Emma, David, and Hook disappeared.
Belle knelt by Rumple. Her place was here.
"What have you done?" the Apprentice demanded.
"Exactly what you tried to force us to do," Emma said, "But it ends here."
Killian wasn't sure how she intended to stop it, but he'd never shied away from trying to kill a Dark One before. He drew his sword. The Apprentice claimed innocence. "I don't know what you mea-"
The window shattered. The curse descended on the old man, but Emma put up her hands and blasted it with a beam of pure, white magic. It wasn't enough. The curse reared back like a wounded beast, but then rallied, flowing around her magic and latching onto the Apprentice. His eyes filled with darkness.
"NO!" Emma tried again, hitting him with an even stronger beam of light, flooding him with her power to fight the darkness.
Killian would be ashamed to admit this, but he expected her to fail. Emma was powerful, but the curse of the Dark One was ancient and far greater than any one person. He braced himself.
But the Apprentice fell to the ground, and the swirling, black mass actually drained out of him. Emma hit it again, erecting a sort of shield, and it fled out through the window. David and Emma ran after it. Killian turned to join them, but the Apprentice grabbed him weakly by the ankle. Regina stopped and knelt down, and Killian joined her. He suddenly remembered that he had not yet revealed the role the Apprentice had played in causing the fist curse to be reversed, and he knew how it would sound if the Apprentice told her that now.
He did not. "Listen to me," he said weakly, and Killian had seen enough men die to know that the Apprentice was not long for this world, "You must help her."
"Help her how?"
"Long before… your stories began, the Sorcerer battled the Darkness."
"We're aware of that, mate. Care to get to the point?"
"He was able to keep it from consuming the realms."
"He tethered it to a human soul-"
"Yes, the curse needs a host," Regina said, "We know that. Get to the point!"
"-that could be controlled with a dagger."
"Wait, the Sorcerer created the dagger?" Regina asked.
"To protect the realms. He is the only one with the power to destroy the Darkness once and for all-"
"Then why didn't he do it the first time?!"
"He is far, far from here. His name is… Merlin. You must… stop… the darkness… find Merlin."
"Where is he?" Regina demanded, "I know you know, you cryptic son of a bitch!" He passed out or died, Hook wasn't sure witch. "Damn it!" She reached for his neck to check his pulse, but Hook grabbed her arm.
"We must go," Killian said, "If it desires the most powerful magic user, it will be after Emma; she must be the 'her' he meant."
"Then why didn't it grab her just now? No… Lily. Lily as the Dark One would destroy us before she even knew what she was doing."
He didn't believe that but he said, "Let's go."
She used her magic to transport them down to the street. "Regina!" Emma called.
"It's after Lily!"
"Are you sure?"
"Watch out!" David shouted.
It descended on them.
Belle knelt down by Gold. "This doesn't seem right," she said. August agreed.
Apparently, so did Bae. "I know. If he wanted the curse for himself, all he had to do was take the dagger and slay Papa with it. But first we need to help Papa; Nova, can he hold on until we find an object?"
"I think so, but we should hurry." Belle jumped up again to grab the healing spell from the back.
Bae got up and began rifling through Gold's stuff. "There it is!" He pulled an old, leather ball out of a corner.
Belle returned, the book in her hand. "Bae-"
"It's just a ball," he said, "It's worth it."
"What about the dagger?" Henry asked. "He touched it before he became the Dark One, didn't he?"
"I have a feeling we're going to need it," Bae said.
"I've got it." August picked it up, stepping aside so Belle could kneel by Gold. He stared at the blade, waiting to see if the Apprentice's name would appear. It didn't. This isn't right…
Belle flipped through the book, trying to find the spell. Bae is right, if he wanted to be the Dark One, he could have just taken it…. "What if it's someone else we wants to make the Dark One?" he asked. "Someone who'd never kill to get it?
"Who?" Nova asked.
"I don't know," he admitted.
"My Mom?" Henry asked. "He wanted to make Mr. Gold a villain again. Maybe he wants to do it to my Mom too."
"She's powerful," Bae said. "The curse would want her."
"She's already fought the darkness and won, though. Same as Gold. If that was the kind of Dark One he wanted, why not leave the curse in him? No, it's got to be…" Oh, no. "Emma." He stared at them. "It makes perfect sense. The Savior as the Dark One - when in history has there ever been a circumstance where that could happen? That is what he was trying to engineer this whole time." He shoved the dagger at Bae. "You take this, you force me across the town line."
He'd been afraid he would not arrive in time, but he found Emma and the others in the middle of the street, staring up at the sky. "Watch out!" David shouted, pointing.
The curse descended, going for Regina, but August saw Emma immediately step forward. Of course - she'd only take it on to save someone else. "Hook!" he bellowed, "Stop her!"
David would have hesitated. He was a hero, and it went against his instincts to stop Emma from jumping in to save someone. But Hook was in it for Emma; he didn't care about the rest of them. He didn't hesitate; he lunged and grabbed her around the middle, pinning her arms to her sides. She fought. "Hook! What the hell are you doing?!"
The curse swirled around Regina, and August gawked at it. It looked like black, flowing water. He didn't have the best track record with water. Through it, Regina stared at him with wide eyes.
He reached towards it. "August, what are you doing?!" Emma called, still struggling in Hook's arms.
"It can't be you!" he shouted back. "It's what they wanted!"
"How can you know that?!"
"I don't! But whoever they're counting on, I'm pretty sure it's not me!" Not allowing himself time to think, he plunged his hands into the darkness. It pulled him in… and swept him away.
"AUGUST!" Emma jammed her heel into Hook's shin. He grunted, and his grip on her loosened. She elbowed him in the stomach. He swore, and she stumbled free, but she was too late. The curse had already surrounded her friend, and she only caught a glimpse of him before it lifted him into the air and he and the curse both vanished in a burst of blush, purplish light.
"Where did he go?" she asked no one. Bae and Henry had come running from the shop. Bae had the dagger. "What happened? Where is he?" Emma asked him, but that wasn't what she was really asking. Bae looked at the dagger. Wordlessly, he flipped it around so she could read it. There was a new name on the blade.
Everything went black.
And then August could see again.
But he didn't see Storybrooke's buildings or even the road out of town. Instead, he was in the middle of a forest alone. He was standing on a strange, stone platform, and his clothes had been replaced with a ragged, gray robe.
END PART FOUR