"Did you know he had it in him?" Neal questioned softly as they walked.
Rumplestiltskin had sacrificed himself in front of the whole town to stop Pan. He'd said his goodbyes, then he'd summoned his shadow and his dagger, and he had embraced the boy who had once been his father, and he'd killed him. An act that saw the dagger piercing right through the slim teen and into Rumplestiltskin's own heart as well. The only way to kill Pan had been for Rumplestiltskin to die as well, and despite what Pan – and very nearly everyone else – had thought to the contrary, Rumplestiltskin was prepared to do just that.
He hadn't been able to stop the curse that Pan had launched, but between Belle, Emma and Maleficent, they were able to modify it significantly before Emma had to take Henry, Alexandra, and all three of the other kids that had been born in Storybrooke after the curse was broken, out of the little town so that they would be safe. The curse was only taking those who had been born in the Enchanted Forest after all – and while, technically, Emma had been too, she'd been sent to the land without magic within hours of being born, so she could have gone either way. She chose to stay behind and take care of her son, and the four infants, until such a time as they found a way to reunite all the families once more.
"Yes," Belle answered, simply and surely. "He'd do anything for family. He took on the curse of the Dark One to protect you, and even though he was scared of the land without magic, he followed you there too. I never for a second doubted that he would," she asserted as they pushed through the trees and finally came upon a clearing.
The clearing. The place where the first Dark One had been born. A dark, terrible place that was so covered in snow it was beautiful.
Belle took a deep breath, and reached into her satchel.
"This will really get my Papa back?" Neal asked. It had become something of a mantra for him, regularly asking for reassurances on this. He'd asked when Belle explained what she was doing, marching straight off to the Dark Castle without a word to anybody. He'd asked when they set out from the castle. Now they'd reached their destination, and he was asking again.
"It will," Belle confirmed, and removed the two vital items that she had carried from the Dark Castle. The key to the vault of the Dark One, and the severed hand, still perfectly preserved – still, in fact, living and sending sensations to Captain Killian 'Hook' Jones.
Carefully, firmly, Belle planted the key into the palm of the severed hand, firm enough that the fingers did what all fingers did automatically when something was pressed to the palm. They closed around it.
Belle pulled off her scarf and tied the hand around the key to make certain that it would not be released. While she had been doing that, Neal had cleared some of the snow away and revealed the lock where the key had to be planted.
Belle and Neal shared a look – one full of determination to see this through. Either one of them might have been willing to sacrifice themselves to bring back Rumplestiltskin, but Belle had also pointed out that this would only break his heart, to return to them only to watch one or other of them die. So, the hand of another – conveniently kept all these years simply because Rumplestiltskin never threw anything away – was going to be used for this little ritual.
The key was forced in, and after a moment the fingers of the hand twitched and there was a smell of burning flesh, but it could not withdraw.
Neal and Belle, however, stepped back. The snow was melted away, what little Neal had left in that area, and the hand blackened and thinned until the scarf wasn't enough to hold it in place over the key, which slotted fully into the lock, and vanished there.
"Rumplestiltskin," Belle called out as the opening of the vault sank, just enough for darkness to begin to ooze forth, and pool there. The darkness congealed, and rose, and it slowly began to form a body.
A familiar body, all dressed in black. Something that Rumplestiltskin hadn't really done all that often, prior to the curse and his suits in Storybrooke – and even then, he had always had some highlight of colour. The style and cut was familiar enough, though he'd generally worn it in golds and browns and reds, rather than this stark black that was so very sharp against the snow-covered backdrop of the clearing.
"Belle, Bae," Rumplestiltskin breathed out the names like a prayer and stumbled away from the vault of the Dark One to the two most important people in his life.
"Papa," Neal answered, and wrapped his arms around his father tightly.
Belle was right behind him, her eyes damp as she took in the sight of her master and fiance. They had, unfortunately, not had time to so much as set a date, let alone begin planning the wedding, when a couple of Pan's wretched minions had come to Storybrooke and kidnapped Henry... which had in turn led to Rumplestiltskin's eventual sacrifice.
"Well, well, well," a voice purred from the other side of the clearing. "Little bookworm is smarter than I gave her credit for. Didn't even need the candle I was going to leave in the library to point you in the right direction."
Belle tore her eyes away from Rumplestiltskin – and father and son broke their embrace – to find the person who had intruded upon them. She recognised the woman that she saw only from Rumplestiltskin's descriptions and Henry's book.
"Zelena," Belle greeted neutrally. "I thought you were confined to Oz these days, since you gave some little cry-baby the shoes that would take her back to her home to the land without magic."
The green-skinned witch sneered. "I've had twenty-eight timeless years and nothing better to do," she pointed out. "Going from one magical realm to another is hardly difficult, especially when one of those realms is Oz, once you figure out how. Provided you're not taking much, that is."
"True enough," Belle allowed. "You mentioned a candle?"
"Oh nothing much," Zelena said dismissively. "Just someone I turned into a candelabra. Not that you'd know he had ever been human if you didn't light the candles. I was going to put him in the library once you'd lowered the wards about the castle. For some reason, they wouldn't let me in," she added with a light, mild-sounding thoughtfulness, though by the way her eyes burned dangerously as she said it, it was clear that particular detail annoyed her to no end.
"Is there something you wanted, dearie?" Rumplestiltskin questioned, just a little sharply. "Your mother's dead, your sister, last I knew, was in prison. The way you're talking, I think you might be aiming to join one of them."
Zelena blinked. "Regina's... in prison?" she repeated, surprised.
"Well, Snow might have changed that since we were all forced back here, but... yes, last we knew," Belle agreed. "But that's not the point," she continued. "If I'm reading between the lines right -"
"Considering it's you, that's practically a given," Neal quipped.
"- then you were planning to see either Neal or myself dead in exchange for having my master brought back to life," Belle stated.
Zelena shrugged in an uncaring manner, smirked in a satisfied sort of way, and even had the audacity to nod her head in arrogant confirmation.
"And he wouldn't have been able to hold onto the dagger and whichever of you sacrificed yourself for him, and I know Rumple well enough to be pretty sure he'd give up the dagger to save a loved one," Zelena purred. "And then I'd take it, and I'd have him, and he'd be all mine."
"Very special sort of crazy," he said, recalling how his father had once described the woman before him. He personally thought that was a good way to describe every woman in Regina's immediate (biological) family, from what he'd seen and heard.
"Mm," Rumplestiltskin hummed in agreement with his son softly. "Unfortunately for you dearie, my princess is just too smart for you. Now, the only question really is: do you want to be turned into a snail, or a toad? That is, if my boy isn't going to object?" he corrected himself with a glance at his son.
"Just this once, I'll keep quiet about it," Neal answered with a shake of his head.
Zelena scowled and disappeared in a green cloud before Rumplestiltskin could perform the transfiguration.
"Sire," Belle called softly. "I haven't had my greeting yet," she reminded him with a shy, flirtatious little smile on her face.
A soft look overtook Rumplestiltskin's inhuman eyes. "Even when I look like this?" he asked, stunned.
Belle laughed. "I fell in love with you when you looked like this in the first place," she reminded him, and gladly took his hand – the one not holding his dagger – in hers.
"Belle..." Rumplestiltskin breathed in wonder. "You will never cease to amaze me. Just that you went through all this trouble to get me back..."
Belle lifted a finely shaped brow at him. "Master, I swore to serve you for the rest of my life, remember?" she told him, just a little pertly. "Not just the rest of yours."
Rumplestiltskin chuckled. "I love you," he told her plainly.
Belle smiled back at him happily. "I love you too," she answered.
Soft red lips met with dry, green-gold lips in a tender kiss.
Neal stared in awe as a rainbow ripple spread out from that point and overtook his father, leaving him looking completely human again.
"Damn," he said, but he was fighting a smile.
The couple broke apart at the sound of his voice, and Belle's eyes went wide.
"Your curse -!" Belle gasped.
"Broken, it would seem," Rumplestiltskin registered as he looked at the dagger in his hand. His name faded from where it had been inscribed for three centuries, and then the dagger faded away as well so that his hand was empty of the wicked blade. "But... my leg is still healed, and I can still feel magic."
"Well, that wasn't going to change," Belle pointed out reasonably. "You've been the most powerful sorcerer in the Enchanted Forest for three hundred years. Magic wasn't about to leave you. Just... it seems, the darkness."
Rumplestiltskin blinked in wonder at that, then he barked out a laugh, then swept Belle up in his arms, and twirled her around with a great whoop of joy.
"True Love," he said when he set her back on her feet. "True Love, after all these centuries... when I never thought I'd deserve it or find it... Belle," he said, and he kissed her again.
Neal watched for a moment, alternately amused at his father's antics, and pleased that the curse was broken at last. Then a thought struck him.
"Uh, I hate to interrupt, but is this going to cause any problems with our getting back to Earth, Emma, and all the kids?" he asked.
Rumplestiltskin and Belle broke apart at that.
"Well... there is magic in that world now," Rumplestiltskin said thoughtfully as he puzzled out the issue. "Emma has magic, and the area where Storybrooke was will still have magic, even if the town isn't there any more. That makes things a good deal easier, as does even the vaguest idea of the contraptions that were invented in that world for breathing underwater."
"What?" Neal asked, blinking in surprise at the apparent non-sequiter.
Rumplestiltskin smiled. "Belle, love, you and Ariel became quite good friends while others of us were off in Neverland, didn't you?" he asked knowingly.
Belle nodded as she processed exactly what Rumplestiltskin was getting at. Mermaids could travel between the worlds, and they could take anything with them – and potentially anybody as well, except that there was the issue of breathing underwater.
"How can you put a price on that deal though?" Belle asked cautiously. "If Ariel were to guide Emma through the realms in a bathesphere, or something like it, with Henry and the babies... And that's not even thinking of the risk they'd be walking into if Zelena's on a warpath here as well," she added.
"Leave worrying about Zelena to the heroes, please dearie," Rumplestiltskin scolded with a smile and a tap to Belle's nose. "I'm a facilitator of magic, not a hero, and neither are you."
Belle nodded in acceptance.
Neal coughed pointedly and fought back a smile.
"Bae, I raised you to be better and braver than me," Rumplestiltskin said firmly. "Your papa is still an old coward, even with all the power in the world that didn't really change, as much as I pretended otherwise. I'm sorry."
Neal smirked. "That's alright," he said, and gladly slung his arm over his father's shoulders in a loving (but manly) embrace. "You're brave enough when you've got a reason. That's what matters."
"First things first though, we need to get in contact with that mermaid," Rumplestiltskin declared firmly. "And warn the various ruling parties about Zelena," he capitulated.
"And as soon as your grandson is here to be ring-bearer, and I've talked Jefferson into giving me away, we are getting married," Belle added firmly as she wove her fingers together with Rumplestiltskin's.
"Aye," Rumplestiltskin agreed happily.