A/N: Thank you, Cheza the Flower Maiden and Gwenhyfer for your reviews to the last chapter of Derailed, and to everyone who has reviewed, followed, and favorite this series.
Chapter 1: Rewrite
A different choice had been made. Her brother would be furious, she knew. He would do everything in his considerable power to act upon what the Fates had told him - to enact what he thought of as justice - but she would not allow him to destroy her family. She watched, and (as she was used to doing) she waited.
Baelfire looked at the dagger. That damned dagger that had caused so much pain. It didn't bear his father's name anymore, but it had taken his friend.
"Where is he?" Emma asked. "Where did he go?"
Bae had his suspicions, but he hoped he was wrong. He gripped the dagger by the hilt and said, "Dark One, I summon thee." Nothing happened.
"Try again," Emma said. He did. Again, nothing.
"Why isn't it working?" Henry asked.
"I think it took him to the vault," Bae said. "That's where it took my father when he took it back."
"The vault is in the Enchanted Forest," Emma said, horrified. Regina pulled out her crystal ball.
"He's there," she said. They crowded around. They could see August gaping at the trees around him. He was wearing a strange, gray robe. "He doesn't have scales," Regina pointed out.
"When Papa took it back, it was mixed," Bae said. "Some scales, some not. I don't know what that means."
"We'll ask him," Emma said. "Is he awake?"
"I left him with Belle," Bae said, "She has the spell and everything she needs. I should get back."
"I'll go with you."
"No," Regina said, "The Apprentice might still be alive; we need your superpower."
"It's OK, Emma," Bae said, already backing up. "Deal with the Apprentice first."
She nodded grimly. "OK. We know where to find you." Bae returned the nod, then turned and ran.
"Heal him!" Bae had said before he and Henry had bolted after August. Nova was sick with worry for them, August, and everyone else, but Rumplestiltskin was getting weaker. She grabbed the ball and held it out to Belle as Belle reviewed the spell, her eyes speeding through the lines. She took the ball.
The spell was apparently a silent one. Belle closed her eyes, concentrating. The ball crumbled to dust in her hand, and Rumplestiltskin inhaled sharply. Belle leaned over and stroked his hair. "Rumple, can you hear me? How are you feeling?"
His eyes popped open, but he didn't seem to recognize her. He panicked, pushing her away and backing into the display case. "Don't touch me!"
"Rumple?" she asked tearfully.
He clutched at his chest, gasping for air. "Don't! It's not… not real…"
"That's right," Nova said, "It wasn't real. You're safe; nothing in Isaac's world really happened."
Belle brought her hands to her mouth. "I'll get Baelfire," she said, her voice small.
"Bae? He's… safe…"
"Yes, he's safe. We're all safe. I'll be right back…" she hurried out the door before she even finished speaking, and Nova could hear the tears in her voice. She was torn between comforting her friend and trying to reassure Rumplestiltskin, who was still panicking.
"It's all right. You're safe here. Can you try to breathe with me? In and out… in and out…" He was aware of her, and she could see he was trying it calm himself, but he couldn't get his breathing under control. She reached for the fairy dust in her pocket, wondering if a calming spell might help or might make it worse. Before she could ask, the bell above the door rang, and Bae stumbled in. He still had the dagger.
"Bae," Rumplestiltskin gasped.
"I'm here. It's wasn't real; Belle never did any of those things."
"I kn-know." Anguished, he curled over his hands, still clutching at his chest. "What's h-happened? I'm not… I'm mortal…"
"Yes. Your curse was killing you. It wouldn't let us break it. Regina had to use the Hat to pull it from your heart."
"I remem-member… too many… Emma."
"It wanted Emma. August figured it out. He took it on himself instead."
"No, I need… Emma." He uncurled and struggled to stand up.
"Bring me Emma." He braced against the display case and pushed himself up. Bae grabbed his arm to steady him, and he flinched away. "Emma," he said again.
Bae looked at Nova. "I'll get her," she said.
"She's at the Sorcerer's mansion," Bae told her. "Papa, what are you looking for?"
"Dream catcher," he said through gritted teeth, and Nova understood. She fumbled for her phone. It rang too many times before David answered it.
"Nova? Is something wrong?"
"Rumplestiltskin needs Emma."
"Is he all right? What about the healing spell?"
"He's awake, but he needs her to remove the corrupted memories."
"Got it. Can he hold on for a little bit? The Apprentice is alive, but he probably won't be for very much longer."
"I see. I think so; I'll tell him. Bye, David."
"It won't be long."
"Thank you, David."
"What's happening?" Bae asked anxiously, helping Rumplestiltskin dig frantically through his things.
"The Apprentice is alive and Emma is speaking to him. She will be here as soon as she can. Let me help you look-"
"No," Rumplestiltskin gasped. "Leave."
And Nova understood that too. Rumplestiltskin was a proud, private man; he did not want her here to see him like this. "I'll go check on Belle," she said. Rumplestiltskin looked at her, pained, and nodded.
Belle glanced up when Nova stepped out into the street. She had been crying. "He had me call Emma," Nova said, "So she can remove the false memories. He'll be OK."
Belle nodded. "Thank you."
Nova put an arm around her, and they waited.
It said something about this whole mess that Emma wasn't sure if the Apprentice's dying words made no sense because he was dying or because he was bullshitting them. He pushed a wand into her hand and offered this gem, "Take this. It is a gift from the Sorcerer, from Merlin, on the day I became his Apprentice. In it is all the light magic."
"How does that even make sense?" Emma asked.
He either ignored or didn't hear the question. "In order to cross realms, it must be wielded as it was forged; with both side of the coin... the light… and the dark…" His eyes closed. Emma pressed her fingers to the side of his neck.
"I think he's dead."
"What did that mean? The light and the dark?" Hook asked.
"It's bullshit. But there is a message there, and I'm betting Gold can help us figure it out. David, what did Nova have to say?"
"Gold's awake, but he needs you to remove the memories Isaac gave him. It sounded urgent."
"I can do that. Can you and Mary Margaret gather everyone at the diner? I'm going after August, but we need a plan."
"Yes," David agreed.
"What about the Apprentice?" Regina asked.
"The paramedics are on their way; wait for them. If they confirm he's dead, meet us at the diner."
"Got it. You need a 'lift' to the shop?" she asked, teasingly.
Emma sighed. "Probably should-" Regina waved her fingers, and the world lurched. "But I hate teleporting," she finished to no one but the display cases.
"Emma?" Bae called from the back.
"Right here." Sill queasy, she yanked the curtain aside. Gold was sitting on the cot, gripping the dream catcher. He'd been through hell, and he looked it, but he simply held the dream catcher out to her and said, "You owe me a favor."
Emma tried not to smile. Gold was dangerous, ill-tempered, snarky, and often amoral at best, but he was theirs, goddammit. She took the dream catcher. "I've only done this once before," she said. "And it didn't exactly go the way I planned."
"The memories were destroyed," he said. "That is not a concern of mine."
She held it over his head and concentrated, pulling out everything from Isaac's book.
When she reached the end, Gold gasped and pitched forward. Bae caught him. "Gold? You OK?"
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Much better now," he said. "Thank you. Your favor is paid."
"Forget it," she said. "This one is on the house."
He looked at her with more vulnerability than she was sure he intended. "You're certain?"
She smiled at him. "Yeah. What do you want me to do with this?" He held out his hand, and she handed him the dream catcher.
"I will dispose of it," he said.
"OK. We're, uh, all meeting at Granny's. Did Bae explain about August?"
Gold nodded, glancing at the dagger on the table. It was lying name side up, displaying the name August didn't like anyone but his father to use. It was such a small thing, but for a moment, that thought made her irrationally angry. They didn't have the right!
"I will join you there. Just give me a moment to get cleaned up," Gold said.
"OK. I'm… going to call Marco."
"He will want to know," Gold agreed.
"Gold… August thinks they wanted me to take it on. The gods. What do you think they'll do now?"
"I have no idea," he said. He didn't sugarcoat it. He never did.
"Do you think he was right?"
He took a minute to think. "Yes, I do. The gods are… dramatic. The savior as the Dark One has a certain symmetry I'm not sure they could resist." He smiled mysteriously. "And if that is so - if they were expecting the Savior - they're in for a surprise."
Emma echoed his smile. "That's what he said."
"Then let us hope he's right."
"Tsk, tsk, dearie."
"Ah!" August jumped and spun around. Rumplestiltskin - in all his scaly glory - was standing under a tree, smirking at him. "What the hell? Gold? How are you here? What the hell is going on?"
"My, my, such language, what would your father think?"
August flinched. Despite finally coming to term with his past, the thought of letting his father down would always feel like a punch to the gut. Gold knew that. It was a low blow, considering what had just happened, and… Wait a minute… "You're not actually Gold, are you?"
He tittered and clapped. "Very good! You're cleverer than you seem. But that's always been your problem, hasn't it? So many gifts, but you waste them all."
August narrowed his eyes. "You're… my insecurities? Is this some kind of Purgatory?"
Gold - Rumplestiltskin - whatever he was - sauntered towards him. "Afraid not. You are at the entrance to the vault of the Dark One. And I, I am many things. I'm the voice in your head, the Dark One's powers inside you, inside all the Dark Ones..."
"You're the curse," August said, catching on.
"Oh, there's more to me than just a curse, dearie. I can be any of them, not just Rumplestiltskin. How about Gorgon the Invincible?" He - it - suddenly transformed into a giant, fire-breathing boar.
"Holy shit!" August jumped out of the way of the flames, and the curse laughed as it transformed back into Gold.
"But that one's not terribly practical," it said. "Difficult to teach if I can't talk."
"Why, teach you how to be the Dark One, of course. Think of me as your guide, but only 'til you've learned to embrace your powers."
"Oh. Um, no thanks. I'm not planning on embracing anything." August started looking around for the sturdiest, tallest tree.
"Ah, they all say that," it declared, "But everyone who sips from this well enjoys the taste too much-"
"They all said that? Considering the rest of them all had to kill someone to get these powers, I really don't believe you." He saw a promising oak and started walking towards it.
The curse disappeared and reappeared right in front of him. "You can't run away from this, little puppet. The only way to stop is to be stopped; it is the fate of all Dark Ones."
"See? Now I know you're full of bullshit. True Love's Kiss can break you; I've seen it."
"But it didn't last, did it?"
"Gold took it back to stop it - you - from taking Elsa."
"His reasons don't matter; he will always belong to me. And so will you."
"How? Either I'm the Dark One or he is. If I've got you now, he's back in Storybrooke, safe and mortal. Now get out of my way, please."
"I already told you; you can't run away from this."
"Who said anything about running away? I'm trying to climb a tree."
"To see where you are, to find your way to the Dark Castle, to find a way back to Earth and across the town line. You forget: I'm in your head!"
"I hope you like porn, then." August poked fake-Gold experimentally in the chest, and his hand met no resistance. Internally cringing, he walked through it. It just reappeared again two steps ahead.
"You could just teleport there. It would be easy. You do like to take the easy route."
"That doesn't usually work out for me. Nor does just doing whatever magical authority figures tell me to do, for that matter."
"Yet you keep doing it."
"Kept doing it. Call me a slow learner, but I think I've got those two down now." He walked through it again.
"Liar," it taunted, appearing in the tree this time.
He reached for the first branch. "Not a liar. I haven't pulled that crap since Blue, and I've got a 100% human body to prove it."
It lounged against the branch and smirked at him. "If you say so."
"And you can quit with the negging. I've always responded better to a drink, anyway."
"You can have all the alcohol you've ever desired, with just a snap-" it demonstrated, "Of your fingers."
"I can have all the alcohol I've ever desired in Vegas, and it won't cost me my soul."
With a firm grip on the branch, he lifted his leg, but the robe got in the way. "Well, this isn't going to work. Where are my clothes, anyway? And if I'm the Dark One now, why do you look like Yogurt and I don't?"
"You can transform your clothes to whatever you desire, all you have to do is…" it snapped its fingers again.
August rolled his eyes. "I have a better idea." Fortunately, underneath the robe, he was wearing simple black boots and trousers. He unfastened the robe from the waist down and then grabbed one end of the hanging fabric at thigh height. He found it remarkably easy to tear, and he simply ripped the bottom part off and dropped it on the ground. "There, now it's a hoodie."
The curse just smirked at him. He began to climb. "You didn't answer my other question. Why don't I have scales?"
"You will take on the appearance of the Dark One when you embrace the darkness."
"I see. That sounds like excellent incentive not to. I like to get laid too much."
"With the power of the Dark One, no woman or man could refuse you."
August stopped climbing. "Seriously? You're trying to entice me with rape? I'm not into that. Total turn-off. If you're in my head, you should know that."
"None could force you, either."
August grit his teeth and started climbing again. "It's been a while since that was a problem," he said. "Plus that's not even true. Dagger, remember? I take it it's still back in Storybrooke?"
"Well, there you go. You should want me back there just as much as I want to get back."
"So you will accept my help?"
"I'm not sure. Why don't you actually do something helpful, and we'll see." It laughed. He was pretty far up now, but nothing seemed familiar. Not the shape of the mountains or the distribution of trees, and there were no buildings in sight, ruined or otherwise.
"I don't suppose if I ask you were we are, I can believe whatever you tell me," he said.
It shrugged. "We're on the borders of Camelot," it said. "If you plan to walk to the Dark Castle, it's a long way."
"Camelot…" What did they know about Camelot? Lancelot was banished from there, later joining David and Mary Margaret's war against George. He was not taken by the curse, but was instead murdered by Cora who had then spent the next 28 years impersonating him. And that's all he knew.
"Rumplestiltskin knew more," the curse said. "I could show you his memories."
"Oh, no, no. I know this trick. You pulled this one on Gold. You'll just show me what you want me to see." August started climbing down. He hadn't seen any buildings, but he had spotted a road. If he was lucky, he'd run into someone willing to give him directions.
"Lucky?" the curse taunted. "I wouldn't bet on that, dearie."
"Forgive me for not taking advice from a millennia-old evil curse trying to devour my soul."
It laughed and vanished. August had a feeling he would be seeing it again sooner rather than later.
Still shaking, and very aware of Emma calling Marco on the other side of the curtain, Rumplestiltskin made his careful way to the shop's small bathroom, using the table and wall to support himself. Bae followed, hands up to catch him if he faltered. Rumplestiltskin was torn between shame that his boy had seen him like this and awe that he was still standing by him. His memories of what he'd done after attacking Regina were muddled and full of holes, but he knew he's lost control.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"None of this was your fault," Bae said. "The Sorcerer and the Apprentice set you up."
Rumplestiltskin didn't argue. He had a spare suit at the shop (the one he was wearing was utterly ruined - and he had no magic to repair it) from those foggy days during the curse, when Mr. Gold had had money and power and nothing worth going home to. While he changed, Bae retrieved his cane from somewhere. He held it out to him.
"I thought I had left it behind at the hospital," Rumplestiltskin said.
"You did. Emma grabbed it when she and Maleficent went to check on Regina."
"I see. Thank you."
"Where's your coat?" Bae asked.
"… Somewhere in the woods, I think."
"If you don't take it, Belle will give you hers."
"I don't think it would fit, Balefire."
"She'll do it anyway. You know I'm right."
He did. He pinched his nose. "There's a leather jacket in that chest over there. I'll wear that."
Bae retrieved it before Rumplestiltskin could think to ask. "This looks familiar… it was Graham's wasn't it?"
Bae put it on. "There. It fits me better, anyway." He gathered his own coat and offered it with a smile.
Rumplestiltskin tried to muster a scolding look, but failed miserably. He took the coat, leaning against the worktable to put it on. Bae waited patiently. Coat on, Rumplestiltskin pushed the curtain aside and found Emma, her call concluded, looking about as ready to crawl out of her skin as Rumplestiltskin himself felt. "Marco and Archie will meet us at the diner," she said.
"Very well." She glanced at Bae, and Rumplestiltskin could see she recognized the jacket, but she didn't say anything. She led the way into the street, and there Rumplestiltskin found Belle.
She'd been crying. "Belle…"
"Rumple…" She rocked on her toes, unwilling to embrace him.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't-"
She did embrace him. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"
"For what?" he asked baffled.
"For what I - Isaac - did. I know it wasn't real, but…" She sobbed, too emotional to speak.
"Belle, Belle, Sweetheart…"
"It wasn't you fault," Nova insisted.
"I don't remember," Rumplestiltskin admitted. "Emma removed the memories, she can do it for you as well…" Still pressed against his shoulder, Belle shook her head. He stroked her hair. "But, Sweetheart, why?"
"Because… because I need to know it happened. What he's capable of."
He dragged his thumb across her cheek, her tears warm on his freezing hand. "My brave Belle." He touched her forehead to his. She smiled at him, sniffing, and he handed her a handkerchief.
She took it with a quiet, "Thank you," and led the way to the diner.