Disclaimer: I don't own Once Upon a Time or Doctor Who.
The Price of Freedom
"No! No, please! Stop! Help! No!"
The Doctor strained against his chains as the cries continued. It was useless, and the chains dug into his wrists, which were already raw and swollen, but it made him feel as if he was doing something to stop the cries coming from the cell next to his. But there was nothing he could do. The chains held, as did the ones around his ankles and neck. His host wasn't taking any more chances.
The Doctor leaned back against the wall, breathing hard from the effort it had taken to struggle even for a moment. He was growing weaker. And yet his host seemed determined to keep him alive, even though the screams told him the same courtesy was not being extended to the prisoner next door. They had continued for hours, louder and louder, the prisoner's cries becoming steadily more terrified and more desperate.
Abruptly, the screams stopped. With a sudden burst of strength, the Doctor struggled to his feet and pulled hard against his chains. For a moment, he felt a little stronger. But then the pain set in, and he collapsed back to the floor of the dungeon, panting and coughing and utterly exhausted. Slowly, he rolled over onto his back and closed his eyes.
"Hurry up! He'll be back soon!" Belle quickly removed the last of thief's chains. "Hurry!"
The thief staggered towards the door. "But he will kill you, unless … unless you run away with me."
Belle shook her head. "I can't run. I made a deal to serve him in exchange for him protecting my kingdom and my family from the ogres. If I were to leave, I may survive, but my family surely won't."
To Belle's relief, the thief didn't argue. Maybe he understood sacrifice as well as she. "All I can do is wish you luck."
"Thank you. Now go."
"Wait. There's something else. In the cell next to mine—"
"I'll take care of it. Go!"
The thief didn't need to be told again. He ran off quickly towards the nearest door.
Belle turned her attention to the next cell. She had assumed the others were empty. If there was anyone else, surely she would have heard them. But the thief had sounded certain, so Belle pushed hard, and the door slowly creaked open.
This cell was darker. No windows. No cracks. The only light now came from the hall, but, in that light, Belle could see a man lying on his back in the far corner, eyes closed, one leg bent at the knee, the other stretched out in front of him.
"Did he get away?" The prisoner's voice was weak and hoarse, but Belle caught just a hint of hope.
"Yes." She hurried over. "And so will you. Come on."
The prisoner opened his eyes as Belle began to examine the chains. "I'm afraid not, my dear, but thank you for trying. My host tells me these chains are unbreakable, and I think I'm finally beginning to believe him."
Belle stared, horrified. How long had he been down here? The prisoner was an older man, tall and thin, his hair curly and white, with a kind face and tired eyes. His clothes, clearly once rich and fine, now hung in tatters about his limbs, stained with dried blood and damp with sweat. His skin was raw and red where the chains dug into his wrists, ankles, and neck.
The thief's chains had come undone easily enough, but these were different. Belle tugged at the chains where they attached to the wall, but if Rumplestiltskin had said they couldn't be broken, then they were probably enchanted. "There has to be something I can do!"
The prisoner laid a hand gently on her arm, and she released the chains. "Sadly, no. But if you would – quickly – bring me a little water, I would—"
Belle didn't catch the end of the sentence; she hurried from the cell and brought back a cup and a pitcher of water. Carefully, she helped the prisoner sit up against a wall and poured him some water. The prisoner drank eagerly, as if he hadn't tasted water in days. "Much better," he concluded as she refilled the cup. "Thank you … What was your name?"
"Thank you, Belle. I'm the Doctor." He smiled kindly. "And now you must leave. Our host will be upset when he discovers you've let our friend go, but he'll be furious if he finds you trying to free me."
"Because he merely wants to kill our friend. He wants more from me."
Belle shook her head as she placed the pitcher easily within the Doctor's reach. "I'll be back. I'll find a way to help you."
The Doctor didn't reply; he simply watched as she left, reluctantly closing the door behind her. Slowly, he took a few more sips of water. At least the other man had escaped. That was something. And now someone knew he was here. Satisfied, he leaned back and closed his eyes, and a much more restful sleep than he'd had in ages crept over him.
"Did you do all this for me?"
"I'd better not see a single speck of dust gathering on any of these books … What are you smiling at, Missy?"
"You're not who I thought you were." Belle smiled. "And I'm glad." Rumplestiltskin turned to go. "Wait," Belle called. "There's … there's one more thing I need to tell you. When I let Robin Hood go, I … I found another man down there."
Rumplestiltskin turned. "Yes, I figured as much when I checked his cell and found you had given him water. He's none of your concern, Belle; forget about him."
"But who is he? What would you want with a doctor?"
"A doctor?" Rumplestiltskin let out a high-pitched giggle. "Yes, that's probably what he told you, isn't it. But names are what I traffic in, and, believe me, that isn't his. As for what I want with him, he has something I need, something that he's … reluctant … to part with. But I'm going to … persuade him otherwise."
"How long have you been keeping him down there?"
"Oh, I've lost track. He's a stubborn one. But I'm patient. Sooner or later, I'll get what I want."
Belle shook her head. "I don't think you will – not the way you're going about it. He'll die first. He's willing to; I saw that."
"I've kept him alive this long. No one dies here without my permission."
"Then he'll be down there forever, unless…"
"Unless … what?"
This was her chance. He was intrigued. He knew he was getting nowhere. "Let me talk to him," Belle offered. "I can try to work something out."
"I don't know if—"
"What do you have to lose?" Belle reasoned. "I can't free him; even he seemed convinced of that. Let me bring him some food and water and talk to him – just talk. Alone. If I fail, you lose nothing. But if I succeed, you may just get what you want."
Rumplestiltskin made a show of considering for a moment, but she already knew he would agree. "Very well," he conceded. "We'll try it your way."
Belle entered the cell carrying a tray, a lantern, and a blanket. Rumplestiltskin closed the door behind her. "Belle." The Doctor smiled. "This is a pleasant surprise. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Belle nodded, helping him sit up and draping the blanket over his shoulders.
"So you're not my new cellmate, then?"
"No. No, not at all." She uncovered a bowl. "I made you some soup. Rumplestiltskin said you hadn't eaten anything in quite a while, so I didn't know what—"
"Rumplestiltskin," the Doctor repeated. "So that's who he is. He introduced himself as 'The Dark One.' Seems to have quite the flair for the dramatic." He lifted the bowl carefully and ate a few spoonfuls.
"Well, you're 'The Doctor,'" Belle pointed out.
"Touché," the Doctor agreed. "It seems we both understand the dangers of revealing one's true name. It's a small bit of common ground, but it's something." He eyed Belle curiously. "But you're not here to talk about names. You have questions."
"Yes." Belle moved the lantern a little closer. "How did you come to be here? What does he want so badly?"
The Doctor shrugged. "I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." He smiled a little. "Seems to happen to me a lot, actually. I was trying to repair my ship, and my friend Jo was … helping. It's not her fault; I should have warned her to stay away from that panel. She bumped into the wrong button on her way out, and my ship took off. I ended up in the woods outside this castle, and that's where he found me."
"Your ship – that's what he wants," Belle reasoned.
The Doctor nodded. "You got there quicker than I did, I'm afraid. By the time I realized what he was after, and why, the only thing I could do was send my ship away; I had no time to get on board myself. He wants me to bring my ship back and take him away with me."
"Of course. But I won't. I mustn't. Back where I come from, Belle, there are … so many people that I care about. People who would be in danger the moment he set foot in my land. I have to protect them, Belle, even if it means I'm trapped here forever."
"I … I understand." He wasn't telling her everything, but he'd told her enough. "But if you can't take him with you, maybe there's something else. Maybe there's a deal you could make."
The Doctor looked up. "Is he really the sort of man you would trust to hold up his end, Belle?" he asked bitterly.
"Yes." She was surprised – and so was he – by how quickly she said it. But she was certain. As dark as Rumplestiltskin's reputation was, one thing was also clear: he always honored his agreements. The moment she had decided to go with him, she had known her family would be safe. He had given his word, and that had been enough. "Yes," she repeated firmly. "Yes, he is."
The Doctor ate quietly for a while, considering. When he had finished, he set the bowl down and pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders. "Then maybe it's time the Dark One and I had an honest chat. Can you convince him to talk to me – preferably without any knives involved?"
Belle nodded. "Of course I can, yes." She hurried out.
The Doctor took a cup from the tray she had brought and drank a little, but his hands were shaking. He had a chance now. A small chance, but a chance, nonetheless.
After a moment, Rumplestiltskin appeared. He wasn't carrying any knives – not this time – but the Doctor didn't find that fact particularly comforting. The man in front of him had the power to tear him to shreds without lifting a single weapon. The knives and the chains and the blood were really just for show. He could cause pain simply by willing it. A flick of his wrist could leave the Doctor writhing in agony on the floor. A word could reduce him to ashes.
"Hello, Rumplestiltskin." He kept his voice as calm as he could, and was fairly satisfied with the results. "We need to talk."
"There's nothing to talk about, Dearie. You know what I want."
"Yes, I do. And I can't give it to you."
"Because you're worried about the danger your precious little land will be in if I were to—"
Rumplestiltskin stopped short. "No?"
"No. That's not the reason – not the biggest reason, at least. It's the reason I gave Belle, because it's the reason she would understand. She knows what it means to sacrifice your freedom for the people you love. That was our common ground. But you—" The Doctor looked up. "Our common ground lies elsewhere."
Rumplestiltskin paced a little, intrigued. "Go on."
"You've asked me before who I am, where I come from." The Doctor met the Dark One's gaze. "I'm a Time Lord, Rumplestiltskin. I see time as it really is, and most of time is in flux. Changeable. Moving. But there are also points – moments – that are fixed. Pieces of the puzzle that cannot be changed. That must never be altered.
"Yes, I am worried about what could happen to my … land … when you arrive. You're dangerous. Powerful. But I also know the people there. Resilient. Adaptable. Better than they realize, and braver than they choose to act. And, more than that, I know that it will happen. You will find a way to our land. And that moment, Rumplestiltskin, is a pivotal one. It's fixed. It must not happen any sooner – for either you or us. I can't allow that to change."
Rumplestiltskin stopped pacing, glaring menacingly an arm's length from where the Doctor sat. "Not good enough, Dearie. Is that what you wanted to tell me? Belle said that you wanted to make a deal."
"I do. Because, as I said, regardless of what happens between us here, you will come to our land. And when you do, people will notice. People will be curious. They'll want to investigate; humans always do. So it would be in your best interests if there were someone there – someone in a position to help you – someone who owed you a favor." He stood up slowly. "I can be that person, Rumplestiltskin, if you let me."
"And you … would be willing to help me?"
"Because Belle believes that you can be trusted. Because I think that your coming to our land isn't just a chance for you to conquer and terrorize – you can do that here. You want something there, and you'd destroy whole worlds to find it. But I think you'd be just as happy if you could accomplish your goal without needless bloodshed. You're looking for something, and you'll use any means. If I help you … maybe those means can be peaceful."
"So if I let you go…"
"I'll owe you a favor. Come find me, and I'll pay up."
"How do I find you?"
"I can give you a device that will let you contact me. Do we have a deal?" He held out his hand.
"Nnnnn … yes." They shook hands, and the chains disappeared. "Deal."
Belle was pacing – and pretending to mop up a trail of blood in the hall – when the door opened. Rumplestiltskin stepped out, followed by the Doctor, weak and a bit unsteady, but free and alive. Belle hurried to his side, and he leaned on her a little. "Thank you, Belle. We managed to reach a … compromise." He turned to Rumplestiltskin. "When we met, I was carrying a key and a small device that—"
"This?" Rumplestiltskin waved his hand, and a small, cylindrical object and a key on a string appeared in a whoosh of purple smoke.
"Thank you." The Doctor fiddled with his sonic screwdriver for a moment, and, suddenly, there was a loud whooshing sound. A small blue box appeared in the hall.
"Wait," Rumplestiltskin said as the Doctor stepped towards the box. "You promised me something – a way to contact you."
The Doctor nodded. "That I did." He handed Belle the key. "Belle, if you go inside that box, you'll see a large console in the middle. There's a small blue button on the right as you're facing it. Press it, and a drawer will open. Remove what's inside and bring it out here, please."
Belle took the key, opened the door, and stepped inside. Then out again. Then back in. The Doctor smiled. Moments later, Belle emerged with a small gadget.
The Doctor pressed a few buttons and handed the device to Rumplestiltskin. "This will get you in contact with an organization called UNIT. Ask for a Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He'll help you find me." He turned to Belle. "Thank you, my dear. I hope to see you again."
Belle stared, confused. "But that would mean—"
"Never mind the specifics," Rumplestiltskin interrupted. "Goodbye, Doctor. I look forward to our next meeting."
The Doctor nodded, took one last look around the Dark Castle, and stepped inside the Tardis.
It was a little past three o' clock in the morning when the phone rang. Kate Stewart sighed, trying to convince herself not to answer it. She had been just about to leave, and late-night phone calls were never good news.
Against her better judgment, she picked up the phone. "UNIT headquarters."
"Am I speaking to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart?"
"If this is a joke, it's not a good time."
A pause. "This isn't a joke." Seriousness. Deadly seriousness.
"The Brigadier is dead. You're speaking to his daughter. What can I do for you?"
"Well, then, Dearie, I suppose you'll have to do. My name is Mr. Gold. And I need to find the Doctor."