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Once There Was A Wish

Chapter Text

Once, there was a wish...

To the outside observer it was fairly ordinary as far as wishes go. Someone wanted their nemesis vanquished, so they simply wished their powers away. It seemed straightforward enough. Except that wishes are a special kind of magic that never quite work the way they are intended, and this particular wish was created from the wish of another. That made it unique. That made it real.

“I wish that Emma Swan's wish to have never been the Savior be granted.”

**

Most people are born into their world, covered in sticky fluid and screaming for all they are worth, but Rumplestiltskin came into existence surrounded by rock and bars as silence penetrated his very being. He remembered everything about his past, but the pieces picked at his brain like vultures at a carcass. As if stricken with a drunken deja vu, duplicate memories, though slightly altered, used the Dark One's power to push at him, nagging and unyielding in their determination.

“Funny,” he mumbled to himself as he stood and stretched. “I think I'm missing a birthday.”

Chapter Text

Emma woke with one thought in her mind: today was the day she was born.

The princess took a deep breath and stretched her body as far as it would go, luxuriating in the comfort of simply being able to do nothing. A single beam of sunlight penetrated her window and pointed at the stone floor, tempting her to rise, but the feather bed's seduction won her heart in the end.

The dream from the night before was still fresh in her mind, making the room seem both familiar and strange. She couldn't help feeling that the angle of the light was all wrong, that the birdsong seemed foreign, and that even the scent of the breeze was strange. There was less salt in the air than she remembered and a more floral scent than woodland, but why shouldn't it be that way since the gardens were just outside her window and their castle was built over the lake?

A knock at the door interrupted her reflection and she covered her head with her blankets. Couldn't they just let her sleep in on her birthday?

“Princess Emma.”

“I'm sleeping,” she grumbled at her servant.

The door to her chambers creaked open, signaling the end of her lazy morning. “Come along, Princess,” her chamber maid said cheerily as she crossed the room and opened the window. “Can't stay here all morning, you've a celebration to attend.”

Throwing off the covers, Emma blew out a huff of frustration, then turned to face Linette with a childish grin. “Five more minutes?”

“No,” giggled the older woman.

“Two?”

Hands on hips, the maid turned a playful pout at the princess. “The King and Queen would have my head if I let you be late for your own birthday,” she teased. “Now I'll have none of this playing about. Up with you now, come on.”

Reluctantly Emma sat and swung her legs over the bed, but instead of feeling the even surface of the worn stones under them, her toes found the cool sharpness of metal. Quickly she tucked her feet up to the mattress, letting out a yelp of alarm. “Something's under my bed!”

Immediately Linette was on her hands and knees, peering at the floor. “Well, who left this here?” A sharp scraping of metal on stone announced the sword's presence as the maid lifted it clumsily from its hiding place. “Poor thing, you could have cut yourself. I'll call someone to take it away.”

As the maid carried the blade across the room, the morning sun beam caught something on it's hilt and a spark of red flashed in Emma's eye, a red so stunning, so intense, it was almost as much a part of her as her own skin. “Wait,” she commanded. “I want to see it first.”

“You'll hurt yourself, princess.”

Emma reached out a hand, swallowing hard. “Please. Just for a moment.”

Linette frowned with uncertainty, but brought the sword back and placed it on the bed beside Emma. “Here. Now mind not to touch it and come get dressed.”

“Of course,” the princess whispered as she stared down at the hilt. From the edge of her vision she watched Linette enter her changing room and once she was certain the woman couldn't see her, she timidly stretched a hand to place a delicate touch over the red gemstone at the top of the sword. The contact caused a flash of memory from her dream; that same sword in her hand, pointed at someone in dark clothing, in a world full of strange furniture and mysterious people. Instantly she snatched her hand away, pulling it to her chest and cradling it as if nursing the sting of an insect. She looked up at the nearest of the maids who had come to make her bed. “Have this sent down to wherever my celebration will be,” she said. “I want to show my parents.”

The young woman nodded her head in a slight bow and hurried to do Emma's bidding. The princess watched the sword until it was out of view, then shook her head to clear it.

Linette's stern voice hit her then, pushing her mind back to her important day. “Princess Emma!”

“Coming,” she insisted as she hurried after the call, everything but the flavor of her cakes forgotten.

* * *

Henry had been awake to see the sun's first rays break out from behind the mountains. He had been at the shore, in full armor, just as the first shadows of morning were being cast. The clank and scrape of his sword had announced the beginning of the day long before any bells had sounded within the castle walls, heralding his mother's celebration.

Tomorrow will be my day, he thought intently as he attacked his opponent, forcing the man to step closer to the water's edge.

“Keep your sword up on your weaker side!” Gerallt's words hit him as if they were a blade and Henry corrected the imperfect stance. “Good. Remember to watch-”

In one swift move, Henry stepped forward, offsetting his teacher's balance with the movement, sending him scrambling backward against a small boulder and, eventually, toppling him to the ground. “The whole body,” Henry finished for him, smiling. “Yeah. I got it.”

The knight took the boy's hand, accepting his assistance in righting himself. “I don't know why you insist on further training,” the man said. “We have had peace in the kingdoms since before you were born. Knights have no use for fighting.”

Henry scowled as he checked his sword, then slid it into the sheath at his hip. “I train because it's something to do,” he grumbled with annoyance. “Every day here is the same. I want to travel the realm, find an adventure. I want my story to say I did something besides chatting politely over tea.”

“Well, good luck finding that,” chuckled Gerallt as he put away his own sword. “I doubt you could find a princess in a neighboring kingdom who has even one hair out of place, let alone someone who needs saving. You'd be better off as a treasure hunter.”

“There's nothing noble about-”

“Prince Henry!” The shout cut off Henry's protests. He spun toward the castle, where he could see one of the stable boys riding hard in their direction. “Everyone has gathered! You will miss the celebration!”

Both Henry and Gerallt flicked their eyes skyward to judge the sun's position in the sky.

“You have everything waiting for you at the castle,” panted the rider as he slid off of his horse and handed the reins to the knight in training. “but you must hurry.”

“Thanks,” Henry answered sheepishly as he accepted a leg up to the mount and turned to race back. He pushed the steed hard, urging it forward with all of his might. The frustration he felt over the supposed futility of his training burned inside of him, A treasure hunter? Was that truly all that anyone had to offer? He wanted to protect people, not property. A true reward should be gratitude, not gold.

Angrily Henry rode across the bridge and through the castle gate, shouting at anyone nearby to care for the horse while he raced inside to change. Knights also show up to things on time, he thought as he climbed the stairs to his room. His grandmother, the Queen, was opposed to anyone in the family fighting and hadn't been pleased when he had announced his intentions to train for knighthood. She would happily use this tardiness as a point against his training record.

“Boy,” shouted the maid who was adding fresh water to the waiting bath. “You won't make it on time!”

Pulling off his armor and piling it on the floor, he waved her off. “My mother will understand,” he insisted as she closed the door and left him to bathe. Emma had always had a place in her heart for Henry. The two were the closest members of the royal family. She had supported every decision he had ever made, even if it went against what his grandparents thought was best. He was sure she would forgive him for his tardiness. How could she not? He was her one and only child.

* * *

Princess Emma sat at the table piled high with opened gifts. The morning's celebration had been one to remember, with plenty of food and beautiful music, but one more presentation had to be made before she would be allowed any time of her own.

“Here you are, princess,” said the court scribe, placing a stack of papers in front of her, the top sheet of which contained two columns of information, written in his neat hand. His assistant placed a quill and ink well on the table beside her, gave a swift bow and walked off. “Names are on the left, gifts on the right. If you need more supplies, send someone to fetch me.”

With a sigh, Emma nodded. “I will.” Her thumb flipped through the stack, idly measuring just how thick the list was compared to the blank sheets underneath. The writing stopped after five pages and with a heavy heart she realized that she would not get to enjoy her afternoon stroll if she wrote all of these thank you letters now.

“Did you get everything you hoped for, my dear?” Snow White approached the table, glancing over some of the items that were arranged there. She lifted a wooden box and examined it closely. “This was from Pinocchio, was it not?”

Emma nodded. “It plays music.” She tried to sound as excited about the gift as she felt, but her heart was not in her task, so her voice could not meet her enthusiasm.

Suddenly a hand appeared in front of her. “May I have one last dance, my daughter?”

Smiling up at her father, Emma happily stood. “Of course.” She followed him away from the table and took her position while her mother opened the box, letting the music fill the air. With grace that came from many years of practice, father and daughter glided around the room until the music slowed to an uncomfortable tempo.

“Well,” announced her mother. “I think your father and I should leave you to your letters now.”

Emma sighed heavily. “Please,” she begged. “Can't I go for a walk with you? No one is expecting to hear from me until after Henry's knighting tomorrow.” She turned to her father, putting on her best pout to win him over. “I promise to start writing as soon as the ceremony is over.”

David looked over at his wife, his eyes sparkling with tenderness. “It is only one more day, my dear.”

“I suppose,” her mother said, grinning as if she had been keeping some secret. She reached out her hand to take Emma's and pulled her close. To the room she commanded, “bring us a basket. We are taking our daughter to the woods to pick flowers for her room.”

Emma beamed, grateful to get out of writing the thank you letters to her guests. Every year that she could remember she had been given the task immediately after the celebration had ended, yet every year she had managed to delay the chore for at least one day, sometimes two. Squeezing her mother's hand before releasing it, the princess twirled once in her excitement, then glided to the entry where someone would be readying her cloak.

Chapter Text

Red stalked silently through the forest, her sharp eyes fixated on the slightest movement in the distance. Ahead, an unsuspecting doe grazed peacefully near a clearing. She had been on this hunt for an hour now and finally her prey was near enough that she could practically taste it. Her lip twitched in anticipation of the bite that would send the animal's hot blood flowing past her teeth and into her own, eager throat. Just a few more steps and the prize would be hers...

At her back, a bush trembled and Red snapped her head around sharply at the disturbance. She had become so lost in her instincts that she had almost forgotten the hunting party behind her. Flicking her eyes back to the doe, she was able to catch a glimpse of the majestic head, its deep black orbs wide with surprise, before the deer bounded off, able to live another day because of someone's carelessness.

The hunting party that trailed behind her was a constant annoyance. Like a thorn in her side, they worked their way under her nerves with their incessant whispers and clumsy movements. Red couldn't understand how any of them ever managed to kill anything if this was the attitude they carried into the woods, though after so many years of this annual collaboration she was developing the notion that their behavior was reserved solely for this ceremonial hunt for the Princess. Lazy, that's what they were when she accompanied them, letting the wolfgirl do all the work while they leaned against tree trunks and gossiped about the morning's festivities. If this kill wasn't being prepared her best friend's daughter, Red would have left these good-for-nothings behind and made the kill herself.

The scent of a new target drifted through the woods on a breeze and Ruby inhaled its information. Used to her behavior, the party finally grew silent, regaining their focus as they watched her every move. She scanned a grove to their right, certain a buck would be found just beyond. Her head tipped that way as she guided the hunters on this new path, eventually stepping aside to grant them the right to to this kill. Her job was to ensure that only the best meat was provided for the feast, with that task complete, all she could do now was wait.

As the hunters turned to stalk their prey, the air around them seemed to pop. Ruby glanced at her companions to judge what they felt and realized that only her wolf senses had noticed the change in the atmosphere. She took a tentative sniff and found an unusual scent lingering in the trees; something foreign and tainted with otherworldly essences. Feeling her blood rise at the threat of the invasion, Ruby crept forward, ready to pounce at whatever was lurking beyond her sight until she heard a shout cut through the air ahead of her, sending the Princess's name through the woods like an arrow. At this she froze in fear. Not only had her best friend's mortal enemy returned, but she had done so with a form of magic that she had never before possessed.

Without a second thought, Ruby abandoned the hunt and raced toward the castle. She had to warn Snow. Princes Emma was in danger.

**

“All right, Dwarfs! Time to put down our axes!” Grumpy's voice bounced off of the rock walls and traveled to the ears of every one of his brothers. “By order of the Royal Family, tonight we leave early in honor of Princess Emma's birthday!”

A chorus of cheers followed his announcement, each celebrating the Princess. None of them actually enjoyed the early dismissal, but for the sake of their friendship with Queen Snow, each hefted their ax and began the whistled tune that would carry them home from their work day. Grumpy positioned himself at the mine's entrance and saw each dwarf out with a smile and a clap on the back, pointing in the direction he intended for them to go. As they did every year, the group would split, some heading straight to the castle in order to help with preparations, while the rest went home to retrieve the pile of gifts that had been saved for this traditional meal.

Though Grumpy had attended the formal party as a representative of all the Dwarfs, the evening gathering was strictly for friends and family and meant more to him than any other celebration could. It was a time of laughter and storytelling, and a chance to relax among those who held the highest place in the kingdom. On this night they were not dining with the Queen and King, but visiting a close friend and her loving husband. Yes, he thought as he whistled his way through the woods, This is worth leaving the mines for.

“Hey! Hey!”

From somewhere off the road, a vaguely familiar voice squeaked with excitement, but it wasn't until a dark form came charging through the woods that Grumpy realized exactly who was chasing them down. As his eyes tracked the movement, his body turned to face the one woman he had always been certain he would never encounter again.

The Evil Queen hurried out into the road behind them, arms open wide, her teeth gleaming behind ruby painted lips. Grumpy glared at her as she spoke, ignoring her words as he tried to make sense of what was in front of him. The woman's hair was much shorter than he remembered, and her elaborate dress seemed to have been exchanged for a military-style coat and gloves, but there was no mistaking her for who she truly was.

Feeling his eyes widen in surprise, Grumpy muttered to his brothers, “The Evil Queen is back...” As the woman insisted she was not the same person he expected her to be, his hand tightened on the handle of his ax. “Move! Move! We must warn them! The war is not over! Run!”

The group took off at top speed, ignoring the ex-Queen's protests. Charging through the forest toward the castle, they practically stumbled over each other in their desperation. With a sudden cry, Doc turned and pushed through a clump of ferns, abandoning the road for a clearing. “This way!” The others followed closely behind, crashing through branches and leaping over logs and rocks that dared to block their path.

In an instant Grumpy could see what had caught Doc's attention: the deep red of King David's cloak shifting about beyond the trees. Without thought to his own safety or the safety of the others, he began to call out. “Your Majesties! Your Majesties! Terrible news! Terrible news!”

The form in the clearing turned, head tilted to better take in the shouts that came at him through the forest, but it was the Queen who responded. “Grumpy?”

Without warning the woods thinned and the group of dwarfs burst into a clearing, where King David and Queen Snow stood like statues with confused expressions. Doc quickly planted his feet as Sleepy, Sneezy, and Bashful slammed into him, tumbling head over heals to the ground in their desperate attempt to keep themselves from plowing into the Royal Couple. Anticipating the collision, Stealthy grabbed Grumpy's arm and yanked him to the side, managing to avoid the larger pile, only to create one of their own.

Snow frowned at the dwarfs as they piled at her feet, “What is all this commotion? I thought you would be joining us for the evening meal, not our private outing with Emma.” Her voice carried a clear tone of frustration, something Grumpy hadn't heard in a long while.

“Your... Majesty...” Sneezy tried desperately to speak, but the words became lost in his reaction to the wildflowers that surrounded them.

“The Queen, the Queen,” Sleepy mumbled, unable to offer more as a fog of exhaustion seemed to roll over him now that their run had ended.

King David scowled as the dwarfs babbled simultaneously and scrambled to their feet. “Have you all gone mad?”

Objecting to the King's judgment, Grumpy pulled himself to to his full height and stepped forward to address his long-time friend. “Your Majesty,” he gasped as his eyes peered sharply into Snow White's calm pools, willing her to feel the same desperation that he did so that their disturbance could be forgiven. “The Evil Queen has returned. She just tried to ambush us on the road.”

“She's... She's... Looking for the Princess...” Bashful stammered as he pointed a hesitant finger back in the direction they had come.

Snow White shook her head. “That's nonsense,” she insisted with a tender smile. “The Evil Queen was banished before Emma was even born. David and I stole her magic and she fled to another realm with that one handed pirate and his crew.”

“Sssssh!” Grumpy turned at the harsh whisper, eyes narrowing. Ahead of the group, Stealthy was creeping through the underbrush, one hand waving downward as a signal to be still. Everyone quieted and watched his form vanish slowly among the leaves. In only a few breaths, the man was back and bowing before the King and Queen. “She is just ahead, your Majesties, and is talking with your daughter.”

Lifting up his ax with determination, Grumpy huffed, “Come on men. We fight for the Princess!”

“No,” insisted Snow as she put her hand on Grumpy's arm, nudging it slowly until he lowered it. “You all go back to the castle, warn the guards. I will take care of the Evil Queen.”

Grumpy skewed his mouth in uncertainty, but gave in to her judgment. Snow White was not only his queen, but one of his most trusted friends. They had seen much together, both in battle and in times of peace, and he trusted whatever plan she had devised. With a bow, he stepped back, allowing her forward along the path Stealthy had indicated.

**

Though he could see the form of the Evil Queen before him and hear her chatting casually with his daughter, David still felt his mind struggling to take in the truth of what was happening. The fairies had made certain that she would never return. Blue herself had sworn that it was an impossibility. So what was the woman doing here?

Instinctively, his hand reached for his sword, but Snow's gentle touch stilled him and his eyes moved to meet hers. Silently his wife drew an arrow from her quiver, raised her bow, and tilted her head in the direction of their enemy. With a nod, David stood back and let the twang of her shot announce their presence.

The arrow landed squarely in the trunk of the tree just beyond the ex-Queen's head and David raised an eyebrow, uncertain of why his wife would so obviously miss an opportunity to bring down their nemesis of so many years. Shooting him a look that said he had best not question her judgment, Snow strode past him to stand face to face with Regina.

The dwarfs were right to be so upset. The woman standing before them was nothing like the Evil Queen that David had last seen. Her short hair and ageless appearance added to the confusion he felt about her presence, but what most bothered him was the softness in her tone and the sadness in her eyes. As she spoke to Emma about her situation, she seemed almost desperate for sympathy and if David knew anything, it was that desperate souls were not to be trusted in this realm or in any other.

“Mom, Daddy, please help...” Emma's quiet plea pulled at his heart and he drew his sword.

The one thing that hadn't seemed to change about the exiled Queen was her arrogance. David listened in growing frustration as she continued to ramble her nonsense until he could take it no longer. “Step away from my daughter,” he calmly demanded as the Evil Queen begged Emma to accept her words. Her banishment must have caused a strange insanity to consume her and quite suddenly David would have no more of it. “This blade banished you from the kingdom before. Now let's make it permanent.”

The Evil Queen looked at Emma, then at the blade and swore as she disappeared in a puff of purple smoke.

David swung late and his blade fell through the mist with determination. His momentum carried him in one direction, then he spun in the other, scanning the surrounding area for any sign of the woman who had been standing before him only moments earlier. His heart raced and his mind turned over so many questions that he felt as if he were tumbling over a cliff.

“Daddy...”

The whimper from his little girl stopped every thought that had filled his mind and caught his heart mid-beat. Rushing to Emma, he wrapped her tightly in his arms and stroked her long, golden hair. “It's all right,” he whispered as she whimpered into his shoulder. “She's gone.”

“But how did she get here?” Snow asked as she came to his side and placed a tender touch on Emma's cheek, eyes scanning their daughter's face for any visible sign of injury.

David shook his head and released Emma to her mother's care. “I don't know,” he grumbled as he sheathed his sword. “But we will find out and when we do, we will banish her to another realm once and for all.”

Emma glanced down at the flowers in her basket, then up at her parents. The worry in her eyes grew as her gaze met his, making David feel both helpless and protective all at once. “In your stories, the Evil Queen doesn't have any magic,” she whispered, as if she were afraid that saying the words would somehow change the history she had grown up hearing.

“That's right,” insisted Snow. “We used the Crimson Heart to remove every bit she had.”

David watched his daughter's face and came to realize what she was thinking. “Then how did she just disappear?”

Chapter Text

Autumn was late in arriving, the leaves remaining stubbornly green until the temperature was willing to catch up with the season. Rumplestiltskin hadn't given a single thought to the seasonal changes since he'd lost Baelfire, but found that recently the changing weather was consuming his every thought. He had spent a month's worth of evenings spinning at his wheel, working frantically to meet a self-imposed deadline, and for weeks after that he had reached deeply into his ancient bag of common skills and woven and sewn cloth by hand. Now, as the nip in the air began to prick the skin of the non-cursed, he was finally prepared to carry out what he had planned. All he needed was for the weather to comply with his wishes.

Through the window of his study he could barely make out the shape of the woman he called his prisoner, her distant form bent to her work in the herb garden. Idly his hand traveled over the fabric of his vest and settled where it could feel the beat of his heart. He knew that though she was the one with the title, it was his own heart that was the true captive. The proof was reflected in the glass pane before him; a forgotten assortment of bottles, books, and potions, abandoned for the hope of today being the day that everything would fall into place.

A sigh escaped him as he watched the figure lift her small basket and turn back to the castle. He could no longer deny that Belle had consumed him, nor did he wish to. She had become a light in his life that not only illuminated his darkened heart, but burned into him with a fire that refused to extinguish. As she approached, he forced himself to turn from the window, snatched up a random parchment, and scurried down the tower's spiral staircase to implant himself elsewhere. He chose random corridors, making lefts and rights based solely on the foot that lead the way until he heard the castle doors creak open and finally allowed his steps to follow a directed course. As he closed the distance between himself and Belle, he slowed his pace and gazed down at the scroll in his hands, unrolled just enough to be evidence of his distraction, then rounded a corner and passed her without a word of greeting.

“Rumplestiltskin?” The sound was music to his ears and the stutter step that occurred when he turned to her was made true because of the shocking beauty of its sound to him.

Playing the part of the distracted captor, he feigned confusion and scowled against the supposed interruption. “Yes? What do you need now? I have things to do, you know...”

Belle's mouth quirked up in a smile as her eyes flicked down to what she assumed he had been reading. “Yes. I can see,” she replied in a no-nonsense tone that told him she had seen right through his charade. Lifting the basket to indicate its contents, she continued as if she hadn't just caught him in a lie. “There are some herbs I'd like to add to the garden-”

“Yes, yes,” Rumple interrupted with mock frustration, waving a hand in the air. “Make a list and I will arrange it.”

Belle's smile pulled at his chest. “Thank you,” she said with a slight curtsy.

Rumplestiltskin bowed and used the motion to peer into the basket she held. “You certainly seem to have plenty here,” he scoffed, reaching out to dig around at the contents and brushing his hand against hers in the process. The feel of her skin caused him to catch his breath sharply. Turning the joy of their contact into false concern, he tisked at her. “Your hands are like ice.” The description was wildly inaccurate, but neither of them pointed that out to the other.

“The weather is changing,” Belle told him with a shrug, playing along with his little game. “The Autumn breeze is coming in.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” the Dark One grumbled, the sounds coming out in rapid succession. “This won't do! I can't have my housekeeper taken to bed with cold.” He sighed and took a step from her, looking her up and down. “You simply must wear something other than your house dress out into the cold.”

Belle pouted at him, eyes narrowing. “Well, if you hadn't whisked me away from my home the way you did, perhaps I would have been able to bring some things with me.”

Rumple pretended to contemplate this, the fingers of one hand tapping out an idle dance on his chin. “Hm. True....” He let his eyes wander over her form again, pretending to judge her size and height, then held out a hand and magically transported his latest masterpiece from where it lay upstairs to where it could dangle from the tips of his fingers.

As he had hoped they would, Belle's eyes widened with surprise as they traveled along the folds of the fabric with its cool colors and leafy pattern. She would assume he had simply commanded the cloak to exist, of course, and he was happy enough to let her believe that magic had done in an instant what his own hands had truly taken months to complete. He had no reason to let her work out all of his secrets, at least not yet.

“It's... beautiful...” The words drifted from her as she gently plucked the cloak from his hand and went about trying it on, then twirled in place, letting the hem spread into the air around her. When she finally looked at him again, her blue eyes sparkled, lifting him so much closer to the light of their love that the brightness was almost too much for him to bear.

Rumplestiltskin waggled a finger at her. “Now, I expect this to be worn whenever you leave the castle,” he teased as his finger tapped the tip of her nose with a feather-light touch. “It gets cold quickly in these mountains.”

“Of course,” Belle agreed, so obviously fighting a smile that her entire face strained with the effort. Her eyes suddenly turned down, a rosy blush filling her cheeks as a single lock of her hair fell from out of the cloak's hood.

Struggling against the urge to tuck her hair back into place, Rumple let out a grunt and stepped quickly away, mumbling, “Don't you have a list to make?” just as his eyes opened to darkness.

* * *

“Damn this curs-sed cell!” The Dark One shot to his feet, hands rubbing at his face to scrub away a lake's worth of tears. His boot lashed out at the iron bars to his right, slamming against them with all of the force he could muster, as if that would be enough retaliation against the unexpected torture of their dampening his abilities. With no magic the Dark Curse that consumed him was weakened and he had been prone to spurts of unconsciousness, some of which boasted the ability to shift memories into a form of dream. He wouldn't have put it past Regina to have come up with such a devious creation, but he was certain the King and Queen had no idea what they had subjected him to when they had left him to rot for eternity in this dank, living tomb.

With a sigh, Rumplestiltskin reached into the folds of his clothing, pulling out a tiny scrap of the fabric he had woven for Belle so long ago. Holding it tightly between his thumb and finger, he caressed the pattern of green and crumpled back to the bench he had so suddenly vacated only moments before. “Belle,” he whispered softly as if the cloth could carry the words to her ears. “If only you were real...”

That was the most unexpected part of his life in this dungeon, for though everyone else in the realm was satisfied with their existence and held every memory as if they had really and truly happened, Rumplestiltskin was aware that this realm was not as it seemed. The Dark Curse connected him to all Dark Ones who had come before him, and that included his “real” alter ego, a man that now called himself “Mister Gold,” who was currently struggling to hold his family together in the small town of Storybrooke. Rumplestiltskin was, essentially, a clipping cut from that original and planted into a different realm where he could take root and grow, but because of the wish that created him, his memories, like all of the others made on the whim of some fool, were nothing more than stories tattooed into their minds by magic.

And yet... the scrap was here. It was real. Certainly as real as the bars that caged him. Perhaps there was a chance the rest was as real as what he clung to now. Belle would be out there, she would come and find him...

Humming a little tune at the idea of reuniting with his true love, Rumplestiltskin danced with Belle's memory until he felt the sudden rush of magic that told him someone had arrived. He paused only to giggle, for the magic he felt was not of this realm.