Fandom: Once upon a time.
Characters: Archie Hopper, Ruby, Henry, Belle; Rumpelstiltskin, Milah, Baelfire, Hordor, the Dark One.
Categories: Time travel, changing history, what if, light character study. (action? Adventure?)
Story summary: Belle's fondest wish is granted, and everyones' problems will be over -- if she can stop Rumplestiltskin from ever becoming the Dark One. What's the worst that could happen?
Chapter 1: The wish. At LJ: Chapter 1.
Chapter 2: Introductions afresh. At LJ: Chapter 2.
…Chapter summary: The day after that encounter in the bar, Rumpelstiltskin and Milah meet our heroes. And the Dark One has plans.
Chapter 3: Perhaps a change of scenery. At LJ: Chapter 3.
…Chapter summary: The problem with leaving for new lands isn't the destination - entirely.
Sometimes, its in us
Chapter 4: I put the choice to you. At LJ: Chapter 4.
…Chapter summary: Why the Dark One hates the Time Traveler... And what the Duke does to friends.
Disclaimer: I own none of the canon characters, locations, or spells.
Feedback is always welcome.
Hordor paced his bedchambers once his rounds were complete, he had eaten, and was now dressed for bed. Befriend them? Make an acquaintaince of one of those four travelers? he wondered. He knew better than to ask why he should do it - the riddles of the Dark One were like those of their Duke: those who accomplished the riddles, were rewarded; those who failed the riddles and survived, were left to go on as they had before.
He looked in his mirror, noting what he beheld. Another year older, little Hordor, he told himself. And even if the strangers do not think it odd that you would look kindly on one of theirs, the villagers' reactions would give it away.
Hordor growled and threw the cloth back over the mirror, and only then went to sit on his bed. "How am I to do this? And what is the Dark One testing them with?"
And are the two in fact the same one?
And then Hordor had an idea: "I'll bring her to the Duke's Palace, show off its opulence to her. Let her be impressed." And how could anyone fail to be impressed with him who is the right hand of the Duke, controller of the Dark One? One day, my lord and master the Duke will overthrow the King, and then we shall rise even further. It was a sound strategy for my grandparents, so it has been for me as well.
Late Afternoon, the village:
"Hey, welcome back," Archie said.
"Hey," Ruby said and waved to Milah who excused herself to go do some work with some other ladies of the village. "Find anything out?"
"Just that the local breed of cricket don't sing, that our initial impression was right about there not being any men here my age -"
"And not many women either in that bracket."
"- and this duchy is the only part of the local kingdom which uses the wolfstime calendar," Archie said.
"Them and me both," Ruby said. While most kingdoms in their time - and by the looks of it, in this time as well - used a system of weeks to divide the months into smaller periods... the wolfstime calendars focused on two times of the month, measuring how long before and after the New and Full Moons the day is. Wolfstime, and its opposite, Eyestime, for the ease you could see every star in the sky.
"I take it you found something out?" Archie asked.
How do you do that? Ruby thought of asking, but she knew the answer already - his inner cricket. So she just nodded. "Milah really wants to head for the hills," Ruby said. "Or pretty much anywhere else that isn't here."
"Baelfire doesn't want to leave his friends?" Archie guessed at why she hadn't left already. I imagine Henry will confirm that when he and Baelfire come back later.
"No clue. It's Rumpelstiltskin who keeps shooting down her ideas to leave." Ruby made a face -
Trying to plead? Archie thought, trying to decipher what expression Ruby clearly wasn't experienced at making.
- and Ruby said, "Think you can talk to him, Archie?"
"I can give it a try, certainly," Archie said.
Rather than risk Archie's cricket spotting anything, she said, "I may have...whetted her appetite...to, you know, leave," Ruby said. "In my defense, I was just trying to sympathize with her. Make friends."
"Its okay," Archie said, nodding. "To make friends, we have to open up - and sometimes that makes things not go the way we intended."
"Yeah," Ruby muttered, knowing how true that tended to be. "Thanks. For talking to him. It'd be weird if I did it." And I don't think Belle's up to a conversation right now.
"Oh its still weird for me."
"Yeah. A fairy granted my wish and turned me into a cricket."
"And the Dark One doesn't like fairies," Ruby said. "How about crickets?"
"He seemed more amused than anything else. But let's just hope that both are aspects of him as a Dark One, and not him as a person."
"If he does anything to you, Archie, I'll deal with him."
"Thanks. But I'd rather you got him and his family somewhere safe. My dying wish, if it comes to that."
"Only if it can be granted without you dying."
Archie wasn't sure what to say to that, as it sounded like there were shades of fondness and liking to it, but he was understandably out of practice at recognizing it when it was aimed at him -- one didn't need many fingers to count how many people were romantically attracted to crickets. So Archie nodded, and started to head for the door so as to talk to Rumpelstiltskin.
"Archie?" Ruby asked.
He paused, and looked back to her. "Yes?"
"I know we were told what would happen if we failed..." Eaten. "But what happens if we're successful?"
"I hope it depends on how we're successful," Archie said.
Eh? "You mean it depends on how successful we are?" Ruby asked.
"Kind of. Not exactly. Umm..." Archie said. "None of us know when Rumpelstiltskin became the Dark One. And so far we don't know if it would change anything for him to become the Dark One a few years sooner or later."
"So...we stop him, then."
If I were given to gamble, I would bet that none of us liked when others denied us the opportunity to chose, particularly when it involved an important part of our future. Though that's the job of parents. And he had himself a little smile at the thought of the four of them, their little band, acting as parents of the great and mighty Rumpelstiltskin. To Ruby, Archie said, "The problem is that none of us know how he became the Dark One." Oh, there've been rumors, fables, tall tales all down the centuries...but we may as well put salt on Ruby's feet if we're going to rely on myths.
"Yeah," Ruby agreed, not pleased about the point he made. "But we'd all still exist, right? We wouldn't blink out of existance?" Rumpelstiltskin's older than all of us, even Archie, older than some kingdoms. And we have choices -- Granny once told me there were three young men vying for her hand when she was my age, and one became my grandfather - if Granny had picked one of the other two, she'd still have a werewolf granddaughter, but would it be me?
"I shouldn't think so," Archie said. "Or fade away."
Archie entered the house, seeing Belle sitting at the table staring at her hands, and Rumpelstiltskin hard at work spinning wool.
"Archie," Belle said, getting up as he walked by, and she headed for the door, shut it.
"Can we talk?" Archie asked Rumpelstiltskin.
"Of course," Rumpelstiltskin said. "She's still staring at me, isn't she?"
Archie noted that Rumpelstiltskin's back had been to the door and the table, so Archie looked back, and "She left," Archie said. "So no," he said, taking a seat beside the spinner. "To be honest, I don't think she's ever seen anyone spinning wool or anything else before."
"Very," Archie said.
"I see. Though I suspect that's not why you came in here."
"You're right. This is about something your wife Milah told Ruby -"
Archie blinked, and nearly dropped his glasses. "Why do you think she's my wife? Because of Henry?"
"No," Rumpelstiltskin said. "Because you look at her the way I used to look at Milah. The way I still do now, when I can."
"Well, Ruby was talking to Milah, and -"
"And Milah expressed a desire to go leave."
I take it this is a common conversation in this house? "That's what I think it boiled down to."
"Milah believes in what cannot be," Rumpelstiltskin said.
"Surely nothing is unachievable," Archie said.
"She wants us to move."
"Sometimes that can help."
"It would change nothing. There would be a call-to-arms or something else there which would bring my cowardice to the fore of attention once again." He sighed. "Milah wants us to go to a place where no-one knows that I am a coward. But I know that, no matter how far we go or how long we travel, the three of us would know it, even if no-one else ever did. More likely, one day, I would invariably remind my family and silently inform everyone there, of it."
"A matter of when, not if," Archie said.
"Yes," Rumpelstiltskin agreed.
"I used to be the same way. I knew that, no matter where I went or how I got there, I wouldn't be able to be anything other than my parents' son. And all that being their son meant to me."
"Well thank you, Mr. Hopper, now I'm even more apprehensive."
Archie said, "I wasn't aiming for that. What I'm saying is that I was stuck that way, unable and unwilling to do anything about my situation - and it wasn't a bucket of sunshine - until I was willing to...to change." His cricket-innate honesty wouldn't let him say 'until I changed.'
"Archie Hopper, look at me. At my spine. At my skimpy arms. And most particularly at my limp. What could I possibly change into?"
Suddenly his Dark One personality makes more sense, Archie thought. Moving around in all the ways he couldn't do as a mortal man. "You can only change when you're willing to change."
"Willing and able," Rumpelstiltskin ammended. "As my late lamented fellow soldiers used to say, a legless man cannot run into battle."
"But he could still fight," Archie said.
Belle walked out of the house, feeling like she was fleeing.
She had spent her time examining her hand, turning it over and over like Rumpelstiltskin had after catching her and setting her down. I am a coward, Belle decided.
As the house was near enough to the woods, Belle let her feet carry her to the nearest of the sizable trees at the forest edge, and she just leaned back against the trunk. I am the coward. I thought I would be up to this, thought I would be able to do this, and I can't even... All that time I tried to make him normal, to end his curse - and I can't manage two words when he's perfectly mortal. She closed her eyes and just stood there.
Suddenly Belle found her feet refused to move, and her throat felt wrapped in a thick scarf of air. "Wh...?" she managed to ask.
"You can still breathe," Zoso said, stepping out of the shadows. "Your vocal cords are discouraged, however. Nod."
Belle complied, nodding. "Who?" being sufficient for her.
He ignored the question. "How are you here? You are definately not the Time Traveler."
She looked at him.
The Dark One let her speak.
"I'm not the time traveler - I'm a time traveler, yes," Belle said.
He drew back, but his magic did not lessen or weaken. "Enormous forces are required for that manner of movement - in its smallest dose, it would shave flat a large continent."
"I don't know. I only know that we were sent back."
"For what reason?" the Dark One asked.
From what she knew of Dark Ones from direct observation and reading the lore, Belle knew that lying would be worse than futile. "We were sent here to be sure someone doesn't become evil - a Queen Regina," Belle said. "But we were sent too far, as Regina isn't born for at least another century."
"That is all?"
A brief constriction, then relaxing back to where it was. "Do not play," Zoso warned. "Answer my question," the Dark One said to her, "or you will evermore cast no shadow."
"You'd kill me?" Belle asked.
"Hm," he smiled. "The dead cast shadows both physical and memorial."
"A curse, then?" she asked.
"Yes, that doesn't seem likely to intimidate you, seeing as your companions are all cursed in one way or another. So I will activate the dormant curse of one of them," the Dark One said, raising one hand, fingers splayed.
"I don't know the reasons of the one who sent us here - he told us he was sending us to when we wished for, but this isn't Queen Regina's time."
"Who sent you?"
"I don't know!" Belle asserted. "He never gave us his name."
That splayed hand, gloved the entire time, was lowered. "Speculate. Guess."
"He thinks we can help the war effort against the ogres?" Belle asked.
A pregnant silence, which gave way to the Dark One saying, "Only if your cursed friends are multiplied. Which could be accomplished," and he let go of Belle, turned, and walked away into the darkness.
"What??" Belle asked, calling after him. "Why would you - ? What are you saying?" she ended up shouting into the forest.
"Belle?" Henry asked, standing next to her.
Belle looked, and saw Henry standing there, Baelfire next to him. "Henry," Belle said. "Di-Did you see him?"
"Let's head home," Belle said.
But that night was the first night of eyestime...
Lying on the carpets he had been graciously loaned for the duration of his stay, Archie woke up with a start and a fright and a pain in his hands. Hands that, before his eyes, were turning a sulfurous green. As the pain and change left Archie no option but to bolt out of the house and into the woods as fast as his legs would carry - without breaking the door, he wouldn't let himself do that.
Ruby's eyes watched it happen, saw him go.