Belle has been changing. After an outburst at Granny's, Rumpelstiltskin, her devoted husband, decides to investigate. What he discovers will change his life forever. Read on!
A Voice of Conscience
The Dwarf didn’t need to be told twice. He quickly marched to the door and out, but took a moment to turn around once he’d crossed the threshold. “I’m ... I’m really sorry, Dark One.”
Rumpel stared at his feet, gave a weak nod, and closed the door.
Granny peered at him from over the top of the pad.
He hadn’t glanced at the menu; hadn’t touched the glass of water the waitress left a minute earlier. Without gazing up, he nodded.
“Bottle of red?”
He nodded again.
She scratched the order down. “Be right back.”
He heard her say to the cook, “Can you work the register for a few minutes, Andy? I need to talk to someone.”
He heard her open a cabinet; heard the sounds of glass clinking together; heard her come back. She set down two wine glasses and a bottle of red. After pulling out the cork, she filled both, giving him twice as much as she got, put the bottle down and sat across from him. For a long time, neither spoke. Finally, he did.
“Did you know?”
He gazed up from the table into her eyes, which, from behind her glasses, were wide with sympathy. That was all he needed for an answer.
“I suppose this whole damn town knows,” he growled, taking a large gulp and setting the glass down.
“I don’t think so,” Granny responded immediately. “I know because ... well, Grumpy saw what he did. He was ... well, let’s just say a little alarmed, because Belle is your wife, and so anything to do with her, especially very sensitive news and the like, comes with a bit of a ...”
Rumpel impatiently nodded, so she didn’t finish. She added, “He pulled me into the kitchen before I opened the following morning and told me. It wasn’t even five-thirty; no one was around; and yet he was so damned terrified that he was whispering. I could barely hear him—and I have a werewolf’s sense of hearing! He even mentioned leaving Storybrooke. He was quite serious about it. He told me because he needed advice, and so I told him that he needed to keep his mouth shut and his eyes down, and to share it with absolutely no one else, especially the other Dwarves. And that’s what he has done. That’s what we both have done. I admire his courage in coming to see you. And if you don’t mind me saying, I admire yours for not zapping him out of existence.”
“It wasn’t courage,” he said, taking another gulp.
She refilled his glass, which he had emptied quickly. “The hell it wasn’t. You’re a different man, Rumpelstiltskin. You’ve changed. You’ve changed more than anyone else in this magical sparrow fart of a town; and it really pisses me off that no one bothers to recognize it!”
When he didn’t answer, she reached across the table for his hand. He didn’t try to stop her, and didn’t feel it was an impertinence. In fact, it made him take the first satisfying deep breath he had had in more than a day, because Granny’s hand felt just like his mothers’. He stared at it.
“May I make a suggestion?”
He waited without hope.
“Check in with Dr. Hopper tomorrow morning. I really think he could help you.”
Without pausing for his reply, which was coming and dripping richly with disdain and contempt, she stood. “Just think about it.”
With that, she went back to the kitchen and returned with his lasagna. She set it down, reached for his shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and returned to her duties.
He had wanted to talk to her about Oldnight, about the fleas, and more about how she could help him exact vengeance against them and anyone else who had been involved in cursing him, but it all felt completely futile and a huge waste of time, so he picked up his fork and began eating. When he finished, he left a hundred dollar bill on the table and quietly walked out the back door. From there he stalked the empty streets of Storybrooke until 8:15 in the morning, when he knocked on Dr. Hopper’s office door.
Hopper opened it.
“M-Mr. Gold,” he said disbelievingly, his eyes widening. “What brings you...?”
“Rumpelstiltskin, or Dark One. I have need of counsel. May I?”
Hopper backed up, even more shocked. “Of ... of course. Come in. Please.”
He motioned Rumpel in, stepping well out of the way, then coming around to close the door behind him.
“I’m not interrupting your schedule, am I? I can always come back ...”
“No,” answered Hopper with some irritation, which he covered up with a forced smile. “No interruptions. Please, Dark One, sit. Some coffee?”
“Coming right up.”
Hopper hurried to the French press, which sat on a nice antique desk, pushed the filter down, then poured two cups. His face still registered disbelief. “So ... what brings you in today?”
Rumpel was growing very tired of repeating himself. Still, perhaps it was worth one more go.
“My wife ... Belle ... left me. Apparently for a woman.”
Hopper listened without comment, then came around the sofa. He handed him the cup on a saucer and sat in the closest chair. Rumpel, fighting exhaustion, took a sip, and was pleasantly surprised with how good the coffee was. That singular delight, despite being just a tiny point of goodness very soon to fade away, was enough for him to press on, like a traveler on a storm-tossed sea spying a lone star in the rush of clouds overhead.
“I am so sorry, Dark One.”
“Just ... Rumpel. Just call me Rumpel. All right?”
“Do you mind sharing what happened?”
How despondent and depressed was he to come here? To seek counsel from a—from the—recognized voice of conscience, a quality or a spirit or an entity, call it what you will, that for centuries he absolutely despised in others! He took another sip and clung harder to that tiny moment of starlight, and then told Hopper everything that had happened to him since Belle left, everything he had discovered—the advanced spells against him, the long con, the changes he’d not noticed in her because of them, the anger, Granny and Grumpy knowing, all of it.
Hopper listened without interruption. When Rumpel finished, instead of commenting, he asked, “More coffee?”
The doctor returned a few moments later with both their cups refilled, and sat. He looked pensive for a long moment, went to say something, but stopped himself before he started. He leaned forward. “I’m sorry, Rumpel. You said Granny sent you?”
Rumpel nodded. He was about to get up, thank him, pay him, and walk out, but the doctor said: “Would you mind terribly if I shared something with you?”
Rumpel settled back. “What’s on your mind, Doctor?”
“Happy endings,” said Dr. Hopper immediately.
“Yes,” Hopper said emphatically. “Happy endings.”
“What about them?”
“Well,” said Dr. Hopper, “at the risk of being uncouth, they’re ...” He stared off into the far corner, shaking his head. “They’re bullshit.”
What? Rumpel couldn’t help himself: he smiled and relaxed more against the sofa back, which felt quite good after a night of walking. “I never thought I’d hear that language from you ...”
Hopper looked as upset as Rumpel had ever seen him. Perhaps even more. “Please. Go on. I’m inclined to agree with you. Why are happy endings ‘bullshit’?”
The doctor leaned forward, still shaking his head. “Everybody got what they believed was some happy ending. They believed those books. They ended up treating them like they were holy books! They became in the end like ... like ... the Crusades, like true believers, mindless, one-pointed, absolutely determined. But it’s ... it’s ... all bullshit! I’m convinced of it!”
“You believed those books as well. And so did I. I fought against them for years; but in the end I too succumbed. I too became a true believer. So did you.”
“Are you now?”
The question felt like a missile strike against the vast battlefield of his tired old soul.
“I ...” He absently put his half-empty cup on the coffee table while staring at the wall across from him. Presently he brought his gaze to Hopper. “No. I’m not.”
The good doctor smiled tentatively. “Neither am I.”
“The books ...” Rumpel gave a single amazed chuckle. “They’re enchanted.”
“Of course they are. They’re magical books. Prophetic. You know this.”
“No, no. That’s not what I’m saying. Of course they’re magical. But they’re more than that.” He nodded as the realization’s full weight bore down on him. “They’re meta-magical.”
Hopper shook his head in confusion. “ ‘
“Yes ... Indeed ... yes ...”
“What does that mean? ‘
Rumpel came back to himself. “I have recently come to theorize that there are ‘levels’ of magic in the multiverses that contain it. Mortals, or beings like me who were once mortal but were transformed by magic into immortals, can only access a certain ‘level’ of magic. There is a top limit. Beyond that, it is impossible. But greater ‘levels’ of magic are there. I believe Hades had access to at least one. I took the dust from the weapon he used to destroy Locksley, but, while quite powerful, it had ‘degraded’ to this lower magical level. Presumably Zeus and all the other ‘gods’ from that realm have access to meta-magic. But even the lowest levels of it have always eluded me. It is why I have never been able to free myself from the Dagger.”
His gaze intensified. “That book—those books ... my Dagger ... Henry’s pen, which he destroyed ... meta-magic.”
Hopper nodded absently. He seemed lost in thought.
“I’m ... I’m losing my business.”
Rumpel gazed at him, surprised. “This office? Your practice?”
“ ‘Happy endings’ have a way of doing that,” Hopper grumbled bitterly.
“But you don’t believe they are. Even if we grant that meta-magic exists and has been at work here. You still don’t believe they are.”
“I see it. I see ... them. The people of this town. Fairy-tale heroes and princesses. Dwarves and pirates. Saviors and scalawags. Mermaids and changelings. Fairies and ice queens. Witches and wizards. I watch them. I have plenty of time these days! You are my first appointment in nearly three months! I came in this morning to start packing. I’ve had enough. Your visit is quite fortuitous.”
“There is no such thing as a ‘happy ending,’ ” said Rumpel, trying to get a handle on where Hopper was going.
“It’s all bullshit. Happiness ... what does it even mean? What about joy?” Hopper thrust up a stiff finger. “That’s different. What about meaning? Many times that comes with tremendous unhappiness. What about beauty and truth? Whole peoples have gone to their deaths demanding, seeking, striving for both. What is ‘happiness’ compared to that? Everybody in this goddamned town has donned rose-colored glasses and has convinced him- or herself that he or she is ‘happy.’ They are no better than the vast, spiritless, colorless swaths of suburbia covering this country like a skin disease! So they’ve got magic! They’re magical suburbans!
“Everyone has de-fanged and de-edged themselves and proclaimed their new, challengeless existences to be their ‘happy endings’! They’ve become fat, lazy, and useless! Have you looked at Prince Charming lately?”
Rumpel gave a short-lived grin. “I really try not to.”
“The man has gained at least seventy pounds! And you can tell that he’s anything but happy: I haven’t seen him smile in over a year! The last time I talked to him, I tried to hint at his condition, at his own self-imposed blindness. He clapped my shoulder like he does with all men, and responded: ‘I haven’t been happier, Doc. Thanks anyway.’ ”
This was a new Doctor Hopper, something that had pleasantly surprised him. He wondered if this wasn’t the reason Granny sent him here, rather than unloading himself and receiving “therapy” in return, whatever that meant.
“You’ve seen Captain Hook and Emma Swan, haven’t you?”
“I haven’t,” answered Rumpel. “I have tried to let bygones be bygones, and to keep my sanity, which has, admittedly, resulted in a somewhat reclusive life. What about the pirate and the Savior?”
“He’s out mowin’ the lawn while she’s baking cookies. He’s out pickin’ up the dog crap while she’s laundering the tighty-whities.”
Hopper blinked in disbelief. “He’s fucking Captain Hook! And she’s the goddamned SAVIOR!”
Rumpel studied the good doctor, who appeared like he was close to violence, and began chuckling.
“Do you really think this is funny, Dark One?”
“What I think is funny is that of all the people in this miserable little hamlet, I would have picked you dead last to have any kind of epiphany regarding its inhabitants. You—the champion of normalcy and conformity.”
Hopper’s countenance darkened even more. “You’ve got me all wrong. I have always fought, always strived, to be a voice of conscience. I think I’m still that. And you want to know what my voice of conscience is telling me right now?”
“That I am, astonishingly enough, speaking to another voice of conscience—in you, of all people. You. Fucking Rumpelstiltskin!”
“Careful, Doctor,” cautioned Rumpel with a grin. “Others might hear that and think you’ve gone crazy.”
“Like it matters. Happy people don’t need counseling. And while we’re at it, let’s look at what really is crazy, shall we?”
Rumpel thought back to his early days at the Dark One. He thought back to the total delight in the cruelty he doled out on a daily basis, on the vengeance he took on so many for their past treatment of him, on his intelligence supercharged by the power of the Dark One Dagger. It had claimed him whole, manifesting even physically as scaly gray skin and wild reptilian eyes.
“I have no need to,” he answered quietly.
“No,” said Doctor Hopper, regarding him compassionately, “you don’t. Your wife has left you—by hook or by crook. You are not happy. You came to me. Are you seeking closure? Revenge?”
“She may have been cursed. She may be just as a victim in all this as I am. Or ...”
“Or maybe she was the one who cursed you.”
Rumpel nodded wearily. “Yes.”
“If I know you, Rumpel, you have already produced a long list of suspects. Your pattern in the past is to raise holy hell until you get answers, and then the guilty usually suffer horribly, if they aren’t destroyed outright. Is that what you’re thinking now?”
“I want to find who’s responsible, yes,” he answered, keeping a firm grip on that part of him that did indeed want to exact delicious vengeance. “Most of all, though, I want to find out if Belle had any hand in it. If she did, then so be it. She can be free of our marriage, and may she find what or who she’s looking for. If not ...”
“How about this scenario? She had no hand in the curse, but when it is lifted, she still wants to be with another? Have you thought of that?”
“Yes. I have.”
“She may go on her way. But I will still hunt down those responsible for cursing me. I have studied the curses. They’re vicious. The were created to entrap the human spirit into the neverending rut of suburban ...”
He stopped, his eyes slowly going wide.
“It wasn’t just me ... it wasn’t just Belle. It was this entire town! Whoever cursed us cursed all of Storybrooke as well!”
He stared with blank fury at the coffee table, then with angry confusion at Hopper. “But why ... why not you? Why not Granny? And why would Belle revert back to Lacey?
“Perhaps we have been cursed. Or perhaps the curse ... what?”
For Rumpel was now staring at him.
“Your outburst earlier. Yes,” Rumpel mused, rubbing his chin, “yes indeed. Granny’s sudden sympathy for me, her desire to talk to me ... quite unbelievable, that. Her willingness to join me to find who is responsible.... Grumpy ... his courage facing me. None of these things are particularly remarkable ... they skirt the edge of remarkable without diving over it ...
“... until now.”
“I want to come with you,” said Hopper.
“You’re cursed,” replied Rumpel, reaching into his coat pocket and extracting two hundred dollar bills, which he dropped onto the coffee table. “As am I, even now. I just paid you probably triple what you’d charge. Me!”
“I don’t care if this is a curse,” said Hopper, standing and facing him. “If this is one, then for me it has brought great clarity of thought and mind. The Happy Enders don’t need me. And frankly, I’m sick of looking at them. I’m coming with you, Dark One. Cursed or not, we can find justice and answers together.”