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!
It didn’t surprise him that his belongings had apparated neatly, not in big, jumbled piles. His magical abilities were so deep now, so practiced, that the magic itself seemed to have gained its own magical powers. It gave him pause as he consider the possibility that Storybrooke might be under a meta-magical curse.
He’d brought his big mug of coffee with him and took a sip, glancing slowly around.
His phone rang.
He pulled it from his back pocket and tapped the screen.
Maleficent gave him a warm smile. “No suit coat today?”
He smiled back. “Haven’t worn one in two days now.”
“I like the sweater. It looks good on you. Lordly.”
She was still in her nightie. The soft floral frills at her collar and the easy, loose neckline told him. “And how are you this morning?”
“Happy to see a smile on your face. Still a little down?”
“You’d think centuries of living would make things like this easier.”
“It’s why I called. Come on over and I’ll cook us up some breakfast.”
“Tell you what,” he replied, “I’ll cook you some. Cooking always makes me feel better, especially if I’m cooking for someone.”
“Well, now, I can’t turn that down. Half an hour?”
“Make it an hour. I’m busy trying to find something.”
“An hour. See you then.”
She hung up.
Feeling a little better, he went back on the hunt for the Trio.
The doorbell rang seventy minutes later. Maleficent, dressed quite unlike he’d ever seen before (loose purple sweatshirt and denims), came in holding two Tupperware.
“Some of my daughter’s fabulous pico de gallo, and some tortillas.”
She noticed the distracted frown on his face instantly. “Trouble in paradise? Can’t find whatever magic thing you’ve displaced?”
The jeans she wore accented her hips and butt nicely; and she smelled quite good, too. It brought him out of his angry funk. He allowed himself the impertinence of looking her over; she noticed and tilted her head flirtatiously. “I get tired of wearing black everywhere.”
He returned the flirt. “Breakfast sounds good.”
She made her way to the kitchen, as though she knew exactly where it was and was instantly comfortable. He hadn’t seen her since dancing with her.
“So what is it you’re missing?” she asked as he opened the fridge, gathering a carton of eggs, cheddar cheese, and a package of pork sausage.
“Have you ever heard of the Trio?”
“Vaguely. Blood wands, right? Unicorn?”
“Want some help?”
He gestured with his chin in the direction of the coffee maker. “I could go for a fresh cup.”
“Something about the Trio,” she went on as she opened a cabinet, locating the filters and the coffee grounds. Rumpel liked how she didn’t ask where those things were, but felt comfortable simply looking on her own. He appreciated her settled and confident calm, which was very unlike Belle, who seemed always to be running in fifth gear and unable to sit for more than a few minutes at a time. “As I recall, the wands themselves, despite being enchanted with unicorn blood, of all things, aren’t all that useful.”
She pressed the START button on the coffee maker, which began quietly bubbling. He was mixing the eggs and had started the sausage, which sizzled in the cast iron skillet.
“Believe it or not, I came about them at an auction. Some ancient old man hauling a cart around.”
“As a matter of fact, not far from your old digs. Néer.”
She leaned against the counter, folding her arms across her belly. “Really. Néer?”
“How do you think the old man had them? Was he a sorcerer?”
“I checked. He wasn’t. He sold them to me for five gold.”
Maleficent laughed. “What?”
He turned the sausage. “I was sure I was being played, or the Trio had been cursed. Neither, as it turned out. The seller had bought them from another, who had bought them from another, and so on. They were literally forgotten magical artifacts in a land where such things are never forgotten.”
“Néer,” mused Maleficent. “A little po-dunk village with nary a dozen ne’er-do-wells, suddenly a thousand strong, all because of ...”
“Regina,” chuckled Maleficent. “It was the village farthest away from her castle, and just before you got to the Infinite Forest.”
He served her plate, set his down next to her, and let her serve him some pico de gallo. The tortillas were in plastic wrap and still warm; she gave him one, and sat down with the other.
“Delicious,” he said after a taking several bites.
She took a sip of coffee, set the cup down, and regarded him curiously. “You’ve piqued my interest, Rumpel.”
“Oh? How so?”
“This whole new you you’ve got goin’ on. I’ve kept my mouth shut; but I don’t think I can any longer. What’s your story?”
He swallowed the sausage link and took a sip of coffee. “My wife left me. It’s happened before.”
“Not like this though.”
“You closed your shop. You went dancing. You’ve mellowed. Don’t get me wrong; I really like the new you. Everything from your jumper to those kind, hurt eyes. I see no malevolence in you. There is much more that you’re not telling me.”
He held up. “That’s true.”
“I’m a good listener, if you’d care to share ...”
He went to say no, but decided against it. He nodded.
She glanced at the black satin g-string with the hot pink lettering that demanded FUCK ME, and shook her head. “Tasteless but effective, I suppose.”
Rumpel had laid out a spectrum of sorts of Belle’s clothing, what he had decided to save for further study. She walked around the bed, studying each article.
“Tasteless and ineffective, actually,” answered Rumpel, standing on the other side of the bed, staring down at a black leather jacket.
“Not a turn-on?”
He glanced up with an angry grin, shook his head, then went back to staring at the clothes.
“I get what you mean. There’s definitely a trackable spectrum here. Demure, sweet, and feminine over here ... slutty, dark, and ... well, really slutty on the right. Very interesting. Over five years, you say?”
He looked up. How had he not noticed her before? She was positively sexy standing next to the bed, gorgeously casual.
“I have troubled you enough, I think,” he said, and waved his hand. Belle’s clothes disappeared into a red swirling cloud and were gone.
She came around the bed and stood within easy attacking distance. “It’s no trouble. You’re in pain.”
She hugged him. The small of her back felt good under his palms, and whatever perfume she was wearing was making him dizzy with lust.
He pulled back and gazed into her sapphire eyes. “It’s ... really good to have a friend.”
She got the message and kissed his cheek, her fingertips caressing where her lips had been. “Are we talkin’ the kind of friend who helps you figure this big ol’ mystery out, or the kind of friend who’s with you thick and thin?”
“I used to think that only the former was possible. And that’s how I’ve lived for centuries. Just something else I’ve been wrong about.” He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. “What if I asked you to be the latter? Could you trust me enough to believe that’s what I truly wanted?”
She stared at his mouth next to her index finger and blinked, her eyes bright. “I think you’re going to need a real friend for this. Sign me up.”
They found the Trio. But it came with yet another mystery, for they were broken, snapped cleanly in half and tucked in a dark corner far away from its case, which lay open and had mouse droppings in it.
She held the Trio, pieces in each hand. “She snapped them in half? Why not just take them out into the woods and destroy them or hide them?”
Rumpel stayed silent. Rage simmered just beneath his vocal cords, and he didn’t want to speak for fear that he’d fly into yet another tantrum. She didn’t need to see that. He found her company easy and relaxing, warm and inviting, like a cherished sweater.
She glanced at him, waiting. She must have seen that rage, because she set the broken wands on an antique table and came about to face him, just a foot or so away. She put a palm on his chest and gave him a sad but understanding nod.
When he was sure he could speak without flying off the handle, he growled, “How could I have been so blind, so stupid?”
“This ‘meta-curse’ you’ve mentioned. I think you’ve got something there. I really do.”
“The only problem with that is Belle.”
“Who does she know with that power? She’s never trusted magic! Certainly she always struggled to trust me! No ...” he shook his head ... “there’s much more to this than just Belle.”
“How about this? There is a meta-curse, but Belle had nothing to do with it. Her shenanigans ... let’s consider that whoever helped her knew of it and proceeded from there?”
“With another curse, you mean?”
Rumpel thought about it. “Indeed. That makes more sense, makes the puzzle pieces fit together a little more neatly—the ones I’ve got, that is.”
He brought his gaze to her. She had spent most of the day here, helping him look for the Trio, and without a single complaint. She made lunch—turkey sandwiches and a nice tossed salad—then joined him in the early afternoon up here in the attic. It had turned out to be, aside from the frustration, a really pleasant day.
“I think ...” she said, taking a step back, her forehead pinching in concentration. “I think there may be a way to confirm the meta-curse.”
“Wouldn’t that require a detection spell from that level?” demanded Rumpel. “Not even Hades’ disintegrated dagger could do that. And that’s all I’ve got.”
“Yes, yes,” she said thoughtfully. “You would. We need an ingredient with that kind of energy, with that kind of ... how shall I put it? Superior valence? And I think ...” she winked “... I can get that ingredient!”
“Fire?” And then he got it. “Fire ... I’ve always wondered about that ...”
In the Enchanted Forest, under the shadow of her former castle, was a tree that in a rage she, as a dragon, flew over and spat fire at. The tree had gone instantly up, the resulting conflagration wiping out hundreds of acres around it. But the fire on the tree had never gone out, even today, decades later.
It was always thought that Maleficent’s power was so great that she could do such a thing. But she had always doubted it. She never disavowed it to anyone, for it hugely increased her reputation. The number of magical confrontations she had to deal with from various wizards and witches diminished radically overnight, including Regina’s, including Rumpel’s, and the villagers gave her even more space. The entire area—dozens of square miles, in fact—was now considered cursed.
“The tree ... it was ash. But quite unusual. Blacker bark. Leaves with just a hint of purple at their edges. Taller. Quite ancient, too.”
“As I recall, there were those who, before you set it ablaze, tried harvesting it for magic. All died of suspicious circumstances ...”
“We wouldn’t need the tree, or any part of it,” she said. “We’d just need a little of that eternal fire!”
There were portals to the many Realms now, situated in a large, artful half-circle around the Wishing Well. Some were “closed,” meaning one had to be powerful enough in Magic to be able to walk into them (Oz, for example, which was for all intents and purposes one way, and so required either terrific magic to get back, or a rare Magic Bean), and some were quite busy and popular. As Rumpel watched, three ordinary non-magical women walked out of the one leading to the Enchanted Forest. Maleficent, dressed for the trip, stepped aside to let them pass. The women, seeing who was watching them, hurried by, their heads lowered.
“I haven’t cursed anyone going on a decade, and still I’m treated like I’m a monster.”
“They were looking at me, too,” said Rumpel with a weary grin.
“I suppose seeing the two of us together will always be like the dance floor.”
“Since I’m not a people person, I don’t much mind. Are you sure I can’t fetch the Dwarf or the Cricket to accompany you?”
Maleficent laughed. “You forgot the Werewolf too!”
“I didn’t. I’m going to get some take-out later. I want her here.”
“Ah,” she chuckled, “I get it. No, no, I’ll be fine. Everyone says the Enchanted Forest is a much nicer place than it used to be.”
She took the three steps necessary to kiss his cheek. “Ready to play with some eternal fire, Dark One?”
His weary grin, without a single muscle on his face changing, transformed to an impish one. “I believe I am. Please travel safely.”
She stared playfully into his eyes for a long moment before reaching for his hand, giving it a strong squeeze, then turning and walking into the portal.
He stayed for a moment, suddenly acutely aware that he was going to miss her, before walking away.