Fic: That Which Has Been Taken (1/3)
AU: Charming was kidnapped by the Queen before Snow left the dwarves; she and Rumpelstiltskin have to save him.
A/N: Okay, so this is my 500-follower thank you fic, and therefore dedicated to everyone who contributed to that. It is especially for Lolaveri (who was asking for this months back and I’m sorry it took so long!), and anyone else who wanted dark!Snow and Rumpelstiltskin. Rumbelle and Snowing, just fyi, are the actual ships here.
Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3
That Which Has Been Taken
Rumpelstiltskin was good at forward planning. Three hundred years with only one agenda, one goal, had granted him that skill.
It had been a stroke of luck, when Cora arrived at his doorstep, pregnant and miserable and starving, and offered - offered! - her child as payment for sanctuary, for riches and good fortune. He had pretended not to notice, to be unable to simply take the child, when she ran months later without so much as a goodbye. She had her powers, her gold and her precious stones, her biddable husband and her life.
But the child (Regina, she called her, in the hopes that one day she would be a Queen), the child was Rumpelstiltskin’s property.
Regina was oblivious, and entirely wrapped in his web: she was his curse-caster.
But for the curse to work as he intended, he needed to control not only the caster but the one who would break it. And for that, he needed Snow White and Prince Charming to consummate their true love and create a child.
He also needed their hair for a potion, but the potion would be useless without a wedding and a happy so-called ending to drive Regina over the edge.
He had been working these players as dolls or clay models for the past thirty years.
And yet, now, when Snow and Charming were finally coming together, the shepherd he plucked from obscurity and the princess he had magically defended in the forest (for Snow was brave, yes, but spoilt and pampered those first few months, and it was amazing to him that she believed that she survived on her own), the plan seemed to have hit a snag.
He had not planned for dwarves. Bloody stupid, renegade dwarves.
Snow was not supposed to be coming to him for help; she was supposed to return to the woods, she was supposed to be found by now, kissed back into sanity and ready to slap Regina down hard enough to have her come back with enough of a vengeance to end the whole world. But sanctuary had turned pretty Snow’s mind from survival to the pains in her heart, and so she drank the potion she was supposed be strong enough to refuse.
There was a knock on the castle door, and he hoped to all the Gods that it was some old beggar, truly a woman selling flowers. Perhaps someone who had seen that the Dark Castle was alight with candles and decided to take their chances.
Now Snow White herself was stood in his hallway, dark hair crazy and wild around her head and down her back, boots splattered with mud, her cloak tattered and frayed, and yet she was still the fairest of them all. Even with her entirely pissed-off, defensive expression, her arms folded across her chest and her eyebrows raised, “Call me ‘dearie’ just one more time and you’ll understand what my knife really feels like.”
He laughed as he danced around her, feeding off the annoyance - not anger, not really, anger was too strong an emotion for someone so completely without a soul - that radiated from every inch of her “Your knife could not kill me, princess, no matter how deep you drove it.”
“No, but I’m certain it would hurt a good amount.” She growled, and he giggled: her cynicism was so refreshing after the gaggle of swooning princesses and righteous princes he’d been forced to deal with lately. “Are you going to help me, or not?”
“Help you?” he trilled, “To do what, princess? Sneak into the Queen’s Winter Palace? Murder the blackhearted bitch in her sleep?”
“Yes.” Snow nodded, firmly, her delicate little chin raised, “Before she can go and defile my mother’s favourite home.”
“Hmmm,” he steepled his fingers, the point aimed in her direction, “And what would I gain from this? Queen Regina has been as much a friend as a foe to me during her reign, and who is to say I would fare any better under Queen Snow White?”
“You can have whatever you desire from me,” she smiled, a small and bitter, empty thing, “Anything at all.”
He tested her, ran is eyes up and down her form lasciviously, but she didn’t even flinch. This girl had nothing to lose from offering her body, not her heart nor her soul: there was nothing left in her to be broken or tarnished. And he did that, he thought, with just a little bit of pride. He made the fairest of them all into this strange and empty little thing, this would-be assassin stood in his hallway, offering herself in return for a murder.
He circled her once more, came up behind her and put his lips at her ear, “You overestimate your appeal, dearie,” he murmured, his breath hot on her pale skin, “Thanks ever-so.”
“I am the fairest of them all,” she whispered back without a trace of pride or arrogance: it was a simply stated fact, one he himself had acknowledged once, “Every man wants me, whether he will admit it or not.”
“Hmmm,” he breathed her in, the smell of moss and the forest, the lingering saccharine sweetness of his potion under it all. He would never love or desire anything less than rose petals and lemon rinse, and yet there was something else about Snow White, something intoxicating about her that his bright and burnished little Belle never could have claimed to possess. Snow was broken, empty and cold and hurting so very deeply, deeper than she could even feel, and he would have scoffed at her pain, had she come before he himself had felt it.
Now they were two halves of the same coin, two people who had willingly ripped their own hearts out of their chests, and the similarity, the beauty of it, attracted the Dark One even as Rumpelstiltskin cringed away. “Well unfortunately for your little hopes, princess, I am not a man.”
“I have nothing else to offer,” she didn’t sound self-pitying or hopeless, just resigned, laying out the terms of the deal for him to asses. “Unless you can think of something better, being Fairest Of Them All is kind of all I have.”
“Well,” he chuckled, hid his shock at her utter disregard for her own body behind a sneering giggle, “I can think of a few things, princess, that you can do for me with clothing in tact.”
“Name it.” Her arms were folded, and he had come around to face her, no longer attempting to intimidate, now aiming to underplay his demands. She could not know what he was truly asking of her; she had to believe him entirely uninterested in her future, in what she planned to do. If she interpreted his eagerness to deal as shared animosity toward the Queen, then so much the better.
“Hmm,” he drummed his fingers, pleased, “You wish to slip into the Winter Palace, correct? To kill the Queen and carve out her heart.”
It was a test: how far gone was she already? How far would she be willing to go?
“I want her dead, Rumpelstiltskin,” she snarled, “That’s it. What heart she has left can rot in her chest for all I care.”
Not vicious, then, simply determined. Not evil but simply dark: soulless and merciless. Rumpelstiltskin had managed to do with one potion and a promise of freedom from lovesickness what the Queen and her huntsman, her armies, never could. He had robbed Snow White of her fragile, soft little heart.
“There is something else in the palace, something rather valuable that needs liberating. We steal it back, and then we work from there.”
“Promise me we’ll kill the Queen.” She insisted, “If we steal back this thing you want.”
Oh, she was clever when her mind is clear. He was almost sorry that, by the end of the night, her sweet softness would return and her mind would be once more clouded by love and its pains. She would make a wonderful little assassin, if given half a chance.
But he needed Prince Charming rescued, reunited with his princess, and the pair of them happy together. He needed the Queen not dead but very much alive, and truly apoplectic. And for that to happen, Snow could not know his true plans, and he could not be roped into a deal he could not keep to.
“We steal back that which has been taken,” he stipulated, “And then I shall do as you ask, whatever that may be.”
“I will ask for nothing more or less than Regina’s death.”
“Then so be it. Ask when the moment arrives, and it shall be granted.” He smiled, held out his hand for her to shake - contracts were a little clunky, and he did not think that she would fall for such twisted wording a second time, “Do we have a deal?”
“Deal.” She reached out and shook his hand, and the deal was struck.
They stood outside the gates, cloaked in darkness and a light glamour he’d thrown up to hide them from an inquisitive guards.
“This crossbow never misses its target, dearie,” Rumpelstiltskin murmured, “Are you certain you want to be the one to repel up a building?”
She fixed him with an unimpressed glare, “Like I have anything left to lose if I fall; get out of the way and let me do this.” She fired the crossbow, and he watched the grappling hook sail over the castle walls and unerringly find the best hold. She would repel up and knock out the guards with his sleeping spell, and then he would follow. Anything less than the smallest of enchantments, the most natural of little magical quirks, and the Queen would sense their presence.
Never mind that he could have them inside the palace with Snow’s knife in the bitch’s back without a second thought.
He needed Snow to break in herself, needed to be able to guide them to visit someone far different from the Queen on the pretence of being lost. He needed her to go through dangers untold, hardships unnumbered, so that when they reached Prince Charming she would be in the best position to fall in love with a knight in armour.
This would take some careful orchestrating, and allowing her to feel in charge was the first step.
He watched her clamber up with almost-practiced ease. She was a princess, once, this slender little assassin, and those days would never be completely behind her. All the tangled hair and men’s breeches, muddy cloaks and weapons in the world could not truly hide the long white dresses and delicacy that clung to her.
His potion robbed her of some of it, but tonight they’d get it back.
He heard her grunt somewhere high above, and then had to dodge suddenly as a body came sailing over the walls and landed in the haystack beside him. “You alright up there, princess?” he called, a little concerned - no one was supposed to die tonight, not even the Queen’s men - and he heard her cavalier reply.
“He saw me!”
He himself had not taken a life since he lost his son. Snow White killed indiscriminately, anyone who got in her way: she would make a wonderful Evil Queen, if he left her the way she was.
He always was too soft for the Dark One’s tastes. Snow White would fit the bill far better than Rumpelstiltskin the Spinner ever had. He could feel the demon licking his lips, eyeing up a potential successor, and Rumpelstiltskin ground his teeth. They would set the world to rights, this night, return that which had been lost.
He snapped his fingers, appeared in the shadows of the parapet and watched Snow cast his spell. Thankfully, she killed no more men, simply knocked them out with the purple smoke and waited.
He sat himself on the wall, “Over here, dearie!”
“Well,” she says, “That was fairly quick for an old man. Thought we couldn’t use magic?”
“Contained within my own body, translocation makes no noise. The Queen will not know our presence because of me.” He said, the words as always half-truths. The Queen would not know mostly because she wasn’t home tonight: she was visiting Malificent the Witch. Every half-moon, like clockwork. But Snow didn’t need to know that.
“Alright.” She nodded, and she couldn’t sense the lie, could she? She knew nothing of magic, this cold little princess, beyond the fact that he was powerful because he had it. “Where now?”
“Follow me.” He whispered, playing up the drama a little, and together they crept low along the walls and dropped down onto a rooftop. There was another guard patrol below, and more coming.
“Throw another of those pouches down there, princess, and wait.” She did as she was bade, and the little leather purse of magic sailed down into the courtyard, bursting at the guards’ feet. They were on the ground in moments, the smoke that had felled them nowhere to be seen.
“How long will they be out for?” Snow asked, and he glanced back at her.
“Two hours, and then they’ll awaken disoriented and with a light headache. Why do you ask? Surely not out of concern?” he mocked at the end, hiding his testing of the waters.
But she scoffed, “I just need to know if it’s worth going down there and finishing them myself. I don’t need to fail just because you’re being delicate, Rumpelstiltskin.”
“Don’t you worry, little Snow White,” he trilled, hopping down onto a lower ledge, “You’ll have your winnings by the end of the night, I assure you.”
She attached the grappling hook to the top of the roof, and repelled down as he kept pace, magic-born grace landing him smoothly on ledges and footholds. They landed silently on the courtyard, and Snow was upright and looting the bodies of the fallen guards before Rumpelstiltskin had time to so much as work out which way next.
Down. Her Prince would be in the dungeons. “We’ll be wanting this staircase, if you’re finished here!” he called, and she shot him a look.
“Do you want her to hear us?” she snapped, as she drew closer, carrying the few little knives the guards carried. Smart girl: it was almost a shame she’d be gone by sunrise, “Anyway, I know this place, and her rooms are in the central column, at the top.”
“Ah, we’re not going there directly, princess” he reminded her, “Something I need to liberate first, remember?”
“The Queen isn’t going to wait all night.” Snow griped, but she followed as he lead them down the stairs, “And what could you possibly want with the dung-“ her words melted into a long, loud scream, as the floor gave way beneath them, and they were falling, faster and faster and into total darkness.
The fall would kill them, if they hit the ground at this speed, and he could see nothing but darkness below. For a moment, raw and unadulterated terror raced through him, the cowardly spinner refusing to die so quick.
They slowed only as Rumpelstiltskin caught a hold of his magic, and cast a protective little net around them, so they floated to the dungeon floor, “The Queen has left dangers,” he warned her, as explanation for the booby trap. He’d hoped for this, but hadn’t known for certain: Regina was smarter than she looked, apparently.
The room itself - from what his keen eyes could ascertain, was covered in wooden spikes on all walls and the ceiling.
He reached with one finger to dab one of the edges, and his skin came away wet. A cautious sniff told him all he needed: poison, and not a fast-acting, painless one at that. Even contact with human skin would lead to hours of agony: he was lucky, for once, for his scales. If one were to survive the fall, then the dark would send them reeling for something to hold onto: the Queen would allow them to die in pain, terror and confusion, in the dark and alone.
Snow herself was reaching out with both hands, fumbling for walls, and he grabbed her wrist in reproof, “We must be careful.”
“There were no traps or snares in my father’s castle,” Snow said, and without the blankness in her eyes - all but her silhouette masked by the darkness - she could almost have sounded mournful. Her next words came out snide and sharp, “You needn’t hold on to me, I’m not a child!”
“I apologise.” He said, coldly, and removed his grip on her arm, “Next time I shall allow you to prick your finger on a poisoned spike, don’t you worry.”
“Poison-“ Snow stopped mid-sentence, and he could hear the fear in her voice, the first time all night, and bolstered by raw hatred, “She will not fell me the way she did my father.”
“No,” he replied, his tone softened a little out of respect for a dead parent, “Not while our deal holds.”
He could see her watching him, his eyes accustoming to the darkness although hers would not. He could make out hard lines, forming her usual cold expression, but there was less malice there: understanding, even relief, seemed more likely.
“How will we avoid the spikes, then?” she asked, finally, “Or are we just to wait here until she finds us?”
“I can see the walls, princess,” he said, “I can guide us.”
“Alright.” She acquiesced, and she didn’t pull back when he took her hand in his. Her palms were hard and calloused, the fingers strong: the hands of a warrior rather than a high-born lady. He wondered how many silken gloves she would have to wear before the softness of her birthright returned.
He lead them to the next room with caution - if one were to survive both a fall into pitch darkness and the poison on the walls, then he had no doubts that the next challenge would be more than lethal - Snow’s hand still tightly held in his.
The next room held seemingly nothing at all, although it had no doors leading in or out aside from the one they used. There was no place to go but back to the chamber with the spikes, and from there only up into the staircase to nowhere. This was the way through, it had to be.
He made a mistake - so long since he staged a daring break-in without gratuitous, almost lazy, use of magic - and allowed them both to cross the threshold. The door swung closed and bolted.
He couldn’t cast useful spells - not without a question from Snow as to why they struggled, and not without alerting Regina to their presence - but the whole place reeked of the Queen’s own magic. It was an unfair playing field, and Rumpelstiltskin was unused to being the one on the losing end.
“Up there,” Snow whispered, and Rumpelstiltskin followed her pointing hand to an arch, high above, a small amount of light as if from a flame flickering through. He didn’t know how he’d missed it himself, “The way out.”
“Too far to climb without the rope.” Rumpelstiltskin said, “And I assume-“ he was cut off by a sharp hissing noise, and a movement in the darkness. A shape in the corner - he’d believed it a shadow, more fool him - uncoiled and moved toward them almost silently, the scrape of its scales on the flagstone floor the only indication of movement.
The obvious purpose of this room was for the victim to be felled by false hope.They would stand for long enough that the creature would see them, and then rush to the other side, too preoccupied with reaching the way out to notice that death was sliding across the floor toward them.
Only his superior hearing and sight had saved her from such a fate. Even he himself didn’t know how a bite from the thing would affect his physiology, or how long he’d be incapacitated.
Rumpelstiltskin cursed, and Snow’s hand tightened in his.
“What is that?” she asked, the fear in her voice duelling with a kind of numb anger.
“That would be the other surprise lurking here.” He replied, calmly, not betraying a moment of his own anxiety. He could murder the thing without a moment’s thought, the only worry being that it would reach Snow first. He couldn’t have her dying, not with the Curse still unfinished.
“Where is it?” she asked, as her hand disentangled from his, and he could hear the snick of her drawing a blade from its sheathe.
“It’s maybe six feet from your boots,” Rumpelstiltskin said, “Almost close enough to hack it in half.”
“That was the plan.” Snow said, and for once they appeared to be on the same wavelength. “What kind is it?” she asked, waiting for the slither of the scales to show her the snake’s position.
He watched her closely as he told her, “Agrabahn Viper.”
She went completely still, and her former comment about not meeting her father’s fate flashed through his mind. The Queen had quite possibly known that Snow White might try this method, this breaking and entering, and appeared to have devised traps specifically for her. Rumpelstiltskin hoped she hadn’t factored him into the equation: chances were, she assumed him still essentially on her side in this little battle, or at least neutral.
He was banking on being a rogue element: if she had predicted his involvement, then things could get much worse very quickly.
“Now!” he barked, as the snake lunged for Snow’s thigh, and she slashed at the air a little wildly, catching the reptile on her third swing. It fell to the ground immediately in two separate halves; the whole place began to reek instantly of the snake’s innards.
“I got it, right?” she checked, breathing hard, and he nodded.
“Yes, princess, right through the middle. Clean kill for someone blind in the dark.” He was a little impressed: she had more skill than he’d given her credit for, he had to admit.
“Good.” She said, nodding, “No one dies before the Queen does.”
He said nothing in response: he would have no reply for her but a lie or a contradicting truth, and instead looked up again, back at the flickering light.
“Do you think you could reach that with a leg up?” he asked.
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