Regina was out.
There wasn’t a person in town who didn’t know it. Most of them didn’t remember why it was a big deal, not yet, but so far, only one or two did, and those were the ones who the curse had never touched. Snow White was the first to remember, and she guessed it was because of her proximity to the Queen when the curse struck. James was still having trouble with real and not-real, as he had been for months.
Emma, meanwhile, was feeling pretty much like her world had just caved in.
It was crazy enough to try and process the fact that her roommate was actually her mom and her roommate’s jackass of an on-off boyfriend was her father, but everyone kept coming to her with news, information, secrets that were starting to leak out.
She clung onto the badge, her little metal star, and tried to keep being the Sheriff. She tried to ignore the shimmer of wings behind the nuns. She tried to ignore the fact that Ruby got really cranky around the full moon. She definitely tried to ignore Gold.
He was pretty much avoiding everyone. He tried to leave Storybrooke the day the curse broke. She’d found him crumpled in his wrecked car by the roadside with broken ribs and a look of hollow despair on his face. They were still stuck. There was still enough of the curse in place to stop him going anywhere.
No one was sure who he was, and he definitely wasn’t saying why he wanted out so badly, when the Forest was starting to creep back in. Snow White was certain she knew him, but she couldn’t remember enough, not clearly to say who he was. A lot of people were having the same issue.
A call came in from the hospital weeks after Regina was taken down.
Apparently, Doctor Whale said, all innocence, there was a secret psyche ward hidden under the hospital. No one knew about it. Not even him. How about that? It had to be Regina. She was such a bad person. Of course, he had no idea.
Emma wanted to reach down the phone line and punch him in the face.
She took her gun and her badge and went to the hospital anyway.
Then, she punched him in the face for being a power-whipped jerk, and for keeping it from her for weeks.
He nodded graciously, but glared like he was remembering it for later.
When he said psyche ward, she pictured huge rooms with clusters of insane people. What she didn’t picture was a series of windowless hallways, dark and grim and lit by flickering neon light. There were huge, metal doors, bolted like prison cells, and every one of them had a hatch. For viewing the patients, Emma realised darkly.
“How many?” she asked.
“One,” Whale replied. “A girl. We tried to persuade her to come out, but she’s… not cooperative.”
“Cooperative,” Emma said. “Right. Take me to her.”
The girl was more of a young woman, thin, pale and dark-haired. She didn’t acknowledge Emma when Emma entered the cell. She was facing the padded walls, walking her hands along them, circling the room slowly.
“Hey,” Emma said, at a loss for anything else to say. “You okay?”
The woman’s hands kept moving, as if she was trying to read some Braille code hidden in the lining of the walls. “You’re not her,” she said. “She’s the only one who ever came. You aren’t her. You may leave.” She laughed quietly. “I don’t need any medicine today, thank you very much. I’m quite well.”
Emma shot a look at Whale, retreating to the doorway. “What the hell?” she asked in a low growl. “What’s her story? How long has she been down here?”
“I-I don’t know,” Whale said, backing away from her. She knew she probably had her cut-a-bitch expression on, but she didn’t care. There was a woman here who had been locked up, and while she was acting crazy, she sounded rational. “A long time, I guess. There aren’t any records for this place.”
Emma put both gun and badge aside, and stepped back into the room, approaching the woman.
“Hey,” she said, going right up behind her. She put her hands on the woman’s shoulders, light, gentle, not threatening. The woman froze up instantly. “Hey, I’m here to help you.”
“That’s what they said, when they took me out of the room,” the woman said abruptly. “With sharp metal and potions and poisons in my skin and buckles and straps.” Emma could see the marks of restraints on her thin wrists. If she’d been stuck down here since the curse broke, the marks must have been much worse then. “So, if you don’t mind, I’d rather stay where I am. No chains, you see. No chains or straps or poison in me.”
Emma gently pulled on her shoulders. “Look at me,” she said, turning the woman away from the wall to face her. She was thin-faced, and her blue eyes were wide, but they were clear and alert. “I swear to God I’m not here to hurt you or poison you or do anything of the kind.”
The woman’s lips turned up. “Funny how often they said that,” she said. She reached up and patted Emma’s cheek. “You run back to your Queen and tell her that I won’t let her poison me again. I’m not going back to sleep.”
“The Queen?” Emma said, feeling light-headed. Only one person in Storybrooke could really remember the Queen and that was Snow White. Only Snow White so far. The rest knew Regina was bad, but had no idea why.
Blue eyes gazed at her with something like pity. “Oh, poor little thing,” the woman said. “Do you not remember either?” She sighed and shook her head. “No one remembers who she really was.” She stepped back from Emma. “You go back to your Queen and tell her that I’m not having anymore of it.”
“Regina, the Queen, she’s gone,” Emma said carefully. “We took her down weeks ago.”
The woman put her head to one side. “I’ve heard that before.”
“I’m serious. The Queen was destroyed. The curse is breaking.”
The woman shook her head, smiling. “If that’s true, then bring Rumpelstiltskin to me and I’ll know. The Queen always kept him from me. If he comes, then I’ll know you’re not just another liar with poison in needles and chains on bed.”
“Rumpelstiltskin?” Emma echoed. “Who is he?”
The woman patted her cheek again. “If you really defeated the Queen and broke the curse, then you would know,” she said. “Now let me be. I don’t have time to be arguing semantics with one of her lackeys. I have a lot to do.”
“A lot to do?” Emma said, looking around the empty room.
There was a bitter smile on the woman’s face. “Well, I have walls to examine, don’t I?” she said. Sad weariness hung in her voice. “You’ll find that is very important work compared to giving the Queen any information she wants.”
Emma stared at her, then nodded. “We’ll leave the door open, if you want to leave.”
The woman turned back to face the wall, running her hands over the surface. “Tried that before,” she whispered. “I don’t like lightning shocks.”
Emma felt sick to her stomach.
She stepped out into the corridor and took long, deep breaths.
“What do we do?” Whale asked warily.
Emma pinned him up against the wall. “You are going to get your best damn nurse down here to keep her company. You’ll be sure that she’s given warm bedding, proper clothes, food, anything that a regular patient would get.” She looked back at the room. “I’d swear that woman is no crazier than I am, and she’s been locked up here for God knows how long. You are going to treat her like a goddamn Queen, do you hear me?”
“Aren’t you going to take her out?” Whale asked.
“You heard the lady,” Emma snapped. “She’s not leaving the room without assurances that she won’t be drugged or hurt again, and frankly, I don’t blame her.” She shoved her gun back in her holster at her hip and stalked up into the daylight.
Her first port of call was her mother, the only person who was really remembering anything.
Trouble was that Snow White’s memories had a particular focus: she remembered James, true love, marriage, pregnancy, and above all else, she remembered the Queen and what she had done. Anything else, anything that wasn’t as important, was coming back in single strands, like a carpet being rewoven. She could see the colours of the threads, but had no idea of what the whole would be.
“Rumpelstiltskin,” Snow White said, staring into her cup. “I know him.” She was standing at the counter in the kitchen. “I know I know him.” She looked up, frowning. “Something about hair. There’s something about hair. And your name. But I… can’t remember.”
“Do you have any idea what he looked like?” Emma asked hopelessly. She was sitting on the stool, flipping through the newspaper looking at the faces, the pictures, any sign of an imp who would turn straw into gold.
Snow White closed her eyes in concentration. “Dragon,” she said. “I’m stuck with the idea that there’s dragon in there.” She opened her eyes and shrugged helplessly. “Maybe he’s scaly or something?”
“Not many scaly people in Storybrooke,” Emma said, rubbing her face. “If I don’t find him, I know she’ll stay where she is. She knew about Regina. She called her the Queen. She knew this world was wrong even before anyone else did, and she sure as hell doesn’t want to come out into it unless she knows it’s safe.”
“Sorry,” Snow White said. She set down her cup as James came down from the bedroom. He was looking haggard and pale. “You okay?” she asked, hurrying over to help him sit.
“Not great,” he admitted, as Snow White put her arm around him. “I woke up as David again. I couldn’t remember you.” He gave her a helpless, tired look. “The curse is really broken, isn’t it? It’s going to get better?”
Snow White drew his head down to rest in her lap, stroking his hair. “It’ll get better,” she promised quietly, looking over at Emma as she smoothed his brow. “James, I know this is a bad time to ask, but do you remember Rumpelstiltskin?”
James’s eyes were closed. “I know the name makes me want to hit something,” he said, his hand tightening on Snow White’s leg, as if it was a hold on sanity. He cracked open one eye and looked at Emma. “Why? Is he bothering you?”
“The only thing that’s bothering me about him is that I don’t know who he is,” Emma admitted. She slid off the stool and came over to sit by her parents. Sometimes, she knew, her presence helped. The more she saw of James, the more she liked him, but from day to day, they never knew who would join them for breakfast.
James held out a hand to her, and she only hesitated a second before taking it. It felt like everyone was going crazy. All they could do was hold on and ride out the wave. It was hard and confusing and frightening, but it had to get better. That was what they were all holding on to.
“Find the sneakiest son of a bitch you can,” he advised, squeezing her hand before closing his eyes again. “I know. I know he’s sneaky. I know.”
That was a start.
Emma had to admit she had her suspicions based off that alone. Someone in Storybrooke who was a sneaky son of a bitch. It narrowed down her list of suspects, but Gold was the one person in town who wasn’t having split-personality issues. He was Gold all the damned time. No mentions of lost family, friends or anything. No anxiety about who he was, so Emma could only guess he was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have their memories overlapping like two pieces of different puzzles crushed together and cracking.
If he was really an imp, magic and non-human, she knew it would be driving him crazy. She had seen the state the Mother Superior was in, the human faith fighting tooth and nail against the belief in magic. The woman spent all her days and nights sobbing in the chapel. The other sisters had to sit with her to stop her trying to tear at her wings. Astrid caught her with scissors once, so they never left her unsupervised.
If there was only one person in Storybrooke who was still sane, she sure as hell wasn’t going to be the one to break that. She had enough people around her falling to pieces, and Gold was the one person who needed to be sane. She needed someone who could keep life ticking over like it was normal, even though it wasn’t.
Her only other option was Henry. Henry and his book.
She split her time between him and her parents, but she wasn’t ready to let them all stay together yet. James was too fragile and too jumpy. Only three days before, he had put his fist through a mirror in a fit of self-loathing as the memory of being unfaithful to Snow White came back to him.
Emma knew Henry didn’t need to be around any more unstable people, not right away. Ten years with Regina was enough for anyone.
He stayed at the house that had been Regina’s home, and Archie had moved in there to watch out for him while Emma tried to keep her parents sane. Gepetto and Pinnochio were both camped out there too, with the kid who believed.
Archie was coping okay, even if he was trying to fly from time to time and falling over in a heap. Jiminy and Archie were about as stable as a split personality in one body could be. The bug issue was still problematic, but of all the people in Storybrooke, he was the one verging on sane.
Emma dropped by to pick Henry up, trying not to look at August. By the time the curse broke, he was halfway back to wooden already, and there was a stiffness in his features that hadn’t been there when the world was real. Magic had stopped it going any further, but the Blue Fairy, Mother Superior, or whoever she was right now, was too far gone in her own mind to undo any damage.
“What’s up?” Henry asked, as she drove the bug through town.
“We need to find someone,” she said. “You’re good at spotting people from your book. We need to look for Rumpelstiltskin.”
“Rumpelstiltskin?” Henry stared at her. “But he’s a bad guy. He steals children.”
Emma shook her head. “That doesn’t matter right now, kid,” she said, as they drew up to the station. The book was still locked away there. They hadn’t needed it, not for weeks, not when they could see the curse breaking. “There’s a woman trapped in the hospital, and she won’t believe anyone except him about the curse being broken.”
Henry trailed her up the steps. “Who is she?”
“I have no idea,” she admitted. “There’s no record of her in the hospital admin, and she didn’t look like she was ready or willing to give me her name.” She looked down at him. “Did you ever see anyone you thought might be Rumpelstiltskin?”
Henry shook his head. “The only person who was going to take a baby was Mr Gold,” he said, “and he didn’t.”
Emma glanced at him sidelong. It couldn’t be coincidence that Gold was the first one to come to mind when she thought of baby-trading sneaky sons of bitches. But he was still sane, and no one with any magic in the Enchanted Forest was sane in Storybrooke.
“Who do you think Mr Gold is, then?” she asked. “If he’s not Rumpelstiltskin?”
Henry shrugged. “There wasn’t anyone in the book who fitted,” he admitted, as they entered the office. Emma opened the drawer and they pulled the book out at once. Henry flicked through the pages, looking at the pictures. “You should ask Pinnochio,” he said. “He did the book. He might know.”
Emma’s expression tightened. “Pinnochio lies,” she said quietly.
“He’s not so bad,” Henry protested. “And he’s sorry he screwed up.”
Emma looked at him. “He told me he would start turning back into a puppet when he did badly,” she said. “How can I trust him to do the right thing when one of his eyes is made of glass and half of his body is wooden? How do I know he won’t screw up again?”
Henry sighed hugely. “I guess,” he said quietly. “I’ll ask him anyway.”
A day of searching both book and town turned up nothing, so Emma grudgingly let Henry go and ask the puppet-man who she had once trusted.
She hated going near him now. It wasn’t just that he had lied to her. It was twenty-eight years of being completely alone. Yeah, he had been a kid, but he hadn’t been a kid forever. He hadn’t even tried finding her, helping her. He would have been an adult when she was thrown in juvie, when her child was taken, and the pen was pushed into her hand, and she was made to sign him away, like a good girl.
Thanks to Pinnochio and his inability to stick to his promises, she had seen her baby taken away. She had spent years running from dead end to dead end, trying to find some meaning in her screwed-up life.
And all the while, the damned idiot who knew exactly who she was and what she was meant to do was living it up in the Indian ocean.
She sat in her bug, glaring into the darkness. She didn’t want to believe him. Didn’t want to believe a word he said anymore. He only came back to try and help her because his long-dead conscience had given a twitch. And by a twitch, it turned his leg back to oak. Fair punishment, she thought, for a guy who had basked in the sun while she was screaming as her son was taken from her.
He’d never cared about her or what happened to the people in Storybrooke. It was all about himself and the fear of turning back into a puppet. That’s why he’d pushed her and bullied her and pressed her to become the big hero, the saviour, and now, he was getting exactly what he deserved and she couldn’t stop it.
The car door opened and Henry scrambled in. “It is him!” he exclaimed. “Mr Gold!”
Emma stared at him. “Seriously?”
Henry nodded eagerly. “And he’s not crazy because he remembered before the curse! Pinnochio said he knew the whole time!”
“Sneaky bastard,” Emma murmured, remembering all the little knowing smiles, the looks, the awareness of all of the ways to hit Regina’s buttons. The only person in town with power apart from Regina had to be someone who knew. “Of course he did.” She looked at Henry, who was belting himself in. “Oh, no, kid. You’re not coming with.”
“But I want to see the look on his face!” Henry protested. “And he’s Rumpelstiltskin! You’ll need someone to watch your back!”
Emma shook her head, taking the keys out of the ignition. “You are marching your butt right back into that house,” she said. “If he’s as bad as you say and he goes crazy, I want you to be as far away from the blast radius as possible.”
“Emma!” he protested.
“I’m serious, Henry,” she said. “I’ve seen how screwed up people are by this curse. I don’t want you to be in the firing line.” She leaned over and pulled him close to kiss his forehead. “I promise I’ll let you interrogate him as soon as I know he’s safe.”
Henry pouted, but she cuffed his shoulder.
He was still standing miserably on the sidewalk as she pulled off, but she knew it was better that he wasn’t there. If Rumpelstiltskin was half as bad as the stories suggested, then Mr Gold had been the sweetest little angel of a man by comparison, and there was no way in hell she was letting him anywhere near Henry.
She drove to his shop and wasn’t surprised that the light was still on.
The guy seemed to live there, surrounded by trinkets and paintings and strange artefacts.
She parked the bug in the street and walked in without knocking. He wasn’t in the front of shop, but then he hardly ever was. She pushed through to the backroom, and he turned around from a cupboard, closing the door with one hand.
“Sheriff Swan,” he said with a thin, mild smile. She could see from the slight crease in his brow he was surprised, but he was good. She wouldn’t have played poker with him for money, even on a good day.
“Rumpelstiltskin,” she said, her heart drumming.
He was still, silent, almost a statue, then his lips turned up. “Well, well,” he murmured. “I wondered when someone would figure it out.”
Emma’s breath escaped in a rush. “So you are him?”
He bowed, ridiculously, arms all over. “At your service, dearie.”
She crossed the room, grabbed him by the arm, and was frogmarching him towards the door of the shop so quickly that he didn’t have a chance to say a word until they were halfway across the shop floor.
He pulled his arm free. “And what do you think you’re doing?”
She grabbed him by the tie, pulling him closer. “Gold, I am not having a good day,” she snarled. “My father is on the edge of a nervous breakdown, my mother is trying her best to watch out for him, my son is living with the man I may hate more than anyone else in the world, and right now, I want some kind of happy ending for someone okay? So you are getting in my car, and we are going to the hospital right this second, and you aren’t asking me anymore stupid questions. You got that?”
He stared her down. “Why,” he said frostily, “are we going to the hospital?”
Emma bared her teeth at him. “Because someone there wants to see you, though god knows why,” she said. This time, she grabbed him by both the arm and the back of his collar, half-pushing, half-dragging him towards the door. He wrenched his arm against her hand and she gave him a hard shake. “Gold, don’t make me take you at gunpoint.”
He relaxed a little at that, giving her a condescending look. “You could explain,” he said with a curl of his lip.
“Woman. Hospital. You. See.” Emma pushed him out the door and towards the car. “I think that pretty much covers it.” She jerked the door of the passenger side open and released his arm, nodding toward the seat.
He stared at her, as if reading some giant neon sign that was flashing over her head, then nodded, getting into the car. He looked up at her with a cheerfully defiant smile and drew the belt around him.
Emma stalked around the car and threw herself into the driver’s seat.
He was silent for all of a block, then inquired, “What woman?”
“God only knows,” she replied, though the anger was dying down. “Regina kept an asylum under the hospital. Kept people locked up there, drugged and restrained and who knows what else. I couldn’t get much out of the girl she left down there, but she was asking for you.”
He snorted. “I can’t imagine why. I’m not known for helping damsels in distress.”
“No,” she retorted. “You’re more of a baby-stealer.”
Gold made a face at her. “Twice,” he said. “I did that twice, and each time, the baby was legally traded for.”
Emma took her eyes off the road to glare at him. “You’re not doing yourself any favours.”
His upper lip curled. “Speaking of which…”
“Don’t you even bring that up again,” she snarled.
He snickered and she wished she had gone with the impulse to tie him up, gag him and shove him in the trunk.
For a while, he was quiet while she drove, and the anger ebbed with every block they went. It was hard to sustain anger when she felt nothing but absolute exhaustion. She didn’t ever want to be a saviour, and now the world had turned her into one, and it was killing her.
“How are your ribs?” she finally asked.
She looked at him. “Your accident. Your ribs. You healed okay?”
He grimaced. “Yes, quite well,” he said, and for a second, he looked wary. “Why do you ask?”
She shrugged. “Conversation,” she said. “Why were you trying to leave town?”
Emma snorted. “Bullshit.” She glanced sidelong and could see the tension in his face, the way his jaw clenched. “You know about the curse. You know no one can leave Storybrooke, and yet, the second Regina went down, you were heading for the world outside.”
“Maybe I just wanted a change of scenery,” he said tautly.
“Maybe,” Emma said. “Or maybe you have something waiting out there.”
Gold was silent, but Emma knew people. She glanced at his hands on his cane, and could see his knuckles were white.
“Why couldn’t you leave?” she asked when he continued to stare straight ahead, his expression unreadable.
He looked at her then, and by the flickering streetlights, his eyes looked almost black. “The Queen may be gone, dearie,” he said flatly, “but the curse is still holding. It cracked, but the cracks aren’t enough to shatter. Like water from a broken vase, magic is leaking out, bringing back what was, but taking her head off wasn’t enough.”
Emma pulled the car over. “Hey, don’t you lay this on me,” she growled. “I have done more than my fair share here. This curse, all the crap that’s going on, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t want any of this. So I didn’t break it right. So I should have smashed it properly. How the hell am I meant to know that? How the hell am I meant to do it?”
He looked at her. “And that’s why we are trapped, still,” he said, his teeth bared. “The curse has grown stronger. The end of caster should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Something else is needed.”
“Like what?” Emma said with an impatient sigh, as she pressed the accelerator down again.
“Damned if I know.”
For once, he sounded as tired as she was feeling.
They were silent for the rest of the drive to the hospital, and when they got there, he got out and gazed up at the building.
“This woman you have found,” he said. “Why did she ask for me?”
Emma slammed the door of the car. “You’re the only one she would believe about the curse breaking,” she said. “She said the Queen and her people lied to her and kept you from her, and the only way she would know the Queen was gone was if you showed up.”
Gold went rigid, turning to stare at her.
“You know who it is,” Emma said, staring back at him. “You do, don’t you?”
“The only person,” he said slowly, “who would say such a thing is long dead.” He turned and strode towards the hospital, surprisingly fast for a guy with a bad leg and a walking stick. He stopped in the doorway. “Where?”
Emma motioned for him to follow and led the way to the coded door, the staircase and down into the bleak basement. There were a few softer lights near the room now, and a nurse was sitting in the doorway with a book. She looked up, then rose as Emma approached.
“We tried to give her home-comforts,” she said urgently, “but she thought it was a trick.”
Emma looked in the doorway. The woman was sitting on the bare mattress again. She was tucked into the far corner, arms folded on her upraised knees, staring at the frosted glass of the barred windows, as if she could see out into the night.
“Hey,” Emma said, walking into the room. “You asked me to bring Rumpelstiltskin. He’s right outside.”
The woman looked at her, all clear, knowing eyes. “Tell him,” she said, loud enough to be heard in the hall, “to come in. If he’s brave enough.”
There was something in her intonation that made a shiver run down Emma’s spine.
She heard the tap-tap of Gold’s cane, and couldn’t help that he was suddenly slowed to a snail’s pace, unlike the near-run as they entered the hospital. Was the woman right? Was he afraid to look into the room?
She turned to see him framed in the doorway, suddenly looking small and vulnerable and everything that Gold wasn’t.
The woman unfolded on the mattress, pushing herself to sit on the edge, her hands resting on either side of her legs. If she was aware of anyone in the room but Gold, Emma would have been very surprised.
“Rumpelstiltskin,” she said, calm, quiet, and smiling.
Emma wondered how it was possible that the woman who had been locked in psyche ward for years suddenly seemed like the most sane and normal person in town.
Gold was trembling. He was actually trembling. He looked like he was seeing a ghost, his face ashen, and he stumbled forward. “Belle?” he asked, and he sounded just like a kid who had got lost in a mall.
The woman rose on bare feet. “She told me you would never come,” she said quietly, “but I knew she was lying.”
Emma stared in astonishment as Gold, powerful, terrifying, bullying, ruthless Gold, folded to his knees at the woman’s feet. His cane fell away and he clung to her waist, and he was sobbing, broken and lost, and the woman was stroking his hair tenderly.
“So…” Emma said awkwardly, “You know each other, then?”
“You could say that,” the woman - Belle? - said. She gently loosened Gold’s grip on her, then slid down to kneel with him, lifting his face between her small hands. He stared at her wildly, holding her palm to his cheek.
“You’re alive,” he whispered hoarsely. “You’re really alive?”
She smiled. “I am,” she whispered, “and it’s time to finish what she started.” She tilted her head, stroking his cheek with her thumb. “If you’ll have me.”
Gold stared at her, and then pulled her into the most clumsy, awkward, needy kiss Emma had ever seen.
Emma winced, looking away. “Uh. Okay,” she said, looking anywhere but them.
She heard the woman laugh, then Gold give a small, sharp cry, and then Emma yelped as a surge of powerful magic knocked her flying on her ass.
She pushed herself up onto her elbows, looking at Gold and his lovebird. They were still making out like there was no tomorrow, his arms around her, almost pulling her into his lap, and that was a world of do not wanna see!
“What the hell just happened?” Emma demanded.
The woman looked at her, flushed, pink-cheeked and triumphant. “We just finished what you started,” she said. “The curse is broken. Properly this time.”
Emma stared at her. “Because you made out with Gold?”
Mr Gold’s head was resting on the woman’s shoulder. He was as flushed as she was, panting, but there was something different, something off, something much lighter and more human about him. He looked like he had finally reached the end of a long race.
“You broke the curse caster,” the woman said, stroking Gold’s hair tenderly. “I broke the curse maker.” She tilted her head to look down at him, then back up at Emma. “I would say we deserve a drink.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” Emma said, waving a hand. “Back up. Making out with a guy doesn’t achieve anything.”
Gold - or Rumpelstiltskin - giggled as if he were drunk. “Clearly, Sheriff, you’ve been doing it wrong.” He tried to straighten up, tried to pull back some of the Gold demeanour, but when he was beaming like a blushing schoolboy, it really didn’t work. “Belle, dearie…”
She swatted him on the arm. “I know,” she said, but she was smiling too.
It took them almost half an hour to get out of the hospital. Mostly because every three steps, Gold and his girl would suddenly be wrapped up in one another. Between bouts of making out, Emma managed to piece together enough of the story to wish she hadn’t, and kept her eyes ahead as they headed back out into the fresh air.
They stood on the steps in the cool night air.
“Where do we go from here?” Emma asked.
Gold looked at his girl, then back at Emma. “I have someone I need to look for,” he said.
“Someone?” Belle asked, clasping his hand. “Someone you lost?”
“Someone I lost,” he agreed, looking intently at her.
Whatever was being said between them, Emma knew she wasn’t about to get an explanation, but she found herself saying, “If you need to find someone, that’s what I do.”
Gold was suddenly looking at her. “You do? People in the world? You can find anyone?”
She shrugged. “I can give it a try,” she said. “It was my job.”
“Sheriff,” he said. “I’m calling in my favour.”
Belle swatted him on the chest, nestled against his side. “Rumpelstiltskin, none of that.”
He looked down at her with such a soft expression that Emma wondered if he’d hit his head somewhere between getting out of the car and entering the room. “Ending of a last deal, dearie,” he said. “Emma and I made it months ago. She owed me a favour. If she finds who I’m looking for, we’re even and no more deals.”
He kissed her again, gently. “Gods, I’ve missed you.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Well, great and fuzzy-wuzzy as this is, if I’m going to people-track for you, you’ll have to come back with me to Snow’s.” She paused, frowning. “If the curse is broken, does that mean everyone’ll be better?”
“Could be,” Gold said, kissing Belle’s forehead. For a woman with a mess of unbrushed hair and scruffy hospital scrubs, Belle looked radiant. Gold’s arm was around her, and hers around him, and he forced himself to look at Emma. “Your parents, then? Shall we?”
Emma was unsurprised when they both piled into the back seat of the car. Every time she caught a glimpse of Gold sneaking another kiss, she hit the horn, until he finally got the hint and let his girlfriend alone for two seconds. He was scowling at Emma, but Belle put her head on his shoulder and the scowl faded quickly enough.
“We have time,” Belle murmured. “Forever, in fact.”
Emma shook her head in disbelief at… well, everything. Magic. True love’s kisses breaking curses. Puppetboys and cricketmen. Women locked in asylums being the only sane people in town. Her whole life was one big cosmic joke.
She led them up the stairs to her apartment, then stopped dead at the sight of a sock on the door handle. She and Mary Margaret had joked, weeks earlier, that if either of them brought a guy home, they would go with an old code.
“You have got to be joking,” she said, picking up the sock.
Gold eyed it, then looked at her. “I believe that answers your question about whether the curse breaking will improve things.”
Emma fired a glare at him. “That’s my mom and dad you’re talking about.” She cautious unlocked the door and cracked it open enough to peek around the edge. Judging by the clothes scattered across the floor, the sock was a good indicator. “Y’know,” she said, “I think I’ll drop you guys at home and go and stay with Henry tonight. We can start the search tomorrow.”
“I’d rather…” Gold began.
Belle touched his hand, and looked him in the eye. “I wouldn’t mind sleeping in a bed for once this decades,” she said softly. “And it’s been centuries. Will one night more make so much of a difference?”
He stared at her, and Emma wished she hadn’t seen the small, inviting smile crossing Belle’s lips. “Home,” he said. “Home. Now, please.”
“So the curse breaks,” she said as they headed back down the stairs, “and suddenly everyone is screwing like rabbits?”
To her surprise and amusement, Belle and Gold both blushed as red as one another. They were holding hands, she noticed, as they scrambled into the back seat of the car, but nothing more than that.
She swung into the driver’s seat and twisted to look at them. “So, you guys, true love, and you’ve only just kissed?”
Belle hid her face in Gold’s shoulder, giggling helplessly.
“Nearly thirty years of a wait, dearie,” Gold said primly. “Now, if you don’t mind.”
Emma shook her head, rolling her eyes, and turned on the ignition. “Looks like everyone’s getting some except me,” she complained to no one in particular, as they accelerated away from her apartment.
The drop-off at Gold’s was done in record time. She never knew Gold could actually run with his cane, and Belle was laughing as they raced up the stairs to his place.
Emma wished she could feel bad for them, jealous even, but she could see the happiness there, just like she had seem glimpses of it between Snow White and James. If everyone was getting their happiness back, who was she to begrudge them that, after so many years of being stuck in Storyhell.
She headed to the Mayor’s house, and wasn’t surprised to see Henry glued up against his bedroom window. She was halfway up the front steps when he pulled the door open and crashed out into her arms.
Right then, she realised that she didn’t need any true love bullshit to be happy.
“You’re okay!” he exclaimed. “He didn’t turn you into a snail or something!”
She smiled, hugging him. “I’m fine. Mr Gold is fine. His true love is fine.”
Henry stared up at her with wide, astonished eyes. “Mr Gold has a true love? Is she pretty? And nice? Because that would be just like Beauty and the Beast!”
Emma couldn’t help grinning. “Maybe a bit,” she said, “except it’s more like Beauty and the sneaky bastard.” She ushered him back into the house, then yelped in surprise when she was caught by a pair of solid arms and pulled into a hug.
“You did it!”
Emma shoved August away, glowering at him. It looked like magic had reasserted itself and he was fully human again, smiling at her. “Yeah, I did,” she said. “No thanks to you. Oh, and thanks for telling me that Gold was in on it as well.”
“I didn’t think you’d believe me,” he said sheepishly.
“Well, gee,” she said, hands on her hips, “I wonder why.”
“Emma,” he said pleadingly. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, so you keep saying,” she said. “Funny thing, August. I trusted you. More than anyone in this town, and turned out you lied to me more than anyone. Even Regina was honest about screwing me over.” She shrugged. “You can keep apologising, but right this second, if you don’t turn and walkout that door, I’m going to have to hit you.”
He took a step towards her. “Emma…”
She considered it. She had given him fair warning, and he hadn’t complied. She socked him square on the nose. “Out. Now. I’ll send your father after you. You know, the one who screwed over my parents and left me with you as guardian.” She smiled sweetly at him as he cupped his hand under his bleeding nose. “I don’t wanna see you again.”
He looked at her warily, imploringly, but she pointed towards the door. Henry helpfully pulled it open for him, and they both waited right where they were standing until he nodded and walked out into the night.
Henry shut the door. “He is sorry,” he said.
Emma sighed. “I know,” she agreed, “but right now, my life is so royally screwed up and he could have made things so much easier.” She offered Henry her hand. “Wanna watch a movie and eat ice cream?”
In the end, they ate so much ice cream and watched so many movies that they fell asleep on the couch together. She woke up with the sun pouring on them, Henry tucked up against her, and she looked down at him with a smile, stroking his hair.
So there had been a curse. So it was broken.
None of that really mattered, because she had Henry. That was the most important thing.
She was happy to just watch him snoring quietly, but a rattle at the door woke him with a jump, and Emma groaned.
It never ended.
To her surprise, Gold was standing on the doorstep, hand-in-hand with Belle. The girl had found some decent clothes, and offered a quick smile.
“You couldn’t let me have a lie-in?” Emma said as Gold held out her laptop case from her own apartment.
“This is important,” he said. “It’s about my son.”
“You have a son?” Emma said in disbelief.
“Rumpelstiltskin has a son?” Henry squeaked.
“And a girlfriend, kid,” Emma said rubbing her eyes. “Henry, Belle. Belle, Henry.”
Henry stared at her wide-eyed. “You really are beauty from the story!”
Belle blushed, looking askance at Gold, whose lips were twitching.
“Maybe you could arrange breakfast, dearie,” he suggested. “I’m sure Henry can show you the way around, while Emma and I get to work.”
“I’m not your housekeeper anymore,” Belle said, but her eyes were dancing. “The usual?”
“If you can,” Gold said, lifting her hand to kiss her knuckles. “We’ll be in the dining room.”
“We will, will we?” Emma said, hand on her hip.
Gold looked at her, and it was like a mask had been stripped away. “I’ve been looking for my boy for generations, Emma,” he said quietly, simply. “That was my real reason for building the curse. I don’t know how to find him in this world. Help me. Please?”
Emma could see it was the truth and nodded. “Fine,” she murmured, leading him towards the dining room, pulling her laptop from her case.
They worked through the day. Belle and Henry sounded like they were having a great time in the kitchen. A parade of breakfast, muffins, misshapen cookies, sandwiches and even a cake were paraded through into the dining room.
Emma had to admit she was curious. Gold insisted his son should have come through just before the curse linked up with the world, if it had all gone to plan, give or take a few months, and the link between the worlds should have been in a similar area.
Abandoned kids being found in forested areas not far from Storybrooke were few and far between. A lot of the articles archived online related to her own arrival, which wasn’t much help, but she expanded the search to cover time before and after.
They found him, eventually, a vagabond boy.
She could have sworn Gold almost had an aneurysm right there and then.
“He was alive,” he breathed. “My boy made it through alive.”
“Did you think he wouldn’t?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the screen.
The sound he made was somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “I thought he’d been torn to pieces by the portal,” he said. He rose from the chair abruptly and headed for the kitchen. He muttered something about needing tea, but Emma knew he just needed to be elsewhere.
Emma took a break when her cell shrilled.
“It’s better! Everything’s better!”
Emma couldn’t help smiling, idly typing in search details. “The curse was broken properly last night,” she said. “We’re not sure when the Enchanted Forest’ll unfold again, but looks like everyone should be getting back to normal.”
“Definitely normal here,” James’s voice rang down the line.
“Yeah,” Emma said dryly. “I saw the sock on the door.”
Snow White giggled, and Emma knew her mother was probably blushing like a schoolgirl. “I thought you’d get it,” she said. “What are you up to?”
Emma frowned, looking at the screen. “Looking for Rumpelstiltskin’s son.”
“Rumpelstiltskin has a son?” Snow White said incredulously.
“Long story,” Emma said, shaking her head. There was something about the name that kept flashing up. Something that she was really, really hoping was the biggest coincidence in the world, but the way her life was going, probably not. “He had a son. Lost him to this world. Came here to find him.”
“And you’re… helping?” Snow White said.
Emma was silent for a moment, copy and pasting some text into a search file. “I owed him,” she said, then hit enter. Her heart was pounding rapidly, and god, she kind of hoped she was totally wrong, but if she was right, it was all making way too much creepy sense.
The search produced a record and the record had a series of images, a couple from teens, but most from adulthood. Emma stared at them, one after another. She knew the face she was looking at. She knew it, and she had run away from it years before, when she found out he was married. Unhappily so, but still married.
There was a crash from behind her and she spun in her seat. Gold was standing there, a broken cup at his feet, tea pooling on the floor, and he was staring at the screen.
“Bae,” he said hoarsely. “That’s my Bae.”
“Oh holy crap,” Emma groaned.
“Emma?” Snow White said in her ear. “Emma, are you still there? Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Emma said weakly. “Um. So I found Rumpelstiltskin’s kid.”
Snow White exhaled in surprise. “That was fast. Well done!”
“Yeah.” Emma looked up at Gold. “He’s Henry’s father.”
On the whole, she thought weakly, it was a good thing he’d already dropped the cup.
“Surprise?” she offered with a sheepish smile.
Gold limped towards her, looking from the screen to her and back. “Bae,” he said. “My Bae. Is your Henry’s father?”
Emma shrugged self-consciously. “We had a thing. He was older, I was younger.”
“And he let you give up his son for adoption?” Gold breathed. She couldn’t decide if he was shocked, furious, confused, scared, or what.
She shoved her chair back. “Don’t you make it like I had a choice,” she snapped. “He didn’t know about Henry, and you’re the one who somehow managed to get your own grandchild adopted by your worst enemy.”
Gold was staring at her again and reached out to stabilise himself on one of the chairs. “A grandchild.” His breathing was ragged. He all but collapsed down into the seat. “I have a grandchild? A son and a grandchild?”
Emma pushed her fingers through her hair. “God,” she groaned, falling back into the other seat. “Just when things were starting to get normal.” She leaned sideways and yelled out her son’s name. She must have sounded like she was panicking or something, because he ran in with Belle, both of them alarmed.
Belle ran to Gold’s side, touching his arm. “What’s wrong?”
Henry stood in the doorway, staring in at them. “You sounded bad,” he said.
Emma looked at Gold. “D’you wanna tell him or should I?”
Henry looked anxiously from one to the other. “Did something happen?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”
Gold sat up stiffly in his seat, clasping Belle’s hand. “Henry, my boy,” he said, “it seems that I’m…” He hesitated, looking at Emma, as if he couldn’t really believe it.
“Rumpelstiltskin is your grandpa,” Emma said, then waved at the computer. “That’s your dad, and he’s the kid we’ve been looking for.”
Henry’s eyes went wide. “So I have Snow White, Prince Charming and Rumpelstiltskin for grandparents?” he said. He was hopping on the spot, and Emma could see the excitement in his eyes. “That is so awesome!”
Gold looked ruefully at Emma. “Well, at least someone is happy about it.”
Emma’s lips twitched. “You’re telling me.”