Belle wakes with his weight on her arm: all circulation in her hand long gone and lost.
She doesn’t care.
She looks down into his face, smoother and calmer than she’s ever seen it before: he looks almost at peace, sleeping in her arms, like the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders and tossed to one side. It’s worth some numbness in her hand to give him that.
She stretches, and winces at the soreness between her legs. The memory of the night before comes flooding back, and heat rises in her cheeks.
Hands in his hair, heart pounding, lips at her ear whispering ‘I love you’ as pleasure raced through her, higher and higher…
Her stomach groans, snapping her out of her daze, and she’s ravenous. Of course she is: they barely ate a bite the night before. Too eager to get to this place; too eager to rip their clothes off and devour each other instead.
Her heart, her mind and soul, could spend the rest of eternity in his bed, watching his sleeping face. Her body, however, has other priorities, most of which lie with the packet of bacon sitting ready in the fridge, and the bread she bought just yesterday, and the whole idea of a bacon sandwich to start the day.
So she shifts, and tries to dislodge herself without waking him.
She doesn’t see his eye open, but she feels the arm that shoots up to wrap around her waist and pull her back down to him. “Mm, morning.” She snuggles back down to him, head resting on his chest.
She giggles as she hears him slide back into sleep, and jogs him a little, “I need to get up.”
“No. Stay here.” His grip is strong, even in sleep, and she finds it hard to wriggle free.
“I’d love to, but some of us have to eat. You included.”
She looks up, and has to grin when she sees the war on his face between the desire to sleep and the desire to eat. Mostly, he just looks irritated that he even has to make the choice.
“Come on.” She sits up, and takes his arm, pulling him up too, “I’m making bacon.”
She cooks him breakfast. She usually does on a Saturday morning, but today is different. For one thing, she doesn’t usually cook wearing his red shirt and a pair of knickers and nothing else. He finds it an improvement on her usual attire, and admires her from his seat at the table, makes a mental note to hide all her other clothes so she can look like this forever.
It’s hard not to just grab her, haul her into his arms and stage a repeat performance of last night’s activities. He settles for limping over to her and kissing the back of her neck, revels in the way she sighs and leans back into him.
The warm, homey, loving domesticity is enough to erase every other thought from his mind. For that one moment, with her settled in his arms as she slices the bacon for their breakfast, he allows himself to believe that this is the start of a forever, just like this, as a normal man and his normal, beautiful, smiling lover, and that no curse will ever part them again.
“Oh, but my dear, you have to see the shop!”
The Mayor’s voice is honey, warm and sweet, her eyes wide in innocent surprise. Belle scans her face for any sign of the witch Gold has described to her, of the woman she remembers from her hospital nightmares.
This woman was listed as her emergency contact. She came to check up on her every now and again, that’s all, and Belle has never believed in judging people on misconceptions.
After all, it was the Mayor who helped to have her released, wasn’t it? Who introduced her to Mr Gold, a man from her lost life, who loved her so much? She smiles at just the thought of him, at the simple, pure truth of his love that makes her warmer inside and out, even in the middle of the Maine summer.
There isn’t a trace of ill will on the woman’s gentle, open face, and Belle wants so badly to believe that the whole world outside of Gold’s front door isn’t filled with evil. This is a town that fears and reviles the most wonderful person in her life: if they can be wrong about him, surely the same can be true for the Mayor?
“He’s afraid I’d mess up his order,” Belle explains, “I already moved things around the house that he claims he can’t find.” There’s a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice, remembering his complaints when she first started cleaning.
It was his fault. The damned, insufferable man kept his house like a magpie’s nest: cluttered with shiny, precious objects in a completely random order.
Belle isn’t a magpie, and she refuses to live like one.
“But it’s one of the most interesting places in Storybrooke,” The Mayor has taken her arm, and is steering them across the road to the front door of the shop, “And you the guest of its owner? It seems silly that you haven’t even peeked inside!”
“I suppose…” Gold hasn’t ever specifically denied her access to the shop, but he’s never invited her inside either. She doesn’t want to do anything to upset him: she loves him so much now that it physically hurts to imagine him angry with her.
She can’t even stomach the idea of him not speaking to her, or casting her out.
But he’s never said she can’t visit the shop. And he’s not even working today, so he’ll never know if she’s quiet about it.
Curiosity killed the cat, but Belle’s never considered herself to be particularly feline.
They’ve reached the door, and the Mayor shoots her a wide, conspiratorial grin, “Ready?”
Belle nods, and they go inside.
Regina watches, her smile never wavering, as the girl walks spellbound among the shelves. It’s always this way with those who originally escaped the curse: they see these remnants of their old lives, and can’t look away.
And how wonderful it will be, she thinks, trying not to clap her hands in glee, when she finds whatever she left behind, and becomes as cursed as the rest of them.
Belle has reached the middle of the shop, now, and is staring at a locket, hanging from a jewellery stand. Regina watches as, with shaking fingers, she pries it open – the first person in nearly three decades who knows how the catch works – and stares inside.
That’s the moment when the curse takes. Regina can see it all over the silly little bitch’s face, the way her eyes widen, her fingers trembling violently as the locket falls from her grasp.
“Are you alright, dear?” she asks, approaching, feigning concern, “Is something the matter?”
Belle looks up with wide, innocent eyes, “This is me.” She points to a picture in the locket, of a young girl sat on a woman’s lap. The other picture is of a smiling man, unmistakably Mr French, the florist.
Regina’s been wondering ever since she met the girl who she would turn out to be. This explains a lot about the extent Mr Gold’s Valentine’s Day activities: she hadn’t expected him to beat the thief half to death. Now it all makes sense, and her blood warms with the understanding.
“Is it? I thought you didn’t remember anything?” She subtly probes, checking that the memories are falling in place, as they should.
“I don’t,” the girl replies, “But… that’s mama. And papa too, I know them… who are they?”
“The man is Moe French; he runs the florists’ shop down the street.” She replies, and then grimaces, “I’m afraid the woman – Annette French – died several years ago. No one really knows what happened to their daughter…” she’s particularly proud of the little perplexed frown she conjures now, “I suppose she must be you.”
The girl is in tears; whole body-wracking sobs that echo through the shop. Regina wraps her arms around her, comforting her, reminding her that she is her only friend in the world.
Even as she strokes the girl’s hair, cooing in a motherly, comforting tone, and escorts her outside, Regina can’t hide a satisfied smirk.
Belle breaks away from the Mayor’s embrace when they get outside, and starts to run.
She passes stores on either side of the street, her eyes wild and roving, searching for anything familiar.
And suddenly, everything is familiar. Of course it is. There’s the corner where she crashed her bike, the baker’s shop where she bought bread every morning when her mama was sick. Every paving stone suddenly holds a memory of a life she had never even known of before.
Then she reaches a white picket fence, and a slightly battered shop front. She looks up at the sign over the door: ‘Game of Thorns’.
She remembers helping to choose that name, painting that fence with papa on a bright Saturday afternoon, arranging the flowers in the window.
She’s Isabelle French, the florist’s daughter.
The tears keep flowing, but she’s too distracted even to notice. She pushes the door open, looks around the room with a mix of joy and utter despair.
There’s a man with a sling at the counter, reading a catalogue, not paying any attention. He looks up when the bell over the door rings, and his mouth drops open.
“Hello, papa.” Her voice is tiny, quiet, but it still echoes.
He’s limping, in a cast, and she wants to know every detail of what made her papa this way. But he still makes it half the distance between them in the space of a second, and has his good arm around her tight enough to crack ribs.
Gold is worried.
He’s always worried when his Belle isn’t around; always afraid that she’s not coming back. It’s a stupid fear, born from years of knowing she wasn’t going to return, but old habits die hard.
Still, it’s been a good four hours since she went for her walk, and that’s unusual for her.
He’s come to enjoy the fact that she doesn’t like to be alone. Or, more accurately, that she doesn’t like to be without him. Even on her visits to the diner, where she meets Snow White and Red Riding Hood (no, Mary Margaret and Ruby, he corrects himself) and sometimes even Sheriff Swan, she’s usually missing him within an hour or two.
On the weekdays, she’s happy to spend her hours shelving books in the library. But on weekends she refuses to leave his side for more than an hour at a time.
He tries not to enjoy that too much, knows he doesn’t deserve that level of devotion.
Finally, he leaves the house, and goes on her usual route around the town. He figures she must have been side-tracked in the library, or gotten caught in an interesting conversation with one of her new friends.
But after another half hour of looking (searching, desperately, and trying not to show it), she’s still nowhere to be seen.
It’s getting dark, and he’s getting frantic, when he sees a dark figure across the road.
She’s taller than his love, and Belle could never learn to smirk like that. Like she just devoured the cat and the canary, and is enjoying their owner’s grief.
Regina’s smile says more than hours of searching ever could.
“Why, Mr Gold,” she coos, as he marches across to meet her, “Whatever is the matter?”
“Where is she?” he has no time for her childish, sadistic little games right now. They’re not Mr Gold and Regina Mills, no, in this moment they’re Rumpelstiltskin and the most evil Queen the Realms have ever known, and the air shivers with their absent power.
“Belle. What have you done with Belle?”
“Oh, your guest?” her smile widens, “I was giving her a little tour of the town: your shop in particular, of course. She found something she was rather fond of… sent her into quite a frenzy, poor thing.”
Anxiety, a coil of nerves sitting in his stomach, hardens into something cold and heavy.
“Where did she go?”
“Home.” And then the bitch has the audacity to laugh, “Her real home.”
He glances down the street. Game of Thorns, always closed as soon as the sun goes down, has its lights lit bright in the darkness.
“Have fun.” Regina calls after him, as he rushes as fast as he can to the shop, praying she’s not as strong as she thinks: praying that Belle is stronger.
But when he reaches the window, ready to burst in and steal her back, ready to forgive every debt Mr French owes him for just one hour with his newfound daughter, he meets a sight he should have expected, (and why didn’t he expect this, knowing how fond the Queen is of parental anguish?) but didn’t.
Belle is curled on the floor, wrapped in her father’s arms, both their bodies broken and shaking.
Isabelle sees him; of course she sees him. She could spot his slight, slender form from a hundred miles away, on a moonless night.
But she doesn’t acknowledge him.
Her papa has told her everything, including the details of the night before she was saved. She knows how cruel (her lover, best friend, companion, saviour, captor) Gold is, and the damage he inflicted upon a defenceless old man. In her name.
A traitorous little part of her – a part uncomfortably close to her heart – wants to know what he has to say for himself. Not because she’s angry, or hurt, or so completely lost and scared that she can barely speak, but because she knows him.
He’d said he loved her. She’d responded in kind
What kind of a lover could do this to her father?
But what kind of a monster could be so gentle?
So she stays on the floor, where she and her papa had crumpled in their embrace, and silently sorts through the memories.
They’re confused, overlapped, intersecting in places which feel strange and new. She remembers a childhood spent in Storybrooke elementary, attending high school with Ruby from the diner, and working weekends in her father’s shop whenever she was able.
She remembers college dreams she was too scared to fulfil, and a new job in the local library.
She doesn’t remember Gold. For all that her new life, her life post-hospitalisation, is filled with his smile, his dark eyes, his affectionate remarks and wicked humour (his kisses, the feel of his skin on hers, his promises whispered in her ear) there isn’t so much of a glimmer of him in the life she now remembers.
It appears that Isabelle French had never so much as laid eyes on Mr Gold until Mayor Mills introduced them.
But he knows her, really knows her, and has done since the day they met. He’d known already that she was a morning person, up with the sun; that she drank tea, not coffee; that her favourite colour was blue and that red roses meant more to her than Valentines Day and a simple cliché.
He’d known that she loved mystery novels before she even picked one up.
He’d helped her to rediscover herself.
He’d told her he loved her.
And all of it just weeks after he nearly beat her father to death for petty larceny.
She feels tears rolling down her cheeks, and her father produces a tissue from his pocket within moments. They help each other to their feet, and he keeps his arm around her as they go upstairs into the apartment over the shop: her childhood home.
Regina watches the next days with a smile, and a song in her heart. She watches Mr Gold walk to his shop every morning, his limp more pronounced and his shoulders bent.
She watches his lost pet, now safely ensconced in her father’s house, and sees the new sadness ever-present on her face.
The girl is lost, confused and scared.
And Regina doesn’t say a word. This time, no kidnapping or sugary lies can do what simple time and space will accomplish all on their own.
It’s three empty weeks before Gold sees her again.
His house is hollow and cold without her there: even the sunlight seems dimmer, grey rather than golden through his stained glass windows.
She’d been with him for six months before Regina’d made her move. Just long enough for him to believe that, this time, she would be with him forever. Just long enough for him to take her laughter in his hallways, her things in his guest room (and soon, he’d hoped until the day she vanished, his own room) and her empty teacup on the draining board, as integral parts of his home.
Not nearly long enough for him to be ready to never see her again. (Of course, aeons wouldn’t be long enough, but six months just seems cruel.)
But her things had been gone by the time he returned home from the shop the next day. She didn’t even leave a note.
But then, three weeks in to a once-more empty future, he sees her.
She is walking outside his shop, carrying a bag from the supermarket, and he guesses she’s on her way home.
Except the market is in the other direction, and she’s muttering to herself.
How, exactly, do you approach a woman who three weeks ago was the central fact of your existence? Who lived with you and said she loved you, and then, as if by magic (no as if needed: because of magic) has vanished into the distance?
‘Hello’ seems a touch underwhelming.
And, much as the idea appeals, Gold isn’t the type to walk up to her unannounced and kiss her in greeting. Which is a shame: he’d been walking on such eggshells around her from the moment she was released from Regina’s ‘care’ that, until the night before Regina’s attack, he’d never gone further than a chaste peck on the lips.
This seems to be a recurring theme with them: their love never made itself known until it was too late, and a curse had gotten in the way.
By the time he’s finished deliberating, and has decided to just swallow his… whatever emotion this was and just say something, she’s come inside.
Her eyes meet his and go wide, even though she can’t have expected to see anyone else. (Why else would she come here, if not to see him?)
“What can I do for you, dear?” he asks, slipping into his usual mode as Mr Gold, the strange and much-feared businessman, greeting a new customer. For all he knows, after all, she may not even recognise him after the Curse set in.
Another new beginning: how many times is he going to have to prove himself to her before she’ll just remember?
“You didn’t come and see me.” She says.
Ah. She does remember. This complicates things somewhat.
“As you may remember, Belle, you come to see me, either.”
She keeps eye contact, raises an eyebrow, and doesn’t concede the point, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Who I was, where I came from, that my father lived three blocks away, that you tried to murder him on Valentines Day…” she counts them off on her fingers, “That we’d never met before I was released from hospital, that you must have been stalking me to know me so well since we’d never met… have I missed anything?”
He takes a deep breath, and gives it a moment’s thought, watching as she tries to keep up her brave front. The curse has made her vulnerable, doubting herself and everyone she cared about: the very purpose of it is to keep people apart, keep them making poor choices.
“Your name is Belle – Isabelle French, I suppose, although I never knew you by that name; your father never looked for you, and I had assumed he had you institutionalised in the first place; he stole from me, and no one does that; we knew each other long before you were locked up, but there’s a reason you would think otherwise… and I don’t stalk, dear, I learn.”
She listens, mouth open a little in shock, and then mutters, “Well, that’s the most I’ve ever heard you say in one go.”
“Indeed.” He would have smirked, if he weren’t afraid it would upset her.
“And it sounds like bullshit.” She says, finally, after taking a moment to work through his answers.
“Have I ever lied to you?” he asks, and her face turns from dismissal to pure anger in a heartbeat.
“That’s the question, isn’t it? How can I remember papa, and not you? Maybe you somehow convinced the Mayor to give me to you as some kind of pet, because you were obsessed with me before?”
“That sounds a little far-fetched, dear.”
“More far-fetched than ‘I love you’?” she throws his words back at him, and he hates Regina even more.
Belle was always the one person on the whole sodding planet who could make him lose his temper, and act without thinking, “Oh, I am going to kill Regina!”
That brings her up short, and a kind of quiet, confused danger creeps into her voice, “Mayor Mills has been honest with me, unlike you.”
“Oh, really?” he nods, fingers trembling and voice shaking in anger, “Even when she was giving you to me?” he comes around the counter, and takes Belle’s arm in his grip with his free hand, dragging her through the shop.
“Where are you – get off me!”
“Oh, no, if you think I’m a monster, dearie, you’re going to get to see a real one.”
His fingers dig into her skin, sharp and unrelenting, and she can’t shake free.
She’s terrified: she’s never seen this look on his face before. His features are twisted into something so angry, so hateful and ugly, that she barely recognises him.
He drags her downstairs, faster than she’d thought possible with his cane tapping before them, and into the basement. Here, she knows, he keeps the things too valuable or delicate to be kept in the shop, where they could be protected.
She’s afraid he’ll throw her inside and walk away.
The idea doesn’t seem so unlikely: that much has changed in the last three weeks.
Before she remembered, she’d thought him gentle and kind; forced into difficult actions because someone had to do the hard, sometimes dirty, work. That this was his unfortunate task, and that he was misunderstood because of it.
Now she can see why the whole town thinks (knows, for certain) that he’s a monster.
They’ve reached a huge, ornate mirror, with a rug thrown over it. Gold pushes her away and uses his free hand to throw the cover off, exposing a sheet of glass dusty and darkened with age.
For a moment, all she sees is the pair of them: a furious, terrifying man who seems towering and massive before her, and a tiny, cowering girl beside him.
She makes a conscious effort to straighten up, and face him in the mirror, eye to eye.
She’s scared, more scared than she’s been since she was a child, and she’s not sure if she hates him. But she’s not a dormouse, and she’s not a crying child or a damsel in distress. Isabelle French was the girl all the bullies knew to leave alone. Let him cower from her.
Their eyes meet in the glass, and for just a moment he seems to soften. For a second, he’s the man she knows, the man who promised her everything, who still held her heart so completely.
But then it’s gone, and he’s terrifying once more, and he’s waving his hand and saying words she can’t understand. They’re harsh, guttural sounds that seem to shake and resonate the very air around them.
To her surprise, her utter disbelief, their reflection swirls and twists, going completely dark for half a second before reforming into an entirely different image.
Mayor Mills stands in a hallway, her arms raised and a terrifying darkness swirling around them. Mary Margaret lies at her feet, cradling a bleeding David Nolan in her arms.
The Mayor’s clothes are strange, something out of a fairy tale. But she’s not the princess: oh, no, a childhood filled with Disney movies has taught Isabelle to identify an Evil Queen when she sees one.
Mayor Mills laughs, and the sound chills Belle’s blood.
“Where are we going?” Mary Margaret screams, and the sound resonates from the mirror and reverberates through the room.
“Someplace horrible!” The Mayor replies, as the whole world falls apart around them.
The mirror goes black.
Isabelle looks at Gold, and her vision swims.
For just a second, his skin is green and gold, mottled. His hair is wavy, out of control, and his suit is a waistcoat and leather pants; blazing power rests at his fingertips, and he towers over the whole world.
And then he’s back, and his anger has drained from his face, replaced by a concern so genuine it breaks her heart. She feels his arms come around her as she loses her balance and falls to the floor.
She’s absurdly annoyed with herself a she sinks into unconsciousness. (Heroines don’t faint, damsels do, and she’s not exactly standing next to Prince Charming)
Gold stands for a moment, staring helplessly at the unconscious girl in his arms.
He couldn’t very well carry her back upstairs, not with his bad leg and this weak human body, stronger than it appeared but not by enough. Why did the damn woman have to faint? Of all the times for Belle to conform to a stereotype, she certainly picked her moment.
He’s loath to use magic again. The more he uses it, in the shorter space of time, the more attention he draws from the Queen.
But what can he do? Leave her in the basement?
He shudders as he lays her gently on the floor, preparing himself. He’s not a good man, never has been, never will be. But he’s thrown Belle in a few too many dungeons in his time for his comfort.
He flicks his wrists, and she is transported across town to her bed, in her father’s home, safe and sound. Perhaps she won’t remember this little misadventure; perhaps she’ll dismiss it as a dream, and he’ll never see her again.
He turns back to the mirror, and stares at it for a moment, seeing his own smooth, impassive, furious face staring back.
The thing always had a mind of its own. It was the Queen’s creature – they all were, vanity being the vice she was always most proud of – but this one is special. This is the one he’d kept by his spinning wheel, as his link to his most vicious enemy. The one he’d used, once in a very long while, to see parts of the world barred to him in any other form.
This one was supposed to show Belle their past: she was meant to see him, screaming in her face and cursing her name. She should have heard damning words, seen every moment of their last hours together in his castle.
He’d promised her a real monster.
And while he wouldn’t be one to deny Regina that title, she isn’t the one Belle should fear. Not in this moment, at least. (Not when there is an older, stronger dragon just minutes from her bedside, and old destructive habits never die)
He locks up early, and walks home, down silent streets and alleyways, and cursing the damn mirror every step of the way.
‘Perhaps,’ he thinks, ‘perhaps it’s a true love thing.’
He’s never pitied Belle before. She’s strong, and brave, and she’s always known who she is even when she had no idea of her own name. She shone brighter than he ever did even when he had her locked in a dungeon, even when he was accusing her of every crime he could name and throwing up huge, stone walls between them.
Now, he pities her: the girl who’s true love is the villain of the piece.
The girl who could run a thousand miles away, and still be forever tied to a monster. And if this curse, this whole fucking Storybrooke curse as taught them anything, it’s that those ties (those ties of true love and magic and destiny) don’t break.
Henry’s never been to Mr Gold’s house before.
It is one of the few places in town that really, really feels forbidden. And scary: Mr Gold is scary, no matter how brave Henry tries to be, and this doesn’t feel like the kind of thing he wants to be doing.
But his mom is too happy, and the nice new librarian is miserable, and Henry has a job to do.
He knocks on the door, and hopes no-one’s home.
But when the door creaks open, and a dishevelled, tired man appears, Henry’s fear is pushed to one side and he smiles. Mr Gold is less scary when he looks like he needs some help, and of everyone in town, Henry knows it’s his responsibility to step in.
“Hello?” Mr Gold frowns, and Henry keeps smiling.
“Hi, Mr Gold.”
“If you’re here selling candy, then rest assured you’ve wasted your time.”
“I’m not selling anything, I’m here about Isabelle.”
“Ah-” Mr Gold looks uncomfortable, “Then you might want to try the florist’s, goodbye.”
He tries to close the door, but Henry sticks his foot in the door to stop him. “No. I need to talk to you.”
“You’re the Mayor’s son, correct?” Mr Gold’s eyes narrow, “Leave my doorstep now, or I’ll call her.”
“No you won’t.” Of this, Henry is confident, “Because you hate her even more than she hates you, and you don’t want to have to talk to her.”
“Fine, then I’ll call your other mother, and she can come in her squad car.”
“You don’t want to see Emma, either. You know she’d want to help you, too, and she’s harder to get rid of than me.” Henry’s chest puffs up, proudly, at the thought of Emma. She’s everything he hoped she would be, and knowing that makes him happy he’s her son. (‘What would Emma do?’ Is becoming his new mantra when he’s unsure or confused.)
And right now, she’d stay here on the scariest man in town’s porch and insist on helping out. Or she’d throw him in jail: she seemed to enjoy that the first time.
Mr Gold rolls his eyes and sighs, “What do you want?”
“I want to help you get your happy ending.”
“No such thing.”
“There is, and you know there is.”
Mr Gold eyes him a moment, and Henry’s sure he’ll slam the door in his face and leave him there. Then, he rubs a hand over his eyes, and stands aside to allow him inside.
It’s scary, walking into a dragon’s den without a sword and shield, but Henry’s braver than he looks.
Isabelle’s dreams are confused, tangled and muddled.
She goes about her life without setting foot in that shop again. She shuttles from home to the library and back again, and tries not to speak much in-between.
But her dreams are all about the image in the mirror, of the man she saw in the seconds after. They’re of names and places and dates she doesn’t know, but seem clear as day when she sleeps.
She’d hoped he’d have some great explanation for everything, that he could just kiss her and make everything all right again. That they could pick back up from the wonderful, magical place where they’d left off, and never worry about it again.
But that wasn’t how these things worked, and the beast turned out to be as wicked as described, and she is left standing in the wreckage, shell-shocked and alone.
Henry Mills is the only person who speaks to her, anymore, and then it’s only in the library.
Her friends had tried, but in the end nothing could break through. Of course, she’d never told them about the outcome, the night she decided to finally seduce Mr Gold; the night she decided to lay her cards on the table and take what she wanted, what she knew they both craved.
They’d assumed, and Belle had allowed them to believe, that he had rebuffed her and cast her out, and somehow in the process she had regained some lost memory from before her madness.
Everyone walks on eggshells around her now, and the spectre of the asylum is starting to loom again.
Belle isn’t mad: she’s just nursing a broken heart.
Mr Gold leans back in his chair and regards the boy. He’s practically vibrating with hope and innocence and idealism and good, and even in the old days he would have been one of the ones Rumplestiltskin avoided.
Gold has the urge to scoff: the boy’s ability to sit in his kitchen, still so honest and sweet – sickeningly so – after a lifetime with Regina was proof of that.
He has that look in his eyes, that determination and trust that reminds Gold of his own boy, so far gone and lost.
Maybe that’s why he hasn’t thrown the kid out yet. Or maybe it’s because he knows – having met both of the boy’s mothers – that throwing him out would just make him try harder.
Regina and Emma loathe each other, and rightly so, but they’ve made a boy who is made of something very strong. And Gold has to respect that, in some way, even if the finished product is royally pissing him off at the moment.
They sit at the kitchen table, Henry’s book open in front of them, and Gold tries not to snap at the child.
“To be honest,” he says, finally, “I don’t see what business it is of yours who hates me and who doesn’t.”
“But she doesn’t hate you, that’s the point!” Henry looks so much like Emma for a moment that Gold is a little taken aback, “She’s miserable, ever since she talked to my mom. You have to go and talk to her.”
“And why is this so important to you?”
“Because we need more happy endings around here.” Henry’s dead serious, no trace of irony in his voice, “And she’s yours, I just know it.”
He’s had enough of this, “Right, you’re leaving now.”
“But I still don’t know who you are!” Henry protests.
“I’m calling your teacher,” Mr Gold grins, “And how’s she going to feel about you spending time with me?”
Henry’s eyes widen: he hadn’t expected that.
Gold would never, ever, have expected Mary Margaret Blanchard to be a useful threat to anyone, especially not a child who could withstand both Regina Mills and Emma Swan, but here Henry is, hopping down off his chair and running for the door.
He supposes that, in the pure, reckless goodness of the boy’s heart, it was more the idea of upsetting or disappointing his teacher that scared him than the woman herself.
He heard the door slam, and slumped back in his chair. Why did good people keep trying to get through to him? When would they all just get the goddamn message that all he wanted was to be left alone, to fester in his misery and wickedness?
Henry runs up to Isabelle, clutching his favourite book to his chest, one rainy Wednesday morning. She’s sorting the gardening section, kneeling by the low shelves and running her hands idly over photographs of roses, ignoring for the fifth time that day the ache in her chest that never goes away.
She looks up, and smiles, but she knows it doesn’t reach her eyes, “Hey, Henry.”
“I know who you are!” He’s damp from the rain, cheeks red and hair wild, but his eyes are bright and excited.
“That’s… nice.” She doesn’t know how to respond to that, so she just goes back to work.
“You’re not getting it,” he stamps his little foot in frustration, “I know who you are in here!”
He thrusts the book in her face, and he’s bookmarked a page: ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
“Henry, I know I’m not at my best first thing in the morning but I’m hardly a beast,” she jokes, weakly.
“You’re Belle, the Beauty.”
“And you’re the Beast?” She desperately hopes this is just a small boy with a crush and an overactive imagination. Then she can humour him, and move along. But he’s looking at her like she’s insane, a look she knows far too well, and he taps the page impatiently.
“No, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Mr Gold is the Beast.”
“Oh, Henry…” Belle sits back on her feet, “No. Mr Gold is just an old… friend of mine.”
“No, he’s your true love. Just like Miss Blanchard’s supposed to be with Mr Nolan, and they’re miserable without each other.”
“But you already said I wasn’t in that book.” She reminds him, gently, trying not to be angry with this child who’s only trying to help. But his words are cutting too close to her heart, and she doesn’t want to think about this, and it takes all her strength not to close his book and walk away.
(She was better than this, once. She was stronger and braver and sweeter than this: once upon a time, she was a good person.)
“But then I looked closer,” he babbles, excitedly, “And saw that some pages were stuck together. These pages.”
“The ones about me and Mr Gold.”
“Yes!” He’s as angry as she’s ever seen him, and it’s a little fearsome despite his small, childish exterior, “You’re not understanding me! We’re supposed to be finding the happy endings and making them happen! You being trapped here alone and him never going out is exactly what she wants!”
“Woah, Henry, calm down!” Isabelle puts her arms around his trembling form, and for a moment he hugs her back. Then he pulls back, his little face hard and determined. “It’s exactly what who wants?”
“My mom, the Evil Queen.”
Isabelle goes still, “Show me her.”
He flicks through the book to the story of The Curse, and then shows her the illustration.
It is a somewhat poorly rendered version of exactly what she’d seen in the mirror in the pawnshop basement. Isabelle’s head reels, but she doesn’t collapse: she’s done enough swooning for one lifetime.
“She cast a spell, and she must have already had you captive before because you didn’t exist here until seven months ago, when my mom released you.”
“How do you know that?”
“You weren’t in there for ten years: you’d be older now, but I was out here. I’d never seen you before then, and I remember everybody.”
“Can I…?” She gestures to his book, her hands shaking, and he hands it over. She flicks back, to the Beauty and the Beast story, and starts to read.
And, sure enough, the man in the pictures, the Beast, Rumplestiltskin, is the same man she saw in the basement, standing in Mr Gold’s place, in the moments before she fainted.
After what feels like hours, she looks back at Henry’s hopeful face. He’s watching her, cross-legged on the floor, waiting patiently for her to finish. “You believe me.” He says, before she has a chance to say a word.
“I-” she glances back down. There is something stopping her, and it isn’t logic. Logic matches everything Henry’s said, oddly enough, and she knows this boy wouldn’t lie to her.
And she knows insanity: this boy is not insane.
Henry’s ideas explain how a mirror could show her a moving image right out of Henry’s book, before she’d ever even seen it. It explains how Mr Gold could know every part of her before she’d ever set eyes on him. It explains how no-one in town except the Mayor – not even her own father, who would have had to sign the papers to have her committed – had even known where she was until seven months ago.
There is something in her head, some deep well of disbelief, of fear and self-doubt, that screams at her to not believe a word Henry says.
But what if that’s just another symptom of the Curse? Some mental block, intended to prevent anyone from discovering the truth?
When she looks back at Henry, she feels tears rolling down her face, but her smile is wide and genuine, “Yes, I believe you.”
Henry hoped that, once he’d gotten through to one of them, something would change.
But Isabelle still spends her days in the library, and Mr Gold is rarely seen, and he hasn’t seen any sign of anything happening at all.
It changes when, stopping by his mom’s office on the way home from school, he sees a familiar-looking woman in there with her already. Her voice is raised, her posture defiant through the frosted glass.
He hasn’t seen anyone but Emma ever take that stance with his mom.
And all of a sudden, he’s afraid.
No one can stand up to her: she’s too powerful. Emma’s the exception, and maybe Mr Gold, but no one else. Anyone else will disappear into the night, never heard from again. Isabelle is strong, and awesome, and his friend; she’s no match for the Evil Queen.
He bursts in, and finds his mother leaning against her desk, arms folded and eyes furious, as Isabelle – interrupted mid-rant – stands frozen, staring at him, “Henry!”
“Hi Isabelle. What’s up?”
His mom turns to him, puts on the smile he’s known his whole life, and his heart drops, “Henry, now’s not a great time. Miss French was just here to discuss some new additions to the library. Wait outside, please.”
Isabelle shoots him a look; a brief smile that says it’s all okay. Isabelle knows what she’s dealing with, now, and Henry figures there’s nothing the Evil Queen can do if he’s sat right outside.
“Okay.” he shrugs, and closes the door.
Regina watches as a perfectly sane woman loses her mind.
“I’m going to sue, you know that?” Isabelle stands up straight, her voice firm and unwavering. The girl is entirely unafraid, and Regina starts wondering how many times people can die in a car crash at the same spot before someone will notice.
“On what grounds?”
“You locked me in a mental asylum without anything resembling medical consent, and didn’t even tell anyone!”
“On the contrary, dear. The relevant documents are all locked up tight in the hospital.”
“Under what name? My father didn’t know where I was!”
“Are you sure about that?” Her smirk widens, as she can see the doubt and suspicion she loves most about this Curse whirl in the silly little bitch’s mind.
“Yes.” She brushes past it, and Regina is almost impressed.
“Well then, by all means, take this as far as you want.” Her smile is unabashed, wide and wicked and smug. Nothing can challenge her in this town: she is untouchable.
“Unless you want to explain to me now why you decided, on your own, that I was clinically insane?”
Regina raises an eyebrow, and considers for a moment. But Isabelle and Mr Gold don’t talk anymore – her trip to the pawnshop saw to that – and no one believes Henry’s stories. Not even his birth mother.
So she spreads her hands, and shrugs, “I found you by the side of the road, rambling about curses, monsters and somewhere called the Dark Castle. And ogres, you were very interested in ogres. No one knew who you were, so I took you in.”
She sees the horror on Isabelle’s face, and folds her arms, satisfied. Because she must have imagined the tiny nod of the girl’s head, and the curl of her lips before the shock descended.
It’s evening when Gold decides to close up shop and head home. He’s had a few customers, but they left fairly quickly: he has that effect on people.
Then the bell rings, and he looks up from his book.
Belle is in the doorway, a smile on her face he hasn’t seen in a long time: determination. She isn’t afraid, or unsure, and the misery he’d seen descend on her in the last weeks is gone. She is herself again.
“How can I help you, dear?” he keeps his voice casual, lets her make her move. Whatever she’s going to do, his response won’t change it.
“I need a lawyer.” She comes up to the counter, and leans against it, watching him carefully with her bright blue eyes, “You came recommended.”
“The Sheriff. Reluctantly, she admitted you’re the only man in town with a licence.”
He laughs, but it’s not completely real. What is it about Belle that always, always, throws him off-balance?
“Are you in some kind of trouble, dear? Parking fine?”
She shakes her head, her expression all at once wicked and dead serious, “I’m going to sue the Mayor.”
“On what grounds?”
“That’s why I’m here: what do you call it when an Evil Queen becomes the tyrannical dictator of a clueless town and locks an innocent and entirely sane woman in a mental asylum for twenty-eight years?”
His eyes widen, his mouth wants to drop open. She knows. He has no idea how, who told her or why, or why in God’s name she believed them, but she knows.
But she’s watching him, composed and smiling, and he leans down against the counter so their faces are close, almost touching, “I believe we like to call it Storybrooke, but there’s probably a better legal term for it.”