The blonde woman in front of him turned. Cameron Gold managed to school his expression enough to smile. He felt the pressure of memories building, ready to break on him, he remembered exactly why: the curse, the spell, twenty-eight years of waiting.
Granny Lucas handed him the money, as usual. Ruby Lucas eyed him with that wolfish expression she always wore, like she either wanted to screw him or tear his throat out.
And Emma, this stranger, this blonde woman who was so very familiar looked back at him with a smile.
“You enjoy your stay,” he said, and withdrew.
He got four paces down the path before the first memories broke through.
Rumpelstiltskin. The Dark curse. The spell. True love.
He walked blindly through the town that he owned, as who he was in Storybrooke was pushed aside in the face of who he truly was. His head was throbbing with it, and once, twice, he had to stop dead, catch his breath.
He wasn’t Mr Gold. He knew that now. He was Rumpelstiltskin of the forest, the Dark One, Master of the Dark Castle. He wasn’t a pawnbroker in a dull, bleak little town in Maine. He definitely wasn’t a man who would choose to live in the house he was approaching.
The light was on in the window, and he stared up at it.
He was Rumpelstiltskin. Widower. Reckless father. Broken-hearted fool
He was not Mr Gold.
He made his way up the stairs slowly.
It should have been simple to step through the door, and smile, and act as if he was Gold as he always had been, but that wouldn’t work. His memories as Gold were too strong. He could remember far too many nights. He could remember so many days. He could remember the hostile, suspicious looks.
He opened the door, stepped through. He could smell the rich scent of stew, and closed his hand tight around his cane.
“Is that you?”
Rumpelstiltskin was a coward then. He felt he had every right to be a coward now.
His wife came through from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishcloth. She was smiling. “I thought I heard you come in,” she said, walking over to kiss him on the cheek. “You’re just in time for dinner.”
Rumpelstiltskin stared at her, as if he was seeing her for the first time. She was the woman he had been married to by enchantment for almost thee decades. He remembered their wedding, when she defied expectation and married the most feared man in town.
It never happened, but he remembered it clearly.
He remembered the simple, white-iced chocolate cake she insisted on. He remembered the button-down, knee-length dress. He remembered her slipping a simple white rose in his buttonhole, smiling at him as she did so. He remembered their wedding night, when she had blushed awkwardly, and he had made a fool of himself by finishing as if it was his first time, barely even touching her.
He remembered dozens of nights thereafter, her tears when it seemed she would never conceive, their arguments and the inevitable make-ups. He had never loved her, yet his memories as Cameron Gold, pawnbroker and general terror of Storybrooke, pounded against his mind telling him she was his wife and that he loved her.
There had to be a root of affection, something that Regina had manipulated, and he knew that in the Forest, there were only a handful of people he actually cared about, enough to think on them as the curse shattered the world.
She looked back at him, frowning in concern. “Are you all right, Cameron?”
“I’m fine,” he lied, smiling and touching her arm lightly. “I’ll freshen up. Give me five minutes?”
In the end, it was ten.
He braced his hands on the edge of the bathroom sink, breathed deeply and hard. She didn’t know. She couldn’t know. And he did. He could remember who she truly was. He could remember who she was to him, and more importantly, he could remember who she wasn’t.
He could not continue as before, that much was certain, but with the tangle of memories of who he had believed himself to be for nearly thirty years, he couldn’t bring himself to hurt her either. The curse had already done enough to ruin her happiness. The least he could do was maintain the charade until the curse broke, and it would be soon.
After all, that familiar face in Granny’s inn was none other than his wife’s long-lost daughter.
Though it was Rumpelstiltskin who dashed water on his face above the sink, it was Cameron Gold who lifted his head and stared at himself in the mirror.
The charade would go on.
The curse would break.
And in the end, if he was lucky, he would never have to see Snow White again.