Lacey twirled her keychain around her fingers before flinging it into the little bowl on the closest side table, where it jingled as it settled next to a couple earrings and about three dollars in change. Rumpelstiltskin was irked at her use of an antique to hold knick-knacks, but she'd pointed out that if the pink, over-stuffed mansion was to be her home, then he had to make a few sacrifices to help her feel comfortable.
Oh, there had been resistance. Particularly against the idea of dinner in the living room, shoes off and away from the stiff formality of the imposing dinner table. Even after Lacey promised not to turn on the tv while they ate, Rumpelstiltskin had loudly protested.
Only the remark that a full stomach often left her sleepy - and wasn't it easier to cuddle up to him if they were already on the couch - had moved him to given in.
Now he fulfilled his preference for a formal setting by taking Lacey out often, and she, of course, approved of the compromise.
Tonight, however, seemed destined to be spent at home. Rumpelstiltskin glanced up as soon as she came into the living room, and Lacey could see the take-out bags he had put on the low table. "Chinese again?"
It never ceased to amuse her that the man who could conjure banquets with a gesture, was content with noodles and shrimp.
Rumpelstiltskin gave a little shrug, well aware of her bafflement but just as certain that she shared his tastes, and motioned at her to join him on the couch. "You just missed the delivery guy."
The memory of the tall, broad-shouldered boy, perhaps a couple years younger than her but who blushed like a fourteen-year-old at a peek of a bra strap, made Lacey grin. "Pity," she said cheekily. "I like young Po."
"And he's more terrified of you than he's of me, so congratulations on that feat, sweetheart."
Lacey responded with a light kiss on his lips, both a greeting and a thank you at the compliment.
There was a pause as the food was distributed, and once the containers were opened and their chopsticks at the ready, Rumpelstiltskin made the question Lacey had been expecting from the moment she stepped through the door:
"How was your day?"
Or a variation of it.
Without another lecture on recklessness, defending her right to make her own choices would be a waste of breath. He looked genuinely curious, rather than angry as she'd expected. Lacey picked up a bite of pork, and chewed as she shifted her strategy.
"Oh, you know. The usual housework." She waved around the room as if to take credit for its tidy state. "Washed up the dishes from breakfast, cleaned the bathrooms, did the laundry..."
She couldn't continue as his increasingly amused face prompted her to giggle. Only a couple of months ago, the joke would have left him broody, but he seemed to be finally getting over it.
"All right," she relented. "So I slept in; then it was practice, practice, lunch, and practice." She made a point of counting on the fingers of her left hand, then wiggled her thumb as if searching for a fifth action. "Oh! Then I went out for a coffee!"
Rumpelstiltskin hooked a finger around that thumb, pulling her hand toward him. "Coffee, huh."
"Didn't I tell you about it?" She copied him and left her dinner on the table, unconcerned that it would get cold. Magic was better than a microwave, and such a simple spell would be within her abilities. "I know I sent you a text because the last time you came home and didn't find me, you made such a fuss that the Sheriff is still whining about it."
Rumpelstiltskin chuckled. Not a surprise, since describing a magical duel between the Dark One and the Evil Queen as 'a fuss' had been meant to amuse him. "You don't care about Miss Swan," he said.
"Well, no," Lacey admitted with ease. "But I do care about not putting up with more whining."
"Smart enough," he conceded. "Had a good time, then?"
"Free caffeine, free entertainment; so not too bad. Oh, and before I forget, Zelena says hi."
His mouth twisted into a scowl, but the grasp on her hand didn't alter. He wasn't angry, just concerned. "Lace... Just because she's at odds with Regina, it doesn't make Zelena our friend," he told her, then relaxed at her unsurprised reaction. "But you've seen that already, of course."
One of the reasons she had stuck with Rumpelstiltskin, despite the awkwardness of their situation, was that he never doubted her intelligence. "Subtlety isn't her forte," she explained. "She's so obsessed with you, it made me blush. Not to mention that she'd have happily poisoned my drink if she could get away with it."
He didn't react at her first assessment, but the second had him showing his teeth in anger. "If she ever threatens you..."
"Come on, Rumple. You'd never have taken her as a student if she were that stupid." Lacey frowned. It certainly would be easier to get rid of the woman if Zelena acted on her hate openly. One move to hurt Lacey, and Rumpelstiltskin would send the witch back to Oz in a coffin - with Regina's blessing or not. "She did all the right things: called up to invite me over, mentioned how she felt uncomfortable going to you directly, and maybe I could help her instead?"
"Help with what?"
"Kill Regina, what else. She didn't go into specifics once she realized I wouldn't become her little spy." Lacey shook her head. "You should have heard her go on and on about how we, overlooked branches of Henry's family tree, should stick together."
A roll of her eyes made clear what she thought of that approach. Rumpelstiltskin was ecstatic with whatever attention his son gave him, and as Henry's safety was the main subject he and Baelfire discussed, he made a point of spending time with the boy.
Lacey was glad for him. Truly. She even swallowed her more cutting remarks within hearing of Henry's maternal side. However, that her boyfriend enjoyed his role as grandfather did not give Lacey even the slightest urge to play grandmother.
"You are not overlooked, Lacey," Rumpelstiltskin said, his thought process apparently having traveled down a different path. "Not ever."
She had no need of the reassurance, but it made her smile anyway.
Meanwhile Rumpelstiltskin had his lips pursed, mind running through his options. "Lace..." he started slowly, "what do you think of learning new tricks from the woman who swears she's surpassed her old teacher?"
Lacey raised an eyebrow. His intent was clear, and pleased as she was at his trust, there was her sanity to consider. "And listen as she brags about it ceaselessly? No."
"Think about it, sweetheart. Please." Rumpelstiltskin met her eye, his gaze intense. "Zelena must have a plan. She doesn't have the patience to hang around and plot, when she could be leveling the town to draw Regina into a fight."
Lacey shrugged with genuine disregard. "What's it to us?"
"If it includes Henry, I must know."
"She wouldn't risk that. To entangle you in her one-sided sibling feud?" Lacey shook her head. "She wants you to fuck her, Rumple, not to slice her neck for hurting the kid."
Rumpelstiltskin considered that. "Still. I am... uneasy... with her pretense of retreat - especially if she's recruiting allies already. In power, Zelena is stronger than Regina. An open duel should be everything she needs - yet she demurs." He squeezed her hand. "The girl thought nothing of murdering Regina in her bedchamber once. I must know what's stopping her now."
Rumpelstiltskin's laugh explained better than words his opinion on Regina's chances to best her sister. "If only it were that simple." Then he glanced at her, his eyes hopeful. "You could help me, love."
"Not like that," she said simply. "I won't spy for you either, Rumple."
"I won't hide behind lies, no. If you want me to draw the truth out of that witch, I'll figure out a way; but I won't pretend I'm her friend."
"It would be safer."
Lacey huffed. "I'm a terrible liar, Rumple."
Rumpelstiltskin's expression softened, and after a moment he nodded and lifted her hand to kiss the back of it. "Of course," he said. "Honesty suits you well, my love. I remember now."