“And I'm to have no say in this?”
Abigail felt quite proud of how calm she sounded. Even more importantly, she felt proud of the fact that she hadn't yet ripped the parchment he'd given her in half.
Before today, she'd assumed that their kingdom's wealth and power had afforded her the luxury of choice. A notion her father had never dissuaded her of. Obviously she'd been mistaken.
“I am merely doing what is best for everyone,” her father said. “I will not be around forever and our kingdom needs allies. The beast itself is a menace that must be dealt with, you know that. And you deserve no less than the bravest prince in the land by your side.” Seeing his words had no effect, he crossed the room and placatingly took her hands in his gloved ones. Years of practice kept her from flinching. “We must all do our parts, my treasure.”
Abigail scoffed. How appropriate. “And what use is treasure, after all, unless you can buy something with it.”
A brief flicker of annoyance crossed her father's normally serene face, but was quickly suppressed. “It is hardly a death sentence, my dear. Your mother and I had an arranged marriage and we grew to love each other.”
Yes, she didn't say, of course you love each other. Which was why her mother spent more time with her handmaiden than her husband, or why she'd fled back to her family's manor as soon as she found out just what he'd bargained the Dark One for. Somehow I doubt you'd actually appreciate me acting like Mother right now. “How long before this proclamation is sent?”
“A messenger set out this morning to every prince in the kingdoms.”
She jerked her hands from his and turned away. Telling her was merely a formality then, she supposed. A precaution, so that she wouldn't cause a scene when some arrogant prince on a white horse came to claim her as his prize. Of course. Why in the world would she need to know otherwise? Any fleeting hope she had in stopping this nonsense by pointing out she'd already chosen someone instantly died. Her father was clearly not interested.
Picking up the parchment from his desk, she read the damned words over again. "On my word as King, any man who defeats the chimera plaguing our realm...” Abigail rolled her eyes. “Any man,” indeed. He only meant any prince with a kingdom to combine their own with. For a man who had dealt with the Dark One, he certainly didn't choose his words very wisely.
Any man. An idea formed in her mind. Turning back to her father, she asked, “this is exactly what was sent? And you will give my hand to whomever follows it, as long as they kill the chimera?”
“Of course,” her father smiled, clearly hoping she'd gotten over her initial objections. “I would not give you up for anything less, my dear.” Less than defeating a monster and doubling his kingdom. She supposed she could take that as a compliment.
A shame she was spoiled enough to want something she valued much more instead.
She gave a resigned sigh. “Then I suppose I will have to trust your judgement, Daddy.” A smile, practiced and fake, but the one he returned was real. She gave him the benefit of the doubt that she was a better actress than she thought. “After all, you know best.”
She didn't have time to waste being angry. She had messengers to delay and a certain true love to visit.
If she was destined to be a prize, then at least she'd have a say in who won her.
“Milady, couldn't we ask Rumpelstiltskin for help?”
The question was innocent enough, but it made Abigail even more furious. “Yes, let's ask the creature that caused my father's curse in the first place for a way to break it. I'm sure he'd love to help,” she snapped. Then she sighed, rubbing her temple. They're only trying to help, she reminded herself. “I'm sorry. You're right, we could ask him. But whatever he'd want in return would mostly likely be far worse.” She shook her head. “No, we need to find another way.”
A hand clasped hers. She'd been forgiven, then. Again. She gave him a grateful smile. Someday, she thought, her friends would likely tire of her temper which, even she could admit, had only grown worse after everything. “We will find a cure, Highness,” he promised. “I swear it.”
Abigail simply nodded, then went back to her books. Of course they would. Every curse could be broken, after all. I just need to look harder.
Not that anyone could claim she wasn't already trying as hard as she could. In the days after Frederick risked his life to save her father – foolishly, she didn't add, or not very often at least and always hated herself afterwards – she had done nothing but look for a way to undo what had been done to him. She'd searched every book in her father's library, every history for some hint of a cure. She'd sent her men out into the towns, hoping to find some folklore or rumor or formerly laughable old wife's tale she'd somehow never heard before. Her maids, when not making sure she actually ate or took care of herself, took up scrolls she'd cast aside, just to see if they could find something she'd missed. When she gave herself time to think of it she felt grateful, if not a little guilty, for without her friends' help she knew she would likely have passed out from exhaustion from days spent in desperate search.
Her nights, however, were spent in a different sort of desperation.
True love's kiss can break any curse. Every child in every kingdom knew that, like they knew water was wet and fairies had magic. The very first stories anyone was told growing up were of the prince who woke his be-spelled princess from her slumber, of the princess who broke the troll's spell on her prince's memory. Before Abigail's mind had even consciously realized her beloved had turned to gold, she had already tried. Of course she had tried. She'd known how it would work, after all. She'd kiss him, he would change back and laugh at her for worrying, and her father would keep his damn hand covered so that nothing like that would ever accidentally happen again.
But what no one ever mentioned in those stories was what happened when the briar was too thick to cut a path through, when the troll hid the prince in a dungeon without doors.
When your true love was covered in gold and you couldn't reach him to kiss him properly.
Not that it stopped her from trying. Every night, she and her men rode off to where her true love sacrificed himself. Every night they stood guard as she tried and tried and tried to break the curse. As she tried to believe that this time was when true love's kiss would work. Maybe she hadn't wanted it badly enough the last time. Maybe this time some god would take pity on her pathetic attempts and bring him back to her. But every night ends the same way, with only the taste of gold and blood in her mouth as reward for her efforts.
Abigail sighed, closing her useless book, and looked out the window to see it was already dark. Time to leave soon. Spying the first star, she made a wish. Tonight. Tonight, let them finally have their happily ever after.
Six times. Six times she'd been caught on her way to the lake.
No one had told her when they'd finally found the legend of Lake Nostros, and Abigail knew they must have found it long before she had. They had their reasons, she knew, or would if she could think about it rationally. Their reluctance to give her false hope, their desire to protect her. But all she cared about was that they had lied to her, when all that time she could have been saving him. Were still lying to her every time she was caught and calmly led back to her room, without a word or question of where she thought she was going. So she said nothing in return and let them believe she wouldn't try again. Even though they both knew she would.
On the seventh time, she managed to make it past her maids, past her men. Past all of her well-meaning friends and all the way to the mockery of a shine to the the monster in the lake, before a hand on her arm stopped her.
She didn't turn around. “I can save him.”
The hand did not leave her arm. “And I cannot let you, milady.” Sir Marcus, then, the most loyal of her men. And how she wished it were anyone else. Someone else might let me go through with this.
“I order you to let me pass!”
“Then you will have to throw me in the dungeon for disobeying that order.”
She turned at that, months of frustration and anger finally coming to a head as she shouted, “why? This is the answer, this the only way to save him and clearly we all know it! I don't care that it's dangerous! He would do the exact same thing for me! Why will no one let me rescue him?”
“Because, Highness,” he said, so calmly and gently that she wanted to hit him, just because she could and he would let her. “Frederick's loss is a grief to you and to his friends. But your loss would be a grief to the entire kingdom. You are your father's only heir and to lose you would throw us into chaos. You know this. And if your grief were not so strong you would agree with me.”
He was right. He was right and she knew he was right and she hated that he was right. And she realized at some point she had started hitting him, though it was as ineffectual as a kitten swatting a gryphon. And he let her until a sob escaped her throat, at which point he wrapped his arms around her and she cried, the first time she'd let herself do so in months.
When he finally took her home, she didn't put up a fight. The next day, she went back to her books and did not try to go back to the lake. She didn't ask anyone else to try in her stead, but she wasn't surprised that they did either. But the very first time she noticed one of her men had gone missing, Abigail forbid the others from even considering it.
She would find another way, somehow. But she refused to lose more people she loved.
Once they had seen James off on his way to find Snow White, Abigail refused to let go of Frederick. She was afraid to find that it had all been a dream, that if she let go for just one moment he would turn back into unfeeling gold. Frederick, more disoriented than anything from his time as a statue, was more than happy to let her.
Her men gave them their privacy for the night, but in the morning it was time to return home. She had quite a few things she needed to discuss with her father and it was time, she'd decided, that it would be his turn to quietly accept for a change.
When they finally reached the castle and entered the main room, her father looked up, not looking particularly surprised by her presence. He must know James has run. That would certainly make a few things easier. “Abigail. I thought you were visiting your fiancé, my dear.” He smiled as if nothing was wrong, but when his eyes slid over to the man she was very carefully – and obviously – keeping behind her, however, his expression changed to one of undisguised shock. “Frederick! How in the world-”
“That's not important,” she interrupted. “What is important is what you're going to do next, Daddy.”
“Oh?” He looked back at her, clearly confused. “And what might that be?”
She smiled, the same smile she'd given him every time she'd agreed against her will and then fought for what she wanted anyway. You really should recognize it by now, Daddy. “What you're going to do is to start keeping your promises. You're going to forgot about my marrying Prince James and allow me to marry Frederick, as you promised us. You're going to give King George the gold in exchange for killing the dragon, as you promised him. Beyond that, you can do what you like with the treaty.”
“The treaty will only stand if there is a marriage attached to it,” he tried.
“Then you can marry him yourself,” she interrupted again. “But leave James and me out of it.”
Her father's face fairly turned red at that, and she tried to remember if she'd ever actually seen him that angry before. First time for everything. “And if, instead, your King orders you to do as you're told?”
“Then whatever plans you may have for this kingdom will be ultimately pointless, as you'll have no heir to leave it to,” she threatened. “James is not the only one who knows how to run.”
She was bluffing, of course. She wasn't James, wasn't her mother. She wouldn't run, not if it meant her people would suffer. Sir Marcus was right, after all, that night by the lake. She was her kingdom's future and would be Queen someday, and that was more important than anything, even being with her true love.
But she had always been a selfish girl and she was willing to fight to have everything she wanted.
Her father, though, did not seem to know her at all, for she could tell he took the threat seriously. The very fact that she knew James had fled, which King George took such pains to hide from her but apparently not her father, must have shook him. He took a step towards her and her men moved closer in response, but she waved them off. She had not followed the script and had stepped out of her role as perfectly spoiled yet obliging daughter, and he clearly did not know what to do with her. But under the confusion she thought – hoped – she saw something that looked remarkably like pride. She wasn't quite sure what to do with that.
“It seems we have quite a bit to discuss,” he said finally. “But first,” he called over a servant waiting by the door, “tell my herald to make it known that Sir Frederick has been returned to us... and that we happily await his marriage to the Princess Abigail.”
When the servant had left, her father held out his hand to her and gave her a smile, half-resigned half-something else entirely. “Now, I believe we have a treaty to discuss?”
Years later, many more than she realizes or can remember, Kathryn makes a wish as she submits her application to law school. It's silly, she knows, but at this point she'll take any help she can get.
A fresh start, she tells herself again. This is what we need, what David needs. There's too many memories in this place, things she's still not sure David can recall. Too much well-meaning expectation – from Regina, from Dr. Hopper, from everyone – to be what they used to be. In Boston they can start over, they can find out who they are now and how to make that work.
Sometimes she thinks she can't remember when her life didn't revolve around a constant struggle to hold onto what she wanted. Which was ridiculous, of course. It's only been a few months since Regina found her and told her she and David had a second chance. And it's been better, she tells herself, since his memory returned. And it will get better. When they were together the first time around, they weren't always fighting, after all.
And yet the fight at the end, the one that made her accept that he'd left her for good... sometimes it's all she can remember.
But David's her husband and she loves him, she always has. Of course I love him, she scolds herself. And she'll do whatever she needs to do to make them just be happy again, whether that means the therapy appointments where she does most of the talking or the date nights that David sometimes forgets about or moving to another state entirely. And if she gets to do something she's dreamed of but put on hold in the meantime, well, surely no one could blame her for that.
She'll fight for her happiness because sometimes she feels that's all she knows how to do.
She just wishes she felt more sure of what it was she was fighting for.