The power was out again.
Anna flicked the switch a couple more times to be sure, but nothing happened. She pushed the door wider and groped about on the shelf by the door, searching for the matches, and lit the candle they always had there just in case.
It was cold.
A three-sweater night, she guessed, making her way across the floor to the counter that was the kitchen.
There were other candles there too, but she lit them sparingly. It wasn’t that they were expensive, but they needed to be more careful these days. What little they had went on food, and getting enough gas to keep Iain’s car running so he could at least try to get some work.
She unpacked the groceries.
Once in a while, if she’d managed an extra shift or two at the diner, they’d get fresh fruit or even meat. Mostly, though, they were used to living out of cans, because that way, they could just use the small portable gas stove that Iain had found in a dumpster.
She lit the small gas stove and filled a pan with water.
It wasn’t the best way to make tea, but it was cold, and tea helped.
There was something bitterly ironic, she thought, that by choosing to live with a man called Gold, she was one of the poorest people in town. She could have left him, gone back to her father, to comfort, to a decent house that wasn’t just a one-room apartment.
She could have, but she never would. She’d left him once, and regretted it more than anything. He might not be the easiest man to live with, but he tried for her sake, and for that, she loved him.
She unfolded the sofa and pulled out the duvet while the water boiled. It was going to be a colder night than it had been in a while. The wind off the sea was bitter, and she knew it made his bad leg play up. If she wrapped herself in the blankets, then they would be warm for him when he got back, and it would help.
By the time Iain got back, it was late and dark.
Anna was nestled in the blankets, reading by the light of a candle on the dresser.
Iain stopped dead in the doorway at the sight of her, as if he hadn’t ever seen her before. He was breathing hard, and he slammed the door behind him. “You’re here,” he said, one hand braced against the wall.
Anna smiled, closing her book. It was a favourite and so well-read that the covers were coming loose. She set it down on the floor. “Where else would I be?” she asked.
Iain closed his eyes, taking a gulping breath of air.
Anne frowned, worried. “Iain? Are you all right?”
When his eyes opened, there was something dark and hot and fierce in them, something that she hadn’t seen for a long time. He almost prowled towards the sofa bed, dropping his cane as he came, and knelt down on the edge. “I feel like I have seen you in forever,” he growled, crawling across the sofa bed towards her.
She reached for him at once, wrapping her arms around him as he pressed her back against the back of the sofa. It was heat and it was passion and it warmed her right down to her toes. As he slid his arms under the blanket to hold her, he lifted his head back from hers, and his skin almost seemed to glow gold by the candlelight.
“I love you,” he said, softly, worshipfully, as if he had never said it before.
Anna’s eyes brightened. This, she knew, was why she had come back and this is why she would always stay. “I love you too,” she whispered, pulling him back down to kiss him again, wrapping the blankets around both of them.
Ruby hated working the early shift, but it had to be done.
It felt like she was always on it, no matter how much she complained to Granny. She was there to open up, put out the sign, and stuck with the smell of bacon grease in her hair for the rest of the day.
She wasn’t surprised when Anna showed up.
She always did, hoping for any work that might be going.
Anna French was a sweet girl. Dark-haired and with blue eyes that looked way too big for her thin, tired face. She always had a smile, but it was edged with wary hopefulness. She must have been through a lot, Ruby figured, but no one knew what.
She was also Gold’s girlfriend.
That was the only thing that went against her.
If everyone liked Anna, everyone in town hated Gold. He might have been one of the poorest men in Storybrooke, but he worked for someone higher up. He took their money. He took their profits. He took anything they had, and they just had to be grateful that they never had to deal directly with his employer.
Anna approached the counter, twisting her hands together. “Hey, Ruby.”
Ruby wished she could have smiled, but Gold had been by the night before, when they had their first guest in years. “Hey,” she said. She glanced towards the kitchen, and saw Granny shake her head, her expression grim. Ruby’s heart sank and she looked back at Anna, who was looking so pleadingly at her. “I’m sorry, Anna. We don’t have any shifts open.”
Anna’s mouth turned in an accepting smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Just thought I’d ask,” she said, looking down. She rubbed her hands on her hips, and took an unsteady breath, then raised her head, smiling again. “If anything comes up?”
“We’ll let you know,” Ruby murmured, watching as Anna turned and walked out the diner.
“Poor girl,” Granny said. “Hooked up with that man.”
“Couldn’t we give her one shift?” Ruby asked. “She doesn’t look like she’s eaten today.”
Granny’s expression was stony. “If her boyfriend hadn’t taken all the money last night, sure,” she said sharply. “You want to go and tell him to cut the rent so we can pay his girlfriend to earn enough so she eat?”
Ruby shook her head, retreating back into the kitchen.
Miss Swan was going to be a problem.
She already had Regina on edge, and Graham could understand why. Regina loved her son and protected him, and Emma Swan was a threat to the stability they had. Not that she seemed to be threatening in anyway.
That was what was puzzling Graham.
Emma Swan just wanted to be sure that Henry was all right, and he was, but Regina was attacking blindly, as if she suspected Emma wanted to take Henry away from her. The more she pushed, the harder Swan pushed back, and Graham wasn’t sure which one of them would break first.
He was halfway back to the station when he saw Anna French sitting on one of the benches opposite the library, bundled up in her coat, her hat tugged low over her ears. He pulled up by the kerb, rolling down his window. “You okay, Miss French?”
She looked at him, startled, then her customary smile crossed her face. “Just sitting.”
“No shifts at the diner?”
She looked down at her hands in her lap, shaking her head.
Graham had always liked her. She was a sweet girl, kind to anyone, but because of her choice of lover, she lived on the bad side of town, and scraped a living. He hadn’t seen Gold around, which meant she must have walked in.
He knew he should be off chasing down Miss Swan for a crime she didn’t commit, but Anna French looked drawn and unhappy, and needed a break. “Jump in,” he said. “You can come down the station and help me with organising some paperwork.”
Her expression brightened, and he knew it was more to do with being in the warmth of the station than anything to do with police procedure. She hurried around the hood of the car and scrambled into the passenger seat.
“I’m good at filing,” she said breathlessly. “What do you need done?”
He couldn’t help smiling ruefully. “I’m sure I can find something.”
Her smile, for a moment, was so much brighter than the usual brittle one she wore. A true smile. He found his own turning his lips in kind. “Thank you,” she said softly, wrapping her arms across her middle.
“You haven’t seen the paperwork yet,” he warned, pulling away from the kerb.
Emma Swan was taken care of.
With enough prompting, she was going to leave. The look on Henry's face, when he believed his oh-so-brave and perfect birth mother thought he was crazy was... warming. Regina knew he would come back to her, to his real mother, and she would wipe away his tears and tell him she would keep him safe.
She smiled, even as she pruned and neatened her mutilated tree.
She heard the creak of the gate and the tap of Gold's cane on the path.
She didn't need to turn. Like everyone else in town, he did what he was told. "You're late."
"There were delays in payments," he said, his voice quiet and neutral. "The Lucas woman was distracted."
Regina's lips pressed together. Miss Swan had caused a lot of problems for everyone. She turned to look at him. "But you have my payments?" she said.
Mr Gold - once her master, now her pet - limped towards her and held out a thick roll of notes. She didn't need to count it. She never had. He was obedient, and for good reason. Their deal was very specific. He had the criminal reputation, but no one knew she was the one pulling his strings, and she was happy to keep it that way.
She could remember him in the enchanted forest, sleek and dangerous and moving like a predator. In this world, he was just a man, thin, slight, in suits that were too big and fraying around the cuffs. He looked unimposing, almost ragged, nothing like the impressive figure he presented as Rumpelstiltskin.
She smiled, taking the money from him.
"You seem to be in a good mood," he observed, laying his hands, one over the other, on the handle of his cane.
Regina smiled, turning back to the tree. "And why not?" she said. "I just rid the town of a public menace?"
She looked over her shoulder sharply.
"I caught a glimpse of a newspaper," he said with a dismissive shrug. "Sidney's work?"
"Mm." Regina brushed some shavings of wood from the torn branch. "I expect she's halfway back to Boston by now."
Gold made a small, noncommittal sound in his throat. He seldom said much to her, to anyone for that matter. She had ensured that his life was as uncomfortable as it was possible for a man to be, with only the barest of essentials. He had turned quiet and cold and still, as unlike himself as was possible. No flourishes, no grand gestures, no wicked laughter.
She turned, looking at him. "What?"
He shrugged again, face creasing expressively. "I saw her on main street not five minutes ago," he said. "Your boy was with her. It didn't look like she was going anywhere."
Regina's stomach felt like it twisted. Her hand tightened around the roll of bills. "Do you know anything about her, this Emma Swan?"
Gold's brow furrowed. "I met her once," he said. "We crossed paths at the Lucas guest house."
"But what do you know about her?" she demanded. "You made the contact to get me Henry. What do you know about his mother?"
"I know she's here. I know she's a problem for you, based on your response." He tapped one finger on top of the fingers of his other hand. "I know that Henry seems to be drawn to her." His eyes were dark and cool. "Beyond that, I don't know what you expect me to know."
Regina searched his face. He looked as unwavering and steady as he always had. If she asked him a question, he would answer it. If she told him to do something, he would obey. They had an arrangement. Until the curse broke, she thought with a dark smile, Rumpelstiltskin was hers to do with what she willed. He could not move against her. And the curse would never break. An appropriate fate for the man who had manipulated hers.
"If you find out anything about her," she said. "I want to know."
"I'll keep my ears open." He inclined his head slightly. "Please excuse me," he said. "I need to get home."
"Of course," she said at once, startling herself.
Before she could change her mind, he turned and limped away.
The Sheriff was being kind.
Anna knew he had no reason to, but he was a good man, and he let her stay in the station until it was time for him to lock up. It wasn't that she hadn't helped: she had spent most of the afternoon sorting through the files and putting them into some kind of order. She didn't expect something for nothing.
He apologised that he didn't have the authority to hire any staff to just deal with paperwork, but he'd slipped a twenty into her purse when he thought she wasn't looking, and as much as she wished she had some pride, she pretended she hadn't noticed. He also bought sandwiches from the diner and offered her the one he claimed he couldn't finish.
He had no reason, she thought again, but she still took the sandwich and wolfed it down.
By the time night fell, the filing cabinets were almost in some kind of order, and she had done some cleaning up around the office as well. It didn't need much, but it felt like she was taking advantage of his good nature. He walked her to the door and saw her out with a smile.
"I'll call on you if we have rogue files," he said.
Anna flushed. "You don't need to..."
He rolled his eyes. "It's hardly any trouble, little thing like you," he said. "Run along, or your boyfriend'll come after me."
She hurried out into the evening, pulling on her gloves. There was an autumn chill in the air. The walk back to the apartment took nearly an hour, and when she got there, she could see that Iain was already home. The car was parked in the street, and there was light coming through the cracks in the curtains.
She ran up the stairs, opening the door, and stopped short in surprise.
Candles were lit all around the room, on the small dresser and shelves. The sofa was folded away, and the covers were stacked neatly in the corner. One of the little folding tables was set out in front of the sofa, two glasses on it, and Iain was at the counter, serving food out of boxes. The smell made her stomach growl.
"What's going on?" Anna asked, looking around uncertainly.
"Bonus from the Mayor," Iain replied, looking over his shoulder at her. "I thought you deserved something nice."
"Nice?" she echoed, shedding her coat and hanging it on the peg behind the door. "Iain, we can't afford this."
He turned as she approached him, and offered her his hands. She took them at once and he drew her closer. "I had a little windfall at work," he said. "We can live with candles and firelight, but just for once, I wanted to get you a nice meal that didn't come out of a tin. Is that such a bad thing?"
Her eyes were pricking and she shook her head.
Iain wrapped her up in his arms and squeezed her tight. "Go and wash up. I'll have it dished up when you come out."
She nodded, hurrying to the bathroom. It took her breath away, as it always did, when he made such simple gestures for her. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, pale and thin, and wondered - as ever - what it was that he saw in her. She splashed water on her face, pinching some colour into her cheeks. She also unbraided her hair, and quickly dragged a brush through it, loosening it around her shoulders in the way he liked best.
By the time she emerged, he was as good as his word, and had two dishes of food served up.
Not just any food she thought in shock.
He had gone to one of the bistros and got a proper meal of roast lamb with all the trimmings. He offered her one of the plates with a smile that was almost shy, hopeful, and she accepted it with a smile of her own. She couldn't remember the last time they had something so nice.
"I'll carry your plate for you," she offered. "You sit down."
"Because I've cooked like a good man about the house?" he said wryly.
Anna giggled. "Very professionally," she agreed. "You can bring the cutlery."
He followed her over to the couch, bearing the cutlery, and Anna tried not to think about the expense going on this one little treat as she sat down. He poured wine into their best tumblers, and accepted his plate from her as he sat down by her side.
She took one of the glasses. "To us?" she said.
"And a better year," he agreed, tapping his own glass to hers. "I think things are going to turn around soon."
He unfurled his fingers dismissively. "A hunch," he said. "Don't let your food get cold."
She set down the glass and dug into the meal. It was wasted on her, she knew, as she tried to take her time and failed completely. It was delicious, but she was too hungry to savour the delicate sauce and the ornately cut vegetables, and she felt her cheeks flush when she realised she has sauce dripping down her chin.
Iain set down his own fork to lean over and wipe the smear of sauce away. He had a silly, soft look on his face. "I'm glad you're enjoying it," he said, sitting back.
She caught his hand and licked the sauce off his thumb, then kissed the ball of his thumb. "I am," she said, hiding a smile at the way his breath hitched and his cutlery rattled. He picked up the fork and made himself pay attention to his food. Anna recognised the flush across his cheeks, and felt the blush in her own.
The night before had been nice, nestled together beneath the blankets and just kissing and holding one another, but they both knew what the other was thinking.
They ate the rest of the meal in silence, occasionally glancing at one another over their plates. When they were both done, she was the one to rise and take their plates to the kitchen. He was the one to refill the wine. When she returned to the couch, she sat a little closer to him, one of his arms around her shoulder, one of her hands resting on her thigh.
They spoke, softly, of what she had done during the day, of what he had done, and the level of the wine in their glasses fell and the candles burned lower.
Slowly, slowly, his hand started moving in a circle on her shoulder through her shirt, and she turned beneath his arm to look up at him. She wasn't sure who moved first, but all at once they were kissing again, slow, soft, and she heard the thump of the empty glass falling onto the floor as she pulled him closer.
His shirt was undone, and hers was tugged over her head. She shivered as his mouth moved on her, and her hands sought his belt. It wasn't skilful or graceful and they were both more than a little bit giggly and drunk, but when he laid her back on the couch, and she sank her hands in his hair, she couldn't care less.