Watching Ashley with her infant daughter was bittersweet for Emma. She still felt that she had made the right decision ten years ago, yet she couldn't deny her growing fondness for the son she'd given up. She'd missed so much of his childhood and Regina… that woman disturbed her on many levels.
Regardless, she smiled as she turned from the doorway of Ashley's hospital room and held her head high as she walked down the hall. She'd done something good, something right.
"Ah, Miss Swan, I thought I might find you here." Mr. Gold's honeyed voice startled her and she turned to face him, tilting her head to the side curiously.
"Mr. Gold, what are you doing here?" she inquired, her pulse rising. He wasn't going to suddenly change his mind again, was he? She tightened her stance, prepared to fight to protect Ashley.
"I almost forgot to pay you for your services yesterday," he replied calmly, holding something out to her.
"What?" she exclaimed, automatically taking the piece of paper from him. Her blue eyes widened as she read the amount on the check.
"You did the job I hired you to do, regardless of the outcome," he said, a half-smile carving dimples at the right side of his mouth. "As I told you yesterday, my agreements are always met. I keep my promises."
"This – it's too much," she protested.
He shrugged. "It's an average hourly rate for a private investigator with some extra for expenses. I believe you did some driving. The cost of gasoline is quite exorbitant these days."
"Uhh," she stammered. "I'm still not sure I can accept this."
"You did the job," he insisted with what she was beginning to recognize as characteristically soft-spoken firmness. "You earned your pay. Our other agreement, the favor you owe me, is a separate issue."
The money would definitely be useful; Emma had to admit that at least to herself. She could pay Mary Margaret some rent and help with groceries now instead of waiting for her first paycheck as Storybrooke's newest deputy Sheriff.
"Thank you," she began, but was interrupted by a high woman's voice behind her.
"Where's my baby!"
Emma spun around even as Mr. Gold stepped past her, his cane tapping on the tiled ward floor.
"Lucy," he placated, "I explained to you yesterday…"
His voice broke off as he was shoved back against Emma, who barely managed to keep them both on their feet.
"You promised me! You promised us a baby! I've been waiting months," sobbed a thin, elegantly-dressed blond woman, tears streaking her make-up. Her hands tugged strands loose from a previously tight chignon.
A taller, heavier man in a suit wrapped his arms around the distraught woman from behind, hugging her against his chest. His pale eyes were bitter and angry as he glared directly at Mr. Gold.
"I'm so sorry," Mr. Gold said. "As I told you yesterday, the birth mother has decided to keep her baby." He spread his arms wide. "But I will find a child for you to adopt, you have my word…"
"Your word?" the man shouted. "We have a legal contract! The girl already agreed to the adoption; she signed the papers. She took our money. We paid for everything, her medical care, her rent… what is this? Some kind of adoption scam? I'll sue you and her and…" he was cut off as his wife's crying increased in volume.
"Lucy, Lucy, shhh, I'll take care of it, I promise, please stop crying," he begged.
Emma had to go to the woman. She tried to touch her shoulder. The older blonde looked desperately at her through reddened eyes.
"We tried so hard, but I was sick. It wasn't my fault. The drugs made me ill and the in vitro failed and I miscarried twice. All I wanted was a baby. But the doctors said I'd never be able to carry a child." Her voice rose into hysterics and she nearly screamed. "All I want is a baby."
Her accusing eyes reamed Emma and Mr. Gold. "You promised!"
"I will find a baby for you," Mr. Gold answered, his jaw set, angular features tightening with resolution. "It can't be this one, but I've already called every adoption agency and attorney I know from here to Miami."
"I want this one!" Lucy cried. "The nursery is all prepared. We've waited so long." Her face crumpled again and her husband embraced her, protective anger radiating from him.
"You damn well will find us a baby and I still should press charges against this… this…"
"Please don't blame Ashley," Emma pleaded, her own emotions tipping into a mixture of sadness and an unforgiving touch of guilt. "She just wants her baby. You can understand that, can't you?"
"She didn't want her baby when we were handing her money," the man said bitterly.
"She'll repay every cent. It may take her a while to get on her feet, but she will. Please, she's young and she made a mistake. Don't punish her for that," Emma replied, starting to reach out to the sobbing woman again, then letting her hands fall helplessly to her side, the forgotten check crumpled in her fist.
"She'd better," he said with a remnant of anger, even as he tried to comfort his wife.
"She will," Emma promised. "And I will help find another child for you. I know there are a lot of children out there who desperately need a loving home."
Something in her voice must have communicated itself, because Lucy left her husband's embrace, sniffling as she fixed her watery eyes on Emma. "Do you promise?" she demanded.
"I promise." Emma and Mr. Gold spoke the same words simultaneously, their voices mingling.
Startled, she glanced at him. He returned her look sideways through a silky curtain of brown hair; dark eyes filled with that same intensity she'd seen the day before. She found herself nodding at him, before taking Lucy's trembling hand and squeezing it.
The bereft couple required some more comforting before they finally left. When it was over, Emma breathed in deeply, shoving her long hair out of her eyes.
"I didn't realize, I didn't expect…" she said to herself, not realizing the man beside her could hear her muttered thoughts.
He chuckled wryly and again she had to lean sideways to meet his eyes. This time they were wide and a softer, chocolate brown. Lines creased in their corners and those dimples curled into his right cheek.
"What did you think I was going to do with Ashley's baby? Put her in the window of my shop with a price tag on her toe?"
A combination of irony, amusement, and just a hint of reproach colored his tone.
Emma found herself blushing, damn her fair coloring, and grimaced.
"No, no, of course not, I just…" she sighed, unable to avoid the inevitable sense of guilt. She hadn't wanted to hurt anyone, but she'd been so concentrated on helping Ashley that she hadn't considered any possible consequences. As much as she hated apologizing, she braced herself and did it.
"I'm sorry. I was worried about Ashley and frankly the idea of treating a baby like merchandise offended me. I didn't think about… whether there were adoptive parents and how they might feel."
Again, he surprised her by simply nodding solemnly and apologizing in return.
"I owe you an apology as well, if you felt that I was uncaring about the baby. It was a difficult situation for everyone involved and I was simply trying to meet my obligations. I believe in keeping my word and I expect the same from the people I deal with. Unfortunately, that can seem, well," he shook his head, long strands of hair caressing his sharp cheekbones and the corners of his mouth, "rather uncompromising."
His gaze strengthened; again she could see that – yes – uncompromising – sense of will in him.
"Yes, it can," she said, lifting her chin and meeting him straight on.
He shrugged. Another hint of ironic amusement curled the corners of his lips.
"It is the way I am."
"There are worse things," she had to admit. She'd chased down and captured quite a few of them. So she let herself offer a small peacemaking smile of her own.
Oh, she wasn't stupid. This man was far more than a small-town pawnbroker and one-time adoption broker. He was too self-assured and strong-willed, far too intelligent. And he knew she knew it. A challenging sparkle illuminated his coffee-colored eyes even as they exchanged smiles.
"Emma!" a young voice called out and Henry skidded to a halt at her side. The boy stared up with an odd combination of curiosity and suspicion at Mr. Gold.
"Hello Henry," that man said nonchalantly. "I do hope your mother knows where you are. She can get quite distraught at times."
"Are you going to tell her?" Henry challenged, glaring as only a ten-year-old could.
Mr. Gold merely chuckled.
"I think I'd be wise to avoid that particular situation for now. I've got some important work to do." He stretched out his hand to Emma. When she went to shake it, he took hold of her fingers in a firm, but supple grip and bent to kiss them, a whisper more of breath than of skin. She stared at him in shock before pulling her hand away.
He bowed his head slightly. "Until we meet again, Miss Swan."
She and Henry stood in silence for a moment as he strode away.
"Who is he?" Henry demanded of her.
"What?" Emma asked. It took her a moment to connect to his meaning, then she grinned.
"Don't you know?" she inquired. "You've seemed pretty sure of everyone else."
Henry shook his head, dropping his backpack on the floor.
"I can't figure him out. At first I thought he was a leprechaun, but there isn't one in the Book."
She laughed. "Not to mention the fact that he's Scottish not Irish. I've never heard of a Scottish leprechaun." She pulled her hair back for a moment and then rubbed at the back of her neck.
"Anyway, maybe he's not in your book at all. Surely even Storybrooke gets ordinary people visiting and moving in," she proposed, trying to offer some rationality without upsetting Henry. It was so hard on her not to challenge his weird fantasies, but she was so afraid of what might happen to him if she did so. What had Regina done to make him live in such a strange world? He was such a bright, sweet boy otherwise.
"No!" Henry was adamant. "He's been here all along and he's too important in this town. He and the Queen have known each other like forever." Henry bit at his lower lip. "In fact, he's the only one I've seen her actually scared of, well not scared, but nervous. She likes being in control all the time but she can't control him."
"Maybe a king or a powerful wizard," she answered indulgently, playing along. But it was with honesty that she continued more seriously. "He's certainly charismatic."
In fact, maybe Henry's question wasn't so fantastical after all. Just what was behind that charming façade?