Corner-of-guilty-pleasures prompted: pancakes at midnight
Mostly, there is no excuse for this.
Gold wakes abruptly and does not know why. He had not, as far as he can recall, been dreaming. His knee hurts no more than it usually does. Outside, it is raining. Inside, the house is silent.
Until it isn't.
Metal crashes into metal somewhere distant, followed by a thud, someone hissing, "hush! Oh, hush!" He is out of bed in a heartbeat, the gun beneath his pillow in his hand. His knee protests, as it protests everything he does these days, but he ignores it. Gold shrugs into his robe, takes his cane from the nightstand, and goes hunting.
His multitude of clocks read multitudes of time, in multitudes of kingdoms. The consensus, as he passes through his cluttered, lonely sitting room, seems to be somewhere after midnight. (Or, in one case, quarter-past thirteen.)
And Gold is confused. The portrait that hides his home-safe is untouched. The dust betrays no fingerprints. His valuable trinkets are all in their places. His baubles sit un-shined. But in the distance, from the kitchen, he hears someone mutter, "fudge."
Thieves, in his experience, do not mutter, "fudge."
Gold clicks the safety on and drops the gun into the pocket of his robe. Barefoot, bewildered, he pads down the hall. His front door is shut, the glass panels whole. A light is on in the next room, spilling out onto the stone tiles of the entryway. In this light, he sees his umbrella stand sports a new visitor—very pink, flowers with smiles.
He crosses the entryway, into the next room. And finds a woman in his kitchen.
For a moment, he can only stare.
Of all people.
Belle stands there, glaring at his stove—at the useless, built-in griddle that never heated evenly, and certainly won't be obliging her tonight—a ladle in one hand, a bowl beneath her arm. And the tableau is absurd. Impossible. Ridiculous. Gold tries to remember if the pills for his knee have expired, if the dosage can give him hallucinations, but Belle glances at him over her shoulder and his thoughts fly loose like birds.
Gold has not seen her in years. Not since the curse sunk its tendrils in and twisted. And he had never, never even hoped to see her here.
"What fresh hell is this?" she asks him, thumping the ladle onto his stove. "It burns and undercooks. Have you cursed it? Is this actually a disgruntled former employee?"
"Belle," he breathes and he can't think, and that's not her name anymore, not here, but he cannot for the life of him remember. "What are you doing?"
She smiles, sparkling mischief. Her nose crinkles and his heart clenches at the sweet, familiar lines bracketing her mouth.
"You're not supposed to call me that. It perpetuates my delusion."
Gold thinks he may be dreaming.
"Are you making pancakes?"
She nods, wiping one flowery hand on her apron. It fits her oddly. He thinks it may be his. Something ridiculous Regina gave him years ago. It is black, in any case, with white lettering over the head of a disgruntled toad: Kiss me, I'm a prince.
"Well, they were meant to be cookies," she says. "But then I saw your buttermilk was nearly expired and rescued it for you."
He thinks, if he is not dreaming, that perhaps he should be worried.
"Is there someone I should call for you, dear?"
Belle ignores the question, turns her back to him. She drops a pat of butter on the griddle and begins ladling out pancakes.
"Do you remember," she asks instead. "At your manor? When we knew Gaston was planning to attack, but not when? I was so worried, I couldn't sleep. Couldn't eat. You made me pancakes at midnight. In full leather, in that ridiculous frilly apron. I think you must have made it for the occasion."
"Belle…" Gold says again, but cannot fathom how to move from there.
"I remember. I laughed." She looks at the clock above the stove. Old wounds weigh her smile down. "I'm a bit late."
Gold does not know what to say to this, either. He remembers, once upon a time, feeling much the same. When has he ever known what to say to this woman?
He sits down at the table instead, a silly old man in a fraying tartan robe, a snub-nose .22 in his pocket. Dear gods, no wonder his son fled.
At the stove, Belle begins to hum, sets her bowl and ladle to one side. He remembers this song. Or, at least, he remembers her singing it, a hundred years ago, teaching him how to dance.
She reaches to take a spatula from its hook on the wall. Gold sees her hospital bracelet, a stark yellow on her lovely wrist.
"There are blueberries in the freezer," he says.
Belle smiles. He thinks they are dancing again.
"Blueberries would be nice."