CHAPTER 1

(And I'm the epicenter of your storm)


1.

(its own sort of beast)

The curse, Regina is learning, is a being unto itself.

At first she had thought it a slave to her will. It danced when she demanded it, wove itself into the very fibers of a world in which it did not belong – all because she'd asked.

But the spell is its maker's child. And it will never really do for her what she truly wishes it to do.

Like a wayward child, she cannot stop it from straying. But she can punish those it allows to escape its grasp.

And punish them, she does.

Here in this hospital, all cold clean lines and chemical smells, she keeps hidden one of the spell's mistakes – the girl who never forgot. One day, she hopes, the girl will think the things she remembers are part of some kind of madness.

For now, the girl clings to her memories. And Regina, here in the kingdom that her curse has created, will try to draw back all the loosening threads and reweave the spell's unraveling tapestry.


2.

(when hell freezes)

Hell is cold. And Belle is cold inside of hell, all long stretches of blank walls and barely lighted windows.

Hell is nothing. And in hell Belle is nothing, is no one, does not even have a name.

Hell is dark. And in the dark Belle sees what she was once, when she was not imprisoned. In the dark she hears the names and voices of the people that she knew in the land that is called home.

Hell is empty, but for a cot and a blanket and a silent girl who knows what she should not.

There is a slot, and it opens to a place that isn't hell but might as well be. The Face of Evil fills it now and leers, red-lipsticked, kohl-eyed.

"No one's come to see you, I hear," says the Face of Evil, and its voice is oh, so beautiful, like warm chocolate and caramel melting on her tongue.

Of course no one's come to see me. No one visits hell.

Belle thinks the words, but does not speak. It's never wise to speak to Evil. Evil stores up words like ammunition, shoots twice as fast and ten times more accurately than a human ever could.

"Surely it's clear to you now that no one cares," Evil says. "That you're mad. That no one will ever care."

Belle's eyes open for just a moment, and she turns her head to the door, to the slot where Evil is watching, hungry for something. Belle throws it a scrap out of pity. "No one remembers," she says, as the hinges of her voice shriek with rust and disuse. "No one but me."

Evil tastes the scrap, slowly. The taste is displeasing. The smile is gone. "He remembers," it says, at last.

Belle smiles, just a little, and leans her head against the brick cell of her prison. "Of course he does."

"He hasn't come to find you."

The smile doesn't flicker. "No, he hasn't."

Now Evil is angry. It slams its fist against the metal, once, and Hell echoes with the thud of beaten steel. The door, so sullen, is otherwise silent.

"He'll never come for you," says Evil, growling now. "He's all wrapped up in our new little Sheriff. He wants to give her power. He wants to fight. He's too busy to think of you. How does that make you feel? Your precious monster, out hunting a little blonde?"

The smile remains. Belle closes her eyes and settles against her favorite place in the wall, the place she always goes to when she's tired of talking. "It doesn't matter," she says. "I have his kiss, and I won't give it back."

Evil is thinking of something to say, but all its words are stolen now. The slot to whatever is outside of Hell slams closed, and Belle is alone again.

Hell, as she expected, is still cold.


3.

(all that lies between you and your heart is a steel door)

Sometimes, Mr. Gold speaks to the curse he wove – always in a whisper, lest the Queen hear them speaking. On a good day, the curse talks back.

Mostly it will tremble as Emma passes through. It will curl into itself and cower back, hissing and spitting its hatred for the hero that will bring its doom.

But sometimes – just sometimes – it talks of other things.

And sometimes, when it talks of other things, it tells him of a door.

The door is made of steel and has one window, only one. Gold can never look into the window. The spell will not let him. But it shows him the door, time and time again, and he knows that something important lies behind it.

He wants to believe that the curse is working to help him find that door, to find whatever it is that he's lost. But he knows the curse too well to believe it.

The door hides something special. And the curse is mocking him.