In the town of Storybrooke, which was so small that it wasn't on a map, there was a broken piece of sidewalk. It wasn't a very impressive broken piece of sidewalk, not jagged or torn or marked with the initials of young lovers. It was just one with a crack in the side closest to the building it ran along.
That building was the hospital.
In the fresh dirt beneath the long and slender break in the pavement, and very much against all odds, the roots of a rosebush had taken hold. The bush grew along the wall, in the usual way that rosebushes did, with winding stems and thick, cruel-looking thorns. But it only had one blossom.
One single red flower, hidden from most views by the tangle of green that grew around it like a cage.
This rose was a very hardy flower. It seemed to always be in bloom, no matter what the harsh and fickle climate liked to throw at it. Even the hard frosts of winter only withered it, though few people took the time to notice how strange that was.
On a lovely late spring morning, when the grass was vibrant and fresh, and the sky was as clear as it had ever been, a very pretty young woman with short dark hair walked along the sidewalk and its broken piece. Beneath a nearby tree, whose leaves were casting dappled shadows upon the ground, she reached into a small plastic bag and pulled out a handful of birdseed.
Smiling to herself, she tossed it along the ground and watched as three birds fluttered down to it and began pecking away.
After a few moments, she left.
Not long after, the two largest of the birds - a spotted brown one, and a red-breasted robin - had enjoyed what they pleased of the treat, and returned the sky. The smallest, a bright blue and round little thing with nothing more than the tip of a triangle for its beak, still pecked away at the tiniest bits of seed that were left. She was going about her task so diligently, that she failed to notice how close she was coming to one of the thorns.
"Watch yourself!" The blossom of the rose said to her angrily, "The last thing I need is a bloodstain. With the weather like this, it could be a week before any rain comes to wash it off!"
He didn't sound a thing like the other flowers the bird had known. They always made their words rhyme, and loved to make their voices sound as pretty as they looked. Obviously, this rose was just as vain as his cousins, but he also made no efforts to be as cordial.
The bluebird jumped back and away from his thorns, and hopped around until she could better see the fullness of his blossom.
"I'm terribly sorry," She told him in birdsong, "I was quite distracted."
"Hmph." Was all the rose offered by way of reply.
"If you don't mind my asking," The bluebird said, "Why are you in such a miserable sort of mood? Surely you must be pleased with the bright sunshine that is out today."
Young birds are renowned for their nosiness. They never seem to know what is and is not an appropriate question to ask, and for some reason believe that everything's business ought to be the same as their own. Most grow out of it, and it was likely that the bluebird would as well as well. But for now, she was perfectly within her nature to ask highly personal questions of strangers.
"I'm always in a miserable mood. Now go away."
"I've never met such an angry rose before! Aren't you pleased with your lovely petals, or your rich colour? Most flowers that I know would be very envious of you…"
"That's because they're meant to be flowers."
"Oh?" The bluebird tilted her head to one side in great amusement, "And what are you meant to be? A raccoon? A mighty oak tree? Or perhaps a bird like me?"
"I am a man." The rose answered simply.
The bird twittered with laughter, hopping a little in her place. She fluttered up into the sky a bit, and then landed on the ground again with mirth sparkling in her eyes.
"You have a very dry sense of humour for a flower."
"It wasn't a joke."
This gave the bluebird pause.
She wondered if the rose had somehow lost its grip on reality, or if he had some sort of madness that befell flowers that grew alone. Perhaps he had seen so many more humans than roses that he'd become confused.
"You are a rose as I am a bird," She told him, trying to be helpful, "If you were not meant to be one, why are you one now?"
"I was cursed." The rose explained.
He had never expected to be able to discuss his situation with anyone or anything, nor had he ever realized how much he wanted to.
"What is a cursed?"
"A curse is a kind of wicked spell," The rose explained with some impatience, "You're cursed as well, but it's a different curse and you can't remember it. I've kept my memory, because it's very difficult to curse someone twice."
This caused the bird to become greatly indignant.
"Birds are much wiser than flowers; I think I would remember if I had once been something else. Particularly if you can."
"I won't explain it to you if you're going to interrupt," The rose said angrily, "If you're so wise, then figure it out yourself."
"I believe I shall." The bird announced, and took to the sky very quickly indeed.
Once again alone, the rose was at first relieved that the bluebird had gone. He had made it this far without company, and though it had seemed a refreshing change of pace at the onset, he was certain that the bird would have only continued to agitate him had she chosen to stay.
And yet, as the day wore on and a lonely breeze chilled the edge of his petals, the rose found himself wondering if the bird might come back.
Just so he could give her another piece of his mind, of course.
It was two days later when she finally did come back, this time approaching the rose with some reluctance. He waited for her apology, as she waited for his, and a long moment of silence hung between the two of them. The bluebird was the first to speak:
"I have been conferring with the others…" She began, and he immediately interrupted her.
"The others? Other what?"
"Birds of course, you pompous rose," The bluebird puffed her feathers a bit, then settled back down, "We have decided it would be good to hear the rest of your story. Not because we believe it, but because it will make for a good laugh every now and then."
"Of course." The rose replied evenly.
"Of course." The bird repeated for no reason.
The rose thought for a moment about how best to begin the story so that the bird, whom he assumed to be quite unfocused, would be able to follow along. He decided that the beginning must be the part that concerned her, specifically, as much as possible, because that was what always kept him the most interested in a story.
"You remember that I told you that you were under a curse as well?" He asked slowly.
"Oh yes!" She twittered, "This terrible spell that none of my friends can remember! And I have asked what a spell is, and been told that it is a brief period of dizziness…"
"Well!" The bluebird huffed, but did as she was told.
"You aren't like me, you've always been a bird. So have the others, as far as I know," He did his best to explain, "But we were once all in a different place. An enchanted place, where you and your kind were able to speak with some of the humans, or so I was told. And when I was in that place, I began my life as a man."
The bird was still skeptical, but could not deny her overwhelming curiosity.
"What manner of man were you?" She asked.
Here, the rose paused.
"I was…" He began, but found it difficult to describe at first, "I was magnificent. I was a great hunter, and my footsteps were as quiet as a whisper. When I was a boy, which is what all men begin as, my father would take me into the forest and show me how to track a rabbit, or a deer. He was a very good teacher, and very clear on what it meant to be a man. I always tried to impress him, to get him to tell me that I was doing well, but he never did. I remember once, when I was first beginning to hunt by myself, I killed a stag with twelve points on its antlers. When I showed him the trophy, he said that the animal must have been getting on in years if it had been slower than me.
"He was crushed by an ogre when I was seventeen, so he never saw the end result of my hard work. I always hated the ogres for that. Then the war began. There was less of a demand for hunters, but more of a demand for their skills. I was big, strong, and I could kill anything I damn well put my mind to killing. The army was the perfect fit for me.
"I was soon knighted, which is an honour granted to those of uncommon usefulness to a kingdom. After that, I saw little of the front lines. Strange that when they decide you're gifted in battle, the first thing they want to do is remove you from the fighting…"
The bluebird made a whistle of agreement, though she wasn't at all certain she knew what the rose was talking about.
"Our king was called Maurice, and I always thought he was a bit of a loon. Crazy Old Maurice, we liked to call him in the army. He was absolutely terrible at tactics, some of the worst ideas you've ever heard. He was benevolent of course, but few rulers I've seen can be good during both times of war and times of peace. Maurice was a peaceful king, and a slightly eccentric one at that. It was easy to play on his theories and fears in order to advance my position in court, which I did out of boredom. And, out of what I thought then to be love.
"Maurice had a daughter, you see. Belle. She was very lovely and very unusual, and she wasn't impressed with me in the slightest. So, naturally, I had to make her become impressed with me. Because whenever someone didn't think I was good enough, it reminded me that I didn't find myself good enough - which was not at all something I was willing to confront during that time in my life. And, of course, she was very attractive, so it seemed right that I ought to marry her. I spent all of my time trying to please her, after all, and I was the greatest hunter, the greatest soldier, and the greatest knight that our land had seen in generations. Why should I not be betrothed the princess?
"So it was. Maurice arranged that Belle and I were to be married. I had won that conquest, but it looked as though the kingdom was about to lose our war. In his desperation and foolishness, Maurice made a bargain with the Dark One. A creature of wickedness and pure magic, who had also been a man once, but had become further from that than even I am as a rose.
"He waited until our most desperate hour, and then he struck a deal with the king and the princess. To stop the ogres, Maurice would have to give him Belle to be his servant. She agreed, rather quickly I might add, and left."
He stopped his story here, lost in his own recollections.
"Strange that you should be turned into a rose," The bluebird observed gently, "Roses are flowers of love."
"I was transformed for love," He explained, "But not love of my own. You see, when I had a human heart, it was always empty. I suppose that I hadn't realized it, because I was always working so hard to be impressive. Or perhaps I had noticed it, and the fear of it was what made me work so hard to begin with. Love is the strongest force in all the universe, it is infinite and so pure that it will make a man capable of heroism and wickedness beyond all other forces - even magic. And in my heart, there was no real love. Not a soul truly loved me, and so I loved not a soul in return."
"Impossible!" The bluebird objected, "Love is in all things! I love the sky, I love the wind, and they return my love!"
"It's different with humans. There is a love beyond that…"
"Surely your mother loved you!"
"My mother died in childbirth," The rose said rather matter-of-factly, "No, there was nothing of the kind for me. I had fear, respect, admiration, but not love. Never love. And so, as the war came to its close, I began thinking - which is something I now deeply regret, and wish that I had never done.
"I convinced myself that Belle was the only real happiness in my life, and that she had grown to view me as the same. I was a fool, and I despise myself for ever believing such nonsense. I gathered up my gear, took the fastest horse in the land made my way through kingdom after kingdom, land after land, seeking not a mere audience with the Dark One, but the location of his castle. I would free Belle from her prison, bring her home with me, and live the life I had always craved."
"And?" The bluebird asked, caught in the grip of the tale.
"Finally, I found him. I found his very home, which no man before had dared to approach or dared even to search for, and I rode to his gates in daylight. Some fool had told me that his power was lessened by the sun, and I believed him. I pounded at the great doors before me, and to my unending surprise, he opened the door himself. Startled, but not unprepared, I drew my sword and announced my intention…"
"And that is when he turned me into a rose. Just with a simple wave of the hand. One moment, a man. The next moment, this."
The bluebird tilted her head to one side, and then the other.
"If he was so powerful, why not kill you?"
"It would be against the bargain he made with out kingdom. He would lose his right to Belle."
"And why a rose? Why not a more suitable flower, like a snap dragon?"
"Ah, that is the real pain of the story," The rose sighed, "You will remember that I told you I was transformed for love? It was the love of the Dark One for Belle. A love which she returned. Together, they had found what I had always wanted but could never - and now, shall never - have."
"And that is why you are such a bitter rose?"
"That is why."
"I don't think I shall tell this story to the others," The bluebird announced, "For I find myself believing you, and I know that they would not. I don't wish to hear them ridiculing a tale so filled with sorrow."
"I suppose I should be grateful." The rose replied.
The bluebird nodded at him, and made her way into the trees where he could not see her go. The rose was left alone again, as he had been for such a very long time. He knew that she would not come back to see him, having heard the whole of the story and so likely having no curiosity about it left. She would move on to whatever next presented itself as intriguing, as she was meant to. It was the nature of birds, and though he might have once, he would now not hold that against her.
He wondered if this would be the year that the frost finally claimed him. So that he would never more suffer the cold hard ground of winter, or the icy rains of February and March.
And he wondered again, in the way he had for many years, if there might be someone who would happen upon him and love him. But that was a very silly idea, he knew; for he might be clipped, and kept in a vase again, and admired once more. The attention would be fleeting, and it would not be love.
Still, as the sunshine warmed the dirt around him and the world turned from spring to summer, he couldn't help but to hope for it all the same.
A/N: He might never know it, but I will always love Gaston. Because he taught me the word expectorate, which basically means to spit like you really mean it. And that's the kind of thing that wins a young girl's heart.