A/N: Hello, everyone! Can you believe it's the fortieth chapter of Sunshine? And the support is still going strong, thanks to all the lovely readers out there! Thank you everyone for all the kind words you've given me and this story thus far. I think you'll enjoy this chapter. Also, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

Chapter Forty

If anyone claimed that giving a dog a bath was easy, they would make pitiful liars.

Henry came over bright and early, with his backpack slung over his shoulder. Probably an attempt to fool the Queen into believing he was attending school. Her ignorance toward her beloved adopted son was astonishing, even to Gold. Clearly, that void in her heart had been more damaging than he had intended. Oh, well.

Being the boy's stepfather, it would be the honorable thing to advise little Henry to go to school…but then he really detested the idea of giving Goldie a bath by himself. Besides, Charming would nag enough for the both of them once this curse was broken. This way, Gold had a good chance of being the favorite adult figure who always bought the best gifts for Christmas.

It had been a piece of cake for Gold to scoop up Goldie after Henry lured her with a treat. Up the stairs they went, Gold leaning heavily on the banister with Goldie secured under his other arm. In the bathroom, the tub had been filled halfway with water, waiting.

"Time for a swim in the kiddie pool," Gold muttered, scrunching his nose against the foul smell of the dog's fur. It'd been bad enough he'd had to switch pillowcases because Goldie had rolled over his pillow. If this stench clung to his suit, the dog wasn't getting any treats for a week. Unless Henry softened up and snuck her some.

"Have you given her a bath before? She's really calm," Henry commented, miraculously oblivious to the odor as he petted the dog's fur. Or maybe he loved Goldie too much to care whether she stank. Truthfully, this was the first time Gold had bathed any animal. He only hoped it wouldn't be a disaster.

Henry spoke too soon.

The minute Goldie spotted the bathwater, she squirmed and twisted in Gold's arms, struggling for escape. Her black nails were angry little daggers clawing at the skin of his wrist and drawing a few beads of blood. Hissing, he nearly dropped her, but maintained his grip as he held the dog over the bath. Both he and Henry knelt by the tub and he prepared for the battle ahead. The dog was certainly putting up a good fight.

"You…are…going…in…the tub!" Gold lowered Goldie into the warm water. Her back legs kicked desperately in the air and splashed water onto his suit. Something told him he should have grabbed his apron down in the kitchen.

Handing the dog briefly to Henry, he stripped off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. The dog seemed to relax as Henry held her close to his chest. It was as good an arrangement as they were going to get.

Snapping open a bottle of shampoo, specialized for dogs and scented with banana, Gold hastily scrubbed it into her golden fur. His fingers submerged in white suds as they rubbed and roved. For her part, Goldie kept lifting her face up to lick Henry's nose, which made him giggle. Oh, I see. She's the best of friends with Henry. You'd think I was the one in need of a bath.

"Okay, now you need to get underneath her tail," Henry pointed out, angling Goldie's lower wriggling body toward Gold. Instantly, he made a disgusted face and veered away. This wasn't listed in the job description.

"I refuse to put my hands anywhere near that dog's rear end," he protested firmly, holding up his hands to block Henry's attempts to thrust Goldie in his direction. The dog shifted her head so that her black eyes were watching him, as if to ask what's your problem? Henry pouted.

"Unless you want her to keep dragging her butt across the couch—" Gold's eyes flew wide open, his face paling considerably.

"She does what?!"

It was then that Goldie finally broke free.

As she sprang from Henry's grip, it seemed she was suspended in midair for a moment. Her golden form dived into the water, splashing a sudsy wave over both of them and soaking their clothes through to the bone. Leaping over the rim of the tub, Goldie slid on the tiled floor, aiming for the bathroom door they neglected to close.

"Grab her," Gold demanded as he gripped the edge of the tub for support.

It was too late—Goldie slipped through the door, soap bubbles floating behind and a river of water trailing under the pads of her feet. Her nails clicked on the floorboards, quickening as she seemed to jump onto the bed in the next room.

Frantically, Gold struggled to get to his feet, but his shoes were no match for the puddles on the floor. Legs being pulled out from under him, he went down and banged his knee against the side of the tub. Pain radiated across his face, his body settling down on the floor so that his legs may stretch out.

"Are you alright?" Henry scooted forward out of pure concern as Gold massaged his knee. This was his stepfather, after all. The jarring solid crack haunted his eardrums; it had been so abrupt and chilling that Henry was convinced he'd felt a tremor vibrate along his bones.

Even if he was generally suspicious of the pawnbroker, he hoped he wasn't too hurt. Though, he wondered if Emma would be willing to sit by Gold's bedside and nurse him back to health.

"I've endured worse," Gold softly whispered as he sank his head back onto the wall, his hands working over the tense, throbbing muscle in his leg.

Henry frowned, but didn't pester him with questions. He knew he hated it when he got injured and Dr. Whale always asked 'Are you sure?' Dipping a hand into the bathwater, Gold pulled the stopper on the drain, allowing it to suck and swallow the water away. Bath-time was over.

"When Emma comes home to me, it'll be her that handles the baths from now on," Gold muttered, returning to his swelling leg.

Henry heard him say 'when', not 'if' Emma came home to him, as if Gold were absolutely certain Emma would be returning. Still, he could read the little shred of doubt that lingered in his brown eyes. Neither of them mentioned what might happen if Emma never came 'home.'

"So, why did you two fight?" It distracted Gold from the issue of his leg, but that wasn't really what Henry intended. He was just curious. Before Gold could ask for an explanation for his question, Henry said, "Emma said you two fought, but she never said why."

Lines of uncertainty creased Gold's forehead, followed swiftly by an unmistakable grimness that suggested he was debating whether or not to divulge that news to Henry. But the pleading and curiosity in Henry's eyes proved too much to ignore and he sighed. No one can say no to the puppy eyes, Henry thought proudly. Unless of course your first name happened to be Regina and your last name happened to be Mills.

"I did…something wrong, Henry. You wouldn't understand," he said, closing his eyes in resign. As stubborn as his birth mother, Henry scooted closer on his knees, neglecting the damp puddles soaking into his jeans. His little face transformed into solid, serious stone that could not be derailed.

"Try me."

Gold shifted his head against the wall, glancing over at Henry with something akin to bewilderment. Maybe he didn't expect such a firm, non-negotiable tone from such a young boy. But Henry sort of picked up a thing or two from visiting every so often. It was amazing what he overheard while Gold was arguing with people about rent over the phone.

"I…I put the idea of marriage into her head," Gold admitted almost miserably. "I manipulated her into becoming my wife. It wasn't until much later, on our honeymoon, that she began to fall in love with me."

Instantly, Henry's sense of protection for his mother flared up—everyone knew Emma Swan made her own choices. She was the savior, after all. They way Gold spoke, all she had been was a pawn at one point. A piece on his chessboard. He had used her. It befuddled him, irked him more than a little. Was Gold even telling the truth?

Drawing away slightly, he noticed Gold wince. Something, some tiny voice of instinct, told him the reaction hadn't been a result of the lingering pain invading his leg. Peering closer, Henry began to recognize the tumult of crumbling emotions displayed on Gold's terrifyingly vulnerable face. Despair, longing, shame…and underneath all that, loneliness.

He was telling the truth, Henry sensed it. Maybe he had inherited Emma's 'gift', after all.

"I think I understand why you did it," Henry gradually broke the suffocating silence of the bathroom. Gold's eyes flickered in his direction, then away, his lips descending into a dubious pout. "You were lonely. You wanted someone to love you, someone that wouldn't see you as…"

Henry searched for the right word teasing his tongue. Evil? No, too harsh. Dangerous? No, that was ultimately a given with someone like Gold.

"A monster?" Gold offered flatly.

It was so simple, drawled so effortlessly and emotionlessly that Henry knew instantly that this was the way Gold viewed himself. A monster; not exactly a human being, who frightened others away, who no one wished to be friends with, who didn't deserve a delicate bond such as love. It was sad.

To Henry, the fact that Gold was capable of realizing and feeling this inside proved he wasn't one. Monsters were unfeeling, terrible beings like dragons and trolls. It was the thin line between him and the Queen. The Evil Queen didn't have any room in her icy black heart to care. It often seemed there was a void devouring any ability to nurture tender, loving sensations.

But Gold cared. He must, deep down, if this was what it came down to in the depths of his mind.

He was trying to convince himself it was true. But did a monster need to convince itself it was a monster? Even if Henry wasn't altogether sure of Rumpelstiltskin, Henry knew Mr. Gold had only ever been kind and helpful to him. Most of it might have been manipulation, but Henry didn't think so.

Mr. Gold had never asked him for anything. And Henry always noticed a veil of fondness in Gold's brown eyes when they crossed paths and the ghost of a smile when the pawnbroker was convinced no one—especially Henry—was looking. It was as though Henry reminded him of someone.

How could a monster really feel all of that? The Queen never smiled warmly around him or tried to help. All she did was destroy. A dragon, if ever there was one.

"You need someone who's not afraid of you," Henry finally corrected after pondering it. "Emma's not afraid of anything." Gold held up a finger to signal Henry's undivided attention. It wasn't that hard; Gold had a knack for earning the spotlight. It was too bad he wasn't in Archie and the Crickets.

"You're wrong, Henry," he protested in a lilting, sing-song manner, waving his finger back and forth before Henry's face. "Everyone is afraid of something. Emma is a brave woman, I agree whole-heartedly. But she is afraid of losing you. And she also happens to fear vulnerability. Always seeking to do the right thing, refusing to ask for help, never admitting to anything that might cause her undue emotional harm. You have no idea how long it took for those bloody walls of hers to come down for me."

Gold's hands fell away from the task of kneading his thigh muscles, instead folding limply in his lap. Henry sat quite still, the weight of Gold's words sinking in. In part, he knew Gold was right: Emma was at least afraid of losing him to Regina, even if she didn't always show it. Wasn't that why she was fighting so hard?

Still, he smiled at Gold with new, bright meaning reflected in his eyes.

"I'll help you get her back," he promised his stepfather sincerely. Henry found he was similar to Gold in one way—he never made promises he could not keep. "Emma's happy being with you. She's just confused and mad. The happy ending isn't easy to reach. There's always some conflict or trouble for the heroes. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a very good story. Who knows? Maybe it's…true love."

Was that pushing it too far? Henry was still trying to figure out if Gold was 'awake' or not. If he was, would it be okay to confide in Rumpelstiltskin? Then again, this was supposedly the guy that took off with children. Henry heard a story where Rumpelstiltskin ate them.

"I wouldn't say that," Gold disagreed under his breath.

The moment between them splintered and shattered as Gold gripped the rim of the tub and attempted to get to his feet. Henry quickly offered his hand and Gold used his shoulder for added support. For a long moment, Gold stared down at him intently, as if mentally comparing him to that other person that he was constantly reminded of. Solemnly, he shook it away, retrieving his jacket and slipping it on.

"Better round up the dog before she rolls on my pillow. Again."

"Mr. Gold?"

He paused from passing through the door into the hall at the small sound of Henry's calling. It was hesitant and Henry's heart pounded in his chest, his feet threatening to slide on the tiled floor like he was walking across winter ice. Gold didn't make a move to turn around, but he was listening.

"What are you afraid of?"

There was a sharp intake of breath and Henry watched the muscles of Gold's suited back tighten, his head falling forward from the stiffness of his neck. His hands curled into merciless fists at his sides and his bad leg jerked once. Slowly, Gold glanced over his shoulder, though his dusty brown hair shielded most of his features.

"That is a tale for another time." And then he left Henry alone to ponder his thoughts while Gold went to fetch Goldilocks. "No, not the bear!" Goldie took her sweet time skittering past the bathroom door, taking Mr. Teddy as her prisoner.

"It's a lot bigger than last year," Henry said as he and Emma traversed the town square, newly transformed into the annual Miner's Day festival. The kid's eyeballs were nearly popping out of his skull, his head whipping in various directions as he pointed at the stalls. "There's a dunk tank and a Zoltar machine. Ooh, and cotton candy," he hinted with a practiced pair of doe eyes.

Emma sighed tiredly.

"Henry, for the last time, you are not getting cotton candy. You've already had a hot dog, a pretzel, and I even bought you a soda. Your mother's sweetness detector will be going off before we even pull up to your house." Henry pursed his lips unhappily, but his attention easily strayed as they wandered. "Kid, I thought you said this was bigger."

"It is," he replied nonchalantly, shrugging.

Emma glanced around with a shred of disappointment. Some festival the town had going for them. Couldn't they have at least blown up a bouncy house? Or had one of those 'test your strength' booth games? The only other booth game was the classic one of knocking the milk bottles with a baseball. How pathetic was that?

"What exactly did it have last year? Just the booth of candles?" Henry nodded solemnly.

"Yep. Regina kept saying 'no' to everything except bobbing for apples." Go figure, Emma thought wryly. "Mother Superior insisted the nuns had to sell candles to pay their rent to Mr. Gold. The head nun is kind of scary when she gets upset. I think her hair was actually getting frizzier."

At least there was entertainment this year; Archie and the Crickets were making their official debut on a flimsy wooden stage. From the sound of it, they were engrossed in singing 'Truly, Madly, Deeply.' Of course, Mary Margaret somehow convinced Leroy to sell candles—a feat Emma would never understand since she could barely get him to keep quiet in jail—and was replaced by Marco. Archie looked ready to crowd-surf any moment.

"Good show, huh?" Ruby sidled up to them, beaming up at Archie as he enthusiastically poured out his soul. If Emma didn't know any better, she'd claim Ruby actually had a crush on Archie. She sure was staring at him hard enough. "Oh, free T-shirt?"

Ruby revealed a bundle of clothing from a box she was carrying and handed one to each of them. Emma unfolded it—a forest green T-shirt with Archie, Leroy, and David's faces underneath 'Archie and the Crickets.' If she stuffed this shirt in Gold's mailbox, would he wear it?

"So, how did the date go?" Henry raised his eyebrows expectantly at Ruby. Emma was left to stare between Ruby, Henry, and Archie on stage, slowly connecting the dots. Wait, did Archie really just point and wink at Ruby? And was Ruby…blushing?

"It was better than I thought it would be! I mean, he doesn't insist on calling it a date, and we haven't exactly told Granny yet, but…" Ruby bit down on her lip. "We went dancing and had a picnic by the Toll Bridge and watched the full moon and he told me that it was the most perfect moment of his life. It was kind of…romantic. I was supposed to hold a kissing booth today, but I decided to advertise their band instead."

Ruby excused herself to hand a few more T-shirts to people passing by, some of whom she looked ready to chase if they refused. Emma had never seen the waitress so passionate about something before. Suddenly, she felt eyes on her and she noticed Henry watching her with that devious, 'I-have-a-plan' smirk of his.

"What now?" She groaned, knowing the wheels were spinning rapidly in that little head of his. Henry grinned.

"Maybe you should hold a kissing booth. It might make Operation: Cobra progress a lot faster," he suggested. Emma crossed her arms and glared down at him.

"Henry, the last thing I am doing is holding a kissing booth. Just because you think I'm true love incarnate or something—"

"It worked on Graham," he protested a little too loudly, making people turn to stare in their direction. No one had mentioned Graham since he died, least of all her. With a tell-tale blush, she started walking away toward the dunk tank. Soft footsteps told her Henry was running to keep up with her. "Maybe it could help you solve your problem with Mr. Gold…if you kissed him?"

Emma halted in her tracks. She gave Henry an odd look over her shoulder. Was it the odd bit of hot dog rising in her system or was Henry really playing devil's advocate before her eyes?

"Since when do you sponsor my relationship with Gold? Every time you visit, you call him the Limping Imp," she reminded him. Henry shrugged. A stone sank into her belly as realization hit her full-force. She crossed her arms over her chest in sheer annoyance. Switching to mother-mode. "Is that why you skipped school again this morning?"

A slight downcast of his head told her all she needed to know. The kid must have had the worst attendance record in all of Maine by now. It was a wonder Mary Margaret let it slide so often.

"Well, I was busy…giving Goldie a bath," he explained. Emma's head sunk into her palm. That must have gone over swimmingly in the bathroom—a cripple with a bad leg and a ten year-old whose only interest was getting out of school and proving that fairy tales were real. "Besides, I just want you to be happy. Even if it's with him."

Ever since arriving in Storybrooke, Emma had fought to keep from getting attached to the kid she gave up for adoption ten years ago. Lack of emotional attachment meant she could easily sever ties whenever she wanted. Now that she was married, pregnant, and had spent more time with Henry than possibly any person in Storybrooke besides her husband, she realized just how much he had grown on her.

Something inside her chest ached. Guilt? Sympathy? Love? The occasional heartburn?

Kneeling down to his level, Emma awkwardly placed a hand on his shoulder. Slowly but surely, she was learning the ways of gentleness and motherly techniques from Mary Margaret. Henry gazed down at her with something like hope.

"Henry…finding happiness is not always simple. But I will be happy so long as I know that you are," she reassured him with a small smile. "You will always come first." The corners of his lips lifted into a satisfied smile and he nodded, releasing her from the duty of comforting. Good thing, too, because she was hard-pressed for comforting words.

Just wait until I pop out the other one, she thought with a decidedly warm sensation as she touched a hand to her abdomen. It was too early to feel movement, but she secretly waited for the day it happened. She knew Gold longed for it, too. Faintly, she could recall how it felt to have Henry kicking inside her—it brought a fond smile to her lips.

The two of them passed close to the dunk tank and one of the nurses of the hospital was trying to round people up to play. Sitting on the bench was Dr. Whale, completely dry and looking rather confident in his ability to stay that way. Emma wondered how people in Storybrooke wouldn't want to dunk the arrogant doctor, but then he kept grinning suggestively at any female that walked by.

"You want to try? Only a dollar," the nurse offered to Emma. She caught Whale giving her bedroom eyes and quickly shook her head.

"No, thanks," she declined firmly. She was better off keeping her distance from Whale. The nurse frowned as she guided Henry away, but not before Whale could get his two cents in from the tank. Over her shoulder, she could hear him audibly scoff.

"There goes the brave Sheriff. She may be good with a gun, but I'll bet she fails at dunking," he muttered.

The nurse coughed, though Emma knew it was to cover a giggle. Angrily, she backtracked until she was standing directly before the tank, meeting Whale's gaze again. Oh, he was brimming with confidence as he smiled down at her. He deserved to be dunked.

"Excuse me?"

There was a warning tone in her voice, but obviously he missed it. Henry clutched the free T-shirts to his chest and watched the exchange with wide, eager eyes. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a crowd beginning to draw forward. Maybe they were expecting a show.

"You heard me, Sheriff. I'll bet you could never dunk me. Admit it—you don't have the skill. Hell, I'll even take you for a drink to make up for it if you fail. Since your schedule is obviously clear this week," he boasted. A nerve throbbed in Emma's forehead as the doctor so casually referred to her rendezvous with August.

Oh, he was going down. Stepping forward to the table, she laid one of her last dollars down and snatched up a baseball. Whale 'oohed' mockingly.

"Just to prove my point of your failure, I think I'll take a note from Archie and the Crickets," he told her and began drumming his fingers on the sides of the bench. Never had she heard Whale sing before…and she never wanted to again. "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, can't touch this. Na-na-na-na-na-na, can't touch—"

Emma launched the ball for the target. It collided against the center and, with a sharp ring of metal, the bench under Whale gave way and he dropped into a pool of freezing water. You can save your drinks, Whale, she thought proudly as the crowd clapped for her victory. Henry was impressed to the point of being speechless as she returned to his side.

"I take it back, kid. I'm happy now."

"Okay, you remember your lines?"

Anxiously, Mary Margaret fidgeted with her cap and jacket as she and Leroy walked up the path to the first house on the block. Was the scarf too much? But then if she ditched the scarf, people might find her plunging neck-line offensive…The booth at the festival hadn't done any good for selling candles, so they were going door to door. The town harlot and the town drunk, partners in crime.

Now that Mary Margaret seriously considered it, she hoped at least one person could overlook their sketchy reputations. The only way this could get any more awkward and uninviting was if Gold decided to pitch in out of the goodness of his heart and sell candles for the nuns. That was a big 'if.'

"Yeah, yeah. I remember my lines. We only practiced them twenty times while walking from the festival," Leroy grumbled beside her. The wind was a little chilly, forcing Mary Margaret to pull her jacket tightly around her.

They could have taken a car instead of carting around a children's wagon filled with boxes of candles. The only problem was that Leroy's car had a boot on it and her car had been spray-painted with the word tramp. She figured everyone in town would know exactly who was pulling up in front of their houses and would proceed to lock their doors.

Once or twice he cleared his throat before raising a large fist and rapping his knuckles on the door. This was it—Mary Margaret plastered an enthusiastic smile on her lips in anticipation. How could anyone resist a friendly smile?

"Leroy, smile," she whispered through her clenched teeth. He shot her an irritated look and squeezed his candle.

"I am smiling! See?" Mary Margaret thought it was something alright. She just prayed a child didn't answer the door first. Lightly, she elbowed him in the ribs.

"You're not smiling! You are grimacing!" She retorted harshly, trying desperately to keep the volume of her voice to a minimum. It wasn't working very well. Whatever smile had existed on Leroy's gruff face broke away altogether as he spun in her direction.

"That's because you're getting on my nerves, sister! This is the way I smile; I'm not making a stinkin' toothpaste commercial! If you don't like the way I smile, then I say—" There was a jarring bustle and the front door burst inward. Leroy flashed a winning smile on the spot and extended his candle forward. "Well, hello there, my fine man! Would you be interested in buying a candle today?"

Mary Margaret was stunned by Leroy's abrupt turnaround and overly friendly tone. All she could do was copy Leroy and offer her candle to the man before them. He wasn't smiling. It was getting uncomfortable under his scrutiny; her jaw growing sore from smiling so hard.

"Sure, I'll buy one," the man flatly agreed, much to their relief. One down, five hundred or so left to sell. Leroy's expression was one of surprise and then self-righteousness. Obviously, he was imagining that he had better salesman skills than he thought.

"Really?" Selling candles would be easier than they thought. At least until the guy's cooperation disintegrated into an accusing glare.

"No." And he slammed the door in their faces.

Mary Margaret's smile crumbled into pieces. That was rude. Leroy, however, stared numbly at the closed door, a ticking time bomb standing idle in shock until the weight of the rejection fully settled on his shoulders. Then he was up against the door, banging his fist and yelling on the top of his lungs.

"Hey, I know where you live now, buddy! You better hope I crash into a tree next time I drive under the influence! Otherwise, I'll be paying you a visit! My car will drive straight through this door! And you'll be begging to buy my candles!"

Muttering under his breath, he whirled and stomped down the pathway, his temper simmering. Heat traveled up Mary Margaret's neck as she dashed down the path to keep up with him. Next time, she intended to do all the talking.

…..

Much to Mary Margaret's immense disdain, the next few houses were just as unpromising as the first.

The minute the doors opened, people either gawked at the two of them like they were speaking Gibberish or they immediately slammed the doors in their faces. They even mentioned they were selling the candles for the nuns, but still the doors slammed closed after people claimed they would go to confession on Sunday.

Either way, there were still candles sitting in their little red wagon without any takers.

"Hate to tell you, sister, but we ain't sellin'," Leroy muttered as they trudged along the street. Mary Margaret cradled a candle close to her chest. She didn't approve of Leroy's sour attitude, but even her green eyes kept trailing to the town clock and its ticking black hands. Time was running out.

"What do you expect us to do? Return to the nuns with all these candles and say 'Sorry, we failed. Good luck with the eviction?' That'll be very heroic on your part," Mary Margaret boldly retorted. Was Leroy even listening? No, he was staring off into space. Wonderful.

Out of the blue, he caught her by the arm, an elated grin spreading across his face.

"I've got it! We're obviously not advertising to our full potential. All we got to do is try a different tactic, like…" Leroy shuffled his feet in the dirt as he thought for a moment. Any harder and he might have an aneurysm. Then he snapped his fingers. "We make the candles more appealing."

Mary Margaret's mouth fell open, astounded. She was pretty certain Leroy wasn't talking about putting the candles in pretty pink dresses and suits.

"Are you suggesting we lie?" Leroy winced at the iciness of the accusation. "These are for the nuns, Leroy! Next I suppose you'll want me to borrow Ruby's clothes and dress the part of the town harlot!" She stormed off seething and Leroy had to pick up his pace to reach her. He latched onto her arm again and forced her to slow her steps.

"It's not lying! It's…stretching the truth, that's all. All we need to do is make the people want to buy the candles. Smiling ain't cutting it. Here, watch how the master handles it," Leroy bragged as he strode up to the next house with the red wagon. If another door slammed in their face, the 'master' was taking full blame.

Leroy abused the doorbell until the front door swung open. There stood two children, both around Henry's age. Mary Margaret instantly recognized them as the children Emma had helped—Nicholas and Ava, she recalled. Just as she remembered, Ava was the one who took charge.

"You want to ring it again? I don't think we heard you the last seventy times," she scowled at Leroy. Mary Margaret forgot how much attitude Ava contained to make up for Nicholas' shyness. It reminded her of a mini-Emma. Leroy, however, was not amused.

"I didn't ring it seventy times! It was only twenty times!" Ava stared back at him hard while Nicholas used her as a human shield. Leroy cleared his throat, reverting back to the 'master'. "Anyway, would you like to buy a candle?" Ava flipped her corn-silk hair over her shoulder and gazed at the pale yellow candle as if he were holding out a dead rat. Her nose scrunched.

"Why would we need a candle?" Nicholas' eyes flew open wide in fear.

"Are we going to have a blackout?" Apparently, someone was still afraid of the dark. Nicholas was clutching Ava's arm so fiercely, his fingers digging into her skin until she gasped and pulled away. Mary Margaret stepped forward to comfort him.

"No, of course not, sweetie. We're just selling candles for the nuns. And these aren't ordinary candles. They're…" Make them appealing, make them appealing, make them appealing…"They're special candles." Even Mary Margaret had to shudder at her poor sell.

Both the children stared blankly at her yellow candle, as if waiting for it to light itself. If only Storybrooke were equipped with a magician.

"What's so special about it?" Mary Margaret felt warmth pool in her cheeks as the children awaited her answer. She started fidgeting in her spot again. Leroy had his eyes closed, like he was wishing for a spacecraft to fall from the sky and crush him. This is why you let the master handle it.

"Uh…well…it's really special…because…" Her mind was blank. The children kept staring. Her yellow candle wasn't magically lighting. It was just a candle….

"Because these candles float like the ones in Harry Potter," Leroy intercepted. Mary Margaret buried her head in her hand. That was his plan to make the candles more appealing? These children were old enough to depict reality from fantasy. At least she hoped they were.

"You made that up! Candles don't float," Ava protested. Behind her, Nicholas was gazing at the candle with interest. Was he really buying into Leroy's floating candle advertisement? Leroy huffed at Ava.

"Are you calling Harry Potter a liar?" Now Mary Margaret was the one wishing obscure space junk would fall from the sky and crush her. Leroy was actually having an argument with a ten year old girl. Some master he was turning out to be.

"No, I'm calling you one," Ava shot back, her voice rising. "If your candle magically floats, then prove it."

Mary Margaret lifted her head to see how Leroy could possibly pull this one off. There was no choice but to admit that they weren't selling candles to these children. They'd have to take their little red wagon, turn around, head to some other house…

"Okay, I will," Leroy announced. Mary Margaret froze, a deer in headlights. Ava and Nicholas were at a loss of words, too. Probably waiting to see Leroy make a fool of himself. "Let me just light the candle first. Make the show ten times better."

Quickly, he turned around and dug something out of his pocket. Mary Margaret couldn't quite see what he was doing, but there was the insistent clicking of a lighter. For a few seconds, Leroy grumbled about the lighter refusing to light and then he spun around, holding the lighted candle in front of him.

"Are you ready for this, sister? 'Cause it'll blow your mind," Leroy warned. Ava was stubbornly silent, but Nicholas edged forward.

Suddenly, Leroy released his fingers from the candle and it stayed in place before him, seemingly hovering in the air. A floating candle, before their very eyes. Even Ava's eyes were widening in surprise, though Mary Margaret knew Leroy was pulling some trick. He had to be. Magic didn't exist.

"Whoa," Nicholas breathed in wonder before rushing back into the house. "Dad, he's got a floating candle! Just like Harry Potter!" Leroy grinned victoriously at Mary Margaret as the candle 'floated' in place, the flame flickering in the wind. Ava's eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"Hey, where are your thumbs?" Ava pointed to the fingers that weren't touching the candle. Mary Margaret realized the girl was right—Leroy's fingers were visible in the air except for the thumbs. His smile faltered as he scrambled for a reasonable explanation.

"They're right here. What, you think they burned off or something? Just 'cause you can't see them behind the candle—"

And then Ava reached out and tugged the candle away. With a sticky sound, Leroy's thumbs appeared, both covered with a piece of tape. Ava made an 'a-ha' expression as she pointed.

"See? You had tape on your fingers! I knew this wasn't a floating candle!" Ava tossed the candle back into Leroy's hands and started back inside the house. Another customer gone. "Forget it, Nicholas! The hobo lied to us!" The door slammed shut, leaving Mary Margaret wordless. Leroy was turning as red as a Mexican pepper.

"Hobo? Who is she calling a hobo? This candle's used, so I demand payment!" Mary Margaret stuffed her candle back inside one of the boxes and carted the red wagon away. "I would have sold it if the girl hadn't touched my candle." Mary Margaret whirled on him.

"You used tape? Why exactly do you carry around tape in your pocket?" Leroy dug the little roll of duct tape out of his jacket and smirked.

"I was helping the gimp fix his broken guitars. I forgot to give it back. Plus, whenever I shake hands with people I don't like…tape somehow gets on my fingers and then somehow slips inside their coat pockets and…" He shrugged as the rest of the picture was painted in her mind. Was that why Whale kept insisting the girls he dated robbed him?

"Leroy….you do like me, right?"

She imagined all the times she'd been around Leroy and kept a few dollars on her at all times when she was in town. There was a dollar missing today, but she was sure she dropped it…or did she? Was that his back-up plan for paying the nuns' rent?

Leroy gave a half-smile and patted her arm reassuringly.

"Sure, sister," he mumbled as he eyed the next house. Mary Margaret's mind grew frantic as she walked. Finally, she stopped behind Leroy to check her pockets for the money she'd put there earlier. There was a five missing.

"Leroy!"

The final house on the block loomed before them, tall and an offsetting aquamarine blue. Their wagon hadn't yet been relieved of one measly candle, except for the used one that Leroy had chucked into the bushes despite Mary Margaret's complaint. Someone else would probably find it and do who knew what with it.

"Do you think they'll be willing to buy one thousand candles?" Only if these good people happen to treasure the art of collecting candles, Mary Margaret thought without too much hope. She ignored his quip and rang the doorbell—politely, unlike Leroy's show of abusing the doorbell. The Bell-Breakers were multiplying these days.

"Smile," she reminded him. "And no tape! And no stealing their money! And fix your cap; it's crooked." Mary Margaret reached out and straightened it herself before he could move a muscle. Left, right, a little left…She did the same with his jacket until he swatted her away.

"Easy! What are you, my mother?" No, supposedly I'm Emma's mother. But who else do I have to take care of? Emma's keeping Henry occupied at the festival and David's singing at the festival and I'm not there…at the festival. I'm only trying to help. The door opened, silencing her depressed musings.

In the doorway stood a young girl, possibly no older than Ruby. Deep red waves cascaded over her shoulders and ocean blue eyes—just a shade darker than David's—sparkled with curiosity as she watched them with a slight tilt to her head. Mary Margaret couldn't help notice she was also barefoot, even though it was freezing out.

"Let's get this over with," Leroy fumed under his breath. The girl, whose skin was already a delicate, creamy shade the equivalent of white roses, paled. She probably thought they were Bonnie and Clyde or something similar. Mary Margaret shot Leroy a glare before smiling warmly at the girl.

"Hello. We're selling candles for the nuns. Would you like to buy one? It's for a good cause," she added, sounding a tad desperate despite her best efforts not to sound desperate. Immediately, the girl vehemently shook her head and made signs with her hands. Leroy squinted with confusion.

"What, are we playing charades? What's with the hand gestures?" Be thankful she's not giving you any meaningful hand gestures, Leroy! The girl appeared perplexed for a minute before placing a hand to her throat, inches above a seashell that hung on a black rope. Leroy's eyes boggled. "Someone…choked you?"

"Leroy—" Mary Margaret tried to get his attention so as to explain it to him, but the girl was frantically waving her hands along her throat, up to her mouth. Up and out, over and over miming her meaning.

"You threw up and burned your vocal chords?" Both Mary Margaret and the poor girl mirrored each other's furrowed brows. Leroy shrugged. "It happens. When you're hit with a Level Six hangover, you can't speak for a week."

Mary Margaret had never known someone to drink that much alcohol and this girl did not look like an alcoholic. It did explain why no one could find Leroy last Thanksgiving, though.

"Leroy, she's—" Suddenly, Leroy's face lit up and he nearly jumped a foot in his euphoria.

"Oh, wait! You were at the festival, right? You were cheering on Archie and the Crickets so hard that you lost your voice—"

"She's mute, Leroy!" Mary Margaret shrieked into his ear, startling him.

The girl's cheeks were raw and enflamed as she stared intently at the cracked threshold that separated them. Leroy made a small 'O' with his mouth as the truth dawned on him. Perhaps they should have skipped this house, after all.

"Oh…this is awkward," he stated the obvious. A few seconds of silence passed between the three of them, stretching on for what seemed like years—the girl was probably wracking her brain for a kind way to tell them to get lost. Then Leroy thrust his candle forward. "Would you still like to buy a candle? Even mutes can light a candle. Nod once for yes."

Mary Margaret half-expected him to conjure a story of how lighting the candle would result in the release of some foreign incense that would bring the girl's voice back. Better not share that idea with him.

Instead of nodding, the girl reached for something to her right, out of view. At first, Mary Margaret's heart went into overdrive; she assumed the girl might have been offended and was going for a gun. A moment later, she held up a white piece of paper with only three words on it, scrawled in pen.

No, thank you.

The girl nodded once and softly closed the door, bidding them dismissal. At least she isn't illiterate, Mary Margaret thought as they wandered back down the path, both of them dazed by that odd encounter. The surprise melted down to disappointment—now there was no choice but to return to the nuns and regrettably explain their failure.

Strangely, Leroy was smiling. And chuckling. It appalled her that he could be in such high spirits. He shifted his head in her direction and exploded outright with giggles.

"At least she was polite."

Don't need nothin' but a good time…how can I resist? Ain't lookin' for nothing but a good time and it don't get better than this…

Archie and the Crickets had been performing for the better half of the evening. More importantly, the people of Storybrooke enjoyed it. They were actually cheering, dancing, demanding for more. Some people had even jumped on the stage to try to join them, if only as back-up dancers.

It felt good, standing on that stage and pouring your heart out with the music. Archie felt more confident about himself than he had in a long time, especially when he peered down into that wild, energetic crowd of people below him and saw Ruby smiling up proudly. This was definitely a good week for him so far. She made his heart flutter like butterflies' wings and he imagined he was singing some of those songs solely for her.

He felt good.

He felt happy.

It bubbled up inside him, a powerful emotion bursting forward, brewing thicker and building higher until his body seemed ready to explode. A foolish grin had glued itself to his face a while ago and it kept spreading from ear to ear. This wonderful feeling was so hard to ignore; it made him want to…want to…

He wanted to do a stage-dive. Right here, right now, right into the crowd. It sounded like fun as he mulled it over in his mind. Crazy, but fun. His legs were even bending in preparation for it. Imagine, leaping into that humungous crowd of cheering fans and crowd-surfing as smoothly as a log on a river.

He was going to do it. Maybe Ruby could even get a good picture, so he could show Mr. Gold and prove that he was capable of being spontaneous once in a while. It was too bad he couldn't make it to the festival tonight.

Archie and the Crickets hit the last few notes of their song, releasing Archie's feet from having to remain solidly on the stage. Okay, it was time. It was now or never. He was ready for it. Sucking in a deep breath, Archie tossed the microphone away, dashed forward, and took a flying leap.

"Incoming!"

Into the crowd he went, expecting to be swallowed up and carried along. He never expected the crowd to part in two and the people to make way for his dive. The minute his body hit the ground, a horrible collision that sent his head reeling, the lights in the town square went out. The festival was hopelessly shrouded in darkness.

"Whoa! Dr. Hopper's stage-dive caused a black-out!" Someone exclaimed from the crowd.

Murmurs and jeers rose in a dull roar as everyone tried to figure out what was going on. Ruby shoved through the crowd and knelt down by Archie's fallen body, her hands seeking him in the dark. His glasses were cracked and all he could do was lift a weak hand as he writhed and groaned in agony.

"I think….I need…help…" And then he blacked out.

For the fifteenth time, Emma's eyes rolled over the phone records until her brain could most likely recite the typed black letters and numbers in her sleep.

The one that stuck out like a sore thumb was the mysterious call from David, spanning eight whole minutes. He failed to mention that. Then again, maybe he was so charged for the Archie and the Crickets performance that he forgot…

The rhythmic clicking of heels interrupted her train of thought. God, she loathed that sound. Frustrated, she snapped the papers down on her desk just as Regina strode all high and mighty into the room. Why couldn't she take a vacation and torment someone that actually deserved it, like Freddy Krueger?

"If you're here to tell me that the power's out, I've noticed. Gold was in the shower when it happened and he already called me to complain about getting soap in his eye. So, feel free to locate the nearest exit," she spouted without glancing up. It would have been a miracle if Regina actually listened, but Emma figured she'd try her luck.

"Someone clearly needs an attitude adjustment," she bitterly mocked, her thin black-clothed body blocking the doorway of her office. Someone clearly needs to remove the stick from her skirt, Emma thought irately. "Or perhaps you're deprived of intimacy. Two men aren't satisfactory enough for your needs?"

Patience shot to hell, Emma abruptly rose from her desk, matching eye-level with Regina. She didn't have the time or desire to discuss her activities in the bedroom with someone like Regina. That disgusting smugness, fed by the bleeding of hearts, sent her nerves crawling.

"If you don't mind, I'm in the middle of an investigation. What the hell do you want?" Besides rubbing salt in my wounds? Instantly, the pleased façade crumbled, the black stones of her irises glittering with malice. The dragon hath come. Time to get down to business.

"My son never made it to school today. Why?" Emma planted her hands on her hips defiantly as Regina more or less placed the blame on her for Henry's usual tendency to ditch class in favor of poring over his fairy tale book. The mental image of Gold and Henry giving Goldie a bath teased her mind while Maleficent's—uh, Regina's—black-toed heels impatiently tapped on the linoleum.

"How should I know? The only time I saw him was when I took him to the Miner's Day festival earlier," she retorted. It wasn't a lie by any means—it just wasn't the whole truth. Regina wasn't a fool. She was capable of reading between the lines.

"I believe you know more than you're saying, Sheriff. When my son arrived home this afternoon, his clothes were soaking wet. Unless it only rains in a certain section of this town, I demand an explanation." Tap, tap, tap.

Emma would have claimed Whale quit the dunk tank and Henry took over, but it was before Emma picked him up today. Heat traveled along the curve of her back, grazing her neck. Despite her 'gift', she really hated lying. Licking her lips—easy does it—she shrugged.

"Maybe Ruby decided to make snow in the blender again," she offered. Henry once told her how he had wished hard for snow and Ruby stuffed mozzarella cheese in the blender until it exploded in the diner, making it 'snow.' Granny had been beyond furious and the customers had smelled like cheese for the rest of the day.

"I'm sorry," Regina emotionlessly interceded her thoughts. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that horrendous lie of yours?" Regina's upper lip curled in a vicious sneer, daring Emma to defy her common sense. She could glare all she wanted—it wouldn't change Emma's attitude.

"Innocent until proven guilty, Madame Mayor," Emma countered.

Swiftly, Regina dominated the three steps it took to reach Emma's desk. As the Mayor roughly invaded her personal bubble, Emma was suffocated by the deceptively sweet McIntosh apple perfume wafting around the Mayor. The corners of Regina's blood red lips curved into a cold, unforgiving smirk.

"I prefer to see it as the other way around—guilty until proven innocent," she hissed. Emma held the Regina's smoldering gaze until it was time for one of them to break. It was Regina. Stepping back, her ebony eyes spotted the phone records on Emma's desk, with David's number highlighted in neon yellow. "Still pondering over useless phone records, I see. Shame. Here I was hoping you'd made some decent progress, now that you no longer have someone to run home to."

Another barb, meant to spike Emma's heart. Harshly, Emma swept the records up, away from the Mayor's intrusive attention. No matter how much Regina hated it, she did not have her pretty lacquered nails around the leash, anymore. Graham was her tail-wagging puppy, but Emma was the white wolf that would bite Regina's hand off.

"Like it or not, I'm doing the best I can to find Kathryn," she argued through barely moving lips. So, take the hint and get lost, Madame Mayor. We both know you were never really her friend, anyway.

"It's too bad your best isn't good enough, Sheriff."

Violently, Regina swept her palms across Emma's desk, sending piles of paperwork flying in a flurry to the tiled floor. With those scolding words, Regina briskly whirled on her heel and strode from the office, leaving Emma to mentally throw darts at the Mayor's black head.

The Miner's Day festival was alight with a sea of candles, the flames flickering in unison and casting a golden glow across the friendly faces of Storybrooke's citizens. From a distance, David watched Granny offer to relight Mary Margaret's candle. Just as the white wick reignited, the elated sensation inside David intensified. It had been there ever since singing on that stage. He could understand why Archie stage-dived. He just wished he thought of it first.

"David?"

He turned in the direction of his name and came face to face with none other than the Sheriff. Under the glow of the candles, the badge on her hip shined. That good feeling waned as he realized she did not appear happy. He'd seen the way she flat-out dunked Whale earlier today—she should at least be happy about achieving that. Whale's surname only increased the damage.

Or was this something to do with the black-out?

"Look, I know some people claim that Archie's stage-dive caused the blackout, but I assure you that's not true," he protested before a single accusatory word could pass her lips. Startled, she raised her palms in caution.

"Down, boy. Archie's stage-dive—as insane as it was—was a coincidence. I'm fairly certain that a guy jumping off a stage and landing flat on his face would not be cause for a massive blackout. Otherwise, he'd be featured in the Guinness World Records."

David frowned thoughtfully as he studied her. The way the shadows made her green eyes gleam like fresh emeralds reminded him of the shade of Mary Margaret's eyes. If she wasn't here for the blackout, then was she here for the festival? Without Henry? Or did it have something to do with…Kathryn? And the good feeling's gone, he thought sadly.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me," Emma morosely stated, just as she latched onto his forearm with the intent of leading him away.

The gesture was the equivalence of shooting off a gun; all of a sudden, every pair of eyes were shifting in their direction, watching. The left side of his jaw itched and burned simultaneously as the sensitive green eyes of the woman he'd grown to love inevitably settled on him from afar.

Emma was in the process of guiding him away when he abruptly wrenched his arm back, out of her stern grip.

"What exactly is this about? Did you get ahold of Kathryn?" If it was possible, Emma's hard-pressed face became even graver than before. The crowd of citizens was overwhelming, flocking like geese over discarded shreds of bread. At least no one had brought a camera. Click. Spoke too soon.

"Afraid not," Emma reluctantly admitted.

It bothered David deeply. What kind of person would run off without their suitcase of clothes? What person in Storybrooke would have reason to kidnap Kathryn? Ransom? It made no sense to him. Once again, Emma brought her hand down on his arm and this time he did not resist.

"I need you to come with me to the station and tell me everything."

Now he was really puzzled. Déjà vu clouded his mind. Was the Sheriff experiencing a memory relapse out of her intense relationship stress? He would try singing her a soothing song, but his mind was a blank slate of any such tunes. Maybe Don't Worry, Be Happy?

"Emma, I thought I already did," he reminded her gently as her cruiser came into view. Something told him he wouldn't be riding shotgun. "What more do you want to know? What I ate for breakfast?"

Emma opened the door of the backseat, confirming his worries. Definitely not shotgun, not even if he called it. It seemed he was no longer a potential suspect, but the primary suspect. Better him than Mary Margaret, he supposed. Perhaps he could spare her that loss of dignity.

"If your choice of cereal somehow relates to Kathryn's disappearance, then yes," she snapped, gesturing for him to slide in. At least he wasn't being led away in handcuffs.

Ignoring the stuffy confines of the backseat, he couldn't help grinning at Emma's misconstrued facts. Mary Margaret could have corrected her, had she been within earshot. Mary Margaret even knew that he picked up Chinese for dinner on Thursdays.

"Hah! I don't eat cereal in the morning! Kathryn makes me pancakes and toast," he exclaimed rather loudly. "Or at least she did." Emma's patience was obviously running out as she rubbed her hands on her jeans and pursed her lips. Sharply, she pointed.

"Get in, David," she brusquely demanded. She could have simply said please. Dejectedly, David squeezed into the backseat and the door slammed behind him, trapping him inside.

The last thing he saw before Emma started the engine and pulled away from the curb was Mary Margaret. Still as a statue of an angel, watching him being taken away. Though she paid it no mind, the flame of her candle danced wildly in circles until the wind blew it out once more.

…..

The hollow clicking of heels stirred Archie from his uneasy, sore slumber. At first, his mind conjured the image of Regina in spiky black heels, deadly as daggers though it would hold little contest to the grimness of her glare as she mocked him for the absurdity of a stage-dive that cost him a therapy session with Henry. Please don't be Regina, please don't be Regina…

Instead, a bright and energetic Ruby appeared in the doorway, easing his heart rate to normal with the speed of white water rapids. In her arms were flowers, a steaming cup, and a box. It was amazing she could juggle it without breaking a sweat.

"Ruby," he breathed with honest delight. Thank God it's not Regina, he added in his head. There was something niggling at his mind, some detail that was different about her. It wasn't her hair—it hung long, red, and straight as always underneath a crimson fleece cap. Slowly, modestly, his eyes dared to travel down past her torso, to her legs. That was it. "Holy crickets! You're wearing pants!"

That came out more bluntly than he intended. How many guys had Ruby heard that line from?

Striding in, Ruby set the flowers and the mysterious cardboard box on the bedside table. It took him a moment of thought to realize the box was the same one she'd carried while handing out T-shirts advertising their band. Hands free except for the cup, she revolved for him, modeling the crimson skinny jeans.

"You like them? They were half off—I decided to pick them up when I took Gold out shopping for his serenade outfit. Everyone kept giving me strange glances on the street. It's like they've never seen a woman wear pants before," she said, followed by a small laugh. He loved the sound of it, so carefree and genuine, warming her face with light pink. Archie smiled in response and offered her a seat to sit.

"They're just not used to seeing you wear pants, I think. To me, you look…" He tried to find the appropriate word. Pretty? Stunning? Pretty stunning? "Beautiful."

Ruby's face softened with relief, seemingly valuing his opinion highly. She smoothed her palm along her knee, truly treasuring the jeans for the first time. As her sultry eyes lifted to meet his once more, he noticed something else: she was wearing less make-up.

Gone were the over-applied shades of cherry red lipstick; she had opted for a lighter, subtler color. There was no eccentric eye-shadow caking her eyelids, allowing the beauty of those orbs to shine through. It made her appear lively and fresh with a natural glow.

He liked it.

"Thank you," she replied, her lips parting to show a perfect row of white teeth. Suddenly, her eyes widened and he almost jumped up from his hospital bed. "Oh! Look what I brought you! I found him on the way here."

Out of the cardboard box, Ruby revealed a plastic water bottle housing a small green cricket. The bottle was missing its cap in order for the little guy to breathe. "It was tough sneaking him in. It's the reason for the box—I sort of told the nurses I was bringing you some clothes, which I did. You left your sweater-vest next to the stage and there's an extra T-shirt for your band."

Archie watched the cricket hop—or try to hop—within the cramped space of the bottle. Mostly, he succeeded in bumping back and forth against the plastic walls. Carefully, Archie reached out to accept it and tipped it over, the cricket falling into his waiting hand. The fuzzy legs tickled his skin as the cricket stretched out, reveling in the newly open space.

"I always envied crickets. They're so free and happy, hopping around from place to place, getting the chance to see the world," he murmured softly as the cricket bounced around the cusp of his hand. He realized Ruby was awfully quiet, listening to his banter. He blushed. "Sorry. I know that must sound…pathetic. People dream of growing up to become doctors, lawyers, firemen. Not crickets."

Ruby laughed again, as pure as the first time. It wasn't sardonic by any means.

"I think it's…sweet," she said, earning his outright surprise. This young, small-town waitress seemed to have a knack for doing that. Cupping his hands, he extended the little cricket toward her in offering, if she would have it. It was a chance he dared to take.

"Would you like to try?"

There was a slight hesitation and tilt of the head from Ruby as she peered down at the hopping fellow. Then, placing the cup beside the box, she copied him and cupped her hands into the shape of a bowl. Gently, Archie guided the cricket into Ruby's hands—the guy seemed eager to leap from his palm straight into Ruby's. Immediately, she giggled and squirmed in her seat.

"Yeah, tickles a bit." He warned her a little too late.

"Yeah, he does. But I think he's cute," she cooed. "Maybe I should have asked Granny to make him a little T-shirt as well." Archie admired the way she took to the cricket instead of freaking out like other girls might have done. Instead, she switched him from palm to palm as he jumped about, the steady chirping just barely rising above the beeping of the machines.

"Dr. Whale said my injuries were minor, luckily. A couple of deep scrapes and bruises, but nothing broken. The worst I have is a sprained ankle and a headache. I'll be able to go home today," he explained joyfully, even as his stiff muscles protested upon the shifting of his head on the pillow. "So, how did we do?"

Ruby escorted their cricket friend back into his cozy bottle and set it next to the steaming cup on the bedside table. The next time her gaze locked firmly with his, she was beaming. Her fingers curled over the edges of her chair, as if she thought she might float away.

"You were awesome! Definitely the highlight of the festival. If Archie and the Crickets sold concert tickets, I bet they'd sell out. After you get better, anyway. It'd be hard to dance in a hospital bed," she joked. Every word made his lungs inflate like balloons, filling with the silky warmth of hope. "To celebrate, I brought this from the diner."

Ruby handed him the scalding cup and he tentatively lifted it to his nose, sniffing the fumes. This was for celebration? He wondered if it was laced with alcohol.

"Don't worry; it's not spiked," Ruby assured him, reading his mind. "It's hot chocolate with whipped cream. Beats the stuff in the hospital's vending machines. I call it Sludge in a Cup." He openly gawked at her, lowering the cup. "The stuff in the hospital, not the cocoa."

Even though it was still piping hot, Archie brought the cup to his lips and took a generous sip. The creamy chocolate flavor scorched his tongue and the roof of his mouth, but he didn't care at the moment. Seeing Ruby smile that way, he figured he would have downed the Sludge in a Cup just as eagerly.

Be still my beating heart…

The songs used in this chapter are 'Nothing But A Good Time' by Poison and 'Can't Touch This' by MC Hammer.

Tell you the truth, I kind of enjoyed writing for Hopping Red there. Maybe you guys will see more of them in the future. For now, I'd like to say thanks to all the reviewers out there.

Archie and the Crickets T-shirts go to DaesGatling, ParanormalMoonlight, Huntress4455, GracefulWolvesInTheNight, littlered620, Jenn (sorry, I couldn't see the link to the song you mentioned!), megumisakura, Sweetangelz18, eklektik, BlooperLover, discotimelord, brontegirl89, russianeyes718ouat7ncis, thedoctorsgirl42, Emperor's Sister, sundancemc, Duffer13, DragonRose4, louisethelibrarian, and The-Writer2012.

Once again, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!