A/N: Hey, everyone! Sorry this took longer than a week to get out. But I think it's a much lighter chapter than the one before it. Lots of Golden Swan goodness here, but don't let me ruin it for you. Enjoy! By the way, anyone watching the re-run on Sunday?
"How about this? Or this? Or—"
"Henry, are you shopping for Archie or for you?"
Henry longingly devoured the handheld video game he'd picked out a moment ago. Before that, there was a waterbed, a chocolate fountain, and a Star Wars lightsaber toy. That was just from walking down Storybrooke's main street.
"…Archie," he said unconvincingly. He still hadn't let go of the video game and Mr. Clark was glancing over at the kid suspiciously as he cradled it in the crook of his arm. The allergy-infested man had it in his mind that Henry, Ava, and Nicholas were the Thieving Trio. "Please, can I have it? I won't ask for a single thing after this!"
Henry pleadingly batted his eyelids—at Gold, not Emma. She hadn't realized it much before, but those two had become close. Ever since meeting up with the kid after leaving the station, the two had been side by side. There was even a moment earlier when Gold had playfully ruffled Henry's hair.
And now, under the pressure of Henry's puppy eyes, Gold's resolve was cracking. Any other circumstance, the answer would have been a sharp no. He rubbed a hand across his forehead, debating.
"It'll have to be an early birthday present—" Gold warned with a strict pointing of his finger, but that was more than enough for Henry. His little face shined with happiness as he thanked Gold enthusiastically. All the while, Emma looked on in wonder.
"You like him," she teased her husband in a sing-song voice once Henry ran off ahead of them to search for Archie's present—literally this time. He licked his lips slowly, a sign that he was thinking hard for a good response. Either that, or it was true that he really liked her in leather.
"I don't not like him," he admitted tentatively. It was his obnoxious way of suggesting he had a soft spot for the kid. Emma cast him a knowing smile as Gold eyed Henry with fondness. "Let's just say, I've grown used to his company."
Emma experienced a warm feeling in her chest as she imagined Henry and Gold getting along, almost like…a family. It lightened her mood considerably. Perhaps he would be their saving grace, their beam of light in a dismal time. The softness of Gold's lips brushed her cheek and she instinctively leaned into him, seeking them out.
"Ah, ah, ah. Wouldn't want Mr. Clark to throw us on the curb, would we?"
He breathed into her ear just as her lips brushed the corner of his. Still, his arm snaked around her waist and held her form against him. She buried her face into his shoulder and inhaled his familiar scent at the collar of his suit. She had missed it when they had been apart, especially since that scent had once rocked her to sleep at night.
Her lips hovered at the base of his neck, tempting his skin with a kiss.
But was it worth Mr. Clark's attention?
Of course, they would also have to explain to Henry why they were being kicked out of the store. And it wasn't like she could necessarily fake giving birth to a baby to downplay the situation. The thought of it made her cringe.
"Hey, what's taking you two so long?" Henry appeared at the end of the aisle, waving for them to hurry along. The two of them exchanged furtive glances and decidedly quickened their pace, if only to satisfy the boy.
"I'm not as young as I used to be, Henry," Gold called out. He even offered the kid a small wink, which Henry seemed to understand. Emma wondered what that was all about. Some kind of secret? "There seems to be a kink in my leg. Perhaps your mother will be kind enough to rub it for me."
And now he was winking at Emma.
Henry made a disgusted face while Emma resolved to dig her elbow into Gold's side. Graceful as he was, he easily dodged her attack and pulled her up into his arms as she faltered. A couple of boxes toppled from the shelf behind them.
"I take it that's a no on the rubbing?" Emma tried not to notice how Gold's lips curved suggestively and how he deliberately guided Emma's hand to his leg. She looked around for Henry, but he had hurried off again. Good. Playing along, Emma squeezed his thigh until he was on the verge of moaning.
"Later," she whispered in the shell of his ear, a tempting promise. If anything, it might be a step in the right direction. Henry called out for them again and they hastened to his side in the next aisle. Gold was limping rather profusely.
"I think I found Archie's present," he exclaimed. He stepped aside to reveal a gigantic box on the shelf. Emma's eyes widened at the sight of it. Skeptically, she tilted her head.
"A…karaoke machine? Are you sure?" Henry did not allow for argument. He nodded his head frantically and placed his hands over the top of the box in the typical childish mine gesture.
"It's the newest version. He'll love it. Plus, it might give us something to do in therapy. Annoying him with opening his umbrella indoors got old when I was six," he said, trying to hoist the box off the shelf. There was no question whose credit card was being used to purchase it. The thing wasn't even on sale.
"Allow me, Henry," Gold offered when Henry grew terribly red in the face from his efforts. Gliding past Emma, he paused only to dip his head low and extend his cane to her. "Hold my cane, dear."
Begrudgingly, she accepted it. I am not picking him up and dragging him out when he collapses. I'll give him a Snuggie and he can sleep it off right here.
Henry stepped aside to allow Gold to draw near the box. Sucking in a breath, he bent at the knees and lifted the box off the shelf, nestling it against his chest. Immediately, Emma heard his hiss of discomfort and placed a supportive hand on his back. Probably not the best idea for a cripple to be carrying such a heavy box, she silently observed.
"So, if you fall and the box crushes you, should Henry take your magical shoes?" She whispered over his shoulder. He whipped his hair out of his face and did not even crack a smile at her quip.
"Make me look good in front of our boy," he murmured back.
If he could have nudged her with his elbow, he would have. Instead, he focused on the task of making it down the aisle. It was a moment before his words sank into Emma's brain and she realized he'd said our boy. When did the possessiveness happen?
He glanced expectantly over his shoulder as Henry's face twisted with concern. Oh, he was being serious about the devotion. She sighed. Time to stroke his ego.
"Oh, Gold, you are so incredibly strong! Where ever did you get those muscles?" Emma feigned a breathy, girly voice. She even went as far as feeling up the strained muscles of Gold's forearms while Henry giggled. "Didn't know I married The Situation."
"What situation?" Emma waved off his confusion. Was the man living under a rock before she arrived here? Oh, right…the hazy memories at work. She urged him forward, only stopping when he grunted.
"So, whose rent are you increasing to make up for the money for this karaoke machine?" As if she didn't know how his mind worked. It had just better not be Archie. He didn't bother playing the innocent card, either. It would get him nowhere.
"Would you scold me if I raised Regina's rent?" He shifted the box in his arms as they stumbled around the corner of the aisle. His face was turning beet red, but the impressed expression on Henry's face encouraged his stubbornness. "Emma, I'm thinking of writing a book. How to Burn Through $100 in Thirty Seconds."
Emma grasped his elbow as his balance waned for a minute. This is bound to end horribly, and yet he doesn't listen to his wife, does he? Death by karaoke.
"Like Mary Margaret says: look on the bright side. You'll be doing something to make Archie happy. This karaoke machine will keep Henry busy in therapy. And while he's busy in therapy…" Emma traced her hand along the curve of his back. "I'll be busy handling my caretaking duties. Right?"
Emma longed to fill that empty space inside of her, somehow. Gold grunted deeply, except this time it had nothing to do with the box.
"It'd make it a whole lot easier to walk here without the reminder of your extreme caretaking duties," he hinted over his shoulder. Oops. Did she push it a little too hard? He was practically sweating bullets in his discomfort. "Give it time, Emma. Good things come to those who wait."
Too bad she was never really good at waiting.
She pursed her lips, but knew deep down that he was right. She knew her intentions stemmed from wanting to quell that burning ache, to stitch up the wounds with his comfort. But would time be able to heal her wounds?
Gold took her silence as acknowledgment of his spoken truth and continued on his way toward the direction of the counter. Past the entrance they went—or would have if someone didn't step through the doors and slam into Gold. The crash was a loud one, the person stumbling back as the karaoke machine thundered on the floor.
Instantly, Gold rolled his head and freed shoulders. Emma thrust his cane into his hands and scooped up the box.
"Sorry," she uttered in apology. God knew Gold wouldn't have offered any such remorse. It wasn't until she straightened that she recognized their victim. She suppressed a groan.
"You should be," Regina spat, brushing off her body with a gloved hand. She pulled something invisible off her coat and rubbed her fingers together to dispose of it. The friendliness fled out of Emma. "My, that's a rather large package you're toting around, Mr. Gold. How is it that you can even walk?"
Emma's lip curled upward in disgust as Regina's eyes purposefully roved over Gold's body.
"So wonderful of you to notice, Madame Mayor," he returned without missing a beat.
And damn him, Gold had the nerve to adjust his stance so that his feet were more aptly spread apart and Regina's attention was directed to one specific portion of his frame. He was actually reveling in his…his…package!
"But Emma's the one handling it now," Henry pointed out, knocking his knuckles against the karaoke machine's box. A wave of heat scorched Emma's neck and cheeks. Gold's amusement was not very well hidden by that slippery smile on his lips.
Regina spun, noticing her son's presence for the first time. She bent down to his level.
"Henry, where have you been all day? You know I don't like not knowing where you'll be," she chided.
It never ceased to amaze Emma that Regina knew so little about Henry's whereabouts. But she also sensed that Regina was just jealous that he was choosing to spend time with Emma and his stepfather.
"No worries. He was in good hands," Gold assured her. "Henry, Emma, and I were about to have lunch at Granny's."
Most people would attach an invitation to the end of that sentence. Gold deliberately neglected it, spiting Regina all the more. We're having lunch with Henry and you're not, he might as well have stuck a finger in her face and gleefully taunted.
Regina exhaled impatiently through her nose, but ignored Gold's barbs. Her attention dropped to the video game clutched in Henry's hands. Quickly, she snatched it up, much to his obvious dismay.
"Henry, what did I tell you about video games? You'll hurt your eyes. And do not make me repeat the part about what it will do to your fingers. I'm starting to think you don't listen to anything I say," she berated.
Emma swallowed her dry chuckle—where have you been, Regina?—and awkwardly readjusted the box on her hip. Regina's reign of power over her son only made her want to buy the video game for Henry herself. The kid was positively crestfallen.
"Actually," Gold intercepted, stepping forward to claim the video game. "It's mine. I need something to preoccupy me in my shop, don't I? Now, what were you saying about my fingers?"
Gold wiggled the digits of his free hand loosely, just to mock Regina. The mayor glanced sideways at Emma, inquiring her opinion on the capability of Gold's fingers. She shrugged.
"Oh, oh, oh, it's magic?" Emma half-sang the old tune. It made Regina's powdered eyelids lower half an inch. She looked ready to take Henry and storm away. But Emma shook her head. "We're going to lunch and the kid wants to attend Archie's birthday party. After that, he's all yours."
Unless the kid snuck out using his makeshift rope and joined them for a late night video game and Oreos extravaganza. Regina registered the defiance in Henry's eyes and raked a strand of raven hair from her eyes.
"Eight o'clock. Not a minute later," she snapped crisply. Henry clung to Emma's side, beaming up at her now that they had Regina's permission. Her sharp heels click-clacked across the pale floor, followed untrustingly by Emma and Gold's eyes.
Only a few feet away, she suddenly whirled around, a finger raised to signal a recovered thought.
"By the way, Sheriff…I'm sorry for your loss." It would have been sincere and heartfelt…if Emma hadn't glimpsed the forming cruel grin on Regina's ruby lips as she turned away.
Emma's blood boiled until she saw red. How dare Regina even think to mock her about such a tragedy? Something inside her snapped.
Tossing the box aside, Emma lunged for Regina's retreating back, fingers curled into hooks. She was going to tackle her, she was going to kill her, she was going to—
A barrier intercepted Emma and pulled her backwards.
Gold's cane dug into her stomach and squeezed her against his body, just as Regina gasped and jumped back from the realization of having Emma nearly pounce on her from behind. Emma clawed at the cane, but Gold held steady. There was a rapid buzzing in her ear and it was a moment before it translated into Gold's silky voice.
"Stop, Emma. She's not worth it. Getting a rise out of you is her only goal. Think of Mary Margaret," he reasoned with her while he struggled to keep her in place. Slowly, the fight drained out of Emma's body as his words clamped down onto her brain, echoing.
Think of Mary Margaret.
She was doing it on purpose. It wasn't simply about flaunting the fact that Henry was in Regina's possession still and Emma's unborn child was lost to her forever. If Emma assaulted Regina, everything would fall apart; Mary Margaret's chances would be ruined. That was what she wanted as she stood there, completely smug.
"That's my girl," Gold murmured against the lobe of her ear as her breathing slowed and she stopped rocking into the cane. It was another minute before he trusted her control enough to lower it. Emma aimed darts from her eyes into Regina's face.
"Seems you're under a great deal of stress, Sheriff. Might I suggest therapy?"
Regina could smirk all she wanted, but Emma would not let her have the satisfaction of getting the best of her. Huffing, Emma grabbed up the karaoke machine and strode off for the checkout line.
Enjoy that spot on your throne, Madame Mayor. Because soon I plan to knock you off of it.
Emma's nerves were still rattling when their trio entered the diner for lunch. It was a good thing they had brought Emma's Bug today—otherwise, she and Henry would probably be stuck pushing the karaoke machine down the street while Gold sat on top playing Henry's video game. They chose a booth by a window and Henry willingly slid in beside Gold.
There was that tricky gleam reflected in their eyes again. One of these days, she was going to figure out what those two were up to.
"Kid, no video games at the table," Emma said as he hunched over his video game avidly. Reluctantly, he turned it off and started to put it away. Gold's eyes followed the little toy and it caught Henry's attention.
"Oh, do you—" Henry was ready to hand the video game out to Gold, but he silenced Henry's question with a raised palm.
"Henry, what did we say about our little game? You're not a rule breaker, are you?" Henry frowned a little—it seemed whatever he remembered was not exactly exciting.
"But I asked you two extra questions in the pawnshop yesterday and you didn't say anything then," he objected. Gold inclined his head agreeably.
"That's because you were squeezing me to death and…I wasn't exactly myself. But now I am. Oh, and asking me for that early birthday present makes it three. You know what that means."
Henry moaned in defeat while Emma's eyes switched hopelessly back and forth between them. They may as well have been speaking Martian.
She rested her elbows on the table and locked eyes with Gold's brown ones. Silently, she demanded answers. He waved his hand in dismissal and pored over the menu. As if he hadn't already decided what he was in the mood for.
"I'm trying to teach Henry not to ask so many questions. He's allowed three from me per day," he explained without revealing the true heart of their secret. Henry's lips threatened a knowing smile as his thumbs pounded again over the buttons. Emma shot him a warning look and the video game slid out of view.
"Good luck. Henry's curiosity never runs out, trust me." She was speaking purely from experience. That kid would be useful in the interrogation room. Once again, he tried handing the video game off to Gold.
"I could teach you," he suggested, the screen glowing with pixels.
The minute it was in Gold's hands, he handled it like some strange foreign object. He twisted it this way and that, turned it upside down, tested out the buttons. It was like he had never played a video game before. Emma had to hide her smile behind her hand.
"See this little round yellow guy? His name is Pac-Man. You go around this little maze and you have to eat all those little dots. And you can devour these ghosts, but only when they turn blue. Otherwise, they'll hit you and it's game over."
Gold's eyes sparkled like a child's on Christmas Eve as he settled back in his seat to launch himself into the video game. For the next few moments, the only sound from his side of the table was beep, beep, beep, beep. Emma waved her hand in front of his face, but he was gone.
"I thought I said—" His hearing was still in order. He held up a finger without glancing up.
"Technically, you said that Henry could not play his video game at the table. You never said anything about your dear husband. I'm afraid you'll have to wrestle it from me, Emma," he said as his fingers sped up over the buttons. He was a fast learner.
Emma gave in to his whims. Plus, she didn't think it'd be proper to tackle her husband over the table for a video game.
Granny swept across the diner to their table. She laid down the napkins and their drinks. Granny's memory of orders was just as sharp as Ruby's, if not sharper. Emma gratefully gulped half of her drink, even though it was scorching hot.
"The usual?" Granny inquired with Emma and Henry, who both nodded hungrily. Gold's gaze flickered up toward Granny and just as swiftly dropped to the screen again. "Alright, so that's…a grilled cheese and fries for the Sheriff, a hot dog and curly fries for the boy, and a medium-rare steak—"
Gold growled and banged his fist on the table. The silverware clanged together and the drinks nearly toppled over. Emma and Granny offered him wary looks as he cursed under his breath at the game. The quiet must have alarmed him, for he lifted his head to grin at Granny. She didn't grin back.
"Ah, I mean…yes, I shall have the steak. Thank you, dearie." Granny blinked in response, not amused by his antics.
"It's too bad Storybrooke's daycare doesn't take full responsibility for unruly toddlers," she muttered, hitching her chin high. The comment earned Gold's undivided attention, even as the Game Over music warbled on his screen. It was meant to be intimidating, but Granny didn't flinch. "Oh, and I had Ruby send over some of my prize-winning meatloaf. Sorry for your loss, Sheriff. LMFAO."
Emma nearly snorted out her cocoa through her nose. It burned the back of her throat and she sputtered, water flooding her eyes.
"Excuse…me?" The diner's bell chimed, but Emma hardly heard it. She was too busy trying to understand Granny's meaning. Surely, she didn't mean…But Granny fixed her glasses and impressed steely eyes over Emma.
"You know. LMFAO. Let's move forward as optimistic. My piece of advice." Granny planted her hands on her hips, but Emma paled in bewilderment. Gold appeared ready to climb over Henry and confront Granny face-to-face. Cane vs. intense grandmotherly style.
A flash of red saved them.
"Granny, how many times did I tell you? You can't create your own meanings for these acronyms! It's not what you think it means!"
Even though Red's hands were full of bags, she tried to nudge Granny away from their table. She must have bought out Mr. Clark's store in preparation for Archie's birthday. Granny remained still as a statue.
"Why can't I? Some fool came up with YOLO, didn't he? If people can go around shouting YOLO all day, then I have as much freedom to go around shouting my advice in the form of acronyms. LMFAO!"
Ruby swung her hip against Granny's but it didn't do anything to help.
"Yesterday, you thought it meant Let's Make Fun of Annoying Ogres," she pointed out.
Their table seemed to disappear under their radar. Granny pivoted toward her granddaughter and marched into a heated battle with her. Emma dug into her pocket and slid her iPod over to Henry so that he wouldn't have to listen to this. She murmured a request for him to never repeat anything Granny said.
"Yes, so? They're all over the Inter-web," Granny protested, tossing her hands into the air. Ruby flicked a long strand of her dyed hair over her shoulder and blew out an exasperated breath.
"The Internet, Granny. And they're not ogres. They're trolls! Let's go." Ruby thrust the bags under the bar and dragged Granny away by the arm. It was like trying to move a bull. "I'm so sorry," she called out to them as she subdued Granny.
Emma was starting to hate those words. And technology. But apparently, her two lunch dates enjoyed it immensely. Henry was bobbing his head wildly as music poured into his ears and Gold had returned to his game once the bickering duo was gone.
"Any chance you'll be putting that game down?" She stared hard at Gold, but he did not answer. Lines of concentration marked his forehead and that was the fastest she had ever seen his fingers move. Maybe he was tuning her out. "Good news: David Nolan's running for Mayor this year!"
Yeah, he was gone.
"You know, if you hadn't taken so much time getting dressed, we wouldn't be so late," Emma chided her husband as they arrived outside Archie's door and knocked.
The party started an hour ago. They would've made it sooner if Gold hadn't kept changing his mind on his tie. Emma had the sneaking suspicion he was stalling on purpose. Nope, not this one—it's too bright. Nope, not this one—it's too dark. Nope, not this one—it's not silky enough.
"Dear, haven't I stressed my rule of being fashionably late enough?" He smoothed a hand along his suit and checked his breath. Henry leaned against the present, practically bouncing with excitement. He was the only who was, really.
"Six o'clock is not fashionably late. That's just late," she argued.
Emma started to become a little nervous and irritable within the last half hour. Archie had invited her as a way to cheer her up, but she was pessimistic enough to have her doubts that it would work. And Gold had tried any excuse he could not to attend, short of cutting his own hand off.
"Who holds a birthday party in a therapist's office?" Gold grumbled beside her, fixing the lapels of his suit for the thirteenth time. Emma swatted his hands away to make him stop.
"Archie. He is a therapist. Where did you expect him to have it? Chuck E. Cheese?" The diner would have been a good choice, until Granny learned that Leroy would be attending the party. She claimed she didn't want him passing out on the bar like he usually did. "Besides, Ruby said there would be other special plans this evening besides having cake in his office."
Emma impatiently scuffed her shoe on the carpeted floor. Gold shook his head wistfully.
"I'm sure she meant that for them, dear," he spoke with his lips barely moving.
Emma brewed up a dark look especially for his dirty imagination. Was it her imagination or had he slid a foot closer to her? There was a delicious gleam in his brown eyes: they're doing it, why shouldn't we?
"They've only been together a short while. Ruby hasn't even alerted Granny yet or she might have shot Archie already. For all you know, they agreed to wait," she harshly whispered.
Swiftly, Gold dipped his head down and his arm encircled her waist, drawing her toward his body. She knew that sly look—he was hungry and it wasn't simply for cake.
"That reminds me…do we have any special plans tonight?" She rolled her eyes. So, I take it this is later. Now he's in the mood.
His lips buried into her blonde hair, his breath warming the skin of her neck. Instinctively she began to incline her head to allow him access, until she remembered that her kid had arrived with them. Reluctantly, she pulled back from his mouth.
"Not when the children are awake," she whispered and pointed a finger above Henry's head. The kid tilted his head back and gazed pointedly at her finger.
"Guys, just because you whisper doesn't mean I can't hear you." Emma's back grew stiff and her cheeks became a tell-tale rosy shade. She dropped her hand from above Henry's head. "Hey, maybe you two can go on a double date with Ruby and Archie. You can go karaoke singing, bowling—"
Gold rushed forward and rapped his knuckles demandingly on the door. Apparently, he wasn't very hopeful about enduring a bowling competition with Ruby and Archie.
The door swung open to reveal Ruby with her arm draped around the birthday boy's shoulders. In her hand was a shot, which she happily upended. Archie greeted them with a bright smile and then caught sight of the enormous present at Henry's feet.
"Emma, Mr. Gold, I'm glad you could make it," he welcomed them kindly, stepping aside to let them in. Henry shoved the present inside and slid it across the floor to join the others. Their present was the biggest one. It made Archie's eyes boggle.
Archie's office was filled with guests, most of which were getting cozy on his couch like they never would in therapy. The room had been transformed for the party by Ruby's hand—silver streamers drifted down from the ceiling, colorful balloons crowded the corners, and music played in the background.
"Hey, Emma," Ruby greeted with a sympathetic smile. She was practically blinding in a glittering red dress. There was a quick nod to Gold, probably to spare his jealousy and their rent. "You'll never guess what I got Archie. A waterbed! He's always wanted one."
Emma feigned interest and found it odd that Archie would ask for a waterbed. Here she figured it would be sweater vests and crickets.
"I do hope you have enough left over for rent," Gold callously interrupted Ruby's glee.
It was the equivalent of taking a sharp needle and popping a bubble. Her smile instantly diminished and she crossed her arms as though protecting herself against Storybrooke's beast. Is it just me or did the temperature just drop ten degrees?
"You'll get your rent. I've been saving up that money for a while. I just didn't have anything meaningful to spend it on until now," she retorted. Emma had a strange feeling that Ruby was inches away from sticking out her tongue at her husband. "I don't even know why you complain so much. With all the money you have, you could buy an indoor Jacuzzi!"
Please don't get him started, Emma silently begged the waitress. His Christmas list for next year is already long enough! It was too late; she could tell by the way Gold deliberately reeled Emma into his body and smirked deviously at Ruby.
"Emma, be a dear and get a Jacuzzi for my birthday. I have a feeling you and I will enjoy it."
Purposely, his eyes made a show of roving over Emma's body, undressing her. A pinched look of disgust spread over Ruby's face and she shuddered. It seemed no one in Storybrooke cared to picture Gold lounging in a Jacuzzi. Perhaps they could put one in the back of his shop.
As Ruby drifted away to rejoin Archie's side in the bustling crowd, Emma spotted a table of food that had been set up in the corner. Lightly, Gold touched her elbow.
"Care for a drink?"
Judging from his tone, he didn't mean kiddie punch. It was the first time that Emma realized she was allowed to drink something stronger than water, juice, or cocoa. Not that she was going to go crazy on the stuff tonight, but a little to calm her nerves wouldn't hurt.
"Oh, hell yes."
Half an hour later, after most of the appetizers and finger sandwiches had disappeared from the buffet table, a firm knock came at the door. It was nearly six-thirty and Gold and Emma had been the last guests to arrive. Immediately, Ruby jumped up from where she was sitting beside Archie on the black couch.
"Ooh, that must be Granny with the cake," she exclaimed and hurried to answer the door.
Granny rolled the cake in on a rickety silver cart. It was a towering wonder; on the floor, Emma guessed it would almost be Archie's height. The candles were already lit and glowing as Granny guided the cart right before Archie. At Ruby's urging, an uneasy chorus of 'Happy Birthday to You' began.
"You're not singing," Emma hissed between her teeth, nudging Gold's side. Henry practically out-sang them all. But Gold remained stubbornly silent.
"I am singing…inside my head," he replied curtly. Emma had serious doubts about that and knowing his way with words, it was a song other than the one currently unfolding. Probably singing the version where he calls Archie a monkey.
The singing ended on a jovial note and Archie closed his eyes to make his wish. Gold was obnoxious enough to check his watch. Archie sucked in a deep breath to blow out the candles…
And the cake exploded.
Chunks of frosting showered the people standing closest to Archie while Archie himself became unrecognizable in a layer of white icing. A piece of cake even fell in Emma's hair, but Gold was considerate enough to pluck it out and stuff it in his own mouth. He licked his fingers generously, a smirk of amusement sliding across his face.
From the ruined cake rose a figure: David Nolan.
Behind the thick white frosting, Archie gasped in shock and clutched at his chest as though having a heart attack. Ruby hastily gathered napkins and tried wiping away the patches of cake from his skin. She scowled down at her own stained red dress.
"I found it," David exclaimed, waving a piece of paper in his hand. For all his excitement, I thought it would have been a golden ticket, Emma thought wryly. Except those are found in candy bars…not birthday cake. David scanned the gawking faces of the crowd. "Alright, which one of you has the Holy Grail? Cough it up."
"When I said the quest was a piece of cake, that's not what I meant." Beside her, Henry smacked his hand to his forehead and he hurried to David to explain the prank. David's face crumbled in disarray. He stumbled off the cart and tracked extra frosting all over Archie's carpet.
"Archie…what exactly did you wish for?" Ruby grasped his shoulder to bring him back to life. He began to breathe normally and hopelessly scrubbed his glasses on his shirt to clean the lenses. If anything, it made it worse and he resolved to be blind.
"I never wished for a man to pop out of my cake, if that's what you're asking!" He fumbled for Ruby blindly and caught her by the arm. She led him off to the couch so that he could relax for a moment. And not break anything in his office. "I wished for another date with you."
Instantly, Ruby's eyes melted with warmth. She practically hopped on his lap in her amazement.
"Oh, that's so sweet," she gushed. She checked over her shoulder to make sure Granny wasn't nearby. "Of course you can have another date. Tomorrow isn't a full moon, but we can always make the best of it." Archie smiled and nodded in agreement.
Ruby felt her chest swell with hope and joy. Now to handle the bigger fish. She stalked over to Granny and planted her hands sternly on her hips. If Granny sensed her anger, the old woman didn't reveal any hint of it.
"Granny, did you know about this?" Ruby gestured to the destroyed remains of the cake and to David Nolan, who was in the process of scraping cake off his face. Granny's steely eyes flickered to David and then back to her granddaughter.
"You think he snuck in there while I wasn't looking? The boy was raving mad! Insisted that he had to be inside the cake, so I put him in there. The simplest rule of dealing with fools, Ruby: sometimes it's better to just give them what they want."
Ruby stared open-mouthed at Granny as she swiped up a line of frosting from the cart and tasted it. From her expression, it was rather good. Ruby noticed Leroy helping himself to a pound of ruined cake, plopping it on a plate. One by one, people shrugged and followed his lead. The town must have had an acquired taste for David-flavored cake.
"You know what they say: let them eat cake."
It was time for the presents.
Archie was itching to know what was inside that huge present from the Golds, but he chose to save that one for last. Perhaps it would turn out to be the best, apart from Ruby's waterbed. Cautiously, he approached the pile of presents like a burglar sneaking through a house. After the cake incident, he wasn't willing to take chances.
"None of these presents will explode, right?"
He lightly poked one of the nearest gifts. Everyone studied the pile in slight apprehension as they tried to ignore the splatters of cake among the room. It would take a lot of cleaning to scrub the frosting from the floor.
"Okay, if your present is likely to explode, I suggest you take it," Ruby announced with her hands cupped around her mouth. The crowd was still, no one isolated to claim a gift. Grumbling, Leroy marched forward and snatched up a lumpy package. "Leroy!"
"I got him a rocket," he shot over his shoulder. Murmurs of surprise floated around the room. "I was going to light it after he opened it. You know…fireworks."
Thankfully, no one else came forward, including Gold. He matched the curious, pointed stares of every guest.
"Oh, right. I see. There's a chance of an explosive present and everyone looks at Mr. Gold," he muttered loud enough for everyone to hear. The stares dropped quickly enough.
One by one, Archie tore into his presents eagerly—most of them being sweater vests and crickets.
"Crickets…sweater vests…crickets…" His enthusiasm waned the longer he strove on with the presents. The pile quickly diminished. Some of the guests shifted uncomfortably in their spots as they realized half the group bought the same thing.
"Does anyone have a gift that isn't crickets or sweater vests?" Ruby huffed impatiently, earning a solid glare from Granny. Emma deliberately thrust her elbow into Gold's ribs, but he ignored her hinting. He'd put off Archie's excitement as long as he could—there was no telling what the cricket would do.
"Open mine," David suggested, handing a square present to Archie. He had dropped it off earlier when he thought he wouldn't be able to make it to the party due to his quest.
Archie acquiesced, ripping apart the thin paper. A scream erupted from his throat and the box went flying into David's hands. He leaped up from his seat, scurrying from the present.
"Yeah…the pet shop was all out of crickets," David admitted sheepishly.
"A…tarantula? I've hated spiders ever since we watched that movie…" Archie shuddered violently. Ruby's brow furrowed with concern.
"Which one? Eight Legged Freaks? Arachnophobia? Spider-man?" Archie gulped nervously and shook his head. His eyes never strayed from the hairy creature David had no problem holding. As long as he didn't take it out from the cage...he could tolerate it.
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Archie revealed. Ruby eyed him oddly, as did half the crowd. It was a sad thing to see their town therapist succumbing to his own phobia. "Why couldn't they just follow the butterflies?"
David set the tarantula cage on the table while Henry volunteered to push the last present in front of Archie.
"You'll like this one. I picked it out," he assured Archie, winking.
Hearing that from Henry seemed to calm Archie's nerves, even if he purposely sat as far away from the spider as possible. Henry's eyes were full of anticipation as Archie's fingers scrabbled across the wrapping.
"Oh….my…" Archie breathed in wonder once he figured out what it was. The rest of the wrapping was quickly shed and Archie loomed over it with his mouth hanging open. "A karaoke machine? But…but…Mr. Gold, you shouldn't have…"
Emma scrutinized Gold's face, daring him to agree with that sentiment. He pouted, but didn't say a word. Archie turned the box over this way and that to marvel over it. Grinning foolishly, he strode up to Gold, whose eyes were becoming wary the closer the man came. Emma shoved him forward toward Archie.
"Thank you so much. You have no idea how much I appreciate it," Archie said before capturing Gold in a warm hug. As Gold's face hardened, Emma trapped his hand down over the head of his cane so that he would not raise it threateningly.
Torturously, he endured it, though he made no move to return the hug. I'll pretend he's hugging Archie in his mind, just like his singing, Emma thought with a small smile. Something tells me Gold will be spending the night in the shower.
Archie patted Gold's back once more before releasing him. It was a full minute until Gold remembered how to breathe. His brown eyes darted to Emma with a warning: if you say anything about this, there shall be consequences. She simply returned the bold stare: do your worst.
"Guys?" Henry's small voice piped up from the crowd. He was kneeling by the table and peering into the tarantula cage. The empty tarantula cage. "The spider's gone." Archie fainted.
"I can't believe the spider crawled up Mr. Clark's pants," Emma recanted. Her cheeks were rosy from laughter and one too many drinks. "I couldn't tell if he was sneezing or screaming. Maybe both."
They walked side by side along the quiet street. They had already brought Henry home—a minute before eight just to tick Regina off—and were now venturing home themselves. Gold wore a grim expression—he sure didn't share Emma's enthusiasm.
"I can't believe Dr. Hopper actually hugged me," he protested, brushing off his impeccable suit. It wasn't exactly mentioned in the tone of Archie's biggest fan. Next time, he was following his instincts and buying that man a vest. Perhaps a bone for his dog. He liked Pongo well enough.
Emma entwined her arm through his and savored the warmth of his body against the chill of the night air.
"It doesn't make you feel good that you made someone happy? Even if it's with a karaoke machine?"
Her green eyes searched his lined face inquiringly. It was one of those times that he could easily depict the traits she shared with Snow. No matter how dreary the situation, a tiny flicker of hope refused to burn out.
Too bad he wasn't as optimistic.
"No. Should it?" She knew he was being cold on purpose, as a way to distance himself greatly from anything that threatened his little comfort zone. She frowned and sighed deeply. "What about you? Are you happy?" He sneered the word, only because it was unlikely.
Just as he anticipated, her hand brushed down along her belly. He wondered if she was aware she had done it. Into the distance of the darkened street she stared, avoiding his probing gaze.
"Obviously, I'm not as happy as I can be. But I'm not as miserable as I was this morning. It was…fun," she hesitantly admitted, chewing on her bottom lip. As if entertainment was a crime when you were suffering. "So, when's your birthday?"
He nearly tripped over his cane.
He had never shared his birthday with Emma—or rather, Mr. Gold's birthday. The last time he had celebrated his true one had been with Bae, centuries ago. Every year simply became a reminder of the time he spent separated from his boy.
Who in the Enchanted Forest would even wish him a happy birthday? The cricket? Charming?
But Emma's intense focus drilled holes into his body and he sensed this was one question she would not allow to go unanswered.
"You wish to throw me a surprise party when it comes?" Those emeralds shined mischievously. More often than not, he could read her like an open book. She would find it amusing. "If I walk into my shop and someone jumps up yelling 'Surprise', you can't blame me for the hospital bill. I don't take well to surprises."
Emma scoffed as if that was the understatement of the year.
"Henry might get you a present," she tried dangling in front of him like meat for a wolf. It wouldn't work. Although, his mind was undeniably awakened with curiosity. What would Henry possibly get him with the short allowance Regina offered? "You're not going to tell me, are you?"
They came to a sudden stop on the corner of their street, directly under the streetlamp. Gold absently looked out toward the slithering shadows. He debated whether to tell Emma or not. What was the harm? Surely, he could endure one measly birthday party…right? It would mean Emma would treat him especially well that day—it was almost too tempting to pass up.
And he enjoyed cake as much as ice cream…Ooh, ice cream cake! Now that sounded fabulous.
"April 1st," he drawled. Mr. Gold's birthday. The corners of Emma's lips tightened. She raised an eyebrow questioningly. Did she think he was choosing one at random?
"You were born…on April Fools' Day?"
Oh, yes, that silly holiday. No one had ever dared attempt to prank Gold on that day. Nor did anyone wish him a happy birthday—it wasn't an event he broadcasted to the town's people at the town meetings. He wondered if even Regina acknowledged her own handiwork. He had no memory of it. Or maybe Mr. Gold blocked it out.
For all intents and purposes, it was simply another day for him.
But he could visualize the wheels spinning rapidly in Emma's mind. Not as quick as his own, but enough to make her intentions suspect. Was she planning his birthday bash or the best way to prank him? Set the alarm for 3 a.m. and hide it? Pie in the face? Switch his shampoo for honey?
"I'll keep that in mind," she said with a secretive smile. Oh, she thought she was a clever one.
In one swift gesture, his cane barred her path, creating a barrier against her back. As it pushed against her back, he urged her body against his own. Not too roughly, but just enough to trap her where he wanted her. Emma's hands pressed against his back as she tumbled into the circle of his arms, the distance between them vanishing in one fell swoop.
"That's valuable information, dearie," he hinted, sliding the cane along the length of her spine. It only encouraged Emma to press closer to his chest. Despite the precarious situation, she smirked. They were playing their old game again. It had been a while.
"What do you want?" Her breath tickled his jaw as she leaned toward his right side, her head inches from his. As if she really needed to ask that question. He wanted…comfort. To forget. Her, above all else.
"I'll settle for a birthday preview." That was his one and only offer. He thought he heard Emma whisper 'deal' as her lips met his in the dark.
The kiss was warm and soft at first and then grew increasingly demanding. The raging emotions that had plagued them this week suddenly rushed forth, consuming them until they clung to each other desperately. His cane clattered to the ground as his hands moved to the small of her back, holding her hard against him. Emma's teeth nipped his lower lip and he moaned. She allowed him access to her mouth while her hands worked their way along the arch of his back, lower and lower…
His head thrust back and he groaned in aggravated bliss as her touch teased his thigh. His toes nearly curled with the coils of pleasure spiraling through his body. A mixture of hot and cold sensations prickled along his neck. A soft snicker brushed against his ear as he became helpless to her whims.
It was a moment before he could rightly breathe through the mind-numbing ecstasy. By then, Emma's hands drifted away, her body not as close as it was before.
"How's that for a sneak peek?"
She patted his chest before diving to retrieve his cane from the cement. Shakily, he accepted it. This woman had the power to drive him to the brink of insanity and back. Perhaps this was what happened when she had him for a husband—she learned the ways of satisfaction.
"Let's get home before someone catches us making out on the corner of the street," she firmly suggested. Her eyes darted suspiciously across the road, as if she expected someone to be watching them from the bushes.
Grasping his cane for support—oh, how he needed it—he followed his wife as she started off for their house. For once, he was secretly looking forward to the day of April 1st.
"You are still buying the Jacuzzi, right? That one was not a quip!"
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