Disclaimer: I own nothing...nothing
A/N Tinuviel Undomiel: Hey guys, how's it been? Why are you all looking at me like that? Are those tomatoes? What do you mean it's been months since my last update of this fic? Guys? Guys? No don't throw them! *runs away flailing*
Okay, I'm so sorry folks. I really did NOT mean to wait so long to update this fic. Sadly, I have a very overactive muse, a busy life, and a new puppy who is taking up a lot of my free time. But I have returned from the dead and brought you this much anticipated chapter. I hope all of you enjoy it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go shower off all of this tomato juice.
I'll skip the anonymous reviews this week because it's late and I'm sure everyone is anxious for this chapter, plus most of them all came from Guest and all had the general consensus of "Please don't be dead, where are you? Why haven't you updated?" LOL. Just know I love all of my reviewers, Anonymous or not and I'll before sure to respond next time.
Chapter 21: Lessons of the Past
Monday dawned clear and sunny in Storybrooke. Gold had hardly slept the night before, he was far to busy putting the final touches of Rose's nursery. The end result was a room fit for a princess, with antique furniture, a wardrobe full of new clothes, and two toy chests stuffed with dolls, games, and anything a toddler would want. He remembered when Bae was young, how he had to make do with wooden toys carved by Rumplestiltskin himself. He had dreamed of giving his boy all of the luxuries any child would enjoy. He couldn't spoil his son the way he had deserved, but he could do this for Rose.
It was agreed that Moe would deliver Rose at eight o'clock. Gold had pushed for seven, but Moe insisted he give her breakfast before dropping her off. He could have fought the man, but suspected Rose would be more amiable on a full stomach. He was still something of a stranger to his own daughter, though she never disagreed with his company in the past.
He forced himself to eat a simple breakfast of cereal and dry toast. He wasn't particularly hungry, but he needed something to do other than watch the clock. But once breakfast was done he found himself sitting in his living room, toying with the ring on his finger. He remembered waiting before for a lady to come to him. Twice actually. The first had come back with her heart in a box and forced him to admit he must live a life without love. The second had returned with a basket of straw and a kiss born of the love he never thought he would have. Now he was waiting again.
He had been miserable those few hours Belle was gone to town. He hadn't believed she would return, but hope had been there nonetheless. She had no idea he had failed to spin a single spool of straw that day. He had spent those lonely hours pacing, cursing, and staring out the window to see if he had been a fool to even think she would come back to him.
Now he sat again and waited for Belle's daughter to come to him. Emma Swan would tell him he was nervous, which of course he would deny. Gold knew children well, he could handle his daughter. But to have her to himself at last…gods, he was scared. How could he not be? He had failed as a father once, would he do the same again? He had to be stronger. He had to be the man Belle would have wanted him to be. For once in his life he had to be brave.
At last the doorbell rang.
Gold shut his eyes and summoned all of the courage he had. "Make me stronger, Belle," he begged to the empty air.
He opened the door and locked eyes for a moment with Moe French. A part of him hated that he had the same eyes as Belle. Those eyes had trapped him the moment he'd seen her. Though Moe's eyes were identical in shape and color, they didn't have her fire. He had destroyed it.
His eyes quickly found his daughter. She was tucked up against Moe's side. She had the drawstring of her hood in her mouth and she blinked up at him with her curious look. "Hello sweetheart," he said.
"Mr. Gold," Moe greeted him coolly.
"Mr. French, you're on time."
"I know you despise late deliveries."
He let out mirthless sound of amusement. No doubt his joints still ached from their encounter in the cabin. He stepped aside to let Moe enter, but only let him go as far as the living room. "I'm sure you remember the place from when you robbed it so a tour isn't necessary."
Moe dropped a duffle bag he assumed was full of Rose's things. "I brought her favorite toys, extra diapers, and some of her clothes."
"I have all of those things and more."
"This isn't about money, Gold," Moe hissed at him, "You can't buy her comfort the way you buy up this town. She's going to be frightened as it is, having some of her things here might help her feel more at home."
"This is her home," Gold reminded him.
Moe looked down at the toddler they both loved. "Tell her that then, see if she understands."
Rose just stared at him while sucking on the string of her jacket. All at once he felt angry again. Angry that everyone knew his own daughter more than he did, that she could only see him as a stranger, that he'd missed the first two years of her life because of his own selfish fears.
"May I have her now?" he said tightly.
Moe shifted her, but didn't release her just yet. "You be a good girl and listen to…your father," he said it like it was poisonous, "I promise I'll see you again soon." He kissed the apple of her cheek and hugged her to his chest. "I'll miss you, my little rosebud."
Gold cleared his throat. "I don't have all day."
Moe gave him a venomous look before patting Rose once more one the head. "I love you, Rose."
Rose frowned up at him. "Wuv?"
"Yes, I love you." He looked up at Gold and then slowly brought her up to him. Gold accepted her right away, but had to wrench her out of Moe's grasp.
"She will be fine," Gold told him, "I know how to care for children."
"She's a bit mischievous," Moe told him, "she's not bad, she just likes to explore her boundaries. You have to be patient with her."
"I'm not an imbecile, Mr. French, I'm aware that she is a child and can't be held accountable for her actions."
"I'm just trying to explain that…"
"I understand," Gold hissed at him, "Now we had a deal. You will see her next weekend."
Moe gave him a pleading look, but Gold just stared him down. He bowed his head before giving one last kiss to Rose's curls. "Goodbye, rosebud. I won't be far, I promise."
There were tears in Moe's eyes, but they did not move Gold. They'd made a deal, it was time to honor it. However, Rose was unaware of the arrangement. "Gampa?" she called out softly as he started to walk away. "Gampa!"
Gold held tighter to his daughter, bouncing her just a bit. Moe stopped, clenching his fists at his sides, but kept going until he was finally out the door. He didn't have to like Moe or even respect him, but he knew from experience that walking away from someone you love is the hardest thing to do.
"Gampa!" Rose called out tearfully once the door closed.
She let out a little whimper, so Gold tucked his cane under his arm and held her up so she could see his face. "Hello, little miss," he said with a warm smile, "I've been waiting a long time to have you here."
Rose just stared at him with big, watery brown eyes. He knew she didn't know him well at all, so now was the time to correct that. His leg protested as he moved towards the couch, having to hop a bit to keep all of his weight off of it without the use of the cane. He would probably have to take a pain killer tonight so he could sleep, but he didn't care. He wanted Rose to keep looking at him. He set her down on his lap once he reached the couch.
Rose stared him all the while as she reached out with her tiny hands to touch his face. She wasn't crying anymore, but she did give him that odd look of hers. She had done it before at the inn. The only words that could describe it was a look of careful study. She was intelligent for a child of her age. She didn't just observe the world around her, she considered how it worked and who the people were in her life.
"I'm your papa," he told her again, "Can you say that? Papa?"
Rose let out a blurb of noise and grabbed the collar of his shirt. "I know you're confused," he told her, reaching out to rub one of her soft baby cheeks with his knuckle, "and you don't understand who I am. But know that I love you, Rose. I love you very much and I will do everything I can to be the best father for you. I will never let anything or anyone hurt you. I will always be here for you."
He felt tears burning in his eyes and he pulled her close so he could breath in the scent of her hair. Rose started to stir and wiggle away. He smiled down at her and kissed her forehead. "Come, my love," he said. He tucked her into his side and used his cane to stand up, "let me show you to your room."
He had said almost the same thing to Belle, but this would be no dungeon. This was a room fit for the princess she was.
Gold's first indication that this wasn't going to be as easy as he'd hoped was when he put Rose in her stroller. It was an essential item for the modern age of toddlers, but he'd never seen Rose in one before. The device would undoubtedly be useful for him since Rose was a bit cumbersome to carry with his bad leg. He'd endured it when Bae was a tyke, but he assumed he wouldn't have to with Rose.
The moment he buckled Rose in she let out a horrible screech, like the stroller was on fire. At first he thought he'd buckled her in too tight, so he tried loosening it. She still sobbed and tried to wiggle her way free.
"No!" she started shouting, "No no no no no no no no!"
The answer hit him while she continued to scream. Moe had never used a stroller. Rose had no idea what it was and apparently equated it to some torture advice. His daughter, much like himself, hated being confined.
So with gritted teeth, he unbuckled her from the stroller and tucked her into his side. Her face was still red and she hiccupped, but the tears stopped. He left the useless contraption in his foyer. Rose didn't mind the car seat, for which he was grateful, he didn't relish a walk to and from his shop everyday with a squirming toddler.
He had set up a playpen in the workroom of his shop. There were a few toys he'd purchased earlier already set inside. He set Rose down in there along with her toy butterfly and the bear she'd won at the Miner's Day festival. "There you are, little miss." He set her coat on the rack next to his own. "You play while papa works."
Rose sat there and stared at the toys like the could come to life at any moment and eat her. She did grab her butterfly, holding it close to her chest. Her large brown eyes took in every inch of the room, lingering on the things that shined or sparkled. He sighed and picked her up out of the pen. "Let me give you the grand tour."
He wanted her to be comfortable here. He hoped that her abundance of curiosity would help her acclimate to her new home and situation. Unfortunately, Moe was right. She was scared and confused about what was going on. At least she didn't seem scared of him. She was very aware. Once again he was left wondering if August Boothe was right. Did Rose have some magic in her?
It was hard to tell. Right now she was acting like any ordinary toddler: entranced by all things shiny, large, and dangerous. He smiled to himself and set her down on his desk before going to the safe. "Let me show you something, sweetheart."
He spun the dial the correct number of times and opened the door. Bae's shawl was in there, as well as a few magical items that had no use for him yet, but the most important object in the safe had no magical properties. Belle's chipped cup was safe here. Regina's theft had made him stop keeping it at his house. He spent most of his time in his shop anyways so it worked out better for him in the end.
He cradled the porcelain in his hand, giving it a sad smile. How he wished he could go back in time and change how he'd treated Belle. Then she would be alive and they could be a family together. But none of that could be changed. He would do better with their daughter.
"This was your mother's," he told her. Rose let out a little gasp of delight when he held up the cup for her to see. Her little hands reached for it, but he knew better than to simply hand it to her. He set the cup in her lap and held her hands within his own to make sure her touch was gentle.
"I'm sure no one told you this story," he said. Her brown eyes drank in the little cup. "Your mother was scared at first when we met, but she never showed it. She was the bravest person I ever knew. I wasn't very nice to her at first." He winced at those memories. "I scared her and she dropped this teacup."
"Cup," Rose said.
"Yes," he said with a smile, "She chipped it. She thought I would be angry, but I wasn't. Do you know why?"
Rose murmured as her fingers traced the lip of the cup. He carefully steered them away from the sharp edges of the chipped portion. "Because I realized I didn't want her fear. I wanted her…I suppose I wanted her to like me, as strange as that seemed. So I kept using this cup to show she didn't have to be afraid of me, that I would never hurt her."
He had broken that promise when he threw her out. That was his greatest shame, right alongside letting his boy go. He bent down a little so he was at Rose's eye level. "You're young, sweetheart, and I know you don't really understand, but I need to tell you that I loved your mother very much. I will always love her and I love you. I want us to be a family together, with your brother, Bae, when I find him. I think that is what your mother would want for us."
Rose blinked at him and pointed over his shoulder. "Horsie."
Gold looked behind him and saw the unicorn tapestry that used to hang in his castle. He smiled a little and nodded. "All right, let me show you around some more."
He carefully put the cup back in the safe and started to let Rose explore the shop a bit. He set her down once, but when she immediately ran to very heavy Chinese room divider that could easily squash her flat. He continued the rest of the tour by carrying her. Sure enough, she wanted to touch everything shiny no matter how dangerous it was. After an hour of acquainting her with the shop, he put her back into her pen. This time she began to play with her toys without any concern as to her surroundings.
Gold managed to get about an hour's amount of work done before Rose started whining again. It became a bit of a habit. He'd entertain her for a bit, she'd be soothed, but then after some time passed she began to complain some more. He kept expecting her to take a nap but she never did.
Gold always ordered in for his lunch when he was at the shop, usually just a sandwich and an ice tea. This time he ordered one for Rose with a milk and some fruit. At 12:30 prompt, Ruby arrived at his shop with his order. That surprised him. Usually the scantily clad waitress stayed in the diner, it was one of Granny's lower staff's duty to make deliveries. Nevertheless, she was here and Rose had already begun to get cranky for lunch.
"I see your grandmother let you off your leash," he said.
Ruby gave him a black look and set the greasy brown back on the counter, directly on top of his open record book. "That'll be $19.50."
He gave her a twenty. She could keep the extra fifty cents as a tip. "Anything else?" she asked.
"No, that will be all."
Though that was her cue to return to her job of serving bitter coffee and overcooked meatloaf to the uneducated masses of Storybrooke, Ruby didn't move. Instead she appeared to have taken a sudden interest in his shop, particularly trying to see through the walls to his backroom. Subtlety was not her strong suit, but that was to be expected of a werewolf.
"Looking for something," he questioned her.
"Just wondering what you keep back there."
"All of my instruments of torture," he replied immediately. She didn't rise to the bait, much to his disappointment.
"You ordered a pretty big lunch for one person."
"I missed breakfast," he lied smoothly.
"So you ordered a grilled cheese with your turkey on rye?"
"I'm a man of many tastes."
Ruby gave up on the battle quickly enough. She never had a chance on winning anyways. "Where is Rose?"
"With me, of course."
"Can I see her?"
He gave her a rueful grin. "There, was that so hard? There was no need to play games."
"You never can tell with you."
"I suspect you won't leave my shop until you see her," he surmised.
Ruby shook her head. "I've got all the time in the world to stand here trading insults and watching you eat."
Now doubt Granny had instructed Ruby to check on Rose, though he was certain the waitress needed no prodding. He considered waiting her out. She was the impatient sort, eventually she would get bored and leave. Though likely Granny would simple replace her and she was a different breed all together. Might as well get her out of his hair now and satisfy both Lucas women.
He gave her an annoyed look before abandoning the front of his shop. Rose was still in her pen, sucking on the antennae of her butterfly. She let out a little blurb of noise when he scooped her up, but he suspected that was more of a reminder that she was hungry than a protest of being removed from her cage. "You're adoring public is eager to see you."
It didn't help his mood that was Rose was so excited to see Ruby. "Red!" she cried out immediately and tried to wiggle out of his grasp. He set her on the counter as a compromise, but kept on hand around her middle.
"Hey kiddo," Ruby said, "How you doing? You giving Gold any trouble?" She sounded hopeful on the last bit.
"As you can see I haven't eaten her and she has all of her appendages," he said, "I'm more than capable to care for my daughter." Still, he wished Rose showed as much excitement to see him as she did the wolf girl.
"You going to keep her here all day?"
"Sounds like fun," Ruby said dryly. She patted Rose on the head. "I'll see you later, sweetie, if you haven't died of boredom that is."
"Yes, and I'm sure you'd show her an exciting time," Gold said through gritted teeth, "Followed by a stirring chase as she runs towards oncoming traffic."
Ruby shot him a dirty look for that, but he didn't care. Those moments at the Miner's Day festival were ranked among the worst of his interminable life. Seeing her diving headlong towards a busy street like that, headless of the danger, and him too far away to stop it. It was by luck that she had tripped and managed to get away with only skinned knees. He had wanted to skin Ruby alive for letting her get that close to mortal harm.
"I hope she spills Kool-Aid on your suit," Ruby said pointedly. He couldn't help but raise one brow in amusement at her insult. That only annoyed her further. She kissed the top of Rose's head. "Bye, Rose, be as naughty as you like. He deserves it."
She flounced out of his shop before he could give her any threat to raise her rent. Petulant little wolf. He would have to deal with her and her grandmother later. Rose had caught sight of the bag and was eager to tear into it. Lunch with his daughter came first. The rest of the town and their fixation of his personal life would have to wait.
Emma had to deal with minor accident on the main street of town which spoiled her original plan to start her day. She ordered her own lunch from Granny's and then went down to the basement of the police station. There wasn't much in the way of archives, just a series of filing cabinets. Graham had been pretty organized though so it wasn't sloppy, just dusty.
She went down the alphabet to F. It didn't take long to find French, Alayna. Emma carried it up to her office and opened it up. It wasn't very thick. Alayna had been a good girl. No history of drugs, no breaking of curfew, not even a ticket for littering on the street. On paper, she seemed like the perfect woman. So how had she wound up sleeping with Mr. Gold? That'll be the first question I ask her, Emma decided.
Alayna had gone missing in the morning of February 12th, only three months after Rose was born. It was Moe who filed the report. Graham took detailed notes on the whole thing. Alayna had mentioned to a neighbor that she was going to the store, but no one could account for her arrival anywhere in Storybrooke. It was like she walked out her front door and then vanished into thin air. None of her clothes were missing. She had her purse with her wallet, but nothing else. Her credit card was never used anywhere outside of Storybrooke. No one saw her waiting for a bus or headed for the road out of town.
It was clear from the beginning Graham had no solid leads. His typed report was very short because there was little to actually report. She was a young woman, seemingly happy with no reason to just drop everything and leave. Beyond that, she was loved by so many people, including a baby girl who still missed her and the richest man in town who still nursed his own broken heart for letting her go.
She set aside the typed pages and went to Graham's handwritten notes. He had strong, even handwriting with no unnecessary flourishes or loops. It suited him. Emma allowed herself one moment of grief that he was gone, before putting it back in the corner of her heart.
The notes were mostly in shorthand. She imagined he had been jotting things down quickly as he tried to learn everything he could about the case. He broke his notes down into people he interviewed. He had started with Moe, then someone named Mrs. Pratt who Emma guessed was the neighbor, and then there was Gold.
Graham noted that Gold was Alayna's former employer. Gold has said he had no idea where she was and that he hadn't spoken to her since he let her go. What captured Emma's attention was the series of blacked out lines on the page. Someone had taken a Sharpie and redacted a few parts of Graham's notes.
Emma's first thought was Regina. Who else would want to cover something up? But Regina's usual method for hiding something was to just destroy it completely. If she had wanted to hide something from Emma then Alayna's report would be a pile of ash in her fireplace. Besides, no one knew she was looking into this except her and Mary Margaret.
That left only Graham.
Why was Graham trying to hide part of his notes on Alayna? There really wasn't much of a mystery about her. Had Graham found out something, something bad and wanted to protect her memory? It had to involve Gold since it was under the notes about him. Maybe Gold did know something. Maybe he had lied to her before.
Emma took the paper and put it face down on her desk. She then grabbed a blank sheet of paper and covered it with that. She took a pencil and carefully dragged it back and forth across the page. She couldn't go to hard, just hard enough to leave some shading. As she went across the page words began to appear. They were backwards and very faint, but the words came up from the blackened region.
She studied the page carefully. It was hard to read with them being backwards. "…lationship…" Did Graham know about Alayna and Gold's little affair?
Then one word came into focus. Emma's jaw dropped.
Emma made three phone calls right away then she waited for the real drama to begin. It took a half an hour then she heard the commotion outside of her office. "What are you doing here?"
"My business is my own. And you? Committed more robberies?"
"Where's Rose? Did you leave her at home alone!"
"Of course not! How dare you accuse me of that!"
Emma hurried to the door, running to step between Moe and Gold before actual blows could be delivered. "Cool it, both of you!" she demanded, "I called Mary Margaret first, Moe. She's watching Rose for Gold."
"And why have you called us both here?" Gold asked.
"Follow me," Emma said. She could hear them both behind her, no doubt glaring daggers at each other the whole time. She went back to her desk and picked up the folder. "I've been going through Alayna's file."
"Why?" Gold asked, his tone perplexed.
"Because I want to know what happened to her."
"That's very kind of you, sheriff," Moe said, "I appreciate it and I hope you find something."
"I don't see how," Gold said, "She's gone. Nothing we can do could bring her back."
"Well you're the reason she's gone in the first place," Moe grumbled just loud enough for everyone to hear.
"What did you just say?" Gold hissed.
"It's true. If you hadn't seduced my daughter and then abandoned her the way you did, then she would still be here."
"Perhaps if you had treated your daughter the way any good father would then Rose would still have her mother!"
"Enough!" Emma shouted, "One more word out of both you and I swear to God I will lock you both in that cell until you two work it out or you kill each other, either is perfectly fine with me."
The men looked over at the tiny cell and then at each other. Clearly the idea of being squeaked into a small space together was not appealing in the least. A shame, she would have enjoyed having Rose back, but seeing them squirm was fun too.
"Thank you," she said now that they were silent, "Now I wanted to tell you that I went over Alayna's file. There really isn't much, no leads or anything. But I did find something odd."
"What?" Moe asked eagerly, "What did you find?"
"How well did Alayna know Graham?"
"I doubt she knew him at all," Gold said.
Moe shook his head. "Actually she knew him very well."
Gold frowned at him. "What?" Even Emma gave Moe a curious look.
"Yes, before Rose was born they became good friends. I actually wondered if he was Rose's father." Moe cleared his throat, his eyes darting to Gold. "I even confronted him on the matter, but he said he wasn't. Alayna insisted he was telling the truth as well. I just decided to believe them."
"Sheriff Graham?" Gold said the name of the dead name like he didn't recognize it. "How did he know her?"
"Well it is a small town," Emma said, "But the reason I asked is because I went through Graham's notes on the case. He interviewed several people, including you, Gold." He nodded in agreement. "But I noticed he redacted some of his notes about your interview. I managed to uncover some of them. This was what I found."
She took the paper with the rubbing and held it out. She had written beneath the words so it was easier to read. "…relationship…loved him…" but the one that stood apart from them all was, "Rose."
"He knew?" Moe was the first one to find his voice. Gold just stared at the page, drinking in the name like it would change in a moment's notice.
"I think so," Emma said, "You did say they were friends."
"Yes, but to tell him and not me who fathered Rose, why would she do that?"
"Maybe she was afraid you wouldn't understand." Emma looked back at Gold. "I was wondering why he didn't tell you."
Gold shook his head. "I don't know. I barely knew the man."
Emma knew one possibility, that Graham didn't think Gold could be a good father to Rose. Somehow that answer just didn't wash with her. Maybe Graham had his doubts, but he had been an honorable. He would have told Gold if he could. So why didn't he?
"Just one more piece in this strange puzzle," Emma said, her eyes locked on the name of the child who was central to all of this.
The huntsman didn't normally take prison duty, but the warden had recently been the cause of Regina's ire when the prince escaped and was now sitting in a cage nibbling on some cheese. Until she found someone else or decided to turn the mouse back into a man, he had taken over the prison. Regina had two areas. There were the dungeons below for those she was merely detaining or she did not plan to let them live for very long. Then there was the tower where she kept those she wanted to hold on to for as long as she could. Currently she only had one of the latter.
The huntsman had never met the prisoner, just knew Regina was positively gleeful to have her "chess piece" locked away for safe keeping. He didn't like to see any of her prisoners. In some ways he did envy them. It was far better to be locked away from freedom entirely than to suffer the illusion of having it the way he did.
He carried the greasy bowl of gruel up the staircase along with the glass of water. It was a long climb, but it hardly mattered. The meal could hardly get any colder than it already was. The keys jangled from the ring around his wrist. He found the correct one and carefully inserted it into the lock. The door swung open and the prisoner lifted her head up to see who had come.
She was very pretty, a touch too pale perhaps but that was understandable given her imprisonment. Her naturally curly hair was tangled and matted, dulled by too few washings and the dreary environment. But her crystal blue eyes were still sharp, carefully taking him in as he stood in the door way.
"I don't know you," she said in a rich voice that reminded him of the wind combing through the thick forests of his happier days.
"No," he said, "I have brought your meal."
"Thank you, you are very kind."
"No," he said sadly, "I am following my orders."
He set the bowl and cup on the ground next to her where she could reach despite her chains. "What's your name?" she asked.
"I have no name. They call me the huntsman."
"Oh," she said quietly, her hands fiddled with the chains around her wrist. "I'm Belle."
He did not want to know her name. There was no point to it. He couldn't make friends, couldn't care for them. The feelings he had were all muted from the empty hole in his chest. Besides that, he didn't want to have anything else the Evil Queen could take away from him. Instead he only gave her a nod and turned away, locking the door behind him.
She smiled at him he next day when he brought her meal again, and the next day and the next. She was also eager to try and start conversation. After two weeks of cordialities, she suggested he read a book she'd read once. He had no interest in books, but with lack of anything that wasn't controlled by Regina, he found it in her library and began to read snatches of it when he could. Belle's suggestion was a good one. It was a simple read, suiting his tastes well, but full of beautiful imagery that reminded him of his old life amongst the animals he loved so much.
He "borrowed" a book from Regina's library. It was an old history of the kingdoms, perhaps bland and outdated, but he was hoping the Queen wouldn't miss it. Belle was so happy when he produced the slightly battered volume, her blue eyes shining with fresh tears.
Her hands lovingly caressed the worn leather, fingering the pages like they were made of solid gold. "Thank you," she whispered, "You have no idea how much this means to me."
"It's just a book," he said.
"Not to me."
Belle continued to shed her tears, hugging the book to her chest. The huntsman wasn't sure what to do. He had little experience with a woman's tears and how to soothe them. "I'm sorry," he said, "I can take it away."
"No!" Belle cried out, shaking her head, "No, I love it thank you. It's just…no one had been so kind to me ever since I was taken away. It has been so long and I'm…I'm so afraid of what might have happened to…"
Belle looked at him with beseeching eyes. "Please don't tell her."
There was no need to expand on who she was. He had little freedom when it came to Regina, but she couldn't control his thoughts or his words. He nodded. "You have my word."
"I have a daughter."
The huntsman didn't know how to react to that. Certainly it wasn't what he was expecting. He knew very little of Belle. Regina had crowed about acquiring her when she'd first been captured, how she was a valuable pawn in her never ending game with the only person who was a match for her.
The question lingered in his mind as Belle continued. "She was only a baby when I was captured. She turned one a few months ago."
She sounded so sad. It reminded him of a mother wolf he had seen once who's pup had died from an attack by a boar. The mother wolf had kept nudging her dead young with her nose, trying to get him to wake up. Then when she realized all was lost, she'd howled her sorrow to the night sky. Belle's child wasn't dead, but she had the same sorrow as that mother wolf.
"Do you want me to find out if she's well?" he asked. It would be tricky. Regina rarely let him out of the castle, but he might find a way.
"I believe my father has her," Belle said, "I'm certain he is taking good care of her, he loves her very much. But I told him once if anything were to happen to me to find Rose's father and let him care for her. I don't think he has. He never…approved of him."
His suspicion increased. He took a chance and said, "I'm not sure many fathers would approve of Rumplestiltskin."
Belle's eyes mirrored his surprise when she's told him she had a child. "Regina told you that I was with him," she said.
"She didn't tell me you had his child."
"She doesn't know," Belle said, "Neither does he. He forced me out because he thought I was her spy, but I wasn't. She tricked me…and him. I wanted to tell him about Rose, that's her name," she smiled a little as she thought about her daughter, "But I was afraid he wouldn't believe me, or that he might choose to take her away from me. So I decided to wait until the time was right. There was also the possibility that his enemies would want to hurt my child."
"Regina would," the huntsman said, "She would do anything to gain control of him."
Belle nodded. "But it's tearing me up inside that he still doesn't know. Please, tell him about our daughter. You don't have to tell him I'm alive. I don't want to put you in danger. I just want him to know about our child so he can be her father the way he always should have been."
The huntsman had never met Rumplestiltskin, but Regina had spoken of the imp on numerous occasions. He was a "trickster" she'd called him, a spinner of deals so cleverly designed to always fall in his favor. It was hard to imagine someone so wicked being a father to a young child. But Regina was hardly a unbiased source and Belle did not appear to be a fool. If she had faith in Rumplestiltskin, then there was no reason to doubt her.
"I can't promise anything," he told her, "But I'll try."
Belle's eyes filled up with tears again. "Oh thank you! Thank you so much! You have a wonderful heart, huntsman."
If only she knew that he didn't. His heart was locked away in the Queen's vault along with countless others. She once told him that it had been started by her mother and that she'd added to it over the years. It was hundreds and hundreds of hearts. How many did she have under her control? How many had she crushed into dust?
His best option of getting in touch with Rumplestiltskin was to pretend to wish for a deal with him. Since he couldn't leave the palace without Regina's permission, his only method was to somehow send word to the imp. Regina had received messages from her spies using her doves. The Mirror was her best spy, but even he sometimes couldn't get the secrets she needed. Her dovecote was located in her eastern gardens by her beloved apple tree. He carefully penned his message to Rumplestiltskin in his small chamber. It merely asked the Dark One to meet with him because he had an important matter to discuss. Hopefully it would prick his curiosity enough to get him to agree to a meeting.
He kept the note concealed in his sleeve, carefully folded so it could be tied to the dove's leg. It was a moment of pure freedom. He was defying Regina by doing this and it felt good. Perhaps Rumplestiltskin would realize that Regina had Belle in her clutches. Maybe he could free her somehow Belle could have her family again, the way she deserved.
The huntsman stopped short. The dovecote was already occupied by none other than her majesty, Queen Regina. She turned when she heard him, giving him a wicked smile. "Ah, huntsman, enjoying this lovely day in my garden or were you looking for me?"
"Yes," he said, "I mean, no. I was just…out."
"Do you miss your forest?"
"It doesn't really matter, does it?" he said coolly.
"Quite right." She let out a throaty laugh as she stroked the breast of one white dove. "I just got some positively wonderful news. It seems that weak little prince Snow White married actually did something right. He's captured Rumplestiltskin."
His heart plummeted at her words. "What?"
"Yes," Regina said, "Apparently he had that little drudge turned princess, Cinder something, make a deal with him. They trapped him with magic and now he is locked away in the dwarf mines. I'll have to pay him a visit to see for myself." She laughed and lightly kissed the bird in her hand before putting it in the dovecote. "I've always wanted to see Rumplestiltskin in a cage."
The huntsman looked up towards the east tower where Belle remained locked away. She was too far up to hear their words. She still had hope that her daughter would be given to the man she loved. He toyed with the note in his hand, crumpling it up until it was wrinkled bit of useless paper before letting it fall. It was crushed just like her hope soon would be.
Perhaps he should lie and say Rumplestiltskin refused to meet with him. Would it be better for her to believe he had refused his request than to know that he was imprisoned? It didn't really matter either way. Regina told him to tend her apples as she went back to her workroom to continue her preparations for her curse.
Soon her curse would come. Soon they all would be swept away. There was nothing anyone could do about it, not even Rumplestiltskin. He would say nothing. Let Belle hope her daughter would be safe with the imp. Let her hope that he might still come. It was a good thing to have hope, only the hopeless could truly understand that.
Gold looked over the file Emma had found, but could see nothing else that provided any answers. He couldn't figure this out. Why would the Curse have Alayna and Graham be friends? Even bigger question, how could the dearly departed boy-toy of Regina's know that Rose was his daughter? He briefly entertained the idea that maybe Belle had known the huntsman back in the Enchanted Forest, but that didn't seem possible. The huntsman had already been put on a leash when Belle had come to work for him and it just didn't seem likely that they could have met before. So why this rather peculiar friendship?
There really was no explanation for it. It was something to consider, but he did have more important matters. He had his daughter to care for and a Curse that needed breaking. He would have to start pushing Emma to get back on track with that, but right now Rose was his most important matter.
Rose had finally been asleep when Mary Margaret had come to watch her so he could take Emma's call. She had elected to stay in his store instead of waking her. Rose was awake when he returned. Mary Margaret had her on the floor of his office with a coloring book and a the largest box of crayons he had ever seen. Rose was happily coloring away on a page with a red crayon, peaceful as could be. She laughed and smiled at Mary Margaret while the whole day she'd been restless with him. He was beginning to suspect that his own daughter hated him. Wasn't that not supposed to happen for another fourteen years or so?
"Oh, Mr. Gold," Mary Margaret said when she saw him, "Sorry, we didn't hear you come in. We've been coloring."
"Yes, I can see that." Rose paid him no mind at all, just focused on making more red scribbles.
"Rose, say hello to daddy," Mary Margaret instructed but Rose said nothing. She gave Gold a brief glance, but still found her coloring more interesting. He tried not to let that bother him.
"How did things go with Emma?" she asked him.
"Apparently there are still surprises to be had in Storybrooke," he told her. There really was nothing more to say, not even he was sure what any of it meant. Probably nothing, but still, it had him curious.
"Well I'll leave you to your work." She bent down to kiss the top of Rose's curls. "Bye bye, munchkin. You be good."
Now Rose looked up when Mary Margaret stood up from the floor. "Mawry?"
"Bye bye, sweetie."
"No! Mawry no go!"
"It's okay, sweetie, your daddy is here and he wants to play with you."
Gold tried to swallow the bitterness that welled up inside, but he knew there was no way to cover it all. "Well, it appears I haven't been missed," he said.
Mary Margaret put a hand on his shoulder. "She just doesn't know you, Mr. Gold. Just be patient, she's a very open little girl who gives her heart to everyone who loves. Soon she'll never want to be apart from you."
He wasn't sure if she was lying or not. She could lie if she wished, it hardly mattered since Rose wanted her and not him. He knew he had no right to be jealous because the rational side of him knew what she said was true. However, just because he'd been alive for centuries didn't mean he'd learned to be reasonable.
"Yes, of course," he said stiffly. Right now he was merely hoping she would stop resenting him. Perhaps he should bribe her with sweets. It wasn't ideal parenting, but at least she might grow to like the sight of him.
"I'll go now," she said, "Good bye, Mr. Gold." He only nodded at her departure.
Rose stared forlornly at the door, tears welling up in her brown eyes. "Mawry?"
"It's okay, little miss," he said, smiling at her, "Your papa's here?"
The only made her burst into tears. She continued to cry for another hour. No amount of rocking or toys, even promises of a mountain of ice cream could soothe her. The end result was him leaving Rose to cry in her pen while he buried his head into his hands trying to escape the fact that all of his children surely hated him.
The bell ringing to alert him of someone entering his shop was merely the icing on the cake. He stalked into the shop, ready to beat the person out with his cane. His plans died when he saw who had intruded. "Sheriff Swan," he said with evident surprise.
"Boy, Gold, you look like hell," she said right away.
"Thank you for your observation, the door is just behind you." He pointed with his cane.
"I only just walked in, I couldn't have pissed you off yet." She actually looked amused. The little princess was playing him at his own game. He could admire her cleverness, but today he was not so charitable.
"I rarely need more to do the same to you," he pointed out.
"True, but I'm not here because of something you did…for once," she added, "Mary Margaret thought you might be struggling a bit. I just came by to make sure you and Rose were doing okay."
"So you've got the schoolteacher working as your spy," he hissed.
"She's just concerned," Emma defended her friend.
"Well she shouldn't. Rose and I are fine."
"Guess Tut's not the only king of denial," she said.
"How sophomoric of you."
"Look, Gold, I'm only here to help."
"I don't need your help," he said, "Rose is my daughter and I have everything under control. Now if you'll excuse me."
He turned around to return to his office. Rose had stopped crying, maybe he could actually get some work done. Once he opened the door he saw that wasn't going to happen.
Rose had somehow crawled out of her pen. He'd been with Emma for only five minutes, but that had been more than enough time for her to get out, find his filing cabinets, take all of the contracts, records, and legal documentation, and proceed to destroy every single one. Some were scrunched into balls, but mostly she appeared to enjoy ripping the paper into tiny pieces. A blanket of white was spread out all sides around her. She'd take a piece, tear it up and let out a shriek of delight as the sound of money being destroyed.
For a moment, all he could do and stand there and watch her enjoy making his life even more difficult. Then he heard a snicker. "Oh yeah," Emma said dryly, "You've got this all under control."
Rose looked over when she heard Emma's voice. "Emmy! Emmy fun! Emmy play!"
"No," Gold told her, "No more playing with these papers." Rose didn't care, she just tore up another one.
"Rose, please stop." He winced as he got down to his knees and gently tried to prod the paper out of her hands. Rose curled her fingers into fists to keep her grip and tugged back.
"No!" she shouted, "No!"
"Rose," he tried not to sound sharp, but the Dark One wasn't known for his patience. "Let go."
She pulled harder. "No!"
"Rose, let go," he snapped. He pulled hard enough so the paper tore again, but this time Rose wasn't happy with it. Big, fat tears rolled down her cheeks and she let out a lusty wail. She held the ruined sheet of paper in her hands, holding it up for him and Emma to see. Gold dropped his head into his hands. He didn't care that Emma could see him like this. He knew he had been a bad father before, but why was he failing so miserably now when he was trying so hard? What was he doing wrong?
"My daughter hates me," he said to no one in particular.
"Well yeah, you made her cry," Emma said. She bent down and stroked Rose's hair, soothing her cries into whimpers almost instantly. More proof that he was utterly inadequate.
"I'm glad this amuses you," he hissed at her.
"Seeing you off your rocker, yeah, just little," Emma admitted with a smile. She scooped up Rose, bouncing her a bit until she began to smile, then set her down in her pen. "Here." She took out her phone, swiped something on it and then handed it to Rose, "I know you like that bubble game."
He wasn't entirely sure what the "bubble game" was and was certain he couldn't put it on his own cellphone, but for now Rose was occupied which meant he could start to clean up. Luckily he had multiple copies of everything, but it would still be a headache sorting everything out. He should get started, but at the moment he could only stare at the ruined sheets of paper. None of it mattered anyways. The one person in this town that meant a damn to him couldn't stand to be in the room with him.
"You okay?" Emma asked him. For once she actually sounded concerned.
"I'm trying," he said, "I'm trying to be the best father I can, but I'm still failing." He hated himself for sounding so pathetic.
"Can I give you some advice?"
"Do I have a choice?" he said.
Emma ignored him. "Stop trying to be the greatest father in the world because it's never going to happen."
"Your confidence in me is astounding," he said.
"Look," she said, "Rose doesn't need a perfect father. She just needs you. You don't have to try so hard, just be a dad."
"My previous experience as a father did not end well," he reminded her.
"So you learn from your mistakes. That's part of parenting."
"And how exactly do I make my child like me then?"
"Rose doesn't hate you," Emma told him, "She just is confused and doesn't know you all that well. She didn't really want to be with me at first either."
"Really?" He wasn't sure if he could believe that, not when Rose was so eager to play with Emma and destroy his office as payback for being stuck with him.
"She threw oranges at me, cried whenever I held her, she even put my hairbrush in the toilet once. She's a feisty thing, got that from you obviously. But once she warms up to you, she'll never want to be apart from you."
"How long did that take for you?"
"About a month."
"Anyway to hurry things along?"
Emma gave him a scrutinizing look. "It might take two months in your case."
Emma was charitable enough to help him clean up, but he made it clear it did not count as the favor she owed him. A part of Gold wanted to ask her to stay and help him with Rose for the evening, but a larger part of him was determined to do this all on his own. More than that, he was determined to make sure the town was unaware of his difficulties with his daughter.
Rose did manage to eat the dinner he served her. He had remembered that spaghetti was her favorite so she was quite happy to get up to her elbows in tomato sauce. The bath that followed proved to be a nightmare. She cried the entire time and ruined his silk shirt. At least she quieted once he got her into her pajamas and set her down in front of the television. He'd rarely used the thing before, now he thanked the gods for its invention. At eight o'clock her gave her a cup of warm milk just like he'd seen Emma do. It worked like a charm.
He settled his daughter into her new crib, giving himself a moment to admire her peacefulness, then he went and poured himself the largest glass of whiskey he could find. He had forgotten how much work children were. Bae hadn't been nearly as troublesome. His son had been a quiet baby and even quieter toddler. Of course, the little shack had always been quiet unless Milah was yelling again. She could do well enough when she was alone with Bae, but when she had never failed to point out his flaws as a father and inadequacies as a husband. Looking back now, he wondered if that's why Bae was such an easy toddler. He didn't want to cause any unnecessary trouble and make things worse in their already fragile family life. If that was the case, then Rose's natural tendency to dive headlong into whatever path she wanted could attest to a happy childhood so far. Still, he wasn't eager to credit Moe with so much.
He finished his drink and decided to go to bed early. It had been a long day. He had only just settled into his bed when the he heard Rose's cries coming not just from the baby monitor, but coming through the walls of his bedroom. She certainly had a healthy pair of lungs.
Gold hurried to her nursery and found she was standing in the middle of her crib, her face scrunched up and red from her sobs. "What is it, little miss? Did you have a bad dream?" he asked her.
Rose only cried harder.
He picked her up and bounced her the way he'd seen Emma do earlier. It worked marginally, but pulling her butterfly out of her crib worked even better. She hiccupped twice and sucked on the mangy antennae of her toy. "All better?" he asked her.
He set her back in her crib, turned out the light and shut the door. The screech that followed was louder than a dragon's roar. Gold returned to her crib and lifted her up again. "What's wrong, Rose? Is it the dark? Nothing will hurt you, sweetheart, I promise."
She quieted again after more bouncing and whispers, but the minute he set her in her crib again she started screaming. This time she wouldn't stop.
After ten minutes of trying to soothe her, of begging her to stop crying, Gold was certain he was going to lose his mind. He sure as hell wasn't going to call Moe and ask him what to do, nor would he dare call Emma and let her say "I told you so" a million times. He rocked her and tried singing an old lullaby Bae had loved as child. He remembered how whenever Milah left in the middle of the night to cavort with the sailors at the tavern, he would let Bae sleep with him. Those nights had been the sweetest, just himself and his boy tucked up in threadbare quilt but happy as they could be.
Perhaps it was his desperation to recapture that joy of fatherhood again, or maybe it was simply a mad impulse, he couldn't say. Gold carried a squalling Rose out of the room he'd spent days perfecting and climbed back into his own bed. He settled her down onto his chest, tucking the silk comforter around them both.
Rose let out a hiccup and sniffled, but remained quiet. He stroked her back, humming the same lullaby that had no words. She hiccupped again and then nothing. Her breath gusted against the collar of his pajamas, deep and even. He kept rubbing her back, but let his lullaby fade softly. She didn't stir.
He lay there and listened to her breath. The warmth of her tiny body and the sweet way she smelled was like his own sleep elixir. It had been a very long day, but this moment made it all worth it.
A/N: So what did you think of Gold's first day with Rose? Was she too hard on him? LOL the joys of parenthood. Please review and tell me what you think.
Next chapter: Regina broods over her failure to get revenge on Gold while Emma continues her search for Alayna. Things get easier between father and daughter, with one exception: Rose won't call him papa.