Belle was dead, to begin with. And Baelfire was long gone. Optimism was never a trait that Rumplestiltskin aspired to- in this world or in a place best known as elsewhere. In this place, where he was called Mr. Gold, pessimism was an art-form that he had perfected for himself and that he earnestly tried to inspire in others. He was a tight-fisted hand to the grind-stone. Scheming, secretive, and solitary as an oyster.
To the citizens of Storybrooke, he was best known for his menacing cane- which actually detracted from his noticeable limp. He was also known for his intolerance when it came to lateness in paying rent. He didn't care if his tenants were thriving or floundering in their own business endeavors. He expected debts owed to him to be paid on time. Lateness was met with a certain hardness from Gold. Sometimes defaulters had to face eviction or some other tragic consequence, but more often than not Gold found there were deals to be made.
For nearly three decades Gold engaged in his little dance with the good people of Storybrooke. The wheel had spun neatly in place for twenty-eight years, but thanks to the appearance of Miss Emma Swan, time once again had meaning. Things were moving forward. To the Dark One, Emma's arrival meant many things. It first triggered the return of his memories, giving him the knowledge that his carefully laid plans were coming to fruition. Unfortunately for Gold, cognition and memory- like any magic- came with a price. Guilt, loneliness, and worst of all- the phantom whispers of what might have been.
Once upon a time- of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve - Mr. Gold sat expectantly in his pawn shop. Like any other winter in Maine, the weather was cold, bleak, and biting. The town of Storybrooke, however, looked as if it had been plucked from an Irving Berlin song. The snow and cold were as harsh and abrasive as the heart of any loveless villain, but the streets and shops were decorated in perfect traditional yet non-denominational holiday taste. Every detail from the frigid air to the white fairy lights screamed Regina's name, decorative and potentially fatal. Rumplestiltskin was probably the only person in town who could appreciate this irony. Anyone else would credit the holiday trappings to one of the more popular deities in this mundane land- Martha Stewart.
The view did nothing to improve Mr. Gold's mood, which had dipped from somber to melancholy. If he were the type of man to indulge in emotional impulses he would draw the blinds, close up shop, and lose himself in a bottle of whiskey from his fictional homeland. Rumplestiltskin was not a Scot, but Mr. Gold did have several of the proclivities associated with the nationality. The accent, the taste for rich smoky liquor, and the innate sense of pragmatism. It was Mr. Gold's thrifty pragmatic nature that kept the pawnshop open late on Christmas Eve. Well, that and Rumplestiltskin's ability to sniff out a desperate soul.
Business that December 24th wasn't booming- a pawn broker's business was very rarely booming- but it was steady. Since the advent of Emma's return people felt themselves occasionally drawn to the shop. It gave Mr. Gold an impish rush of amusement to sell the princes and princesses their own love tokens from the old world. He was sorely tempted to demand that cocky young Eric Dane trade his pocket watch for the mother-of-pearl hair combs he had in mind for his red-haired wife. Mr. Gold probably would have went through with it if he wouldn't have looked like a raving lunatic demanding for Arianna to exchange her ginger locks for a 24-carat fob-chain. Those were games for another place...
He did enjoy the terrified look Archie Hopper née Jiminy Cricket gave as The Dark One rebuked his invitation to Granny's Christmas party. The incident started out innocuously enough with the do-gooder requesting Gold to make a last-minute donation to some bleeding heart charity.
"Is it tax-deductible, Dr. Hopper?"
"Why, yes it is, Mr. Gold. And it's for the orphans."
The former cricket made his mistake while his landlord was writing out the cheque. "Thank you for your generosity, Mr. Gold." His awestruck tone betrayed the shock it would have been impolite to declare with his actual words.
"Well, it's not like I'm made of wood, after all." Gold's sardonic reply conveyed an unspoken message too. You've been brave enough insect. Time to leave.
Archie, unfortunately, was too wrapped up in his conscience to recognize the potential for danger. He knew how rough the holidays were for people living on their own. And he doubted he would ever meet anyone as lonely as the miser standing before him. No wife, no children, definitely no friends. The psychiatrist in Archie reasoned, rightly, that Mr. Gold pushed everyone away due to a deep-seated fear of rejection. The best way to alleviate fears of that nature was to make friendly overtures. And what better time than the holidays to extend an olive branch? Or bough of holly, as it were.
"Mr. Gold. Ah-" Archie drew in a deep breath, "I know you have your differences with some people in town. Well most of the people in town, but that's not the point. It's Christmas and I know that you would be more than welcome at Granny's party. There's nothing like a little get together to-"
"Dr. Hopper, you would do better to save your charitable instincts for the orphans. It's my honest opinion that all of this holiday nonsense is just a commercialized waste of time and resources. The electricity wasted on all of the God awful lighting alone could power a third-world country for a month." Gold's lip curled in disapproval. "As for all this rubbish about peace and goodwill, well that's just a fairy tale, isn't it? Now, I want you to leave my premises before I add the amount of my donation to your next months rent."
Cheque in trembling hand Archie left the pawn shop in something of a daze. Rumplestiltskin, for his part, was all but spitting nails. Which was perhaps why his last deal of the night, with Henry Mills of all people, brought him to his most towering height of misanthropy in all his long centuries.
Henry entered Mr. Gold's shop without fear, piggy bank in hand. He had already purchased his yearly gift certificate for the Mayor. At the age of five he learned that his adopted mother preferred to choose her own gift rather than be surprised by the questionable taste of a minor. But this year Henry had another mother to think of: Emma. Henry wanted the first gift he bought for the woman who gave birth to him to be magical. Literally magical.
Henry was one of the three people in Storybrooke to know that Emma was destined to be the town's Savior. Henry had to be certain that his gift to Emma would help her believe in the curse and believe in herself. Henry wasn't quite sure of Mr. Gold's true identity, but he suspected that the man knew more about the real situation in Storybrooke than he let on. He also knew the pawnshop was stocked entirely with treasures from the other world.
"Hello, Henry. And just what are we looking for today?"
"Hi, Mr. Gold. Merry Christmas. I'm looking for a present."
"Well then who are we buying for? Dr. Hopper? Or perhaps Ms. Blanchard, from school?"
"Actually, Mr. Gold, I want to find a present for Emma. Maybe something to remind her... you know... How special she is. To me." The subtext in Henry's little speech was more subtle than in the good doctor's, but Gold picked up on it with much more ease and much less venom. Henry was fishing to see if Mr. Gold knew about the curse and if he had anything that could help convince Emma to break it. The lad was clever, like another he once knew.
Mr. Gold pondered over Henry's query with just the right amount of sincerity and panache. He was every inch the clever antiques dealer the world believed him to be. After a moment of reflection and scanning of shelves he retreated to his back room with an exclamation of having "just the right thing."
Henry's eyes lit up when Mr. Gold returned, locket in hand. It was truly a thing of beauty; he had crafted it just before he allowed himself to be arrested by Prince Sean and family. The golden chain had been spun using straw and his own magic spinning wheel. The locket itself contained a charm that he had meant to fall into the hands of Snow and Charming before the baby had been born. At the time he thought of it as a little extra insurance. Circumstances prevented him from bestowing the gift on the baby Savior, but fate had a way of circling back around. And this time he had the opportunity to reap some type of reward.
Had it not been for his confrontation with the cricket he might have taken Henry's paltry savings or even a favor to be named at a later date. But there was a certain darkness sitting on his shoulder. A need to take something just so someone else wouldn't have it.
He watched as Henry examined the locket with awe; Gold's eyes were dark, calculating. When he saw Henry's awe turn to curiosity - a change that would surely lead to questions - Gold schooled his face into an expression of embarrassed, apologetic regret.
"Henry, I wish I hadn't brought this item out," he said. The boy's head snapped up to stare at him. "There's no way you could be able to afford it. Let's crack open your little bank there and see what a reasonable price range would be for you." Gold was willing to bet the boy had earned his Grandfather Charming's stubborn streak; Henry clamped his hands over Gold's just as the man was moving the locket away.
"It's too perfect, Mr. Gold," said Henry, "I know I can find a way to pay you. I have almost fifty dollars in my bank and I could give you my allowance every week until we're even."
"Aren't you a little young to be going into debt, young man? I have enough adults on my hands bellyaching about their mortgage without adding you to the list. And I don't suppose you could go to Regina for the extra money- given the circumstances. Why don't we put this away and I could show you some of these lovely vintage snow glo-"
Henry cut him off. "Mr. Gold, I know you wouldn't have shown me that locket if you didn't have a deal in mind. I'll do anything. Anything. But I have to get that locket for my Mom- I mean Emma."
There was a long, silent pause. Henry's eyes were shining with determination; he was uncertain about Gold's response, but he wasn't backing down. Gold let him stew, let him get nervous, before finally breaking his blank mask to speak.
"Henry, I like your determination, but I don't think you have anything I could possibly want," he said. "Why don't you run along and make Emma a set of plaster handprints or something like that."
"I could work in your shop after school," said Henry. He leaned forward on the counter, desperate. "Do you need me to do a recon mission in City Hall?" That one actually tempted Rumplestiltskin, but he had something else in mind.
"I'll make you a deal, Henry. Forty dollars cash and that book you're always carrying around." Mr. Gold expected the ten year old to protest or put up a struggle. Instead the boy hesitated for only a moment before placing the volume on the counter.
"Mr. Gold, this book is very important to me and I could never sell it," he said earnestly. "But, I've seen shows on TV where people give their stuff to pawnshops with the possibility of getting it back."
Such a smart boy, Rumplestiltskin thought. He would have gladly struck the deal if his day hadn't been ruined with that insipid bug and his stupid pitying invitation. "That's not how I operate my business Henry. This locket is a valuable antique and that book is a rare first-edition, if not a unique original. Both are too valuable to be traded around like bubble gum cards. I know that you're trying to do something really special for Emma, but I'm not going to go back on my terms."
The boy looked as close to tears as he had ever seen him, but his voice and hand were steady as he shook hands to seal the deal. Rumplestiltskin, for his part, kept up his business-like facade although his insides were twitching with maniacal mirth. It reminded him of the days when he could bring an emperor to his knees, all the while negotiating for fabric visible only to the eyes of the wise.