Chapter 12

Sounds Like a Complicated Life

Grumpy (Leroy): But if love's so great, then why do I feel so bad? (Dreamy).

Belle held Rumple's bouquet in one hand while her other clasped the collar of his suit jacket, snug and warm against the cold. She wasn't sure which of his kindnesses made her feel more cherished. Let me go change, she'd offered. No matter, he'd replied, easing her arms into his jacket's silk-lined sleeves before they ventured into the chilly night. Of course, Rumple had his own motive for keeping her in her yellow dress: he saw it as a talisman. After all, isn't that why she'd worn it?

Remember that evening we danced on my castle terrace? he had asked as he pulled his jacket over her bare shoulders.

Always, she had answered. A canopy of stars, a pair of nightingales in the willow, the perfume of a thousand roses wafting up from the garden—how could she forget?

For the sake of that memory, Rumple huddled beside her now, clenching his cane, suffering the miserable November cold in his shirtsleeves. The bench they'd found by the community center's handball court was nicely out-of-the-way. Untangling the quarrel between Rumple and her father definitely required privacy. But before the evening was over, Belle was determined to dispel his gloom and draw him into the lights and laughter waiting just around the corner.

"Yeah," Rumple said at last, "I can see why your father wanted to erase your memories of me."

Now we're getting somewhere. "My father believed you'd been holding me captive from the moment I left his castle, throughout the twenty-nine years of the curse, and after the curse broke. When I told him I'd never been your prisoner, he decided I was experiencing the worst case of Stockholm Syndrome ever." From Rumple's grimace, Belle could see he'd heard of it.

Rumple centered his cane against his knees and rested his hands on top. "It's a wonder Maurice didn't call it Dark One's Castle Syndrome."

"Add to that father's misconception that you were the sort of man who'd thrash someone over a petty theft—of a broken piece of china, no less, well..." When Belle raised an eyebrow at Rumple, he looked away.

"The cup… the cup was the last..." Rumple's shoulders rose and fell in a sigh. "In the Enchanted Forest, when I believed you'd been driven to suicide, I left your father alone. I assumed he was stewing in his guilt as I was stewing in mine. Here in Storybrooke, when my memories returned, my shame came flooding back as well. When Maurice stole the cup, I thought he remembered—and that knowledge about its significance could only have come from torturing you... If getting back at me was all that mattered to him, well, I found such lack of remorse intolerable…" He hung his head. "I should have realized Maurice's memories had not returned, that Regina had tricked him into taking the cup, that he found my rage a mystery. But none of that—none of that—would ever have happened, not if I hadn't allowed myself to be tricked by that wretched, evil queen in the first place." He shuddered. "Oh, Belle. I hurt your father—even though he'd done nothing to you. That's unforgiveable."

"Not if you apologize. My father told me that if you apologize, he will forgive you. He promised."

Rumple released a low, husky laugh. "Now I truly feel sorry for Maurice. He's promised the dearest woman who ever lived something he really, really doesn't want to do."

Belle bit her lip. How many such promises had she extracted from Rumple? "Now that I've had time to reflect, I see I can be a bit pushy—"

Rumple twisted on the bench to face her. "No, not pushy. Don't say that. You're being a shepherd—a shepherd over very wayward sheep." As he gazed at her, the lines on his forehead deepened. "Now you know why I never took you out, why I dissuaded you from going into town, why I did everything I could to keep us isolated."

"Hmm." Belle tilted her head. "How long did you think you could keep that up?"

"I don't know… Not long. I was hoping to collect some memories of a time you knew me as a man—before everybody told you what kind of man."

Belle placed the roses on her lap and reached out for Rumple. "Do you know what our problem was? I acted as if the only possible measure of our love was happily ever after—and that wringing promises from you could ensure it. And you? You acted as if the only possible measure was days, and that each day together meant one day closer to the end."

Belle saw Rumple glance at her hand, lying atop his. "You said I needed courage… courage to let you in..."

Belle recalled the dark, fathomless misery her outburst had brought to his eyes. Immediately after, she'd fled upstairs to their bedroom, dressed, and climbed out the window. "I'm the one who lacked courage. I wanted time on my own to think and study and figure things out. How could I share my life with you if I had no life? But I was too cowardly to tell you face-to-face."

When he looked at her again, his gaze was searching.

Belle let go of the jacket collar. The brisk air felt bracing. Tentatively, she touched Rumple's forehead. "Tonight I want to banish these worry lines—" her fingers fanned to the corner of his eye "—and bring out your laugh lines. You rarely show them, but I know they're there." At her words, she caught a brief smile. "What I've come to realize is that only true love is forever. Happily is a work in progress."


Trying not to sway the lookout hammock, Emma wriggled around to face Neal. Why he was so keen on hearing about Gold, she didn't know—but talking about her double-dealing mentor-menace with someone with no preconceptions would do her good. She couldn't bring Gold up to her mother—not without being upstaged by yet another Enchanted Forest tale from when he was the Dark One. Here was her chance to talk about Storybrooke without anyone or anything interrupting her.

"So," she began, "which first—the shocking rumors or the dastardly deeds I know firsthand?"

Emma paused. She had thought her joking words would bring a chuckle. Instead, the laugh lines that had radiated from the corners of Neal's eyes winked out, one by one.

Before Emma had a chance to question why worry now creased Neal's forehead, her ears caught a faint but alarming sound. Off in the distance, carried by the wind, was that a wail? When she twisted to look, so did he. Despite the horror stirring in her chest, she gave the horizon a methodical scan. Far, far away—a couple of miles if we're lucky—she sighted a misshapen hulk lurching across a treeless ridge. Another slouched after it, then another.

No, no, no. Cora couldn't have discovered their secret camp. Before Emma could force the dreaded word out of her mouth, Neal gasped it.

"Zombies."


When Belle coaxed Rumple around the side of the community hall and saw the colorful booths strung with lights, she smiled. Then she felt his arm tense. Ah, he's missing his jacket. She knew how much he relied on looking sharp. Likely, he felt uncomfortable entering a public place sporting the armbands, usually hidden, that held his cuffs the perfect centimeter above the base of his thumb.

Slipping her bouquet under her arm, Belle started on the top button. "You need this, Rumple. Give me five minutes, and I'll be back in my wool skirt and blazer."

"Sweetheart. Please." Rumple took hold of her hand. "I'm just thinking what a disaster it will be for you to be seen with me. Like taking a stand against the entire town. All the friends you've made—you'll lose them instantly."

Rumple's anxiety brought a catch to Belle's throat, and she pressed her cheek to his shoulder. "People are nicer than you give them credit for. You'd think we were facing the walking dead."

Rumple shivered. "I'm thankful Regina didn't bring any of her mother's zombies to Storybrooke."

Thankful indeed! Spying a familiar face, Belle smiled. "But she did bring one or two people you get along with. There's Skyrgámur. And look! Polly from the gas station." In human form, the fearsomely huge ogre chief stood a mere six foot nine. His artfully tattooed date—an avid reader of Regency romances, Belle recalled—came up to his Adam's apple. Linking her arm through Rumple's, Belle gave him a gentle tug.

"Oh, Belle. I'm sure Skyr already sees more of me than—" When his usual driver caught sight of them, Rumple ended his sentence in a cough.

"Sir!" Skyr strode forward, parting the crowd, towing his date along with him.

When he stopped in front of them, Belle craned her neck back. She remembered just enough Ogrish for a compliment. "You and pretty Polly make a pretty pair." But instead of smiling at her halting attempt, Skyr slowly lowered his frozen yogurt cone until it hung dripping at his side.

"Please, Robin Rosebud," he rumbled, using the name his kind had coined for her in the Enchanted Forest. "Polly doesn't know my true past. If you and Magpie Fire-thrower could—"

"Of course," Rumple said quickly.

"English, everyone," Polly said, glancing from Belle to Rumple and up to Skyr. "It's bad enough being left out when we visit your family. But if your friends are going to speak Bear too, I'm putting my foot down."

"Don't worry," Belle said quickly. "I've used up practically all of the—the Bear I know."


Charming stared at the very odd pair of couples chatting at the edge of the fair. Though most people's attention would have been caught by the giant, his was on the pest in the black pinstripe shirt. Rumplestiltskin had some nerve holding back his true love assay from the Snow-and-Emma rescue mission. For qualms about its viability? Seriously? With Belle cuddling up to him like a purring kitten? If that wasn't evidence of the potency of the glowing, sparking, fizzing bottle sitting on Rumplestiltskin's bookshelf, then Charming didn't know his purple passion potions.

"That leaves four more," he muttered, "not five."

"Sheriff."

Only one woman in Storybrooke could pack so much disdain into such a simple word: Regina. Rubbing the knot in the back of his neck, Charming decided he'd be damned if he'd turn around at her command. Instead, he took out his cell phone and clicked on the screen. "Eight-sixteen. That leaves you forty-four more minutes with Henry before I take him home for bedtime. Your next visit isn't until Thursday—at precisely five p.m. for dinner. Are you sure you want to waste your evening picking on me?"

"Henry's at the archery game. He's trying to win me a commemorative plate. He's fine."

Charming continued showing Regina his back. "Five arrows for a dollar? He'll hit the bull's-eye in two." He smiled. Snow would be happy when she saw how well he'd taught their grandchild.

Regina coughed. "Sheriff, I don't like talking to you any more than you like talking to me. But turn around. This is important." She blew out her breath. "Please."

Slowly, Charming faced the woman who'd ripped apart his happily-ever-after. In her slinky red dress, the Evil Queen was one shapely, provocative woman. For someone old enough to be my big sister. But she's not the fairest. That's my Snow White. All the books say so.

When Charming finally focused on Regina's dark, glossily made-up eyes, she tossed her head, flinging back the wing of black hair that slanted across her forehead. Good grief. She can't breathe without acting seductive.

"So, sheriff—when were you going to tell me about my mother?"

Charming folded his arms. "That she's working on a happy reunion? I thought it would be more fun to surprise you."

"Don't play games." Regina's upper lip curled. "Cora is alive, in the Enchanted Forest, and trying to get to Storybrooke. That princess person Henry met in the sleeping curse netherworld told him all that twenty-one hours ago, yet you didn't have the common courtesy to inform me of it—nor of the fact you and the imp are conspiring to build a portal so anyone can travel back and forth at will." She perched her hands on her hips, posing like a cover girl despite her tirade. "What sort of idiot are you?"

Charming shrugged. "As I recall, you were the scourge of the Enchanted Forest. And we handled you, didn't we? You sucker punched us with your Storybrooke curse, but we took care of that too."

"We? Who is this we? The forces of goodness and light? Puh-leeeeeeze." Regina let one hip drop. "You don't know Cora. She has no heart. She feasts on people who think in terms of we. I stood up to her once—pushed her out of the Enchanted Forest, banished her to a land where she couldn't do us any harm. Don't fall all over yourself thanking me. But I only managed it because she'd already killed the man I loved. I had nothing to lose."

Daniel the stable boy. According to Snow, he'd been a nice guy. Charming hadn't liked him so much after Dr. Whale—uh, Dr. Victor Frankenstein—jump-started his corpse. Ripping off the arm of one's re-animator didn't seem like good manners. He wondered what price Rumplestiltskin had collected to re-attach it. Thank goodness Daniel's ashes were now resting in Regina's mausoleum. Dead is dead.

"So your mother likes to get to people by going after their loved ones? I thought that was your specialty." Charming jerked his head toward the couples he'd been observing before Regina's intrusion. "Too bad Snow and Emma got between you and the wraith. I know why Rumplestiltskin conjured it."

"You mean… Belle?" Regina blinked her feathery lashes in a flurry of innocence. "What harm did I do Belle? She looks perfectly fine to me. Though her friends should organize an intervention—warn her of the dangers of hooking up with violent, evil men."

Charming frowned. Did Regina have a point? His gaze drifted to the wily wizard and the big-hearted bookworm. Dave the Dove and Polly Jenks were laughing at an anecdote Rumplestiltskin was illustrating with wide sweeps of his cane. Apparently, he didn't need it for support. He was leaning on Belle.

Charming smiled in relief. Their potion's doing fine. Definitely only four more to go. As for Regina, how could he get her to stop blocking foot traffic?

"Hey, Gramps!"

Henry! Only eleven, and his grandson already knew how to charge to the rescue. Charming turned to wave. The boy was hopping up and down in the middle of the crowd, holding up a painted plate: Washington crossing the Delaware. Regina won't have a clue what that's about, but she'll have to work it into her décor anyway. Charming gave the young hero a thumbs up.

Then he checked his phone again and announced, "Forty-one minutes."

"Hmph." Regina tossed her hair and strode off toward her adopted son.

Watching her, Charming marveled at how she could swivel her hips while walking a line as narrow as a tightrope. In stiletto heels, no less. But when the Evil Queen reached Henry, she immediately became all mother. She hunkered down to his level, ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the prize he'd won, and hugged him with a fervor that was pure maternal pride.

Charming hated to admit it, but regarding his grandson, Regina thought in terms of we.


By the time Skyr and Polly took their leave, Rumple's forehead was smooth while the skin at the edges of his eyes was dimpled—exactly what Belle had been longing to see. In Storybrooke, his playful moods were all too rare. Why did her mind have to pick this moment to vex her with a troubling question?

Rumple raised an eyebrow. "You're pensive all of a sudden."

"It's nothing. Let's—"

"Sweetheart. Don't tell me you're going to be evasive."

"Hmm." Belle pursed her lips. "It's just… I was wondering… I mean, after what Skyr said…" Taking a deep breath, she plunged. "If you could get away with lying to me about your past, would you do it?"

"Obliterate my former life with one lie? Never have to deal with it? And you'd never know?" Rumple jiggled his head. "Absolutely. In a heartbeat."

Not the answer I was hoping for. Belle lifted her chin. "Well, I think Skyr's being unfair to Polly, pretending he's a former sentient bear. He should trust her to be understanding." Thank goodness Rumple can't get away with such a brazen lie. Love requires honesty.

He drew a long, deep breath. "Back in the Enchanted Forest, Polly was a soldier. She disguised herself as a man to help defend her town. That town was Avonlea."

"Oh." Belle felt her certainty fading. "But Skyr wasn't involved. His tribe was several realms away."

"What was it people used to say? An ogre is an ogre?"

Belle passed her bouquet from hand to hand, unsure of how to answer. At last she murmured, "Only people who didn't know better."

"You would never have met an ogre, never have given them a chance—not if I hadn't insisted that accompanying me on my yearly rounds was a condition of our deal. You said my demands were cruel. And you'd only heard about the massacre. Polly is one of the few who survived it." Rumple pressed his hand against his eyes then dropped it. "You came to understand the ogres. You can't assume Polly will do the same."

"But to love Skyr, she needs to truly know him. Doesn't she deserve that chance?" Like I deserve the chance to truly know you.

"What's past is… past." Rumple fidgeted with his cane. "Why dredge up a horrible incident that can't be… undone. Why risk having Polly's memories of Avonlea destroy her image of the man Skyr is—is trying, trying with all his heart to be now?"

Reluctantly, Belle nodded. Regretfully, she noted she'd brought back Rumple's worry lines.


Swooping down from the lookout tree, Neal couldn't help but sigh. His first flight with Emma in his arms, and all she could talk about was zombies.

"The group Mary-Margaret, Mulan, and I faced was small. They moved slow like in a horror flick, but they could use weapons—swords, spears, axes. Does Cora program them and send them on their way? Or control everything they do? We didn't get a chance to ask."

Touching ground, Neal pressed a finger against his lips. Then he whispered, "One thing we know, they can't fly. But we can. Just don't say the Z word. If a single member of my crew has heard of them, he'll panic everyone. Freaked out boys can't have happy thoughts."

"Got it," Emma whispered.

Neal pointed to Tootles' sleeping quarters where he'd left Tink brushing her long blonde hair. Emma gestured to suggest a wide berth around the talking, wrestling, and back-slapping taking place beside the campfire. Together, they hurried through the shadows.

Reaching the vine-draped lean-to, Neal saw no sign of fairy sparkle. He sucked in his breath. Ducking into the hut, he groped around in the dark. At last he laid his hand on the mitten where Tink slept on cold nights. Feeling something inside, he smiled.

"You little jingle—" Neal whispered as he rolled back the cuff. As his fingers brushed something rough, his stomach clenched. The shape inside the mitten wasn't his friend. It was a pine cone.


The first row of stalls Rumple and Belle visited, they were stared at, ignored, or handled with abject respect. Through it all, she kept her arm resolutely linked with his. When the quavering old man at the ring toss game asked whether his rent check had cleared, Rumple's lips thinned and he returned a curt nod.

Belle grimaced. If I don't find a friendly face soon, Rumple's going to beg off the hamburgers. Surveying the milling fairgoers, she spotted a vaguely familiar young man: thick brown hair, broad forehead, square jaw, cleft chin, and dark mournful eyes. His long, black coat looked like it had come from their old world. A gray woven scarf swathed his neck.

Belle squeezed Rumple's arm. "There—the man I told you about. The one who freed me from the psych ward just before the curse broke. The one who told me to find you." Glancing at Rumple, she saw a smile hovering on his lips and sadness in his eyes. "You know him, don't you?"

"That's Jefferson. In the Enchanted Forest, we were colleagues."

"Colleagues? Does that mean he's—?"

"A wizard? Yeah, like his father before him. Or at least, he was. Charming, uh, David Nolan, was careless—criminally careless in my opinion—with the one tool necessary for Jefferson's magic to work. Without a charmed hat is a hatter wizard really a wizard at all?"

At first, Belle thought the melancholy young man was meandering aimlessly. Then she realized he was following a mother and father strolling arm-in-arm with a ten-year-old girl. That's Paige. Her favorite book is Watership Down. Like a faithful collie, Jefferson dogged their footsteps, stopped when they did, and paced about when they paused to look at something. Every now and then Paige would say something to him over her shoulder, yet he never closed the gap to walk with the family.

"If you were colleagues," Belle asked, "why did I never meet him?"

As Rumple stared at Jefferson, his expression grew more and more pained. "By the time you came to work for me, he'd gone missing, presumed dead. As it turned out Regina had ditched him outside the Enchanted Forest in an unpleasant land ruled by an unpleasant queen—a queen without a heart… Jefferson couldn't return home to his daughter. It drove him mad."

"Oh." No wonder the poor man looked forlorn. "You called him the hatter wizard. Now you say he's mad. Does that make him the Mad Hatter?"

"He's been called that. How he can appear in a tale that pre-dates his father and mother, I'll never understand. But that's Wonderland for you."

Belle watched Paige pick up a patchwork rabbit, dandle it, and set it back down on the crafts table. As soon as she and the couple resumed walking, Jefferson picked up the stuffed animal and gave it a hug. Tears pricked Belle's eyes. "Let's go say hello." It's the least we can do.

"No. He's—he's having a good time with his daughter."

"Rumple!"

Closing his eyes, he shook his head. Looking at him, Belle had the sinking sensation he felt responsible for Jefferson's predicament.

"Hey, there. How's housekeeping?"

Recognizing the voice, Belle turned. August the writer beamed at her. Archie, the psychologist whose office sat across from the diner, and a gray-whiskered gentleman with a kind smile stood on either side of him. Three friendly faces. August's was still swollen, purple-and-red, over his right cheekbone. Poor boy. Belle wondered if he'd had his chance yet to show off his black eye to Ruby.


"Tink flitting off without telling anyone—she's done it before." Emma's words were reassuring, but Neal heard impatience in her tone.

"The last time," he whispered, "she didn't leave a pine cone in her place."

Emma leaned forward. "She'll explain when she gets back. Right now we have more urgent worries."

"I'm thinking." From the air, his crew could take on anything. Hell, they could even dodge cannonballs. But on the ground his pint-sized warriors would be kicked, skewered, grabbed, and munched.

"Well, think faster. Zombies. Remember?"

There. Emma had repeated the dreadful word. Since they couldn't fly, maybe it would be best to tell everyone what they were facing. "We can't make a stand. Not with kids to protect."

"We can't outrun them, either," Emma said. "We're quicker, but we'll tire. Zombies never tire."

Horror movie monsters—here in the Enchanted Forest. Whatever happened to Dead is dead? Even after he became the Dark One, his father had never contested magic's number one rule.

Neal shivered. "We need to hide. Not in the trees. We don't know if these zombies can climb. We need a place where they can't find us. And we need it quick."


Archie shifted his observation from Pinocchio to Mr. Gold. For the past minute, his godson had been making wisecracks only those two understood. His most enigmatic client was finding each cryptic in-joke more outrageous than the last yet somehow more amusing. Archie noted that Belle looked as baffled as he was. At the same time, the humorous eye rolls her partner afforded each new quip were making her grin.

When Pinocchio arched a brow and said, "In some ways, I tried to be like a son," Mr. Gold groaned then started laughing.

"Stop," he managed between chuckles. "That's definitely as far as this line of conversation should go."

Archie straightened his glasses. "Pinocchio, you mentioned last spring. That's when you arrived in Storybrooke. Nobody knew who you were." As the mystery behind the banter became clear his eyes widened. "You were the stranger Mr. Gold mistook for his son."

"Yes." His godson rubbed his bearded chin. "Though I confess, I gave that misunderstanding a bit of help."

Belle's posture stiffened. "You tricked Rumple?"

"On purpose?" Geppetto gave a tight shake of his head.

Archie folded his arms, too disapproving for a response. He recalled Mr. Gold's distress the evening he'd called at his office—the turmoil on his face, the anguish in his eyes. At the time, Archie had been amnesic about the Enchanted Forest. That meant Mr. Gold couldn't share the circumstances of how he'd lost his son, reveal the length of their separation, nor even confess how deeply it tormented him. Yet he'd still needed to talk to someone about the mystery man he hoped-against-hope might be his son.

And Pinocchio took advantage of that?

Mr. Gold waved his hand. "No matter. Last spring, your boy was already reverting into wood. He was desperate. Desperation leads to desperate acts." When Pinocchio opened his mouth, Archie saw the man he'd wronged shoot him a warning glance. "He made things right by being one step on Emma's path to accepting that Storybrooke's plight was real. Her breaking the curse brought me one step closer to actually finding my son."

What a generous interpretation, Archie thought. He could see it made Belle relax. As the Dark One, Rumplestiltskin had had a nose for desperation—like a highly evolved extra sense—and he'd had a sinister, inhuman drive to satisfy the desires such desperation bred. Archie had witnessed those tendencies firsthand—to his everlasting shame. Apparently, Mr. Gold could still recognize a person in dire straits. This time had that recognition inspired tolerance?

Geppetto looked thoughtful. "Last spring, you called me to pick up an old cuckoo clock, insisted I come to your shop immediately. And there was my boy. To me, he was just a bearded young man I'd never seen before, but I remember you tried to get us to talk."

Mr. Gold shrugged. "Why waste a chance for a father-son reunion?"

At his offhand words, Archie saw Belle's smile become pure bliss.

True love. Archie pressed his hands together, new insights bubbling in his brain. As he tried to decide whether to blurt them out, his gaze lit on someone observing their group from a dozen yards away: the Blue Fairy. She was in her Mother Superior guise, of course—no-nonsense hairdo, drab navy blue cape, gray wool skirt hanging below her knees. Sad that in Storybrooke, she didn't have her lacy fairy wings.

Just as Archie was about to wave, he saw his mentor's benevolent brown eyes begin to narrow. Mr. Gold's statement from Monday night stirred in his mind: There're no words strong enough to express how much we despise each other. A chill ran down Archie's back. He'd accepted that Mr. Gold harbored bitterness. But the Blue Fairy? She was the personification of all that was noble, pure, and light. Could the animosity between her and Mr. Gold really be two-way?

Before Archie's mind could fully process that disturbing thought, a familiar four notes emanated from his coat pocket: From a Distance. Vince had been hurt and upset when he'd told him not to come to Storybrooke. Was he calling to make up?

"Excuse me." Without caring how his sudden departure looked, Archie cut through the crowd. Anxiously, he counted the ringtone repeats as he hurried toward the semi-privacy of the parking lot. When he reached five, he couldn't stand it any longer. A foot past the last concession, he fished out his phone and tapped the screen.

Holding it to his ear, he heard, "Arch! I know why you didn't want me to come, and it's okay. Your secret is safe with me. Right now, I'm parked on Main. I'm staring at a charming old building with a corner entrance and a cute little clock tower. The sign says 'Storybrooke Free Public Library.' My GPS stopped working just outside of town, and I don't know where to go from here. Can you show me?"


Emma grimaced as she repositioned her grip on the squirming Curly and Alfie. With six adults and only two Lost Boys mature enough to listen to them, that meant each had responsibility for two boys. When we get back to Storybrooke, Mary-Margaret can use tonight as a fourth grade thought problem.

Nibs was doing better than she was. He'd convinced the twins that in the game of outwitting zombies, strict obedience to their lieutenant—him—earned points. The two would-be heroes she was restraining didn't care about that. They wanted their shot at glory now. If someone didn't figure out a hiding place soon, the boys would get their wish.

Emma swept her gaze across the group. So many ideas had been shot down that all she saw were boys torn between sobbing and demanding their swords and grownups shushing, muttering, and shaking their heads.

And then Inigo's face brightened. His sudden joy was so out-of-place, Emma wondered if he'd gone crazy. "The hole! The hole! That's the answer—the hole!"

"Oh, really?" If not for her struggling charges, Emma would have slapped him. "Get hold of yourself. We don't have time to dig a hole."

"Not a hole," Inigo said. "The hole—the hole of lightning sand I fell into. That's how we'll escape. Let me show you!"


Smee knew he'd lucked out when he found the masquerade booth: masks, veils, capes by the score and—best of all—a sweet old lady running it whose pince nez glasses kept slipping off her nose. When she stooped to rummage for them in a pile of bandannas, Smee made off with an armful of loot. In the crowd, he spied at least a dozen fairgoers wearing costumes. He'd fit right in.

Five minutes later, a brigand in a purple cloak and green hood with eyeholes was tailing the Dark One and the Package-Wrapped-in-Yellow. Through the stalls, past the crowd, around the side of the community center, clear up to the handball court, Smee followed them—with no one the wiser. He would have been pleased with his ingenuity, if only the task he was using it on wasn't nabbing Miss Belle French.

The first time Smee had snatched her had been different. According to Moe, the job was more of a rescue than an abduction. If he had known Mr. Gold was no longer just a pawnbroker with a limp, that he was once more the Dark One who could bushwhack a guy with a wave of his hand and string him up for an hour of sweat-like-a-pig questioning—would he have done it? For a damsel in distress, sure. Smee liked to think he was that kind of man.

But kidnap a lady who was hanging off her beau, whispering in his ear, massaging his neck, smiling at everything he said? That wasn't right. Miss Belle had gone out of her way to be sweet to Smee—to tell him no hard feelings for giving her a scare down in the mines. If a looker like her had caught the eye of the richest man in town, who was Smee to spoil her good thing?

The couple stopped. When they turned toward each other, Smee ducked around the side of a dumpster. He strained his ears to listen.

"After twenty-nine years of psych ward soups, stews, mashes, and mushes, I'm ready for my hamburger."

A breathy laugh, then: "If I'd known you'd find fast food so fascinating, I'd have made you a burger myself. The markets are all closed, but say the word and I'll conjure us a little ground beef."

"Hmm. You're a superb chef—your teriyaki steak is to die for—but I promised Granny. My first hamburger has to be hers."

Silence.

"Come on. You've had a pleasant evening so far. No reason sharing hamburgers won't be just as nice. Ruby likes you. You know she does."

"But Granny?"

Silence. "Well, not so much. But she'll come around. You heard it from me first. Now I really have to change. I don't know if ketchup would come out of—"

The sentence broke off, but the couple wasn't silent. Smee detected smooching noises that made him wish he could scrunch the rusty tin clamped under his arm into scrap metal. Sure, he took pride in creeping. But he drew the line at peeping.

Smee stayed as quiet as a mouse until the noises subsided and he heard a door rasp. They've gone to the toilet! Even the tin couldn't expect him to follow them there. He turned to walk away.

Suddenly, Smee felt pressure on his back. An instant later, his body spun around and his hood whipped off his head. A few yards off, the Dark One stood silhouetted against the light from the community center. He pointed and a bolt of blue lightning shot out. Smee felt himself being dragged forward, his boot heels digging gashes in the muddy ground. He came to a dead halt close enough to see the glint in the Dark One's eyes. His body quaked but he couldn't scream. An unnatural force had his tongue in a knot.

"Do you know what you really are, dearie? Can't say? Let me show you."


Skyr: In "Skin Deep" (1x12), this giant of a man ("The Dove") helps Mr. Gold repossess Moe's Game of Thorns van: tinyurlDOTcom/pr9qk2b (you really have to see this guy). Skyrgámur (yogurt glutton) is one of the twelve Icelandic Yuletide ogres.