A/N: Well, here it is. The epilogue to my New Year's story. It was originally going to be a lot shorter, but the inspiration was there. I hope you all enjoy it and I thank you all for reading it in the first place!
If ever there was a time in my 300 years that I had the urge to drive my own dagger through my heart, this would be it, Gold miserably mused as he and Red impatiently awaited the arrival of their guests. The only thing that made him feel better was the sour scowl on Red's face. For the umpteenth time, she checked the clock.
"It's one minute later than the last time you checked it," he grumbled. "Spoiler alert: next time you check it, that'll be another minute gone."
Red crossed her arms unhappily and leaned against the bar. The diner was empty except the two of them even though it was only seven at night. Granny was shipping Grumpy and Nova, apparently.
"Are they flying across the moon or something? And where the hell is Regina? She was supposed to be here ten minutes ago." Red would know; she had turned her head to that clock ten times.
Though, he was beginning to wonder the same thing. It was common knowledge nowadays that the Queen was lousy at keeping her promises. Only Jefferson seemed to still get fooled. But there was no way she was skipping out on her servant duties. If he had to suffer through this, then so would she.
Flicking his wrist, a suffocating cloud of violet smoke swirled in the middle of the diner. The blinds slapped against the windows as the wind whooshed around with the rage of a tornado. When the cloud dissipated, it left something behind.
Clothed in a fuzzy black bathrobe, her butt sticking out awkwardly as if she were still sitting in an invisible chair, with her ebony hair restrained in rollers. A small brush smoothed across her finger as she painted her nails a blood red shade. Her legs wobbled in the air and she toppled backward onto the floor.
"Lucky we didn't catch her in the shower," Gold muttered dryly over his shoulder to Red. The werewolf gaped open-mouthed at Regina, who was slipping bare-footed across the tiles.
"Wha…wha…?" The Queen stuttered unintelligibly. Her eyes wildly roved the diner from floor to ceiling. I don't think she's in Kansas anymore, Gold thought euphorically. Regina's head whipped this way and that. Then she spotted Gold and Red. Immediately, her face contorted in anger. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Making sure you haven't forgotten the moody dwarf's big night, of course," Gold crooned. He made a disapproving tsk-tsk noise as he eyed her revealing attire. "I doubt he'll appreciate you wearing that." Another flick of the wrist transformed her bathrobe into a shabby maid's outfit. That was better.
Regina tried to claw the uniform off her body, but it didn't tear, wrinkle, or budge. It wouldn't until she fulfilled her servant duties. Gold brushed his palm over the lapels of his impeccable suit, just to mock her even greater.
"You bastard," she spat venomously.
She raised her finger threateningly and he instinctively mirrored her actions in defense. Their fingers were pointed like loaded guns at each other, each one waiting for the other to pull the trigger. Red stepped between them and urged their weapons down.
"Now, children, let's play nicely," she chided in a falsely sweet tone. Mary Margaret made it sound so easy. Gold shot her a detested look. She was lucky if he didn't turn on her next. This was not her battle. A terrible sneer clung to Regina's lip, her breathing growing heavy as she seethed.
"Why are you accusing me, you flea-ridden mutt? He started it," she protested, jerking her finger toward Gold's chest. Gold bristled behind Red and he opened his mouth to shoot back a retort. Nuh-uh!
"I don't care which one started it. I am ending it," Red declared boldly, holding her palms directly in front of their faces. She tried to use her body to shield them from each other's view, but they simply craned their necks around her in an effort to see.
Red insistently held up her palms.
"Enough. Don't make me put you two in the corners," she threatened.
Gold reared his head back in outright astonishment. The last time he had been sentenced to a time-out was that time he had visited Mary Margaret's kindergarten class for her rent and had ended up stealing animal crackers. It was only because the children had gotten paint on his suit first! Those munchkins did it on purpose, he just knew it.
"As long as my corner is far from his," Regina retorted, planting her hands sternly on her hips in defiance. She glared at Gold over Red's intrusive shoulder. "Three-legged gimp."
Gold's fingers tightened over the head of his cane.
"If we're going to start calling each other names…the Wicked Witch demands her broomstick back, Dorothy." Red kneaded her forehead anxiously. It had to come to this. Once they started going, there would be no stopping it. Regina gawked like a fish out of water before knitting her brows together in irritation.
"I'll return the broomstick...as soon as you quit trying to steal her ruby slippers," she snapped. Here we go, Red cursed numerous times inside her head, whistling out a low breath of air. Five year olds were more mature than these two.
"Why does everyone say that?" Gold growled, his muscles coiling. "At least I'm not terrified of flying monkeys. And you wonder why Archie calls you up countless times to schedule a therapy appointment. Henry has nothing to do with it!"
All of a sudden, it became an impossible feat for Red to restrain the two toddlers. Regina shoved Red forward against Gold's chest for a chance to get in close to her enemy. At this rate, she was going to be turned into a sandwich. With their opposing forces limiting the space between them, there was no way out.
"You leave my son out of this," Regina screeched. Was it Red's imagination or was her hair fizzling? "The Cowardly Lion looks like the gargoyle from Night on Bald Mountain compared to you!"
Can't breathe…tight spaces…drowning…Red struggled to separate herself from Regina and Gold, but they didn't seem to even notice her anymore.
"Want to see a horse of another color, dearie? Take a look in the mirror." This had to stop.
Red's patience thinned out, though her urge to run was climbing by the minute. Sticking her fingers in her mouth, she whistled sharply. She didn't even know she could do that. But it caught their attention. Gold and Regina both peered down at her and stepped away to offer her space.
"That's it—in the corner," she exclaimed. She pointed each of them toward separate corners. The corners were across the room from each other, so there would be no complaints. Neither one made a move.
"Why should I be punished when she—"
"He was the one who—"
"Corner!" Red stomped her foot on the floor and pointed. Her abrupt command must have convinced them; it took a great deal of gall to order either one of them around.
Exchanging spiteful looks, Gold and Regina sidled off to their respective spots. Red instructed them to face the wall and place their palms up against it, if only to squash any rude gestures. She also forcibly claimed Gold's cane—for all she knew, he was planning on spinning around when her back was turned and chucking it at Regina.
After a few tense seconds, Gold dared to glance over his shoulder to see Regina checking her nails.
"Excuse me, but why is the Queen exempt from putting her hands on the wall?" Regina scrunched her nose in distaste and flexed her nails all the more.
"Perhaps because this maid's outfit doesn't allow me to properly breathe! I can barely lift my hands above my head!" She stretched her arms up and winced just to prove her claims. Gold figured she was simply acting. "And why are you looking in my corner? You're supposed to be facing the wall!"
Red blew a wisp of hair out of her face. It was sweltering in this diner. Granny must have been playing with the thermostat again.
"No one looks at no one! Alright? Wall!" Grumbling, Gold set his head forward and studied a chip in the wallpaper. His anger got the best of him then and he punched it. "Temper tantrums will get you nowhere."
He thought he heard a cold chuckle come from Regina's corner. He punched the wall again, envisioning her face in place of the crack.
"You want to see a temper tantrum?" He huffed between punches. "Try using the Queen's apples as dodge balls." He smirked once he sensed Regina's brutally bitter stare. I win, he gleefully thought.
Two minutes later, the diner's bell chimed. Gold and Regina wrenched their heads around to see Grumpy and Nova blocking the doorway. Red reluctantly released them from their time-out. She had enjoyed playing commander, but now she was about to be down-graded to their level.
"I thought you three were supposed to be our servants. What does a guy have to do to get someone to hold the door for me and my date?"
Nova started to excuse it, but Grumpy gestured to the door expectantly. He purposely stepped outside so that it swung closed. Cupping his hands around his forehead, he peered into the diner at them.
Red glanced pointedly between Regina and Gold. There was their first order; it was all a matter of which one would perform it. Regina tapped her sensible shoes on the floor. Gold drummed his fingers over the head of his cane. Nobody seemed to draw a breath, much less move to open the door for Grumpy.
She had a sickly feeling this was payback for the time-out.
Huffing, she strode to the door and dutifully held it open for their guests. The dwarf paused right on the threshold and gazed flatly at her. Was he waiting for something else? The way he stared at her, he expected her to be able to read minds on top of her other wolf senses.
"What now? You want me to give you a welcoming smiley-face sticker?" Grumpy arched his eyebrows in amusement. This would certainly be a story for the bar. If anything, Granny would want the full details.
"A smiley face sticker would be nice. But aren't you going to offer to take our coats? What kind of greeter are you?" Red narrowed her eyes in annoyance. I'm not going to like you tonight, am I?
"Would you like me to take your coats?" Red droned in an emotionless voice. Nova gladly discarded hers and Red hung it on the coatrack beside the door. Grumpy grinned deviously and shrugged.
"Nah, I'm good. It's drafty in here." Red's fingers curled into fists and she fleetingly imagined hanging Grumpy on the coatrack for the rest of the evening. He was being obnoxious on purpose! Why, the little…
"Manners, Red," Gold berated in a sing-song fashion. "Wouldn't want to be put in the corner for a time-out."
Red sniffed and escorted the couple to their special table. If Grumpy wasn't happy with the bottle of wine, expensive tablecloth, and lit candles, then she couldn't promise not to tear into him.
You just wait, Gold. Your turn's coming up. Let's see how good your manners are.
It soared downhill after a measly five minutes. Not for Grumpy and Nova, of course—no, they were enjoying each other's company and being fitfully romantic. But his servants were equally wishing for a giant to invade Storybrooke just for an excuse to be anywhere but in that diner.
It seemed Grumpy never ran out of requests.
"Red, fix the tablecloth. It's crooked."
"Regina, fetch us a nice bottle of wine. I don't like this kind. Okay, now test it out."
"Gold, put on some romantic music. You know, to set the mood. There's nothing on the radio? Well, then you'd better sing it yourself, sister." Gold refused that awful demand, in which case he launched into an argument with Grumpy about his servant duties. "If you're not going to sing, the least you can do is massage Nova's feet."
Gold seemed ready to plunge off a cliff. He wondered if the fall would kill him or if his curse would prevent it.
"You want these babies to touch her feet?" He wiggled his digits over the surface of the table. "I hope your twoo wuv enjoys blisters." Nova nervously tucked her feet under her seat. Gold inclined his head. "What can I say? I'm too hot to handle, dearie."
Regina pretended to stick a finger down her throat. Hearing Gold place himself on a pedestal was ten times worse than the gushy romance stirring between Grumpy and Nova. Hell, it was more repulsive than the thought of the two idiots smooching in the street.
After their three-course meal—cooked by Red herself—Grumpy and Nova slid out of their booth. The dwarf mentioned something about a walk in the moonlight, even though it was starting to hail outside. Grumpy found an umbrella by the coatrack and tossed it to Regina.
"Here, use it to cover our heads," he ordered. The umbrella trembled in Regina's grasp as her fury bubbled dangerously. For once, she was in complete agreement with Red and Gold about wanting to dig Grumpy an early grave. Perhaps it could be a bonding moment for them, all equipped with shovels.
Irises burning like two searing coals, she forced a smile.
"I have a better idea. I think I'll stick this umbrella somewhere the sun never shines," she flared back, the smile crumbling. She strode forward waving the umbrella. It took restraint from both Gold and Red to keep her from carrying out that dirty deed. The bull was seething tonight and Grumpy was foolishly waving the red flag.
Gold glanced at Red over Regina's dark head.
"Just for the record, I am never making a bet with you again."
It was the second day after the New Year and already his bell was ringing.
He supposed he shouldn't complain. The shop had been expectantly quiet all day. Either people were naturally avoiding his shop like the plague or they were still paying the price for celebrating too much on New Year's Eve. Time to go back to work, he thought sorely as he limped through the black curtain separating his back room from the front section of his shop.
He stopped almost instantly in his tracks. The last person he expected to see….was Archie.
"Need me to sign your cast?" The thing was already scrawled ten times over with signatures in colorful Sharpie. A dozen red hearts peppered the remaining spaces around the names; Red's, probably. Archie glanced up from the miserable puppets sitting on his display case.
"You can if you want to. Though, I'm not sure Red left much room." He offered his broken wrist up. Gold did not make a move toward it. The cricket coughed in the way people often did when they grew uncomfortable. "No, I'm here to ask you….if you'd like to…participate in the wedding?"
Gold stared disbelievingly at the cricket.
"You're asking me to….what, be your best man after I succeeded in breaking your wrist? How noble of you."
Why, his mailbox was bursting with hate mail from Red. But Archie didn't seem perturbed by the injury. Was a conscience incarnate not allowed to harbor vengeful thoughts?
"Well, Gepetto's my best man, but one of Red's bridesmaids still needs a man to accompany her down the aisle," he explained. A reassuring smile clung to his lips. "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that your cane slipped." Both knew that wasn't so, yet Archie was passing it off so easily. It befuddled Gold to no end.
In other words, Archie was secretly sympathetic for his lack of a New Year's fairytale and wished to pair him up with one of Red's bridesmaids at the wedding? With his luck, it would be Cinderella. The girl would probably faint and die right there at the end of the aisle.
"Who is the lucky maid?" He approached the counter and brushed a hand across an old stack of books, pretending to be uninterested in Archie's wedding dilemma. Archie stuffed his one free hand in his pocket and hesitated for a minute. It was Cinderella, wasn't it?
Two words that made every cell of his being grow numb. He wondered if he had heard that right or if he had mistaken Ella's name for Emma. Slowly, he drew his eyes away from the stack of books and met Archie's bespectacled ones. They were bright with wisdom and approval.
It was Emma.
Oh, gods, what would he wear?
"She needs…a partner?" Even he could not dismiss the hope in his voice. The smug arrogance of the all-knowing small-town pawnbroker was shed, leaving a trembling unsure child in its place. Archie ever so carefully dipped his head.
"Snow already has Charming, of course. Cinderella has Prince Thomas. Between you and me, Mr. Gold, I don't think Emma would settle for anyone else." There was too much knowledge embedded in his mannerisms. How much had the cricket noticed that night? "So, you'll come to the wedding?"
Completely dazed, Gold could only nod his acceptance. Archie released the details of the wedding to him. Then all that was left was to wish him a good day as he moved toward the door, his only good hand reaching for the knob.
"Archie?" The bell chimed, but the door paused halfway open. The cricket glanced back curiously at Gold, probably startled that he actually used the man's first name. This would be hard to get out, but it was crawling up his throat, anyway. "I…I just wanted to say…I didn't necessarily mean to…do that."
He meekly gestured to the cast encasing Archie's wrist. Archie studied Gold with deep understanding and awe. Honestly, he looked quite….proud. It was making Gold self-conscious, with the way Archie's eyeballs nearly boggled out of their sockets. It was like he never saw a man apologize before. Or, rather, he'd never witnessed Gold apologize before.
"You're saying sorry?"
Gold instantly dropped his gaze to the dust-ridden counter. He really needed to get the rag out again. He could understand if Archie did not accept his apology, just turned and walked out of his shop without a single care. The floorboards creaked as Archie abandoned the doorway. "That's very good of you, Mr. Gold. It takes a lot of courage to own up to mistakes. I forgive you."
Gold's head snapped up, if only to check if the cricket was serious. Then again, why would he lie about something as pure as facing the truth and admitting to mistakes past?
"Well, then….I'd say my conscience is clear," he sighed with relief, feeling oddly light-headed. For the most part, anyway, he added in his mind. He would probably have to attend a month's worth of sessions to apologize fully for every trick he had played on New Year's Eve.
Archie raked a hand through the mass of ginger curls that formed his hair.
"Do you think a hug is too much to ask?" How much progress was the doctor expecting him to make? He hadn't even made any pathetic New Year's resolutions about doing good for the community or exercising more often that people just did not abide by.
Archie blinked hopefully at him, waiting to see what he would do. Gold was suddenly glad there was a counter separating him from the cricket. Who knew what kinds of hijinks that man was capable of after New Year's? Hugging the town's most feared resident in a show of goodwill couldn't be too far down his to-do list.
"Just because I apologize to you does not mean I am ready to sit on your black couch and pour out all my inner feelings. People would think I've gone soft," he readily declined with a blunt wave of his hand. A hug—what a ridiculous idea. Yet Archie seemed to be waiting for total confirmation. "A hug is a big ask."
Archie's shoulders drooped with disappointment. He had doubtlessly been making plans to mold Gold into the next Prince Charming. He wished Archie would leave his shop so that he could prepare for the wedding. The tune was already humming through his head.
"That's unfortunate…because if you did, there's a good chance I would have saved you the biggest piece of wedding cake." Gold scrutinized Archie in blatant shock. Was the cricket actually negotiating with him? For a piece of cake?
Oh, but it would be nice to have the biggest piece. Even more enjoyable would be eating it in front of Red. Devouring the frosted roses, mocking her with every lick of icing, watching as she grew jealous over not being given every pleasure of her wedding.
All it took was one little hug.
Sighing, Gold circled the display case with the speed of a dying turtle. He gave Archie a critical once-over. I cannot believe I am doing this, he moaned inside his head. Archie was most likely thinking the same thing, except he would be mentally jumping with glee. Better get this over with before I change my mind.
Stepping closer, he awkwardly wrapped his arms around the man and embraced his torso. Archie eagerly returned the hug, even heartily patting Gold on the back with his one good arm. Gold could barely breathe with the way Archie constricted him tightly despite the broken wrist.
"See? This isn't so bad, is it? Makes you feel all warm inside," Archie blabbered away in his ear. That was enough.
Gold impatiently shoved Archie away and took the time to delicately brush off his suit. For all he knew, he would smell like cricket for the rest of the day. Better break out the cologne. Archie teetered unsteadily on his feet, but still the foolish smile stuck to his lips.
"If you tell anyone about this," Gold threateningly pointed a finger at that hideous sweater vest, "you'll be making your new home in a box on my windowsill. And I'll have carelessly forgotten to punch holes into the top so you can breathe." Archie had the sense to gulp nervously and edge toward the door.
"Of course not. It'll be strictly between you and me. Doctor-patient confidentiality," he agreed. "Should I tell Emma you've agreed to be in the wedding?"
Gold opened an ancient leather-bound volume and thumbed through its yellowing pages. It was one of those times he wished he kept a journal handy—his excitement bounced back with incredible force that could not possibly be contained. Dear Diary, this is the best day of my existence. Me, Emma…walking down the aisle…sigh.
"No, don't tell her," he decided. "Emma loves surprises."
Emma hated surprises.
It was almost time for the ceremony to start, but there was one guy missing. Red had agreed to have bridesmaids, but opted away from a maid of honor insisting that she didn't need someone chasing after her gown. Snow was coupled with Charming, Ella had her prince, and who did she have?
She didn't even know who it was—Archie and Red never told her. With my luck, it will be Leroy. Or Whale. Or…
A hollow tapping of a cane interrupted her nervous pacing. Her pulse sprung into overdrive as the answer hit her like a ton of bricks. It knocked the air from her lungs, made her heart hammer against the skin of her throat. How ironic. That's why they never told her.
"Waiting for me, dearie?" At least he was dressed up elegantly as usual.
Of course he just had to be smug about accompanying her down the aisle, though. His brown eyes leisurely drank in the sight of her in her simple red dress. He exhaled sharply as if someone punched him in the gut. She glanced down at the soft ruffles pooling around her legs and wondered what he truly saw.
"My, aren't you a sight for sore eyes? You'll have no trouble outshining the bride, Emma, if I do say so myself."
Before Emma's mind could fully contemplate the compliment, Gold claimed her hand and brought it to his lips. The sudden warmth on the back of her hand did funny things to her insides. Her eyelids began to flutter closed peacefully as his mouth moved over each knuckle of her hand-
"Hey," a demanding voice intercepted. Annoyance flashed through Gold's face as he reluctantly lowered her hand. She rolled her eyes as the footsteps quickened. And here comes my dad, ready to try and scare off Gold. Try being the operative word.
Prince Charming really did take this new parenting job a little too seriously. Between his overprotectiveness and Snow's potential for stringing a bow in the face of danger, she debated which one she'd fear more when taking a guy like Gold home.
"No one is allowed to stroll up and kiss my daughter," the prince roared valiantly. Gold bristled sharply as Charming guided Emma backward by the shoulders. Emma immediately shrugged him off. Was this how it felt to have your parents embarrass you in public?
"Correction: I didn't kiss your daughter. I kissed your daughter's hand. If I were to kiss your daughter properly, I assure you the cataclysmic fireworks would be hard to miss."
Emma pinched the bridge of her nose in exasperation. She wished the floor would open up and swallow her. Either Gold was simply that self-assured with his kissing abilities or he was deliberately placing himself on a pedestal to mock her father even more. Charming looked to Snow for assistance, but she busied herself with talking to Cinderella.
"I don't even want you kissing her hand! As a matter of fact, I'd prefer it if you refrained from even looking at anything that belongs to my daughter," he declared. Gold pressed a hand over his heart and dramatically gasped. It made Emma want to choke out a giggle.
"Well, it's going to be hard not to look at her when I am accompanying her gracefully down the aisle. The only way to prevent that, dearie, is to blindfold me." Charming exchanged a startled glance with Emma. She could read the accusation on his face plainly: He's your partner?
"Let me guess: Archie didn't tell you, either?" The blank puzzlement on her father's face confirmed her suspicions. That cricket had a lot of explaining to do.
On cue, the announcement came that the ceremony was about to begin. It only made Charming even more flustered.
"Well…I…just keep your eyes above her neck," Charming relented as Snow dragged him into position toward the head of the line. Something told Emma that Gold might not keep that promise.
"Ready?" Gold extended his hand to Emma, palm-up.
She took in a deep breath and laid her hand in his. It was surprisingly gentle as he clasped her hand. Immediately, he hooked his arm through hers and reeled her in close to his side. They might as well have been a couple about to take an evening walk together.
Then, the church doors opened to allow them entry, the line proceeding forward two by two. Emma's feet felt heavy as lead; she had never done this kind of thing before. Whenever she imagined walking down the aisle, she pictured herself tripping clumsily halfway there.
Cinderella and her prince swept into the church ahead of them and suddenly it was their turn.
Gold's arm squeezed her body tighter against his as they began the journey down the aisle. In equal strides they moved together, confident and graceful in each other's presence. The silky material of Gold's suit brushed the bare skin of her arm. Heads turned to scrutinize the two of them—most of the faces were appalled at the identity of her partner.
Gold didn't seem to mind the uneasy attention. She could sense his eyes roaming over her body admiringly, starting with the blonde crown of her head and descending lower and lower, memorizing every curve and line that completed her image. She couldn't help but give a small smile that she knew he could interpret.
After what seemed like an eternity, they managed to reach the front of the church. This was where they would inevitably part ways. Reluctantly, Gold's arm unfurled, his hand slipping across the length of her arm until it grasped her hand. It was the last thread hanging between them.
He squeezed her hand gently before ultimately releasing it. Her fingers curled over the empty air where the warmth of his hand once was.
People were still watching for her reaction when Red finally made her way down the aisle, clad in a simple white gown that spiraled to the floor with Granny escorting her down the aisle. Emma found it difficult to keep her mind on the ceremony, even while Pongo dashed up the aisle with the rings attached to his collar.
All throughout the wedding, the only thing she could do was flex her hand time and again, the sensation of Gold's kiss never leaving her skin.
This was hands-down the best moment of Red's life.
It beat those false memories of elated freedom upon buying her first car at sixteen and driving wildly around the streets of Storybrooke without Granny shouting in her ear to slow down. It was ten times more exhilarating than running at full-speed through the forest in wolf form with the wind swaying through her fur.
This felt good.
At the same time, her knees felt weak and unable to hold her up. Her gown felt an inch too tight around her middle, squeezing the air from her lungs. No matter how hard she ran, her heart never drummed this loud. She was vaguely aware of her hand trembling until Granny patted it reassuringly.
"Relax, girl. You stay out all night under the full moon and yet you're spooked to be walking down the aisle to your future husband?" Red's pink lips pursed anxiously.
It was one of those conversations they never really had. Surely, Archie must have gone to Granny and asked for her hand in marriage, but up until now Red had no idea how Granny felt about her marrying Archie. The only sound was the whisper of Red's gown and the intense rush of blood in her ears.
"I'm proud of you," Granny whispered from the corner of her mouth. Red's head swiveled in her direction. Had she heard that wrong? But as Granny met her eyes unwaveringly, Red could see the gleam of happiness through her glasses. "Thought I should make that clear….before I give you away."
Tears welled up in Red's eyes and she flung her arms around Granny before she could gather her senses. If anyone else did it, the crossbow would be out in the blink of an eye. She could never thank Granny enough for everything she had done after her mother left. She had raised her, protected her, loved her in her own way.
Granny rubbed Red's back soothingly and returned the hug. Then she straightened up as it became time to walk down the aisle.
Red had no idea how she instructed her feet to move more than an inch, but soon she was gliding down the aisle with Archie waiting at the end. Even with his cast, he still looked handsome. It made her smile wider with every step.
All of a sudden, she decided that she was truly happy. She didn't care that they were stuck in Storybrooke; she didn't even care that Gold was here to observe this glorious day. Though, she always thought he would've been struck down by lightning in a church.
And once she was standing alongside Archie and listening to him making his vows, she could hardly breathe for the joy she felt. It simply seemed right to be here with him, vowing "I do." She only hoped that wherever Peter was beyond their world that he would've been happy for her today.
"You may now kiss the bride," the final line came ever so quickly.
Delicately, Archie maneuvered with the cast and closed the space between their bodies. His free hand caressed her cheek before he lowered his head. His lips softly captured hers in one pure kiss that made her soul light as air. The applause of the crowd was lost on her mind as she savored the taste of him, a small snippet to the days yet to come.
It wasn't demanding, but it wasn't without emotion, either. It was perfect.
Red was smiling when the kiss broke and all she could hear was Archie murmuring "I love you" over and over as his lips nestled into her ebony hair. Or perhaps those words were falling from her own mouth.
She couldn't wait until their honeymoon in the cabin in the woods.
She came to him one night not long after New Year's. He had been waiting ever since the stroke of the New Year—always anticipating it, always impatient for that night. It was maddening, wondering if he would have to wait throughout the entire year, never knowing, only guessing which night would be the one.
It was a wonder he was still awake when the knock came at the door.
He had just been in the process of closing his eyelids when he heard it; a firm rapping from downstairs. He lay staring at the ceiling, testing out whether it was a dream. Maybe he should pinch himself.
He had a couple of those strange dreams during the past few nights about Emma's upcoming kiss. There was one where he had kissed her at midnight in the back of his shop. Another featured him arriving home to find the Sheriff in his bed, pink in the cheeks, and begging for it. Each time he would wake up alone and in massive agony.
Another knock sounded at the door. He supposed he couldn't know whether this was real until he answered it. If only it were raining tonight. He had one of those dreams, too.
Grabbing his cane, he made his way downstairs through the darkness. He had quickly draped a robe over his black silk pajamas, but still the evening chill pervaded his skin. It reminded him how underdressed he was for the occasion. He even checked his breath and debated popping a mint in his mouth, just in case.
A third knock erupted through the house, terribly impatient. He tugged open the door.
And there she stood, casually dressed in her leather jacket and jeans as always. The tips of her boots were crusted with white frost and her ears were slightly red from the cold. She surveyed his attire with a small smile.
"You really know how to dress for the occasion," she commented in good humor. He let her look all she wanted. Somewhat inspired, he decided to pose for her with his cane set in the space between his legs, his body looming forward invitingly.
"Emma," he greeted pleasurably. "What can I do for you?"
Both of them knew very well the reason for her presence on his porch, but it would only fuel his fire to hear her say it aloud. She pocketed her pale hands and shrugged. As she tilted her head, a couple of stray snowflakes drifted down from the blonde strands. If only he could catch them on his tongue.
"Are you suggesting you no longer want that kiss?"
Ooh, so she knew how to play the teasing game. If she didn't, then he would have gotten that kiss on New Year's and she wouldn't be standing on his porch tonight. The taunt did its job well—it lured him into her. Reaching out, he caressed her jaw.
"On the contrary. You can say I've been…hungering for it," he drawled richly. Emma drew in a small breath, her hips twitching ever so slightly. It was good to know he had such a desirable effect on her. "Would you like to come in from the cold?"
He opened the door wider for her and stepped out of her path. Emma bit tentatively on her lip before slipping past him, into his territory. He wasn't all too sure if he would release her. She gazed about the cluttered living room as he shut the door.
"So…how should we do this?" She gestured a finger back and forth between them.
He smirked at her lingering discomfort. It would be fun to break her completely, to have her shed that discomfort once and for all in his arms. The warmth of their New Year's connection was sleeping dormant inside her. It was time to reawaken it.
"My only standard is that I receive a kiss from you, Emma. How you do it…where you do it is up to you." And by where, he meant her choice of environment. The kitchen, the bedroom, the shower…the possibilities were endless. However, he wouldn't settle for anything less than a kiss on the lips.
He leaned his cane against the wall and spread his arms for her. The robe slipped from his shoulders, but neither one minded it. The excitement thrumming through his veins reminded him of the thrill of having her frisk him in the diner's kitchen. Skin itching to be touched by her fingers, lips waiting to join together with her own…
Step by step, Emma approached and placed her hands against his chest. It swelled beneath her fingers, the beat of his heart pounding just underneath the surface. From his chest, her hands moved along the silky material to his neck and then upwards still, tracing either side of his face.
Her lips parted as her head craned forward…
"Wait," he interrupted just as her mouth was an inch from his own. Her breath tickled his bottom lip. She looked up questioningly, no doubt wondering if he had changed his mind. No such luck. One of his fingers traced the curve of her lip, making her shiver. "Just one question before we begin. Why come tonight?"
She shook her head in bemusement. Was there some small detail she expected him to be aware of? There had been nothing special about this day at all until she knocked on his door. A trivial smile twitched on her lips.
"You don't remember, do you?" He reeled his head back, wracking his brain for any piece of information she was referring to remotely. Had she perhaps said something on New Year's Eve? He didn't think so. "It's your birthday…Gold." She put extra emphasis on his Storybrooke name.
The light bulb clicked on. Ah, yes—it was Mr. Gold's birthday, though no one in town ever celebrated it. At least, it would be once midnight hit. Oh, wasn't Emma quite the little vixen? Giving him an early birthday present.
A glimmer of enticement made those emeralds shine brilliantly.
"Any other questions?" Emma arrogantly cocked an eyebrow, though they both knew the answer to that question already.
In one swift incline of the head, her lips latched onto his. Bliss poured hot through his veins, warm as a tropical ocean as he gathered her up in his arms and kissed her back hard. A soft moan came from one of them, but the source was irrelevant. Blood pounded in their ears as Emma's arms encircled his neck, silently begging him to come closer. Fingertips dancing along his chest, her mouth opened up to allow him all the access he could ever desire.
He wondered if his ears were malfunctioning when he heard his name fall from her lips between kisses. Gods, he hoped not—his mind was still struggling to decide whether this was a dream. If it was a dream, it tasted pretty damn good.
And then he came to the conclusion that he simply didn't care if he was dreaming. He might as well enjoy it.
Whirling with her in his arms, he pinned her body tightly against the wall. He used the new angle to his advantage and kissed her until they nearly ran out of air. Tearing his mouth away, he savored the cherry red shade of her lips and her soft panting. A trail of kisses down her neck, his fingers playing with the hem of her jacket….
It would do better on the floor.
She seemed to agree as she thrust away from his mouth long enough to strip free of its restriction. And then he gratefully went back to invading her collar-free neck. This had better not be a dream, he groaned inside his mind. Otherwise, his estate was going to be quite miserable when he awoke.
He had completely lost himself in the subtle scent of her hair when a sharp click interrupted their moment. That sounded odd. Pausing in nuzzling her neck, he glanced down to find a silver bracelet clasped around his wrist. He smirked.
"Is this the part where you handcuff me to my bed and torture me with my special birthday present?" His voice was raw and husky, betraying his intolerable lust. Emma tried to shield the desire from her face, but he saw through it like glass.
Nonetheless, she was trying to act unaffected by it, frustratingly professional. Oh, Emma. You and I were starting to have fun.
"No, this is the part where I'm forced to arrest you for breaking and entering into Mr. Clark's shop in theft of $106 worth of Apollo bars. And $2 for the robot claw." Circling him, she cuffed his other wrist. He could sense her resistance; she didn't want to arrest him, but she had to lest she risk her job.
Kneeling to the floor, she pulled something out of her leather jacket. It was a folded bunch of papers. At least until she unfolded the bunch in front of his face and he recognized it for what it truly was.
"Turns out Mr. Clark installed cameras after Ava and Nicholas robbed his store one too many times," she said, fanning the photos before him. One showed him entering the store, another of him grabbing two candy bars at a time with the robot claw. He cursed inside his head.
"I left an IOU on the counter," he offered, showing no true concern over the matter. Emma stuffed the photos back in her jacket and gripped his elbow authoritatively. This was not how he expected to spend his birthday.
"There was also a witness to the break-in, apparently. He was only too happy to fill me in on the details," she informed him as she led him toward the front door. His mind was stunned as he tried to think of the weasel that might have seen him that night. Everyone had been inside the diner…except one.
Jefferson. This was his sworn revenge.
"Can't my arrest wait until the morning, dearie?" It was already midnight. The way he figured, it made little difference. It wasn't like he was going to skip town or anything. Besides, wouldn't it be something if he could convince her to stay the night?
"You know I can't ignore the demands of my job, Gold. If I did…" Her words trailed off. It didn't take a brain surgeon to imagine whose face Emma was imagining.
Even though the curse was broken, she couldn't risk handing Regina added ammo. Even more critically, ignoring the demands of the job would prove her irresponsible to the town.
"The Queen will fire you?" Her silence was answer enough. "Somehow, I sincerely doubt that. By the end of the week, she'll be out of office. All it would take from me is one little word and she wouldn't think of interfering with you again." Emma's grip increased on his arm. She didn't like talking about this.
"And if she doesn't listen to your special word? If she tries to expose me as some kind of biased, corrupt individual unfit to be Sheriff? What then?"
He shifted his head to view her over his shoulder.
"Don't you know me by now, Emma? I always have a Plan B." He gestured his head to the small table by the door.
Hesitantly, she slipped past him and opened the drawer. It contained only a manila folder with a few interesting snapshots of his own. Pictures of Regina in a tacky maid's outfit serving Grumpy and Nova like a petty servant.
Emma's eyes flew open wide the more she flipped through them.
"Blackmail?" She made it sound so distasteful. But he did not deny it. As was once said between them in his shop: she may not have approved of his methods, but the results were always favorable.
"Red's camera works wonders," he drawled. He jiggled his handcuffed wrists. "Unless Regina wishes everyone to see those pictures blown-up on poster board on every street corner in town, she'll behave. Wait until morning." It was almost a plea.
Slowly, Emma became weighted down by his reasoning and she deposited the folder on the table. She nodded. He couldn't possibly ask her to neglect it completely because it would go against everything good inside her, but he could at least ask her to prolong it for a while.
"Okay. But you're going down to the station first thing in the morning," she threatened, even wagging her finger. He hoped it would be after a special birthday breakfast in bed.
"Very well, Sheriff. Now, if you don't mind…" He turned around to let her view the handcuffs. Her boots thundered on the floorboards as she approached him from behind. A moment passed. Funny—those handcuffs weren't loosening up. Did she lose the key?
"I think I like you better with the handcuffs on," she teased, running her hands up along his silk-clad arms. Oh, so that was the kind of game she liked to play. He lost himself in her touch as her lips tickled his neck.
"I suppose that makes me your prisoner after all, Sheriff." It wasn't the worst fate in the world. Surprisingly, she unlocked the handcuffs. He rubbed the discomfort from his wrists as she tossed them away on the couch. Then she strode up to him and kissed him again.
"I've wanted to do that for a while," she admitted in a soft whisper as their kiss broke. She wore a delicate smile especially crafted for him.
Just to prove that he felt the same, he cupped the back of her neck and kissed her equally as longingly. He didn't know what time he swept her up in his embrace and led her off to his bedroom; only that it was after midnight.
Sometime during his late-night romancing with Emma, his phone vibrated on the kitchen table, presenting a new text message from Jefferson on its glowing screen. Happy Birthday. There was a smiley face for every year of his age.
I have a loose idea for a Valentine's Day story; if I can get it started, it should be up either on Valentine's Day or the day after. Thank you once again, everyone, for the encouragement to do it. Perhaps this one will be a bit more…intimate.
And I must thank my reviewers for all their wonderful comments—you have no idea how much it makes me smile! Here's to DaesGatling, Huntress4455, FortunesFavour, discotimelord, DragonRose4, la-stella-immortale, BundyShoes, and SwanQueen4055.