Chapter 1

For as Long as I Can Remember

Mr. Gold's going to protect you. That's what the strange man calling himself Jefferson had said before freeing her from the lockup ward. To find Mr. Gold's shop had taken ages. To find him inside had taken a few seconds more. For years human touch had meant ice baths, padded restraints, and daily injections. Then he'd embraced her. He'd wrapped his arms around her, nestled her head on his shoulder, and cried.

After that, she would have gone with him anywhere. Mr. Gold had known exactly what she needed. He'd driven her in his car straight to the woods. No stench of vomit and urine. No choking disinfectant. She'd breathed in the crisp, fresh aroma of pine and cedar.

Up a sun-dappled forest path, she'd followed Mr. Gold, wondering where he was leading her. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was night. She was lying on asphalt. Her shoulder burned with the worst pain she could recall. His mournful brown eyes searched her face and he called her Belle.

Her life had been chaos ever since.

Propped up in her hospital bed—right back where she'd started—she pulled the blue blanket and white sheet up to her chin. If the covers hadn't been tucked at the bottom, she'd have pulled them over her head.

For as long as she could remember, she'd been Rosalie Mills—the mayor's crazy half sister, guilty of attacking their father with a knife, guilty of setting the family home on fire, guilty of hacking the neighbor's dog to pieces with an axe. Not that she'd remembered doing those things. Not that she'd ever felt herself capable of doing those things. Yet for more years than she could track, she'd been locked in a padded cell with a clanging metal door and rusty grated window—all because the mayor, the doctors and the nurses had insisted she had done those things.

Now the doctors and nurses were telling her that the mayor was actually an evil queen and she was Belle. The reasons for locking her up had been lies. Instead, she was a highborn lady. Her father was a nobleman. She'd been betrothed to a knight. Then she'd foresworn her exalted life to keep house for a magical imp in exchange for his aid against marauding ogres. The woman she was supposed to be was an honest-to-goodness fairytale heroine.

And they say I'm crazy.

"Hypnosis plus amyl nitrate," said the tall, bony doctor with the heavy black beard. "We'll make her remember."

No, she thought. That treatment had never made Rosalie anything but a name people called her. How could more injections and more sessions of pretending to be hypnotized give her any of Belle's memories? They might as well try magic.

"How long will she be hospitalized?" This morning Mr. Morris French had shown up as her new next-of-kin—a father this time, kinder than fake sister Regina but equally a stranger. Equally unwilling to let her speak for herself.

"Hard to predict," the doctor replied. "Hard to predict."

She closed her eyes. If only he had come.

When Dr. Whale had first suggested calling Mr. Gold, she'd said no. With his talk of castles and talisman cups, either her gentle protector had gone mad or she'd been hearing voices. Trying to make sense of the fireball she'd seen in his hand or his blue glowing fingers waving her pain away had been even harder. Those irrationalities were either hallucinations or powers that made him the scariest man in the world.

Then a self-professed werewolf had visited her, claiming to be her best friend, followed by a solicitous bearded man identifying himself as one of Snow White's seven dwarves. After Mr. French had piled on with his talk of ogres and an imp—supposedly Mr. Gold himself—her erstwhile protector's wizardry had become just one of a kaleidoscope of outlandish things she'd been asked to deal with in the last twenty-four hours.

According to Dr. Whale, Mr. Gold was also an expert in legal documents. That sounded down to earth. If anyone knew how to break the conservatorship that kept her from leaving the hospital a free woman, it would be him. "Call," she'd whispered.

Clasping her hands, she prayed, Please—be on your way right now.

Close by, she caught Mr. French murmuring, "It's too late. It's just too late. I doubt she'll ever remember who I am."

She heard raised voices and opened her eyes. Looking out the ward's glass wall, past the nurse's station to the hallway, she noticed a commotion. The nurse with the strawberry blonde coiffure was trying to prevent someone from entering.

It's him. It has to be him. She took a deep breath and held it.

A hand grasped the edge of the doorway. Then a cane pushed the nurse aside. Mr. Gold came into view, trailed by Dr. Whale. On the threshold, he stopped, gazing across the suite of rooms to her. As their eyes locked, she realized he was waiting for her permission to enter. She nodded.

Mr. Gold hobbled past the nurse's station, hurrying despite his cane. He pushed open the glass door and came straight to her bedside.

"You sent me a message. Something about, uh, needing a lawyer?"

Mr. French grabbed his arm. "No."

The bearded doctor flanked Mr. Gold on his other side, towering over him. "The young lady's interests are being looked after by her father. She doesn't need a lawyer."

Mr. Gold shoved Mr. French's hand away. Without looking anywhere except into her eyes, he replied, "Regina Mills' conservatorship was issued under false pretenses. It's null and void. With Storybrooke's court system in shambles, no one could have had time to obtain another. Therefore, the right to look after the young lady's interests belongs solely to the young lady herself."

She blinked several times. "As simple as that?"

"Yeah, as simple as that." A faint smiled curved his lips. "My dear, what do you want to do?"

Hi! Pretty please, could you leave a review? Thanks! Katryn Depp's wonderful video "His Heart" (2:40 min): youtube DOT com/watch?v=TK7fO8j1Z30