Disclaimer: I own Katja...and that's pretty much all I can really claim.
"I'm somewhere on the outskirts of Seattle, in this cute little bookstore called "Spinner's Corner"... It reminds me a lot of the shop, actually," Rose confessed, brushing her hair back from her forehead, "Haven't decided where I'm staying tonight yet... I'm a little nervous about going into Seattle."
"Can't be any worse than New York City," he murmured.
"I was hardly even showing when I went through NYC...now I'm roughly the size of a barge," she rested a hand on her swollen stomach, which was large enough to rest a plate on.
Mr. Gold gave a shy smile, "I think you look lovely."
Rose rolled her eyes, "You obviously haven't seen my waddle."
The bookstore was empty except for where she sat at a two person table in the corner, her laptop in front of her. Skype was opened up to show her husband, a not-quite-unhandsome Scot who perpetually dressed as though he were going to a formal event, nearly twenty five hundred miles away. The picture quality was decent, even if their office seemed tinted with blues and each movement was done in slow motion. The Skype conversations unnerved her, but at least she could see his reactions with the web cam. Over the phone all she had to go on were his tones and inflections to figure out what he was thinking.
She still wasn't used to the way he looked at her, as though she were the most incredible person in the world and every word she spoke was treasure. It wasn't until she had caught him cheating on her and told him she was pregnant with his child that he had started acting this way, like he actually loved her.
He insisted he hadn't cheated, but that was a whole other mess Rose didn't feel like tackling tonight.
"How are you doing?" Mr. Gold asked urgently, "Do you need anything? Money? Books? Chocolate?"
Rose shook her head, "I could go for a foot rub, but I don't think you can do that."
Mr. Gold smirked, "Is that a challenge, dearie?"
Panic rushed through Rose. It must have shown on her face because he flinched.
"...I'm sure there's a spa around that would give you a foot rub," he murmured in defeat.
"I wasn't serious," she muttered.
She supposed that he was trying, and she should give in to his attempts to be with her. But the memory of the first time she had complained of aching feet...of the phantom sensations of hands kneading into her soles and it being clear that he was doing something to cause it... He had apologized for a week after that little incident.
Rose liked normal, predictable things. Whatever her husband had become since his affair was anything but normal or predictable.
"How's Bella?" He asked with downcast eyes, retreating to a safer discussion.
She sighed, "Her sleep schedule's horrid... Decides it's time for kickboxing in the middle of the night. But she seems to be developing fine, no health issues that any of the doctors have seen. You did get the last pictures, didn't you?"
"Yes, yes I did." He played with his hands, before taking a deep breath and glancing at her, "...please come home, Rose. Take a vacation from this whole Bae quest, have our child here, in Storybrooke..."
He'd been begging for her to come home since the day after he gave a speech that, while most of it she thought was rubbish, was still ingrained in her mind.
She looked him firmly in the eyes, "I'm not coming home until I find Baelfire. If that means I have your child in a strange city, so be it."
Some days he'd argue with her. Insist that it could take years to find the boy. Sometimes he would get mad and demand she return. The threats weren't too substantial; it wasn't like he was brave enough to come after her.
Most days, like apparently today, he'd just gaze at her sadly.
"As you wish."
The words sent an ache through her, a longing that grew out of reading too many romance novels. She wondered if he had ever read "The Princess Bride", if he knew what those words could mean.
She pinched at the bridge of her nose, "It's getting late, and I'm not sure when this store closes. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Mr. Gold smiled, "I hope so."
The affair had made him vulnerable, practically desperate and groveling. An image she couldn't reconcile with the husband she knew.
"I love you," he said timidly.
"I know," she said flippantly, before logging out of Skype.
She buried her face in her hands and started to cry. Crying because she missed him? How could she miss someone who had married her simply because it wasn't proper for a young lady to live with a single man? No, she was crying because nothing made sense. Years upon years of knowledge insisted that Mr. Gold was a distant, chilly man...and yet all he seemed to be in the conversations over the past few months was warm and affectionate.
Not a damn thing made sense...unless she was to buy into what he had been telling her.
There was the sound of something clicking across the wooden floorboards and then it was standing on her lap, licking at her hands and face.
It had been a slow day, and Benjamin Spinner's business instincts told him that there was no particular reason for it. Some days were just slow, and he couldn't blame people for not wanting to venture out into the continuous Washington drizzle. There had been a handful of customers, most notably a pretty young woman asking if he had Wifi and then ordering tea and a lemon poppy-seed scone.
He preferred the busy days, and wished today had been one.
He set the iced brownie onto a plate, standing in the small kitchen behind the cafe/register. The two story building served as both Ben's business and his home, and this kitchen was just one example of dual functionality. He rummaged through a drawer until he found a single candle, stabbing it into the center of the brownie before digging around for a matchbox. He struck a match and lit the candle, cheerily humming to himself.
"Ha-ppy birth-day to me, ha-ppy birth-day to me, ha-ppy birth-day dear me-eee, ha-ppy birth-day to me."
Sadie's eyes opened lazily, nose twitching at the smell of chocolate. He smiled at her.
"Wake up just in time for cake, I see how it is," he teased.
He leaned down on the counter, gazing at the flicker of light. Ben didn't care much for fire, but he could admire how beautiful it was...when it was contained. He closed his eyes, made his usual wish, and then blew out the little light.
A lot of ceremony just to ask for a wish.
He pulled the candle out and sucked on the iced end, sighing, "This is the year, Sadie, I can feel it. This year we find him."
The Border Collie rose and stretched from her nap in the corner of the kitchen, yawning slowly. She hobbled over to where he was and sat at his feet, watching him pleadingly as he started to partake in his birthday dessert. Ben grinned, and broke off a chunk.
"If you get sick, don't come whining to me," he warned before offering it to her.
With as much lady-like gentleness as she could muster, Sadie accepted the forbidden treat, gulping it down. She wagged her tail and licked his hand appreciatively. He scratched her behind the ears.
"Dunno what I'd do without you, girl," he murmured, "Probably go crazy or something."
Sadie just stared up at him with adoring amber eyes, a devotion in them that Ben rarely saw in humans.
Her ears perked suddenly and she turned towards the door. She limped away, nudging it open and disappearing into the store. Ben's eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
"Sadie?" He asked, setting down the rest of his brownie, "Sadie-girl..."
He pushed open the door to emerge in the cafe, only to see Sadie ruthlessly attacking the unfortunate do-you-have-Wifi girl; tail wagging viciously as she covered her face and hands in enthusiastic kisses.
"Sadie-girl!" Ben scolded, "Down! Leave the poor woman alone!"
Sadie's ears drooped as she stepped off of the customer's lap, tail going still. The woman laughed.
"It's alright, she was just saying "hello"," she insisted, offering a hand to Sadie. Sadie didn't even bother with sniffing, just devouring it with more kisses.
"She knows better than to attack customers," Ben said firmly, glancing over the woman.
She was beautiful, no doubt about that, with long curls of brown and skin like porcelain. Even her extremely-pregnant belly wasn't off-putting; if anything it made her seem more attractive, a sweet mother-to-be. And those eyes, so freaking blue... But her face was red and puffy, voice rough from fresh-shed tears. Ben's eyebrows knit together.
"Are you alright, miss?" He asked.
She nodded, "I'm fine."
"Fine...or you just don't want to talk about it?"
Rose glanced up to take in the young man in front of her. He was college-aged, thin and not particularly tall. Thick dark hair threatened to hang into his wise brown eyes, the ends curling. She frowned.
"Do you believe…" She began, then hesitated, "…that truth is stranger than fiction?"
Ben chuckled, "Wholeheartedly. May I?" He gestured to the chair opposite her. She nodded and he pulled it up to her, Sadie sitting contentedly between them.
He saw a flash of gold on the woman's left hand. Married and pregnant...could Sadie play matchmaker with anyone less available?
"I'm just...in a very difficult spot right now," The woman said carefully, "My husband and I are going through a rough patch, and I can't tell if our separation is hurting or helping."
"Sometimes it's important to take a break from our loved ones," Ben said, glancing down at her stomach.
She rested a hand over it self-consciously, "...it's not a break either of us wanted," she murmured and even through her haze of confusion she knew that was true, "It just...happened."
Ben bowed his head briefly, "I'm sorry to hear that." He held out his hand, "My name's Ben, Benjamin Spinner."
"Benjamin Spinner of "Spinner's Corner", that's cute," she shook his hand, "Rosaline Gold, but most people call me Rose."
"Nice to meet you," he glanced around the empty bookstore, "So where are you from, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Maine, a little town called Storybrooke."
He frowned, "Haven't heard of it."
"Most haven't," she assured him.
"Is the weather any better over there?"
Rose shrugged, "It's less rainy, but it's also freezing cold most of the time."
Ben grinned, "Can't have it all, I suppose," he tilted his head, "Are you here for sightseeing?"
She bit her lip, "No, actually I'm looking for someone."
"My husband's estranged son," she sighed and looked down at the table, drawing small patterns over its surface with her finger, "Not sure why I'm the one doing it... Especially because he'll probably just leave me for his mistress once I do."
Ben's eyebrows raised, not sure how to respond, "I, uh...wow... Sorry."
"It's alright now," she murmured, "It's a...long story."
"And you'd prefer not to tell a stranger," he guessed. Rose nodded.
Sadie, clearly feeling neglected, started licking at Rose's arm. The woman giggled and scratched her neck, Sadie pushing the sleeve further and further up.
Ben's heart stopped mid-beat. A long jagged line ran from Rose's left wrist to the crook of her elbow, a black mark that looked like it was cut into obsidian rather than flesh.
Sadie hadn't intended to play matchmaker at all. She was merely drawn to the magic that this woman apparently had, trying to point it out to her master. Rose cleared her throat and Ben quickly averted his gaze, realizing he had been staring. She pulled her sleeve back down, once again hiding the mark.
"Have you found somewhere to stay yet?" Ben heard himself ask.
Rose shook her head, "Not yet. I'm a little nervous about Seattle, to be honest."
Ben ran a hand over his hair anxiously, "Well, um, I do have a spare bedroom upstairs... I don't like the thought of you being on your own, miss."
Rose smiled, "It would be much appreciated...if you don't mind."
"Sadie and I would love the company," he assured her with a genuine smile, "It gets lonely with just us here."
Ben tried to tell himself that he would do this for any stranger passing through, and he had let guests stay free-of-charge in his spare room in the past. But he couldn't ignore the fact that this was self-serving just as much as being charitable. Maybe she was a young witch, or a realm jumper… Either way, she had his attention.
Mr. Gold continued to stare at the screen after Belle logged out, feeling the usual ache. Yes, they were at least civil now, and he had managed to tell her the whole truth without her freaking out over the course of five and a half months. Sometimes he could almost see flickers of his Belle; laughing at a joke, smiling in that "you're such a dork I love you" way, her eyes lighting up as she described the sights she was seeing, promising to send pictures. She was seeing the world...he should be glad that that particular dream had come true.
But what he wouldn't do...what he wouldn't give...to hear her call him "Rum" again. For her to say "I love you". For this demon called Rose to disappear and let his beloved Belle return to him.
Belle had told him not to send her away... She had begged to stay with him... And he hadn't listened.
"Mrawr?" Figaro asked.
Mr. Gold sighed, closing out of Skype, "No luck tonight, cat. She's still not our Belle."
He turned around to see the cat curled up in the leather office chair, staring dejectedly at him. Had that fur ball really been bothering him for a whole year now? He was hardly the frightened tiny kitten they had brought home from Geppetto's.
The cat rested his head back down on his paws and sighed. Belle's leaving had been just as hard on the creature and for the first week he had kept running away, going to the town line to mewl at the top of his feline lungs towards the road. Mr. Gold had wanted to kill him those first few days; did he really think he was the only one who missed Belle?! But the night he was called in to the animal shelter, looking at a rain-soaked cat with eyes drenched in misery, the anger had ceased. A hole had formed in both of them at her absence; tragedy had made them brothers in pain.
The first time he and Belle had Skyped, the cat had eagerly jumped onto the keyboard, mewling happily at the sight of his adoptive mother. Belle stared and asked Mr. Gold when had they gotten a cat. She did not coo or squeal with delight; she merely asked what its name was. She ignored her cat.
Figaro didn't greet her anymore whenever he saw her on the screen, simply curling up in the background with his ears swiveled towards her voice.
Belle was huge now, her hair so long, and it was beautiful. Yet he couldn't even rest a hand on her swollen stomach, hoping to feel their child move within her. Mr. Gold blinked back tears and grabbed his cane, getting to his feet.
"I need a drink," he decided.
It was a grand house, white with roman pillars on the porch and two balconies, one in the front and another overlooking the lake. The lawn was a little overgrown as opposed to its neighbors but the house was better kept than he expected from its occupant. A mat asking kindly for people to wipe their paws was set in front of the door, a homemade sign over the peephole warning "STOP! Have a good reason before bothering me. And for the gods' sake if the door's locked don't magick it open! I might not even be home, or sleeping, or doing something other than waiting around for you to barge in."
Mr. Gold paid no mind to the sign and flicked the lock open, strolling in like he owned the place. Technically, he did.
The living room had an incredibly similar set-up to the Robinsons' in "The Graduate", right down to the large windows and bar. Everything was white and undecorated, as if the resident was either just moving in or just moving out. The Killers blared out of an IPod stereo.
"She's touching his che-est now, he takes off her dre-ess now, letting me go. And I just can't look it's kill-ing meee… Dude, what the hell does the sign say?"
Mr. Gold fought back a smile as Katja broke from her sing-along, glaring at him over the counter. At fifteen she really shouldn't be mixing her own alcoholic drinks… Then again that was twenty-two in werecat years. Much like Red's slow-returning senses, Katja had gradually become less and less human until Kit was only visible through her vocabulary. Cheekbones as sharp as her claws, cat-like eyes and ears that narrowed into tips, he still recalled the day she had enthusiastically mooned him, demanding he look at the little stub of a cat tail that was growing back.
"I tried calling, but your phone's turned off," he said.
"Yeah, I'm kind of avoiding Grace right now…and people in general," she punched the "off" button to the player and turned around, taking him in. She frowned, "Bad date with Bluebelle?"
He nodded and she shooed him towards the futon couch, the only piece of furniture in the living room. He obliged, sinking into one corner.
"Two weeks, Pussycat. Fourteen days until Belle's due date. And yet I am no closer to persuading her to come home."
"You knew she was stubborn when you married her," Katja insisted and as he watched her, he wondered if one of his kitty cat's numerous reincarnations was that of a bartender. Being a wanderer for so long meant she had a new self for practically every region she entered, different shades of the same girl.
The Puss in Boots. The Puss in Rumplestiltskin's Boots, to be precise.
She came around the counter and offered him a glass of scotch. He took it and she perched down at the other end of the futon, nursing her rum.
"I didn't want her to be stubborn about this," he growled, downing his drink, "She's out there, alone, and going to have a baby any day now."
"And she's Belle, the woman who made a man out of a beast," she retorted, "Don't let this whole Rose thing fool you. Deep down there is a badass who is going to pop that kid out and slap it on her back like Sacajawea."
Mr. Gold grimaced, not liking the mental image that "slapping" and "baby" being in the same sentence brought up.
"Point is, if there's anyone I'd trust to be fine on their own, it's Bluebelle. Stop worrying about what she's up to and focus on finding a way to leave Storybrooke to drag her ass back," she commanded, taking another sip.
Since when had Katja been the practical one in any situation? And since when had his little kitten started moving into the realms of womanhood?
"Are you fighting with Grace?" He asked.
Katja looked surprised by the sudden change of subjects, then finished off her drink to keep from answering.
"…not necessarily," she finally mumbled when there was nothing left to fill her mouth with, "Just might've pulled an emotional hit-and-run on the girl."
"Yeah. She tried to invite me over some time to meet her dad, so I told her that probably wouldn't be a good idea. She asked why so I 'fessed up to the fact that I'm the reason her mother's dead."
Mr. Gold wasn't sure if the booze was completely to blame for his confusion, but it sure didn't help matters.
"Her mother? But you're not much older than she is."
Katja set her glass down, "Remember that first year after I left you, how it was like I fell off the face of the earth? I kind of did. I went to Wonderland…and grew up with Jefferson and Alice."
Mr. Gold stared and Katja explained.
"Time passes a lot faster there. Jeffy and Alice didn't always stay in Wonderland, going off to another world every few months with that hat of his. I didn't follow; too busy looking for a rabbit hole… The Queen of Hearts caught wind that a couple of realm-jumpers were in her kingdom and the Looking Glass War began," she took a deep breath, "And somewhere in the middle of all that, Alice and Jeffy married and had Grace… But Her Majesty was right on our tails. Jefferson had to leave with Grace…and I was supposed to protect Alice." Katja raked her nails through her hair, "Can we go back to talking about your issues with Belle? That's a lot easier than picking at raw wounds…"
"Puss, I doubt it was your fault."
"Might as well have been, for all the good I did," she grumbled.
Mr. Gold rolled his eyes and sighed, "Come here."
"I don't trust you."
"Fine then," He sat back and waited.
After a few minutes, Katja crawled across the expanse of the futon to his side. He smirked, then started scratching behind her head. She protested for a moment, and then he heard the tell-tale rumble deep in her throat.
"You're a good kitty," he insisted.
"I'd say morally ambiguous," she muttered around her purring.
"You should sort things out with Grace."
"And you should keep out of things when I tell you to."
"That's a laugh, hearing that from the queen of meddling."
"Learned from the best."
She rubbed her face against his palm, moving his fingers to wherever she wanted attention. Her claws kneaded into the futon as he scratched under her chin, her eyes rolling back as he paid special notice to the tip. He smiled, the low thrumming a soothing noise even if he wasn't much of a cat person.
"Why can't we go back to the way it was in the Dark Castle, back when snuggling looked innocent?" She murmured.
Mr. Gold chuckled, "A little girl cuddling a grown man in his bed? It's never looked innocent," he said sadly, "Only we know there's nothing perverted about it."
Katja sighed, "I need a boyfriend," she decided.
"No, dearie, you need a kitten. Like Belle's."
She rolled her eyes and sat back on her heels, "Didn't work the first dozen times you tried to pawn Figgy off on me. You sleeping over?"
"Well you know where the blankets are." She rose from the couch and stalked off, presumably to her room to plot.
He was aware of how desperate he appeared, but it was one of those nights where his pride meant nothing in the face of going back to the empty house he had once shared with his loving wife.
"That's sweet of you, but you really don't have to. I'm not that weak," Rose insisted as Ben hoisted her duffel bag over his shoulder.
"A lady shouldn't have to carry her own bags," he claimed.
She snickered, "And here I thought chivalry was dead."
And he had thought that there was no magic in this land. It appeared that they both were a little wrong in their assumptions.
The only thing she carried was a small case, leather with well-worn buckles that could almost pass as a purse were it not for its rigid box structure. She followed him from her truck back to the store, where Sadie waited patiently for them.
Now, as they made their way through the tall bookshelves towards the back, Rose started to notice Sadie's awkward gait.
"Is she alright?" Rose asked worriedly.
Ben frowned and glanced down at the dog, who only wagged her tail and continued walking, "Oh, that," he said, relieved, "She was hit by a car a long time ago… She doesn't walk too well anymore, but she's the best dog you'll ever meet."
Sadie's tail seemed to wag harder at his praise.
He led them to a small elevator near the shop's bathroom, despite the fact it was only a two-story building.
"Is this for Sadie too?" Rose guessed as they crammed into the small box.
"She has trouble with stairs," Ben explained as he pressed the "up" button. He stared down at Sadie as the elevator started moving, "…she's the only family I've got."
Before Rose could give her condolences, the doors reopened and she was ushered in to a narrow hallway.
"So feel free to use the bathroom," he nodded towards it before continuing, pointing out each room as he mentioned them, "That's my office, will probably be in there if you need anything, or my bedroom or, yanno, actually working downstairs. And here is the deluxe suite," he teased, nodding to the final door at the end of the hallway.
Rose flushed, "This is very kind of you, Ben, I really appreciate all of this."
"It's no problem; I have a spare room, you need one…" He shrugged, "It makes sense. A little bit of kindness goes a long way."
He opened the door and set the duffel bag on the bed, "I'll let you get settled, then. Good night."
"Good night, Ben," Rose said, setting the case on the nightstand.
Ben hesitated, hand on the doorknob. Rose glanced up at him, "Something the matter?"
"No, no," he shook his head quickly, pausing for a moment before saying, "You enjoy your stay…Rose."
He shut the door behind him and she took a good look at her new room. It had a certain cabin-esque feel to it, with visible wooden beams and shades of brown decorating the small room. There were several things that seemed to just be stored in here, including a Sounders pennant tacked above the headboard and something under a painter's sheet. She sighed and started dressing for bed. She'd have to ask Ben about where she should start on her search through Seattle.
Ben had retired to his office, waking up his computer and typing "Storybrooke, Maine" into the search engine. No results came back and he frowned. So she had either lied about where she came from…or the town was virtually invisible. Common sense told him the former made the most sense, but he couldn't excuse the latter.
He burned the midnight oil searching for anything he could find, but it was all dead ends. He finally resigned himself to attempt sleep, crossing the hallway. He paused when he noticed Sadie curled up in front of the guest room door.
"You comin', girl?" He whispered.
Sadie glanced at him and then readjusted her muzzle on her paws, looking almost as if she were keeping the strange woman from leaving. If only he could be as blatant.
Hello, my dearies, and welcome back! Apparently I have been forgiven if you decided to check this out, or maybe not and you're just holding back killing me to see if I make things better in the sequel.
Things will be better, I promise. This ride will come to a full and complete stop, as opposed to a crash of burning debris.
Next time: We get to know Ben a little bit better…though I'm guessing 95% of you have already figured out who he is (The man refuses to be subtle). Also, Jefferson and Katja drama.