Chapter 1

Near to desperate, no nix that, totally desperate, she went to Gold's shop with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She had never once gone to the pawnbroker for help, had heard more than enough stories about his dealings to know better, but she had no clue what to do. She was too deep into this now and had no other way out short of defaulting on everything, which would ruin her. Her father had been so terribly far in debt when he passed away, so very far, that even if she sold his shop, truck, house, and all their possessions she had no real way to pay them off. There was no way to undo that she had co-signed on all his loans either. He had needed the help, and her credit had been so good… How could she have said no to her father? He may not have been the savviest businessman, or the most ruthless, but he had been good at what he did. It wasn't his fault the economy had taken such a hit the last few years and that flowers were hardly a necessary commodity for people. It wasn't his fault things had gone wrong because of forces he had no control over. So when he asked her if she would help, half hopeful and half ashamed for having to ask, she had done so without hesitation. He was her father and she would help him no matter what he asked of her. And he had a good plan to repay the loan, and had been chipping away steadily at it for three years, learning how to conserve and preserve his business quickly so he could stay afloat.

She had been happy to have helped even if the only one that was willing to give him a loan was his hardhearted and manipulative landlord. He had been doing well paying it back and had no problems with Gold. As mercurial and feared as he was in this town he did keep his word on deals to the letter. He had given her father a loan with an interest rate that nearly had her passing out, but her father had managed the monthly payments and so had no trouble the way other people did when they crossed Gold. After a few months she had let the worry of it go as her father proved he could handle it and became hopeful that his business, his dream, would make it through this recession. However, no sooner had the economy started to pick up than he had fallen badly ill.

After that everything had gone downhill at a dramatic pace. He had been fighting the cancer for years, although she and a few of the hospital staff were the only ones that knew that. It had been hard of course, between the illness and the treatment, but he had managed with the same steadfast joviality he must have been born with. He had gone into remission twice, and when the cancer made a third appearance they had all been hopeful this would be like the last two times, hard, but managable. She had battened down the hatches, more than ready to help him through this. She was used to it, knew what she would need to do, and how to take care of nearly everything at the flower shop when she wasn't working at the library. She immediately took over the books, management, shipping orders, and inventory with practiced ease while he started chemo. Everything had been going well until it wasn't anymore.

Three months in and she knew something was wrong. She didn't know what it was, she didn't know how she knew, but she recalled with perfect clarity the exact moment she knew her father was dying. She had come in from his shop one evening to make dinner, having finished with all the books, and saw him sitting on the couch tiredly as he watched a soccer match on TV. There was something in the way he was holding himself, something in the way his eyes looked, something in the air around him that alerted her that all was not right. A deep and horrible terror settled in her belly in that instant and without telling him she made an appointment for him to go see Whaler the next day. He insisted the whole way there that everything was fine and that she was wasting her worry. She would hear none of it and he humored her as he always did. When the tests came back a week later and there was no humor left between them.

When they went to get the results she knew it was bad the moment Whaler walked in. His face was grim, and from the usually easy going, tail chasing doctor that was a horrible sign. The next hour was the worst of her life. Two months he'd said. The words haunted her, even now, even after it was over. Two months. Two horrible, life ending, torturous months. Sixty-three days in the end. He'd outlived his timetable by three days. She wished he hadn't. She wished he'd gone a week after they found that out because she would never, ever, forget the pain he went through as he fought to stay alive, as he fought to stay with her. She knew very well he only hung on for as long as he did because he wanted to give her more time with him. Finally, when she got him into bed after a night of vomiting blood, refusing to go to the hospital because he wanted to die at home, she told him she would be fine because he had taught her how to take care of herself. She told him it was her turn to be brave, and that he deserved to rest now. She couldn't stand to see him hurt anymore, not for her, not when it could stop if he would just let it.

He had looked at her with bright, feverish eyes and told her she was the most beautiful rose he'd ever seen bloom. He told her how much he loved her and how very much she reminded him of her mother. He told her he was proud of her. She had smiled softly at him and stroked his sunken cheek, telling him how lucky she was he was her father and how well he had taken care of her and taught her. She told him she loved him too and he had finally fallen asleep with a small smile on his face. It was the last time they spoke, the last time they would ever speak. She sat with him for the next few hours and waited for the inevitable as she held his hand. He slipped away as the sun sank behind the horizon and she had simply gone numb all over, holding his hand tightly in hers for several more hours before she managed to get up and call Whaler and the sheriff so they could pronounce his death.

The next three days were a whirlwind of grief, activity, sleeplessness, and funeral arraignments. She had been nearly overwhelmed by family friends and neighbors, and was too distracted and unfocused to do anything but accept their help. She was thankful for Ruby and Granny, who somehow managed to buffer the hoard as she went about taking care of the technicalities of the funeral. It had been a nightmare, the whole thing, and she still felt like she was trapped in it even with it all done and over with. The house was wrong with only her in it, the shop had been cleared out of fresh flowers, and people were treating her like she was either disabled or had a second head. It wasn't often people died in Storybrooke and the novelty of it made people nervous, as if it was a curse that could be passed from her to someone else.

For the moment she tried not to think about her feelings. This wasn't the time. With his funeral a week behind her and his bills due in three days she had little choice but to go talk to their landlord about it. She could make the next payment on both the rent and the loan, but only just. Her job at the library hardly covered their utility bills the shop and their small home took. There was no way she could support this sort of expense short of hitting the lottery. Her father's life insurance wasn't going to help much either. It had taken the whole thing to cover his medical bills, which had been even more than the loan. Panicked over everything she had simply rolled the money straight to the hospital having no idea what sort of policy they had, but needing to get rid of debt somewhere. Now that it was over and she was half thinking right again she knew that had been a mistake, she should have gone half and half to give herself more time to think, but it was done now. She was just going to have to deal with the consequences of co-signing on the loan, whatever that might be.

Considering she had rarely had any contact with Gold she wasn't entirely sure what to expect when she approached him about this. He had never been cruel to her, always polite if coolly distant the few times they interacted, although she had made him smile once when he came into the library looking for documents on the town. She had never seen him smile before, even if he had hidden it nearly as quickly as it appeared. She tried to hold onto that memory as she crossed the street to the pawnshop because it convinced her that he was indeed a man despite rumor to the contrary, and might be sympathetic toward her situation.

With a sigh she gathered her courage and walked into his shop. She was grateful no one else was here considering it was Saturday afternoon, the busiest time for shopping in the small town she called her own. The bell over the door chimed cheerfully and she wished her mood reflected that sound. Glancing around she didn't see him in the shadows of the shop and called hesitantly. "Mr. Gold?"

There was a soft rustle and then he was pushing aside the curtain that separated the main shop from what she assumed was his office. He raised an eyebrow at her, clearly intrigued as to why she was here. "Miss French." He stepped behind the counter. "It's good to see you out again. My condolences on your father."

That threw her, the utter civility and sincerity in his voice. He was either really sorry for her, or was an extremely good actor. Either way it was nice of him to say it. "Thank you."

"What can I do for you?" He asked as he stepped behind the counter and put both his hands on his cane as he held it in front of him.

She saw no reason to draw this out and got straight to the point. She doubted he would appreciate her wasting his time at any rate. "I need to talk to you about the flower shop if you have time."

"I don't appear to be overburdened with customers." He replied as he leaned easily on his cane.

She couldn't tell if he was trying to be funny or not. She couldn't find it in herself to smile though. She hadn't smiled in weeks. "I've been looking over all the finances." Or obsessing over them as the case may be. She set the folder she had all the paperwork in on the counter between them rather helplessly. "I hadn't realized how much we owed you." He did nothing but watch her with an unreadable expression so she forged on, quashing her nervousness and going with blunt honesty. "I can't pay all of that back." His eyebrow inched up ever so slightly, but otherwise there was nothing. "The flower shop isn't even worth as much as that. I've already sold the truck so I can make the next payment, but after that…" She trailed off for a moment. "I'd like to sell you the shop back if you'll take it, but for the rest I don't know what to do." She searched his face when he said nothing and she went on as the silence stretched uncomfortably. "What would you like me to do?"

"I had thought you were going to take the shop over." He finally answered.

"I was going to." Really she was, until she her new obsession had taught her something. "But it's not financially feasible." His eyebrow inched up a hair higher. "I've run the numbers ten times over. The longer I keep it open the more money I'm throwing away. At least at the library I'm making money."

"Have you considered a different business?" He asked calmly.

Her stomach was bunching. For some reason his calm, the near disinterest, was far more upsetting than the yelling or threats she had been expecting. "I'm not a business person. I'm not good at it." She hated this so much. "And what little I do know is that there is quite a bit of start up cost for anything. Even if I wanted to do something else I can't possibly afford it."

He reached out with the hand that wasn't on his cane and flipped the folder open. His eyes scanned the documents swiftly, sorting through them in a way that told her he certainly knew what he was looking for. She was suddenly terribly insecure about all her math, but when he finally finished looking over every last thing he nodded. "This is quite problematic." She didn't know what else to say. He thought something over for several seconds before coming to some sort of conclusion. "I'll make you a deal."

She braced herself. Deals with Gold were well known to be trouble in this town. They never, not once, fell in the favor of the other person. He had a way of manipulating a situation so he always, always got the better end of things. From a practical standpoint she understood it, from an outside perspective she admired his cleverness, from a personal position she was downright terrified. "What might that be?" She asked calmly, hiding her nervousness the same way she had been hiding all her emotions since this whole horrible thing started.

"I've encountered a rather… annoying problem. Help me solve it and I'll buy the shop back and forgive the remaining debt you owe me." He raised his eyebrow. "I do believe you're the co-signer?"

She was annoyed he was pretending he didn't know that. Of course he knew that. They both knew that so she didn't bother to address that. "What's your problem?" She asked warily, wondering what was worth that much, wondering what she could solve that he couldn't.

"My green card is under a rather strict… review." She sent him a baffled look, wondering what on earth she was supposed to do about that. She hardly worked for immigration even if her job at the library was technically a government position. However, local government wasn't federal government by any stretch of the imagination. "I'm fairly sure it's about to be revoked. Since I would rather not be deported and lose my home and business I find myself with limited options."

It occurred to her what he was going to ask her all at once. This had absolutely nothing to do with her job or abilities. She had no clue why she was surprised this had not gone in any way she had conceived of. "You want me to marry you so you can secure your citizenship and stay in the country?"

"Yes." He said without remorse. He was utterly composed about the whole thing, as if they were discussing the price of the globe setting six inches to the left as opposed to fraud that could get him deported and her sent to prison. "You have duel citizenship I believe."

"I have full citizenship." She corrected, now truly hoping this whole thing was a nightmare as she would eventually wake up. "I had to pick at eighteen."

"Even better." He said in a satisfied sort of way, as if she had far exceeded all his expectations in this matter.

"You're really serious aren't you?" She asked.

He smirked a little, amused by her indignation. "Oh yes." He tapped his hand on the cane. "As I recall you're no longer attached." She flushed at the mention of her unfortunately public break with her fiancé six months prior. She had been mortified by Gary's behavior and had tried to leave several times only to have him grab her in front of all of Granny's. It was lucky for everyone that the sheriff had been there to yank him off or she may well have prevented him from ever having children with another woman, because he was certainly never going to have any with her. "All I need is for you to marry me and continue on with it for eighteen months or so."

"Is that all?" She asked sarcastically.

His lip twitched once at the corner at the first visible sign of anger she had shown at this outrageous deal. "I assure you that you're more than safe from my beastly impulses." She pressed her lips together at that. If he thought for one second she was going to agree to a real marriage she would do to him what she had been planning to do to Gary that night. He seemed to know what she was thinking and continued on. " I've not looking for love, dearie, I'm looking for…"

"A partner in crime?" She provided, utterly disgruntled.

"If you'd like." He said with a careless wave of his hand. "I have several spare rooms in my house you can pick from when you move in. Once a proper amount of time has passed I'll have us legally separated and we can go back to our lives. I'll even set you up with an apartment that is well below sticker price." He eyed her. "I believe you had your eye set on the one over the library?"

She didn't even want to know how he knew that. She had made one inquiry about it to Mary Margaret, one, two years ago. How this man always knew everything was both impressive and annoying. However, she wasn't going to get herself arrested no matter how much money she owed him. "Don't you think the government might find that a bit convenient that you've suddenly gotten married when they were looking into your immigration status?"

"You assume that they know that I know." He pointed out smugly.

She stared at him for a long minute and he did nothing but stand there at his ease, waiting for her to make the only choice she really could. She hated that he knew he had her nicely cornered. "And the money, my debt? You'll forgive it all?"

"You have my word."

Her hart sank all the way to her feet. "Then you have mine. I'll marry you." He smirked, and she swore he was close to giggling at his success. She felt detached from herself, but really, it wasn't much different than how she had been the last few days." And what's the story?" She said at last.

His eyebrow twitched back up. "Story?"

He better have thought this through better than simply getting her to agree to it. "Yes, about this supposed relationship. It needs to be believable if you want it to stick. You aren't the only one that's married to stay in this country. They know what to look for."

"Ah yes, I suppose that's true." He commented neutrally, although she could tell he was pleased she was thinking seriously about this whole situation, as if it were far more than he had expected from her. "We've been seeing one another for the last six months."

"Since right after I called off my last wedding?" She asked, stone faced.

He shrugged without regard of her feeling. "It started out as an emotionally fueled fling and then grew into something else. You didn't get around to telling anyone and then your father got ill. At your request I stayed out of it to keep you from being questioned about the relationship and lower the stress of the whole situation. I attended the funeral, so no one will think I was avoiding you. Now it's been a respectable, if short amount of time since your father passed and we decided to make it official. After all, a young lovely thing like you must want a family and secure financial situation. I feel that's a reasonable and bland enough story to be believed. What do you think?"

She answered bluntly. "I think you knew it was only a matter of time before I came in here to talk to you about this."

His eyes glittered. "I doubt anyone has accused you of being slow, dearie. So? When would you like to make this official? I'm afraid I'm on a rather tight time line if I'm to stop this before it becomes apparent I know about the investigation. That would make things infinitely more difficult."

She felt it was rather cruel to pretend she mattered in this at all short of being legally tied to him. "What kind of time line are you on?" She asked with a tired sigh. She refused to show that she was upset by this, by willingly breaking the law and entering into a sham of a marriage. There was no point in showing that when she had agreed to it and he surely had to know at any rate.

"Three weeks optimistically."

"You never struck me as a man with a great deal of optimism." She told him and he said nothing. She continued on. "We should announce it either today or tomorrow then." She could feel a headache coming on. "We need a marriage license and a judge." She refused to have a real wedding with a priest for this. It would make the whole thing even worse in her mind if she did that. Already she felt sick about this, sick that she was turning something she felt so strongly about into a business deal. "And I'd like to at least get my house up for sale and my things packed before we do anything."

"Next Saturday then?" He asked as if suggesting a day to have a casual lunch with an acquaintance. She desperately wished he was an acquaintance, at least she would have an inkling of an idea as to what she was getting herself into.

"All right." She agreed.

"Excellent." He said, shutting the folder with satisfaction. "Come back tonight with the deed and we'll hammer out the details."

"Details for the wedding?"

"Details for the story we'll need to tell should anyone from this fine government come to interrogate us. I would think you would rather be more prepared than less should that occur."

That was incredibly true. "What time?" She asked, feeling simply exhausted all at once.


She nodded. "I'll see you then." She said before turning around to leave the cluttered and shadowed shop.

"Oh, and, dearie?" She turned her head with her hand on the doorknob. "This is our secret, you understand?"

She sent him a look. "Yes, Mr. Gold. I assure you I understand this completely." With that she left, trying to wrap her head around what she had just agreed to as she went home. It was going to take her some time alone to fully grasp the second dramatic twist her life had taken in the last two weeks.

Author Note: New story! Woo! I swear I haven't left Faith in Fiction, I'm waiting to see what the show does so I can manipulate my story to fit it. I want it to flow with the show to keep everything as true as possible. I figured with an AU I could do whatever I wanted and not make you wait for Rumbellina fun! Hope you enjoy it!