Love for all my reviewers! Special thanks to BostonYankee and baaelfire for the dating advice. ;P
The next few days were sheer torture for Henry.
True to Gold's prediction, Regina cornered him and he told her some fib of the man asking after Regina's plans for the next monthly Council meeting, where everyone got together to propose their big, contentious ideas. She seemed torn between suspecting Gold and suspecting Henry (she would have never thought of them collaborating), but decided to keep her complaints to herself either way, and Henry let out the breath he'd been holding. She didn't bother him about it after that, and even her assessing glances petered off after a few days (on Monday he'd caught the tail end of her accusing Gold of trying to subvert her son).
He apologised to Miss Blanchard on Regina's behalf (she didn't buy it for a minute), and told her (secretly, of course) about his trade with Mr. Gold. She hmmed warily and cautioned him to be careful, but seemed happy to see him so excited, and promised to let him show her his sword once he had it.
Henry was going to become a real Knight, now, and he'd get to save everyone (he'd have to save everyone).
Henry woke up early Wednesday morning feeling refreshed, the secret of the sword warming him deep inside (today today today). He dressed and breakfasted, running through the day's activities in his head. He would need to go to school, but if he told Regina he was going to the arcade, she'd let him be for long enough to go to the pawnshop.
It was only when he caught himself in a daydream of swinging a mighty sword, slaying some imaginary dragon-Regina, that he realised he didn't have a clue how to use the sword after he'd acquired it.
He'd need to find a book on swordplay.
Henry's thoughts briefly brushed over the disappointingly ever-closed library, wondering why Regina would possibly give the town a library but keep it closed. He considered breaking down the flimsy-looking boards to get into it, but the thought of what might be hidden behind those decrepit timbers deterred him. Rats, gaping sinkholes, bloodthirsty but well-read demons. No thank you.
Henry dressed and breakfasted in haste, as though rushing now would make the school day go by faster. Regina, steam curling from her mug of black coffee (she liked it dark and bitter), leaned against the bench and eyed him critically. He squirmed in his seat, avoiding her eyes to stare down his orange juice while he swallowed his last bite of toast.
"Something wrong, Henry?"
"What? No. The Arcade!" Henry blurted out the first thing to come to his mind, sending a prayer of thanks that it wasn't anything incriminating (he could only imagine her reaction of he'd blurted out "sword"). "They've fixed the two-person Shooter and I wanted to try it out, it's supposed to be really good. It's free, too. Please," he wheedled, only half lying. He had heard about the game's many virtues from the other boys (and some of the girls) in his class, and a part of him wanted to try it out (not as much as he wanted his sword, though).
His mother stared at him, expression softening as she observed his clasped hands and slight pout. After a few moments she sighed and shook her head, smiling to herself.
"Alright. You'll probably be raving about that game only until the next one comes along, but if it's so good, then you're welcome to stay back. Only for a few hours, though, yes?"
Henry didn't hear the last part, too busy throwing himself at her, wrapping his arms around her and being careful not to upset the mug in her hand. She placed the mug beside her and returned the hug after a moment, her arms tight about his shoulders.
"Thanks, mum." He caught a stricken look on her face as let go, beaming at her. Maybe after the trade, he'd actually go over there (he really was grateful, she didn't have to).
Henry looked back at her as he shouldered his bag and finished tying his shoes. She still leaned there, eyes closed as if her thoughts pained her. He felt bad, even though she was he Evil Queen, that she was sad. Even though he didn't understand it, he walked over to her, touching her arm with his fingertips. She opened her eyes to look at him, and they swum with tears.
"Thanks. Really. I'll see you this afternoon?"
Regina managed a watery smile and nodded. She placed a hand on his head and ran her fingers tenderly through his hair, ruffling it slightly.
"Of course, son."
Henry wandered down the street after school, feet scuffing against the pavement. The day was bright and the skies clear, but he felt a storm brewing, and not necessarily the rainy kind.
The infamous pawn shop loomed into view, the dread incited by the place seeming all the worse for its lack of size, much like its owner.
Henry entered the building, the bell overhead chiming a welcome, disparate from the store's aura of malevolence.
Gold promptly emerged from the back of the shop, a dust rag held in his hand.
"Hi, Mister Gold."
"Welcome, young Henry." The boy in question braved the shadows of the gloomy shop to stare about in wonder. He had never actually had a reason to be in the shop, and the range of treasures fascinated him (except for the puppets. His gaze jerked away by itself and his body shuddered without his permission when he spied them). A delicate glass mobile dangled from the ceiling, sending white and blue flecks around the room. An old wooden spinning wheel, the sort people turned by hand and foot, sat alone in one corner, spool half-filled. A set of silver pan-pipes on a shelf, next to a bejewelled bird with miniscule golden gears showing through its crystal breast. A veritable host of magical items gathered in a single dragon's hoard, and each one had a story (he'd bet Gold knew them all, too).
He turned from his perusal to watch Gold, who still stood behind the counter, although he'd put the rag away, and was watching Henry expectantly, a barely perceptible smirk on his lips.
Henry had to hold in an impatient foot stamp when Gold let the silence drag on. He didn't think he'd moved, but Gold's smirk grew into a grin. Silently.
Henry broke the stalemate first.
"Have you got it?" The grin gave way to a chuckle. Gold stepped away from the counter, cane tapping on the hard wooden floors as he walked over to an old wooden barrel, the sort that would have once held wine.
Now it held swords.
Dark-steeled broad-swords with plain, functional handles. Silvery rapiers with handguards tooled and gleaming. Leaf-bladed short-swords and notched sabres with their curving backs. The array was dazzling, and Henry reached forwards before he consciously selected a blade (look at them all, one of them's mine). A long-fingered hand stopped his, pushing it back.
"Ah-ah. Safety first." Henry turned his gaze obediently to Gold's face. "Keep it covered when you're not using it, don't grab the pointy end with your hands, and do try not to actually stick anyone with it. It would be such a shame if something happened to our esteemed Mayor." Gold's grin was toothy and dangerous, but Henry couldn't help but return it (such a shame). Gold seemed to take that as agreement, for he stepped back and gave an elaborate gesture, swishing his crooked fingers over the multitude of weapons.
Henry stepped forwards eagerly, carefully separating the blades, pulling likely ones out. He stopped when he saw an impressive longsword, and reverence filled him at the sight. Its hilt was a burnished gold, with a scalloped pommel and delicately curving cross-guard. He pulled it out from the barrel and drew it from the scabbard, the blade gleaming and sharp in the muted light of the pawnshop.
Prince Charming's sword.
It was his sword (really, truly his). The blade was too long for Henry's child's stature, and the weight dragged unpleasantly on his untrained arms, but he knew then it was the one he needed. He turned his head to look at Gold, who assessed the blade appreciatively.
"This one." Henry said.
"Well, then, if you're sure?" Henry nodded resolutely, turning his whole body to face the pawnbroker, sword and scabbard in each hand. "Woah there, lad. Unless you mean to slay them, I'd not point it at anyone like that." (Oops) Henry clumsily sheathed it, taking the belt and looping it around his hand to give him something to hold onto.
"One of my finest swords. If you know how to use it." Henry had the feeling Gold had exactly the book Henry would need.
"And you've got a way of teaching me."
Gold nodded amiably, and waked over to a tall, narrow bookcase, where he selected a thick book, the faded gold lettering contrasting brightly with the dark leather cover. He thumped it onto the counter in front of Henry (the dust that swirled from the pages was dust from another world), and named the price, although Henry couldn't see one marked anywhere. He wondered if Gold knew everything about every item in his store.
"That's pretty expensive." Henry said, and tried to keep his face blank. Despite his casual attitude, Henry knew it would drain his funds to a painful degree.
"What can I say? A man's got to scrape by somehow. Everything has a price, if you're willing to pay. If not…" He began to draw the book back, and Henry gave an involuntary cry of dismay.
"I said it was expensive. But, well," Henry leaned closer, and lowered his voice as Gold leaned in too, "my mum's the mayor."
"Is she now?" Henry nodded solemnly.
"Yep. And she gives me loads of pocket money." Henry demonstrated this by pulling out the said cash and handing over enough to meet the price Gold had quoted. He was unable to withhold the wince as he did so.. Gold placed the notes in the cash register and slipped the docket between the pages of the book, then pushed it back over to Henry. He also pulled a canvas bag from beneath the counter, dangling it alluringly in front of Henry.
"Need this, perhaps? Madam Mayor would not be best pleased by seeing either of those items. With either you or me."
Henry dutifully wrapped the book and hid it in his backpack, covering it with his school books. He piled the sword into his arms, jostling it until it felt secure. He just hoped Regina wasn't home to ask him questions. Going to the arcade with a sword would just be asking for trouble.
"Thanks, Mister Gold."
"A pleasure doing business with you, Henry. Do drop by again." Henry waved as best he could and left the shop, feeling the warm afternoon breeze flow over him. The day was still worryingly bright, and Henry held the sword to his side, walking as casually as he could manage. Maybe he could pass it off as an oddly-shaped umbrella if anyone asked?
Henry kept a furtive eye out for inquisitive souls as he paced quickly along the footpath, the excitement of owning a proper sword swelling in his throat and heart. He longed to try it out, and couldn't resist ducking into the canopy of trees as he passed the park, their cool shade entreating him.
The dark green foliage hid him from the few kids and adults in the park, and he was able to strap the scabbard about his waist once he looped it onto itself. He drew the sword once again (more gracefully this time, like a prince should), marvelling over the design. Dappled light gleamed along the blade, momentarily blinding him, and he tilted it away and gave the sword an experimental swing. It cut the air with a low hum, and sheer delight filled him, raw and primal (this sword is mine. I am dangerous). That was, until the blade's momentum halted with a thud that jarred him to his shoulders, knocking his hands from the hilt. Henry stared in confusion at his empty palms before he noticed the blade had bitten deeply into the trunk of a nearby tree, and hung in place, quivering slightly.
Henry blushed (even though there was nobody to see it but him), and hastily jerked the sword out, glancing around and half-expecting someone to jump out of the bushes and denounce him as a false prince. He laughed to himself and shook his head. Gold was the only one who knew about it, and he wouldn't be jumping out of anywhere with that limp.
Henry placed the sword down so that he could get out the instruction book, flipping through to look at the hand-drawn diagrams of partners trading blows. He placed it to the side of the small clearing, propped up and open with his bag, and gathered the sword. He held the long grip with both hands. He was a prince, the grandson of the Prince Charming and Snow White, so this would be easy for him to learn.
Henry spent the next half hour futilely trying to follow a single technique. As soon as he had his feet right, his body would be out of line. Once he'd fixed himself up, he'd find his grip on the sword was wrong. He'd get that right and try to make the cut like the book said, only to find his feet had shifted back out of place, leaving him without a sword, or more often sprawled on the increasingly bruised grass.
When Henry dropped the heavy weapon out of pure physical exhaustion (he nearly took his own foot off in the process), he decided that it would be safer for both him and the local flora if he called it a day. He repacked the book and sheathed the sword, but had to carry it because it dragged along the ground when he wore it as a belt.
Despite the limitations to his trade, he left he'd gotten a good deal out of the still-unidentified pawnbroker. Gold hadn't had to show him the book (although the sale wouldn't hurt him), and he'd not stopped Henry from taking the sword, even though he was legally a minor. He was (technically), but Henry decided he was allowed some leeway because he need to break the Curse to end all Curses, and that was hard to do when you were a kid. He just hoped the price wasn't too high. Everyone paid the price for their deals with Gold. The thought stirred up a familiar and oft-repeated line from The Book.
All magic comes with a price.
Henry stumbled, caught himself, dropped the sword and still managed to tumble onto the grass beside the footpath, but he didn't notice any of it (all magic comes with a price).
Oh, how could he have been so blind!
It all fit. Spinning straw into Gold, making deals everyone came to regret ever making, the fear he inspired in the townsfolk.
Mr. Gold was Rumplestiltskin.
Henry's mind buzzed with the revelation, but he was conscious enough of his surroundings to gather up his sword and bag, brush off the loose grass (there was no avoiding the stains), and set out back for home.
Regina's car wasn't by the curb or in the driveway, and Henry sent up a silent prayer at that small boon. He raced up to his room and hid the thick leather manual under his wardrobe, where the feet and panels left a small, hidden space below the actual wardrobe. It was shadowed and invisible unless you actually reached under and felt with your hand, and the Evil Queen would never think to look there for anything.
The sword was more of a problem. It was far too long to hide under the wardrobe, but Henry's bed wasn't safe enough and he didn't want to chance hiding it in the detritus of his room in case his mum decided that a bout of spring cleaning was in order.
In the end he followed his original pretence, shoving it into the folds of his long black umbrella and hoping the hilt merely looked like an oddly-shaped handle. He propped it back behind the door, where Regina was unlikely to be looking for anything.
With the sword and manual taken care of, Henry could return his thoughts to the man who had traded them to him. Rumplestiltskin. The Dark One, most feared of sorcerers, and the man who taught Regina all she knew. Henry had made a literal deal with the Devil.
He ran his mind over all he knew, trying to determine how much more dangerous his deal had suddenly become. Oddly, Gold and Rumplestiltskin didn't have very different policies. They both kept to the exact letter of the deal (both a blessing and a curse), and those who dealt with Rumplestiltskin usually decided they had been better off before. He was much like the malevolent genies in Arabian fairytales, who twisted your words and made you regret asking for anything at all.
With some surprise, Henry concluded he wasn't much worse off now that he knew Gold's identity, especially since there was no magic in this land (not that that was much of a relief). He sighed ruefully, still wondering how he had missed something so obvious.
Regina got home at around seven 'o' clock, and asked him about the new arcade game over their dinner of spag bol. Henry lied, forcing the enthusiasm into his voice and waxing lyrical about the superior graphics and realistic special effects. He admitted he'd been beaten more often than not, but that he'd get better with practice. Regina smiled indulgently and told him he could spend as much time there so long as he went to his sessions with Dr. Hopper and finished all his homework. She didn't suspect a thing. When she came in to ensure he was going to sleep, she never thought to look for contraband weapons behind his door, and Henry fell asleep with a smile on his face.
Rumple is so difficult to hear inside my head. Makes for stubborn dialogue.
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