Fic: Rabbits on the Run - Chapter 2
Calonari prompted this picture
AU: Belle trades away her unborn child to Rumpelstiltskin in return for her freedom.
Rabbits on the Run
It’s a strange situation Isobel finds herself in, with Rose clutched to her breast, wrapped in the blanket Astrid brought from the convent, as she crosses the threshold of her new home.
Home is a word Isobel hasn’t understood since she was a small child.
It’s her new resting place, her new jail cell. She cannot run from here, not without losing her daughter. No one should be without her mother.
Astrid comes in next to her, tries to smile, “Well, it’s… homier than I expected.”
“It’s a cave,” Isobel murmurs, but she attempts a small smile for her friend’s benefit, “But I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, it’ll be great. And I’ll come see you all the time, and you can visit us… whenever.” Astrid’s trying not to cry, and Isobel wraps an arm around her, so Rose is held between them.
“At least he’s not here.” Astrid’s smile is watery, wavering at best, “Maybe he won’t even be around too much.”
Astrid drops Isobel’s duffle bag, and gathers her into a proper hug, mindful of the baby still snoozing in her arms. Rose is a quiet child, of this Isobel is grateful, but the movement causes her to wake and cry softly. Isobel bounces her a little, head on her shoulder, trying to soothe her.
She is afraid that soothing her child will be her main activity from now on.
Mr Gold is many things, but a soothing presence isn’t one of them.
“He said your room was in the western corner?” Astrid asks, picking up the bag again and making for the stairs.
“Yes. It should be the one with the cradle in it.”
She follows her friend upstairs, trying not to be curious, trying not to peer in doorways and explore the house. She’s afraid of what she’ll find, hidden in locked rooms and cupboards, in the house of the man the whole town reviles.
But he’s powerful, and strong, and there are several people in Storybrooke who would happily testify that she’s insane, and an unfit mother.
If Isobel lost her daughter by breaking Gold’s deal, then Rose would be taken to her father. Gold is bad – awful, really, a monster – but he isn’t violent, isn’t psychotic or sadistic. George Gaston is… something else entirely. Isobel shudders to imagine what could happen to a child left to be raised in his care.
For her daughter’s sake, she’s here.
One day, she will decide her own fate. One day she will look at the horizon and know that she is free, that she may walk the path she chooses.
But for now, she is a rabbit, scurrying from one bolthole to the next.
At least this one is warm, with sunlight streaming through coloured glass. At least no one can touch her in the cave of a dragon. And she has a friend nearby, a friend who will come and visit, who would notice if something happened to her. Her faith and her trust are placed in Astrid’s slim, cold little hands.
All her hopes that she won’t be swallowed by this monster’s home, never to be seen again, rest in the belief that this one woman won’t forget her name.
But, of course, there are others out there who remember her, and her daughter. A week into the new arrangement, the Mother Superior arrives. She stands on the doorstep, her warmest smile on her pretty face, and Isobel automatically stands aside to allow her entrance.
The Mother Superior sweeps inside, and asks – oh, so sweetly and humbly – for a cup of tea, finding the nicest chair in the living room within moments and colonising it before Isobel can react.
She doesn’t understand the feeling of invasion, the simmering anger she can sense in her veins.
She chalks it up to post-natal hormones, and pours the tea.
Astrid has visited every other day in the week since Isobel moved in, but she has seen no one else. Even Mr Gold she has seen only once, and it was an awkward and formal encounter.
Nods exchanged in the hallway, nothing more.
“How are you holding up here, dear?” The Mother Superior asks, all motherly concern and tenderness.
Isobel doesn’t know how to answer; she sips her tea to buy some time, and thinks for a moment, “I’m… doing alright. No medical complications, apparently.”
“And how is little Rosie doing?”
“She’s fine, better than.” Isobel hasn’t slept a full night in the week since she was discharged from the hospital, and doesn’t anticipate doing so for a while.
But Rose is everything, and the curtains in their room are heavy, and it isn’t like Isobel has anything she’d rather do or think about than caring for her daughter. To do so feels a little like ingratitude toward whatever providence allowed her to hold on to this precious little thing.
“You look a little tired, dear,” the Mother Superior prompts, “Is there anything you would like to talk about?”
The unease in Isobel’s stomach tightens into a hard little knot, and she moves away from the nun’s comforting hand on her knee.
“I’m fine, honestly,” she yawns, over-egging it just a little, “I am a little tired, though, and Rose is already down for a nap, so…”
“Are you sure you’re handling this okay?” she’s frowning, and Isobel wants nothing more for her to leave right now.
But she’s also the woman who took her in when she had no place else to go, who offered her a home for however short a time. She was trying to do the right thing, a rare enough thing in this world.
So Isobel settles back, and tries to listen with an open mind, “I’m doing alright. Really, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I love her so much.” She infuses every ounce of love she has for her beaming sunshine-daughter into her words, trying to convey to this holy, motherly woman how happy she is to just have Rose near, to know that she is hers.
But the Mother Superior’s smile has turned sickly and saccharine, and her words are barbed and a little cold to the touch, “Oh, well that’s lovely dear. But this isn’t about you: this is about the baby. She needs a real family, a mother and a father. You need to give your daughter her best chance.”
Maybe she’s right. Maybe Rose would be better off with a couple, someplace in a nice suburb, with a dog and a swing in the back yard, somewhere else, far out in the world.
The idea tears through her heart like a shower of needles, and her chest physically hurts.
“Don’t you think it’s time to let go, Isobel?” the Mother Superior has leant forward, taken Isobel’s cold and trembling hands in hers, “Mr Gold can find the baby a real home. He’s not as bad as you might think: he’s recently donated a massive amount of money to the Order…”
And something cold, hard and cruel clicks in Isobel’s head. Her blood runs as ice; she can taste metal in the back of her mouth, and something sour and acrid.
How could this woman, this smiling, holy woman, have sold her daughter?
“Please leave.” She says, cutting the nun off in full flow.
“Excuse me, Isobel, sweetie?”
“I asked you to leave. Rose is my daughter, and no one is going to take her away.”
The Mother Superior sits back, eyebrow raised, all warmth and softness gone from her round face, “Would you please stop being so selfishly dramatic for five minutes? You cannot keep this child. You don’t even have a proper home, for goodness sakes!”
Isobel stands, straight and tall, hides her shaking hands behind her back. She hasn’t been so angry in years, all fear or unease covered by a roaring, terrifying rage, “If she were unhappy: if she were sick or hungry or homeless, then I would consider sending her away from me for her own good. But my daughter is the happiest little soul I have ever set eyes on, and nothing will destroy that. She needs her mother.”
“She needs a family and a home.” The Mother Superior stands with her, and they stand face-to-face, ready for war.
“And what makes you think I can’t provide that?”
“You are here in this house on a technicality,” the snake-woman spits, “And don’t you try to convince me that you can provide anything better on your own. I know your history, honey, and Rose deserves better than that.”
“You should leave, now.” Isobel’s voice is calm, cold, murderous anger hidden under thin civility.
The Mother Superior sweeps out with a small, cold smirk.
Isobel collapses onto the couch, head in her hands, and sobs for hours. She cries for her baby, fatherless and trapped in a monster’s lair.
She cries for her only friend, her chosen sister, who follows such an evil soul with a blithely innocent smile and a song in her pure and sweet little heart..
But most of all, she cries for herself: for the loneliness carving a permanent hole in her chest, and the trembling fear that never leaves her bones. For the knowledge that no one could ever truly care for her, the rejected single mother, the failed nun, the daughter who ran from her childhood home eight years ago, and hasn’t stopped for breath since.
Gold tries to stay out of her way.
He’s been scuppered by his own bargaining, lead himself into this trap, and now he’s paying the price. He doesn’t want to look at her, silly wretched little thing, nor hear her undeserved small one crying in the night.
He was supposed to take the baby far away, find it a new and loving home, as he had in the old days.
At the very least, he should have been able to leave it with social services.
Instead, he has a new mother and her newborn daughter living in his home, because that was the bargain he made, and to rip it up would be unthinkable.
You don’t want to piss off magic: you make your bed, and then you bloody well sleep in it.
Even if the bed is all of fifteen yards from a woman who hates you, and the baby she shouldn’t even know.
And oh, how she hates him. He can see it in her eyes, whenever she looks at him, whenever they bump into each other in the hallway or try to make breakfast at the same time.
Eventually, she takes to making two rounds of toast and leaving the second – usually blackened and burnt, and reeking of passive aggression – on the dining room table for him. She’d rather make his breakfast for him like a kitchen maid than have to look him in the eye.
Once upon a time, he saved her and her child from an unspeakable life.
He knew the Marchlands, her father’s old realm. He knew of their fanatic religious cults, their devotion to strict rules and social order. Women were seen and not heard, and cast out if a breath of scandal touched their name.
Her father would have taken the baby and drowned it, or at best given it to a peasant family far from home. He would have left his daughter alone in that tower to rot forever.
But she doesn’t know that, and so Isobel French haunts his home like a malevolent spirit.
He never sees the baby. The few times Isobel is without her daughter, the room is locked. She’s afraid he’ll come and spirit her away, perhaps leave a changeling child in her place.
And if wishing made it so…
But where Rose goes, Isobel goes: such were the terms of this accidental bargain.
They don’t speak to each other. He goes out at eight sharp every morning, before she rises, and comes back at eight in the evening, by which time she’s in her room for the night.
If he sees her, he nods his head and smiles, and she looks as if she’s about to make the old sign against evil, as if she’ll cross her chest and clutch her crucifix, like the nun she almost became.
Until the night when Rose is loud, wailing through the house, and Gold is woken from his sleep.
Amazingly, this hasn’t happened before. In the two months since Isobel moved in, she’s been good about keeping the child quiet, taking her out onto the terrace if needs be in order to keep from disturbing him.
Gold has even taken to sleeping in the apartment above the shop, sometimes, on nights when a storm is predicted or heavy winds that will wake the child.
No need to force a confrontation, after all.
But tonight the storm struck without warning, and the crying continues unabated, and Gold can’t stand it anymore.
He might be stuck with these two for the next eighteen years, for all he knows, because magic is as magic does and it’s been trying to spite him for decades. Isobel is going to have to accept sooner or later that the kid can cry without him doing something drastic.
She’ll have to accept that his intentions were good, deep down, underneath all the tricks and deals and dark magic.
So he pulls his dressing gown around himself and grabs his cane, and crosses the house to Isobel and Rose’s room. The door is open before him for the first time since she moved in, and he sees her, silhouetted against the window by the streetlight outside, watching the rainfall and holding her daughter.
And a tiny flake of the anger he harbours toward her falls away: because she’s singing some soft lullaby, and holding Rose as his wife held Bae, and maybe this woman barely out of childhood has more love in her than he’d thought.
“Is there a problem, dear?” Rose is still crying, and she’s like an air-raid siren.
Isobel spins, and for a moment there’s a flash of pure terror across her face and his stomach twists, just a little bit, out of something that’s not quite guilt. He doesn’t want her to fear him, not really, not that much. From the looks of things out in the town, the rumblings he hears, he’s not the one she should be afraid of: the baby’s father is.
“She… she won’t settle.” She says, after a moment, and her voice is quiet and timid but still strong.
“She’s fed and changed, I assume?” he takes a few more steps inside, and she stands her ground. She’s a brave thing, little Isobel.
“Yes. I think it’s the storm: she doesn’t like the thunder.” She’s holding the child to her breast, and Gold is worried she might clutch too tightly, smother her daughter in trying to protect her.
“I’m not going to take her,” he says, quietly, “Rose is yours: if I could have whisked her away, I would have done it by now.”
“You’ll keep trying,” Isobel shakes her head, and her voice starts to waver. The poor girl is so terrified, so lost, her rabbit heart beating too fast in her chest.
“No. There is nothing I can do to separate you: your presence in my home is proof of that.”
He scrutinises her face, and is more than a little pleased when she relaxes a little, allows Rose’s face to peep out from her chest, eyes squeezed shut as she whimpers. “Take her downstairs and put one of the children’s channels on the television: they play through the night and it should soothe her.”
Then he turns and limps back to bed.
The next morning, Isobel decides it’s time to earn her keep.
Because she’s read the contract a hundred times, and physically he could have taken Rose by force the night before and didn’t. He can’t separate them: some force, legal or otherwise, prevents him.
And strange as it seems, she doesn’t entirely hate this arrangement. Her host is frightening, no doubt about it, but he’s also absent most of the time, and the house is beautiful. And she knows the rules here, at least. She stays on her side and he stays on his.
Mr Gold harbours no personal dislike of her, no reason to harm her or allow someone else to. She wouldn’t have been able to say the same had she ended up back at her father’s house, or worse, shacked back up with George.
She’s somewhat safe, here, and while her mind wants to be scared, two months of calm and peace have released some of the tension in her chest.
She could be here a while, and it is time she started settling in.
So she props Rose up on an armchair, allowing her little arms and legs to kick freely, and starts to clean.
And soon discovers something: the man is a cleaner’s worst nightmare. She used to watch daytime TV, back when she was living with George and unemployed, and she’s seen Hoarders. She’s amazed that the sheer mass of Gold’s stuff hasn’t swallowed him whole.
But she cleans, one room at a time, and goes to bed feeling better than she has since she left the convent.
She prays as she does it, little prayers like spells for good health, for Rose’s happiness, for freedom from whatever prison she now finds herself in.
It’s a warm little prison, though, with a beautiful garden and an open front door. Sometimes she goes for walks with Rose, and knows that she has nothing to fear from the world outside. This bolthole is absurdly homey, for the lair of a dragon.
Gold doesn’t comment on her work: that would require speech.
After their midnight meeting during the thunderstorm, he’s gone back to keeping his distance. Which Isobel appreciates, considering how terrifying he is, how angry she still is at him for putting her in this situation.
Although at least half of that anger is claimed by the Mother Superior.
She doesn’t want to think badly of the women who took her in, who fed her and gave her a bed, who looked after her even when she was pregnant out of wedlock, when she was scared and completely alone in the world.
But the woman forged her signature and took payment for a baby, a baby she had never met, who was no blood of hers. A child who needed a family, traded away like cattle.
Even without that sickening betrayal, it was she who was so adamant that Isobel not be allowed to keep her baby if she stayed with the nuns.
Astrid had said she wouldn’t have minded having a baby around, as did Sister Mira and Sister Tatiana. It was the Mother Superior who put her foot down, who signed away Rose’s future without a second thought.
Mr Gold is a heartless bastard, but at least he’d never asked her to trust him.
But he doesn’t mention her cleaning, and she makes sure she’s still in her room, door closed, reading or playing with Rose by the time he gets home.
It’s only when she’s walking through the hallway outside the living room, late at night, trying to slip into the kitchen to get something to eat, that she says anything at all.
They haven’t spoken a word beyond the occasional ‘good morning’ since the night of the storm, three weeks ago. But she’s tired, and hungry, and her brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, and Mr Gold is sat in his armchair with his shoes on, feet propped on her nice clean coffee table, and he’s not using a coaster.
“I cleaned this room yesterday,” she says, and her voice rings out in the darkness. Then she realises, belatedly, what she’s done, and she wants to run back upstairs and hold her baby to her chest, and curl in the foetal position under the covers.
“Excuse me?” he looks so startled as he glances up from his book, as if she’s just thrown something at him.
“I-” she gathers herself, takes a deep breath. She lives here too, through no design of her own, and she’s going to stand her ground, “I cleaned in here yesterday, and you’re messing it up again. I would appreciate it if you tried to keep things neat and tidy.”
She’s said her piece, and she half expects him to shout at her, or sit in awkward silence, or knock something over on purpose just to spite her.
But he just stares at her a moment, as if he can’t quite work out who or what she is, and then nods, “I apologise, Miss French. I will be more careful in future.”
And she nods, stiffly, and smiles at how difficult this all is, and then rushes off to grab a bag of cookies and sprint back to bed.
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