Fic: Rabbits on the Run - Chapter 4
Calonari prompted this picture
AU: Belle trades away her unborn child to Rumpelstiltskin in return for her freedom.
Rabbits on the Run
Isobel has to go to the Sheriff’s office, to give a testimony. George is pressing charges – of course he is, he hasn’t a sensible bone in his body – and she’s a witness.
Rose stopped crying as soon as George was taken away and they were back home. She gurgled as Isobel bounced her in her arms, and fed until she was sleepy, and somewhere in the mix there was one brilliant moment where she beamed, and chased every worry in her mama’s mind far away.
But now there are unlikely heroes to defend, and monsters to be slain, and Isobel has work to do.
So she calls Astrid, and she races over to look after Rose, greeting Isobel with a worried frown and a warm, wonderfully protective embrace.
Isobel watches her chosen sister rock her baby in her slim, careful hands, and wonders if she wasn’t the wrong mother for this quiet sunshine child. Because Isobel has been a warrior, and a runaway, and homeless teenage wreck, and now she lives in a monster’s home and scrubs floors.
Astrid has a warmth and an innocence in her eyes that only comes from a life where one can tell the good from the evil, can know the score every moment of the day, and be certain that the sun will rise in the morning.
Isobel can’t help but wonder if that isn’t the kind of life her daughter truly deserves.
But then Rose looks at her, smiles like the sun, laughs as her mama tickles her stomach, and Isobel knows that it cannot be true.
Rose is all she has in the world: if she lost her, she would truly become dust.
So she drops a kiss to her daughter’s forehead, and smiles to her friend, and leaves for the Sheriff’s office.
It’s a little bit sweet, the way Gold looks up and smiles when she comes in. She’s still not sure if she wants to kill him or kiss him breathless for what he did – and she’s even less sure where that thought came from – but it’s still good to see he’s okay.
“Isobel French?” Sheriff Swan comes out of her office, and smiles a little awkwardly.
“Yes, how can I help?”
“I just… could you answer a few questions for me? I’m just trying to sort out what happened this afternoon.”
“Yeah, sure.” Isobel shoots a smile at Gold, trying to reassure him: he looks profoundly wrong locked up in a jail cell.
For better or worse, he managed this afternoon to do what she’s wanted to for the past two years and never could. And he shouldn’t have, and she’s pissed that he did, because these are her battles and she requested no cavalry charge. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t recognise that he’s behind bars because of her.
So she follows Emma into the office, and settles herself down. Emma’s watching her carefully, but her smile is warm and friendly, “So… what happened?”
“George Gaston was… he was threatening me. He said he was going to kill me… Mr Gold was trying to help.”
“His help was kinda violent.” The Sheriff notes, but Isobel can see that she’s intrigued “You said he threatened you?”
“And why’d he do that?” she’s frowning in sympathy; Isobel figures that – from all she’s heard – this is probably a woman who will understand better than most.
“Because he’s an abusive asshole, and I don’t want him within a hundred miles of my daughter.” Holding out and trying to hide things is only going to reflect worse on Gold. The truth is also his best defence.
“Abusive?” Emma looks a little startled, “What’s he done before?”
“We were… we were together for a while. He didn’t like other guys… you know, around me. He used to get kind of angry about it.”
“Angry as in yelling?”
“Angry as in smashing things. I left when he decided to stop breaking crockery and start work on my face.”
And Emma’s eyes are wide and honest and so, so sad for her, and Isobel wants to cry like she hasn’t since she left the convent, like she hasn’t since Rose brought a shred of hope back into her world.
But she has a knight in mottled, rotting armour to save, so she steels herself and looks the Sheriff in the eye, “He’s the father, though. He’s Rose’s dad.”
“Oh…” Emma’s surprised frown is unexpected, “I thought…” she looks over at Mr Gold, where he sits in his cell with his head in his hands.
And absurdly, Isobel starts to laugh, “No. Oh, really, really no! No, he’s… he’s not the father. We’re not together. No way. No.”
That was a few too many denials. Right about now, if she were here, Astrid would be smirking, her eyebrows raised, having worked out Isobel’s entire thought process with a single look.
But the Sheriff is just frowning in confusion, and noticed nothing.
“Then why… you guys live together, right? According to Graham’s old files…” a shadow flits across her pretty face, and Isobel makes a note to ask someone what the story was there. All she knows is that the old sheriff died, and his deputy won the election and took over his job.
That looked like more than the pain of a dead colleague.
But this is about the mess that is her life, not the Sheriff’s, so she keeps her questions to herself, “Yes. I mean, we share a house, but he’s…” she doesn’t want to explain the deal, knows the Sheriff’s type. She’ll come in and try to fix things and only make things worse. Isobel has the contract back at the house, locked away in her desk drawer, and she knows the terms by heart.
She knows where she stands here. Adding new elements - concerned law enforcement, who will be followed by the mayor, who’ll definitely drag her father into this and she cannot go back to that life – will only muddy the waters.
Isobel likes her waters clear; she chooses her words carefully, selecting her stepping-stones with caution as she always has.
“He’s trying to help us.” She finishes, finally. And it’s not a lie, not really, not today when he languishes in prison for crimes committed in the name of her safety. “He saw that we were homeless, and stepped in to help.”
Emma’s frowning, suspicion writ large on her features, and Isobel can’t help but feel a pang of solidarity: the expression seems all too natural there, and Isobel can relate.
“Free of charge?” the Sheriff asks, “That doesn’t sound like Mr Gold.”
And no, it doesn’t, because it isn’t true. Her baby was the price, not the reason for the bargain, and had she had the choice she would have simply run far and fast, and carried Rose in her arms the whole way.
It was only a certain amount of selective wordplay on some nameless lawyer’s part that lead to this circumstance, this twist of fate that no-one asked for. But the Sheriff can’t know that, or there’ll be some new crime, some new sentence that will take her home away again, so she lies on the spot and wills it to ring true.
“Of course not. I’m his housekeeper, now. Room and board for me and Rose, and in return I cook and clean.”
And in that moment, she’s beaming like the sun, like Rose when she’s given a new teddy bear or sees Gold across the room, pulling a face he doesn’t think her mama sees.
Because she’s going to write a new deal, and have him sign it, and cut through every weird and twisted thread in their relationship to make the world a simpler place to be. A new deal that will ensure forever that she’ll never have to run again, that her rabbit days are over and done with for good.
And the Sheriff doesn’t understand, but she’s smiling too, and the conversation turns back to the afternoon’s incidents and Isobel smiles and smiles, recalling the day’s heroics with her head held high.
Gold cannot understand the smile on Isobel’s face when she comes out of the office, and crosses the room to him.
She never smiles past 10am. Ever. Not at him, at any rate.
Breakfast is their armistice, their time of peace, when she smiles and he tries desperately to make her laugh, and they forget the complexities of their arrangement, her discomfort at her circumstances.
But now she’s smiling, and it’s for him, and he would trade whole cities just to keep her this way.
“Everything okay, dear?” he maintains his composure, even though he wants to gather her in his arms and kiss the cut on her cheek under its Band-Aid.
It’s the Sheriff who answers, “She says you did it to defend her. Is that true?”
“The boy was being insolent.”
“If he was honestly threatening, then there’s something to be done. But you have to be honest with me.”
She’s up at the bars, now, with Isobel behind her, urging him to spill the whole truth and nothing but. And he’s coming to see that he will do most things simply because she asks, with or without a ‘please’ attached, so he looks at the Sheriff and says, “He said he’d kill Miss French, and did so in front of their daughter. He also used some rather foul language.”
“And you think he poses a credible threat? He wasn’t just posturing?”
“I think the boy himself believes the threat is genuine, yes. But I assure you, Sheriff Swan, Miss French is quite safe with me.”
“Hmm,” the Sheriff doesn’t look too convinced: she seems uneasy, and he supposes she has good reason to. He isn’t the first person in town one would trust with the care of a single mother and her newborn baby. The Sheriff turns to Isobel, frowning, “Are you sure?” she murmurs, as if Gold isn’t sat right there and can hear every word, “I mean, there are other places you could stay…”
A shock of fear – entirely surprising, considering everything – runs down Gold’s spine. She could tell the Sheriff everything, and Emma’s cold eyes would turn to him, and he’d be alone in his house once more.
He should want that.
He’s a man who’s always loved his privacy, his solitude. And he certainly didn’t ask for this arrangement, for Isobel and her tiny daughter to take over his home.
He didn’t ask for his rooms to be fresh, clean and bright, or for his clothes to suddenly smell of peach fabric softener.
But they are, and they do, and he’s found he likes it that way.
The company isn’t bad either. But he’s not going near those thoughts, not yet, not after what happened this afternoon. But he can admit that he likes having someone else in the house, and that Rose can be adorable when she’s not wailing about something.
Bur Isobel is smiling, and shaking her head and – oh, Gods – her hand is wrapped around one of the bars, as if she’s stood beside him. As if they’re friends.
Emma does let him go, eventually, after Leroy’s brought in again and needs his cell, and the hospital calls and says George is awake and ready for questioning, and Emma admits – a little reluctantly – that she doesn’t believe he’ll hurt someone between the office and his home.
He has to think that Isobel’s presence must have helped: the woman practically radiates trustworthiness and truth.
It helps that she’s wounded, that she can show that George threw the first punch.
Gold’s reaction might have been a little excessive: he’ll admit that in hindsight. But he doesn’t regret a single blow he landed, or a single injury he caused. A whole body full of bruises on George Gaston pales in comparison to the small cut to Isobel French’s cheekbone.
They get home, and he tries not to enjoy the surprise and fear on Isobel’s little nun friend’s face when they arrive side-by-side.
“Hey, Is, how did it go?” she asks, as she hands the baby back to her mother. Isobel’s body instinctively curls to cradle the child as she goes to the kitchen to find a bottle, and Gold catches himself looking at the pair of them with a fondness he should not be feeling.
He needs to con someone out of a priceless family heirloom, or evict a hapless resident, something malevolent and pointlessly evil. He’s feeling entirely too human these days.
The nun is left in the hallway, watching him with narrowed eyes, and he supposes she’s trying to look fierce.
“Something on your mind, dear?”
“I hope you caused him some kind of irreparable damage.” Sister Astrid almost growls, and Gold feels a surprised smile forming on his face.
“Me too.” He leans in, conspiratorially, and Astrid nods.
“Good.” She raises her voice, “I’m going, Is!” Isobel calls a quick goodbye and a thank you from the kitchen as the nun slips out of the door.
Gold is tempted – oh, so very tempted – to capitalise on what seems an uncharacteristic good mood in Isobel, and go and join her in the kitchen. But he figures the girl is probably in shock, and not quite herself, and it feels too much like taking advantage.
So he disappears into his study, and starts to flick through his law journals, trying to find the defence he needs to walk away from this whole George Gaston affair without paying the bastard a cent in compensation.
He’s there until late in the night, flicking through the books, his attention waning with every passing hour.
He’s ready to go to bed, to sleep until late tomorrow morning and put the day’s events behind him, when a shaft of light is thrown across the floor. The door opens, and Isobel stands in the doorway, nervously chewing her lip.
“Everything alright, Miss French?”
“Yeah, I guess. I just… today was awful, wasn’t it?”
And he’d been right, she’d been in shock since the incident with Gaston, and now she was seeing clearly again. And she’d hate him, of course she would: he’d beaten the father of her child into near-unconsciousness right in front of her.
But at least she comes inside, and settles herself in the chair opposite him, and isn’t back to locking herself away in her room all evening.
“Today wasn’t an easy one, no.” He agrees, watching her carefully. She’s shaking, but she’s trying not to show it, and she’s staring at her hands, refusing to look him in the eye.
He wonders if she’d feel more comfortable with her daughter in her arms: the pair are inseparable, and she seems almost naked sitting there alone.
“We need to talk.” She takes a deep breath, and he can see she probably has a whole speech prepared inside her mind, “I just… I need to thank you for what you did today. Even though you shouldn’t have done it. Even though it was my fault, and my battle to fight.”
“Some monsters you can’t defeat without some help.”
“I suppose…” she’s back to chewing her lip, nervous energy radiating from her, although she sits so still in her chair, “I just… I don’t want you to be one of them.”
And now she’s looking at him, pale blue eyes deep and so very sad, so scared and anxious, and he’s so surprised that he can barely move.
He has no idea what to say to that.
“I mean, I look at today, and George was being so horrible, and I wanted to kill him… but he’s never beaten anyone up on the street.”
“I’m sorry for that,” he says, even though he’s not sorry for any pain he caused the stupid boy, even though he’d have happily continued. He is sorry for causing her distress, though. For some reason, distressing Isobel seems like a cardinal sin.
“I turn men into monsters.” She mutters, and he wonders if he was supposed to hear that, “They don’t hurt people until I come along. Evil isn’t born, it’s made.”
And oh, she truly believes that, doesn’t she. She thinks his actions are somehow her fault, blames herself for George’s hatred.
There is something deeply wrong with a world where this phoenix child could even begin to even form that thought. But then, it goes without saying that there is something wrong in Storybrooke.
It doesn’t stop the anger from racing through him.
“If I ever hear you say that again,” he says, feeling the repressed rage spilling through his tone and unable to do a damn thing to stop it, “Then I will have to do something drastic.”
“I’m sorry?” She looks entirely stunned, but she’s staring at him with a kind of bare and desperate hope, clinging to his words as burning lifelines.
“I don’t know what he did to you – and I’m not asking, because I don’t think you want to tell me – but never, ever think that a single moment of it was your fault.”
She starts to try to say something, offer some self-loathing protest or recrimination, and he cuts her off before she can do any such thing. One more word from her on the subject, and his resolve to sit still will break. “What George Gaston did today was monstrous: it was also his choice. Just as it was my choice to break his stupid, gurning face in.”
And, reluctantly, she lets out a small, almost tearful chuckle.
He smiles, encouraged, “He threatened a child, Isobel,” he continues, quietly, slipping in a use of her first name and hoping she won’t notice, “I might be a monster, you can think that of me if you wish, but know that I would never stoop that low.”
Her eyes gain a little more warmth, more life, as she smiles in a way that breaks his cold, dead heart and says, “You’re not a monster. You’re not in any way an angel, but you’re not a monster.”
He feels his chest squeeze, a lightness between his shoulder blades that feels a little like hope, like a love he hasn’t felt in centuries.
“There was something else, too.” She says, and pulls out a sheet of bright white paper he hadn’t noticed before.
“Oh, and what was that, dear?” he injects some calm into his tone, tries to move them past the heavy depth of their previous topic.
“A new deal.”
“And what does Depression-era economic policy have to do with this?” he teases, and a little more light reaches her eyes.
“No, you know what I mean: a new deal for us.”
“Because Rose… this is her home now, you know? And I can’t risk anything dragging us back to George or… or my dad. So we need something simpler, something stronger to keep us… here.”
He doesn’t want to feel the warmth that rushes through him at the word ‘home’. But he does, and it’s wonderful, and he hopes that she will always feel that way. The house would feel a little wrong, now, without her teacup on the drainer, without the residue of Rose’s talcum powder in the bathroom, or the floral scent of Isobel’s hair wafting through the air.
“Alright, what did you have in mind?”
“Here.” she thrusts the paper toward him, and he takes it, scanning it quickly for deceptions and pitfalls.
A simple employment contract: cookery and general housekeeping in return for room and board.
It was the perfect cover for their subtler, more permanent magical deal, and he couldn’t help the admiration and pride he felt that she’d come up with and written this herself.
“This seems… fair, yes. Although your cooking skills seem a little inadequate, dear.” He teases, to hide the immense joy flooding his soul.
“I’m a good cook when I’m not being a passive-aggressive bitch.” She says, with a wide smile.”
“Prove it: make a decent full English tomorrow, and I’ll sign this thing.”
“Deal.” She holds her hand out, and he shakes it. Her skin is smooth and soft, and the warmth radiates from his hand up his arm, infuses his whole being. Then she moves, and their contact breaks, and the moment is over.
“Now, get yourself to bed, dear,” he stands, and she follows suit almost automatically, “Get some rest: God knows you deserve it.”
He’s completely thrown off-balance, unsure of how at all to react when she brings her arms up, and wraps them around his shoulders for just a moment, in the most cautious embrace he’s ever felt.
It’s been decades since someone touched him without malice, beyond more than a handshake.
Very slowly, carefully, he brings his arms to circle her waist, lightly enough that she can break away and run any time she wants to.
She sighs into his shoulder, rests her head there for a long moment, and he wishes she’d never let go. There’s such a weariness in that sigh, a tiredness that surpasses anything a girl of barely twenty-five years should feel.
Then she lets go, and gives him an almost embarrassed little smile, and walks away.
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