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To Tell A Tale As Old As Time

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Hollywood.

The place where most people came to pursue their dreams had become Robert Gold's nightmare.

As his alarm clock rang, he got three unpleasant reminders. One, he was alone, his wife having long ago decided she needed her own bedroom. Two, his leg throbbed. It always had since the war. Third, he was due at the studio in an hour.

God, he hated this place.

The door opened and Milah stuck her head in. "If you don't get up, you'll be late."

"Yeah, thanks..."

She let the bedroom door slam on her way out and Robert painstakingly sat on the side of the bed.

Another day in paradise.

************************

"Mama! Mama! Wake up!"

Lacey French opened her eyes and smiled. Colette stood over her, boring holes into her.

"Well, good morning, sweetheart."

"I need to know how the story ends," she lamented as she plopped onto the mattress with her blonde locks bouncing.

Lacey frowned playfully. "That's not quite the deal we made, is it?"

"Does the prince save the princess?"

"Well, you'll have to wait and see tonight assuming you behave for Mrs. Lucas," said Lacey, forging her way around the five year old and into the bathroom.

"Mama..." she moaned.

Lacey stood. "Colette, you know I have to be at the studio."

Colette sat on the bed and pouted as Lacey walked into the bathroom. "Why?"

Lacey flicked on the vanity light and sighed as she looked in the mirror.

"Because princes only save the princesses in stories."

***************
Don Francis walked into the Story Department of Storybrooke Studios just as the first secretaries began to arrive and start the coffee. He walked straight back to the office he was certain had been occupied all night.

"Laurel..."

The petite brunette lifted her head from the desk and groaned.

"What on earth do you want?"

"We're meeting Leo in an hour."

"What? No..."

"No, I had to bribe Johannah to get us the slot after his bagel, but before he meets with Regina. It's the best slot of the day, he's never happy after he talks to publicity."

"It's not ready."

"Yes, it's ready, Laurel. Come on."

She staggered up. "Why can't we do it next week?"

Laurel stepped behind the screen in her office to change. Don turned away.

"Because August Booth's picture wraps this week. It's my only chance to get Robert Gold before somebody snags him."

"You mean Eddie."

"When Eddie just wants him to play the bad guy for his new golden boy, yeah."

Laurel emerged from behind the screen in a fresh dress. "Someone's bitter." She turned around in front of Don. "Zip me."

Don shook his head. "What do you do when no one's there?"

"Suffer."

The door opened and they were joined by an Englishman in a bizarre vest. He eyed the scene before him.

"Am I interrupting something?"

Don snorted. "No."

"Mark, would you zip me? Don's being horrid."

Don stepped aside as Mark zipped the dress.

"The way I see it is we pitch three ideas. We'll use Red Riding Hood first, then Beauty and the Beast and then a throwaway. Laurel you've got something, don't you?"

"Do you think I just sit around here coming up with bad ideas?"

"So you don't have one?," asked Mark.

"Of course I do."

****************
Lacey pulled next to the guard station. The line of Cadillacs went practically all the way down Riverside. Lacey's little blue Studebaker stuck out as the engine chugged. She was still uncertain about life as an actress and had only relented on buying any kind of car out of practicality.

"Miss French," said the guard.

"Good morning, Mack. How are you?"

"Fine."

"And Jocelyn? How's she handling the baby?"

"She's practically sleeping through the night, my little princess."

"Oh, good. I'm so glad."

Lacey got a start as the car behind her blew its horn. She turned back to shoot a glare at the driver of the black Cadillac.

"Sorry, Miss French, I shouldn't have been talking your ear off."

"It's not your fault, Mack," said Lacey. She turned back. "Someone's being rude!"

Lacey drove off into the lot. The black Cadillac pulled up.

"Good morning, Mr. Gold," Mack said.

Gold merely grunted in response and drove on to the lot.

********************
The wait outside Leo Blanchard's office was agonizing, but none of the three wanted to go in unless he was done with his bagel.

"Stick with the plan, Laurel," said Don, looking at her sideways.

"I can stick with the plan."

Mark leaned forward. "You just have a tendency to go off script."

"I do not."

"And you get frustrated," Don added gently.

"Name one time I got frustrated in a story meeting."

"The Sherlock Holmes meeting," said Mark.

"Eventually someone is going to have that take on it. It's crying out for it. This is his own fault for not doing Mermaid," Laurel snapped.

"Going well already," Mark muttered.

"How are we supposed to shoot underwater?," asked Don.

"Esther Williams is doing it somehow!"

"We could pitch Snow Queen," said Mark.

Don shook his head. "Don't you dare backtrack now."

"Snow Queen isn't near ready to pitch."

"Guys," said Don, "we pitch three ideas. Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and the throwaway."

Johannah entered. "Mr. Blanchard is ready for you."

Leo Blanchard was a quiet man. He didn't like scripts, he liked the plots written up for him and he liked to hear pitches. Always three.

A system which arguably the best team at Storybrooke Studios often used to their advantage.

He stared at them as Laurel finished her Red Riding Hood pitch.

"She eats the boyfriend?"

"Yes."

Leo frowned. "You can't end a picture like that. I'd rather she eat the grandmother."

"We'll work on it, let's move to the next idea," Don suggested, giving Laurel a nod.

"Right," said Laurel. She put on her biggest smile. "We start in a sleepy Provençal village-"

Leo looked at Mark. "What about True Love's Kiss? Peter could kiss the wolf and she turns back to the beautiful girl?"

"Well..."

Don spoke up again. "How are we going to shoot the boy kissing a wolf without his face getting chewed off?"

"I was speaking," said Laurel.

Don shot her a look of concern. Leo didn't notice.

"Of course, I'm sorry," said Leo. "Work on the wolf thing, though."

"Right," said Laurel, "we begin in a sleepy Provençal village-"

"Provençal?," Leo interrupted. "You don't have to go to France, do you?"

"No, we'll shoot it on the back lot," Don promised.

"We close in on a girl with her nose stuck in a book. This is Belle."

"Is this my Beauty and the Beast?," asked Leo.

"Yes."

"Well, don't drag me through every detail..."

"Belle's father is a merchant, he goes to do trade at the castle and is imprisoned by the fearsome Beast," said Laurel. "Belle goes to find her father and he's grown ill. She fears he'll die and trades herself to be Beast's prisoner. Over time, they fall in love and he lets her go."

"Lets her go?," asked Leo.

"This is where it gets good," Don promised.

"Belle's father doesn't believe Beast could have treated her kindly and leads the villagers along with Belle's idiot fiancé into an attack on the Beast's castle. When the villagers come, he's sad."

"Sad?" Leo seemed skeptical.

Mark spoke up. "He's lived in isolation in his castle for years. He never expected or believed that anyone could fall in love with him, but she has and he lets her go because she deserves a life he can't offer her. Now all he has to look forward to is the same bitter solitude. He welcomes death."

Laurel picked up. "Belle comes to the castle to save the Beast, but before she can, the fiance- Gaston- pushed him off a ledge. He falls to his end as Belle watches in horror. She goes to him and sobs..."

"And this is where your True Love's Kiss comes in," Don promised.

"Belle's goodbye kiss breaks his curse," Laurel finished. "They are married, Gaston is vanquished and they live happily ever after. We end with them waltzing on a ballroom floor."

Leo frowned. "What's the third idea?"

"Hamlet with lions," said Laurel.

Leo looked to Don. "Do you want to get control of her?"

Laurel continued undeterred. "We begin on an African savannah as the sun rises, animals of all types gather all marching towards the same destination-"

"Leo, we don't need a third idea," said Don. "Beauty and the Beast is it. You already made a lot of money with Snow White and Midas' Daughter."

"Do you think this is as good as Snow White?"

"Well, no fault of your daughter's but I think it could be better than Snow White."

Leo looked at Laurel. "Do you have a script?"

"Yes."

"Have you all seen The Mysterious Island yet?"

"Of course," said Don. "Everyone's talking about it."

Leo nodded. "Terrific picture with our newest starlet in a small role. I think she would be a good fit for the part of Belle..."

"The young widow with the baby?," asked Don.

"Lacey French." Leo took a publicity shot from his desk and handed it across the desk to Mark.

Mark nodded.

"Isn't she Australian?," asked Laurel.

Mark shrugged. "French. Australian. Americans can't really tell the difference.

"Errol Flynn," Leo interjected with a shrug.

"Precisely," said Mark. He turned back to Leo. "I'd like to do a screen test."

"Of course. I assumed you had someone in mind for the Beast and the fiancé. Gaston? You three never come in here without having all the ideas."

Don didn't blink. "George Knight and Robert Gold."

"Robert Gold? Interesting choice, but we might as well do something with him since he's under contract for the time being," said Leo. "Still, seems like a shame to have George Knight in makeup most of the picture..."

Laurel opened her mouth and Don placed his hand on her wrist. "Then we're a go?"

"Tell me when you've talked to Belle."

They said their thanks and left, leaving the air-conditioned comfort of the executive building for the glow of movie land sunshine.

"You didn't tell him," Laurel accused.

"I told him, he just drew his own conclusions."

"He'll find out eventually."

"Leo's about to go on a tour of Europe with his wife. When he gets back Beauty and the Beast will be so far along, he won't be able to argue. Leo can find out at the premiere."

Laurel looked at Mark. "Is this Australian any good? I can't have some starlet ruining my film."

"Don't you mean my film?," asked Mark.

"Our film. Beauty and the Beast is our film. We just have to keep everyone else from screwing it up," Don said decisively. He turned to Laurel. "I can't believe you actually pitched Hamlet with lions."

"Somebody is going to do it eventually," she said plaintively.

"Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it."

Chapter Text

"And cut!"

Gold grimaced. His leg was throbbing under that brace, buried under the thick costume. He could finally relax as the anxious stagehand quickly handed him his cane.

"Uh, Bob, could I talk to you a moment?"

He tensed. Bob. These bloody Americans, always wanting to give you a nickname you didn't have. They had been shooting this picture for weeks. This was the final one. He tried to keep himself from biting his head off for it.

He turned round to face the director, August.

"I was just wondering if you could be more angry in that last scene."

"More angry?"

"Yeah, you were cold scary, but do you think you could do angry scary?"

"Could I do angry scary?"

"We could read through some of the lines if you wanted."

He picked up his cane with a mind to putting it to the young director's skull when he was saved by an unlikely angel.

"August, could I talk with Robert a minute?"

Both men looked up to see Don Francis.

August looked affronted by the idea. The two were not friends, Don having refused to let August in on any number of juicy assignments in the past. "We were just going over some things-"

Don took Gold away by the arm. "Relax. Go get some lunch."

They were out of the soundstage when Gold finally said, "Thank you for saving me from putting my cane against his skull."

"Yeah, August is definitely not the best director on the lot. That's why we leave him with the B pictures."

"Oh, thank you, dearie..." he said mirthlessly.

"You are not a B actor. Everyone in town knows that."

"I highly doubt it."

"Yeah, what do you suppose that gold statue for The Miller's Daughter was about?"

"That, dearie, was before the war."

They ended up back in his dressing room. Gold sat down, relieved to be off his leg at last.

He let off a deep breath and looked at Don. "Sorry. I should have offered you something."

"I'll get it," said Don, moving to the bar. "Still take your Scotch neat?"

He snorted. "It's the way a real man takes it."

"How are Milah and Bae?"

Gold snorted. "He wants to be called Neal now."

"Do you blame him? Remember, I know your real name," said Don. He handed Gold his tumbler and they silently clinked glasses.

"And what are we toasting?," asked Gold.

"You would be surprised," said Don, taking a seat on the sofa.

"Would I?"

"I just came from a meeting with Leo."

"Oh, lovely. Who would he like me to play next? The evil pawnbroker? The evil sorcerer? The evil lawyer?"

"Actually, no. Laurel, Mark and I have been working on a project for a while. It's sort of our baby."

Gold snorted. "Well, that's going to be one weird kid."

"We finally got the green light from Leo to do it and you were the only one we want for it."

"What evil person am I to play now?"

Don smiled. "You're not evil, just misunderstood. You're the Beast."

"Beauty and the Beast?," asked Gold. "You want me to be the Beast?"

"Yes."

"I'm not the villain?"

"More than some, not as much as most."

"I suppose I'll take that."

"Look, honestly, it's one of Laurel's best. Probably the best thing she's ever written. This picture is going to be good. After you're done with August, we need to get you in make up tests and Mark wants a lot of rehearsal."

"Question is, where are you going to find someone willing to kiss me?"

Don smiled and put his glass down. "I'm working on that. Just be sure to brush your teeth."

Gold half-chuckled.

"I'll have someone bring you the script before you leave the lot," said Don.

Don left and Gold laid his head back on the chair, trying to slow the time until he had to go back to set and trying not to get his hopes up about Don's project.

*********
Laurel and Mark sat in the screening room watching the flickering light as The Mysterious Island played out. Don entered.

"You know it is in theaters," said Don, sitting a seat away from Laurel.

"Why would I do that when it's here for free?," she asked.

"You know what they say about her kind..." Mark said dryly.

Laurel turned to him sharply. "And do you know what they say about your kind?"

"Guys..." Don said softly.

Laurel sighed. "And here's the American determined to bring peace, justice and Hershey's bars to the world."

"Quite," said Mark.

"Both of you shut up," said Don. He motioned at Belle French onscreen as "Claire" tried to cheer up some young children by camping on the beach. "What do we think?"

"The boss is right. She's perfect."

"She is spun sugar on top of ice cream over a center of sunshine," said Laurel. "Though not quite in the same way that Mary Margaret does it. There's something sad there. What do we know about her?"

Don shrugged. "I haven't met her yet. Story is she left Australia a few years ago after her husband died in the war. Leroy from Casting found her working at a flower shop off Olive, gave her his card and told her to come down."

"Did you see Gold?," asked Laurel.

He nodded. "He is not looking good." Laurel's face quickly shot up at him in concern. "I'm sure he'll rally."

Mark spoke. "Gold's an actor. He'll be fine once he realizes how bloody good the material is."

"Does he know about his wife and the Irishman yet?," Laurel wondered aloud.

"How the hell do you know about his wife?," asked Don. "You've been typing in a basement for the last three months."

Laurel turned to him. "I know he's not the first."

"It never is," commented Mark.

"Shut up and watch the movie," said Don. "And I don't want to hear about Jones again. I'm not letting that scoundrel or that wench wreck our picture."

**********
Robert struggled into the house. August's ideas for scary angry had involved more blocking than he counted on. It was a relief to take the brace off and just get back to the Cadillac. He had been in such a hurry he almost missed the messenger from Don's office who came running to his car with the script for Beauty and the Beast.

As he entered, Milah was standing by the mirror in the foyer, fixing some earrings he didn't remember seeing before on, clearly dressed for an evening out.

"You look lovely," he said.

She didn't bother thanking him for the compliment. "I'm going out with some friends for dinner, I figured your leg would hurt too much." She rolled her eyes as if he had some say in the matter.

"Where's Bae?"

"Neal's at a scout meeting."

"I thought we weren't going to call him that."

"Well, I thought you were fun when I married you."

He tried to let that one go. "Don Francis came to see me today. He wants me for a new film."

Milah picked up her evening bag and walked towards the door. "Goldie made dinner. Don't wait up."

He sat for dinner at the kitchen counter alone. Goldie was an animated woman, who chatted as she cleaned up. He sent her home for evening and dived into the script.

Robert barely slept that night. He kept waking up and reading the script again. He could hardly believe he had been given something that good, he hadn't had anything good in years, Blanchard just kept feeding him villains in an attempt to make use of the remainder of his contract. He was starting to worry about renewal. It wasn't that he was desperate to stay on in the same role again and again, but he had a family. He would never hear the end of it from Milah if he went unemployed and Bae had school fees. Working hadn't been a pleasure since before the war, but if this went well...

He couldn't allow himself to dream. He couldn't afford to. Dreaming got him nowhere. For now, he just had to do the work the best he could.

**********
Lacey was puzzled when she got to the lot. She knew she had a light day on Iliad and might not be needed at all but she had not expected to be summoned to a screen test with Marcus Dashwood and Don Francis. They gave her some sides and briefly led her through them before the test began. They filmed and went back to Don's office. Lacey waited alone inside for almost an hour, nursing her tea when the producer and director finally emerged. They did formal introductions and Don fixed drinks before they were all seated.

"We haven't really met yet," Don said apologetically. "I asked Leroy about you."

"Leroy's very nice," said Lacey.

Mark scoffed. "I've never heard that account given of him before."

"Well, I've found that the people who give you a hard time are often much nicer than you give them credit for. It's the ones who act nice that you need to watch out for."

"What an interesting perspective," said Mark.

Lacey shook her head. "That's just been my experience."

"I visited Australia during the war," said Don.

"Really?"

"Yeah, I passed through Melbourne."

"Well, I'm not from anywhere near there. I grew up on a sheep station in the outback, half a day from the nearest town."

"Leroy mentioned you have a daughter."

"Colette. She's five."

"And your husband?"

"Dead, in the war." Lacey shrugged. "I just had to get away from home, you know?"

Don nodded. "Well, Mark and I are putting together a new picture. The story is by Laurel Meyer-"

Lacey shook her head.

"Oh, she goes by L.E. Meyer. She wrote Snow White, Midas' Daughter, The Miller's Daughter-"

"Oh, I loved The Miller's Daughter," said Lacey.

"We had to fight for that ending," said Don. "Nobody likes sad endings."

"Well, I did," said Lacey.

"Anyway, the point is that we want you to be in our next film. Beauty and the Beast."

"And you will be perfect for the part of Belle," said Mark.

"Me?," asked Lacey. She couldn't believe it. "You want me? To play the lead?"

"Leo Blanchard himself asked for you and frankly, it was a stroke of genius," said Don. "You're perfect."

Lacey shook her head. "Do you want me for a lead, though? This is only my fifth film-"

"Experience isn't always what matters in these things," said Don.

"Your screen test was perfect."

Lacey was stunned. "Really, I don't know what to say."

"Most people say thank you."

Lacey nodded. "Of course. Thank you. I won't let you down."

"Of course you won't," said Mark.

**********
Lacey returned to her cozy bungalow full of excitement that night. Leo Blanchard himself had wanted her, which meant she had a future at Storybrooke Studios and that meant she and Colette would be secure. As she made dinner and sat down with Colette, she was sure she would burst any moment. Colette carried on as she often did, recounting her trip to the park with Mrs. Lucas and the travails of her imaginary friends that day.

"What should we do this weekend?," Lacey asked Colette when the girl finally paused for a bite of carrot. "We could go to the beach or maybe for a hike."

"Can we go to the movies?"

"Why? We just did that."

"I want to see you again."

Lacey smiled at her daughter. "You can see me here. Besides, that's not really me on the screen. Mama's just playing make believe."

"Can I go to work with you and see you make a movie?"

"Baby, I know it looks fun, but you would get bored."

Colette stared down at her plate.

"I have some news I think you'll like, though," said Lacey.

Colette looked up.

"You know those fairy tale movies you like? Snow White, The Miller's Daughter?"

"Yes."

"Well, the people who make those have asked me to be in their new picture and it's a fairy tale."

Colette gasped. "Do you get to be a princess?"

Lacey nodded. "I think I do."

"And do you wear a princess dress?"

"We've just started so we'll have to wait and see."

"And is your prince handsome?"

"He's a beast," Lacey said gasping for effect.

Colette's face dropped.

"But the important thing about princes isn't what they look like, it's how they treat you."

Colette frowned. "I guess."

"I'm sure you'll understand when the picture comes out," said Lacey. "Finish your carrots."

Lacey laid awake that night with the scent of orange trees wafting in from the yard.

She couldn't sleep. It was too much, having a part with such a great team, having the seal of approval of Leo Blanchard himself. It wasn't the fame that she cared about or even the acting- though she did get a lot of satisfaction from her job- it was that she could provide for Colette without all the struggles they used to have back home and when they first arrived in the States. Yes, a good life for her daughter.

That was all she dreamed of.

Chapter Text

*****

 

Don awoke to the sound of his phone ringing. Before he could chew out the person who woke him up at four in the morning, he was beaten to the punch by Mark.

"We need to shoot Beauty and the Beast in color."

"What are you talking about? The budget-"

"Didn't you notice Lacey French's eyes?"

Don shook his head and that seemed to awaken the memory. Bright, cerulean blue eyes...

"Damn it."

"We need to shoot in color," Mark repeated.

Don groaned. "You couldn't wait three hours to break this to me?"

"In three hours, Leo will be on his way to New York."

Don grimaced and got out of bed.

*****
Monday was the worst day of the week in Lacey's book. Not just the usual business of hating being back to work or school. She always had to work growing up, the sheep never cared what day of the week it was. By comparison, her life as an actress seemed relaxed.

No, Monday was the worst day because of Colette. On the weekend, she got Lacey's full attention. Trips out, every meal together and Colette soaked it up.

Then on Monday it was off to school and afternoons with Mrs. Lucas. Sometimes more if the shoot ran late. Today was supposed to be an early call which made it worse.

And she had locked the door to the bathroom.

"Colette, sweetheart, I need you to open the door."

"No! If I open the door, you're just going to leave!"

"You're going to leave, too," said Lacey. "Any moment now, Mrs. Lucas will be here to drive you to school."

"I don't care! I hate school!"

"Now, that's not true and you know it."

"Lacey? Where are you?"

"In the bedroom, Ruby!"

A minute later, the tall brunette appeared. She took off her gloves.

"Hey. Granny had bridge club this morning so she asked me to take Colette. Where is she?"

Lacey rested her forehead against the bathroom door. "In here."

"I'm not coming out!"

"Oh," said Ruby. "You can go. I've got this and if not, I can find a screwdriver."

"She has my makeup in there."

"Here," said Ruby rifling in her purse. She pulled out a compact and a lipstick. "This is all I have on me. You ought to be able to get by until you get to the studio. Don't they do your face there anyway?"

Lacey sighed in relief and walked to her bedroom mirror. "Oh, but I have to look perfect every minute I appear in public. Thank you, though."

"Oh, you made the trades. Did you know?"

"I made the trades? How do you know?"

"That neighbor of mine. Mr. Hopper mentioned it when I saw him. He works at Storybrooke, too."

"What did they say about me?"

"That you were going to be one of the leads in Marcus Dashwood's new picture, Beauty and the Beast, opposite Robert Gold."

"Oh, my God, really?"

"They didn't tell you?"

"I forgot to ask."

"Oh and George Knight, too. He's so dreamy. You should ask him out."

"No, thank you," said Lacey. She walked back to the bathroom door. "Colette? I'm going to the studio now."

"Why?!"

"Because, baby, you know I have to work." She took a breath. "I know you don't want me to leave without having one hug and kiss because we won't get another chance until I come home."

Lacey waited. She listened as the lock opened and Colette came out.

Lacey bent down and gave her a hug and a kiss.

"That was not good. You know better."

"I miss you."

"And I miss you, but it's no excuse. Now be good for Ruby, okay?"

"Okay."

Lacey gave her one more kiss and rushed out.

*****
Don drove to the airport just in time to find Edmund Drexel sitting in the Departures lounge with Leo. He wasn't surprised. This was just his sort of move.

Eva Blanchard was the first to spot him. "Why hello, Don. Come to see us off?"

"Wouldn't miss it."

"A likely story," she said with a smile.

"Don," said Eddie.

"Eddie was just telling me he needed Robert Gold for the new Killian Jones picture."

Don scrunched up his face in disgust as if he was hearing this for the first time. Eddie liked to pretend he was subtle.

"For what? The part of the Lord Admiral? Robert Gold is wasted in that part. We have a dozen guys on contract with English accents."

"Killian Jones is box office," said Eddie.

"If you want box office, you can just re-release the last four pictures Killian has made. They're all exactly the same as this script. Dashing rogue pirate sweeps maiden off her feet, walks away with the booty and the girl. You could write this in your sleep. I think Aidan might be."

"The public wants what it wants," said Eddie.

Don shrugged. "The public doesn't know what it wants until it sees it."

Leo turned to Eva. "What do you think, my dear?"

Eva smiled. "Pirate movies are entertaining the first few times, but Don's right. They all end the same. You should let him have Gold. The Miller's Daughter broke my heart."

Eddie glared.

"Alright, Don, you can have Gold."

"Thank you. I just need one more thing."

The call for the Blanchards' plane came and they stood, gathering their things.

"Make it quick," said Leo.

"Lacey French's eyes," said Don.

"She has them, I take it?," asked Leo.

"They're amazing. It's a waste of money to not have them in color."

Eddie laughed. "You want the money for color?"

"A lot of work, a lot of money," said Leo.

"Yes, but you would have the contrast of the grey and blue night, the colors of the village, the dark greys of the castle, the golden sunshine that shines on True Love..."

Eddie rolled his eyes at Don. To be honest, he thought he might be stretching it a little too far at that point.

"Alright, it might be worth it then, but you're going to have to sell it and sell Lacey French. Talk to Regina. I'll call her from New York."

"Yes, sir," said Don.

They said their farewells.

"What do you need Robert Gold as Gaston for?," asked Eddie once they were alone. "It doesn't even make sense."

"Well, that's my business, but here's a tip: Killian Jones is sleeping with Gold's wife. Everyone else in town knows it, you really want those two spending that much time together?"

"That's not my problem."

"A good producer makes everything his problem."

"Stop trying to teach me things, Don. I don't need it."

"I would never try to teach you. You can't be taught."

*****
Gold went down to breakfast feeling lighter somehow. No early call, he was just spending the day in the makeup department. Tedious but necessary to get the Beast right.

More than that, no more August Booth film today. The shoot had wrapped and he was free. He could be in the presence of actual artists.

Bae was sitting at the breakfast table with a comic book as Goldie served him a plate. Milah was reading the trades as she was sometimes wont to do.

"Good morning, son."

"Morning, Dad."

Gold flinched. So he had given up on "Papa" as well as his own name.

"Anything exciting at school today?"

"Not really. Just the usual stuff."

Milah put down Variety and eyed him.

"Variety says you're in the new Marcus Dashwood picture."

Goldie poured him a cup of coffee. "I told you that the other evening."

"I was on my way out of the house. What are you doing with that?"

"I have one of the leads."

"Who's this girl? Lacey French?"

"I wouldn't know. I haven't met her yet."

Bae spoke up. "Oh, I know her. She's in The Mysterious Island. Henry and I went to see it on Saturday. She's pretty."

Milah eyed him. "How pretty?"

"I don't know."

Gold looked at her son. "How was her acting?"

"You expect Neal to give notes on her performance? Really, Robert..."

"You must have an opinion," said Gold.

"She was good, I guess."

Milah got up. "None of these actresses are very good. They all just get by on their looks and you know what else."

As she left, Bae looked up at Gold.

"What does she mean?"

"Never mind. Eat your breakfast."

*****
Don's first task back at the studio was to intercept Lacey and take her to the Publicity Department. Regina Mills was the queen there. She had taken over the job during the war and she had done so well at it Leo hadn't bothered to give it to a man after the war was over. Everyone was a little scared of her and maybe that was because she was ruthless, but it mostly had to do with the long shadow her mother, Cora Mills, cast. Cora was Tinseltown's most infamous gossip columnist. She could make or break people.

Luckily for Don, Regina was mostly into making people.

"Is this her?," asked Regina.

"Surprised you two haven't met. Regina Mills, this is Lacey French."

"How do you do?," asked Lacey.

Regina looked her up and down. Lacey shifted uncomfortably as she walked back to her desk and picked up some sort of file.

"It says here you have a daughter," said Regina. "Colette."

"Yes."

"Is she cute?"

"Excuse me?," asked Lacey.

Don patted Lacey's shoulder. "Don't worry. Regina's only half as evil as she wants people to believe."

"It would be easier if she was cute. It's hard to get people interested in your home life if you have an ugly daughter."

"My daughter is amazing."

Regina seemed satisfied. "Ah, she has teeth. I do like that. It makes it easier. Wilting flowers do not last long in this town."

Regina sat. Don motioned for Lacey to do the same and followed suit.

"And the father?"

"Died. In the war," said Lacey.

"Ah," said Regina. "Now that is something. A war widow working to make it on her own like so many others. I've never used that angle before. No beaus?"

"No."

"Good. Let's keep it that way for as long as possible. We want to wait until people get to know you, start to root for you. We want them to want your happiness as much as their own."

"I'm sorry. I don't think I'm following anything that's happening," said Lacey.

"Mark wants to shoot in color," said Don.

"Why?," asked Belle.

"Because of you, dear," said Regina. The young woman stared at her. "Well, isn't it obvious? Your perfect lips, your chestnut curls, your bright blue eyes?"

Lacey frowned. "Thank you. I think."

"That's a big part of it," said Don, "but to do that Leo wants us to make you more of an attraction than you already are. To make you the reason people come to the picture."

"And how do you do that?," asked Lacey.

"Well, The Mysterious Island is still doing very well," said Regina. "It's been gaining every week since its release. I've already done publicity for the major stars, but now, we use you. You'll do interviews, a photo shoot at home, let the public get to know you."

The door opened. A secretary appeared.

"Sorry, Mrs. Mills. They need Miss French back on Iliad."

"Go ahead," said Don. "We can talk more later."

Lacey left.

Regina turned to face Don.

"You're right," said Regina. "You definitely want her in color."

"Don't act so unhappy, Regina. A beautiful war widow with what I'm sure is an adorable daughter, this is easy, unlike the fires you usually have to put out."

She snorted. "You must mean Jones."

"Well, he's Eddie's problem."

"You do know about Gold's wife?," asked Regina.

"I don't suppose you have any way of putting her in line."

Regina let out a mirthless chuckle. "That ship sailed long ago."

"So people keep telling me. I'm starting to think I missed something here during the war."

"Well, let's just say Milah Gold was not darning socks for the troops. She showed her patriotism in other ways."

Don rolled his eyes. "Thank you for painting that portrait."

"You know George Knight is... different?"

"Mark clued me in."

"Now, you clue me in on something. You don't want George Knight for the beast, do you?"

Don smiled. "You were always smart, Regina."

She curled her red lips in return. "Well, that would be the only reason you fought Eddie so hard."

"And you? How hard are you going to fight me?"

Regina eyed him and smiled back.

"I think I might pleasantly surprise you, Don. I might even fight with you."

"Now that would be a surprise."

*****
"I think this is all wrong," said Mark. He looked up at the makeup artist, Mallory. "Again."

Robert sighed from underneath God only knew how much synthetic fur and latex.

"So," said Mallory, "you don't even want to take it in front of a camera and see how it looks on film?"

"I know how it will look on film and that is rubbish," said Mark. "It's going to be in color and you have him looking like a werewolf."

"Might be an improvement," Gold grumbled.

"Why can't you just let me work?," asked Mallory. "All of the other directors just let me work."

"If I had let you do that, I would have arrived the first day to find a wolf on my set and probably have rung up wildlife control."

They heard a slight shriek and turned to see Lacey had just entered the makeup department dressed as a Grecian goddess.

"I am so sorry," said Lacey. "That was so rude. Please forgive me."

"I won't bother looking in the mirror then," said Gold.

Mark motioned at Lacey. "There, Mallory, do you see? That's Beauty and you just made her frightened of the Beast."

Mallory smiled. "What can I help you with, dear?"

"I need makeup before I can go back to Iliad?"

"Of course. Have a seat. Mr. Diavolo?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Be a dear and take this off Mr. Gold. I'm going to take care of Miss French. Oh, before you start get Ursula to come start Miss French's hair?"

Diavolo nodded and hurried off.

Mark smiled as Lacey took the chair next to Gold.

"Have you two met before?"

"No," answered Lacey.

"Well, Robert Gold, this is Lacey French. She's going to be playing the part of Belle."

Gold said something in affirmation and was quite surprised when a dainty hand appeared before his face.

He finally looked up to see the Grecian goddess attached to the hand. He stared at her for what seemed like an eternity until he finally regained sense enough to shake her hand.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Gold," said Lacey.

"Come on, dear, time to get to work," said Mallory. She turned to Lacey. "How is Colette? Did you two have fun this weekend?"

"We went hiking on Saturday."

"Hiking?," Ursula scoffed as she put Lacey's hair in rollers. "What did you do that for?"

"Fresh air?," asked Lacey. "Heard of it?"

"I get plenty of fresh air in my convertible," said Ursula.

"Where did you even go?," asked Mallory.

"Griffith Park."

"Aren't there wild animals out there?," asked Ursula.

Lacey smiled. "I grew up in the bush. I shot a boar when I was nine. I can handle it."

"You shot a boar?," asked Mark.

Lacey shrugged. "It got too close to the sheep."

Gold looked over to Diavolo's chagrin as he tried to remove fur and latex.

"You raised sheep?"

"Yeah, my family had a sheep station. Why?"

"No, I just-"

Gold then realized everyone was looking at him, a sensation he wasn't used to and didn't much care for.

"I grew up on my aunts' sheep farm in Scotland."

"Really?," asked Lacey, her eyes lighting up. "We should compare notes some time. I bet we could bore the rest of them to tears."

"You can save that for your own time," said Ursula.

"Aren't you from a farm, dear?," asked Mallory.

"My father had a shrimp trawler and I thought that was boring as hell, too."

Gold looked away as the hens cackled. Diavolo was trying to get the fur on his forehead and seemed to be pulling on his actual forehead.

"So, why did you leave?," asked Lacey.

"Me?"

Lacey giggled. "Yes, you."

"Oh. My schoolmaster helped me get a drama scholarship. I was off to London." He grunted as Diavolo ripped off a piece of his cheek. "What about you? Why did you leave?"

"My dad lost the place."

"I'm sorry."

Mallory shot him a look. "Don't make her upset, Gold. I'm about to do her eyes."

"It's alright," Lacey said with a smile. "Mark, I was thinking about Belle's mother."

"Oh?"

"Well, her father is obviously an imbecile. I was just wondering if her mother was where her love of books came from? I mean, we don't see her."

Mark cocked his head. "Well, you may be right. I'll have to ask Laurel."

"You think she has that figured out?"

Gold answered. "Laurel knows everything, there are worlds she doesn't put in a script."

"And very often the mother in these things is Laurel's mother," Mark added.

"She was a taught about fairy tales, did all sorts of academic research on them. Laurel knows them inside and out," said Gold.

"Really?"

"Okay, dear," said Mallory. She nodded at Ursula. "You're ready to go. Ursula will brush you out on set."

"Thank you," said Lacey, getting up, picking up the hem of her goddess dress. She looked at Gold. "You look much better."

Gold's glance in the mirror revealed Diavolo had finished with the removal.

"That's nice of you to say, dearie, but I doubt it."

Lacey smiled. "Well, take my word for it. The lack of fur is a big improvement, but then again I never did care for men with beards. You're much more handsome this way."

Gold couldn't form words. Lacey and Ursula left.

"She's right you know," said Mark.

Gold raised his brow. "About what?"

"The fur. Where does it say that the Beast has to be furry?"

Mallory scoffed. "And what is the Beast supposed to be?"

"You do have those dragon designs you never used," said Diavolo.

"Those were just sketches. I was bored," said Mallory.

"A dragon," said Mark. "With a thick skin to keep the world out."

"You could use some color in it," Diavolo suggested.

Mallory sighed. "Okay, I'm not saying it's going to be any good, but I'll give it a shot. It will still be an improvement on the ugly mug I'm looking at."

Mallory hurried off for supplies.

"Lacey French likes it," Mark pointed out.

"She was just being nice," said Gold.

"Well, she is very nice."

"Yes," Gold agreed. "She is."

Chapter Text

*****

 

Laurel took another sip of her coffee. She and Gold had been sitting in the Studio Commissary an hour now while he figured out a way to eat with the dragon makeup on.

"Did Don tell you to eat with me?"

"You think Don tells me who I have to eat with?"

"Mallory ought to do something with your teeth," mused Laurel.

"Right. It's not bad enough I'm going to be eating lunch like this the next two months."

"And your hair." Laurel paused. "Look, I have no right to ask and you can tell me to bugger off or whatever..."

"That's the English you're thinking of, dearie. I'm likely to do something much ruder but go ahead and ask," he said with a wry smile.

"I know what happened to me is less than what you went through-"

"Oh, don't say that. I would much rather go through what I did than what you did." He shrugged. "I still had my son at the end."

"Oh, look it's a crocodile!"

Laughter accompanied Killian Jones' booming voice in the commissary. Laurel and Gold exchanged looks.

"No, sorry, I was mistaken," said Killian. "It's a coward."

"Don't you have somewhere to be, Mr. Jones?," asked Laurel.

"Need a woman to defend you now, do you?" Killian turned to Laurel.

"She could take you, dearie," said Gold.

Killian scoffed. "I doubt that."

"I don't," said Laurel.

"Is there a problem?"

The three looked up to see David Nolan. Mary Margaret stood just off to the side holding the baby.

"We were just having a chat," said Killian.

"We were finished," said Laurel.

Killian got up and left.

"Are you alright?," asked David.

"Prince Charming saves the day again," said Laurel.

Mary Margaret chuckled. "Robert's right. You could have taken him."

"I helped," David said.

The two joined them at the table.

"We just wanted to show you the baby," said Mary Margaret. "And to invite you both to the christening. It's not until my parents get back from Europe, but we would love you to be there."

"Oh," said Laurel, "I would be glad to."

David looked at Gold. "Emma's really excited for Neal's birthday party."

"Who's Neal?," asked Laurel.

"My son apparently," said Gold.

"It's just a phase," Mary Margaret tried to reassure him. "Kids go through phases all the time."

Gold nodded ruefully.

"So," said David, "what's the new picture about?"

*****
Sidney Glass was Regina's favorite photographer in the publicity department and he was who she selected to take the photos of Lacey French.

Regina was personally supervising the whole process, pointing out candids for Sidney to take of Lacey as she went about her usual business. One of her co-stars on Iliad was David and his wife, Mary Margaret, brought their new baby by set to show off. Regina seemed to take particular glee in Lacey cooing over the new baby and promised to try to slide one into the profile of the couple. Now they had moved on to her pretending to casually read a copy of Homer's Iliad. Truth be told, Lacey had read it, just not usually with someone shouting at her to look more thoughtful.

"Mama!"

Lacey looked up. Ruby gave a wave as they walked towards her.

"Well, well, this must be Colette," said Regina.

Lacey glanced up at Regina revealing what seemed to be approval.

Lacey motioned at Ruby. "This is Ruby Lucas. She and her grandmother watch Colette for me. This is Regina Mills, she's head of the Publicity Department here and this is Sidney Glass. He's a photographer."

They exchanged pleasantries.

"Well, Miss Lucas, we should get you a tour or something."

"That's okay," Ruby said quickly. "I need to be getting back to work."

Regina knelt down in front of Colette. The woman's demeanor seemed to soften, but she was still focused.

"Your mother said you were very pretty. You have her lovely blue eyes."

Colette glanced up at Lacey.

"Thank Mrs. Mills for the compliment, Colette," said Lacey.

"Thank you," said Colette.

Regina smiled. "You're welcome, dear. Now, are you ready to take some photographs with your mother? And then perhaps she can show you around the studio?"

Colette nodded eagerly.

"Well, ladies," said Regina, "let's get to work."

******
Released by Mark for a cigarette break, Gold found that his new look didn't elicit many stares. Strange things happened at Storybrooke Studios, but many failed to see him.

Even more than usual.

"What does Don Francis want with Robert Gold?," he heard a passing clerk ask.

"The hell if I know, everyone knows he's done for."

Gold leaned back against the building, wondering if they were right and he was the only one who didn't know it. He knew what he was, he wasn't one to harbor illusions, but he didn't feel done yet.

"Hi."

Gold looked down to see a very small blonde standing by him.

"Hello."

He eyed her closer. She had blue eyes. Ones he knew.

"You wouldn't by chance know Lacey French, would you?"

"She's my mommy."

"Colette!"

Gold looked up. Lacey French was currently running towards them with her sandals and the hem of her goddess dress in her hand.

"Colette! What do you think you're doing? I told you not to run off! It is very dangerous here! There's lots of ways for a little girl to get hurt!"

"No wild boars, though," said Gold.

Lacey looked up. "Oh, my goodness. Mr. Gold, I didn't recognize you."

"That frightening, is it?"

"No, no, just different," said Lacey. "Mallory did quite a job, didn't she?"

"It took her three hours."

Lacey looked down at Colette. "Now, why did you run off?"

Colette shrugged.

"If you're expecting a sensible answer, you'll have to wait a few years, I'm afraid," said Gold.

"You have children?"

"A boy. He's almost ten."

"It's very important to remember the almost, isn't it?," asked Lacey.

"Oh, very."

"I'm five and a half," said Colette.

Lacey shrugged. Gold shrugged back and Lacey giggled.

"Normally she would be at home, but Regina wants to take some publicity photos of Colette visiting me at the studio."

Colette tugged at Lacey's dress and she looked down.

"Are you doing the princess movie today?"

"No, baby, I'm doing the Iliad."

"I want you to be a princess."

"Well, I'm Aphrodite today."

"Boring."

Lacey motioned at Gold. "Colette, this is Mr. Gold. Do you remember him from The Miller's Daughter? He was Rumplestiltskin."

Gold snorted. "That film is older than her."

She smiled back at him. "My friend Ruby takes her to the matinee when she babysits. Same double feature: Snow White and The Miller's Daughter. Colette's favorites."

"You look different," said Colette staring at Gold.

"Do you think?," Gold asked dryly.

"That princess was mean in that movie," said Colette. "She should have left that stupid king and run away with you."

"Do you think so?"

"Mama will be a much better princess."

"I don't doubt it."

"I'm sorry," said Lacey. "We're taking up too much of your time."

"No, it's fine. I'm just standing in front of a camera with this on for Mark today."

"And you know, if you get bored at all during the three hours it takes to put that on, I don't mind sitting with you and running lines or something. Or talking about sheep?"

It seemed like an eternity between her offer and the time he finally spoke.

"I'd like that."

*****

Milah just happened to be going through Spotlight Magazine when she found the article on Lacey French.

To tell the truth, Milah had been looking forward to reading the article on Tinseltown's Most Eligible Bachelors, Killian Jones and George Knight among them. She had found a modest little one-page profile of Lacey, with shots of her in The Mysterious Island, a contemplative pose of her reading Homer's Iliad dressed as Aphrodite and one sickeningly adorable picture of her with her daughter getting ice cream at the studio commissary.

Neal was right. She was pretty. Too pretty.

It was then that she heard Robert's came tapping down the stairs.

"There's an article in here on that little costar of yours," said Milah as he sat down.

"Who do you mean?"

"Lacey French. It says she hasn't had any training."

"She seems fine."

Goldie poured him a cup of coffee. "Anything to eat, Mr. Gold?"

"No, I'll grab something at the studio."

Milah fumed.

"Have you met her yet?"

"Where's Neal?"

"He's gone to school early with Henry. So, have you met her yet?"

"Who?"

Milah felt the anger stirring in her gut. "Lacey French."

"Yes, I've met her."

"And?"

"She's very nice."

"Untrained, though. Suppose she's just a pretty face. They just let anyone be an actress here, don't they?"

"Well, training isn't everything, is it, dearie?"

"And what is that supposed to mean?," Milah snapped.

"Nothing," said Gold. "Absolutely nothing."

He got up and left. Milah slammed the magazine against the table making the dishes rattle.

 

*****
Gold stared at himself in the mirror, eyeing the leathers. He was free of the crocodile skin today, but apparently that wasn't enough. Jefferson and one of his assistants, Ariel, had fussed over him all morning.

"No, no," said Gold. "This won't do, dearie."

Jefferson groaned at Gold. "Come on, Bobby! This is supposed to be fun and you have to go and ruin it with your..."

"Grouchiness," Ariel supplied.

"Yes, thank you. Your grouchiness." Jefferson eyed him severely. "Mark loved this concept. When you see it with your crocodile skin, you'll feel differently."

Gold turned back to the mirror. Jefferson had started at Storybrooke the same time as Gold, like him the only interruption had been his army service. It was something secret Jefferson still wouldn't talk about, how he was good at getting in and out of places. He had seemed happy enough to return to his work at the Costume Department and life with his wife and daughter.

"I'm not seeing him in this," said Gold.

"Thicker hide to go on thick skin," said Jefferson. He turned to Ariel. "Get the cloak."

Ariel nodded and hurried off. The door opened.

"Lacey," said Jefferson. "How is my Aphrodite?"

Lacey glowered. "Aphrodite tore her hem," she said revealing the end of the dress.

Jefferson walked over.

"You are the clumsiest woman I've ever met. This is the third time."

"I've tried, but it's impossible," she insisted. "Every time I try to move, I'm stepping on something."

"You're supposed to be ethereal!"

Ariel returned. "I have Mr. Gold's cloak."

Jefferson nodded. Ariel walked over to Gold and helped him take off the leather coat and on with the cloak, a dark velvet trimmed in matted-looking animal fur.

"Is that for our film?," asked Lacey.

"It would seem so," said Gold.

"I like it," said Lacey.

"Say, I have an idea," said Jefferson. "We can try on the costumes for the ballroom scene. Do they need you back on Iliad right away?"

"It's some fight sequence, I'm mostly standing around," said Lacey.

"Good. Ariel, go help Miss French."

"Which ballroom dress?"

"The yellow one."

They departed. Jefferson turned to Gold.

"Wait until you see what I have for you."

 

*****
Lacey went back to the dressing room with Ariel. The redhead left her while she went to fetch something. She got out of Aphrodite costume and pulled on the waiting robe. It was a few minutes before Ariel returned with Alice, another one of Jefferson's assistants.

Lacey was confused until they finished hauling the dress in. It was massive. It was a beautiful pale buttery yellow with layers of lace and tulle.

Ariel smiled. "It's gorgeous but it's a monster. Jefferson and Eudora have been working on this since you came in for measurements."

"It's heavy," Alice warned.

Ariel laughed. "It weighs seventy-five pounds. Alice is the only one who's tried it on."

"My God," said Lacey.

"It'll take both of us to help you into it," said Alice.

"Go ahead and take off your robe," Ariel instructed. "We'll sort out the right underthings later. Jefferson's just looking for effect."

The girls took the dress off the hanger and began preparing it. Lacey was just left in the white strapless bra and underwear that went under Aphrodite's costume.

"Just step inside," said Ariel.

Lacey gingerly stepped into the middle of the dress and the two women pulled it up. Ariel was in the front, Alice at the back.

"There," said Ariel, smoothing out the skirt in front. "What do you think?"

Lacey looked at herself in the mirror.

"I've never worn anything so beautiful in my life. Colette is going to go crazy."

"Well, you'll have to let her come to the studio that day."

"Oh, dear," said Alice.

"What is it?," asked Ariel.

"She has a scar."

Lacey froze as Ariel walked to the back.

"Goodness," said Ariel. "How did you do that?"

"It was some glass when the Japanese bombed Darwin," said Lacey. She bit her lip. "It's not too much of a problem, is it?"

"No," said Ariel. "I think Jefferson may want to add some more in back anyway. He keeps going on about beading, but Mr. Dashwood has the final say on that."

They walked back out to the main room of the costume department where Gold and Jefferson were waiting. Gold was still in the leather pants and boots, but the top had been replaced with a shirt and blue velvet jacket, half finished with brocade.

"So, am I good or am I good?," asked Jefferson. He walked over to Lacey. "Just one rule, my dear. No tripping over this one. Eudora's having to make you another skirt as we speak. That's just some white silk. This is a masterpiece."

"I'll try," said Lacey.

"Ariel, let's get the camera," said Jefferson.

Lacey shuffled towards Gold.

"Is it hard to walk in?," he asked.

"Incredibly." She noted his boots and leather pants, against the princely velvet. "That's an interesting look for a prince."

He looked down sheepishly. "Well, the boots took a half hour to get on. Jefferson didn't want to bother taking them off for this."

"But won't that be hard on your leg?," she asked.

"It's fine."

"That can't be good for it."

"I've been through worse."

"Yes, I think worse is probably how you got it like that," she said eyeing him.

Jefferson returned.

"Jefferson," said Lacey, "you can't make Robert keep these boots on all the time."

"Have you seen them?" The costumer motioned at them with a flourish of his hands.

"Smiles, everyone," said Ariel, emerging with the camera.

"Oh, wait, stand where we can see the costumes," said Jefferson. "You're leaning too much into each other."

The two actors looked down and were somewhat surprised to find they were standing inches from each other. They stood apart and smiled for Ariel's picture.

"One more for safety and then we'll get some more before we run it to the photography office. I want Mr. Dashwood and Mr. Francis to see these as soon as possible. Miss French, you may go wait for your goddess dress."

Lacey smiled at Gold and left. Jefferson sat and pondered his boots.

"Can you walk in them?"

"I'm fine."

"This is me. I'm not going to run crying to Leo."

Gold gritted his teeth. "I'm fine."

"What about a cane?"

"I have a cane."

"No, for the Beast. I could make it go with the costume, might make it a little easier to move around."

"The Beast doesn't have a cane."

"He's a mythical creature. How do you know?"

"You would have to ask Mark."

"Oh, I will."

*****
Don was in his office reviewing the sketches for the ballroom when Eddie barged in.

"You don't want Robert Gold for Gaston."

Don looked up from his desk.

"When did I ever say that?," asked Don.

"Leo thought it. Why else would he sign off on this? Nobody would sign off on Robert Gold as a lead. The man is a has-been."

"Well, at least he's been someone, unlike your guy whose main talent seems to be smolder. He's not a bad actor, but, Jesus, write him something that's actually interesting once in a while."

"You can try to mock me all you want-"

"Thanks for that, but I didn't need permission."

"It's over, Don. I've already sent a telegram."

Don noticed Laurel in the office.

"Beauty and the Beast is done," said Eddie.

He walked out, brushing past Laurel.

"Don, what just happened?," asked Laurel.

"Don't worry. I can handle this."

Don got up, putting his suit jacket on as he walked. Laurel was footsteps behind him.

"Don-"

"I can handle this. I knew Eddie would wise up eventually and I have a contingency plan."

"You have a contingency plan?"

"Of course I do."

"Fine. What is it?"

Laurel found herself following him into the studio mailroom, the place where telegrams were taken.

"Mr. Francis-" the clerk at the counter stammered.

"Is this everyone who works here?," asked Don.

"Uh-"

"Could I have everyone's attention, please?," he asked loudly.

The clerks all turned to face Don.

"Does everyone know who I am?"

"Yes, sir," they said in a not quite chorus.

"Good. I assume you're all here because you want to work in movies. You may even want to work for me. Eddie Drexel should have just put in a telegram request, right?"

"Uh, yes, the messenger just brought it by," said the clerk.

"Great," said Don, taking it and tearing it into a dozen pieces. "That's what I want done to all the telegrams Mr. Drexel requests until further notice. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Or you will be lucky to work at any studio, let alone here!," he said, his voice booming through the mailroom.

Don left, Laurel still followed.

"That's fine for here, but how do you stop Western Union?," she asked.

"Well, I have some driving to do," he said heading towards the parking lot.

"And when are you going to tell Leo?"

"When I have the dailies." He paused. "What is the least scandalous thing you know about Killian Jones?"

"I don't know if I understand the question."

"I've got to distract Eddie. Shining a bad light on his golden boy might do it."

"We can't let the papers know about Milah. That will make our lives hell."

"Hence why I said least scandalous, if I have to feed Cora Mills something, I want it to be a little fish."

"Cora Mills? Is that a good idea? Regina will be furious."

"Regina doesn't need to know. What do you know?"

Laurel shook her head. "Do you know Ashley Boyd?"

"Lila Tremaine's stepdaughter?"

"Right, well, during the war, Lila was very involved in the Hollywood Canteen. She was there every night, along with the daughters and the stepdaughter to dance with the troops. Anyway, there was this big thing when Killian finally enlisted, a whole evening's entertainment in his honor and they were about to do the big ceremony and no Killian."

"Let me guess," said Don. "They found him in a coat closet with Ashley Boyd."

"Janitor's Closet. Lila Tremaine was furious with both of them, Regina covered it up and Killian went to war the next day anyway."

"Is that really the least scandalous thing you know? That he might have debauched a coed in a janitor's closet as he was about to leave the country?"

Laurel considered. "Yes, that is actually as good as it gets."

He finally arrived at his Cadillac. "I just want to know for my own benefit. When I was in hell in the Pacific, Mark was getting bombs thrown on him in England, hell, David Nolan was parachuting into France and Robert Gold was imprisoned in Colditz Castle, was anyone here not screwing around?"

"I wasn't exactly having a great time," said Laurel.

"I didn't mean you." He paused as he opened the door. "What did you come to my office for?"

"Nothing."

"You wouldn't have come for nothing."

She shook her head and clutched her notebook. "Steve called and I was just feeling low as usual."

"Steve's a moron."

Don got in his car and drove off.

 

*****
Lacey had been on her way back to set when Regina found her.

"Did you see your article yet?"

"I didn't have a chance to read this morning."

"It was a success. I've already gotten calls about the possibility of more articles, including a profile at home."

"At home?"

"Don't worry. Colette was perfectly charming and I'll shepherd you through it."

"Regina!"

Regina froze and turned to see Milah Gold heading towards her.

"Hello." She turned to smile tightly at Lacey. "You haven't met. This is Mrs. Gold."

"Miss French," said Milah. "I saw your article in Spotlight this morning. Very nice."

"Did you now?," asked Regina.

"Thank you," said Lacey.

"You can run along," said Regina, turning to Lacey. "We shouldn't keep you from work."

"Right," said Lacey. She turned to Milah. "Very nice to meet you."

"You too, dear."

Lacey left. Regina turned back to Milah and her smile vanished.

"What are you doing here?," asked Regina. "I hope it's not visiting Mr. Jones because I believe we had a discussion about what is and is not appropriate for a place of business."

"I just wanted to drop by."

"We're a bit past playing the loving wife, aren't we? Or are you jealous of your husband's new costar?"

"Jealous?" Milah scoffed. "What do I have to be jealous of?"

"That she's made it and you couldn't."

Milah stiffened. "Is something going on?"

"Don't be ridiculous." Regina crossed her arms. "I'm going to have a chat with the gate guard. I don't think you should trouble yourself with coming down here anymore."

Milah shot daggers at the other woman.

Regina smiled. "Henry's really looking forward to Neal's party. I'll see you there."

Milah was left to fume. She wasn't done yet.

Chapter Text

*****

 

"Jesus, Regina! Can't you do anything? You're supposed to handle crap like this!"

Regina tried to bury the rage she felt building insider her. Eddie Drexel had been on her for the past hour because the Killian item had appeared that morning. For his part, Killian Jones sat picking at his nails on the other side of her desk.

"I did handle it," she said, looking up at Killian. "Five years ago."

Killian shrugged. "What can I say? The lass was willing and it was on the eve of war..."

"Right. Where did you serve again? New Jersey?," Regina asked with a wicked grin.

Killian glowered.

Regina looked up at Eddie. "I doubt it will affect you much. You trade on his smirk. One little scandal with one young woman does not a career break."

"Are you serious, Regina? These are supposed to be family films. I knew Leo should have hired a man."

"Excuse me?," asked Regina.

"Oh, come off it. A leak in your mother's column? This is amateur hour."

"It will be fine," she said tightly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

 

*****
Don walked into the office. Mark was waiting.

"Madden sent some pictures of Robert in costume."

"Really?" Don took the proffered photographs. "These are fantastic. Look at those boots."

"I'm going to go over there soon. He's got some pieces for Lacey."

"We should get him in makeup again and look at the full effect. Oh, Marco says he'll have the dungeon set done this afternoon."

Mark scoffed. "And somehow you believe him."

"What's this last one?," asked Don.

"Oh, he says that's the ballroom costumes, except Robert's trousers."

Laurel entered, carrying a stack of bound scripts.

"What's that?," Don asked.

"Revisions and the original tales. You read French, don't you?"

"No..." said Don.

"Oh. Mark, don't you?"

"Not since I was in school," he said with a grimace.

She shook her head at them both. "How do you all manage to get along in the world?"

"Take a look at this," Don said, putting the last photo in front of her.

"My goodness," said Laurel.

"They look like a couple." Don looked to Mark. "Had they gotten together before this?"

"Lacey came into makeup while Mallory was working on Robert's look. They got on splendidly."

"We just need to hope it shows up on screen," said Don. "You can never tell. Where are they today?"

"Coming in for rehearsal for the ballroom scene. Mr. Ashman will be there. He has some music for us."

"Really?," asked Don.

"He's promised brilliance."

"Why don't we see if we can get a camera in there?," asked Don. "I just want to make sure those two translate onto the screen."

*****
Gold wasn't sure what to do with himself.

He went home for the weekend with no particular plans. As usual, Milah had a full calendar and Bae had activities with his friends, the Scouts, the movies and homework. Gold only actually saw him for Sunday dinner and they barely spoke.

What could he say?

So he buried himself in the script, called Laurel four times and concentrated on getting the work right. He had snuck out once in the weekend to see a matinee of The Mysterious Island. He had let Milah's bitter musings get in his head, wondering if this Miss French was actually any good. He wanted her to be good. If she was, then this film wasn't a total waste of his time, not that he had any say on how to spend his time anyway.

The story was a shipwreck that ended up on an island where strange things kept happening, like a smoke monster. Lacey played "Claire" the young widow who was protective of her infant son. He found it hard to concentrate when she wasn't onscreen. Despite any lack of training, she was good. There were always things to learn.

He had spent the whole weekend looking forward to coming back to work. He went to wait at the rehearsal stage and managed to resist the urge to seek her out which would have been disastrous. Ridiculous.

"Good morning, Mr. Gold."

Gold looked up. "Good morning, Miss French."

She went to arrange her things on a table by her chair. He had never seen her out of the goddess dress or that ballgown, but she worse a blue skirt, white blouse and red peep toe heels. She still looked no less than Aphrodite.

"I haven't seen you," she began as he tried to stop looking at her calves. "Did you have a good weekend?"

"It was alright," he said. "And yours?"

She walked over. "Oh, it was lovely. Colette and I went to the beach."

"Hiking, then the beach?"

Lacey smiled. "I like to get her outdoors. She spends so much time cooped up with her babysitters while I'm working. Don't tell me you don't like to get outside. Sheep boy like you?"

Gold motioned at his leg with his cane. "I don't have much choice."

Lacey considered the ankle and suddenly Gold felt like an idiot for pointing out his own impairment. "Is it very troubling?," she asked.

"Not all the time," he lied.

The door opened.

Mark entered, closely followed by Don and Laurel.

"Good morning," said Mark.

"Good morning," said Lacey.

Mark approached closer. "Mr. Knight will be joining us later in the week, depending on when his picture wraps, but we'll be starting out with you two. Mr. Ashman will be here shortly to work on the first ballroom scene."

"You want to start there?," asked Gold. His gaze flicked nervously down to his bad leg. He looked back up as he suddenly felt Lacey's hand pat the back of his.

"Better to get the technical work out of the way now," said Mark. The door opened. "Ah, Mr. Ashman!"

"Mark," said the thin composer. He exchanged pleasantries with Don and Laurel, then went to the small piano that had been set up near the rudimentary ballroom set.

"Mark seems to think you have something for us," said Don.

"I certainly hope so," he said, setting up some sheet music. He glanced up at them. "I wrote some lyrics."

"Lyrics?," asked Don. "Who's singing?"

"I thought I would let you sort that out."

"There's the objects in the castle," said Laurel.

"What? Is the teapot going to sing?," asked Don.

"Let's just hear him."

Ashman began playing the melody.

It was a haunting and beautiful melody. They heard him out as it began again, Lacey turned to Gold.

"This may be a bit forward of me..."

Gold froze.

She smiled mischievously. "...But would you care to dance, Mr. Gold?"

"Yes. Uh, yes, right, of course."

Lacey led him to the dance floor. Mark motioned to his camera man as they got into position.

"Just do whatever comes naturally," he instructed.

Lacey smiled. "I'll lead."

He stared at her blankly as she began stepping gracefully.

"It's probably been a while since the Beast danced," she offered.

"Yes."

He followed her around the dance floor finding she was skilled enough to cover up his every misstep, not even flinching when he stepped on her toes.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I'm not very good at this."

"I can handle pain," she said. "Hey. Just relax."

"And where does a sheep girl learn to dance?"

Lacey giggled. "My mother taught me."

"Did she now?"

"Yes, she thought I ought to have something to fall back on if the sheep girl thing didn't work out."

The two happily continued their little waltz.

Regina walked into the soundstage. She headed towards Don.

"What's going on? I didn't see the light."

"No, we're just trying to get some blocking done for the ballroom scene. I wanted to make sure their chemistry showed up on screen."

"I think you didn't need to worry," said Laurel.

"There's something there," said Don.

"Well, who'd have known," said Laurel.

"Who indeed?," Mark whispered.

Regina turned. She saw Gold dancing with Lacey. Despite his leg, they moved seamlessly.

"Yes, well then," said Regina, getting a cigarette out of the case in her jacket pocket. She waited for Don to light it.

"Do you think you can do something with that?," he asked.

"I believe I can."

 

*****
The music finished again.

"Why don't we take a short break?," Mark suggested. "We'll start up again with the first dinner scene."

"See?," Lacey said. "I told you there was nothing to worry about. How's your leg?"

"Fine," Gold lied.

The crew disassembled and Gold walked with Lacey back to their chairs.

"I knew you would be wonderful," she began after they were seated. "Just like in The Miller's Daughter."

"I doubt I'll be able to do the same thing here. I was a different man back then."

"What happened?"

"I was a prisoner. I tried to escape and I failed rather spectacularly."

"Well, you're still here, aren't you?"

"Mostly."

He felt her hand over his again.

"You survived. I would say you succeeded rather spectacularly."

He was about to say that Milah certainly did not feel the same way, but bit that back. However nice she was, however nice it was to pretend she would, Lacey French would not be interested in the marital problems of an aging cripple. He only nodded.

"How do you take your tea?," she asked.

"Sorry?"

She motioned at the little cart with tea, coffee and refreshments.

"I can get it myself."

"No, I insist," she said. "How do you take it?"

"Milk," he said.

"I'll be right back."

 

*************
Upon her mother's arrival, Colette greeted Lacey by bounding up to her for an embrace.

"Mama!"

"Hello, darling!," she said, lifting her up. "Did you have a good day? How was school?"

"Did you play princess?"

Lacey smiled. "I did play princess." She began swaying and spinning around the living room. "We practiced a dance."

"A princess dance?"

"Yes."

"Was there music?"

"There was the most beautiful music you have ever heard."

"Can you sing it?"

"I can hum it," said Lacey and then she proceeded to hum it.

"Well," said Ruby, entering the room, "someone had fun."

Lacey smiled and put Colette on the floor. That didn't deter the girl from spinning around with her arms over her head, humming the new tune.

"I spent the day dancing with Robert Gold. It's tough work, but someone has to do it."

Ruby scrunched up her face. "Can he dance?"

"Ruby!"

"I just mean he's crippled, isn't he?"

"Ruby! He is not nearly as handicapped as people seem to think he is and so what? It's not as if that's important when he has so many other good qualities."

"You don't..."

"Don't what?"

"Like him?"

"He's a very nice man and we have a lot to talk about together."

"That's not what I've heard."

"And what have you heard?"

"Well, you know people from the studios come to the diner. They say he's sort of a monster..."

Lacey shook her head. "He's not a monster."

"And they say..."

Lacey frowned.

"Well, you know, his injury. The war. They say he ran."

Colette stopped spinning. "Ran from where?"

"Nowhere," Lacey said quickly. "Ruby, that's a horrible thing to say about someone."

"I'm just saying what I heard."

"You shouldn't listen to gossip."

Ruby whistled. "You are in the wrong town."

"I am on the wrong continent," said Lacey.

Ruby smiled as she gathered her things. "I got your mail for you, but this was hand-delivered."

Ruby handed Lacey an envelope. She opened it revealing an engraved invitation.

"What is it?," asked Ruby.

"I have been cordially invited to Neal Gold's birthday party." She held up the invitation for her friend's benefit. "A bit fancy for a ten-year old's party, isn't it? Shouldn't it be cowboys or something?"

"I wouldn't know. See you later!"

"Bye!"

Lacey sat on the sofa with the invitation.

"Are you going to a party?"

"I think we are going to a party," said Lacey. "It's for Mr. Gold's son. He's going to be ten."

"Not big kids..." moaned Colette.

"You'll be fine. Besides, if Mr. Gold invited us, wouldn't it be rude not to come?"

"Yes..."

"Yes." Lacey kissed her on the forehead. "Come on. Let's make dinner."

Chapter Text

 


The first week was wrapping on Beauty and the Beast. Don couldn't help but be a little pleased with himself as they came to the end of the day.

"That was amazing," said Don. "The dinner scene."

"You wanted to cut it," Laurel reminded him.

"Mea culpa. What do you want to hear? You're right? You would think you would hear it often enough."

Laurel shrugged. "It gives me the same thrill every time."

Don nodded over at Gold and Lacey. The Beast had just been snarling and Belle had been snapping back, but the actors were quick to let go of their animosity now back to laughing with each other.

"What about those two? They are going to be the perfect on screen couple. I thought we had it when we did Snow White, but this is so much better."

"Are you going to let Leo in?"

"Eddie's still pouting because he doesn't know why Leo hasn't answered his very important telegram. I'd like to enjoy that some more." He turned to look at her. "Dinner? I could go for Canter's."

She frowned. "Steak or nothing."

"Uh, Laurel." They turned to see Lacey French bounding towards them. "I had some questions."

"I'll pick you up at your office," said Don. "Have a good weekend, Lacey."

"Thanks, Don. You, too."

Don left the women to themselves.

"What can I help you with?"

"Belle's mother. Mark had said you had the same idea about her, but I thought we could put our heads together?"

"What about her?"

"Well, she's where Belle gets her love of books from, right? Oh, I read everything you sent over."

"Even the French?"

Lacey nodded.

"I'm impressed."

"Don't be. My mother taught me."

"Well," said Laurel, walking towards the door of the soundstage, "stories are important. Stories teach us to think differently, to have empathy for people who are different from us."

Lacey smiled. "Did your mother teach you that?"

"What?" Laurel's face dropped.

"No, it's just Robert was telling me how you got your knowledge of fairy tales from your mother."

"Yes. She did academic research on them. Comparing versions and authors, that sort of thing."

"She must be so proud of your work," said Lacey.

"She's not," Laurel said tightly. "I'm sorry, I've got to go."

"But..." Laurel was already a dozen steps away. "Can I catch up with you later?"

The woman didn't answer and disappeared.


The day of Neal's party, the Nolans were the first to arrive with Emma, the baby having been left at home with the nanny. Regina was next with Henry, then Mark. After that, it was an endless stream of Milah's friends most of whom didn't have children and people that she had deemed important. Actors, directors, producers. Milah began holding court out by the pool, her usual tirade about "these actresses today" seeming to keep them entranced.

Lsurel stopped walking with Don as they came out into the backyard.

"What?," asked Don turning back to her.

"It's Steve."

Don looked across the pool at the other end of the party. Milah had invited Eddie, Aidan and Steve. He was a hack and incidentally Laurel's ex.

"Why are you so scared of him?," asked Don.

"Just give me your car keys. I'll come back to pick you up."

"Laurel, did he do something to you that you haven't told me about? Because I'll go over and punch him right now."

"No." Don bored holes into her. "Really, no. He's just been awful since the business with my cousin started."

"Your cousin? What cousin?"

"Marta."

"She's alive?"

"Yes."

"Well, why didn't you tell me? What did you go running to Steve for?"

"I didn't," said Laurel, closing the distance between them. "The last address she had for me was before the war. She sent it to my old address, Steve contacted me and I wrote her back, but she was never terribly bright, she keeps sending it to him and he's annoyed at having mail from a displaced persons' camp."

"Just when I thought I couldn't hate him more." Don shrugged it off. "So, your cousin survived. That's good news."

"Yes," she replied half-heartedly.

"It is. So, what's the story? Are they coming over?"

"Who's coming over?," asked Mark as he joined them.

"Laurel's cousin."

"Your cousin?," he asked in surprise.

"She's remarried. She and her husband haven't decided where they're going to go yet," Laurel said flatly.

"Where? What's wrong with here? We've got the beach, sunshine, orange groves," said Don.

"They may go to Israel."

"What? Why?," asked Don.

Mark rolled his eyes. "It's this new country you might have heard of. It was in all the newspapers."

"I'm just asking, it seems like a mess over there."

"Well, I'm sure they'll sort things out."


The party had begun at noon.

It had only been an hour, but the situation seemed interminable.

Gold had situated himself next to the drinks cart in the foyer when the doorbell rang. He opened it to see Lacey and Colette.

"I hope we're not too late."

"Lacey, what are you doing here?"

Truthfully, other than Bae's party and the little he was allowed to be involved with it, he had thought of little else since they wrapped on Friday. Lacey French, her bright smiles, sparkling eyes and perfect... well, everything were beginning to become an addiction.

One he wondered if he could do without.

Now she stood here on his doorstep in a robin's egg blue dress that clung to every curve and she was staring at him like he was an idiot.

She frowned. "I got an invitation?"

He grimaced. Milah. Of course.

"Yes, the party is today, isn't it?," Lacey asked.

"Mama?," asked Colette tugging her mother's hand, looking worried.

"No, no, it's fine," said Gold. "Come on in."

They walked in. Lacey spotted the waiters.

"We aren't under-dressed, are we?"

"No, of course not. You're fine." He shut the door behind them. "Don't worry. I don't think anyone got Milah's memo about the dress code except Milah."

He motioned over at the woman, clad in a floor length gown, chatting with some other people. Lacey frowned.

"Mama, where are the kids?," asked Colette saying what she was thinking.

"Let's try the backyard," Gold suggested.


"It's just bizarre," Laurel whispered to the others.

Mary Margaret nodded, sipping her champagne. Regina took another drag off her cigarette as she saw Lacey approach with Colette and Gold. Lacey wondered at the divide between the sides of the pool, having been led to the side with actual children.

"Lacey," she said in surprise.

"Well, who is this?," Mary Margaret asked beaming at Colette.

Colette was starstruck.

She looked up at Lacey.

"Mama, it's Snow White..."

"This is Colette," said Lacey. "See, sweetheart, I told you she works at the studio with me. This is Mrs. Nolan."

"Oh, isn't she the cutest? Come here, princess," said Mary Margaret, beckoning the girl closer. "How old are you?"

"Five and a half."

"Well, would you like to meet my little girl, Emma?"

Colette nodded and Mary Margaret led her off to where the assembled children stood looking bored.

"So, has the party started or..."

"We were just wondering the same thing," said Laurel as Don brought her back a drink.

"Most of the people here don't even have children," said Regina, motioning at the other side of the swimming pool.

"Well, isn't there something for the kids to do?," asked Lacey.

"That looks extremely unlikely," Gold lamented.

"Well, do you have some games or something?"

The others stared at her like she had two heads.

"I don't mind leading them," said Lacey.

"I'm in," said Don. He shrugged as the others looked at him. "What? It'll be the first time someone has had fun at one of Milah's parties without hard liquor, no offense, Robert."

Gold shrugged. "Well, it's not as if I've had any fun at one of Milah's parties."

"We're in, too," Mary Margaret smiled, linking arms with David.

"Laurel?," asked Don.

"I'm playing a game called avoiding my ex-husband who's twenty feet away."

"Great. We'll play hide and seek. You can hide first," said Don, dragging her up. "Mark?"

"I haven't fallen that far I hope."

Lacey smiled. "Robert?"

"I'm afraid I'm not very good at playing much of anything," he said, gesturing with his cane.

She squeezed his wrist. "I'm sure you manage just fine."

Lacey walked over to the children. Robert turned to see Regina.

"Did you invite her?," she asked.

"Of course not."

"Milah..." Regina grimaced.

"Indeed," said Mark seeming very interested in his highball glass. "Seems a shame we had to invite her."

"How many have you had?," asked Regina.

Mark smiled. "Far fewer than I intend to."


Lacey was a hit. She led the children in several games making Gold wonder at how she could possibly run teetering on those shoes of hers and even becoming the center of attention in a game of tag. She had even managed to distract the people on her side of the pool.

Which Milah couldn't stand.

"What's she doing?," she asked, stalking over.

"I wouldn't know. I didn't invite her," Gold coolly replied.

"The children are being too loud."

"You know, it is in fact our son's birthday party."

"I know what it is. I planned this all month and now your little friend is ruining it."

Gold kept his eyes on Lacey. He didn't answer Milah which only made her more mad.

She glanced from him to Lacey and back.

"Oh, that's what this is all about, isn't it? Your little friend." She laughed. "Even if you like her, it doesn't matter. There's no way she would agree to waste her life on an cowardly, aging, washed up cripple who can't even keep a woman satisfied."

Gold noticed the adults were staring at them. Milah's voice had carried. Mary Margaret and David were doing their best to usher the children away.

Lacey stared at him pityingly.

Which made it all the worse. He had learned to deal with Milah's moods long ago, but the occasions she brought it to the public arena were the worst. Because he couldn't stand the pity.

"I'll go get the ice cream then," said Gold, making his way back into the house.

Milah recovered quickly, turning back to her guests.

"Eddie, did I tell you what I heard the other day?"

Lacey looked longingly at the spot Gold had left.


Gold hid in the study, quickly pouring himself another drink. Downing one, he threw the tumbler against the wall.

A moment passed and there was a gentle knock at the door to the study. He didn't answer and it creaked open.

"Robert?," Lacey asked softly.

He squeezed his eyes shut.

She was the last thing he needed. When he was with Lacey at the studio, they worked so well together. She made him feel relaxed and at home, the opposite of when he was in fact at home. He much preferred the man that he was with her as opposed to the one he was with Milah and now that the two had collided...

Well, that dream was over.

He felt a delicate hand cover his.

"Hey, Robert, it's okay..."

He dared open his eyelids to find Lacey on the other side.

"You should go," he said.

"Why?"

"Because..."

Because he was a fool and less than a man and if she stayed any longer, she would say it and he didn't think he could bear it.

She, of course, didn't hear his internal tirade. "I'm sorry if I caused problems for you with your wife."

Gold scoffed. "You are not the cause of our problems. That would be me."

"Why did you let her talk to you like that?," asked Lacey. "You don't have to, you know."

"I don't have much of a choice."

"Of course you do."

"Milah's right. I'm an old cripple who could get dropped from his studio contract any time. Trust me, I haven't got anywhere else to go."

"Maybe you just haven't found it yet," said Lacey.

Suddenly there was a child's loud cry. "Mama!"

Lacey's eyes widened as she ran out towards Colette.

Gold soon followed hearing Don. "Jesus, Milah, lay off! It was an accident."

He found the uproar was taking place in the hallway. Colette stood next to the shattered pieces of a vase Robert had never really liked. Don was between her and Milah with Laurel not far off.

"That brat broke my vase!"

Lacey knelt down. "Colette, what happened?"

"She hit me..."

"She was running like an animal and-"

Gold hadn't been aware until then that Lacey possessed any supernatural powers, but she managed to get past Don and had shoved Milah against the wall. Milah had a few inches on her, but that seemed hard to believe as Lacey closed in on her. Don looked on as if he didn't know what the hell to do.

Lacey spoke to Milah seeing red. "I don't know what the hell possesses you to treat your own family the way you do or makes you think you have the right, but if you, ever, so much as lay a finger on my daughter again, I will rip your heart out."

Milah stood, frozen. Lacey scooped up Colette.

"I'm sorry, Robert. Thank you for having us," she said, not waiting for Robert to get over being gobsmacked long enough to give a response.

The party goers all stared at Milah and the only sounds were of the front door slamming shut and Lacey's car starting.

Milah shrugged. "What can I say? Australians."

Gold rolled his eyes.

Mark stared down into his highball glass again. "Did you all know when I first saw Milah she was serving sailors at a pub by the London Docks? It's true. Not much has changed since then..."

Gold snorted and Milah shot daggers at him.

"Well, I would say the party is pretty much downhill from here," said Don. "Laurel?"

"But we were having so much fun..." she answered dryly.

Chapter Text


 

After Lacey left, most of the party guests followed Don and Laurel’s example, even the ones that had come for Milah. Gold felt awful because of what she did, because his son’s birthday party had been ruined and because he didn’t have anywhere to go. He and Goldie tried to make the evening festive for him as Milah chose to go out- a welcome break from her bouts of screaming.

The next day he decided to take Bae to the pier at Santa Monica for a quiet morning. There was a bench nearby where they set up and he was able to rest his pole against the railing. Bae kept vigil, standing on the very edge.

They said little at first preferring to let the sounds of the waves and the birds fill the void.

Finally, Gold spoke.

“I’m sorry about your party, son.”

Bae shrugged. “It’s not your fault.”

“It’s nice of you to say that, but-”

Bae looked back. “What? Mom hit Colette, not you.”

Gold wanted to argue that it really was his fault. How could a man let his home life get so out of control that-

Bae laughed. “It was pretty funny when Lacey went after her.”

“Baelfire...”

“I’ve never seen a girl get that angry. Not even Emma.”

Okay, it had been kind of funny. At least the look on Milah’s face.

“Still, that’s your mother, son.”

“I know,” groaned Bae. “Besides, you invited Lacey there, right? She was the only fun thing about the party. It must be swell working with her every day.”

“Yes,” Gold admitted.

It was so swell that sometimes he didn’t want to come home.


 

 

 


Regina sat in her office Monday morning and began going over the studio’s publicity calendar, sorting through the press clippings and trying to think of the best way to start teasing Beauty and the Beast. She was interrupted by a knock on the door.

Shaylee Bell was one of Regina’s principal publicity girls, a New Zealander who found her way to Los Angeles before the war. The blonde preferred to go by “Tink.”

“Have you got a minute?”

“Sure.”

Tink entered with a folder. “You know ‘The Mysterious Island’ finally opened in Australia, right?”

“Yes, that was somewhere in the back of my mind.”

“And it was my idea to make a big push with Lacey French.”

“The hometown girl angle, always a winner.”

Tink nodded. “Yeah, it has been. Receipts are good, distribution is already getting inquiries from theater owners there about her next pictures.”

“Then why do you seem concerned?”

“Lacey has been getting a lot of fan mail.”

“Of course she has. Is this about the money for international postage? It’s no big worry.”

“No, the Melbourne office sent a telegram because they’re worried about one particular set of letters.”

“A set?,” asked Regina.

“They’re from a man called Geoffrey Dumas. He’s been calling the Melbourne office, sending threatening letters and so on because he thinks he knows Lacey French.”

“How does he think he knows her?”

Tink handed Regina the top letter. Regina read it and resisted the urge to laugh.

“Well, this man is clearly disturbed,” she scoffed. “He thinks Lacey French is really his dead wife? Don’t tell me the Melbourne office actually wasted time investigating this.”

“They did.”

“And what did they find?”

“It’s like you said. He must be crazy. His wife, Isabelle Avelin Dumas died in the air raid on Darwin along with her baby.”

“That’s tragic, but it’s still no excuse. Tell the Melbourne office to have our attorneys there send some kind of cease and desist letter and if he tries to take this nonsense public, he can expect to be sued for libel or whatever they have there.”

Tink nodded. “I’ll send a telegram straightaway. Should we tell Lacey?”

Regina shook her head. “No. He’s far enough away. Why worry her with the rantings of a madman on the other side of the world?”

“You’re the boss.”


 


It was a late start to Gold’s morning. Mallory had some sort of problem getting the color of the Beast’s make-up right. Then when it was time for wardrobe Jefferson was busy and Ariel tried to help, but obviously he wasn’t going to subject her to lacing up the Beast’s trousers. By the time he actually got on set, he was cranky and Lacey was busy chatting with George Knight, who was playing Gaston.

“Robert,” said George. “I haven’t seen you put together yet, you look dastardly.”

“Thanks, I think.”

Lacey playfully hit George on the arm. “And he looks very handsome.”

“Stop being nice. This look does nothing for him, except maybe...”

Gold suddenly felt very self-conscious as he could swear George was eyeing his leathers.

“They just did the tavern scene,” said Lacey. She looked at George. “You’re very convincing as a mindless brute for being such a nice man.”

“What can I say? I just channeled the bullies from high school.”

“You had bullies?,” Gold asked with irritation. George Knight was six feet tall and perfectly chiseled. How did he get bullies?

“Yeah, but I usually beat them up,” he smiled. “I’ll see you later, Lacey.”

George left. Lacey looked expectantly at Gold.

She began. “Did you have any thoughts on the west wing scene?”

“I want to apologize for Saturday. I can only hope you’ll forgive me.”

Lacey frowned at him.

“Robert, I’m afraid I can’t accept your apology.”

He nodded. That figured.

“Of course. Colette’s your daughter, your loyalty is to her and that’s perfectly-”

“Robert, I can’t accept your apology because you did nothing wrong. Milah hurt Colette, not you.”

“She’s my wife.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re responsible for her behavior. Milah’s a grown woman. She doesn’t need you to apologize for her.”

Gold shifted uncomfortably, not certain as to how he could get out of this with anything resembling his dignity.

“But I suppose... you’re used to doing that,” Lacey finally said.

He didn’t answer, suddenly driven to count how many eyelets the Beast’s boots had.

“Why do you stay with her?”

“Because we’re married.”

“You shouldn’t stay with someone who treats you so poorly. Staying someplace because you don’t think you have anywhere to go... it never works.”


 

 

Regina sat across from Don in his office. She handed over the first sketches they had for the Beauty and the Beast teaser.

“I think we start with something very broad,” said Regina. “We can show the climactic scenes from Snow White, The Miller’s Daughter and Midas’ Daughter. Just a couple shots from the new film at first, to get people excited.”

“I like that,” said Don.

“When is the ballroom scene?”

“Probably next week. Marco claims he’ll have the ballroom set ready...”

Regina smiled. “Tell me if you need someone to light a fire under him. When are you going to let Leo in?”

“I think I’ll send him some dailies soon.”

“Do you think that will win him over?”

“He’s always bowed to my judgment before and you’ve seen them together. They’re dynamite.”

Don’s secretary knocked and came in, then handed him the mail. Don thanked her and she left.

“News from the orient?”

Don scowled. “How the hell is it you can spot an envelope from Japan from all the way over there, Regina?”

“You know me, Don. I have special powers.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, I’ve been training on Henry hiding comics in his school books to look like he’s studying.” She paused. “Do you still have your friend there?”

“Is Milah and Killian still happening?”

“Way to change the subject,” said Regina.

“Well, is it?,” asked Don. “She can usually keep it together for a few hours. I thought if those two were on the outs maybe that’s why...”

Regina laughed. “She was a bitch before him. She’ll be one long after she’s gone, but no, so far as I know it’s still going on, but all his dalliances have a finite life span. This one’s got to be nearing its end.”

Don nodded. “I don’t know how much of a relief that is.”

“None to me. She never casts a very wide net when she looks for a new fish.”

There was a knock on the door. Mark entered.

“We’ve broken for lunch.”

“Did I miss anything not being there?,” asked Don.

“Gold’s in quiet misery. Knight keeps admiring his costume.”

Don snorted.

“Don’t say that too loudly,” cautioned Regina. “I’ve managed to keep you a secret. I don’t how many of you I can manage.”

“Oh, I’m perfectly safe. People just think I’m foreign,” said Mark.

Don snorted again. “Where’s Laurel? Back at her office?”

“I rang her. She said she was feeling ill.”

Don looked up in concern. “Well, did she sound ill?”

“She coughed.”

“Well, why didn’t she call me?”

“She’s a grown woman, Don,” said Regina. “You could call her yourself.”

Don pretended to look back at his paperwork.

“I’m going to get a sandwich and watch the tavern scene before we start with the afternoon’s shooting,” Mark said to Don. “Care to join me?”

“Yeah, I’ll meet you at the screening room in ten.”

“Regina?,” asked Mark.

“I would love to, but Eddie has the final cut of Jones’ new picture to show me. I have to watch it and figure out yet another way to promote pirate films again.”

“What’s this one called?,” asked Mark.

“The Pirate and the Duchess,” she said as a sigh.


 

 

 


The end of the shooting day meant Gold could escape back to his dressing room. His Scotch was waiting for him and perhaps he could get off his leg.

He sat on the sofa wondering how he long he could wait here and if it would be possible to unlace this mess himself to go home.

“You barely spoke.”

He looked up to see that Lacey had just let herself in and shut the door behind her.

“We spoke.”

“While we were working. Between takes you barely said two words to me.”

“I honestly don’t know what you want me to say.”

“I’m sorry if I upset you but I don’t know how to pretend that the way Milah treats you is alright.”

“Leave me alone,” he said without any conviction.

“No,” Lacey answered sharply. She sat herself on the coffee table in front of his sofa. “You think you’re worthless, you think no one will have you, you think you don’t deserve to be loved, but you’re wrong.”

He looked up at her, trying not to give away his astonishment.

“And how would you know that?”

She bit her lower lip. “Promise you won’t tell anyone?”

“I promise,” he replied, a mixture of concerned and intrigued. Lacey didn’t seem like the type to have any secrets. What did a ray of sunshine have to keep secret?

“Colette’s father made me feel the same way and I thought he was right and where would I have gone anyway? Who would want me?”

“Who wouldn’t?,” came out quicker than Gold could realize he was saying it.

She smiled and reached out to cup his cheek. “Don’t you see?”

“No, because you’re young and lovely and everyone falls for you the minute they meet you and I’m old and ugly and-”

Before he realized it, Lacey had leaned forward to press her lips against his.

They broke apart, staring at each other.

“Robert?”

“Yes?”

“I’m going to kiss you again.”

He willed himself to say no, but his mouth betrayed him, instead moving forward to kiss Lacey back. Those moments with their lips pressed together seemed to last forever, tongues tangling, only breaking apart when she nipped his lower lip with her teeth. Robert pulled back, pressing his fingers to the spot.

“Sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I get a little enthusiastic.”

“Don’t be.” He pointed at her chin where some of his makeup had rubbed off. “You have something there?”

“Do I?” Lacey turned to face the vanity and burst out laughing at the mix of green paint and gold glitter on her chin. She looked back at him. “Can I use your washroom?”

“Yeah.”

Lacey disappeared into his washroom and Gold wondered what the hell he was supposed to do. Was he supposed to send her away? What did she want? Was it just friendship? Was that how Aussies showed friendship?

He shook his head. That was a ridiculous theory. Wasn’t she part French, though? Gold tried desperately to snap himself back into reality, but reality was indicating that there was a beautiful young woman who was in his dressing room and had just kissed him. Reality seemed to no longer be aligning itself with the realm of possibility.

Lacey reappeared, smiling.

“I promised Colette I would be home early or at least on time tonight so I can’t really stay.”

He nodded. “Right. Yeah.”

“But don’t take that to mean I don’t want you.” She smiled. “We’ll pick this up tomorrow.”

Lacey left and Robert Gold was the most confused man in the world.

Chapter Text



Lacey stared at the ceiling.

She couldn’t sleep. She got a few restless moments in and then she was back to thinking about kissing Robert.

She had said she wanted him. That wasn’t like her. At least not for a long time.

Then again, she had never known a man like him.

She heard the door creak open.

“Mama?”

“Colette?” She turned on her side. “What’s the matter, baby?”

“I can’t sleep.”

Lacey held her arms out. “Well, come here. Mama can’t sleep, either.”

Colette hurried over and launched herself into the bed. Lacey pulled the covers over her as the girl held her teddy bear.

“Now, why can’t you sleep? You didn’t have nightmares, did you?”

“No. I woke up and I thought Mrs. Gold was here.”

Lacey smiled. “Well, she’s definitely not.”

“Why is he so nice and she’s so mean?”

Lacey wrapped her arms around Colette and pulled her to her bosom.

“Well, that is complicated, baby. Sometimes nice people fall in love with bad people. Do you want to hear a story?”

“Okay.”

“Once upon a time, there was a lovely young princess who lived in a faraway land. Then one day her father introduced her to this handsome knight and the knight won the fair princess’ hand. They got married and had a beautiful little princess of their own and suddenly, the princess realized that her husband wasn’t a knight. He was an ogre.”

“Did the ogre kill the knight?”

“No, there never was a knight. The ogre just looked like a knight.”

“Did the king kill the ogre?”

“No.” Lacey caressed her cheek. “The king didn’t see an ogre. He only saw a knight because the ogre was careful to never reveal himself. So, the princess had no choice but to take her daughter, who she loved more than anything, to a far away land, where they lived happily ever after.”

Lacey looked down to see Colette had fallen asleep.


 

 


Laurel opened the door to her bungalow, tired of the world.

Don shoved a bag in her face.

“Canter’s. Matzo Ball soup.”

She scowled. “I am sick.”

Don followed her in. “Good thing I brought soup then.”

Laurel walked back to the sofa and wrapped a blanket around her. She motioned at the coffee table, covered by a typewriter and strewn paper.

“Please tell me you don’t need rewrites because I keep trying to work on Snow Queen and all I’ve got is something with a talking snow man.”

“A talking snow man?”

“Yes, she brings him to life.”

“I don’t know how we’d pull off a talking snow man.”

“Not my problem.” She leaned back and closed her eyes. “Come to check up on me? Don’t you have a film to work on?”

“I just wanted to see how you were doing, make sure you didn’t need anything.”

“It is a cold, Don. An actual cold.”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t. It’s just you were fine over the weekend.”

“You made me go to a birthday party. Granted, it was rather entertaining in the end, what with Lacey doing what we’ve all only dreamed of... Anyway, I had to play with children. If I’m sick, it’s your fault.”

Don sat. “So... heard from your cousin?”

“If you want her to choose America so badly, why don’t I give you the address so you can outline why this country’s so great?”

“Jesus, just asking.”

Laurel laid down. “Would you just leave me to die?”

“Not funny.”

“Not intended to be.”

Don got up. “I’ll come back later with more soup.”

“I’ll be here... probably in this same spot.”


 

 

 

 


Lacey arrived at the studio after a night of fitful sleep. When she got to the make-up department, she was disappointed to find that Gold had already come and gone. She just had to go and get back in Belle’s blue peasant dress.

She found him on set talking to Mark and he was  turned away which meant she got one of her favorite views of him from behind.

“Ah, Lacey, good morning,” said Mark. He looked to Gold. “I’m sure you two want to collaborate before we start filming.”

Mark left, walking back to Don.

“So,” said Gold, “how are you?”

Lacey smiled. “Didn’t sleep.”

“Right.”

“Robert, about yesterday-”

“No need, I understand-”

She scowled at him. “I meant what I said. Every word.”

“How could you?”

“How could I not?”

“What? Even the part about ‘picking this up tomorrow?’”

“Especially that.” She shrugged. “Unless I’m just not your-”

“No,” he quickly cut her off.

"Ready to start?," asked Mark.


 

 

 


Lacey wondered at how exactly one conducted an affair. She thought about going by his dressing room at lunch but Jefferson had absconded with him for a fitting so that was out. She needed to eat anyway and went to the commissary. She stood in line, picking a sandwich that looked inoffensive enough and pondering whether she ought to add on some chocolate cake.

“You’re Belle, aren’t you?”

Lacey turned. “What?”

The dark-haired man smiled. She thought he was from the studio’s pirate movies, but she couldn’t remember the name. The films bored even Colette.

“Belle. From Beauty and the Beast?”

“Yes,” she said. “Lacey French.”

“Killian Jones.”

Lacey decided to go ahead and pick up that piece of cake. Killian eyed some Jello suspiciously.

“So, what’s it like working with Gold?,” asked Killian.

“He’s a terriffic actor,” said Lacey. “And a very nice man.”

“Lacey,” said David. “Want to sit with me? I have a table.”

“Sure, David, okay.”

“Nice meeting you, Lacey.”

“Nice meeting you, too,” said Lacey.

Lacey sat down across from David. She smiled at his sheriff’s costume.

“A western?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of fun and I don’t have to run around in a skirt like on Iliad.”

“Well, some of us don’t have a choice,” said Lacey.

“Look, you know who Killian is, don’t you?”

Lacey frowned and glanced over at the table he’d settled at with some of the other pirates.

“The pirate actor?”

“No, I mean, yes, but do you know who he is to Milah Gold?”

“Milah Gold? Why would he be anything to-” Lacey’s mouth formed a perfect “O” at the conclusion of that thought process.

“Yeah.” David shrugged. “I just thought you should know.”

“How long has it been going on?”

“Gee, a year?”

“A year?,” Lacey asked incredulously. She leaned in to whisper. “Hasn’t anyone told Robert?”

“Lacey, Robert knows.”

Lacey was galled. She didn’t even know what to say.

David shrugged. “You’ve seen them at home. Do you think she cares what he thinks?”

“No,” said Lacey. “I suppose not.”

 


 

 

“What’s your problem?,” asked Jefferson.

Gold shook his head. “What problem?”

Jefferson looked at Ariel as she stood nearby, taking notes.

“I want this vest a little deeper.”

“Why?,” asked Gold.

Jefferson smiled. “Give the ladies what they want.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“He’s serious,” Ariel promised.

The door opened. Robin Loxley entered, clad in what seemed to be some sort of desert costume.

“Robin,” said Jefferson, “how can we help you?”

“My headpiece seems to be coming apart.” Robin passed the offending item to Ariel.

“Oh, I’ll stitch this right up,” said Ariel.

“How are you, Gold?,” asked Robin. “Sorry we missed your son’s birthday, but Roland was taken ill.”

“You didn’t miss much I’m afraid.”

“Say, how’s your calendar in July?”

Gold frowned. “I haven’t a clue. Why?”

“Sir Reginald is touring America then. He specifically asked after you.”

Jefferson looked at Robin. “Who’s Sir Reginald?”

“We were all at Colditz together. Well, for a time. He wants to have a dinner.”

“I doubt I’ll be able to attend,” said Gold.

“You just said you didn’t know what was on your calendar in July. Surely you can move some things around.”

“I doubt it.”

“What if I said he was coming to California specifically to see you?”

“Then he may as well not come,” Gold snapped.

Jefferson stepped away to make some notes.

Robin stepped closer. “I don’t understand why you insist upon behaving this way. There’s humility but this is beyond reason.”

“I don’t deserve any praise. It’s absurd.”

Ariel returned with the headdress.

“You know you were a brave man once. You might try acting like it sometime,” said Robin, taking the headpiece and leaving.

“What was that about?,” asked Jefferson.

“Ancient history,” said Gold. He motioned at the vest. “Are we nearly finished?”


 

Don entered his office to find Mark behind his desk.

“Was she suitably ill for you?”

“Why are you in my chair?”

“Reading your mail.” He looked up. “Still write to her, do you?”

“Sometimes.”

“Still sending her money?”

“Look, I’m sending Leo some film, do you have anything you want on the reel?”

“The dinner scene, obviously. I think you should wait for the ballroom scene.”

“Yeah, I think Eddie is figuring out his telegrams aren’t getting anywhere so I want to beat him to the punch before he drives to San Francisco to go to Western Union.”

“Then the dungeon scene.”

“Great. We just have to sell him on two scenes starring a guy he almost got rid of last contract signing.”

“Gold’s the right actor. Leo isn’t stupid, he’ll see it straightaway. He must have known George Knight would have never made a good Beast.” He paused. “So, your friend from the Orient, will we be seeing her?”

“Mark.”

“Only asking.”

“No, we will not be seeing her.”

“Well, I’m relieved,” said Mark.

“And why is that?”

Mark shook his head at Don. “You don’t actually believe you’re fooling me, do you?”

“Fooling you about what?”

"Oh, I'm totally fooled," said Mark.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The day’s shoot wrapped early. Mark was frustrated because he hadn’t gotten everything he wanted, something just wasn’t clicking today. Lacey wondered if it was that Robert still seemed off, getting more aloof as the day went on.

She went back to her own dressing room and changed. Giving herself a last glance in the mirror, she wondered if this was a good idea. Denying how she felt would be easy. If not completely easy, it would be safe. It certainly seemed to be the way everyone else acted, she wondered just how many times people had been over to the Golds and seen what happened if David’s confession at lunch was anything to go by.

She decided to do the brave thing.

Lacey knocked on the door of his dressing room. “Robert? It’s me.”

There was a pause before Robert finally called for her.

He was leaning up against his vanity with a Scotch.

“Drink?”

“Yeah.”

He poured her another Scotch and they clinked glasses. Lacey knocked hers back and put the glass down.

“Should we sit?”

“Lacey, I don’t know what we’re doing.”

She smiled. “Want me to spell it out?”

“No, I mean, what could I possibly offer you?”

“Yourself.” She trailed her fingers over his wrist. “That’s all I want.”

“I’m married.”

“Yeah, I know.” She found that frustrating to no end, but didn’t want to talk about that. Not now. She motioned at the sofa. “Come on.”

She guided him back against the sofa and sat in his lap, pulling her dress to bunch up around her thighs. She leaned in to push her lips against his and this time he kissed back. When he dared open his eyes, he could see the pleased smirk on her face.

“Lacey, we can’t...”

“Don’t tell me this is because I can’t want you,” she said. “If you really don’t want me or your marriage means that much to you, really means that much to you, then I’ll accept that and I’ll go. But if you’re going to tell me that I can’t want you, then you should really keep quiet because I know what I’m supposed to want. I married him and except for Colette, it was the biggest mistake of my life. I want you.”

She stared at him, fire behind her blue eyes.

They made him brave for a change.

“My marriage...” he began. “Is a sham, except for Bae.”

She rested her hand on his cheek.

“And I could never say I don’t want you.”

“Do you want this?” She looked meaningfully where they were touching through layers of clothing.

Then came the moment where he couldn’t hold off anymore.

“Oh, God, yes, Lacey.”

He pushed the back of her head towards him, his first time at causing their lips to meet.

He had wanted this. He had wanted this since he laid eyes on her in that goddess dress, he just hadn’t been able to admit it because he was not really the sort of man things went well for.

“What do we do?,” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she gasped between kisses. “Just this. Now. Be with me.”



Regina gathered up her things. There was a knock on the door and she looked up to see Tink.

“You almost out?,” asked Tink.

“Yes. I promised Henry I would have dinner with him.”

“I talked to the Melbourne office. You remember Dudley there, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he’d already had the exact same thought as you and had the attorney send a certified letter to Geoffrey Dumas.”

“Dudley’s a smart cookie, isn’t he? I knew I liked him.”

“The letter came back. Dumas was gone.”

“Gone?,” asked Regina. “Gone where?”

“No idea. Dudley hired a private investigator.”

“Is he really that concerned?”

“He didn’t think he was a well man.”

Regina shrugged. “So long as he’s not here.”

“Right,” said Tink. “Good night.”

“Good night.”

Chapter Text


Despite all the years he had been married and all the years that he knew Milah had been less than loyal, Robert Gold had never considered an affair.

Of course the and Milah had been in love at the beginning. Then they made the big journey to California and it was if too much sunshine had finally revealed everything Milah hated about him.

Then had been the war and his time at Colditz Castle where opportunities for companionship were extremely limited and very male. It didn’t really matter if other men indulged, he just couldn’t get that lonely. Then he had come home and had a mangled leg.

Who would want him?

“Good morning, Mr. Gold.”

Gold turned as Lacey came out of his bathroom wearing the silk robe he kept there.

“Good morning, Miss French,” he said, greeting her with a kiss. He put his cane aside and slid his hands inside the robe to rest on her soft, bare flesh. “Sneaking into my dressing room. How long have you been waiting?”

“Longer than I wanted to.” She smiled. “How was your night? How’s Bae?”

“Milah was out so it was tolerable. Bae and I watched television.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re spending time with him.”

“How’s Colette?”

“We played tea party.”

“That took the whole evening?”

Lacey smiled. “Colette has a very active imagination. Tea party is hours long with plot twists and surprise relatives. Frankly, I’m afraid she’s listening to Granny’s soap operas too much.”

He kissed her.

She beamed back at him. “I thought we’d have some time before your make-up call.”

Gold smiled. “You thought right.”

“Well, let’s not waste it then.”

He had assumed he would feel some guilt over an affair. That wasn’t the case, he felt better every time he was with Lacey. The time he felt the worst about it was when they had to pull themselves apart to go home.


 

 


Producing films was about finding good people and letting them work. At least that’s what Don thought, he knew others differed. So, when he produced something that was shooting, he usually liked to work on finding the next project, making sure the best editor on the lot was booked for post or even seeing what Regina had in mind for the release.

That is unless something went wrong.

Don walked into his office. His secretary, Astrid, sat nervously at the desk.

“Good morning, Mr. Francis.”

“Miss Nova, where’s my ballroom set?”

“I’m sorry?,” the secretary asked.

“See, I was supposed to have a ballroom set and Marco said I would have it two weeks ago! Where the hell is it?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Francis...”

“Well, could you find out?”

“Yes, Mr. Francis. Uh, Mr. Blanchard is on the phone.”

He shook his head. “How the hell does he do that?”

Don walked into his office and picked up the phone.

“You are a lucky son of a bitch.”

Don nodded. “How’s Europe?”

“Either the food is too rich or the weather is too wet. You are a lucky son of a bitch.”

“How’s that?”

“You knew I thought George Knight was the Beast.”

“Did you?”

“And you are a lucky son of a bitch because Robert Gold is a stroke of genius.”

Don allowed himself to smile. “Robert is a genius.”

“Eva watched the dailies. She loves him to my great surprise. I didn’t realize scaly dragon people were anyone’s type.”

“Some of the secretaries mentioned that.”

“Did they? Well, so long as it’s not just my wife. Not to mention the chemistry he has with Lacey French. I never would have guessed that. Eva couldn’t stop talking about it.”

“We’re extremely excited about that, too.”

The door opened. He saw Laurel and Mark come in.

Leo started again. “I’m back in a week. I can’t wait to see everything you have.”

“You won’t be disappointed, Leo.”

The two exchanged anxious looks as Don got off the phone.

“So?,” asked Laurel.

“He loved it. Eva loved it. Eva loved Gold, scales and all.”

“I knew she had a twisted side,” said Mark.

“This is great news,” said Don. “Now if I could just get my damn ballroom.”


 

 

“Obviously, a well-cooked burger is essential, but I’ve found that you need to find the exact right amount of ketchup and mustard....”

They were in the middle of the commissary. Another symptom of being careful, they couldn’t just eat their lunch in their dressing rooms everyday and besides that, there wouldn’t be that much eating.

“Stop it,” said Lacey. She couldn’t quit grinning as Gold dramatically swirled mustard on his burger. 

“What? Too much mustard and it’s too sharp. You want it a little sharp, to make certain there’s something to it...” 

She glanced around her and leaned forward to whisper. “You are not trying to flirt with ketchup and mustard.”

“Who said I was flirting?” He picked up the ketchup bottle. “Now too much ketchup and that’s just sloppy...”

“You’re incorrigible,” she hissed.

Gold smiled back.

“I love hamburgers,” Lacey said, taking another bite. “You know Mrs. Lucas?”

“The woman who sits for Colette sometimes?”

“Yes. She has a diner and she has delicious burgers there. I ate there all the time when I first got here.” Lacey shrugged. “I worked there and she was practically feeding us for free. Granny’s on Magnolia in Burbank. Do you know it?”

“I might have gone a couple of times before the war,” said Gold.

“We should go some time,” said Lacey.

Gold inhaled sharply.

“What?,” asked Lacey.

“Nothing. It’s just a lot of industry people there. At least it was when I went.”

Lacey nodded, her hopes dashed. She knew all the spots normal people went were out, she just wanted to see him somewhere other than their dressing rooms or once in an empty soundstage. “You’re right. A lot of people from the Warner lot and some from Universal.”

Gold quickly tries to change the subject. “Was that your only job when your first came over?”

“Are you kidding? I think I had every job. Maid. That didn’t last, turns out I’m not very good. Shop assistant, dress, hat and flower. I was at a bookstore a week, but I got fired. You can guess why. I didn’t even entirely stop waiting tables until I’d been here a month.” 

“And you’d been a sheep girl,” he said, taking a French fry off her plate. 

“Well,” said Lacey, stealing one off his, “there aren’t a lot of sheep stations in Los Angeles.”

“If there was one, we’d be the only ones qualified to run the place,” said Gold.

“Absolutely.” She giggled. “What about you? How did you come over?”

“Not much to tell, really.”

“I doubt that.”

He took a breath. “You know I went to drama school and Mark was starting out at about the same time. He was under a director doing Hamlet and got me an audition.”

“You got the part?”

“No, I got the understudy. The director got sick, Hamlet got sick and suddenly the show somehow belonged to Mark and I. We tried to keep working together and one day, Don showed up in London.”

“Really?”

“Don was looking for talent to bring back and he asked Mark to come to Storybrooke and if there was anyone else he thought should come. Mark named me.” He shrugged.

“Got the call from Hollywood.”

“I didn’t really want to come at first, but...”

He trailed off, avoiding eye contact with her.

“Milah wanted to?,” Lacey suggested.

“Yeah, she thought she’d be a star.”

“She’s an actress?”

“Well, was. She wasn’t bad, really, but it’s a different set of criteria to be successful here, especially for a woman.” He took another fry. “You didn’t act in Australia?”

Lacey shook her head. “A couple small things, but I really wanted to be a ballerina.”

Gold was speechless.

“What?”

“You’re a ballerina?”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Then what would you say?”

Lacey shrugged. “I got lessons when I went to boarding school. Mum had been a dancer before she got married, but then finances got worse and I had to do correspondence school. I tried to practice when I could, but the sheep were unimpressed.”

“I’m sure the sheep were very impressed.”

“I keep thinking of signing Colette up for lessons somewhere.”

“See if she has the family talent?”

“Something like that, but I keep being afraid she’ll hate it and I’ll make her go anyway.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“I’ll see her in a leotard and a tutu and lose my mind. Do you have any idea how precious she would be? I’d never be able to give it up.”

Gold smiled. “What if she likes it?”

“I suppose it’s possible.”

Lacey caught Gold staring at something. She turned her head to see Killian and one of the studio’s new starlets, Dawn Stephens, a pretty brunette, sitting down at a table.

“Robert?”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

He furrowed his brow. “I just thought that was a publicity stunt by Regina.”

“I don’t know. I saw him walk her to her car, though.”

“Huh.”


 

 

 

Don walked into the set. It was some kind of court scene, with a crowd of extras dancing around Killian and Dawn.

“What the hell is this, Marco?!”

The shout was loud enough to bring the whole thing to a halt.

“Damn it, Don. These people would like to go home someday.”

“This is my set. My set that I have been waiting for quite patiently for weeks! My set that’s for Beauty and the Beast!”

“We’ve all shared sets before, Don.”

“No, not like this, you can have it after me.”

“It’s already done, Don,” said Eddie.

Don turned to Marco. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything?!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Francis. What could I do? I work for the studio.”

“Get me a new ballroom.”

“It’s out of the budget.”

“Then why the hell don’t you take it out of the budget for this movie?! The ballroom scene is everything and you knew that!” He turned to Eddie. “You’re an ass, you know that, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, so you’ve told me," Eddie called back petulantly.


 

 

 

 

The library scene was finished. The Beast had given Belle a library in the castle, expressing genuine kindness for the first time and she had been grateful, hugging him, giving him the first human contact he had in ages. Mark seemed pleased.

Lacey turned to Gold. “What did you think? I feel like we had it.”

“It looked good from here.”

Lacey turned to see Regina and another woman in a blue suit and hat who must have been the one to speak. 

“Lacey,” said Regina, “this is Eliza Travers from Australian Women’s Weekly.”

Eliza held her hand out as Lacey tentatively took it.

“So pleased to meet you, Miss French.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Lacey.

“And this is Lacey’s co-star, Robert Gold.”

“How do you do?,” said Robert, stepping forward.

“This is a treat. You have a lot of fans in Australia, Mr. Gold.”

“Good to know I have them somewhere,” he quipped.

Regina shot a look of disapproval, but the Aussie laughed.

“Lacey, Miss Travers has come a long way to do a profile on you,” said Regina.

“I think it will be worth the journey,” said Eliza. “Miss French is rapidly becoming our readers’ favorite film star.”

Eliza and Regina stared at Lacey expectantly.

“I’m sorry, I just didn’t realize your readers knew who I was.”

“I need to discuss something with Miss French,” said Regina. “I’m sure Mr. Gold would love to tell you all about her.”

“Sure, I’ll get all the dish from your co-star.”

Regina pulled Lacey off to the side.

“What is the problem?”

“You didn’t say it was a profile for an Australian magazine.”

“Does it matter?”

“I just didn’t realize you publicized that much in Australia.”

“Of course we do. They have movie theaters there, we make movies.”

“I wouldn’t know. I grew up a day’s journey from the nearest movie theater.”

Regina shook her head. “How do you people live there?” She sighed. “I know what this is.”

“You do?”

“The hometown jitters. I’ve seen it happen, well, I’ve seen it happen. You get nervous wondering what people will think about you. This will be fine. Just do the interview the way you have but be sure to mention how you appreciate all of your Australian fans.”

“Right,” said Lacey, nodding.

She could do this. She had to.

No choice at this point.


 

“It happens,” said Mark, thumbing through the script for the Jones picture.

“Marco sells us out to Eddie and that’s your response?”

“We’ll get another ballroom.”

“I wanted the ballroom I was promised.”

“Perhaps it was too grand.”

“Too grand? It’s a ballroom.”

“The point of the story isn’t the ballroom as nice as the dance may be. The point is that Beauty and the Beast are together. So long as they have their love for each other, nothing else bloody matters.”

“We’ve already got a ball gown and we are damn well using it. I want Lacey French in that ball gown dancing with Robert Gold as the Beast to be what sells this picture.”

Mark ignored the rant, gesturing with the script. “You know, this script is actually quite good. I didn’t realize Steve had it in him.”

“You mean it’s not the same pirate schlock?”

“Well, there is a pirate and he boards this Duke’s ship. He’s on his way to court a princess to better his fortunes, so the pirate doesn’t find treasure, just a royal letter of introduction. The pirate decides to pose as the Duke with the intent of robbing the castle, but falls for the princess. He tries to leave her be, but the Duke arrives and exposes him.”

Don frowned. “That does actually sound good.”

“The princess’ mother is a piece of work.”

“Yeah?”

“Nothing the princess does is good enough, layers of guilt.”

“Let me see.”

Don took the script and quickly skimmed through it.

Then he saw red. 


 

 

 

Lacey was on eggshells. Regina and Eliza had come home with her. The reporter had insisted on Lacey continuing with whatever she normally did, occasionally a flashbulb would go off in Lacey’s face from her as she tried to cook dinner.

“So, Lacey, why come to America?”

“Well, I...” Eliza stared at her intently, ready to take copious notes. “I was alone with Colette. No family. I suppose I wanted a fresh start.”

“A bit impulsive, wouldn’t you say?”

“Well, I am sometimes. My mother thought it was my biggest flaw.”

“It seems to have worked out for you.”

“Yeah, it has.”

“How do you manage being a mum and working?”

Lacey shrugged. “It’s difficult, but I know a lot of women have to do the same. Being in films doesn’t make me special.” Regina looked almost pleased with her. “I do have some help, of course, but nothing is more important than Colette.”

“No man in your life then?”

“No,” Lacey said too quickly, then tried to cover it up with a smile.

“Mama...”

“Yes, baby?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Well, we’re still a little bit away from that.” Lacey got an apple and quickly cut it into slices.

“So, Colette,” said Eliza, “what’s it like having a mum who’s a film star?”

Colette turned from her apple slice to look up at Lacey with wide eyes.

“Good,” said Colette.

The women laughed. Lacey rubbed her back.

“Well, so long as Colette’s happy, that’s what matters,” she said.


 


Don walked into Laurel’s office.

“Thank you for knocking.”

“Who do you work for?”

She looked up from the typewriter. “Excuse me?”

“Do you work for me or do you work for Eddie?”

“I don’t know what you...”

He tossed the script on the table. “You always write your mother, remember?”

Laurel took a moment. “I work for the studio.”

“So you just let Steve put his name on it. Funny, I remember that being how we met. Then I remember Steve dumping you and I picked up the pieces.”

“Well, why don’t you just rub that in?”

“I just thought I earned some loyalty.”

“Loyalty? Do you want to stand in front of me and talk about loyalty?”

“And just what the hell does that mean?”

“What do you think? Oh, just so you know, your brilliant plan didn’t work and Eddie was going to tell Leo weeks ago. Luckily, all I had to do was fix Steve’s miserable pirate piece into something that people over the age of twelve could enjoy.”

“They stole our ballroom by the way!,” he snapped.

She didn’t answer and resumed typing.

“Oh, right, the silent treatment.”

He walked out, letting the door slam.

 


 

The woman finally left. Regina had seemed pleased with the result and all that was left was to put Colette to bed.

It got so lonely at night now. She was used to alone, only child, then a husband who would rather wander about than be with her, then the war and the move. Of course she had Colette, but it was different than having someone to share your feelings with. Colette needed her to be strong.

With Robert though it was as if she’d finally found something she’d been missing. Like she was finally with someone.

The phone rang, making her realize she hadn’t been actually reading her book for some time now.

She was perplexed, who would call her at this time? “Hello?”

“Hey.”

“Hey.” She relaxed and sat back down on the sofa, bringing the phone with her. “What are you doing out this late?”

“Actually, I had a second line put in just in my room. I’ll give you the number.”

Lacey smiled. “You got a second line just to talk to me?”

“I can’t think of a better reason. I’m glad it got done. You had me worried.”

“Oh?”

“You acted so strangely when Regina brought that reporter in. I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“I’m fine,” she lied. “It’s just they want to know things about me, about Colette’s father... I know it’s part of the job, I just hate playing the part of the devoted widow.”  

“Then why do you do it?”

“Colette doesn’t need to know.”

“What did he do to you?”

“I don’t think that’s a conversation I can have over the phone.”

“Ah.”

“I will tell you sometime.”

“What were you reading?”

She laughed. “How did you know I was reading?”

“You always are.”

“It’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.”

He grunted. “Really, Lacey? Hardy?”

“What’s wrong with Hardy?,” she protested.

“If I wanted to get depressed and talk about farming, I could just go back to Scotland and sit in the pub.”

“I love his words, though.”

“Read to me, then.”

“You want me to read to you?”

“If you want.”

“Which part?”

“Anything.”

Lacey pulled her book back towards her, this act feeling strangely intimate. She decided to start reading at a passage in the first chapter.

“The difference between the peacefulness of interior nature and the wilful hostilities of mankind was very apparent at this place. In contrast with the harshness of the act just ended within the tent was the sight of several horses crossing their necks and rubbing each other lovingly as they waited in patience to be harnessed for the homeward journey. Outside the fair, in the valleys and woods, all was quiet. The sun had recently set, and the west heaven was hung with rosy cloud, which seemed permanent, yet slowly changed. To watch it was like looking at some grand feat of stagery from a darkened auditorium. In presence of this scene after the other there was a natural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an otherwise kindly universe; till it was remembered that all terrestrial conditions were intermittent, and that mankind might some night be innocently sleeping when these quiet objects were raging loud...”

Suddenly, she didn’t feel so alone.

Chapter Text


The weekend.

It had now gone from welcome respite to the longest part of Lacey’s week. It meant that she had to survive from whatever she and Robert had managed to sneak in on Friday- in this case a quick fumble in his dressing room during lunch- until Monday when she could see him again. After so many years of surviving alone, the weekends somehow seemed cruel now.

The highlight was Colette and she had taken Robert’s advice, signing her up for ballet class. She accompanied her on Saturday morning and though the teacher did try to assure her that the other mothers left, Lacey couldn’t. She tried to hide and not let Colette see as she watched her learn the most basic movements.

“Did you like ballet?,” Lacey asked as they walked back towards the bungalow.

“Yes, Mama.”

“Because you don’t have to do it if it’s not fun,” said Lacey.

“No, Mama, I had fun.”

“Good.” Lacey smiled. “Good.”

“Hey!”

Lacey turned to see Ruby getting out of her car.

“I called but you didn’t answer,” said Ruby.

“I was out,” said Lacey.

“Yeah, kind of caught me by surprise with that,” said Ruby. “Which is why I was calling.”

“Oh?”

“I thought you could use some of your movie stardom and get us into the Casa Del Rio.”

“A nightclub? Oh, Ruby, I don’t think so.”

“Why not? It’s going to be Gerhard and his brother.”

“Victor?”

“He’s a Special Effects guy at Storybrooke. His brother does stunts. Come on. It’s just drinks.”

Lacey sighed. “Who would watch Colette?”

“I already got Mrs. Schuman to agree. Come on.”



This weekend seemed to drag on forever.

Bae had just gone to bed. Milah was holed up in her room with a bottle of wine. She had been wretched all week.

Gold quietly went back to his room and locked the door before he dialed Lacey.

“Hello?”

He smiled. “Colette, is that you?”

“Who is this?,” she snapped back.

“Robert. Do you remember me? Your mum’s friend?”

“Yes.”

Gold waited. The girl seemed to be taking no steps to moving closer to handing the phone over.

“I don’t suppose I could speak to your mother?”

“She’s not home.”

“She’s not?”

“She went out and I have to listen to stupid Mrs. Schuman. She told me to go to bed.”

Gold looked at the clock. “It is a bit late, sweetheart.”

“Mama always puts me in bed.”

“Where is Mrs. Schuman?”

“She fell asleep.”

Gold nodded. “Well, sweetheart, why don’t you go on up to bed then and I’m certain your mum will see you when she comes in.”

Colette finally agreed. Gold wondered where Lacey went out to, it certainly wasn’t like her and she hadn’t mentioned any plans the day before.


 

 

 

Lacey was already regretting this.

Yes, she had underestimated her fame. The nightclub owner was only too happy to have Miss Lacey French and her friends take one of the center tables. She noted that Killian and Dawn were at another one not far off. The music was good, a performance by Dorothy Dandridge, but the company was not.

Ruby was interested in the brother, Gerhard, leaving Lacey to try to find the right level of interest with Victor so she wouldn’t be seen as rude, but to let him know nothing else would be happening. Ruby and Gerhard went to dance, Lacey refused, claiming her heels hurt.

He didn’t get the hint.

“You must get lonely,” mused Victor.

“I really don’t.”

“I know I would. Anyone would really.”

“I don’t.”

“You must want... companionship?”

Lacey suddenly felt a cold hand on her thigh. Her eyes widened. She then realized a photographer was close by.

Her instinct was to run, but she couldn’t do that. Not where people could see, not while people were watching her. Ruby was no help. “Take your hand off.”

“You need to relax.”

“Now.”

The photographer got his snapshot with Lacey forced to smiled all the while. As soon as he was gone, she stamped on his foot with her heel.

“Bitch, what’s your problem?!”

Lacey stood and Victor grabbed her by the wrist.

“Lacey, love, how are you?”

Lacey was surprised to find Killian standing next to her. He managed to yank Lacey’s wrist away from Victor and she held it back against herself.

She saw the photographer coming round again.

“I just thought I’d say hi,” said Killian. “Do you know Dawn Stephens?”

He motioned at the petite young woman next to him.

“I don’t think we’ve met formally,” said Dawn.

“No, I don’t think we have,” she said, pretending to be chatting.

“Over here!,” called the photographer.

They smiled for a picture as Victor tried to get his face in it. The photographer left.

“Come have a drink with us,” Dawn said brightly.

“I’m tired, I think I ought to go home,” said Lacey.

“Well, let’s get you a taxi,” said Killian. “Good night, Victor.”

They were in the long hallway leading out to the front when Dawn broke her smile.

“Are you okay?”

Lacey shrugged. “He got a bit grabby with my thigh.”

Dawn shook her head in disgust. “He’s such a creep. He did effects on my last two pictures. I knew you were in trouble when I saw you with him.”

“She insisted I save you,” said Killian.

“Please,” said Dawn. “It’s much easier to get rid of unwanted attention if you send in another man because you all don’t listen to us.”

“I listen,” said Killian.

“Well, thank you,” said Lacey, “whatever the reason.”

Killian went off to get a taxi. Lacey turned back to Dawn.

“Have you been seeing each other long?,” she asked as she realized just how strange this was. She was talking to her lover’s wife’s lover’s possible new girlfriend.”

“Well, it’s nothing serious yet,” said Dawn. She leaned in, eyeing Killian. “I think he has an ex he can’t seem to shake off.”

Lacey nodded. “That’s always difficult.”

Killian returned. “Your carriage awaits.”

“Thank you,” said Lacey. “Good night.”


 

Goldie walked over to Bae and took the paper.

“What are you doing? You know you shouldn’t be reading that rag.”

The boy pouted. “It’s the paper.”

“It’s a tabloid.”

Robert entered. “What’s going on?”

“Mister Nealfire thinks he’s an adult,” said Goldie, handing the paper over to Gold.

“I told you. It’s Neal.”

“Well, your father says it’s Baelfire, I’m just trying to meet you both in the middle.”

Gold smirked until he caught a look at the front page of the tabloid. It was a photograph of Lacey French, some man and Killian Jones at a nightclub.

It was so not good on a number of levels.

“Goldie, please dispose of this,” he said.

“I read that,” said Milah, suddenly appearing. She looked more haggard than usual and Gold could guess the reason why. She snatched the paper from him.

Her face fell. Gold went to the table as the maid hurriedly turned to her work. He could see Milah fuming out of the corner of his eye, but she chose somewhere other than her lover to place her bitterness.

“Well,” said Milah, “it looks as if that costar of yours is quite the tart.”

Gold tried to stop his blood boiling as he began preparing his tea.

“Miss French is most certainly not any such thing, dearie,” said Gold.

Milah scoffed as she sat. “And how would you know? She probably slept her way up. How else could she have gotten her studio contract?”

“Really, dearie, it’s entirely too early for this and you seem to forget Bae is in the room.”

“I bet when you’re not looking she’s off for a quick fumble with that George Knight in his dressing room.”

“I highly doubt it.”

“How would you know, Robert? How would you know anything?”

“Well, I know Killian Jones is awfully fond of his new costar.”

He regretted it as soon as he said it. If Milah had been one of Bae’s cartoons, smoke would have come from her ears.

“He is what?”

“Nothing.” He looked at his son. “Bae, eat your breakfast.”

“Oh, I see, you have a little crush on her, don’t you? It’s obvious. You put her on a pedestal, Robert, but honestly, she will never be serious about you. How could any reasonably attractive woman want to be tied to an aging cripple?”


 

It had been a week since the debacle with Laurel’s script and  the situation had yet to change. Laurel and Don exchanged the bare minimum of words. Mark waited out the morning discussing when the new ballroom would be done as Lacey had to see Regina. Mark finally sighed.

Don looked up from his coffee and the morning trades. “What?”

“How long are you going to keep this up?”

“Keep what up?”

“Your senseless bickering with Laurel.”

“Oh, so you’re taking her side?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “I am not taking anyone’s side. I just want you to reconcile already.”

“She shouldn’t have written for Eddie and not let Steve take the credit.”

“It is how you met her.”

“So we’re going backwards? Maybe she can move back in with him.”

“And there we have it...”

“There we have what?,” Don snapped.

Mark sighed. “If I have to play matchmaker for you, you really are scraping the bottom of the barrel, old boy. How long have you known her? Twelve years?”

Don was silent and looked back at Variety.

“And in that time you have done absolutely everything short of actually telling her how you feel.”

“Do you remember the part where she was married?”

“Yes, she was so married that when you found out she was in hospital you flew across an ocean even though her husband was there then helped her get a divorce. Even though you were engaged. Have I missed anything?”

Don kept his eyes on his paper.

“I don’t pretend to know how a marriage is supposed to work. I’ve never had the chance. I do know it’s much easier for you to be the person you love than it is for people like me.” He stood and picked up his folio. “So you’ll pardon me if I think you’re being a fool.”

The door opened and Laurel entered.

She looked straight at Mark.

“Are you going to set?”

“Yes, I am, as a matter of fact.”

“I had thoughts.”

“I’ll be glad to hear them.” He looked expectantly at Don who made no move to look up.

Mark went to leave and he spoke.

“Laurel, the shoot with the villagers storming the castle is next Monday night.” He didn’t take his eyes off the paper. “Are you up for it?”

“Of course I am.”

“Good.”

Mark rolled his eyes and the two left.  


 


Lacey didn’t like being questioned by Regina.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Lacey. “A friend asked me to go out and I never should have agreed to it.”

“Well, you have that part correct,” Regina mused. “This friend of yours. Ruby Lucas. She’s the one who brought Colette to the studio?”

“Yes. She babysits for me sometimes.”

“And you wouldn’t be more than friends?”

Lacey frowned. “She’s a good friend?”

Regina shook her head. “Think no more of it.” She motioned at the photo. “Besides, it’s plain to see you weren’t enjoying yourself.”

Lacey snorted. “I wasn’t.”

“We can get away with this. You’ll just have to make it a point to mention in interviews what a homebody you are, how a friend took you out and all you could think of was getting back home to little Colette.”

“That was all I could think of.”

“Then it ought to be easier to tell that story. If you do ever decide to date seriously, please let me come up with a list of recommendations.”

“No, thank you,” said Lacey.

“You really have no desire to remarry?,” asked Regina. “After all, you’re not that old. You could still have more children, a father for Colette... Companionship?”

“It’s not that I don’t desire all that,” said Lacey, carefully censoring herself, “it’s that I don’t know if I’ll ever find that and be able to get it. You should know how hard it is.”

“Excuse me?”

Lacey motioned at the photos on the desk. “You haven’t remarried after Henry’s father.”

“Daniel? We were engaged, but he died in a riding accident before the war. Henry’s mother boarded with me during the war and became ill.”

Lacey looked at her sympathetically.

“Ovarian cancer. Henry became my ward.”

“That’s very generous of you, to open your heart like that.”

Regina shook her head. “It was nothing of the sort.” She pulled her handkerchief from her jacket pocket. “I’ll have Tink contact you with the dates for those interviews.”

“Right. Thank you. It won’t happen again.”


 

 


Lacey spent the rest of the day shooting with the actor who played Maurice. She didn’t have a scene with Robert, but Mark mentioned he was on the lot so she went back to his dressing room as soon as they were done.

“Robert? What are you doing in here? Where have you been all day?”

Lacey’s eyes went to the coffee table and the gossip rag on it, along with the half empty bottle of scotch. She looked up at him.

“You don’t believe that, do you?”

Gold shrugged. “I don’t suppose it’s my place to expect anything, dearie.”

Lacey crossed her arms. “You’re right. It’s not your place to expect anything.”

“Then we’re in agreement.”

“Ruby made me go. I didn’t enjoy myself at all.”

“None of my business really. I can see you were out with your friends and ran into Killian Jones. I’m sure you all had a great time together, laughing.”

“You utter ass,” said Lacey. “I am well aware that Killian is no angel, but he and Dawn did save me from a bad situation. Is that what this all is to you? Some fling? That I could just trade it for some bloke off the street who I had never laid eyes on before?”

Gold didn’t answer and kept drinking.

“And do you suppose seeing me at a nightclub with another man is any harder than what I have to do?”

“And what is it you have to do?,” he snarled.

She looked at him in disbelief.

“I have to watch you go home every night to a wife who doesn’t just despise you, no, she tries to crush you, pour poison in your ear, she kills little pieces of you every night and then I have to worry about how I’m going to put them back together and if I can’t how much of you will there be left? And I just keep wanting to bang my head against a wall when I try to figure out why you’re still there!”

She stared at him.

“Why are you still there? Just take me out of the whole equation, pretend I never existed. Why are you still there?”

Gold didn’t answer.

“Fine,” said Lacey. “If you can’t save yourself, why should I try?”

He snorted mirthlessly. “I need saving now?”

“Yes!,” Lacey snapped back. “You need saving more than anyone I have ever met in my whole life!”

Lacey slammed the door as she left leaving Gold with his Scotch.

Chapter Text

 


Then


It was a good night. Gold was saying goodbye to his friends, not a real one, just until the end of the war. Don had thrown a party at his place, he walked around, Milah on his arm.

He would be lying if he said he was not at all nervous. After all, it was war. When he was a boy, he had seen men come back from the front, maimed, blinded or worse. The poor bastards, unable to work, starving in the streets.

So long as he didn’t come back like that. His son needed a father, not a burden.

He realized that he heard quiet tears out by the pool.

“Laurel?”

She looked up. “Oh, Robert, sorry.”

“Are you crying?”

“No, I-” She sighed. “Yes.”

He sat down next to her. “Where’s your husband?”

“Somewhere in there. I don’t bother him with this sort of thing.”

Robert paused. “It’s not as if they can just send a letter.”

“It’s not as if they can do much of anything.”

“They’ll be fine,” said Gold. It was hollow, but he felt as if it was the sort of thing he had to say. “The war can’t last forever.”

“Laurel?”

They looked up to see Don had joined them outside.

He didn’t need to be told.

“It’ll be fine,” said Don.

Laurel laughed. “I keep hearing that.”

“Well, Robert and Mark are going to go save the world,” said Don.

Gold frowned. “I think you might have me confused with someone.”

Don helped Laurel up and Robert stood.

“Come on. It’s toast time.”

Gold went inside to find Milah talking to David and Mary Margaret.

“There you are,” said Milah. She linked arms with him. “I don’t want you out of my sight.”

Mary Margaret shook her head. “It’s just so awful. Everything. I hope it doesn’t last long.”

“I’m sure it won’t.”

There was the sound of a spoon against a glass. They turned to see Don.

“I just wanted to propose a toast to our friends from across the pond.”

Don held up his glass and everyone followed suit.

“Robert Gold and Marcus Dashwood, the best of luck to you. To Robert and Mark!”

The rest of the room echoed him and they drank. 


Now


Gold hadn’t called Lacey all week or the following weekend. Of course they spoke when they worked, but there were no stolen moments. They were all out in the open, plain for everyone to see.

Mark was waiting when he came out of the makeup department mid-afternoon. They were on night shoots this week to film the villagers attacking the Beast’s castle.

“Come, I want to show you before it gets too dark.”

Mark drove him into the section of forest at the end of the studio property. There was a castle facade built into a hillside.

“It looks like Colditz,” Gold remarked.

“Yes, I might have mentioned it to Marco,” he answered. “Come see this.”

Mark led him around the elaborate facade to another balcony set.

“Not indoors?”

“No, I have some special effects I want to use.”  Mark took a breath. “We’ll be doing some of the villagers action tonight, but I want it to be about the Beast’s reaction, what it means to be hunted, his heartache at losing the only woman he loved, the only hope of breaking his curse, his very life.”

Gold nodded.

“Think of Hamlet.”

Gold didn’t answer.

“You do remember your Hamlet, don’t you, Robert?”

“Of course I remember Hamlet.”

“Alright. Prove it.”

He sighed.

“To be or not to be, that is the question, whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...”


Then

 

He ran.

The sound of bullets, the haze of the smoke, the bitter cold, they all conspired in one onslaught of sensation. Something metallic? Not like the bullets. Yes, that would be the blood.

Was he running?

Was he retreating?

Was that his blood?

Gold didn’t really know. All that finally registered was a rifle being set towards him.

“Halt!”

He regained enough thought to put together that the voice he was hearing was German and that running at this point would probably equal death.

“Auftauchen Sie um mit den Händen!”

He didn’t quite know what that was and but kept his hands in the air. He had no intention of reaching for his sidearm, no will to  take out one or two of his German counterparts.

One of the Germans reached up and turned him around, taking his gun from its holster.

“Rumpelstilzchen,” said the amazed German officer. He turned to the other members of the unit. “Rumpelstilzchen. Sieh mal! Ich gefangen Rumpelstilzchen!”



They marched him back to where the other men from his unit were. There were furtive whispers and frequent glances at him. He knew the look of course. He had seen it ever since The Miller’s Daughter became a hit. That had been his ticket to fame and a fat studio contract and an Academy Award. He wasn’t just Robert Gold anymore, he was Rumplestiltskin.

Or Rumpelzstilchen at the moment.

“You see, I don’t think he’s evil at all,” Laurel had said.

He remembered eyeing the petite woman. He had been surprised to find she was the writer, even more so to find it wasn’t the usual fairy tale.

“You don’t?”

“Why would someone ask for a child? The answer is that he wants love. More than he knows.”

Gold was soon separated from his unit and put aboard a train. Nobody told him where he was going, but he knew it was further inland and the fact that he was alone gave him no comfort as he stared across the car at his two German guards.

God, how old could they have been? They had to be just kids marching around in fancy dress shouting Heil Hitler.

Somehow he managed to fall asleep. He noticed the giant spot on his captor’s forehead as he awoke and got himself together.

They put him aboard a jeep and they drove through the town up past a river. He was surprised when he finally realized their destination. A great white castle, better than any set Marco could build.

Schloss Colditz.


“Lieutenant Gold, welcome to Colditz Castle. I’m Captain Reinhold Eggers. Any questions you have I shall be happy to answer.”

“What happened to the rest of my unit?”

Eggers spoke a few words to the officer that had come with Gold. He then turned back.

“They’re being held back closer to where you were captured.”

“What am I doing here?”

“You’ve been granted Prominente status.”

“Prominente? What does that mean?”

“A bit like a celebrity. You’ll be staying with others like yourself.”

“Why?” This was all starting to be even more surreal than it already had been.

“The Fuehrer is an admirer of yours and Die Mullerstochter.”

He knew tha title in German. That just figured.

“Does he know a Jewess wrote it?”

He had expected to elicit some disdain. Eggers just looked at him.

“Would you like to tell him?”

“Not particularly.”


 

Dear Robert,

I suppose I should start by asking how you are and I can guess how you are. I shall only say that I hope this letter finds you in good health and as good spirits as one can ask for.

You will have heard, I think, that the war has reached us even in Hollywood. I just saw Don off yesterday as he’s destined for Melbourne on his way to the Pacific. Next week we say goodbye to David Nolan and Jefferson Hatter. One by one, everyone’s leaving. Except for us women.

As for your production of Hamlet, it does sound like an intriguing proposition, but I don’t know that I’ll be able to make it. I have enclosed some notes.


Your Friend,

Laurel


Days passed, then weeks, then months and it had finally been over a year.

There was a routine in Colditz Castle. There was sport and theater and discussion. Gold was house in an area with the other Prominente.

He knew if he was going to be locked up by the Germans, his circumstances could be much, much worse. The stories on their contraband radio told him that along with the fact he had never heard from anyone else in his unit. He was special, a fact he wasn’t particularly proud of.

They still got parcels and that was how he kept in touch with Laurel and got the odd letter from Mark. He had heard once or twice from Milah since his arrival, but not more. He assumed something was happening to her letters and wrote, asking for news of home and Bae.

Home was like a lifetime ago.

Sir Reginald entered the room. “News from home?”

“My friend in Hollywood,” he said. He motioned at the parcel. “The writer. She sent some things if you’re interested.”

Sir Reginald appraised the box with its selection of chocolate and biscuits. “She’s very generous.”

“No tinned caviar I’m afraid.”

“My daughter’s just a bit impractical,” he said apologetically. “A life of shopping and balls has done little to prepare her for the hardships of this war.”

Sir Reginald was of course in an entirely different social sphere like all of the other Prominente. Gold was a farmboy who had managed to make some talking pictures. He doubted if they had met on the street in London any of them would have given him the time of day, but that hardly seemed to matter here. His daughter was excellent at shopping though and her parcels showed it.

“Whose life was preparation enough for this?,” he asked.

“You make an interesting point, Gold.”


 

Soon enough, Gold had to head off to the rehearsal of the Colditz Theater’s latest production. When he had first arrived at Colditz, there had been a bit of fanfare from the other prisoners, but little did he know it had been slightly mercenary in nature. The camp was home to a number of activities to divert the prisoners, one of them being the makeshift dramatic society. The men took it quite seriously, one was so enthusiastic he grew out his hair to better look the female parts.

He was not alone these days. There had been another actor arrived at the camp, Robin Loxley. Gold had seen him around London before he left for California, he had been in a few low budget films and some plays. He was not famous enough to be among the Prominente, he was just at Colditz for his previous escape attempts. His resume seemed immaterial at the moment, Gold was just pleased to have someone else to help handle the many acting questions. That left him to direct, something he knew Marcus Dashwood would have something to say about, but had no wish for the man to join him so he could hear it.

Though to be perfectly honest, Gold knew if Mark ever found out he was directing Shakespeare, let alone Hamlet, he would probably parachute into Colditz Castle himself to take control of the situation.

The man playing Hamlet today was called Harry, some Oxford nitwit who Robin promised wasn’t a bad sort, but Gold had a hard time accepting it.

“Stop!,” he shouted. “Stop!”

Everyone in the rehearsal turned to face Gold. Harry stared at him.

“Did I miss a line?”

“No, you got all the lines,” Gold promised. “The problem is that this is quite possibly the greatest soliloquy in the corpus of Western literature and you are turning it into a pile of shite.”

There were snickers. Harry looked affronted. Gold could feel Robin hiding his smirk next to him.

“I may be stuck in this castle, but I’ll not sit here and listen to you ruin it. What’s it about?”

“Hamlet? It’s about revenge.”

“Good God, where did you go to grammar school?”

“I went to Eton.”

“Really?,” Gold wondered. Mark was the only person he knew who went to Eton and he understood Hamlet. He shook it off. “This play is not some young man’s revenge fantasy, it’s life and death and everything. This speech, Hamlet’s pondering why he ought to continue to exist. He’s wondering why he ought to bother living. Is it really worth it?”


 

A few days later, mid-afternoon, Robin was pulling him aside.

“Gold, come on.”

“What?”

“We’re going.”

“Going where?”

Robin shoved a gray greatcoat at him. He looked up to see some of the Dutch officers. Jaap was their leader, he didn’t speak Dutch, but he knew that much. The only other British officer was Keith Nottingham. 

“To freedom.”

When the Germans invaded Holland, they had been in short supply on their own uniforms, confiscating Dutch officer’s gray greatcoats. So the plan was a sound one, simply dressing like German officers and walking out of the place. It simply looked like shift change. Gold didn’t know if the gate guard had been bribed or was incompetent, but all they had to do was walk out of the castle walls and through the town.

It was just walking.

Gold let himself get carried away in the delusion of that. 

He could leave this place. He could almost see Milah and Bae’s face. He had begun to play out his return.

He could go home.

They made their way through the woods by the river when they began to hear the siren from the castle. The Dutchmen began to speak excitedly and run. Robin, the other Brits and Gold followed suit.

He heard an expletive in Dutch and looked up.

“Bollocks,” said Robin.

“We should split up,” said Jaap.

“Right,” said Robin. “We’ll meet at the rendezvous.”

They divided and ran. Robin held up his hand for them to stop as they heard voices in the distance.

The voices of boys. Gold caught a glance at them from behind a tree. It was definitely schoolboys, in their Hitler Youth uniforms. Since manpower was at a deficit thanks to German conscription, the guards at Colditz would often enlist their help when a prisoner went missing.

These boys nearing them couldn’t possibly be older than fourteen.

“We can take them,” said Keith.

“What?,” asked Gold.

“If we don’t,  they’ll call the guards and we’ll be back where we started.”

“They’re children,” Robin said incredulously.

“So what? Do you think they’d save us if the situation were reversed? They’re Germans. That’s all.”

Keith was completely serious. Gold looked to see he had a knife in his hands. He didn’t know how he had managed to get one, he suspected he didn’t want to know.

“I’ll distract them,” said Gold.

“What?,” asked Robin.

“Take him and go,” said Gold nodding at Keith.

“You coward,” said Keith.

“I’d rather be that than what you’re suggesting.”

“Fine. On your head be it,” said Keith, starting off on his own.

“Go with him,” said Gold.

“No, I won’t leave you. What about your family?”

Gold didn’t want to think about that, he was watching Keith to make certain he left. “Go make certain he doesn’t come back. Now.”

Gold ran off, a few feet away from Robin before he started shouting. The other man quickly vanished into the forest and it wasn’t long before he was face to face with three youths.

They seemed even younger up close, the youngest freckle-face blew his whistle.

Gold held his hand up.

“Alright, you found me,” he said, having no idea if they knew any English. It was doubtful, hardly anyone at the castle did so he wasn’t holding out much hope for the town’s children.

“Rumpelstilzchen,” said the oldest, a sour-faced boy with a sneer.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s right. Rumpelstilzchen.”

It was now that he noticed the boy’s club.

The first blow was to his head.


 

Gold awoke back in his room with Sir Reginald.

“There, there, old man...”

He looked up. Eggers was in the doorway, one of the German doctors was at the foot of his cot. He edged up to get a look at his ankle.

It was a hideous, twisted mess and it hurt like hell. It was bloody, mangled and in the wrong direction.

Eggers walked over. “He says you’ll never walk correctly again. He would reset it, but there’s too much damage.”

Gold grimaced. Never walk. No escape and even if he could escape what to? His son. How would he ever play with him? How the hell could a crippled actor get by?

“The boy responsible has been disciplined,” Eggers said like that was reassurance.

Sir Reginald stood.

“Surely this is grounds for compassionate repatriation,” he said. “Let him go home, get treatment.”

“I am afraid not,” said Eggers. He looked at Gold. “The commandant is impressed by the sacrifice you made for your comrades, but not willing to let you go home for injuries you brought upon yourself.”

“You know it’s the first duty of a prisoner to escape,” said Sir Reginald. “No one realized you were sending hoodlums to aid in the search.”

“As I said, the boy is being dealt with. I know his parents,” said Eggers. “Besides, Lieutenant Gold is still a favorite of the Fuehrer’s.”

“Lucky me,” he muttered.

“Try to get some rest,” said Sir Reginald.
 


 

It was at the final rehearsal for Hamlet that Gold struggled in. Everyone watched as his new walking stick tapped against the castle floors.

“Gold,” said Harry. “We weren’t expecting you.”

He didn’t answer. He just sat in an empty chair.

“Let’s hear it,” he said.

“Hear what?”

He smiled mirthlessly. “The bloody soliloquy.”

“What one-”

“To be or not to be, that is the question,” Gold cut him off, unnecessarily loud. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles.  And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream, ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come?”
Harry stared at him.

“Get it now?,” asked Gold.

“Yes, I think I might.”

Gold nodded. “Good.”



There was never any compassionate repatriation. There was the same routine Gold endured since the day he arrived at Colditz Castle.

Then finally in the last harrowing days the Prominente were to be shuffled further in towards Berlin, away from the Allied advance and there was a last minute deal to spare their lives.

Then it was over. They could go home.

It was Independence Day when he finally made it home. He had spent the months after liberation in an army hospital in the countryside. When they decided they had done all they could for him, it was time to go home.

The holiday wasn’t his, but he had always been invited to someone’s home for it. It was strange, the jubilation over having defeated Germany, the anxiety over still having another enemy to defeat.

His war was over, though and so he let the taxi take him home, tried to reacquaint himself with the chatty American nature.

The front door of the house was unlocked and he was glad for it.

He heard footsteps and a boy came running in. It took him a moment to put together that this was his boy. He had been a toddler when Gold had left

“Bae.”

His son looked at him like he was a stranger.

Which of course he was.

Gold felt the sting of the moment he had dreamt of coming out so wrongly, so different from the way he had imagined it a thousand times over.

“Bae, it’s me. Papa.”

Baelfire ran from the living room and Gold could only hobble to follow as Milah descended the stairs.

“You’re back,” she said. It was merely a statement of fact, not relief or joy.

Gold stood frozen by the sudden chill in her countenance.

“You know, I heard a story about you. That you wouldn’t fight.”

He shook his head. “What?”

“Keith Nottingham told everyone back in London that you were content to be a German prisoner rather than go back to the fight.”

“That’s not what happened at all-”

Milah shrugged. “I’ve been stuck here to play devoted wife to a coward and you? I heard you were putting on plays. Other men fought and died. David Nolan has a chest full of medals.” She motioned at his leg. “And now you’re a cripple.”

For the first time Gold began to understand that Milah’s not coming to his side was not about the journey, the perils or Bae’s well-being. It was about he and Milah.

“Milah, if you’ll just let me tell you what happened, I can explain everything-”

“Did you give up your chance to escape?”

He cringed. “Yes, but-”

“I don’t care.”

Milah walked away.

“To be or not to be...” he mumbled. “That is the question.”


 


The Beast stood on the balcony. Special effects rain and lightning tore out into the night as George Knight led the villagers up the hill with torches.

“Good God,” Mark muttered.

Lacey watched from behind the camera. This scene was all about Gold’s reactions.

She felt tears on her cheek and wiped them away.

“Alright,” called Mark, over the fake rain, “in your own time, to your knees.”

She watched the moment he chose to collapse, crumpled, the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Lacey knew it wasn’t acting.

“Face me, Beast,” said George.

He turned and he looked so frail, so tired, so small.

“Robert?,” Lacey asked as he walked back to his dressing room. “Robert?”

He stopped and Lacey suddenly realized she had no idea what to say, what magic words could alter him.

“You were... amazing,” said Lacey.

“Lacey, just... forget about me. I’m not worth it.”

He slouched away on his cane.

Chapter Text

 


1936

Don walked into his office.

“Miss Nova, where’s my draft?”

“I’m sorry?” She looked up at him in confusion.

“I’m supposed to have a draft from Mr. Berger and I have nothing. I have had nothing for two days. I know you’re new here, but when I ask for something, it’s your job to make it appear like a fairy godmother.”

“Yes, Mr. Francis. You have a visitor...”

Astrid motioned and he turned around to face a woman he had never laid eyes on before. Brown hair, brown eyes and a certain elegance.

“Do I know you?”

“I expect not.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I was told you wanted to see me.”

Don didn’t doubt that. “How could I want to see you if I don’t know you?”

“I’m Mrs. Wolf.”

“Steve’s wife?” That just didn’t add up for him. This woman was clearly out of Steve’s league. He sighed. “Come in.”

He showed her into his office and put down his briefcase.

“I thought Steve’s wife was German.” Yes, that was the only detail he knew.

“I am,” she said sitting.

“You don’t speak with an accent.”

“I practiced. My father taught English.”

“Why did Steve think I wanted to see you?”

“Because you said you wanted to see whoever wrote Snow White.”

“You wrote it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I want to make it.”

“Steve will be so thrilled-”

He cut her off quickly. “I’m not working with Steve. I want to work with you.”

She shook her head. “I’m just a housewife.”

“The hell you are. You are a writer.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you know what I do all day?”

“I have no idea.”

“I run from stage to stage and I make things happen. Then when I go home, I read. I read stacks of scripts, good ones, bad ones, everything in between and very rarely, a great one. Your. I want that one, I want anything and everything else you’ve got.”


Now

 

 

 

 

 

The second night shoot was an elaborate business. There were assistant directors to wrangle the extras dressed as the citizens of Belle’s village. They had to march up the hillside in exactly the place that had been set out for them, incidentally the only spot with lighting. Mark had been determined this have the feeling of a real forest.

The rest of the castle would be put in with matte later, but tonight there was the facade of the door and the set up for where the villagers would be lighting fire.

To top it all off, Mark wanted a crane shot of the angry mob.

Don hung his head. They had spent all last night out here, that was just with Robert and Lacey. This night promised to be longer, he hoped it wouldn’t stretch to another night with extras, but his hopes were slim. It was May. The night was too short and everyone was falling over too much to get a clean shot.

He looked over at Laurel. It was strange seeing her in slacks and a shirt.

“How’s Eddie’s thing?”

“You care?”

She didn’t so much as look up and he rolled his eyes. “You shouldn’t let Steve take the credit for your work. Next thing you know he’ll be wanting you to put your name on the schlock he writes.”

“Your concern is noted.”

“Come on. We know he practically married you for your writing.”

“Thank you so much.”

He was desperate for conversation.

“Have you heard from Marta?”

She walked away from him as the villagers went back to their first positions.


1943

 

It was Don’s last night in Hollywood. He looked out at the poolside, Laurel was sitting with her feet in the water.

“How is it that this song is everywhere now?,” she called.

Don listened for the radio.

“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces all day through...”

“I think it makes people think of their loved ones,” he replied. “Doesn’t anything make you think of Anna and your mother?”

“I understand that, but suddenly everyone has to do a cover of this song.”


He came out carrying two plates and set them on the small outdoor table.

“Dinner is served, madame.”

She got up and walked over. She sat as he pushed in the chair for her.

“Who’s going to look after the house for you?,” asked Laurel.

“Leroy.”

“Leroy?”

“He’s 4F. He’s going to keep up the house, the pool, do some handyman jobs, drive my car. You call him if you need anything.”

“I won’t need anything, Don.”

“You might.”

“I’m fine. I’m not in a prison camp.”

“Just because you’re not in a prison camp doesn’t mean you don’t have problems and if Robert were here, he would agree with me.”

“I doubt my mother would.”

Don sighed.

They talked through the night about everything and nothing, plans for movies, wondering what was happening to friends and they finally came to the realization that time was working against them. It was nearly morning. 

“When will you be leaving?”

“I’m supposed to be there at seven.”

Laurel nodded. “It’s not going to be the same.”

“No, but it’s not forever. Leo told me he’s pairing you with Grimm. He’s okay, just save our good stuff for after the war.”

“Like Beauty and the Beast?”

“Exactly like Beauty and the Beast.”

She smiled back at him, one of the first times he had seen her smile since he got his draft notice. Leo had pulled some strings so he could finish up some outstanding projects, but the hour had arrived.

“You’ll write me, won’t you?,” he asked.

“Yes, of course.”


 


1945

“Anyone else, Johanna?”

The secretary’s eyes glanced to Laurel as she sat primly.

“I should have known,” said Leo. He sighed. “Walk with me. I want to see my granddaughter before I get on the plane.”

Laurel followed Leo through the building and to the parking lot.

“I know it’s a lot to ask...”

“Laurel, you and I aren’t that different.”

“I know and I’ve never used the fact that we share similar backgrounds to try and curry favor.”

“Oy. You sound like my mother sometimes. How do you do that? Do they pull you all aside at temple one day?”

“I just... I haven’t heard from my mother or my sister.”

“Laurel, I’ve got people I want to find, too.”

“I know.”

“I don’t know what the army’s going to let us do. Have you tried the Red Cross?”

“The Red Cross is sick of me and besides that they have a million other people asking the same thing.” She tried to smile. “Please. If you can.”

He took the paper from her.

“I’ll see if I can find anything out for you.”


 

 


Leo was gone for weeks and Laurel had managed to put her pressing questions aside. Surely, Leo Blanchard aided by the United States Army would bring her good news. So she went back to work and started looking at old versions of Beauty and the Beast.

“Did you miss me?”

Laurel looked up. “Mark!”

She leapt out of her chair and went to hug him.

“When did you get back?”

“Yesterday. Passed out in my house after the flight, came straight here.”

“I can’t believe it’s you. It’s unreal. You’ve all been so far away so long, I started to doubt you ever existed.”

“How’s it been here?”

“Fine. Regina is head of publicity, she’s staying head. I got to work with some interesting people while you were gone.”

“How’s Steve?”

“He’s in France.”

“And have you heard from Don? We were writing, but I think our letters got crossed.”

“Not lately,” she said ruefully.

“Oh?,” said Mark. “Well, I am certain he’s fine.”

The door opened.

“Miss Meyer?”

“Yes, Miss Nova?”

“Mr. Blanchard wants to see you right away in the screening room.”

“The screening room?” Laurel shook her head and shrugged at Mark. “I don’t know what he could want.”

“Mind if I tag along? It’s been an age.”

“Of course.”


 

 

Laurel and Mark were all laughs as they went to the screening room. They went in to see Leo, Eva and a man in an army uniform.

“Mark, welcome back,” said Leo.

“Thank you.”

Laurel looked at the trio. The mood didn’t seem particularly jovial even with Mark’s return.

“Laurel,” said Leo, “this is Colonel Tillman. This is Laurel Meyer, one of Storybrooke Studios’ most valuable employees.”

“She would have to be,” said Tillman.

“What’s going on?,” asked Laurel. “Is Don alright?”

“No, no, this isn’t about Don,” Leo said quickly. “This is about why General Eisenhower asked the studio chiefs to come to Europe.”

“Do you know about the Nazi camps, Miss Meyer?,” asked Tillman.

“Well, I know there were camps, just what was in the papers, but of course, that had to be exaggeration.”

Neither Tillman or Leo seemed to confirm that.

“They had us bring back some footage of the camps,” said Leo.

There were no words for what realities lay in black and white on the film.

There were the dead, the dying, people who looked as if they should be dead, but every so often showed some sign of life making Laurel jolt. It was just too unreal. There was footage of things the Nazis had taken from people, shoes, eyeglasses, wedding bands, hair.

Despair was somehow not a strong enough word for what was setting into Laurel’s very being at the knowledge of what had befallen her family, her friends, schoolmates, people she had seen every day...

She crumpled in her seat, finally looking away. Mark turned to her in grave concern.

“Alright, I think that’s quite enough,” Mark said. He stood and faced the projectionist. “I said that’s quite enough!”

The film stopped flickering and the house lights came up.

“Laurel, honey...” said Eva. “I am so sorry.”

“Why?”

Eva looked at her in confusion. “Because of...” She turned to the now blank screen by way of trying to fill in the unspeakable. 

Laurel stood. “Thank you, Colonel, but I’m so sorry you’ve come all this way for nothing.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, ma’am,” said Tillman.

“You see, that could not have possibly happened to my family. My sister is so optimistic nothing could bring her down and my mother will end time arguing with God so you see that couldn’t possibly be them.”

“Laurel, I really think you ought to sit down...” Mark suggested.

She shrugged. “I’m fine, Mark.”

“Miss Meyer, this happened to a huge number of people,” said Tillman. “We’re still trying to get the numbers, but these places were death factories.”

“I’m sure they were.”

“Laurel, darling, I don’t think you’re hearing the man,” said Mark.

Leo looked at her. “You asked me to find out what happened to your family, I’m sorry, but this is what happened. I’m sure I lost cousins, too, but we have to face this.”

“I don’t have to face anything.”

“Mr. Blanchard said your sister had children.”

“Yes, so you see-”

“They would have been gassed immediately along with their mother,” said Tillman. “That’s what our witnesses tell us.”

She didn’t speak and then simply said, “You’re wrong.”


 

 

 

 


1946

It was through the twists and turns of three years of war that Don Francis found himself standing in the most fantastical place he had ever seen. It was seemingly desolate, it held ruins that appeared ancient and other-worldly.

But it was all shockingly real.

The place was Nagasaki and this was all the result of something that if it had been a plot point in a pitch meeting, Don would have sent them back.

He looked over the shoulder of one of the Japanese camera operators.

“He has used a camera before.”

Don turned to Ayako, the young woman who was liasion between them and the Japanese members of the crew.

“I never said he hadn’t,” said Don. “In fact, I was about to tell him how good he was.”

Ayako spoke in hushed tones to the man. She looked back up at Don.

“He’s done films before.”

“I know that, that’s why I hired him,” said Don. He looked at the camera man. “Is there a reason you let this young lady think you don’t speak English?”

He said something in Japanese. Don looked to Ayako for the translation.

“He says he’s too busy to speak English,” she scowled. “You know each other?”

“Here and there,” said Don.

She looked at him in fury, not that he could blame her. If the situation were reversed, he doubted he could be civil enough with his victors to work with them. The others just acted professionally no matter what but Ayako let her anger slip through.

“Look,” he said, “we’ve got a job to do here, to show the world what happened. If you don’t want a part of that, that’s fine, too. We can send you back to Tokyo no problem. No hard feelings.”

She glared. “I can work.”

“Good.”


 


They filmed a lot of footage, nearly a day’s worth at both sites and went back to Tokyo. They started going through, reliving what they had shot, demolished buildings, some that had been turned to dust in the first instance of the blasts, the burns people carried. Don had passed the war taking footage from when he arrived in Melbourne, then following troops in the Pacific. It was incredibly different but in a strange way it was what he had always done and he was enthusiastic about the possibilities of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki project, even if he wasn’t enthusiastic about the reason why. 

He came to the office ready to work on editing and instead found his Japanese employees standing off to the side, the Americans helping the swarm of MPs that had arrived.

“What the hell is going on?!,” asked Don.

One of the men handed him a clipboard.

“New orders from the colonel, sir,” he answered. “All the bomb-site footage is supposed to go back to Washington.”

He looked in dismay as reel after reel was loaded into crates. His Japanese crew was there, looking on as his American subordinates did as the MPs said. Ayako glared at him.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“You’re more than welcome to take it up with the Colonel.”

“Yeah, you bet I will.”

He went down to the colonel’s office ready for a fight.

“Washington wants that footage back ASAP,” said Colonel Adams, seeming not to feel one way or the other about the issue.

“Did they say why, sir?”

The colonel looked at him. “You’re forgetting that this isn’t civilian life. This is the army. We don’t ask why. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

Adams nodded. “What happens next is up to Washington.”

Don couldn’t stand it. It was good footage. Probably some of the best he had ever presided over and he knew damn well it wasn’t going to go anywhere. He had been in his business long enough to know when a project became inconvenient and the army wasn’t fooling him.

“You’re a movie producer, aren’t you, Francis?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Make anything good?”

“Yes, sir.”

“General Macarthur is outlining plans for rebuilding Japan as a democracy and the feeling is that the Japanese film industry can be a vital tool in democratization. How would you like to help?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It would mean extending your tour, obviously, unless you’ve got a wife or a girl to get back to-”

“No, sir,” he said. “I haven’t got anyone to go back to.”


 

 

 


Don walked into the office and got his parade of salutes. He saluted back and went to his secretary, Garcia.

“Any mail for me?”

“No, Captain. Just some more memos from command about the bomb site footage and oh, you got a telegram from a Marcus Dashwood in Hollywood?”

He put down the memos and Garcia handed him the telegram. He began reading.

“Are you alright, Captain?”

It was only then that Don realized he had not been speaking for some time. The whole office was staring at him.

“Bad news from home, Captain?”

“Call Colonel Adams. I need to speak with him right away.”

“Sir,” Don saluted.

“Weren’t you just here?”

“I need to go back stateside as soon as possible. If I could have furlough or-”

“Captain, you do remember the war is over, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’re discharging people like you and you just agreed to stay on.”

“I did, sir.”

Adams stared at him. “Why the hell did you agree to stay?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Or would you rather go back to your life as a bigshot film producer and leave your army days behind you?”

He came up with a story as quick as he could. “A close friend is very ill, sir.”

“So, seeing as how you ought to be discharged anyway, why should the army keep flying you back and forth? Do you think this is a vacation?”

“No, sir.”

The colonel pulled out the orders. “There’s a plane leaving at oh-two hundred for the states, even going to your hometown. You could be on it, but once you’re stateside, you’re out of the army. Those are your two choices, in or out.”

The colonel looked up at him.

There was really only one choice. A choice that meant he could never change anyone's minds about the confiscated footage.

“Out, sir.”

“Out, then.” He signed some papers and handed them to Don. “You’ve been a good soldier, Francis. Good luck.”

“Thank you, sir.”


 

 

 

The day was nearly gone and he didn’t have much time left to wrap up the work in his office with Garcia’s help. He said goodbye to the American crew. The Japanese crew had gone for the day, not that he could really blame them. He supposed he would just as soon be gone for the day were their situations reversed. He took the few personal items he had in his office and went back to his billet.

“What happened?,” asked Ayako.

Don looked up from his packing.

“You’re not supposed to be here.” 

“You’re not supposed to be here. Where are you going?,” she asked.

“Home.”

“Why?”

“I have a friend who needs me.”

“And what about your film?”

He stood and faced her. “Look, the film is dead. They’ve had McGovern take all the footage back to Washington, it’s probably never going to see the light of day. It’s over.”

“I...” She shook her head at him. “My father didn’t want me to work for you. I took a chance on you. I believed in you when you promised all Americans weren’t savages.”

“We’re not. Just like all Japanese aren’t.”

“You bomb my country, kill thousands of people, not soldiers, women and children and you parade around taking footage of it, promising to show the world and now you just hide it! What sort of monsters are you?”

Don just kept packing his duffel.

“You promised me and now what are you going to do? Go back and make more fairy tales?”

He stopped and zipped up the bag.

“I like fairy tales, a lot of people happen to like fairy tales. Do you know why I happen to like making pictures about fairy tales?”

“Because you’re a child?”

“Because people don’t want to hear the truth. They’re naturally resistant to it. People don’t want to hear it. Nobody wants to know what we know. When you had people here speaking out against the war, did anybody want to hear it? No, but suppose I make a film of Beauty and the Beast-”

“What’s that?”

“There’s this girl and she finds this castle with a beast and he’s not really a beast, he has a good heart, but no one can see it. People would like the beast in the movie, the next time they go to sneer at someone who’s different, they might stop and think that the beast in the movie wasn’t all that bad, but maybe they should give someone a chance.”

“You really think that?”

“Yeah, I actually do.”

That was the last thing he said to Ayako. She was angry as hell and he couldn’t blame her. He was pretty angry, too, but he had to get home. He preferred to work on things he could actually change.


 

 


Don came off the cargo plane in Los Angeles feeling like hell. He hadn’t slept, just closed his eyes and counted down the hours.

He came off the plane with his sunglasses already on, confronted by California sunshine for the first time in years. Mark was waiting.

“Hail to the conquering GI,” Mark said dryly. “I got your house keys from Leroy, you can go back and change-”

“I don’t need to change,” he said, slamming the door on the Rolls Royce as soon as he sat. “What the hell happened?”

“I don’t really know. Some sort of overdose.”

“And where the hell was Steve?”

“I don’t know.”

“Go.”


 

They arrived at the hospital and quickly made their way up.

Steve was there and would just as soon spit blood as look at Don.

“What the hell’s this asshole doing here?,” asked Steve.

“Where the hell were you?” He pushed him against the wall. “Where the hell were you?”

“Get him off me!”

“Don...” Mark said quietly.

“Where the hell were you?! This is supposed to be your job, isn’t it?!”

There were orderlies coming out. Don let go of Steve, still sneering at the man.

“For your information, we’ve separated,” Steve snarled. “I thought she would have told you since she tells you everything...”

Don looked at Mark.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it.” 

Don shook his head at Steve.

“I have no idea why she didn’t dump you ages ago.”

“I dumped her.”

“Are you, in fact, an idiot?,” asked Mark.

“Look, all that crap with her family, I just can’t deal with it anymore. Everyone’s got problems, we all suffered during the war. She’s not special, she just wants attention.”

“Right,” said Mark. “I’m sure the newsreel footage of the extermination of European Jewry was just a ploy for attention. So was the invasion of Normandy.”

“Wait, what about her family?,” asked Don.

Mark furrowed his brow at Don. “She didn’t tell you?”

“No.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” muttered Steve.

“Get out of my sight,” said Don.

“You can’t boss me around here-”

“Go.”

“Fine,” said Steve, picking his hat up off the chair. “You want her, she can be your problem.”

When the footsteps down the hall and the shutting of the door confirmed he was gone, Don turned again to Mark.

“What happened to her family?”

“Dead in the camps, I thought you would have known. She really didn’t write you?”

“No. I haven’t heard from her since the summer at least. Why the hell didn’t you say anything?!”

“My family didn’t die.”


 

 

Don waited and waited and managed to persuade the nursing staff that he should be allowed to sit in her room. Through a combination of his producing skills and the persuasive power of a captain’s uniform, they let him in and he sat and waited.

She had been upset and he hadn’t known it. She had been in absolute despair and hadn’t known it, left to her own devices and Don hated himself for this. What the hell good was he? What had been the point of anything?

He took a break for coffee and happened upon Gold in the hallway.

“Robert,” said Don. He looked down to see the man’s cane and slightly turned foot.

“I had an appointment,” he said apologetically. “I thought I’d see if she was awake.”

“Sedated still,” he said. He nodded towards the afflicted limb. “How is it?”

Gold shrugged. “Oh, you know. It could be worse, I suppose.”

“Are you back at work yet?”

He shook his head. “As if I could do anything.”

“We’ll find something,” said Don. “I’ll find something.”

“So you’re back then?”

“Yeah. I’m back.”

“Welcome home.”

Don shook his head. “It’s bizarre, right?”

“From beginning to end,” Gold confirmed.


 


He finished talking with Gold to wait some more and finally, Laurel opened her eyes.

“Hey,” said Don.

“Hey. What are you doing here?”

“We’ve got to talk about Beauty and the Beast.”

“What?”

“I thought about it. A lot. Do you know what the Beast’s real problem is?”

Laurel didn’t answer.

“I asked if you knew what the Beast’s real problem was?”

She finally answered.

“I suspect I already know, but you’re going to try to tell me anyway.”

“The Beast’s problem isn’t that he was a beast. His problem was that everyone treated him like a beast. That’s why he became more of a beast. He might have been able to hang onto his humanity if someone had treated him like a human being.”

“But he wouldn’t let the fairy in from the rain.”

“Well, it sounds like he had that right since the bitch ended up turning him into a monster.”

She didn’t answer.

“I’ll handle Steve. Don’t worry about him.”

Laurel still didn’t answer. They sat in silence that they dared not break.


Now

 


“Kill the beast!,” Geoffrey shouted and lit the first torch.

“Kill the beast!,” the extras called back.

Don heard quiet sobs next to him and turned to see Laurel walking away quickly amid the extras’ cheers.

“Laurel!,” he started quietly. As they got further away from the shooting he got more insistent. “Laurel!”

“Oh, leave me alone.”

“No, I will not leave you alone!”

She went into the nearest soundstage, the site of their stolen ballroom and sat down on the dance floor.

“Don, I am quite fine on my own, you should get back to the shoot.”

He sat down. “You are not fine.”

She didn’t answer. He took the handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.

“I shouldn’t have let you come.”

“I’m fine.”

“You know, I have to say that is my least favorite thing about you.”

She frowned at him as she wiped her eyes. “What?”

“The world will not end if you admit you have a problem.”

She turned to snarl back at him. “You know my least favorite thing about you is that you want to fix everything!”

“Because it’s broken! And God damn it, Laurel, admitting you’re upset because your entire family was murdered by monsters is not a character flaw!”

She eyed him.

“I reread Anna’s letter about Kristallnacht before I wrote this scene.”

“Yeah?”

“And I just couldn’t figure out how we were so stupid. Why didn’t they leave? Why didn’t I tell them to leave? They destroyed everything, why the hell couldn’t I take a hint?”

“No one saw it coming.”

“I should have.”

“Nobody in the entire world saw it coming and you, Laurel Meyer, should have?”

“Yes,” she said with complete conviction. “And besides, I never should have let my sister be in charge. If I had been there, I could have done something.”

“What could you have done?”

“I don’t know! Saved them!”

“And how the hell would you have done that?”

“I just said I don’t know!”

“I haven’t heard you say Anna’s name in a while.”

Laurel nodded. “She should be here, not me. Instead she’s...”

Don turned and she broke.

“She’s ashes and her hair is probably in some sofa and the necklace I gave her is probably around the neck of SS guard’s wife and I, I- I don’t know what to do. She’s dead, they’re all dead and I don’t know what to do! The world’s moving on and I can’t, I just can’t.”

She crumpled and Don took her in his arms.

“Anna would want you to live your life and not spend all of yours wishing she was here instead of you.”

She snorted and it came out an undignified thing through tears and snot. “Who wouldn’t wish it was me instead of her?”

“I wouldn’t,” he finally admitted.

She froze and pushed away.

“You what?”

It seemed another age before he answered.

“I said I wouldn’t.”

“Well, what does that mean?”

“Well, what do you think it means?!”

She shook her head. “No, that can’t mean what I think it means.”

“Why not?”

She was still shaking her head. “I’m divorced, I’m Jewish, I’m thirty-six, I talk too much, I think you’re stupid because you only speak one language, I am a mess, I tried to kill myself and I am very unlikely to ever stop being a mess-”

“I like the mess,” he said, cutting her off. “I like the mess a lot.”

“How could anyone ever love me?”

Don shrugged. “The hell if I know, but here I am.”

Her expression of total shock slowly took on the beginning stages of a smile. “And what now?”

“The Merchant of Venice.”

She frowned. “What?”

“You need more time for Snow Queen and Mark wanted to do Shakespeare next and I thought The Merchant of Venice.”

“You know the Nazis played that as propaganda.”

“And we’re going to take it back.”

She smiled. “I do like the sound of that.”

Chapter Text


1943


Isabelle Dumas shuffled through the telegrams and filed them into envelopes waiting for the delivery girl to come back and take them out on the next bicycle run.

Next to the desk she heard stirrings from a Moses basket and looked down at Simone. She smiled.

“You’re supposed to be quiet,” she teased.

There was a ring of the bell and Isabelle turned around to see Christina Deville. She got up and walked over to the counter.

“May I help you?”

“I need to send a telegram to Sydney.”

Isabelle tried to ignore the cloud of smoke coming off Christina’s cigarette which she held with a long black holder. She handed her the message pad.

“Still dragging that thing everywhere?,” she asked, glancing at Simone as she scrawled on the pad.

“Yes.”

Christina shook her head. “And how much longer do you intend to do that?”

“I’m thinking eighteen years ought to do the trick.”

Christina shook her head. “Why is it you’re still here, darling? All the other mother types seem to have vanished.”

“I was on bed rest. My doctor didn’t think I should be evacuated.”

Isabelle caught Christina staring at her neck. She immediately knew the reason why and felt exposed.

The marks on her neck. She had tried to cover over them with her compact, but it was hot and humid and nothing ever stuck.

“How’s that husband of yours?”

“He’s fine.”

“Shipping out soon?”

“No, not as yet.”

“But you’re hopeful.”

“No-”

Christina’s eyes shot up at her, the black eyebrows in an accusing formation.

“I’m not a fool, darling and don’t think for a moment that you are fooling anyone. They’re just too cowardly to say anything. I’m not.”

“Say what?”

“It’s not the first bruise I’ve seen,” said Christina. “And I doubt it will be the last. You could do so much better. You could really make something of yourself, darling. Those blonde curls, those perfect lips and beautiful eyes. Men would be falling over themselves to give you supper and I do mean supper. So why do you stay with such a brute?”

Isabelle couldn’t answer. She silently took the payment for Christina’s telegram.

“You know my house?”

“Of course.” Absolutely everyone in Darwin knew Christina’s house.

“If you ever decide you’ve had enough, come see me.”

Isabelle shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I could-”

“No, not like that, darling. I would help if you wanted it.”

She frowned at the woman.

“I’m not the religious sort, but I suppose a good deed once in a while wouldn’t hurt.”


Now

 

“Now, don’t tell Don,” said Mark, “but I actually do like fried chicken.”

Lacey looked up at the director. They were alone in the commissary before the night shoot started. “Is it a secret?”

“I can’t feed into his American sense of accomplishment. They help win two world wars and they get an awfully big head on them. Better to keep it under control.”

“You know, Australia did also help...” Lacey teased.

“That’s precisely the sort of egotism I’m hoping to avoid,” he said. He tossed aside the napkin. “Now, I don’t know if you’ve spoken at all with Robert...”

“About what?”

“About my process for these sorts of scenes that are mostly silent. I like to discuss the themes.”

“And the theme for this one is?”

“What is True Love?”

Lacey didn’t hesitate to answer. “My love for my daughter.”

Mark smiled. “And what does that entail?”

“Entail? It just is.”

“Yes, you see, it’s independent of expectation, it comes without condition. Colette doesn’t have to do or be anything to earn it.” 

Lacey nodded, slowly understanding. “When Belle comes back to the Beast, she does it without expectation.”

“All those times she’s tried to civilize him are irrelevant because now he is dying. Belle’s sincerest wish is for him to live even if it’s as a beast. Her sorrow for the man she loves unconditionally is what finally breaks the curse. True Love is love without rhyme or reason or condition.”

Lacey nodded. “Yes, I think I understand.” 


Then

 

“You don’t have your ration book,” said the grocery clerk. “Again.”

Isabelle bit her lip and adjusted Simone on her hip. She could feel the back of her neck burning as the other customers stared at her.

“No,” she stammered, “I-”

The clerk went through her basket, pulling out the tea and butter. She swore she heard someone tsking.

“If you would just bring it we wouldn’t have these problems.”

“My husband-”

Geoffrey held the ration cards. The pattern had been going on since rationing started. He held them, complained when there was nothing in, Isabelle would feel forced to point out that he had them and if he would just let her have them...

Those conversations usually ended with a fairly big smack upside her head. At some point the book would be thrown at her and she’d be sent back to the shop with a big bruise. Then the clerk would stare at her.

That’s why she covered up the bruises. She didn’t want everyone to know what an idiot she was.

“He’s not the one doing the shopping. You are. I’m sorry, but rationing laws just don’t bend to the will of Mrs. Dumas.”

Isabelle looked at what was left of her purchases. Oats, baking soda.

“What about the eggs?”

“They’re rationed too, now.”

Isabelle took her sack and left.

“Can’t do the shopping no wonder her husband hits her,” mused one of the other women.



Darwin was a ghost town. The whole place was mostly soldiers now. Anyone with children had either evacuated or been scared off by the first Japanese raid. Isabelle regretted not being able to leave, though and she had tried telling Geoffrey that she thought Simone was old enough to travel now, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

He wanted Isabelle with him.

Any sign of love had disappeared years before and the last time he acted with affection was when he had come to persuade her to join him. They had spent most of their marriage apart. Her husband’s first love was work and then Geoffrey went to join the army at the earliest opportunity. When they were together it wasn’t good, but Isabelle had thought maybe a baby would change that.

It had for a little while until Simone was born and there was one unmistakable fact about her.

She was a girl. Geoffrey wanted a strapping son, not a daughter who cried and was ill. Isabelle tried not to care, she tried to smile through it, but he even resented the time she spent tending to her in his presence. 

This was a lot considering that the baby had lately gotten an ugly case of heat rash, one that caused her to fuss quite a bit and made Isabelle fuss over her.

“Oh, I know, baby...”

Isabelle walked over to the cradle and tried to reposition the fan so that the baby could be a little cooler.

“I know. It’s hot, you’ve got a rash...” She leaned down and kissed her daughter’s feet. “That’s just Darwin, sorry. You’ll get used to it.”

She lifted her from the bed and began to hum as she rocked her.

The door opened. Geoffrey entered.

“You’re back early,” said Isabelle.

“What’s it crying for?”

“I told you. She’s got a rash. Poor thing.”

“Can’t you do something?”

“I am doing something.”

“No need to get smart with me, I just wanted us to go out, have a night on the town.”

“But, Geoffrey, I can’t do that. She’s not feeling well and who would watch her?”

“Well, who told you to have it?”

Isabelle’s face dropped and she held the baby closer.


 

The sun set. Geoffrey had gone out, presumably to the bar. Isabelle wondered at why there were shortages of everything except beer, apparently.

“You can’t get any rest can you, princess?,” Isabelle asked.

Just then the door to the flat opened and slammed. She didn’t have to turn to know Geoffrey had come home and was in a mood. She immediately felt herself tense up. Simone was upset and there was nothing she could do about it. This was never good.

There appeared to be some small mercy as he stumbled away to the kitchen, looking for another beer. Not that he needed it. Isabelle could smell drink on him from across the flat. He wandered into the bedroom, slamming that door.

She breathed a sigh of relief. That relief lasted all of a half hour as the baby fussed when Geoffrey returned.

“Why is it still crying?!”

Simone screamed again.

“She’s not going to get any quieter with your shouting!,” Isabelle snapped.

“What did you say?” She felt Geoffrey grabbing her hair. “What did you say?”

“I’m, I’m sorry...”

He pulled her away from Simone.

“I’m sorry, Geoffrey! I’m so sorry!”

Simone screamed. Geoffrey cracked his beer bottled over her head and used the jagged edge to hold her in place. As she tried to wriggle away, she felt it digging deeper into her back.

“What did you say?”

“I’m sorry!”

“I’m your bloody husband! I’m the one you ought to care about!”

“I do!”

“No, you don’t, all you care about is that little bitch.”

He hit her and Isabelle fell to the ground. She curled up, shaking, preparing herself to take another beating.

But it didn’t come.

Geoffrey turned to the bassinet and knocked over the fan. Simone screamed more.

Isabelle saw in him the same rage that had been directed at her, the anger she had become accustomed to. Only disdain had been directed at Simone before and it was an impartial sort of thing, like a buzzing fly one was too lazy to chase, but that had changed.

He knocked over the bassinet. Simone was on the floor screaming.

And something changed in Isabelle.

One smack of the frying pan to Geoffrey’s back to get him to turn.

The next smack in the face had him staring at her slack-jawed.

The next knocked him out planting him on the floor.

Isabelle shook as she picked Simone up off the floor.

He wasn’t moving. She couldn’t decide if that was good or bad.

She couldn’t stay. She had left before and come back, she didn’t know if that was the case right now, but she couldn’t stay.

She went to the bedroom and packed a bag. She didn’t have many things, just a couple books, a few clothes and the things Simone would need. She took all the money in Geoffrey’s wallet and stuffed it in her purse.

And she walked out.


Isabelle walked through the blacked out streets with Simone just enough to avoid looking at any of the civil defense wardens. It was past curfew. They would want to know what she was doing out, then probably send her back to the flat or worse, take her there. Then they would see Geoffrey lying face down on the floor, then the police would be called, she would be in jail and Simone would be alone with Geoffrey.

She knew she really had only one option. There was only one offer of help on the table.

She knocked on Christina Deville’s door.

The young woman who opened the door looked amused at the sight of Isabelle and the baby.

“I think you’ve got the wrong house, lady...”

“Mrs. Deville told me to come here.”

She sighed. “Fair enough. Come in.”

Isabelle followed her inside. She sauntered off as she surveyed the scene inside. It wasn’t quite as horrible as she had imagined. She appeared to be in a waiting room of some sort, littered with soldiers, a decent mix of Aussies, Brits and Americans. Every so often a young woman in cheap lingerie would sashay in and take off with her next customer.

“Isabelle.”

She looked up to see Christina.

“That’s sooner than I expected to hear from you, if ever.”

Isabelle just shook her head. “I couldn’t...” She struggled to finish her sentence.

Christina nodded. “Say no more. This way, darling.”

Isabelle followed the older woman to some sort of parlor. They drank tea and she tried to explain exactly what happened.

“So, you found your limit.”

“My limit?,” asked Isabelle.

“Everyone has one, trouble is some people don’t find theirs until they’re dead.” She motioned in the direction of the chatter coming from the other room. “All of the girls who work for me have come from circumstances not unlike yours, whether it’s a husband, a father, an uncle...”

Isabelle began shaking her head. “I’m sorry, I think I misunderstood your offer, I-”

“Stay seated. It’s charity and I meant that, only I’m not going to try to convert you afterwards.” Christina put her tea down. “Do you have anywhere you can go?”

“This was the only place I-”

“No, I meant out of Darwin. Friends, family?”

Isabelle grimaced. “Every time I’ve gone home, I just come back. I can’t come back anymore.” She looked down at Simone who had fallen asleep, curled into her.

Christina nodded. “You’ll stay here, don’t leave the house and we’ll come up with something.”


 


Isabelle did as Christina advised, hiding inside the brothel for the next few days, ignoring the almost constant stream of customers.

“I saw your man,” she said during lunch in the kitchen on the third day.

“You did?,” asked Isabelle, unable to decided if she was relieved or disappointed he wasn’t dead.

“You left quite a mark with that pan.”

Isabelle didn’t answer.

“Is he...”

“Darling, you don’t think he could say if he was looking for you? How would that look to the other ruffians in his unit? Beat up by his wife?”

“He is looking. He always looks.”

“Undoubtedly,” said Christina, sipping her tea. “I don’t suppose there’s much you can do about that, though.”

“He’ll only stop looking when I’m dead.”

She froze. There was something there.

“Oh, don’t say that, darling.”

“No, I have to be dead.”

Christina furrowed her brow. “I’m not sure I like where this is headed.”

“What if he thought I died in a raid?”

“The body...”

“Would be burned in the fire.”

Christina put down her cup. “It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard but listen, I’ve had more than my share of fresh starts and the sort of thing you’re proposing calls for a complete break. You would have to leave. And you could never go home.”

Isabelle’s heart stopped at that. There were no phones here or there, so she couldn’t call her mother, to say what she was planning. She couldn’t very well leave something incriminating like a telegram or a letter around because her father would find it and then Geoffrey would know.

She looked at Simone. All the faith and goodness in the world lay in her eyes.

She had to protect Simone. That was all that mattered. She could make that trade.

“I can do that,” she promised, her voice cracking.

Christina nodded. “Well, then, we need to get you a new life.”



Isabelle Dumas was dead.

The next raid had occurred quickly and it turned out yes, an abandoned house of flats had burned to the ground. It was just the sort of place that the fleeing Mrs. Dumas would have hidden out in following the row with her husband.

In fact, several of Christina’s employees knew that to be the case.

And Christina had something big hanging over the head over the Commissioner of Police. Something that made him realize it was war and senseless tragedies were everywhere. No need to investigate this one.

“You could stop staring at yourself,” Christina advised. “Unless your new plan is to be conceited.”

Lacey closed the compact.

“I’m sorry, it’s just my hair-”

“Is the hair that you’ve had your entire life.”

“Right,” said Lacey.

The train finally pulled into the station. The women stood as passengers began to unload. Lacey balanced the baby and her suitcase.

“Thank you,” said Lacey. “For everything.”

Christina shook her head. “You can thank me by never coming back.”

“Why did you help me?,” asked Lacey.

Christina paused. Lacey thought she might have seen something inexplicable like emotion cross her face.

“I knew someone like you once,” said Christina. “She went out into the world and got betrayed by the first man she met. It ruined her.”

“All aboard!”

Lacey looked to Christina.

“Goodbye, Lacey.”

“Goodbye, Christina.”

“Ella.”

Lacey stared at her dumbly as she turned and walked away. She quickly boarded the train and took a breath as she settled with Colette in her seat. 


Now

 

"It's better this way..." said the Beast. "Let the misery of this curse die with me."

"No, this is my fault, I should have come sooner..." said the Beauty with her sobs.

"Where the hell is the goddamn rain?!," Don shouted.

"Oh, bloody hell, cut!," shouted Mark.

Lacey disappeared before Gold's eyes.

Mark looked up. "The rain? All I need is rain! It's a damn transformation scene! Have you heard of symbolism?"

"We ran out of water," said the stagehand.

"Oh, ran out of water, right, cancel the rebirth!," shouted Mark.


 


Lacey hadn’t thought much when Mark called cut. She rushed back to the dressing room set aside for her, willing herself there before she fell apart.

It was a few minutes before there was any other sound beside her own sobbing.

“Lacey?”

Before she realized it, Gold was kneeling before her.

“Lacey, shh... Come on. Take that wet cape off.”

He undid the fastener for her and wrapped a towel around her.

“Lacey, sweetheart, what’s the matter?”

“You were just...” She reached out for his cheek. “You were so sad...”

“It was just a scene, sweetheart.”

“But it wasn’t. It was everything.”  She slid off the sofa, setting herself between his legs. “You are sad.”

“I’m not sad, sweetheart.”

“You are, you’re so sad that you don’t even know it.”

“I’m not sad when I’m with you.”

She frowned at him as she leaned up to kiss him.

“Don’t make it about me,” she begged. “Do it for yourself.”

“Do what?”

“Leave her,” she said decisively. He looked at her in shock. “No, don’t think of this as a mistress making an ultimatum. It’s not. I’m your friend and I want you to be happy and the one thing I know you will never be with Milah is happy or even satisfied. And when does it become too much misery for you to bear? You’re a good man, Robert. You deserve better.”

“Sweetheart...”

“You know my scar?”

“Yes,” he said perplexed. “From the bombing.”

“It wasn’t the bombing. Colette’s father... She... she was crying and he couldn’t stand it and he was drunk and... he knocked over her cot...”

“He did what?”

“I thought he was going to do worse and I went after him and he cracked a bottle over me, then stabbed me with it and Colette was screaming and I could only look at her...”

“Lacey, why didn’t you say anything?”

“I, uh, managed to get up while his back was turned and I conked him over the head with a frying pan. He sort of fell to the ground and I packed what I could and took Colette and I never saw him again.”

He was speechless and wrapped his arms around her, wanting to pull her close to his chest, but she held back. She stared at him, boring into his eyes.

“He’d done it before. Lots of times, but no one believed in me until Colette. I was just a silly girl who wanted to be a dancer when she belonged on a farm or in a kitchen, but Colette, she needed me. I was her world and I couldn’t just let him beat me because she needed me.” She smiled. “You have Bae.”

“It’s not the same-”

“She’s never slapped you?”

Gold didn’t answer.

“And you don’t suppose my husband told me I was worthless and stupid and I deserved everything he did? You don’t suppose I believed it, too? It is the same, Robert.”

They were silent, wrapped in each other.

“Leave her. You don’t have to be with me. Just leave her...” she begged.

He snorted. “You phrase it as if you’re a burden.”

“I have no expectations, Robert. Once you’re free of her, you can do anything, any path is yours.”

“The only path I’m interested in is with you.”

Lacey smiled despite herself. “Do you really mean that?”

“Of course I do.” He looked at her desperately hopeful face. “Is that what you want?”

“Yes! Of course it is!”

His mouth came crashing against hers and it was as if a burden was lifted. Nothing mattered except that they were together. The outside world was just that: outside.

When they finally broke the kiss, he smiled crookedly at her.

“We have to get back,” said Lacey. “You have your big transformation scene.”

Chapter Text


It had been a hell of a night for Milah.

One hell of a night.

She smiled as she went into the kitcen and then her face fell as she saw her husband.

“Oh,” she sneered. “What are you doing here? Did your contract finally get canceled?”

Gold didn’t react. “Have a seat, Milah.”

“What?”

From the expression on his face, she could tell he wasn’t in a mood to be toyed with.

“Have a seat.”

She quietly went and sat across from him.

“Our marriage...” He laughed. “Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement isn’t it, dearie? Our arrangement has not been working in quite some time. So, I think it’s best that we call it a day.”

Milah shook her head. “Robert, what do you mean?”

“Don’t play dumb, Milah. I want a divorce.”

“Divorce?!” She cackled. “You can’t divorce me! I should be divorcing you!”

“That’s precisely what I’m suggesting.” He shrugged. “I don’t really care how it happens. I’ve consulted an attorney-”

“You’ve consulted an attorney? Where did you get the balls for that?”

He ignored her. “Now, he thinks I could easily take you to court and leave you with nothing. After all, a birthday party full of people has seen the way you behave at home, not to mention everything Regina has covered up-”

“Regina will never tell.”

Gold shook his head. “Well, we would have to see what happened when she was under oath in a court of law, wouldn’t we, dearie?”

Milah’s face fell.

“Apparently, the simplest thing for you to do is to move to Nevada for six weeks. I would pay the expenses of course and then you could look forward to some sort of alimony.”

She scowled. “What about the house?”

“I believe I’ll be selling the house.” He paused. “And since you asked, I’ll be keeping custody of Bae as well.”

“You can’t take my son from me!”

“You didn’t even mention him!”

“I was going to!”

Gold took a breath.

“You will be free to pursue whatever you wish with your current beau and I won’t give a damn. What part of this deal don’t you like, dearie?”

“I’ll fight you.”

“You’ll lose,” he said, standing up. “And besides, what about your Killian’s career? What if he’s caught up in the scandal? Just who will you run to then?”

Milah shook her head at him. “This isn’t like you.”

“No,” Gold agreed. “I’d like you gone before the end of the week.”

 


 

Laurel entered Don’s office to see Don and Mark sitting around his desk.

“Why aren’t you shooting?,” she asked.

“National holiday,” said Mark.

“What holiday?”

Don chuckled. “Robert said he needed the morning off to talk to Milah.”

Laurel frowned. “Talk to Milah? Why?”

“He’s asking for a divorce,” Mark said quite satisfied. “I gave him the day. I wanted to give the week, but Don seemed to think that was a bad idea.”

“What did Leo say?,” she asked skeptically.

“Leo wanted to throw a party,” said Don. “So you can just relax.”

“I’m relaxed,” said Laurel, sitting down. “What brought this on?”

“I should imagine the years of poor treatment and extramarital affairs,” said Mark.

“Just now?,” asked Laurel.

Don shook his head. “Don’t question it. Let it happen.”

Mark grinned at Laurel. “I’m going to let it happen by driving Milah to Reno and chaining her to a radiator for six weeks if necessary.”

“Besides, we are going to fix all your Snow Queen problems today,” said Don, sitting back in his chair.

“Are we now?”

“Yes we are.”


 


Lacey opened the front door, cautiously looking around for signs of her neighbors.

“Mr. Gold, so glad you could come.”

“Miss French.” Gold held up the script in his hand. “I thought we could work on our lines.”

“Come in.”

Lacey allowed him entry and shut the door behind him, locking the deadbolt.

“Expecting someone?”

“Ruby has a key and poor timing.” She turned back to him and smiled.

He took her in his arms and their lips met in a flurry of pent-up passion. They hadn’t been alone since the morning after the last night shoot.

“I needed that,” said Lacey.

“Glad to help,” said Gold.

“Come on,” said Lacey. “Did you eat breakfast? I still have some batter from Colette’s pancakes.”

“You don’t have to cook for me,” he insisted as she led him towards the kitchen.

“I want to,” she said as she pushed him onto the barstool at the counter, planting another kiss on his lips. “I’ll cook. You tell me how it went. Here, we’ve got some fresh orange juice left.”

She put a glass in front of him and he took it there was no sense arguing as she went to work.

“The lawyer says it’s best to negotiate the settlement in California and then Milah will go to Nevada for six weeks. After that, I just go for a day in court and it’s all done.”

“It’s that easy?,” asked Lacey. “Did you want bacon?”

He shook his head. “I suppose easy is relative. If Milah fights it, it could take a year.”

Lacey frowned. “What did she say?”

“Not much. She seemed in amazement that I had any backbone. Not that I can blame her.”

“You’re a wonderful father and I know you tried to be a good husband, of course you have backbone.”

He shook his head. “I faked it. The only thing I could think to do was use some other persona to get through it.”

“Well, we all do that,” said Lacey.

She finished cooking and put the plate down in front of him, taking the spot next to him at the counter.

"What is it you want to fatten me up for?"

Lacey winked. "I just want you to keep your strength up."

 


 

“Mrs. Gold-”

Milah brushed past Mack. “I’m here to see my husband-”

“Mr. Gold isn’t in today.”

Milah stopped and snapped her head at the gate guard. “What?”

“He’s not in and Mrs. Mills says-”

“I don’t give a damn what that cow thinks.”

“Well, begging your pardon, ma’am, she’s the Head of Publicity and she says she doesn’t want you on the lot!”

Suddenly, Milah spotted her salvation walking a ways away.

“Killian! Oh, Killian!”

Killian rolled his eyes and nodded at Mack.

“Hello, Milah. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I’ve decided to leave Robert.”

Killian stared at her blankly. “I’m sorry, I don’t get the joke.”

“What joke? I’ve finally decided to leave the cripple.” She pouted her lips as if this was a matter of deep contemplation. “I tried to hang on for Neal’s sake, but in the end, I couldn’t fight my heart anymore...”

Killian scowled.

“You really just now decided to leave your husband?”

“Well, yes-”

“After I asked you to leave him last year?”

“Well-” Milah desperately searched for an excuse.

“Look, I don’t know what sort of man you thought me to be and I apologize if I gave you the impression that I would wait for you to be finished toying with your husband.”

“Killian!” She scoffed loudly. “You know Robert is a joke! It’s always been you.”

“I see and when do I become your next joke?”

Milah widened her eyes, taken aback by the sudden change in attitude. “What is this all about?”

Killian shrugged. “It’s over, Milah. Good luck with your divorce.’

He walked off.

Milah walked back out to the gate guard, seeing Mack engaged in debate with someone else. A large, very angry man with the stench of beer coming off him.

“What kind of dill are you? I just said, I’m her husband!”

Mack shook his head. “I’m not buying it, buddy. If you want an audition, you’re gonna want to call the talent department. I’d do something about that breath if I was you.”

“The name’s Geoffrey Dumas. Go on, ask her. She’ll tell you.”

“Look, buddy, if you don’t leave, I’m going to call the cops.”

“Bloody yanks...” he muttered, sulking off.

“Excuse me,” said Milah.

Geoffrey turned.

“I wonder if I can help. My husband works at the studio.”

He snorted. “So does my wife.”

“Really?”

Geoffrey motioned at one of the huge billboards now painted with an advertisement for “Beauty and the Beast.”

“Lacey French?,” asked Milah. “You’re Lacey French’s husband?”

“Yeah, only her name’s not Lacey French!,” he shouted at Mack.

Mack nodded. “Look, buddy, the sidewalk is still on studio property!”

Milah turned to Geoffrey. “Let me buy you a drink.”


 

 


“No, I know your problem with Snow Queen, you’re just so far in it you can’t see the forest for the trees.”

“Really now?,” Laurel asked skeptically.

Mark entered. “This is the greatest day of my life.”

“You just went for cigarettes,” said Don.

“Milah came to visit Killian Jones and he gave her marching orders.” Mark lit a cigarette. “It’s all over the lot.”

“Did Milah ever actually do anything to you?,” asked Don.

Mark shrugged. “Well, her terrible Ophelia didn’t help matters, thank God she was only an understudy. I suppose I hate what she represents...”

“How much have you had to drink?,” asked Laurel.

“I told you. It’s a holiday.”

Don turned back to Laurel. “Your problem is that Elsa is not the villain.”

“She’s not?,” asked Laurel.

“No, she’s a victim.” Don motioned at her notepad. “Go ahead. Write that down.”

Mark groaned. “Would you two just sleep together already?”

 

 


 

Gold awoke to find fingers combing through his hair.

“Hello, sleepy,” said Lacey, scooting over to give him a chaste kiss on the lips.

“What time is it?” He had fallen asleep quite sated after he and Lacey came to her bedroom with no concern for time or much of anything but their afterglow.

“It’s only noon. Plenty of time.” She gave a promising smile.

“Well, let’s take that one step at a time...” He raised an eyebrow. “Have we been in a bed before?”

“No,” said Lacey, coming to press her naked body against his. “We have not been in a bed together before. I like it.”

He smiled, suddenly taken by the thought of falling asleep next to Lacey every night and waking next to her in the morning. “Yes, I rather like it, too.”

“I can’t wait for this to be how it always is,” said Lacey, echoing his thoughts. “It’ll be different, of course, when we have the kids and everything.”

He caught a flash of concern on her face.

“What is it, sweetheart?,” he asked.

She let out a breath. “Do you think Bae will like me?”

He let out a laugh. “Of course he does. You already met.”

“Yeah, but that was as the entertainment at a party. As his stepmother?”

“You’ll win him over,” Gold promised. “Now, does Colette like me?”

“Colette likes everyone. It’s something I worry about.”

“She’s sweet,” Gold countered. “Let her be sweet for now.”

“I’m just worried about the rest of the world getting a hold of her.”

“Don’t,” he said kissing her.

“I can’t.”

Gold grimaced. “You know, if we were to run into each other somewhere with our children this weekend...”

Lacey looked at him questioningly.

“Since we would each be alone, as colleagues it would be rude to ignore each other and since our children would be present, no one could misconstrue the situation. Bae and Colette could get to know each other better, I could get to know Colette, you could win over Bae...”

“Robert...” She smiled as she bit her lip. “You have a skill for deceit I didn’t know about.”

“Well...” he said, rolling Lacey under him making her yelp, “so long as I only use my powers for good.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to show me how good you are?”

“Indeed I am,” he said kissing her neck and starting his way down.