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I Belong With You (You Belong With Me)

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The Enchanted Forest (3 Weeks Before The Wedding)

The 25th birthday for the princes of King George’s kingdom was a much-anticipated affair. Everyone knew that these were the nuptials that would save them from poverty. For some reason, their crops had not been prosperous, they had struggled with business connections. James had gone on a mission with his then-girlfriend, Jack, to steal from the giants that lumbered above them but that only went so far. George had searched far and wide, finally making a deal with Rumpelstiltskin to find brides for his sons that would save his subjects (along with himself, most importantly) from starving.

 

For his youngest of the twins, there was probably the most important. King Midas had only one child, a daughter named Abigail. She was fair with blonde hair and her nose stuck up so far. James knew from a mile away that she was not David’s type, not in the slightest, but it wasn’t as if they had much of a choice. What George said, went. They were to marry these women, if they knew what was good for them.

 

As for James, he was told that he was arranged to marry King Maurice’s sole heir as well. It made sense now to the prince why both kings had chosen to make this merger, they would never have sons to become kings themselves. In the sexist patriarchy, they would exchange their daughter’s hands and some money, for promise of a male ruler down the line. James could practically see his mother shaking his head.

 

The twins stood in the meeting hall in the weeks leading up to their birthday/wedding. They had been instructed to wear their finest suits, having been scrubbed clean by the handmaidens. To tell them apart, David’s suit was red, while James’ was black. Their crowns were nestled atop their head. While they had seen Abigail at several balls before, this would be their first-time meeting Belle as her castle was a bit further away.

 

The door opened and George walked in, his stern look on. That immediately got James smirking a bit. David nudged him, but he simply ignored him.

 

“The princesses and their fathers will be here in a few minutes,” George said. “You are to address the kings as “your majesty” and bow.”

“We’ve gone through this whole song and dance since we were 5, Father,” James butted in.

George turned to him. “You’ll keep your smart mouth in check, do you understand me?”

“What about my dumb mouth?”

His father marched up to him, grabbing hold of his collar. James remained calm. He wouldn’t punch him, not now, with guests due to arrive at any moment. “You think this is how your mother would want you to behave?”

 

That got the smirk to leave James’ face. He swallowed, quickly and pulled away from his father, pushing down the wrinkles. His eyes cascaded to the floor, staring intently at the green and white pattern that was there. George shook his head.


“That’s what I thought.” There was a knock at the door. “Yes?”

It opened and one of the butlers appeared. “Your majesty, King Midas, King Maurice and their daughters have arrived. They’re waiting for you all in the dining room.”

“Very well, we’ll be right there.” The butler nodded before leaving. “Best behavior, got it?”

 

David and James nodded, before following their father down to the dining room. Sure enough, the two kings stood front and center. Midas was a tall man with curly blonde hair, who wore one of his magnificent robes as always. The silver gloves that blocked his hands from causing any damage were on as well. Beside him was the shorter and portlier Maurice. The crown atop his head barely hid the balding (though still more hair than George) and he wore less colorful clothes than Midas, a permanent scowl on his face as well. David and James bowed as they had been instructed.

 

“Maurice, Midas,” George said, “These are my sons, David and James. David is in the red, James is in the black.”

“I remember them well, they’re all grownup now,” Midas said, a smile on his face. He stepped to the side, gesturing so his daughter would step forward. “I believe you two will remember my daughter, Abigail. Abigail, sweetheart, David is going to be your husband.”

 

David gave his fiancé a polite smile, but Abigail didn’t do anything in return. Her honey blonde hair was piled on the top of her head in a bun, her arms crossed over her powder blue dress. She looked David up and down, the scowl not leaving her face.

 

“I suppose he’ll do.”

 

It took all James had not to roll his eyes at her. Any woman would be lucky to have David. Sure, he was annoying and he could have a bit of a hero complex, but he was more than just one to settle for. No one signed up for it either, and he was being cordial. Abigail had a permanent stick up her butt, it would seem.

 

Maurice cleared his throat. “This is my daughter, Belle.”

 

A young woman about the same height as the king took a step forward. She had long chestnut curls and big blue eyes. A yellow ballgown had been selected for her that evening and it complimented her quite well. Unlike Abigail, she had a smile on her face. She extended her hand.

 

“Charmed.”

James blinked a few times before kissing it as he had been taught in his years of etiquette class. “Yes, very nice to meet you. I am James.”

“I figured that,” she said with a giggle.

 

James smiled, watching Belle as the kings spoke. She was quiet, her hands folded neatly in her lap. It was clear she had the same training that he had, not that it was any surprise. For a minute, he worried that she might be too much of a delicate princess. When her father gave her a pointed look for reaching for a second roll at dinner, however, and she secretly rolled her eyes, he knew that she had a bit of sass in there as well.

 

After dessert, George stood up, leading the crowd to the stairs. “Farrah and Natalie will lead Maurice and Midas to their rooms. David and James, you shall do the same with Abigail and Belle, they’re the ones at the opposite sides of your wings.”

“You mean we won’t be sharing rooms right off the bat?” James asked, with a faux pout.

George gave him a look before regaining composure. “You know the rules James, not until your wedding night. Now, go on.”

 

James had to stifle a laugh. His father knew he was not a virgin by any means, but he’d plays along. Taking Belle by the hand, he lead her up the stairs to his wing, while David did the same with Abigail to his own. He opened the door, lighting a candle for her so she could see around. The maids had already unloaded her luggage, so she would be all set for her stay until the wedding. James couldn’t help but notice there was still a trunk left to unpack.

 

“I’ll go have Farrah get that one for you,” he said.

Belle shook her head. “Don’t worry, I told them to leave it be. It’s my books.”

James sized up the rather large trunk. “All of those are yours?”

“Yes.”

“You are aware that we’ll be moving into the summer palace after the wedding, right? They can move your collection there, after.”

“Oh, those aren’t all of my books, just what I’ll need for my stay.”

James’ did all he could to keep his mouth from dropping open. “Oh…well…tomorrow, I’ll take you to my library. You can keep your books with mine, and you’re more than welcome to borrow any you’d like as well.”

Your library?”

“What, because I’m a prince you think I’m stupid?”

“No…I just…I’ve heard rumors…I…”

James shook his head. “Goodnight, Belle. Sweet dreams.” He shut the door and headed back to his room, thinking up a list of books to recommend to her.

Chapter Text

Storybrooke, Maine (October 23rd, 2011)

 

The clock had started moving in the town square, but James was too busy that morning to notice. He balanced the tray of coffees in one hand, the box of various bagels and schmear in the other. All the while he had to make sure not a single drop got on his burgundy sweater or khakis, he’d never hear the end of it from his father.

 

The fall leaves were drifting from the trees and a cool breeze came through the air. Children wore the navy-blue sweater and longer khakis with their school uniforms, everyone except Ruby had discarded their shorts. James happened to like fall. It was pretty to look at from his desk, and it didn’t make him too depressed, wishing he was somewhere else, anywhere else.

 

Eventually, he made it to the offices of Spencer & Associates. The steel sign on the outside was as impersonal as the furniture and emotions inside. James stepped inside and began distributing the coffees one by one, dropping off the bagels in the breakroom before he dropped off the last to the boss himself.

 

Albert sat behind his mahogany desk in a grey suit, typing furiously on his computer. James cringed on the recipient’s behalf, knowing they must have pissed him off. He waited until his father finished, to clear his throat. Albert looked up, his eyes still narrowed.

 

“Can I help you, James?”

James held up the to-go cup. “Coffee, black.”

 

Like your soul.

 

James quickly shot that thought out of his head. He didn’t know who that was. Occasionally those ideas came to mind, but he knew they were bad. You didn’t speak to Father that way, not if you wanted to keep your job, your way of living. James was lucky his father still accepted him and loved him; he had been told so several times since he dropped out of law school. Albert gave him a job as an assistant at the firm and allowed him to remain living at home, despite being 28 years old. James was too stupid, too weak to work anywhere else. He wouldn’t make it on his own.

 

“Just look what happened when David tried,” Albert would tell him.

 

Albert nodded, his muscles loosening a bit. “Very well.’

James walked over, handing it to his father and watching his reaction to make sure it was right. “Busy day?”

“I have meetings. Make sure everyone stays out of my hair.’

“Of course, Father.”

“I need you to continue rearranging my filing system and then clean my office. Regina was set to come visit me today, but she canceled. Something about her son going missing.”

James tilted his head. “Again? Is he alright?”

“He’s none of our concern.” Albert fixed him with a look. “Get to work, and quit worrying about others.”

He lowered his head. “Yes, Father.”

 

James headed over to the filing cabinet, getting to work. The entire day was spent with mostly heavy work, between rearranging files, cleaning and making sure everyone had exactly what they needed. He barely had enough time to break for lunch. By the end of the day, he was exhausted, starving and just wanted to head home, but instead, he found himself heading for the hospital.

 

He took the elevator up to the coma ward, walking past the grim-looking nurses and over to his brother’s very open looking room. He paused upon seeing a petite brunette in the room, wearing a cardigan and floral skirt, holding a bouquet of flowers. James hovered in the doorway.

 

“Excuse me?”

She startled. “Oh…hi…I’m sorry…” She did a double-take. “Wow…you look…”

“Just like him. We’re twins.”

“Of course.” Her cheeks tinted. “I’m Mary Margaret Blanchard, one of the hospital volunteers. I come by to see your brother, read to him, you know? Just make sure he’s okay.”

“Oh.” James stood there dumbly for a minute, before realizing he hadn’t introduced himself. “I’m James, by the way. James Spencer.’ He gestured to the bed. “That’s David.’

Mary Margaret smiled. “I’ve seen.” The smile slowly faded. “Do they know what happened?”

James shook his head, a frown coming to his own face. “No. They just found him in the woods one day…unconscious. I can’t remember how long it’s been, but he hasn’t been awake in a long time.”


 

Across town, Lacey French was waking up from her late afternoon nap, cursing herself for agreeing to work those early morning shifts at Granny’s. She stumbled out of her bed, taking a brisk shower. Hopping from one foot to another, she pulled on her black thong, followed by her blue mini dress. She tied her auburn hair back, letting a few loose strands hang. Lacey popped her lips once the bright red gloss was on and blinked her eyes after the mascara. She was ready for a night on the town.

 

After years of practice, the black heels were little trouble to walk in, but she chose to hold them as she walked down the stairs. Poking her head into the living room, Moe was passed out in his Laz-E-Boy recliner, beer cans surrounding him, the football game on T.V. Lacey let out a sigh of relief and continued tiptoeing out the door. She slid on her heels on the porch, before continuing the walk over to her cherry-red Jaguar.

 

She sped into town, not even caring about the speed limit. Let Graham pull her over, she had Ruby to meet up with. Maybe she could flirt her way out of it with him, everyone knew he was way too soft unless Regina Mills was around.

 

As she got to the center of town, she realized she was coming to a red light and slammed on her breaks. Her lights shone brightly as a man stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the crosswalk. He had a mess of blonde hair and looked a bit spooked, holding his jacket closer to him as if the car was about to pull a Christine. Lacey gave him an odd look, tilting her head and waving to signal that he could keep walking. The man stood there a bit longer, staring at her, his eyes practically boring a hole into hers. Normally, Lacey would’ve found it weird, but something felt…off. For a moment, it was as if they were the only two people in the middle of the road…

 

HONK!

 

Lacey snapped out of it and realized that the light had turned green. When she looked at the crosswalk, she realized that the mystery man was gone.

Chapter Text

The Enchanted Forest (One Week & 13 Days Before the Wedding)

 

The library was more magnificent than Belle had imagined. The floor to ceiling bookshelves leaned against the beige and olive wallpaper, which was decorated with roses. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, sparkling under the glow of the wicker candles. The paintings on the wall were from each season: the forest in the winter, a local lake in the spring and a wooden cottage covered with fall leaves. The last was probably her favorite, a young girl wearing a simple white linen dress, reading a book in the summer sun. The girl had auburn curls and beautiful blue eyes, staring so intently at the pages. Belle wished her own father would have let her pose for her portraits in such a way.

 

Running her hands over the fine leather-bound spines, Belle let out a sigh. She had been in the castle for less than 24 hours, but she was already nervous. In less than two weeks, she was expected to marry James, a man she had only met the day before. That didn’t mean she hadn’t heard the rumors. He was a ladies’ man, a vicious knight. He wasn’t anything like his much calmer brother. Belle knew that no one was perfect, but she had always hoped she would marry for love. If what she heard was to be believed, after their wedding, James would be out slaying dragons and sleeping with the numerous women that threw themselves at him.

 

Yet, despite all the rumors, this was James’ personal library. According to the maid that helped her dress that morning, there was another that David and George used in the east wing. She had never heard of a prince having his own library before. The royals had to be well educated, but most princes didn’t care much for books. As she went to put her own collection away, she realized that they even had quite a few in common. Clutching Her Handsome Hero to her chest, she gasped to find an equally worn out copy on the shelf.

 

“Something wrong?”

 

Belle whipped around. James stood there, dressed much more casually than he had the night before. He wore a simple white top that flowed a bit and black pants. He clearly hadn’t shaven that morning, his shadow coming in darker than the blonde hair atop his head. There wasn’t even a sword to be seen on him. He looked relaxed, almost…normal.

 

“No, I just…” She shrugged and then gestured to the book on the shelf. “I’ve never met someone else that’s read Her Handsome Hero before, much less kept their copy until adulthood like me.”

James smiled, walking closer to her. His aftershave filled her nostrils, an intoxicating blend of sandalwood and lemon. “My mother read it to me, when I was young,” he said, taking his book.

A grin filled Belle’s face, the grip on her own copy loosening. “So did mine. It was actually the first book I learned to read on my own.”

“Mine too.”

 

They stood there for a moment, Belle feeling him practically glowing on her. What were the odds that they would like the same book, let alone have it be the first one they had read?

“I heard your mother past, recently,” James said, his smile dropping a bit. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

Belle’s own beam faded. “Yes…about a year back.”

“I used to hate when people said this to me…but I get it.” He looked over at the summer portrait. “David and I lost our mother too, when we were 5 years old.”

 

Belle’s stomach flipped. She had never heard about a queen in George’s kingdom, only him. She took a closer look at the picture, how immersed the young woman had to be. It made sense now why James loved books. She had to have passed it onto him.

 

“She was beautiful.”

“She was,” James echoed. “Her name was Serafina.”

“My mother’s was Collette.” She let out a shaky breath, feeling brave to say what she hadn’t to her father. “I always pictured her here for my wedding. This whole thing is crazy enough…this just makes it harder.”

“I know what you mean.” James’ hand covered hers. “But you don’t have to go through this alone. I’m here too.”

 

His deep blue eyes were kind, yet pained. They looked like they had seen so much and as if they could write their own story. Belle realized that she had heard so much about her husband-to-be indeed, but knew so very little truths.

 

“James…I don’t know how any of this is going to work,” she admitted. “I agreed to do this, because it’s what my father wanted. I’ve felt so alone since my mother died and I don’t want to keep that up. I know we’re not in love but…I could use a friend.”

James smiled again and Belle’s heart cracked wide open. “Well, now you’ve got one.” He removed his hand and extended his elbow. “Why don’t we get to know each other better over some tea?”

Chapter Text

Storybrooke, Maine (October 25th, 2011)

 

Granny and Ruby were fighting again. It was nothing new at the zoo. At least over the past few days it seemed to be over something different, not just Ruby’s outfits or the fact that she couldn’t leave town because of Granny’s hip replacement. Lacey hated that one most of all. She was stuck in this God forsaken place too. She was meant to escape, but you didn’t see her complaining. There was nothing you could do about the hand life dealt you. So, Lacey just got up every morning and kept soldiering on. She worked the early morning shifts at the diner, despite the pounding headaches and bags covered by concealer. Sure, she could skip the nights out. But what would the fun be in that? If she couldn’t go to Los Angeles like she dreamed, then she’d party every night.

 

Ruby stomped into the back, her wild red streaked hair flying behind her. “I can’t work out there with her!” She exclaimed, exasperated.

“You’ll get through it,” Lacey assured as she scrubbed syrup off another blue plate. “Killing her will only land you in prison.”

“I’m serious, Lace. This morning is just too much. If I hear her judging me one more time, I’m going to lose it.”

 

Lacey didn’t say that Ruby should be lucky to have someone who cared. That maybe she should listen to Granny and take some responsibility every once in a while. That Granny got on her ass to and while she pretended she hated it, she secretly loved it because it’s not like anyone else did.

 

“Do you want me to man the cash register?” She offered instead. “It means you have to do the dishes.”

“Surprisingly, that sounds like a better offer right about now.”

 

Lacey chuckled and tossed Ruby the sponge. She started heading out of the kitchen, then paused.

 

“You know, maybe a night at the Rabbit Hole would clear your head,” she told her. “Always works for me.”

Ruby grinned. “I’ll meet you there. Eight o’clock?”

“Sounds like my time.”

 

Lacey took her spot at the cash register, looking around at the morning rush. Mary Margaret Blanchard was at her usual spot, eating oatmeal and toast. With her was the strange blonde newcomer that everyone had been whispering about. Rumor had it, she was Henry Mills’ birth mother. She had caused quite the headache for Regina and she didn’t envy this Emma Swan, as Ruby had said her name was. Madam Mayor wasn’t easy to deal with and once you were in her crossfire, it wasn’t easy to escape.

 

The bell above the door jingled and a new customer walked in. Something about him felt familiar to Lacey, yet for the life of her she hadn’t seen him before. He was wearing a navy-blue sweater and khakis. His blonde hair was perfectly gelled and he had a pair of round glasses on his face. He looked anxious in the crowd, his eyes darting every which way. It took Lacey a minute to realize he had been the pedestrian she nearly ran over the other night on her way to the bar. No wonder, he was so damn jumpy. Probably hardly left the house.

 

The man made it to the counter and the tilted his head. “You’re not Ruby.”

Lacey folded her arms over her chest. “Not the name my mother gave me, no.”

“Is Ruby alright?”

“She’s fine. Why? You obsessed with her or something?” She asked, feeling a bit protective of her friend.

The mystery man’s cheeks turned red. “No! Of course not! I…I…I just…” He stammered. Lacey bit her lip, trying to hold back a chuckle. She had been worried about this guy stalking her best friend? He probably couldn’t even step on an ant. “I just normally see her every morning is all.”

“Oh, I get it. Well, we switched positions today, so you’re stuck with me.”

“That’s, erm. Fine.”

“Not that you had a choice,” she countered, watching him grow an even darker shade of red.

“Of course not.” He peered down at her name tag. “L…Lacey. It’s nice to meet you, Lacey.” He fumbled his hand out of his pocket and extended it forward. “I’m James.”

Lacey stared at it for a moment, realizing she had gone a bit far with winding this guy up. She gently patted his hand, giving him an odd look. “Nice to meet you, James. Want to order?”

He moved back his hand, his lips turning downwards. For some reason, that made Lacey frown as well. “I have a list. All to go.” He went through his pocket once more, than pulled it out. “A dozen bagels, toasted, assorted cream cheese on the side…”

 

It was as if a switch had gone off for James. He was suddenly very professional, as if he had done this before. Lacey entered the items into registered and scribbled them onto the order pad. When he finished, she put the order on the line and turned back to him to accept payment.

 

“You must be really hungry.” He gave her an odd look. “All that food and coffee.”

“Oh…no…they’re not for me. They’re for the people I work with.”

Lacey tilted her head. “You work for a factory or something?” He was a bit too well dressed for that.

James chuckled, the first smile since he had coming out. “No. I’m an assistant at Spencer & Associates. My dad is Albert Spencer.”

 

Lacey’s eyes widened. She had just toyed with the son of Albert Spencer. One of the richest men in town. He was the one responsible for Game of Thorns nearly closing a few months back. If Gold hadn’t both given her father a loan and fought on his side as a huge favor for her, they would’ve been shit out of luck. Of course, she had to give Gold a blow job to make that happen and to not be so strict on the payback, but her father didn’t know.

 

Either way, her mouth was potentially going to get her in trouble again. If he went running to Daddy…

 

Shit, Lacey. Great job.

 

“Order up!”

 

It was Lacey’s turn to fumble as she turned around and grabbed the bag of food. She quickly poured out the tray of coffees, before thrusting everything James’ way.

 

“Thank you, come again.”

“See you around, Lacey.”

 

He flashed her a smile and it burned the pit of her stomach.

Chapter Text

The Enchanted Forest (One Week & 10 Days Before the Wedding)

 

Belle turned around the corner, a heavy book clutched between her fingertips. She had discovered it within her possessions and couldn’t wait to share it with James. It had contained some of her favorite poems and she was hoping they could incorporate them in their wedding programs. She wasn’t sure how much he wanted to be involved with the planning of the wedding, but she also knew he loved literature just as much as she did. Outside their dress fittings, Abigail didn’t seem to care at all about the weddings. A part of Belle couldn’t blame her. They didn’t choose either of these fiancés. At the same time, Abigail spent most of her time holed up in her room. She only got dressed when her father finally demanded so. Would she ever get used to the idea of marrying David? For both of their sakes, Belle sure hoped so.

 

As Belle turned the corner for James’ library, she heard a thud. She carefully approached the door, peering inside. James was backed up against the door with his father before him. His eyes were wide and there was something written on his face that Belle had never seen before. Fear. James raised his hands in defense. George’s back was to the door, his shiny forehead glowing under the chandelier. James didn’t notice her either, his eyes trained on his father.

 

“Father, I’m sorry.” His voice was shaking. “It was just a joke.”

“A joke?” George let out a bitter laugh. “You think this entire thing is a fucking joke?” He slammed his fist against the wall right by James’ head, which made the younger man wince. Belle’s body tensed. “This merger is going to save our kingdom. You’re not going to mess it up by “joking” with Midas.”

“I don’t think he took it…”

“You think you’re so hilarious, but no one thinks you’re funny. In fact, if you disappeared, no one would miss you at all.”

 

Belle’s grip on the book intensified. How could a father talk this way to their child? James was kind, intelligent and charming. Sure, he had a bit of dark humor but that only added to what made him, him. A parent was supposed to love their child for who they were. George seemed cold and standoffish, but she didn’t imagine he was this cruel. A tingling sensation rose through her body that she didn’t quite understand. Anger? Hostility? Could she go as far as to say protectiveness?

 

James’ eyes narrowed at his father’s comment, his chin jutting outward. “I think you would. I mean, without me, how else would you get all the gold you need?”

George scoffed. “I should’ve let you be raised by those farmers. You would’ve been dead by your first birthday.” He went to grab hold of James’ collar and that’s when Belle decided she’d had enough.

“Lay a hand on him and I’ll let this book dent your skull,” she threatened loud enough for him to hear.

 

George spun around; his eyes aghast. James looked shocked, yet a small grin was creeping up on his lips. His father quickly composed himself. He stood up straight and cleared his throat. Belle kept her glare on him with her book held up in the air. She ignored the ache in her wrist, not about to leave James unprotected.

 

“I’ll beg you to remember your place, Belle,” George said.

Belle shrugged. “And I’ll remind you of who you need for this merger.”

George licked his lips, shaking his head. “A match made in Heaven indeed,” he muttered under his breath. His eyes darted back to his son. “We’ll finish this discussion later.”

“Touch him again and I’ll make sure you don’t get an ounce of my father’s gold.”

 

George shook his head, walking out of the room. Belle dropped the book onto a side table and ran over to James. She put one hand on top of his and another on his cheek.

 

“Are you alright?” She asked.

James nodded, letting out a deep breath. “You saved me from the worst he could’ve done.”

“I just…” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry. No father should talk that way to their child.”

“You clearly have never met George.”

“Well, no, but he was wrong. About all of it…” She trailed off, some of his words finally registered with her. “What did he mean? That you should’ve been raised with farmers?”

James sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “You’re going to be my wife. I suppose you know our great family secret.”


 

The private garden off the library was in full bloom. The azaleas showed off their pink as they danced in the wind. The cherry tree had lost its petals and instead had the sweet-smelling fruit instead. Multi-color rosebushes created a mini-maze. It had been lovely to look at in between reading Shakespeare and sips of honey tea. It was even nice for Belle to walk around with James.

 

“My mother always did what she could to shield David and I from George’s cruelty. She wanted us to be kind. Not the stereotypical princes you hear of. She read us stories; told us we didn’t have to be vicious knights if we didn’t have to.”

Belle ran her fingers over an azalea. “She sounds great.”

“She truly was.” He bit his lip. “But then she got sick. It spread quickly and she was gone before we really knew it. George put us into knight training almost immediately.”

“But you were only 5, right?”

James nodded and Belle frowned. “He didn’t care. He wanted us to be the perfect dragon slayers as soon as possible. David tried his best. He just wanted to please George so badly. I was scared, so I took off. I didn’t know where I was going but I managed to steal some money, pack a bag and went to Pleasure Island.”

 

Belle tried to picture James running away, but she was having trouble picture him as a 5-year-old. He just seemed totally broody and forever an adult.

 

“It was supposed to be a never-ending carnival but it was a nightmare. They turned kids into animals and once they got word I was a prince, they were after me. I didn’t last very long before a strange man appeared,” James continued. “He explained that I was his son.”

Belle’s brows furrowed. “What?”

James outstretched his arms. “Exactly what I said. He didn’t explain, but said if I went with him, we could go back to a farm. I could live a regular life with him and my “real mom” as he called her.”

“That had to be confusing.”

“It was. But at the time, it sounded nice. Animals, having a mom again…so I said yes.”

Guilt washed over his face. Belle touched his arm. “That doesn’t make you a bad son.”

“I know,” he whispered. “But I was so willing to give up the mom that raised me…”

“If she saw what George wanted to turn you into, she’d understand.”

James shrugged. He gently pulled away from her. “When we were getting off the island, George showed up. He tried to offer the man money but he refused. He introduced himself as my father. The two argued. It came out that the man, Robert, and his wife, Ruth, had me and David. They were too poor to raise us. They could barely keep their farm. So, Rumpelstiltskin showed up and made them a deal.”

“And they took it?” Belle tilted her head. She had heard some awful stories about the wizard.

“Robert says we were dying. He had gambled away money for our medicine. George couldn’t produce an heir so Rumpelstiltskin promised to find him one. In exchange for saving their farm, they would give up one child.”

“But both of you are with George.”

James sighed. “George revealed that Robert got greedy. He wanted extra money. So, he said they’d give both of us. Ruth didn’t want to, but he made the deal behind her back.”

Belle gasped. It seemed David and James had been screwed over in the fatherhood department on both ends. “Lords.”

“Robert said he felt guilty. He was sober and he wanted to make things right, he wanted Ruth to forgive him and he thought the only way to do that was to bring back one of the kids he sold. So, he wanted me.”

 

James braced the edge of the bush. A delicate flower crushed under his grip, causing him to wince.

 

“George ordered his execution. It was as if he were ordering a new rug for the main hall.” His glassy blue eyes stared off at the castle. “The guards carried him off and he was gone.” James swallowed, shaking his head. “If I hadn’t agreed to go with him, if I hadn’t run off…”

“James,” Belle returned her hand to his face, forcing him to look at her. “This isn’t your fault. None of it is your fault. Robert chose to go there that night. He knew he was kidnapping a royal child. Regardless, George didn’t have to do what he did, especially in front of a 5-year-old.”

James’ lip trembled. “I never told anyone about that. Not even David.”

Belle tilted her head. “Really?”

“On the ride home, George ordered me to secrecy. He told me that no one was ever to know, especially not my brother. If I ever breathed a word, I’d have a grave next to my biological father.”

“What a burden for him to place on your shoulders,” she whispered. “I am so sorry.”

James shrugged, wiping at his eye. “There’s so much damn pollen in this garden.”

 

Belle took a step back, not wanting to make him feel uncomfortable. So much made sense now. The rumors about a vicious prince, a lady killer. It was all to appease his father. The dark humor was from years of abuse and protecting a family secret. So much was weighing down on James and yet he kept that devilish grin on his face most of the time.

 

“Do you ever think of reaching out to your biological mother?” She asked.

James shook his head. “No. Even if George would allow me, it’d be out of the question. She had to pick one of us and she chose her favorite originally.”

“James, I’m sure that’s not how it worked…”

“I had a mother, Belle. She read me to bed every night, she snuck me treats in my lessons and she kissed my wounds when I was hurt.” James straightened up. “We may not share the same DNA, but she was all the mother I needed. I don’t need to find the woman who gave me life.”

 

Belle stared at him for a minute. A part of her wanted to push, while the other understood. She wasn’t adopted but she had a mother that she loved more than anything in the world and not because they shared the same blood. If she found out tomorrow that Maurice and Collette hadn’t actually brought her into this world, it wouldn’t change how she felt about them. James’ mother was Serafina. She was all he needed.

 

“I think you’re right, you’re happy with your choice,” she finally said.

James nodded. “Thank you.”

“But David didn’t get to make his. He’s had to live in the dark for years, not knowing any of this. I’m not saying he should know anything, but doesn’t he deserve the truth?”

“What? That our biological father sold him for booze money? No, I think that’d hurt him even more.”

“And what about the mother that wanted him and didn’t get a say? I know you’ve tried to protect him all these years James. Maybe I don’t know everything about this, but I do know that he deserves to have all the facts like you do.”

James sighed, running his fingers through his blonde curls. He looked down at Belle. Their eyes interlocked and she got that warm, relaxing feeling in her stomach yet again. “I hate when you’re right.”

“You might as well get used to it,” she said cheekily, plucking an azalea off the bush and handing it to him. “Happens more than you might think.”

 

James rolled his eyes. Yet, that smile started to return. Why did he have to look at her like that?

 

Why did he have to make her fall for him?

Chapter Text

The Enchanted Forest (One Week & 9 Days Before the Wedding)

 

David couldn’t get the bandit out of his mind. Sure, she had originally stolen his mother’s engagement ring but she had soon proven to be much more than that. She was a beautiful woman, her dark hair in a frizzy braid. Her emerald eyes brought out the stone in that ring. The second she had tried it on his jest, he knew he had never wanted her to take it off. She could fight harder than any other person he had ever met and that was sexy in its own right, forget her looks.

 

It was too bad that he was probably never going to see her again.

 

She was on his mind with every step he took.  As he listened to his father plan his wedding or whenever he tried to talk to Abigail (which was like pulling teeth), his mind floated to Snow White. He wondered if she was safe. He wondered what she was doing. Most of all, he wondered if she was thinking about him too.

 

“And then the Behemoth dragged his dagger through my skin, piercing me alive,” James said.

David looked up from his doodle. “Huh?”

“I knew you weren’t paying attention to what I was saying.”

“I totally was.”

“Considering I’ve never battled the Behemoth, I’d say not.” James leaned forward, staring at his brother’s sketch. “Whatchya drawing?”

David quickly attempted to cover it up with his forearm. “Nothing.”

James snatched the paper out from under him, scanning the paper. “She’s pretty, who is it?”

“No one in particular.”

“Davey, I know you. You got the artistic abilities of the two of us. This is definitely someone.” He studied the paper some more. “I’d say Abigail, but this girl has darker hair and is actually smiling.”

David snatched the paper back. “Father will hear you.”

“He’s out with Midas. Now, tell me.”

David sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. James wasn’t giving up and he wasn’t in the mood for a fight. “She’s a bandit I met in the woods the other day. She stole the ring I’m meant to give Abigail.” James cocked an eyebrow. “I got it back, but we ended up going on a bit journey together…she saved my life.”

James tilted his head. “You like this girl.”

David could feel his cheeks grow hot. “I do not.”

“You totally do.” James smirked. “Davey’s in love.”

“Shut up.” He averted his glance to the wooden table. “Even if I was, it doesn’t matter. In a little over a week, I’m to marry Abigail.”

“Yeah, a woman that can’t stand you.”

“Maybe in time…”

“David, stop. I know you. You always said you wanted to marry for love. Just like Mother taught us.”

“And how realistic is that? We’re royalty, James. Our lives are filled with expectations and arranged marriages.” David’s eyes flickered back down to the paper. He thought of Snow and the life they could have together. It made his heart ache. “Would I like to see what Snow and I could have together? Of course, but it’s just not realistic. I have to do this for Father. Just as he’s done everything for us.”

 

When David looked back up at his brother, he saw tears in his eyes. It wasn’t often James cried. Even when they were children and their mother died, he had been the strong one. David broke down and had destroyed their playroom. James was stoic, staring into space. He eventually gathered David into his arms and calmed him down. David always loved to joke that James was never a kid, that he had been born a mini-adult. In that moment, however, he seemed so vulnerable.

 

“David,” James whispered. “There’s something you should know.”


 

David’s blood boiled as he stormed away from his brother. He blocked out James calling after him, he didn’t want to hear him.

 

Everything he had known, everything he had ever thought had been a lie.

 

He slammed shut the heavy oak door to his room. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the leather pouch that contained the ring. All his life he thought it belonged to his mother. Or Serafina.

 

“Shit,” he mumbled to himself.

 

Nothing made sense to him anymore. Serafina would always be his mother. She raised him for 5 years. She loved him. She doted on him. She taught him everything he loved about himself, while George had given him everything that he hated.

 

Yet this ring, the one he had always been told, belonged to the woman that had truly given him life. A woman until 15 minutes prior, he had no clue had existed. A woman that James and George had hidden from him for years. Ruth. She hadn’t wanted to give him up, but Robert-his biological father-had sold him. He was never meant to have this life. He was supposed to grow up a shepherd.

 

He was never meant to know his twin.

 

This was too much for him to handle.

 

“You’re back here early.”

 

David looked up to find Abigail standing in his room. She was dressed in a long coat, made of the finest pink silk. Her blonde hair was wrapped around her head and a hat that matched her coat sat atop her head. Abigail barely looked at him, let alone snuck into his room.

 

“What do you want?” His voice came out more bitter than he intended.

“I just wanted…” Her cheeks tinted pink. “I was trying to get some objects I could get to possibly leave this kingdom.”

David shook his head. “I suppose I shouldn’t even be surprised. You’ve made it clear you don’t want to be here.”

 

He stormed past her and over to his vanity. He grabbed a gold pocket watch along with some pearls that had once belonged to his mother, Serafina, whoever the hell she was. He didn’t know what to think anymore. God, his head hurt.’

 

He didn’t even love Abigail. He wasn’t sure why he was angry with her. Really, he wasn’t. He was upset with James and George, and it was coming out on her.

 

He needed a drink.

 

“I know what you must think of me,” Abigail said. “Poor little rich girl. Has everything she could ever want…why can’t I just marry you…”

“Up until today, I was willing to do this, give up my own happiness to make this merger happen!”

“Well I believe that while marriage requires give and take, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice being with who you truly love!”

David’s hands fell at his sides and he turned to face her. “So, we’re in agreement there, at the very least.”

Abigail cleared her throat. “I suppose so.”

“There’s someone else?”

“There was.” She bit her lip. “I was engaged to be married months before we got word of your father’s request for a merger. To a wonderful, handsome, kind man named Frederick.” She clutched her chest and shut her eyes.

David tilted his head, feeling some of his rage melting. “What happened?”

“You know my father; he turns anything he touches to gold.” Abigail’s eyes opened. A pain look overcame her pupils, a genuine frown encroaching her lips. “It was an accident. He didn’t have his gloves on…Frederick got too close…and the next thing we knew…he was a statute.”

David frowned. “Did you try true love’s kiss?”

“Until my lips bled.”

“Oh, Abigail…”

“I’ve looked into every spell, tried everything I could…but nothing worked. My father supported most of it, until we got your father’s offer. He couldn’t turn it down. The merger was just too great.” She looked out the window. “But I can’t trade my happiness for these kingdoms.

 

David thought of his own adoptive father. Growing up in this kingdom had felt like a prison. George had been cruel, trying to force both men to become people they didn’t want. It gave James an awful reputation and made David afraid to cross George in any way. They had been beaten and bruised. Their childhoods ended the day Serafina died. Now David found out, his life was never meant to be that way. Robert didn’t sound much better, but he still would never know what could have been.

 

He couldn’t stick around and continue living a lie.

 

“Maybe we could help each other,” David said.

Abigail looked back at him. “How?”

“I’ve discovered some stuff about myself that I need to look into. There’s also someone out there that I need to find.”

She studied his face. “A true love?”

David’s lips tugged up partially. “She just may be.” He took a step forward. “I think I have a way that we can save Frederick. We can leave tonight. Do you trust me?”

Abigail looked at him for a minute, before nodding. “I do. But do you really think you can leave all of this behind?”

 

David’s eyes scanned the rich red and gold room, the canopy bed. He thought of the sword practices, the nights he cried himself to sleep. He would miss his brother, but right now he certainly couldn’t be around him.

 

“It’s been a long time coming.”

Chapter Text

Storybrooke, Maine (October 28th, 2011)

 

James attempted to peek through the newspaper that covered the windows but could only see the stories splashed across the pages, rather than the contents inside. He didn’t quite understand why the library had been locked up for so many years, but it bothered him to no end. He loved books. He could spend his lunch break, his evenings alone and the weekends getting lost in numerous adventures. From Jane Austen to George Orwell to Mary Shelley, he was never far from a novel. However, he was limited to the ones he had in his personal collection and what he could order off the internet. The mail system worked strangely in their little hamlet and it took forever to get anything in. If there was a library, at the very least it would be easier to borrow a huge stack and return them for more.

 

The last time he asked Regina Mills about it, she said that there wasn’t anyone interested in running the place. According to her, the last librarian had died long before he was born and no one else had been interested in the job. It was such a shame too. He knew he wasn’t the only one that longed for a library. His eyes glanced towards Henry, the mayor’s son. The young boy was looking longingly at the building as well. A large leather-bound book was tucked under his right arm and he had a frown on his face. His head tilted up towards the clock expectantly. James looked up towards it as well, but couldn’t tell what was wrong. Everyone had been abuzz about the clock being fixed, but it didn’t seem like Henry was happy about it.

 

Before James could move to say anything to Henry, the latter took off in the direction of a yellow Volkswagen bug. James shook his head. He had heard all about their town’s newcomer and the trouble she had been causing the mayor. On the one hand, he understood the appeal of wanting to get the child you gave up. On the other, Regina never lost. Even his own father was careful around her. Emma Swan had no clue what she was up against.

 

Then again, if she was this determined, maybe Regina didn’t know what she had coming either.

 

James turned to head back home; he had a long walk ahead of him. As he was doing so, he found himself face to face with Lacey. She was out of her waitress uniform and wearing a black sports bra along with matching leggings. Her auburn hair had been pulled back in a ponytail, showing off her sharp facial features. God, she was so beautiful. James had been in relationships before, but they never lasted very long. Albert made sure of that. No one was ever good enough or even if they were, Albert found something wrong with James. Sometimes he’d pick women for his son, only to say that he had changed his mind. As a result, James found himself a stuttering mess most of the time. He knew that there was no way Albert would ever approve of Lacey French. Yet, he also didn’t care.

 

“We just seem to be running into each other everywhere,” he managed to give her a nervous smile.

Lacey shrugged, jogging in place. Her ponytail bounced along with the rest of her body. “I guess so.”

James stuffed his hands into his pockets. “You headed to work?”

“No…just on a run.”

He could’ve smacked himself. Why would she go to work like that? “Of course, right…”

“Look…I’m sorry about the other day. Just please don’t tell your dad, the last thing I need is Albert Spencer up my ass again.”

James’ brows furrowed. “Why are you sorry? And why would I tell my dad?”

Lacey frowned as the jogging slowly came to a halt. “I was a jerk to you. And I mean, your dad is one of the biggest assholes in Storybrooke…”

“So, you thought I’d just rat you out.” James bit his lip. “Not that I actually wanted to talk to you or anything.”

“Well, I mean…yeah.”

 

James ducked his head. Of course. A pretty girl like Lacey and all she could think about was his scary father. God, why did Albert have to ruin everything for him?

 

“I didn’t plan on saying anything to my dad. I didn’t even care how you talked to me, I thought it was funny. I thought…” He trailed off, not wanting to embarrass himself further. “You know what? Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”

 

He started to walk away, ignoring the burning embarrassment in his stomach. James only made it halfway down the block when he heard Lacey calling for him. When he turned around, she was jogging his way.

 

“I guess I’m an idiot. I tend to see myself and not much else,” she admitted. “It’s not a great flaw.”

“You’re not the only one in the world with it.”

“Still something I should probably work on.” She rubbed her forearm. “Look, I feel like I owe you a drink.”

“Oh, you don’t have to…”

“James.” Lacey gave him a Look. “A girl like me is offering to take you to the Rabbit Hole and buy you alcohol. Think about if you wanna turn that down.”

 

James didn’t have to think twice. He offered her his sweatshirt since they were going to be heading into an establishment which made her do the cute head tilt. Ultimately, she accepted it, though she left it unzipped.

 

“It is just the Rabbit Hole, after all,” she said.

 

James had never been inside the bar in question. The last time he even had a drop of alcohol was to celebrate getting his undergrad and that was just a bit of champagne. The minute he stepped into the place; he knew it was different. It reeked of sweat, beer and nuts. AC/DC blared over the jukebox. The place was crowded with people. Some were around the tables, most settled by the pool tables. James was definitely the most overdressed of the bunch. The girls wore mini-skirts and tank tops, while the guys were in jeans. He had been walking home from work and was still in a burgundy sweater, corduroy pants and his dockers. As a waiter bumped into him, he worried about his glasses breaking.

 

God, you are such a dweeb.

 

There was that voice again. Where did it come from?

 

Lacey lead him over to the bar. “What do you drink?” She asked, finding them two stools.

“I um, I don’t.”

She gave him a weird look. “You’re kidding.”

The tips of his ears turned pink. “I mean…I’m just not a bar guy. My brother and I had a six pack on our 21st?”

Lacey let out an intoxicating, adorable, vibrant laugh that absorbed James’ soul. “That is precious,” she said. “We’ll start you off easy.”

A guy dressed in a leather jacket with messy brown hair approached them from the other side of the bar. “Lacey,” he smirked at her. “The usual?”

“You know me so well, Keith,” she said. “And for my new friend, a rum and coke.”

Keith glanced in James’ direction and frowned. “Alrighty then,” he mumbled, before walking away.

 

James felt even more out of place. Keith was clearly Lacey’s type. What was he doing here? Was this some kind of sick joke? Maybe he should think up an excuse and leave…

 

“So, you were stalking the library,” Lacey interrupted his thoughts. “You like books or something?”

James blinked a few times. “Oh, um…yeah. I love them a lot actually. My minor was English Literature.”

“A college man.” Lacey let out a low whistle. “Very nice. Who’s your favorite author?”

“Probably Mary Shelley. Frankenstein is just one of the best books of that era. The responsibility of the doctor, the monster attempting to fight his nature but ultimately failing, the romances in the book too and the parental dynamics…” He trailed off with a shrug. “Sorry, I probably sound like a nerd right now.”

Lacey shook her head. “Nah, I think it’s cool you’re so passionate about it. I used to love reading when I was younger. My mother and I had a book club for a bit. Well, I don’t even know if you could call it that. We’d give each other book recommendations and then talk about them.”

 

James watched as a haunting look overtook Lacey’s eyes. It was gone as quickly as it appeared, but he had never seen her so serious. Keith placed the drinks down and she quickly took a sip of her Jack Daniels.

 

“Anyway, I don’t have much time for reading now but I probably get like you do about books, when music is involved.”

James tilted his head. “Oh really?” He picked up his own drink and took a big sip. The rum burned his throat and he nearly choked on it. Lacey smirked a bit.

“You okay there?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he set the drink back down and plucked out the cherry instead. “Guess I’m just not as good as you are with the liquor.”

“Takes years of practice and an alcoholic father, trust me.”

“Your dad is…”

“Moe French. He owns the flower shop.”

“Game of Thorns, I always loved the name.”

“I picked it. He wanted to call it “Rosie’s” or something stupid like that. We don’t even know a Rose” She rolled her eyes. “Told him people would be more attracted to a pop culture reference.”

“It was definitely the better choice.”

“Anyway, yeah, music. I have actual vinyls. My mom left me her record player.”

James grinned. “Seriously? I haven’t seen one of those in ages.”

“You know there’s this great record shop on Third, Dante’s. I’d probably spend all my check from Granny’s there if I could.” She took another swig of her drink. “I found a signed copy of Surrealistic Pillow that I’ve been saving up for, for months.”

“That’s…”

Lacey’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “White Rabbit.” He must have still looked confused, because she grabbed hold of his hands and shook them. “Jefferson Airplane, they pioneered psychedelic rock.”

“Oh…”

“You don’t know what that means, do you?”

“Do you know what iambic petameter is?” Lacey’s mouth formed a thin line. “Then we both have something to teach the other.”

Lacey giggled. “I guess we do.”

 

James felt something buzzing in his pocket and reluctantly pulled his hand away from Lacey. He fumbled around for a bit before finding his phone. His father’s name lit up the screen, causing a lump to build. He slid the green bar across and held it to his ear.

 

“Hey Dad,” he tried to be heard above the noise of the bar without shouting. “What’s up?”

What’s up?” Albert repeated incredulously. “Where are you?”

“Just uh…with a friend.” Lacey gave him a puzzled look. “I’m gonna be home a bit late tonight…”

“You need to get to the hospital. Something’s happened.”

James could feel his heart beat faster. “Is David okay? Did he have another scare?”

“No, he’s awake.”

James blinked several times before the news registered. “I…I’ll be right there.”

 

He hung up the phone before his dad could say anything else and then stared at the lock screen. It was a picture of him and David before everything went wrong. They had dinner after the latter left Kathryn. He was happy. Everything was going well. Who would’ve guessed days later, his brother would be found unconscious in the woods?

 

“Is everything okay?” Lacey asked.

James looked up, catching her appearance of genuine concern. “That was my um…my dad. My twin…he woke up from his coma.”

“Holy shit.”

“I…I have to call a taxi to get to the hospital…I um…I don’t have a car.”

Lacey tilted her head. “Your dad is Albert Spencer and you don’t have a car?”

“He doesn’t want me to have one.”

She stared at him for a moment. “Okay, I’d say we’d take mine but I jogged here. We can just borrow Ruby’s Camaro.”

“Lacey…”

“I only had half of one drink. I’m fine to drive, and Ruby and I borrow each other’s stuff all the time.”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“I know I don’t. I’m still going to.”


 

James and Lacey raced into the coma ward, both nearly out of breath. He lead her into David’s room and came to a pause in the doorway. His brother sat up in bed, the tubes still in his nose. David’s blue eyes were open wide and he was looking around at everyone. Albert stood off to one side, looking disappointed. Mary Margaret, the schoolteacher, was still in the corner. Emma was with her. He didn’t quite understand that either.

 

“David,” he said, softly.

David looked in his direction and a small smile came over his face. “Hi,” he whispered.

“It’s about time you showed up,” Albert said, gruffly. He stormed over to his son. “What took you so long?”

James immediately ducked his head. “I’m sorry, there was a lot of traffic on Main Street…”

“It’s not as if it matters,” Emma cut in. “It took us time to get him back.”

“Get him back?”

“Your idiot brother woke up from his coma and decided that was the perfect time to take an evening stroll.” Albert threw his hands in the air. “I got really lucky with my sons; I tell you that much.”

“Oh yes, they were far blessed to be given you,” Lacey mumbled.

 

Everyone in the room turned to the woman who wore James’ sweatshirt. Albert looked between her and his son, his eyes narrowing.

 

“And you are?”

“Lacey French.” She took a step forward. Her chin jutted outwards. “Your son and I were hanging out when he got the call, and I gave him a ride.”

“Right, Miss French.” Albert looked her up and down. “I thank you for getting James here, but this really is a family matter.” He looked back at Mary Margaret and Emma too, as if to communicate the same message. “Surely, the three of you understand.”

 

Mary Margaret looked hesitant but nodded. She walked out of the room with Emma following behind her. Sheriff Hubert was waiting not far out the door to ask them a few questions, in no doubt about David’s disappearance. Lacey stood firm, her eyes on Albert for a few moments. Finally, she turned to James and began to shrug off his sweatshirt. He held up a hand to stop her.

 

“You can keep it,” he whispered. “It’s chilly out.”

Lacey nodded. “I’ll see you at the diner tomorrow. We’ll make sure to have your order ready.”

 

Sparing Albert one last glare, she left the ward. David and James were left with their disapproving father who stared at the eldest twin. James simply moved closer to his brother and ran his fingers through his hair, mumbling questions to him about him waking up, where he had gone, etc. Even so, he wasn’t stupid.

 

Albert wasn’t done with the topic of Lacey French.

Chapter Text

The Enchanted Forest (One Week & 5 Days Before the Wedding)

 

David had been gone for four days and James knew his brother had no plans of coming back. He hadn’t packed much and had originally left a note saying that he and Abigail had decided to go pick up some linens for the wedding. However, James had found the alternative note. The one that they weren’t meant to discover until the eve of the wedding when George would no doubt be tearing the castle apart to find why exactly the younger twin had taken off. James knew his brother well. He also had gotten the vibe that Abigail wasn’t happy with the wedding either. There was no way they would just head off together to pick up linens, and it certainly wouldn’t take more than a couple of days.

 

The note had been stuffed in David’s journal. James didn’t read the other pages, he just flipped for the loose one. There it explained everything. David had met a beautiful bandit (former princess) on one of his rides and he had fallen in love with her. Abigail was truly miserable and her former fiancé was in trouble. Together, the two planned to get exactly what they wanted. They wouldn’t be back. George couldn’t force David to be what he wanted anymore. After all, he was never destined to have this life to begin with.

 

James felt a mixture of things when he read the note. He was happy for his brother. David always said he wanted to marry for love and as much as he tried to make things work, everyone knew that Abigail wasn’t that. If this bandit would make him happy, then that was okay. Yet, he couldn’t deal with the fact that he would never see him again. He loved his brother. They were close as could be and had been through everything together. It wasn’t like David to do something without James. A part of James wondered why David hadn’t gone to him for help, but then he realized…James had hid the secret of their biological mother for many years.

 

George couldn’t find the letter. At least not for the time being. It would put far too many people in danger. Instead, he penned another and forged his brother’s handwriting. Masking himself as David, he said that he and Abigail had decided to stay in the village where they found the linens a bit longer. They promised to be back in time for the wedding, but they just wanted to take a little vacation. George and Midas accepted the note. The latter seemed happy that his daughter was accepting the marriage. George, on the other hand, just seemed happy that Midas was.

 

“You do realize that doesn’t give us much time,” Belle said that night when he reported what he had done. “When they don’t come back for the wedding, George and Midas will be furious.”

James ran his fingers through her coarse locks. “I know. I don’t want to drag them back here just to be unhappy, but if I knew where they were, it’d be easier to game plan.”

“The note didn’t say where they were headed?” James shook his head. “That doesn’t give us much to go on.”

“You keep saying us.”

“You’re my fiancé.” Belle laced her smaller fingers through his larger ones. “We’re in this together. No matter what.”

A small smile came over his face. “I’m so used to handling things alone.”

“Well not anymore.”

 

James’ heart fluttered. He looked down at her deep blue eyes. God, why did she have to be so damn beautiful? He tried to will himself away, but he couldn’t. It seemed that she couldn’t either. Their fingers stayed interlocked, their faces mere inches away from one another. James knew the rules. Neither were supposed to have romantic contact until their wedding day and yet…

 

His lips brushed against hers. It started off as just one, soft kiss, unlike any other he had delivered. Then, she kissed him back. She tasted like the berries she had eaten just moments before this meeting and soon, he could smell her sweet perfume as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He pulled her closer, his own arms falling around her waist like pieces of a puzzle. They were meant to be there all along. Her tongue slipped in and wrapped around his own, catching him off guard. The shy, bookish girl he had met wasn’t there in that moment. This was the fierce woman who had threatened to bash his father over the head with “Her Handsome Hero”.

 

They had to pull apart for air and James cursed himself for needing oxygen. Her lipstick was smudged, cheeks pink. He could feel his own face warm. God, he hadn’t felt like this since he was a teenage boy. How did she have this spell over him? It was like magic, but the good kind. He had read about it in books. Boy meets girl, girl smiles at boy…and he loses his mind for her.

 

Their hands were both enclosed with each other, their bodies still so close together. “You could have your brother tracked,” she suggested. It took James a moment to process her words. It was as if they hadn’t just kissed, as if he couldn’t still feel her tongue on his own. “By one of the knights.”

James slowly took in what she was saying. “They’d just tell my father.”

“There’s one that used to be in King Arthur’s court before he was disgraced.”

His brows furrowed and she giggled, which only made him feel hotter. “W…why?”

“He fell in love with King Arthur’s wife, and she him. Once Arthur found out, he was furious. He kicked him out and it took him ages to find a new court. I think George only took him on because he knows Lancelot is willing to break a few rules.”

“Which you think he’d do for me?”

Belle nodded. “I’ve spoken to him a few times. He’s not fond of your father, but he spoke highly of your brother. For the right price, I think he’d be able to track down David and Abigail. Once he did, we can go to them and see what they’re up to. Then we can plan what to tell your father and the other king.”

James tilted his head, then let out a small laugh. “Perhaps I should kiss you more often, it seems to give you good ideas.”

Belle’s eyes twinkled. “Well, I wouldn’t be opposed.”

 

James took that as an offer to lean in and give her another.

Chapter Text

Storybrooke, Maine (October 31st, 2011)

 

Dante’s on Third was unlike any place James had ever been. There were vinyls carefully filed away down several rows. Rock songs-at least James assumed they were rock-played on the overhead stereo. Shag zebra wallpaper gave it a very 70s vibes in a town that hadn’t seemed to escape the 80s. The whole shop smelt so deeply of weed, he wondered if he was going to get a second hand high. There really was no wonder why Lacey loved this place.

 

It had been three days since David woke up from his coma and he was doing a bit better. He couldn’t remember why he had decided to take a walk through the woods straight after. Even Dr. Whale said it couldn’t be explained. At the end of the day, all that could be done was work up his strength. David still had no memory of the night he was found, just that he left work and was heading home. Everything after that was a supposed blur. Dr. Whale said despite all of that, it was a miracle that he had no long-lasting injuries. He didn’t think David would be in the hospital long and soon, he could return to his everyday life.

 

Not that David had much of a life left. After he left Kathryn, David had started renting out an apartment but Albert let it lapse once he entered his coma. There had been his job as sheriff of the town, but Graham had replaced him when it looked like he wasn’t coming out of it. James knew Albert was thrilled. David had finally escaped his clutches years ago and now it looked like he was going to be forced to return to it. If James didn’t know any better, he’d almost wonder if his dad had put his brother in the coma himself.

 

Stop having those thoughts, they’re only going to get you in trouble.

 

“Can I help you?”

 

James was pulled out of his bubble by a smooth voice. He looked up at a man taller than him, with a long curly beard and even longer hair. He wore a blue tunic and khaki pants. He gave James an easy smile.

 

“I’ve never seen you around here before,” he said. “Welcome to Dante’s. I’m John, the caretaker of these fine records. How may I assist you?”

 

 

James couldn’t help but relax around John. He was probably one of the few people in town that wouldn’t have a thing to do with his father and therefore wouldn’t be scared of him. James knew he’d help him out.

 

 “I’m James.” He fumbled through his pocket and pulled out the scrap of paper. “I’m looking for a signed copy of Surrealistic Pillow.”

John arched an eyebrow. “I normally would love to allow you to purchase that, but I have a lovely young lady I’ve promised it to.”

“I know, I’m getting it as a gift for her. As a thank you.” John didn’t look convinced. “Lacey French, short, angsty. She really saved my butt and I want to thank her. To be honest, I don’t know much about this stuff, but it means the world to her.”

 

John’s smile slowly returned and he went down the second aisle. He flipped through a few of the albums before returning with the pink and black one. The rich white ink of the different artists was scrawled across the front. James grinned and checked the price before handing over the cash to John.

 

“Lacey’s a special girl,” John said as he wrapped it up in a brown paper bag. “She comes in here often. Can’t spend much, but has a great taste in music. Probably one of the few that has an original vinyl player. Not one of those newer ones.”

James nodded. “She told me.”

“I’d learn about Jefferson’s Airplane if I were you, music in general.” He handed over the bag along with his change. “If you plan on hanging around that is.”

“I will,” James replied without thinking.

 

He knew it was a dangerous game. Albert had been furious after Lacey left.

 

“How could you be seen with a girl of her reputation? Don’t you know what I’ve done to make you into the man you are?”

 

Yet, there James was. He was buying a record for a girl of “Lacey’s reputation”, whatever that even meant. She was funny, sarcastic and she had helped in a moment that no one else had-including Albert. No matter what anyone else said, he wanted to get to know more about her.

 

James took the record down to Main Street and into Granny’s Diner. Decorated for Halloween, with fake cobwebs and skeleton stickers along with a few jack-o-lanterns, it was one of the many places in town ready for the holiday. That particular day, Lacey stood on register, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Much like Ruby, she tied her uniform shirt under her chest and chose to wear a shorter skirt to show off her shorter legs. For the holiday, she had chosen to wear a pair of devil horns atop her head and a matching tail on the back of her skirt. James grinned. He couldn’t remember the last time he had dressed up. Albert called it childish, so no one in the office ever did. The only signs of fall in the office was the plastic cornucopia on another secretary’s desk.

 

Another waitress dressed like a bumblebee attempted to seat him, but James politely declined and headed for the register. Lacey’s face lit up when she saw him.

 

“Hey you,” she said. “How’s David?”

“Doing better. Dr. Whale seems to think he won’t have to spend much longer in the hospital.”

“That’s great news.” She checked the clock on the wall. “My shift’s done. Let me go clock out and we can go do something fun for the holiday. I promise we don’t have to go back to the Rabbit Hole if you don’t want to.”

 

James’ cheeks tinted. Had it been that obvious how uncomfortable he had been there?


“No, I’d be willing to give it another go, if you wanted.”

“We’ll talk in a minute. Just let me go clock out.”

 

She hopped towards the back. When she returned, she had her black leather jacket and purse. Lacey took hold of James’ arm and they headed out onto the street. She lead him to her cherry red Jaguar, throwing her stuff into the back. He kept a tight hold onto his bag as he slid into the passenger seat.

 

“What’s in the mystery bag?” She asked, shutting the driver’s side door.

“It’s um for you.”

Lacey cocked a tweezed eyebrow. “For me?”

“You got me to David far quicker than any cab would’ve and I just…wanted to do something…”

 

He fumbled the brown paper bag into her hands. She curiously opened it, her blue eyes peeking inside. Her cherry red lipstick coated lips formed an o shape as she looked from the bag back up to him.

 

“James,” she whispered.

“It’s the right one, isn’t it? John said…

“No, no, it is. It’s just…you didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to. Like I said, you helped me out.”

“I just gave you a ride.”

James chewed on his bottom lip. “David and I were really close as kids. We did everything together. I always joked that even though I came out first, he was the older twin. Then when we became adults, we grew apart. He stood up to our father and I just…never could. We didn’t stop talking but it got harder to hang out and see each other and then one day…he was just in a coma. I visited him every day, walked to that hospital, rain, snow or shine.”

 

Lacey frowned, her hand crumpling around the bag.

 

“I worried I’d never get another chance to have a better relationship with him…and then I got that call the other night….when I was with you.” He smiled at her. “You took me and you helped me through it. You stood up to my father of all people. If I hadn’t been there right away when David woke up, who knows if we would’ve been able to talk, he wouldn’t have known I cared.”

 

James let out a deep breath, realizing that he was rambling.

 

“So no, Lacey. You didn’t just drive me to the hospital.” He shrugged. “You gave me my relationship with my brother back.”

Lacey blinked. “Wow. So, this record…it says all that?”

James nodded. “Yeah.” He moved it from her hands and placed it behind the stick shift. His fingers laced through hers. “Look, Lacey, I don’t know what this is. I know we just met…but I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Lacey nodded. “If I’m being honest…I can’t you, either.”

“My father…he ruins everything that brings me joy. And I don’t want you to think I’m keeping you a secret because I’m ashamed of you. I’m not. I just…”

Lacey brought a finger to his lips. “I get it. I have a dick for a dad too.” James chuckled behind her finger. “We can figure this out together before we can take it public.”

“Teaching each other about music and books?”

She nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”

 

Lacey kissed his cheek. He could feel that it left behind some lipstick but he didn’t care.

 

“So,” she said. “Rabbit Hole or somewhere else?”

“Is your dad home?”

Lacey shook her head. “Tonight, he’s at Aesop’s. He prefers to watch the game there and gamble while he gets drunk.”

“Why don’t we go there and listen to your new record. You can teach me about music tonight, then tomorrow, I’ll teach you about music.”

Lacey smiled. “Sounds like a great idea.”

Chapter Text

The Enchanted Forest (One Week Before the Wedding)

 

It had taken Lancelot some time to track Abigail and David down, but he finally had. According to him, they weren’t even together anymore. They had discovered a cure for Abigail’s fiancé. That had lead to she and Frederick taking off together. They planned on telling Midas just as soon as David felt he was safe from George. Midas had never disapproved of Frederick, turning him to gold had been a grand mistake. In the meantime, however, they wanted to protect David who was the main reason they could still be together.

 

According to Lancelot, Abigail said that David was assisting Snow with her own family drama. He wasn’t quite sure what it was, but the two were in Queen Regina’s kingdom. James had heard stories of the evil queen and knew that his twin could be in grave danger. If he was going to insist on fighting, he couldn’t do it alone.

 

“We’ll go together,” Belle told him.

“Belle…”

“If you honestly think I’m about to let my fiancé enter the lion’s den alone, then you don’t know me.”

 

He smiled at her, giving her a brief kiss. Ever since that first one, they couldn’t keep their hands off of one another. It was hard to do with George and Maurice lurking so often, but they did their best. James tried not to think about how two nights after their first kiss, Belle snuck into his chambers to discuss David. One thing lead to another and they were soon kissing once again.

 

Her lips had fell upon his neck, sucking until she left behind a mark claiming him to be hers. It would be hell to cover up, but he didn’t complain at all. He left behind some of the same on her thighs and stomach, eyeing his handywork beneath the candlelight. Her dress was soon on the floor, followed by the corset that held up her cleavage. She was exposed to him, her luxurious curves and all.

 

“You hide behind those dresses,” he whispered into her ear, nibbling onto it.

“What’s behind your tunics?”

 

She tugged at the strings behind his tunic, allowing it to be released. His muscles from years of knight training were bare, as were the scars from rough teachers and his father. Belle frowned as she traced each one, causing James to tense up a bit. She gently laid a kiss to them and his muscles relaxed. She looked up at him with her kind, blue eyes.

 

“You’re more than just a dragon slayer,” she whispered. “You’re not just a knight.”

 

She pushed him back onto the bed, bracing his shoulders and brushing his temple with a kiss.

 

“You are my handsome, sexy, fiancé who loves books, you care about your brother…” She moved her lips down to his own. “And me.”

“You mean the world to me,” he muttered, wrapping his arms around her bare waist.

“Let me show you how much I love you.”

 

She removed his leather pants, exposing his naked parts below. Belle kissed every inch of his body, almost as if she was trying to melt away the scars and the bruises left behind from a rough childhood. When she reached his waist, she stroked his cock and giggled at how hard it got by just the motion alone.

 

“Playboy prince, easy to tease.”

 

He groaned at that notion and she resumed with the kissing, moving down the member until she reached the head. Her mouth moved around his cock, her sweet tongue bathing it in the process. James clenched onto her hair, letting out tiny moans of delight. He was growing harder by the minute, feeling himself at precum.

 

“I want to come inside of you, Princess.” He had never referred to another girl by their title in bed. Normally, they saved that for him.

“Do you now?”

“Please.”

“Mmm…that can be arranged.”

 

The two were soon connected and it didn’t take long for him to come. Maybe it was the fact that he hadn’t been with a woman since Jack or that Belle was the sexiest woman he had ever seen. He wasn’t sure. All he did know, was that she made everything worth the wait.

 

As James sat next to Belle in the carriage, his hand floated over her own. They were going to help his brother one way or another. As far as George knew, they were just out there joining David and Abigail on their pre-wedding vacation. He was out there to help his brother.

 

The carriage came to a sudden stop. James waited for Lancelot to announce why, but he was quiet. He got out from the cart and found Lancelot frozen in place with a blue glow around him, A short, scaly man stood before the cart. James reached to his side and withdrew his sword.


“Undo your spell on my driver, beast,” James snarled.

The man let out a high pitch giggle. “Oh, James.  You’ve grown up so much since I saw you at birth.”

James’ eyebrows furrowed for a moment until it dawned on him. He had heard of the stories. This was the one and only Rumpelstiltskin. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to help you.”

“Your magic always comes with a price.”

“Oh, so you’re smarter than you appear.” Rumpelstiltskin took a step forward. “Your brother has escaped and his true love wants to defeat her step-mother. Quite a conundrum.”

James tilted his head. “What do you care?”

“Don’t worry about what I care.”

 

Belle stepped off the carriage and James pulled her beside him out of protection. She glared at the imp before them, which only made Rumpelstiltskin giggle again.


“Fate works in mysterious ways,” he mused.

“What do you want from my fiancé?” Belle asked.

“I’m only here to help. You see, I want to defeat the Evil Queen and George as much as David and that Snow White do.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a long silver whistle. “When you reach your brother, blow this.”

James hesitantly accepted it with his free hand, the other keeping the sword out. “Why?”

“You’ll see. They’ll help you with Regina.”

 

Rumpelstiltskin moved to wave a hand at Lancelot, but then stopped.


“Congratulations by the way.”

“About?”

“The baby.”

Belle laughed. “I’m not pregnant.”

“Yes, dearie. You are.”

 

Belle looked down at her flat stomach, then back up to James. Both of their eyes were open wide. It had only been one time, not even a week ago yet. Could magic already tell? How was this happening?

 

Storybrooke, Maine (November 1st, 2011)

 

The orphanage was quiet, as it normally was at night. No one dared to upset Mother Superior. She could make your time at Sisters of Saint Meissa’s a living hell or at least somewhat decent. That went for the orphans that slept in the beds and the nuns that worked there.

 

Astrid made her way down the rows, making sure each child was falling fast asleep. She couldn’t remember why she had chosen to be a nun. She often dreamed of adventure, finding love and even adopting a few children of her own. Yet, she had taken a vow to the church and that was more important. To her, the orphans were her children. She and the rest of the nuns protected them the best they could from Mother Superior’s wrath.

 

As she reached the final bed in the home, she found Gideon awake, staring at the same book he often looked at. The young boy had light brown hair and the biggest hazel brown eyes anyone had ever seen. Astrid remembered the stories of him. He had been dropped at the orphanage as a baby. He was adorable, healthy and well-spoken. Yet, for some reason, with each passing adoption day, he was looked over. Most of the children in the home were. At 3-years-old, she knew Gideon wanted what most of the children at Saint Meissa’s wanted: a family.

 

Astrid sat at the edge of Gideon’s bed, giving him a soft smile. “It’s getting late, Gid,” she whispered. “You should go to sleep.”

Gideon tilted his head up to her. “Read me a story?”

 

He held up the book: Her Handsome Hero. Gideon had been found with two things when he was abandoned: a baby blanket with his name on it and this book. He clung to both things as most children did with the few possessions they had left. Astrid knew Mother Superior would be upset if she read him a story so late, but she turned on the tiny lamp by his bedside and flipped open the cover. The title page always had the same beautiful cursive:

 

To my son Gideon,

Remember to be strong and that I will always love you.

Mama

 

Astrid read that part out loud as usual, watching Gideon’s hazel eyes light up.

 

“My mama’s out there,” he announced, proudly. “And she’s going to come back for me some day.”

Astrid ran her fingers through his curls. “I hope for your sake that’s true, Gid. Now, let’s read the story.”