|Tea with the Devil
Author: Hikari no Chibi PM
Modern Day AU. Mr. Gold had no patience for anyone, least of all the incompetent blonde responsible for his morning tea. Rich men seldom needed to. But when the unwitting Belle French accidentally inherits the unpleasant task of bringing tea to the devil, will Mr. Gold remain as he is or will the beauty tame her beast?Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Romance - Belle & Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold - Chapters: 25 - Words: 48,449 - Reviews: 469 - Favs: 220 - Follows: 153 - Updated: 07-23-12 - Published: 05-30-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8167088
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
All's well – thank you to Paulawer for asking. :) Apologies for the lateness of this update, everyone. I got a little obsessed doing research (ancient Greek court-law, don't get me started; they spelled misogyny Y-A-Y-!) and I was reading a lot of academic-type stuff, so the fiction took a bit of a back seat. In case you missed it, there was also an update to Wedge of Lemon that goes between chapters 14 and 15 (Belle's fantasy, rated M). OK, I'll shut up now – Time for Tea!
Anthony knew he would not always have time to spare for Belle. She'd broken him down and burrowed into his walls, but he was still a business man. The wheel of commerce was still spinning, as it always would.
If left to his leisure, he might be content to lose himself in her sunny disposition and never broker another deal until the end of his days. They could be happy together, he knew. But his business defined him, empowered him. He liked it. And still, there was the matter of finding Bae.
No, he would not always have time to spare for the gypsy warrior who'd stumbled into his life (or had he stumbled into hers?) en route to some further, more exotic place. But he did have time today, and he meant to use it wisely.
Gold was thrilled when she let herself in to deliver his morning tea. She looked bashful, maybe a little unsure of how she should greet him in their work place. He'd pulled her in to kiss her cheek, accepted his tea, and set her free to make the most of their remaining work day.
On a blacker morning, he might give in to an urge and pull Belle into his lap where he could hold her close and continue with phone calls and typing. It would be much less distracting, knowing where she was and that she was safe. There were not any crossbows in his office, at least. She would get used to it, eventually.
Leaving a few canceled meetings and disgruntled brokers in his wake, he might even conspire to keep her with him, continually at arm's reach. Certainly no one could complain about his new addition when she smiled so prettily and helped keep the wicked Mr. Gold's claws at bay. Then again, he knew his business associates better than they knew themselves in many cases. A desperate, disparate lot motivated by rhetoric and greed – that was no place for his Belle.
He'd rather deposit her safely in the master suite of his town house – four stories and a basement, built over a garage and even a small, enclosed court yard. It would be perfectly safe, and he could have her whenever he liked. And whenever she liked.
Especially when she liked. Kissing her after their experimental date was like demolishing a fastidiously constructed cathedral of restraint and setting free the army of gargoyles and desires that the stalwart walls had kept in place. Belle was a wrecking-ball, a sledge hammer, a hurricane, and she could demolish him any time she pleased.
So, when two o'clock rolled around and Mr. Gold found himself with the rare pleasure of free time, or at least with a list of tasks that he could re-appropriate, he decided to be brave. He stopped by the office cafe and purchased a couple of scones – blueberry was what she liked, he hoped – and ventured down to Belle's work room.
Anthony had never come this far into Belle's world so openly before. Usually he lurked in doorways or shadows, and listened in on his (occasionally ill-advised) deliveries. Walking in openly, like he had a real reason to be there, felt oddly liberating. A few of the support staff looked at him oddly, but turned away quickly when they noticed him noticing. Well, let them gawk. It was his collection, wasn't it? His things, his money, his staff and his Belle.
Seeing her then, unaware and perched precariously on the end of her scaffolding, picking away at a tattered canvas the size of a large shed, all he could do was smile. She looked happy.
The pleasure of monogamy had, since Gail's passing, largely eluded him. With lots of women, none of them meant much of anything. Some men he knew kept wives and mistresses and whores, on the weekends, and they claimed to love them all, but not Anthony. He approached his personal life the same way he approached his business, with a single-minded determination that was always thinking three moves ahead. He could always look after himself, and at most one other. Or maybe two, if one of them was Bae, but he hadn't done such a great job of that the first time.
In the past, caring was a thing to fear – it meant you had something at stake, something worth losing. Now, though, it was different. He knew he was strong, and nowhere near as lost as he'd been at 17. Anthony wanted Belle and she him, for reasons that he sometimes couldn't comprehend; but he could protect her now. He could protect both of them, if he had to.
"Good afternoon, dearie," he greeted her, when he was sure both of her feet were securely planted on the elevated plank. Nothing good would come of startling her and sending her toppling. He couldn't do much more than break her fall with his own body, given his cane and bad leg.
"Anthony!" Belle spun around on her toes, delighted to hear his voice. "What are you doing all the way down here? I didn't miss our three o'clock tea, did I?"
"No, no. Not quite yet. I had a moment and thought I'd join you for a change. Scone?"
Belle nodded enthusiastically, and began her wobbly dismount of the scaffold. Gold tried his level-best not to ogle her back-side and legs as her Bohemian skirt rode up past her knees ever so slightly. Given the general productivity of their last date, he made a note to set up plans for the coming Saturday. He had thought, perhaps, Friday... but Friday was another of his work functions, and while Belle would certainly be invited to attend, she had made it very clear that those kinds of evenings were not an acceptable alternative to romance.
"What are you working on, then?" He indicated the general mess of sketching taped up behind the gaps in the canvas.
"Well, today I'm just cleaning. You know, grime does build up. And somewhere around 1850 some hack went through with a poorly-blended cover-up and mangled a lot of the genitals. Those are trickier, but most of them wipe free without affecting the original layers underneath..."
Something about hearing her saying 'genitals' felt entirely out of place. She was always very proper and polite, his Belle. Except for when she was asserting herself, then she was magnificent and mighty. He would love to nuzzle up to her and play a little game of talking dirty. And he would, someday. But in that exact moment, Belle was still talking.
"I like to look at the sketched-in bits best. It helps me work through the mechanics and posturing for the final project, especially when you've got to stare at the same twelve inch square for hours at a time. This part is in a private collection in Bucharest," she said, pointing him toward a series of drinking fawns. "I just got the verification about a week and a half ago. And then there's this.."
Belle hopped down the last several inches and leaned in to give Gold a chaste kiss. "This part all came in yesterday, so it's just a rough sketch. But I'm sure we'll be able to authenticate it once my colleagues in Prague get a couple of other experts in to have a look."
He took it all in, casually. It was the first time he'd seen her work, even though he was paying her to produce it. The care, quality and passion Belle brought to her job left him somewhat at a loss for words. His hands had never made anything as elaborate as all this. Lifetimes ago, he'd lain bricks. Bricks that might even still be stuck together with gritty mortar, under the feet of some struggling Glasgow lawyer. It wasn't the kind of work that was meant to last, merely a bi-product of civilization.
Gold's work was the mindless spinning-forward of economic theories and modules. Money switched hands at such speed and in such high quantities that the end result was ages removed from any kind of tangible service or product. Well, David Nolan managed accounts for several medical equipment manufacturers, but those were almost too insignificant to count.
With Belle.. even her so-called 'crude' sketch of two lovers embracing evoked emotions than he would muster in a single day. They chatted amicably as she poured the tea; the museum staff room was deserted except for the two of them.
Finally, though, Gold had to ask the question nagging at his head. "Why did you choose come work for me, Belle? Why this project?"
From her reaction, the question came as somewhat unexpected. "A little bit of scholastic adventure, I guess. I thought it was a good job; or, it had the potential to be. There aren't a lot of opportunities for recent graduates in my field, and I knew that this project would give me a chance to show the community what I can do."
She paused then, took a sip, and then continued, "I thought it was brave, at the time. Taking on a solo project for a privately curated collection, instead of getting a job dusting trinkets at one of the public museums. Less networking options, but more responsibilities. And I liked the independence, thought it might give me options to travel... you know, some day."
"Well, I didn't confirm the artist's identity. So, the travel is kind of still a pipe-dream. No trans-Atlantic lecture tours." At this, he could tell she was only half-joking. "But I'm pleased. I found missing scraps of something over 200 years old, and I'm putting it back together for posterity. This project has the chance to really mean something, some day."
"Oh, a lecture tour, is it? And what of friends or family for our darling gypsy princess?" If she thought his pet-name for her sounded odd, her face didn't show it.
"I don't know," she told him pensively. "I was engaged once. Did I tell you that? He was nice, in a simple kind of way. We were way too young, though, and I wanted to go to school. I'm glad we didn't. We might have been happy, but it wouldn't have been... Well, it wouldn't have been worth giving up all of this.
"Life is like that painting in there. It's layered, and the layers are impossibly complex. Oils are easy, really. They make you think they're three dimensional, sometimes, but it's really just a piece of canvas and a little shading. It's the same for love. You saw the two embracing... mine was just a filler reproduction, but the subtext between them in the original is devastating... and the way it informs the rest of the scene... that's something I'm passionate about. And that's what I want for my life, too. I guess that probably sounds silly. But what about you? You said there was a son?"
Her eyes said it all, just like they always did. Belle was good. She cared for him, and the things he held dear. If he made this choice based on his own wants, Annabelle French would cease to exist. The smiles, the passion, the honesty... all of it would be trapped in some twisted sanctuary.
When her contract to restore that painting she always prattled on about ended in ten months, he would not be able to let Belle go. She could work for another museum in the city, maybe. If it wasn't too far, and if there weren't a lot of men sniffing around her all day. More likely he would have to find some underhanded way of keeping her safely where she belonged, close to him and out of the public eye in the dungeon of his collection. Really, he was still rather fond of the lap-sitting idea...
No. He'd take her to some remote cottage in the country and make a real, true monster of himself. It pained him to think of his pretty little Belle treated like some wretched Philomela, but that's who he was. He'd do it, too. Gold knew himself that well, at least. He even kept a little place in the highlands where, once upon a time, he used to break the odd knee cap. Those days were behind him, but not so far that the shadows couldn't encroach...
Bae had begged him to stop making the men who failed him pay in blood, but he'd never listened. When he finally heard the boy's words, it was too late; Bae was already long gone by then. He couldn't put Belle through that, but if she tried to leave him after 10 more months of having her close...
The place in Scotland was too conspicuous. It would take nothing but a phone call, and Zoso would furnish him with everything he'd ever need in some remote cottage by the Black Sea. She'd really be lost to the world then. Safe with him. Always safe. But never truly free. Never unbound, the way Gold dreamed she would be.
After her symposium, Hopper had forwarded him at least half a dozen requests to take interviews with Belle. They'd talked about it, in passing. She was flattered, but knew her contract wouldn't allow it. They weren't a real option.
But there was one. One in Paris, and that job would be an amazing opportunity for Belle. He couldn't bear the thought of ruining her like he'd ruined things with Bae. The thought of Belle, a hallowed shadow of herself with raggedy hair and ill-fitting clothes brought a taste of bile to his mouth.
Letting her go now was the right thing to do. It was with that resolve that he finally spoke: "Belle, I think you should consider one of those interviews that we discussed."
"You know I can't do that. I'm still under contract here through the year."
"I'll have a talk with Hopper. We can iron it out."