Author: THIRTEENpointONE PM
Rumbelle AU: When a rogue CIA operative resurfaces, Belle French is assigned to find him and take him out by any means necessary. However, her assignment soon proves easier said than done after she comes face-to-face with the infamous Agent Gold.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Suspense - Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold & Belle - Chapters: 10 - Words: 142,819 - Reviews: 369 - Favs: 188 - Follows: 259 - Updated: 11-07-12 - Published: 06-21-12 - id: 8241499
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: Hi everyone! This next chapter ended up becoming an utter behemoth of a chapter, topping out at around 25,000 words. Just so I don't keep you waiting for too much longer, because of the editing, I'm going to post this first half now, and then the second half by this weekend, once I finish it, so you'll end up getting two updates this week. I wanted to originally post it all together, so I didn't torture you by teasing anything out for too long, but at least this way, I won't have to keep you waiting any longer. Hope you enjoy!
I will protect you.
Gold jerked the steering wheel hard to the right, causing the car to swerve dangerously towards the cliff on the side of the mountain road, eliciting a gasp from Belle; the immediacy and utter fervor of his reaction to her damning words completely unnerved him, sending his heart racing and mind whirling. "Wha…what did she say?" he stuttered, needing to hear the words again, just to make sure that he hadn't misheard her.
Belle grimaced, pulling away from his tight grip on her hand, as she kept her gaze fixed on the road ahead of them, her eyes wide with shock at his erratic driving.
"What did she say, French?" he asked again.
She flinched at his loud tone, looking back over at him, but said nothing in reply, her mouth and hands futilely trying to grasp for words she couldn't voice.
Goddammit! Gold swerved violently to the side, slamming hard on the brakes. Both of them lurched forward in their seats, slamming backwards as the car came to an abrupt stop along the side of the road. "French, tell me what she said."
Belle closed her eyes, and bit her lip. "She said…" she paused, starting again. "She said that I've been black-listed."
A wave of pure hatred tore through him, wrestling at the thin tethers of his self-control, the only thing keeping him grounded enough not to fly straight to D.C. and kill Mills himself. That fucking bitch. He was going to tear her limb from limb once he got his hands on her. "What else?" he growled through clipped teeth. "What else did she say, French?"
She simply shook her head once again, staring and breathing hard at her lap. A faint sheen of tears glimmered in the corners of her eyes.
Gold's rage instantly extinguished as she looked back over at him. She looked lost and afraid, her eyes pleading for his help. He immediately cursed himself for being so harsh with her. Of course someone as good, and as honorable, as Belle French would be shocked that they would be essentially sentenced to death, by the country they'd served faithfully for so long, for merely trying to help him.
Goddammit, I should've known that Mills would've pulled a stunt such as this. He tried to warn French. He tried. He shouldn't have ever allowed her to try and help him. He shouldn't have...
He blinked, forcing his thoughts and emotions at bay, and asked again, softer. "French, what else did she say?"
"She said that I've been black-listed and that Mills has activated every current asset to take us out. She…God, she tried to kill, Mary…she…"
"Blanchard," she explained, nervously waving her hands about. "The IO that's been helping me—the one I told about Malus."
"She's covering her tracks. Does anyone else know about Mills or the op?"
"Emma. And she's been suspended. She's onto what Mills is up to, though. She'll be able to stay safe. She's watching Mary too."
His mind started whirling at the information, trying to plot next their move. He refused to be out-played by Mills, not with so many of his pieces already carefully placed on the board. "Do you know when the order was given?"
"Emma said that they had a meeting about an hour ago…that they had photographs of us together. And they know about Glass, too. They said that I killed him."
"Forget about Glass," he said, dismissively waving away her concern. He was more concerned about the timeline. An hour meant that Mills would have activated the other assets at least a day ago, if not more. If Glass had been acting alone, then that was even more to their advantage. On the other hand, if they had been tracked by other means, such as Mills, well, then, they were fucked. He thought quietly, going over their movements over the past day. "Did she say how Glass found us?"
Belle shook her head in disgust. "It was the phone," she groaned, waving towards the window. "I'd turned it off, but it must have gotten switched on at some point."
"Does it have a remote activator on it that could do that?"
"No," she answered quickly. "It must have been pressed up against something, and then it got turned on. I only realized that it was on when just rang. God, how could I have missed that? It was there the whole time, just waiting for someone to track—"
"It's not worth worrying over now," he interrupted her; they didn't have time to waste, worrying about things that had already happened and weren't under their control. They only had an hour, at most, to lose their trace. The fact that it was a simple mistake that led to their undoing was actually a good thing—it left the more undesirable alternatives still on the table. That thought reminded him of the suitcases, stacked high in the back seat. "Does anything in there have active GPS?"
His question gave Belle a start, but she quickly recovered, her old self seemingly rushing back as she took the initiative, immediately unbuckling her seatbelt, and diving for the back seat. The loud sound of zippers ripped through the car, as she looked through each one, soon returning with three devices.
"I'm not sure what these do," she said, examining each of them. "They're off, though."
Belle paused, raising her eyebrows, but quickly nodded, opening the door.
"Where are you going?"
She shrugged. "I'm losing them."
He watched her walk to the front of the car, ducking down, and then stood back up, motioning for him to drive forward. A small bump lifted the car as it rolled over the electronics. He repeated the procedure three times, at which point Belle held up her hand, stopping him. All that was left of the devices was an indistinguishable scrap pile of wires and plastic, which she tossed out into the nearby foliage.
Belle swung back in the car, closing the door with a loud thud. "What now?"
The long-forgotten knight errant inside him hummed with pleasure at her faith in him. He thought to himself, quickly considering their options. The Czech compound was out. There was only one place they could go—one place that he trusted that they could truly be safe at. "Can you drive?" he asked her.
"Good." He stepped out of the car, limping around the car as they switched places. "I need to get a disposable phone."
She nodded, and floored on the gas. "I saw a Vodafone a couple kilometers back when we passed Lugano."
"Okay," he answered, rubbing his leg, trying to work out the knot that had built up over the course his driving. Of all times for that damn joint to act up... Belle, thankfully, ignored his ministrations and continued to fly down the highway. In fact, she looked downright subdued, which concerned him. "I'm going to make this right, French," he said, determinedly. "I swear it."
She simply nodded again, and pressed harder on the gas, her knuckles nearly white from gripping the wheel so hard.
A bright, red and white, logo-ed sign, five kilometers down the road, lit their path to the cellular store. Once on the street, Belle threw the car into an impressive u-turn, swerving it directly into a parallel parking spot. Gold inwardly flinched from the attention they were drawing by her stunt driving, but said nothing. He simply passed over some Francs to her. "Get a couple, just in case."
"Right," she nodded, opening her door.
He reached out, stopping her with a simple touch to the arm. "You armed?"
Belle lifted up her jacket, showing the butt of her SIG stashed in her pants.
Acquiesced, he sat back into his seat, touching his own firearm in turn.
"I'll be right back," she reassured, closing the door behind her.
As he watched her enter the small store, Gold habitually checked the mirrors, subtly observing his surroundings for anything that seemed out of the ordinary, but the street and store were nearly empty due to the early morning hour, with only the clerk and a couple customers within view. He could see Belle talking to the sales person inside, flirting shamelessly, as she laughed and gesturing animatedly to her swollen eye, undoubtedly telling him some sort of story that the man was buying completely. Within minutes, she was exiting the store with a white, plastic bag tucked underneath her arm.
She entered the car with a grunt, passing the bag over to him. "They had disposables and pre-paid SIMs. I bought two of each for us."
Belle started up the car, tilting her head. "People remember when someone buys more than two of an item, especially with this lovely shiner. Plus, once they place a replacement order, that order will be tracked. They'll be monitoring any abnormal purchases, especially with phones, until they know we've left the area."
He blinked, impressed. Damn, she was good.
She pulled back out onto the highway, headed south. "So what now?"
Gold held up his hand, having already dialed the first part of his plan. Belle immediately fell silent, easing back into a comfortable driving position.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Click.
Gold waited three seconds, listening for any sort of click, indicating a recorder or listening device, before he spoke. "What is the temperature in Damascus?"
A similarly long pause answered him, before a thickly accented Indian voice came on the line. "45 degrees."
"I may be traveling there soon. Do you have any recommendations for dining?"
"The kebab at the Naranj is splendid," the voice evenly replied back. "What do you want?"
Gold smirked at the defected agent's direct manner. Mulkraj was never one to mince words. "I need immediate transportation."
"When is it not immediate with you, my friend?"
"I need a plane at the—" he paused, glancing over at the road signs, passing them by. "Nearest airport by Lugano."
His old asset hummed on the other side of the phone, and he heard a furious clicking of computer keys in the background. "Done. It will be at the E-Aviation Swiss Sagl FBO at the Lugano Aiport at noon."
"I need it in an hour, Mulkraj."
"Blah, blah, blah, demand, demand, demand…what have you ever done for me?"
Gold clenched his jaw in anger. "I believe you know exactly what I've done for you, and exactly how fast that I can take it away," he hissed. "Now, I want a plane, with full fuel, and a closed cockpit, at that airport in an hour, or else I'll make sure you are paid a reminder. Do you understand?"
"Ya…yes," the man stuttered. "I believe that I can get that done for you. What else do you require?"
"I need…" He covered the mouthpiece, thinking over their options. Finally, decided, he glanced over at Belle, who frowned back at him. "How comfortable are you with heights?"
"I'm fine with them," Belle frowned, looking at him curiously. "Why do you ask?"
"Now, we'll release the Zodiac first. Its flares will mark our rendezvous place in the water. We'll wait until it has descended for five seconds, and then you'll jump first. Make sure that you rate your descent with the boat. You don't want to get tangled up in that. Try and splash as close as you can to it, but give yourself enough room to not hit it. Use the tanks if you need to swim for any amount of time. I'll be right behind you. If for any reason, we can't find each other, wait, and then light the flare—but only if you're sure that we're separated. And don't—not that I should have to say this—but don't ditch the gear until we're both on the raft. You got it?"
Well, this was my plan; Gold answered himself, simply nodding in reply.
It seemed that his suggestion of parachuting to their location had triggered the Ranger-inherent in Belle. She had simply assumed "control" of the plan after she had heard him detail it to her. He'd given up control freely to her, quickly discerning that it would be hopeless to argue the point with her. Gold had no love of such plans anyways; he simply hoped that it would be over soon. Their nearly fifteen-hour wait for Mulkraj to deliver their necessary supplies and plane, per Belle's requirement that it be done at night, had put him on edge, since his original timetable to have a clean break was now essentially unrecognizable, even if he did see the merits of her suggestion.
"Okay. Did you check your gear, already?"
He glanced down at his heavily armored body, and shrugged noncommittally. The tags on the BCD, chute, and body armor, were written in a mix of what appeared to be Arabic and Hindi characters, both of which he wasn't extremely familiar with; however, the actual parts seemed familiar enough—1st stage, 2nd stage, gauges, BOC pouch were all fairly standard.
Belle didn't seem satisfied with his shrug, and walked over to prod him, checking the gear for herself.
"Whatever are you doing?"
"Checking it," she explained in irritation. A hiss of air erupted as she checked the first stage's regulator. "Are you sure that you can trust your contact? I can't find anything that seems bugged, or tampered with but—"
"We don't have to worry. Let's just say that he has a vested interest in keeping me alive."
"Let's hope so," she retorted, tightening the straps on his military-issue BCD. "As far as I can tell, the SCUBA equipment is most likely Israeli-military issue. The chutes are Indian—commercial, I believe—but rated up 'til 40,000 feet, so this should work."
"You can read that?" he asked, pointing to the Hindi written on the side of the BOC.
"And speak it for the most part. Maiṁ tumasē jyādā cālāka hūm."
"You know I like it when you talk dirty to me, French."
Belle laughed. "Yeah, you wish, you sēksī ādamī."
"It all sounds good to me, dearie," he smartly replied back, unable to hide his own grin at her perfectly accented Hindi, tilting his head in acknowledgement at her self-satisfied grin. It seemed that French would never cease to amaze him.
"You're sure that you're fine jumping like this?"
"This isn't my first time, French."
"And this isn't the time to have a crash-course trying to remember all of this while you're plummeting to the ground at 100 mph," she retorted.
This woman, he sighed, as she firmly placed the weight belts into his BCD. This was, or used to be, his plan. "Yes. I'm fine."
She paused her check to pointedly raise her brow at him. "Hmm. And when was your last jump?"
Christ. "A year ago. Two? But we don't have a choice, now, do we?"
"Do you need me to tandem?"
"I think I can jump out of the damn plane by myself," he shot back, growing tired of her endless questioning.
"Fine. Excuse me for not wanting you to die." She paused, glaring at him. "Now, tell me the plan again."
Gold flashed-back, immediately recalling why he had been so happy to leave the British Armed Forces, but humored her army-instilled discipline by repeating her instructions again, verbatim. "I'm not going to die, French," he finished.
She rewarded him with a sly, knowing smile, and slipped on her tank, turning her back to him. "Please?"
He took the hint, and immediately duplicated the same gear-check process she had just performed on him. She gave him her thanks after he finished and left to go check on the boat, yet again. Her training was seemingly dictating her every move, but it seemed to calm her, so he left her to it, while he checked their position yet again.
When they had arrived at the FBO, he'd given the pilot a generic flight plan to Mumbai, with strict instructions not to look back, or open the cabin door, lest he be shot. That made it to Gold to know when to bail. According to his watch, and the monitor on the screen, that moment was going to be in less than five minutes, splashing down at a little after 1:00 a.m. "French," he called out, getting her attention across the cabin. "'Bout five minutes out."
Belle nodded back at him, tying off another strap. Seemingly satisfied, she slowly walked back over to him, awkwardly maneuvering around the large boxes in the hold. "What the hell is in all of these boxes?"
"No clue." But it's probably illegal, he added to himself, looking at the large, wooden crates piled high to the ceiling.
"Probably illegal," she mumbled to herself. "So, do you have the plan?"
He sighed, nodding yet again. "Yes. I have the plan, French."
"Good," she nodded.
Gold looked over at her, pointing to her night-vision glasses, and shut off the cabin's lights, instantly bathing the room in neon-green tones. Belle looked as if she was simply bursting with nervous energy. He could no longer tell if it was because of the jump, or if it was because of her new status.
"Once we hit the water, you know where to go right? It'll be... we'll be safe?"
Even with her dark-glasses and helmet obscuring nearly her whole face, Gold could see the worry plainly written in her features; a fear that she had kept hidden from him ever since they had arrived in Lugano. "I'm going to take you somewhere safe. I swear."
A nervous smile flashed for a brief moment, and she transformed once again back into the serious soldier, focused on the task. "Alright."
"But if for any reason, I don't—" He held up his hand, holding back her retort. "If for any reason I don't make it, go to the Žut Island. Its coordinates are 43°51′N 15°18′E. We should land about two miles east of it. No one is there. Go along the east seawall. There is a loose brick thirty-two paces down from the gate; hidden behind is a key. Once inside, I have enough money and weapons to keep you safe for as long as you need be."
"But, we're going to be fine."
"Žut Island—43°51′N 15°18′E," he said, again. "Repeat it to me."
"Žut Island—43°51′N 15°18′E. Key is thirty-two paces from gate."
"Good." A faint sense of relief washed through him, knowing that whatever happened, Belle would be okay. He knew that she was tenacious enough to survive anything—him, on the other hand, he was getting too old for this sort of absurdity.
"Is this you trying to be reassuring? Because just so you know, you're being the opposite of reassuring right now."
"I just want to cover my bases." And keep you safe.
"Because if you're trying to ditch me," she nervously continued over him, "I swear to God, I will shoot you, and then bring you with me…And I'm jumping after you, by the way, so there's no way in hell I'm letting you punch out without me. I swear I will—"
"French!" he yelled, stopping her. "It's going to be fine. I'm not leaving you," he said in exasperation, stupefied that she would assume that he would want to ditch her, and reached out to grab her hand, instantly stilling her, giving it a little squeeze in reassurance. Or, at least, he hoped it was reassuring—it had been a long time since he actually tried to comfort someone else.
"Okay," she said, nodding to herself. "Let's do this then. You're sure that you know the plan though—"
"I have the plan."
Fuck this plan.
Gold's body wretched with pain as he hit the water, instantly submerging below the dark surface. He had little time to react before his inflated BCD rocketed him to the surface, exposing him to the rough seas above. "French!" he yelled, as he unsheathed his knife to cut away at the tangled chutes.
"French!" he called out again, louder this time, but he could hear nothing except for the lapping waves around him. He whirled around, looking for her chute or the boat, but he could only see an endless ocean through his green-hued night vision glasses. "French!"
He started to become alarmed and fought back the rising panic—not for his sake, but for hers. He wasn't going to lose her; not like this. "French! Answer me!"
A muted splash behind him caught his attention and he spun around again, seeing nothing. "French!"
"Gold!" her muted voice called out from far in the same direction. Relief instantly doused him and he ceased his frantic paddling. "I'm coming...get... boat."
He frowned at her broken words. "Where are you?" he yelled out again, turning onto his back to swim towards her voice.
He suddenly heard a dull roar of a motor start up, and rapidly come towards his direction, getting louder with each passing second. The small Zodiac was nearly on top of him, when Belle swerved to the side, cutting the engine, and throwing him a rope. Gold grabbed onto it, letting her pull him towards the side of the boat.
"Are you okay?"
Water splashed in his face as he tried to stay close to the boat, making him cough. "Yes. Are you?"
"I'm fine," she said, holding out her hand. "Here—give me your BCD."
Gold slipped out of this tanks and vest, and floated it over to her. Belle heaved it over the side with a loud grunt.
"The ladder broke off. Come over here and I'll try to help you up."
He did as instructed, not sure how this was going to work—with his bum leg, and the rough sea making the small boat thrash about.
Belle leaned over the side, and gestured for him to turn around, hooking her arms underneath his armpits. "On three. One…two…three!"
Gold kicked hard with his good leg, and felt his body being heaved from above. The rounded side of the boat provided ample leverage, but a rogue wave hit the boat as he was three-quarters out, causing Belle to lose her grip and he fell back into the water.
"Argh!" Belle yelled above him. Her voice disappeared as a wave crashed over him. Without the buoyancy of his BCD, the rope was all he had to stay afloat in the rough waters.
"Again," he commanded, spitting out a mouthful of water.
This time, Belle timed her pull with an oncoming swell, using it to their advantage, and heaved him up over the side.
Gold fell into the boat unceremoniously with a grunt, his legs still propped upright against the side. He tried to right himself, but one of his fins was caught on the railing. Belle half-fell on him as she swayed with the waves, but released him, helping him up to a proper sitting position.
"How's your leg?"
Her question gave him pause, as he'd momentarily forgotten about it, adrenaline masking the pain, but now, it came rushing back, in a familiar harsh, dull throb. "It's been better."
Belle continued to gather his gear that he handed over to her, except for the night-vision glasses, which he kept. "Do you need me to drive?"
He looked around, getting his bearings in the darkness. Elevated in the boat, he could now make out the distinct line of the island's coast through his glasses to the east. "No," he protested, taking her place in the small chair behind the steering wheel in the back. Belle sat on the side, next to him, letting him steer the boat without protest.
The winds whipped around them as he accelerated the boat forward, heavy spray covering them with every wave they crested. Sharp spasms of pain shot through this leg as the boat slammed down into each wave's trough, making him yell curses into the wind.
Belle was enduring the journey no better, and he could see her wince and lean forward with each turbulent crest, nearly bouncing off the seat on several occasions.
"We're nearly there," he lied, trying to make the journey sound shorter to both of them. Even though he could see the island, he knew that the darkness made the distance deceiving; the LED display in the corner of his glasses showed that they were still nearly seventeen miles from the coast—it would take them well over an hour to cross the distance in these seas.
"Let me know if you need me to take over," Belle yelled out in reply, her voice getting partially lost in the wind.
He simply nodded his acknowledgement; the wind was proving impossible for conversation.
The rest of the journey was completed in silence, as they were both focused on merely bracing themselves against each wave. Albeit for one small moment of panic, when a tank came loose and hurled towards them, it was fairly uneventful except for the uncharacteristically turbulent sea.
Gold sighed in gratitude as the waves finally abetted as they approached the small harbor on the rocky shore. The island, despite being always uninhabited during its history, was once used as a port for traveling seamen through the Croatian islands, before he purchased it. Now, hidden in the darkness, he could see what his eyes couldn't—twenty-square miles of peaceful, hilly, maquis shrubland, surrounded by picturesque white, rocky beaches, with his home situated on top of the highest point. He looked over, and could see Belle taking it all in as they coasted in to the dock; the old, original 17th century, white stone buildings, composing the harbor, looked positively imposing in their night vision glasses.
She turned around, gesturing to the ropes. "Do you need me to do anything?"
"Just hold us at the dock," he said, adjusting the throttle to let the bow ease towards the wooden planks.
Belle jumped off immediately, rope in hand, and tied them off, with surprising speed. She tied off the back too, without his leave, and shrugged, giving him a slight smile. "Do you see any buoys?"
He was still fixed in place, impressed by yet another hidden talent that she'd revealed to him. She frowned, with her hand outstretched, making him cringe at the realization that he was staring, and he quickly handed her over a buoy that he found in the compartment under the steering wheel.
With the boat secure, Gold accepted Belle's help out of the boat and onto the dock. After being alone for so long, these constant reminders that he was slowing her down with his leg frustrated him. The pain he could deal with—this new embarrassment, not so much.
Belle bounded back into the boat. He was about to thank her for getting his cane, but instead, she cut the ropes, securing their cargo, and heaved one of their large supply boxes onto the dock.
"French, leave them. We can get them in the morning."
She ignored him, throwing another one out of the boat.
"French!" he said, limping forward, trying to block her path. Another one landed in front of his feet without warning, nearly knocking him over. "Don't hurt yourself. There's no one here; we'll get them once it's light out."
She shook her head, determinedly. "I'm not going to leave them out here."
He could tell by her tone that there would be no arguing with her, so he relented, getting into the boat to help, ignoring his protesting leg. "Let me help, then."
Belle looked up, her brow scrunched up above her thick glasses in surprise. Gold might not be able to walk, but he damn sure wasn't going to sit idly by as she exhausted herself.
With the two of them, they were able to unload the dozen boxes in little time. It left his beaten limbs shaky and sore, but it was a small price to pay for the smile and "thank you" it earned him. He shook his head at his foolishness; he needed a drink, and soon.
The electric car, that he kept stored in the boathouse near the dock, carried them and their possessions to the white, terraced home on the top of the hill. Belle arched her neck curiously beside him, as he slowly drove up the cobblestone driveway, which winded in a lazy s-curve up the hill.
Once at the top, he parked the car in the circular driveway, and stepped out, the sweet fragrance of the surrounding night-blooming jasmine welcoming him home. Belle stepped out in turn, looking around at the grounds through her glasses.
"What is this place?"
He ignored her question, instead walking around and down a pathway along the side of the house, finally stopping by a small, hanging flowerpot. With a quick swipe of a fingerprint pad, hidden within, the pot swung out, revealing a complex security panel. He quickly scrolled through the history, noting that there had been no movement within the house, or the island since he'd been here last.
"Take off your glasses," he instructed. With a simple touch, all of the lights immediately went on, illuminating the house and the grounds surrounding it.
Belle gasped at the sudden bright light.
"Solar panels," he explained with pride, pointing to the shiny tiled roof; each "tile" was an individual, custom-designed, solar panel, capable of powering the entire house. With another thumb scan, he unlocked the side door, holding it open, and gestured for her to go inside.
The large home was built on three, terraced levels into the hill, each with their own large open balcony, in order to provide for the maximum amount of views of the ocean and island below. The grounds themselves totaled nearly four acres, with enough rooms to spend an afternoon exploring, but Belle only made it four-steps into the first room, before she stopped, looking around at the numerous objects and pictures displayed around it. Ever observant, she turned around, looking at him warily.
Gold stepped back, placing his hands on top of his cane as he waited for her questions, but she had none; instead, she simply walked away in favor of examining the objects and pictures closer, carefully tracing her fingertips along the frames of the smaller snapshots displayed on the chests by the window.
She continued to slowly circle the living room in silence, taking a long look at the large dog beds by the sofa, before she reached his side once again, looking wary and confused. "This is your home," she said quietly.
He nodded, swallowing back the pain that came with the term. "It is, indeed."
"And you brought me here?"
"I wanted to bring you…" he breathed, suddenly uncomfortable with the small distance between them. "It's safe," he quickly finished.
Belle swallowed, inhaling sharply. "Thank you," she whispered, her confident voice suddenly thick and shaky with emotion.
"It's no matter," he cheerfully dismissed, trying to ignore the uncomfortable pang in his chest. "I'll show you to your room, now, unless you need something else?"
"That'd be great. Thank you," she shyly smiled, following him obediently up the small steps to the bedrooms on the floor above. Despite its size, the house only had three bedrooms, with two on the top floor, each of equal size, beside each other, taking up the entire floor, with an open air courtyard separating them, connected by a bougainvillea-covered trellis.
He stepped aside on the landing, gesturing to the doors. "You may have whichever one you wish."
"Which one is yours?"
"This one," he said, pointing to the one on the left, "but you may have it if you wish. The other, I'm afraid, has become a bit of a clutter with some of my books. I've been using it as a study. You should probably take mine."
Undeterred, Belle opened the door to the second bedroom, flipping on the lights. Gold cringed with embarrassment at the mess of books strung across the far side of the room, some piles nearing half the height of the ceiling. As with the rest of the house, the room was simply littered with trinkets in every nook and corner—gifts and mementos he brought home from his travels.
He watched as she quietly examined the room, with as much care as she did in the living room, finally opening the French doors, which led to a large balcony. A warm breeze blew into the room, causing the smell of flowers to once again permeate the air.
Belle turned around, with a shy smile on her face. "Do you mind if I take this one?"
"As you wish," he bowed, backing away. "I will leave you to rest, then, good night."
Her hesitancy made him turn on his heel, instantly at her beck and call. "Yes?"
"May I borrow something to wear?"
His mind went momentarily blank at the thought, but he quickly recovered, limping as fast as he could to his room, quickly returning with a stack of his white undershirts. Not wanting to embarrass himself further, he gave her a quick nod, placing the shirts on the bed. "Good night, French."
He froze, looking over his shoulder.
She'd crossed nearly the entire room in silent strides, and was now standing right behind him. "My name is Belle," she offered, with a shy, lopsided smile.
Gold was momentarily at a loss for words, and immediately stilled as she took another step forward, into his space. Before he could react, Belle gently kissed him on the cheek, knocking the air out of his chest.
"Thank you," she whispered, drawing back away, her warm eyes smiling at him.
"I…uh…Belle, " he swallowed, trying to recover, but could only dumbly nod as he quickly opened the door. "Good night." He quickly closed it behind him, his heart racing. What the hell was that? He paused, his hand hovering over the handle, confused yet regretful by his leaving, but he drew it back. No, she was simply thanking him. She couldn't think…He stepped quickly away from the door and limped back down the stairs, and through the tiled hallway into the kitchen.
He passed through it, walking directly over to the liqueur cabinet in the adjacent dining room, and poured himself a generous finger of Scotch, downing it in a single gulp. The warm liquid poured down his throat like an old friend.
He needed this, he decided, downing a second shot for good measure. His battered heart had yet to calm itself. The woman upstairs had drudged up feelings he long thought to have extinguished in his life; it both excited and dismayed him, knowing that she wouldn't ever return the sentiment, and even if she did, if she could, he'd only hurt her. That was one thing he knew for certainty—everyone he'd ever loved had been hurt and taken from him. He wouldn't wish that fate on anyone, especially someone as good as Belle French.
The fine crystal glass sparkled in the light, as he twirled it around in his hand. That was the heart of problem in and of itself, he reflected, running his finger along the edge—she was good, and he was anything but. Any semblance of goodness had been torn from him after he'd lost Bae; he was simply a pit of darkness now, swallowing up anyone in his path. No matter how much faith Belle had in him, he'd still brought her down, sentencing her to a life forever on the run, away from her family and friends.
No, he thought, placing the tumbler back on the counter. He wouldn't allow that fate for her. She deserved to decide her own fate, not to have it laid down as a sentence to her. He might not be her first choice as an ally, but he would do everything in his considerable power to right this wrong done to her, and deliver her safely home.
With his renewed conviction making him feel slightly better, he stood, limping back up the stairs, pausing to check the alarm, and then, finally up to his bedroom. He paused at he landing, feeling a pull to check on her once more, but pulled himself back.
Once in the room, he slowly disrobed from his tight, tactical wetsuit, and changed into more comfortable sleeping attire. Even though his skin was sticky with sweat and salt, Gold was too exhausted to attempt any sort of shower and collapsed onto his bed; the effort to remove his tactical wetsuit alone had left him nearly out of breath.
Ironically, or rather, thankfully, his impromptu dip in the ocean and tight suit had left his knee with considerably less swelling than had been there in the morning, despite his fight with Glass. Without Belle to tend to it though, he tried to treat it as best as he could, grabbing a couple spare pillows and placing them under his knee, elevating, as per her instructions.
His body nearly hummed with relief as he relaxed back into the bed. Even though he was notorious for working in dangerous situations, he had endured more injuries than he had in the past eight years combined. It had always been his belief that if you had to draw a gun, you'd already failed the mission. He laughed to himself, switching off the lights; it sure didn't bode well for them that they'd done that nearly every day, not to mention that their combined tally of wounds was damn near laughable—the very definition of the "walking wounded." First thing in the morning, he would have to discuss with French how long she would like to stay here. They were no threat as is, patched-up and hobbling around. They needed to regain their strength.
Gold closed his eyes, trying to relax, but quickly found that sleep wouldn't come. He soon became restless, hyper-vigilant to every noise and sensation. The worst sensation was the coldness of the bed itself, a stark contrast to the pleasant warmness that had filled it in the past few days. It was embarrassing to be able to miss it, even though she had only been at his side for a mere two nights. This thoughts quickly turned to Belle and he became worried, wondering if she was okay, if she was safe, and he had to forcibly stop himself before he got worked up over nothing. If she'd only knew how much he thought of her, she would run and never look back.
The ticking of the grandfather clock continued to mock him, as he tried to think of something—anything—else besides Belle French, but it seemed that his mind was hell-bent on torturing him.
One hour went by…two; each hour marked by the quiet gong of the clock.
Gold froze, his breathing instantly ceasing, as he tried to listen and determine where the sound had come from without opening his eyes.
The faint sound of footsteps padded around his bed, and he creaked his eye open, without moving; his heart instantly stopped at the sight of none other than the object of his affections, walking over and curling up in the large chaise lounge next to his bed.
He was dumbstruck on what to do—to offer his bed to her, or to do nothing, and not alert her that he saw her. Without a clear thought in his head, besides the very clear memory of him embarrassing himself the night before, he did nothing, taking the cowardly way out, and pretended to sleep.
That strategy lasted five minutes, before guilt overrode his need to protect his own ridiculous sensibilities, and he sat up, pulling the covers on the opposite side of the bed down. "French," he whispered, hoping, yet not, that she would hear him.
She immediately jumped, scrambling out of the chair at the sound of his voice, but calmed herself when she saw him. "I'm sorry. I couldn't sleep."
He gently patted the mattress in reply, lying back down and turning away, not wishing to make her any more uncomfortable. A slight depression on the opposite side answered his question, and the warmth that he had missed so much returned; even if it was on the opposite side of the bed.
Within minutes, he heard a quiet snoring behind him, and he rolled back over to face her. Her face was slack with sleep, but she was still full of tension, with her arms and legs tucked into a small ball. He softly reached over to smooth a strand of hair back that had fallen over her eye, gently caressing the dark patch surrounding her cheek and eye socket. "Good night, Belle," he whispered, drawing his hand back and closing his own eyes, feeling the illusive pull of sleep that had evaded him, and slipped into the darkness, satisfied that she was safe beside him.
Something is wrong.
Gold awoke with a start from a deep sleep, immediately on edge without knowing why. The bed beside him was empty, the sheets still astray from Belle's restless turning during the night.
He stopped himself from calling out her name, not wanting to needlessly alarm her because of his bad dream. The room was silent apart from the soft crash of waves in the distance and he calmed down. Christ, it was just a bloody dream, you sad sook.
The faint, yet indistinguishable, sound of gunfire in the distance had him immediately out of bed and reaching for the spare Browning that he kept in his dresser beside his bed. A second shot quickly followed, sounding closer than the first.
Gold flew out of his bedroom, gun raised. He opened Belle's room, peaking his head in, but it was empty, with only white curtains blowing in the open veranda.
Another "crack," made him instinctively crouch and back away from the windows. Where the hell did you go, Belle? he thought, his worry threatening to overwhelm him. The alarm panel on the wall between the doors was on, but blank, showing no alarms forced entry or perimeter breaches.
No forced entry, my ass. He checked his clip—full— and clicked it back in, rushing down the stairs, using the wall as a makeshift aid.
The second floor was silent, and brightly lit, with the morning sun casting bright glare against the far wall of glass windows. He scanned around, keeping his body flush with the wall as he checked the second, main alarm panel, near the kitchen. This one showed all the motion detectors on the island; placed every square foot, the sensors gave him a perfect view of all the activity on the island, including the lone shooter located thirty meters below the perimeter of the house. Got you now, you fucker, he smiled.
Three more shots rattled off, two in quick succession as he slowly limped down to the shooter's position. He might not be able to run anyone, but the element of surprise often trumped anyone's advantage for at least a brief moment.
All he could hope was that Belle was safe. She would be smart enough to stay low if she was out, which it seemed to be the case since the shooter was so carelessly using up their ammunition. It was a well-used tactic to keep the person pinned down while one waited for backup.
He edged down the hill, finally stopping to crouch in the bushes a few meters away. He had the shooter in his sights; all he needed was a clear shot. Come on...move to the right...just a little more.
The shooter flinched, hearing him adjust his position, and immediately turned, facing him.
"Jesus Christ, Gold, what are you doing?" Belle screamed, her eyes wide with fright.
Gold immediately dropped his gun at his side, suddenly light-headed and nauseous. "I heard shots...I thought..." he trailed off, his fear quickly replaced by anger. "What the hell are you doing out here? I could've killed you!"
"I was just practicing," she yelled back, her chest heaving. "Didn't you see me?"
"No. Of course not! Who goes shooting at 6:00 a.m? I could've killed you!" he repeated, his hands violently trembling from shock.
"I was downwind. I thought that you wouldn't hear me."
"You thought that I wouldn't hear .308 rounds going off? I thought that you were getting shot at! That you were in danger!"
"I…" She threw up her hands, her shoulders immediately sagging, her fight completely out of her. "I'm sorry! I didn't know...I just...it helps," she faltered, her voice breaking, and tears suddenly filling her eyes.
Gold rushed over, his chest aching at her crumpled face, and pulled her into his arms without thought. Belle instantly dissolved into tears, mumbling incoherent apologies into his chest, as he rubbed her back, trying to calm both of them, reassuring himself that she was indeed safe. "Shh…" he whispered, placing a kiss into her soft hair, as he held her tighter, trying to steady his shaking hands.
Belle soon stopped crying, but didn't try and pull back from his embrace. "Thank you," she whispered, looking up at him.
"It's no matter," he breathed back, his own voice shaky with emotion.
She gave him a slight quivering smile, and then barked a laugh, stepping away. "I made it a day at least," she said self-deprecatingly, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. "You must think that I'm a mess," she groaned, closing her eyes tight. "This isn't me. I'm not like this, I swear. It's just…I couldn't sleep and then I've always…this has always worked," she said, gesturing to the gun, as she wiped away more tears from her wet cheeks.
His heart clenched at the pain readily evident in her voice. "You don't have to explain yourself to me. Just…leave a note next time, or tell me?" he pleaded, earning another barking laugh and nod from her.
"Yes, yes. Of course."
"Here—" he said, "let's go back up to the house, and get something to eat."
Belle smiled, nodding. "Okay." She bent over and collected the large sniping gun, slinging it over her shoulders. It wasn't until then, that he noticed that she was wearing his clothes and an old pair of running shoes—all of which looked about three sizes too big her. His realization must have shown on his face because she blushed, shrugging. "They looked old—I just took them out of the back drawer. I'll wash them."
He waved her off. "No need. Whatever you want is yours."
"Thank you." She hooked his arm around his without asking, letting him lean on her for support as they walked back up the steep hill.
"I'll get you some clothes of your own when I go into town today."
"Priovac," he clarified. "It's a small city about twenty miles from here; it's a half-day sail. I haven't been here lately, so we need to stock up on supplies, food, and gas. I also need to pick up my dogs."
Belle smiled, arching an eyebrow. "Agent Gold has pets?"
He scoffed in mock annoyance. "Guard dogs, not pets, Agent French. There's a difference…you don't have a problem with large dogs, though? Because, I can leave them there—"
"No, no, I love dogs."
"Good. Good," he mumbled, hoping that she was telling the truth, because he was fairly sure that she hadn't seen dogs like these before. They continued to quietly walk back up the hill, arm in arm, with the morning sun warming their backs. "You may come if you wish."
Belle looked up in question.
"To town. Or not. Whatever you want." Christ, he was a bumbling idiot around her.
"May I stay here? I mean…I'd like to go…I just don't know if I can get in another boat so soon after last night."
"Of course. Really, dearie, it's no matter. I'll be quick."
"Unless, you need me to go."
"I don't—" Gold paused, knowing that this was one of those questions that had a wrong answer, yet he wasn't sure which one to say. He'd like nothing better to have her by his side always, but her blood-shot eyes were proof enough that she was exhausted. "No, you rest here. I'll be right back."
She smiled, but the light slightly dimmed in her eyes, and he instantly knew that he'd chosen poorly.
"Do you mind if I read in your study while you're gone?" she asked at the same time, overriding his retort. "I mean…if you don't want me to, that's fine."
He blinked, startled by the quick change in conversation, but easily nodded back. "You may go anywhere you wish. I see you've already found the armory," he winked, nodding towards the gun slung across her shoulders. "There is a larger library down the hall from that room; help yourself to anything you like."
"Thank you." Belle squeezed his arm gently, giving him a small smile. "Will you leave soon?"
He looked over at the water behind them; it was relatively calm now, with a good breeze. "Not unless you would like me to stay."
"Oh, no. Don't wait for my sake. I'll be fine, here. Probably just end up sleeping the whole time you're gone anyways."
Her tone was too light. "Are you sure?"
"Breakfast, first though, eh? "
"Breakfast sounds great."
His suggestion was rewarded with another warm smile. If he weren't careful, he knew he would become quickly addicted to these smiles.
It was a strange feeling coming home to someone. Coming home to someone who was waiting for them in return. Gold didn't know what to expect; he could only hope that she'd still be there. Every day that she didn't run, didn't turn him in, chipped away at the battle-hardened armor that he had worn for so many years. The terrifying part was that he didn't mind it. He wanted it, craved it—her warmth, her kindness, her smiles.
He'd damn near ran through the town, collecting and ordering the various supplies to be delivered to his boat, so he wouldn't keep her waiting long. The only store that gave him pause was a woman's clothing boutique. Damn store made for failure he quickly discovered, so he told the shopping attendant that his wife had lost her luggage and she needed to replace everything. And just to make sure, he bought two sizes of everything.
With his purchases made to last them at least a week or two, Gold had sailed his boat through the bay, and up the coast, to the small, peninsula at the mouth of the bay. His wolves had greeted him as he docked his boat, as did his old friend Goran's shotgun.
The old, retired captain had been a longtime acquaintance of Gold's ever since he had moved to the island when Bae was a young boy. The cantankerous bastard was nearly as ornery as Gold himself, which had put them at odds at first, but eventually, they formed a tentative friendship after Bae took a shine to him. A single father himself, the salty captain had offered to take care of Bae when Gold would have to leave out of town for missions, for which Gold was extremely grateful. He now took care of his four guard dogs when he would leave.
As much as he needed to catch up with the old bastard, he declined coffee, promising to return soon, to which Goran asked him if he would "meet her soon." Gold immediately stood, and gave his goodbyes, knowing when to exit before Goran's true ribbing began, but not before his friend presented him with a fresh fish for the "missus."
That had been two hours ago. Slow winds had delayed his return home, making him anxious that Belle would be worried that he hadn't kept his promise to return quickly. Wolfgang seemed to pick up on his mood, as he whined, nudging his wet nose along the back of Gold's palm. He smiled, patting the large wolfhound on the head. The old dog had been his longest companion on the island, and kept to his side, unlike his younger three counterparts. The four looked like a true pack of wolves, each standing nearly three and a half feet at their shoulders, with a thick, grey pelts, but, in fact, they were all impeccably trained guard dogs.
Slow swells finally brought his boat home, just as the sun beginning to lower in the distance, and he tied it to the long dock, on the opposite side of the Zodiac. The sixty-foot sailboat made the Zodiac look tiny in comparison, and the dogs leapt off to go investigate the new boat. Gold, in turn, took his time to secure his knots and unload his newly purchased goods off the boat and into the car.
With a simple command of "volno," the dogs took off towards the house, and Gold followed closely behind in the car. As he drove up the winding hill, he kept watch for Belle, but didn't see or hear anything.
All four were sitting at the door when he pulled into the driveway, their tails and tongues wagging, and he ordered them to stay, not wanting to frighten Belle, which they all obeyed, somewhat begrudgingly. He took the first two bags in the house, pushing open the door with his cane.
"French?" he called out. "I'm back."
He walked through the living room, and into the kitchen. His files from his safety-deposit box were strung across the kitchen table, along with a thick, English-Russian translation dictionary. "French?" he called out, louder, as he placed the bags containing the fish, and cold items in the refrigerator.
The house was still silent though. She must be resting; he rationalized, going back to the car for some more items.
By the time he was finished unpacking, Belle still hadn't appeared, so he grabbed his cane and began to look around the house, finding all three levels empty. "Belle?" he yelled, the name sounding strange on his lips. "I'm back."
He tried to fight back the panic, and the unsettling feeling that she may have left. That thought propelled him to look outside. Maybe she had taken to shooting again…or went for a walk…or a swim…anything but leaving. He didn't know if he could handle the thought that she'd left.
"Belle!" he called out again, stepping onto the terraced patio. She wasn't anywhere to be seen, so he walked over the railing; the view gave him a panoramic view of the lands surrounding the property.
His knees nearly gave out in relief when he spotted her sitting on a bench, in the garden below, with her back to him. He called out again, but she didn't stir.
Hobbling with as much grace as he could muster, he made his way down the long, stone staircase to the garden below. The garden was overgrown, due to his time away, and the overgrowth slowed him down as he picked his way through the uneven stone pathway.
Belle hadn't moved when he finally found her. Her knees were tucked up to her chest, and she was covered in a thin layer of dirt, sweat making her shirt stick to her. He coughed, trying to alert her to his presence, but she didn't move or acknowledge him, as she continued to stare out to the ocean in front of her; the bright rays of the sunset illuminated streaks of tears running down her cheeks.
"Belle," Gold called out, softer, not wanting to scare her.
This time, she looked over at him, her eyes red and glassy with tears, but she didn't make a move to wipe them away.
He was at her side in an instant, sitting down beside her, but she didn't make a move towards him, as she did in the morning. Instead, she was remained distant, resuming her staring out at the horizon. At a loss of what he should do, Gold simply sat quietly next to her, offering her his company. "I'm sorry, I'm late," he finally said, in an effort to break the tension.
Belle turned, looking at him in confusion, another tear slipping down her cheek.
"The winds weren't with me, otherwise I would've been here sooner. I'm sorry."
She sniffled, wiping a tear from her cheek. "It's fine. I just..." she trailed off, shrugging helplessly.
"Are you okay?" he asked, feeling foolish as soon as the words left his lips, but he quickly recovered, and he gestured to the blood, staining the backs of her socks, in explanation.
"Oh." She looked, seemingly surprised at her condition. "I went for a run."
Gold frowned, unable to look away from the blood. "Where did you go?"
"Around the island. The shooting wasn't working, so I needed to run."
"The whole island?"
She nodded, lowering her eyes from his gaze.
He could only manage a dumfounded "oh" in return. How she was still conscious was a small miracle. The perimeter of the island had to be nearly twenty-five miles, at least.
The silence once again descended upon them, awkward and thick. Gold hated it, especially not knowing what he could say, or do, to take away the pain emanating from her every pore.
"What can I do?" he finally asked, willing to do anything to break the unnerving silence.
His words made her lips quiver, and she took a deep, shaky, steadying breath, before shaking her head, closing her eyes as she did so.
"Please, tell me."
Belle swallowed, lowering her eyes, as she wiped her wet cheeks again. "She's going to kill my father," she breathed, her voice cracking with every word.
"What? No," Gold said, fervently, startled that she would come to such a conclusion.
She simply shook her head, her breath hitching as she stifled another sob.
"Belle, your father is a four-star general. Mills isn't getting anywhere near him."
"Like she couldn't get to you?" she said, her voice thick with unshed tears. "I saw your file; you were their top operative, and then, suddenly she's blacklisting you, and sending people to kill you—to kill me. No one says anything, no one does anything to stop her."
"French," he interrupted, "your father and me are completely different. She can't touch him. And we will stop her. I'm not going to let her get away with this, I swear."
"But she'll use him to get to me. I know it. You know how this works…" she trailed off, wiping a tear, her lips quivering again. "He…I can't let anything happen to him, Gold. I don't care what happens to me, but my father…he's worked so hard, and, and I'm here…and I…" she sobbed, breaking down again.
Gold pulled her towards him; her racking sobs felt like knives piercing in his chest, as she held her closer, trying to take away her pain. "Belle, I swear, nothing will happen to your father," he whispered into her hair, rocking her. "I'll make the call right now. I can make sure he's safe."
Belle nodded against his chest, and he felt her tears soak his shirt, but he didn't care. All he wanted to do was take away her pain, to make her feel safe, to keep her wrapped in his arms, forever.
Her sobs slowly subsided after a long while, and she simply sunk against his chest, lying against him, with their arms loosely intertwined, as he continued to stroke her back, watching the sun slowly edge towards the horizon together. It was quiet, peaceful.
Finally, once the sun dipped below the horizon, Gold made a move to stand, silently offering his hand to her.
Belle took it without hesitation, allowing him to pull her up off the bench, and lead her back through the garden. They'd nearly reached the staircase to the house when Belle froze, jerking him to a stop.
Her body was absolutely rigid, and she clenched her hand around his. "There's something in the bushes," she whispered, motioning with her eyebrows towards the tall grass.
"Shh! Right there! Don't move."
Gold looked around, spotting the dark shapes in the bushes, and growled in irritation. "Ke mne!"
Instantly, his four dogs bounded to him, causing Belle to yelp and press herself against his side.
"My dogs," he said in irritation.
"Saarloos Wolfhounds. They're tame. They won't hurt you." As proof, he called them to their side, allowing them to sniff Belle, and then giving a stern "protect" command in their trained Czech language.
Belle still seemed wary as she carefully reached out to pet one. "Do they have names?"
"Yes, uh…that one is Hans, Jager is to the right, Panzer is the dark one in the back, and this is Wolfgang," he said, pointing to the largest dog, standing closest to him.
"Wolfgang?" she chuckled, raising a teasing eyebrow. "That's original."
"The composer, not the...nevermind," he said, waving his hand in explanation, as the large dog padded over to his new mistress, rubbing his large head against her leg. "He's the old man around here; the other three track the property during the day."
Belle nodded, but didn't seem convinced; Wolfgang, however, didn't seem to notice her concern and attached himself to her side as they slowly made their way up the stairs, with Gold's limp slowing them down as he fought back the pain with every rising step.
Finally reaching the top, Gold held open the door, letting Belle inside. "I'll get dinner prepared—you go wash up."
"I can help—"
"Nonsense," he gently corrected. "You're my guest. Take your time, m'dear, and I'll take care of everything down here."
Belle smiled, her eyes full of warmth and gratitude. "Thank you."
"Of course. Now, go. I'll be here when you return," he added with a smile.
Acquiesced, Belle shyly smiled, and made her way up the stairs, giving him one last glance over her shoulder.
"What is this?"
"Bluefin with sataraš. Do you like it?"
Belle took another bite, and smiled. "This is amazing. I can't remember the last time I had a home-cooked meal."
Gold grinned, watching her eat, excited to have pleased her with such a simple dish. "I must cook for you more often, then."
"You cook for all the girls you bring here?"
Belle's mouth opened, a flash of embarrassment crossing her face, before she looked back down, and took another bite.
"But, then, you're the only one I've ever brought here," he quickly added.
"Oh. Well…thank you," she smiled, a blush creeping into her features.
"I'm glad that you enjoy it," he softly replied, taking a pause in his own eating to pour them both some more wine. "How did the reading go?"
Belle frowned, sipping her glass. "What?" She turned, seeing the papers on the table nearby. "Oh. Not well. It's all in Russian and German and I can't understand a bit of it. Will you help me? I tried, but I ended up having to leave it. Thus, the run."
"Well, we can't have that. I will start first thing tomorrow."
"Thanks," she said absently, swirling her wine around. A long moment passed between them, and Gold waited, sensing that she was thinking. Finally, she closed her eyes, pained, opening them, only to avert his questioning gaze. "Gold?"
"May I…" she stopped, closing her eyes again. "I need to ask you a question."
Curious, he splayed his hands out, waiting for her to ask. "Anything."
"I need to know what is going on. Is…is this real, what we're dealing with? I've thought all day, and I feel lost. Who are we up against?"
Gold moved around the island to sit beside her. "What are you asking me?"
"I need to know if it's true. Mills, Malus…everything. I know it doesn't matter now, but—"
"You want to know that you're not having dinner with a traitor."
"No. No, not that. I just…my father's going to get a call, telling him that I've betrayed my country, and I need to know that that's not true."
Gold nodded, understanding. "You deserve much more than that, Belle, I assure you. But you're no traitor—the farthest from it." He paused, suddenly overcome with the inexplicable feeling of being confined in the large, spacious kitchen. "Do you mind if we continue this outside? Sit down for a bit?"
"Of course," Belle said, picking up her wine glass to follow him out to the patio outside.
The warm, summer night provided a stark contrast to the sick feeling in his stomach.
"It's lovely out here."
"Indeed." He paused, licking his lips. "First, I need to tell you something. I made a call to an old contact that specializes in protection detail. I've hired him to keep watch over your father, as well as your colleagues, Agents Blanchard and Swan. No one will get near them, lest they meet an unfortunate end. He is regarded as the best."
"Do they know?"
"None the wiser, dearie."
"And Mary? Did they say if she is doing better?"
"I only gave him the names. He does the rest. I may be able to get in contact with him later, but once in the field, he doesn't contact his employers as a rule."
"You didn't have to do that."
He shrugged. "It's the least that I could do, for what you've done for me," he quickly finished, mumbling the last words. Looking up, he noticed that Belle hadn't missed them, so he quickly averted his eyes, giving an uncomfortable cough to dispel the tension he was feeling. "There's an issue of payment though. I've provided enough for his down payment, but you will have to transfer some money from my accounts to his, by tomorrow at the latest."
"I couldn't possibly ask you to pay for this! I will pay you back."
"No, you won't. I won't allow it. But you do have the ability to access the accounts still, though?"
Belle nodded, clearly still peeved, but at least it seemed resigned to the idea.
"Good," he sighed, taking another sip of wine. "Well, now that that matter's settled, I suppose I'll start at the beginning?"
Belle simply curled up more in the large, chair beside him, and took another sip of wine, and looked softly at him, trusting, waiting. It gave him enough courage in his cowardly bones to start, to tell his tale.
"I grew up in a town outside of Edinburgh. We were poor and there weren't many options for men of my social standing—university certainly wasn't an option. I was destined to work in some low-level job, or the army. I joined the army, not for courage, mind you, but rather, because I wanted to get out of that bloody city. The army was my ticket out, so I took it. Around that time, the Cold War was in full swing, with the Americans and Soviets going full bore at it. I wasn't much of a fighter, but they soon discovered that I was able to pick up languages and find keys to codes quickly, so I was assigned to the cryptanalytic department.
"During my time there, I worked with an MI6 agent, who I knew as Lieutenant Spencer at the time. We collaborated on several Russian assignments; often with him bringing me coded notes that I would search for the key for in the off-hours. He referred to it as "spin work." I didn't mind or ask any questions; I enjoyed the challenge of finding the slight detail, or phrase that would break a code wide open. When I was finished, I would give him mine and we would 'compare' our results.
"This went on for several years, until one day, while we were on leave, he brought me to the SIS building, instead of the pub that we were planning on visiting. We went directly to the top floor, where there were three men waiting for us, including the Director of MI6 at the time. They wanted to know if I was 'the spinner' who had cracked Drozdov's code. It seemed that I had naively, and unwittingly, become Spencer's asset. That night, they offered me a job—to find, infiltrate, and eliminate KGB infiltrates within the U.K.—and I accepted the position immediately.
"I was good. Very good at my job. Soon, Spencer was no longer my handler, but rather, my partner, and we worked together, tracking down KGB agents, but most of the agents were lower level. I wanted to go bigger, higher, and eliminate their handlers. I knew from my interrogations that there were at least three high-level operatives from the First Directorate—now referred to the S Directorate—that worked within Europe. These three operatives reported directly to the Director of the KGB and were in charge of all the deep agents, currently working throughout the world, as well as being involved in planning sabotage and terrorist attacks against other nations. My plan was to track them down, and eliminate them. MI6 wasn't confident and told me to cease working on the project.
"One of my contacts at the CIA, working in London at the time, alerted me to a possibility that Langley was interested in the project and offered me the opportunity to work for them instead. He also said that they would be lenient in their demands, as long as I kept to the assignment. With MI6 not allowing me pursue what I wanted; I took the job, along with the subsequent freeze out from my former colleagues. I didn't care though. Spencer understood, and we've kept in contact over the years.
"As part of my cover, I 'bought' a shipping company, assuming the identity of a German importer, Alamar, as you know. I became quite successful, amassing a large fortune, which gave me access to an echelon of people not easily accessed, some of whom had deep connections to the KGB.
"During one such society event that I was attending in Prague, I walked outside to have a smoke, and by pure circumstance, overheard a couple arguing. They were conversing in Russian, which caught my attention, but I paid it no mind, that was until I saw the woman in question. It was Regina Milyukov. I knew Mills, at the time, to be a low-level KGB agent working in the area, but she was too far below anything that I was targeting to be of any interest of mine, so I walked away, paying it no mind. The only thing I really remember from that night was the sheer unprofessionalism and lack of tradecraft Mills displayed by having such a public fight.
"The next day, I received an urgent request for a meeting from an asset I had cultivated within the First Directorate in Moscow. He said that he needed to talk to me at once about a murder of a young waiter in the streets the night before. I nearly told him to 'fuck off,' but then, he informed me that there was a flurry of activity the day before in the office, and that he thought a hit had gone out from the head of the First Directorate. He sent me the photograph of the young man—it was the same man that Mills had been arguing with the night before, and he had three shots to the chest—the hit signature of Krasnaya Koroleva—the Red Queen—one of the three assets that I was trying to find. She rarely took such direct action before; she was only a handler.
"I found Mills the next night, much to her surprise, right as she was packing to leave. She was terrified, and hysterical, ranting on and on about how her mother had her fiancée killed. Now, it didn't take me long to put it the two-and-two together, as you would assume, so I immediately gave her an offer for a deal. I told her that I would provide a cover, job, and asylum in the US, if she would provide me the information on her controller and assets.
"She accepted the deal without thought; she was desperate, saying that she was going to be taken out. I had her on a plane bound for Quebec within the hour, and smuggled her in through the border in Maine, setting her up in a small town while I created her rock-solid cover of an agent. It took me less than a week to get all the necessary paperwork in line. I simply explained that she was a sleeper agent, one that I had to pull out because she was outted, and that she was to be put to a desk job. It was never questioned and Regina Milyukov started her new life as Regina Mills. Once she was debriefed, I left, returning here to resume my hunt.
"Five years later, I was still no closer to finding the Red Queen or any other of the three. With every door I opened, one closed, but I continued to search, waited patiently for my moment…and five years later it came. It seemed that poor Mills wasn't as innocent, or as naïve, as she had tried to make me believe. In the short time since I left her, she had quickly ascended to a position within the SOC. She also resumed contacting her handlers within the SVR."
"What did you do?"
"Of course. Mills going back to her roots was exactly as I predicted and hoped for. In fact, she went back far sooner than I thought she would. Subtlety, my dear, is key; her theatrics when I first turned her were way too over the top. It was clear that she was trying too hard to have me turn her."
"Were you able to find her handler?"
"No. Most of the information was sent at a low level, and it wasn't specific or rare enough to determine that it had come from her, specifically. I was hoping that once she ascended and got access to higher-level information, it would become easier to track the where it ended up, hopefully to the end of her leash. But as much as I tried, I couldn't find her handler, but I became positive that it was Krasnaya Koroleva. I tried tracking her down in every way possible. But that particular bitch proved to be very illusive.
"I operated on the theory that Koroleva was Mills' mother; the evidence was too strong not to investigate every possibility. However, according to records, Cora Milyukov died when Regina was fifteen, but there are also internal KGB memos, some of which are on that table inside the house, that reference her name, long after her death. All that is known about the Red Queen is her MO—the three shots to the heart. After that, the trail goes cold, other than second-hand sources and rumors. I tracked down some suspects and kept them in that safe box in Vaduz, along with an identical set of copies in another safe box in New Zealand."
Belle frowned, and he could see her going over the information in her mind, analyzing it. "But, why…so you think that the Red Queen knew that you were getting close, that one of those suspects is actually her, so she had Regina blacklist you?"
Gold raised his own eyebrows, impressed. "Very good. At least I hope that that is the case."
Belle snorted, nearly choking on her wine.
"It's just…I think you're the first person that I've known that was happy that they were black-listed."
Gold tipped his head, seeing the humor. "I suppose," he admitted, taking another sip of the Merlot.
"But why now? Why come out of hiding after all this time? Did it have something to do with Malus?"
"Partly. I saw Malus as an opportunity. I still don't know what that particular operation entails, other than what I've already told you, but I knew that since Mills was involved, if I made an appearance, she would be threatened and suspect that I was aiming to out her. I assumed that Mills would come confront me directly, but really, I was hoping that it would be her handler to come and deliver her message personally."
"Since she came out of hiding to kill Mills' lover?"
"But that's what I don't understand. Why would she come out and kill that man? Why not have Mills do it and not take the risk of eliminating such a low level target?"
"True love, dearie."
"Aye," he nodded. "No disease has killed more people and Mills' lover proved to be no exception. Apparently, during that night before the party, Mills told him about her true occupation. She thought that he would accept her after he told him the truth; but instead, he wanted to run away with her, to save her. I believe that her handler wanted to teach Mills a lesson, as well as eliminate any threat to expose her."
"But why not kill Mills too?"
"Mother's love? Revenge? To teach her a lesson? I don't know."
"But…what I don't understand, is why send me to kill you? Why not come herself?"
"A severe misstep on her part, obviously. I think she recognized your talents for being an efficient and talented operative, and figured that you would kill me easily. That way, she would be able to distance herself, while still achieving her goal of having me dead. However, it's clear that she didn't count on you to be as smart, or as clever, as you proved to be. You're quite extraordinary to be able to see the discrepancies in the order she gave you. She should have talked to Spencer first...as I did."
Belle cheeks flushed, as she hid her face behind her wine glass, taking another sip. "You talked to Spencer about me? What did he say?"
"Quite a lot, actually. Let me see if I remember this correctly," he pantomimed, pressing a finger to his chin. "Agent French, eh? Never have those Yanks produced such a fine vintage as that woman. You better know what you're doing, Gold, because I believe that this time, you may be thoroughly fucked. Good luck, though," he grinned, mimicking Spencer's aristocratic accent perfectly.
Belle laughed, buckling over into her seat. "He didn't!"
"Oh, he surely did, indeed. Not that it did me much good. I ended up underestimating you anyways."
"You did get that jump on me, though. You and that damn knife of yours."
"Which I truly regret. But alas, I must bow to you in the end, as it was your idea to use those files I gave him against me. A move, which I now admit, may have not have been the best idea of mine."
"But if you didn't, then maybe we wouldn't be here now, so maybe, it was actually a good idea."
"Perhaps," he quietly replied, holding her gaze. It was a comfortable, easy moment between them; Gold couldn't tell if it was the wine, or Belle's company, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd been able to talk so freely with someone.
He waved his hand, swirling around the last remaining wine in his glass. "A necessary evil. Black had been sent to kill me; she ambushed me outside a steel mill, after she eliminated a contact of mine. I'd figured out what was going on, and ambushed her in return. Right before she died, she told me that I was black-listed, so I eliminated her. It wasn't personal. Afterwards, of course, I found out that I wasn't officially black-listed until after I killed her, but by then, the status had become a mere formality. The pieces were already set in motion. So I did what I do best—I returned to the shadows and waited for my opportunity."
"Malus," he agreed.
"So you've been here alone, with no one else, ever since the order?"
"Not the whole time. I would occasionally leave, to conduct business at my various corporations, or to meet with contacts to hear what was going on. There are also cities nearby, where I get supplies and have a handful of acquaintances, but in short, yes, I've lived here alone since then."
She sat back and looked at him, quietly. "Do you think you'll ever find her?"
The question gave him pause. For the first time, he had doubts. Not of his success, but of what he would be willing sacrifice to get it. Before, he would've done anything. Now, he had to take care of someone else for the first time since Bae. "I hope. But if not, I'll have the satisfaction of taking Mills out, and getting you back home. That's enough for me, for now."
Belle nodded, offering a small smile, which turned into a yawn, causing a rosy blush to spread across her dimpled cheeks. "I'm sorry—it's the wine," she waved in explanation. "I never drink."
"Oh," he cringed, not knowing.
"No, no, it's lovely, really," she interrupted, as if she could read his mind. "I just…well, I was a lightweight before the service, and then afterwards, when I wasn't allowed to drink, the lack of alcohol certainly didn't help my tolerance. This though—" she said, lifting her glass, tipping it towards him, "this is amazing."
"It's from Buzet, a town to the north of here."
"Such a connoisseur. Spencer would be proud."
"Spencer would be disgusted, force me to throw it out, and then call me an unsophisticated jock," he chuckled back. "That wannabe sommelier won't sniff anything less than a five-hundred pound bottle."
"True," she laughed, yawning again. "I think I'm going to head up to bed before I fall asleep out here."
Gold stood up in turn, and walked over to hold the door open for her.
She paused in the doorway, blocking their entry into the home. "Thank you again for dinner…and for telling me."
He watched her walk determinedly past him, and into the kitchen, opening and closing each of the drawers.
"Do you have a pen?"
"A pen." She mimed the motion, while she opening another drawer. "Ahh—here."
Curious, he walked over to her, stopping on the opposite side of the island, watching her carefully write on a spare piece of paper.
"Here," she said, holding out the paper to him.
"What is this?" He took the note from her, and instantly became alarmed, seeing the numbers and bank names written in order on it.
Belle smiled, tipping her head at the paper. "Our deal. Those are the accounts, passwords, and bank names. It's all there, as promised."
A sharp pang of fear tore through him, and his heart pounded in his chest. She's leaving. He quickly handed back the piece of paper. "No, you keep it."
"Wha—Gold, this is your…you did as you said. You told me, so here you go. It's yours."
She's leaving. She's leaving you. "I don't want it. Keep it." If she kept it, then she would have to stay.
Belle frowned, confusion clear on her face. "I don't understand. It's yours. Take it."
"Please keep it."
"Because…just keep it," he pleaded, hating the desperation laced in his tone.
Belle solemnly nodded, folding the paper and tearing it up. "Okay. But, I want you to know that it's yours whenever you want it though. All you have to do is ask."
Confusion tore at him like tiny knives. What did this mean? Is she leaving? All he could do was nod, not trusting himself to say anything that would tip the scale either way.
"I'm going to head up. Good night," she quietly said, reaching forward to run her hand down his arm.
Gold stepped aside, letting her pass, and felt an aching, knowing pain in his chest, sensing that he was missing an opportunity, that he was losing her… Fuck, he closed his eyes, trying to shake off his fear. "Belle?"
Belle froze in place in the doorway at his voice, turning around. "Yes?"
He swallowed, trying to force anything out of his mouth, which had suddenly gone bone dry. "Aiden," he forced out, the name feeling strange on his lips after not hearing it for so long. "My name is Aiden." His poor effort was rewarded with a bright smile, her eyes creasing.
"Good night, Aiden," she smiled. "I'll see you in the morning."
His face drew into a smile in turn, drawn like a magnet to its pair. "Good night, Belle." For the second time in his life, Gold felt something strange. It felt like trust.