A/N: It will probably be about two to three weeks before I can update this, and I apologize for that. I just got a new job and other things have left me veeery busy. I have the next chapter planned but finding the time to sit down and write it and get it to where I like it will be a hassle. This should only be about three chapters long, but we'll see how that goes. Enjoy!
He is quite comfortable. There isn't a lot of room in this place, but he has enough, and all of it is his. There's a bed that isn't lumpy or stiff, and more than enough space for him to never feels closed in, but not too much to make him feel exposed. A single pillow fits easily on his bed, one that never seems too flat or too soft. In the winter, he gets extra blankets, and they're never scratchy, and always warm enough.
It could be much, much worse.
The single overhead light in the dead center of the ceiling never buzzes annoyingly, and he has complete control over it unless it storms. Sometimes it flickers, but it never worries him. The walls never close in, and water never trickles down from his tiny window when it rains.
They treat him well, perhaps better than he deserves, and he finds he can't complain. He gets small comforts, and they are enough.
Once, he'd thought having a small nightstand and some books would be nice. The next day they appeared beside his bed, along with a battery powered lamp. He spends his days reading to pass the time, and is quite content as long as there is new material to read.
All in all, he's comfortable.
He's never known anything else.
Gold licks his finger, idly turning the page. He's quite sure that mental institutions were supposed to be very different. The stuff of horrors with pills forced down throats and patients restrained or tortured. Instead, he has a room the size of a small apartment, with his own bathroom even.
The nurses aren't even mean.
A young blonde doctor once laughed during Gold's checkup when he mentioned it.
"It helps having such a cooperative patient," he'd said.
"I need to get better."
Gold is sometimes so comfortable in his room he forgets he's sick at all. He's seen his file, however. He knows better than to fight the doctors.
Outside does something to him. The world seems false beyond his walls, reality itself crumbling just to laugh at him with a wide, mocking mouth. He's safer in his room, with its cinderblock and brick walls and doors that lock on the outside to keep everything away.
He has good food, running water, and whatever books the library feels like donating. He thinks he should ask for a bookcase soon. The books are beginning to pile up, and with his ankle weak as it is (he doesn't remember that happening, but he can't remember a time without a limp) having things to trip over isn't a good idea.
But bookcases have sharp corners.
He's not supposed to have anything sharp.
Gold makes due by stacking the books under his bed to keep them out of the way. He needs to remember to send books out when he's done with them, otherwise he'll have a mountain of books and nowhere to put them.
But the books are comforting, in their own way. He likes the world of fiction much better than the one outside. He can't hurt anyone in the stories, and he can always pick and choose which world he would like to visit.
Gold is quite comfortable. He has everything he could ever ask for, and should he want something else, he need only ask.
And then one day, he gets a neighbor.
Patients aren't supposed to see one another once they're in the basement. The basement is for confinement (for people who go into violent episodes at the drop of a hat). Once someone is basement level, they stay away from anyone without a medical degree.
So Gold isn't supposed to know he has a neighbor.
But the brick wall they share isn't that sturdy. It's relatively new, and money must be tight because some of the bricks wobble if he leans on them, and no one ever comes to repair them.
And so it comes as no surprise when he sits on his bed, back to the wall to read a book, one of the bricks simply falls out.
Gold stares at it for a minute, entirely unsure of what to do. The wall can't be safe, not with bricks just falling right out. What if it had hit him on the head instead of landing on his floor?
He should tell someone. Falling bricks are dangerous.
But first... he can't help it. He is only human, and humans are curious creatures, and he arranges himself on the bed until he can see into the next room.
Blue eyes stare right back at him.
They both stagger away from the hole, and if the shriek is anything to go by it's a woman he's frightened.
"I- I'm sorry," he manages, swallowing to wet his throat. It's been so long since he's talked to anyone (and he feels the 'I'm fine' to the nurse yesterday doesn't count) that his voice is rusty. He sounds as though he's been swallowing chalk.
"Are you... all right?"
Gold nervously inches towards the wall. There is only silence from the other side, and he feels he should do something. At a loss, he locates and picks up the fallen brick. He can at least put it back. It might make the woman more comfortable.
This isn't a bad place, despite what the outside world might think, so he shouldn't go around poking holes in the walls.
"You scared me," a voice says. It is tiny and timid, but there and it has spoken.
"I didn't mean to," he says sincerely.
He's forgotten how to talk to people who don't give him medicine or food. What is he supposed to do now?
"Do you, um." Gold waits, turning the brick in his hand. "Do you know what happened? There was a sound, and then light."
Light? Gold risks a glance through the empty space, and finds he can only stare. He doesn't know who this woman is, or what she looks like (but she has the most beautiful blue eyes, like the ocean when it is deep and clear), but he knows she is sitting in a room much smaller than his, and all her lights are off.
"A brick fell," he tells her. He can't stop staring into the darkness. It makes him uncomfortable. "Turn on your light. It'll help."
He remembers his first days in the basement. He wanted the darkness, wanted to fight those who wanted to help him, but he was better now, and all his lights burned brightly. If the woman turns on her light, things will be better.
Gold hears shuffling, what sounds like someone standing and making their way around the room, and waits for a flicker of light from her side. She must be new. The room beside his has been empty for a long time. She's here now, however, and the least he can do after scaring her is help her get a bit of light.
His eyes adjust, and he can just make out a shape making their way across the far wall. She's groping her way across the room, hand on the bricks, searching for the light switch.
She should have come across it by now.
"I don't have a light," she says quietly. Her voice is louder now, just beside the gap in the wall.
"It's there. Look again."
"There's no bulb."
Gold leans closer, and peers up. There on the ceiling is a socket, and what looks like a pull string only a few inches long, but no bulb.
"That's not right," Gold decides. He moves away from the hole, towards his bed. "Here, can you see with my light?"
Fingers appear, curling over the brick. Gold sinks onto his bed, away from the hole. "Yes."
"We'll leave the hole open then. Until you get a light."
The nurses will fix that. No one should be alone in the dark. He can tell them in the morning, when they bring his breakfast. Maybe they just forgot to put a new bulb in when they changed the old one.
People forget things.
Sometimes, people forget a lot of things, like magic and purple smoke, and a trilling, manic laugh that rings throughout a cage-
Gold shakes his head, forcing the images away.
"Thank you," she calls, and she sounds very close, like she is standing just before the hole in their wall, mouth at the opening. "My name is Belle."
Belle. It is a pretty name.
"It's nice to meet you, Belle." There, a perfectly acceptable greeting. Maybe he remembers how to talk to people after all. "My name is Mr. Gold."
It is late, and Gold feels the fatigue pull at him. He sinks onto his bed with one arm tucked under his head. He can see her shadow like this, and the tips of her fingers tapping against the bricks.
"I'll leave the light on for you. Goodnight, Belle."
"Goodnight, Mr. Gold."
He wakes to the sound of his breakfast being placed on his nightstand. The plastic spoon wobbles on the tray as the nurse waits for him to sit up and hands him the food instead.
"How are you doing, Mr. Gold?" she asks.
He glances down at his breakfast of toast, scrambled eggs, and half an orange. "I'm fine."
The nurse nods, and turns on her heel.
Gold remembers Belle, and the darkness she spent the night in. "Wait," he calls. "Wait, there's... there is something-"
But she is already gone, closing the door before he can say anything more. Gold sighs. He tried. All he can do now is hope the nurses realize their mistake when they give Belle her breakfast. It should happen soon- she lives right next to him. Surely they'll be by in no time with some light and food for his neighbor.
He begins the awkward task of eating his eggs with a spoon. They are slippery, and like to slide off, but he manages to get the food in his stomach, even with a few detours to pick the egg off his shirt.
Gold reads the rest of his book, and finds the ending lacking. The boy gets the girl, all very predictable and dull, but the writing was entertaining enough. It has only been an hour since breakfast, and they will be by to collect his tray soon, and he eyes his leftovers.
The toast will be dry- he keeps forgetting to ask for jam- but he is still hungry and doesn't like oranges, so Gold picks up one triangle of the bread. He prefers wheat toast, but can tolerate white toast. He shouldn't complain, really. After all, there are surely people trapped outside that have it far worse.
He very nearly jumps at the whisper, and manages to inhale enough of the bread to choke him. He coughs, grasping for his water.
"Are you all right?" Belle sounds small and worried, and he hurriedly gulps the water down so he can speak.
"Fine, fine," he assures her, coughing again. He doesn't sound very convincing, but it's the best he can do. He's still new at conversations. Or perhaps he's just rusty. He really doesn't know.
Either way, Gold isn't very good at talking.
"I was just..." she pauses, and he wonders why she has to gather her thoughts to speak, but he waits, because her voice is nice to hear. "Just wondering... do they bring food by? Or do we wait and go somewhere?"
Gold sits up and tries to catch her eye. His lamp is in the way, the shade just blocking the hole from this viewpoint, and he wonders if the nurse just didn't notice or couldn't see it. He shoves the lamp aside, and gets his first view of Belle.
She is pale, skin like marble, and those eyes are just as blue as he thought. Her hair is dark brown, but the light from the lamp gives it a red tint.
She's very tiny, her chin lifted to see through the hole that is eye level for him, and he's not very tall. She looks younger than her voice, her face youthful while her voice is timid but strong, like velvet over steel.
"They should have brought breakfast already," he tells her. The only time they don't feed someone is... "Are you going upstairs today? If you have new medicine, or you have to get a check up, you're not supposed to eat anything until after."
Belle's brows draw together, and something cool touches his stomach. Something is wrong. She's very confused. It's like his words don't make sense to her.
"What's upstairs?" she asks, leaning into the light. Dark circles have planted themselves under her eyes, and they bloom wide and strong against her pale skin.
"The hospital." Gold tilts his head to study her. "Do you know where you are?"
Her hand curls around the brick, slender fingers curving towards the light. "Someplace safe," she says quietly. "At least... that's what my father told me. I don't..." she stops to lick her lips, "I don't really know what's going on." She meets his eye. "You said we're under the hospital? And that we're supposed to get medicine?"
She should know. She should know all of this. Belle is young, but she is over eighteen, and she should not only know where she is, but be able to say no if someone tries to put her here without her permission. Her father could have tried, but Belle seems competent and could have fought him.
Gold really isn't sure what to do.
She's standing in darkness, peering into his room, studying his cotton pants and simple shirt while she stands in what looks like a hospital gown. He wonders if she has slippers for her feet.
This isn't right.
"We're in the asylum," he tells her gently, because he doesn't know how she'll react. "We're under the hospital, away from people we might hurt." He remembers red hair, and a name. "What did Doctor Hopper tell you?"
Belle looks shaken at the news. Her eyes are wide and confused. Her mouth parts and for a moment Gold wonders if she'll scream and yell, but she licks her lips again.
"Who's... Doctor Hopper?" She takes a deep breath. "Is he someone upstairs?"
"Belle, are you from Storybrooke?"
She nods, and Gold knows something is wrong now, because she tells him she was born in Storybrooke has never even been outside the town limits. Doctor Hopper is the only psychiatrist within one hundred miles, the only one with the ability to put people in the basement, even if they don't want to go.
And Belle has never met him.
Gold picks up the half orange still sitting on his tray.
"Do you like oranges?" he asks.
She looks frightened now, but her eyes shine when he hands her the fruit. She bites into it with gusto, eating it quickly, far more quickly than Gold has ever eaten anything in his life.
She eats the measly half orange as though she hasn't had a bite in days.
It chills Gold down to the bone when her gaze hits the floor and she tells him, quite simply, that she hasn't.
And he knows that something is terribly, terribly wrong.