Zionangel prompted: Just one more day.
I'm pretty sure there's a second and third chapter to this. We'll see if it actually gets written.
Title: One More
Summary: Belle has never actually met Mr. Gold. Which is weird, because he knows everyone. With Henry's help, Belle intends to figure out why this is. Cue Operation Honey Badger.
"Mr. Gold?" Belle asked. On her tiptoes at the top of the rolling ladder, she pushed a massive seventeenth century art tome back into its place and glanced down at Henry. "Who's that?"
Henry gaped at her, the books he was supposed to be helping her shelve in severe danger of plummeting from his grasp. "You're kidding, right?"
Belle scanned quickly through the repertoire of men whose company she kept. She found a Mr. Darcy on one end, and a Goldfinger on the other, but between the two, no Mr. Gold.
"What book is he from, again?" she ventured.
Henry didn't drop his books, but it was a near thing.
"You don't know Mr. Gold?" he hissed. "How is that even possible? He owns everything!"
"Well, if he owned everything, I'd have met him. Where does this man…" she waved a hand. Henry passed another book up. "Live? Work? What does he do? Who is he?"
Henry looked at her in something very near horror. "Only the whole reason Operation Cobra exists."
"I thought your mom was the reason."
"Well, okay, the other reason, then. He runs the pawnshop." Henry handed up another book, a look of consideration creeping over his face that never boded well for his overworked mother—(mothers? Belle was never sure)—or the sanctity of public property.
"You really don't know him?" he asked at last.
Belle stepped down from the ladder and pushed it over to the next shelf. "Is this on Mulberry?"
"Main Street. Just down from the diner."
A niggle, a tiny little spark flared in the furthermost regions of her woeful excuse for a memory.
Characters, she remembered, no problem. Names, dates, places where impossible things never actually happened. She could remember how many miles it took to get from the Forest of Eternal Night to the Castle at the Center of the Labyrinth—four—but put her in front of a real face, waiting for a real spark of recognition, and possibly an answer to a no doubt very appropriate, real-world question? She sank like a rock every time.
"Would this be that dinky little blue building?" she ventured. "With the big sign?"
"The big sign that says Mr. Gold Pawnbroker and Antiquarian Dealer?"
Belle laughed. "Alright, yes. I guess I've seen it, then."
Henry nodded, mulling this. He continued to hand up books on command, but did so without the usual running narrative of Prince Charming and Snow White and how close they were to overcoming the curse.
Belle watched him, wary. Last time he'd given her that look, he'd run off the next day to find his birth mother. But he didn't seem likely to go running off to a different state this time, so she relaxed, kept shelving her books, waited for Henry to come to a decision.
"It's weird that Mr. Gold doesn't talk to you, too," he said at last. "He knows everyone. Are you sure?"
"To be honest, Henry, I'm not even sure what he looks like." Belle smiled. She climbed down from her ladder again, pushed it another shelf over. "Should I go meet this man?"
"No! No, you can't do that."
"But you said he talks to everyone—"
"Oh," she tilted her head. "Well, who is he, then?"
Henry looked away, fidgeted with the loose dust jacket of the book he held. "I don't know yet."
"Then how do you know he's evil?"
"He just is, okay? He knows everything about everybody and he's always making deals."
Belle wanted to laugh, but bit the inside of her cheek instead. Too many people laughed at Henry; he needed at least one person in this town he could tell his stories to.
"I'm always making deals," she told him instead. "Of course, my deals are probably more straightforward—Here is a book, bring it back in two weeks and I won't have to break your knee caps."
Henry shot her a look. "Not those kind of deals, Belle. And you wouldn't hurt anybody."
"I might. These books are my babies. And anyway, I'm starting to feel left out. There's this mystery man roaming all over town, making questionable deals with everyone but me. Why not me?"
"You don't want to make a deal with him, though. That's like… the worst thing you could possibly do."
"The worst thing?"
"Worse than Cheetos-fingers in my books?"
The baleful look Henry fixed her with, Belle knew he thought she was just being silly now. He was only half-right. Many a borrower had been black-listed for processed cheese stains on her nice clean pages. Archie Hopper still apologized for what he'd done to her first edition Sherlock Holmes.
"Yes, Belle," Henry said. "Worse than that. You can't go see him. If he hasn't made a deal with you, there's probably a very good reason. You need to stay away until we can figure out what that is and how to use it."
Very sound logic, Belle thought. If Storybrooke were really the war-zone Henry thought it was, she'd happily follow him into the fray. He had a solid way of thinking she found comforting.
But she couldn't help doubting there was anyone in this town worse than cheese spots in a new book. Worse than book-dropped-in-tub, perhaps. But not cheese spots.
"I think I'm going to take a look, anyway. Figuring out Mr. Gold will be my Operation Cobra," she said and grinned, climbing down from her ladder again. "Operation Honey Badger, if you will."
But when she turned around, she found Henry looking at her like she'd promised to run headlong into traffic. "I will be careful," she added gently, "whoever he turns out to be. I just want a look. Promise."
"But you won't talk to him?" he demanded.
The bell above the library door jangled. Belle could just see the smart lines of Regina's power suit around the edge of a shelf.
"Henry!" she called. "Hurry and get your things, please, I'm double parked."
Belle smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way. "Go on, kid. I'll tell you what happens tomorrow, okay?"
"And you'll be careful," he insisted.
Belle nodded. "I'll be careful."
"Henry!" Regina called again.
Henry scooped up his backpack from the ground and started towards the door. Halfway there, he stopped, glancing back.
"Can you… not just yet?" he asked. "Give it one more day? It's just that, my mom's going to see him tonight, and he's always in a really bad mood after one of their meetings."
Belle frowned, one hand on the empty book cart. Henry watched her, shoulders squared, one hand tense on the strap of his bag, braving his mother's double-parked wrath in a possibly misguided attempt to keep her safe.
Whoever this Mr. Gold character was, Henry really believed she'd be better off hiding. And for the touch of a second, Belle felt another library closing in around her, another time, another world—felt the crushing cloud of awful expectation and anxiety bearing down. Loneliness. Grief.
And then, as soon as it had come, it went.
Belle made up her mind.
"I trust you, Henry," she told him, and her determination must have shown in her face. "I'll wait until tomorrow."
The boy's shoulders drooped in relief. "Thank you," he said, just as Regina called his name again and started over in a huff. "Thanks. It'll be better this way, Belle, you'll see."
And then, he scampered off. Belle watched. She didn't hear what Regina said—some kind of scolding—but Henry ignored it, dodged her hands and hugged her instead.
Regina looked like a woman who'd taken a blow to the stomach. She softened immediately, touched a hand to his hair like she wondered if he might break, her red-red lips set in a rictus of love and pain.
Belle watched them leave together, Henry chattering on about his day, and wished she could shake them both. Then feed them, and give them lovely books to read.
Probably, she thought, didn't know how to deal very well with people at all.
She thought of that sudden other-library. The emptiness between all those aging books.
Operation Honey Badger. Tomorrow.