Title: Near to the sun
Fandom: Once Upon a Time
Pairing/Characters: Belle/Mr Gold (Rumpelstiltskin)
Word Count: 7,100
Spoilers: For episode 1.12
Disclaimer: Not mine! The title comes from the classic song East of the Sun (and West of the Moon). I personally love the Billie Holiday version, but the Diana Krall one is stunning, too.
A/N: This is the first of a three story series. Thank you to the fabulous fringedweller for the beta!
Summary: Belle is re-acclimating. Naturally, this means lunch with Mr Gold.
Belle was not awakened by a kiss.
Emma Swan found her and she hadn't even been looking for her. And once Belle was lucid and had spent more than an hour in Emma's company, Belle was positive Emma was going to save them all simply due to her incredible luck.
The Queen had been drugging Belle for years, a simple drug, laced in her food and inside the weekly injections as evidenced by the marks and bruises on her arms. When Belle finally came out of the haze and had been told the truth, she was almost disappointed.
"Drugs?" she said to Emma and Dr Hopper. "How…unimaginative."
Well, Belle presumed it had been the Queen, the Mayor as she was currently known. However, said Mayor was absolving all knowledge and there wasn't actually any proper proof otherwise. Or at least there wasn't any proof that could be found. The nurse that had supplied most of the injections had mysteriously disappeared.
Once the drugs were out of her system, apart from some lingering effects that would most likely be with her for quite some time, according to Dr Hopper, Belle thought she was actually doing rather well for someone who'd been locked up for decades and had the memories of two people circling about in her mind.
She was both Belle and Christabel French and it took her nearly three days and several notebooks before she got all her memories separated and put into the right categories. She knew she had a father here, but he, too, had disappeared.
She was doing so well, it was almost as though a spell had been broken and didn't that train of thought keep her awake at night.
He'd been there, of course, shortly after Belle was found.
Always on the fringes though. He kept his distance, not coming too close, until one day she'd had enough of his pussy-footing around. She got Emma to get him to come to Belle's room at Granny's and once he was inside, looking tentative and eager all at the same time, Belle cornered him.
Belle won't lie; she was really gratified by how he backed away as she advanced until his back ran into the wall behind him.
"I'm still furious with you," she said. "But, I won't break. Not now. So stop being such a coward."
He flinched. "I'm so sorry, Belle."
"I know you are," she said. "And I accept your apology."
"What would you have me do?" he said looking older and more vulnerable than she thought he'd have been capable of.
It was right about then that she realised just how much power she had. If she, Belle, the former noblewoman who had always spent more time with books and maps than with suitors and manners, could reduce this so very powerful being to the man standing before her? Well.
She'd have to tread carefully. If she'd learned anything at all over the years, it was that power was not something to be abused. It didn't like it and would as soon as bite you as let you use it.
"You can start with the truth," she said thoughtfully, "and tell me what the heck is going on. I've got memories of what happened in your castle and I remember how the Queen found me and locked me away after you…"
'Rejected me' went unsaid, but it still echoed in the room.
"Yes," he said, looking down and shifting on his feet. "Well."
"Why do you have a cane?" she asked. "Why did she lock me away? Who is Emma exactly? Who are all these people and why do they not know who they are when I do?"
Her voice had risen during her outburst as his face had fallen.
Belle breathed in and out slowly, counting down like Dr Hopper taught her.
"I always hated stories where the hero and the heroine could have lived happily ever after if only one of them had been honest and told the other everything," she said softly, focussing on her words. "So much time always gets lost when people aren't honest. And you owe me a story."
"I'll tell you everything," he said quietly. "As I should have done then."
"Good," she said. Then she turned and sat down on her bed and waited.
He shifted again. "May I have a seat?" he asked indicating the small chair next to the window.
"You may," she said inclining her head.
He sat and then he told her everything. The Queen's curse, why he'd never looked for her, who he thought Emma was, everything.
When he finished, Belle's thoughts swum in her head and tripped over one another.
"I need to think," she said, her fingers itching to find a something to write with so she could get everything straight.
"Of course," he said as he got up to leave.
"I'm an ally, by the way," she called after him. "Not a damsel. Not something to be kept safe and locked up."
He visibly flinched again, but Belle stood up and walked over to him and put her hand over his where it rested atop his cane.
"I want your word on this, Mr Gold," Belle said looking him in the eyes. "I'm on your side. Don't forget."
"I won't forget," he said very softly, staring her hand on his. His hand twitched slightly beneath her, and Belle waited, barely breathing. Gradually, he turned his hand so that his palm met hers. She let out her breath slowly as he clasped her hand.
"You're an ally, Belle," he said, turning to meet her gaze.
"Is that a deal?" she asked letting her mouth quirk upwards.
"Oh, no," he said shaking his head, but then looked at her thoughtfully. "Unless you want it to be?"
"I think I'll settle for a gentleman's agreement," she said nodding at their hands.
He bowed his head. "An accord it is then."
Belle gave his hand a squeeze and then let go, fighting the urge to clasp her hand to her stomach to try to still the butterflies inside that had taken flight. She'd always liked his hands.
"Although, there is a slight problem calling it a gentleman's agreement," he said hesitantly. "For you are no man."
"Neither are you," she said. "Or so you've said."
"Touché," he said warmly.
"I have to say, I do miss the leather," Belle said looking him over.
"I don't," he said, before making a face. "It chafed something terrible."
Belle laughed out loud, a proper, cheerful laugh that echoed in her rented room. The first laugh she'd dared to laugh in years. And oh, it had to have been years. She clapped her hand to her mouth, in fear of being too loud. But then with wide eyes, started to laugh at her own behaviour.
He looked bewildered at first but then started to grin.
However, despite their accord, Belle hardly ever saw the man. While that was in part due to her reluctance to be in large spaces for long periods of time and liked to spend a lot of time in her room, it was mostly due to him. She noticed how he tended to leave the diner or the sheriff's office or the library when he saw her.
It was becoming, quite frankly, annoying.
So when Belle saw him walking on the sidewalk before he saw her, she deliberately skirted around a small garden to end up by his side.
"Lovely day," she said in greeting.
"Miss French," Gold said, his tone tense. "How are you?"
"Oh, fine," she said. "Well, mostly. I have nightmares and I'm still not used to large open spaces, but fine. Which you'd know if you came by to visit me more often."
"I've been busy," he said his eyes shaded by his sunglasses.
"So have I," she said. "I've been reading. A lot. I've got a lot of history to get caught up on."
"I can only imagine," he said still not looking at her. "Are you enjoying staying at the bed and breakfast?"
His tone was perfectly polite, but Belle could hear the strain beneath it.
"I am actually," she said honestly. "It's been quite some time since I've had to fend for myself. I'm finding I like it."
"Yes, you always had an independent streak to your nature," he said, the corner of his mouth quirking upwards.
Belle laughed a little. "If there are curtains to be torn down, I'm your girl."
"Yes," he said softly. "Yes, you are."
She really wanted him to look at her.
"You can look at me, you know," she said softly. "I'd like it if you did."
Gold stopped and turned to face her. He wasn't too much taller than she was, but then he never had been.
"I should be going," he said quietly. "I've work to do."
"Don't we all?" she said. She winced and plucked at the pocket of her jeans.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"It's these jeans," she said fighting the urge to tug at them. "I know they're what everyone wears, but I think I prefer dresses."
"Ah," he said, sounding unsure of what to do with the change of subject. Belle sighed and decided to stop torturing him, because apparently that's what her presence did.
"Go," she said feeling defeated and sad and uncomfortable in modern clothes that fit her body but not her. "You've got work. And I've got therapy."
She turned away and could feel his eyes on her as she walked down the sidewalk.
"Someone got a package!" Ruby sang as she walked into the diner, holding a white box in her hands. Belle looked up from where she was making notes and blinked in surprise when Ruby put it on the table in front of her.
"For me?" Belle asked.
"Un huh," Ruby said. "No card, no return address."
"Oh." Belle slid a finger along the edge of the shiny white box.
"Probably a dress," Mary Margaret said trying not to look too curious from her seat across from Emma. "It's the right size for a dress box."
Emma had no compunction about looking curious and she came over to sit across from Belle. "And who do you think it's from?"
Emma arched a brow at Belle that said the sheriff knew exactly who it was from. Belle sighed.
"He didn't have to do this," she said quietly. "I should send it back."
"See what it looks like before you make up your mind," Emma said.
Belle slid the ribbon off the box and opened it. She carefully lifted the tissue paper up and exhaled when she saw the dress underneath.
Oddly enough, it wasn't blue or even gold as she had suspected. Instead it was a lovely shade of forest green. It had three-quarter sleeves because he'd guessed that she still felt self-conscious about the fading needle marks on her arms and it looked like it would fall to just below the knee.
She traced the collar and pursed her lips when she felt how soft the fabric felt.
"Oh, that man," she breathed. "That sneaky, underhanded, filled to the brim with really good taste man."
"Nice description," Emma said. "Pretty dress."
"It really is," Ruby said. "A bit too sweet for me, but very pretty."
"Yes," Belle said. "It is."
"Uh oh," Emma said looking concerned, as did Mary Margaret. Belle was once again struck by how similar the two were; if they couldn't see the resemblance, they were blind.
"You don't have to accept, you know," Emma said.
"No," Belle said running a finger along the fabric again. "I don't."
He was with a customer when Belle entered and she saw from the way he looked her over and then looked away, that he was disappointed she wasn't wearing the dress. Well, too bad.
She waited patiently while he continued to bargain and amused herself by looking at the things in his shop.
I have the urge to dust, she thought. Old habits truly die hard.
When the customer left, looking dazed and thankful, Belle walked up to the counter.
"It's lovely dress," she said without preamble. "And I'm keeping it."
"All right," he said, his face impassive. "I'm glad you like it."
"I do," she said. "However, please don't do it again. I don't want any gifts or money from you."
A flicker of something, possibly hurt, flashed on his face and Belle steeled herself against it and told herself that she wasn't going to comfort him.
"I won't make the mistake again," he said, ice practically dripping from his words.
Belle rolled her eyes. "It wasn't a mistake," she said. "I just don't want to be something you're trying to save or sweet talk. I'm not a prize, Rumpelstiltskin."
He did flinch then. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't say my name here."
"Oh, sorry," she said archly. "Mr Gold, then?"
"If you wouldn't mind," he said looking tense.
Belle hesitated. "Do I make you uncomfortable?"
"No," he said. She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a look. He took a deep breath. "Yes. You make me uncomfortable. You make me feel guilty and that clouds my judgement." He gave her a piercing look. "I, we cannot afford to have my judgement clouded."
Belle nodded. "Fine. In that case, it's best to just act normal and pretend that everything is fine, while slowly undermining her at the same time."
"You've been talking to Miss Swan, I see," he said his tone just shy of irritated.
"She's my friend and she's refreshing," Belle said firmly. "I think I prefer the choices women have here over the lack of them back there."
"I had a feeling you would."
"Anyway, my point is, if we're going to act normal and drive the queen mad at the same time, you and I need to start having lunch together," Belle said.
Oh, the look on his face. "I'm sorry?" he said.
"We need to start having lunch together," Belle repeated. "How else could we possibly convince her, and the rest of the town for that matter, that everything is absolutely fine? That there are no hard feelings and that all is well? It's certainly not going to work with you avoiding me and acting all squirrelly."
"'Squirrelly'?" he repeated his eyes narrowing into a glare that Belle remembered and had missed.
"Very squirrelly," Belle said. "You've been downright cagey and that just won't do."
He didn't reply, he just continued to glare at her with a mix of irritation and bewilderment. Belle sighed.
"Look, I like you, okay?" she said. "Or at least I did once. And I'd like to remember why."
He looked away. "No, you don't. I'm not a good man, neither here nor there."
"Well, who needs 'good'?" Belle asked. "I'd much rather have interesting."
"That's considered a curse in some places, you know," he said, his mouth curving upwards as he met her gaze. "May your life be interesting."
"I'll take my chances," Belle said realising that during the entire exchange they'd both been steadily leaning forward over his counter. She could see every line etched in the skin next to his eyes and she wanted to see if his hair was fine to the touch.
Instead, she leaned back and said, "We have to show her that everything is fine and there's been no lasting damage."
"And we're doing this with lunch?" he said sounding extremely sceptical.
"Yep," she said with a smile. "With lunch. Starting today. I'll see you at Granny's at twelve-thirty. I'll be the girl in the pretty green dress."
"Belle—" he said.
"It's just lunch, Mr Gold," she said as she opened the door and started to leave. "Even dealmakers extraordinaire need to eat."
She walked out before he could say anything and walked briskly down the sidewalk.
"I'm going to get to know you again," Belle said to herself. "I am."
Belle fought the urge to fidget with the folds of her dress and instead clasped her hands together on the table. The second she pulled the dress over her head and it settled on comfortably on her body she'd known that it was the perfect fit. It felt like it had been made for her and knowing him it probably had been.
"Hot date?" Emma asked from the table nearby grinning around her French fries.
"Not exactly," Belle said. "More like a strategic meeting of minds."
"Oh, right, sure," she said nodding. "Is he actually going to come?"
"He'd better," Belle said under her breath unclasping and re-clasping her hands. I should have brought a book, she thought as she felt the tendrils of anxiety tickle the back of her mind. What if he doesn't come?
Naturally, just as the thought surfaced, the door to Granny's opened and Gold stepped in.
She smiled in relief and noticed how everyone in the diner stopped talking. He appeared oblivious; his eyes fixed on her as he slowly walked over and took a seat.
"You do know how to make an entrance," she told him.
"I must have been a circus performer, in another life," he said drily.
Ruby walked over, looking intrigued. "Sooo, are you two ready to order?"
"Oh, yes," Belle said. "I'll have the chicken salad please, Ruby. The one with the apples in it."
"Sure thing." Ruby glanced at Mr Gold. "And Mr Gold?"
"The soup du jour, thank you," he said politely.
"Right away," Ruby said. She gave Belle a look that seemed to imply Belle would have to talk to her later and then walked towards the kitchen.
"Well, I really hate to miss the rest of this," Emma said standing up. "But I've got to go see a man about a dog." She paused. "Literally. There's a guy having a problem with a dog."
"We appreciate all you do to keep our streets safe, Sheriff Swan," Mr Gold said, his eyes not leaving Belle's face.
"Be nice," Belle said tartly before she could stop herself but the only reaction from Gold was a slight arching of his eyebrows. She turned to Emma. "I'll see you later?"
"Oh, hell yeah," Emma said. "Have a nice lunch!"
Belle grinned at her and then faced Gold once more. They stared at each other for a few moments, and Belle really had no idea how to progress. To be honest, she was still surprised he turned up.
Although I really shouldn't be, she thought. He likes to keep deals.
His gaze flickered over her. "I know you said no gifts, but does that apply to compliments?"
"Offer me one and I'll see if I accept."
"You look absolutely lovely."
"What? This old thing?" she asked indicating the dress. "Just something I had lying about."
He smiled but then shook his head and said, "This can only end in tears, you know."
"I'm not afraid of tears," Belle said fiddling with her napkin. "There are far worse things than tears."
She leaned across the table. "No. Nothing serious. Not yet. We're aiming for casual and friendly, remember?"
"Have you been reading stories filled with espionage?" he asked, his expression relaxing perhaps in spite of himself. "Will we engage in a secret handshake next?
"I hadn't thought of that," Belle said. "Perhaps I should do more research."
Gold opened his mouth to say something, but stopped and shook his head.
"What?" Belle asked.
"Nothing," he said. "It was too serious. It will keep." He smiled. "Go on, then. Casual and friendly. Let's have it."
"Well, I have good news," she said brightly. "Dr Hopper has found me a place at the local library volunteering a few afternoons a week stacking shelves and setting up displays. To help me re-acclimate, as he puts it."
"That is good news," Gold said inclining his head.
"Now, your turn," she said. "What have you done in the last three hours since I saw you?"
"I fixed a watch that was broken and then I crushed the bones of children to make my bread," he said just as Ruby returned with jug of water and two glasses. The jug landed heavily on the table, while Ruby's eyes widened comically and Belle grinned.
"A quip?" she asked.
"For the most part," he said grinning back.
This may work, Belle thought. It really might work.
And it did.
They had lunch together every other day of the week and on every Sunday for a month.
He still had a wicked sense of humour and she still liked to make him laugh and throw him off guard.
She especially liked the day he walked in while she was talking to Ashley and holding baby Alexandra in her arms. Belle turned her smile from the baby to him and he simply froze in his tracks and swallowed hard.
"You're busy," he said. "We can reschedule."
"Oh no," Ashley said quickly. "I was just leaving."
Gold nodded and with one last look at Belle, he walked over to their table.
"Wow," Ashley said as Belle carefully handed Alexandra back to her. "I don't know what kind of magic you've got, but he looked almost approachable."
Belle shrugged. "He's not so bad," she said. "You just have to look past the suit."
"Maybe," said Ashley. "It probably helps that he's clearly head over heels for you, too."
"He's not really," Belle said feeling her cheeks fill with embarrassed pleasure. "I more or less strong-armed him into eating lunch with me."
"Oh, no," Ashley said laughing. "No one strong arms him into anything. He's so doing it for you."
Belle smiled and traced the curve of little Alexandra's chubby cheek. "We'll see," she said.
She said good-bye to Ashley and then went over to join Gold at their table.
"Miss Boyd looks well," he said lifting his cup of coffee to his lips.
"She is," Belle said. Then she leaned forward. "So, tell me, just what was it you did to make her mace you?"
The fact that he told her everything was reward enough. But the fact that he choked on his coffee first was definitely a bonus.
"I've got a job!" Belle said happily one day when Gold approached the table.
"Oh?" he said taking his seat.
"I'm the new part-time library assistant," she said smiling. "I start on Monday! I'm very excited."
"I can tell," he said cracking a grin. "They couldn't have chosen a person better suited, my dear."
"That's what I thought," she said. She frowned. "I may have said so as well. Did you have anything to do with it?"
"You said no gifts," Gold said. "I'm fairly sure a new job would count as a gift. You got this on your own merits, Belle. Congratulations."
"Thank you," she said attempting an upper body curtsey in her seat. He chuckled and Belle grinned. She really loved making him laugh. Really laugh, not that mocking chuckle he did for other people.
"Your usual order, Mr Gold?" Ruby asked as she approached the table.
"Yes, thank you," Gold said.
She winked at Belle. "Working girl? What'll you have?"
"The salad and a slice of pie, please," she said grinning back at Ruby.
"We're going to have to go shopping, you know," Ruby said as she left. "I bet we can get you rocking that sexy librarian look."
Belle laughed. "We'll see!"
Gold arched an eyebrow at her. "Sexy librarian?"
Belle shrugged. "Apparently it's a thing." She opened her mouth to say something else, but froze as the mayor walked in. Every vein in her body turned to ice and her hands clenched into fists.
Don't react, she ordered herself. Do not react.
Gold straightened in his seat and without looking away from Belle he said, "Mayor Mills, how are you this fine day?"
"Mr Gold, Miss French," she said smoothly, her tone amiable with only the slightest outline of spite. "I simply had to come over and congratulate you on your new job, Miss French. As I always say, no matter how low or difficult your beginnings may be, you can always rise above them."
"That's rather similar to what I've always thought, too," Belle said, her nails digging into her palms. She forced herself to meet the Mayor's eyes. "I've always believed you can overcome anything."
The Mayor smiled and Belle wanted to scream. She knew that smile, there had been weeks when that smile was the only thing she'd seen. She wanted to leave, she wanted to curl into a ball under the table, she wanted to throw something. But she didn't. She just stared her nightmare in the eyes.
"You're a credit to the, shall we say, afflicted, everywhere," Regina said.
"Isn't she?" Gold said, his eyes never wavering from Belle's face. "I'm so very glad you think so, Regina. After all, you originated from humble origins, too, did you not?"
Belle's eyes left Regina's and moved to look at Gold. She smiled at him, his voice providing comfort.
"Yes, well," Regina said. "Most of us did, didn't they?"
Belle's smile widened because she'd just heard something she'd never thought she would ever hear.
In Regina's tone, there was uncertainty. She honestly had no idea how to deal with the two of them sitting here, casually having lunch. It's working, Belle thought. She's off-guard. Emma's going to be thrilled.
Gold must have heard it, too, because he began to grin at Belle.
"Oh, yes," he said. "Most of us came from the absolute worst of circumstances."
"Right," Regina said eyeing both Belle and Gold.
Belle tore her gaze from Gold's long enough to say, "Thank you for your kind words, Mayor Mills. I promise to do the best job I can."
"I'm sure you will, dear," Regina said, her cold mask back and her voice steady. "I must dash, though. So many calls to make."
"We won't keep you then, Regina," Gold said. "Do give my regards to your remarkable boy, will you?"
"Of course," Regina said, that hint of uncertainty creeping back in. "Have a nice lunch."
"Oh, I intend to," Gold said, practically purring while he reached over and took one of Belle's hands in his.
Regina left rather quickly after that.
Belle couldn't help the sigh of relief and she slumped in her seat, her hand still clutching Gold's.
"You're bleeding," he said looking at her palm where her nails cut into her skin.
"I really don't like her," Belle said feeling the statement was inadequate but it was all she could manage.
Gold took a napkin off the table and dipped a corner of it in his water glass. He nodded at her other hand and she let him gently dab at the small red crescents. Belle watched his hands and felt her heartbeat settle.
"You're a very brave woman, Belle," he said when he'd finished cleaning her palms.
"I'm not so sure about that," she said.
"I am," he said. He picked up her hands and kissed one palm, then the other.
Belle looked up from her book where she was reading on the bench outside of the diner to see Dr Whale standing in front of her. She blinked. "Oh, hello."
"Hello," he said warmly. "It's very good to see you looking so well."
"Thank you," Belle said not really sure why she felt uneasy in his presence.
"I know this may seem like it's coming out of nowhere, but, well," he said sounding affable enough. "I wanted to just caution you, I suppose."
"Caution me about what?" she asked really not liking where this was going and wondering how much time Dr Whale spent with the Mayor. He had sworn up, down and sideways that he'd had no knowledge of her whatsoever, when she was found. But that didn't exactly mean much in Storybrooke.
"You seem like such a nice girl," he said, "and you've been through so much. I'd hate for you to have a relapse or for something worse to happen."
"And what is this something worse you expect to happen?" Belle asked.
"I think the good doctor is referring to me," Gold's voice came from just behind Dr Whale. Belle stood up with a heavy sigh.
Oh bother, she thought wearily. Not good. And it's so pretty outside today.
"I most certainly wasn't referring to you, Mr Gold," Dr Whale said smoothly. "I was just hoping that Miss French isn't exerting herself. By taking on more than she can handle."
Belle raised her eyebrows. Wow. Was that a threat? A warning?, she thought. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I've been reading too much LeCarre.
Mr Gold gave the doctor a smile that was more like a baring of teeth. "I think Miss French is of incredibly sound mind," he said. "Sound enough to make her own decisions."
"Sound enough to even speak for herself," Belle said beginning to feel amused despite the not so veiled animosity sparking in the air. She smiled at Dr Whale. "Thank you for your concern, doctor. As you can see, I'm doing much better and Dr Hopper has been a great help. I'm simply learning how to live in the world again." She turned her smile to Gold. "Who better to be around than someone who has experienced so much of it?"
Gold smirked at her. "I'll take that as a compliment, dearie."
"It was meant as one," she said her smile sharpening into a smirk that matched his.
"Well, I do hope you'll let me know if you have any issues," Dr Whale said looking back and forth between the two of them. "Any issues at all."
In a pig's ear, I'll let you know, Belle thought, but she said, "I promise, the moment I start to feel poorly, I'll contact you." She gave him another smile meant to reassure him and to just get him away.
"It's commendable that you're so concerned with a member of our community," Gold said. "Especially one you've never actually treated."
A flash of discomfort moved over Dr Whale's face, but he smoothly covered it up with, "It's because I wasn't aware of her situation previously that I hope she's taken care of now."
"Guilt is a powerful motivator," Gold said flashing his smile once more.
"As is hunger," Belle said cheerfully. She walked over to Gold's side and slid her arm through his. "I'm starving and you're late."
"A multitude of apologies," Gold said putting his free hand over hers. "However shall I make it up to you?"
"Oh, I'll think of something," Belle said. She looked at Dr Whale who looked like he'd eaten something disagreeable. "Thank you again, doctor."
"Yes, always good to know you're looking out for all of us," Gold said as they walked past him.
When they approached the door, Belle murmured, "Well, have you had your fill of glares and intimidation?"
"Day's not over yet, dearie," he said with a wink as he opened the door for her.
She rolled her eyes. "Ridiculous man."
"Now, I'm fairly sure no one's called me that before," he said.
"Well, it's high time someone did," she said. "Oh, I feel like a sandwich today, what about you?"
Belle didn't know how long she'd been sitting on the bench staring out at the ocean. She knew that she probably should feel cold, but she didn't. Which was probably not a good sign, if she was thinking rationally, which she was pretty sure she wasn't.
She didn't even know what set her off. It may have been the flowers in the bush just outside her window that had just bloomed or maybe Ruby's red, red dress. All she knew was that there were too many colours and they were too bright and it hurt to look at them all.
So she'd run to playground near the water. Because the water was gray and still and as much as she hated the colour, she needed it.
She didn't look over when he came down the path and sat down next to her.
"You missed lunch today," he said not unkindly.
"Did I?" she asked, not recognising the thin sound of her voice. She swallowed. "I'm sorry. I don't know what happened."
"I think the term is 'freaking out'," he said, still not unkind, but with an edge that Belle was mostly sure wasn't directed at her.
"Yes," Belle said slowly. "I think that's what I did. I…freaked out."
"Happens to the best of us," he said.
"I once destroyed an entire cabinet of things," he said.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I was faced with a situation I knew I didn't know how to handle," he said. "And I was scared and angry."
"I'm not scared," Belle said. "But I do think I'm angry. But I couldn't tell you what I'm angry at."
He shifted slightly on the bench so that his arm pressed next to hers. The warmth that flooded her system shocked her so much that she gasped.
"What?" he said turning to her. His eyes widened. "Good God, woman, you must be freezing."
He quickly put his arms around her and pulled her close, and she closed her eyes with a sigh, her cheek against the silky cotton of his shirt.
"You're much smarter than this, Belle," he said roughly. "Freak out all you want, but do it somewhere where you won't get hypothermia, you silly girl."
"There was too much colour everywhere," she said drowsily her hand coming up to curl around his tie.
"Is that what it was?" he asked gently.
"Ruby's dress was too red," she said on a yawn. "And there were too many flowers on the bushes."
He chuckled. "A reasonable complaint."
"I thought so," she said before humming a bit and burrowing closer. "Do you need to go back to the shop?"
"My shop, my hours," he said readjusting his hold on her. "Don't you want to go inside? Get warmed up?"
"I'm warm here," she said. "Five more minutes."
They stayed out for another fifteen, before he enticed her away with the promise of a cup of cocoa.
Belle carefully restacked the encyclopaedias one by one, enjoying the motion and the clunk each volume made when put onto the shelf.
Gradually she became aware of another sound, the steady tap of a cane approaching her. She bit her lower lip and tried not to smile.
It had only been in the last week that she noticed Gold attempting to be more natural with her, even going so far as to tease her and try to make her laugh. Which was a welcome change from the early days of him treating her with kid gloves.
So for him to seek her out at work was clearly a big step. She steeled herself and continued to stack the volumes.
"Excuse me, Miss French," he said quietly from right behind her.
Belle turned and tried not to smile as broadly as she wanted to but failed miserably.
"Mr Gold," she said grinning. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm interested in checking out some books," he said. "Do you think you can assist me?"
"That is what I'm here for," she said. "What sort of books?"
"Well, my interests are quite varied, Miss French," he said with a sigh. "It may be a bit of a challenge."
"Then it's lucky for you that I enjoy a good puzzle," she said. "Do your worst."
"Careful, dearie," he said smirking. "Don't tempt me."
Belle just grinned.
"I would like a book on the following subjects," he said resting both hands atop his cane. "Antiquing, strategy and how to successfully woo a lady."
Belle couldn't help it. She laughed, but then quickly schooled her expression into a more serious one.
"I think I know just the books, Mr Gold," she said. "If you give me a few minutes, I'll have something for you. If you trust my judgement, that is?"
"I'm completely at your mercy, Miss French," he said looking far too innocent. "Do with me what you will."
"Careful," she said quirking her eyebrows. "Don't tempt me."
Then she turned away and headed into the stacks. It took her about ten minutes, but found three books that she thought would be perfect for him.
She returned to find him sitting patiently on one of the large armchairs dotted about the library. He began to rise but she waved at him and knelt down next to him.
"Your books, Mr Gold," she said handing them to him.
Mr Gold took the books and smirked.
He read aloud the title of the first book, "Miller's Antiques Encyclopedia."
"That's the latest edition," Belle told him.
"So I see," he said. He held up the next book. "Sun Tzu's The Art of War."
"A classic," she said. "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."
"Wise words," he said. He glanced at the next book and then looked at Belle and said, "Dating for Dummies?"
"It was either that or Pride and Prejudice," she said. "But it's been checked out."
"Probably just as well," he said. "I'm no Mr Darcy."
Belle smiled and said, "True, but you do have a rather large estate."
He checked out all three books.
She was deviating from their routine and she knew it. But she needed to see him. She skipped up the stairs of his house and rang the bell. No answer.
Belle decided to wait. She sat down on his porch and arranged her skirts, then leaned against the rail, looking out onto the street. She looked up into the sky at the slowly setting sun.
A quarter of an hour passed before he came walking up the sidewalk. He paused when he saw her, but resumed his approach. Belle watched him walk up his front steps and then slowly lower himself to sit beside her, close enough so that she could smell his spicy aftershave.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" he asked, his words flippant as usual, but his tone was sincere.
"I think I'm going mad," she said simply.
He turned to look at her. "You're not."
"Are you sure?" she asked looking at him. She shook her head. "I see everyone in town and I know them by other names. Even if I never met them when we were back there, I know them all. And they have no clue. No clue at all." She looked away from him to stare into space. "I remember all of it and they remember nothing. So, I start to think that maybe I shouldn't remember, too. And since I do remember, what's wrong with me?"
She shrugged. "Majority rules. I shouldn't remember. Therefore, since I do and no one else does, I must be mad."
Gold stared at her, and then said, "I've seen madness, Belle. I've seen insanity and psychosis. You're not mad."
"No?" she asked canting her eyes to him.
"No," he said shaking his head. "Frustrated and tired and still adjusting, yes. But mad? Not a chance."
"You're not just saying that because you remember everything, too and you want company in your own madness?" she asked.
He smiled, a far more gentle smile than he usually gave, Belle noticed. "While I'd hardly object to the sterling quality of said company, no, I'm not," he said.
Belle smiled back. "Thank you."
"You're most welcome," he said. "Did something happen? Are you all right?"
She waved her hand. "Nothing happened. I'm fine. Just…I feel something brewing," she said. She looked up at the sky with its pale streaks of orange and yellow from the setting sun. "It feels like it always did right before the rains would come back home."
"Ah, yes," he said looking up to the sky as well. "I think I know what you mean."
"And oh, they're all making these stupid decisions and I'm so close to just smacking David in the face," she said. "Although Mary Margaret or Emma may beat me to it."
"I suppose the hardest thing is the fact that it's not down to us," she continued. "Not really. I'm just a bit player in all this. And even you have your limitations."
"I'm trying not to be offended by that statement on both of our behalves," he said.
She bumped his shoulder with hers. He reached over and took her hand and her heart started to thud quickly in her chest.
"Why do you think you remember?" he asked after a few moments.
"I've thought about this," she said slowly, "and I think I can pinpoint the reason why."
She smiled at the sky. "I kissed you."
His face went blank for a moment and then turned thoughtful. "Ah."
"Curses and magic go both ways, don't they? Everything has a price and all that?" she asked. "Maybe that was my price for kissing you. It's possible there was a transfer of power or something." She shrugged. "Not to mention the curse didn't exactly apply to me when she cast it."
"How so?" he asked.
"Well, I'd hardly gotten my happy ending, had I?" she said. "I had been captured and drugged. That hadn't exactly been on my grand list of things to do."
"Yes," he said with a tight voice. "That's true."
She turned to look at the starlings flying in to roost in the trees of the park and almost didn't hear him ask, "What would have been your happy ending?"
Belle laughed. "If you have to ask, then you are not as clever as I thought you were and we're in a lot of trouble."
"Hush," she said squeezing his hand. "Watch the starlings. They're lovely when they come home in the evenings."
His hand was stiff in hers at first, but by the time the first murmuring of swallows started their odd swirling in the sky, his fingers had interlaced with hers.
The curse was broken three weeks later.