A/N: Wow! Hello again everyone, and thank you so much for the kind words over Soft Touch and She Keeps Her Towers Close. I was not expecting such wonderful feedback, and I am truly touched! Really, thank you so much! Unfortunately, this story is not along the same tone as the two previously mentioned, but I hope you will enjoy reading it, nonetheless, as much as I enjoyed writing it. Prompt: Rumbelle from Mary Margaret's point of view; Inkstainedchocolateeyes prompted: Jars of chocolate kisses
There is a corner of Storybrooke that was completely pure.
The little librarian keeps a secret in the corner of her smile and a jar of chocolate kisses on the counter. Mary Margaret first noticed it one drowsy day after school when she walked into the mausoleum that was Storybrooke's Public Library, a house of dust motes in sunshine and dry, crackling pages. The girl herself is winsome and divine, a bright, young pretty thing with a dimpled smile and freshly rained periwinkles for eyes, though their edges are wilted in sadness and crinkle from sleepless nights, she suspects.
Mary Margaret learns that her name is Belle. And that she says the same thing every day.
"Good afternoon, Miss Blanchard," she sings. "Would you like a chocolate?"
Mary Margaret suspects the girl offers one to every person who visits the library, and the thought turns her rueful because the jar looks so full and lonely, as lonely as its caretaker, as lonely as the empty library. But every day Mary Margaret smiles, walks up to the counter, to the beautiful glass jar that resembles a curved, sloping martini with a crystal blue ribbon tied in a bow at the rim filled with silver tin wrapped little candies. She lifts the glass lid and takes not one but two, and she and the librarian smile at one another, but Mary Margaret does not share in the secret that Belle keeps in the corner of her smile. The school teacher wonders what it might be.
It keeps her up that night, thinking of that smile, the auspicious secret that quirks the pretty lips. What could a girl who works alone in a tomb of ink and parchment be keeping to herself?
So every day, Mary Margaret picks up her creamed and sugared coffee from Granny's diner on her way from work, keeping careful with the icy sidewalks, and goes to the library to grade papers and look over her lesson plans. But every day, she is the lone visitor, and the little librarian simply catalogues, re-shelves, and organizes. Sometimes Mary Margaret can hear Belle humming to herself, the soft soprano's delicate tone quite pleasing to the ear. Other days she is completely quiet, dancing between the shelves in a whirl of chestnut curls lit auburn by the sunshine in the smudged windows.
It is the Friday before Christmas break that Mary Margaret finds out. The half day of school released her early, and armed with coffee and book reports, she made a spot for herself in one of the saggy leather arm chairs near the back.
It is exactly one thirty-two, and the little librarian has a visitor. The familiar tap, tap of his cane made Mary Margaret's heart restrict in alarm. But then she heard the gentle brogue and a sweet laugh, and the school teacher found herself crouched behind a tall shelf, peering between the tops of the spines and watching the scene. Belle's back was to Mary Margaret's line of vision, but she could see them and make out their conversation.
Mr. Gold had perched the top of his cane on the edge of the checkout counter, leaning his body against it. The pawnbroker was smiling, and in the cool winter afternoon light he looked younger, his face not as lined and his eyes not as dark. She watched as Belle lifted the lid of the glass jar with a flourish and the pawnbroker plucked out two candies, handing one to her and unwrapping one for himself.
"Have you sold anything of interest, today?" asked Belle, her little fingers making deft work of the silver wrapping.
"I have, actually, a very unique toilette set," the French inflection rolled of his tongue with surprising grace. Belle inclined her head to him, and Mr. Gold grinned up at her, as if enjoying a personal joke. "It usually has a comb, a brush, and a mirror. It's old fashioned, dear, like me."
"I love old fashioned things," Belle said, popping the chocolate into her mouth. Mary Margaret saw how Mr. Gold's eyes drifted down to the librarian's lips, and the school teacher blushed, though she didn't know exactly why. "They have the most interesting stories."
The two shared a smile, and Mary Margaret knew who Belle's secret was meant for.
If one were to ask Mary Margaret why she continued to return to the library each day, she would make the excuse for the peaceful environment, how conducive it was for preparing and grading on school work. What one would not know is that Mary Margaret preferred mysteries to romance, but combining the two made for an irresistible guilty pleasure that she found unraveling before her eyes every day at exactly one thirty-two, when the shadowy loan shark swaggered into the library and exchanged warm pleasantries with the sweet little thing sitting behind the counter.
Because there were two things that she discovered since she began frequenting the library. One was that Belle refilled the jar much more often than she first suspected, once a week. In fact, it wasn't a lonely jar because it was full. It was that the jar was made certain to never be anything less.
The second thing she'd learned was: Mr. Gold knew how to flirt.
Through winter break, he visited every day. Mary Margaret realized that it was completely unto them, and she wondered how long it had been… going on. It wasn't a relationship- not really-but it was something, it was special, it was theirs. It was pure and wholesome and a secret that she wouldn't sell for all the money in the world.
The day before winter break ended, she'd brought him a present, and peering over her grade book, Mary Margaret was just as curious of the contents as Mr. Gold. He'd walked in, snow flurries melting in his windswept hair, but his dark eyes flashed with cunning. Belle had her nose in a book and didn't appear to notice him. He opened his mouth to whip out a titillating Oscarism, no doubt, but before he had the chance Belle brandished her petite hand, holding out a finely French manicured finger.
She shushed him.
Mary Margaret smothered her giggle into her arm at the look of incomprehensive surprise that crossed Gold's face. She imagined that no one on this earth had ever shushed him before. She expected him to argue, or to crack a sarcastic comment, but he merely hung his cane up and leaned against the counter.
And took a chocolate.
A moment later, Belle laid the book aside, front cover down with a happy sigh. She was glowing, and Mr. Gold inclined his head toward her, raising his eyebrows. "Good ending?"
"I don't ask for happy endings, just satisfying ones," she said matter-of-factly, leaning over the counter so their elbows were parallel, stealing one of the chocolates he'd plucked with nimble fingers. He scoffed a laugh, but Belle simpered. "And no, those are not the same thing."
"I wasn't going to ask that."
"You were, too."
Belle grinned smugly, before she hopped off her stool and knelt down behind the counter. When she straightened up, she held a black heart shaped box, tied with a red ribbon. Mr. Gold straightened up, drawing his leather gloved hands back a tad. "What's this?" he asked guardedly.
"For… for me?"
"Well it's not for anyone else, is it?"
Mr. Gold paused, looking at the box and back up to Belle's face. Mary Margaret realized she was holding her breath, that her coffee had gone cold, and her lesson plans still sat unfinished. But the thought left as soon as Mr. Gold untied the ribbon and opened the box. His shoulders instantly relaxed and he laughed softly, quietly, as if afraid someone would hear.
"Did you make this?" he asked, lifting up the gift.
It was lovely, and even from where she sat, Mary Margaret could tell it had been made with tender concentration and careful precision. The yarn was thin, but expensive, the color of a karner butterfly's wings. The knitting was small, and it was obvious it had taken many an hour to complete. Belle hurried around the counter and took the scarf from his hands. "You always complain your other is so thin," she said softly.
Belle lifted the scarf up to wrap around his neck, raising up on her tip toes.
Mr. Gold bowed.
With gentle care, Belle laid it across his neck, her hands dragging gently down the smooth fabric as she stepped closer, tying it gently. Mr. Gold's eyes were far off, lost somewhere between the pucker between the librarian's eyebrows and her sweetly freckled nose. Mary Margaret's breathing hitched when Mr. Gold leaned down and kissed away the pucker, then the freckles, and then the secret.
His cane fell from the counter, unnoticed. His black leather gloved hands cupped the back of her upper arms, their heads tilting closer. Belle's hands rested against the deep blue scarf, curling herself up between the lapels of his black coat, and Mary Margaret knew it was time to look away.
They shared their secret for quite a long time that day.
Mary Margaret knew, then, that it was up to her to go to the library when it happened. Her purse felt heavy, and her head ached behind her eyes from the weight of the words she'd have to say. She tasted the cold with every breath, and knew- she knew she wouldn't make it through it. But she was the only one who'd shared in the knowledge of their secret.
When she walked into the library, the light was gone from the windows. Winter's grey skies pressed against the glass and made the library shadowy, colorless and grainy. Belle sat behind the counter, of course, though looking quite listless. Mary Margaret knew why.
The teacher approached the counter with trepidation, but she knew her red-rimmed eyes would betray her. Belle did a double take, sitting up in alarm when she saw the downtrodden young woman.
"Belle, I'm- I'm sorry, but," she paused, looking at the jar of chocolates. Her heart dropped and the words fell from her lips. "Mr. Gold had an accident."
Belle stared at her, blank faced and unblinking. A thousand questions pricked her eyes- How do you know about us? What kind of accident?
Mary Margaret met those periwinkle eyes, saw how they would be watered soon and still die. "I… he fell, and his cane- the ice on the sidewalks…" she swallowed, looking down. "They picked him up, but I don't think-"
Belle was already walking around the counter, wordless, her keys in her hand.
Mary Margaret grabbed her arm, biting the inside of her cheek painfully. "Miss French, I'm so sorry-"
"I have to go. The library is closed," said Belle quickly, breathless. Her mind was gone, and she pulled away fast from what could weigh her down, what could anchor her to the ground. The truth was always too heavy to carry, though.
How could she tell her?
"He's alone!" Belle turned around, glaring at Mary Margaret. The periwinkles were freshly rained upon. "He has no one. He's there by himself. Do you know what that's like? I won't let that happen to him."
Mary Margaret wanted to tell her that she was right, but that it didn't matter. He'd fallen just the right way, and that didn't matter now, but she couldn't be the one to say it. She doubted it would stop the girl from the path she was on, the slippery, cold road to the hospital, the last place she would ever willingly go back to.
So she let her go, watching the swish of chestnut curls flow like a banner behind her, a banner carried for a funeral dirge. Mary Margaret took the karner blue scarf from her purse, where it weighed so very heavy, still wet from the icy road where it had landed, and laid it beside the empty chocolate kisses jar.
When she returned to the library the following week, the jar remained on the counter.
And it remained empty.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading. Reviews are appreciated.