At 7:05 this morning, The Storybrooke Hospital caught fire. The patients were safely rushed out by doctors, nurses and volunteers with minimal injuries. Thousands of dollars of equipment was lost, but there were no casualties...
They keys on Sidney's keyboard clacked viciously, his fingers flying to get out the basics of this morning's fire. He'd scrounge for details later, and the cause of the fire, but right now the town needed the news. In a matter of hours the story would be everywhere, until not a single soul in this town had not heard of the...tragedy.
Sidney finished up the story, adding how the nuns needed people to volunteer to keep a patient in their home, until they could be relocated. He smiled grimly as it was handed off to the editing and printing team, everyone in a great hurry to get the thing published.
"I didn't know we had a mental hospital." Mary Margret whispered to Emma as she eyed the patients needing a home. Mr. Gold chuckled as he passed, not surprised at all to see the elementary school teacher there.
"Yeah, well, every town has its crazies." Emma told her, glancing at the line of mental patients, tied together like animals. Though Mr. Gold hadn't heard of a mental hospital either, he wasn't surprised. It was, after all, just another of Regina's ploys to destroy everyone's happiness but her own.
And his. Because he'd ruined that all on his own.
"Mr. Gold! Wait!"
Imploringly, he turned to see one of the nuns waving for his attention, looking like she already regretted it. "Mr. Gold, I know that you are busy and all..." This was part of why he despised nuns so much. They felt as if they all had to get into his business, thought they were Helping him. "But if you would please consider offering a temporary home for one of these poor people." Only humouring her, he turned to study the line of patients in their flimsy blue gowns. Just as he was about to hobble away, his eyes caught on something that made his heart stop.
"I'll take her." Mr. Gold's voice trembled slightly on the last word, but his face remained as impassive always. The nun spun to see who he was pointing to, a brunette girl with haunted eyes.
"Um...all right." She made it pretty obvious that volunteers weren't supposed to chose who they housed, but surely she would put that aside for all the care he could provide. After all, he owned the town.
The nun running the stand hurried to untie his new guest. "Sign here and here," She told him breathlessly. "The doctors will send you any records salvaged from the fire."
"Thank you." Suppressing a grin, he took his new guest by the arm, the same way he had over 28 years ago. Only this time she trembled against him, whereas in the other world she'd strived so hard to stand tall.
Mr. Gold crossed the square, feeling the eyes of the residents of Storybrooke on them. But he didn't glance back.
"You're awfully quiet," He quipped as he released her arm to take out his keys, leaning heavily on his cane. She only looked at him blankly, but Mr. Gold's emotions were running too high for him to be unnerved by her empty stare.
"Welcome to your new home," He announced, delicately placing a guiding hand on her back. It was hard to believe she was here in his arms. After all his mistakes, he could have her back. Maybe Regina's curse hadn't been such a curse after all.
Belle-no, that wasn't her name here. He couldn't afford to think like that yet, when it was still so likely that she really was mentally damaged.
His guest studied his home as they walked, taking note of his trinkets. This time there would be no dungeon for her. Never again.
Mr. Gold lead the not-Belle upstairs, struggling as he always did with his ridiculous cane. Since it was still reasonable that she could do something...damaging, he made sure she was in the room right next to his.
"If you'd like," Mr. Gold began as she sat despondently on the bed. "I can go out tomorrow and get you something to wear." He waited, scrutinizing her. Just as he got up to go she took his hand. The not-Belle finally met his gaze. He chocked on whatever it was he was going to say next. She looked so much like the Belle he used to know, with her unshakable eyes. This not-Belle wasn't as courageous, not the type to hunt for secrets to kill the beast. And yet he still wanted her in his arms. He still wanted those lips he'd only kissed once before he lost her forever.
He was jarred back to reality as the not-Belle released his hand slowly, his fingertips dancing with her warmth. She was still looking at him, lips slightly parted. The way she stared made her think she knew him. Or at least had some recollection of her time with Rumpelstiltskin, of the dark castle and closed curtains.
"I'll let you sleep now," Mr. Gold whispered, regretting every hobbled step to his room.
As Rumpelstiltskin, nightmares had never bothered him. Once he became the Dark One, they had all but vanished. Before his magics, yes, he'd had nightmares. Mostly though, they were about losing Bae. But he'd done such a fine job of that on his own that no dream could make it worse.
Mr. Gold had been so accustomed to his lack of nightly torment, that the dream had caught him completely by surprise. The moment he woke up he'd forgotten most of it, but it included Belle and not-Belle, evil queens and the colour indigo.
To distract himself until the remains of the nightmare faded, he checked on not-Belle -who was curled in a tight ball and mumbling about talking teapots- and busied himself in the kitchen. Feeling oddly chipper, Mr. Gold poured himself a cup of coffee and started making eggs. He was sure his ecstasy had something to do with his guest upstairs and his second chance, but pushed it aside.
Eventually the not-Belle padded down the stairs, nearly as unsteady as him without his cane. She was still dressed in that flimsy hospital gown, and her hair hung in her face in a tangled mess. The not-Belle didn't muster the energy to push it aside, lingering at the base of the stairwell.
"Would you like some breakfast?" He offered, forcing himself to stop gawking and start acting like a real host. Not-Belle hadn't yet mustered the courage to speak, so he patiently lead her to a chair and placed a plate of breakfast before her. Not-Belle stared at it distrustfully.
"After you eat that I'm going to go out and find you something to wear, Belle." Mr. Gold only caught himself after he'd uttered the word. Not-Belle was listening to him, he could tell. "But you have to finish those eggs before we do anything." His voice had gone soft as he watched her glance helplessly at her breakfast.
Like feeding a newborn, Mr. Gold carefully offered forkfuls of food to her mouth.
"I've been thinking you need a name." She stared at a spot above his head as if she saw something there. "How does Isabelle sound?" Mr. Gold found subtly could solve anything, and even the hint of her true name could jog her memory.
Not-Belle's eyes connected with his. "Okay," It was more of a sigh than a word, but it was the first thing she'd said to him.
"Alright then, Isabelle." She clearly was not ready to go outside -and he really wouldn't risk anything this time-but he couldn't leave her here alone, among sharp kitchen utensils. "Do you mind going back to your room until I return?"
Isabelle settled back into her usual silence as he guided her back to her bedroom. He had many qualms against locking the door, not wanting her trapped again, but eventually deciding it was safest.
When Mr. Gold returned, she was slumped against her door. She fell against his shins as he unlocked it. Her face was streaked with tears and her hands were an angry red, he assumed, from slamming them against the door. He was about to...apologize, perhaps, for locking her in there; but before he could do anything, Belle leapt to her feet and hugged him so fiercely he was certain she remembered him. But then why did she not let go? He'd thrown her out more callously than a butcher tossed out bad meat.
"Belle..." Mr. Gold mumbled, bringing his hands up to hug her back, to stroke her hair, when she pulled away.
He could see the pain in her eyes, the accusations. 'You left. You locked it.' But rather than voice these aloud she said "Don't ever do that again." Her voice was still quieter than the Belle he knew, and she spoke only in a whisper.
"I won't." The words tumbled from Mr. Gold's lips before he could stop them. Well, that was ridiculous. What would happen the next time he had to get something? But instead of taking the words back he repeated them. "I won't."
They stood there for a long moment. Mr. Gold felt himself slipping, losing himself to the familiar eyes. He felt himself leaning in, gazing into ponds of blue before he stopped himself.
"Here," His hand extended the bag of clothes towards her. "Pick something you like." Before he could do something dangerous again, Mr. Gold hobbled down the stairs. Someone had left mail at his from door, and he could tell it was meant to be urgent by the large scrawl. Inside was nothing but an abrupt message explaining that gradually taking Belle -Isabelle, he corrected- outside was part of progressive therapy. Well, fine. When she was ready he could take her to his shop.
He turned to find Isabelle standing on the staircase, watching him. She'd changed into a yellow dress, one he almost hadn't bought, and her hair was hanging in her face like always. His fingers jerked a little, longing for the hairstyle his Belle wore: the front strands pinned back and the rest of her curls falling down. But Mr. Gold didn't know how to replicate it.
"Let's do something about that hair, shall we?" He suggested, stepping towards her. Not-Belle flinched away slightly, studying him with pondering eyes once more.
"What's your name?"
Rumpelstiltskin. "Mr. Gold," He offered her a smile. "Now for your hair dearie, would you like it up or down?"
But Isabelle had closed herself into a box once more, and didn't say anything else.
"Well let's at least get it out of your face." Mr. Gold said, more to himself. He limped back up the stairs to fetch the bag of clothes, extracting a hairbrush, headband, and a number of elastics. Isabelle seemed to be trapped in her own mind as he carefully smoothed out her knots and pushed the hairband atop her pretty brown head. "Now isn't that better?"
She just met his eyes with her torturous blue gaze. It was much harder having her here than he would have expected, especially in this fragile state. Now, rather than give in to his desires, he had to be a caretaker first. He couldn't risk losing her again.
"Let's go outside shall we? Onto the deck?" Mr. Gold stuck out his elbow once more, and she clung to his free arm like she feared he would evaporate. The same thought lurked in the back of his mind, although it involved Regina and clergies. So he sat them down on the deck chairs and served her lemonade, and said nothing at all for the rest of the day.