Pairing: Rumbelle

Summary: Mr Gold, hardened Wall Street businessman, finds himself addicted to something only Starbucks can offer… other that the coffee.

A/N: For those expecting another Spin the Wheel chapter I'm soooo sorry! This long OUAT hiatus has made me dip into the smut and I cannot stop! I promise the next thing I'll post will be a new chapter of STW, which is almost all finished. On the positive side this is way longer than anything I've ever posted so I hope you enjoy it!

As usual feedback is appreciated, specially this being my second smut. I honestly cannot believe I wrote this on the first place!

Coffee is widely recognized by almost everyone as an addiction. There was no scientific room for doubt, nor mistaking what happened when you went from drinking several cups of it to quitting cold turkey for anything other than withdrawal. It was quite common, then, for people to visit a coffee shop more than once a day and regular patrons were, to many establishments, their everyday bread and butter.

So hardly anyone in the busy Starbucks squarely in the middle of NYC's financial district batted an eye when one of their usually morning rush customers started showing up during lunchtime and late in the afternoon. The man in question, known to the employees of the establishment as "NRG" (the initials that were always scrawled sloppily on a side of his coffee cup, which only he knew stood for Nicholas Robert Gold) or simply "Sir", was, in many ways, like most of the others around downtown Manhattan: sharply dressed in a well-tailored suit, usually of a dark colour, with an impeccable and equally expensive shirt and tie, and a long coat in winter. His hair was, perhaps, a tad on the long side for someone of his age and obvious high position, and he walked with the aid of a cane but, for the most part, he seemed to blend in with the usual upper-class, I-feel-entitled-to-treat-you-like-scum clientele that the jaded baristas at the coffee store were used to dealing with.

The young men and women working there had, as a result of the rather rude way they were treated, the lousy tips some of these Armani-clad men and Calvin Klein-dressed women left them and the general disdain in which they held their job- every barista in the world seemed to be some undergrad genius deigning to work as a menial labourer in order to finance the education that would enable them to one day be rich, important people someday in the future- acquired the sensibility of a rock and the manners of a savage and would alternate between being coffee-serving machines without soul and passive-aggressive little brats gleeful at the opportunity to make customers wait, mess up coffee orders and generally be unhelpful all around. It was their right, it seemed, after being paid a pittance to put up with awful people day-in and day-out.

Had it not been for Mr Gold's secretary and her complete and utter inability to turn coffee beans and water into a consumable drink, the notorious yet inconspicuous CEO of Imp Incorporated would have never willingly subjected himself to the whims and moods of the unsavoury coffee servers, mostly young jocks by the look of things who liked to watch him lean heavily on his cane while they prepared some young girl's non-fat, venti mocha-latte before his tall black coffee in spite of the fact that he had ordered first just because: a. they could and b. they might get the girl's digits if they played their cards right.

His complete and utter dislike for the coffee place made him take advantage of one of his many interns to get him his midday and afternoon fix, but his office was almost deserted in the mornings so he had no choice but to get his morning cup himself. He made sure never to tip and almost never to linger, uncaring of ever being recognized as one of the most prominent figures of the business world and very thankful he had paid handsomely to preserve his privacy so much that not a picture of his face had ever been published so he didn't have to worry about ever reading on a gossip rag about his "stinginess".

The change had happened suddenly and unexpectedly. He had ran into the little Starbucks a bit later than usual, sopping wet from the pouring rain and had gone straight to the counter, his eyes surveying his drenched wool coat with a hint of distaste as he barked his order with more derisiveness than usual.

"So, just the coffee and the apple bran muffin?" the barista's voice was unfamiliar and, strangely, female.

"Yes, dearie, like always…" he had replied nastily before looking up and meeting what had to be the bluest eyes ever to grace a human being's face. Unlike most of the baristas at the establishment the girl behind the registry was shorter than him and was smiling widely, her cherry lips contrasting nicely with her white teeth. The front bangs of her chestnut hair were tied behind her head, leaving the rest to prettily cascade behind, curling about her shoulders.

"I'm so sorry, Sir, it's my first day, but I'll make sure to memorize your order for next time" her tone, far from being mocking, was sincere, as was the apologetic look about her eyes "Your name?"

He looked at her oddly and gave her his initials, expecting the sort of weird look all new employees always gave him when he refused to give out a name but she merely nodded and proceeded to take his money and hand over his change before taking a cup and filling his order while at the same time greeting the next customer. The shop was quite busy but the girl, for a first-timer, seemed to have perfected some sort of rhythm that allowed her to juggle the many orders with little difficulty. Still, impatience was thick in the air and people crowded around the edge of the counter, waiting for their name to be called.

"Sir, sir!" Gold had begun to manoeuvre his way awkwardly to the throng of impatient customers when the new girl's voice reached his ears. He turned to see her gesturing for him to come close.

"As you can see things are getting kind of busy in here. Would you mind waiting for your coffee on the table over there?" she pointed to an empty table near the front door "If more people gather around it'll make it impossible to circulate. I'll bring you over your order as soon as it is done"

Her smile had been, once again, guileless and the businessman had barely gotten over his shock of seeing actual, genuine human warmth in this hellish place to nod and limp to the table, happy to rest his bad knee which was acting out because of the weather.

"Thanks for waiting, you are a lifesaver" the lilting, accented voice of his new barista snapped him out of his stupor minutes later. She handed him his order and apologized for not knowing how he liked it.

"I asked Gaston, the manager, if he knew if you liked white or brown sugar, or sweetener or anything with your coffee but he didn't seem to know, so I brought a bit of everything. Next time I promise I'll serve it just as you like it"

She had given him one last, brilliant smile before hurrying back to her place on the other side of the counter, though he noticed she paid attention to him as he took two packets of brown sugar and emptied them inside his cup before placing the lid back on.

He had stayed for a little while more that day, waiting for the rain to turn more into a gentle drizzle. It wasn't until the afternoon that the idea that she had told him to wait on a table likely because of his bad leg crossed his mind.

When he had returned the day after, a little earlier than usual, he had politely bidden him a good morning before asking her for "his usual". She had recited the order aloud, pausing to wait for his nod before taking the bill he offered her and giving him his change.

"If you'd rather take a seat while I fill your order I'll be happy to bring it to you as soon as possible" her smile had been as bright as the day before but it didn't help ease the sting of his wounded pride.

"Are you suggesting, dearie, that I am incapable of waiting five minutes standing?" he had enquired, voice soft yet eyes steely and accusatory. She had tilted her head, furrowing her brow in an adorable way.

"Are you implying that I'm incapable of walking two steps towards your table?" she had replied, calm determination in her tone "I'm merely giving you a suggestion. You can take or leave it"

There had been nothing but gentle reproach in her voice and, once again at odds as to what to do with a polite barista at Starbucks, Mr Gold had limped to a corner table near windows of the shop. Five minutes later the girl appeared with his cup of coffee and muffin.

"Have a nice day, Sir" she murmured with a smile.

"A nice day to you too, dearie"

A soft hand crept up to his chin before he had realized she hadn't departed his side, lifting his face. The girl pointed towards her shiny nametag.

"Belle. My name is Belle"

Another smile and she had been gone.

A smile, and he had become addicted.

He had first acquired the habit of coming around the shop fifteen minutes earlier than usual so as to sit and drink his coffee instead of quickly getting in and out. Belle always smiled when she saw him, bypassing all other employees to be at the registry to take his order. Her uniform was always pristine and strategically worn in a way that flattered her body and still looked professional and demure, and her hair was almost always half-up and half-down. She wore little jewellery and even less make-up, a hint of gloss, a bit of mascara and a dash of soft pink eyeliner making her look fresh and natural. She had a deep voice and an easy laugh and always seemed to be either in a good mood or trying to maintain a positive attitude.

The first time he had tried paying for his order with a twenty and telling her to "keep the change" she had frowned for the first time, outright refusing the tip. He had had to cajole her into taking the money from his hand.

"It's not polite to tell someone what he can and cannot do with his money" he had turned back to look at the line of customers behind him, a smirk on his face "Besides, dearie, we seem to be holding up the line"

She had accepted defeat with a bit of a glower, snatching the bill from his hand and practically shoving the invoice in his general direction. He had suppressed brutally the urge to tell her how much she looked like a fierce little kitten.

Two weeks after that he had begun to swing by during his lunch-break, replacing the morning muffin for a Panini and taking a copy of the daily New York Times or the latest issue of The Economist to read while he ate. He had noticed almost immediately that Belle would sometimes peek over his shoulder after placing his order on the table, her lips pursed and her eyes trained on an article on the paper. She'd linger, so focused on the words that she would sometimes place her hand over his shoulder to better perch herself.

He lived for those days.

A month after that he had succumbed to the need to see her one more time before going home so he had begun to pop by after work, usually around seven pm when the after-office rush had already begun to die down. He'd order just a coffee, but she'd sometimes bring him a couple of cookies or a brownie, taking notice of that he'd eat and what he didn't seem to like. When he had asked her why she insisted on adding something to eat she had chided him.

"You are far too skinny, and all that black coffee will not go down well on an empty stomach" she had paused before giving him a coy smile "And I cannot have my best tipper getting an ulcer and dying, now can I?"

He'd laughed out loud at that and one of the other baristas had dropped a pitcher full of milk. Belle had hunched down to try and cover her own laughter by hiding behind his spread newspaper. He had noticed that day that Belle smelt like vanilla and had wondered since then is she also tasted like it.

He hoped she did. He loved vanilla.

Those evening visits had, over time, stretched to last up to an hour. His lunch-break had also lengthened, much to Mary Margaret's, the coffee-inept secretary he kept around out of some obscure sense of pity, surprise and relief. He liked those moments the best because, unlike in the mornings, he had time to try and draw her into conversation and also because Belle had taken the habit taking one of her fifteen-minute breaks little after she served him his order. At first she had just stuck with reading over his shoulder and the innate intimacy of the gesture, the way they seemed to focus on the same articles and read at the same speed, had been enough. She'd then move on to stretch a bit and walk around and he'd take pleasure in seeing her lithe form. She had an artlessly provocative walk, he hips swinging to match the rhythm of a tune she'd usually hum under her breath without noticing, that the businessman enjoyed probably more than he should have.

She had progressed from merely over-the-shoulder reading to talking to him while she leant against the wall his back was to and sipped a tall chocolate with whipped cream. She had started one day when he had been so engrossed in thoroughly dissecting a horrible piece about the supposed evil practices of multinational corporations in the light of the current global economic crisis. While he hadn't particularly felt that many companies could boast a clean conscience he had thought the writer was omitting from the picture entirely the role of the public sector both in America and in Europe, and the blundering way in which most governments had first blindly denied the idea of a crisis and then tried to salvage the situation.

"I know it's utter garbage but I think if you glare at the paper any more it might spontaneously combust" Belle's voice had pulled him out of his inner reverie with astonishing ease "And he's just pandering to the people, writing what they want to read"

"A despicable practice" Gold had replied with false nonchalance. The barista had laughed lowly and it had gone straight to his groin.

"Well, he has to compensate for his poor grammar and sloppy understanding of macroeconomics somehow, doesn't he?" she had replied and, after they had shared a rather secretive smile, she had gone back to work. But one exchange had been enough to set precedent, and had allowed him to casually start conversations between them.

Those conversations had allowed him to discover Belle was an articulate, well-read woman with an amazingly complex vocabulary and a deep understanding of the economy. And so his pretty, addictive barista has ceased just being beautiful and kind and sexy as fucking hell without knowing it and had started being his bloody intellectual match.

Had she gotten more perfect he was sure he would have had some sort of coronary.

Six months after their first meeting Belle had become such an intricate part of his routine Gold couldn't remember how he had gotten along without her. She would be his brightest spot in the mornings, all fresh smiles and gentle touches- for Belle, he had discovered, was a very hands-on person when she developed enough trust with someone else- still fighting him over tips from time to time and adding a second muffin to his order when she'd deem he was looking a little gaunt.

At lunch they would be almost friends, each taking a break from the day to talk about current affairs, literature, movies, music and everything in between. Gaston would glower in a corner, usually ready to point out when Belle was neglecting her job in order to help Gold with a crossword or argue with him about the best Umberto Eco book.

Belle had won that. Of course it was Foucault's Pendulum.

In the evenings there would be a lot less people, and Gaston would already be gone by then, so Belle would sit with Gold and they would talk about more personal stuff. He never told her his name or any specific details, but he'd complain about Mary Margaret and her rather inappropriate crush on the Vice-President of Marketing, James Charmont (appointed by order of the company's second largest shareholder, George *fucking* King, his illegitimate father, of course) or about that bitch in the Securities and Exchange Commission who was constantly trying to screw him over (he never mentioned her name was Regina Mills, but it was more because he rather enjoyed thinking up creative names for her and less because he wanted to keep his identity secret).

She'd tell him a lot more, about her classes (she was majoring in both Economics and English at Columbia), about how awkward work had become since Gaston had tried to ask her out (he had tripped him with his cane accidentally the day after she had told him that and she suspected it was not a coincidence), about how she had gotten interested in Economics after taking on the difficult task of sorting out her father's finances (the man had no head for such matters) and about how she hoped to get an internship next year. He had discovered she had entered college at the age of twenty-one due to financial difficulties and that she was currently twenty-four.

He had spent the rest of that particular day pointing out to himself how far from jailbait the age of twenty-four was. And the next time he had imagined tossing her over his table and dipping his cane into her till the ever-watchful Gaston suffered an apoplexy or went deaf from the sound of Belle's moans of pleasure he had felt a hundred times less guilty.

They grew closer together due to an unfortunate incident one Friday night six months after their first meeting. He had been pretending to read the paper for two hours, though he had spent most of those hours teasing Belle for admitting that she had seen Young Adam despite not liking the book very much just because Ewan McGregor starred in the film.

"For shame, Belle, to watch a great piece of British independent filmmaking merely because a pretty boy plays the lead" he concealed his petty jealousy behind a shark-like smile and a reproachful look. The only other female barista, Brittany, shook his head when Belle blushed, puzzled by why the prettiest girl in the coffee house would pay attention to the old cod instead of turning her eyes to the blond-haired Adonis who was clearly trying to get her attention… and get into her pants.

"It wasn't because of his looks" Belle replied, not looking directly into his eyes as she placed a plate two "cherry pies" over the paper he had not been reading all along "And I trust you can eat and make fun of me at the same time, mmh?"

Her hand brushed softly against his hair for a moment and Gold was sure she hadn't realized she had petted him. The girl was going to kill him one day. And it would be glorious, he was sure.

As she went back to the counter to look for a rag with which to wipe the many free tables the blond Demi-God attempted to grab her by the waist, though she deftly moved out of reach just in time. Gold smiled smugly at the whelp who sneered back while Belle's back was to the both of them.

"Then what is it about the dashing McGregor that moved you to watch a movie about a book you didn't much care for?" he hated to ask the question but perked up when Belle blushed even more deeply and mumbled something unintelligible.

"Oh, come on, dearie, it can't be as bad as that"

The brunette made a show of taking a girl's order and filling it, pointedly not looking in Gold's direction. He kept staring at her though as she moved from behind the counter to collect discarded papers.

"Stop staring at me"

"Tell me"

"Miss, could I get some water" the annoying blond jock tried to snag her wrist with his left hand. Hit and miss "And maybe your phone number?"

"In a moment, sir" the smile she gave him was nice but Gold knew it was not genuine, it had none of the shine of the ones she directed his way "But I'm afraid water is all you'll get"

The guy frowned, his charming smile slipping, obviously not dealing well with rejection. Gold on the other hand looked positively gleeful at Belle's embarrassment over the McGregor question.

"Oh, come on, dearie, just tell me"

As he knew it would the demand sent Belle over the edge.

"It's the accent!" she finally admitted, loud enough for the few patrons left in the cafe to startle "It drives me wild. Happy?"

She glowered the last part, stalking past him with a tray to pick up some discarded plates. Gold's sharp intake of breath went mostly unnoticed and his guarded expression barely concealed the immediate and frightening surge of pleasure at her words.

She liked the accent. The Scottish accent. His accent. Him.

He was instantly hard in a way he thought he had grown out of when he had abandoned puberty.

"Oh" he managed to articulate; suddenly very conscious of the honeyed tinge his brogue gave to his words and trying hard not to think about how he wanted his wilful, beautiful barista with her gorgeous smile and shy modesty "How very… interesting"

The look she gave him could have frozen hell.

"Quite" she tightly answered.

Wanting to both burst out laughing and press her up against the wall in order to have his wicked way with her in front of her co-workers and the one remaining patron Gold wisely opted for secret option three: retreat to the bathroom to splash some freezing water into his face and wait for his hands to stop shaking. He took his time gathering his wits inside the small room, looking at himself in the mirror and muttering over and over to stop being a fool and making her confession into some sort of outright declaration of want on her part just because he wished it to be so.

So concentrated was he on his inner ramblings he almost missed the sounds of a commotion outside. At first the voices were muffled but soon enough Belle's rose, sounding half-exasperated and more than a tinge uneasy.

"Look, as I've told you I'm really flattered but a no is a no" more muffled sounds, an angry male voice and a crash "That hurts… Hey, let me go!"

He exited the bathroom noiselessly and only took a second to take in the scene in front of him- the blond idiot looming over Belle, one of her wrists squeezed in his hand, the remains of the dishes she had been clearing from the tables scattered all over the floor. Belle's other hand was keeping the customer at bay while she kept an eye out of Anthony, the guy who usually acted as manager when Gaston's shift was up. Gold had seen him go to the back of the shop to look for a few new bags of coffee, too far away to be of any help.

All the better, then.

Boasting of a stealth no other limping man could even begin to dream of the Scotsman noiselessly approached the struggling pair, taking a minute to get a firm grip on his cane from the handle-less side before deftly swinging it hard against the young man's back, landing the blow successfully between his shoulder blades. The blond grunted in surprise and made a move to turn around, but Mr Gold hooked his cane expertly on the crook of the man's elbow, whirling him around before changing his grip on the cane to grab the handle and push the opposite end hard against the youth's windpipe, effectively cutting off all air supply and pinning him against the wall Belle had almost been forced against.

"Now, now, when a woman says no, boy, a man listens" his voice was at once a soft murmur and a deafening growl "Is that clear? You can nod if you want to"

The terrified young man managed to tilt his head up and down a bit. Gold smiled.

"Splendid" he turned his attention to the wide-eyed barista at his side who was rubbing her sore wrist and staring at him oddly "Would you like him to apologize to you, dear?"

He sounded like they were talking about the fucking weather but Belle could not find it in herself to disapprove. Quite the contrary, in fact.

"No… It's not necessary" she managed to rasp out, her voice husky from her yelling. The businessman nodded at her and turned once again to face the man slowly being choked to death.

"See, boy? The lady doesn't even want your apology. She doesn't find your worthy of it" in a minute, he promised himself, he'd let go, he'd stop enjoying it so damn much "And we can't really blame her, now can we?"

He tried to grasp his self-control but couldn't seem to manage it. His mind was foggy and the realization that he'd likely kill the boy filled him with nothing but grim satisfaction. It wasn't until soft, warm hands cradled his head that he snapped out of whatever haze he was in.

"Please, let him go. I'm okay" her voice was dazed and faint but sweet as honey, soothing, like she wasn't absolutely scared of the feral look in his eyes. He dropped the cane to his side and the blond jock slumped to the floor, gasping. Belle smiled, her fingers tangled in his long hair, toying with the tuft of grey that hid amongst the brown.

"Thank you" she breathed, eyes glassy and her lips lightly parted. There was something in her eyes, something strange he couldn't quite pinpoint. Anthony, the useless little prick, chose that moment to show up, arms loaded with coffee bags.

"What the hell happened?" he asked, not necessarily angry. He was fond of Belle in a detached-older-brother sort of way and he'd been eyeing the handsy male lingering in the store for a while with suspicion. Now he found him on the floor, and Belle busy murmuring to the long-haired businessman everyone at Starbucks knew as "Belle's guy" and he put two and two together, not at all admonishing.

"Nothing serious, Tony" the brunette smiled tightly as she watched the blond stand shakily "I bumped into this poor man and dropped my tray. No one was hurt, though, thankfully"

"Oh, okay, then" he set the coffee down and calmly strode towards his co-worker, bypassing her to haul the rude customer towards the door, muttering something about how he should come again (but not really, according to Tony's body language) and enjoy the rest of his day. Belle, meanwhile, took Mr Gold to the side, away from the shards of porcelain littering the floor. Suddenly she looked mad.

"You can't do that again" she hissed through clenched teeth "You shouldn't have done it in the first place. I mean it was sweet and strangely kind of…" she took a deep breath "Never mind. But the reality is that someone could have spotted you and recognized you and then you'd have had to explain to what I'm sure is a very unforgiving Board of Directors why the CEO of Imp Inc. was caught assaulting someone with his cane"

Her eyes were steely and she seemed at once livid and worried. It took him a second to stop focusing on her and digest her words.

"You know who I am" his tone was surprisingly not accusatory. Belle smiled, like it had always been obvious.

"Of course I do. It was rather obvious. Your cane, your initials, your… accent" the blush from before came back "I realized it two months after starting working here" she paused, her face becoming guarded "And two months ago a man came, wanting to know if someone fitting your description came here and if we knew his name. The Daily Mirror press badge was badly concealed under his suit jacket. I told him you had once paid with a credit card so I knew your name was Nathan Green"

Gold spared a fleeting thought for Sidney Glass, the puny cockroach, who he was sure was more spying for Regina than working for the rag that had him on its payroll.

"Black man, dressed oddly like Humphrey Boggart?" he enquired mellifluously, his voice laced with awe at this impossibly enchanting beauty and her sharp, enticing mind. She had figured him out ages ago and helped him without his knowledge.

"Exactly" her wide smile lit up the room "He's got to be the worse undercover reporter in existence, by the way"

He quite agreed.

He left, oddly, feeling no fear in the pit of his stomach from Belle's revelation. He knew she would never betray his confidence, knew it like he knew Mary Margaret was screwing James Charmont behind his fiancées back or that one of the security officers in his building, Leroy, had a drinking problem. He felt no pang of remorse about his little stunt with the cane, only happiness that Belle hadn't recoiled from him afterwards. She had, instead, been concerned with his well-being. Concerned and…

Just as he started to drift off into sleep, safely ensconced in his Upper East Side home, he finally nailed down that dazed look in Belle's eyes.

Aroused. He had almost choked a man to death and Belle, his beautiful, gentle, incredible dream-come-fucking-true had been aroused by it.

He was in deep, deep trouble.

Four months passed after that, filled with uncertainty. Whatever barriers Gold had tried in the past to keep around Belle crumbled into little more than dust, and the awful, scorching glimmer of hope would tease its way into his heart whenever the barista would casually brush past him on her way to a table or break into a smile the moment he stepped into Starbucks. Part of him saw it as a man getting old desperately eager to see love and lust where there only was politeness and, perhaps, some friendship. Another part of him, a part that seemed to thrive in torturing him, liked to recall the image of Belle all breathless and dazed, looking at him like she was one step away from jumping him in front of the blond idiot who had assaulted her.

She had looked at him like she'd never seen a man before. And no amount of self-deprecation or rational thinking would ever allow him to get that image out of his head.

There were other signs, too, signs sometimes too obvious for him to explain away. Like the way she blushed constantly when, while discussing something the either interested him or angered him a lot his accent would thicken and when he glanced her way she'd be staring, quite blatantly, at his mouth. Or how, when they were arguing over a book or something equally menial and things would get too heated she would leave her perch on the wall to brush past him, her hand caressing the nape of his neck before proposing they agree to disagree and move on.

He was addicted to those moments. Addicted to the way her hair curled, to the way she could make him forget about the problems of a horrible workday, to the maddening scent of vanilla the surrounded her like a cloud and conjured up images of all kinds of sweet treats he could lap up from the creamy skin of her shoulder or the gentle dip of her bare hips. Starbucks could have stopped serving coffee altogether and replaced it with tar and he would have sat there day in and day out and happily drank cup after cup of it.

He was even addicted to the gentle tug she gave his hair every time a barista who wasn't Belle but had ended up serving him for some reason would complain about his snide demeanour and his crass manners.

"Behave, Nicholas. For shame" she'd whisper in his ear, close enough to make his insides sing and plead and burn in a way he was sure wasn't physically possible.

He had begun to check his blood pressure more regularly after the first time she'd done that.

And during those four months of both newfound closeness and comfortable routine they tiptoed around each other, a dance of coy smiles, sharp quips and unspoken need. He'd jump at the chance, late in the evening, to explain some economical phenomenon she had to study about, shrugging off Anthony's stony stare as Belle pushed a chair as close as possible to his and they bent over a heavy text. She would let him know as soon as she found out she had passed a class and, if she was really overjoyed and there were few people around, she would practically leap into his arms in her exuberance. Once he had gotten a peck on the cheek and hadn't slept for the next three days.

His addiction was getting more than out of hand, but he found himself unable and unwilling to change it. Little in his live had ever given him an ounce of the happiness that the mere sight of Belle, green apron and all, provoked. He had struggled his whole life, from poverty to success, from ignorance to education and wisdom, and he had no desire to deny himself what he wanted, and he had never wanted anything in his life like he did her, even if he could only have her for brief periods of time, and share her attention and smiles with whoever ordered a venti Cinnamon Dolce Crème Frappuccino, whatever that was.

It was little after they hit the ten-month mark that the news came. They were sudden, and they manifested themselves, incongruously, in the form of a secretive smile on Belle's lips. The moment his feet met the tiled floor of Starbucks that afternoon he knew something was up and she could not wait to tell him about it. Still she maintained her professionalism, taking his order, serving him his coffee and waiting for the right moment to take her break while he unabashedly stared at her, smiling whenever she'd glance his way, plainly jittering in excitement. Finally Anthony gave her the okay to take her break and she flew towards his table, losing for the first time since they knew each other all traces of her grace and colliding with three patrons before safely landing by his side, or rather partially in his arms. He fought the urge to pull her closer as he steadied her.

"If I didn't know better, dearie, I'd say you have some exciting news to rely" he teased, allowing himself one little gesture as he grasped an errant curl and tucked it safely behind her ear. She smiled, taking his hand in hers and squeezing.

"I got the internship at Uni. Global!" she blurted out, positively glowing "The one everyone was dying to get! I thought they'd reject me because of my age but it seems I was just what they were looking for!"

For a second all he saw, heard and felt was her happiness and it warmed him all over, almost to the point of missing half of what she was saying.

"… and after three months there is a review and the possibility of a full-time job, which happens to coincide with my graduation so it couldn't possibly be more perfect and…"

He let go of her hands all of a sudden, a coldness creeping inside him, leaving him numb. She noticed almost at once, but knew better than to ask, instead titling her head and waiting for him to come out with it. He took his time, trying to find words that wouldn't make him sound like a needy sap.

"So… I take it that you've given your two-week notice, then" he finally rasped out, berating himself for both exposing himself and his feelings and making the smile on Belle's face flee at once.

The fact that she looked devastated gave him a shameful sort of happiness, because he relished the feeling of her missing his company, even if he'd miss her more, even if her insides wouldn't rot as would his for days and days after they saw each other no more.

"I… I hadn't thought about it" she stuttered out, eyes wide "Silly of me, isn't it?"

She grew distant then, and mumbled something about needing to go talk to Anthony before scurrying off, leaving him cold and uncertain. He stood up the moment Belle's back was to him and limped as quickly as possible out of the coffee house, hating the way his thoughts muddled.

He had obviously let it get too far. He had denied it, time and again, the true extent of his addiction. Had tried to pass it off as some sort of superficial fancy to a nice ass and a great pair of tits, and when her mind had proven just as tempting he had still dismissed it as a lonely man, bored with life, looking for something to sharpen his mind with. Some men kept their wits by doing crossword puzzles, others by playing online chess… He had Belle.

Except it was the other way around. Belle had him, and now she was going away and he was drowning.

Blindly he made his way back to his office, barely noticing the way he almost collided with Leroy or the fact that the other security guard on the front desk was blatantly sleeping on the job. A short elevator ride to the top floor later and he was beside his well-stocked liqueur cabinet, downing a bottle of Blue Label Johnnie Walker like it was apple juice. When it was half-empty he shattered his Tiffany lamp into pieces, and a few gulps later he smashed every single frame adorning the cold walls. But he waited patiently till he finished to whole bottle and went through quite a bit of an Ardberg Mor First Edition before taking his cane to his art nuveau glass desk, a horrendous gift from the Board of Directors he had felt compelled to put in his office as a gesture of gratitude.

When he finished with it, half an hour later, it was nothing more than pretty slivers of crystal scattered all over the rich rug off his office. Cuts littered his hands and his hair was wild, his suit jacket forgotten somewhere and his cane effectively broken in two. He passed out on an old, comfortable leather couch, and woke with enough time to change into one of the many crisp and laundered suits he kept at work, grab an old cane he had perpetually stashed in the umbrella stand and make himself as presentable as possible before Miss Blanchard arrived at her desk, looking as nervous as always. He sauntered out of his office, informing her maintenance should be called in.

"I'm afraid I've had a bit of a mishap and the office needs to be… cleaned" he said softly, never breaking his stride "By the way, I'm taking the day, dearie. Rearrange the day's appointments as needed"

He didn't turn when Mary Margaret opened his office door and shrieked, or when other employees rushed past him to see what the matter was. He was eager to get out of the building, skip work.

Work and coffee.

A day turned into a week before his resolve broke and he stopped sending terrorized interns to get his coffee. And it had been Belle who had managed to make him see what he was doing when, with the apple bran muffin she knew was going to him, she had included a scrap of paper with something scrawled over it:

'You're being a coward'

When he returned he got a fleeting smile followed by a glare.

"I was beginning to think I'd never see you here again" she was, of course, the first one to speak. She was, after all, the brave one.

"I was thoroughly busy with work, dearie" he smiled, but he knew she saw how fake it was "I do apologize"

"No" she deadpanned, making a point of handing him his change in spite of his attempts to tip her "You were freeing yourself"

He felt the urge to push the issue, to ask from exactly what he was supposedly freeing himself. But his mouth didn't open, and the words died on his lips.

By the afternoon the distance had shortened and they were back to tentatively restoring conversation. Since staying away was not an option Gold would go for broke and give in to his addiction for that week he had left and then content himself with the fact he had managed to become completely enticed with a woman who saw him as nothing more than a charming old man and had managed not to make a fool of himself till they had parted ways.

He tried not to notice that she spent more time with him on the afternoons, sitting next to him, sometimes in complete silence, her arm brushing his. No use concocting some last-minute fantasy about her secretly wanting him the same way he ached for her. He needed his focus, needed to get through the week. Just a week of not pining her against a wall or sprawling her over a table and burying himself in her till he could no longer fathom where he ended and she begun.

Then he'd figure out how to get through the rest of his life without her. But that was later.

When Friday rolled around, her final day, it was met with dread and relief by Gold. Just one more day of keeping his feelings, thoughts and hands to himself and then he'd be free of the torture that was forever being near something he had no right to even yearn for.

He ordered his coffee and accepted the two chocolate hazelnut tarts she added without any protests, noticing how late it was. He had been overseeing the rebuilding of his office and it had taken longer than expected. He sat in his usual spot, observing that the café was quite empty, only a few patrons scattered here and there, and welcomed the quiet. He could barely contain himself, knowing how close he was to giving his self-restraint a much-needed break. He had to make it past the last hurdle, just drink his coffee, wait for her to take her break, wish her a very happy time at her new job and part after a lingering handshake, or maybe a short, brisk hug (Belle was, after all, a hugger). Then out the door and out of her life.


The thought made him ill.

He kept himself busy pretending to read the day's newspaper, but the words jumbled together and made no sense whatsoever. And all that time he waited, and waited, for her to take her break, and sit close, and drive him into a frenzy with a brush of her arm one last, glorious time.

And finally he realized he was waiting rather a long while. He glanced at his watch and was surprised to see it was almost nine. He glanced around, his eyes finding Belle with ease wiping a table near the entrance. As if she could feel his stare she turned around, an apologetic smile on her lips.

"Oh, the break! You were probably… I mean, I supposed you were waiting for me to take a break so we could properly say goodbye" she was blushing, her smile tinged with sadness "But Brittany called sick late and I was quite busy and then Anthony had a family emergency so I was instructed to close the store and figured I'll let you stay as long as you wanted…"

She probably kept talking, he wasn't really sure, since all of his attention was on the fact that there were no costumers and no other baristas and he was effectively alone and steps away from every dream he had ever had come true.

"Well, if you wait for me to tidy up a bit behind the counter I'll sit down for a minute, okay?"

He nodded numbly and stood stock still as he watched her pack up the blender and toss out used milk cartons and the like. He though he saw her hands shake, but couldn't really be sure. There was a roaring in his ears and a haziness to his vision and a single thought that seemed to try and claw its way to the surface of his mind:

'Just hold on, hold on, hold on…'

"Ugh, what a mess. I knew that wasn't empty" Belle's voice drowned that fleeting thought, overpowering it. He blinked, trying to focus on her, noticing at first that she was removing her green apron and wiping it with a wet cloth.

"It won't stain, thankfully" she proceeded to wipe down her arms, and face and it was then that Gold realized, making a strangled sound on the back of his throat, that she was wiping whipped cream from her skin.

Whipped fucking cream.

"Did I get it all?" she turned towards him fully, indicating her arms and face and it was then that Gold knew, and knew without the shadow of a doubt, that he had lost. He had held out ten months, months of smiles, laughs, shared conversations, amazingly detailed fantasies inappropriate to act out on a coffee house according to the New York Health Code, tortuous touches and agonizing internal debates. Months and months of cold showers, pretend aloofness and strangled restraint.

And all for nothing.

"Are you alright?" her voice seemed to be coming from far away, which was odd since he was, ever so calmly, walking to her side of the counter, closer and closer "Mr Gold?" she sounded now worried and took a careful step away from him, running into a wall "Nicholas?"

His name on her lips sent a shiver of pleasure down his spine but did not deter him from his objective. Now that he knew he was going to go ahead and ruin what he had managed to maintain out of sheer, dumb will he felt strangely without doubts or cause for hesitation.

"Stay still" he murmured softly when he was finally almost flush against her, dropping his cane so it clattered to the ground. Belle, oddly enough, followed his command, her eyes widening and her breathing heavy but making no move. Non to pull him closer, none to shove him away. He bent slightly, arms coming to rest on the wall on either side of her body, parted his lips and carefully, slowly, swiped the entire length of his tongue across her neck, tasting not only the freshness of the cream but the lingering sweet-and-salty flavour of her skin. His ears caught the faint sound of her gasp and her revelled in its breathiness.

"I'm sorry" he whispered against her throat, lips barely touching. He sounded possessed "I tried to stay away…"

Abruptly he clamped his mouth over the juncture of her neck and shoulder, drawing the flesh into his mouth and sucking with vigour, his teeth barely scraping her before he released her altogether, apologetically laving the reddening spot with his tongue. One hand fisted on the wall, the other spanning her waist, digging almost painfully into her hip.

"Tell me to stop, Belle" he pleaded, planting errant kisses along her neck and the curve of her jaw till he reached the spot behind her ear, feeling her heartbeat flutter there, just beneath his lips "Please, you must…" he was breathing harshly and talking was almost beyond him "You must tell me to stop" he moved his other hand to her waist, pressing her intimately against him.

"Tell me to stop" the urgency in his voice was undeniable, as was the pleading look in his eyes when they darted towards hers for a second before he rested his forehead against her shoulder "Please…"

Belle's hands rose slowly, and for a moment Gold felt cold relief wash over him. She was going to gently shove him away, remove his hands from her waist and then take his head and cautiously lift it from her to…

… move it to her other side, apparently, and press it to her, humming low in her throat, the message loud and clear. When he failed to act, stunned and temporarily out of sorts, she wound a hand through his hair, angled his head just so and brushed the skin of her collarbone temptingly against his parted lips.

"Gods, Belle…" he rasped out, his words sinking into her chest "You mustn't do this. Just… tell me to stop. Please"

His words were quite at odds with his actions, for he begun to trace her collar bone with his tongue, one of his hands grasping the neckline of her white polo shirt and yanking it open as far as it could go, tearing at the seams. His voice was soft and frightened but his grip on her was strong and sure.

She yanked on his hair, forcing him to relinquish his exploration of her clavicle and instead look into her eyes. She was flushed and heavy-lidded, and seemed a bit lost, like him.

"I… I don't want you to stop" one of his hands, absently caressing her arm, brushed the side of her breast and her breathing hitched "Ever"

She moved her hand from his hair to the nape of his neck and quite forcefully tugged him to her, her parted lips catching his own like they'd done it a million times before. There was nothing remotely tentative or timid about the kiss, but neither seemed to mind as they veritably devoured each other whole, tongues eagerly exploring and meeting in frenzied bliss, like this is why they had had them on the first place and they were just realizing that. His hands found the small of her back and the space between her shoulders and happily settled there, crushing her to him like he had dreamed of doing a hundred thousand times before. And, like in his dreams, she responded by wrapping her arms around his shoulders, helping him meld them together.

She tasted like vanilla, like he fucking knew she would, but the thoroughly checked every single crevice of her mouth just to make sure. Her tongue retreated long enough for her teeth to come into play, gently getting a hold of his bottom lip to tug at it with a bit of force, licking it in a silent apology after letting it go. He growled, a sound so primal he didn't know whether to be embarrassed or proud beyond measure, and managed to tear himself away from her lips long enough to become frustrated at the little access her top provided to her upper body. Using the same hidden strength that had allowed him, a slight, lean man to reduce a glass desk to smithereens with only the aid of a heavy wooden cane, he firmly took hold of the collar at both sides and tore the shirt in half, making a rather clean cut down the middle. She 'eeped' in surprise, but even Gold, who had tried so very hard to never paint her actions as proof of some sort of attraction on her part, could tell by her gasps of breath and the light that flickered across her eyes that she was more than pleased with the gesture.

Surprisingly, she was wearing La Perla, which didn't fit with any single thing he knew about her. A scholarship lass working to pay her way through college in New York City certainly did not splurge on expensive lingerie. She sensed his confusion and looked down at the lacy, navy blue balconette bra with a breathless smile.

"A gift from some friends" she murmured, outlining the edges of the garment with the fingers of her right hand while he watched, transfixed "When they realized I'd begun to pay a bit too much attention to my appearance when I'd dress for work. They said that wearing this would make me feel sexier and it'd show, but I only had the courage to put it on today. Do you like it?"

He nodded dumbly, leaning close to follow the path her fingers had blazed seconds earlier, stopping halfway to nuzzle the spot right between her breasts, dipping his tongue in to ascertain that there too she tasted like vanilla. And he was getting awfully hungry.

"I dreamed about this" her voice, barely a whisper against the crown of his head, made him shudder "About you and me, like this, till I thought I'd go mad" her hands carded through his hair, getting a firm grip in order to push him more firmly against her. He placed open-mouthed kisses all over her chest, taking time to pay special attention to the top of her breasts, displayed quite nicely by the cut of her underwear. His hands grasped her waist, at first merely enjoying the feeling of skin against skin, of the roughness of his hands against her softness, but soon he wandered higher and higher, teasing her ribs with ghost-like touches before firmly caressing her breasts with his thumbs, the blue lace proving to be a deliciously flimsy barrier. He found the sides of her breasts to be particularly sensitive and delighted in the little moans and keens she let out when he scraped his fingernails against the skin there.

His mind jumped back to what had started all this, his trigger, the lovely dash of whipped cream on her neck, and he couldn't resist the urge to make a repeat performance, bypassing the cream this time for a capped bottle of caramel, tipping it and pressing slightly to pour some on the valley between her breasts. She gasped in surprise, but there was no objection.

"I thought…" she was trying hard to formulate coherent sentences "I thought you didn't like caramel. You sneered at the Iced Caramel Macchiato I made you try once. Sneered"

He chuckled, the vibrations doing wonders for Belle's nerve endings, and took his time licking her skin clean.

"Well, to be fair, you served it in a cup" he whispers between licks, and his voice is like a purr "Had you spilled it over your chest I would have happily drank it all"

She laughed, a throaty sound that went straight to his groin like nothing else ever had. His hands got a firm grip on his waist before he hauled her up, being careful to lean on his good leg, and set her on the counter, legs dangling over the edge and his face at perfect level with her smooth stomach. He took a moment to study the white expanse of skin in front of him, knowing they were far past the point of no return, enjoying how inevitable it all felt and how hopeless he was to prevent it, even for her sake.

He reached out to deftly remove the torn polo shirt from her, his hand caressing her upper back before seamlessly unhooking the navy blue bra and delicately taking it off her as well. He couldn't help but stare for a while, knowing he deserved not an inch of her, specially not now that she was uncovered, half the breadth of her chest glistening with his saliva, her eyes glazed and her nipples hardened, rose-red and perfectly rounded. The urge to move tore at him, but his hands shook too much and his hold on the counter seemed all that was currently holding him up and so he found himself at a loss, unsure.

Belle's legs moved then, cradling him closer, her eyes never leaving him as she reached for something on the counter, a brown bottle he knew was chocolate sauce from all his time watching her prepare drinks.

"You like chocolate, I know that much" she smiled, the hand not holding the bottle gently lifting his chin, caressing his five-o-clock shadow lovingly "Dark chocolate, at least"

She wasted no time spreading some of the chocolate quite expertly over her right breast, making swirls and patterns he had seen her expertly execute on the foamy top of espressos and cappuccinos and it dawned on him that he would never again be able to walk into a Starbucks without recalling this moment and getting hopelessly aroused.

His entire body moved on its own accord, bending over the counter and stretching so his mouth could close blissfully over her right nipple, the combination of the bitterness of the chocolate and the saltiness from the light sheen of sweat that had formed over most of her body teasing his taste buds. He circled her nipple with his tongue, retreating it only to carefully trap the hard nub between his teeth and tug, whatever ideas about being too rough with her vanishing into smoke the moment she let out a throaty moan and arched her back, effectively pushing her body against his, her legs tightening around his upper waist so that he could feel she had managed to toe her shoes off and the soles of her feet were kneading his back in slow, exquisite circles.

One of them uncapped the bottle of chocolate sauce, but neither would later be able to remember who exactly, and Belle soon was spread out over the counter, her legs anchoring her to Gold, and chocolate covering most of her torso. He half-climbed after her, eagerly licking her clean with a sort of messy precision, not minding when his tie begun to stick to her skin, the chocolate sure never to come out of the blue silk. His hands tore at the waistband of her black slacks, barely managing to find the zipper and pull it down before yanking them off her, his hands feeling the lace of her navy ingénue boyshorts followed by the smoothness of her thighs, and the wetness of her core.

Suddenly the chocolate, as delicious as it tasted freshly licked off her breasts, wasn't the most appetizing thing his tongue could reach. He finished cleaning off her neck, out of some sort of misguided gentlemanliness, and moved quickly downwards, knowing that by the time it was all over he would have chocolate in his hair, nose and forehead, and with the delicacy of a lover hooked his thumbs under the waistband of her underwear and slowly, so as to give her plenty of time to say no, pulled it down, leaving her clad in sheer blue thigh highs and nothing else.

He hovered over the curls of her sex, ten months of unabashed wanting eagerly waiting to crash down on him, and inhaled deeply, committing the scent of her to memory, even as it mixed with caramel, chocolate and the ever-present aroma of coffee hanging in the air. He nuzzled her first, dragging his mouth to the top of one of her thighs to nibble at the skin there, his breath warming her entrance and making her buck her hips, trying to get him to where she needed him most.

"Patience, dearie" he whispered against her, one his hands going from kneading her hip to cupping a breast, squeezing and pinching till it found a rhythm she seemed to enjoy immeasurably. Finally, partly because of her desperation and mostly for his, he moved his mouth to her pulsing heat, taking a nanosecond to manfully pride himself on just how incredibly wet she was before getting down to business and lapping at her fluids, alternating his tongue with the suction of his mouth and the bare graze of his teeth against her clit. How he held himself back to work her thoroughly he never knew but he retained enough presence of mind to put all of his hard-earned skills into action, trying in some unconscious way to compensate for his age with the bulk of his experience. Belle was very vocal in her approval of each and every one of his ministrations, particularly when he plunged his tongued into her and curled it expertly. She actually mewled at that, bucking hard and fighting the soothing yet pressing weight of his hands against her chest and hips.

"Fuck, Nick" she moaned when Gold abruptly plunged two fingers into her, hitting a spot inside that seemed to drive her mad "Please, just… there. Harder"

He set a slow, slightly rough pace with his teeth, tongue and fingers, knowing if her pleasure was all this night led to it would still be the best night of his life. Finally, when she came undone and tightened all around him, he smiled against her and allowed himself to relax for the first time in ten months.

He would have contently rested hours awkwardly bent over the counter, his forehead pressing against her curls and his lame leg screaming in silent pain but she moved, scrambling into a sitting position with shaking arms only to then move those limbs to pull his head up and reach for the Windsor knot of his tie, deftly undoing it before moving to unbutton his shirt, laughing at the dumb look he gave her.

"I'm sitting here stark naked but for my stockings and you look shocked I'm removing your shirt?" she pushed his shoulders back to remove the lovely black garment, doing the same to the mandatory undershirt he wore till his chest was bared to her hungry gaze. He knew that, for an old man, he wasn't exactly unpleasant to look at. He had liked to box, once upon a time, picking up the habit as a lad in Glasgow and only really quitting after the accident that had lamed him, but he had continued lifting light weights and working the speed bag and a punch back at his personal gym, not liking to be helpless merely because of his bum leg. His upper body, as a result, was lean yet toned, all sinewy muscles and a slightness that belied strength, but as nice as it was for a man his age there was nothing about it that justified the riveted look in Belle's eyes the moment her eyes landed on his naked chest. She looked deliciously predatory, perched nude on the countertop, propped up by her arms and licking her lips.

Abruptly she hopped off, stocking-clad feet meeting the cold floor and bent over to collect his cane from the floor, giving him an enjoyable eyeful he suspected was quite intended. She pressed the cane into his hands before sauntering away into a corner of the café where the cushioned armchairs and leather sofas replaced the usual wooden chairs, a space meant for couples looking to kill some time or large groups of people settling down for an hour or two with their coffee. For a stupid second he just stood there, leaning on his cane and looking as Belle paused to remove the thigh-highs from her legs before looking back and motioning for him to follow her with a coy smile and a swish of her hips. And then, blissfully, some sort of primitive auto-pilot kicked in and he found himself crossing the distance between himself and his nubile goddess in a heartbeat.

He tackled her so that they fell unto the biggest of the couches, freshly cleaned by his industrious Belle, and she squealed, laughing as her body made contact with the faux-leather of the furniture. Her mirth was short-lived, though, quickly giving way to lust when he ground his pelvis against her, making it impossible to hide just how hard he was for her. She whimpered, throwing her head back and catching his hands in hers as she replied to the motion with a rocking of her own hips before lifting herself enough to kiss his left shoulder, dragging her lips across it till she reached his neck and, with a ferocity that nearly made him come, bit him there, sucking on the injured flesh before dragging her tongue over the injury, humming in pleasure at the sight of the bright red mark, so like the one he had given her.

"You rotten, rotten creature" he murmured, still moving against her, ignoring the pain on his lame leg as he almost pounded into her, uncaring of how unbefitting it was for a man of his age to be humping a young woman against a couch. Said young woman didn't exactly seem opposed to the whole proceeding, her hands roaming his back, kneading his flesh as her mouth explored his chest, ghosting teasingly over a nipple and arching her back so her breasts pressed against him.

She moved her hands from their place venturing steadily towards his ass to tackle the gold buckle of his belt, fingers nimble and sure as she slid the strap of leather off him before attacking his pants, making quick work of them with the help of a rather eager businessman. Her eyes settled for a moment over the scarred tissue of his injured knee, and for the first time he felt true trepidation. He sat down on the couch, clad only in his black boxers, and carefully scrutinized her face, surprisingly difficult to read all of a sudden. Her fingers ghosted over the injury, caressing in a tentative way, before she bent down and, ever-so-softly, kissed the top of his knee, making his whole leg jerk. She turned to look at him then, taking his face in her hands and petting his wild mane of hair.

"My scarred, mighty lion" she crooned, drawing him in and kissing him with a delicacy that undid him. He gathered her to him so that she straddled him, sinking a hand into her hair to deepen the kiss, slanting his mouth against her and slipping his tongue into her mouth, nudging hers to join him in an intricate dance, his hips resuming their earlier work against hers. The taste of vanilla so hers drove him to distraction to a point where he didn't know if they spent minutes or hours just grinding against each other, enjoying the sensation of skin on skin after so much time living off of fleeting touches and gentle brushes.

He couldn't recall ever taking off his boxers but he certainly became aware the moment his cock made contact with her damp folds, a hiss escaping him. Gold manoeuvred her so she lay back against the couch, looming over her with the aid of his arms and his good leg. He stared into her eyes, wide and luminous and ever-so-trusting and swallowed thickly before speaking.

"Are you sure…?"

The voice hanged over them heavily. And he wondered for a brief second why he had uttered them at all, when he wasn't even sure he could stop if she asked him to. But she smiled and wrapped her long legs around him, her body language giving him his answer. It took one smooth stroke to enter her completely, which surprised him, and that was the last coherent thought he had in a while that did not involve how exquisitely tight and wet his Belle felt around him or how hoarse her cries where as she asked him to go deeper, move faster and generally do things harder. He complied every time, finding himself agreeing with every single one of her pleas and loving how talkative she was, how eager to vocalize how much pleasure he was bringing her.

"Ugh, dear God, yes, there!" she mewled, her arms gripping the arm of the couch behind her head "Fuck, how do you even know…?"

He voice trailed off when he moved both her legs to rest atop his shoulders and changed the angle of his thrusts, clearly hitting something inside her that no man had ever even come close to. The smirk in his face proved he knew exactly what she was feeling but she was too far gone to care, while he was too thankful to be lasting to openly crow about his success.

Her inner muscles tightened painfully around him before she came, her body arching upward and her fingernails digging into his shoulders, leaving angry red marks as they slid down, the pain nearly making him lose his composure before he could let her ride her orgasm. It lasted an impressive amount of time, testing every single scrap of his control and his sanity, and just when he thought he had made it with all his marbles in place she rested her head on his shoulder, her lips brushing his earlobe as she muttered a single sentence:

"I love you"

And, just like that, he came, and the sheer intensity of the experience left him breathless, hips thrusting upwards erratically and arms shaking, threatening to give out.

It had never happened to him, to have such a vivid, raw response to those words. He had heard them before, out of the mouths of many women… One had been, once upon a time, his wife. He had met Vera at the University of Glasgow, his alma mater, and they had married young, eager as he had been back then to form a family and get some stability in life. But Vera hadn't turned out to be the woman he thought he had married, and the way she had told him she loved him, so perfunctory, like it had been a chore, should have alerted him to that. They had divorced soon before he had been accepted at the London School of Economics for his graduate studies and had only met once more after that, when Imp Inc. had been featured in Time Magazine and she had suddenly rediscovered her love for him.

He had had security escort her out.

After Vera many a woman had first gone to bed with him and then professed his love in a vain attempt to entice him into a deeper commitment. The moment that happened they were out the door, unfit for his purpose which was merely the scratching of a very human itch. But now Belle had, in the throes of passion, in a breathless murmur, confessed to him and all he could think was how little he deserved her and how lucky he was love didn't work that way.

When he moved past incredulity and humility guilt overcame him. This girl, this nymph that had somehow gotten stranded in Manhattan of all places, by the grace of some god found herself in love with him and he had taken her against a cheap couch in the middle of a deserted coffee shop without even taking her out or buying her a small token of his affection… like a Mercedes Benz, or the World.

He was despicable.

"I'm sorry" he muttered against her neck, burying his face in her hair "This is wrong, this is all so wrong…"

She disentangled herself from him, looking suddenly pained and panicked as she tried to put some distance between them.

"Oh, God, I ruined it, didn't I?" she muttered haltingly, her voice husky as she stood up and looked around for something to cover herself with "I'm such and idiot, aren't I? Finally what I've been wanting for months happens and I open my big mouth and ruin everything…"

The tremor in her voice finally shook him out of his daze and he grabbed both her wrists, yanking her back down to the couch beside him.

"No, no! That's not it" his Scottish accent, thicker than ever, almost made his words unintelligible "I meant… I… Belle… This is not the proper way I should have gone about things. You deserved to… I mean, I should have worked hard to earn even a smidge of your affections. I should have taken you on countless dates, showered you with gifts and maybe one day, perhaps, after months and months of proving myself to be worthy you would have then graced me with those words" he caressed her arms, taking in as much of her skin with his eyes as he could "I love you, Belle, of course I do, how couldn't I? But you shouldn't love me"

She smiled then, her hands going to his hair, gently petting it. He rather thought she liked his hair a bit too much, not that he was complaining.

"You silly man" she muttered at last, shaking her head "Whatever am I going to do with you?"

He smirked, feeling impish as he gathered her close, his eyes drifting towards the cinnamon and powdered chocolate shakers, arching an eyebrow.

"Well, the long answer would involve you agreeing to have dinner with me at my house at your earliest convenience" he paused, seeing the happiness in her face, and the adoration he cannot fathom how he missed before "The short answer involves those shakers and the white chocolate sauce I know you have stashed somewhere under that lovely, lovely counter…"

She giggled and sprinted in search of the white chocolate, pausing by the door to lock it and make sure the blinds were all the way down, loving the way his deep, booming laugh reverberated across the room.

One year later…

Mary Margaret looked frantically around her cluttered desk, sending papers flying here and there. She was close to sobbing, but she knew Mr Gold despised tears, particularly hers. She screamed at two close interns to go see if the contracts she was desperately looking for had been left in Accounting.

"Oh, he's going to fire me, this time he's going to freaking fire me" she muttered under her breath, jumping ten feet in the air when the intercom buzzed to life and her boss's angry Scottish brogue demanded to know where his contracts were.

"I'm looking for them right now, Sir. I'll have them in a minute" she replied, trying to make her voice stop shaking.

"See that you do, dearie" there was a pause and when Gold spoke again, he sounded angrier and even more impatient "And where is my coffee?"

Mary Margaret swore under her breath.

"She hasn't gotten here yet, sir. You know Ms Ficent is prone to keep her past her normal working hours"

There was no reply and the short-haired brunette felt relieved by that, though she grabbed her blackberry and texted furiously something before going back to helplessly moving papers around. Strong arms around her waist stopped her, and when she twisted around and her eyes met those of James Charmont, freshly divorced VP of Marketing.

"James!" all worry fled her face, replaced by love and a hint of embarrassment when she realized everyone was staring at the way she was cuddling with a big suit "Now is not a good time, I'm afraid"

He grinned, all boyish charm, and dangled a manila envelope in front of her eyes.

"Really? Not even when I have the contracts you are most desperately looking for?"

His smile broadened when she lounged for the envelope, pausing to peck him on the cheek before hurrying to the closed doors of her boss's office. James leant against her desk, completely at ease no matter how many interns gawked at him. Fortunately most of the fuss about his scandalous divorce had died down (it had helped that Kathryn, his ex, had quickly moved on to some sort of gym teacher from Brooklyn she was currently deliriously in love with) but Mary Margaret, he knew, was still taking some heat, and he wanted to make sure she didn't face it alone. They were a couple and so whatever came at them they would deal with it together.

When she came out of the office, sans manila envelope, she was furiously texting again.

"Oh, God, where the hell is this girl?" she growled, pacing beside her desk.

"What does the old ogre want now?" James enquired, rolling his eyes. Mr Gold needed to seriously work on his people skills, but he had never seen MM so out of it before.

"Coffee. He wants his coffee and if she doesn't get here in the next five minutes… Ugh, I don't want to even think about it"

She walked briskly by her very confused boyfriend, trying to sort out the mess she had made looking for those damned contracts.

"I don't get it"

"He's fucking addicted" Mary Margaret seldom swore but James always found it strangely arousing when she did so "Cannot go more than a few hours without his fix"

The VP, snorted, forcing his pretty little girlfriend to stop her frantic movements around the office for a second.

"So all that ill-temper is just for coffee?" he enquired, his voice belying his incredulity. Mary Margaret frowned.

"Who said anything about coffee?"

Just as Charmont was about to ask for clarification, utterly puzzled by the whole situation, a brunette strode in, curly hair loosely pulled into a bun on the back of her head, a stylish peasant blouse and a black, demure pencil skirt and black pumps looking pristine and neatly pressed, like she hadn't just left her work after over nine gruelling hours of hard labour. She carried a paper bag in one hand and a Starbucks cup in the other, steam rising from it, and had a leather satchel slung over one shoulder. She was all bright smiles and blue eyes, lovely in a way that caught the eye of many of the male interns and garnered looks of envy from more than one female employee.

"Belle, there you are!" Mary Margaret looked like she wanted to both hug and throttle the newcomer "Do you have any idea of the hour?"

The woman smiled apologetically, pausing to kiss the secretary on the cheek.

"I know, I know, but Mal kept me in her office for hours going over numbers and I had a hard time slipping away" she looked contrite and a bit exasperated "I hope he hasn't been very difficult"

The two women shared a look that seemed to convey all that needed to be said.

"I'm so sorry. I'll get him out of your hands in a moment, okay? By the way, thanks for receiving my dry cleaning. I knew I wouldn't have time to change once I got out of work"

"Not a problem. As long as you can swear to have him out of my hair in twenty minutes we'll be even"

"That I can do" she smiled before turning to Charmont, narrowing her eyes at him and then breaking into another smile "And this must be Charming! MM, truly, I must congratulate you on the catch. Ruby was right, he is a hunk"

She smiled impishly at Mary Margaret and James burst out laughing, enjoying the way his girlfriend was turning ten different shades of red. Belle, for that was how MM had called her, shook her head, chuckling, and waltzed away, towards the lair of the beast, not even pausing to knock before boldly barging her way in. It was then that it dawned on the businessman…

"Oh, God, when you said addiction you meant her?" he sputtered, his eyes widening to a comical degree "You mean that Gold and her…?"

"It's Gold and she, actually" Mary Margaret replied, correcting his grammar like she was some sort of school teacher and he her ten-year-old pupil "And yes, they are dating. Have been for over a year. I can't believe you didn't know"

In the back of his mind James started to recall an offhanded comment George- his father, unfortunately- had made once last month about Gold playing at being a pervy old man with some prepubescent floozy, but the confident young woman that had just passed hardly seemed to fit the description.

"You disapprove?" the pixie-haired woman looked at him, a warning in her eyes. It was clear that his pretty little love and Belle were friends and so any attack on Gold's relationship with a woman more or less twenty years younger than him would not be very welcomed.

"Not at all, specially taking into account how much dear old dad hates it" he replied, his smile dazzling and, more importantly, genuine.

"Really, Nick, you're supposed to be zipping me up, not down!"

Belle's voice, laced with laughter, carried past the heavy doors of Gold's office and easily reached the pair, though Mary Margaret didn't appear surprised or in any way embarrassed. A booming, deep laughter followed the brunette's statement and still the secretary carried on with her work, unfazed. The easy conclusion, which was also the rather disturbing one, was that those sorts of comments were commonplace in every day work.

"I've never had the heart to tell Belle her voice carries sometimes" the secretary admitted, a bit amused by her boyfriend's rather uneasy expression "It's just… life has become so much easier with her around. I mean, Gold's still a bastard, but now at least I have someone to call when he gets into one of his moods other than my shrink"

"Who is she? What does she do?"

"She appeared over a year ago, with a cup of coffee, a muffin and demanding to see Mr Gold. Leroy laughed to her face before Gold called him and threatened to fire him if he didn't allow her to pass. I really know very little of her. Works for Mallory Evans Ficient at Uni. Global, so we bonded over how tough it is to work for veritable slave-drivers…"

"Wait, wait. Mallory Evans Ficient? As in Mal E. Ficient?" James sputtered "I though she and Gold hated each other?"

"Nah, they are more like frenemies, and Belle told me they agreed to be civil with each other where she was concerned. The deal, as far as I get it, is that Belle doesn't talk about Gold at her work and never mentions work around Gold"

She smiled, turning when she heard the door to the lair open and Belle exit first, freshly changed into a long Burbery Prosrsum long dress in various shades of blue, grey and brown, with a pleated skirt, cap sleeves, an eyelet neckline and an open back up to her waist. It was an elegant, simple dress, fun yet formal and minimally accessorized. Gold, in contrast, was sober and for once quite dashing in a tux with a navy-blue bowtie as the only concession to colour.

"Oh my God, B, that looks amazing!" Mary Margaret gushed, not an ounce of envy in her voice or expression and James's heart fluttered at how innocent and pure this woman was. Belle smiled broadly, twirling around and laughing, taking a moment to talk about waistlines and seams with her friend while the men stood a little further away, suddenly outsiders. The VP of Marketing took the opportunity to watch his boss, the hardest man in Wall Street, while his attention was riveted on his girlfriend. The harsh planes of Gold's face seemed more relaxed and his eyes were soft, looking younger than ever before. He gave the women a moment before gently placing his cane-less hand on the small of her back, muttering something about the lateness of the hour before being on their way.

"Well, give me a minute and I'll change into my own amazing dress, and then we can be on our way to the party, okay?" Mary Margaret placed a small, sweet kiss on his cheek and sauntered off, leaving James to ponder about the strangeness of life, the small twists and turns that could completely turn things around…

… and the best way to convince Mary Margaret to ditch the party early and stay the weekend at his apartment.