Title: Of Dreams and Awakenings

Rating: T

Word count: ~51k

Characters: Belle/Isabelle French, Mr Gold/Rumplestiltskin, Mary Margaret, Emma Swan, Archie Hopper, Henry Mills, Regina Mills, Moe French, various other Storybrooke characters.

Pairing: Belle/Rumplstiltskin (Isabelle/Mr Gold)

Disclaimer: Anything you recognise from 'Once Upon A Time' does not belong to me.

Notes: I started this before the whole arc with Kathryn, Mary Margaret and David kicked off, so I've completely disregarded that in here. Imagine it's set some time in the future, and pay no attention to the season finale once that's aired!

Summary: Isabelle French is working towards normal. She's working towards being brave. She's working towards knowing who she is.

"So what are you going to do now?" Archie asks her, smiling, and Isabelle frowns faintly. "You're doing much better with daily life," he says. "And you said the nightmares aren't as frequent. I think the best thing for you now is to get back to a normal life."

"Normal," Isabelle repeats, thoughtful. "I was in that ward for so long I'm not sure I remember what normal is." Ten years in the ward, and she's been out for two months. Nine weeks and four days, to be precise, since Sheriff Swan came into her cell, Archie Hopper in tow, and told her she could leave.

Leave, but not entirely free. The conditions of Isabelle's release were that she is under the Sheriff's supervision – a condition easily satisfied by the offer of a room in the apartment Emma shares with Mary Margaret – and that she meets with Archie twice a week until Archie is satisfied that she poses no danger either to herself or those around her.

Nine weeks later, Isabelle is finally beginning to feel comfortable around people again. For ten long years she's had little contact with anybody except nurses and orderlies, and occasional visits from doctors or the Mayor. When she'd first left the closed ward, every loud noise had startled her, and when Emma or Mary Margaret brushed past her in the apartment, she had spooked and retreated to her room for long hours. It was normal, Archie had told her, to feel the way she did.

Just as it is normal for her to loathe the father who helped the Mayor have her committed and never bothered to see how she was doing.

"You're making a good start," Archie reassures her now. "You're still getting along well with your roommates?" Isabelle nods. "Well, have a look around town. I'm sure there's some vacancies that would suit you. I really think you've reached the point where you need more social contact, Isabelle."

"I…I'm still not…comfortable with that," Isabelle has to admit. "I'm getting better at being around Emma and Mary Margaret. And Henry, of course." She smiles. Henry is a lovely boy, bright and vivacious, and unlike everyone else, does not treat her as if she is…different. He is, perhaps, the only person to make her feel comfortable.

"Do you think you'll get any more comfortable if you don't try?" Archie asks gently. "I guess what I'm saying is, there comes a point where we need to push beyond the comfort zone."

"I guess," Isabelle mutters. "I could start looking for vacancies in the paper. I do hate that my dad pays the rent." It's a sore point, but she's not been in any position to challenge it. The rent is paid every month, on time and in full. Isabelle hates it, hates being dependant on the man who sent her to that place and left her there to rot.

"What sort of work do you think you might like?" Archie asks, encouraging her, but Isabelle shrugs. She doesn't know, hasn't thought. She hadn't been old enough to have a proper job before she was committed, so she has no experience. She isn't sure anyone will be willing to give her a job – it's a small town, and gossip travels fast. Everybody knows where she's been, what happened to her.

"I like books," she says at last. "But the library's been shut up for years."

"Yes, apparently there's a lack of funds," says Archie, frowning for a moment. "But still, that's a good start. Why don't you think about it over the next few days? Maybe Emma and Mary Margaret can help you come up with some ideas."

"Alright," says Isabelle.

"Now, I spoke with the judge," Archie goes on, "and he's agreed to accept my assessment that you don't need to see me so often." Isabelle is alarmed, a little, but Archie is reassuring. "So we're going to cut down to every week," he says. "But you can always call me, or stop by. Does that feel alright to you?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess." She certainly doesn't think she's ill enough to need to be seen twice a week, but it's strange to be changing her schedule. But then, she thinks, that's the kind of thing Archie was talking about – stepping outside her comfort zone. She can't know if she never tries. "So…I guess I'll see you next week?"

"But call if you need to," he reminds her. "And have a think about finding some work. But don't feel under any pressure. You need to find something you're happy with."

Isabelle nods, stands up and picks up her bag. "Okay," she says. "Thanks, Dr Hopper."

"Archie," he corrects, as he always does. He rises, goes to open the door for her. "I'll see you next week, Isabelle."

She leaves his office, goes down the hallway, opens the front door and pauses for a moment to let her eyes adjust to the bright sunshine. Spring is in the air, the breeze warm and flowers beginning to show their colours, and Isabelle stands for a moment and drinks it in.

She decides on a different route home today, past the clock tower and the boarded up library beneath it. Normally she sticks to the same routes, keeps her head down and hurries to her destination, but Archie isn't the only one who's suggested she needs to try new things. Emma's been pushing her to stop by Granny's, or to come visit her at the Sheriff's office, or any one of a hundred other things that so far Isabelle has been too…frightened to do.

Frightened, and Isabelle hates herself for it. But Archie's trying to help her understand it's not a bad thing, to be afraid. She's been shut up for so long that of course she's afraid of lots of things that other people take for granted.

So she takes a different route today, although she keeps her head down and her hands in her pockets until she reaches the clock tower. Lack of funds, Archie had said, and she feels angry about that. Angry that the town is denied a library because it isn't deemed important, because somebody has decided that having a library isn't required for Storybrooke.

Anger is healthy, she reminds herself. Anger is natural. It needs to be channelled properly, but it's a perfectly normal, healthy reaction to be having.

"Miss French?"

Isabelle jumps, whirls around to see who has spoken to her, clutches the strap of her bag. "Yes," she says, uncertain as she looks at the man standing a few feet away from her. Slender, elegant, leaning on a gold-capped cane. Handsome, she thinks, and is a little surprised at herself for noticing it. She thinks she knows him, but can't quite place him, can't put a name to the face that seems, somehow, familiar.

"Sorry for startling you," he says, and there's a strange look on his face.

"That's – that's fine," Isabelle manages. She'd never been shy as a child, but ten years of cold walls and little conversation have changed her. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"

A flash of something in his eyes – anger, she thinks, and regret, and can't understand either – but he shakes his head.

"No," he says. "We've not been introduced. I'm Mr Gold."

Ah, Isabelle thinks, the infamous Mr Gold. She's heard about him, from Emma and Mary Margaret. The man who runs the town, the man who owns practically everything and has deals with everyone. She's met Ashley, knows about the girl's dealings with this man, how he would have taken advantage of her desperation, taken her baby from her.

She knows, too, that this is the man who put her father in the hospital. But she can't hate him for that, not when she…

Besides, if he hadn't done that, Emma Swan would never have started digging into the why of it, would never have found that Isabelle was being held barely legally in the secure unit of the hospital. A chain of events, starting with Moe French unable to make his payments and leading to this moment now.

Dangerous, she's been told. A very dangerous man, and she should stay away from him. And yet there's something about him that doesn't seem dangerous.

"You seem to know who I am," she says at last, clutches her bag and drops her gaze. "I guess everyone does."

"Perhaps," he says. "How are you getting on, Miss French?"

Everyone asks her that – everyone except Henry, she corrects herself. It's a boring question, one she's never sure how to answer. To speak the truth, or to lie. People want to hear the lies, want the comfortable, happy ending. The truth…

The truth is more complicated. And it's only been nine weeks; even Archie, full of praise for how well she's doing, knows there's still a long way to go.

"Forgive me," Mr Gold says, mouth quirked upwards in a faint smile. "I'm sure you get asked that a lot."

"Yes," Isabelle says, tries to find a smile. It feels awkward on her face, using muscles she hardly ever seems to use. Smiling isn't easy, not the way it was when she was a child. "I, uh…I was just looking at the library," she says, gesturing to the boarded up building. "It's such a shame there's no money for it."

"Oh, there's plenty of funding," Mr Gold disagrees, stepping closer. His gaze remains on her; he doesn't so much as glance at the building. "But the Mayor has never put a high priority on it."

"Why not?" Isabelle demands, frowning. "Reading is…it's important. And somebody could do a lot with the building, it's lovely, and such a good location." Right in the centre of town, everybody would pass it sooner or later. She thinks, for a moment, of how bright and cheerful it could be. There could be a reading group, and children's sessions with volunteers to come and tell stories to the children.

"You sound very passionate about it," says Mr Gold, and she glances at him, feels her cheeks heat. He lifts one eyebrow slightly, shrugs his shoulders. "Well, I'd suggest speaking to the Mayor about it, but…"

Isabelle shivers. She has avoided the Mayor completely since being freed. She knows what part Regina Mills played in keeping her locked up without psychiatric assessment. She remembers the visits, the cool stare through the slot in the door. And she's heard things from Emma, from Mary Margaret, that make her shudder to think of them.

Regina Mills is even more dangerous than Mr Gold, she thinks. She just covers it with lipstick and a smile, while Mr Gold…

But he's hiding too, she thinks as she looks at him. Somehow, he's hiding.

"No," he says softly then. "No, if I were you, dear, I'd stay far away from her." He seems…understanding, compassionate. From other people, she might think it was false. After all, how could anyone understand how she is feeling, what she is thinking? But somehow Mr Gold's compassion seems real. Genuine. His warning is heartfelt. She nods, looks at him thoughtfully.

"I'd better be going," she says then. "It was nice to meet you."

"And you, Miss French," says Mr Gold, and he bows his head as she turns to go. "Perhaps I'll see you again," he adds, and this time Isabelle's startled smile comes easier.

"Yes," she says. "Have a good day, Mr Gold."

"Thank you, Miss French," he says, and there's that strange look on his face again, the expression she can't decipher. "I believe I will."

26 chapters all written, a new one will be posted every evening.