I'm tired of the Rumbelle AUs taking the Greek drama approach, wherein Gold / Rum loves Belle passionately from a distance, from almost the first sentence of the fic. This is going to be a modern-day AU, drawing on the entire Rumbelle story-line. Get ready for bastard-Gold and a very unamused Belle who fall in love slowly, over time. There is no Dark One curse in this continuity, but I really think you're going to enjoy it anyway.
Mr. Gold was not a man who liked to be kept waiting. But despite his constant rages and generally poor disposition, wait he did. He waited for the closing bell. He waited for the opening bell. He waited for any combination of numbers and charts. He waited for his morning tea.
For the tea, it seemed, he waited a little longer every day since the feeble little intern who usually handled it had announced her pregnancy to the office last month. If she thought the little parasite would excuse her laziness, she had another thing coming. The woman was blonde, petite, and entirely replaceable. Ashley Boyle. Or was it Boyd? It didn't matter, he decided, and dashed off a quick email to his receptionist, Mary Margaret, demanding that the little tart be let go.
In the back of his mind, Gold knew Mary Margaret would parley the request into a reassignment of duties and probably set the girl up with a plush job collating, well out of his way until the nebulous uncertainty of maternity leave claimed her. In the mean time, Gold found himself no closer to his morning ration of Earl Grey. 8:25 AM. His weekly conference call to Seoul started in 35 minutes, and he dreaded the thing.
"Mary Margaret, send up a tea service," he said in a rough Scottish burr via the office intercom. No response. "Dammit woman, I haven't got all day to wait about while you paint your nails and double-book my schedule. Mary Margaret!" Still nothing. Double-damn. Despite him raving like a wild beast half the time, the receptionist had a spine of steel that he begrudgingly respected. She would be too difficult to replace, at any rate, because her careful juggling of Gold's numberless, faceless women required a degree of tact not common among competent, intelligent human beings.
If she wasn't at her desk, it meant one of a half-dozen wild fires left burning from the night before had called her away. Allowing her the freedom to decide which emergencies required her personal attention served him well so far. A compromise, then. He could fetch his own damn tea this once, and she would explain herself in full or face the prospect of another 80 hour work week. Finding ways to make people useful at any hour was a particular specialty of Anthony Gold's.
Walking slowly, cane in hand, through his personal waiting room and out to the executive lobby reminded him why this was intern work. Regina Mills, Mallory Le Ficent, David Nolan, and Graham Humbert all had executive offices looking out onto the landing of this floor, and he didn't dare lean too heavily on the loathsome crutch. The pain in his mangled leg felt unreal under the burden of more weight than usual, but if Gold scowled a little more deeply or growled insults a little more harshly at the scurrying insects unfortunate enough to cross his path, no one noticed.
Seeing Astrid Nova, flustered by his sudden and unexpected presence, drop the bundle of papers in her charge squarely into one of the building's decorative fountains sealed the deal. He was in no mood to brave the Gold, Mills, Nolan & Le Ficent Inc. cafeteria, a raging sea of incompetence today. Fortunately, Gold knew of a place a few stories down where a quiet cuppa might be obtained.
One of the few joys Mr. Gold allowed himself was his collection. The man collected everything: antiquities, artifacts, oddities, favors, money, property, women. These hobbies coalesced quite nicely. As the sole owner of the building that housed GMNL Inc., Gold found himself at his leisure to convert three floors of the high-rise to a museum and gallery space, open to the children of the office daycare program, families of foreign investors, the occasional tourist, and home to a bevy of high-end office functions. Of course, the whole thing served as a massive tax write-off, which didn't hurt either.
To Gold's knowledge, only his curator – a blowhard Frenchman who insisted on being called "Gaston, just Gaston" – knew that the collection belonged exclusively to him. That suited him just fine, and it gave him a small, quiet staff lounge in which he might obtain some caffeine before the inevitable headache of South Korea.
Finally free of prying eyes, Gold leaned a little more heavily onto his cane and headed toward the museum's staff lounge. He didn't quite make it. Right in the middle of his rather large collection of pre-Colombian carvings, he spotted "Gaston, just Gaston" with his tongue down some blonde woman's throat and his hands running up her skirt. No, not just some blonde woman. Anthony Gold's Saturday night blonde woman. Gold saw red.
When Archie Hopper handled the H.R. fall-out later that day, he would hear the scene described as "hellish" and Mr. Gold as "ze fire-breathing imp" who could "go crawl back onto ze walls of Notre Dame where he belongs."
South Korea could wait. Gold needed a drink. Earl Grey and Aberfeldy would not mix well, but Gold wasn't sure that mattered. Didn't he keep these girls in enough Tiffany's trinkets, designer gowns, and gossip columns to ensure they wouldn't embarrass him on his own property?
He stormed into the staff lounge so furiously that he missed the startled look on the face of Gaston's newest hire. The shock caused her to drop the fine china cup in her hand, and the sound of clattering porcelain finally claimed Gold's attention. He glared daggers.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. You surprised me. Can I help you?" The girl was already bent over, cleaning up the mess. "Oh, no... it's chipped." Finally looking up, she showed him the damaged cup.
"It's just a cup," he snapped, taking stock of the woman. She wore an unfashionable knee-length skirt and loose sky blue cardigan with her hair pulled back into a somewhat messy half-bun, and there was a paint smudge on her cheek. All in all, not much of a looker.
Then Mr. Gold took a breath. Wasn't Hopper always telling him to take a deep breath before firing someone? He exhaled slowly, then inhaled again. Mr. Gold smelled tea.
"Is that Earl Grey?" the foul-tempered man prodded, slightly calmer.
"Oh, uh.. yes. It is. Would you like a cup?" the girl offered, smiling nervously.
"I'd bloody well like the whole pot," he grumbled. But he sat down at the small staff table anyway, and waited.
For her part, Belle wasn't sure what to make of the man. He was older than her 28 years, but not overly old, and he wore a suit. A very well tailored suit. She had never seen him before in her scant two weeks working for Gaston on a rather large restoration project, but he looked a bit agitated. He didn't look dangerous, she decided. Just very, very thirsty. Mind made up, she fetched the porcelain pot and two fresh cups, leaving the poor chipped soldier forgotten in the sink.
"Do you people always have little tea parties down here when you're supposed to be working?" he quipped while she poured.
Belle smiled. "Ha ha, no. I'm afraid not. The Energy and Efficiency Committee is encouraging everyone to switch to reusable cups instead of paper. I happen to prefer loose leaf to bagged tea, so this seemed..." she trailed off.
"Logical," Gold nodded, taking a sip. He noticed the woman brewed a cup strong enough to kick a donkey without over-boiling the leaves, and he liked it.
"Oh, not at all. We're all mad here. Milk or sugar?" she offered, grinning.
Gold loosed his devil's advocate smirk at that. "Honey and lemon?" he replied.
She quirked a fine eyebrow at him, a glimmer of a giggle in her eyes, and got up to fetch a lemon wedge from her personal stash in the fridge. Plucking the generic plastic honey bear from the cupboard, Belle returned looking like the cat that caught the canary. She plopped them down unceremoniously in front of him and said, "Help yourself."
Oh yes, Gold thought. This would do quite nicely. "You will prepare a tea service and deliver it to my office each morning between 8:15 and 8:30. Do not be late, do not skip the odd hazy Monday. Are we clear, Miss...?"
"French," Belle replied, nodding. "Annabelle French." So he was her boss, in some capacity. Or thought he was. Interesting. "And you are..." she continued.
Gold's eyes lost their humor at that. "Don't play coy with me, it's not a good color for you. You know very well who I am." The genuine confusion in her blue eyes calmed him slightly. Still, Mr. Gold was not accustomed to explaining himself, and he stood up on shaky legs to leave. She was a clever girl, she'd figure it out.
"I'll see you tomorrow, bright and early Miss French."
"Just Belle is fine," she replied, handing him his cane from where it had fallen on the floor.
"And try to see if you can't at least look a bit professional tomorrow, dearie. I don't need a ragamuffin parading in and out of my office for the world to see." Genuine confusion was replaced by genuine hurt in her eyes, and Mr. Gold hobbled away. He'd make it in time for South Korea after all, and have Mary Margaret send the usual break-up package to Miss Saturday Night.