He stopped sending Hopper out on night patrol. He didn't stop having the man wake to start the fires at the crack of dawn, but someone had to do it and he was allowed to go to bed early, if he liked. He didn't, instead joining the others for evenings in parlor. Belle was still working her way through Grimm's, as far as he knew. He didn't listen in.
Even when he'd been ignoring her Gold didn't go out of his way to change his own routine. He hadn't talked to her, but he'd watched. Now he tried to do neither, sometimes even to the point of skipping meals or spending the time out in the barn with Graham when the others were breaking bread with Belle. He started taking the night patrols himself, hoping to clear his head; it wouldn't be a good example for the men for him to drink himself into a stupor every night, for all that he wished he could.
Nothing he did lessened the memory of the kiss or the way he felt about the woman that haunted his sleep. Not even two days away from the house to gather supplies changed anything, except to make him worry that his men were not guarding her well enough. It hurt to be around her, but pained him to know she was out of sight and shouting distance if she needed help.
For the second night in a row he missed dinner. The quiet chatter in the front parlor when he walked in the front door told him where most, if not all, the rest of the household was. He headed in the opposite direction, toward the kitchen that was surely abandoned by this time in the evening. Breakfast was, if he thought about it, the last meal he'd eaten.
"I don't even know your Christian name."
Startled by the unexpected noise, Gold turned, half a loaf of bread in one hand and a knife in the other. Belle stood in the doorway of the little room just off the kitchen. Her bedroom, now, and that was another tally mark on the list of his sins.
"I thought you'd be reading with the men." Her steps were soft, and in the dim light she seemed more to float towards him, rather than simply walking. It wouldn't surprise him to know that angels from heaven looked like Belle. He'd seen stunningly beautiful women, especially when he'd been in Washington, but never anyone as lovely and ethereal.
"I felt too tired or too restless. Do you ever find that the two are hard to distinguish, Captain?" Without asking she opened the icebox and took out leftover chicken, using the slice of bread he'd already cut to start making a sandwich. "And you still haven't told me."
"Told you?" He'd been alone with her dozens of times in the past weeks, but somehow it was different tonight. Perhaps because the kitchen was dimly lit and her bedroom was only steps away, or because it was the first time he'd been alone with her since their kisses and her lips were only inches away. No matter the cause the effect was the same; he was having trouble focusing on what she was saying.
"Your name. Propriety is one thing, but you kissed me, Captain Gold. I think that in each other's company, at least, we may be permitted to use given names. You may call me Belle." She held out a hand, as if offering him a deal. Most of the men had been calling her Miss Belle since the first week. He alone had called her Miss French, but only Graham with his peculiar brand of civility called her Belle. It spoke of intimacy, calling a woman by her first name. It would be folly to allow himself such a level of familiarity.
"Rumford." He clasped her hand in his own, her tiny hands covered completely by his own. The backs of her hands were still as smooth as silk, but her fingers were roughened from cooking and cleaning. He couldn't bring himself to feel guilty about it; they all had work and now was hardly the time to be pampered. There would be no balls in the near future, where society would be shocked by a lady's less than gentle hands.
"Rumford. I like it." She set the sandwich down on the table and moved to the stove, starting a kettle of water. Tea, he would presume. She had a fondness for tea that matched his own. Coffee he drank for the caffeine, tea for the taste.
"It's just a name." Not many people used it. He was Captain to his men, Gold to most outside the pomp and circumstance of the Army, and papa to his son.
"It feels warmer than Captain. Rumford could, perhaps, be a friend. I'd like that." She was close enough to kiss him, but didn't make a move to close the distance. "I would value your friendship, Rumford. It's strange to say, perhaps, but I've missed you these last days."
"You have plenty of people to talk to here." Hopper, of course, but she also had an odd affinity for Leroy, and spoke with Tilman about his children. Even Nolan, slightly more reserved in his position as second in command, confided in her about his sweetheart waiting at home for him. And of course there was that damned cat that followed her around, begging for attention.
"They're good men."
"For Yanks." Sometimes he almost forgot, that he had commandeered her along with the plantation. Sometimes, though, he was acutely aware that this was the last place she probably wanted to be.
"For people," she corrected softly. "Maybe at first you were all just Yankee soldiers, but now you're all names and stories and people. I like them, Rumford, but I like you too. I meant what I said; you don't scare me."
"I'm the enemy." They were, after all, at war. She was all the best parts of the South, and he was none of the best parts of the North. The only thing he had going for him was his perfect boy. He hadn't managed to make his wife happy or keep her alive, and he'd used his rifle on more men, white or redskins, than he could count.
"You're a soldier, like most of the men in this whole divided country. Why don't you want me to like you?" There was a touch of pain her her blue eyes. Or maybe it was just shadows from the flicker of the gas light.
"I'm the man who took over your home and who, in battle, might fire upon your friends and neighbors. What profit would there be in friendship between us?" And certainly there was only regret to be had from something more than friendship. He had to stop thinking about her lips and the curve of her neck.
Her sad little smile was killing him. "I won't stop trying. You're a man, not a monster."
"Appearances, dearie, can be deceiving." He didn't wait to see if the tea she was making was for him, but took his sandwich and left the room. Damn fool woman didn't know what was good for her.
When there was a knock on the library door half an hour later he thought he was safe, and didn't hesitate before issuing a gruff 'come in.' He wished the words unsaid a moment later.
"Captain. I need to talk to you please." Archie Hopper, the last person besides Belle he wanted to see at the moment, stood in the open doorway.
"Not now." He tried to think of something, anything that he could claim as more important, but his desk was strangely clear and there was nothing else he could come up with quickly enough. His empty sandwich plate sat on the corner of his desk, but claiming the need to return it seemed a little desperate.
"I'm afraid I have to insist, sir." From some unknown place the normally timid man had found courage and nerves of steel. He did not leave, but instead closed the library door, leaving them alone.
"Make it quick." His guts churned, half expecting that Hopper was moments away from declaring his intentions towards Belle and asking leave for a wartime wedding. The girl was, after all, in his care. She also hadn't mentioned their shared kiss when she spoken of friendship, except to use it as a reason they should call each other by name. He had no reason to believe things had changed between the medic and his maid.
"You are my commanding officer, and for that alone you would have my respect, but I've watched you for almost a year now, sir, and can honestly say you are a good soldier and a good man." Though it was almost the end of the day Hopper hadn't abandoned the formality of his uniform jacket as some of the others had. Only his hat was missing.
"Get to the damn point, Hopper." He had little patience for flattery even on the best of days. He hadn't had a 'best' day in weeks. Or months.
"You have to do something about Miss Belle."
"Pardon?" He had to do something? Wasn't that Hopper's job?
"She's been quieter than usual. Listless. I thought perhaps she was coming down with something, but it's been a week now and nothing's changed. I think she's upset."
"You're the one that has her confidence. You talk to her." The image of them embracing almost two weeks ago had been supplanted by other images. Them sitting on the settee together, brunette and ginger heads bent ove the same book. Them walking in the yard together, laughing. Him, holding her arm gently as he examined her skin after she'd burned herself again. They were always together when he was trying not to look.
"She's better at listening to other people's problems than she is confiding her own, but I know she respects you." Hopper looked down at his feet, silence beginning to thicken in the room. It was at least a full moment before he spoke again. "Perhaps I'm out of line, but..."
"Speak your piece, whatever it is, so we can both get on with our evening." He all but growled, guilt making him even pricklier than usual. He'd been trying so hard to avoid her that he hadn't seen her, but now he remembered the shadows under her eyes and her claim that she was both tired and restless.
"I think she has feelings for you, Captain. She hasn't said anything, and I wouldn't break her confidence if she had, but I've watched her. I've listened to her when she talks about you." There was pure sincerity in the medic's voice. It confused Gold. Why would a man who had Belle's affections be willing to give them up so easily?
"If there's anyone here she cares about in that way it's you, Hopper." Was the man really that blind? If the two were near each other her hand was on his shoulder, or her arm looped through his. They had a comfortable familiarity with each other that Gold had never had with even his wife.
"Me?" His mouth fell open and he blinked in a way that made him suddenly resemble an owl. "You think that Miss Belle and I... No, sir. Never. My feelings for her are like those I might have for a younger sister."
"She's a beautiful woman." Stunning. Also kind and brilliant and not easily cowed.
"I'm sure she is, but..." It was almost as if he'd frozen mid sentence, ot his tongue had become glued to the roof of his mouth. He suddenly just stopped talking.
"Hopper," Gold snapped.
"Can I speak with you as a man and not my commander, sir?" He'd been standing the whole time, but now he sunk into the chair on the other side of the desk. He didn't quite meet his commander's eyes.
"You can, if that's what you need." What he needed was a drink, but he fought the temptation to pour them both a glass.
"I have someone waiting for me at home. Belle's the only one who knows, the only person I can talk to." His fingers played with the side of his neck, and Gold remembered occasionally seeing a leather cord there. A memento, perhaps?
"Many men have beaus back home." Unless the woman was married there didn't seem to be a reason for secrecy, and Hopper was the last person he could see stepping out with a married woman.
"It's more complicated than that." His' voice was so soft that Gold had to strain to hear it.
"Things between men and women usually are," Gold muttered.
"Men and men, sir." Archie pulled together all of his confidence and looked at Gold. There was fear in his eyes, but something else too. Determination, perhaps.
"Pardon?" Perhaps he'd fallen asleep at his desk after eating his sandwich, because none of this made any sense.
"My friend, the one that Belle knows about, waiting for me at home... his name is Gep." Hopper had lost all the color from his face.
Gold didn't have the first idea what to say. Hopper seemed so normal, if a little quieter than most men.
"I know what I'm risking, telling you, but Miss Belle has been supportive of me and I can't do less for her. She deserves every happiness."
"Then she hardly deserves me." It wasn't a confession be meant to make, but Holler had him rattled. He didn't know what had thrown him more, that his medic was in love with a man or that he wasn't in love with Belle.
"The heart wants what it wants, sir. I know that better than most." Hopper got up, legs visibly trembling. "I should go, if I'm allowed.
"Stay." It came out as more of an order than he meant, and he fought to soften his voice. "I think we could both us a drink before bed."
"Thank you, sir. I would appreciate it." Hopper slid back into his chair, watching as Gold poured the drinks. Though not another word was said on the subject the drink was something of a bargin made, both men promising to keep the other's secrets.
He found her in the garden the next morning, watering the herbs near the kitchen door. She looked tired still, despite a night's rest. Was he really the cause of such a thing?
"Belle." He spoke her name for the first time, an olive branch in return of the one she'd offered the night before.
There was surprise in her expression when she turned, but a smile as well. "Rumford."
"I was going to take a walk, to stretch my legs a bit. Would you care to join me?" It wasn't a declaration of love, something he still doubted the wisdom of, but it was the start of something.
"I'd love to." She left the watering can in the garden, and when they were out of sight of the house she looped her arm through his.