A Garden For Keeps
Prompts: Foreman!Belle, green
Gold sometimes wondered just how hard it would have been to live with the tree half-way in his house. Surely it wouldn't have been half the trouble as it was to remove the thing and then repair the gaping hole of damage that was left. The casualties had been a screened in porch, mud room and a small portion of the kitchen.
It had taken almost six months to reconstruct the porch and mud room and two more months for the new interior to be painted, floor laid and new appliances to be installed. The only part that brought him joy in the whole process was a little clause in the town charter that stated any natural damage that was inflicted on a historical home, such as his, would be repaired on the town's dime.
Or rather, Regina's dime.
Eight months and it still wasn't behind him though. All the work and the workmen had demolished his backyard. Not that he had an award winning garden but it certainly looked better than the mud pit that
currently was there. However, he had a dilemma. There was only one place in town that handled landscaping and he was putting off that phone call for as long as possible. Game of Thorns was a business he stayed away from like the plague. But on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, his door bell rang and the phone call became unnecessary.
It was only the slightly ungodly hour of eight in the morning and he has just barely gotten out of bed. Thinking it only to be Regina, he shrugged into his robe, raked a hand through his hair and went to answer
the door. The less presentable he was, the faster she would leave. However, when he opened the door, it wasn't Regina on his doorstep.
"Belle." The name slipped out before he could stop it. She didn't seem to mind though and smiled brightly at him. Ever the morning person, his Belle.
"Isobel, actually." She pointed to the embroidered name underneath the "Game of Thorns" logo on her green polo shirt. "But considering that we've never properly met, I'm impressed, Mr. Gold."
He was impressed at her ability to keep a straight face while he tried to cinch up his robe. "You have my apologies; I was not expecting you this morning."
She frowned slightly. "The Mayor told me that she had called you and set up the time."
He forced a smile. "Must have slipped her mind."
"If you want, I can come back later."
Momentary panic seized him. If she left, she might not come back. "That won't be necessary if you won't mind giving me a few moments."
"Of course. I can look at your grounds and make some notes in the meantime."
"For the new layout of your garden."
God, he needed coffee. "Right, of course." He stepped aside and allowed her to enter the house.
After showing her how to navigate through the rooms to the back porch, he left her to her note book while he went to get dressed. He didn't take great care or a large amount of time to get dressed, the fear of
Belle leaving while he was still upstairs quickening his movements. He snatched up yesterday's trousers and a fresh dress shirt. He had heard of her release from the mental ward two months ago and had avoided the French home and business like a plague.
Belle had suffered enough by his hand and Regina was most likely watching very closely to gauge his reaction. If he ran to Belle, taking her back and lavishly showing his affection for her, Regina would know
he had remembered his old life. But her desperation to see if he was Mr. Gold, pawnbroker or Rumplestiltskin, Dark One had left a door of opportunity open for him.
Regina was the one that had sent Isobel French to his doorstep. He hadn't sought out the florist's daughter at all. If there were any remnants of Belle left, at least Mr. Gold and Isobel French had a shot of being together. Just seeing her alive and whole, unmarred by the horrors that Regina had told him Belle had suffered, was enough for him now. But perhaps this was the time to try to make amends for their past
life. This new start, this new chance to pursue things properly.
He was surprised when he returned to the kitchen to find a freshly brewed pot of coffee waiting for him. Belle, Isobel he corrected himself, was seated at the kitchen table with a sketchpad and full mug of coffee. There had been a time he could enter a room silently and just watch her without her knowing but the tap of the cane gave him away and she quickly shut the sketchbook.
"I hope you don't mind, I kind of made myself at home."
Mind? It was a dream come true for him. "Not at all. Thank you for making the coffee."
"Take it as my apology for showing up unexpected and early."
"You're not the one that needs to apologize for that, dear." He poured himself a cup of coffee and held onto it tightly to hide the tremble in his hands. She was here. She was alive. She was smiling at him. "Did you see everything you needed?"
She nodded. "Pretty much. It's a mess out there though."
He sat down next to her at the table. "Indeed."
"But the good news is," she brightened considerably, "you basically have a clean palate out there. The excavation is already done and we can do just about anything you want."
He was about to tell her he didn't need or want anything fancy but then realized the simpler he made the job, the quicker she would be out of his life. But he didn't want a botanical masterpiece to take care of outside either. "You're the professional, you tell me what would look best out there."
She bit her lip briefly, as if she was going to say something but then decided against it. "It's really up to the client."
"Even when the client is giving you free reign?"
She absently laid a hand on her book. "I suppose I could come up with something and sketch it out for your approval."
"I may have to stop over a few more times, take measurements and make sure the layout is correct."
He tried to temper his joy at hearing that. "That's fine too. I promise to be more presentable when you stop by."
She smiled and held out her hand. "So we have a deal?"
He gladly slipped his hand into hers. "We do."
Gold wondered how long it would take Regina to seek him out after his encounter with Belle. Apparently Monday morning, one hour after he opened, was the end of her patience. But he was ready for her and knew how to play this game. Putting on his most amiable grin, he stepped out of the back of the shop to greet her.
"Ah, Madame Mayor, what a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe this visit?"
Regina smiled smoothly. "I actually came to apologize for a slight oversight my office made. "
Gold gave her an overly shocked look. "An apology? Should I be recording this?"
The side of her mouth quirked in irritation. "My receptionist was supposed to call you about an appointment that was made with the French's to deal with the cosmetic clean up from the work on your
"Yes, I'm already aware of that oversight." Gold tinkered with the fountain pen that lying on the counter. "But no matter. It all worked out in the end."
"Good to hear. Moe French does lovely work so you should be back to normal in no time."
She was fishing. If he didn't correct her assumption, she would know he was protecting Belle. As much as it pained him to expose Belle like this, he had to for her safety. "Actually, it's going to be Moe French's daughter that is handling the landscaping."
"Really? I wasn't aware he was letting her go off on her own yet." Her face melted into a look of concern.
"Are you comfortable with letting her into your home?"
He shrugged. "I guess I'll just have to hide the kitchen knives for a while."
"If you're okay with that."
"I'll let you know if I'm not."
"Good." The concern was gone and she was back to wearing her mayor persona once more. "Then I will leave you to your business."
He couldn't help the smile that crossed his face when she left. The game was afoot again but this time Regina would not get her hands on Belle. He had made mistakes in the past, one of which was letting Belle go, but he never made the same mistake twice.
He shouldn't have been surprised to see Isobel sitting on the front steps of his house when he returned home that Monday evening. She was wearing a blue Games of Thorns polo and he tried not to look pained at
the sight of her in blue. She looked too much like Belle and he found he preferred the green shirt. He was able to rally himself though and forced a smile.
"Good evening, Miss French."
"Good evening, Mr. Gold." She stood up and tucked her sketchbook next to her side. "I realized I could have just gone around the back but I didn't want to startle you by seeing a stranger wandering around your back yard."
She was hardly a stranger but he couldn't tell her that. "Afraid of giving an old man a heart attack?"
"Hardly," she laughed, a familiar and mischievous glint in her eye. "I have a feeling you'll out live us all."
He unlocked the front door and stepped inside. "Too ornery to die, is that it?"
"Something like that." She followed him inside on quiet feet. "I wanted to get a look at the backyard in this light. I take it this is the time of day you normally return home?"
She opened her book to a blank page though he could see elaborate drawings on the pages she skipped. "Lighting is very important to the design. And evening lighting, with the proper floral placement, can give
a very romantic feel to the garden."
"I'm afraid any romantic feel you place out there will go wasted, dear."
Her head was bowed over the book and she was writing at a quick, brisk pace. "Maybe by having a romantic spot might bring some romance into your life."
"Apparently, you're unaware of my reputation."
She looked up from her book with a half grin. "Or perhaps I just don't believe everything I hear."
He watched her make her way through the house and out to the back yard with the same grace she had back in the Dark Castle. He had already fallen in love with her back then, he didn't think it was possible to
fall a second time.
For the next week, she came and went as she pleased from his house. He was coming back from the shop one particularly warm evening to find both Isobel and her father standing in the back yard. She had her sketchbook out and she was motioning to a section of mud. He made sure to make enough noise so they would hear him coming but it did nothing to prevent them from being startled. Isobel snapped the book shut and her father had a hand to his chest.
"Mr. French." He extended his hand to the florist. He would have to play nice to the man this time. Although, considering everything he put the former knight through, perhaps he didn't have to play. The man had wanted to protect his daughter from the monster in the western mountains but the monster had spirited her away regardless. He was a good father and that was something Gold could respect.
"Isobel said you wouldn't mind us being here."
"Of course not. You're both welcome to come and go as you please."
Isobel lightly tapped her father on the elbow in a "see, I told you so" manner. "Mr. Gold, I was wondering if you would let me do the garden myself."
Gold watched Moe French pale a little at his daughter's forwardness. "So you want to do the entire thing without any of my input then?"
"Only if you agree to it. If you're not comfortable-"
"No, I think that would be fine, Miss French."
She beamed at him. "Now, there's just one more thing that needs to be established. No peeking."
"You have my word."
"Wonderful. I'll just need to make a few more notes and I'll start first thing in the morning." She stepped away from her father and Gold and made a slow circle around the yard. Gold sat down on the porch steps and tried not to be too obvious in watching Belle.
Moe cleared his throat nervously. "Why are you letting her do this?"
Gold shrugged. "Why not? I've seen some of your work and it's impressive. I assume that some of that talent trickled down to her. Besides, I never cared much for gardening."
"But she's never done a project like this before. I'll supervise when I can but I can't promise you'll be pleased with it."
"I think you'll find it won't take much to please me when it comes to a back yard. She'll do fine."
Moe took the step below Gold. "No one else will let her unsupervised in their home or business. They're all scared silly of my girl. But not you."
Gold ran his thumb over the head of his cane. "I know what it's like to have a reputation dog your heels. I've made my own by choice but she hasn't. Her reputation was thrust upon her and if this helps dispel those shadows to the rest of the community, then I would be glad to be part of that."
"You don't believe she's crazy?"
"Not in the slightest."
"Then why was she locked up in a mental institution? Why didn't I know about it?"
Because Regina wanted to punish him, take away the only thing she knew that he truly cared about in life. It had nothing to do with Maurice or Moe French but everything to do with Rumplestiltskin. But those were all truths that he couldn't speak right now. "I don't know, Mr. French, but I suggest you continue to enjoy your time with your daughter. Enjoy every minute because there are parents who are wishing for just one more minute with their own children who are forever lost."
Moe was quiet for a moment as his daughter finished whatever she was doodling in her notebook. "You're a better man then you let on, Mr. Gold."
"Just don't tell anyone that or I'll raise your rent."
It took three weeks exactly for Isobel to complete whatever it was she was doing in the backyard. She had hung sheets of burlap over the screens of the porch and shuttered all the windows that would have given
him a view of her handiwork. She was there early in the morning and sometimes left after dark, dirt smudged and tired. He kept his promise and didn't peek to see what transformation was taking place though the thought of Belle being just on the other side of some flimsy material made his finger itch. She was his addiction in this world as she was in the previous one.
The sun was just starting to go down when Gold heard her call for him from the back porch. She was in her regular uniform of jeans and a green polo shirt, dusted with dirt and slightly sun burned. The ever present
sketch book was under her arm and her smile was wide.
"It's all done, I take it?"
"Mostly," she answered. "I just have a couple things to touch up tomorrow morning and then you can see it. If you'll be available tomorrow, that is."
"I am." So that was it. After tomorrow she would no longer be near him and he wasn't going to pass up this opportunity to eek out a few more minutes with her before she disappeared back into the background of
the town. "Would you like to come in for something to drink before you go?"
"I'm very dirty."
"You can leave your shoes here and use the sink in the mudroom if you're that concerned."
He left her to her own devices and hoped he had something to offer her other than water or scotch. Thankfully, there was lemonade shoved towards the back of the refrigerator and he hoped that would suffice. He poured a glass and set it on the kitchen table. By the time he had poured one for himself, she was padding into the kitchen on bare feet.
"Thank you," she sighed as she dropped down into the kitchen chair. "For everything."
"It's only lemonade, dear."
She gave him a smile that was so Belle he had a pain in his chest. "You know what I meant. Thank you for letting me do the garden. Thank you for being so nice to me."
He propped his chin in his hand and just stared at her. His time was limited so he was going to make the most of it. "And why wouldn't have I been?"
She frowned slightly. "You don't spend three years in a mental institute and come out the same as you went in. Everyone knows that something like that changes a person and they treat you according to the way it would change them."
"So how did it change you?"
"I like to think it made me stronger, made me braver."
He smiled. "It probably did just that. After all, you just survived over a month in the dragon's den and never even had your hair singed."
She wrinkled her nose. "You're not a dragon. You let other people think you are, but you're not." A small, sad smile graced her face. "I'm going to miss you."
He feigned surprise. "You're moving out of town?"
She gave him a curious look. "No."
"You're going to develop amnesia after you leave and forget where I live?"
She laughed. "Of course not. I wasn't sure if I'd be welcome after the job was done."
"Well, it seems a shame for you to do all that work and not enjoy any of it."
"I wouldn't want to enjoy it all by myself though."
"I'm sure I could arrange some company for you." He kept telling himself that this was their new start and he needed to be the brave one this time. She had been brave enough, now it was his turn. Slowly, he
extended his hand, palm up towards her. With a shy smile, she laid hers palm down and their fingers wove together.
"I'd like that."
Her cell phone started ringing, causing both of them to jump back from each other. Isobel laughed nervously as she pulled it from her jeans pocket and answered it. Gold stood up and gave her some privacy, hearing that it was father on the other end. Apparently she was running late for dinner and he was concerned. Gold couldn't blame him, the man had lost his child twice over, he was allowed to be easily alarmed. She hung up the phone with a grimace.
"I'm so sorry. I forgot I promised to meet my father for dinner at Granny's-"
Gold held up a hand. "Not a problem. I'll see you tomorrow morning."
"I won't be here at eight."
"I won't be in a bathrobe."
She laughed slightly, her nose wrinkling and she stepped out into the back porch, slipped her shoes back on and was gone. Gold rested a hand over his heart to soothe the pangs of having her happy at being close to him. Thankfully Regina had stayed away from them but that would change after tomorrow. When she realized that Isobel French and Mr. Gold were spending time together post landscaping project, her mood would escalate from suspicious to downright undermining. He wondered how he would go about explaining this to Isobel, why the Mayor wouldn't want to see him happy.
He reached for the glass that Isobel had left and noticed her sketchbook had been left behind. He never did well with curiosity, he had struggled with it for centuries and wasn't about to overcome it here in Storybrooke. Sitting down in her vacated chair, he opened up the cover to an elaborate rendition of a garden. Rose bushes in detail down to closed buds and full blooms. Flagstones where ridges were carefully etched into the paper. He flipped to the second page where a fountain dominated the picture. The stone was decorated with sea monsters and mermaids. The next page held a design for a trellis and bench under a weeping cherry tree with petals cascading around.
He flipped back and forth between the pictures. They looked familiar, eerily familiar. His fingers traced the fountain design and then he realized why they were familiar. She had drawn the gardens that were around the Dark Castle. And not only the gardens in general but in ever minute detail. She remembered...she remembered in even more detail than he did. But did she know she was drawing actual memories or did she think these places were dreams?
The door to the back porch opened and shut and Isobel was standing in the kitchen doorway once more. "I'm sorry, I forgot my book-"
The smile she had been wearing was slowly fading when she caught sight of the opened sketchbook. At first he was afraid she would yell at him for looking at the book that she had kept so well guarded but there was something else creeping across her face, lighting up her eyes. And he had seen that look before too, when she had shown up on his doorstep at eight in the morning. When he spoke her real name and she corrected him with her false one.
She knew the whole time.
Her eyes became overly bright, her bottom lip quivered slightly. When she spoke, it was the barest of whispers and trembling. "Let me tear down some curtains."
He followed her out onto the porch and watched as she tugged the burlap sheets down to reveal the backyard. He was surprised to see it was nothing like the drawings in her book. Everything was green: ornamental grasses, bushes and hedges decorated the area around the house. A large expanse of green grass ran right up to the wood's edge. There was a sound of running water and he had to step down onto the newly laid sod to find the little nook which held a large clay pot with water tumbling over the lip. It was a simple enchantment he had done back then that was now available through the means of pumps and electricity. There was a bench that curved gracefully around the fountain and the whole section was tucked neatly behind carefully trimmed hedges.
Belle had come to stand next to him and slipped her hand into his. "I remember you said this was your favorite garden, out of all them at the Dark Castle."
"Yes, yes it was." He could barely speak. Belle had been returned to him, whole.
"I wasn't sure if you remembered," she whispered and then laughed shortly. "You called me by name but then I walked into your home, made you coffee and you never even batted an eye. I thought for sure you didn't remember."
Of course, he should have paid attention to the little hints she had been dropping. She made a deal to do the design herself. The blue shirt she wore once and never wore again when he hid his reaction to it. She even commented on how he would outlive everyone in town. He released her hand only to brush the few tears off her cheek. "When did you get your memories back?"
"While I was in the hospital. I thought they were just dreams but then Regina released me to my father and I realized they weren't dreams." Her brow furrowed. "Why would Regina let me go?"
"She wanted to see if I remembered."
She ghosted her fingers over the plane of his cheekbone. "Even here we can't be together then, not without letting her know that we both remember."
"She doesn't have to know that Rumplestiltskin and Belle are walking around Storybrooke. After all, she is the one who sent Isobel French to Mr. Gold's door. But she'll still try to separate us."
Belle didn't look the slightest bit put off by that fact. "Let her try. I'm ready for her this time."
He couldn't help the smile that broke across his face. "That's my Belle."
She was the one that kissed him first in the other world but this was their second chance and he was determined that things were going to be different this time. He leaned forward and captured her lips with his. Her arms curled around him as she pressed herself tight against his chest. It was a good start to their second chance.