Working vice in Storybrooke isn't the most glamourous of assignments, but after twenty years, Detective Gold's gotten into a routine that works nicely for him.
Most of his days are spent working on drugs and gambling, investigating the wannabe gangsters who've never made it out of the sleepy small town in Maine, but every few weeks he does a round-up of the girls who hang out on the corner down by the town line, out near the old abandoned library.
The other cops just leave them be, but Gold has never found that strategy particularly effective. Mostly it just gives the johns an excuse to beat up on the girls without any repercussions, so Gold likes to go down there a couple of times a month, make sure nothing too terrible's gone down.
Usually the girls scatter when he gets there, which he doesn't mind too much. If they're spry enough to dart down alleys they're generally not too far gone, he knows. When his car turns the corner, he sees half a dozen girls fade into the darkness of the alleys behind them, but one girl stays where she is, watching curiously as he makes his way slowly down the block.
Like all of the girls, she's too thin and too young, but he's never seen her out here before, and the mere fact that she's still there even as he pulls his cruiser to the curb means that she's new enough that the other girls must not have warned her about him.
Even as he gets out of the car, she doesn't move, just holds her ground as he makes his way slowly over to where she's standing. She tilts her head and looks at him appraisingly.
"You're Detective Gold, right?" she says. She's got a slight accent and she at least sounds a bit older than she looks, which is good because the last thing he wants to deal with today is some underage kid turning tricks on his beat.
He blinks, surprised. "I am."
"One of the other girls-Ruby-she told me about you," she tells him, watching him closely through startlingly blue eyes. "Said you're a hard case, always bringing them into the station even if they're not doing anything wrong."
He smirks. "Solicitation is a crime, dearie. That, by definition, makes it doing something wrong."
"Well, either way," she shrugs, like this little detail means nothing. "I figured that if you're as tough as they say, you'll haul me in eventually, so. Might as well get it over with sooner rather than later."
He smiles at that, a genuine smile. She's brave; he likes that.
She doesn't resist when he puts her in the backseat of the cruiser, and she even talks to him on the drive downtown, keeping up a steady stream of chatter, telling him her name is Belle and asking about the dog-eared copy of A Farewell to Arms that he's got tucked into the center console.
Gold spends much of the drive watching her in the rearview mirror, trying as hard as he can to figure her out.
Gold sits Belle on one of the benches in the booking area and heads behind the desk to see if she's got a file.
But before he can even start looking, Sheriff Swan appears beside him, glancing out at the holding bay, where Belle's gotten up and is talking to the officer at the desk, nodding to a pile of books stacked precariously on the counter next to his computer. They watch as the officer smiles and passes her one of the books, Belle taking it right back to the bench where Gold told her to wait for him.
"Is that Belle French?" Swan asks.
He nods, surprised. "You know her?"
"Vaguely," she says. "We went to school together for a while, but I haven't seen her in years. Where'd you pick her up?"
"Out by the town line," he tells her, and she nods in understanding. "You don't seem surprised, Sheriff."
She shakes her head. "She had problems at home, I think. Came to school with bruises, mostly kept to herself, from what I can remember. Her father used to be in here every couple of weeks, drunk and disorderly, domestics, stuff like that."
"I see," he says, feeling a surge of anger on Belle's behalf. "And where is Mr. French now?"
"No idea," Sheriff Swan shrugs. "Haven't had any calls about him in more than a year."
Gold nods, looking out at where Belle's waiting for him to decide what to do with her. She's reading one of the ratty paperbacks she managed to charm off the desk sergeant, chewing on her lower lip with a look of intense concentration. She really is the strangest girl.
"If you end up booking her, we'll probably need to call him to come pick her up," the sheriff says after a few seconds, watching him closely as he studies Belle.
He ends up letting her go, releasing her without pressing charges because Gold didn't actually see her doing anything other than loitering, and it's not like throwing her in jail is going to change anything.
He's been working vice for twenty years, he knows how these things go.
After that, he stops bothering to pick her up altogether, just makes a quick pass by her corner when he's working his beat, checking to make sure she's okay. Even when the other girls run, Belle stays where she is, waving at him easily when he drives past.
Sometimes he brings her a sandwich or a takeout container of soup, because she looks rather underfed, but she always rolls her eyes at him good naturedly as she takes the food from him, telling him that no matter what the other girls say, he's a soft sell.
Gold's reputation around town would seem to contradict that, but he figures one street kid who doesn't hate him won't completely destroy his image so he lets it go. And maybe he thinks it's all worth it when she smiles at him, her eyes bright and blue and dazzling.
The first week of December, a blizzard hits New England, but Gold makes his usual rounds, driving through the icy, deserted streets of Storybrooke, hoping like hell that even the criminals and lowlifes have enough sense to get out of the snow.
For the most part, they seem to, but when he gets out near the town line, he sees a lone figure standing in the corner in the snow, and it only takes him a moment to realize it's Belle.
She's huddled in the boarded up doorway of the library, her long brown hair hanging in tangled waves around her face. She's the only one out there, and she looks terrible, cold and hungry and completely underdressed. Her jeans are frayed and she's wearing what looks to be three sweaters layered on top of each other, all of them threadbare and clearly no protection against the cold. Gold pulls his car over, cursing softly to himself as he rolls down the passenger side window.
"You looking for a date, detective?" she calls when she sees him, the corner of her mouth quirked up in a wry smile even though she's shivering like crazy.
He grits his teeth and doesn't take the bait. "You have somewhere you can go tonight?" he asks evenly, hoping like hell he's not going to have to arrest her just to get her off the streets during a blizzard.
She shrugs, pulling at the fraying thread of her sleeve, but doesn't say anything.
"It's snowing," he tells her, as though the fact that she's practically freezing to death is lost on her.
"No shit," she says.
This close, he can see that her lips have started to turn blue, and her whole body is shaking. She's also got a horrible cough, one that wracks her whole body.
He gets out of the car and starts to guide her into the back seat, figuring that he can at least get her out of the cold by bringing her down to the station, but she begs him not to, saying that if he brings her in, they'll call her father and that can't happen.
He scrubs a hand over his face tiredly and looks around. The streets are empty, all of the sane people apparently having the good sense to get inside when there's a fucking blizzard going on. He shuts the back door and opens the front passenger side, gesturing her to get inside.
She just looks at him, shivering violently but apparently willing to risk dying of exposure rather than a night in a holding cell.
"I'm not arresting you, dearie," he says. "But you do need to get out of the cold."
She blinks at him and he sighs, putting his hand on her back and giving her a gentle nudge in the direction of the car. Jesus, she's thin, just skin and bones beneath her sweaters.
She gets in the car, and then he gets in the car, and then they just sit there for a few seconds in silence. She's got her hands up right next to the vents, warming them in the heat, and Gold can't help but notice again how slight she is, like there's barely anything to her.
He's not quite sure what to do next, so he ends up bringing her to Granny's, which by some miracle is open despite the storm.
They get some soup, which Belle polishes off in about five seconds, so he goes ahead and orders a couple of hamburgers and some fries. She eats quickly, like she's starving, and from the looks of her she very well may be, so he ends up leaving most of his fries for her, pushing them onto her plate once hers are gone. Belle accepts them with a sideways smile, and Gold ends up just watching her as drinks his tea. Her skin is very pale, and she's got an absurd amount of black makeup ringed around her eyes, but despite all of that, she's really quite lovely.
By the time she's finished and Gold pays the check, the storm has picked up, the snow falling even harder and the wind howling down the empty roads. Christ, it's a good thing he found her when he did.
"Now what?" she says, huddling into the passenger seat and fiddling with the vents again. She's still coughing way more than she should be, but she's got some color back in her cheeks and she's not shivering quite so violently, which must be a good sign.
Ah, that is the question. The truth of it is, Gold has absolutely no idea. There's no way he can put her back on the street; she'd freeze to death, and that cough really is making him worried. But he can't bring her to the station either because he'd told her he wasn't arresting her, and if he's anything, Gold is a man of his word.
He's still just sitting there, mulling it over, when she reaches out suddenly and puts her hand over his. Her fingers are freezing but her skin is soft, and she's smiling at him sincerely.
"Thank you," she says, giving his hand a quick squeeze. She's looking right at him and, for some reason, all Gold can think about is how he's never seen eyes as blue as hers.
His heart seems to be beating incredibly loudly all of a sudden, and he takes a deep breath before waving his hand dismissively. "It's no matter," he shrugs, flustered. She's still holding his hand, and he forces himself to pull his hand back, looking away from her as he does. It's just, he's not used to being touched and his heart still feels like it's going way too fast.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can still see her smiling at him, but he just starts the car and points it in the direction of his apartment, trying not to think too much about what he's doing, taking care of her like she's a lost kitten and not a malnourished prostitute, a girl who he's got no earthly business bringing home with him.