A/N: No words. I have no words. I was devastated by last week's episode (WHO WASN'T?) and then I got to thinking. A dangerous past time, I know. I started to wonder what Belle's past would have been like if she'd been in Storybrooke all along. And two hours later... this. If the characters belonged to me, they would have been taken away long ago. But enjoy, because I have NO idea what this is, where it came from, or what the hell I'm going to do with it.
Isabelle was never the type of employee to be idle. She looked for things to do after she'd finished her assigned tasks, often finding things that Gold himself hadn't thought about doing. He came in late one day to find the entire left half of the store had been arranged in a sort of order- musical instruments on the shelf, toys on the counter, jewelry (freshly polished) carefully lined up by size.
She had a smudge of dirt on her nose she hadn't seemed to have noticed yet, beaming up at him from where she was digging through a trunk of books. She looked quite pleased with herself, even when he said nothing, taking in the slightly disastrous state his floor was in.
"I got bored," she said, examining the back of an ancient looking novel.
"If this is what you do when bored, I'm rather interested in what you do in a productive mood."
She'd laughed. Properly laughed, like he'd told a joke, not made an idle comment as he'd intended. The sound startled him- not many people laughed in his presence, usually clamming up once he was in sight, money offered quickly to make him leave faster. Then again, Isabelle wasn't like most people. She'd walked straight up to him some time ago and asked for work.
Gold had nearly turned her away. Moe French owed a great deal of money- a sum that Isabelle didn't know the true figures of- and Gold hadn't wanted his daughter poking around Monday through Friday. But she'd proved herself a good worker, evident by the way the shop had been free of any hint of dust by her second day.
She never complained about the work (which was tedious), or the customers (who could go from desperate to murderous fast enough to cause whiplash), and she never asked for days off.
Even if she needed them.
"You can just turn yourself right around and go back home, dearie. You'll not be coming in here with a fever."
She blinked slowly. "I don't have a fever."
"Perhaps not now, but if you don't rest you'll certainly have one soon." His hand at her elbow, turning her around, steering her towards the door. "Out you go."
"Oh no, please." She turned, shaking off his hand only to grab it with hers. "I'm fine, really."
Gold prided himself on being able to read people. It's how he kept his pawn business going. Finding that memory, that desperation, that special something about an object that made in invaluable to someone. It was a special skill, one that not many people had. He used it day after day, person after person, and Isabelle standing before him, begging him to let her work when she was obviously ill, that screamed desperate.
"Please Mr. Gold. I won't deal with customers today if you don't want me to, but please, please, don't send me home." She looked like every other customer, brows drawn together, eyes pained, but she wasn't a customer, she was Isabelle, and she was squeezing his hand.
"Something I should know about?" He kept his voice low despite the lack of customers and though his face was usually closed off, guarded from everyone, he felt the muscles relax, hoping she would be able to trust him.
"No, it's nothing, I just... I really need to work today."
Any other worker, especially one as young as her, would have run out the door the second they were told they had a Friday off. Yet there she stood, her hand over his.
"If I don't work today we won't make rent," she blurted, face pained. She dropped her gaze, bottom lip disappearing between her teeth. "I did the budget last night. We were sent a bad batch of roses and had to wait for more, so we didn't sell as much this month, but with my check we'll just make it..." she trailed off, face flaming.
Isabelle had worked for Mr. Gold long enough to hear the excuses people trotted out to try and get an extra week or two on rent, to get a bigger loan, but none of it ever worked. She supposed that's why his books were always immaculate- minus the time he'd misplaced a page of due dates and she'd spent the afternoon crawling on the floor to check under things for it (they'd eventually found it in the cash drawer hours later, Isabelle barking a triumphant 'ha!' when she pulled it out).
She wasn't stupid. She knew her father owed Gold more than he was telling her. Moe, bless him, couldn't hold onto cash to save his life and every month Isabelle had a minor panic attack when she did the figures. They were usually able to scrape by, but this time it was going to be tight. Literally every penny was being pinched and if Gold sent her home, they wouldn't make it.
And, as he told every person who ever offered him an excuse, he didn't give extensions.
"If you don't rest now, you'll miss more work later," Gold pointed out. The shop closed at two on Saturdays and didn't open at all on Sundays, but if Isabelle was already feeling unwell, she'd need the entire weekend to rest if she stood any chance of getting to work on Monday.
She looked ready to protest, but turned to cough violently, her body rattling, and Gold's mind was made up. He snatched his keys off the counter, flipping the sign to closed as he passed, and all but dragged her outside. It was a miserable day, cold and raining, the wind howling, biting through clothing with glee.
He used his cane to point at his car. "In you go." At her look, he sighed. "You're not walking home in this. In."
He was fairly certain she only obeyed because he was her boss, but she got into the car, shoulders slumped in defeat, head resting against the window. She didn't try to plead with him any further, or ask for an extension, just promised to be in the next day if she was feeling up to it, offering to stay late to make up for leaving early.
Gold waved it away. "Rest," he ordered as her father came down the walkway. "I can manage well enough without you."
"Thank you, Mr. Gold," Isabelle called over the weather. "For the ride."
He got all the way back to the shop before he realized the odd little half smile he'd given her was still on his lips.
By the next day, Isabelle had a fever, cough, headache, and a chill that permeated through three blankets and her warmest pajamas. She slept right through her alarm, lunch, nearly through dinner, and was back in bed before Moe got home. Sunday found her sweating the fever out, and Moe wasn't allowed in for fear that he'd catch it too.
Despite the virus, Isabelle fretted. She'd missed two days of work now, and by the looks of it she was going to miss another. She got paid Monday, but rent was due Tuesday and unless someone forgot an anniversary and bought about an acre of flowers with cash, they were going to be nearly one hundred dollars short.
Monday arrived, and though she was feeling a bit better, the fever lingered, and, defeated, Isabelle called in sick.
"I'm so sorry," she moaned. Sitting up made her dizzy, so she burrowed back under the covers, taking the phone with her.
"It's no matter," Gold assured her. "Feel better soon, the shop's looking a little dusty."
That got a laugh out of her even though she knew tomorrow he wouldn't be as forgiving.
Moe swung by the shop to get her check on his lunch, dropping it off for her to sign so they could get most of the money gathered at least. There had been a small spike in sales that day, but not nearly enough to cover what they needed, and oh, the light bill was due next week.
Isabelle tore open the envelope, paused, and blinked hard. "This can't be right."
"It... it's too much." She whipped around too fast, managing to grab her phone out of blind luck more than anything, dialing the shop dizzily. Moe snatched her check out of the air before it could flutter to the floor. She grabbed it back, reading the amount again.
"Gold's Pawn Shop."
"Mr. Gold, I think there's been a mistake."
"Oh?" He sounded interested, but not overly concerned.
"Yes, I just got my check. It's far too much." One good thing about steady working hours is Isabelle always knew exactly how much her check was going to be. It made budgeting easier, but also made it final- there was no chance for wiggle room.
"Ah," understanding filtered through the line and she could practically see his smirk. "Actually, Miss French, the amount is quite accurate. You got a raise."
"A raise?" Isabelle echoed in disbelief. Moe's eyes widened in shock.
"After two days of running the shop by myself while running around town, collecting rent, answering the phone, and fetching my own lunch while dealing with customers, I came to the realization that I do not pay you nearly enough. Now if that's all, I really must be getting back to business. Someone left the books strewn about in the back room."
The dial tone sounded in her ear. Isabelle actually pulled the phone away to stare at it blankly for a minute before hanging up.
They didn't speak of it again, and Isabelle's only thank you came in the form of freshly baked gingersnaps (Gold's favorite), but they never forgot.
Christmas rolled around far too early for her liking. Her father tended to overspend on the best of days and Christmas sent any hopes of a budget down the drain. But this year, with Gold giving her raises every six months (most people gave twenty five cent raises, he gave two dollars or more), they were able to afford modest sized gifts for each other, their friends, and even a decent Christmas dinner. As long as they stuck to the budget, they'd be fine.
Isabelle was good with money. She had been her entire life. Her father was not, and she actually had to hide his credit card so he'd use cash, so he'd actually see the money he was spending. He still went over budget, but Isabelle's cookies were legendary and anyone getting a gift from her had requested a batch.
Christmas Eve fell on a Friday, and Isabelle had to work, which suited her just fine. She baked Gold three dozen gingersnaps, boxing them up fresh from the oven to take into work. One batch for Christmas, one batch for the absolutely insane Christmas bonus he'd given her, and another batch... the other batch was just because.
He'd all but pounced on them when she presented the box to him.
"I've tried dozens of different gingersnap cookies, Miss French, but yours are truly a delight." He bit into one with gusto. "How do you make them taste so good?"
"Magic," Isabelle told him.
Gold nodded, reaching for another. "I think you might."
By noon, the shop was quiet, no customers in sight. Any last minute shoppers had been put off by the snow. It had fallen softly, but steadily, and would easily come up to Isabelle's calf if it didn't stop soon.
"White Christmas," Gold observed. Isabelle made a face. "Don't like the snow, Miss French?"
"I like the idea of it, and it's certainly pretty enough, but it's too cold and wet for me to really enjoy it. Not to mention now that I'm grown I worry about heating bills and black ice instead of snowmen."
"Yes, growing up does tend to take most of the magic out of the world."
Isabelle grinned cheekily. "Except for my cookies."
"Except for your cookies," he agreed. "Oh yes, that reminds me." He came around the counter to stand beside her, a grin twitching at his lips. "There is the matter of your gift."
"Gift?" She seemed genuinely surprised- and delighted.
"It is Christmas."
Isabelle smiled wide, eyes sparkling. "What is it?"
"That," he said grandly, "is up to you. Pick anything from the floor that catches your eye."
"Anything?" Her eyes widened. "Really?"
"Yes, yes, go ahead."
She made a bee line for the books like he'd expected her to, selecting a rather worn, but still good, copy of Moby Dick. Gold wasn't surprised. She was a fan of the classics- Jane Austen and the like.
"'Call me Ishmael'..."
"Very well Ishmael," she smirked, clutching the book tightly to her chest. He wondered when she would realize that the copy she held was a restored first edition. He'd taken it out of the locked case in the back, put it on the bookcase up front for her to see. "But only if you stop calling me Miss French."
The request took him off guard. She'd worked for him for a good year now, rarely- if ever- asked anything of him. "I've always called you Miss French."
"Yes," she agreed. "You have. But you just gave me a first edition of one of my favorite books." He grinned, caught (it was worth thousands but she didn't seem to care). "I think we've reached the point where Isabelle is acceptable. Or Iz, or Izzy."
Her friends called her Izzy. Her father called her Iz. But they weren't quite friends, and he certainly wasn't her father. Isabelle seemed to be thinking along the same lines, her nose scrunched up in thought. He couldn't quite get Isabelle past his lips, it seemed only half right, and Izzy wasn't right at all.
"How about a new name?" he proposed. "One for me to call you on special occasions."
"What kind of special occasions?" she asked, leaning over the counter to look him in the eye.
He hadn't gotten that far yet. "I'm not entirely sure," he admitted, tapping his finger on his chin. "How about this- I will call you Isabelle on special occasions, should we have any."
"And the rest of the time?"
"The rest of the time I shall call you..." It came without conscious thought, like he'd been waiting for this moment his entire life, the name slipping off his tongue before his brain could catch up. "Belle."
She stuck her hand out, striking the deal and they shook on it, his hand lingering for the briefest moment on hers. "Merry Christmas, Belle."
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Gold."
Eventually, Isabelle was making enough to consider moving out of her father's house. Part of her didn't want to- her father would surely fall behind on rent and loan payments without her to distribute the money- but she was nearly twenty now, and she wanted that freedom. She'd found a small studio apartment, rent controlled, not too far from her house, but not too close either.
If she was very careful, she would be able to afford it within a few months, provided no one else had their eye on it. Excited, she'd confessed her idea to Mr. Gold one day when it was slow.
"My, my, my, off to taste freedom are we? Up at all hours of the night, wild parties... boys," he said with a quirk of his eyebrow.
She'd nudged his foot with hers, not quite a kick, but not a gentle probe either. "Yes, I'll invite Grayson over to read with me," she said with a snicker.
"Boyfriend?" he asked, face neutral.
"Ex," she said, hopping onto the counter to sit. "Hopeful, but still ex."
Gold raised a brow at her. "Your hope or his? And yes, I'm prying."
She laughed. "I don't mind. His." She sighed, told him of her typical high school romance. It would have been alright she supposed, but he'd wanted to marry right out of high school, for her to be a stay at home mom, and that just wasn't her. "So I broke it off, got a job instead."
"I see. And I suppose your boss doesn't allow for such frivolous things like boyfriends?"
Isabelle couldn't quite keep her face straight. "Oh no," she agreed. "He's appalled by anything resembling a social life. I'm convinced he goes home every night to some dark cave, sleeps in a coffin to avoid interacting with anyone."
"Sounds like a sensible thing to me."
Isabelle put a finger to her jaw, the picture of innocent thought. "I hear the mayor does the same thing. Perhaps they should do it together."
The horrified look he threw her was enough to keep her giggling for the rest of the day.
Curiosity got the better of her, and finally she asked him.
"What's your first name?"
He wasn't in the best mood, collecting from the nuns always left him growling at everyone, and didn't look up from his logs. "What?"
"Your first name. I'm assuming you have one." She rested a hip on the counter, watching as he signed receipts. R. Gold. Always 'R'. Nothing more. She waited until he stopped writing before reaching over, plucking the pen from his hand.
"I need that," he told her.
She held it out of reach. "For...?"
"For signing my name," he ground out, trying his best to glare at her. But, like always, Isabelle just grinned at him, unaffected.
"Belle, I really need to finish this."
"Be hard to do that without your pen, Mr. Gold." She danced around the counter, tripping over the one raised floorboard like she always did, even though she knew it was there, but managing to avoid him all the same.
"I'll get another," he threatened, even as he tried to grab the one she had out of her hands.
Isabelle felt her back hit the shelf and stopped, tucking the pen behind her. Gold paused, then dove after it quickly, like a snake striking, just barely missing, Isabelle just jerking it away in time. She turned, her nose brushing his, laughing at his unamused look. He was too much fun to tease. He acted like he was angry, but his eyes shone, his mouth twitched, and Isabelle knew he wasn't really.
"Name," she said, holding the pen out as far as she could, gripping his wrist with her free hand, his arm pulled across her stomach, her hip brushing his. They were nose to nose, eye to eye, and Isabelle was glad she'd worn heels that day, otherwise she'd be looking up at him.
He sighed, his breath warm across her lips. With a shake of his head that had his nose brushing ever so slightly against hers, he relented. "Richard. Richard Simon Gold." His fingers wiggled expectantly. "Pen."
"Very well, Richard Simon Gold." She presented him with the pen. "Here is your beloved pen. Go on, go sign your name away."
She knew that smile, knew what it meant, but shock still flooded her. "Thank you, Isabelle Verna French." Oh, he was so damn smug and she was so going to kill him.
"Who told you my middle name?" she demanded, stomping up to the counter, wobbling on the raised floorboard.
Gold smiled, gold tooth flashing, and went back to the logs.
Slowly, they went from Mr. Gold and Miss French to Richard and Belle, and the town noticed. They noticed him driving her to and from work when the weather was bad. They noticed her buying tea with her coffee in the mornings. They noticed Gold smiling, Izzy laughing, and they didn't know what to make of it. Mary Margaret had deemed it no one's business but hers and Gold's, but had demanded details, citing best friend rights.
"Come on, I have to live vicariously through someone," she said over lunch one Sunday. "Spill."
Izzy picked at her salad, uncomfortable even though it was just Mary Margaret. "And if I say there's nothing to spill?"
"I call you a liar," her best friend said cheerfully. "Now, I spend my days in a classroom, teaching to learn, or learning to teach, or whatever. But I spend my days with ten year olds. Please, give me a scandal that doesn't involve candy."
Startled, Izzy glanced up sharply. "Scandal? They're saying it's a scandal?"
Mary Margaret's grin got wide enough to scare Izzy. "So there is something...?"
"No," Izzy insisted quickly. Mary Margaret stared her down, eyes carefully innocent and Izzy couldn't keep her gaze. She squirmed. "Don't-"
"Izzy," Mary Margaret was suddenly serious, her voice low. "If you like him, you can tell me. You don't have to be ashamed of it."
"I'm not ashamed of it- well I am- he's- and I'm-" She quieted, staring solemnly out the window.
"What? He's what?"
"He's... There are so many different sides to him. I don't think I'll ever get to see them all. He collects rent religiously and has rules made of iron, but he likes gingersnaps and lemon in his tea. And he would play with the children if their parents would let them- he always smiles at them so warmly when he sees them, and, god, he's so generous, you just have to earn it, but he gives you so much more than you thought you earned, and I'm so young and I've got to be boring in comparison, but we find things to talk about. Every day we talk about so much, it's unreal. And he's funny and he doesn't realize it and that makes it even better. When he laughs, it's genuine, and he's always interested, actually interested, in what I have to say."
Izzy stared hard into her tea (Richard had persuaded her to try it and now she couldn't stop drinking it). She'd started, and now she couldn't stop the flow of words, shocked at just how much she'd been hiding, what she'd been trying to deny to herself.
"He gives me books and lets me read when it's slow. He always appears when it starts to rain, or it's cold, I never ask him, he just shows up so I don't have to walk. He likes classical music and can play the piano and he's trying to teach me but I'm dreadful at it." She gave a laugh that sounded a little watery. "He thinks my cookies are magic and he's always so happy when I bring some in, his whole face lights up, you should see it."
Mary Margaret fell back against the booth, eyes wide. "Oh, you've got it bad."
It was true, no point in denying it now. Izzy let her head fall onto the table with enough force that the dishes rattled. "I know," she moaned. "What I don't know is what to do about it."
"Well," a new voice purred, jerking Izzy upright. "You could always jump him."
"Ruby," Mary Margaret tried to scold, but her lips curved.
"What? He's a guy, right? And he's not that old, only like thirty." She slid in beside Izzy. "It's simple. Just pounce, grab, and pin. Trust me, works every time. The older guys love it."
Izzy dropped her head to the table again, and this time she left it there.
Her father was not as understanding, and not just because he was her father and no one was good enough for his Izzy.
"He's too old Iz," he announced, not even bothering to pretend he hadn't noticed her dreamy expressions, the way she waited at the door on rainy days for his car to pull up, how she'd been staying later at the shop until she barely made it home before dark.
Izzy threw him a confused look- they'd just been talking about what to have for dinner, but it only took her a minute to know what he meant. The town was already talking about it, speculating. Izzy had been labeled a Gold Digger, and she had to wonder if the pun was intentional.
"Seriously? That's the argument you're going to go with?"
A little stunned at her lack of... anything (though she'd never really been the dramatic type), Moe barreled on. "He's in his thirties Iz. You're not even twenty-"
"Nothing is happening between Richard and me."
"You call him Richard!"
"He calls me Belle," Iz pointed out. "I asked him not to call me Miss French and then I asked him his name. I can't ask him to use my name and then not use his."
"He's your boss-"
"Dad." And then her tone was sharp and Moe knew better than to speak. Iz began counting off on her fingers, eyes steely. "He's my friend, I'll call him what I like. It's not really anyone's business but ours. Nothing has happened, and probably nothing will. Don't even start with the age thing- he's twelve years older than me and you were ten years older than Mom. And I'll be twenty in two days."
Moe gave her a knowing look. "You've been prepping those arguments for a reason, Iz."
Iz flinched a little. "Dad, I'm nineteen. It's normal for me to have... a crush. Unrequited love and all that." Her cheeks flamed in spite of her calm tone. She fought the urge to squirm under her father's stare. He was just worried about her, she knew that, but it wasn't really his concern. She'd had crushes before, and he'd dealt with the aftermath when they hadn't worked out (there was already a cartoon of coffee ice cream in the freezer, waiting).
Moe didn't say any more on the matter, just watched how her face lit up when Gold's car stopped outside. He sometimes came by on good days too to see if she wanted a lift, dropping by to spare her the Maine weather.
Izzy waved from the passenger seat and he lifted his hand weakly. Neither of them could see it, at least not yet.
He wouldn't have said anything if he thought it was unrequited.
"Anything you want," Richard said with a grand sweep of his arm.
"Anything at all?" Izzy asked, bouncing on her toes.
Richard flashed her his gold tooth. "It's not every day a woman turns twenty."
"You said that about turning nineteen."
"Because it's true." He chuckled, nudging her forward with his shoulder, towards the bookcase. "Anything in the store is yours. Just name it."
He'd gotten some nice books in the other day, and had taken great care to hide them from her. The last time she handled a book delivery, she'd opened one to read and had gotten lost to the world for a good two hours before he found her, sitting on the floor, nearly finished with one book, already reaching for another. He'd made a quip about her getting paid to work, not read, but he let her finish.
A wonderfully old copy of Pride and Prejudice had found its way into the shop, her absolute favorite. It wasn't first edition, but it was old enough to be worth something, though she wouldn't care the value, so long as it was hers (her copy had unfortunately met with a puddle the last time she'd tripped on the sidewalk and she'd yet to replace it).
Izzy wandered over to the bookcase, eyes scanning the spines, but not really seeing them.
He did this every year. On her birthday, on Christmas, even on Valentine's Day due to the surprise rush they'd had, men looking for jewelry that wasn't a ring, or something sentimental. They'd stayed far past closing straightening everything up, and he'd handed over a simple gold necklace she'd admired all day, trying, and failing, to sell it (she'd yet to take it off).
She usually selected a book- or two if she couldn't decide- but this year, there was nothing she wanted, not even the copy of Pride and Prejudice he'd obviously put there for her. He tried to deny it, but he knew her well and managed to hide the classics from her until there was a reason to give a gift, leaving them out for her to find.
Nervousness curled in her stomach when she realized just what she wanted, fluttering around and then clenching only to flutter again, and suddenly Izzy knew why the saying was butterflies. It was like a thousand tiny wings inside her, all beating at once, completely at odds with her suddenly pounding heart.
He'd said anything.
Richard watched her take a step away from the bookcase, surprised. She walked along the jewelry case, fiddling with the necklace he'd given her. There was a matching bracelet, but it was broken and he hadn't gotten around to fixing it yet. But she kept walking, around the toys, past the silver, and finally coming to a stop beside him.
She didn't look nervous, just hopeful, and a tiny bit mischievous. "Name anything..." she said quietly, gaze directly on him.
Richard couldn't have moved if the shop was on fire. His breath caught in his lungs, his blood halting in his veins. Izzy took a small step forward, hands clasped behind her back, her bottom lip between her teeth.
"I name Richard..." She was so close now, he could feel every inch of her. "...Simon..." Her hand moved to rest over his, her fingers brushing the top of his cane. "...Gold..." Her face tilted up, nose brushing his like that day so long ago, the urge to kiss her returning, his willpower fleeing. "You. I want you."
"Be careful what you ask for," he murmured, closing the small distance left between them, his mouth sealing over hers before he could convince himself this was a bad idea- and surely it was, he was so much older, the town monster, but she was threading her fingers through his hair, his arm was winding around her shoulders, and it felt too damn right to be wrong.
Mary Margaret took one look at Izzy's glowing face, her wide grin, the bounce in her step and knew her gift, wrapped and waiting, was going to pale in comparison.
But she smiled.
A/N: Don't look at me, I don't know a thing.