Inspired by Jiodaxa's "Mr. Gold's Wife"–thank you for being too awesome.

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Anyone else would call him a stalker the way he was watching Belle–Bella French close up the flower shops, drinking in the way her fingers danced over the flowers that were to be part of the next day's sale. However, Mr. Gold could care less what anyone who caught him staring thought. All that mattered was that Belle was in his line of sight, slaving away in that hovel.

Gods he wanted to whisk her out of there right then and give her a life she more than deserved, not Regina's joke of one. He remembered everything now, thanks to that little bird's name. He remembered what he did, and what he didn't do.

"Mr. Gold" and "Bella French" and always been on difficult terms. Like everyone else in the cursed town, she was in debt to him. However, Bella's wit and quick thinking kept her and her father in the shadows of his good graces–though just barely enough for him to give them a break on a ridiculous rent. His counterpart also found Miss French "charming" and the two were able to keep a stable business agreement between them.

She was stepping out of the shop now. Gold took in a deep breath and stepped out of the car. It was his turn to be brave.

"Evening Miss French."

Bella jumped and gripped the keys to her chest protectively. "Oh!" she laughed nervously. "Mr. Gold you startled me. A little late for rent collecting isn't it?"

He shook his head and smiled lightly. Of course that was the reason she thought he was here; he had never given her another.

"Indeed it is, precisely why I'm here on other business means."

Her well-managed eyebrow arched in curiosity. "Oh. Then, what can I do for you?"

His fingers gripped and ungripped his cane. He had to be brave.

"I…" he cleared his throat. The air was suddenly icy enough to still his lungs. "If you're not too…"

Belle's counterpart inched forward. "Yes?" Was that hope in her eyes or was he just fooling himself?

"I…I can't bloody do this!" he turned away from her, humiliation and regret burning him alive.

Belle's bit her lip, wary of her landlord's odd behavior but determined to find the source of it . "Can't or won't?"

"Both." He growled. "I can't ask you because I know what the answer will be." He felt like he was talking to Belle again, to the girl who knew his faults and knew his cowardliness. It would be simpler that way, much simpler. But nothing was ever simple for him.

"Ask me what?" she pushed.

He was silent. If she laughed in his face or said 'no' he would never be able to recover.

Belle's counterpart shook her head, smiling gently. She had waited too long for this to let him give up. "There's a movie playing this Friday that I'd really like to see. It's based off a book written by L. Frank Baum. I hear it's going to be a good one."

Mr. Gold glanced back. She was serious? She wanted to go on a date with the man who owned her livelihood, who had hurt her in two worlds and had not so much as uttered an apology? "Are you...sure...Mrs. French?"

She nodded with a smile bright enough to break through the darkness. "I'll buy the popcorn."

He stared at the reincarnation of his Belle, so brave with her sure eyes, so willing to lay her sword down when the dragon had its teeth bared. Gold smiled. She was willing to give this an undeserved chance and merit it.

He extended his hand with a pleased smile. "It's a deal."

She gripped his hand but did not shake it. "It's a date." she corrected with a wide smile. "One I'm looking forward to."

After a moment she released him, a bit slowly he noticed. "Well, it's getting late…"

He snapped from his daze and nodded, taking on the pose of a man in charge. "Of course. Shall I drive you?"

"Oh no." Bella resisted politely. "It's just down the street, and it's such a lovely night for a walk."

He agreed. "Well then, until Friday then."

She nodded. "Until Friday." Her eyes didn't leave his until she reached the bottom of the concrete steps. She smiled at him as she walked down the street, a pep in her step.

It wasn't perfect, and it was much less than what she truly deserved. But this could be the start of something amazing. And then one day, when the curse was broken and Belle remembered everything, perhaps there would be nothing for her to forgive him for. Perhaps he could make up for all he'd done wrong at home and in Storybrook right now. Perhaps there was such thing as a happy ending for a monster like him.

Bella froze as he walked home, an unreachable itch clawing through her brain as a heavy weight suddenly lifted itself from her shoulders.

She glanced back to see Mr. Gold, the town demon, the infamous pawnbroker of hundreds of other trades strive merrily to his car. He was smiling; a rare occurrence in the sleepy little town. Bella smiled as well, a tear stinging the corner of her eye.

"Until Friday...Rumpelstiltskin."