Rating: T (a hard T. No sex but still a few sexy scenes so be warned)
Summary: Belle French was not one to shy away from a challenge but moving to Scotland was not nearly as challenging as her new co-worker, James Gold, proved to be. Lousy summary, I know.
Notes: As you may or, most likely, may not know I'm a huge fan of 'Remains of the Day' so I decided to write this AU based, very, very loosely, on it.
I love Downton Abbey so I went ahead and burrowed John Bates and Anna Smith. I don't own them, obviously.
Hope you guys enjoy it.
I OWN NOTHING.
The months went by and James Gold was amazed at how things changed so profoundly on such short time. To think that he was more than ready to hate that 'American girl' with all his might for even thinking of coming between him and his work and now… Well, now he just can't picture life without her. Looking at the beautiful scenery outside their office window – the bright green of the gardens, the light shining on the calm waters of the Loch – his mind tended to drift to Belle and to the time they spent together. She trusted him – only God knows why, he thought – and they found themselves talking for hours on end about pretty much anything: quiet talks about their pasts or their families, or passionate ones about books and movies and music. He treasured, especially, those times when they end up laughing together, and knowing that he was the one who made her laugh, he was the one who gave her this one perfect moment of pure happiness was enough to make his heart swell. He tried, very, very hard, to keep his heart in check, he told himself, time and again, that he was wrong for her. Too old, too damaged, too broken. But something inside of him, maybe just his wishful thinking, maybe a kind of deep rooted intuition, rebelled against that. A part of him, a vital, primal part of him knew that he could make her happy, that he was the one who truly loved her, the one who truly knew her, that this was True Love. There was no point in denying the truth, not anymore: he was in love with her. It was so much more than a mere infatuation, it was far greater that the need of sex. Although he wouldn't deny that that particular need was becoming more and more difficult to repress. During the day time it was easier, her mere presence was enough to calm his frayed nerves, but at night his mind runs loose. He started to have these hauntingly vivid dreams about her: she would appeared out of thin air, her naked, perfect skin glowing with an inner light, and she would walk slowly towards him, her round hips swaying, her sapphire eyes locked with his, looking like a lioness closing in on her prey, and he was unable to move, more aroused than he ever was in his life and scared to death at the same time. She would straddle him, riding him, giving him pleasure he never knew existed and, when she whispered in his ear 'I love you' he would reach his climax and wake up feeling hot, harder than ever before and needing her more than he needed air itself. But, when he had this particular dream, at least he knew he was dreaming. Sometimes they were so real that when he woke up he felt a moment of pure disorientation and, when he realized it was not real at all, he felt robbed. Desperation filled him and he was sure that this was as close as he would ever be of her, in his dreams. He was not used to these feelings, to the ups and downs of his emotions. Bottom line, he was not used to being in love.
"You look very absorbed. Something's wrong?" He was startled by the sound of Belle voice and, to his dismay, felt himself blushing at the train of thought he was having just know. Trying to pull himself together he turned away from the window and greeted her with a smile:
"Everything is fine Miss…"He paused when she raised one eyebrow at him – and thrilled at how she adopted his mannerisms even if she wasn't aware of it – and crossed her arms: "Everything is fine, Belle." He said, emphasizing her name. She has been trying for a while to get him to call her by her first name and he always refused. Not because he didn't want it but because he thought he would be easier to keep his distance if he used her last name. But she was relentless and finally he cave in. Belle, of course, took the liberty to star calling him 'James' and the sound of his name rolling of her tongue had the gift to make his blood boil and his heart beat wildly.
"That's better." She said, smiling warmly at him. He lived for these moments.
The day was almost over and the sun was starting to set. The warm orange glow that bathed the landscape gave it an almost surreal beauty. Now that Belle was in his life everything was beautiful and all the mundane things had a different value because she was there to share them with him. He was so at ease, so peaceful, that at first he didn't notice that Belle was talking again, asking him something:
"What was that dearie? My mind was drifting." He asked, forcing himself to the present.
"I said," she started, sounding amused, "that today I must leave a bit earlier because I have a date."
At first her words just didn't register in his mind. 'A date? Did she say a date?' He felt the very foundations of his word starting to crumble. Just a minute ago he was reliving all those wonderful moments they shared, nurturing the idea that maybe, just maybe, he had found True Love and Belle, oblivious to all this – of course she was oblivious. What were you thinking?! – was planning a date with some guy. James felt numb, cold. The life he dreamed of, all the plans he made, all the hopes he had were over, gone. Turned to dust. Somehow he managed to answer to Belle and, judging by her face when she left the office to get ready for her date, he was able to keep his distress to himself. He went to the window again, the perfect image of a man in absolute control: back straight, face blank, both hands settled firmly on the gold handle of his cane. But inside was a whole different matter. Inside he was dying. He felt a sharp pain on the left side of his chest and he realized he was experiencing, for the very first time, the agony of a broken heart.
Belle did notice something strange about James when she told him about the date. A kind of blankness, an emptiness in his expression. She sensed that he disapproved of her going out but she thought that after so many months of doing a very good job at co-managing Darlington Hall with him she deserved a small break for a few hours. What she did failed to notice was that she didn't specify that her date was Mary Margaret, her best friend that flew all the way from the States just to see her. But, to be completely honest, she didn't believe that James would care either way. She was absolutely sure that she was alone in her love. More, she was sure that if he was ever to find out about her feelings he would run for the hills in panic. So the possibility of James Gold being jealous of her was the last thing that would ever cross her mind. Later she would think that if these misunderstanding never took place things probably would've turn out so differently and, despite all the horrible things that happened, she wouldn't change a thing if she was given the chance.
The next day, James Gold's mood wasn't in the least improved. Quite the opposite, in fact. He spent a sleepless night, haunted by images of his Belle – because in his mind she was his – with that other guy. It was almost as if he could see her there: her eyes alight, her skin glowing, her smile – that very smile that made his head spin – radiant. But she was not looking his way, she was not smiling at him, she as not laughing with him and the very thought was destroying him. He tried to numb the pain with whiskey but it only made him more feel more sentimental and he had to stop when he felt the tears welling in his eyes. He would not cry, he would not! So instead he paced his cottage like a caged lion, his knee hurting like hell but he relish in the pain. It was so much better, so much easier to deal than that crushing, burning ache he felt in his chest whenever his mind drifted to Belle. He hated this feeling, this weakness. It made him want to smash things with his bloody cane: perhaps the face of that other guy. Yes, that would be very satisfactory indeed. But since that was impossible he decided to crunch his coffee table into smithereens. It eased his pain somewhat, but not enough, not nearly enough. Unfortunately, the smashing seemed to drain the last of his energy so, instead of pacing, he fell onto his couch, trembling. The sensation that his world was falling apart come back stronger than ever. All he could think was that for months all he wanted, all dreamt about was Belle and, even though he knew that having her was pretty much impossible he never considered, not even for a second, the possibility of losing her completely, losing her company, her presence, her friendship. But this date – he couldn't even think of that word without sneering – ruined all, destroyed everything, because now he saw how things could've been, how his life could've been and he was not sure he could just go back and pretend like nothing had happened. Belle was not nothing: she was everything; the piece that was missing; the light, the goodness that he was allowed to see and feel and wish for. It all seemed extremely unfair. It felt like being given the ability to see after a lifetime of blindness and then taking his sight away. Belle was un-replaceable and the thought of building a new life without her felt like and impossibly sad perspective.
All this and more was running through his mind while he was sitting at his desk. He knew that any minute now Belle would be walking into the office and he dreaded that moment. He wasn't even sure what to say or how to react. He had half a mind to fall in his knees in front of her and beg her not to leave him. But he knew himself too well. He didn't know how to deal with all this so he would hide himself behind a façade of indifference, of coldness. At least he would be able to maintain a shred of dignity.
As if thinking of her was a summon, Belle arrived to the office they shared, looking beautiful as ever.
"Good morning James." She exclaimed, exuberant. Her blatant happiness was like a knife to his heart. His last hope, that the date has been awful, fell apart and so did he. "I had the most wonderful time yesterday. " And that was the final straw. All his intentions of aloofness and indifference went right out the window and he found himself saying, with all the spite he could muster:
"Miss French," he started, ignoring her shocked expression at the coldness in his voice and expression," apparently you forgot that this is a working place and I am in no mood to listen to your incessant chatting. I've been more that accommodating to your desire to bond but I had about enough of it. Keep your personal affairs to yourself and focus on the job you get paid to do. Are we clear?" At that point he was almost shouting, all his control long gone. Belle was staring at him, speechless, stunned and hurt. She managed to pull herself together and answered him, with a mixture of pain and defiance:
"Of course, Mister Gold, you can rest assured that you'll be spared of my, what did you call it?, 'incessant chatter'." Her voice was breaking but her expression was stony.
"Good." James managed, in a thin voice. Now that his outburst was over he regret it bitterly, but he was too proud to back off and apologize. He sensed that he managed to push her way more effectively that any date or any man ever could. But it was too late. The damage was done and a kind of masochistic impulse pushed him to add: "I have a lot of work to do," he said, moving to the door, "I suggest you do the same." And with that he left, almost stumbling across the hallway, half blind with unshed tears. It was over now, all over, and it was all his fault.
Whenever Belle thought about what James said earlier, she felt her eyes starting to burn. She just couldn't understand what had happened to him. She knew as well as everyone else in Darlington that he was sometimes cold, sometimes scary, but never cruel. Never. Until now. Just to remember how excited she was about her diner with Mary Margaret, how she was so looking forward to tell James all the details about it, she felt her heart break a little. She kept replaying his words in her mind, over and over. It hurt more than she cared to admit. It cut deeper. But Belle was nothing if not insightful, so she sensed that James' lashing out was about something she wasn't aware of. She would get to the bottom of it, even if she had to tie him to a chair, but not now, not today. She was still feeling very raw, shaken. She needed time alone to think things through. Belle knew that she could talk to Anna but she didn't want to concern her friend, not when she was so happy, dating John Bates. It wasn't fair to them and besides, her heart urged her to be alone, at least for a while. So, after making sure that everything was running smoothly in Darlington, she left, heading for the woods that surrounded the estate. That was one of Belle's favorite places, one of the most secluded spots in all the property. It was dark and silent and ancient and Belle loved to follow the not-so-well-kept trails, basking in the sense of isolation that those woods instilled in her. That was exactly what she needed, a few hours of peace and quiet. The air was a bit cooler under the shade of the tall trees and her steps were muffle by the undergrowth. The silence was so absolute and Belle was so absorbed by her own thoughts that when she heard the faint sound of voices she thought she had imagine it. It was very uncommon to find people in the woods but not unheard of so Belle went her way, unconcerned. Until she heard the scream. It made her flesh broke in goose bumps and she felt her all the hair in her body trying to stand up. It didn't sound like a scream of pain, rather like one of fright, but it was impossible to say for sure. Belle knew that she should go back and get help but she just couldn't let the person who screamed alone, helpless. Now she could hear voices, muted, someone pleading and crying, and a rougher voice telling her – Belle was sure that it was a woman who screamed – to be quite. Feeling the adrenaline rush through her, forcing her to action, she walked, slowly and silently, toward the source of the tumult. When she finally saw the authors of the voices she felt like someone kicked her in the stomach. Hard. She saw Mary Kent, silent tears streaming down her cheeks, her small frame racked by sobs and, casually draping one arm across her shoulders, Killian Jones.
"Look who came to join us, Mary. It's Miss French! How are you doing?" Killian exclaimed, with a kind of mad, terrifying cheerfulness. "Just the person I was expecting to see."
Belle froze in place, scared beyond anything she had ever felt before. Not for herself, not then anyway, but because she finally saw exactly what was dangling from Killian's hand, terribly close from Mary's exposed skin: a knife.
"Mr. Jones, your grievance is not with Mary. It's with me. Why don't you let her go?" Belle asked, speaking softly, trying to calm him.
"You do sound very reasonable, Belle." She hated the way her name sounded when said by him. "I do have a score to settle with you so, although I was hoping to have the chance to enjoy Mary's….company," at this he leaned forward to sniff Mary's hair, making her shy away from him whimpering, "I think I'll take you up on your offer." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Of course, I'll have to take you instead. I think it's a perfectly fair trade, don't you?" He asked, pressing at the same time the flat of the blade against Mary neck. That was more than Belle could take:
"I'll go with you just… just let her go, please."
"Mr. Gold, please, you got to help me!" Mary Kent wailed as she burst into his office. "Please, Mr. Gold, I don't know what to do." And she started to sob, repeating 'please, please, please' under her breath.
James Gold, who was wallowing in a pit of despair, was brought back to the here and now by the sheer distress the girl was displaying. He jumped to his feet and grabbed Mary Kent by her shoulders, supporting her and urging her to stop crying:
"Miss Kent," he started, trying to sooth her' "Miss Kent you need to stop crying and tell me what happened if you want me to help you."
That seemed to do the trick and the girl nodded, dried her tears and took a deep breath:
"It's Belle." She said, still quivering. "Killian Jones had her."
"What?" He muttered , almost unable to speak his mouth was so dry. His vision wavered and he had to put a hand on his desk for support. "What did you said?"
"Killian Jones. He grabbed me in the woods. I think he was trying to…." She trailed off, tears rising in her eyes and James nodded, showing that he understood what she was not saying. If Belle hadn't appeared, chances were Killian Jones was going to force himself on Mary. Now Belle was held by that monster and James felt a deep urgency rise in him.
"Where?" He asked, his voice hard.
"He was going to take her to that old abandoned cabin in woods."
"I know where it is." It was actually quote close from his own cottage, only half a mile away. "Call the cops, send them there. I'm going to try to trade places with Belle."
"No! He said no cops!" She cried, afraid.
"Do as I say Miss Kent." He insisted, already halfway out the door. "Call them!" And he was off, walking as fast as he could, ignoring the pain and everyone around him. All he could think was that Belle was in danger and he would sooner die than to let harm come to her.
Looking back Belle realized it was probably bit naïve to believe that they got rid of Killian Jones for good. The thought of resisting crossed her mind, briefly, but she discarded it. The sight of that steel blade glistening gave her pause. There was nothing to do but following him to that abandoned cabinet and pray that Mary ignored his command to not call the police. Until then she was at this man mercy and, she had to admit it, she was scared.
The cabin was small and poorly-lit. It consisted in only one division and had only a single chair in terms of furniture. Killian waved with the knife, signaling that she should sit on the chair. He had some rope stashed somewhere and he tied her wrists to the arms of the chair and with the rest of the rope he looped it around her belly, tying her completely to the back of the chair. He was quiet throughout this whole affair, ignoring her attempts to engage conversation. She had never seen him like this. He was always talking and joking and being all-around annoying and intrusive. This silent, sullen man was dangerous in a way the old Killian Jones never was. When she was finally tied up to Jones' satisfaction he broke the silence:
"I would love nothing more than to teach you a lesson, right here, right now, but I'm a patient man and, unless I very much mistaken, any minute now your precious James Gold would arrive here." He grinned wolfishly at Belle, a mad light in his eyes. "And then, the real fun will start."
Belle never thought that she could be more afraid that she already was, but when Jones mention James' name, she knew just how terribly wrong she was. She felt cold all over, like her blood turned into ice cold water, freezing her from the inside out. She realized that he was probably right: Mary was so scared that she would not call the police. She would go straight to James and, despite the ugliness of earlier, she knew he would rush to this cabin to help her. And Killian James would be expecting him. She felt like screaming.
"Please, Mr. Jones, it's not too late to stop this madness." She pleaded, her mind racing, her voice wavering. She must convince him to leave before James arrives, otherwise a tragedy might happen. "I will not tell anyone you were here. You can leave and I swear I won't call the police. Please Mr. Jones." She knew it was a weak argument but it was the best she could do. She just couldn't think straight.
"Leave?" He exclaimed, almost laughing." Leave when I have you exactly where I wanted? Why should I do that? I have to tell you, Belle, I was only planning on having some fun with Mary just to teach you, James Gold, Anna Smith and John Bates a lesson, but it's so much funnier to play with you." He leaned close to her, his face inches from hers, the point of the knife pressing lightly on her face just below her left eye. "What do you think?" He asked her, softly, his head tilted to hers, as if he was telling her a secret. "Should I cut you when James Gold arrives? Carve a pretty little red line across your pretty little self-righteous face? That would surely bring the old man to his knees."
Belle closed her eyes and tried to pull herself as farther away from him as she could. She felt nauseated, terrified. Her time was running out and she couldn't see any way out. She was tied up to a chair, alone in a tiny cabin in the middle of the woods with a maniac carrying a knife. Thing seemed pretty desperate.
Suddenly the cabin door flung open and, outlined by the pale moonlight, standing there on the threshold, the silhouette of James Gold. Belle heart soared when she saw him and the thought that cross her mind was that she was not going to die without seeing him one last time. She felt a fresh surge of courage and the adrenaline that was flooding her pushed her into action. She was moving without even realizing it, her body moving seemingly on its own, trying to take advantage of the distraction caused by James' entrance. She pushed herself back, hard, and started to fall, still tied to her chair. Killian Jones was still standing close to her, looking at James. Belle took advantage of the momentum of her fall and stretching her leg as she fell, landed a perfect blow on the wrist of the hand that was holding the knife, making Killian James cry out in pain and surprise and his knife flew across the room. She landed squarely on her back and the impact was so strong that she lost all the air in her lungs.
Killian Jones, pray to the human condition, first grabbed his hurt wrist, then looked across the room at the fallen blade. When he finally looked toward James, all he saw was a blurred motion moments before the handle of James' can hit him flat across the jaw, sending him sprawling backward, hitting the wall and falling in a heap to the ground, unconscious but alive. James went straight to Belle, still fallen on her back tied to the chair, and fell on his knees next to her, biting down a cry of pain when his bad knee banged on the floor.
"Are you all right, dearie?" He asked, praying that she was safe.
"I'm fine. Where's Killian Jones?" She was trying to look everywhere at the same time but lying on the floor tied to a chair was not making her job easier.
"You don't have to worry about him now." He answered, already untying her wrists.
"What were you thinking, James Gold? You could've gotten hurt. He was planning on hurting you. You should've called the police." She was mad at him for risking his life like that. What if something had gone wrong? What if he had been hurt, or worse, killed?
"I asked Mary to call the cops." He said, nonchalantly. "Beside, did you honestly believe that I was going to let you alone on the hands of that man? I just needed to buy some time for the cops to arrive. But you…" He paused, looking at her with amazement. "You were incredible! My warrior princess." As soon as the words left his mouth he cringed. He couldn't lose control of his emotion like that. Not anymore.
The awkwardness of the moment was broken by the sound of fast approaching sirens. The police had arrived at last. They were asked a few questions, but James was friends with the chief of police so he managed to leave earlier with a promise of giving his statement the next day. Now all he wanted was to take Belle out of that place as soon as possible. He thought about driving back to Darlington, but his own cottage was just a few minutes away so he took her there. He was painfully aware of all the dreams and expectations he nurtured that involve them and his place. Now that the danger was behind them he started to feel the despair rise in him again. His emotions were a mess and he pondered that maybe bringing Belle here was a mistake. They were silent for a while, unsure of what to say or how to react. She was sitting on the couch, the same couch where he dreamed of making love to her, of spending idle hours talking to her, or reading with her, of simply being with her. It was more than he could take.
"I supposed you want some privacy to make a call, am I right?" He asked. Looking at her confuse look he added: "Your date, right? You must be dying to talk to him, right? Don't look so surprised Miss French. I know how this works."
"What are you talking about?" she almost yelled, frustrated and confused and, quite frankly, a bit pissed off.
"Your date, Miss French, your date! I supposed you would be handing your resignation any time now, am I right? Moving on with some bloke who doesn't even know you at all, who just want a beautiful trophy wife." At this point he was almost screaming, the nightmarish scenario he envisioned and reality mixing together, making his head pound. All he knew was that he was hurting, hurting as bad as he had ever hurt before and the need to lash out, to slash, to hurt was almost unbearable. He knew, some rational part of him did, anyway, that he was again on the route to losing her very friendship, but he couldn't stop. He pressed the heel of his cane less hand against his temple, hard. He had this strange lump in his throat that made it hard to speak and his eyes were burning again. The pain in his chest grew stronger than ever and he wondered, briefly, if this was what a heart attack felt like.
"You are an idiot, James Gold." Belle voice cut through his pain and misery like a knife.
"What?!" He asked, trying to sound furious and menacing but even to his own ears he sounded only tired and drained.
"I said that you, sir, are an idiot." She repeated, enunciating each word carefully and distinctively. He glared at her, dumbfounded and speechless. She sounded mad but somehow she seemed pleased. James was totally lost.
"First, you have no right to treat me like this, making accusation and giving me the cold shoulder. Second, and not that this is any of your business, my 'date' was Mary Margaret, my best friend from the Stated and you would already knew this if you weren't acting like such a bastard."
James felt his whole world veering and falling back into its axle. He was aware that Belle was still talking; her face flushed with anger, berating him, but was already too far gone. When he heard that her date was not really a date he went flying right over the edge. The tension of the last couple of days, the anger, the pain, the sorrow, it was all leaving him. He started to make his way to her.
Belle noticed the subtle change in James's expression, his eyes that were as hard as stone just a few seconds ago, soften to a warm chocolate brown. He started to smile, a true smile that made him look years younger. She tried hard to hold on to her anger, she was entitled to it after all, but it was getting harder and harder to remember why. He was closer now, so close that he could almost touch her and she felt her heart beat rise absurdly. He stopped just a few inches from her and Belle noticed, for the first time that, although he was not a tall man, he was still tall enough for her to have to tilt her head to look at him. James's hand moved, slowly, until his fingertips were pressed against the warm, sensitive skin of her neck. She started to tremble as his hand moved ever so slowly, caressing her.
"I am an idiot." He whispered, his voice thick with desire, his eyes dark pools of longing. "I am a fool. " Belle only nodded, all the fight drained out of her, her whole world shrinking until there was only space for them in it; the look on his face, the sensation of his hand on her neck, the heat of his body standing so temptingly close to hers. "And I am in love with you." And, throwing caution to the wind, he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. It felt heavenly. She was soft and warm and he was lost in her. He was fully expecting a slap across the face, any minute now, or at least a kind but firm shove to tell him that it was over. What he was surely not expecting was Belle opening up to him, slipping her tongue into his mouth and burying her hand into his hair. She explored him, eagerly, lapping at every crevice, teasing the roof of his mouth, making him tremble. He grew bolder, his hands roaming all over her body, caressing her back, the nape of her neck, cupping her waist. She was pressed tightly to his body, moaning as she kissed him, pushing herself closer to him still when she felt his erection, hot against her belly. He growled low on his throat and grabbed a handful of her hair, pushing her head back and exposing her neck. He started to bite and nib, marking her as his own and she was more than pleased, scratching his back through the layers of clothing. He couldn't stop. Now that he saw that she wanted him as well, he wanted to be inside of her more than anything in the world. But first he needed her consent. Pulling himself from her was probably one of the hardest things he has ever done in his life. He put some distance between them, taking care to keep her in his arms, and all he could do was laugh at her annoyed face. She clearly didn't want to stop but still, he needed to know.
"Belle, love, I need to know if you really want this. If we keep this up I would not be able to stop." He said, breathless and flushed.
Belle paused, gazing into his eyes. She let her fingers travel across his cheek, his neck, his shoulder. He was standing perfectly still, completely at her command. If she wanted to stop, she knew he would. Sensing the importance of this moment she answered him:
"I'm still mad at you."
He only nodded, subdued.
"But I love you too."
And that was all the confirmation he needed.