[For those who have forgotten the involvement in this story of Gaston (who I've based much more on the wicked Disney character than on OUAT) or of Moe (FYI, he's dying and in debt), you might want to reread the beginning and middle of Chapter 5. Otherwise, enjoy!]
Moe was sitting in the flower shop behind the cash register, staring at nothing in particular and just…sitting.
Less than one year. Maybe as little as a few months.
That was what the doctor had told him.
Moe was supposed to have had a year or two left, but things had taken a turn for the worse—or so his doctor had informed him during his appointment two days ago on Friday at Storybrooke General Hospital—and now Moe was running out of time. The time to pay off the bills so that Belle wouldn't have to worry about them once he died. The time to put together some money for her like he'd always dreamed of doing. The time to find her a husband or someone so that he didn't leave her alone, so that someone could take care of her when he was gone. The time to tell Belle that time had run out.
A rattling knock jolted him out of his daze, and he felt his faint heart give a lurch. She was here, waving at him through the store window with a smile brighter than any daisy he'd ever seen. He was struck—like he was every time he saw his little Belle—by how much she looked like her mother. Her tumbling brown hair. Shining blue, blue eyes. The brightness she carried about her as though she attracted every molecule of light in the air.
For a moment, his mind returned to a dark night nearly fifteen years ago back when they'd been living in Australia. His Katherine had died and he'd been sitting in the kitchen, lights off, a tumbler of something in his hand that burned down his throat each time he took a gulp but still couldn't manage to drown the ache in his chest. The drink had done nothing, however hard Moe had tried. Only his little girl had been able to pull him through, with her small soft hand placed on his arm and her simple words.
"We'll be all right, Papa. I promise."
She had only been a child then, but she'd been the older heart. She had always been so good, so perfect, his little Belle.
Another knock tugged him back to the present.
"Are you going to let me in?" Belle asked, her voice muffled through the window. "I think it'll be another month or so before it'll be hot enough to grill the steaks on the sidewalk." She lifted a grocery bag with yet another of her smiles. And while her smiles usually affixed themselves to his heart like balloons, today they hung, heavy and constricting.
He cleared his throat, but his voice still came out rough. "I'll be right there, love," he called, pulling himself out of the chair and making his way through a maze of flowers to the door. He took a deep breath before opening it.
"How's your day been?" Belle brightly asked, leaning forward to give him a one-armed hug and a kiss to the cheek as her other hand clung to shopping bags.
He couldn't speak right away. When had his little girl grown up so quick? Who would take care of her once he was gone? Who would watch over her like she had always watched over him?
Moe clung a little tighter. "Good," he lied. "Everything's been good."
And his dying heart beat out its irregular tattoo in reply.
As Belle marinated the steak (his favorite) and prepared her divinely creamy garlic potatoes (another favorite), Moe watched her every move, hardly even listening to what she was chatting about. He caught something about how much she was liking the summer program she was helping with at the University and another something about a spinning class she especially loved (he failed to see the soft blush on her cheek), but the specifics blurred past his ears. He needed to tell her. He should have told her half a year ago when he'd first learned about his condition. But he just couldn't. Not then. Not now.
Moe blinked, realizing that Belle was staring at him. He gave a weak smile. "Yes, sweetheart?"
She frowned with concern as she came closer, laying her soft hand on his arm like she'd done so many years ago in a dark kitchen on another continent. "Are you feeling all right? You seem distracted."
His mouth opened and closed. Then opened and closed again.
And then there was a firm knock at the door.
Belle straightened up. "Were you expecting guests?" she asked. "Marco, maybe?"
Moe could feel his palms sweat. "I, um, well, I sort of…I didn't want…"
Belle gave him a quizzical look. "Are you all right?"
He let out a slow breath. "I invited Gaston for dinner."
She blinked, and when she spoke, her voice was flat. "Gaston?"
"I thought…well, last week when we were talking about Gaston, I thought that—"
Another knock interrupted Moe's hesitant explanation, and without another word, Belle left to get the door. As she disappeared around the corner, Moe wanted nothing more than a stiff drink and a do-over.
When Belle had cancelled their dinner plans for Saturday, Moe, still dazed by the doctor's most recent news, had gone into full panic mode. Without thinking, he'd called Gaston to invite him for Sunday dinner, hoping that the two could get back together again, that Belle really did have feelings for her ex-fiancé but just hadn't realized it. Gaston was a respected man in the community and would be more than able to take care of Belle financially. That had been the only thought in Moe's head when he'd dug through his files for Gaston's phone number. It'd been the desperate attempt of a desperate man trying to ensure his daughter's well-being before his heart finally gave up its battle and he left her alone.
But the closed-off expression on Belle's face as she'd turned away from him to get the door had shown Moe just how dumb and wrong he'd been. He could hear muffled voices from the flower shop, and he got more and more anxious the longer they delayed.
"Maurice! It's been too long, old man," Gaston suddenly boomed, following Belle into the kitchen and clapping Moe roughly on the shoulder.
Moe quickly glanced at Belle whose head was bowed down as she scurried back to the cutting board, cheeks flushed and not, he thought, in a "I'm-in-love-with-this-guy" sort of way.
"Gaston," he greeted, rising to take the man's hand. Gaston's handshake was tight, almost too tight. And his toothy grin was bleach-white. Definitely too white. Why had he never noticed that before?
"I see that you still have enough flowers to cater a dozen weddings. Right Belle?" Gaston asked, oozing self-confidence as he smirked in Belle's direction.
"Indeed," she said, and Moe couldn't help but notice that she was slicing the potatoes with decidedly murderous intention.
"When I get married, Maurice, you'll be the first man I turn to," Gaston said. "Unless, of course," he added with a chortle, "you happen to be the bride's father! Right?"
"How is the vineyard business going?" Moe blurted, too much the coward to see how Belle responded to Gaston's comment.
"Oh, we're the talk of the Northeast!" Gaston gloated, stepping into Belle's space and hanging a heavy arm over her shoulder.
Belle tensed. Moe squirmed.
"You really should come see it, baby," Gaston said, looking at Belle and flexing the muscle of his arm slung around her. "I'm sure I could wrangle up a bottle or two of superb wine to go with it, too."
"No thank you," Belle said, shrugging Gaston off even as he was in the middle of waggling his black eyebrows and putting on his most winsome grin. It came off as more of a leer, and when Moe caught the sudden sharp glint in Gaston's eyes at Belle's rejection, Moe rushed forward to drape his own arm over the man's beefy shoulders.
"And how's your family doing?" Moe asked, leading Gaston to the dinner table.
"Mom's still a bit choked up about what happened in the Fall—"
Gaston looked in Belle's direction with a sour expression, and Moe knew that he was talking about Belle breaking off the engagement. Belle, thank goodness, had her back turned and thus didn't catch Gaston's face.
"—but she's much improved today, if you get my gist. We'll be having Belle over for dinner cheering her up in no time!" Gaston sat back, folding his arms and smiling widely as though he'd just announced that he'd been accepted into Harvard.
As Belle continued to cook, Gaston continued to talk, and the not so subtle hints about marriage continued to abound and then to include even less subtle comments about what women—that is, Belle—should aim for in life.
Halfway through a story about his mother's best friend's niece's failings, Gaston threw out, "Belle babe? Could you bring me a beer?"
And that was it. Belle snapped.
"No, Gaston, I will not bring you a beer." She swooped over and dropped the pan of garlic potatoes right in front of him. It made a loud clatter and Gaston startled. "Nor," Belle continued as she reentered the kitchen and, without an ounce of elegance, speared two of the sizzling steaks with forks, "will I be coming over this weekend to your house for dinner." She unceremoniously dumped one steak on Moe's plate and the other on Gaston's.
"Belle, what are—" Gaston started to complain when the juice from the steak splattered his dressy blue shirt.
"Nor," Belle interrupted him, pointing a steak knife at Gaston and raising her voice, "will I ever in a million, million years multiplied by fifteen eons and then raised to the thousandth power even consider having dinner with you!" She stabbed the knife into his steak, leaving the handle sticking straight up and quivering. "Or talk to you!" She scooped up a slop of potatoes and thunked it onto his plate with a splat. "Or see you!" She threw some beans on top of the potatoes. "Or ever, ever marry you! How many times will it take for you to accept that? If I see you again, I will ask Emma to kindly ask you to keep your distance."
Gaston was staring at her, mouth slightly agape, eyes wide.
"And get this into your head, Gaston," Belle heatedly said, leaning forward over the table toward Gaston, her arms bracing her weight, and Moe could see the scorching sting of her fierce blue eyes. "Don't you ever, ever—" the word came biting out of her mouth "—call me 'baby' or 'babe' again. If you do, so help me Homer, I will personally ensure that there is no Gaston Leblanc V!"
With a violent flourish, she snatched the cloth napkin next to Gaston's plate, jerked it through the air to open it, and threw it in Gaston's lap. As he was still trying to understand what on earth had happened, Belle spun on her heel and started to cut through the room, head held high and shoulders back.
"Oh," she said, as if in afterthought, "one more thing I forgot to mention." She faced the two men at the table. "I'm already in love, and you, Gaston, are most certainly not the lucky man!"
And with that, she left.
There was complete silence. Moe felt half of his heart cheer for his daughter and the other half cry at the lost opportunity. And Gaston was still dumbly trying to figure out whether or not he had truly been refused—he, Gaston Leblanc IV—for the second time by a silly woman who thought books were more important than brawn.
Finally, Moe pushed his chair back and the sound as it skidded across the floor broke the silence. "Excuse me for a moment," he murmured, chasing after his little girl who was neither 'little' nor a 'girl,' and, truth be told, hadn't been either since the day she was born. He only hoped that she was still 'his.'
He found her outside the Game of Thorns, sitting on a bench. She tensed when she first saw him, and her eyes started to blaze up again, but she calmed when Moe held up his hands in surrender.
"Not my best choice," he admitted, and she laughed, a tight, stressed-sounding thing.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Dad," she said, snuggling into his shoulder when he sat next to her, and he wanted to keep this moment forever. "But Gaston really brings out the worse in me."
"I wouldn't call your fire the worst part about you," he disagreed, placing a gentle kiss on her head. "It's one of your best traits, sweetheart. Even if it did and does make you a rather difficult child."
She lifted her head to smile at him, and he smiled back.
"I do have one question though," he said. "Have I simply forgotten or has he always been that annoying?"
She laughed again, and this time it was its ringing self.
When she didn't say anything else, Moe cleared his throat awkwardly. "I'm sorry I tried to force him on you. He was the closest you ever got to, well, you know, and I just…I want you to be…"
This was it. This was the moment he needed to tell her that he was dying, that he was worried for her, that he wanted to leave her in good hands.
That he was terrified.
Deep down, he knew that it was his own fear that was stirring him up. His brave, ever firm Belle would be fine. She was as hardy as the flowers that first bloomed on the slopes of volcanoes and fire-ravaged forests.
He was the one who was afraid.
Belle pulled away from his shoulder, and her bright blue eyes centered on his. "Don't worry about me, Papa. I'll be fine. I promise."
He forced a smile back.
"Maybe we could try dinner tomorrow?" she asked.
Moe wanted to plead with her to stay, not knowing how many more evenings they had left together, but he bit back the words, understanding that it was his responsibility, not hers, to sweep out Gaston. So he nodded. And they hugged. And he tried to remain firm.
And he watched her walk away.
It wasn't until she'd disappeared around the corner and he'd reentered the flower shop that something Belle had said in her angry outburst at Gaston finally hit him: she'd said that she was in love.
Yes, Belle French was indeed in love.
As she made her way home in the cool evening air to her apartment, she found that her irritation with Gaston was quickly overcome by the thought of a far richer (though Belle certainly didn't care), far more powerful (Gaston's vineyards were the talk of the Northeast while her Golden Devil was an international headline), far more handsome (at this thought, she simply blushed), far more gentle (again, she blushed as she thought of soft, timid touches and a flawless single rose), and all-around far better man than Gaston could ever hope to be.
Her Spinner. Her Rum.
And he may as well be real rum for how drunk she felt on everything she was feeling as she thought about the weekend they'd spent together. She checked her watch and wondered what time he'd be getting home from work. What would he do when he saw that she had cooked meals for him? She wasn't even sure what had come over her that morning when he had left for work and she had suddenly decided to do it. The door had barely closed and she had been off scampering to the kitchen, choosing her five favorite recipes from memory, and taking an inventory of what ingredients he didn't have. There were remarkably few (whoever had stocked his kitchen was a Genius Kitchen Genie), and Dover had taken her to the store for the five missing items. She'd felt a little guilty using Rum's personal chauffeur for a shopping trip but decided that he'd meant it when he'd said that she could ask Dover to take her anywhere at any time she wanted, so she did just that. During the drive, she'd also done her absolute charming best to get Dover to chat, but he'd only spoken a total of twelve words. She'd counted: "yes," "Ms. French," "no," "that would be amenable," "it depends," and "good day." And so, hoping to butter up the lanky, laconic man in the long coattails, she'd added him to her cooking extravaganza, leaving five containers of meals in Rum's fridge and five additional containers in the Bentley for Dover when he'd dropped her off at the Game of Thorns. Her reward? An unmatched seventeen-word response: "For me, Ms. French? But I am only the chauffeur. You are really too kind, Ms…Belle." For Dover, it was a bloody speech.
Even though by that point she hadn't wanted to look another spatula in the face for at least twenty-four hours, she'd decided to make her father his favorite meal (steak and potatoes), hoping to make up for canceling dinner on Saturday.
And then Gaston had arrived. She desperately hoped that he would finally take her message to heart and stop bothering her. Because if he didn't, so help her, she'd sic Ruby on him and wash her hands of the whole matter.
Speaking of Ruby…
As Belle reached her front door, she furrowed her brow in confusion. There was a mini flock of hot pink sticky notes pinned on the outside, scrawled in Ruby's trademark caps. She peeled one off to read:
WHERE ARE YOU? I've been calling you all weekend. Call me back right now! Love your guts!
I SWEAR. UNLESS YOU'VE BEEN ABDUCTED OR LANDED A CERTIFIED HOTTIE, YOU ARE FIRED. Still love your guts!
I only have two sticky notes left, and when I reach the bottom of the pile, I'M CALLING THE POLICE (as in, Emma)! Loving your guts a little less…UNLESS YOU HAVE A GOOD DARN REASON!
And the last:
ONE STICKY NOTE LEFT. I'M NOT KIDDING ABOUT CALLING EMMA. AND THE FIRE BRIGADE. Do you love my guts?
Wishing that she could just go to sleep after such a hectic day but knowing that Emma would indeed show up on her doorstep with the fire brigade if she didn't call Ruby, Belle pulled out her phone and saw that she had seventeen missed calls and five missed messages. Well, at least she had good friends, Belle thought with a tired smile as she dialed up Ruby.
"You're alive!" Ruby shouted as soon as the call connected.
"Ruby, I've only been gone since Saturday evening," Belle sensibly said, opening a can of soup for dinner. "There's no reason to go all super nova on me."
"But you never go out on Saturday. And the only other places you would sleep overnight is Emma's, Ariel's, or my apartment and you weren't at any of them. And you weren't answering your phone which is wildly not like you. So. Dish out, girl. I can only conclude that you fell asleep in a library—which, in that case, please don't dish out—or have finally joined the wild world of irresponsible adulthood. I'm praying for the latter. It's much more exciting."
Belle knew that if she mentioned Mr. Gold in any of her reply, Ruby's mind would come to ridiculously wrong conclusions about her overnight absence. So she decided to work backwards, offering up Gaston as a distraction.
"I had dinner tonight with my dad like I always do, and you'll never guess who showed up."
"I don't know, the Pope?" Ruby asked, and Belle could tell that some of her friend's interest had already dimmed in the absence of an immediate confession to a hot, lurid weekend affair. It only took one word to elevate Ruby's interest level to blinding heights.
Belle had to hold the phone a foot from her ear as Ruby proceeded to spew forth a series of insults the Pope would all but approve of.
For the next half hour, Belle kept Ruby's keen nose off the true scent by detailing Gaston's visit, and then managed another half hour of escape by asking her how her date with Peter—her deliciously handsome barista boy—went which, apparently, went quite well.
"And that was it," Ruby finished dreamily. "I've been itching to tell you about it, but you had to up and abandon me all weekend." She sighed and then cleared her throat, immediately switching back to her business voice. "But don't you think that just cuz I had a love-seared weekend I've forgotten the very big elephant in the room that you weren't home Saturday night. And don't you think that you can ever make me forget that very big snorty elephant. So you might as well confess, Bells. Where were you?"
Belle sighed, closed her eyes, and confessed. "I went on a date with Mr. Gold."
And Belle had to hold the phone two feet from her ear so as to not be deafened by Ruby's response which was a remarkable mixture of "I told you so", "what were you thinking?", "did he suck your blood?", and some rather less savory questions that had Belle's face blushing itself to an early heated death.
It took Belle another hour to calm Ruby, and then another hour to calm herself before she finally crawled into bed. She had just started to drift to sleep when her phone buzzed. Thinking it was another text from Ruby, Belle turned on her side and snuggled deeper into the covers.
It wasn't until the next morning that she realized it hadn't been a text from Ruby. It had been from him. It said, simply,
Tuesday night sounds perfect. Sleep well, my Belle. RG
Gaston Leblanc IV was a winner. He won things. He possessed things. He dominated things.
And he had just lost the prize Beauty of the town for the second time.
After Moe had left, it had taken Gaston another minute to realize that Belle had done the thing that no one had ever done and that Belle, in fact, had bluntly stated that she'd chosen someone else rather than him. The foolish, silly girl with her books and mad father! Gaston was offering her a life every girl in town would die to have, and she'd sniffed her nose at it! Mocked it!
No one ever refused him. No one.
Gaston ground his teeth and clenched his fist, glaring at the steak impaled by a knife on his plate. Well, at least he hadn't had to eat such pauper food, he sneered. The steak was noticeably the cheapest cut in the store, and the potatoes looked like something only a soup kitchen would serve. At his home, as his bride, Belle would have food fit for a queen. And she would bring him beers when he wanted them. And he'd call her 'baby' if he wanted to. And she'd do anything and everything he saw fit for her to do!
In a sudden outburst, Gaston swept his arm across the dining table, knocking all of the dishes to the floor in a clatter. He surged upright and did the same to the kitchen counter. Hearing the satisfying crash of broken ceramic, he was just about to find her and put that woman into her rightful place when he caught something in the corner of his eye. Breathing heavily from anger and exertion, he bent down and fished a weighty stack of envelopes and papers out of the mess on the floor, catching the telltale red ink of an overdue notice. And another one. And another.
A slow smile crawled across his face as he realized that old Maurice had a very big problem. A very big problem indeed.
And it might just be the key for Gaston to win the woman who had dared refuse him twice.
Because Gaston was a winner. And he would win Belle.
[btw – I DON'T OWN DISNEY'S GASTON (thank goodness—he's such a jerk) or OUAT AND ITS CHARACTERS. If I did, I would have permanently killed Charming with Dreamshade. (Is it obvious by now that if I did own OUAT, there would be a lot more deaths?) btw #2 – Welcome new followers! And thanks for all of the reviews! Your support after my lengthy absence made me ridiculously giddy. I have an intense semester ahead of me so, as I said for the last chapter, the updates won't be consistent but they will be ongoing. Heads up for the next two chapters: one more chapter of Rumbelle fluff (including the long-awaited kiss) and then the angst will commence! (Finally!)
***Here's a special shout out to my reviewers: Neferet25 (don't hyper-ventilate too much—I'd cry if you died or something), NicoleMuenchSeidel (long-time follower!), Rachel (yes, kiss coming!), PrincessYouKnow (no, I don't know, Princess), Autumn2374 (kiss coming!), The Auburn Girl (bring on adorable!), Guest (if I had money, I'd send confetti and blooon animals to you all!), Guest (me too!), emospritelet (delicious-yes!), Boo-82 (Boo, I love you!), Just 2 Dream of You (T.T—still have hope!), AngelofDarkness1605 (not way soon, but here it is!), asalia (welcome to you, too), Shadow's Echo (you can count as lots of people because you're an echo, I suppose), nine-orcids ("archive digging is always successful in one way or another"—that can go on my tombstone), jessiemom (lol—my apologies to your mother-in-law!), Morzan's Elvish Daughter (I tried to forget about it, but alas!), Paola 1967 (2014 will be great!), jewel415 (hope I didn't permanently break your heart), cheesyteal'c (thanks!), completewithtypos (me too!), CharlotteAshmore (awwwwww! [commence loud squeal]), Esmy (thanks!), denimblues (may telepathy in your fanfic world flourish for your many days to come), darcyvondayum (you were my first review since I returned!).***
ever eternally – rmkr]