When she had accepted the position as assistant to her old mythology professor, Belle French had expected a few years spent cataloging ancient texts and perhaps - of she was very lucky - helping on one of his famous field trips to some far off clime.
Instead, in the year since she took the job, she had been dragged in crisscrossed patterns all over the United States, Europe, and even some of Asia, with a man who seemed both more insane and more inspired with every passing day. He heard the folklore the same as she did, and yet where she found interesting sociological changes and allegories for the seasons and the sun, he instead saw factual reports of monsters and demons.
He was a believer, apparently, and after being slobbered on by a Chimera and bitten on the foot by an angry gremlin within two days of each other, Belle’s stubborn skepticism was failing under the strain.
This was, however, the most surreal day of all. Professor Gold - Cameron, as he had insisted she call him, but that seemed too close to friendship or something even deeper to use in her head - had said something about a lake with special powers, and gone off gallivanting without even saying goodbye.
This happened too frequently.
She cursed him with every step she took as she followed his roughly-drawn route on their map, to the lake he’d mentioned before. If the words ‘dangerous’ and ‘maybe tomorrow, dearie’ were mentioned in the same breath, Belle knew it was almost inevitable that he had gone alone in the dead of night. Some mix of curiosity and misplaced fear for her safety.
So she walked through the forest, having left Ben - and God knew why Gold had decided to haul his teenage son along on this adventure - to guard the camp, until she heard a Scottish voice and splashing.
Gold was not a fan of the water; it was odd for him to choose to take a midnight swim.
Cautiously, she followed the voice. It wasn’t panicked, nor even his customary annoyance, it was… softer, pleading, almost helpless.
Her mind was storing that information away - the sound of him as if he smiles as he begs, the sound that would go so well with dreams of his growing stubble against her sensitive skin… - even while her feet were drawing her closer to the source, peering through the trees.
“Now, dearie,” he was saying, “I know the difference, you can’t pretend-” his voice stopped suddenly, and with one more step forwards Belle could see who he was talking to.
A woman, small and slight, in long white robes and with hair the same length as her own. The same shade of brown, as well, which was odd. “Come on, Cameron,” the woman said, and Belle started - that was her voice! Although Belle knew for a fact that she’d never purred his name in such a tone, almost seductively… for all that she had had some truly inappropriate dreams about her employer, Belle had never once acted on them. “I know you want this too.”
“I also know that you’re a siren,” he pointed out, reasonably, “And your tricks don’t work on me.”
Siren?! Belle had read about such creatures, water-women who took the form of the person their victim desired the most, to lure them to their deaths.
What could it mean that this one had taken her form, in order to lure Professor Gold?
Belle watched, entranced and hidden, as they drew closer to her hiding place, Gold stepping back as the woman with Belle’s face advanced, “I think you’re lying to me,” she said, “I think all you want in the world is to touch, and until now you’ve been denied.”
“All I want in the world, creature,” he said, but his unimpressed tone was wavering a little, “Is a vial of the water in this lake, and perhaps a lock of your hair. For research.”
“No,” Belle heard her own laughter carried to her through the still night air, low and throaty and wicked… she had never sounded like that before, “You want to take those things, and then to show me. You want me to laugh and clap my hands, to embrace you and be proud of you.”
“I need my assistant to help with the field work.” he ground out, and Belle could see the tension in every muscle of his body.
“You need me, Cameron,” the siren whispered, and she put her wet hands on his chest, the water making damp patches on his white button-down, “You need me to kiss you like you dream about,” her face was getting closer, and why wasn’t Gold drawing away, why wasn’t he fighting her off? He knew the stories, he must do, and yet he just watched, mouth a little slack and eyes wide, as a siren leaned up into his face. “You need me to touch you more than you need to breathe, so why are you fighting me off?”
Belle waited for Gold to push her away, to sneer and make some off-hand insult and swagger back into the forest, to try again another day.
She waited, and waited, for a long and tense few moments as the siren watched her victim with soft, hungry eyes, and Gold stood as if cast in stone, his hands clenched at his sides.
“I’m not,” Gold breathed, and Belle’s breath caught. “You don’t want me: there’s nothing to fight.”
“I’m here now, love,” the siren breathed, “All warm and waiting for you. All you have to do is touch me, and you can have all that you dream about.”
At some point, Belle realised, in the part of her mind not stunned by pure shock, Gold had stopped seeing an illusion and started believing the trick. He was talking to her, and that meant…
That meant he wanted her, really and truly. That meant that all this time they were travelling, and seeing the impossible and cataloging demons, she could have had more than fantasies and the occasional inappropriate daydream when he licked his lips and smiled at her.
He wasn’t allowed to die until they’d talked about this, until he understood how much time they’d wasted not saying anything. There were much more pleasurable things they could do tonight than allow a siren to devour him whole.
“Back away from him!” Belle shouted, as she charged down the hillside and onto the shore, “Or I swear I will use this.”
She pointed her gun - formerly concealed in her jacket, because there was no way she was getting caught in the woods while unarmed; not after Budapest - and smiled, “And take my face off, it’s...eerie.”
“Belle?” Gold choked out, and she was torn between smacking him and kissing him senseless.
“We’re going to talk about this later,” she decided, “When this bitch has gone back to the depths.”
The siren hissed at her, as she grew into a taller figure, her hair longer and blonder, her face suddenly flawlessly and soullessly beautiful. Her mouth widened, rows upon rows of sharp fangs appearing. Belle shivered with fright, but her fingers moved with precision as they took off the safety, “You’re born of human flesh,” she whispered, with attempted menace. “This might not kill, but it’ll hurt like anything. Want to take the risk?”
The siren lunged for her, and the gun fired. Belle had learned two months in that, when it came to monsters in the middle of the night, shooting first was a good policy. But the siren vanished, and the bullet sailed and hit some far-off tree, and the night was suddenly silent.
“Belle?” Gold asked, a little timidly, as she holstered her gun and turned to look at him, “Why did you do that?”
“She was trying to drag you down into a lake and eat you whole,” Belle shrugged. “And she was pretending to be me... Why’d she do that, anyway?”
As if she hadn’t read up on this before; as if she didn’t know exactly what this meant.
“I ah…” Gold fidgeted, “I’m not sure. Magic can be a funny thing.”
“Right,” she nodded, as she took his hand - they always held hands, always, it made running from things easier, and it reminded him that she was still alive, and vice versa - “Because it looked to me like you were getting pretty into that, ready to… what was it she said? ‘Have all that you dream about’?”
He stopped dead, and she turned to see him staring at her, “You heard all of that?”
“It's a little hard not to watch when your best friend is being seduced by someone who looks exactly like you,” she shrugged, “Especially when you were engaging so closely with it. I ah... I'm sorry for prying, but I was curious. I wouldn't have let you be taken, I promise.”
She laughed, she couldn’t help it, something about all of this was suddenly very funny. “You’re not… upset?” he asked, head cocked to one side.
She sighed, and approached him, fought back the urge to sidle as the siren had. She looked up at him, close enough to touch, and smiled, “You could have just told me, Cameron,” she stressed his first name, and he swallowed hard, “That you were dreaming about me. I’m guessing we probably have a matching set of them between us.”
“Set of… what, exactly?” he looked entirely stunned, and yet his hands - long fingers and warm, strong palms - came to rest on her hips.
“Dirty dreams,” she whispered. “You could’ve just said.”
“Oh.” He smiled, his usually rapid mind catching up at long last with his body and her words, “Well, then, better start making up for lost time.”
He leaned down and kissed her, soft lips suddenly pressed against hers, and she stifled a whimper as her hands came to tangle in his hair, and his warm mouth coaxed hers open.
She made an embarrassingly enthusiastic moan, and threw herself into kissing him entirely, exploring his mouth thoroughly as he groaned, and hauled her against him harder. If anyone would be devouring him whole, it would be Belle.