The bell above his shop door chimed a sweet, quick sound he heard from the backroom. He rarely received visitors, even now that people remembered and knew he held some of their possessions. They still considered him a pariah. There were only a handful of people or less that would come to him willingly and out of them all he only cared extensively for one. Gold pushed his ledger aside and stood without the use of his cane.
Allowing the assistance in front of Belle was one thing, but he would not let this world think him weak. He fixed his tie as he walked from the back of his shop, expecting to see Snow White or perhaps her firecracker of a child. Who he did not expect was the once cricket, looking nervous as he fiddled with his glasses and shifted from foot to foot just inside the door. Gold showed his teeth when he smiled, placing himself behind his counter. He cleared his throat, “Dr. Hopper, how may I be of assistance?”
Gold tried not to snort as the man jumped, so nervous and unsure that he almost dropped his glasses. Their eyes barely met before Archie looked away and unfolded his glasses, placing them back on his face as a way to save time. Gold was growing impatient when he finally spoke, staring at the glass counter instead of the man behind it. “It’s about Belle.”
His eyes narrowed immediately, hands splayed out against the counter as he leaned forward, “What about Belle?”
Gold remembered introducing them once. Just because he was the town exile did not mean she had to be. What he could not recall was Belle mentioning having seen the good doctor again, but the more he thought about certain events it all fell into place. She’d been taking tea almost every day with Snow White, coming back later each time. Perhaps his love had not been taking tea at all. “She’s come to you, has she?”
The nervous look in the doctor’s eyes only grew at Gold’s soft, delicate tone. He cleared his throat and didn’t move, finally bringing their eyes to meet again. The former pawnbroker was impressed, even more so when his smile twisted and Hopper did not retreat.
“She needed someone to talk to.”
That brought him up short. They talked daily. He spoke to Belle more than he had any other person, except perhaps Bae (and that was a story for another time). They had spent that first night talking of nothing but important things. Now they talked about the day to day grind of Storybrooke, trivial or not. Gold felt something close to offense take root in his chest. “We talk, I assure you.”
“That’s not-“ Archie stumbled on his words and then shifted, taking a deep breath. He didn’t look away from Gold. “Sometimes when two people talk they’re not really addressing the proper issues.”
“And what would the,” his hands curled into fists on top of the glass, “proper issues be?”
The doctor shook his head, looking away again. His moment of bravado was over. “I can’t tell you what she said, Mr. Gold.”
He felt his jaw clench. “Why do you continue to call me that when we both know-“
“You’re not- you’re not all bad, Mr. Gold. You have done bad things but that doesn’t make you a… bad person.”
Perhaps Belle was rubbing off on too many people. Gold closed his eyes, tapping his fist against the counter top, rapping out an uneven rhythm. “You avoided answering my question, Doctor. Word choice is… everything.”
Archie chuckled and it was barely even forced. “Rumpelstiltskin is the creature that made desperate deals with men. Mr. Gold was the lost father that came to talk. It’s easier to remember that you are a decent human being if I see you as Mr. Gold.”
“Ah,” Gold cleared his throat and stepped away from the counter. All he could think of was Belle as he retraced each conversation he could remember. The doctor didn’t seem to mind and he left the shop without another word. This time Gold didn’t hear the chime of his bell and his ledger lay abandoned on the table as he pushed himself up onto the stool in the back room, fingers tapping against the edge, matching the rapid, uneven flow of his thoughts.
Belle was unhappy and that was something he could not have.
Belle looked up from dusting, her rag held out in front of the cabinet where he kept the old china. The front door open and shut soundly and she smiled, “You’re home early.”
He came around the corner without his cane and the rag fell discarded to the floor when he wrapped her up in his arms without warning. Every muscle in her body tensed even as his warm hands pressed flat against her stomach. Gold’s breath was hot against the back of her head, his body a pillar behind hers. There was a steady strength in his hold and Belle was reminded of a time when she’d been saved from certain death while trying to pull down curtains.
The thought brought her ease and she relaxed. Belle let her hands rest over his, the touch slow and hesitant. “Rum?”
His fingers curled against her stomach. Gold bunched the fabric of her shirt in his hands and held tight as he pressed his face against her crown, burying himself in her hair. Belle closed her eyes. She ran her hands over his again and again, brushing her fingers against his knuckles. “Rum, what’s wrong?”
He nudged her head with his, a gentle push when she tried to turn in his arms. The speech he had rehearsed, the words he had planned in the shop where gone. All he had was this and Gold held onto the feeling in his chest just as tight as his arms were wrapped around Belle.