Good morning, Miss Australia
Chapter 11: To Have And To Hold
"Babe, I got you, babe."
Belle's eyes flew open to the sound of a jangling oboe breaking the peaceful silence around her. For a moment she held her breath, stiffening as she tried to orientate in unknown surroundings. Then it slowly came back to her fuzzy mind that she and her father had checked in at the Storybrooke inn called Granny's yesterday for Ary's wedding day. But that didn't explain the sound waking her up just now. She was pretty sure she had set the alarm clock on her phone to 'Harp' – not ringtone.
"Babe, I got you, babe," Sonny and Cher tried to convince her and suppressing the urge to press her cushion to her ears, Belle turned her head to her phone lighting up on her nightstand. With a small groan, she reached out and read "Private number". Someone was calling her, she finally realized. Her eyes swept to the time indicator. The alarm clock wasn't set to go off for another thirty minutes. It could be Ary, calling from another phone than her own, with some kind of existential crisis she needed her maid of honor for. Another groan escaped Belle as she raked her hand over her sleepy features and pressed the green dot on the touch screen.
"Hello?" she brought out, her voice hoarse and sleep rigged.
She heard a strange click and for a moment the person on the other side of the line stayed quiet, then a Scottish brogue sounded softly, "Good morning, Miss Australia."
Belle's heart stopped. She shot up straight, eyes wide and knuckles turning white around the smart phone. Suddenly, she was completely awake. "Mr. Scotsman! Is…is that you?" Her mind refused to believe her ears, although the tremble in her voice betrayed her heart already did.
"Yes. It's lovely to hear your voice again."
A lump formed in Belle's throat. "But you're not calling directly, aren't you?" Despite her drowsiness, she'd heard a familiar click when she'd picked up the phone.
"I'm calling through the wake-up service, my darling," he quietly confirmed her suspicions. "I pulled a few strings to get you on the phone today."
She tried to wrap her fuzzy head around what he was saying. He said he'd pulled a few strings. However, this must mean he'd actually gone to great lengths to make this call possible, remembering how she had never made it past customer support. If he were still angry with her, he didn't sound like it. Instead, the gentle way the words rolled off his tongue made tears spring into her eyes.
"Mr. Scotsman, I'm so, so…"
"Please, don't," he interrupted her. "There's nothing you should be apologizing for. You don't know how much I've missed you."
Belle clapped her hand before her mouth. His voice sounded like he wrapped his arms around her through the phone and hot tears of relief fell down on her sheet.
"I've missed you, too," she finally whispered, remembering just in time to lower her hand from her mouth. "So much."
"I'm the one who should be apologizing to you, my darling Miss Australia," His voice sounded infinitely tender. "For my absence during your interview. I…"
Belle shot up again. "Baelfire! Mrs. Nolan said something about family matters. Is he alright?"
"He's fine," he calmed her down. His relief was almost palpable through the phone. "He was suffering from a severe pneumonia and it took some time but he had a full recovery."
For a moment, he was silent, then he added softly, "Thank you for the candles."
Belle's lips curled up in a regretful smile. "I had wanted to give them to you in person…"
The image of him standing at the window in the pink Queen Anne villa close to where she was staying right now, flashed through her memory. Was he now looking out the window, too?
"Am I right to assume the phone call you received that night was about your father?" he asked when her voice trailed away.
Belle's throat thickened. She didn't have to ask him how he knew. The Portland flower booth fire had featured in all the regional newspapers. "It was."
"Oh, sweetheart," he responded with sympathy and a hint of grimness she couldn't explain. "How is he doing now?"
Belle's heart leapt up at the endearment. "He's doing so much better, thank you. The response was heartwarming. Did you know that people gave him a whole new truck filled to the brim with flowers?"
For a moment, Mr. Scotsman stayed silent, then he asked a bit tentatively, "Did he like them?"
Belle opened her mouth to respond and then something clicked with her. Something about the mysterious benefactor having wanted to stay anonymous.
"Oh my, the flowers came from you."
"They did," he admitted and a smile broke through Belle's troubled features. Even when she'd been thinking he was angry with her she had been on his mind and he'd tried to support her while giving her the space he probably thought she'd needed.
"Thank you," she whispered wholeheartedly. "You couldn't have made my dad happier."
The cut flowers had been of the best quality imaginable.
"I should have known," she then understood. "There was this basket filled with Golden Wattle and thistles, which is actually rather unusual for a flower booth. How could I have missed that?"
"You had other things on your head," Mr. Scotsman gently, almost tenderly reminded her. "You've made a true friend in the owner of my clothes shop, did you know? He was the one who told me about the initiative to help your father."
"He's a real sweetheart," she agreed, a smile forming on her lips. It felt as if the old shop owner had fashioned himself with the position of matchmaker in his own, very discrete way.
"I believe that lately he has had the pleasure of receiving more patronage from our little town," Mr. Scotsman continued, carefully avoiding mentioning the town's name.
Belle wasn't surprised he knew this, too. Mr. Gold seemed to know everything about everyone in Storybrooke. "Yes, my friend Ariel sent her fiancé Eric and his uncle to him for their wedding day attire. I don't believe either one of them has ever worn a suit before."
An amused chuckle escaped both of them.
"She left them in good hands," Mr. Scotsman then assured her and suddenly, Belle understood it was no coincidence he was calling this specific morning.
"Are… are you going to the wedding?" Her heart was suddenly pounding in her chest.
"It appears I have received an invitation," Mr. Scotsman stated in that intangible tone of his, with a hint of amusement to it. "It seems only polite to wait upon the bride and groom bearing a present of some sorts."
Belle closed her eyes. He would be there. The past few weeks she'd been musing over a good reason for her to stop by his house again after the wedding, considering even to ask the friendly owner of the clothes store he frequented for another promotional gift, never suspecting her friends were to extend an invitation to him.
But they had and it sounded like he had accepted and her mouth went dry at the unexpected prospect of seeing Mr. Scotsman today.
"I…" she started, when a harp began to play close to her ear. She frowned, fearing another ruthless intrusion of their conversation, but the sound of thumping from the other side of the thin wall. Her father was waking up.
"That's my cue, Mr. Scotsman. I have to get up and get ready for the big day. As maid of honor I can't be late."
He let out a wistful sigh. "I will arrive for the reception tonight. I'm not much of a dancer, but do you think the maid of honor will grant me one dance if I asked her to?"
A quiet smile passed over Belle's features. "She will sit out the rest of the dances with you, too, if you asked her to."
"Careful what you're saying, my darling Miss Australia, I might hold you to it." Something in his light-hearted tone suggested a hint of longing, causing butterflies in her stomach.
"Perhaps I expect nothing less of you, Mr. Scotsman," she whispered and sighed when the sound of a harp once again reminded her of her duties.
"You need to go," he encouraged her and Belle closed her eyes as she moved her phone to press it against her forehead. The ceremony suddenly seemed an obstacle devised solely to keep them from finally meeting.
"Bye, Mr. Scotsman. I'll see you then."
Perhaps he picked up on the hoarseness in her voice, because he sounded infinitely tender when he replied, "I will be counting the hours, my darling Miss Australia."
A monotonous tone followed a dry click and for one moment she wondered if he would ask the wake-up service operator to put her back on his rotation list. Then she shook her head and swung her legs out of bed.
She quickly opened the suit bag hanging from the wardrobe and froze when a striking color hit her eye.
"What in…" she murmured softly and pulled out a small message card. This was the first time she'd opened the suit bag since she'd arrived at Granny's. Ariel had left it with the nice innkeeper the day before.
Bells – it read
I've changed my mind on the color of your dress. As maid of honor I want you to stand out against all my sisters so I've decided to go for gold instead. I hope you don't mind. You'll look wonderful in it, I promise. Matching shoes are in the wardrobe.
Disbelievingly, Belle let the suit bag fall from the hanger. It looked like the color of the dress was the only thing changed about the simple, sheath design Ariel had picked out for her bridesmaids to wear earlier.
Belle frowned. This was so typical Ary for not telling her this tiny detail of having her going through the wedding in a gold dress. She grimaced. The aptness of the word and color didn't go by unnoticed and she questioned the reason stated in the note. Hesitantly, she touched the sheer organza. Gold dress actually sounded cheaper than it looked. The dress was of a delicate shade that verged on a cheerful yellow. Perhaps it wouldn't look too awful with her auburn hair after all.
Belle sighed and turned around to get her toiletries. She had less than an hour to get a quick shower in the bathroom down the hall and to get into this dress.
"Hurry up, Dad. We're going to be late!"
Belle swirled around, her styled curls whirling with the movement as she looked back at Moe. He was fumbling to keep up with his daughter. It was the first time Belle and her father had stayed the night anywhere else together since Belle's mother had passed away.
Moe gave an anxious nod. He felt constrained in his twenty-year-old suit, the only one he owned, and he cast a disbelieving look at his daughter who managed to keep looking graceful in her tight-fitting bridesmaid dress and those impossible matching high heals. He murmured a quick good morning to that nice older lady behind the counter and filed into the old car. Coughing and wheezing the old banger came to life and slowly they pulled away from the curb.
The wedding would take place at the docks with the sea as a backdrop for the ceremony. Eric's best man Sean had been responsible for decorations, which meant in actual practice that Sean's wife Ashley had taken charge in close consultation with Belle. When Belle and Moe and arrived, she was pleasantly surprised about how their efforts had turned out. The docks had been cleaned thoroughly and the setting had a distinct marine feel to it, from the pergola of elegantly draped fishing nets with wooden floats attached to them and burnet roses woven through the holes to the blue wooden chairs facing the altar and the ocean behind it. When they got out of the car, Belle involuntarily closed her eyes and inhaled the salty sea breeze. It was going to be a brilliant day.
The librarian turned around and saw Attina, Ariel's oldest sister, waving at her from behind the walled front garden of the charming fisherman's cottage just off the cannery where Ariel and Eric were going to live after their marriage. She was wearing the turquoise dress Belle had expected to be wearing today as well.
Belle took her father's arm. "Come on, Dad. We'll get you a nice cup of coffee, while I help Ariel get dressed."
They followed Attina inside and were immediately cornered by a six-year-old girl in a flower girl dress, gaping up at Belle with eyes the size of saucers.
"You are Belle," the pre-schooler gasped.
"I am." Belle was confused but before she could say any more Sean's wife Ashley swooped in with an apologizing smile and picked up her young daughter Alexandra.
"I'm sorry. We were in DisneyWorld this Christmas and Belle is her favourite Disney Princess after Elsa."
Disney Princess? Belle took a peek down and slowly it began to dawn on her. Although her dress was more subtle than the dramatic ballroom gown she remembered from the movie, the picture she made did resemble the iconic Disney Princess somewhat. She looked up and from the other side of the room Ary sent her friend a particularly guilty look.
Was this her plan all along? And if so, why? Inconspicuously, Belle shook her head at the bride and then smiled at Alexandra. "You know, I am Belle. Do you like my dress?"
The child nodded vigorously with her thumb in her mouth. "It's so shiny. And your hair, too."
Belle's hair was gathered up in a low bun with a braid draped over it, decorated with a subtle touch of yellow acacia and white and yellow anemone.
"Why, thank you, Alexandra." Belle made a small curtsy and the little girl beamed at her. "You look quite beautiful yourself. Look what I've got for you."
From behind her back, Belle produced a small basket, filled with blue and white flower petals. With reverence little Alexandra took it from her, her small fingers trailing the smooth ribbons Belle had decorated the basket with.
"Isn't it beautiful, honey? Shall we say 'Thank you, Belle'? And then we're going to find you a bathroom before the ceremony begins." Ashley picked up her daughter and gave Belle a warm smile.
Alexandra murmured her thank you and the two wandered off to find the bathroom.
"Doesn't Alexandra look adorable?"
The librarian looked up to see her friend standing next to her, veil still in her hand.
"I believe she liked your dress," Ary commented innocently and Belle shot her a dark look.
"You are so wearing a mermaid dress to my wedding if I ever get married."
The horrified look on Ariel's face Belle accepted with grim pleasure.
"And do you, Ariel, take this man, Eric, to be your lawfully wedded husband?"
"Then with the power vested in me I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride."
A thunderous applause rose, as Ariel spontaneously wrapped her arms around Eric's neck and pulled him in for a fierce kiss. They seemed to radiate in the golden light of the setting sun. Eric happily obliged, the surprise still present on his face before presenting Ariel with an antique fishhook, as a token of his love for her.
From her position at the front of all of Ariel's sisters, equally dressed as bridesmaids, Belle looked on with a tender smile on her face.
Months of preparation had been leading up to this moment and now that it was finally here a strange feeling of peace came over her at the adorable picture they made. Her father gave her a wink before the now married couple began their walk down the aisle and Belle gathered up her close-fitting skirt to follow.
The wedding reception would take place in the boathouse, after the obligatory photo session had ended. Belle only superficially registered that she and Sean were following Eric and Ariel through the backdoor while Ariel's sisters and Eric's groomsmen guided the other guests inside. The restlessness she'd been suppressing during the ceremony now suddenly broke free and her hands were shaking a little as she carefully removed Ariel's veil and hugged her.
"Congratulations, Mrs. Grimsby," she whispered and she hoped Ary didn't see the tension on her face as they looked at each other smiling. Luckily, her friend was too caught up in the most beautiful day of her life to notice.
"Ouch, I have to get used to that one," the archivist laughed. "Come on, Bells. Eric and I can finally show off those dance moves we've been working on so hard!"
As inconspicuously as possible, Belle slipped through the door and searched and found Sean, Ariel's sisters and Eric's groomsmen lining up next to the dance floor. She quietly joined them, her heart suddenly beating wildly in her chest. She smiled at Sean while her eyes inconspicuously swept across the guests but it was too dark and crowded to find the one she was looking for. Swallowing her disappointment she gave up and found a welcome distraction in the triumphant entry of the bride and groom.
The wedding dance was beautiful to watch. All those lessons the archivist and the fisherman had been taking had paid off. Smoothly, they circled around each other, with Eric expertly leading Ariel through the intricate moves, as her wedding gown whirled around her elegantly. When the last tones of the music died down Eric graciously made place for Ariel's father, a tall man with a short, white beard and a hooked nose. Normally stern looking, he now radiated pride and tenderness while guiding his youngest daughter through the steps. A few minutes into the song Eric invited his old nanny Carlotta to dance and then the guests fanned out over the numerous small round tables scattered about the large space. As maid of honor Belle came to sit next to the kind Mr. Grimsby.
"I apologise, my dear girl, for tradition putting such a radiant young woman with a boring old man," Eric's uncle began but Belle smilingly shook her head. Although she knew that the groomsman next to her was all too eager to strike up a conversation with her, she would much rather have a conversation about tinning marlin than talk with someone who was only interested in finding openings to hook up with her. No pun intended.
"I'm honored, Mr. Grimsby. You must be very proud of your nephew."
"I am," the old fisherman tapped his prominent nose with a playful smile. "How he managed to get a beautiful wife like Ariel still amazes me."
Their laugh died down when Ariel's father rose from his seat to welcome the wedding guests with a toast. Belle used the moment to scan the guests sitting opposite from the head table but her heart sunk when she didn't see Mr. Gold. Cursing herself for not taking a look at the seating chart when she had a chance she dejectedly realized that he must have been put far at the back, where all the casual acquaintances and distant relatives were seated.
She picked up her knife and fork when the first course was served. Fish of course, accompanied with sea lavender. She mechanically started to eat, without tasting the delicate flavours.
It was the sound of an old voice next to her that pulled her from her dejectedness. "My dear girl, I happen to notice you seem to be looking for someone." Mr. Grimsby had slightly bowed toward her and gave her a knowing look. An automatic denial died on her lips and she sighed.
"If I remember correctly, when this course is done, it's your turn to give a toast on the happy couple. I bet you have a beautiful speech prepared."
Belle swallowed and a grateful smile passed over her lips at his quiet encouragement. "Yes, that's true. Thank you."
Mr. Grimsby's subtle reminder gave her just enough time to focus on the task ahead and when the dishes were removed she rose from her seat.
She cast a cursory look on her notes and let her eyes wander across the guests looking up at her interestedly. For a moment, her eyes lingered on the rows of tables she hadn't been able to see when seated but to her disappointment she still couldn't discern the faces of those seated at the tables farthest from the head table.
The silent sigh she let out only old Mr. Grimsby understood was more than just a preparation and then her voice filled the banquet room. She began her speech with a witty recounting of her first encounter with Ariel at university and then Ariel and Eric's first meeting at the docks. As a librarian she had experience with holding attention while reading from a book and this audience was no different from the three-year-olds she met every Wednesday afternoon in the library. They hung up on her lips and laughed when she intended them to. Her closing words made tears spring into Ariel's eyes and her friend stood up to hug her before she was allowed to sit down again.
Sean would be up next.
Having received a bit of help from Belle Sean made his way through his speech just fine and before Belle knew it, it was already time for second course. Fish, of course, served with glasswort, although some guests received a different serving. Thankfully, she'd been able to convince Ary and Eric there were people who didn't like fish, so they had begrudgingly agreed to an alternative menu for those poor unfortunate souls.
The music turned up as the plates were being removed and Mr. Grimsby gave Belle's hand a small nudge. "Go dance, dear girl. We old people have had our fun. Now it's the turn of you young people."
Belle remembered nodding and moments later she found herself on the dance floor with the groomsman who had been sitting next to her, looking at her with a triumphant smile. Luckily, she was able to move up to her father upon the introduction of the next song but although her lips smiled, her eyes were searching the crowds.
Where was he? Didn't he say he would be here?
Two seventies hit songs later she excused herself from the dance floor and went into the hall. She let out a deep breath. The hall was a sanctuary of peace and quiet compared to the dance floor and involuntarily she took in a deep breath. She'd never been one for large, busy crowds and parties like this often made her feel like she was suffocating. Although, if Belle were honest with herself, this wasn't the only reason her heart felt constricted at the moment.
She made her way upstairs, preferring the bathroom up there to the busier one behind the reception hall. A sigh escaped as she opened the tap and for a long moment she enjoyed the feeling of cold water streaming down her hands. She tried to avoid looking in the mirror, knowing that her eyes would convey the doubt that was tearing her apart.
He would be there. He had promised. But he would also have been at her interview and look how that one had turned out.
With a heavy heart she closed the water tap and, as she tried to block out the thundering bases rocking the boathouse, touched up her make-up, fighting the grave disappointment growing inside of her. A bit more forcefully than necessary she clapped shut the compact and studied the result in the mirror. Her face looked drawn and there were tears brimming in her eyes. But to the unsuspecting onlooker she was a ravishing beauty in a gold dress. It would have to do.
Belle reluctantly opened the bathroom door, and the sheer volume of the party noises screeched her ears again. Never before had she longed to be somewhere else so badly. Setting her jaw, she gathered up her skirt to walk down the stairs, mentally steeling herself to join the crowd again. Her gaze remained fixed on the steps as she made her way back down in her ludicrous high heels, only raising her eyes when she was halfway down.
Then she froze.
There, at the bottom of the staircase stood a middle-aged man, dressed to perfection in a dark blue suit, his face framed by silver-streaked, half long hair. He was leaning on his cane and looked up at her with an intense gaze in wide-set brown eyes.
Someone she'd been hoping to meet ever since she'd first heard his voice through the phone.
For a moment, neither of them moved. Then Mr. Gold extended his hand to Belle.
Belle felt as if she were outside her body as her feet carried her down the last steps, her eyes drinking in his features. There was something strangely beautiful about the high cheekbones flanking his long nose and the deep brown eyes, set in regular features. His almost invisible eyelashes provided an unhindered view of his huge irises. They seemed a depthless chocolate until a ray of light changed them to a mesmerizing liquid honey. It took her breath away.
Mere seconds stretched to what felt like an eternity before she reached Mr. Gold and put her gloved hand in his. His fingers curled around hers in response, the first time they touched. Her heart raced in her chest.
And there it was. The soft, deep voice she'd grown to love so much, with the alluring Scottish brogue.
He inclined his head and the light lit up the silver streaks in his half-long locks. "Might I have this dance?"
"It would be my pleasure, Mr. Scotsman," she said softly and something flashed in his eyes she couldn't quite pinpoint, but which sent butterflies through her stomach.
Belle's heart thundering in her ears drowned out all the noises when they entered the banquet room. A slow song had replaced the grooving beats and she and Mr. Gold quietly slid between the slow dancing couples with Ariel and Eric at the centre. Ariel had put her head on Eric's shoulder and they were swaying to the music. An expert shift of Mr. Gold's hand holding Belle's made her turn on her toes and then his hand landed on her waist. In response, Belle's hand slid up his arm to gently grip his shoulder and their eyes locked as they began to move.
"You look absolutely beautiful. I'm sorry I haven't been able to invite you to dance earlier. I had to take Bae back home after supper. It was past his bedtime."
He'd returned to the party for her. Her heart leapt up.
"He surely didn't agree with that," she whispered and a to her surprise a gold tooth flashed up upon his small smile.
"He wanted to drag you to the dance floor the minute dinner was over, but…" His voice trailed away.
"You'd rather we meet alone the first time," Belle added and a shiver went down her spine when he tightened his hold on her.
"I loved listening to your speech. It was the perfect combination of emotion and wit. Did you help Mr. Herman's with his?"
A mischievous smile passed over Belle's lips and there it was again, the intense expression momentarily flickering in his eyes, that had her pulse racing.
"Guilty as charged," she admitted. "Was it that obvious?"
"I could tell. Mr. Herman's not normally this eloquent." Mr. Gold led her into a turn. Somehow he was able to manoeuvre on the dance floor without the use of his cane although he didn't lean on her either. He was probably putting too much strain on his injured leg, but Belle refrained from commenting on it, feeling that this was important to him - to be able to dance with Miss Australia, with disregard of his weak leg. Instead, she lost herself in the feeling of him holding her in his arms, wishing he would never let go again. Their eyes locked and all that remained was a raw feeling that drew them towards each other with each step they took, in an all overpowering feeling of belonging.
Too absorbed by each other to notice, it only slowly sunk in that the music changed and the couples around them dispersed into individuals moving to a riveting beat.
Mr. Gold was the first to speak. "I believe it's getting a bit busy. Would you…like to go someplace quieter?"
Someone bumped into Belle's back and she rolled her eyes. "Yes, please."
Nobody saw them leave, not even Belle's father who was engulfed in an animated conversation with Eric's old nanny.
Mr. Gold led them to a deck with benches overlooking the harbor. It was a beautiful night, clear, with a star studded sky and a new moon setting in the world in a silvery glow. In the distance clouds began to gather meaning rain.
A light sea breeze reached them and involuntarily Belle shivered. Without a word, Mr. Gold took off his jacket and carefully draped it around her bare shoulders. Suddenly, she was engulfed by his warmth and scent. It left her a bit lightheaded.
"You know, I thought I'd lost you forever when I wasn't able to attend your interview. So, imagine my surprise when I saw you walking down my garden path," Mr. Gold said softly, his hand still holding onto Belle's although they were already seated. His thumb casually caressed her gold glove and she wished she'd taken them off before.
Belle swallowed. "I wasn't going to try and find you. It was coincidence really that I spotted your car and… I changed my mind."
She smiled and something resembling happiness softened his gaze. He reached out and tucked a stray lock behind her ear.
Belle's eyes fluttered closed as his fingers trailed her temple and cheek, reluctant to leave when the curl was already resting neatly behind her ear, and she couldn't help leaning into his touch. The last thing she saw was a raw longing passing over his features that reflected the jumble of emotions raging inside of her and then the world stopped when she felt his lips on hers. It was a soft kiss, slow, respectful and infinitely tender. But suddenly the blood seared through Belle's veins like liquid fire. Yearning was freed from its cage and converted into pure passion that made her part her lips against his - impatiently, and insistently.
His response was immediate.
The first drops of rain began to fall when he pulled her closer and lovingly cradled her jawline with both hands. A jolt of electricity shot through her as his lips parted against hers and his warm lips began to move with hers in an increasingly passionate way. She lifted her hands to grip his waistcoat and shirt underneath, clutching the fabric in an attempt to pull him closer. He let out a soft sound and then something exploded in the pit of her stomach, as the tip of his tongue hesitantly trailed her bottom lip in a silent request to deepen the kiss. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and lost herself in the taste of his mouth, the softness of his lips and his hands pulling her against his body.
When he finally withdrew and rested his forehead against hers, she fought to not lean in and kiss him again, her irregular breathing matching his as she let go of him. He caught her gaze.
"I'm so glad I've finally found you, Miss Australia," he whispered hoarsely. His eyes shone with a passion that took her breath away.
"Belle," the librarian smiled, her voice equally shaken.
His smile brightened. "Belle," he repeated tenderly and her eyes involuntarily closed at the blissful sound of her name rolling off his tongue.
"So, what's your name, Mr. Scotsman? Or Mr. Gold?"
He straightened up, his hands slowly sliding down her shoulders. "When I came to this town I made a point of people not knowing my first name and apart from Bae no one does."
For a moment, he was silent and Belle started to look away. "You'll be the first."
Belle's head snapped back up. He was making a small flourish that seemed inspired by discomfort. The gemstone in his signet ring gleamed in the light from the cannery.
"My name is Rory," he then told her, the light quality of his tone betraying his reluctance. "It's a common name in Scotland. I am told it's short for Roderick but my parents spared themselves the trouble when they registered my birth."
Belle nodded thoughtfully. There was something quaint about his name that didn't agree with his fearsome reputation. She took his hand. "Well, I'm glad you told me. If you like I can call you Roderick? We can be Roderick and Belle."
A small smile appeared on his lips. He liked the sound of it.
"Belle and Roderick," he corrected her and her heartbeat quickened when their eyes locked. They didn't even notice the increasing rainfall as they slowly leaned in and Belle closed the last distance between them. She registered the brush of his lips on hers and then the harsh sound of voices calling.
"Belle, Mr. Gold, where are you?"
They jumped apart.
The heavens opened up when Ariel and Eric stormed towards them. "Finally, we've been looking for you everywhere. Something terrible has happened."
Belle noticed that Ary's make-up was smudged and it wasn't from the rain pouring down on them. Her eyes were wide with panic, as were Eric's.
The fisherman rushed, "It's Baelfire, Mr. Gold."
Belle felt how Gold froze next to her.
"What's wrong?" he demanded, panic overtaking his stoic demeanour.
Eric cast Belle a hesitant look and just as Mr. Gold looked about to shake him Ary straightened up.
"It's Gaston," she panted. "We got a call from the Sheriff's office. He's standing on the roof of the pawnshop and he has Baelfire..."
She paused for a moment as Sheriff Nolan came storming from the cannery, followed by a hysterically crying Mary Margaret.
"… And Emma, too."
The following minutes went by like a bad dream. Mr. Gold ran towards his car, scowling in both pain and rage and only his cane and Belle supporting him kept him upright. When they reached the black Cadillac he tossed Belle the keys, shaking his head in a silent grimace that told her enough. Kicking off her gold heals Belle got behind the wheel and with a powerful roar the imposing car revved to life.
"Fasten your seatbelt," she said grimly and then hit the gas.
If she would have forgotten the route from the cannery to the pawnshop, she didn't need to worry. She only needed to follow the screaming sirens and flashing lights of the Sheriff's car leading her straight to a cordon placed by the Sheriff's deputy. Mr. Gold was already out of the car before it had come to a stop and Belle rushed after him, her heels splashing in the rain.
"Bae!" he called, frantically looking up at the roof of his shop. He was completely drenched, his hair plastered to his forehead.
And there he was, Baelfire Gold, standing dangerously near the edge of the roof with his arms protectively crossed before a little girl's body. Emma. They were both dressed in their pyjamas, bare foot, and shivering in the rain.
"Papa!" Baelfire cried and Mr. Gold limped towards the red tape, his cane viciously tapping the gleaming tarmac.
"I can't let you thr…"
A blind fury took over Mr. Gold. "That's my son up there!" he bellowed and lifted his hand at the officer, baring his teeth.
The pawnbroker looked up and saw the Sheriff coming towards him with brisk strides, his face raging with rage, fear and worry.
"Let him through," David Nolan snarled at his deputy and the man immediately did as he was told, stepping back in fear when Mr. Gold passed by.
The policeman was ready to lower the tape when Bae's wispy voice reached them. "Belle too."
He looked around at a shadow moving behind him. Then he repeated, "Belle too."
"Are you Belle?"
Belle started when the deputy looked at her searchingly.
"Ye- yes. Yes I am," she stammered and the officer lifted the tape for her.
"Belle, no." Her father took her arm, trying to hold her back. She hadn't even noticed that her father and the entire wedding party had gathered around her.
She turned around and shook her head. "Dad, this is Gaston threatening these innocent children. I have to do something. Trust me, it will be alright."
Gently but decisively, she peeled his hand from the drenched suit jacket and a moment later she joined Mr. Gold and the Nolans looking up at the roof of the pawnshop from across its front door. Mr. Gold and David Nolan were looking on with an expression of helpless fury while Mary Margaret kept on repeating, "Mommy's here, baby. I'm here. It's alright, Mommy's here," her hands lifted towards her daughter while tears streamed down her face.
Baelfire and Emma were still standing there, shivering but relatively calm, and that was, Belle realised, because Mr. Gold's teenaged son did everything he could to shield and protect the little girl. A wave of appreciation for the teenagers went through her.
"Alright, I'm going in," Mr. Gold finally said grimly but the Sheriff held him back.
"No, that could trigger him into doing something to them. He must not be provoked at all cost."
Mr. Gold paused in his step. In a different situation, he might have ignored him but the fact that the Sheriff's precious little girl was up there too, made him stop.
David turned towards Belle. "You. You seem to know the person who's doing this. Talk," he demanded.
"Her name is Belle, Sheriff," Mr. Gold replied sharply but Belle put a hand to his arm.
"It's alright…Roderick," Belle said hoarsely and David Nolan's eyes widened slightly.
"Yes, Sheriff. I know this man. He is, or rather, was the head of security in our library. He…he has been taking an interest in me ever since I started working there, and…and…" She swallowed. "He was the one who set fire to my father's flower booth."
A few tears rolled down her cheeks, merging with the rain and despite his own agony Mr. Gold wrapped his arm around her middle, pulling her close.
Surprise momentarily replaced the worry on the Sheriff's face. "I take it that you didn't reciprocate his feelings," he remarked grimly but before Belle could answer a bellowing voice made them flinch.
"Belle! Finally, you are here." A shock went through Belle when Gaston stepped out of the shadows, a maniacal, wolfish smile on his face. "I tried to warn you when I sent your father into the hospital, but you didn't listen. See these children? This is what happens if you turn me down."
Gaston's teeth flashed in the light of torches lifted up at the scene on the roof. Then he spotted Mr. Gold's arm around Belle's waist and his grin turned into a furious scowl. "What on earth do you see in this pathetic excuse for a man, Belle, when you can have me?"
Belle stepped forward and immediately mourned the loss of Gold's arm around her waist.
"He's not a pathetic excuse for a man, Gaston. You are," she shouted, her voice filled with pure anger. "You have kidnapped children and you are threatening them. You've set fire to my father's flower booth. You are a horrible person. He is everything you are not. He is kind, gentle, he understands me, he's a man of wide reading and he treats me with respect. You on the other hand just want to own me, like a trophy wife."
"Shut your mouth, Belle! You don't know what you're talking about," he roared and she gasped when he took a step closer to Baelfire and Emma.
"Please, Gaston. Don't hurt them!" she called, panic creeping into her voice and he laughed cruelly.
"Oh, now you know how to be polite? Know that if something happens to these children it's your responsibility."
He took Baelfire by the arm. Belle balled her fists in her skirt in helpless anger and tears streamed down her cheeks as she heaved up her face.
"I know, Gaston," she pleaded with him and then swallowed to overcome the bile rising in her throat. "Tell me, how did you get them to come with you?"
He lifted his eyebrows but his arrogance won over his suspicion at her sudden change of tone. "I know you don't think much of me, Belle, but if there's one thing I know it is that game can always be caught with the right kind of trap. This little girl here was the boy's trap. Her sitter was easily cut out. I just had to make her open the door for me, and my famous charm did the rest. When this boy here saw that I had the little girl with me, he put up no fight and we were able to get to the roof without any problems, didn't we?"
He squeezed Baelfire's arm hard and the boy clenched his teeth in pain, but didn't cry out. His father, however, did, in a harrowing sound, and it took David all of his strength to restrain the pawnbroker.
Belle closed her eyes as she clenched her teeth. So, he'd been watching Bae to know where his weakness lied, to get to his father - and to her. "What do you want from me, Gaston? Just let me know and leave those children alone."
A triumphant smile contorted Gaston's features. "You're coming with me to Canada, Belle. We'll live in a rustic hunting lodge, with my latest kill roasting on the fire and my wife massaging my feet while the little ones play on the floor with the dogs."
A wave of nausea washed over her at the image appearing in her head. "And if I refuse?"
"Then these children die. Your choice, librarian."
Gaston moved his hand to Baelfire's shoulder. One push and he and Emma would tumble off the edge. The crowd gasped and behind Belle Mr. Gold faintly registered that Belle clapped her hands before her mouth, the gold of her gloves looking silver in the torchlight, while Mary Margaret cried in horror.
"Now, will you let me go in?" Gold growled at David Nolan and the Sheriff nodded, drawing his gun. "I will cover you."
Mr. Gold began to walk away when Belle's voice held him back.
"I will offer to go with him," she said tonelessly, her eyes still raised to the rooftop.
Mr. Gold spun around in alarm. A strange numbness had come over Belle as she was standing there, her gold dress ruined, loose strands of hair plastered to her face and his jacket around her delicate shoulders. Had she looked beautiful earlier this evening, now she looked absolutely stunning, radiating strength that he'd come to love and admire through their phone calls. Oh, how his heart had raced in his chest when she'd started her speech earlier this evening and for the first time he'd heard her melodic voice speaking in that wonderful Australian accent without the telephone interfering. When they'd kissed it all had fallen into place. But, again his happiness was nipped in the bud.
"No, Belle! I can't let you do that…" He went to stand before her, trying to bite back the searing pain in his ankle. Every step he took was one too many, but at this point but he couldn't care less.
Belle lowered her gaze to look at him. Her blue eyes shone with pain and worry. She'd already resigned herself to her fate, he understood in growing panic.
"It's alright, Roderick. You know I have to do this. Baelfire and Emma need to be safe."
She lifted her hand to his cheek, her fingertips touching his soaked hair and smiled.
"I love you, Mr. Scotsman."
Her choked voice was barely more than a whisper but if it was even possible her words both wrenched his heart and set it alight. She loved him. And now he would lose her. A roar of agony mounted in his chest, but he kept it inside as he shook his head. He took her hand from his cheek and folded his fingers around it, withstanding the urge to take her in his arms.
"I love you too, Miss Australia. More than you will ever know," he whispered and then turned around.
"Gaston!" he called. "I'm coming up. This is between you and me."
And before Belle could stop him, he'd already disappeared inside.
It took him quite some effort to ascend the rickety staircase leading to the roof but when the rain lashed in his face again he knew he made it. He cautiously approached Gaston and the children, his cane tapping on the roof covering. It made a hollow sound.
At a safe distance he stopped.
"Gaston!" he called and the hulk turned around. His lips curled up in a mean smile. A shiver ran down Gold's spine. The man looked positively mad. His long hair had come loose and he had a maniacal glint in his eyes.
Mr. Gold took one step forward. "Gaston, please, let the children go. It's me you want, not them."
"Papa!" Baelfire turned his head but one look of his father silenced him.
"No, I think I hold on to them and add you to the collection, pawnbroker. Tell me, are you in love with her?"
Gold didn't move but his mouth twitched and Gaston started to laugh.
"Do you honestly think she would want you when she has someone like me?"
He violently shook Baelfire and the boy had to use all of his strength to hold on to Emma. He looked exhausted and frigid and it wasn't until now that Mr. Gold noticed that they both weren't wearing any shoes.
He pleadingly lifted his hands. "Calm down, Gaston. Yes, yes, I am in love with her. She's the most beautiful woman I have ever met in my life, inside and out. I don't know what she sees in me, but…but she makes me feel complete."
Gaston narrowed his eyes. "Belle is mine," he growled.
He gripped Baelfire harder and Mr. Gold's eyes widened in alarm.
"Please," he said, his tone of voice getting higher with distress. He'd lost all of his composure as he fought for his son's life. "Don't hurt Bae. Belle loves him. It would drive a wedge between you two if you'd do something to him."
"Papa, don't!" Baelfire cried again but Mr. Gold sharply cut him off. "Shush, Bae!"
But his words, how awful they might sound to his own ears had the desired effect. Gaston seemed to mull it over.
"Belle loves this brat?" Amazement and a hint of contempt dripped from his features.
"She does," Mr. Gold said softly and took a step closer, hand extended. "So please, if you'll want any future with her don't hurt the children."
Earlier, Belle had offered to go with Gaston if it could save the children, but still something inside him screamed betrayal as he dared a quick look down. He didn't know how much she could hear but for one sickening moment he thought he saw a flash of hurt and disappointment pass over her beautiful features.
Clenching his jaw, he forced himself to focus on Gaston instead, the threat that needed to be eliminated. He carefully took one step closer, and another one as Gaston contemplated his possibilities. Finally, he reached the three of them and cast a quick look down, where the Grimsbies, the Nolans and the whole village were watching as the tragedy unfolded. But he only saw Belle who was looking up at him with tearstained eyes and his heart wrenched at the sight.
He turned to the madman holding his boy.
"Gaston, please," he said in the velvety, persuading tone he used with reluctant customers and took another step closer.
It was the wrong move.
Gaston's eyes widened and suddenly his face contorted in a furious scowl. "No, Belle needs to learn a lesson. She has turned me down one time too many. Now these children must suffer the consequences."
He grabbed Baelfire by the neck and tightened his muscles for a final push. Bae whimpered in fear and let go of Emma, possibly in a last attempt to avoid taking her with him down the roof.
Mr. Gold rushed in. The screaming pain in his ankle was forgotten and all diplomacy went out the window as he heaved his cane.
The first time the cane landed somewhere near the hulk's shoulder and with a cry he let go of Bae. Surprise and pain alternated on his crazed features as he realized that the pawnbroker had actually attacked him. A blind fury had taken possession of the smaller man that stupefied him. Suddenly, Gaston understood why the townspeople were so afraid of him when he saw the raw violence in his movements, the intangible air of danger around him now manifest upon the life of his son being threatened.
The second time the cane came down he doubled over and just managed to grab Bae's pyjama shirt before he and Emma could escape from his clutches.
The third time the cane came rushing down his strong hand shot out and took a hold of the walking stick before it would deal another blow and with an evil smirk he pulled the cane towards him as he let go of the children.
It was a mistake - a big mistake. Gaston knew it the moment a ringed hand closed around his throat and squeezed shut his windpipe.
Gaston's eyes widened in fear as he stared in Mr. Gold's face, his features contorted by rage and a gold tooth flashing in torchlight as he bared his teeth and hissed, "Prepare to die, Gaston."
At that moment, Gaston noticed that he was pushed towards the edge and a single step would be enough to take a tumble down the roof.
"No, please, don't!" He begged. "I'm sorry. I will go away, I promise."
Caught up in rage, Mr. Gold didn't respond, but then Belle called from the street below, "Roderick. It's alright, you can let go now."
Gold froze and then he slightly turned his head to see that Baelfire and Emma had retreated towards the middle of the roof. The pawnbroker seemed to sigh and then tightened his grip on Gaston's throat.
"This stops now. Belle is not yours, nor will she ever be. You will leave from here and if I ever hear about you coming back to threaten Baelfire, Belle or the Sheriff's daughter I promise you I will hunt you down and kill you. And I always keep my promises," he said through clenched teeth and then let go.
Gaston coughed and staggered for a moment, as Mr. Gold turned around opening his arms toward Baelfire who rushed towards his father, Emma in tow.
At that moment, Mr. Gold heard a raw cry from Belle.
And in a flash he saw that the hulk bolted for the children. There was nothing he could do as Baelfire practically jumped into his arms.
Then a single shot fell.
Time seemed to slow down. Gaston swayed on his feet, disbelief suddenly written all over his face. With the sound ringing in his ears, Mr. Gold pulled both Bae and Emma out of the way and stumbled back, his arms around the children as Gaston looked down and lifted a handful of blood from where the bullet had gone straight through his shoulder.
Mr. Gold looked down and registered that a small, corpulent man with untrustworthy features had somehow taken the Sheriff's service gun from him, still aiming for Gaston on the roof. Belle had disappeared.
"Le Fou," Gaston brought out. "Why?"
The small man set his jaw.
"You've crossed a line Gaston," he called. "Your obsession with Belle French has brought you to the point where you were willing to kill these kids. It ends here."
His hands around the gun were shaking but he kept it pointed at the roof where Gaston bared his teeth in a wild, savage scowl.
"You traitor, I will kill you!" he bellowed and balled his enormous fist, the blood dripping through his fingers. He looked completely crazed.
At that moment, David Nolan seemed to wake up from his stupor and lunged for the weapon. Another shot went off the moment he brought the man down to the ground.
Gaston gasped and another dark red stain started to spread from his stomach. His eyes turned to watch Mr. Gold and the children he cradled protectively in his arms and then he tumbled off the roof.
In a reflex, Mr. Gold pressed both Bae and Emma's faces against his body and covered their other ear against the sickening thumb of the body landing on the wet tarmac and the last thing he noticed was a flash of gold rushing towards him before he passed out.
When Gold woke up he was in a hospital bed. The moment he opened his eyes he looked at a white plastered ceiling and for a moment he was disoriented. He lifted his head and discovered that his bad ankle was in plaster. A frown appeared on his features.
"The plaster cast is there to give your ankle rest. A specialist has come over from Portland and saw that the symptoms that caused you all this pain actually stemmed from a wrongly healed bone that put pressure on the nerves. They've broken the bone again and with some rest and physical therapy you have good prospects of being able to walk without a cane again."
Gold blinked and he turned towards the sweet voice with the Australian accent that made his heart leap up even before his foggy mind realised why. His eyes widened.
"Belle," he choked out and the young woman leaned over him. Suddenly, all he saw was the halo of light around auburn curls, gently framing the most beautiful smiling face he'd ever seen; round with a straight nose, high cheekbones and upturned, strikingly blue eyes. Was he in heaven?
"Hi there, Mr. Scotsman. How are you feeling?"
The words were innocent enough, but in the context of the faintly distressed feeling he'd woke up to they triggered an avalanche of memories that knocked the wind out of him. Everything came racing back to him. Gaston, the rooftop, the shot. Then another shot.
"Bae!" he gasped and shot up up but Belle gently pushed him back.
"It's alright. He's alright. He's at school at the moment." She paused for a moment. "And Emma, too. They're both fine."
All of the adrenaline instantaneously left him and he sunk in the cushions, panting lightly. He'd spent what little energy he had left and now a numbing exhaustion washed over him. Turning his head, he looked at the woman sitting by his bedside.
"Belle," he whispered. "I don't know how much you've heard about what's been said…"
"You mean the part where you held out false hopes to Gaston about a future with me?" She inclined her head and something broke inside of him.
"I'm so sorry, Belle," he whispered. "Gaston...he would only listen to me if I suggested you'd go with him. But I would never have allowed that he'd actually taken you with him. Please, you have to believe me."
His heart was in his throat as Belle studied him for a long moment. Then her lovely face relaxed. "I know, Roderick. You don't have to feel bad. You do remember the part where you sent Gaston away and threatened him never to return, right?"
Baelfire must have told her this because she'd never been able to catch what he'd told Gaston from where she'd been standing. His lips cracked into a shaky smile, as tears sprang into his eyes and wordlessly he grabbed her hand and lovingly pressed it to his lips.
Belle smiled. "Of course this means you're now in my debt and I believe there's something I would like to have in return."
Somehow through his emotions, Mr. Gold noticed that she took a deep breath. "Anything, my darling Miss Australia." It was the first time ever he gave another person carte blanche - and gave it wholeheartedly, no strings attached. He reached out to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, just like he'd done back at the quay before hell had broken lose. That seemed like an age ago now.
"You, Mr. Scotsman," she confessed quietly. "I want you. And Bae."
Her eyes were so bright, so blue. And her words felt like the first rays of sunlight of spring. She nervously bit her lip and for a moment he wondered why. Obviously, she would already know the answer. That he was hers completely.
His lips curled in a tender smile. "You have us, sweetheart. Heart and soul."
Dr. Whale was about to enter the private room harboring his most daunting patient but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Ariel's bridesmaid, now elegantly dressed in a close-fitting summer dress with a matching cardigan, lean over and kiss the Scottish pawnbroker with poorly concealed passion, Mr. Gold's hand, covered in tubes, buried in her gleaming curls.
The sight involuntarily put a smile on his face. Perhaps he should come back later.
A/N: It took me a while to write this chapter but I sincerely hope it was worth the wait. Thank you so much for your patience and this is not the end of the story! There will be another chapter for our fabulous couple. As always I would like to thank my wonderful beta Delintthedarkone. If you already haven't done so check out her Rumbelle art on Tumblr. She's amazing.
Thank you so much for reading!