A/N: Another OUAT fanfic, which really became thrice as long as originally planned. Oh well. Belle is a bartender, Gold her costumer, and I have no regrets. Enjoy!
“Scotch, straight up,” the brusque voice ordered and Belle willingly turned around with a cheery smile. She was used to rude costumers, and truth be told they didn’t bother her much. It was the insistent ones that meant trouble. The ones that had trouble understanding a no.
“Here you go, sir,” she said handing over the drink with another smile. The man merely grunted and handed her a fifty.
“I want the change back,” he told her. “All of it.”
“Of course, sir.” Belle watched the man with interest. A slight man, who somehow seemed bigger than he really was, somewhere in his early fifties. To her own surprise she felt herself physically attracted to him despite the fact that he was nothing like the men she usually took notice of. Not that she would go after this one. Not only had it been so long that Belle was half convinced that she’d forgotten how to flirt, but the man himself had showed no sign of a personality she would like to get to know. Still, she was a bartender, the man was her only costumer on a Tuesday night, and her job was as much to listen as it was to serve drinks.
“You look like you need an ear,” she said symphathetically with another easy smile.
The man merely grunted. “I don’t.”
Belle merely lifted an eyebrow as answer. He might be able to fool most people, but Belle had always been a good reader of people. Part of what made her so good at her job. And this man definitely had a story to tell. His shoulders were hunched, his posture tense, and though his mouth had a mean look about it, she could see the misery in his eyes. This was a man who thought the whole world was against him, but if he refused to talk, Belle couldn’t listen. Instead she merely gave the man a kind smile and another drink when he asked for it. That drink was followed by another and another and another, until Belle finally cut him off.
“I asked for a bloody drink,” the man said, trying to intimidate her into giving in. Belle, however, was having none of that.
“And I’m more than happy to make you a non-alcoholic one,” she answered calmly. “But you’ve got enough, and I’d rather not have to take you to the hospital later on. You’re cut off.”
The man snarled and threatened, but years as a bartender had taught Belle when there was real danger and when there were only words. Right now there were only words, and so she served the man an ice tea in replacement of his scotch.
“Drink up,” she ordered. “It’s on the house.”
“And why would that be, dearie?” the man inquiered sarcastically.
“Because otherwise you’d refuse to pay for something you haven’t asked for, never mind how much you need it.”
For the first time she could see a glint of amusement in the stranger’s eyes, though his face otherwise showed no sign of humour. “That I would, dearie,” he told her, but took the offered drink nonetheless. “That I would.”
It was far from the last time Belle saw him. Somewhere on his fourth visit he had finally given her a name – more or less. “Mr. Gold,” he’d told her. “Just Mr. Gold.”
“Belle,” she’d answered him even though he already knew this. “Just Belle.”
His eyes had laughed at that.
She couldn’t exactly say that he opened up to her, but slowly they began to talk. He always came when there were few patrons. She’d asked the other bartenders if he ever came by when she wasn’t there and they told her he usually only had one drink, before he left in an even sourer mood than he had come in. This answer had made her raise her eyebrows in surprise. Gold was rude, yes, but he’d always seemed a little bit less angry when he left than when he came in, and he always stayed for at least an hour and several drinks.
He told her about his job selling antiques, which in Belle’s opinion was far more fascinating than her own. He told her about the things he’d bought and sold, the history behind them and the travels it had taken to pursue them. In return she told him about how she’d wanted to study literature, but hadn’t been able to afford it, and so had taken up bartending.
“Truth be told, I was shocked over how much I loved it,” she told him. “And it pays better than I thought it would.”
“I can imagine the tips would be rather generous,” Gold stated drily and Belle grinned. He had yet to give her a single tip, but somehow she didn’t really mind.
“Yes, though few are as generous as you,” she teased and was rewarded with that soft look in his eyes that meant she had amused him.
In return for his stories she told him her own. She told him about the books she loved as well as the books she hated. She told him about what little travel she had done and about her eccentric room mate Ariel and her even more eccentric friend Jefferson.
“He seems… nice,” Gold had stated, his tone of voice making it perfectly clear that he thought anything but. For some reason Gold didn’t seem to like Jefferson, and so Belle rarely talked about him. Instead she told him about Mal, the owner of the bar, and how she’d taught her everything she knew about bartending.
“She was a friend of my mum,” she told him. “And kept coming around even after she died. I think she was looking out for me.”
It wasn’t long before they got into a rhythm. Gold came every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Every time he ordered a scotch, straight up, and Belle had yet to convince him to try something else. Not for lack of trying. He would drink up to half a dozen of them over the night, clearly uncaring for the price. Tuesdays and Thursdays they spent talking, the bar empty enough that it wasn’t a problem. Friday he would mostly just sit and stare evilly at anyone, whom he decided he didn’t like. As he was Gold that meant that included most people.
He’d been coming for three weeks when he gave her his first tip.
“Keep the change,” he murmured, and Belle got the impression that he was embarrassed. She thanked him with a blinding smile and another attempt to have him at least try something else, before she moved on to the next costumer.
It took eight weeks for Belle to realise that she was falling in love with him. She had found him attractive from the start, and during their hours together she came to realise that he was smart, funny in a dry kind of way and kind to the people whom he cared about. Which, admittedly, weren’t many. She knew that she was one of those few, but she didn’t fool herself. He liked her company, sure, and she was by most people considered pretty, but Gold was a man of the world and she… well, she wasn’t.
He had made no signs that he’d liked her, no attempts of flirting, and for the first time in her life Belle was disappointed over this. She told herself that she wouldn’t let it matter, that she would simply accept that Gold and she would never be anything but friends, but that didn’t stop her from taking a little extra time to get ready every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Completely unrelated of course.
Gold had been coming for almost four months, when he finally told her his story. He’d been drinking more than usual and for the first time since they’d met, she’d been forced to cut him off, before demanding to know what was going on.
“I’ve got a son,” he said, slowly. “He turned thirteen today.”
“You don’t have a good relationship?”
Gold grimaced. “We did. But… well, Milah, my ex, got custody.” He couldn’t quite hide the bitterness in his voice even though Belle got the impression that he did his best.
“Still, you’ve got to have gotten every other weekend or something.”
“She told them I had a drinking problem.” He looked at her in desperation. “I don’t! I didn’t! I swear to God. I just… I used to. When I was a lad. Got arrested a couple of times for drunken disorder, but that was thirty years ago. I pulled myself together, got a law-degree, opened my business, got Bae.”
“Yeah.” His eyes went soft as he thought about him. “Baden. He was… perfect. The tiniest little thing you can imagine. He was born too soon, but he survived despite what the doctors told us. He’s a tough little thing. Always has been. So brave, unlike his dad.”
Belle reached out and covered his hand with hers. “I think his father is very brave,” she told him calmly. “There isn’t many people with the courage to turn their life around.”
Gold looked at her with shock in his eyes, before staring at the hand on top of his. Belle wondered how rarely people must touch him if that was his reaction. She vowed then and there that she would touch him more from now on. Beginning now. Reaching over the bar she hugged him, uncaring how awkward it felt with the bar between them. Gold smelled like smoke, and scotch and, to her great surprise, hay, and she forced herself to breathe normally when all she wanted to do was inhale that scent.
Slowly, as if afraid of how she would react, Gold hugged her back, and if Belle hadn’t already been in love with him, she would have fallen then and there.
After that he started to tell her about his son, and Belle wondered if there was any father out more proud of his son than Gold. It was ludicrous that he was refused contact with him.The custody battle had drawn out, with both the participants trying to prove that the other was an unfit parent.
”Milah,” Gold spat, ”knows nothing about being a mother. I don’t care that she doesn’t drink or do drugs or any of the things that would make them give Bae to me. She never held him when he was a child, never changed him, comforted him or told him a good-night story. She only wanted him because she knew how much it would hurt me.”
Belle couldn’t fathom how any mother could be so disinterested in her own child, but Gold never lied. Not directly at least. She did the best she could to comfort him, which in Belle’s mind included a listening ear, comforting words and lots of hugs. She just wished he’d stop tensing up every time. That more than anything reminded her why they were just friends.
It was ten months after she’d first met Gold that the boy entered the bar. It was a Wednesday afternoon and the bar was empty except a couple of old men in one of the corners. Belle lifted an eyebrow at the sight of the boy. There came plenty of teenagers in with fake ID’s, but this boy didn’t look much older than twelve if that much. He couldn’t possibly believe that she would serve him a beer no matter how well-done his ID was.
It turned out he didn’t.
“Can I borrow your phone, please?” he asked softly as he came up to the bar, before climbing up on one of the stools.
“Of course, sweetheart,” she told him, handing him her own cellphone. “Who are you supposed to call?”
“No one important,” the boy mumbled. “Miss,” he added, apparently remembering his manners. Belle regarded the boy with curiosity as he made his call. There was something familiar about him. Something in his eyes and the fluffiness of his hair, the shape of his nose, but she couldn’t quite decide what it was. Instead she watched the boy try to make the phone call, once, twice, thrice, before finally giving up. He handed her the phone back with a choked thanks, before starting to climb down again. Belle would have none of it.
“Wait a second, sweetheart. Who were you trying to call there?”
“My dad,” the child muttered.
“Your dad,” Belle repeated. “Well, how about waiting here for half an hour and try again? I’ll make you a coke. You look thirsty.”
The boy hesitated, before slowly nodding. “Yeah. Thank you.”
It took fifteen minutes to make him tell her what was going on. He was almost too trusting, and Belle swore he would have no reason to regret opening up to her.
“I’m running away from home,” he told her, his eyes daring her to say anything.
“I see,” Belle said, non-committally. “Any idea where you’re running to?”
“I take it that means you’re running away from your mother.”
The boy nodded, a stubborn tilt to the way he held his head, which reminded Belle of Gold. “Yeah. She never has any time for me, and whenever she needs to focus I’m not allowed to leave my room.” The boy grimaced. “And her boyfriend makes me uncomfortable. He always looks kind of annoyed when he sees me.”
Ah, then. Thankfully not an instance of an abusive home. Still, it seemed wrong to call the police, who’d just take the boy to his mother. However, as time went by, the boy’s father never answering the phone whenever they tried, Belle started to realise her earlier assessment of it not being an abusive home, might have been wrong.
“She goes on these long trips,” the boy complained. “Leaving me behind. She always gives me money for food, but then she stays away longer than anticipated, and I don’t get any allowance, so there’s only food for the first five days or so.”
“What do you do after that?” Belle asked, trying her hardest to sound relaxed rather than furious as she really felt.
“I go dumpster diving,” the boy shrugged. “It’s not so bad, but sometimes I accidentally eat something too old, and then I get sick.”
Belle felt the rage well up in her. What kind of mother left her son behind without ensuring that he had enough to eat?! Why even have him then? She froze. Exactly how many mothers were there, so utterly uninterested, uncaring of their own son?
“What’s your name, sweetheart,” she asked even though she just knew the answer beforehand.
“Baden,” the boy answered as expected.
“Baden,” she repeated slowly. “Baden, can I see that number for your dad?”
The boy, Baden, looked confused, but willingly handed over the card. It wasn’t Gold’s number.
“Where did you get this?” Belle asked slowly.
“My mom. I told her that I’d like to stay in contact with dad, even though I don’t live with him anymore, so she gave me his number.” He looked down. “He never answers though. He must be really busy.”
Belle could hardly see for the rage that filled her. Milah must have known this wasn’t Gold’s number. She gave her son the wrong one on purpose, making sure it seemed to be Gold’s fault rather than hers that her own son didn’t have contact with his dad. How… maliciously cruel. It was almost unreal that people like that existed.
“This isn’t you dad’s number,” she told the boy gently. “Your mother… your mother must have accidentally given you the wrong one.”
Baden seemed confused. “How do you know that?”
Belle took a deep breath. “Because I know your dad. Mr. Gold. He comes here sometimes.”
“Do you have his real number then?” Baden asked, excited.
“Sure do, sweetheart. It’s in my phone under the name Gold.” She handed it over.
Baden thankfully didn’t ask what it was doing in her phone. It would have been so humiliating to admit that she had found Gold on craigslist.
This time the phone was answered immediately, and it hurt Belle to see how the boy’s face lit up as he heard his father’s voice in the other end.
“Dad?” he said. “Dad, it’s Baden.”
Belle couldn’t hear what Gold said on the other end, but she understood enough of the conversation to know that Gold asked his son where he was, and that Baden gave him the address to the bar.
“He’s on his way,” Baden told her excitedly, grinning in a way that made Belle’s heart melt even more for the child. God, she hoped this meant Gold could get him back.
Gold was there in an impressive short amount of time, and for the first time his eyes didn’t immediately go to Belle. Instead he ran through the bar and hugged Baden tightly. The boy hugged back just as tightly and Belle couldn’t imagine how she didn’t see Baden was Gold’s son from the beginning.
“What are you doing here?” he asked his son.
Slowly, haltingly, Baden started to tell his father what he’d already told Belle; including Milah’s disinterest in him, the occasional lack of food and how she’d ‘accidentally’ given him the wrong number. Gold’s eyes became more and more furious as the tale went on, and when Baden finally quieted he looked ready to murder someone.
“Come,” he told his son, clearly trying to keep his voice even.
“Where are we going?”
“To meet with my lawyer. You are not going back to your mother. I don’t care what some judge says.” Gold turned towards Belle. “Thank you,” he said heartfelt. “For… well for everything, really. Thank you.”
And just like that Gold and his son left the bar, leaving Belle with a myriad of questions she knew Gold didn’t have the answers to. She hoped he would get his son. She hoped it more than she’d hoped anything before; including for Gold to reciprocate her feelings.
She didn’t hear from him for three weeks after that, and she was starting to realise that she was probably never going to see him again. He must have gotten his son back, and she had merely been his source of comfort. With his son back, he didn’t need her anymore, and Belle tried her best to not show how much that realisation hurt.
Then, one day, he was simply there, sitting in the exact same barstool as always and ordering a scotch, straight up.
“What happened?” she asked him as soon as she’d served.
“I got him,” Gold answered, but for some reason he didn’t seem ecstatic. He was sweating, and his hands were shaking every so slightly. He seemed sick.
“What’s wrong then?” Belle asked, and for the first time since he entered Gold looked up and met her eyes.
“I never thought I’d see him again,” he told her, his tongue falling over the words. Belle had never heard Gold anything but perfectly articulate, and it was odd to hear him speak too fast. “I was sure I’d lost him forever, but now he’s back, and he’s with me, and I couldn’t imagine it in my wildest dreams, and it’s like a miracle, and that made me think it might not be impossible to hope for another miracle, improbably certainly, but no impossible, and I promised myself and Bae that I would do this, and so I shall.”
He looked at Belle with desperation clear in his eyes, but she had no idea what he was talking about, and told him as much.
“Would you go out with me?” he asked her, before quickly continuing before she had a chance to answer. “I know of course that you will say no, but I just had to ask, to know for certain, and now I have, and we don’t ever have to talk about this again. I will be perfectly happy to just be friends, so please don’t let this mean that we can’t be that anymore,” he begged her.
Belle merely stared at him in shock, and Gold panicked. Gold never panicked.
“Shit, I ruined this, didn’t I? Of course I did. But Baden existed, and I was hoping for a miracle and I’ve just been in love with you for so long, but I swear I’ll never tell you again.”
“You love me?” Belle asked, unable to believe it.
“I do,” he said, and there was such a vulnerable look in his eyes, that Belle knew he was telling her the truth, no matter how surrealistic it seemed.
“I’d like to.”
“To stay friends?” Gold seemed relieved.
“I’d like to go out with you.”
Gold grimaced. Hardly the reaction Belle had expected. “You don’t have to do this,” he told her. “I won’t be upset just because you say no. I don’t want you to do it out of pity.”
Belle cut him of with a kiss. Gold tasted like scotch and dark chocolate and Gold. She could get used to that taste.
“I didn’t agree out of pity,” she told him. “I agreed because I’ve been in love with your for longer than I cared to admit, but I just didn’t have the courage to do anything about it. Guess you were braver in the end.” She gave him a brilliant smile. “Now, do you believe me, or do I have to kiss you again?”
Gold looked at her like he couldn’t believe what she was saying. Then he licked his lips, nervously. “Another kiss might be necessary,” he said as if he weren’t quite sure what her reaction would be.
And Belle had no problem with complying.