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The Christmas Party

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It wasn’t often that Raymond Gold’s cell phone rang. Quite frankly, with the exception of his son and his family, no one even knew that he had a cell phone. So when an unfamiliar jingle interrupted his grading of Wednesday’s essays, he immediately knew something was off. An unknown number lit up his screen as he flipped open his phone,

“Gold,” he answered gruffly, ready to tell whomever it was on the other end exactly where they could stick their boughs of holly.

“Gold, old man!” a boisterous voice shouted through the receiver, trying to rise over the seemingly drunken carolers in the background.

Gold leaned back in his chair feeling a headache coming on. “Jefferson, how did you get this number?”

Jefferson Maddenson was the world history teacher at Storybrooke High, though how the man had been cleared to be an educator of any kind was a complete mystery to Gold. He was knowledgable to be sure, but he also tap-danced on the brink of insanity more days than not with his ridiculous top hats and theatrical personality. His classroom was next door to Gold’s own, and was absolutely packed with assorted knick knacks he and his wife, Alice, had picked up on their multiple journeys around the world. Had it not been for said wife and his daughter, Gold was certain that Maddenson would have completely lost his head years ago. Needless to say he was a favorite among the students.

“You wound me, my friend. Can’t a man call another man to wish him a Merry Christmas without getting the third degree?”

“Only if said man is not calling a private number, which you are, and is not going to try to convince me to go to the faculty Christmas party, which I believe you were leading up to.”

“You take the fun out of absolutely everything.”

Gold took a deep sigh, trying to remind himself that if he hung up on Jefferson, he would just keep calling until he had said his piece.

“You have thirty seconds,” Gold grumbled into the phone, “to tell me who gave you this number and why I should abandon my quiet evening for your drunken rave.”

Jefferson gave a pained sigh. “Very well, but I would like it noted that you are being an absolute Grinch.”

“Noted. Twenty seconds.”

“Well to begin with, your delightful son gave me your number in case of emergencies when Henry and Grace had their playdate last weekend.”

“Of course he did,” Gold thought to himself and made a mental note to throttle his son when he came over for Christmas dinner. Bae knew that his father liked his privacy, though he would say that Gold liked it a bit too much.

“As for my drunken rave, you should know that Garret Aston has graced us all with his uninvited presence.”

“Well, I appreciate the update, but he’s not my type. I’m hanging up now.”

“Fine,” Jefferson said breezily, “I guess that poor Ms. French is just going to have to fend for herself for the evening.”

Gold’s stomach did a tiny flip upon hearing the new librarian’s name. Belle French had literally fallen into his life at the beginning of last year with a doctorate’s degree and the bluest eyes he had ever seen and had refused to leave his mind ever since. Being the head of the English department, Gold had always been a regular patron of the school’s library, and if his visits had increased in frequency since the beautiful Australian’s arrival, who could say?

It was probably a good thing though, he reminded himself, Belle had a terrible tendency to try to handle everything on her own. Within the first week of her employment, she had climbed up onto a ladder, insisting that she would be able to shelve the new encyclopedias without any assistance form her student aides.

He had come in to ensure that this new librarian would have all of his students’ required reading materials, and was fully prepared to the bastard that she would no doubt expect him to be. His plan was destroyed though when her lilting voice called him over and she asked if he would be so kind as to hand her books C though H. Without another thought toward his original plan, he began handing up books to the beauty on the ladder and asked why she didn’t have a student helping her.

“They’re sweet kids but they I’m pretty sure they think that Dewey Decimal system is some sort of X-Box cheat code.” she’d said. She had made it though Book F before her sky-high heels betrayed her and sent her arms reeling backwards. Before he had time to remember just how pathetic his body was, Gold had dove beneath her, catching her before her head could crash upon the unforgiving ground. She looked at him in what his desperate mind wanted to believe was a mix of love and wonder, though they had only just met. After she had frantically apologized and tried to check him for injuries, she introduced herself and Gold found himself hooked.

She had somehow become more than a colleague to him in her short time in Storybrooke, for reasons he could not even begin to fathom. Actually, he could very much fathom the reasons for his attachment to her, but those were dangerous thoughts that he wasn’t quite ready to admit into existence. She was beautiful to be sure, but Gold knew better than to be taken in by nothing more than a pretty face. No, it was her unwavering kindness and optimism that had lured him in until he was all but addicted to their near daily meetings at her desk. Gold knew he was not exactly easy to get along with, which made her genuine delight at his presence all the sweeter. Every time he had conjured up another excuse to visit the library, Belle would be at her desk wearing a bright smile and a pair of ridiculous heels. She would ask him if she could help him find something, to which he would always say yes, though by this point he could probably find his way through the stacks blindfolded.

They hadn’t strayed much from the safe topic of the English language, a passion they both shared, and general small talk but Gold relished each and every conversation as if they were baring their souls to one another. And in a way they were.

Books, words in general really, were precious to Gold. They were so often underestimated, yet, when placed in the care of a particular few, they had the power to change everything. Belle was one of the rare beings he had encountered who had understood just how valuable a good book could be, not only for students, but for adults as well. It must have been somewhere between discussions of the overrated tome, War and Peace, and debating on the usefulness of satire that Gold had fallen head over heels in love with her.

Then again, how could there have been any other result? She was kind; he had been starved for affection for over two decades. It would have been impossible for him not to have some feelings for her. Up until Jefferson’s less than subtle ploy to coerce him into attending the faculty Christmas party, Gold had thought that he had done an admirable job concealing his feelings for her.

“Gold? Are you still there? Are you already in your car?” Gold suddenly realized that he never actually responded to Jefferson.

“No, I am not in my car and I don’t plan to be until these essays have been thoroughly marked. Furthermore, I am not going to make an ass of myself just because a young woman didn’t bring a date to your ridiculous party. Besides B- Ms. French and I are colleagues and nothing more!” Gold exclaimed.

“Well, your ‘colleague' is currently being harassed by that idiot Aston- she’s deflecting his absolutely atrocious efforts at flirting most admirably, I might add- and were I not bound by my entertainment duties as the host, I would have personally seen to his removal hours ago…”

The thought of anyone speaking to Belle in a crude way was enough to make Gold want to thrash something with his cane. The thought of that hulking neanderthal speaking to Belle at all was enough to make him reach for his keys.

Said neanderthal had been hired around the same time as Belle as the athletic trainer for the school, and, being the infamous Storybook High football alumni that he was, decided that his adolescent fame somehow entitled him to the affections and attentions of whomever he deemed worthy. Apparently, tonight that unfortunate soul was Belle French.

Jefferson was still prattling on about how it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep an eye on Aston and how if people (and alcohol) kept flowing into the party he was afraid that dear Ms. French could get lost in the shuffle. By now Gold had completely abandoned his half graded essays and had begun to tie his scarf as he stalked out towards the parking lot.

“Jefferson, I will be there in exactly nineteen minutes. If anything unseemly takes place between Belle and Aston within that time I will be holding you personally responsible for my actions.” Gold snapped his phone shut and with a violent turn of his key, the black Cadillac roared to life.

===

Jefferson listened to the distant slam of a car door before the line disconnected and smiled, satisfied that his ingenious plan was in motion at last.

“Are you sure this is a good idea? Belle looks terribly uncomfortable down there.” Archie Hopper, Jefferson’s reluctant coconspirator, peered down nervously over the balcony overlooking the ballroom where the faculty Christmas party was currently taking place. The jumpy redhead was never really supportive of all the theatric measures that Jefferson’s plans usually entailed but, after being convinced that this one was ultimately in the name of True Love and a milder Mr. Gold, he agreed to help in any way he could.

“Not to worry, my skittish friend,” Jefferson declared jovially, “I have strategically placed our fellow conspirators in locations that will ensure an immediate intervention should Aston be stupid enough to even think about laying so much as a finger on her.” He pointed to where Belle was trying her best to remain cordial with the man who was now so drunk he was relying on the nearest wall to prop himself upright.

“Mulan and Ruby are exactly four and a half feet on either side of them, ready to rip Aston to shreds if need be. David and Mary Margaret are guarding the staircases, so he won’t ever be out of our sight. My darling Alice has been keeping watch on them from the punch bowl, and I can tell you from personal experience that she has wicked aim with a teacup.” He rubbed the back of his head at the memory. “And you and I are supervising from above. What could possibly go wrong?”

“Oh I don’t know- a two hundred pound, intoxicated man harassing a tiny woman. What couldn’t go wrong?”

“First of all, that oaf stopped forming real words an hour ago and is extremely unlikely to do anything in the next hour other than pass out. Secondly, that tiny woman is not some shrinking violet. She is perfectly able to handle herself and is now just making sure he does’t bother anyone else. So again I ask: what could go wrong?”   

“Gold could figure out your plan and we all would be witnesses to a brutal murder.” Archie muttered, taking another good look at the athletic trainer and the librarian. As much as he disliked the situation, he had to admit that Jefferson made a fair point. Belle looked almost amused by the drunkard she was standing next to and would occasionally prompt him if it looked like his stupor had left him at a loss for words. Despite the fact that Aston was a good foot and a half taller than her and embodied the phrase “dumber than a post,” Archie’s didn’t get the impression that he would become violent. At least, not before Mulan knocked him into next semester. Being the the girl’s volleyball, fencing, and wrestling coach she had spent more than enough time with the athletic trainer to form a less than flattering opinion of him and would have no trouble taking advantage of an opportunity to show exactly what “hitting like a girl” meant.

Archie sighed and wished he had brought Pongo with him. As his therapy dog, Pongo was a constant source of anxiety relief; he also made an excellent excuse for leaving uncomfortable situations. However, this time there was too much at stake. Gold and Belle had been tiptoeing around each other for almost a year now, and it was time to act.

Storybrooke High’s annual Christmas party was infamous for its bringing couples together— so much so that by not bringing a date, Ms. French had practically marked open season on herself for any unattached male in attendance. In her defense, it was her first staff party and no where in the mass email did it state that a date was mandatory. Truth be told, most people thought she would have asked Gold to accompany her. Jefferson, however, had no such confidence in either of them plucking up the courage to ask the other out, which of course led to his brilliant plan of “accidentally” sending an invitation to the athletic office and then asking the lone librarian if she would be so kind as to keep Aston corralled while he sobered up and Jefferson called for a ride. Phase two was a bit more precarious in the fact that Gold had overtly refused to attend the annual Christmas party ever since he started teaching, for some reason boozy revelry did not have the same appeal to Gold as it did to the rest of the staff. Getting him here would be a challenge in it of itself, though with Belle in supposed “danger” Gold’s presence was all but assured.

They truly were oblivious to each other’s depth of feelings, and it was becoming almost painful to be around them. The shy glances when the other wasn’t looking, the inside jokes, sometimes it seemed that they almost communicated without words at all. Being the school’s psychologist, Archie Hopper considered himself to be well in tuned to human behavior, and in his professional opinion Belle French and Raymond Gold were madly, stupidly, wonderfully, in love. It would have been even better if they knew it too.

Despite what his fearsome reputation would have everyone believe, Mr. Gold was painfully shy, and though Archie never had been on the receiving end of his wrath, he had a feeling that Gold’s bark was far worse than his bite— not that he would ever want to test that theory. He was also a master of manipulation. Archie thought back to their first school-mandated session when he found himself caught in Gold’s web of words and tripping over his own thoughts. It was impressive and a bit intimidating to say the least to see someone so artfully persuade another into believing exactly what they wanted them to. It was probably a great asset to him in the classroom, seconded only by the rumor that he was actually a serial killer in the Witness Protection Program.     

Depending on how tonight went, he might need to go into the program. At least then he might get out of the craziness that somehow always found its way to Storybrooke. With another dubious glance cast towards Ms. French, Archie took a small sip of his eggnog and prayed that for once Jefferson knew what he was doing.

===

What the hell was he doing?

Gold raged against himself as the snow began to fall harder in the chilly December night. Belle would be mortified if he came barging in trying to be some sort of knight in shining armor. As if he ever had a prayer of fitting that role. He was more of a crippled monster that hoarded trinkets and old books than a hero. He had told her that once. Belle had been trying to finalize her Hermione outfit for Costume Day at school and they had fallen into a conversation about the accessibility of Rowling’s characters. “I suppose this might be a bit on the nose,” Belle had said adjusting her Gryffindor tie, “Brunette know-it-all that can usually be found in the library, trying to keep He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from terrorizing the students.”  She bumped his arm, trying to hide her grin. It had been something of an inside joke between the two of them when she asked him why it seemed that everyone in the school, if not the town, treated his name with the same kind of reverenced fear as Voldemort’s. It became even funnier when she realized that without his library card she wouldn’t have known his first name at all.

“I’ll have you know that I haven’t terrorized anyone in almost thirty minutes, besides what would a heroine be without a fearsome beast to defeat?” he asked. The look she gave him was one she wore often around him. It seemed to say, “You’re ridiculous, but not fooling me.”

“You’re not a beast,” she said, “and even if you were you’d be a Remus Lupin sort of monster— loyal and clever and…”

“Only frightening when the full moon is out?” Gold prompted. That earned him another soft bump on the arm paired with an eye roll.

“Bottom line is: I don’t think you would ever choose to be a monster, which in my book doesn’t make you scary at all.”

She couldn’t have known it at the time, but her words made him feel…lighter somehow. As if just by saying she understood him, or was at least trying to, his reputation of being the evil English teacher didn’t weigh as heavily on his mind. Not that he would ever admit to caring what people thought about him.

Gold turned on to the long gravel road that would eventually take him to Maddenson Manor, or as it was fondly referred to by its owner, The Mad House. The radio was now nothing but static and there were no other noises other than the familiar rumble of the engine and the crunching of gravel beneath the wheels. None of these sounds were at all conducive to quieting his tempestuous mind. 

The part of him still blinded by a mixture of panic and rage urged him to march straight into the party, rip Aston away from Belle, or apart depending how much left over adrenaline was pumping through him, and then do what he should have done months ago and ask her out…or kiss her. Gold shook himself out of that thought. Having someone force themselves on Belle was the whole reason he was on his way to this god-forsaken party. He was not going to make himself part of the problem. He’d be lucky to escape this night with a fraction of dignity let alone a stolen kiss.

He should probably just turn around and go back to his essays. He had no business interfering with Belle’s personal life just because she was friendly with him during school hours. And who knows, maybe that friendliness was just him projecting his feelings. That was a thing, wasn’t it? Gold’s thoughts were getting him no where and he beginning to annoy himself with his indecisiveness.

The road opened to a large roundabout driveway with a striped house intersecting it. With the woods surrounding it and the snow just starting to stick, it made for a picture perfect scene. It was too bad that he wasn’t in to proper frame of mind to enjoy it. What he needed was a strategy. He couldn’t go in there shouting with guns blazing without humiliating Belle and himself, but if he waited too long she could be lost in the madness. Surely there had to be some sort of middle ground that didn’t make him seem like a crazed stalker and kept that giant oaf as far away from Belle as humanly possible. Now all he had to do was find said middle ground before he reached the door, he thought as he turned off the engine, effectively sealing his fate.

===

Belle French had been to worse parties. There was that one disaster of a birthday when Ruby took her to a bar and they almost got arrested for assault and then were put under house arrest by Granny for the next twenty-four hours. However, entertaining a drunken imbecile for two hours while being stared at by several of her coworkers was starting to creep up into the running for the top spot. She wished she had not taken Ruby’s advice and left her book at home. Though if she were being totally honest with herself, she wished it was Mr. Gold in front of her right now in stead of Gary. Raymond Gold was one of the great mysteries of Storybrooke, and he was also one of her dearest friends. Of course, if it was up to her he would have been much, much more long before she even knew about the party. She had tried sending him hints, saying that she had no date for tonight or any other night for that matter, and for a brief moment it looked like he was going to ask her to go with him. That moment was interrupted by a student who had knocked over a display of seasonal novels and his teaching mask had slipped over the kind face she adored by the time she returned from helping rearrange the display. So here she was, listening to yet another slurred tale of the great Gary Aston’s football career, hoping beyond hope that Ruby would be ready to leave within the hour so she could salvage her night with a hot bath and her book.

Gary, even while sober, had no sense of personal space and seemed to get worse when his already limited intelligence was at the mercy of Captain Morgan.

“So so then, you know what I did,” he leaned in closer nearly toppling his already precarious balance. Belle pressed a hand to his chest forcing him back to his original distance. “It’s like talking to one of those punching clowns,” Belle thought to herself, “he just keeps coming back.”

Jefferson had said he was calling a cab for Gary over an hour ago and had practically begged her to occupy him so the party wouldn’t be ruined for the rest of the staff and their dates. It was only his third year hosting the faculty Christmas party and in spite of his laid back attitude in his classroom, Jefferson’s party seemed incredibly well planned out. Trying her best not to inhale the stench of liquor that was reeking from Gary’s mouth, Belle kept herself entertained by imagining how differently this night would have been had she been brave enough to ask Gold to the party herself. He did seem a bit old-fashioned, but Belle thought he might appreciate her taking the initiative, at least at first. He would have picked her up in that car he loved so much. Maybe he even would have brought her flowers. They both knew how much she loved roses. He would help her into the car, commenting on how lovely she looked, and she would blush like she always did when he noticed something about her that wasn’t related to her job. She loved talking with Gold about books, she truly did, but she was greedy and she wanted him to notice her as a person not just as a fellow reading buddy. “I should just be thankful that he’s still my friend after some of my more obvious attempts at flirting.” she thought wryly before returning to her little fantasy.

They would arrive to the party a little late, walking in together arm in arm, ignoring the stares and whispers that would come from the busybodies. They were together and they were happy— that would be the only thing that mattered. She would probably talk him into a dance or two, being mindful of his bad ankle, of course. She knew he was self-conscious about it. He didn't come to the library for a week after the first time she mentioned it. Then they would sit and talk, relishing the minute details they would learn about each others’ lives— the ones that never seemed to enter into conversation during school hours. Ruby might steal her away for a bit, leaving Gold to keep Jefferson in line and they would steal glances and make faces at each other until one of them surrendered to laughter. It would probably be her. Then, when she could feel herself tiring from the eggnog and general party atmosphere, Gold would come up to her, slide a warm hand around her waist and say,

“Belle, are you ready to go home?”

Belle gave a small gasp when she realized that someone actually did say those words and someone’s hand really was around her waist. Her eyes felt huge when she realized that that someone was actually her someone.

“Gold?” she said, still slightly stunned by his presence. He seemed completely at ease save for the one hand that was white-knocking his cane.

“I’ve pulled the car around,” he explained, then hesitated, “that is, if you want to leave.”

His eyes searched hers, pleading with her to play along, and damn if she could say no to that puppy dog face.

“Oh, uh, of course sweetheart,” His eyes widened slightly at the endearment, ”I guess I lost track of the time.”

She was about to follow him out the door and then (if this wasn’t some kind of sick joke) kiss him silly when a different, larger hand grabbed at the sleeve of her sweater.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Gary slurred, “I’s talkin’ t’her.”

Gold’s eyes flashed with a fury and for a second Belle was a bit worried that she was about to witness an asinine alpha male smack-down. Instead, Gold broke his gaze and fixed it firmly on Gary.

“Mr. Aston,” Gold said as Belle plucked his hand from her sleeve, ”I think you would be wise to never touch Belle again. In fact, I cannot think of a single reason beyond checking out a For Idiots guide that you would even have reason to see her again. But if you do, might I suggest that you be sober enough to stand on your own?”

Slipping her hand into his, they turned to leave again when Gary muttered, “Fine. She’s not that hot anyways.”

Gold didn’t even turn around, but stopped dead in his tracks and responded instantly.

“No, she isn’t.” he said, and Belle swore she felt like her heart fell through the floor. He never showed many signs of being attracted to her, but did he have to announce that he thought she was ugly to the entire staff?

“Belle French is the most beautiful, stunning, wonderful woman I have ever met and neither you nor I are worthy enough to speak to her. You have abused her tolerance long enough and I am losing my patience with your ignorance.” Gold turned his head, delivering the final blow to his little speech. “Oh, and Mr. Aston, do try to learn some decorum come New Year’s. I hate having to repeat myself, especially to the school board.”

It was clear that Gary was still reeling for the onslaught of multi-syllable words that had been rained down upon him as they made their way to the door.

===

They made it as far as the somewhat empty foyer before Gold asked to sit. Now that they were alone, the previous adrenaline rush that had prompted this whole endeavor was quickly fading.

Belle spoke first.

“So, um thank you for uh, that back there.” She gestured toward the wall that she had been confined to for the past couple of hours.

“Yes, well I uh," Gold struggled to put together a sentence that didn’t make him sound like some sort of stalker, “Jefferson called and said that you seemed uh, un-uncomfortable. So I thought that, since we’re friends, I should check, I mean, not that you need to be checked up on, but because I or he rather… oh God.” Gold ran a hand through his hair. He would be lucky if she didn’t sue him for harassment after this. He forced himself to make eye contact with her if only so he could try to burn the image of her eyes into his memory since her prescence would no longer be an option. He was shocked to see a gentle but amused smile starting to form.

“So you drove here, to a party that you hate, and ran off an obnoxious drunkard because you thought that there was a small chance that I might be uncomfortable?”

“Well, yes but…”

The rest of his feeble defense was swallowed by a pair of amazingly soft lips pressed against his own.

Someone was kissing him.

Belle was kissing him.

Before his brain had enough time to fully process what could have possessed her to do such a thing, she had pulled away. Her face was almost the exact shade of her lipstick, which Gold was sure had stained his own lips, and she was poorly containing an impish grin.

Gold spoke first this time, feeling more confident since she didn’t immediately run screaming.

“So does that mean you aren’t angry with me for intruding on your evening?”

It didn’t seem possible, but her smile grew. “I’m just angry that you haven’t intruded on more.”

“I meant what I said back there.” Gold nodded toward the ballroom, standing back up and recapturing her hands in his own, “Every word.”

Blue eyes shown with a happiness that had to be reflected in his own brown pair. “I know, and I feel the same.” she said.

“Oh so you think you’re the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world too?” Gold teased. She gave him that same “You’re ridiculous” look again and answered, “I believe stunning was somewhere in there too.”

“How remiss of me,” Gold absentmindedly brushed some hair behind one of her ears.

“And what I meant was that I think you are the most brilliant, kind, and interesting man that I have ever met and if you ever call yourself unworthy again, I’m sending you…”

Gold couldn’t help himself and interrupted her words with another intensely sweet kiss. This woman just might be the one to make future Christmas parties bearable.

*

It wasn’t until they were in the car heading back to her apartment, that he had the mind to ask, “So how did you end up being a rodeo clown for Aston anyway?” 

===

Jefferson melted into his armchair and undid the knot of his purple cravat. All the guests were finally gone, the cleaning could wait until morning. A soft knock on the door of his study alerted him to his wife’s presence. “Oh dear,” she mock scolded before settling herself onto her husband’s lap, “The Mad Hatter is all tuckered out and it’s barely one o’clock. Sounds like someone is growing old.”

She squealed when Jefferson poked her side. “Matchmaking is exhausting.”

Alice hummed in agreement, “It did work out though, quite well I might add.”

“It did, didn’t it?” Jefferson smiled proudly.

“Yes, it did, but let’s not push our luck. Another second of Aston’s hand on Belle and he would have had a teacup shaped lump on his skull.”

Jefferson pressed a kiss to the side of her head and she could feel him grinning.

“I love you, my Alice.”

“I love you too. Now let’s get ready for bed, you know Grace will be absolutely off the walls once she gets back from Granny’s.” She slid off of his lap with a grace that would always amaze him and helped him out of his comfy position.

“Especially once Ruby gets there to spoil her,” Jefferson agreed, then paused, thinking a moment.

“Say Alice,” he said the wheels starting to turn in his head, “What kind of couple do you think Ruby and Archie would make?”

Before she had time to shoot down his idea the phone gave a shrill ring. Jefferson picked it up and gave his signature “Maddenson residence,” answer.

“DID YOU PUT BELLE IN THE PATH OF THAT BLOODY NEANDERTHAL AS SOME SORT OF SICK PLOY TO GET ME TO YOUR RIDICU-“

Jefferson paled at the sound of Gold’s fury, “Er, um sorry you have the wrong number.” he said and quickly hung up the phone.

Alice was right, he shouldn’t press his luck any further with this whole matchmaking business.

At least, not until New Years.