With a hoot of laughter, Bae picked himself up from the floor and trotted over to the circulation desk. “I got him, Belle! I got Papa too!”
Belle gave her boyfriend an apologetic look, but smiled at the boy. “You didn’t even twitch,” she praised as she reached up to ruffle his hair, careful not to smear the wound they had painted on his forehead earlier that morning. “But maybe you shouldn’t have given your Papa such a fright?”
Far from contrite, the fifteen-year-old stared at her. “Belle,” he said, in the same tone his father used when explaining a perfectly worded yet ignored clause of a contract, “it’s Halloween.”
Oliver must have recovered from the shock of finding his son in a pool of blood, because he cleared his throat. “So it is,” he admitted, though there was still a tight line to his lips. He made his way across the room, studying with distaste the make up that had turned a healthy boy into an assault victim. Peeved, he raised an eyebrow at Belle. “When you said you could use Baelfire’s help in the library today, I somehow failed to imagine he’d play the corpse.”
Belle bit her lower lip so as not to laugh. The use of his son’s full name was an indicator of the temper behind the quiet voice, but that didn’t worry her. She understood it was a result of the shock rather than true anger. By evening, Oliver would see the humor of it, and perhaps in a couple days she could start teasing him. “I did mention we’d be on costume,” she told him, motioning to her green outfit and shaking her shoulders a little so the fairy wings would flap behind her.
Oliver gave her an unamused look. Raised by superstitious aunts who’d put more faith in wards to drive off mischievous spirits than in prayers, he was of the firm notion that, if the fae folk were real, they would be tricking people and stealing babies.
Undeterred by his bad mood, Belle tapped his chest with the magic wand that completed her look. “Here. Now you have a sense of humor too.”
His mouth twitched. “I see,” he said, his voice considerably lighter even if he gave girlfriend and son a despairing look. “Any chance there’s enough magic in that stick-” he motioned at the wand “-to bring my son back to life?”
Belle turned to Bae, who was shaking his head emphatically. “Sorry, mister,” she said to Oliver, pouting in mock-sympathy, “but dead’s dead. That’s the rules.”
He sniffed in disbelief. “I’ve never met a rule that couldn’t be bent, when not broken altogether. And besides,” he added as neither Belle nor Bae looked eager to indulge him, “isn’t this set-up too scary for kids?”
Bae snorted. “Scary? Please.”
Belle gave him a chiding look at the tone, but after a mumbled “Sorry!”, she nodded in agreement. “Children know it cannot be real. If anything, it’s the grown-ups that get the worst scare.” She gave Oliver a little smile. “Case in point…”
“She’s right, Papa. The little ones love it!” Bae said excitedly. “They come and poke to see if I’m really dead! And they laugh so hard when I groan. …Well, except that girl who kicked me. That wasn’t nice.”
Belle hastened to cut in. “Sean Herman’s oldest. She’s only three, but her father took her away at once anyway, and it looked like quite the scolding,” she reassured him.
“Hmph. Like mother, like daughter,” Oliver mused, unconsciously lifting a hand to his left temple.
Belle had seen the small scar at the hairline, a reminder of his encounter with Sean’s wife. As the messy non-adoption had happened long before her arrival in Storybrooke, Belle had only heard the highlights, and that after her relationship with Oliver was public and she’d mentioned to Ruby that one of the other waitresses was behaving strangely around her.
“Oh, you mean Ashley?” Ruby had looked over her shoulder to check that Granny was in the kitchen. “Sure, she’s been avoiding you for weeks. The girl can’t stand anything to do with Mr. Gold, which is the silliest thing because your boyfriend practically owns the town…” She had strayed off, finally realizing that Belle was at a loss. “Oh. That’s right. You haven’t been here a year yet, have you? Well, it went like this…”
Belle had never asked for Oliver’s side of the story. That, despite his prickly pride and his obsession with getting even, he hadn’t pressed charges against an eighteen-year-old mother told her everything she needed to know.
Now she put the silly wand on her desk and stepped forward to thread her arm through his, leaning against his shoulder affectionately. Bae made a show of rolling his eyes, a true gruesome sight considering the make-up, but Belle responded by poking out her tongue and snuggling closer to her boyfriend.
“Fine,” Bae said jokingly, shaking his head in mock exasperation. “You can keep him for now, but I’ll need him to help with Algebra before dinner!”
Oliver laughed at their antics. “I think I will keep the two of you, thank you very much,” he said, and only Belle noticed how he stood a little straighter.
“And you do a great job of it,” she told him, nodding at the trio of paper bags that were still dangling from his right hand. “We were just wondering whether we famished a little longer to change, or dared to head over to Granny’s in costume.”
“Good thing you didn’t,” said Oliver, glancing his son over, grimacing at the too realistic gunshot wound on his forehead. “You would have put all of Mrs. Lucas’ clientele off their food. I know I don’t have much of an appetite anymore.”
“Never mind me, sweetheart.” He bent for a quick kiss on the crown of her head and then dislodged himself to put the hamburgers down. “I’d seen your choice of costume, so I was expecting to find Neverland, not a crime scene.”
Bae groaned. “You two are waaaaay too alike! Belle actually wanted me to be Peter Pan!”
“I had the cutest outfit ready,” Belle sighed.
“That movie sucks,” Bae said even as he looked into the bags, searching for the order without pickles. “A boy who doesn’t want to grow up? Please.”
“Still a cute outfit.”
Bae raised his head, his expression a clear show of all his teenage disdain at the notion of cuteness. “I’ll make you a deal, Belle. When I get a little brother,-” he ignored the twin gasps around him “-you can dress him up as Peter Pan, and I’ll… I’ll be Captain Hook, okay?”
There was a beat of silence, then two voices spoke over each other:
“Well, son… um.”
Apparently Belle had recovered first.
Her hand found Oliver’s and gave it a light squeeze, a silent promise to discuss the matter properly in private while at the same time a reassurance that she was looking forward to such an event down the line.
Bae shrugged, unconcerned that he’d just given his blessing to a subject his father had been hesitant to approach. “Sure.”
Without turning, she knew that Oliver must be smiling as well.
Oblivious to the undercurrents, Bae fished out and unwrapped his hamburger. He bit into it with the typical hunger of a boy his age, then groaned as he swiped red sauce off his chin with the back of his hand. “Aw, Papa,” he said even as Belle pulled out a few napkins for him, “do you have to pour in the whole bottle of ketchup every time?”