That morning was sunflowers.
Frying bacon sizzled in the black cast iron skillet, warming the kitchen of the pink Victorian Queen Anne that rather chilly morning. Belle had been an early bird for years, ever since she was a little girl, rising with the sound of the doves in the white pine trees and dew on the windows. The peace she found padding around in that small but elegant kitchen, all polished wood and dark granite at 6 a.m. was more like a time of prayer. It let her think on her dreams, plan her day, and enjoy the quiet of being in her home.
Above her, she could hear muffled footfalls and quickened her pace with the pancakes, sprinkling the blueberries into the batter. It was a Saturday, and those were sacred in the Gold household. It was the day her husband slept in, a day for rumpled sheets and old books, listening to the rain patter against the windows, warm tea and card games.
Belle smiled over her shoulder at her boy, disheveled in his pajamas, his fluffled hair resembling a brown football helmet. He was trying desperately to rub sleep from his eyes, squinting against the buttery sunshine filling the windows. Belle walked over as he slid onto the stool of the island counter, setting down a glass of orange juice and swatting his arm, “Stop that, you’ll ruin your eyes.”
“It smells good,” he said, giving her a sleepy, lopsided smile as he dropped his hands. Belle grinned at him, running a hand through his thick brown hair, before pulling him gently into a hug. He wrapped his arms around her middle, pressing his face into her shoulder. Belle kissed the top of his head, rubbing his back and felt her heart squeeze when he sighed and hugged her tighter.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked, combing her fingers through his hair in an attempt to tame it. It was a lost cause, she knew, and as he sat back in his chair, his mane was even more unruly.
“Yeah, all right,” he murmured before drinking some of his juice, gulping so loudly Belle could hear him over the snapping of the bacon as she flipped it with a fork.
Belle laughed, looking at him, “Bae, slow down! You’re going to choke!”
Wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, he beamed at her across the kitchen, before tilting his head. “You look different.”
Belle furrowed her eyebrows, dumping the bacon out of the pan and flipping the pancakes with familiar ease. She glanced at him, pouting a bit. “Different?”
“Maybe you’re just not used to seeing me in this light,” Belle gestured to the sunshine, and Bae winced, rubbing his hair down over his forehead. Like his father, he wasn’t up early unless it was required of him. Stacking pancakes and bacon, Belle set his plate down in front of him, leaning across the counter. “A little light changes things.”
Bae eyed her skeptically, and Belle matched him with her own challenging look, playfulness tinging her lips. She offered him a fork, but when going to grab it, Belle snatched it away with a snicker. “Too slow.”
“Oh, come on, it’s early!” Bae groaned, elbows on the counter and dropping his face in his hands. A methodical tap against the hardwood made Bae drop his hands and smirk. “Papa’ll help me.”
Belle scoffed, her grin splitting her face and brightening her eyes as she twirled the fork just out of Bae’s reaching hands. “Oh, you think so?” she sang. “Let’s see about that.”
Standing in the doorway to the kitchen, dressed in a white cotton shirt, forest green plaid pants and a flannel robe, Mr. Gold didn’t cut a very intimidating picture, fingers rubbing his eyes in mid yawn. “See about what?” he warbled through his thick Scottish accent, roughened with sleep. He was, by all accounts, not a morning person.
“You’ll ruin your eyes,” Bae remarked, turned on his stool as his father lumbered into the kitchen, making a beeline to the coffee pot that was already simmering.
Hanging up his cane on the counter’s edge, Gold snorted as he got his mug and poured his drink. Belle leaned both elbows on the counter, stealing a glance over her shoulder at her husband before grinning back at her boy and mouthing, “You’re on.”
Bae measured her with careful thought before smirking and straightening in his seat. “Papa, Mum looks different, doesn’t she?”
Belle narrowed her eyes questioningly, rolling up and down on the balls of her feet as Gold came to stand beside his wife, taking a generous sip from his mug. He glanced between the two of them, running his hand down Belle’s back thoughtfully before leaning down and placing a kiss in her mess of chestnut curls. “Just as lovely as always.”
“No, really, she looks different!”
Belle smirked, tapping his fork against her cheek. “I think our boy is fishing, Mr. Gold.”
Her husband smirked into his coffee. “Aye, I’d say so.”
“Am not,” Bae huffed, reaching for the fork again and, once again, missing just out of reach.
“Perhaps you should take a page from your father’s book,” Belle advised, side eyeing her husband who plucked a piece of bacon off his son’s plate while the boy wasn’t looking, seemingly indifferent to the battle of wits occurring before him.
Bae frowned at a loss. “I don’t owe you any money.”
His father choked on a laugh, and Belle elbowed him. She grinned at Bae, tilting her head. “Starts with a ‘P’...”
Before Bae could say anything, Mr. Gold slipped his arm around his wife’s waist, pulling her gently to nestle against him, pressing another kiss to her ear. “Let the lad eat his breakfast, dove,” he murmured, and under the cover of the counter let his hand slip along down her backside, hiding his grin in her hair at the sound her hitched breathing. “ Please. ”
“Please!” Bae beamed triumphantly, holding out his hand.
Belle surrendered the fork without any further argument, smiling in her defeat and more attentive to her husband’s carelessly wandering hands and sleepy nuzzling in her hair. Bae rolled his eyes and grabbed his plate, sliding up from his stool. “I’ll eat on the porch,” he opted, snatching the syrup before shuffling out the back door.
“That wasn’t fair,” Belle murmured, feeling her husband wrap his arms around her, his chest warm against her back, and his lips nibbling up the smoothness of her neck. His hands roamed down her arms over the fabric of his royal blue shirt until his fingers entwined with hers.
“Since when have I ever played fair, little dove?” Gold asked, leaning them both against the kitchen counter as he drew more comfort from his wife’s warm skin than his cup of coffee. He gave the softest bite just beneath her jaw, soothing it with a kiss and groaning under his breath, “You taste like sunshine.”
Belle wiggled in delight at the scrape of his stubble, grinning over her shoulder up at him. “Good morning to you, too,” she teased, kissing the corner of his mouth and drinking in the scent of coffee and clean soap, leaning back on her heels and into him. Her husband smiled and caught her lips in a true kiss, holding her tighter. Neither minded that the sun was in their eyes.
That day was forget-me-nots.
Keeping secrets was an impossible feat, but Belle and Bae managed it for roughly a week. Bae forwent the pleasure of sleeping in his last few days of summer, and after Mr. Gold left for work, they’d started their ruse. It had taken an hour to clear a path in their back room, moving furniture and handling boxes. They tried not to break anything and more or less succeeded.
“You know, I love your father,” Belle huffed, leaning over an ornate carousel horse to look down at Bae who struggled to wobble an armoire into submission against the wall. He was handling all the heavy lifting for her. “But he is a magpie.”
The young boy slumped against the wall, huffing, “What are we going to do with all of this?”
“The attic, I suppose,” Belle mused. She was able to pick her way to the far side of the room and wrench the window open, airing out the dust. Mother and son exchanged a resigned glance before they set back to work. By the time Mr. Gold arrived home, sprinkled in rain and shivering, he found his wife sprawled on their couch, her leg and arm hanging off the side, so far gone in sleep that she didn’t seem to mind their son hogging most of the cushion space, nestled against her side and snoring with his mouth open.
Once they’d been able to shoulder all the boxes and furniture up into the attic the following day, after Belle had placed a polite call to Jefferson Madden for assistance, Belle and Bae took to the streets of Storybooke to continue working their secret.
It wasn’t easy to keep secrets from Mr. Gold. In fact, the pawnbroker almost found them out.
It’d been just outside Granny’s diner, Bae practically dragging Belle along down the sidewalk, tottering on her kitten heels to keep up with his brisk pace. “Handle me with some care, Bae, I’m not as young as you!” she puffed, squeezing his hand.
Bae set her with a look askance over his shoulder, turning around only just in time to barrel into the one person they’d been looking for. “August!” Bae beamed, skidding to a stop.
Belle very nearly bowled them all over trying to stop in their haste, spent from their run but managed a breathless, “Bae, your manners are atrocious.”
“Sorry, Mr. Booth,” the boy corrected, rolling his eyes.
“That’s okay,” August laughed, glancing between mother and son as he stepped around to his motorcycle parked on the curb. “Everything all right, Bae? Mrs. Gold?”
Bae snorted, “Oh you have no idea-”
Belle’s gloved hand clamped over her son’s mouth, pulling him back into a hug as she smiled warmly at Marine Garage’s assistant. “We were wondering if you could help us with something.”
August raised his eyebrows, his hands stilling over his bike helmet. “Oh?”
“Emma told me how you helped fix Mary Margaret’s lock-well, built her a whole new one, from what I understand. I was hoping your skill was a bit broader than small level woodwork,” Belle smiled, dropping her hands to rest on Bae’s shoulders. “And we’ll pay you, of course.”
Both August and Bae jumped, and Belle winced at the Scottish brogue as they turned to face her husband who was leaning on his cane just behind them, his eyes narrowed at his wife. He walked over, his gait slow and prowling as he came to stand beside his family. “Any particular reason we need ‘woodwork’ done?”
Belle blinked up at her husband, who so smoothly invaded her personal space with the smoldering look he knew all too well stole her words and made her knees buckle. His ability to bring out the blush in her cheeks even on that cold,wet afternoon was an art- one Bae had recognized early on.
“I need a new bookshelf,” Bae piped, surprising both his parents and earning an approving grin from August. “You know- the new term’s starting next week, and my old one is so small...”
Gold glanced between his son and wife, casting a dark look to August, before pursing his lips. “Right.”
After that close encounter, Belle and Bae both knew that Gold was aware they were keeping a secret. Belle had noticed her husband hesitating during conversations, clearly wanting to ask but folding at the last minute, allowing her to change the subject. She hoped his doubt was because he trusted her to come to him when she was ready, and not for any other reasons.
As the week went on, Belle thought they stood a good chance at dodging her husband’s suspicious lurking, only going into the spare room when he was out of the house and careful to not mention a word otherwise. After they’d cleared it out, Belle had got to work scrubbing the floors and washing the windows while Bae peeled the old wallpaper off (a task he found more fun than he’d first anticipated). That Thursday, August delivered Belle’s purchases, which he had helped move into the room and cover with sheets.
“I can help with the painting,” he offered, his eyes catching the buckets sitting on the window sill.
“It’s all right, Bae and I have it,” Belle smiled, resting her hands on her hips. Which was partly true, while the other half was that Belle had planned it in her head how she wanted the room painted. She and Bae had sat for an entire afternoon sifting through colors and had narrowed it down to the palest gold that had a trace of shimmer to it.
So it was perched on a ladder dabbing around the closet door with a paintbrush, dressed in one of her husband’s old white button down shirts and the jean shorts she owned that Belle found herself that Friday afternoon as she and her boy worked in quiet diligence.
“He knows,” Bae said finally, looking over at Belle from the seat on his own ladder, painting the ceiling. Belle had promised to let him take charge of that all on his own, since it made her dizzy looking up for that long.
“He does,” she nodded, the vivid violet paint swirling against the pale gold backdrop.
Bae frowned, “So much for surprises.”
“Oh, don’t be sour,” Belle smiled at him. “All he knows is we have a secret. Doesn’t even begin to guess what it is,” she turned in her seat and flicked paint at him.
Bae got caught speckles of purple across his nose and shirt. “Augh!” he laughed, trying to wipe it away and only smearing it.
Belle stuck her tongue out, and that was a declaration of war.
Careful of the walls, they poked and prodded each other with their wet paint brushes until Belle slipped on the tarp they’d laid down, but she made certain to take Bae with her until she had him at her mercy, tickling him until his tears made tracks down his purple splotted cheeks. They were so absorbed in their giggles that the tapping of Mr. Gold’s cane against the hardwood and the creak as he pushed the door open were entirely lost.
“What is all of this?”
Belle and Bae froze, both their heads snapping up to meet their husband and father. Dressed in his normally impeccable black suit and coat, he cut a dark shadow against the lightness of the room. Bae smiled weakly, waving a lazy hand and panting, “Hi, Papa.”
“You’re home early!” Belle sputtered, pushing herself up into a crouch before pulling Bae up with her.
Gold’s eyes took in the room slowly, and Belle knew what he saw- August’s furniture covered in sheets, freshly painted walls and bright windows. The dark blue of the ceiling created a shadow against the rest of the room, but the shimmering gold stars swirling overhead that Bae had spent so many tedious hours on created a soft glow. Her husband’s eyes fell on the scene Belle had worked tirelessly on, herself- a princess in blue perched on the snout of a great purple dragon.
Resting both hands upon the gold handle of his cane, Mr. Gold smiled on an exhale. “Dearie, if you’d wanted a study for yourself, all you had to do was say so.”
Bae ran a hand over his forehead, leaving a bright streak of yellow in his hair, sticking up like some kind of exotic bird. “Papa, it’s not a study,” he grinned, glancing up at Belle, who hadn’t looked away from her husband’s face once since he’d made his presence known.
And oh , she had never been so nervous and excited, she couldn’t even mind that the surprise was ruined or that they’d spilled some of the paint, because her love seemed to realize what it was, seemed to know their secret when he took in her smile and her happy tears welling in her eyes. “It’s a nursery.”
Those afternoons were daisies.
The hours following when her husband closed the shop and came home to a house filled with warmth and laughter were memories that danced like a glowing paper lanterns. It was hard to believe in such things as curses and darkness and pain when their son smiled so easily even as he struggled through equations and homework at the dinner table, and she made paper flowers from the pages of her favorite books to decorate the baby’s room with. She arranged them about the windows and strung fairy lights around the crib, making little additions every day.
Belle would never forget-for how could she?-that her husband was one of the most powerful men in this world, and in other worlds. Yet when he shrugged his tie off and rolled his shirt sleeves up on the quiet Sunday evenings to play his cello, or brought her tea in the early evenings after a day of being on her feet, she couldn’t reconcile the two images. Him sitting on the couch with her head against his shoulder as she read from one of her novels and he peered through his half moon spectacles, sewing gold thread to hem the creamy white blanket she’d made, it was hard to imagine he was anything but her Rumpelstiltskin.
Especially when he couldn’t control his trembling after finding out the news. He’d held Belle for so long, his hands grasping at the back of her loose shirt, his cane clattering to the floor and leaning on his little wife for balance instead. Especially when he was recumbent for nearly two days and quiet with the secret Belle had kept and Bae had protected, a secret that their family now held close, their universe shifting ever so gently with each passing day that Belle’s face grew fuller, her belly heavier, and her smile brighter.
And Belle knew it wouldn’t last. She knew the happiness found in their antique Queen Anne tucked away in the quiet corner of Snowdrop Drive wasn’t everlasting. A kingdom needed rebuilding, a villain harboring vengeance lurked in the shadows, and their family wasn’t exactly the Charmings, but it was theirs , happy and honest and whole-as-could-be.
When the babe decided to arrive, it had startled Belle out of a respite with Jefferson at the bookstore. He’d driven her home promptly, his own experience in his wife having Grace giving him a reassuring calm that Belle had tried desperately to find in the midst of Bae running back and forth between the living room and his parents’ room, gathering Belle some clothes while they waiting on Mr. Gold to close the shop early.
Her husband surprised her by walking through the door with a calm gait, fingering his keys and smiling easily when he found her on the couch. “Ready, dove?” he asked, coming to lean over her, his hands cupping her face and pressing a soft kiss to the crown of her hair.
Belle tried to draw from her husband’s tranquility and steady hands while in the hospital room, and it had worked until up to the last few moments, just before the doctor came in.
And then her heart was in her throat and tears were in her eyes and Belle had never felt such fear.
“I- I can’t do it-”
Gold’s hand grappled to find hers, and he sat gently on the bed at her side, his other hand drawing her face to look up at him. Never before had Belle felt the difference in their ages, the lines of his eyes crinkling in the sweet assurance of what he already knew, had seen before, tales older than time, and Belle felt like a foolish little girl. “I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it,” she whispered, squeezing his hand tight, her tears prickling in her eyes. “I’m- Rum, I’m scared.”
“What have you to be scared of, my Belle?” he crooned softly, brushing her hair from her face. “You’ve survived wars and tamed beasts in both your lifetimes. Even then, I shan’t let anything happen to either of you.”
“Is that a deal?” she asked, fear and irritation lacing her words, her face pinching as the pain came closer to being a steady rhyme and rhythm. “Or a promise?”
Mr. Gold’s eyes gleamed and his mouth lifted in a smirk. “Both, if you like.”
And her Rumpelstiltskin didn’t break deals.
Bae had come in with the nurse only an hour later, looking more timid than a dormouse. Belle beckoned him closer and he made a place for himself in the chair beside the bed, and Gold showed his son the way to handle an infant.
“Mindful of her head, lad,” Rumpelstiltskin cooed, one hand under his son’s that held the new little girl, his other ruffling the boy’s hair. “That’s the way.”
“Gods, she’s so small,” Bae whispered, watching the perfect, pink little thing in his hands. “And pretty.”
Gold smiled softly, squeezing his son’s shoulder. “Aye, she’s a bonnie.”
Belle smiled too, laying her head back against the pillow and lacing her fingers atop the blankets. She shared a sweet look with her husband before quietly telling their son, “We’ve named her.”
Bae looked up with bright eyes, first at Belle then to his father who ambled back to sit on the bed beside his wife’s legs, stretching his aching knee out in front of him. “What did you decide on?”
“Your book report, remember the one I helped you with,” Belle said, her fingers lazily finding her husband’s sleeve. “I just couldn’t forget it, couldn’t get the name out of my head.”
Their son looked down at the baby, smiling slightly. “I wouldn’t have thought... but I like it,” he grinned bigger, slowly sitting back in the hospital chair. “It’s not silly but it’s pretty- and she’s named after someone great.”
“The girl who flew,” Gold said with a smile, thinking of some private joke, reaching for his cane that leaned against the foot of the bed. “You can pick out her middle name.”
Belle smirked, “He already has.”
And it was Bae who wrote her name in the cement of their new patio in the backyard garden a month later, both Rumpelstiltskin and Belle on either side as he helped his sister press her chubby hands below her name, scrawled in childhood picking Amelia Rose Gold.
And that night was roses.
The sense of emptiness was like gravity pulling her out of sleep, and when Belle squeezed her eyes open to face her husband’s side of the bed, she found it empty. She rolled onto her back and rubbed her face slowly, the cool metal of her wedding ring pressing into her cheek. The window poured in moonlight, enough to tell her it was still late.
From books and magazines, Belle had read every little article about what to expect for bringing infants into the home, but Amelia, while a precious little thing no bigger than fingertip to elbow with Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes and Belle’s coloring and dimples, hardly made any noise at all. It worried Belle at first, especially when Rumpelstiltskin commented on how lively Bae had been as a newborn, but her husband had smiled and simply held the little girl closer to his chest.
“She makes all the noise in the world for me,” Rumpelstiltskin said with that same small smile. “My little lark she is, gurgling and singing and sharing with me all her secrets.”
And that’s where the little girl spent most of her time. Belle had been prepared to get up in the middle of the night to answer any cries, but their daughter never made loud enough noises to rouse Belle from sleep. Mr. Gold swore that the baby never truly cried in the night, but Belle would wake up to find her husband slumped against the headboard, and their little one curled like a frog against his shoulder.
This night was different, though, because Belle was awake, her husband was absent, and she could hear the gentle creak of the hardwood floor as someone moved down the hall. She rolled out of bed, her soft silk nightgown rustling as she padded as quietly as she could and, sure enough, the door to the baby’s room lay open.
Bae sat on the floor just inside the door to the nursery. He looked up when Belle tiptoed closer and put a finger to his lips. Tilting her head, she crouched down and realized they were eavesdropping on something Belle hadn’t ever overheard before.
The rhythm of the rocker that sat near the window was timed with the soft lullaby. Belle leaned over Bae, and both mother and son peered around the corner to see Rumpelstiltskin, draped in his old green plaid flannel robe and slippers, cradling Amelia to his chest. Belle slid her arm around Bae, pressing her cheek to his hair as they listened to Rumpelstiltskin’s song, her heart squeezing so tightly she was sure it would burst.
“Oh my love is like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June,” his voice was not beautiful. It was rough and burring, but it was warm and tender, and Belle closed her eyes, holding Bae close against her side, huddling in the floor. “Oh my love is like a melody that’s sweetly played in tune.”
Bae shifted so he was leaning into Belle, wrapping his arms around her and pressing his face into her shoulder. His voice was softer than a whisper, muffled against the fabric of her nightgown, “He used to sing that to me, too.”
“As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, so deep in love am I...”
Belle combed her fingers through his hair, letting her thoughts wander after the image of another world, little Bae squealing in Rumpelstiltskin’s arms, hunched beside a meager hearth in a humble hovel. Belle had thought on the idea of Baelfire’s real mother- but she considered herself his mother, too, and with every affectionate “mum” he gave her, she treasured the thought that he felt the same. Their family was not perfect, but they were whole, pieces put together that allowed light to shine through the cracks.
“...and I will love thee still, my dear, ‘till all the seas run dry.”
“There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for us,” Belle whispered back into his hair, her eyes closing easily to the soft lullaby. “Nothing either of us wouldn’t do for you.”
“‘Till all the seas run dry my dear, and the rocks melt with the sun,” his voice grew quieter, the creak of the rocker growing slower. “I will love thee still, my dear, ‘till the sands o’ life shall run.”
“I know,” Baelfire squeezed her gently around the middle, curling against her, and this teenager, this brilliant, brave thing that had passed time and space and somehow let them find him again squeezed his eyes and sighed like a little lost boy who’d found his way.
“And fare thee well, my bonnie lass, and fare thee well a while,” the voice was quiet but grew closer, and when Belle struggled through the drowsy spell to open her eyes, she saw a shadow in the dark, feeling Rumpelstiltskin slide down the wall to sit beside them on the floor. He stretched his legs out in front of him, the babe curled against his chest. He smiled at Belle in the dark, and kissed her hand that was threaded in their son’s hair. “And I will love thee still, my dear, though it were ten thousand mile.”