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Dark Heart

Chapter Text

He had heard a rumour that she was returning, but seeing her still felt like a knife to the chest.

He watched through the blinds of the shop window as she paused on the opposite side of the street.  She was pushing a stroller, chestnut hair bouncing around her shoulders and a short black skirt wafting around her perfect legs.  Mary Margaret Blanchard bustled up to her, hugging her fiercely before bending to coo at whatever was in the stroller. A baby, he presumed, although he’d seen women pushing pugs and other lap dogs around.  From the dreamy look on Miss Blanchard’s face, he was going with baby. Which meant that Belle hadn’t waited long before getting involved with someone after she left town almost two years earlier. After she had ripped and clawed the tattered remnants of his heart from his chest and left it to bleed out in the road behind her.  He had been empty since she left, desolate. A hollow husk of a man, steeped in bitterness and self-loathing.

She looked happy as she chattered to Miss Blanchard, and he wondered why that stabbed at him and stole his breath.  It was what he had wanted, after all, despite the terrible things he had said to her in their last, awful encounter.  He had wanted her to be happy, to live her life. To find someone worthy of her and to see the world, not be trapped with him in the shadows.  So why did the stroller and her smiling face hurt so much? A ring gleamed on her finger, a simple gold band.  So.  Married, then, or at least engaged.  He couldn’t say he was surprised. Anyone lucky enough to have her love would have to be a fucking idiot to shut her out.

Belle glanced across at the shop then, no more than a brief flick of her blue eyes, but enough to make him step back from the blinds and sink back into the shadows.  She wouldn’t come over; their last words had been too dreadful, too bitter. It was a surprise, then, when he saw Miss Blanchard nod and smile and take the stroller from her, turning to head back down the street towards the diner.  Belle raised her chin, squaring her shoulders, and he wanted to sigh as he recognised that look. She was coming over. He could lock the door, of course, but that would make him even more of a coward, so instead he walked back towards the counter, turning to face the door as he grounded the cane between his feet.

The shop door opened, the little bell above tinkling merrily, and in she came like a breath of fresh air in a fetid swamp, a ray of sunshine breaking through storm clouds.  It made him feel even older and uglier than he was. She let the door shut behind her, pale pink coat open to reveal the black skirt and a sheer white blouse above, bare feet in a pair of the ridiculously high shoes she favoured. She was a little thinner than when she had left, her cheekbones more pronounced. Every bit as beautiful, though. His eyes wanted to roam over her, made hungry by her absence, and he concentrated on her face. On the sober look in her blue eyes.

“Hello, Alexander,” she said.

The sound of her voice made him want to cry.  How many times had he dreamed of this moment? The dreams in which he hadn’t pushed her away like the fool he was.  The dreams in which she came to take him home to their house. To their bed.

“Miss French,” he said coldly, and she raised an eyebrow.

“Seriously?  We’re doing this?”

He kept his expression neutral, fingers tightening on the cane, and she glanced away for a moment before turning back with a sigh.

“Fine,” she said thinly.  “Hello, Mr Gold.”

“How may I help you?” he asked, and lifted a hand, spreading the fingers.  “Do you perhaps have something that you want to pawn, or are you seeking accommodation?”

“I’m only here for a week to visit Dad while he’s in hospital,” she said stiffly.  “So no, I have no need of your - services.”

“Then I can’t think why you’re in here,” he said, his tone mild, and her eyebrows drew down.

“No,” she said, and her voice was flat and toneless.  “No, neither can I.”

She turned on her heel, wrenching at the door, and the bell jangled as she stormed out: an alarm, a warning.  He sagged a little, head dipping, and turned on the balls of his feet to make his way into the back room, feeling drained and weary.  He had a bottle of whisky there, and no one would know if he sat in his shop, got utterly shit-faced and cried over her for the hundredth time.

Opening up one of the cupboards, he found the whisky and set the bottle on his workbench.  The sound of the shop doorbell made his mouth flatten.

Should have locked the fucking thing, he thought sourly, but the rapid click of heels on the wooden floor made him turn as the curtain was swept aside and Belle marched in, a flush high on her cheeks and her eyes flashing blue sparks.  Good God, she was beautiful!

“You’re a coward!” she blurted, striding up to him.  “What - after twenty-two months you don’t even have the balls to hold a conversation with me?  You’re just gonna push me away again?  How dare you!”

“Me, push you away?”  He pressed a hand to his chest, even as what remained of his conscience whispered that she was right.  “As I recall you couldn’t leave town fast enough. Finally came to your senses and went chasing after an old boyfriend, wasn’t it?”

“Is that what Dad told you?” she said flatly.  “Well, I might have known you’d believe him.  You never did listen to a word that came out of my mouth, after all.”

“Oh, so the baby and that ring on your finger are figments of my imagination, are they?” he snapped.  “My, my, I must be losing my mind...”

“You lost your bloody mind when you let me go!” she shouted, and he curled his lip.

“If our last conversation was supposed to be some sort of test, then clearly I failed miserably,” he said.  “But then I don’t respond well to mind games, Miss French. The past is the past, and you’ve very clearly moved on, so why don’t you say what you came here for and get the hell out?”

“Why are you being like this?” she demanded.  “I thought if I gave it some time you could at least act like a civilised human being!”

“What did you think was going to happen?” he asked coldly.  “That we’d take tea and put everything behind us?”

Belle raised her chin, her chest heaving with anger and frustration.  She had been nervous about coming, but she knew that she had to do it.  Despite all he had said to her, despite the terrible things she had said in response, she had not been able to stop thinking about him.  Her heart had leapt when she saw him, standing in the shop as he had so long ago, still in his three piece suit and the silk shirt, immaculate and unapproachable.  He wore the suit like armour, a shield against the world, a barrier to those who might seek to get past the walls he had built around his soul.  She knew what he looked like without it, when he was open and vulnerable and naked and his face was filled with tenderness and his eyes were dark with passion. She remembered the softness of his lips against her skin as he had whispered her name, kissing his way down her body to pull cries of pleasure from her.  But now there was nothing but pain etched in the lines around his eyes and mouth.  He was bitter, hostile, closed off. Just as he had been when they first met. Just as he had been when she walked out.

“I thought maybe we could talk,” she said.  “And we need to. We really, really need to talk.”

“We really, really don’t.”

He turned away from her, and she felt anger flare as he tried to shut her out again.  She grabbed at his shoulder, spinning him around, and his eyes flashed with dark fire as he shoved her against the wall, cane clattering to the floor, his face pressed close to hers and his breath cool on her lips.  Belle sucked in a breath, feeling his firm chest push against her breasts, his breathing uneven, his eyes dark with anger and loss and pain as he pressed his brow to hers.

“Why did you come back?” he rasped.

Her heart thumped hard, her belly clenching with arousal at the feel of him pressed up against her, at his familiar scent in her nose.  He was breathing hard, his lips almost brushing against hers, and she let her hands rest at his waist, shivering as she felt the heat of him after so, so long.  She had wanted to talk to him calmly, to break the news she had gently. He had a right to know, and she had been a coward to put it off for so long. Pain had held her back.  Pain and heartbreak and the fear of another rejection. But now she was here, and he was close enough to kiss, and God, she wanted him!

The tip of her nose brushed against his, and she sucked in the breath that came from him, drawing it deep into her lungs.  She reached up to kiss him, and his mouth met hers, hard and hungry, a low groan coming from him at the first taste of her.  His tongue pushed into her mouth, and she slid her hands up his back, tugging him close as he deepened the kiss. It felt so good to have him there, the heat and hardness of his body against hers and the taste of him on her tongue.  It reminded her how much she had missed him. How much she loved him.

His hands were on her, roaming over her curves, cupping and squeezing, and she slid her hands around, plucking open the buttons of his jacket and waistcoat, tugging the silk shirt from his pants so she could slide her hands inside and feel smooth, hot skin.  He let out a groan, one hand dipping beneath her skirt, and she gasped as he cupped her through her underwear, a finger working beneath the edge to brush through wet flesh. She moaned into his mouth, and he let out an answering rumble of pleasure as he released a rush of slippery fluid, his fingers stroking her, brushing over her clit, pushing inside her.

It wasn’t enough, and she let her hands drop to his belt, pulling it open, the buckle clinking.  He pulled his mouth from hers, kissing down her neck, his fingers thrusting inside her and making her see stars, and she let her head thump back against the wall as he bit down, a tiny cry coming from her.  Her fingers tugged, opening his fly, and he groaned as she cupped him, drawing her nails along the hard length of his cock through the silk underwear.

“Fuck, Belle!” he gasped.

Oh, so I’m Belle again, not Miss French.  Good to know, you fucking asshole.

She pushed his pants and boxers over his hips and gripped his cock with her hand, pumping him.  He growled something against her neck, his thumb rubbing over her clit as he pushed three fingers inside her, and she opened her legs wider for him, wishing he would just rip the underwear from her and take her hard against the wall.  He seemed to hear her unspoken plea, pulling the fingers from her and dragging her panties down her thighs. They fell around her ankles, and Belle stepped out of them, letting him push up against her as he tugged one leg up to wrap around his waist.  He leaned back a little to meet her eyes, his breathing ragged.

“Are you sure you want to—”

“Just shut the hell up and get inside me,” she said impatiently.

Gold took himself in hand, spreading her sticky fluids along his length, pushing up against her tender flesh.  He thrust upwards with one swift, brutal movement, and Belle let out a cry, fingers digging into his shoulders as he pushed deep.  The feel of her was incredible, silky-soft and hot and wet, and he began to thrust, pumping against her, hearing the rhythmic thump of her body against the wall.  It was hell on his leg, but he deserved every bit of pain. Belle moaned over and over as he fucked her hard, her tiny cries bringing back bittersweet memories. Times when she had come to his shop and they had locked the door and he had eaten her out on the bench.  Times when they had gone to his cabin and lain naked by the crackling fire, closed off from the rest of the world.  Times when he had laid her down in his bed and spent hours making her come over and over before taking his own pleasure. God, he had missed her!

Her hands were in his hair, her nails on his scalp sending shivers through him, and briefly he thought of the ring on her finger, and who she had given her promise to.  He wondered if she felt guilty that she was there with him. Whether she would tell the man she had chosen. He decided that he didn’t care, and licked up her neck, biting down as he pushed and thrust, grinding against her.  She was close, he could feel it, and he quickened his pace, his movements hard and harsh.

“Yes!” she moaned.  “Oh God, yes!”

She let out a cry of pleasure, her head thrown back and thudding against the wall as she came.  Her flesh clenched around him, tugging at him, and he let out a long, low groan as his cock pulsed, squirting deep inside her, white light bursting in his head and stealing his sight.  Shivers rippled over his body and he bucked against her, short, shallow thrusts drawing every drop from him, and Belle was moaning and writhing and twisting his hair between her fingers and it was incredible.

His movements slowed and stopped, and he tried to catch his breath, listening to the heavy, panting sound she was making, feeling the rise and fall of her chest against his.  He felt drained, weary, his skin tingling as the bliss began to fade.  He pulled out of her, immediately missing her warmth, and pushed back to tug up his pants and underwear.  Belle ran a hand through her dark curls, not meeting his eyes, and he realised that he had fixed nothing, and had probably made things worse. He usually did, after all.

He buckled his belt and retrieved his cane, taking some of his weight with it.  His leg was screaming at him, and he knew he’d need strong painkillers, but he wasn’t about to take them just yet.  Belle had slipped her underwear back on and straightened her clothing as best she could. There were bite marks on her neck, crimson blots on her perfect skin, but just as he wondered how she would hide them she reached into her bag and pulled out a chiffon scarf, wrapping it around her throat and tying at the side in a neat bow.

“Belle,” he began.  “I—”

She turned to face him, finally, and her eyes were like a winter sky, bright and cold and beautiful.  It made him swallow his words, and he glanced away. The silence between them was thick and oppressive, and he couldn’t think of how to break it.

“I have to go,” she said, her tone flat.  “I told Mary Margaret I wouldn’t be long. I just - I needed to talk to you.  I still need to talk to you.”

“That never seems to work out too well, does it?” he asked coolly, and her mouth flattened.

“Fine,” she said, almost to herself.  “Like I said, I should go.”

She smoothed her skirt with her hands, picking up her bag and turning away, and he prepared to watch her walk out of his life again.  At least the fucking whisky was still there.

“Oh, by the way,” she said carelessly, still with her back to him.  “About the baby… it’s yours.”

He felt as though he had been punched in the chest, and he choked, his breath stolen, a hand clutching at his breast.

“What?” he whispered.  “Wh-what are you saying?”

She looked over her shoulder, a dark curl against her pale cheek, one blue eye fixed on him.

“You have a son,” she said, her voice cold and emotionless.  “Congratulations.”

Chapter Text

Belle burst out of the oppressive atmosphere of his dimly-lit shop into fresh air and bright sunlight, and it felt as though she was crawling out of her own grave.  She almost expected to see dirt on her knees and beneath torn and bloody fingernails when she looked down. The late spring sun was warm on her face, and for a moment she simply stood there, breathing heavily to calm herself.  She wondered if he would follow her, and a part of her wanted it, to have the inevitable screaming argument that her news would result in. It had been a bad idea to keep Gideon from him, she had known that, but then her life seemed to be littered with bad ideas, twisting, rutted paths formed from pain and regret and strewn with the towering obstacles of her bad decisions.  She heaved a final, deep breath, blowing it out over her lips, her heart still thudding in her chest, her skin tingling from his touch. Fluids were leaking from her to pool in her underwear, an uncomfortable reminder of her own stupidity.

Why the hell did you have sex with him?  Great move there, Belle. Really helpful.  Why the hell do you have to be so bloody impulsive all the time?  Unprotected sex, at that; have you learned nothing?

Her inner voice seemed to be a mix of anger and bewilderment, and she found she didn’t have an answer for herself beyond that she had missed him more than she had thought possible.  Shouting at herself inside her head didn’t make her feel any better, and Gold hadn’t followed her out, so she stalked off up the street towards Granny’s Diner.  Being back in Storybrooke was strange; she had promised herself when she left that she would never return, and yet here she was. At least she hadn’t burst into tears after leaving his shop.  That made a change.

When she entered the diner, Mary Margaret was holding up a stuffed blue bear in front of the stroller and making it dance from side to side as she told a silly story.  Belle smiled, watching Gideon as his brown eyes followed the bear’s antics with interest.  A small, chubby hand reached for it, fingers sinking into the blue fur, and Mary Margaret let him take it as Belle slipped into the seat next to her.

“Oh, he’s just adorable,” sighed Mary Margaret, running fingers through her short dark hair.  “You’re so lucky. The way my love life’s been going, I think I’m well on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady.”

“Sometimes I feel the same way,” said Belle ruefully, and Mary Margaret nudged her.

“Well, it seems that someone caught your eye,” she teased.  “We had no idea you had a baby! Moe didn’t breathe a word!”

“Oh, I asked him not to,” said Belle hurriedly.  “We - we kind of had a falling-out, and by the time we made up - well, I didn’t think I’d ever come back to this place, so it seemed pointless.”  Plus I knew you couldn’t keep a secret if your life depended on it, but there we are.

“Well, I bet he’s looking forward to being the doting Grandpa,” said Mary Margaret, with a grin.  “Gideon’s such a good baby. He never cried once the whole time you were gone.”

“Oh, thank God.”  Belle ran her hands over her face with a sigh.  “His back teeth started coming through recently.  I feel like I haven’t slept in four days.”

“Yes, I noticed all the chewing,” said Mary Margaret.  “He’ll be okay.”

Belle nodded, feeling weary and inadequate.  The fact that this seemed to be her default setting didn't make it any easier to accept.

“I know, I just - well, I worry about every little thing,” she said.  “I have this whole other person to protect and care for, and half the time I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Mary Margaret looked amused.

“Honestly, I’d be worried if you weren’t feeling out of your depth,” she said.  “It’s how the majority of parents feel, at least in my experience.  All you can do is your best.”

Belle sent her a grateful smile.

“Thanks for looking after him while I went to the pawnshop,” she added, reaching into the stroller to stroke Gideon’s soft hair.

“No problem,” said Mary Margaret.  “I guess Moe hasn’t had much of a chance to sort out his rent payment, what with the illness and all that.”


Belle tried not to roll her eyes at that.  Moe had never paid much attention to bill-paying, as far as she could recall.

“I’m sure Mr Gold will be reasonable,” added Mary Margaret.

“You’d think,” said Belle dryly, and Mary Margaret put her head to the side.

“Do you have somewhere to stay?” she asked.  “You’re more than welcome to my spare room, if you need it.  Although come to think of it, the stairs might be an issue with the stroller.”

“It’s fine, I’m staying at Dad’s place,” said Belle.  “Needs a good clean; he’s kind of let himself go since he got sick, I think.”

“Well, at least stay for a coffee,” said Mary Margaret, putting a hand over hers.  “My treat. I’ll even throw in a Danish.”

Belle hesitated, but she needed to feed Gideon, and probably change him, and the diner was decidedly cleaner than her father’s house.  How long had it been since she had just sat and drunk coffee and chatted with another adult like she hadn’t a care in the world? She smiled, and squeezed Mary Margaret’s hand.

“I’d like that.”

Gold had watched her go, watched her almost run from his presence, the bell above the door signalling her departure, just as it had all those months ago.  He felt as though he was rooted to the spot, her words having burrowed into his brain, heavy and all-consuming, holding him in place.  You have a son.  He had not been able to see inside the stroller from across the road, so had not noticed how old the baby was.  Over a year, if the child was indeed his. She wouldn’t have lied about that, surely? She couldn’t be that cruel.

Why not? whispered the snide voice in his head that had poured bile into his heart ever since he first touched her.  You broke her heart.  Wouldn’t this be the perfect way to break yours?

He shoved the voice away, locking it in a dark trunk at the back of his mind and reaching for the whisky bottle before it could claw its way back out.  Pouring a large measure, he took a gulp, almost choking as it burned its way down his throat.  A son.  You have a son.  He began to pace back and forth across the room, gulping at the whisky, the raw heat of it making his eyes water.  When had it happened? Part of him wanted to believe that the child had been conceived at the cabin, on the last night they had spent together, when she had lain in his arms and whispered that she loved him.  He wanted to believe that his son had been made from love, not conceived in anger and bitterness. The more rational part of his brain told him in no uncertain terms that the only time they had had unprotected sex (before today, at least) had been that final, frenzied, furious time, when it had seemed the only outlet for the pain and rage they both felt.  She had stormed out afterwards, taking the last shreds of decency that remained in his soul with her. Apparently it was not the only thing she had left with.

He threw back the whisky and poured himself another, dashing tears from his eyes before he snatched up the glass and resumed his pacing.  If the child had been conceived just before she left, that would make him a little over one year old.  A year.  An entire year!  His pacing quickened as anger flared in him.  How much had he missed?  His first words?  His first steps?  At the very least he had not been there when the child was born.  And he had not been there for Belle, either. Perhaps the man she had chosen had filled that role, sitting by her side and holding her hand, speaking comforting words to her as she brought his son into the world.

He slurped at the whisky, his hand shaking so much it slopped over the edge of the glass and ran down the side of his chin, and all at once it became too much.  He hurled the glass away with a roar of pain and anger, hearing it crash against the wall as he sank down onto his heels, weeping tears of rage and loss and heartbreak.  It was hell on his ruined ankle, and he embraced the pain, pulled it to him and wrapped it around himself like a dark cloak. He needed to see her. He needed to see his child.  But he could do none of that while he was an emotional wreck. Tomorrow, then. Tomorrow, he would speak to her.  He would become the cold and hard creature he had been before, and he would speak to her.

Chapter Text

Three years earlier

The shop smelt familiar to her, the heady scent of hundreds of flowers, green, growing things and rich, damp compost remembered from her youth, from the florist's he used to run tucked in between a coffee shop and a tiny, cheap jewellery store.  Belle breathed in deeply as she swept stray leaves into a small pile.  It was a larger place than her father had owned in Boston, and she wondered if it was perhaps too large for a small town.  There had to be a finite number of bouquets the locals wanted, after all.  The rent had to be cheaper, though, this far from a major city, and her father had a proper three-bed house here, rather than the tiny apartment they had shared before she left for college.  She had resolved to go over the books later; her father was an excellent florist but not the best when it came to financial management.

Sweeping done, she put the litter in the trash and started sorting through that morning’s delivery of roses, setting aside any with bent stems or damaged blooms.  The bell above the shop doorway made her glance up and put on her best customer service smile.  A man had entered the shop, dressed in a slim-fitting suit that had to be too warm for the summer weather, a midnight-blue silk shirt and dark red tie beneath it.  He walked with the aid of a gold-handled cane, but there was a sinuous grace to his movements despite the limp.  His face was thin, with high cheekbones beneath soft hair that fell around his face and brushed his collar.  Sunglasses shielded his eyes, but she got the feeling that his gaze missed nothing.  He approached the counter, settling the cane between his legs as he looked her over.

“I wasn’t aware that Mr French had hired an assistant.”

His voice was calm, yet somehow tinged with darkness, like a flat sea before the storm came.  He spoke with the soft burr of an accent, and it washed over her, a gentle caress. Belle felt her heart thump.

“He didn’t,” she said.  “Well, not exactly, anyway.  I’m his daughter.”

The only evidence of his surprise was a brief flick of one eyebrow.

“Of course,” he said.  “The family resemblance is - well, it’s non-existent, but no matter.”

Belle felt herself bristle a little at his mocking drawl.  She set down the rose she was holding and leaned on the counter, raising her chin.

“It appears you have me at a disadvantage,” she said stiffly, and the man smiled, showing very white teeth, a gleam of gold on his lower jaw where one had been replaced.

“That’s usually my intent,” he said.  “But you’re right, I should introduce myself.  I’m Mr Gold. The landlord.”

Belle took an involuntary step back.  So.  The infamous landlord.

“What—”  She swallowed hard.  “What can I do for you, Mr Gold?”

He took off the glasses, slender fingers folding the arms down carefully before he placed them in his breast pocket.  His eyes were a deep brown, flicking over her.  It felt as though lines of fire were tracing over her skin, and she squared her jaw

“I’m here for the rent,” he said.  “Both the shop, and the house.  Perhaps you can satisfy me?”

She shook her head mutely, nervousness making her lick her lips, and his eyes briefly dropped to her mouth before meeting hers again.

“Where’s your father, Miss French?” he asked softly.

“Out making deliveries,” she said.  “Shall I tell him you stopped by?”

“If you would,” he said, his tone smooth.  “You may also tell him that the rent is due by six o’clock this evening, and I expect it to be paid in full.  No exceptions.  Good day, Miss French.”

He gave her a tiny bow, hand pressed to his chest, and turned on one foot, heading for the door.  She watched him take the glasses from his pocket once more, putting them on before stepping out into the summer sun.  The door closed behind him, the shop bell tinkling, and she shivered.

Mr Gold had made her nervous, and she spent a good half hour looking for where her father might have stashed the rent money.  She knew he wouldn’t have set up a regular bank transfer; he preferred to deal in cash whenever he could, and to keep control over when payments were made.  She found the safe, but didn’t know the code, and so she paced back and forth anxiously as she waited for him to return from delivering flowers.

Moe French was a tall, somewhat beefy man with heavy jowls and a penchant for baseball caps that hid his receding hair.  She looked up as he entered the shop, one hand waving a sheaf of five and ten-dollar bills at her.

“Got some decent tips today!” he exulted.  “How about we have dinner at Granny’s tonight?  My treat on your first day.  She does excellent ribs and burgers, my girl, and you could do with some meat on those bones!”

“Mr Gold was here for the rent,” said Belle, and Moe’s face grew sober.

“Ah,” he said uneasily.  “Ah. That time already, is it?”

“Yes, it’s that time,” said Belle, folding her arms.  “You do have the rent, right?”

“Uh…”  Moe swiped his baseball cap from his head, twisting it between his hands.  “Well, I have most of it.  I can pay the shop rent in full, it’s just - just the house that’s a problem.”


“I know, I know!”  He flapped a hand at her, irritated.  “Look, it’s not been a great month, that’s all.”

“It’ll be even worse if we have nowhere to bloody live!” she retorted.  “How much are we short by?”

Moe hesitated, and she put her hands on her hips.

“How much?”

“Five hundred bucks,” he muttered.

“What the hell?”  She threw up her arms.  “In what parallel universe is that having ‘most of it’?”

“Well, it is most of it,” said Moe defensively.  “I have more than half, don’t I?”

“I don’t believe this…”

“Okay, okay!”  He ran a hand through his close-cropped hair, scowling.  “I fucked up, alright? Is that what you want to hear?”

“No, what I want to hear is ‘I have a plan for how to fix this’!” she snapped.  “Mr Gold said it’s all due by six p.m. No exceptions.”

“Right, right.”

Moe took a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his face with it.  Something seemed to occur to him, and he looked over at her with a thoughtful expression.

“How did he seem to you?” he asked, and Belle wrinkled her brow.

“Mr Gold?” she asked, puzzled.  “I don’t know. Polite, well-mannered.  Kind of intense. And sort of snide. A little like he was laughing at me but only he knew the joke, you know?”

Moe grunted, but nodded as though her words confirmed something.

“I want you to take him the rent money this evening,” he said.

“But we’re short.”

“Yeah, so sweet-talk him a little.”

Belle narrowed her eyes.

“Sweet-talk him?”

“You know!” said Moe impatiently.  “Flirt with him. See if you can get us an extension.”

Belle blinked at him, mouth open, and then let out a hollow laugh.

“I’m sorry, for a minute there I thought you were telling your twenty-one year old daughter to seduce the landlord because you can’t get your bloody act together!”

“I’m not asking you to bloody sleep with him, for God’s sake!” said Moe sharply.  “It’s just - he’s a man, and you’re—”

“—seriously pissed off at you right now,” finished Belle.  “I don’t believe this!”

“Belle, come on!” he pleaded.  “It can’t hurt to try! You know I’ve put my all into this shop!”

She gave him a withering look and stalked off, but he followed her.

“Look, you know there’s no way I can raise that sort of money by six!” he went on.  “What harm can it do?”

“Other than to my pride and his ego?  Wow, I have no idea…”

“Belle, please!”

She felt like stamping her foot, but instead she sighed, turning to face him.

“I’ll take him the rent,” she said.  “But I’m not promising anything else.”

As the time approached six p.m., Belle made her way up the street to where her father had told her Gold kept a pawn shop.  She found it easily, and hesitated outside, smoothing the skirt of her yellow dress over her hips and feeling nervous. She had the rent money in her purse - what there was of it, anyway - and despite telling her father she would take it over, she had no clue what she was going to say about the missing money.  There was one idea she was considering, much as it pained her, but she decided to scope out Gold before she came to a decision on that front.

Telling herself that standing on his doorstep wasn’t achieving anything, she pushed open the door to the shop, hearing the bell tinkle above her.  The shop’s interior was pleasantly cool and dark after the heat of the sun, and she stepped inside, her heels clicking on the polished wooden floorboards.  He was standing behind the counter with his fingers tented on the surface, as though he had been waiting for her.

“Miss French,” he said pleasantly.  “I see your father sent you to discuss the rent, rather than come himself.  How very unexpected.”

Any fleeting thought that Belle might have had about following her father’s advice on how to deal with Gold disappeared like smoke.  He was clearly well aware of Moe’s ridiculous plan, and only seemed amused by it. Amused and a little weary, as though he was used to the townsfolk trying and failing to manipulate him.  Taking a deep breath, she strode up to the counter, reaching into her pocket for the envelope of cash and holding it out to him. Gold held her gaze as he took it, the tiny smile never leaving his face, and she could feel a blush rise in her cheeks at the glint in his eyes.

“Shall I assume it’s all there?” he asked lazily, and she hesitated.

He bloody well knows, the asshole!  He wants me to say it.

“It’s not,” she said curtly.  “And I think you know that.”

His smile widened a little, and at last he dropped his eyes as he opened up the envelope.  She felt herself sag a little, heart thumping, and she watched him count out the money, long fingers putting the bills in neat piles.  There was a heavy gold ring set with a moonstone on his right hand, the gold warm against his tanned skin. Gold cufflinks gleamed at his wrists, and she wondered how much money was in that one outfit.  Did he dress this way to prove a point? To let his tenants know how much richer he was, how much power he had over them? Or was it a mask, a front, hiding his true self from the world?

Gold finished counting, and looked up at her.  His eyes were very dark in the light, and she shivered.

“Five hundred short,” he said.

“I know.”

“I believe I said no exceptions, Miss French.”

“I remember.”

“So.”  He leaned back from the counter a little.  “How exactly does your father propose we handle this?”

Belle hesitated, deciding that she would tell him the truth.

“He - suggested that I ask you for an extension.”

“To which I am not inclined to agree, so don’t waste your time.”

“I didn’t think you would be,” she said, “and to be honest, this whole thing makes me uncomfortable.  He told me I should flirt with you to talk you around.”

“Really?”  He showed his teeth.  “How’s that going?”

Belle gave him a flat look, which made his grin widen.

“Look, I think you’re clearly way too clever to be fooled by me batting my eyelashes,” she said dryly.  “So I won’t insult your intelligence by trying. Dad’s short by five hundred bucks. I have enough in savings to pay what he owes, but it might take a couple of days to get it transferred to you.  Are you prepared to wait for that?”

He blinked at her.

“You’d pay his debt yourself?”

“If he gets evicted, so do I, right?” she said.  “I’m stuck here until I’ve saved up enough to go back to college, and being homeless wasn’t on my to-do list.  So yeah, I’ll pay the debt.”

She suspected that whatever he had been prepared for her to say, this wasn’t it.  He drummed his fingers on the counter, a slow, deliberate rhythm, and looked her over.

“Would you like a drink?” he asked suddenly, and it was Belle’s turn to blink in surprise.


“A drink,” he said patiently, gesturing to the curtained doorway behind him.  “I could make some tea, if you like.”

Belle hesitated, but shrugged.

“Got anything stronger?”

Gold smiled then, his eyes crinkling, and inclined his head.

“If you could lock the door and set the sign to Closed, I’d be grateful,” he said.  “Come through to the back when you’re ready.”

Chapter Text

Gold had drunk the rest of the bottle of whisky before passing out on the shop’s cot, which in the cold light of day wasn’t the best decision he had ever made.  He woke early, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth and his head pounding, and gave himself a severe talking-to. One glance in the small mirror in the back room of the shop told him everything he needed to know; his eyes were a little bloodshot, dark shadows beneath them and a day’s worth of stubble on his cheeks and chin.  He could deal with that, at least; it wouldn’t be the first time he had slept at the shop, and he always kept shaving kit and spare clothing in the back, just in case.

He felt better for shaving and cleaning his teeth, but he desperately needed coffee if he was to feel more human, and so he looked through a few of his shirts hanging behind a painted silk screen.  He picked out a black one, to match his mood, with a black tie patterned with interwoven lines of tiny squares. Once it was buttoned, the tie knotted around his throat and a gold pin securing its length, he nodded to himself in the mirror.  Better.

He left the shop and walked slowly up the street to the diner, his leg complaining at every step.  He never had taken the painkillers - although after awhile the whisky had numbed everything - and he certainly wasn’t about to take them now.  All his wits would be needed to deal with Belle.

He ordered black coffee, strong and bitter, and drank three cups as he sat alone by the window, mulling over how best to handle things.  She had said that she was only in town for a week, but from what he heard of Moe French’s ill health he suspected it might be longer. They had a lot to sort out in the interim, and he spent some time thinking over the different proposals he might make, and what he was prepared to agree to.

Once the last of the coffee had been drunk, the caffeine spreading through his system, he pushed out of the chair, threw some cash down for the waitress and left, stepping out into the pleasant morning air.  The sun was out, and he fished his sunglasses from his pocket, cutting the glare. It was early, but he suspected Belle would be awake, and as she had not been present at the inn, as far as he could see, he would try her father’s place.

“Mr Gold!”

He turned at the sound of Miss Blanchard’s voice, and she hurried up, flicking her dark hair out of her eyes and looking harassed.

“Thank goodness I bumped into you,” she said, hefting what looked like a bag of books over one arm.  “The kitchen sink started leaking last night: water’s just pouring out underneath!  I think one of the pipes might be cracked.”

“Right,” he said.  “Right, well, I’ll send someone over to look at it today.”

“Oh, thank you!” she said, looking relieved.  “I put a bucket underneath, but I have to get to school, and I wasn’t sure if it would be enough, and I couldn’t find where to turn off the water.  You have your key, right?”

“If you’re happy for me to let someone in to fix it, it should be done by the time you get home,” he confirmed, and she let out a sigh.

“Well, that’s one load off my mind,” she said.  “It’s the first problem I’ve had since I moved into the apartment.  Oh, and just to forewarn you, Belle’s back in town to visit Moe, and she’s moved into his place.”

“I can’t think why this would interest me,” he said coldly, and her mouth twisted as she blushed a little.

“It’s just - she has a baby,” she blurted.  “I don’t mean to push in where I’m not wanted, but - but you know how Moe could be, Mr Gold.  I went around a couple of times before he was taken into hospital, and - and I don’t think his house is the best environment for a baby.”

“Then no doubt Miss French will inform me if she wishes a change of accommodation,” he said smoothly, and raised an eyebrow.  “I presume it is still Miss French?”

Mary Margaret looked thoughtful, chewing her lip.

“You know, I never thought to ask, but I guess not,” she mused.  “She said she married a businessman down in Boston, but we mainly talked over old times, and about Gideon.”


“The baby,” she said helpfully, and his heart clenched.

So.  That’s what she named him.  The hero in that bloody book she was always reading.  Is she happy with her husband?  Does he comfort my son when he cries?

“Mr Gold?”

Miss Blanchard was watching him curiously, and he shoved the thoughts away.

“I’ll have someone take a look at that leak for you,” he said.  “Good day, Miss Blanchard.”

He walked off before she could respond, his stride swift, and reached his car without having to speak to any of the town’s other residents, which was a relief.  Thoughts of Belle were needling at his brain, digging and twisting as they tried to unearth his memories. His regrets. He pushed them away, starting the engine and pulling away at a sedate pace as he headed in the direction of the three-bed house at the edge of town that Moe French had rented from him four years earlier.

Belle’s morning was not going well.

Gideon had woken at just before four, his teeth causing him pain, and it had taken almost an hour for her to get him to calm down.  She had fed and changed him, and had settled in one of the battered armchairs with him nestled against her chest, the two of them slipping into sleep as the sun rose.  Seeing her father’s house in daylight made her sigh in despair; it was filthy, still with dirty pots stacked in the sink, garbage piled next the trashcan and dust on every surface.  She knew that he had never been the best at keeping the place tidy, but things had clearly gotten worse as his illness had progressed. At least everything she had brought for Gideon was clean, and she set him in his high chair to give him breakfast, banana porridge with pieces of sliced pear.  He was still cranky from pain and lack of sleep, and some of the porridge ended up over her, but he ate most of it.

A knock at the front door made her look around, chewing her lip, and she gave Gideon a piece of pear to chew on, wiping her hands on her porridge-covered pyjama top before patting his head and heading for the door.  Her heart sank a little when she opened it. Gold was dressed in unrelieved black, sunglasses hiding his eyes, every inch the ruthless dealmaker, and for a moment she longed to turn back the clock to a time when she had felt happy.  When she had lain in his arms next to the cabin’s crackling fire. When she had told him she loved him.

His eyes swept over her, and she cursed inwardly at what he would see.  A stressed young woman in her PJs, covered in porridge and with tangled hair.  He was as immaculate as ever, and it made her feel young and stupid and helpless.  Which was no doubt his intent, but whatever thoughts her appearance might have given him, he kept to himself.

“Belle,” he said curtly.  “May I come in?”

She stood aside wordlessly, and he swept past her, dragging anger and resentment in his wake and making her shiver.  His eyes flicked over everything, his mouth twisting, and she wanted to sigh.

“Look, before you say anything, I know this place is a mess.”

“It’s not a mess, it’s a fucking health hazard,” he said coldly.  “You brought my child into this?”

“I’m going to clean it up!” she protested.  “I was just giving Gideon his breakfast and then I was going to make a start!”

“It would take you a bloody week to make this habitable,” he said.  “Pack your things. You can move into my house while I get a team out to clean this place.  And fumigate it.”

Belle folded her arms, raising an eyebrow.

“Move into your place?" she said flatly.  "Are you drunk?”

“No, I’m concerned for my son’s health!” he snapped.  “As you should be.”

“Fuck you, Gold!”

He sent her a twisted smile.

“I believe we already ticked that particular sordid little box.”


She turned away, running a frustrated hand through her hair, and heard him sigh.  

“It’s only for a few days,” he said impatiently.  “Are you really going to let your pride make yet another stupid decision?”

She bristled at that, turning on her toes to glare at him.

“You expect me to move in with you?” she demanded.  “What the hell will the rest of the town say?”

“I don’t give a flying fuck what they say,” he returned.  “There’s nothing remotely surprising about my child staying in my house.  Unless you’re planning on not telling anyone I’m the father. I mean you didn’t fucking well tell me, after all, so perhaps you’ve already lied about that, hmm?”

Her jaw worked.  She hadn’t, but she hadn’t exactly been truthful, either.

“I have plenty of room and enough spare bedrooms that you don’t even have to see me if I disgust you that much,” he added, in a wry tone.  “And most importantly, at my house no one is likely to ingest rat droppings. This is non-negotiable.”

Belle struggled internally, but the plain fact was that he was right.  Gideon’s health came first.

“Fine,” she muttered, and he nodded.

“Good.  Now where is the child?”

“Kitchen,” she said shortly, and he turned away from her without another word, making his way to the kitchen.

After a moment of standing there seething, she followed him, and found him gazing down at Gideon with his hands clenched over his cane.  Gideon was staring up at him as he chewed his piece of pear, drool running over his chin, and Belle swooped in to wipe it off.

“He has my eyes,” said Gold quietly.

“Yes,” she said, straightening up.  “But thankfully not your nature.”

His jaw clenched, and he glanced away.

“Pack your things,” he repeated, and she stuck out her chin.

“It won’t take me long,” she said.  “I’d prefer it if you wait in the car.”

“Fine,” he said stiffly.

He strode past her, flicking his hair out of his eyes as he went, as though he were dismissing her very presence, and she watched him go, knowing that she needed to explain her actions, and dreading it.

Chapter Text

Three years earlier

After locking the shop door and flipping the sign to Closed, Belle made her way through to the back room, where Gold was just setting a bottle of whisky and two glasses on a wooden workbench.  She looked around curiously, noting that he kept additional stock in the room. There were boxes of newspaper-wrapped shapes that she thought must be china or glassware, old books stacked on shelves, and even a rack of clothing.  One of the workbenches held a small clock, brass pieces on a cloth beside it, and she presumed he did repairs alongside the pawning of goods and the lending of money. He held up the whisky bottle, raising an eyebrow.

“Is this too strong for what you had in mind?” he asked, and she shrugged.

"I guess it'll do."

He poured two measures, setting down the bottle and holding up one of the glasses.  Belle took it, cradling it in both hands and turning away to run her eyes over the piles of books.  She could feel him watching her, a strange sensation between the shoulder blades, as though he had slid a fingertip down between them, raising goosebumps with his touch.  Shivering, she took a sip of her whisky, coughing as it burned her throat.

“I could still make that tea, you know.”

She turned to face him, skirt swinging around her legs, and his eyes flicked up and down her so quickly she almost didn’t notice.

“No thanks, this’ll be fine,” she said.  “I only came over here about the rent money.  Will you accept my offer or not?”

Gold took a drink, dark eyes unblinking over the edge of the glass.  He lowered it again, the tip of his tongue sweeping over his lips.

“Why did you come to Storybrooke?” he asked, and she blinked.

“I - I finished college, and I needed to save money before I start my Master’s degree,” she said.  “Dad offered me a job. Doesn’t pay much, but living at his place, I don’t pay rent, so it made sense.”

“And you’re studying what?”

“Majored in English,” she said.  “Intending to study library science.”

“Ah.”  He took another drink.  “So you want to be a librarian?”

“You don’t sound too impressed,” she said dryly, and he shrugged.

“I doubt it’s a career path that leads to much in the way of a financial return.”

“Well, I guess if you get your kicks from hoarding cash, that’d be a problem,” she said.  “Personally, I get mine from books.”

He looked amused by her boldness.

“So when you’ve saved enough to support yourself through your studies, what then?” he asked lazily.  “Move to the big city and find an abandoned library in desperate need of your no doubt matchless skills?”

She had a feeling he was mocking her, but decided to ignore it.  Perhaps he enjoyed pissing people off, but she didn’t have the energy for a fight.

“Well, there isn’t exactly much for me in Storybrooke, is there?” she said.  “The library under that clock tower looks as though it’s been closed for years, so unless you can tell me there’s some amazing social scene here I haven’t noticed…”

Gold showed his teeth, gold gleaming on his lower jaw.

“Not sure if you could tell, but I’m not exactly a people person.”

“You’re talking to me, aren’t you?” she pointed out, and the smile dropped from his face, leaving his expression somewhat closed and wary.

“Yes,” he said.  “I just haven’t worked out why that is yet.”

She shrugged, taking a sip of her drink and raising an eyebrow.

“Maybe you’re lonely.”

“Hardly,” he said, setting down his glass.  “I’m used to my own company.”

“Don’t you have family?”


“There must be someone,” persisted Belle.  “Everyone has someone.”

“Do you expect all experiences to be like your own, then?”

“Of course not!” she said.  “I just assumed—”

“The mistake most people make when they cross my path, I find,” he interrupted, and she frowned at him.

“Wow, you try really hard to be unlikeable, huh?” she remarked, and he chuckled, his eyes glinting as he raised his glass.

“I like to excel in whatever it is I choose to do,” he said.  “Takes a lot of work, I assure you. The accumulation of knowledge through countless hours of research.  And practice, when I get the opportunity.”

He was grinning at her, and for a moment her mind wandered away to think about what other things he might choose to be good at.  The brief pictures it conjured up made her blush, and she shoved them away.

What the hell is wrong with you?  It was an innocent comment - well, not innocent, he was being an asshole, but still - why the hell was that the first thing you thought of?  Buy a bloody vibrator, woman!

He was watching her closely, a smirk twisting his mouth, and she hoped and prayed that he hadn’t guessed what she was thinking.  No reason he should, of course.

“You’re blushing, Miss French,” he said, sounding delighted.  “Care to tell me why? I’m sure it’s a fascinating story.”

“I think the whisky’s going to my head,” she said stiffly, blushing harder, and inwardly cursing him.  “How about we talk about this bloody rent money?  I have to get home and cook dinner and I don’t have the time or energy for verbal sparring with the guy who could make us homeless.”

He was silent for a moment, sipping his whisky, but then set down his glass, leaning back a little as his hands curled over the cane handle.

“You wish to use five hundred dollars of your savings to pay your father’s rent arrears,” he said.

“That’s my offer, yes.”

“And next month, when he falls behind with the rent again...?”

“That won’t happen,” she assured him.  “I’ll make sure of it.”

Gold shrugged, as if to say he doubted it, but cared little either way.  She supposed that if he was getting his money, it made no difference to him.

“It seems unfortunate that you have to use your own savings to bail out your father,” he said, and she winced.

“I guess he’ll pay me back at some point,” she said, knowing that would never happen.  “Either way, you get the money, so why do you care?”

Gold was silent again, fingers opening and closing.  He seemed to be pondering something, and sucked his teeth, lips pursing as though he was ready to be kissed.  The thought made her cheeks flush again, and he tilted his head a little, nodding.

“I have a counter-offer,” he said.

“Which is?”

“Free flowers,” he said, and Belle’s eyes widened.


“Flowers,” he said patiently.  “I quite like them in my home from time to time, and whatever I think about your father’s lack of financial management skills, I can’t deny that he’s good at his job.  So I’ll take flowers. Delivered once a week at my request, by your good self, until the debt is paid.”

Belle thought it over.  It would be a relief not to have to dip into what she had already managed to squirrel away, and she suspected Moe would be happy to agree.

“Until the debt is paid,” she said.  “So are you thinking we charge wholesale, or retail?”

Gold grinned.

“Oh, you can charge me retail price, dear,” he said.  “I’m not unreasonable.”

“Okay.”  Belle thought quickly, chewing her lip.  “Any other requirements?”

“You make the delivery to my house, every Friday at six thirty,” he said.  “I’ll place the order every Tuesday. You provide me with an invoice, and I’ll deduct the price from the debt your father owes me.”


She sipped at her drink again, watching him.  Gold was standing very still, but he still had that tiny smile on his face, as though he were getting the best of a bargain and was enjoying it immensely.  She couldn’t see how he was benefiting by getting free flowers in place of rent money, but she supposed he wasn’t losing anything either.  Perhaps that was enough for someone like him.  Perhaps he simply liked to be the one to hold the power.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” she said.  “You could still take the money.”

Gold’s grin widened.

“Oh, I feel almost certain that in the future we’ll need to have this same conversation about your father’s inability to budget.”

Belle shot him a flat look, and drank the last of her whisky, setting down her glass and holding out her hand.

“I accept the terms,” she said.

He reached out to grasp her hand, fingers folding around hers and pressing firmly.  His grip was warm, and he met her eyes, his gaze intent, as though he could see into her soul.  It made her shiver again, and his grip tightened a little.  He smiled, showing that gleam of gold on his lower jaw, his teeth as white and hard as a shark’s.

“The deal is struck."

Chapter Text

Belle washed and dressed, packing the few things she had taken out of her case and muttering under her breath as she did so.  Gideon watched her with wide brown eyes, sucking his thumb, and she sighed as she set him in the stroller and gave him a teething ring.

“I know these past few days been unsettling, Gid,” she said.  “I guess I need to properly introduce you to your Papa, hmm?”

Gideon stuck the ring in his mouth, chewing as he watched her, and she stroked his hair.

“There might be some yelling,” she added, “but I don’t want you to be scared, okay?  I won’t let anything happen to you.”

She kissed the top of his head, breathing in his familiar baby scent, and looked around to check she had packed everything before pulling on her coat and wheeling her case towards the door.  She could see Gold sitting in his car, both hands on the wheel, staring along the road from behind dark glasses. Sighing to herself, and dreading the inevitable confrontation, she carried the case to the car, leaving it there and heading back to pick up Gideon.  By the time she had locked up and got the stroller down the driveway, Gold had opened up the trunk and put her case inside.

“You need a hand with that?” he asked stiffly.

She shook her head, bending to take out the stroller seat, and Gold opened the car door so that she could put Gideon on the back seat.  The stroller chassis folded down, and she put it in the trunk on top of her case with the bag containing everything she needed for Gideon to be dressed, fed and changed, before getting in beside her son and fastening her belt.  Gold shut the car door with a hollow, ominous sound, and let the trunk thud shut before getting into the car. She stared at her hands, folded in her lap, feeling the thick, oppressive atmosphere build.  He pulled away without a word, and she remained silent as he drove across town to the large pink Victorian where she had taken him flowers every Friday evening.  Where he had used one to trace the curves of her body.  Where he had laid her down in his bed and made her scream in pleasure.  Where he had broken her heart.

Gold carried the case in for her as she set Gideon’s stroller seat back in its chassis and pushed him up the path towards the door, her heart sinking lower as she went, a ball of lead in the pit of her stomach.  Gold lifted the bottom of the stroller without a word, helping her to carry it up onto the porch.  She wanted to thank him, however small and stiff the words might have been, but they had caught in her throat, thick and hard, rendering her mute.

“I’ve taken the case up to the bedroom at the top of the stairs, first on the right,” he said, his tone cold.  “The child can have the room next to yours.”

She nodded her understanding, and Gold glanced at Gideon.

“Does he have a crib?” he asked, and she shook her head.  His mouth flattened.

“Why not, pray tell?” he asked.  “You surely don’t intend to make him spend all day and night in a bloody stroller seat?”

“Back home.”  The words felt as though they were dragged from her, clawing at her throat, hurting her.  “He has a crib back home.  I couldn’t carry everything on the bus.  He can sleep with me.”

“He will not sleep with you, because I will purchase a suitable crib,” he said coldly.  “In the meantime I have something that will serve in the attic.”

Belle frowned at that.

“You have a crib?” she asked.  “Was it - was it yours?”

“No,” he said, in a voice that invited no further comment.  “I’ll get it down in a moment. I have to make some calls, so I suggest you familiarise yourself with the rooms I’ve allocated you.”

He stalked off, his entire demeanour stiff and filled with bitterness, and she narrowed her eyes at his back before picking Gideon up in one arm and hefting the bag of supplies she had for him in the other.  He was grumbling in her arms, and she suspected that he needed changing, so she stomped up the stairs and pushed open the door to the bedroom that would be his.  It was the same dusky pink colour as the rest of the house, with an antique dresser, bed and wardrobe in dark, shining wood.  Belle laid out Gideon’s changing mat and set him down, reaching into the bag of supplies for a clean diaper, and sighing to herself.  This was going to be an awkward few days, to say the least.

By the time Gideon was changed and she had packed away his things, Gold had returned with the slatted bars of a metal-framed crib under one arm.  She watched him set it up, the white-painted frame fitting together easily, the mattress with its wipe-clean cover laid inside and soft, clean bedding tucked in over the top.  He seemed to know what he was doing with it, and she wondered at the crib’s history. Perhaps it was yet another stock item for the shop, or something pawned by a desperate parent with no money to feed the child it had once housed.  He turned to her when he was done, his mouth set in a thin line, and nodded to Gideon.

“Is he alright?”

“Ready for a nap,” she admitted.  “Neither of us slept well last night.  I’ll put him down.”

“Good,” he said abruptly, fixing her with cold, dark eyes.  “You and I need to have a conversation, and I would prefer to do that downstairs and out of earshot, do you understand?”

Her heart thumped, dread stealing through her, enough that she clutched Gideon a little tighter, but she nodded, swallowing hard.  Gold gave a short, sharp nod of acknowledgement, flicking his hair back.

“I’ll see you in the kitchen,” he said, and stalked out without a backward glance.

Gideon was already half-asleep when she laid him down in the crib, his favourite plush animals tucked in beside him.  She was nervous, dreading the conversation she was about to have, but spoke soothing words to her son, stroking his fluffy hair as he drifted into sleep.  She pulled a crocheted blanket up over him, straightening up and pulling the door closed on her way out of the room. Her legs seemed heavier than usual, but she held her head high as she walked downstairs.  Gold was in the kitchen, a pot of tea sitting on the table with two cups and saucers and the milk jug.  He set out a plate of cookies, dark chocolate chunks studded in the golden-brown rounds alongside creamy-white nibs of macadamia.  They looked good, and she remembered that he was an excellent cook, but she thought she would choke if she tried to eat one.  It was an oddly domestic scene, and she wished it was later in the day so that she could ask him for a glass of wine, instead of tea.

“You can sit down,” he said.

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“Very well.”  He shook back his hair, fixing her with his eyes.  “I called Dove. He will be arranging for a cleaning team to attend on your father’s premises and make it a more suitable environment.  By later today I should have a better idea of how long that will take.”

She nodded, and he went on.

“I have also asked him to purchase a new crib and a number of other items that will be needed.”

“I don’t need your charity,” she said immediately, and his gaze hardened.

“It’s not charity,” he said coldly.  “He’s my son. I presume I am permitted to buy things for him?  Late in the day though it may be?”

Belle nodded, feeling terrible.  Gold sucked in his cheeks and glanced away before looking back at her.  She got the feeling that he was trying to hold in his temper, and was finding it increasingly difficult.

“What’s his name?” he asked.  “Miss Blanchard helpfully informed me that you named him Gideon, but as to the rest—”

He gestured with a hand, fingers flourishing, and Belle shifted from foot to foot.

“Gideon,” she confirmed.  “Gideon - um - Alexander.”

If he felt anything about her using his own name for their son, he showed nothing beyond a brief twitch in one cheek muscle.

“Am I named as the father?” he asked, and she hesitated, but nodded.

“So his surname is Gold?”

“French,” she said, after an awkward pause, and his mouth twisted a little.

“We’ll see about that,” he said quietly.  “When was he born?”

“He’s thirteen months old.”

“I asked for his birthdate, Belle.”

“Oh.”  She shifted again, highly discomfited by his quiet menace.  “April thirtieth.”

“Right.”  He nodded slowly.  “Thirteen months ago, as you say.”

He reached across to pour the tea, a tawny arc of liquid filling the delicate china cups one by one.  The sound seemed very loud in the grim silence between them, and Belle wished he would just get on with it.  Yell at her, scream at her, throw the worst insults he could think of at her.  Anything would have been better than this calm coldness.  He pushed a cup towards her, adding a little milk to his own and stirring slowly. The silver teaspoon clinked on the rim of the cup as he tapped it three times and laid it in the saucer.

“Thirteen months,” he said, his voice deadly quiet.  “I have missed thirteen months of his life.  Would you care to explain to me why?”

Belle licked her lips, her mouth dry.  Her heart was thudding, her pulse throbbing in her throat, and she couldn’t speak.

“Not one word,” he went on.  “Not even a bloody letter.  You left town, in your words ‘forever’, and didn’t think to tell me you were pregnant?  Not once?”

“I didn’t think you’d care!” she blurted.  “After everything you said to me, why the hell would I?”

“You’re putting this on me?” he demanded.  “What, because I broke up with you—”

“You broke my heart!”

“So this was some sort of twisted revenge, was it?” he sneered.  “Well, congratulations, Belle. If you wanted to hurt me, you succeeded admirably.”

“Yeah, well, I learned from the best,” she said bitterly, and his eyes flashed as he raised his chin, nodding briefly.

“I suppose I deserved that.”

She sighed, running her hands over her face and wishing she could turn back the clock.

“You deserved the insult,” she said.  “But you didn’t deserve not knowing, I’m well aware of that.  I realise it’s no comfort to you now, but for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“It’s worth nothing,” he said coldly.  “You’ve robbed me of time I am never going to get back, don’t you understand that?”

“Yes!” she insisted, throwing up her hands.  “What do you want me to say?  If I could go back in time and change my mind I would!  I - I tried to call you, I did, but - but—”

“Sudden, unexpected loss of voice, was there?” he asked sarcastically.  “The complete inability to even send a bloody text or an email?  Five little words: ‘I’m pregnant with your child’.  Whatever happened between us, however much anger and hurt is there, I would have put it aside for his sake.  I would have helped you, given you whatever you needed.”

Belle raised her chin, folding her arms across her chest as though it would protect her heart.

“Well, I don’t need you anymore,” she said, and he sent her a bitter, twisted smile.

“Did you ever?”

Yes, yes I needed you.  God, I needed you. I need you now!

She turned away, and heard him sigh.

“This is achieving nothing except making me angry,” he said.  “Perhaps we can continue the discussion later, when we’ve both had a chance to calm down.”

She nodded, still hugging herself, and heard him step past her.

“I seem to recall that you enjoyed my library,” he said stiffly.  “Help yourself to whatever reading material you wish, I have some business to attend to.”

She watched him go, a thin figure, shrouded in darkness and pain, closing himself off and shutting her out.  Just as he always had.

Chapter Text

Two years and ten months earlier

It was the first time he had ordered roses.

Belle had been delivering flowers to Mr Gold every Friday night for the past seven weeks, dropped off with the invoices she prepared.  He had ordered tiger lilies and carnations and mixed bouquets of peonies and stocks and gerbera daisies. She had carried bundles of irises and tulips and long stems of gladioli up the steps of his house, and he would let her in with a tiny smile and set the flowers in a crystal vase before marking off the amount charged against the outstanding debt.  He always seemed pleased with the flowers she delivered, and complimented her on the quality of the blooms. But this was the first time he had ordered roses.

Belle transferred the phone to her other ear as she reached for the order pad to note down his request.

“Two dozen?” she asked, and imagined that he was smiling in that secretive way he had.

“Two dozen,” he confirmed.  “Red roses, the best that you have.  I look forward to seeing you on Friday, Miss French.”

His voice was like silk, flowing over her, caressing her, and Belle licked her lips, feeling a now-familiar lurch in her belly.  It was both exciting and disturbing, and she was unsure how to handle it.

“Friday,” she said.  “I’ll be there.”

“I look forward to it.”

She put down the phone, scrawling the order details on the pad and doing a quick mental tally of the price.  With any luck, this delivery would clear the outstanding debt.  Which would mean she would have no reason to go over to Gold’s house.  The thought was surprisingly painful.  She had enjoyed the times that she had stood in his home and looked at the beautiful things he had.  The house was large for one person, and she had been beyond excited when he showed her his library, its shelves filled with everything from classics to modern thrillers, history to politics.  From their conversations, it was clear that he had read most of the books in there, and she chose to believe that no one who liked books that much could be all bad.  He was sarcastic, even mocking, but he was also intelligent and interesting, and the way his suits fitted was more than a little distracting.

Shaking her head and telling herself to get a grip, she pushed back from the counter, tearing off the order and taking it through to where her father was making up a wreath, winding stems around a circular frame, white roses, chrysanthemums and lilies.  Belle slid the order onto the bench, and Moe raised an eyebrow.

“Two dozen red roses?” he remarked.  “Gold got a lady-friend, or something?”

“How should I know?” asked Belle, trying to ignore the sudden stab of jealousy at the thought of it.  Moe grunted.

“Guess not,” he said.  “They’d have to be a gullible idiot, let’s face it.”

Belle frowned at his back, but said nothing.

“I suppose he wants ‘em Friday, like always?” asked Moe.


“Well, that reminds me,” he said, scratching the back of his head.  “Can you close up Friday night?  I’m gonna watch the game over at Walter’s place, maybe go for a beer afterwards.  Could be a late one.”

“Fine with me,” she said, with a shrug.  “I’ll close up before I take Mr Gold his order.”

“You be okay to cook yourself something for dinner?”

“I cook us something for dinner every night, I'm sure I can cook for myself.”

He grunted again at that, and she rolled her eyes.

“We can pay the rent this month, right?” she said, and he sighed.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I do worry about it!” she said sharply.

“We can pay the rent,” he snapped back.  “Just double-check that order we placed for roses, would you?  We need to make sure we’ve got enough for Gold as well as the other customers.”

Recognising evasion when she heard it, Belle glared at his back as he stomped out.  Perhaps the deal with Gold would be continuing awhile longer.

Belle tried not to think about why she chose to dress so carefully on Friday, slipping into a blue tea dress that brought out her eyes, her feet in wedge-heeled sandals that showed off painted toenails.  She had even waxed her legs and rubbed lotion into every inch of skin she could. Moe hadn’t noticed, but then he never paid much attention to what she wore, except to mutter that her skirts were too short.  If the deal with Gold was to be over, she wanted to make the most of her last time in his house. Perhaps he would offer her a drink, and a chance to look through his library again.

Moe left at just before six, pushing the bundle of roses at her and reminding her to lock up.  She did so as soon as he was gone, having decided to walk over to Gold’s house rather than take her bicycle, which was her usual form of transportation.  The evening was warm, and she inhaled the sweet scent of the roses, the bouquet cradled in one arm as she walked along.  Birds chirped in the trees that lined the streets, the shouts and laughter of children drifting towards her on the light breeze, and she breathed in with a contented sigh as she turned into Gold’s street.

He opened the door to her, dressed as always in a slim-fitting suit, although he had left off the jacket and was merely wearing a waistcoat over the black silk shirt beneath.  His tie was charcoal grey to match the suit, and she wondered what it would be like to see him in lighter tones. If he were to wear a pale blue shirt, or a deep fuchsia. He smiled when he saw her, his eyes crinkling a little.

“Miss French,” he said softly.  “You’re looking very lovely. Come in.”

She followed him through to the kitchen, and he got out a vase to fill with water, taking the roses from her.  He lifted the bouquet, running his eyes over the blooms, soft petals as red as wine and dark green leaves.

“These are excellent,” he said, and bent his head to inhale their fragrance.  “Perfect, in fact.”

She watched him pull off the ribbon that secured the stems, laying it aside and arranging the flowers one by one.  When the last was in his hand, he looked it over, running a thumb over the petals.

“Like velvet,” he said quietly.  “Perfect.”

He turned to her, holding it out, and raised an eyebrow.

“Here,” he said.  “If you’ll have it.”

His eyes were fixed on hers, and she felt that lurch in her belly again, the tug of desire.  She licked her lips, reaching up.

“Thank you,” she said softly, and he held her gaze for a moment before picking up the invoice she had prepared.

“Well, I suppose I’d better see where we are,” he said, and reached for the ledger that he brought out every Friday, opening it up and flicking through the pages until he reached her father’s name.

“I think - I think this might clear it,” said Belle, turning the rose between her fingers.

He ran a finger down the column of figures in the ledger, nodding to himself.

“It does indeed,” he said, marking off the amount charged for the roses.  “With a little to spare. Perhaps I’ll deduct that from next month’s rent.”

He turned to her with a grin, and she thought about forewarning him of her fears of the rent money not being there.  She decided against it. He was in a good mood, and she didn’t want there to be any unpleasantness. Gold pushed up, closing the ledger with a thump and turning to her.

“Well, it appears our Friday night meetings are over for now, Miss French,” he said.  “Would you like a drink? I have wine, or there’s whisky if you prefer. Any number of spirits, actually.”

“Wine would be good.”

He nodded, and went to open a bottle, glancing over his shoulder.

“Have a seat,” he said, and she slipped into a chair at the table.

She liked his kitchen.  It was always spotless, but she got the impression that he liked to cook from all the potted herbs on the windowsill, and the fact that sometimes when she came over, she could smell the scents of garlic and onions, sweet roasted tomatoes and pungent basil.  The kitchen table was polished wood, with a bowl of fruit in the centre, the shining curves of red apples nestled between bright, fragrant oranges, strings of deep red grapes flowing over the top.  He had set the roses next to the fruit bowl, and their scent was filtering in through her nose.  The room was a treat for the senses, and she smiled up at him as he set a glass of rich red wine in front of her before sitting down opposite.  This was the first time he had given her wine.  He had made her tea once or twice, poured into delicate porcelain cups and drunk seated at the kitchen table, but never wine.  She picked it up and took a sip, warm, smooth wine flowing across her tongue with the taste of black cherries and allspice.

“This is good,” she said, and he shrugged.

“I like delicious things,” he said.  “One needs to take life’s pleasures where one can.”

His words made her shiver a little, and she took another drink to hide it, watching him sip his wine.

“Will you still order flowers after tonight?” she asked, and he smiled a little.

“That depends.  Will you deliver them?”

“Of course.”

“Then we’ll see.”

There was silence for a moment, and she took another drink.  

“How is the progress towards saving for your Master’s?” he asked, and she nodded, flicking her hair back.

“Not bad.  I’m on track, anyway.  Wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t suggested this deal, so thank you for that.”

“It was my absolute pleasure.”

“I mean it,” she said.  “You didn’t have to. It was good of you.”

“You speak as though I didn’t get something out of it,” he said.  “I knew what I wanted when I made the offer.”

“And - and did you get it?” she asked hesitantly.  “What you wanted?”

His lips quirked upwards at the corners, a brief, secretive smile.

“Well, that remains to be seen.”

Silence fell again, and she buried her nose in her glass, listening to the low tick of the clock on the wall.  Gold was watching her, slowly running a finger back and forth over his lips, and Belle tilted her head a little.

“You look very - thoughtful,” she said, and his mouth twitched.

“That’s because I’m thinking.”

“About what?”

He reached for his glass, fingers curling around the bowl.  His eyes met hers, dark in the light from the lamps.

“About how good it would feel to take you to bed and fuck you hard.”

Belle sucked in a breath, her pulse throbbing high in her throat as a blush rose in her cheeks.  He had not dropped his eyes, and she could see that his lips were slightly parted, soft and moist, sensual.  He took a sip of wine, and she watched as his tongue swept across his lips to catch a stray droplet. Her abdomen clenched at the thought of what he might do with that tongue.  Gold raised an eyebrow.

“Was that response a little too honest?”

She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, shaking her head.

“No, it’s just - it's just not what I was expecting, I suppose.”

“Well, we could discuss the weather,” he said lazily, leaning back in his chair.  “I could talk to you about the contents of my library, or the history behind the antiques in my lounge.  But none of that would change the fact that I want to fuck you. That I’ve wanted to since the day we met, and now that our deal is over, it seemed appropriate to tell you.”

She could feel her heart thumping, and desperately tried to organise her thoughts, to think rationally about what he was proposing.

“You’re very - uh - candid,” she said, and he shrugged.

“Life is short.”

She supposed that was true.

“So you - you want a relationship?” she asked, and he smiled.

“Oh, I didn’t say that,” he said.  “Why don’t we take it one step at a time?”

“I’m thinking the first step is usually dinner,” she said dryly, and he grinned.

“I could make you dinner, if you like,” he said.  “But I'd far rather take you upstairs.  I suppose it all depends on how hungry you are.”

Belle swallowed hard, and reached for her wine, taking a gulp, her heart thumping.  Perhaps he was more honest than she, because all her hunger was for something other than food.  She didn’t want dinner any more than he did.

“I’m - I’m not hungry,” she said.  “But - well - maybe you could kiss me first?”

His smile widened, his eyes gleaming, and he drained his glass, setting it aside.  Belle took another gulp of her wine, pushing the glass next to his, and he stood up, beckoning to her with a finger.  She stood, her legs trembling a little, her back to the table, and he laid his cane against the chair as he stepped up to her.  This close she could smell the scent of him, warm and spicy and somehow rich, and he lifted his hands to cup her throat, thumbs sliding under her jaw and tilting her head back as his eyes ran over her face.

“Beautiful,” he whispered, and bent his head to kiss her.

His lips were soft and warm, his tongue sliding into her mouth, and Belle let out a moan, pressing herself against him.  His fingers were stroking over her neck, and she wondered if he could feel her pulse, thudding hard beneath her skin. His touch was gentle, but she could feel passion churning within him, a dark, burning intensity that was almost enough to steal her breath, and she wondered how much he was holding back, and how it might feel to have him let everything out.  If he were to tear the clothes from her and take her right there on the table, plunging inside her, making her scream.

Eager for his touch, she ran her hands over his chest, feeling the firm lines of his body, the heat of him.  His tongue stroked against hers, their lips grown wet and slippery, and he let his hands slide down her body, squeezing her breasts and slipping into the hollow of her waist and over the curve of her hips to slide under her buttocks.  He lifted her, sitting her on the table, and stepped in between her knees, one arm tightening around her waist and tugging her against him.  She could feel him then, the hard length of him pressed up against her core, and her heart was racing, desire making her kiss messy, her thighs gripping his hips.  Gold slid a hand down her thigh, slowly moving up from her knee along the soft sweep of her inner thigh and beneath the skirt of her dress.

Belle moaned when he touched her, fingers rubbing at her over the lace thong she wore, sending shivers through her with his fingertips.  She wanted more, her belly clenching with need, and his tongue stroked against hers as his fingers slid beneath the edge of her thong.  He let out a low growl as her fluids spread, callused fingers sliding over sensitive skin, and she gasped into his mouth, her hands digging into his shoulders. A finger slipped inside her, then another, stretching her, and he pushed in up to the knuckles, making her break the kiss and throw her head back, panting for breath.

Gold drew his tongue up her throat, tasting salt and some sort of delicate lotion, his thumb rubbing over her clit as he pushed and thrust, and his mouth found her ear, teeth nipping at the lobe.

“You feel so good, Belle,” he said, his voice a low growl.  “Such a sweet little cunt, all soft and silky-wet. God, I want to get inside you!”

She moaned, pushing her breasts into his chest, and he sucked on the soft skin of her throat.  He was thrusting into her in a slow rhythm, his thumb sweeping over the hardened nub at the top of her cleft, and she was rocking against his hand as her climax approached, her moans growing louder.  He put his mouth to her ear again, feeling shivers run through her as his breath flowed over her skin.

“I bet you taste every bit as sweet as you feel,” he rasped.  “I want to fuck you, Belle. I want to slide deep inside you and feel you come around me.  I want to make you scream my name over and over! I want to fuck you until we’re breathless and shattered and you beg me to stop!”

She let out a cry, arching her back as she came, and he felt her clamp down around his fingers, fluttering against him as hot fluid bathed his hand, trickling into his palm and making him groan with his own arousal.  His cock was rigid in his pants, his balls aching, and he was desperate to take her to bed.  Belle was clinging to his shoulders, her head bent as she tried to catch her breath, and he slowly drew out the fingers, slipping them into his mouth to catch the taste of her.  He let out a low, rumbling groan of pleasure at the flavour, and she opened her eyes, heavy-lidded and sleepy with lust, thick lashes framing them.  He kissed her again, his lips puling at hers as he drew back.

“Come to bed with me,” he said softly, and she nodded.

He took her hand, letting her slip from the table, and she kicked off her shoes as he grasped his cane, using it to take his weight as he led her to the stairs.  Desire was surging within him, his skin almost humming with it, and he opened the door to his bedroom, showing her inside and shutting it behind him. Belle was looking around, chewing her lower lip, her eyes wide with curiosity as they ran over the antique furniture and the carved headboard of the bed.  She turned to him, a flush still on her cheeks.

“Do you have protection?” she asked, and he nodded.


She seemed to relax a little at that, and he stepped closer, hooking his cane over the end of the bed and sliding his hands over her waist as he lowered his mouth to hers.  Belle hummed in pleasure, and he began unfastening the buttons of her dress, plucking them open and revealing her skin in pale flashes. He unbuttoned her all the way down, pushing the dress open and drawing it over her shoulders and down her arms.  Her skin was as pale as cream, her breasts pushed high in the powder-blue bra, and he reached around to unhook it, thumbs sliding beneath the shoulder straps and tugging it from her. Her underwear was next, pushed down over her hips until it fell at her feet and she stepped out of it, and then she was naked before him, her curves and hollows laid bare for his gaze and his touch and his tongue.

“Well, well,” he purred.  “What a pretty sight.”

His eyes raked over her, from the dark curls falling around her shoulders to her perfect breasts and over the slight curve of her belly to the glistening cleft between her thighs.  Her nipples were taut peaks, dark as her lips, and he yearned to kiss them, to trail his tongue down over her belly and slip it between her legs. She was blushing, and he cupped her cheeks with cool palms, a thumb running over the crimson swell of her lip.  Her eyes flicked up to meet his, and he could sense she was nervous.

“On the bed,” he whispered.

She backed away, getting onto the bed and lying back with one hand on the flat of her belly.  He took off his cufflinks, setting them on the nightstand with his watch, and tugging at the knot of his tie to pull it from around his neck.  His shoes and socks went next, set beside the bed, and then he opened up the nightstand to find the condoms he had purchased. Belle was watching him, teeth still tugging at her lip, and when he turned to her she reached for the buttons of his waistcoat, pushing it from his shoulders and starting on his shirt.  She sighed with what sounded like contentment when she bared his chest, running her hands over his skin and sending jolts of sensation through him as her thumbs brushed over hard nipples.

Pants and underwear were pushed over his hips in one, and he wriggled out of them, turning back to her to find her looking him over with interest.  He bent his head to kiss her breasts, his hands cupping firm flesh, tongue scraping over the nipples and making her moan as he sucked at her.  Her chest was heaving, her belly taut as he kissed his way down to where she was hot and wet and sweet with her cum.  His tongue swept over her flesh, and Belle rose up off the bed with a cry as he licked her, his tongue swirling and sliding and stabbing.  He growled at the taste of her, pushing two fingers inside her slick heat, willing her to come again so that he could bathe in her scent and drink her down.

She was moaning, writhing beneath him, her hips pushing up to meet his hand and his mouth, and he plunged his fingers into her, thrusting and rubbing, revelling in how it would feel when he finally sank into her, his cock filling her.  His tongue flickered over her clit, circling as his fingers thrust, and he could hear her whimpering, her fingers pushing through his hair, tugging on it, holding his head in place. He quickened the pace of his thrusts, his tongue rubbing over her, her body stiffening beneath him, and she came with a wail, her hips jerking, her hands twisting in his hair.  He drew out his fingers, putting his mouth to her, tasting salty-sweet fluid on his tongue as cum leaked from her, and he growled in pleasure at the taste, his hands pushing her thighs further apart so that he could lick every inch of her.

Belle threw an arm over her eyes, gasping for breath, her heart thudding in her chest and her skin tingling.  He was kissing her inner thighs, making his way back up over her belly to her breasts, and she jerked again as he sucked at her, the sensation almost too much.  He pushed himself up on his hands, breathing heavily as he gazed down at her, and she smell her own arousal on his skin, sweet musk covering him. He reached for a condom, kneeling up between her legs to put it on, and she took a moment to study his body, thin ropes of muscle in his chest and limbs, the lines of his ribs showing, his belly flat and smooth, dark hair between his legs where his cock jutted, hard and thick, and she swallowed hard, her throat dry, wanting him inside her.

He lined them up, the blunt head of him running over delicate skin, pushing inside her, and she clung to his shoulders, moaning as he sank deep, filling her, a low, rumbling groan coming from him.  She drew up her knees, and he thrust into her, grinding his hips against her and making her moan.

”Fuck!” he gasped.

Belle arched her back, pressing her chest against his, and he slid his hands up her arms, lifting them above her head, pushing her wrists down into the pillows as he thrust into her.  It was hard, almost painful, but he was grinding against her, the friction making her see stars, the feel of him inside her wonderfully thick and rigid. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the sensations, drawing his musky scent into her lungs, tasting sweat on his upper lip as their mouths met.  Heat was building between them, heat and sweat and the slick spread of her juices, and he sucked at her throat, his breath hot against her skin.

“Fuck, you feel good!” he rasped.  “You feel like fucking heaven, Belle!  Can you come for me, my sweet? Come for me, Belle!  I want to feel it all around me!”

She moaned, feeling her cheeks grow hot as her orgasm neared, and he licked along her jaw, growling in pleasure.

“Can’t hold off much longer,” he whispered.  “Gonna have to come inside you, sweetness. Deep inside you!”

Lights burst behind her eyes, and Belle cried out as she came, her hips jerking.  He followed her over the edge, his cock pulsing, a low roar coming from him as he thrust into her, his fingers clamped around her wrists.  She pushed up against him, tugging at him, and he bit down into her neck, making her moan.  Gradually his movements slowed, and he released her wrists, pushing up onto his elbows as he looked down at her, his breath coming in pants.  She licked her lips, trying to calm her racing heart, and he grinned.

“Well now,” he said, his voice low and throaty.  “That was just delicious.”

Chapter Text

Gold had gone out not long after leaving her in the kitchen with the rapidly cooling tea, and Belle was proud of herself for not bursting into tears as soon as he closed the front door.  She figured she had cried enough since their break-up.

The last thing he had done before he left was to leave a spare key on the hall table, tossed onto the polished wood without a word, a mere glance at her the only indication it was there.  She waited for Gideon to finish his nap, then dressed him and tucked him into the stroller, deciding to walk to the hospital to see her father. It turned out to be a wasted trip; he was still unconscious after his operation. He had been admitted with kidney failure, which had initially been thought of as a complication of his heart condition, and it was then that they had found the tumour in his pelvis.  She was hoping it was benign, but that hadn’t yet been confirmed, and she peered through the glass window to where he lay in bed, connected to tubes and wires and beeping machines.

“Call us this evening,” said the doctor, from over her shoulder.  “He may be awake by then, although he’ll probably be kind of groggy.  You’d be better waiting until tomorrow to visit.”

She turned on her toes to face him.  The doctor was a man called Victor Whale, with a shock of blond hair and a calm, assertive manner.  It didn’t stop him glancing down the front of her dress, but Belle ignored that.

“When will he be able to go home?” she asked, and he sucked his teeth.

“Maybe within a week, depending on how quickly we can get him up and moving,” he said.  “Could be longer. Ten days, two weeks. Depends on his fitness levels. He’ll need someone with him when he goes home, too.  At least for the first week or so.”

“So - maybe three weeks?” said Belle worriedly.  “I didn’t realise it would take so long.”

Dr Whale pulled a face.

“Look, I’ll be honest, his heart condition complicates everything,” he said.  “The medication can only go so far. He’ll be less mobile, less able to work, and I can’t tell you at this stage how long he’s going to need to get back to as normal a life as he’ll have.”

“Oh.”  Belle’s heart sank.  “Right. Thank you, Doctor.”

A longer hospital stay and recovery time meant a longer stay in Storybrooke, and she wasn’t sure how to feel about that.  She was aware that she and Gold had a lot to sort out between them, given that he seemed to want to be involved in Gideon’s life, but she had hoped to be able to arrange all that with some distance between them.  And now she was living in his house, weighted down with his anger and resentment. The fact that she knew it was a justified reaction on his part made it no easier.  There was her father’s shop to consider, too; leaving it closed would not help him in the long run, and she realised that she needed to think about how she might run it herself while he was ill.  Alongside caring for Gideon.  A headache was starting behind her eyes, and she let out a heavy sigh to try to release some of the tension.

She was subdued when she left the hospital, and Gideon was hungry, so she pushed the stroller to Granny’s and ordered a late lunch consisting of a grilled cheese sandwich, with a tomato salad on the side.  She cut half of it into bite-size pieces for Gideon, setting them aside to cool enough for him to eat.  Granny came over to fuss over him, bouncing him in her arms while Belle stuffed her own half of the sandwich into her mouth.  She had eaten nothing with the stress of moving into Gold’s house, and she hadn’t realised how hungry she was.

“Thanks,” she said, wiping her mouth on a napkin.  “God, I needed that!”

“I could get you another, you know,” said Granny, looking amused, and Belle shook her head.

“It should be okay for him to eat now,” she said, standing up to take Gideon.

She set him in the high chair Granny had brought, putting pieces of the sandwich on the plastic tray in front of him, along with some slices of tomato.  Gideon slammed a palm down on them, splattering seeds as he gurgled happily, and Belle giggled.

“We’re still getting the hang of feeding time,” she said, and held up a piece of sandwich for Gideon to take.

“Oh, he’ll get there,” said Granny, waving a hand.  “He walking yet?”

“Oh yes,” said Belle dryly.  “I can’t turn my back for a second.”

“Well, he’s a fine little man, and no mistake,” said Granny fondly.  “His dad in town, too?”

Belle hesitated.

“He’s at work,” she said, hoping and praying that Gold wouldn’t choose that moment to walk into the diner.

She had hoped to be out of town before the subject of Gideon’s father came up, but she imagined that was impossible now.  Thankfully, Granny was distracted by four new customers, and Belle managed to feed Gideon in peace, despite much of the food ending up all over his face and arms.  She cleaned him up as best she could, resolving to give him a bath before bed, and paid for their lunch, slipping out of the diner before Granny or any of the other Storybrooke residents could ask her anything awkward.

By the time she got back to the house, Gold had returned, and from the smell coming from the kitchen, he was preparing dinner.  The scent of garlic and onions was in the air, and she let herself in quietly, hoping he would be too distracted to notice she was back.  The approaching tap of his cane made her heart sink, and she busied herself in getting Gideon out of the stroller.  Gold appeared in the hallway in his shirtsleeves, a dish towel tucked into his belt.

“I’d like you to leave me your number, if you go out,” he said.  “I wrote mine down.”

He gestured to the pad of notepaper on the hall table, and she nodded.  His number was seared into her brain, but she wasn’t about to tell him that.  It was as though he was waiting for her to speak, and when she didn’t, he glanced back at the kitchen.

“I thought I’d make a start on dinner,” he said.  “But I never asked if there was anything he’s allergic to.”

Belle shrugged, sweeping her hair back off her face as she straightened up with Gideon in her arms.

“Kiwi fruit, that’s it so far.”

Gold nodded.

“I’m making lasagne,” he said.  “I presume that’ll be alright for him, if I run some through the processor.  I put extra vegetables in the sauce, too.  Sweet potato and red peppers.”

“Yeah, he’ll like that,” she said.  “I usually feed him around five-thirty, then give him a bath and a story before bed.”

“Then perhaps we should eat ours when he’s asleep,” he suggested.

She nodded, feeling desperately tired.  He would want to talk, and she wasn’t sure she could stand it.  He seemed calmer, though, so that was something.

“I should - I should put him down for a nap,” she said awkwardly.  “And - and I might have one too. It’s been a long couple of days.”

Gold nodded.

“Well, Dove bought everything I asked for,” he said.  “You should find all he needs in his room.”

He walked back into the kitchen, and she hesitated, looking after him as she bounced Gideon in her arms.  She was suddenly, acutely aware that Gold hadn’t touched him once.

Gideon’s room had been transformed, a brand new bedroom furniture set in pale grey and white, the drawers of the little cabinet filled with sets of new clothes, blankets and bedding.  There were boxes of toys piled at the side of what looked like a collapsible playpen, and she chewed her lip as she wondered where to set it up. She decided to wait to ask Gold about it; perhaps he wouldn’t want the noise and mess of a one-year-old in his pristine lounge.  Gideon was grizzling in her arms, small fists rubbing tired eyes. He cried when she changed him, and she rocked him for a while to settle him, humming a tune until his eyes slid closed.

Once he was asleep, she went into her own room, stripping off her clothes and crawling into bed naked.  The sheets were cool against her skin, and she closed her eyes, trying to empty her mind of the turmoil and pain that had plagued her for so long.

She was disorientated and groggy when she woke with a start, her watch showing the time to be just before five.  For a moment she wondered why she was undressed, and her mind was snatched back almost two years to the last time she had been naked in his house.  It hadn’t been in this bed, which was something, she supposed. She wasn’t sure she could have borne it if he had given her the room where they had spent so many evenings wrapped up in their own passions.  Where he had stripped off her clothes and kissed every inch of her.  Where he had covered her with his body and whispered her name over and over as he made her his.

She dressed quickly, throwing on a simple pair of slacks and a shirt.  Feeding Gideon was a messy business, and it was best to have something on that washed easily.  Padding through to his room on bare feet, she smiled as she saw him standing up and gripping the slats of the crib, burbling at her.  She picked him up, holding him against her chest and speaking soft words to him.  The lasagne was cooking, a deliciously savoury scent in the air, and so she went downstairs to the kitchen, carrying Gideon on her hip as she entered.

Gold was standing at the kitchen counter, scooping something into a plastic bowl from the food processor, a silicone spatula scraping the last from the sides.

“It should be cool enough for him to eat in a moment,” he said, and jerked his head towards the table.

Belle saw that he had bought a new high chair, clean, white plastic with a padded seat and a tray that folded outwards and clipped back in place.  She sat Gideon down, putting a bib around his neck and reaching for the bowl of food Gold handed her. That was new, too, and the plastic utensils.  She tried not to feel bitter that he appeared to have replaced everything she had bought; he could certainly afford it, and it was always useful to have another set.

Gold kept his back to her as he prepared what looked like garlic bread, wrapped in foil and ready for the oven, so Belle got on with feeding Gideon.  He enjoyed the pureed lasagne, despite getting it on his face, and when he was done and cleaned up with a disposable cloth, Gold brought over a selection of cut fruit, setting it down in silence for Gideon to grasp with sticky fingers.  Belle glanced over at him.

“I’ll give him his bath now,” she said.  “He’ll take some warm milk before bed.”

“I can do that,” he said.  “Do you need help with the bath?”

“No,” she said, aware that her voice was probably colder and stiffer than it needed to be, but unable to change it.  Gold nodded.

“In that case I’ll bring up the milk when you’re done.”

Once Gideon was bathed and dressed, Belle told him a story, sitting him on her lap with his cup of milk and reading from a colourful picture book about a travelling mouse.  He fell asleep not long after, and she put away the book and tucked him in his crib, turning on the nightlight Gold had bought and closing the door.

The smell of lasagne heating through made her stomach growl, and she made her way down to the kitchen to find Gold sitting at the table with the garlic bread steaming a little in its foil parcel, the lasagne dish bubbling on a stone trivet and a bowl of dressed salad to the side.  Belle slumped into a seat, and Gold held up a glass.

“Wine?” he said, and she ran her hands over her face with a sigh.


He poured some, the wine fragrant and ruby-red, and Belle took a sip, licking her lips as she remembered the taste from what seemed an age ago.  She took a peek at the label on the bottle, but couldn’t recall whether it was the same wine he had served her on their first night together. It tasted the same, rich and spicy, but there was an edge of bitterness there too.  Perhaps that was just her.

“You can help yourself,” he said.

Her appetite had all but disappeared again, her belly taut with nerves, but she knew she needed to eat, so she spooned a helping of the pasta onto her plate and added salad and bread.  The food was good; the sauce thick and rich with herbs and tomatoes, the salad fresh and light, and she mopped sauce with a piece of garlic bread, olive oil making her lips and fingers glisten.  There was silence for a moment, and Gold watched her, sipping his wine.

“Dove informs me that your father’s house will take a week to clean to my satisfaction,” he said, and Belle looked up, eyes wide.

“A week?”

“Is that really a surprise?” he asked dryly.  “There were several nests of rodents, requiring traps to be laid.  Not to mention the cockroaches.  He said I didn't want to hear about the basement.”

Belle sighed, stabbing at a piece of lettuce, and shrugged resignedly.

“A week, then,” she said.  “I guess that's just as well.  I went to visit Dad.  He's still unconscious.  Looks as though he’ll be in hospital for at least that long.”

“So you’ll be staying in Storybrooke a little longer than planned, then?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted.  “I guess we’ll have to see. He - he doesn’t have anyone else, so I want to look after him.”

“How touching.”

Belle put down her fork.

“Don’t be any more of an arsehole than you already are.”

He glanced away at that, his mouth flattening, and she turned back to her food, chewing and swallowing but tasting nothing.  Eventually she was done, and pushed her plate away, noticing that he had barely touched his own portion. He picked up the plates, carrying them over to the kitchen counter, and put the rest of the dishes beside them before sitting back down and refilling their glasses.

“What about your father’s shop?” he asked, and Belle looked up.

“I - I was going to ask you about that, actually,” she admitted.

“The rent is due in a week,” he said, and she gave him a flat look.

“You have to be kidding me!” she said.  “He’s in hospital!”


“So, you can’t cut us the tiniest of breaks?”

Gold took a sip of wine, one eyebrow lifting as he sat back.

“I thought you didn’t want my charity.”

Belle closed her eyes, trying to keep her temper.

“Then I’ll have to open up the shop and run it, or he's out, is that what you’re saying?”

“That’s entirely your decision,” he said, with a glint in his eyes.  “I’m simply telling you the current state of affairs, as landlord.”

She glowered at him, which seemed to amuse him, and he took a drink of his wine, licking his lips before setting down his glass.

“Miss Blanchard mentioned you were married,” he said.  “To whom?”

Belle sighed, rubbing an eye.  Well, I guess that's all around Storybrooke, then.

"Why do you care?"

"Because I care who it is that my son shares a home with," he said.  "As I should, don't you agree?"

"If you think I would ever put my own needs above Gideon's, you're insane," she said coolly.

"Isn't that exactly what you've been doing since he was born?"

Belle clenched her jaw, trying to remain calm.

“My home is a safe environment, and my private life is none of your business."

“It’s my business if your husband decides to come up here to defend your honour, or something equally tedious,” he said dryly.  “Does he know about us?”

“Oh God, there’s no ‘us’, Gold, there was never an ‘us’!” she said wearily.  “I was nothing to you, remember?”

“I certainly remember what happened in the back room of my shop yesterday,” he said slyly.  “Hardly the actions of a devoted wife.”

“Oh, go screw yourself!” she snapped, losing patience, and he smirked, his eyes gleaming.

“Well, I don’t feel the need for release right now, m’dear,” he drawled.  “But anytime you have some frustrations you want to work out, my door is always open.”

He winked at her, raising his glass.  She wanted to throw something at him, but she suspected that he was trying to bait her, so she swallowed the flare of rage, tamping it down to embers inside her.  Gold set down his glass again, pinching the bridge of his nose as he let out a low growl of frustration, and for a moment he looked as weary as she felt.

“By ‘us’, what I meant was whether the person you decided to marry is aware of Gideon’s parentage,” he said quietly.  “I certainly wasn’t suggesting that our little encounter meant anything more than any of the others.”

“Good,” she said, raising her chin.  “And since you ask, everyone who needs to know who Gideon’s father is, already knows.”

“Interesting that I was last.”

“I don’t know how many times you want me to say sorry for that.”

“Oh, I don’t know just yet,” he said easily, leaning back in his chair.  “Maybe until you give me a reasonable explanation. Maybe until I believe you.”

Belle set down her glass, pushing it away as tears pricked her eyes.  God, it was such a mess!

“I am sorry,” she said thickly.  “More than you know.”

She expected another barbed comment from him, but he was silent, and when she looked up he was watching her with an unreadable expression on his face.  Swallowing hard, she pushed back from the table and out of her seat.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” she muttered, and headed for the stairs, dashing tears from her cheeks with her thumbs as she almost ran from his presence.

Chapter Text

Two years and ten months earlier

Belle was shivering a little as she trotted up the path of her home in the cool of the night air, carrying the rose that Gold had given her.  It was late, approaching eleven, and she was praying that her father had not yet returned from watching the game with Walter. Better yet, that he had stayed out drinking, as he often did on a Friday night.  It would have been impossible for her to hide what she had been doing, even from someone as oblivious as her father after a skinful of beer.

Letting herself into the house, she breathed a sigh of relief.  It was dark and silent, and there was no sign of him. She locked the door and hurried upstairs, shutting herself in the bathroom and turning on the light.  The naked, swinging bulb above the sink cast a wan glow around the room, making her look pale and drained as she unbuttoned the front of her dress. One look confirmed everything she had suspected.  Red patches marred her throat and the curves of her breasts, her skin tender from the scrape of his stubble. Her lips were full and dark from the pressure of his mouth on hers, and she put a hand on her belly as it clenched at the memories.  How he had felt, his body pressing down on hers, his mouth on her skin. The way he moved inside her.

They had had full sex twice more before she had gasped that she had to stop, but in between he had made her come more times than she could count, tongue and fingers stroking over tender skin and hard nipples, his thumbs slipping inside her, his mouth whispering filthy words in her ear as she cried out in release.  Afterwards, he had given her another glass of wine, brought to her while she lay in bed on her front, feeling drowsy, her body a mass of sensation, her limbs aching and heavy as she pushed herself upright. He had been wearing a robe in thick black silk, and she had been tempted to push it from his shoulders and pull him back into bed with her, but she was cutting it fine as it was, and so she had sat up, drunk her wine, and dressed.

He had driven her home, one hand on her thigh, the fingers stroking her bare skin beneath the hem of her dress, his touch making her breathless.  She had left his car with a final kiss and a wicked grin from him, and her mind had been whirling as she stalked up the path to her front door. He had said nothing about seeing her again, and she hadn’t felt able to raise the matter herself.  Perhaps he had gotten what he wanted, and he would once again treat her with his own brand of detached, sarcastic courtesy. Perhaps this was it.

Belle ran shaking fingertips over her lips, studying her reflection, her eyes wide and dark, then shook her head, as though she was waking from a spell, and went through to her bedroom to undress.  Pulling on her robe, she picked up the single rose he had given her. Moe would not have said anything if she put it in a vase and kept it in her room; she often brought unsold flowers home, after all.  She didn’t want to do that, though, to see it wilt and fade and its petals fall before throwing it in the trash. Looking around, she reached for one of her heavier books, which also happened to be her favourite.  A blue cover with embossed gold writing announced that the book was called Her Handsome Hero, and Belle smiled to herself as she remembered all the times she had read it over the years.  She opened up the book, sliding the rose in at the back, and put it down on one of the bookshelves before piling others on top.  Perhaps that would keep it safe, pressed between the leaves of a well-loved book. If this was to be their one and only time together, perhaps she could have this memory.

She slept poorly, and when she woke at seven she ached all over, but it was a pleasant kind of ache, as though she had run miles.  As though she had achieved something. She made breakfast in the silent house, tea and toast with scrambled eggs. There was no sign of her father, so she took him some coffee and found him snoring in bed, reeking of booze and grunting when she shook his shoulder.  Shaking her head, she set his alarm for nine, then dressed and went to open the shop on her own. Saturday morning was almost always the same with him, but he was usually in work by ten.

It was another sunny day, and she walked to the shop, a white shirt buttoned up higher than usual, and a chiffon scarf tied around her neck to hide the bites.  She waved to Ashley Boyd and Mary Margaret Blanchard, two young women around her own age with whom she had chatted on occasion, and unlocked the shop door, breathing deeply to inhale the familiar scent.

The flower delivery came ten minutes later, and she was sorting through a box of sunflowers when the bell above the shop door tinkled.  She glanced up, expecting to see her father, and her eyes widened as Gold sauntered in. He had left off the waistcoat in a nod to the summer weather, and was wearing a deep purple shirt and dark blue tie beneath his suit, brown-tinted glasses perched on his nose.  He grinned at her, his teeth gleaming white and gold.

“Good morning, Miss French.”

“Dad’s not here,” she said.  “You don’t have to be so formal.”


He took a step closer, then another, until he was almost touching her, and she licked her lips, her heart thumping.

“Good morning, Belle,” he said softly, and she blushed a little.

“Good morning to you.”

“Hmm.”  He looked her over, and reached up to stroke a finger over the knot of her scarf.  “What’s that hiding, pray tell?”

“I think you know the answer to that,” she said primly, and his grin widened.  He glanced around the shop before looking back at her.

“How are you?” he asked, and she shifted a little.

“I’m - I’m okay,” she said.  “A little sore, maybe. You?”

“Oh, I feel as though I was hit by a truck,” he said lightly.  “I may need a few days to recover.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling,” she said fervently, and he smiled.

“So, Wednesday, then.”

Belle blinked.


“Wednesday,” he repeated.  “Seven o’clock.”

Belle put her hands on her hips.

“Is this the part where you tell me you want to fuck me again?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.  “Wow, you really know how to romance a girl, don’t you?”

Gold shook back his hair, soft laughter bubbling out of him.

“Oh, I definitely want to fuck you again,” he said, still grinning.  “But I thought this time I might make you dinner first.”

“You have this dating thing all backward, you know,” she remarked, and he lifted an eyebrow.

“Who said it was a date?”

“Dinner followed by sex is a date,” she said patiently.  “It’s practically the dictionary definition of a date.”

“And if we have the sex first?”

“Still a date.”

He waved a languid hand.

“Well, you can call it whatever you like, it makes no difference to me,” he said.

Belle pursed her lips, pretending to think it over.

“Okay,” she said.  “I’ll come.”

He grinned widely, gold tooth glinting.

“Oh, I can guarantee that.”

The shop door opened, making Belle jump, and she took a step back as her father stomped in, baggy-eyed and unshaven.  Gold glanced over his shoulder briefly, and Moe stopped dead, his eyes flicking between them.

“Mr Gold,” he said.  “Are you here for the rent?”

“Why does everyone ask that?” said Gold, almost to himself.  “Your rent isn’t due until next week.”

“I - I know,” said Moe.  “But when I saw you, I just thought—”

“As a matter of fact, I’ve decided that I rather enjoy my weekly delivery of flowers," Gold interrupted.  “Now the debt is cleared, I’d like it to continue. But this time I’ll be paying.”

Moe perked up.

“Oh,” he said.  “Right. Good!”

“I’ll place the orders on Tuesdays, as always,” said Gold carelessly.  “We’ll keep the same arrangement.”

His eyes flicked to Belle, and she felt her cheeks heat a little.

“Fine, fine,” said Moe.  “Belle can take them over on Fridays, can’t you, love?”

“Of course.”

“I look forward to it,” said Gold smoothly.  “Good day Mr French. Miss French.”

He inclined his head before walking out, his cane tapping on the floor, and Moe watched him go, turning to Belle as the door closed.

“Guy’s an arsehole, but his money’s as good as anyone’s,” he said.  “We need to make sure we give him the best, okay?”

He bustled off into the workroom where he made up the orders, and Belle smirked to herself.

Going out on a Wednesday night wasn’t something that she usually did, but Moe looked pleased when she casually mentioned that she was meeting up with a couple of the girls she had met at Granny’s.

“Well, that’s good,” he said.  “I was hoping you’d make some friends, not sit in your room reading all the time.  You need to get out more, have a good time. College is over for the moment, so let your hair down.”

Belle grinned to herself as she walked along the warm streets towards Gold’s house, a tight white blouse above a flared coral skirt and matching peep-toes.  The blouse showed a hint of cleavage, but at least she no longer had to cover her neck to hide the marks he had left on her. Her scarf was tucked into her purse, just in case.  Excitement was fluttering in her belly at the thought of seeing him again. At what he might do to her. She glanced around as she reached the path that led to his door, but there was no one else in the street.  No one to see her trot up the path and mount the steps to his porch. She knocked on the door, chewing her lip a little nervously, and watched as shadows moved behind the rippled stained glass.

Gold opened the door, evening sunlight streaming in with the scent of cut grass.  Belle was radiant, the light behind her like a halo, and he smiled.

“Good evening, Miss French,” he said softly.  “Do come inside.”

He stepped back, and she walked past, a light, floral perfume tickling his nose as he closed and locked the door.

“We’ll be in the dining room this evening,” he said.  “If you’d care to go through. Can I get you a drink?”

“I’d love one.”

He watched her walk through to the dining room, the light gleaming on her hair, and the skirt she wore swishing around her slender thighs.  Her legs were bare above the little shoes, and he remembered how they felt wrapped around his waist, and the softness of her skin as he kissed his way up her inner thighs.  The memories made him stir, and he wondered how hungry she was. Whether she would be prepared to wait a little for dinner.

He went to the fridge, taking out the bottle of champagne that had been chilling there.  Not his usual Wednesday night tipple, to be sure, but he had felt like something extravagant.  Something delicious. He opened it up, carrying the bottle and two glasses through to the dining room on a tray balanced on one arm.  Belle was looking around with interest, hands clasped behind her back as she slowly paced the floor, and her lips parted as he entered, her eyes widening.

“Let me take that,” she said, and hurried over to take the tray from him, setting it down on the long mahogany table.

“A moment,” he said, and went back to the kitchen, reaching for the plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries he had prepared earlier that evening.

He hadn’t expected Belle to pour the champagne, and surely enough when he returned to the dining room she had perched on the edge of the table, legs swinging as she studied the bottle.  One finger traced a bead of condensation, sending it trailing down the curved edge, and she glanced around as he entered. Her eyes widened at the sight of the strawberries, and she gave him a wry smile.

“Not that they don’t look delicious, but is this all I’m getting for dinner?” she asked teasingly.

He stepped closer, setting the plate on the table, and reached for the champagne, laying his cane against a chair so that he could pick up a glass and pour a measure.

“This,” he said.  “Is just a little appetiser.  Before the main course.”

He held up the glass, and Belle was watching him, her eyes wide and darker than usual.  There was a faint blush in her cheeks, her skin as smooth as silk, and he wanted to kiss her.  She licked her lips, a brief flash of her pink tongue, and reached out to take the glass from him.  He poured one for himself, and clinked his glass against hers.

“This,” he said softly.  “Is a taste of what’s to come.”

He held her gaze as he drank, the champagne foaming on his tongue, dry and crisp with the taste of ripe fruit and honey.  Belle took a sip, making a tiny sound of pleasure as she did so. Her eyelids fluttered, and the blush in her cheeks rose.  She was delectable.  Perfect.  She swallowed, her throat bobbing, and set down the glass.

“It’s delicious.”

He noticed that the tone of her voice had lowered, become a little throatier, and he stepped closer, moving in between her knees, and hearing her breath catch in her throat.  His eyes dropped to her mouth, to those full, soft, deep red lips, to where she was wet and hot and sweet, and for a brief moment he thought of how it might feel to have her mouth around him, sucking him hard, sucking him dry.  The thought made him harden. He set down his glass, reaching for one of the strawberries, the fruit firm and cool beneath his fingertips. Holding it up, he raised an eyebrow, and Belle nodded.

“Open up,” he whispered.

She closed her eyes for a moment, her lashes making dark crescents against her pale skin, her mouth opening, and he used the chocolate-coated strawberry to trace a path around her lips.  Belle giggled a little, her eyes flicking open to catch his, the chocolate starting to melt with the heat of her mouth. She licked at it, her eyes sparkling, and he slowly pushed it in between her lips, her mouth widening a little to take it inside.  Belle bit down with a low noise of enjoyment, chewing slowly, traces of red, ripe fruit on her lips. He offered her the rest, his fingertips gripping the green leaves at the top, and her white teeth sank into the soft fruit, tugging it free and chewing.  There were smears of chocolate on her lips, and he wanted to taste her, but he reached for another strawberry. Belle raised an eyebrow as she took a sip of champagne.

“That’s - very large,” she remarked, and he felt himself grin.

“I think you can take it.”

Her blush deepened, and he shifted closer, one hand dropping to rest on her bare thigh where her skirt had ridden up.  Belle sucked in a breath, and he let the hand slide up a little, feeling smooth, warm skin, his fingers slipping beneath her hem.  She opened her mouth again, and he let the base of the fruit press against her lips, the chocolate softening with her heat, becoming liquid.  Belle moaned a little, biting down, chocolate smearing the edges of her mouth.  Juice ran over her chin in a red stream, tracking a path down her pale throat, and he wanted to lick it from her.  His hand moved higher, fingers brushing the lacy edge of her underwear, and she gasped, eyes closing as he touched her.

The strawberry had slipped from her mouth a little: wet, red flesh dripping with juice, and he brushed it over her lips, smiling as she lunged for it and bit down, sucking it from his fingers.  He tossed the stalk aside as she chewed, her eyes fixed on him, her breathing quickening as the fingers of one hand gently brushed over the heat between her legs. There was chocolate on her mouth, and he reached up to touch it with a thumb, smearing it over the fullness of her lower lip. The tip of her tongue flicked out to catch his thumb, and he pushed it into her mouth, his cock hardening as she sucked him, her eyes fixed on his.  His other hand slipped inside her panties, finding her slippery heat, and Belle moaned, closing her eyes and letting her head roll back as his thumb slipped from in between her lips.

He leaned in to kiss her, tasting rich, dark chocolate and sweet juice on her lips, his fingers stroking against her soft flesh.  Her tongue was sweet and cool from the strawberry, and he pushed closer, letting out a low noise of pleasure as her hands stroked over his chest, her touch sending shivers through him as he felt the heat of her hands through the thin silk.  Her fingers found the buttons of his jacket, and she plucked them open, sliding her hands around his waist, gasping into his mouth as his fingers flickered over her clit.

Her chest was heaving, straining the buttons of the tight white shirt she wore, and he wanted to rip it from her, to bare her pale curves for his hands and his mouth, to strip her naked there on the table and lick every inch of her body.  He drew out his hand from her underwear, breaking the kiss, and reached up to unbutton her with sticky fingers, his forehead pressed to hers, her breath cool on his lips. He pushed the shirt from her shoulders and down her arms, reaching behind to unhook her bra, and Belle shook out of her clothing as he straightened up a little to wet his throat with the champagne.

She was staring at him, almost panting, and he took a mouthful of wine and kissed her, letting it flow into her mouth and foam over her lips.  Belle swallowed, and he bent to chase the trail of champagne with his tongue, licking up her neck to clean it off. She was giggling a little, and so he took another mouthful, bending to kiss her breast, taking the nipple in between his lips so that bubbles burst against it.  Belle moaned, her hands sliding out from beneath his jacket to sink into his hair, and he sucked at her nipple, the champagne foaming on his tongue.

“Oh!” she gasped, and he kissed back up her chest, letting his tongue swirl over her pulse before flicking at her ear.

“I’ve been thinking about you for days, Belle!” he growled, and her fingers tightened in his hair as he swept his tongue over her pulse and nipped along her jaw.

“I’ve been thinking about how good it felt to fuck you!” he whispered.  “How fucking sweet you taste when you come.  I want to slide deep inside you.  All the way inside you!  I want to feel every bit of you, Belle!”

Belle kissed him hungrily, tasting wine on his tongue, her belly clenching with need as her fingers stroked through his hair.  Her heart was thudding in her chest, and she wanted him to touch her, to slide his fingers inside her and make her come. Gold cupped her face with his hands, and she could smell cologne on his fingers, and the scent of her arousal.  He broke the kiss, breathing hard, and nuzzled her nose with his a little as his eyes met hers.

“Lie back,” he whispered.

She shifted a little on the heels of her hands, lowering herself back on the table and gazing up at the ceiling.  She heard the scrape of chair legs against the wooden floor, and then his hands dropped to her thighs, pushing her skirt up around her waist.  Her pulse throbbed in her throat as she felt his fingers slide up over her hips, grasping the waistband of her panties and pulling them down. She lifted her hips a little, letting him draw them down her legs and off at her feet.  He draped her thighs over his shoulders, and she held her breath, feeling his hair brush against her inner thighs as he kissed his way up.

His tongue stroked over her flesh, and she arched upwards with a moan, head rolling back against the table, the scent of beeswax in her nose.  He buried his face in her with a low growl, tongue swirling, his hands sliding over her thighs and pulling them apart so he could reach more of her.  Belle closed her eyes, concentrating on the feel of him, the heat of his breath and the scrape of his stubble, the soft sweep of his tongue against her and the way his fingers gripped her.  Her heart was pounding, her chest heaving, the blood rushing to her cheeks as sensations built within her.

“God, you’re fucking delicious!” he whispered, his words rumbling through her, a low, throaty sound of lust that made her abdomen tighten.

She felt a finger penetrate her, sliding inside, his tongue flickering over her, and her hands tightened in his hair, her breath whistling through her lungs as a wave of pleasure rose up through her.  His tongue was sliding and stabbing and stroking, and she let a moan burst from her, becoming a loud cry of pleasure as she came, her thighs squeezing his head, her body jerking. He let out a low groan of pleasure as he licked her, and she threw her arms up over her eyes as her moans quietened and her body stilled, her skin tingling in her bliss.

Gold drew back, reaching up to take her hands, and Belle opened her eyes as he pulled her upright.  He released her hands, letting her legs slip from his shoulders, and stood up, his fingers sliding around her waist as he kissed her.  She could taste herself on him, salt on his tongue as it pushed in between her lips, and his hands cupped her breasts, squeezing her.  Gold pulled back a little, breathing hard, his eyes dark with lust, and his hands slid down to pull her against him.  She could feel him push against her, the hard length of him, and his lower lip trembled a little as he rested his forehead against hers, their mouths almost brushing.

“I want to get inside you,” he rasped.  “Come to bed, Belle. I need to feel you.  I need to feel you come!”

She licked her lips, but nodded, and he took a step back to let her slip to the floor, clad only in her skirt.  Her shirt and underwear were in a crumpled heap, and she kicked off her shoes, not bothering to cover herself. He retrieved his cane, and she made her way to the stairs on shaking legs, grasping at the carved wooden banister as she stepped on the smooth treads.  She could hear the tap of his cane behind her, and her heart was thumping again, memories of the last time she had been in his bed running through her mind.

The bedroom was cool and dark, the curtains already drawn, and she shivered a little, feeling him move behind her as he went to switch on one of the lamps.  A warm glow flowed across the walls, throwing shadows across his features and making his eyes darker. He shrugged off the jacket, draping it over a chair as he looked her over.

“Take off the skirt,” he said.

She reached behind herself to pull the zipper down, and he let the tip of his tongue wet his lips as he watched her.  The skirt pooled at her feet, leaving her naked, and he let out a low, bass hum of approval, reaching up to pull at the knot of his tie.

“On the bed,” he said quietly.  “On your knees.”

Her breath caught in her throat, and she climbed onto the bed, the silk throw cool against her hands and knees.  Glancing to the side, she could see him open the drawer of the nightstand and take out a condom. His cuffs were loose, the gold links beside the lamp, and she watched as he unbuttoned the shirt and shrugged it off, revealing lightly-tanned skin.  His hands dropped to his belt, and Belle stared straight ahead, her eyes following the loops and whorls of carved wood in the elaborate headboard.

She felt it when he got on the bed behind her, the mattress bowing a little under his knees, and shivered as his hands stroked over her hips and buttocks.  They slipped between her thighs, pushing her legs apart, and she moaned as his fingers stroked her, spreading her fluids. Two fingers slipped inside her, sinking deep, and he growled in pleasure as his thumb swept through slippery juices to push up against her back entrance.  A jolt of sensation went through her, and Belle gasped, her cheeks burning. Gold thrust his fingers into her again.

“So fucking wet, Belle!” he whispered.  “Your cum’s all over my fingers, sweetness.  I’m gonna make you come again. Do you want to?”

She nodded, barely able to think, to form words.

“Say it!” he rasped.

“Make me come!” she breathed.

He reached around with his other hand, the tips of his fingers flickering against her clit as he thrust inside her.  She could feel where he was pressed against her, the hardness of his cock against her buttock as he fingered her, his thumb pushing inside her.  The sensations were almost too much, and she was rocking against him, rubbing against him, his fingers fluttering over her.  She could feel herself nearing her peak, her muscles tightening, sweat beading on her upper lip, and she whimpered as she felt her orgasm approach, a wave of pleasure building up and up to crash through her as she broke with a scream of ecstasy.

Her hips bucked, her belly clenching as ripples of pleasure ran through her, and she let out tiny, rhythmic cries feeling his fingers grow slick with her juices.  Gold growled in approval, bending to kiss her shoulders, his hair tickling her skin.

“Your cum’s running over my hand, Belle,” he whispered.  “Are you ready for me, my sweet?”

She nodded, breathless, and he slipped his fingers from her.  She could feel the hot, blunt head of his cock run through her folds, rubbing over her sensitive clit, and then he pushed inside her, his hands gripping her hips and pulling her back against him as he sank into her with a long, low groan.  It was almost deep enough to be painful, and she threw her head back with a cry, pushing herself against him, letting him fill her completely.

“Fuck, that’s good!” he gasped.

He began to move with long, slow thrusts, his hands sliding up her back.  Belle closed her eyes, licking dry lips, her body still humming from her orgasm.  His hands slid round to cup her breasts, and she moaned, shaking her hair back as she rocked against him.  One hand slid over her belly, down between her legs, and she bit back a moan as he touched her tender flesh.

“There,” he whispered.  “Feels so good to fuck you, Belle.  To be inside you like this.”

His fingers pinched her nipple, and she cried out at the burst of sensation.  He pulled her up a little, her back pressed against his chest, his fingers rubbing at her, and she whimpered as she felt the sensations start to build again.

“Ohhhh!” he breathed, his hand leaving her breast and sliding up over her back.  “Oh, I can feel you! I can feel you getting close again. Can you come for me, Belle?  I want to feel it!”

His hand slid up the groove of her spine to the nape of her neck, sinking into her hair, and Belle moaned as he thrust into her, her pulse throbbing in her head, her cheeks flushing.

“Yes!” she whispered, and his hand tightened in her hair, pulling her head back as he thrust into her, hard and thick.  “Oh God, yes!”

His cock was rigid, sliding in and out of her, his fingers dancing over her clit, and she held her breath as she let the sensations burst through her, crying out as she came.  He released her hair, moving his hands to her hips, tugging her against him as he thrust, and she let out a short, rhythmic series of cries as he pumped against her, white lights bursting behind her eyes.  She felt drained, wanting to fall onto the pillows, but his pace was increasing, his cock hard inside her, and she heard him groan, felt his grip tighten on her hips.

“God, you feel incredible!” he rasped.  “I’m gonna come inside you, Belle! I have to!”

He finished with long, slow strokes, a hoarse cry coming from him, and she felt his cock pulse as he came, slamming into her.  For a moment there was only the sound of their own ragged breathing. Her skin was tingling, her body aching, and she licked sweat from her upper lip, her arms shaking as she tried to hold herself up.  Gold reached between them to grasp the base of the condom before pulling out of her, and she sank down onto the bed with a heavy sigh of relief. He collapsed onto her, kissing her shoulders and the back of her neck and sending shivers through her.  His mouth found her ear, his breath hot, and she felt herself grin lazily.

“Well then,” he whispered.  “About that dinner…”

Chapter Text

After Belle had left the kitchen to head for the shower, Gold drummed his fingers on the table, anger still coursing through him and making his jaw clench and his skin tingle.  They needed to have a proper conversation, he knew that, but he couldn’t seem to stop sniping at her for long enough to do it. It was either that or let the full force of his rage and pain out into the open, and he had spent too long keeping his emotions bottled up to want to leave himself so exposed, so vulnerable.  Their first encounter upon her return had been a mistake, and one he didn’t intend to make again.

Picking up his wine, he took a drink, and pushed out of his chair as he heard the shower start to run.  He paced back and forth across the tiled floor as he thought things over. So much to arrange in the short time she would be here.  There was custody, for a start; he’d be damned if he let her keep his child from him anymore, and he refused to be one of those fathers who saw their kids one weekend in two.  He’d seen them in diners in many a city, trying to hold a conversation with children they barely knew, attempting to bond over milkshakes and burgers in the heat and noise of a restaurant.

He took another drink, shaking his head.  No. Unacceptable. He had to be a meaningful part of his son’s life.  If Belle was living in Boston, that made things more difficult, of course, but not impossible.  It would mean moving, but in terms of his businesses, he could run everything but the pawnshop from Boston.  Perhaps it was time for a change of scene.

His mouth twisted as he recalled what she had said over the past couple of days.  Her answers to all his questions thus far had been evasive, particularly those relating to her private life, and he had been too angry and resentful to push her on it.  She had said that she knew he was the father, and Gideon had too much of him to be anyone else's, but he was well aware that her simple declaration meant little in the eyes of the world.  If he wanted to be a part of Gideon's life, they needed certainty.  A matter for his lawyer, perhaps, just to make certain there could be no nasty surprises down the line from her husband or anyone else.

Once he was sure of being legally recognised as Gideon’s father, there would be child support to pay, so they would have to discuss that too.  He wondered what she would ask for.  He was already starting to think about Gideon’s schooling, and college, and he made a mental note to visit his lawyer and discuss a trust fund once the preliminary decisions were made.  And then there would be holidays and Christmas and birthdays to arrange - God, what a mess!  He stopped pacing, raising his eyes to the ceiling with a sigh as he shook his head.

He needed to wash the dishes, but he decided to finish his wine first, and so he went through to the lounge to put on some music, to see if it would calm him.  A faint cry started from upstairs just as he entered, and so he put down his glass and made his way up, heading for Gideon’s bedroom. The cries grew louder as he opened the door, and Gideon was standing in his crib, small hands gripping the white-painted slats and tears running down his face.  He quieted a little as Gold entered, eyes widening at the unexpected visitor, lower lip trembling.

“Hey there,” said Gold gently.  “What’s up, hmm?”

“Mum-mum!” said Gideon tearfully.  “Mum-mum!”

Gold glanced towards the bathroom, where the shower was still running.

“Mummy’s busy right now,” he said.  “Let’s see if I can help.”

He slipped his hands into the crib, picking the baby up and bouncing him in his arms, and Gideon’s crying quietened to whimpers, his brown eyes bright and curious as he grabbed at the shining tiepin.  Gold smiled.

“There now,” he said softly.  “That’s better, isn’t it?”

“Abu,” said Gideon, a bubble of spit bursting on his lower lip, and Gold grinned.

“My thoughts exactly,” he said.  “You and I haven’t been properly introduced, you know.  I’m your Papa.”

“Bo,” said Gideon, and his grin widened.

“Well, I expect getting you to say that might take a little while, in the circumstances,” he said.  “But I’m very, very pleased to meet you at last, Gideon.”

He kissed his son’s forehead, breathing in the baby scent of him, and Gideon reached up to grasp the end of his nose as he pulled back, making him chuckle.

“Yeah, hopefully you haven’t inherited that, eh lad?” he said.  “Now, what’s this about? You need changing? Let’s have a look.”

Belle had wept in the shower, though whether through tiredness or guilt or the pain of unrequited love she wasn’t sure.  She had leaned against the cool slate tiles, tears streaming down her face and washing away with the water as her body shook.  She remembered the times when he had been in the shower with her, water cascading over them as he pinned her to the wall and made her come.  He had kissed her, the light of love in his eyes, and she had clung to him, her heart almost bursting from happiness. It seemed an age ago.

Crying made her feel a little better, releasing some of the tension in her body, and she washed her hair and skin, calming as she soaped her arms.  Shutting off the shower, she dried off and wrapped her hair in a towel, pulling on the thin cotton robe she had brought and tying the belt.  She was exhausted, and although she knew she was only putting off the inevitable, she thought she would go to bed rather than face Gold again.

A murmuring was coming from Gideon’s bedroom when she stepped out of the bathroom, and her brow crinkled with curiosity.  Moving silently in bare feet, she padded along the landing to his door, and saw Gold on his knees, applying powder to Gideon, who was lying on his back on the changing mat and kicking his legs, burbling to himself.  Gold worked quickly, closing the box of wipes he had used, and fished a clean diaper from the pack.  He opened it up, putting it on and pulling the tapes around to stick it in place, running a finger around the top to make sure it was snug but not too tight.  Just as she had learned to do.

“There now,” he said to Gideon.  “All clean and dry. That’s better, isn’t it?”

Belle’s heart clenched at the gentle tone of his voice, the sudden, unexpected softness in him.  How long had it been since he’d used that voice with her? Would he ever use it again?  She swallowed hard as Gold picked up their son and stood, using the cane to support himself.  He rocked the baby in his arms a little, making shushing noises.

“Time for you to go back to bed, little one,” he said softly.  “Let’s see if you can sleep until morning, hmm?”

He shifted Gideon, lifting him a little higher as he stepped towards the crib, and the baby peered at Belle over his shoulder, arms flailing a little.


Gold turned on the balls of his feet, and Belle licked her lips nervously as his eyes narrowed.

“He needed changing,” was all he said, and handed Gideon to her.

Belle took their son, letting him nestle against her shoulder as Gold swept past her like a cold draught.

“Wait,” she said softly, and he stilled, turning slightly and looking over his shoulder, the light from the landing shining on his hair.

“How did you know how to do that?” she asked, and his mouth flattened.

“What, change a diaper?  Is there some secret ritual I was unaware of?”

“No, it’s just—”

She lifted a hand helplessly, letting it fall, unsure how to express what was going through her mind, and Gold’s jaw tightened a little.

“The instructions are on the pack,” he said coldly.  “It’s not exactly something that requires a degree in engineering.”

Belle flinched.  “I - I just meant—”

“Look, it’s been a long day,” he interrupted.  “I’ll say goodnight.”

He stalked off back down the stairs, and she watched him go, hugging Gideon close and wishing she could somehow make things right between them.

Gideon slept through the night, waking not long after seven, and by the time Belle had changed him and carried him downstairs, Gold had gone out, leaving a pot of fresh coffee, a note saying he’d be at the shop, and a faint air of resentment in his wake.  She sighed to herself as she prepared breakfast. He was avoiding her, and while it was a relief not to start the day with biting comments and a heavy atmosphere, she was well aware that they needed to talk if they were going to move forward.

Once she and Gideon had been fed and dressed, she made her way out into the pleasant morning air, pushing the stroller down the street and into the town.  She needed to head to the hospital, but she wanted to check in on the shop, too, just to remind herself of its layout and think over what she wanted to do with the place.  If she was to run it, it was going to be difficult with a toddler. Being back in Storybrooke was giving her permanent nausea.


She turned at the sound of Mary Margaret’s voice, and smiled as the other woman came hurrying over.

“Hey!”  Mary Margaret bent over to coo at Gideon before straightening up with a smile.  “I’m just running some errands. Thought I’d let you know that your Dad’s awake.  I saw him on my rounds this morning. A little woozy, but he’s himself. He was asking if I’d seen you.”

“Thanks, I’ll head over there,” said Belle, and Mary Margaret sent her a soft smile.

“Look, I don’t have much to do today,” she said.  “I know he kind of let his place go a little, so if you need any help cleaning it up…”

“Oh, no, thanks, it’s fine!” said Belle hastily.  “It’s all in hand.” She hesitated for a moment, but then added.  “Mr Gold sent a cleaning team in.”

“Mr Gold?”  Mary Margaret looked surprised.  “Well, that was good of him.”


Belle ducked her head, busying herself with picking up Gideon’s red plush dragon and tucking it in beside him.  She was chewing her lip, and Mary Margaret was watching her thoughtfully.

“Look, I’m going to Granny’s for drinks with Ashley and Kathryn tonight,” she said.  “Want to join us?”

“Oh, I don’t know…”  Belle felt awkward. “I don’t have a sitter or anything.”

“I can give you the numbers of a couple of girls that I know the Mayor uses,” said Mary Margaret eagerly.  “Let your hair down a little.  It must be an age since you had a proper girls’ night.”

“Well, that’s certainly true,” sighed Belle, privately thinking that Gold would never agree to a sitter coming in his home.

“At least tell me you’ll think about it,” said Mary Margaret.  “There’ll be wine...”

She finished in a sing-song tone, her eyes sparkling, and Belle couldn’t help smiling.

“I’ll think about it.”

The florist shop was much as she had left it almost two years earlier, although a couple of the displays looked new, and some of the flowers that her father must have bought before going into hospital were starting to wilt.  She watered everything, making a note of what needed to be ordered, and looked through the books. As always, the shop was making a decent enough profit, but how much of that was left at the end of the month remained to be seen.  Still, there were sufficient funds in the bank to restock and cover most of the rent, and after a few moments’ hesitation, she picked up the phone to their supplier and placed an order. Her father’s interests wouldn’t be served by bankrupting him.  She could fight with Gold about the rent at a later time.

That done, she made her way to the hospital, pushing the stroller along shining floors through corridors that stank of disinfectant.  Gideon was starting to grumble, but she found her father’s room without too much trouble, and Moe’s face brightened a little as he looked up.

“Hey,” she said, after a pause, and he nodded.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said.  “You look well.”

“I’m okay,” she lied.  “A little tired, but okay.”

“Good.”  Moe tugged at the sheets.  “I’m sorry to make you come all the way up here.  You’ve got your own life to lead.”

“Don’t be silly, of course I had to come.” she said.  “Besides, it gives you a chance to meet Gideon.”

Moe grunted an acknowledgement, and glanced at the stroller.

“So.  This is my grandson, huh?”

Belle unbuckled Gideon from the stroller seat, picking him up.

“This is him,” she said, a little warily.

There had been bad words between them when she had told Moe she was keeping the baby.  Words that had led to an estrangement that was only recently ended, and which they both regretted.  She hoped they could get past it now, though. Moe smiled.

“Well, let’s have a look at you then, young fella!” he said heartily, and Belle handed Gideon over for Moe to bounce on his knee.

“The doctor said you’ll be in here for a week,” she said, and Moe grumbled.

“Stupid heart,” he said.  “Apparently I need to cut way back on the salt and booze.  They may as well kill me now.”

“It won’t be that bad,” said Belle reprovingly.  “It’ll be an adjustment, that’s all.”

“Yeah, well, don’t think you have to wait around in this town on my account,” he said.  “You’ve got your own life, and I don’t need you worrying about me.”

“No!” protested Belle.  “I want to take care of you!”

“That’s not what I meant,” he said patiently.  “You feel you need to get out of here, to get away, you go, you hear me?”

He eyed her, and she felt herself sag as she understood his meaning.  If she needed to run, and take Gideon, he was telling her to do so. Moe turned his attention back to his grandson.

“Seems a bright little tyke,” he said.  “Although that was to be expected.  Brown eyes, huh?  Guess I don’t need to ask where he got those.”

“I think he might end up with your height,” ventured Belle.

“Long legs,” agreed Moe.  “Let’s hope he likes baseball, we can watch the game together when he’s older.  What d’you say, little fella?”

Gideon eyed his grandfather soberly, and Moe glanced at Belle.

“Does - does he know?” he asked quietly.

Belle nodded, and Moe’s mouth flattened.

“How did that go?”

“Not well.”

“I did try to warn you.”

“No, I don’t mean that he denied Gideon was his, or that he wants nothing to do with him,” she said. “Actually, it’s the opposite.  He’s furious I didn’t tell him.  Hurt.  Angry.”

“He’s got a bloody nerve, after what he put you through.”

“We’ve all lashed out when we’re upset,” said Belle dryly, giving him a flat look, and Moe grunted in acknowledgement.

“Just don’t let him back in your head, love,” he said.  “What have you decided about visitation, stuff like that?”

“We haven’t even discussed it,” she admitted.

“Well, I daresay he can cope with every other weekend, like the rest of them do,” said Moe.  “You make sure you get some money out of him, too.  And not just for now, mind you.  The kid’ll need his future thinking about.  College, and all that.”

“I know.”  Belle ran her hands over her face.  “I’ll talk to him about it.  Everything’s just so - so messy right now!”

“So how much thought have you given to what you’re prepared to agree to?”

“Not enough, I guess,” she sighed.  “I suppose it all depends how much involvement he wants in Gideon’s life. He might not want much. Or he might - he might want everything he can get.”

She chewed her lip, a familiar fear clawing at her heart, and Moe snorted.

“Oh, I doubt you need to worry on that score, love,” he said.  “Gold’s a man who only cares about himself.”

Chapter Text

Twenty eight years earlier

Gold drove along the narrow street, eyes darting from left to right as he searched, fear heightening his senses.  He drew to a stop outside a small terraced house, its front garden overgrown with weeds, its windows dirty and the sills in need of painting.  A stuffed rabbit lay on the seat next to him, a well-chewed blue felt waistcoat stitched onto the brown faux-fur body, and he snatched it up as he got out of the car, making his way up the uneven path to the front door and knocking rapidly.  It was a moment or so before it was opened, a moment that seemed to last an age, and he was about to knock again when the chain rattled and a widening gap revealed the dark hair, unshaven cheeks and somewhat bloodshot eyes of Malcolm Gold, his father.  His lip curled.

“Not you again!” he growled.  “I told you before, lad, fuck off and leave me alone!”

“Milah’s gone.”  Gold pushed past him into the house, looking around as he headed for the kitchen.  “Milah’s gone, and she’s taken my boy!”

“Probably out spending your money,” said his father.  “Or drinking.  Not like she’d be cleaning the bloody house, is it?  Not when you do it all.”

“No no no, she’s taken him!” he insisted, shaking the toy rabbit.  “The neighbours said she hasn’t been home since yesterday, and Bae doesn’t go anywhere without this!  She’d have to come back for it, but she hasn’t!”

“Well, she’s not here,” said Malcolm irritably, raking a hand through his hair.  “She can’t fucking stand me, you know that!”

“I - I just thought…”  Gold ran a hand over his face, trying to quell his rising panic.  “I thought maybe she might have left him here. It - it was the only other place I thought they might be...”

“What, because I’ve shown such an interest in the brat?” scoffed Malcolm.  “Try the pubs near the docks, she’s always giving the sailors a bloody lap dance, from what I hear.”

“For God’s sake, Dad!”

Malcolm let out a grumbling sigh, as though dealing with a missing grandson was too much of an inconvenience.

“Alright, fine,” he said grudgingly.  “When did she leave?”

“I don’t know!”  Gold paced back and forth, fear making him snappish.  “I was away with work for a couple of days, and she wouldn’t answer the phone!”

“So you came running back, did you?”  His voice was sneering. “When did you get so whipped, boy?”

“She has Bae!” snapped Gold.  “I have to find them!”

“Why?  Why d’you care?”

Gold was taken aback, and for a moment he could only stare.

“Because - because she has my son!”

Malcolm let out a nasty laugh.

“That what she told you?  God, you really are a fucking gullible idiot!”

Gold shook his head, unable to process what he was hearing.

“What are you talking about?”

“She was shagging half the town for fuck’s sake!” he spat.  “She turns up two years later with a kid, and you’re the only one stupid enough to believe her when she says it’s yours!”

“She said she was sure I was the father!”

“Aye, because she’s a cunning bitch!” shouted Malcolm.  “I tried to tell you, didn’t I? You’ve got a decent job with a good wage, but you’re not her type, lad!”

“I know we haven’t exactly been happy,” said Gold impatiently.  “But that’s not—”

“Oh, open your bloody eyes!” snarled Malcolm.  “She knew you’d be the only one to take her in and look after the kid while she went out bloody drinking and whoring herself around the place!  Have you not the sense you were born with? She’s gone, and good bloody riddance!  If you ask me, you dodged a bullet.”

Gold let his hands drop, his brow wrinkling.


Malcolm grumbled to himself, crossing to the kitchen counter and tugging the cork from a bottle of whisky before pouring himself a glass and taking a drink.

“If she’s gone and taken the kid with her, think of it as a blessing,” he said.  “You’re only a young lad, you can start again.”

“Start again?”

“Find yourself a pretty girl,” said Malcolm, his voice rough from the whisky.  “Find a dozen pretty girls, and thank your lucky stars you got a second chance at life, instead of listening to the constant whining of a brat who’s probably not even yours.”

His words pierced Gold to the core, as they always had, and he bit the insides of his cheeks to keep from screaming.

“He’s my son,” he said quietly.  “I know it.”

“Really?” Malcolm let out a hollow chuckle.  “On the birth certificate, are you?”

Gold hesitated.

“Well, I wasn’t there when he was born, was I?” he said.  “But - but she said he’s mine! She promised me!”

“Well, that means bugger all,” said Malcolm.  “The two of you weren’t married. You weren’t there when he was born.  Whether you were there when he was conceived is a question only she can answer.  If she knows, of course. Seems to be it could have been any one of a dozen.”

He was grinning now, as though his son’s pain was amusing.  As though it proved a point he had tried to make on more than one occasion.  Gold had a sinking feeling that it did, and a sliver of ice was making its way down his back.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.

“Does if you want to go chasing after them,” said Malcolm, taking another drink and smacking his lips.  “You got no rights, boy! No more than any of the knuckle-draggers she used to shag in the pub toilets.”

Gold squeezed his eyes shut, trying to shut out the words.

“I know he’s mine,” he said simply.  “I can feel it. In every way that counts, he’s mine, and I—”  He swallowed, the word he almost never used sticking in his throat before he could let it break free, scratching on its way out.  “I love him.”

“Love!”  Malcolm laughed nastily.  “Love makes us sick, you bloody idiot!  Love only ever ends in pain, how many times have I tried to tell you that?  It means nothing!”

“You loved my mother,”said Gold quietly.  “I know you did.”

Malcolm rounded on him, his features twisted in what looked like a mixture of hatred and disdain, his eyes flashing as his lips drew back over his teeth.

“And what did it bring me?” he demanded.  “Pain.  Death.  You got something to love, you got something to lose.  It’s a stick for others to beat you with!  To steal your time, your money, your soul!  Love’s a joke!  A fucking disease!”

“I’d give up everything for my son,” said Gold, his voice shaking.  “Everything!”

“Then you’re even more of a fucking idiot than I thought,” said Malcolm witheringly.  “He’ll cling to whatever bottom-feeding drunkard she chooses to bang next, and be calling him Daddy while you’re still here crying into your beer.”

Gold turned away, the truth of his words making tears prick at his eyes.  He heard Malcolm snort in derision.

“You always were a fucking soft touch,” he sneered.  “About time you changed that. Family’s nothing but a millstone around your neck, dragging you down.  Kids especially.  Tried to tell you that, didn’t I?”

“Oh, you made it perfectly clear how little you cared whether I lived or died, thank you,” said Gold quietly, and Malcolm snorted again, staring out of the kitchen window at the unkempt garden.

“Fed you, didn’t I?” he asked sourly.  “Clothed you, kept a roof over your head.  It was what she wanted.  You were what she wanted, from the moment she knew she was carrying you.  It was always you.”

His voice trailed off in a whisper as Gold turned slowly to face him, and he took a gulp of whisky, coughing a little before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and banging down the glass.  There was silence for a moment, the atmosphere in the room dark and ominous, and Gold swallowed hard.

“Why do you hate me?” he whispered.  “I tried to do what you wanted. Tried to be what you wanted.”

“What I wanted?”  Malcolm let out a cold, humourless laugh, not looking at him.  “You could never be what I wanted, lad, don’t you see that?”

He poured another whisky, drinking half of it and setting down the glass, and Gold squeezed his eyes shut before looking at him again.

“You wish that it had been me,” he said softly.  “You wish that I had died, and she had lived.”

Malcolm took another gulp of the whisky, still staring out of the window.


It was like a blow to the chest, even though the response was what he had expected.  For a moment it was hard to breathe, and he concentrated on a spot on the kitchen counter, a brown stain where coffee had slopped over the edge of a mug and dried in a scallop-edged ring.  There was pain, deep in his chest, a heavy ball of darkness where he thought his heart should be. He pressed the heel of his hand against it, taking a deep breath and walling off the pain before straightening up, his face smooth.

“If Milah contacts you—”

“She won’t.”  Malcolm drained his glass.  “You’re free, boy.” He glanced at Gold, and jerked his head towards the door.  "Now go on, get out. I don’t need your family drama ruining my weekend.”

Chapter Text

Gold paced slowly back and forth across the floor of his shop.  He had lost count of the number of times he had made the journey that day, but no one had come in to disturb him, so he had been left to his own dark thoughts.  Shadows of the past, slithering into his brain and weighing him down. Doubts and regrets and fears which he had kept bottled up for so long he had almost forgotten what it felt like to give them free rein.  And then she had come back into his life, with a child to call his own, a child he would not lose.  A second chance. Perhaps his father had been right after all, in his own twisted way.

He glanced at one of the shelves where a toy rabbit sat, its blue felt waistcoat a little worn and faded, and tightened his jaw.  The past was the past, and he needed to move forward. He needed to plan for the future. He needed to do his best for Gideon.

Turning on his heel, he went to flip the shop sign to Closed and locked the door before walking through to the back room.  He flicked the kettle on for a pot of tea, then set down his phone and a notepad on the little table he used for his mid-afternoon tea break.  Fingers drummed slowly on the table as memories flickered through his mind, as he recalled the times Belle had joined him.  Sometimes she had brought cookies from Granny’s, or cakes from the little patisserie on the corner.  Once, she had even brought him something she had baked: a thick slice of sticky, spicy, date and ginger loaf that had squished between his fingers and stuck to the roof of his mouth. He could still remember its sweet fire on his tongue, and he had eaten every crumb and then pulled her onto his lap and spent the afternoon kissing her on the little cot.

His mouth flattened as he poured boiling water into the teapot.  Still dwelling on the past, when nothing good could come from it.  He shoved away the memories, reaching for his phone and dialling the number of his lawyer.

“Alexander Gold, how the devil are you?”  Ella Deville’s lazy English drawl poured out of the phone into his ear, making him grin.  “I was just thinking about you, and that I hadn’t heard from you in a while. Did you tire of making money or something?”

“I’ve been busy,” said Gold.  “But I have some work to put your way.  Or to whomever you recommend; this is something different to what I usually ask of you.”

“Still making a killing on that waterfront property?”

“The development isn’t finished yet,” he said.  “But yes, I expect a very healthy return.”

“So you have your eye on another acquisition, perhaps?” she suggested.

“This is something personal,” he said, and hesitated briefly.  “I have a son.”

“Since when?” she said, her voice high-pitched and incredulous.  “You never breathed a word, you sly dog!  How am I supposed to send a congratulatory gift if you don’t tell me these things?”

“Spare me your indignation, I didn’t know either,” he said dryly.  “Not until a couple of days ago, anyway. An old - acquaintance - came to town.  With a thirteen-month old child. My son, Gideon.”

“I’d say if you have a child together she’s a little bit more than an acquaintance,” remarked Ella.  “What exactly was your relationship?”

“Look, that’s not important,” he said impatiently.  “We have a son together, and there are things I want you to sort out.  I need to know that she can’t simply take him from me.”

Ella sighed.

“Darling, do me a favour and come to a screeching halt,” she said.  “First things first.  Are you certain it’s your child?”

“I —”  He ran a hand through his hair.  “Yes, yes, of course!”

“Really?” she said sceptically.  “Does she have proof? Because if you want to exercise rights over this child, and it sounds as though you do, we need to be able to show it’s yours, understand?”

Gold hesitated.

“Okay, I don’t have any actual proof, other than that he has my eyes, and I can see some of my features in him,” he admitted.  “And the timings add up.”

“You think,” she corrected.  “Who’s to say that she’s given you the right age for him, or that you were the only one to taste her charms at the relevant time?”

“I - I don’t think she’s lying,” he said.

“She doesn’t have to be lying,” said Ella.  “She could just be hoping. You called her an acquaintance, so I’m guessing this wasn’t a serious relationship.  How do you know she wasn’t shagging the entire town?  Without wishing to be vulgar, you’re a very rich man.  Some women might be economical with the truth if they thought they could get something out of it.”

He was silent, an unwelcome sense of insecurity settling over him, and she seemed to read his mind.

“Look, it’s my job to think about every uncomfortable angle you don’t want to,” she said kindly.  “I’m sure your instincts are right. They usually are, after all, but why don’t we make sure?”

“A test, you mean?”  He ran a hand over his face.  “Alright.”

“The sooner the better,” she added.  “Then we can get the ball rolling on everything else.”

“When we confirm that he’s mine, I want to make provisions for his future,” he said.  “A trust fund for college, certainly. And there’s child support to arrange, too. It appears she got married.”

“Is the husband going to be a problem?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted.  “She won’t tell me anything about her private life.  Our interactions up to this point have been - somewhat fractious.”

“Knowing you, I suspect that to be a gross understatement,” she said, sounding amused.  “Look, let’s take things one step at a time. I suggest you get her agreement to the test.  If she refuses—”

“—then she’s probably lying to me,” he finished, a ball of ice sliding into his stomach at the thought of it.  “Understood.”

“In the meantime, why don’t you give me all the details you can, and I’ll see what we can find out,” she said, and he nodded, took a deep breath, and prepared to tell her what he knew.

Belle felt a little down after she left the hospital, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why.  Moe was feeling better, and would be out within the week, by which time she would in all likelihood have moved back into his place to care for him.  His feelings towards Gold were unsurprising, and entirely mutual; the two men had detested one another for years, and she couldn’t see that changing anytime soon.  His belief, stated with complete certainty, that Gold would want little to do with Gideon, was not something she shared.  Her own fears were quite the opposite.

After a quick lunch at Granny’s of soup and buttered crusty bread, she made her way back to the house, intending to look through what food they had so she could make dinner, instead of Gold.  He would no doubt be at the shop for most of the day, and the least she could do was cook a meal.  It was a surprise, therefore, when she entered the house to find him already in the kitchen, an apron around his waist, pulling cloves from a bulb of garlic.

“You’re home,” she said, and he glanced over his shoulder.

“Yes, I thought I’d close up early.”

He seemed calmer, some of the coldness and tension gone from him, and she shifted from foot to foot, watching his hair bounce as he peeled the cloves and began chopping the garlic into fine slices.  She bit her lip.

“Did you - uh - have a good day?”

She cringed at the hollow words, and he stilled for a moment, as though he were considering her question.

“It was uneventful,” he said.  “You?”

“I went to see Dad.”

“Ah.”  Gold began chopping again.  “How is he?”

“Awake and complaining that they want him to change his diet,” she said.  “He’s okay. The doctor says it shouldn’t take longer than a week to get him out of hospital and home, so at least that’s something.”


There was silence for a moment, and Gold pushed the sliced garlic to the side, reaching for an onion and cutting it in two.

“What are you cooking?” asked Belle.

“I thought I’d do chicken with a cream and mushroom sauce,” he said.  “Broccoli and potatoes on the side. Is that alright? I’ll make sure the vegetables are soft enough for Gideon to eat.”

“Yeah, that - that sounds good.”

She shifted from foot to foot, listening to the rhythmic sound of his knife slicing through onion.

“Mary Margaret asked me to go for a drink tonight,” she said, and he looked over.

“Well, you should go.”

“But Gideon…”

“I can take care of him,” he said.  “I’m not completely clueless, you know.”

“It would only be for a couple of hours,” she said, unsure why she was still trying to talk him around, when he had already agreed.

“As I said, go.”  He carried on chopping.  “The two of us will be perfectly fine.  I remember the routine. Dinner at five-thirty, followed by a bath, then a story and warm milk, then bed, correct?”

“Yeah.”  She opened and closed her hands.  “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

Gold put down his knife, turning to face her with a flat expression in his dark eyes.

“Given the circumstances,” he said quietly, “I think any time we get to spend together is a thing to be cherished, don’t you?”

She could feel her insides shrink and curl, and took a step back.


Gold turned away again, scraping the chopped onion into a pile next to the garlic.

“Just you and Miss Blanchard, is it?” he asked.

“I - I think she said Ashley and Kathryn were coming as well.  She suggested meeting between six and six-thirty.”

“Well.”  He seemed amused, though she couldn’t think why.  “Have a good time. Would you like to have dinner at the same time as Gideon?”

“That would probably make things easier.”

“I’ll prepare everything for five-thirty, then.”

Dinner was a little strained, but Belle busied herself with feeding Gideon, so the silence from Gold didn’t bother her too much.  The sauce he had made for the chicken was delicious, and Gideon seemed to enjoy it, his small hand curled around the last little floret of cooked broccoli as he watched his parents eat.

“What time will you be back?” asked Gold, and Belle took a sip of wine, shrugging.

“I won’t be late.  I’ll be back before ten.”

He nodded, spearing a piece of chicken on his fork.

“Can we talk when you get back?”

Belle flicked her eyes up to meet his.

“Okay,” she said warily.

“I think we need to, that’s all.”

His voice was calm, but her stomach still dropped a little, as though a heavy weight had fallen into it.

“You’re right.”

Gold nodded again, popping the chicken into his mouth, and Belle looked down at her plate, her appetite all but gone.

Once dinner was over, Gold cleared up while Belle went to change, Gideon watching him from the high chair.  He washed the few dishes, wiping down the kitchen counters and table, and picked Gideon up, holding him in the crook of his arm and kissing his forehead as he heard Belle’s feet on the stairs.  She breezed into the kitchen, looking effortlessly beautiful in a tight black blouse with little cap sleeves above a flared skirt, and sandals on her feet. She had put on makeup, her lips stained berry-red, and his breath caught in his throat at the sight of her.

“Right,” she said briskly, as though she was steeling herself for something.  “I’ll see you later.”

She stepped forward to kiss Gideon, pressing her lips to the top of his head before looking up.

“I have my phone,” she said.  “If you need to call, don’t hesitate, I mean it.”

“Have a good time,” he said.  “Give my regards to your friends.”

She gave him an odd look at that, which made his mouth flatten.  Of course she wouldn’t have told them she was living at his house.  He wondered if any of them even knew he was Gideon’s father.  He watched her leave, dark curls bouncing around her shoulders, and looked down at Gideon.

“Bathtime for you, young man,” he said, and Gideon grabbed his tie, fingers clutching at the purple silk.

“Oh, you want that?”  Gold tugged at the knot, unfastening it and pulling the tie from around his throat.  “Well, it wouldn’t kill me to be a little more casual, would it?”

Gideon promptly put the end of the tie in his mouth, chewing and drooling, and Gold grinned.

“Not the fate I imagined this tie would have,” he said dryly, flicking open his collar.  “Come on then, let’s get you ready.”

Gideon enjoyed his bath, splashing excitedly in the water and burbling nonsense, and Gold couldn’t keep the grin from his face as he watched his son.  Afterwards, he dried him off and dressed him, rolling onto his back on the changing mat and lifting Gideon into the air to squeal and kick his legs in excitement.  Gold laughed out loud, love bursting through him, but Ella’s warnings had made him anxious, and the smile fell from his face as he lowered Gideon onto his chest and held him close.  Having him here could be the start of something new and wonderful, his own child to love and treasure. But shadows of the past were creeping in to darken his mood and slip cold fingers of fear into his heart.  What if he came home in a week or two to find his house empty, his child gone? What if Belle had lied, and Gideon was not his?

Insecurity was needling at him, and he kissed Gideon’s cheek, transferring him to the crook of an arm and getting to his feet with the help of his cane.  He could worry about their future later.  At that moment, all he needed to concentrate on was getting Gideon some warm milk, reading him a story, and putting him to bed.  Routine was important for babies.

“Okay ladies, drink up!”

Kathryn set fresh drinks in front of them all, slipping into a seat opposite Ashley and brushing blonde hair out of her eyes, and Belle pushed away an empty glass and reached for her gin and tonic.  Mary Margaret sipped at her wine, setting down her glass with a smile.

“We should make this a regular thing,” she said.  “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get so busy with work and trying to organise the rest of my life that I don’t set aside enough time to do anything fun.”

“I hear it’s called being an adult, and I’m firmly against it,” said Kathryn, raising her glass.  “I’m in for girls’ night.”

“Me too,” said Ashley eagerly, and Belle shrugged.

“Well, as long as I’m in Storybrooke, I’m in.”

“How long d’you think that’ll be?” asked Mary Margaret, and Belle pulled a face.

“Not sure.  Until my Dad’s able to look after himself.  Could be a few weeks.”

“Well, if you need help with anything once he gets out of hospital, you just let me know,” she said, and Belle sent her a grateful smile, taking a slurp of gin.

“Come on then, Belle.”  Ashley nudged her. “We’ve talked about movies and books and the fact that Storybrooke still doesn’t have a decent bar, but we haven’t seen you in almost two years, and we never heard a word about you getting married and having a baby!  Tell us all about your man!  How did you meet?”

Belle ducked her head with a smile.

“Oh, we can talk about me some other time,” she said.  “It’s so long since I was in Storybrooke, and I’ve been dying to know what’s been happening with you all.  Did you ever make it work out with Sean?”

Ashley grinned, blushing a little and shaking back her blonde curls.

“Yeah, his dad came around in the end,” she said.  “I’m still not exactly his favourite person, but at least he lets me in the house now.”

“Good thing too, the way you guys were having to sneak around to bang each other,” remarked Kathryn, and Mary Margaret snickered.

“Yeah,” said Ashley pensively.  “Car sex looks so much easier in the movies.”

They all giggled at that, and Belle took a slurp of her drink.  The alcohol was going to her head, and the sensation was pleasant.

“Will your dad open the shop again?” asked Mary Margaret, and Belle took another drink.

“I think it’ll be a while before he’s fit to work,” she admitted.  “I’m gonna run it while he’s sick. Opening hours may be a bit shorter, because I can’t leave him on his own all day, but at least if it’s open he’ll have some money coming in.”

“What about the baby?” asked Mary Margaret.

“I’ll have to take him with me,” sighed Belle.  “It’ll be a lot of work, but I’d rather do that than let the business fail.”

“Gotta make rent, especially in this town,” noted Ashley, and the others murmured agreement.

“Zero chance of Gold easing up on the rent just because of a slight case of hospitalisation,” added Kathryn.  “Bastard never cuts anyone a break.”

“Yeah,” said Belle quietly.

Hearing Gold’s name tossed out as though it were something dirty made her cringe.  She knew that the fact that he was Gideon’s father would come out before she left; the length of her likely stay had made that almost a certainty, and imagining the looks on the faces of her friends when they found out was making her squirm in discomfort.

“It’s not just for Dad, it’s for me too,” she said.  “I don’t exactly have anything in the way of savings, so if I don’t work, I can’t buy anything that Gideon needs.”

“Won’t your husband send you cash?” asked Ashley, puzzled.  “Is he out of work or something?  I thought Mary Margaret said he was a businessman.”

Belle was silent, turning the glass between her fingers, her heart thumping hard in her chest as her anxiety grew.

“Can we talk about something else?” she asked eventually, and the other three exchanged looks.

“Sure, honey.”  Mary Margaret patted her arm.  “Listen, when your dad gets out, let me know.  I’ll bring something over so you don’t have to worry about cooking that first night he’s back.”

“Ooh, good idea!” said Ashley.  “I’ll bring cake. It’ll be store-bought, because trust me, you don’t want to eat anything I baked.”

She was grinning, and Belle sent her a wobbly smile, touched by their kindness.

“How are things over at your dad’s place?” asked Kathryn, and Belle shrugged.

“Okay, I guess.”

“Mr Gold sent a team in to clean the place up,” added Mary Margaret.

“Wow,” remarked Ashley.  “What the hell happened to give Gold a personality transplant?  He never does anything that doesn’t turn a profit.”

“You’d have to ask him,” said Belle, feeling highly uncomfortable.

"I guess he can see you've got your hands full," said Mary Margaret.  “I think it’s nice of him.”

“Nice is one word,” agreed Ashley.  “Unexpected is another. I never thought he'd go out of his way to actually be a decent human being.  You promise him free flowers or something?"

She giggled, to show she was joking, but Belle clapped a hand to her mouth to hold in a sob, squeezing her eyes shut as tears pricked at them.  A chorus of sympathetic noises ran around the group of women, and it only made her want to cry more. Mary Margaret rubbed her shoulder, her eyes troubled.

“Honey, what is it?” she pressed gently.  “Is it your dad? I thought he was feeling better.”

“No, he is, he is,” said Belle tearfully, wiping her eyes.  “I’m sorry, it’s just - it’s been kind of a stressful time lately, and Gideon’s teething, and I haven’t been sleeping…”

“Understandable,” said Kathryn.  “You’ve had to haul your ass to Storybrooke to take care of your dad, you’ve got a new baby…”

“You’re apart from his father,” added Ashley.  “That can’t be easy, not having his dad there to help out.”

Belle closed her eyes, wishing their well-intentioned comments would stop.

“I think - I’m sorry to be a party-pooper, but I think I might go,” she said.  “Do you mind if we do this another time? Maybe next week?”

“Of course,” said Mary Margaret, squeezing her shoulder.  “You want us to walk you home?”

“No, no,” said Belle hastily.  “It’s not late, and it’s not far.  I’ll be fine.”

She stood up, grabbing her jacket and shrugging it on before any of them could insist.  Having them walk her over to Moe’s place, with no idea of what state it was in and whether that would arouse suspicions, was not something she had the energy to do.

“Call me tomorrow,” said Mary Margaret.  “We could do lunch or something.”

“Yeah, I will,” said Belle, with a tremulous smile.  “And we’ll definitely have a girls’ night when I’m not an emotional wreck, okay?”

She hurried out into the cool night air, taking deep breaths to calm herself as she made her way quickly down the street.  Gold had said he wanted to talk, and although she felt in no fit state to have the discussion that they needed, she knew she couldn’t put it off forever.  She would have to face him, and explain herself, and she hadn’t the faintest idea what she would say.

Chapter Text

Two years and eight months earlier

October had come to Storybrooke with a chill wind and the tang of frost in the air, and Belle shivered a little as she finished watering the plants in the shop.  The latest delivery of flowers had just been made, and the town itself was preparing for Halloween, carved pumpkins sitting on porches and the scent of spices in the air at Granny’s diner.  The tinkling of the shop bell made her look up, and a smile spread across her face as Gold walked in, a black wool overcoat over his suit and leather gloves on his hands. His eyebrows twitched as he grinned at her.

“Good morning, Miss French.”

“Good morning, Mr Gold.”

She wasn’t sure why he always greeted her in this way, when it was obvious that her father wasn’t around.  That they were alone.  He was far less formal when she was in his home.  When she was naked in his bed he whispered her name with passionate reverence, kissing her throat as he came inside her.  But in the shop it was different, as though them being alone was an illicit thing, a thing to be kept hidden.  It gave her a heady thrill.

“Did you - want something?” she asked.

He stepped closer, his grin widening.

“Oh, I always want something,” he said softly, and she blushed a little.

“Well, you can’t have it,” she said.  “Dad’s only gone to Granny’s for coffee, he’ll be back any minute.”

Gold slowly looked her up and down, and she shivered at the heat in his eyes.

“I’m a patient man,” he said.  “I can wait.”

“Good to know,” she said coyly.  “Now, what is it you’re here for?  Besides the obvious.”

He was silent for a moment, still looking her over, his knuckles tightening over the handle of the cane.

“I’d like to spend the night with you,” he said.  “The whole night. This Saturday. What do you think?”

Whatever she had expected him to say, this wasn’t it.  Up to that point their times together had been brief: an evening at most.  He had never asked her to stay and she had never thought to offer. She wondered what had changed.  If anything had, of course.

“So, I’d stay at your house?” she asked, and he shook his head.

“Not the house, no.”  He grinned, his teeth gleaming.  “My cabin in the woods.”

Belle gave him a flat look.

“It’s Halloween,” she said.  “You do realise that the phrase ‘cabin in the woods’ kind of has a horror vibe going on, don’t you?”

Gold shrugged, his grin turning wicked.

“I intend to make you scream, certainly.”

She bit back a giggle, blushing.

“What do I tell my father?” she asked, and Gold laughed softly, shaking his hair back.

“I don’t care,” he said.  “Tell him whatever you like.”

“Really?”  She took a step closer, breathing in his scent.  “So I’ll tell him you intend to cook me dinner and challenge me to a nice, innocent game of chess, then?”

Gold chuckled, a low, rumbling sound full of promise, and he reached up to brush her cheek with a long finger, leaning in to whisper at her.

“I intend, Miss French, to take every stitch of clothing from you and finger you until you come,” he breathed.  “I intend to run my tongue all over your body and suck the cum from your sweet little cunt. I intend to fuck you until you beg me to stop, do you hear me?  Am I being sufficiently clear?”

Belle’s breath caught in her throat, a tugging sensation low down in her belly, and she licked her lips, desperate to kiss him.  The ringing of the shop doorbell made him draw back from her, and she turned with flushed cheeks to see her father watching them with narrowed eyes, two coffees in his hands.

“Mr Gold,” he said flatly.  “You here for the rent?”

“As a matter of fact I am,” said Gold, showing his teeth.  “But I’ve just remembered I have something important to attend to.  Why don’t you bring it to the shop later?”

“Right,” said Moe.  “Yes. No problem.”

He seemed to sag a little with relief, and Belle wanted to sigh.  Gold gave him a cold smile.

“By six o’clock, then,” he said.  “Good day to you.”

He walked out, cane tapping on the floor, and Belle put her hands on her hips as the door closed with a cheerful tinkle of the bell.

“You told me we had the rent!”

“We do!” protested Moe, setting down the coffees on the shop counter.  “At least, we will. Just as soon as we get a good day’s trading in!”

Throwing up her hands and muttering to herself, Belle snatched up her coffee and stomped off to the back room to make a start on the orders they had.  She flicked through the order book, deciding to start with the bouquet that had been requested for the Mayor, a gift from her wife, and setting aside the best of the red and white roses for her father to make up the order.  Moe’s shuffling steps made her glance around, and he was watching her from the doorway with an uneasy look in his eyes.

“What?” she asked, and he took a deep breath.

“Be careful with Gold, love,” he said, and she felt her heart thump.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the way he looks at you,” he said shortly, as though the subject made him uncomfortable.  She suspected it did. “Like you’re on the menu, you know what I mean?”

“I have no intentions of being eaten alive,” she said primly, trying not to blush at the memories of all the times Gold had tasted her pleasure.

“The man’s a snake, Belle,” said Moe.  “Give him the slightest opportunity and he’ll take what he wants and damn the consequences.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m old enough to look out for myself, isn’t it?” she said.  “You don’t need to worry about me, I think I know exactly who he is.”

Moe grunted, taking a sip of coffee, and Belle dropped her gaze to the roses in her hands.

“I’ve got a poker game tonight,” he said.  “You got anything planned?”

“I might see if Mary Margaret wants to go for a drink or something,” she said carelessly.  “You want me to lock up?”

“Do you mind?”

“Of course not.”  She looked up at him.  “I’ll take the rent over when I’m done.  How short are we?”

“Oh, only a hundred bucks or so,” he said uncomfortably.  “We’ll make that up.” He glanced around at the sound of the shop’s bell.  “See? A customer. Don’t worry about the rent.”

He bustled off, and Belle sighed to herself, turning her attention back to the flowers.  Some things never changed.

Moe did manage to scrape the rent together, and so Belle closed up at five-thirty and made her way up the street to Gold’s pawn shop, the money safely tucked in her bag.  Children dressed as witches and devils ran past her, laughing, plastic pails in the shape of pumpkins swinging from their hands, and Belle watched them go with a smile before crossing the road to the shop.

Gold appeared to be waiting for her, standing behind his counter with his jacket off, gold sleeve garters encircling his forearms.  He grinned as she entered, the light gleaming on his gold tooth.

“Hello, Belle,” he said.  “Lock the door, if you please.  I’m closing up.”

She turned the lock, flipping the sign to Closed, and approached the counter.  He looked her over, the grin still on his face.

“So,” he said softly.  “Are you here for business, or pleasure?”

“Let’s get the rent out of the way first,” she said, trying not to shiver at his words.

“As you wish.”

He counted out the money she gave him, marking the rent payment in his heavy ledger, and closed it with a dull thump before meeting her eyes.

“Would you come in the back room with me?”

She gave him a level look at that, which made him grin, and walked over to push the curtain aside, slipping into the back room of the shop.  Antique lamps sent out warm light, casting dark shadows beneath the workbenches and across the blankets on the little cot that was in the corner.  She had blown him there once, unsure of her technique and feeling awkward because of it, but Gold had whispered encouragement as she found her rhythm, his fingers twisting in her hair until he groaned in pleasure and hot seed spurted in her mouth.  Afterwards he had returned the favour, and then made them tea, the two of them squashing onto the cot in a warm, comfortable tangle of limbs.

The tap of his cane made her turn, and she licked her lips as he ran his eyes over her.  Gold reached to the side, folding long fingers over the back of a chair and pulling it towards him.  The chair scraped on the floor as he turned it around, and he lowered himself onto the seat, the cane placed between his legs and his hands folded over the top of it as he looked at her.  There was a moment of silence, and the tension made her skin tingle. Gold raised his chin a little.

“Take off your clothes,” he said quietly.

The sound of his voice made her shiver.  He was waiting, fingers drumming slowly on the handle of the cane, his eyes dark in the low light, and after a moment’s hesitation she shrugged out of her coat, draping it over a stool.  The little sweater she wore went next, inching up over her bosom, dark grey cashmere sliding up to reveal the white cotton blouse beneath.  She tugged it over her head, tossing it aside, and then her hands dropped to the buttons of her blouse, unfastening them one by one. Gold watched her intently, and she could feel a blush rise in her cheeks.  He was usually the one to undress her, each piece of clothing removed with care, his lips tracing patterns on her skin as it was revealed. This was different, his eyes raking over her curves as her fingers worked.  She shrugged off the blouse, sending it to join the sweater, and Gold nodded.

“Now the skirt.  Slowly.”

She reached behind to unzip, the skirt falling around her ankles, and pushed down the thick tights she wore, stepping out of her shoes and leaving her legs bare.  His head tilted as he looked her over, clad only in her underwear. Belle licked her lips, unhooking her bra and letting it fall, and he let out a low growl of pleasure at the sight of her.  The air was cool, and she shivered a little, her nipples stiff peaks.

“I’ll take that underwear now, Miss French.”

Belle slipped her thumbs beneath the waistband of her panties, blushing harder as she pushed them over her hips and down her legs.  She stepped out of them, bending to pick them up as she straightened. She was fully naked, her breathing a little unsteady, and Gold plucked the panties from her fingers, pressing a kiss to the lace before slipping them into his breast pocket.  He raised a hand, moving one finger in a circle, and she turned on her toes for him, hearing a rumbling noise of approval from deep in his throat.

“Beautiful,” he whispered.  “So beautiful.”

She turned back to face him, teeth tugging at her lower lip, and he reached up to pluck at the knot of his tie, pulling open the length of black silk.  It slipped from around his throat with a whispery sound of silk on silk, and he stretched it between his hands, a gleaming length of dark promise.

“Do you trust me, Belle?” he asked softly, and she nodded.


He smiled then, and jerked his head towards the little cot.

“Lie back,” he whispered.  “Arms above your head.”

She lay down, the blankets soft and cool on her skin, and lifted her arms above her head, where the bars of the cot were partly hidden by the pillows.  Gold had pulled his chair over to the bed, and was standing up, the length of black silk dangling from one hand. She sucked in a breath as it brushed against her legs, a soft whisper over her skin.  It tickled her, and she bit her lip as he stroked it up her inner thighs and over the heat of her mound.

Gold was already hard, aroused by the sheer beauty of her, pale curves writhing a little as he drew the length of silk over her, lips parted and glistening.  The end of the tie brushed in circles over the flat of her belly, and he watched the tiny muscles beneath her skin jump at its passage, as it trailed its way up to brush over her breasts.  Her nipples were hard and dark, and he wanted to run his tongue over them. To suck on her firm breasts and slip his fingers inside her. To fuck her until she screamed his name.

They had been sleeping together for two months now, Belle coming to his house for sex and dinner, or to the shop for sex and tea.  If it was late they might have whisky, but she never stayed with him past eleven, eager to get home before her father grew suspicious.  The cabin would be something different for them.  He was looking forward to having her for the whole night, to fall asleep with her in his arms and to wake her with his touch and his tongue.

He was aware that she didn’t want anyone to know about them, her father especially, and given that he himself was a very private person, it would have been hypocritical to say that he minded.  It might have been nice for them to be able to go out for dinner in one of the few restaurants Storybrooke possessed, but he wasn’t about to push her.  She was only in town until she had saved enough to leave it again, after all.

Her eyes were closed, her breathing heavy, and he sat down on the edge of the bed to run his hands up her pale arms, winding the soft length of the tie around her wrists and threading it through the bars.  Belle moaned a little as he tied it off, the knot secure, both arms held above her head, her breasts pushing upwards and her belly pulled taut.  He bent his head to kiss her mouth, his tongue sliding in to stroke against hers.

Gold drew back, one hand taking his cane, and he grasped it by the ebony shaft, the handle hovering over Belle’s lips.  She opened her eyes, and he let the end of the handle trace the outline of her mouth before gently pulling down her lower lip.  The tip of her tongue flickered over it, pink and wet, and he felt a growl rumble up from deep in his throat as she sucked the handle in between her lips, her eyes locked on his.  It made his cock twitch in his pants, and he drew out the handle, a silvery string of saliva stretching from her mouth before snapping back.

The cane handle trailed down her throat, circling the firm mounds of her breasts and brushing over each nipple.  Belle arched her back with a gasp, pushing upwards, and he moved the cane lower, the end of the handle dipping into the hollow of her navel before brushing over the cleft between her thighs.  Belle moaned as it stroked her, cool metal rubbing against her, and he moved to sit in the chair at the end of the cot, turning the cane so that the handle pushed against her, rubbing it through the slick fluids that had leaked from her.

“Do you like it when I touch you like that?” he asked softly.

She nodded, hands opening and closing around the bars where the tie held her tight, and he worked her carefully, the handle sliding through her soft folds of flesh, spreading her juices over the tiny bud of her clit.  Belle was moaning, her body undulating, and he used his free hand to lift one of her feet, kissing the sole as he worked the cane handle against her.  She let out a cry as his tongue stroked across the tender skin of her sole, as it stabbed between her toes, and he moved the cane a little harder, grinding against her, watching her hips rise and fall as she tried to get more friction from its passage.  The muscles of her inner thighs were jumping and trembling, and her eyes were closed, her mouth open and panting, her cheeks flushing beautifully as the handle pushed and rubbed and slipped against her.

That’s it, sweetheart,” he whispered, and licked at the sensitive skin beneath her toes.  “Can you come for me?”

She whimpered, her back arching, and her head rolled back as she came with a loud cry.  He rubbed the cane back and forth through her wet flesh, slippery fluid easing its way, and Belle bucked her hips as she let out a short, rhythmic series of tiny cries.  Gold lowered her foot back down onto the bed, pulling the cane handle from her.  Her eyelids fluttered and opened, her gaze sleepy, and he watched her as he slipped the handle in between his lips, tasting her salt, smelling her arousal.

Belle had closed her eyes, her skin still tingling from her orgasm, and she let her head loll to the side for a moment as she tried to catch her breath.  She heard him unbuckling his belt, the sound of his zipper, and she sensed him moving.  Opening her eyes, she could see him shrug off his waistcoat, his silk shirt open at the neck, and he reached to the cabinet near him, rummaging in the drawer for one of the condoms that she knew he kept there.  There was a rustle of plastic as he opened it, and she licked her lips, wanting him inside her, sucking in a breath as she felt his hands push her thighs apart.  His hair tickled her skin as he kissed his way up, and she let out a moan as he slowly licked at her, his tongue sliding between her folds, a low groan coming from him at the taste of her.

“Fuck, you’re delicious!” he whispered, and his breath was hot against her wet flesh.  “Are you ready for me, sweetheart?”

“Yes!” she breathed.

“Let’s see, shall we?”

She felt the tips of his fingers against her, teasing her entrance, and arched her back as he pushed two fingers inside her, sliding slowly, sinking deep.  The pad of his thumb brushed over her clit, and she moaned in pleasure.

“God, you feel like silk!” he said softly.  “Like velvet, so soft all around me.  So wet with your cum.  I want to get inside you, Belle.  Sink my cock into you and fuck you.  Feel your cunt hold me tight when you come.”

She moaned again, lifting her hips a little, feeling his knuckles push against her as his fingers probed, and his thumb circled her clit, making the blush rise in her cheeks again.  Bliss was rising up through her again, and she wanted it, wanted to come around his fingers before he took her.  His tongue flickered over her clit, his fingers thrusting inside her, and Belle held her breath, her heart thumping, a wave of ecstasy building up to crash through her.  His tongue stroked over her clit, rubbing and stabbing, and she came with a cry, the sensations almost too much, his fingers sliding in and out of her as he groaned in pleasure at the taste of her release.

Belle panted, her chest heaving as she sucked in air, and the tip of her tongue darted out to lick the sweat from her upper lip.  Gold drew his fingers out slowly, humming in satisfaction as he sucked them clean, and kissed his way up over her belly and breasts, the scent of her on his mouth.  He pressed his forehead to hers, his breathing uneven, his eyes dark.

“Good girl,” he said, his voice a rough, bass rasp.  “That was beautiful.”

He reached between them, his hand sliding down over her belly, the silk of his shirt soft against her skin as he lined them up.  She could feel him pressing against her between her legs, the hard head of his cock pushing at her soft flesh, eager to be inside her, and she lifted her hips a little, her head rolling back against the pillows, the tie chafing her wrists as he sank into her with a guttural groan.

“Fuck!” he breathed.

She wrapped her legs around his back, letting him push deep, and he began to move his hips in a slow circle, grinding against her, each touch of his groin sending a jolt of sensation through her.  The feel of him was incredible, his cock thick and rigid inside her, the coarse texture of his hair and the wet, silky feel of her own fluids. The smoothness of the silk shirt against her bare skin and his hair brushing her face, his lips meeting hers as his hands slid up her arms to grip her wrists, bound with black silk.  He squeezed, his grip almost painful, and she arched up into him as his pace quickened, as his cock thrust inside her. He was breathing hard, his mouth leaving hers to lick up her neck, his cock pounding into her.

“Fuck, I’m gonna come!” he whispered.  “Oh Belle, I have to!”

He slammed into her with a series of shallow, rapid thrusts, a low groan bursting from him, and Belle cried out in pleasure as she felt him pulse inside her, the sensations taking her over the edge with him, her hips pumping against him as her climax made lights burst in her head.  He was still gripping her wrists, his breath hot on her neck as he groaned in release, and he bit down into her soft skin, pushing deep with one final thrust.

His movements stopped, and she felt the tension leave him, the dark, fizzing energy that filled him with fire, snuffed out by the waves of pleasure.  He was a pleasant weight on top of her, and he pressed a damp kiss to her neck, pushing himself up on his elbows, and reaching up to tug open the knotted tie.  She let her arms fall to the sides, a little sore from being held in one position, and he lifted first one wrist to his mouth, then the other, kissing the red lines.  She let out a sigh of contentment, and he smiled a little, eyes glinting in the warm light.

“That,” he said.  “Was perfect.”

Chapter Text

Belle had calmed a little by the time she reached Gold’s house, and she paused at the bottom of the path, pulling the compact mirror from her purse and glancing at her reflection anxiously.  To her relief, it wasn’t apparent that she had been crying, and she nodded to herself before striding up the path and letting herself into the house. Gold was in the lounge, sitting with a glass of whisky by his side and a book open in his lap.  His tie was off, his collar unbuttoned and his shirtsleeves pushed up to his elbows, and she sucked in a breath at the sight of his lean, tanned forearms and the triangle of skin at the top of his chest. It reminded her too much of seeing him naked, of his hands on her, and she licked her lips.  Okay I do not need to be thinking about him naked!

“You’re back already,” he said, looking surprised, and put his head to the side as he snapped the book shut.  “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” she said shortly.  “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Gold studied her for a moment, then gave a tiny shrug.

“Would you like a drink?”

“I’ll have what you’re having.”

Probably not the wisest choice, given that she’d already had wine and gin, but she’d deal with the inevitable headache in the morning.  He nodded, draining his own glass before getting to his feet and going to the drinks cabinet. Belle ran her hands over her face as he took out a second glass, trying to steady her nerves.

“How’s Gideon?” she asked.

“He’s fine,” said Gold.  “Went to sleep with no problem.  How was your evening out with Storybrooke’s most eligible women?”

She frowned, unsure whether he was mocking her, but decided not to rise to it.

“They’re fine,” she said.  “And Ashley’s not single, anyway.  She’s with Sean.”

“Yes, I’m well aware of Miss Boyd’s domestic situation,” he said dismissively, pouring her a measure of whisky.  “As I understand it, she’s trying to save the deposit for a rental property that they can move into.”

“Yeah, well, not all that likely to happen when she makes minimum wage which she pays to her stepmother for ‘rent’,” said Belle.  “Don’t see them getting out of that situation anytime soon. Unless the potential landlord was to cut them a break, of course.”

She gave him a flat look, and his eyes gleamed as he grinned and held out a glass to her.

“Now why on earth would I do that?”

She sighed, taking the whisky.

“No idea,” she said tiredly.  “Maybe because it would make you a decent person?  Guess we can’t have that.”

“The day I decide to turn my business into a charity, you’ll be the first to know.”

“I won’t hold my breath.”

“Best not.”

She took a slurp of whisky, wincing as it burned her mouth, and could feel Gold watching her.  The sensation made her shiver, as though his eyes could peel the clothes from her and see through to her soul.  She tried to ignore it, focusing on the sensation of the whisky tracing a path of fire down into her belly. She hoped it would give her the strength to deal with him.

“I spoke to my lawyer today,” he said then, and she turned to face him, suddenly wary.

“What for?”

“Legal advice, of course,” he said, flicking his hair out of his eyes.  “I want a paternity test.”

Belle put her hands on her hips, liquid sloshing in the glass and splashing her fingers.

“You what?”

“A paternity test,” he said.  “That won’t be a problem, will it?”

Her mouth fell open, and she pushed the glass onto the mantelpiece, sucking the drops of whisky from her fingers and staring at him incredulously.

“Are - are you saying you don’t believe you’re Gideon’s father?”

“I’m saying that I need to be sure.”

“And my word isn’t good enough?”

Gold put down his glass, leaning on his cane and fixing her with a dark stare.

“No,” he said coldly.  “Your word is not good enough.  After all, it’s not as though you told anyone about us being together, is it?  It could have been anyone.”

Belle’s mouth fell open, outrage making her skin tingle.

“After everything you said to me, you want to play the heartbroken ex?” she demanded.  “You seriously think I was sleeping around when we were together?  How dare you!”

“Oh, so you think you hold the moral high ground, here, do you?” he asked sarcastically.  “I may have said some terrible things, but do you really think that compares to keeping my child from me?  And while we’re at it, don’t try to claim our relationship meant any more to you than it did to me.”

“Well it couldn’t have meant much less, could it?” she flung at him.  “You made it totally clear I was nothing more than a - a quick fuck to lift the boredom!”

“An arrangement that you seemed to enjoy just as much as I,” he said, his voice cold.  “Let’s not bring any tedious emotion into it at this stage, shall we?”

“I loved you!” she said thickly, her voice shaking, and his mouth flattened.

“Please,” he said dismissively.  “I’m willing to bet not a single one of your friends knows we ever slept together, let alone that you’re claiming me as the father of your child.  Am I wrong?”

She glowered at him, fists clenching, and he smirked, reaching for his glass again and raising it in a salute.

“As I thought,” he said mockingly.  “You can play the injured party all you like, m’dear, but let’s not pretend I was anything other than your dirty little secret.  Hence the paternity test. For all I know you were fucking half the town.”

“You bastard!” she hissed, and he smiled without warmth.

“Is that really the insult you want to be throwing around in this situation?”

Belle itched to slap his face, but took another drink to cover her rage, wiping her mouth with a shaking hand before putting down the glass.  He raised an eyebrow.

“Am I to take it from this display of indignation and injured virtue that you’re refusing the test?”

“Oh, I’ll allow the damn test,” she snapped.  “And when it shows you’re Gideon’s father, I’ll make you eat it!”

Gold smiled without warmth.

“I’m sure there won’t be any need for that,” he drawled.  “Assuming the test is positive, we can move on to discuss other things.  Visitation, for example.”

Belle took a deep breath, trying to control her temper.

“Well, I live in Boston,” she said, as calmly as she could manage.  “I guess that’s not going to be all that easy for you to get to on a regular basis.  We could do alternate weekends, or something.”


She blinked, staring at him, his eyes flat and cold as a frozen lake.


“I said no!” he said impatiently.  “You want me to see my child two weekends per month?  That’s completely unacceptable.”

“It’s good enough for most guys.”

He took a step forward, his gaze darkening, and it made her heart thump.  She wanted to back away, but she stood her ground, raising her chin and meeting his eyes.

“It’s not good enough for me,” he said, his voice a low, threatening rasp, his accent thick with emotion.  “If you think I’m gonna turn up every other weekend and wait on your doorstep like a fucking beggar, then you really, really don’t know me.”

Belle swallowed hard, her abdomen clenching at the heat in his gaze.

“I don’t think anyone knows you, do they?” she said, her voice trembling a little.  “I thought I did.  Once.  More fool me, I guess.  Like you’d ever let me in!”

He was silent, his nostrils flaring a little, and she licked her lips, trying to calm her racing heart.

“I think  - I think maybe we should wait for the test results before we fight about this,” she said, and after a moment he nodded.

“Very well,” he said stiffly.  “There’s something else I want to clarify.  Information my lawyer has asked for.”

“Like what?”

“You said you named me as the father when he was born,” he said, and she nodded wearily, dropping her eyes.

“I did.”


Belle looked up, surprised.

“I - I don’t understand…”

“Why did you do it?” he asked impatiently and she opened and closed her mouth, perplexed.

“Because - because he’s yours.”

“But you didn’t tell me that.”

Belle ran her hands over her face, sighing heavily.

“Alexander, are we just gonna go around in circles on this, or—”

“And when you say you named me as his father, how did you do it?” he interrupted, and she hesitated.

“Well I - I told the hospital staff, of course.  Filled in some form or other.”

“Anyone else?”

“Who else would I tell?” she asked, her irritation growing.

“I don’t know,” he said sarcastically.  “You didn’t bloody well tell me, but maybe you confided in the person you married.”

“I wasn’t married when I gave birth, okay?”

“Your father, then.”

Belle put her hands on her hips.

“Oh, I told him when I found out I was pregnant,” she said.  “Know what he said to me?  That I should get rid of the baby.”

“He said what?”

“That it would be better for me to do that than to bring a child of yours into the world!” she snapped.  “That I was an idiot if I wanted anything that could give you power over me!”

For a moment Gold looked as though she had slapped his face, his eyes wide and mouth open, but then his gaze darkened and his jaw clenched, anger seeming to roll off him in crackling waves that made her skin tingle.

“Is that why you kept him from me?” he demanded, stepping close enough for her to touch.  “Is - is that the reason I missed out on my son’s first fucking year, your father’s fucking hatred of me?”

“No!” she insisted.  “I - I never meant for you to find out like this!”

“So you were gonna keep him from me entirely, then?”

“That’s not what I meant!”

“What were you planning to do before your father was taken ill?” he snapped, his eyes flashing.  “Stay in Boston and leave me in fucking ignorance my entire life?”

“Of course not…”

“So what was your plan?” he demanded.  “Ask for child support when he turned ten?  Turn up on my doorstep when he needed a fucking college fund?”

Stop it!”

When were you going to tell me?” he thundered.

“I don’t know!” she shouted, feeling tears prick her eyes as she stepped back from him.  “You - you seem to think I had this - this big plan to keep him from you, when all I’ve been doing is - is just blundering through this entire thing!”

“Well, that’s painfully obvious…”

“I’m trying my best, believe me!” she pleaded, her voice almost breaking.  “But - but I don’t even know what I’m doing!”

He almost threw his glass onto the table, whisky sloshing over the edge as he gestured at her.

“Why didn’t you just call?” he demanded.  “I would have given you anything you wanted, Belle, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I thought you’d try to take him!” she shouted

Gold appeared to swallow what he was about to say, his eyes widening as he staggered a little, his arm working to get the cane under himself, his breath coming hard in his chest.

“What?” he whispered, and she bit her lip, tears welling in her eyes.

“I thought you’d try to take him from me,” she said.  “Dad told me not to tell you.  He said - he said there was no point, that you wouldn’t want to help, but - but I never thought that.  I thought - I thought you’d try to take him from me.”

He was staring at her, his lips parted, his eyes filled with pain, and she wanted to take back the words, swallow them down, as harsh and hard as they were, knowing they would hurt her, as they had hurt him.

“You think I could do that?” he asked softly.  “You think I could just rip a child from its mother’s arms and feel nothing?”

Belle squared her jaw.

“I think you take what you want,” she said bitterly.  “I think you take what you want and when you’re done with it you throw it away!  You did that to me, I was damned if I’d let you do it to Gideon!”

“Ah, so that’s what was behind this!”  He let his head roll back with a humourless laugh.  “Your bloody injured pride!”

“No, it’s not about that, it was never about that!” she snapped.  “It was about doing what I thought was best for my child.”

“And you thought hiding away was best, did you?”  He shook his head. “I don’t think you really believed that, no matter what you might tell yourself to feel better.  It was the act of a bloody coward, and you know it!”

Belle opened her mouth for an angry retort, but snapped it shut, rocking back on her heels as something occurred to her, a perfect moment of clarity.  He was glaring at her, his eyes flashing darkly, his breathing unsteady, and she licked her lips as she met his gaze. Rage was making her skin hum, rage and passion and the first stirrings of desire at seeing him barely clinging to his self-control.  He was always so calm, so cold, his feelings locked up tight, a barrier against the world. There were only two occasions she had seen him let go and give his emotions free rein, and each one of those had ended with them having frenzied sex. The thought of it made her belly clench, and she licked her lips.

“You’re right,” she said, her voice calm.  “I was a coward. But so were you.”

His jaw tightened, his brows drawing down.

“No,” he said evenly, and she raised her chin.

“For the longest time I believed what you told me,” she said, her voice shaking a little.  “I believed you meant every one of those terrible things, that I meant nothing to you, that you felt nothing for me.  I believed you when you said you didn’t care about anyone, that you never had.  I thought you were just a bastard, that you’d used me and thrown me away because you got bored.”

He was silent, glowering at her, his eyes dark pits, and she squared her jaw.

“But seeing you with Gideon, remembering how you talked to him, how you held him,” she said.  “That just made me realise something.”

“Oh, I wanna hear it.”

His voice was a dangerous whisper, and she wanted to laugh out loud, knowing she was getting to him, that she was chipping away at the ice that had formed around his heart God only knew how long ago.

“You do care,” she said.  “You care so much it scares you, right?”

“Don’t try and psychoanalyse me!” he hissed, and she felt herself smirk in triumph as she stepped forward.

“You feel,” she said.  “I’m guessing that maybe you felt something for me, and you pushed me away because it terrified you.  You’re as much of a coward as I am, and you can’t even be bloody honest with yourself about it!”

“Well, this character study is just fascinating,” he drawled.  “No doubt you have my childhood trauma all figured out.”

“Oh, I don’t know what your fucking damage is, and at the moment I don’t much care!” she snapped.  “Just stop bloody lying to yourself!”

His jaw tightened, his eyes flashing dark fire.

“We’re done here,” he said grimly, and turned away, heading for the door.

“You get back here!”

She stormed after him, grasping his arm and tugging, and he turned with fire in his eyes, letting the cane fall as he grasped her upper arms and shoved her hard against the wall.  The breath left her lungs, and she gasped, her chest heaving. His nostrils were flaring, tension crackling in the air around them, and she wanted to break it, for him to yell at her, to scream at her.  God help her, she wanted him to kiss her.

“Oh, so you think you know me?” he rasped, his lips drawing up over his teeth.  “You don’t.”

“I could have,” she said, her voice trembling.  “If you’d had the balls to actually let someone in, I could have.”

His smile was cold, and he released her arms, leaning on his palms against the wall on either side of her.  His eyes were gleaming, and his smile widened, making her want to slap it from his face.

“Is that what you did?” he asked silkily.  “Clung to the first person to show you affection?  Jumped into a marriage that’s destined to fail because you can’t stand the thought of making it alone?”

Anger flared in her, and she glared at him.

“That is not what happened!”

“Oh, really?” he purred.  “Then how is it that within ten minutes of being back in this town, I was fucking you against the wall of my shop?  Seems you couldn’t move on after all.”

“You’re a bastard!”

“Well, I’ve never denied that,” he said, with a wolfish grin.  “I’m dirt beneath your feet, no doubt, but it seems you can’t help yourself.  You just have to roll in it.”

Stop it!”

“Gotta feel sorry for whatever poor, deluded sap whose ring you wear,” he drawled.  “But there again you appear to be a good liar.  I suspect he’ll never know.  Won’t change the inevitable, of course.  It’ll never work.”

“You know nothing about my life!”

“Then we appear to be equals, don’t we?” he breathed.  “Except for one teeny tiny thing, of course.”

He held up his hand, a narrow gap between thumb and forefinger as his eyes gleamed.  

“I’m not afraid to be alone,” he said.  “I’m not afraid to make it by myself, and I won’t make anyone else suffer because of it.  So who’s really the coward here?”

“Shut up!”

“Make me!” he rasped, and she reached up to grab his hair, pulling his mouth to meet hers.

Her lips smashed against his teeth, and there was pain, a brief taste of blood as his incisors cut her, but she pushed her tongue into his mouth, her fingers twisting in his hair as she kissed him hard.  He let out a rumbling groan, shoving his body against hers, his tongue stabbing into her mouth, and Belle lifted a leg, letting him press up against her, feeling him harden beneath the pants of his suit. His hands roamed over her, cupping her curves, and she felt his fingers slip inside the edges of her shirt, tightening on the lapels.  He tore open the shirt with a shower of tiny black buttons, and she gasped into his mouth as he squeezed her breasts, his tongue stroking against hers, his mouth hard and hot and hurting.

He was pressed against her, but she needed to feel more of him, and her hands scrabbled at the collar of his shirt, grabbing the thin silk and ripping it open to run her hands over smooth, hot skin.  Gold growled, tearing his mouth away to kiss down her neck, to bite into her pale throat. Belle cried out, her fingers finding his nipples, hard and taut, and she twisted them, making him bite down harder, her belly clenching with need.  His hand slid down over her hip, beneath the skirt she was wearing, slipping beneath the waistband of her panties, and then his fingers were on her, sliding through wet flesh, pushing inside her as he groaned with arousal.

Belle moaned in pleasure, throwing her head back as he pushed in up to the knuckles, thrusting inside her, his fingers slippery with her juices.  It felt incredible, but she wanted more, and so she tugged his hand from her, desperate for him, one leg hooking around his as she shoved at his chest.  Gold stumbled, falling backwards and pulling her with him, and he hit the floor with a low grunt as the air left his lungs. Belle scrabbled at his belt, tugging it open, shaking hands unfastening his pants.

He growled something, reaching up to grab her arms and rolling until she was on her back, his weight pressing down on her.  Hands slid down her body, pushing her skirt up around her waist and grabbing at her panties. He tugged, the sound of tearing lace loud as he ripped them from her, and Belle moaned, anticipation making her arch up off the floor, wanting to feel as much of him as possible.  His hand twisted between them, reaching inside his underwear, and then he was pushing up against her, hard and hot, sinking into her with a groan of pleasure. She lifted her knees as he thrust into her, wanting it to hurt, wanting to feel him deep inside her, and he grasped her wrists and held them down against the rug, his grip hard and painful, his cock filling her.

She closed her eyes, letting herself remember the time Gideon had been conceived, when he had thrown her down on the workbench in the shop and fucked her hard and fast.  She had come quickly, her body responding to his as it always had, and once again she could feel the bliss rising up through her, a tingling spreading through her body. He released her wrists, kissing her throat, and she let her fingers drag through his hair, tracing down to his waist as he pounded into her.  Her hands slid up his back beneath the shirt, and she let out a moan as she felt her climax near.  Gold was panting, his eyes dark with lust and anger, his lower lip trembling as he neared his peak, and she broke with a cry as he ground against her, nails scoring his shoulders as she came.  He let out a groaning cry of completion, his cock pulsing inside her as he thrust into her, and she clung to him, hips jerking, her flesh tugging at him.

Her head thumped back on the rug as she tried to catch her breath, and she licked sweat from her upper lip, her skin humming with the aftermath of her pleasure.  Her eyelids were heavy, wanting to slide shut, but she made herself look at him, a halo of light shining in his hair, his face in shadow.  He was staring at her, his chest heaving, his eyes dark with passion, and for a moment she thought he would kiss her again.  She wished he would.  She wished he would kiss her and take her to bed and spend the rest of the night making her his once more, breaking down the walls that had been built between them.  But then the shutters came down, hiding his soul from view, and he pulled out of her, grasping his cane and pushing to his feet before turning away from her.

She heard the low, harsh sound of his zipper, and the clink of his belt buckle, and she pushed up onto the heels of her hands, glaring at his back.  His shirt tails hung loose, light glinting along the ridges of creased silk, and she could feel the tension rise in the air again, like the electricity of an approaching storm, making the hairs on her arms want to lift.  He was still not looking at her.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and his voice was deadly calm.  “Are you alright?”

“You won’t break me, Gold.”  And let him take that any way he wants.

He was silent for a moment, but then he sighed.

“I should not have lost control like that.”

“I kissed you,” she pointed out, and his shoulders tensed.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.  “It won’t happen again.”

He walked out without looking back, and she heard his feet on the stairs, a weary, heavy tread, carrying him away from her.  The sound of the lounge door closing made her flinch, and she ran her hands over her face, wanting to weep in frustration.

She went to bed herself not long after, her legs feeling heavy as she mounted the stairs, and she cast a glance at his bedroom door before going into her own room.  Once in bed, she hugged a pillow to herself, face pressed against the cool cotton, wishing the decisions that had led them to this painful, aching point had been different.

The sound of crying woke her, and for a moment she was groggy, reaching for the lamp that would have sat on her nightstand back in Boston, and not finding it.  Remembering where she was, she sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and rubbing her hands over her face.  Gideon was still crying, although the noise had faded a little, and so she got out of bed, reaching for the handle of the door she had left ajar and stepping out onto the landing.  It was then that she heard it, a low song with a lilting, calming rhythm.  She crept to the open door of Gideon's room, and saw Gold with his back to her, rocking Gideon in his arms.  He was bathed in moonlight, his skin shades of blue above the waistband of his loose pants, and he was singing to his son, what sounded like a lullaby in a thick accent, filled with words she didn't recognise.  Gideon's cries had faded to whimpers, and although her instinct was to go to him, to take him from his father's arms and hold him close, she took a step back.  They had been parted for too long.  She could give them this.

She moved away on silent feet, slipping into her own room and pushing the door closed after her.  There was a strange sense of calm flowing through her, the satisfaction of having her suspicions proven right.  He feels.  He loves.  He loves so much it scares him.

Chapter Text

Two years earlier

Belle took a deep breath as she left Gold’s house, turning her face up to feel the early morning warmth of the June sun and feeling blissfully happy.  He had offered to drive her into town, but the weather was so lovely she had insisted on walking.  Besides, sun-kissed mornings meant that people tended to be out and about, and she didn’t want to risk being seen in his car with her overnight bag and the sleepy expression of someone who had spent the night wrapped up in another’s arms.  However true it might have been.

Before she left they had made plans to spend another night at the cabin the following week, and Belle could feel a fluttering of excitement and desire in her belly at the thought of it.  Gold’s cabin was a peaceful little retreat, nestled in amongst thick stands of pine by a lake teeming with life, and their evenings there had been amongst the most enjoyable she had spent in his company.  They would drink wine and eat good crusty bread and strong cheese and delicate little chocolate confections from Storybrooke’s patisserie as they were curled on the rug.  They would discuss books and music and travel and politics, and afterwards he would peel off her clothes and spend time bringing her to orgasm over and over before finally taking her.

She had realised a few weeks earlier that she was hopelessly in love with him, but she hadn’t told him so.  For one, he was adept at deflecting the conversation when it turned to something too personal, and for another, they hadn’t discussed what form their relationship took.  He had not asked her for any sort of commitment, or even admitted that they were dating, and given that she had been keeping their relationship secret for reasons of her own, she could hardly object to that.

She tried not to think about what the future held; she had been steadily saving to return to college, and her plan had initially been to start her studies in September.  Recently, though, she had been toying with the idea of taking another year out.  If she was able to scrape by on what she had saved thus far, perhaps it would be better for her to take another year so that she could live relatively comfortably.  And if that meant another year of seeing Gold, another year in which she might have the time to get closer to him, to have him finally let her in… well, that would be a bonus.

She hadn’t mentioned any of this to her father, but she suspected he wouldn’t object to her staying.  For one, he liked having her around, even if the main reasons were to clean up after him and cook him a meal that didn’t come out of a can every night.  He liked having her work in the shop, too, because it meant that he could sleep late when he needed to, and she kept the books and ordered stock more efficiently than he did.  She couldn’t stay forever, of course; she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a librarian, and there was no chance of that happening in Storybrooke.  However much she was tempted by the idea of spending more time with Gold.  She wondered if he would miss her, when she went.  If he would visit her in Boston. If he would ask her to come back.  If he would ever tell her how he really felt.  The thought of never seeing him again was too painful to contemplate, so she shoved the thoughts aside whenever they tried to intrude on her current happiness.

She turned up the path of her father’s house, overnight bag swinging from her arm.  At seven-thirty it was unlikely that Moe would be awake, and she had time to take a shower and make breakfast before heading to the shop.  It was a surprise, therefore, when she entered the kitchen and found him already standing by the fridge with a mug of coffee in his hand.

“Hey,” she said brightly.  “You’re up early.”

He eyed her for a moment, then nodded.

“Yeah, didn’t sleep all that well,” he said.  “What about you?”

“Not bad,” she said, going to fill the kettle.  “You want me to open up this morning?  I’m gonna take a shower first, but I can head over after that.”

“If you like.”

There was silence for a moment, and she flicked on the kettle and put some bread in the toaster.  She could feel his eyes on her, and it was making her nervous.

“You have a good time last night?” he asked quietly, and her hands stilled on the counter.

“Yeah, it was fun,” she said casually.  “How was the game?”

“Not great,” he said.  “Where did you say you were, again?”

The first tingling of nerves made her heart thump, and she licked her lips, getting out a plate and knife and the peanut butter.

“Oh, Mary Margaret’s,” she said, pleased that her voice didn’t tremble.

“And what did you do?”

She shrugged.

“Just - hung out,” she said, not looking at him.

“Hung out,” he said evenly.  “At Mary Margaret’s place.”

She was silent, feeling the tension in the air around them, her heart sinking.

“So,” he said.  “Are you telling me you weren’t at the other end of town?  At Gold’s place, for example?”

Belle chewed her lip, shooting a glance at the toaster.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Just how stupid do you think I am?” he demanded.  “I’ve seen the way he looks at you.  Is that why you offered to take his bloody flower delivery over every Friday?  He order something extra?  Some personal service I didn't realise we were offering?”

Belle turned on her toes, folding her arms and raising her chin.

“My private life is none of your business.”

“It is when you’re under my roof!” he snapped, shaking a finger at her.  “I first thought something might be up a few weeks ago.  All these sleepovers you suddenly started having with your friends every week!”

“I was having sleepovers!” she said defensively.  “Ask any of them!”

“So, if I ask that sweet little Mary Margaret what you two did last night, she’ll know what I’m talking about, will she?” he asked.  “I know for a fact she won’t, because I bloody well followed you!”

Belle’s eyes widened in outrage.

“You did what?”

“I followed you!” he repeated.  “I watched you leave, and I waited, and I followed you.  And I know exactly where it was you spent the night, my girl!”

Belle hesitated, licking her lips, her heart thumping.

“I - I don’t—”

“Don’t lie to me!” snapped Moe, his eyes flashing.  “You were with Gold! Of all the men in this town, you chose to go to him?  What the hell is wrong with you?”

“We’re not talking about this,” she said curtly, and he nodded as though her words confirmed his fears.

“I thought as much,” he said disgustedly.  “Has that bastard been blackmailing you or something?  Holding the shop’s future over you to get what he wants?”

“It’s not like that!” she protested.  “We - we really like each other!”

“Bullshit!” he shouted.  “You think I don’t know how men like that work?  If you think he cares a single flying fuck for you, you’re a lot stupider than I thought!”

Belle bristled, fists clenching.

“You have no idea what he’s like!” she snapped.  “You’re just - just - blinded by your own hatred!”

Moe laughed nastily.

“Oh, if you think you know him, you’re in for a shock, let me tell you!” he sneered.  “He might be happy to string you along for now, but if you think there’s any future in it, you’re an idiot!  I fall behind on the rent, and he’ll evict the both of us faster than you can blink!”

“You don’t know him!” she snapped.  “And apparently you don’t know me!  And I don’t see that any of this is your business!”

She could smell the toast burning, and she turned to take it out, dropping it onto her plate and blowing on her fingertips.  Internally she was seething, but Moe was silent as she spread peanut butter on the toast.  She heard him sigh.

“Look, love, I just worry about you,” he said, more calmly.  “You deserve better than the likes of him.”

“Well, maybe I’m old enough to decide for myself who I date,” she said, her voice stiff.

“Is that what you’re doing?” he asked.  “Dating? Because it seems to me you’ve been sneaking around.  Lying to me about where you’re going, about who you’re with. Do your friends even know?”

Belle was silent, but she could feel satisfaction coming off him in waves.

“I thought not,” he said.  “You think about why that might be.”

He stomped off, and she licked a blob of peanut butter from her thumb, her appetite gone.

Belle was half-expecting her father to march over to Gold’s shop and yell at him, but she recalled that Moe, like everyone else in Storybrooke, was afraid of him.  Her next thought was that he would try to persuade her to break things off instead, so it was a surprise when he didn’t mention their relationship for a few days.  He curled his lip when she gave him Gold’s latest order for flowers, but said nothing, and she hoped that he had realised that she was an adult and could decide her own future.  Looking back, she supposed that she ought to have known this was wishful thinking.

It was late on Friday morning when he came into the shop, having left her to open up, and he looked oddly cheerful.

“You got a call at home,” he said.  “That boy you were seeing.  The entrepreneur’s son?”

“Gaston?” she said surprised, and Moe beamed.

“See, I told him you’d remember him,” he said jovially.  “I know we only met that one time, but he hadn’t forgotten that I run the flower shop.  Very polite he was, too.  Called me ‘sir’.”

Belle’s heart sank.

“How did he find me?” she asked.  “I changed my number since he left, and I never gave him the number for our house.”

“Yeah, he said you’d lost touch,” said Moe.  “I don’t know - maybe he got the number from your old roommate or something.  Must be keen, hmm?”

“I don’t know why,” she sighed.  “We only dated for a few months, and I wouldn’t say we were suited.  At all, actually.  He left college and started work, and I assumed that was it.”

“Yeah, he said he’d been working abroad,” said Moe.  “Building orphanages in Malawi or something. Sounds like a fine, upstanding young man!”

“Really?” said Belle dryly.  “I thought he was going to work at one of his father’s firms in Dubai.  I can’t imagine him wanting to get his hands dirty, somehow.”

“So - he’s rich, then?”  Moe’s eyes brightened, and she wanted to sigh.  “I’d forgotten that.”

“Had you?” she said flatly, walking through to the back room.  Moe followed her, sneakers shuffling on the freshly-swept floor.

“Are you gonna call him back?”

“Why would I do that?” she asked irritably.  “We’re not together, we have nothing in common, and I have no interest in going out with him again.”

“I just thought maybe it would do you good!” he protested.  “Stuck in this town, you don’t get to see much. Might be good to start thinking about getting back to Boston.  You know - getting out. Meeting new people.”

“I can worry about that when I go back, can’t I?” she said dryly.  “Stop trying to organise my social calendar, we both know this isn’t about who’s in Boston.  It’s about who’s in Storybrooke.”

Moe grunted, but said nothing, and she looked over one of the orders, picking up the bucket of lilies to make a start on the arrangement.  Her father was watching her, shifting his feet, and she waited for him to say whatever was on his mind.

“It’s funny that Gaston called today,” he said eventually, “because I was thinking that we really ought to head to Boston to look for somewhere for you to stay.”

Belle hesitated

“I’ve - I’ve been thinking about that,” she said, a little awkwardly.  “I thought maybe I might go back next year, instead.”

“Next year?” said Moe, frowning.  “Since when?”

“Since I realised I’d only be able to survive on cereal and ramen based on what I have saved,” she said.  “Besides, it would be a help to you, wouldn’t it?”

“Is that the only reason?”

“It’s an excellent reason,” she said.  “Come on, you have to admit it makes sense.”

“Right,” he said sarcastically.  “And this has nothing to do with Gold, I suppose?”

“I’m just saying that I’m thinking about it!” she protested.  “I’m not saying that’s what I’ve decided to do!”

“Well, you can stop thinking about it right bloody now!” he barked.  “You’ll go back to college and you’ll bloody well call that boy of yours!”

“He’s not my boy!” she snapped, putting fists on hips.

“So you’re telling me that a polite, rich, good-looking young man your own age shows an interest, and you’d rather sneak around with a lame guy twice your age?”

“His age and wealth and - and his bloody looks have nothing to do with it!” she said, outraged.  “How can you be so - so clueless about the type of person that might actually make me happy?  Gaston is not that person!”

“He’d be a damn sight better for you than that scheming old bastard!” he snapped.

“Dad, no!” she said firmly.  “Who I date is none of your business!  I’m more than capable of making my own decisions.”


“Just stop it!” she snapped.  “It’s my life!  When are you gonna get that through your head?”

The shop bell rang, and she stomped through before he could answer, irritation making her clench her fists.

Gold wondered what it was about the summer months that made his tenants less likely to pay their rent on time.  Whether they took more days off work to enjoy the sunshine, or they were under the mistaken impression that the good weather would put him in a better mood, he wasn’t sure.  They were right about the latter, to an extent; his leg was less painful when the weather was warm, but any relief he might have taken from that fact was counteracted by the wheedling tone that some of them chose to employ when seeking an extension.  He wasn’t completely heartless, despite rumours to the contrary; he had agreed to a two week extension for Mrs Lucas when she had fallen and injured herself and had to hire temporary staff to pick up the shifts she usually worked.  Most of the townsfolk who came to him, however, were met with stony looks and flat refusals.  It didn’t stop them trying their luck, of course.

He ran a finger down the column of figures in his rent ledger, double-checking the payments that had come in.  Moe French’s rent was due, and the man always left things to the last minute, but other than that he only had two other payments that had not yet been received.  He decided to wait to collect them; he wanted to get out to the cabin, clean the place up a little and restock the cupboards before he and Belle spent their next night there.

They had been seeing one another for around ten months, which was the longest he had tolerated the company of another in decades.  Belle was everything he was not: outgoing, sweet and affectionate, with a positive outlook on life that made him want to smile even while the pessimist in him dismissed it as unrealistic.  She was beautiful, highly intelligent, and a very pleasant person to be around, all of which had made him wary of getting too close to her.  Opening up wasn’t something he did, so he had been careful not to reveal too much about himself in the moments when they were intimate, when they were wrapped up together in bed and she wanted to talk.  To his surprise, he had found himself wanting to talk to her, to grow closer, to tell her something of himself.  It was an unfamiliar sensation, and a little uncomfortable, and so he sought to shut it down as soon as he recognised it.  Gentle questions about his past had been brushed aside with quips or pure distractions, and after a while she had stopped asking.  It was probably better that way.  He suspected she would leave town in a month or so, leave and not return.  What was there to keep her in Storybrooke, after all?

The day was warm, sunshine streaming in through the window, dust motes dancing in the air like gold flecks, and he considered closing up early.  Perhaps he could sit on the back porch with a glass of cold white wine and breathe in the scents of summer from his garden.  Perhaps Belle would join him, curled by his side with her warmth seeping into him, her head on his shoulder and the scent of her perfume in his nose.  The sound of the bell above the shop door jerked him out of his brief daydream, and he leaned on the counter with a tiny smirk twisting his lips as Moe French blundered in and marched up to him.

“Mr French,” he said pleasantly.  “Delivering your rent payment before noon?  This has to be something of a record.”

“I’m not here about the bloody rent!” snapped Moe, and Gold raised an eyebrow.

“Really?” he said.  “Because I assure you that’s the only topic of conversation I’m interested in.  I suggest you rethink the reason for this little visit.”

He closed up the ledger and turned away, heading for one of the glass display counters and using two fingers to spin an ancient globe.  He could feel the fury coming off Moe in waves, and he thought that he could guess the most likely cause.  He hoped Belle was alright; judging by her father’s furious expression, there had been unpleasantness.

“I know what you’ve been doing,” blurted Moe, and Gold turned slowly on the balls of his feet.

“Excuse me?”

“I know what you’ve been doing,” repeated Moe, his face turning red.  “With my daughter.”

“Ah.”  Gold sent him a twisted little grin, hands curling around the handle of his cane.  “Are you here to demand satisfaction, perhaps?  Should I recruit a second?”

“She’s an adult,” said Moe stiffly.  “I got no right to tell her who she can sleep with.”

“That’s right, you don’t.”

“Which is why I’ve come to you,” he went on.  “Let her go.  Please, Gold.”

“Let her go ?”  Gold broke into soft laughter.  “I’m not her keeper.  She’s free to do whatever she wants.”

“How can she know what she wants when you’re there to whisper in her ear like a bloody evil spirit?”

“Are you saying your daughter doesn’t know her own mind?” asked Gold.  “I assure you she does.  Perhaps if you talked to her once in a while you’d know that.  She’s not a child.”

“She’s twenty-two!” snapped Moe.  “She knows nothing of the world!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Gold lazily.  “I’m happy to say that I’ve taught her quite a lot in - certain areas.  Very quick study.  You should be proud.”

He showed his teeth in a grin, and Moe’s gaze darkened, his face reddening.  He stepped forwards, shoulders hunched and fists clenched, and Gold shook his head with a low, tutting sound.

“Be careful, Mr French,” he said.  “The sheriff won’t look kindly on you attempting to deal out judgement, and I’ll be forced to defend myself.  I’m sure Belle wouldn’t want to have to visit you in jail.  Or in hospital.”

“You stay away from her!”

“Or what?” said Gold mockingly.  “I hate to break it to you, but this is the twenty-first century.  She’s no more your property than she is mine.”

“You’re disgusting!” snapped Moe, and Gold shrugged.

“You opinion is neither required nor valued,” he said.  “Now, if all you have to throw at me are insults, I think we’re done here.”

Moe quivered with rage, his face turning purple, and Gold wondered idly if he’d have to call for an ambulance when the idiot burst something.

“Go home, Mr French,” he said, in a bored voice.  “Go home and start counting your money.  Rent is due, remember?  I think that would be a better use of your time than trying to interfere in my private business.”

“It’s my business too!” snapped Moe.  “She’s my daughter!”

“So?” said Gold, unimpressed.  “You don’t strike me as the kind to pay too much attention to what their child does.  You’ve had her doing most of the work at the shop while you sleep off those hangovers, after all.”

“I’m not exactly Father of the Year, I think that’s pretty fucking obvious,” said Moe gruffly.  “But believe it or not, I still want what’s best for her.”

“And I suppose you know what that is, hmm?”

“Yeah, I do!” snapped Moe.  “It’s to get away from here and make something of her life.  Study.  Travel.  Get a career that doesn’t involve working in a damn shop for minimum wage while her old man drinks the bloody profits!”

“Self-awareness from Moe French,” remarked Gold.  “Whoever would have thought it?”

“That’s fucking rich, coming from you.”

“Which means what, exactly?” said Gold, his tone mocking, and Moe squared his shoulders.

“It means that I don’t want her giving her bloody heart and soul to a man who has neither.”

Gold’s smile grew.

“Well, well,” he said quietly.  “That almost hurt my feelings.”

“Doubt you have any of those, either,” said Moe, and lifted a hand and let it slap against his thigh, looking frustrated.  “Look, Gold, I wouldn’t come over here and grovel at your feet if I wasn’t bloody desperate, okay?”

“Well, it’s not as though I haven’t seen this pathetic display from you before, I suppose,” said Gold, his voice cool.  “How successful were you in the past, do you recall?”

“Dammit, stop speaking to me as though we’re talking about my bloody rent arrears!” snapped Moe.  “This isn’t about you or me, it’s about Belle!”

Gold raised his eyes to the ceiling with a long-suffering sigh.

“Fine,” he said quietly.  “Say your piece.”

“She’s a good girl,” said Moe, his eyes pleading.  “Sweet, brave, kind.  She’s worth ten of me—”

“Well, that wouldn’t be difficult.”

“—and she’s worth twenty of you!” he went on sharply.  “She’s got her whole life ahead of her, and she shouldn’t be stuck in this dead-end town any longer than she has to be!  And now she’s saying that she’s gonna stay another year!”

The bundle of emotions that Gold kept locked up tight quivered with joy, and he smothered them, suffocated them, until they were still and silent.  Moe appeared to be watching for some sort of reaction from him, but he kept his expression carefully neutral.

“Belle is an adult, and capable of making her own choices,” he said.  “I presume she has her reasons for staying.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean she should,” said Moe.  “You and I both know there’s nothing worth staying for, but for reasons I don’t bloody understand, she seems to love you.  Do you love her?”

Gold eyed him silently, hands tightening over the cane, and Moe nodded, curling his lip.

“As I thought,” he said disgustedly.  “Just let her go.  Please.”

“Like I said,” Gold repeated.  “She’s free to do whatever she wants.  If she chooses to come to me - well, I don’t see how that’s my fault.”

“She has a boyfriend.”

“Strange,” said Gold, feeling a sliver of ice slide down his back, and smiling coldly to cover it.  “She’s never mentioned him to me.  Nor have I ever seen her with anyone.  Clearly a deeply serious relationship.”

“And I suppose that’s what she has with you?” asked Moe bluntly.  “The pair of you have been sneaking around behind the backs of the entire town!  You do know she hasn’t told a single one of her friends about you, right?”

Gold tightened his jaw, the words needling him.

“No doubt she has her reasons.”

“Oh, she’s got her reasons alright,” said Moe, with a nasty laugh.  “I’m guessing that first on the list is shame!”

“Yes, you’ve made your utter disdain for me quite clear,” said Gold coolly.  “I don’t see there’s anything more to say.”

“I’m not finished!” snapped Moe.  “She seems to have been under the impression that she might have meant something to you, but we both know that’s bollocks.  Now she has the chance of starting again, with a good-looking guy her own age, a guy with money and a future, who loves her, who wants to make her happy.”

“I’m sorry that this no doubt admirable young provider of pointless conversation and mediocre sex wasn’t doing it for her,” said Gold.  “But I fail to see how this is my problem.”

“Because if you had the tiniest scrap of decency in you, you’d end it!” snapped Moe.  “If you cared about her - if you care about anyone but yourself, that is - you’d let her go!”

He cut off, breathing hard, his eyes almost popping with anger.  Gold was silent, hands gripping the cane handle so hard it hurt, that finger of ice down between his shoulder blades seeming to melt and spread, coating his body with coldness.

“Let’s say I agree with you,” he said eventually.  “What if I suggest that she and I end this little thing we have, and she doesn’t want to?  What then?”

Moe sent him a nasty smile.

“Well, you’re a resourceful man, Gold,” he said.  “I’m sure you’d think of something.”

Chapter Text

Gold woke before the sunrise, creeping from his bedroom along the landing.  He could see that Belle’s bedroom door was ajar, a narrow strip of darkness leading to her room, and made his silent way to the bathroom, closing the door quietly and turning on the shower.  He tugged the T-shirt he was wearing over his head, wincing a little at the pain between his shoulder blades. Turning in front of the mirror, he could see scratches on his back, tiny scabs dotted along raised red lines.  He ran his fingers over them, feeling the tender skin and wincing a little. Belle had not held back.

The shower was hot, the water stinging as it poured over his scratches.  He felt better once he was done, and dried off, wrapping the towel around his waist and brushing his hair back.  Wiping condensation from the mirror, he filled a sink of water for his morning shave, staring at his reflection as the hot water rose.  His eyes were dark and heavy, filled with regret, and he leaned on the sink, his expression grim. Things had to change if he was to develop a good relationship with his child, and with Belle.  A new start. A new chapter in their lives, whatever form that took. They owed it to Gideon to be the best parents they could.

Shrugging to himself, he reached for the shaving foam, and prepared to go through his usual morning routine.  Now that he had a one-year-old to care for, personal time was going to be limited.

Belle had slept poorly after she crept back to bed, running over in her mind what she wanted to say to him, how she wanted to move forward.  They couldn’t go on as they had been, the two of them so hurt and angry they could barely exchange a civil word. Perhaps now that some of it was out of their systems, they could start to build something for Gideon’s sake.  However fragile it might be.

She finally dropped off just as dawn was sending faint light in through the curtains, and when she woke she felt groggy.  Her body was sore from the frenzied and wholly unhelpful sex they had had, pain in her wrists where he had held her down, lower lip swollen where his teeth had cut her.  Running her hands over her face, she sighed to herself. Trying to bang away the anger and frustration was not the way to deal with their issues.

Glancing at her watch on the nightstand, she was shocked to see that it was almost nine o’clock.  She sat up with a jerk, throwing back the covers and hurrying to Gideon’s room to find it empty. The playpen was gone, too, and a number of his toys, so she went downstairs on bare feet, following the sound of Gold’s gentle voice and Gideon’s gurgling laughter.  Curious, she entered the lounge to find the playpen set up, coloured blocks and plastic stacking rings inside it. Gold was sitting on the couch, and Gideon toddled across the floor to his outstretched hands.

“Almost there!” said Gold gently, seemingly oblivious to Belle’s presence.  “Just one more step!”

Gideon reached him, and Gold immediately swung him up into the air, making him squeal with excitement.  Belle couldn’t help smiling at the picture they made, Gold kissing his cheek before sitting him on his lap.  Gideon made a grab for his tie, and Gold gently took it out of his hand.

“Let’s not chew that one, hmm?” he said.  “I have a finite number of ties.”

“I didn’t realise you two were already up and having fun,” said Belle, making him look around.  “Guess I slept in.”

Gold held her gaze for a moment, bouncing Gideon on his knee.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” he said eventually.  “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” she said, a little stiffly, aware that her mouth was probably bruised, a reminder of the violence of their passion.  “Did you give him breakfast?”

“Of course I—”  Gold closed his eyes, cutting off what he had been about to say.  “Yes,” he went on, in a calmer tone.  “A boiled egg and buttered toast.  And some apple slices.  Would you like some tea?”

Belle shook her head, feeling awkward, and not knowing how to get past it.  They needed to talk, but she wasn’t sure she could face an in-depth conversation just then.  She decided to settle for avoidance, and hope that her courage returned later in the day.

“I’m gonna get us both dressed and go to the hospital,” she said.

"Already?"  His tone was dry.  "Do I have that much of an effect on you?  I assure you there's no need to rush off just to avoid me, I'll be leaving myself shortly."

"That's not what I meant," she sighed.  "I want to walk over there before it gets too hot, and I want to check out the flower shop.  I'm not trying to avoid you."

It wasn't the truth, but it wasn't entirely a lie, either.  He didn't look as though he believed her, so she sought to change the subject.

"Sorry if I made you late for work," she said.  "I didn't realise it was almost nine."

“The shop can wait,” he said.  “It’s not as though I’ll have a line of customers outside when I get there.  Take your time.”

He set Gideon back down, holding his hands until he was stable on his feet.

“Go and see Mummy, then,” he said.

Gideon toddled over to Belle, gurgling and lifting up his arms, and she bent to pick him up, planting a kiss on his cheek.  Gold watched them, a tiny smile lifting the corner of his mouth, and she met his eyes for a moment before nodding and turning away to head for the stairs.

She got dressed, pulling on a simple yellow sundress and sandals.  Glancing at her reflection in the mirror made her sigh. Her lip was indeed bruised, and she wasn’t sure her makeup hid it completely.  There were bites on her neck, and she wound the chiffon scarf around and tied it off, cursing Gold under her breath as she did so. At least there were no bruises on her legs.  Her wrists were still a little red, so she pulled on a little white cardigan. It would probably be too warm, but if she set off for the hospital now she would avoid the hottest part of the day, and she planned to stop off at Granny’s for iced tea on the way back.  She dressed Gideon in a striped T-shirt and blue pants, remembering his sunhat and sunscreen, and carried him downstairs to set him in the stroller. Gold was drinking coffee in the doorway to the kitchen, but he set it down to help her strap Gideon in.

“I’ll be back later,” she said, as she straightened up.  “I don’t mind making dinner tonight, if you like.”

“Let’s say whoever’s back first makes dinner,” he said, and she nodded.

“I could drive you to the hospital,” he added.  “I’m going into town anyway.”

“I’d rather walk,” she said uncomfortably.

He eyed her for a moment, looking as though he wanted to say something.  Another apology, perhaps, or a suggestion that they sit down and talk. She didn’t want to hear either.  She was about to say a hurried goodbye when the sound of a key in the front door made her turn in surprise.  Ashley Boyd was letting herself into the house, a plastic bucket containing cleaning materials in one hand and a look of surprise on her face.

“Belle,” she said, puzzled.  “What are you doing here?”

Belle opened and closed her mouth, momentary panic rendering her mute.

“If you could please make sure you take extra care cleaning the kitchen, Miss Boyd?” said Gold.  “My son is a somewhat messy eater, I fear, and I may not have picked up everything he dropped.”

“Your - your son?”

Ashley’s eyes had gone very round and wide, her mouth falling open.  She glanced between he and Belle with a mixture of what looked like disbelief and revulsion, and Belle wanted to crawl into a hole and die.  Welp.  It’s out.

“Is there something you didn’t understand?” asked Gold quietly, and Ashley jumped.

“No, Mr Gold.”

“Then get on with it,” he said.  “There are two other bedrooms to clean, too.  I’ll obviously be expecting you to charge me for the additional work, but I’m not paying you to stand here and gawp at Miss French.”

Ashley snapped her mouth shut, blushing a little.

“Right,” she said.  “I’ll - um - make a start upstairs, then.”

She shot a last, uncertain glance at Belle, and then made her way up the stairs.  The sound of the bathroom door closing seemed very loud, and Belle rounded on Gold with her hands on her hips.

“Did you just forget to mention that one of my friends cleans your damn house?” she demanded, and he shrugged.

“If you were hoping to keep our past a secret, I’m afraid you were always going to be disappointed,” he said dryly.  “Gideon’s arrival made that an impossibility, and no matter how ashamed you may be, everyone in Storybrooke is going to know I’m his father.  One way or another.”

He stepped past her, picking up his keys from the hall table and slipping on a pair of dark glasses.

“I suggest you get used to it,” he added coldly.  “No doubt you can come up with a suitably tragic backstory to make me the villain of the piece and garner some sympathy from your friends.”

“So I’ll just tell them the truth, then,” she retorted, and his mouth thinned.

“I’ll be at the shop,” he said.  “Call if you need anything.”

He let himself out, the door slamming closed, and she stamped her foot in frustration.  Why the hell couldn’t they be civil for five minutes?

Gold was inwardly seething as he drove, and by the time he got to the shop he wasn’t much calmer.  How was it that they managed to push one another’s buttons so easily?  He parked up, sitting for a moment with his hands on the wheel and letting out a deep sigh of frustration.  This was not helping.  None of it.  He had begun the day determined to make a fresh start with the mother of his child, and already they had buggered it up. Shaking his head, he got out of the car, locking it and turning his attention to the street in front of him.  Rather than head to the shop, he turned in the opposite direction, walking along the street and past Granny’s before turning up the side street.

Rapunzel’s was the only hair salon in Storybrooke, and Ivy, one of the stylists, was his regular choice.  For one, she didn’t do small talk, which suited him just fine.  For another, she only ever cut off as much as he wanted her to, which was more than could be said for the rest of them.  She was a very pretty young woman with dark hair that fell almost to her shoulders, and eyes like polished onyx, and she flashed him a perfect smile as he entered.

“Mr Gold,” she said.  “I don’t remember seeing your name on my list.”

“I don’t have an appointment,” he said.  “I was just wondering if you could fit me in.”

“I’m free now, actually,” she said, reaching for a gown, and flourishing it.  “Is it the usual?”

Gold hesitated.

“No,” he said.  “it’s time for a change.”

Belle pushed the stroller through town, her swift pace working out some of her irritation.  Her phone buzzed a few times, but she didn’t break her stride.  By the time she reached Storybrooke General, she was breathless and too hot, and it was pleasant to step inside the cool, air-conditioned hospital.  Pulling out her phone, she almost groaned as she saw three messages from Mary Margaret, and she wondered whether Ashley had even waited five minutes before texting everyone the shocking news of Gideon’s parentage.  Shoving the phone back in her bag, she sighed to herself.  It seemed as though there would be more than one awkward conversation to look forward to.

Her father was sitting up in bed and looking a little better than he had, and he greeted her cheerfully enough, reaching over to stroke Gideon’s head when Belle pulled him onto her lap.

“I took a look over the shop,” she said.  “I thought I might open it up while you’re recovering.  At least that way we’d have some money coming in.”

“There might be enough cash to restock,” he admitted.  “Won’t pay the rent as well, though.”

“Yeah, I already ordered some stock,” she said.  “I’ll head over there later, give the place a clean.  The flowers should be there tomorrow morning.”

“What about the rent?”

“You let me worry about the rent,” she said firmly, and he grunted.

“They’re saying I might be able to get out of here in a few days,” he said.  “It’ll be good to get home.  How are you finding it, being back at the old place?  I guess it was a bit of a mess.”

Belle hesitated, not wanting to discuss her current living arrangements, but then told herself it was bound to come out at some point.

“Yeah, we - we weren’t staying there,” she said.  “Gold sent a team in to clean it up, so we’ve - we’ve been staying at his place.”

Moe’s eyebrows drew down.

“You’ve been living with Gold?”

“Not living with him,” she insisted, trying not to blush at the memory of the previous night.  “Just - just staying at his house.  In separate rooms.”


“Look, your place was a bloody pigsty!” she snapped.  “There was no way I could stay there with Gideon!”

Moe sighed, running his hands over his face.

“How many times do I have to tell you to stay away from that man?”

“Well, that’s not really an option now, is it?” she said tartly, bouncing Gideon on her knee.

“It would have been if you’d bloody listened to me in the first place.”

Belle squeezed her eyes shut, holding Gideon close.

“I can’t believe you’d bring that up now,” she said thickly.  “My son is the most important thing in the world to me, and I could never regret having him for one minute!”

“You’ll be tied to Gold for the rest of your life because of the kid!” snapped Moe.  “I tried to bloody warn you!”

She shook her head, getting to her feet, and setting Gideon back in the stroller.

“You know what?” she said.  “I can’t deal with this right now.  I have a one-year old to care for, a shop to open, and the world’s most irritating man to arrange visitation with.  I can’t handle my father being a bloody idiot as well!”

She stormed out, fuming, pushing the stroller along the corridors and making hospital staff leap out of the way.  This day was going from bad to worse.

Belle wanted to go to Granny’s for iced tea, but the thought of seeing one of her friends and having to explain her past with Gold was off-putting enough that she headed to the flower shop instead.  She had calmed down by the time she got there, and locked the door behind her, inhaling the scent of the plants.  The place needed a clean, so she made a makeshift playpen by moving a couple of chairs behind the counter to fence off the area, and set Gideon in it with some of his plush animals and a set of plastic flower pots in different sizes.  He soon began stacking them in towers, squealing with delight as he knocked them over, and she was able to get out the cleaning materials to sweep and mop the shop floor and wipe down all the surfaces.

Cleaning the shop made her feel better, but by the end of it Gideon was starting to grumble.  She had lost track of time, and it was almost two, so she bundled him back into the stroller and walked quickly back to Gold’s house to make them some lunch.  She wasn’t expecting Gold to be there, so it was a surprise to see his car on the driveway. Belle sighed to herself, but they needed to talk, and she supposed there was no time like the present.

“Hey,” she called, as she pushed the stroller into the house.  “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.  Does this mean you’re making dinner?”

He appeared in the kitchen doorway, and she stopped dead, her eyes widening.  His hair had been cut short, silvery wisps just brushing the tips of his ears.  It made his face look a little fuller, his skin a little warmer, and for a moment all she could do was stare.

“You - you cut your hair,” she said, and his mouth twitched.

“You noticed.”


"Are my personal grooming habits of any relevance here?”

“I - I just - never mind.”  She stepped past him, going into the kitchen.  “Did you eat lunch?”

“I made soup,” he said.  “There should be more than enough for the two of you.”

She busied herself getting Gideon into his high chair, and Gold went to heat up the soup.  He set a bowl down for her, with some thick pieces of crusty bread and butter.

“I can feed Gideon,” he said.  “Eat your lunch.”

Belle sat down in silence, watching him coax Gideon to eat as she spooned up some of the soup.  It was good, thick with vegetables and white beans and fragrant with herbs. She was hungrier than she had thought, and she ate everything, wiping her bowl with the last piece of bread and brushing crumbs from her hands before sitting back with a sigh.  Gold had managed to get most of the soup into Gideon without getting any on his suit, and wiped his face clean with a damp cloth, taking off the soiled bib to be washed.  Gideon was rubbing his eyes and grumbling, and Belle pushed back her chair.

“I should put him down for a nap,” she said, and he nodded, sitting back and letting her pick up their son.

She felt like crawling into bed herself, but she told herself to be brave, and pulled Gideon’s door closed until it was just ajar before making her way back downstairs.  The kettle was boiling, and Gold poured hot water into the teapot and replaced the lid.  He had cleaned up and was wiping down the kitchen counters, and she watched his back, his new short hair glinting silver in the light.

“Why did you cut your hair?” she asked, and he froze momentarily before turning to face her, wiping his hands on a dishtowel and tossing it aside.

“It was time for a change, that’s all,” he said.  “Sometimes you get tired of the person you see in the mirror.”

“Yeah,” she said quietly.  “I get that.”

Gold sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and looking as tired as she felt.

“Look, we need to talk,” he said, and she folded her arms.

“That never seems to end well.”

“We need to talk,” he repeated.  “Calmly.  Rationally.  Each listening to what the other has to say.  Agreed?”

“Alright,” she said cautiously.  “Agreed.”

He nodded.

“Then will you sit down and have some tea with me?”

She took a seat at the kitchen table, and he set down the teapot and got out cups and saucers, spoons and the milk jug.  He took a seat across from her, reaching inside his jacket and drawing out a padded envelope.

“The paternity test kit arrived by special delivery,” he said.  “If you’re still agreeable to a sample being taken from Gideon, I can get this off and we should hear within a few days.”

“That soon?”

“I paid for the fastest service I could get,” he said.  “I think it best we know as soon as possible, don’t you?”

Belle sighed, running her hands over her face.

“I don’t need the test to know he’s yours,” she said quietly.  “There was no one else, Alex. Only you. I swear it.”

“I - I believe you,” he said, lifting a hand.  “I do, Belle. But having the test results will be necessary if you and I are going to come to a formal agreement, and if the world at large is to see him as my son.”

She felt like stamping her foot again.

“So why didn’t you say that last night instead of being a bloody arsehole about it?”

Gold dropped his eyes.

“I don’t know,” he said softly, and then winced, pulling a face.  “Actually, that’s not true. I wanted a fight. I wanted you to yell at me.  And I wanted to yell at you. The reasons seemed less important than the actual yelling, I think.”

She sighed again.

“So, are you done yelling?”

“Yes,” he said.  “Are you?”

“For now.”

“Well, I suppose that’s good enough,” he said. “Are you sure you’re alright?  I thought I hurt you when we - when we—”

“i’m not made of glass,” she said coldly, and his mouth twitched.

“Indeed not,” he said quietly.  “You’re made of forged steel.”

“Ditch the flattery, Gold,” she sighed.  “You want to talk about Gideon or not?”

“Yes.”  He dropped the padded envelope on the table.  “I’ve asked my lawyer to set up a trust fund, which she’ll be doing as soon as we get the result.  I’ll be transferring enough money into it to ensure that his schooling and any college education is provided for.”

“Oh,” she said.  “That’s - well, that’s very generous.”

“He’s my son,” said Gold.  “It’s no more than I would have done had you and I been together.”

“But we’re not,” she said softly, a stabbing pain deep in her chest.  He held her gaze for a long moment, his dark eyes calm.

“No,” he said.  “We’re not.  Which means we need to agree visitation.  I wasn’t kidding when I said every other weekend isn’t acceptable.”

“Fine,” she said wearily.  “What do you want?”

“I want equal access, of course,” he said.

“I don’t see that working when you live four hours away.”

“Which is why I’m prepared to spend the week in Boston,” he said.  “I’ll get a place there and you and I can split the week up between us.”

“But…”  She shook her head.  “You have a life here.  Your business, the shop, this place…”

“Dove can handle the collection of rent in my absence,” he said.  “The shop is more of a hobby than anything else, so if it was closed for part of the week, I don’t see that impacting on the business all that much.  And I wouldn’t be moving permanently. I could bring Gideon here for alternate weekends. This town is a nice place to raise children, after all.”

“You’ve got it all figured out, then,” she said dryly.

“It’s a proposal, that’s all,” he said.  “I suppose I’m just asking whether you would have any objections to equal custody.”

“On principle?” she said.  “I guess not.  Can we wait before we hammer out the terms, though?  I don’t know how long Dad’s gonna need caring for, so I could be here for a few more weeks.”

“Of course,” he said.  “I don’t want to interfere with your personal life anymore than is necessary.”


She chewed her lip, and he poured the tea, pushing a cup towards her.

“Speaking of Dad,” she added.  “I’m gonna open the shop.  He can’t pay the rent if he has no income.”

“And what is the situation with the rent?” he asked, and she winced a little.

“Not great,” she admitted.  “I used a lot of what was in the account to restock.  The rent’s six hundred short.”

Gold was silent for a moment, stirring his tea.

“In the circumstances, I’m prepared to allow a two-week extension so you can find the money,” he said.  “I can also care for Gideon, if you like.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she said quickly.  “The pawn shop’s not exactly a nursery, is it?”

“No more is the flower shop,” he said.  “I can set up his playpen in the back room.  Besides, it would get him used to being around me.  Which he needs, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Well, perhaps we could do alternate days,” she suggested, and he nodded.

“I’m sure we can work something out,” he agreed.  “It’s a good thing you’re going to be in Storybrooke for a little longer.  Perhaps we could have a trial run of whatever arrangement we choose to come to, before you return to Boston.”

“Yeah,” she said, after a pause.  “I can’t stay here forever, right?”

Gold sat back a little, picking up his cup.

“Well, staying in Storybrooke was never your plan, was it?” he said, sipping his tea.  “I see no reason that us having a child together should get in the way of that.  I’ll help in whatever way I can, Belle.  I promise.”

“Okay,” she said softly.

“After all,” he added.  “You have your own life.  Your own future to think about.  I don’t suppose there’s much to keep you here.”

She dropped her eyes, looking down at the rippled surface of her tea, her fingers trembling a little on the edge of the cup.

"I guess not," she said, and it felt as though her heart was formed of ice, sliding down through her body to freeze her from the inside out.

Chapter Text

One year and eleven months earlier

Stepping inside the cool darkness of the cabin was a pleasant sensation in the heat of a July afternoon, and Belle sighed in relief at the change in temperature.  Her eyes took a moment to adjust, and Gold stepped past her to open the shutters, letting in a little of the sunlight.  She slid the bag of groceries they had brought onto the kitchen counter, turning to face him with a smile.

“I guess we’re all set for the rest of the day,” she said.

Gold turned to face her, taking off the dark glasses he had been wearing and slipping them into his pocket.

“And the night,” he said quietly, and she bit her lip, blushing a little at the sense of promise in his low voice.

He was running his eyes over her, his gaze hungry, and it made her shiver in anticipation.  They were to spend the night together for the first time since her father had found out about their relationship, and she had felt her desire for him growing over the course of the journey to the cabin.  He had rested his hand on her thigh as he drove, his fingers lightly stroking her skin, and it had made her think of how he touched her all over, of how he would caress her curves with his fingers and tongue.  Of how he would sink deep inside her.

She had told him that Moe knew about them, but he hadn’t given her any reaction to the news nor asked anything further about the matter.  Belle suspected that he didn’t care what her father’s opinion of them was; he had certainly never seemed to.  She wasn’t sure that he cared what anyone thought about him.  Moe himself had not mentioned Gold since, and when she had told him that she was staying at Mary Margaret’s that night he had merely grunted an acknowledgement.  She suspected that he only pretended to believe her so that he didn’t have to think about what she was really up to, but if it meant no arguing, that was fine with her.  She hadn’t wanted a shouting match with her father to ruin the delicious sense of anticipation at the thought of spending the night with the man she loved.  And she did love him.  God, she loved him.

She clapped her hands together, rising up on her toes as a feeling of bliss stole over her, and his mouth quirked in amusement.

“So, what did you want to do first?” she asked.  “We could go for a walk around the lake?”

“Alright,” he agreed.  “A little fresh air would be pleasant.”

The circuit of the lake took around half an hour, the rough track winding in amongst the reddish bark of pines and paler trunks of birch.  Insects buzzed in the air around them, birds chirped in the trees above, and Belle linked her arm through his with a sigh of contentment. Dappled light was filtering through the branches, turning a deep gold as the sun slipped closer to the horizon, but it was pleasantly cool in the shade.  They made their way along at a leisurely pace, Gold picking his path carefully with the cane, and she watched him out of the corner of her eye, chewing her lip.  He was even more silent than usual, and it was making her a little nervous.

“I love this walk,” she said, to break the tension.  “It looks very different in winter, when the snows come, but it’s always gorgeous.”

“I’m sure you’ll find places in Boston that are just as pleasing to the eye,” he said.  “If somewhat less remote.”

Belle hesitated.

“Maybe I won’t have to,” she ventured.

She waited for him to ask why, but he said nothing, and so she decided to go for it.

“Actually, I was thinking about taking another year out,” she said, and he paused for a fraction of a second, glancing across at her as he moved on.

“Why’s that?”

Dammit, don’t you know?

“Well, I haven’t saved up as much as I thought I’d be able to,” she admitted, stalling for time.  “I could get by, don’t get me wrong, but I’d prefer to have a bit more of a cushion before I start studying again."

Gold was silent, not looking at her, and she wanted to sigh.

“And - and then there’s my Dad,” she added.  “It’d be a help to him, having me around. You know without me he’s likely to fall behind on the rent within the first couple of months, right?”

She chuckled, and he looked at her again, his eyes sober.

“I thought parents were supposed to take care of their children,” he said.  “Not the other way around.”

“Well, I’m not a child anymore,” she said, feeling a little defensive.  “And besides, I don’t mind. That’s what family’s for, right? Helping each other out?”

“And what exactly do you get out of him in exchange for this generosity of spirit?”

“Not everything comes down to a business transaction, Alex.”

“Not everything needs to be entirely one-way, either.”

Belle sighed, wishing she hadn’t brought it up.

“Look, I know your opinion of him isn’t exactly high—”

“I believe the feeling is entirely mutual.”

“—but he’s my father,” she went on.  “I have to help him where I can.”

“Very dutiful,” he remarked, flicking back his hair.  “And by next summer, when you’ve been here another year and he’s every bit as useless at organising his affairs as he is now, what then?”

She shrugged uncomfortably.

“I - I don’t know,” she admitted.  “I guess we’ll have to see.”

They walked on in silence for a moment, and she chewed her lip, not wanting to voice her fears, but unable to hold back.

“Don’t - don’t you want me to stay?” she asked hesitantly, and Gold’s mouth twisted.

“My wishes are unimportant,” he said.  “It’s your future that matters, and I thought your future lay outside Storybrooke and away from the confines of a minimum wage existence.”

“It - it does,” she said, after a pause.  “But that doesn’t mean I have to go right now, does it?”

He didn’t respond, and she wanted to hiss in frustration.  After almost a year of whatever it was that they had, she was used to him being closed off, but it was still annoying.  She suspected that he loved her as much as she loved him, and there were times when she thought he might say so, times when he almost let his guard down enough for her to get close.  Perhaps now was not one of those times.  Perhaps she should have waited until later, when they were in bed, to discuss her future.  He was always more open then, when they were naked, when they were intimate.  Not enough to completely let her into the guarded fortress of his soul, but he did at least allow her to peer over the walls a little.  Sometimes.  She decided to change the subject.

“Let’s take the trail around the old pine,” she said, tugging gently on his arm, and he nodded, falling into step beside her.

The woods were as peaceful as ever, and she breathed in deeply as they walked, enjoying the solitude.  There was never anyone to disturb them out here; occasionally they had seen hikers on the trails, but there were none there now, and none seemed to get close to the cabin.  She smiled as she saw the familiar wooden walls appear through the trees, and Gold’s eyes crinkled a little as he returned her grin.

“Home at last,” she said happily.

He let them into the cabin, and she took a moment to let her eyes get used to the dimmer light.  It didn’t seem to bother him, and he spent a minute or two putting away the food and drink they had brought in the little fridge and the kitchen cupboards.  A loaf of crusty bread was pushed onto the counter, next to a goat’s cheese with a thick rind, and another cheese wrapped in waxed paper.  He set a bottle of good red wine next to it, and she kicked off her shoes, kneading the rug with her toes as she watched him, her belly taut with need.

“That bread and cheese looks good,” she ventured.  “You picked up olives too, right? Are you hungry?”

Gold let his mouth curve upwards, his eyes glinting a little.

“The food looks great,” he agreed.  “But there’s something much more delicious I'd like to eat right now.”

He stepped over, stopping when he was almost touching her, and she inhaled deeply, pulling his scent into her nose.  He lifted a hand to cup her cheek, bending his head to kiss her gently, his lips soft and warm. His thumb stroked against her skin as he pulled back.

“Come,” he said softly, and let his hand drop to take hers.

He stepped towards the corridor that led towards the bedroom, and Belle let him pull her with him, her heart thumping a little.  It was unusual for him to want to go to bed so early, but she certainly wasn’t about to object. The bedroom was dark, a little greenish light from the sun-dappled woods filtering in through the curtains, and she watched as Gold shrugged off his jacket and hung it over the back of the chair by the little dresser.  She reached for the buttons of her tea dress, but he shook his head, raising a hand.

“Let me do that.”

He leaned his cane against the chair, turning to face her, and she was surprised to see that his hands were trembling a little as he reached for the first of the buttons.

“Are you okay?” she asked, curious.

His eyes flicked up to meet hers, and for a brief, confusing moment she thought she saw fear in them, but then he flashed a smile at her, his fingers pushing the buttons through the holes.  She stood still as he opened up the dress, sliding his thumbs beneath the shoulder straps and pushing it from her to reveal the pale yellow lace bra and panties she had put on. He kissed her, pressing featherlight touches of his lips along her jaw and down her throat, and Belle rose up on her toes with a moan as his tongue stroked over her pulse.  His hands slid over her hips, gripping her waist as he kissed down her neck and over her chest, and she drew in a breath as his mouth found her nipple. He sucked at her, saliva soaking through the lace, his tongue rasping over the hard peak.

Belle let out a low noise of contentment, stroking her hands through his soft hair, feeling him reach behind her to unhook the bra.  The clasp sprang open, and his hands slid around beneath the lace cups, cupping and squeezing before gently pulling the bra down her arms and throwing it aside.

“Look how beautiful you are,” he whispered.

He lowered himself onto the chair, putting his hands on her hips and tugging her in between his knees.  His mouth found her breast, and Belle let her head roll back with a sigh as he sucked at her, his tongue swirling over the nipple and sending jolts of sensation through her.  His hair was tickling her skin, and she gasped as he sucked her hard before letting the nipple slip from his mouth, taut and glistening.  He sat back a little, and her fingers slid from his hair to rest on his shoulders as his eyes met hers.  They were dark and deep, flecks of gold shining in the irises, and she licked her lips in anticipation.  Gold inclined his head.

“Hands behind your back,” he said quietly.

She obeyed, putting her shoulders back and pressing her wrists together, the motion pushing her chest forward.  He reached around with one hand, his fingers curling around her wrists to hold them tight.  His other hand traced a delicate pattern over her breasts and belly, making her shiver as a fingertip ran along the skin just beneath the waistband of her panties.  Belle let out a tiny gasp, her breath quickening.  At its second pass the fingertip pushed lower, up to the first knuckle, slipping beneath the lace and brushing across the top of her mound.

Belle shivered a little, and Gold leaned in to flick at her nipple with his tongue, making her suck in a breath as he sat back again.  He slid the finger across her belly again, pushing deeper inside her underwear, and she let out a moan as the tip of his finger dipped into her cleft, grazing her clit.  Gold growled, a low rumble deep in his chest, and let the finger push in a little further, sliding through slippery fluid.

“Already so wet,” he whispered.  “Do you want me to touch you? Shall I make you come?”

“Yes!” she breathed.

His hand slid inside the panties, his palm cool against her skin, and he stroked her, gently pushing a finger into her folds to slip inside her.  As he drew it out he added another, sliding inside, stretching her, and Belle rose up on her toes with a moan as his thumb rubbed over her.

“I think you need another,” he said softly.

He added a third finger, pushing deep, his thumb circling her swollen clit as she moaned and pushed against his hand.  It felt incredible, and he leaned in to suck a nipple in between his lips, pulling at her hard flesh, his tongue scraping against her.  He was still gripping her wrists, holding her in place, and she could feel sensations building within her as his fingers pushed and thrust.  He opened his mouth, his breath hot against her breast.

“You feel so delicious, Belle,” he whispered.  “I know you want to come for me.  I wanna feel it flowing over my fingers, so hot and wet and sweet.  I wanna get you on that bed and fuck you.  Spend all night feeling you come around me, hearing you scream.”

She moaned, pushing against his fingers, feeling them slide in and out of her, and he put his mouth to her breast again, his tongue swirling and stroking.  His lips were pulling at her nipple, his thumb rubbing at her, and she let out a whimper that became a cry of pleasure as she came.  She jerked against his hand, moaning as he continued to rub and thrust, until the sensations became too much and she gasped out a request for him to stop.  He gently drew out his fingers, sitting back and locking eyes with her as he slipped them in between his lips.  A low sound of pleasure rumbled out of him, and when he slowly drew out the glistening fingers his eyes were dark with desire.

“I need more,” he whispered.  “Get on the bed.”

Legs wobbling a little under her, she picked her way across the floor to the bed, crawling onto it and turning onto her back to watch him.  He had taken off his shoes and socks and pushed to his feet, and he slowly tugged at the knot of his tie, getting it open and drawing the length of red silk from around his neck to drape it over the back of the chair.  The cufflinks went next, popped out of the holes and slipped into his pants pocket. Belle turned to the side as she heard the clink of his belt buckle, rummaging in the drawer of the little nightstand for the stash of condoms and pulling out a couple.

He was still wearing the shirt when he came to her, unbuttoned at the neck, and she reached for him, hands sliding up the soft dark blue silk to sink into his hair as she opened her mouth to him.  She could taste the faint flavour of her pleasure on his tongue, and she moaned into his mouth a little, her body rising up to meet him as he lowered himself onto the bed.  His hands slid over her, caressing her curves as he lay down beside her, his thumbs sliding beneath the waistband of her underwear and pulling it down over her hips.  Belle lifted up off the bed to make it easier, feeling the lace scrape down over her thighs.  He broke the kiss, pushing up on one hand to draw the panties off at her feet and toss them aside, and when he turned back to her his breathing was unsteady, his hair rumpled by the passage of her fingers.  His fingers tightened on her hip, gently tugging at her as he lay back.

“Up,” he whispered.  “I want to taste you.”

He had asked her to do this before, and she certainly had no objection.  She straddled him, reaching up to grasp the headboard and pulling herself up over his chest and shoulders until her knees were either side of his head.  His hands gripped her rear, pulling her close as his tongue swept over her, a low groan coming from him.  She closed her eyes, hands gripping the wooden headboard, losing herself in the rhythmic sweeps of his soft tongue against her tender flesh.  The first growth of new stubble on his cheeks was rasping against her skin, a delightful contrast, and his breath was hot against her as he licked.

A flush warmed her cheeks as a wave of bliss began to rise up through her, and she moaned, rocking on her knees, rubbing against his mouth.  He increased the pace a little, tongue swirling and sliding against her, fingers tightening on her rear.  Her breath quickened, her lips parted, and she let out a moaning cry as she came, his tongue swiping through her folds as he groaned in pleasure.  It felt as though her skin was humming, goosebumps rippling over her, and she continued to rock against his mouth, her movements slowing as the bliss faded.

Her arms were shaking as she pushed herself up a little, and Gold pressed kisses to her inner thighs, his hands sliding up to her waist to lift her off him.  She scooted down the bed a little way, rolling onto her back, and he moved to lie between her legs, braced on the palms of his hands. He was still wearing his shirt, and she reached up to unfasten it.  His face and the ends of his hair were sticky with her juices, and he was gazing down at her intently, his eyes black in the dim light.  She got the shirt open and pushed it from his shoulders, and he knelt up so that he could take it off and throw it aside.

Belle reached for one of the condoms, and he took it from her, his hands trembling a little as he opened it up.  She let her head roll back against the pillows, feeling the mattress dip a little as he changed position, his hands sliding up her thighs.  He lifted one leg, sliding her foot up to his shoulder so that her toes brushed his hair, the hand moving back down to her hip and then sliding around between her legs.  She sucked in a breath as he touched her, one finger slipping inside her, then another, and he let out a low growl.

“You feel so beautiful,” he whispered.  “I love to feel you all around me, Belle.  Feel every bit of you.”

He pushed the fingers deep, and she moaned again, already sensitive from his touch.

“Please!” she breathed.

He drew out the fingers, taking himself in hand, letting the head of his cock push slowly inside her, opening her up.  Her eyes met his, and he licked his lips.

“Squeeze,” he said softly.

She clenched her muscles, clamping down on him, and he let out a low groan, pushing deep inside her with a long, slow thrust.  Their position allowed him to get all the way inside her, the head of his cock rubbing against the neck of her womb and making her gasp.  He slowly pulled out, sliding almost all the way before shaking his hair back and meeting her eyes again.

“Squeeze,” he whispered.

She clamped down on him again, moaning as he slowly pushed inside her, and he let out a guttural growl, his arms shaking as he slid deep and pulled out.

“Harder!” he rasped, and she squeezed, making his eyes roll.

“Fuck!” he gasped.  “Oh, fuck, Belle!”

He was moving so slowly, so deliberately, that it was almost infuriating.  A part of her wanted him to increase the pace, to fuck her hard and fast, but she loved feeling every inch of his cock inside her and his balls brushing against her as he pushed deep.  Her pulse was throbbing, sweat beading on her upper lip and between her breasts as heat built between them, and his slow thrusts and the rub of his groin against hers were making stars dance in her vision.  She knew he would make her come, that they would both come hard from this, and the anticipation was delicious. She squeezed him again, and he growled as he pushed into her, turning his head to draw his tongue along the delicate skin of her foot.  Belle moaned, arching her back, and he circled his hips a little, rubbing against her as he sank deep, his hands gripping her hips and pulling her tight against him.

One of his hands slid up her body, cupping a breast, thumb and forefinger squeezing her nipple as he sank into her.  Belle moaned, her toes grasping at his hair, and he ground against her in a slow circle before carefully drawing out again.  The sensation was incredible, and she slid her hands over his chest, gently twisting his own nipples as he pushed back into her.  He let his head roll back with a groan, the tendons in his neck standing out with the strain of holding off his orgasm, and she squeezed his cock again, making him gasp out an expletive and grit his teeth.  His head jerked upwards, and he gazed at her, eyes wide, shaking his head a little.

“Oh, fuck, I have to come!” he whispered.  “Can’t hold it!”

She clenched her muscles three times in rapid succession, and he thrust into her hard, pumping against her, a loud, bass groan coming from deep inside his chest.  She felt him pulse, the sensation almost too much, and she cried out with him, pushing up into him as she came, as white light burst in her head. Shivers ran through her body, her skin tingling with pleasure, and it felt so good that she wanted to laugh out loud.  Instead she kissed him, slipping her leg down from his shoulder to wrap around his waist, pressing kisses to his neck and tasting his sweat on her lips as his movements slowed and stopped.

Gold appeared to be trying to catch his breath, his eyes heavy and sleepy as they met hers.  She reached up to touch his cheek, her thumb stroking over the softness of his lower lip, feeling his warm breath on her skin.  His eyes were cavern-deep and dark, and she felt a surge of love for him, as though her heart had expanded to fill her body. A smile made the corners of her mouth curve upwards, the sheer joy of being with him enough to make her want to shout her feelings to the world.

“I love you,” she whispered.

He froze, his eyes widening, breath caught in his throat.  She waited for him to return the endearment, to say something, anything, but his face had gone strangely blank, and she felt her heart thump in her chest.  It was as though something had shifted between them. As though nothing would ever be the same.

Much later, Gold sat in the deepest shadows of the room, darkness flowing over him as he watched her sleep.  He had let her drift off in his arms, and had lain there for awhile, a feeling of contentment seeping through him as she slept.  It had not lasted.  Her words had burrowed into his brain, scurrying around in his mind to poke at his anxiety and steal his rest.  It had made him get up, gently moving her arm so that he could slip from the bed and pull on the robe he kept at the cabin, and then he had sunk into the chair at the end of the bed, a glass of whisky by his side.

He had never been a heavy sleeper, insomnia a constant companion.  The quiet of the night was the perfect time to think over one’s regrets, and there was a long list of those he could run through to pass the time.  It seemed that no matter what he did in life, punishment would come from some angle.  He suspected he deserved it.

He took a sip of whisky, glancing to the bed, and to Belle.  A sliver of moonlight pushed through the gap in the curtains, a silvery stripe across the pale skin of her shoulder.  Dark curls gleamed on the pillow, her full lips a little parted.  She was so lovely it made his heart clench.  Sweet, kind, wonderfully intelligent, with a brave and beautiful heart.  She was everything he had ever wanted.  She was perfect.  And he couldn’t keep her.

Her declaration of love had shaken him, but he had heard such words before, and they had meant nothing.  Not that he thought she was like Milah, cold and calculating, telling him what she thought he wanted to hear, but he still doubted.  She might think that she loved him, but she would soon see the truth of it, and she would leave.  Because everyone left, in the end.  Everyone saw him for what he was, and left, and she would be no different.  He didn’t think he could bear to see the change in her when she realised. When she realised that he was nothing but a creature of bitterness and self-loathing, incapable of letting anyone past the walls he had thrown up around himself.

It wouldn’t be like it had been with Milah, like it had been with any of the women he had briefly tangled with.  He wasn’t expecting her to be vile and cruel, spitting his own insecurities at him as she left, or sneaking away without a word.  Belle would never do that.  If she wanted to leave, he suspected she would do exactly that, with a smile on her face and a gentle explanation, as though that would somehow ease the pain of it.  Or perhaps it would be something more terrible than her leaving.  Perhaps she would stay.  Accept her inevitable discontent and unhappiness, knowing full well that each day would be just a little bit worse.  She would stay with him, as she stayed with her father, out of some obligation, some duty she had placed upon herself.

He swallowed hard, reaching to the side for the glass of whisky.  He took a larger drink than he had intended, almost choking at the burn in his throat, and set down the glass, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as he looked at the woman in his bed.  The woman he had to give up.

She would argue, of course, if he tried to let her go now.  She would insist that she wanted him, that she loved him, but he knew the awful truth.  Her father had been right about him, as had his own father.  There was nothing in him worth staying for, nothing beyond the pleasure he could give her and the thrill of their illicit meetings.  Certainly nothing she could love.  She would get over it.  No doubt far more quickly than he would. She would move on, perhaps with the young man her father had mentioned.  Move to Boston, go back to college.  Become the person she was meant to be, a shining beacon to chase away some of the darkness in this terrible world.  His own shadows had formed over long years of isolation and regret, a heavy aura of melancholy that had grown dense and oppressive and filled his heart with darkness.  It was too thick for her light to penetrate, and the thought of snuffing that out, of quenching that inner flame, was terrible.  He couldn’t bear the thought of being the one to trap her in the shadows.

She was beautiful.  She was perfect. And he had to let her go.

Chapter Text

Belle had a better night’s sleep than she had enjoyed since returning to Storybrooke, which meant that she got approximately six hours of rest before waking with a start at seven a.m.  She could hear noises from the kitchen, and she presumed that Gold would already be up and about. He had never stayed in bed much past six o’clock. Not unless she had given him a reason to, anyway.  She ran her hands over her belly, remembering the mornings they had spent together, happy and warm and covering one another with kisses. In another lifetime.

She got up, throwing on her bathrobe and heading down to the kitchen, where she could hear Gold talking to Gideon in a gentle tone.

“Well, I suppose you could throw it on the floor,” he was saying patiently.  “But that would mean I couldn’t let you put it back in your mouth, so perhaps it wouldn’t be the best idea.”

Gideon burbled, wriggling in his seat and beaming as Belle entered.  His face was sticky, what looked like squashed banana covered his fingers, and he let out a gurgling laugh as he looked up at her, kicking his legs.  She bent to kiss the top of his head, glancing at Gold.

“Morning,” he said.  “Did you - uh - sleep alright?”

“Okay, actually,” she said.  “You?”

He pursed his lips.

“No worse than usual.”

Gideon grasped at her hand, spreading banana on her fingers, and she bent to kiss him again before straightening up.

“Thanks for giving him breakfast,” she said.

“Not sure how much of it actually went inside him,” said Gold dryly, sitting back.  “Still, at this age I suppose he’s exploring. He’ll get the hang of eating without spreading it all over himself at some point.”

“At least he managed not to get it all over you,” she said, and he sent her the faintest of smiles.

“Would you like something to eat?” he asked.  “I thought I might do some eggs.”

“That - that would be good.”

He got to his feet, and she sat down in the chair he had left, wiping her hands on a stray dish towel and ruffling Gideon’s hair as he gave her a sticky grin.  He had finished with the banana, so she gave him a finger of buttered toast, and he grasped it with chubby fingers, putting the end in his mouth and chewing. She flicked her eyes across to Gold, who had put bread into the toaster and was now whisking eggs in a bowl.

“There’s tea in the pot,” he said.  “I got a cup out for you.”

“Thank you.”

She busied herself with pouring some tea, this new, uneasy peace feeling fragile and awkward, and watched in silence as he scrambled the eggs and then scooped them onto hot buttered toast.  He set the plate in front of her, and she ground a little black pepper over them before picking up a fork. The eggs were soft, rich with butter, and she made an appreciative noise at the first mouthful.  Gold slid into a chair, his mouth twitching a little, as though her appetite amused him. He gave another little finger of toast to Gideon, smiling at him, and reached for his cup.

“Will you open the shop today?” he asked, and Belle nodded, chewing and swallowing and taking a mouthful of tea.

“I’ll head over there in an hour or so,” she said, and glanced at him.  “Did you - did you mean it when you said you’d look after Gideon? I think it would be a big help on the first day.”

“I’d be happy to.”

She nodded, taking a bite of toast.

“If you tell me what time you plan on closing up, I can arrange dinner,” he added.

“Oh, I’ll close around four-thirty,” she said.  “I don’t want to throw Gideon’s routine out, so I’ll be home before he has dinner.”

“Right,” he said.  “Well, I’ll cook something he’ll like.”

She nodded, turning her attention to her toast and eggs, and he watched her, taking a sip of his tea.

“I’ll send the samples off for the paternity test,” he said.  “We should get a result within a few days.”

Belle nodded, biting down into her toast, and he looked a little awkward, fingers opening and closing on the cup.

“I - I meant what I said,” he added, his voice quiet.  “I do believe you, Belle. I just - I need this. We need this.  My lawyer—”

“I get it,” she interrupted.  “I get it, okay? It’s fine, really.”

He nodded, glancing away, and she scraped up the last of the eggs, biting down into the thick buttered toast.  She watched him as she did so, pristine in his suit and the midnight blue silk shirt, his new short hair gleaming silver in the light.  His slightly pointed ears were revealed, his cheekbones a little more pronounced. He really was beautiful. For an irritating little shit, anyway.  He glanced across at her, dark eyes the colour of strong whisky in the morning light, his lips moist from the tea he had drunk. It made her abdomen tighten, and she busied herself with pouring another cup of tea.

“Okay, so he has everything he needs,” she said.  “The stroller bag has spare diapers and there should be a fresh set of clothes in there, just in case of food-related accidents, but you might want to check.”

“I will.”

“Also he likes stories,” she added.  “He enjoys playing, don’t get me wrong, but I always read to him any chance I get.”

The ghost of a smile lifted the corners of his mouth.

“Of course you do.”

Belle popped the last toast crust into her mouth, dusting crumbs from her hands and drinking her tea.

“Well, I’d better get dressed,” she said.  “Don’t want to be late for the flower delivery.”

“Go ahead, I’ll clean Gideon up.”

She nodded, pushing up from the table and kissing Gideon again before going upstairs.

It felt strange to be walking around without Gideon in the stroller, but she told herself she’d get used to it.  The air was fresh and clean, the sun not yet high enough to make it anything more than pleasantly mild, and she walked quickly to the flower shop, letting herself in and preparing for a day of trading.  She moved the racks of plants out onto the sidewalk, inspecting each one for withered leaves or dropped blooms and taking out any that looked past their best.

The flowers arrived at just after eight-thirty, and she began the task of making up some bunches with assorted blooms, ready for sale.  She set them in plastic buckets on the racks outside the shop, and had her first customer at just after ten. She didn’t know Miss Ginger, but from the beady-eyed stare the woman gave her, she suspected that news of her relationship with Gold had spread throughout the town.  It made her want to sigh, but the calculating part of her brain told her that if curiosity brought in more customers, it was worth it.

Her friends were another matter; she had ignored several calls and had not responded to numerous texts from Mary Margaret.  It was therefore no surprise when she came into the shop as the clock passed twelve-thirty. She looked awkward, flicking back her dark hair, fingers nervously twisting the green-stoned ring she wore on her right hand as she approached the counter.

“Hey,” she said.  “I - I thought we could have lunch at Granny’s.  If you wanted.”

Belle hesitated, but there was no way she could avoid the conversation forever, so she shrugged a little wearily.


They walked to the diner in silence, and Belle wanted to roll her eyes at the stares she got from the people they passed.

“Just ignore them,” said Mary Margaret firmly, pushing open the door to the diner.

This was easier said than done.  All heads turned towards her as they entered, a brief silence falling, and Belle raised her chin, blushing a little.

“You’d think I’d committed some sort of crime,” she muttered, and Mary Margaret shot her a sympathetic look over her shoulder.

“Ignore them,” she repeated, and slipped into a seat at an empty table.

Belle sat down opposite, fingers sliding over the tabletop.  It had been wiped down, and her fingertips came away wet, making her pull a face.  Granny bustled over, her eyes shrewd. Her gaze lingered on Belle for a moment longer than normal.

“What’ll it be?” she asked.

“I’ll take an iced tea,” said Belle.

“Coffee please, Granny,” said Mary Margaret.  “We’re gonna look at the menu.”

“The chicken parm’s on special,” said Granny, scrawling on her little pad.  She looked at Belle over the top of her gold-rimmed glasses, the chain at the side swinging.  “No baby today?”

“No,” said Belle, and squared her jaw.  “He’s with his father.”

Granny paused for a moment, holding her gaze, but then nodded.

“I’ll get those drinks.”

She bustled off, and Belle let out a breath.

“God, this is awkward,” she muttered.

“Small towns can mean small minds,” said Mary Margaret.  “I guess you knew that.”


There was a moment of silence, and Granny brought over their drinks.  Belle poked at the cubes of ice in her tea with the plastic straw, the ice clinking against the sides of the glass.

“So,” said Mary Margaret carefully.  “Mr Gold is Gideon’s father?”

“Yeah,” said Belle softly.

Mary Margaret looked a little upset, her brow crinkling, and she picked up her drink and leaned in.

“Did he - um—”  She broke off, chewing at her lip.  “Did he - force you?”

The last two words were spoken in a whisper, and Belle’s eyes widened, her heart thumping.

“What?” she breathed, and shook her head.  “Oh! Oh, God no!  It’s not like that!  He’s not like that!”

Mary Margaret appeared to let out a sigh of relief, and she grasped at Belle's hand, squeezing it.

"I'm sorry," she said.  "I had to ask.  It's what some people are gonna think, you know."

"Well, they can stop thinking it!" said Belle, upset.  "It wasn't like that.  I wasn't some bloody innocent damsel ravished by a beast!"

Mary Margaret gave her hand another squeeze, but she looked puzzled.

“Then - then I don’t understand,” she said gently.  “When were the two of you - I mean how did it—”

She broke off, looking uncomfortable, and Belle sighed.

“We were seeing each other for almost a year,” she said, and Mary Margaret almost choked on her coffee.

“A - a year!” she whispered.  “But - but you never breathed a word!”

“That’s because it wasn’t a proper thing,” said Belle awkwardly.  “Not - not officially, I mean.  Not like we went on dates at Granny’s or anything.  But we’d been sleeping together a few times a week.”

“But - but why didn’t you tell anyone?” asked Mary Margaret, looking almost hurt.

Belle sighed, turning her glass around between her fingers.

“Because I knew none of you would understand,” she said.  “Because I knew you’d get that look on your faces.”

“What look?”

“Want me to hold up a mirror?” asked Belle dryly.  “That look that’s kind of a mix of ‘eww’ and ‘oh my God’.  The look you’re wearing right now.”

Mary Margaret straightened her features out, inclining her head apologetically, and Belle hesitated, unwilling to admit the rest to herself.

“And - and also,” she went on.  “Also, I - I kind of liked it. The sneaking around, the thrill of the entire town not knowing.  It was - sort of exciting.”

“Well, the entire town knows now,” said Mary Margaret dryly.  “Sorry, I should have told Ashley to keep it to herself. I think she texted everyone she could.”

“Yeah, I figured,” said Belle gloomily.

“Does your Dad know?”

“He was the only one that found out before I left town,” said Belle.

“How’d he react?”

“How d’you think?”

Mary Margaret winced.

“Yeah,” said Belle quietly, picking up her drink.

She sucked tea through the straw, the drink sweet and refreshing on her tongue, sharp with tannin and the taste of sliced lemon.  There was silence for a moment, and Mary Margaret sipped at her coffee, watching Belle over the top of her cup before she put it down.

“You said you weren’t dating,” she said.  “But was it just sleeping together?”

Belle ducked her head, fingers tapping on the glass, feeling cool condensation wet the tips.

“Not for me,” she admitted.  “He was - he was interesting, and funny, and - and we talked about all kinds of things.  Good cook, too. I ate really well.  Either before or after the sex, depending on how we felt about it.”

“Well, now I have to ask…”

Belle giggled, blushing a little.

“Oh, the sex was awesome!” she confirmed.  “He’s - he’s kind of kinky.”

“Colour me stunned,” said Mary Margaret dryly.

Belle giggled again, and Mary Margaret grinned, her eyes sparkling.

“This is a side of Gold I never thought I’d be hearing about,” she said.

“Well, no one really knows him,” said Belle, with a shrug.  “Oh, and I totally include myself in that, by the way.”

The admission made her want to sigh, and she tugged at her lip with her teeth, tracing lines through the condensation on her glass with a fingertip.  Mary Margaret leaned forward a little.

“Did you love him?” she asked gently, and Belle smiled sadly.

“Yeah,” she said.  “I loved him. Honestly, I never stopped loving him.”

“Does he know?”

“The first part only,” she admitted.  “I’m ninety percent sure that’s what made him break up with me.”

“What - you told him you loved him, and he ended it?”  Mary Margaret rolled her eyes. “God, men are commitment-phobic jerks!”

“The timing was suspiciously close,” said Belle, in a wry tone.  “And he went out of his way to tell me exactly how little he thought of me, so there’s that.”

“You think he meant it?”

Belle hesitated.

“I’m not sure,” she said.  “If you’d asked me that a week ago, I’d have said yes, but now?”  She shrugged. “I don’t know. Part of me thinks he’s just scared of feeling anything, you know?”

“That is the worst excuse for being an emotional screw-up I’ve ever heard,” said Mary Margaret flatly.  “And believe me, I’ve heard a few.”

“I know.”  Belle ran her hands over her face with a sigh.  “God, everything’s a mess!”

Mary Margaret took another drink of her coffee, and sat back in her chair as she looked towards the door, her expression wary.

“Speak of the devil,” she murmured, and blinked.  “Oh my God, he cut his hair!”

Belle turned her head.  Gold was pushing the stroller into the diner, spotless in his suit with a grey tie and matching handkerchief folded in the breast pocket.  Tinted glasses kept the summer glare from his eyes, and Belle chewed her lip as a surge of desire went through her. The diners watched him curiously as he maneuvered the stroller in between chairs, and he came to a halt beside Belle.

“I thought we’d come out for lunch today,” he said, and nodded to Mary Margaret.  “Miss Blanchard.”

“Mr Gold,” she said awkwardly.

“I trust the leak in your apartment was fixed to your satisfaction?”

“Yes, thank you.  No problems since.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”  He glanced at Belle. “Have you eaten?”

“We were about to order,” said Belle, and Mary Margaret shook her head.

“I - I should leave you to it,” she said, and rummaged in her purse for some money.

“Your coffee’s on me, Miss Blanchard,” said Gold quietly, and she looked up, blushing.

“Oh - well, thank you,” she said hurriedly, and pushed up out of her chair.  “Belle, this was fun! Let's do it again sometime!”

“Yeah, I’ll call you.”

Belle watched her rush off, and Gold sat down in the seat she had vacated.  He nodded to her glass of iced tea.

“Want another?”

“Okay,” she said.  “I’ll have a burger for lunch, I think.”

Granny stomped over, eyes narrowing as she looked at Gold.

“Two burgers, two iced teas, Mrs Lucas,” he said.  “With extra pickles, if you please.”

He showed his teeth, and Granny gave him a very level look.

“You want something for the little one?” she asked gruffly.

“He can have some of ours,” said Belle hastily, and she nodded.

“I’ll bring a chair for him.”

She bustled off again, and Gideon started to grumble, so Gold unfastened the straps and picked him up, setting him on his knee and kissing the top of his head.  Gideon grabbed at his tie, tugging sharply, and Gold laughed, his eyes crinkling.

“Trying to choke me are you?” he said fondly.  “I suspect your mother can sympathise.”

“Pull harder, Gideon,” said Belle dryly, and Gold flashed her a grin before it fell from his face.

“I didn’t know you’d be in here,” he said quietly.  “I didn’t mean to disturb your lunch with Miss Blanchard.”

Belle sucked up the last of her iced tea, smiling up at Granny as she set two fresh glasses in front of them.  She glanced at Gold, stirring the tea with a clink of ice cubes.

“It’s okay,” she said.  “She was asking about us, that’s all.  You were right, it had to come out eventually.”

He was bouncing Gideon on his knee almost automatically, and hadn’t noticed that his tie was currently being chewed on.  She reached across and took it out of Gideon’s mouth, and Gold turned him around, lifting him up.

“Destroying another of my ties, are you?” he said, in a ton of mock severity.  “I have an image to uphold, young man.”

Gideon grabbed at his nose, and Gold laughed out loud and kissed his cheek.  The diner had gone very quiet, and Belle could see the townsfolk watching them with fascination.  The town’s most loathed resident, the ruthless landlord, the pawnbroker and dealmaker who did nothing that didn’t turn a profit, gazing at his baby son with love in his eyes and a wide grin on his face.  She looked down at her iced tea, chewing her lip, a sharp pain in her chest making her blink back tears. Watching Gold with their son hurt; it was a painful indication of how things might have been if they had taken a different path.  If he hadn’t broken her heart and pushed her away.

Chapter Text

One year and eleven months earlier

Belle lay in bed with her arms behind her head, the window open to let in some of the cool of the night with its scent of cut grass and honeysuckle.  She had been unable to sleep, and was chewing her lip as her brain rifled through every anxious thought it could dig out of her subconscious.

She had been feeling nervous for days, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why.  Perhaps it was that Gold had been even more taciturn than usual since their return from the cabin, a dark and brooding air to him that made her want to hug him and offer him comfort.  Not that he would have wanted her to. It occurred to her, with a moment of shock that made her breath catch, that they had never properly hugged. Not without a passionate kiss and the shedding of clothes, at least.  Not out of pure affection and the need for mutual comfort, for closeness. And now he seemed to be retreating further into himself, locking his soul up tight and barring the gates against her. He was never one for displays of emotion, but she thought she knew him well enough to recognise when something had upset him.  When she had asked him about it, however, he had simply shaken his head and told her it was nothing. Which only made her more anxious.

She had waited for him to ask her to dinner mid-week, as he usually did, but he had not come into the shop, nor contacted her.  He had even missed out on phoning in his usual order for flowers, and she had been considering going over to the shop to see whether it was open, or whether he was ill.  Something had made her hold back, a tingling, awkward nervousness that she couldn’t quite explain to herself. It wasn’t until Friday morning, when her father was sorting out the latest delivery, that she picked up the phone to hear Gold give his usual formal greeting.

“Good morning, Miss French,” he said.

She grinned, the mere sound of his voice making her happy.  How was it possible that she missed him after only a few days?

“Mr Gold,” she said playfully.  “What can I do for you this fine morning?”

“I didn’t place my flower order,” he said calmly.  “Is it alright to request it now?”

“Assuming we have what you want, yes,” she said.

There was a moment of silence, a faint buzz on the line, vibrating in the void between them.  Belle raised an eyebrow.

“Alex,” she prompted.  “Your order?”

She heard him swallow on the other end of the line.

“I’d like a bunch of yellow roses,” he said.  “Thirteen, if you please.”

“Unusual number,” she observed, jotting down the order.  “You know some people would think that’s unlucky.”

“Well, I’m not superstitious.”

Gold’s voice sounded strange.  He was as calm as ever, but oddly flat.  Emotionless. None of the sultry promise in his tone that usually made her belly clench and her heart thump.  Perhaps he was tired.

“I’ll bring it over at six-thirty, like always, okay?” she said.

“Very well.”

She waited for him to ask her to dinner, and when he didn’t she frowned in puzzlement.

“Do you - want me to stay?” she asked, and there was another moment of silence.

“No,” he said eventually.  “No, I don’t think so.”


More silence, a terrible, deafening emptiness that seemed to wrap around her chest and squeeze the air from her lungs.

“I have some important business to attend to in the morning,” he said then.  “I need to prepare for that.”

“Oh,” she said again.  “Oh, well, okay. Maybe we could—”

“Look, could you come over at six instead?” he interrupted.  “I don’t want to eat into your evening any more than necessary.”

“Oh.”  Dammit, Belle, think of something else to bloody say!  “Yeah, I guess that’s - no problem.”

“Until later, then.”

He rang off before she could answer, the click of the phone sounding very loud in her ear.  Belle put down the phone slowly, sucking her lower lip in between her teeth and chewing. The sound of Moe shuffling in from the back room made her look around, and he held up two large arrangements of trailing flowers and greenery.

“I’m gonna get these over to the church,” he said.  “Can you bring out the rest of the orders?”

“Sure thing.”

Belle set down the pad and paper, and Moe raised an eyebrow.

“We get another one?”

“Oh, it’s fine,” she said hastily.  “I can handle it.”


He gave her a narrow-eyed look at that, but said nothing, stomping out of the shop to where the delivery van was parked, and Belle busied herself collecting up the remaining orders to carry out to him.  Gold’s roses could wait until he had left.

She closed up at just before six, taking the flower racks back inside and locking the shop.  Moe had already left, having made his deliveries and emptied the cash register, and Belle turned the key with a sigh of relief and a tingling feeling of anticipation in her belly.  The bunch of yellow roses was nestled in the crook of her arm as she locked up, and she walked to Gold’s house, flowers swinging from one hand, her face lifted up to feel the warmth of the evening sun.  The year was inching its way towards August, and she knew she was supposed to be returning to Boston soon. Picking up her studies again was an exciting thought, but there were things to keep her in Storybrooke, too.  Things she wasn’t ready to leave behind.

Moe had, thankfully, gone quiet on the subject of her future.  Perhaps it was the fact that she had refused to telephone Gaston, and told him in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t interested in seeing him again.  Or perhaps it might have been the fact that she hadn’t again mentioned staying in Storybrooke for another year. In other circumstances she might have.  If Gold had encouraged her to stay, she would have.

Anxiety tugged at her mind as she rounded the corner into his street.  Gold had been less than enthusiastic about the idea of her staying another year, and completely unresponsive to her declaration of love.  She told herself that it didn’t matter. She had every confidence that he felt the same way she did, but he was far less demonstrative than she.  Perhaps that would change if she was around for a little longer. Perhaps he would finally let her in.

The pink house loomed ahead of her, the evening sunlight flowing over its walls like molten gold, its green-painted porch rising up from the long path and the odd, rounded tower at the side jabbing at the sky with its pointed roof.  Belle liked the tower; it housed the library on the first floor, and a bedroom above. Gold had four spare bedrooms, and she had often wondered why he had purchased such a large house for only one person. It would have been different if he had family to stay - nieces and nephews to run up and down the stairs, brothers and sisters to sit on the back porch with him and drink wine as the sun set.  He had told her he had no family, though, and the image of him alone in that large house, wandering from room to silent room, was a melancholy one.

She trotted up the path, mounting the steps and knocking on the stained glass door.  Gold appeared, looking stern and heavy-eyed, as though he had received some bad news, and had not slept well because of it.

“Hey,” she said gently.  “What’s wrong?”

He glanced away briefly, swallowing.

“Nothing,” he said, his stock answer to that particular question.  It made her want to sigh. “Come on in.”

He stepped back, holding open the door, and Belle stepped inside the cool space of his hallway, holding the bunch of roses beneath her chin and grinning at him over the top.

“I got your order,” she said, and raised an eyebrow.  “Where do you want them?”

There had been occasions when he had told her to take the flowers upstairs, where he would strip the clothing from her and trail the soft bloom of a red rose over her skin before following its path with his tongue.  From the expression on his face, she doubted that this was one of those evenings.

“In the kitchen, if you please,” he said, confirming her suspicions.

He dropped his eyes from hers as soon as the words left his mouth, as though he were somehow ashamed, and turned to the kitchen, his cane tapping on the floor as he walked with a heavy tread.  Belle felt a cold finger of anxiety poke at her, a freezing jab just above her belly, and she followed him through, watching him take a cut glass vase from the cupboard and fill it with water. He took the roses from her, unwrapping the purple tissue and plastic and laying them on the kitchen table.  Belle watched as he took a pair of scissors and snipped open the little package of flower food she had included, pouring it into the vase before picking up one of the roses.

“I - I was beginning to think you wouldn’t place an order,” she said, her voice sounding loud in the heavy silence.  “Thought that maybe you were ill. I almost came over to make sure you weren’t on your deathbed.”

He glanced across at her, snipping two inches of stem from the rose and sliding it into the vase.

“Well, I’m fine, as you see.”

“In that case, you missed out on some excellent chicken soup,” she said, keeping her tone light.  “Not made by me, I would have gone to Granny’s, but I assure you, I’m an excellent nurse!  I would have looked after you.”

“Oh, I have no doubt of it.”

His voice was barely more than a whisper, and somehow it scared her.  Long fingers walked through the dark green stems, pushing the roses apart before selecting one of them.  He snipped off some of the stem with a diagonal cut and slid the rose into the vase.

“Have you found a place to stay in Boston yet?” he asked.  “It must be fairly soon that you go back, correct?”

“I - I haven’t decided yet,” she said, after a pause.  “Like I said, I thought I might stay another year. Help my dad out, save some money.  Spend more time with you.”

Gold’s hands stilled on the vase, and he glanced across at her.

“Don’t,” he said, his tone flat.  “At least, not on my account.”

Disappointment made her sag a little, and she tugged at her lip with her teeth as he turned back to the roses, selecting one, cutting off an inch of stalk and slipping it into the vase.

“Why not?” she asked eventually, and he looked at her again, a yellow rose held between finger and thumb.

“Because your future doesn’t lie in Storybrooke,” he said.  “You’re supposed to finish your studies. Get your dream job as a librarian.  Not stay in this dead-end town.”

“I - I know that,” she said.  “And I do want that. I want to finish my studies.”


”But - but I don’t have to do it right away,” she added.  “One more year wouldn’t hurt. It’ll fly by. This past year has, don’t you think?”

Gold pushed another flower into the vase, and leaned on the table with a tiny sigh, hands poised on the tips of his fingers.  He turned to look at her, flicking his hair out of his eyes, and she felt her heart thump at the weary sadness in them.

“We can’t keep this up forever,” he said.

“We don’t have to say goodbye, either,” she said.  “Not if we don’t want to. I’m only going to Boston, it’s not as though I’ll be on another continent.”

He looked away, his jaw tightening, and she took a step forward.

“I don’t want to say goodbye,” she said gently, and he turned back to face her, his eyes flat and cold.

“Well, I do,” he said.  “I think it’s time.”

Belle blinked.


“It’s time,” he said, turning back to the roses and snipping another.  “We had some fun, but it’s important to recognise when something has to end.”

“But - but it doesn’t have to end,” she protested.  “What’s to stop us from seeing each other?  I could come back every weekend, or - or you could come to Boston…”

“If I wanted to, yes,” he said indifferently.  “But I don’t.”

It felt as though iced water was being poured over her head, trickling down over her shoulders and chest and making her breath catch and her heart thump.  He went on arranging the roses, snipping two inches of stem from the last of them and sliding it in beside its fellows, as though he hadn’t just reached into her chest and crushed her heart.  Belle shook her head.

“I don’t believe you,” she said numbly, and he shrugged, not looking at her.

“That doesn’t make it any less true.”

His fingers flickered over dark green leaves as he set the flowers just as he wanted them, and she wanted to snatch the vase off him, to pull his attention back to her, to look into his eyes and know he was lying to her.

“I thought—”  She squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself not to cry.  “I thought you cared about me.”

His jaw tightened, and he finally faced her, his dark eyes flat and somehow empty.

“Well, that’s your mistake,” he said grimly.  “I don’t care about anyone. Never have. Never will.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said stubbornly.  “You can’t - you can’t sleep with someone for almost a year and feel nothing, you just can’t!”

Gold’s mouth pulled up at one corner.

“You mean you can’t,” he said snidely.  “I’m a little too old for crushes, Miss French.  I’m more than capable of a quick fuck without letting my emotions cloud my judgement, thank you.”

Stop it!” she snapped, her cheeks heating with anger.  “Why are you being like this?”

“Because I’ve had what I wanted, of course,” he said easily.  “I don’t see that you have anything else to offer.”

It would have hurt less if he had stabbed her.  Belle’s mouth fell open, her eyes wide with shock.

“You don’t - you don’t mean that,” she said.  “You can’t!”

Gold rolled his eyes, letting out a low, growling noise of frustration.

“Look, it was a pleasant interlude, but let’s not pretend it was anything more than that,” he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand.  “I had thought I might enjoy teaching you a few of the many things I know, but frankly it was hell of a lot of effort for relatively little reward.”

His words pierced her, a sharp pain in her heart, and she wanted to clutch at it, to protect it from him.  She was shaking her head, as though that would make him take back his words, and he was staring at her with that terrible, empty expression.

“You seemed to enjoy it every bit as much as I did,” she said, her voice thick with bitterness, and he smirked at her.

“Ah,” he said.  “So you mistook sexual pleasure for genuine feelings?  A common mistake, I find.”

“I love you!” she said, her voice shaking, and he sighed, a faint hiss of irritation that made her want to slap his face.

“Well, that’s neither my fault nor my problem,” he said lightly.  “I have no doubt you’ll get over it. Now if there’s nothing else, Miss French, I have things to do.  Good luck in Boston.”

He turned away, his attention on the roses again, and for a moment all she could do was stand there and stare at him as she felt her world collapse around her.  Somehow she made herself move, made herself lift first one foot, then another, her legs feeling as though they were made of lead. She turned her back on him, moving towards the hallway with slow, shuffling steps, and groped blindly for the handle of the front door, tears welling in her eyes, stinging as they formed.  She stumbled out into the evening light, the tears beginning to fall as she walked away from his house, and out of his life.

Gold heard the front door close with a click, but even that made him flinch.  How could the sound of a heart breaking be so soft? His fingers ran over the velvet petals of the roses, briefly losing himself in a memory of the feel of her skin, of her scent, her taste.  He carefully moved one of the blooms, creating what he felt to be the perfect arrangement, then wrapped one hand around the vase, the glass cool against his palm, and hurled it at the wall.

Chapter Text

Gideon managed to sleep through the night without waking, and so Belle slept well, waking at just after six and feeling refreshed.  She heard Gold pass her bedroom door, heading for the stairs, and she lay there for a few minutes listening to the faint noises from the kitchen below: the running of water, the scrape of a chair.  She got up, drawing on her bathrobe and heading downstairs, where Gold was standing at the kitchen counter, wrapped in his own robe above dark blue silk pants, the kettle just starting to boil. He glanced over his shoulder at her.

“I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“I was already awake,” she said, brushing her hair out of her eyes, and he nodded.

“Well, I’m making coffee,” he said.  “Would you like some breakfast? Poached eggs, perhaps?”

“Sounds good.”

She watched him prepare the breakfast, setting bread in the toaster and adding vinegar to a pan of boiling water before cracking in the eggs.  He carried the coffee pot and cups to the table, setting down a little jug of cream and the bowl of sugar cubes that he never used, and then turned back to the eggs, turning off the heat before buttering the toast and scooping two perfectly poached eggs on top.  He set the plate in front of her before preparing his own and sitting down opposite. The robe had gaped open, revealing a generous amount of naked chest, and she tried not to think about how it felt to run her tongue over it. To feel it pressing down on her as he moved inside her.

Shaking her head to dispel the imagery, Belle ground a little salt and pepper onto her eggs, watching as he poured the coffee.  He rarely seemed to eat breakfast, so to have him sitting down with her to share a meal was pleasantly domestic. Gold drank his coffee black, but she stirred some cream and sugar into hers, inhaling the rich, nutty scent of it.

“How are things going at the shop?” he asked, setting down his cup, and she shrugged.

“It was quiet yesterday, but there again it’s been closed since Dad was taken to hospital,” she said.  “I’m sure word’ll get around that it’s open again.”

“I don’t doubt it.”  He took a sip of coffee.  “You may find things are quiet today, too, with it being Sunday.”

“Ordinarily I wouldn’t open,” she admitted.  “But needs must, right? The more it’s open for business, the more people will see we’re trading again.  I’ll close up around three though.”

He nodded, and there was silence as they ate.  Gold picked up a crust of toast between thumb and forefinger and popped it into his mouth, chewing and swallowing.

“Would you like me to take care of Gideon again?” he asked.

“Do you mind?” asked Belle anxiously.  “I was going to visit Dad at lunchtime, and it’ll be a case of running there and running back to make sure the shop isn’t closed for too long.  I won’t really have time to give Gideon his lunch, so it’d be a big help.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” said Gold.  “Although you need to think about your own lunch, as well.  Why don’t I make you a sandwich and bring it over?”

“I - okay.  Thank you.”

They continued to eat in silence, and Belle spread thick golden yolk over a piece of toast and popped it into her mouth, the egg rich and savoury on her tongue and the butter making her lips shine.

“These are good,” she said.  “I remember when you—”

She cut off, suddenly awkward, and Gold raised his eyes to hers.

“When I used to make them for you before,” he said quietly, and she nodded.

You brought them to me in bed once, on a tray with a tiny vase holding one of the flowers I brought.  I thought maybe you loved me then. I thought maybe you could.

He was watching her with an unreadable look in his eyes, his new short hair glinting in the morning light, and for a moment she wanted to shove the plates aside, crawl across the table and kiss him thoroughly.  Blushing a little, she dropped her gaze, turning her attention to her plate and cutting a piece of toast.

Gold finished his eggs in silence, then drained his coffee and refilled their cups.  Belle was still eating, the scrape of cutlery on her plate seeming overly loud in the quiet of the morning.  There was a heavy thump from upstairs, and he raised his eyes to the ceiling.

“I swear my house is haunted,” he said dryly.  “Of course it could be the fact that there’s a curious toddler up there.”

Belle took a slurp of coffee.

“I’ll get him,” she said at once, wiping her mouth, and Gold shook his head.

“Finish your breakfast, I’ll go.”

She sent him a smile, and he got up from the table, getting his cane underneath him and heading for the stairs.  It was pleasant to have other people in the house, especially given who they were. He wondered if Belle would want to move out soon; Dove would soon have cleaned her father’s place to his satisfaction, but he hoped to persuade her to stay a few more days at least.  Until her father was ready to go home. Until the results of the paternity test arrived.

He pushed open the door to Gideon’s room, grinning as his son greeted him with a mischievous look in his brown eyes.  A hardback book lay tented on the floor by the crib, and Gold suspected it had sat on top of the chest of drawers and Gideon had tried to grab it through the bars.

“Throwing Mummy’s books around?” he said, amused.  “You’re braver than me.”

Gideon gurgled, holding onto the bars of his crib and bouncing up and down excitedly, and Gold bent to pick up the book, his eyes flicking over the lettering on the cover.  Her Handsome Hero , Belle’s favourite.  It made him smile. He slid his fingers beneath the tented pages, scooping it up, and something fell to the floor from behind its back cover, landing on the rug with a dry, whispery sound.  Frowning, he reached for it, picking up a dried rose bloom, dark petals as thin and fragile as old tissue paper. He looked it over curiously, but a squeal from Gideon made him jump, so he slid the pressed flower back inside the book before placing it on the chest of drawers beyond Gideon’s reach.  He pushed to his feet, turning to his son with a smile and receiving a wet and cheeky grin in return.

“Alright, Trouble,” he said dryly.  “Let’s get you up and dressed.”

Belle had never quite had the enthusiasm for plants and flowers that her father had, nor the knack for arranging them, but she couldn’t deny that stepping into the flower shop, its cool green scent in her nose, was calming.  She spent the morning preparing new bunches of mixed blooms for sale, negotiating with the supplier, and working out a discounted price for ready-made bouquets in order to drum up a little business. Custom started to increase, with several people stopping by on their way to the cemetery wanting bunches of chrysanthemums and carnations to brighten the final resting places of their loved ones, and she made sure to tell them that the shop would be open despite her father’s ill health.

As noon approached she closed up and hurried over to the hospital, wishing she could find her old bike stashed in the back of the shop where she had left it.  She suspected Moe had gotten rid of it, but she intended to check the garage once she was back at his place, just in case. It would make getting around easier.  On the days she didn’t have Gideon, at least.

Moe was awake, sitting up eating a lunch of what looked like grilled chicken and salad, and pulling a face at it.

“Should have asked you to pick me up some fries,” he grumbled, when she entered, and Belle put her hands on her hips.

“Well, I wouldn’t have,” she said.  “You know what the doctors said. If you start looking after yourself, it’s a different story.  Maybe once a week as a treat, or something.”

Moe grunted, eyeing her as he speared a piece of chicken.

“Where’s the kid?” he asked.

”With his father,” said Belle, and he scowled.

“Wouldn’t trust that man to look after a bloody potted cactus!”

“That’s because you don’t know him,” she countered, irritated.  “He’s wonderful with Gideon. He’s the reason I could open the shop and make us a little money!”

Moe’s eyes narrowed, and he lifted his fork, jabbing the air.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting back with him!” he snapped.  “I thought you had more bloody sense! Of course, not enough sense not to bloody sleep with him in the first place, but—”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” snapped Belle.  “But no matter what you or I think of him, he’s Gideon’s father.  He has a right to be involved in his life and I would prefer to have a civil relationship with him!”

“You should have gone back to Boston when you had the chance,” growled Moe, and Belle put her hands on her hips.

“He hasn’t kidnapped me!” she said, in an exasperated tone.  “We’re gonna sort out child support and visitation, and he’s already talking about funding Gideon’s education.  I’m sure we can come to a reasonable arrangement.”

“The day Gold’s reasonable about anything, I’ll go bloody vegan!” snapped Moe, and Belle tossed her hair.

“Then maybe I should go shopping for tofu and quinoa, because he’s given you a two-week extension on the rent!” she said tartly.

Moe grunted.

“Well, let me prostrate myself at his feet and proclaim him fucking God, then.”

“Stop this!” she said sharply.  “I was the one he hurt, not you, and I’m the one who needs a good relationship with him.  The two of you will hardly have to see one another once I leave Storybrooke. He says he’ll buy a place in Boston so he can have Gideon for half the week.”

“Right, so he can worm his way back into your life again?” said Moe, glowering.  “Over my dead body!”

Belle drew herself up, her body humming with anger.

“If you think I’m the same naive young girl who left for Boston, then you really don’t know me,” she said curtly.  “I can handle Alexander, and even if that weren’t true, It’s my life!  When are you gonna stop thinking you can control it?”

“When you stop being led by your bloody hormones!” he snapped, and Belle glared at him, feeling herself swell with indignation, her fists clenching.

“My primary concern is my son,” she said coldly.  “After him, I care about my father. Enough to put my own life on hold to come and take care of him.  If you don’t want my help, I can be on the next bus back to Boston.”

She whirled on her toes, hearing him grumble.

“Wait, wait!” he said impatiently, and she turned slowly.

He was waving a hand at her, the chicken salad scattered across the plate.

“I’m - I’m glad you’re here,” he muttered.  “I just - I don’t want things to be like they were before, that’s all.”

Belle took a step forward, letting out a breath, a heavy sigh of aching loss.

“Things could never be like they were,” she said quietly.  “And maybe that’s for the best.”

Chapter Text

One year and ten months earlier

Belle wasn’t sure how she had made it home after their break-up.  She remembered nothing about the journey from his house to hers, but she had found herself stumbling in through the door, the TV showing an obnoxiously loud sports report and Moe slumped in front of it with an open can of beer in his hand.  To his credit, he had noticed immediately that something was wrong, and one question had been enough to open the floodgates. Belle had cried for a long time, and he had held her tight.

“It was only gonna be a matter of time,” he had said, at one point.  “At least now you know not to waste any more effort on that arsehole.”

“I thought he cared!” she had sobbed.  “I thought he loved me, Dad, and he spoke to me like I was nothing!”

“He ever tell you he loved you?” Moe had asked, and Belle had been silent, sniffing, her heart clenching.  Moe had nodded grimly.

“I tried to tell you, love,” he had said gently.  “Men like Gold - they take what they want. And when they’re done they just throw it away.”

Belle had cried harder, and Moe had rubbed her back, making soothing noises.

“You’ve got too much love in your heart for the likes of him, darling,” he had said.  “Let him go. Cry all you like, but let him go, and move on with your life.”

It had been three weeks since that terrible day, and while she was still devastated and heartbroken, she had managed to keep the rest of the town from finding out about it.  Keeping busy had helped; she had thrown herself into her preparations to return to college, and had found that leaving things to the last minute hadn’t been the best idea. The choice of accommodation that was within budget was limited, but she told herself that she only had her own poor choices to blame, and that she would never again allow her feelings for a man to prevent her from progressing in life.  He had taught her that, at least.

She was due to leave town the very next day, setting off on the four-hour drive with her father, who would no doubt spend the trip grumbling about the loss of a day’s revenue at the shop and wanting to stop for snacks every hour.  Belle had spent the morning packing, carefully folding her things and filling one case with clothing and another with books before heading to the flower shop to help out with the afternoon’s trading. Moe seemed upbeat and cheerful, greeting her with a smile and talking about how many customers they had already had, and Belle wondered if it was the fact that business was thriving or the fact that she was leaving town that had put him in such a good mood.

She got her answer later that afternoon, when the throaty sound of a large car engine pierced the sleepy quiet of Storybrooke.  Belle thought little of it as she gathered up a number of bunches of flowers to set in the display stands outside the shop door.  She dropped the flowers into one of the buckets, barely noticing the shining red car parked there.

“Here she is!”

A deep, all-too-familiar voice made her jump, and Belle looked around just as a pair of large arms went around her and hugged her tight.  She froze in horror, her nose suddenly filled with the scent of musk and body spray.

“Did you miss me, Belle?”

Just when she thought she was about to pass out, his grip loosened, and she found herself staring up at the grinning face of Gaston LeGume, whom she had briefly dated during what she liked to call her What Were You Thinking? phase.  He was every bit as large and loud and looming as she remembered, and she took a step back.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, and he sent her a puzzled frown.

“I’m taking you back to Boston, of course!  Didn’t your father mention it?”

“Must have slipped his mind,” said Belle, in a very dry tone, and Gaston let out a booming laugh.

“Well, he did say he wanted it to be a surprise, and by the look on your face we succeeded!  What do you think of your carriage? Isn’t she a beauty?”

He gestured at the car, and Belle glanced at it.  She supposed it was red and shiny enough to be appealing to most men, but beyond that she noticed little other than the lack of a roof and the small trunk.

“Doesn’t look as though there’s much space for luggage,” she remarked.

Moe came bustling out at that point, and his face lit up at the sight of Gaston.

“Ah, you’re here!” he said heartily, and Gaston grasped his hand.

“The journey was a pleasure in this baby, sir,” he said, gesturing to the car again.

Belle rounded on her father before he could start exclaiming over the car.

“When did you decide you weren’t taking me to Boston?” she asked.  “I had no idea Gaston was even visiting, let alone driving me.”

Moe shifted uncomfortably, a hand rubbing over the back of his neck.

“Well, we thought it would be fun to surprise you,” he muttered.  “Besides, the van’s getting serviced tomorrow. I couldn’t take you anyway.”

“First I’ve heard of it,” she said, and he shrugged.

“What does it matter?  You’re getting a ride. In some style, I might add.”

Belle wanted to scream at him, but was reluctant to air her family grievances in front of Gaston, who had folded his massive arms and was looking her over in a way that made her want to snarl at him.  Four hours.  I have to sit in a car with this idiot for four bloody hours.  Bloody men thinking they know what’s best for me!

“Do you have a place to stay for the night?” asked Moe.  “You’re more than welcome to stay with us, right Belle?”

Belle’s mouth fell open in horror, but to her relief Gaston shook his head.

“I’m going to Portland, to see a friend,” he said.  “Just thought I’d stop by and show Belle what she missed.  My year abroad was fun, but I’m looking forward to starting work in September.  My father’s firm, you know. Of course I should technically be on a trainee wage, but I’m being given my own portfolio.  Lots of responsibility. Not to mention the money.”

“Well, that sounds like an excellent prospect for someone your age,” said Moe, his eyes brightening.  “Don’t you think so, Belle?”

“Yeah, and all it took was a successful parent and shameless nepotism,” she said dryly.

“Well, it means it’s gonna be easier for us to stay in touch,” he said, ignoring her barb.  “I’ll be around to take you out to dinner every week. No excuses, now.”

He winked at her, and she stared at him stonily, but Moe chuckled.

“Well, we’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he said jovially.  “Thanks again for doing this.”


Gaston swooped in to grasp Belle’s shoulders and kissed her hard on the mouth before she could react.  She was frozen in place as he pulled back, speechless with shock, her heart thumping in outrage, and Gaston shook Moe’s hand, getting back into his car and pulling away with a roar of the engine.  Belle wiped spittle from her lips with the back of her hand, glaring daggers at Moe before stomping into the shop.  She heard him follow her in, his feet shuffling awkwardly on the floor, and whirled on her toes to face him.

“What the hell, Dad?” she snapped.  “I told you we broke up!  Why would you think I wanted to see him again?”

“Oh, what harm can it do?” he demanded.  “The man’s a good catch! He’s young, handsome, rich—”

“—boring, conceited, self-centered…”  Belle threw up her hands. “You know the only reason I didn’t yell at you is because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, right?  I can’t believe this!  Stop trying to run my life!”

“Right, because when you decide things for yourself you make such great choices!”

Belle opened and closed her mouth, outraged.

“If this is about who I think it’s about...”

“Oh, just give the guy a chance!” snapped Moe.  “How do you know he hasn’t changed?”

Belle glared at him, then shook her head.

“I’ll go to Boston with him, because you’re forcing me into it, and for no other reason,” she said.  “You ever pull a stunt like that again and I might not come back!”

She stomped through to the back room, shaking with anger, leaving Moe staring after her.

Gold had tried his best to function as though the loss of Belle didn’t affect him, and by and large he thought he had succeeded.  He had spent the night of the break-up crying on his couch and drinking whisky until he threw up, and by the next morning he felt drained and sick.  He still opened the shop, but saw little business, and closed up early to make his weary way home and crawl inside the whisky bottle again. Two days of self-abuse was more than enough, however, and he stopped trying to numb the pain and guilt, instead doing what he did best with unwanted feelings, which was ignore them and hope they would go away.

He was doing relatively well on that front until three weeks later, when he happened to be walking back to his shop from an afternoon of collecting rent.  A red sports car was parked outside Game of Thorns, and its owner, a tall and well-built young man with dark hair and a cleft in his chin, got out, slamming the door and heading for the sidewalk.  Just then Belle stepped out of the shop, dark curls bouncing around her shoulders, and Gold felt his heart clench. He watched her stack the bunches of brightly-coloured flowers in the display stand, but she didn’t look around, and so she didn’t appear to notice the owner of the sports car until he had stepped forward and pulled her into his arms.

Gold felt as though someone had stabbed him, and for a moment he couldn’t move, the world seeming to shrink around him, his vision blurring.  Belle had her back to him, and he couldn’t hear what the two of them were talking about, but just then Moe French barrelled out of the shop, smiling widely and grasping the young man’s hand firmly.  So.  The boyfriend.  Why the hell didn’t she mention him?  Why the hell was she with me?

He was finding it hard to breathe, or move, and could only watch as they talked and laughed.  The boyfriend gestured to the shining red penis extension parked outside the shop, and Gold felt his lip curl.  Plenty of money but no style.  Still, perhaps she can teach him something.

The young man kissed Belle then, a hungry press of his lips that seemed to take her by surprise, but she didn’t pull away.  Gold closed his eyes, the pain in his chest starting to burn, and he turned his head away, finally able to move his feet. It was a relief not to see any more, and he limped towards his shop, the pain in his leg seeming to shoot through his body.  Whisky.  I have whisky at the shop.  For the pain in my leg, nothing else.  I wanted her to move on and be happy, and she has.  Stupid to feel bad about it.

When he entered the shop, he felt like closing up and cowering in the back room with only the whisky and his own misery for company, but it was rent day, and many of his tenants brought either cash or pathetic excuses to the shop, so he reluctantly left the door unlocked.  It was perhaps five minutes before closing time when Moe French entered with a slam of the door and an air of pure loathing. Gold looked up from the counter where he had been polishing a brass-mounted telescope, his lip wanting to curl.

“Mr French,” he said.  “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I brought the rent,” said Moe gruffly, walking up and slapping a brown envelope on the counter.

“Without me having to come and track you down?” said Gold lightly.  “How novel.”

He moved the telescope to one side, then opened up the envelope and began counting out the bills.  Moe watched him, fingers flexing as though they wanted to curl into fists, but he said nothing, merely stood there as Gold opened up his ledger, marked the rent as paid and put the money in his safe.  The antique clock on the wall ticked, its low tone loud in the heavy silence, and Gold picked up the ledger, holding it in the crook of his arm as he went to slide it onto the shelf containing the paperwork for his rental properties.

“Belle’s leaving town tomorrow,” said Moe from behind him.  “Headed back to Boston with her boyfriend.”

A tiny part of him, buried deep, seemed to let out a scream of agony, but he crushed it ruthlessly, choking it.

“Well, that’s none of my business, and I can’t think why you’re telling me,” he said coolly, and Moe grunted.

“You broke her heart, you know,” he said, almost accusingly, and Gold stilled, pushing the ledger onto the shelf and turning slowly on the balls of his feet to face him.

“You did say I was resourceful,” he said coldly.  “Believe me, I’ve been pushing people away all my life.  Have it down to something of an art by now.”

Moe nodded grimly.

“So you did the decent thing at last,” he said.  “Good to know you can be brought to see reason. Eventually.”

Gold smiled thinly.

“You think I did this for you?” he asked.  “I assure you I didn’t.”

“I don’t give a crap whether you did it for me or you did it for Belle,” said Moe roughly.  “As long as it’s done, and you’re out of her life, I’m happy.”

Something inside Gold snapped, the dam he had built to hold in his pain cracking and straining.

“Oh, I didn’t do it for her either,” he said, shaking back his hair.  “I did it for me.”

“For you?”  Moe’s lip curled.  “Yeah, I might have known.  Selfish to the last.”

Gold felt rage and loss swell within him, a rising torrent wanting to sweep away everything in its path, and he stepped forwards with a twisted smile, wanting to hurt Moe, wanting to wound him.

“I did it for me, Mr French, because I like a challenge,” he hissed.  “And your daughter, as lovely as she is, was anything but.  Probably the easiest lay I ever had. Certainly the most insatiable.”

The colour drained from Moe’s face, his mouth going slack.  Gold’s smile grew, and he gestured over his shoulder, a swift jerk of his thumb.

“There’s a cot in that back room that’s seen more action than all the bedrooms at Granny’s inn combined,” he said, his voice a low rasp.  “She likes it rough, you know. I tied her to the bed and fucked her until she screamed.”

The colour was slowly returning to Moe’s face, his cheeks reddening with anger, and Gold took another step forward.  The blood was pounding in his head, a strange ringing in his ears, pain and fury threatening to burst through him.

“I taught her how to blow me there,” he went on, showing his teeth in a grin that was more of a snarl.  “Took her a little while to get the hang of it, but once she did - well, it was hard to get her off her knees.  Like I said. Insatiable.  I suppose that’s the joy of catching them young—”

Moe French’s fist slammed into the side of his face, making white light burst in his vision, making him stagger.  Relief flowed through him with the bright, searing pain of it, and he let the rage erupt, pushing himself straight and lashing out with his cane.  It caught Moe across the ribs, and he fell with a harsh cry and a thump that seemed to shake the entire shop. Gold whacked him again, and again, blood seeming to boil in his veins, fury almost blinding him.  Moe’s cries of pain made him pause, lips pulling up over his teeth in a snarl as he drew back.

“You think you can assault me in my own shop and face no consequences?” he spat.  “Who the fuck do you think you’re dealing with?”

“You’re a fucking psychopath!” gasped Moe.

“Best you get the hell out of my sight, then, wouldn’t you agree?”

Gold gripped his cane so tightly it hurt, and he watched as Moe got to his feet, wincing and grasping at his side.  He limped from the shop, the bell above the door jangling, and Gold let the breath out from his lungs with a whoosh of air, his body tingling with rage and adrenaline, his jaw already starting to swell from the punch he had taken.  His eyes were fixed on the door, his nostrils flaring, his chest heaving. She would come, just as soon as her father finished telling her what an evil bastard he was. She would come, and he needed to be ready.

Belle had only been in the house for fifteen minutes or so when she heard the front door slam.  She shut the door to the fridge, trotting through to the lounge.

“I don’t know what you want for dinner,” she called.  “There’s not much in the fridge. I thought you were gonna go shopping!”

Moe limped in from the hall, breathing heavily, his face like thunder, and her mouth fell open.

“What happened to you?”

“What do you bloody think?” growled Moe, barging past her into the lounge.  “That bloody piece of shit you were dumb enough to sleep with, of course!”

He staggered, and she was at his side immediately, getting an arm around him.  Moe let out a yelp, shrinking away from her, and Belle stepped back.

“Let me see,” she said firmly.

He grumbled something before lifting his shirt with shaking fingers.  Belle bit her lip. Deep red stripes marked his skin, already starting to bruise.

“He hit you?” she asked, upset.

“Whacked me with that bloody cane of his,” complained Moe.  “Feels like he cracked my fucking ribs!”

“Well, I don’t think anything’s broken,” mused Belle, running her fingers over the red lines and making him wince.  “I guess you’ll be pretty sore for a few days, though.”

“Oh, ten out of ten for stating the fucking obvious!” he snapped.  “Get me a bloody drink! And some painkillers!”

Belle straightened up, frowning.

“You shouldn’t have them both together,” she said, and he glared at her.

“Just do it!  This is all your bloody fault anyway!”  He slumped into a chair. “I go around there to defend your bloody honour, and what do I have to show for it?”

“My honour didn’t need defending!” she said tartly.  “You were only supposed to take him the rent!  Besides, wasn’t this what you wanted? We broke up.”

“Yeah, and good fucking riddance!” he snapped.  “Do I have to get that bloody drink myself?”

Rolling her eyes, she stomped through to the kitchen, reaching for the whisky bottle and pouring him a glass.  She got out the painkillers too, taking two of them through to her father along with his whisky. Moe had turned on the TV, and glowered at her as she handed him his drink and dropped the tablets into his palm.

“Bring the bottle,” he said curtly.


“Bring me the damn bottle!”

Belle let out a heavy sigh, but went through to the kitchen to snatch up the whisky bottle.  He had drunk half the glass by the time she got back, and he took the bottle from her with a curl of his lip, the whisky sloshing.  She supposed that at least there wasn’t much left. Moe seemed to notice it too.

“Go get me another,” he said, and she put her hands on her hips.

“There’s enough there!”

“Get me another!”

Muttering under her breath, Belle snatched up her purse and stomped out, walking quickly up the street, her hair bouncing around her shoulders, the full skirt of her white sundress wafting around her legs.  The evening sun was low, sending her shadow before her, a long-limbed spectre. Anger was boiling within her, and when she reached the main street, rather than turn right towards the liquor store, she turned left.

She paused outside Gold’s shop, its sign still lit despite the one on the door being flipped to Closed.  She could see him through the glass panes of the door, standing stock still and glaring.  Waiting for her. Squaring her jaw, she pushed open the door, the bell above tinkling merrily as she slammed it shut behind her.  Gold’s hair was hanging in his face, his nostrils flaring, his body taut with rage that seemed to be barely suppressed. There was a swelling on his jaw, and his knuckles were white on the handle of his cane.  Her belly gave a traitorous lurch at the gleam in his eyes. Why did he have to look so good?  She shoved away the memories of his touch, of his kisses, and concentrated on the burn of her own anger.

“Belle,” he said coldly, and the tone of his voice made her clench her fists.

“You beat up my father?” she snapped.  “What the bloody hell is wrong with you?”

“Oh, right, because I was completely unprovoked!” he said sarcastically.  “He punched me in the fucking face!”

“What, he just up and punched you for no reason whatsoever?” she asked disbelievingly, and he showed his teeth.

“Must have been something I said.”

“Well, why does that not surprise me?” she snapped.  “Come to think of it, I’m shocked there isn’t a bloody queue of people outside the shop everyday waiting to bloody well punch you!  I’d be first in line, let me tell you!”

His lip curled, his eyes flashing.

“The shop is closed, Miss French.”

He turned away from her, heading for the back room, and Belle bristled, clenching her fists and stomping after him.  She shoved aside the curtain, her chest heaving with anger, and he turned to face her, in his suit and his black silk shirt, perfect and cold and closed off.  He was trying to rein in his emotions, as though he regretted her seeing him angry. As though even now he wanted to shut her out, to share nothing of himself with her.  It made fury swell within her, the red, roaring heat of a distant inferno. She wanted him to shout, to rage, to prove to her that he was a creature of passion and longing and lust.  She wanted to rip open his shirt, to kiss him hard, to have him take her there on the bench, to see him ragged and breathless and spent. As she had seen him so many times in this room.  As she would never see him again.

“I wasn’t finished!” she snapped, and his jaw tightened a little.

“I thought you and I had said everything we needed to say to one another,” he said coldly.

“What, like you telling me I’m - I’m too much effort for too little reward?” she demanded.  “Why would you say that?  Where did that even come from?  We both enjoyed our time together, and you can’t tell me otherwise!  You - you can’t fake what we had!”

“Oh, and with your vast experience you know that, do you?” he said, his eyes flashing, and Belle folded her arms.

“I may not have your experience,” she said, “but I can read people just like anyone else. And I know there’s something you’re not telling me.”

Gold let his head roll back with a low, humourless laugh.

“Oh, I would say that’s the understatement of the century,” he said, sounding amused.  “The real question is why you think you have the right to know.”

“I still love you, you moron!” she shouted.

For a moment his eyes widened and his lower lip trembled, as though he was about to cry, but then he seemed to pull back from her again, his soul curling in on itself and burrowing deep down in his body to hide from her sight.  His jaw clenched.

“Why are you here?” he rasped, his eyes flashing, and she stormed up to him, lifting her chin, her face mere inches from his.

“Because I’m furious with you!” she shouted.  “Because I’m leaving town tomorrow and I have no idea if I’ll ever come back and you don’t even care!  Because you spoke to me like I was nothing and I still want you to kiss me and hold me and fuck me senseless and I can’t stand it!”

His mouth fell open, his eyes widening, and he shook his head a little.  She could feel the heavy pressure in the air between them, the ominous weight of an approaching storm, crackling and sparking, drawing them together.  She licked her lips, her breathing heavy, her skin tingling and humming with the tension, the need. His eyes followed the sweep of her tongue, his own chest heaving, and she wanted to touch him, to kiss him, to pull him down on her and feel him inside her one last time.

It seemed instinctive when he reached up to cup her cheek, his palm warm against her skin, and he leaned in to press his forehead against hers, inhaling deeply, his nose nudging hers, his breathing uneven.

"I'm not good for you, Belle," he growled, and her belly tightened as the low rumble of his voice went through her.

"No," she said, her voice shaking.  "No, you're not.  But I want you anyway."

His lips brushed hers, his touch electric, and she grabbed the lapels of his jacket, holding him close to kiss him hard.  Gold let his cane fall with a clatter, hands sinking into her hair, groaning as his tongue pushed in between her lips, and she pressed herself against him, feeling the heat and hardness of his body against hers.  He bent to grasp her behind the thighs and lift her onto the bench, his tongue stabbing at hers, a low growl rumbling from him as he slid his hands up her bare thighs beneath the dress, pushing them apart.

Belle opened her legs wider, and his hands slid up her body, thumbs pushing under the straps of her sundress and bra, wrenching them down over her shoulders and letting her breasts spring free from the lace cups.  She slipped her arms out of the straps, the dress falling around her waist, her nipples taut peaks. He crushed his mouth against hers, his hands reaching for her pale curves, cupping and squeezing, and Belle moaned into his mouth, letting her head roll back as he kissed along her jaw and down her neck, his tongue swirling over her pale skin, his teeth biting down into her.  Gold reached her breasts, sucking a nipple into his mouth, and she tried to grasp at him, to pull him closer, to wrap her legs around him.

He had pushed in between her thighs, the hardness of him rubbing up against her, and she was panting with need for him, need and fury and passion and loss.  She reached between them, tugging at his belt, getting it open, her fingers clumsy in her haste. He kissed his way back up to her neck, sucking at her skin where her pulse throbbed, sending shivers through her.  She got his fly open, pushing her hand inside to grasp his cock, and he gasped, his breath hot against her throat. One hand slid between her thighs, his fingers pushing beneath the hem of her panties, releasing slick fluids and sliding over tender flesh, and she moaned, desperate for him, wanting to feel him inside her.

He drew his tongue along her jawline, slipping it in between her lips as his fingers pushed into her slick entrance, and she revelled in the feel of him, the taste of him, the familiar flavour in her mouth and his fingers sinking deep.  She pushed his pants and underwear down over his hips, grabbing his rear and tugging him against her as he broke the kiss, saliva stretching from his lips in silvery threads as their mouths parted. Gold’s forehead was pressed to hers, his breath cool on her lips and the scent of him in her nose.  His eyes were almost black, boring into hers as though searching for something, as though he wanted something from her.

She gave a brief, curt nod, and he let his fingers slip from her with a rush of fluid and wrenched her underwear to one side, the blunt head of his cock pushing up against her.  A faint voice at the back of her mind screamed at her that they had no condom, but she blocked it out, pulling her mouth from his with a cry of pleasure as he pushed inside her, his cock thick and hard and hot.  Gold let out a long, low groan, one hand twisting in her hair and tugging at her scalp, the other sliding behind her knee and pulling it high to let him sink deeper.

She clung to his upper arms, fingers digging into the fine wool of his suit, feeling the muscles twitch beneath as he began to thrust rapidly, fucking her fast and hard.  He kissed down her throat, his tongue flickering out to taste her, running over her skin to swipe at her earlobe, the feel of his cool breath in her ear making her shiver.  She missed the sound of his voice, the way he had always whispered filthy things about how good she felt, and what he wanted to do to her. Now he was silent except for his heavy, ragged breathing, and she closed her eyes, drinking in his scent and the feel of him inside her and the way his body ground against hers.

Sensations were already rising up through her, and she bit back a moan as he rammed into her, knowing she would come quickly, half-eager and half-upset about it.  The sex was exquisite. It was raw and dark and passionate and devastating, and there was a part of her that didn’t want it to end. She slid her hands up to twist in his hair, tugging at it and making him gasp, and she pulled his head up to let his mouth meet hers, to open up and let his tongue probe her, hot and wet and rough.  Her skin was tingling, her muscles tensing, and white light burst inside her head as she came with a loud cry, wrenching her mouth from his, her body jerking against him. She felt him follow her, a hoarse, ragged groan coming from him as his cock pulsed, and her body clenched around him, pulling hot fluid from him, tugging him hard and drawing it deep.

Gold let his hands slip from her to lean on the bench, bracing himself on his palms as he tried to catch his breath.  Her fingers were still in his hair, and she untangled them, sliding her hands down to rest on his shoulders, her chest heaving, her cheeks burning.  He pulled out of her slowly, and she wanted to wrap her legs around him, to keep him inside her. Perspiration was cooling on her skin, on her forehead and upper lip and the hollow between her breasts, and she shivered with the loss of his heat.  He wouldn’t meet her eyes, his lower lip trembling a little, as though he was filled with regret. As though he was ashamed of her.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” he whispered, almost to himself, and she felt her anger flare to life again.

“Really?” she said sarcastically.  “Because it seemed to be okay with you a few minutes ago!”

“It was a mistake!” he snapped, finally meeting her eyes with a dark glare that made her shiver.  His hair was dishevelled, his tie askew, his skin damp with sweat.

“I don’t recall you saying that before you got your rocks off,” she pointed out.

He pushed back from the bench to tug up his pants and retrieve his cane, and Belle pulled up her dress and straightened her bra, scowling at him as she slipped from the bench to stand before him.

“Apparently I’m not so terrible at sex after all,” she said bitterly, and he curled his lip, zipping his pants.

“Well, if you’re offering it on a plate I’m hardly likely to turn it down, am I?” he sneered.  “Sometimes you may want a gourmet meal but two-dollar take-out is all that’s on offer.”

A swift, echoing slap to the face made him stagger and clutch at his cane, and Belle rubbed her stinging palm against her thigh, her chest heaving, unshed tears pricking at her eyes.  Gold worked his jaw, a gleam in his eyes as he rubbed a hand over it.

“My my, that’s twice in one day,” he remarked.  “Less - damaging - than your father’s fist, but you certainly put some passion into it.  I always did enjoy your fire, Belle.”

She raised her chin, fury lending her steel and making her skin hum.

“Well, I suppose if it’s the time to say how we truly feel about each other, then perhaps it’s my turn,” she said, her voice echoing strangely in her ears, and Gold sent her a cold smile.

“Let me guess,” he drawled.  “I’m a bastard, an arsehole, a piece of shit.  Tell me something I don’t know.”

Belle took a step closer, squaring her jaw, drawing herself up to her full height as she stared him down.

“No,” she said calmly.  “You’re a disappointment.  And I wish I’d never met you.”

He seemed to sag, as though the breath had been taken from him, that twisted smile draining from his face like water, and she stepped around him with slow, deliberate strides, holding her head high as she walked through to the shop.  The bell above the door tinkled as she shut him out of her life, and she stalked down the road to the liquor store, her lower lip trembling as she fought to hold in her tears.

It was over. It was done.

Chapter Text

Despite having only been back in Storybrooke a week, it felt far longer, and Belle wasn’t sure whether it was the tension between herself and the father of her child, or the constant feeling of being out of her depth trying to juggle the disparate pieces of her life.  She woke early on Monday morning after a night of anxious dreams, and upon checking Gideon’s bedroom, found it empty. She could hear sounds coming from the kitchen, a pleased gurgling from Gideon and Gold’s low, calm voice, and she suspected that they were having breakfast.  It made her thankful that they had moved into Gold’s house, however temporarily and despite the turbulent atmosphere that had been present. She couldn’t deny how much easier it was to organise life with a toddler when there was someone else to help out. The thoughts made her sad for what could have been, and guilty for what Gold had missed, and she turned the gold ring on her left hand with nervous fingers as she went downstairs.

As to how things would work out when she left - well, they still needed to talk about that.  She didn’t want to think about it at that point, already feeling that she couldn’t cope with trying to care for her son, run the shop and plan for her father’s release from hospital.  It occurred to her that she needed an update from Dr Whale on that front, and to ask Gold if the house would be ready for him to move into. And she and Gideon would have to move out too.  The prospect was surprisingly unwelcome. Gold looked up as she entered the kitchen, spooning a little porridge into Gideon’s mouth.

“Good morning,” he said, as she bent to kiss their son.  “There’s coffee. Would you like breakfast?”

“I’ll do it,” she said, and went to make herself some toast before he could object.

She poured herself a cup of coffee while she waited, cupping it in her hands and inhaling the scent.  Gold was coaxing Gideon to eat with gentle tones, offering him a slice of strawberry or mango after each mouthful of porridge, and it seemed to be going well.  Belle watched somewhat furtively as the two interacted, Gold’s attention all on their son, a smile on his face and a soft gleam in his eyes. The early morning sunlight glinted on the silvery strands of his hair, and Belle wanted to stroke it with her fingers.  The sound of toast popping up made her start, and she turned to her breakfast, spreading the toast with peanut butter and slicing a banana onto it before carrying it to the table with her coffee. Gold glanced at her, scraping up the last of the porridge.

“What arrangements do you want to make today?” he asked.  “I take it you’re opening the shop?”

“Yeah, I think it’s best to get as many hours in as I can before Dad comes out of hospital,” she said.  “I’m thinking I’ll have to open later and close earlier when I have him to take care of.”

“As long as your customers know about the reduced hours in advance, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” he said, and she shrugged.

“Guess we’ll see.  Any income’s better than none, right?”

He set the porridge bowl aside and placed the dish of fruit slices in front of Gideon, who immediately picked up a piece of mango and chewed on it, juice dripping down his chin.  Gold wiped it off.

“If you’d like me to care for Gideon today, I’d be more than happy,” he said, and Belle hesitated.

“I’ll take him with me this morning,” she said.  “Could you maybe pick him up at lunchtime? I - I miss seeing him.”

“Well, I can understand that.”  He pushed to his feet, going to the sink to wash his hands.  “How about I bring you lunch again, and I can pick him up then?”


His calm reasonableness was making her feel awkward and somehow suspicious.  She realised that she was waiting for everything to go wrong between them again, and told herself firmly to snap out of it.

“That - that would be really helpful,” she added.  “Thank you.”

Gold dried his hands, reaching for his cane and turning to face her.

“And your father?” he asked.  “When will he be out of hospital?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, running a hand through her hair.  “This week, I guess. I’ll see if Dr Whale can give me an idea.”

“It’s just that it would be useful to know how long you and Gideon are going to be in Storybrooke, that’s all.”

“I - I don’t know,” she admitted.  “It depends how long he needs me to stay.”

“Well, I’d like to get our situation sorted out before you go,” he said, and she dropped her piece of toast, running her hands over her face.

“Yeah, I know.”

“If I’m to get a place in Boston I’d like to set things in motion as soon as possible.”

“Alex, I know!” she said, more sharply than she intended.  “Can we talk about this later?”

“As you wish,” he said, after a pause.

There was silence for a moment.  Gold poured himself another cup of coffee, and Belle ate the rest of her toast, dusting crumbs from her hands when she had finished.

“Do you know if Dad’s place is ready to move into?” she asked, and Gold paused with the coffee on the way to his mouth.  He set down his cup, looking across at her.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I’ll speak to Dove today, ask him for an update.”

“Thank you.”

There was silence again, and she buried her nose in her cup.  Gold watched her over the rim of his own, dark eyes unblinking.

“You know, if you wanted to stay a little longer, you’d be more than welcome,” he said, a little hesitantly.  “I want to help, you know. Where I can.”

“I can take care of myself just fine,” she said stiffly.

“I wasn’t suggesting otherwise,” he said.  “It’s just - I know we haven’t been the easiest of roommates, but I’d like to think some of that is behind us.”

“If by that you mean we’re not openly yelling at each other, you’re right,” she said dryly.  “I wouldn’t say we’re exactly on good terms, though.”

“I think we ought to try to be,” he said calmly.

“I think it’s gonna take more than a couple of shared breakfasts, don’t you?”

Gold put down his cup, holding her gaze, dark eyes making her shiver.

“I’m trying, Belle.”

She set down her own cup, covering her face with her hands and looking at him through her fingers.

”I know,” she said quietly.  “I still think it’s best I move back into Dad’s, though.  It’ll be much easier to take care of him.”

Gold inclined his head.

“Will you at least stay until he leaves hospital?” he asked.  “I think it makes things easier as far as Gideon’s concerned.”

Well, she couldn’t deny that was true.

“Okay,” she said cautiously.  “I’ll stay until then.”

Considering the fact that he had lived alone for decades, the house seemed deathly quiet when Belle had left for the flower shop and taken Gideon with her.  Gold paced the kitchen, having washed their breakfast dishes and wiped down the counters. The silence was oppressive, and so he put on a load of laundry, the rhythmic sound of the machine providing a little background noise as he checked the fridge to see what food they had for that evening’s dinner, then pulled on his jacket and prepared to leave for the shop.

He decided to walk, and slid dark glasses on to shield his eyes from the sun’s glare as he made his way along the quiet street.  Belle was still hostile, and he couldn’t say he blamed her. He wanted things to be better, wanted to salvage whatever he could for the sake of their son, but he had only ever burnt bridges with those he had hurt, never built them.  This was uncharted territory, and he frowned as he tried to think how he might come to some sort of understanding with her.

He stepped onto the crosswalk, nodding to Dr Hopper as he passed with his Dalmatian by his side.  The psychiatrist was heading to his office, one of Gold’s many properties. He had never had any issues with rent arrears, though.  Which was more than could be said for most of the town’s residents.

Gold paused on the sidewalk, swivelling around to watch Dr Hopper open up the glass door to the building that housed his office.  An idea was forming in his mind, and although he had already half-convinced himself there was no merit to it, he tried to push his doubts away.  He needed a better relationship with the mother of his child, and achieving that would inevitably involve some personal discomfort on his part. At least he could be sure that Dr Hopper would keep his secrets, if he chose to reveal any.  He drummed his fingers on the handle of his cane in a slow rhythm, thinking it over. Perhaps getting some professional help might be the answer. Perhaps it was time.

Belle was looking flushed and harassed when he got to the flower shop that lunchtime, a green apron around her waist and dirt under her fingernails from where she had been dealing with the potted plants.  He shot her a brief smile, a paper bag containing their lunch swinging from one hand. He had gotten burgers from Granny’s, knowing they were Belle’s favourite, and a toasted cheese and ham sandwich for Gideon.  Belle swept tendrils of hair out of her eyes and almost pounced on the food, tearing open the bag of fries and stuffing a few into her mouth before picking up the burger. Gold left his own sitting there, smiling as Gideon toddled over to him, lifting his arms in the air.

“Up!” he said stoutly.

Gold dropped his cane and bent to swing him up in the air with a whooping sound and an excited squeal from Gideon.  It hurt his leg, but he didn’t much care, and he swung his son up again, laughing as Gideon smacked chubby palms against his cheeks and kicked his legs in the air.  Gold shifted position slightly, bringing him down to nestle against his shoulder, and kissed his forehead.

“Can Papa get a kiss?” he asked.

Gideon pressed wet lips to his cheek with a smacking sound.  Gold grinned, kissing him back, and transferred him to the crook of one arm as Belle watched them, an almost sad expression on her face as she chewed her burger.  He wondered what she was thinking.

“Busy morning?” he asked, and she nodded.

“Spent most of it chasing that one around,” she said.  “He’s in a mischievous mood today, for some reason. I’ll bring the playpen over next time.”

Gold nodded, bouncing Gideon in his arms, and Belle began eating again as he bent to retrieve his cane.  Gideon had found the handkerchief that was folded in his pocket, and pulled it out, waving it around until Gold took it off him.

“I’ll cook tonight,” he said.  “Will you be home at five?”

She nodded, stuffing the last of the burger into her mouth and shoving some fries in after it, licking salt from her fingers.

“I’m afraid I didn’t get drinks,” he said apologetically.  “I couldn’t carry iced tea as well.”

She shrugged, unwrapping Gideon’s toasted sandwich and holding out her arms to take him so that Gold could eat his own lunch.  He picked up his burger in its waxed paper wrapping and took a bite, watching as Belle sat down on the chair behind the shop counter, tore off a piece of sandwich and gave it to their son.  Gideon grasped it and began chewing, and Belle leaned back in the chair with a weary sigh, as though it were the first time she had sat down that day. He suspected it was. There was silence as he and Gideon ate, the tangy taste of tomato relish on his tongue as he chewed.

“You look tired,” he said, when he had swallowed the mouthful of burger.  “You shouldn’t run yourself into the ground, you’ll get sick.”

“There’s no one else to help out,” she said.

“Can’t you hire someone?”

“With what?” she asked wryly.  “This place barely scrapes even as it is.  Plus we owe the rent arrears.”

“Well.”  He peeled back a little more of the waxed paper.  “I’m sure we could come to some arrangement.”

Belle shot him a very wry look, and he wanted to bite his tongue.

“What, like last time?” she said sardonically.  “I don’t think so.”

“I - I didn’t mean it like that,” he said patiently.  “I just meant—”

“You’d be prepared to accept free flowers?” she said.  “Let me guess, I bring ‘em over on Fridays?”

Gold looked away as he sucked in his cheeks, irritated.  Appetite gone, he wrapped up the remains of the burger, stuffing it back into the paper bag.

“Very well,” he said coldly.  “If you’re having issues with the rent, you know where to find me.”

“Alexander…”  She sighed heavily.  “Look, I’m sorry. I am, really.”

“No matter.”

He balled up the paper bag, walking through to the back to throw it in the trash and wishing they could stop sniping at one another for five minutes.  A visit to Dr Hopper’s office was seeming less like a ridiculous idea and more like a necessity.

Half an hour later, Gold found himself pushing Gideon’s stroller in through the glass door to Dr Hopper’s office building.  He ignored the flight of stairs ahead of him, instead walking along the narrow corridor to where a small elevator was housed.  There was just enough room for the stroller and himself, and he backed in, pulling the stroller close and reaching over to press the button for the floor above.  The elevator moved slowly, but Gold soon heard the elevator bell ping softly, the doors sliding open, and he pushed the stroller out into the corridor, turning right before pausing outside the door of Archibald Hopper, M.D., Psychiatrist.  Gold hesitated, glancing down at Gideon, then rapped on the door with his knuckles. There was a rattle of the handle, and Dr Hopper opened it, curling red hair receding above a high forehead and a pleasant, open face with thin-rimmed glasses.

“Mr Gold,” he said, blinking in surprise.  “Are - are you here for the rent? I thought I paid it.”

“I’m not here for the rent,” said Gold quietly.

He hesitated, trying to find the words, trying to say what he needed, and Dr Hopper put his head to one side.

“Do you - maybe - want to talk?” he asked gently.

“I don’t know,” said Gold honestly.

Dr Hopper glanced down the hallway, and then back in his office.

“Well, I have a patient in fifteen minutes,” he said.  “But until then I’m more than happy to listen, if you have something you want to get off your chest.”

He took a step back, and Gold wavered a little before following him.  Dr Hopper shut the office door behind them, and Gold pushed the stroller into a corner by the leather couch, sitting down and pulling Gideon onto his lap.  Dr Hopper sat in an armchair next to the couch, elbows resting on his knees and his fingers laced together. Gold glanced across at him, relieved that there was no notebook in his hands and nothing but a bland look on his face.  There was no judgement there.

“This is my son, Gideon,” he said.  “His mother is Belle French. I have no doubt you heard the rumours.”

Dr Hopper smiled briefly, pushing his glasses up on his nose with a finger.

“Well, I try not to listen to what I hear in Granny’s diner,” he said.  “Rumours can be exaggerated, and truths distorted.”

“In my case the rumours are rarely as bad as the truth,” said Gold quietly.  “Anyway, we - we were together. For almost a year. It was - we kept it secret.  Her choice, but I didn’t object.”

“Go on,” said Dr Hopper neutrally.

“She left town for college,” said Gold.  “I didn’t know she was pregnant. And - and I had no idea I had a son until last week.  Belle didn’t tell me.”

“That must have been very difficult to learn.”

“Yes.”  Gold hesitated.  “It was my fault.”

Gideon wriggled, grumbling a little, and Gold let him down, holding onto his hands until he steadied himself.  Gideon toddled across the rug, heading with single-minded intensity for a corner of the room that contained a pile of cushions and a few children’s toys.

“What makes you say it was your fault?” asked Dr Hopper gently, and Gold pulled a face.

“I pushed her away,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper.  “No. No, I - I drove her away.  I wanted her out of town, so I made sure she wouldn’t want to come back.  I thought I’d never see her again.”

“May I ask why?”

Gold sucked in his cheeks, watching Gideon grasp at a plastic bird and promptly cast it aside.

“Because I wanted her to have everything she could want,” he said.  “Because she deserved the world, and I knew I couldn’t give it to her.”

“What makes you say that?”

Gold was silent, and Dr Hopper tilted his head.

“Were you two - happy together?”

“Happy…”  Gold felt his mouth flatten.  “Happy is a relative term, I suppose.  It’s hard for me to say. I wasn’t unhappy, I just - I don’t know.  Emotions are - well, they can be hard to interpret.”

“Alright,” said Dr Hopper, nodding slowly.  “How do you feel about Belle now?”

“I think we have ten minutes until your patient shows up,” said Gold dryly.  “Can we talk about something less complicated?”

Dr Hopper sat back a little.

“Why don’t you tell me what it is that you want?” he asked, and Gold sighed.

“I want a good relationship with her,” he said.  “Or - or at least one that isn’t openly hostile. I need that, for our son’s sake.  But I hurt her so much I don’t even know if that’s possible. And - and I’m afraid I’ll hurt her again.  That I’ll hurt Gideon. That’s the last thing I want.”

“Fear of history repeating itself is perfectly natural,” said Dr Hopper.  “The fact that you recognise that things between you need to change for the better is a positive step.”

“I don’t know,” said Gold wearily.  “I’m not sure she could ever forgive me.  I certainly don’t deserve it.”

“Forgiveness is not about whether a person deserves it,” said Dr Hopper.  “It’s about the one they wronged making the decision to let go of the past and move forward.  If you can deal with what went wrong between you in the past, it’s an excellent step towards building a stronger future.”

“I’m not sure what kind of future we could have,” admitted Gold.

“Relationships take work, on both sides,” said Dr Hopper.  “They take compromise, and honesty. You have to be honest.  About what you did in the past, about how you feel now, and about what you want in the future.”

Gold inhaled deeply, leaning back a little.

“Honesty’s never been the best colour on me.”

Dr Hopper shook his head.

“There’s no other way,” he insisted.  “You can’t build something to last if the foundations are hollow. You need to be honest with her. And with yourself. I’m more than happy to help, if you want to come see me. Either alone, or - well, or together, if she’s willing.”

Gideon grasped a colourful children’s book, letting out a delighted sound, and he toddled over to Gold with it, his eyes sparkling, slapping the book down on his father’s lap with a burbled nonsense word and a wet grin. Gold broke into a wide smile.

“More stories, is it?” he said fondly.  “You are so like your mother.”

He pulled Gideon back onto his lap, and Dr Hopper smiled at them, waiting.  Gold glanced across at him.

“Alright,” he said.  “I’ll think about what you said.”

Chapter Text

One year and eight months earlier

Belle’s hands shook as she crouched in the grey-walled toilet stall, the plastic stick in her hands wavering, twin blue lines confirming what she had suspected and feared.  Her last two periods had been suspiciously light, and that, coupled recently with intense weariness and an ever-present nausea, had filled her with a dreadful, heavy sense of inevitability.  The tests made it real, made it fact. She had bought four, as though that would somehow change the result, and three tests were discarded on the floor in front of her, showing the same twin blue lines.

All at once she felt like throwing up, and she leaned her head against the coolness of the wall to her left, her body shaking, until the nausea passed.  Tears pricked her eyes as she tried to make sense of what was happening to her. Twenty-two years old, in the midst of her studies, and pregnant by a man who had cast her aside as though she was garbage.  A man she still loved, despite everything.  Tears spilled over, and she began to cry: deep, choking sobs that made her chest heave and her throat ache.  Her body shook as she wept, her head bent, gazing through blurry tears at the plastic test sticks between her feet.


A voice outside the stall made her jump, and she saw a pair of thick-soled boots in the gap under the door.

“You okay in there?”

A woman’s voice, somewhat brusque, and Belle wiped her eyes.

“Fine,” she said, her voice wobbling.  The woman sniffed.

“Yeah, sounds like it,” she remarked.  “What’s up?  Stress get to you?  Happens a lot.  Just get through midterms, you’ll be okay. Booze helps, trust me.”

Belle let out a shaking laugh.

“Yeah, my problem’s a bit bigger than that,” she said, and clapped a hand to her mouth, holding back another sob.

There was a moment of silence outside the door, then she heard the rattle of the lock in the stall next to hers, and the sound of someone sitting down on the toilet lid.

“You wanna talk about it?” asked the woman.  “I got class in twenty, but Professor Rush is already riding my ass and honestly I wouldn’t mind blowing it off.  Maybe I can help.”

“I doubt it.”  Belle hesitated, turning the plastic stick between her fingers.  “I - I just found out I’m pregnant.”

“Oh.”  The woman was silent for a moment.  “Oh.  Yeah, that’s - that’s a way bigger problem than midterms.”

Belle dashed tears from her eyes, sniffing.

“You know how far along you are?” asked the woman, and she let out a hollow laugh.

“Oh yeah,” she said dryly.  “I can tell you the exact day it happened.  Which makes it eight weeks ago.”

“By the sound of it there’s some bitterness there,” remarked the woman, in a dry tone.  “The father?”

Belle squeezed her eyes shut, two more tears tracking down her cheeks.

“Yeah,” she said quietly.  “We’re - we’re not together.”

“Uh-huh.”  The woman was silent for a moment.  “You gonna tell him?”

Belle let out a bitter laugh.

“What, like he’d suddenly care about me?  I don’t think so.”

“Bad break-up, huh?” said the woman knowingly, and Belle bit her lip.

“The worst,” she said softly.

“What are you gonna do?” asked the woman, her voice careful.

“Honestly?  I have no clue.”

“The campus clinic’s pretty good,” said the woman.  “They give good advice, and they don’t judge you. You know, whatever you decide to do.”

Belle hugged herself, arms around her middle.  She had already decided on the course of action that she definitely wouldn’t be taking.

“I guess I should go and see them,” she said despondently.  “Get the test confirmed. And - and I’ll have to talk to the university…  God, I can’t believe this is happening!”

She burst into tears again, dashing them from her eyes with the heels of her hands.

“Mind if I ask how old you are?” said the woman, and Belle sniffed.


“I was eighteen.”

Belle looked around.

“You - you got pregnant?”

“Had the kid, too,” said the woman.  “Not saying it’s been easy, and I’m not trying to influence your decision, but I wouldn’t have missed a moment with him.”

Belle straightened up a little.

“How did you cope?”

The woman chuckled a little.

“Looking back it’s hard to say.  His dad was in jail when I found out, and when he was born, but once he got out we made it work.  It was hard, but we made it work. And now I’m back at college. You don’t have to have everything in your life in place when you’re twenty-two, you know.”

“But you have his father with you,” Belle said sadly.

“Yeah.”  The woman sighed.  “Look, you want to go and get a hot chocolate or something, talk things over?”

“Oh, I don’t want to make you miss class,” said Belle hurriedly.  “But - but maybe if you have time later?”

“Sure thing,” said the woman.  “Hey, what’s your name?”


“Pleased to meet you, Belle,” she said.  “I’m Emma.”

Belle shivered in the October air, clutching her coat around herself as she made her way to the campus clinic.  She felt marginally better after talking to Emma, and had finally left the toilet stall to stand by the sinks and exchange numbers with the woman.  Emma was twenty-six, it turned out, doing her degree in criminal justice.  She was taller than Belle, and pretty, with blonde hair that fell past her shoulders and a short red leather jacket above blue jeans.  Belle had promised to call once she had been to the clinic.

The wind tried to get through her coat, and she tugged it tighter, shaking fingers fumbling at the buttons as she pushed her chin down into her scarf.  She felt insubstantial, as though she wasn’t really there, and while she was certain it was shock, it was still disconcerting. The rational part of her brain was slowly trying to reassert itself, but when she tried to think about the many things she needed to do it skittered away again with a thin wail before slowly creeping back.  The clinic first.  The test result confirmed.  Then she needed advice on what to expect and how to stay healthy.  She needed to talk to the college and see what could be done about her studies.  And there was the money side, too.  Her tuition had been paid, and she had prepaid some of her rent, but she would still need to house and feed herself while she waited for the baby to arrive.

She stopped dead, chewing her lip.  There was no way she could go back to Storybrooke.  No way in hell.  She cringed at the thought of her father’s reaction to the news, but she would have to tell him.  Maybe he would help.

“Look who’s back!”

A deep voice made her jump, and she shrieked as a pair of arms went around her and swept her up in the air.  Eyes wide with shock, she struggled, hearing the familiar sound of laughter that made her teeth clench.

“Put me down!” she shouted, and Gaston laughed harder.

“Did I scare you?” he teased.  “It’s only me, Belle!  I’m back!”

“Put me down!” she insisted, and he grumbled, setting her on her feet.

Belle took several steps backward, dusting herself off and glaring at him.  His eyebrows had drawn down, thick lines of black giving him a sulky look that she had always hated.

“Thought you might have missed me,” he said, folding his massive arms across his chest and looking like a petulant child.

“Why?” she demanded.  “How many times do I have to tell you I’m not interested?”

“How can you know that if you won’t give me a chance?” he asked.  “Your father said you were stubborn. Not to say I don’t enjoy the thrill of the hunt, but I never tried this hard with anyone, Belle.  Surely that’s worth something?”

She felt like stamping her foot.

“I don’t want you to try!” she snapped.  “And if my father wants you in the family so badly, he can date you!”

“Well, now you’re just being emotional,” he said dismissively.  “Is it that time, or something?”

Belle felt rage surge within her, and she raised her chin, glaring at him.

“No, it’s not that bloody time!” she shouted.  “It won’t be that time for fucking months because I’m pregnant!”

Gaston’s eyes widened, and he shrank back from her as though she was contagious.

“You’re - you’re pregnant?” he asked, sounding terrified.  “You’re not saying it’s mine, right?”

Belle opened and closed her mouth, barely able to believe what she was hearing.

“Well, of course it’s not yours!” she snapped.  “That - that would be physically impossible, what the hell is wrong with you?”

The look of relief on his face almost made her laugh out loud, but then his brows drew down again.

“So, whose is it?” he demanded, and Belle put her hands on her hips.

“That’s none of your business,” she said coldly.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere to be.”

She whirled on her toes and stomped off in the direction of the clinic, arms pumping in her agitation.  With any luck that would be the last time a man tried to interfere in her personal life.

It was hours later that she made it home, locking her door and slumping onto the couch with a heavy sigh.  The visit to the clinic had left her unable to concentrate in class, and she ran her hands over her face, feeling a heavy weariness that made her want to curl up and sleep.  She needed to eat, though.  Something more nutritious than ramen.

She reached into her bag, pulling out her phone and taking it off silent before pushing to her feet and heading for the kitchen.  One glance in the fridge made her mouth flatten, but she took out eggs, milk and cheese.  An omelette would at least be quick and easy.  Her phone rang as she was cracking eggs, and she wiped her hands on a towel and rolled her eyes as she saw that her father was calling.

“Belle!” he barked, before she could even say anything.  “I’ve been trying to call for the past three hours!”

“I had class!” she said.  “What’s the emergency?”

“You got something you want to tell me?” he demanded.  “Or were you just gonna show up one day with a kid in tow?”

Belle’s heart sank.  Gaston.  Of course.

“Look, Dad—”

“At least Gaston had the decency to call me and let me know!” he snapped.

“I only found out today!” she protested.  “And - and he has no business letting you know!  It’s nothing to do with him!”

“Oh, I’m well aware of that, my girl!” he sneered.  “It’s Gold’s brat, isn’t it?  You could have had a respectable, good-looking, rich young man in your life if you’d listened to me, but no!  You had to go and get knocked up by that evil bastard!”


“I can’t believe you’d be so bloody stupid!” he went on.  “I thought you at least had enough sense to use protection!”

“It was an accident!”

“Good!” he snapped.  “Then it shouldn’t take much to undo it, should it?”

Belle’s breath caught in her throat, and she instinctively put a hand over her belly.

“What are you saying?” she asked numbly.

“You know damn well what I’m saying!” he said roughly.  “You still have time to make it right, Belle.  Go and deal with the problem!  You must have - facilities - there.”

“No!” she protested.  “I’m - I’m keeping it!  I’ve already decided!”

“Don’t be so bloody stupid!”

“I mean it!”

“If you have that kid, you’ll be tied to Gold for the rest of your life!” he snapped.  “No one else is gonna bloody want you, not with that kind of baggage!

“I don’t care!”

There was a moment of silence at the other end of the line.

“He won’t support you, you know,” said Moe, his tone deathly calm.  “He won’t want anything to do with you, or the brat.  I tried to tell you.  He’s had his use of you, and now he’s done.  You’re a fool if you think otherwise.”

“This isn’t about him,” she said, her voice shaking.  “This is about me, and - and my child.”

My child.  It was the first time she had said it, but she felt a surge of love go through her, and she ran her hand over her abdomen, praying that the baby would be born safe and well.

“You’ve got a small window of opportunity here, Belle,” said her father.  “Cut him out of your life for good, because if you go ahead with this, you’ll have nothing!”

“I’ll have my baby,” she said obstinately.  “I don’t need him!  And I don’t need your opinions, either!”

He was silent again, no sound in her ears but her own distraught, heavy breathing.

“I won’t have that man’s child in my house,” he said.  “You go ahead with this, you’re on your own.”

Belle squeezed her eyes shut, tears spilling over.

“You don’t mean that,” she whimpered, and he snorted.

“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life,” he snarled.  “Give me a call when you’ve come to your senses and dealt with the problem.  I don’t want to hear from you otherwise.”

The phone clicked as he rang off, and Belle dropped the phone on the kitchen counter, leaning on her elbows and burying her head in her arms as she wept.

Chapter Text

Belle had felt bad for snapping at Gold over things that weren’t really his fault, especially when there were other, far more appropriate reasons to snap at him, and she resolved to try to be civil with him when she returned to the house that evening.  For his part, he greeted her calmly, if a little cautiously, and she swept Gideon up into her arms for a hug while he made a start on the dinner.

“I’m doing herb-crusted salmon,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at her as he took a roasting tin from the cupboard.  “Fine beans, potatoes and a white wine and cream sauce. Is that okay?”

“Sounds delicious,” she said, and after he turned away she added.  “I - I haven’t eaten this well in maybe two years.”

Gold turned back with a tiny smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

“Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like,” he said.

She didn’t know what to say to that, having already said she would move out when her father came out of hospital, but the tension between them had eased, and so she sent him a brief smile.  He poured her a glass of wine, and she carried it out to sit on the back porch with Gideon in her arms, bouncing him on her knee as he played with a colourful plastic rattle. She took a sip of her wine, and her phone buzzed in her pocket.  Belle put down her glass, fishing it out and smiling as she saw who was calling.

“Hey.”  Emma’s voice crackled a little.  “Thought I’d give you a chance to find your feet.  How’s your dad?”

“He’s a little better,” said Belle.  “In hospital for longer than I thought, though.  He comes out Friday.”

“And Gideon?” she asked.  “How’s he dealing with the change of scene?”

“Water off a duck’s back,” said Belle dryly.  “You know how he is. Everyone’s been fussing over him, so he’s in his element.”

Emma chuckled a little, but then fell silent.

“What about you?” asked Belle, wanting to avoid the inevitable question she could sense floating around in Emma’s mind.  “Did Henry get that part in the play?”

“Oh, it wasn’t an acting part he wanted,” said Emma.  “He’s on the writing team. Chief dramatist, he likes to call himself.  Little guy’s gonna be a screenwriter or something, Neal says.”

“Well, he has the imagination for it,” said Belle.

“Uh-huh.  Speaking of drama, are you gonna tell me what else happened in the past week?”

Belle sighed, hugging Gideon a little closer.

“Well, he knows,” she said dryly.

“How’d that go?”

Belle shook her head.

“Badly.  I mean - things are better now, but he was furious.”

“Well, you knew that would be a possibility,” said Emma frankly.  “We talked about it. Extensively.”

“I know, I know.”  Belle rubbed at her eye with the heel of her hand.  “I shouldn’t have put things off for as long as I did.  Neal was right, I - I should have told him sooner.”

“Hey, you were scared!” protested Emma.  “And from what you told us, you had good reason!  Guy was an asswipe!”

“Yeah,” said Belle, her tone wry.  “He absolutely was.”

“But you said it’s getting better?”

“Yeah.”  Belle kissed Gideon’s head, breathing in his scent.  “He’s been - he’s really trying. He’s taking care of Gideon while I work the shop - seriously, he’s so good with him!  He’s a natural!”

There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line.

“You had sex with him, didn’t you?” said Emma accusingly, and Belle blushed.

What? ” she protested.  “I - I never said that!”

“Well, now I know you had sex with him,” snickered Emma, and Belle groaned.

“Look, it was an accident, okay?” she sighed.  “We yelled a lot, and emotions got the better of us.  Can you just keep it to yourself?”

“Your secret’s safe with me, babe,” she said.  “Neal says hi, by the way. And not to do anything he wouldn’t.  Guess we’re a little late for that.”

“Oh, you’re hilarious,” said Belle dryly, as Emma cackled.

The sound of a rhythmic tapping and Gold’s uneven tread approached, and she looked around as he appeared on the porch with his own glass of wine in his hand.

“Look, I gotta go,” she said.  “I’ll call you, okay?”

“Sure thing.  Try not to bang your babydaddy too hard.”

Belle rolled her eyes, amused, and swiped at the phone to hang up.  Gold lowered himself into the chair beside her, taking a sip of wine.

“How was your day?” he asked carefully, and she shrugged.

“Quieter than I would have liked, but I broke even,” she said.  “You?”

“A couple of small loans and someone buying a piece of jewellery, that’s all,” he said dismissively.  “I - uh - I spoke to Dove, by the way. He says the house will be ready to move into on Thursday. Cleaning the basement took longer than he thought.”

“Oh, that actually works out well,” she said.  “Dad comes out Friday. I spoke to Dr Whale.”

Gideon wriggled in her arms, grumbling, and she let him slip to the floor, holding onto one of his hands as he found his balance.  He glanced around, lower lip protruding, then wandered over and slapped his hands on Gold’s knees, burbling at him.

“You want a tour of the garden?” asked Gold, and set down his wine glass.

Belle watched as he got the cane underneath himself and pushed to his feet, picking up Gideon in the crook of an arm and carrying him down the wooden steps to the garden.  Gold set him down, taking his hand and walking slowly along the neat strip of grass between the flower beds. He was talking to Gideon as they went, telling him the names of the flowers in a low, gentle voice, and Gideon stopped to sniff one, beaming up at Gold and getting a soft-eyed smile in return.  Belle leaned back in her chair, an unfamiliar feeling of contentment flowing over her. He clearly wanted to make things work with their son. Perhaps it would be okay. Perhaps they could be friends.

Tuesday morning dawned with a blue and hazy sky, the air already warm and filled with the chirps of birds and the lazy drone of insects.  Gold found himself drinking his morning coffee with only Gideon for company, and had just about finished feeding his son breakfast when Belle hurried downstairs looking stressed, a bundle of clothes in her arms and her hair a wonderfully tangled mess.

“I can’t believe I overslept!” she fretted.  “You should have woken me!”

“You have plenty of time,” he said calmly.  “What would you like to eat?”

“Oh, I don’t know…”  She cast her eyes about, chewing her lip.  “You mind if I do some laundry?”

“Of course not,” he said.  “You didn’t need to ask. Out of clean things?”

“I - I lost track of the days,” she said vaguely.  “Didn’t realise I’d gone through everything I packed until this morning.  Gideon still has some clean stuff, though.”

“Everything you need is under the sink.”

She stuffed the armful of clothing into the washing machine, adding liquid and softener before turning it on.

“I know it won’t be done before I go to work…” she began, looking harassed.

“I can take it out and hang it up to dry,” he said calmly.  “Sit down, let me make you some breakfast.”

“In a minute…”  She swept her hair out of her eyes.  “I can’t believe I didn’t think about bloody laundry!”

“Why don’t you just go and get Gideon ready?” he suggested.  “I’ll make you eggs on toast, and I can deal with the laundry while you’re at work.  I won’t spontaneously combust if I have to handle your underwear.”

She shot him a flat look at that, a hint of amusement in her eyes, and bent to sweep Gideon up in her arms.

“Let’s get you ready, young man,” she said firmly, and he belched, throwing up partly-digested porridge over her shirt.  Belle groaned, raising her eyes to the ceiling as Gideon started to cry.

“I don’t believe this…”

“His timing is impeccable,” observed Gold, and she sighed, stomping out of the room and up the stairs, the sound of Gideon’s wailing floating back down.

Gold grinned to himself, getting up to wipe down Gideon’s chair and wash the breakfast dishes.  His eyes flicked to the clock on the wall as he stacked the clean things on the rack beside the sink. Gone eight o’clock. It wouldn’t matter if he was a little late opening the shop.  He could stick around until Belle’s laundry was done, catch up on a little paperwork, check his emails. The paternity test results were due to arrive that day, and nerves were digging at him, whispering snide words in his mind.  He had slept poorly, knowing the test results wouldn’t be out until office hours, but unable to rest despite that, and he hoped he wouldn’t have to wait all day.

He had not mentioned his visit to Dr Hopper to Belle, largely because he was still trying to process what the doctor had said for himself.  While he had finally admitted that he needed outside help if they were to build a good relationship, he was by no means certain that he was capable of doing what Dr Hopper suggested.  He intended to try, though. Just as soon as it was confirmed that Gideon was his.

The sound of feet on the stairs made him look around, and Belle swept into the kitchen with Gideon in her arms, both of them changed into clean clothes.  Gold blinked, his mouth falling open. She was wearing a blue silk shirt, tied in a knot at her waist with the sleeves rolled up. The colour brought out her eyes, the deep pink of her lips and the pale perfection of her skin, and he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away.

“Is that my shirt?” he asked, and she glanced over, bouncing Gideon in her arms.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said apologetically.  “I had literally nothing else to wear.”

“I…  Of course not, no,” he managed.  “Raid my wardrobe as much as you please.”

“Thank you.”

She smiled, kissing Gideon’s head, and flicked her eyes across to meet his.

“You sure you’re okay to have him this morning?” she asked.  “I’ll go visit Dad this afternoon, take Gideon to see him.”

“Fine with me,” he said.  “Why don’t we have lunch at the diner?”

Belle’s smile widened.

“I’d like that.”

Lunch at Granny's had been pleasant, Belle opting for the chicken Caesar salad instead of her usual burger.  The day was hot, and she walked into the coolness of the hospital’s air-conditioned corridors with a sigh of relief.  Her father was sitting up, drinking a cup of tea, and his eyes narrowed as he looked her over.

“What on earth are you wearing?” he grumbled, and Belle looked down.

“Oh - it’s laundry day,” she said, feeling a little self-conscious.  “Gideon threw up on me, so I borrowed one of Alex’s shirts.”

“Getting kind of domestic, aren’t you?” he said sourly.  “Why are you still at his house, anyway?”

“Because yours was a shithole, that’s why,” she said tartly.  “It’ll be clean by the time you get out of here, and I’ll be moving in, too.

“I don’t want him slithering back into your life.”

“It’s just a shirt, Dad.”

He grunted at that, and Belle sighed to herself, picking Gideon up out of the stroller and sitting down with him on her lap.  He was sleepy after his lunch, head lolling against her, and she kissed his forehead gently as he slipped into a doze.

“Are we still on for Friday?” she asked, and Moe nodded.

“Dr Whale had me up and about today,” he said.  “Weak as a bloody kitten, I am.”

“Well, he said to expect that,” said Belle.  “You’ll get better.”

He grunted again, as though he doubted it.

“How are things at the shop?”

“A little slow the past couple of days,” she admitted.  “Not sure everyone knows we’re open again. I thought I might make an announcement at Granny’s, or something.”

“There are a couple of weddings this month, if I remember rightly,” he said.

“Yeah, I saw the orders,” she said.  “I’ve asked the supplier for extra peonies, and I just hope I can make the arrangements to your standard.”

“Phone me with that video app thing you’ve got and I can talk you through it,” he said, and she nodded, relieved.

“I’m gonna have to shorten the opening hours when I’m looking after you,” she added.  “Any more word on how long that’s likely to be?”

“Couple of weeks, Whale said.”  Moe finished his tea. “I guess you’re wanting to get back to Boston, huh?”

Belle hesitated.

“Of course.”

“Nothing to keep you in this town once I’m back to rights, is there?”

“Sounds like you want to get rid of me,” she teased, and his mouth flattened.

“I think you did the right thing when you left,” he said.  “There’s no future for you here. You or the kid.”

“You’ll come and see us though, right?” she asked.  “And - and Alex says he wants to bring Gideon here, on alternate weekends.  He’ll want to see his grandpa as he gets older.”

“What, you think that man’ll let me have a relationship with my grandson?”  Moe sounded bitter. “Probably spend all his time trying to poison his mind against me.”

Belle frowned.

“He wouldn’t do that,” she said sharply.  “And of course you’ll have a relationship with Gideon!  I haven’t worked out any of the details of how we’re gonna do this, but we’ve been waiting for the test results to come back before we decided anything.”

Moe’s eyes widened.

“He made you get a bloody paternity test?  Of all the bloody nerve!”

“It’s necessary if we want to formalise anything,” she said.  “Stop getting insulted on my behalf!”

Moe looked away with a scowl, and Belle rolled her eyes.  Getting the two men in her life to even be civil to one another was going to be an uphill struggle.

Gold had felt his anxiety grow as the day wore on, increasing with every minute that there was no email letting him know the result of the test.  His laptop was open on the workbench, and he checked it every time it made the noise that signalled a new message, hands shaking in anticipation before the inevitable disappointment at finding another spam email.  By the time three o’clock came, he was on the verge of calling the company he had sent the sample to, and started the restoration of an antique lantern to try to take his mind off things.

The computer beeped again, and Gold looked up, swiping with his finger at the touchpad and telling himself not to get his hopes up.  His heart thumped when he saw the sender of the email, and he licked his lips, opening up the message. He read it over three times before sitting back, letting out the breath he had been holding with a sigh of relief.  Not that he had doubted it, not really, but this proved it. Gideon was his son. A smile played across his face, and he felt a surge of emotion go through him. He would get to be a father, get to do everything he had missed out on with Bae.  He would get to see his son grow up, be a meaningful part of his life. And he would have a good relationship with his mother. He was determined to make that work.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he fished it out, his smile widening as he saw Ella’s name pop up.  His thumb swiped at the screen to answer.

“You always did have good timing,” he said.

“Alexander.”  Ella’s drawling voice oozed out of the phone.  “How are you, darling?”

“I was about to call you,” he said.  “The test result. It’s positive.”

“Well then, I imagine congratulations are in order,” she said, and he smiled.

“I’ll need you to make a start on what we discussed,” he added.

“I’ve already drafted the deed of trust,” she said.  “I’ll email it over and you can have a look. I suggest coming in to finalise the rest, if you’re able to get down to Boston.”

“I need to speak to Belle, first,” he said.  “I think it’s best I let her know what I’m proposing for our son.”

“You think she’ll object?  She’d be a fool to.”

“No, I don’t think that,” he said.  “I just - I don’t want her to feel that I’ve gone behind her back and not consulted her, that’s all.”

“Hmm.  Very well.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I looked into your Belle French, by the way,” she said.  “Very interesting indeed.”

Gold sat down on the stool, his heart thumping.

“Tell me.”

Chapter Text

Fifteen months earlier

Belle groaned as she saw that the elevator in her building was out of order for the fourth time in two months. At seven months pregnant, the last thing she felt like doing was climbing three flights of stairs to her apartment.  A note was stuck to the doors, claiming that a call had been placed and that someone was due to come out that afternoon, and so she made a decision.  She set down the bag of groceries she had bought, pulling out her phone to call Emma.

“Hey,” said Emma.  “What’s up?”

“I can’t face the stairs right now,” said Belle.  “Are you anywhere nearby? I could use a hot drink and someone to bitch about this elevator with.”

“It’s out again?” said Emma, and sighed.  “Look, give me ten minutes.  I have to take Henry to chess club and then I’m all yours.”

“Corner diner?”

“On my way.”

Belle slipped her phone back into her pocket, shouldering her bag of books and picking up the groceries, and traipsed along the street to where the diner squatted, bright lights shining out onto the wet, gleaming sidewalk.  The early March rain spattered against her face beneath her cloche hat, and Belle hunched her shoulders a little, shivering as the wind tried to get through her coat. The diner was warm and humid, and she slid into a chair at an empty table with a sigh of relief.

She ordered a hot chocolate, pulling out a book to read as she waited for Emma to arrive.  Belle was relieved to have made a friend who understood what she was going through, and who could offer good advice.  It had been Emma that had given her most of her son’s baby things, including a crib and stroller that Belle would never have been able to afford.  Henry was almost nine, a bright, pleasant boy with his father’s dark eyes and brown hair. Emma’s husband Neal worked as a clerk in a firm of accountants, while studying for his own qualifications in the evening.  They scraped by on his wages while Emma was in college, all three of them crammed into a tiny two-bed apartment, but they were happy, and devoted to each other. It gave Belle comfort to see that love could find a way, despite everything that life had thrown at them.

The beaming waitress set down her hot chocolate, and Belle sent her a tired smile, laying down her book and cupping the mug in her hands as she breathed in the promising scent of sugar, rich chocolate and cream.  She was still studying, and while the bone-weary exhaustion of the early months of her pregnancy had gone, she still got into bed each night feeling as though she had been running miles while carrying lead weights.  Her nausea had gone, at least; she had lost weight in the early months, and had struggled to gain it back. The baby was healthy, though. She had regular check-ups to ensure that. She was due in early May, and while she had mostly gotten everything she needed for when the baby arrived, she was scared witless.  Emma had soothed some of her nerves, explaining in graphic detail what it was like to give birth and how she would likely feel in the early days.

Belle sipped at her chocolate, letting its sweet warmth run through her as she gazed out of the diner window.  The sky had darkened, and the rain was heavier, dancing on the sidewalk and streaking the window with silver. People hurried by, umbrellas sending a shower of water to left and right or chins pushed into their collars as though that would keep them dry.  She wondered if the storm would push north, up to Maine. She wondered if it was raining in Storybrooke.

Emma arrived just as she had finished her hot chocolate, a slim figure in a beanie hat and padded waterproof coat.  She hurried into the diner, muttering under her breath about the weather, and pulled off her hat and scarf, shaking out her long blonde curls.

“Wow, this day blows,” she remarked.  “Chocolate, huh? Wouldn’t say no. You want to split a brownie?”

“Sounds good.”

Emma gave the waitress their order, sliding into the chair opposite Belle and grinning at her.

“How’s it going?” she asked, and Belle pulled a face.

“Okay,” she admitted.  “I have a mass of research to do before next week, so it could mean some late nights at the library.  You up for being my study buddy?”

“Yeah, I could do with hitting the books too,” said Emma.  “This criminology paper is kicking my ass. How about you come over for dinner, and we’ll head to the library when we’re done?”

“Count me in.”

Belle sat back with a sigh, rolling her shoulders, and Emma put her head to the side.

“Still no word from your dad?” she asked carefully.

“Well, I sent him a birthday present,” said Belle dryly.  “Nothing. It’s like he’s pretending I don’t exist. I don’t know if he’ll ever want to even see the baby.”

Emma pulled a face.

“I know he’s your dad, honey, but - look, I gotta say it.  He’s being a dick.”

“I know,” sighed Belle.  “I haven’t really forgiven him for what he said to me when I told him, it’s just - he’s the only family I’ve got.”

She chewed her lip, feeling overwhelmed and anxious, and Emma reached out to squeeze her hand.

“And - and your ex?” she said gently.  “I know things ended badly between you, but - but remember what Neal said last week?  About not getting to see his son, about not being there for us? He still feels guilty about that, Belle, even now.”

“I know,” sighed Belle.  “I know he thinks I should tell Alex, and I know he’s only trying to help, but my situation and yours just aren’t the same.  You guys were separated because Neal was in prison, but there was never a question of you not getting back together. Neal wanted to be with you, and he wanted Henry.”

“Yeah, but you don’t know how your ex would feel,” said Emma.  “He has a kid on the way, and he doesn’t even know it. Maybe he’d help.”

“I don’t want his help,” said Belle automatically.  “I can do this myself.”

“Yeah, but maybe you don’t have to,” said Emma.  “You could at least get some child support out of him.”

Belle ducked her head, feeling guilty and somehow mutinous, and Emma sighed.

“I don’t know much of what went on between you two,” she said.  “But take it from someone who’s been there. Bearing a kid alone, raising it alone… it’s hard.  The hardest thing I ever did, and Neal was only in jail for the first eighteen months of Henry’s life.  I’ve had him to help out since then.”

“He doesn’t want me,” said Belle obstinately. “He made that very clear.”

“But maybe he wants this kid,” said Emma patiently.  “How do you know unless you tell him?”

Belle tugged at her lip with her teeth, anxiety rising up within her as she voiced a fear she had been hiding since she learned that she was carrying his child.

“What if he does want the baby?” she whispered.  “What if - what if he takes it away from me?”

Emma’s mouth fell open.

“You think he’d try to do that?” she said softly, and Belle shrugged.

“I think he takes what he wants,” she said bitterly.  “I think he has money, power, influence, and probably a shit-hot team of lawyers.  What chance does a single mother with a crappy apartment and no steady job stand?”

Emma squeezed her hand a little more.

“That won’t happen,” she said firmly.  “You’re not spending your days taking crystal meth and banging half of Boston.  You’re a good person, studying hard, with a respectable career in your future.”

“Which I’m having to put on hold,” said Belle gloomily.

“Which you might be able to pick up again more quickly if you just ask for his help,” said Emma.  “Just - just tell him, Belle.”

Belle stared at the phone sitting on the tiny coffee table in front of her, a sleek black slug squatting by the flat pad of paper on which she had jotted some random thoughts, which she was hoping would act as prompts.   We need to talk.  I’m in Boston. I should have called.  I was afraid. And then, at the bottom of the page, in an uneven scrawl that had been underlined with a shaking hand: I’m pregnant .  She ran a hand over the curve of her belly where his child was growing inside her, chewing her lip.  Her heart was thumping in her chest, and she tried to calm herself. Raising her blood pressure was a bad idea.  For the hundredth time she wondered why she had left it this long, and could come up with no decent answer but her own fear.

He has a right to know, just bloody well call him, will you?

Fingers trembling, she reached for the phone.  It would have been easier to pretend that she couldn’t remember his number, but that would have been yet another lie she told herself.  It was seared into her brain along with the sound of his voice and the feel of his hands on her and the taste of him on her tongue. She dialled the number, listening to the ringtone and bouncing nervously on her toes.  The phone clicked as someone picked up.


The sound of his voice made her throat close up.  She remembered how it had flowed over her like smooth silk as he whispered filthy things to her in the dark of the night, his mouth by her ear as he moved inside her.  It had been different when she left: harsh and bitter, strident with pain. His accent thickened when he was angry, just as it did when he was aroused. It made her abdomen clench to remember it.


He was impatient now, and she could understand it.  This had been the third silent call she had made to him, after all.  The third call in which an evil entity had slithered into her throat and stolen her voice, made her mute with fear and pain and unrequited love.  She squeezed her eyes shut, tears pricking at them, and heard him sigh.

“Look, who is this?” he demanded.  “Might I say that this silent treatment is extremely tedious?  Any stalker worth their salt would at least try some fucking heavy breathing, or something.”

Belle pressed a hand over her mouth to stifle a sob, her other hand tightening on the phone.  There was silence for a moment, and then his voice, a whisper so quiet she could barely hear it.


She tried to speak the words that were swirling in her brain, clamouring to be let out.  I miss you, I love you, I need you.  I’m carrying your child and I’m so, so scared.  Her breath hitched, the words caught in her throat, hard and painful.

“I’ve made a note of the number that comes up on my phone,” he said coldly.  “I don’t know why the hell you’re calling me, but this appears to be a waste of both my time, and yours.  If I have any further calls from you, I’ll be forced to contact the police. Don’t call this number again.”

The phone clicked, and there was silence, terrible and deafening.  Belle put down the phone, her lower lip trembling as tears welled in her eyes.  Her courage had failed her. She couldn’t tell him the truth. She wouldn’t. Whatever hardships the birth of her child would bring, she would face them alone.

Chapter Text

Belle was irritated after her visit to her father, and pushed the stroller home with more energy than the hot weather warranted.  As a result she was breathless and red-cheeked, but Gold was there to help her carry the stroller up the steps and inside the house.

“Thanks,” she said breathlessly.  “I shouldn’t have walked so fast in this heat.”

“Take a shower, if you like,” he said.  “I’ll make Gideon’s dinner.”

He seemed oddly closed off, even more so than usual, his mouth set in a grim line and his eyes not quite meeting hers, silvery hair glinting in the light.  She decided that she didn’t want to know why. Perhaps someone at the diner had said something unpleasant after she and Gideon had left. Although if so, she was surprised they had said it within his earshot.

“A shower sounds good,” she said.  “Will you be okay looking after Gideon?”

“I’m quite capable of caring for my son, I assure you,” he said dryly, and she swept her hair out of her face with a sigh.

“I didn’t mean - oh, never mind!”

She stomped up the stairs, wondering what the hell had put him in a bad mood.  They had enjoyed their lunch together at the diner, and she couldn’t think what might have happened since then to piss him off.  But then she was pissed off herself, her irritation with her father making her snappish and resentful. Perhaps they would both have calmed down by the time they ate dinner.

She spent longer than usual in the shower, washing and conditioning her hair, scrubbing every inch of her body, paying particular attention to her feet, and rubbing her arms, legs and buttocks with a salt scrub she had bought in town.  It smelt of roses and geranium oil, leaving her skin tingling and soft as silk, and she sighed in contentment as she turned off the water and wrapped her wet hair in a towel, feeling refreshed and relaxed.

Her clean clothes had been pressed and folded and placed on her bed, and she felt bad for getting irritated with Gold when he had been good enough to take them both in and look after them.  She dried and brushed her hair, then slipped on underwear and pulled a blue dress up over her hips, slipping her arms through its cap sleeves and zipping up at the back. She raked her fingers through her curls, looking herself over in the mirror before tugging her skirt straight and making her way back downstairs in bare feet.

Gold was just finishing up feeding Gideon, who had tomato sauce on his chin and the remains of what looked like pasta in the bowl in front of him.  Gold scooped it up with a spoon, and Gideon opened his mouth, eating the last of it.

“I made plenty,” said Gold, concentrating on wiping the sauce from Gideon’s chin.  “You can help yourself, if you’re hungry.”

“I’ll wait, thanks,” she said.  “Did you open any wine?”

“No.”  He flicked his eyes up to meet hers, then looked away again.  “There’s red in the rack, or white in the fridge. Why don’t you pour us both a glass?”

“Well, if he’s done eating—”

“I’ll give him his bath and put him to bed,” said Gold.  “Go and sit down. I’ll join you when he’s in bed.”

She couldn’t help feeling that his statement had an air of menace to it, but she couldn’t think why that would be, and so she kissed her son’s cheek and went to the wine rack while he lifted Gideon out of the chair and carried him upstairs.  She opened up a bottle of Chianti, pouring two glasses and taking a sip from her own before washing Gideon’s dishes and wiping down his chair. She then heated up some milk for him, pouring it into his cup and setting it on the counter to cool before picking up the two glasses of wine and heading for the lounge.

She sank onto the couch with a sigh, setting Gold’s glass down on the little table to the side of the couch and letting her head roll back against the cushions.  Her father’s place was almost ready, and she was due to move out in a couple of days, but she would miss living in Gold’s house, with its beautiful furniture and hordes of books and the pristine gardens.  She would miss the kitchen that smelt of fragrant fruit and the sharp scents of herbs and spices and the heady warmth of garlic. And she would miss seeing Gold, early in the morning with his sleepy eyes and his hair awry, and late at night when he had washed the dishes and was seated on the couch with a far away look in his eyes.  She had wondered what he was thinking, and whether he would ever tell her. She wondered how he truly felt about her.

Her phone buzzed, and she fished in her pocket, setting down her glass for a moment to answer the call.

“Hey,” said Mary Margaret warmly.  “I haven’t seen you for a day or two.  You okay?”

“Oh - yeah.”  Belle ran a hand through her hair.  “It’s been kind of hectic. I’ve been running the shop, and looking after Gideon…”

“Oh, I get it,” said Mary Margaret hurriedly.  “It’s just - how do you feel about doing another girls’ night?  Maybe Friday?”

“I don’t know…”  Belle pulled a face.  “Dad’s supposed to get out of the hospital on Friday.  I might be busy trying to get him settled.”

“Well, that’s totally understandable,” said Mary Margaret.  “How about me and the girls arrange to meet at eight in Granny’s, and if you can join us, you do?  No pressure.”

Belle smiled gratefully.

“Actually, that sounds great,” she said.  “I’ll see how he is, and hopefully I’ll be there.”

“Great!” said Mary Margaret brightly, and hesitated.  “How - how are things?”

“You mean with the father of my child?” said Belle dryly.  “About as well as can be expected. Which is - awkward and uncomfortable, but civil, for the moment.”

“Well, he certainly seems to have taken to fatherhood, for what it’s worth,” she said.  “I saw him talking Gideon through the merits of every ice cream flavour at Any Given Sundae.  They seemed to settle on Rocky Road.”

Belle couldn’t help smiling.

“Yeah,” she said softly.  “Yeah, he - he certainly loves his son.  I’m glad, really.”

“So…”  Mary Margaret seemed hesitant.  “So, what does this mean? You have a life in Boston, right?”

“Right,” said Belle, after a pause.  “Well, he says he’s gonna move there, find a place, take care of Gideon for part of the week.  I’m sure we can make it work.”

“And your husband?” asked Mary Margaret gently.  “How does he feel about it?”

Belle looked around at the sound of Gold’s feet on the stairs.

“Look - I have to go,” she said.  “It’s Gideon’s bedtime, and I need to tuck him in.”

“Oh, of course!” said Mary Margaret.  “Don’t forget about Friday!”

“I won’t.  Speak to you soon.”

Belle hung up, glancing around as she heard Gold head upstairs again with the warm milk.  She got out of her chair, making her way up to the landing, where she could hear Gold reading to Gideon in a low voice.  Going into his room made her smile; Gideon was seated on his father’s lap, drinking his milk, listening intently as Gold read The Gruffalo’s Child.  They made a sweet picture, and she felt a pang of sorrow for what they had both missed out on.  Things were getting better, though. They had to.

Gold finished the story, closing the book and kissing Gideon’s head before glancing up to where Belle was leaning in the doorway.

“You want to tuck him in?” he asked, and she nodded.

Gideon was soon asleep, and Belle pulled the bedroom door until it was almost closed, following Gold back downstairs.  He was waiting for her in the lounge, standing by the fireplace and sipping at his wine. There was a strange atmosphere in the air, a tense heaviness, and she waited for him to say what was on his mind.

“How was your day?” he asked quietly.

“Dad was an arse,” she said, with a sigh.  “Yours?”

“Oh, it was - it was uneventful, for the most part," he said.  "The test results came back, by the way.  It was positive."

"Does that surprise you?" she asked wryly.

"No," he said curtly.  "I told you, I believed you.  What it means, however, is that we can start to discuss how we want things to be, going forward."

"I - I guess," she said.  "Do we have to do that tonight?"

"Not formally, no."  He took a sip of wine.  "I've had my lawyer draft a deed of trust regarding Gideon's schooling and further education.  I'll let you look it over tomorrow."

"Right," she said, feeling uncomfortable.

He was watching her with those dark eyes, a measuring look, and it was making her defensive.  He took another drink, setting his glass down on the mantelpiece, and she went to pick up her own, taking a sip.

“Tell me about your life in Boston,” he said suddenly, and her eyes narrowed.


“Well, if I’m going to move there, I’d like to know a little more about you,” he said blandly, spreading the fingers of one hand.  “The area you live in, for example. What line of work your husband’s in. Perhaps we’ll have something in common.”

He smiled, his gold tooth gleaming, and Belle’s heart sank.  He knows.  Had to come out sometime, I guess.

“I mean,” he drawled, “I’m aware that you and I have something of a turbulent past, and one or two passionate indiscretions in the present, but I’m sure there’s no reason we can’t all get along...”

Belle was silent, glaring at him, and his smile grew.

“Of course, I wouldn’t be revealing the details of either of those times we fucked as though it was our last day on earth,” he added. “I wouldn’t want to cause trouble between you and the love of your life, after all, no matter how much—”

“Oh God, Alex, alright!” she snapped.  “I’m not married, okay?  I never was!”

“Well, I’m aware of that,” he said, his voice turning cold.  “My lawyer told me all about your life. I have to say that it didn’t make for the most pleasant hearing.”

Belle’s mouth fell open.

“You - you had someone spy on me?”

“Of course not,” he said.  “I merely told her to look into your current situation so that I could make a reasonable offer for child support.  Imagine my surprise when she told me that you lived alone in a building that should have been fucking condemned!”

“It’s not - it’s not that bad…”

“You lied to me,” he said evenly.  “And to your friends, no doubt. You told Miss Blanchard you married a businessman!”

“I never lied,” she said defensively.  “I put the ring on because I couldn’t bear people asking me questions about Gideon’s dad, and - and judging me.  So when Mary Margaret asked, I said his father was a businessman and that I lived in Boston.  Both of those statements are true, she - she just connected the dots and reached the conclusion I wanted her to, that’s all.”

“You let me think you were married!” he said accusingly, and she put her hands on her hips.

“What, like my private life is suddenly your business?” she demanded.  “You let me think I was a lousy lay and a waste of your precious time, or have you forgotten?”

Gold opened and closed his mouth, and then inclined his head.


Belle glared at him, breathing heavily, and he took another drink of wine before setting down the glass.

“So, you’ve been alone since you left,” he said.

“I have friends,” she said defensively.  “But no, I’m not married. Or dating, since you ask.  All my free time is spent caring for our son.”

“And your studies?” he said.  “You were going to do your Master’s.  Become a librarian, live your dream. I - I thought—”

“You thought I could just give birth one day and head back to class the next?” she said dryly.  “Wow. Can tell you never had kids.”

His jaw clenched, and he looked away.

“So what happened with your studies?” he asked stiffly, and she sighed, running her hands over her face.

“What the hell do you think?” she asked wearily.  “I found out I was pregnant not long after I started back, so I studied as long as I could, and then I arranged to take some time out.  Luckily the university was sympathetic.”

“And - and you haven’t gone back?” he asked.

“Can’t afford it right now,” she said.  “Takes all my effort working to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.  Honestly being back in Storybrooke is kind of a relief. At least I don’t have to worry so much.”

Gold shook his head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, and she threw up her hands, letting them slap against her legs.

“Because I couldn’t bear you knowing how utterly pathetic my life is!” she said.  “I have a tiny one-room apartment in a crappy building above a goddamn Chinese restaurant, are you happy?”

His mouth was open a little, and she wanted to slap him, with his perfectly tailored suit and manicured nails and his beautiful home.  For a moment she wanted to smack him across his smug face.

“It’s cramped,” she said.  “And noisy. It’s in a bad part of town and I’m pretty sure one of my neighbours deals drugs because he gets a lot of visitors at night but I don’t feel like I can ask too many questions.”

Gold was staring at her, and it made her want to scream.  God, this was humiliating!

“The elevator doesn’t always work,” she added, “and I have to pull the damn stroller up three flights of stairs!  I work shifts at a diner and I barely make enough to pay the bills, never mind save up for anything better! And I can only do that because one of my friends loves kids and she’s happy to let Gideon stay with them when she’s not at college herself.  My life sucks!”

“So all that time you’ve been struggling!” he snapped.  “Trying to make ends meet, Gideon having to make do with hand-me-downs and living in a shit part of town - from what you say a bloody dangerous part of town!”

“It’s not - it’s not that bad—”

“Don’t lie to me!” he shouted.  “I could have been providing for my son!  For both of you!  Are you so fucking stubborn you’d put your own pride before his welfare?”

“Don’t you dare say that!”

“It’s the bloody truth!”

“I tried to tell you!” she protested, throwing up her arms and letting them fall.

“Well, you can’t have tried very bloody hard!”

“I did!” she insisted.  “But - but the last time I called you said you’d phone the police if I got in touch again!  What the hell was I supposed to think?”

Gold’s eyes narrowed, his mouth flattening.

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I - I called,” she said.  “Three times, actually.”

“When?” he snapped, eyes flashing.

“When I was around seven months pregnant,” she said, “so - it would have been around March last year, I guess.  But - but I heard your voice and I couldn’t speak.  I was too afraid!  And - and then you told me not to call again, remember?”

Gold blinked, and then his eyes widened, a look of dawning realisation on his face.

“Wait - the silent caller I had was you?” he demanded.  “Well, how the hell was I supposed to know that?  You didn’t bloody well say anything!”

“Yeah, but you did,” she said stubbornly.  “The last time I called you said my name.  Right before you told me not to contact you again.”


He groaned, running a hand over his face, and was silent for a moment, his breathing heavy, making his chest rise and fall beneath the silk shirt.  Her own chest was heaving in anger and outrage, and she watched him mutinously, poised on her toes as though she was ready to flee. He seemed to take a calming breath, raising his head to face her.

“I didn’t know, alright?” he said, more reasonably.  “Maybe a tiny part of me hoped it was you, but you didn’t respond when I said your name, so I thought it was some bloody idiot trying to piss me off.  God knows there are enough of them.”

Belle swallowed what she had been about to say, sinking down onto her heels, toes pulling at the thick pile of the rug.

“Oh,” she said, and Gold shook his head, looking weary.

“That’s the reason you didn’t get in touch,” he said, almost to himself.

“One of the reasons.”

“Yes.”  His voice was quiet.  “You thought I’d take him away.”

“I—”  She shrugged uncomfortably, not meeting his eyes.  “Yeah. I was afraid of that.”

He nodded, looking terribly sad.

“Well, I’d certainly given you enough reason to think I’d be that big a bastard, I suppose,” he said quietly.

Belle hesitated, the desire to be honest pushing words up from the depths of her heart and into her mouth.

“And - and I was afraid to see you again,” she whispered, and he looked up.


She swallowed hard, meeting his eyes.

“Because I knew I still loved you.”

Gold held her gaze, dark eyes filled with something she couldn’t quite interpret.  She was willing him to return the statement, but he glanced away, eyes flicking to the floor, as though he were ashamed.

“Well, in the spirit of honesty,” he said.  “Perhaps there’s something I should tell you.”

“Go on,” she said cautiously, and he looked back at her.

“Gideon,” he began, not quite meeting her eyes.  “Gideon - is not my first child.”

It felt as though she had been punched in the chest, the blow almost hard enough to hurt, and for a moment she was breathless.

“What?” she whispered, and he sucked in his cheeks, glancing away for a moment before turning back.

“When I was young, I had a brief relationship with a young woman named Milah,” he said.  “She didn’t stick around, but about two years after we had broken up, she came back to town.  With a son. My son. His name was Bailey.”

Belle shook her head.

“I - I had no idea,” she said softly, and he shrugged.

“We were together for eight months or so,” he went on.  “Not a good match - there was no love between us, and I’m positive she only came back because I had a good job and money for her to spend on drink.  But I loved him. I loved my son. More than anything.”

“She - she didn’t tell you she was pregnant?” she said, and he shook his head.

“Like I said.  Two years.  My father said he wasn’t mine, that he could have been anyone’s, but I knew.”  His voice was almost a whisper. “The moment I saw him, I knew.  I knew it.  I felt it.”

Belle turned away, her hands over her mouth, her eyes stinging as she imagined how it would feel to lose Gideon.

“She took him away from you,” she said, in a tiny voice.  “She kept him from you, then let you fall in love with him, and then she took him away again.”

She had never thought she could feel so bad.  Guilt gnawed at her, and she ran her hands over her face.  He was watching her calmly, but his eyes were filled with sorrow.  It made her want to cry.

“What happened to him?” she asked, and he shrugged, shoulders hunching a little as he leaned on his cane.

“I have no idea,” he said wearily.  “I tried my hardest to look for him, but as I wasn’t named as his father I had no rights.  The authorities wouldn’t help. I never was able to track him down, and I suspect I never will.  I lost him, Belle. I lost my son.”

Belle rubbed at her chest to relieve the stabbing pain his words had caused.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she whispered, and Gold sighed a little.  

“Because I never tell anyone anything,” he said simply, and she let out a mirthless bark of laughter.  

“Well, I know that!” she said bitterly.  “Like you’d ever let me in, what was I thinking?”

He shrugged, and the motion irritated her to the point of wanting to shake some emotion into him.  Bloody man!

“Since we’re being honest with each other, for a bloody change,” she said.  “Why don’t you tell me why you broke up with me? The real reason?”

He looked away again.

“Because I thought it was best.”

“For who?”

He didn’t answer, and she could feel her anger growing.

“I loved you!” she insisted.  “Why did you push me away?”

“Because I didn’t believe it,” he whispered.  “I didn’t believe you.”

“But - but I told you!” she protested.  “Why didn’t you believe me?”

He sucked his teeth, glancing away for a moment.

“Because it’s easy to mistake pleasure for affection, and I knew I could give you pleasure,” he said.  “I knew I could give you that. If nothing else.”

“Why would you say that?” she demanded, stamping her foot in frustration.  “I had the best nights of my life with you, and it wasn’t just about the sex, damn you!  You - you made me laugh, and you were interesting, and you wanted to talk to me, and you listened!  Why would you say you had nothing else to offer me?”

“I couldn’t give you what you wanted,” he said softly.  “I knew that, Belle. I knew I couldn’t let you in, and I knew that wouldn’t be enough for you.”

“But why?” she persisted, stepping forward.  “Why the hell can’t you let me in?”

He hesitated for a moment, his eyes dropping briefly before glancing back up at her, fingers caressing the handle of the cane.

“I was always taught that love is weakness,” he said.  “That love is pain. That you hold yourself back from emotional entanglements.”

“Don’t you dare call me an emotional entanglement!” she spat.  “Is that honestly how you see me? How you see your son?  What the hell is wrong with you?”

He lifted a hand, palm outwards, a placating gesture.

“Please,” he said gently.  “I’m sorry, Belle. I didn’t mean it like that, I just - I just meant that I’ve never found it easy.  Relationships. Interaction. Any of it, really.”

“Oh, boo-fucking-hoo!” she snapped.  “You think it comes easy to anyone?  It takes work, you bloody idiot!  Relationships always take work!”

He stared at her silently, and she put her hands on her hips, glaring at him.

“Tell me how you feel about me,” she said.

He looked away, his mouth thinning.

“I don’t see what that would achieve.”

Tell me, damn you!”

Gold’s mouth worked, and she wanted to scream .

“So help me Alex, if you won’t be honest with me, I swear to God I will leave town and—”

“You - you are the only one!” he blurted.

“The only one what?” she snapped, and his face twisted, as though it hurt him to speak.

“The only woman I ever truly wanted,” he said eventually.  “The only woman I - I ever - loved.”

He looked as though he was in pain, his breath coming hard, his lips parted.  Belle swallowed hard, her heart thumping.

“You - you love me?” she whispered.

“Yes!” he hissed, his eyes flashing.

“How long have you loved me?”

He clenched his teeth, looking away, and she wanted to smack him.

“How long?”

Gold sighed, raising his eyes to the ceiling.

“I don’t know,” he said wearily.  “From the first, perhaps. From the first moment you walked into my shop and offered me your own savings to bail out your useless father.  Or perhaps when I first kissed you. Perhaps when I first fucking saw you, It’s hard to say.  I’m not the best when it comes to - emotions.”

Belle ran her hands over her face, tears pricking her eyes as she paced the floor.  He was silent as he watched her, and she could feel herself shaking with a mixture of rage and grief.  Rage that he hadn’t trusted her enough to be honest with her. That he had pushed her away out of fear.  Grief for what they could have had. For what might have been.

“If you’d opened up to me just - just once,” she said, her voice trembling.  “If you’d let me in just once we could have been together, we could have been a family!”

He remained silent, dropping his eyes to the floor, as though he were ashamed, and she stamped her foot, fury making her storm over to him, her chin jutting outwards.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she shouted.  “Why the hell didn’t you tell me?  All this - this time, all those months when I thought I was alone, that you didn’t want me!  That you didn’t love me!”

She slapped her hands against his chest, making him stagger, tears brimming over to track down her cheeks.  He raised a hand, and she smacked him again, hating the way that his solid chest felt so comforting, so familiar.  Hating that she wanted to bury her face in it.

“I was so fucking scared!” she whimpered.  “I was pregnant with your child and all alone and so fucking scared, don’t you get that?”

“I didn’t know,” he said gently.  “I didn’t know, sweetheart. I’m so, so sorry, believe me.  I just - I thought you deserved more. Your father said—”

“Oh, so you’ll listen to him!” she said, lip curling in a sneer.  “You’ll listen to his idea of what my life should be, but you won’t listen to me?  Well, screw you!”

She turned on the balls of her feet, resuming her pacing, and Gold watched her with a desperate sort of look that made her want to growl in anger.  His eyebrows were tilted upwards at the inner edges, giving him a pleading expression she had never seen on him before.

“I - I thought it would be better,” he said gently.  “I thought I was giving you what you needed. To find your future.  To study, to see the world. To live your life, to be happy. To - to find someone else!”

Belle let out a mirthless laugh, throwing up her hands in frustration.

“You seriously think there could be anyone after you?” she demanded.  “Are you so fucking clueless that you think I could just move on like that?”

“But - but I wanted you to,” he whispered.  “I wanted you to move on, Belle.”

I love you, you moron!” she shouted.  “I’ll never love anyone else!  I felt your child growing inside me and I loved every painful, terrifying second because he’s a part of you, don’t you get that?”

She let a sob escape, shoving at him with the palms of her hands as her chest heaved.

“We could have been together, you bastard!” she wept.  “We could have been together!”

“I’m sorry,” he said softly.  “I am, Belle. Believe me.”

He was trying to take her hands, to stop her smacking at his chest, and it only made her angrier.  His fingers eased around her wrists, and she wrenched them away, turning her back as she sobbed.

“Belle, please…”

“Leave me alone!” she wept, and heard him sigh, a whispery sound of despair.

“Please,” he repeated, and she felt him step closer, his presence seeming to wrap around her with cold fingers, making her flinch.

“I fucked up,” he said.  “I’m - I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

She felt his hand on her shoulder, a light, tentative touch, and she shrugged him off with a violence that almost hurt.

“Don’t touch me!” she snapped.  “I can’t - I can’t bear to look at you right now!”

He drew back immediately, and she dashed tears from her eyes, her body shaking with sobs.  A sound came to her, the faint noise of Gideon crying in his room, and she ran her hands over her face.

“i can see to Gideon,” he said calmly, and she squared her jaw, lifting her chin.

“I’ll do it,” she said, her voice cold.  “Then I’m going to bed. And tomorrow I’m moving out.”


“I mean it!” she snapped.  “I can’t stay here! I’m going!”

She stormed away from him, slamming the door behind her, the tears flowing freely as she ran upstairs to comfort their son.  They could have been a family.  They could have been together.

Chapter Text

Thirteen months earlier

There was an unfamiliar sound, a strange grumbling, which pulled Belle out of sleep.  She was groggy, her eyes wanting to close, her body aching with pain and tiredness. The grumbling grew louder, more fretful, became a cry, and her eyes flicked open.  The flat, disinfectant smell of the hospital hit her, and the events of the past day and night poured into her head. Pushing herself up on shaking arms, she reached across to the bassinet beside her bed where her son lay.  Her son.  She opened the front of her gown and picked him up, all six pounds and two ounces, tiny arms waving.  He stopped crying as soon as she put him to her breast, his mouth finding a nipple, and Belle lay back against the pillows with a sigh as he suckled.

Gideon Alexander French had come five days early, born at one-fifteen on the morning of April 30th.  Belle had found labour hard, especially as she had been alone except for the hospital staff. She had been asked if she wanted to contact the father, and the question had made her cry, but she had still given Gold’s name to the staff, if not his number.

Emma had intended to be there for her, but she, Neal and Henry had gone away for the weekend and weren’t due back until later that day.  Belle hadn’t even had the energy to text and let her know that Gideon had arrived early. She reached for her phone, noting that it was just after eight in the morning.  Gold’s number was still in there, but she scrolled past it, chewing her lip nervously as she found her father’s. He should be told he had a grandson, even if they had had no contact since he told her to end the pregnancy.

She doubted that he would be awake, but decided he bloody well ought to be, and so she pressed the button to call him, gazing down at Gideon as she listened to the dial tone.  Gideon’s eyes were still closed, his face pink and his hands curled into tiny fists, waving back and forth as he sucked at her. She was fascinated by his fingers and their tiny nails, the small, slightly pointed ears he had gotten from his father, and the silky-soft hair on his head.  The moment he had been placed on her chest she had felt a burst of love go through her, stronger even than that she had felt when she first knew she was carrying him. She could have watched him for hours.

The dial tone cut off with a click, and Belle turned her attention back to her phone.  A low growl reached her, followed by a sigh.

“Who’s there?” asked Moe grumpily, and Belle licked her lips.

“Dad,” she said.  “It’s me.”

He huffed, a groaning rush of air from the depths of his lungs.

“What the hell are you calling for at this time of the morning?” he demanded.

“The shop should be opening in less than an hour,” she reminded him.

“Are you still working here?  Must have slipped my mind…”

Belle sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Dad - I didn’t call to talk about the shop,” she said tiredly.

She glanced down at Gideon.  He coughed up a little milk, and she reached for a cloth to wipe his mouth before turning him around so that he could latch onto her other nipple.

“What do you want?” asked Moe gruffly.  “Haven’t heard from you in months, so what’s the emergency?”

Belle felt like reaching down the phone and strangling him.

“Well, considering our last conversation, take a wild guess!” she snapped.  “You have a grandson!”

There was a moment of silence, but for his heavy breathing, and she closed her eyes, waiting for him to speak.

“So,” he said.  “So. You had the kid, then?”

“Yeah,” she said, smiling down at Gideon.  “Six pounds two. His name is Gideon.”

There was another moment of silence.

“You named him?” said Moe flatly, and Belle frowned.

“Why the hell wouldn’t I?”

“So you’re not getting him adopted, or anything?”

Belle felt pain lance through her chest, and she clutched Gideon a little tighter, making him grumble as he fed.

“I told you!” she said sharply.  “I’m keeping him!”

“Then you’re an idiot!” he snapped.  “You can kiss your life goodbye, because you’ll be spending the next five years looking after Gold’s bastard!”

“I’ll be caring for my son!” she said.  “That’s the biggest concern I have right now!  I can think about my own future later!”

“You won’t have a bloody future!” he snarled.  “All those years studying, and for what? So you could get knocked up?”

Belle squeezed her eyes shut.

“I - I just thought you should know,” she said thickly.

“And Gold?” he demanded.  “Does he know?”

“No!” she snapped.  “I don’t need him! I don’t need anyone!”

“Then I guess you don’t need me,” he said, and there was a click as he hung up.

Belle felt tears prick her eyes, and she dropped the phone, looking down at Gideon as he fed.  He was making tiny contented noises as he suckled, and she stroked a gentle hand over his head, feeling the soft downy hair that covered his scalp and feeling a fierce, protective love burst through her.

“My Gideon,” she whispered.  “You’re all I need, my sweet Gideon.  You own my heart.”

She bent to kiss his head, lips pressing against delicate skin, and then kissed one of his tiny fists.  There would be no help from her own father, and she had long abandoned the idea of telling Gold of her situation.  It seemed that she would have to raise her son alone.

Gold was spending the last day of the month as he always did: going through his ledgers and working out who he would need to chase up if they didn’t turn up with their payment.  Most of his tenants paid ahead of time, but there were always a few stragglers he would need to go looking for the following day. There were also pawned items nearing the time for repayment of the money he had loaned against them, and he ran a finger down the list of names and figures in his ledger, making a mental note of who he needed to see, and plotting the best route around town in his head, in case he had to chase anyone up.

The bell above the shop’s door tinkled, and he glanced up, eyes narrowing as he recognised his visitor.  Moe French shuffled up to the counter, scowling, and Gold straightened up a little, closing the ledger with a snap and nodding to him.

“Mr French,” he said coldly.  “Here to beg me for yet another extension?”

Moe’s lip curled, and he reached inside his jacket, tugging out a roll of dog-eared bills and dropping it on the counter.

“It’s all there,” he said gruffly.

Gold held his gaze for a moment, then reached out, folding his fingers around the roll of money and pulling it towards himself.  He eased off the rubber band with a flick of his fingers, and began counting out the money while Moe waited, radiating malevolence.  Gold counted it twice, just to annoy him, and looked up.

“Your next month’s rent is paid a day ahead of schedule,” he said lightly.  “That’s two months in a row. May I ask what has prompted this sudden increase in financial responsibility?”

Moe’s scowl deepened.

“I’m not giving you the satisfaction of throwing me out on my arse,” he said.  “Are you gonna mark me down as paid, or what?”

Gold showed his teeth, and reached for his rent ledger, opening it up with a thump of the leather-bound cover against the countertop.  He carefully turned the pages of the ledger until he found Moe’s name, and marked off the month due, the date, and the amount paid.

“I spoke to Belle today,” said Moe, and Gold’s pen froze in place as a shard of ice pierced his heart.

“I have no idea why you would think I’d be interested,” he said dismissively.

“Yeah, she’s doing really well,” said Moe snidely.  “Studying hard, working when she’s not at college, and things are going great with her boyfriend.  They’re talking about moving in together. I’m just waiting for the engagement announcement.”

The shard of ice became an open hand, closing around his thumping hard and squeezing the life from it, and Gold put down his pen, resting his hands on the pages of the ledger so that they would stop shaking.  The paper felt dry and dusty beneath his fingers: as ancient as some of the antiques he had on display. An old relic: discarded, unwanted.

“It’s like she’s forgotten you even exist,” added Moe, and Gold looked up, ensuring that his face was as blank and unemotional as he could make it.

“Well,” he said quietly.  “It seems as though we all got what we wanted, doesn’t it?”

The smirk fell from Moe’s face, and Gold raised an eyebrow.

“Was there anything else?”

Moe scowled again, his lip curling, and turned to stomp off without a word.

“Same time next month, Mr French,” called Gold, and waited until he had barged out of the door, the bell above jingling.

Gold closed his ledger very carefully, straightening its position on the counter before making his way slowly through to the back room.  His legs felt heavy, the ever-present pain in his ankle stabbing at him, and he leaned on his cane, letting his shoulders hunch and his head drop.

“Oh, Belle!” he whispered.

He stood there for a long time, remembering the scent of her hair, and the feel of her skin, and the sound of her laughter.  The way her eyes had sparkled, her intelligence, her compassion. The way she felt in his arms. The sweet, wet heat of her and the fire in her kiss.  It was good that she was happy. It was good that she was loved.

Chapter Text

Belle had cried for a long time, holding Gideon close and weeping, even as he fell asleep in her arms.  She wept for the waste, the loss. All the months they had been parted, her fear and pain and desperation.  She wept for what could have been, if Gold had only had the courage to let her in, to be truthful about how he felt.  His declaration of love should have warmed her, comforted her. Instead it was a nest of briars and thorns, wrapping around her and piercing through to her soul.  A bitter draught of poison, polluting everything around it.

Gideon was a comforting presence, and she held him close, rocking him and speaking soothing words, unsure if they were more for her or for him.  Eventually she laid him in his crib, pulling the crocheted blanket over him and stumbling to her own bedroom. She wondered if Gold had gone to bed, but she had heard nothing, and she suspected he was still downstairs, no doubt drinking whisky and feeling sorry for himself.  She could understand that. He should be sorry.

She lay in the dark for a long time, arms folded behind her head, reliving the twenty-two months that had passed since their break-up.  The helplessness she had felt, the nights she had cried alone, the times she had dreamed of what it could have been like, if he had been there with her to help raise their son.  Eventually she dozed off, but woke with a dry throat, coughing a little, and pushed back the covers, slipping from her bed to go and get herself a drink. She crept down the stairs, freezing in place as she saw a light on in the kitchen, her heart thumping.  Gold was standing at the kitchen counter with his back to her, leaning on his splayed hands, his shoulders hunched. His cane was laid flat on the counter in front of him, and she wondered how long he had been standing there. She bounced on her toes, chewing her lip with uncertainty.

“I know you’re there,” he said, making her start.

His voice was weary, barely more than a whisper, and she watched one hand reach out, fingers closing around the cane and letting it drop to the floor with a thud.  He turned slowly, both hands folding over the handle as he looked up at her with hollow eyes and a terrible, defeated expression.

“Belle,” he said quietly.  “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“I - I was thirsty,” she said, and he nodded.

“Well, I could make you some tea,” he said.  “If you like.”

“Glass of water’ll be fine,” she said stiffly, and he sighed.

“Belle, please,” he whispered.  “Would you - would you please come and talk to me?”

“Why?” she asked tiredly.  “Would it do any good?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted.  “I - I just know I want to try, for Gideon’s sake.”

Belle wavered, but he was right.  They needed to have a better relationship for the sake of their son.  She nodded, walking into the kitchen to pull out a chair and sit down.  Gold filled the kettle, getting out the teapot and setting out cups, and Belle folded her hands on the table in front of her.  She was still wearing the fake wedding ring, and she turned it with her thumb, a nervous gesture. The water boiled, and Gold poured it into the pot, bringing the cups to the table with a small jug of milk.  He brought a tin of cookies, too, and Belle remembered that she had had nothing to eat that evening. She selected a cookie studded with chocolate chips, and bit down, tasting its sweetness on her tongue. Gold sat down, laying his cane against the side of the chair, and sat back.

“I know that you’re furious with me,” he said quietly.  “And you have every reason to be. I’m furious with myself.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better.”

“I know.”  His mouth flattened.  “I don’t know what I can do to make things better between us, but I want to, Belle.”

He looked penitent, and she ran her hands over her face with a sigh.  Defensiveness on her part wasn’t going to help them either.

“Well, I think honesty’s a good start,” she said.  “This evening - I think that was the first time in our entire relationship that you’ve truly been open with me.”

There was the faintest of smiles on his face, a fleeting thing, lifting the corners of his mouth before disappearing.


“So I’m gonna need more of that.”

Gold inclined his head.

“Alright,” he said.  “Ask me anything, and I’ll tell you the truth.”

“You said that you were taught to avoid - emotional entanglements,” she said, wanting to scowl at the memory.  “Who by?”

Gold grimaced, shifting in his seat a little.

“By my father,” he said.  “He - I should explain what happened, I suppose.  My mother was diagnosed with cancer when she was pregnant with me.  She refused treatment, because it would have meant getting rid of me.  By the time I was born, it was too late. The cancer had spread, and there was nothing that could be done.”

Belle nodded.

“She died,” she whispered.  “Do you - do you remember her at all?”

Gold shook his head.

“I saw pictures,” he said.  “I don’t remember her. My father - well, he had never wanted children.  He only wanted my mother. He loved her very much, you see. And I think he blamed me for her death.”

Belle wanted to reach for him, to take his hand, but she held back, uncertain.

“He took care of me in his own way, I suppose,” he added.  “But looking back, having sons of my own - he was neglectful.  Bitter. Lost himself in drink and self-pity and regret.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, and he shrugged, looking uncomfortable.

“So anyway, he taught me that emotions were weak,” he went on, “that love was a disease, that having someone to love meant you had something to lose.  I don’t - I don’t remember any physical affection from him.”

“Is he still alive?” she asked, and he shook his head.

“Died some years ago.  I suspect he was relieved.”

Belle took another bite of her cookie.

“What did he say when you had your - your first son?” she asked, and Gold winced, looking away for a moment.

“Well, as I said, he thought Bae wasn’t mine,” he said wryly.  “He wasn’t wrong to suspect that - Milah was never faithful to me - but I knew he was my son.  So I tried to make things work with her, for his sake. A lost cause.”

“What was she like?”

“She was pretty,” he said.  “Dark hair, fiery nature. But restless.  Didn’t want to be tied down. Always wanted to be having fun, or moving on.  Ever in search of what was over the horizon.”

“And you?” asked Belle, and he gave her a rueful smile.

“I, alas, was far too responsible for her to ever be happy,” he said.  “I was well aware that stability meant certainty. A steady job, a good income, a comfortable home.  Everything a child needs, in short. Milah disagreed. I went away for two days with my work, and when I returned she was gone, and so was my son.  I never saw either of them again.”

“But you looked for him,” said Belle, and he nodded.

“Spent years looking for him,” he said.  “I moved over here from Scotland when I heard a rumour she’d travelled to the US.  Even hired someone to do some less than legal digging, and found some mention of Bae having been in the care of social services and then running away.  After that, nothing. It was like they fell off the face of the earth. I dread to think what happened to him.”

Belle chewed her lip, imagining how it would feel to lose Gideon, to never know what became of him.  The thought was too terrible to contemplate, and she shoved it away.

“And - and you said she never named you as the father,” she recalled, and he nodded.

“Not officially, no.”  He held her gaze for a moment.  “I won’t make that mistake again.”

The look in his eyes made her shiver, and she sat back a little.

“You won’t have to,” she said.  “I want you to be in Gideon’s life.  I want him to know his father.”


He pushed back his chair, going to the counter to fetch the teapot.  Belle was silent as he poured the tea, pushing a cup towards her. She added a little milk and stirred, tapping the spoon against the rim of the cup.  A memory of something he had said when she first returned to town had been swirling around in her brain. It fused with the memory of something else she had heard earlier that evening, something she had stopped him from finishing.

“When I first came back to town,” she said slowly.  “You said something about me chasing after an old boyfriend.  What the hell was that about?”

Gold grimaced, looking away for a moment before meeting her eyes again.

“Your father told me you had a boyfriend shortly before I broke up with you,” he said.  “The day you left, I saw the two of you together. Flashy red car, handsome face - he kissed you outside your father’s shop.”

Belle’s mouth fell open.

“Gaston?” she said disbelievingly.  “You thought I was dating him?”

“Your father said you were,” he said simply.  “Said he was a good, steady young man who loved you and wanted to make you happy.  Made a point of telling me you were getting engaged, or something. Although that was some months later.”

Belle’s eyes widened in outrage.

“He said - he said what?” she spluttered.  “I know that was what he wanted, but I was never interested in Gaston!  He kept sniffing around, though. Telling him I was pregnant was the only way to get rid of him!  When did Dad tell you we were getting engaged?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said tiredly, running a hand over his face.  “He was a day early with the rent, I remember that. Last year. End of April, maybe?”

“Gideon’s birthday,” she said softly, and it felt as though a knife had pierced her heart.  She clutched at her chest, tears welling in her eyes.


Gold had put his head to the side, his gaze curious, and she shook her head.

“I - I told him,” she said thickly.  “We hadn’t spoken in months, not since he told me to end the pregnancy, but - but when Gideon was born, I thought maybe - I thought maybe he’d change his attitude.  So I called him. And - and he asked if you knew, and I said no. And - and then he hung up on me, because I said I was keeping Gideon. That was April thirtieth, early in the morning.”

Gold was silent, fingers drumming slowly on the tabletop, and she dashed tears from her eyes with the heels of her hands.

“He knew my son had been born,” he said quietly.  “He abandoned you both. And he told me that you were doing well in your studies, that you were happy with another man, about to get engaged.”

Belle nodded, more tears falling.  Gold sucked in his cheeks, his nostrils flaring, and she suspected he was trying not to lose his temper.

“Well, I suppose I shouldn’t have believed a word that came out of his mouth, considering his opinion of me,” he said, an edge of bitterness in his voice.  “If I’d known he’d abandoned his daughter and grandson - God, Belle, I’m so sorry!”

She nodded, still wiping away tears.  God, it hurt!  She was furious with her father, and desperately sad for herself, for them.  For what might have been. Gold reached out hesitantly, taking her hand in his, fingers warm against hers, and for a moment she wanted to hug him, to let him fold his arms around her and hold her close.  She blinked away tears, sniffing, and raised her chin to meet his eyes. They were dark as mahogany, warm as whisky, filled with compassion and regret.

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” he said gently.  “I can never make up for what I did, and I don’t expect you to forgive me.  I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I don’t - I don’t deserve to be loved.”

“Well, it's not about what you deserve,” she said curtly, and his lips twitched.

“You sound like Dr Hopper,” he said, and she wrinkled her brow.


“I - uh - I went to see him,” he said.  “I thought perhaps - perhaps it was time to get some help.  Professionally.”

“Oh.”  She wiped away the last of her tears, and picked up her tea.  “Oh. Well, I think that’s a good idea.”

“Yes,” he said dryly.  “Probably thirty years too late, but no matter.”

“It’s never too late to ask for help,” she said, and he smiled faintly, looking down at his own cup before flicking his eyes back up to meet hers.

“And for us?” he asked hesitantly.  “Is it too late for us?”

She took a drink of tea, setting down her cup.  He was still holding her other hand, and the contact was welcome.

“I still love you,” she said softly.  “I just - everything hurts right now.”

“I know,” he whispered.  “I love you too. I do, Belle, I swear it.”

She nodded.

“I think - I think we have a lot to work through,” she said, her voice wobbling a little.  “It’s not all going to be resolved sitting around this table.”

“I know that,” he said quietly.  “But I - I don’t want you to leave.  I don’t want you and Gideon to go. Please, Belle.”  He squeezed her hand. “Don’t leave me.”

She was silent for a moment, but she knew what her answer would be.

“I won’t leave,” she said.  “Not yet. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but for now I’ll stay.  We’ll stay.”

Gold seemed to let out a sigh of relief, and he nodded, sitting back a little.

“Thank you,” he whispered.  “Thank you.”

Belle pulled her hand from his, picking up her cup and draining it.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” she said, but he held up a hand.

“Could we - could we talk about the future?” he asked.  “What we want going forward?”

“Not now,” she said uncomfortably.  “Everything’s still kind of - not now, okay?”

He reached for her hand again, and she whipped it away, shaking her head.

“I can’t,” she said softly.  “I - not now. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

He nodded, his eyes grown sad and weary, and sat back, his hand falling into his lap.

“I understand,” he said heavily, and she nodded.

“I’m going to bed,” she said.  “Don’t stay up all night.”

He nodded, giving her another tiny smile, and she pushed back her chair, the legs scraping on the tiles.  Her legs felt heavy as they carried her away from him and up the stairs, and she could feel his eyes on her, the weight of his sorrow and regret.  She had decisions to make, and a future to plan.  But not now.  Not yet.

Chapter Text

The morning dawned with a close and humid air, but despite her restless night, Belle felt a little more refreshed when she woke.  She lay there for awhile, thinking over what they had discussed the previous evening. It was a good start, and she wanted to talk more about what the future might hold.  She had some idea of what she wanted their lives to look like going forward. Not to mention other thoughts on what she definitely didn’t want.   Perhaps they could talk a little more, now that she had had a chance to calm down and process what he had told her.  He had opened up a little, told her how he felt, told her some of the terrible truths about his past. She wanted to encourage more of the same, and she nodded to herself as she reached a decision.

She could hear the clink of cutlery from down in the kitchen, and so she pushed up out of bed, wrapping her cotton robe around herself and running fingers through her curls as she headed downstairs.  As she had expected, Gideon was already up and eating his breakfast, and Gold glanced up with a somewhat wary look as she entered. Belle bent to kiss Gideon’s cheek, stickiness coming away on her lips.  She licked it off, tasting maple syrup.

“I made pancakes,” said Gold, and offered Gideon another piece, two blueberries balanced on top.  “I - uh - I could cook you some, if you like.”

“Do you mind?” she asked, her belly already growling in approval.  “I can take over.”

“Not at all.”

He pushed to his feet and she took his place, sitting back and picking up the plastic spoon he had been using to feed Gideon.  There were pieces of banana cut up on the plastic tray of his chair, and Gideon grabbed at one, fingers squishing it a little on the way to his mouth.  Gold filled the kettle for tea, turning on the heat beneath the pan in which he had cooked Gideon’s pancakes, and glanced across at her.

“Did you sleep okay?” he asked, in a careful tone.

“Actually I did,” she said.  “You?”

“Yes.  Eventually.”

He was silent for a moment, whisking the pancake batter a little.

“They say honesty’s good for the soul,” she added, and he glanced over again.

“Well, perhaps they’re right.”

He poured some pancake batter into the pan, and Belle turned back to their son, cutting up the last piece of pancake and dipping it in the maple syrup.  Gideon opened his mouth eagerly, and Belle grinned as she spooned in the pancake.

“You like that, huh?” she said, amused.  “Papa’s spoiling you when my back’s turned.”

“A treat every now and then won’t do any harm,” said Gold, and Belle looked up.

“A little bird told me you two went for ice cream yesterday,” she said, and he sighed.

“Tell your sneaky network of informants that was one time.”

He sounded put-upon, but he gave her a grin, the glint in his eyes showing that he was kidding.  She sat back with a smile, allowing herself to relax a little. It felt strange, this slow thawing of relations, the two of them settling into almost comfortable domesticity, Gideon now eating a piece of banana and Gold flipping the pancakes.

“What time did you want to get to the shop?” he asked, and Belle hesitated.

“I’m not opening the shop today,” she said.  “I - I thought maybe we could spend the day together.  You, me and Gideon. I thought - maybe it would help.”

He looked around, eyebrows shooting up in surprise, but then he smiled, his eyes softening.

“I would like that.”

An hour later they were making their way along to the park, Belle pushing the stroller and Gold keeping pace by her side.  The air was thick, and she could see clouds starting to gather at the horizon. A storm, perhaps, to break the humidity and wash away the heat that had been building for days.  It would be welcome. Gideon was dozing, fingers opening and closing as he slept, and Belle turned into the park, walking beneath the cool shade of the trees. Gold glanced across at her, dappled sunlight making his hair gleam gold and silver.

“What are you going to do about your father’s release from hospital?” he asked, and Belle pulled a face.

“I don’t know,” she admitted.  “I know I only have a day or two, but I’m so angry with him right now I don’t even want to see him.  But - but he’s still my dad, and I came here to look after him. If I don’t do it, who will?”

She sighed, shaking her head, and he was eyeing her with a hesitant expression.

“You know, I was thinking about that,” he said carefully.  “I could - if you wanted, I mean - I could hire a nurse.”

Belle stopped dead, looking across at him, her heart thumping.


“I could hire a nurse,” he repeated.  “Someone who could be there with him all day.  Someone who could make sure he’s getting the best care, and keep an eye on his diet.  It would mean you could work at the shop. You know - if you wanted to.”

He was watching her almost anxiously, and she felt a sudden surge of affection for him.  It made her want to kiss him.

“That - that would actually be really helpful,” she said.  “I haven’t made my mind up about the shop yet, but I probably will keep running it for now.”

“You don’t have to, you know,” he said gently.  “You don’t owe him anything, Belle.”

She sighed, turning away for a moment and looking across the playpark.  Two children were racing each other to the slide, squealing with excitement.

“I know,” she said quietly.  “I know that. I just - I’d still feel guilty if he was left destitute.  Do you understand?”

“Wanting to do your best for a terrible parent?” he said dryly.  “Oh yes. I can understand that very well.”

Belle sent him a sad smile, and they walked on, pushing the stroller towards the play area.  Gideon was stirring, rubbing his eyes with clenched fists and yawning, and Belle parked up near one of the wooden benches that still had some shade.

“Well, look who’s awake,” said Gold, squatting down in front of the stroller.  “Shall we get you out of there?”

“He likes the swings,” said Belle suddenly.  “Do you - maybe want to push him?”

Gold glanced up at her, a tiny smile lifting the corners of his mouth, and he unclipped Gideon’s straps, lifting him up in the crook of one arm and pushing to his feet with the aid of the cane.  Belle watched as he carried their son to the swings, slipping his legs into the cradle seat. Gideon squealed, slapping his hands against the rubber-coated swing.

“Hold on, now!” warned Gold, and gave him a push, causing a shriek of excitement.

Belle smiled, taking a seat on the bench and watching them. Gold had taken a step back, the cane taking his weight as he used his other hand to push Gideon higher.  It was a heartwarming sight, and she felt a pang of regret for what might have been, had he not pushed her away. Had she had more courage. Had her father not lied through his teeth to keep them apart.

Looking back on the day as she lay in bed that night, Belle felt that they had turned a corner.  They had spent a pleasant hour or two at the park, and had gone to Granny’s for lunch afterwards.  In the afternoon they had sat in Gold’s garden, Belle reading quietly, and Gold playing with Gideon before reading him a story and laying him down for his nap.  The clouds had covered the sky by the time seven o’clock came, and the scent of water lay heavy in the air. Gold had made dinner: a simple meal of steak and salad, eaten with a glass of red wine, and after dinner they had both picked up books and read in near silence until it was time to go upstairs.

There was still an atmosphere between them: a tense heaviness, almost like the pressure of the approaching storm.  Belle wanted to break it, and she sensed that he did too, but they were both holding back, hiding behind careful politeness and limiting their discussions to frivolous topics.  The latest news in Storybrooke. The plot of the novels they were reading. The meals to be cooked the next day.

She wriggled a little in the bed, sighing, and the first low rumble of thunder growled in the distance.  The storm.  At last.  The rain started then, a gentle pattering at first, gradually growing in strength and volume.  Belle pushed the sheets off herself, the heat too thick and oppressive for comfort. There was a tension in her body, a restlessness.  She ran her hands over her face, a light sheen of perspiration there. Lightning flashed, bathing the bedroom in violet light, and Belle counted in her head until the thunder rolled.  Three seconds. The storm was getting closer.

She took a deep breath, letting it out in an attempt to relax, but there was something needling at her, making her skin hum and her heart thump and her belly tighten.  Rain hammered against the ground outside, spraying the windows with wetness, and lightning flashed again, the thunder now only a second behind it. It was as though something inside her had broken with the storm, a flood of sensations rippling through her, and she kicked off the sheets and bounced out of bed before she could start overthinking.

The wooden floor of the landing was cool beneath her bare feet, and she strode purposefully to the room at the end, reaching for the handle and turning it before she could lose her nerve.  They needed to do this.

Gold had been restless before he went to bed, and having suffered from insomnia all his life, was not remotely surprised to find himself lying with his arms behind his head, wide awake and listening to the rain grow harder outside the windows.  At least the storm would lift some of the oppressive heat. He watched as the lightning flashed, and debated whether to get up to make some tea, sit in the shelter of the back porch and watch the storm. The forces of nature often helped to bring some perspective to more human problems.

The squeak of the door handle made him look around, and his eyes widened in surprise as Belle marched into the room as though she was heading to battle, shoulders back and chin high.  He pushed himself up on the heels of his hands, eyes wide. She was wearing a button-down shirt that skimmed her upper thighs, and an agitated expression.

“Belle,” he said, perplexed.  “What’s wrong? Is it Gideon?”

“No, it’s not Gideon,” she said shortly, pacing back and forth.  “It’s us.”

“Oh.”  He sat up a little more.  “Oh.  Have you changed your mind?  Are - are you going to leave?”

He couldn’t say he was surprised, despite how well the day had gone.  It would have been too much to hope for to think she could forgive him.  He had felt the tension between them, the awkwardness.  Of course she wouldn’t want to stay in that sort of atmosphere.

“Why would you think that?”

Her words interrupted his train of thought, and when he looked up at her she was staring at him.

“I haven’t changed my mind,” she said.  “I agreed to stay and I meant it.”

“Oh,” he said, relief making him want to sag.  “Well - that’s - that’s good.”

She was still pacing, air huffing through her nose in agitation, and he wondered what it was that had her so wound up.

“Did you - uh...”  He licked his lips as she glanced at him.  “Did you want to talk?”

“No, I don’t want to bloody talk!” she snapped, raising her arms and letting them fall again.  “At least - at least not now!”

“Right,” he said, because he couldn’t think of another response, and she sighed, putting her hands on her hips as she whirled on her toes to face him.

“I am tired of fighting and defensiveness and - and tiptoeing around each other!” she said impatiently.  “I love you, and I know you love me, and I’m well aware we have a lot of crap to wade through before we’re in a good place, but I can’t think about that right now.”

“Oh,” he said, confused.  “What is it that you want, then?”

She strode forwards, sitting down on the edge of the bed, until she was mere inches from him.

“I want you,” she said softly.  “I want us.  I want you to kiss me and take this shirt off me and pull me into bed with you right fucking now, do you hear me?”

He felt his mouth fall open, and hurriedly snapped it shut.  She was staring at him, her chest heaving, a gleam of moisture on her lower lip.  Lightning flashed, briefly turning her pale skin violet, the hollows at the base of her throat and between her breasts deep indigo.  He could smell her scent in the air, could sense her agitation. Her need. He reached up to cup her cheek, her skin soft beneath his palm, and she leaned into his touch, nuzzling his thumb with her nose.

“Are you sure about this?” he whispered, and she nodded.

“I’m sure.”  Her eyes locked onto his, shining in the dim light.  “Fuck me.”

He felt his own breath quicken with arousal, his fingers sinking into her hair as he leaned closer.  His nose brushed hers, and he could feel her breath on his lips, rapid and shallow. He reached up with the other hand, cradling her face as he pressed his mouth to hers.  Belle moaned, opening for him, and his tongue slipped into her, her mouth hot and sweet. He groaned a little, and she shifted closer, her hands sliding over his naked chest, her thumbs brushing over his nipples and sending ripples of sensation through him.  It felt so good to kiss her again, without the rage and hurt and anger that had been simmering in both of them ever since her return. She had offered herself to him, had asked him to take her to bed, and he already decided that he would take his sweet time over it.

He pulled his mouth from hers, kissing down her neck, his lips finding the place where her pulse throbbed, and Belle moaned as he sucked on her skin, his tongue swirling.  Her hands dropped to where the sheets bunched around his waist, fingers plucking at them, and he sat back against the pillows, tugging the sheets out of the way so that she could kneel astride his legs, her hands on his shoulders.  He kissed her again, reaching for the buttons of her shirt, carefully plucking them open one by one until he could push the shirt from her shoulders and down her arms. Belle shook it loose, her skin gleaming pale lilac as the lightning flashed, and he reached up to cup her breasts with shaking hands, kissing first one nipple, then the other.  She rested her hands on his shoulders, letting her head roll back with a gasp as he sucked at her, and he squeezed her gently, his tongue circling, his lips tugging.

Her fingers were stroking through his hair, the nails scraping his scalp and sending shivers through him, and he let her nipple slip from his mouth, wet and hard, before kissing his way across to her other breast.  Belle was rocking back and forth, her body undulating, inching her way closer until the heat of her core brushed against the hard ridge of his cock through the loose pants he wore. The sensation made him groan against her skin, his lips wet with saliva, and he rolled them, laying her down in the coolness of the sheets, her dark hair fanning out on the pillows.  Belle gazed up at him as he looked down on her, poised on the palms of his hands, his legs between hers and her thighs gripping his hips.

Her breath was coming hard in her chest, and she lifted her head to kiss him, lips pulling at his.  He lowered himself onto her, kissing along her jaw and down her throat as he inched his way down the bed, revelling in the feel of her naked body beneath him again after so long.  Her skin was as soft and fragrant as he remembered, and he drew his tongue down over her belly, pressing kisses to the tiny, silvery stretch marks that showed where she had carried his son.  He wished he had seen her pregnant with his child. He wished he had been there for her instead of wallowing in misery and self-loathing. Belle moaned, fingers stroking through his hair as his tongue traced a path along the seam at the top of her thigh.  He could smell her arousal, and his mouth watered at the thought of tasting her again, of licking her until she came on his tongue.

Thunder rumbled outside as the lightning lit up the room once more, and he slid his hands up her inner thighs, pushing them apart, baring her to his gaze.  She was wet, the soft petals of her flesh glistening, and he turned his head, running his tongue along the soft skin of her thigh, tasting salt. She let out a tiny whimper, and he kissed her between the legs, feeling wetness coat his lips.  The tip of his tongue swept across to taste her, and he growled deep in his throat, his cock rigid, the brush of his pants against the head an exquisite torture. He wanted to be inside her, to sink deep and feel her hold him, to come hard and feel her clench around him.  But not yet.

He slid his hands underneath her, lifting her up a little, and his tongue gently touched her, sliding over her tender skin.  Belle let out a low cry, fingers trying to grab at the wisps of his hair as he licked at her. He kept up a slow, circular rhythm, remembering the very first time he had done this for her, the very first time they had had sex.  He shifted position to slide two fingers inside her, and Belle arched her back with a moan as he thrust them slowly in and out, his tongue swirling over her clit. She tasted incredible, and he could feel the tiny changes in her, feel the tensing of her muscles and hear the change in pitch of her moans that let him know that she was close.

He kept up the slow, deliberate pace, his tongue rubbing over her clit, his fingers sliding deep into her slippery-wet heat, Belle’s thighs clamped to the sides of his head, her scent enveloping him.  He was pushing and thrusting, his tongue stroking and sliding, and he could hear Belle whisper his name, urging him on. Her body was stiffening, his free hand gripping her tightly as his tongue scraped over her, and she came with a moaning cry, head rolling back against the pillows, body jerking in the throes of passion.  He let out a low groan of pleasure, thrusting his hips against the bed, trying to get some relief for his aching cock. Drawing out his fingers, he could see them glisten in the half-light, and he sucked them clean, a low growl rumbling out of him at the flavour of her bliss before he put his mouth to her again. He tasted hot fluid on his tongue, sweet and salty, and he licked it from her, sucked it from her, swallowed it down like nectar.  Belle collapsed down into the sheets with a gasp, throwing an arm up over her eyes, her chest heaving.

“Beautiful,” he whispered, pressing kisses to her wet flesh.  “So fucking beautiful!”

He pushed his pants down over his hips, kicking them off, and made his way back up the bed, kissing her belly and breasts, feeling her muscles twitch beneath his lips as she came down from her high.  Belle reached for him, hands sliding up his arms to his shoulders, and he pushed up against her, feeling the wet heat of her against his cock. The waiting was agony, but she smiled up at him, raking fingers through his hair, and nodded.

“Please,” she whispered.

He reached between them, taking himself in hand, gently pushing inside her, groaning as he sank deep.  Belle moaned, her nails digging into his shoulders, her legs drawing up to allow him to fill her. She was perfect around him, soft and silky-wet, and he reached up to brush her hair back from her face, pressing his brow to hers as he felt tears prick his eyes.

“I love you,” he whispered.  “I love you so much, Belle!”

His hands cupped her cheeks, and he bent his head to kiss her, his tongue sliding into to stroke against hers as he began to thrust with slow, circular motions of his hips, grinding against her.  Belle moaned into his mouth, her hands sliding up his back to grip his shoulders, lifting her hips so that he could push deeper, so that he could feel every inch of her. He broke the kiss for a moment to catch his breath, his chest heaving, his heart pounding.  Her scent was all over him, on his skin and in his hair, on his fingers as they caressed her cheeks and slipped through her dark curls. He brushed his lips against hers, full and wet from his kiss, and Belle let her head roll back as he trailed his lips down her throat and back up to her ear.

“You feel so good!” she breathed.  “That feels incredible!”

He sucked on her skin, tasting the salt of her perspiration, nipping at the lobe of her ear as he continued to move, to push, to thrust.  Belle was moaning, her nails digging into his skin, and he thought of the last time they had had sex, of the anger and lust that had led her to mark his back with scratches that were still visible.  That time had been hot and frenzied, dark and passionate. This, though. This was what he had missed. This was what he had denied himself.

Belle was writhing, her moans growing louder, and she arched her back, pushing her breasts up into his chest as she let her arms fall to the side, palms upward and fingers curled, as though in supplication.  The thunder rolled as he ran his hands up her arms, threading his fingers through hers, pushing her hands down into the pillows as he quickened his pace a little. Belle let out a high-pitched gasp, her body stiffening, and he could feel himself nearing his peak, his cock rigid inside her, the wave of bliss rising up, ready to crash through him.

Fuck, Belle!” he breathed.  “Got to come, sweetheart.  Got to come inside you!”

“Yes!” she whispered.  “Come for me, love! Come hard!”

It was as though the lightning had burst in his head, filling his vision with bright light as ecstasy poured over him, and he let out a hoarse cry as he came, his cock pulsing, Belle joining his cries as she followed him, clenching around him, pulling his seed deep inside her.  His grip tightened on her hands as he moved in shallow, rapid thrusts, shuddering in pleasure as she pulled every drop from him, the blood pounding in his head. He slowed to a stop, gasping for breath, and released her hands as he let his head drop to nuzzle at her neck.

Belle put her arms around him, her body still humming from her orgasm, her cheeks flushed and perspiration wet on her upper lip.  She licked it off, trying to catch her breath, feeling the heat and weight of him on top of her, inside her. It was wonderfully familiar, and yet different, as though things between them had altered on a fundamental level.  Perhaps they had. She inhaled deeply, breathing in the musky scent of him, mixed with the faintest remnant of his cologne. Her fingers stroked through the short strands of his hair, damp with sweat, and she rubbed her cheek against him, feeling a burst of love and affection.  Gold pushed himself up on trembling arms, a sleepy smile twisting his mouth.

“Well, well,” he purred.  “That was beautiful.”

“It was,” she agreed.

Lightning flashed again, and she counted in her head until the thunder rumbled.  Seven seconds.

“The storm is passing,” she ventured, and his smile widened as he reached up to touch her face, one finger tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

“So it would seem.”

There was silence for a moment.  She could feel him shrinking inside her, slipping from her, and he bent his head to kiss her gently.

“Will you stay with me tonight?” he asked quietly.

She nodded, and he kissed her again, his lips soft and damp, his fingers gently caressing her cheeks.

“I missed you,” he whispered.  “I missed you so much, Belle! I’m such a fucking idiot!”

“Yeah.”  She stroked his hair.  “I missed you too. And yes, you are a fucking idiot.”

He smiled at that, and she cupped his cheek with her palm as he rested his forehead against hers.

“I do love you, though,” she said softly.  “I love you so much.”

“Yes.”  He kissed her gently.  “Yes. And I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Rain was still drumming against the ground outside and lashing against the windows, but the thunder and lightning had grown more intermittent, and after awhile the rain lightened somewhat.  Belle sighed, shifting against Gold, one arm stretched across his chest as they lay in comfortable silence. She was nestled by his side, warm and snug, his arm around her and her head resting on his shoulder.

“Sleepy?” he asked.

“Only a little.”  She nuzzled his nipple with her nose.  “I’m just kind of basking right now.”

She sensed him grin.

“Yes.”  He raised his head a little.  “God, I missed you, sweetheart.”

“I missed you, too,” she said softly.  “You know, I thought about you all the time.  Especially when it got close to Gideon’s birth.  My friends must have been so sick of me crying into my cocoa every time they came over.”

Gold sighed.

“I’m so sorry.”  He kissed her forehead.  “But I’m glad you made some good friends.”

“Yeah.”  She shifted position a little.  “They’re a few years older, but they’ve been together since they were kids.  Emma got pregnant at eighteen, and Neal was in jail until after he was born, but they stuck together, and now she’s back at college.  They’ve both been a huge help, giving me Henry’s hand-me-downs, looking after Gideon while I work - I honestly don’t think I would have made it without them.”

“Then I look forward to meeting them,” he said, and kissed her again.  “If they want to meet me, that is. I imagine I’m not exactly flavour of the month.”

Belle pushed up on his chest, grinning down at him.

“Emma did offer to drive up here and kick you in the balls…”

“I’m honoured,” he said dryly.

“I said it would be a waste of gasoline,” said Belle, and giggled at his expression before settling back down.

“Perhaps we should meet on neutral territory, then,” he said, and she shook her head.

“It’s cool, she wasn’t remotely surprised when I told her we’d had sex.  Come to think of it, Neal said months ago I was obviously still in love with you and I should just come up here and tell you.”

“Neal is clearly far wiser than I,” he said gravely, and she giggled again.

“They’ve been good friends,” she said, rubbing her head against his chest.  “Emma taught me so much about what to expect in pregnancy, about how to care for myself and Gideon once he was born…  It made me realise that I could cope, you know? That I could raise Gideon, that I could get through everything by myself.”

“You should never have had to,” he said softly.

“No.”  She kissed his chest.  “And I never want to do that again.”

He kissed the top of her head.

“Speaking of which,” he said.  “You know that’s three times since you got back that we didn’t use protection?”

“I know,” she sighed.  “Can I help it if you make me either too mad or too turned on to control myself?  This is really all your fault.”

Gold chuckled.

“Well, I suspect you’re right about that,” he said, sounding amused.  “Perhaps we ought to sort something out, though. If you’re going to be crawling into my bed every five minutes, that is.  Gideon could end up with a sibling before he turns two at this rate.”

Belle pushed up on one elbow, leaning on his chest to gaze down at him.  His features were a dozen shades of blue in the dim light, his eyes reflecting bright pinpricks of light.

“Would that be so terrible?” she asked, and he stared at her for a moment, before pushing up a little, one hand reaching up to cup her cheek.

“Of course not,” he said gently.  “I just thought you might have other plans, that’s all.  I’d - I’d love to have more children with you, Belle. I’d be ecstatic.  But I want it to be something that you want, too. I - I want us to be settled.  To be happy.”

“Yeah.”  She nestled by his side again.  “Did you mean it? What you said about seeing Dr Hopper?”

“Yes,” he said, after a pause.  “Do you approve?”

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said sincerely.  “I think - I think maybe we should both go. Or - or you could go on your own, if you like, but we could see him together as well, for different sessions.  What do you think?”

“I think that may be helpful,” he agreed.  “We’ll see what he suggests.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance, a quiet murmuring, and Belle sighed, running a hand over his smooth chest.

“We need to talk about Boston, too,” she said.

“I meant what I said.”  His fingers caressed the skin of her back.  “I’ll get a place there. A place big enough for all of us.  If - if you want to, of course.”

Belle pushed up on her elbow again, looking down on him.

“Move in together?”

“If you want to,” he repeated.  “Now that I’ve spent time with Gideon, I want to see him everyday, if I can.  And it would help you out, wouldn’t it?”

“But you’d keep the house here, right?” she asked.  “I won’t be studying for too much longer, and I want Gideon to grow up in Storybrooke if possible. It’s a quieter life. A calmer life.”

“Of course I’ll keep the house,” he said.  “I already own some property in the city, so perhaps one of those apartments would be suitable, if there’s a vacancy coming up in the next few months.  We could just live there for the remainder of your studies, that’s all. Even come back at weekends, if you like.”

“And go to the cabin?” she suggested, grinning as she remembered their previous times there.

“At least until he’s old enough to start getting himself out of bed in the evenings,” he said dryly.  “The cabin doesn’t exactly afford much privacy.”

“True.”  She walked her fingers over his chest, enjoying the heat of his skin.  “We could get a sitter one night, though. Go and make each other scream to our hearts’ content.”

“An excellent suggestion.”

Belle nuzzled him with her nose again.

“So - we move in together, then.” she said.  “It won’t freak you out, having me around twenty-four-seven?”

“Well - we’re already living together,” he pointed out.  “It would just be - an adjustment.”

“An adjustment in that we both sleep in the same bed?” she teased.

“Makes for less laundry,” he said gravely, and she giggled.

“You have an answer for everything.”

“Oh, not everything...”

He turned, flipping her onto her back and making her squeal as he nuzzled at her neck.  She moaned as he drew his tongue up her throat, and he pushed himself up on his forearms, grinning down at her.

“For instance,” he went on.  “I’ve wondered for some time how many times I can make you come in the space of one night.”

“Hmm.”  Belle pursed her lips thoughtfully, one hand reaching up to stroke through his hair.  “An important question to be asked in the interests of science. I believe our current record stands at six.”

“Is that so?”  He shifted to the side, sliding one hand down her belly to dip between her legs, making her gasp. “That sounds like a record made to be broken, wouldn’t you agree?”

Belle closed her eyes, lips parting as his fingers gently stroked her.  A tiny moan fluttered out of her, and she licked her lips, gazing up at him.

“You know, I have to open the shop tomorrow,” she said breathlessly, and he kissed her neck, making her shiver.

“No, you don’t.”

“And - and I have to get Gideon dressed and feed him.”

“I can do that.”  His mouth sucked at her throat, one finger sliding inside her.  “You can spend all day in bed if you like. I can bring you everything you need.”

Belle moaned, arching upwards as his finger sank deep, and he bit down, making her let out a tiny cry.  She could feel him growing hard against her leg, pressing into the muscles of her thigh, a second finger sliding inside her.  His thumb rubbed over her tender flesh, and she raked his hair with her fingers as she pushed against his hand.

“I want you in my bed, Belle,” he breathed.  “I want you to stay with me. You and Gideon.  I want to build a life with you. I - I want to make you happy.”

“Yes,” she whispered.  “Yes, I want that too.”

He was thrusting his fingers, sliding them in and out of her, and she gasped as a jolt of sensation went through her with the sweep of his thumb.

“That’s so good!” she whispered, and he nipped at her earlobe.

“I want to give you more,” he growled.  “I want to give you everything, my sweet.  Lay you out in my bed and lick you until you scream!  Suck the cum from you and drink you down before I fuck you hard!”

She moaned at his words, rasped out in an accent thick with desire, making her shiver, and he drew his tongue along her jaw.

“Do you want it?” he whispered.  “Do you want me to show you what I can do to you?

Belle bit her lip, trying not to grin.

“Oh, no you don’t!” she said firmly.

She shoved at him, his fingers sliding out of her as he was suddenly on his back.  Belle straddled him, her hand pressing against his chest and keeping him in place as he tried to push himself up on his elbows.  His eyes were wide as they met hers, a hint of uncertainty in his gaze, and she leaned in close, her nose almost brushing his.

“You’re not in charge tonight,” she said softly.

He gave her a tiny smirk, his eyes glinting, and she reached down between them to grasp his cock, squeezing him firmly and making his eyes roll back in his head as he let out a loud groan.  Belle rose up on her knees, lining them up, and sank down onto him with a sigh of pleasure as he filled her. He growled in response, his hips pushing upwards, his hands sliding up her thighs.  She began to move, rocking against him, letting him slide out of her before sinking back onto him, and his jaw tightened, his hands moving up to grip her hips.

“God, sweetheart!” he whispered.  “You feel incredible!”

Pleasure was rippling through her with every grind of her body against his, pleasure so delicious she couldn’t speak, but she wanted to tell him that he felt every bit as incredible.  That she had missed him so much it had hurt, as though there was a hollowed-out hole at the heart of her. Knowing that he loved her, that he wanted to make a life with her, filled her with joy.  Joy tinged with sadness, for all they had lost through fear and self-doubt and bitter misunderstandings. She knew that it couldn’t be fixed with kisses and orgasms, however hard they might wish it could.  He was trying, though, and she would try too. They could both make something better than what had been before. Something strong, and honest, and real. Something to last forever.

He was groaning as she moved against him, and she kept up her rhythm, perspiration making her inner thighs slide against him, heat and wetness where their bodies joined and sweat beading on her lip.  She could feel the pleasure rising up through her again, and quickened her pace, rubbing against him.

Fuck, Belle!” he gasped.

His fingers sank into the soft flesh at her hips, pulling her tight against him, increasing the friction, and Belle moaned, bucking against him, shuddering with the feel of it.  She came with a cry, throwing her head back, and Gold let out a long, low groan as he followed her, hips pushing upwards as she rocked against him.  She slowed to a stop and let her head fall onto her chest, gulping ragged lungfuls of air, feeling his grip loosen as his muscles relaxed, the tension flowing out of him.  Her heart was thudding in her chest, and she tried to calm herself, breathing in the scent of him. He patted her thigh, and she rose up a little to let him slip from her before rolling onto her back with a contented sigh.

A faint cry started from Gideon’s room, and they shared a glance, Gold smiling lazily.

“I’ll see to him,” he said, and sat up.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed, pulling on his cotton pants before reaching for his cane.  Belle watched him go, then sat up, scrabbling around for the shirt she had been wearing and shrugging it on.  Gold returned just as she got the buttons fastened, Gideon nestled against his chest, rocking him gently with one arm.

“I think he - heard the noise,” he said dryly, and Belle giggled, patting the bed beside her.

“Yeah, we’re gonna have to be careful with that when he gets older,” she said.  “Especially when he learns to open doors.”

Gold chuckled, sliding back into bed and turning on his side.  Gideon grumbled, but reached out to Belle, and she folded her arms around him and kissed his head as he settled against her chest.  Gold was watching them with a look of sleepy contentment, and she couldn’t help smiling back as he reached up to stroke her hair.

“I love you,” he whispered.  “Both of you.”

She leaned in to kiss him, and he gently pressed his lips to hers, then to the top of Gideon’s head, his arms sliding around both of them and pulling them close.  Gideon snuffled a little, and Belle felt her heart swell with love for her family. They could make it work. They would make it work.

Gold woke with an unfamiliar sense of calm suffusing his entire being.  He was warm and comfortable, the press of cotton against his skin and a tiny, grousing noise just starting to register in his ears.  He opened his eyes to see Belle huddled close beside him in her shirt, their son nestled against her chest. Gideon was fidgeting, and rolled onto his back, brown eyes meeting Gold’s as he began grizzling.

“Alright,” whispered Gold, reaching out for him and drawing him close.  “Let’s get you changed.”

He left Belle sleeping, taking Gideon to his room to change and dress him, and then carried him downstairs while he made tea.  Gideon watched everything curiously, and Gold gave him a piece of banana to chew on while he spooned tea into the pot.

“Let’s take your mother breakfast in bed, shall we?” he said, and Gideon looked at him solemnly, squashed banana spreading around his mouth.

Belle was awake when he took Gideon back upstairs, and gave him a sleepy smile, holding out her arms to take their son.

“I don’t suppose there’s any tea?” she asked, and Gold grinned.

“You two sit there, I’ll bring it.”

By the time he went downstairs the kettle had boiled, and he poured hot water into the teapot and set the pot on a tray with two cups and saucers and the jug of milk.  It was awkward to carry upstairs on one arm, and Belle huffed when she saw him.

“I would have helped,” she said reprovingly, setting Gideon to one side and reaching up to take the tray.

“Don’t worry, it’s done now.”

He went back downstairs, getting out the ingredients for pancakes and whisking the batter.  There were fresh strawberries in the fridge, and he sliced some up with banana and blueberries ready for the pancakes.  He cooked three each, and one for Gideon, piled onto a plate with the fresh fruit, dotted with melting butter and with maple syrup poured over in glistening amber trails.  Belle’s eyes widened as she saw them.

“Pancakes two mornings in a row?” she teased, and he shrugged.

“Felt like celebrating.”

Gideon grabbed at a strawberry, and Gold went to fetch a clean bib to tie around his neck, before lying back against the pillows and reaching for his tea as Belle cut pieces of pancake and dipped them in the syrup.  It was a messy business, and they would have to change the sheets, but he didn’t care. Lounging on the bed with the woman he loved and the child they had made - it was perfect. Simply perfect. Belle fed him a piece of pancake, and he took it from the fork with a pull of his lips.

“Delicious,” he said thickly.

“Na-na,” said Gideon, holding up a piece of banana, and Gold grinned.

“Yes please,” he said, and opened his mouth.  Gideon shoved the banana in with enough force to squish it against his teeth, and Belle got a fit of the giggles.

“He likes to feed people,” she said, amused.  “Must get that from you.”

“Well, I’ll enjoy teaching him to cook, in that case,” he said, wiping banana residue from his lips with a thumb and sucking it off.  Belle grinned, and offered Gideon another bite of pancake.

“What are your plans for today?” she asked, and he took a sip of tea, setting down his cup.

“I have a lot to go over with my lawyer,” he said.  “We may need to go to Boston at some point to sign some paperwork.  Perhaps we could look for a place while we’re there.”

“I’d like that,” she said, beaming, and he snagged a piece of strawberry, popping it in his mouth.

“I’ll speak to my agent, see if any of my apartments are due to fall vacant,” he added.

“And if they’re not?”

“Then we look for somewhere to rent for a year.”

“Okay.”  She kissed Gideon’s head, popping a piece of pancake into her mouth.

“We should talk about what we want for the time we’ll be in Boston,” he said.  “Particular areas, certain amenities - well, I daresay you know the place better than I.  If we put a wishlist together I can have my agent look out some suitable places.”

“Sounds perfect.”

She fed Gideon another piece of pancake, following it with a blueberry, and Gold smiled.

“What about you?” he asked.  “What are your plans for today?”

Belle was silent for a moment, but then looked over at him, blue eyes bright and determined.

“I’d like you to take Gideon to the shop,” she said.  “I’m going to see my father.”

“Right,” said Gold, his voice careful.  “What are you gonna tell him?”

“Don’t know yet,” she said honestly.  “But - what you said about getting a nurse for him - can we do that?”

He smiled, a warm, soft-eyed smile.

“Of course,” he said.  “Whatever you need.”

It was some hours later that Belle left Gold and Gideon at the shop and stepped out into the hot summer air, yellow sundress fluttering around her legs as she walked.  She already missed the cool dimness of the shop’s interior, and adjusted her sunglasses on her nose, flicking her hair back off her shoulders. By the time she got to the hospital she was hot and a little flustered, and she went to the water fountain for a cool drink before she asked to speak to Dr Whale.  The doctor sent her a toothy smile and what she was sure was almost a wink, but she elected to ignore them.

“Well, he’s almost ready to go,” said Whale.  “The plan’s still to get him home tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah,” said Belle, after a pause.  “It - won't be me looking after him, though.”

Whale looked puzzled.

“Oh?  But I thought you said—”

“He has the shop to run, too,” explained Belle.  “I’ll be hiring a nurse to care for him while I do that.  Much better all round, don’t you think?”

“Ah.”  Whale looked relieved.  “Well, now you mention it, that does make sense.  May I suggest the Sisters of St Meissa? They do wonderful rehab and palliative work in the community, and they’re all trained carers.”

Belle pursed her lips.

“The nuns?”

“Yeah.”  He gestured towards the window, in the vague direction of the convent outside of town.  “A very valuable resource. They’re all highly dedicated to their work.”

Belle smiled, folding her arms.

“I presume they’d keep a close eye on his diet and alcohol intake?” she inquired, and Whale nodded.

“That’s something they take very seriously,” he said.  “I mean, if you wanted a recovery regime for your father that was less - rigid, then I’m sure I could think—”

“No, no,” she interrupted.  “I’m sure they’d be perfect.  They sound - perfect.”

“Let me get you some details,” he suggested.  “I’ll make some enquiries with Mother Superior and see if she has anyone to spare.”

“Thank you, Dr Whale,” she said.  “You’ve been so very helpful.”

She nodded to him, and walked off down the corridor, high heels clicking on the tiles.  Her father was sitting up in bed when she entered, and grunted as he saw her.

“Decided to show, did you?” he said grumpily.  “Where the hell were you yesterday?”

“Believe it or not, I actually have a life,” she said.  “We took Gideon to the park and went for lunch at Granny’s.  I didn’t want to give myself indigestion by coming over here and arguing with you about my choices.”

“Playing happy families?”  He curled his lip. “Good luck with that.”

“Well, thanks, but I don’t need it.”

She had expected to feel upset, and was surprised to find that she was almost numb, that she felt nothing beyond a low-level anger brewing in the depths of her belly.  Raising her chin, she looked him in the eyes and squared her jaw.

“I slept with Alexander,” she said simply, and Moe’s eyes bulged.

“You what ?”

“You heard me,” she said.  “I slept with him. Twice. Actually, we spent the whole night together.”

Moe’s face had begun to turn an alarming shade of purple.

“Have you lost your bloody mind?”

“No,” she said, proud of how steady her voice was.  “It was what we both wanted, and it was perfect. We’re back together.  For good.”

“You can’t be serious!” he snarled.  “After everything he’s done to you? To me? The man’s a monster!”

“He’s the father of my child, and the love of my life,” she said coolly.  “There’s nothing more to be said. I don’t want anyone else. He loves me, and I love him.  And we both love Gideon. That’s more than enough to build a life together.”

“Over my dead body!” he snapped, and Belle sighed.

“Don’t be so dramatic…”

“I’m serious, Belle!”  His eyes were popping. “If you go back to him, don’t even think about coming back home!  The next time he breaks your heart, you’re on your own!”

“Well, that wouldn’t be any different from how it’s been since I told you about Gideon, would it?” she said sharply.  “I don’t seem to recall you stepping up to shelter your pregnant daughter then! No, you’d rather abandon me and continue your pathetic vendetta!”

His eyes narrowed, furtive and sly, like a rodent, and she tried to stay calm.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said aggressively.

“Yeah, you do!” she snapped.  “You told him I was seeing Gaston, of all people!  That I was happy, that I was getting engaged, for God’s sake!  When all that time I’d been miserable!  Struggling to keep a roof over my head, desperately scared of giving birth alone...”

“And whose fault was that?”

“Oh, we’re all to blame in this to some extent or another,” she acknowledged.  “Either him trying to decide my life for me, or me not telling him about Gideon.  But I’ve forgiven him, and I’ve forgiven myself, because it was all stupid misunderstandings and - and fear!  But you!”

She could feel herself getting upset, her chest heaving, and she took a deep breath, trying to rein in her anger.

“You could have been there for me when Gideon was born!” she said.  “You could have done the decent thing by me and by your grandson! And what did you do instead?”  

“I did what I thought was right!”

“You bloody well disowned us both!” she shouted.  “Gideon was less than a day old and you just - just put the phone down on me like he didn’t even exist!  And you went and told a pack of lies to his father because you felt like twisting the knife one last bloody time!”

“Well, I stand by what I’ve said from the start,” he growled.  “That man is a monster! And I won’t let him set foot in my house!”

Belle raised her eyes to the ceiling with a sigh, and shook her head.

“Fine,” she said quietly.  “I didn’t come here to fight with you, anyway.  I came to say goodbye.”

Moe blinked.

“You what?”

“I won’t be moving in with you,” she said, her voice cold.  “I’m staying with Alex until we can find a place in Boston together so I can finish my studies.”

“Hey, what about my bloody rehabilitation?” he demanded, and she rolled her eyes.

“That’ll all be taken care of,” she said.  “We’ll be hiring someone to see to your every need.  I’ll even be running the shop while you’re resting up.  Not that you bloody deserve it, but frankly if you’re going to destroy your own life, I don’t want it to be in any way my fault.”

“You can’t mean that!” he spluttered.  “After everything I’ve done for you! After all those years looking after you when your mother passed, this is the thanks I get?  If she could see you now…”

“If she could see me now she’d no doubt be asking you why you disowned your own daughter because of who she chose to love!” said Belle sharply, feeling the tears prick her eyes.  “I’m not gonna keep Gideon from you. You can still have a relationship with your grandson if you choose to, but that’s it. Until I say otherwise.”

He was glowering at her, and she inhaled deeply, her heart thumping from the stress of the confrontation.

“That’s it,” she said.  “That’s all I have to say.  I’ll inform Dr Whale who’ll be taking you home tomorrow as soon as I have the details.”

She turned away, keeping her eyes on the door handle, a fixed, solid point to stop herself from falling.

“He’ll let you down, you know,” said Moe, from behind her.  “He’ll break your heart and leave you destitute. You and the kid.”

Belle hesitated, hand reaching for the door handle, and looked back at him.

“D’you know, it occurs to me you’ve never even used our son’s name?” she said.  “Why is that, I wonder?”

He shrugged, brows low and heavy over his eyes, and she pulled open the door, marching out into the corridor and heading for the exit.  She let out a deep breath as she did so, feeling as though weights were being pulled from her shoulders to fall on the tiles behind. The sun was shining as she stepped out into the light, and she turned her face up to feel its warmth, an odd sense of calm washing over her.  It was done.

Chapter Text

Having concluded her business at the hospital, and secured a promise from Dr Whale to call later regarding her father's new nurse, Belle pulled out her phone to speak to Gold.  She headed back towards town as she listened to the dial tone, enjoying the feel of the sun's rays on her skin and the scent of cut grass in the air.  He sounded a little harassed when he answered, and she wondered what Gideon had managed to get up to in the shop.

“Dr Whale suggested the Sisters of St Meissa,” she said, once she had updated him on the situation with her father.

“The nuns?”  He chuckled for a moment.  “That sounds perfect. Be sure to tell them of Dr Whale’s instructions for his diet and alcohol intake.”

“Way ahead of you,” she said dryly.  “You’re still okay to watch Gideon while I open the shop, right?  I really need to get a head start on some of the orders we have if we're to make rent this month.”

"Pity you can't sweet-talk the landlord."

"Oh, I could if I wanted to," she said coyly.  "But given who actually owes the rent, I doubt you'd be interested."

"Fair point," he conceded.  "Take as long as you need at the shop, I'm sure Gideon and I can amuse ourselves."

“How is he?”

Gold let out a rumbling, frustrated sort of noise.

“Managed to get hold of a vase, and I only just got to him in time,” he said.  “I’ve distracted him with building blocks, so I’m hoping that satisfies his need for wanton destruction.”

Belle giggled.

“Well, I thought I’d stop off at Granny’s and pick us up some coffee,” she said.  “And maybe something sweet to eat?”

“I can think of something sweet I’d like to eat,” he said, his voice a delicious growl, and she smirked.

“Yeah, Granny doesn’t offer that.”

“For which I’m eternally grateful.”

She giggled again.

“Okay, stop flirting,” she said severely.  “I’ll see you both soon.”

She dropped the phone back in her purse, grinning to herself, and quickened her pace as she headed back into town.  At that time of the morning, Granny’s was quiet, and she ordered two coffees to go with a piece of pecan pie and a thick slice of chocolate cake.  Her phone buzzed as she was waiting for her order, and she pulled it out, smiling as she saw Emma’s name flash up.

“Hey,” said Emma.  “How’s it going?”

“Oh, it’s been an interesting couple of days,” said Belle dryly.  “I practically disowned my own father, Alex and I had a big fight and told one another how we really feel, and we had a bunch of incredible make-up sex to celebrate.”

There was a dull, liquid splatter from behind the counter as the waitress dropped one of the coffees.

“Oops!” she said, giving Belle an apologetic look.  Belle waved a hand to show she didn’t mind waiting for another, and grinned at the sound of Emma’s cackle.

“I knew it!” she said triumphantly.  “Neal owes me twenty bucks!”

“Pretty sure you both called it,” said Belle, running a hand through her hair.

“Well, it was pretty fucking obvious you were still in love with the guy,” said Emma flatly.  “But at least tell me things have changed for the better with him, because if not—”

“Oh, things are completely different,” Belle said quickly.  “He admitted that he loved me, that he’s always loved me, and since then - well, it’s like he can’t stop saying it.”

“Hmm,” said Emma.  “And you’re happy?”

So happy,” said Belle, a smile spreading across her face.

“And Gideon?”

“Too young to realise what’s going on,” Belle admitted.  “But he already loves his dad, it’s pretty clear.”

“So how come you guys managed to work things out?” asked Emma.  “I don’t mean I need the details of the sex - unless of course it’s really dirty and you want to tell me every last disgusting detail…”

“I’ll pass,” said Belle dryly, and Emma cackled.

“Suit yourself,” she said.  “So anyway, what excuse did he give for being a grade-A dickwad?”

“No excuses,” sighed Belle.  “I mean, he was a grade-A dickwad, no denying that, but most of it was stupid misunderstandings and his own fear.  He actually thought he was doing me a favour.”

“Oh my God…”  

“Yup,” said Belle brusquely.  “Plus he admitted that pretty much everything he told me was a big fat lie to make me leave town and save my pure innocent soul from his bloody inability to open up.”

“Oh, tell me you kicked his ass!” said Emma, in a flat tone.

“Well, not physically…”

“What a moron!”

“Yeah.”  Belle nodded her thanks as the waitress pushed a cardboard box containing the cake slices towards her.  “My dad can take a lot of the blame too, though. Told Alex a pack of lies about me to keep us apart. Told him I was blissfully happy with someone else and getting engaged, for God’s sake!”

“He did what?” spluttered Emma.  "But he didn't even visit when Gideon was born!  He didn't even send a goddamn gift!"

“Yeah,” said Belle, with a sigh.  “Pretty much guaranteed the father of my child would be out of the picture, but didn’t bother stepping up himself.  Can’t tell you how much of a kick in the teeth that felt like.”

“Sounds to me like Gideon’s the only sensible male in your life,” remarked Emma, and Belle let out a wry chuckle.

“Well, I guess Henry and Neal aren’t too bad.”

“Okay, you got me there.”

“Anyway, I’m not speaking to my dad right now,” said Belle.  “Or - or ever, the way I’m feeling at the moment.”

“Can’t say I blame you,” said Emma.  “Guy pretty much cut you off, right?”

“Right,” said Belle, wincing at the memory.

“But hey, the reason I called is that pretty soon we can talk about this face-to-face!” said Emma brightly. “We’re gonna take a road trip up to see you this weekend, and you can introduce me to this mysterious older guy with the big, throbbing self-destruct button.”

“Okay, but you have to promise not to kick him in the balls,” warned Belle.  “I’m kind of fond of them.”

Emma chuckled.

“If you insist.”

“Oh, and could you do me a favour and pick up some of mine and Gideon’s clothes?” asked Belle.  “I could only bring so much, and I’m getting tired of the same few outfits.”

“I was gonna water your plants again anyway, so no problem,” said Emma.  “If there’s anything specific you want, text me.”

The waitress set two coffees on the counter in a cardboard tray, and Belle dug in her purse for some cash.

“Look, I’d better go,” she said.  “Let me know when you get here. The flower shop’s on Main, and Alex owns the antique shop across the street.  I’ll probably be in one or the other of them, depending on what time you get here. They’re both near Granny’s.”

“The inn and diner you told us about?  Cool. I already booked us in for the weekend.”

“We’ll have dinner there,” added Belle.  “It’ll be great to see you guys.”

“Yeah, you too.  See you tomorrow.  Say early evening.”

“Great,” said Belle.  “I’m thinking we’ll eat around seven.  Tell Neal the ribs and burgers are excellent.”

“Hey, you only need to add a couple of beers and he’ll be in heaven.”

Belle grinned as she rang off, and slipped the phone back into her purse.  She picked up the cardboard tray of coffees, balancing the cake box on top, and made her way back to the pawn shop.  Gold was dusting, Gideon sitting in front of a pile of brightly-coloured bricks which he was stacking. He sent Belle a wide grin as she entered, and she swept across to the counter to set down the drinks.

“Coffee and cake?” said Gold, setting the duster on top of the glass counter.

“Chocolate cake and pecan pie,” she confirmed, and he let out a low sound of approval.

She opened up the cardboard box, picking up one of the little disposable wooden forks that had been included, and cut a piece from the pecan pie, lifting it up and looking at him with a raised eyebrow.  Gold stepped closer, his eyes glinting, and she let him take the pie from her with a soft tug of his lips. She watched him chew, dark eyes closing briefly and a guttural sound rumbling out of him that made her belly clench.  His throat bobbed as he swallowed, his eyes locking onto her again, and she licked her lips, wanting to run her tongue up his throat and taste his skin. Since they had cleared the air, it seemed that she couldn't stop wanting to touch him, to taste him.  It was as though her libido wanted to make up for lost time, and thus far he had been more than happy to indulge her.  If Gideon hadn't been there, she would have dragged him into the back room and showed him exactly how much she wanted him.  A tiny smile lifted the corners of his mouth, as if he knew what she was thinking.

“Very delicious,” he said softly, and she grinned as he picked up his coffee and leaned on the counter to drink it.

“Emma and Neal are coming to visit this weekend, by the way,” she said, cutting a piece off the chocolate cake, and he blinked.

“Ah,” he said.  “For how long?”

“Oh, they’re not staying with us,” she assured him.  “They’ll get rooms at Granny’s. I just said we’d have dinner there tomorrow night, that’s all.  And probably Saturday night, I guess”

“I could always cook on Saturday, if you like,” he suggested, taking a sip of coffee.   “I look forward to meeting them.”

“Good,” said Belle.  “I think they’re definitely looking forward to meeting you.”

She grinned at him as he gave her a very level look, and sucked chocolate frosting from her finger.

“Should I wear a box for this encounter?” he asked lightly, and she giggled.

“I told Emma your testicles were under my protection.”

“Hmm.”  He looked amused.  “Sounds promising.”

“Now stop that!” she said reprovingly.  “I have to go open the shop, and we don’t have time to fool around in here.”

“Then perhaps we could fool around later,” he suggested, his eyes glinting, and she bit her lip, trying to hold in her grin.

“Oh, I think that could be arranged.”

Belle was surprised at how relaxed she felt when she woke on Friday morning, warm and snug in Gold’s arms with her legs twined around his.  There were still twinges of guilt over not being there to care for her father when he left hospital later that day, but she told herself firmly that he would be in excellent hands.  Dr Whale had called the previous evening to inform her that Mother Superior had agreed to provide the services of a nun who was a firm believer in abstinence from alcohol, sugar, and any other stimulants, and pushed the benefits of regular exercise, prayer and meditation.  All of which Belle knew Moe would loathe with a passion.

“You can rest assured that your father will be getting everything he needs,” Dr Whale had said.  “If - not exactly everything he wants.”

Belle had decided not to be there for the handover, having been assured that the hospital staff would see to everything once Sister Victoria arrived.  If she was honest with herself, she also wanted to avoid a confrontation with her father, and was bracing herself for him spinning Sister Victoria the sad tale of an ungrateful daughter whose father only wanted the best for her.  She decided that he could say whatever he liked about her.  There would be gossip enough in the town when it emerged that she was in a relationship with Gold, and the husband that Mary Margaret had assumed was back in Boston was revealed to be non-existent. She felt a little bad for letting Mary Margaret believe her own interpretation of affairs, but resolved to come clean about her life as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Instead of heading to the hospital, she spent the morning at the shop, going through the new delivery of flowers and preparing the arrangements for a wedding to be held the next day.  She found the work soothing, and it helped to ease the pricks of conscience she still felt, even as she told herself that her father didn’t deserve either her effort to stave off his bankruptcy or Gold’s money paying for his nursing.

She closed up at one, heading over to the pawn shop, where she knew Gold would have something for lunch. Emma and Neal were due to arrive that evening, and she wanted to shower and change before dinner, but that still left her the rest of the afternoon to run the shop.  After she had spent some time with her family, of course.  Her family.  The thought made her grin as she walked, happiness rising up inside her.  The three of them, together as a family. It was all she had wanted for so long, and now it was real, it was true.  It was wonderful.

Gold was behind the counter when she entered, and her heart leapt to see him, the glint in his eyes and the tiny smile he gave her.  He was looking very good, in a dark blue shirt that she distinctly remembered wanting to take off him as soon as he had donned it that morning, his tie silver-grey.  She tugged at her lower lip with her teeth, and flipped the sign on the door to Closed.  The rest of the town could bugger off while she spent some quality time with the father of her child.  The love of her life. It wasn’t as though the pawn shop ever had customers, after all. Well, hardly ever.

She walked slowly to the counter, letting her hips sway as she went, and Gold’s eyes followed her with a growing hunger.

“Good afternoon, Miss French,” he said quietly, making her shiver.  “You’re looking - quite delicious, if I may say so.”

“So are you,” she said, and rounded the end of the counter, stepping up to him and sliding her hands over his hips.  “Good enough to eat.”


His hands went around her waist, and he bent to kiss her, lips pulling at hers before trailing along her jaw to brush her ear.

“Likewise,” he whispered.  “Perhaps I can find out exactly how delicious you are.”

Belle sucked in a breath at the low buzz of his words, the promise in his voice.

“Where’s Gideon?”

“Gideon’s sleeping,” he said softly.  “I just put him down for a nap.  We can take a little time for ourselves.”

”Really?”  She let out a moan as his lips pulled at the skin of her throat.  “How - how much time?”

“Oh,” he breathed, and the tip of his tongue swirled over her pulse.  “At least twenty minutes, I expect.”


She let her head roll back with a sigh of pleasure, fingers stroking through his hair as he sucked at her neck, and his hands slid up her body to cup her breasts, making her gasp.

“Perhaps I should lift you up on this counter,” he whispered.  “Remind myself of how good you taste. Push my fingers inside you and lick you until you come.”

She moaned, pressing her body against his in arousal.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” she asked breathlessly.  “Anyone could walk in.”

She felt him grin against her neck, and he kissed her again.

“No one ever comes to me on rent day,” he said.  “I always have to go looking for them, remember?  Besides, everyone’s paid up this month. Well, other than your father, and I can’t see him stopping by, can you?”

He squeezed her, gently pinching her nipples through the shirt and making her let out a tiny cry.

“Let me taste you, Belle,” he breathed.

It was tempting - God, it was tempting - but she shook her head, pulling back a little.

“No,” she said.  “No, it’s my turn.”

His eyes widened, and she wanted to grin as she placed her hands on his firm chest, running them over the silk, feeling the peaks of his nipples against her fingertips and making him grit his teeth.  She kissed him deeply, his tongue pushing into her mouth and stroking against hers.  Her eyes sought his as their lips parted, and she slowly lowered herself down onto her knees, head sinking below the counter, fingers sliding down his body to rest at his belt buckle.  The floor was hard, and she wished she had been less impulsive and fetched a cushion, but she could hear the whisper of fabric above her, and then his jacket was off and hanging from one finger by its collar. She took it, sitting back on her heels as she folded it up and placed it beneath her knees to cushion them a little.  The jacket would be creased, but she suspected the payoff would be worth it for him. She glanced up, belly tightening as she saw him gazing down at her, chest heaving beneath his waistcoat and the dark silk shirt, his lower lip soft and moist from their kisses.

Belle turned her attention back to his belt and slowly drew the length of leather out through the gold buckle, hearing his breath catch in his throat as she opened up the belt.  She plucked open his pants, gently drawing down the zipper to reveal black boxers, the rigid line of his cock pushing against the silk.  One finger traced the length of it, feeling his heat and hardness, and he let out a rumbling groan at her touch.  Belle smiled to herself, and flicked her eyes up to meet his. He was breathing hard, his eyes dark, filled with a burning intensity, desire in every trembling movement of his body.

“Do you remember the first time I did this for you?” she whispered, and his lips parted.

“Yes!” he rasped.

He sounded as though he was barely holding onto his composure, and she smiled, sliding her fingertips into the waistband of his underwear as his fingers sank into her hair.

“You took me in the back room and sat me on the bed,” she said softly.  “I thought my jaw would never stretch wide enough to take all of you inside.”

Fuck, Belle!”

“And when I had you in my mouth,” she went on, gently sliding his underwear down.  “The sounds you made, the - the longing in them.  Like you were barely in control.”

“Sweetheart, please!”

He had raised his eyes to the ceiling, his jaw clenched as he groaned aloud, and she grinned to herself as she reached inside the warm, black silk to free his cock.

“Just like that,” she whispered, taking him in hand.  “And when you came in my mouth, it was so hot on my tongue.  I sucked the cum from you and swallowed it down.”


“And what did you say?”  She drew her tongue up the length of his shaft, the tip glistening with fluid.  “What did you say to me?”

His fingers twisted in her hair as he groaned again.

“Good girl!” he gasped.  “Very, very good girl!”

She opened her mouth, letting her lips slide over the head, letting him enter her, taking him deep, and he let out a long, low groan of pleasure as her mouth closed up around him.


Belle sucked, letting her cheeks hollow around him, feeling him fill her mouth, hard and hot and thick, the taste of salt on her tongue and the heavy scent of him filling her head.  She moved slowly, rocking gently back and forth, lips sliding over him, tongue wrapping around his length. The sound of the bell above the shop door barely registered as he groaned, his fingers tugging at her hair as she sucked.

“Uh - hello?”

Belle’s eyes flew open in shock at the familiar sound of Emma’s voice, and she sat back on her heels. letting him slip from her mouth with an obscene, wet sucking noise which she hoped hadn’t carried above the counter.  She quietly thanked every deity she could think of that the counter was high enough to hide what they had been doing, however obvious it might have been otherwise. Gold had glanced to the side, breathless and glaring as he tucked and zipped and fumbled with his belt

“Can’t you read?” he snapped.  “We’re closed!”

“The door was open.”

Shit, and Neal’s here.  Because of course he is.  Great. Just great.

“You have so many cool things here!”  The piping voice of a young boy burst out excitedly, and Belle wanted to groan.

Oh God, Henry too?  Kill me now…

“Are those wands?” he went on.  “Do they work? Have you ever cursed anyone?  I'm in Gryffindor, which house is yours?”

“I - what?”  Gold sounded bewildered, and Belle suddenly wanted to giggle.

“Looks like you have a customer,” said Emma, sounding deeply amused.

“Well, you’ll have to come back in half an hour,” said Gold, clearly trying to steady his breathing.  “I’m a little busy.”

“Hey, what a man decides to do behind his own cash register is between him and his conscience, I guess,” said Neal, and Belle closed her eyes in horror.  “It’s just - we were looking for Belle.”

Gold’s eyes flicked back to her, his shoulders sagging a little, and she sighed.  Nothing for it, I guess.  She stood up quickly, tucking stray curls of hair behind her ears and blushing furiously as she focused on her friends, clad in jeans and boots and blue plaid shirts.  Henry, a bright-eyed boy of ten with a heavy-bound book clutched to his chest, beamed, and Emma and Neal gaped at her.

“Hey,” she said lamely.  “We weren’t expecting you guys until later.”

“Hey, Belle!” said Henry.  “Why were you hiding down there?”

“I - uh—” she said, the ability to form words deserting her.  “I was - uh—”

“Oh my God,” said Emma flatly.

“It isn’t what it looks like!” said Belle quickly.  “Okay - maybe it is, but—”

“It is totally what it looks like!” said Neal.  “Jeez, Belle, my eyes!”

“What does it look like?” asked Henry curiously.  “What were you you guys doing?”

“So, anyway…”  Emma clapped her hands together, smiling brightly.  “Good to see you, Belle! Neal managed to swing the day off work, so we thought we’d head up this morning, dodge the traffic.”

“Won’t do that without calling ahead first, in future,” added Neal, with a grin.

“I brought some of your things, like you asked,” added Emma.  “And some of Gideon’s. Where is he, anyway?”

“Back room,” said Belle blushing.  “He’s sleeping.”

“Lucky Gideon,” murmured Neal, but he winked at her.

“Well, I suppose introductions are in order,” said Gold dryly, and Belle blushed harder.

“Sorry!” she said hastily.  “These are my friends Emma and Neal Cassidy, and their son, Henry.  Guys, this is Alex. Alex Gold.”

“Delighted to meet you,” said Gold, holding out a hand to shake.  Neal eyed it for a moment before taking it, and nodded.


“I’ve - heard a lot about you,” added Gold.

“Likewise,” said Emma, in a very dry tone, and Gold’s mouth twisted a little.

“Yes,” he said.  “Almost none of it complimentary, I imagine.  I deserved every curse word Belle could throw at me, believe me.”

“Oh, we do,” said Emma, folding her arms.  “But it looks like you guys made up, so I guess we’re cool.  For now.”

Gold’s smile grew a little.  Belle noticed that his eyes kept flicking to Neal, a tiny crease in his brow.

“Are you Gideon’s dad?” asked Henry, a curious expression on his face, and Gold smiled, turning his attention to the boy.

“Yes, I am.”

“So - how come you don’t live with Belle?” Henry went on.  “Were you in prison, like my dad?”

Emma closed her eyes with a sigh, and Belle watched as Gold tried not to grin.

“No, I wasn’t in prison,” he said.  “What I was, was very foolish.”

“How come?”

“Henry…” said Emma.

“I just wanna know!”

“It’s - it’s alright,” said Gold, holding up a hand.  He turned his attention back to Henry. “I thought I knew what was best for her.  I was wrong. And I was afraid, but I should have told her that. It would have been better for all of us.”

“Oh.”  Henry’s face brightened.  “But - but you love her, right?  And Gideon?”

Gold’s smile widened.

“Yes,” he said.  “I love them both very much.”

“My mom says anything’s possible when you love each other,” he added, shifting his hands on the spine of the book.  “Did you know boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls now?”

Gold blinked at the abrupt change of topic.

“Indeed they can.”

“Mom says I can marry a boy if I want to,” Henry went on, “but I’m not sure I want to get married.  I’d rather write stories.”

“Well,” said Gold.  “At least you know you have options.”

“Do you want to marry Belle?”

“Henry, buddy…” said Neal.  “Let’s save the questions for dinner, okay?”

“Oh, okay!”

Henry grinned, clutching his book to his chest, and Belle couldn’t help smiling at his bright-eyed enthusiasm.

“So,” said Emma.  “Who wants a drink?  I could straight-up murder a coffee right now.”

“Can we get ice cream?” piped up Henry.

“Not the most nutritious option, kiddo,” said Emma, ruffling his hair.

“Remember your first day of vacation rule,” said Neal, and she grinned.

“Funny how it’s always you that remembers that,” she said, her tone wry, and he spread his hands.

“Hey, I’m just trying for consistency here.”

“First day of vacation means I get to pick the treats,” Henry reminded her stoutly, and she sighed, still smiling.

“Okay, ice cream it is.”

“Try Any Given Sundae,” said Belle.  “They have all the flavours you can think of, Henry.  Plus there’s coffee. Come on, I’ll walk you round there.”

“I’ll watch Gideon, if you like,” said Gold, and she beamed at him.

“Would you?”

“If you bring us both back something sweet,” he said.

There was a gleam in his eyes that made her blush again, and she leaned in to kiss him, rising up on her toes as their lips met.  When she turned around Neal was running a hand through his hair with a look of amusement on his face, and Emma was steering Henry towards the door.  Belle snatched up her purse and followed them out into the summer sun.

“It’s this way,” she said, still feeling awkward, and they all fell into step with her.  “Sorry about that, by the way.”

“Hey, no problem,” said Emma.  “Might want to think about locking the door though.  Just a thought.”

“I’ll remember that,” grumbled Belle, and pushed open the door to the ice cream parlour.

It took Henry some time to choose the two scoops of ice cream he wanted, but once he had his bowl with hot fudge sauce and sprinkles poured over, and the adults had their coffees, they sat at a table.  Neal and Emma shared a scoop of chocolate praline, and Belle sipped at her drink.

“So,” said Emma, licking her spoon.  “The infamous Alexander Gold. I see you two kind of picked up where you left off.”

“Oh, it’s way better than that,” said Belle.

"You sure?" asked Emma carefully.  "Because as heartbreaks go, yours was maybe the worst I've seen."

"Yeah," said Belle quietly.  "Well, it's hard when you can't stop loving someone and you think they don't love you."

"And they're an idiot who can't admit they actually do," added Emma, and Belle sighed.

"Yeah, I was - I was pretty much a seething ball of fury when that one came out," she said dryly.

"Can't say I blame you," said Neal.  "It's the wasted time, right?  The things you missed?  I know that's what killed me when I was inside and found out Henry was on the way.  All those moments you don't get back."

"Yeah, that was definitely part of it," she agreed.  "Your situation was different, though.  There was no question that you guys were gonna be together once you got out."

"True enough," said Emma.  "We were counting the days."

"We didn't have that," said Belle, glancing down at her coffee.  "And - and honestly, maybe it was for the best."

"Seriously?" said Emma, and Belle nodded.

"I've been thinking about it," she said.  "Things are very different, now we’re being honest with each other.  I think - I think if I hadn’t left, if things hadn’t ended the way they did, if - if I’d told him—”

“About Gideon, you mean?” asked Neal, and Belle nodded.

“Yeah,” she said slowly.  “I’ve been thinking about how things might have been if I’d told him.  And - and honestly, I don’t know if that would have worked out. Not that he wouldn’t want to be there for Gideon, because he would, but - but us…  I don’t think we would have worked out.”

“How come?” asked Emma.  “You guys seem - well, you’re clearly very into each other, let’s put it that way.”

“Oh, that was never the problem, believe me,” said Belle dryly, stirring her coffee.  “No, I just mean that things wouldn’t have changed. He would never have opened up to me, would always be keeping me at arm’s length, and - and that would never have been enough.  Not for me.  He was right about that, I think.”

“You think you guys would have split up anyway?” asked Neal, and Belle shrugged.

“Guess it’s hard to tell,” she said heavily.  “I would have wanted to make it work for Gideon, but who’s to say that would have been for the best?  Maybe we would all have been miserable, in the end. At least this way there’s honesty.”

“Counts for a lot,” agreed Emma, digging in the ice cream with her spoon.

“Yeah,” said Belle quietly.  “It’s real. I know it’s early days, and we have a lot to work through, and it may be painful to work through at times, but it’s real.”

“Well, we’re happy for you,” said Neal.  “And if it ever gets a bit too real, you’ll always have a place to stay. You and Gideon.”

Belle sent him a warm smile.

“Thanks,” she said.  “But we’re a family now.  A little, three-person family, but that’s enough.”

“Until you have like half a dozen more of his babies, yeah,” said Emma, and Belle giggled.

“I didn’t say the family couldn’t grow,” she said coyly, and sipped at her coffee again.

Chapter Text

Dinner at Granny’s was an enjoyable affair; Neal and Emma proclaimed the ribs to be among the best they’d eaten, and Henry ate his burger, half of Belle’s fries and somehow still had room for apple pie.  Once the plates had been cleared and coffees poured, Gideon dozed on his father’s lap while Henry flicked through his book, explaining some of the stories within to Gold.

“Wait, so Red Riding Hood is the wolf in this?” said Gold.  “A singular interpretation.”

“Yeah, and she’s so cool!” said Henry enthusiastically.  “She helps Snow White to hide from the Evil Queen!”

“Wasn’t it always the Huntsman who helped Snow White?”

“Oh, he does, but the Queen found out and took his heart,” said Henry.  “So now he has to do whatever she says. He was raised by wolves, and he loves the forest, but she keeps him trapped in the castle.”

“Well,” said Gold.  “She sounds very unpleasant.”

“Yeah,” agreed Henry.  “But I kinda feel sorry for her.  It’s like she thinks that destroying happy endings for everyone will make her happy, but it only makes her miserable.”

“I suspect there’s a moral in there somewhere,” remarked Gold, glancing at Belle.

“Yes,” she said firmly.  “Let yourself be happy, and don’t make decisions for other people.”

She smirked at him, and he sent her a tiny grin, kissing the top of Gideon’s head.

Gold had offered to cook dinner the next night, and so Belle spent her day at the flower shop with Gideon, closing up at four and heading home.  He was already preparing food when she arrived, and Belle lifted her nose and sniffed at the scent of chocolate wafting through the kitchen.

“I made a cake,” he said.  “It’s been awhile since I baked anything.  I enjoyed it.”

The cake was cooling on a wire rack, dark and rich, and she grinned as she went to inhale its scent.

“What are you going to put on it?” she asked.  “I could make some buttercream.”

“I have fresh cream, and some raspberries,” he said.  “There’s a little framboise in the liquor cupboard as well.  Might be nice to pour on the sponge. Henry can have coulis, save the booze for the rest of us.”

Belle spied a glass jar of thick, crimson sauce, and stuck a finger in it, licking off the taste of sweetened fresh raspberries.

“So, that’s dessert sorted,” she remarked.  “Delicious. What about the rest?”

“I thought we’d keep things simple,” he said.  “Pasta?”

“The cheesier the better,” she agreed, and he grinned.

He made macaroni cheese, with garlic bread and a crisp green salad to cut the richness, and by the time Emma, Neal and Henry arrived the pasta was bubbling in the oven, the cheese sauce thick and glistening, golden brown on the top.  There was cold white wine, sharp and fruity on the tongue, and the garlic bread was fragrant, making lips and fingers slick with melted butter.  There was silence for the first ten minutes as everyone ate, but then the conversation started up.  Emma and Neal spoke about places to visit in Boston, and which areas were the best, and the easiest routes to Belle’s university.

“We pulled a few all-nighters in the library, huh Belle?” said Emma, gesturing with her fork.

“Yeah.”  Belle took a sip of wine.  “Not sure I can do that anymore.  Since having Gideon I’ve decided I need to take my sleep where I can get it.”

“I don’t want you studying so hard you make yourself ill,” said Gold, and she shook her head, running a hand over his thigh.

“It was only around exam time,” she said.  “My study technique improved, so hopefully having a baby won’t mean I’ve forgotten everything I learned.”

“Finals are a bitch,” said Emma, with feeling.  “Can I get another glass of wine?”

“Of course.”

Gold poured her the wine, offering the bottle to Neal, who held out his glass.

“Thanks,” he said.  “This mac and cheese is awesome, by the way.”

“It’s so good,” agreed Henry.  “Why isn’t yours this good, Mom?”

“Gee, thanks,” said Emma, in a flat tone, and Henry grinned at her as he held out his plate for more.

"Your mac and cheese is awesome too, babe," Neal assured her.

"Well, now you just sound like you have to say that," she remarked, taking a drink.

"No, I just know what to say to get more of the good stuff," he said, with a wicked grin.

"That a fact?"  She was smiling at him, her eyes sparkling.  "You always were a smooth talker, Cassidy."

"Good thing you can read me like a book then, huh?" he said, winking at her.

"I know when I'm being thrown a line, yeah."

"So are you biting?" he asked, and her grin widened.

"Shut up and kiss me already."

Neal leaned in to kiss her, eyes crinkling at the corners, and Henry made a gagging motion behind his hand, causing Gold to break into a wide smile as he reached for his wineglass.  He shared a grin with Belle, dark eyes twinkling, and clinked his glass against hers.  The wine was making her pleasantly light-headed, and she could feel herself relaxing with the comfort of good food and good company.  She kept her hand on Gold's thigh, enjoying the firm warmth of him, the closeness, and his eyes softened a little as he glanced at her, that smile still on his face.

Belle got the impression that Gold, the seasoned loner, was enjoying having guests in his house for dinner. She realised that at the very heart of him was the soul of a person who wanted to care for others, the nurturing side that came out through the preparation of good food and wine, and the pleasure it gave him to share it.  The harshness of his earlier life, the lack of any kindness or love, had gotten in the way, creating barriers of cold stone, forbidding walls of spiked blackthorn. He had begun to break through that for Gideon, and for her, and for a moment, talking and laughing with her friends around the dinner table, she began to sense what life could be like for him, for their family, when he faced his demons and beat them.  She wondered if he felt it too; his eyes kept flicking to Neal, and to Henry, that tiny crease of puzzlement still between his brows, as though he couldn’t quite fathom how he had ended up there with a kitchen filled with chatter and laughter and the clink of glasses.

Henry had two helpings of the pasta, and after the plates had been cleared Gold handed around dishes of the chocolate cake, layered up with raspberries and cream and with raspberry liqueur soaking into the sponge.

“Dear God, that’s amazing,” said Emma, licking cream from her fork.  “I can see why you want to move in with this guy, Belle.”

“Cooking’s only the second most incredible thing he does with his hands,” said Belle, and giggled as Gold gave her a very level look.

“What’s the first?” asked Henry curiously, and Belle blushed.

“I also clean up afterwards,” said Gold blandly.

“Some nights that’s better than the other thing,” said Emma, and winked at him.

“What other thing?”

“Sleeping,” said Neal, ruffling his hair.  “Which is what you should be doing, buddy. You done with your cake?”

Henry scraped up the last of the cream and raspberry sauce, licking his spoon.

“I wanted to tell Mr Gold the story of Beauty and the Beast,” he said despondently.

“You can tell me next time,” said Gold.  “I have a feeling that story may resonate with me.”

He glanced across at Belle, reaching out to thread his fingers through hers, and she smiled at him, happy and warm and filled with contentment.  This was how their life could be. This was how it would be.

Her head ached a little the next day, the after-effects of too much wine, but she felt surprisingly well-rested, and joined Gold and Gideon in the kitchen for a breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon and lots of hot tea.

“I think I’ll go to the shop today,” said Gold, hands cradling his cup.  “I want to go through the china inventory and polish the silver.”

“Not the most exciting job,” she remarked.  “You sure you don’t want to just chill out here with us?”

His mouth flattened a little, his fingers shifting restlessly on the white china.

“I’m feeling - I don’t know,” he mused.  “Agitated isn’t quite the right word. I feel the need to do something.  Something that won’t take too much brain power.”

“You could always do me,” she suggested innocently, and he grinned.

“Oh, later, most definitely.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

He was still grinning, his eyes twinkling, and she felt her belly lurch.

“How about Gid and I walk into town with you?” she said.  “I could pick us up some coffee from Granny’s, bring it back to the shop.”

“Sounds good.”

The day was pleasant, fat white clouds spreading across the blue of the sky, and Belle inhaled deeply as they walked along, Gold with one hand resting at the small of her back, his other wielding the cane.  The pawn shop was cool and dark, and the stroller’s wheels sounded loud on the wooden floor as she pushed it into the back room. Gold bent to unfasten Gideon’s straps, and she went back through to the shop to open the blinds, letting thin shafts of sunlight fan out across the floor.  She flipped the sign to Open, grinning to herself as she remembered Emma and Neal’s interruption. Perhaps she could turn the lock at some point later that day and finish what she had started.

Gideon was seated on the floor when she went through to the back, solid plastic shapes in a variety of bright colours scattered on the rug in front of him.  Gold had set down a hollow ball with holes to take the shapes, but Gideon was ignoring it.

“Seems more interested in chewing them than putting them through the holes,” he remarked, and Belle grinned.

“He’ll get there.”


He was holding something, an old toy rabbit with a faded blue felt waistcoat, soft brown faux fur with a cream chest and shiny black beads for eyes.  She had seen it on the shelves many times, and had always felt that it looked out of place in amongst the trinkets and china and old books. She had never asked about it before, and he had never seemed to pay it any attention beyond keeping it free of dust, which made her wonder what had changed.

“What’s that?” she asked, and he looked down at the toy rabbit in his hands, as though he couldn’t remember holding it.

“Oh,” he said vaguely.  “It - it belonged to my son.  To Bailey.”

Belle bit her lip, empathy making her want to hug him.

“You kept it all this time?” she asked sadly, and he sent her a wry smile.

“It was his favourite toy,” he said.  “His mother left it behind when she took him.  I used to lie awake at night, wondering if he could sleep without it.  A stupid thing - I’m sure he found another toy to hug.”

“It’s not stupid,” she said gently, and he sighed, turning the rabbit over and over in his hands, brown ears flopping as it moved.

“Can’t bring myself to throw it out,” he said.  “This is all I have left of him, you see.  No pictures.  She took those, too.”

“What - what brought this on?” she asked, and he shrugged.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted.  “Perhaps - perhaps meeting Henry.  All that bright enthusiasm, the innocence of youth.  It makes me think of what I’ve missed.  Perhaps Bae has his own children now, and I’ll never know them.”

He was looking wistful, his fingers clutching the brown plush body of the rabbit, and Belle took a step closer, running her hands up his back to his shoulders.  Gold let his head roll back with a sigh.

“Well, self-pity doesn’t help,” he said, almost to himself.  “My son barely knew me before he was gone, and it’s likely I’ll never see him again.  I have to accept that.”

He stepped away from her, setting the toy rabbit back on the shelf, cream-padded feet sticking out in front of it and ears flopping over its black-bead eyes.  His hand tightened over the cane as he stepped back, and Belle ran a hand over his arm, wanting to touch him, to send him reassurance.

“Did you speak to Dr Hopper?” she asked, and he turned to her, one brow lifting with a hint of surprise.

“Actually, yes,” he said.  “I have an initial appointment with him next week.”

“Maybe he can help,” she said, and he shrugged.

“It has to be better than doing nothing, doesn’t it?” he said, and slid an arm around her, pulling her a little closer.  “I also spoke to my lawyer. She wants us to go to Boston, to go through the paperwork for Gideon. I thought we might look at some properties while we’re there, if you like.”

Belle nodded, twining her arms around his neck.

“I’m looking forward to making a home with you,” she said, a little shyly, and he smiled, kissing her forehead.

“You don’t need to do anything,” he said softly.  “Home is wherever you and Gideon are. It’ll be wonderful whether it’s here or in Boston.”

She kissed him, rising up on her toes before settling back, a wide smile on her face.

“I’m glad you like Neal and Emma and Henry,” she said.  “When we move to Boston I expect we’ll have them over for dinner a lot.”

“Yes,” he said.  “Yes, I’d like that.  I’m glad you’ve made such good friends.”

Belle hesitated, unsure whether to voice the stray thought that had been creeping around in her mind since the previous night.  Curiosity won out.

“You - you seemed to watch Neal a lot,” she ventured.  “Like - like you were puzzled by something.”

Gold glanced at her, a smile twisting his mouth a little, and he stepped out of her arms, grounding the cane.

“You noticed,” he said dryly.  “Not much gets past you, does it?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” she said.  “But since you just admitted it, what was up?”

He didn’t answer for a moment, his jaw working a little, eyes flicking to the floor and back up.

“It’s the strangest thing,” he said slowly.  “It’s - it’s almost as though we’ve met before.  I’m certain that we haven’t, at least not to my knowledge, but it’s like there’s this thought just - just scratching away at the back of my mind and it won’t stop.”

“What do you think it means?” she asked, and he pulled a face.

“Maybe we have met, and I just don’t remember it,” he said.  “Perhaps he was in the house when I went to serve a tenant with an eviction notice, or perhaps he served me in a bloody restaurant, I don’t know.  What does he do for a living?”

“Accountancy clerk,” said Belle, and Gold shrugged.

“So maybe it was that.  I don’t know. I don’t suppose it matters.”  He leaned in to kiss her forehead again. “Did you say something about coffee?”

“Yeah.”  She smiled up at him.  “I’ll take Gideon and make a run to Granny’s.  We might be able to catch Emma before she goes.”

“Give them my best, if you do,” said Gold.  “And see if Mrs Lucas has any of those excellent ginger cookies, would you?”

“On it.”

The sky had clouded over when she left the shop, the summer day unusually cool and fresh, and Belle walked quickly as she pushed the stroller up the street.  The diner was busy, and she smiled as she saw Neal, Emma and Henry seated at one of the tables, with empty plates in front of them and a guidebook resting on the table top.

“Oh, I’m glad I caught you,” she said, parking the stroller.  “I’m on a coffee run.”

“Well, sit down and have one with us,” said Emma, pulling out the chair next to her.  “Long drive ahead, so it’s caffeine all around. Except Henry.”

“I’m having cocoa with cinnamon,” put in Henry.

“We’ve decided to head up the coast, see some of the country,” added Neal.  “Maybe three days or so. Thought we might drop by on the way back, if that’s okay.”

“Great!” said Belle, beaming as she lifted Gideon up.  “That would just about tie in with us travelling to Boston.  We’re going to look for an apartment there.”

“You can stay with us!” said Henry eagerly, and Emma chuckled.

“Not unless they want to sleep three to a bed, kid.”

“Yeah, I think we’ll be getting a hotel,” said Belle, with a grin.  “We can have dinner though, Henry.”

“I wanna take Mr Gold to the aquarium.”

“I’ll tell him,” said Belle, amused, bouncing Gideon on her knee.  “We went for Gideon’s birthday, remember?”

“We went for Dad’s birthday,” corrected Henry, in a dry tone.  “He just pretended it was for Gideon.”

“Yeah, well, only a day in it,” said Neal, shrugging, and tapped Gideon’s nose with a finger, making him giggle. “You almost shared a birthday with your Uncle Neal, kid.  We were looking at double celebrations if you could have just held out for a little longer. Maybe matching T-shirts, or something.”

“There’s more excuses for cake this way,” said Henry, and Belle grinned, smiling up at the waitress as coffee was poured for her.

“Well, when Gideon turns two, we’ll be in Boston,” she said.  “So we can all celebrate together.”

“Are you and Mr Gold gonna get married?” asked Henry suddenly.  “You could have more babies together. I bet Gideon would like a brother.  I’d like a brother.”

Neal and Emma exchanged an amused look.

“Well, I don’t know,” said Belle, trying not to grin.  “We’ll have to see how things go.”

Henry grumbled something under his breath about ‘we’ll see’ meaning ‘never’, and opened up his storybook. Neal picked up his coffee cup.

“He’s a fan of true love,” he remarked.

“It’s sweet,” said Belle, in an undertone.  “And honestly, remembering how I felt just a few short weeks ago - optimism is a good thing.  I want things to work out.”

“Sometimes that’s half the battle,” said Emma, taking a sip of coffee.

“Yeah,” said Belle slowly.  “I don’t think it’s gonna be easy, especially knowing some of the stuff Alex has to work through, but he’s getting therapy for that, and I know he wants to try.  I know he wants to do his best for us, and I need that. I want Gideon to grow up as part of a happy family, which includes his father.”

“At least he’s trying,” agreed Neal.  “More than my mother ever did.”

“What do you remember about your mother?” asked Belle, and Neal wrinkled his nose.

“Dark hair, and pretty, I guess,” he said.  “Kind of intense. I remember the last conversation I had with her, when she left me with Social Services.  She said she wouldn’t be gone long, she just needed a break. Begging me to understand, while I just couldn’t stop crying.  Never saw her again.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Belle sadly, and he shrugged.

“Yeah.  Kind of tried to forget her as I got older,” he said.  “Took every step I could think of to cut her out of my life, to make myself into someone else.”

“Was that hard?” she asked, and he pulled a face.

“Some things were easier to let go of than others,” he said.  “I mean - Bailey Bonny? Not really me, you know?”

Belle blinked.

“Bailey Bonny?” she said curiously, and he sent her a wry smile.

“One benefit of hanging out with the wrong crowd was being able to get a new identity, no questions asked,” he said.  “I changed my name. Became someone else.”

“I didn’t know,” said Belle, surprised.

“Like I said.”  He took another sip of coffee.  “Tried to forget.”

“Right,” she said.  “So, your original surname was Bonny?”

Neal set down his cup, licking his lips.

“Well, my mother’s surname,” he said.  “She used to say she shared the name of a famous pirate - Ann Bonny - and that she called me Bailey after a sailor she met once.  Always did love the sea. Guess I thought it was cool as a little kid. When she left - well, I soon figured I needed my own name.  Milah Bonny was the woman who abandoned me. Didn’t need the constant reminder.”

“Milah.”  Belle’s heart began to thump hard in her chest.  “That’s - an unusual name.”

Neal shrugged, wrinkling his nose.

“I guess.”

“Was she - was she Scottish?”

He shook his head.

“English.  My dad was Scottish, though.  Or so she said.”

“Right.”  Belle’s hands tightened around her cup.  “And - and what do you know about him?”

“Not much,” he said wryly.  “They met in Glasgow. He worked a lot.  Too much, according to her. Never liked to have any fun, always the responsible one.  She made it sound like that was a bad thing. Where I got my brown eyes, too.”

“So - were you born over there, or over here?”

“Oh, I was born in northern England,” he said.  “Newcastle, would you believe? Although from what I can tell we moved around a lot in England and Scotland when I was a baby.  My mother said we came over here when I was like two, so I can’t say I remember anything of the old place. Living in the US is all I’ve ever known.  We were in Florida for awhile, I know that. Always moving, never settled. And then one day it was a trip to Social Services, and she was gone, and I was in the system.”

It was said lightly, as though he didn’t care, but Belle suspected it had affected him deeply.  Emma was chewing her lip, looking troubled, and Belle hesitated before speaking.

“So - you changed your name,” she said.  “And - and you don’t know your dad’s name?  Did you ever try to look for him?”

“Oh, sure!” he said immediately.  “Just as soon as I was old enough to realise what I needed to do and the kinds of questions I needed to ask.  Trouble was, I had no family other than my mother - and she never came back. So there was no one I could ask about my dad, and when I got my birth certificate there was no name on there, so…”  He shrugged. “Nothing. Don’t even know if the guy she told me about was really my dad.”

“Do you remember anything about him?” asked Belle, and he wrinkled his nose.

“Not really,” he admitted.  “Just - really vague sort of stuff.  Like memories of memories, if that makes sense.  Nothing solid. Nothing I could describe, anyway.”

“Right,” she said absently, and Emma drained her cup, setting it down.

“Come on guys, we’d better hit the road.”

Henry closed his book with a thump, and Belle stood up, bouncing Gideon in her arms.  Emma hugged her, and kissed Gideon’s head.

“We’ll call when we’re on the way back,” she said.

“Yeah, we’ll give you warning this time,” added Neal, with a grin.  “See if you can keep things PG in the shop, okay?”

Belle sent him a level look, and he grinned, hugging her and Gideon.

“Bye, Belle,” said Henry cheerfully, throwing his arms around her before picking up his book.

“Drive safely,” she called after them, and watched them leave, Neal’s arm resting around Henry’s shoulders.

Belle chewed her lip, thinking hard.  Coincidence.  It has to be coincidence.  It can’t be true, that would be crazy.  There must be hundreds of people called Milah.  With Scottish exes. Who took their sons away from their fathers around age two.

She shook her head, and set Gideon back in the stroller, making her way to the counter to order two takeout coffees and four stem ginger cookies.  Her mind was whirling, and she barely registered the coffees being set in front of her. The scent of the cookies in their brown paper bag brought her back to the present, and she paid, uttering thanks in an absent voice before turning back to the door.  She needed to talk to Gold.

She was chewing her lip thoughtfully as she walked, one hand on the stroller and the other carrying the cardboard tray with its coffee cups.  Gold appeared to spy her through the shop window, and strode quickly to the door, taking the coffees from her. Belle pushed the stroller through to the back room.

“Did you catch Emma?” he asked, and she bent to unbuckle Gideon, lifting him out to sit on the floor with his coloured blocks again.

“I did,” she said, straightening up.  “They’re heading up the coast. Coming back in a few days.  I said we could have dinner again before they head back to Boston.”


He took a sip of coffee, wincing a little at the heat of it before setting it on his workbench, and Belle bent to retrieve the paper bag of cookies from the stroller.

“Tell me about your son,” she said.  “You said his name was Bailey. Did - did he have your last name?”

Gold gave her a wry smile.

“No.  Milah’s.  As I said, I was never named as his father.  Should have taken steps to change that, but alas…”

He shrugged resignedly, and she chewed her lower lip.

“So - what was her surname?”

“Bonny,” he said, and Belle swallowed.

“And - and you said you weren’t there when he was born,” she said.  “So was that in your hometown, or—”

“No, no, he was born in Newcastle, in the north of England,” said Gold, running a hand through his hair.  “I think she spent a year or so there, from what I remember her saying. Probably the longest she stayed anywhere.”

His tone was rueful.  Belle could feel her heart thudding in her chest.

“When was his birthday?” she asked.

“First of May,” he said immediately.

“The day after Gideon’s,” she said, under her breath.

“Yes,” he said, with a smile, and glanced at her.  “Why all the questions?”

She hesitated, but raised her chin.

“Because I think I might have found him.”

Chapter Text

For a moment there was a heavy silence, in which Gold imagined that he could hear his heart thumping hard in his chest.  His skin was tingling, as though the hair on the back of his neck had risen, and his licked his lips, his mouth suddenly dry.

“What?” he whispered.

Perhaps he had misheard.  Surely he had misheard.  Belle’s hands tightened on the bag of cookies with a crackle of brown paper, briefly catching her lower lip in her teeth.

“I - I think I might have found him,” she repeated.  “I think - I think it might be Neal.”

She was wide-eyed and nervous, almost frightened, clutching that damn bag of cookies like it was a talisman.  He became aware of a pain in his hand, and glancing down, saw that he was gripping his cane so hard his knuckles were white.  Easing his grip a little, he shook his head

“No,” he said.  “No, that’s - that’s not possible.”

He began pacing the floor, striding swiftly back and forth in agitation, the cane tapping on the floor.

“I talked to him,” Belle went on hesitantly.  “He said his mother’s name was Milah Bonny, that his real name was Bailey Bonny.  That he was born in Newcastle on May first, and they moved over here when he was around two.”

“No,” he said automatically.

“Alexander,” she said gently.  “I’m not lying.”

“No, I didn’t mean—”

He cut off, unsure of what to say.  His pulse was throbbing, his chest heaving, and his skin felt as though electricity was coursing over it to burrow into him and twist in his hair, making his teeth ache.  He stared at the ground, unseeing.

“You said something seemed familiar about him,” she said carefully.  “You said it felt as though you had met before.”

“Yes,” he breathed.  “But - but I looked, I - I fucking hunted for him!  I couldn’t find a trace of my son after the age of eight!”

“He said they moved over here when he was around two,” she said.  “He remembers living in Florida. Said they moved around a lot.”

Gold clutched at his chest as a lance of pain went through him.  She never did stay still.  Always restless, always searching for something.  I wonder if she ever found it.  He was still shaking his head, still pacing, as though that would help.

“It can’t be,” he whispered.  “All these years I’ve looked for him, and he turns up in Boston with a wife and son, and just happens to be one of your best friends?  That’s insane!”

“Well, talk to him,” she said.  “Ask him what he remembers about his early life, about his mother.  It was only when he mentioned her name that I thought to ask about her.”

He shook his head again, still pacing, his shoes squeaking faintly on the wooden floor as he walked to and fro.  There was a rattle of plastic and an excited squeal from Gideon as he pushed one of the coloured shapes into the hollow ball.  Bae was a little too old for that, when he came back to me.  He liked me to read to him. He liked to paint with his fingers.  The mess he would make in the kitchen, but such bright colours.

“He said his mother was dark-haired, and pretty,” Belle said.  “That she told him they shared the name of a famous pirate. That she loved the sea, and named him Bailey after a sailor she knew.”

Gold could feel tears starting in his eyes, the pain in his chest spreading upwards into his throat, stabbing at him.  A memory flitted through his head, Milah singing a sea shanty to their son on one of the rare evenings she had spent in the house they shared for so brief a time.  Could it be him? Could fate have led him here? Led him home?

“And his father?” he asked thickly.

“She told him that they met in Glasgow,” said Belle.  “That his father was Scottish, and that he worked all the time and never liked to have any fun.  Neal doesn’t really remember his father.”

His face wanted to crumple, tears welling up as his lower lip trembled, and he quickened his pace, as though by traversing the shop floor he could somehow outrun his pain.

“But his name…” he began, even as he knew it was a useless objection.  Names could be changed.

“He said - he said he ended up on the streets,” said Belle uncomfortably.  “That he fell in with a bad crowd. Took on a new identity, tried to forget who he was.  Tried to forget the woman who abandoned him.”

Gold turned on his heel, grounding the cane in front of him as he hunched over, his body trembling with a mixture of shock and grief and the first, faint stirrings of rage.

“She didn’t come back?” he whispered.  “She left him?”

“Yeah.”  He heard Belle shift her feet, discomfort clear in her voice.  “She left him with Social Services. Never returned. He said - he said he was seven.”

Gold felt his jaw clench, his lower lip tremble.  He wanted to break something!

“But I wanted him,” he said, his voice rising.  “I would have taken him, I would have given him a home!  For pity’s sake, I loved him!  Why did she do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why did she take him from me only to abandon him?”

His voice was shaking, and he ran a hand over his face.  Belle was watching him sadly.

“I don’t know, love,” she said softly.  “I’m so, so sorry.”

He let out a shuddering sigh, dashing tears from his eyes.  Anger boiled in him, anger and heartbreak and thick, choking guilt, bubbling within him like tar.

“No,” he said again.  “No, no, It can’t be true.  It’s too easy.”

“Easy?” said Belle, eyes widening.  “You’ve been looking for him for years!  For - for decades!  Nothing about this is easy!”

“But that’s just it!” he snapped, whirling to face her.  “I looked for him, and couldn’t find him! I failed him, and all the time he was out there!  I told myself I’d never find him, Belle! I - I gave up on ever finding him!  And now he’s here? Now he - he walks back into my life like it’s some kind of reward for my fucking abject failure?”

“You’re not being fair on yourself—”

“I gave up on him!” he insisted, tapping his chest in agitation.  “And in that moment, he was lost to me. I was lost.  I failed him.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” she said gently, and he shook his head.

“I failed him,” he whispered.  “Like I failed you and Gideon.”

“You haven’t!”

She stepped forward, reaching out to grasp his forearms, blue eyes fixing on his, her expression determined.

“Look,” she said firmly.  “If our story has taught me anything, it’s that it’s never too late!  You have this chance to make things right!  Don’t you see how wonderful that is?  You could have a grandson, and a daughter-in-law, and you could have both your sons in your life!  And - and you have me! And I love you!”

“I don’t deserve any of you,” he whispered.

Stop it!” she said sharply.  “I won’t let you keep doing this to yourself, do you hear me?  I believe in you!  You can be reunited with your son.”

Her beauty, her bright-eyed hope, was almost enough to make him believe it could all be true, that it could be real.  That he could end the torment he had suffered for almost three decades and call his family complete. The faintest spark of hope flared at the heart of him, and he gently pulled out of her grasp, resuming his pacing.  Gideon gurgled something from the floor, and threw a red plastic brick, a solid triangular piece that bounced from corner to corner before coming to a rest on one side. Gold skirted it, his mind whirling, fingers of doubt caressing his mind and sliding their cold nails into his soul.

“What if she lied?” he said, his voice barely audible.  “What if she lied to me? What if my father was right all along, and he wasn’t mine?”

“You said that you knew it, that you felt it,” she said, from behind him.  “You felt that he was yours. Like you felt it with Gideon.”

He turned slowly to face her.  She was staring at him, her eyes filled with sympathy.  It made him want to break down and weep on her shoulder.

“And if I’m wrong?” he whispered.  “I’d have no right to speak to him, Belle.  I’d have lost him all over again!”

Belle shrugged.

“Well, I guess you need to take a test,” she said.  “I expect Neal might want that too.”

He nodded absently, his mind whirling.  His fingers opened and closed on the handle of the cane as he raked through his thoughts.

“What if—” he began hesitantly.  “What if he doesn’t want to know me?  He must be so angry, and God, I wouldn’t blame him…”

Belle stepped forward, sliding her hands up his chest to his shoulders.

“I’ll speak to him,” she said gently.  “I think we’ll have to take it one day at a time, but if he’s willing to take the test, can you set that in motion with your lawyer?”

He nodded quickly.  Something he could do.  Something he could organise.  Something real.

“I’ll talk to him when they get back here,” she continued.  “This is definitely a face-to-face conversation. And - and if he wants to speak to you, Emma and I can take the boys for ice cream, or something, okay?”

He nodded again, and felt her fingers slide up to stroke through the hair behind his ears.

“It may take some time,” she said softly.  “He may need a little time to process things, you know?  Don’t be too upset if he doesn’t want to see you straight away.”

She was right, of course, and he let out his breath in a deep sigh as an arm went around her, pulling her close against him.  She smelled wonderfully familiar, and he buried his face in her hair, breathing deeply.

“Thank you,” he whispered.  “I love you, Belle.”

“Well, I love you too,” she said, her voice a little muffled.  “And so does Gideon. And so will Neal.”

He was by no means certain that would be the case, but it was what he needed to hear.

Belle found that the time crawled until Emma, Neal and Henry returned.  Gold didn’t mention Neal again, but she could sense his growing agitation, the rising stress levels that were evident in his pacing the lounge or the back room of his shop, in his lack of appetite and restless sleep.  Twice she awoke in bed to find the space beside her cold and empty, and creeping out to the landing, she heard the rhythmic tap of his cane drifting up the stairs as he traversed the lounge. She wished that she could help, but after his outburst in the shop he had remained as tight-lipped as ever, and Belle only hoped that whatever reaction Neal had to the news would not send him retreating back into himself, when it had taken her so long to coax him to be open with her.

Emma called when they were on their way back, as she had said she would.  She told Belle that they would be in Storybrooke around three that afternoon, and Belle spent an anxious hour or so sitting in Granny’s with Gideon, nursing an iced tea and waiting for them to arrive.  Gold had remained at the shop, under her instructions, and she suspected that he was slowly going out of his mind.

At last she saw their car pass by the window, and almost spilled her tea jumping out of her seat with Gideon in her arms.  She rushed out of the diner, bouncing on her toes on the top step as she waited, and sagged with relief as she heard Henry’s piping voice around the corner.

“There’s Belle!” he exclaimed, waving to her enthusiastically.  “Hey, Belle!”

She waved back, smiling as Emma and Neal appeared behind their son, Neal carrying a bag and dragging another on wheels behind him.

“Good timing,” said Emma, with a grin.  “I’d kill for a coffee.”

“I got a table for us,” said Belle hurriedly.  “Are you guys checked in?”

“Not yet,” said Neal, hefting the bag.  “Why don’t I go do that? You guys can get started on the coffees.”

"See?" said Emma lightly.  "This is why I fell in love with you."

She kissed him, handing over the bag she was carrying, and Neal shouldered it with a grin.

“I’ll give you a hand,” said Belle, quickly, and turned to Emma.  “Could you watch Gideon?”

“Uh - sure.”

Emma looked a little bemused, but took Gideon from her arms, and Belle grasped the suitcase on wheels from Neal, striding off in the direction of the inn’s entrance.  She could hear him following her, and she elbowed open the door to the inn, marching to the desk and smacking her hand down on the bell that sat there. Her heart was pounding, and it seemed to take an age for Granny to arrive.  Neal sauntered up beside her just as Granny bustled in, adjusting her glasses on her nose. She smiled when she saw her visitors.

“Back already?” she said.  “I can give you the same rooms, if you like.  Not much in the way of tourism in this town, more’s the pity, so you can pretty much take your pick.”

“Same rooms would be great,” said Neal, digging in his pocket for some money.  “Just one night. We’re headed back to Boston tomorrow.”

“Well, I sure hope we see you again,” said Granny, and handed him the keys.  “Breakfast’s from six.”

“I’ll be sure to order some of those awesome pancakes,” said Neal, with a wide grin.  “Thanks a lot.”

Belle’s anxiety was rising as she waited for him to get the room keys, but at last he was done, and she followed him up the stairs and along the corridor to room 4.  Neal unlocked the door, tossing the bag onto the bed and turning to face her.

“Okay,” he said.  “What’s up?”

“I think I might have found your dad,” she blurted.

Neal blinked at her, a bemused expression on his face.

“Come again?”

“Your dad,” she went on.  “I - I think I found him.”

“You can’t be serious,” he said, and she nodded vigorously.

“I think - I think it’s Alex,” she said, her mouth dry.  “He - he had a son, you see. A son whose mother took him away when he was two, and he could never find them again.  Her name was Milah. Milah Bonny, and - and his son’s name was Bailey. Bae.”

Neal was staring at her, his eyes wide, his chest heaving.  He shook his head.

“No,” he said, and Belle sighed.

“Look, I already went through this with him,” she said.  “I’m not lying.”

Neal shook his head again, turning on his heel and beginning to pace just as Gold had, a hand running over the back of his neck.  Belle threw up her hands.

“Why do you think I asked you so many questions about your mother?” she asked.  “I recognised her name from things he’d told me. I recognised yours.”

“But - but I don’t remember him,” said Neal automatically.  “I never knew him. Where the hell was he?”

“He looked for you!” said Belle pleadingly, stepping forward and grasping his hands.  “He was desperate to find you! Even moved over here when he heard a rumour she’d taken you to the US!”

“Can’t have wanted me that badly if I didn’t even have his name,” said Neal bitterly, and pulled out of her grip.  “I had nothing to go on when I was trying to track him down. He wasn’t even on the damn birth certificate!”

“Because he didn’t know!” insisted Belle.  “She left, and he had no idea she was pregnant until she turned up again two years later!  Said she stuck around for eight months or so, and then one day she was gone, and you with her!”

Neal paused in his pacing, staring at her, but then shook his head again, resuming his agitated stride.

“No, I - I can’t,” he said firmly.  “This - this is crazy! You’re telling me that the guy who broke your heart is my dad?  That Gideon’s my goddamn half- brother?”

Belle straightened up.

“I - I guess,” she said.  “That - is a little weird, not gonna lie.”

“You’re telling me,” said Neal flatly.  “And it’s not as though this guy has a stellar history of child-rearing, is it?”

“From the moment he knew about Gideon he’s been a terrific father,” said Belle.  “He didn’t know I was pregnant, remember? Things would have been different if he had.”

“Easy to say now.”

“He wanted you!” she persisted.  “Just as he wants Gideon!  Please, just talk to him. I’m not asking you to do it now, if you’re not ready, but - but at least think about it.”

Neal stopped pacing, letting his head roll back with a sigh, and ran his hands over his face.  He met her eyes over the tops of his fingers, and she wondered why she had never realised they were the same colour and shape as Gideon’s.  In the past he had been mistaken for Gideon’s father by strangers, and they had laughed over it. Neal let his hands fall.

“I’ll talk to Emma,” he said.  “I can’t make any promises, okay?  This is a lot to take in. We don’t even know if my mother told him the truth.  If - if she even knew who my dad was.”

“True enough,” she agreed.  “That’s a worry for him, too.”

“Okay,” he said.  “So - let me talk to Emma.  Decide how I’m gonna deal.”


It wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no either, and Belle thought it was about as good as she was likely to get, in the circumstances.  She stepped forward, rising up on her toes to press a kiss to his cheek, and he hugged her tight.

“We’ll be ready,” she said softly.  “When - when you’re ready, I mean.”

“Okay,” he said again, his voice a little gruff.  “Let’s go down. Emma and Henry will be wondering where the hell we are.”

Belle stayed at the diner for long enough to share a cup of coffee with them, but Neal was preoccupied, and Emma noticed, her brow crinkling whenever she looked at him.  Belle excused herself once the coffee was drunk, strapping Gideon into the stroller and cheerfully agreeing to dinner before she left. She figured Neal would decide whether he wanted to keep that appointment, but suspected he wouldn’t.

It was nearing four-thirty when she returned to the shop, and the mix of wariness and hope on Gold’s face as she entered made her want to cry.  Belle pushed the stroller to him, flicking on the brake with her foot before meeting his eyes.

“He says it’s a lot to think about,” she said.

Gold seemed to sag a little, sinking back onto his left foot, but nodded.

“Only to be expected,” he said quietly.

“He didn’t say he wouldn’t see you,” added Belle quickly.  “Just that he needed to think about it. And - and talk things over with Emma.”

“Of course,” he said.  “It’s - it’s a lot to take in.”

“Exactly!” she said brightly.  “Try not to worry too much, okay?”

He nodded again, not looking at her, and Belle chewed her lip.

“You want dinner?” she asked.  “I should really make something for Gideon.”

“I - I thought I might stay here awhile, if that’s alright,” he said.  “Perhaps later.”

“Okay.”  She stepped forward and kissed his cheek.  “Call if you need anything.”

Gold watched her go, the bell above the door ringing merrily as she left, and made his way into the back room. He needed a distraction. Something to stop his mind from creating the disastrous scenarios it was wont to come up with.  There was a silver tea set on his bench, the pieces wrapped in newspaper and stacked in a cardboard box. A recent acquisition, and one he had been meaning to clean.  Perfect. He shrugged off his suit jacket and took an apron from the peg behind the door, slipping it on. He estimated that polishing the tea set would keep him busy for two hours.  With any luck, he would be two hours closer to being reunited with his son.

It was growing dark.  Gold had finished polishing the tea set and had set it out in one of the glass cabinets, ready for sale.  He had moved onto repairing the spine of an old book, a fiddly operation which required a good deal of concentration.  The tinkle of the doorbell pulled his attention away from his work, and he pushed back from the bench, getting his cane underneath him just as the curtain to the shop was pushed aside.  Neal walked into the room, stopping dead and letting the curtain fall behind him. Gold felt as though he was holding his breath, and Neal nodded to him.

“Hey,” he said curtly.

He was wary, hovering near the doorway with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders a little hunched.  Gold flexed his fingers on the cane handle, nervous and unsure.

“I - ah - I understand Belle has spoken with you,” he said.


There was a moment of silence.  Gold felt ridiculously out of his depth.  What could he say to the man who might be his son?  What could possibly make up for almost thirty years of being apart?  Perhaps it would be best to keep things polite and formal for now.

“Well, thank you for agreeing to see me,” he said, hating the awkwardness in his voice.  “I imagine you must have questions.”

“Don’t know yet,” said Neal.  “I mean we don’t know if - if this,” he gestured between them, “is anything, right?”

“Right,” said Gold softly, and Neal shifted his feet.

“Belle told me what you told her,” he said.  “About - about who your ex was, and the son she took.”

And the rest?  Did she tell you how I looked for him?  Did she tell you what he meant to me?

“Yes,” he said, pleased at how calm he sounded.  “I have to confess to being shocked when she told me of your background.  There are too many similarities for it to be a coincidence, in my opinion.”


He was cautious, reserved, and Gold couldn’t say he blamed him.  They would have been difficult decades for him, too. Decades of neglect and dashed hope and disappointment.  Gold hesitated, then crossed to where his suit jacket hung and reached into the inside pocket, drawing out a thick envelope and holding it out.  He had carried it with him for the past couple of days, in the hope that he would get to hand it over.

“I wrote down everything I could remember,” he said.  “Dates, places, descriptions. Perhaps something will jog your memory.  Perhaps not.”

Neal nodded, and reached out to take it.

“I’ll take a look,” he said, and Gold hesitated again.

“I - I don’t know if Belle mentioned it,” he said.  “But I recently had a paternity test for Gideon.”

“You made her take a test?”

Neal’s voice was dry, somewhat accusatory, and Gold sucked his teeth.

“It was necessary for the legal side of things,” he said.  “I - I wondered if that would be something you’d be willing to do.”

Neal stared at him for a moment, then shrugged.

“Guess I’ll know then, at least,” he said.  “Sure. We’ll take the test.”

“Thank you,” said Gold, allowing himself to relax a tiny amount.  “If the result is positive, then perhaps—”

“One step at a time, okay?” interrupted Neal.  “Gotta say, I’m still not sure how I feel about this piece of news.  Still only really know you as the guy who knocked up my friend and broke her heart.”

“Right,” said Gold, feeling disheartened, and trying not to show it.  “Of course. We’ll - we’ll wait for the results before discussing anything further.”

“How long will that be?”

“It took a few days last time, but I need to obtain a test first,” said Gold.  “Will you be staying in Storybrooke? I could have it couriered here. It would arrive tomorrow.”

Neal eyed him for a moment, then nodded.

“Alright,” he said.  “We were planning on heading back in the morning, but I guess we could leave it until later.”

“Thank you.”

Gold shifted his feet, opening and closing his hands on the cane.

“Well, let me speak to my lawyer,” he said.  “I’ll get that test sent out first thing. Was - was there anything else you wanted to ask?”

“No, I—”  Neal had turned away, as though he was leaving, but was frozen in place, frowning at the shelves by the door.  He took a step forward, reaching up, his fingers closing around the plush body of the toy rabbit that Gold had carried with him for almost thirty years.

“Where’d you get that?” he asked softly.

“It belonged to my son,” said Gold calmly.  “It’s the only thing of his that I have. It was his favourite toy, and I’ve kept it with me always.”

Neal turned the rabbit over and over in his hands, a frown creasing his forehead, and Gold could feel his heart thumping hard in his chest.  Would this be the moment? Would he remember?

Neal seemed to jerk out of a reverie, and shook his head, pushing the rabbit back onto the shelf before stepping back, head bowed.  His eyes darted around the room before fixing on Gold’s shoes, and finally flicking up to stare at a point just below his left ear.

“We’ll take the test,” he said quietly.  “We’ll take the test and then we’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Gold managed to hold it together until Neal left, his knuckles white on the handle of his cane and his leg beginning to ache from standing so stiffly.  As soon as the shop doorbell rang, signalling Neal’s departure, he let himself sag, the breath whistling out from his lungs. His heart was thumping, and he ran a hand over his face, surprised when it came away dry.  He half-expected to be weeping. His son. He was sure of it. At least, he was sure that Neal was the child he had known for so brief a time. Shaking his head, he crossed to the bench and picked up the phone, settling himself on a stool as he listened to the dial-tone.  Ella’s drawling voice answered, sounding a little impatient.

“It’s me,” he said, and her standard greeting cut off.

“Alexander, must you call when I’m about to leave the office?” she sighed.  “I was ninety percent in after-work social butterfly mode, and now I’m going to have to be responsible again.”

“You’ll live,” he said dryly.  “I need a favour.”

“Is this to do with the oh-so-lovely mother of your child?” she asked slyly.  “How are things going on that front?”

“We - we decided that we want to make it work,” he admitted.  “We’re back together.”

“You sly dog!” she said, chuckling.  “Please tell me I can start looking for a hat soon.  Winter weddings are my favourite.”

Gold rolled his eyes.

“Look, never mind about all that,” he went on.  “You can tease me all you like the next time I’m in Boston.  In the meantime I need to get another paternity test done.”

“But I thought we got a result on the last one,” she said.  “The result you wanted, no less.”

“This isn’t about Gideon,” he explained.  “This is about - someone else.”

“What on earth have you been up to?”

“I haven’t been up to anything,” he said shortly.  “Look, it’s kind of an emergency. Can you get the test sent by courier?  I need it here tomorrow.”

Ella sighed heavily.

“You do realise I’m already late for dinner with the lovely Ursula?”

“Put your social life on hold for two minutes, would you?” he snapped.

“You know, if you took your own advice, I probably wouldn’t have to be facilitating so many paternity tests.”

Gold pinched the bridge of his nose.

“So help me, Ella…”

“Oh, keep your pants on!” she said impatiently.  There was a moment of silence. “That was another dig at your rampant sex life, by the way.”

“Yes, I got it,” he said dryly.  “You’re fucking hilarious.”

She cackled, and he rolled his eyes again.

“Do you do this for all your clients or am I paying extra for personal abuse?” he demanded.

“I would never charge for something I find so enjoyable,” she said lightly.  “Don’t be such a misery. When you come to Boston we’ll go out for drinks.”

“I’d like to survive my visit, thank you,” he said.  “How soon can you have the test here?”

“Let me make a couple of calls,” she said.  “If I can get hold of the test, I can have someone drive it up tomorrow morning.”


“What’s the rush, anyway?” she asked.  “Do I have to draft another potential visitation agreement?  Because I can probably redo the one I prepared.”

“No, no, this - the person who I think is my son is an adult now,” he said.  “But if the test is positive there will be additional work, obviously.”

“Colour me intrigued.”

“Your father did some work for me around twenty years ago when I was trying to track him down,” said Gold.  “He may remember the case.”

“Well, now I am intrigued,” she said.  “I’ll get the test sent to you.  Fingers crossed you get the result you want on this one, too.”

“Yes.”  Gold closed his eyes.  “Yes, I hope so.”

“Before you know it, you’ll have more family than you know what to do with,” she added. “Christmas will be a nightmare.”

He grinned at that.

“Something tells me I’ll cope.”

It was fully dark by the time he got home, and the house was quiet.  Belle came out of the lounge as he entered the house, sagging a little in relief at the sight of him.

“I was starting to worry,” she said, and he sent her a brief smile, locking the door behind him.

“I’m sorry, I should have called,” he said.  “Did you eat dinner?”

She shook her head as he turned towards the kitchen.

“I gave Gideon his,” she said.  “I thought I’d wait for you. I - I asked Emma if they wanted to do dinner tonight, but she called to cancel.”

He paused, grip tightening on the cane handle.

“Well, that’s not surprising, in the circumstances,” he said quietly.  “Are you hungry?”

“Not really.”

“No.”  He turned to face her, raising an eyebrow.  “Perhaps some cheese and a glass of wine?”

“Sounds good.”

Belle followed him into the kitchen, and watched as he prepared their snack, slicing cheese and apple and setting the pieces on a board with some grapes and a few crackers.  He carried it to the table, and she took a seat as he opened a bottle of red wine and poured them each a glass. Belle took a cracker, setting a piece of cheese on it and taking a bite, tasting sharp, strong cheese.  She set down the cracker, licking crumbs from her fingers.

“Emma said they were going back home tomorrow,” she said, and he hesitated, before bringing her drink and then turning back for his own.


“Are you okay?” she asked softly.

He sucked in his cheeks, glancing away, and she wanted to sigh.  Please don’t shut me out, damn you.  Not now.

“Neal - came to see me,” he said carefully, and took a seat.

“Oh,” she said.  “Well - that’s a start.”


His fingers were tapping against his wineglass, his lower lip trembling a little.

“It’s him, Belle,” he whispered.  “It’s him, I know it. He’s my son.”

“Well, there do seem to be too many facts that tie up for it to be a coincidence, I think,” she said, and he nodded.

She reached out, sliding her hand over his to stop him fidgeting, and he sent her a faint smile.

“How did he seem?” she asked gently.  “Was he angry?”

“Wary,” he said.  “He said we didn’t know if there was any truth to Milah’s claim.  I think the anger may come later.”

“Maybe,” she agreed.  “Was he there long?”

“No,” he said, running a hand through his hair, his brows lifting, his eyes tired.  “No, and our interactions were - strained politeness, at best. He agreed to a test, though.”

“Oh, well that’s good,” she said gently.  “Will it be like the one you did for Gideon?”

He nodded, picking up his wine and taking a sip.

“I got Ella to source another test, have it couriered up here,” he said.  “It should be here tomorrow.”

“And then a few days after that for the results, I guess,” she said, and he nodded again.


There was a moment of silence, and Belle sat back, taking a drink.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, and he raised his eyebrows, his mouth twisting a little as his shoulders rose and fell.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, and took a deep breath.  “I’m terrified.”

Belle reached out to him, fingers stroking over his cheek, pushing into his hair, and he let out a long sigh, leaning into her touch.

“It’ll be okay,” she said softly.

“Will it?”

Belle smiled.

“Yes,” she said firmly.  “I’m not saying it’ll be okay right away, but eventually it will.  I’m sure of it.”

She got up, and he sat back, letting her sit on his lap, his arms going around her as she began to stroke her fingers through his hair.  He rested his head on her chest with a deep sigh.

“You know, I could try to take your mind off things, if you like,” she added, and grinned to herself as she felt him look up.

“Oh really?”

“Really.”  She kissed the top of his head.  “How about we leave everything here for a midnight snack and head upstairs?”

Gold sat back, a smile spreading across his face, his eyes dark and sleepy.

“I am in your hands.”

Belle slept late the next morning, waking as Gold entered the room with a cup of tea as the clock neared eight. She stretched, smiling as she felt the pleasant ache in her limbs that came from a night of too much pleasure and too little sleep.  He looked tired too, but he was grinning at her as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Gideon up?” she asked sleepily, and he nodded.

“Up, fed, dressed, and ready for a day at the shop,” he said.  “Do you want to take him, or shall I?”

“I’ll take him,” she said, sitting up and brushing her hair out of her eyes.  “Do you know what time the courier’s gonna get here?”

“Ella said she’d text me with an update,” he said.  “I’m hoping around midday, but we’ll see. I asked her to have it sent to the shop.”

“I’ll bring Gideon over for lunch, then,” she suggested.

He nodded, leaning in to kiss her, and she gave him a wry look.

“Did you sleep at all last night?”

“Not much,” he admitted.  “I really just want it over.  I want to know. One way or the other.”

“I’m sure Neal does, too,” she said, and he shrugged.


He was looking away from her, to where his hand was resting on the blankets, finger and thumb plucking at them over and over.  Belle put her hand over his, stilling him, and he glanced up.

“Just give it time,” she said gently.  “And give yourself time, too. You’ve had a lot of relationships to fix these past few weeks.  It won’t all be done by Sunday.”

He nodded, looking away again, and she sat back.

“Maybe you should get Archie to clear his diary,” she said, and he barked a laugh.


Belle put her head to the side.

“You are gonna go and see Archie, right?”

“Yes,” he said, after a pause.  “Yes, of course. I said I would.”

“I’m sure it’ll help.”

“He said things would probably get worse before they got better,” said Gold, looking resigned, and Belle bit her lip.

“Well,” she said slowly.  “Well - at least they will get better, right?”

He looked at her again, a tiny smile lifting the corners of his mouth.

“Please keep reminding me of that.”

Belle spent her morning sorting through the latest flower delivery and preparing bunches of roses and sunflowers.  For a brief moment she thought about going to see her father, but she was still too angry with him, and seeing him would do nothing other than ease her pesky conscience, so she decided against it.  Gideon was in his playpen, babbling nonsense as he played with a toy that responded to his touches with coloured lights and music. After three hours of listening to it, Belle was ready to take the batteries out and hide them, but he was having fun, so she tried to tune it out.  The sound of the shop bell ringing was a welcome distraction, and she looked up with a smile, which widened as Emma walked in, clad in a red plaid shirt above black jeans, blonde curls shining.

“Hey,” she said.  “You got a minute?”

“Of course.”

Belle set aside the carnations she had been bundling, and Emma leaned on the counter with a sigh.

“Where’s Henry?” asked Belle.

“Neal took him for ice cream,” she said.

“How’s Neal doing?”

Emma pulled a face.

“Kinda freaked,” she admitted.  “He wants to know, though. I mean, he’s wondered about his dad his whole life, of course he wants to know.  But he’s scared, too, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it,” said Belle softly.  “Alex is the same. He’s wanted this for so long, and - and he still doesn’t know if Neal’s mother lied to him, all those years ago.”

“Bitch,” said Emma, with feeling.  “Wish I could meet her just to punch her in the face.  Screwing up lives like that! Going on the run with a kid only to abandon him when it got too hard?  Screw her!”

Belle had to agree.

“How do you think Neal will react?” she said.  “You know - if it’s positive?”

Emma wrinkled her nose.

“I don’t think even he knows,” she said.  “We didn’t say anything to Henry, by the way.”

“Probably best,” agreed Belle.

“Although he seems to like Gold,” added Emma.  “Which, considering he might be his grandson - God, this is weird!”


Belle sighed, leaning on the counter, and Emma nudged her.

“How are things going with you two?” she asked.

“Better,” said Belle.  “Much better. I mean, there’s a long way to go, but he’s trying.  He’s really trying. He made an appointment to see Dr Hopper, get some therapy.”

“Dr Hopper, huh?” said Emma dryly.  “He do family discounts?”

Belle giggled, and just then her phone rang, making her jump.  She noticed Gold’s number, and shared a glance with Emma before answering.

“Hey,” she said, her heart thudding.

“The test arrived,” he said.  His voice was short, anxious. “Could you - uh—”

“I’ll tell them,” she said immediately.  “Sit tight.”

“Where would I go?” he asked snippily, and she rolled her eyes.

“Just - just wait, okay?”

He rang off, and Belle looked at Emma.

“The test kit’s arrived.”

“Right.”  Emma straightened up, running a hand through her hair and reaching for her phone.  “I’d better tell Neal. Hey, you want to get a sandwich or something at Granny’s while we wait?”

“I was gonna take lunch to the shop,” said Belle, crossing to Gideon’s playpen to pick him up.  “But I’ll get a drink while you guys eat. I guess you’ll be leaving for Boston afterwards, right?”

Emma nodded, fingers flying over the screen of her phone as she tapped out a message.

“Can’t stay any longer,” she said vaguely.  “We may be back sooner than we thought, depending on the results.”

“Yeah.”  Belle strapped Gideon into the stroller.  “Okay, let’s go.”

The sun was shining, the scent of fresh flowers fading as they left the shop and headed along the street.  Emma’s phone pinged with an incoming message, and she pulled it from her pocket, raising an eyebrow at Belle.

“Okay, we’ll collect Henry on the way to Granny’s,” she said.  “Neal’s gonna head to the pawn shop, join us when they’re done.”

Belle spotted Henry first, coming out of the ice cream parlour with a smile on his face, chattering to Neal, who had a hand on his shoulder and a somewhat grim look on his face that he was trying to hide.  He looked relieved when he saw them, squeezing Henry’s shoulder.

“You go with your Mom and Belle, okay buddy?” he said.  “I’ll be there soon.”

“Where are you going?” asked Henry curiously, and Neal waved a hand.

“I just got something to do, that’s all,” he said.  “Won’t be long, I promise.”

He locked eyes with Emma, and she took his hand briefly, leaning in to kiss him.

“Good luck,” she whispered, and he sighed and nodded, before heading off down the street with his shoulders hunched and his hands in his pockets.


Mary Margaret’s voice made her turn, and Belle smiled.

“Hey,” she said brightly.  “Mary Margaret, this is my friend Emma Cassidy, from Boston, and her son Henry.  Guys, this is Mary Margaret Blanchard.”

“Hey,” said Emma, and Mary Margaret nodded.

“I - I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she said hastily.

“No, it’s fine,” said Belle, and turned to Emma.  “I’ll see you in Granny’s. Could you get me an iced tea?”

“No problem,” said Emma, and ruffled Henry’s hair.  “C’mon, kid, let’s see how much food you can stuff on top of that ice cream, hmm?”

Belle watched them go, then turned back to Mary Margaret, who was looking hesitant.

“What’s up?” she said, and Mary Margaret opened and closed her mouth.

“I - um - look, it’s not my place to say anything,” she said awkwardly, and Belle sighed.

“Come on, spit it out.”

“It’s just - look, I’m not certain where the rumour started, although I can guess,” said Mary Margaret, in a rush.  “But people are saying that you and Mr Gold - that you’re - that you’re sleeping with him.”

“Well - yeah,” said Belle, puzzled.  “I am. We’re back together.”

“Oh.”  Mary Margaret’s hands shifted on strap of her purse.  “I just - I didn’t realise you were so unhappy with your husband.”

“My—”  Belle closed her eyes, running her hands over her face before letting them fall to her sides.  “Oh. Oh no, Mary Margaret, look - I’m not married, okay?”

“But - the ring - our conversations…”

“Yeah, I’m a terrible person,” sighed Belle.  “I let you guys think I was married. I put the ring on because I was sick of being asked about Gideon’s father, and - and it just seemed easier to let people believe a lie than explain the truth.  I’m sorry.”

“Oh.”  Mary Margaret’s mouth twitched.  “Huh. Well, I guess I owe Kathryn ten dollars, then.  She said you were being way too cagey.”

Belle groaned.

“I might have known,” she said dryly.  “Nothing much gets past her, does it?”

“Well, on the plus side I can squash the rumour that you’re some kind of insatiable tramp,” said Mary Margaret lightly.  “Which, by the way, is only being put around by Miss Ginger.”

“She needs a hobby,” said Belle dryly, and turned the stroller.  “You want to come to Granny’s? Iced tea, my treat.”

“Sounds good,” she said, and fell into step.  “So, you and Gold, hmm? I’m expecting to hear all the details next girls’ night, okay?”

Belle grinned.

Gold was nervous when he sent off the paternity test, a padded envelope sealed and posted, holding what could be the answer to a twenty-eight year mystery.  Neal had only stayed at the shop long enough to collect the sample, Gold agreeing to let him know the results as soon as they came through, and taking his email details accordingly.  They were still being polite and distant, both wary, and Neal had left the shop with no more than a nod of his head and a clipped farewell, headed back to Boston with his family. Belle had brought lunch to the shop not long after, coaxing him to eat and talk, but he had wanted to be alone with his thoughts, and she seemed to sense it, kissing his cheek and telling him she’d see him back at the house.

He decided to walk home when he closed up, the summer evening air pleasantly cool against his skin, and by the time he got back it was almost seven.  Belle was sitting on the front porch in the warmth of the evening sun, with Gideon on her lap and his empty milk cup to the side of her, and he felt his heart lift at the sight of them. His family. What a wonderful thing if that family could be complete. Belle smiled as she saw him, shaking her hair back, and he quickened his pace as he walked up the path, breaking into a grin as Gideon reached for him.

“Well, what a lovely welcome home!” he said gently, kissing his cheek as he lifted him up in the crook of an arm.  “How about a kiss for Papa, hmm?”

Gideon pressed a wet kiss to his cheek, and Gold’s grin widened.

“Thank you,” he said.  “Stop being so cute, I could eat you up.”

He tickled him, and Gideon gurgled with laughter, throwing his arms around Gold’s neck.

“You’re later than I thought,” said Belle.  “I didn’t start dinner yet. Gideon needs to go to bed.”

“I’ll take him,” he said.  “I’m not hungry, anyway. Can we wait an hour?”

She nodded, and he kissed Gideon’s cheek again, carrying him into the house.  Three days. Three days, and they would know.

Chapter Text

Belle wasn’t sure what had woken her, but the room was dark, and when she reached out, the bed beside her was empty and cold.  He had been up for some time, then. She glanced to the clock on the nightstand. Nearing four a.m. Gold had been quiet at dinner, lost in his own thoughts, and she hadn’t pushed him to talk.  He hadn’t slept much since the day Neal had left for Boston, and the shadows under his eyes were dark and deep, his face drawn. She was well aware that he was preoccupied with the paternity test, the results of which they were due to get the next day.  Whichever way the outcome went, things would change for him irrevocably.

She threw back the covers, getting out of bed and grabbing her robe.  Belting it around her waist, she made her way to the stairs, and it was then that she heard the sound.  A rhythmic tapping on the wooden floor of the study, interspersed with the softer sound of his footsteps.  She shook her head, the wooden treads of the stairs cool beneath her feet as she descended. He was pacing again.

The house was silent but for the low ticking of clocks, the sound of his footsteps and the tap of his cane.  She walked quickly to the study, its shelves lined with all the books she longed to read. Gold was dressed in the silk pants he had worn to bed, his robe open over the top, his chest bare.  A single lamp sent a muted, warm glow around the room, making the shadows of his eyes and cheeks seem deeper and darker, and he didn’t seem to know that she was there, striding back and forth across the floor with his head a little bowed, lost in his own thoughts.

“Alex,” she said gently, making him start.  “It’s four a.m.”

“Is it?”  He looked confused, glancing at the old clock on the wall above the fireplace.  “So it is. You should go to bed.”

“So should you,” she said, stepping up to him.  “And don’t pretend to me that you’ve been sleeping these past few days, because I know damn well you haven’t.”

Gold had opened his mouth as if to protest, but shut it at her words, looking a little guilty, and Belle nodded firmly.

“Look, I get that this is stressful,” she said.  “But you can’t spend three days awake, you’ll make yourself sick.  Get some rest. Please.”

“I don’t know how to,” he said, and she sighed.

“Well,” she said tentatively.  “Could you - maybe talk to me? About what’s going through your mind?  Maybe it would help.”

He was silent for a moment, not looking at her, but he gave the faintest of shrugs.

“Maybe you’re right,” he said quietly.  “I suppose it won’t make things any worse, hmm?”

Belle let her hands settle at his waist, feeling the tension in his muscles, and looked up at him.

“Go on,” she whispered.

He tightened his grip on the cane, letting his head roll back with a sigh, and she ran her hands up his chest to his shoulders.  He looked weary, his face sagging a little, and she let her fingers stroke up the sides of his neck, sinking into the short wisps of his hair.

“I just - I don’t know how I’ll react,” he said softly.  “Either way, really. If he’s my son - how will that feel?  How can I apologise for what happened to him?”

“That wasn’t your fault,” she insisted.

“You think he feels that way?” he demanded.  “His mother abandoned him!  God only knows what happened to him after that!  Whose fault was it if not his father’s? I knew she didn’t fucking care for him, I fucking knew!  I could have taken steps to make sure she could never take him from me, and I didn’t!”

“You weren’t to know that she’d - she’d kidnap him and run off to America!” protested Belle.  “Why would you think that? What happened to him wasn’t your fault, it was his mother’s!  She knew you loved him, that you’d care for him, and she didn’t once reach out to you to tell you she couldn’t cope!  This is on her, not you!”

“It’s on both of us,” he said heavily.  “Whatever happened to him - well, she has to make peace with her own conscience, I don’t really care about what she thinks.  If she ever thought about him again, of course.”

“Oh, Alex!”  Belle sighed, stretching up on her toes to kiss him gently before sinking back onto her heels.  “Please stop torturing yourself over things you can’t change! If he’s your son, you have to start looking to the future.  You’ll have a grandson to build a relationship with, too! A brand new daughter-in-law. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Yes,” he said quietly.  “Yes, it is.”

“Well then.”  She stroked his hair, letting the short strands slip through her fingers.  “I know you feel guilty, but try to think about how things can be going forward, as well.”

Gold nodded, not looking at her.

“And what if it’s negative?” he whispered.  “All these years I was convinced that the child Milah came back with was mine.  And if he isn’t - Belle, I’ve spent all this time looking for him, searching for him, believing that I had some right to claim a connection with him.  If none of that was true - if she lied to us - what then?”

Belle shook her head, still stroking his hair.

“I don’t know.”

“He could walk out of my life and say he never wanted to see me again, and there’s nothing I could do about it.”

“Well, that’s true,” she said.  “But he’s an adult now. He could do the same whether you’re his father or not.”

“Yes,” he agreed.  “But at least I’d know.  I’d know he was alive and well, and raising his own son. There’d be that comfort, at least.”

“Hmm.”  She pursed her lips.  “Y’know, if it’s comfort you’re after, I could help you with that.”

Gold raised an eyebrow.

“Are you trying to seduce me when I’m in the middle of a crisis?” he asked dryly, and she grinned.

“I just think that there are better things you could be doing at four a.m., that’s all.”

“Well, I suspect you’re right about that,” he said wearily, and sighed.  “I’m sorry, Belle. I know you need your sleep.”

“We both do,” she said firmly.  “Gideon will be awake in a few hours, expecting us to both be there for him, and we’ll do that much more successfully if we’re both rested.”

“And your answer to that is to give me that look, is it?” he remarked, with a glint in his eye.  “I know that look, dearest. That look usually ends up in neither of us getting any rest.”

Belle pouted playfully.

“Well, since you’re awake anyway…”  Her voice trailed off, and he raised an eyebrow.

“Go on.”

His voice was a low growl, full of promise, and it made her shiver pleasantly.

“I just thought that I could take your mind off things,” she teased, and he looked at her, a grin playing with the edges of his mouth.

“Could you indeed?”

“I could.”

She let her hands slide back down his chest, pushing open his robe, and gently kissed along his jaw before trailing her lips down his throat.  Gold let out a low, rumbling groan, and she smiled against his skin, breathing in the scent of him. She moved lower, lips brushing over his nipples, sucking one into her mouth and making him gasp before letting it slip out again.

“How’s that?” she whispered.  “Do I have your attention yet?”

“Getting there!” he said, his voice strained.

She grinned, sinking lower, kissing her way down over his belly.  Her fingers slid down, tucking into the waistband of his pants, and she let her tongue stroke across his lower belly, feeling the hard length of his cock brush against her throat.

“I can’t believe Neal almost saw you giving me a blowjob.”

“God damn it, Alex!”

She gazed up at him, frowning, and he shook his head.


“It’s okay,” she sighed, pushing to her feet and settling her hands at his waist.  “You’re distracted, I get it. Just - come back to bed. We don’t have to do anything, but you should at least try to get some sleep.”

She moved to step past him, but Gold took her hand, pulling her back to him.

“Maybe I could try to concentrate on something else,” he suggested.  “Like you.”

Belle couldn’t help smiling a little.

“Well, I can think of some things that would need your full attention.”

“Oh, so can I...”

He reached up to cup her cheeks, bending his head to kiss her.  She leaned into him, moaning as his tongue pushed into her mouth, and he kissed her deeply, his fingers sliding into her hair before he pulled back with the wet sound of parting lips.  He pressed his brow to hers, breathing hard.

“You have no idea what you do to me,” he whispered, and Belle smirked, sliding a hand down between them.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” she said softly, grasping his cock through his pants.  “But I’d like to do more.”

He kissed her again, and she slipped her hands inside his robe, sliding her palms over warm skin and up his back, pulling him close.  Gold groaned into her mouth, hands cupping her breasts and squeezing gently, and he pulled his mouth from hers, kissing down her neck, his tongue stroking in circles.  Belle gasped, pushing against him.

“Come to bed,” she whispered.

She pulled out of his arms, taking his hand and tugging him with her, and he followed her the stairs.  Her heart thumped in her chest, her cheeks flushed with excitement, and she stuck her head briefly around Gideon’s door, checking that he was still sleeping peacefully before heading for their bedroom.  She turned on her toes as Gold followed her in, his eyes dark, his breath coming hard in his chest. He shed his robe, the silk flowing from his body to the floor as he reached for her, his hand cupping her cheek, his mouth hungry as it found hers.  Belle moaned, running her hands over his chest, feeling the hard points of his nipples. He backed her towards the bed, and she threw off her own robe and sat down, unbuttoning the shirt she was wearing. Gold let his cane fall, crawling onto the bed with her, and Belle lay back as he walked forward on his hands, gazing down at her.

“Beautiful,” he whispered.  “Beautiful and perfect. Every inch of you.”

“You’ve got a few inches I wouldn’t mind experiencing right now,” she remarked, and he chuckled, his eyes glinting in the low light.

“Your wish is my command, my lady.”

He bent to kiss her, his tongue slowly stroking against hers before his lips trailed along her jaw and down her throat, his body shifting lower in the bed as he kissed down over her breasts and belly.  Belle felt her breathing quicken with excitement as his hands slid along her thighs, pushing them apart as his tongue swept across the soft skin of her mound. He put his mouth to her, his tongue trailing over her sensitive flesh, and she let out a moan of pleasure at the feel of it.

“Delicious,” he whispered, his breath hot against her skin.  “You taste so fucking good, Belle.”

He licked her again, his fingers digging into her thighs, his tongue swirling over her, devouring her, the low groans of pleasure coming from him making her abdomen clench with arousal.  She let her hands drop to stroke through his hair, closing her eyes and losing herself in the steady strokes of his tongue. Pleasure was building within her, rising up through her, a slow-moving wave of bliss that made her skin tingle and sweat form on her upper lip.  His tongue rubbed over her clit, circling and probing, coating her in wetness, and she licked her lips, her back arching as she felt her climax near. His stubble was scraping against her skin, in contrast to the softness of his lips and tongue, and she came with a low cry, jerking against him, her cheeks flushed and the blood pounding in her head.

Gold groaned as he felt her come, as he licked hot fluid from her, spreading her pleasure over his cheeks and chin, his tongue dipping inside her to catch every drop.  His hands slid up her thighs as Belle settled back against the mattress with a gasp, and he kissed his way up, feeling the sheets rub against his straining cock as he trailed his mouth over her belly to her breasts, sucking at a nipple as he reached between them to take himself in hand.  He sank into her easily, a groan rumbling from him as he felt her grip him tight, and he kissed up her neck to let his mouth find hers. Belle drew up her knees, and he thrust deep inside her, shivering at the feel of her hands stroking up his sides. He pulled his lips from hers, kissing along her jaw to her ear.

“I love you,” he whispered.  “I love you so much.”

She breathed his name, her cheek rubbing against his, and he slid his hands down her arms, threading his fingers through hers and lifting her hands above her head to push them down into the pillows as he kissed her.  Belle moaned and arched her body into him, pushing her breasts against his firm chest, closing her eyes as he thrust inside her. She was perfection, hot and wet all around him, the scent of her drifting into his nose, the taste of her on his tongue.

She was nuzzling him, gently nipping the skin of his jaw before kissing down his neck, and he gasped as he pushed deep, feeling his pleasure rise, feeling his pulse throb and his heart thud as he moved inside her.  He kissed her again, tongue stroking, his fingers tightening around hers as his pace quickened, and Belle moaned into his mouth, a tiny, high whimper that grew to a cry as she came around him. The sensation, the feel of her tightening and pulling against him, was too much, and he let go with a low groan, his cock pulsing as he came hard.

He thrust into her, pumping his hips, and she moved against him, as though she were trying to pull every drop from him.  It sent ripples of sensation through him, as though electricity was coursing over his skin, and he tried to catch his breath, lights bursting behind his eyes as he slowed to a stop.  Belle kissed the base of his throat, the tip of her tongue flicking out to taste his skin, and he released her hands, smiling as he felt them slide around his back and pull him close.  He pressed damp kisses to her neck before slipping from her and rolling onto his back, and Belle snuggled up, wrapping one leg over his as she nuzzled his chest. He kissed the top of her head, letting his breathing steady as his arm slipped around her waist.

“Think you can sleep now?” she murmured, and he smiled.

“I can certainly try.”

To his surprise, he did sleep, only waking when Belle brought him a cup of coffee in bed, Gideon balanced on one hip.  She set down the coffee cup, bouncing Gideon in her arms as Gold watched them with bleary eyes.

“Go give Papa a hug,” said Belle.  “He’s a sleepyhead this morning.”

Gold sat up, rubbing his eyes and reaching for his son, and Gideon gave him a messy kiss on the cheek that smelt of strawberry jam.  Gold nuzzled the top of his head, breathing in the smell of him and smiling against his soft hair.

“Up and having breakfast without me, hmm?” he said.  “What time is it?”

“Eight-thirty,” said Belle, and Gold glanced up with a start.

“Eight-thirty!” he said desperately.  “Why didn’t you wake me?”

“Because you’ve barely slept in three days,” she said severely.  “And you can stay there until you’ve drunk your coffee, okay? I know you want to check your emails, but the results probably won’t be in yet, and even if they are, they won’t disappear if you take ten minutes to cuddle your son.”

Gold sighed, nodding.  She was right, of course.  The thought of the test results was making anxiety prick at him with tiny needles, but he bounced Gideon on his knee, making him gurgle with laughter.  Belle crossed to the wardrobe, taking a little cardigan from one of the hangers and pulling it on.

“I need to open the shop,” she said, shaking her hair back.  “I’ll take Gideon with me. Call me as soon as you have some news, okay?”

“Okay,” he said.  “Before you go, would you do me a favour?”

Belle folded her arms, looking suspicious.

“Go on.”

“Get me a piece of toast?”

“You’re staying in bed, right?”

“I promise,” he said meekly.

A grin made the corners of her mouth twitch, and she nodded.

“Toast coming up.”

She turned on her heel, and Gold looked down at Gideon, who was gazing up at him with big brown eyes.

“Your mother tries her best to look after us, doesn’t she?” said Gold.  “Maybe I should start letting her. God knows I haven’t done that well on my own.”

Gideon reached up to grab his nose, and Gold laughed, kissing his forehead.

“Maybe we can all look after each other,” he said.  “Whatever happens.”

The waiting was agony, but he made himself stay in bed long enough to drink his coffee and eat the toast Belle brought him.  He took a shower afterwards, shaving and dressing as usual, as though it was an ordinary day with nothing to think about beyond opening the shop and dealing with rent payments.  As though his life wasn’t about to change with the contents of an email. Taking his time seemed to bring home the enormity of what he was waiting for, and his nerves grew, so much so that he began to put off going downstairs and turning on the computer.

He adjusted the knot of his tie, surveying his reflection with a critical eye as he straightened the cuffs of his shirt.  It was a deep purple, the tie dark blue, the folded handkerchief in his pocket a paisley pattern in similar tones. Dark circles sat beneath his eyes, and his mouth twisted.  Belle was right. Running himself into the ground wasn’t going to help anyone. Curling his lip at his reflection, he turned on his heel and made his way downstairs to the study, where the computer sat waiting for him.  He hesitated, hovering in the doorway of the room, and decided that he needed a cup of tea before he did anything else, so he stepped into the kitchen for what he thought would be a good twenty minutes of procrastination.

The house was very quiet with Belle and Gideon gone, the only sound the low, monotonous tick of the clocks, and it was setting his teeth on edge, a reminder of the swift passage of time, of all the years he had missed out on.  Of the magnitude of his failure.  Putting things off was only making him feel worse, his stomach tight, almost queasy with anxiety, and eventually he swore under his breath and poured the tea, carrying it through to the study.  He set down his cup carefully, the surface of the liquid barely rippling as he stared at the computer as though it might bite. Licking his lips, he reached out to turn it on, sliding into the chair as he heard the low-level whine of it powering up.  His good leg was jerking nervously, a rapid bouncing on the ball of one foot, and he stilled it, pressing down on his thigh with a hand that seemed to shake. He took a sip of his tea, the cup rattling when he set it back in the saucer, the login screen taking an age to load.  Eventually it did, and he tapped out his password, silently willing the bloody thing to hurry up.

He thought he might scream from frustration before the home screen appeared, icons plopping cheerfully onto the desktop in their own sweet time as though he wasn’t losing his mind waiting for them.  He immediately clicked onto his email, his heart thumping as he saw that there were nine new messages. He ignored all of them except the one he had been waiting for, the one that contained the information that would answer the question he had been asking himself for decades.  Where is my son?

Hand trembling, he clicked on the message, his heart thudding hard in his throat.  Scanning it quickly, he clicked on its attachment, the results of the test, and a PDF opened up, stark black ink against a white background, the laboratory’s logo in blue in the top right corner.  He read it, then read it again, his eyes scanning from left to right. Finally he slumped back in his chair, a deep sigh bursting from his lungs, and tears welled in his eyes. He let them come, let them fall, let them course down his cheeks as his shoulders shook.  Sobs broke the tense silence of his empty home, and he leaned forward, pushing his head into his folded arms as he wept. He had his answer.

Chapter Text

By the time he finally stopped crying, Gold felt drained and spent.  He sat there staring into space, trying to make sense of the emotions rippling through him.  Loss. Grief. Guilt. Relief. And anger. That one, above all. It took him some time to calm down, and he drank his tea in slow sips, trying to process everything.

When the cup was empty, he went to make some coffee in a bid to give himself a caffeine-induced kick up the arse, and leaned on the kitchen counter while he waited for it to brew.  He needed to send the results to Neal. He needed to speak to Belle. He could focus on none of it, and so he went into autopilot, cleaning away a few things and wiping down the surfaces.  He wished Gideon was there to give him something to concentrate on, but the house was still silent and empty, and so he poured himself a coffee and carried it through to the study.

Sending the results was the easy part, a brief email explaining that he had read them, and leaving it up to Neal if he wanted to talk.  He sent a message to Ella too, enclosing the results and asking for a meeting as soon as possible, and then spent another fifteen minutes going through his other emails and drafting responses.  Ella didn’t respond, and he presumed she was with a client, but he still waited, one foot bouncing on the floor as his agitation grew. He was well aware that he was going to be sitting there watching his inbox and going quietly mad until he got a response from Neal, and so he drained his coffee cup and pushed back his chair.  He needed to speak to Belle.

It was a fine day, and he decided to walk to the flower shop, thoughts running through his head at breakneck speed, dark and turbulent.  He chewed his lip nervously as he wondered how Neal would react. Whether he would want to talk. Whether he would decide that he didn’t want his father in his life after all.  It was possible; whatever he had been through had left scars on him, and given that his mother wasn’t around, who else was there to take the blame? Gold squeezed his eyes shut momentarily, a surge of guilt going through him as he tried to piece together fragments of sentences he had carried around for decades. Apologies. Explanations. Desperate pleas for forgiveness. It all seemed trite, inconsequential, pointless. What could he possibly say that would make things any better?

He shook his head, quickening his pace, and by the time he reached Game of Thorns he was breathless and his leg was killing him.  Belle was setting buckets of fresh lilies outside, and he felt his soul brighten a little at the sight of her.  She smiled as she noticed him, turning to face him and wiping her hands on her dark green apron.

“Did you get it?” she asked excitedly, and he nodded.

“Yes,” he said, and hesitated, fixing her with his gaze.  “Yes.”

Belle squeaked in excitement, stepping forward to fling her arms around him, and he hugged her tight, burying his face in her neck and inhaling the comforting scent of her.  She held him close, fingers stroking through his hair, pressing kisses to the side of his face.

“Are you okay?” she whispered, and he pulled back, letting out a sigh as he shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, and Belle squeezed his shoulders with her hands, beaming at him.  Her face fell a little as she took in his expression.

“What is it?” she asked.  “It’s the result you wanted, isn’t it?”

“I - yes.  Yes, it is.”

“Then what?”

He struggled to give voice to his feelings, his fears.  Words caught in his throat, hard and painful, and he pulled away from her, heading into the cool of the shop.  He needed to pace, to think. The sound of Belle’s footsteps tapped on the floor behind him as she followed him in.

“Alex,” she said gently.  “Please talk to me.”

He sighed, grounding his cane as he let his head roll back, his back to her.

“I’m not sure how I feel,” he admitted.  “There’s so much going on, I’m - I’m having difficulty processing it.”

“But you have your answer,” she said softly.  “You - you have your son!”

“I have a test result,” he said patiently.  “Beyond that - I don’t know. I don’t know, Belle.  I don’t know how he’ll react, whether he’ll want to talk to me…  I don’t know what I’ll say if he does want to talk to me.  I’ve - I’ve waited for this moment for so long, and now that it’s here—”

He sucked in his cheeks, glancing at the floor for a moment, and shrugged.

“I just don’t know what to do,” he whispered.

“You sent him the results, right?”

“Yes, of course.”  He started pacing again.  “I just - when will he get them?  Will he read them straight away? Will he call?”

“I’m sure he will,” she said, following him.

“I’m not sure I can stand the waiting around,” he said, running a hand through his hair.  “What if he doesn’t want to see me? What then?”

“Then you wait until he does,” she said gently, and reached out to take his hand, pulling him around to face her.  “And be prepared. It may take a little time, but at least that gives you a chance to think about what you’ll say to him.”

“And that’s another thing!” he exclaimed, pulling away from her and beginning to pace again.  “What the hell do I say? How do I explain things?”

“Just - tell him what you told me,” she said.  “Tell him about the steps you took to find him.  About how much you’ve thought about him over the years.  Tell him how you feel.”

Gold nodded absently, cane clicking on the floor as he walked back and forth, and Belle reached out to take his hand again, this time holding him in place.  He glanced across at her, and she was smiling at him, a bright, hopeful expression on her face.  She’s so beautiful.  So good. I don’t deserve her.  I don’t deserve any of them.

He looked away, pulling his hand from hers and closing his eyes.  It made it easier if he couldn’t see her face. It had always been easier not to face things, to hide behind layers of coldness and sarcasm, and perhaps he was too old to change now.  Perhaps he was kidding himself, thinking he ever could.

“I can’t make up for it,” he whispered.  “Not any of it. I have no idea what happened to him, Belle, but I can guess.  I don’t know if what my mind comes up with is better or worse than what he went through, but it’s fucking bad enough.  What if I can’t make it better?  What if he hates me?”

“Could he hate you more than you hate yourself?” she asked sadly.

He looked up sharply, and she took a step forward, reaching for his hand again.  This time he didn’t pull away, and she gently drew him close.

“I know I’m wasting my breath, but try not to imagine the worst case scenario,” she said.  “Yes, he might be angry. You can’t control how he feels about you, or about any of it. All you can do is tell him what you felt, and what you did.  All you can do is be honest. The rest is up to him.”

She was right, of course, and he nodded.  Belle slid her hands up his chest, twining them around his neck, and he let out a deep sigh, comforted a little by her warmth.

“In the meantime,” she said gently.  “How about you spend a little time with your other son, hmm?  I have an errand to run, and it would help if you could watch him until I get back.”

“Of course,” he said vaguely, and then blinked.  “Wait, what if someone wants to buy flowers?”

“Prices are all marked in the book by the cash register,” she said.  “I won’t be any longer than ten minutes, I just have to go to the store.  You’ll be okay.”

“I may scare away the customers.”

“You’ll be okay,” she repeated firmly.  “Go see to Gideon. I’ll be back before you know it.”


She rose up on her toes to kiss him, and he let his arms go around her, opening his mouth to taste her on his tongue.  Belle pressed herself against him, and he pulled her close, breaking the kiss to press his lips to her cheek, her neck, inhaling the scent of her hair.

“Okay,” she whispered, stroking his back.  “Ten minutes.”

She pulled back, smiling at him, and clasped his hand once before pulling away and taking off her apron.  He watched her go, skirt swishing around her legs as she opened the door, and sighed to himself, heading for the back room.  Gideon was sitting in his playpen, bouncing a brown plush dog on top of a pile of coloured bricks and gurgling happily. Gold felt a sense of peace steal over him as he watched his baby son.  He desperately wanted to make things right with Neal, but seeing Gideon gave him hope that that could happen. A second chance, for all of them. A chance to be a family.

He stepped closer to the playpen, and Gideon looked up at him, chewing the ear of the toy dog, brown eyes curious.  Gold grinned, and bent to scoop him up, bouncing him in the crook of his arm.

“Well now,” he said gently.  “Turns out you have a big brother.  A very big brother. I don’t know how either one of you is gonna feel about that, to be honest.”

Gideon pushed the dog into his face, and Gold chuckled as wet faux fur spread drool over his cheek.

“And you have a nephew,” he added.  “Who’s older than you. This is a weird family, son, I’m afraid.  But we all love you, never doubt that.  Whatever your brother might think of me, I don’t doubt he loves you and your mother.  And so do I.”

He kissed Gideon’s cheek, and his phone buzzed in his pocket.  Heart thumping, Gold kissed Gideon again, and then set him back down in the playpen, reaching into his pocket.  There was a little notification there, a tiny white 1 in a red circle, indicating that he had a new message. He licked his lips, swiping at the screen, and it opened up to reveal Neal’s contact details and three words.  On my way.

Gold felt as though he was slowly losing his mind.  Belle had returned from the store, unconsciously patting her bag as though there was something important in it, and had seemed to know immediately that he had received word, her eyes softening as they caught his.  He supposed it wasn’t surprising; no doubt he looked every bit as agitated as he felt. Belle sighed as he paced back and forth across the shop.

“He won’t be here for four hours,” she reminded him.  “Please try to relax, would you?”

“I can’t!” he snapped, cane clicking on the floor.

“Then find something to occupy your mind,” she said.  “Like going through your rent ledgers. Finding out people owe you money always makes you happy.”

He shot her a flat look at that, but she was right. He needed to take his mind off things. Belle kissed his cheek and whispered good luck, and he left Game of Thorns, striding back down the street to the pawn shop and disappearing into the back room to try to pass the time without screaming.  Belle had been right; going through the ledgers was both distracting and soothing, and by the time he had finished he felt a little better.  He moved on to taking inventory, concentrating on the jewellery cabinet and carefully studying each piece. He was looking at an old opal necklace, rainbow colours and intricate gold links, when the bell ringing above the door made him look up, a jeweller’s glass wedged in one eye socket.

Neal had entered, wearing a blue shirt above jeans, the sleeves rolled up, and Gold straightened up quickly, the glass falling from his eye and bouncing on the square of black velvet in front of him.

“Hey,” said Neal, looking awkward.  “I - uh - I guess we should talk.”

“Yes.”  Gold crossed to the jewellery cabinet, locking away the necklace, and turned back to face him.  “Would you like to come through to the back?”

He was amazed at how calm he sounded, when every part of him was wound so tight he wanted to scream.  Neal shifted from foot to foot, rubbing at the back of his neck with one hand.

“D’you mind if we go outside?” he asked.  “I think I could use the fresh air.”

“Yes, of course,” said Gold.  “We’ll - we’ll go to the park.  Let me just grab my jacket.”

He pushed the curtain aside, stepping into the back room and taking off the protective apron he had been wearing before shrugging on his suit jacket.  His heart was pounding, and he heard Belle’s soothing voice in his ears, telling him to calm down. It helped. A little. He tugged the jacket closed, fingers flicking automatically at the buttons, and adjusted his cuffs with a sigh, raising his chin as though he was going into battle.  He had to make it right.

There was an awkward, heavy silence as he led Neal out and locked the shop.  Gold gestured mutely to the street ahead, and Neal fell into step beside him, letting him set the pace.  It was another fine day, the residents of Storybrooke making their leisurely way here and there, and Gold wished he hadn’t donned his jacket.  He slowed his pace a little as they reached the park, the two of them walking side by side in amongst the welcome shade of the trees. Gold glanced across at Neal, who was walking with his hands in his pockets and his head a little bowed.

“So,” he said.  “You - ah - you read the test results.”

“Yeah,” said Neal.  “Three times, actually.”

“Ah.”  Gold nodded.  “Yes. Me - me too.”

Silence.  He tried to think of something to say that wasn’t trite.

“Well, I’m glad you came,” he managed.  “I - I wasn’t sure that you would.”

“Neither was I.”

“I’m - I’m sure you must be very angry,” added Gold.  “And I don’t blame you, not in the least. I never knew my own mother, and my father was - well, neglectful might be a generous word.  I always swore to myself that if I ever had a family, things would be different. I never wanted to be my father.”

Neal said nothing, and Gold wondered if he was silently echoing that sentiment.  How he must have determined that he would never let his own son grow up without a father.  Self-loathing rose like bile in his throat, bitter and acidic, burning him.

“I’d resigned myself to never being able to make things up to you,” he went on.  “I thought you were lost forever, that I’d never find you, that I’d never be able to make things right.  And - and then Belle came back into my life, with Gideon. And the fact that she was friends with you - with you of all people!  I - I feel as though these past weeks - I feel like it’s a second chance.”

Neal let his shoulders rise up a little more, fists shoved deep in his pockets as they walked on.  Gold could feel everything building up inside him, Guilt, anger and pain, seething and boiling, making his throat hurt and his eyes water, until he strode forward and rounded on his toes to face his son.

“I fucked up,” he said bluntly, pressing a hand to his heart.  “I should have done more, should have made sure Milah couldn’t take you from me.  I have no excuses, other than to say I was young, and even stupider than I am now.  I didn’t realise that without formalising things, I’d have no right to you. Not until it was too late.”

Neal was silent, watching him warily, and Gold took a deep breath, his hand rubbing at his chest almost unconsciously, as though it would soothe the burning pain in his heart.

“I just - I know it doesn’t help,” he said.  “I know it doesn’t take any of the pain away, but I just want you to know that ever since she left, ever since she took you away, I’ve been looking for you.”

Neal inhaled deeply, shoulders rising up and falling again.

“Yeah,” he said curtly.  “Belle told me. I guess it didn’t work out too well, huh?”

“I almost went out of my mind,” sighed Gold, running a hand through his hair.  “After she left - well, it wasn’t as though she left a forwarding address, and everywhere I thought she might be, there was no trace.  She never stayed anywhere long enough to put down roots, to make friends. No family to speak of. No one that could help.”

“She always did like to keep moving, I guess,” muttered Neal.

“I came over here as soon as I heard a rumour that the two of you were in the US,” he went on.  “I tracked you down to the children’s home, but you’d gone by the time I got there. I had people searching for both of you, but I couldn’t find a trace.”

“Changed my name, as you know,” said Neal shortly.  “Fell in with the wrong crowd, got myself a whole new identity.  A whole new life. No background, no - no baggage. Made it what I wanted.  In the end.”

“I left contact details with the home,” said Gold.  “It was hard when I didn’t even have a photograph of you. She took those.”

Neal flinched.

“Doubt she held onto them,” he muttered.

“She took all the photographs, most of your clothes,” said Gold, reliving that terrible day in his mind.  “Left the crib, that was it. That was the only thing she left, except your toy rabbit. I wondered how you’d sleep without it.”

“Don’t really remember it,” said Neal.  “It’s more like a memory of a memory, you know?  Don’t really remember you, either. Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Gold heavily.  “You were very young.”

“I was seven when she left for good,” said Neal, looking uncomfortable.  “Didn’t make my own attempts to track you down until later, but yeah, I looked.  Didn’t help that your name wasn’t on the birth certificate.  Not much I could do without it.”

“I didn’t know I’d need it!” said Gold, aware that he was sounding desperate.  “She didn’t bring you back to me until you were over a year old, and I never thought - I didn’t know what to do, how to - how to exercise my rights!”

“Rights, huh?”  Neal scrunched his nose, looking away.  “Yeah. Not something the system really cares about.”

“I tried,” said Gold urgently.  “Maybe I didn’t try hard enough, maybe the dead ends I hit might have yielded something if I’d used other methods, used other lawyers, but I swear to you, son, I tried.”

Neal said nothing, still watching him, and Gold sighed, running a hand over his face.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me,” he said quietly.  “I don’t forgive myself. I wish I could turn back the clock, do things differently.  My life is - God, it just seems that it’s one regret after another!”

“Yeah, and while we’re on that subject,” said Neal suddenly, lifting a hand and letting it fall.  “Why the hell did you break Belle’s heart?  If you wanted a family so much, why did you push her away?  Why would you turn your back on her when she needed you?”

“Because I didn’t know she was pregnant,” said Gold.  “And - and because I’m a fucking idiot. I thought it was for the best.”

“She strike you as the kind of person who wants the choice taken from her?”

“No,” he admitted.  “But I thought she could move on, find someone better, someone more - more able to give her what she needed.”

“You left her heartbroken and destitute and pregnant with your kid!”

“I - I know,” said Gold desperately.  “And it was one of the worst mistakes I ever made.”

He took a deep breath, the need to be honest overriding his own crawling shame.

“When I - when I say that I thought it was best,” he said, “I don’t just mean for Belle, but for myself.”

“Meaning what?” asked Neal suspiciously.

“I - I was a coward,” he said, stumbling over the words.  “I’d closed myself off for years. Decades, really. After Milah took you, after I failed to find you, I swore to myself that I didn’t need anyone, that I would never let someone close enough to cause me pain again.”

“That’s a crappy excuse and you know it.”

“It’s not an excuse,” insisted Gold.  “I’m not trying to excuse what I did, I know full well I was a fucking idiot. I was lonely and bitter and - and angry. I pushed her away because she got under my skin and I knew I had feelings for her. I didn’t know how to deal with that, so I took the coward’s way out. I broke her heart.”

“So how do I know you won’t do the same thing with me?” asked Neal.  “I don’t just have myself to think of, you know. There’s Emma and Henry, too.  How do I know you won’t decide we’re too much work and push us away?”

“I would never do that!”

“You did it with Belle.”

Gold sighed.

“Yes,” he said quietly.  “Yes, I did. I acted appallingly, and she has every reason not to trust me.  I missed out on the first year of Gideon’s life because of my own actions, time I will never get back.  I don’t want to lose another second of my sons’ lives, I swear it!”

Neal was silent, and Gold wondered if he was thinking of his own time away from Henry, and if he would ever hear the story behind that, what had made his son desperate enough to end up in jail.  Perhaps if he had been around to support him, it would never have happened.

“I will never, ever try to decide Belle’s fate for her ever again,” he said.  “And I won’t do that with you either, if you just give me a chance.”

Neal said nothing, still watching him, and Gold clutched at the handle of his cane to give his fingers something to do other than reach for his son like he wanted.

“I wish I could change what happened to you,” he whispered.  “I wish I could take the pain away and bear it myself. I wasn’t there for you when you needed me and I will regret that every day of my life.”

Neal sucked his teeth, hunching his shoulders a little.

“I actually get that,” he said uncomfortably.  “I missed out on Henry being born, his first birthday, first Christmas…  Tried to make it up ever since, even though he doesn’t remember a time when I wasn’t there.  We were honest with him about it, though. Told him the truth about where I was, and that I would always be there for him.  I don’t want to let you into his life if you’re gonna let him down, you know?”

“I understand,” said Gold, trying not to feel disheartened.  “I’m not sure what more I can say.”

“Well, I guess you’re trying,” said Neal, with a sigh.  “Look, I - I can’t promise that you’re gonna get what you want out of this.  My family comes first, and - and you and I basically just met. Like I know we share blood, but beyond that - I’m just saying it’s not an overnight fix.”

“Oh, I realise that,” said Gold, clinging to the faint hope that the lack of a flat-out refusal gave him.  “It seems I have a lot of relationship building to do, but it’ll be worth it.“

“Yeah.”  Neal scuffed his shoe against the ground a little.  “Things are better between you and Belle, though, right? She seems - actually she seems really happy. It’s nice to see.”

Gold smiled.

“I want to make her happy,” he said.  “Making things up with Belle is only the start of a long journey, I know that.  But I’m going to try to be the best husband and father I can be.”

“You’re getting married?”

Gold blinked, suddenly speechless.  He wasn’t sure where those words had come from, but he realised he meant every word.

“Ah,” he said, somewhat helplessly.  “That - kind of slipped out. I haven’t actually asked her yet.  She may think it’s too soon, I don’t know. Could you - perhaps not mention it to her?”

Neal’s mouth twitched, as though he was amused and trying not to show it.

“My lips are sealed,” he said.  “For what it’s worth, I think she’ll say yes.”

“It’s far more than I deserve,” said Gold, under his breath, and Neal snorted.

“Yeah, well, she’s a good person,” he said.  “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

Gold smiled slightly.

“You sound like her,” he said, and took a deep breath.  “Look - I don’t know what your plans are, but would you come for dinner tonight?  You’re welcome to stay, of course.”

Neal sucked in his cheeks, eyeing Gold with eyes that reminded him so much of Gideon, of himself, that he wanted to cry.

“Okay,” said Neal finally.  “I’ll need to call Emma, but okay.”

Gold wanted to heave a sigh of relief, but contented himself with a smile.

“Thank you,” he whispered.  “Thank you.”

They walked to the house in near silence, but it was more comfortable.  Gold, somewhat hesitantly, began to ask about Henry, and Neal seemed to feel easier as he spoke about his son’s love of books and drama and his vivid imagination.  Gold made a mental note of the kind of stories he liked, for future book purchases. He decided that his library could use a children’s section.

Belle had just returned home when they arrived, and beamed when she saw Neal.

“Hey there, Mom,” he said, with a grin, and she giggled, throwing her arms around him.

“Oh my God, this is so amazing!” she said happily, pulling back with her hands on his upper arms.  “All this time we’ve felt like family, and now we really are! Isn’t it wonderful?”

“It’s - an adjustment,” said Neal, his tone neutral, and Belle smiled.

“It is,” she acknowledged.  “But I’m confident it’s an adjustment that we’re all gonna love.  Ooh, why don’t you all come for Christmas? A real tree, an open fire, snowball fights and walks in the woods...”

“One step at a time, Belle,” said Gold, unable to keep from smiling at her infectious enthusiasm.

“I think Emma and Henry would love that,” said Neal, shooting a glance at Gold, and he felt his heart lift further.

“Well,” he said, barely trusting himself to speak.  “Perhaps we can discuss future arrangements after dinner. Shall I cook?”

“I can cook, if you like,” offered Belle.  “Let me just feed Gideon.”

“I’ll put him to bed afterwards, then,” said Gold, taking off his jacket.  “Neal, please make yourself at home.”

After he had been fed, Gold bathed Gideon while Belle and Neal started getting together some spiced chicken pieces to roast, and chopping peppers and onions.  Gideon was sleepy, and so when he was dressed Gold sat down on the chair in his room, Gideon on his lap with his cup of milk, engrossed in the story being read to him. Gold kissed the top of his head when he was done and set the book aside, swinging Gideon up in his arms.

“Bedtime, young man,” he said.  “Give me a kiss.”

Gideon smacked milk-wet lips against his cheek, making him chuckle.

“That’s twice today you’ve covered Papa in drool.”

“Pap-pap,” said Gideon decidedly, and Gold froze, before breaking into a wide smile.

“That’s right!” he said gently.  “I’m your Papa, and I love you very much.”

He kissed his son, breathing in the scent of him, and laid him down in the crib, unable to stop grinning.  The picture book he had been reading from had fallen to the floor, and he picked it up, setting it on the shelf next to Belle’s favourite book.  Her Handsome Hero.  Smile widening a little, he picked it up, flicking through.   Gideon’s namesake.  I wonder what he’s like.  Perhaps I should read it.

Something fell from the book, and he glanced at the floor.  The dried rose he had noticed previously, still paper-thin and delicate.  He wondered where it had come from, and why she held onto it. He bent to pick it up, looking it over.  It had been red once, and was now a deep burgundy, like good wine.

“D’you know how long I’ve had that?”

Belle’s soft voice from the doorway made him look around, and he slid the book onto the shelf, the rose still in his hand.

“Gideon called me Papa,” he said excitedly, and her eyes brightened as she stepped closer.

“I told you he’d get there in the end,” she said.  “He beat Neal to it, but maybe only just.”

Gold nodded, hope blooming in his chest.  He could make everything right. He was sure of it.  Belle gave him a soft and secretive smile, reaching out to take the rose from his fingers.

“This was the first thing you gave me,” she said, and his eyes widened.

“I gave you this rose?” he said.

“Our very first time together,” she said, looking amused.  “You gave me this rose, and then you gave me a bunch of orgasms.”

Gold barked a laugh, and her smile widened.

“You gave me so much, really,” she added.  “Heartbreak and pain, but also self-reliance and strength.  You gave me our son. And in the end you gave me honesty, and love.”

“Yes,” he whispered.  “I’m so happy you came back to me, Belle.”

Belle stepped closer, reaching up to cup his cheek.

“And now,” she said softly.  “You’ve given me another child.”

His eyes narrowed in confusion, then widened, and she smiled, her eyes bright with love.

“What?” he breathed, and Belle giggled, her eyes gleaming wickedly.

“In case it slipped your mind, we’ve been a little careless since I got back,” she said, with a grin.  “Turns out that angry-banging you always gets me pregnant. One of these days we’re gonna have to try to make babies without fighting first.”

“You’re pregnant?” he whispered, and she nodded.

“I’m pregnant,” she confirmed.  “Sneaked out to the store to get the tests while you were at the shop.”

He swallowed hard.

“You’re - you’re certain?” he asked, and she pursed her lips.

“Well, I’m late, I’m queasy, and we did have a lot of unprotected sex,” she said.  “But I figured you’d worry. I got four tests.  All came out positive. Are you excited?”

He could feel the tears welling in his eyes, love bursting through him as they coursed down his cheeks.  Belle brushed them away with a thumb, shifting closer.

“I should think it’ll come in the spring,” she added.  “You’ll have two kids to care for when I go back to college.  D’you think you can handle that?”

She was grinning at him, and he reached up to cup her face, shaking his head in disbelief.

“It’ll be perfect,” he said softly.  “You’re perfect. I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” she said.  “And I can’t wait for you to meet our new baby.”

He nodded, scarcely able to believe the turn his life had taken since she had come back to him.  To stand by the crib containing his sleeping son, his eldest son sitting downstairs, talking on the phone to his daughter-in-law and grandson.  Belle in his arms, his new child growing inside her. He bent his head to kiss her, and Belle leaned into him, fingers stroking through the short wisps of his hair as her mouth opened.  He closed his eyes, losing himself in the taste of her, in the feel of her, his heart swelling with love, filling him with light.

Another child. Another chance.