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Guardian

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Alex watched from a distance as Belle maneuvered her way through the rubble, looking for anything that might have been spared destruction. The last three days were a roller coaster of emotions for her as she watched her apartment burn on the news. Once Belle had calmed, Gold had tentatively wrapped his free arm around her shoulder. She told him of the most precious things she'd lost in the fire - Gideon's ultrasound photos, family pictures, and her mother's book. The next day, she'd woken up to Dove dropping by a car load of baby supplies.

They made arrangements to visit the charred remains of the apartment, hoping that something was still salvageable. With Gideon strapped to his chest and Bae in a stroller, Gold stood back and watched as Belle poked around. A couple cardboard boxes had been loaded into the trunk, in hopes that they found a few things.

Belle crouched down and poked away some rubble. She had found something. Gold watched with bated breath as she pulled a damaged stuffed animal out. Fresh tears streaked down her face as she made her way back towards Gold, her find clutched to her chest. She kissed Gideon's head before looking up at Gold.

"I'm done here. We can go."

Gold singlehandedly got both children into the car as Belle sat in the front seat, staring at the stuffed animal she held. He couldn't begrudge her for not helping; she was emotionally overwhelmed. The drive home was silent. Gold had hoped she'd open up once they got back to his house, but she simply carried Gideon to their room and laid him down for a nap.

**

Belle slept fitfully. The emotional turmoil of the past days had taken its toll on her; her body screamed for sleep while her mind still reeled from the situation. She was homeless. Right now, she was a freeloader, living with a man she hardly knew in a town she knew even less.

When she woke, the sky was dark, but a light in the hallway told her that she wasn't the only one awake. Baby monitor in hand, Belle silently made her way toward the kitchen. Alex sat at the table, working on his laptop and a cup of tea within reach. He seemed to sense her approach and greeted her with a small smile.

"Hey. I came to get you for dinner but you were asleep. There's leftovers in the fridge if you'd like."

"Maybe later," she replied, dropping into the chair next to him as he close his laptop. "I want to thank you for what you did. Not just today, but since we met, you've been extremely generous."

Belle placed the stuffed animal on the table, revealing a rabbit that used to be white, but was now grey with use and fire scorch.

"My mother gave this to me. I was born premature and this was really all I had. Since I was so small, I was kept in an incubator, the whole deal. I was as big as this bunny," she almost smirked at the thought. "I've had this bunny my whole life, and I wanted to give it to Gideon when he was born. I thought I'd lost it in the fire."

Gold sat quietly for a moment, at a loss for words.

"What's its name?"

"Flopsy," Belle admitted. "Really original, I know."

"The damage isn't too bad," Gold surmised, carefully taking the animal and turning it over in his hands. "I know a man who could fix it, remove the stains and smokey smell."

"See, that's exactly what I mean! Why are you so kind to me?"

"The world could use a little kindness." He placed the rabbit back in her hands. "What are you going to do now?"

"I don't know, I could always go back to Australia."

"Or you could stay here, in Storybrooke. Ashley watches Bae sometimes, I'm sure she'd be open to taking care of Gideon when the time is right."

"I have nothing, Alex. My car is old - it was my first car! My only car. Everything I have is under this roof."

"So stay under this roof?" Gold tentatively offered. "If you're worried about paying me back, that can come later. Stay here, be with your son and once he's old enough, you can get a job and your own place. Just think about it - you don't have to give me your answer yet."

Belle reached out and covered his hand with one of her own.

"You've already given me so much. I'm not used to accepting this much charity, but I promise I'll think about it."

**

Strolling down Main Street, Belle smiled to herself. Alex had given her some money and directions to Granny's diner. With Gideon strapped to her chest, Belle took her time, window shopping as she went. A boutique caught her eye, along with a bookstore and Mr. Gold's shop.

Everyone in town waved as she passed even though she was a stranger. Even Sheriff Nolan stopped, happy to see her again. His own wife had given birth to their daughter only two days ago.

"So you're Belle," a chubby, grey-haired woman greeted as Belle slipped into a booth. "Billy the mechanic has been known to exaggerate his tales, but I never imagined this would be the one that was true. I'm Granny. Own and run the diner and the inn behind it. And who is this little one?"

"This is Gideon," Belle smiled, unstrapping him from the harness. "Would you like to hold him?"

"Oh, what a precious little thing," she crooned, rocking him gently. "He your first?"

"Yeah, he is."

"If you ever need anything or have questions, you call me. An old home remedy or some time to yourself. It would be my absolute to take care of this cutie."

"Perhaps as he gets older. I'm not ready to let go yet."

"No rush, sweetie, I'll be here the rest of my life," Granny smiled, handing Gideon back to his mother. "What can I get you to eat, hon?"

"Um, I will have a burger with extra pickles, the cheese fries, and an iced tea, please."

"Coming right up," Granny scribbled her order as she walked away, greeting the next customers that came through the door. "Welcome to Granny's, feel free to choose your seat, I'll be with you in a moment."

"We'll sit with that young lady, in the booth."

"Mum? Papa?" Belle slid out of her seat and rushed over to the newcomers. "What on earth are you doing here? Did you come all the way out here from Australia? How did you know I was here?"

"Oh, Belle, we've missed you," Colette gently embraced her daughter, mindful of the babe between them. "May I?"

"Gideon, these are your grandparents. Mum, Papa, this is Gideon," Belle handed Gideon over once more and took her seat.

"We received a message, on Facebook from an Alexander Gold," Moe explained. "Said he was there when Gid was born and you were staying in his house. We've been talking, he told us your apartment burned down and he thought you'd appreciate seeing some familiar faces."

"More than you know!"

"What are you going to do, Belle? You could come with us," Colette offered.

"I don't know. Alex is a wonderful man, and as a father himself, he's been a huge help."

"He's a father? Does he have a wife or are you living with a single man?" Moe raised an eyebrow.

"Papa.... He's a single father and I am a grown woman. Two grown people can live in a house without being a couple. Besides, Gideon likes him. And his son is the cutest little kid!" Belle pulled out her phone and showed her parents picture of Baelfire and Gideon lying next to each other on the floor, and of Gold holding a baby in each arm. "His dog found me, stranded on the roadside, and he found his dog. He helped deliver Gideon and visited me in the hospital."

"You sound fond of him," Colette commented. She knew her daughter well, even after years apart. "Did he offer to let you stay with him after your apartment fire?"

"Yes," Belle ducked her head shyly. "I haven't said yes or no yet."

"What does your heart tell you?"

"That he was the one who found me for a reason."

Moe and Colette shared a look.

"Bluebell," her father started, taking her hand in his much larger ones, "you've always been wise beyond your years. If your heart is telling you to stay here, then you should. Your mother and I will always been there if you need us, and we hope to visit our grandson quite a bit. But choose wisely, for your choice will affect Gold, his son, and your son."

"He seems likes a good man," Colette chimed in.

"He is, mum."

"Then it's a good thing we brought a few of your things!" Moe grinned widely, despite Belle's confused face. "I know they're thing from when you were a teenager, but he told us you'd lost everything and we thought even something old of yours would be a comfort."

"One thing survived. Flopsy."

"I remember that rabbit!" Moe exclaimed. "That thing has more sewed on parts than Frankenstein's monster! Lost his stuffing a few times too."

"You remember what I used to tell you about Flopsy, Belle?" her mother asked.

"That he was my companion through my childhood adventures. That as long as I had Flopsy, I could get through anything."

"Exactly, sweetheart. You aren't a child anymore, but this is the start of a new adventure for you, and for Gideon. Flopsy will see to it that you have a good adventure."

"He's just a rabbit, mum."

"Oh, what a horrible, candle-snuffing word. 'Just'," Colette tutted as she rocked Gideon. She looked her daughter in the eye and winked. "Flopsy was never 'just' a rabbit."