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Holding on and Letting go

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Belle kicked her shoes off as she entered her apartment, unceremoniously dropping her purse to the floor next to them. Being tidy was a problem for tomorrow Belle; right now, even the thought of having to change into her pajamas felt like too much work.

She was contemplating whether it would be really awful to sleep in the clothes she’d worn at work when the doorbell rang. She couldn’t think of anyone she knew who could be looking for her at this late hour, and her mind immediately provided her with a number of scenarios involving serial killers. Through the peephole she saw a nervous-looking boy on the other side of the door. He didn’t exactly look threatening, so she resolved to open the door, but she was ready to close it at the first sign of danger.

“Who are you?” she asked, looking at the boy more closely and trying to remember if she had seen him before. He did look oddly familiar now that she thought of it. 

“Are you Belle French?” he asked instead of answering. 

“I asked you first, but I’ll let this slide because it’s written on the doorbell anyway. Yes, I am Belle French,” she answered, eyeing him curiously. 

“My name is Gideon Gold. I’m your son,” he said simply, flashing her a little smile.

His words seemed to take forever to register in Belle’s brain, as all the memories that she had tried to suppress for over a decade came back with a vengeance, hitting her with the force of a truck. 

“No. No you can’t be,” she contested weakly, but she very well knew he could.

“Didn’t you give a baby up for adoption on February 12th thirteen years ago?” Gideon asked her, clearly knowing what her answer would be. 

Belle just couldn’t find the strength to say yes. Instead, she took a step back and motioned Gideon to follow her inside. 

“I need a cup of coffee, do you want something?” she said as a starter, busying herself at the kitchen counter so that she could keep her back turned to him; she couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes.

“Could I get something to eat instead? I didn’t finish my dinner and walked a long way to come here,” he asked, and out of the corner of her eye Belle could see that he had already claimed her armchair as his, looking so at home in her house that it hurt. She opened the fridge, looking for something to make a sandwich with. 

“Why are you here at two in the morning? Where are your parents?” she asked, trying to bring her mind back to the present and away from dangerous could-have-beens. She just hoped Gideon didn’t notice the slight tremble in her voice. 

“I found out you lived here months ago. I just never had the courage to come here until now. Bad timing, I know, but I simply felt like it today,” he said, then quickly added: “Did you read all the books in that bookcase? Some of them are my favorites!”

“Look, I don’t know what you think of me, but I’m not an idiot. Either you tell me what’s going on or I call the cops,” Belle said, suddenly finding the courage to turn around and stare him down. 

“If you do, I’ll tell them you kidnapped me,” Gideon replied without missing a beat.

“And they’ll believe you because I’m your birthmother. You’re clever, I’ll give you that,” Belle said, feeling a foolish surge of pride for the kid that she couldn’t and shouldn’t consider her son. “I still need to know what happened though. Unless you plan on escaping abroad, your parents will find you sooner rather than later, and I’ll be in trouble anyway. As you can see, I have very little to lose, so you’d better start talking.”

“Ok, fine,” Gideon groaned eventually. “I argued with my mom’s boyfriend because his idea of ‘bonding time’ is badmouthing my father all the time. My adoptive mother got mad and kicked me out of the house mid-dinner, so I walked over here and waited for you to get back.”

“She kicked you out of the house for that?” Belle asked, trying to control the anger in her voice. She knew she was hardly in a position to judge when she had kicked Gideon out of her entire life, but at least she had known her son would be taken care of. Kicking him out with only the clothes on his back was downright cruel.

“Yes, well, it’s not like she enjoys having me around that much. I’m pretty sure I’m mostly an annoyance to her,” Gideon said bitterly. 

“I’m sure that’s not true. She adopted you, she wanted you, and I’m sure she still does. Maybe she doesn’t always make the right choices, but I’m sure she loves you,” Belle said, laying the plate with sandwiches next to Gideon and taking one of his hands in hers. It had been so long since she’d last held him, and all she wanted to do was to cry, but she had to be strong for him, at least this time around. She owed him that much. 

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew her,” Gideon muttered, not looking Belle in the eyes. “But thanks anyway.” He grabbed one of the sandwiches then, and silence fell over them as he ate. 

“So, you mentioned your father. Why didn’t you call him?” Belle asked after a while.

“I didn’t have my phone,” Gideon answered with a shrug.

“And you couldn’t have borrowed someone else’s? I’m sure many people would have been ready to help a lost boy. Or maybe you could have stayed at a friend’s house. Why come here of all places?” Belle inquired. She didn’t want him to feel under interrogation, but she needed to know what was going on. 

“Look, I didn’t want to go to my father or to a friend’s house. I just wanted to come here, okay?” Gideon bit back, hurt creeping in his voice. 

Belle sighed, taking a long moment to evaluate her next action.

“Gideon, I don’t want you to think that I’m unhappy you’re here. I’m confused and shocked and sorry for what I put you through, but I’m happy I finally get to see you again,” she started off, trying once again to keep her voice level as she treaded such dangerous ground. “But I can’t truly enjoy this moment if I know your parents are worried sick about you. I know this feels a lot easier to you, but spending time with me will only make things more complicated when your parents eventually find you. How do you think they’ll feel when they find out you came to me?”

Gideon looked away from her, the pout on his face making him look even younger. 

“I don’t care. My adoptive mother doesn’t really care about me, why shouldn’t I at least have you?” he grumbled.

Belle sighed. Gideon was hurting, and he had turned to her with all the spite and desperation that only a teen could have. He needed affection, but he also wanted to punish his mother, maybe to make her jealous. Maybe Belle was only the means to that end, and deep down she really didn’t know how that thought made her feel. Being all but used by her son and then forgotten would be hell - which she totally deserved - but a sincere affection might be even worse. Would his parents even allow her back in her son’s life, or would she have to let him go a second time? And if they tried to bond but Gideon found her sorely lacking, would her heart be strong enough to handle that rejection?

“Of course you can have me,” Belle said, her treacherous heart singing at the prospect. “But please, please call your family before I truly get arrested for kidnapping. Maybe you could call one of your grandparents? Mine were always ready to forgive me for anything, and they’d talk my parents into forgiving me as well. Here, you can use my phone,”

Gideon pondered her words for a few seconds, taking her phone in his hands.

“Maybe… maybe I could call my brother. He won’t tell dad where I am if I ask him not to. I can have him tell mom and dad that I’m fine, so they won’t worry. Can I… can I spend the night here if I do this?” Gideon asked, his big hazel eyes shining with hope.

Belle knew that it was nearly impossible that his parents would be happy not knowing where he was spending the night, but how could she refuse Gideon when he so clearly needed to feel that an adult was on his side? 

“Okay, but put the phone on speaker, I want to make sure you are not just pretending to call. I’m truly risking prison here,” Belle warned him. 

Gideon had barely started dialing the number when the doorbell rang. 

“Are you waiting for someone?” he asked, even though he had the feeling he knew exactly who was pounding on the door like crazy. 

“Miss French, I have already called the police,” a man hollered from outside. “Open this door now or I swear I’ll have it brought down. And if you have hurt even a single hair on Gideon’s head I promise you’ll regret having ever been born!”

Belle felt the sudden, irrational instinct to run away, the same visceral fear she’d felt when labor began and she realized there was no escaping the pain. She forced herself to step towards the door on legs that felt like lead, wondering if Gideon’s father would give her time to explain herself or if he’d have her taken to jail straight away. 

Surprisingly, he didn’t do either of those things. The moment she opened the door, he sprinted past her as if she didn’t even exist, running to his son and wrapping him in a bone-crushing hug. Belle looked away from them, and found herself facing two other men, one of whom was a policeman. 

“Don’t worry about Officer Graham. I couldn’t convince my father to come here without the police, but as long as Gideon is fine - and I’m sure he is - we won’t press charges or anything,” the younger man said, offering his hand for her to shake. “I’m Neal, by the way, Gideon’s brother.”

He was smiling at her, albeit a little awkwardly, and that made her feel a bit better. 

“He just showed up at my door, I swear I didn’t contact him first. I was about to make him call you. I’m truly sorry for this mess, you must have been worried sick,” she apologized, focusing on Neal because she still couldn’t find the courage to look at Gideon’s father. Judging from the rage in his voice as he knocked on her door, she had the feeling he was far less chill about this than his son. 

“I have no doubt about it. Gideon had told me he was looking for you, so when he went missing I knew exactly where to look,” Neal explained. 

“Couldn’t you have kept your mouth shut? I was fine, and I would have let you know!” Gideon complained, slipping away from his father’s arms. 

“No, you shut up. You made dad completely freak out. We had to ask Dove to drive us here because dad was so nervous that he couldn’t even keep the steering wheel straight. What were you even thinking?”

There was a flash of guilt in Gideon’s eyes, but whatever he was about to say was cut short when his father stepped between him and Neal.

“We clearly have a lot to discuss, but we’ll have plenty of time for that when we get back home. I’m sure Miss French has better things to do than listen to our family drama, and we’ve already bothered her enough,” Gold said.

He barely deigned her a glance but, when he did, Belle wished he hadn’t. He stared at her as if she were a speck of dirt on his polished shoes, his gaze filled with hostility like she had seldom known, a mixture of hatred and disgust she only remembered seeing in her father’s eyes.

“It’s no matter, really. I just wanted to help Gideon,” she said somewhat awkwardly.

“Well, clearly your help isn’t needed anymore,” Gold said, his voice cutting as steel. “We’ll be on our way now.”

Neal flashed her an apologetic smile as they exited the apartment, and Gideon lingered for a quick surprise hug. Belle could feel Gold’s eyes burning into her as she tentatively wrapped her arms around her son, but she was ready to fight his rage for Gideon. He didn’t say anything though, and soon enough she was shutting the door behind them. After the turmoil of the past half-hour, her home felt eerily quiet now. She started pacing around, tidying up the place to give herself something to do and restrain from thinking about how much it had hurt to watch Gideon walk away. Sleeping would have helped her, but even though she was exhausted her brain was fully awake. When, over an hour later, she got into her bed, she kept tossing and turning as memories and nightmares blurred together in a constant cycle of dozing off and waking up with tears in her eyes. 

Her sleep was too light and restless to keep her from hearing her phone buzzing in the early hours of the morning. The lack of sleep was making her feel light-headed, so it took her a few seconds to focus on the words contained in the message, which was from a number she didn’t recognize. 

‘We just got home. Dad was mad af and spent the entire trip scolding me, but he has calmed down now, and I’m not even grounded! He’s incredibly pissed at mom though, and now they’re fighting on the phone. Thank you for today, I hope you don’t mind I got your number when I took your phone. Love, Gideon.’

If she had been less sleepy, Belle would have taken some time to consider the implications of every possible answer she could send him. Instead, with her heart hammering in her chest, she quickly wrote the words that she felt were the truest. 

‘I’m glad you’re okay, and I don’t mind about the number at all. I’m always here if you need me. Love, Belle.’

She laid back on her bed, clutching her phone to her chest, giddy and heartbroken all at once. It was only when her alarm went off two hours later that she realized that, after Gideon’s message, she had finally managed to sleep. 

Throughout the following days, Gideon kept messaging her with alarming regularity. He told her about how his day had been and asked about hers, he complained about how silly his brother became whenever a certain Emma was involved, and showered her with his thoughts about pretty much every fantasy saga he had been able to put his hands on. Belle liked to think that his love for books came from her, and the thought warmed her from the inside. His messages, however, worried her just as much as they rejoiced her. She truly wanted to be close to Gideon, yet she worried that she was only making things worse for him, teaching him to keep secrets from his parents and undermining their authority in her selfish desire to fix her past failings.

After a few days of furious debating with herself, she eventually resolved to ask for a friend’s help. There were very few people who knew she had given her son up for adoption, and she had cut them all out of her life, for good reason. This meant that if she wanted someone’s advice, she’d need to come clean about her past first. 

Ariel had a daughter of her own, so she was the only one of her friends who could speak from experience, but that also meant that she would truly understand the gravity of what Belle had done. By talking to her, Belle could jeopardize the life she had built for herself; if Ariel recoiled from her, if she called her a monster and told all their friends just what kind of woman she was, Belle really wouldn’t be able to blame her, but she’d also need to move again, just like she’d done as soon as she’d finished high school. Her own guilt was heavy enough to bear; she couldn’t live with other people’s judgment as well.

They met that afternoon, and Belle’s voice trembled as she started telling her story, but her friend proved more than worthy of her trust. Ariel let Belle talk without interrupting, and if there was a flicker of shock or horror in her eyes she did her best to hide it. When the tale was finally over, and Belle felt like she’d just run a marathon, the first thing Ariel did was hug her. 

“I’m so sorry. You deserved better, both you and your son,” she said, holding her so tightly that it almost hurt. It was exactly what Belle had needed, and she had to take a few deep breaths to keep from sobbing in relief. 

“I gave him up for that, to offer him something better, but now I’m not sure of what that is anymore,” she admitted. 

Ariel pulled back, but kept a strong hold of her hands, a reminder that she was not going to leave her. “I will be honest with you, Belle: if I were Gideon’s adoptive mother, I’d want to know that you’re in contact with him. The more you drag this on secretly, the more suspicious your behavior looks.”

“And what if his parents forbid him to talk to me again?”

“It’s a possibility, I can’t deny that, but Gideon cares about you and he has already shown just how determined he is to have a relationship with you again. You can’t expect his parents to be happy that he’s looking for another parent, but as wary or unhappy as they might be, they should let you see him for Gideon’s sake. Your son made the first step, Belle, but now it’s up to you to make sure that you go about this the right way.”

As much as it scared Belle to admit it, Ariel was right. Somehow, she had to work up the courage to speak to Gideon’s parents, starting with his father. She was pretty sure the man hated her, yet he was the one Gideon was closer to. Besides, she was still mad at his mother for kicking him out of the house, and she wasn’t sure she could hold a whole conversation with her without bringing that up. Gideon wasn’t all that happy when she mentioned her intentions to him, because he too was afraid that his father would try to put an end to their newfound relationship. He even went so far as to call her for the first time, but Belle, just like she’d done on the night he’d come looking for her, gradually managed to convince him, and soon enough she had Gold’s phone number registered. All she had to do now was find the courage to actually call him. She stared at her phone screen for what felt like hours, and eventually chickened out by telling herself that it was too late to call him anyway, and that he’d probably be pissed if she called him now. 

She stalled as long as she could the following morning, but way too soon she was ready to start the day and make that phonecall. Holding her breath, she pressed the ‘call’ button and waited. It took Gold a while to pick up, so much that she had been about to hang up when he finally did. 

“Ah, good morning, is this Mr Gold?” she stammered, her throat feeling as dry as sandpaper. 

“Yes. Who am I talking to?”

“I know this might be surprising, but I’m Belle French and I’m…” she started, only to be harshly cut off.

“I know exactly who you are, and this is why I suggest you hang up right now and delete this number, unless you want to find yourself in serious trouble,” he hissed at her. The rage and disgust in his voice made her want to cry, but Belle knew that, with Gideon’s happiness at stake, she couldn’t afford to have a breakdown. 

“Gideon and I have been messaging ever since he came looking for me,” she said quickly, before Gold could decide to hang up himself. “He took my number when I told him to call you. I wanted you to know.”

There was silence on the other end of the line for a while. Right when Belle was starting to think he might have hung up on her after all, Gold’s ice-cold voice reached her ears again. 

“And you’ve called so I can make it stop? You’ve realized teens are still as much work as newborns, but that it’s so much harder to shut the door in their face when they’re old enough to realize it?”

His assumptions were so absurdly wrong that, for a moment, Belle couldn’t find the words to reply. “No, no, how can you think I… you got it all wrong,” she explained hastily, horrified by the image Gold clearly had of her. “I don’t want you to put an end to this, I would never ask you to. I’m actually calling for the opposite reason; I want this to go on, but I don’t want to do this behind your back. I don’t want Gideon to lie to you. I know you have every reason to be wary of me, but I really want nothing more than to make Gideon happy, and I hope I can prove that to you.”

“I believe this is something we should discuss in person. I can drive to Boston and be there early in the afternoon,” he said, and Belle didn’t know if she should be happy that he wasn’t flat-out telling her no, or worried that he hadn’t said yes. 

“I’m afraid I’ll be at work then. Could we do next Monday instead? And I could be the one to drive over, I don’t want to inconvenience you more than necessary.”

“No, I’m driving over to you,” he insisted, his tone admitting no protest. “I’ll be there on Monday in the early afternoon. I’d be glad if you didn’t tell Gideon about this meeting before Monday, I’d rather not have him worrying about what we might or might not tell each other.”

His voice, that had been cold and distant throughout the whole exchange, seemed to warm up a little as he mentioned Gideon, and that gave Belle hope. He truly loved her… well, his son, so why should he keep Gideon from his birthmother if that connection was important to him? 

That thought kept her company throughout the following days, helping ease her nervousness at the upcoming meeting, but by Monday morning she was a nervous wreck nonetheless. She woke up unbelievably early, and started making rounds of her apartment - which she had spent the entire week cleaning and tidying up - to make sure that everything was truly spotless. Still with plenty of time to spare before Gold’s arrival, she took extra care in her outfit and make up; she only had this one shot at impressing him, and everything had to be perfect. She nearly jumped out of her skin when the doorbell finally rang. She took a deep breath, trying and failing to calm herself, then opened the door. 

Gold gave her a cold nod, then strolled in as if he owned the place. Judging from his tailored suit and from what Gideon had told her, he could probably afford to. During their first meeting she had been so nervous that she had somehow failed to notice he used a cane, but even that couldn’t make him look any less intimidating.

“Would you…” she started off awkwardly, then paused to clear her throat. “Would you like something to drink?” she tried again, her voice sounding a little more confident this time.

“Miss French, we both know I’m not here for a drink or for small talk. I’m here to know what you want, and I don’t like wasting my time,” he replied drily.

Under his scrutiny, Belle felt nearly paralyzed, but she pushed that feeling down, focusing solely on the thought of Gideon and drawing strength from that. She straightened her back and stared at Gold with all the determination she was capable of.

“I want a place in Gideon’s life, as long as he wants me to have it. I gave up my parental rights fourteen years ago and I know that there’s no changing that, that I’m not legally his parent anymore, but he came looking for me, and I want to be able to be as close to him as a friend would. I want to be able to call him and message him and just be by his side if he needs me. Please give me this chance.”

She had rehearsed this request a billion times in her mind, and all things considered she was satisfied with the result; her voice had sounded polite but firm, and she had made her intentions pretty clear while also reassuring Gold that she wasn’t trying to replace him or his ex-wife. She was expecting to see some kind of reaction in him, a sign of acceptance or denial, but his expression remained stressfully blank as he pondered her words. He was looking at her strangely, as if he were trying to see through her.

“So I’m guessing there’s no amount of money that could persuade you to disappear again?” he asked eventually.

For a moment, Belle was so shocked that she believed she’d misheard. He couldn’t be trying to do this, not really.

“I’m sorry?” was all she managed to say, part of her nervousness disappearing in the face of her mounting disdain. 

“You see, you wouldn’t be the first to try this trick. Birthparents reappear, they play nice for a while, and when the adoptive parents start feeling threatened by their presence they ask for a nice check in exchange for their absence. Or maybe you just realized that you’d be better off financially if you tagged along with my family, and are willing to put up with Gideon for that. If that’s the case, I’d rather pay you now than let Gideon get attached and then suffer when you reveal yourself for who you truly are. Name a sum, and we’ll have a deal,” he explained, his eyes still fixed on her, careful to catch her reaction. He really shouldn’t have bothered; even a blind man would have noticed the shock and horror in her expression. 

“I’m not that kind of person. I don’t care who you are or how big of a sum you can give me. The life I have I built it myself, with no help, and I certainly don’t need yours now. I want what I couldn’t have thirteen years ago: I want my son.”

Belle was almost surprised by the resolution in her voice, but she barely had time to revel in her newfound determination, because Gold’s scowl suddenly deepened. 

“That’s where you’re wrong. He’s not your son, not anymore, as even you have pointed out,” he hissed, looking so threatening that Belle was tempted to take a step back. “He’s mine, and so far you’ve given precious little reason for me to let you anywhere near him again. You say you have good intentions, but your actions say the contrary. You’re the one who tossed him away and never looked back. You’re the one that’s causing him to lie and run away, all things he had never done before. Maybe you don’t want money, and maybe you think you want to be a mother, but how do I know you won’t just play the part of the cool parent for a while and disappear the moment things get rough? You’ve done it before, after all, and I won’t let Gideon be hurt again.” 

At some point during his rant, something inside of Belle snapped. His accusations, so wrong yet so similar to the voices she heard in her nightmares, brought out feelings she had barely known were simmering inside of her. When thinking of what she’d done, she was used to shame and guilt, but this time all she felt was rage. Rage at life, at how stupid she’d been, and more than anything at all those people who - just like Gold - thought they knew everything, when they understood nothing.

“How dare you?” she asked him, taking one step forward so that they were almost face to face. “How dare you make assumptions about me when you know nothing. You don’t know what it was like. You don’t know how hard it was for me. You have no idea of what it is like to hold your son, that you love more than anything, and then hand him over to a stranger because you can’t take care of him. You don’t know. Years ago I let other people force me to walk out of his life, but this time is different. If you want to keep me away from Gideon you’ll have to step over my dead body, because this time I’m fighting tooth and nail for him.”

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so furious and so alive. Her words, her indignation felt so right, and she was frustrated by how unaffected Gold was by the whole thing. She felt as though she could incinerate him with a single look, and yet here he stood, impassable to the storm raging inside of her. She hated it. 

“So, you’re not going to say anything?” she prompted him, needing an answer, ready to fight. 

“Well, I’m not going to give you visitation rights or schedule for Gideon to come over here,” he started off, gesturing at her to let him continue when she tried to protest. “But at the same time Gideon is old enough to decide whether he wants to hear from you or not. As long as he’s okay with it, you two can keep in touch in whatever way he wishes. If he wants to meet you, however, I want to be informed, and if I decide I’d rather be present for the encounter you won’t object. And God help you if I ever find out you’re causing Gideon to lie or run away again. You only get one chance at this, Miss French, and I’m not a forgiving man. If you blow this, if you cause Gideon any harm, I’ll tear you and your life apart piece by piece.”

Belle was so relieved that she thought she might faint. The weight that had been pressing on her chest since she was sixteen had suddenly been lifted; at long last, she could be with her son. 

“Thank you, thank you so much. I promise you won’t regret this,” she vowed, barely restraining herself from hugging him; she had a feeling he wouldn’t appreciate that. “What about his mother? I’ll need her approval as well, do you think she’ll be okay with this?”

Gold looked surprised for a moment, as if he hadn’t been expecting Milah to be involved, then shook his head. “You don’t have to worry about Milah, I’ll talk to her. If I were you, I’d keep out of her line of sight as much as possible; she doesn’t like competition, and she will see you as a rival for Gideon’s affection. She’ll have to accept this situation for Gideon’s sake, but that does not mean she’ll like it, and she could turn quite nasty on you,” Gold warned her. He seemed to be looking at her differently now, still distant but much less wary, and definitely no longer angry or disgusted. The fact that he was even going out of his way to help her deal with his ex-wife felt nearly surreal. 

“Do you really think she’ll be that upset? The last thing I want is to bring conflict into Gideon’s life.” 

“As you might have noticed, there’s conflict between Gideon and Milah already. Strangely enough, your presence might just be the thing Milah needs to realize she needs to fix things between them,” Gold reassured her. “I still suggest you limit your phonecalls to Gideon when he’s at her place though. He would normally be staying with her here in Boston now that it’s summer, but after everything that happened Milah and I agreed it would be better if he moved back to Storybrooke a bit sooner than anticipated. He’ll be with her every other weekend for the duration of the school year, plus the occasional holiday.”

Belle took mental notes of all of that, thanking him again. She still couldn’t believe all of this was truly happening. 

“Now that we’ve reached an agreement on your situation with Gideon, I have to ask you if there’s any chance of his father showing up as well,” Gold asked after a beat of silence, and the question sounded so absurd to Belle’s ears that she couldn’t help but let out a humorless laugh.

“Believe me, I’d be the most surprised if he did. The only time we ever spoke of my pregnancy he suggested I terminate it. I’m not even sure he knows I gave Gideon up for adoption, and I haven’t seen him in over a decade. The chances of him finding Gideon are abysmal, and the chances of him caring about him are even below that. I wouldn’t worry about the father if I were you.”

The heartbreak Gary had caused her had faded through the years, but the sheer disgust at the person he was had only increased. Now, as a grown woman, she fully understood just how vile he had been, how slyly he had taken advantage of her, and she pitied her younger self for ever falling for him. 

“Looks like there is someone out there who deserved my anger after all. I’m sorry I thought that was you,” Gold said, something dangerous flickering inside his eyes. He was angry, but not at her, and it was a nice change. She remembered the threat he had made, how he’d destroy her and her life if she ever hurt Gideon, and in that moment she knew that’s exactly what he would do to Gary if she ever gave him his name. For a second, she was tempted to do just that, but there was too much at stake to indulge in vengeance. Messing with Gary could lead him to Gideon, and that was the last thing she wanted; for her son’s sake, her past had to stay in the past. 

“I’ll be going then. Everything is settled and I have a long drive ahead of me,” Gold said, moving towards the door. 

“Can I offer you anything? A cup of tea maybe, or I could make you a sandwich for the trip,” she offered again. She owed him more than she’d ever be able to say, but a sandwich was as good a place to start as any. 

“There’s really no need. Goodbye, Miss French.”

The door closed behind him, and Belle stared at it for a few seconds, still struggling to believe the past half-hour hadn’t been a dream. He had said yes. She felt like laughing and crying at the same time, yet she couldn’t bring herself to do either. Suddenly, she realized she had to tell Gideon about this. He had been so worried and ready to fight his dad on this, but there would be no need, and she was so happy she could give him good news. She grabbed her phone and, for the first time, called her son’s number. Today started their second chance. 

By the time October rolled around, Belle was the happiest person in the world. After her encounter with Gold, things with Gideon had gone wonderfully, and her treasured collection of photos of him was growing rapidly. One of her favorites, that she had printed and framed, was the one she’d taken the first time she’d gone to Storybrooke, on Gideon’s first day of high school. It had been the first milestone of his life she’d been present for, and it had been hard to hide her tears as he hugged her before entering school. Another photo she kept in her wallet at all times, and just looking at it could brighten even the worst day.

She’d felt ill at ease in Storybrooke at first. In a quiet little town like that, a normal visitor was bound to be noticed, but being Gideon’s birthmother had put her directly at the center of the town’s gossip for a while. Gideon had been key to overcoming that; he’d been so obviously overjoyed at having her there, and so proud to be seen with her, that for the first time she’d forgotten to think of other people’s judgment. It didn’t always work, of course, but she liked to think she was getting better at it. 

One of the first things Gideon had shown her in Storybrooke was the library: it was closed, unfortunately, but the ladder that went to the clocktower on top of it was still usable, and Belle found herself loving the view of the town from up there just as much as Gideon did.

“The mayor shut the library down years ago, but I’ll have it reopened. I’ll be the librarian and have all kind of initiatives: reading groups, writing groups, Harry Potter themed events, everything. I’ll make this part of the library too: this place was made to be a reading nook. Everybody is going to love it.” he had told her, gesturing vaguely around him as if he could already see the finished work.  

“I feel like you’ve been planning this for a while, haven’t you?”

“Ever since I read Matilda as a kid. I even have a notebook on which I write every idea for this place. I don’t usually talk about this to people. I want to keep it a secret from dad, because he knows the mayor and I’m sure he could get the place reopened in a matter of minutes, but I want to do it myself.” he had said, still bubbling with enthusiasm. Then his expression had turned uncertain “Do you think it’s silly?”

“No, not at all. I always wanted to be a librarian as well,” Belle had said, stepping away from the window. “It’s nice to see you want the same.”

“Then why aren’t you one? Is it… is it because you got pregnant with me?” he had asked hesitantly.

Gideon had never asked her why she’d given him up, and she had never been brave enough to bring the matter up. Still, she could feel the need to know simmering inside of him, and every time he asked her something about her past she could feel the biggest, most dreaded question drawing a bit closer.  

“No, absolutely not,” she had answered truthfully. “I started working right after high school, but I went to university afterwards. I’m not a librarian simply because it’s hard to find a librarian position, especially one that is decently paid. It’s a good thing that you’ve already found the perfect place to work at, isn’t it?”

Bringing Gideon’s attention back to his dream had distracted him and lightened the atmosphere, and for that day she hadn’t had to deal with any more hard questions. The idea of telling him about her past scared her more than it should have. Gideon had known she’d given him up for adoption, and yet he came looking for her, so he clearly had made some sort of peace with that. Yet the idea of telling him about his father - or hers, for that matter - felt so wrong. She didn’t want him to know how evil some people could be, and she wanted even less to admit how she’d let people like them defeat her, cornering her to the point where she had to give up the most precious thing in her life. She was ashamed to admit to her son that she’d let other people tear them apart. 

Gradually, the colorful autumn leaves were replaced by the first flurries of snow, and as Christmas drew closer Belle learned with a little disappointment that she wouldn’t see Gideon for Christmas, as she’d secretly hoped. 

“I’m staying with my mom… well, my other mom. Even if I’m supposed to spend half the holidays with her, she generally lets me go back to dad’s place if I want, but this year she insisted we spend some time together. Sorry,” Gideon explained on the phone.

Belle was glad he couldn’t see her face, so she didn’t have to hide her sadness. Rationally, she knew it was only a good thing if Gideon spent more time with Milah and mended the complicated relationship he had with her, but a little part of her couldn’t help but feel jealous. Given that she wouldn’t be spending her Christmas with Gideon, she accepted to switch shifts with Tiana at the restaurant and work on Christmas day. The day was every bit as chaotic as they expected, and Belle was so busy that she almost didn’t notice the group that had just sat at a nearby table.

Neal spotted her the same moment she saw him. His eyes grew wide in surprise, then he  abruptly turned around and stared at the woman in front of him with such rage that Belle was surprised Milah didn’t catch fire on the spot. She either didn’t notice his death glare or didn’t care about it, because she kept chatting with the man beside her as if nothing had happened. Beside Neal, still oblivious to everything, sat Gideon.

Belle scurried away from the table, thankful that it was not her responsibility but Cecelia’s, but still painfully aware that she wouldn’t be able to hide her presence from them for long. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t mind Gideon being there; she worked at a fancy restaurant like any other, and she would be glad to just be able to say hi in between serving tables. The problem was Milah. Even if Belle could have given her the benefit of the doubt, Neal’s stare accused her; Milah hadn’t just casually stumbled upon the same restaurant Belle worked at, she had planned this, but to what purpose Belle couldn’t tell. She doubted, however, that Milah’s intentions were entirely innocent. 

Belle tried to carry on as if nothing was happening, but not even five minutes had gone by before she heard Gideon exclaim: “Mom?”

“Yes, dear, what do you want?” Milah answered, sporting a sickeningly sweet smile. 

For a moment, Belle thought Gideon was about to make a scene. For a moment, so did Gideon. He realized, however, that there would be no point in doing so: if Milah was doing this on purpose, as he strongly suspected, calling her out on it would just give her a chance to attack Belle directly. If this was a mere coincidence, or if Milah knew his birthmother worked here but didn’t know her face, making a scene would only point her in the right direction. So he bit back the angry remark that had been on the tip of his tongue, and tried to carry on as if nothing were happening. 

It was hands down the worst Christmas any of them could remember, except for Milah and her boyfriend - Keith, if Belle remembered his name right - who seemed to be having the time of their lives. They tried to call Belle to their table more than once, dissipating once and for all any doubts on the coincidence of the whole thing. Belle thanked all of her lucky stars that Cecelia was always quick to intervene, because Milah seemed to be determined to make things as complicated and uncomfortable as possible: she changed her order several times and found literally every excuse to complain, which was just the cherry on top of the already busy Christmas lunch. By the time the four of them finally left the restaurant, Belle didn’t know whether to feel relieved or angry. Gold had warned her that Milah wasn’t the nicest person around, but purposefully ruining her son’s Christmas just to spite his birthmother was simply too much. 

That day set a distinct change in the family dynamics. After a long discussion with Gold - who once again wanted to deal with Milah on his own - they decided to confront Milah together. The meeting was one of the most unpleasant experiences Belle had ever had. Milah had a particular talent for getting under her skin, alternating between shouting and whispering viciously as she brought up all the things that hurt Belle the most: how she had abandoned Gideon, how she wasn’t his real mother, how she wasn’t worthy of him. It took all of Belle’s willpower to keep herself together, but what really shocked her was how easily Milah could hurt Gold as well. Despite his attempts, he couldn’t quite hide his flinch whenever his former wife spat hateful words at him, and even if his remarks were just as cutting as hers, they lacked that particular, unsettling cruelty. 

Milah eventually had to cave in when Gold threatened to bring this to a judge and let them decide whether or not Milah still deserved to see Gideon after what she’d done. She gave Belle the more insincere apology she could muster, and promised she’d never again do something like that. Belle found it very hard to believe her, and even though this technically counted as a win on hers and Gold’s part, Milah’s words had taken such a toll on them that she just couldn’t shake the feeling of having been defeated.

“Do you have to head back home straight away? I think we could both use a warm drink right now,” Belle suggested, pointing at a coffee shop nearby. 

Gold glanced back at his parked car, clearly weighing the options. 

“Okay,” he said eventually, surprising her. 

The place was crowded, as was to be expected on such a cold day, but luckily they found a free table in one corner and ordered two teas.

“I’ll never understand how you don’t freeze to death dressed like that,” Gold said as she took off her coat, revealing clothes that he would have seen more fit for spring. Late spring. 

“Well, I’ll never understand how you’re not sweating to death when dressed like that. You remind me of a girl I once shared an apartment with; we were constantly arguing over the heating, and eventually she moved out.”

“It’s a good thing we don’t live together then,” he joked, immediately regretting it. What if she took it as an insult? Luckily, Belle giggled. 

“It is. We’d come to hate each other within a week.”

He was surprised by how much the thought of not being friends with Belle anymore hurt him. He’d started out hating her, being scared of her, and yet after talking to her just a handful of times his feelings had completely changed. Belle had a way of making him feel at ease that very few people possessed, and the fact that he was smiling so shortly after meeting Milah was proof of that.

“I’m sorry. For all the things Milah said to you, I mean. She really shouldn’t have done that;” he said, feeling the need to make up for his ex-wife’s behavior. 

“Yes, she was… harsh. Is she always like this, or did I strike a nerve?”

What she’d really wanted to ask was ‘Is she always like this with you?’, because Belle couldn’t truly believe that her presence could make someone turn so viciously against their former husband. That question, however, would have been too direct and would have looked like prying. 

“You didn’t do anything, at least not intentionally. I think you’re dealing with Gideon wonderfully, but she refuses to see past her wounded ego. She was always extremely… fierce, but I think I bring out the worst in her. I’m sorry you had to witness that.”

“There’s nothing to apologize for. You did nothing to deserve such treatment: she is in the wrong.”

He smiled a bit sadly at her, like he appreciated her words but didn’t truly believe them. Their teas arrived in that moment, distracting them for a moment and giving Belle a chance to change the subject. 

“You know, this is incredibly awkward to admit, but I’ve just realized I don’t know your first name. Maybe Gideon told me at first and then I forgot, I’m not sure, but he only calls you ‘dad’ and everyone else calls you ‘Mr. Gold’ and so it… it kind of slipped my mind.”

Under literally any other circumstance she would have died rather than admit this, but it was the only thing that had come to her mind that could distract him from his former wife. 

“No apologies needed. I don’t really like my name, so I try to have it as little known as possible,” he explained. 

“Could I maybe shorten it, or use a nickname? I feel strange calling you by surname.”

Milah had called him ‘Rum’, would he be offended if she used it?

“I’m not going to be weirded out if you keep calling me by surname, but if you prefer to use my name I guess ‘Rumple’ will do. Just don’t use it too much when we’re in Storybrooke and other people can hear us: I have a fearsome reputation to maintain.”

She raised a disbelieving eyebrow at that, and he smirked over the rim of his teacup. 

“What, you don’t believe me?”

“I have a hard time imagining a town that keeps being scared of you after seeing how loving you are with your kids. I saw you trying to hold back your tears when Gideon started high school,” she remarked, taking a sip of her own tea. 

“You’ll be surprised by how much people refuse to see once they’ve formed their opinion on someone. I’m not saying I’m lenient with late payments, but I’m not nearly as ruthless as I once was, yet my reputation stays unchanged. Still, I don’t want to endanger it more than necessary.”

“Fine, I’ll only use it in case of emergency, I promise,” she conceded in mock seriousness. 

Her smile seemed to warm him more than the tea had, and there was a beat of silence as Gold mused over his next words. 

“You know, I was thinking… Gideon’s birthday is coming in less than two months and your birthday is only two days later, so I was wondering if you’d like to come to Storybrooke for those days, and maybe stay a little longer than usual, so that you and Gideon can celebrate together. I know he’d love that, but I haven’t told him anything yet so that he doesn’t get his hopes up in case you can’t come…” he felt incredibly stupid asking her this, and he couldn’t quite tell why. He just wasn’t sure of who she was to him anymore, and how he should act around her. Were they co-parents? Acquaintances? Or were they becoming friends? 

“I’d love to,” she replied, making him momentarily forget about his doubts. “I’ll have to make sure I can take those days off from work, but I don’t think there will be any problems.”

“Good. Do you want me to tell Gideon or do you want it to be a surprise?”

“No, tell him, it’s nice to have something to look forward to.”

She surely would be counting the hours until then.

“Thank you,” she added after a moment. “Really, thank you so much for everything you’ve done and you’re still doing for Gideon and me. You had every reason to be wary of me, but you listened to me and gave me a chance, and I’ll never be able to repay you for that.”

“You being there for Gideon and making him happy is payment enough,” he said immediately. “The only people you have to thank are Gideon and yourself: him because he’s the one who gave you a second chance, and you because you didn’t waste it. I merely supervised at first.”

Belle smiled gratefully at him, and their conversation flowed freely after that. Nearly an hour later, when Gold finally made it back to his car, the thought of Milah and her cruel words couldn’t have been more distant from their minds. 

The sky was thankfully clear when Belle drove into Storybrooke on the 9th of February, but there was snow piled up at the side of the streets, and the promise of more to come in the following days. She’d be staying in Storybrooke for a whole week, and she was beside herself with excitement. If fourteen years prior somebody had told her where she’d be now, she wouldn’t have believed it. She made a quick stop at Granny’s B&B to leave her suitcase and take a shower, then walked to Gold’s house. She had to be extra careful, because there were thin patches of ice on the sidewalk and she risked slipping more than once.

Gideon had been staring anxiously out of the window ever since Belle had texted to say that she was at the B&B. When he saw her, he screamed “SHE’S HERE” at the top of his lungs, and all but flung himself out of the house to go hug her. 

“Don’t run!” Gold warned him as he hastened to follow him. “There’s ice on the ground…”

He had barely finished talking when he felt his good leg slip out from under him. All of his weight went on the bad one, already in pain from the cold, and a moment later he was falling hard on his backside, every bone in his body screaming in pain.

Belle and Gideon rushed to his side, their eyes wide with fear, talking over each other in their haste to ask him if he was okay. 

“I’ve been better,” he replied gruffly. He reached for his cane, grimacing at the sight of his bruised hand, but when he tried to get back on his feet pain shot through his right leg, making him lose his balance again. It was only thanks to Gideon and Belle supporting him that he avoided a second fall. Sitting again on the cold ground was far from pleasant, but it was all he could do for now. He pulled the right leg of his pants up, and took a look at his prosthesis. The stupid thing seemed to be fine, but the point where his knee connected with it hurt like hell. It wasn’t unusual for it to hurt, but not to this level.

“Gid, could you go grab my crutches? I don’t think I can manage it with the cane,” he had to admit. He wanted to get back inside as soon as possible, both to change clothes and to avoid being seen like this by any passers-by, but he’d never liked using the crutches. He was especially bugged by the idea of letting Belle see him like this, hurt and unable to even stand on his feet. She was smiling worriedly at him, clearly trying not to stare at his prosthesis, and he appreciated her effort. The silence between them stretched awkwardly, and he was wondering if he should try to say something when his son reappeared.

“I called Whale. He’s at the hospital now, but his shift is about to end and he said he’ll be here in half an hour,” Gideon said, handing him the crutches. 

Gold nodded, too focused on keeping his balance to speak. His bedroom was on the first floor, but there was no way he could manage the stairs now, so he settled himself in one of the guest bedrooms downstairs. Gideon brought him a change of clothes, while Belle made tea for everyone, and later insisted on disinfecting the cuts on his hands. 

“I told you I can do it on my own,” he protested again as she took one of his hands in hers. 

“I know, but it will be much easier and quicker if I do it,” she said, stubbornly refusing to let go of his hand even as the sting of the disinfectant made him squirm. “I know it hurts, but if you move it’s going to take even longer to finish.”

“Sorry. I’m just… not used to having someone do things for me,” he admitted after a moment, carefully weighing his words.

“Oh, I know the feeling, believe me. Do you want me to leave you alone? I just wanted to help, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable or anything,” she made to move, but he gestured at her to stay.

“I’ll get used to it,” he said as an explanation. It was technically rude to say it that way, but Belle took it for the ‘thank you’ it actually was and smiled at him. 

“We’ll both have to. As I said, I’m used to being alone too.”

“Thank you,” he said as she finished bandaging his hand. “For this, for your patience, for everything. You just got here and you have to take care of me. I really didn’t want your vacation to start like this.”

“Well, that’s one of the perks of getting used to having other people around: you don’t have to deal with problems alone anymore. I’m here to stay, and not only on the good days,” she concluded with a smile. 

When she said it like this, it sounded almost easy. He was still processing her words when Gideon announced Whale’s arrival, relieving him of the embarrassment to come up with a reply that was at least one tenth as significative as Belle’s words had been. 

All in all, Whale told him he’d been lucky. He hadn’t broken any bones nor suffered any serious damage, but his knee was inflamed and Whale recommended not to wear his prosthesis for the next few days if he didn’t want to make things worse. In Gold’s opinion, that was far from being lucky, but he seemed to be the only one in the house to think so. After Whale left, he found himself in a heated discussion with Belle and Gideon on whether or not he should hire someone to help him through the following days. 

“I’m perfect capable of taking care of myself without help, case closed,” he snapped.

“I know, but what if you fall again? We have lots of things planned for the next few days, and there’s still snow outside. You can’t lock yourself up in the house, and I can’t pick you up if you’re too hurt to do it yourself. I’m just worried, that’s all,” his son replied stubbornly, his expression so similar to Belle’s that Gold nearly felt like laughing, despite how nervous he was. 

“Rumple, I’m sure you know your limits, and I’m not trying to impose anything on you, but Gideon has a point, and I don’t want you to risk anything just because you want to do everything on your own,” Belle said, clearly trying to keep the discussion form escalating. 

“Then trust me when I say I’m perfectly capable of managing my life without a stranger following me around and taking care of me as if I were a kid,” he replied drily.

“Well, if having a stranger around is the problem, we could ask Belle to stay here and help you,” Gideon suggested then. 

“WHAT?” the exclamation of surprise came from both of them at the same time, and if they’d been a little less shocked they would have probably found that fact very funny. 

“I just thought… we’ll be with Belle most of the time anyway, so why not? You two already know each other, so I think you wouldn’t be as snappy with her as you’d be with a stranger, and she would probably be less strict than a real nurse, so you wouldn’t feel like you’re being babysat. I thought it could be a nice compromise,” Gideon explained, staring at his father as if daring him to contradict him. 

“Belle came here to spend time with you, not to be my nurse,” Gold replied patiently. “You can’t expect people to change their plans because it suits you.”

“I mean, it’s not like I would mind, I just… I’m not sure I’d know what to do, or if you’d even be comfortable with having me around all the time,” Belle interjected.

Gold turned to look at her, even more surprised than he’d been by Gideon’s words: he’d been so sure that she wouldn’t accept that he’d completely forgot to ask her what she thought of it. In a way, he’d made the same mistake Gideon had. 

“I… I don’t want to bother you,” he repeated somewhat weakly.

“Well, you also said you don’t even need that much help. I’d be happy to help you if it makes Gideon feel safer, but I won’t insist if you don’t want me around all the time.”

“Fine,” he conceded at last. “I’d much rather have you around than a stranger.”

“She can take the spare bedroom upstairs!” Gideon exclaimed, beside himself with excitement. “This is going to be an awesome week!”

“No one has ever been so happy about me getting hurt,” Gold chuckled after sending Gideon to prepare Belle’s room.  

“Can you imagine his outrage if I had been the one to get hurt and you hadn’t agreed to let me stay here right away? I can almost see it.”

“We should suggest he joins a theatre group or something, he does have a penchant for drama.”

Belle agreed, and they traded silly quips for a little while before Belle went back to collect her bags from Granny’s. As she settled into her room, she couldn’t help but think that Gideon was right: this was going to be one awesome week. 

As expected, more snow fell during the following three days, and that forced Gideon to change plans for his birthday. He had been planning to spend most of the day out with his two best friends and celebrate at dinner with Belle, Gold and Neal (who had arrived from Boston the day after Belle), but the prohibitive weather forced him to spend the day indoors, with his friends just barely managing to get to his house without freezing their noses off. Neal seemed to find it hilarious that one of Gideon’s friends was also named Neal, and spent the entire day making jokes about that. Everyone seemed to find it funny, except maybe Gideon, who seemed strangely tense at times. Robin and Neal ended up staying for dinner as well, so that they were all together when Gideon finally got to open his presents. Everyone’s gift seemed to be just perfect for him, and Belle felt her nervousness rise as she handed him hers. She had gotten to know him so much during the past few months, but she knew she still had so much to learn. What if her present was the only one he didn’t like?

“I wonder what it could possibly be,” Gideon joked as he started unwrapping what was clearly a book. “Her Handsome Hero? I’ve never heard of this one!”

He seemed happy enough about it, and Belle breathed a sigh of relief. 

“It’s a retelling of a fairytale I used to love as a kid. I thought that since you like fantasy you might like it,” she explained. 

“Thanks, I’m sure I’ll love it.”

She’d wondered if she was considering her own tastes rather than Gideon’s in buying the present, but she had wanted her first gift to him to be something meaningful and, all things considered, she was happy with her choice. Gideon and his friends played video games for a little while more before it was time for Robin and Neal to go. Belle drove them to their respective homes, and even if Storybrooke was small it took her a long time to get back home, because it had started snowing again and she had to proceed almost ridiculously slowly. 

The first thing she noticed as she stepped inside, still shivering a bit from the cold, was a stream of muffled curses coming from the kitchen. A clear idea of what was happening immediately formed in her mind, and she strode towards the noise, not knowing if she should be more worried or angry. 

“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” she whispered angrily at Gold, not wanting Gideon to hear them. 

“What does it look like?” he bit back, but there was a hint of guilt in his eyes. He’d put his prosthesis back on, and was in the process of tidying up the kitchen. Everything about his demeanor screamed that he was in pain, yet he stood stubbornly to face her, trying to hide the way he had to lean on the sink. 

I could have done this! It’s what I’m here for!” she reminded him. 

“No, you’re here to spend time with your son. You don’t have to waste your time being my caretaker.”

“For God’s sake, I thought we’d already talked about this!” Belle burst out, walking towards the crutches he’d abandoned in the corner. “Take that thing off before Gideon hears us and go to bed.”


She was on the verge of screaming, but then she noticed something in his expression, something that went beyond simple stubbornness.

“Rumple, what’s wrong?” she asked, closing the distance between them, her voice turning softer. “You seemed to be doing fine, and now you do this. Did something happen? Did I do something?”

He looked around, as if searching for an excuse to avoid the conversation. 

“It’s not easy to explain,” he muttered eventually. 

“Well, I have time and patience, so try as much as you want,” she replied sitting down on a chair, and gesturing at him to do the same. He limped towards the table and let out a sigh of relief as he sat down heavily in front of her. 

“Just for the record, where are Neal and Gideon? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable by having you open up when your kids could walk in at any moment.”

“I told Neal to go upstairs and make sure Gideon doesn’t stay up all night reading. Not that it works, but they generally start talking and end up falling asleep in the same bed at some time past two am. Their faces tomorrow morning are going to be hilarious.”

No matter how upset Gold was, talking about his children always lightened his mood, and once again that sight made Belle smile. 

“Good. So, can you tell me now what’s going on?” Belle tried again, laying one hand over Gold’s in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. 

“I just… I don’t see how it’s fair that you should do all the work when you’re the guest. I should do better,” he said, not quite looking at her.

“But you’re hurt!”

“And that’s my fault! I should have been more careful, and you shouldn’t have to pay for my mistake,” he insisted, and Belle suddenly had the feeling that he wasn’t really talking to her. Of course, he was saying those words to her, but this wasn’t the first time he’d said them, and she wasn’t the one who made him feel like this. 

“Does it have something to do with Milah?” she asked, and it shocked him so much that he actually looked at her for the first time since the discussion started. 


“Did she make you feel like your disability was your fault?” she insisted, and from the way he looked at her, she had truly gotten to the heart of the problem. 

“She never called me disabled” he murmured after a while. “Useless cripple was the most common expression. Or something along the lines.”

“That’s horrible.”

She’d heard Milah say something about his leg and his illness during their discussion after Christmas, but without context it had been just one amongst the many insults she’d thrown at him.

“She… she didn’t like it when I got sick. She was pregnant with Neal when I was diagnosed with bone cancer. With a baby on the way she couldn’t deal with my sickness as well, especially when it lead to the amputation I tried my best to help her as much as I could, but there wasn’t much I could do at first, and the sickness caused by the chemo didn’t help. I thought I could fix things once I had healed, but then we found out that the treatment had left me sterile. I think that was the real end of her feelings for me, even though it took me a lot longer to realize it.”

“What happened after that?” Belle asked softly. She didn’t want to pry, but she could feel he needed to talk about this.

“Once I was sure my cancer wasn’t coming back, I talked Milah into adopting. My inability to have any more children had upset both of us, and I was sure that adopting was the solution. We could be happy again, Neal would have a much wanted sibling, and a kid would get a loving home. I thought it was a win-win scenario.”

He’d been so enamored with the idea of having another child that he’d projected that wish onto his wife. Now he realized that Milah had been upset mostly because she saw his sterility as another failing on his part, not because she was desperate to have more kids. 

“And I suppose that’s when Gideon came into your lives,” Belle prompted him, trying and failing not to imagine a younger Gold holding a newborn Gideon. It was an image that hurt her in more ways than she could count. 

“Yes. I loved him from the moment I saw him. After all I had been through, I was finally back to health and with not one, but two little kids to spoil rotten. Being with them was like heaven.”

He paused for a moment, fidgeting as he looked for the right words and the courage to carry on with the story. 

“Milah, however, wasn’t as happy as I’d hoped. She’d never been overly maternal with Neal, but I never had any doubt that she loved him. With Gideon, however, I started to wonder. I mean, I think she loved him, that she still does, but… she just can’t see him as equal to Neal.”

He’d whispered the last words so quietly that, despite being so close, Belle had to lean towards him to understand them.

“I think he knows. I don’t know when he started to realize it, but he’s a clever kid, he was bound to notice it someday.” 

Belle was biting her lower lip, not sure what to say. She was angry at Milah, but was she in any position to judge her? 

“Despite all of this, I couldn’t bring myself to end things with her. We were almost completely avoiding each other by that point, and I’m pretty sure she had more than one affair through the years, but I didn’t want to upset my children with a divorce. I thought I’d just hold on until they were old enough to deal with it, but Milah beat me to it. Four years ago I woke up and she was simply gone. She left a note saying that she was leaving, but she didn’t leave an address, and she wouldn’t answer my calls. After a day or two she texted Neal to tell him she was sorry and that she would soon file for divorce and a custody agreement, and only when her lawyer contacted me I found out she was in Boston with her most recent lover.”

“Listen,” Belle said once his tale was over. “I can only imagine how much all of this must have hurt, how much it still hurts. All I know is that I’m not her. I’m not going to walk away when you’re sick, or if you make a mistake, or you fail to meet some stupid standard. I’m with you, and not just because you’re Gideon’s father, but because we’re friends.” 

For a moment, she’d been on the verge of saying ‘family’, but she didn’t think either of them was ready for that. ‘Friends’ was a much safer option. 

“No matter what happens, I’m not going away,” she reassured him again. 

“No one,” he said, taking a shaky breath, “No one has ever said that to me. Least of all my wife.”

He looked on the verge of tears, and it came so naturally to Belle to wrap her arms around him, offering the comfort he so clearly needed. He all but sank into her hug, breathing heavily against her shoulder, clearly fighting back tears. They stood like that for a while, with one of her hands gently petting his hair, calming him, and despite their closeness and the silence the situation didn’t grow awkward. When he eventually pulled back, he looked more in control of himself. He opened his mouth to talk, but Belle stopped him before he could utter a single word.

“If you’re going to apologize, please don’t.”

He closed his mouth then, looking both annoyed and amused by how well she could read him. 

“Just take the prosthesis off and go to bed. I can bring you your painkillers if you want.”

“Yes, I think I’m going to need them,” he conceded, reaching for the crutches. 

Having to use the crutches didn’t stop him from doing most things, but it significantly slowed him down, so several minutes passed before he was finally ready to get into bed. He was waiting for his painkillers to kick in when he heard Belle leaving the kitchen and heading upstairs.

“Goodnight,” he said as she passed his door.

“I wasn’t expecting you to be still awake. Did I make too much noise?” she asked, still on the other side of the closed door. 

“No, I just can’t sleep right now.” There was no need to tell her he was in fact in pain. 

“May I come in?” she asked, surprising him. 

“Yes, of course. Is everything okay?” he said as she stepped inside. 

“Yes, I just… I wanted to talk to you about something, but if it’s too late we can wait until tomorrow. It’s nothing urgent.”

“As I said, I’m not sleepy. We have time to talk right now,” he said, gesturing at her to come closer. She sat on the edge of the bed, looking just a tad nervous. 

“Did you notice something strange about Gideon today?” 

The question immediately sent his brain into panic mode, but he couldn’t recall anything that had caught his attention.

“No, he seemed like his usual self,” he replied carefully. 

“Maybe he was. I just thought he looked a bit tense, so I kept an eye on him, and… I think he might have a crush,” she concluded. 

“On Robin?” It was something he really hadn’t seen coming, but it was hardly something worth worrying over. 

“On Neal.” 

There was a beat of silence after Belle’s reply, and she worried her lower lip with her teeth as she waited to see Gold’s reaction. She didn’t think he was the kind of man who would be upset by the idea of having a gay son, but one could never be sure. Right as she was about to ask him to speak, for God’s sake, he did something that completely shocked her:  he laughed. 

“What?” she asked once his laughter died down, not sure of what exactly was going on.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that… life apparently has a strange sense of humor.”

“I’m still not following you.”

“You’re right,” he sighed, gathering up his courage, “Apparently tonight is a night of confessions, and please know that I can count on my fingers the number of people who know what I’m about to say to you. I’m bisexual.”

Of all the things Belle had been expecting, this wasn’t one of them. 

“The day I told my father this, he dropped me at my aunts’ house and never came back. I mean, it’s not like he was fond of me before: Rumplestiltskin is not a name you give to a kid you love, after all, but after that even keeping a roof over my head became too much. It wasn’t easy for me to accept my sexuality after that.” He looked up at her then, his eyes full of both pain and love. “I’m just glad I can give my son the support I never had.”

For the second time that night, Belle could do nothing but hug him. He’d been through so much, and despite what he wanted people to believe, he had stayed a kind man through it all. She held onto him tight, never wanting to let go. 

“You’re the best father I could have hoped for, for Gideon,” she said as she reluctantly pulled back. She wanted to say so much more, that he meant so much more to her, but she couldn’t bring herself to. Instead she got up from the bed, wished him goodnight, and scurried back to her room.

She closed the door, leaning heavily against it, and cursed herself and her furiously beating heart. She had caught feelings for her son’s father. Under normal circumstances, that would have been the normal thing, but this… this was a mess. She felt like crying and laughing at the same time. She wanted to cry because this was never going to work, and she wanted to laugh because it had been so long since she’d felt like this, since she’d trusted and respected and cared for someone so much. She got into bed, but couldn’t sleep for a long time. She kept thinking about Gold’s eyes, This week was either going to be the best of her life, or it was going to be the death of her.

Two days later it was Belle’s turn to celebrate. She usually didn’t do much on her birthday, and getting to spend the day with her son and his family was already more than she’d ever expected, but Gideon went out of his way to celebrate for her. Someone (she suspected Gold, under Gideon’s direction) had hung streamers in the living room during the night, and during breakfast she learned that they’d made a reservation in Storybrooke’s nicest restaurant for lunch. The thing Gideon was clearly waiting for the most, however, was the moment when they got back home, when he deemed it was finally time to give her her present. 

“I won’t ask if you like it because I know you will!” He exclaimed proudly as he handed her a box. She opened it, and she was surprised to find a stack of papers. She was confused at first, but as she focused on what was written on those papers her confusion turned to shock. 

“It says here that I’m… the new Storybrooke librarian? What?” she asked, thinking it must be some kind of prank. 

“I told you my dad could have it reopened whenever he wanted! Now you can have the job of your dreams and move to Storybrooke, and we can be together whenever we want!” Gideon exclaimed, still oblivious to her growing discomfort. 

“Gid, listen,” she started off, not really knowing how to put it nicely. “This is incredible and thoughtful and it was kind of you to do this… but you should have asked me first.”

“You didn’t ask her?” Gold exclaimed, turning to stare at his son. “You told me you knew she was okay with this!”

“Well, she said she wanted to be a librarian! And I couldn’t directly ask her without ruining the surprise!” Gideon replied angrily, not understanding why he was being scolded for his great present.

“Then you shouldn’t have done this!” his father insisted. “You could have given her any other present, and then you could have talked about the library first. You shouldn’t have assumed she’d be okay with this.”

“Why are you two angry? I just wanted all of us to be together! Don’t you want to spend more time with me?” he asked Belle, looking at her with angry tears in his eyes. It was the first time she saw him angry at her, and it made her stomach churn. Still, she needed him to understand why she was just as upset as him. 

“Of course I do, Gid, but you can’t make decisions for me. Or for anyone else, for that matter. What you’re asking me to do is a really big change, and that’s not something I want to do without thinking about it first,” Belle tried to explain, but she could see that Gideon wasn’t truly listening to her reasons.

“You’re a liar! You just don’t want to see me!” he screamed, then ran upstairs.

“I’ll talk to him,” Neal said as he ran after his bother, leaving Belle and Gold alone with the weight of what had just happened. It was the first time Belle had argued with her son, and while she knew it was bound to happen sooner or later she still felt sick. 

“I’d like to say that it’s something you get used to, but it’s not true. It always hurts when they’re angry at you,” Gold told her honestly, sitting beside her on the couch. “I’m really sorry. I wouldn’t have let him go through with it had I known.”

“I’m sorry too. I know I probably overreacted. I mean, there’s nothing truly keeping me in Boston. Yes, I have friends there, but Gideon is more important right now, and I did always want to be a librarian. I just… I don’t react well when I feel people are trying to make decisions for me.” She’d had enough of that for a lifetime. 

“We all have our weak spots. Yours is being forced into things, Gideon’s is not feeling that he’s important to the people he cares about. Neal is really good at calming him down, though, I’m sure you two will be on good terms again before dinner,” he reassured her, and he was right. By the time she’d made and drank some tea, Neal had come downstairs to tell her she could go talk to Gideon if she wanted. 

It was easy to apologize to her son, but it was much harder to explain why she had reacted the way she had. At long last, she had to tell him something about his biological father and her own, and how they had both forced or tried to force her into a life she didn’t want. It was a painful tale for both of them, but they hugged at the end, and Gideon apologized as well. He called her ‘mom’ then, and it was at that moment she truly started crying. Despite the tears and the fight, that was the best birthday she’d ever had. 

Now that she didn’t feel like she was being pressured into things, she had to admit that the possibility of becoming Storybrooke’s librarian was amazing. She still wanted to think it over once she was back in Boston and not so emotional, but she doubted she’d find many reasons not to accept the offer. Surprisingly, her birthday had yet more emotions in store for her: the morning after, in fact, Gold gave her another gift, one that from the shape she initially mistook as a book. 

“I wanted to give it to you yesterday, but then I thought you already had enough to deal with in one day,” he said as she started unwrapping the paper. He had been right in his consideration, because the moment she realized what it was a sob tore itself from her throat. 

It was a photo album, and it was filled with pictures of Gideon, at all ages. From when he was just a newborn, so small that he was barely visible under his baby blanket, to his happy toothless smile when he was seven, to the last birthday he’d celebrated without her. It was all the life she hadn’t been there for, and that Gold was now sharing with her. 

“I picked the nicest, but there are more if you want. I just couldn’t fit them all in one album,” he explained as she turned the pages in awe. 

“I have one more,” she said, her voice hoarse with unshed tears. “From before this summer, I mean. When I was in the hospital I… I asked a nurse to take a picture of me with him before handing him over to social services. He was just minutes old. I… I can give you a copy if you want.”

She looked so fragile yet so strong, with her eyes full of tears as she offered to share with him a photo taken in such a painful moment, and he wanted to kiss her so badly that for a moment he had the impression that her gaze was lingering on his lips, as if she wanted to kiss him too. It was nonsense, of course, but it was such a tempting thought that he was relieved when she hugged him, because it hid her beautiful face from his view, giving him a moment to collect himself. If she really moved to Storybrooke, she was going to be the death of him. 

Belle officially moved to the apartment above Storybrooke’s library at the end of March, and spent the entire month of April preparing for the library’s reopening, with Gideon helping her as often as he could, until one day she had to remind him that he was supposed to spend at least some of his afternoons studying if he ever wanted to become a librarian himself. He officially started dating Neal in May, and soon enough their lives settled into a new, pleasant rhythm that Belle could hardly believe was real. When one day Neal announced that he was coming over to dinner with Emma - Storybrooke’s deputy sheriff - it was like yet another piece of their family had finally found its place. 

“They’ve been in love since high school,” Gideon told Belle as they set the table, waiting for his brother and the woman Belle supposed would finally be presented as his girlfriend. “They broke up when school ended and he moved to Boston, but they were never truly over each other. At least Neal wasn’t. I’m so glad they’re finally together again because he’s insufferable when he’s lovesick. The first time they argued he wrote her a song and he kept practicing it for days and it was terrible.”

With Storybrooke being so small, Belle had met Emma several times already, and it didn’t take her long after her arrival to notice that both she and Neal were behaving strangely. She didn’t want to ruin dinner by asking, but her curiosity was soon satisfied when, before taking even the first bite, Neal said he had an announcement to make.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting married already!” Gideon joked, but Neal hardly smiled, which was incredibly unlike him. 

“Well, we are kinda speeding things up,” Emma admitted.

“Oh my God,” Gold whispered, putting two and two together and realizing what Neal was about to say. 

“What I’m trying to say is… dad, I’m pregnant,” Neal said, and it took him a moment to realize what he’d said in his agitation. “I mean, she is pregnant, of course. And no, this was not planned, and we’re not even actually dating, and I still have art school to finish, but we’re keeping it.”

Gold recovered surprisingly well from the shock, but spent the rest of the evening torn between feeling giddy at the idea of becoming a grandpa and wanting to strangle his son for being so incautious. It was a very awkward family dinner overall, and Belle really wasn’t sad when it was over. Despite her best attempts, the talk about babies and unexpected pregnancies had reawakened all sorts of bad memories for her, and had made her feel under the spotlight, a glaring bad example that everyone was too kind to point out. When Gold insisted on driving her back home, she felt a moment of pure panic and briefly wondered if he was going to blame her for being a bad influence on Neal. It was an absurd thought, of course, but she couldn’t help herself.

“How are you feeling?” he asked her instead as soon as they were in the car. 

“I’m fine,” she lied. “Why?”

“Because I saw you fidgeting at dinner, and I know what it means. No one is making comparisons between you and Emma, believe me.”

“But they’re keeping the baby while I…” she started off, but Gold immediately interrupted her. 

“You were seventeen, they’re twenty one. I doubt you were out of high school, while Emma has a full-time job and Neal a part-time one. It’s not the same,” he insisted. 

“I wanted to keep him. I wanted to be his mother and be there for his first steps, his first words, his first everything. I let him go and he found you and I’m glad, but I still let him go not knowing what would become of him,” she sobbed. No matter how much time passed, or however many days she spent with her son or how much she thought she’d healed, having abandoned him was a wound that would never stop bleeding. 

“Hey, hey, It’s alright, I’m here,” he whispered against her ear as he wrapped his arms around her. Only in that moment she realized that the car was no longer moving. “It wasn’t your fault. You told me so yourself. You wanted him, but were forced to let him go. It wasn’t your fault.”

“You don’t know… you weren’t there… I should have been stronger,” she hiccuped. Her sin was too big to be simply excused away. 

“Then why don’t you tell me? Tell me what happened and I’ll honestly tell you if it was your fault,” he suggested.

“I… I need some tea first. Are we at my place yet? I can make some and then I can tell you,” she said, sniffling. 

“Yes, lead the way,” he said as he got out of the car.

In the end, he was the one to make the tea because her hands were trembling and he didn’t deem it safe to let her handle boiling water. Once they were both sitting on the couch with a warm cup in their hands, she started talking.

“My mother got sick when I was 13. Breast cancer. She was still so young that she didn’t think she needed regular check ups, and when she found out it was too late. We tried everything we could, but she died just two years later.”

The worst part hadn’t just been her dying. It had been watching her fade day after day, her condition always worsening despite all the treatment she was getting. She wasn’t sure when exactly Belle had realized her mother wasn’t going to make it, but waking up every day with that knowledge had completely crushed both her and her dad. 

“My father didn’t know how to deal with it. The worse my mother got, the worse he started to behave. Not in front of her, never in front of her, but when she was at the hospital and we were home alone he ignored me, or was straight out mean sometimes. He started drinking, and when I lost her, I lost him too. It was like he didn’t care about anything anymore, not even me. I think he hated everything that reminded him of her, including me. One day I got back home and found him putting all of our stuff in boxes. He told me we were moving to the States. I barely had the time to say goodbye to my friends before he dragged me an ocean away.”

Gold listened, dumbfounded. He could barely imagine the kind of trauma and pain she’d gone though at that time. 

“When we got to Augusta I stuck out like a sore thumb. I moved into a new high school halfway through the school year, so I was the only one struggling to adapt to a new place, and I was too lost in my grief to go out of my way and make friends. I was alone most of the time. There was one boy, though, who never stopped trying to get a date out of me. I turned him down at first, because I felt too sad to date anyone, but eventually I told myself I had to move on, and gave him a chance. Soon enough he was the only one I talked to, the only person in my life beside my dad. When he started pressuring me into having unprotected sex, I was too afraid he’d dump me to tell him no. I didn’t want to be alone again. I knew it was risky, but I didn’t fully realize it until my period skipped. I panicked and told him, and he dumped me, saying he wasn’t even sure it was his kid after all. I don’t think he believed that, I think he just wanted to hurt me. A couple of days later, the whole school knew I was pregnant. He had told everyone about it, while adding a bunch of lies to the mix, all to humiliate me.”

People had stared and pointed at her, at the weird outsider who got herself knocked up, calling her stupid and a slut. Every time she didn’t think things could get any worse, they immediately did.

“I think my father was the only one who didn’t know. I tried to keep it hidden from him for as long as I could, because I was afraid he’d make me have an abortion, and I didn’t want to. I thought that if I could just hold on until the baby had grown enough, he wouldn’t be able to force me to get rid of it.”

“What happened when he found out?” he asked, fearing her answer. 

“He lost his mind. He screamed and shouted and for the first time I was even worried he’d hit me. He told me I was a disgrace, that he was ashamed to have me as a daughter, and that since it was too late to get rid of it I’d have to give my child up for adoption if I wanted to keep living under his roof,” Belle said, her lower lip trembling with the effort of holding back the tears. 

“I didn’t know where to go. I had no friends, no other family members in town that could help me, and I wasn’t even out of high school yet. If he’d kicked me out of the house… I would have been homeless, without a job and with a newborn. What hope did I have? How long would it take before social services took Gideon from me? I knew that the younger the kid, the higher the chances of it being adopted, so I decided… I decided that giving him up straight away would be better. It would give him a better chance of finding a home, and it would spare me the pain of having him taken away when he was older. I never… I never would have wanted to…” she couldn’t continue anymore, her voice broken by sobs, and suddenly Gold’s arms were once again around her. 

“You were barely more than a child. You were alone and you were so brave. It wasn’t your fault,” he said as he held her, repeating it over and over again. She pulled back to look up at him, her eyes red and swollen from crying, and the tenderness she saw in his eyes made her heart ache. Gold had given her something she’d long forgotten. He’d  given her a family, something to care for and that cared for her in return. He’d given her a home and a sense of belonging, and maybe it was because she was already too emotional from crying so much, but she couldn’t hold back any longer: she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. He froze, and Belle felt her panic rise. She’d screwed everything up.

“Belle… what are you doing?” he asked, taking her face in his hands as he pulled back ever so slightly.

“I love you. I know it’s crazy and I know it only complicates things, but I do. I have for months. I know you probably don’t feel the same way, but I had to tell you.”

Gold was silent for what felt like an eternity, staring at her as if he couldn’t believe his ears.

“Then,” he said eventually. “Kiss me again.”

Without waiting for her shocked brain to process his words, he closed the distance between them, pressing his mouth against hers in a kiss that was nothing like their first. It was loving and passionate and made her toes curl. When they finally broke apart, he rested his forehead against hers. 

“I love you too.”