Anthony didn't come back home until after three in the morning, but Belle was in the kitchen – waiting. She had a pot of coffee nearly half-emptied, and a measure of whiskey sitting in a rocks glass on the table. Gold knew something was wrong – more wrong than he anticipated. Belle didn't care for his Scotch, and she rarely drank coffee. They were tea people; coffee meant something serious afoot.
"You stayed up for me, dearie?" He braced himself for the worst. Gold's brain failed spectacularly to articulate what his gut was telling him: it's over, she's leaving. He could give up on the Mill case, if she insisted, but he couldn't let Regina continue to sabotage him from inside his own company.
"We need to talk."
Shit. Here it comes. "What about?"
"I... I did a bad thing."
Well that was... unexpected. "What bad thing?"
"We should probably start at the beginning. Coffee? Whiskey?"
"Cup of tea?"
Belle nodded and busied herself about their kitchen, spooning leaves into an infuser and flipping on the electric kettle. "First, and this is important, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I've been so impossible about the case with Regina. I didn't think it was fair for you to ruin her life on my behalf, but... and this is too little too late, and you might not care when I tell you the rest of it, and I don't-"
"Belle, love. Breathe."
"Oh?" She handed him his tea.
"Do you remember that plastic surgeon at the hospital?" she asked, running a fingertip over the small scar at her temple.
"The presumptuous nitwit? I was wondering what Jefferson wanted. Wait. Belle, if you're telling me that this business with Regina culminated in that man trying to mutilate-"
"No. God no. I don't think he knew who I was, really. I think he's just an idiot. It's... it's worse than that, actually."
"I very much doubt it, but please stop stepping around it. Whatever it is, we'll handle it. Just tell me."
"It's about your son." Belle traded her coffee for the glass of whiskey, and downed what remained in a single gulp.
He couldn't have heard that right. "What?"
"Jefferson said he recognized the name – Dr. Whale – from the coroner's report. And it's not a common name, so he cross-checked it, and it's the same man who signed off on all of the lab work they did identifying Bae. Same hospital. There's not... there's not any reason why a plastic surgeon would be involved in any of that, unless... unless he was falsifying things."
"So Bae might be... alive?"
"There's no way to tell for certain, since they cremated the remains. But maybe. He could be. Jefferson says he got a new lead-"
"I'm going to crucify that doctor," Gold growled, but he was smiling. Tears started rolling down Belle's cheeks. Gold scooped Belle up into a tight hug, and crushed her to his chest. "Belle, Belle, it's OK. You're part of this family, Bae being alive changes nothing between you and me."
"That's not it..." she replied, sobbing. "I did a bad thing. And I'm not sorry, but I think you'll hate me."
"Jefferson said he couldn't prove it, but... he's reasonably sure from his surveillance that Regina paid Whale off to fake the documents. And that she-"
The pieces all started to make sense to him, suddenly.
"I'll kill her." Anthony let loose an anguished scream, and stumbled to his feet. He went with his first instinct, to start smashing things, and let loose on with his cane on several ceramic plates. His senses were very nearly overwhelmed by rage until he heard Belle speaking, pulling him back from the edge.
"...don't need to bother, because I took care of it already. I'm sorry. Ant, come back to me. I'm sorry." Her eyes were still wet, but there was a certain hardness there that Gold rarely got to see. This was his indomitable, fighting gypsy. He calmed down a little, and held her gaze.
"What did you say?"
"I... was looking for you earlier. I thought you might be with Nikolai, so I called him. And you weren't there, but he was implying... he was implying he'd like it very much if something tragic happened to Regina, but that you didn't agree. Didn't agree because of me. And I... I told him the truth about Bae. Then we exchanged pleasantries and I hung up."
"Do you know what you've done?" Gold's fist clenched, his body became deathly still.
" I think... I think I gave consent for Regina to have a very unpleasant accident. I don't know – it was kind of oblique. I'm not sorry for that. I'm not. But I am sorry I.. it wasn't my right. I never should have taken that decision away from you, but you're my family. She can come after me all she wants, Ant, but Bae's funeral nearly killed you. If she wants to hurt you again, she's got to get through me. I love you so much, and she almost took you away-"
Gold pulled her into a deep kiss before she could finish. She'd work herself into hysterics at this rate, and they couldn't both be inconsolable on the same night. Not when everything finally felt right. When she was quiet and wrapped safely in his arms, he spoke again: "You're not a killer yet, if that's what's bothering you. Zoso's not that heavy-handed when the stakes are high. But there are lots of tragic things – abduction comes to mind. Or maybe he'll just arrange for her to serve her a life-sentence in solitary confinement. Never can tell with Nikolai."
Belle shuddered. "I used to say I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, but in Regina's case..."
"Good. Let Zoso have her, then. She owes every syndicate in Europe money from that money laundering fiasco we uncovered, you're doing him a favor, really. It won't end that badly, you'll see."
"You're lying, to make it easier on me, aren't you?"
"...yes. Yes, I suppose I am."
"I love you," she said again. She looked scared, a little unsure, and entirely disheveled.
"Aye. And I love you, too." He hugged her. They still had work to do, but there would be time for all of that. There would be time for everything.
Belle hated the uncertainty of it all. Nothing resolved, not entirely; only the surface ripples ever changed. Regina's case was nothing more than a memory – they'd won it, easily – and her fate still remained something of a mystery. It wouldn't be pretty, whatever it was, and there was no guarantee that the police wouldn't come knocking at her door some day with questions for her and Anthony.
She could live with it. She loved a man whose past and present inhabited dark places, but they changed each other – in good ways. Where she made him kinder, he made her brave. And they didn't live in a land of enchantments and faeries; sometimes hard choices had to be made. Immoral choices. Choices that weren't really choices at all, but sinful luxuries of the wealthy.
It said something profound about her, she thought, that she didn't feel guilty. Surely Regina Mills had a family, friends, someone who would miss her and eventually make inquiries. They would face it when it came, together, and that was the important thing.
Anthony was sweet, and he loved her. He was also in denial if he thought she didn't see the ring he kept in his coat pocket and fidgeted with when she wasn't supposed to be looking. It would be nice, being married, if he ever worked up his courage to actually ask her. Belle could wait. She wasn't with him for the wedding, though she was sure – if they ever had one – it would be unfathomably nice. Probably one of her best future memories, even though they didn't have a date (or an engagement) in sight.
For now, they were just living their lives. Tonight, that meant attending Belle's presentation of Lovers Embrace at the Metropolitan Museum. She'd invited Bae, or the person they thought was Bae, without telling Anthony. She didn't like to see him disappointed when no one came. After their original overtures went unrequited, he seemed to accept that they might not reconcile – even if his son was alive after all.
It wasn't just that he'd grieved and moved on, though that was part of it. His son had now spent as many years with his father as apart from him – soon the majority of Baelfire's life would be that of the independent runaway. Her love wasn't giving up hope, not ever, but he was able to accept that his son was – if not with him – at least happy somewhere, not in need. Happy, and living.
He told her once, as he held her and they chatted away towards dawn, that he wasn't even sure he'd recognize the boy. Bae bore more in common with his mother, Gail, as a child, and Gail ha aged poorly before turning to plastic surgery.
Belle saw the world a little differently, with an artist's eyes. She knew Ant's every crease and quirk, had memorized his face and committed it to paper more times than she could count. It was peaking out at her from the imps adoring her canvas, in the hands of the satyrs as they held their ladies.
It was in the slightly crooked smile of the young man who approached them in the lobby.
"Hello," he said.