Pairing: Rumbelle. Mentions of Red Cricket and probably of Mad Swan cause… reasons.

Summary: She laughed at his jokes and looked after him. She was beautiful and kind and Bae adored her.

… she was also seventeen, and off-limits.

Rating: NC-17 (I though I'd mix it up, step away from my comfort zone).

Dedication: To Bad-Faery who has written some of my favourite things on Earth.

Part One of Three, the last to be posted on August 22nd.

When his lawyer had finally confirmed that the custody battle was over and he had won he hadn't been able to believe it at first. It had been a long process, extremely distasteful and that had only cemented his belief that he had been utterly right to divorce his former wife, Margo. They had gotten hitched at a young age, when he had had nothing to his name but his fahter's pawn shop and all his debts. She had quickly grown out of her romantic fondness for their relative poverty and his struggles to obtain his law degree and had quickly become disenchanted with her life, with her choices and, most of all, with him. Their marriage had quickly disintegrated after that, Margo calling him every name on the book before storming out and disappearing for fifteen years, sighing the divorce papers before vanishing.

Years passed and managed to fin success at last, his particular talent for deal—making enabling him to make the most of a lucky break, and soon enough found wealth and comfort, owning two thirds of the town and all of its real power. Margo had been quick to come back, contrite at first, wanting to take another shot at their relationship, talking about wishing to see if the old flame still burned. He hadn't believed her at first but he had become, by his own hand, such a pariah in quaint little Storybrooke that it had felt nice having someone to talk to, who looked at him with no revulsion or fear. One night, after one too many shorts of Johnnie Walker, he had made the crucial mistake or going to bed with her, more out of urge than any significant affection. She had quickly shown her colours when he had professed their reconciliation to be a mistake. She wanted his money, and if she couldn't get it the easy way she'd get it the hard way, through a divorce.

He had taken precautions, though, a long time ago, and he had made it clear that getting a penny out of him was out of the question.

He had been wrong.

Months after their tryst, when he had all but forgotten about it, Margo had announced she was pregnant. She had known of his deep desire to be a parent, so she had been quick to tell him she'd never let him see the child unless he paid.

He had refused at first, and she had disappeared again, this time with something he deemed as his. He had tracked her down, and by the time he had caught up with her the child, who she had named "Baby Boy" for lack of interest, had been born. What followed had been a vicious battle for parental rights, Margot rejecting many generous offers of a monetary settlement in exchange for her signing her parental rights away. He had been torn for months between giving up everything he had built with his own hands and never seeing his boy, not knowing if he was hungry, or cold, or in need of something. Margot had never struck him as a potential good mother, and she hadn't ever seemed to care for the child.

So he had dug everything there was to dig about his wife, every sordid detail, every weakness. And with those small, powerful weapons he had finally forced her to sign both the divorce papers and a the necessary documentation to ensure she'd never have power over his son again. The moment the child had been delivered to him, small for a kid of almost two and very quiet he had known he'd always loved him, and that he had been worth all the effort. His boy was precious, the best thing he'd ever done.

He was not just a Baby Boy, so he had quickly renamed him Baden, or Bae for short. Precious little Bae.

He had known being a parent would take some getting used to. He had read the books, he had prepared his house and his life for the introduction of Bae in it, but he had known that it'd still be difficult. He was not young but in this mid-forties, which had been why he had been rather sceptic about Margot being pregnant at first, since she was but a year younger. He didn't have the stamina a younger parent would, nor the support. He had no family, and no close friends. So he had made sure to have a good paediatrician, an excellent cook and a top-of-the-line nanny to help him.

Thought the paediatrician had stuck, the cook had lasted but a month, and the nanny even less. Bae had taken an immediate dislike to the woman, a very prim Englishwoman called Mrs Prant, efficient and highly qualified but not very warm. He had gone over many more nannies after that, putting up with the cook who couldn't seem to make anything Bae wanted to eat simply cause he had been terrified to be left alone with his wee lad, because Bae didn't seem to like him at all. Nothing he did calmed the child, nothing he offered he'd eat. He wouldn't even talk to him, or to anyone else, but would babble alone when he couldn't see his father hovering outside his bedroom. The paediatrician and child psychologist had both pronounced Bae to be a healthy, normal child, so he knew the fault lay with him.

After the sixth nanny, another highly-qualified good for nothing, had failed to even remotely connect with Baden, much less put him to sleep or feed him properly, he had fired the cook too, tired of unhelpful strangers in his home. And thus he found himself one day alone, sleep-deprived and with a wailing baby boy who refused to eat most of the time, would constantly take his clothes off when unsupervised and couldn't manage to be entertained at all.

The few people who didn't outright hate him were hardly helpful. Ruby, his usual waitress at Granny's, would go on and on about a friend of hers with some sort of magic touch… As if a teenager could be the solution to his problems. His on-again, off-again psychologist, the spineless Dr Hopper, had recommended a patient of his, and he had curtly replied that what his son needed was not some nutjob, thank you very much.

But he knew the situation could not last, and so he wondered constantly about what to do, and more specifically, what he was clearly doing wrong. In the meantime he was forced to take Bae with him almost everywhere, which was putting a damper on his reputation as the most feared man in town. Finally, one day, things had come to a standstill: Mayor Mills had decided to call a council meeting to discuss the purchase of a considerable patch of his land and he needed to be there. The meeting was sudden, and he could bet Regina, the bitch, had done it on purpose, to force him to appear at City Hall with a wailing, screaming infant, thus losing any sort of respect in the eyes of the council members. With no other choice he took a deep breath and phoned Dr Hopper to get the phone number of the patient he had recommended as a nanny. He dialled the number seconds later, dispensing with the pleasantries when he heard a soft, lilting feminine voice over the phone. He tried rocking Bae to quiet him down so the first impression the temporary nanny would have wouldn't be too bad, but it didn't seem to work. Finally he heard the doorbell and all but shoved poor Bae into the petit woman's arms before giving her a list of important phone numbers, some quip about food in the fridge and then he was out the door and into his Cadillac, speeding in a way that made him glad the local police force was comprised of one man who couldn't possibly be everywhere at once.

The meeting dragged on and on, and his patience was stretched to the limit. Regina smiled from her seat, noticing his slight fidgeting and making comments about how nice it was to see him out and about without his "boisterous little boy" in tow for once. He bit back snarls and snarky comments that would only serve to prolong the torture, choosing for once to take the high road in hopes of getting home as soon as possible. But the hours dragged on and on, and by the time he managed to get out of the Town Hall it was close to eleven when he got back into his car and sped home. He fumbled with the keys, ears straining to catch the all-too-familiar sounds of Bae's powerful screeching and, not picking anything, panicked. He stumbled into the foyer with little grace, turning towards the living-room and finding it empty, as the rest of the main floor. With his leg protesting loudly he took the stairs two at a time, quickly approaching his son's bedroom door, which was open. He heard the humming before he saw them: the woman was sitting on the rocking chair, her arms full of his little boy, who was cuddling against her left shoulder, sound asleep, his small arms curled about her neck and his face buried in her wavy brunette hair. She was the one humming, a lullaby with no lyrics and the sound was warm and soothing, as was the gentle hand stroking Bae's back and combing through his floofy hair, of which he had plenty. Bae so far hated haircuts.

He took a closer look at the miraculous scene, taking in the woman's soft, pretty dark rose dress and her cream tights, noticing her plain jewellery and her scuffed boots. She had her eyes closed but opened them when his cane accidentally thumped against the doorframe. Her impossibly-blue eyes found him with ease and a smile bloomed on her lips. She carefully stood up, humming all along as she placed the practically-catatonic Bae in his crib, without him even stirring. She tucked him in with care and ease and then made her way out of the room, taking a baby monitor with her and gesturing for them to move away from the room before speaking. He followed her downstairs, dumbstruck and still confused by the absence of constant wailing in his house. She motioned for him to sit in a cushioned chair and then went to the kitchen, bringing back with her a tea train with two steaming cups and some sort of teacakes.

"I thought you might be hungry, since the meeting took so long. I hope you like faciliers, they are my favourite and I baked them this afternoon, so they are fresh and moist"

She smiled before adding some sugar to her tea and stirring, letting him collect his thoughts. He scrambled for anything to say, noticing with embarrassment he didn't even know her name.

"I hope Bae wasn't too much trouble" he finally mumbled, adding some lemon to his own tea before taking a sip. It was wonderful. He let his eyes roam over her, noticing everything from her petite but perfectly-proportioned frame to the pleasing softness of her creamy skin. He shook himself, chalking the sudden flair of attraction to his life of celibacy.

"Oh, no, he was an angel. We played with blocks, I told him a story, bathed him and rocked him a bit to get him to sleep. No worries at all"

She sounded sincere, but she couldn't be. He knew Bae, and that didn't sound at all like him. Maybe she had given his little boy something to make him sleep, and if such was the case he'd make her pay for drugging his two-year-old. Pay in ways she couldn't even begin to imagine. He was about to start drilling her when the phone rang, loud throughout the house, and the baby monitor soon was loudly transmitting Bae's anguished cries. Gold all but pounced on the phone, almost losing his composure when he heard the mayor's sugary sweet voice on the other end. He all but hang up on her after answering some irrelevant and unimportant questions about what had been discussed only minutes before and then sprinted back upstairs. He reached Baden's bedroom in time to see him latch onto the nanny's neck, hiccupping against her shoulder as she bounced him up and down gently, whispering in soothing tones.

"Shh, darling, everything's fine, go to sleep" she whispered into his tiny ear, her voice a caress. Bae's hiccups turned into gentle sniffles and then to quiet snores, his eyes shutting and his grip on her relaxing. When it was clear he was again sound asleep she easily transferred him back to his crib, smoothing down a tuft of his hair and tucking him in again, a smile on her face. She exited to room quietly, going back to the living room and leaving Gold to follow her around like a puppy, sighing when she sat back down.

"Well, that was a close call" she said, smiling "I hope whoever was at the phone will think twice about calling so late again" she looked at her watch and frowned "Which reminds me, Mr Gold, I have to go. Tomorrow is a school day, after all"

Gold looked at her confusedly. Maybe she was a teacher at the local school? She looked a bit young to be out of college, but it was a possibility.

"I'm sorry, dearie, I won't keep you"

He proceeded to pay her for her trouble, a sum he thought fair but that she protested was too much, and bid her a good night, closing the door behind her and shaking his head in wonder. The house was quiet and he didn't have toys to pick or a mess to clean. It was a small wonder and it left him befuddled. He was still feeling like that after dropping Bae reluctantly in day-care the morning after, a temporary sort of solution, since the centre was only open till four which left him unable to conduct business in the afternoon unless he took his boy with him. Somehow collecting the rent with a wriggling child in his arms was not an ideal situation. He met Hopper at the dinner, trying and failing to get Ruby to notice him, busy as she was with the early morning rush.

"So, how did Belle work out, Mr Gold?" he enquired, never quite meeting his eyes. Spineless little man, but at least good for something, namely giving him the name of the person he had left his precious boy alone with for hours.

"She was very good" he admitted "Better than expected, actually"

The psychologist beamed, pleased that he had been able to help.

"Oh, yes, Belle is very responsible. Top of her class, likely to be valedictorian when she graduates. And she has a magic touch with children"

Gold almost spat the mouthful of coffee he had ingested in his surprise. Class? Valedictorian?

It couldn't be.

He hadn't left his child alone with some teenager all evening.

A teenager who needed a shrink.

And he had certainly not let his eyes rest over the soft curves of a teenager's body. He hadn't. It wasn't possible.

"So, you'll take her into account again sometime? I know she could use the money, and she's really a lovely girl"

Yes, lovely. Lovely and young, and out of the question.

"I doubt it. I'm still looking for a more permanent arrangement and I doubt she'd be interested. Too much for a girl her age to handle, I'm sure"

He saw the beginnings of an objection form in the good doctor's mind so he quickly exited the dinner, not wanting to discuss the subject any further. He'd get another nanny, qualified and experienced and above all things out of High School, and he'd get his life in order.

But there were no nannies left in Storybrooke. He had tried them all, and had even tried to tempt some outsiders with a good salary and a good rental deal on one of his many properties. But few answered the called, and non stayed, either cause they got fed up with Bae or Gold got fed up with them. He made do with the day-care centre, acutely aware that he was losing sleep dealing with Bae and he wouldn't be able to keep up with work and Bae. His son was clearly miserable as well, eating little, throwing tantrums and speaking barely a word. He worried.

He was a desperate soul, so he shoved all doubts and apprehensions aside and called Belle French. He did his research before, though, uncovering everything there was to know about her. The florist's daughter, whose mother had died when she was five and who had moved away from home at fifteen, thanks to her mother's inheritance. There was nothing sinister behind such an unexpected move. Her father had simply re-married a widower with three kids and cohabitation had soon become an issue. Belle had not been able to adapt her subdued, quiet, independent lifestyle, so she had taken enough money out of her trust to rent a tiny attic apartment, saving what she could by living a frugal life and taking odd jobs, mainly babysitting and part time stuff, and catching many breaks from her tenant, an elderly woman who seemed to take on a vague grandmotherly role in the girl's life. Her father helped her in any way he could, but he was not the cleverest person where money was concerned and he had enough trouble supporting his new family. As far as everyone knew their relationship was not very close, but still cordial and loving, having lunch together every Sunday and taking time during the week for each other. She got along with her step-mother, but there was no real affection there, only polite interest, and her step-siblings were not very interested in forming any sort of bond.

She seemed content, and responsible, and Gold was running out of reasons why not to hire her. Would she even want a more permanent arrangement? Was she qualified to take care of a child for more than a few hours? He highly doubted it. She might look to be more responsible than other young people her age, but she was still too green for his tastes. Still, when the day-care centre decided not to open on Saturday, and he needed to personally oversee some small but urgent business details dealing with new real state acquisitions, he found himself again dialling Miss French's number, sighing in relief when she confirmed that yes, she was available all day and she'd be delighted to look after Bae.

This time, when she arrived, he didn't simply register her presence and leave. He looked her over, noticing the tale-tell sings of her youth, which hadn't been as visible at night. The roundness of her face, the way it was devoid of make-up, the way she seemed to be all limbs, her gait slightly awkward. She listened attentively to his instructions before practically shoving him out the door, so reluctant he was to leave. Spending the day outside with no child felt strange, but oddly pleasant. He felt like a horrible parent, basking in the absence of his son, but he really was at his wit's end. He was worried sick he was irreparably harming Baden in some way, and he needed the time away to think, properly think.

Returning home felt both like a blessing and a curse, and again the guilt gnawed at him, settling in the pit of his stomach. He found Bae and Miss French in the living-room, his boy watching cartoons and, miracle of miracles, nibbling at a slice of apple and Belle reading, one of her hands absentmindedly petting the boy's hair as she watched the roadrunner pull a fast one on the Coyote.

"Poor Coyote. I really wish he'd catch the roadrunner. Isn't that right, Bae?" Belle asked, a smile on her face. Bae nodded solemnly, his eyes turning to look at the girl with unabashed adoration before going back to the screen. Gold cleared his throat, vaguely disappointed when the teen on his couch didn't startle in surprise. She did, however, guiltily remove her shoeless feet from the furniture, putting her ballet flats back on.

"Good afternoon, Mr Gold. I hope everything went well" she grabbed Bae by the waist, the kid squealing playfully as she swung him around before perching him on her hip, the movement natural.

"It did, dearie, thank you. And how were things here?" he enquired, trying to let his jealousy not show. There she was, a complete stranger, being on the receiving end of Bae's smiles and affection. Why couldn't the boy connect with him like he had so easily done with her?

"Wonderful. We played, then put the toys away like one always should. Bae helped me cook, and then we had lunch and then apples for dessert. It was a fun day, right darling?"

She looked over at Bae, the softest smile on her lips, and Bae nodded, screeching the word "Fun!" with gusto. Gold's heart warmed seeing his boy grin like a madman, the parent in him relishing in this display of happiness.

"You had no problems feeding him, then? That's unusual"

Belle shook her head.

"He was picky with his food at first, but only till he saw me eat some. Sometimes kids won't eat unless they see someone else do it first. I also discovered he won't eat anything orange, so I let him put aside the carrots for now. He needs to eat more, so we can let it slide for the time being. Some vegetables and a strong dose of fruit and he'll grow big and strong in no time. Strong like a knight"

She directed her last words to the child in her arms. Bae nodded again, his eyes huge as he beheld the girl. The wee lad was besotted, apparently. It decided it for him. Bae clearly wanted Belle, so he would get her for him. She seemed competent and, more importantly, she seemed to click with Bae.

"Miss French, before you go, could I persuade you to have a few words in the living-room? It won't take long" he tried to look welcoming, but he got the impression the little French girl didn't seem to have for him the healthy dose of fear that the rest of the town had.

A pity, really. But, he reasoned, if he was going to have the girl around at all times better if she didn't constantly tremble in his presence or stutter whenever speaking to him.

It was a dream job, no matter what everyone said. She had never really paid any mind to the rumours in town about Mr Gold, even before he had first called her about his son. She knew people liked to put other people in categories and deny their complexity, like dubbing Leroy the town drunk or Mary Margaret, whom she knew from volunteering at the local hospital, the town slut. Mary Margaret, sweet and tender and so very vanilla even quiet and well-behaved Belle thought of her as a bit boring, was no more the town slut that she was the local party girl.

A close friend, Ruby, was also an example of someone who was unlike the rumours that circulated about her. Though on the surface a wild girl with no other passion than flirting and hooking up, Belle knew that in fact most of what was said about Ruby was untrue, lies spread by young men looking to prove their worth to their friends. So she had never really considered Mr Gold to be the awful ogre everyone said he was. From afar he had always looked lonely, a man who had decided he was better off without people, content with their fear from a distance. He had also seemed fascinating, a worldly man of culture and experience that had somehow decided to stay in their quaint little town, his shop a fascinating array of objects that reeked of history. She had never gone in, not really in a position to be able to afford any of the unique wares, but she had often stopped to look through the glass, and dream about a more stimulating life than the one she lead. Her books had always helped make this bearable, but she had always itched to go into the shop and ask about everything.

When he had called she had been surprised. The whole town knew of Gold's problems with his recently-acquired son, but she had always thought he was too above going to someone like her for help, with or without Archie's recommendation. She had agreed readily, needing the money and curious about meeting the child that had stumped so many nannies. She had barely gotten a greeting from the father before she had found herself alone in the old Queen Anne house with a screaming boy. She hadn't meant to completely fall in love with Bae, taking into account the babysitting gig was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but she had from the moment she had held him in her arms, red in the face from screaming and flailing. She had been puzzled by his unwillingness to be held, but she had refused to give in to his pushing and shoving, recognizing a temper tantrum when she saw one. She had insisted on playing with him, building a towering fortress from blocks to entice him to join in, and he had done so reluctantly. Soon he hadn't minded her presence and had even consented to a warm bath, after which she tucked him close to her body, smiling when he didn't shove her away, merely curled contently against her. He was small, and quiet, but once he had stop rejecting her affections he had seem to crave them, whimpering when she had pulled away for a little bit to use the bathroom and clinging to her the moment she had come back. He had soulful eyes and Belle had tried, really tried, not to fall for them. She had failed.

The father was strangely vulnerable as well. From their first meeting it had been clear that Mr Gold was a man in the brink of exhaustion, lost and terrified beneath a calm, almost snide exterior. She had noticed his fingers trembling as he had sipped the tea she had poured for him that first night and her heart had broken a little, but she hadn't known what to say, even when she had caught him looking comically relieved she had been able to put Bae back to sleep after the phone had rung.

So when he had called again, she had cancelled her plans to go to the Library in order to babysit the little tyke again. And later, when he had offered her permanent post as Bae's nanny in the afternoons and on evenings she had agreed without a second thought, not knowing if she had accepted for Bae or for his haggard-looking father.

She didn't regret it one bit. Gold was aloof but friendly enough, and always eager to discuss Bae, even though he kept his distance when she was with him. Her day with the Golds begun after school, when she'd swing by the Day-care Centre and pick up Bae, ignoring the curious looks from the three gossips who run the establishment. Then some days they'd go grocery shopping, letting Bae reveal little by little what foods he preferred and what things he was willing to try. Then they'd arrive to the salmon-coloured house almost near the forest, and Belle would do her homework after feeding the little tyke. Sometimes they'd bake something, other times she'd clean a bit, encouraging Bae to help, pleased when he eagerly did so. She'd talk to him constantly, usually being rewarded by shy responses from time to time. After homework, if there was time, she'd tell him a story while cooking. She'd serve him his meal and then let him have some fruit for dessert, and it was around that time that Gold usually arrived, looking impeccable and put together, but the moment he greeted Bae, receiving little response from the child, his shoulders would slump, and he'd luck incredibly worn out. He'd greet her politely, enquiring about her day with little interest, and would be a ghost, a shadow, till she tucked Bae into bed and stopped by his study to bid him a good night.

Two months went by like that, and the novelty of her job at Gold's begun to wear off. People, namely kids at school, had stopped asking her questions about it, leaving her alone. She had always been a rather lonely teen, friendly with everyone but close to none of her classmates, with one or two exceptions. She had never known why this distance, but didn't resent it. She had two or three really close friends and for the rest there was the library and, now, Bae. And she had formed a sort of superficial bond with the father. Though Gold didn't frighten her he intimidated her a little, so she had been content to follow his lead and keep a polite distance, curbing her fascination for the man, giving him his space.

But everything changed a Friday morning, around eleven. She was halfway through her English Lit class when the imposing figure of her boss burst into the class, slamming the door open with an impressive flair. His eyes zeroed in on her quickly, making his way to her desk and promptly yanking her out of it.

"Mr Gold, what's wrong?" Belle's voice didn't tremble, but her eyes were huge, as where those of her classmates. Her teacher, bless his soul, made a feeble attempt at stopping Gold from removing his brightest student from class, but the pawnbroker merely snarled something about his rent before storming out, Belle's wrist firmly in his grasp. She struggled to keep up, vaguely impressed by his stamina and his speed, limp and all.

"What happened?" she demanded, her curiosity giving way to worry. Gold's eyes were feral, a panicky glint in them. Finally, once they were safely inside his shiny Cadillac, he spoke.

"Bae's sick. He's got an ear infection and a fever. The doctor prescribed some medicine but he won't go to sleep and he's been crying all night and… and I don't know what to do. He's hurting and I cannot help him"

Belle took a deep breath, her heart going out to the man beside her and tentatively placed a hand above his on the wheel, willing him to calm down.

"It's ok, it's ok" she murmured, using the same soothing tone she usually reserved for the youngest Gold "Let's get back to Bae, alright?"

Gold, looking lost and strangely vulnerable, nodded dumbly and started up the car, driving to the Day-care Centre where he had been forced to leave his son to look for the only thing he seemed to want, if his cries of "Bel, Bel, BEL!" were any indication. When they arrived the horrible hags practically shoved Bae into Belle's arms, and he immediately curled against her, hiding his tear-stained face in her hair.

"Hurt, hurt" he kept saying, and every time he did Gold looked more and more desperate. The car ride to the house seemed to help, as did Belle's gentle stroking of his hair but he was still clearly in pain by the time they were home. She bathed him, insisting the distraught father helped, trying to give him an active role in his son's recovery. Soon enough the ear medicine begun to take effect. She then grabbed some hand towels and soaked them in warm water, folding them and instructing Gold to press them gently against Bae's ears as she held him upright in her arms. She also filled a dropper with warm olive oil and applied a few drops to the child's ears and, soon enough, Bae fell into a fitful sleep. They stayed frozen in place for a long time, she cradling Bae in her arms, sitting in the rocking chair, and he at her feet, looming over the sleeping figure of his son, his arm draped across the back of the chair to keep it from rocking.

"He's alright for now. Hopefully the medicine will work fast on the infection" Belle whispered into Gold's ear, afraid to wake the wee little child. She rose slowly, placing Bae in his cot and reluctantly letting go of him. She then took Gold's hands and pulled him into a standing position, leading him out of the room in spite of his silent protests to remain.

She led him to the kitchen and gently pushed him down so he collapsed on a chair. He looked horrible, clearly sleep-deprived, his eyes bloodshot and his suit rumpled, a five o'clock shadow insinuating itself on his face. She brewed him tea, telling him to drink as many cups as he wished before whipping up a basic ham and cheese omelette and presenting it to him with firm instructions to eat all of it. When he didn't make an attempt to pick up the fork she took his hand on both of hers and pressed the utensil to his palm, closing his fingers around it. Then, before she could even think to stop herself, she ran a hand through his mussed hair, freezing when she realized what she was doing.

"… I'm gonna go check on him. By the time I come down I expect to see you at least halfway done" she instructed with a bit of a stammer, her face going red and her hand quickly snapping back to her side. She looked in on Bae, pleased to see he had fallen into an even deeper sleep, and went back downstairs to find a far more composed Mr Gold polishing off his plate.

"Is he alright?" he asked immediately, tensing up. When she nodded, a reassuring smile on her face, he allowed himself to relax.

"… I apologize for unceremoniously pulling you out of school, Miss French, but I was at my wit's end, and neither the paediatrician nor the cunts at the Day-care Centre were being particularly helpful. I've been up all night and… Well, I panicked. Bae was hurting, and all he seemed to want was you"

He gave her a look that was equal parts envy and wonder, and she blushed under the intensity of his gaze (and a bit at hearing the stoic and elegant Mr Gold curse). She ducked her head, not knowing what to say. Finally, overcoming her embarrassment, she sat down beside him, tentatively reaching for one of his hands.

"Bae doesn't hate you, Mr Gold. He just spends a lot of time with me, and I've had a lot of experience with kids… I used to volunteer at the local orphanage before I moved away from home, and I learned all kinds of helpful things. You're just nervous and stressed and he can sense that. But he'll warm up to you, I promise" she smiled, as gentle and as loving as if he was his son and squeezed his hand before letting go "Maybe we just need him to see we're a team. Don't shy away from him when he's with me"

She stood up, grabbing her forgotten satchel nearby and going to the living-room to start on her homework. She paused by the kitchen door to look at Mr Gold, quelling the strange urge to hug him, knowing how unwelcome such a gesture was likely to be. Silly teenage hormones acting up.

"We'll work it out, Mr Gold. You'll see. And, by the way, you can call me Belle. It'd be less confusing for Bae"

Things changed after that. For one she became a sort of untouchable person in town, regarded with both suspicion and fear by everyone because, apparently, she had "Property of the Golds" stamped on her forehead. Her teachers looked at her differently and she was pretty sure if she suddenly stood up in the middle of class and announced she had to leave they'd let her, in case Gold needed her. Her classmates thought her a bigger weirdo than before, but she barely took notice of that. Even her dad, when she met him, looked at her with a sort of horrible nervousness. Only her tenant, old Mrs Shoeman, treated her the same, and for that she was grateful.

Not that she saw much of the poor old lady, spending as much time as she was at Mr Gold's. She took up cooking not only for Bae and herself, but also for her boss after realizing he hardly made the effort to prepare anything fancier than a sandwich for himself most days. Her cooking skills, a natural consequence of a life without a mother, were not spectacular, but they got the job done, and her baking soon put some meat into the pawnbroker's bones. He'd make an effort now to cook with them, and to help bathe Bae and sometimes tell him a story while she rocked him to sleep. His gentle brogue seemed to soon do the trick even faster than Belle's lilting voice and the happiness in his face the first time he had put his child to sleep had been heart-breaking.

He had gotten more comfortable with her too, taking more than a basic interest in her life and her plans for the future. She confided that she wished to study History and be a teacher or maybe be a librarian, and hopefully see enough of the world before settling down. One day he had proposed they swung by his shop on the way home from day-care and Bae had lit up inside the store, wanting to touch every single thing, particularly and old football Gold spent most of the visit repairing so they could take it home. Belle had shyly enquired about some of the most exotic trinkets and soon they had found themselves talking animatedly about antiquities and history. Belle had been pleased to not Gold listened to her instead of patronizing her, and argued back when he was in disagreement and it had been the most wonderful, stimulating conversation she had ever had. At the end, when they had bid the Scotsman goodbye, Bae had waved and said "Buhye, papa" and the brunette had thought Gold's face would split from grinning so widely. She was sure no one would believe her if she told them he could smile like that.

Though Bae was much more comfortable with his father he also grew even closer to her. He'd demand to be in her arms often, and would only play with her, and stay close when she did her homework, colouring or watching TV. Gold would snort and mutter something about Baden having a crush, and Belle would laugh and shake her head, calling Bae her "little man", her darling. She had never been a full-time nanny so she hadn't been prepared to get so attached, both to the child and, strangely, to the parent. Gold liked to pretend to be some sort of soulless monster, but it was far from the truth. He was sharp, that much was correct, and incredibly snarky, with the wickedest sense of humour, to the point where she sometimes felt guilty when she laughed at some of his jokes, usually at the expense of someone in town. He was passionate about his shop and his antiques, and less so about his other businesses. His face lit up when she'd ask about some trinket he took home to repair, though he tried to downplay his boyish enthusiasm. He was also devious, and quite proud of it too, and sometimes he'd confide in her about some deal of his, and she'd be torn between scolding him or being impressed.

He'd ask about her social life now and again, but it was a subject he was quick to drop after reassuring himself she had no "suitors". He was obviously terrified that she'd get a more active social life and be unable to properly look after Bae, leaving him all alone with his son, so she tolerated the unsubtle probing with more grace than he deserved. Bae was more direct about it, taking her face in his tiny hands and moving it from side to side.

"No boys" he'd say, very seriously "Only Bae and papa"

"You told him to say that, didn't you?" Belle would mutter, embarrassed. Gold just smiled every time, and she could swear he exchanged conspirational grins with Bae. Something would flutter inside her, and she'd push it down, afraid.

Gold's life was wonderful. He was finally connecting with his wee lad, his perfect little Bae. One step at a time he got closer and closer to the boy, wining his trust and affection mostly by being led by the hand by the utter and perfect miracle that was his nanny. She was responsible, applied and incredibly fond of Baden, the warm and nurturing presence his boy needed desperately in his life. She was also hell bent on fattening him up for some reason, and he could hardly complain at the notion of having home-cooked meals again. She opened up to him easily, almost naturally, losing little by little all of her adolescent shyness and telling him of her hopes and dreams, her fears and insecurities. It hurt her how little she could connect with people her age, but it hurt her more to pretend she enjoyed the things they did, so she had resigned herself to taking the road less travelled instead of going with the flow. She did have some close friends, and she never seemed lonely, which marvelled him, all her strength, her bravery.

'Her youth' a voice would whisper in his mind 'Let's not forget her youth'

And of course he didn't forget it. Even though Belle was so mature, and so independent, and so…

'Young' the voice would hiss, relentless 'She's so very young'

And he knew that. He could see it in the slight lack of sophistication of her clothes, in the trace of awkwardness that hung about her, though it was never present when she dealt with Bae. And Bae blossomed under her care and affection, becoming more outgoing, less temperamental and, above all, more talkative. He proved to be a good child too, with a great deal of empathy and a gentle spirit. Better than his papa, thankfully. His golden child, his perfect little boy, who would now cuddle close to his father when Belle was not around to cling to… Not that he blamed Bae. He'd chose to cuddle with Belle too if he could.

… which he couldn't. So he didn't.

He found Belle pale and clearly upset one afternoon, sitting on the sofa and watching Bae play with stuffed animals, and for a moment his heart stopped, because something horrible must have happened. Belle looked shaken, and stared at Bae the way he usually did, like she was clueless about what to do with him.

"Hello" he greeted softly, startling Belle and making her turn her eyes towards his, and he could tell she had been crying. He took a deep breath, willing himself not to panic.

"'lo, papa" Bae greeted with a tiny wave. He ruffled his boy's hair before hovering near the girl, anxious.

"What's happened, Belle?" he kept his tone neutral for Bae's sake, but seeing Belle like that was killing him. She lowered her eyes, and seemed at a loss.

"… I can't make him stop" she finally confessed, her voice small and wavering "I've tried to explain, but he won't stop, and if I insist he gets really upset, so I just… I…" she lifted her eyes to him and he saw her unshed tears "I just don't know what to do. It's wrong, but I don't know how to make him stop"

He looked over at Bae, but the child looked happy, healthy and all around normal. Belle refused to elaborate and he remained in the dark for a few moments until the problem made itself known.

"Play with Bae" the kid tugged on Belle's skirt, trying to grab the girl's attention and waving a stuffed wolf in her direction "Play, mamma"


Oh, dear.

"He started today. He'd never said it before, I don't know what changed. Maybe he heard one of the kids at the centre say it. I don't know" Belle's voice was flat, but her hands were trembling "When I told him that I was Belle, and he was supposed to call me that, he insisted on using… that other word. And he got very upset when I asked him not to use it anymore"

"I see" he muttered, dazed. Bae calling Belle his mother was all sorts of wrong, but a part of him lit up at the mere idea, finding it right and perfect. Bae as not his child but their child, as much Belle's as he was his, an unbreakable bond tying him to her forever.

But those thoughts were wrong, because Belle was just being nice and warm to a hopeless old man playing at being a father and she was, above all things, innocent. Naive.


"Calm down, dearie, you'll scare the child" he took her hands in his, noticing how cold they were "Let's get some tea and leave Bae to his cartoons. He'll be fine in the playpen"

He took Belle to the kitchen and quickly put the kettle on, trying to collect his thoughts at the same time. He didn't know what to do, how to proceed, and so far that had been okay cause Belle had always known what to do. He was being led by the hand by a bloody teenager and he now couldn't handle the fact that she was stumped. He busied himself with retrieving cups, sugar and tea-bags, and as soon as the drinks were ready he sat down beside the nanny, who would not for the life of her look at him in the eye. His mind went down dark, unthinkable paths: she was clearly freaked out. She'd quit, realizing Bae was getting too clingy and she was young and did not want to be tied down to a snotty little kid. She'd quit and Bae would go back to being unhappy and withdrawn, and he'd have no home-cooked meals, or shared smiles during storytelling times, or the sporadic but welcomed brush of a hand against his because no one in Storybrooke touched him except her.

He wanted no one to touch him but her. And that was a problem, but not his most pressing one at the moment.

"Belle…" he started to say, about to beg her to stay with them, but she begun stammering before he could speak more than her name.

"I'm sorry, Mr Gold, so, so sorry! I don't know where Bae got the idea to call me that, but I never encouraged him. I guess he thought that because I am always with him, like the mothers of those kids at the centre, it was okay to call me that. I… I didn't see it coming, and I'm sorry, so sorry…!"

He grabbed her by the shoulders, torn between shaking her to stop her breakdown or hugging her close to comfort her. She was clearly distraught but he had to settle for stroking his thumbs across her skin in a soothing, completely non-threatening way, he hoped.

"Belle, Belle, take a deep breath and calm down. I'm not upset. Now that I think about it I'm not even surprised. I should have seen it coming. I should have known Margot couldn't have possibly been a very nurturing presence in Bae's life, he probably never really bonded with her, she was not the motherly type. Bae loves you, you're the most important person in his life right now" he was surprised to notice his envy was minimal after acknowledging that truth, when before he had felt nothing but visceral jealousy at the mere thought of it "He's too young to understand things, so he jumped to the obvious conclusion. He'll grow out of it, I'm sure, with a bit of encouragement"

He titled her chin up, disregarding the voice that was always yelling "Don't touch the underage nanny" for once, pleased when he saw her smile, relieved that he wasn't upset. It was the first time he took charge in a Bae-related situation and it felt good to be to calm, collected one for a change.

"You're right" she said, her voice full of warm gratitude "But we still have a problem, though. He cannot call me mamma outside this house"

It would be torture enough to hear it inside, Gold thought. Outside would only provoke suspicions, awkwardness and all sort of pernicious rumours. His son and his Belle must be protected.

And by "his Belle" he meant Bae's. Clearly.

"Let's see if we can convince the wee one to be more accommodating, shall we?"

In the end, though Bae didn't understand at all what was wrong about calling Belle "mamma", and why the term did not apply to her (the extent of his argument, consisting of "Bel mamma, Bel mamma!", was quite compelling), he seemed to acquiesce to keeping the word limited to the inside of the house, as their little secret. There was no guarantee he wouldn't slip up, or forget, but it was the best they could do. They ended up watching some nature show on TV, Bae between them gawking at the lions. He yawned, cuddling, as usual, close to Belle.

"Mamma" he whispered dreamily, closing his eyes and extending one hand to grasp his father's thumb "Papa"

'Trouble, this is nothing but trouble'

Looking back he wondered if he had always wanted Belle. He knew he did now, knowing that denying it was more dangerous that acknowledging it. He remembered the first spark, noticing her loveliness over tea, still more than a bit out of sorts by her prodigious handling of Bae. The attraction had been sharp, but brief, easy to brush off as a normal heterosexual drive, quite simple to disregard. And he had, particularly after learning the girl's age. He was amoral, but certainly not some sort of paedophile.

He hadn't seen any harm in "acquiring" the girl for Bae once it became clear his little boy needed her, and so it had been done. She'd kept her distance, becoming another pretty thing to look at when home, always with a smile and a quiet, happy attitude. Seeing her with Bae had filled him at first with longing for the bond they seemed to share, and he had envied Belle her relationship with Bae more than it was healthy. Then his boy had gotten sick in the middle of the night and he had all but crumbled. He had experienced then the full extent of his little nanny's powers, which apparently didn't work just on Bae. She had soothed away his worries with gentle touches and calming words, taking charge with a sort of quiet strength he had found wondrous, giving him tasks to perform and even feeding him afterwards. Even though her youth visibly clung to her there was something very old and wise about Belle, and it soothed him.

He had started envying Bae's relationship with Belle after that. She was such a nurturing, loving creature, warmth and peace radiating off her in waves. Her cheerful attitude rubbed off on him, vanishing his customary surliness and annoyance at everything and everyone and replacing it with the blooming tendrils of contentment. She loved to listen to him talk about antiques, and got comfortable enough to invade his personal space and even boss him around from time to time. She was not only the healing force in his son's life but a welcomed balm in his, a respite from his self-imposed loneliness, a person he didn't need to merely "tolerate" but that he actually enjoyed a companionship with, for however long it lasted.

He was a man, though, and he couldn't help but look. And Belle was a lovely thing to look at, petite in a way that called to his primitive protective instincts, skin like cream and curves soft and gentle as she was. Her clothing was always proper, nothing like some young girls her age. She favoured retro looks, nothing too elaborate: tea dresses, soft woollen pants and layered tops, but what clothes she had fit her extremely well, the pants wrapping around her legs like a second skin, the tops with their see-through fabrics made modest by the layering, teasing him with what he could not see, and much less touch. Gold like to keep his house fairly warm, the cold not being very good for his knee and also absolutely terrified that Bae would catch a cold, so Belle usually walked around in tank tops or short-sleeved shirts, making no comment about the heat, probably because she had figured out why he favoured it.

Truth was that if he hadn't preferred it before, he certainly did now. She had a blouse of pretty white lace that he particularly adored, with slightly puffy cap sleeves and a surprising plunging neckline. It wrapped itself around her torso like a lover and it allowed Bae to rest his head against her skin when he cuddled close to her, which he seemed to love. The sight of his boy, his seed, resting contentedly against Belle's bosom did sick, unmentionable things to him, things that both enflamed and repulsed him.

She wore no make-up but for a dash of gloss and a hint of mascara when she felt like it. She wore little jewellery too, a simple gold chain and a small pendant dangling from her neck and a golden ring on her right hand. The first time he dreamt of her he showered her with luxury, wrapping anklets of spun gold about her legs and bracelets around her arms, trying and failing to properly clad her in all the riches she deserved, but content with draping her nude, nubile body in as much sparkling gold as she could possibly desire, stroking his fingers over every inch of exposed skin left, his mouth dry as his fingers gently traced the swell of her hips and dipped down, his palm reverently cupping her between her thighs, her body arching up as much as the heavy jewellery allowed. When he had woken up the need to take a cold shower had been almost too much to bear. He hadn't been able to take care of his little problem himself, feeling that there were barriers he should never cross.

Unfortunately for him, or maybe not, Belle was quite fond of touch, and while Bae was usually on the receiving end of most of her gentle caresses she sometimes slipped up and ran a hand through Gold's hair when she found him practically dozing off in a chair by the fire, or rubbed the back of his neck when he found himself angrily berating someone over the phone, usually for daring to call him at home, intruding on his time with Bae. He hadn't known before Belle showed up what an erogenous zone the nape could be, but the moment he had first felt her the pads of her fingers there, her nails gently scratching his skin, he had realized that all his life he had neglected a vital part of himself. The self-restraint he'd have to muster in order not to groan was well worth it, in his opinion.

He wished it was just a sexual thing. The solution would be simple: if he was starved for sex there were things that could be done, even in a sleepy little hamlet like Storybrooke. Arabian Nights was, as far as gentleman's clubs went, classy and understated, and the girls there were not some overdone bimbos, but an evening there had shielded nothing more than two hours of wondering what Belle was doing with Bae, if they were using the building blocks, since Bae favoured those a lot, or maybe blowing bubbles on the front porch, taking into account the mildness of the weather. Imagining Belle's laughter while blowing bubbles did more to his body that whoever was giving it her all on stage right in front of him, and so he never went back, deeming the whole evening an exercise in futility. It wasn't that he craved sex or even sex with Belle as much as he craved her in her entirety, which wasn't really an option for him.

And, as much as he acknowledged and accepted the fact that Belle was off limits to him, he didn't exactly consider it worth his time to object when she, little by little, began spending more and more time with Bae and, by extension, with him. She begun staying past the time they had agreed upon, usually remaining a bit after putting Bae to sleep to have a cup of tea with Gold and talk about everything and nothing. He thought himself painfully obvious during those times, a besotted fool using tea as a way to steal some time with a girl who considered him, at best, a friend. He thanked his lucky stars that she had a good enough relationship with her dad to discard the idea that he might be a father-figure to her.

Then she offered her services on Saturdays so Bae, who clearly disliked the Day-care Centre, could spend some time outside. She'd take him for walks around the little town, mostly the outskirts, knowing how nervous Bae was around new people and wanting him to truly be over calling her "mamma" before exposing him to anyone. They would then swing by Gold's shop around noon and he'd close early, seduced by the opportunity of having lunch with his favourite people. Sometimes he'd play hard to get, mumbling something about too much work just so Belle would grab him by his silk tie and playfully "drag" him out of his backroom. The first time she'd done it she'd been bright red but now the banter came naturally to her and the artless way with which she moved had him entranced.

They'd eat lunch and then set Bae to play a bit and then take a nap, Belle either doing an assignment afterwards or reading contentedly in a chair by a window in his study, a chair he'd never tell her he had moved from the attic just so she could have a place in his personal space and not retire to the living-room and leave him alone. She'd take a break to serve them tea, sometimes having baked something earlier and they'd talk, Gold usually telling tall tales about his deals with the people in town and Belle pretending to believe him and condemn his for his nefarious actions. Other times he'd let her inspect whatever he had brought home to tinker with, watching as she tentatively traced her fingers delicately over the antique, lovable little caresses that made him want to be an old clock or an aged lamp.

Once he had been restoring a Victorian tea set, absolutely lovely, when she had asked to inspect it. She had been holding one of the cups when the baby monitor had sprung to life, Bae screaming bloody murder on the other end. She had startled, dropping the piece of china and watching it hit the carpeted floor with wide, stunned eyes. She had looked so torn between tending to the cup or going upstairs for Bae so he had knelt on the floor and ushered her outside. He had listened to her croon to his son over the monitor, closing his eyes and simply enjoying the sounds of his little boy mumbling and Belle calling him "darling" and "my boy" over and over again. He had gone as far as imagining she wasn't talking to Bae at all but to him, soothing him after a bad day with sweet words and gentle hands through his hair. He had imagined her wearing that white blouse he adored and resting his aching head between her breasts, Belle's hands pressing him closer instead of pulling away.

She has returned distressed over the incident, particularly when she had seen the cup was chipped. He had reassured her it was just a cup, which was rather far from the truth.

"It was a spotless set before I broke a cup. Now it's value has been halved at least. Don't patronize me"

"It's no matter, dearie. The set is too nice to sell anyway. We'll get some good use out of it" he had replied, and the use of the word "us" filled him with a strange warmth. She had smiled in response. He had put the chipped cup aside to repair, but had never had the heart to do it, letting it remain in a display case, a nice little memento of the afternoon.

She started leaving some of her things there, an change of clothes for an emergency (Bae was not a messy eater but he had his moments), some of her school books and other such things, small stuff he still loved to see around the house. He became familiar with each of her teachers just from her mentioning them, with her landlady, even with her step-siblings. Things started getting confusing inside his head, and he could see Belle was having the same problem separating her life from his and Bae's.

Bae, the only one of the three wise enough to see the situation for what it was, took for granted Belle's presence in his life. His family consisted of papa, who was fumbling and awkward but also funny and careful, and mama, who was warm and pretty and who made papa happier every day. Before he had been upset and sad, and couldn't quite connect with the man who had taken him away from the woman who he had been with before. Mama was the missing ingredient to build a family, and Bae was happy his papa had managed to find her. He had no clue why mama did not stay at night, and he didn't much like that she wasn't there for breakfast in the mornings. He could tell his papa did not like it either, so he was careful to pat the man on the shoulder, or offer him a stuffed animal when he went to wake him up. It seemed to help.

But then came the days when mama appeared in the morning, and saw papa off to work, straightening his tie and kissing him on the cheek. He always knew when that day came cause papa woke him up with a big smile on his face, and sometimes swung him around. He'd giggle and say "Mamma" and his papa would nod, so he would allow the poor man to dress him with little fuss.

But after that came "the day with no mamma" and it was awful. He'd sleep most of the day away, not interested in playing or watching cartoons. His papa would pace around the house, usually in a rather bleak mood, and so Bae would cuddle close to him, offering a comforting hug and being all around a good boy in order to lighten the man's burden. But one of those days, out of the blue, mama showed up, upset, and papa rushed her inside, demanding to know what the matter was. Bae asked to be picked up, so he could hug her because he knew his nice smell and his warmth helped. Meanwhile his papa looked both distressed and wicked, really to deal with the problem and punish whoever had managed to make mamma so sad. Bae approved.

His papa led them to the couch, where little Baden held onto his mamma even tighter, all the while his papa hovered over them, anxious and murderous. He finally settled down beside them, one of his arms tentatively resting over Belle's shoulders and the girl all but threw herself against him, Bae safe in her arms. With some sort of permission being granted he wrapped both his arms around his two most important people in the world and pulled them close against him.

"What is wrong, dear?" he asked, trying to sound calm and collected and urging his hands not to clutch her closer, not to take advantage. She hiccupped against the skin of his throat and he felt ready to clobber someone with his cane.

"I'm embarrassed to tell" she finally whispered, hiding her face against the crook of his neck and, essentially, driving him a little bit insane.

"Come on, dearie, it's just us two" he cajoled "You can tell us anything"

She hiccupped and sniffled once more and Bae made a mumbling sound meant to be soothing. She smiled and Gold could feel it, he could bloody feel it.

"It's just that… I had brunch with my dad today" she shifted and for a moment he thought she was going to pull away but she only settled more comfortably against him, sighing "He… he got to talking about my job. He'd heard I spent Saturdays looking after Bae and was concerned about my social life, saying that I was isolating myself, forgetting my friends…" there was more, he could tell, but he waited till she was comfortable enough to tell him "He… he said that Bae wasn't my son and that I needed to stop playing house"

Gold fought hard not to panic and to control his anger. That damned florist was going to be very sorry in a matter of hours, he'd make sure of that. He'd have a long, hard talk with him and by the time he was through the man would be sobbing apologies.

"That's nonsense, dearie, you have wonderful friends. You go with Ruby to the movies all the time, and visit Aislin Preston at least twice a week, and message her constantly"

Aislin was a girl Belle's age who was home-schooled due to poor health condition, which forced her to remain in bed most of the day. While delivering flowers to her house one day Belle had met her, and they had soon become close friends, sharing a passion for period dramas. But lately she had been so busy with Bae that she hadn't gone to see her in rather a long time, truth be told.

There was also the issue of Jefferson Madden, but Gold liked to pretend he didn't exist. The eccentric recluse who disliked coming into town had met Belle when she had baby-sat his little Grace for him and, since then, they had developed a friendship, particularly because Belle liked to wander through the forest. Gold could never understand what Belle saw in the self-appointed "Mad Hatter" but he knew enough of their relationship to know it was perfectly innocent, no matter how much Jefferson would tease him privately in council meetings. As far as he could tell no one knew of their friendship, and Belle kept the secret out of respect for Jefferson's jealously-guarded privacy. There were certain paranoiac tendencies in the man that sometimes drove little Grace up the wall.

"It's all rubbish, just your father being overly concerned about nothing of importance" Gold kept talking to convince himself and her. They were not playing house. It was all perfectly normal and alright. They were helping Bae, and Bae needed Belle. She understood that.

"I… I guess" she finally replied, nuzzling closer to him "Dad overreacts sometimes"

He kissed her hair before gently disentangling himself from her with a great deal of reluctance. He was getting close to taking liberties he had no right to. Baden kissed Belle soundly on both her cheeks, smiling when she giggled.

"Play!" he pleaded, and Belle laughed, nodding.

"Is it okay?" she asked Gold, realizing she was interrupting their Sunday. The Scotsman nodded with a smile.

"Actually, it's perfect. I find myself needing to complete a business transaction and I was going to take Baden with me, but now he can stay. It's rather chilly outside, after all, so this is quite a happy coincidence" he grabbed his coat, accepting her help with it and even allowed her to force a red scarf on him. He paused for a split second before grabbing the back of her head and pressing his lips to her forehead.

"I'll never be able to pay you back for what you've done for Bae. If you ever feel the need to move on, you have but to say so, dearie"

She nodded, letting him know she understood and then he was off, walking towards the centre of the town. He spotted the "Game of Thorns" van before he zeroed in on the portly figure of the florist. He watched him go into his shop and motioned for his assistant, a tall, lanky man, to wait outside while he went in. Moe French seemed surprised to see him, torn between anger and fear.

"What do you want, Mr Gold?" he spat, though he could not quite meet the pawnbroker's eyes.

"I want you to stop harassing my employees" he replied, his tone clipped "Or trying to convince them to leave my service"

Moe gives him a glare.

"Belle is my daughter, I'll talk to her about whatever the Hell I want" he replied with more bravado than he probably felt "I know what's best for her"

Gold smiled, lifted his cane and promptly smashed the nearest vase, sending water, flowers and glass everywhere.

"You might be her father but you know nothing of what is best for her. You left her. You let a girl barely out of childhood move away from your home, without a fight, simply because it was convenient to you. You have Sunday brunches with her. Her landlady knows her more than you do!" he snarled "You cannot have it both ways, Mr French. You chose to let her go, to all but shut her out, and now she's her own person. And you will respect that. You will never again tell her to leave my son, who loves her beyond reason, who will only eat what she cooks and who lights up whenever she enters a room. Is that clear?"

There was something dangerous lurking behind Mr Gold's gaze, something almost inhuman but More French was not ready to quit, and he was certainly not done saying his peace.

"Do you think I don't know what's really going on?" he accused, red in the face "Belle might be a bit naive, but I wasn't born yesterday! You don't want her for your little boy, you want her for yourself, you sick, twisted-"

Whatever else he was about to say is cut short by Gold's cane suddenly pressing tightly against his windpipe, cutting off his air supply. The florist struggled a bit but was soon pinned against a wall, helpless.

"Now you listen to me and you listen carefully. You will never talk like that again. Not to Belle, not to anyone. If you do I will end you. Your house, your business, even your useless old van will all belong to me. You will never get a job in this town, and no one will help you. You'll have nothing, be nothing. Is that understood?"

Unable to move, much less speak, Moe French struggled to manage a simple nod but it was enough to make the pawnbroker release him. He tumbled to the floor, gasping for air, all his anger drained, leaving only fear.

"It was nice having this little chat, Mr French. I hope you take my words to heart" Gold's tone is congenial, mild and he even smiled before exiting the shop, pleased with himself.

'She's no longer yours to keep, French' he thought darkly 'She's Bae's and mine. She belongs with us now'

He was beyond good and evil, past the point of no return. He no longer cared about right and wrong. He was keeping Belle for as long as she'd have it, and no one was going to stand in his way. No one.

When he returned home, calmer now that he had resolved the problem, he heard Belle talking on speaker-phone with Ruby. He took off his coat, absentmindedly following the conversation she was having, trying to see if she was truly ok or if her father's words still bothered her.

"Screw him, Belle, you're happy at the Golds's, though how that can be remains a mystery to me" Belle rolled her eyes at Ruby's words "Pay your dad no mind"

"I guess" the girl's voice sounded small, unsure.

"Hon, you never care about what your father says. What's really going on?"

"I'm afraid he's right, Ruby" Belle sniffled, biting back tears.

"So you love the little brat, that's to be expected"

"Not about that. About playing house. Not just about Bae… about his father. Ruby, the things I feel for Mr Gold…" her voice was but a whisper and her sentence ended in a sigh. The pawnbroker choked back a gasp, leaning against a wall to keep himself upright. Belle had feelings for him. Confusing feelings that went beyond him being her boss or even her friend. He was not alone, or imagining things. Whatever was between them was no one-sided, or platonic, or perverted. It was real.

"I'm back!" he announced, trying to sound like he just got in. He forced himself to appear calm, to focus, to quench the urge to pin his son's nanny against a wall and have his wicked way with her. He heard the girls exchange rushed goodbyes just as he entered the living-room.

"Business went well?" Belle asked, pulling herself together and greeting him with a smile.

"Splendid" he answered, managing to keep his smile from seeming manic "Just splendid. Care for some tea, dearie?"

She nodded, letting him place a hand on the small of her back while they walked to the kitchen and the certainty that she wanted his hand there, that she welcomed his touch, was almost overwhelming.

He'd wait. He could be patient, he knew it. She'd soon turn eighteen, and then he'd reveal his feelings, court her properly, and in due time they'd announce their relationship to the rest of the town. At first people would object, some would think it something fleeting or shocking, but the talk would die down after a while and he'd have Belle for his own.

… well, he was willing to share with Bae.