Disclaimer: As you can probably tell from the fact I'm writing fanfiction, I don't own Once Upon a Time or any of its characters.

It was one of those wakings when she wasn't sure what had caused it. Belle's eyes blinked open and glanced around. It was still dark outside… She turned to her husband.

Mr. Gold's bare chest rose and fell rapidly as he gasped for air, his body twisting and jerking as though he were being beaten by an invisible enemy. His lips parted in an incoherent murmur. Belle sat up, touching his shoulder lightly.

"Bae…" He grunted, his face contorted with pain, "BAE!"

He jerked up as his eyes flew open, gulping in air and trembling. Belle stroked his sweat-soaked back and he whirled around, staring at her. It took him a moment to recognize her but when he did he clung to her with all his strength. She held him as he struggled to breathe, her cheek pressed against his head.

"It's alright, Rum, Bae's fine. No one's going to hurt him, he's alive and well I promise," she assured him.

Slowly he calmed down, giving a few hard shudders as if to shake off the nightmare. He tried to laugh.

"It's been awhile since I've woken up screaming, hasn't it?" He mused.

"Not long enough." She kissed his forehead and leaned back against the headboard, rubbing his shoulder.

He relaxed against her, pressing his face against her collarbone. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

"This one was a doozy, wasn't it?" Belle guessed. He nodded and she sighed, running her fingers through his hair, "I think if he knew about these nightmares, he'd laugh."

"I don't think so," Mr. Gold muttered.

"Why not? You're in Maine worrying that he's hurt while he's in Florida soaking up the sun."

He opened one eye, "Florida?"

Belle nodded confidently, "He snorkels on the weekends."

"And what's his job?"

"He's a naturopath, one of those hippies that doesn't believe in prescriptions and instead gives his patients herbal remedies." Mr. Gold growled and Belle giggled, encouraged to continue, "He has a soul patch, and owns a hybrid car, and his name here is Rico…"

Belle was cut off by her own laughter as Mr. Gold tickled her sides, effectively shutting her up as she squirmed. Once he was certain she wouldn't go on about Hippie Bae he stopped, smiling up at her.

"I like the version where he's a crossdresser better," he said.

She snickered, "You'd rather have a crossdressing son than a hippie son?"

His smile softened, "I'll take Bae whatever way he comes."

He sighed softly and they both settled back down onto the bed, Belle still holding on to her lover. Her heartbeat was as comforting to him as the familiar creaks of his spinning wheel, his fingers kneading gently into her to reassure himself that she was there, that she wouldn't disappear as well.

"I don't know what I'd do without you, Belle," he murmured, "You have this power to make me laugh when I don't even want to smile."

"I'm just glad I can make you laugh," she said.

He stared thoughtfully at her right breast for a moment, "…do you think Bae has someone?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like…a girlfriend, maybe even a wife? For all I know I could have grand-"

"No," Belle cut him off quickly, "I'm ready to accept a lot of possibilities, but I will not accept the fact that I would be a grandmother before being a mother."

Mr. Gold gave a throaty chuckle, "You'd still have children to play with, though."

Belle frowned up at the ceiling, saying nothing. She supposed if Baelfire did have kids in the time it took Rumple to get here, then she would love them… But she'd still prefer to have her own little one to raise first.

The next day, Belle snuck around the back of the shop, trying to be as quiet as possible as she worked on his desk. Did she believe she could spend any good amount of time there while he was mulling around the main section? No. Was she going to try to sneak some time in before Mary Margaret's party? Yup.

She froze as the bell rang.

"Hey, Mr. Gold."

"Good morning, Henry. What can I do for you?"

Belle breathed a sigh of relief before shifting through some papers, trying to determine which were important and which could be stowed away in a labeled folder.

The back door creaked and Belle glanced up from her work. If it was a customer who had inadvertently used the office entrance, they were sure being quiet about it. She eased up onto her feet and peered over a stack of boxes.

It was that man again. The one that had zipped up her dress and the one who had been sneaking around with Emma. Mysterious Motorcycle-riding Operation Cobra Agent Man Who Could Come And Go From Storybrooke. He seemed edgy as he scanned the shelves, thorough but trying to be quick. Belle pursed her lips.

"Can I help you?"

The man's head turned towards her, trying to hide his surprise.

"Hey there again," he said cheerily, smiling, "And actually you could… I'm looking for some maps. I'm a bit of a collector."

"Really? Well from what I've heard you do travel a lot," Belle walked over to him and he shifted stiffly, "There are maps, but they're in the front of the shop," she said, nodding towards the curtain, "This is the office."

"Oh, I thought this was the entrance," His gloved hands dug into his pockets, "…so you work here?" He asked casually.

Belle was getting the sense that Henry looking for a bell and the stranger sneaking in through the obviously-not-entrance weren't a coincidence. She could play along, though.

"Yes, my boss," she gestured towards Mr. Gold's voice, "Is also my jerk."

He smirked, "Small world."

She tilted her head to the side, "This is the third time I've met you and I have yet to learn your name," she pointed out.

He nodded his agreement, "And I've yet to hear yours, though apparently it ends in "Gold"," he bowed his head slightly, "August, August W. Booth."

"What does the "W" stand for?" She asked.

He grinned, "It's a secret."

Not a very big one, as far as secrets went. She folded her arms, "I'm Rose, Rosaline Gold."

A light came on in August's eyes, "Rose…a fitting name."

Belle tensed, "What do you mean by that?"

"Well, I heard you were the florist's daughter," he backpedaled, "Rose, flowers, yanno…" He shrugged.

"Right," she bit her lip.

August looked about ready to ask something when the curtain fluttered angrily.

"What are you doing back here?"

Belle turned to see that Mr. Gold was asking her, not August. She shook her head quickly, "Nothing…"

He glanced down at his desk, "…you were cleaning, weren't you?" He accused.

"Of course not," she said in a squeaky voice, shaking her head emphatically, "I would never-"

"Woman, that is organized chaos!" He jabbed a finger angrily at the desk top, "It's practically my man cave back here; do not touch!"

"It needs to be cleaned up!" Belle protested, "Half the time you were working on the case you spent searching for things!"

"I did not! I know exactly where everything is!"

"Really?"

"Really."

"Find your book of accounts, then."

Mr. Gold was still for a moment, rubbing his fingers thoughtfully, "…well I would know where it is if you didn't move everything around," he muttered.

"Your book of accounts isn't even on your desk!" She insisted.

"…I'm just going to go look at the maps now," August excused himself, retreating to the front.

Mr. Gold huffed, "You have exactly one reason to be back here, and even then I'm supposed to be with you."

"That's mighty chauvinistic of you."

The bell to the front door rang and they paused, listening to make sure the coast was clear.

"What was he up to?" Mr. Gold murmured, taking a few strides closer to Belle.

She shook her head, "Not sure. His name's August W. Booth though, and he set off my bullshit detector."

"August W. Booth? Obviously a false name," Mr. Gold mused, glancing towards the curtain, "…we'll have to keep an eye on him; Emma's supposed to be the only one to cross the town line. In the meantime," he jabbed a finger at her chest, "Don't touch my stuff."

Belle let out a low grumble, "I'll remind you of that in bed tonight…"

There was no more time for snarkiness though, because the bell had rung again. Very angry high heels clicked against the floor.

"Gold!"

Mr. Gold closed his eyes, "…dearie…?" He pleaded.

"I'm off the clock, and Regina's already plenty mad at me," Belle insisted.

"Can't you just…make a suggestive moan or something?" He whined, "I don't want to deal with Her Majesty either."

"GOLD!"

The curtain flew open as Regina stormed into the back room.

"You broke our deal," she insisted.

Mr. Gold turned around deliberately, studying the enraged Regina as if surprised by her words, "I broke one deal in my life, dearie," he winked, "And it certainly wasn't this one."

"I see you're busy," Belle said to him, grabbing up her coat, "I'll leave you two be."

Mr. Gold shot her a glare and she grinned, blowing him a kiss before beating a hasty retreat from the war about to erupt. Some days it was good to be the wife instead of the actual dealmaker.

III

Fisher wasn't quite sure what to make of his passengers. They were quiet and solemn folk, with hoods drawn over their faces. A man and a woman, if their voices were any indication.

"We'll be docking any minute now," he said cheerily, "You just visiting Norrisport?"

"Hyksos, actually," The man corrected, his hood a deep red.

Fisher tried not to show his reaction. Why anyone would want to visit that dinky little village was beyond him.

"You from there?" He asked. The man nodded and the woman, in a blue cloak, rested her hand on his thigh reassuringly.

Fisher decided not to press; his mum always told him he pried too much, and that it would get him into trouble one day.

He docked the small sail boat at a free port and tied it up.

"There you have it; thank you for your business, and enjoy your visit."

The man smoothly stepped out of the boat, then turned to offer a hand to his mistress. Fisher tried not to stare at the scaly glittering skin that was exposed. No wonder he preferred to wear a hood.

"You know my cousin had something similar," he offered, "Yak's milk cleared it right up."

The man seemed to glower at him and the woman giggled, accepting his hand with her own pale smooth one.

"Thank you," she said to Fisher, her free hand offering him a pouch.

"You already paid me, miss," he insisted.

"It's a tip," she said, continuing to hold it out. Unable to refuse a lady, he accepted the bag with a "thank you", and with her companion's help she stepped down onto the dock.

Fisher waited an appropriate amount of time before opening the pouch. He shouted in surprise as the thing was chock full of threads of gold.

Hearing his shout, Belle snickered, and Rumplestiltskin shook his head.

"You're going to be my downfall, giving out my gold like that. People are going to start calling me generous…" He complained.

"Oh hush. You secretly love making people happy too," she insisted.

Her fingers threaded through his and she squeezed as they made their way out of the port town and up the dirt path further inland.

As if wanting to remedy the Milah Incident, Rumplestiltskin had invited her to come along with him to visit his old village. Belle had instantly accepted…but she was starting to see the effect this journey had on him. There was a heaviness to his steps and a gravity to his person, not at all like the buoyant Dark One she was accustomed to. He actually seemed old, and tired.

"How often do you come back?" She asked softly.

He shrugged, "I used to visit quite a bit… Now I only come about once a decade," he frowned, "It's odd, seeing the descendants of old neighbors, watching the memory of the crippled spinner who suddenly fell into power fade away. They know and yet they don't know Rumplestiltskin."

It was a good hike to the small village of Hyksos. Belle had always considered her own town small, but Rumple's? She could easily see from one side of it to the other. Fields of sheep surrounded the community like a gate, simple houses built around a tiny marketplace. It all seemed so basic, so…primitive.

"That's new," Rumplestiltskin remarked boredly as he looked at the small cobblestoned area where vendors sold their wares.

The people… They were the only ones in color, and all the others seemed just as tired as Rumple. They appeared older than they actually were…even the children. Belle had thought she knew what peasants and farmers were, but apparently she had no idea.

"It's improved a lot in the last three centuries," he mused, continuing forward. He was favoring his right leg due to old habit.

Belle watched the curious people, how they hurriedly glanced away. She checked her hood but it was still pulled up; perhaps all they knew was fear.

"Did you used to live in one of these?" She asked.

"No, I…moved it." He held on to her hand tighter, leading her through the village and occasionally pointing out things of interest.

He was leading her out into a forest near the town, a not-especially cheery one. It was quiet, as if even the animals were afraid to make noise.

"I keep it as a symbol," he said, "To remind me of where I've come from…where I'll go back to if I'm not careful. Of the man I used to be and what truly matters to me."

They came upon an old stone hut with a thatched roof. It wasn't especially wide, but it was long, preserved from decay by magic rather than care. It overlooked a depression in the earth that Rumplestiltskin was trying very, very hard to ignore.

"Quite the difference between this and our castle, eh?" He joked darkly.

"It's quaint," Belle defended. He snorted and shook his head, leading her to the door.

Belle's attempt to like the house faded as she stepped inside. The floor was dirt and uneven, straw spread out in the attempt to make it nicer. The furniture was ill-made and basic, everything dusty and filthy. Old rags served as drapes, and she didn't want to think about the condition of the dishes. She lowered her hood, staring in horror at the shack.

"…how can someone be allowed to live like this?" She murmured.

"Not all of us are born to wealth and privilege," Rumplestiltskin flicked his hood off, "And not all of us live in a fiefdom with a ruler who cares whether his people suffer or not so long as they pay their dues and provide soldiers for their wars." He went over to the fireplace, picking up a bit of flint and a knife to strike against it, "The Duke of the Frontlands was nothing like you or even your father. He sent mere children out to fight against ogres." His face twisted in a snarl, striking against the flint passionately.

Belle tiptoed her way towards him, feeling a great deal of warmth for her father. None of his people ever lived like, like animals in a stable.

"Take the right way around the table, dearie," he murmured softly as a shower of sparks fell onto some kindling, "There's a pothole I'm sure your klutzy feet would find and trip over."

She obeyed, finding her way carefully to the bench beside him. He stirred the embers, coaxing them into flames until he need not care for them any longer. He refused to look at Belle.

"…you can see why she left now, can't you?" He murmured, his face drenched in shame.

She shook her head, "No," she said honestly, "It's a horrible living situation… But what does that matter when you love someone?"

Rumplestiltskin gave a rough bark of a laugh, "She never loved me. Only Bae ever loved me before you."

Belle did not attempt to reach out or touch him. He did not want her touch right now, she knew instinctively.

"…thank you. For bringing me here," she said gently.

Rumplestiltskin clenched his jaw, "You insist upon knowing all of me, so here I am. Every little stain and crack," he stood up abruptly, walking away with that same phantom limp, "I'll make us some tea."

Belle gazed around the house, letting her eyes look past its shabby surface and into a glimpse of her husband's past life. She had to stick by her claim that it was what no human being should live in, but it was still a part of her husband, a past that he did not talk about for the pain it caused him. She did not know how to chase those ingrained senses of worthlessness and being unloveable away; she could not go back in time and keep him from enduring the torments he had. She could only love him as he was now, and hope that it would help him see himself through her eyes.

He filled a metal kettle with water and set it over the fire, digging around for some herbs. Belle stood and habitually began to explore.

"I could've used you back then," he said, some of his usual joking self coming back, "Cleaning wasn't one of my top priorities."

"No?" Belle teased.

"No." He held up two cups, acting as if he were a human balance, "If I wasn't working, I was taking care of Bae and if I wasn't taking care of Bae I was working. Sometimes," He crossed his arms and held them parallel to each other, "I did both at the same time."

Belle ran her hand over a sheepskin blanket, "You didn't consider remarrying?"

He snorted, unwinding his arms "Not after what she did to me. I learned my lesson about marriages of convenience… Perhaps it was selfish to not try to give Bae a new mother figure-"

"No," Belle cut him off quickly, "If he was old enough to remember his mother, then marrying simply for a new one would be a disaster."

Belle eased herself down on the bed, running her fingers through the fur. Rumplestiltskin took the kettle off and started pouring the hot water into the cups, picking them up and glancing at her. His eyes softened.

"…that's Bae's bed," he murmured.

Belle flinched, "I'm sorry, I'll get off-"

"No, no, stay," he urged, smiling, "It's fitting."

He sat down beside her and passed her a cup, "Let it soak in a bit," he advised.

She did as he suggested, but it didn't make the bitter water taste any better. He gave a helpless shrug, continuing to drink his. He reached down and stroked the blanket lovingly.

"Bae liked to watch me spin," he recalled, "I'd think he'd be asleep so I'm start to put the wool away…and all of a sudden I'd hear this little voice say "Papa don't stop"," he stared down into his cup, "It's…just something I've always been good at. It helps me forget who or what I am."

Belle sipped at her brew, trying to get a taste for it. It wouldn't be too bad, with a bit of honey or something. She thought this was all she would get; it was already the longest running conversation they'd ever had about where he had come from and who he had been. She was surprised when he gestured towards the other bed in the hut.

"There was only one…good thing that happened there and that was when Baelfire was born."

She set her cup aside, "…when?" She breathed.

"Sometime in May, I think… He was my little spring lamb," he played with his cup, a nail digging at the rim as if trying to chip it, "I had to wait outside… It's bad luck for the father to be present during a birth. But I heard every scream… Dear gods that woman had a mouth…" He cradled the cup, "It was late when the midwife was through, mother and son washed up. Milah looked like hell, but she seemed…content with Bae. Not especially happy or sad, as though she wasn't holding a miracle."

Not even the fact his wife barely cared about the child she had just birthed tainted the love in his eyes. The pain of his past seemed to vanish in light of his son and Belle unconsciously moved closer, drawn to the warmth of the memory.

"I was so afraid, Belle, when she said I could hold him. He looked so small and frail in that blanket, and I thought for sure I would drop him. Dense little things, babies are…" His thumb caressed the clay as if he were touching his newborn son, "I took him from her and I looked down at Baelfire, and my entire life changed in that moment. I know you don't understand yet Belle, but the world turned on its head. Nothing mattered, nothing except for that helpless infant. He was my everything, and I knew I was put on this earth to protect that precious boy, to care for him," he laughed as tears ran down his face, "And he loved me, Belle. I can count on one hand how many people actually gave a damn whether I lived or died and he was one of them…that precious lamb."

He turned to her, his chin trembling. They weren't tears of pain, or anger; they were tears of homage, remembering a life that had been woven to his and that he was grateful to have touch him, despite how it ended.

"There's no such thing as a good parent," he told her softly, "As long as babies are raised by imperfect humans that will be true. But I think even the most despicable person on the face of this earth could come close. The mark of a decent parent isn't who your child grows up to be or how few mistakes you make…it's what you would do for your child. If you would move the mountains and stop the rain and go through the very fires of hell for them…then that's a true parent."

Belle just stared at him a moment, drinking him in. She had experienced almost every layer there was of Rumplestiltskin; the trickster, the beast, the coward, the spinner. And now here she was, at his core, seeing the truest form of himself that anyone could ever see; the man. A father who loved his son and his wife and would do anything for them…even burn down a castle and stab the Dark One through the heart to be cursed for eternity.

She wanted to be quiet and good; she wanted to let him take the lead and let him slowly tell her the whole story. But she was still Belle, and she felt questions bubbling up until the first one slipped out.

"Did he sleep through the night?"

Rumplestiltskin looked as though he had never been asked questions about his son before, which he probably hadn't. Then, he gave a wide grin.

"Yes, he was a very good baby. Except for whenever he was hungry…"

III

"For the love of god, Rumple, it's a party, not your execution. Behave yourself and we'll pull the Rubric out when we get home."

"Belle, I'm not Pavlov's dog. You cannot condition my good behavior with sexual favors."

"Tell the Dark One that. He pokes his head up if you so much as help an old lady cross the street."

The door to Mary Margaret's apartment swung open and the guest of honor herself was beaming at Belle.

"Rose, I'm so glad you came!"

"I brought cookies!" Belle said proudly, holding up the container. She glanced back over her shoulder, "…and Eeyore."

Mr. Gold stood behind his cheery wife, back to his usual brooding self. Mary Margaret had been pretty certain that Rose wouldn't have been able to drag him to a happy gathering of people celebrating, but apparently she held more sway over the man than Mary Margaret imagined. Either way, she linked her arm with Rose's and ushered her inside.

"I can't thank you enough, for all you and Mr. Gold have done," she said, leading her to the refreshments, "I mean, if it wasn't for you two and Emma…"

"Someone else would've found Kathryn," Belle said dismissively, setting her cookies down beside the cake.

Mary Margaret set a hand on Belle's shoulder, turning the beauty to face her, "Rose…you believed in me, even when the evidence was overwhelming."

Belle shrugged, "It's what friends do, they believe in each other," she wrinkled her nose, "It's not exactly trust if you have to use your eyes."

Mary Margaret was pulled away by an enthusiastic Ruby and Belle helped herself to some punch.

"I think you're my favorite princess now."

Belle glanced over to see Henry grinning at her. She laughed and shook her head, "I'm not a princess, Henry, but thank you. I'd think Snow White would rank higher."

"Yeah, but she's my grandmother," he said, pouring himself a cup, "Coming in at the last minute with the twist that Kathryn really isn't dead, foiling the Evil Queen's plan to frame Snow White… You're really good at this secret agent stuff."

"Well I had some help from the rest of Operation Cobra," she pointed out, before raising her glass, "A toast, for good triumphing over evil."

Henry beamed, raising his cup, "To good!"

They clinked their plastic together and then drank in unison, Belle draining nearly half her cup. It was really good punch, whoever had made it.

Henry studied Belle thoughtfully, "…how'd you get the beast to help?"

Belle fought back a smirk, "What, you don't believe he did it out of the kindness of his heart?" Henry glowered and she snickered, "You're still a little young for that talk."

"…is this the birds and the bees talk that scares my mom every time I bring it up?" He asked.

She pursed her lips, "…it's related to it, yes."

"Rose, he's old enough," August insisted, sidling up to the conversation.

First off, Belle wasn't sure when he had been invited into the conversation. Second, even though Belle didn't know what the proper age at which to give The Talk was, she was pretty sure it wasn't ten.

"You see Henry, since the dawn of time women have been puppet masters," he began, "They know exactly how to pull a man's strings to make him do what they want, and half the time he thinks he's the one in charge. A woman is a powerful thing, Henry, especially when she has a man wrapped around her finger," August smirked, "Even the best of us fall prey… Poor Mr. Gold probably doesn't even realize how his little beauty's calling the shots." He rocked a hand back and forth, miming playing with a marionette, "Dance puppet dance…"

"Now Henry knows who not to go to for relationship advice," Belle muttered into her cup.

"Hey, I gotta go," Henry said quickly, jerking his head back towards a nervous Emma, "I'll see you later Mrs. Gold, August."

"See you, Henry," Belle said, before giving her full attention to the delicious punch in her hand.

August smirked, but didn't speak until Henry was out the door, "Tell me you don't pull your husband's strings."

Belle arched an eyebrow, "What do you mean?"

"Look at him," August rolled his shoulder back towards Mr. Gold, "He doesn't seem particularly happy to be here. Are you really going to say you didn't persuade him to come? Are you going to look me in the eye and say he helped Mary Margaret because he wanted to?"

She narrowed her eyes, "What are you getting at?" She wondered.

August shrugged innocently, "I just want to hear you say the words, that you control Mr. Gold."

She rolled her eyes, "Fine, I control Mr. Gold, happy?"

"Insanely," he sized Belle up, "I'm glad he has you."

Belle blinked, "What?"

"You're helping him become the man he used to be…before the darkness," he glanced at his watch, "Anyway, I need to get going. We should talk some time… Beauty."

He was walking away before Belle could fully process his words. It took every ounce of restraint she possessed not to run after him. Beauty could be excused, Operation Cobra name and all, but no one here knew the man Rumplestiltskin used to be. No one but her…

…and…

She hurriedly turned to the cake before she could finish that thought, cutting two pieces. She made her way to the corner Mr. Gold had situated himself in and thrust one of the plates at him.

"Come on. Leroy's here, and we don't need two Grumpys," she teased.

He took the plate with little interest of its contents.

"What did he want?" Mr. Gold asked gruffly.

She arched an eyebrow, "Really? All the men that harass me on a consistent basis and you're worried about him?"

He met her eyes and gave her a "cut the crap" glare.

"He was looking through the back room for something…and now he's trying to single you out. Am I not allowed to be concerned?"

There was more than concern in his eyes. There were questions, fear, and even some shards of hope. Even without hearing August's words he was jumping to that same vague conclusion. She knew what he was thinking, what he was longing for…but Belle shook her head.

"No," she murmured. Mr. Gold grimaced and turned away, embarrassed at his thoughts.

It was so tempting to believe that Baelfire had just strolled into their lives, that their journey could end and all of the heart ache could be dealt with in order to gain resolution and a happily ever after. But Belle had known from the moment she looked into his eyes that there was no way August could be Bae.

"Eat some cake and mingle," she commanded.

"I am mingling," Mr. Gold insisted, cutting into the cake with his fork, "With you."

Belle rolled her eyes, "You used to be such a party-goer. Two, three times a week."

"Well it's a bit different when I'm actually invited," he took a bit of the cake, "Ruins my fun."

She tried to take her mind off of the stranger; after all, she did just help save her friend from a terrible fate. But August's words lingered and irritated her. Did he actually know what he was talking about?

The words continued to bother her through the night and into the morning, when she took Figaro out on a long walk to the docks. The kitten was fascinated by the rolling water and the fish swimming about. He mewled down at them and reached out his paw as if to try and pull them up. Belle couldn't help but smile.

"I'm not going after you if you fall in, Figgy," she warned, though she probably would.

Figaro's attention was stolen as he sat up, tail swishing as he glared at something down the pier. Belle followed his gaze and saw August heading towards her, grinning.

"Your cat felt like having seafood?" He joked.

Belle folded her arms, "Unless you're just taking shots in the dark, let's stop beating around the bush."

He smirked, "And here I was about to ask you why you seem more…alert than the other residents."

"A loophole," she said vaguely, "What about yourself?"

"I wasn't part of the curse."

That explained how he could come and go at will…somewhat. As far as Belle knew only others from their land could enter Storybrooke, or else there'd be a lot more visitors. He took a couple of steps closer and Belle noticed he was carrying a small portfolio with him.

"Can we be honest with each other?" He asked quietly.

Belle's heart picked up its pace, "…I hope so."

August gave a sad smile, "Well, I don't really have a choice." His gloved fingers moved over the opening of the portfolio, "…I came here looking for my father after a long separation."

Belle forced herself to remain calm, "Good for you. I'm sure he was happy to see you."

"I…haven't met with him yet," he frowned, "It was a difficult parting…we have a lot of things we need to resolve, and I'm not sure if he's ready."

She felt as though she'd start screaming, or cry, or hug him, or all three. Luckily Figaro pressing up against her protectively prevented her from losing her composure.

"I find that if you trust the people you love, they'll surprise you," she said.

August was silent for a moment, his blue eyes glossy. He finally reached into his portfolio.

"I'm looking for something…and it's not a map," he added, pulling out a sheet of paper, "Because of that mark on your arm, I think you know what it is."

He passed her the piece of paper and she glanced down at it. It was an illustration, a well-done illustration in fact, of a dagger baring the name "Rumplestiltskin". Belle felt sick to her stomach and had to turn away from the water and close her eyes.

"You do know, then," August murmured.

Belle took a few shaky breaths, "…there are exactly three people in this world that know about that. Me…Rumplestiltskin…and…"

"Yes?" August urged.

She crumpled the drawing in her fist, scooping up a distressed Figaro and storming off. August stared.

"Wait, where are you going?!" He yelled, his voice a few octaves too high.

"Away!" Belle snapped, "I need to think!"

August worried that he had pushed too far and that she was off to tell Mr. Gold that someone was impersonating his son. But Belle hadn't even been around when Rumplestiltskin lost his son…how would she know if he was or wasn't him?

III

In the coming weeks after the visit to Rumplestiltskin's old hut, Belle became insatiable. She wanted to know everything about Baelfire; what he liked to eat, what he liked to do, who his friends were, what did he dream of becoming. It was as though the talk on Bae's bed had opened a floodgate of Belle's ever-questioning mind, but there was such urgency and tenderness to her questions, as if she literally hungered for these pieces of information.

At first, Rumplestiltskin felt awkward and stumbled through the questions with stilted words. He wasn't used to talking about Baelfire; Bae was his, and he didn't like sharing him. But sharing the child he loved with Belle felt so right, as though she were his real mother. In turn the stories he remembered tumbled from his lips, and he couldn't stop telling her about how wonderful Bae was and everything he could possibly recall about the first love of his life. Belle, bless her soul, listened intently, hanging onto his every word as though it were the secrets of the universe. Some of Rumplestiltskin's favorite nights were of them sitting around the fire after a long day of dealing, he recalling new information he had remembered about Baelfire and she curled up beside him, drinking in the stories.

And then her questions stopped. She no longer asked about Baelfire, and seemed uncomfortable if Rumplestiltskin brought him up. Her thoughts seemed troubled, and from time to time she'd hide in some place in the bowels of the castle. He started getting worried; it wasn't very Belle-like to be sad for any length of time.

So during one of her disappearances, he went to look for her. Careful about using too much magic and thus alerting her to his quest, he followed Belle to one of the vacant bedrooms, one he hadn't thought to close off from her when she had first entered the castle. He didn't expect her to wonder about a few miscellaneous child things, since he supposed stole children and all. He slowly opened the door.

Belle was on a large bed, holding a wool cloak in her hands. She stared down at it as her fingers caressed the rough warm fabric, lost in her thoughts. He tentatively approached, sitting down beside her.

"I've never heard of a good stepmother," she murmured, sliding it between her fingers, "No one talks about how much they love their stepmother, or how their stepmother was good for them. You only get stories like Snow White's or Cinderella's."

Rumplestiltskin frowned, tilting his head to look her in the eyes, "…is that what this is about, then? You think Bae won't like you?"

Belle bit her lip, "He hasn't seen you for gods know how long and you're going to show up with another woman as your wife and his new mother? Of course he's not going to like me."

"Belle…" He brushed her hair back over her shoulder with a gentle sweep, "You're being ridiculous. He'll fall in love with you instantly because of who you are, just like I did."

"I'm not Milah, Rum, and nothing can change that," she said flatly and Rumplestiltskin winced at the name, "And no matter what he will always remember his birth mother…and I will always be a step."

He watched her hands, as gentle as they were on his skin when they cuddled, or when she had to tend to him for some reason.

"…you love him, don't you?" He murmured.

Belle's face crinkled as she shook her head, tears reluctantly falling, "How can I, Rum? How can I love someone I don't even know?!" She clung to the cloak, "But I do! I love Baelfire! I love him as though he were mine, all because of your stories!"

Rumplestiltskin wrapped his arms around his wife as she sobbed and yet he could feel nothing but awe. She loved his son without even knowing him…she loved him simply because she loved his father and because of what his father had said about him.

III

Belle wasn't ready for this. She knew it, but it had to be done. She hadn't even seen August yet and her throat ached from unshed tears. Her speech, which she had started the day after Rumplestiltskin had first told her Baelfire's name, was as ready as it would ever be. And so she went into the woods.

August was rumored to go out into the woods often, at times wandering or looking for something respectively. Belle's sources also said that he always looked sad and haunted, a pain that wasn't in his body showing on his face. And that was the way she found him, walking along the shore of the lake, staring out at it.

"I know who you are," Belle said, her voice slightly defensive.

He turned to look at her. She made her way down to him, facing him head on.

"Do you?" He murmured.

Belle clenched her jaw, "There are three people who know about the Dark One's dagger in this world… Me… Rumplestiltskin… And Rumplestiltskin's son," she forced the words out, her eyes watering, "I want you to just listen to me before you say anything, alright? Can you give me that?"

August nodded and Belle took a deep breath, her mind clinging to its script.

"I'm sure you're angry and hurt about how your father let you go, and you feel abandoned by the one man you should be able to trust. You are scared to love him again because the man you left behind wasn't your father; the father you knew was a kind loving soul," she swallowed roughly, her voice cracking, "But I have been with him for many years now, and I have seen how much he loves you. Nothing matters more to him than you and yes, this whole curse seems over-the-top, but he'd do anything to be with you again. He loves you more than you could possibly imagine."

August had turned away, hiding his own eyes. Belle couldn't hold the tears back any longer and let them fall.

"He's learned his lesson… Please, just come home. Please let us be a family."

He reached up and wiped at his eyes before turning back to her.

"I want to come home," he whispered, fighting to keep his composure, "…I want to be with my Papa again."

Belle closed the distance and hugged him, sobbing. August held her tightly, stabs of remorse sending splinters under his skin.

"Oh Bae…oh we finally found you, precious Baelfire…" She sniffed, drawing back. She laughed softly, "I'm sorry, you don't even know who I am. My name is Belle…" Her hand came up to touch his cheek, "And I'm your stepmother."

Back home, Mr. Gold wondered what the hell Belle was up to. She had been up in the office all day, only coming down as she was walking out the door. She made a point of kissing him softly and slowly as they crossed paths in the hallway.

"I'll be out late," she warned him, "Don't come after me."

He had arched an eyebrow, "I haven't spied on you in a while, dearie. You off on a date?"

"Yes, Captain Hook invited me over for some fish and chips," she said dryly, stroking his cheek, "…I love you."

"And I love you too." Maybe it had been too casual a farewell, in hindsight.

He went up to the office and knocked first, even knowing she was out. He opened the door and walked over to where she had left the desk lamp on. The computer had been pushed aside, a notebook spread open on the desk. Two pictures were propped up and he recognized the larger one immediately.

It was the only picture he had of Baelfire, a magic-conserved portrait done by Milah. Right next to it was a color photo of August W. Booth. Mr. Gold's stomach churned as he recognized, now, how dissimilar the two people looked. Hope was a funny thing, making him forget the facts in favor of a comfortable truth.

He lifted the cover of the notebook. It was labeled "Operation Cobra" and as he flipped through it, he saw notes ranging from people's Storybrooke counterparts to Kathryn's supposed murder…all the way to the current page labeled "August W. Booth". A list had been made of phrases, not all of which Mr. Gold understood.

"Eyes. Wouldn't know about "Beauty". Wouldn't know much. Knows about dagger (?). Compulsive liar. Puppet-master remark. Not part of curse. Rose comment. Operation Cobra agent (good?)."

There was a sticky note further along, like a tag. He flipped to the designated page, titled "The Unaccounted". At the very top of the list was Baelfire, along with a few other names. Some had been crossed out, while others remained. One name had been circled over and over again.

Pinocchio.

The sticky note had words on it. "Rum, I don't know what I'm going to do, but he will not get away with this. I love you, and if you bail me out I swear to the gods you will never see my naked body again. Always yours, Belle."

A sick sensation formed in his gut…especially as he heard sirens.

Belle had ushered August to their cabin and he stood awkwardly as she went out to get some firewood. He was starting to regret this entire plan but if there was one thing he knew about lying, it was that there was a point where you became too invested to come clean. He had reached that point the moment he had shown her the picture of the knife.

She came back in with an armful of logs and a hatchet, setting the hatchet down by the door before beaming warmly at August.

"Please, have a seat," she nodded towards the couch, "It'll only take me a few minutes to get the fire started. You want anything to eat, or drink?"

"No thanks," he sank down onto the couch gratefully, his legs acting up again.

She set the logs down and reached for the barbecue lighter. She put some of them into the fireplace and started balling up newspaper to use as tinder.

"Come, you spirits; unsex me here," she murmured to herself, "Fill me from the crown to the toe full of direst cruelty; make thick my blood, stop up the passage to remorse that no compunctious visitings of nature shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between the effect and it. Come to my woman's breasts and take my milk, wherever in your sightless substances you wait on nature's mischief. Come, pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes, nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark to cry "hold! hold!"."

August wasn't sure he liked the sound of taking a woman's breast milk.

"What's that from?" He asked.

Belle looked startled, as if she didn't imagine he would be listening. She smiled sheepishly, " "Macbeth"," she answered, getting back up now that she was confident the fire would keep going of its own accord, "One of Lady Macbeth's famous speeches, basically asking for her maternal and feminine instincts to be taken away so that she can complete the task of killing King Duncan. It's really quite fascinating from a gender studies perspective."

"I'm sure," August tried not to sound too put off at the mention of Shakespeare.

Belle timidly approached the couch, "…you were looking for your father's dagger."

"I thought if he still had it… It meant he hadn't changed," he explained.

She gave a half-smile, "I don't think that's true, necessarily. But now that you're back, I don't think he really needs it anymore," she confided, moving towards the closet.

August didn't dare to watch as she pulled out her trunk, slowly setting aside each item she had brought with her. She picked up the bundle at the bottom and smiled, going back towards him. August slowly got to his feet, gazing at the package.

"He gave it to me on our wedding day," she said softly, unwrapping the cloth slowly to expose the blade, "As a symbol of how I did truly mean more to him than his power." She held the dagger for a moment, staring at the engraving, "I almost took his power once, accidentally. But he held onto it, refused to let the power of true love take his curse away, because as wretched as his curse was, he needed it. He needed his power to get to you."

She offered him the dagger, beaming, "Go on, Bae… Take it. Take it and destroy it so we can all forget this dreadful nightmare."

August reached out and took the blade from her, admiring the craftsmanship. "Rumpelstiltskin" gleamed in inky letters at him and he could feel the darkness coming from the blade. She had just handed over the weapon to her husband's destruction…all because she didn't know what the Dark One's son looked like.

"It's remarkable," he murmured. Belle smiled and nodded her agreement.

He almost regretted raising the blade very deliberately towards her, the point aimed at her chest. But he needed the control…he needed to get better…he needed to be reunited with his real father…

"By the power of the darkness, I command thee… Servant of the Dark One."

She didn't react with fear or confusion as he figured she would have. She just gave him a sad little smile, "You really aren't Baelfire, then?"

"I command thee!" He shouted.

She shook her head and sighed, "I thought I'd seen your nose grow a little…"

One minute August held the weapon towards her, and the next she had a fistful of his hair, pulling at the roots until his wooden legs gave out. She tore the blade out of his grasp and held it to his throat.

"One move I don't give you permission for and I'll slit your throat," she snarled.

Even in his fog of confusion, August felt the beginnings of terror rise up. He had made a grievous err of judgment.

She hauled him back up onto his feet and half-dragged him to a nearby table, throwing him on.

"Lay on it!" She snapped and he scrambled to comply.

Something dribbled down the side of his neck and as he looked at the blade pointed at him, he saw his own blood on one side.

Belle paced like a caged animal, all the while her eyes and the blade pointed towards him. He couldn't tell if it was the lighting or if a darkness had physically made her eyes appear black. There was a barely constrained fashion to her movements, something hopelessly manic and yet something icily detached in her manner.

"I know you left our world as a little boy, but do you remember stories about the Caretaker?" Her voice was level, as if she were soothing a frightened child.

"I…heard things," he confessed, "Nothing specific, just that you were evil…merciless…unforgiving and bloodthirsty."

She nodded, smirking, "That sounds like the rumors I remember… Unfortunately for you, they're true." She approached the table, the blade tracing its way up his leg and cutting at some of the fibers of his jeans, "A lot of people think they aren't, and that's because I'm usually a decent person. But when I feel that my family and friends are threatened…" She pressed the point into his soft stomach and he grunted, squirming, "I can make Regina look like a saint."

She raised the blade again and gestured towards his head, "You know about how my mark makes me a servant to the Dark One, and how it also binds me to the owner of the knife, though not as firmly as the Dark One himself. So you must know that in the ceremony some of his blood entered my veins… It created a dark, twisted, sick part of my mind that I can usually control," she shook her head and sneered, "But not when someone pretends to be my stepson."

"How long have you known?" He murmured.

"Since the moment our eyes met," Belle said frankly.

"Then why the hell would you give me that knife if you knew I wasn't Baelfire?"

Belle shrugged, "The optimistic part of me was hoping that you were wearing contacts, or you had read Henry's storybook and that's how you knew about events that took place centuries after you left," she twirled the dagger around, "Besides, it's not like you could do anything with it. It's a fake."

August stared at her, "…you hid…a fake dagger?"

"I've hidden dozens of them, this world and our home world, in case something like this should occur. The location of the real dagger is my little secret," she laughed bitterly, "Really, you think Rumplestiltskin would marry an idiot? That I would just hand over the key to his destruction to any Tom, Dick, or Stanley claiming to be his long-lost son?" She held the engraving towards him, "It isn't even spelled right, wooden head. So who's fooled who?"

August imagined this was how a mouse felt when it walked over a glue trap, trying to get to foo, only to find itself caught fast. Belle tucked the fake dagger into one of her belt loops, glaring at him before heading towards the door.

"Now we get to play a little game," she said, picking up the hatchet, "It's called "Tell the Caretaker What She Wants to Know Or Else You Get Your Legs Chopped Off"."

No. There was no way she'd do that. This was Belle, the Beauty, the kind-hearted young maiden who tamed the beast.

"First things first," she said coolly, "How do you know about Rumplestiltskin's dagger?"

August snorted, "You really think I'd tell you?"

Belle raised the axe, "How do you know about Rumplestiltskin's dagger?"

"I am not going to squeal."

She laughed hoarsely, "I'd say otherwise, dearie."

August screamed as Belle brought down the hatchet on his leg. He didn't feel pain per say because of the wood, but there was still a message to his brain that something was terribly wrong. Belle dislodged the hatchet and raised it again.

"How do you know about Rumplestiltskin's dagger?!"

"The Blue Fairy!" He exclaimed, "She told me about the dagger, about Baelfire, about everything so that I could write that book!"

"What book?"

"Henry's, I wrote it!"

Belle frowned, "Does Mother Superior remember as well?"

August shook his head, "That was all before we came over… I had to know so that I could tell the savior…"

"And how do you remember?"

"The wardrobe."

Belle narrowed her eyes, prepping for a swing, "The wardrobe could only take one."

"That's what she told Snow White and Prince Charming so that Geppetto would agree to make the wardrobe…" August teared up at the memory, "…he didn't want to lose me…didn't want me to turn back to wood…"

If Belle was moved by the story, she didn't show it.

"Why did you want the Dark One's dagger?" She continued.

"Because I need help. I'm sick, and I need magic."

Belle glanced down at his leg, "To keep you from reverting."

"Yes," he agreed breathily.

She considered it for a moment, "You could've just asked… Told me the truth… But I guess that would be out of character, wouldn't it?" She sighed, "You should've thought about that before you lied…"

The hatchet came down again on the other leg and August screamed, rocking from side to side.

"Do you have any idea the pain you would have inflicted if you got away with it?!" She screeched, swinging down again, "The agony of false hope?!" She swung again, "How the hell would you feel?!" He screamed again, "How would you feel if someone did that to Geppetto?!" She struck again, "Pretended to be you to hurt him?!" One more hit, "How could you do that to someone?!"

Belle's swings were farther and farther from their target, hitting the table, the floor. Sobs were jerking out of her now as a line of uneven axe hits decorated both of his legs. She dropped the hatchet and pulled at her hair, walking away from him.

August was too stunned to take advantage of the opportunity, his legs throbbing with sensation but still attached. Actually, none of the gashes were that deep. He didn't need to act, though; sirens broke through Belle's sobbing.

She turned to look out the window, seeing both a cop car and an ambulance pulling up. She sniffed, smoothed her clothes and hair, cleared her throat, and tried to put on a poker face.

"I suppose we made too much noise," she confided.

There was a rapid knock at the door, "Open up, police!"

Emma Swan had considered that either a) Regina was a liar or b) the Golds were up to their crazy sex shenanigans, this time away from home, when she got the call. But with the panic in Regina's voice as she insisted a woman was accosting a man with an axe, Emma couldn't take any chances, and sped to the cabin in the woods.

Mrs. Gold answered the door, looking out of sorts. Not sex out of sorts, I-just-got-done-bawling-my-eyes-out out of sorts. She gave the blonde a thin smile.

"Evening Sheriff Swan," she said smoothly, "I was just chopping up some firewood."

"Indoors?" Emma countered. Belle shrugged.

Emma glanced down to see a sixteen-inch grooved blade through one of Rose's belt loops, fresh blood on one edge.

"…were you butchering a pig too?" She tried to joke.

Rose shook her head, "I suppose you'll want to see him," she murmured, "Don't worry; I don't think he's beyond repair."

Emma thought Rose was joking too…until she saw August spread out on a table bleeding. Emma's nonbelieving eyes saw that the hatchet was bloodied as well, and that August's legs were cut up as though he were an ordinary man. Emma could only gape in horror as August sat up shakily.

"What the hell did she do to you?" She hissed. August was mute, eyes wide with terror.

The sheriff turned to see Mrs. Gold standing patiently, not running off or spewing dumb excuses.

"I suppose you'll want to arrest me, then," Rose said as calmly as if Emma had just issued her a parking ticket.

"…yeah…" She numbly got out a pair of handcuffs, "You know your rights?"

"Yes."

Rose didn't resist as she was handcuffed, or as the dagger was taken from her. She just calmly allowed herself to be escorted out of the cabin.

Mr. Gold knew he was too late, as he took in the flashing lights and the open door of the cabin. He almost forgot to put the car in park before stumbling out. There was only a few bystanders right now, one of which being Her Majesty. Something was off about Regina, though. She almost looked…concerned.

His heart sank as he watched his Belle being escorted out by Sheriff Swan, hands cuffed behind her back. She was calm despite her bloodshot eyes, keeping her head held high. Regina was on them the minute they got off the steps.

"Miss Swan, she needs to be locked up for good! She just went after an innocent man with an ax, she's clearly mentally unstable!" Regina was practically hysterical.

A team of paramedics were helping Pinocchio, AKA: August W. Booth, out as well. Except for a scratch on his neck and a few cuts in his wooden legs, he appeared to be fine, almost walking without aid. He seemed just as stunned as Emma.

Mr. Gold moved forward as they came close to passing him by.

"Rose…" He said weakly.

She glanced at him, a mix of shame and self-righteousness on her face.

"Don't you dare post my bail," she threatened, before Emma led her to the police car.

Being a bounty hunter had prepared her for a certain…reluctance that criminals had about being caught. But Rose had complied peaceably, and Emma had no idea how to deal with that.

"You're, um…kind of not what I'm used to, you know?" Emma confessed, glancing in the rearview mirror.

Belle gave a small smile, "Would you prefer it if I ran?"

"No, I'm just saying… Feels like punishing the good kid."

Belle glanced out the window, "I broke the law, and so now I must deal with the consequences of my decision, that's all."

"That's responsible of you," Emma remarked.

She shrugged, "I suppose. I've just been taught that everything comes at a price."

Emma pulled into her parking spot and turned off the engine, twisting around in her seat to look Belle in the eyes, "…why'd you do it, Rose?"

Belle didn't blink, "I was protecting my husband."

"From what? Was August going to hurt him?"

"Not physically," she sighed, "Let's say there's a gunman… You see the gunman, and you see that he's pointing his weapon right at Henry's heart. Henry doesn't see it, though, and you know that the bullet will only hit you in the shoulder or arm or something. Wouldn't you take that bullet for him?"

"Of course I would," Emma insisted, "But that doesn't mean I'd go after the gunman with a hatchet."

Belle shrugged, "To each their own."

III

Tomorrow the curse would come. Belle's hourglass had run out and, even though she had made it through the Honey-Do List, she was nervous that she had made a mistake somewhere along the line. One little mistake, and everything might be for naught. It was a lot of pressure.

So she went to the village of Hyksos, only briefly passing through on her way to the woods. She found the old hut that stood beside the site where Baelfire had left their world, crossing the barrier spell that barred unwanted visitors and stepping inside.

It didn't disgust her nearly as much as it had the first time she had visited; it almost felt home-y in a way. She avoided all the concave bits of earth as she made her way to the fireplace, stirring up a few flames and filling the kettle with water. She got out some of the nasty tea leaves and set them at the bottom of a clay cup. When the kettle whistled, she poured the hot water into the cup, added some honey she had brought along, and let it soak as she made her way to Baelfire's bed.

One hand ran over the sheepskin blanket as she cradled the cup of tea in her other, staring thoughtfully at the spinning wheel.

"…tomorrow's it, Bae," she said to the air, "Tomorrow we cross over to where you are. Rumple warns me we won't be able to set out right away…but it's closer to you than we are right now."

She sipped at her tea. It tasted slightly better than the cup she had shared with her husband a few years ago. Years…time slipped by.

"I'm…scared, Bae," she admitted, "I don't know what it will be like when we meet up with you. I have these nightmares, horrible nightmares, where you get mad at your father for breaking his promise about loving no one else and you run away. I chase after you, but it doesn't matter. You hate me. You always hate me."

She stared down into her tea.

"…I hope you don't hate me in real life, Bae. I hope you don't feel I'm a replacement for Milah… I know that she is your mother and I cannot change that. All I want is for you and your father to be happily reunited, and for his suffering to end," she bit her lip, "But I could love you, if you let me. I do love you already, as strange as that sounds. But what our relationship is, what it will be…it's up to you. I promised your father I wouldn't make him choose between us, though…" She shrugged, "I suppose we'll discuss all of this when we meet, and I'll try not to hug you immediately."

She glanced back up at the spinning wheel, "…I love you, Baelfire," she whispered.

She finished off her tea and flicked her wrist. The wheel began to turn of its own accord, and Belle slipped underneath the covers. She watched the wheel turn, listening to its creaking until she fell asleep.

It was all well and good if spinning made Rumplestiltskin forget, but personally it made Belle remember.

III

After a stay in Regina's prison tower, the jail cell seemed like a hotel suite. She had a bed with a blanket, a window, bars to peer through, and human contact that didn't involve being beaten to a bloody pulp. If she had a nice long book it wouldn't even be punishment.

"There's a visitor for you," Emma announced and Belle glanced up from her lap, "Do you want to see him?"

"Who is he?"

There was a sharp "mrawr" as a streak of black and white darted towards the bars.

"Oh Figgy…" Belle murmured, getting off of her cot. The kitten continued to mewl as it squeezed itself inside the cell.

Emma shot a dirty glare over her shoulder.

"I tried to hold onto him," Mr. Gold muttered defensively.

Belle picked Figaro up, kissing his head as he started to purr.

"I don't want you to see me like this, baby boy," she cooed to him.

She glanced up at Mr. Gold, who shifted his weight uneasily.

"I thought you could use some cheering up," he explained.

There were a few beats of silence before Emma folded her arms.

"Alright you two, I'll give you some privacy…but no funny business," she warned. They nodded their heads and slowly, Emma left the office.

Mr. Gold's brown eyes seemed larger than usual as he stared at her, "…I don't like this the other way around," he decided.

Belle hugged Figaro before setting him down, much to his displeasure, "I do," Belle argued, coming up to the bars, "I think it's always easier when you're the one going through something instead of your loved one."

Mr. Gold reached his hand inside and cradled the side of her face. She leaned into his touch, closing her eyes.

"Why?" He breathed.

"It's not often I get to be the one to protect you," she whispered. Her face pinched up, "I couldn't let him do that to you, to cut you so deep… Especially when you were so willing to believe."

"When did you know?"

"The moment I looked into his eyes," she opened hers, "Besides his name, the very first thing you told me were that Baelfire had your eyes. And those weren't the eyes I was looking into."

Mr. Gold rested his forehead against the metal, gazing down at her with love and admiration.

"You could face being behind bars for quite a while, assaulting a puppet."

"Can I make a deal with you then?"

Mr. Gold's lips twitched, "Always."

"If this goes to trial, I'll allow you to work your magic…but I don't think that'll be necessary."

"Alright."

His thumb rubbed against her cheek as he watched her sadly, "I try to tell you every day, but "I love you" doesn't seem to encompass everything I feel towards you. Words themselves can't express what you are to me… You are such an incredible woman and I am a lucky bastard to have you."

Her hand came up to rest over his, "I wouldn't break my code of conduct for just anyone." She leaned forward, "We'll find him… I promise."

She caught his lips and they kissed, long and leisurely. In that kiss, Belle found assurance and comfort.

She didn't sleep much that night, giving up when Emma walked in the next morning for work.

"It's kind of crazy out there," she told Belle, tossing her keys onto her desk, "Like, no one can believe you went at August with a hatchet. Some people are even saying you were framed or blackmailed into doing it."

Belle laughed, "People come up with the strangest things."

"To be fair, I would think it was a rumor if I hadn't been at the crime scene. Here," Emma stuck her hand into the cell and Belle hopped off the cot, "Compliments of Ruby. She figures you had a good reason."

"Thank you," she took the tea and sipped at it, "…how is August doing?"

Emma arched an eyebrow and then shrugged, "He was released within hours of being admitted to the hospital. Surprisingly little amount of bloodshed for those gashes."

"They still sting pretty bad, though."

Belle and Emma turned to see August strolling in. He carefully avoided Belle's gaze.

"Speak of the devil," Emma muttered, "What's up?"

"I want whatever charges Rose is facing dropped."

Belle stared at August.

"What?" Emma said.

He lifted his gaze to meet Belle's, "I want her released without consequences, whatever paperwork you have burned… I want a clean slate."

"August-"

"She had a good reason to attack me."

"With a hatchet?!"

August tilted his head back, "She needed to make her point. I can be a bit…wooden-headed sometimes."

Emma continued to stand there, dumbfounded.

"Or you could just go through with it and see how Mr. Gold handles the case. Something tells me he won't just bypass the charges, but go after anyone responsible for locking his wife up," August warned.

Emma hesitated a moment longer, before going to get her keys. Belle glanced at August as she left them alone.

"He didn't threaten you, did he?" She growled.

"No," he assured her, "And honestly I think I'm a bit more afraid of you now instead of him."

Belle smiled bashfully.

Emma returned, unlocking the cell, "You're free to go then I guess, Rose."

"Thank you, Sheriff," Belle approached August, "I would take an escort now, if you're still offering."

He smirked, "Of course," he bowed his head and waved her forward and Belle giggled, leading him out of the office.

Emma would never understand this goddamn town…

August and Belle walked a few paces without a word, making sure they were out of earshot before he spoke.

"I thought a lot about what you screamed at me last night," he said, "About how I would feel if someone did that to Geppetto… And I could not imagine facing that person and not trying to kill them," he shoved his hands into his pockets, "The truth is I'm terrified of being the toy I was before, and that terror blinded me. I'm sorry."

Belle bit her lip, "I'm sorry, too, that I let my pain get the best of me. How are your legs? Do you heal?" She asked, glancing down.

August chuckled, "I don't, but I don't really feel pain either so it's an even trade. Lucky for me you aren't that great of a woodchopper," he joked, then cleared his throat, "I'm hoping once I'm with my papa again he can sand the cuts out."

"Or maybe when the curse breaks you'll become a full man again."

August paused just outside of the sheriff's station, looking Belle square in the eye, "That's another reason I came here… Operation Cobra doesn't have a whole lot of members. Secret agents can't afford to be squabbling if we're going to do our job and get the savior to believe."

Belle nodded enthusiastically, "You're absolutely right."

He rocked back on his heels, "So…we can sweep this whole incident under the rug now?"

She glanced out into the parking lot and grinned mischievously, "One more thing…"

Mr. Gold did not want to be in the shop today, he really didn't. Not with his wife in jail for beating up a man for pretending to be their son. He should be over at her favorite bookstore getting her a whole shelf full and designating a new room in their house for another library. Every time he thought he was at his limits of his capacity to love her, she went and did something like this.

He glanced up as he heard a motorcycle, and prepared his best glare…only to see Belle holding on loosely to August W. Booth as he stopped in front of the shop. She hopped off and handed her helmet back to him. The cat swished its tail from its perch on the counter and Mr. Gold had to concur; it was an odd scene.

She skipped into the shop, beaming.

"Can we get a motorcycle? Pleeeeeease?" She begged.

Mr. Gold just stood and admired his wife for a moment, "…I do believe you are the only one who can take a hatchet to a man one night and be friends with him by morning, my dear."

"It's hard for me to stay angry for very long," she explained.

He rolled his eyes, though it was probably good for him that she couldn't. She leaned over the counter.

"So you did manage to grab Fake Dagger Number 34, right? Because Emma didn't have it."

Mr. Gold frowned, then shook his head, "Regina probably has it then, after she was done trying to convince Miss Swan that you were insane."

Belle looked concerned for a moment, then grinned, "Dishes for a week says she tries to use it once magic comes to Storybrooke."

Mr. Gold snickered, "Oh please, dearie. Ironing for a month says she doesn't even last that long before waving it in my face."

IIIII

So I did not emasculate August as suggested, just kind of took an axe to him. It's still weird to think that Belle went after him worse than Mr. Gold… This was an emotional chapter to write, and I came close to crying both while writing and editing the scene where Rumplestiltskin describes the first time he holds Bae. Because I can just imagine that being on the show and Robert Carlyle ripping my freaking heart out with his goddamn facial expressions. Why is the OUAT cast so perfect?

It is only going to get worse feelings wise, though, so grab a blankie and drink something hot from a chipped cup.

Sneak peek: First two sentences: Belle was nervous, and understandably so. After all, she was just about to kill herself.