A/N: Thank you for sticking with me, dear readers. You are still out there, right?
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
Robert Gold wasn't drunk, but he wasn't far away from being so. Not much drove him to the bottle, not business deals gone south or a bad day at the office, not even women and their stupid, careless behaviour most of the time. This was different, because this was Belle.
Since meeting her, Gold's life had certainly felt as if it were turned upside down. He never had thought to fall in love again, not after Milah. She had broken his heart so completely when she walked away, and perhaps what hurt most was the way Robert was forced to share the burden of the blame for her going. He hadn't treated her well enough, hadn't given her enough time, enough evidence of his love. He downed another shot as he thought of the day she left, refilled his glass as the words from the note she had left on the kitchen table flashed through his mind. She was a coward, leaving without a real goodbye, and Robert hated her more for leaving Baelfire without a care than himself. Their son was not to blame, not in anyway at all, and what lesson had Gold really learnt from pushing Milah away? None at all, for he had done the same with Bae in the end.
For the longest time, he had lived a simple, single life. Almost all of his energies were put into his business, and that paid dividends in so many ways. Whatever free time he allowed himself was spent in search of Bae, at least until she came along.
Cora was beauty and intelligence combined. There was a fire in her heart and so much ambition screaming to get out. Gold had more or less picked her up from the gutter and allowed her to bloom and flourish like a rose. She was a friend to his business and no stranger to his bed. For a while he had thought himself in love, but her scheming ways were not always used for him but against. Ultimately, they were too selfish to really love each other more than they thought to love themselves. Gold poured himself another drink and smiled wickedly. At least he knew why Regina despised him. He had been her dear mother's downfall in the end, using her to take the fall for one of his dodgiest deals, knowing full well she had plans to do the same before long and take Gold Industries out from under him - he would never allow that. His business had prospered and Regina had become his fiercest rival, one he hated almost as much as he hated Killian Jones.
They called Jones by the nickname of Hook, and that was how Gold thought of him. The hook that snared his beloved and took her away. Milah left of her own accord and doubtless would have done so with or without assistance, but it was Jones' arms she ran to, and for that Gold hated him. He did business with the wretch only for his own ends, all the time looking for a way to flatten the impudent little toad. He had not found it yet, but there was a way, he was sure. Gold had suspected Jones of being tied up with Regina's own plans to bring him down, but Killian's outing Belle the way he had made Robert start to wonder.
Right now nothing really added up, least of all Isabelle Hart a.k.a Belinda French. No matter what she called herself, to Robert Gold she would always be Belle, the woman who took his heart and tore it to shreds. She had to be working for Regina, it was all that made sense, though good sense went out of the window with more and more haste as the level in the whiskey bottle sunk down, down, down.
Oblivion would follow, if he allowed it. Such a thing was too tempting right now, only because it would help him forget. In a drunken state of unconscious mist, Robert could pretend that things were still as they had been before he learned the truth of his darling Belle. Before the heart he barely admitted to owning shattered like glass in his chest, making it almost impossible to even breathe.
"Did you know?" asked Emma the moment Mary walked up to her in the safe house across town.
There was no hug, no greeting that suggested she were pleased to see her after all this time, even though they had become great friends. Mary had gotten Emma's child back for her, saved little Henry from the evil clutches of Regina Mills, and whilst she wasn't exactly looking for an awesome amount of gratitude, a smile or a hug of welcome might've been nice.
"Emma, I don't understand," she shook her head. "Is something wrong?" she checked then as the blonde backed up a step and continued to frown hard.
"Snow, when you had me look for this guy, this Baelfire Gold, did you already know what I would find?" she asked again, making herself as clear as she could.
Now it was Mary's turn to be confused. Clearly there was some information they weren't privy to here and it was enough to cause Emma distress. Maybe in a different situation, the grifter would have put it all together, but she had to confess that in this moment she just had no idea what her old friend was talking about. It was obvious the folder in Detective Swan's hand held the answer and Mary eyed it warily.
"All I know about Baelfire is that he is Robert Gold's son," she said definitely. "I swear to you Emma, every detail I gave you was all we had to go on, that's why I called you."
"You have a hacker, I know you do," the blonde replied. "Jefferson can get into any records, including ours," she said, lowering her voice to a whisper even though she knew nobody was around to hear. "Snow, why would you need me?"
"Because it was easier," she told her honestly. "Because we didn't want any red flags raised right now, we can't afford it. Emma we're in the middle of the con of our lives, not just the old team but outside help. If we put one foot wrong, I dread to think what the consequences might be," she explained calmly, but honestly as she ever said anything, she only hoped Emma could believe that. "I have never lied to you Emma, I swear it."
Emma knew she was telling the truth. You didn't get as high up in the police force as she was and at her young age too, without being able to spot a liar when you met one. Snow could lie, she did it professionally, but right now she was on the level, Emma was sure.
"Well, then I just uncovered the world's greatest coincidence," she said at length, at last giving up the folder she had been holding a little aloft this entire time. "Here, see for yourself."
Mary took the folder from Emma's hand and carefully opened it. She saw no surprises on the first page, just a profile of a young man, dark hair and dark eyes, good-looking in his own way, she could see that from the picture pinned to the next piece of paper in the file. He had a rap sheet too, but nothing terrible, just petty theft and such. There were a few known aliases and it was only when she read these that something hit home inside Mary's head.
"Neal Cassidy," she breathed, her eyes coming up to meet Emma's own then. "Oh, Emma..."
"Yeah," she cut in, hands deep in her pockets, body language tense and agitated. "Henry's father."
The extra members of the new team had cleared out a while ago, gone back to their respective homes via various means to cover the fact they had ever been together. David had driven Mary over to the safe-house to meet Emma, and then went on to do a little recon, whilst August packed his bags, ready to jet off to wherever he might be needed in the hunt for Baelfire Gold. That left Belle alone in her apartment with Jefferson, who just hadn't left somehow. She never questioned it, she didn't really care if he was there or not. Honestly, in the last hour, she hadn't even looked at him, never mind spoken. Though it might seem somewhat out of character for him to care at all, the hacker was worried about her.
"So, the meeting went off without a hitch?" he asked, trying to get Belle's attention but it seemed she was focused on something that wasn't even there. "You got Queen Mills where we want her?"
He already knew the answer from the debrief they had when Belle and Ruby got back, but he just needed an opener, anything to get her talking.
"I don't know," Belle muttered in eventual reply - Jefferson had to wonder if she even really heard the questions.
Pushing off the bookshelf he had made his spot, he came over to the couch and sat beside her, finally abandoning his tablet on the coffee table.
"Belle?" he urged her to look at him, his hand picking up her own from her lap. "C'mon, don't fall part on us now. I know this is hard for you, believe me, I know, but this is too big. We need you focused."
"I know," she agreed, because she really did understand the need to pull herself together.
That didn't mean it came easy though. Jefferson was maybe the one other person who knew what it was to lose someone you loved as much as Belle had come to love Gold. He never spoke of it, not in any detail, but they all knew. The love of his life had left him, through her own choice or not was never entirely clear, and then there had been a daughter. Belle couldn't bear to think about the losses Jefferson had suffered, and although she knew another's crushing agony ought to make her feel a little easier about her own pain, somehow it didn't.
"Er, Regina believed us," she said, deciding a subject change was safer, as was pulling her hand free of Jefferson's grasp before his attempts at comfort brought on further tears. "She thinks I got Ruby on side, that Robert is some kind of fiend that has hurt her enough to make her want to turn on him. We were convincing enough, she'll buy any information we feed her now."
"That's good," Jefferson nodded along, but it wasn't what was bothering him.
The plan had to work, for the sake of everybody else. For himself, he could care less. His life wasn't much in the first place, very little left to lose, but these people surrounding him, their lives mattered. Mary and David had pretty much saved him from himself, and Jefferson wouldn't see them hurt for anything. They had a baby to get back to after all. August was trying to protect his father, Belle had ideas to do the same, as well as build bridges with Gold. Now there was a pairing Jefferson would never have called obvious, and yet the more he thought on it, the more it kind of made sense.
"If he really can love, and the strangest people can," he told her with a knowing look, "I don't see how Gold can do anything but forgive you in the end."
Belle tried to smile but the look didn't take. She wanted to believe in Robert's capacity for forgiveness but she was afraid it was all too late. Lying about her name or her past, those things might have been something they could work through, given time. The fact all lies were a veil to hide that she was working for Regina, that was what really hurt. In the beginning she had planned to reel him in so she could use him, however unsavoury she had found it all,. however against her will the whole deal had been. She doubted that would really matter to Robert now.
"I'm not so sure people like us are supposed to get happy endings," she sighed. "I thought for a while, maybe it was possible, but now..."
"Now, just look at Snow and Charming," Jefferson rolled his eyes. "Nobody is as in love as they are, and there are no stronger people in this world than them when they're together."
"That's different," Belle argued. "They were on the same side, almost from the start. They know the truth of each other, and it didn't break them, it gave them that strength they have. The truth about me is what shattered whatever Robert and I had."
Tears came back to her eyes that she hated knowing were there. She hadn't cried this much since she was a child, before her new life and profession had begun. Of course, her heart had never been broken quite like this either.
"You're not helping me, Belle," said Jefferson, nudging her shoulder with his own and forcing a smile she knew so well as he teased her. "If there's no hope for you to be in love, what chance do I stand with... anyone?"
Though he said no specific name, Belle had a feeling she knew where his interest lie. Jefferson and Ruby might not seem like an obvious pairing either, but she could see them making it work. They certainly liked each other, and they had no secrets anymore. She knew what he was, what he had done and why. Their worlds were not really so very divided.
"She could do worse," said Belle definitely, patting his hand. "I'm sure she likes you."
"Yeah, maybe," he shrugged. "She's certainly proving herself a useful grifter," he smiled, leaning back on the couch then with his hands behind his head.
"You two could have quite the future," smiled Belle as she looked at him. "I'm sure Ruby would relish the chance for adventure, and at the same time, be glad enough to settle down when the time came. She strikes me as the type for both scenarios."
It was a pretty picture she painted, Jefferson couldn't deny. He never thought to be happy again, not like that, but Belle never lied to him, that much he was sure of. He trusted her opinion implicitly, he had no reason to do anything else. Maybe when this job was done, it was worth taking a risk on an adventure with Ruby. Of course, all this made Belle feel no better about her own broken relationship.
"Y'know, if finding his son for him isn't a big enough gesture for Gold, I don't know what is."
"We don't know for sure that we've found him yet," sighed Belle. "Or if Baelfire will want to see his father when we do, but I do hope so."
It wasn't all she hoped where Robert Gold was concerned, but it was all she dared for now. If she could reunite father and son, if Robert could believe her intentions were honourable, her feelings were true, maybe there was a chance of gaining his forgiveness and trust again. If finding Baelfire didn't do it, the destruction of Regina Mills and her corrupt business might. Belle kept on hoping, more than she ever hoped before. It was almost all she had left to do.
To Be Continued...