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The Missing Piece

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The Missing Piece: Part One

A/AN: Here is my contribution to Rumbelle bigbang. I hope you'll enjoy it!

Belle wouldn't call herself successful, but she lived a relatively, comfortable life. She resided in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine. However, she didn't live alone. No, she'd been raising her nephew ever since he was two months old. Belle had no desire to marry or settle down. Traveling and seeing every part of the world had been her ultimate goal, but everything changed the day her estranged, step-sister, Milah, showed up at her door step – holding a car seat with a squalling babe inside. She hadn't seen nor spoken to her stepsister in eight years prior to that day.

Milah had a gypsy soul. She'd left town the day after graduation. Belle hadn't ever been close to her; she was nearly three years her senior and engaged in activities, Belle, found heinous. Other than the occasional homework help, Milah had asked her for, Belle had barely spoken to her sister. Her father – Maurice – had married Milah's mother when she was thirteen. He'd frequented the diner her mother worked at, and when they decided to get married, Belle's mother's death was still a fresh, gaping wound within her heart. Maurice had moved on in no time, and with his new wife, accompanied her troubled, teenage daughter.

Belle had moved across the country to Boston, after procuring a full ride to Harvard. Upon securing her Master's degree, the sleepy town of Storybrooke beckoned her. She was offered a job as head librarian at their modest town library. She only planned to live there until she'd saved enough money to travel. When she'd finally saved enough of her income to buy her first plane ticket, Milah came knocking, but she wasn't alone, an infant son came with her.

Belle was shocked to find her sister in such a disarray. She was too thin and dark circles masked her eyes. Milah had begged her to take the child for a week, and she vowed to return – muttering about some complications with the child's father. Belle had been too naive to realize she'd been lying. A week turned into a month, a month a year, and before she knew it, six years had already passed.

After Neal turned two, Belle gave up on trying to locate her stepsister. She'd fallen off the grid and even the best private detective in Boston had come up empty handed. Belle did what she thought was best. Instead of turning, Neal, over to child services, she decided to raise him as her own. She banished her dream of seeing the world and poured all of her energy into being the guardian her nephew deserved.

However, Belle wasn't prepared when he called her momma for the first time. Her heart ached with maternal affection for him, so she didn't bother trying to correct him. Deep down, she knew Milah would never come back. She could be Neal's mother and raise him into a man of outstanding character. They could be a real family, just the two of them.

"I think you should wear the royal blue one more often, Momma, the color really brings out your eyes," Neal told his mother as she readied herself for work one morning.

Belle glanced away from the mirror, smiling knowingly at her son. "Are you trying to butter me up? You rarely ever compliment my attire. You only make remarks like that when you want something. So, what is it?"

Neal shuffled his feet sheepishly. "Well, there's this new video game all of the boys at school keep talking about. It sounds really cool, and -"

"Put it on your birthday list, and I'll look into it," Belle added, applying her lipstick.

"But, Mom! My birthday is over two months away!" Neal lamented, flailing his arms in the air dramatically.

Belle sighed, styling her hair into a neat bun. "Well then, it'll be a nice treat, now won't it?"

"I suppose," he mumbled, keeping his eyes downcast – saddened his mother was unwilling to buy it for him earlier.

"Good, now go and fetch your school bag and meet me at the door. It's time for us to go," she commanded, taking another long look in the mirror.

Neal left the bathroom long enough for Belle to finish doing her makeup and to grab her handbag. He waited patiently for her at the door. She granted him a smile as he opened the door for her. She was proud of her second-grader and all of his developing mannerisms. Deep down, she was grateful Milah had left him for her to care for. It was a frightening prospect to think of how he might have turned out or would have ended up, if she hadn't taken him in. Milah was too unstable to ever properly raise a child. It baffled Belle, to think her sister hadn't gone to her mother first. The last she had heard, her father and stepmother had moved back to his hometown in Australia. She wasn't sure if they even knew about Neal, but she wasn't about to inform them of his existence. Having no legal custody over him meant they could take him – rip her from her grasp and tote him across the ocean. There was no one, Belle, loved more than her son. She would protect him at all costs. Besides, she hadn't spoken to her father since college, so she allowed the fear of losing what was most precious to her dissipate.

"Mama, do we have time to stop for pancakes at Granny's?" Neal inquired, pulling her from her reverie.

Belle blinked owlishly, sliding into the driver's side and shutting the door. "We have half and hour before you need to be at school. I think we can arrange that," she beamed at him as he buckled his seat belt.

"Awesome! Can we order chocolate chip!?" he exclaimed, squirming in his seat. Belle usually limited his sugar intake, but she relented, hoping it would soothe the disappointment he felt about having to wait until his birthday to purchase his coveted video game.

"Sure, but just this once!" She grinned.

"Yay! You're the best Mom ever!" Neal remarked exuberantly, pumping his fist high into the air. Belle's heart melted in the process, as she thanked God for her most precious treasure. She was his mother, and nothing would ever change that, as far as she was concerned.

But things would change, life was about to throw them a curve ball. It all transpired that very afternoon. Belle French had gone to pick up her son from school, bought him an ice cream cone and headed back to the library to finish up her shift. Neal had sat down at one of the tables closest to her desk to finish up his homework.

When she finally closed up at five thirty, the only thought in her head was making Neal's favorite dish for dinner – homemade pizza. She hadn't expected to see a brown Cadillac parked on the curb beside her humble, rented home. The vehicle stuck out like a sore thumb, contrasted to her modest, paint chipped house. In her driveway, also sat a patrol car. The local sheriff was there, too, but why? It had to all be one huge misunderstanding, as she ransacked her brain for any clue as to why they would be here. As she pulled into her driveway, she gazed in the backseat at her son.

"Neal, I want you to stay in the car while I talk to the sheriff," she commanded coolly, schooling her features so he wouldn't behold the fear, evident in her eyes.

"Okay, Mommy," Neal nodded obediently, observing his mother leave the car and converse with the blonde haired woman, standing beside the patrol car. Neal could only see the back of her head as she talked to the female officer, whose face was stoic. Neal didn't feel the need to panic until his mother turned back around – her expression grave with fear. That's when, Neal, realized, everything in his short life was about to change. He could have sworn a tear trickled down her cheek as she opened the door to the backseat.

Belle smiled at him somberly, reaching out to stroke his right cheek affectionately. He felt a knot form in his stomach, wishing she would say something, anything. He couldn't bear the sadness in her eyes another moment.

"Momma, what is it?" he asked, unable to suffer the silence any longer.

Belle sucked in a deep breath. "Do you remember all those stories I told you about your real mother?"

"Yeah, she never came back for me. Besides, you're my real mother," he stated wisely, his voice tinged with bitterness.

She felt her heart sting from his underlying tone but decided to ignore it. Keeping herself composed was for the best. She'd feared a day like this would eventually come, but she'd banished that fear to the back of her mind – tucked it into a crevice she'd sworn to forget about.

"Well this is about your birth mother, but then again, it isn't. When she left you in my care, she briefly mentioned your father. However, I had no idea who he was or how to contact him. It turns out he's been looking for you, and well, he's here. And he wishes to meet you," she revealed.

Neal's eyes grew as big as saucers as he hurriedly undone his seat belt. "But what about you? Will you be there with me? I don't know if I'll even like him."

"Of course I'll be there, but you must remember what I told you," she supplied, busying her hands with buttoning up his winter coat – a distraction to ease her troubled mind.

"Do the brave thing and bravery will follow," he repeated from memory.

"Exactly, now let's go and meet him. He's waiting," Belle replied, touching his shoulder reassuringly.

Neal compliantly followed his mother out of the car, towards the sheriff. A man of average height stood beside her – shaggy brown hair falling in his eyes. A gold-tipped cane was poised in front of him. Neal absorbed all of these details as his mother guided him closer – her dainty hand, resting on the small of his back. Suddenly, he lost his gumption, his courage fleeing as he ripped himself away from her. He could hear her cries as he darted for the woods, tears streaking his cheeks as he ran and ran until his lungs burned for oxygen. Eventually her cries faded, along with another set of unfamiliar voices which minced with hers. He collapsed beside a nearby tree, crying himself empty. Eight year old, Neal, wasn't ready for his world to change, though it was changing fast. He'd rather go back to this morning, when he and his mother giggled over pancakes, while debating which superhero was better – Batman or Superman. Exhausted and heartbroken, he eventually fell asleep, unaware the sheriff had found him and taken him back home. In the morning he would wake up with more changes than he was ready for, but tonight he would cling to dreams of his beautiful, chestnut haired mother – who gave the best hugs and made the most delicious homemade, chocolate chip cookies. She was all he needed, he convinced himself.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Two

Belle's teacup clattered with an angry thud across the linoleum, after she'd thrown it, frustrated. Neal was tucked away safely in his room, but for how long? Never in her life did she imagine anyone would show up to retrieve him after eight short years. There had been no birth certificate, and she'd tried to find out which hospital in the New York area he'd been born at. That was where Milah had claimed she'd been this whole time. It had been another lie, of course. But Neal's father – Simon Gold did have the boy's birth certificate in his possession. It was no wonder she hadn't been able to locate it. His given birth name was, Bailey Gold. Simon had even signed it. And he hadn't been born in New York either. He'd been born in Seattle, Washington. At least that's what the certificate claimed. Belle rubbed her arms to generate warmth. In the morning, Simon Gold, would return – no doubt. Would he arrange to have Neal taken away with him? The very thought of losing Neal made her feel paralyzed with fear. It wasn't right! Why were the fates punishing her!? Belle sighed deeply, heading for her own room. Before she did, she stopped by Neal's door, peering through the crack. He was sleeping soundly. A single tear trickled down her cheek. Would this be the last night he spent in this house?

Belle lingered there for awhile in the doorway, watching her precious boy sleep as she'd done so many times before. Drowsiness eventually numbed her bones, and she found herself succumbing to exhaustion. She'd barely made it to the couch, emotionally drained from the events of the day. A steady knock at six in the morning had her scrambling off the couch. She muttered an explicative under her breath as she stumbled to the door. She opened it without thinking to properly adjust her clothing. In front of her stood the immaculately dressed, Simon Gold. She blinked owlishly, staring down at her wrinkled work clothes. She hadn't even bothered to change into her pajamas – too wrecked with the sudden turn of events. A rosy blush discolored the man's cheeks, and Belle glanced down to see her white sheer blouse had popped open, exposing her royal blue bra. Belle cleared her throat uncouthly, promptly buttoning her shirt.

"Coffee?" she inquired, gesturing for him to come inside.

"Yes, please," he obliged, his accent thick and Scottish. Belle felt her insides involuntarily tingle at his rich vernacular.

Belle turned on the pot, grabbing her canister of coffee beans from the cupboard. She drowsily observed him absorb the details of her modest kitchen. Suddenly it clicked. Why had he shown up so early, and especially without bringing a lawyer first? And why had she foolishly invited him in? She felt her blood begin to boil.

She turned away from the coffee maker, narrowing her gaze at him. "Mr. Gold, why are you here, and why did you show up unannounced?"

He trained his gaze on her, his mouth twitching into a half smile. "Ms. French, I'm sorry for showing up so early, but I expected it would be better to have an informal meeting with you, versus dragging lawyers and courts into the matter. In fact, I wanted to personally thank you for taking such great care of my son these past eight years. He seems to be happily thriving."

Belle blinked owlishly, fixing her gaze on the gold tipped cane he had poised in front of him. She felt her legs begin to tremble uncontrollably, her knees buckling as she collapsed onto the floor. Tears streamed unbidden down her face. The emotions she'd tried to keep so desperately in check had betrayed her. Why did she have to bloody cry in front of this stranger!? She was unaware Mr. Gold was standing in front of her until he'd offered her his salmon hued handkerchief. She warily took it, dabbing at her eyes.

She muttered a strained "thank you" before regaining her composure. She stood to her feet, handing him back the cloth.

"You may keep it," he added, giving her some space.

Belle nodded, almost afraid to voice what was plaguing her mind. She turned her attention back to the coffee pot, opening the cupboard to procure a mug for them both. "Do you take creamer with your coffee?"

"No, I prefer mine straight black," he replied.

She gesticulated for him to sit at the dining table, placing his cup down in front of him. She stirred her hazelnut creamer with a spoon before baring her soul to this stranger. "You may find my dwelling modest, but I truly love, my son. If you choose to take him away from me, which you have every legal right to do, there's no way I'll be able to stop you. However, you'll be taking my heart with you, so you might as well rip it from my very chest and squeeze it until it dissolves to dust."

"Neal will resent me forever if I bar him from seeing the only parent he's ever known. You're truly a remarkable woman, Ms. French. So noble and bodacious. You saved my son from a vile and treacherous woman. She stole him away from me, and when I finally managed to track her down five years ago, she was living in a crack house and prostituting herself for drugs. She lied to me and told me she'd turned him over to the system. I was never able to track him down, no matter how many thousands of dollars I'd spent on detectives. I never was able to confront her about it, because her name had shown up in an online obituary, three years later. You were listed as her step-sister, so I did a quick search of your history. I came to Storybrooke on a whim, upon discovering you worked here. I was unsure if I'd come up empty again, but thankfully I was wrong. I'll never be able to properly thank you for all you've done for my boy," he expounded, wiping at his eyes as his voice wavered with emotion.

Belle felt her stomach lurch at the devastating news about her stepsister's death. And why had Milah fled the man sitting in front of her? Why would she keep something so precious from the father who'd been desperately searching for him all this time? She felt a wave of bitterness sweep over her. The revelation she'd lied and purposefully abandoned her own flesh and blood made her feel no remorse for the other woman.

"I'm truly sorry, Mr. Gold, and I thank you for telling me about my sister. I tried to reach out to her a few years ago, myself, but to no avail. She left Neal in my care when he was merely two months old. She begged me to keep him for a week, with the promise of her return, but she never did," Belle replied, tampering down her emotions.

In an instant, he'd reached across the table to clasp her hand. She flinched but didn't break the contact. "Please, call me Simon."

Belle smiled softly. They'd both already endured so much – joined together by an invisible thread, woven solidly around their hearts. She could only think of one thing to properly alleviate his pain. "Simon, how would you like to properly meet your son?"

A/AN: Gold finally properly meets his son, and we see a flashback of the day Milah left Neal with Belle. Also, Gold isn't the vindictive father in this fic. He truly wants to co-parent with Belle.

Chapter Text

Part Three: The Missing Piece

Eight Years Ago...

Belle pulled her hair into a high ponytail. She smoothed out her gray cardigan, presuming herself presentable. She would be working her last, full shift at the library today. She intended to take a long hiatus. She had one way tickets to Europe and planned to spend her time touring each little town and city at a leisurely pace. She'd pick up odd jobs to earn her keep. She rehearsed each miniscule detail of her plans within her mind, inserting a pearl stud in her right earlobe. The sound of the doorbell ringing startled her. No one ever came to her residence – except her landlord to collect the rent, and she was already paid up for the month. Belle tucked an errant curl behind her ear as she sauntered to the door. She undid the latch, opening it halfway. She gasped, her heart lurching in her throat as she studied the disheveled woman in front of her.

"Milah!? Is that you?" she inquired; she couldn't believe her eyes. She nearly reached out to hug her but refrained. Milah had never been the affectionate type.

"Yes, Belle, it's been years, how have you been?" Milah greeted her, her eyes darting back and forth suspiciously.

Belle was startled by her phantom voice but managed to reply. "Fine, what brings you to Storybrooke, and how ever did you find me?"

"A simple Google search, and I'm here to ask a favor of you," she replied bluntly, flashing the baby car seat she'd concealed behind her back.

"Is that a baby? Milah, when did you become a mother!?" Belle inquired, flabbergasted and awed by the small sleeping form which peered beneath a sky-blue blanket.

"Two months ago, but I'm in need of assistance. I'm starting a new job in New York. That's where my precious, Neal, was born," she gushed, glancing at the snoozing child. Belle noted how her eyes didn't quite light up when she doted over him as they should have.

"Well, you seemed to have traveled an awfully long way just to chat, so why are you really here, Milah?" Belle inquired, perching a hand on her petite hip.

Milah sighed, holding the car seat in front of her as if to shield herself from Belle's scrutiny. "I need you to watch him for me, but only for a week. I gotta get things settled in New York, and then I swear to you I'll be back."

"But, Milah, I-"

"-Belle, please, I really need this job!" Milah pleaded, chewing on her lower lip.

"What about the child's father?" Belle probed, refusing to agree until she had all of the answers.

"He's kind of out of the picture, blew me off after I had Neal, but I'm working on a child support agreement with my lawyer. However it's all going to take time, so please, Belle, will you do this for me?" she requested, her voice dripping with desperation.

"Yes, but only for a week. I'll need a phone number I'll be able to reach you at if anything were to go wrong," Belle consented.

"Of course! Everything you'll need is in his bag, and here's my number," Milah remarked, digging a crumpled piece of paper from her purse – scrawling her digits across it. Belle reluctantly took it, along with the car seat. Milah bent down to press a kiss against Neal's brow before departing.

"Mommy will be back soon," she told the child before retreating to her rusted, green Pontiac.

"I'll see you in a week, Milah! Take care!" Belle called out to her sister one final time.

Milah threw her hand in the air. "See you then," she called back before getting into her car and driving away – never to return.

Belle glanced down at the child, which had begun to squirm. She toted him back into the house, placing the car seat in the center of the dining table. He opened his big, blue eyes, melting her heart in the process.

"Hello, Neal," Belle cooed.

The child blinked at her before bursting into tears. Belle swiftly unfastened his car seat, hoisting him into her arms. She hummed a soft lullaby to him as she patted his back. When it was time for her to go to work she loaded him into the car and took him with her. He quietly observed his surroundings as she worked, sleeping throughout most of the day – as peaceful as an angel. Those which visited the library throughout the day commented on his serene personality.

Once she finally arrived home that afternoon, she fed him and changed him. She made a makeshift pallet for him in the center of her bed – a mound of pillows surrounding him as he slept. She dozed on and off, failing to fall into REM sleep for fear of something happening to him in the middle of the night.

She settled into a comfortable routine with her nephew, but after a week had passed, Milah still hadn't shown up, and the number she'd dialed numerous times suddenly went out of service. Her sister had plotted her escape well. Milah had set her up, she'd never anticipated to return and retrieve, Neal. A child would only slow her fast paced lifestyle down, and Belle surmised Milah probably hadn't a clue who the boy's father was. Turning him over to the system was no longer an option, so Belle decided to put her travel plans on hold and raise Neal as her own. She found there was no greater adventure than motherhood.

Present Day

Simon waited in the living room, his coffee cup nestled in his palms. The brew was already cold, but he couldn't bring himself to drink anymore of it, for fear of upsetting his nervous stomach. Holding on to the cup was the only thing anchoring him to the world in that moment. Collapsing in an emotional heap on the floor had crossed his mind a dozen times, already. Belle had retreated back to her room to freshen up before she awoke Neal. The moment of truth would arrive at any moment. He nearly dropped the cup, upon hearing soft footfalls approaching. Belle French padded into the room, donned in black sweatpants and a faded college t-shirt. A small boy clung to her waist, peering at him briefly before tucking his head back behind his mother.

"Neal, this is your birth father. He's traveled an awfully long way to meet you. Why not stop hiding and say hello?" Belle encouraged.

The young boy shook his head, burying his face in her pant's leg. Belle sighed, casting Simon an anguished look. Belle turned, stroking his mop of dark curls affectionately. She struggled to pick him up but managed to hoist him into her arms – giving him a consoling hug. He rested his head on her shoulder as she whispered words of reassurance in his ear.

Simon wasn't sure what their exchange was about, but it seemed immensely private, and he felt like an intruder. A wave of jealousy consumed him. He longed to share intimate moments like this with his son, but they'd had years of bonding to build such a strong trust in each other. He couldn't expect it to happen overnight. No, it would take time and patience. He sensed his heart rate decrease as he inwardly convinced himself that anything worthwhile would take time. And to him, spending time with his son was worth all the riches in the world.

Whatever, Belle, had spoken to him must have been a powerful incantation because as soon as she'd lowered him to the ground, he'd stepped forward – only a few feet stood between him and, Simon, now. Gold refrained from hugging his son, too much emotion would surely frighten the boy away. Neal stuck out his hand for a shake.

Gold reluctantly took it, afraid the boy would vanish in wisps of smoke. Neal shook his hand firmly. "I'm Neal French. What should I call you?"

A broad smile stretched across Simon's face. "My name is Simon Gold, and it's a pleasure to meet you, Neal. You may call me anything you'd like," he stated warmly.

Neal released his hand, stroking his chin in contemplation. "What about Mr. Gold, for now? When we become better friends, I'll start calling you Simon. Mom says it's rude to address someone you've just met by their first name," he replied.

Gold chuckled, flashing Belle an amused glance. "Your mother sounds like a very wise woman. If that's what you wish, then I'm okay with it," he replied in his thick brogue.

Neal nodded exuberantly, taking Simon by the hand. "Would you like to see my room, Mr. Gold? I have an awesome Lego Star Wars collection!"

Simon rose to his feet, glancing at Belle for approval. She simply nodded, smiling. He grabbed his cane, following Neal to his bedroom. Belle trailed close behind to observe their exchange. She was pleasantly surprised how Gold managed to keep up with her rambunctious, eight-year old. Neal showed Simon his entire Lego collection. Simon engaged with the boy, smiling and delighting over the most trivial things Neal said. It was truly a sight – to see her son communicate with someone in a way she'd never witnessed before. Every child needed their father, and Belle secretly hoped this arrangement continued to work out. Despite his reassurance that he wouldn't steal, Neal, away, she would still keep her eyes and ears open because no one had ever given her any reason to trust them before. She wasn't banking on Simon Gold being the exception either.

A/AN: Neal, Gold, and Belle go to their first family outing, and we see a peek into the past, concerning how Gold and Milah met.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Four

Simon laid on his back, gazing up at the popcorn ceiling. He attempted to count the tiny, sparkling flecks to help pass the time away. He was staying at the only inn the town offered. It had an adjoining diner he would meet Neal and Belle at in approximately three more hours. He'd barely slept a wink the previous night – too giddy to claim any proper shuteye. The day before had gone splendidly. He'd spent all day with his boy, playing with Legos and super hero, action figures. Belle had called out of work and allowed, Neal, to stay home from school and spend time with him. He felt a bit guilty for causing them to miss their daily obligations, but neither of them had seemed fazed. Belle had even cooked them all a hearty breakfast. He spent the entire day with the pair, until it was time for, Neal, to turn in. He'd earned a hug and been requested to stay and read him a bedtime story. Simon had been elated to do both, and held onto every precious second until it was time to say goodbye.

He sensed himself drifting off again, clinging desperately to the unfamiliar euphoria he felt. It was mind boggling to think his search was truly over. He'd found his lost son. All would be better now. Belle – the woman who'd raised, Neal, had accepted him. Neal had even warmed up to him by the end of the day, but Simon's thoughts didn't stay pleasant for long. As he slipped into unconscious, a woman he wished to never see again emerged within his subconscious.

Ten Years Ago...

Gold scrubbed his hand down his face. He'd been sitting in this bloody office all day – interviewing housekeepers. His faithful housekeeper of over fifteen years had recently passed away. No one would ever replace, Glenda Potts. However, he had to quickly fill her position. Penthouses didn't clean themselves, and he was far too busy at the firm to care for it himself. Having a bad ligament didn't help matters either. He refused to allow his birth defect to slow him down, but cleaning wasn't something he was willing to take up. Someone knocked lightly on the door, alerting him to their presence.

"Come in!" Simon called back.

A bald man peeped inside. "Mr. Gold, your next probable client is here for her interview." His assistant, Dove, announced.

"Send them in," Gold replied, waving him away.

"Very well, Mr. Gold," Dove replied, opening the door. A woman with dark ebony hair and pale green eyes sauntered in.

"Please, take a seat," Simon commanded, gesturing to the black office chair facing his desk.

The woman sat down, her hands poised in her lap. She wore a modest white blouse and threadbare, brown slacks. Thrift store clothes, no doubt, Gold surmised. He shifted in his seat, clearing his throat. "Please state your name."

The woman met his gaze, nodding formally. "Milah Sanchez."

"Well, Ms. Sanchez, the resume you emailed me says you've worked in housekeeping in various hotel chains for the last three years. That certainly qualifies you, but, my question is: why do you wish to work for me?" he inquired, casting her an assessing glance.

"I enjoy cleaning, very much. I'd rather clean people's houses than work for anymore hotel, cleaning services. I enjoy the leisurely pace, besides hurriedly attempting to get my work finished. Three or four weekly clients is all I wish to undertake at this moment. It would allow me to be more flexible, especially since I'm attending night school," Milah explained.

Gold formed his fingers into a steeple. "You'll be expected to keep my house immaculate. I don't accept sloppy or hurried work. And don't you ever decide to steal from me because I know this house by the back of my hand. I have an itemized inventory of every single possession I own. And if one bauble is out of place, I'll know it immediately," he warned.

Milah's gaze sharpened. "I don't steal from others, especially rich, older men. I'm very meticulous with my work and will probably surpass your expectations."

Milah wasn't intimidated by him, and Simon knew it. The air thickened around them, sending a thrill down his spine. "Very well then, Ms. Sanchez, I'll put you on a two week probationary period and see how you fair. After two weeks are up, I'll pay you for your time or provide you with the opportunity to sign a one year contract – if I decide to hire you. After one year, I'll renew your contract if I'm pleased with your work," he explained.

"You've got yourself a deal, I look forward to working for you," she replied, a mischievousness glimmer flickering across her gaze.

Simon felt his stomach involuntarily somersault at the way she looked at him. "Be here on Monday at six o'clock sharp. Your shift will be from six until six on Mondays and Tuesdays. I'll have a list of your required duties prepared for you on Monday. If you're unable to complete my list of demands, then I'll release you from your services. I expect every piece of silver to glisten like diamonds when you're finished. I have very high expectations, and I'm not an easy man to please. You'll realize that once you've come to work for me," he remarked snidely.

Milah snickered at his jeering. "I believe you'll be quite pleased with my work. I'll see you on Monday, Mr. Gold." She smirked, swaying her hips tauntingly as she left his office.

There was no doubt she was attractive, and Simon wasn't about to allow himself to be seduced by some twenty-something. He was nearing forty and didn't have time to settle down. Running his own law firm meant he was rarely home. Deep down, he knew he didn't have time to have a family. It would be unfair to create something which he would undoubtedly neglect. Gold shook his head, pouring himself a glass of scotch. He wouldn't allow, Milah Sanchez, to get under his skin. She was merely the help and nothing more.

Present Day

Simon awoke in a cold sweat – the sound of his phone alarm had awakened him. He shut it off, stumbling to the bathroom to ready himself for the day. Why had he dreamed of that dreadful woman? Seeing his son must have triggered a memory from the past. He turned the shower on, relishing the feeling of the tepid water washing over his body. He lingered in the shower for several minutes, attempting to banish images of her from his mind. One night of drunken passion had led to this eight year witch hunt. Milah had never stolen any of his monetary possessions. No, she'd done much worse. She'd taken his bruised heart and stomped on what was left of it. She never wished to be a mother. They'd made an arrangement. She would have his child and grant him full custody. He'd given her the opportunity to make a clean break, but Milah was vile and vindictive. She never had any plans of allowing him to keep his child. Perhaps it was because she'd truly loved him, and he didn't return her affections. Stealing, Neal, away from him was the ultimate punishment for breaking her heart.

Simon's inward berating continued until he met, Belle, at the diner. She wore a sky-blue turtleneck and black slacks. Black heels peeped beneath her dress pants, and the formal up-do she wore complimented her elegant features. Neal was adorned in his school uniform – khaki pants and a white polo shirt. When he spotted, Simon, his eyes lit up, and he waved eagerly.

Belle threw her hand up in a small wave, gesticulating to a corner booth. Simon nodded in approval, following their lead. He abandoned his insecurities for the moment, taking the seat facing Belle and Neal.

"Mr. Gold, how are you this morning?" Belle remarked formally.

"I'm well and yourself?" he inquired cordially.

"Very well, thank you for asking," she replied, averting her gaze to Neal. He glanced between them impatiently.

"Mom, can we order the breakfast palooza!?" he requested excitedly.

"Neal, you know that's an awful lot of food," she remarked, casting him a look of motherly concern.

Neal proceeded to kick his feet back and forth. "Not if we all share it."

Gold blinked owlishly. "Just what is this breakfast palooza?"

Neal's eyes lit up in excitement at his inquiry. "It comes with five different kinds of pancakes, ten scrambled eggs, twelve sausage patties, ten slices of bacon, a bazillion biscuits – with an assortment of jellies and jams!" he exaggerated.

"And here I was just thinking of ordering myself a black coffee," he chuckled. Belle noted how Simon's mouth crinkled into a wide smile when he gazed at Neal. She'd never witnessed that light in Milah's eyes when she'd kissed, Neal, affectionately for the final time before leaving him in her care. Gold truly did care for his son, and Belle couldn't help but believe it was beautiful.

"Alright, Neal, if you'd like to order this breakfast palooza, then we'll give it a go," he winked at Neal. "What do you say, Belle?" he asked. Belle met his gaze, and his eyes told her he was waiting for her to give her consent.

"Sure, but it'll take all of us to finish it," she chuckled.

"Awesome! Thanks, Mom, you're the best!" Neal pumped his fist in the air excitedly as, Simon, told the approaching waitress their orders. She quickly scribbled them down, and Belle noticed she was eying, Simon, skeptically. It was only a matter of time before news spread of an unfamiliar man in town. Belle didn't have boyfriends because she was too focused on raising, Neal, to commit to anyone. It had always been just the two of them, and she was comfortable with it being that way. But things were quickly changing, and Belle would begrudgingly have to make room for one more. The future was filled with endless twists and turns, and for once in her life, she was terrified.

Belle picked at her food, lost in deep thought as, Simon and Neal, scarfed down most of it. Soon it was time to take, Neal, to school. Simon had footed the bill, though she'd insisted on paying half. He'd vowed to call and check in later, muttering something about having a conference call at eight. Neal had hugged him quickly, before they departed, and she drove him to school. She made it to the library but didn't open immediately. She locked herself in her office, falling to the floor – sobbing until she was empty. Belle never had dealt with change well, and Simon Gold had just turned her world on its axis.

A/AN: In the next chapter, Gold and Belle discuss custody agreements.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Five

Belle fidgeted in her office chair, her eyes trained on the novel she was attempting to read during her lunch break. A hot cup of camomile tea and a blueberry scone for lunch had calmed her frazzled nerves. Having a mental break down before opening the library that morning had opened her mind to various ways their situation could go. Simon would either agree to share equal custody with her, or sentence her to seeing, Neal, every other weekend. No matter what he chose, there was nothing she could do about it. She wasn't Neal's birth mother. Belle felt her insides flip flop when the thought crossed her mind. For eight years, she was the only guardian, Neal, had ever known. She'd changed every diaper, kissed every skinned knee, and monitored him through the entire night when he was with fever. Those were moments no one would be able to steal away from her or erase from her mind. Belle was pulled from her musings when she heard a steady knock at her door. No one ever disturbed her except for her assistant – Ashley Boyd.

"What is it, Ashley?" Belle called back, not lifting her eyes from the page.

"Um, It's, Simon, may I come in?" He called back timidly.

Belle nearly knocked her cup of tea over, upon hearing his unexpected voice. She quickly shut her novel, shoving the scantily dressed couple on the tome under a pile of papers. A rosy blush bloomed to her cheeks as she addressed him: "Come in!"

Simon gingerly opened the door, closing it behind him. "I was hoping we could talk," he remarked sheepishly, tightening his grip on his cane. Belle observed peach flesh turn bone white.

She cleared her throat. "Why don't you have a seat then? I could get you a cup of tea if you'd like," she offered, gesticulating the empty chair facing her desk.

"No, I'm fine, thank you," he replied, taking a seat. The chair squeaked agitatedly when he sat down, breaking the nervous tension which had formed between them.

He blinked owlishly, glancing around as if he hadn't a clue where the noise had originated from. Belle exuded an unladylike snort at his uncanny reaction. "I'm so sorry, Simon!" She gasped, clasping her hands over her mouth in consternation. Peals of laughter erupted from his throat at her reaction.

"I'm so sorry!" She flushed crimson.

"It's quite all right," he chuckled, flashing her a toothy grin. A single gold filling glittered under the florescence, and she wondered what the story was behind it.

Belle found herself smiling back. "Well, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?" She poised her hands in her lap, maintaining eye contact with him.

"I'd like to establish a custody agreement with you, I realize it's nearly spring, and then, Neal, will be out for summer break after that. I need to get back to Seattle, soon, I have my law firm, which I oversee. I plan to come back to town within the month, but I'll need to head out within the next couple of days. I'd like for him to remain here for the duration of the school term. Then I was hoping he could come back to Seattle with me for the following school year. There are many prestigious private schools in the area, and I'm willing to invest any amount into his education. The custody agreement I'd like arrange with you will require some thought on your part. My penthouse is quite spacious, and I'd be overjoyed if you agreed to come live with me. You'd be provided with your own private quarters. I know it's a lot to ask because you're already settled here in Storybrooke, and if you're unsatisfied with my proposition, then we'll work out another arrangement. I just believe, Neal, would be able to thrive if both his parents were around," Simon proposed.

Belle was floored by his generosity. Tears leaked involuntarily from her eyes, she wouldn't have to go weeks or months without seeing, Neal.

"Are you alright? I'm sorry if-"

"I'm more than alright, I'm perfect. The only ties I have to any place are my son. I'd move to mars if it meant I would be with him, I'll accept your offer. I'm sure, Neal, will be hesitant about the transition at first, but he's always fared well with adjusting. I'm sure he'll be just fine," she added, relief flooding her chest.

"So you'll go with me?" he inquired hopefully.

"Yes, but we'll need to talk it over with, Neal, too. I want us to tell him together," she replied.

"Absolutely, of course," he nodded amicably.

Belle held up her index finger, an important query leaping onto her tongue. "However, if I'm going to be staying with you in your home, I believe you and I should spend some quality time together as well. No more abrupt meetings. Let's plan a date, what do you say, Simon?" She grinned, testing him.

Simon felt his throat constrict at her suggestion, he had to force himself to breathe. "Yes, of course, that will be fine." He forced a smile, as if she'd just asked him to drink poison.

"I'll be in touch, then. And, Simon, make sure you come over for dinner tonight," she added, smiling sweetly as she watched him stagger to the door. He muttered an "okay" before hurriedly leaving. Belle couldn't help the smirk that graced her lips. Simon Gold had been kind enough, but there was no way in hell she was moving to Seattle, or allowing him to tote, Neal, away before she figured him out. She had to know if what he said was genuine or if he was merely toying with her. She felt brave despite her fears. Neal was her greatest treasure, and she wouldn't just hand him over to anyone, including his birth father. He would have to earn their trust if he wished to be a part of their lives.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Six

Simon adjusted his cuff links. Tonight he was having dinner with Belle and Neal. He'd been to her house once before, so why did he feel like puking? Perhaps it was the comment she'd made earlier about going on a date. She hadn't indicated it had to be of the romantic nature. If there was one area, Simon, was severely lacking in, it was romance. He'd been married once – in his early twenties. A beautiful woman from an aristocratic family, named Cora. She'd been the daughter of the man whose firm he'd been working under at the beginning of his career. It had been lust at first sight. She'd thrilled, Simon, in a way no other woman ever had, and he'd been so enamored with her when he'd asked her to marry him. But their marriage had transformed from a blazing flame to simmering embers in only a matter of a year. Divorce papers were filed, and Cora had flounced away – looking for her next victim. She'd remarried less than a year later to a Duke from England. The last he'd heard, she had two daughters with him, but that had been more than twenty years ago. By now, Cora, had probably burned through his millions and moved on to the next unsuspecting buffoon. He couldn't assume, Belle, had the same intentions. No, she was merely looking out for, Neal. Whatever transpired between them would be strictly platonic. He snorted at the prospect of any sane woman ever wanting him. Ever since his failed Marriage to, Cora, he'd deemed himself unlovable. But there was no use in mulling over his past, he may not have had the best luck with relationships, but he could at least work on being a good father. He had a feeling he would excel at that.

Gold straightened his tie as he drank in his appearance. Not a hair was out of place, and there wasn't a single wrinkle traceable on his impeccable suit. It was time to head over to Belle's. He'd picked up a gift for, Neal. It was a video game he'd chatted non-stop about during their first visit. The car ride over had taken less than ten minutes. They lived only a few miles outside of the city limits, if Storybrooke could be dubbed as such. It was so small, Gold was astonished it was even on a map.

It was half past six when he'd arrived. He rang the doorbell, feeling his palms dampen with perspiration. Why was he so nervous!? Relief flooded his chest when he opened the door to find, Neal, instead of Belle.

"Hello, Mr. Gold! It's nice to see you again. Mom is still in the kitchen, but dinner is almost ready," Neal greeted him warmly, smiling brightly.

"And hello to you, Neal." Simon felt unfamiliar warmth seep from his head all the way down to his toes. Was this the kind of sensations parents felt whenever they saw their children? Gold wondered as much. He entered the house, toeing out of his expensive loafers, revealing his argyle socks.

Neal eyed the wrapped present he held in his hands. "Oh, what's that, Mr. Gold?" he inquired curiously.

Gold chuckled. "Oh, just a little something I picked up for you," he replied, handing, Neal, the box.

"Can I open it now!?" He inquired enthusiastically.

"How about after dinner?" Gold suggested.

"Okay," Neal said – slightly disappointed.

Simon ruffled Neal's brown mop of curls affectionately. "In the meantime, take this to your room."

Neal saluted him. "Sir, yes, Sir!" he shouted, taking off down the hallway.

Gold couldn't help but grin as he sauntered into the kitchen – a pleasant aroma filling his nostrils. "Something smells exquisite," he rumbled in his Scottish brogue.

Belle turned from the stove, smiling. "I thought I heard you pull up. Tonight, we're having stuffed shells, rosemary potatoes, and baked squash. And if you decide to stick around for a bit, chocolate, raspberry cheesecake for dessert," she added in her mock, Italian accent.

"And here I was expecting a cheeseburger and fries," he jested.

Belle tapped her chin in contemplation. "That could be arranged, but I thought our first, official family-meal together could be a bit more refined."

"You mean the breakfast from the other day doesn't count?" he inquired, his heart fluttering at the word family.

"Perhaps you're right, well this one is just one of many more," she replied, turning back to her task.

Gold traipsed back into the family room – to find, Neal, sitting in front of the television. "What are you watching?"

"Just the weather," Neal shrugged. "I want to make sure it isn't going to rain tomorrow, so I can know if I can go hang out with my friends at the park. We don't have cable, so there isn't much of a selection. Mom says too much television rots your brain. I like to read a lot, though."

Gold was impressed by his answer. He imagined if, Milah, had held onto, Neal, he would have been stuck in front of a television all of the time. He cringed at the thought of what might have happened to his boy if she'd kept him. He may not even be alive.

"Dinner is ready!" Belle alerted them, pulling him from his despondent musings.

Neal quickly switched off the TV, prancing into the kitchen. "Smells great, Mom!" he praised.

"Thank you, my prince," she bowed humbly, eliciting a giggle from him.

"Don't embarrass me, Mom!" he chided, glancing at Simon – leaning casually against the doorway.

Belle smirked, grabbing him and placing a wet kiss against his cheek. "You'll never be too old for me to embarrass, in fact it'll only get worse as you age!" she cackled.

"Mom!" he groaned, attempting to pull away.

Simon chuckled at their warm exchange. It was endearing, and he yearned to be a part of it. Belle released him, clapping her hands together. "Alright! Who's hungry!?" she asked, glancing between them.

"Me!" Neal yelled exuberantly, grabbing a plate and beginning to fill it with Belle's delectable dishes.

Belle cleared her throat. "Neal, you know in this house that whenever we have a guest, we allow them to go first. Simon is our guest," she reminded him, casting a motherly glance.

Neal's mouth formed into a perfect O. "Right, I'm sorry, you go first, Mr. Gold," he added, laying his half-filled plate aside.

Gold was about to object and say it was perfectly fine for, Neal, to go first, but he didn't want to disturb the equilibrium of their household. It wasn't his right to infringe on territory he was just beginning to learn. Neal had been under Belle's care for the last eight years, and he didn't want to upset the system she already had in place.

"Thank you," Simon simply stated, smiling softly at the duo as he began to fill his plate. He sat down at the table, followed by Neal, and finally, Belle. She glanced knowingly at, Neal. He nodded in understanding, bowing his head. Gold followed suit, ignorant of the fact they had a religious foundation. There was so much he still didn't know about their lives yet longed to unravel.

Neal led them in a simple prayer. "Dear Lord, thank you for bringing us together again. Thank you for this food, for mom, and for allowing me to find my dad, Mr. Gold. Amen." He lifted his head, smiling. Gold was touched by the simple sacrament.

"Now, everyone, dig in!" Belle encouraged.

Simon procured a small bite of baked squash onto his fork. He had to refrain from moaning as the assortment of spices and seasonings exploded on his palette. Belle was an astounding cook, and he managed to clean his plate and go for seconds. Conversation was scarce as they stuffed their faces. No one really felt prompted to say anything, until, Belle decided to cut the cheesecake.

She sat three plates on the table before broaching the subject of the night – moving to Boston with, Simon, later that year. "Neal, there's something, Simon, and I would like to discuss with you," Belle said, nodding at him in affirmation.

Simon felt a lump form in his throat, his stomach flip flopping in anticipation. Neal dropped his fork on his plate, gazing at him expectantly. "Your mother and I were discussing earlier today, how it might be nice if you both came to live with me in Seattle. I live in a large penthouse, and there's more than enough room for the both of you. We thought it would be best if you finished out the school year in Storybrooke. You could both make the move this summer," he remarked casually.

Neal blinked owlishly at his revelation. "What about Mom's job? She'd have to find another," he remarked, panicking.

Belle reached her had across the table, clasping his gently. "Mommy can find another job, hunny," she reassured him.

Neal glanced at her, concerned. "But what about my school and my friends?"

"You can always come back and visit. Seattle is huge. You'll have your pick of any school you'd wish to attend," Gold blurted out abruptly.

Neal slammed his fist down on the table. "I don't care about Seattle! I like the school I attend here! Maybe you should go back there if you like it so much!" he shouted, tears streaming down his cheeks. He raced from the kitchen and to his room. Belle flinched when she heard his bedroom door slam.

"I'm so sorry, Simon. I wasn't expecting that reaction, but we'll sort it out. We'll make him see," she sighed exhaustively, scrubbing her hand down her face. Simon noted how tired she looked. For so long she'd had to do it herself, and he wondered if he truly had the right to intrude on their established lives.

Simon shook his head despondently. "No, it's my fault, it's too soon."

"Let me talk to him, how about I call you in the morning?" she proposed.

Simon glanced at his half eaten cheesecake. "Sure," he supplied, allowing her to escort him to the door. She cast him a somber look before she shut the door behind her. In reality, it seemed like she was shutting him out. What would it take for Neal to see that he just wanted to have a relationship with him? It would take time to nurture a bond of trust, but it didn't mean he would enjoy the process.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Seven

Belle glanced at the clock in the foyer, waiting three long, eternal minutes before she decided to venture into Neal's room. She exhaled sharply, knocking hesitantly. "Go away!" The voice of the little boy on the other side reverberated. Belle sighed, pushing the door open. She peeped inside, observing, Neal, angrily attempting to piece together a Star Wars puzzle.

"May I come in?" she inquired.

"Sure," he mumbled irritably under his breath.

Belle sat down on the bed with him, the mattress dipping with their combined weight, pressing down on it.

"If he thinks I'm moving, he can pack his bags and just go!" Neal scoffed, flinging a puzzle piece into an obsolete corner. Her little boy radiated frustration, and she knew she would need to choose her words wisely.

"Did you know, Simon, has been looking for you all across the country for eight long years? He doesn't mean to make you unhappy, but there must be some level of compromise. It could be a new adventure for the both of us," Belle reasoned.

"But what if I hate it there? What if the other kids aren't nice to me?" he sniffled.

Belle stroked his cheek affectionately, placing the puzzle pieces back in the box as she laid down beside him. "Life is full of unexpected transitions. Storybrooke is the only place you've ever known. We've barely ever left the city limits. There's a whole world out there to explore," she added, sweeping her hand in an outwards motion.

"It's not just that," Neal remarked quietly, pausing. "I've never had a dad before and since I've found out I have one, I can't imagine loving him as much as I love you. My heart just isn't that big," he lamented, facing her.

Belle's heart skipped a beat from his declaration. "I've found the heart isn't limited to how many people you put in it. It simply expands. It has the capacity to love numerous amounts of people without ever becoming too full. You have my permission to love Simon as much as you love me. In fact, I encourage it."

Neal shook his head. "It'll never happen, you'll always have first place in my heart," he remarked adamantly, kissing her cheek softly.

Belle smiled as he curled up next to her, yawning. "Ready for me to tuck you in?"

"Not yet, just stay awhile," he mumbled drowsily.

"Sure thing, pumpkin," she replied. She'd only meant to stay until he'd fallen asleep, but slumber soon overwhelmed her, and she didn't awaken until half and hour before her alarm was set to go off. She opened her eyes hazily, noting her arm had gone completely numb. She realized where she was, glancing over to see, Neal, laying on top of her limb. Belle silently groaned, attempting to pull away without disturbing him. When she managed to get him to release her from his grasp, she rubbed her arm until she could feel the warmth return.

Guilt seized her chest when she realized how she'd left things with Simon. He at least deserved a phone call before she'd turned in for the evening. She assumed he'd fretted all night long after, Neal's awkward outburst. She picked up her phone, dialing his number.

"Hello?" He answered groggily.

Belle bit her lip until she could taste the tang of iron on her tongue. He'd been asleep. She'd called too early. "You there?" he muttered, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

"Um, yeah, sorry for calling so early. I just wanted to let you know that I talked to Neal. He calmed down a lot once I was able to reason with him. It'll take time to persuade him about the move, but I'm certain he'll warm up to it, eventually," she spoke quickly.

"No, I shouldn't have ever sprung it on him like that. You both already have established lives here. It isn't right for me to force you to uproot yourselves just to suit me," he apologized.

"We should give it time, see how things progress," Belle suggested.

"Yes, I'm just so eager to have him in my life, it's going to kill me once I have to leave him tomorrow," he remarked despondently.

"You can call him every night, face time him even," she blurted out abruptly.

"Really?" he remarked in disbelief.

"Really," she confirmed – an unexpected smile blooming to her lips.

At that moment, Neal had ventured into her bedroom. "Mom, who are you talking to?" he inquired, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"Your father," she supplied, "would you like to talk to him? Say good morning at least?"

"Sure," he consented without hesitation, reaching for the phone.

"Hello, Mr. Gold, how are you this morning?" Neal greeted him warmly, carding his fingers through his mussed locks.

"Still a bit drowsy but fair, did you like the present I got you?" Gold returned.

"TOTALLY! I'm super excited to play my new video game!" He exclaimed. Belle furrowed an elegant brow at his admittance. Simon hadn't mentioned anything about purchasing a gift for him. She surmised it was the video game, Neal had added to his birthday list. He'd been begging for it for months. She hadn't budged – given in to him. She would need to discuss these matters with Simon. If he wasn't careful, Neal would swindle him into buying his entire birthday list and then some.

Belle continued to listen to their exchange until he handed her back the phone. "Gotta pee," Neal mumbled, hurriedly dashing away.

"Hello?" Belle reverberated into the receiver.

"Hey, where did Neal go?" Gold asked, surprised to hear her voice.

"The bathroom, he needs to get ready for school. Why don't you come over around six? I'll order some pizza, and you can spend time with him before you have to head home," she suggested.

"Yeah, I have some work to do anyway. The firm keeps calling, pestering me about this upcoming case," he remarked casually.

"Wow, what's it entail?" she probed.

"The most I can say is there have been a string of murders within the Hyperion Heights area. I'm representing the family of one of the victims. They finally nabbed a suspect," he explained.

"Well good luck," Belle mumbled, her mind swirling with queries.

"I'll talk to you later, Belle, I actually have an incoming call from the firm," he added, ending the call before she had a chance to reply. She blinked owlishly, sitting her cellular device back on the nightstand. Her son's birth father was a lawyer, and she wondered how many cases he'd won. A simple Google search was all it took to make her realize he was the most successful and renowned lawyer in the entire state of Washington.

For the rest of the day, Belle contemplated about Simon and the life he lived as a single bachelor and lawyer. He hadn't indicated if there was a significant other. She was certain he would have brought it up if there had been. For some peculiar reason, she was drawn to him. She wasn't sure if it was merely because he was Neal's father, or she secretly thought he was a silver fox. Either way, she planned to keep it casual. Being attracted to him was acceptable but acting upon said attraction was forbidden. Neal deserved a stable life, and she would provide that for him, as she always had before.

When he arrived that evening, Belle had already picked up the pizza - accompanied by a couple of sodas. He wore his usual business attire, and she couldn't control her eyes as they roamed over his lithe form. He was every bit of a fox in the suit he'd chosen to adorn himself in that evening. Belle forced her brain to focus on setting the table and pouring their drinks as he chatted with Neal in the other room.

"Dinner is ready!" she remarked loudly.

Neal bounded into the kitchen, followed by Simon. He smiled candidly as he took a seat adjacent from her. Belle meekly returned the smile, training her eyes on Neal. She would steal glances at Gold occasionally, but the more she did, the more compelled she was to undress him with her eyes. Belle hadn't had a steady boyfriend since college and none of the eligible bachelors in Storybrooke had ever appealed to her. When she'd first moved to town, she was asked out often. Rejecting her pursuing admirers had eventually made them realize she had no intention of dating them. They stopped calling her, and she was relieved. Staying in Storybrooke this long had never been in the cards for her, until Neal. He'd changed everything, eliciting every maternal instinct she didn't realize she'd possessed.

The adults allowed, Neal, to control most of the conversation. They were subconsciously veering on the safe side, whether they realized it or not. Neal picked up on how awkward they were being toward each other after the pizza was half gone. A plot to break the tension began to formulate in the back of his mind.

"Hey, Mom, wanna play my new video game, Mr. Gold purchased for me? You too, Mr. Gold," Neal proposed, gazing between them.

"Um, sure," Belle added. "Just let me clean up."

"It can wait, Mom," Neal reassured her. "Mr. Gold, wanna try it out? I bet Mom and me can cream you!" He teased.

A playful glint flickered across his gaze. "I believe I can take you."

Belle smirked. "It's on!"

A sense of competitiveness overwhelmed her as the three of them rushed to Neal's room. He quickly turned the game on, handing them both a controller. Simon quickly learned the mechanics of the wrestling game he'd purchased for, Neal. Belle threw punches at Simon's character, while Neal coached her on what moves to make. After three rounds, Belle emerged the victor.

"I feel like the victim here, no one cheered me on," Simon pouted, frowning. He pretended to cry as, Belle, stuck her index finger in his face. "Girl power, Simon! I am the champion!" She stood up, pumping her fist in the air victoriously.

"Okay, Mom, no gloating, or you'll hurt Simon's feelings," he gently chided.

Simon glanced up, grinning at the bickering pair. "Despite having my ego annihilated, I've enjoyed our game, Belle."

Belle flushed deeply, meeting his gaze – his infectious smile making unfamiliar heat blaze in her abdomen. It spread across his entire face, and she thought it was beautiful, just like Neal's. "Yes, good game," she replied, reaching out to shake his hand. The moment their fingers intertwined, she felt a surge of electricity spiral through her.

Simon cleared his throat, glancing down at his watch. "Well, I guess I should get going. I have to drive back to New York to catch my flight. The car I'm using was borrowed from a friend," he remarked hurriedly.

Belle wondered if he'd felt the climactic exchange of energy, too. He'd bid, Neal, goodnight, hugging him securely – waving briefly at her before he made his way back to the inn. In a flash, he was gone. For the next three weeks, he called to talk to, Neal, every night, speaking cordially to her whenever she answered his calls, instead of their son. Belle loathed this invisible wall which had formed between them. Despite their brief encounters, he hadn't become aloof towards her since that night. Whatever cosmic energy they'd exchanged for those few, fleeting seconds, it had triggered something within his soul – something, Belle, was determined to break through.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Eight

Simon Gold nursed his glass of scotch, poring over court documents in his study. He was due back in Storybrooke in less than two weeks. Neal had been going on and on about being cast as a prominent character in an upcoming school play. He dreadfully missed his boy and being away from him an entire month was far too long. Six months ago, all he had to keep him company were his court cases and clients. Now that he'd found his son, life seemed brighter. An image of the enchanting brunette emerged within his subconscious. Belle French was an entirely different matter. She was youthful, radiant, and so beautiful his heart constricted painfully. Purposefully evading her pained him, but becoming too close to her was treading in dangerous territory. When they'd briefly interlaced their fingers in a cordial handshake, he'd felt the earth tremble beneath him. An electric current of forbidden desire had coursed through him, and he suddenly craved a taste of her sweet nectar. What made her so appealing was she was an outstanding mother. He couldn't have asked for a better guardian for Neal.

When he'd first arrived in Storybrooke, he hadn't the faintest idea of what to expect. His son could have been raised by a raving lunatic, for all he'd known. He was relieved to know, Belle, was stable and held down a steady job. Neal seemed like a relatively happy child. He'd been worried sick by his reaction to run away. He'd expected the silent treatment, but Neal believed he was there to rip him away from the only mother he'd ever known.

Gold had been ready to take immediate action if Belle French didn't meet his standards, but she'd exceeded them in so many ways. She cared for Neal's well being more than her own, which was a trait he greatly admired.

Simon's trip back to Storybrooke made him anxious. He was unable to refrain from fiddling with his tie or biting his nails. Perhaps it was because he wouldn't be staying at the inn this time. Belle had insisted he use their guestroom during his next stay. It was foolish not to accept, especially since they'd all be living under the same roof, eventually.

He'd parked his car by the curb – unloading his luggage. Belle had met him at the door, insistent on helping him settle in. Neal had greeted him, holding a nerf gun in his free hand. He followed Belle and Simon to the guestroom, where they'd deposited his luggage.

"Simon, I missed you so much!" Neal remarked, wrapping his arms around his father's waist. Simon felt that familiar rush of warmth again as he patted his boy's dark mop of curls. Neal had began calling him Simon ever since they'd began conversing regularly on the phone. It was just one step down from "dad". Simon hoped his boy would eventually become comfortable with calling him by the moniker he so desperately yearned to hear.

"I missed you too, Neal," Simon returned, beaming proudly at his boy.

Belle clasped her hands modestly at her waist. "Well, I suppose it's time for dinner. You must be starving, Simon, after such an awfully long flight."

"A wee bit, but don't run off just yet, I have something for you both," he supplied, opening one of his bags. He pulled out two, neatly wrapped parcels. Belle blinked curiously, gingerly opening the gift, while Neal tore into his. Belle gasped, finding a blue leather, Prada bag. Though it fit comfortably on her shoulder, she was rendered speechless by the gift. Neal jumped up excitedly when he spied his new video game, peeping beneath the metallic paper.

"Thank you so much!" Neal glowed with excitement, hugging Simon fiercely before dashing out of the room.

"Simon, this is too much, I-"

Simon shook his head. "Please, take it, Belle. You deserve it. No amount of money will ever be substantial enough to thank you for what you've done for my son."

Belle knew forcing him to take back the gift would be wrong. "Thank you so much, Simon, for everything," she replied meekly, pressing a chaste kiss against his cheek. He instinctively touched the place where he'd felt the soft impression of her lips. His skin radiated with warmth, sending heat blazing in his belly. He forced himself to focus on unpacking and hanging up his suits, anything to dissuade his mind from contemplating too heavily about the kiss.

When dinner finally arrived, Gold wasn't disappointed. Belle had prepared roasted pepper and garlic chicken, fresh greens, and a squash casserole. For dessert, she'd made a cranberry surprise. "Where did you learn to cook?" He praised as dozens of herbs and spices exploded on his palette.

"I took a few culinary classes in college, and I might have picked up on a few tricks. The rest is merely from trial and error. I love to cook almost as much as I love to read," she commented, stuffing a forkful of roasted chicken into her mouth.

"You certainly have a knack for it," he replied, tearing into his dessert.

"If you move in with us, then Mom can cook for you all of the time," Neal blurted out innocently, causing Belle to drop her fork. It clattered onto her plate as she met Simon's gaze; he frowned.

Simon quelled his tongue. There had been no further discussion about them moving to Seattle since his prior visit. Correcting Neal would have done him absolutely no good. He would relish spending time with him during this short visit, instead of spoiling everything.

"How about more dessert?" Belle suggested, severing the awkward silence which had settled over them like heavy rain clouds.

"I could go for another helping," Simon replied hurriedly. Belle reached for his plate, spooning more cranberry surprise onto the proper space.

"Mom, may I be excused? I'd like to go try out the new game, Simon, bought for me," Neal requested.

Belle eyed her son's clean plate with approval. "You have half and hour and then it's bedtime," she instructed. Neal grinned, eagerly leaving the table and sprinting down the hall towards his bedroom – leaving the adults in solitude.

"You haven't been able to convince him yet, I see," Gold mumbled, deflated.

Belle sighed. "Would you like some wine?"

"Yes, please," he said, observing her saunter to the cabinet and pluck a bottle of Chardonnay from the wine rack. She procured two glasses from the cupboard, filling them each half full.

Gold took the proffered glass, taking a generous sip of the tart liquid. "I just want him to be happy. Uprooting you both from Storybrooke is wrong."

Belle cast him a sympathetic glance. "Perhaps we should process this from a different angle. You have your practice in Seattle, and we have our lives here. Neal loves his school and friends, but he also adores you. Taking him out of his element would cause him distress, which is why he needs to see where you live and what you do. He needs another perspective to work with."

Gold nodded perceptively. "When is his next scheduled break from school?"

"Spring break is in mid-April, right after his Beauty and the Beast play. He told you he scored the part of Lefou, right?" Belle grinned behind the rim of her glass.

"We spoke briefly about a play, but I had no idea about what role he was playing. That works out perfectly, then. I can schedule my next trip for April, spend the week with you all, and you can catch a plane back to Seattle with me for Neal's spring break," Gold concluded.

"Sounds splendid, I'll put in for a week off when I arrive at work in the morning. Using so much of my vacation time has to be approved by Mayor Mills first. It's protocol all town employees must follow," she affirmed, finishing off her drink.

"As soon as you find out, I'll purchase your plane tickets," he added, pushing his empty wine glass beside hers.

Belle narrowed her gaze at him. "I'll pay for mine and Neal's ticket. I can afford it."

"Perhaps so, but if you're coming to visit me, then I intend to a hospitable host," he countered.

Belle chuckled aridly. "I know you don't want your ego bruised, but I've been taking care of Neal for eight years, with my own paycheck. He may not get everything he wants, but he certainly has everything he needs. I'm still his mother, so stop acting like Daddy Warbucks. I'm more than capable of taking care of us," she bristled, grabbing their glasses and depositing them in the sink.

Gold's jaw clenched in response. "Stop being so prideful and accept my help. I want to be a part of Neal's life and yours."

Belle felt heated from his comment, but she wasn't sure if it was because he'd offended her or she found him utterly delectable in that overpriced suit. She traipsed towards him, her heels making an angry clack against the tile as she closed the distance between them.

Belle's eyes were predatory, and Gold stiffened as she gazed at him with fierce longing. His heart exploded when she seared his lips, pressing her petite frame against every inch of him, making him groan in response. He tangled his fingers into her thick tresses, kissing her breathlessly. She gasped into his throat when he cupped her slender bottom. They pulled apart, breathless from their frenzied make out session.

"Is this supposed to be compensation for that three thousand dollar handbag?" He jested, tucking an errant curl behind her ear.

"No, it's just, I've been wanting to do that ever since we last parted. You've barely spoken a word to me since your departure. I thought we were supposed to be getting better acquainted, and there's also a date you promised to take me on." She gave him a half-lidded gaze, making his groin twitch painfully.

He seized her by the hips, steadying himself. "And what about all of this being strictly platonic?"

Belle shrugged. "A kiss is merely a kiss, unless both parties desire it to entail more," she challenged, tracing the outline of his lips with her index finger.

Gold had the sudden urge to kiss her again, until they heard a pair of feet padding down the hall. They hastily pulled a part, rushing to other sides of the room. "Hey, Mom, can I-" Neal paused upon entering the kitchen, observing the first couple of buttons undone on Belle's shirt. He glanced at Simon's flushed face.

"Never mind, I think I'm going to go brush my teeth and head to bed," Neal remarked, flouncing away.

Belle placed her head in her hands, groaning in frustration.

"I think I'll go have myself a cold shower," Simon commented, leaving her in solitude.

"And I'm going to pour myself another drink," she muttered, inwardly cursing herself for not keeping her desires in check. She knew from the moment their lips touched, she was a goner. She'd been selfish, and she realized she may have just further complicated matters.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Nine

Belle had retired to bed for the evening, saying nothing more to, Gold, after their clandestine encounter. The following morning, she'd made her way into the bathroom, had a refreshing shower, and wrapped herself in a towel – no fear of meeting anyone to the short walk to her bedroom. However, fate had a twisted sense of humor. Belle had ran right smack into a bleary eyed, Simon Gold.

Simon felt the wind being knocked out of him as, Belle, crashed into him – sending them both toppling to the ground. It took him a moment to catch his breath, realizing she was sprawled on top of him, wavering dangerously close to his lips. They stayed in that compromising position for a few, fleeting seconds. She flushed deeply and so did he, realizing she was wearing only a towel. She managed to roll off him, scramble to her feet – grasping the towel tightly around her as she muttered a hurried apology. Simon blinked owlishly as her bedroom door slammed, suddenly. He glanced down at his tented pajama pants. It had been a mistake staying here, for she would surely be the death of him.

Belle leaned against the door frame, attempting to catch her breath and stifle her erratic heartbeat. She'd placed herself and Simon in a very compromising position, after her clumsy episode. She was mortified. What if he'd spied a glimpse of her nudity? The thought exhilarated, yet perturbed her all at once. She chose to distract herself by finishing up her morning routine.

Belle dressed hurriedly, throwing her hair in a bun and donning a maroon blouse, gray pencil skirt, and classic red high heels. She applied a light foundation and lacquered her lips with a scarlet gloss. Rousing Neal from his slumber was the next order of business. She hoped he would cooperate – just this once. Getting him to wake up was more cumbersome than digging a hole to China. She desperately prayed she wouldn't have to interact with Simon. Thankfully, his door was blessedly shut when she passed by.

She sauntered to Neal's door, rapping lightly. "Sweetie, are you up?"

When he didn't respond, she simply pushed open the door. As she'd suspected, he was still fast asleep, curled up under a mound of blankets. Belle dismounted beside the bed, shaking him gently. "Neal, it's time to wake up, you have school today."

Neal hazily opened his eyes, glancing at her. "Mommy?" He yawned, swiping sleep from his eyes.

"Hey, pumpkin, time to get up and greet the day. Get dressed, brush your teeth, and comb your hair," she commanded.

Neal nodded, climbing out of bed without a fight. "Do we have time to stop for breakfast with Simon?" he inquired.

Belle shook her head. "Afraid not, dear, but you'll see him after school. We'll make plans with him later." She was eternally grateful there was no time to spare. She couldn't face him without causing their son to believe something awkward had transpired between them – which had

"Okay," Neal added, his countenance faltering.

Belle's heart plummeted as a look of disappointment eclipsed his features, but she felt fortunate when he hadn't stepped out of his chambers to bid them a good morning. Belle surmised he was feeling the same sense of chagrin as she was. After driving Neal to school, she headed straight for the library – busying herself with all sorts of menial tasks to keep her mind off of the way his body felt pressed immaculately against hers. She barely registered the bell ring – signaling someone had entered. She was standing on a step ladder, busily dusting the top of a book case. When she stepped down and turned, she was standing face to face with Simon Gold.

The feather duster clattered to the floor as she gazed into his deep ocher irises. He reached up to delicately trace a finger down her jawline. "Last night you kissed me and this morning you landed right on top of me – naked. You insisted I stay at your residence. Was it because you meant to seduce me? Because you're doing a bloody fine job of it," he rumbled in his thick brogue, snaking his arm around her waist and pulling her close. The moment their lips touched, Belle felt her skin ignite with flame. She carded her fingers through his short locks while his elegant hands grazed her hips.

Belle pulled away, breathless. "I ran into you because I'm a klutz. Why are you here anyway?" She asked crossly.

Gold smirked at her attempt at being intimidating. "I figured I'd surprise you and return the favor from this morning."

Belle perched a hand on her elegant hip. "Well, it worked. However this time it was you who kissed me. So I take our rendezvous from last night meant something to you after all." She egged him on.

He seized her by the wrist, placing a reverent kiss on the underside of it. "I made us a reservation for an Italian place tomorrow evening. Perhaps Neal can stay at a friends?"

He looked at her as if he wished to devour her, and it thrilled her for someone to gaze at her so blatantly. "Yes, I'll get in touch with August Booth's father."

"I'll see you this afternoon then. I just wanted to drop in, see you, and," he paused, kissing her slowly, "do that." Belle shuddered, yearning to languidly explore his mouth. He severed their kiss as the bell above the door rang. "Until this afternoon." He bid her farewell, leaving her in a daze.

The rest of the afternoon passed by in a blur. Belle kept thinking about this kiss, as she picked Neal up, and drove home. "Mom, can we order pizza?" Neal inquired from the backseat, pulling her from her reverie.

"Sure, call Simon, and ask him what kind he'd like," Belle added, handing him her cellphone.

"Hey, Simon, Mom and I are going to get pizza. She wants to know what kind of toppings you like," Neal stated.

"Okay, we'll get you your own because ghost peppers and anchovies are gross," Neal answered. Belle stifled a giggle as she observed him wrinkle his nose funnily in the rear-view mirror.

After hanging up with Simon, Neal dialed the pizza place from memory and placed their orders. Anchovies and ghost peppers for Simon, pepperoni for herself and Neal. When they arrived home, Simon was already in the kitchen. He'd prepared Belle and himself a garden salad. She met his gaze, sharing a secretive smile as she deposited the pizza boxes onto the table.

Neal was oblivious to what was occurring between his parents. As they ate their dinner, Neal talked animatedly about his day, leaving little room for the adults to converse. He'd dragged Simon away to play video-games while Belle cleaned the kitchen.

At a quarter till eight, Belle interrupted Neal's gaming escapade and made him get ready for bed. Simon had coerced him to listen to her without grumbling. The boy donned his pajamas, receiving a goodnight kiss from Belle and a hug from Simon.

The pair of adults had meandered to the kitchen, and Belle had poured them a complimentary glass of Merlot.

"Any highlights from the day?" Simon jested as she placed the glass in front of him.

"Does getting snogged by a devilishly handsome Scotsman count?" She teased, batting her eyelashes playfully.

Simon blushed at her comment.

"Now I know where Neal inherited his good looks from." She grinned, taking an ample sip of the mauve liquid.

He outlined the rim with his index finger – his eyes averted. "You know, what we did earlier, I'd like to explore more of our chemistry."

"Me too," she replied without missing a beat.

"You would? I don't want to pressure you into anything-"

"-You're not, but we'll need to take it slow. Neal has to be the focal point of our relationship. I refuse to consent to anything which won't benefit him. I don't want to break his heart if it doesn't work between us," she confirmed – her eyes flashing with pure vulnerability.

Gold reached across the table, clasping her hand in his. "I won't, I promise," he reassured her.

"Don't make a promise you may not be able to keep, Simon. It's too early to tell what could happen. You could easily break my heart or vice versa. However the dynamic must remain the same between us for Neal's sake. I'll break my own heart before I ever break his," Belle vowed.

"And I pledge to do the same," he parroted.

"We gotta make this work no matter what, whether we remain platonic or this becomes romantic. We have to be there for him, despite our own reservations," she continued, her accent thickening with emotion.

"You can trust me, Belle. I swear to give you both the best version of myself," he returned. Belle locked her gaze with him. She allowed his declaration to wash over her, filling her with uncertainty. She only hoped she could believe him. If he let her down, she could move on, but if he ever let Neal down, she would never forgive him.

A/AN: They have their first official date next chapter, and more from Gold and Milah's past comes to light.

Chapter Text

The Missing Piece: Part Ten

Eight Years Ago...

Simon pored over the court documents in front of him. It had been a relatively slow day at the office and his case load was miniscule for once. He scrubbed his hand down his face, feeling a bit drowsy. He glanced at the grandfather clock in the foyer. It was already half past eight. He supposed retiring for the evening at a decent hour would do him some good. He relished the quiet and solace of an empty house. As he was about to ascend the stairs, he heard a steady knock at the door. Who in their right mind would dare disturb him at this hour, he wondered. He glanced through the peephole, stunned to see Milah Sanchez on his stoop. He unlatched the door, allowing her entry. She'd been working for him a little over three months and had proven to be a faithful housekeeper thus far.

Gold cast her a stony look. "What can I do for you, Ms. Sanchez? It's awfully late for you to be loitering about, isn't it?"

Milah shrugged. "I'm only here because I left my flash drive. It has some important documents on it for my college English course. My paper is due tomorrow, and I need to print it in the computer lab in the morning before my class starts," she stated pointedly.

Simon was flummoxed. He'd been unsuccessful in his attempts to intimidate Milah Sanchez. He scratched the back of his head. "And where do you think you left it?"

A sly grin tugged at her lips as she sauntered into the kitchen. He followed, observing as she opened the liquor cabinet. She pulled out the thin, pink piece of plastic, grinning as she snatched a bottle of scotch to accompany it.

Simon furrowed a brow as she uncorked the bottle and poured two generous tumblers full. "You've got some nerve prowling in my liquor cabinet," he growled, snatching the bottle from her hand and putting it on the dining table.

She'd planned their encounter. She thrust the glass into his hand, grinning serendipitously as she took a sip of the amber liquid. "You're surely not going to waste good scotch, are you, Mr. Gold?" she remarked testily.

Gold took the glass, draining it. The alcohol burned his throat, but he schooled his features, hoping Milah would take the hint and leave. Instead she parroted his actions, downing her brew and then reaching for the bottle to pour herself another glass. Their comical charade continued – seeing who could out drink the other. Eventually they both lost track of time and rationality. Milah had kissed him first, and he'd kissed her back – his brain fogged over with too much drink. Their movements were sloppy, but he didn't deter her as she unbuttoned his silk shirt. They'd stumbled to the sofa and his drunken mind had convinced him to sleep with her. It was frenzied and short lived before he had time to process what had transpired. He'd awoken the next morning, passed out on the couch with a hangover. He'd convinced himself it was merely a dream since Milah wasn't there since he'd awoken. He took some Asprin and water for his ailment, retiring to his upstairs bedroom for the remainder of the day. He'd called out of the office – a rare occurrence. He was blissfully unaware he was about to become a father.

Present Day

Neal had been excited to spend the night with August – his best friend since kindergarten. Simon had promised to treat Neal to a special outing the following day – just the two of them. He was nervous about spending time alone with his boy, but he was even more anxious about spending it with, Belle French – his birth son's foxy mother.

The car door shut behind him, and Belle cast him a curious glance."So, where are we dining this afternoon?"

"There's a quaint little Italian restaurant about half an hour outside of town. I saw it as I drove into Storybrooke this last time," he explained.

"Well, I'm glad you asked me," she reassured him and herself.

"Me too," he smiled gently as they sped away from the city limits. The car ride was filled with conversation about Neal – a relatively safe topic. There were deeper subjects she'd rather have delved into, but now wasn't the time since they were just becoming acquainted.

Her desire to change the subject vanished once they pulled into the parking lot. Thousands of white stringed fairy lights were draped across the edge of an awning, glittering ethereally within the moonlight.

"How enchanting." She marveled at the display as he opened the passenger side door for her.

"May I?" he inquired, reaching for her hand.

"You may," she obliged, clasping his hand as they continued towards the establishment. His hand felt so naturally in hers, she mused. They approached a woman, standing behind a podium and checking people's names off of a long list of reservations.

"Do you have a reservation?" she inquired in her thick Italian accent.

"Yes, the name is under Gold," Simon supplied.

The woman nodded in confirmation. "Fernando will escort you to your table," she replied, gesturing towards a taller, Italian man, adorned in a three piece suit who smelled heavily of strong cologne.

"Right this way," he commanded, leading them to the back of the establishment and outside onto a patio, with a solitary table overlooking a vast lake. "I'll be back with a complimentary bottle of our special house wine soon and a couple of menus," he remarked, disappearing back inside the venue.

"Simon, what is all of this?" Belle questioned him as she gazed at the lake which glittered under the moonlight. More of the fairy lights surrounded them.

"When I made the reservation, they asked if I'd like any special arrangements, and when they told me they had a private table with a lakeside view, I couldn't resist," he added, pulling out her chair for her to sit.

"It's all so beautiful, but you didn't have to bring me to a five star establishment," she chortled as he took the seat adjacent from her.

"I didn't, but I wanted to," he returned – heat blooming to his cheeks.

"This place is so enchanting. It reminds me of a place from my childhood," she voiced aloud.

"And, what place would that be?" he quizzed, leaning forward in his seat, granting her his undivided attention.

"Just an overlook in Maui. It sported an excellent ocean view behind the property. When my mother was still alive, we lived there a few short years," she expounded – a look of forlornness flashing in his azure depths.

Before he could remark, the waiter had returned with their menus, accompanied by a bottle Chardonnay. He uncorked the bottle, pouring them both a glass flute full of the bubbly liquid. Belle was thankful for the obstruction. She preoccupied herself by thumbing through the menu which was filled with expensive entrees. She decided to order a house salad because she didn't want Simon to think she was spoiled.

After he'd returned and placed their orders, an uncomfortable silence blanketed the atmosphere. As they wordlessly ate their cuisine, an idea struck her. She didn't wish to ignore him, but she was having trouble finding the words, and so was he – as far as she could tell. The few kisses they'd stolen in the last few days didn't mean they were excellent conversationalists.

"It's so pleasant out here tonight, Simon, would you care to dance?" she encouraged, standing to her feet. Dancing was something he was definitely up for, but he hadn't had a partner in ages. He hoped he could recollect the ballroom dance classes his first wife had forced him to take

"Would you believe me if I told you I once took ball room dance classes?" he replied, catching her by surprise.

"I'd say just about anything is possible," she grinned as she stood to her feet. He bowed gentlemanly, proffering her his hand. She sheepishly took it as he led her away from the table. Her azure irises glittered beneath the moonlight, stealing his breath away as he placed his hands on her waist. She wrapped her arms around his neck as they engaged in a slow waltz underneath the moonlight.

"It's too bad there's not enough room out here for a proper dance," he commented as she laid her head on his shoulder, arresting his heart beat.

"One day we'll have a proper dance, but for now, let's just enjoy the moment, Simon," she supplied, relishing the feeling of the security of his arms embracing her. Her close proximity warmed his heart, and so did her declaration of there being another dance, which entailed she desired to move forward with him.

"I certainly look forward to it then," he answered, as he placed his hand on the small of her back.

"Is there anywhere else you'd like to go then?" he inquired, swallowing back the nervous lump in his throat at her sudden bout of silence. They'd been swaying under the moonlight for five whole minutes without a spoken word between them.

Belle glanced up at him, smiling sweetly. "How about a bakery? I could go for some delicious truffles," she grinned cheekily, eliciting a hearty chuckle from his throat.

"Most certainly, do you know of a place?" he asked, the anxious knot in his chest loosening.

"I know just the place," she added, granting him a half-lidded gaze. He captured her lips in a fervent kiss – the bakery and truffles temporarily forgotten as he drank in her intoxicating flavor. Belle didn't seem to mind as she kissed him back with unbidden urgency, causing them to lose themselves within a precious moment of time.

A/AN: Part two of the date next chapter, and Neal and Gold's special outing. ;)