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­“And there’s another one!” Belle gasped on the phone as yet another sloppily folded paper airplane was thrown over her fence and landed in her garden.

This mysterious littering had begun less than a week ago after her new neighbors moved into the long-empty salmon mansion. The house was old and needed more updates than repairs, but somehow the color hadn’t faded a bit. Belle had thought it was the ugliest site when she first moved in, but had grown fond of the quirky color after a few weeks.

As per small-town tradition, Belle had tried to do the neighborly thing and introduce herself, but her neighbor—Milah, as Belle would later learn—wouldn’t leave the phone long enough to shake her hand.

 “She’s always like that,” a boy had sighed from behind a corner when Milah waved her off. “It’s either her art dealer or her boyfriend.”

Belle had expected the remark to come from a young teenager, but was astonished to find it had come from a young boy with a mass of curls and glassy brown eyes.

Belle exchanged her not-so-homemade brownies for his name: Baelfire. He was five, liked to read and sometimes draw, and he and his mom had moved to Storybrooke for the “artistic aesthetic” as Milah would say.

Belle had snorted at that. Storybrooke was nice, but it was as dull as the day after Christmas and Milah would have a hard time finding inspiration.

“Though places like Storybrooke have their own kind of magic,” Belle said to Bae as she began to make her leave. “There’s a little bit around every corner.”

She frowned when Baelfire’s solemn face barely changed. She smiled bravely and knelt to his level.

“But sometimes it hides in the most unusual places,” she pulled out her purse and procured a crumpled library card. “Maybe you can find it there.”

Bae had thanked her quietly but had yet to visit her library.

Belle allowed the matter to rest, writing it off as settling in or a greater interest in video games than reading.

That is until yesterday when a paper airplane landed smacked dab in her glass of ice tea as she was lounging by her rose bushes.

“What on…” Belle gasped as she plucked the soaked paper from the ice and lemon. With a disgusted scoff she rolled out of her chair and slowly peaked through one of the spaces in her fence. She could just see someone moving about, and she moved to the next crack for a better look, and then the next one until she finally could see her familiar fluffy-haired neighbor. He was staring at the fence mournfully, as if he had just lost a major ball game. Belle frowned in pity, considering poking her head over and striking up a conversation (as well as an explanation about the paper airplane that had ruined her iced tea).

Before she could, an accented voice called out his name, and Bae made a procrastinated waltz back into the house.

Belle mused on the subject for a moment, the holding airplane up by the edge of it’s only dry corner. She considered going next door and talking to him and his mother, but immediately scratched the idea. She wasn’t some ornery old woman who shook her fist in the air and complained about ‘kids today’. She was a vibrate woman in her early 30’s who could handle a little neighborly chaos.

As she put the airplane in her rubbage bin, she decided to drop the whole subject and leave her neighbors be.

That is until she woke up the next morning and found not one but two airplanes in her yard.

As before, she simply put them in with the rubbish, muttering a remark about turning the darn things into compost. But then there was another plane the next day, and the next.

So enthralled by the strange occurrence, she called up her friend Ruby to try to figure out what to do.

“Oh, another, that’s three today!” Belle gasped, as excited for the occurrence like a starwatcher was for a meteor shower.

Ruby however found the whole thing to be side-splittingly hilarious.

“I can’t believe this is how you’re spending your time!” Ruby howled over the phone.

Belle rolled her eyes and could just see her painting her toenails and chewing on a twizzler as she balanced the phone on her shoulder, taking her less than seriously.

“Why don’t you just poke your head over the fence and tell him to stop,” Ruby inquired as her lips smacked around the candy. “Or tell his mom?”

“My fence is too tall, and I don’t want to be labeled a predator by talking to him through the cracks,” Belle relayed, ironically watching the activity through her blinds. “Besides, I don’t want to get him in trouble. You should have seen his face when I first met him, Rubes. He looked like someone just killed his pet.”

“Maybe someone did?” Ruby snorted.

“Ha ha,” Belle deadpanned as she stepped away from the window.

“So, what’s in them?”

Belle’s nose wrinkled in question. “What, the planes?”

“No, in Thanksgiving turkeys, yes in the airplanes!” Ruby snarked. “You remember in high school when we used to crumple up balls of papers and toss them while the teacher had her back turned?”

“You mean when you used to,” Belle pointed out as she poured herself a glass of tea.

“Yeah yeah,” Ruby’s rushed. “Anyway, we used to write notes in them. Maybe the kid’s writing you something and he’s using the planes to get to you.”

Belle nearly dropped her glass. What if Ruby was right? What if Baelfire was being abused or his mom was hurt and he was trying to get to her the only way he knew how?

“Belle, where’d you go?” Ruby called out.

“Gotta go,” Belle answered, hanging up on her friend and rushing next door.

The brown-eyed woman who Belle had met the first time opened the door, the phone once again glued to her ear. She pulled the device away from her face long enough to greet Belle, shaking her head in a way that said, ‘yeah, what do you want?’.

“I…” Belle began to answer, but instantly sealed her lips as her mind went blank. Her theory was dashed and now she was just some weirdo on her new neighbors’ porch.

Before she could give her an explanation, the person on the other end of the phone exclaimed their displeasure of being cut off, and Milah waved her inside while she stalked off to the kitchen to tend to her business.

Belle stepped into the foyer uneasily, searching her mind desperately for an explanation while Milah was occupied. However, her focus was instantly shifted to Baelfire, who was playing with a video game on the foot of the stairs.

“Oh, hi Baelfire,” Belle greeted with a gasp of relief.

“Hi,” the boy greeted passively, barely acknowledging her when she sat down beside him on the step.

“So…” Belle began, calculating how she could ease into the conversation about the planes. “How are you settling in?”

“Fine,” Bae said, his eyes not moving from the flashing lights.

Belle sighed, trying to pinpoint if Bae was simply disinterested in his neighbor’s visit, or—as she beginning to theorize—the poor boy in a state depression.

Yet somehow he had enough will to make those paper airplanes everyday. Maybe it was his way of coping? After all, she had yet to see Milah leave the house with him, and Bae was always alone in the backyard. Maybe he was just lonely and trying to get her attention?

“How have you been keeping busy?” Belle asked instead, hoping that would be enough for him to spill.

Bae simply shrugged, however, his fingers tapping rhythmically on the buttons of his game.

Belle frowned. Okay, time to rip the band aid off.

“So what’s with the airplanes?”

Bae paused, and Belle prepared to be patient with him while also encouraging his creativity. However, all such thoughts left her head when Bae dropped his game and looked at her with the most hopeful look she’d ever seen on a child’s face.

“Did they fly over?” Bae gasped. “Did my papa get them?”

“Your…” Belle shook her head, taking a second to strategize before she took the little boy’s hands.

“Why are you trying to send the planes to your dad?” Belle inquired gently.

“So that he’ll come home.” Bae answered matter-of-factly.

Belle’s heart cracked at his child-like innocence. “Where is he, sweetie?” she asked, praying she wouldn’t be hit with a deceased parent story.

Bae however shrugged, his eyes falling sadly. “Mama just said I couldn’t see him anymore.”

Belle began to understand. It sounded like Bae’s papa was in jail or someone that shouldn’t be around children, but Belle wasn’t about to put a label on anything until she got a few more facts.

“Is that why you moved here,” Belle asked. “To get away from him?”

Before Bae could answer, Milah came bounding around the corner, clicking her phone off.

“Bae I’m going to…oh you’re still here.” She frowned down at Belle, more annoyed than concerned that there was a practical stranger conversing with her son. “Did you need something?”

Belle jumped to her feet, plastering on a smile.

“I just wanted to see how you were settling,” she said quickly, making a swift exit to the door.

As she stepped on to the porch she sent a quick smile back to Bae and made a solemn promise: find Bae’s papa—who or wherever he was—and get the planes to him.

The second she was back in her garden she dug every single paper airplane out of the bottom of her bin, even the slightly soggy ones.

She cleared away her kitchen table and spread them out, giving extra care to the damaged ones, and noticed that they all had some kind of markings on them. Opening one, she found a hastily drawn message on the soft paper.

Dear Papa,

I have a huge room at the new house. It’s in a place called Storybook. I looked at a map and it’s so far from New York! I hope you can find it.

 

Belle smiled fondly at the simplistic childish message, glad to see that Bae wasn’t always as crestfallen as he outwardly appeared.

She folded the plane up carefully and put it aside for another.

 

Dear Papa,

Mama rented some movies for us to watch. They was funny, but she kept leaving to talk on the phone. She always does that.

 

Belle sighed at the mixed message before her. “Oh Bae.”

She read several more, her stomach dropping as the contents of each one seemed to get darker and more desperate.

Papa,

I asked Mama if we could go visit you. She yelled at me. What’s going on? Why can’t I see you?

 

Papa,

Mama leaves a lot. She tells me not to leave the couch. She doesn’t care if I eat cereal all day. I miss your cooking.

 

Papa it’s so boring here. I miss you. Are you getting my messages?

 

Papa where are you?

 

Papa please write me back.

 

Papa I want to come home.

 

By the last one Belle was holding back waves of tears, hastily wiping away the ones that had slipped out. This poor boy was missing his Papa so much he ached and thought that throwing his planes over her fence was somehow going to get him back.

Belle breathed in a deep breath, commanding herself to be strong for Bae’s sake. She had to help her young neighbor, had to find a way to get them back together.

But her logical side kicked in. What if there was a reason Milah had moved them from New York? What if Bae’s father really was in jail or some kind of abuser?

Belle thought on the idea. Storybrooke had specific rules about minding one’s own business. What you didn’t know you heard later in the gossip line. Not to mention if Milah found out about what she was trying to do it could end with them dueling with her or explaining herself to Sheriff Graham. Judging by how Bae was outlining her absence in his letters, there was something not quite right about that woman. However, Belle was not going to jump to anymore conclusions until she had more proof.

She’d find out who and where in New York Bae’s papa was. If he really was dangerous, she’d talk to Milah and Bae and try to help them cope with the whole thing. If not, then she’d try to contact the man and then tell him about his son’s ongoing depression before he became desperate enough to send torpedoes through her fence.

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 Belle didn’t consider herself ‘in’ with the people of Storybrooke, but she wasn’t quite an outsider either.

She was friendly to all who entered her library, attended all the charity events the town held. But she kept her distance from some of the more unsavory people and their gossip groups. Belle was one to mind her own business, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t created useful bonds in Storybrooke.

One such bond was that of Ariel Fisher, knick-knack enthusiast, volunteer life-guard during the summer, and more importantly for Belle’s quest—local realtor who just happened to sell Milah and Bae their house.

Luckily for belle, Ariel was enough of a gossiper that she would spill any information Belle needed with just the slightest push.

When Belle entered her office, they started talking like they were in high school again. About everything and nothing at all. It was good padding, and after some maneuvering Belle was able to get to the subject at hand.

“Yeah I have a new neighbor,” Belle sighed theatrically. “She has the cutest little boy, but I haven’t seen anyone around…” she paused, and like a starving fish, Ariel bit into the bait.

“Oh there’s a reason for that,” Ariel giggled all-knowingly.

“No!” Belle gasped in false shock. “Go on.”

Ariel spared a glance around her office. Her boss was in his office on the phone, far too busy to pay any mind to idol gossip.

“So I was talking to her when she was looking at homes in the area, and she said ‘it’s just me and my son’. She said it kind of like she just spit out a piece of sour candy, which—as I’ve learned from years of experience—indicates that she’s just recently gone through a breakup of some sort.”

Belle pretended to be surprised, but mentally pushed Ariel to get past the surface layer.

“So any info on the SO?” Belle inquired, her fingers tapping impatiently against the desk.

Ariel didn’t seem to notice and continued.

“Well actually, the check she wrote out wasn’t even hers. It was from…” she inched closer to Belle, as if the reveal was big enough to warrant a more intense whisper. “A Mr. Angus Gold. The ex, apparently.”

“How do you know?”

“Because according to her credit check she recently changed her last name back to her maiden name, Shelley, and who else other than a divorcee who is probably obligated by the courts to hand over such a sum would write out a check like that?”

Belle pondered on the information. It all seemed to fit, but she’d have to dig deeper on her own accord to make sure the pieces stayed together.

After another half hour of pointless chatter, Belle promised Ariel lunch and made a rush to the library, which was technically supposed to be closed on Sunday’s, but Belle was sure the city council had more to do than to monitor her electricity bill on her off days.

Luckily for her, a name like Angus Gold was very uncommon, and a not-so in-depth google search led her to him in no time.

Angus Gold was a top-notch lawyer who was part of the most pristine law firms in the States. There were little to no personal information on him outside of his contact number on the firm’s website.

Humming in thought, Belle put in Milah’s name and Gold’s last name, and felt her stomach turn in excitement when she found an article matching her search.

Ariel’s suspicion had been correct: Milah and Angus Gold divorced three months ago, and due to Gold’s status and the whopping half-billion he gave her as a settlement, it warranted a half-page story which included a picture of Mr. Gold in the courtroom.

The picture was a side profile, but Belle was able to catch some of the details of Baelfire in his face.

With a quick read through the article and another look at Gold’s picture, Belle was able to come to two conclusions:

Gold was a pretty damn good-looking dude, and that there was much more to this story than the internet could provide.

The article labled the cause for Gold’s divorce ‘inconsolable differences’, but there was no financial reason Gold couldn’t provide for his son.

Belle sighed in exhaustion and picked up her phone, going back to the page for Gold’s contact information.

Not surprisingly, it went straight to an automatic voice machine, and Belle left her short message as instructed.

“Yes, my name is Belle French and…this may sound strange but I’m your…ex-wife’s neighbor, and there’s something going on with your son. I mean, he’s not hurt or anything it’s just…well…it’ll make more sense once I can talk to. Please call me back at your earliest convenience…thank you.”

Hanging up the phone did little to ease Belle’s anxiety about the whole situation, and she began to ponder the consequences of the matter.

What if he called Milah as soon as he got the message and the woman came to her place to choke her in the middle of the night?

Or worse, what if Gold really didn’t care about his ex-wife and son at all and told her not to call him again, and she was left with a depressed little boy in the next yard?

Belle managed to sort her thoughts by the time she reached her house. No matter what happened, she would sleep easily knowing that she had tried, and it that meant being cussed out by a lawyer or a painter, so be it.

Yet several days passed and Belle heard nothing, not from her neighbor, nor Angus Gold.

She did however notice that the amount of planes going over her fence was decreasing. Five a day, then three, then finally, none.

Belle gathered them and put them in a box in her living room, afraid of what she would find if she read them.

That evening when she went to make sure she hadn’t missed any, she heard a small muffled sound coming from the other side of her fence. She squeezed a peak through her tightly-build boards and the sight before her shattered her heart.

Bae was sobbing into his legs, alone, Milah nowhere in sight.

With tears in her eyes and her fist clenched, she stormed through her house and turned the three feet into Milah’s yard, pounding on the door until the woman—with her signature cellphone stuck to her ear—opened the door.

“Put that darn thing down now,” Belle ordered, earning a shocked look from her neighbor.

“I beg your pardon” she barked, placing the phone against her shoulder to muffle out the conversation from the person on the other side.

“Your son is in the backyard crying. He’s been moping around since you both moved in here and you haven’t seemed to notice.”

Milah’s eyebrows arched in confusion before she shot around swiftly and stalked to the back door where Bae was.

Belle shunned the urge to run after her and defend the boy when she heard her hiss something at him. A second later Bae went bounding up the stairs, and Belle saw a peak of his red face, her rage spiraling all the more.

“Sorry he disturbed you,” Milah waved her off absently, staring down at her phone. “Won’t happen again.”

“That’s not what this is about,” Belle growled, making sure she stayed just outside of Milah’s living room. “You’re never with him and he’s depressed being cooped up in here all day.”

Milah lowered her phone and stared at her with a mix of rage and horror. “How the hell would you know how much time I spend with my son? Have you been talking to him behind my back? Or have you been spying through the fence?”

Belle pursed her lips together, keeping mum about the airplanes.

“I know it’s hard moving to a new place,” Belle tried instead. “That sometimes you can neglect some things over others but—”

“Look,” Milah snapped. “What goes on in my home is my business. And if you ever step foot into it or talk to my son, I will have you locked up so fast the rest of the country bumkins in this town won’t have time to gossip about it!”

She slammed the door so hard Belle had to jump back to keep from having her nose crushed. Her fist remained clenched and her heels deep in the wood of the stained porch.

What was Milah’s deal? Her behavior was bordering on child abuse and Belle was not going to stand for it!

As she stalked off the porch and began to circle into her own yard, she felt the weight of a pair of eyes on her back.

She looked behind her to find Bae staring at her through his closed window. She couldn’t read his expression, couldn’t decipher whether he hated her or was grateful for her intervention. She did know however that she wouldn’t rest until the boy was actively smiling again.

“I promise Bae,” Belle breathed. “I’ll find your Papa and get him back to you.”

 

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Three days later, Belle was standing outside of Angus Gold’s robust law firm, her bulky box clutched awkwardly in her arms.

The trip to New York had been pure hell, and she wasn’t even sure yet if it would be worth it.

She had to dig deep into her savings for the ticket alone, and she was overrun with a dozen security guards the second she walked into the airport. On top of that she was shoved between a snorer and a woman who complained about something every five minutes, so by the time she was at her destination, she was understandable ticked and gods help him if Mr. Angus Gold gave her a hard time.

The building holding the law firm was huge, at least 50 stories, and Belle was already overwhelmed with the site of it. It occurred to her that she should have planned better at getting more information on Mr. Gold, considering she didn’t even know where his office was now.

With a determined sigh, she started in the lobby, coming across more suits than she’d ever seen in her life.

A large desk in the center was an impressive aquarium and a woman making kissing sounds at the fish inside.

While odd, it didn’t deter Belle at all, and she cleared her throat to gain the secretary’s attention.

The woman turned from her aquarium and gave Belle a bored stare.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for Mr. Angus Gold’s office,” Belle responded, shifting the box. “It’s a bit urgent.”

The secretary—Ursula, her plaque read—lowered her gaze to the box. “Is there anything flammable or poisonous in there?” she inquired in the same tone.

“Um, no,” Belle frowned.

“38th floor, sixth to your right.” Ursula sighed, turning back around to her fish.

Belle blinked, but did not dare try to question the easiest part of her journey so far. Thus she squeezed herself in with the businessmen and women and waited for the elevator to reach her floor, her heart pounding against the cardboard box in anticipation.

She was the only one to get off on the 38th floor and found the area to be surprisingly quiet. She cautiously made her way down the hall until she came across another secretary, this one dressed like she belonged in the fashion industry rather than a law firm.

Unlike Ursula, she didn’t even look up from her magazine, a pen twirling in her long, painted fingers.

“Do you have an appointment?” she sighed, sounding just as bored as the other secretary had.

“Um, no,” Belle said. “But this is very important.”

The secretary—Cruella, her plaque read—grunted and pressed a button on the phone without looking.

“Goldy locks, some woman is here to see you. She has a box so I believe it’s an assassination.”

“Didn’t I tell you I’d fire you the next time you called me that?” came an accented snarl from the intercom.

“Yet I’m still here.” Cruella returned, her lip tugging wolfishly. “Go ahead in darling,”

Belle smiled nervously, praying Gold cared a bit more than his secretaries. She used her shoulder to open the door, struggling not to drop the box.

“Careful,” Cruella said, earning an annoyed glare from Belle as she all but threw herself into Gold’s office.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Belle was finally face-to-face with the man at the center of her current dilemma.

Mr. Gold stood from his chair, smoothing out his tie as he took her in. His expression was impassive, seemingly unsure just what to make of her.

“You could have just left that downstairs.” Gold commented.

“I…it’s not just a package I need to see you about.” Belle returned, assuming that introductions were off the table.

Gold shook his head, returning to something at his desk.

“I’m a very busy man, Miss.” He stated, the comment rehearsed. “If you need to me to represent you than talk to my secretary about setting up an appointment.”

“It’s nothing like that,” Belle protested, looking around for somewhere to put down her damn box. “It’s about—”

“If your inquiry is not urgent, then please make an appointment,” he said, his voice rising slightly.

“Oh for goodness sake!” Belle exclaimed, lowering the box just enough to open it. Using her knee, she tipped the box over, dozens of paper airplanes spilling across Mr. Gold’s desk.

Mr. Gold’s expression slowly melted into  glass-eyed confusion.

“They’re from your son,” Belle revealed. “He’s trying to find you.”

Gold’s head shot up to stare at her, disbelief sinking into his well-sculpted mask of indifference.

With a shaky cry be began tearing into the planes, opening and savoring each sprawled message Bae had sent to him, a small smile stretching over his lip.

Belle smiled, feeling more at peace than she had in weeks. No matter what happened after this, she was proud that she was able to give this man such a small piece of happiness. He seemed so relieved, so ecstatic to have a part of Bae with him. How could Belle had ever thought Gold wasn’t completely in love with his son?

Her smile faltered some when Gold’s expression dimmed. Belle knew instantly he had come across one of Bae’s more darker letters.

He looked up from the plane to her, his eyes darker from what he had read.

“What’s happening with my son?”

Belle actually gulped from the heat in his voice. He was beginning to crave blood, and it would be hers if she wasn’t careful.

“It’s a long story,” Belle said. “But I promise you, Bae’s okay. He’s just…” Belle sighed. “He’s very depressed.”

Gold was very still for a moment, Belle’s words sinking into his brain.

Bae, his beautiful little boy who had been smiling since the day he was born, was depressed?

With a swift movement he reached down to touch a button on his phone.

“Cruella,” he barked. “Clear the rest of my day, I’m taking…” he paused, looking up at Belle expectedly.

“Belle,” Belle answered with a gulp. “Belle French.”

Gold nodded. “We’ll be back.”

“I don’t care what you do,” Cruella snarked over the intercom.

Gold rolled his eyes and reached down to bring out a gold-headed cane, much to Belle’s surprise.

“Shall we,” he motioned to the door, and Belle didn’t try to resist.

As they passed the secretary’s desk to the elevator, Belle and Gold both blushed when Cruella called after them:

“Send me a wedding invitation!”

 

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Gold ended up taking her to a small café in the building, where he seated her at a table while he gathered refreshments.

While he was gone, Belle tried to gather herself. Gold seemed like a decent man, abet a bit dry. He obviously loved his son very much. However, that didn’t mean he deserved to know where the boy was. For all Belle knew, Gold’s downfall was with Milah, and even if she didn’t like the woman, that didn’t mean she should bring a potential abuser to her door.

She was pulled from her thoughts when Gold sat a Styrofoam cup in front of her, the scent of black tea  hitting her senses. With a sniff, she discovered Mr. Gold had gotten her favorite chai tea to drink, the slight lack of sugar the only difference with how she would take it.

“I got you what I got myself,” Gold said when he saw her face. “I apologize, I should have asked.”

“No!” Belle protested, her hand landing over his to stop him from taking her cup away. “I actually like tea over coffee.”

“Me too,” he said with a hint of a smile.

Belle blushed, her eyes landing on their touching hands, her tips grazing over a glassy blue ring on his finger. She pulled away before she could feel the softness of his skin, reprimanding herself for getting off-track. She was here for Bae, and Bae only. She couldn’t get distracted with a silly infatuation.

“So,” Gold coughed, sitting up straighter. “How did you know about this?”

Belle told him about how Bae began sending the planes shortly after he and Milah moved in next to her, about how she confronted the woman when Bae’s depression seemed to get worse, and how she couldn’t keep silent a second longer out of concern for Bae’s well-being.

“She’s always on the phone,” Belle went on. “I’ve never seen her with Bae, and I have yet to see him leave the house. I mean, Storybrooke’s as safe as a padded cell. She could let him roam around by himself for a little while.”

“She hasn’t changed a bit then,” Gold scoffed, his hands clenched tightly together. “Miss French, you’ve read Bae’s planes more thoroughly than I have. Did he say anything about Milah abusing him?”

“No,” Belle declined. “Just that she left him alone a lot, and that he was very unhappy there.”

“Borderline neglect,” Gold said with a hint of a smirk. “That could work?”

Belle blinked. “What could work? What are you going to do?”

Gold stood, seemingly ready to leave Belle where she was. “With all due respect Miss French, this is as far as you need to go.”

“Excuse me?” Belle scoffed.

Gold shook his head. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, but I can take this from here.”

“No,” Belle said, standing to Gold’s height. “I’m involved in this until things change for Bae, and if that means I’m stuck by your side until then, so be it!”

“Miss French,” he sighed, ready to put her down.

“I think it’s time you gave me more information on all of this, Mr. Gold,” Belle demanded, placing her hands on her hips. “I need to know right now that you aren’t a threat to Bae or Milah.”

“She’s the only threat to him!” Gold hissed, his voice rising.

“Did you hit them?” Belle inquired bluntly. “Did you yell or do anything to them at all?”

Gold paled, his eyes bulging like he had just witnessed a terrible accident.

“N-no,” he breathed at last. “I never, ever, hurt my son or Milah!”

“Then why aren’t you with him!” Belle accused. “Why would you allow him to be whisked off so far away and then not keep in touch with him!”

“Because I thought it was for the best!” Gold yelled, the room seeming to quake at his exclamation.

After they both brushed off a terrified security guard, Gold and Belle eased into their seats, taking a moment to compose themselves.

It was Belle who spoke up first. She’d always had an unfortunate habit of jumping to conclusions and letting her logical side slip away.

“I’m sorry,” Belle apologized. “Please, what do you mean it was for the best?”

Gold was quiet for a moment, haunted by having to let his son go.

“Milah asked for the divorce,” Gold revealed. “We just grew a part, and I went through with it. I assumed when negotiations were being made that we would split custody of our son. But Milah declared she wanted full custody, plus a large sum of alimony to boot.”

“She must have wanted full-custody for the financial benefits,” Belle pondered.

“Most likely,” Gold commented coldly.

Belle nodded, listening intently to finally uncover the mystery.

“I fought against it, but she cried to the judge that I was never home,” Gold continued. “That I was too busy with clients and work to be a full-time father, and that her job as a painter would give her a more flexible schedule, though that wasn’t entirely true. Milah was rarely at home either.”

“Was she right, about you?”

Gold mused on the memory, on the slander Milah threw at him in the name of their son.

“I thought so, at first.” Gold continued tightly. “I did work a lot, and I didn’t spend all the time I wanted to with him, but…” Gold rubbed a hand across his face. “I didn’t think I was an absentee father. But Milah convinced me…and the rest of the court…and I gave in.”

Belle watched as a horrifying realization hit Gold directly in the heart.

“I stopped fighting for my son.”

Belle instinctively reached out and took hold of his hand.

“You tried to give him his best chance, and now you can fight for him, and try to get him back.”

Gold breathed, not wanting to cry in front of this beautiful stranger.

“What if I fail? What if Milah fights harder and takes him somewhere I’ll never see him again?”

Belle gave his hand an encouraging squeeze. “You won’t because you have a first-hand witness who can vouch for Bae. I won’t let you do this alone.”

Gold smiled thankfully, breathing in to calm himself. A bit more contained, he stared at Belle, trying to find the venom in her soul, the ulterior motive that she must have to have endured all she had in the past few weeks.

“Why are you doing this?” he finally asked her, his instincts warning him not to put his trust in her just yet.

Belle shrugged, thinking about he solemn little boy who didn’t seem like he’d ever smile again.

“Because…” she laughed wetly. “When I first met him, I told him that there was magic in places like Storybrooke, and that he could find it if he just looked a little. I guess…somehow he found it, and used it to try to send you those planes.” She blinked back tears at the thought.

“Does he know that you have them?” Gold inquired.

“No,” Belle declined. “Neither does Milah. As far as Bae knows they’re…” she laughed. “Still flying through the sky.”

Gold nodded. “I like that idea.” His smile faded and he sat up, taking on a true business demeanor. “Miss French, I won’t ask you to involve yourself any further with this. I’ll take the planes as evidence and leave you out of it completely. Either way, I’m going to get my son back.”

Belle shook her head. “Like I said, I’m here until this was all over.”

Gold chuckled. She was a determined one. “Very well. Where are you staying?”

“Um, a hotel about a block from here,” Belle answered uncertainly. “Why?”

Gold stood and offered Belle his hand. “I know you must be tired, but I rather get on with this as quickly as possible. If you’ll permit me, my driver will go by your room to pick up your things and then we can head to the airport.”

“Um…” Belle blinked, her body instantly becoming tired at the thought of getting back on a crowded airplane. But Mr. Gold was right, they needed to be quick for Bae’s sake, and for that little boy Belle was take on a dozen plane trips.

Convinced, she took Mr. Gold’s hand and picked up her purse with the other.

“Let’s go.”

 

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It turned out Gold had connections that made their trip much quicker and much MUCH more comfortable (first class seats baby!). Not to mention they were able to get Bae’s box of paper airplanes through security with no fuss, their evidence secure.

But by the time they entered Storybrooke city limits in Gold’s rented car, Belle began to feel nervous once more.

Gold had made several phone calls during the course of their trip, one of which Belle knew for sure was to social services. She began having visions of Milah coming after her in the dead of night with a sharpened paintbrush, of her taking a sledgehammer to their shared fence in a sort of ‘The Shining’ moment.

But when they parked down the street from the salmon mansion and she turned to Gold, her own fears melted away to make room for his. Mr. Gold looked petrified, like he was about to meet his worst nightmare. His anxiety over what would happen was rolling off him in waves, crashing onto her.

Belle couldn’t blame him a bit. If things went southward, Gold could be barred from seeing Baelfire until he was well over 18, and Belle herself could be labeled a predator!

Worse yet, she had no idea what to say to comfort him. This whole situation was beyond her. She wasn’t a parent or an ex-anything. She couldn’t relate to him at all.

But Belle did know what is was like to be brave when all she wanted to do was hide. Thus, she reached out and placed her hand over Mr. Gold’s, the man jolting once more from the sudden touch.

“It’ll be okay,” Belle said.

Gold took in a deep breath and nodded, peeling away the true skin of a terrified father and replacing it with the mask of a professional go-getter.

“Where’s your home?”

“The yellow one right beside hers,” Belle pointed out, her breath catching when a card with the social services logo printed on the side pulled up to Milah’s mailbox, followed shortly by a police cruiser.

“As soon as I’m inside and Milah is distracted, go to your home and don’t leave,”

“I’m not—”

“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Gold said. “Milah can be very persuasive when she wants to be. She might say something about you that could get you in trouble.”

“I’m already in trouble,” Belle said, taking off her seatbelt just as the agents knocked on Milah’s door. “I haven’t done anything that could warrant my arrest, but she has.” Belle closed the door before he could respond, stalking up to Milah’s porch while Gold called after her.

She waited at the front step, Milah’s shrieking making her just the tiniest bit nervous, as Gold inched past her to Milah’s door.

“You!” the woman hollered as Gold became visible to her. “What the hell is all this?”

“This is me doing what I should have done to being with,” Gold announced. “I would have never let Bae go with you had I known you were going to neglect him so.”

“This is outrageous!” Milah scoffed, turning a pair of pitiful brown eyes to the agents.

“My son is sad because he’s in a new place,” she cooed. “And I’ve been so busy getting the house together and setting up my art gallery that I just haven’t been able to spend as much time with him as I want.” Her gaze hardened when she turned to Gold. “But I have not neglected him.”

One of the agents turned an arched eyebrow to the slew of boxes along the wall, still taped despite how Milah had been moved in for nearly a month.

“We’d like to talk to Bae for a moment,” the agent said. “Just so that we can address his well-being.”

Milah blocked their access to the steps. “That’s not right. He’ll say anything right now. He’s—”

“Papa?”

Belle inched closer onto the porch and caught site of Bae’s mass of curls peaking over the banister.

“Bae…” Gold gasped, his fierce facade melting at the site of his son.

“Papa!” the little boy exclaimed, hazardously darting down the stairs and past his mother to jump into his father’s arms.

“Papa you found me! I knew you would!”

Belle blinked back tears as she watched Mr. Gold drop to his knees to capture his son, the man’s body seeming just to melt now that Bae was in his hold. She decided then and there that no matter what happened, what Milah or anyone else did to her, she was happy because she made the site before her happen.

She reunited a parent and his beloved child. How could she ever regret that?

Well apparently, Milah was dead-set on making her.

“You!” she snarled, storming up to Belle and jabbing a finger into her chest. “Why the hell can’t you mind your own damn business?”

Belle spared a glance in Gold’s direction and caught a wide-eyed look from him and Bae before Sheriff Graham pulled her aside.

“Ms. Shelley, please,” Graham warned. “If you would come downtown with us for a little while, I’m sure we can get this all straightened out.”

“That’s a good idea,” Gold spoke, his voice holding a deadly tone despite the little boy clinging to his leg.

Milah glared at her ex-husband, the look intensifying as Graham led her past Belle. Belle took in a deep breath, shaking off any uneasiness the woman had the ability to stir in her.

“We’ll have to take Bae along with us,” one of the agents said to Mr. Gold. “It’s just standard procedure.”

“Papa?” Bae cried, fear quaking his little body.

Gold stooped to Bae’s level. “It’s alright son, I’ll be right behind them,” be leaned forward to the boy’s ear. “I have you planes in my car.”

Bae smiled at this, but his eyes were still filled with worry as the agents led him to their car.

Belle covered her face, trying to compose herself.

“Are you alright?” Gold asked her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Yes, just…overwhelmed.”

Gold nodded, slowly sliding his hand away.

“Miss French, I know you want to see this through, but…I think I need to do this alone.”

“Mr. Gold—”

“Please Miss French,” Gold breathed, permissively cutting her off. “You’ve been a godsend through all of this, but if I want to earn back my son, I need to do it myself. I need to show him, and Milah, and everyone else that I’m not the same man who couldn’t fight for him three months ago.”

Belle nodded. As much as she wanted to witness Milah’s downfall in person, she agreed with Gold’s reasoning. Though, it did disappoint her tremendously.

“I’ll keep you updated,” Gold promised. “I’m sure they’ll contact you for a statement soon.”

“Yeah,” Belle said as she followed him out the door. She silently walked him to his car, unable to say anything else. She knew Gold was trying to keep her out of Milah’s clutches, out of the mess the next few days would accumulate. But she still wished that there was more she could do.

“Thank you again,” Gold said in a business-like tone, shaking her hand like they had just agreed to a real estate deal.

But Belle shook it anyway, noticing how he wasn’t quite able to meet her eyes.

She watched him drive away, both worried and on-edge for the outcome of this situation. As she entered her garden, she felt questionably sadness and relief that there were no little paper airplanes strewn out across her yard.

 

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In the end, Milah Shelley’s worse nightmare had come true: she was the subject of the Storybrooke Gossip Hotline.

The messages on Bae’s paper airplanes and a statement from the boy himself was enough for child services to question Milah’s parental abilities.

Gold didn’t contact her after he left, but Sheriff Graham did pay her a visit for a statement on her involvement.

She told him about the paper planes and how she did her own digging to find Mr. Gold. About confront Milah on Bae’s actions and how she was met with a cold reception. And finally, and more shamefully, how she had taken the matters into her own hand.

Graham had laughed at this, though Belle didn’t find it nearly as funny.

“You could have just called me,” Graham said as he drank the ice tea Belle had offered him.

“I know, and maybe I should have,” Belle said. “But I guess I was afraid Bae would end up in the system rather than with his father. I didn’t want to risk that.”

Graham nodded, not too much of a stickler that he didn’t symphonize with her reasoning.

“So how much trouble am I in?” Belled asked.

Graham shrugged. “Legally, you’ve done nothing wrong. Though Ms. Shelley said she wanted to, and I quote, ‘sue you for all you were worth’.

Belle chuckled. “She’d be disappointed. All she’d get is an antique tea set and a maxed-out savings account.

“I think Gold told her the same thing.” Graham teased.

Belle saw him out to his car, but didn’t go back inside right away. She now had to stew in the reality that her part in the paper plane mystery was over. She wasn’t going to be charged. She had given her statement. There was no need for her now.

And Gold had yet to call her.

She heard from some gossipers at the diner that the proceedings were dirty, that there was yelling and cussing and death threats.

She also heard that they were tamer, and that Gold and Milah ended up doing the dirty deed in a back closet—which Belle nearly burst out laughing in the middle of the restaurant when she heard it.

By some grace of fate, Belle’s name had been kept out of the story entirely. No one knew of her part in it, and once again she was on the outside of the inside.

The only one who seemed to have any knowledge of her involvement was Ariel, who all but dragged her into her realty office.

“What the heck happened?”

“It’s complicated,” Belle sighed, flopping back in a chair.

Ariel scooted up to her, hungry for the story.

Belle spared some of the more intimate details, but gave her the bones, and apologized that she had used Ariel’s to get the information she needed.

“Well I’m certainly not happy with it,” Ariel huffed, “But I’m glad you got what you needed. What happens now?”

“I don’t know,” Belle said. “He hasn’t contacted me, but I guess there’s no reason for him to.”

“What?” Ariel scoffed. “He wouldn’t even know what was going on if it weren’t for you.”

“I know, but maybe this is for the best,” Belle shrugged. “All I wanted was for Baelfire to be reunited with his father, and he was. I guess…I just wish I got to say goodbye.”

Ariel nodded sympathetically. “Well, maybe you will one day. Or, you can just live with the fact that you did a good deed and rest with that.”

“That might be my only option.” Belle agreed.

They chatted comfortably for another hour before Belle excused herself, wanting to get home and continue her comfortable if mundane life.

Just as she circled the corner to her home, she stopped dead in her tracks when she saw not only two moving vans parked outside of the salmon mansion, but Mr. Gold, Bae and Milah.

Belle quickly ducked in some bushes, watching the scene from a safe distance. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but judging by how stiff Gold’s and Milah’s postures were, it may not be the most pleasant of conversations. Bae thankfully was by Gold’s side, his small hand swallowed by Gold’s. Behind them movers were moving things in an out to the point Belle couldn’t see what was going where.

Soon enough, one of the trucks drove off while the other stayed, waiting for someone.

Belle watched as Milah knelt down to Bae’s level, keeping her distance but her expression softened at whatever she was saying to the boy. Bae stayed very still as she spoke to him, and Belle almost felt sorry for the woman when Bae didn’t run into her extended arms.

After a moment Milah stood and got into the moving truck, and soon left Storybrooke with her ex-husband and son in the dust.

With a breath of relief, Belle carefully walked up to her gate and instantly caught Bae’s attention.

“Miss French!” he called out, his face more bright and vibrant than she’d ever see it.

She gasped when Bae hugged her, his forehead banging hard into her hipbone.

“H-hi,” she greeted, fluffing his curls as Gold approached them. He smiled when she met his eyes.

“Miss French,” he greeted.

Belle felt a spring of happiness burst inside her. “Hi.” She smiled, releasing Bae as he ran back to his father. “What’s going on?”

“Well,” Mr. Gold sighed as he ushered Bae back to the house, “Milah and I had a long talk, and decided to alter the custody arrangements.”

“And,” Belle pointed to the mansion.

“Part of the deal was that I buy the house from her. She said that this town had ‘lost its aesthetic’, whatever that means.”

Belle giggled and listened comfortably as Bae back and forth through the mansion, viewing the house as a home for the first time.

“So you’re both here to stay?” she inquired, her stomach fluttering in anticipation.

“For now,” Gold answered. “Bae never did get to explore the town, and perhaps small-town life will do him some good.”

“What about you?” Belle said. “There’s not too many lawsuits in Storybrooke,”

“I’m sure I’ll find something,” Gold said.

Belle nodded and stood in comfortable silence with him for a while. That was that then. Mystery solved and story over. A happy ending really. And Belle couldn’t be happier.

But then why did she feel like there should be more?

She shook her head, perishing the foolish thought. Bae was safe, Gold had his family and courage back, and Milah was somewhere far away where she couldn’t harm Baelfire or anyone else.

She should let it rest and move on.

“I’ll let you two settle,” Belle said, making the turn to go through her garden. When Gold didn’t call after her, and she couldn’t help but feel the slightest disappointment.

She made her self a glass of iced tea before she changed into one of her summer dresses to lounge in the garden in.

She did a good deed, she told herself, and now she needed to continue with her mundane, but comfortable life, and allow the Gold’s to start their new ones.

As she stepped out into her garden, she saw that a neatly folded paper airplane sitting in grass.

Her stomach turned in mixed anticipation as she picked it up, opening it with careful precision.

When she saw the neat cursive-written message inside, her heart clenched and a wide goofy grin spread over her face.

I never did thank you properly for all you did. Join us for dinner tonight?

On the other side of the fence Belle could just see someone standing on the back porch, waiting for her response.

Belle blushed and bit her lip with a giggle, running back inside for a pen.

Dinner sounds great! She wrote back before sending the plane over the fence.