There is some comfort to be found in the hand that lies at the small of Belle’s back, steering her towards the great doors of her father’s hall like livestock being coaxed from its pen. Without that hand—without the heat of it skittering across her skin like spiders, without its relentless pressure prodding her wooden form to move—she might delude herself that this is only a nightmare. That in a moment her eyes will flutter open, and she will recognize the familiar contours of her room lit by the moon and the encroaching fires of conquest.
But there is a hand, and she is not sleeping. She is in the courtyard now, breathing deep the ash and smoke that clots the air and leaves a gray film over the world. It clings to her lungs and burns, but if it it’s the only memento she will bring with her into her new life, she will hold it dear.
She jerks and whirls around when the gate behind her slams closed. The screech of its heavy bolts sliding home rends the air. Her heart twists as though snared. Tears burn at the edges of her eyelids.
Belle closes them, willing herself back to composure. When she opens them again, Rumplestiltskin is smiling like a scythe and offering his elbow in a mockery of gentility.
Never, she thinks, and how could anyone be?
Rumplestiltskin’s smile widens, baring sharp, rotting teeth. She shudders. Then, wordlessly, she laces her arm through his bent limb.
Magic hits her hot and quick as a whip. By the time she draws enough breath to scream, the view around her has changed.
They’re standing before the doors of a squat castle made of stones the color of old bones. Or perhaps they only seem that way in the torchlight; Belle does not get to consider this for long, because the towering doors swing open of their own accord and Rumplestiltskin strides inside.
“Welcome to the Dark Castle,” Rumplestitskin says, following it up with an exaggerated bow. “I’d give you a tour, but I believe we have more pressing matters to attend to.”
Cold seeps from Belle’s marrow and rises to her skin.
“Come along, dearie,” he sing-songs, and he waggles a finger over his shoulder as he walks. There is nothing for Belle to do but follow.
He leads her across the entry hall and up a winding flight of stairs. Great tapestries line the walls: curvesome women frolicking nude with beasts, huntsmen bearing home the results of their labors, armies cutting each other into bits small enough for their frothing horses to grind into the mud. The intricacy of the works distracts her enough that she only realizes Rumplestiltskin has stopped when she nearly runs into his back.
They are standing before a wooden door that’s as tall as two of him stacked together. He flicks his finger and the door glides open silently, offering a murky view of an unlit room. Rumplestiltskin strides through, but Belle hesitates in the doorway, waiting for her eyes to adjust to what little light there is. And a second later she’s squinting and flinching away as the fireplace at the end of the room roars to life.
“Now, now, I don’t bite. Come in, dearie.”
Rumplestiltskin’s voice is heavy with amusement. Belle looks up to see him perched on the end of a long table, his back to the fireplace, patting the empty space beside him.
Belle has never attended a public execution, but she imagines that her heavy footsteps mimic those of the condemned. When she stops before her…host, his lips curl back over his teeth like a cat scenting the air.
“Tell me,” says Rumplestiltskin, folding his hands over his crossed leg, “How aware are you of the…mechanics of our deal?”
Her confusion lasts until she realizes the tone of his words. She can feel a flush rising from her ears.
“Gaston and I were only betrothed,” she says.
“Yes, he mentioned something about that. But that’s not what I asked you, is it?”
Belle purses her lips. “It is proper for a woman to remain…unspoiled until her wedding night.”
He barks out a laugh. “And what are you after your wedding night, hm? Rotten? Surely a fate you’d meet whether or not your favor came at the cost of a ring.” He shook his head. “My, the things people will say to convince their pretty daughters to keep their skirts below their knees. But the answer to my question is, then, that you haven’t the faintest notion of what we’re about to do.”
“My father breeds hounds,” Belle says coolly, “I’ve seen them rutting. And based on what the town girls say, with men it’s not so different.”
“My dear, I think you’ll find me much more pleasant company than a hound.”
The words are warm and dripping with secrets that Belle has no wish to uncover. Rumplestiltskin is clearly expecting some response—a spark of passion in her eye, maybe, or a biting retort, or even tears—but she offers him nothing. When his smile falls, it is all she can do to suppress the smirk that threatens to rise on her face.
“Or not,” he says shortly. “It makes no difference to me, dearie. But I think you’ll the find the terms of our deal more agreeable if you’re…amiable to proceedings.”
“If you wanted feigned affection, you should have hired a whore. Our agreement was that I would go through with the act, not that I would thank you for it.” Belle snaps.
She meets his eyes and it takes every ounce of her willpower to not shrink away. His gaze pins her in the air like an insect on display. He seems to be contemplating which of her limbs to pluck off first.
At last he murmurs, “So it was. A rare oversight on my part.”
Then he stands, and suddenly the space between them is gone. Belle starts and steps back, but his arm cinches around her waist and drags her close. He studies her face with shuttered eyes. Belle doesn’t know what he’s searching for, but she knows that he’ll only find the harsh lines of contempt scoring her features.
His lips part as though he means to say something. But then he meets her eyes, and instead he flicks his tongue over his lips and remains quiet. Belle watches, tension ratcheting up her spine, as he raises a thick-clawed thumb to gently stroke her bottom lip. The gesture is so intimate that it, more than anything, makes Belle want to cry.
After a beat, his hand moves from her mouth to the nape of her neck. She can feel the pressure of his fingers nesting in her hair. Then, without further preamble, he leans over to kiss her.
His lips are thin and chapped against the soft, plump flesh of her mouth. She knows how to do this much, at least—even she could not resist her curiosity when Gaston asked her for a kiss—but she is not inclined reciprocate. When Rumplestiltskin realizes it, he breaks contact and looks at her with narrowed eyes.
She raises her chin and remains silent.
“You are going to be difficult, I see.” He says.
Rumplestiltskin sighs. Then, the hand around her waist slides up to the laces of her gown. Belle sucks in a breath as she feels not just her bodice, but her corset slackening as well.
“Don’t look so surprised. Or did your rutting dogs leave out this part of the ritual?”
The sneer in his voice is weighed by something more pensive, but Belle is too focused on the chill rushing over her bared flesh to notice or care. Her hands fly up to cross her breasts, and then quickly shift to protect her modesty above and below, for after an impatient flap of Rumplestiltskin’s hand, everything Belle wears vanishes. Color flares on her cheeks, and she focuses her attention on a point somewhere above Rumplestiltskin’s head so that she won’t have to see the languid circuit his eyes make of her body.
“You are truly beautiful,” he says, as though even he can’t believe his good fortune. When he reaches up to sweep away some strands of hair that have fallen loose from her French braid, his touch leaves her cheek aching like she’s been burned.
His hands cup her shoulders, travel down her respective arms to the elbows. He is staring at her face, but her eyes do not leave the paths they are tracing in his stonework.
“Belle,” he says, softly. When she does not answer he tries again, his tone firm. At last he leans forward until he’s close enough for his breath to steam the shell of her ear.
“We had a deal, dearie. Bear in mind what will happen should you fail to maintain your end of it.”
Belle imagines her father’s jolly face smashed against the stone floor like an overripe pumpkin, with his innards dangling from an ogre’s maw.
Slowly, she unlocks her hands. Rumplestiltskin sucks in a breath of pleasure, and she feels his gaze sliding greedily over these final treasures she has kept from him.
His hands slither over her flesh, exploring and imploring by turns, trying to coax her body to react. He seems to take a special interest in her breasts; at length he lays her down on the table so that he can fondle each in turn, and take the delicate tips into his mouth and roll them between teeth and tongue until she’s shocked by the needy whine that escapes her throat.
“It needn’t be so bad, Belle,” Rumplestiltskin says against her skin. He kisses a line from her breasts downward. “I’d like you to enjoy this, you know.”
She nearly laughs at the notion. Then she nearly chokes, for his mouth closes over her sex and engages in an action that must be sinful if only because of how it frees her body from her will. Her hips twitch traitorously against his jaw, and she has to bite down on the taut flesh of her arm to stifle her moans.
He probes her folds with torturous care, working tongue and fingers in concert to drag her to the edge of some precipice she is both desperate and terrified to cross. Then, he is gone. Belle’s eyes pop open to see him standing over her, his tongue sliding thoughtfully over lips that are damp with her juices—another betrayal by her body. She realizes that he is staring at the arm she is biting. She can feel the indent of every tooth deep in her skin; she will have bruises come morning.
“I was certain that would ease some of your contempt,” Rumplestiltskin says, as he strokes his damp fingers along the inside of her thigh.
She unlatches her jaw from her arm to retort, but the first syllables emerge rough and breathless. She swallows them back and feels shame wash over her when Rumplestiltskin smirks.
“There was a promise of forever, dearie.” He says. “I suspect that even you will not be able to resist your own pleasure for that long.”
Belle glowers, but it does nothing to chill Rumplestiltskin’s smug joy at his little victory. His hands trail over her thighs and down to her knees to spread them apart. It is only then that she realizes he’s worked his pants down to mid-thigh, and that his member stands tall and swollen against his belly. It sways obscenely when he steps between her legs.
Belle shudders, swallows thickly, and then rolls her gaze up to the ceiling.
“This may be uncomfortable at first,” Rumplestiltskin says.“I apologize.”
“If you were going to be sorry, you wouldn’t do it in the first place.”
His fingers tighten on her flesh.
“You’re right,” he says flatly, before pressing forward.
The fragile barrier of her maidenhood is gone in a single plunge. Belle sucks in a breath. It did not hurt as much as the town girls warned her it would. What shocks her is the feel of him inside of her as muscles she did not know she possessed ripple over the thick intruder, trying to draw it in, trying to wring it out.
“Are you all right?” he asks.
“Just do what you will,” Belle says, her voice low.
Rumplestiltskin makes a frustrated sound before retreating from her depths, then driving forward again. She tries to lie flat and do nothing, but soon her hips rise to meet him of their own accord. He takes advantage of this compliance to establish a rhythm that sets the ancient table rattling against the floor. The table’s rough surface scrapes over her back, drawing tears to her eyes, but she blinks them away. She will not give this creature the satisfaction of her pain.
Rumplestiltskin hoists her legs up to drape them around his back, pulling her lower body with them. It isn’t until his next thrust strikes something at her apex that she gasps and slaps her arm back into her mouth, squeezes her eyes shut, and prays to any gods still listening that he does not hear her squealing and grunting like a sow.
Heat spirals through her nerves, propelling her until she is once again teetering on the edge of a precipice. But Rumplestiltskin gives her no quarter to save herself. His finger falls to that point at her apex, flicking it once, twice, and then Belle tumbles over. A moan rattles through her frame. Pleasure rushes from her loins like the ground rising up to meet her, and when she crashes into it her body sings.
Rumplestiltskin leans over her, bracing himself on his elbows. He nips and kisses her throat, and she is still too stunned by her fall to resist an obliging sigh. Suddenly he buries his forehead in the crook of her shoulder and goes taut. She is dimly aware of him pressed flush against her, and his thighs trembling between her own.
Belle stares into the fire roaring behind her, and allows it to lull her senses away from the uncomfortable weight of the man atop her, and from the mingled sound of their shallow breaths.
At length, Rumplestiltskin rises and withdraws from her. Belle sits up, snapping her legs together and closing an arm over her breasts once more. She does not look at Rumplestiltskin, though she hears the squeak of leather on flesh that tells her he is righting his clothing.
He clears his throat. She drags her gaze away from the floor and up to his face, and she notes that suddenly he is the one who cannot meet her eyes.
“That was…” he trails off.
“That was payment for the lives of my family and friends,” Belle says. “Our contract is consummated.”
Rumplestiltskin bows his head. “So it is.”
There’s silence for a moment longer before he ventures, “Would you…like to see your room, now?”
What she wants is a long cry in a scalding bath, but she does not say it. Instead she nods, and when she feels she can keep her voice level she adds, “Yes, sir. But I need fresh clothing.”
For she will not wear her gown again. It is the relic of another life.
It is probably her imagination, but she thinks he flinches at the “sir.” He waves his hand. Suddenly a silk nightgown nearly the same shade as her eyes clings to her figure. She blinks in surprise and releases her protective grip on her breasts.
“Follow me,” he says, turning away.
As she hauls herself off the table she feels cooling dampness sticking uncomfortably to her thighs, and the scratches from the woodwork stinging her back. And in a way, she is thankful for them. Without them, she might comfort herself that she had not lain with a monster.
But there are teeth marks in her arm and an ache in her muscles, and they will not let her hide behind illusion. She will consider them reminders of a price that came dear, but that she offered—will continue to offer—without regret. So she straightens her back, steps over the gold dress pooled on the floor at her feet, and follows Rumplestiltskin into the dark halls of his home.