It’s only a little bit funny, he tells himself, the suffering of his housekeeper. Under normal circumstances, her pain would be the farthest thing from humorous - terrifying and gut-wrenching would surely be closer to the mark.
But the silly girl had brought this upon herself: snooping in his work rooms again, searching for something to get thick pink liquid out of paper without smudging the ink.
The liquid in question being a potion she spilt on his ledger.
Really, Belle hasn’t been blameless since yesterday afternoon.
And now she is curled in bed, tired and puffy-eyed, her pains soothed with medicines but her body weary. She shouldn’t have let her smooth, innocent skin come into contact with the nasty magics housed within his castle. She knows better.
“Rumpelstiltskin,” she groans, as he tries to leave her for the night, “Come back.”
He can mock her pain all he likes: her commands still move him like a puppet on strings. And it’s only been worse since he kissed her on his table, and allowed her to rule his body as well as his mind.
It’s not love, it can’t be. Obsession, boredom, lust and ravenous hunger after so long starved for touch are much closer to what he feels for her. And, he is certain, what she feels for him. Curiosity and wickedness and rebellion (for what father could approve his maiden daughter sharing the bed of a monster?) and perhaps a little sympathy, the pains of friendship.
He doesn’t love her. He could, he supposes, but he doesn’t. Loving her would bring a new host of problems to his door: better to be friends, close companions, conspirators, and treat his knowledge of her body as slaking a thirst and nothing more.
But he is pulled back to her by her pleading blue eyes, and nothing can explain that.
“What is it, dearie?” he asks, as he seats himself back next to her, “Pains returning so soon?”
She shakes her head, “Hungry. Again.”
“Your body needs fuel to fight the toxins, pretty one,” he explains, his voice soft and crooning for all its trilling demon edge, and her soft smile lights the universe. “What do you desire to eat?”
She thinks a moment, her small white teeth nibbling her lower lip, and he resists the urge to lean forward and do that for her, to bite as monsters do and taste her soft flesh.
He holds himself in check, because she’s sick and doesn’t want him for that right now.
“Grapes.” She says, after a long moment, “My family had vineyards before the war, and-“
“Say no more,” he waves her stories aside: the last thing he needs is to know what he could have preserved had he known to come sooner, what distress he could have saved her from. “Your wish is my command.”
He conjures a perfect vine of grapes from thin air and holds it teasingly in front of her. She eyes them suspiciously. “At what price?”
“Why do you ask, dearie? Can’t you accept them as a gift?” he asks, and makes an elaborate show of wounded feelings, how deeply she cuts him with her suspicions. In actual fact, he’s proud of his pretty little housekeeper that she has learnt so well. But such things - like ‘I love you’s and eternal devotions - must never be spoken.
“How stupid do you think I am?” she raises her eyebrows, “I’m not taking any free fruit from magic people.”
“Afraid you’ll be trapped here forever?” he asks, smirking, “Little Persephone with her pomegranates? Hasn’t that promise already been made, sweet?”
She scoffs, “I just know you. All magic comes with a price,” she recites, and doesn’t she know that by walking and talking and breathing and kissing him every day she has credited her account with enough to grant her every request for the next eternity? “And I’d rather you weren’t appearing out of nowhere demanding my firstborn or something because I didn’t read the fine print.”
“Hmmmm…” he pauses, thinks a moment, making an elaborate show of it for her benefit. Then he stops, flourishes his hand and smiles, “A secret.”
“What secret?” she frowns, confused, her normally sharp mind fuzzy and unclear from his healing herbs and the after effects of the potion that infected her.
“Your choice, dearie, but my price is an unspoken truth of yours.” He waves the fruit closer to her face, “Interested?”
“You’re mean.” She pouts, but he doesn’t relent. He does, however, swoop in and kiss her pursed lips, coaxing her to open and kiss him back, her breath feverish and hot in his mouth as she gasps and sighs.
He pulls back after a long moment, and smirks, “Indeed. Now, do we have a deal?”
She glares at him, an adorably sleepy frown, and her eyes dart from his smile to the grapes and back again. “Fine, deal. Now gimme!”
“Ah ah!” he pulls them away as she reaches for the fruit, “You first, dearie.”
“But… food.” She looks up at him, all wide and begging eyes, but he is steadfast for all that his stone heart is melting.
“I always keep my contracts, you haven’t my record, dearie.”
“When’ve I ever broken a deal?” she demands, “I clean your precious castle, don’t I? Haven’t run off lately.”
“Indeed, but I believe there was something about not snooping in the west wing. Which would be how we got here, would it not?” he smirks, “Try again when you have three hundred years of agreements honoured under your belt, and we will renegotiate.”
“Fine.” She grumps, and thinks a moment. “My first kiss was with Gaston. Happy?”
“Not in the slightest.” He teases her, levitating the grapes just out of her reach, “I want something a little more precious, something not to be gained through simple deduction. Of course a princess could only kiss her fiancé, until she fell from grace. Something secret, dearie, if you please.”
She thinks a moment longer, and then flushes a deep red. He frowns at her, intrigued, but she just stares back. His girl does not look away, brave little thing that she is. “Fine.” She sits herself up, leans in close like a conspirator, her blushes warring with the challenging little gleam in her eyes, “I used to dream about you,” she whispers, the darkest of sweetnesses in her voice, honey and velvet, “Before… this. When you never touched me but to save me. I dreamt of you.” She takes her game one step further, moving one feverishly hot hand from her coverlet to rest on his upper thigh. The heat of her skin burns through the leather and his scales. “All of you. And all of me.”
Her eyes meet his, and it’s so dark and soft and painfully, beautifully intimate that his heart could melt or burst or simply break right then and there.
“There,” he breathes, “Not so difficult after all.”
“No,” she smiles at him, leans in so close he can feel her breath on his lips, “I suppose not.”
They don’t kiss: to do so would be to shatter the moment with passion, and this is something so much deeper and more important than that.
“Well,” his voice has not been so low since he was human, and if she is making him himself again, bringing the man from the monster, then he cannot find it in him to complain, “A deal is a deal.” He floats the grapes back to his waiting hands, and plucks one of the soft fruits from the vine.
She reaches for it, but he shifts a little away from her and holds the grape between his fingers, “Open your mouth, dearie.” He commands, softly, and she parts her soft lips expectantly. He slips the fruit into her mouth slowly, and feels her take it from him with her teeth and pull it inside.
She settles back away from him against the pillows and smiles as she bites down, eyes closed in pleasure at the taste, “Magic food has its advantages,” she says, happily.
“Indeed.” He agrees, trying to keep his voice and his mind under control at the sight of her, innocent and happy with her food.
He expects her to make a grab for the vine - he wouldn’t stop her, not anymore - but instead she simply finishes her first and opens her lips again, awaiting another. He obliges, this time running the fruit along her lower lip first, teasing her mouth with it for a moment before allowing her to take her food from him.
But it’s too close, too loving and intimate and utterly perfect, here on her bed, feeding her grapes and soothing her hurts. He is terrified by the softness in her eyes, only partially down to the clouding effect of his medicines, and how willingly she accepts fruit from his hands, how trusting she is to have him near when she is so soft and vulnerable.
She shouldn’t have such faith in a heartless monster: it is going to get her killed.
But he is not a monster, is he? Not here, not with her, not right now.
They finish the vine one by one, and he alternates randomly between feeding her and teasing her, drawing a little laugh from her lips the few times he steals one for himself.
Then she is satisfied, and sleepy, and her smile is beguiling and soft.
He imagines he could stay, curl around her like a lover, his head on her shoulder and arms at her waist.
But while she could never love him, not truly, not when she is so brave and sweet and beautiful and he such a deformed and twisted little coward.
So he presses a soft kiss to her forehead, and bids her goodnight, pulls the covers over her shoulders, and strokes her hair just once, before leaving the room and its sleeping inhabitant and returning to his sleepless, tireless work.
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