He'd ignored her from the moment she'd entered the room that morning and for that she was grateful. If she looked anything like the way she felt she was a right mess. She hadn't bothered tying her hair back and now wished she had as she pulled the tangles away from her sweaty neck. The heat radiating from the fireplace smothered her like a wet blanket and she couldn't breathe. She felt flushed and trapped inside her gown and made her way over to the window, a hand resting over her belly, counting the racing of her heart.
She gave a quiet gasp as she eased the window open, the mountain air washing over her. She drank it in, the cold trying to tame her fevered blood. The stones were frozen under her fingers and along her bare arm where she leaned against the wall, the air whisking away the perspiration that had collected on her skin in a way she knew should have chilled her, but didn't.
Her breath came in short pants and despite the refreshing air she still had difficulty drawing breath, the damp fabric of her dress clinging to her ribs.
"Are you unwell?" Belle was startled to find Rumpelstiltskin standing so close behind her. She hadn't heard him stop spinning, but maybe that was because her pulse roared in her ears, leaving her light headed and sick to her stomach. She waved off his question as she struggled to find her voice, a bead of sweat rolling down her neck.
"I'm just a little hot, that's all." She swallowed thickly, praying her racing heart would slow before she passed out.
She swayed on her feet to the rhythm of her heart and Rumpelstiltskin's arm around her waist steadied her. She leaned into him, her hand resting on his chest, unsure she could stand on her own.
Rumpelstiltskin's brow creased with worry and he held the back of his hand to her fevered cheeks. He briefly regretted housing her in the dungeon where the cold fingers of winter worked their way unmercifully through the stones, searching for the warmth of flesh and bone. She hadn't been sleeping well and now she was ill. He wrinkled his nose at her fever. No, a sick housekeeper would never do.
Belle sagged against him, tearing him free of his thoughts, black spots flecking her vision.
"I can't…breathe," she panted thinly, the darkness finally encompassing her and she went limp in his arms.
Rumpelstiltskin lifted her in his arms and carried her from the room cursing his inability to heal illness. By the time he laid her down on the bed she was barely breathing. He quickly cut the ties of her dress, pulling the fabric free and dropping it into a tattered heap on the ground. He cursed the stays of her corset before it too met the same fate as her dress. He tucked her into bed, oddly pleased that she'd taken to working barefoot so he wouldn't have to remove her shoes.
Sighing in frustration he clucked his tongue, but was pleased to see her breathing easier. She moaned in her sleep, her eyelids fluttering, making dark lashes dance against her cheeks, her rosy lips parting and he felt something stir uncomfortably in his chest.
Belle's hand flitted up, her fingertips resting against her forehead, trying to still the throbbing behind her eyes.
"What happened?" she murmured.
Rumpelstiltskin tittered lightly enjoying her confusion.
"Not exactly how I planned on getting you into my bed dearie, but if it works…"
"I'm in your room?" she asked, drawing her hand away from her eyes, the implications of his words yet to sink in.
"You think your room is this well furnished?"
Belle moved to sit up, murmuring an apology but he pushed her gently back down onto the mattress.
"Not that I'd mind, but I don't think you should do that." He glanced to the pile of ruined cloth on the ground and a moment later recognition dawned in Belle's eyes and she clutched the blanket to her chest, a blush that had nothing to do with her fever staining her cheeks.
He waited for her to explode at him, snarling accusations that would be far more fun to perpetuate than to deny, but she merely narrowed her eyes at him, glancing at the pile of her clothes and the knife on the bedside table.
"What, no accusations of impropriety?" he asked at her silence.
Belle watched him curiously, glancing once more at the knife before locking eyes with him, not a trace of distrust in her gaze. "Thank you," she finally said.
Rumpelstiltskin snorted. "Well, that's not the reaction I usually receive. How do you know suspicious activity didn't occur while you were unconscious?" He leaned closer, his stare equal parts teasing and suspicion. "You were completely at my mercy." He giggled shrilly in a way that gave Belle chills, but she didn't back down.
"Well, I had hoped that since you had a son you fingers would be more accustomed to the inner workings of my clothing and you wouldn't have to resort to a knife to remove my dress." She sat up, clutching the blanket close and narrowed her eyes at him. "Did your wife have to put up with such treatment? She must have gone through quite a lot of dresses." Her gaze was steady despite the blush that scalded down her neck.
Rumpelstiltskin found his eyes wandering as she'd leaned forward, resting her chest against her knees, the length of her back open to the air in the most distracting way.
Shivering she leaned back into the pillows and pulled the blanket closer around her.
Rumpelstiltskin wasn't sure whether to laugh or be offended by her insinuation that he would have to resort to a knife to remove a lady's clothing. He settled for changing the subject.
"Well, I'm afraid we must find you something else to wear. You can't stay in my bed like that all day."
He grinned at her as he stood. "Suit yourself dearie."