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Belle wondered how long she could stretch out brushing her teeth and taking her make-up off.

She glanced over at the hanger on the back of the bathroom door, looking at the nightdress from top to bottom and back again. She’d had so much fun on that shopping trip with Ruby and Mulan; the assistant in the lingerie shop must have thought that they were all completely mad from the amount of raucous laughter going on. She’d tried on so many different combinations and they’d had such a good giggle, and she’d finally decided on this one. Classic white with blue lace trim; she’d thought that she’d looked the cat’s pyjamas in it. This was what she was going to wear when she lost her virginity.

Now that the moment was getting ever closer, though, Belle was having second thoughts. Not about the nightdress, per se. Not even about the whole losing her virginity part. It was more that she’d thought herself into a hole and she didn’t really know how to think herself out of it, because this was one thing that she’d always tamped down and kept close to her chest. Even when they’d been talking about this particular night and its significance back in the lingerie shop, Belle still hadn’t let on to Ruby and Mulan that she was still a virgin.

Aiden knew. After all, she’d been his girlfriend for three years, he definitely knew that there was a reason they hadn’t had sex in all that time.

Her wedding dress hung on the hook beside the nightgown, and the sight of it made Belle smile. There wasn’t anything remotely strange or scandalous about it by today’s standards, but she’d certainly caused a stir when she’d walked down the aisle in it. So much lace, so tight in the bodice, it was obscene! Of course, if the residents of Storybrooke had their way, then all women would be covered up from chin to ankles in shapeless wool sacks all the time.

For all Belle had taken her life into her own hands and moved away from the culture she had grown up in, for all she had learned to be able to laugh at it looking back, somehow coming back here made it so much harder to do, and it made her so angry. She spat her mouthful of toothpaste into the sink with more rage than she’d expected, splattering white foam all over the taps. At least cleaning that up gave her a bit more time to clear her head in.

Of all the things that had been drilled into her as a child and teenager, all the stupid purity ideals of the town she’d called home for eighteen years, why was the only one that she couldn’t let go of the one that was so very important? Why, out of everything she’d been told, had she still been so determined to wait until she was married before she had sex for the first time?

It was a bit late to change her mind about it now. She couldn’t exactly go back in time a couple of years, say ‘to hell with it’ and jump Aiden’s bones the first chance she got. And now she’d got herself stuck into a little rut entirely of her own making.

Maybe if she stayed here in the bathroom long enough, Aiden would come and rescue her and take everything out of her hands. He would come and knock on the door and ask if she was all right, and she would open it, and he would be standing there naked and gorgeous, as comfortable in his birthday suit as he was in his normal one. She’d throw herself into his arms and kiss him for all he was worth, and he’d pick her up and lay her down on the bed and…

That was the point at which the fantasy started to become unstuck. She’d read more than enough romance fiction in her time. She’d read more than enough sex scenes and seen more than enough of them on the TV. She knew what came next. She was actually looking forward to what came next. Well, she was looking forward to it most of the time. Right now, she didn’t know how she was feeling towards it. The flush was rising in her cheeks and the heat was beginning to build between her legs, and it was exactly the same as when she’d been staying over at Aiden’s that time and had accidentally seen him naked and oh, she had wanted him so badly for all of ten minutes before the snide voice in her head piped up and told her that good girls didn’t want that kind of thing.

Why this? Why now? Why was this the one thing she couldn’t get over?

She’d got over her fear of tampons. The chemist in Storybrooke had refused to stock them, saying that they were Satan’s fingers and that if she used them she’d be impregnated with the devil’s spawn. (When Belle had asked what kind of anatomy the devil had to have in order to impregnate women with his severed fingers, and what happened to all the millions of hell babies that the women outside of Storybrooke who used tampons were giving birth to daily, the chemist had just glared at her.)

She’d managed to make sense of the ridiculously contradictory advice given to her by Madame Georgette the hairdresser about bikini waxing for her wedding night. Only sluts and whores waxed off all their pubic hair, but obviously, your husband will think you’re dirty and disgusting if he sees you with any hair down there because pure girls don’t have body hair. Make of that paradox what you will, Belle had thought to herself. Evidently the only solution was not to have grown any pubic hair in the first place, so she’d stuck to her usual trick of just trimming and shaving to make sure it didn’t show around the edge of her underwear and left it at that.

Why was it that the only thing she couldn’t make sense of all the contradictory and stupid information that she’d been given was the one thing that really mattered, the actual act itself?

Belle stared at herself in the mirror. There was only one thing for it. She was just going to have to bite the bullet and go for it. She couldn’t exactly turn back at this late stage. In hindsight, she probably should have discussed this moment with Aiden just a little bit before it actually came down to it. He’d brought it up a couple of times in the run up to the wedding, after all, but the snide, horrible voice in her head had told her that nice girls didn’t talk about that kind of thing, and that Aiden probably only wanted to talk about it because he was excited about finally getting some after holding out for three years. She couldn’t even blame him, since he definitely wasn’t a virgin having been married once before with an adult son from that relationship.

God, Belle hated that voice in her head, because she knew that Aiden had only ever had her best interests at heart and now she really, really wished she’d actually had that conversation with him and got all her thoughts sorted out in her head before it was crunch time.

Still, no use dwelling on the past now. What was done was done, or rather, not done, and now she just had to make the best of it. She’d made her bed – well, her upbringing had made her bed for her – and now she was just going to have to lie in it. Literally. With her husband.

She shrugged off the hotel robe that she’d put on after wrestling herself out of her dress, and pulled the nightgown on over her head, smoothing it down and looking at herself critically in the mirror. If she wasn’t in such a state of mental turmoil then she’d still think that she looked the cat’s pyjamas in it, but as it was, she just worried.

Would she be desirable enough? This wasn’t even the most undressed that Aiden had already seen her; they’d been to the beach and she’d worn a bikini then, which he had most definitely appreciated. At the time she hadn’t felt self-conscious at all. Why was she feeling so self-conscious now? Maybe because at the time of the bikini, there hadn’t been the prospect of sex later.

What did it even matter whether she was desirable enough? This was a marriage, a partnership; she didn’t exist solely to be an object of lust for her husband. Did she? Why was she having these thoughts now, in the bathroom of the bridal suite, having got married just a few hours earlier? She’d spent so long looking forward to this moment, why was she getting cold feet now? She’d planned it all out in her mind… Up until the moment when things actually started to happen, and at that point her mind went blank.

She gave her hair a final brush and gave her reflection a determined nod. Show time.

Belle opened the bathroom door and stepped out into the bedroom. Aiden had turned the bright main lights off, the only illumination coming from the reading lamp on the right-hand side of the bed. Aiden himself was lying back against the pillows, chest bare, the sheets tucked in loosely around his waist, completely at ease. He sat up straighter when he saw Belle, his eyes moving slowly from head to toe and back again.

“Oh Belle,” he breathed. “Oh, my lovely Belle. You look so beautiful. I think I must be the luckiest man alive to have married you.”

Belle smiled. “No, I’m the lucky one.”

She moved a couple of steps out of the bathroom doorway, closing the door behind her with a snap of finality. She couldn’t escape back in there now, but she still couldn’t bring herself to move any closer.

“Are you all right?” Aiden asked. “You were brushing your teeth so hard I thought you were furious with them for some reason.”

“No, no. I’m fine.”

She wasn’t furious with her teeth. She was furious with her brain. The anger at her own indecision roared back into life and she crossed the room purposefully, climbing onto the bed beside Aiden and pulling him in for a fierce kiss, possessive and bruising, staking her claim. She’d kissed him like this before. They’d done a lot of kissing over the past three years; it was something that they were very good at. She’d kissed him with this same kind of hunger, and then she’d pulled away before she’d got overexcited and ended up going further than she intended.

When it had happened in the past, she’d always been a little annoyed at herself for pulling away, for sticking to the stupid mantra of saving herself for marriage when she’d given up everything else about her abstinence-only, purity-obsessed education.

Now though, she didn’t need to worry about that. She was married, she didn’t have to pull away. Neither of them did. She could kiss and touch to her heart’s content and yet, for some reason, she wasn’t doing so. She wanted to run her hands down Aiden’s back to his ass to see if he was naked under the covers. She wanted to do all kinds of things.

But there was that snide voice again, telling her that nice girls didn’t want that kind of thing. Belle wasn’t a nice girl. She’d long since established that there was no such thing as a ‘nice girl’ in the Storybrooke sense of the word. It was physically impossible for them to exist in such a way as to be perfect according to all the ideals. She should be a virgin when she got married, untouched and unsullied by any man’s hands, and yet she should still know what she was doing enough for her husband to be satisfied with her.

She let Aiden tip her over onto her back, feeling his lips trail down over her jaw and neck, and she carded her fingers into his hair, not trusting her hands to go anywhere else. He was about halfway across her décolletage when he suddenly stopped and looked up at her.

“Belle, sweetheart, are you all right?”

It was a serious question; there was a little frown line between his brows, and Belle cursed herself inwardly, because they’d only been at this whole ‘having sex’ thing for less than a minute and she was already evidently doing it wrong. Suddenly, everything that she’d ever read on the subject went clean out of her head in the face of blind panic.

“I’m fine,” she said brightly, hoping that she didn’t sound overly bright. She’d done that before, and Aiden could always pick up on it and call her out on it. “What makes you think that I’m not?”

“You’re tenser than a piano wire and you’ve got your legs clamped tighter than a vice. Just relax, my darling. You’re supposed to enjoy this, not endure it.”

No, you’re not, said the snide voice in her head that sounded suspiciously like one of the nuns now that Belle really thought about it. Nice girls don’t enjoy sex. Nice girls just lie there and stare at the ceiling and endure it.

She took a deep breath and let her legs fall open.

“Is that better?”

“No. Belle, please tell me what’s wrong. I know that this is your first time, we can go as slow as you need. Just please talk to me. I don’t want to push you before you’re ready, but I want to know what you’re ready for.”

“Nothing’s wrong!” There was no hiding the hysteria in her voice now. “Can we just stop talking and get it over with? Please!”

“No. Belle, this isn’t something to just be got over with. We’re not going to do it if you don’t want to.”

“I do want to!”

Aiden shook his head. “Belle, everything about your body language right now is screaming that you don’t want to do this, and I cannot disregard that. I’ve known you long enough to be able to read you like this. I can tell when you do want it and you then pull back because you want to wait. This isn’t one of those times.”

Belle pressed her hands over her face. This was not how she was supposed to be spending her wedding night, arguing with her husband about whether she wanted to consummate it, because the awful truth of the matter was that she just didn’t know herself what she wanted, and there were so many places that the indecision was stemming from that she couldn’t even pin point one particular thing that they could talk about and move past.

“Oh Belle, my love. Come here.”

Aiden sorted out the tangle of sheets that they’d got themselves into, getting Belle tucked up under the covers beside him and in doing so proving that he was indeed naked, and his cock was definitely far more interested in consummating their marriage than either of them seemed to be. He stroked her hair out of her face, wiping away her tears with his thumb.

“Please talk to me, sweetheart. This is your wedding day; you shouldn’t be upset like this.”

“This isn’t my wedding day, though.” Belle sniffed and reached for a tissue from the nightstand to blow her nose. “The wedding day was perfect. Well, apart from Madame Georgette’s weird ideas on intimate grooming this morning but I got through those all right. If we’d just stopped at the end of the reception then everything would have been fine. But this is the wedding night. This is the thing that I’ve been building up to for so long. I’ve denied myself getting closer to you for three years because I wanted to wait for tonight, which was supposed to be so special and perfect, and now it’s actually here and I can’t even tell what I want anymore!”

She took a deep, shuddering breath. It was all coming out now, all of her confusion, and she was steadfastly ignoring the snide voice telling her that none of it mattered because they had to consummate their marriage whether she liked it or not.

“Before, when we were just kissing on the sofa and your hands were on my thighs under my skirt, and I was desperate for you to go higher, but I knew I had to be a good girl and wait… I wanted it so badly, you have no idea. But now we’re actually here, and I don’t even know. Maybe I’m actually ace, and I was just using waiting till marriage as an excuse not to have sex.”

“I don’t think so. Not when you just told me how badly you wanted it before we got married. Maybe it’s just the pressure of the situation. You’ve been building up to this for three years. Longer than that, for your entire adult life. I think it’s natural that you’d feel some anxiety about it.”

Belle sighed. “Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway, does it? This is our wedding night. Something’s got to happen.”

“It really doesn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“Belle, there’s no law that says you have to have sex on your wedding night. Jefferson was so paralytic drunk after his wedding that he passed out on the bed before Alice had finished getting undressed and he didn’t wake up for ten hours. This isn’t the middle ages; we don’t have to give your father the sheets covered in chicken blood as proof that we did it.”

Belle raised one eyebrow. “This is Storybrooke. They’re only one step away from burning witches at the stake. Besides, what about you? You’ve waited for me for three years, it’s not fair to make you wait any longer.”

“Belle, even before I met you, I hadn’t had sex for over five years. I can wait as long as you want to wait. Contrary to popular belief I’m not a maniac, even if the locals do think I’m some kind of demon.”

Belle thought again of the tampons and the demon spawn and gave a little giggle. Gold smiled.

“That’s better. Look, it’s been a long and stressful day even without all this now. Why don’t we just go to sleep and talk about it more in the morning, when it’s daylight and we’re rested and the pressure of it being The Wedding Night is over?”

Belle nodded. At least it would give her time to get her thoughts in order, and things would probably seem much easier to deal with in the clear light of day than in the heat of the moment.

Aiden pulled her in tight against him, wrapping his arms around her and pecking a gentle kiss to her cheek. Belle pressed in closer, nuzzling into his warm chest. At least this was something that she could definitely do without fear of mental recrimination now. It was the first time they’d slept in the same bed, and she could absolutely see herself getting used to this, even if the sex part of it was going to take her a little longer to get to grips with.

“This is nice,” she murmured. “I like this.”

“Me too.”

“Please don’t let me go, Aiden.”

“I won’t.”

Belle closed her eyes, feeling the steady beat of his heart and his calm, even breathing. Yes, she was definitely the lucky one in this marriage, to have found a husband who was so wonderfully understanding. She dreaded to think what would have happened if she’d married one of the boys she’d grown up with in Storybrooke, raised to think that taking their wife’s virginity on the wedding night was their birth right.

She hadn’t intended to fall asleep quite so soon. She’d intended to stay awake and try to make sense of everything so that she could have at least a halfway decent conversation with Aiden in the morning.

But his arms were so welcoming, and his warmth was so inviting, and she felt so safe in his embrace that she drifted off entirely without meaning to.