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“Merry Christmas, Rum,” Belle murmured through the darkness as the snow fell silent and heavy outside the window. Her voice was thick and drowsy, and she snuggled up to him a stray strand of her chestnut hair tickled his nose. He smiled.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” he said, and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

The pair had curled up in a leather armchair next to a bright fire, with candles lit in the frosted windows and a twinkling tree with heaps of presents waiting to be opened. For their first uncursed holiday, and their first true Christmas, Rum thought they had done quite well. Belle had of course looked through all the books she could find about tradition, decoration, and the spirit of the season and let him know everything they needed to ‘celebrate properly.’ He had been skeptical, as was his nature, but as usual his beautiful Belle had been correct: the night was lovely, warm, and exceedingly comfortable; at last, no curses, no danger, no emergencies ...

Belle squeezed his hand and he squeezed back, feeling more content than he had in a centuries. He missed his boy, of course, but in this moment the world outside this room fell away and he let his mind be at ease. Belle's thumb stroked the back of his hand and heat pooled lazily in the pit of his stomach, much like the sweet chocolate drink Belle had made them.

“Did you know,” her voice broke through his thoughts, “that it’s a tradition in some places to open a single present on Christmas Eve?”

“I did not,” he said, shifting his weight as she straightened up to face him. The sleepiness had fallen away and the mischievous sparkle he loved so dearly glittered in her eyes.

“Well, it is, and I think we should honor it,” she said, giving him a smile that was both self-assured and anxious at the same time before she stood and she went to the tree. She had nothing to be nervous about as far as he was concerned; after all, she had already given him the greatest gift of all simply by being here with him. He was the one who was worried. Despite ninety percent of the presents belonging to Belle, containing anything and everything he thought she might like, he feared none of them would be good enough. He watched as Belle's eyes passed over the glittering hoard and settled on a plain wooden box. His stomach twisted when she reached to grasp its edges and tightened into a knot as she shyly placed the box into his lap.

“I, well ...” Even in the dim shadows of the firelight, Rumplestiltskin could see that she was blushing and he felt heat spark in his veins anew. She shrugged helplessly and gestured for him to open the box. He steeled himself and opened the lid.

Letters, almost two dozen of them, were stacked neatly inside the box. The first--and he assumed each that followed--was written in a fine lilting hand that could only belong to Belle.

“I wrote them whenever you were away,” Belle hastened to explain as he gingerly picked up one of the letters. He ran the tip of his finger over the edge, softened in the years since he had seen it last. A thick silence settled in the room like the blanket of snow outside it.

Finally he said, “Belle?”

“Mm?”

“I’ve read them.”

Her face fell. She had been planning on giving him these letters, a collection of what she had felt in his absence, for years; if he had seen them already, the magic was gone.

Rumple kicked himself and quickly amended, “While I was cursed.”

Belle’s expression remained unsure as she asked him, “Did you ... what did you think?”

They had been lovely--sweet, teasing, very direct, and with a wit to them that was in complete accordance with the woman who wrote them. He remembered all too clearly what his cursed self had thought of the man in the letters: Poor sod, he can’t see what’s right in front of him. When he had woken up he realized what he had done, what he had missed, and how he treated the woman who loved him so. He had been a mess, wracked with further guilt, anger, and anguish. He had found his own unsent, unread letters, the foolish things he had written to try and assuage his guilt and do Belle justice, and had carefully locked both sets of letters away from prying eyes. It wasn’t until Moe had stolen them, along with the chipped tea cup, that Rumple had hidden the letters he retrieved in plain sight to be sure they were not targeted again. It was there Belle had found them.

Belle’s fingers lightly grazing his cheek interrupted this morose reflection. She looked up at him from her position on the plush rug, waiting for his answer.

“They were far more than I deserved, Belle.”

“I meant every word,” she said, her words quiet but fierce.

“I know,” he said, biting his own lip and gazing into her loving eyes, “which is why you deserve these.” His hands trembled as he reached for the side drawer and pulled out a stack of parchment. It was old--almost as old as her own letters--and tied firmly in guilt-chosen red string. It sat cradled between his fingers as he drew his thumb over some of the tears threatening to break.

“Rumple?” Belle’s confused voice reached his ears and broke his melancholy. He pressed the letters into her hands and put his own over them.

“They’re my letters,” he rasped, his voice tight with emotion. “Letters that I never thought you would see.” His vision blurred and he felt Belle’s hands move. Because I thought you were dead. It went unsaid, but he knew Belle understood. “I was too much of a coward to give them to you until--” He inhaled at the sudden armful of Belle and any further protests were lost as her lips fused with his.

The hunger in her kiss and the way her body wrapped around him overwhelmed him, and he was helpless beneath her. Their embrace brought warmth and comfort like nothing else could, and slowly but surely they lost themselves to each other.

Rumple wrapped his arms around her and he shifted so that she sat fully across his lap. He could have simply kissed her forever, but Belle had other ideas. She moved so her backside ground into his lap and rubbed tantalizingly against his cock. Belle smiled a sweet, mischievous smile and pressed her forehead to his.

“I’ll read your letters, I promise, but I think it’s time we made a tradition of our own?”

She ran her fingers through his hair, and he matched her smile with one of his own. “What did you have in mind?”

Though she was already breathless and the room felt entirely too warm, he could see her blush and immediately raised an eyebrow. She cleared her throat.

“I thought I could ...” She bit her lower lip maddeningly and finished in a breathy rush, “... show you some of the things I wanted to do that I didn’t put into my letters?” Rumplestiltskin stifled a groan at the spike of heat that went straight to his groin and swallowed hard to contain his growing desires.

“I am at your complete mercy, love. If,” he swallowed, “you will allow me the same courtesy?”

Her eyebrows rose, but she smiled deviously.

“I suppose fair is fair,” she said primly as she rose to her feet and held out an expectant hand.

Being at Belle’s mercy was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Apparently Belle had gotten plenty of ideas from god-knows-where in his library, and per usual she had been quite thorough in her research. When he was a quivering mess beneath her, laying on the hearth rug and watching her come above him in the firelight, he knew it was his turn to show her just how silver-tongued he could be.

Desire gave him the unexpected strength and agility to roll her under him and proceed to kiss, nip, lick, and delve until she was shaking as badly as he was. On his third attempt to bring her to ecstasy, Belle pulled at his hair, dragging him up her body until their mouths met again and he sheathed himself deep within her. She wrapped her legs so tightly around him he thought he might break in two. When they came together, they came hard, and Rumplestiltskin saw stars.

When he came back to earth--back to her--he brushed the hair out of her face and she disarmed him with a smile so sweet and unguarded he thought his heart would burst. He opened his mouth to say he didn’t deserve her, that she should find someone worthy of her love and trust, but he could see in her eyes that it was a lost cause; instead, he sent a prayer of thanks that he had been given a second chance.

“Merry Christmas, Rum,” Belle said for a second time, in the same sleepy voice she had an hour befor. For once, deep in his bones, he knew what they had was enough. He gathered her close and kissed her forehead again.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”