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Snow on the Roof, Fire in the Hearth

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“Please sir…take this rose in exchange for shelter from the bitter cold.”

Runpelstiltskin hadn’t expected to have company this evening. Then again he never expected to have company any evening, but especially in this one, when a blizzard was blowing and he had to beg a neighbor with a warmer hearth to take his son so he didn’t run the risk of hypothermia if the firewood ran out. Why on earth was this lady even at his door? Surely she knew there were armed places. Had they all sent her away? Nevertheless, he wouldn’t. Rumpelstiltskin was many things, but cruel was not one of them.

“Of course. Come in.” He said quickly, stepping aside and letting the woman inside. He couldn’t tell if she was elderly or young. Perhaps in between like him? “I’ll put on some tea.”

“Thank you.” She said as she stepped in and sat on the hard chair that was at his table.

He was suddenly very conscious of how untidy his house seemed to be. How small yet cold it was. But he remained silent as he put the kettle over the fire.

“How quaint.” The lady chirped in a voice that he thought was perhaps higher. “Two beds?”

“For me and my son.” Rumpelstiltskin said without turning to her as he prepared some bread with butter.

“You have a son?”

“Yes. He’s at a neighbors. Their…their house is warmer.”

“I see.”

“And you?”

She giggled then, and Rumpelstiltskin thought it sounded too young perhaps for someone who seemed to be so old. But then her voice dropped. “No. I was never so fortunate.”

“Ah. Well. I’m sorry to hear that.” A smile tugged at his lips as he turned with the tray.

The tray clattered to the floor the moment his eyes fell on the old woman. Except she wasn’t an old woman anymore. It was a young woman, or one who he assumed to be young. No one knew the age of The Dark Lady. She raised an eyebrow at him, and waved her hand, gold skin glinting in the candlelight.

“That won’t do.” She said as the tray disappeared from his feet and rightened on the table. “Look you chipped the cup.”

The spinner, didn’t move, unable to do anything but stare at her in wonder. She poured herself a cup of tea in the cup he’d chipped, plopping three sugar cubes he hadn’t owned into it.

“It’s only a cup, Rumpelstiltskin. You can hardly see the chip.” She said, her voice like liquid chocolate. “Come sit before your ankle gives out.”

He hadn’t even noticed the pain in his ankle until she mentioned it, and he slowly obeyed her, sitting across from her and trying hard not to make eye contact as she poured him a cup. Her eyes were blue. Impossibly blue. And he couldn’t place exactly what kind of beautiful she was.

“Sugar?” He shook his head, eyes fixated on the teaset. “It’s quite good you know. Makes the tea sweeter.”

She didn’t add any of the cubes though, and simply slid his cup across to him. The Dark Lady sipped hers lazily, and for a moment all they heard was the howl of the blizzard.

“Do you know why I’m here, Rumple?” She asked after a moment.

Perhaps it was the pet name, or the tone of her voice, but for whatever reason recognition flashed behind his eyes. Of course. Why else would she be here?

“You can’t have him!” He exclaimed, sudden fire behind his being. He tried to stand, but his ankle wouldn’t have it, and with a rather pathetic-sounding yelp he was back down on his chair.

“Calm down. Don’t hurt yourself!” She sighed, shaking her head. “I’m not here to take your son. Well, that’s what the request was, but I don’t really like pirates in the first place.”

“Pirates.”

The brunette hummed in response, sipping her tea once again. “Your…I suppose the boy’s mother. She asked me to get him back for her. Told me you were a coward. A runner. So of course this intrigued me. And I do love a deal that peaks my curiosity.”

Rumpelstiltskin remained silent, but his body was rigid. The woman simply looked at him, waiting patiently for…something from him. “They say you steal children, mistress. Babes straight from the crib.”

“I don’t steal.” She said simply, something Rumpelstiltn couldn’t quite pinpoint in her voice. “I might take a babe for a noble who wants an heir but I promise you it is never stolen.”

It was obvious he didn’t quite believe her, so she continued.

“Just as there are many nobles that can’t have heirs of their own, there are young mothers not ready for the responsibility. Who am I to deny a babe the chance of a better life if their mother is willing to give them that?”

She paused, pouring herself more tea. “But I’ve never been asked to steal away a child on the cusp of manhood for his own father. ‘He’s a coward.’ She told me 'A runner. A lame spinner. Unfit for fatherhood.’ So she asked me to get him from you.”

Rumpelstiltskin went rigid again, his fist clenching. “She left us.”

“I know. Drink your tea. It’ll calm you. I assure you it’s still warm.”

He obeyed, sipping with her, trying to stop the shaking in his hands. But he was unsuccessful. Still, the warmth of the tea, which he swore tasted better than usual, did comfort him the tiniest bit. He ventured a glance up to The Dark Lady, who seemed completely content in his little cottage.

“You never break a deal…” He said, trying to wrap his head around her meaning.

She giggled, looking at him from over the rim of the chipped cup. “It’s a good thing I didn’t make one with her then, isn’t it?”

“Then why are you here?”

“I wanted to meet the lame spinner so unfit for fatherhood.” She said simply, leaning back in the wooden chair. “I don’t fault a man for cowardice. Running from a fight you won’t win isn’t the worst thing you could have done. Especially since it was for your boy.”

Runpelstiltskin’s brows shot up. “How did you…?”

“Research my spinner. Drunken men talk. And being The Dark Lady makes people quite eager to offer information.”

“You…you researched me?”

“I did. I apologize if that makes you uneasy, but I needed to know more about this potential deal.”

“I don’t understand.”

She set down her cup, running her finger over the rim for a moment. “I’ve found people are…layered, Rumple. I had a feeling you were. So before I made a deal with these idiot pirates I decided to look into this lame spinner. And what do I find? A man trying his best to provide for his son, willing to fight The Dark Lady herself to try and keep him.”

“My boy…he’s all I have.” Rumpelstiltskin said, his voice cracking as a plea came into it “Please…without him I–”

“Rumple.”

Her tone stopped him short, made him flinch, and she waited for him to look at her, make eye contact (as if he were worthy of that), before continuing.

“You’re not listening. I have no intention of taking your boy. I’m here to offer you a deal.”

“A deal.” He echoed, his tone one of relief and skepticism.

“Indeed. I like you, Rumple. You claim to be a coward but you’re quite brave when it comes to your family.”

“No I’m not. I didn’t fight for Milah. I couldn’t save her.”

“You can’t save someone that isn’t in danger. Or willing to be rescued. Even so, she’s not exactly worth it is she?”

“I don’t know.”

Another wave of silence washed over them, only the wind howling to offer some comfort. The fire in the hearth burned out, and Rumpelstiltskin found it was burning on fresh wood again before he could make a move to stoke it back up.

“I told you I’ve never been so fortunate as to have a child.” The Dark Lady began, her voice having lost some of its flair, sounding almost tired. “I’m tired of dealing in other people’s babes. I’d much rather deal for my own. Finding a proper father though…that’s the tricky part.”

His eyes shot to her once again, and he found himself frozen to her gaze. “How?”

“What do you mean how?” She said, sounding annoyed.

“I mean…They say you have all the men you could ever want at your disposal, mistress. In and out of your castle.”

She was laughing then. A genuine laugh that sounded almost musical. He’d made The Dark Lady laugh. Somehow, that felt like a victory.

“Is that what they say about me? That I keep a harem?” She had to take a few breaths to calm herself. Then she suddenly looked very serious. “Rumple, dear, do you really think I could subject a man to this…” She gestured to herself. “Against their will?”

He tilted his head, but didn’t argue. The Dark Lady thought herself ugly? She was striking, perhaps. Yes that was the kind of beautiful she was. Striking.

“No. I don’t have a harem. But The Dark Castle does get lonely. I’d like companionship. A child. My own child.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you following me, Rumpelstiltskin?”

Once again, recognition flashed behind his eyes, and he couldn’t tell what the emotion that roiled inside of his gut was. His flight instinct kicked in, and he suddenly wanted to go grab Baelfire and run, storm be damned.

“Me?” He choked.

“Seems a fair trade. Child for child. And you’d be compensated. Any house you like. Wherever you like. A healed leg. Or perhaps I could teach you to spin straw into gold? It’s quite simple and you already know the art.”

“Why?”

“Well, you’re already skilled enough to spin for kings. Once you have gold you could–”

“No mistress I mean…why me? I’m all those things Milah called me. Probably more. Why would you choose the likes of me when you could have a lord? A prince? A king?”

She blinked, as if taken aback by his question. As if she hadn’t considered him to ask in the first place. This was so odd. The Dark Lady, the one who never broke a deal, the stealer of babes, the hoarder of men, wasn’t actually any of those things at all. She seemed to be just…a lonely woman. Layered.

“I’ve always thought by doing the brave thing bravery would follow.” She began. “You say you’re a coward, but you have courage when it matters. And kindness in your heart. That’s the kind of man I would have liked to be with before…this.”

She once again gestured to herself, and paused. She wasn’t looking at him anymore, instead fidgeting with her empty cup in a way that almost seemed shy.

“I’ll not be upset if you say no.” She said quietly. “Either way you’ll keep your son. I’ll not touch the boy.”

So that was it then. She was expecting him to say no. And she’d leave with no grudge and leave him and his son in piece. The spinner could end it right here, and things would go back to normal. Yet, somehow, he couldn’t. Somehow, she wanted him. The first woman to want him in years was The Dark Lady herself, and that made something stir inside him that hadn’t in a long time.

“I accept your deal.” Rumpelstiltskin said, giving her a smile when her eyes shot to him, full of caution and hope.

“You…you do?” She asked, almost shocked. “Even though you don’t have to? I’d hate to tarnish the reputation you have with the filly you’re courting.”

Their was no one. She must have known that.

“I do.” He said simply. He hoped she didn’t ask why. Because he really didn’t know. He just knew that she wanted him and was smiling at him, and oh how he liked it.

She swallowed, nodding with a small smile. She stood then, and he followed, keeping his weight on his good leg. “I…I’ll use magic. Make sure it takes the first time. I…you…don’t have to worry about uh…pleasing me. It’s…this is enough.”

She was nervous, and fidgeted in front of him. The Dark Lady was nervous about going to bed with the likes of him. Somehow it warmed and broke his heart at the same time, and suddenly he was overwhelmed with the need to take her in his arms and comfort her.

“Mistress…”

“Belle.” She corrected, smiling up at him from the few inches he had on her. “My name. I believe you’ve earned it.”

“Belle.” Rumpelstiltskin tested, loving how it felt on his tongue. “It suits you.”

She laughed. “You don’t have to flatter me, Rumple. I’m already in your bed.”

He shook his head, “No flattery. Just truth.” And he was rewarded with a smile. “I…it’s been a while for me. I haven’t…since Milah. I was never enough for her.”

“I assure you, it’s been longer for me. I told you. This is enough.”

Without thinking, he reached out, running his fingertips over her odd skin. He’d expected it to be textured, but it was impossibly smooth to the touch. She went inhumanly still, as if expecting him to change his mind and bolt.

“And we uh…we need to discuss your compensation.” She said when he didn’t run. “As I said you can have any house and…and your leg should be easy enough to heal. Whatever you–”

“Belle…” Her eyes flickered to his. “May I kiss you?”

The brunette nodded shakily. Before he could think to stop himself, he cupped her cheek, bringing their lips together. She relaxed almost immediately, making some sort of soft cooing sound that Rumpelstiltskin couldn’t pinpoint the meaning of. But it didn’t matter because her lips were moving against him. And oh he’d forgotten what a joy kissing could be.

If he had forgotten then Belle was clueless, and he was quite amazed to find The Dark Lady breathless when their lips parted.

“Cot. By the fire.” He breathed, and she nodded simply, moving away from him.

He searched deftly for his staff, eyes never leaving her as she let the rag of a dress she was wearing drop from her shoulders and pool on the floor before sitting on the cot. Her body was flawless, despite the odd skin that only made her seem to glow against the fire. She had curves in every right place, and for a moment he wondered what man in all the realms was mad enough to turn her away.

“Are you alright?” She asked, sounding almost nervous. And wasn’t that something?

“Yes.” He said, snapped out of his thoughts. “I…As I said its…been a while.”

She only gave him a broken smile, and patted the spot beside her. He limped over, sitting down closer than he ever would have dared had she been clothed. Her hands went to work on his shirt, untying the laces and pushing it off his shoulders. He suddenly felt very exposed, and a shiver ran through him as she ran her palm over his bare skin.

“Me too…” Belle said, looking at him as if he were something precious. “How’s the leg?”

“To hell with the leg.” He said, and he couldn’t tell if his voice was a growl or a whimper but he didn’t care.

His lips fell on hers again, their kiss searing yet so tender as her once skilled hands began to fumble. He replaced her hands with his own, unloving his rough trousers and sliding them off. Other than kissing, Belle was going about this far too mechanically for his liking. Her lips moved, slanting on his, tongue exploring places he hadn’t had touched in years, but her hands were still safely on his chest. He was a man, and damn it he needed more.

“Let me touch you, Belle.” Rumpelstiltskin rasped after her tongue had found a spot in his mouth that made him shiver. “Please.”

“I never said you couldn’t, Rumple. But you don’t have to– Ah!”

Her voice pittered out in a gasp as his hands covered her breasts, his lips slanting across his once again. She made a delicious whimpering noise that he gladly swallowed, tongue flicking out to explore her lips, and then the rest of her mouth as she opened for him. His hands traced her body, finding places that made her shiver and moan and soon he was painfully aware of how tight his pants were.

“You killing me Rumple…” She rasped as he left her lips in favor of tracing her neck and collar bone. “I told you…you don’t have to…”

“I want to.” The spinner insisted against one of her breasts, and she moaned as he took a nipple into his mouth.

Suddenly, she was on top of him, straddling him as he layed back on the cot. She was trembling, and he reached up to stroke her arms.

“Mistress?” No answer. “Belle?”

“Say again.”

“I want to please you.”

The Dark Lady moaned again, capturing his lips in a fervent kiss. No, Rumpelstiltskin realized, she didn’t want to simply have him. She wanted to devour him. And oh that shouldn’t have sounded as appealing as it was.

“Touch me.” She commanded, and he was helpless to do anything but follow, once again memorizing her odd skin.

His hands ran up her thighs to their apex, and she seemed to yelp when his nimble fingers found her folds. Impossibly, they were wet.

“I won’t last.” She promised as she buried her face in his neck. “Take off your trousers.”

With the hand not occupied with her womanhood, he obeyed, freeing his strained length as it stood at attention. He tried not to think about the way Belle smiled too much.

“Perfect.” She breathed. “Rumple…”

He nodded, whimpering out. “Me too.”

“Look at me.”

He did so, and was so overcome with the sheer emotion in her gaze that he was suddenly almost terrified. She moved, never breaking eye contact as she positioned herself above him.

“I wanted to watch you.” She confessed, slipping herself over him.

They moaned in unison. Rumpelstiltskin’s head swam. She was tight and warm and perfect. He moved on sheer instinct, pulling her down in a frenzied kiss as they moved against each other, hips coming together in unison, warmth radiating from their bodies.

“Yes that’s it, Rumple. That’s perfect.”

“Belle. Oh gods Belle–!”

Somehow, blessedly, they both shuddered at the same time, crying out against the other’s shoulder as they rode their bliss.

Niether of them knew how long it was that they stayed connected, or how long they layed in each other’s arms, under the warm quilt by the fire.

“Would you want a son or daughter?” Rumpelstiltskin asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never given much thought to it.” Belle replied truthfully. “You?”

“I have a son. I suppose a daughter wouldn’t be so bad.”

There was a pause, the crackling of the fire and the howl of the wings echoing through them.

“There’s still the matter of your end…” Belle said sleepily.

“In the morning.” Rumpelstiltskin promised, kissing her forehead.

“Of course.”

When the morning came, however, Rumpelstiltakin found himself alone on the cot, shivering as he re-stoked the fire. The Dark Lady was nowhere to be seen, having disappeared as easily as she’d appeared. In her wake, however, she’d left something. Laid across the table was a veritable desist of bread and butter and pork and eggs, all kept impossibly hot by magic. A note sat between what looked to be a potion bottle and three large sack of what the spinner knew had to be gold. He limped over, reading the note.

Dear Rumple,

The food will stay hot until eaten. See that your boy eats plenty. He’s still growing after all. I hope the gold in these sacks will be enough to get you two a new life. A comfortable one. It’s hard to tell what anything costs anymore. Get some apprentices and teach your trade. Please don’t waste your talent. If you drink the potion it will heal your leg. Though the side effects does include drowiness. Less painful that way. Thank you for everything. Let’s make one more deal. Give my regards to that young filly you’re courting and I’ll give yours to my harem. Seriously though, court someone. You’re not a coward, and it’s time you found your courage. And if you ever need me for anything, simply say my name three times or find me at my dark castle. Now if you excuse me, I have some pirates to attend to.

Yours,
Belle

Yours it said. His. Somehow that made him smile. She was right. It was time he found his courage. He moved, grabbing his staff and putting on his warmest clothes. He needed to get Bae. The Dark Castle was a far walk…