Storybrooke, three days after the end of the curse
Between unlocking his door and stepping inside, Rumplestiltskin had to pause; there was something high in his chest that hurt so sweetly he had to stop and let it sting through him, savoring: she was there, Belle in his house.
It wasn't home, of course, wasn't his Dark Castle, and yet having her here brought back open books left on the table in the entry hall, maddening cheerful tuneless song from the kitchens, and a thousand small objects moved slightly from where he'd left them, evidence of her bright life moving within his dark walls.
The Dark Castle had been home and security, the shadowed, safe den where he could cower in safety and strike out at the world. For a little while, Belle's presence made it something else. Then she'd been gone, gone and gone and gone, and the air in all the rooms had turned deadened and numb around him, darker and unfeeling and safer.
This place, in this strange world, afforded the stifling safety of dullness; twenty-eight years of unchanging tedium behind his sturdy lock, while he waited for some royal chit to finish growing up and find her destiny. He'd brought the numbness of Belle's death with him, and never missed her here.
That was what made it so wondrous and so strange. For all his long life he had strained and clawed for things he wanted, and nearly always been cheated, left reviled and cringing, left to try again. Suddenly she was here, un-looked-for, a beautiful fortune bestowed on him without his knowing why.
The surprise of it always colored his greeting when first he saw her. "Hey," he said, shutting the door, turning the lock and then the two sturdy bolts.
She was smiling, that beautiful crooked smile, crook'd further still as she bit her lip. "I may have broken your stove," she said, a teasing amused sort of nervousness in her tone that reminded him of a chipped cup, a torn curtain, the familiar sound of furniture thumping to the floor and her prim, Oh damn! from down the corridor.
"Oh yes?" Come to think of it, there was a little scent of smoke in the air, and the place was cool, as if the windows had been open. He was struck by another sting of sweetness that she'd used his kitchen. Her presumption that what was his was hers to use felt intimate and warm.
She pressed her lips together and looked up at him, "Ye—es. I was making lunch."
She’d barely really been in this world three days, had no chance before to learn how to use running water, much less a gas cooker. There she was, his brilliant girl, brain and bravery always running far ahead of her hands, wanting to know, wanting to try. He followed her, grinning.
Seventeen years before the curse
Rumplestiltskin saw the dog before he saw the girl. It was a massive creature with a golden brown ruff round its rather snubbed face, and it stood in Sir Maurice’s gardens, foursquare and huge and patient, waiting for its master.
Lao was talking to his host in the solar and had left his dog outside. It was his company and protection on the road, and he traveled freely as few merchants did in the land; news like Lao’s dog got around.
It was Lao Rumplestiltskin was interested in, and only happenstance that he’d been in this little town when Rumplestiltskin had found him. Lao had got hold of a certain nightingale, which was needed by a courtier who knew where a certain key was hidden, which would open a door a certain duchess needed to pass through, and . . . and link-by-link, the chain led back to the curse, and the plan, and to Baelfire, out there somewhere, too far away.
At times he found himself making a game of it, amusing himself with the complex series of exchanges he could build along the way, the tricks and the games he could play. It was that, or go mad with the howling emptiness of so many years of failures and blind alleys and broken hopes.
He was simply waiting around at the moment, for Lao to finish his business and go to his room, so that Rumplestiltskin could pop in behind him, scare the pants off the man, and see about that bird. He waited, he watched, although in this provincial little place it was unlikely he would pick up much of use.
He only noticed the little girl because she was walking towards the dog. She had dark hair with a sheen of auburn in the light, and blue eyes, and she had a book in one hand. She was walking slowly forward, eyes on the huge dog.
Rumplestiltskin, out of sight, tilted his head to the side. Apparently she intended to tease the creature. And then it would most likely savage her. This might well be entertainment enough to while away the boredom. And then, given Maurice’s temper and lack of any sense of humor, Lao would probably end the night locked up, which would make the deal for possession of the nightingale particularly easy to make.
Rumplestiltskin rubbed his hands together gleefully, waiting for the growling and the shrieks.
The little girl stopped five paces away from the dog, and looked at it. She looked nervous, so apparently she knew that it was a dangerous animal. And yet here she was. Silly little people, so stupid, so self-destructive.
She opened her book and looked at it, then said, in a clear child’s voice, “Thoo-wuh.”
Rumplestiltskin’s eyes widened.
“Thoo-uh,” she said again.
The dog was still for a moment, then responded. Rumplestiltskin, who had always been good with dogs, could easily read what passed for thoughts in its doggy brain. The child was a stranger, but not threatening, and the sound she had made was close enough to a command it had learned to obey. It lowered its rear to the grass and raised its head up.
“Good dog,” the little girl chirped, and checked her book. “Haw goh!” she said seriously. “Haw goh.”
The dog sat there regally. It knew it was a good dog, but it was always nice to be told.
Grinning in delight, the little girl took a few steps nearer, and reached out. In the end her hand was shaking a little in fright, but she petted the dog’s big head through its ruff a few times, then backed off.
She was opening her book, possibly to look up another command, when Maurice’s voice came calling, “Belle? Belle?”
She turned and ran, book hugged tight to her chest.
Well, well, well, so Sir Maurice, dull and dull-witted, had managed to produce a tiny courageous scholar. That might be useful someday.
In exchange for the nightingale, Lao wanted a particularly fiddly potion against being strangled in his sleep by his wife. In the end, Rumplestiltskin ended up making his deal with the wife -- well, widow -- and didn’t think about Sir Maurice or his daughter or his town for nearly decade and a half.
Fourteen years later, a small vial hanging in the south window of Rumplestiltskin’s tower glowed suddenly bright green, and made a crackling noise. Interrupted in mid potion, he spat a curse at it, but then put his alembic aside and went to pluck it up. He poured out the vial onto the surface of a small black bowl full of water, and watched as an image formed.
It was a girl, young and dark haired, with startlingly pretty blue eyes. Rumplestiltskin had recently needed to gather a large number of human eyeballs of different colors, and was at the moment still rather attuned to the topic. Those would have done nicely for the fourth stage of that particular potion, though the ones he had found had served well enough.
She was in a small room, stone walls -- a bedchamber in a castle, most likely. She sat at a little table with three books open before her. On top of one of the books was a silver dish full of milk, with three drops of red spreading through it in delicate arcs.
“Rumplestiltskin, Rumplestiltskin, Rumplestiltskin,” she said.
It was a very old summoning charm, barely strong enough to knock a junior fairy off her trajectory. It did show up in a few books, because it was so harmless that real users of magic didn’t mind it being out in the public view. Books containing anything more efficacious were kept very carefully for the right eyes only.
Still, it would take some study to arrange the charm exactly right, and she had, to have set off his little alarm. Rumplestiltskin liked to know when someone was trying to attract his attention, although it would take something very powerful to actually force him to attend on a summoner.
The girl looked around the room. “Rumplestiltskin? Are you here? I ask your forgiveness for summoning you. I humbly request your help?” The last words became a question as she kept looking around the room, possibly thinking he was invisible.
Well, at least she was respectful, so he supposed he’d not bother to think up something funny to turn her into. Besides, his boots were new, and cleaning something sticky off the soles would be tedious.
“We’re being attacked by ogres. We need your help. I’ve been trying to convince my father to send for you, but he won’t listen. Please, please -- ohh, you’re not here at all, are you? Damn, damn, damn.” With a snorted breath of annoyance she slapped one of her books shut.
When Sir Maurice’s request came, some days later, Rumplestiltskin considered it. He had no love for ogres. And it would be nice to have someone with manners about to take care of things; sooner or later he was sure to get somebody all over these boots.
Storybrooke, three days after the end of the curse
"I suppose I should've known when I couldn't find the kindling," Belle was laughing, as she finished washing up the lunch things.
Rumplestitskin was on his knees, in shirtsleeves and an apron, wiping the last of the sooty marks from down the front of the previously pristine cooker. "I admire the way you forged ahead despite your ignorance," he remarked.
"You're used to this world. All I had was twenty eight years in a little room. I mean, some things were there in my head, but mostly it was just, blank – empty."
Twenty-eight years, and he'd hardly ever been more than ten minutes walk from her.
He could slice the tendons on the backs of Regina's hands, one, then two, then three, counting up to ten, watching each finger collapse unstrung and limp. He could turn her into a flock of carrion crows and lock her in her own vault with nothing but her father's corpse for sustenance. He could take her eyes and put them into the head of a reaving wolf and turn the wolf on her so she could watch her own throat ripped out from inches behind the jaws that did it.
He turned on his knees and wrapped his arms round Belle's waist and pushed his face hard into the softness of her belly.
"Rumple – " she whispered, one hand coming down to rest hesitantly on his hair.
"Just – let me... if you want me to keep my promise and not go after Regina, I – " He held tight to Belle, her soft flesh a mute against his screams for vengeance, her body anchoring him against the imperative to fly across the town and crown himself with gore and injustice repaid, her hands soothing the itch to lay entrails in a heap at her feet and let her see his power in their gleam.
She stroked his hair for a moment, and her hands were soft, and once she cupped the back of his neck warm and sure as though his very skull were a precious object. She did not want entrails. She did not want him dark and tempest, iron and blood. And she had the right not to want that; all the blunt might of his magic and the cutting slice of his intellect hadn't kept her from that little room.
But he could not give her frailty. She could not want the impotent and fragile thing he had been before. She needed to be safe, but not to see the monstrousness in him that protected her. He would center the hurricane of his power, and keep her safe in the eye, unaware of the tearing brutality around her.
It was hard, so hard, to control the ache to let her see him mighty, to show her, as he would show the rest of the world, that she was his, and no one was permitted to touch what was his ever again.
Her fingers combed gently through his hair until he was controlled again. Then he let her go and braced a hand on the counter to help him stand, and turned his back on her while he took off his apron, giving them both a moment to relieve the tension.
"Well," he declared, whirling round with a flourish and grinning at her, "then it must be my pleasure to introduce you to some of the more pleasant offerings of this world. Would you like to try a film? It’s like a play you can watch when you like."
Rumplestiltskin had a modest entertainment center and a small library of films, bought against the endless boredom of living in this world and having to keep his wrangles with Regina on a superficial level while he waited out the curse. He had nothing that was like the stories Belle loved to read, because this world's fantasy movies only irked him with their superficial similarities to the real world.
He picked The African Queen, a story of travel and adventure and a place that wasn't Storybrooke.
Mostly he watched Belle, who at first seemed mostly focused on the exotic animals and scenery, and then grew happily engrossed in the story of an ill-advised trip down a river in wartime and the growing love between a prim missionary and a roguish boat captain.
By the middle of the film she had leaned back on the couch, her shoulder warmly against his. Then abruptly Belle pulled up her legs and squirmed around and laid her head in his lap.
Rumplestiltskin stared down at her, Belle vulnerable and trusting as if she didn't know what sort of creature he was. He touched her hair, and curls twined round his finger and beneath them her skin was warm as sunlight.
They'd never been quite this before, not ever. Only brief embraces, only in moments of desperation. A kiss goodbye, a kiss hello. This was new, and lovely, and he petted her until a whitewater scene engaged her attention enough that she sat up again, though this time leaning close in against his side.
He let himself relax against her, pressed close, and was startled when she shifted and tugged at him so that his back was leaning against her chest. "Belle?" he murmured, dry lipped.
"Stretch out with me?" she whispered. Dreamily, he let her pull him down, with Belle behind him and her arm round him. The couch was just long enough with his knees bent up, and the feeling of Belle's knees tucking in against the back of his made his breath catch.
"Can you even see the screen?" he asked.
In answer she pushed up on one elbow and dug her chin lightly into the side of his arm. She couldn't be comfortable. He wasn't exactly comfortable himself. And he'd have torn the skin in strips off anyone who'd tried to make him move away.
Her hand was splayed on the center of his chest and he'd not asked for this, not worked for this, not earned this with power and spite and cunning. He didn't understand why he had it, and he had no power to keep it, and fear burned in his belly that it might be taken away.
So he lay perfectly still through the rest of the film, except to quiver a little when her hand slowly stroked him. When a finger passed over his nipple it knotted tight and aching.
Finally Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart swam away into a presumed happy ending,
"I do like films," she pronounced quietly as the screen went dark.
"We could . . . watch another," he suggested.
She laid her head down, and he felt her breath at the base of his neck. "Not really in the mood for another." Her hand stroked in a circle, as high as his collarbones and nearly down to the level of his navel. "The one thing my little room had, you know, was a bed. In the hospital, and in the cell before that, in the Queen's castle."
He gave a little sound of acknowledgment, not sure how else to respond.
"Not much to do in there, so sometimes I'd just lie there..." The next circle of her hand was entirely on his belly.
Breath shuddered in his throat. "Belle – "
"In the hospital I'd wish for anyone, just someone to be with me, someone I could touch. But before that, when I remembered, I'd lie there and touch and think of you – " a more focused circle, just below his navel, " – think of you there."
He turned his face down into the cushion. In his belly tension was strung, perfectly balanced and terrible, between the need to roar and spray the streets with blood, and the need to turn over and swallow these unbearably erotic admissions from her mouth.
Straying lower, her hand passed the waistband of his trousers, and though she wasn't quite touching his cock yet, she had to feel the heat and the tautness of the fabric. "Belle – " he breathed again.
"Let me," she whispered, "you have to let me."
Then Belle's hand cupped him. Pressing into her palm, he moaned, and she squeezed him and shifted up to kiss his neck. Grimacing with the bright bursts of feeling, Rumplestiltskin gasped for air.
Her hand stroked slowly up, away from his cock, and he thought she was done with him. But then her fingers slid down again, this time under the waistband, working awkwardly past the tail of his shirt and into his underthings. Her fingers were so soft, wrapping and shifting and stroking down and then up again and Rumplestiltskin had no defense, no defense at all against her. She stroked and he moaned and pumped his hips helplessly.
Belle worked her other hand in under his side, just wrapping it round his waist and holding him tight to her while the first hand worked inside his trousers.
He was a small, ugly little man, and Milah had been quite clear about her discontent with every aspect of his body. But Belle was touching him as if he were precious, and breathing as if she loved touching him, and with every breath whispering, "Yes," or, "Good, oh good," or, "There, yes, you're perfect."
Finally he couldn't hold back a groan, and clutched for her wrist. "Belle, stop. You've got to stop."
Her hand stilled, but she whispered, "No, no, let it happen. Please. You’ve got to let me feel you"
She moved her hand just for a moment more, a firm slide up, down, up, and down again, and his back arched and a flare of ecstasy made him cry out, and then he was burning like dead wood, like straw, like an army destroyed by magic, a blaze that started at the root of his cock and spread fast to cover the whole of his body, left him trembling and sweating in her arms.
There were tears in his eyes, and all he could do was lie there, dazed and overcome.
He'd lain with Milah, made his clumsy attempts to please her, inexperienced and knowing he was useless, and in the end unable to do anything but press as close into her sweet body as she would let him get and find release.
He'd had a few women later, when sex had been much like fighting had become, once he had the power – mostly showing off for his own amusement, just one more tool, persuading or allowing them to think he could be persuaded.
In all his life, no one had given him pleasure as if he were worthy of it.
"I love you," he whispered, voice thick. "Belle, I do love you."
She nuzzled softly at his ear. "Enough to lend me your handkerchief?" she murmured as she extracted her hand.
Understanding why she needed it made him give a last little shudder, and he hurriedly pulled out his handkerchief from his trouser pocket. She took it from his hand and wiped her fingers clean. For a moment she held the fabric as if unsure what to do with it, and he took it back and balled it up into his pocket again.
"You don't know, how much I've wanted that," she whispered against his neck, and kissed his cheek.
He ought to turn over, kiss her, pull his every trick, such magic as he'd learned to use in this world, to bring her to the height of pleasure, make her shake and keen with joy.
And the moment he turned, she would see his face. And there was nothing he could do to stop her seeing him clear and true for the ugly little coward, the disgusting little creature he was.
Why on earth had he allowed this to happen?
If he loved her, how could he have let her touch a monster?
"I love you," she murmured, stroking his chest once more. "I've ruined your suit haven't I?"
He shook his head. "Doesn't matter," he managed.
"Your housekeeper will be shocked."
Mr. Gold had a housekeeper, who he paid to come into his house twice in the week and spare him the tedium of cleaning. She came while he was in the shop and he hardly saw her. So it took Rumplestiltskin a moment to realize that Belle was joking, that she was thinking of herself as his housekeeper still.
He caught her hand and brought it up to his mouth and kissed it, kissed it, kissed it.
With a soft giggle, Belle took her hand back and then tapped hard on his shoulder. "Get up. My arm's going to sleep."
He sat up hurriedly. Belle wriggled out from behind him and stood up. "You should probably change," she said, and pecked a quick kiss on his hair before leaving the room. "I'll start dinner, now that I know how the kitchen works."
Rumplestiltskin had to sit for a moment, breathing, cursing himself. He'd done nothing for her, nothing at all, and of course she'd just as happily forget about it, go back to keeping house for him. It had been one of the few beautiful moments of his life, and like every one of them he'd ruined it.