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The Rose and The Dagger

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Her wedding gown was beautiful. Belle looked at her own reflection, taking in the richness of the green velvet, the exquisite red roses embroidered over the corset, the beautiful gems that shone on her necklace. She wondered what everyone else would see when they looked at her, what they would think as she walked down the aisle. She wanted to look like a proud lady, not a scared child, but no matter how much she tried to hide it, all she could see in her reflection was the utter despair in her eyes.

For the past four years, she had been living at the Storybrooke court like an honored guest, but everyone knew she was actually a war prisoner. Ever since her mother had been imprisoned for treason and her father had waged war to save them, Belle had been kept by the royal family as the ultimate pawn. Every night she had prayed for her father’s victory, and every day she had put on a brave face as she wondered if that was the day the Golds finally cut her head off in retaliation.

Her parents were both gone now, their army subdued, and she was the only French left standing, the rightful heir to the rich territories of Avonlea. She had tried to save her family, she really had. She had played the part of the captive well, swearing loyalty to the crown and asking for mercy for her mother, but it had all been in vain. Lady Colette had been executed in front of her eyes, and her head had been put on a spike on the castle walls for everyone to see. Even Belle had been forced to look at it; Queen Fiona had made sure of that. 

Had she been a man, she would have been killed the moment her father lost the war. She was just a girl, though, and she had sworn loyalty to the crown; killing her now would make the Golds appear cruel, and if there was one thing they were good at, it was keeping up a facade. So here she was, all dolled up to marry Prince Rumplestiltskin, as a demonstration of how benevolent the royal family could be even towards the daughter of two traitors. 

She had thought about taking her life more than once. Anything would be better than wedding and bedding one of the Golds, condemning herself to a lifetime of captivity. It wasn’t fear that had stopped her, or at least not just fear; it was the thought that her parents would have wanted her to carry on. It was for them, to honor their memory, that she would force herself through this life that had been chosen for her, trying to make the best of it and dreaming of a day when justice would be done. The Golds would put their hands on Avonlea either way, but if she stayed maybe she’d at least be able to look after her people.

Everything depended on how Rumplestiltskin would treat her, and she honestly had no idea of what it would be like to have him as a husband. Throughout her years at the court, she had barely exchanged a handful of words with the heir to the throne; Rumplestiltskin was a closed-off man who seemed to avoid company as much as possible, and only the gods knew what he was truly like behind closed doors. Belle was about to find that out, and she held on to the hope that he hadn’t inherited his parents’ cruel streak.

A guard knocked on her door, announcing it was time for her to go to the temple, and Belle once again tried to school her expression into something resembling bridal joy. She didn’t want people to pity her or laugh at her misery. She was powerless to get out of this arranged marriage, and her weakness was driving her insane, but she wouldn’t let them see how much they were affecting her. Like everyone else seemed to do in this place, she would put on a facade and the show would go on. 

It was Malcolm who walked her to the altar, and the feeling of his arm against hers made her skin crawl. He seemed to enjoy her suffering, his smile sickeningly sweet as he reminded her that she had no one left to walk her to her husband-to-be.

As for Rumplestiltskin, he was hard to read like always, but Belle was pretty sure he wasn’t enjoying this much more than she was. He was overly rigid by her side as the ceremony took place, his jaw set in a harsh line, his hands clenched at the top of his cane. She wondered what was going though his mind, if she was the cause for his sour mood and, if she was, what that would mean for her once they were left alone. Despite her rising nervousness, Belle was proud of how firm her voice sounded when it was time to speak her vows. 

She had hoped she’d be able to converse a little with her new husband once the banquet started, but once again he ignored her, barely answering her questions and blocking any attempt at conversation. Countless dishes were brought to their table, but Belle hardly tasted any of them, her stomach knotting more with every cup of wine her husband drank. If he wasn’t drunk, then he was pretty close to it, and her fear skyrocketed. She started drinking as well, hoping to find either courage or numbness in alcohol. 

When it was eventually time to leave the feast and reach their bridal bed, Belle stumbled while getting up from her seat. Rumplestiltskin’s arms were immediately around her, steadying her, and Belle’s breath caught in her throat. 

“Are you okay?” Rumplestiltskin asked in a whisper, his voice just a bit slurred.

Belle nodded, her throat suddenly dry, and Rumplestiltskin took a step back. One of his hands lingered on the small of her back, and with that gentle pressure he guided her through the many corridors and staircases that led to their chambers. 

The sound of their bedroom door closing behind them made Belle start. Once again, she tried to take deep breaths and told herself to be brave. Rumplestiltskin was looking curiously at her, his long hair falling in front of his face. 

“I didn’t want this marriage, you know?” Rumplestiltskin said, sitting heavily on the four-poster bed. “I told my parents it was madness, that it would make us both miserable and that it would likely end with you killing me in my sleep. They said it didn’t matter as long as you had a child from me first.”

Whatever Belle had been expecting from him, it wasn’t that. 

“I… I would never do something like that, your Highness,” she said hurriedly, falling back into the habits she had been developing the past few years. Lie. Be meek. Obey.

Rumplestiltskin scoffed. “You surely have learned how to survive in this hellhole, haven’t you?” he asked, but he didn’t expect an answer. “And my name is Rumplestiltskin. We’re married now, you should use it.”

“As you wish, Rumplestiltskin,” she said hesitantly.

There was a beat of silence then, and Rumplestiltskin’s eyes turned darker. 

“My father, the King of the Enchanted Forest, has commanded me to consummate this marriage,” he said, his voice dripping with contempt. “As I said, he wants me to put a child in you more than he wants me alive.”

Belle nodded in understanding, even though Rumplestiltskin’s words did nothing to soothe her nerves. She really shouldn’t be so nervous; she was eighteen after all, older than most highborn girls were on their wedding night. 

“I will need your help with the dress,” she forced herself to say. “I can’t undo the laces at the back on my own.” After what Rumplestiltskin had said, she had no doubt that the dress had been deliberately designed to force him to undress her. 

Rumplestiltskin got up, leaning heavily on his cane. In that moment, he looked much older than his thirty five years.

“Turn around,” he said. “Let me see what I can do.”

Belle did as she was told, leaning on one of the columns of the bed. Rumplestiltskin stepped right behind her, and she could feel his breath on her neck as he started working at the laces of her dress. She told herself that he wasn’t that bad. Out of all the Golds, he was probably the best one; she had no reason to think he was cruel, merely closed off to the point of rudeness. As far as she knew, he hadn’t been directly involved in her parents’ deaths, and he had been forced into this marriage just as she had been.

Or maybe that’s just what he wanted her to believe. Maybe she was still the same silly girl who had arrived in Storybrooke years ago, believing everyone’s lies like a fool. She felt panic rise again as she heard the whisper of the laces being pulled from the eyelets, her stomach so knotted that she started feeling nauseous. Even if Rumplestiltskin had truly been forced into this, their situations were by no means comparable. He was the one with the power here, the one who could hurt her and mistreat her and who had dozens of guards ready to protect him should she ever decide to fight back. He might not have slit her father’s throat personally, but he was part of the family who had planned the whole thing. Just because he wasn’t quite as awful as his parents, it didn’t mean he was any good. 

Rumplestiltskin pushed her gown off of her, and when his hands came in contact with the bare skin of her arms she couldn’t stop a broken sob from escaping her lips.

“That’s it,” Rumplestiltskin exclaimed, abruptly pulling back. “I can’t do this.”

Belle turned around to look at him. She felt terribly exposed with only her shift on, but hope was flaring in her chest after his words. 

“What?” she asked, praying that she hadn’t misunderstood him.

“If my father wants someone to get fucked, I know where he can start,” Rumplestiltskin said bitterly. “I won’t force you to lay with me when you can’t even bear to be near me. I won’t share your bed. Not tonight. Not until you’ll want me to.”

Belle could see how conflicted Rumplestiltskin was about this choice; she could see the guilt in his eyes, even though she didn’t know whether it was for disobeying his father or for what he had been about to do to her. More importantly, however, she could see the honesty in him, and in that moment she knew that he truly was making a promise that he meant more than his wedding vows. If she had been a bit more sly, she would have just thanked him and not tested her luck. Belle, however, was just as kind as she was intelligent. She wouldn’t let him make a promise under false pretenses. 

“What if I never want you to?” she asked in a whisper. It was too much to ask of him, and she knew it. No man would accept being banned from their wife’s bed forever.

“Then I’ll know I never deserved it,” he answered simply.

He turned his back on her and reached the large sofa in front of the bed, dropping heavily on it and arranging the cushions around himself. It was clear that he intended to spend the night there, and Belle was tempted to invite him back to the bed, not wanting him to suffer any discomfort because of her. As cosy as that sofa looked, it couldn’t be comfortable to spend the night there, especially considering Rumplestiltskin’s leg. The words were almost out of her mouth when she felt a surge of selfishness. She had already tested her luck once, and asking him to platonically share her bed would be another temptation. She needed tonight for herself, she decided. Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep and with the sun shining bright, she’d be braver. She slipped under the heavy covers of the bed, relishing in their warmth. After the turmoil of the day, this moment of peace felt almost like safety. She fell asleep quickly, and dreamt of home. 

Rumplestiltskin was already gone when she woke up the next morning. He had left her a note saying that he had some business to attend to, and that she could ask his servants for anything. He had also arranged for a new maid to be assigned to her, and Belle was extremely grateful for that. Zelena, her previous maid, had been making her life even more miserable. She always found the way to twist the knife in Belle’s wounds, and Belle had no doubt that she reported to the queen everything that Belle said or did when she thought she was alone. Anyone would be a better maid than her. After barely twenty minutes with Ruby, her new maid, Belle felt happier than she had been in months. Ruby wasn’t just kind; she was friendly, a word Belle had almost forgotten the meaning of. She doubted she’d be able to thank Rumplestiltskin enough for this. 

Her husband, however, was nowhere to be found. She didn’t think too much of it when he didn’t show up for lunch; he had said he was busy, after all, and she had Ruby and her books to keep her company through the day. When he didn’t show up for dinner either, however, she started worrying that something had gone wrong. Was her husband avoiding her? Why? She went to sleep without an answer. It was only much later in the night that she heard him walk into the room, but she was too tired to talk to him then.

Her second day of marriage went exactly like the first. Rumplestiltskin was nowhere to be found, and when Belle tried asking questions about his whereabouts all she gathered was that he had gone for a ride in the early hours of the morning. At this point, her nervousness was turning into irritation. What the hell did Rumplestiltskin think he was doing? He couldn’t avoid her forever, and it wasn’t by disappearing that he’d make their relationship less awkward. 

This time she waited up for him, determined to talk to her husband and find out what exactly was going on. She had a book to keep her company, but she was so focused on her missing husband that she found herself reading the same line over and over again without understanding it.

When Rumplestiltskin finally walked in, he startled at finding her still awake. 

“I thought you’d be sleeping by now,” he said, sounding almost afraid of her. 

“I would have liked to, but I think there are some things we need to discuss,” she replied. Her voice sounded so sure that she hardly recognized it; only two nights before, their roles had been completely reversed. 

Rumplestiltskin nodded nervously and came to sit beside her on the sofa he had claimed as his bed. 

“What did you want to talk about?” he asked, testing the waters. 

“I want to know why you’re avoiding me. I know you said you didn’t want this marriage, and believe me when I say I understand that, but we are married now, for better or for worse. Ignoring each other will hardly improve the situation,” Belle stated calmly, her impossibly blue eyes fixed on his brown ones. It was like she was trying to read his soul, and Rumplestiltskin felt almost naked. 

“I guess I just assumed you wouldn’t want my company, and I didn’t want to impose it on you,” he explained after a beat of silence, fixing his gaze on his own boots.

There were dark circles under his eyes, proof that he had slept poorly just to avoid inconveniencing her. Belle was both exasperated and touched by his gesture. 

“Let me decide that instead of just assuming. How can I know if I want to spend time with you if we’ve never even tried? We can start as small as you wish, but please give me a chance to know you,” Belle said, gently putting her hand over his.

Rumplestiltskin looked up at her, surprised. She was even braver than he’d thought, and she could already read him so well. 

“Maybe you’re just trying to learn the monster’s weaknesses,” he quipped, waving a finger in front of her face. “Maybe you just want to get closer to me to slip some poison into my wine.” He was trying to distract her, to break free of her inquisitive gaze, but she saw right through his attempt, and flashed him an exasperated smile. Rumplestiltskin couldn’t do anything other than cave in. 

“Fine, I promise I won’t run away from you after today. I’ve never been great company but for you, if you want, I will try,” he said eventually. 

Belle smiled gratefully at him. 

“Good. Now I believe we both deserve some sleep,” she said, getting up from the sofa.

Rumplestiltskin started arranging the pillows around him, but Belle stopped him. 

“I’m still not ready for you to… lie with me, but I think you deserve to sleep in a real bed. Maybe we could share it and just… sleep together? Literally, I mean,” she said, suddenly feeling a lot less sure of herself. 

Rumplestiltskin looked bewildered by her offer, and for a moment Belle thought he was going to refuse. Then he nodded and heavily got up from the sofa, winching in pain. 

“What’s the matter?” Belle asked immediately. “Is it because of your leg?”

She had noticed his limp was more pronounced than usual, and that was another reason why she was determined to let him sleep comfortably from tonight on. 

“It’s nothing, really,” he brushed it off. “It’s just that riding isn’t very good for me. I will be fine tomorrow.”

Belle felt another pang of guilt. He must have known that riding would hurt him, and he still did it when he believed it would make her happier not to have him around. Belle could hardly believe that the kind man in front of her was the son of Fiona and Malcolm; now his constant isolation from the rest of the court made sense. With a few precious exceptions, the king and queen had surrounded themselves with people who were as heartless as them; in such company, Rumplestiltskin would always be an outsider.

There was a moment of awkwardness as Belle realized that they would have to undress, but Rumplestiltskin promptly turned his back to her, and only turned back once she was safely under the covers. Belle closed her eyes as he undressed as well, and she held her breath as she felt him slip under the covers, but Rumplestiltskin made no move towards her, staying as close to the edge of the bed as possible. Belle cursed herself for still doubting him when he’d been nothing but a gentleman to her. Even with her fear gone, however, she found it hard to relax. There was a lingering tension in the air, and she had no idea how to break it. She felt as though she ought to say something, but words just wouldn’t come to her. It was only much later that exhaustion won her over and lulled her into sleep.

The following morning the tension had dissipated a bit. Belle and Rumplestiltskin got dressed without much embarrassment, and even managed to hold a decent conversation during breakfast. They were still tip-toeing around each other, but it was an improvement nonetheless. Despite Belle’s insistence, Rumplestiltskin stubbornly refused to tell her what he had planned for the day, insisting that it was a surprise. Belle was happy even if a bit underwhelmed when he eventually led her to the library. True, it was one of the few parts of the castle she really liked, but she had expected Rumplestiltskin to show her something new.

“I know it probably pales in comparison to the library of Avonlea, but I suppose you’ve never had access to the royal collection so far,” Rumplestiltskin said, smiling smugly at her. 

“The royal collection?” Belle asked, confirming his assumption. 

Rumplestiltskin fished a set of keys out of his pocket and led her to the turret that she had always assumed hosted the librarians’ chambers. Behind the sturdy door and two heavy iron gates, however, was something that took Belle’s breath away. The circular room was filled with bookshelves, and on them dozens of invaluable books; manuscripts she thought were only available in Avonlea, ancient tomes with beautiful illustrations, and even a couple of books that she had thought impossible to find in the Enchanted Forest. She turned back to Rumplestiltskin, her eyes shining with excitement. 

“You’re my wife now, you’re part of the royal family, hence you have every right to access this part of the library as well. I had a copy of the keys made for you,” Rumplestiltskin said, looking suddenly bashful. 

“It’s the best wedding present you could have given me,” Belle said, taking one of his hands in hers. He looked surprised by her gesture, but smiled timidly at her. Before she could second guess her decision, Belle pulled him closer and hugged him. 

Rumplestiltskin went stiff in her arms, completely taken aback by her display of affection. When she eventually pulled back, he looked at her as though she had just grown a second head; it was both frustrating and adorable.

“So tell me, where do you think we should start?” she asked him, gesturing at the many books around them. 

It took Rumplestiltskin another second to get out of his haze, but when he did there was a tentative smile on his face. They spent the day reading and discussing the contents of the books, so engrossed in their conversation that they almost forgot to eat. Rumplestiltskin was clever, witty, and his quips never failed to bring a smile to Belle’s face; it was by far the best day she had had in years.

They spent several days in that fashion, growing closer and closer to each other. Rumplestiltskin could hardly believe it; for the first time in his life, there was someone in his family that genuinely seemed to enjoy his presence, and he would probably never understand how that had come to pass. He felt as though he was living in a dream, but after a few days his father insisted on talking to him. Rumplestiltskin knew this could only mean bad news; he was wary when he entered Malcolm’s study, every single one of his nerves on edge.

“So, how is married life?” Malcolm asked, addressing him with more familiarity than he’d ever shown his son. He gestured at him to sit down, and Rumplestiltskin obeyed, pondering his response. He wouldn’t give his father any more information than what was strictly necessary.

“It’s nice, definitely better than what I had thought. Belle and I seem to be getting along nicely,” he replied eventually.

“See? None of your horrible predictions came true; I was right about this marriage, and you were wrong,” Malcolm pointed out, reveling in his victory.

“It seems so,” Rumplestiltskin deadpanned. 

“Now that we’ve established this, let’s talk about more important things. I’d like to know why, after ten days of marriage, you still haven’t deflowered your wife.”

Malcolm’s tone was calm as he spoke, but there was venom in his words, so much that Rumplestiltskin half expected him to turn into a snake before his eyes. 

“That’s a lie,” he replied readily. He had been expecting this.

Malcolm scoffed. 

“Do you really think you can lie to me? Nothing happens in this castle without me knowing it, and I know without a doubt that nothing happened between you and your pretty wife,” he said, laughing at his son’s foolishness. “What’s the matter, Rumple? She is young and pretty; maybe her breasts aren’t to die for, but she’s still more beautiful than you deserve.”

Rumplestiltskin saw red. His father could badmouth him all he wanted, he had done nothing else in his life, but it was about time he left Belle in peace.

“Don’t talk about my wife like that,” he hissed threateningly, but Malcolm didn’t seem fazed in the least. 

“She’s not your wife, not truly, not until you consummate the marriage,” he said glibly.

“I’ve already told you: I won’t rape her.”

“Don’t be stupid, it’s not rape. You’ve married her, you have every right to her body,” Malcolm insisted, the irritation in his voice growing. 

“I may be stupid, but at least I’m not fooling myself into thinking that having a ring on her finger will make Belle any less scared should I force myself on her,” Rumplestiltskin said, getting up from his chair. “If this is all you wanted to tell me, I think our discussion is over.”

“What a pity,” Malcolm yelled at his back.

Rumplestiltskin should have just walked out of the room, but there was something in his father’s voice that prompted him to stop and turn back. 

“If you’re not enough of a man to put a child inside your wife, I suppose I will have to take care of things, like always,” Malcolm said, his voice once again perfectly calm. 

Rumplestiltskin felt his blood run cold in his veins. 

“Don’t you dare,” Rumplestiltskin growled, striding towards his father. Malcolm was still sitting, which meant that, for once, Rumplestiltskin towered over him. 

“Why not?” his father replied, and the smirk on his face made Rumplestiltskin’s skin crawl. “We need Belle to have a son from a Gold, and if you won’t cooperate, than I’ll gladly do my share. Don’t worry, we can still pass him off as yours; you do look like me after all.”

Rumplestiltskin’s hands were clenching almost hysterically around the handle of his cane, to the point that his fingers were starting to hurt. 

“I won’t let you do that,” he threatened, his face contorted in rage. 

“I’d like to see you try. I’ll have my personal guard hold you and your wife down, and I’ll have you watch as I fuck her night after night,” Malcolm said, reveling in the pain he saw on his son’s face. “And who knows how long it will be before she has a son. Maybe I should even give her two or three, just to be sure.”

Rumplestiltskin felt sick. He had always known his father was a cruel man, but this was too much even for him. He couldn’t understand how anyone could be so insensitive towards their own son, or look at Belle and feel anything but the desire to protect her. He had to save his wife from all of this. He had seen how terrified she had been on their wedding night; if Malcolm so much as put one hand on her, she’d be destroyed. 

“Give me another fortnight” he pleaded eventually, his voice and his spirit broken. 

“Tonight,” Malcolm replied mercilessly. “You’ve already had plenty of time. Fuck your wife tonight, or…”

“I know, I know,” Rumplestiltskin interrupted him. “You’ll come for her.”

“Not for her… in her,” Malcolm corrected him. 

Rumplestiltskin had never felt such uncontrolled fury before. His hands clenched around his cane, and for a moment he envisioned himself slamming it against his father’s temple, so clearly that he could almost hear his skull crack. He wanted to do just that. He wanted Malcolm to suffer and die, to pay for all the pain he had caused in his life. Rumplestiltskin desperately wanted to get justice; for Belle, for himself, and for the countless other people he’d seen his father hurt.

But he didn’t. The moment passed, and Rumplestiltskin almost deflated in front of his father’s eyes, every ounce of energy abandoning him as he realized that, despite everything, he just couldn’t bring himself to hit his father. He truly was as pathetic as Malcolm had always accused him to be. Defeated, he turned around again, heading towards his and Belle’s room. He desperately wanted someone to stop him this time, but nobody did. 

Belle knew there was something wrong the moment Rumplestiltskin walked in. 

“What happened? What did he say?” Belle asked immediately, biting her bottom lip in worry. 

Rumplestiltskin’s heart clenched at seeing her like this. She was so young, and so beautiful, and he hated himself for what he had to do. He sat down on the sofa beside her, taking her hands in his in a useless comforting gesture. 

“He knows we haven’t consummated our marriage, and he has ordered me to,” he explained, tears welling up in his eyes. “I refused to obey, and he replied that if I fail to bed you, then he will.”

Belle’s eyes widened in shock.

“He can’t really mean it,” she whispered, holding tighter onto his hands, clinging to him as she clung to her desperate hope. 

“Oh, he most certainly does. My father is a liar and a trickster, but not once has he ever threatened someone without following through with his threat,” Rumplestiltskin said, shaking his head in resignation. “Especially not when he has a chance to hurt me. He knows I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, and he’ll use that against me.”

“What kind of monster would do that to his own child?” Belle asked, one of her hands coming up to stroke Rumplestiltskin’s face.

“One who doesn’t consider his child worthy of being called such. I was born a cripple, and in his eyes that makes me little more than a waste of space,” Rumplestiltskin said, and only when the words were out he realized that he had never said them out loud before. He had known it to be true ever since he was little, and yet he had never told anybody. “You know, for years I tried my best to earn his affection back. I thought that if I worked hard enough, if I proved myself good enough, maybe he would forgive me for being born wrong; until one day I realized that I would never be enough.” 

He had been bottling up hurt and resentment for decades, and suddenly it all came out while he was supposed to console Belle. He was a selfish bastard, but he couldn’t help it. Belle brought out a side of him he didn’t even know existed; she made him want to be honest, she made him want to be better, and now his father was asking him to ruin the relationship they had just started building. It wasn’t fair, it simply wasn’t fair. 

He tried to stop the sobs escaping his throat, but to no avail. He cried in sadness and anger and frustration, and Belle held him through it all, prompting him to lean his head on her shoulder. She caressed his hair, and the gesture was so comforting that he wept even louder, this time in relief. He was pathetic indeed. 

Belle was in emotional turmoil. She felt sorry for Rumplestiltskin, angry at his father, and worried for herself. She had thought herself miserable because she had been subjected to Malcolm and Fiona’s will for four years, but Rumplestiltskin had been with them his entire life. She couldn’t even comprehend what it would be like to have such parents, and yet her husband had turned out a kind man anyway; he was far stronger than he gave himself credit for. 

“Your father is a bastard,” she said once he’d calmed down a bit. It had been so long since she’d been able to speak her mind about the royals that finally saying it out loud almost made her giddy. “You don’t deserve any of his hate, and he doesn’t deserve any of your love.”

“I guess no one gets what they deserve in this world,” Rumplestiltskin said, smiling sadly at her. “Look at you; so clever and kind and beautiful, and you’re stuck here with me.”

“I’m stuck here, yes, but being with you is definitely not part of the problem,” Belle rebutted, desperately wishing for him to stop blaming himself for everything. Being married to him was possibly the best thing that had happened to her since this entire tragedy started: Rumplestiltskin cared for her, respected her and protected her like no one in Storybrooke had ever done. She had once hated him for being a Gold, but how could she hate him for something that wasn’t his fault and that had only brought him pain? 

Rumplestiltskin looked at her in confusion; he still couldn’t believe her words. Belle shook her head in frustration, and then an idea struck her mind. Maybe if Rumplestiltskin couldn’t be convinced with words, he’d be convinced by facts. Before she could second guess herself, she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. 

Rumplestiltskin startled at the contact and tried to pull back, but Belle held onto the collar of his shirt, keeping him in place. She wanted him to know that she trusted him, she liked him, and that even if she hadn’t chosen to marry him she wasn’t unhappy with him.

“If you apologize now I swear I’m going to start screaming,” she said when she eventually pulled back. Rumplestiltskin was blushing furiously, and judging by the heat she felt in her cheeks she was in a similar state. She had never kissed anyone before. “Now listen to me carefully: I like you. You’re clever, funny, kind, and way more handsome than you think. Your father is forcing us to rush things, but I want you to know that I would have welcomed you in our bed soon anyway. We didn’t marry for love, but I’ve grown to… care about you a great deal, and even though I didn’t feel quite ready yet, I trust you. I trust you not to hurt me.”

“Oh Belle,” Rumplestiltskin breathed, his heart hammering in his chest. “I could never hurt you.”

This time it was Rumplestiltskin who leaned forward, his hands coming to rest gently on her waist as he kissed her. Having her in his arms was even better than he had imagined, and he hated himself for enjoying it so much. Compared to him, Belle was basically a child. He remembered how small and lost she had looked when she had pleaded for her mother’s life, how badly he’d wanted to protect her back then, and now here he was, lusting after her like a monster. He had tried to suppress his feelings, to quell his desire for her, but the more he got to know her the harder it became. She wasn’t just beautiful; she was clever, strong and determined, and he had fallen for her quickly and hopelessly. 

She gasped in surprise when he slipped his tongue into her mouth, and accidentally bit his lip as she tried to kiss him back. He pulled back, chuckling at her excess of enthusiasm. She was a quick learner though, and he was more than happy to teach her. He felt the tension gradually leave her body as they kept kissing, her hands finding their way into his hair, her body pressed firmly against his. He would have been content just staying like this forever, but at the same time he wanted so much more. He longed to feel her naked skin against his, to kiss every inch of her. More than anything, he wanted to bring her pleasure; she was expecting pain and discomfort, but he wanted to see ecstasy on her face.

Once Belle had relaxed in his embrace, he started kissing down her neck, and was rewarded with a breathless moan. He reached the neckline of her blue dress and started trailing kisses along it, resisting the temptation to bite down on her soft flesh. He was so lost in her, in her softness and her scent, that he almost didn’t notice Belle lightly pushing him away. He pulled back immediately, worry replacing his lust, but Belle shushed him before he could even start apologizing. 

“Take it off,” she said breathlessly, her cheeks reddening in embarrassment. With her hair disheveled and her lips swollen from kissing, she looked more beautiful than ever.

“Are you sure?” Rumplestiltskin asked, his hands lightly stroking her back, feeling the laces of her gown under his fingers. 

Belle nodded, contrasting emotions showing on her face. There was determination, nervousness and, to Rumplestiltskin’s surprise and joy, even a hint of desire. He started working on the knots, murmuring reassurances to her in between kisses: how she didn’t need to be afraid, how beautiful she was, how badly he wanted to make this night good for her. 

Each of Rumplestiltskin’s words seemed to light a fire within Belle. On her wedding night she had recoiled from his touch, but now it was a completely different shiver that ran down her spine as he took her gown off. A part of her was still nervous, but there was a burning need in her, something she had never quite felt before.

Belle felt self-conscious with only her chemise on, but she pushed that feeling down, kissing Rumplestiltskin with fervor. When his hands moved from her waist to her breasts, Belle gasped in his mouth. All of the yearning she had felt up until that moment seemed to concentrate in her chest, her entire world shrinking down to Rumplestiltskin’s hands and the way they moved against her skin. 

When he leaned forward and closed his mouth around one of her nipples, it was all Belle could do to sink her hands in his hair and press his face more firmly against her chest. The thin linen of her chemise did very little to mask the feeling of his hot, wet mouth against her, but it was still a barrier between them, and she couldn’t bear it. Her shyness completely gone, she reluctantly disentangled herself from Rumplestiltskin so that she could rid herself of the last remains of her clothes.

She stood naked in front of him once she was done undressing, her chest heaving with expectation. Rumplestiltskin was still dressed, but his hair was disheveled, his clothes rumpled, and he was looking at her with an intensity that made her knees go weak. After a long moment of silence, Belle extended her hand towards him. Rumplestiltskin moved slowly, as if he still couldn’t believe this real, but when he took ahold of her hand his grip was firm.

“Come to bed with me,” Belle whispered, her voice no longer trembling in fear but with desire. 

“Oh Belle,” he said again, as if her name were a prayer and she were a goddess he barely dared to worship. 

He kissed her again, slowly and softly, while his hands reverently explored her body. She pressed more firmly against him when he squeezed her buttocks, but it was only when he slipped a finger between her folds that she broke the kiss, burying her head against his neck and holding onto him as her legs threatened to give out. He leaned heavily on her, his cane forgotten in the throes of their passion, as he walked her backward until Belle hit one of the columns of the bed with her back. It was then that Rumplestiltskin slipped one of his fingers inside of her, Belle’s eyes widening at the novelty of the sensation.

It was vaguely uncomfortable at first, but his other fingers kept stroking her heated flesh, spreading her wetness, and Belle soon found herself grinding against his hand, needing more touch, more pressure, more everything. She could feel every inch of Rumplestiltskin’s finger as he started pumping it in and out of her, and it felt sinful, obscene, and absolutely wonderful. When Rumplestiltskin’s thumb grazed against a sensitive nub between her folds, it was all Belle could do to bite her lip to suppress a moan. 

“Don’t hold back,” Rumplestiltskin whispered in her hear, his breath hot against her face, his fingers still working their magic on her. “I want to hear you scream my name.”

The low growl in his voice made Belle’s abdomen clench, and little moans started escaping her lips. She was clinging to Rumplestiltskin like a lifeline, her nails digging into his shoulders, desperate for something she couldn’t even name. She felt the tension rising in her body, her pleasure spiraling towards something, the feeling so intense that she almost wanted Rumplestiltskin to stop.

All coherent thought left her brain when he slipped a second finger inside her. She pressed her hips more firmly against him, the aching need inside of her mounting, making her frantic, and suddenly white light burst behind her eyes as she found her release. 

She would have collapsed to the ground if she hadn’t been pinned between Rumplestiltskin and the column. Her husband was still stroking her now overly-sensitive folds, though more gently than before, guiding her down from the height of her pleasure. Belle wanted to say something, to thank him for all of this, but she couldn’t find the words, or even the strength to say them.

She whimpered when he finally pulled his fingers away from her, his hand glistening with her fluids. His eyes were dark with desire, his pupils dilated, and he fixed his gaze in hers as he slowly brought his fingers to his mouth. Watching him lick her pleasure from his fingers was more arousing than anything Belle had ever imagined, and the look of pure bliss and feral desire in Rumplestiltskin’s eyes made Belle’s own lust surge violently again. 

She pulled him flush against her, capturing his mouth in a fierce kiss. She could faintly taste her own fluids on his lips, just as she could smell herself on his fingers when he cupped her face in his hands. When she broke the kiss, flushed and panting, there was only one thing she could think about. 

“Why are you still dressed?” 

Rumplestiltskin chuckled, almost surprised by how light-hearted the sound was; he certainly didn’t remember the last time he had felt so carefree. Belle pushed him, turning them around and making him sit on the edge of the bed, drawing his attention back to his own neglected body. He had been so focused on Belle’s pleasure that he had all but forgotten his own desire, but now he was hyper aware of the way his erection was painfully pressed against his breeches.

He wanted to take his doublet off, but Belle stilled his hands, determined to undress him herself. Once she had bared his chest, she took some time to explore, delicately raking her nails on his nipples. Rumplestiltskin inhaled sharply, his hips bucking forward on their own volition.

“Don’t hold back. I want to hear you scream as well,” Belle whispered, her deceptively innocent eyes alight with mischief. 

“You minx,” he breathed, and her smirk only grew bigger. 

When she sank to her knees before him, Rumplestiltskin almost went mad with arousal. She was probably too innocent to realize what was going through his mind, but that didn’t help him in the slightest. He didn’t want to disappoint her and come as soon as he was inside her, so he tried taking deep breaths, thinking of literally anything but the pretty picture Belle made when kneeling between his thighs. He almost managed it while she took his boots off, but when her fingers brushed against the laces of his breeches he let out a loud moan.

Belle looked up at him, her gaze intense, mesmerizing, and kept working on the laces as he tried his best to stay still. Once his erection was finally free, she eyed it curiously, running fingers experimentally along his length. Rumplestiltskin had to take ahold of her wrist and stop her; he wouldn’t last long if she kept doing that. She slid his trousers off his hips then, finally making him as naked as her. 

Drunk on his own desire, Rumplestiltskin pulled his wife up from her knees, hungrily kissing her as he led her to straddle his lap. They both gasped when his erection brushed against her damp folds, and Belle started rocking against him, her body instinctively knowing what to do. He maneuvered them until they were sitting in the middle of the bed, then he pushed Belle down until he was laying on top of her.

If Rumplestiltskin had insisted on consummating their marriage on their wedding night, being pinned under him would have made Belle feel trapped, and it would have filled her with repulsion and fear. Now she welcomed the pressure of Rumplestiltskin’s body against hers, and when he asked her once again if she was sure about this, she answered by pressing a tender kiss on his lips. 

Despite her desire, she tensed when she felt Rumplestiltskin line them up and press his cock against her entrance. He kept murmuring sweet nothings in her ear as he pushed inside, struggling to keep himself from bucking against her. Once again, he was willing to set his own needs aside just so that she could be more comfortable, and that thought filled Belle with tenderness, helping her relax in his arms. It had felt strange, his cock stretching her more than his fingers, but it hadn’t hurt. Soon enough, she wanted Rumplestiltskin to move just as badly as he did. 

He was slow at first, setting a pace that was meant to be gentle but ended up being maddening. She whimpered every time he thrust inside her, and she could feel the tension starting to build again, but isn’t wasn’t enough. She needed faster and deeper and simply more. She wrapped her legs around his back, urging him on, bucking her hips to meet his thrusts, and Rumplestiltskin seemed to get her hint. His ever-present control seemed to slip, his thrusts becoming more forceful and erratic.

“You feel amazing,” he whispered against her ear, his voice hoarse, the words barely audible in between their moans.

Belle gasped, his words going straight to her groin, and Rumplestiltskin smirked in satisfaction; he was already close, but he didn’t want to come before she did. He slipped a hand between them, finding the swollen nub between her folds, stroking it as he kept murmuring in her ear. Belle was so incredibly responsive, and he had to bite the inside of his check to keep from coming when all he could see, hear or feel was Belle, her moans, the heat of her channel fluttering around him. She screamed his name when she finally came, and Rumplestiltskin could no longer hold on, muffling his own cry against her throat as spilled himself inside of her. 

For a few moments they simply laid there, panting, too spent and overwhelmed to move. Rumplestiltskin would have gladly stayed like this forever, but his arms were starting to ache with the effort of keeping his weight from crushing Belle, and when his softened cock slipped out of her he finally moved, laying by her side and carefully wrapping one arm around her. 

“Are you okay?” he couldn’t help but ask, even though he was reasonably sure she was. He had heard her scream his name, he had seen the desire in her eyes, and yet he still needed to hear those words. 

Belle was still catching her breath, her skin flushed from exertion, and when she smiled timidly at him Rumplestiltskin thought she was the most beautiful and arousing thing he had ever seen. She scooted closer to him, pressing a kiss to his lips, all but melting in his embrace.

“Yes. Stop asking me that,” she said against his lips, then burrowed her head under his chin, seeking the safety of his embrace. 

Safety. It was that word that struck her, bringing her drowsy mind back to full alertness. She had not felt safe ever since her mother had been imprisoned; and after her father had been killed, she had accepted the fact that safety was a feeling she’d never know again. 

Then Rumplestiltskin had given it back to her. He made her feel cherished and cared for and safe. Even if he was a Gold. Even if he was part of the family that had murdered hers. She felt a pang of guilt then, but she didn’t know why. Maybe because she was associating Rumplestiltskin with the family that had hurt him as well. Maybe because she was gladly giving herself to a Gold instead of plotting to have his throat cut. She wondered if her parents would be angry with her, if she was betraying their memory somehow. Everything came crashing down on her at once: the guilt, the doubts, the pain of the past few years, the fear of being forced into marriage, the dread of Malcolm’s threat, the nervousness of letting Rumplestiltskin see and touch her like no one before. All of it churned inside of her, battling and mixing with the increasing feelings of tenderness she felt rising towards her husband. It was all wrong; she should want Rumplestiltskin dead and she should love her husband, but they were the same person and she didn’t know what to do. Her body was still humming with pleasure, but she felt lost and fragile, and suddenly she started crying, hot tears falling on Rumplestiltskin’s skin as she trembled in his arms. 

“Belle, what’s wrong? Did I hurt you? Why didn’t you say anything? I’m so sorry,” Rumplestiltskin said immediately, his voice tinged with panic.

“There’s nothing to apologize for,” Belle hiccuped, pulling back a little so that she could look him in the eyes. “It’s not you, it’s… everything else.” She really didn’t have the strength to explain further, and she prayed he would understand.

“I know. I’m sorry. If I could change things, I swear that I would,” he murmured, hating himself for how empty his words sounded.

“You already changed things for me. You’re the only one in Storybrooke who ever made me feel safe,” Belle admitted in a whisper, still surprised by that realization.

“Keeping you safe is all I wanted, and more than I thought I could give you. I promise I’ll keep doing my best to shield you from harm, sweetheart,” he said, one of his hands coming up to stroke her cheek. 

“I like the sound of that, both the promise and the endearment,” Belle said, a small smile forming on her lips. 

“Good,” Rumplestiltskin said. He had let the endearment slip past his lips without thinking, and he was glad that she seemed to like it. A part of him, a part that sounded awfully like his father, was scared by how important Belle had become to him in such short time, and even more scared by the idea of letting her know that. That night, however, he felt braver than he had ever been, and he pushed that vicious voice to the back of his mind. All that mattered now was that Belle was no longer crying. She laid her head back on his chest, snuggling in his embrace as Rumplestiltskin caressed her back, the soothing gesture helping her sort through the turmoil of emotions in her head.

“You’re the best husband I could have hoped for, everything else be damned,” she said eventually.

Rumplestiltskin couldn’t believe those words, but he appreciated them nonetheless. Belle deserved the world, and she clearly only thought so highly of him because she hadn’t had the chance to make comparisons, but he was glad that he could at least make her happy in some way. 

“Then let’s leave everything else out of this room. When we’re here, if you want, we can just be Belle and Rumplestiltskin, no strings attached,” he suggested. 

Belle wasn’t one to run away from problems, to close her eyes and pretend that everything was fine, but she had already been through so much. In that moment, she decided that she more than deserved some happiness.

“Then we have a deal, Rumple,” she said, sealing the pact with a kiss. 

She fell asleep not long after that, lulled by the rhythmic beating of Rumplestiltskin’s heart. The world and its intrigues loomed outside the doors of their room, ready to tear them apart at a moment’s notice but, for that night, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but them.