The first night he shared his bed with Belle, it was only for a few hours. His maid had accompanied him on a deal with a neighboring landowner, a beastly, boorish man who wanted to trade a terrified daughter for a wet and prosperous growing season. Rumplestiltskin had taken the man's timepiece instead. The imbecile hadn't even realized his pocket watch was enchanted.

An unfortunate incident had occurred during the carriage ride back to the Dark Castle. Out of the evening gloom, a mother emerged weeping, holding a still, small body to her shoulder. The woman threw herself to her knees before the carriage, and when he reluctantly stepped out, she had caught him by the edge of his cloak.

"Please sir!" Her grief made her barely intelligible. "Please! I'll give you anything, anything…anything! My baby's dead, she's dead, she's…" Her face contorted in anguish, and she gently laid the child at his feet, sobbing.

"Dead is dead," he had told her quietly, averting his eyes, wishing he were the sort of man who could soften this blow. But he wasn't, not after hundreds upon hundreds of years of desperate, grieving parents (and lovers and brothers and lifelong friends) laying their dead before him and pleading, pleading, pleading. "I cannot bring her back, but I can make you forget her, if you wish it…"

The mother had shuddered, snatching her hand back. "Forget her?" She had risen and stumbled away with her child, heartbroken and disgusted. When he turned back to the carriage, Rumplestiltskin saw that Belle was crying.

"That poor woman," she had whispered, and when he settled into his seat across from her once more, Belle reached out and laid her hands over his. "How often are you asked to bring someone back?" she asked him. In her eyes he sees pity and kindness and something even softer.

"I don't answer those types of calls, but…grieving people find a way," he had told her, savoring the soothing feel of her fingers stroking lightly over his knuckles.

Much later that night, Belle had found him still at his spinning wheel. "I can't sleep either," she said, sighing. Her lovely hair was loose around her shoulders, and she wore a white cotton nightgown trimmed with a blue ribbon.

She had gently taken his hands from the wheel, and led him to his chamber.

Belle said nothing as she eased his waistcoat from his shoulders. When she stepped into the circle of his arms and clasped him fiercely, he wasn't certain if she was seeking comfort or offering it. But after a long, dumbstruck moment, he put a hand to the back of her silky hair and another around her shoulder blades.

In the dark, like this, it was easier to pretend to be an ordinary man. Easier to hold and soothe the girl who had promised to go with him forever.

Then Belle had said something extraordinary.

"When you go away on deals, even when you go away for awhile to another room, Rumple, I feel…restless. Unhappy. Is that part of the magic of our deal? That I should want to be with you always? Tonight, I couldn't sleep. I lay awake thinking of you. Of what you must be feeling. Of where you were." She shakes her head against his chest, as if to clear it.

Then she says, weakly, "You don't need to use any enchantment. I've given my word."

"There's no enchantment," he whispers, too astonished to say anything more.

She sighs, clutching closer, and he cannot rightly tell if she believes him. Then Belle surprises him once more: "May I sleep here with you tonight? I don't feel at peace, even just the other room over."

And—folly though it may be—he agrees. He lifts and carries Belle to his large bed and stays awake most of the night listening to the soft noises she makes in her sleep.

And here he is now. Ten days later. Every night she has padded down the hall to his room in bare feet and her cotton nightgown and slipped into bed next to him, laying her arm across his waist and pressing her forehead against his neck. Sometimes Belle strokes his cheek before drifting off. Sometimes her fingers slide up and tangle in his hair. Always, always, he lays still as stone, hardly daring to breathe.

"You don't need to use enchantment," she murmurs, already half-asleep, "I've already promised you forever."

"I haven't," he whispers into the dark, "I swear it."