A/N: I was taking a rest from fanfic. I honestly was. But I have such a soft spot for Beauty and the Beast, and this episode made me need to write again. This whole episode was so wonderful!
He's right there, in front of her. He's close enough for her to reach out and touch him, to kiss him like the woman on the road had advised.
And yet, she keeps her distance. She listens quietly to his halting story, about his boy who went to war; about how news had reached him that his son had died, only weeks later, honourably in battle.
Then she watches as he stands, and offers her a hand up. He's dancing around her, self-conscious and strangely gentle in a way she never would have imagined, but she finds she enjoys.
He doesn't let go of her hand, as he leads her upstairs to one of the many guest bedrooms she'd cleaned before she left.
"This is your room." He says, quietly. She nods, and smiles, and doesn't comment that it has her name painted on the door, or her clothes already in the wardrobe.
"What about the dungeon?"
He lets go of her hand, and steps away, "You're not a prisoner anymore: why would I treat you as one?"
Not a prisoner.
"So… I'm free to leave whenever I want? What about our bargain?"
"Never you mind, dearie." he smiles that crazy, terrifying smile, and she has to follow suit. She wonders once again what it says about her, that more and more she finds his smiles, his strange laughter, and his tricks endearing rather than scary.
It becomes an unwritten deal between them that they don't comment on that day. She doesn't tell him about the woman on the road, and he doesn't ask ever again what made her come back.
She leaves sometimes. She takes long walks into town, sometimes stays overnight in the local inn. She makes friends with the innkeeper and her family, and brings home new bales of straw and baskets of groceries the next morning.
She never sees him watching for her. He's always just spinning, forever spinning, always spinning that straw into the gold that she now uses for currency in town.
She scouts out a bookshop, hidden away on a backstreet. She enters that first day, and breathes in the smell of leather and mildewed pages, eyes fluttering closed in pleasure.
It's the first time she mentions the outside world to him since her return, when they eat dinner that night, "Why don't you have a library?"
"I'm sorry, dearie?"
"This castle's enormous, you could house the entire county here and have room to spare! But there are no books, except for those strange magic tomes you leave lying around."
"Why would I need a library?"
"Isn't that why I have magic?"
He's dancing words around her, and she can't tell if he really doesn't understand, or if he's just messing with her.
Still, a week later, when she leaves her room to start her day, there he is. She's become used to it, finding him waiting for her behind a corner or in a room she's set to cleaning that day. She's learnt that it usually means he's bored, or lonely, or wanting to dance around and crow about a particularly tasty deal he's just struck. So she smiles and curtseys in greeting, and waits for him to start.
But he just watches her.
She's grown increasingly fond of the strangeness of his face. She's come to admire the green/grey colour of it, the massive eyes and insane grin. She can understand why anyone else would be unnerved, even frightened by it, but Belle was brave to begin with, and her months with him have strengthened that.
Still, his steady gaze will never stop being a little… unnatural. Even intimidating.
"Come with me." His crazy grin widens, and he takes her hand again. He doesn't do it often, and she never initiates, but she secretly loves the feel of it. Her hand seems to fit his perfectly, her fingers just the right length and width to slide evenly between his.
He leads them at a semi-run through the corridors and hallways, past the many bedrooms, the banquet hall, the ballroom, and all the other empty, beautiful rooms he owns and never needs. They stop when they reach a room she vaguely recognises, and knows to be bare and empty. She frowns, puzzled, as he shoots her an almost childlike smile of pure glee before hurling the doors open.
It's a library.
Well, it's a sort of early attempt at a library. There are shelves reaching to the ceiling, huge comfy chairs he appears to have pilfered from other rooms dotted around, and a few books lying here and there.
"It's wonderful, thank you!" she laughs and, without thinking, throws her arms around him. He freezes for a second, before haltingly moving his hands up to awkwardly hug her back.
She lets go, after a few seconds of revelling in the feeling of his arms around her, and steps a little further into the almost-library. "Where're the books?"
"I told you: I don't own many." He replies, following her, "these are what I could steal or find in the castle. I thought – perhaps you wished to fill it yourself? With your own favourites?"
She grins and nods, looking around at the few titles present on the shelves. Finally, she hops up onto a desk and sits, swinging her legs beneath it and watching him closely.
"Why would you do this for me?" she asks, still basking in the fact that he did it at all. She's been assessing their relationship constantly since she came back – wondering if he truly did love her, if she really loved him, if he could ever stop being the creature that imprisoned her without stopping being the man she saw before her.
She figures that this was a good start.
He's watching her and trying not to look like it. He's scrutinising her face, with the same expression he's had every day since she'd first met him. Like he doesn't know who she is, and keeps trying to figure it out.
"I was afraid that you would start bringing stacks of books home, with nowhere to store them."
"Oh," she nods, pretending to agree, "So this was about storage space."
"Do you know what I think? I think you knew it would make me happy. I think you knew it would give me one less reason to leave the castle."
"The place gets dusty when you leave."
"You get bored and lonely when I leave." She counters, still smiling.
"Perhaps." He grants, head tilted, nodding.
"Perhaps." She's beaming, unable to help it.
Because she's sure of it now: he loves her, and she loves him, and she can't keep it in any longer.
He's been drifting toward her since she sat down, and is now close enough that she could touch him without reaching. And unlike that day at the spinning wheel, when she'd come home bubbling with thoughts of True Love and kisses and strange, black-clad women in carriages, she doesn't back away.
She reaches up, eyes open, and feels him move in toward her almost involuntarily.
Their first kiss is soft, and sweet, and she'll never forget how still he was, how gentle and unbelieving the movement of his lips against hers felt.
Then he pulled away, and looked down at her. She wasn't disappointed to see that he was still his green, strange-looking self, even if it did discount her True Love theory.
"Why did you do that?"
"Because it made me happy." She sees the disbelief on his face, and a rush of shame runs through her, "But… I shouldn't have, and I'm… oh, God, I'm sorry, I just needed to know –"
She's stopped in mid-rant by his lips once more against hers, forcefully and insistent this time, his tongue pushing past her lips and dancing around the roof of her mouth, stroking her own tongue in a rhythm that makes her moan, makes her grab the back of his head and hold his mouth against hers.
He's moved even closer now, standing between her legs on the table, his hands gripping the sides of her waist and holding her hard against him.
He finally moves his mouth from hers, and she whimpers at the loss, only to have his lips move down her neck, biting and sucking at sensitive spots that make her tremble and shiver, her mind going blank.
She never plans to leave this castle for good. She knows that, by association with Rumpelstiltskin, she'll never be able to go home. Her father has written her off, and she knows Gaston has gone missing. She's made friends with a demon and all will assume that the event they seem to be careening towards right now already happened.
So what's the harm in following her body's unspoken command, and shifting forwards? In moving his mouth back up to hers even as his hands are shifting her skirts further up her legs, as his fingers start to quest underneath?
She can't be blamed for how wonderful it feels, the combination of his mouth on hers - lips caressing, tongue engaged in some intimate and complex dance or duel with her own – and his long, precise, not quite delicate hands moving further up her thighs.
His finger strokes along the centre of her undergarments, and she cries out into his mouth. He breaks away, looking down at her hard, and raises an eyebrow.
"Are you sure about this, love?"
She can't form words – the endearment somehow intensifying the pleasure between her legs – so she just nods, and moves his lips back to hers.
He presses harder against her centre, as he moves his fingers through the wetness gathering there, soaking her underwear. He starts to rub, and the feeling is unbelievable, and she doesn't even care when he stops kissing her and pulls his head back to watch her.
Her eyes are squeezed closed now, her breathing coming out in little pants. She can feel herself on the edge of something amazing, desperate to fall.
She knows somewhere, in the back of her passion-addled mind, that this isn't the end. She knows that he's stood in front of her, watching and smiling an almost scarily dark grin, bringing her to her climax with his fingers and enjoying every second.
She knows that this will be followed by a conversation. She hopes that that will end in more of this activity, in being touched by him all over, without stupidly restrictive clothing getting in the way.
But those thoughts are drowned out by the pounding of her heart, the rushing of blood to every part of her, the delicious, sinful, wonderful feeling reaching a peak that starts from his hand, rubbing and teasing and – oh, Lord, - pinching between her thighs and radiates through her entire being, pushing her to a point of pleasure where all she can do is scream incoherently as she falls over the edge.
Her hips buck against his hand as she rides out the waves of her climax. Her own hands, formerly gripping the edges of the table, rush back to his head, pulling his mouth against hers once more and kissing him like the world is ending.
Then she collapses, boneless against his shoulder. She's shaking a little, and finally feels him wrap his arms around her, holding her tight against him
"I love you." She murmurs, dazed and unthinking, into his neck.
He stills, but doesn't say a word.
As her mind wakes up from its stupor, she is left with one thought that stands apart from all the rest: 'If love is a mystery to be uncovered, then this is the best discovery yet'.