When she came back into the castle, Belle's hair was thick with sticks and leaves and tangles of thorns, and her dress was beyond salvation-covered in dirt and a few streaks of her own, handprinted blood. She tracked mud in from the gardens on her bare feet, apparently having forgotten that she herself would need to clean it up later.
"Rumple?" she called out, uncertain, her voice echoing through the hall. Then, self-conscious of the nickname she has only ever used in her mind, "Rumpelstiltskin?"
She shrugged, went in the direction of what has by now officially become her bedroom. The carpet felt nice underneath her feet, but not as nice as the garden did. Belle swung open the door to her room, and gasped.
An enormous marble tub sat in the middle of her room, edged in pretty, wavy patterns of solid gold. It was filled to the top with water, and Belle hungrily watched the steam rise.
"I figured you'd want a bath, dearie." Rumpelstiltskin appeared almost out of nowhere, strolling into the room behind Belle. He'd been waiting for her, obviously. "Can't have you dirtying up the whole castle."
"I can't remember the last time I've had a bath!" Belle squealed. Before Rumpelstiltskin knew what was happening, her arms were thrown around his shoulders. "Thank you!"
He struggled not to enjoy her embrace, but Belle smelled like roses and flowers underneath all that dirt, and her arms were cool against his neck. Rumpelstiltskin took Belle by the shoulders, pushed her gently away from him. "No need to get me all filthy as well," he said, attempting to keep his usual lilt of humor in his voice.
Belle crossed her arms, a smirk emerging on her face-that little half-smile that told everyone who knew her well (like Rumpelstiltskin) that she was trying not to laugh. "Oh, you just shoo and let me take my bath. I'll come down and make our dinner when I'm finished."
He played at pouting, sticking out his bottom lip and making sad-eyes at her. Belle stuck out her tongue in response, and a giggle escaped her.
"Fine," Rumpelstiltskin said. He turned the lock on the inside of Belle's door, turned to Belle briefly and waggled his eyebrows, teasingly. The door slammed in mock-rage as he left.
Belle raised an eyebrow herself. "I could've sworn there wasn't a lock on there ever before," she muttered. She supposed it was something to do with trust-allowing her a space of her own where he, at least theoretically, couldn't intrude-and that thought, the one of trust, made Belle smile.
Belle waited for the water to get cold for nearly an hour, wanting to get every ounce of pleasure that she could, until she finally realized that the water was magicked somehow-for it stayed hot and steaming without growing even a degree cooler. She did, however, decide it would be rude for her to languish in the bathtub forever whilst Rumpelstiltskin waited for her to make dinner. Wrapping a towel around herself, as the air in her bedroom was positively frosty in comparison to her bath, she dried her limbs and hair the best she could, and tried to rub away the goosepimples that emerged atop her flesh.
Her usual blue dress, now covered in dirt and grime, had disappeared, Belle found. In its place, laid out across her bed, was a gown of seafoam-colored green, made of a light and fluttery material that, when she had put it on, reminded Belle of butterflies. The gown was not heavy or ornate, not like that blasted dress of layers and layers of starched yellow tulle. This one floated about her, although the gossamer fabric was not so fragile as to be utterly sheer and revealing. In addition, Belle was grateful for the overall coverage that the dress offered her. It was cut high in the front, far higher than she was used to with her old ball gowns, although the back was low, baring her white back and shoulder blades, it was elegant, too. To top it off, Belle discovered a pair of matching silk slippers beside the door, and she slid them onto her feet.
Well, I certainly hope this outfit isn't for cooking and cleaning, it occurred to her.
By the time Belle made her way down to the dining room, night had fallen, and although the curtains still sat on the floor in front of their respective windows, no sunlight beamed in, as she was used to. She was an early riser and usually early to bed, and she could not recall the last time she had been in here, so late in the evening. The light of a few stars glimmered, creating small dots of brightness throughout the large room, and the rest of the room was lit by an array of tall, violet candles.
She expected to see Rumpelstiltskin at his spinning wheel, but instead he was already seated at one end of the table the gold in his skin particularly striking in the candlelight. At the other end of the table a chair was pulled out, presumably waiting for Belle. Instead, she dragged the chair across the floor until she was sitting beside Rumpelstiltskin.
"What are you doing, dearie?" he asked, taken aback.
"I don't want to have to shout across the table in order to speak with you, you know." She paused, and with a tone of uncertainty in her voice added, "This room is so lovely at night."
His eyes surveyed her, taking in the new gown he had acquired for her, and her damp curls the hung loosely around her face, neck, and shoulders. "It is," he murmured in agreement.
"What do you want me to make for dinner?"
Then Rumpelstiltskin clapped his hands, back to his usual gleeful self. "No cooking for you tonight, dearie! I've procured something special for us tonight." He snapped his fingers, and two dishes of gold appeared in front of the pair, each filled with the brimmed with mounds of a shiny, white substance that Belle did not recognize.
She picked up her spoon, which had also appeared with what was apparently "dinner," and tentatively poked the mysterious stuff. It must have been soft, for her spoon left a mark. "What is this?"
He giggled uncontrollably. "I suspected you'd never tried it before. Go ahead, give it a taste."
Belle gave him a sidelong look, but she obeyed, taking a scoop of it in her spoon, and brought it to her lips. But she stopped there. "Oh! It's so cold."
"Of course it is, dearie." He had some in his spoon now. "That's how it tastes best." And he took a bite of it himself.
She watched Rumpelstiltskin's tongue snake out and lick his lips. A soft sigh arose in her, but Belle quickly smothered it by shoving her spoon into her mouth and swallowing. Her eyes widened in shock. "This is delicious! It's so sweet and sugary, but creamy at the same time. She cocked her head to the side. "What is it called, anyway?"
"Ice cream. A delicacy from some faraway kingdom," he replied, waving his hand.
"Can we have this for dinner every night?" Belle had already devoured half of her bowl.
He wagged a finger at her. "Ah ah ah. Wouldn't want to spoil my housekeeper like that, now would I? Might make her lazy."
She just smirked at him. "You don't need me for a housekeeper."
Not for the first time, she had managed to surprise him. "What?"
"You know. I'm hardly a housekeeper. I may cook and clean, but we both know that's not the reason why you bargained for me in the first place."
"Then why would I have made a deal for such a little pest if not for the housework?"
Belle stood up abruptly, and held her hands out to Rumpelstiltskin. "Do you want to dance?"
"Dance. With me. I've got this nice dress and the room is so pretty right now, I just thought..." She trailed off, and the smile she wore was soft and sincere.
"But-but-there's no music," he sputtered.
She crossed her arms and continued to stare at him. Finally, she waved her arms theatrically.
"Now what are you doing?"
"I'm imitating you! Magic! Use magic to create music! Or don't!" With sudden violence, she grabbed Rumpelstiltskin's hands and pulled him out of his chair. "We're dancing, whether you like it or not, Mister Dark One." She placed one of his hands on her waist and grasped his other hand in hers.
"Dancing? With the monster?" he tried.
"Shush. Since you refuse to take the lead," as they stood motionless, "I suppose I will."
At the very least, Rumpelstiltskin obliged Belle by following her lead as she began to spin them around the dining room. He figured it was the least he could do, for his housekeeper who had eaten some foreign ice cream and promptly lost her wits. Although he attempted to keep a decorous amount of space between them, the floating fabric of her gown kept brushing up against and teasing his leather-clad legs. Without thinking, he lifted his arm into the air and Belle twirled underneath it before she wound her way back facing him, this time closer than before.
"See? You can dance," Belle teased.
He shrugged. "I suppose that's the magic. I never used to be able to dance."
Something in Belle's expression changed as a new thought clicked into place. "Used to? What do you mean? Haven't you always been magical?"
Rumpelstiltskin cursed his own absentmindedness. He remembered the story he had told her, about losing his son, but never let on that it was his new acquisition of the Dark One's powers that ultimately caused it, simply an addition to his constant cowardice. "No," he finally told her.
Her movements slowed, so that their dancing paused, and Belle and Rumpelstiltskin were left in the middle of the room, watching one another, hand in hand. She peered at his face. "Does that mean you used to be..."
"A human being? A man? Yes." He lowered his eyes, let his arm fall from around her waist. He tried to loosen his other hand from Belle's grip, but she tightened it instead, squeezing his fingers underneath her own.
"You are human. You don't see it, but I do. And that's why you brought me here."
Belle leaned in closer, and Rumpelstiltskin felt her cool breath tickle his ear. "Because you were lonely."
A/N: Sorry it's been about two months since I updated. Life has just been crazy lately, and it's hard to get inspiration for this fic when there's no Rumbelle on television! But, I hope this chapter makes up for it. You're welcome to leave prompts/things you'd like to see for future chapters in your reviews, and please review. I love to read what people think of this!