They say he never hurries, the red-eyed devil who lives in the mountain fortress. But why would you have to hurry when you could have whatever you desire with a snap of your fingers? No, he creeps, sauntering in like shadows at dusk. Why rush when you have all the time in the world? Why run when you have nothing to run for?

Her scream was enough to send him sprinting in from the other side of the castle.

Belle looked up at him, blue eyes shining with pain and, of all things, embarrassment. Had his hands not been shaking, his face not twisted in a feral snarl, he would have chuckled and sighed in exasperation. Dearie, now is not the time to be embarrassed.

"I fell," she said quietly, barely whispering. She tried and failed to stand, crumpling back to the floor with a grimace. His heart twisted treacherously at the sight of her pain. "I was upstairs dusting when I thought I heard someone at the door. I started down the stairs and..." She trailed off, gesturing behind her to the flight of stairs she had fallen down. Once again, she tried and failed to get to her feet.

He couldn't bring himself to look at her face, eyes fixed on the leg twisted at such an awkward angle. He glanced up sharply when she attempted to get up for the second time. "Stop that," he ordered brusquely. "You're going to make it even worse." He had made a quick assessment to the damage she had done to herself. "I can fix it if you'll just keep still and do what I say." The irony that usually colored his voice was gone.

He crouched beside her and gathered her up in his arms. He desperately tried not to hurt her—he'd never forgive himself if he hurt her—as he stood and carried her into the nearest room. He felt her arms wrap tightly around his neck, could feel her heart beating double-time. She was fragile, he realized, so very fragile. She pressed her face into his shirt, but he saw the gleam of tears in her eyes just before she did. Brave girl. Brave, foolish little girl.

He sat her down carefully in one of the chairs. Belle's eyes, glassy with pain, shined with tears that she was obviously fighting to contain. "Can you really heal it?" she asked.

He nodded after a moment of hesitation. "Yes, m'dear, I think I can. Hold still for a moment." He moved over to the bookshelf and opened up one of the old tomes, flipping through its pages for the spell he was looking for. He wouldn't let her end up like that cowardly shepherd he had known once upon a time, a cripple who felt like nothing more than a burden. Not his Belle.

Page one hundred and twelve was where he found the spell, scribbled hastily at the bottom of the paper in faded black ink. He traced his fingers over the spidery handwriting as he walked back over to her. "Here, this ought to do it." He sat down in the chair opposite her.

"Is it going to hurt?" She didn't sound afraid, merely curious. But then again, Belle had always been a brave girl. She had shown him as much from the very start. The least he owed her for that was the truth.

"Yes," he replied bluntly, "it's going to hurt for a few moments, but it'll be over quickly." Seeing her slight grimace, he chuckled quietly. "Everything comes with a price, dearie. Pain is just a small one."

She nodded, resigned, and waits for him to begin. He could feel those ocean-eyes on him, cool and curious as he closed the book.

He snapped his fingers. It was such a simple, tiny gesture, but it could mean so much. He grimaced slightly as the magic took effect, the bones underneath her skin shifting back into their proper places. The girl's face blanched, eyes widening as she hissed in pain.

"Just a little longer, dearie," he reassured her, focusing on keeping the spell on track. "It's almost over." Fragments knitting themselves back to the bone, tendons snapping back into place. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her shoulders shaking with silent shudders.

"Belle." That's all he has to say, just her name. Then her eyes are on him, burning into him, begging silently for the pain to end. Brave girl. Poor, brave girl.

He could feel the spell's effects beginning to fade as the bone was set back into place, the agonizing pain ebbing away. The girl's face regained some color, and he quietly let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "How does it feel?" he asked, completely serious for once.

Belle nodded slowly. "Better, much better." The look of incredulity on her face was replaced by one of wonder, and he was acutely aware of the way her awestruck gaze flickered from him to the book in his hand.

"Good." He looked down at her, smirking slightly. "Since you're feeling so much better, go dust in the library." Reddish-gold eyes glittered with mirth.

She gaped at him. "What? I just cleaned it yesterday! It can't be dirty again."

Rumpelstiltskin arched his eyebrows at the growing irritation in her voice, although it was hard to keep the smile off his face. "I know. Go do it again. I'm telling you to stay in the library all day. I don't want to see you until it's time to eat again." He leaned in a little closer, trying to get his real point across. "Do I make myself clear?"

Her eyes brightened as she quickly understood. Clever girl. "Yes, I think I understand. I'll go do that, then." She turned and started quickly in the direction of the library. Hardly limping, he noted with a touch of relief. That would go away in time as well. He turned to put the book up, not turning around when he heard her shoes clicking back over.


He perked up slightly, glancing over his shoulder. She hardly ever used his name, not his real one. "Yes, dearie?"

He had not turned around all the way when he felt the arms wrap around his neck, the long dark hair brushing against his chest. He gawked at her, this perfect ocean-eyed girl embracing him like he was an ordinary man. "Thank you," she whispered with a slight smile.

He stepped back out of the hug, resisting the urge to wring his hands nervously. "No problem. I can't have my maid out of work, after all." He smiled back. "Now go clean those bookshelves."

She nodded and turned, still smiling brightly. He watched her disappear behind the library's heavy doors as his mind tried to make sense of what had just happened. It was nothing, he reasoned. She was just thankful that her leg was healed. It was just an embrace, that's all.

Just an embrace.

Just a cup.

Just a girl.

Just her love.

Just his own heart, that's all.

He'd always been good at breaking things and lying to himself about it later.

They say he never hurries, the man who owns everything in town. They're right. Why should he hurry, after all? He has almost everything a man could desire. Why should he rush? He has plenty of time in this little town where nothing changes. Why should he run?

He has nothing to run to anymore.