Title: A Small Price To Pay
Rating: G
Genre: Fluff, friendship, beginnings of romance
Summary: Belle is a terrible cook, and Rumplestiltskin's had enough of it.

I had two ideas for acciofirewhiskey's prompt 'Scorch'. This is the second, my apparent default setting (beside smut): mindless fluff! Enjoy!

He keeps finding scorch marks from her cooking.

There are stains on the carpet from spilt cups of tea and glasses of wine, hidden by carefully placed chairs and ornaments. Not to mention the amount of books he's found in the library that are dog-eared, their pages wrinkled from water damage.

Rumplestiltskin's new caretaker is a walking disaster area. Just his luck.

She can't cook; that's the worst thing. He could forgive her her messiness if she could master the art of a simple dinner.

But he can be generous, when he feels like it, and she's a sweet girl who's trying her best. For the first month or so, he can hope she'll improve, and get his meals from town before he comes home if he gets really desperate.

The final straw comes when she serves him some kind of spicy soup, and watches anxiously as he takes a mouthful.

She's put at least twenty bird's eye chillies in it, if the ensuing fire in his mouth is anything to go by. "Right," he says, when he's gained his voice and stopped spluttering, "I'm teaching you to cook."

"Oh, come on, it can't be that bad," she admonishes, as she takes a sip herself. "Oh dear lord!" she coughs and runs for the kitchen, her face a rather delightful shade of bright red.

He rises, takes the offending soup with him, and tips the whole thing down the sink. He could swear that even the pipes had a problem with it.

She comes back from wherever she disappeared to, and she is suddenly shy and apologetic. "Okay, maybe I shouldn't be doing the cooking."

"Oh, no dearie," he waves a finger at her, "This is part of our deal: you prepare my meals."

"You're a masochist."

"Perhaps. Come along, everyone must learn sometime." He gestures for her to join him by the counters, and flourishes his hand. A large pile of tomatoes, a chopping board and a knife appear out of nowhere.

"I was wondering how the pantry was stocked every morning." She mutters, and he allows himself a smile. There's something to be said for being one of the only creatures in existence for whom each spell has no individual price.

He pays the price every day, just by being the Dark One. The universe is willing to grant him a pile of tomatoes free of charge.

"Now, how would you go about preparing these?" he hands her the knife, and passes her a tomato.

She frowns, and starts to chop.

It's a mess, pips and juice everywhere, but it's not on fire, or poisoned. So that's a start.

"Okay, let's try that again, shall we?" he takes the knife from her and demonstrates, slicing the fruit firmly and evenly into sections.

He ignores the little shiver he feels when their hands touch, passing the utensils between them, or the way he could have her stand and stare at him like that – listening closely, hanging on every word – all day.

It becomes a routine: every day, he teaches her a new recipe. They're easy things, involving as few trips to the oven as possible to avoid further damage. He resigns himself to a few months of salads and tomato soups until she gets the hang of harder dishes, but it's a small price to pay for edible meals.

After months of this, they're in a routine, and he finds he misses it when he has to leave. But the King of the North Pass is calling for him, and he has a rather lovely collection of magical potatoes that need a home.

So he leaves, and he finds that – for once – the food on the road isn't as satisfying as what Belle can create.

He ignores the fact that he also misses her company. Some things are best left alone.

He arrives back, and there's only a lingering smell of smoke in the air. He'd hoped – however futile he knew it was – that she'd leave the oven alone while he was gone. But she was stubborn, and didn't like things she wasn't good at yet, and to be honest he'd expected worse.

He finds her in the dining room, and is about to admonish her for endangering his home when he sees the smile on her face. She's wearing a proper gown, her gold one from the night she first arrived, although this time she's less terrified and more excited. He almost feels guilty for the small amount of fear that brings him.

She gestures for him to have a seat, and serves him his meal. It's a steak, with potatoes and green beans, one of the last things he'd been teaching her to make.

He eats the whole thing, and doesn't splutter or choke once, and she's smiling at him, so proud of herself. And of course it's slightly singed, because she's Belle and accidents happen.

But that doesn't stop it being the best dinner he's ever had.