Usually, Belle has discovered, Rumpelstiltskin has immaculate timing.
He's always right there, just when the moment is perfect. Too early, and he might be taken for granted; too late, and an opportunity could be burned up in the meantime.
This comes in handy when one is terminally clumsy. He's always by her side right when the milk is about to bubble and explode all over the stove; right when the curtains are about to catch fire but haven't just yet; right in the split second before she hits the ground.
But today, he was about two minutes too late.
She slipped from the top of the table, where she was stood to clean a particularly dusty chandelier – and really, who cared about dust on a light fitting? No one would see it anyway – and fell in a crumpled mess on the floor.
With her leg aching like an ogre had taken a bite out of it, and her pride in tatters.
When he sees her he is at her side in moments, cooing and fussing like an old maid. Rumpelstiltskin is a constant mystery: he flits from delighted, manic child to depressed and bitter old soldier to sweet and somewhat bossy matron from hour to hour.
He sits her on the table, stretches her leg in front of her, and waves deft and excitable fingers over her – now obviously broken – bone.
"Whatever did you do, dearie?" he asks, softly.
"I fell." She grinds out: pain doesn't put her in the best of moods.
"I can see that."
"Then why did you ask?"
He shoots her a look, and then places his fingertips on her knee joint, finding in moments the most painful point, the point of the breakage.
And Belle is brave, or at least she'd like to be, and she grits her teeth and swears like a sailor, and only a few tears spring from her eyes at the agony emanating from her broken leg. It happens right at the end, right as Rumpelstiltskin presses hard, once, and rips a long scream from her throat.
There's a soft brushing of something she doesn't see, because her eyes are squeezed shut tight against roaring, throbbing, burning agony, and she's convinced she'd just cut the whole damn limb of if it'll help.
Then the pain is gone, replaced by a numb stiffness, and she can't move her leg at all. But at least the pain is gone.
"What did you do?" and now she's sobbing, although she tried so hard not to, because the pain relief makes her want to cry harder than the pain itself.
"A spot of magic, dearie." He replies, and his voice still hasn't lost that tender softness, that sweetness she knows belongs there even though he refuses to let it out as often as he should.
And he reaches up, rubs away a tear with his thumb, and she's leaning into his hand, nuzzling his fingers, so catlike she almost wants to purr.
And then he's dancing away, giggling like a maniac.
He gives her an old staff of knotted chestnut wood, and has a strange smile as he does so.
He's numbed the pain in her leg, but refuses to fix it with magic: something about prices to be paid and tempting fate. The most he'll do is freeze the joint altogether, so it can heal without her worrying about damaging it in the process.
So she's limping around the house, only cleaning things she can reach without having to stand on anything.
The walking stick helps, especially when she needs to climb up or down stairs. But it's difficult, trying to re-organise the library, or cook meals, or do laundry when she can't bend one knee.
And then there's Rumpelstiltskin.
He seems caught between deep concern and finding the whole thing completely hilarious.
She'd never expected him to be an altogether restful presence in the house. But he takes altogether too much joy in having her somewhat disabled. The worst days are the ones were he's just sealed a particularly lucrative deal, or is otherwise celebrating, and he decides that now would be a good time to carry her places.
He doesn't warn her about it before hand, of course.
One moment, she's stood at the bottom of the grand staircase, steeling herself for the inevitable painful hobble to get to the top; the next, her legs have vanished from under her and his arms are around her back and under her knees. He only laughs harder when she whacks his shoulder, admonishes him, demands to be set back on her feet.
But it is surprisingly sweet, the way he wakes her every morning to administer a comfrey poultice to her bruises.
Of course she doesn't linger on the memory of his fingers on her skin.
Because her leg is mostly numb: it would be ridiculous.
She doesn't curl in just a little closer than is strictly necessary when he carries her; she wraps her arms around his neck in the name of safety, so he can't drop her.
She's noticed he breathes harder when he carries her, and not from exertion. She can feel his heart pound under his waistcoat, and she finally gets up the nerve – today, she is feeling very brave – to put her palm there and felt it beat under her hand.
Then they reach the landing, and he sets her back on her feet, and she's as flushed and jittery as he is, and he practically runs off to distract himself.
She allows herself a moment to admire that, to stare at his ass in those wonderfully tight-fitting leather pants. Whoever had originally convinced him to start dressing that way deserved some kind of medal.
She stands in the hallway, and remembers his arms around her, and his heart thudding beneath her hand. They've had more physical contact in the past three weeks she's been injured than they'd had in the two months preceding her fall. It is, at least, comforting to know that she's not the only one affected by this.
She grabs the staff, and hobbles to her room, intending to have an afternoon nap. She flops back on her bed, angling herself so her leg is supported lying right out in front of her, and lets herself relive the highlights of her infirmity.
At least twice a week, he's decided to carry her bridal style, up staircases, down drafty corridors and – one time – around the ballroom.
His hands massage comfrey ointment into her skin every morning. She can still remember the gentle, tender surety of his fingers playing her muscles and skin, removing all pain and replacing it with a gentle hum, and a slew of goose-bumps.
And she knows it's wrong to think of him this way; that he'd probably cast her out if he ever knew. But she still wishes so hard that one day his hands would work higher than the top of her knee.
She blushes at that thought, and then shakes her head at her own prudishness.
She's attracted to him, farfetched and utterly ridiculous as it may seem, and she can't bear to be this close to him and know that nothing will ever come of it.
Her own hand slides up her leg, mimicking his actions this morning, but higher, moving from knee to inner thigh, up and up and… there.
She strokes lightly against her soaked underwear, rubbing in harder and harder little circles, imagining his slim, deft fingers right there, right were she's craving him.
"Rumpelstiltskin…" she moans, as she slips her fingers under her panties and works her clit, imagines it's his tongue moving up and down, over and over and over…
Rumpelstiltskin likes to keep an eye on his wounded little housekeeper.
The poor thing is prone to mistakes, and falls more often than perhaps is strictly necessary, and he is a little afraid of the damage she could cause when left alone.
That's his reasoning for being outside her room.
The door is slightly ajar, and he can hear a strange sound from within, a kind of strangled moan. And of course, fearing for her health and worried her leg might be giving her more trouble, he heroically peers inside to see what the problem is.
There's no problem.
There's just his Belle, lying on her bed with her skirts hitched up around her hips, one hand down between her legs, gasping and arching into her own touch.
And he wants to walk away, leave her to it… it's a private moment and… really, this shouldn't be turning him on so much. She's probably thinking about that big, dumb ex-fiancé of hers-
"Oh, oh, Rumpelstiltskin!" she moans, quietly, neck arched as her fingers increase their tempo.
And he staggers, leans on the doorway because it's the only thing keeping him up. Belle, his beautiful, wonderful, intelligent perfect little Belle, is lying on her bed and moaning his name while touching herself.
He could leave right now and still have enough material to fuel a hundred new fantasies, a thousand dirty and lustful dreams that can return at night, when he allows himself to lie awake and think of her. He'd be lying if he said she was the only one of them who had ever done this.
He's wanted her since the moment she fell from the curtain rail and landed in his arms.
Apparently he's not the only one.
And Gods, he's getting so hard just watching her: he can't tear his eyes away as he watches her tease herself, pull and pinch at such soft and sensitive flesh… he actually groans when he sees her slide one finger all the way down and push up inside herself.
He's terrified she'll see him gawping at her, that she'll throw something at him and it will be awkward forever.
But she's too far-gone, and almost without thinking he starts to stroke himself through his trousers, the tight leather almost painful against his growing hard-on. He rubs in time with her hand, pumping in an out of her slick pussy as she gasps and moans, quiet enough that she thinks she won't be heard.
He's never wanted anything more in his life than to go right inside, and give her exactly what she's clearly craving.
But that's not how this is meant to go, and she'd probably be offended at his peeping in on her, watching her fuck herself to thoughts of him.
Her breathing becomes harsh, ragged, and he watches enraptured as her back arches of the bed, and she shouts his name and collapses, free hand pressed over her mouth, silently laughing at herself.
Then she rolls over, and her eyes meet his, and widen to dinner plates.
She doesn't know how long he's been stood there, watching her finger herself, but even if it's only been a few seconds he has to have heard her shout.
Now he'll hate her: he'll think her wanton and uncontrollable, he'll be disgusted by the very sight of her and throw her from the castle.
But damn it, she'd been certain he'd be in his study, in one of the towers, off terrorising a village… anything but stood outside her door, watching her and… wait a second.
His hand moves rapidly, the second her eyes land on it, but oh. He isn't disgusted, not if the obvious bulge in his tight leather pants is any indication.
He'd been enjoying himself.
He wants her, perhaps even as much as she wants him, even though rationally, it doesn't make any sense.
She turns herself around, swings her legs over the edge of the bed, and limps across to the door.
"What were you doing?" she asks, the darkness in his eyes and his shallow breathing making her brave.
"I… ah. I thought you were in distress."
They're so close that she could count the eyelashes around his strangely opaque eyes.
"Well, clearly I'm right as rain," she murmurs, glancing down, "You seem a little distressed, though."
He looks down with her, and swallows hard, "I'm fine, dearie. I was just, ah…"
"You were watching me pleasure myself, weren't you?" she leans up to breathe into his ear. He doesn't reply, so she reaches a hand down and cups his hard cock through his pants, "Weren't you?"
"Yes!" he groans out, as his hips buck into her hand.
And now, now there's no doubt at all.
And he's been so good to her since she hurt herself, and this proximity must have been as much trouble for him as for her, and she owes him something in return. Plus, there's something she has wanted to try.
So she takes his hand, and leads him into her room, and sits down hard on the bed so he's right in front of her, looking down at her with wide, confused eyes.
"What do you want, Rumpelstiltskin?" she asks, as she starts work on his flies.
"You…" he murmurs, "Just you. All the time: you're all I've ever wanted."
And that's the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to her. Her heart gives a little squeeze, and she smiles up at him, so wide she feels her face will split in two.
Then she finishes untying his trousers, and pulls them down from his hips, and looks up at him, licking her lips just to see his eyes close, hear him breathe out something harsh and filthy.
He gasps when she takes him into her mouth, and wraps her lips around the shaft, tongue laving the underside as his hands thread into her hair. She pulls back, hollowing her cheeks as she went, and feels a twinge between her legs as his fingers dig into his scalp, as he murmurs her name like a prayer.
She releases him with a small, wet 'pop', and smirks at him long enough for his eyes to open and meet hers before her tongue goes back to work, working around the head until he moans, deep and low, "Fuck, Belle…"
She giggles, and takes him deep into her mouth, dragging back up with just a little scrape of her teeth underneath.
She may have found a rather interesting collection of books in a dark corner of the library while she was cataloguing: it was good to prove a couple of methods right. Belle has always been a fan of doing things by the book.
He's thrusting his hips in time with the laps of her tongue, gently fucking her mouth, and she can feel him getting closer. She swivels her tongue around his tip, experimentally curling it to surround him, and he groans, the sound vibrating through her.
She wants to try one more thing: she reaches under, and takes his balls in her hand; squeezing and palming them as she gives him one last, final suck.
He comes with a shout into her mouth, fingers clenched hard in her hair, hips jerking as he climaxes.
When he's done, she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, and smiles up at him.
He swivels around and sits down beside her, looking a little dazed but grinning from ear to ear. She loves him so much it hurts.
"You should spy on me more often," she giggles, as she settles her head into the curve of his neck, resting her weight on his shoulder.
"I should say so, dearie," he mutters, "Where in seven hells did you learn to do that?"
"I read a lot." She shrugs, "There's a lot you can learn from books."
"Oh, really?" he turns to her, intrigued, eyes light and bright and she nods, lip caught between her teeth.
"Yep." She giggles as he tackles her and pins her to the bed, mindful of her bad leg, and presses soft kisses all up the side of her neck.
"Well, let's get started then, dearie."