(A/N: This is based off a kink meme prompt I found and wanted to make into a realistic fic. I wrote this mid-April before Neverland was even mentioned, so this takes place nebulously after Belle's memories return and everyone is still in Storybrooke.)
If she really wanted to be honest, his recent preoccupation was mostly her fault anyway – or perhaps not hers. Lacey's.
As Lacey she'd made disparaging comments, the gross exaggerations fired from her lips meant to wound for no better reason than that she liked to push his buttons. The larger, the redder, the more pain they looked to produce, the better. Lying awake at night, even weeks later, Belle remembered them like a bad dream.
Looking a little flabby there, Gold. I'd try the salad, if I were you. Another hamburger, really? The blubber on your arms could already feed a small country as it is. Let's get a table this time. I'm not sure how much longer your gut will fit in the booth.
And those were only the ones she could remember.
Besides that, she would recall with a shudder, they didn't even take into account the sneers and laughter, the cruel mocking glare whenever he tried to protest the unfair comments. It relieved her to think that they'd never made love like that, too busy with reunions and family drama, because she couldn't even begin to imagine the destruction she might have wrought. The damage done during those few dates was enough, damage that after a while he'd stopped refuting and started resignedly ignoring.
When her true memories had finally clicked into place, no words could sum up the depth of her regret. Nights were spent reassuring and apologizing, holding him close on the couch, safe in her – not Lacey's – arms. Rum had blessed her with forgiveness and Belle was sure he meant it. She just wasn't sure he forgave himself, and as the weeks passed, it became clear that her comments had stuck.
And perhaps to make matters worse, he was even heavier now.
It really wasn't all that surprising. The tumultuous affairs of Storybrooke brought nothing if not stress, a state that ultimately, she knew from the biochemistry book she'd picked up one day, increased cortisol, which in turn did a number on the waistline. And it was true; his middle was taking the brunt of the weight, no matter how much he tried to hide it with a waistcoat. The fine fabric tended to ride up to expose the roll peeking out from above his trousers, the beginning of what might one day be generous lovehandles testing the sides of his waistband when he sat down. Everything was broader, sturdier as she might say, but she knew those weren't the words that repeated ad nauseum and flayed him alive in his mind. The lack of sleep and constant barrage of problems weren't helping, and well, men his age were known to pudge up a bit. It was the elephant in the room with him, and Belle was willing to bet her favorite book (a tie between Paradise Lost and The Princess and the Spinner, if one was wondering) that that was a big part of it. No matter her protestations to the contrary, Rum already saw himself as old, his ankle constantly putting him on the border of decrepit in his mind when nothing could be farther from the truth.
All in all, it was only fifteen pounds, twenty at most, but to him it meant slowing, aging, and worst of all, slipping ever farther from the standard of perfection he thought she deserved.
He'd been incredibly prickly about it as of late, snapping at her when she asked innocently if he wanted seconds at dinner or if she might help out by replacing the belt he'd said he lost. It hadn't taken much thought to see the problem, especially after she found said belt wedged deep in the garbage one night, hidden with a sense of shame that had tears springing to her eyes.
Days were spent wracking her brain for some way to respectfully and appreciatively broach the issue they were both dancing around, but no good option presented itself. No matter how she tried to show him, Rum's acceptance that she wanted to be with him was tenuous at best, and so easily upset on the best of days with less potent weapons than a comment about his weight.
The most obvious option would be to show him physically, not verbally, but the man who had taken to wearing shame and unworthiness like a second skin had functionally closed off that method too.
After nearly a month of the same script every time they made love, Belle could almost cry.
They'd make their way to the bedroom, and no matter how light the mood not ten minutes before, unease would slowly etch itself into the lines of his face with every step. Once in, door closed, their lips would meet, hers direct and insistent, his distracted, with pressure too light as if waiting for the moment they needed to flee. That moment would come the minute her fingers reached for his jacket, or if he wasn't wearing one, began to undo the buttons of his shirt. He'd duck his head with a mumbled apology, limping for the light and plunging the room, and her hopes with it, into darkness. The irony was not lost on her that when they'd first started making love it had been she turning the lights off, ingrained modesty and years of upbringing forcing her hand. Returning to that life before bravery opened her eyes, returning to relying solely on hearing and touch, and barely the latter at that, had never been so disappointing.
And it wasn't as if having the light off meant everything returned to normal. Oh no.
Undressing was mechanical, and unfortunately an individual affair. Once she was bare and in place on the bed, he'd shimmy down between her legs, conveniently drawing back just outside of reach. Thought was difficult with his mouth, hot and oh so wet, on her pussy and his fingers making tight, insistent swirls against her upper wall, but after she came and he'd calmed her through it, disappointment would spring from the quiet entreaties that followed – please turn over, love, raise your hips, darling may I, oh god sweetheart you feel so…
He was always behind her now, making as little contact as possible and depriving her of any opportunity to return the favor of the roaming, squeezing, maddening touch that could work such miracles. Rum would knead her thighs and ass, her breasts (their favorite place, and such a cruel thing to waste) impossible unless he draped himself across her, as she hoped every night he might. Any plea for him to do so or vain attempt to coax him against her was met with a stuttering "Belle, I-I can't, I'm sorry," and likely as not would remind him anew of every way he felt he could not please her, and have him softening inside her before two minutes had passed. That was a dangerous spiral of performance anxiety she didn't want to come within miles of ever again.
So her breasts went untouched, though her own hands were pitiful in the shadow of the memory of his. Belle could hear his throaty moans, the hoarseness in his voice as he begged her, thanked her, but her hands were kept flat on the bed. The only cool silk they were allowed to feel was that of the sheets, not the skin she missed so desperately.
When he wasn't behind her, he had her on top, holding her cleanly and surely away from everything he was trying to hide. In the dark it was detached, lacking the touch that communicated so much. He'd catch her questing fingertips and bring them back to his shoulders or hips with a regretful kiss to the pad of her thumb, the only apology she'd ever get.
Riding him, alone and floating in the darkness, Belle considered everything she missed. He wouldn't lie on top of her or next to her, probably too afraid of letting her feel the stomach that had since grown into a belly, one that had overtaxed some of his smaller trousers (tossed uncharacteristically messily into the back of the closet, she'd noticed, larger sizes resignedly taking their place). Being pulled flush against him, feeling his weight distributed from her thighs to shoulders, the tight closeness of wrapping her arms under his to play across his back; all were sensations that were lost, their memory poor comfort. It was an ache, sitting just under her breastbone, the mourning of something that was still so very much alive if only he would make it so. She longed to suckle his nipples again, knowing how sensitive they were, feeling him writhe and moan under her relentless tongue. Touching his chest was out of the question now when he had his way, as if somehow the slightly fuller flesh of his pectorals would negate everything she felt.
It was for this reason she cherished the few times he'd been too distracted to catch her hands. She'd brought them down his thicker sides and to his belly, delighted by the softness of the flesh there and how much more of it there was. She wanted to kiss and lick from his nipples to his middle, pressing her nose and fingers to each wonderful inch and feeling it yield. The smattering of hair near his belly button would tickle her chin, and she'd lick all around his deepening navel, nibbling and sucking dark red signatures onto the pale canvas of his skin. She'd lower her lips to his cock and grip his thighs, meatier than the twigs he'd had before, seeing the curve of his belly rising in front of her. Her tongue would flit and flutter and lick and still she'd suck, hollowing her cheeks and feeling him giving in, happy and content and self-confident and sure that she loved and wanted him no matter what.
Belle came violently at the image, shuddering and grinding down onto him, bringing forth cries and hasty pleas of "oh fuck yes sweetheart, yes" from the man beneath her. Hanging almost limp, his cock still twitching and warm within her, she couldn't say she knew where those desires had come from, but she was beyond happy they'd made themselves known.
After that night, she became even more aware of it, all of it, and of her increasing desire to leave no doubt in his mind that she appreciated every inch. She'd never given much thought to her body preferences before, and even now she couldn't tell what had always been there and what was just the usual bottomless lust her husband inspired. Not only did the images fail to shock, but she eagerly returned to them again and again, elaborating and thinking of new scenarios to send her hurtling towards completion whenever they came together.
She wanted Rum to sit nearly in her lap, so she could encircle him from behind and lay her hands on his belly, feel the heft and weight of it, pressing her breasts into his back and sucking eagerly on his neck. From what she could discern through his clothes and from many hugs, it wouldn't be hard, a potbelly perhaps but not like that of a drunk. No her certainly approving fingers had felt it to be flatter, fleshier, more inclined to rolls than to stick out, though it certainly did that some too. One hand would rub and squeeze – and here the sudden rush of heat had her squeezing around his cock, leaving him breathless and gasping and begging her to fall with him – and the other would crawl to his nipples, plucking and rolling the little buds until his cock leaked against the very body he so hated. Then and only then would she take him in one hand, pumping tight and excruciatingly slow as she revealed how much she wanted him, would always want him. If he wanted to take her after that, it would be with the lights on, once she'd crawled to straddle his lap, face to face and everything revealed and touching between them.
Belle wanted him to enjoy his body, not just enjoy himself in spite of it. She wanted him to enjoy it as much as she did.
The thought never failed to make her come.
When two months had passed since she regained her memories and his self-esteem had only continued to plummet, plans seriously began to take shape.
The more she thought about it, the more Belle had realized the situation at hand was closer to a journey than a goal-oriented operation. One day wouldn't fix the problem, but it certainly required one night to begin the process. As long as it had taken to build up the complexes, it would take even longer to dismantle them and soothe the scars they left, like fertile earth slowly reclaiming the brutal tracks left by war machines. Belle needed him comfortable in his skin if he was ever going to be comfortable with the idea of her touching him again – or maybe it was the other way around? Either way, the matter remained that he was certainly neither at the moment.
She couldn't even remember the last time she'd seen him without clothes. For the weeks they'd shared before circumstances had conspired to keep them apart, they'd gotten changed in the room together; those mornings she awoke in his bed as charged as any night spent there. She'd admire his grace and the deftness that came of routine as he added every layer with expert care, each inch of skin she longed to taste disappearing beneath this world's fine black fabric.
Now though, he was always fully dressed by the time she left the shower. Armor locked and in place, she supposed it gave him a shred of comfort, however false. At night it was removed in the dark by his hands, the light only on when she was safely downstairs.
Tonight, that was going to change.
Her True Love stood in front of the bureau by the time she slipped inside the bedroom, gazing perfunctorily at the mirror propped above it. A dour expression deepened the lines scoring his brow and the crow's feet at the corners of his eyes, but for all the blackness clouding his features, his profile could still take her breath away.
Looking but choosing not to see, his hands jerkily stumbled through the motions of untying the double windsor at his throat. The jackets that had once celebrated his lean frame were looking smaller by the day, pulled tight across his torso and clinging like sausage casings to gradually thickening upper arms. Stealing behind him, she let her hands run down his arms slowly on the pretext of removing wrinkles, the flesh beneath the jacket soft and yielding. Unable to resist, she squeezed experimentally, a familiar heat igniting beneath her ribs.
Unperturbed, she ran her hands back up to his shoulders and around to his chest. Holding his widened eyes in the mirror, she unpicked what remained of the silk knot at his throat, looping thumb and index finger in a way that made his jaw clench. Awkwardly poised over his sternum, his hands followed suit. When her fingertips finished their work, she gently ghosted them over his chin and neck, teasing the softening jawline there with loving care. He had shaved this morning, Belle recalled, his skin still soft and mostly smooth, faintly smelling like the expensive cologne they'd picked out together. His pulse beat a wild tattoo under her fingertips.
Under her thumb, his adam's apple bobbed shakily. "Belle, what are oh-"
Replacing the pad of her finger with something infinitely softer, she placed a slow, wet kiss just above his starched collar. The skin under her lips tasted as divine as he smelled. Belle watched intoxicated for a moment as his mouth fell open, before returning to the reflection of his gaze.
I feel you. I see you. See me, seeing you. And you're wonderful. As if the thought might jump from her brain to his, she willed it so.
"You know I can't resist you." Doing her best to swallow any lingering modesty, she let her eyes rake over his reflection. It wasn't hard to let the appreciation show on her face. "Especially not like this."
As the Dark One, he had been a master of language. One wouldn't have known that at the moment, however, his mouth parting slightly as madeira colored eyes were riveted to her movements. In burgeoning desire, Belle hoped, and gently worked to remove the jacket from his surprisingly cooperative shoulders.
The loss of that barrier appeared to snap him from whatever trance he had fallen into. He almost seemed to draw further into himself, watching with a somewhat hunted expression as she laid the jacket on the dresser and returned to her post.
"Thank you, love," he said, his voice unsteady. He cleared his throat, and tried again. "But why don't you go pick the film. I'll just be a moment, yeah?"
In reality, Belle had had no intention of acting upon their supposed movie night when she suggested it. It merely gave her the opportunity she had been seeking, and to be honest, anticipating. Not wanting to spook him further, her fingers lazily traced their way back down his chest, stopping at the first of the waistcoat buttons. Small fingers popped it open, and then another, not missing the strain it was under or how eagerly it followed her slight direction.
Waistcoat now split limply to the sides, Belle took a moment to caress the line of cobalt buttons revealed underneath from collarbone to navel. The lower ones gapped ever so slightly as they pulled across the widest part of him, unnoticeable under the vest but quite obvious without it. Pausing there for a moment, her touch as light as a fairy's kiss, she couldn't help but marvel at the solidness, the reality of him, and she craved to pull him flush against her.
Gods above, they hadn't done this in so long.
Belatedly, her brain prompted that she should probably answer.
Fighting the urge to slip a fingertip between two of the fastenings, Belle purred conspiratorially, "I know, but I figure I can help. I haven't in a while, Rumple, and I've missed it."
With desire slowly suffusing and clouding her head, she was running out of ideas. What once had been guaranteed to drive him wild now only seemed to add to the tightness of his features, lips curling in something that was too pained to be a smile.
Pressing her breasts closer to his back, she nipped at his neck again. His eyes closed at the sensation for a moment, a soft intake of air meeting her ears. Taking it as maybe the first good sign, Belle started to chip away at the column of buttons, regrettably unable to kiss and focus on releasing the uppermost two at the same time. A little distracted by the delicious swathe of skin revealed, the tension trembling in his shoulders reminded her with a dull thud in her chest that this was supposed to be about him.
A tiny step backward was all it took to break the seal she had made between their bodies. It was also enough to clear the tunnel vision that had singularly guided her actions, no matter how good her intentions.
What was he fond of saying – right, that intent was meaningless. Never was it more true than looking at the love of her life with lips thinned into a grim line, eyes closed so as not to face the reality staring back at him in the mirror. In all her dreams, this wasn't how she envisioned her seduction happening. They always included his reciprocated desire, awoken once more by her eager touch and effusive praise, not the resigned and self-loathing tableau she had just moments ago inspired. Belle had no doubts that were she to lower her hand and slip it beneath his trousers, she would find him soft.
As much as she had hopes and naive fantasies of having her way with him until he no longer harbored such insecurities, life was more complicated than that. He had a say as well, and just because his fears weren't true, didn't mean she wanted to disregard the way he felt.
Ultimately, and it was so simple she could cry, it came down to honesty. There was no forcefully dragging him to conclusions he was too embarrassed to see. There was only her opening her heart and her body, and allowing him to see for himself, if he wished, in his own time. All she could do was be supportive and be honest, and whether or not he wanted to change things about their lives, support him there too.
Taking a moment to massage his tense shoulders, Belle gently motioned for him to turn. She met him halfway, so that they were parallel to the mirror and neither needed to look within it.
"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, and I'm sorry," she began simply.
He half-heartedly waved a hand, appearing more disheveled than she'd seen him in ages with a half-buttoned shirt and open waistcoat. "'Tis no matter."
"Thank you, but we both know that's not exactly true," she returned. Careful fingertips pushed back the strands of greying hair falling across his eyes, ending in a gentle caress to his cheek. "Rumpelstiltskin, there's no need to hide from me. If you'd let me, I'd like to make love tonight… and to keep the light on."
The grimace that had faded slightly at her caress twisted once more, but he didn't turn more than his head away. Amber eyes were locked on the floor. "I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with that. The light, that is."
The statement, obvious and expected, did not replace the unspoken truth stretching solid and humming between them. Still Belle wanted nothing more than to get it in the open, without the endless guessing game of putting words in his mouth. "Why not?"
His gaze flicked upward at that, whether more in surprise or growing annoyance, she could not ascertain. The slightest flash of his tongue came to quickly wet his lips. "Surely you've noticed, or else we wouldn't be talking. Please don't make me say it."
Though his voice was low, the current of distress lurking underneath was hard to miss. Deliberating how to avoid making him defensive, but maintaining the truth, she replied calmly, "I mean, yes, I've noticed that you've gained a few pounds–"
Her words cut off at his bark of laughter.
"A few? No, a few would have been fine. This," he gestured sharply to his stomach, a sneer pulling at his lip, "this is not a few, love."
Focusing on words was one of his coping mechanisms in conflict, and though he'd abandoned it with her recently, the issue clearly had him hurting enough to fall back on it. Knowing that sugarcoating wouldn't be appreciated, Belle sought his hands with her own and squeezed. Rum waited impatiently for an answer, but did not let go.
"Ok," she conceded quietly, "It's maybe more than a few. But, Rumple, I –"
"– How much do you think?"
Belle blinked. "What?"
Looking down at their hands, he grit out, "How much do you think I've gained?"
"I really don't know. Nor do I think it matters."
A sigh pried its way from her mouth. "I don't know…twenty?"
His lips moved, but she had to strain to hear the soft whisper. "More than that."
Raising his hands to her mouth, she bestowed a kiss to the back of both. His gaze, unreadable and closely guarded, followed her movements. Wanting him to speak further, she tried, "And what about that bothers you?"
When no answer was forthcoming, one glance at his face was enough for her to envision the excuses for why the conversation should end ricocheting in his brain. Still, as the seconds passed and he did not walk, Belle took heart in the knowledge that at least some part of him wanted to discuss the issue.
Hoping to give him a place to start and assuage one of his fears, Belle dove right into it. She cracked a small smile, trying to convey the sharing of their experience.
"Sweetheart, if this is about us, I am in no way bothered. It's a part of life. It happens to plenty of people, men and women – probably me too someday. It doesn't matter."
"You keep saying that, Belle. Of course it matters. It matters to me." He tugged his hands away, their agitated dance accompanying the strained rush of words.
Unable to argue with that, and a little worried that she was stumbling into the very trap she had foreseen weeks ago, she tried to keep his feelings and perspective foremost in her mind. Her mouth went dry, the discussion having gone much different than she intended. "Is that because of your own personal reasons or because you think it will change my attraction to you?"
"Both," he expelled in a huff, though the vitriol probably wasn't directed at her. "I'm already shocked you wanted me before. I've seen what happens when that changes. I'm not going to chain you to me and watch your desire shrivel up if I get heavier or…"
Trailing off, he clamped down on whatever he'd been about to say, his jaw nearly grinding with the effort.
Her heart breaking, Belle could guess at the words he'd struggled to keep inside. Weaker, older, the endless list of concepts she knew dogged his steps on his bad days. Those she couldn't do anything about, not yet, but this at least she could.
"Would you be surprised to know that maybe, I like you like this? That it, it," she fumbled for Lacey's vocabulary, still lodged in her brain and sounding funny on her tongue, "turns me on?"
Whatever he'd been about to say left him, his face going blank as he processed her words. Mouth opened in a silent oh, his eyebrows rose towards his hairline. He shook his head slowly.
"Well it does," she added, smiling sheepishly. In a bit of selfish relief, she couldn't deny it felt good to finally tell him.
After a moment or two passed, the surprise crumpled into a pensive, almost unhappy expression. His mouth opened in a few false starts, but Rum finally seemed to pluck the words he wanted from somewhere, albeit they came reluctantly. "Well, that is. Yes. I appreciate it, Belle… Really. I do."
It was his turn to reach for her, slowly cradling her face with a kind of sadness that had her unconsciously moving closer. Belle leaned into his touch, afraid that he had come to the exact wrong conclusion.
"But, love, only truth between us, remember?" He begged, swiping his thumb across her cheek and sending a proverbial spike through her heart. "If you're trying to spare me – don't, sweetheart. You're too good to me. I just want you to be happy, and with someone who is…"
"Who is what?"
He looked down, his hands retracting from her face. She caught them before they fell to his sides, cupping them between her own.
"Deserving of you."
Smiling sadly, she tried to pack everything she felt into the simple words, "Then it's a good thing I'm with you."
All vehemence long gone, Rum sighed, a gusty, exhausted rush of air that carried with it tales of more years than she'd ever know.
"I want to be, but I'm not, Belle. I'm old, and tired, and a coward. For centuries I've had almost everything under control. But now, even with magic here," he took a moment to breathe, and the words almost didn't come out, "things are getting away from me, no matter what I do. I try to keep you safe, and I can't. I try to know Bae, and I can't. And any action I take just seems to make it worse. All of it. My son, my grandson, the town, Regina… and now my own body, as if it didn't betray me enough before."
Acknowledging how difficult it was for him to say, and suddenly at a loss for words herself, all Belle could muster was a nod and a watery smile. This was something that deserved many long conversations, and no doubt they would have them. The unwilling, crippling loss of control had been eroding him from the inside out, and his weight had solidified itself in his mind as the very embodiment of it; personal reasons indeed. Stepping closer, she slipped her arms around him and hugged tightly.
"I am safe now, and knowing Bae will come with time. It isn't the end, and you haven't lost all control. You know you don't have to deal with everything alone anymore, we'll face it. Together."
His arms came around her, and though her head rested against his shoulder, she could feel the cautious hope. "Yeah?"
Belle couldn't be sure how long they embraced, simply enjoying the other's presence, but his breathing eventually returned to normal and his hands began to whisper gently against her back. Every so often, a kiss would press against her hair.
After some moments, he asked quietly, "Did you mean what you said? About liking it?"
"Absolutely. I will love you and want you at any size."
Smiling, she pulled away just enough to see his face. "Especially now."
A small answering grin quirked the corner of his mouth, but she could practically see his armor in pieces around him. His hands released her to slide up and down her arms, words hesitantly following. "I'm willing to reconsider the idea of the light."
He was raw and open, but it could be the best time to prove to him that nothing had changed between them. "Really?"
Belle could tell the moment he made his decision. The slight swallow. The breath drawn deeply in through his nose. A single nod. And then, a little shaky at first, he said, "Yeah. But, darling, just the one lamp."
"Thank you," she breathed. Maybe with its light, he might see.