The castle was cold. Her bare feet froze as she walked across the hard, grey stone floor. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand and her bare arms break out with goosebumps. She wrapped her arms in front of her but continued walking until she reached the oversized room at the other end of the castle still lit by the fireplace, just as it had been nearly every night since he had brought her there. Until tonight she had never actually ventured inside at any hour such as this, not because she was afraid exactly...she had never been truly afraid of Rumplestilskin. But she had still never been able to work up the nerve to actually go to him in the night.

The door was closed. The door was always closed and yet she could always see so clearly the light that snuck out from all of the smallest cracks and edges. She knew that if someone were only to open it they would find a nice warm...

"Is there some reason you're wandering around my castle in the night like a ghost in only your nightdress?" The voice came from inside, interrupting her thoughts. He must have heard her at the door, but she couldn't figure out how he knew what she looked like at the current moment. Still, she took it as an invitation to come inside.

"I had a nightmare." Came her simple response. As if it were the most natural thing in the world to go alone through an enormous cold castle wearing almost nothing to seek out the dark demon everyone else usually had nightmares about to comfort her. That was Belle for you though. Rumplestilskin continued to spin his gold as he called out to her and watched her approach. She was barefooted and her nightdress was much too thin to be considered proper for a maiden to wear in any man's presence. To be fair, she certainly hadn't been in any control of her wardrobe since she'd become prisoner here. Still, he couldn't imagine that most young women such as her would permit someone such as him to see them thus. He tried hard to keep his eyes either on her face or, better yet, to his spindle. Was she not afraid of him at all?

"Can I sit with you for a while?" Her voice brought him back out of his thoughts of her and her too thin nightgown and he felt suddenly grateful to her. She pulled up a chair and sat next to the fire before he had even decided whether to respond.

"Is the castle frightening to you?" The dark one asked, trying to figure out what made her so desperate as to come to him in the middle of the night.

"No." She answered as she leaned back into the chair and smiled gently at him.

Rumple very nearly smiled back at that, but then quickly stopped himself. Why should he care if she's afraid or not? He felt his eyes wondering again down to her pale, smooth neckline and jerked his head back away from her, waving his hand in a purposefully absent minded looking gesture toward her and conjuring a blanket to cover her as she sat. He may be a monster, but he was no rapist and allowing himself to gaze at her pure, youthful beauty was causing him thoughts that made him feel more villainous than even he usually could put a claim to.

Strangely, she didn't react as though she was too surprised at having the heavy fur blanket suddenly appear to cover her. She ran her hand down along it, reveling in the luxurious feeling of the soft fur and of being so suddenly wrapped up and warm. The fire crackled beside her and she sat watching her master continue to spin. For a moment, she sat simply wrapped up and warm and in her own inner world and then, quite out of the blue from Rumplestilskin's standpoint, she began giggling.

"Are you going to let me in on the joke, Dearie?" He asked, a bit angry, as the only reason he assumed she could have for laughing would be by making fun of him.

Belle quieted down after a moment and smiled warmly at him. "It's just,'re the dark one who I've been told horror stories about ever since I can remember."

"Yes, well?" He prodded impatiently. What she had said so far was no surprise. He knew there were many legends and scary stories people told their children to get them to behave in the night about him. A good number of them were almost completely true. He had no doubt that Belle had heard a great number of disturbing recounts of his more insidious deals.

Belle giggled again a little, though she was trying hard to stifle the laugh. "My whole childhood I had nightmares about you and all the evil that could befall anyone who crosses your path and now..."

"You've realized that they were all true?" Rumple finished for her in a tone that held a strange mixture of pride, worry, and sarcasm. He almost stopped spinning for a moment, he paused at least, but then appeared to think the better of it and continued on.

"No! No! Not at all. I mean, when I didn't know you, you used to cause my nightmares and now here I am in the Dark Castle, seeking you out in the middle of the night after having one."

At this, he did stop spinning and turned to her, giving her and her now mercifully covered little body his full attention. His first instinct was to be angry. So, was she saying that he didn't live up to his name? He didn't want it getting around that he was somehow soft. But then, he had no intentions of allowing her off the castle grounds except in a wooden coffin anyways. Maybe he had been too easy on her. Maybe he should have kept her in the dungeon where he first had placed her...maybe... he felt her gaze on him and met her kind brown eyes. There was such hope and innocence there. No, no he didn't need be any harsher. She hadn't been challenging him. She had meant it as a compliment. The realization threw him more than a little and he felt like his universe shifted slightly from however it had been before. He didn't frighten her. She had actually sought out his presence for comfort.

The last time anyone had done that was before Bae had been lost.

He couldn't allow himself to even try to process the implications of the idea that she saw him as anything but an ugly, menacing master. He had to distract himself before she saw his emotions behind his carefully set facial features. He knew she could do it if she wanted. She had before.

"And what is troubling my dear caretaker's thoughts into night terrors?" He asked instead of risking allowing her to read into his thoughts. Besides, he didn't like the idea that she was frightened and alone in her isolated room in the night...especially if he wasn't the one causing it. She was his, dammit. He owned her. Physically, mentally, and in every other way according to his contract. He owned her and no one else should posess the power to influence whatever it was she dreamed of.

The brunette blushed a little at the question and re-situated herself under the fur blanket. "You met Gaston when you came to my father."

"Oh, yes. You dream of me pulling you away from the hircismus fice. I'm sure you just miss him terribly." The old man grimaced out. What Belle didn't know was that day hadn't been the first time he'd laid eyes on Gaston. In fact, he had once seen him running away from a tavern in the countryside a few hours away from Belle's estate. Had it been two or three years ago? The dark one couldn't remember exactly. He had left the mother of a young, pretty maiden screaming for Rumplestilskin, begging him to exact revenge for her daughter's stolen innocence. At the time she'd had nothing he wanted, but he had remembered the name, seeing as he always had a genuine disgust for men who forced themselves on maidens as, unfortunately, so commonly happened. When he noticed him there in the room with Belle and her father that day, he had felt no guilt at the idea of taking the young bride to be from him. What she didn't know was that he had probably saved her from quite a miserable type of marriage.

Then he heard it. The giggling again. He looked up at her in surprise.

"Yes, I always thought he smelled unwashed as well."

"You understood that, Dearie?" He hadn't expected her to follow his extensive vocabulary. After all, he had been around for a considerable amount longer than her to pick things up.

She nodded, still laughing a little and smiling at him. "My dream had nothing to do with being pulled away from him though, I assure you. Quite the opposite, in fact."

"Pray tell, then. What managed to disturb my young caretaker so much that you felt the need to walk around alone in my castle in the night in order to find a demon to comfort you?"

A mixture of emotions passed through Belle's face. For a moment she debated whether or not it appropriate to tell him. He was her employer now and he had a temper that was literally the stuff of legend. On the other hand, it wasn't as if he had any personal interest in her love life, despite what everyone thought when he had made her his bargaining price.

"Gaston and I were to have an...arranged marriage. I didn't love him."

Rumple visibly perked up a little at the new information. Frankly, he was relieved. Love was not something he had the power to change and, for her sake, he really thought it all the better that she be separated from the sorry excuse of a man. From everything that he had learned about her from her simple presence in his home, he honestly thought she deserved better. He waited for her to finish explaining, but she never did. Instead, she turned her head to stare at the fire and tugged at the fur a little more, almost hugging it to her. Something was wrong. He didn't like it.

"What happened in your dream, Belle?" He knew that the use of her actual name would get her attention and he was right.

"Let's just say he wasn't much of a gentlemen in real life. In my dream I had to go through with the marriage. I just didn't want to go back to sleep alone before I saw you and had proof that it wasn't really happening."

The dark one didn't know what to say to that, so instead he simply conjured about the tea set that he let her toil about fixing the old fashioned way everyday and handed her a cup.

She thanked him and took a sip without thinking, but then looked down at it in surprise when she realized that it had been fixed with honey and cream as well in the exact proportions she liked. How did he know that?

"Attention to detail is one of my strong suites, dearie." He responded to the unasked question. "I wouldn't concern yourself about your would be suitor. From now on I'll be the only monster you have to worry about...and there are some things even I wouldn't do."

"You're not a monster."

This time it was Rumple's turn to giggle. "Yes, a regular prince charming." Sarcasm practically oozed from his tone as he drank from his own cup, taking special care not to cut himself on the chipped edge.

The beauty sighed and took another sip of her impeccably prepared tea, still smiling kindly at her captor. "Well, I see good in you, even if you do not." As far as she was concerned the very fact that she was sitting there covered in fur, drinking hot tea, and speaking with the Dark One so casually was proof of this. He couldn't be all bad...yes, he had thrown her into a dungeon in the beginning. It had been dark and cold and horrid. But what really tipped her off into believing as she did wasn't anything he had done, but what he hadn't done to her.

She continued to simply relax in front of the fire, sipping her tea and realizing slowly that the small cup never seemed to empty or grow cold. It didn't take too long for her to succumb to sleep right where she sat. It amazed him, the trust she showed. He grinned, despite himself, and walked over to her sleeping form. She really was a beauty. Her long, silky brown hair hung in curls mostly under the fur, but a few strands hung over her brow. He wasn't planning on touching her, but before he even knew he was doing it, his hand had found his way to it, brushing it aside and lingering to caress her soft pale cheek. Why was she so pale? It looked lovely on her, but he began to worry that she didn't get enough sunlight and he knew if she didn't it was his fault. She really did need to get out more... maybe he could enchant the garden for her to work in? She would like that...he could picture her walking out along the maze of rose bushes and fountains and smiled at the idea. She could take her books fromm the library and there were plenty of places he could make her a good reading place.

Her hair was so silky, he noted as he felt it, unable to help himself. He gently pulled a long curly lock from under the fur and ran his fingers down the length of it. He shouldn't be touching her at all. He shouldn't think of her as anything but another pretty thing...a trinket he won in a deal. But all he knew was that she was so, so much more, despite his every effort to repress those sort of ideas. After all, a beauty like her couldn't possibly have any interest in a beast like him. She needed to get to bed. He should have used his magic to get her there. After all he had no need to touch her, yet the idea of doing so appealed to him much more than simply using magic. Gentle, quiet, careful...he had been none of these things for so long until he was all of them with her in his arms. An old monster carrying his maid like a young husband would his bride to their wedding chamber. Except she could never feel for him that way and he could never demand her to come to him like that against her will. No, he was simply an old monster, after all, not a bastard- or, at least, not in the same way as her ex-beau anyway.

He drew the covers back to her bed, laying her sleeping body down and tucking her in as if she were a child. She still was in some ways. She was so innocent. She truly thought there was good in him. He chuckled sadly. If only it could be so simple. Black and white and the whole world so straight forward as a children's tale. He stood and watched over her as she slept for hours before finally leaving her at the arrival of dawn.

The next day she asked if she could know him, since she wasn't allowed to ever know anyone else in her whole life. Gaston, the fiend actually came barging at the door as if to rescue his beauty from him. The dark one could only stand the sight of the excuse for a man for a split moment, however, as the unwelcome thought of what Gaston would have done to Belle flashed through his mind. In a flash it was gone, along with the would-be culprit, a single perfect red rose taking his place. Belle loved it. She smiled in that unsettling way she was getting more and more prone to around him that made him feel as though he could push himself to do better, despite having no previous desires to. He sent her to the market.