A/N: Based on a prompt for the Rumbelle Secret Santa on Tumblr.
Her master rarely got drunk. She imagined he was not one to relish the loss of control, the lowering of inhibitions and carefully constructed protections, but when he did he really pulled all stops and he could be drinking for days before he stopped. She never could tell what had triggered him, and all she could do was wait for him to finally pass out somewhere, wrap him in a warm blanket and leave a bottle of his pain-relieving potion nearby for when he woke up. He never commented on those lost days of drinking, and she never mentioned them either. There was a fragility about him afterwards that made her feel protective, and she wondered if he ever noticed how she mothered him those days.
It was a chilly autumn night, right when she was about to plait her hair to sleep, when she heard a crash from the spinning room, followed by the sounds of glass shattering. Rumplestiltskin had begun drinking two days ago, so she had kept to safe parts of the castle, to give him space. But he was never violent when drunk. Closed-off, yes, angry surely, forbidding even, but never violent.
This time was different from those other time's he'd drunk, however. There was an extra layer of sadness and loneliness about him from what she'd glimpsed of him that unnerved her, set her on edge. She quickly grabbed her dark blue robe, tying it around her pale-gold nightgown tightly before venturing out of her room. Torches sprang to life as she walked along the corridors, the castle warming the stones under her feet, bare as they were. It liked her, Rumplestiltkin had once said, and so it gave her all the small comforts it could. The imp had gone as far as calling the Dark Castle "besotted".
The door to the spinning room opened quietly and Belle muttered a low "thank you" before quietly peeking inside. She immediately caught sight of broken glass near the windows. Clearly her mater had shattered them and replaced the glass, the remnants of the old one shimmering when the light of the two lit torches hit them. The Dark One was slumped against his wheel, a bottle in one hand and his hair obscuring his face. It was the first time Belle saw him without a vest, his deep blue shirt unbuttoned all the way, revealing more gold skin that he'd ever displayed before. He looked vulnerable and dangerous at the same time and for a second Belle wanted nothing more than to hurry back to the safety of her room and let the storm pass on its own.
When he heard him choke back a sob before giggling madly every thought about leaving him banished. She'd never seen such a lost soul before, so in need of comfort. She knocked on the door, even though it was open, before entering cautiously.
"Master," she shifted her gaze from him to the floor, trying not to step on any broken glass "Are you hurt? There's glass everywhere, you should not be sitting on the floor."
He didn't look up, merely laughing again, the sound harsh and bitter.
"It is not the place of pretty servants to order their masters about, dearie." he chided before taking a swig of whatever it was he was drinking.
"It was merely a suggestion, more for my sake than yours. I figure it'll be hard to clean blood off the rug. Humour me, master."
She approached him cautiously, grasping him by the arm before pushing him into a standing position, worrying when he sways precariously, dropping the now empty bottle of what she could smell was whiskey. With a little help from his unsteady legs she managed to sit him down on his chair by the big mahogany table he took all his meals on. His eyes were barely open, fighting hard to focus on her.
"Be a dear and get me a nice bottle of gin," he ushered her about with careless hand gestures that lacked his usual boundless energy, but she obeyed him nevertheless, pausing to remove her cumbersome robe because the heavy fire of the room was making her sweat. To deny him his drink when he was prone to smashing windows felt foolish. Being his cup bearer also gave her an excuse to stay beside him and make sure he didn't do himself injury, even though she didn't know if the Dark One could actually behurt. She didn't want him to be lonely either, not that night. Not like he was.
She made small talk to fill the silence, telling stories of her childhood that she thought might amuse him. She told him of the time Gaston had ran his sword through her father's newly-upholstered chair, about her father finding her devouring anatomy books at age six and even about the time she'd accidentally set a girl's dress on fire blowing her birthday candles.
"Oh, yes, birthdays, quaint little things," he giggled madly, looking for a moment like he couldn't stop "Today's my birthday. One more year of deal making, of being feared and despised and sitting in this room all by myself to spin straw into gold I'll never use! Splendid, isn't it? Such fun! So I thought I would celebrate it the proper way. Get completely sloshed!"
He laughed again, looking like he was crying at the same time. Belle had to fight back a sniffle of her own. As she had it understood the Dark One had existed for hundreds of years, and yet she had never before attempted to imagine how lonely such existence must have been. Suddenly all she wanted was to find a way to comfort him, to make him smile in a way that was not mocking just for once. She hopped off the table, trying to think of the best way to cheer him up, when she accidentally stepped on a shard of glass. The pain was sharp and immediate and she let out a pained yelp before hopping back on the table, afraid to cause herself further injury. She gingerly bent her left leg to take a look at her foot, but there was blood everywhere and her fingers slipped on the wet glass as she struggle to pull the shard out.
"No, no, my beauty," Rumplestiltskin's voice was low and smooth, a surprisingly calming croon "You've gone and hurt your pretty little foot," his clawed hands grasped said appendage, drawing it close to his face so he could examine it. Belle expected to feel a hint of panic and more than a bit of discomfort but, strangely, she felt safe "This might sting a bit, dearie."
He pulled the glass out quickly, his movements steady despite the drink and pressed the heel of one of his hands against the sole, producing a bit of purple mist before she felt the gash completely heeled.
"Thank you," she managed to stutter out, fighting the urge to blush and pant for some reason. There was something very intimate about the moment, and it probably had something to do with the way his hands kept caressing her foot and ankle "And I didn't… I didn't even get you a present," alone for hundreds of years, he needed a present, something offered with affection, something that symbolised someone cared for him, thought about him, took pains to bring him a bit of joy "Is there… Is there anything you want? Anything I could give you?"
He smiled, a wicked, sharp thing that was meant to scare her, she was sure.
"Careful with your overly-careless use of the word 'anything', m'beauty," he cautioned her in a sing-songy voice, shaking a finger in her direction "Besides, dearie, I get all I need from my deals." But his other hand still caressed her ankle, each finger stroking against her skin like it was the finest, smoothest silk. Another truth struck her suddenly: years without companionship, without affection, meant years without any sort of human contact, without the warmth of another person or any sort of comforting gesture at all.
What the Dark One needed above all things, what he couldn't get from any of his deals, was touch. Reassuring, gentle, willing touch.
Without giving herself time to think it over she scooted closer to her master, letting his hand glide up her calf till both her feet were planted on either side of his things on the seat. At first she simply let him do as he pleased, watching his eyes to catch the slightly awed look on his face when he found his tentative touches were not rebuffed or unwelcome He resembled a shy but curious child who wanted to play with a shiny toy but refused to believe it was his. His other hand, the one not occupied exploring the ridges of her knee, caught one of her hands and moved up her arm, hesitant but eager as it stroked her elbow and ran its talons across across the gentle slope of a shoulder. A contented little sound escaped his mouth when one of her hands pressed firmly against the golden skin of his exposed chest, stroking his collarbone till he all but purred.
"So soft…" he said, his voice dazed and slightly dreamy "So warm…" he inhaled deeply when she ran her other hand up his neck, her fingers tracing an earlobe carefully "So willing."
Without warning he pulled her off the table and into his arms, his face tilting to bury itself against the side of her throat, his nose pressing against the skin there before breathing in deeply. His arms became steel bands around her but Belle did not fight it, merely fought to remain soft and pliant, lifting a hand to caress his wild hair, almost petting him.
He wasn't going to hurt her. She didn't know how she knew it, but she was very sure. Her belief didn't waver when his hands started roaming her back or even when they snuck under her nightgown to stroke bare skin. Instead of fear she felt something else, something slowly coiling inside of her, like a simmering heat that promised nothing but good things, even if she didn't understand what those things were. When she felt him hesitate on her lower back she nuzzled his shoulder.
"It's okay, you can touch," she whispered, relieved when he did that, his fingers ghosting over the sides of her hips before delving into her thighs. She pressed them close, trapping his hands between them and Rumplestiltskin seemed content to cease his exploration there, making odd little noises of contentment against her collarbone.
After a while she felt his breathing even, his head coming to rest against the back of his chair as he fell asleep. It gave Belle enough time to pull herself together and find the strength to untangle herself from him, taking care not to step on any broken glass and to retrieve her robe before going back to her room, not before leaving him a pain-relieving potion.
Rumplestiltskin stirred sometime in the afternoon, and took the potion in front of him immediately, vowing never again to mix whiskey and gin. Even as the Dark One he was not completely immune to the consequences of bad drinking. It took an hour or so for his headache to leave him and for his hunger to prompt him to summon his caretaker, taking care to make himself presentable before he did so.
"Good afternoon," she greeted him, all smiles and pleasantness as she deposited a tray with his tea "How are you feeling today? You were in a bad shape yesterday."
He faintly remembered his little Belle serving him gin and talking to him for a while last night and he surmised he must have been worse than usual to worry her so.
"All's well that ends well, dearie," he replied flippantly, smirking as he poured his tea. He lifted the chipped cup to his lips but, before he could take a sip, Belle interrupted him.
"No wait, you can't take your tea without this!"
She set something round and small on the table in front of him, and it took him a while to understand what it was.
"I'm sorry it's so small but I couldn't find enough ingredients for something bigger. It's still good, I promise. I'm a rather decent baker."
The cake was, indeed, small, the size of a saucer, but beautifully decorated in vanilla cream that formed whimsical swirls and patterns. There was a candle on top, already lit and flickering. A golden candle, tiny and perfect, like the rest of the cake.
"I… Is this for me?"
Belle ducked her head to hide her smile.
"You were rather a chatty drunk last night and let slip your birthday was yesterday. Better late than never."
She looked so pleased, and so shy about her gesture, that he didn't have the heart to tell her this was his first cake ever, and his first gift in centuries. He blew out the candle, making it seem like he was humouring her, lest she see right through him and discover all his weaknesses.
"Do you want me to cut it or would you rather delve right in with a fork?" she asked, a knife in hand ready to slice his birthday gift. His hands cradled the confection protectively.
"No need, dearie, I'll just use the fork," he tried to make it seem like he was nonchalant about the whole thing "Now off you go do your duties. Good little caretakers do not dawdle about."
She giggled at his playful scolding before picking a rag and striding past him. On an impulse one of his hands closed around her wrist, and the contact sent a strange feeling of Deja Vu through him.
"Thank you for the cake, dearie." he muttered, not turning back to look at her. Later, when he sensed she was far away, he allowed himself to cast a charm on his pretty little snack, stopping time from ever affecting it. It would never grow stale, or mould or go bad. He would find it a good home amongst the treasures he kept on his chambers, the ones no one was allowed into, not even Belle.
And he'd never, ever eat it.