A fire burned cozily in the small office of the library, warming the two occupants of the room. Wind gusted wildly beyond the walls of the library, but inside of the building it was silent but for the crackling of the fire and sweet, melodic sound of Belle's voice as she read from a book nestled on her lap while Ruby lounged on the rug, listening, completely enthralled by both the story and the reader.
"And as the first stars came out Coraline finally allowed herself to drift into sleep, while the gentle upstairs music of the mouse circus spilled out onto the warm evening air, telling the world that the summer was almost over," Belle finished softly, closing the book with a satisfying finality as a large smile spread across Ruby's face.
"I liked that one," Ruby breathed out, content and relaxed as she lifted her arms over her head and stretched luxuriously, like a predator that had just woken from slumber and was readying itself to start prowling again.
"Unlike all the other ones," Belle teased gently, her eyes twinkling mischievously.
Ruby's eyes widened and her body tensed at Belle's words, her lips parting to issue a denial a second later. However, as her eyes anxiously scanned Belle's face, the playful way Belle's eyes were shining finally registered with her, and Ruby smiled and relaxed.
"I liked those ones too. I loved them," Ruby breathed out. "But there's just something about sitting on a rug, listening to a story in front of a fire on a snowy afternoon that's … especially pleasing," Ruby continued softly, an increasingly large smile stretching across her lips as she spoke, too happy and content at that moment to stop it from showing on her face.
"Especially?" Belle repeated cutely, lifting an auburn eyebrow at her companion.
"What?" Ruby asked; her voice lowering and her eyes narrowing as she mock glared at Belle. "I know I've got a hard head," she continued, eyes sparkling playfully despite her serious tone, "but even I was bound to expand my vocabulary with you reading to me so much."
"Your head is perfect," Belle replied firmly, "And I'm not complaining," she added, her voice gentling as she met Ruby's eyes. "Or poking fun," she said sincerely. "I liked it, your choice of words. It was very … whimsical. I like you when you're whimsical."
"Unlike all the other times," Ruby replied, and Belle shook her head at Ruby, pretending to be annoyed by having her previous words used against her, but she wasn't able to stop herself from smiling, which made her chastising head shaking less than convincing.
"What time is it?" Ruby asked as Belle rose from the chair she'd been seated on and proceeded to stretch muscles that had grown stiff as she read to Ruby.
Belle craned her head to the side to see the clock, and Ruby admired the elegant line of her neck and the unconscious grace of her movements. Belle was so gentle, so charming and delicate. She was a woman in full, and though Ruby told herself that she shouldn't, she often found herself watching Belle in a state of stupefied awe; not quite able to believe that something so exquisite could be real or could care for her.
"Just past four," Belle breathed out, sounding more than a little surprised as she turned back to face Ruby. "We've wiled away almost the entire afternoon," Belle exclaimed, baffled by how such a thing could be possible but pleased by it nonetheless.
She had come by the library after the lunch rush with a care package for Belle. It had been snowing all morning, but the snow had really started to come down around noon and Ruby knew that it would chase most people indoors. Belle hadn't been by the diner for lunch and Ruby guessed that she had gotten caught up in a book, completely losing track of time, space, and everything except for the pages in front her. Normally, Ruby wouldn't have worried about this, but with the storm starting up she didn't want Belle to end up going hungry when she snapped out of her fiction induced haze and realized that the weather was too fearsome to dare braving.
So, Ruby had packed up a little picnic basket for Belle, filled a very large thermos with Granny's special Peppermint Hot Chocolate, and made her way over to the library to provide Belle with provisions for the afternoon – and evening, if need be.
Belle had nearly been driven to tears when Ruby explained why she was there, and after drawing Ruby into a tight hug that made Ruby's heartbeat double and her cheeks flush red, Belle had invited Ruby to stay for a mug of hot chocolate and Ruby hadn't wanted to refuse the offer, so she didn't.
Quite contently, Ruby had settled herself in front of the fireplace on the ridiculously comfortable shag rug in Belle's office and accepted a steaming mug of hot chocolate from Belle, and then Belle had collapsed into a comfy nearby armchair and smiled impishly at Ruby as she picked up a book and shyly – but hopefully – inquired if Ruby would like to hear a story.
Ruby, of course, had immediately agreed, and the rest, as they say, was history.
"I haven't gotten you in trouble, have I?" Belle asked, her eyes widening a fraction as she gazed at Ruby, it suddenly occurring to her that she'd kept Ruby from the diner – from her job – for hours.
"Not today," Ruby said easily, her easy tone and relaxed manner immediately soothing Belle's worries. "Things were slow today with the weather and all, so when I told Gran I was coming over here to drop some food off for you, she told me I could have the rest of the afternoon off."
"That was nice of her," Belle commented softly, thinking that she would have to give Granny a nice big hug the next time she saw her for providing her with the pleasure of Ruby's company that afternoon.
"Yeah," Ruby breathed out smiling. "She's a good cub, that one," she drawled, and Belle grinned at her and then laughed.
"I think being out of Granny's earshot is making this wolf feel a bit too big and bad," Belle teased, knowing that there was no way Ruby would have called Granny a cub if the woman had been within earshot.
"I'm not scared of her," Ruby declared huffily, meeting Belle's eyes in the most adorably defiant way.
Belle's lips curved up in a gentle, but completely unconvinced smiled, and Ruby sighed softly and looked towards the office door warily, almost as if she expected Granny to jump through it and march into the room shaking her finger at her before grabbing her by the ear and dragging her out.
"Is this the part where you ask me to swear that I'll never tell anyone, especially Granny, that you called her a cub?" Belle asked knowingly when Ruby looked back at her, her beautiful blue eyes a little wider and a little more panicked than they had been before she'd looked at the door.
"Yes," Ruby replied seriously as she nodded her head, though a smile began to creep onto her lips. "With a side of, 'please, please, please'," Ruby added, clasping her hands together in front of her as she turned a pair of comically pleading eyes on Belle.
"Don't give me that face," Belle complained, laughing softly as she turned her head away from Ruby.
Sometime during Ruby's first full moon cycle after magic had returned to Storybrooke, Ruby had realized that Belle had a hard time resisting her when she looked into Belle's eyes very earnestly, and ever since Ruby had been unfairly influencing Belle by turning her big, beautiful doe-like eyes on her.
"Pretty please," Ruby breathed out, scooting on the floor a little so that she was once again within Belle's line of sight. "With cherries, and strawberries, and blueberries and … uh, acai berries and all the rest of the 'ries' on top?"
"Stop," Belle started to complain, drawing the word out pathetically because she could feel herself succumbing to Ruby's supernatural cuteness, and then she made the mistake of looking directly at Ruby and she knew she had lost. "Unfair," Belle accused a few seconds later, though a gentle smile soon touch her lips as she gave into the heart-warming effects of Ruby's stupidly adorable face.
Ruby shrugged and smiled at her, then stared at Belle, waiting.
"You actually want to hear me say it?" Belle asked surprised, though there was more than a touch of amusement in her voice as well.
Ruby smiled and nodded.
"Oh, very well then," Belle sighed, even as a little smile tugged up the corner of her lips. "I, Isabelle French …"
"Isabelle?" Ruby interjected excitedly, gazing over at Belle curiously. "Really? I mean I guess it makes sense, I just never really thought about it, you know? You're just … you've just always been Belle, but Isabelle … I like it," Ruby breathed out, unconsciously nodding her head approvingly. "Sorry," she continued, suddenly looking embarrassed. "Please continue."
"Why thank you," Belle said dryly, and Ruby blushed though she also continued to smile. "As I was saying … I, Isabelle French, do hereby solemnly swear to keep your confidence in regards to statements made by you, Ruby 'Please, please, please' Lucas, about Granny Lucas – and the similarities she bares to young wolflings – at approximately 4:05 p.m., on the 12th of December, in the year of our Lord 2012."
Ruby watched Belle with an inscrutable expression on her face for a few seconds, and then she tilted her head to the side and smiled cheekily before murmuring, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," which made Belle smile and then throw a nearby pillow at her.
Ruby caught the pillow easily and hugged it to her chest, and Belle shook her head at Ruby before she gave up on pretending not to be charmed by Ruby and gracefully lowered herself onto the floor beside the raven-haired beauty.
"What is it?" Belle asked a few moments later, having noticed Ruby staring off into the distance, seemingly concentrating on nothing. She'd seen Ruby like this before, and she knew that she was listening with her wolf ears.
"The streets are quiet," Ruby said softly. "The snow chased everyone inside."
"You don't hear anyone at all?" Belle asked as she shifted closer to Ruby, looping her arms through Ruby's as she leaned against the raven-haired woman's side.
"Nothing but the wind," Ruby sighed, her eyelashes fluttering lightly and her heartbeat increasing as she breathed in Belle's scent. A warm, pleasant tingling traveled through her body as she breathed Belle in, and Ruby had to consciously stop herself from moaning in ecstasy and burying her nose in Belle's hair.
"How bad do you think it is out there?" Belle asked curiously.
"Only one way to find out," Ruby replied smiling before she gently disentangled herself from Belle and rose to her feet.
She enjoyed being so close to Belle, too much so really, and she figured that putting some distance between them would be for the best.
"Are you ready to meet your destiny?" Ruby asked dramatically, sticking her hand down in front of Belle.
"I was born ready," Belle replied, sounding like one of the fearless heroes from the adventure stories she liked to read.
"Then let us go bravely forth and discover what fate has been woven for us on the loom of time," Ruby said as she took hold of Belle's hand and helped her to her feet.
"Nice turn of phrase," Belle praised, smiling over at Ruby. "If you wrote a book, I'd read it," she continued, and Ruby blushed a little as they began to walk towards the office door.
"What would I write a book about?" Ruby said softly, as they made their way into the stacks.
"You live in a magical town and turn into a great big wolf. Write about what happened on Sunday," Belle replied, nudging Ruby with her elbow playfully, and Ruby chuckled and gazed at Belle fondly until she began to worry that Belle might see too much in her eyes and turned away from her.
"All I do when I'm a great big wolf is run around the woods like a puppy after a bowl of Red Bull and then come here and follow you around for a while before falling asleep on your feet. Which is nice," Ruby sighed happily, "but I don't think it would be the most exciting story ever."
"You've helped Emma and David out with detective stuff before haven't you? You helped them find me. Using that inside knowledge of the world of law enforcement you could … I don't know, write about being a Private Eye named Red … who, in a quirky little twist, is both the heroine and her trusty side-kick," Belle replied, smirking playfully when Ruby turned to look at her and then narrowed her eyes menacingly.
"Only having to pay one salary would help keep down her costs. Red would be able to offer much more reasonable rates than the competition," Belle offered impishly, shrugging when Ruby huffed at her, and then smiling when Ruby pointedly angled her face away.
When they neared the library's front door, Ruby gallantly pulled ahead of Belle. If the snow had been coming down at the rate it was when Ruby left the diner then hours before then a respectable amount would have fallen and opening the door would likely require some muscle. If the snow had started coming down even heavier since she'd entered the library, well, then the door was definitely going to require a little muscle.
"Do you want some help?" Belle asked as Ruby reached the door.
"I got it," Ruby said confidently before bracing her shoulder against the door and reaching for the door knob.
Ruby turned the knob and then leaned into the door, using the weight of her body to help muscle the door open. She wasn't as strong in her human form as she was when she was a wolf, but she was still much stronger than your average human, and even so getting the library open was a challenge for her. A rather large snow drift had formed outside of the door, and Ruby had to fight against the knee-high, tightly packed powder to get the door to open.
"Whoa!" Ruby exclaimed, rearing back when she finally managed to get the door open enough to see outside.
"What is it?" Belle asked curiously, wrapping her arms around herself as cold air blew into the library and began to make her shiver.
"Come look," Ruby told her, beckoning Belle over to her with her hand.
Ruby stepped back when Belle approached her, giving her access to the door so that Belle wouldn't have to try and look over or around her.
"Oh wow," Belle gasped, shivering but mesmerized as she gazed out at Storybrooke.
"Cool, huh?" Ruby asked grinning as they both gazed out of the door.
The storm was still going, much harder than it had been a few hours earlier when Ruby had made her way to the library. Ruby could see a little more than Belle could thanks to her wolf eyes, but even she couldn't see very much. The entire town was a swirling porcelain blanket, entirely whited out by gusting snow.
"I've only read about snow storms like this," Belle breathed out smiling, even as her teeth chattered.
"I've seen some this bad before, but not often," Ruby murmured. "Welcome to Maine," she teased, grinning over at Belle.
As she gazed at Belle, Ruby could see the effect the cold was having on Belle, and she knew what she wanted to do to help. She wanted to wrap her arms around Belle and warm the other woman with her body. She ran a higher body temperature than regular people did, and her body heat would definitely combat the effects of the open door. But, Ruby held herself still, worried that she'd be overstepping her bounds. However, when a particularly violent shudder worked its way through Belle's thin frame, Ruby threw her concerns to the wind and wrapped one of her arms around Belle from behind while she reached out with her other arm to pull the door closed.
To Ruby's delight Belle turned into Ruby's body, seeking out her warmth, and when the door was finally shut Ruby wrapped her another arm around Belle, and sighed softly she held Belle against her tightly, reveling in the feel of Belle's body flush against her own.
"Thanks," Belle murmured into Ruby's chest a short while later as the shivers running through her body finally began to calm. "It was beautiful, but it seems I'm not exactly built for the cold."
"It's my pleasure," Ruby breathed out, meaning it more than Belle could possibly know. "But you probably want to get back in front of the fire, huh?" she continued as she ran her hands up and down Belle's back, unable to force herself to pull back from Belle just yet, despite the fact that she knew they should head back to the warm office.
"Yeah," Belle breathed out, trying not to sound as reluctant as she felt about leaving Ruby's arms. "But … could we just stay like this for a bit longer. I'm still a bit …." A shiver ran through Belle's body before she could finish speaking, and Ruby's arms flexed, tightening around her just a bit more.
"Of course," Ruby said immediately, completely happy to stay just as they were for as long as Belle wanted, "just say when," she breathed out, hoping that Belle wouldn't say 'when' for a while.
"When what?" Belle asked curiously, her eyebrows scrunching in confusion as she tried to decipher Ruby's words.
Ruby's body vibrated against Belle's as she chuckled softly and Belle had to fight to stop herself from nuzzling further into Ruby.
"When you're ready to go back to the office," Ruby explained gently a second later.
"Oh," Belle breathed out thoughtfully, "Okay," she continued, and then she rested her head on Ruby's shoulder and continued to hold onto the raven-haired woman, not planning on saying 'when' anytime soon.
When they finally made their way back to Belle's office, Ruby immediately walked over to the large thermos she'd brought over from Granny's and poured two big mugs of steaming peppermint hot chocolate for them before she joined Belle on the rug.
"If you're still even a little bit cold, this'll get rid of it," Ruby promised as she passed one of the mugs over to Belle, who accepted it with a grateful smile, immediately wrapping both of her hands around it and sighing softly as the warmth from the mug seeped into her.
"Thank you," Belle breathed out, smiling gently. "But for the record, you were more than enough to chase the shivers away."
A smile that was probably way too large spread across Ruby's lips in response to Belle's words, and conscious of the fact that she was grinning much too widely, Ruby dipped her head down shyly before murmuring, "Well, I'm glad I was able to be of service."
Belle watched Ruby carefully as the raven-haired woman bashfully brought her mug of hot chocolate up to her lips and took a sip. There was something she wanted to ask Ruby, but she wasn't sure whether it would be a good idea or not. She'd been forced to say 'when' eventually as Ruby had held her by the main door to the library, but Belle hadn't been at all happy about it and she desperately wanted to rectify the situation. She hesitated to speak however, because Ruby had been so kind and so considerate all afternoon, bringing her food and hot chocolate, listening to her read and holding her to warm her up. It seemed to Belle that it might be a bit ungracious of her to ask Ruby for more after all that she had already done for her.
"What is it?" Ruby asked softly, breaking the thoughtful spell Belle had fallen under as she had sipped her hot chocolate.
"Nothing," Belle breathed out, waving her hand in front of her dismissively. "My mind just drifted away for a moment, that's all," she continued, smiling over at Ruby.
"Drifted where?" Ruby inquired gently, knowing that Belle wasn't telling her everything. The smile Belle had just given her was as bright and sweet as ever, but the light didn't reach her eyes. Belle was putting on a brave face, but there was something on her mind.
A virtual avalanche of little fibs she could tell Ruby to distract her flooded Belle's mind, but the truth refused to be ignored. Like a mighty evergreen, The Truth stood tall and strong, riding out of the onslaught until only it remained. The fact was that even though it made her nervous, Belle wanted to tell Ruby the truth. She wanted to be honest with Ruby, and though the prospect of it scared her a little, she would be.
"I …" Belle began looking over at Ruby and meeting her piercing blue eyes for a moment before looking away, "I was thinking about before … well, just now … by the door," Belle continued looking down at her lap, too nervous to face Ruby as she revealed her desires. "It was just … really nice … to be held," Belle breathed out, her last few words coming out no louder than a whisper. "After all of that time alone … I adjusted you know, I got used to a lack of human companionship and touch, but just now …" Belle gave a little shrug and her lips curved up a little at the corners, though she still kept her eyes averted, "being so close to you. It was nice."
Ruby's eyes stung as she gazed at Belle, her heart aching for the other woman. Belle was so kind and sweet, so helpful and good-natured. It pained Ruby to think of such a pure soul suffering the cruelties that Belle had endured. Yet, Ruby's heart also swelled with love and admiration for Belle, because Belle had never allowed the suffering and betrayal she had faced at the hands of others taint her. Despite all the badness she was exposed to, Belle remained good, and pure and wonderful. Belle read about pirate queens and amazons and adventurers, but Ruby thought that Belle was braver than all of the fictional characters she read about combined. Belle was a real life hero.
"Let's do it again," Ruby said, smiling when the sound of her voice drew Belle's eyes up and over to her.
"What?" Belle asked, though Ruby could tell Belle had some idea what she was talking about because a spark came into Belle's eyes again and her lips curved up slightly.
In response to Belle's question, Ruby simply scooted back a little so that her back was resting against the side of Belle's desk and then she opened her arms wide, inviting Belle to return to her arms.
"You don't have to," Belle said, shaking her head a little at Ruby, though the full smile that was painted across her lips showed how much the idea of being wrapped up in Ruby's arms again appealed to her.
"I want to," Ruby said earnestly. "Besides, it's pretty much a law in Storybrooke that snow storms are to be ridden out snuggling under a blanket. It's like a civic duty basically, and since there's only one blanket," Ruby said, her eyes drifting over to the wool blanket draped over the back of the armchair Belle had been seated on for the better part of the afternoon. "We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to Storybrooke to huddle under it together."
"Owe it to Storybrooke?" Belle questioned as she laughed.
Ruby nodded seriously. "If we're banished from town because of our willful disregard for town custom, no one will ever again be able to order Ruby's Special Scrambled Eggs, not to mention the countless opportunities for knowledge and adventure that would be lost to the citizens of Storybrooke if the library were to close again. We just can't do that people. We can't be that selfish," Ruby declared gravely, managing to keep to the solemn look on her face for five whole seconds before she gave in and returned the smile Belle was directing at her. "Come on," Ruby encouraged gently a few moments later, opening her arms up again. "You're gonna damage my self-esteem if you refuse."
"Well," Belle said demurely, dipping her head down, "if you insist…"
"I do. I insist," Ruby replied eagerly. "Soon I'll demand, and if that doesn't work then I'll have no choice but to cry," she continued pouting in an exaggerated way which made Belle laugh.
"You fight dirty," Belle declared, narrowing her eyes at Ruby, though from her tone and the expression in her eyes it was clear that she was as charmed as ever by Ruby.
"Hey, a wolf's gotta go what a wolf's gotta do," Ruby replied shrugging.
"You're lucky I don't have a pillow to throw at you," Belle told Ruby, pointing a finger at her.
The pillow she'd thrown at Ruby earlier was on the other side of the room.
"You could throw a book," Ruby suggested, laughing a second later when an absolutely aghast look came onto Belle's face.
"Barbarian," Belle breathed out, picking up the book closest to her and then hugging it to her chest protectively.
Ruby grinned at Belle and then growled lowly.
"Honestly," Belle breathed out, shaking her head at Ruby though she was smiling. "Sometimes you're worse than the elementary school kids," she continued as she rose to her feet and moved over to the armchair to retrieve the blanket draped over it.
"I'll make it up to you with hugs," Ruby promised as Belle picked up the blanket and headed back towards her.
"Yeah you will," Belle said firmly, holding Ruby's eyes seriously for a few seconds before her lips curved up into a playful grin.
Ruby obediently opened her arms again, and Belle lowered herself to the ground in front of Ruby and shuffled back until she was seated between Ruby's legs, her back resting against the front of Ruby's body. Once Belle was settled, Ruby reached around her and took the blanket from her hands so that she could arrange it over Belle, then she snaked her arms around Belle, drawing a content sigh from the other woman as she embraced her from behind.
"Good?" Ruby asked as Belle melted against her, instinctively snuggling into the warmth of her body.
"Hmm," Belle purred happily, the sound sending a wave of tingling heat through Ruby's entire body. "Thank you," she added a moment later, her voice whisper soft as she covered Ruby's hands with her own where they rested on her stomach under the blanket.
"Anytime," Ruby breathed out softly, meaning it with every fiber of her being.
"So what do we do now?" Belle asked.
"What?" Ruby asked hazily, her brain still mostly focused on how nice it felt to be wrapped around Belle.
"Well, we're snuggled under a blanket now which means that Storybrooke is safe from the scrambled-eggs-less, library-less nightmare world you describe earlier," Belle began, smiling when she felt Ruby's body vibrate as she laughed softly, "so what comes next?"
Ruby's mind was immediately flooded with highly graphic ideas about what she'd like to come next. Thoughts of kissing Belle's sweet lips inundated her mind. Images of her fingers teasing their way up Belle's pale thighs assaulted her. She saw herself laying Belle out on the rug and covering Belle's body with her own. She could practically hear the soft sounds that would escape from Belle as her lips and hands glided over her body.
"Uh…" Ruby said, desperately trying to focus her thoughts on something other than the pay channel visions that were flashing through her brain. "Twenty questions?" Ruby suggested a few seconds later, grasping at the first PG idea that popped into her head.
"What's that?" Belle asked curiously.
"It's a spoken word game," Ruby explained, relaxing now that her brain was cooperating with her again. "Basically, one player – often called 'the oracle' – thinks of object and the other player – the analyst – has to guess what the object is by asking no more than twenty questions that can be answered with a yes or a no."
"Oh," Belle breathed out, a large smile touching her lips. "I like the sound of that."
"I thought you might," Ruby replied, nudging Belle teasingly under the blanket. "So do you want to be the analyst or the oracle?"
"Analyst," Belle replied immediately.
"Okay," Ruby responded laughing a little. She knew Belle was going to say that. Belle could never resist solving a puzzle. "Now, all I have to do is think of a … okay, I've got it!" Ruby said, quickly settling on a word. "Now, because I'm a benevolent oracle," Ruby continued, smiling a when Belle chuckled, "I'm going to tell you that my object is a 'thing'."
"Thank you," Belle said, angling her head to the side so that she could see Ruby's face.
"You're welcome," Ruby replied grinning. "Now, what's your first question?"
"Is your object an animal?" Belle asked, shifting in Ruby's arms a little so that she could rest her head on Ruby's shoulder.
"Yes," Ruby replied, trying very hard to control the urge to grin like a madwoman as Belle snuggled against her.
"Is the animal something people typically keep as a pet?" Belle asked.
"No," Ruby replied, leaning back against the desk, happily settling in for a long game.
"Is it a wolf?" Belle asked confidently and Ruby tensed behind her then looked down at Belle wide-eyed.
"How…?" Ruby began and Belle began to laugh knowing that she had guessed right.
Ruby's face fell when Belle started to laugh, and seeing her hangdog expression, Belle quieted down and reached up so that she could brush her fingers gently across Ruby's cheek to soothe any hurt her laughter might have caused.
"How'd you guess it so quickly?" Ruby asked a few seconds later, mollified by Belle's gentle touch.
"You thought of the word so quickly that I knew it had to be something important to you, something that's a part of your life, so when you said that the object was an animal and that it wasn't a pet, I just … took a guess," Belle replied, shrugging lightly.
"Can I try again?" Ruby asked.
"Of course," Belle responded graciously and Ruby smiled, pleased that she would have a chance to redeem herself.
Ruby was quiet for a minute, thinking hard this time about what she could pick instead of going with the first thing that popped into her head.
"Okay, I've got it," Ruby announced. "It's a place. What's your first question?"
"Is it Storybrooke?" Belle asked seriously, and Ruby tried to glare at her, but couldn't stop herself from smiling.
"No, it's not Storybrooke," Ruby grumbled which made Belle smile. "And that counts as one of your questions," she added which made Belle laugh.
"Is the place in America?" Belle asked once she had gotten her giggles under control.
"No," Ruby muttered morosely, though her dour tone was undercut by the affectionate look in her eyes.
"Is the place famous?"
"Is it a man-made structure or building?"
"Is the place still used today?
Belle brows furrowed a little and the most adorable look of concentration came over her face.
"Stumped?" Ruby asked, pleased that she'd done a much better job picking a word this time than she had her first time out of the gate.
"Not yet," Belle breathed out, "not nearly yet," she declared meeting Ruby's eyes challengingly. "Was the place in Fairytale?"
"How's it looking out there?" Belle asked hours later as she lounged in the armchair, full and pleasantly lethargic after she and Ruby finally cracked open the picnic basket Ruby had brought over from the diner and partook of the tasty dishes within.
"Well, it's a bit snowy," Ruby replied, smirking as a huge gust of wind whistled against the libraries outer walls.
Belle smiled at that as she watched Ruby saunter back into the office with that loose-limbed, effortless swagger that always left Belle feeling breathless.
"It's still going strong," Ruby continued seriously as she made her way further into the room. "We'll probably be stuck in here for a good portion of the morning. The snow plows are gonna have their work cut out for them," Ruby said, taking a seat at Belle's feet.
"That's not so bad," Belle breathed out dreamily as she tipped her head down to look at Ruby's face. "One couldn't ask for more charming companion to while away the hours with," she continued softly, unconsciously leaning forward so that she could reach out and brush some dark strands of hair off of Ruby's forehead.
The movement came to her naturally. She had gotten used to leaning forward in the armchair and extending her arm to scratch Ruby's childlike wolf form as she lay at Belle's feet. However, when it registered with Belle that it was the very human, very adult Ruby sitting before her, and not the wolf, Belle blushed and pulled her hand back.
"It's okay," Ruby exhaled softly, instinctively reaching out to grasp Belle's retreating hand. "You can touch me," she whispered, cradling Belle's hand in her own. "I promise, I won't bite," she whispered, her lips curving up playfully as the last three words fell from her mouth.
"Not even if I ask?" Belle asked saucily, her words falling from her lips before they had a chance to be fully processed by her brain.
Ruby blinked at her, momentarily stunned into silence by Belle's words, and the teasing smile that had been on Belle's lips a moment before, faltered and then disappeared.
"I…" Belle stuttered, blinking at Ruby helplessly as she fully comprehended what she had just said. "I didn't …" she began anew, her brows crinkling cutely as she dropped her gaze to her lap. "That wasn't what it … you know I … I mean you know what I mean … I …" Belle released an awkward huff of laughter and shook her head despondently. "Sorry, this is … I don't even know what I meant. Just forget it, please," she finished, waving her hand in front of her as if she was brushing her comment aside.
"I can do that," Ruby replied slowly, "If you really want," she continued, her brain buffering slowly as it worked to verbally respond to Belle while it also trying to decipher all of the information her senses were taking in.
Belle's question had made Ruby's heart skip a beat. It had caused adrenaline to flood through her, and in response Ruby's senses had heightened. She could hear Belle's heart beating beneath her breast, getting faster and faster as she spoke. Her nose was flooded by the changes to Belle's scent, the delightful floral haze that normally resided around Belle, thickening and becoming even more intoxicating as fear and arousal blended with it.
"But for the record," Ruby said lowly, her voice raspy with desire as she gazed up at Belle, her pupils dark with longing. "I'd do anything you asked," she breathed out, unable to keep the yearning from her voice as she stared up at Belle, completely enraptured.
Belle breathed in deeply, and felt a shiver run through her body as she meet Ruby's tender, hungry gaze. Nobody had ever looked at her before the way Ruby was looking at her then, and Belle found that it sort of intoxicated her. Ruby was so powerful, but at that moment she looked young and vulnerable, and it brought tears to Belle's eyes.
"Anything?" Belle whispered.
"Anything," Ruby vowed softly.
"Would you … kiss me?" Belle whispered, her voice shaking slightly as she came closer and closer to doing something she had been longing for almost since the day she met Ruby.
"Gladly," Ruby breathed out, her heart triple-hammering as she gracefully shifted her position so that she was kneeling on the floor before Belle, her hands braced on the arms of the chair as she leaned into Belle.
Belle smiled, shyly but happily, and reached out to brush her fingers across Ruby's smooth cheek.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Belle whispered before pointedly dropping her gaze from Ruby's eyes to her lips.
"That," Ruby husked, a tantalizingly low rumble emerging from her throat a moment later.
And then Ruby's fingers were curving, her nails digging into the cloth arms of the chair as she leaned in and up and until her lips pressed against Belle's for the first time. A soft exhalation of contentment escaped from Ruby as her lips brushed over Belle's, and Belle moaned and lifted her hands to clutch at Ruby's arms, needing to keep Ruby close to her.
"Ruby," Belle gasped a minute … minutes … tens of minutes … later, as she pushed lightly on Ruby's shoulders.
"Do you want me to stop?" Ruby asked, pulling back immediately, blinking rapidly as she struggled to focus her brain on Belle instead of on the lingering feeling of Belle's lips against hers.
"No," Belle breathed out immediately, punctuating her words by leaning in to brush her lips against Ruby's. "I just need a second," she continued softly, pulling back. "I feel … my head's spinning and my heart's beating so quickly … like the wings of a hummingbird. I think you might have short-fried my brain," she finished, smiling in the delighted yet shy way that made Ruby feel like she would conquer nations for Belle.
"Short-circuited," Ruby murmured, smiling widely up at Belle. "And I totally get it," she added, blushing a little as she focused on her own body's manic response to Belle.
She couldn't decipher the flood of feelings coursing through her, but they left her with a permanent smile on her face and a feeling of invincibility.
"Come up here?" Belle requested, reaching for Ruby's hand, needing to feel Ruby's body against her own, needing to be wrapped up in those strong, protective arms.
Without a word, Ruby's arms flexed as she pushed herself up, and Belle shifted on the chair to make room for her on the left side. Ruby wedged her body into the small space, and then she and Belle worked together, rearranging themselves until Belle was sitting in Ruby's lap, her legs draped over the arm of the chair so that she could snuggle into Ruby's neck.
"You okay?" Ruby asked, drawing Belle against her a bit more firmly.
"Yeah," Belle sighed contently. "Very much so," she added and Ruby smiled, because she very much liked what had just happened between them and she really, really wanted it to happen more. "You?" Belle asked.
"Peachy," Ruby breathed out, and Belle giggled softly before pressing a kiss to the underside of Ruby's jaw.
"I've never understood that saying," Belle murmured, shaking her head as much as she could without giving up nuzzling into the warm nook between Ruby's neck and shoulders that had so enchanted her.
"Peaches are nice," Ruby replied shrugging a little though she was careful not to disturb Belle too much.
"But so are a lot of other fruits," Belle said. "Why not say you're feeling 'mango-y', or 'cantaloupey', or … or … 'fig-ish'?" Belle asked, sounding more incredulous with every fruit she named. "Who did peaches marry to get an entire saying to themselves?"
"Because 'cantaloupey keen', doesn't sound as good?" Ruby suggested teasingly.
Belle was silent for a moment, thinking, and then she declared, "It's the best answer I've heard. I'll accept it."
"It's the only answer you've heard, isn't it?" Ruby asked, highly doubting that Belle had ever discussed the merits of 'peachy' as an idiom with anyone before.
"I'll still accept it," Belle said, tilting her head up to smile at Ruby, "because you're cute and I like you."
Ruby beamed at Belle, looking as happy as Belle had ever seen her – happier even then when she was eating pancakes – and when Ruby lifted her hand to stroke Belle's cheek with the backs of her fingers, Belle couldn't contain the soft sigh that escaped from her or the way she instinctively leaned into Ruby's touch, her eyes closing contently as she did.
"I like you too," Ruby breathed out when Belle's eyes fluttered open again. "So much," she sighed shakily, so overwhelmed by the feelings coursing through her that she found herself blinking rapidly in attempt to hold back tears. "I…" Ruby began before pausing for a moment to breath in deeply, marshalling her strength, "I know that you have something going on with Gold," Ruby continued, speaking rapidly now as her eyes skittered away from Belle's, "but I … I want to put my name in the pot as well." It took every iota of control she had, but Ruby forced herself to meet Belle's eyes again. "I care about you a lot and I promise you that if you were my girl, I'd never lie to you or take you for granted," Ruby swore, holding Belle's eyes even though her heart was beating so quickly she was afraid it might give out on her. "I turn into a great big wolf, and I can't buy you library," Ruby continued, closing her eyes for a second to gather her courage. "But I can give you my heart," she breathed out a moment later, meeting Belle's eyes once again, "and I can swear to you that I'll love, cherish and protect yours."
Tears built up in Belle's eyes as Ruby spoke, and when Ruby finished speaking, Belle blinked and allowed them to fall freely from her eyes. There were things she wanted to say, things she needed to say to Ruby, but more than anything else, at that moment Belle needed to kiss Ruby, so that's what she did. Squeezing Ruby's hand tightly with her own, Belle stretched up to meet Ruby's lips, pouring all of the feelings she was still too overwhelmed to voice into her kiss.
"Does that mean you'll give me a shot?" Ruby asked softly, hopefully, when they pulled back from each other a minute later.
Belle smiled up at Ruby, cheeks red and eyes twinkling.
"I don't need to," she breathed out, her heightened emotions making her accent stronger than normal. "You've already got me," she continued, her heart swelling at the look on wonder that came onto Ruby's voice as her words registered with her.
"But what about …" Ruby began.
"Things have changed between us," Belle interjected gently. "I'll always care about him, strange as that must seem to the people in this town, but," Belle sighed softly and shook her head. "I don't … I can't trust him anymore and I can't be with someone I don't trust," she continued, looking up at Ruby.
After books, Rumple had been her first love and there was a part of her that would always love him, but their time together had passed. She had loved him truly in the past, she had loved him strongly and purely enough to break the curse on him, but her feelings were no longer what they had been back at his castle. Rumple had tried to be a better man, she truly believed that he tried, but trying was no longer enough. Try as he might he had hurt her too much, too often and she couldn't do that to herself again. She was suspicious of Rumple now, she mistrusted the things he said and did, and because of it she could no longer share her thoughts and feelings with him openly and freely as she had once done. Like a rose touched by frost, the romantic love she had for him had withered and died and Belle had finally accepted that there was nothing she could do to revive it. There was just no getting around it. As a couple, she and Rumple were done.
"But you," Belle sighed, and it was an entirely different sort of a sigh, a dreamy, happy sigh that made Ruby want to smile and blush, "your heart is always in the right place, and your actions match. You talk to me, really talk to me – about things that matter – and I know that I can talk to you and that you'll listen. In fact, I probably talk too much," she said self-deprecatingly, smiling a little shyly as she dipped her head down.
"Never," Ruby said immediately. "I could listen to you talk forever," she breathed out with the utmost earnestness.
Belle smiled at the sweet response, and leaned up so that she could kiss Ruby's cheek.
"You're the first thing I think about when I wake up," Belle revealed, her voice whisper soft, as her pale cheeks flushed red. "When I hear the sound of your voice, or someone even says your name, I can't stop myself from smiling. When I'm with you, the whole world starts to fade, hours seem like minutes, and no matter much time we spend together it's never enough. I … I don't know if I knew it before today … but I think I'm already your girl, and that I have been for a while now."
"So," Ruby began, struggling to remain seated and calm when all she wanted to do was jump up into the air and pump her fist up and down. "Are we officially going steady?"
"I don't know," Belle said with a little self-deprecating smile. "What does 'going steady' mean?"
"Sorry," she breathed out bashfully. "It means dating each other, exclusively. You know, I promise to only bring picnic baskets for you, and you promise to only snuggle in front of the fireplace reading stories with me."
"Oh, then yes. We're going steady," Belle responded without hesitation and Ruby beamed at her before leaning down to meet Belle's lips in an eager, excited kiss.
"You know," Ruby breathed out happily as Belle snuggled into her neck again, settling herself more comfortably against Ruby's body, "I always hated snowstorms. They're pretty and everything but I've always hated being cooped up inside. Now though," Ruby sighed contently, closing her eyes as she breathed in, taking Belle's scent deep inside of her, "after you, Granny, Snow and pancakes, I think snowstorms might be my favourite thing ever."
Belle smiled happily into the soft material of Ruby's red plaid shirt. "You're still cooped up inside though," Belle murmured, toying with Ruby's fingers, reveling in being able to touch her without worry.
"Mm," Ruby acknowledged, her chest rumbling pleasantly. "But, I'm cooped up with you, so now snowstorms are awesome."
"You're going to make me blush," Belle murmured, hiding her face in Ruby's shirt, though the tone of her voice more than conveyed how happy Ruby's words made her.
"That's okay," Ruby breathed out playfully, "you're cute when you blush," she said as she brushed some chestnut brown hair off of Belle's face so that she could see her rosy cheeks. "See," Ruby continued, grinning down at Belle. "Adorable."
"You're adorable," Belle muttered, trying to sound peevish though the words actually came out sounding terribly affectionate.
"You're adorable-er," Ruby countered, and Belle laughed.
"That's not a word," Belle pointed out.
"It is now," Ruby declared.
"You can't do that!" Belle exclaimed, though her indignant tone was offset by the helpless smile she was directing at Ruby. "You can't just make up words whenever you feel like it."
"Sure I can. Shakespeare did it all the time and everyone was just cantaloupey with it," Ruby replied, allowing herself to smile at her own joke when Belle's body started to shake with laughter in her arms.
"What am I going to do with you?" Belle sighed a few moments later as she gazed up at Ruby.
"Well, there are two sure fire ways to shut me up," Ruby said thoughtfully.
"This is information I need to know," Belle said, and Ruby frowned at her which made Belle giggle. "Oh, I'm sorry," Belle cooed when Ruby's frown turned into an adorable pout. "Please continue," she breathed out sweetly, arching up to press her lips pacifyingly against Ruby's cheek.
Ruby sighed softly at the touch of Belle's lips against her skin, and her lips helplessly began to turn up until she was smiling.
"Telling me stories is a very effective way to distract me," Ruby murmured thoughtfully, her eyes twinkling happily when Belle gave a studious nod. "But," Ruby continued, drawing out the word playfully, "kissing me is also an embarrassingly effective way to bend me to your will," Ruby exhaled, her eyes helplessly dropped to Belle's full lips as she spoke.
"Hmm," Belle breathed out thoughtfully, her body tingling pleasantly as Ruby's words warmed her up inside. "You've presented me with quite a conundrum," Belle sighed dramatically and Ruby grinned at her, delighted by Belle as always. "I can only see one solution to this dilemma."
"What's that?" Ruby asked smiling.
"Obviously, I'll have to tell you a story while kissing you," Belle declared seriously, nodding in an almost scholarly way as she met Ruby's eyes.
"That sounds … perfectly logical," Ruby drawled in response, her dry tone making Belle laugh.
"Do you object?" Belle asked, arching a chestnut eyebrow at Ruby.
"Absolutely not," Ruby replied grinning. "Bring thine lips forth and lay them upon mine mouth," Ruby continued in a stuffy and grand tone that had Belle giggling as she shifted in Ruby's arms to give herself easier access to the raven-haired beauties lips.
"Are you ready?" Belle asked when she was settled.
"Ready and steady. Go," Ruby responded, grinning when Belle rolled her eyes at her.
"Once upon a time," Belle began, pausing to lean forward and brush her lips over Ruby's, "there was a lady with two beautiful daughters. The eldest was named Aurore, and the youngest was named Aimee," Belle whispered before leaning forward to gently kiss Ruby's lips again. "Aurore was a good girl with a sweet disposition, but Aimee was …"
And so, wrapped up together on the old armchair in Belle's office, Ruby and Belle passed the night in each other's arms, perfectly content to remain sequestered in doors as the wind howled and the snow gusted beyond the libraries walls, because they had each other – and Granny's Peppermint Hot Chocolate – and who could've asked for more?