Chapter 1: Stalking Her Prey
She didn’t notice it, whenever she made the decision to watch him. But one day she caught herself, intently studying his spectacles hooked behind his ears, and realized what was happening. Ruby had never been a watcher—she was more used to being watched, stared at, ogled, whatever you want to call it. But Archie Hopper never did any of those things, and perhaps, Ruby considered, that was what intrigued her. He had a polite, kind tone, when he said the words “Thank you,” after she’d pass him his coffee.
He came to the diner nearly every day, even on weekends, and by now she had memorized how he liked his coffee: two creams, and a dash of cinnamon. Ruby liked to think she could judge someone by how they took their coffee, and cinnamon suggested warmth. So did the way Archie’s face crinkled up whenever he smiled at her. But he smiled like that at everyone, Ruby reasoned, it wasn’t as if his sweetness was reserved just for her, as much as she’d like that.
Today, like every other day around 2:30 p.m.--Ruby wore a watch to keep track, because that damn clock tower across the street was stuck at a constant 8:15--Archie came in alone, and sat in his usual booth, only his umbrella to occupy the seat across from him. Ruby glanced out of the windows at the sky. In some sort of rare treat for Storybrooke, the sun was shining amidst a few white, relatively-innocent-looking clouds, but then again Ruby couldn’t remember ever seeing Archie without his umbrella.
And she would know, wouldn’t she? Ruby-turned-people-watcher. Or person-watcher. Particular-person-watcher was probably most accurate, if anyone was feeling picky.
“Hi Archie.” She sidled to his table, wearing her usual red-lipped grin--lipstick re-applied promptly always at 2:25 p.m., for no reason at all, of course.
“Good afternoon, Ruby. How are you?”
She liked the low rasp of his voice, however unintentional it was. And she liked the way he looked at her face, too, instead of all the other bits she open and bare for looking.
“Oh, I’m all right.” The usual small talk. “Coffee?”
“Of course.” And then his smile widened, and so did Ruby’s in return.
The coffee was fresh and hot, and smelled of cinnamon. Their hands met around the circumference of the white ceramic, although Ruby was careful their fingers didn’t touch. Something would feel wrong about it, flirting with Archie Hopper like that. It was the way she flirted with every other man in Storybrooke, for a few extra dollars at the end of the night to make the rent and pay the bills.
Her gaze wandered outside again. Archie’s dalmatian, whose name she’d learned was Pongo somewhere along the way, was tied up in front of the diner, leash wrapped around a fire hydrant. He seemed obedient, upright and alert, but not bothering anyone walking by.
“You can let Pongo inside, if you want.” The words left Ruby’s mouth before she took a moment to think about them. “Granny and I like dogs. We won’t mind.” Half a lie, then. They both liked--no, loved--dogs, even though they didn’t own any, and Ruby certainly wouldn’t mind Pongo’s presence in the diner. Granny might, but that was a consequence to be dealt with later.
The fondness was evident in Archie’s eyes as he looked through the window at his pet. “Ah, he’d probably chew up the furniture.” He turned back to Ruby, and the fondness remained. “But thank you for the offer.”
Ruby bit her lip, trying to think of something else to say, a reason to stay standing beside him and keep talking--for whatever reason, not that she had any idea. The idle thought occurred to her that she really liked him in the particular shade of navy blue--the color of the sweater vest he wore, but no, that would be silly to point out.
She was supposed to be good at talking to men, but Archie proved the exception. Whenever she thought of something to say, something witty, or something that mattered, it caught up in her throat like a vice around her neck, until she swallowed the words back down so that she could breathe again.
So instead Ruby brushed her fingernails along Archie’s shoulder--light enough so he wouldn’t notice, she hoped--as she walked back behind the counter, and waited for the day her nerves--her nerves, talking to Doctor Archie Hopper of all people--would decide to ebb. For now she would content herself with watching.
Chapter 2: Mutually Cursed
The magic was returning to Storybrooke in tendrils and threads, but not in waves. Archie--or Jiminy Cricket, as more and more people were starting to refer to him as--had yet to grow wings or sprout antennae, much to his relief. He was rather fond of being a man again, he realized, and all the perks that being a man brought with it.
One of those perks--well, the main perk, the most important one--was curled up in his bed at the moment, dressed only in one of his button-down shirts and his favorite crimson tie, scowling in every direction except at him. Her eyes glowed more and more yellow every day, and this evening they were luminescent. Beautiful, thought Archie, but equally terrifying.
“How has my cloak not turned up yet? Everyone else has found their old, magical shit, or reunited with whoever they lost. How hard is it to find a bright red cloak?” Ruby sighed, but it came out as a more of a growl, and she clapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide with panic. “How long till the moon is up?”
“About an hour and a half.” Archie sat on the bed beside her, absentmindedly smoothing the rumpled sheets with one hand, while his other hand busied itself by holding Ruby’s hand, stroking her quickened pulse with his thumb. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find your cloak. Not even Mr. Gold has it. But maybe it’ll be okay?” he tried. “You were fine last full moon.”
Ruby snorted. “Except we cleaned the supermarket out of its red meat supply.”
“And broke your mattress,” Archie added, his ears turning pink at the memory.
She stopped his soothing fingers, interlaced them with her own. It stilled both of their tremblings, at least. “No, Cricket, last time was a close enough call. You’ve seen the magic trickling in. There’s enough of it now for the wolf to come out, that’s for damn certain.”
“And how long do you think until I turn back into a cricket?” he asked, followed by a hard swallow.
Ruby looked at him, her dear Cricket. His gaze had dropped from her--a rare enough occurrence--and he appeared to be studying the wall with serious intent. The wolf was a temporary problem, a few days each month, easily though not pleasantly solved by a few chains or a widely-given berth in Storybrooke’s woods. But Archie’s magic problem, when it came and spun him back into a sing-song insect, would be far more pressing and problematic, she realized for the first time.
“Well,” she finally said. “We have long enough for this.” Ruby pulled him closer by the collar of his sweater and slanted her lips into his. He tasted like mashed potatoes, and while that wasn’t as delectable as a raw steak would’ve been at the moment, it was nice enough. Better even, when he opened his mouth for her and let her in. When she felt his fingers fumbling at the top button of his shirt that she was wearing, she growled again, and released him. “But not time enough for that. Wolf time soon, remember?”
Archie ran a hand through his hair, in a futile attempt to seem somewhat less flustered. “Do you want a ride out to the woods?” he asked.
Her lips curved into a gentle smile, and she squeezed his hand. “That would be lovely.”
Chapter 3: The Sudden Summer Knight
Archie has a moment of courage--or stupidity and arrogance--that shocks even him.
Prompted by Swirling Dreams: Archie sees someone getting a little too hands on with Ruby at a bar. Course, being the great chap he is, he steps in.
Ninety-seven degrees. Ninety-fucking-seven degrees, and that’s after the sun has set. A heat wave, at least for Storybrooke, and one that no one was prepared for. That means no air-conditioning, except for the cheap little window-unit at Granny’s diner, which means nearly everyone in Storybrooke is there instead of at the local bar, eating ice cream and drinking vodka-spiked-lemonade and trying to sit as close to that deified, half-broken air-conditioner as possible. And, of course, there’s the men who’ve come for the view, as well.
Out of necessity, Ruby’s attire is scantier than ever--running around the packed diner, she’s bound to be feeling the heat more than anyone else. Her bright red short-shorts are paired with a navel-baring sheer tank top, which is definitely not enough to hide the bra of crimson lace underneath. Instead of her usual pigtails, her hair is piled in a falling-apart bun on top of her head, leaving her back and shoulders barer than usual. And although the heat wave be damned, all of the men are craning their necks for the best eyeful possible.
All of the men, except for Archie Hopper, of course.
At least Archie’s convinced himself of that. That he’s at Granny’s for the butter pecan ice cream with extra cherries, and for the thrill of every cool breeze that he manages to catch.
And not to look at Ruby at all. Not at all.
But he’s relieved that his eyes aren’t following her across the diner--while she tries to balance trays full of dishes and totters on her stiletto heels--like everyone else’s are. For the most part, he’s able to keep his eyes downcast, studying the speckle-patterned table as if its the most fascinating thing he’s ever seen in his life. He picks away slowly at his ice cream, though its already begun to melt.
Gentleman Archie Hopper, always keeping his eyes to himself when no one else can.
But there are customers who can’t even keep their hands to themselves, as it turns out.
Ruby walks toward the counter with a tray piled high with dirty dishes--not that Archie knows, he’s not looking at her, or so he tells himself--when Dr. Whale’s arm snaps out and catches her around the waist.
“Hello, sexy,” he croons into her ear, though loud enough for everyone else in the diner to know she’s his.
Dr. Whale, the resident pervert of Storybrooke, Archie thinks, and stifles a sigh of disappointment. He’s probably had a few too many vodka-and-lemonades.
The dishes click and clack and sway in the air as Ruby struggles to remain standing against Dr. Whale trying to pull her into his lap. She attempts to wiggle out of his grasp. “Come on.” She tries acting playful as a first tactic. “We’re swamped. No time for games.”
Ruby starts to walk away, regain some measure of composure--but then Dr. Whale loops his fingers through two of the belt-loops on her hips. She’s jerked back abruptly, and the tray falls from her hands. The shattering of glass and porcelain fills the room, and the diner goes silent. The people who weren’t staring before, they definitely are now. Ruby bites her bottom lip and tries to untangle Dr. Whale’s fingers from her shorts, just waiting for Granny to emerge from the sweltering kitchen with a scolding.
And, somehow, Archie finds himself on his feet, although he’s not quite sure how he got there. And while he’s figuring out that puzzle, he catches himself on his way to Ruby and the doctor. His limbs, apparently, on some sort of autopilot. Very interesting, comments the psychiatrist part of Archie’s brain, while the typical-Archie part of Archie’s brain quakes in terror. The limb-moving-autopilot, in contrast, seems fearless and--was it gallant?
Archie has Ruby’s tray in his left arm, while with his right he carefully picks up the bits of broken dish and stacks them on.
His eyes catch Ruby’s--who is once more trying to wriggle herself off of Whale’s lap--and she gives him a grateful smile. She’s as red as her nail polish though, embarrassed by her new, pushy boy toy.
She slaps aforementioned boy toy on the arm. “Let me go!”
“Nope.” Dr. Whale winks at Archie--like its a game they’re playing together, as though Archie doesn’t entirely despise him--and plants a wet kiss on Ruby’s neck.
Archie gathers up the rest of the broken pieces and sets the full tray on the counter. “Leave her alone,” he says, and its the typical-Archie part of him back at work. He sounds tired, ineffectual, with a slight tremor in his voice that tells them he’s anything but a threat.
But Ruby grabs onto it anyway, kicks her boyfriend in the shin. “You heard him, Ben.” Her eyes glint mischievously up at Archie.
She’s expecting me to do something, he realizes, and typical-Archie is aghast, wondering what else he can do.
Meanwhile, limb-operating-autopilot is back at work, and Dr. Whale is suddenly on the ground, that smug smirk wiped clean off of his face. Ruby stands above him now, wearing a broad grin.
And Archie’s right fist hurts.
His other hand comes up to rub his quickly-bruising knuckles, and for a moment he struggles to figure out what just happened.
Ruby’s taken his hand now, the hand which is apparently a newfound deadly weapon, and her grin softens into something sweeter. “Come on. I think we’ve got a first aid kit in the back.”
They leave Dr. Whale on the floor to nurse his swelling eye, while the rest of slack-jawed Storybrooke stares after the unlikely pair.
Chapter 4: The Five Wrong Words
Some things are just too special.
“I’d do anything for you.”
Five simple words, in response to Ruby’s heartfelt Thank you.
He’s made her dinner--Archie knows he’s not the best cook in the world, but he also knows that she’s had an awful day at work, is probably exhausted, so he’s made her favorite meal of french toast and bacon all drenched in syrup for her to come home to. Set the table and everything, with the good china, and a fresh bouquet of red hibiscuses right in the middle.
She gave him a warm, open-mouthed kiss, and said Thank you, Archie.
To which he replied: I’d do anything for you.
Her face falls, and her eyes start to water, and he has no idea why. She doesn’t know either, he can tell by the mixed expression of grief and confusion that has stricken her face. Ruby drops her purse, collapses in one of the chairs.
“What--what’s wrong?” Archie asks, wringing his hands, wondering what he’s done to make his Ruby cry.
“I’m sorry.” She waves a hand like it’s nothing, because in her mind it is nothing. No reason to react like this, to suddenly start crying when her wonderful boyfriend has made her dinner and bought her flowers and told her such a lovely thing. But in her heart it’s like teeth sinking into it--teeth sinking into her heart and releasing it and leaving fang-shaped holes for all the blood to freely pump out. “I’m sorry,” she says again, and this time it comes out as a sob. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me right now.”
Archie passes her his handkerchief--of course he’s the sort of man to carry around a handkerchief, even in this day and age--and awkwardly pats her head. “Nothing could ever be wrong with you.” He’s tempted to wonder aloud if it’s her time of the month that’s got her so emotional, but he knows better than to ask.
She leans forward and rests her head against his hip until she’s finally able to stop crying. If she gets some tears and snot on his khakis in the process, Archie promises truthfully that he doesn't mind.
Chapter 5: Not Just Another Day
Archie gets too involved and takes some risks.
Prompted by em705: The diner gets held up. Archie tries to talk the guy down, the guy over reacts and shots/wounds Archie and Ruby holds him until the ambulance gets there and he confesses that he thinks she’s beautiful and he loves her.
This works within the same universe/general timeframe as Stalking Her Prey. And many thanks to yourerightinthemiddleoftheroad, who helped me figure out who would be robbing the diner.
Another day, another coffee, another sprinkle of cinnamon.
At least it was supposed to be.
Today Archie feels daring--and hungry--so he orders an egg salad sandwich, too. Ruby has his coffee ready for him, exactly when he comes in, as always. A naggling at the back of his brain tells him that this is something significant, or at least something worth noting, but he brushes it off.
Ruby could never be interested in him. At least not like that. Sure, she takes note of her regular customers and what they like, especially when they tip well, but nothing more than that.
But it never stops Archie from playing out small stories in his mind--unlikely dreams of taking Ruby to a nice dinner and to see some silly romantic comedy afterwards, and of offering to walk her home from work. Most of the fantasies--at least the ones that Archie allows to run through his mind in public--end chastely at Ruby’s front door.
He blows on his coffee, takes a sip, and flips through his nearly-empty appointment book just to look busy. It’s awkward, he finds, to sit somewhere alone, when everyone else around him carries on their conversations with the person of their choice. There’s not many romantic couples in Storybrooke, but Archie is somehow more solitary than the rest of the single people, too. Mary Margaret Blanchard has her fellow teachers, Sidney Glass has the Mayor to follow about as though he’s a lost little terrier--hell, even Mr. Gold has what could best be referred to as his minions.
Archie, on the other hand, has no one but the occasional patient or two, unloading their problems on him, writing a check, and walking out the door without even a and how are you, Dr. Hopper? And in some ways he supposes Ruby’s life is much the same, working at the diner day in and day out, so he always makes sure to ask her how she’s doing. So often he needs a reminder that he’s a person, and he’s does it just in case she needs one, too. The easy smile she rewards him with is simply a bonus, he tells himself.
The day starts out like it always does, made worth it by Ruby’s smile.
A second sip of coffee. This one scalds his tongue, and he can feel the flesh there grow rough and raw.
The bell above the door rings. Just another customer, he assumes, and doesn’t bother to look up.
Ruby’s behind the counter, wiping down some plates and silverware with a damp rag. “Afternoon, Mr. French. What can I get for you?”
Archie hears him mumble something, but he can’t quite make out what it is. He glances up in the direction of the counter. Moe French has his hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders hunched, head bowed. Not out of the ordinary, really--everyone in town knows how the deaths of his wife and daughter broke him, and they’re too polite too comment, too cold to offer comfort. Archie remembers their few sessions of grief counseling. No progress at all--Moe French was not a man prone to talking about his feelings, and even Archie’s expertise had failed. Now, in the diner, he mumbles to Ruby again, shifts his hands in his coat.
From his seat near the window, Archie sees Ruby’s eyes widen, watches the fear manifest itself. Usually he’s not sure if she’s more tigress or wolf, but right now she’s most like a deer trapped by headlights while trying to cross the road.
“Wha--What?” Ruby stammers. Her hands freeze on the plate she’s in the middle of polishing.
“Don’t make a scene, now,” Mr. French says in a low voice. There’s a threat there that Archie detects, but he thinks he hears fear, too.
“I--I can’t do that. Only Granny has the key to it, and she went home early.” By end of her statement, Ruby sounds borderline hysterical, and the rest of the diners have dropped their forks and spoons to stare.
Moe French looks over his shoulder, and glares right back at them. His hand shakes as he draws a revolver from his pocket. Ruby shrinks back from him, trying to cower beneath the limited counter space.
“I’m sorry! Take all my tips!” she says, through the rising sob in the back of her throat.
Everyone else has shrunk back, too, at the sight of the weapon, though luckily none of them are stupid enough to try and make it to the door. Archie knows desperation when he sees it, and Moe French has gone far beyond that. His despair hangs in the air like thick, dark smog, and now that a gun has been introduced to the scene, he’s forcing everyone else to breathe it in, too, like he’s had to every day for years.
“That won’t be enough to cover my loan. Mr. Gold’ll ruin me if I don’t make that payment.” Like Ruby, Mr. French sounds as though he’s about to cry, too, wondering himself how it all came to this.
Archie releases the breath that he realizes he’s been holding. Takes a brief measure of the diner--sees Mary Margaret, half-ducked under her table, thumbs moving quickly across the keyboard of her cell phone. Sending a surreptitious text message to someone who can help, most likely.
But French still pointing a gun in Ruby’s direction, demanding money that she can’t even get to, and help can’t come quickly enough.
Archie clears his throat, begins to rise slowly to his feet. “Mr. French.”
French’s gaze swivels toward Archie, tries to steady his grip on the gun with two hands instead of one. “What the hell do you want, Hopper?”
Archie raises his open palms, moves toward French with caution, like approaching a hungry bear. He has to show he’s harmless, convince French that he isn’t a danger. “I just want to help,” Archie says. He takes deep, even breaths, a subtle encouragement for French to do the same.
Keep him calm, make him feel safe, unthreatened.
He just needs to make sure that French won’t resort to using that gun.
Especially not on her.
“And how do you think you can help? Gonna pay my loan off yourself?”
“Have you considered your other options? Asking for an extension?” Archie speaks like French is one of his patients again, his voice calm and only mildly concerned. He pointedly avoids looking at the gun, and looking at Ruby--that will only drive him to distraction--and he keeps his vision squarely on French. Beads of sweat run down French’s forehead, his eyes darting back and forth from Archie, to Ruby, to the door, and back again.
“Mr. Gold? Grant an extension?” Even in this situation, French is able to snort. “He’ll ruin me,” he says again.
“Well why don’t we take a seat and figure out another option?” Archie tries, and pushes his glasses up the slippery bridge of his nose. He’s sweating, too, he realizes. “Going to jail will ruin you, too.”
He sees the sorrow that writes itself upon French’s face, and wonders if that might be a step in the right direction. He chances a glance at Ruby--she’s watching the encounter intently, her fists closed in white-knuckled fear. Their eyes meet for a brief moment, and there’s something in hers that Archie, for all his training, can’t read. The terror, worry, and slight hint of hope are obvious, but the not the rest of it.
The bell above the diner door rings again.
Mary Margaret’s new friend is there, in her red leather jacket. Emma Swan, if the gossips have her name right. She has a gun, too, this one aimed at French. The new girl in town was a woman of action, then.
He watches French start to panic. French seems unsure of what to do next--points his gun at Emma, but indecisive, swings it instead in Archie’s direction.
Archie feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and he tries to stifle his alarm--he knows it won’t do him any good here.
“Drop the gun,” Emma says, and she’s cold and hard, nothing Archie would expect from a friend of Mary Margaret’s.
“Drop yours or I’ll shoot him.”
French, it occurs to Archie, has learned his robbery-of-a-public-place strategy from movies and television. Of course he’ll take someone as a sort of hostage, and Archie, who stands nearest, is the most convenient option.
“Just put the gun down, and no one has to get hurt,” Emma tries again.
After countless years of peace and quiet, it seems like Storybrooke has determined that it’s time for things to go horribly wrong for everyone, as somewhere in the street, a car backfires.
Another bang follows it a moment after, this one far closer.
By the time the second gunshot happens and French cries out, Archie’s already on the ground, felled by the first. His left shoulder hurts like hell, and his shirt is growing damp and sticky, and it seems to take all his energy that remains to look down at the offending shoulder to see what exactly has happened. His glasses have fallen off beside him, the lenses cracked, but when Archie squints he can see the spread of blood.
“Oh. I’ve been shot,” he murmurs.
Everyone else in the diner is still frozen, like they’ve been this whole time, spectators who can’t bring themselves to intervene. But then Ruby is kneeling at his side, and her hand feels nice and cool as she strokes his cheek.
“The ambulance is on its way,” she tells him.
Somewhere in Archie’s mind flickers the thought that he’s never seen Storybrooke’s ambulance--he’s never known a crime to be committed in Storybrooke either, or anyone to die, or any problems at all, really, until today. But those thoughts are far too complex to express at the moment, so instead he just groans in pain.
“You were very brave, you know,” Ruby says. “I had no idea you had that in you.”
It occurs to Archie that he should be saying something manly now, something to impress her even more, but his shoulder hurts and he’s still not quite sure on the details of what in the hell just happened. Thus:
“You’re really beautiful,” is all he’s able to manage.
And even amidst all the pain and chaos, the smile she gives him--a smile very different from their everyday exchanges--gives Archie hope that he won’t feel so alone anymore.
Chapter 6: Summer
Red Riding Hood loves summertime, best of all.
The summers in Red’s village were short ones, tucked as they were into the corner of a mountain where snow and cold winds tended to flock for most of the year. But as short as the summers were, they were abnormally sweet, too, filled with clear skies and hot sun and plants blooming in a fury before winter crept back in to stay.
As brief as the summers were, Red loved them with all her heart. She’d only seen nine of them, in her short life, but knew that life was best when summer came. Granny would let her stay out late, running about the fresh, grassy fields. She climbed trees--and occasionally fell out, though luckily with no broken bones--picked flowers, and could dive into the nearby lake whenever she wanted. There was only one thing that little Red hated about summer.
Her plump arms and legs were constantly covered in mosquito bites, and she ran away weeping from the buzz of any bee--she was certain that they were all out to sting her. Some evenings, she sat outside on the doorstep of the cottage that she and Granny shared, wooden spoon in hand, ready to swat any of the devious insects that came her way.
Until one night.
“Wait!” one of the bugs called out, as she threatened to smash it, armed as she was with the wooden spoon. It cowered beneath her upraised arm, quivered as it stood beside her on the step.
Red halted her onslaught, cocked her head and peered closer. “Did you just talk?” she asked it, with much incredulity.
“Yes, I just talked,” the cricket--for it was, upon closer inspection, indeed a cricket, said to Red. As the immediate threat had seemed to pass, he stood up straight, brushed the dirt off his jacket and trousers. His hat, which had fallen beside him, he picked up and placed on his head at what he considered to be a rather jaunty angle. “And I would appreciate not being crushed by your spoon of death, thank you very much.”
“I’ve never met a talking bug before!” Red thought for a moment. “Or one that wore clothes. Where did you get those?”
“A fairy gave them to me.” His antenna quirked in Red’s direction, while his little black eyes appeared to be staring straight at her. “Do you make it a habit, killing harmless crickets?”
She pursed her lips as she considered. “Not really. We don’t get crickets here usually, at least I don’t think so. But other bugs are mean.” This was said behind gritted teeth. “You’re not mean, are you?”
“I’m not mean. Or at least, I’m not supposed to be mean. I’m a conscience.” He emphasized the last word with a jab of his miniature umbrella into Red’s arm.
Red frowned, but the poke didn’t hurt, not like the bees’ stingers did, so she decided to let the cricket live. “What’s that?” she asked.
“A conscience,” he said, although he had a feeling the subtlety of the word would be utterly lost upon the little nine-year-old. “I’m able to tell people the difference between right and wrong.”
“Are all crickets conshushes?”
“No. Just me.” Then, noticing the glimmer in her yellow eyes, added, “But that doesn’t mean you should go around killing the other crickets.”
“Oh.” Her mischievous smile fell. “And I have to listen to you, don’t I? Because you’re my--”
“Conscience.” She clapped her hands and grinned. “I said it right!” Stretching out in the grass to lie in her stomach, she lowered her head and rested it in the cradle of her arms. “What’s your name, Mr. Conscience?”
“Jiminy Cricket.” He tipped his hat and bowed with a flourish.
“Hello, Jiminy Cricket. My name’s Red!” Now was the time for them to shake hands, she considered, but since that was unlikely, she held out a pinky finger instead, and they shook hands that way. As they did, Jiminy chirped, and the resulting trill sent pleasant chills down Red’s spine. “Do you want to come inside for dessert? Granny baked blackberry pie!” Another lovely thing about summer, Red found, were Granny’s blackberry pies, made from the freshest berries, straight off the vines.
“I’m sorry, Red, but I can’t stay.” His antennae twinged with what seemed to be sadness. She was clearly a changeable child--her broad grin replaced itself with a scowl. “Why not?”
“I’ve got a little boy and his father to look after. I only flew out this way to stretch my wings.” Though his face was nearly unreadable, Red suspected her new friend was offering her a hopeful smile, judging by the sweet tone of his voice.
“Will you come visit again? We don’t get much company here.”
“Next summer, when the weather’s nice enough again up here for me to fly in. I promise.”
“And you can’t break a promise? Because that’s wrong instead of right?”
“Exactly.” His wings began to flutter behind him, and he hovered above Red, hanging in the thick, warm air.
Red turned over to lie on her back, gazing up at him. “G’bye, Jiminy,” she murmured.
“Goodbye, Red! I’ll see you next summer!”
She watched him as he flew away, though she soon lost sight of his tiny form amongst the trees and the darkening sky. So she turned her head upwards, instead. The stars were out, and with her fingertip Red drew imaginary lines between them all, making pictures of flowers, house cats, and little clothed crickets.
A new reason, then, to look forward to the end of the coming winter.
Chapter 7: Mistakes
There's a misunderstanding or two.
teamaequitas: he thinks she’s cheating, but she’s actually planning something
plotweaver: he forgets his keys
He’s never been able to read Ruby like he reads other people.
But, he supposes, that bit of mystery is probably why he loves her so much.
Archie tries to reassure himself of that when, one day on the way out of his house on a work day, he realizes he’s forgotten his keys and dashes back up to his bedroom—where he knows he’s left them next to the table lamp—only to find Ruby, fast asleep a few minutes before, sitting upright chattering away on her phone, wearing that secret smile that he thought was reserved for him alone.
He clears his throat.
She turns, and at the sight of him her face falls. “Sorry, gotta go,” she mutters to whatever charming bastard she must be talking to. When she presses the little red button on her phone to end the call, her smile returns. “Forget something?” And he can tell by the way her voice gets low that she is trying to tempt him back to bed.
Archie doesn’t ask her who she was talking to. He’s better than that, he convinces himself. Not one of those suspicious, jealous, crazy boyfriends like that vampire in those movies Ruby’s made him watch—though she just enjoys it for the shirtless werewolf and not the pasty vampire, apparently. But he didn’t let the shirtless werewolf with the abs that go on for days make him jealous, and he won’t let this mysterious phone call bother him, either.
But he’s got appointments to keep, so he kisses his Ruby on the cheek after he grabs the keys from the bedside table.
“I love you!” Ruby calls after him as he’s halfway out the door.
He looks back at her, and despite his insecurities, the sight of her sitting cross-legged in his—no, their—bed, wearing a tank top of her own paired with a set of his boxer shorts, he can’t not smile back at her. “I love you, too.”
By the end of his long day, Archie finds himself utterly transformed into one of those suspicious, jealous, crazy boyfriends. He was attentive to his patients, as always, but at the back of his mind a nasty little thought gnawed away.
It began with wondering who Ruby might’ve not wanted him to see her talking to.
Next, he wondered who in the hell Ruby was talking to, that she apparently needed to keep so damn secret.
He convinced himself it was a man.
Not a specific man in Storybrooke, but someone, someone Ruby might prefer.
And then the nasty little thought completely devoured the rational part of his brain, and Archie managed to convince himself that Ruby was cheating on him.
After all, he considers, on the drive home—not going to the diner for dinner, as he typically does—he’s so old, fourteen years her senior, a dried-up sweater-vest-wearing insect. He’s done the best he can, loves her with all his heart, but sometimes that’s not enough, and he was foolish to believe it ever could be.
Especially with someone as young and beautiful and vibrant as Ruby.
She’s brought out the best in him, he knows that. Taught him how to laugh more often, and a little more freely, at that. How to loosen up his tie every once in awhile, and how to have breakfast for dinner. He didn’t know how much he liked boxed wine until they shared some together several nights a week, while they cuddled on the couch and watched terrible reality shows.
And he thought he might’ve brought out the best in her, too. She’s settled down some, quit smoking cigarettes and staying out all night, since they started dating. Spends less money on clothes and makeup, too, and wants to save up for something. She’s not sure what yet, she tells him, but she wants it to be something important.
But she’s young and vibrant, and of course she’d tire of him eventually, and that time has come, Archie decides. She’ll be waiting for him for dinner at Granny’s, but maybe it’ll be a relief to her when her stodgy old man of a boyfriend doesn’t show up.
He pulls into his garage, collapses on his couch. As if sensing his mood, Pongo doesn’t greet him at the door, waits patiently to curl up on the couch beside his master.
His phone vibrates against his thigh, coupled with his cricket-chirp ringtone. The caller-ID reads: “Ruby <3”—she put her number into his phone like that. Archie hesitates to answer, but the nice-guy inside him wins out.
“Archie! Babe! Are you off work?”
“I’m at home.” He tries to keep the gloom out of his voice, and mostly fails.
She drips with sympathy. “Bad day?”
“I’ve got a delicious dinner for you at the diner. Come over, please?” She has the same tone that they both use to tempt Pongo with treats during a thunderstorm when he tends to go mad.
Archie’s rarely strong under pressure, particularly when Ruby is the one applying it.
The blinds of the diner’s front windows are closed, Archie notices, as he approaches the door. And, as he opens the door, he sees that the lights are off, too. He starts to wonder what sort of trap he’s walked into when the lights flicker on and he’s greeted by what seems like half of Storybrooke leaping out from under tables.
“Surprise!” they attempt to chorus, though no one can quite coordinate their shout with anyone else’s.
Ruby emerges from the kitchen, and instead of her usual attire, she’s wearing a red sheathe dress that falls past her knees. She’s holding a cake in her arms, and grinning from ear to ear. “Happy birthday!”
Archie wipes his suddenly-sweaty palms on his trousers, looks around the diner. “Whose birthday is it?”
“It’s yours, silly!” Though her gleeful expression wavers.
“Yes! September twenty-eighth!”
He shakes his head. “No. My birthday’s in November.”
“That’s not what it says on Facebook!” She frowns, sets the cake down on the counter and crosses her arms. “Are you messing with me?”
Despite how upset he was feeling earlier, Archie chuckles. “Babe, I haven’t used Facebook in two years. I made the account and used a bunch of fake information.” He waves his hand, and suddenly feels foolish. “You know, in case someone was trying to stalk me.”
The diner’s patrons start to mumble to one another and pick at their food, already bored by the surprise-party failure. Ruby’s eyes fill with tears, and without thinking Archie draws her into his arms, and she buries her face against his chest.
“I—I just wanted to d—do something nice for you,” she says, words punctuating by sobs. “And I f—freaked out this morning because I—I forgot to order the cake, and I did it right away after you left for work, and you almost caught me, so I freaked out even more. A—and I got your birthday completely wrong.” She pulls away, tries to swipe at the trails of mascara running down her face. “I thought it would be nice if I surprised you, you know? Without even having to ask you when your birthday is and maybe ruin the surprise.” She hiccups. “I’m sorry. I can’t do anything right.”
And Archie forgets about his earlier suspicions, realizes how worthless they were, how worthless he is, for even considering them. “You do everything right,” he assures her, and slips his arms around her waist. “Nothing better than a surprise early birthday, right? That’s what made it an extra surprise.”
She gazes up at him, a fresh smile teasing the corner of her mouth. “Promise?”
“Promise. You did get me pineapple upside-down cake, right?”
She bares her teeth in the most attractive smirk that Archie has ever seen, reaches behind him and smacks his ass. “I know what my baby likes.”