"Welcome to Mal-Mart, Merry Christmas." Mulan ripped the purple and black smock off over her head, shoving it deep into her work locker. "Do you have any idea how many times I said that today?"
"About a million?" Belle, taking full advantage of her short break, looked up over the edge of her book. They might only be allowed twenty minutes, but that was long enough to get through a few more pages. It was long enough to try and lose herself in the world of two female adventurers and to forget she was an employee of the Mal-Mart Superstore.
Or, it would have been enough time had an annoyed Mulan not just finished her shift. Belle was never very good at ignoring her girlfriend, especially not when she was frustrated. "If you hadn't yelled at those people who wouldn't buy their daughter the practice sword she wanted, you'd still be in sporting goods. You know how protective Maleficent is about her customers. So now you're a greeter."
“The Purple Dragon’s Promise: The Customer is Always Correct. Shop Smart, Shop Mal-Mart.” Breathe and focus. Belle could tell just from the way her eyes were closed and her hands were rolled into fists that those were the words that Mulan was repeating to herself. She would be telling herself to not get angry, even as she repeated Mal-Mart’s annoying catch phrase. Belle knew it wasn’t her fault that Mulan was stuck at the front of the store with the same smiling dragon head looming over her from the Mal-Mart sign. Or that Mulan was truly angry with Belle because she was forced to answer the most inane and idiotic questions from the Mal-Mart shoppers.
Mulan flopped into the chair across from Belle, head in her hands. "There are signs for everything. They hang down from the ceiling. So why can no one ever find the deli, or the shoe section? Why do they always have to come to me?"
"You mean why do they ask the pretty and fierce girl in the Mal-Mart smock with the smile that could melt the most frozen of hearts?" Belle teased her, putting down her book. She reached across, pushing a piece of Mulan's hair back behind her ear and cupping her cheek. "Because Maleficent has a spell over the greeter area and you know it. Everyone has to ask the greeters anything they want to know. It's why being up there is such a punishment. Only Cinderella really likes it."
“Ugh, Cindy,” Mulan sighed; leaned into Belle’s gentle touch. Belle could calm her even when she was railing at the injustice inherent in the Mal-Mart system. Of course Maleficent had started a chain of ‘you can buy everything in one place’ retail outlets, driving prices down and independent stores out of business, it was something they both hated nearly as much as they hated needing to work here. Castles, they had found, were not cheap, and this was not a seller’s market. “Do you have any idea how annoying it is to be beside her all day? I swear she lost her shoe at least ten times. And those mice-”
“-Says the girl with her very own dragon?”
“At least Mushu doesn’t run around getting in the way,” Mulan insisted. There were rules about bringing pets or familiars to work, but somehow Cinderella always got away with it. “Or get under the feet of the customers and freak them out. Besides. I was totally right in yelling at those parents. Little girls can be soldiers, warriors, whatever they want!”
“Oh Mulan.” Mulan rolled her eyes when she realised it was Cinderella behind them, her bright voice filled with disappointment. “Why would a little girl need to be anything other than a wife, a mother, a princess?”
“Because that turned out so well for you, did it?” Mulan muttered, Belle shushing her. “What? Seriously Cindy, why do you work here again?”
“You know that Charming is simply going through some tough financial times.” Cinderella held her chin high. None of them were very proud of how far they’d fallen, the Fable-Financial-Crisis having hit all of them hard. Everyone but someone like Maleficent, and Belle and Mulan weren’t entirely sure she wasn’t behind the whole thing.
“Tsk.” Cindy gave Belle and Mulan a very pointed look, their clasped hands not pleasing her. Those same mice took their opportunity and dashed up the leg of the table to nibble at Belle’s sandwich. “Just because some people like dressing up in boys' clothes and playing at being men doesn’t mean you should spread that sort of thing around.”
“Do you think you could control your mice, Cindy? Please?” Belle was polite; she always was when she dealt with the blue-clad princess. She reminded herself that Cinderella was from a different time, and besides, she’d seen her kissing Snow White after last year’s Christmas party. Not quite as prim and proper as she might have insisted, their Cindy.
“For you? Of course I would.” Cinderella knew that Belle had seen her little indiscretion, blanching at Belle’s eyes on her. Her smile went stiff as she went to find a table to have her lunch. “Come along, mice.”
The mice scampered, and Mulan gave Belle a look. “Why are you so nice to her?”
“Because everyone is different. They can’t help it. Look at Red and her fear of wolves, of Alice and how she’s always late for everything, me and my books. It is how it is.” Belle stood, kissing the top of Mulan’s head. “My break is almost over. I should get back to work. Should I come home before the Christmas party, or will you meet me at Megara and Rapunzel’s?”
“Meet me there.” Mulan smiled, reaching up to pull Belle back in for a proper kiss. “I promised them I’d bring Mushu over to help with the decorating. He has fireworks planned, apparently.”
“Of course he does,” Belle sighed, trying to not remember the fires that had resulted from the batch of fireworks Mushu had set off for Mulan’s birthday. “I’ll see you there, then. Love you.”
“You too.” Belle left, knowing that as soon as she had Mulan would pull the practice sword she’d hidden in her locker out, and that tomorrow morning a little girl would find it under her tree. It was Christmas, and Belle would reward Mulan for the sweet and thoughtful gesture later. Until then....
“Hi, welcome to Mal-Mart. Can I help you find anything today?”