Ruby didn't trust herself to return to the library, not in that moment, with the wolf's blood hot in her veins, and images of Belle's chained wrists dancing in her memory. She'd thoroughly quelled her fear of hurting her friend, now that she'd regained her control of the wolf, but she did fear what she might blurt out.
Adrenaline could make a girl dangerously brave. So she went for a run, and let her inner -- or more accurately outer -- predator glory in simple pleasures, like the crisp night air full of woodland smells, and the bright full moon to light her way.
Other desires could wait.
She dreamed of Belle that night -- or rather, the next morning, since she returned home near dawn. Granny let her sleep well past the breakfast rush. In her dreams, the courage of the predator gave her the directness she'd somehow lost with the breaking of the curse.
The old Ruby, cursed Ruby, had never hidden her desires behind shame or modesty. Cursed Ruby spoke her mind, and called out slut shaming, misogyny, and all other byproducts of the patriarchy. She'd even run a blog about it.
Nor had Red, in the old world, hidden from her sexuality. She'd loved freely, at least until life got in the way. But somehow, when her memories returned and her two selves became one, she'd changed.
Or maybe it was just Belle who inspired her newfound caution. Perhaps she simply feared rejection. In her dream, though, that all fell away, and she pressed her lips to soft skin and gave voice to the most creative of her desires.
The images stayed with her now, still vivid, even as she hurried to clean up after the lunch crowd. Belle, hands stretched upward, mouth falling open and eyes fluttering closed, her body shivering under Ruby's inventive touch. She wanted to hear Belle's hitched breath, and her whimper of anticipation; she yearned to make sounds of joy erupt from those full red lips. She wanted to slide her hands over silken skin, and then follow the same path with her tongue, to leave little paths of dampness that would raise gooseflesh when a cool night breeze blew into the room through the open window.
Or maybe no window, no room at all, but a quiet patch of meadow in the forest, with a waning moon shining down on their naked bodies as they shared deep, frantic kisses. She wanted to stretch out on the grass, exhausted, sated, with Belle curled into her side, so they could tell each other stories they'd shared with no one else. She wanted to know Belle, to laugh with Belle, to make love with Belle --
"Ruby, I think that table's clean enough."
Granny's voice cut through Ruby's thoughts, and she looked down at the table she'd been wiping. The half-hardened spot of ketchup she'd been scrubbing at three fantasies back had disappeared. She hurried to the next table, hip-checked a stray chair, and barely caught a dirty plate as it skidded toward its certain doom.
"Whoever you're daydreaming about will have to wait until after you've peeled those potatoes in the back. I'd love to give you the day off, but I can't feed my customers store bought fries. Word would get out and they'd all be asking to substitute mac salad in no time."
Ruby barely heard her, and stopped listening at all when she got to the bit about mayonnaise prices. Hopefully Belle would come in for dinner. And hopefully she'd forgive her for the little leaving her chained up in the library incident. No harm, no foul, right? She'd just wanted to protect her, and while the light of day cast some doubt as to the wisdom of her rather impulsive methods, she guessed Belle would understand.
The potatoes did little to occupy her attention, so Ruby's thoughts meandered between a complete and abiding faith in Belle's forgiving heart, and paranoid self doubt with a strong focus on everything that can go wrong in a budding relationship when one person leaves the other chained up in a public building and then doesn't apologize straight away. Belle had every right to take her to task.
When the customers began to filter in for dinner, Ruby found her heart giving a little leap at every jingle from the front door. After a dozen such little leaps, she started to worry that Belle might not come at all.
Eventually, finally, after an endless wait and right on schedule, a little jingle sounded that didn't immediately send Ruby's heart on a roller coaster ride to crushing disappointment. Belle walked through the door, looking as radiant as ever. She smiled, and Ruby felt her body flood with hot joy.
"I came by this morning," Belle said. "But you were still asleep. Rough night?"
"The best night," she said. "But the day's been brutal."
"I've been working on my apology, and it hasn't been going well. Last night, in the library -- "
"Already forgotten," Belle said lightly. "I've forgiven worse."
"You shouldn't have to," Ruby said, shoving aside some unkind thoughts for everyone who'd ever hurt Belle, starting and ending with Rumpelstiltskin. "I was wrong to -- "
Belle shook her head and flashed an enchanting smile. "You were trying to protect me. Your method was flawed, but you meant well, and no harm came of it."
The easy forgiveness made the knotted guilt bloat and squirm in Ruby's gut. "Don't just brush things off -- "
"Ruby." Belle grabbed her arm. "I'm fine. It's fine. Why are you trying to convince me to be mad at you?"
Ruby's annoyance gave way under Belle's warm fingers. Five points of delicious fire that burned all the more as Belle's grip loosened, lingering softly to send liquid heat through Ruby's veins. Ruby caught herself staring at Belle's hand, her mind flooded beyond capacity with leftover scraps from her morning dreams, and only when Belle pulled her hand away did Ruby look up at her confused expression and realize how much silence had just passed. "Girls' night," she blurted. "I owe you one."
"Okay." Belle had the prettiest laugh. "I'll bring the wine."
Hours later, they sat facing each other on Ruby's small couch, knees bumping as the concept of personal space eroded pleasantly beneath the steady flow of ever-more-intimate conversation.
"Gaston had it all planned out," Belle said, continuing the amusingly awkward story of her first date. "But he'd forgotten to tighten his horse's girth, so when we got to the narrow part of the trail and he made his big move -- and subtle it was not -- the saddle slipped and he landed in the mud. Right under my horse, too. Good thing for him she was a patient old mare or he would have gotten kicked in the head."
"Then his horse, who was anything but patient, bolted off. The poor thing still had the saddle on, crooked, with the near stirrup flapping around his legs and thumping him in the belly. But Gaston wanted to 'escort me home safely' because suddenly I was too delicate for chasing a loose horse through the woods. So I left him there, covered in mud, and rode off to catch the horse myself."
"Of course," Belle said. "Gaston's father was appreciative, although I can't say the same for Gaston. Thirteen year old boys don't like getting shown up by a girl."
"Neither do grown men," Ruby said.
"It's funny. For all the worrying I did about that date, choosing a dress and arranging my hair, fretting about whether Gaston would like me, the best part came as I walked home alone in the starlight, with mud on my dress and twigs in my hair, leading those two horses."
"I bet you look sexy as hell with twigs in your hair," Ruby said. Her heart started thumping harder the moment the words left her mouth.
"Well I'd like to think so," Belle said, mischief in her eyes. "After all, the heroines in adventure stories always seem their hottest with their hair mussed and their faces flushed . . . "
" . . . their bosoms heaving," Ruby added with a smirk.
"Just what sort of adventures have you been reading?"
"The good kind."
They shared a laugh as Belle reached to pour more wine. Ruby could feel the heat of Belle's thigh pressed against her own, and thought she detected just the slightest tremble as Belle tipped the bottle over the glass she barely held steady herself. She wanted to blame the wine, use the safe lie to guard her heart, but she had to admit, at least to herself, that two glasses of wine made for a pretty weak scapegoat.
Belle set the bottle down on the coffee table. Their eyes met, and held.
Ruby's breath caught in her throat, and she leaned closer as Belle's pupils dialated and her cheeks flushed. She could no more stop herself from tasting those lips than she could slow the frantic gallop of her own heart.
The softest brush of lips brought forth a sharp sigh, from which of them Ruby didn't know, not for sure, but she did feel Belle's hand slide across her hip to press into the small of her back. Belle's hand, pressing into the small of her back. Bliss.
She let her own hands rise, one to squeeze Belle's shoulder, the other to cradle the back of her head; her fingers flowing through silken hair, her body pressing ever closer, laying claim to those full lips with a fresh boldness born of crumbling restraint. She memorized their texture, their taste, dizzy with joy at the way Belle's hands tugged her ever closer.
Their bodies pressed closer. Belle leaned back with a sigh and squirmed beneath Ruby. Her fingers bit into Ruby's skin, creating pinpoints of sensation.
The predator within her growled its approval as she pressed Belle against the couch cushions, but she made herself stop. Find her self control. Look into the other girl's wide, shining eyes. "I didn't plan this."
"I did," Belle answered, a smile on her just-kissed lips. "Or at least, I hoped." That hand at the small of Ruby's back slid lower, and Belle stretched to kiss Ruby again, laughing softly, her lips parting deliciously in welcome.
They lingered over their kisses, learning each other, by taste and by touch, and basking in the love-drunk newness of it all.
Belle's hands slowed in their dance up and down Ruby's spine and slid around to her shoulders. She gave Ruby a gentle shove.
Ruby rose instantly. "Belle?"
The other girl had a mischievious gleam in her eyes, and her clever fingers went to work on Ruby's shirt. "Is this okay?"
"Hell yeah." Ruby shifted her weight, one hand braced against the arm of the couch, and sat up to shrug out of her clothes.
"Beautiful," Belle said, one finger tracing the bit of lace at the edge of Ruby's bra. Her other hand slid up Ruby's arm.
"Mail order," Ruby said. "Victoria's Secret."
"I wasn't talking about the lingerie."
"Good to know," Ruby said, sparing a glance for her own breasts. They did look damn good in this bra. "These are definitely not mail order."
"I like them too," Belle said, laughing softly. "But I actually meant these." She gave Belle's arm a squeeze. "You have amazing arms."
"Yeah?" Ruby grinned with delight. Breasts were a product of nature, a luck of the draw kind of thing. And honestly, they usually proved fun regardless of size and shape. Her arms, on the other hand -- she'd worked for these arms.
Belle kissed her again, her hands seeking new territory with deliberate slowness.
Ruby arched into her touch.
"Did you just purr?" Belle smiled at her. "I thought you were meant to be a wolf!"
"And you're human, but I bet I can make you howl."
Ruby hummed to herself as she hustled around the diner clearing plates the next morning. While she'd left Belle to sleep in, she felt no need to take another day off herself. She had more than enough energy to cover her shift.
Snow looked up from her coffee as she passed. "You're practically glowing today. Good run last night?"
"The best," Ruby said. "Everything looks so much prettier by moonlight."
"Going out again tonight?"
"Sure am." She almost didn't bother to hide her smirk. "After all, I've got to get my fix of that runner's high."