The morning after was always the hardest part; waking up alone, in the woods, shivering from exposure to the elements without her thick-coat of wolf fur to keep her warm. At those times it was hard not to remember what it had felt like to be in a pack; to wake up surrounded by others, warm bodies pressed against hers in a room made cozy by the fire burning in the stone hearth. The pack had been such a short period in her life, a flash in time really, but it had stayed with her. It had made her long to awake from slumber to the comforting feel of another body beside her and heat from a nearby fire warming her skin. But, since she had left her pack, Ruby had always awoken to chilly morning air, her skin and clothes damp with dew as she lay on a bed of crushed leaves and small twigs that the wolf didn’t seem to mind, but which always seemed to end up poking at her in the most uncomfortable places once her body reverted to its human form.
Sighing softly, Ruby screwed her eyes shut and extended her hands in the air, stretching to relieve the cramping in her muscles that formed from her sleeping curled in a ball for hours on end. She took her time, indulging in the feeling of her muscles loosening, and then she lowered her hands to the ground to brace herself, preparing to push to her feet. However, the moment her hands made contact with the ground, Ruby froze and her eyebrows knitted together in confusion.
Blinking against the haze of sleep that still hung heavily over her, Ruby ran her fingers lightly over material that was soft, like yarn, and tried to puzzle out why the forest suddenly felt like a shag rug.
“Oh good, you’re awake!” A cheerful voice said from somewhere behind Ruby.
Belle, Ruby thought, recognizing her friend’s voice instantly.
And with that realization, Ruby’s bewilderment grew, but her heart also started to pound wildly and happily beneath her breast, her whole body tingling pleasantly, as it always did when she was near Belle.
“Well, mostly awake,” Belle continued when Ruby turned her head to face her, but just blinked at her sleepily, as if she wasn’t certain whether she was awake or still dreaming. “Here,” Belle said moving closer to Ruby. “Maybe this will help,” she continued, smiling sweetly as she held out a steaming mug for Ruby.
“Belle,” Ruby breathed out, her voice half-question and half-content sigh, as she reached out for the mug Belle was extending towards her.
“Mmhmm,” Belle murmured, lowering herself to the ground so that she was seated beside Ruby. “You’re really not a morning person are you?” she asked a moment later, smiling affectionately at Ruby as she reached out to tuck a few charmingly unruly raven strands of hair behind Ruby’s ear.
“Yes,” Ruby whispered as her eyelashes fluttered, threatening to close in pleasure at the feel of Belle’s fingers gently gliding over her skin. “I mean no,” she continued, her eyebrows scrunching together. “Or … wha … where am I?” Ruby finally managed to choke out, her big blue eyes wide with befuddlement as she gazed into Belle’s enchanting green eyes.
“You don’t remember?” Belle asked gently.
Ruby shook her head in the negative, however after a few seconds her eyebrows knitted together thoughtfully and a moment after that she breathed in sharply as memories of the previous night flooded her brain.
She’d been working at the diner that day, but she’d been restless and unfocused from the moment her shift had started. Even with the sun still high in the sky, the moon – the wolf – called to her, filling her with energy, making her jittery with anticipation for what would happen when the sun went down and moon rose to rule the sky.
Seeing her distraction, and knowing the cause, Granny had let her end her shift early and Ruby had hugged her gratefully before leaving the diner and heading for the woods.
She had control of the wolf now, and she knew that she wouldn’t accidently hurt someone, but she still preferred to change in the woods, where she could run, and jump, and claw and howl without damaging anything. In many ways the wolf was like a small child, a small mischievous child that liked to hear the sound of twigs snapping, and would run through puddles on purpose to feel the cool water on its fur. The wolf would chase rabbits and squirrels just to see them scurry away, and Ruby knew that she could get into trouble if she stayed in town in her wolf skin.
When the rusty hue of sunset faded into darkness, Ruby had transformed and run and run and run. She prowled, and sniffed, and swam, and leapt over fallen tree trunks and rocks. She roamed the night, wild and free. But sometime during the night, as she had sat atop a hill, staring up at the big, bright full moon, a melancholy feeling had come over her. The wolf had looked around it, and finding itself alone, had whined softly and then howled its displeasure to the moon.
Alone and unhappy, despite having a whole forest at its disposal, the wolf instinctively knew what to do, and without a human brain to obfuscate matters and make simple ideas complicated, the wolf had begun to run back to town.
“I came to you,” Ruby breathed out, her eyes clearing and focusing on Belle as she remembered going to the library in her wolf form and standing on her hind legs so that she could beat the door of the library with her paws.
“You did,” Belle breathed out, smiling again. “You were very insistent,” she continued, her tone taking on teasing note as she grinned at Ruby. “I was at the back of the library when you started banging on the door and you must’ve thought that I was taking too long, because as I was walking there you started to howl.”
“Sorry,” Ruby said, blushing as she dipped her head down in embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” Belle said gently, reaching for Ruby’s hand. “You just wanted to get inside, and it’s not like you could’ve said, ‘Hey, Belle! Hurry up! I’m freezing my fur off out here’,” Belle continued, laughing a little when Ruby lifted her head up, still embarrassed but not enough to hide her face anymore.
“Still,” Ruby began.
“Still nothing,” Belle said waving her hand. “You had to bang and howl to let me know you were out there, and … well,” Belle continued, blushing a little herself now, “it was nice of you to stop by,” she breathed out. “I know how much you love to run, and … it was … you know, a very lovely surprise to find you out there. Sitting, like a proper lady,” Belle said, smiling playfully at Ruby as the last five words came out of her mouth.
“Babysitting a wayward wolf didn’t ruin your night?” Ruby asked bringing the mug of tea Belle had brought her earlier up to her lips.
“Not at all,” Belle assured her. “I think we had quite a lovely time actually. I thought that I might’ve been a bit boring for you, and I half expected you to take off as abruptly as you showed up, but …” Belle shrugged and looked up then. “You stayed,” she finished simply with a smile.
“It was nice,” Ruby said softly, feeling her cheeks redden again as she looked over at Belle. “I liked being here with you. I liked the smell of the books, and the heat, and the sound of your voice. I don’t remember what you were saying to me,” Ruby continued softly as she gazed at Belle, “but I remember you talking and it was very … soothing,” she went on, the last word falling from lips as a whisper. “I …” Ruby smiled a little, “I think I might like the library more than the woods actually.”
“Even though there’s less room to run, and you can’t pee wherever you want?” Belle asked smiling.
Ruby's eyes widened and a stricken look came over her face.
“I didn’t …” she began to ask, looking absolutely mortified.
Belle laughed lightly and shook her head before soothing Ruby’s concerns verbally. “No, no. You were very well-behaved. You did use one of the leather bound books as a chew toy at one point, but I’d read that one already and it was no great loss,” Belle said, winking.
Ruby groaned a little and Belle laughed before reaching out to take her hand again, squeezing it comfortingly.
“The library is always open to you, but I think the woods have a lot more to offer,” Belle continued, still holding Ruby’s hand.
“You mean a lot more to pee on and chew up,” Ruby muttered dourly though her eyes were alight and her lips were slightly turned up.
Belle shrugged in response, and Ruby couldn’t stop herself from laughing.
“The library has something the woods don’t though,” Ruby began when her laughter abated.
“What’s that?” Belle asked softly, enchanted by the tender look in Ruby’s eyes as the other woman gazed at her.
She found Ruby enthralling all of the time, but the raven-haired beauty cast a particularly strong spell over her when she was shy and emotionally open as she was at that moment.
“You,” Ruby whispered.
Belle breathed in sharply as the word reached her and her eyelashes began to flutter as she attempted to hold back the tears that had so suddenly formed in her eyes.
“Me?” Belle asked, smiling tremulously, as she looked away from Ruby, more than a little embarrassed by the strong emotional response Ruby’s words had produced in her. “What do I have against bubbling brooks and star lit skies?”
“Everything,” Ruby breathed out instinctively, covering the hand Belle had covering her own and clutching it tightly. “It’s lonely out there,” Ruby continued softly. “I was sitting, looking at the moon, and this … sadness came over me. People, they think and they worry and they complicate things that are really simple. Animals aren’t like that. They just feel, they just know ... the wolf knew ... how to feel happy again. The wolf knew to find you,” Ruby whispered.
Eyes still shimmering wetly, Belle’s lips curved up into a beauteous smile.
“I make you happy?” Belle breathed out, unable to wipe the smile off of her face.
Ruby nodded as a smile spread across her own lips.
“Yeah,” Ruby breathed out. “I like you a lot,” she admitted smiling shyly.
There was a part of her – the rational, human part of her – that was screaming at her to stop; that was mocking her lack of eloquence, that was telling her what she was doing was stupid, that was terrifying her with thoughts of ruining her friendship with Belle. However, with the energy of the moon still heavy in the early morning air and the wolf still clinging around her edges, Ruby saw things, she felt things with an animal clarity. Just like the wolf knew to find Belle the night before, Ruby knew how to hold onto the happiness that she was feeling.
Ruby knew to listen to her heart.
“I like you a lot too,” Belle whispered, heart arrested by the look of longing look Ruby’s eyes. “This is probably going to sound horribly cheesy,” Belle went on, dipping her head down bashfully. “But when I’m around you, Storybrooke really does feel like a fairy-tale land. It feels like a magical place where anything is possible, even happily ever after. You just … make everything so much brighter.”
“I do?” Ruby breathed out, her voice barely a whisper as the gazed at Belle.
“Yeah,” Belle said, smiling at her shyly. “You do. I love being around you.”
Ruby smiled at her at that, wide and goofy, and Belle’s smile widened as well until she was too was grinning stupidly.
“Belle,” Ruby breathed out some seconds later, sounding slightly awed and slightly scared as her eyes roamed over Belle’s face.
“Yes?” Belle whispered a little breathlessly, though she was too afraid to think about why, to put conscious thought to her hopes lest they be dashed moments later.
“I…” Ruby began, but almost as soon as she started speaking she realized that there were no words that would do justice to what she was feeling. “Please don’t be mad,” Ruby whispered under her breath, and then before fear and doubt could overpower her heart, she clutched Belle’s hand tightly and leaned forward until her lips brushed softly against Belle’s.
When Ruby pulled back to gauge Belle’s reaction to her kiss, Belle’s eyes were still closed and her cheeks had taken on a rosy hue that made Ruby’s heart swell with love. But, when Belle’s eyelashes fluttered, revealing Belle’s sparkling her green eyes and her lips curved up into the most beautiful smile Ruby had ever seen, Ruby’s heart exploded with feelings, filling her up with so much love, desire, affection, want and need that she thought the onslaught of emotion might actually make her heart might give out on her.
“Was…” Ruby managed to choke out, “was that okay?” she asked, her voice dry and a bit tense with worry.
Belle looked happy, she was smiling at her, and her eyes were dancing, but Ruby wouldn’t be able to relax, she wouldn’t be able to breathe again until she knew for certain that she hadn’t just ruined everything with her impulsive act.
“Very okay,” Belle breathed out, lifting her free hand to Ruby’s cheek, her thumb stroking the soft, pale skin soothingly. “I…” Belle began, pausing to gather her thoughts as a blush reddened her cheeks and her eyes angled down shyly. “I wouldn’t mind it at all if you did it again,” she said softly, only looking up at Ruby when the last of the words had fallen from her lips.
Ruby smiled, large and bright at that, and her happy expression brought an equally brilliant smile to Belle’s lips.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Ruby whispered happily.
And then, with a small smile still tugging up the corners of her mouth, Ruby leaned forward and drew Belle into another kiss. She kissed her fully this time, firmly and without hesitation or fear, lingering desirously at Belle’s lips, drawing the softest and sweetest of moans from her.
They stayed that like for a long time, minute after minute after minute, sitting on the shag carpet in Belle’s office, lips brushing wetly against each other, tongues sliding and stroking as their hands roamed over thighs and hips, touching what they could of each other as their mouths met again and again.
They parted from each other only when Belle pulled back and gasped Ruby’s name, surprise and concern clear in her voice.
“What?” Ruby asked. Her voice was husky with desire, but her eyes were wide and uncertain, unsure what to make of Belle’s tone and her so suddenly pulling away from her lips.
“You’re crying,” Belle breathed out, stroking her thumb across Ruby’s cheek, wiping away a trail of moisture.
Ruby’s lips parted to protest, but now that Belle had spoken, Ruby became aware of the dampness on her cheek and she knew that Belle was right.
At some point as they kissed she had started to cry.
“Oh,” Ruby exhaled, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion.
“Are you alright?” Belle asked, still stroking Ruby's cheek soothingly. “Did I do something to upset…” she began, knowing that her hands had become increasingly active as their kiss went on and wondering if she’d touched Ruby somewhere she wasn’t ready to be touched yet.
“No!” Ruby exclaimed immediately, lifting her hand up to cover Belle’s and pressing it against her cheek, not wanting to lose contact with the other woman. “I’m fine,” she said softly, “really,” she added when Belle looked at her dubiously. “I’m … happy,” Ruby breathed out, smiling a little shyly, which brought a sweet smile to Belle’s lips as well. “I just,” Ruby sighed and looked down, trying to figure out how to put her tangled emotions into words.
“Waking up is the worst part about changing into my wolf form,” Ruby began a few seconds later, looking up to meet Belle’s curious, affectionate gaze. “I always feel so lonely in the morning. Wolves,” Ruby said a bit ruefully, “are supposed to have packs, so waking up, cold and alone in the woods tends to make me a little sad. And I felt that way when I woke up this morning, but then I heard your voice … and all of the sadness just disappeared,” Ruby whispered, and Belle’s lips twitched up in a soft smile. “It’s just all a little overwhelming I think. In a good way,” Ruby added hastily, “In a very good way. In the best way,” she went on, smiling a little herself when Belle’s widened.
“You don’t have to wake up cold and alone anymore,” Belle said softly, holding Ruby’s eyes as her left hand found Ruby’s and held it securely. “I’ll be your pack,” she continued, and a bashful but wide smile touched Ruby’s lips. “Come to me and I’ll keep you warm,” Belle promised, her voice soft but fierce with conviction as she looked deeply into Ruby’s eyes.
“I’d like that,” Ruby breathed out, her chest rumbling deeply a second later which brought a blush to her cheeks.
Belle laughed airily in response to her sheepish look, and for Ruby it was like being bathed in sunlight; Belle’s smiled warmed her, making her whole body tingle with pleasure.
“I think your wolf likes it too,” Belle murmured, and Ruby’s blush deepened even as she nodded, acknowledging the truth of Belle’s words.
“She does,” Ruby replied, her voice lowering slightly as she spoke, becoming huskier as her eyes narrowed speculatively at Belle, almost predator-like in their intensity. “You know what else my wolf likes?” Ruby asked.
“What?” Belle asked softly.
“Kissing you,” Ruby replied, and Belle grinned at her.
“Then we should do that again,” Belle breathed out. “I know how impatient your wolf can be,” she continued, her eyes crinkling a little at the sides in amusement as she smiled at Ruby.
Ruby growled softly, which to her delight just made Belle laugh, and then she drew her face closer to Belle’s until their lips met.
“I’ll be your pack too,” Ruby breathed out against Belle’s lips between kisses. “We’ll take care of each other,” she promised, knowing that Belle was alone too, having been betrayed by the two people she had trusted most in the world, her father and Rumplestilskin.
“Ruby,” Belle said, shaking her head slightly as tears stung her eyes. “You don’t have to … you don’t …”
“I want to,” Ruby interjected before Belle could say more. “I want to be somebody you can count on, someone you can trust,” Ruby said, cupping Belle’s jaw lightly so she could gently tip Belle’s head up so that their eyes met. “You’ll look after me and I’ll look after you. We’ll keep each other warm,” she whispered before leaning forward to kiss the corner of Belle’s lip.
“Now, I’m going to cry,” Belle whispered, her eyes filling with tears as she spoke.
“That’s okay. I’ll kiss the tears away,” Ruby breathed out sweetly, running her fingers down Belle’s arm and then taking Belle’s hand in her own as Belle gazed at her.
Ruby had once called herself a monster. She had talked about herself like she was a beast, like she was something dirty, and she had been wrong, so very wrong. Ruby was as far away from a beast as it was possible to be. She might have fangs and fur and howl at the moon on some nights, but Belle had never known a purer, kinder, sweeter soul.
“You’re crying,” Ruby whispered against Belle’s lips. “Did I do that?” she asked teasingly.
Belle smiled at her, and then blinked a few times, shedding a few more tears before she leaned forward and their lips met in a slow, sweet kiss that had Ruby sighing contently into her mouth.
“Yes,” Belle breathed out half a minute later, smiling at Ruby. “It’s all your fault,” she accused good-naturedly, and Ruby laughed softly in response.
“Then I’ll take care of it,” Ruby promised softly, and then she carefully laid Belle down on the rug before propping herself up on her arm so that she could lean over and kiss away one of the glistening droplets on Belle’s cheek, before moving onto another, and another, until Belle was smiling up at her widely as she laughed.
“You’re silly,” Belle said happily, gazing up at Ruby.
“You like it,” Ruby replied saucily.
“I do,” Belle admitted softly, her eyes alight with contentment. “Do you know what else I’d like?” Belle asked.
“What?” Ruby asked, though she had a good idea where Belle was going with this.
“Your lips on mine again,” Belle breathed out, her eyes hooding in an enchantingly desirous way.
“I can do that,” Ruby purred, and then she dipped her head down once more, capturing Belle’s lips in a sweet kiss that led to another, and another.
“I’m going to be late for work, aren’t I?” Ruby asked minutes, hours, maybe even days later.
The passage of time meant nothing to her with Belle pressed against her.
“Yeah,” Belle sighed happily, arching up to capture Ruby’s lips again.
Ruby sighed contently into the kiss and drew her hand up Belle’s thigh and over her hip before she slid her fingers just beneath the bottom of Belle’s top, allowing her fingers to drift over the smooth skin of Belle’s abdomen.
“Okay,” Ruby murmured easily, and Belle laughed lightly before recapturing Ruby’s lips in a deep, heated kiss that had Ruby moaning and arching into her.
Belle smiled against Ruby’s mouth and gently rolled her over, dedicating herself fully to changing Ruby’s poor opinion of mornings after a full moon.