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The Magic of Christmas
"Be careful!" Ruby watched as Charming and Snow walked down the street, slightly swaying from one side to the other. They'd been the last ones to leave and even though they were her best friends she was happy to see them go.
Holding their first Christmas Party since everyone got their memory back had been exhausting and being the only one not even being slightly intoxicated hadn't been fun. She blamed the wolf and the animal's fast metabolism for that.
She closed the door and turned the sign to "closed".
"So how did you like your first Christmas Party?" Ruby turned around to face Bell. The other woman was seated on a barstool, rotating to and fro, causing Ruby to smirk. She loved it to see Bell carefree and enjoying herself.
"The best one I ever had and probably will ever have." Bell answered enthusiastically, waving her arms in a big circle. "Especially the eggnog was delicious."
Ruby tried not to laugh. The eggnog had been everyone's favorite tonight, thanks to Granny's 'secret' ingredient. Bell had only needed two mugs to get tipsy. Ruby stepped behind the counter and filled a big glass with water. "Here drink this." She pushed the glass in front of Bell. "You'll thank me in the morning."
Bell looked at her, something inexplicable in her gaze, "You always look out for me," she answered softly as she placed her hand on top of Ruby's, squeezing it.
Ruby looked away, Bell's intense gaze making her nervous. "Someone has to and you deserve it." She cleared her throat. "But it's late. We should get you home."
She walked back to Bell and looked around with a sigh. "And after that I have to clean this chaos."
It was a quest she didn't look forward to.
"Oh, I can help you." Bell jumped down from the barstool, miscalculating the momentum in her slightly tipsy state. Only Red's fast reflexes prevented her from falling.
Bell leaned heavily against her and burrowed her head into Red's chest. Red could feel the other woman's hand snaking around her waist, leaving goosebumps in its trail.
"Everything's turning." Bell complained, her voice muffled by Red's shirt.
Red closed her eyes, enjoying the closeness more than she should and she tried to blame the wolf and its animalistic needs for it. She inhaled deeply, filling her nose with the intoxicating fragrance of Bell.
Maybe she would never be able to get drunk by alcohol ever again, but standing like this, breathing in the essence that was Bell, she felt intoxicated. For a moment she allowed herself to submerge in this feeling, savoring it. There were so many reasons why she never would be allowed to act on these feelings.
She rubbed soothingly over Bell's back. "Let's go."
It was cold outside and Red told herself that that was the only reason why Bell was snuggled up to her side, the shorter woman's arm snaked around her waist once again. She wished she could lay her arm around Bell's shoulders, but the red cloak wrapped tightly around her wasn't the only reason that kept her from following her instincts.
She pulled the cloak tighter around her and looked up at the full moon above them. On a full moon it was even harder to stop herself from pulling Bell into her arms and confess that she was falling in love with her.
The big bad wolf was a love-sick puppy.
"Will you run tonight?" Bell asked like it was the most ordinary thing in the world that her friend was a werewolf.
Red shook her head. "Cleaning up the mess will take me the whole night and beside, Henry made me promise I wouldn't turn tonight."
They stopped in front of the library and Red instantly missed Bell's warmth as the other woman let go of her. "Why?"
Red wrapped her arms tighter around herself, shuddering from the sudden cold. "He's afraid the wolf might scare Santa's reindeer off and he wouldn't get any presents."
Bell laughed in delight and her bright voice echoed through the night. "Does he really believe in Santa Claus?" she asked in disbelief.
Red shrugged, "I'm not sure, but I think he doesn't want to take chances. On the other side, he believed in a book of fairytales and he was right." She inhaled the cold air deeply before she sighed. "I won't disappoint him." She looked down to her feet, remembering all the times she had let people down.
She only looked up, when she felt Bell's hands resting on her shoulders. "Why can't you believe in yourself?"
When had Bell learned to read her mind?
"Your grandmother believes in you, your friends believe in you." Bell shook her slightly to emphasize her words. "I believe in you. So why can't you?"
It wasn't easy to convince Red, many had tried and failed. She always believed more in action than words. "I chained you up in the library." She reminded Bell.
Bell rolled her eyes, a habit she had picked up from Henry. "Yes, that was very stupid, but we talked about that; you've been desperate and I've forgiven you." She leaned forward and for the split of a second Red thought that Bell might kiss her.
Involuntarily Red closed her eyes.
There was a kiss and it took Red's breath away.
It was more like a brush of air against her cheek than an actual touch. And still it managed to make her knees week and let her stomach flip. Never before had Red or Ruby felt something like this. She didn't dare to think how her body would have reacted if it had been an actual kiss.
"Good night." Bell's soft voice cut through her haze.
Ruby blinked, "Sleep well," she mumbled as she watched Bell vanish into the library.
From the spot, where Bell had kissed her spread warmth through her whole body, warming her like a burning fire.
She had fought against armies, killed countless men in battle, but Bell defeated her with a single innocent kiss.
So this was the punishment for her sins, loving the purest human being she had ever met, someone who could never reciprocate her feelings.
Once again her eyes went to the moon, cursing it for everything it put her through. She blinked against the tears in her eyes, telling herself that they were from the cold and not the pain she felt.
With a sigh Ruby closed the last garbage bag. Finally, after what felt like eternity the diner was clean again. The tables were cleaned, the dishes back in the cupboards, the floor was mopped and the garbage was ready to be taken out.
Everything was ready for the next day. She looked over at the big clock at the wall and groaned.
Just a few hours of sleep before her grandmother expected her to work again. At least she didn't have the first shift.
Why they opened on Christmas Ruby would never understand, she was sure that no one would show up, but her grandmother had insisted.
'In times of change, people need stability.' She had explained to her granddaughter and Ruby had rolled her eyes.
She wouldn't find sleep tonight anyway.
The wolf was restless, demanding its run and protested against the bonds of the cloak's magic.
On top of it Ruby couldn't get Bell's kiss out of her mind.
She rubbed her hands over her face in the futile attempt to get her mind to stop producing images of things she wasn't allowed to even think of.
Bell was her friend, nothing more.
A platonic friend.
And it would never be anything more.
She had to stop daydreaming.
Maybe Bell was a princess, but she definitely wasn't a prince, ready to save the day. No she was the monster you needed saving from.
Ruby grabbed the two bags of garbage and went through the back door to the alleyway, where the dumpster was placed.
With more force than necessary she threw the bags into the dumpster and closed its lid.
Her gaze went to the sky and the bright full moon.
Even though she wasn't in her wolf-form she felt the urge to howl at the moon in frustration, but instead she took a deep breath to clear her head, letting the cold night-air burn in her lungs.
Suddenly a big, dark shadow obscured the moon, but it was gone as fast as it had occurred.
Ruby blinked and searched the night-sky. She was probably just tired and imagining things.
But she didn't imagine the loud, screeching sound that came closer every second till it filled her head.
Only her wolf-reflexes kept her from being crushed by the dark massive object that crashed a few feet away from her into the ground
There was smoke and fizzling and blinking, colorful lights and for a moment Ruby thought that a meteor might have crashed into the alleyway.
Till the cursing started.
"Damn that sneaky little son of a bitch."
When the smoke cleared Red couldn't believe her eyes. Involuntarily her hand went to her head in search for a wound. She probably had hit her head without noticing it. There was no other explanation than a fat concussion, because there was no way she was staring at Santa Claus and his sleigh.
A disheveled Santa and a banged up sleigh.
Santa had lost his hat and the sleigh was overthrown, the big brown bag open and the presents were strewn all over the place.
But worse than that were his two reindeer. They didn't move and their bodies were twisted and mangled. Red didn't need her wolf to know they were dead.
She gasped in shock when she realized that one of it had a red nose.
"Oh god, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is dead," escaped her lips.
Santa's cursing stopped and he looked at Red, then at the reindeer. "He was a good boy, so much better than his father." He crouched down beside the animal and patted his head with affection. "It's a pity he only lasted for two years."
"Two years?" Red stammered, still not believing what was happening.
"You don't really believe he was the original, did you?" Because of his white massive beard Red couldn't be sure, but it seemed like he was wearing a mocking smile. "With the stress of the job they don't last long."
A dead Rudolph and a cursing Santa Claus were too much for her mind to process, there was only one logical explanation for all this. "This isn't real." Her hands went to her temples, pushing against the throbbing pain behind them. "I just have a concussion, right? If it were real, your crash would have woken everyone up."
She thought that Santa was rolling his eyes at her, but in the darkness she couldn't be sure.
"Really? Of all people, a fairytale-character is questioning my existence?" Santa asked sarcastically. "It's a magic night." He said slowly, like he was talking to a child. "No one has witnessed the crash because they're all fast asleep, magic sleep. It stops time for them."
"If everyone's asleep, why am I awake?"
She could see he was losing his patience. "I have no fucking idea, and right now I don't care. I have two dead reindeer, presents scattered all over the place and I'm stuck in fucking Storybrooke."
When he mentioned the dead reindeer her nostrils were overflooded with the scent of dead animals and her wolf reared its head, fighting against the invisible chains that kept it from claiming the night and probably two dead reindeer.
Her human part was still unsure if she was awake or if Santa was just a product of her imagination, but she couldn't ignore the wolf. It knew that she was staring at the real Santa Claus.
Red raised her hands in hope to calm the furious man down. "Yeah, you're right. It's just," she took a deep breath, trying to find the right words, " it was a long day. What happened?"
"Magic trap," Santa explained. He pulled a flask from his coat and took a gulp, before offering it to Red.
She shook her head. "Doesn't work for me."
"Poor girl." This time the pity seemed real. Once again the flask vanished inside his coat. "Rumpelstilskin tried to catch me. Probably thought I know where his son is. We flew right into his magic wall." His fist smacked into his other hand, illustrating the crash. "It killed them instantly. I could break the spell and managed to land without breaking my neck too."
Of course Gold, she bristled with anger. He and his magic had destroyed enough lives. Santa Claus was just another poor soul falling victim to his schemes.
"What are you planning to do?"
"What I'm planning, except for killing Rumpelstilskin with my bare hands? Nothing, because without my reindeer I can't leave." He kicked at his sleigh in frustration, before he sat down next to his sleigh and leaned against it. "I'm fucked and tomorrow Santa Claus will be the most hated person on facebook, because millions of children won't get their Christmas presents."
"You can't stay here." Red leaned down to grab two presents. She handed them to Santa, motioning him to get up and help her gathering the rest.
"Without an animal to pull my sleigh I'm stuck."
Together they started to collect the presents. "I can show you to a farm. Maybe you can find a cow or something else for the job." Red offered, but Santa shook his head.
"I need a magic animal like " He stopped and suddenly there was a mischievous glint in his eyes that Red didn't like.
"You would do."
Shocked the last parcel fell from her hands. She winced when she heard something splinter inside of it. "Are you crazy?"
"No, but I need a magic animal and you're the only one available right now." He insisted." Actually you would be perfect. You're strong enough to pull the sleigh alone."
Red shook her head, sending her dark locks flying. "I can't leave Storybrooke, not with the curse." For the first time in her life she was happy that she was bound to this small town.
Santa waved his hand dismissively. "Don't worry; my magic will protect you. Tonight the magic of Christmas is the most powerful magic in the world. It's more powerful than any curse. It's even more powerful than true love." He waved his hand like a bad magician, small sparkles shooting from his fingertips.
He looked at her, expecting her to be as excited as him about the prospect of saving Christmas.
But Red wasn't enthusiastic. She was scared and terrified. He made it sound like a walk in the park. Sure she had learned to control the wolf, but tonight she was afraid she wouldn't be the one in control. She felt like she hadn't been in control of her life for a long time.
"R., I really need you." She looked at him, really looked at him and for the first time she could see the old tired man behind the facade of the jolly Santa Claus. "If there was another possibility to safe Christmas, I would take it, but there isn't. If you won't help me, there won't be Christmas for millions of children."
She had a lot of flaws, more than she was able to count, especially given Ruby's past, but there was one trait she had always been proud of. She never denied anyone help when asked. "I want to help you, I really want, but the wolf." Her voice trailed off and she sighed in frustration. "It isn't easy to control the wolf. Even on a good day, I need all my willpower to stay in control. But tonight " she shook her head. "I'm anything but balanced and 'willpowered'."
"I don't care." Santa replied. "I trust you. And honestly, you are my only fucking chance to save this fucking night."
Despite everything that was going on the last sentenced caused Ruby to laugh. "What is it with all the cursing, aren't you supposed to be a nice old man?"
"Well you can't trust fairy-tales. They twist the reality." He replied with a wink.
If anyone knew how twisted they were it was Red, but in some way they still stayed true. Hadn't the wolf "swallowed" her and taken over her life?
But tonight she wouldn't allow the wolf to take over. She straightened up and grabbed the ribbon of her cloak. "Don't blame me if the wolf takes a bite." She teased with a crooked smile, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt.
Santa returned her smile with one of his own. "I wouldn't mind losing a few pounds." His hands went to his belly, shaking it with a low "Hohoho."
Amused Red shook her head. "Okay, let's do it." She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths through her nose. With every breath she felt herself relax some more.
With a strong pull the ribbon came loose and the cloak gathered around her feet.
She was already changing and didn't know if Santa was talking to her or her wolf when he said, "It will be the run of your life."
When her alarm sounded it took Ruby more than a minute to realize where the sound came from and that she was supposed to get up. But getting up was out of question as even lifting her hand to end the bothering sound took all her willpower.
She was used to waking up tired and disoriented after a night as a wolf, but never in her life had she felt this exhausted. Muscles were hurting, she didn't even know she possessed.
Memories of the night before came back, first hazy at best, but with every waking moment they became clearer and clearer. With a groan Ruby flipped around und buried her head deeper into her pillow. She didn't want to think about last night. Sure the wolf had enjoyed this special run, but the human being was nothing but embarrassed about last night.
"Ruby!" Her grandmother's yell close to her ear, jerked her out of her thoughts. "Get up." Her warm blanket was pulled back. "Why aren't you wearing your cloak?"
Ruby blinked, her vision still blurry from sleep. "I'm up, I'm fine." She mumbled, shielding her eyes with her arms against the suddenly bright light that illuminated her room.
"One day you're going to be the death of me." Her grandmother replied already on her way out of the room again.
"Merry Christmas to you too," Ruby mumbled after the door had been closed again.
The scalding hot shower had eased some of the soreness, but she was still dead tired and she was afraid not even a pot of the strongest coffee would be enough to get her through her shift. She brushed once again through her still wet hair, deciding against blow-drying it. Her grandmother expected her to be at the diner in five minutes and it wasn't like she would be catching a cold. Her strong immune system was one of the merits of being a werewolf.
She reached out to grab her wallet, but stopped.
There on her nightstand right next to her wallet lay a small red envelope.
She frowned, she hadn't noticed the card before. First she thought it might be from her grandmother, but the handwriting on the front, a single "R." wasn't hers. She opened it to retrieve a small card.
"Thanks for the help. I hope you enjoy your present. S.C."
Red looked around, but couldn't find anything that looked even remotely like a present. She even looked under her bed, but came up with nothing except for a t-shirt she had searched for a week ago.
She didn't have time to brood over that thought when her grandmother yelled for her again.
It would be a very long day.
Of course no one had showed up at the diner. Everyone was possible at home enjoying their first Christmas-day reunited with their families.
Ruby took another gulp from her coffee. It was her third mug, but the hoped effect of the caffeine still hadn't kicked in. She pinched her nose and closed her eyes again, wondering if it was possibly to fall asleep while standing.
She didn't know how long she stood like that before the chime of the bell above the entrance startled her.
Her mood improved immediately when she saw who had entered.
"Hi." Bell said breathlessly. She leaned against the counter and tried to catch her breath.
She looked like she had left the library in a hurry and ran all the way to the diner. Her hair was disheveled; her cheeks red form the cold. She even had forgotten to close her coat.
Ruby had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.
"Hi." She smiled back from her side of the counter.
Bell grabbed her hands and Ruby noticed how cold the other woman's hands were. She changed her grip, covering Bell's hands with hers, to warm them up.
"Sorry, it took me so long to get here. I just found the card."
Ruby didn't understand one word Bell was saying, but the big smile the other woman spotted was contagious and Ruby couldn't do anything else, but return it. "You found a card?"
Bell nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, I found your card," She bit her lower lip and lowered her head bashfully. "And yes, I'd love to go on a date with you."
Ruby blinked. "You want to date me?" she asked confused. There was a sudden flutter in her stomach and her fingertips tingled, but her mind was still too tired to catch up.
"Your note, the one that was hidden under your other present." Bell asked insecurely, her eyes darkening with uncertainty. She pulled something from the pocket of her coat and placed it with trembling fingers between them on the counter.
Ruby recognized her own handwriting immediately, but she didn't remember writing the note in front of her. She never would have dared to be as bold as the question posed on the small paper.
But she recognized the paper immediately. She had received a similar note earlier this morning. And suddenly even in her sleep deprived mind, she finally realized what had happened.
She inhaled sharply, her whole body stiffening.
That sneaky son of a bitch.
How could he do that to her?
Giving her a glimpse of what she wanted most, but could never have.
"Oh god, you changed your mind." Bell's shocked and hurt voice cut through her haze. "I, I better go." She reached for the note, but before she could pull it back, Ruby's hand covered Bell's, stopping her.
"Do you really want to go on a date with me?" She would berate herself for the rest of her life, if she didn't ask. It was her only chance, even though she was certain that Bell had misunderstood the question, possibly thinking it was just an invitation to another girls' night.
"Bell, please look at me," Ruby pleaded, when the other woman refused to meet her gaze, her eyes focused on the note and their entwined fingers. Ruby's free hand reached out to lift her chin, till their eyes met. She could see the hurt in Bell's eyes and cursed under her breath.
She had sworn to never hurt her.
"Do you know how long I waited for this?" Bell whispered and only Red's enhanced hearing allowed her to hear the question.
"Not as long as I wanted to ask you." She answered softly, surprised by her own courage.
A smile brightened Bell's face again, and Red exhaled deeply in relief.
But then her own insecurity returned full force, still unable to comprehend that Bell would ever want to date someone like her. "You do understand, that I want to go out on a 'date' date with you and not just out on a girl's night?"
"I may have been locked up for 28 years, but I'm not naïve." Bell tried to sound offended, but with the big smile plastered on her face she failed miserably. "And just so you understand, I expect to be wooed."
"I promise you, I won't disappoint you."
"I know." Bell replied with a certainty that surprised and astonished Red. It was one of the things she loved about Bell. She always saw the good in people, even in monsters. The strength and the certainty she radiated had been one of the things that had Red, Ruby and the wolf drawn to her.
"Why didn't you ask me yourself? Why the note?"
How was she supposed to answer? There were too many reasons that kept her from asking. Gold, her wolf, hell she hadn't even been sure, if Bell knew that two women could fall in love with each other. But before she could reply the high-pitched sound of an over excited child's voice interrupted them.
"Henry?" Ruby barely had time to round the counter before the boy crashed into her, hugging her as tight as possible. Her still sore muscles protested and Ruby tried to suppress a moan of pain.
"I knew it, I always knew it. You're the coolest person ever. You're a hero."
Bell looked at her over Henry's head and Ruby tried to shrug as much as it was possibly with Henry still attached to her waist. "No idea." She mouthed.
"Henry." She ruffled his hair before she freed herself from his grasp and crouched down in front of him. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you at home with your family?"
"I saw you last night."
The smile on her face froze. "What are you talking about?" She asked slowly, hoping against all odds that he had just seen her cleaning the diner.
"First I was angry at you, because you broke your promise, but Santa Claus explained everything to me."
Shocked Ruby's eyes went to Bell, who watched them amused and interested before she pulled Henry into the last booth and out of Bell's hearing range. "Why weren't you asleep; everyone was supposed to be asleep?"
"I'm special." He explained with proudness, only a small boy could muster.
Against her will Ruby smiled. "Of course you are. But you can't tell anyone about what you saw, not your mothers or your grandparents. No-one. Do you understand that?" she whispered urgently. "It has to be a secret."
Henry nodded enthusiastically and he crossed his fingers. "I won't tell anyone about Operation 'saving Christmas'." He promised.
Ruby sighed. Now her night with Santa Claus was already an operation. She looked at Henry.
She had broken her promise and she was afraid Henry would do the same. She gave him ten minutes maximum before he would spill the beans to Emma or Snow, but there was nothing she could do about it. If anyone believed him, she could still claim that he had dreamt everything. She would cross that bridge when she came to it. "You better get home before they miss you." She gave him a little push, directing him to the front door.
"Bye Rubes, bye Bell." He waved and then he was out of the door and running down the street as fast as only a child could.
Ruby joined Bell at the counter and leaned next to her. Bell looked at her, one of her brows raised in question. Ruby blushed, but waved her hand. "Kids, they're always exaggerating. He just liked the present I got him and suddenly I saved Christmas." She laughed nervously, hoping that Bell wouldn't see through her white lie.
Bell didn't seem convinced, but let it go for the time being. "Well I liked your present too, so maybe you really saved Christmas." She smiled cockily.
Suddenly Bell's stomach grumbled, causing Ruby to laugh.
"I don't know about Christmas, but this is definitely something I can help you with. One breakfast on the house?" she asked and Bell nodded bashfully.
Another nod from a now quiet Bell caused Red to smile, because she knew exactly were Bell thoughts were right now and she loved it. She winked provokingly, just to witness Bell's face turning a deeper shade of red.
Maybe today wouldn't be such a bad day as she had feared. As long as she could spend time with Bell nothing could faze her today.
Or at least she though so till her grandmother yelled from the kitchen.
"Ruby why are there two dead reindeer in our freezer?"
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