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the sanctuary tender and so frail

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Every Tuesday was horror night at the Storybrooke movie theatre. Ruby didn’t know why exactly - especially since barely anyone was there and way too often it was couples making out in the back as if there weren’t a hundred places around town to do that – but she enjoyed those evenings. Film monsters often made her laugh, sometimes feel a connection, and even though she was a living fairy tale, those stories provided the best getaway from reality. There was also the surprisingly well sorted concession stand (including Japanese Kit Kat flavors, Ruby never dared to ask about and just always bought).

Tonight she was already looking forward to a pack of milk duds and forgetting about the stupid argument with Granny over switching to another brand of ketchup (yes, this was indeed stupid, but all Ruby wanted was a tiny change, some superfluous thing to change). She was delighted to see Interview with the Vampire was playing. Two hours of bliss and sexy men looking at each other. She would buy a large soda and an extra snack.

When she got her ticket a familiar voice interrupted her important thought process about candy.

“Hi, Ruby. Guess I won’t have to sit all alone after all.”

Ruby turned around with a puzzled look on her face. “What are you doing here? I mean, hi.”

Belle smiled and lowered her voice to a fake whisper. “I am reading my way through the library and just found out about Anne Rice. So I had to see this. But don’t tell anyone I enjoy vampire romance. People think of me as sophisticated.”

Ruby almost blurted out a “well, you are”, but instead nodded. “Your secret is safe with me. And if you don’t keep talking about all the differences, we can sit together.”

“Deal, I give you my commentary afterwards.” Belle didn’t realize that this was truly something she’d already looked forward to. She was used to reading her books in silence and keeping all her feelings about the hundreds upon hundreds of adventures she had experienced this way inside. “Do you come here a lot?”

“Every week for Terror Tuesday. And sometimes when I don’t feel like being around people.” Ruby had never said that out loud. But there wasn’t a reason to lie or be evasive. This was Belle. “You’ve been here before?”

“Only twice so far.”

“So you don’t even have a go to candy yet?” Since Ruby had been there when Belle had eaten her way through the whole menu at Granny’s to find the things she liked, she immediately made it her mission to do the same all over again.

“I do like popcorn…”

And so that’s what she ended up with, but Ruby poured M&M’s all over, insisting that added an extra crunch. The shared bucket was almost empty by the time Claudia met her demise on screen. When the sunlight hit the two women Ruby reached into the bucket, but Belle’s hand was still there. Completely engulfed by the drama she hadn’t moved in a minute and instinctively grabbed Ruby’s hand. It lasted a few seconds, but for Ruby this felt like an eternity.

A feeling she had to process later. And she knew later she would push this down, very deep down. Like all the other times Belle had broken her personal bubble.

“So, did it measure up to your expectations?”, Ruby asked when they slowly walked home.

“I don’t think I had any. I have a highly specific imagination when reading and I knew it wouldn’t be like that. It’s like when you imagine a conversation and when it finally happens, it’s completely different with just one changed sentence.”

Ruby wasn’t sure what to make of that observation. She had certainly experience in that department. But it seemed like a way too heavy topic when she could talk about Belle discovering Brad Pitt.

Without really meaning to, Ruby had accompanied Belle back to her home and after a lively discussion about whether or not vampires secretly lived in Storybrooke, it was time to say goodbye.

“This was really fun. Glad I convinced myself to go, even though I think everybody told me going to the movies was more of a group thing to do.” A beat. “Maybe a date. Just not alone.”

The repressed feeling wanted to boil up again, but Ruby kept it down. “It can still be fun alone. But this was nice for a change.” Change. The tiny change she was looking for some hours ago. “Good night, Belle.”

Instead of responding Belle gave her a hug goodbye.

 

The week flew by, they saw each other at Granny’s, but didn’t speak about this. So when the next Tuesday rolled around, Ruby was prepared to get back to her routine. But before she even reached the theatre, she heard footsteps speeding up behind her.

“Hey, Ruby, wait a second.”

Ruby turned around and waved at Belle. “Are you stalking me?”

“Would a stalker announce herself? I think I would be more subtle.”

They rounded the last corner together and Ruby saw the bright letters advertising tonight’s movie – The Crow.

“Don’t tell me you have the graphic novel in your library and happened to read that.”

Belle laughed. “Now that you mention it, I should look into that section. But no, I saw the title in the paper and looked it up. And I was intrigued.”

“Revenge, violence and a man with make-up dressed in leather is intriguing to you”, Ruby teased.

“If I read the synopsis right, it’s revenge out of love. And that I want to see.”

Tonight the theatre was almost too packed for Ruby’s taste. Eight other people had come to watch the cult classic. That counted as a crowd.

“Since this is not a cute film, maybe you should try something not so sweet.” And with that Ruby bought a pack of sour patch kids.

“Sour candy. Really?” Belle was sceptical about the concept and later on Ruby could not tell if Belle disliked the taste or was just too focused on the film to eat. She even had half her soda left when Shelly finally came to reunite with Eric. Ruby was used to sitting all the way through the credits, which made it easy to pretend she didn’t notice how Belle tried to discretely wipe away a few tears while “It can’t rain all the time” was playing.

There wasn’t even a question if Ruby would walk Belle home. This was time to digest the film together.

“You weren’t kidding when you mentioned the violence.”

“It’s cathartic. There was no justice for them, so vengeance is the next best thing I guess.” There was something Ruby didn’t want to say out loud that always tied a knot in her stomach when she thought about this story. Well, ever since she remembered her own.

Picking up on things not being said was a specialty of Belle though and suddenly she stopped in the middle of the road. “You know such a brutal attack, with such purpose, is something else. Beating a murderer up is good for a dramatic story, but it’s rarely so clear cut. Especially… well, accidents happen.”

Neither mentioned Peter’s name. Being the bad guy in your own love story complicated things, that much was true. But Ruby was in a place where she also allowed for Belle’s words to reach her. She couldn’t kill the beast that took something from her, because the beast didn’t know any better.

Ruby put out her hand and pulled Belle forward, so they started walking again. “I know”, was all she could add. Belle intertwined their fingers and didn’t let go until they reached her door.

“Halloween is coming up soon. I now have a new costume to consider. So the film was worth a watch. Does Erica Draven sound good to you?”

Ruby couldn’t help herself. “I’m sure Lacey has left a few leather items in your closet. That would help.”

Belle let go of her hand to smack her on the shoulder. “Rude.”

“Hey, no judgement. I am known for some… risky attire.”

Belle made it a point to look Ruby up and down. “Couldn’t tell from the three layers of a t-shirt, flannel and jacket. I can’t even see your ankle in those boots.”

“Wow, naked ankles, you are such a freak, Miss French.”

“I only adapt to my environment, Miss Lucas.”

They smiled at each other until very slowly Ruby turned around to go home.

 

Was it weird to have these evenings together or was it weirder not talking about it the other days of the week? When the next tuesday arrived, Ruby was looking for Belle the whole way to the theatre. Had she mentioned she would come? Was it okay to just expect this?

Maybe for once she should have looked at the ad in the paper to know what was playing tonight. Grave Encounters. Ruby’s heart sank. Found Footage shlock. While she was always up for stuff like that, this was hardly something Belle would want to see. There had been too many quality films lately. Well, at least it was something Ruby only knew from trailers.

When she entered she couldn’t stop her face from lighting up immediately with the biggest grin. Belle stood at the concession stand, already having chosen.

“Hi. Can you believe I couldn’t find Twizzlers at the store? It was the next item on my list.” She held out a string of red licorice. Ruby knew these weren’t hard to get at all, but suddenly it was the most valuable treat in the world. “Also it is definitely my turn to buy some sugar for you.”

Ruby was glad she had stuffed her mouth and couldn’t respond to that. Instead she opted to give Belle a quick rundown of what to expect from a found footage horror film during the commercials. And that sometimes fun and quality didn’t come as a package.

The most fascinating thing for Ruby was finding out, why so many people chose horror films as a dating venue. Since this was her very first encounter with the genre, the tension and constant threat of something maybe happening grabbed Belle. And in turn she grabbed Ruby. Literally. Burying her face in her shoulder a few times.

Ruby was still so adamant about not naming this feeling, but she allowed herself to enjoy Belle clinging on to her. Having such close – and very innocent – contact with a woman she… liked very much.

“But that is a terrible ending”, Belle practically shouted when they stepped on the street afterwards. “Everyone is dead and he gets a lobotomy?”

Ruby shrugged. “It’s the nature of these films. Terrible things happen and the camera is the only survivor, so somebody has to piece the gruesome story together years later. If somebody survives that counts as a twist.”

“It’s awful.” Belle reached out and they walked arm-in-arm. “I need to see another one. As research into this phenomenon obviously.”

“Obviously. I think there is a sequel.”

“Maybe I should be glad Regina didn’t have me lobotomized or experimented on.”

Ruby skipped a step and almost lost balance. “Oh… I didn’t even think about that… your time in… there.”

“It’s a fuzzy memory. Time stood still anyway.”

They reached Belle’s door yet again. “Okay, I make you a deal. If anybody ever locks you up again, I will get you out. Even if I have to bring a whole camera team to document the whole journey.”

“You’d walk endless tunnels with nothing but eerie night vision?”

“Sure.” Ruby leaned a little bit closer, detangling their arms, but squeezing Belle’s hand for a second. “I have wolf senses, remember. I can practically see in the dark.” She left out the part that she could easily find Belle by scent. A scent she took in right now. A pleasant one at that.

“Only if we get that twist ending with surviving.”

This playful exchange carried Ruby through the whole week. No customers with obscure extra orders bothered her. Or all the stupid little tasks that often annoyed her. No, there was only Belle smiling at her when she came in for her usual lunch.

 

The next tuesday was the second night of wolfstime. Those were the tuesdays she sometimes skipped, when the urge to run and jump through leaves (hunt a rabbit maybe) was too strong. But the thought hadn’t crossed her mind. Pulling her cloak tight around herself, she couldn’t wait to get to the theatre.

Belle was waiting in front of the ticket booth. “Oh”, was her outstanding reaction. “I guess this is not for costume reasons.”

“Nope.” Ruby looked up in the sky with the almost full moon. “This is so we can talk.”

Belle squinted. She was obviously contemplating whether or not to say what was on her mind. Ruby knew that kind of look. “Spit it out. Snow threw a few comments at me before, I can take it.”

“I mean, maybe we could save some money if you came as my emotional support animal.”

Ruby grinned. That was a good one.

“Sorry, sorry, it popped up in my head. I didn’t mean to-“

“It’s okay. It’s a joke. Friends are allowed to tease me. I only glare at David when he does it, because he has the best apologetic face of all.” She bought her ticket. “Wouldn’t work though, because people here would know it’s me and charge you anyway.” Finally Ruby looked at the stub and saw today’s title. She had expected Halloween or a similar slasher for the upcoming holiday, but it said Trick ‘r Treat. Damn. This would be awkward. (There was a reason Disney films rarely made the program.)

“Do you crave something more savoury tonight? Beef jerky or cracklings?”

“Maybe you are still trying to tease me, but that is an excellent idea. With some Reese’s Pieces, for the peanut butter.”

“I will say yes to the latter. And maybe tonight is the night I try one of those obscene slushies you keep talking about.”

“Risking a brain freeze, daring choice.”

The dark humour of the film wasn’t lost on Belle, but she apologized for laughing a few times. “This shouldn’t be funny at all.” “But it is, because it’s so awful.”

But then Ruby got very self-conscious the moment Anna Paquin showed up on screen. And since she knew where this was going, it was way worse. Belle threw a few glances her way, but Ruby pretended she didn’t notice. She was glad, that the story with the female werevolves eating people wasn’t the end of the film.

Yet there was an unusual awkward silence for a few minutes after leaving the theatre.

“Is it weird that I was surprised though?” Belle looked at Ruby, with concern on her face. “She was dressed as Red Riding Hood. And then she wasn’t the helpless victim, but well, a werewolf.”

“No, that is actually very surprising to find out. Ask Snow.” She looked at the moon again.

Belle noticed that they walked almost a foot apart, unlike last week and immediately stepped closer. She grabbed Ruby’s hand. “At least if one of those hypothetical vampires in Storybrooke jumped out, I’d feel safe with you.”

“He was a human serial killer anyway, not a real vampire.”

“I feel safe with you”, Belle repeated. She tried to lighten the mood. “You do have a far nicer cape though. And if I remember correctly, are a way less terrifying wolf.”

“You think I can’t be terrifying? Regina’s sold-”

“Ssshhh, no talk about the war. This isn’t about that. You turn into an actual wolf. And I think that’s a bit different than these kinds of scary movie monsters.” Belle leaned in, putting her head against Ruby’s shoulder. “You are different. Not a monster.”

Ruby took a deep breath for several reasons, not knowing how to reply and wished she could stay in this special tuesday night bubble a while longer. But Storybrooke could be too small sometimes and they neared Belle’s home already.

“Well, I better hurry up, get my hood back home, so I can take my not-monster midnight run.”

“You could leave it here and run straight to the woods. Gives you some extra minutes.”

Ruby took a step back, standing in front of Belle. “You mean… change now…” It dawned on her, that Belle really had seen her wolf form only briefly. And she wondered if that had been chance or an involuntary choice. Being put on the spot about it was weird.

“I can keep your cloak safe and you come by tomorrow morning. I’m up early anyway.” Belle made it sound as nonchalantly as possible.

Ruby just stood still. Not knowing how to react. It felt like a fight or flight moment, but the only thing to fight was her own fear of the feelings that had grown so much stronger these past few weeks.

Belle took a step closer. “Is it okay to take your silence as an agreement then?” And a bit more closer. “I keep this”, she slipped her hands under the thick fabric on Ruby’s shoulders, “and you enjoy the night out.” She kept eye contact while pushing the cloak off.

There was the scent again. And the second the cloak left her body her sense grew stronger. For a moment the only thing in this world was Belle. And this aching need in her heart to never smell or hear or see or feel anything – anybody – else.

Belle took the cloak and Ruby finally moved. She had to move away from Belle and got down on all fours. Her eyes flashed golden and she let the wolf out. This was the moment to stop fighting. She was the wolf. Everything was okay.

Belle smiled. “Hi, Red.”

Not fighting all these instincts the wolf approached Belle again. Nuzzling her head against her thigh. Belle bunched up the fabric in her hands until she had one free to touch Red. A quick pet along her back. And then Ruby took off towards the woods, making her presence known with a howl.

She ran through rustling leaves, took a bath in the river and explored every inch of what she considered her territory. So much energy that needed to go somewhere. When Ruby woke up a light mist had fallen over Storybrooke. Once again she was glad that she didn’t need to worry about hypothermia, but a bit of the cold had crept into her bones. Or maybe her body ached from running a bit too much.

 

Ruby almost convinced herself that it would be better to just go home. Meet Belle later in the day to get her red hood back. But her feet had taken the path straight back to where she had turned the night before. She saw a light in the kitchen, so Belle was awake indeed.

“Say hallo, ask for your cloak, say goodbye, don’t be weird”, Ruby muttered to herself when she knocked.

“Good morning,” Belle smiled. Already showered and dressed for the day. Ruby could smell the fresh shampoo. It was almost embarrassing standing here in the same clothes as yesterday again. Like a twisted version of a walk of shame.

“Morning,” she mumbled, being weird of course by avoiding eye contact.

Belle opened the door wide and gestured her to come in. “Breakfast is almost ready. Didn’t make eggs yet.”

“Oh no, I have a full breakfast buffet at home, I don’t want to bother you.”

Belle let out a very audible sigh. “Please come in, Ruby. I was expecting you.” She coughed. “No wait.” She lowered her voice to a fake villain tone. “I was expecting you.”

Ruby laughed and finally stepped in. “Do you have a trap prepared, so you can share some evil plans for world domination?”

“You definitely need people to spell out their plans”, Belle mumbled.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“No, I heard you. You can’t mumble things, I can hear just fine.”

“Ruby Lucas, you are the most frustrating person I know! All those superhuman wolf senses, but you can’t read any signals, can you?”

“What… did I do something wrong?”

“No. You are perfectly well behaved. To a point where you think me making breakfast for you could be an inconvenience. When all I want to do is sit at my kitchen table very much with you! Listening to how your night was. Or what you have planned for the day. Or whatever is on your mind.”

Ruby noticed Belle’s heartbeat speeding up. Silently admitting that her own skipped one just now.

“I know you don’t have much time at the diner with all the other guests around, but I hoped you could make some now. Just for me.”

Fight or flight. This was it. She could grab the red cloak she had spotted on the sofa in the living room down the hallway and go back home. Ignoring everything. Or open her mouth. Starting this conversation she had played a hundred times in her head. Fight. Flight. Confront this feeling. Now. Or never. Now. Fight. Just start.

“I always notice you. Every day you come in a few minutes after noon. And I make it a point to not stare. Because that’s creepy. I make it look like I busy myself with everybody else in, so you won’t notice that I put your order in front of the line and have your refills ready no matter if I’m taking an order or not.”

Belle’s eyes softened.

“I keep wondering why Leroy complains about the service. I never have to wait longer than five minutes…”

“And I want to talk to you, so much. I sneak glances at what you are reading and then instead of going to the local library I order books online to read them. Because, well it’s the librarian I am interested in, so I can’t go to the library!”

Belle chuckled. “Do you hear how insane that sounds?”

Ruby laughed as well. “Yes, it’s driving me mad! You have such good taste in books and I can’t tell you, because than you’d notice, that…”

Ruby’s heart was pounding.

“That what?”

“That I want to do this.”

She stepped closer to Belle, who didn’t flinch. Instead she leaned into Ruby. Closing the distance between their lips. Ruby put her arms around Belle’s waist, while Belle grabbed the collar of Ruby’s shirt, pulling her as close as possible. It was an ungraceful, hungry kiss. The thing both had thought about for quite some time.

Belle let herself fall until her back hit the wall behind her. Ruby followed, pushing up against her. After a few minutes Belle broke free, coming up for air. She slung her arms around Ruby’s neck, enjoying just to be held there.

And then she laughed, pulling a leaf out of Ruby’s hair. “Is this your way of bringing me flowers?” She held it up in front of Ruby’s face.

“What can I say, I’m unconventional.”

Belle kissed her on the cheek. “Yes, you are. Please tell me, you watch other things than just horror movies though.”

“How about I name all my favourite ones over breakfast?”