A Little Red Epilogue

Disclaimer: See Part 1.

Authors Note: So you asked for it and here it is: Date night. I hope you like it though this is WAY longer than I'd intended or even planned. I apologize for that and for any mistakes or errors. It's self beta'd.

Regina entered the crowded diner, her eyes instantly finding the young woman who'd turned her comfortably bitter world upside down in just a matter of hours.

She still had trouble fathoming that just two nights before, she'd been sitting in front of a fire kissing a woman who until recently had been among those who sought to bring down the Evil Queen. Then two nights ago said woman and her grandmother decided to give her a Christmas Eve like she'd never had before and Regina was still trying to figure out what had happen.

Christmas morning, she'd woken up wondering if she'd just dreamt the entire evening and then whether her unexpected guests had regretted it and snuck out without a word. The muffled sounds of pans rattling from the kitchen reached her all the way upstairs and still more sleepy than irritated, she slid on her silk robe and made her way downstairs, quickly greeted by the more than welcome smell of rich dark coffee.

She had been very surprised to see Granny and Ruby messing up her kitchen as they fixed what appeared to be pancakes, bacon and eggs. She had honestly expected them to be long gone by the time she woke up but there they were.

Granny had greeted her by harassing her about sleeping Christmas day away, despite it only being seven o'clock and Ruby had blushed lightly but then her lips lifted smugly. Regina had almost panicked when she saw the predatory look in Ruby's eyes and had thought she was about to be kissed right there in her pajamas. Ruby had obviously seen the look and her grinned broadened before she simply handed her a cup of coffee, already made the way she liked.

Regina managed a confused thank you but when she offered to help, she got a glare from Granny that rivaled one of her own and she quietly sat at the breakfast bar. After a surprisingly pleasant breakfast and taking down the decorations, Ruby had talked Regina into watching the third Resident Evil movie before Granny insisted they get back to the diner so she can have things ready for the reopening the next day.

After Regina helped carry the boxes and gifts out to Ruby's car, Ruby had walked Regina back to the house while Granny just smiled and got in the car.

Ruby had thanked Regina again for everything and Regina had returned the sentiment before they fell into an awkward sort of silence, neither knowing how to proceed and both afraid of possible rejection should they take the step they both wanted.

Finally, the wolf gave Ruby a little shove and she cautiously reached out to trail a finger down Regina's cheek.

Regina had stiffened in surprise at the contact but didn't pull away. Instead, she found herself offering a smile and then to her amazement Ruby placed a gentle, lingering kiss on her cheek. She told Regina firmly that she wasn't expecting anything and would wait for her to decide where they went.

Regina had nodded and Ruby had left, leaving behind an extremely befuddled Evil Queen.

Regina hadn't been to the diner since that morning, nor had she contacted Ruby. She had needed time to think and she admitted to herself that one look in Ruby' expressive eyes would distract her and all of her logic and common sense would be thrown out the window.

She wasn't a woman who played coy or beat things to death. When she knew what she wanted, she'd let nothing stand in her way. The problem was, over the last year, she had developed a very annoying habit of considering consequences and there were a ton of them connected with starting a relationship with Little Red Lucas.

Almost as if hearing Regina's thoughts or sensing her eyes on her, Ruby turned from the customer she was helping and looked directly at her. The smile that slowly crossed the far too innocent face sent a spark of something Regina refused to classify as fear straight through her chest and for a moment she was frozen.

Ruby had felt it the instant Regina had walked into the diner. She knew if she mentioned it to anyone they'd think she was crazy, but for good or bad, the air itself seemed to change wherever she was. It…everything seemed more alive. It had worried her that she hadn't seen Regina since Christmas but she knew what had happened between them scared the older woman, though she'd be horsewhipped before she'd admit it and Ruby accepted that pushing Regina Mills would only result in her feeling cornered and that was never a good thing. Especially for Regina so gave her space in hopes that the extremely cautious woman would decide she would be safe with Ruby.

So even though she knew Regina was there and felt those intense eyes of hers burning a hole in her back, Ruby finished taking her customers' orders before turning around. Regina was indeed standing in the doorway of the diner as if she owned the place and again Ruby was surprised by how sexy she found that arrogance. She smiled warmly in greeting, fighting her instinctive urge to place a declarative kiss on those perpetually pursed lips.

"Regina, hi," she said happily. The happiness faded instantly when she saw the panic flare in Regina's eyes and the way she stiffened.

"Miss Lucas," Regina replied, the coolness an ingrown defensive response to uncomfortable situations and never before had she hated her own instincts as much as she did when she saw the light fade from Ruby's eyes and the smile vanish.

"Yeah, right," Ruby said blandly. "Well sorry Ms. Mills but your usual table is taken. There's a corner booth in the back that just opened."

Regina sighed. "Ruby I…"

"Sue will be over shortly to take your order Ms. Mills." And before she gave in to the tears stinging her eyes, she walked away to give Granny her ticket.

"Ruby? What is it?" Granny said, noting the crestfallen expression on her granddaughters face and having a good idea what…more like who, put it there.

"Nothing I shouldn't have expected," Ruby replied quietly before going back out to take more orders.

Granny sighed and did something she never before would have considered. She told her assistant Marcus to take over and she left the kitchen and headed straight for the cause of her granddaughters distress.

Regina felt the prying eyes of the restaurant patrons on her, as she always did when she ate at Granny's Usually she found it amusing but now she felt the urge to give them something to stare at. After what happened with Ruby she found she was no longer hungry so she ordered a plain bagel and a cup of coffee, wondering how she was going to make things better with Ruby and even more confused by why it bothered her that she had hurt the waitress's feelings.

"Well that didn't last long."

Regina looked up at the voice, surprised to see the older woman had actually left the kitchen during the lunch rush.

"Excuse me?" she said coolly, having no doubt she was coming to berate her for her treatment of her granddaughter.

"That won't work with me," Granny said bluntly, sitting down across from the most aggravating woman in Storybrooke.

Regina shrugged. "It was worth a shot," she said blandly. "So I presume this is pertaining to Ruby?"

"You know very well it is," Granny said, surprised to realize she wasn't as angry as she should have been, just curious. "Why is my granddaughter walking around looking like she lost her best friend?"

Regina desperately wanted to tell the old woman to mind her own business but her mouth had other plans.

"Because I'm me," she said simply, with more honesty than she ever thought herself capable of.

Granny studied the former Mayor so long she almost smiled when the unflappable Regina actually began to fidget. It was nice, she thought, to have the upper hand with this woman for once.

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard you say," Granny finally stated. "And I've heard you say plenty of ridiculous things over the years."

Regina stiffened and opened her mouth, prepared to remind the old wolf just whom she was talking to.

"Hold off on the tantrum Regina," Granny stated before the other woman could unleash her infamous temper "You panicked didn't you?"

Regina sighed. "I suppose I…yes I did." Regina considered leaving it at that, but given what she and Ruby had done for her, she knew she owed the woman her honesty. "I didn't mean to hurt her," she said seriously. "I…whatever is between us came out of nowhere and I'm still trying to make sense of it."

Granny couldn't help but chuckle. "Well, that's my granddaughter for you. She's got a knack for taking people by surprise."

Regina nodded. "That she does Mrs. Lucas….Granny," she corrected at the pointed look she received. "So why aren't you yelling at me for hurting your granddaughter?" she asked, truly curious.

"If I thought you'd done it out of malice, you'd be out on your overdressed backside," Granny replied immediately. "I don't know what exactly happened, but it doesn't take a genius or a magic mirror to know you, as Ruby would say, 'freaked out'. The question is why? And I don't buy the 'it's too sudden' argument," she added. "You're a woman who's never given two damns about things like that when there's something you wanted."

"True," Regina agreed, feeling no need to pretend to be affronted by the truth.

"Well then?" Granny pushed.

"I honestly don't know what happened," Regina shrugged. "Ruby is…she's not like anyone I've ever met. Well, her childlike tendencies are reminiscent of a certain blonde Sheriff we both know," she smirked at Granny's snort of laughter. "Still, lurking beneath her horrible habits and skimpy clothes, there's something unique about her. I'm not talking about her werewolf, though that is intriguing. She's just…" Regina paused trying to find the right word to describe the lanky waitress and failing miserably.

"She's a dark horse," Granny finished.

"That's a very apt description," Regina agreed and then waited while Sue brought her bagel and coffee.

"Well, despite her normally bubbly personality, Ruby carries a lot of pain and quite a bit of darkness from before and she feels far more than she lets people see. Maybe that's why you connect with her," Granny suggested.

"Maybe," Regina acknowledged as she sipped at her coffee. "To be honest, I've never really considered that before, but it's true. Ruby knows loss and she knows what it's like to carry the burden of knowing you've killed. She knows what it's like to constantly struggle against the darkness that hides inside. The only difference is that Ruby is far better at handling it than I've ever been."

Granny nodded. "As I told Ruby, I think that difference comes down to support structure. She had it and you didn't."

Regina offered a smile at that. "That's a lovely excuse," she said pleasantly, "however I am quite capable of accepting that my choices were my own. Ruby, however, is a living reminder of what I could have been and I'm afraid that one day that one fundamental difference will be too much for her to accept."

Granny nodded. "So you're afraid then?"

Regina narrowed her gaze. "I don't do fear," she said coldly.

Granny just laughed. "If you say so your Majesty," then she grew serious. "That being said, I may not have been overly thrilled to discover my granddaughter had developed feelings for you, but after seeing you together, I came to see it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world."

"Gosh, thank you," Regina drawled sarcastically.

Granny rolled her eyes. "Anyway," she continued, "I accepted it, but regardless of who you are and what magic you have, Ruby's been hurt just as much in life as you have and I'm not going to let you add to it."

"Is that a threat?" Regina said dangerously, unsurprised when the older woman didn't even flinch.

"It's a promise. Now, I'm going to ask you flat out. Are you interested in seeing my granddaughter?"

Regina froze and her mind stopped working at the blunt question.

"It's not a difficult question Regina," Granny said impatiently.

"It is for me," Regina protested. "I don't have relationships, much less talk about them."

"I understand that Regina, but this is just us and you know me well enough to know that unlike Ruby I'm not one to tell everything I know to everyone. I just need to know if you were only toying with my granddaughter or if you're ashamed of her?"

After a long awkward moment, Regna shook her head. "No I wasn't toying with her and I'm certainly not ashamed of her."

Granny sat back, relieved. "Good. So now you just need to ignore the doubts that plague you and be the Queen we all know you can be. The queen that did what she wanted and never gave a tinker's damn about what anyone thought and you need to show Ruby that you aren't embarrassed by her."

"And just how am I supposed to do that?" She looked over to the waitress in question who had purposely kept her back to them. "It's a safe bet that she's not going to be talking to me anytime soon."

Granny was thoughtful for a moment and then she smiled. "Well I have an idea. If you have the courage that is."

Regina glared at Granny. "I'm going to ignore that in hopes you'll share this grand idea of yours."

Granny laughed at the other woman's disgruntled expression. "Alright," she agreed and then proceeded to tell the former Mayor her plan.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

It was the day before New Year's Eve and all anyone could talk about was the sudden announcement of a large New Year's Eve party to be held in the town square and hosted by none other than Regina Mills and catered by Granny Lucas.

People were surprised that Regina Mills was that generous and many questioned her motives while others had no problem questioning Ruby or Granny herself as to why she would agree to work with the former and some say still, Evil Queen.

Granny simply said that they don't need to come if they didn't wish to and left it at that. Ruby had no answer either. She was still wrapping her mind around the idea of Regina hosting a party for all of Storybrooke. She was one of the few that knew Regina's heart was far warmer than she let on, but Ruby didn't think she'd reached that level of caring that she'd want to go out of her way to show the town a good time.

As had been the case since the announcement had been made, the diner was crazy busy with people talking about the party. "I don't care if Snow White has announced her support, I still say it's a trap," Ruby heard one of the customers murmuring to his buddies.

"Why else gather all of us in one place?"

"That bitch just doesn't stop," one of the other men complained.

Ruby had heard enough and not caring if Granny yelled at her for being rude to customers, especially during a rush, she angrily turned toward the table.

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about. Sometimes a party is just a party and nobody is forcing you to go. And don't ever call her a bitch again."

Granny had witnessed the entire scene and instead of chastising her granddaughter for her rudeness, she grinned, feeling a flicker of triumph. That Ruby would so staunchly defend Regina's honor at the risk of Granny's ire, told the old woman Ruby hadn't totally given up.

When Granny first proposed the idea, Regina had laughed at the idea that anyone would come, but when it became clear that she was paying for everything from decorations to the food and a full bar and that Snow White and Charming along with the Savior would be attending, it was obvious that the majority of Storybrooke would be there, out of curiosity if for no other reason and that boded well for the final part of Granny's plan. Still there was one more little act to carry out first and given Regina's skittishness, she wasn't holding her breath.

And as sure as if the woman read Granny's mind and wanted to spite her, the diner door opened and in walked Regina Mills looking more arrogant and proud than she ever had. A predictable hush fell over the diner and Regina smirked as if relishing the reaction and Granny couldn't help but chuckle. That woman did love her theatrics.

Here we go, Granny thought her eyes seeking out Ruby who had frozen mid-step in the middle of the diner when Regina walked in.

"Ruby Lucas," Regina called out far more loudly than she needed to. Her stomach was knotted painfully at what she was about to do. This was not her, had never been her but here she was about to make a colossal fool out of herself for one scantily dressed werewolf.

"What is it Regina?" Ruby replied woodenly even though her pulse was racing at a mile a second.

"You will…." Regina paused realizing her usual demanding tone was the worst tactic she could possibly use with this woman. "Would you please attend the New Year's party with me tomorrow night?" she asked instead. She reveled in the gasps of surprise from the nosy busy bodies crowding the diner but her gaze stayed focused on Ruby who was just gaping at her.

"You're going to swallow a fly if you don't close your mouth dear," Regina stated, startled by the nervous lump that appeared in her throat and hoping desperately that it wasn't noticeable in her voice.

Ruby closed her mouth but for a second her mind was a blank. Regina Mills just strode into a very crowded diner full of some of the biggest gossips in town and asked her on a date. It was only the flash of nervousness in Regina's eyes, a flash Ruby knew only she could see, that had her shaking off her bemusement and her lingering anger from two days earlier and walking toward the very proud woman.

"I would love to," Ruby said with a broad smile, a little yearning sigh escaping at Regina's matching, if slightly smaller smile.

"Yes," Regina said awkwardly. "Well I will call you then, to set arrangements."

Having no desire to push the woman further out of her comfort zone than she already was, Ruby nodded and simply watched happily as Regina left the diner, grinning smugly at the gaping customers.

RRRRRRRRRRRR

To Granny's shock, Regina showed up the morning of New Year's Eve and insisted on helping with the catering so Granny could alternate between party preparations and running the diner.

"You don't need to do this," Granny said, watching as Regina casually pulled on an apron.

"Of course I don't," Regina replied. "Now what do you want me to start working on?"

Granny wasn't about to argue with her.

"I thought we'd keep it an easy buffet type set up with simple finger foods like sausage rolls, chicken wings, hamburger sliders, you know things like that."

"Will you be serving anything not destined to give me coronary disease?" Regina asked drily.

Granny snorted. "I think you'll be fine," she retorted, "but yes I've planned on assorted fruits and vegetables and some rotisserie chicken. I also planned on some chicken noodle soup and chili. Which you can start working on," she ordered.

Regina nodded and looked around the relatively small kitchen. "You realize this kitchen is far too crowded to accomplish anything while trying to keep your regular schedule right?"

Granny started to protest that she could handle it, but she looked at the clutter and mounds of food and sighed. "Yes, but I can't close again so soon after the last time."

"Easy enough to rectify," Regina said looking up when she saw young Marcus Williams who helped Granny in the kitchen enter the diner. "Delegate."

"As in hand my kitchen over to someone else?"

Regina rolled her eyes at the offended expression on Granny's face. "Sort of." We can alternate between here and my kitchen which is far larger and we can keep the catering and diner meals separate."

"How. I'm not driving back and forth all day."

Regina ginned. "Oh dear Mrs. Lucas, you forget who I am." Without another word, she took Granny's hand, waved her own and instantly they were standing in Regina's kitchen.

"Well damnation," the old woman stated, shifting her glasses. "That's a strange thing but convenient."

"Isn't it?" Regina replied pleasantly, as she waved her hand and the majority of food Granny had left sitting out on the crowded counters appeared in her kitchen along with a fryer.

"You may very well be my new best friend," Granny said, incredibly impressed.

"Flattered I'm sure," Regina quipped, though she meant it. Of all the people in Storybrooke, she found that gaining the respect of this strong-willed old Wolf was a something to be valued.

"So, let's get you back to the diner and you can prepare your staff for your alternating between locations and so they won't be too surprised when you pop in right behind them."

"That could be fun," Granny grinned, picturing herself appearing directly behind her granddaughter.

"It does have its perks. Now. Let's get back shall we?"

As hoped, they appeared in the kitchen right as Ruby was coming through the doors. The loud squeak of surprise had both older women grinning.

"Damnit, don't do that," Ruby muttered, ignoring the matching chuckles coming from the odd duo.

"Sorry dear," Regina said unapologetically, but her heart skipped a beat when Ruby met her gaze and she offered one of those captivatingly broad smiles.

"I'm sure you aren't," Ruby said as always feeling lighter by the rare sincere smile she received.

"Marcus, can you come here for a minute?" Granny called to the man already hard at work prepping the grill.

Marcus immediately walked over and looked between his boss and the always intimidating former Mayor.

"Marcus, I'm sure you're familiar with Regina Mills. Regina, this is Marcus Williams. He's been my assistant in the kitchen for six months.

Regina was impressed by the lack of the usual fear she saw in people just meeting her for the first time and the lack of hostility. He simply met her gaze with curiosity and an outstretched hand.

"It's nice to meet you," he said politely

After an instinctive hesitation, Regina took the offered hand. "Likewise," she said politely. "I must say you must be quite good if Granny Lucas allows you near her kitchen."

Marcus shifted uncomfortably. "Yes well, I try not to let her down."

"You haven't yet boy," Granny smiled kindly. "Now," she said more firmly. "As you know we're remaining open while we do the catering for Her Majesty's New Year's Eve party tonight." Granny hid a grin at Ruby's snort of amusement and Regina's warning glare.

"So," she continued before Regina had a chance to retaliate, "In order to save space and time, I'm going to be spending most of my time using Regina's kitchen and I'm leaving you and Red here in charge of the diner."

Ruby's eyes lit up. "Really?"

Granny was a bit of ashamed of herself at Ruby's reaction. She knew that she had been extremely lax in showing her granddaughter how mow much she trusted her. "Yes Red, really," Granny said. "I know you can handle it. Sue and Robert will be in shortly as additional wait staff in case it gets really busy. Just call Regina's if you need me."

"We have it covered Granny," Ruby assured her. "Just…if you pop in again, can you give us some warning or something? You almost gave me heart attack."

"We'll see," Granny replied vaguely.

"I'll be in touch about tonight," Regina told Ruby with a look that held multiple messages some of which had the waitress blushing.

With a laugh that was purely wicked, Regina and Granny vanished with a puff of purple smoke.

"Whoa," Marcus muttered.

"I know right?" Ruby agreed. "So you got this?" she asked the young cook.

"You know it. You?"

"Oh yeah," Ruby vowed, determined to prove Granny was right to trust her and especially excited to make the day go as smoothly as possible so she can get ready for her unexpected date.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Granny was hard at work preparing the dough for her sausage rolls while Regina worked on making the sausage. She had to admit she hadn't really enjoyed cooking quite as much as she was now. Part of it was the magnificent chef's kitchen Regina had. It had the best of everything and made Granny a little jealous, but mainly, to her shock, she enjoyed working with the former Mayor. Regina Mills didn't waste time with idle chit chat or gossip. She also knew her way around a kitchen but didn't balk when Granny corrected what she was doing or made suggestions. That in itself was beyond surprising.

They'd been hard at work for two hours and managed to get a lot done. A lot more than they would have accomplished at the diner Granny had to admit.

"I hope this will be enough," Granny said, sliding the first tray of sausage rolls into the oven.

"It should be plenty," Regina replied, sliding another bowl of sausage over to Granny. "And if we start to run out, I'll just…" she wiggled her fingers.

"You know how I feel about using magic for my cooking," Granny protested, glaring at the younger woman over her glasses.

Regina just smiled. "Consider it an emergency back-up," she offered. "Though if people know I'm involved in the preparation, you may have more leftovers than you want."

Granny just snorted. "Nonsense. For one thing, any doubts they have should be put to rest. They know me well enough to know I don't cook with people I don't trust. For another, if they skip the food out of some ridiculous phobia, well they can just starve and I won't bat an eye."

Regina laughed. "I think I'm starting to like you Granny Lucas," she admitted.

Granny offered a humph in response but her lips lifted in a smile. "So, we have a few minutes, do you mind if we drop in on the diner?"

"Not at all."

"Let's just try not to give my granddaughter a heart attack, no matter how entertaining that could be," Granny said, placing a hand on Regina's forearm

"I'll try to try," Regina replied before sending them off in a blur of purple smoke.

They managed to appear in the alley of the diner. Granny wanted to sneak and try to get an idea of how Ruby and Marcus were doing on their own before they were spotted.

"I think I'll just wait out here," Regina said, deciding seeing Ruby right now wasn't a good idea. She was still feeling entirely out of her element with their budding relationship and she needed to keep her distance so that she wouldn't be a discombobulated mess when she picked Ruby up for their date.

"Chicken," Granny taunted but walked away and headed into the diner.

Once she entered she was struck by how busy the diner was. It was the lunch hour, but given the festivities to be held later that evening, she expected it to be fairly slow. She knew that most of the customers were there simply to find out what Regina was up to and why Ruby agreed to accompany her but Granny could care less. If they wanted to pay her to sit and gossip, who was she to complain?

Finally she saw Ruby maneuvering through the crowd effortlessly and pausing to direct Sue to a table near the back. All the tables had food and it looked as if her granddaughter and Marcus had everything in control. She had to admit she was impressed

"Oh hey Granny," Ruby said when she spotted the older woman. She stopped to refill a customer's coffee cup before making her way to her grandmother.

"Spying are we?" Ruby grinned to show she wasn't offended.

"Would you believe me if I said I wasn't?"

"HA. Not in a million years," Ruby replied.

"It's busier than I expected," Granny commented. "Do you need me to stay and help?"

"Nope. We've got it covered. Sue, Robert and Marcus are kicking ass and I'm amusing myself by making up answers to questions about my date with Regina."

"That's my girl," Granny smiled proudly. "Well then, I'll just be heading out then."

"Is Regina here?" Ruby asked, looking around the diner.

"She's outside hiding," Granny chuckled. "You've got her all twitterpated and I'm quite enjoying it I have to say."

"Good. Now it's even," Ruby laughed. "Well I need to get back."

"Go on then Red. I'm very proud of you."

Ruby's eyes stung at the rare compliment and she quickly kissed her grandmother's cheek. "Thanks Gran," she muttered and then hurried back to the kitchen.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

"Well that's that then," Granny said as she finished washing the last of the dishes. "Leroy and the other lads are getting the buffet table and heat lamps set up so we can start loading the car and…"

Regina placed the last glass in the cabinet and turned to Granny with a smug grin. She waved her hand and in a puff, the dozens of trays and dishes vanished.

"Or we could just do that," Granny muttered, shaking her head. "Here's hoping the boys don't eat it all before we get there."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Regina smirked.

Leroy was just finishing hooking up the last lamp when in a plume of smoke several trays appeared on the table causing him to yelp in surprise.

"Damn that woman," he muttered, having no doubt Regina Mills did that on purpose. Still the smell coming from the covered trays was making his mouth water and his belly rumble. He'd been warned repeatedly by Granny to keep his hands off until the party started, but since the old lady wasn't anywhere around and since he'd been forced into volunteering, he figured he'd earned a snack or two. Taking a not so subtle look around, he reached for one of the trays and then nearly jumped out of his beard when the dish actually growled at him.

He eyeballed the table nervously. "Damn that woman," he swore again, not knowing if he meant Regina or Granny this time. Probably both. Frowning he stomped away from the table, vowing to be first in line when the festivities started.

RRRRRRRRRRRR

Regina lifted the lipstick to her lips, somewhat irritated to find her hand shaking. She wasn't sure why she was feeling like a teenage girl going to her first dance. She was hardly a stranger to the world of lovers, but this was different. Ruby was different and not just because she was a woman or because she was a werewolf. She was like nobody Regina had ever met. Most people were painfully easy to read and Ruby wasn't. Regina knew that beneath the open façade she presented to the world, there were so many complex layers to Ruby Lucas that she'd never see them all. And she knew that some layers were darker than others and it captivated Regina to no end because she'd come so close to missing it.

Still, Regina was not a woman who embraced the concept of public displays of affection and she instinctively knew Ruby would understand that but for once in her life, Regina felt compelled to put her own preferences aside and give Ruby something she deserved. Even if it killed her.

She gave herself one final once over. As the party was outdoors and very cold outside, she'd made it clear that attire was casual, so while she had no desire to try and fit in with the townspeople who had never made any effort whatsoever to understand her, she did want Ruby to feel comfortable so she chose a pair of jeans and her comfortable black turtleneck. Sliding into her black leather jacket she grinned thinking that maybe she did look a little….as Ruby would say…"badass". Maybe this would be her new look.

RRRRRRRRRR

Ruby desperately wanted a shot. Just a small one to settle her nerves. She ran her irritatingly sweaty palms down her jeans and then made sure all the buttons on her one and only silk blouse were closed correctly.

Taking a deep breath she grabbed her jacket and headed downstairs just in time to see Regina stepping up to the door. She froze at the warm smile Regina offered through the glass and then offered one of her own as she opened the door.

"Hey," she greeted, taking a moment to gawk at Regina's choice of attire. Dressed in black jeans, black turtleneck and black leather, anyone else would have looked like a laughable cliché. Regina just looked ridiculously hot.

Regina basked in the appreciation clearly shown on Ruby's face. Many had looked at her with similar expressions. She'd counted on it, but their looks were all lust mixed with a touch of fear, which in itself she had enjoyed. However, Ruby's was admiration, longing and a hint of hunger that caused a far more pleasant reaction than her usual bored amusement.

"You look amazing," Ruby said when her brain finally managed to start working.

"Thank you. As do you," Regina returned sincerely. Ruby was wearing jeans that, as was her tendency, were practically painted on, but instead of her usual too snug t-shirt, she was wearing a beautiful maroon silk blouse that seemed to highlight the red streak down her dark hair. Though Regina was amused to note that Ruby hadn't entirely ignored her penchant for self-exposure.

"I believe you forgot a button or three," Regina pointed out casually, her gaze dropped to the vast expanse of skin that led almost to her bra.

Ruby was about to offer a smart ass comment when long fingers suddenly appeared on the lowest open button.

"Regina, what…?"

"We can't have you catching a chest cold," Regina purred and began to fasten the buttons, letting her fingers stroke slowly against heated skin.

"Yeah I don't think that's going to be a problem," Ruby choked and then captured Regina's hands with one of her own before they rendered her legs useless. Deciding to turn the tables, she lifted Regina's long slender fingers to her lips and placed a lingering kiss to the perfectly manicured tips, enjoying the way Regina swallowed.

"Well, are you ready then?" Regina asked, pleased with the stability of her voice.

"Lead the way My Queen," Ruby bowed grandly.

"That's going to grow old a lot sooner than you know," Regina huffed, even as she enjoyed Ruby's light laughter.

As the diner was practically across the street from the festivities the two women simply strolled down the street to City Hall where people were already beginning to gather.

"Wow, this is so awesome" Ruby said in amazement. She'd seen the decorations going up off and on throughout the day but now that night had fallen, it was something to see. Many of the lights from Christmas were still up, but there were now colorful paper lanterns, torches and other decorations scattered through the large square that made it incredibly beautiful.

"I have to admit, Leroy and the others did an adequate job," Regina agreed. "And it seems some of the teachers at the school have formed a band of some sort. Snow has persuaded them to play tonight," she pointed to the gazebo where a couple of men and a woman were setting up equipment.

"Nice," Ruby said and then happily linked her elbow with Regina's, not at all worried the woman would turn her into something unpleasant.

"This is such an awesome thing you're doing. I think the town really needs it," she added, relieved when Regina didn't pull away from the contact.

Regina took a deep breath, calling on the forthrightness that defined her. "I didn't do it for them," she said nonchalantly and keeping her eyes straight ahead. "I did it for you."

Ruby stopped mid stride at that revelation. "What?"

Even though revealing any hint of softer emotion was almost painful for Regina, she couldn't help but be pleased that her doing so this time had such a reaction.

She stopped and faced the adorably bemused waitress "I threw this little gathering for you. Everyone in this town has endured so many things. Some of which I caused," she admitted without shame and smiling at Ruby's snort of laughter. "However they had people surrounding them to get them through. You on the other hand always seemed to get dragged into everyone's battles but you've had to deal with yours all alone. You spend so much time helping other people and never asking for anything in return. You deserve to have someone doing for you for a change. You deserve a bit of happiness too."

If Regina had of dropped down on one knee and proposed, Ruby didn't think she would be any more surprised than she was at that moment. She wanted to do so many things in response but she knew all of them would have the skittish former Mayor retreating in a hurry so she fought her instincts and simply smiled.

"Thank you Regina," she said simply.

Relieved that an emotional outburst wasn't forthcoming, Regina smiled and patted Ruby's hand that still rested in the crook of her elbow.

"You're welcome dear. "

RRRRRRRRRR

"Hey Ruby. Happy New Year."

Ruby was sipping on a beer while Regina was off seeing to the fireworks display, a feature of the evening Ruby was dreading. Given her wolf nature the noise was almost painful to her but she couldn't bear to tell Regina.

"Hi Snow, Happy New Year," she greeted, embracing her best friend.

"This is quite the party isn't it?"

"Yep," and it's all for me, Ruby couldn't help but think smugly. "I'm glad that the townspeople gave up their attitudes and gave it a chance. Everyone looks like they're having a good time."

Snow looked around. The teacher's band playing in the gazebo, kids gathered around the cotton candy stand, adults hanging out at either the bar, the buffet or playing with their kids, friends or significant other all showed that any lingering animosity or fear of Regina Mills had dissipated. At least for tonight.

"So Regina's your date huh?" Snow asked with that lack of subtly that she was known for.

"Yep," Ruby grinned, knowing her friend was dying for details and enjoying the frustration on her face.

"Really Red? That's all you're going to say?"

"You just asked if she was my date. I said yes," Ruby answered, her grin widening at the glare she received.

"You know what I want to hear about. Regina asked you out in front of everyone?"

Ruby was unable to keep up her blasé demeanor. "She did and I still can't believe it," she said in a rush. "I kind of feel like I might have pushed her into it though."

"And why is that?"

The throaty voice came so close behind her, it startled Ruby so badly she nearly dropped her bottle.

"Damnit Regina," Ruby muttered, and as always happened, the resulting chuckle had her shivering.

"You may want to cut back on the caffeine Miss Lucas. It's made you awfully jumpy."

"Well maybe you should wear a bell or something,"

"You think so?" Regina said in a tone that both Ruby and Snow knew well.

"Um. Maybe not," Ruby backtracked and then offered her biggest smile which grew at Regina's sigh of surrender

"I'm not always going to fall for that look," Regina grumbled. "Now, why do you think you forced me into inviting you to this party?"

Ruby looked at Snow who was herself now sporting an amused look on her face at Ruby's discomfort. "Regina, this isn't…"

"Well?"

Ruby sighed. "Because I threw a hissy fit when you wouldn't talk to me."

"Well it was an impressive fit," Regina acknowledged, "however have you ever known me to ever do anything I didn't wish to do?"

Snow snorted and then coughed into her hand at Regina's narrowed eyes.

"No."

"Right, so there you have it. Now I believe I could use a drink. Coming?"

"Yes ma'am," Ruby snapped a salute, grateful that Snow was there because judging by Regina's expression she was pushing her luck.

"See you guys later I guess," Snow said with a laugh. Never in her wildest imaginings had she ever contemplated a relationship between her best friend and former stepmother. It was totally bizarre, but the bizarre seemed to work for both Ruby and Regina.

Regina took Ruby's hand and led her to the bar area.

"So I don't see Henry here," Ruby commented as she ordered a vodka tonic for Regina and herself.

"He got invited to a sleepover at a friend's house," Regina said.

"That's great," Ruby said happily. "I'm so glad he's finally making friends and living like a kid."

Regina nodded. "I am too. I admit that I sometimes regret not letting him act more like a child. Perhaps things would have…."

"No," Ruby interrupted, knowing where Regina's thoughts were going and not wanting her to lose the happiness she'd finally found for herself. "I don't think things would have been any different. I think everything is as it's supposed to be and even though it involved a lot of initial ugliness and heartache for everyone, I think it's all worked out for the best. Yeah?"

Regina cocked her head and studied the woman who never failed to surprise her. "You've been hanging around Snow White for too long," she commented drily. "You've become obnoxiously optimistic."

"That's what makes us awesome. My optimism completely balances out your pessimism. It's perfect."

Regina couldn't help but chuckle. "If you say so." She checked her watch and was surprised to see it was ten minutes until midnight.

"Goodness how time flies. It's almost time." Before Ruby had time to reply, Regina had grabbed her hand and pulled the startled Ruby behind her, headed to the steps of City Hall and the microphone Ruby hadn't noticed before.

"May I have your attention please?"

Not unexpectedly, everyone froze at the commanding voice of their former Queen and Mayor.

"Oh for God's sake," Regina muttered as she saw several frightened expressions in the crowd. Only Ruby's soft laughter kept her from uttering one of her legendary insults.

"Relax, I have no intention of causing any mayhem….tonight at least," she couldn't help but smirk at the nervous titters coming from the crowd.

"Regina, be nice," Ruby laughed into her ear

"It may come as a surprise, though I'm sure not as much as it does to me, but I merely wished to say Happy New Year and that my hope for all of us is for a moderately peaceful 2015 with family and friends, old and new," she added smiling warmly at Ruby. "Now without further ado, I believe it's time for a countdown. Archie?"

Archie Hopper stepped to the microphone and checked his watch. "Okay, here we go! Ten, nine…."

Ruby clutched Regina's hand, feeling a strange, almost overwhelming sense of anticipation.

"….five, four, three, two, one! Happy New Year!"

As the crowd erupted into cheers and the band began to play 'Auld Lang Sine', Regina turned to Ruby.

"Happy New Year Red," Regina whispered, using the old name purposely.

"Happy New Year," Ruby replied. And then to her complete and utter amazement, Regina slid her hands into her hair and pulled her into a kiss so heated that it nearly took Ruby's legs out from under her.

After realizing it wasn't going to be a short perfunctory New Year's kiss, Ruby's arms slid around Regina. Mainly so she could hold her, but also so she could keep standing upright.

She brazenly slid her tongue between Regina's lips, desperate to taste and she actually whimpered when slender fingers clenched painfully in her hair.

She had no idea how long the kiss lasted, but when they finally pulled away it was to realize the entire crowd had fallen silent.

Regina grinned at a still befuddled werewolf. "What?" she asked innocently just as the crowd began to cheer again.

"You didn't need to do that," Ruby said sincerely, knowing the woman's aversion to such public behavior.

"Oh I did," Regina said, "for you and I needed to do it for me."

Just then the first loud bangs of the fireworks began. Instantly Regina heard the pitiful barks of Archie's dog Pongo and felt him bumping up against her legs.

"Oh poor Pongo. I forgot about the noise," she said soothingly and stroking his head.

"I'm afraid I did too," Archie said sadly. "I think I need to take him home. "Thank you Regina for this. And Happy New Year. To you both."

"Happy New Year Archie," Regina said and then looked back to Ruby, her heart clenching as she saw the unexpectedly pained look on her face.

"Ruby? What…?"

Another loud bang and burst of color sounded over the square and while the crowd oohed and ahh'd, Ruby whimpered and covered her ears and it hit Regina like a ton of bricks. Ruby was a werewolf and her hearing had to be as sensitive, if not more so than Pongo's.

"Oh my God Ruby, your ears. I'm so sorry I didn't realize..."

"It's okay," Ruby lied between her teeth and then flinched as more fireworks were sent off.

"No it's not." Feeling more helpless than she had in more years than she cared to remember she looked out into the crowd and met the worried eyes of Snow who quickly made her way to the steps.

"Take her home Regina. I'll finish up here," she said instantly, noting the way Ruby had buried her face into Regina's neck and briefly taken aback that Regina was allowing it and comfortingly stroking her hair.

With a nod of thanks, Regina flicked her wrist and in a burst of purple, she transported Ruby back to her house.

"It's okay Ruby, we're home," she said softly, keeping her arms around the waitress until the shivers began to subside.

Finally Ruby's ears stopped ringing and she pulled away. "I am so sorry Regina," she sniffed.

Regina placed a hand on Ruby's damp cheek, her thumb wiping away a stray tear. "I'm the one who's sorry," she said softly. "I didn't even consider that the fireworks would hurt you. Why didn't you say something?"

"Because, I…I don't know. I just didn't want to ruin your plans."

"Ruby, you take too much after your grandmother," she chided softly. "Sometimes it's okay to put yourself first. Especially when something hurts you."

"Thank you," Ruby said changing the subject. "For tonight. For kissing me. I know that you don't do the touchy feely stuff in public and I'm okay with that. It's who you are but…"

"I wanted to. Even if it's not going to be an everyday occurrence," she cautioned, "I needed you to know that even if I don't always act like it, I'm in no way ashamed of you or my feelings. If you know anything about me it's that I rarely feel shame about anything I do," she said, relieved when Ruby giggled.

"I know. I plan on taking advantage of that fact sometime in the near future," Ruby said with an arrogance that Regina found kind of thrilling.

"Is that so?" Regina purred, stepping close and lifting her eyebrow.

"You realize that look isn't really that intimidating don't you?" Ruby teased "It's actually kind of a turn on."

"Hm. That's good to know," Regina replied smoothly. Then she removed her coat and gestured for Ruby's and hung them up in the coat closet. Taking Ruby's hand she led the waitress into the study and to Ruby's non-surprise a fire was already lit and two steaming cups of cocoa were sitting on the coffee table.

"I'm thinking you could be quite handy to have around," Ruby grinned, flopping on the sofa just so she could witness that sexy annoyed glare again.

"So you're only interested in ways I can perpetuate your laziness?" Regina commented wryly, seating herself beside the lanky waitress sprawled so enticingly before her.

Ruby sat up at that and scooted so close to Regina she was all but in her lap. "Oh quite the contrary" she said. "I have absolutely no desire to be lazy anytime you're around."

"Well I'm all for enabling positive behavior," Regina commented distractedly as she reached out to toy with a lock of Ruby's hair.

Part of Ruby enjoyed the playful banter, but the bigger part wanted to get right back to where they were before the fireworks interrupted them.

"I really like you," she blurted and then blushed at the lameness.

Regina knew that even just six months ago, she would have mocked the waitress unmercifully for the simplistic comment. Now, however, she just smiled. "I'm growing a bit fond of you too."

Ruby's heart warmed considerably knowing that for Regina, the rather innocuous comment was practically a declaration of adoration.

"I...um…look, I know you didn't ask but I want you to know," Ruby paused fearing she was about to irreversibly humiliate herself.

"Know what?" Regina prodded more gently than she knew she was capable of.

"I want you to know that I don't want or expect anything of you. I don't expect you to change or become someone you're not. I like your sass and your sarcasm. I like your fiery temper, when it's not directed at me that is, I love it when you go all Evil Queen against the villains. That's really, really hot. You know that right?" She wiggled her eyebrows.

"Of course I do dear," Regina retorted with a predictable cockiness.

Ruby laughed. "And that cockiness is sexy as hell too," she leered. "But I also like that big heart you try so hard to keep hidden and I like that I'm the one you show it to. Basically there isn't a single thing about you I'd ever want to change."

Regina felt the sting of tears in her eyes and didn't even try to disguise them. "Then you are far more unique than I thought."

"Of course I am dear," Ruby tossed Regina's words back at her with a grin. "Now, I think I'm done talking for a while, if you don't mind."

Regina noted the smile, but when she looked into Ruby's eyes she could swear she saw an intriguing flash of red. "So what do you want to do instead Wolf?" she taunted huskily and the resulting growl she received sent shivers down her spine.

Not bothering with a response, Ruby slid her hand around Regina's neck and lowered her head and captured the perpetually smirking lips with hers and this time, all the control was hers and she took full advantage, wasting no time in deepening the kiss, expertly letting her tongue dance with Regina's while her mind spun relentlessly. She was addicted to Regina's lips but she needed more. She reluctantly pulled her lips away to trail them across the warm soft skin of her jaw, pausing to nip lightly and chuckling at the little grunt of impatience coming from the Queen. The grunt quickly became a moan when Ruby's lips fastened to her pulse for several seconds before her tongue trailed lightly up her throat and she found Regina's mouth once more.

When they finally parted, Regina rested her head against Ruby's while she caught her breath. "My, you certainly are good at that," she managed.

"Well it still never hurts to practice," Ruby replied cheekily. "Interested in being a tutor?"

"Perhaps," Regina replied smoothly as she trailed a finger down the deep crease in Ruby's cheek. "What do you plan to offer in payment?"

"Oh I'm sure we can come up with something," Ruby replied hotly, just before capturing Regina's lips once more, almost giddy with the knowledge that perhaps she and Regina had finally found the happy ending that had eluded them both for so long.

THE END.