Archie Hopper smiled as he caught himself whistling. He chuckled to himself as he walked the familiar path between his cottage and the town's diner, his faithful dog leading the way. He probably would have been unconscious of the habit if Henry hadn't insisted that he watch the animated feature modeled (loosely) after Pinocchio's life. Having now seen the film, the whistle reminded Archie of the happy-go-lucky cricket sidekick he'd been portrayed as.
That Jiminy Cricket was more carefree than his real life counterpart, but right now, Archie felt a lightness in his step and his heart that made whistling seem entirely appropriate. It truly was a beautiful morning, made more so when viewed through the eyes of a man given a second chance at life.
Although, Archie supposed, considering his unnaturally long life, he had probably been afforded far more than two chances. Surviving Cora's capture and Hook's torture was nothing short of a miracle, and he was determined to embrace it wholeheartedly.
It was a few weeks since he'd "returned to the land of the living," as Granny put it, and life had returned to normal. Or as normal as Storybrooke could ever be expected to get. His wounds had healed into dull aches and phantom pains, and his terror had begun to fade with the bruises. Nightmares still startled him out of slumber in a cold sweat, but he no longer felt fear creep across his skin in his waking hours. He felt safe on the street, in his office and his home.
Even as his nervousness ebbed away, other emotions remained heightened. His renewed appreciation for life ran deep and showed itself at unexpected times.
And also at wholly expected times.
And seeing Ruby Lucas greet him with a wave and a warm smile had always managed to remind Archie of how wonderful life could be.
"Archie!" she called, and he felt his heart tug strongly at the happiness in her voice.
He tied his loyal dog out front and followed Ruby into the dinner. Settling into his usual corner booth, he greeted the waitress with a smile, and she gave him a wink as she recited his usual order.
Archie flipped through a newspaper while he waited on his food, but he found his gaze occasionally drawn from the black and white page to the colorful woman behind the counter. His feelings for Ruby Lucas had long stopped being a secret, at least to himself. The shy psychiatrist still hadn't mustered the courage or the timing to reveal them to her, but his brush with death had only made them stronger.
Someday soon he would find a way to tell her.
For now, it was no wonder that she kept pulling his attention away. Ruby bustled behind the counter, assembling orders and putting away dishes. Her grandmother had joined her, and the two women were engaged in conversation.
He could claim, perhaps, that their conversation was too loud to be private. Their words reached him at his seat, but Archie would be lying if he pretended that he'd tried to tune them out. He felt like Pongo listening to a squirrel, ears cocked and attuned to the slightest change in sound. A blush of embarrassment crept over his face, but Archie found that he couldn't quite force himself to stop listening in.
"When are you going to stop mooning over him and actually tell him?" Granny had never been a good whisperer, and her blunt question was what got him listening. And with that sort of subject matter, even the most conscientious cricket wouldn't have been able to walk away.
Archie risked a glance toward the counter and saw Ruby give her grandmother a pointed look, one that obviously said 'keep your voice down.' The woman in scarlet shook her head. "I don't know about that."
Granny huffed out a laugh. Her next words were fractionally quieter, but no less direct. She shrugged brusquely. "You're in love with the doctor. Might as well let him know."
With that, she stomped back into the kitchen to fetch Leroy his eggs. Ruby stared down at the counter and gave a sigh. Archie felt his face flame.
And then he felt it fall. There was only one prominent doctor in town, and his was a face that had made plenty of women swoon. Dr. Victor Whale was a Storybrooke heartthrob, albeit something of a flirt. Frankenstein wasn't exactly the most scrupulous of men, but Archie had to admit that he was confident and charming.
Yes, Whale was vibrant and charismatic, and it was no wonder that the adventurous Ruby had fallen for him. Archie thought of his comparatively boring lifestyle. He was content to spend evenings with Pongo, not out on the town. His style was inarguably plain. Of course, Ruby would be drawn to someone whose life was as full and as bright as her own.
It made sense, and yet the psychiatrist felt his unspoken dreams falling like forgotten stars, cut from the heavens before he could even tell her how he felt. Which, he reasoned, was probably for the best, as it was now revealed that he'd never stood a chance.
Archie scarcely had time to recover from the shock of this news before Ruby slid a hot plate onto the table and herself into the booth across from him. It was her habit to join him during a slow shift and it was a tradition he very much looked forward to.
Ruby's face lit up in a bright smile, and there was no trace of the uncertainty he'd glimpsed on her features just minutes before. She looked genuinely happy, and perhaps that was why he couldn't help but incriminate himself with guilty knowledge.
"Congratulations," he stammered, the word slipping past his lips before he'd formed it fully in his mind. "That is - I'm happy for you. You deserve all the happiness of true love."
His long life - both in the Enchanted Forest and in Storybrooke - had afforded him plenty of familiarity with that greatest form of magic. He'd watched countless friends find and then rediscover their true loves, and Archie couldn't deny its power or its value. He could wish nothing better for her. Even if that true love wasn't discovered with him.
Ruby's eyes narrowed in confusion. "What are you talking about, Archie?"
The blush returned without preamble, and he began to regret his remark. "I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't have listened in - that is, I didn't mean to, but I couldn't help overhearing. It was wrong."
She glanced over to the counter, quickly understanding the source of his new knowledge. Turning back to him, she asked hesitantly, "What exactly did you overhear?"
If it had been possible to slip under the table and through a portal to another dimension - any dimension - Archie would have done it without second thought. He gripped the table's edge nervously, food entirely forgotten. "About your feelings for Dr. Whale," he pushed out in a small, ashamed voice.
Ruby's eyebrows rose by an inch. "What?!"
This was not what he'd intended. The next time he was tempted to eavesdrop this would serve as an compelling reminder to start whistling as loud as he could in order to drown out temptation. The look on her face told him that he'd succeeded in embarrassing them both by giving voice to what was obviously a secret affection.
"I'm so sorry, Ruby. I should have kept that to myself. I shouldn't have listened at all."
She held up a forestalling hand. "You heard me say that I'm in love with Whale?"
He quickly recalled the conversation and found that even utter mortification hadn't done a thing toward deleting the memory. "Well, not those words exactly. It was Granny who mentioned your feelings for him."
His ears were positively on fire. He felt like he'd been called upon to testify, and Ruby made for a very intimidating prosecution. "She said doctor. I suppose I made the connection myself."
Ruby's embarrassment seemed to have faded long before his, and she was peering at him closely. "Whale's not the only doctor in town, Archie."
He squirmed. "I'm sorry. You don't need to explain your feelings to me. I didn't mean to…" He gestured helplessly, humiliated and repentant.
"No, I don't mind," Ruby said, her tone far kinder than he deserved. She glanced down at the table top and his cooling plate, just a hint of embarrassment returning. "There is someone I love. But it's not Whale."
Archie added an addendum about not jumping to conclusions to his list of lessons learned today. "I see," he said softly. "My apologies."
"Do you know who it is?" she asked, and he wished she wouldn't have. He hardly wanted opportunity to make the same mistake twice, and he dreaded the pain of hearing her claim her love for another. He might have felt pity for himself if he wasn't so deserved of guilt.
"I-I'm afraid I'm not familiar with many of the other doctors at the hospital," he finally choked out.
Ruby's gaze was fixed on him, and he couldn't meet it without blushing deeper. "He doesn't work at the hospital."
She paused in wait, and he conjectured that he was to make another guess. Something he was not really equipped to do. "Oh. Um, I guess the only other doctor I know is Doc." He could only deliver that line with a thick swallow rather than a smile.
Ruby did smile, and he thought he saw her eyes soften. "I'm not in love with Doc." Her smile widened and she reached a hand out to where his was still nervously clutching the table's edge. "Boy, for a guy with a PHD, you are really slow to catch on."
Archie shook his head, lost. "I guess this isn't really my forte." Then he felt her grip tighten on his and his brain caught up to his ears. The psychiatrist met her eyes fully, his own eyebrows spiking upward. He licked his lips and then finally mustered a question. "Ruby?"
"There it is," she said. "Figured it out yet, Dr. Hopper?"
Possessing that title had never meant so much to him. He stared incredulously at Ruby, coming slowly to acceptance. "Ruby? You don't mean…"
"I do," she assured him. She gave a small shrug, colored by just a hint of her own nerves. "This isn't exactly how I meant to tell you, but Granny's right. I've got to let you know." She smiled at him again, and now he could see it. It was in the shared meals and jokes, the protective gestures and knowing glances. This whole time that he'd been falling for her, Ruby had been falling right back. And not for Dr. Whale.
She took a deep breath. "The person I love is —"
The last word - his name - passed between their meeting lips.
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