DISCLAIMER: Characters are not mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was written before the Season 5 premiere, but includes spoilers up to that point. The beginning takes place in a stretched out bit of time after they get out of the Author's AU, but before Emma becomes the Dark One.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To mysensitiveside[at]yahoo.com
Every Me and Every You
Someone was watching them.
Regina could feel the hairs rise on the back of her neck.
She tried to ignore it at first, tried instead to focus on the weight of Robin's arm, wrapped a bit too tightly around her shoulders. She was only barely paying attention to what Robin was saying, as they sat on a bench down by the harbor. But someone was watching them, Regina knew, and her attention was split between the man beside her and the area around them.
Still, as she looked all around, Regina couldn't see anyone.
It kept happening, every once in a while. Regina didn't sense any danger from whoever it was. If anything, she had the feeling that the presence was actually looking out for her. That sensation of being watched usually came when she was out somewhere with Robin; occasionally when she was with Henry.
Never when she was alone, though. Like whoever it wasand Regina was pretty sure she now had a good idea of who, in fact, it waswanted to keep an eye on Regina, but didn't want any kind of confrontation with her about it.
Finally, after more than a week of intermittently being spied upon, Regina had had enough.
So one Saturday, after Henry had left to go spend the day with Emma, Regina set off towards Storybrooke's forest. She walked without any particular destination in mind, choosing a clearing at random where she could stand amongst the trees. This was enough of a deviation from normal that she was at least fairly confident that she'd be followed.
So then she waited.
Waited, until that niggling sensation came back, of someone's eyes on the back of her head.
Once she felt it and knew she was no longer alone, she didn't move, but simply cleared her throat and began to speak. She didn't speak any louder normal; she knew that, assuming she was right about all this, she would be heard just fine.
"Honestly, you're behaving like a child," Regina said. "Are you going to come out and talk to me, or are you going to continue to stalk me around town and sulk in the background?"
For another minute or so, there was no response but the twittering birds.
Then, finally, the wolf emerged from deeper within the forest. It came to lie down before Regina, placing its head on its front paws and looking up at her with big, sheepish eyes.
Regina sighed. "You can make all the puppy-dog eyes at me you want, it still won't do either of us any good," she chastised.
The wolf whined and continued to look up at Regina expectantly. Regina rolled her eyes, but she did turn around to give Ruby some privacy, as the wolf changed back into a human.
There was an unmistakable sense of magic in the air, and then Ruby's voicehoarse, as it always was right after the changecame over Regina's shoulder, prompting her to turn back around. "I wasn't stalking you," Ruby said. Then she asked, "How did you know it was me? I made a point of staying far enough away that I could see you, but you couldn't see me."
Regina lifted an eyebrow and responded, "If you're trying to not sound like a stalker, dear, you're not doing a very good job."
With a slight flush to her cheeks, Ruby looked down at the ground, but said nothing.
Regina wasn't used to this timid version of Ruby. She sighed again, taking pity on the young woman. "It was the very fact that I could tell that someone was watching but that I could never see anyone nearby that gave you away," she explained. "Now, would you care to explain why you've been giving me the puppy-dog treatment and following me around?"
Ruby looked back up at Regina, nervously biting her lower lip. She opened her mouth to speak, only to close it again and return her gaze to the forest floor.
"Ruby " Regina stepped forward, into Ruby's personal space. "Red," she corrected herself, for surely there was more of the girl's Enchanted Forest persona to her now than her outwardly-confident Storybrooke counterpart. "Just talk to me." She reached out with her hand, putting her fingers to Ruby's chin and gently urging her eyes upward. "Talk to me, Red," she repeated.
"Are we ever going to talk about what happened in the Author's world?" Ruby asked.
Regina frowned. "What does that have to do with anything?" she asked, confused.
Ruby's eyes darted down to Regina's lips, before they returned to meet Regina's eyes. Rather than answering Regina's question, though, she simply repeated, "Are we going to talk about it?"
Regina released her loose hold on Ruby's chin and stepped back, turning her back to Ruby as she strode a few paces away. "I don't know what there could possibly be to talk about," she said. "It was all fake. None of it really happened."
"But we lived it," Ruby insisted. "It's not even like those fake memories your curse made for all of us. And what happened between us It happened, Regina, it did."
Turning back around, Regina found that Ruby had moved with her, appearing closer than she had anticipated. "So?" she challenged. "Fine, it happened, but we weren't ourselves."
"Weren't we?" Ruby challenged right back. "A lot of people weren't, but you and me? You didn't even remember Henry, but still, you were perfectly willing to sacrifice yourself for him. And what was I, other than Snow's mostly-loyal friend? We were different, sure, but not so far off, in the end."
Ruby paused, but with a steeled look, she continued, "And when I kissed you "
Regina interrupted with a scoff. "Oh, you think that meant something? How about the fact that Little Red Riding Hood had to go to the dark side and be a villain before she suddenly found herself wanting to kiss me. Now that means something, dear," Regina sneered.
When Ruby didn't immediately reply, Regina took a step back and gathered herself. "Well," she went on, now totally calm, "that was a lovely chat. Now do be a dear and"
"It wasn't sudden," Ruby interrupted.
Regina looked back over to Ruby. "What?" she questioned, her eyes narrowing.
"I didn't suddenly find myself wanting to kiss you," Ruby explained. She'd gotten some of her spine back, and was looking Regina directly in the eye without wavering. "It wasn't sudden."
Regina found that she didn't actually know what to say to that.
When it became clear that Regina wasn't going to respond, Ruby continued, "And it wasn't about me being dark, either. Isaac may have made me a villain, but he didn't make me want to kiss you. I've wanted that for a very long time, all on my own. I've always felt drawn to you, Regina. Always. It started from the very first time I saw you, before I even knew who you were."
First Me; First You
Granny had told Red to stay at home that day.
Red did generally try to do what she was supposed to She certainly was sure to always wear her red cloak whenever she went out. But sometimes it felt like all of her obedience was consumed in following that one rule, with not enough left over for all the rest of Granny's instructions.
And there were rumors floating around the village that a royal convoy would be traveling nearby that day. Red had never seen any royalty before. Even Granny couldn't blame Red for wanting to catch a peek.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. Granny surely could and would blame her, but that simply couldn't be helped.
So, once Granny had left to go to the marketafter Red had nodded solemnly when Granny had told her to stay home and work in the gardenRed had hurried to do her chores faster than she had ever done them before, before she ran off into the woods to go searching for the rumored royal party.
Red knew these woods about as well as anyone could, and it didn't take all that great an effort to make a good guess of what would be their most likely route. If they were coming from the west, as the gossip went, and heading back to the royal castle, then there was really only one road that made any sense.
She knew of a good lookout spot, too, where a small hill rose up on the south side of the road, providing her higher ground from which she could observe the road without being seen herself. So Red found a position that gave her a perfect sightline, right between the trees, all the way down to the road, and settled in to wait.
Of course, she came close to missing the whole thing entirely, but the rhythmic sound of clopping horses' hooves woke her from her accidental doze just in time.
Inching silently closer to the road, Red gaped openly at the opulence of the scene before herthe fancy carriages, the servants in their decorative uniforms, the huge, well-fed horses. It was all unlike anything she'd ever seen.
Red was happy enough just to watch the procession go by and catch a small glimpse of the people inside the carriages, but she got even more than she'd been expecting when the party pulled to a halt while it was still in front of her.
There was some small commotion near the head of the line, but Red's attention was
drawn to the carriage right in front of her. There was a young woman sitting inside, alone. There was something utterly striking about her, although Red couldn't say quite what it was that stood out.
The woman turned, then, looking out the window; looking right out towards Red. Red froze, briefly panicking at the idea of being caught, even though she wasn't actually doing anything wrong. She then darted behind a tree, but the woman didn't even seem to see Red, bright red cloak notwithstanding.
Red peeked out from her hiding place. The young woman's carriage was still there, and she still sat there, looking out towards the woods.
She was beautiful.
Leaning out a little farther from the tree, Red felt inexplicably drawn forward.
She grew bolder as her slight movements continued to fail to catch the young woman's attention. She must be some kind of royalty; might she even be King Leopold's new young Queen? Red assumed she must be someone elsemust be some lesser member of the royal familysince surely the King wouldn't leave his new bride all alone in her own carriage.
Red got as close as she dared, and then stopped.
From this distance, Red could see that there was much more in the woman's face than just her beauty. She seemed deeply unhappy, somehow, her stare vacant and adrift.
For just a few moments, their eyes met. There was a spark of life, then, in the young woman's eyesa spark of curiosity, of longing.
Then, the moment was over.
The carriage lurched back into motion, and although Red craned her neck to look ahead, the woman was almost immediately out of sight.
Red barely paid any attention to the rest of the royal procession. Instead, she continued to follow the woman's carriage with her eyes. She found herself wishing she could find out, somehow, who the woman had been. Wanting, indeed, to know everything about her.
But it was a wish that would be impossible to fulfill.
Minor royal or not, the woman was still from an entirely different world than Red was.
And as the carriage passed out of view around a bend, so too, Red assumed, passed the one time their lives would ever intersect.
Red was passing through a small village on her way to deliver supplies to Snow's cottage with the dwarves, when she heard the news that the Evil Queen had set up a temporary camp nearby. The Queen had been sending out scouts, having heard rumors that Snow was in the area, but she herself was staying put outside the village until there was something definitive to go on.
Her first thought was that she should lay low for a little while; even if it would make her a few days later than usual, it was still a much better alternative than accidentally leading the Queen right to Snow's hideout.
Red's next thought turned from defense to offense. What if this was their chance? Their chance to end this petty feud once and for all. Red knew how to control her wolf now, after all, and unless the Black Guards happened to carry around silver-tipped arrows with them, they'd be no match for her. The Queen's dark magic would be an issue, of course, but if she could time things and spring the surprise attack just right
Maybe this was the best chance they were going to get. Snow White would never be able to get anywhere close to the Queen, but no one knew who Red was. She wouldn't just rush into things of course, but if there was any reasonable chance of her succeeding, then she simply had to go for it. She had to try.
She took several full days to scout out the situation. There was no reason to think that any of the guards would be on the lookout for a werewolf, so that was one point in her favor. The Black Guards were heavily armed, but Red had learned that she could somehow sense the presence of silver in the air, and there was no hint of it at the Queen's camp.
Luck was on Red's side, too, because every morning a young woman from the village with long, wavy brown hair came to deliver food to the campher only payment, of course, was that she and her family wouldn't be brutally murdered. The guards barely paid her any attention, though, and she bore enough of a passing resemblance to Red that it could be her way in.
It probably wasn't the most well-thought-out of plans, but it would have to do. Red had heard enough of the guards' mumbled conversations with each other to know that they would be leaving soon. She hadn't yet been able to get close enough to see exactly where the Queen was staying, but she knew the general direction.
She'd do it the following morning, then. She'd intercept the woman from the village, convince her to let Red take her place, and then get as close as she possibly could to the Queen before shifting into her wolf and attacking.
That night, Red found that she couldn't sleep.
She had never actually met the Queen, although she felt like she knew her, on some level, after hearing so much from Snow and others who had had the misfortune of crossing paths with the Evil Queen. Still, in spite of all the horror stories, Red couldn't quite stop shaking at the thought that before too long, she would be on her way with the express purpose of trying to kill an actual human being. She knew that Snow was conflicted over whether or not the Queen deserved to die, but if it came down to one person dying so that so many others would live
Well, it wasn't much of a choice. Right?
Red's shaking grew worse. She could talk herself through logic all she wanted, but actually going through with it was still quite another thing entirely.
The next morning, after a fitful sleep of a few hours, Red set her plan in motion with a steeled sense of purpose. What she was doing wasn't about killing; it was about saving her best friend, along with the countless other people who would no doubt become victims of the Evil Queen if something wasn't done to stop her.
At first, her plan went perfectly. The village girl was more than happy to let Red take her place for the day. And sure enough, with her head down and her long hair covering her face, Red was able to walk right into the Evil Queen's camp without any hassle at all. She delivered the food according to the villager's instructions, and thenfor being an evil sorceress whom countless people would no doubt want to kill, the Queen could really use some better and more attentive guardsno one paid her any mind as she purposefully strode towards the center of camp.
The Queen's tent was easily identifiable from within the camp, set apart by its grand size and opulence, as well as the four guards standing outside the entrance.
Red took in a deep breath. This was it, then.
Surely the guards wouldn't allow a stranger to simply walk up to the Queen's tent; but a lost damsel in distress, on the other hand
She purposely stumbled out into the clearing in front of the tent, looking around in feigned confusion. Immediately, the guards all drew weapons on her, and she hurriedly put her hands up and looked at them with wide eyes, innocent and frightened.
Even so, she didn't stop moving towards them as she said, "Please don't hurt me. I am so sorry. I was just delivering the food, and I've been doing it every day, so I don't know how it happened, but somehow I got turned around, and now"
In one smooth motion, Red leapt forward and shifted into her wolf. Two arrows hit her
right away, but they weren't silver, and they couldn't do much at such close range, so all she felt was a light pinch. One guard swiped at her shoulder with a sword, drawing blood, but in only a few seconds, Red managed to incapacitate all four of them.
Without further thought, the wolf rushed into the Queen's tent.
Instantly, she was pushed back by the heat of a bright ball of flame. It burned, but Red pushed forward. She couldn't give up now.
But she wasn't given much choice when, just a stride later, she was physically yanked backwards, as an invisible hand reached out and grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, lifting her up into the air.
Red was snarling and twisting around as much as she could, a combination of anger and terror driving her to try to get away, when the Queen stepped forward into view.
"What have we here?" she called out, as though nothing more than idly curious. "A werewolf? How intriguing."
For just a moment, Red stopped breathing.
It was her.
That beautiful, sad woman from years ago It was her.
Out of surprise more than anything else, Red lost control of her wolf and shifted back into a human. It turned out to be the smartest thing she could have done, because the magic holding her back was for the wolf, not the person, and Red toppled down out of the air, hitting the ground hard.
The Queen tilted her head, a look of confusion crossing her face.
"You I know you from somewhere "
In that moment, Red could have done it. She could have lunged forward, shifting as she went, and she could have attacked. She still might not have succeeded, but in that one moment, she had the advantage.
She couldn't do it.
The Queen was a real person, now, in a way she never had been after all of Snow's stories. She was a real person, and Red couldn't kill her.
She moved backwards instead of forwards, shifting seamlessly into her lupine form as she bolted back and out of the tent. She simply ran, then, as fast as she could and with no sense of direction.
Red ran until her legs could carry her no farther, and then she collapsed into a heaving heap. She listened, her wolf's senses on high alert, but there was no indication that anyone was following her.
It wasn't until later, after she'd changed back into a person and set about figuring out where she had ended up, that it occurred to her. The Queen surely could have stopped her if she'd wanted to; Red's wolf was fast, but she couldn't outrun magic like the Queen's.
For some reason, the Queen had chosen to let her go.
That night, utterly exhausted, Red dreamed of a beautiful young woman, so very powerful, but so very lost and alone.
"Good morning, Madam Mayor!"
The mayor looked over in surprise, just like she did every time that Ruby would call out cheerfully to her.
"Yes. Good morning, Miss Lucas," she responded stiffly after a beat.
Ruby didn't know why Ms. Mills was always so surprised when she said hello. She came into the diner every morning, and every morning Ruby offered her a warm greeting. It wasn't like this was some kind of new change in the routine.
She also didn't know quite why she bothered to continue the welcome, when clearly Mayor Mills wouldn't care either way.
Well, Ruby did have her suspicions on both counts, really.
As far as she could tell, Ruby was one of the very few people in town who were anything that could be called 'friendly' towards the mayor. So while Ruby's daily greeting itself shouldn't have been surprising, Mayor Mills seemed to be so completely used to people acting neutrally or negatively towards her that any amount of friendliness was something out-of-the-ordinary.
It was sad, really. Sure, the mayor could be intimidating and a bit on the cold sideokay, a lot on the cold sidebut she did a hell of a lot for Storybrooke, and that deserved some appreciation. And hey, maybe she would warm up a bit if people were actually nicer to her!
That was part of why Ruby bothered to keep up the friendly act, she knew. Only part of it, though.
Another part was a bit more self-centered, Ruby could admit to herself.
Because, well, people liked Ruby in Storybrooke.
Almost everyone did.
Ruby really liked being liked, but Regina Mills seemed to feel indifferent towards her, at best. And Ruby didn't want to inspire indifference in anyone.
Making people like her was easy, really. But with Regina, there was a challenge. And in a boring town like Storybrooke, a challenge was a very welcome thing.
Ruby smiled to herself, eyeing the woman sitting in her usual seat at the counter. Yeah, she'd wear Mayor Mills down eventually. It might even be fun.
Ruby sighed, and then tipped back the rest of her drink.
"Seriously," she told Ashley, before raising her voice to announce out to the crowd of awkwardly mingling people at The Rabbit Hole: "Storybrooke needs some better dating options!"
Ashley shushed her, giggling.
Ruby smirked at her friend, but no one else seemed to be paying them any attention.
"Really, though," she continued. "Is it too much to ask for someone who is reasonably smart? I mean, I know I'm no Einstein, and no offense to Jim, but God, he totally fits the 'dumb jock' stereotype. Getting him to talk about anything other than sports was like pulling teeth. He's pretty, I'll give him that, but no thanks."
"How about Whale?" Ashley suggested.
"How about someone who is respectful and not full of himself," Ruby countered.
"But who isn't boring."
"Um Sheriff Graham."
Ruby laughed. "Yes," she said, "the town drunk who's in love with a nun is definitely the man of my dreams!"
After a moment, she added, "Maybe I am too picky. I just want someone who can make me think and make me laugh. You know? Someone with some ambition, but who doesn't talk to me like I'm a complete idiot. Someone who, I don't know, brings some life to this boring little town. And, I've freaking looked, but no one in Storybrooke checks all those boxes."
Ashley took a moment to consider, before saying with a chuckle, "Well, I don't know about the making-you-laugh part, but if I didn't know any better, I'd say it sounds like you're describing the mayor!"
Ruby snorted in response, but at the same time, her heart seemed to skip a beat at the thought
Ruby heard the bell above the door ring, signaling someone's entrance into the diner, but she didn't bother looking to see who it was. She would go take their order in a minute, but it had been a long day at the end of a long week, and her feet were tired, and whoever it was could damn well hold on for just a bit.
"Are you all right, Miss Lucas?"
Ruby's head shot up. "Mayor Mills. Yes. Thank you. I'm fine. And yourself? Oh, you're probably here for coffee. Or maybe not. You're not usually here this late. Would you like some coffee?"
One elegant Mills eyebrow rose. Ruby blushed.
For just a moment, Regina smirked in amusement, before she let her face settle back into its usual neutral expression. "I would like some coffee, yes," she finally said.
Ruby quickly stood up from the stool she'd been sitting on behind the counter and moved to peer into the coffee pot. "It's probably a little stale," she admitted, looking over her shoulder with a wince. "But I could brew a fresh pot, if you don't mind waiting a bit?"
"I have some time," Regina responded with a slight nod.
Ruby set about getting the coffee going, humming softly to herself.
"It's Henry, really," came Regina's voice. "Why I need the coffee this late."
Surprised at being spoken to, Ruby looked back over her shoulder. Her eyes darted around the diner, and oh yeah, there was Henry, sitting in a booth and appearing to be really focused on some coloring. Ruby hadn't even realized that he'd come in too, and maybe Ruby should've been paying closer attention to things, instead of thinking about how hot his mom was
Her surprise must have shown on her face, because Regina laughed, just briefly, and added, "Yes, Miss Lucas, I'm talking to you."
"Sorry," Ruby grinned sheepishly. She finished setting the coffee to drip, and then turned back around to face Regina fully. "Not too many people actually talk to me, here, other than putting in their orders. And you and I don't really talk much at all, to be honest."
Regina looked down, seeming uncomfortable.
"But I'd like to talk with you!" Ruby added hastily. "I mean, well." She tried to think of a way to sound less needy, but "Well yeah. I'd like to talk with you. So. You were saying something about Henry?"
Regina looked back at him, and the most beautiful, loving smile spread across her face. Ruby felt like she was intrudinglike it was a smile that she wasn't meant to seebut she couldn't look away.
"He's going through quite the adventurous phase," she said, turning back to towards Ruby. "Between having to deal with the stunning incompetence of everyone with whom I work, and then Henry doing his best Energizer Bunny impression "Ruby laughed"Well, some extra caffeine is appreciated."
"He seems pretty calm right now," Ruby said with a smile.
"I've resorted to bribery," Regina confided. "If he behaves himself while we're here, he gets ice cream for dessert."
Ruby laughed again. "You are funny," she said, thinking back to Ashley's question a few months ago of Regina's ability to make Ruby laugh.
Regina eyed her suspiciously. "Has there been some discussion of my sense of humor?" she asked.
"Oh." Ruby took this opportunity to turn around to get Regina's coffee. "No, nothing," she said vaguely.
Now that she'd gotten the coffee, though, she almost wished she hadn't. Now their little conversation would be over.
Still, she offered her brightest smile as she handed over the coffee. "Here you go, Madam Mayor," she said. "Extra caffeine, just how you like it."
"Thank you." Regina hesitated for just a moment, before adding, "Ruby."
Ruby knew better than to acknowledge the use of her first name, even though she was pretty sure it was the first time, ever, that Regina had used it.
But her smile grew even brighter.
Regina placed a few bills on the counter and then stood up. Ruby blurted out without thinking, "I'll walk you two out," before grimacing inwardly. This wasn't a date, for crying out loud, where Ruby would walk Regina to her door.
Regina raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment.
"Come along, Henry," she called softly, and the young boy got up from the table where he'd been sitting. He practically hopped over to Regina's side, and once he reached her, he didn't stop moving, but instead just jumped up and down in place.
"Ice cream now?" he asked, excitement written clearly across his face.
"After dinner, Henry," Regina replied, reaching out to rub her hand over his hair.
"Okay," he said. He thrust his drawing and crayons into Regina's hands and then ran for the entrance, hurling his small body at the door to push it open.
"Henry, wait!" Regina called after him. She moved to run after him, but stopped when she saw that he was, in fact, waiting for her just outside the door.
"Are you sure Henry hasn't been the one having the extra caffeine?" Ruby joked as she moved over to Regina's side.
Regina gave a small smile, but whatever spell had come over her earlier was gone now, and she was back to being all formal and business-like.
Still, she paused for a moment at the door. She was looking down at the floor, keeping an eye on Henry, and Ruby simply waited, giving her time.
"You said earlier that people don't often talk to you, here," Regina said, looking back up to meet Ruby's eyes. "You've always been very kind to me, and I just wanted to say that, while I may not have shown it, I've certainly noticed, and I've appreciated it."
Ruby smiled, but didn't say anything.
"People don't much talk to me, if they don't have to, either," Regina finished softly, pulling her gaze away and over to Henry. "Adult people, anyway."
She straightened her back, then, and pulled the door open. "Well. Thank you again for the fresh coffee, Miss Lucas," she said. She seemed embarrassed about how much she'd revealed of herself.
With that, Regina walked out of the diner and moved to put her hand on Henry's shoulder. He looked up at her as she murmured something to him, and then looked both ways before running across the street to their car, with Regina walking right behind him.
"Hey," Ruby called out once they'd crossed the street, and Regina looked back over at her. "Maybe we can talk again sometime," she suggested.
Regina watched her for a moment, but didn't reply before getting into her car and driving away.
Ruby had had too much to drink. She wasn't drunk, but she was tipsy, and she was beginning to think dangerous thoughts.
"Regina, this cider is seriously amazing. Too amazing, really."
Regina eyed her over her own glass. "So you've said," she smirked, a hint of pride in her expression.
Henry had gone to bed hours ago, and Regina had arrived shortly after. As she was getting ready to head back home, Ruby had been pleasantly surprised when Regina had invited her to stay for a drink.
So now here they were. Conversation had been flowing more easily than Ruby would have imagined, but the bouts of silence between them were beginning to lengthen. It wasn't uncomfortable. But Ruby had been spending too much time just staring at Regina; she'd tried to be subtle about it, but from the expression on the other woman's face, it hadn't gone unnoticed.
"Well, it's gotten quite late," Regina said, "and it will probably be another long day tomorrow, so I should get to sleep. Thank you again, Ruby, for watching Henry tonight."
"No problem, he's a great kid," Ruby replied honestly. "If you need to stay late at work again, you can"
Regina interrupted, saying, "No, I make a point of never staying late two nights in a row."
Ruby nodded, and they walked side-by-side to the front door, neither one saying anything.
As they reached the door, Ruby looked over at Regina and said, "Thanks for inviting me to stay for a bit. I had a nice time."
There was a pause, and then Regina sounded almost surprised as she replied, "Yes, I did as well."
She opened the front door and Ruby stepped outside before turning back to face Regina, who now stood in the open doorway.
And this was where the alcoholic content of Regina's too-amazing cider was going to get Ruby in trouble.
Because Regina looked so beautiful, just standing there, and it wasn't just about that, because she really did enjoy Regina's company, and no matter how much she knew that it would be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea, there was an increasingly insistent part of her that just ached to lean in and kiss her
And Regina was looking at her like maybe, maybe, she wouldn't mind
"Regina, I " Ruby was trying really hard to keep her eyes on Regina's, but as she nervously moistened her lips, Regina dropped her own gaze to watch the movement of Ruby's tongue.
"Well. Good night, Miss Lucas."
Before Ruby could react, Regina had stepped back and closed the door right in her face.
So, Ruby was a werewolf.
Ruby was a werewolf and she'd once killed her boyfriend.
Ruby was a werewolf and before she'd managed to remember that little fact, she'd been totally crushing on the Evil Queen, who had cursed Ruby and everyone she knew.
Oh God, Ruby was a werewolf and a murderer and a freaking fairy tale character. And not even one who'd gotten a fun Disney movie.
Fuck, Ruby was going to be sick.
Ruby had been avoiding Regina.
She could admit it to herself, even if she wouldn't to anyone else. Well, she wouldn't have admitted it if anyone had noticed and/or cared enough to ask her about it, but no one did, so. There was no issue, then.
But she had been avoiding Regina.
For one thing, she'd been the primary instigator in getting Regina falsely accused of murdering Archie. So, you know, that was awkward.
Then there was the fact that she didn't know how to deal with how embarrassingly obvious she'd been about her crush during the curse. There was no way that Regina hadn't noticed, so just ignoring the issue entirely was clearly the best solution.
And lastly, there was Mary Margaretor, Snow, she should probably say; God, what did you even call anyone anymore? Because Snow was Ruby's best friend, and this whole curse thing was done with the sole purpose of destroying Snow's happiness, and Ruby should be furious with Regina. And she really had been, at first.
Ruby wasn't sure she could ever say this to Mary MargaretSnow; whateverbut she wasn't all that upset about the curse, really.
In theory, sure, it was a totally shitty thing for Regina to do, and that was putting it super mildly. But in actuality
In Storybrooke, Ruby hadn't had to fear for her life. She hadn't had to live every day with the shame of what she'd done to Peter. She hadn't had to live with people being afraid of her; she hadn't had to be afraid of herself.
Not to mention, Storybrooke had indoor plumbing, modern medicine, and the internet, to name just a few wonderful upgrades over the Enchanted Forest.
So, Ruby avoided Regina.
Because she wasn't nearly as upset with her as she should beshe could kind of even understand where Regina had been coming from, which was even worseand if she saw Regina, talked with her, then Ruby just might betray Snow by admitting it out loud.
It was strange being in Storybrooke once Regina, the Charmings, Hook, and Mr. Gold went off to Neverland to rescue Henry. Ruby didn't really care one way or the other about Hook and Gold, but with the others gone, it was undeniably lonely.
She hung out a lot with Belle and Ashley, but things just weren't the same.
Acknowledging that she missed Mary Margaret, David, and Emma was easy. But it wasn't just them.
Ruby found herself wishing that she'd talked with Regina more, instead of just avoiding her like a coward. She wished that she'd told her that she forgave her, and was even kind of grateful, for the curse; told her that she'd genuinely enjoyed it, during the curse, when the two of them would talk; told her that maybe they could try that again.
Regina was one of the good guys, now, but Ruby still hadn't really felt comfortable around her. Or, to be more precise, she had been worried that she would be too comfortable, and that had in turn made her feel uncomfortable.
But it was time to move past all that. Her crush on Regina had surely just been some kind of side-effect of the curse. It was still pretty embarrassing, but it was nothing to be ashamed of. Now they could be friends, if Regina wanted to. Regina was certainly trying really hard to move forward, beyond the Enchanted Forest and beyond the curse; Ruby could too.
The first time that Ruby saw everyone after they'd returned from Neverland, she did a double take through the window of the diner. They were all just strolling down the street, along with what looked like at least half the town.
She'd been wondering why the diner was so empty How had she been one of the only people to miss the memo that they'd all made it back?
Grinning widely, Ruby dropped her order pad and ran outside to greet them. She practically threw herself into a hug with Mary Margaret, and she felt David's arms wrap around the two of them as well. Others started streaming into the diner as Ruby pulled back and, after ruffling Henry's hair, she hugged Emma as well.
Then, she didn't even think about it, but it only felt natural to move down the line and throw her arms around Regina.
Regina stiffened immediately, and Ruby's mind caught up with her actions. She was hugginghuggingthe not-so-evil-anymore Queen. Her eyes widened at herself, but, trying to play it cool, she held on for another moment before she began to let go. At the same time, though, Ruby felt a single, tentative hand come up and rest lightly on Ruby's back.
Holy shit, Regina was hugging her back! Sort of, anyway.
And it felt Really nice, actually.
Instead of pulling back right away, Ruby allowed herself just one more moment, relaxing into the hug. Then she let Regina go and stepped back. She knew she was probably blushing as she stuffed her hands into her back pockets, but, looking at all five of them, her smile was bright and genuine.
Ruby's eyes caught Regina's, wide and startled, and her smile softened. "Welcome back," she said.
Yeah, so. That whole 'that crush on Regina was definitely a past-tense thing, just a side-effect of the curse' idea?
Turned out that it was a lot more of a present-tense thing than Ruby had thought.
On one hand, being back in the Enchanted Forest after Pan's curse was exhilarating. Ruby hadn't realized how much she'd missed this, being out in the fresh, open air and traveling through the countryside. But on the other hand
Ruby missed showers.
And air conditioning.
And even processed food, to be perfectly honest. She could seriously kill for a candy bar.
The Enchanted Forest was so familiar, and there was a huge comfort in that, but it no longer quite felt like home.
Ruby sighed and glanced over towards Regina and Snow, who were walking together and talking. Ruby had been watching Regina a lot, she knew, but she just couldn't seem to help herself.
She hadn't quite been honest when she'd told Snow that she 'might' be worried about Regina, 'if' Regina hadn't tried to hurt them so many times. Truthfully, there was no 'might' or 'if' about it; Ruby was worried.
Granted, she was fully relieved that coming back here hadn't resulted in Regina reverting back into Evil-Queen-mode, but Regina really didn't look too good. And it just seemed so wrong to see Regina staying off to the side, letting others take the lead, as she kept quietly to herself, alternating between indifference and absolute devastation when she thought no one was looking and she couldn't seem to hold it in any more. Whether as Queen or as Mayor, Regina had always been such a commanding presence, but now...
The next morning, as the group continued to make their way to Regina's old castle, Ruby sidled up next to Regina.
"Hey," she said, aiming for nonchalance.
Regina gave her a look. "'Hey'? Really?" she asked, eyebrow raised.
Ruby smirked playfully. "What, are you going to tell me that hay is for horses, not wolves?" she asked.
"Please," scoffed Regina. "As if I would ever tell as banal a joke as that."
Ruby smiled and dared to lean over to nudge Regina with her shoulder, but after that, they lapsed into silence.
"Did Snow send you to check up on me?" Regina finally asked with a sigh. "Because you can reassure her that I'm still no more likely to go into a homicidal rage than I was yesterday."
"Well, a lack of homicidal raging is appreciated," Ruby laughed. "But no, Snow didn't send me. I just, I don't know "
Ruby trailed off, but Regina filled in the blank.
"What, have you changed your mind yet again and decided that you want us to be 'friends'?" she sneered, with audible sarcasm around the final word.
Ruby stared at her. It had never even occurred to her that Regina might have actually noticed, let alone cared, when Ruby alternated between wanting to be friends, wanting something more, and wanting to avoid Regina entirely.
Ruby cleared her throat, turning her head to watch the trail in front of her, instead of Regina. Instead of answering the question directly, she said, "I don't think I ever thanked you, you know."
Sounding bored, Regina didn't bother to look at Ruby as she asked, "For ?"
"For keeping me and Granny together during the curse," Ruby replied. "And for giving me time when I could forget that I was a killer."
"You were only ever an unknowing killer; I'm not sure that really counts," Regina countered. "So if you're trying to bond over how similar we are, don't bother."
"I almost killed you, once," murmured Ruby, her voice so low that she wasn't sure that Regina would actually hear her; wasn't even sure whether or not she wanted Regina to hear her.
Regina did hear, though, as her step faltered and she quickly snapped her head to stare in surprise at Ruby. They'd never talked about that day, but apparently Regina remembered it as well as Ruby did.
After a long moment, Regina turned away again. "Almost," she whispered back.
"I'm glad I didn't."
Another long pause.
Since when had there been flying monkeys in the Enchanted Forest??
Good lord, Ruby was learning to appreciate Storybrooke more and more every day.
On top of the flying monkey situation, Robin Hood and a few of his freaking Merry Men had shown up. And they weren't foxes and bears, like in the movie.
Ruby thinks she would have preferred the Disney version, to be honest.
Because there was just something about Robin Hood Ruby's wolf didn't like him, although she had no clue why not. Maybe it was that the Sheriff of Nottingham had been a wolf in the movie.
Or maybe it was that, in whatever weird made-up memories Ruby had of her childhood in Storybrooke, Robin Hood had been one of her absolute favorite Disney charactersalong with Aladdin and Arielbut this guy was so Ruby wasn't sure what he was, but while he had the handsome looks down, Ruby just wasn't impressed, somehow.
Plus, he seemed way too overly concerned with Regina. And Snow was encouraging them! Ugh. At least Regina seemed to not be interested.
But it wasn't her business!
If Regina liked the forest boy, then she liked the forest boy, and it wasn't any of Ruby's business.
She just wished that it was.
Very early one morning, as Ruby was returning from one of her scouting runs, she was surprised to come across Regina. Ruby almost ran right past her, since they were about half a mile from the castle and in this light of pre-dawn, Ruby certainly hadn't anticipated running into anyone.
But there Regina sat, on her own, beside a small creek.
Ruby put on the brakes to slow down, but, out of some kind of instinct more than anything else, she decided to remain in her wolf form for the time being.
She approached Regina cautiously. Regina had been watching her progress, and although she didn't make any movements, her eyes remained wary.
"Ruby?" she called out when Ruby was still a decent ways away.
Unable to truly answer, Ruby released a small yip before lying down and rolling over onto her side with her paws in the air. It was a submissive position, one she didn't much like being in, but it was the best she could do, in terms of making Regina comfortable.
Regina smiled, as though she understood the gesture. "Come on, then," she said, angling her head.
Ruby jumped to her feet and padded over to Regina's side. Regina was sitting in a chair that had been carved out of an old tree stump, and Ruby sat beside her, placing her head on Regina's knee; as a wolf, Ruby was able to act way more forward than she ever would have as a person.
Looking down at her skeptically, Regina teased, "Some fearsome wolf, you are. You're just an overgrown puppy, aren't you?"
In response, Ruby inched her face forward, nudging at Regina's hand with her nose. Regina huffed out a laugh, then, but she got the message. Hesitant at first, she began petting Ruby's head.
They sat together in silence for a while, each one growing increasingly comfortable with the other's quiet company.
Then, as though she'd simply been waiting for someone to listen, Regina began to speak.
"I used to have a garden somewhere around here," she said. "I don't know the exact spot. Everything's gone, now. The King didn't much like me doing anything that wasn't 'fit for a Queen,' but this was one thing that I could justifiably do on my own. Something that didn't involve sitting and learning to crochet, or something mind-numbingly boring like that, that is. I was never really alone, of course, but it was the closest I could get to feeling like myself."
There was a long pause, before Regina continued, "I don't actually remember the precise incident that made me do it, but in the end, I burned the whole garden down. With who I was becoming, I couldn't bear to remember who I'd been."
Regina was still idly stroking her hand through Ruby's fur, but she wouldn't meet her eyes, instead staring off into the forest.
"I had a garden in Storybrooke, as well," Regina added, after another stretch of surprisingly comfortable silence. "And H Henry "
Unable to continue, Regina lifted her hand to press the back of it against her mouth as she squeezed her eyes shut.
Whining softly, Ruby stood up so that she could easily reach out and lick Regina's cheek, cleaning away the silent tears.
"Oh," Regina said, startled, before batting Ruby away. "Who told you that you could do that, wolf girl?"
Ruby ducked under Regina's outstretched hand and got one more lick in before she bounded a few feet away and regarded Regina with her head cocked to the side.
Almost in spite of herself, Regina let out a short laugh at Ruby's antics.
She smiled softly and said, "And here I thought you were supposed to be this striking, majestic creature. At least you're not wagging your tail, I suppose."
Regina didn't say anything else, but she'd stopped crying, and after waiting another moment, Ruby returned to her side and put her head back in Regina's lap. Regina looked down and their eyes met as she ran her hand over the top of Ruby's head.
"I just miss him so much," Regina told her in a whisper. "And it's not getting any easier."
Ruby nuzzled into Regina, and together, they sat back and watched the sun rise.
Right, so. Robin Hood was Regina's soulmate.
Her damn soulmate.
At least now Ruby knew why she hadn't liked him.
It was quite the reality check, at least. Ruby had thought that maybe there was something developing between herself and Regina. A friendship, at least; one that was real, built on mutual understanding if not quite mutual admiration.
But now, well, Regina had plenty of other stuff to deal with, instead of something as trivial as a burgeoning maybe-friendship with a waitress/werewolf.
It had been bad enough when Ruby had been competing against the metaphorical ghost of Regina's first love. Now there was a real, live, flesh-and-blood freaking soulmate.
Oh, who was she kidding? Ruby hadn't ever really been "competing" against anyone.
And it wasn't a competition, anyway. Ruby knew better, she chastised herself, than to act like Regina was some prize to be won.
Still, if it had been a competition, hypothetically, it felt pretty unfair that all Robin Hood basically had to do was show up, and he was automatically crowned the winner, because pixie dust said so. As bitter as it made her feel, though, Ruby supposed she could understand the appeal of being handed a handsome man who loved you on a silver platter.
It wasn't yet wolfstime, but Ruby was starting to feel antsy earlier than usual. Even Granny noticed, grumbling at Ruby that she was being annoying and that she should go out for a runonly once her shift was over, of course; even when there was barely anyone in the diner, there was no way Ruby would be allowed to leave early.
Nonetheless, she did take Granny's advice, and it felt really good to get away from the town and to exercise her wolf's muscles.
Without even thinking about it, she gave a wide berth of where the Merry Men were camping.
Ruby's wolf really didn't like Robin Hood.
She'd been avoiding Regina again.
Regina's comment back in the Enchanted Forest, about how Ruby kept changing her mind about whether or not she wanted to be friends with Regina, floated occasionally through her head. It was clear that, at least to some extent, then, Regina did notice Ruby's varying treatment towards her. It wasn't enough to convince Ruby that Regina actually cared one way or the other, though.
And she just couldn't.
It was selfish, maybe, but she couldn't be Regina's friend until she got over this stupid little persistent crush.
(It felt like more than a crush, at this point; crushes didn't actually last this long, did they? No, Ruby wasn't thinking about that.)
She couldn't be around Regina more than she had to when Regina was being all lovey-dovey with RobinRuby was happy for Regina; she was. And she still couldn't do it when Regina was so angry and heartbroken once Emma brought Marian backRuby spent a lot of time in her wolf form, running, because as a person, there was a big part of Ruby that wanted to go to Regina, try to comfort her in some way, but she couldn't. And she certainly couldn't do it when Regina was looking for the Author with Ursula, Maleficient, and CruellaRuby might dislike Cruella even more than Robin, and that was saying a lot.
Regina certainly didn't need someone else putting any kind of pressure on her, wanting something else from her. Regina needed a friend, probably.
But Ruby was selfish. And she was jealous.
And she just couldn't do it.
Loyalty was one of Red's best traits; always had been. She knew how to take orders and deliver them without question. It was, in part, what had elevated her up to the level of Queen Snow's trusted right-hand-wolf.
She knew what the commoners called her, thinking themselves clever when someone had come up with the moniker of Evil Bitch. She wasn't a dog, but no matter, it had never bothered Red. She couldn't say that she enjoyed many of the tasks that Snow gave her, like some of the other members of the Black Guard clearly did, but Red took pride in how her Queen could always count on her. If that made her evil, then so be it.
But Red's loyalty was fraying.
And thatmore than any rebels with pitchforks or silver arrowswas something that terrified her.
It had started on a day like any other.
Like plenty of times before, Queen Snow had sent her out hunting for the bandit, Regina. She had a small group of underlings with her, but when it came to tracking, Red worked best alone so she generally made them stay back at the camp or go do some other mission and leave her be. She could contact the others if she needed them, yet it was highly doubtful that she actually would. They were generally useless to her.
She'd felt like she was getting closemore some kind of instinct than anything definitivebut she hadn't voiced the feeling to any of the others when they'd camped the previous night, in case she was wrong.
Still, Red was almost surprised when her wolf senses picked up the distant sound of someone pulling back a bowstring. She turned to look up into the trees, just in time to dodge the arrow that came hurtling towards her with unerring aim.
The shooter was either very talented or very lucky, since Red knew that the arrow had been shot from a farther distance that most archers would even bother to attempt.
But the arrow hadn't yet fallen to the ground before Red was off and running deeper into the forest, trusting her senses completely to take her the right way.
Even as a human, Red was very fast, and she was steadily gaining ground as the bandit fled away from her. Her prey should have stuck to the treeswolves couldn't climb trees, and Red wasn't all that good at it eitherbut she'd foolishly taken to the ground. The hunted one surely knew this territory better, and that did provide an advantage, but it was Red, the hunter, who had the powers of a wolf on her side; it almost wasn't a fair fight, and Red felt a wild grin steal across her face as she gave in to the joys of the chase.
Her prey seemed to figure out that outrunning Red wasn't a real option, and so turned to one last attempt at evasion.
The idea was even a fairly good one. The bandit abruptly changed directions, heading towards the sound of rushing water. It wasn't too far to the river, the current moving at a rapid, even dangerous, pace at this location. Still, without hesitation, the banditsurely it had to be Regina, her prey, but Red couldn't be fully certain; not yetleapt forward and plunged into the cold water.
Red ran towards the riverbank at a sharp angle. She hadn't wanted to change into her wolf, hadn't wanted to reveal herself in this way, but she'd been left with little other choice. In one graceful movement, Red surged forward, shifting, and arrived at the edge of the river just in time to firmly plant herself and reach out over the water to clamp her strong jaws around the collar of the bandit's tunic, yanking her out of the river by the scruff of her neck.
She dropped the bandit unceremoniously to the ground, and she landed in a sopping wet heap. After coughing up some water, the bandit turned over lie flat on her back, breathing heavily, in time to see Red shift back into her human form.
"A werewolf?" she choked out. "How intriguing."
Red didn't bother to answer, but merely stood over her prey, taking time to get her breathing back under control after her hard run.
Regina, for it was indeed her, still maintained a tight grip on her bow, but she'd lost all her remaining arrows in the river; she had no chance of escape, now, and they both knew it, but Regina still chose to stare up at Red in defiance.
Regina held another surprise for Red, though. She was quick, as she hunched her body up and made a move for her boot, wrenching out a dagger. But Red was quicker, and no sooner was the dagger in Regina's hand than Red had kicked it loose again. It flew up into the air, tumbling end over end, then clattered down to the ground and fell into the river and was gone.
With a sigh, Regina fell back to the ground. "Well that was hardly necessary," she protested, still somewhat out of breath and with her voice hoarse from having swallowed too much river water. "That was my favorite dagger, you didn't need to lose it for me."
Red grinned, in spite of herself. She felt strangely giddy, after the fierce chase through the woods. "If you expect me to apologize, then you'll be waiting a very long time," she said.
"Ah, she does speak!" Regina exclaimed. "I thought maybe you'd only grunt and growl. Or maybe howl at the moon."
"It's barely past midday," Red pointed out.
Regina shrugged, still making no attempt at getting up from her prone position on the ground.
This certainly hadn't been how Red had anticipated her capture of Regina going.
Regina looked more like a half-drowned rat than anything else, at the moment, but nonetheless, Red and her wolf felt somehow drawn to her. It was almost as if
"Have we ever met before?" she asked, the thought escaping her before she could stop herself.
Laughing, Regina asked, "Right, and where exactly would that have happened? Some other world? No, I'm quite sure we haven't met."
Red continued to eye Regina; she knew the other woman was surely right, but still, there was just something about her.
Neither one said anything for a long moment, before Regina added, "Well, shall we get on with this, then?"
She held out her left hand for Red to pull her up off the ground. Still outwardly calm, Regina's heart-rate ticked noticeably upwards, Red could hear.
Really, she should have known better. But she wasn't suspicious at all as she reached down and clasped Regina's hand, effortlessly pulling her upwards.
Once she was on her feet, Regina didn't wait a moment before she made her move. She kicked out at the inside of Ruby's knee, causing it to buckle painfully, and then her right hand shot upwards, with the heel of her open palm connecting hard with Ruby's nose.
Taken completely by surprise, Red dropped Regina's other hand so she could reach up to her nose, which was now gushing blood. Her knee throbbed in pain.
She looked up to see Regina sprinting away from her.
Regina looked back over her shoulder, grinning when she saw that Red still remained standing in the same spot. "This was fun, we should do it again some time!" she called to Red before she disappeared around a corner.
Despite the pain, Red definitely could have gone immediately after Regina again.
Even later, she wouldn't be able explain to herself why, but Red decided not to.
Instead, she laughed wryly and rubbed ineffectively at her nose.
Somehow, it had been fun. And Red was confident that this wouldn't be the end of things between the two of them.
The next few times that Red caught some trace of Regina's trail, she purposefully led her team in a slightly wrong direction. The other guards were no match for her tracking skills, so they certainly couldn't tell the difference.
Queen Snow hadn't been happy, of course (to describe her as furious would be a more accurate account), when Red kept failing to produce anything of value from each of the leads they got.
Red had had to explain her broken nose, that first time, and she couldn't very well say that she'd actually had Regina in her grasp but had let her get away. Instead, she'd made up some story about losing her footing while pursuing Regina down a hill. If Snow's senses had been like Red's she would have seen the minute signs of deceptionRed's elevated heart rate, her dilated pupils, the slight increase in perspirationbut Snow had just berated her viciously for her clumsiness and then stormed off in anger.
Red knew she was lucky. If almost anyone else had had as little success as Red, especially considering that Red was supposed to be good at tracking, then Snow would have had him or her killed some time ago. Snow liked Red, though, as well as Snow could actually like anyone, so Red had been allowed to remain among the living.
But Snow's limited patience was waning, and this time, Red knew she had to come back to the Queen with something to show for her efforts.
She hadn't figured out what the "something" would be, yet, but she had some time.
Regina didn't seem to be trying too hard to evade her this time. She had to know that Red had been following her, as Red hadn't been all that subtle about it, but that fact didn't seem to worry Regina all that much; she hadn't increased her speed and hadn't seemed to bother changing her route to try to throw Red off.
Then one morning, Red simply stumbled upon Regina's camp. She hadn't thought that she was actually this close, but Well, here she was.
Red looked around quickly, but Regina herself didn't appear to be in the immediate vicinity.
She was about to withdraw and wait in hiding for Regina to return, when she felt the tip of a sword poke sharply into her back.
"Don't move," came Regina's voice from over Red's shoulder. "
Red sniffed the air. "You've done something to your scent," she accused. Otherwise, there was no possible way that Regina would have been able to sneak up on her like this.
"A little something from a village shaman helped me with that," explained Regina with pride.
Red sneered, annoyed at herself for falling into Regina's trap. But still "You know that my reflexes are fast enough that I could have that sword out of your hand in less than five seconds, right?" she pointed out nonchalantly. "Give me another few seconds after that, and I'll have my own sword drawn on you."
Regina scoffed. "You won't hurt me," she said, full of either confidence or bravado, Red wasn't sure.
"And how do you know that?" Red countered.
"If you were going to, I'm pretty sure you would have done it by now," Regina explained, unconcerned. "Last time I saw you, I might have broken your nose, but even though you could have, you haven't hurt me yet."
Curious, Red asked, "How did you know that it was me who was following you?" She was dressed in her full Black Guard regalia, and with these helmets, it was almost impossible to identify anyone individually other than from very close distances.
Regina paused before admitting, "You're the only one who's ever gotten anywhere near me before. It had to be you."
There was a beat of silence between them, and then Red decided that she didn't want her comment about her reflexes to be an empty boast.
Without warning, Red whirled around, her movement almost a blur as she reached forward for the hilt of Regina's sword, twisting Regina's wrist around until she had no choice but to let go. Easily transferring the sword into her own hand, Red stepped forward, pressing the blade up against the side of Regina's neck.
"Then again, why bother drawing my sword when I can use your own against you?" she asked.
Red had clearly managed to catch Regina by surprise, but after a moment to recover herself, Regina stood up straight and proud, meeting Red's gaze without flinching.
Ignoring the sword at her neck, Regina said, "Other times when you've been on my tail Oh wait, you're the only one with a tail."Red narrowed her eyes and glared at Regina, unamused, but the corner of Regina's mouth ticked upwards in a small smirk"Other times you've purposefully gone in a different direction and lost track of me. Why?"
Ah, so Regina had noticed that, then?
Regina looked like she genuinely wanted to know the answer, like she hadn't quite been able to figure Red out. Well, that made two of them.
Red waited a moment before replying, "Maybe I wanted to lull you into a false sense of security."
Eyeing her speculatively, Regina didn't seem fully convinced. "Maybe," she said.
They seemed to have reached some sort of impasse, and Red really wasn't sure what to do. She knew what she should do. She should take Regina into her custody, haul her back to the Queen, and let Snow kill her. But, when it came down to it, Regina was right; Red couldn't say why, but she didn't actually want to hurt Regina.
With a sigh, Red let her arm fall, lowering the tip of Regina's sword to the ground.
Belying her earlier stoicism, Regina exhaled deeply, looking visibly relieved. Maybe she hadn't been as sure as she'd seemed that Red wouldn't hurt her.
"I suppose you'll have to be the one to hurt me again, then," Red said. "We'll have to find some silver to make it believable that you could have beaten me and gotten away. Her Majesty won't allow me back otherwise."
Regina didn't say anything at first, just stood there staring at Red with an unreadable expression on her face.
Finally, she said quietly, "So then don't go back."
Red looked sharply over to Regina. "I have to go back. There's nothing else Being a Black Guard is all I know how to do. And the Queen, I owe her my life. It's a debt I'll never be able to repay." She lowered her head, staring at the ground.
"Well," Regina said, after an uncomfortably long stretch of silence, "then let's do whatever we have to, so that we both can live."
The next time Red saw Regina, she hadn't even been specifically looking for her. Hadn't even known that Regina was anywhere nearby.
She was with a small team of guards that had been tasked with the apprehension of a local baker whose husband had been heard drunkenly disrespecting the Queen. The man himself had gone into hiding, so his wife would be jailed, with threat of execution if her husband didn't show up to take her place in a timely enough manner.
Red was leading the way through the market, when she froze. There, not even fifty feet away, stood Regina, calmly bartering over something at one of the other stalls.
It took a moment, but then the merchant caught sight of Red and the other guards, and the color instantly drained from his cheeks. Regina herself looked over, then, and their gazes met. Regina's eyes widened in surprise, but she clearly recognized Red.
For a few seconds, they simply stared at each other.
Then some idiot behind Red called out, "It's her! Regina!" and the spell between them was broken.
Regina took off running, purposefully overturning carts and boxes in her wake, and Red instantly went off after her.
The other guards clearly needed more endurance training, because it wasn't all that long before they all fell back, panting, and it was just Red and Regina, running alone through the woods once more.
The clouds that had been building up all day chose that moment to erupt, and suddenly, they found themselves running through a torrential downpour.
Red was fleet-footed enough that the wet ground didn't bother her, but up ahead, Regina slipped and rolled her ankle. She fell to the ground, hard. Red skidded to a stop beside her, lowering herself to one knee.
"Are you okay?" she asked, unable to mask the worry in her voice.
Regina had been grimacing in pain, gently cradling her ankle, but at Red's question she looked up and, of all things, burst out laughing.
Red looked at her suspiciously, wiping rain out of her eyes.
"That's what you have to say to me?" Regina got out between bits of laughter. "You, the Queen's most trusted guard?"
At that, Red rolled her eyes.
"Guess you're just fine, then," she said. She stood up, wiping the mud from her clothing, and began to walk away.
"No! Wait, come back!"
Red glanced over her shoulder to see Regina twist her body around and try to stand up, only to have her ankle give out again, unable to take the pressure. She fell back to the ground with a cry of pain.
"I wasn't laughing at you," Regina grit out. "This is all just so damn ridiculous."
She returned to stand at Regina's side.
"Come on, then," she said, reaching down to help Regina to her feet. She let Regina lean against her, wrapping her arm around Regina's back in support. "Let's go find somewhere to get out of this rain."
It was slow moving, but eventually they found a small cave where they could sit and prop up Regina's ankle.
"I just still don't really understand," Regina murmured, sometime after they'd gotten settled. "Why do you keep helping me?"
Red kept her eyes on the mouth of the cave, the heavy rain still pouring down, and didn't answer.
Later, after Regina had dozed off, Red finally responded, her voice soft and low.
"I don't know."
Red was pacing, anxious.
"You have to leave, Regina! I can't keep doing this! It's pulling me apart!"
They were in a room above some tavern in some small villageRed hadn't bothered to remember the name of either the tavern or the town. She had come without her black uniform, and no one but Regina knew who she was.
"Leave?" Regina sounded incredulous, but Red couldn't look at her. "And go where? You keep finding me!"
Everything about Red was tense, but she couldn't stop moving. She kept pacing.
"I don't know where," she said. "And I can't know where. But you need to find some hideaway somewhere, and you need to stay away from me!"
"Hey, hey," Regina said softly, approaching Red like a skittish colt. A skittish wolf. Red huffed out a quick burst of laughter. Regina reached out and grabbed hold of Red by the shoulders, making her stop and stand still. "What is this about?" she asked.
Red was practically shaking.
Regina reached up and cupped both of Red's cheeks. "Breathe, Red. Breathe," she urged. The feel of Regina's warm hands wasn't making that any easier, of course. She closed her eyes tight and tried to force herself to breathe normally.
She kept her eyes shut as the words tumbled out of her. "It's just getting so much harder," she said. "I'm afraid I can't keep this up anymore. I'm living two different lives, and how can I keep hurting so many other people when maybe if I were just willing to hurt you, this would all be over?"
Regina didn't step back at that, like Red had expected her to.
She opened her eyes, and Regina was just looking at her, calm and empathetic.
"I don't want to hurt you," Red whispered urgently. "So you have to leave, and you have to make sure I can't find you again."
Regina didn't say anything for a while, but she must have seen the desperation in Red's eyes. She looked sad as she nodded. "Okay," she said softly, her thumb stoking absently across Red's cheek. "Okay, I'll go."
Red nodded back, part relieved and part devastated.
Without allowing herself to think any more about it, Red moved her face forward and down, crushing her lips to Regina's in a searing kiss.
Regina uttered a soft sound of surprise, but she didn't let go of Red's face, and she didn't pull away. Red wrapped her arms around Regina's back, holding on to her tightly.
Red moved her head back minutely, starting to pull away in shame, but Regina pressed forward, following right along with her. Her hands moved to the back of Red's head to hold her steady. Regina kissed her, and Red was hopeless to do anything but kiss back.
"I'm sorry," Red whispered, after they'd finally pulled apart, their foreheads resting heavily against each other.
"Thank you," Regina whispered back.
Red tore herself out of Regina's arms, and forcing herself not to look back, she moved quickly out of the room, down the stairs, and out of the tavern. She was walking rapidly, but it turned quickly into a jog, and then an all-out sprint. As soon as she thought herself far enough away to be out of sight of the village, she shifted into her wolf and kept running, as fast as she could go.
It was their first kiss. It would also have to be their last.
"So don't you get it, Regina?" Ruby demanded.
Regina looked at Ruby, feeling absolutely stunned. She looked at Ruby as if she'd never quite seen her before.
In about five minutes, Ruby had proceeded simply and methodically to break through everything Regina had thought she'd understood about Ruby.
That was how Ruby felt about her? For all this time, across so many different times?
"I've had a thing for you for practically forever!" Ruby exclaimed. She'd stayed calm throughout her prior speech, but now she was starting to get worked up. "It wasn't being a villain that made me want to kiss you. I wasn't even all that good at being a villain. Snow had had enough of me when I went back to her after leaving you, and she had me tortured and thrown in the dungeon."
Regina flinched. She hadn't known that.
"But that's not the point!" Ruby went on quickly. "The point is that it hasn't mattered who I've been. I know I'm not your freaking 'soulmate'"The word was spat out, bitterly"but I've chosen you every single time. Every version of me has wanted to kiss every version of you."
Regina opened her mouth to say something. She knew she should say something.
She had absolutely no idea what to say.
Ruby's shoulders slumped, and she seemed to run out of steam in the face of Regina's silence.
"Right, well." Ruby's gaze fell to the ground, and she dug the toe of her boot into the loose soil. "That's all I've got to say, so Yeah."
The ache in her chest was oh so familiar, then, as for the second time in what didn't feel like all that much time at all, Regina could only watch while Ruby turned and ran away from her as fast as she could go.
They didn't talk for a week.
Regina didn't stop thinking about Ruby and everything she had said for a week, either.
"I know I'm not your freaking 'soulmate,' but I've chosen you every single time. Every version of me has wanted to kiss every version of you."
Part of Regina was angry. If Ruby had been "choosing" her, then why on Earth hadn't she said something about it? The other part of her understood that she hadn't exactly invited such an admission.
But Ruby was rightshe wasn't Regina's soulmate. Robin was. So why did everything about him seem to chafe all of a sudden? She felt for him. Strongly. But in the wake of Ruby's confession, she seemed to see everything just a little bit differently.
Robin had not chosen her every time. He'd chosen her, and then Marian, and then her again, and then Marian, and then Zelena, and then her, and Who would he choose next?
But maybe that wasn't fair. Their path hadn't been smooth, certainly, but they were fated to be together, and wasn't that worth fighting for?
A voice in the back of her head that sounded suspiciously like Emma Swan, of all people, said that Regina had never been one to do something just because 'fate' had said so.
But beyond the issues with Robin, Regina wasn't quite sure how she even felt about Ruby. It wasn't something she'd really thought about, before.
No, that wasn't true.
She'd thought about it plenty in the Author's alternate world. After Red had left her, she'd done what she'd said she would and managed to discover a hideaway where Red never did find her again. And life simply went on, until Henry showed up with his unbelievable story about being her son and them existing inside someone's book. But as he and Emma had been trying to push her into Robin's arms, it was Red who'd been at the forefront of her mind.
"My happy ending isn't a man."
That's what she'd told Emma, and she'd meant it. In spite of what she'd said to Ruby, she knew it wasn't true that everything that happened in that world was fake and didn't matter. That version of herself was a real part of her, just like Ruby and Red were parts of each other, now tied inexorably together.
And in her heart, that version of Regina had felt that her happy ending was impossible, because her happy ending was Red.
Even before all that, in Storybrooke, there was no denying that even if she'd only rarely shown it, Regina had been incredibly grateful for Ruby's friendliness during the curse. She'd even suspected back then that Ruby had a bit of a crush on her, and it had given her a thrill. After Emma broke the curse, Regina could remember being angry at herself for being so hurt that Ruby seemed to no longer want anything to do with her.
It went on. Regina had never really put it into words, before, but Ruby had always been important to her. Ruby had told her that she'd never thought Regina cared about her one way or the other, but Ruby was wrong.
Regina had always cared.
Every version of me and every version of you.
There was something incredibly romantic about that idea.
After a week of avoiding the diner whenever Ruby was working, Regina marched inside and went right up to Ruby.
"When your shift is over, I'd like to speak with you," she said, ignoring the way she knew the other patrons were watching her. "Come by the house. Please."
Regina didn't wait for a response, but instead simply turned around and marched right back outside again.
She wasn't sure whether Ruby would actually come or not. She probably should have waited for a response, but her nerves had gotten the better of her.
Her nerves weren't doing any better, now. She was distracted all through dinner, and it was only once Henry had called her out on it that she was able to drag her focus out from inside her own head.
But sure enough, the doorbell did ring later that night.
Henry looked over at her from where he was doing his homework. "You expecting someone, Mom?" he asked.
"Go answer the door, Henry," she replied simply.
He looked at her strangely, but with a shrug, he left to go do as she'd asked.
"Oh, hey Ruby."
Regina exhaled. She could just barely hear Henry's voice, followed by Ruby's.
"Henry, hi. Uh, is your mom here?"
Henry was the first to come back into the study, and without a word, he simply slid back into his chair to continue his work.
Ruby stood awkwardly in the doorway, looking from Regina to Henry and back again.
Regina cleared her throat. "Henry, dear, why don't you take your things and go upstairs?" she suggested.
"Huh?" He looked up. It was only then that he seemed to pick up on the charged atmosphere in the room. "Oh. Um, okay," he said. The two adults remained perfectly silent as he gathered his things and then left with a quickly offered "Bye, Ruby," as he exited the room.
Even once he was gone, the silence remained.
Finally, Ruby said, "Well, you summoned me, and here I am. You said you wanted to talk?"
Ruby did not sound happy.
"You can actually come in the room, if you'd like," Regina said gently. "And I didn't mean to summon you. I " She might as well admit it. "I was nervous. You make me nervous."
That seemed to cheer Ruby up, actually. "I do?" she asked, and Regina inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement. Ruby smiled. "You make me nervous too," she said, before she did finally walk further into the room and take a seat opposite Regina.
Regina had wanted to talk, but now that Ruby was there, she could no longer remember anything that she'd wanted to say.
Ruby seemed to pick up on her mounting inner panic, somehow, as after a minute of silence, she asked, "So how have you been?" Her tone was light, casual. Like she wasn't needing or expecting any big declarations at the moment.
"I've been doing well, I I've been thinking about you," replied Regina after a moment. "And you?"
Ruby smiled. "Yeah, I've been doing my fair share of thinking about you too."
The silence enveloped them again, until they both started speaking at once.
"I was simply"
They both chuckled, with Ruby running a self-conscious hand through her hair. She motioned for Regina to continue.
Regina breathed in, deeply, then out.
"I was simply wondering," she said, meeting Ruby's gaze directly, "what it is that you want."
It came out sounding more like a challenge than Regina had meant it to, but she let the statement stand.
Ruby didn't look away. She didn't respond right away, either, taking the question seriously.
"I want a chance, Regina. I think that maybe we could make each other happy, and I'd like a chance to try."
Regina didn't say anything, at first. All she could think to say was, "I'm still dating Robin."
Ruby seemed to bristle slightly at the name. "I know," she said. "And I would never ask you to choose between us. Even if you were to go break up with him right now, I wouldn't want to be just some kind of rebound, either."
Understanding Ruby's point, Regina nodded. "So what do we do, then?" she asked.
With a shrug, Ruby admitted, "I have no idea. Guess we'll just have to see what happens. You won't get any pressure from me, Regina, I mean it. Maybe we can try to be friends, first, before worrying about anything else."
Regina smiled, tentative. "Yes," she said. "I think I'd like that."
Of course, there was no time to just wait and see, living normal lives, because Emmathat stupid, stupid idiothad to go and become the Dark One in order to protect Regina's happiness.
It took over a year, but eventually, they'd done it. The Dark One was gone, now and forever, and Emma was back, deeply traumatized but safe.
The Dark One's reign of terror wasn't the only thing that had ended, however. Regina's relationship with Robin had barely lasted a few months once Emma became the Dark One. He was a good man, but he'd grown increasingly frustrated with her lack of attention to him while she'd been busy trying to save Emma, and she'd been increasingly terse with him, and just It was having to deal with anything difficult that drove them apart, in the end.
It was only a few days after Regina had returned from Camelot when Robin approached her.
She accepted his hug, just as she had done when she and the others had first arrived back in Storybrooke with a recovering Emma. But when he said, "Regina, I know that I messed up. I know that I wasn't nearly supportive enough to you when you were trying to save Emma. But that's over now, and I was hoping that maybe we could try again," Regina was almost surprised to find that she wasn't tempted at all. She was truly over him, it seemed.
Regina smiled at him, not unkindly, but she was firm when she told him, "No, Robin. I think it's too late for that. We do work well when things are easy, but things are so rarely easy around here." She kissed him on the cheek. "So don't wait around for me," she said. "We'll always be connected, I know. That tattoo on your arm says so, after all. But what you can do for me is to go and be a good father to my new niece. She's the one who needs you now."
Robin lowered his head dejectedly. "I understand," he said. "I truly am sorry that I let you down."
"Oh, I think it's all worked out for the best," she replied. "I hope you find happiness, Robin."
With that, she moved past him and began to walk away
"Have you?" he called out after her.
She turned back around. "Have I what?" she asked. Her mind had already begun moving ahead, and she had no idea what he was asking her.
"Have you found happiness?" he clarified.
A soft smile crossed Regina's face. "I hope so," she answered.
"You're a difficult woman to find," Regina said.
Ruby practically jumped.
"Jesus, Regina, you startled me," Ruby muttered with a short laugh. Pressing her hand over her chest, she looked over her shoulder to where Regina stood just behind the bench where she sat.
Regina smirked. "Sorry," she said unapologetically. "But if you didn't hear me coming, that's hardly my fault, Miss Wolf."
Ruby scowled at her. "I was just thinking," she said. "I wasn't paying attention."
"Like I said," Regina shrugged casually, "not my fault."
Regina came around to sit beside Ruby. Neither one said anything for some time. They simply sat in companionable silence, each content to look out over the beach and the water that lay beyond it.
"Um, so you were looking for me?" Ruby finally asked.
"Mm," Regina murmured in assent. She'd tried the diner, then the Charmings' house, the Sheriff's station, the library No one had known where Ruby was. Eventually, Regina had managed to spot a familiar head of brown hair blowing in the wind down by the boardwalk. "I have a question for you."
She didn't quite want to ask it, yet, however. She knew what she hoped the answer would be, but she couldn't be sure that it was what she would be getting. It might be that she'd waited too long. And if she waited just a bit longer, she might be holding off a bad answer.
"Uh, okay Well what is it?"
Regina smiled. She'd waited long enough.
"You once told me," she began, "that you thought we could make each other happy." Regina could hear Ruby's breath catch, but for a moment longer, Regina kept her gaze out on the ocean. She took in a deep, fortifying lungful of air, and then turned to face Ruby, finding that the other woman's eyes were already on her.
"It's been quite a while since then," Regina went on, "but do you still think that's true?"
"Yes." The answer came immediately, without hesitation.
Regina's utter relief came out in a bright, happy laugh.
"Well," she said. "That's good. I'm quite glad to hear that."
Ruby was still just staring at her, eyes wide. "Is this ?" she started. "Are you ?" She closed her eyes, took in a quick breath, and then opened them again. "Am I going to get that chance I wanted, then?"
Ruby's hands were balled up into tense fists, Regina saw, so she reached out and, straightening Ruby's fingers, laced their hands together.
"Yes," she whispered. "I'm finally ready. I'm sorry it took so long."
Ruby was staring down at their intertwined hands. A nearly disbelieving laugh escaped her, and then she looked back up, her smile blindingly bright. "Hey," she said, "all this time is what got us here, so I'll take it."
Ruby's evident joy was infectious, and Regina felt herself smile in a way that she hadn't in She didn't even know how long it had been. She squeezed Ruby's hand.
"Can I kiss you now?" Ruby blurted out eagerly, and Regina laughed.
"Yes, I suppose"
Cutting Regina off, Ruby surged forwards
At first, even as they kissed, neither one of them could stop smiling. Ruby kept peppering quick, hard kisses to Regina's lips, until Regina lightly bit down on Ruby's lower lip, before sucking it into her mouth to soothe the bite. Ruby moaned softly, and she seemed to have gotten the message, as she slowed her pace and deepened the kiss.
Their hands remained clasped together, but Regina felt Ruby's free hand come up to cup her cheek, as Regina's own found the bare skin of Ruby's waist, where Ruby's shirt had ridden up.
"Well, you're off to a really good start," Ruby murmured when they eventually pulled apart some time later. Their faces remained together, as Ruby nuzzled in close.
"Hm?" Regina asked dazedly.
Ruby grinned. "With making me happy," she explained. "You're off to a really good start with that. How am I doing?"
Quite unexpectedly, Regina began to cry.
"Oh. Shit." Ruby pulled back to look at her with wide, distraught eyes. "That bad, huh?"
Regina laughed, shaking her head. "No, no, I'm sorry," she said. "They're happy tears. You're doing wonderfully. You're wonderful."
"Shit, Regina," Ruby exhaled with a sharp bark of laughter. "Don't scare me like that."
She leaned forwards again, kissing each tear as it fell down Regina's cheeks. It was suddenly reminiscent of a very different time, in a very different place.
Apparently Ruby had the same exact thought.
"Hey," she said brightly, "remember that time when I was a wolf and I licked your face? Want me to do that again?"
"Oh, don't you dare, wolf girl."
Ruby opened her mouth to say something else, something cheeky, no doubt, going off of Ruby's smirk, but Regina staved her off by pulling her into another kiss.
"You made me forget what I was going to say," Ruby protested with a pout when they broke apart.
"Well that's a technique worth saving, then, I'd say," Regina replied, grinning. She'd stopped crying by then, although she could still feel the dried tear tracks down her cheeks.
"Kissing me to shut me up?" Ruby frowned appraisingly, and then nodded. "Yeah, I can't say I'd have any probl"
Regina did it again.
That evening, the two of them sat together in Regina's study, simply talking.
It didn't feel completely natural, yet, sitting with her bare feet up on the couch, her body curled into Ruby's side, with her hand resting lightly on Ruby's thigh and Ruby's arm wrapped loosely around her shoulders, but it was something that Regina felt confident she could easily get quite used to.
"So," Regina asked, half-jokingly but half-timidly, "this version of you still likes this version of me?"
"Of course," Ruby answered with ease. Again, there was no hesitation. Ruby's arm tightened briefly around her, and then relaxed. "Every me and every you."
Ruby said it so simply, as if anything in their lives could ever be so simple.
Well. Maybe, with Ruby at her side, it could.
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