DISCLAIMER: Characters are not mine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This makes zero attempt to fit into the actual canon timeline of the show. I definitely have multiple characters here who, I'm pretty sure, were not actually in Storybrooke at the same time as each other. Canon divergent as of... Sometime after the 2nd curse, I suppose?
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To mysensitiveside[at]yahoo.com

Strength of the Wolf
By mysensitiveside


[Part 1]

She was running. Okay. Why was she running?

She looked around, trying to figure out what was going on, even as she kept moving forward. She was in the woods, it could be any stretch of woods, and…

Oh shit fuck, those were wolves behind her.

The shock of it caused her to trip, as the edge of her sneaker slipped over a loose rock. Almost without effort, though, her feet righted themselves and she kept on running.

She sped up, bursting into a full-on sprint.

Because yes. Being chased by wolves was a very good reason to be running.

But the wolves were fast, and no matter how hard she pushed herself, they were gaining on her. She could hear them right at her heels, and she let out a high, keening sound, full of panic and fear.

But then… Nothing.

No pain came. No attack.

The wolves weren't chasing her. They were… running with her?

She laughed, then, a near hysterical sound. She was running with the goddamn wolves. What the hell was going on?

Up ahead the woods were getting brighter, with blades of sunlight streaming down between the leaves. She didn't notice that the wolves had fallen back behind her until after she stumbled out from the edge of the forest onto an open field.

She slowed to a stop, twirling around to get a look at things. It was just a big open field, but the ocean was somewhere nearby—she could smell it—and there were two people, one big and one small—one adult and one child— just a little ways away, and the small one was playing with a soccer ball, and she ran over to them because maybe they could help.

They both looked over at her as she approached, the older one reaching up a hand to shield the sun from her eyes. The small one waved.

"Hey!" he called out.

"Hi," she said, working to control her heavy breathing. "I'm…" She trailed off; she couldn't seem to think of what her name was. "Never mind. I'm wondering if you could help me. I was just running with some wolves, which seems really weird, but now they're not here, so maybe I was just hallucinating?"

The two people simply stared, eyes wide.

It was then that she finally noticed a persistent throbbing at the back of her head. She reached up to touch it, and her fingers came away red.

"Oh," she went on. "And I'm bleeding." She brought her fingers up closer to her face. She blinked, but the darkness that was beginning to cloud her vision didn't go away.

"Something also seems to be wrong with my memory," she managed to get out, just before she passed out and fell down to the ground.

When she woke up again, she was lying in a bed.

Figuring out even that much took some effort, at first. She felt like her senses were going haywire.

Then she registered the voices out in the hall, even if she didn't fully follow what they were talking about.

"Eugenia, really. What could I possibly have to gain by—"

"What, you think that just because I haven't figured out your endgame yet, that means that you're off the hook? Oh no. When there's someone with a sudden memory problem, and the person who brings her in just happens to have a history with memory-altering curses, I am quite capable of putting two and two together, thank you very much."

"Granny, I was there too! Mom didn't do anything!"

"I'm sure you think so, Henry, but that doesn't mean…"

It was around the mention of 'memory-altering curses' that she started to tune the conversation out again; something in her didn't want to know, didn't want to understand.

She drifted back into unconsciousness without anyone realizing that she'd been awake.

Something was floating there, right at the edge of her consciousness. A dream, or…

"Do you think that's enough, then? Or can I get rid of her for good?"

The man who asks the question is eyeing her, as he stalks back and forth in front of her. Her head hurts, but she tries to concentrate on him, or on what's going on, but—

She just feels so confused. She can't quite get her gaze to focus on him, and, feeling dizzy, she takes a step backwards and trips over a root, falling down to the ground, hard.

The sudden pain at the back of her head stabs into her, so sharp it's overwhelming; she nearly throws up, but manages to hold it in. A deep moan escapes her, though, and she curls herself into a ball, not caring in the slightest that she's lying on the dirty ground.

There are others around her, talking, but she can't process a single thing they say over the pain and the loud ringing noise between her ears.

Her body jerks to the side, startled, at the feel of a wet nose pressing against her hand. She opens her eyes—she hadn't even registered closing them—to find two bright, yellow eyes staring into her own. She blinks, but somehow can't even begin to wrap her mind around the fact that a wolf is standing before her. The gray beast whimpers softly, nudging its nose against her cheek.

"Shit, they're here for her," she manages to hear, before a rock comes flying through the air and hits the wolf in the side. The wolf steps back, turning to bare its teeth with a menacing growl, but someone rushes to her side and grabs her by the shoulders.

A face swims into view in front of her, coming into focus for just a moment—a round and youthful face; a sweep of jet black hair falling across kind, brown eyes.

The only thing he tells her is, "Run!"

She lurched suddenly into consciousness, struggling with the sheets tangled around her body. Terror and confusion were all she knew, and she didn't even realize what she was doing as she tore various wires, monitoring her body, away from her. In her thrashing panic, she nearly pitched herself over the edge of the bed before several pairs of hands managed to catch her and push her backwards.

"Whoa, whoa there," a male voice said, at the same time as another voice, female, told her, "It's all right, Ruby, you're all right. Breathe deep."

She did as she was told and took in great gulps of air. As soon as she caught her breath, she slapped the hands that were still on her away, needing desperately to not be touched by these strangers. She lowered her head into her hands and tried hard not to cry.

What the hell was going on?

She was grateful to hear the female voice say, "Just give her a minute," and although there was a scoffing sound of impatience, no one touched her again or said anything else.

After a minute—maybe more?—she raised her head and glanced around the room. From the look of things, she assumed she was in a hospital. The two people who stood before her, looking varying degrees of concerned and annoyed, were both blondes and both completely unfamiliar.

She swallowed to try to clear her dry throat and focused her attention on the woman. "Ruby," she said, her voice coming out hoarse. How long had she been out of it? "Is that my name?"

The woman exchanged a worried look with the man, before answering, "Does that mean you still don't remember?"

She ran a hand through her hair and shook her head.

"Well, yeah. Your name is Ruby," the woman went on, her hands on her hips. "Ruby Lucas. I'm Emma Swan, and I'm the sheriff, here." She cracked a smile. "And your friend." With a nod towards the man, she added, "And this is Whale, your doctor."

The man, Whale, cleared his throat and stepped forward. "You appear to have suffered a concussion, resulting from an injury to the back of your head. Now that you're awake, we'll want to do some tests, including getting a CT scan. Memory loss after a head injury is most often temporary, and goes away on its own, but we need to get a sense of any internal damage."

The words "most often" (as opposed to "always") were vaguely terrifying in a way she refused to consider. Instead, she thought back to that flash of a dream she'd been having. If it was true, if it was an actual, legitimate memory… She'd been confused and disoriented before she'd hit her head. Unless she'd hit her head twice?

Unsure what to think, she said nothing.

Except— "There was a woman, earlier?" she remembered suddenly. "And…a boy? I think they might have helped me?"

Her attention was drawn back to the woman, Emma, and the smile that now crossed her face was incredibly fond. "Yeah, that was Regina and Henry. My son and his mom. You found your way to them before you passed out, and they brought you to the hospital."

Almost as an afterthought, Emma added, "Oh, and you have a grandmother, too. She's been worried sick about you, spending almost all her time here, but I made her go home to get some rest. I should probably call her."

With that, Emma placed one comforting hand on Ruby's shoulder before heading out towards the hallway as she pulled her phone out of her pocket.

A grandmother, she had said. But not a mother, or a father.

She turned back towards the man. "You said you have to run some tests?"

Ruby sat behind the counter, keeping an interested eye on the goings-on of the diner.

Other than the obvious, the concussion and the memory loss, there apparently was nothing wrong with her. So, with a promise that she would take it easy and get plenty of rest, she'd been released into her grandmother's care.

Ruby wasn't quite sure what she thought of the woman she'd been told was her grandmother—Granny, everyone called her, even though Ruby was supposedly her only grandchild.

Everything was "supposedly," now; not a bit of her memory had returned to her in the few days since her injury.

She did feel something towards the gruff but kind woman who'd taken her in. Gratitude, or… It bothered Ruby that she honestly couldn't tell whether the warm feelings she felt for her grandmother were genuine, some familial instinct that went beyond memory, or just wishful thinking, a desperate grasp for something real to hold onto.

Either way, she'd decided that for now, the best she could do was to try to re-learn her life, somehow. Which was why she found herself sitting at the diner watching the waitress (Ashley, she'd overheard one of the customers say), observing the townspeople who came in for a meal, and studiously ignoring the way that everyone stared at her in blatant curiosity.

Word had traveled quickly around the town, apparently. Ruby wondered whether the diner was always this busy, or if they'd all just come to gawk at her.

Suddenly, Ruby caught a whiff of something…. Something she didn't like. She didn't know what it was, couldn't place it at all, but it gave her the chills. Her lip curled into a snarl, and she gazed around the room to try to figure out where the smell was coming from.

It was because of this that she was slow to react when there was a sudden commotion behind her, and she turned her head just in time to see a young man launch himself over the counter.

Startled, Ruby did nothing as he got down on one knee and grasped one of her hands with his own.

"Ruby, my love!" he declared, in a noticeably English accent. Ruby could only stare at him, wide-eyed. "They've been trying to keep us apart, but true love can never be broken. Come away with me, my love, and we'll be together forever! We'll live together in the forest, and our love will only grow stronger, and we'll have lots of wee babies, and—"

"That's enough," someone interrupted.

Ruby looked up and saw the woman, Regina, from that day, the first one she could remember.

Regina reached over the counter and, with surprising force, yanked the man up onto his feet by the back of his collar.

But… It was the strangest thing. It had almost looked like Regina couldn't quite reach him, because of the full counter in between them. Like there was a little flourish of light, and he'd been suddenly, unnaturally, drawn to her, closing the gap between his neck and her hand.

Ruby blinked. Hallucinations, again.

The man laughed, nervously. "Good morning to ye, Madam Mayor," he said. "I'm just here to reunite with my true love, you see."

"It seems more like you're here to get arrested for harassment," Regina countered.

The man had the nerve to sound offended as he protested, "You can't arrest me. You're the mayor, not the sheriff!"

Regina nearly snarled. "Do you really want to try me, Mr. Scarlet?"

Wisely, the man put his hands up in the air, palms out, and he took a step to his left, away from both Ruby and Regina. His eyes darted over to Ruby once, before returning to face Regina.

"Now really," he said, "no need for anything so drastic. I was just having a laugh."

"'Having a laugh' by trying to take advantage of someone with amnesia?" Regina asked. "You need to find some new forms of amusement, Mr. Scarlet. Now apologize to Miss Lucas."

He turned to Ruby, managing a sheepish grin. "Right, very sorry, Ruby. No harm no foul, eh? And I mean, a fella's got to have a try, doesn't he? Was worth a shot, for someone like you."

He was accustomed to using his charm to get out of tough situations, if his charismatic smile was anything to go by.

Regina rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to say something else, when another voice cut in.

"It's time for you to leave, boy. And I better not catch you anywhere near my granddaughter ever again."

Ruby glanced over her shoulder to look back towards the door to the kitchen and saw—she did a double take—her grandmother standing there with an honest-to-god crossbow in her hands.

Scarlet took one look at the weapon, gave a mock salute, hopped nimbly back over the counter, and then hightailed it out of there without another word.

The whole diner remained totally silent.

But Granny wasn't done. She said, her voice low, "I'm grateful to you for stepping in before I got here, but you can go now too, Madam Mayor."

Regina had been watching Scarlet's exit, but she whipped her gaze back around. The anger in her eyes remained for a long moment—Ruby swallowed against her suddenly dry throat, unsure if it was fear or…something else that she was feeling at the sight of Regina's red-hot glare—before it softened into resignation. Regina straightened her spine, nodded once to Ruby, and then simply turned around and left.

It took a minute for Ruby's mind to catch up with everything that had just happened. She blinked at Regina's retreating back. "Wait, what?" she asked, turning again to face her grandmother. "Why did you do that?"

Ruby realized that somehow she hadn't said a single thing during the whole incident.

Granny lowered her crossbow and leaned it casually up against the counter.

"All right, show's over, go back to your food!" she called out to the full diner, and everyone burst into their own gossipy conversations. Ignoring Ruby's question, Granny turned to her and asked, "Are you all right, child?"

"Yeah. I'm fine," Ruby answered curtly. "Thanks to Regina. Why did you do that?"

Granny's eyes darkened, and she leaned in close. "Listen, Ruby," she said. "That woman's dangerous, in ways you don't understand."

Ruby couldn't keep the incredulity out of her voice. "Says the woman who just scared two people off with a crossbow?"

Without waiting for an answer, Ruby turned away and rushed out of the diner. She looked all around, and just managed to catch sight of Regina before she turned around a corner.

Ruby broke into a jog, hurrying to catch up.

"Regina, wait a sec!" she called out, and Regina did stop, her back tensing before she turned to look behind her.

"Miss Lucas," she said in surprise, as Ruby skidded to a stop—she'd covered the distance between them a lot faster than she'd somehow thought that she would.

Ruby chuckled. "So they tell me," she said with a shrug.

Regina's gaze softened. "I imagine this must all be quite strange, to you."

"Yeah, 'strange' is one word for it," agreed Ruby. She ran a hand through her hair, a nervous tick she'd seemed to pick up.

There was a beat of silence, as no one said or did anything else, until Regina cocked an eyebrow at her.

"Was there something you wanted, Miss Lucas?" she asked. "Or something I could help you with?"

"Oh! Right." Ruby felt heat rush up her cheeks. "Um, I just, I don't know, I wanted to thank you?"

Her wariness gone, Regina was definitely amused now. She smiled and said, "Is that a question?"

Ruby's own smile was sheepish, as she replied, "No, no, not a question. I wanted to thank you. I didn't like how she—my grandmother—how she told you to leave. I know how you helped me get to the hospital that first day, and then just now, with that guy… You're like my resident savior or something."

At that, Regina actually laughed out loud, for some reason.

Ruby frowned, confused, but Regina waved it away. "Sorry, it's just…" She trailed off for a moment, thinking. "Just a town-wide inside joke, you could say. And I was only doing what anyone else would. You've got the wrong woman, if you're looking for a savior."

Ruby's next words left her mouth before she even knew what she was saying—"I'm not looking for any other woman."

Regina had still been grinning in amusement to herself, but she looked up sharply, then, both eyebrows raised as a light blush graced her cheeks.

That was when Ruby's brain caught up with her mouth, and she stumbled on, "I mean— That's not— I didn't mean— I don't know what I meant. I have a concussion?"

Regina snorted. "Indeed you do," she said after a moment. Her expression turned thoughtful, and she asked, "Have you spoken with the sheriff, at all? Regarding your injury, I mean, and the investigation into what happened."

Ruby exhaled deeply, grateful to Regina for changing the subject. "Um, we talked a little bit, when I was still in the hospital," she said. "But, I think she assumed that it was an accident. You know, that I was just out running, and tripped and hit my head."

"Hm," was all Regina said in response.

Ruby thought again of that half-conscious dream, or vision, or… She hadn't told anyone about it, was still unsure whether or not it was even real.

She asked Regina, "Is there any reason to think that it wasn't an accident?"

"No," Regina said quickly, before pausing and thinking again. "Well. Not necessarily, anyway. But as the mayor of this town, I take the safety of all our citizens very seriously, and we should investigate all the possibilities, just in case. And if there's a hazardous trail in the woods that needs some maintenance, we should know that too."

Ruby nodded. "Okay, sure, that makes sense."

She looked down to the ground, scuffing the toe of her boot against the sidewalk. The thought that there might be someone out there—multiple people, even—who were actively trying to hurt her… And here she was with no memory beyond a few days back, no real sense of who she even was, no idea who she could or couldn't trust, no idea why someone would possibly want to—

Ruby's spiraling train of thought was broken when she felt Regina's hand on her upper arm, squeezing once and then simply maintaining contact. Ruby looked up to meet Regina's open and sympathetic gaze. This woman, she could trust, she felt. She didn't know why, didn't understand why Granny clearly didn't trust her, but…

But Ruby did. Ruby trusted Regina.

"I'll tell you what," Regina said with one more squeeze to Ruby's arm, before letting her hand drop. "Why don't you come over for dinner tonight, if you'd like. I'll get Sheriff Swan to come as well, and we can talk things through."

"I don't know how much help I'd be," Ruby admitted. With a self-deprecating smile, she added, "You may have heard, I've got this little memory problem."

Regina smiled back but said, "You never know, you might know more than you think you do."

"Well I wouldn't want to intrude on your family dinner…" Ruby began. "Are you sure?"

"It's no intrusion, or inconvenience, or anything like that. But if you'd rather not come, that's certainly fine, Ruby, I understand. I know your grandmother isn't my biggest fan right now, so if you feel more comfortable staying away, because that's what she'd want, then that's perfectly all right."

Ruby smirked. "And apparently I have a bit of a rebellious streak, if you're trying to reverse-psychology me." With a light laugh, she added, "And apparently it worked, too. Sure, Regina, thanks. I'll see you tonight."

Ruby took a deep breath as she walked up the front walkway to the Mills mansion. She held a bottle of red wine in her hand, armed with the recommendation from the shopkeeper, regarding what the mayor liked. She hadn't even thought of it until just that moment—but maybe she should have asked him what she herself liked, too.

She was about to knock on the door, but her hand stalled when she realized that she could actually hear voices coming from inside the house.

"Of course I don't think she just accidentally tripped and hit her head. Not in this town, and not when it's Miss Fleet-footed that we're talking about. But I couldn't exactly tell her that, now could I?"

Ruby frowned. The voice was clearly Emma's, and she was clearly talking about Ruby…

Then Regina could be heard to sigh and say, "I know Whale said we shouldn't overwhelm her with everything, but I don't know, it doesn't seem right. Especially when someone…"

They must have moved farther into the house, because while Ruby could still hear a vague murmuring of voices, she could no longer tell what they were saying.

So everyone was obviously keeping something important from her, but what that 'something' was, Ruby couldn't even begin to guess.

She raised her hand again and knocked on the door.

"I'll get it!" came a loud cry from inside the house, and the door swung open to reveal Regina's son.

"Hi, Ruby! How are you feeling? Do you know who I am? Do you remember anything at all? Is your memory going to come back? How is your head doing? Do you have a scar? Do you—"

"Henry!" Regina's admonishment rang out, as she became visible behind the boy. "Honestly, is that how we greet guests in this house? Hello, Ruby, please come in." With that, Regina lightly tugged on Henry's shoulders, moving him out of the doorway, and gestured for Ruby to enter.

Ruby could only laugh, as she walked into the mansion's open foyer. "Nice to see you again, Henry. I'm feeling okay. I sort of know who you are. I can make new memories, but the old ones haven't come back yet, but hopefully they will. What else…? Oh, and I don't actually know if I have a scar or not, because I haven't looked at the back of my head lately."

"Cool!" was the enthusiastic reply, before he turned to Regina. "Is dinner ready?"

Regina shook her head affectionately. "Almost. Go set the table, please, Henry," she told him.

Ruby watched Henry run off, only to be affectionately admonished once again—"Slow down, kid."—this time by Emma Swan as he ran by her, leaning against an open doorway at the other side of the hall. Emma caught Ruby's eye and offered a friendly wave.

With Henry gone, Ruby's thoughts turned back to what she'd overheard. If she thought too hard about it—about how there was something going on, and not only were they not telling her everything, but they were actively keeping things from her—then she wouldn't be able to make it through this dinner.

So instead, she focused on how weird it was that she'd been able to overhear the conversation at all.

She glanced around the open space, looking for an open window, or…

"Are the walls really thin around here?" she blurted out.

She glanced over to catch the look of concern that passed between the mayor and the sheriff. She added, "Sorry. That was rude. Um, here, I brought some wine. Thanks for inviting me over."

She practically shoved the bottle into Regina's hands.

"Thank you, dear," Regina replied. She gestured for Ruby to go ahead towards where Henry had gone. As her attention was drawn that way, Ruby then noticed the delicious smells coming from that direction.

Just after she passed Emma, though, she heard, mumbled under Emma's breath, "My, what big ears you have."

Ruby's brow furrowed, and she glanced back behind her, just in time to see Regina smack Emma on the arm.

"Don't mind her, Ruby," Regina said, moving past Emma to fully usher Ruby into the kitchen. "That one just thinks she's being funny."

Ruby clearly wasn't in on the joke.

Her unease quickly settled, however, as she was folded into the comfortable domesticity of preparing for the meal. Henry came back in from the dining room and chatted happily about his day at school; Regina put the finishing touches on the lasagna, while Emma poured the wine Ruby had brought; and Ruby was put to work, adding dressing to a big salad and then slicing the French bread, hot out of the oven.

When everything was ready, Emma and Regina proceeded first into dining room. Ruby held back a moment as Henry hopped down from his kitchen stool. She turned to him and asked, her voice low, "So what's the deal with your moms?"

He gazed at her quizzically. "What do you mean?"

"I just can't tell," she said. "Are they still together? Are they married, or just dating, or…"

"Ew, gross," Henry laughed. "They're not together like that!"

He walked into the dining room and promptly announced, still laughing, "Ruby thought you guys were married!"

Both Emma and Regina turned to look at her, their faces twin pictures of surprise.

She shrugged and explained, "It's just, with the whole co-parenting thing…"

Emma laughed, then, and Regina looked down with a small smile of understanding.

Pointing first to herself and then to Regina, Emma clarified, "Birth mother; adoptive mother. I was out of the picture for ten years, before Henry tracked me down. Very long story short, here we are!"

"Oh. So you two never…? Okay." Ruby nodded to herself, actively choosing not to over-analyze the sense of relief that she felt at Emma's explanation.

Regina smirked. "Miss Swan should be so lucky," she said. Her voice was soft, and low, and Ruby could feel her face heat up at the unmistakable flare of desire that ran through her.

"Gross, Mom!" Henry groaned. "Can we eat now? I'm starving!"

They followed Henry's suggestion and sat down to eat. They saved any talk about Ruby's situation, or the investigation, until afterwards, and simply enjoyed the meal together.

But after, once Henry had gone upstairs to do homework, and the three adults had retired to Regina's study, they turned to the question of what had happened to Ruby.

"So, you haven't remembered anything else?" Emma asked.

Ruby hesitated just a moment before replying, simply, "No."

Emma seemed to accept the response, but although Regina eyed her contemplatively, she didn't question Ruby further.

"Okay," Emma continued, "well some of my deputies and I have been combing through the woods near the spot where you ran out. We've been looking for any hints of where it is that you might have fallen. Whale says that, considering the cut on your head, you probably hit it on a rock, and definitely would have lost a decent amount of blood, which was probably why you passed out."

Ruby appreciated Emma's simple, matter-of-fact tone. It kept her grounded, instead of losing focus in thinking about that vaguely remembered—or imagined—burst of pain.

"So far, though," Emma continued, "we haven't found anything. No disturbed areas, where it looks like someone might have fallen, no signs of any blood on any rocks."

"So that could mean that nothing was all that disturbed when she fell, or animals or the weather have interfered, so nothing stands out, or you simply haven't found the right spot yet," Regina commented.

Emma nodded. "Yeah, it's impossible to know, for now at least, but any of those could easily be true," she said. "Or…" She trailed off into a shrug.

"Or," Ruby supplied, "it wasn't an accident at all, and someone cleaned the area up, maybe even took any blood-covered rocks with them."

Emma shrugged again. "Or that."

There didn't seem to be much else to say, after that.

"We're not giving up, or anything," Emma added after a long pause. "We'll keep looking, and we'll keep an eye out for any new leads or anything."

Regina caught Ruby's eyes and, even though Ruby now knew that Regina was hiding something, Ruby still didn't doubt the sincerity in the other woman's eyes when she said, "We will do everything we can to keep you safe, I promise."

And then… Nothing happened.

Ruby kept waiting for something. For Emma to find something, or for someone to make another attempt against her, or for any new information to emerge…

Nothing at all.

It was almost a month before Dr. Whale declared that her concussion appeared to be fully healed. The memory loss remained, however, and while he tried to appear hopeful and encouraging that it could still come back on its own, Ruby could tell that he was concerned.

Still, her new (old? newly rediscovered?) friends decided that her "healed head" was reason enough to celebrate. Other than one glass of wine, that night at Regina's, Ruby had fully refrained from drinking any alcohol, since Whale had said it would slow her recovery. But on the day that Whale gave the all-clear, Belle and Ashley had informed her that they would be taking her out the following night.

Emma and Mary Margaret ended up joining them at The Rabbit Hole as well, and though several men attempted to charm their way into joining the group, the message was quickly relayed that this was a girls' night out.

"Your memory will come back, don't worry," Mary Margaret was saying, as Emma came over with the next round for everyone. "It always does! And when it does… Boy, it'll feel so good to have everything finally make sense again!"

Ruby cocked her head to the side, staring at Mary Margaret in confusion. "Have you had memory problems before too?" she asked.

Mary Margaret's eyes widened. "No!" she said, too quickly. "I just mean… I'm guessing, that's all. I don't know anything about it. But, I mean, it just makes sense, right?"

The others agreed. Emma and Ashely looked amused, even as Belle glanced nervously between Ruby and Mary Margaret.

"Nice one, M," Emma said with a smirk. Before Ruby could ask what she meant, Emma raised her glass and continued, "Here's to Ruby's memory coming back, any day now!"

"Cheers!" they all chorused, clinking their glasses together.

With a mental shrug, Ruby let it go.

It happened remarkably often, that someone would say something just a little bit off, somehow. Often enough that, for the most part, Ruby had given up on even trying to figure it all out.

Things certainly didn't make sense a lot of the time, but Ruby genuinely liked these women—they were fun, and kind, and they seemed to genuinely care about Ruby right back.

Ruby raised her drink to her lips and took a sip, only to need to fight the urge to immediately spit it back out.

"Ugh, Swan, what did you get me?" she demanded, gulping down some water in an attempt to clear out her mouth.

Emma laughed. "Sorry, sorry, it was an experiment!" she said. She pushed her own drink, a beer, over to Ruby and took Ruby's drink for herself. "You-plus-your-memories hates martinis, but I was curious if you-minus-your-memories felt the same."

Ruby balled up a napkin and threw it at Emma, but she couldn't help but laugh too. She actually liked that they weren't treating her with kid gloves, like she was damaged in some way.

She wasn't sure how long they'd been at the bar, when Regina and her sister walked in. She knew that she definitely wasn't sober, though.

But it was Mary Margaret who called them over. "Regina!" she nearly shouted, causing the woman in question to look over with a frown. "Come join us!" Quieter, she added to herself, "Oh, Zelena is here too. I don't like her. Oh well."

Regina seemed to hesitate, but Zelena—so many people had such weird names in this town—grabbed her sister by the arm and pulled her over before departing again to go get them some drinks.

"Ladies," Regina greeted them. She turned to Emma and said, "I do believe Henry was with you tonight. You aren't actually reckless enough to have brought him here, are you?"

"Ha! No," Emma replied. "My da—" Emma cut herself off and shot a quick glance over to Ruby. Ruby had no idea why. "My friend David is looking after him. They're having boys' night and we're having girls' night," she finished.

Ruby's eyes narrowed. Had Emma been about to say, "My David"? Wasn't David married to Mary Margaret?

"I see," Regina replied. "Well I hear congratulations are in order, Ruby."

Ruby hadn't really been listening, but jerked her gaze over to Regina at the mention of her name.

"Huh?" she said—so articulate. "Oh! Yeah, my head. Whale says my head is good now."

Regina smiled at her, amusement dancing in her eyes. "Well I'm very glad to hear that you've recovered from your concussion, but from the looks of things…" She paused to glance around at the numerous empty glasses on their table and the other women, all talking and laughing just a little too loudly. "You all might be dealing with headaches tomorrow morning."

Ruby was helpless to do much of anything but smile back. "Yeah, probably," she replied, grin still wide.

Regina chuckled, a husky tone to her voice, and the sound did something, something pleasant and scary and exhilarating all at once, to Ruby's insides.

"Speaking of which," Regina continued. "What happened to my sister, and the drink she was getting me?"

Regina turned to look back towards the bar, eyes searching for Zelena, but Ruby made no pretense of doing anything other than looking at Regina.

"Oh there she is," Regina said. "And of course, she's busy flirting with the bartender." She sighed and turned back around to face the table. "Excuse me a moment, I'll be back in a minute."

Regina walked away towards the bar, and Ruby found her eyes drifting inescapably downwards, catching on the sight of the way Regina's ass looked in her tight-fitting dress.

At least Ruby got her revenge on Emma when her next words—uttered softly to herself, but apparently loud enough for Emma to hear from her spot to Ruby's left—caused Emma to nearly choke on her drink as it went down the wrong way.

Ruby said, simply, "I think I might be gay."

The two tigers are fighting.

Or, no.

Are they tigers, or are they people?

Ruby isn't really sure, but it doesn't seem to matter. But cats and dogs don't get along, Ruby knows, so why is that one cat fighting for her?

Or is it two cats? Ruby could swear there had been another cat…

Oh, right! The black cat! The black cat and one of the tigers are on Ruby's side. She's pretty sure of that, at least.

"Stupid wolf!" someone calls out. Ruby looks around to see who said it, but a sudden fog rolls in, and she can't see anything at all, anymore.

Ruby blinks, and the next thing she knows, she's on a beach. That's a weird place for a wolf to be, she thinks.

As soon as she thinks it, a gray wolf appears right in front of her. He stands in the wet sand, with the waves coming in to just barely reach his back paws. The water doesn't seem to bother him, and he smiles at her, tongue lolling out.

"Hey there," Ruby says to the wolf, and she extends one hand out towards him. "Good boy."

Someone throws a rock, and it hits the wolf in the side. Growling, the wolf turns to stare in the direction where the rock had come from, before he bounds away in pursuit.

Ruby's alone again, so she sits down in the sand.

She's alone again until she isn't, that is. Suddenly there's another woman sitting next to her.

The woman doesn't say anything; just closes her eyes, tilts her head back towards the sky, and stretches, soaking up the sun's warm rays. Her light brown skin and long glistening black hair shimmer in the sunlight. Even just sitting there, there's something remarkably graceful about her.

"I'm glad you're on my side," Ruby tells her.

The woman smirks, peeking one eye open to squint over at Ruby. "You don't even remember who the sides are," she comments.

Ruby pouts. "Yeah, well." She tries to think of a good comeback. "You were a boy cat in the movie," she says.

The woman releases a long-suffering sigh. "Of course I was," she replies, resigned. "I was in the book, too."

She twists to fully face Ruby and opens both eyes—yellowish feline eyes, with narrow, vertical pupils.

"Do I look like a boy cat to you?" the woman asks.

Ruby blinks, and she's moved somewhere else again, now standing in the middle of a wide-open plain.

Someone is coming towards her through the tall grass, his gait long and smooth. He's very tall, and skinny, and somehow looks like he could be almost any age at all.

He stops right in front of her, and neither one of them says anything. They just stare at each other, but Ruby isn't afraid of him, even though she feels like maybe she should be. Or maybe not? It's unclear.

Eventually Ruby grows tired of the silence so she asks the man, "Hakuna matata?"

The man rolls his eyes. "Wrong ssstory," he tells her. "Just remember—"

Whatever it is that Ruby's supposed to remember, she doesn't get to hear it, because then she's suddenly whisked away again.

She's in the diner, now, and there's only one other person in there with her. He's sitting on his own near the back, so she heads over to join him in his booth.

He's a young man, probably in his 20's. And he looks familiar, but Ruby can't quite place where she's seen those soulful brown eyes before.

"Have you grown tired of running yet?" he asks her.

Ruby takes a minute to think seriously about the question. "I don't think so," she says.

He smiles, then, though it doesn't reach his eyes. There's something strange about his expression; Ruby can't decide whether he looks friendly or sinister.

"Well then…" he prompts.

Her heart rate starts beating faster in response, but she takes her time examining his face, trying to figure out where she's seen him before. Finally, her heart is beating so fast that she can no longer sit still.

She has to keep running.

Ruby slides from the booth and takes off at a dead sprint towards the door of the diner, away from the young man.

She bursts out the front door and—

Ruby opened her eyes, her heart racing. She stretched out in bed and yawned, as her mind still worked through what she'd been seeing.

"What a weird dream," she murmured to herself.

Still, it felt important, somehow. Before the dream faded away, she reached over to her bedside table to grab her waitress pad and pen, and scribbled out what she could remember—tigers fighting, the wolf on the beach, the lady-cat, the guy in the grass, and that young man in the diner… Where had she seen him before?

Her phone buzzed; she ignored it for a minute, before it went off three more times in quick succession and her focus on her dream was broken. She pulled herself into a sitting position in bed and stretched for her phone, pulling it away from where it had been left charging.

She had four new texts from Emma and one from Regina. She checked the ones from Emma first.

Ruby paled. She remembered, then. How she'd barely been able to take her eyes off of Regina; how she'd admitted out loud that she might be gay; how, with Emma's encouragement, she'd tried, clumsily, to flirt with the mayor of the whole town.

She typed out a quick reply, and Emma responded again almost immediately with a string of emojis that… Sort of made sense. Some of them, at least.

Ruby chuckled. Well, it seemed like a positive response, at least. And Ruby wasn't ashamed of what she felt. Just a bit embarrassed, she supposed.

With a deep breath, she checked to see what Regina had sent.

Regina: "So was I right about the possibility of an oncoming headache this morning? How are you feeling?"

Ruby smiled at the thoughtful message, and then sent her own response back. It was less than a minute before her phone buzzed again with a reply.

Ruby was about to respond, when something about Regina's wording struck her. There wasn't necessarily anything suggestive there, but… Ruby hadn't been talking about sexy dreams, but is that what Regina had thought she meant?

With a grin, Ruby sent her own potentially suggestive text, and then waited longer than would have been normal before she finished with a more detailed explanation.

Ruby could imagine how Regina might laugh in response, that rich, warm sound. Or maybe she'd even feel a little jealous at Ruby calling another woman beautiful.

Another text came through and, shaking her head at herself, Ruby looked down to read it.

Regina: "That…certainly sounds interesting."

Ruby smiled. And before she could lose her nerve, she typed out three more quick messages.

With that, Ruby tossed her phone away from her and fell back into bed with a groan.

A full-blown crush on the goddamn mayor.

She threw an arm across her face and took several long moments to just breathe deeply, in and out.

Bit by bit, though, Ruby couldn't stop a wide grin from spreading across her face.

This could be interesting.

Ruby was humming to herself as she practically skipped into the diner later that morning.

"Good morning, Granny," she said, leaning over to kiss her grandmother on the cheek.

Granny turned to look at her in quiet surprise.

Ruby had been reluctant to show much open affection since her head injury. She'd been feeling so lost so much of the time—so unsure of herself and where she fit in with all these people—that she'd been holding herself back from everyone. She'd been trying to protect herself, really.

But there was just something to her mood that morning…

Ruby's memories were gone. They were gone, and they might not ever be coming back. That was scary, but it didn't mean that she was only half a person. She was real, and she was whole, and now she was healthy. She could do this. She could rebuild her life, rebuild her relationships; she could figure herself out, with or without any old memories.

She'd just have to make new memories.

There was a long pause before Granny responded. "Good morning, child," she finally said. "What's got you so cheery?"

Ruby shrugged. "Just feeling good today," she said. "Will you be okay with things here if I go out for a while? I'm in the mood for some fresh air, but will come back later so you can show me more about working here."

"You go on, I'll be just fine." Granny nodded. "And Ashely should be here soon, too."


Ruby turned to go, but Granny added, "Just be careful. I know Whale said you were all right, now, but you should still take it easy. For the sake of my worrying, if nothing else."

"I'll be careful," Ruby agreed with an easy smile. "Bye, Granny, I'll be back later!"

Then she was on her way, humming softly to herself once again.

Of course, Ruby's good mood wasn't meant to last.

She had no particular destination in mind when she left the diner. She'd recently been taking time to fully explore the town, bit by bit. So this time she went off in a new direction, not even really knowing where she was going.

Ruby had been walking aimlessly for close to thirty minutes when a particular scent caught her attention.

It was that smell. That same awful smell that she'd noticed just once in the diner, in the early days after her concussion.

Ruby stopped dead in her tracks, focusing in on the scent. She still had no idea what it was. It wasn't really a bad smell, she realized, like garbage or rotten food. It just… Ruby couldn't even describe it, but it chafed against her, like nails on a chalkboard. There was something about that smell that Ruby really, really didn't like.

So of course, she decided to follow it.

She hesitated when the scent brought her to the edge of the woods. This was one (large) part of town that Ruby had purposefully avoided. Still, she continued on, in amongst the trees.

Ruby was focused so intently on her sense of smell, however, that she'd been minimizing attention to her other senses.

So it was that, maybe ten minutes after she'd entered the woods—only later would Ruby think about how strange it was that she'd been able to smell anything at such a distance—someone was able to sneak right up on Ruby without any trouble at all.

The flash of terror that Ruby felt when a hand came from out of nowhere to clasp over Ruby's mouth was momentarily paralyzing. Two arms wrapped around her and pulled Ruby backwards, pressing her tightly against the body behind her.

Ruby stood stock still for just a moment before she tried to wrench herself away. The arms holding her were incredibly strong, and they jerked along with Ruby's thrashing, but they did not let go.

"Stop it!" a voice hushed into Ruby's ear. "I'm not here to hurt you, calm down!"

The voice, lightly accented, was somehow familiar, but not enough so that Ruby was willing to give any benefit of the doubt.

She tried to call out, but the grip around her mouth was tight, and nothing more than a whimper escaped.

"Kutte ki jat, bhen chod. Fuck, you're a handful."

The words, only half of which Ruby understood, were murmured in frustration. Ruby had registered by now that the person holding her was a woman, but she still didn't know who it was.

Whoever it was, she got a better grip on Ruby and yanked her back, hard, and held her still. "Listen to me, Ruby," the woman practically growled. "I'm trying to help you."

Ruby was able to shift her head just enough that she got a glimpse of who was holding her.

She immediately grew pliant at the shock of what she saw.

It was…the lady-cat, from her dream.

Before Ruby could fully process that, the woman took advantage of Ruby's sudden stillness to say, whispered directly into Ruby's ear, "I don't know what you're doing out here, but you need to stay the hell away. If they think that you remember anything, anything at all, then they will come after you again. I've been trying very hard to keep things under control, so don't you fuck it up. Got it?"

Feeling numb, Ruby simply nodded.

"I'll try to warn you if anything changes. There are others on our side, but not enough, yet. So you need to get out of here before anyone else sees you, and don't come back!"

With that, the woman released Ruby and shoved her back in the direction she'd come from. Ruby stumbled, but stayed on her feet. She twisted around and took one long look at the woman—there was no question, it was the woman from her dream—before she turned and ran, as fast as she could go.

At the sound of a tentative knock on her door, Ruby merely burrowed deeper beneath her covers.

"I'm still not feeling well, Granny," she called out.

There was no answer, so Ruby assumed that Granny had left.

A wave of melancholy had settled over Ruby, ever since her run-in with the woman in the woods. In the face of the knowledge that her injury and memory loss definitely hadn't been accidental, Ruby didn't know what to do, or think, or feel.

There was fear, certainly, but more than anything, Ruby just felt numb.

There was something weird about this town, and someone wanted to hurt her, and she didn't know who to turn to, and no one was being upfront with her, and…

"It's Regina, Ruby. Not Granny."

Ruby's thoughts stalled. It was, in fact, Regina's voice on the other side of the door.

After a moment, Regina spoke again. "Can I come in?" she asked.

Ruby opened her mouth to say no, but instead, the word, "Okay," came out.

Slowly, the door to Ruby's room opened, and Regina slid inside before closing the door again behind her.

Ruby's eyes shifted to look over at Regina, but other than that, she didn't move. Regina offered a small smile, concerned but affectionate, at the sight of Ruby. She was lying on her side, with her hands clasping her sheets up to her chin and the comforter covering more than half her head, rising up above her ears. Only her face and the top of her head were visible.

Regina looked around the room, simply taking it all in, before she approached and sat down on the edge of Ruby's bed, with Ruby shifting slightly to give her space.

"Your grandmother must be pretty desperate, to have called me," Regina commented. "She said you've barely emerged for the past three days."

Ruby didn't say anything, at first. Then: "Why'd she call you?"

"She's worried about you," Regina replied. Her eyes, soft and kind, searched Ruby's face. "And I can see why. Also, after you turned away Miss Swan, Emma apparently told your grandmother that she should try me, next."

"I'm fine," Ruby murmured, pulling her gaze away from Regina's, so she could stare across the room to the opposite wall instead.

"You're clearly not," Regina responded, no judgment in her voice.

Ruby noticed, out of the corner of her eye, the movement of Regina's hand, but she didn't react at all as Regina reached for her, pushing the comforter back just slightly, so she could run her hand slowly through Ruby's hair.

The touch was gentle, hesitant, comforting. It made Ruby feel like crying, and she squeezed her eyes shut against the moisture gathering there.

"Can you tell me what happened?" Regina asked quietly, after a minute.

Her throat tight from holding back tears, Ruby just shook her head.

"Okay," Regina said. "That's okay. I'll just sit with you, then, if you don't mind."

She pulled herself up further onto the bed, settling behind Ruby and leaning up against the headboard. Her hand then went back to Ruby's hair. After a few minutes, Regina started humming something, some lilting tune Ruby didn't recognize.

Bit by bit, Ruby relaxed. She focused on just breathing, at first. Deeply in through her nose and then silently out through her mouth. A few tears squeezed out past Ruby's eyelids, but as Regina's touch worked to soothe her, the urge to cry receded. Her throat remained thick with tension for a while. But Regina showed no inclination to push Ruby for anything further, and, gradually, Ruby found herself unwinding.

Of course, it was only because Regina didn't ask her for anything that Ruby finally decided to talk to her.

Ruby didn't know how long it was that they both simply lay there. Finally, she cleared her throat. Regina instantly stopped humming, and her hand stilled in place as Ruby began to speak.

She was still facing away from Regina, and she made no move to change her position, but said, talking towards the wall, "I'm pretty sure that someone, or maybe multiple people, hurt me on purpose. I was out for a walk, and I caught this scent that just, felt off in some way, so I followed it, and I ran into this woman, who I'd seen before in a dream, and she warned me that I had to stay away from there, and that she was trying to keep control on things, but that they would come after me again if they thought I remembered anything."

Ruby took one deep breath, then went on. "And I don't remember anything, not really. Just this one thing that I don't even know if it's real or not. I'm not hiding up here because I'm a coward, or anything. I'm not scared to fight, if I have to. But I don't know who I'm fighting. I don't know why I'm fighting. I was just starting to feel secure in who I am, now, without my memories, but now…"

Her voice broke as she finished, "Regina, I just don't know what's going on. I don't know what to do."

She reached up to wipe harshly at her eyes, at the tears now flowing freely down her cheeks.

Regina's hands moved to her shoulder, and she pulled Ruby onto her back so they could see each other. Their eyes met, and Ruby felt sure, at least, that the worried alarm so evident across Regina's face wasn't faked.

"Oh, Ruby," Regina exhaled.

Neither one of them said anything else, for a beat. Then Regina seemed to come to a decision about something. She nodded to herself, and a steeled look of determination came over her features.

Regina's hand moved again, stroking down the side of Ruby's face and cupping her jaw. She said, "I don't know what's going on either, but we're going to figure it out, and we're going to keep you safe. And I think it's about time that you learned a few big things about this town. About yourself."

Ruby blinked. She was sitting up in bed, now, cross-legged, across from Regina.

"I'm a…?" she trailed off, not able to say the word.

"A werewolf," Regina repeated. "Yes."

"And we're all…"

"Fairy tale characters."

Regina had explained it all so matter-of-factly. The curses, magic, villains and heroes and at-least-semi-reformed villains. Snow White and Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin and Captain Hook, the Evil Queen and the Wicked Witch of the West.

"I'm Little Red Riding Hood?" she said, incredulous.

Regina gave a half-smile. "And the Big, Bad Wolf. You got a two-for-one deal."

Ruby pulled her knees up to her chest and lowered her head with a groan. This was… a lot to take in.

After a moment, Regina asked, "Are you okay?"

"Mm-hmm." Ruby nodded her head but didn't look up.

For some reason, her mind hadn't immediately gone to the idea that Regina was lying. Or delusional. Or crazy.

The whole thing was crazy, but it… It felt right, somehow.

Ruby unfolded herself from her position and stood up to begin pacing back and forth across the floor.

"Okay," she said, huffing out an exhale. "Okay. Werewolf, magic, reformed Evil Queen. Okay."

She could almost feel it, now. Now that she knew it was there—the stirring of a creature, a wolf, inside her.

"So who is after me?" Ruby asked, turning to look at Regina, even as she continued pacing. "And why?"

Regina shook her head. "I don't know. With the first curse, I had a very good sense of who everyone was who lived in this town. But then there was the second curse, and a lot of new people got swept along in that, and portals to other lands seem to keep opening up more often than they should… I don't fully know who's here, anymore."

Ruby rubbed a weary hand over her face. "Okay," she said again. "So what do we do? Do we take the fight to them, go back to that spot in the woods? Do we, I don't know, read lots of fairy tales until something sticks out? Do we just wait and see what happens?"

"Ruby—" Regina interrupted. Something in Regina's tone made Ruby stop her movement and just turn to look at Regina, who still remained sitting on Ruby's bed.

There was a look of near-bafflement on her face, and she went on, "You're taking all of this remarkably well. Why haven't you laughed me out of the room and said I was crazy? Don't you, I don't know, need some kind of proof, at least?"

Ruby thought over the question. "No," she said simply. "I mean—that might actually be cool. What kind of magic can you do?" Without waiting for a response, she continued, "I just, I don't know." She shrugged. "I believe you."

For a moment, Regina didn't say or do anything; she just stared at Ruby, her eyes somehow uncomprehending.

Then… Well, not that Ruby had forgotten about it, exactly, but then Ruby's serious crush on this other woman asserted itself once again.

Because the smile that crossed Regina's face was bright enough to light the room. It was the most beautiful, the most magical thing Ruby had ever seen.

As far as she could remember, anyway.

Regina and Ruby were sitting in Regina's study, each reading up on memory curses, when they heard the front door open and close, and then the patter of young feet running in to join them.

"Hi, Ruby!" Henry called out as entered the room. He launched himself onto the leather couch. "How is 'Operation: Blow their house down' going?"

Ruby smiled over at him but before she could answer, Regina called out, even without looking, "Feet off the couch, Henry."

Henry groaned, but did as he was told.

"Busted!" Ruby mouthed at him, making him laugh.

The operation name had been Henry's idea, of course. He's been really happy to hear that Regina had told Ruby the truth, and had promptly declared himself a member of the team.

Henry had been the one to figure out which story's characters they were dealing with, too.

Ruby and Regina's first step had been to work their way through everything that Ruby could remember from that half-conscious possible memory, from when she'd first woken up in the hospital, as well as her dream, searching for clues. Clearly some part of Ruby knew something, since the woman/cat had appeared in her dream, and then shown up in real life.

They'd been working on a possible Lion King theory, before Ruby had suddenly remembered the part of her dream where the man in the tall grassy plain had told her that was the wrong story.

When they first talked things over with Henry, however, he knew the answer right away.

Now, in response to Henry's question, Ruby replied, "It's going okay. Your mom and I are trying to figure out what might have been done to my memory, or how to fix it."

They knew it was still possible that the memory loss was merely a natural side effect of Ruby's head injury; they also knew it was highly unlikely.

"Can I help?" Henry asked.

"You can set the oven to preheat at 450o, and then you can work on your homework," Regina responded. "That would be a big help."

"Aw, Mom," he complained.

But Regina added, "After you're done with your work, then you can help us with ours, okay?"

Henry released a tortured sigh, as though his mother's request was an absolute burden, and Ruby had to hide her smirk of amusement.

As he dragged himself up off the couch, Ruby told him, "Hey, rumor has it that your mom's making us her chicken and seafood paella tonight. Lucky us, huh?"

He looked over at Regina, who still didn't look up from the book lying on her desk, but who did smile knowingly to herself.

Henry turned back around and grinned, and as he walked by Ruby's chair, she held her open palm out for him to slap. With her other hand, she stretched over to ruffle Henry's hair.

He laughed and wriggled out of her reach, before heading back out of the study and to the kitchen.

When Ruby turned back from watching Henry leave, Regina was looking at her. Ruby met her gaze, but Regina made no attempt to break the eye contact.

Something about the look in Regina's eyes—almost predatory—made Ruby's heartbeat speed up a tick faster.

Ruby couldn't have looked away if she'd wanted to. She swallowed past her suddenly dry throat, and had to resist the urge to squirm under Regina's sharp-eyed gaze.

Finally, after what felt like a long time but probably wasn't, Ruby broke the silence between them. "Henry's a good kid," she said.

Regina blinked. "Yes," she said, and then she did straighten her posture and look away. Her smile, full of love and affection, was different, now; maternal. "He is. I'm glad the two of you get along."

Ruby grinned, feeling just plain happy, until she turned her attention back to the book in her lap.

There was a danger to Regina Mills that was exhilarating, exciting.

There was a danger to the world outside that was a whole other problem.

One morning, a little over two weeks after Regina had spilled Storybrooke's biggest secrets, Ruby was working in the diner. It hadn't taken her all that long to pick up the gist of the job, and she liked how it was a way for her to get to know the town's residents all over again.

That morning, things changed.

Ruby was chatting with Belle at the counter when they came in. She didn't look closely at them at first, although she did move to get the coffee pot, as she always did when any customer walked in.

She told Belle she'd be right back, and then headed over towards where she'd seen the newcomers go, out of the corner of her eye.

For just a second, Ruby came to a complete stop in the middle of the diner. She felt her heart catch in her throat, as panic seized her.

There were five of them.

She caught the woman's eyes first—the woman from her dream, from their confrontation in the woods. She shook her head minutely at Ruby at gave a pointed look to the coffee pot in Ruby's hand.

'Act natural,' her eyes seemed to say. Ruby recalled the woman's warning; if they thought she remembered anything…

What would they do to her? What would they do to her grandmother, her friends…?

Ruby pasted a wide smile onto her face and walked over to their table.

"Hey there, folks. Coffee?" she asked.

Her voice sounded strained to her own ears. Was it too high?

As she looked around the table, she only just barely managed to keep it together.

Two more of them, she recognized immediately from her dream. The skinny man on the plain. The young man in the diner. And— She finally placed him, then. The young man in her dream was the same one who had grabbed her by the shoulders and told her to run, back after she'd fallen and hit her head.

The two other men in the group, Ruby didn't think she'd seen before, but… One of them… He was large man, tall and broad, and when he glanced over at Ruby, she saw that he had a long scar going across his face, from just below his left eye, slashing across his nose, and over to his right cheek.

That smell, the one that no one else seemed to notice but that made her hair stand on end… It was coming from him.

It was the young man who spoke, drawing Ruby's attention to him.

"Coffee would be great, love," he said. He looked perfectly safe, perfectly friendly.

The others merely held their mugs out. Ruby smiled, hoping it didn't look as stilted as it felt, and filled all of their mugs. She had to work hard not to let her hand shake.

"I'm Ruby," she told them, letting herself go on autopilot. "And I'll be taking care of you this morning. I'll give you all a minute to look over the menu and will be back to take your order in a jiffy!"

She walked away, as calmly as she could, back behind the counter. Her mind was racing. What were they doing here? What did they want? What did it mean?

There was a part of her that wanted to run away, but she knew she couldn't. She needed to act like she had no idea who they were. And she needed answers.

"Are you all right, Ruby?"

Ruby's attention was drawn back to Belle, who was looking at her with concern.

"What?" was all Ruby could manage, only half listening.

"You look pale," Belle said. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah!" Ruby replied, too loud, before dialing it back. "Yeah, I'm good."

She looked back over to the table where they all were. There were talking with each other, not paying Ruby any attention. She went around offering more coffee to the other diners before returning for their order.

"I don't think I've seen you all in here before," she said conversationally. "What brings you in today?"

The woman answered, "We're relatively new around here, and everyone we meet keeps telling us we need to try Granny's, so, here we are."

"Best meal in town, I say!" Ruby declared.

"That's really not saying much," muttered the bad-smelling one.

"Well, what can I get for you? Have you decided?" Ruby asked.

They placed their orders—other than the young man, they all had remarkably large appetites—and Ruby could exhale again as she walked away.

She tried to keep her interactions with them to a minimum, until finally they had finished their meal and got up to leave.

"Bye, folks!" she called out to them. "Come back soon!"

As soon as they were gone, Ruby turned to Belle. Urgently, she said, "Look, I have to go do something, but can you call Regina? And maybe Emma? Ask them to meet me here."

"Ruby, what—"

But Ruby didn't stay to hear the rest of Belle's question. Instead, she hurried over to the diner's entrance. She looked out through the glass door, but then held back a minute, as she saw the last of the group saunter around the corner at the end of the walkway.

Then she quietly slipped outside and followed.

She didn't get far, however. She peeked around the corner after them, just in time to see all five of them get into a dark green SUV and drive off. And, afraid of being seen in the rearview mirror, Ruby remained where she was, frustrated.

Less than a minute later, a cop car came screeching up the street and pulled to a stop in front of the diner. Regina emerged first, from the passenger side, with Emma getting out close behind.

Ruby gestured vaguely at them. "Way to be subtle, guys," she said.

Regina ignored her comment and hurried over. "What happened?" she demanded. "Are you okay? Why did you have Belle call us?"

"They were here," Ruby explained. "They just left a minute ago."

"They?" Emma prompted. Ruby and Regina (and Henry) had told her about everything going on as well.

"Yeah, my dream people or cats-slash-tigers or whatever they are." Ruby had no idea how to define them. "I was going to follow them to see where they went, but they just got in a car and drove off, heading in the same direction you came from."

"You were going to follow them? Are you stupid?"

Ruby turned to look at Regina, hurt. "No," she protested. "But I'm tired of feeling like this. I need answers. So yeah, I was going to follow them. Just see where they went, what they did."

"And gotten yourself killed in the process?" Regina practically snarled at her. "Yes, what an utterly brilliant plan!"

Ruby scoffed, feeling defensive. "Right, as if you would have worried about me at all."

"Yes!" Regina replied, her eyes flashing in anger. "I would have! I worry about you all the time!"

Ruby opened her mouth to respond, when Regina's words caught up with her. She closed her mouth again and simply looked at Regina, her expression tender.

"You do?" she asked.

The anger seemed to have drained out of Regina, leaving her looking more vulnerable than Ruby had ever seen her. Ruby took a few steps closer to Regina. She ached to reach out for Regina's hand, but stopped herself.

"I can't keep you safe if you go running off into dangerous situations on your own," Regina said, her voice now quiet.

Ruby smiled, timidly. "I'm tougher than I look, you know."

"I know," Regina agreed with a nod. "I know you are."

They stood there, just a foot apart, their eyes locked on each other.

"Well!" Emma interrupted, causing both other women to startle and look over at her. They'd both forgotten that she was even there. "This has been highly enlightening!"

Regina rolled her eyes, but her cheeks were flushed, and Ruby scuffed the toe of her boot against the ground, running a hand through her hair.

Ruby glanced back over at Emma, who was grinning widely. Catching her eye, Emma flashed Ruby an enthusiastic thumbs up.

That night, a deputy was stationed right outside Ruby's room, as a precautionary measure.

Unfortunately, none of them had thought about the windows.

Ruby woke to the feel of a cool hand pressing tightly against her mouth. She was instantly wide awake. It was the skinny man, and he looked down on her like she was an idle curiosity. But his grip was strong, and as she tried to thrash about, two more strong hands came down to hold her still.

This was someone new, someone Ruby didn't recognize at all. He looked huge from her vantage point. He was wearing a dark gray shirt, or at least it looked that way in this lighting, and he looked at Ruby with obvious hatred in his eyes.

There was a noise at the window, and Ruby's eyes shifted over to see the broad-shouldered man from the diner that morning—the bad-smelling one; Ruby thought he was one of the tigers—climbing in through the window. Shortly after, the young man followed in as well. It was getting cramped, with this many people in Ruby's room.

She tried again to wrench herself free, but it was no use. There were too many of them, and they were too strong.

The tiger-man stalked over to stand right beside her head, one foot trailing in a slight limp. He looked down on her and smiled, even if there was no kindness in the expression. "That was quite a performance, this morning," he told her. His voice was deep, with the same light Indian accent she'd noticed on the woman. "You almost had us fooled. But we've got good senses too, wolf. Your heartbeat was going crazy from the moment you saw us."

He tilted his head and considered her. "It's going even faster, now. I guess we've got you scared." He grinned at her, his teeth gleaming in the darkness; he was enjoying himself.

"So," he went on. "You recognize us, on some level. I won't bother asking you what you do or do not remember, because I'm sure you'll just lie. Damn dogs. Never quite as clever as they think they are."

The man in the gray shirt chuckled. "The hyenas might take offense at that," he said.

The tiger-man shifted his gaze over to the other man. The condescension in his voice was audible as he said, "The hyenas are complete and utter imbeciles. And they are also not canines. Apparently bears aren't all that clever, either."

The man in the gray shirt—a bear?—bristled, but said nothing else.

"So, dear Ruby," the tiger-man said, turning back to her. "We're going to try this again, with a slight modification this time. We're not cruel, you see. And you're still one of us, whether either of us likes it. So, soon you will be free to live your life as you please, with no bothersome memories of us, or this place, and where you can't get in our way."

He stepped back, then, and turned to the man still holding his hand over her mouth. "You're up, Kaa," the tiger-man said. "Don't screw it up, this time."

Kaa—he was the snake, Ruby realized—leaned over so that his face was directly over Ruby's.

"Look into my eyes. Look deeply into my eyes."


[Part 2]

Regina was woken by the sound of a loud pounding on the front door.

"Regina!" a woman's voice rang out, drifting up and through her window. "Regina, wake up!"

Still half asleep, Regina couldn't quite place who the voice belonged to. She got out of bed, threw on a silk robe, and looked out the window. Two figures stood outside her door, but she couldn't see who they were.

The pounding on the door continued.

Regina moved out into the hallway and found Henry poking his head out of his room.

"Mom?" he asked, voice thick with sleep.

She went to him and kissed the top of his head. "It's all right, Henry, go back to sleep. I'll see what's going on."

She turned and went down the stairs, then. The front door was practically rattling in its frame, under the force of the loud knocks.

Regina formed a fireball in one hand before she threw the door open, ready to strike.

"Finally!" one of the figures said, ignoring the fireball and pushing her way into the house.

Her identity clicked, then. "Jasmine?" Regina asked. "What is going on?"

She looked over at the other figure, still standing in the doorway. He was a tall, well-built man Regina didn't recognize. Clearly he had been the one knocking on the door. He was dark-skinned, with kind eyes and a large, bulbous nose.

"It's about Ruby," Jasmine said, and Regina felt her stomach plummet.

"What about her?" she demanded, storming over to Jasmine's side. "What's happened to her?"

"Tell her, Raj," Jasmine said, and Regina whirled back around to confront him.

"I wanted to stop this earlier," he said, "but he threatened Jasmine. He's dangerous, and I couldn't be sure that—"

"Who are you?" Regina interrupted.

He looked sheepish, to the extent that a muscular man over six-fet-tall could. "I'm…" He rolled his eyes. "I'm Jasmine's pet tiger."

"You're my best friend, Rajah," Jasmine countered.

Regina shook her head. She really didn't care. "What does this have to do with Ruby?" she asked.

Rajah got back to the point. "They know that she remembers something. That she somehow recognized us at the diner this morning. Bagheera's been doing what she can, but… When it got this bad, I went to Jaz, and she said we should come to you."

Regina felt herself grow very still. Her nose flared and she asked, outwardly calm, "What are they doing to her? Where is she?"

"I don't know," Raj said, looking genuinely upset. "They know I'm not really on their side, so they never tell me any details. But I know they were going after her tonight."

Regina snapped her fingers, and she was instantly dressed in jeans and a comfortable shirt. She didn't care to get any fancier than that, not now.

"It's Shere Khan, right?" she questioned Raj. Her throat felt so tight she could barely get the words out.

He looked surprised. "Yes," Raj said, "but he's not—"

Regina didn't wait for the rest of his sentence. She transported herself directly to Ruby's room, and then, finding it empty, over to the Sherriff's station.

David was on duty, and he startled badly at Regina's sudden appearance. Regina didn't wait for him to speak or get his bearings.

She said, "Ruby Lucas has been kidnapped, and she is in grave danger. You need to get all of your deputies out looking for her, now. You should inform Granny, too."

Regina transported herself outside, then, but she was out of immediate plans. She ran her hands over her face. She didn't know what to do, she didn't know where to even begin looking…

She pulled her phone out of her pocket and called Zelena, and then Emma. The more people looking, especially those with magic and those she could trust, the better. Her calls to each of them were brief, curt, and right to the point.

Then she brought herself back to Mifflin Street.

Jasmine and Rajah were gone, and Regina gave herself a moment to check in on Henry. He was fast asleep in his room.

Then she was back outside, getting into her Mercedes. She couldn't just poof aimlessly all around town; she would have to at least try to be systematic about this. As she started driving, she called Jasmine, putting the phone on speaker so she could focus on the road.

"Would they have brought her back to wherever they've been living?" Regina asked.

There was a slight pause before Jasmine replied, "Raj says he doesn't think so, but he'll check and will get in touch with you if—"

Regina hung up without another word. She'd apologize for her rudeness and thank them both after they found Ruby, safe and sound.

After that, she just drove. She drove, and she looked all around, and she kept on driving.

Regina had no idea how long she'd been looking, had even less of a sense of how long it had been since Ruby was taken.

Her panic was mounting. This felt useless, driving around and hoping Ruby would just miraculously appear around the next corner, or the next one, or…

Regina pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car, slamming her hand against the wheel in frustration. She dropped her head down and tried to just breathe.

She knew that she hadn't been immune to Ruby Lucas. Not to Ruby's awkward attempts at flirting, or the way she'd so easily fit in right beside her and Henry, or to the way she'd seemed to really hear Regina. Certainly not to the way that she believed in Regina, whole-heartedly and without question.

But it hadn't been until today that Regina had come to realize how much she really cared for the girl. First that stunt at the diner, and now this.

Regina slammed her hand against the wheel once again.

But Regina wouldn't give up. She couldn't. She sat back up again and took a deep breath in and out. There simply had to be a better way to do this.

A thought sparked in Regina's mind. Magical transportation didn't really work like this, but… It was worth a shot.

Regina closed her eyes and focused her thoughts, her mind, her entire self on Ruby. When she felt ready—when her whole head felt full of Ruby—she whispered to herself, "Bring me to her."

Regina felt herself move, and she opened her eyes to find herself standing in the middle of some un-identifiable stretch of road. She whirled around in a circle, searching, searching for anything.

She saw the sign, first, a little ways off.

"Leaving Storybrooke"

And there, further down the road, alone, and walking straight towards the town line… was Ruby.

"Ruby!" Regina called out, but Ruby didn't react at all. "Ruby, stop!"

Forgetting her magic for a moment, Regina began to run down the road, before she remembered herself and poofed over to a spot right in front of Ruby.

"Ruby, what are you doing?" she asked, but Ruby didn't say anything. Just stepped around Regina and kept walking.

Regina hurried to catch up. She reached out for Ruby and tried pulling her backwards, but Ruby was too strong, and she shook Regina off.

They were getting too close to the town line for comfort—too close to the spot where Ruby would lose all memories of Storybrooke and would never be able to return.

She used her magic to freeze Ruby in place. That, at least, worked.

Regina exhaled in relief.

She moved back in front of Ruby and looked her over from head to toe, trying to figure out what was wrong with her.

Her eyes, Regina realized. It was hard to see in the dark, but instead of her normal green eyes, always so beautiful, the entire eyeball consisted of alternating circles of yellow and blue. Her irises and the white parts of her eyes were completely glossed over.

Regina was ever so grateful to her son, in that moment, as she thought back to when he'd made the three of them watch The Jungle Book after his discovery.

The silly cartoon had actually got something right, though, and Regina recognized that Ruby was under the effects of hypnosis.

What she didn't know, however, was how to knock Ruby out of it.

She tried shaking her, snapping her fingers right in front of Ruby's eyes, and even slapping her across the face.

Nothing worked.

Regina leaned forward, resting her forehead against Ruby's collarbone. She could feel Ruby's pulse at the hollow of her neck, steady and slow.

"Okay," Regina said to herself, standing up straight again. "Okay, my magic got me here, so we'll try that again. Okay, Ruby? You ready to play along, yet?"

She reached up and placed her hands on either side of Ruby's face. Then she took in a deep breath and as she exhaled, she let her magic go, pouring all of the light, restorative power that she could muster into Ruby's body.

This kind of magic didn't come naturally to Regina. Her hands began to shake, but she held on for as long as she could, until she had to pull away, exhausted and gasping for breath.


[Part 3]

Ruby opened her eyes.

She looked around in confusion, only growing more bewildered when she saw Regina standing in front of her, bent over at the waist and gasping for air.

"Regina?" she asked. "Are you okay?"

Regina shot upward, and Ruby took a step backwards at the sudden movement.

"Ruby!" Regina exclaimed. She moved forward and brought her hands up to Ruby's cheeks. "Oh, look at those beautiful, green eyes."


Ruby felt very confused.

"Regina, what's going on?" she asked. "Why are we outside?"

"What do you remember?" Regina asked in return.

Remember about what, Ruby thought but didn't say.

She considered the question.

It hit her, then, and she felt herself go cold at the memory. "They came in through my window," she whispered. "Shere Khan, and Kaa, and… I guess it was Baloo? The movie got him so wrong."

She met Regina's eyes, so warm and tender, and asked, "What did they do to me?"

"Kaa must have hypnotized you," Regina said, her hands still holding Ruby's face. "They tried to get you to cross the town line, but you're okay now. You're safe."

With that, Regina leaned forward, and tugged Ruby down, and… Oh, Regina was kissing her.

Ruby made a soft noise of surprise, but she melted into the kiss and eagerly kissed back, wrapping her arms around Regina's waist.

A sudden voice made them pull apart.

"Well, well, well. Isn't this sweet."

Ruby looked over and snarled at the sight of Shere Khan, and his lackeys trailing after him. There were a lot of them, probably at least twenty. Ruby tried to push Regina behind her, but Regina was having none of that. She stepped forward, to Ruby's side, and reached for Ruby's hand.

"Give it up, Shere Khan," Regina said. "You've been trying to make Ruby forget all about you, but we all know about you, now. Since you made the mistake of taking Ruby tonight, I've spread word about you around this whole town. No chance now for whatever surprise attack you've been trying to gear up for."

A fireball burst from Regina's free hand, then, floating above her open palm. "It's time for you to give up and go back to wherever you came from," she called out.

Shere Khan's upper lip rose into a snarl of anger, but he did take a wary step back at the sight of Regina's fire.

Then, of all things, someone started laughing.

Everyone froze, surprised, and turned to look at where the sound was coming from.

It was… The young man. The one who had told her to run, who had asked her if she was tired of running. Ruby still didn't know his name.

"Sir, what are you…?" Shere Khan looked on in alarm as the young man walked up beside him.

"Oh come on, Shere Khan," he said. He gestured at Regina. "Look at her! She thinks she's got this whole thing figured out. It's pretty funny, don't you think?"

The woman, Bagheera the panther, stepped forward and put one hand on the young man's upper arm. "Mowgli," she said. "Don't you think that—"

"Mowgli?" Ruby exclaimed. "You're Mowgli? But isn't he…"

Mowgli looked over at her and laughed. "Isn't he one of the good guys?" he asked in exaggerated bafflement. "How can this possibly be??"

In an instant, he flipped from lighthearted laughter to an ugly sneer of rage.

"I was one of the good guys," he yelled. "Until everyone, everyone, let me down. Left behind by my human parents, then raised with the wolves until they kicked me out of the pack because they decided it was inevitable that I would become dangerous, just because I was a man. Then I found my way back to my parents' village, but they didn't want me, either. Too human to be a wolf, too wild to be a human. "

He turned to Shere Khan, then, and his rage hadn't diminished at all as Mowgli addressed him. "And you were so obsessed with me, you never stopped hunting me."

Shere Khan lowered his head.

The flip switched back, then, and Mowgli laughed again. "Oh but we're good friends now, aren't we Shere Khan?" He reached out and grabbed hold of Shere Khan by the chin. "Now that you've acknowledged me as your superior, you're just a little kitty cat, aren't you?"

Shere Khan said nothing, and Mowgli released him, shoving him away.

"So when we suddenly ended up here, somehow, I thought… Now here's a place where we can start over," Mowgli continued. "My animal army will be no match for the rest of you. Man is the weakest and most defenseless of all living things. So say the rules of the jungle."

He then turned to look at Ruby, and said, "You had the chance to join us, wolf. To join the winning side, to choose your better side. But you had the audacity to act like I was crazy. So Kaa and I simply made you forget a few things, so you wouldn't go spoiling any of my plans. And you're the one who fell and hit your own damn head, the concussion wasn't my doing at all."

Ruby could feel Regina's hand, still clasped in her own, squeezing tightly. She was getting tired of this evil-guy-soliloquy shtick, but wasn't yet sure the best course of action.

And Mowgli wasn't yet done, of course. He turned to scan across the gathering of those behind him, and he smiled happily when his gaze came to the man in the gray shirt.

"I suppose it's not quite true that everyone let me down," he said. "Good old Baloo. Such a dumb bear, but you've always been loyal. If I told you to walk off a cliff, you'd do it without question. And Bagheera." He turned to look at her. "My faithful lieutenant. You're too smart to go walking off any cliffs, but I know you've always looked out for me. Our plan goes forward tonight! Tonight, this land will run with Man's blood, and it will be reborn as our our kingdom."

Bagheera's eyes looked incredibly sad, as she said, "You forgot part of the Law of the Jungle."

The look that Mowgli gave her, then, was completely confused. "What?" he asked, suddenly thrown off his game.

"The Law of the Jungle," Bagheera repeated. "'Man is the weakest and most defenseless of all things.' You got that part, but that's not the end of the sentence. 'Man is the weakest and most defenseless of all things, and it is unsportsmanlike to touch him.' You used to be like a son to me, Mowgli, but I can no longer watch you try to destroy everything around you. I will not break the Law of the Jungle at your bidding. I can only do so to stop you."

With that as her only warning, Bagheera stepped forward, and suddenly there was a knife in her hand, which she plunged deep into Mowgli's belly.

He looked down at the knife, the hilt sticking out from his body. "What have you done?" he whispered, before falling to his knees.

As soon as he hit the ground, chaos erupted.

Baloo charged at Bagheera with a loud bellow, and fighting broke out between those on Bagheera's side and those loyal to Mowgli.

Sharing a wordless look, Ruby and Regina joined the fray. Regina used her magic, as Ruby lunged forward to Bagheera's side. Either one of them might not have been enough to fight off the huge bear of a man, but working together, they were able to subdue him.

Ruby then noticed Kaa trying to slyly slip away, but Regina must have seen him as well, because she sent a blast of magic his way, freezing him in place.

After that, it was hard to tell who was on which side, so Ruby found herself mostly just playing defense against anyone who came after her.

The tide turned quickly when Ruby heard a long howl, and then a pack of wolves rushed out from the forest. The wolves instantly more-than-doubled the numbers on Bagheera's side, and the others soon realized their disadvantage and surrendered.

Somehow, after it all, Mowgli was the only one who lay dead on the ground.

Baloo came forward and fell to his knees, pulling the boy into his lap.

No one else said a word.

One of the wolves approached Ruby, then, nudging his cold nose against Ruby's hand. Ruby crouched down and ran her hand through his fur. "Hi," she said with a smile. "You've been watching out for me from the beginning, haven't you?" The wolf butted his head against Ruby's. "I'll come find you sometime soon and we'll go for a run, okay?"

The wolf backed away, then. He arched his head towards the sky and howled once again, before turning and running back into the forest, with the rest of the pack following behind.

Ruby stood back up, and Regina walked over to her.

"Are you all right?" Regina asked.

"Hey!" Ruby couldn't help but smile, as a kind of giddiness was washing over her, after the fight. "Yeah, I'm okay. Are you?"

Regina nodded, and Ruby felt a sudden need to touch her. She reached out to cup Regina's cheek in her hand and then pulled Regina into a hug.

"Thank you for saving me," she whispered into Regina's ear. She angled her head down to nuzzle against the side of Regina's face.

Regina simply held on to her, tight.

There was the sound of a car screeching to a stop behind them, then, and both Ruby and Regina looked up to see Emma step out from the car.

She looked around incredulously and demanded, "What the hell happened here?"

Ruby just smiled, and pulled Regina back in tighter.

"Are you sure you can do this?" Regina demanded. "You're not going to screw her up even more, are you?"

"Hey!" Ruby protested. "I'm not screwed up."

Regina gave her a fond look and ran her hand over Ruby's back. "That's not what I meant, dear."

When she looked back to Kaa, though, her expression had hardened once again. "I mean it, snake, you better know what you're doing!"

Kaa sighed, petulantly. He looked over to Bagheera. "Why am I helping them, again?" he asked her.

She smiled. "Because it's the right thing to do," she told him.

Kaa sighed again. "That sounds like a boring reason."

With a smirk, Bagheera added, "Then how about because, if you don't, then Regina might force you to change into your serpent form, just so she can kill you and turn you into a pair of nice shoes."

Regina folded her arms in front of her chest and raised a challenging eyebrow in Kaa's direction.

Kaa laughed, then. "You would, wouldn't you?" he asked rhetorically. "All right, then. What kind of mercenary would I be, if I weren't motivated by the thought of saving my own skin?"

Kaa had been a difficult one to figure out. He'd been mostly loyal to Mowgli, but had long known that Bagheera felt very differently than Mowgli had thought she did, and he'd never betrayed her. He'd even listened to her when it served his shifting purposes.

And the first time he used his powers of hypnosis to take away Ruby's memories, he purposefully left her with just a little room for some vague memories to keep floating around, deep in her unconscious. Just in case it proved helpful, at some point.

It was because of Kaa that Ruby's memories were gone; and it was because of Kaa that she'd known just enough for that dream to work its way up to a conscious level, and for her wolf to remember how much she disliked Shere Khan's scent.

And now, it was Kaa whom they were trusting to give her her memories back.

"You ready?" he asked, addressing Ruby, who was sitting down in a chair in Regina's dining room.

Ruby took a deep breath and then held her hand out to her side. Without being asked, Regina reached out and grabbed hold of it. Her other hand, she placed comfortingly on Ruby's shoulder.

"Ready," Ruby said.

Kaa didn't say anything, this time; didn't prompt her to look deeply into his eyes, or anything like that.

He simply looked deeply into hers, and then Ruby felt her own eyes roll back up into her head, as a tidal wave of memories crashed over her.

She had no sense at all of how long it took, before Kaa pulled back and released her from his mental hold. It could have been a few seconds, or a few hours, she had no idea.

"Ruby?" came Regina's tentative voice.

Ruby turned to stare up at Regina. She was still holding her hand.

Ruby's mind felt like mud, slow to rearrange itself.

But then she smiled, bright and happy, as things fell into place. "Hi," she said to Regina.

Regina was staring at her anxiously. "Are you okay?" she asked. "Do you…?"

"It worked," Ruby told her. "I remember everything."

"I told you I knew what I was doing," Kaa grumbled.

Bagheera laughed. "Come on, Kaa. You've done your one good deed for the day, so let's get out of here. I'll see you around, ladies," she said with a nod to both of them, before pulling Kaa to his feet and practically dragging him out of the house.

The two of them had decided to stay in Storybrooke, at least for a little while. Regina and Mr. Gold had found a way to open a portal back to the jungle, so all of Mowgli's "army" had been given a choice. Stay in Storybrooke and maintain the peace, or leave this realm and return home.

Once they were alone, Ruby turned back to Regina. She seemed distant, somehow. Like in between Ruby not having her memories and getting them back, walls had spring up between them.

"Are you okay?" Ruby asked.

"Yes of course," Regina replied immediately. She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes.

Ruby was still sitting, with Regina standing beside her. She felt lightheaded enough that she didn't think that standing would be a good idea, so she tugged Regina down into the chair that Kaa had been sitting in.

"Regina, talk to me," Ruby entreated. "Tell me what's wrong?"

Regina wouldn't meet Ruby's eyes, but Ruby leaned forward in her chair, resting her elbows on her knees. She reached out for one of Regina's hands, clasping it in both of her own.

She didn't say anything else, just waited Regina out.

Regina was staring at their entwined hands. Finally, she said, "Now that you remember everything, I would understand completely if… If you no longer feel the way you did before."

Ruby's brow furrowed. What was Regina…?

Oh. She understood, then.

Instead of responding verbally, she pulled her chair closer to Regina's, as close as she could get. She kept hold of Regina's hand in her own left hand, but with her right, she reached out to touch the bottom of Regina's chin and urge her gaze upwards.

Their gazes caught, and Ruby did nothing but stare into Regina's eyes, trying to look as open and sincere as she could. Then the hand at Regina's chin reached around to the back of her neck.

Ruby leaned forward, pulling Regina to her just slightly, and brought their lips together.

Regina was the one to deepen the kiss, and Ruby followed right along with her, trying to show Regina everything she felt. They had to pull apart to catch their breath, and leaned their foreheads together.

"Hey, Regina?" Ruby asked.


"Does that answer your question?"

Regina huffed out a short laugh. "Yes, I suppose it does."

Ruby kissed Regina again, then, just because she could.

This time, when they pulled apart, Ruby again asked, "Hey, Regina?"

Regina's laugh was stronger, this time. "Yes, Ruby?"

"Will you go on a date with me?"

Regina pulled back far enough to look Ruby in the eyes. After a moment, she gave that smile, again. That smile that could chase away any shadows.

"Yes, Ruby," she said. "I'd like that."

The End

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