Her knuckles were white from gripping the edge of the bathroom sink as she leaned over the counter. She stared into the reflection, intent on it, not recognizing the woman staring back at her. The reflection did everything she did, biting her lip, pursing her mouth, tilting her head, but in all its familiarity it didn’t seem right. It looked like her but something was amiss. She stared into eyes that looked like her but felt utterly unfamiliar.
Today had been exhausting, a mentally draining exercise in pushing herself to smile and engage when she wanted little more than to curl up and lose herself in a book. For a time it had been okay, she had felt like she could just make it through as the day drug on, but as each hour felt longer than the last, she felt her resolve slip. Nothing had been wrong, it was too much to just be normal for once. Though like the rest of it she knew this feeling too would pass. Everything was transient. A blessing and curse.
She quirked her head to the side, running her fingertips along her cheekbones, across her brow, down her jaw. Her brown hair was slicked back from her face, damp with water from the shower. None of it felt right, it didn’t feel like her. She had looked up as she finished dressing for bed and not quite recognized the face looking back at her. Tonight wasn’t the first time it had happened but every time it came as a shock.
Grabbing a towel she started to dry her hair. She closed her eyes she hoping that the face she saw would be hers when she opened them again. Inside her felt empty. As if all her emotions had been swallowed up by a blackness. There was no further down she could go. Tears rolled down her face. Her chest constricted. Something had snapped in the back of her mind.
She pitched forward feeling light headed and let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. Her fingers threatened to break the stone of the counter top.
“Are you okay?” Regina took a hesitant step into the master bathroom.
“Everyone keeps asking me that,” Ruby almost laughed and opened her eyes, at least the face in the mirror was hers once more. She turned to Regina, placing a smile on her face that never reached her eyes. “No, but you know that.” Ruby felt so far from even okay these days. She knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know how to fix it. Everything was so mixed up in her mind sometimes. “I just don’t feel like me. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I don’t see myself.” She glanced again at the mirror, bracing herself for what she might see.
“Come here.” Regina took Ruby by the hand and led her into the bedroom. She led her to the bed and Ruby let the other woman sit her down. It was easier to just go with it, that way she didn’t have to think. Thinking was where all her problems started. Regina took the towel from her and gently dried her hair. If she just stayed put, just let herself feel Regina’s hands working on her, for a moment she could feel normal. Not okay, not fine, but a little like herself. There was a moment where she felt that maybe being okay was a possibility. She had felt that recently, but maybe those feelings had been a false hope or she had only imagined them. This would all pass though, one day it would be over. But no, she felt empty.
If she could forget all the pain in her past. She had forgotten once, not so much forgotten, the memories had been replaced. The woman behind her had given her a life, a second chance. But this was the end result of that second chance. She had let it all slip away, ruined it, spent too much time in her head going over it all. How Snow, despite being her best friend, had been instrumental in the death of Peter and of her mother. How Belle had all but forgotten about the one person who had reached out to her when she first came out in Storybrooke now that she had Rumpelstiltskin. How David was so wrapped up in his family that he couldn’t see what was happening beyond them. And how Ruby wasn’t their family anymore. Her past had been dark with brief shining moments where life threatened to be good, but her future seemed bleak.
The wolf would come again and she would have to run. Before she could control it, she could control anything. The pain, the depression, was nothing, it would eat an hour or two of her life and pad away to the back of her mind, a constant companion. She could see the things she needed to do and perform them with flawless accuracy, a deft dance with reality. Never quite there, but always ahead of the despair. It would catch her off guard sometimes, but could always be reined in, boxed up. Not so much since the flood gates broke. The senseless void had sucked her up and she couldn’t stop crying. She felt everything. And nothing. Nothing most of all. It was all too much beyond her. She wanted to let everything go, curl up and never move again. In that void was all that she had left. Nothing. A hole where her heart had been.
“Ruby?” Regina placed her hands on the shivering girl’s shoulders. “Come back to me.” She moved her hands up and down the werewolf’s arms, feebly trying to warm the normally hot blooded girl. Ruby turned slowly to look at the other woman, her eyes dark and hollow, tears streaming down her face. Regina moved in front of Ruby, slowly working to unclench the other woman’s hands. Small bruises blossomed across Ruby’s palms in half moons. Ruby watched, lost. Regina brushed tears from her face with the pad of her thumb.
“Where are you?” She tucked a strand of hair behind the other woman’s ear, following Ruby’s gaze trying to maintain eye contact. She had never seen Ruby shut down so completely and it worried her. Even that night out on the curb Ruby had felt more alive than this. She had pulled away into herself so much that Regina felt she was sitting next to a shell, instead of her friend. Worry pulled at her gut. It was in that moment she understood how much Ruby had started to mean to her. Ruby was her friend and that felt like a rare thing indeed.
Regina traced the edges of Ruby’s face with her finger tips, softly brushing across her cheekbones and jawline, taking care to smooth back stray strands of still damp hair. She hoped she could do something to chase away the hollowness in those brown eyes, wishing she could see the flash of yellow that meant the wolf was alive. That meant the woman before her was ready to face anything.
“The weight of it all is too much.” Ruby said, her voice taut. “It’s all jumbled up in my head. All the deaths I’ve caused, the losses I’ve endured, and then my memories of not knowing. I was at peace.” She lay down, curling up her long legs in front of her. “Even if I was unhappy for other reasons it wasn’t this. I wasn’t a pawn in someone’s game. I wasn’t someone who could be set aside. I had agency. I don’t know if that was me or not, but it was. Those memories are real. How do you look at all the things you’ve lost and not fall apart?”
“I look at all the things I’ve gained.” Regina lay down on the bed, mirroring Ruby. She reached out a hand and slowly entwined her fingers with the other woman’s. She placed a kiss on the back of her hand. “And I do fall apart. You’ve seen me fall apart. The worst of it. My years of downward spiral after my mother killed Daniel. That ended in the first curse. I was lost. I was vengeful. Then again the night you came home.
“I lost the man I loved, too. I think I’ve lost Robin as well. I’ve lost my only friends. My mother did more to decide my fate than I realized, until it was too late. I never thought I would find happiness again. And I know what you have been through is not the same, but I think we understand each other more than we could have imagined. Our lives have not been easy.”
Ruby nodded silently, curling up tighter. Her mind trying to work through what Regina was saying. She had a hard time fighting through the void in her head. “No. They haven’t. But you’re working to be good, I feel like I’m slipping away. If I just let go a little more I would be everything everyone always feared I was. It would be so easy to just let go. So what if this is it? What if I’ve lost my control? I can’t hold my emotions together anymore. I’m afraid I’ll never get better and something terrible will happen. Even more, I’m afraid I won’t care if it does.”
Regina took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “We all have darkness in us. Some more than others. But we choose how and when we tap into that. You are not this, Ruby. I won’t deny that you have darkness in you, but this is just a season, it will pass.” She said as she lay her hand against the other woman’s cheek. “Let’s go to bed, things will look different in the morning.” With a deliberate tenderness she coaxed Ruby under the covers and tucked her in. She turned off the lights and slipped into bed behind Ruby, curling up around her. She buried her face between the taller woman’s shoulder blades, placing a small kiss on the bare skin and wrapping her arm around the other woman’s waist. Ruby didn’t say a word, but Regina felt the tension fade from her as the troubled werewolf finally relaxed.
Granny cleared her throat and folded her arms across her chest as she stepped into Ruby’s path, blocking her from entering the kitchen. The diner was empty except for them and the morning had been painfully quiet. Ruby had woken up in a much better place than she had gone to bed in. What had started to break in the past few weeks had shattered. The walls in her mind that she had so carefully erected had toppled for no reason last night. Maybe she had built them too high. She felt vulnerable and exposed, but there was also an unexpected lightness. A glimmer of hope had seated itself in the back of her mind.
Granny tapped a wooden spoon against her arm impatiently. “It’s time you told me what’ you’ve been up to.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Ruby lied.
“It’s incredibly inappropriate to be absent from your own bed every night. Your things aren’t even in your room anymore.”
“Granny!” Ruby couldn’t believe she was having this conversation or not having this conversation if she could help it. “It isn’t like that. I’m not– I’m not sleeping with anyone if that’s what you’re so worried about.”
“So you’re not staying at Regina’s every night?”
“What? I am not sleeping with Regina.” Which may or may not have been a truthful declaration depending upon your meaning of sleeping.
“I hear about everything that happens in this town. About how you’re lounging around half-naked on the Evil Queen’s couch.”
“I’m staying at Regina’s, okay?” Ruby sighed. Between Emma and Mary Margaret it had only been a matter of time. “Can I finish getting ready to open now?” Ruby stepped to move past Granny and into the kitchen, but the her grandmother wouldn’t budge.
“What would possess you to do such a thing? You do remember who she is?”
“It isn’t up for discussion.”
Granny pushed past Ruby and into the front of the restaurant. “You’ll be moving back home tonight,” her tone left no room for argument.
“You heard me. I can’t protect you from whatever attacks this town next, if you’ve gone willingly into the arms of the Evil Queen. We had a snow monster running down main street the other day!”
“She is not evil! And I’m not in her arms!”
Granny opened her mouth to respond, but Ruby cut her off, “No. This is not up for discussion. I am an adult. I am capable of making my own decisions. In case anyone has forgotten who I am, I am The Big Bad Wolf. I can take care of myself.” Ruby pushed past her grandmother and into the kitchen, her words had been more sure than she was. That was not how she intended this conversation to go. Her tiny bubble of stability faltered. She had kept her grandmother at arms length for months now, trying to hide how she was slowly falling apart. She had done so all too well and felt it would be nearly impossible to explain now.
The clatter of metal on metal echoed from the kitchen.
“Are you okay, Ruby?”
“What do you mean?”
“I dunno, you just seem sad, that’s all.” Henry looked down into his hot chocolate, not wanting to upset Ruby anymore than she already was. As much as he was angry that his mom had told him to stay away from his own house when she had been welcome, he still considered Ruby a friend. They had spent a lot of time hanging out with her over the past few years. Well, he had spent a lot of time being watched by Ruby and she played a wicked game of Mario Kart, so it was kind of like hanging out.
Lately he’d been spending time at the diner again, anything to avoid learning more about babies. He liked watching the people of Storybrooke, and sitting in the diner he could keep up on everything that was going on in the town. Ruby was, what his English teacher would call, melancholic. It wasn’t all the time. She had seen happy at dinner the other night. This afternoon was different.
She would move from table to table, smiling and making small talk, but never talking for too long. Not like she used to. The smile that would light up her face was gone, the one she wore barely reached her eyes. He didn’t like seeing her like this. Ruby was The Big Bad Wolf she shouldn’t seem so deflated.
Henry heard the bell on the door ring as someone came in, but he didn’t look up. He was busy paying attention to Ruby and trying to figure out what was wrong. Ruby looked up from her table to see who had entered, a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. She stood a little straighter and he heard her laugh. As she turned to walk back to the counter he swore he saw her skip.
“Henry,” his mom slid in next to him at the counter.
“Hey, Regina,” Ruby leaned on the counter opposite him and Regina. “The usual?”
Regina nodded in reply and the waitress set to work making the coffee and trying not to smile. Henry had been right, she had been in a mood since this morning after she an Granny had fought. It was like she had so little control over what she felt and it was all too close to the surface. She could put on a mask and get through the day, but too much bled through. Seeing Regina had reminded her how light she felt and the glimmer of hope buried deep down that was starting to shine.
With a smile that spread wide across her face she brought Regina her coffee and went back to work, leaving the former mayor to pour over comic books with her son.
“What are you so happy about?” Granny asked through the kitchen window.
“Huh?” Ruby wasn’t about to mention Regina, or how she felt, or the million other things running through her mind. At any moment this fleeting feeling of calm could be gone and she could find herself overwhelmed again. It would take time to learn again how to accept emotions instead of letting them rule her. She just hoped she hadn’t lost all her control. The full moon was coming soon.
Granny stuck her head through the window to see who was sitting at the counter. She frowned, “No one smiles like that at someone they aren’t sleeping with.”
Ruby risked a glance back at Regina, hoping that no one had overheard. Her face flushed red. “I am not sleeping with her.” Though deep down, a part of her wished they were, she tried to push that thought away. It would do no good to try and it would only ruin what they had.
That night Ruby had been reading on the couch when Regina came in. She had stepped out of her heels and shed her vest, leaving a trail of clothes in her wake on her way to the living room. Her eyes were red. Silently she had lifted up the blanket and crawled underneath, resting her head on Ruby’s shoulder. The taller woman shifted slightly, wrapping her arm around Regina’s midsection and pulling her close. She set down her book and relaxed back into the couch, her head resting on the top of Regina’s.
They remained there for a time letting the silence envelope them. Ruby ran her thumb along Regina’s arm. For a moment she thought they might fall asleep there like that, but the other woman still hadn’t relaxed. She could feel the energy tightening muscles trying to hold together. Small pained sounds would escape her throat as if she were trying not to cry. Ruby wished she could fix whatever had happened and take away the hurt. Regina had been so happy sitting at the diner reading comics with Henry until Robin had shown up. So much could happen in only a few hours.
All too often it had been Regina holding Ruby together. She tried to remember what the other woman had done, anything that might give her a bit of comfort. She swept her hair back, slowly running fingers through it, her fingertips massaging Regina’s scalp. Placing a light kiss on the top of her head she let her forehead rest against the back of the other woman’s head. It would be so much easier if she knew what the former mayor was thinking. If she could even begin to guess at what had happened. But this was Storybrooke, and she wasn’t exactly in the inner loop anymore. It could have been anything, but if she had to guess she would say something happened with Marian and Robin.
“So, my gran thinks we’re sleeping together.”
Regina pulled away to turn and look up at Ruby, “You set her straight of course.”
“I tried,” Ruby shrugged and tried not to smile. “You know how she gets when she believes something.”
“She is impassioned.”
“I just wanted to let you know, in case rumors get out. I didn’t want to make things any more complicated.”
The dark haired woman leaned back, “You won’t be the one to make things complicated. You are possibly the least complicated part of my life right now.” Regina intertwined her fingers with Ruby’s.
Ruby breathed in Regina’s scent. She smelled like lavender and heartbreak. The werewolf nosed the back of the other woman’s neck, hiding her face. “What happened today?”
“Someone put a freezing curse on Marian.”
“Elsa?” Ruby asked, worried that she had read the girl wrong.
“No. It seems we have another ice witch in town.”
“Fuck. Will she be okay?”
“For now. The ice kept Robin from waking her so I took her heart. Until we can find a way to break the curse she will remain frozen,” she paused. “I have to find a way to wake her up, I can’t let Roland lose his mother twice.”
Regina continued on, explaining Robin’s confession over Marian’s cold body. He had confessed, in an indirect way, his love for her. The trust he had in her to bring Marian back, even though in the end it would do her no good. Regina pressed her face against Ruby’s arm. “I don’t know what he expects of me. He’s made his choice, why tell me he thinks True Love’s Kiss failed when he won’t leave her?” It was kind and cruel. It was the truth but at what expense?
“I don’t know anymore. The fairy dust said he was supposed to be my soul mate.”
“Magic isn’t infallible. There always seems to be a loop hole.” Ruby ran her fingers through Regina’s hair, holding her tight.
“Villains don’t get happy endings. Don’t you know that.”
“You aren’t a villain, Regina. Not anymore.”
Regina turned to look Ruby in the eye, needing to see the expression that came with those words. It was times like this when she believed just for a moment that maybe she was doing enough to prove to everyone that she wanted to not be evil. That maybe people saw her and not just The Evil Queen that they feared for so many years. Mostly, the people who believed her were people who loved her, Henry, Robin… Ruby. Their faces were inches apart and Regina watched the other woman hold her breath.
She had never expected Ruby. That night Emma brought Marian back she had expected to go home, cry, drink. She had expected to be alone. But Ruby had been sitting there, falling apart. The waitress who had always been kind, had always helped with Henry, had never feared her the way the others did. She had never had the same hatred in her eyes that the other townsfolk did. There was something familiar in her pain and so she had stopped. Regina had sat down and done the only thing she could. Let the girl know she wasn’t alone.
She had never expected Ruby to stay. She had never expected to want her to. She had tried not to think about their situation too much. If she did she would have to label it. Most friends don’t sleep half naked in each other’s bed. There was no doubt that Ruby was her friend now. The earnest kindness on her face as she watched Regina watch her was honest. Ruby’s lips parted and her tongue darted out to wet them, her teeth caught on her bottom lip. There was more between them than friendship.
If she could only stay still things could remain the same. She would have her friend, she could rebuild her heart. She could work with Henry to find the author of The Book and ask him to write her a happy ending even if that happiness didn’t involve Robin. Let him be faithful. Let him have his family. There was a woman in her arms that had never asked anything of her. And for now, maybe that was enough.
Tears rolled down her cheeks and Ruby wiped them away with the pads of her thumbs, holding Regina’s face lightly in her hands. Ruby leaned forward, pressing her lips against Regina’s forehead before pulling her close. She moved so she was seated in Ruby’s lap, her head on the other woman’s chest. Their legs and arms entwined, holding each other together. And maybe it would be enough.