Regina stepped forward, “Ruby!”
The wolf rushed forward a few more steps before stopping, growling and snapping at the four humans cowering against the ice wall. Closer up Regina could see that the wolf looked thin and malnourished, its fur course and wirey, and very badly in need of a brushing. The beast looked as if it had been caged for months. And if what Ruby had said was true, that her tight control on her emotions had kept her from turning, then maybe it had been. A werewolf caged for too long could be incredibly dangerous.
Regina took a small step forward and felt ice under her boot. She looked down at the growing trail of ice. “Elsa!” she hissed. “Control yourself.”
“She’s thinking about eating us. I could freeze her and–“
“You will not.” Regina took another tentative step forward, “No one does anything to harm Ruby, understood?” She was met with silence, “Am I understood?”
The trio muttered their assent, not wanting an angry Regina after them as well as a thoroughly pissed off werewolf.
“What’s happened to her? She looks,” Elsa paused, “ill.”
“This is what neglect does.” Regina spat. She could feel her anger boiling up inside her. Not only had the idiots around her broken the girl they had almost destroyed the magnificent beast inside her. She could only imagine what Ruby was like when she was taken care of, when all of her was taken care of. Regina had never seen the werewolf up close, not even before in the other realm, though it had killed enough of her men. No wonder Snow White had won. With a creature like this by your side, anything was possible.
“Neglect?” questioned David.
“Yes.” Regina didn’t elaborate.
“Is that why–“ Emma started.
“Yes,” Regina cut her off not wanting to bring up the fact that Ruby had been sleeping at hers. It was too complicated to try to explain, when Ruby was losing control of the wolf and the wolf thought they looked like an excellent first meal after months of imprisonment, “None of you noticed. You were her friends. Her family. None of us looked her way until it was too late.”
She wanted nothing more than to be able to take Ruby in her arms. Her heart broke at the sight. She knew the girl had been hurt, but sometimes emotional pain was so easy to downplay and ignore. You didn’t always see the physical effects. Regina had seen her hollow and broken, but the next morning she would smile and for a moment Regina would believe Ruby was okay.
Ruby wasn’t just a girl, she was a creature of magic, a fearsome werewolf of untold strength. A creature that couldn’t be bested by the most cunning of the Queen’s guard. People forgot that, and then they forgot the girl, and the wolf had suffered in a human shaped cage. Trapped in by darkness, given only scraps to survive on. Never seeing the light of day, never getting to run free underneath the moon. Forced to live in circumstances unfit for survival. The only option was to survive in a world where it couldn’t truly live. The girl might have managed, but the wolf, her spirit, was weak and beaten down.
The werewolf growled again, but didn’t advance. Barred its teeth but didn’t bite. Regina took another step forward, looking into the yellow eyes, looking for a hint that Ruby was conscious. “Ruby?” she asked, keeping her voice low. The werewolf shook its head, sending the clear goo from the shift flying. It snapped its teeth then pulled its muzzle down. Regina’s heart pounded in her chest and she was certain the werewolf could smell her fear, but if it could smell the fear maybe Ruby would realize the trust she had in her to fight for control, to fight for her life.
“I know it hurts.” The wolf put its head down, body still tensed. “Let me take you home,” she took another step forward close enough to reach out and touch her. “Ruby, let me take care of you,” Regina whispered. For a moment she thought the werewolf was going to lay down at her feet, and she lay a gentle hand between its ears. With a snarl the wolf bounded away into the forest.
“Ruby!” Regina yelled after her, taking a few running steps before stopping. Tears burned her eyes, threatening to fall.
Ruby collapsed on the edge of the forest, her arms and legs shaking. The sun was just peaking over the horizon. She had managed to keep in the forest and avoid the town for most of the night, only terrorizing the local wildlife. Turning had never felt like that before. Pained, uncertain, scared, the wolf wasn’t altogether there. She rolled over on her side, curling up and sobbing. Her wolf had been neglected, shoved in a tiny cage for too long. She had denied a part of herself and it was slowly dying.
Her stomach rolled with the thought of it. Knowing what the wolf had felt like, what she had done to herself. All the pain she had blocked out, the parts of herself she had denied just to keep moving forward. In the back of her mind she wondered at what cost had she persisted. The wolf was in agony, having been neglected for months. Every emotion she hadn’t felt crashed over her. Her breath came raggedly, an invisible hand holding her down, unable to draw a full breath. Black spots floated in her vision and her stomach churned.
Shakily she pushed onto all fours and vomited up bile. When she ran out she dry heaved until she collapsed and rolled off onto her side. She was crying again trying to push the feelings back, trying to stop them from overwhelming her, but it was no use. The floodgates had opened and there was no turning back. It had taken months of careful work to build those walls and now it was all coming at her too fast; to think that one moment of kindness could break through her resolve. She could sink or she could swim.
In the back of her mind she played with the idea of letting go. Letting the feelings overwhelm her and carry her away. She could shift back into the wolf and losing herself. At least as the wolf her needs were simpler. She could let go of her human emotions and all this pain that weighed her down, the guilt, and the loss. If she wanted she wouldn’t have to let it haunt her ever again. It would be too easy. There would be too few people that would miss her. So what would it matter.
The name hung in her mind like a beacon. Simultaneously pulling her away from the darkest thoughts and making her wonder if there would be anything to go back to after yesterday. She could feel Regina’s lips on hers as they kissed for the briefest of moments. And then Henry had shown up and she had shut down. Ruby had run before anything had been said, the terror on Regina’s face had stung. They hadn’t had time to talk. There was a moment where she wondered if Regina would let her back in but there had been before the moon overtook her. That was gone now though. She had barely kept the wolf from eating Regina, Emma, David, and Elsa.
The memory brought on a fresh wave of tears and guilt. She crawled to the base of a tree and curled up in the soft springy ground beneath it. Covering her face with her hands she let sleep pull her back under, ignoring the hunger pangs in her stomach and the impending storm she could smell approaching.
Ruby woke later cold and soaked through. Every muscle was sore and stiff. The storm was still raging. Rain pelted down, though it did little to change how wet Ruby was. The cold kept the emotional pain at bay, it was just out of reach behind the wall of physical need. Judging by the color the sky it had been almost two days since she had eaten and even her naturally overheated core couldn’t keep her warm in this weather. She couldn’t tell if she was still crying or if it was just the rain running down her face.
Weakly she pushed her way to standing, leaning against the tree to get used to the feeling of being upright on two legs again. She knew she needed to make it somewhere to change and eat but she could neither imagine going to Regina’s or back to Granny’s in her current state, not that any of her things were in her own room. For a moment she almost slid down the tree, just letting unconsciousness over take her until night came and the wolf would take her. From somewhere she pulled the resolve to stand up straight and try to find her way back to town.
Her steps were uneven and lurching as if she were drunk. If only that were it she could sleep it off. There was no sleeping away this hunger, or the delirium that came with it. She knew she couldn’t see Regina right now, not like this. She would do something they both regretted, that much she knew. Whether it would be pushing for another kiss just to feel something alive or pushing her away she didn’t know. Through back alleys she made her way to her apartment in the inn that Granny ran. Hoping that if anything the roads would be empty and no one would see her.
For once she didn’t want anyone to notice. She couldn’t let anyone see her like this. The dysphoria had been bad enough. Looking into that mirror and not being able to recognize herself, knowing that she just wanted all the pain, the emptiness, the feeling inside out and backwards to end, but somehow still fighting to see another day. She had wanted it all to be over. Ruby’s emotions had always run hot and cold, all or nothing. For too long now they had been nothing. She had forgotten how intense feeling was. She was drowning in it. The hope that Regina had awoken in her had been soft compared to this. That emotion was a good one. What the wolf felt, the reality of it all, might kill her.
Ruby stumbled into her room, looking around at the once familiar space. It was almost exactly how she had left it. Regina’s perfume still hung in the air. She must have been the last person in here. The thought brought tears back to Ruby’s eyes. That day had been infinitely easier than this.
Falling to her knees she lay on her side. At least she had made it this far, she had tried. In another few hours she could try again. Hope clung to her like Regina Mills’ perfume had clung to the corners of her room. Her door opened and despite protesting muscle she stumbled to her feet ready to fight. It was Granny. Ruby relaxed a little but not completely.
“What are you doing here?” She was wary, last time she and Granny had spoken the conversation had been ugly. Ruby didn’t want a repeat.
“I could almost ask you the same thing. I thought you had moved out.” Granny put her hands on her hips.
“I didn’t move out. I just needed to be in a different space for a while. Sort things out.” Ruby started pacing, not wanting to have this conversation right now. Her arms move restlessly from around her waste to down at her sides.
“And did you?”
“No,” she spat. “Well, almost,” she whispered.
“I told you nothing good came of being with that woman.”
“We are not– Regina and I are not together.”
“Is that the problem?”
“No! How can you go from being angry at me because you think I’m sleeping with her, to worried because I’m not?” Ruby just wanted this conversation to be over.
“You haven’t been yourself since you left. I’m just trying to understand. I want you to come home.” Granny took a step towards Ruby, but she took a step back not wanting to be close to anyone.
“I haven’t been myself for a very long time, Granny. Just no one bothered to notice.” She was screaming the last words, on edge and knowing that she was possibly acting irrationally. A corner of her mind tried to calm her down, but her nerves were still frazzled from shifting last night and she was still soaked from sleeping outside. An invisible hand gripped at her heart and another clamped over her mouth. She needed out of this room or she was going to suffocate. Sidling around Granny she slipped out the open door and into the last rays of sun.
Ruby realized she would never make it to the forest before the sun set. She broken into a run anyway her muscles protesting. Rest could come later after she saved the town from the monster she would become.
Regina had used magic to get to the diner as soon as Emma had called. The blonde had nearly run into Ruby as she ran out of the inn and trying to make her way out of town. The werewolf had looked wild, soaking wet and pained. When Granny had come out after her she realized just how bad things still were and made the call.
“What did you do to my granddaughter?” Granny snarled at Regina.
“I didn’t do this.”
“It wasn’t Regina’s fault, she’s been helping Ruby,” Emma was trying to keep the peace between the two strong willed women.
“Is that why Ruby was half-naked in your–“ Emma clamped a hand over Henry’s mouth pulling him in to a one armed hug meant to stop the question.
“Helping my ass. If Ruby were at home she wouldn’t be out of control on the full moon. She’d have her cloak.”
Regina paled a little, there was nothing simple about explaining to her thirteen year old son what she and Ruby had been doing. Maybe because they had never sorted it out themselves except for to realize that it was the only thing that felt right. The only calm in the storm that was life in Storybrooke.
“Let’s not talk about that right now, kid. There’s a justifiably upset werewolf on the loose.” Emma shot a look at Granny who was carrying her crossbow. “Normally I’d send you off with Ruby to make sure you’re okay, but that isn’t really an option, so you’re staying with your mom and me.” Emma looked over to Regina. “We’re in this together. We took down that ice monster, we can help Ruby.”
Regina nodded silently and put an arm around Henry. “Just stay back, in case something goes wrong.”
The four of them looked for a direction to head in when they heard a scream just a block over. They broke into a run, knowing that at least for tonight the most likely cause of that scream was the half starved werewolf terrorizing a resident of Storybrooke.
The eight foot werewolf looked as bad off as it had the night before. Regina’s breath caught in her throat at the sight, her first thought to take care of the poor girl who was worse off than she had imagined. The amount of strength she must have had to keep this much pain hidden away was staggering. At the sound of their approaching footfalls the wolf spun around, scenting to see if they were prey or predators. A low growl escaped its throat and it slowly stalked forward, ignoring its original target. The woman ran.
“Ruby?” Regina asked. Last night she had been able to reach through and pull the girl far out enough for her to take control of the wolf, maybe she could do the same tonight. She felt Emma step up behind her.
“Let me know what to do,” she whispered.
“Don’t let her run, hold her still if she tries to bolt.”
The wolf growled again, not slowing its advancement. Its fur was matted still, sickly looking.
“Ruby, I know you can here me. I know you’re hurt. But, Ruby, we need you to wake up. You need to fight.” Regina pleaded with the creature hoping Ruby was still there, still conscious.
The wolf paused, its hackles raised.
“Why don’t we just hold her with our magic now?” Emma asked.
“Because I don’t want to scare her, or hurt her.” Regina rubbed her hand across her face wearily. When Ruby hadn’t come home last night or even this morning she had been worried. Ruby hadn’t stayed a single night away from her house since that first night. Truth was, Regina hadn’t slept at all last night. In the morning she had checked every place Ruby usually visited and found them all lacking for signs of the girl. From Granny and Emma’s descriptions it was likely she had spent the night and most of the day outside. The thought pained her. She knew it was likely her fault that Ruby hadn’t felt she could come home.
Regina continued to talk to the werewolf trying to find the words to get through to Ruby, or maybe it was just the sound of her voice. She heard a crossbow being notched behind her and cursed inwardly at Granny. She would do anything to keep the werewolf from killing innocents, even if that meant harming her own granddaughter. They shouldn’t have brought Henry. She and Emma should have made Granny watch him. She felt Emma move to Granny to tell her to not aim until absolutely necessary. Last night the blonde had learned the hard way Regina wasn’t fond of people threatening Ruby, even when she was lost inside The Big Bad Wolf.
The wolf was still growling but it hadn’t advanced any further. “Ruby, please come back to me.” Regina was worried last night had been more Ruby’s control than anything she might have done but she stepped forward anyway, one hand extended. The wolf lowered its head and let out a keening whine. Regina’s eyes snapped up to meet the golden ones in front of her, “Ruby?”
The wolf knelt down and the girl collapsed at Regina’s feet, heaving sobs shaking her frame. Regina was at her side in an instant, hands hovering, uncertain if Ruby wanted her there or not but unable to keep away.
“I’m sorry. In my head I can’t stop it. I can’t stop the screaming. It’s wrong, it’s all wrong. I know it isn’t fair, but I can’t do this to you. I can’t ask you to deal with this, with me. Nothing is okay, the wolf is wild again. She’s hungry. I almost couldn’t keep her away from town. Oh, god, I thought I was going to attack you.” Ruby flinched away from Regina’s touch pulling herself as small as she could. Her hands curled in front of her face as she tried to block out the rest of the world.
“I didn’t know that could happen. She’s starving, half dead. Oh god. It hurt so bad. I didn’t know it was that bad. I didn’t know. I didn’t.” Ruby’s voice trailed off, incoherent with grief and pain. Her breath caught in her throat as she started hyperventilating. She was shaking and rocking back and forth. When she had breath a high pitched keening noise escaped her throat. Regina reached for her again hands gentle against the side of her face and her arm as she leaned over her.
“Sleep,” she whispered. A light glowed underneath her palms and Ruby fell silent, her breath coming evenly again. It was all Regina could think to do. Let her rest, give her time.
“What did you do?” Granny knelt down next to Ruby and started to push Regina away.
“She asleep, but not deeply, so keep your voice down.” Regina replied as she slipped her arms underneath the slumbering werewolf, and slowly stood cradling Ruby against her. The girl’s clothes were still soaked.
“Alright then, we’ll get her home.” Granny turned and started to walk back to the inn.
Regina looked up from where her face was buried against Ruby’s hair, locking her gaze on Emma and slowly shaking her head. Emma nodded and walked over to Regina placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll drive you back to yours,” she whispered. “Henry, go help your mom get Ruby settled in the car.” She handed him her keys. “I’ll go talk to Granny.” Emma ducked her head as she set off after the old woman, Regina didn’t envy her. Ruby’s grandmother had a sharp edge to her tongue.
The car wasn’t so far away that they couldn’t hear the conversation, Regina tried not to listen, but she knew things had been rough between Ruby and her grandmother and she wanted to know what the woman would say.
“Ruby will be safe at Regina’s.”
“How can you believe that?”
“Because I haven’t seen Ruby be herself in months and suddenly she seems to be alive again. And because the only other person I have ever seen Regina protect that fiercely is Henry.”
There was a pause and Regina thought the conversation had ended, but in a softer voice the older woman continued, “Ask Regina to give me a call when she wakes up, let me know Ruby’s okay.”