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Instinct

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One moment she was Ruby and the next she was two people, maybe three if you included the wolf. She was Ruby and Red and the Big Bad Wolf. She was the Big Bad Wolf. She had killed people. Some of them people that she loved. Eaten them, leaving nothing but smears of blood and bone. A killer. Ruthless. Not nearly as good as she had thought. More than the promiscuous young thing stuck in a small town.

There was a moment though, between hugging Granny and Snow and Charming, clinging to them, where everything was right again. They were together again, the curse hadn’t killed them, hadn’t destroyed them. She could feel it bubbling inside her, threatening to spill out: happiness. With every old friend found again, every reunion she felt her smile widen until her face ached with it. Tears threatened the corners of her eyes. Her memories coming back in waves.

She was a werewolf, a beast. Powerful but cursed. The duality of her nature was overwhelming. Parts of herself, of Ruby, suddenly made sense, cravings and desires brought on by the wolf locked away by the curse The Evil Queen had cast. Both her lives fought for a place in her mind, which was real, which was fabricated. She had lived so much of both neither would be denied. At least as Ruby she had never known the pain that Red had known. She couldn’t swallow, her heart breaking again for the love she had lost. Her ghosts squeezed her heart threatening to stop it. Despite remembering her real life she was still Ruby in her mind. Neither life was less real than the other. She would never be just Red again. Ruby was her second chance. She didn’t have to be the monster. The Evil Queen, Regina, of all people had given that chance to her.

Shouts echoed from the next street over, angry cries calling for blood. A mob flooded the street in front of them. Individuals lost in the battle cry, the call for revenge. Hate radiated from the throbbing mass like heat. Breaking free from the group Archie Hopper ran toward the ragtag reunion.

Gasping for breath he started speaking before he had even stopped running, “There you are, come with me. I need your help. Doctor Whale’s worked everyone into a frenzy. They’re going to Regina’s house. They’re going to kill her.”

“Great let’s watch,” Leroy, Grumpy, intoned from the middle of the pack.

“No. No, we cannot sink to her level. No matter who she is or what she’s done, killing her is wrong.”

“Archie’s right. Please. She’s still my mom.” Henry begged. Ruby felt a pang in her heart. She had a soft spot for Henry, having spent who knows how many hours at the diner chatting with him, watching him grow. He was a good kid. It wasn’t his fault his mom turned out to be The Evil Queen.

“We have to stop them,” Emma reasoned.

Ruby started to back out of the crowd, a sense of urgency coming over her. This was horrible. The mob couldn’t take Regina down, not like this. She had seen mobs like this before, sensible people whipped into a frenzy, losing their sense of individuality and simply following whosever’s voice was loudest. Mobs like this had come after her.

In a moment Ruby was running, cutting through an ally way. She jumped over a fence easily, outpacing the rest of the towns folk. She felt the need to warn Regina. The feeling tore at her gut. This wasn’t right. It wasn’t right to hunt down another person, corner them, surround them, overpower them with numbers just because of a wrong they had committed. Her legs moved quicker than they had in twenty eight years, feet pounding into the pavement. She ran.

“Regina!” Ruby pounded on the door. Gasping for breath she continued to call the mayor’s name. She could hear the mob approaching, their numbers making them move slowly. They were still several minutes off, from what she could hear. Her senses heightened by the wolf. It was strange to be have the wolf’s senses back again. She wasn’t quite sure why she was standing here, but the moment Dr. Hopper had ran at them saying a mob was after Regina her feet had moved on instinct, the wolf allowing her to run faster than any of the townsfolk. Her hand hovered over the door, poised to knock again. What was she doing.

“What do you want?” Regina spat, opening the door. Her makeup, usually perfect was smudged as if she had been crying. She stared down the taller woman, wondering what could possibly have brought Snow White’s pet wolf to her front door.

Ruby opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t find the words. Face to face with the mayor, The Evil Queen, her throat went dry. She tried to swallow so she could speak, “They’re coming to kill you.” The words tumbled out.

“And why are you telling me this?” Regina folded her arms across her chest, glaring at the younger woman, not trusting her motives. 

“Because I thought you deserved to know before the mob showed up at your door.” Ruby glanced behind her. “And thank you,” she whispered, frowning, not meaning to have voiced it at all.

“Well, you’ve done so,” Regina waved her hand at Ruby, starting to shut the door. “You can go.”

“Wait!” The werewolf glanced behind her again, she raised her nose on the air. The mob was growing closer.

“What do you want, wolf.” The former evil queen sneered. She wanted nothing more than to be left alone. Henry was taken. The curse was broken. All of her plans lay shattered at her feet. Regina caught Ruby’s gaze, daring her to speak, anger burning her up.

“You are infuriating! I’m trying to thank you!”  

“What could you possibly have to thank me for?” Regina found herself taking a step back, genuine surprise running through her, but her words were sharp.

“I’m not even sure why I came over here anymore.” The werewolf shook her head, growling, still wondering what had possessed her to run to the mayor. A strange sense of kinship, a fear of the mob, and this growing sense of gratitude for being given a second chance. It had been stupid.

“Then why don’t you leave, go take yourself for a walk and cool off.”

“What?”

“You heard me, mutt,” Regina spat.

It happened quickly, Ruby acted on instinct, not really thinking or deciding, but she had pulled back and punched Regina square on the jaw. For a moment the two women stared at each other, shocked. Ruby shook her hand, cursing and trying to alleviate the pain that was shooting through it.

Regina reached up to rub her jaw. It was tender already, she could feel it would bruise before morning. Pulling from deep inside she moved to pick up Ruby with her magic, hold the girl still while she punished her for her indiscretion. Nothing. The well of power where her magic used to dwell was dry. Her heart sped up. This couldn’t be happening, magic had returned to Storybrooke and she was still powerless. Not completely powerless, if it was a fight the girl wanted, she would get a fight. 

She grabbed the collar of Ruby’s jacket and shoved her against the door. Her forearm pressed against the werewolf’s sternum. She leaned into the girl pressing the length and weight of her body against Ruby to hold her in place. They matched glares and growls. Ruby bared her teeth, snapping them, bringing their faces closer. Regina realized that with the curse broken Ruby could likely overpower her with ease. Even in human form a werewolf is a fierce fighter and stronger than most humans. But Ruby didn’t fight to escape.

“Let me go!” Regina could feel Ruby’s breath on her face.

“Give me one good reason.” Regina pushed into Ruby again, their faces inches apart. She refused to go without a fight.

“I came over here to thank you.” Ruby relaxed against the door, letting Regina hold her in place. Her eyes flicked to the mayor’s lips. Ruby, the waitress, had wondered from time to time what those lips would feel like pressed against hers, what she tasted like. She shook her head to clear it. Things were no longer that simple.

“You keep saying that, but you sure as hell have a funny way of showing it.” Regina wiped her bleeding lip with the back of her hand, smearing a line of blood and lipstick across her cheek. Ruby inhaled the metallic tang.

“Just let me go already. I’m on your side!” That had not been what she intended to say.

“Fine.” The mayor shoved against Ruby one more time before letting the werewolf go and taking a step back. For a moment they stood in the doorway, assessing each other, breathing heavily. Regina attempted to fix her smudged make up. Ruby kept checking over her shoulder, looking for the mob. Her fists clenched, she bounced on her heels. If Snow saw she was here with Regina, she was certain it would not end well. Regina placed her hands on her hips, fanning her suit jacket behind her. She waited, mouth drawn tight in anger.

“There’s a mob coming. Pitchforks and torches. The whole nine yards.”

“Why are you here, telling me this, why suddenly change sides just when you’ve won?”

“Because I know what it’s like to be hunted, and you gave us all a second chance here in Storybrooke. It’s only fair that you get one too.”

For a moment Regina saw beyond the fact that Red was Snow White’s pet wolf and Ruby was little more than a promiscuous waitress. The waitress, Ruby, had always been a pleasant distraction, a bright spot to her morning. It had been more than seeing the powerful creature reduced to skin tight clothes and a penchant for red. She looked her over from the bright red nail polish to the ridiculous coat and painted on pants. Ruby would make a strange ally, but a powerful one if she regained her wolf. It had been a long time since someone had been on her side, her friend. Not that she would ever be friends with the werewolf. “Get in before someone sees you.”

Ruby took a deep breath, checking behind her before she stepped over the threshold, closing the door behind her. She had never been in the mayor’s house and it was even more opulent than she imagined. Somehow she still felt like she was walking into a trap despite the moment of civility that had settled between them. The Evil Queen stood at the top of the landing, her back still to Ruby. It seemed wrong that this was how it would all come out, too soon and rushed. It was wrong to want to say these things to this woman of all the people in Storybrooke.

“You gave us all a second chance. I had twenty eight years where I wasn’t haunted by who I am. What I am.” She stalked up the stairs, watching hungrily as the mayor turned toward her. “You could have made us all miserable, but you didn’t. Some things were almost, kind. You didn’t split up Granny and me, but you could have. You let me have my family.”

The older woman watched as the werewolf stalked up the stairs, soft words tumbling from her mouth, Red and Ruby trying to co-exist. The words felt true as if she really did believe the things she was saying. But all the kindness in the world wouldn’t bring Henry back right now. It wouldn’t stop the mob from crashing down her door and dragging her away. With her magic gone she was powerless against them.

“And what am I supposed to do with your thanks?” She wanted to reach out to the other woman, take in the kindness, but the world was pressing in on her. She felt trapped, her breath shallow. A trapped Regina was a dangerous Regina. She swallowed, trying to regain her composure, “You should go, join the mob. You don’t want them to think you’ve switched sides.” 

Tentatively Ruby reached out a hand, but let it drop before her fingers had a chance to ghost over Regina’s arm. She caught the other woman’s gaze, in it she saw a softness she hadn’t expected to see, a pain and loss. Resignation.

“You’ll just give them another reason to hate me. Go be my eyes and ears, little wolf.” Regina wasn’t entirely convinced the girl would return, but for now this was all she had, and Ruby had thought to warn her of the mob.

Ruby watched Regina, nodding slowly, still unsure how she found herself decidedly in the middle of this fight. It hadn’t been her intent to pick a side, pit friend against… friend? Were she and Regina friends? Perhaps not, but they weren’t enemies either. She nodded and moved to go back out the way she had come in.

“Not the front door.” She stepped in front of the younger woman, baring the way down the stairs.

“Right,” Ruby took a quick step forward catching Regina in a hug, leaving the older woman stunned before turning to run toward the back door. “Take care of yourself,” she called over her shoulder.

Behind her she could hear the mob banging on the door, trying to shout it down. Regina’s voice was strangely calm against the chaos as she answered, “Can I help you?”