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I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn't Love to Howl

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“A collar? Really, now that is insulting. You’ll have to forgive my men. If time has taught me anything, it’s that they’re utterly incompetent.”

 

She’s smaller than Red had expected – tiny, really. But she held herself with an air of regality that gave her the impression of appearing grandiose; something that came off as both intimidating and inviting, and made her seem taller than Red herself. Rich brown eyes commanded attention despite being cloaked in black: the makeup, the hair, the clothes, all as dark as the ever-approaching night sky. Her lips were red though, the corners tilted just so, as if their encounter were an everyday occurrence for them.

 

“It smells like death here.” It had been the first thing Red noticed when she had woken up in a barricaded room somewhere in the Dark Palace, neck throbbing from where the dart had hit. It wasn’t necessarily the smell of blood or decay; it was something she couldn’t put her finger on, as if she smelled sorrow and loss itself rather than what led to them.

 

Judging by the look of amusement on her face as she finally moved from the spot she had been planted at since the guards had brought Red in, the Queen didn’t seem to mind the outburst. “I’ll be sure to remind them to air out the palace more often.”

 

“What do you want with me?”

 

“You know,” The Queen began flippantly as she reached the vanity across from where Red was standing, sitting down before casually starting to release her hair from the series of intricate knots that held it in place, “I was pleasantly surprised to find that you’re so beautiful. I expected you to be a little… mangier. And hairier. I suppose I can’t judge your book by its cover.” She caught Red’s eyes in the mirror as she ran her hand through her hair, working out the kinks. “I think we can help each other.”

 

Red bristled and made another futile effort to break the shackles that were holding her wrists behind her back. “The only thing I’ll help you with is pushing you out that window. You want to kill my friend.”

 

“An eye for an eye. Seems only fair, don’t you think?” The raven-haired woman didn’t lose her cool but Red had seen a flash of something cross her eyes. Before she could respond the Queen had already begun speaking again, a sharp edge added to her voice. “And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss me, pup. I’m sure I could find plenty of villages where they would be delighted at the news that I had captured the big bad wolf that has been ravaging my subjects and their livestock.”

 

Even with her cloak on, wolfstime still affected her: her emotions heightened, her blood boiled, her senses went wild – it always felt as if she was about to burst from her own skin. Which, of course, she was. She was thankful for it now though, that her rage towards this woman could drown out the guilt of countless innocent lives on her conscience. “If you want to kill me, then kill me.”

 

“If I wanted to kill you I’d already have a new wolf skin rug adorning my floor,” came the droll reply as a necklace was tossed down. “As I said, I think we can help each other.”

 

Red stopped and considered her surroundings for a moment. The Queen was the most powerful woman in the land; she really could have had Red skinned anytime she wanted. “If I had wanted to make a deal with someone for some magical cure, if that were even possible, I’d already have gone to Rumpelstiltskin.”

 

“Rumpelstiltskin,” The Queen began pleasantly as she unclasped her bracelet, “would sell a man the cure to his blindness at the small cost of his eyes. Besides, too many strings come attached with magic, and I’m sure you’ve paid enough already.”

 

A moment passed as the older woman looked herself over in the mirror one last time, tying her wavy hair back with a simple black ribbon as if she were in no rush, and despite herself Red was curious at the offer her liege lady was placing on the table. She furrowed her eyebrows as she watched the other woman drape a blanket over the mirror, but pressed forward. “How then?”

 

A pleased smirk graced the monarch’s lips as she stood from her vanity and moved towards Red, ready to speak. But at the brunette’s own step away, she had stopped, raised her hands in mock surrender, and approached more cautiously.

 

“May I?” The Queen asked, waiting for the confirmation that came via an almost indiscernible nod before reaching up to remove the leather belt that had been secured around Red’s neck – an attempt to ensure the hood of her cloak remained on her. “Does it hurt? Changing into the beast, that is.”

 

“I don’t know,” Red whispered, letting out a relieved breath as the pressure on the ache in her neck was removed. The spot where the dart had hit her hurt in a way she had never felt before, like a smoldering fire that wouldn’t burn out. “I think… I think it feels like a relief when I do. But even now… I never remember much.”

 

The Queen now seemed to be the one considering her words while she delicately ran a finger along the hem of the hood. “And this keeps you from changing? It’s exquisite, both the magic and the material. The colour suits you. I guess that was a lucky coincidence.” Red looked away when the Queen’s gaze left the hood and returned to her eyes. “So you have no control at all, then? When you turn into it?”

 

The brunette shook her head and The Queen hummed in return, stepping around her like an animal stalking its prey. Red’s heart jumped at the feel of her shackled wrists being gently grabbed. “Well dear, we’re just going to have to learn to control it, aren’t we?”

 

The sound of metal clanking against the stone floors registered before the realization that she could move her arms again. The Queen had yet to move behind her, had yet to elaborate on what she meant, had yet to do anything but be in the assistance of the captured girl, who was in turn conflicted about not tearing out her captor’s throat as soon as she could.

 

“How?” Red ended up repeating while she rid herself of the leather gloves she wore to inspect her bruised wrists.

 

“Does it hurt?” The Queen’s question was answered before it left her lips as her nail gently brushed over where her soldier’s dart had landed on Red’s neck, causing the younger girl to jerk away in pain. The small dot and the area around it had turned black on impact and spread, like a dye slowly seeping across the shifter’s porcelain skin. “Wolfsbane is tricky little weed. Too much and it could have killed you.”

 

Red remained silent as she watched the Queen step around her to move towards closed window, throwing the shutters open with a wave of her hand. The moon was just beginning to rise but it was full and looming all the same, leaving a shudder running down her spine at the sight. The Queen leant against the ledge, surveying the valley her palace overlooked.

 

“I could kill you right now,” Red finally said to break the silence, hands dropping to curl around the edge of the cloak on either side of her body. “Make you pay for all the people you’ve hurt.”

 

“I suppose I could do the same, but what kind of host would that make me?” A growl escaped Red’s throat and her lips curled into a snarl but the Queen remained blasé as she turned back to face her. “When were you bitten?”

 

“I wasn’t.” A single black eyebrow rose, curiosity now written on the woman’s face. Whether it was due to the information she had received or the tone the younger girl had taken, Red couldn’t say. “My grandmother was… by my grandfather. The curse was passed on to me from my mother.”

 

“You truly are a fascinating little creature, did you know that? I mean, turning into a wolf is one thing, but hereditary lycanthropy is as rare as they come. Mostly due to the fact that the carriers don’t often last long enough to pass on the curse in such a way… and their loved ones generally have an even shorter life expectancy than they.” The Queen stood in front of the Red once more and again moved deliberately slowly as she reached to tug the crimson hood down.

 

“What are you doing?” Red asked warily as she took another furtive glance out the window.

 

“Learning to control this pesky little curse isn’t going to be easy. Not only is it going to take a great deal of time and patience, it’s going to hurt like hell. And a… certain level of commitment will be required.” A single cool finger slid up along her neck until her chin was lifted, forcing her to meet piercing brown eyes. “Understand?’

 

“I’ll do anything,” it had come out like a plea despite her best intentions, “Your Majesty.”

 

“Please, call me Regina.” Blood red lips curled into a wolfish smile that Red wasn’t sure she could even top. “I’m sure we’ll be the best of friends by the end of the evening…”

 

“R-” she caught herself as the ever-present scent of grief seeping out of the stone floors and walls grabbed her attention once more. “Ruby. My name is Ruby.”

 

She had never been a good liar; the false words always seemed to move queerly across her tongue and become evident to those listening. Regina was no different judging by the look of amused disbelief on her face, but she gave no other comment than, “How fitting.”

 

“Please,” Red implored yet again. Each beat of her heart seemed to fan the embers at the wolfsbane injection site, and when she made the mistake of gently touching the mark it only seemed to intensify. “Just tell me what I need to do.”

 

“My dear, you don’t need to do anything. Except take off that pretty red cloak of yours.” Regina was already close, but it didn’t stop her from slowly filling what little gap there was between them. Even with the smell of gloom in the castle, the Queen’s own scent was heady and sweet, like lilacs and lilies, and it left Red with the distinct memory of flowers on a grave. “The wolfsbane will keep you from transforming and all you’ll have to do is try to keep focus while your body is stuck not changing. With a little practice it shouldn’t be that hard to control yourself after a real transformation.”

 

“You make it seem as if this is common knowledge,” the brunette said slowly.

 

“I do my research.” The statement was accompanied with a wink and the almost caring gesture of Regina reaching up to tuck her hair back behind her ear, only to have her hand smacked away. The gentleness, the supposed help, and the warm brown eyes: none of this fit the description of the woman who wanted to kill Snow White. It struck the young girl a second later that she really had no defense against the monarch, if what she said was true. “Temper, temper,” came the reply after Red had batted away her searching fingers, the smooth voice having lost an ounce of its teasing.

 

“I don’t like being toyed with.”

 

“I’ve hardly toyed with you, Ruby,” Regina’s hand rose again but stopped to flick the delicate knot that kept the cape securely around Red’s shoulders. “On the contrary, I’ve told you exactly what you need to do and how it’s going to help you.” She stepped away then, waving her arms with a flourish as if to paint a clearer picture of the space between them.

 

The worst case, Red decided as she hesitantly reached to undo the bow, was that she ended up having a monarch for dinner. Snow would understand her acquiescence, maybe not for any other reason, but for this she most certainly would. Controlling the wolf… it had been all Red had agonized over since she had found out. Red looked the Queen over one more time, trying to decipher her cloying smile and saccharine eyes.

 

The pain was instantaneous as her cloak fell off her shoulders and pooled behind her on the floor. Red had fallen to her knees immediately as fire burned through her veins, robbing her of her breath as she struggled to lift her head from the stone floor. She expected her skin to have melted off or blistered from her boiling blood, but all she saw was her shaking fists, clenched so hard they had turned white. My hood, she reminded herself, vaguely aware of the blood on her fingernails and the cuts on her palms as her hands uncoiled, I have to get my hood.

 

Everything from her bones and teeth to her eyes seemed to ache as she reached behind her, only to have her fingers brush against nothing but air. Red was left with no choice but to crane her head up, an act that left her whimpering at the particularly hard ache in her neck as she did, to locate Regina. The Queen stood where she had before, seemingly having not moved an inch despite having managed to grab ahold of Red’s cloak.

 

“I did say that it was going to hurt,” she clucked flippantly, folding the crimson hood until it was in a neat rectangle. It was the smirk on Regina’s lips that did it, Red decided later on with a clear head, which caused something to snap inside her, that sent her springing from the floor to grapple the Queen’s neck. Countless people had died in the past because of her, but never had Red held the power of someone else’s life in her hands as she did then. She felt like a wolf; volatile and dangerous as her already bloodstained palms encircled Regina’s throat. The pain coursing through her taking second place to the immeasurable rage she felt at that moment.

 

“Was all of this a joke to you?” she asked harshly, though The Queen didn’t seem fazed in the least at nearly being strangled by the taller girl. Her smirk had dropped but her chin had jut forward just enough to still seem defiant.

 

“My dear, I told you countless times that I’m your ever humble servant when it comes to helping you with your… ailment.” The teasing lilt was still heavy on her tongue and the anger in Red was once again slowly giving way to the unholy scorching in her veins. It’s why she allowed, with a sharp, trained gaze, for the Queen’s hand to again slowly raise up to her neck, to the area that hurt her so tremendously, the black spot that burned as if she had been branded with a red-hot poker. The instant Regina’s finger brushed the blackened mark, relief emanated from the area, sending a shiver through Red’s shoulders. Her hands, too, had loosened their grasp when the skin beneath them begun to take on the same cooling effect.

 

Her knees nearly buckled as she leant into the older woman, desperate for more of the intoxicating magic that was quelling the fire in her veins. Her mistrust, her anger, her fears; they were all in the back of her mind as her forehead lazily fell to rest against Regina’s, bringing more of the remedy she craved.

 

“You see? I can help you.” Red’s eyes remained closed, because standing alone was hard enough with the battle raging between the poison in her veins and the magic of the Queen’s skin, but she was sure she wouldn’t want to open them anyway. She’d see the warm brown eyes of the woman who wanted to kill her best friend, the woman who she desperately needed to cling to for support. It was too much for her to take in, but Regina’s voice was as soothing as her touch. “If you keep from transforming, if you fight to control it, one day you will.”

 

The words are murmured against her cheek, spoken with all the fondness one would show a dear friend. “And I,” the Queen’s other hand rose to move around to the back of Red’s neck, earning a whimper of comfort from the shapeshifter, “can help you, Ruby.”

 

She had to then, open her eyes and make her choice. Her cloak was within reaching distance and the wolfsbane would surely work its way out of her system soon, but she remained rooted on the spot. The Queen was offering her something no one else could give; she rationalized as she tilted her chin, nose brushing along Regina’s so she could look at her fully. The Queen was very pretty; she rationalized as her hands slipped to land at the top of the monarch’s chest, the dress she wore leaving the expanse of skin bared to her. The Queen couldn’t possibly be so evil; she rationalized as her head drooped once more, this time to capture Regina’s lips.

 

It was like ice water was poured down her throat the instant their lips touched, an enticing remedy that gave Red some focus back. She was greedy for more, her hands sliding back up to clutch The Queen’s neck, but this time to hold her closer. Regina, in return, was pliant under her touch, responding in kind but demanding no more. When Red grabbed the ridiculously opulent collar of the dress she wore and tore it in a fit of frustration, her only response was a low chuckle against Red’s mouth. Yielding, helping, beautiful. This couldn’t possibly be the same woman who meant to kill Snow.

 

“I don’t trust you,” Red muttered when she finally managed to tear herself away. The fire returned, but she remained standing. Strong. She could be strong. She would have to be. She was toe-to-toe with the Queen, after all. So she stood, defiant, even as her hands shook, even as each beat of her heart made her feel faint as the wolfsbane burned it’s way through her system. “You want to kill Snow. I don’t… I can’t…”

 

“Tell me something, Ruby,” Regina began, grabbing what remained of the ostentatious collar that once adorned the onyx gemstone-encrusted dress she wore, and tossed it to the side, “Why so much loyalty to a girl you’ve barely known more than a few months?”

 

“She stayed with me when I found out.” Red stumbled back slightly as a particularly sharp ache in her neck left her winded. Her hands wrapped around one of the poles of the four-poster bed for support as she tried to keep her eyes at level with the Queen’s. “She helped me when no one else would.”

 

“And now here I am, trying to offer you the same support.” Regina strode confidently toward Red, this time not waiting for approval as she reached up to cover the wound on the taller girl’s neck. Red couldn’t help it when another whimper of relief escaped her lips. “Helping your learn to control yourself when you’re in that state benefits my entire kingdom, Ruby – as well as your precious Snow. And if I should have a little fun while helping you,” her smirk returned, mischievous, self-congratulatory, and enslaving all at once, “then it seems that everybody wins.”

 

The Queen had been making valid points; she rationalized as the ties to her bodice were undone with a single hand by the older woman. The Queen was right, she needed to control this thing and if wolfsbane was the only way, she surely couldn’t deal with the pain it brought alone; she rationalized as she watched Regina rid herself of the ruined dress she wore. The Queen couldn’t be more correct that her learning to control this thing could benefit hundreds of people, Snow included; she rationalized as she was stripped of the rest of her clothes.

 

“I still don’t trust you,” Red muttered almost breathlessly as Regina climbed over her, unable to stop the flush from spreading over her cheeks while the Queen’s gaze seemed to scrutinize her every inch on her way up. She couldn’t help her body’s reaction, the immediate need for her to tangle herself with the older woman and get as close as possible; to keep the wolfsbane from burning, she tells herself later on when she’s getting redressed.

 

“Doesn’t seem as if that’s going to be much of a problem, dear.”

 


 

It was a rare day that Regina found herself at the bar, but after a particularly tedious city council meeting followed by a temper tantrum from Henry, she was in need of an escape. Ms. Andrews had assured her that her son would be in bed before she returned home, so Regina had promptly grabbed the folder she needed to look over and went in search for something to calm her frayed nerves. The bar in Storybrooke was small and, thankfully, not busy. Not that she had expected it to be on a Tuesday evening, but the people of the small town she created seemed to enjoy the sauce far more than she would have anticipated.

 

She sat at the bar alone, a single glass of scotch next to the file she had pulled from her briefcase. It was tedious business, being in charge in this world. Forms and documents and files were a far less interesting way to rule when compared to magic and knights and coups. But it was the life she chose – literally – and she had learned to make do with the monotony that had become her career. Because it still meant power – even if it was just power over people who didn’t even know themselves.

 

There was a loud commotion at a table across the bar and she glanced back to see who could possibly be making noise at a pub on a Tuesday night when she saw a group of young guys surrounding a brunette with familiar red streaks in her hair. She tried to place names to the faces of the young men, but the years had left hazy on a lot of details, particularly those of the people she had little to do with in the other land. One or two had worked at her castle, perhaps. When Ruby pushed herself up from her seat to stride over to the bar to sit alone, not three stools down from Regina herself, she was met with a chorus of dissent from the gang she had left behind.

 

“Rubes, come on-”

 

“Just leave me alone,” she snapped in a tired way that made her words seem less harsh than the glint in her eyes.

 

Two of the boys get up to follow her, one Regina did faintly recognize as the tow-truck operator (Jimmy? Billy? Who had he been in the other land? Had he driven her carriage?), who stood by silently with a somewhat repentant look on his face, and another who Regina wouldn’t be able to put a name to for the life of her.

 

“It was just joke, babe. Come back, we’ll buy you a drink, and you can decide which one of us is worthy of your time tonight.”

 

“I believe,” Regina started not looking up from the file in front of her, her voice causing the three young patrons to jump in response and jerk their heads towards her, “the young lady told you to leave her alone. Now, I’m sure two fine gentleman such as yourselves don’t need to be reminded that when woman says go away, she means go away.” She looked up then, the smile on her face not meeting her eyes as she stared past the brunette to meet the gazes of her admirers.

 

“N-no, of course Madam Mayor,” the unmemorable one stumbled, backing away as if Regina was holding a gun at him. “We’re sorry to trouble you. And Ruby. Sorry, Ruby.”

 

“My knight in shining Jimmy Choos,” Ruby breathed, a small, but appreciative smile on her face as she turned to face Regina. The weather was brisk outside which had left Ruby in an actual outfit rather than the minimal clothing choices she made at Granny’s. The younger woman seemed somewhat conflicted as she stared at her, as if she was having some sort of internal debate on what to do with herself in front of Regina when she wasn’t wearing an apron and taking an order.

 

“I’m sure you could have handled them well enough yourself,” Regina murmured in return, turning her eyes back to the work before her in an attempt to give the other girl an out. She saw Ruby nearly every day and they were always cordial, in fact, Ruby, with her infectious smile, seemed to be among the small few who didn’t stiffen at the sight of the mayor. As Regina stared at the proposed budget in the file, she wondered, as she had many times, if it was their previous relationship seeping through. She shook the thought from her head, though. They weren’t exactly friends in the other land.

 

She hadn’t heard Ruby sidle up next to her until she addressed the bartender, “One more of these for the mayor, and one for me too.”

 

“Really, Miss-”

 

“I insist,” Ruby interrupted with a warm smile. “There’s a good chance you just prevented a double homicide, I think that deserves a reward.”

 

Regina laughed and finished what was left of the scotch in her glass to make way for the new one that came. “One of those days or were they just particularly annoying?”

 

Ruby took a sip of her scotch, settling herself more comfortably on the stool. Regina wondered if this was awkward for her, but Ruby always seemed comfortable with people. It’s that charm. That inviting smile Red had. She’s still in there. “One of those days. I just had to get out of the house and do something, I felt like I was gonna burst from my skin. Do you ever feel like that?” Regina was taking a drink but nodded at the question, so Ruby continued, “So, I came here thinking that maybe a night hanging out with the guys wouldn’t be so bad. Then I remembered that guys are idiots,” her speech was finished with a sardonic smile and another sip of her drink.

 

“Well, I’m sorry to say that there’s slim pickin’s in this town, dear.” She took a generous drink of her own before gathering up the paperwork she had spread out. I’m sorry to say that there probably won’t be anything but slim pickin’s.

 

“God, I’m sorry. You probably have, like, actual problems to think about. I didn’t know I was inter-”

 

“You’re not, Ruby. It was a lost cause thinking I could concentrate tonight.” At Ruby’s genuine look of sympathy, she continued with an offered explanation of, “One of those days.”

 

“Is it… fun isn’t the word I’m looking for… do you like being the mayor?” Ruby asked as she turned her body a little more towards Regina, her glass at her lips again. “I mean, it must be hard even in a place like Storybrooke. And being a single mom. That must be, like…”

 

“It’s challenging.” Regina had to keep her eyes on Ruby as she spoke, had to make sure she could see the differences between this girl and the one she once knew – the makeup, the hair, the clothes, she had to see them sometimes. Blurring the lines had always left her too exhausted not to. “But rewarding.”

 

“Did you always want to go into politics?”

 

“No, I…” She stopped when she realized that it was the first real conversation she had with Ruby in twenty-eight years. Since the curse took place. Regina had distanced herself from everyone for a reason. But Ruby, with her bright eyes and that eagerness she remembered all-too-fondly, was hard to decline. “My mother pushed me into it. I would have rather just settled down.”

 

“But you have Henry now,” Ruby offered with that hopeful look she remembered seeing through her vanity mirror when she would catch Red and Snow talking.

 

“Yes,” Regina replied with a genuine smile, “I have Henry now.” And if he had his way, he wouldn’t have me, she thought bitterly as the smile faded. It took her eighteen years to muster the courage to start a real life here, to look for happiness again, and again she was denied it. No matter how hard she tried.

 

“This might be the worst scotch I’ve ever had.” Regina’s face must have betrayed her, judging by the abrupt change of subject, but she couldn’t have been more thankful for Ruby then. At her laugh, the younger woman continued, “Not that I’m some connoisseur, or whatever, but Granny’s stocks better stuff than this.”

 

“I have this bottle at home, twenty year scotch. You haven’t tasted real scotch until you’ve tasted this.” There was a shift then, as Regina realized half a second too late that what she said could be seen as an offering. It only took her another second to realize that she didn’t care. Ruby’s hazel eyes seemed hopeful and wary and altogether conflicted as she sized Regina up. Regina herself knew the tightrope she walked, but still. It had been one of those days. “If you ever want to come over for a glass.”

 

She wondered what Ruby was thinking then, because she certainly looked as if she was an animal stalking its prey, despite her poised nature on the barstool. She looked hungry and Regina swore she saw her eyes flash yellow when she casually replied, “Well, I’m free right now if you are.”

 

Ruby remained hidden away in the study while Ms. Andrews was dealt with and Henry was checked on, her eyes scanning the books on the shelves when Regina entered, two glasses in her hands. She noted Ruby’s discarded jacket and scarf, carefully folded and stacked on the couch, but made no mention. Their first few sips were in silence as Ruby took in the many titles, as well as the pictures and knick-knacks that filled the room, all while Regina watched Ruby. A certain fascination having took over after having written the brunette off years ago. She always seemed so much younger here; it made it easier for Regina to brush off the connection from the other land. But suddenly, with her glass of scotch and her red bra visible underneath the white blouse she wore, she didn’t seem quite so young.

 

“I’ve always wanted to see the inside of this house,” the brunette girl murmured, eyes falling on the clock that stood on the mantle of the fireplace. She licked her lips and took another drink of the fabled scotch, apparently in favour of it.

 

“Is that why you came here tonight?”

 

“No.” Ruby turns back towards her, and that look had returned in her eyes. That hungry look that seemed to push away any apprehension inside her; the look that made Regina feel as if she was game to be hunted.

 

Regina finished her glass and set it down on the end table near the door and then turned her attention back to Ruby, who seemed to be doing the same, only to have something outside the window catch her eye. The moon was bright and full over Storybrooke that evening and it was if a lightbulb went off in her head. Well, Regina thought somewhat amusedly, I suppose the wolf had to come out in some way or another.

 

“Then why did you come, Little Red?” She couldn’t help herself, even if it was the kind of slip-up that she hated, that she worked so hard to try to prevent. Regina stood stock-still as Ruby stalked toward her, grateful for the feeling of someone coming to her again, more than happy to be caught by this hunter. The younger girl was taller than her, even with her adorned Jimmy Choos, so Ruby had to lean down when she spoke her whisper.

 

“To see what kind of design scheme the bedroom has.”

 

Even in the dark, without being able to see the gaudy makeup and red streaks, and only being able to hear that familiar voice, it was easy for Regina to differentiate Red and Ruby. Red wouldn’t buck and beg so wantonly for Regina to give just a little more, would never smile and slither down the older woman’s body to settle between her legs, would never encourage scratch marks etched down her porcelain back. Ruby does, though. She kissed Regina without restraint, pressed against her because she was desperate for more contact, bit her shoulder to keep from moaning too loud, and was absolutely relentless in her pursuit to leave the mayor completely spent before their night was through.

 

She felt exhausted when it was over. Exhausted and worshipped and sated, in a way she hadn’t felt in years. Regina allowed Ruby to stretch out under the sheets next to her; her own eyes drooping before she could rearrange the disheveled bedspread. It felt like only minutes later that she heard rustling. Ruby was sitting on the edge of the bed, already half-dressed as she hooked her bra together, the pink lines Regina had left still very much visible. That was when she noticed Regina’s bleary eyes on her and smiled, that bright Ruby grin that was no different than the one she would give while filling up a cup of coffee for Regina.

 

“Good morning. I figured I should get out of here before Henry wakes up.” Her shirt was the next to come on, the buttons apparently causing her some difficulty while she simultaneously tried to slip her boots on. Regina sat up then and leant over, undoing some so she could straighten the shirt and redo them all for the younger girl. Ruby laughed quietly. “I’m all thumbs sometimes.”

 

“I could put on some coffee,” Regina offered after she cleared her throat. Morning after situations had rarely been problem with Graham – nights spent over were few and far between.

 

“I have to run home and shower and get ready for work,” Ruby replied in a genuine voice, one that sounded so much like Red it made Regina blink again. “But I had fun last night. A lot of fun. And these sheets are ridiculous.”

 

Regina smiled but offered no reply, already feeling even more tired at the thought of her own schedule for the day. Ruby, though, seemed to be a bundle of energy. She leant over and kissed Regina’s cheek before standing to leave. “Have a good day, Madam Mayor.”

 

Regina waited until she heard the door quietly open and close before she got out of bed, padding over to the window to watch Ruby adjust her scarf as she cut across the street and headed towards Granny’s. She had helped Red back in the other land, and when the curse was being put together, she allowed her more than most in this world, had even made concessions when the girl had no right to ask for any. Maybe this was her reward: an uncomplicated fling with someone who didn’t seem to have those preconceived notions of her as mayor. Besides, Ruby was coming to her now, and who was she to decline?

Chapter Text

“What are you doing here?” Red asked in a harsh whisper, glancing around. But no one seemed to take notice of this woman, who stood in front of countless fruit vendors with a basket filled with wine and cheeses and meats. The people of the marketplace buzzed around them, too distracted to give a real look at the pretty woman in riding clothes, nor the girl in the red cloak who trailed behind her.

 

“Shopping, dear. That’s what one does at a market,” Regina replied as she picked up peach, scrutinizing it before setting it back down.

 

“Someone could see you.”

 

“As much as it pains my ego to admit it, these simpletons probably wouldn’t be able to tell their current queen from their last – and she’s been in the ground for quite some time now.” Regina turned to face her then and Red was suddenly struck with just how young the Queen was, something she hadn’t noticed in their last encounter. But standing there in plain day, her riding clothes undoubtedly well-crafted but not eye-catching, hair tucked back into a braid; she wondered just how someone this young could have been chosen to marry the King and raise Snow White. “This village is out of the way. I believe that’s why you and your little friend feel safe coming here.”

 

Sometimes she forgot just how smart Regina was. So Red watched, in silence, as the monarch-turned-mediocre woman ambled about the stalls set up, her own list of what she needed forgotten. It was nearing wolfstime and Snow had always reminded her that she needed to eat, to keep her strength up, before she’d leave to… do whatever Snow did when she went off on her own adventures. She was the one who had to be careful, Red would always respond, knowing full well that the posters with Snow’s face were plastered all over the kingdom. I guess she doesn’t have to worry tonight, she thought idly as she watched Regina mill about.

 

When the Queen was finished with her purchases, she turned on heel and began walking up the road without a second look given to the changer. Red fumbled for a minute but began walking to catch up, stuck wanting to run past the woman, lock herself in her cabin, and wait out another wolfstime with her cloak tied securely around her. But she had told Snow to leave because she was going to try again, try to control the wolf.

 

The Queen glanced back at her. “Come along now, dear, the sun is starting to set.”

 

“What are you even doing here?” Red asked as her pace quickened until she was a step behind the Queen.

 

“You asked me to come, remember?”

 

Red grimaced. She remembered all too well. It had been three months since she had last seen Regina, and her own attempts at handling the wolfsbane had been disastrous. Finding the plant was hard enough, but trying to extract the poison was torture. The fragrance trapped in the small cabin made it seem as if she was breathing in shards of glass and anytime a stray drop would fall on her skin it would turn black on impact, burning her on the outside like the extract would burn her on the inside.

 

Snow had returned home that month, despite Red’s misgivings of being near the girl during wolfstime. She aired out the cabin, tried her best to soothe Red’s burns, and even filled the dart with what little of the wolfsbane Red had managed to squeeze out, all without asking how Red managed to come upon this painful way to try to maintain control. Red forwent the torture that month, chose instead to keep the cloak firmly wrapped around herself while Snow went to pick more of the flower she needed, extracting the poison and even filling more darts for Red. She did so without question until she finally turned to Red and asked her if it was worth it. Red had replied that she had already lost too much; anything was worth it if it meant even a semblance of control.

 

It was the next month after that Red had actually had the nerve to try, when Snow actually was safely far away from their cabin in the field. She plunged the dart into crook of her elbow, immediately turning the green vein black. The mark ached like the one in her neck had, but with her cloak on she was free from the poison slipping through her bloodstream. When she had dared to take her hood off completely, the pain hit her, but not nearly as strong as it had when Regina had injected her.

 

She knew her mistake instantly, knew that she hadn’t put near enough in to stop the transformation. Red fought it as hard as she could, found herself uncontrollably slamming against the walls, the furniture, anything inside the cabin as her body tried to transform into the beast that was within her. But the wolfsbane made her insides burn and as time wore on she found herself becoming too tired to fight back against it. It didn’t take long for the transformation to eventually override her.

 

When she woke up at the cabin the morning after there was blood on her and she immediately broke down knowing it wasn’t her own. Flashes of the night before seemed to come to her; hazy memories that the wolfsbane must have kept semi-cognitive. Red could see herself running through the fields, could remember recognizing the familiar scent of Snow White and turning the other way, could hear the yell as she found the lonely fisherman. She didn’t remember much else, but she’s grateful for it – that she couldn’t remember what she did to that poor man. The brunette immediately ripped off the blanket covering the looking glass and sobbed for Regina to please help her, that she needed her to do this right.

 

A month had gone by since then, and Red had forgotten about her plea to the mirror, she hadn’t been sure it would have worked in the first place. She had busied herself for the rest of wolfstime by cleaning up the cabin before Snow’s return, throwing the blanket over the mirror again before her friend had arrived home. But it seemed that Regina had indeed heard her plea for help.

 

“Well, where are you even going?”

 

“To that charming little shack you call a home, dear. Where else would we go?”

 

“No.” Red stepped forward and yanked Regina’s arm to pull her to a halt. The Queen seemed both amused and aroused at being manhandled, at the defiance from this poor village girl. “We can’t… No… We can’t go there.”

 

“Then I guess we’ll have to find somewhere else, won’t we?” Regina asked, leaning in slightly. In a flash of purple smoke Red was being whisked away, falling to the ground when they made their arrival to somewhere deep in the Enchanted Forest. Save for the log cabin behind them, there was nothing but trees and streams as far as her eyes could see. There wasn’t even a familiar scent she could find, other than that of the Queen. “Sorry, I should have warned you. It’s a little disorienting the first time, isn’t it?”

 

“Where are we?” she asked a little dazedly as she put the spilled contents of her basket back into it, mildly surprised when the Queen set down her own to assist her.

 

“Even queens need a cozy cabin to get away from it all sometimes. You’re the only one I’ve ever brought here.” Regina holds out a red apple for shapeshifter to grab, a teasing smile on her face. “I’m sure you feel honored.”

 

If it had been two months prior, Red would have slapped the apple out of her hand. She would have bitten back with something, gathered what dignity she still had and walked away – even if she didn’t know where she was. But Regina had helped her, now more than once. She had come when Red begged her to without asking for a thing in return. She didn’t smile at the joke, but she accepted the apple and followed Regina in without question.

 

The cabin is much nicer than the one she and Snow frequent, she had to give Regina that. It wasn’t lavishly decorated, but the furniture was expertly crafted and every finish around the room was exquisite; from the intrinsically embroidered curtains that hung over the windows to the uniquely smithed silverware that was already laid out on the small table. It took Red a minute to note that the cabin appeared to be totally lived in and wondered what kind of spell Regina knew to keep the dust at bay.

 

“We still have time before the moon’s at its highest, no point torturing you until then.” The Queen set down the basket of goods she carried on the table and proceeded to unbutton the deep purple riding coat she wore, draping it casually over the back of a chair while with a quick wave of her hand she started a blaze in the fireplace. It was enough to startle Red, and she thought that might have been what the Queen wanted: to remind her of her powers even as she attempted to make herself comfortable in a room with the wolf.

 

“So what do we do until then?” Red asked uneasily from her place in front of the doorway.

 

Regina smiled and removed her gloves before rummaging through the basket she brought in for the bottle at the bottom. “We eat, drink, and be merry, dear. You need to keep your strength up if you’re going to be fighting this transformation.”

 

They ate, mostly in silence, while Red tried to remember any kind of rules of etiquette. She was having dinner with the Queen, and even if it was one she hated, she still felt the need to impress her. The finished dinner plates were done away with another wave of Regina’s hand, leaving them with nothing but the crackling sound of the fire.

 

Red watched the Queen closely, though it was definitely in vain as Regina clearly had no intention of pulling anything on the girl. She refilled their wine cups and left her spot at the table to sit on the animal skin rug in front of the fire, staring at it as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.

 

Maybe she’s just not trying to make you uncomfortable, the little voice of reason in her head offered, if she wanted you dead, she has had ample opportunity to make it happen.

 

So she joined Regina on floor running her free hand over the fur of the bear that once roamed the forest but was now stuck in front of the fireplace of a hidden away cabin. When she reached just a bit too far, she felt the loosening of her bodice and growled, knowing the culprit. One of the clasps had been giving her problems lately and it had again come undone, hanging loosely in the middle of her abdomen while the rest stayed in place.

 

“I can sew that back on for you.” Regina paused and took a sip of the sweet wine she had brought for them.

 

“It doesn’t count as sewing if you use magic,” Red mumbled back, but she was already undoing the rest of the clasps so she could hand it over. She tried to glance out to guess the time, but the dark forest seemed to give no hint at all.

 

“Well then I won’t use magic,” Regina retorted, standing only to walk across to a drawer, pulling out a needle and some thread before returning to her spot.

 

“And why would a queen know how to sew? Don’t you have servants to do such lowly things for you.”

 

To her credit, Regina smiled at the jab, but waited until she had successfully threaded the needle before she replied, “I wasn’t always a queen, you know.”

 

Red bit her tongue for a moment, focusing more on her glass than the article of clothing Regina held. This, this having dinner and conversation thing, this felt more like a betrayal to Snow than lying in Regina’s bed. She couldn’t just rationalize this away like she could the sex that kept her from the wolfsbane’s burning. But the Queen was an enigma to her. She had seen the woman stripped down bare, but had yet to grasp any sort of hold on who she was.

 

“What were you before, then?” Red asked despite herself. The wine was making her cheeks feel warm, a delicacy she wasn’t quite used to.

 

“A miller’s daughter,” Regina replied slowly after a moment of silence, her hands having stilled while she thought.

 

“How did a miller’s daughter end up being queen?”

 

“She never told you, I take it. That I saved her life.” The Queen’s hands continued their work, threading the broken clasp back onto the bodice. “How surprising,” she muttered as if she was not surprised in the least.

 

“Why kill her if you saved her life?” Red pushed. Snow wouldn’t talk about the Queen much, wouldn’t allow anything other than a vague remark pass her lips when it came to their history together.

 

“If she hasn’t told you then I suppose she doesn’t want you to know.” Silence followed as the bodice was mended, only to be broken once the clasp could successfully hook back together. “Finished.”

 

“Thank you,” Red replied sincerely as she took the garment back “I was never good at sewing... I’m all thumbs sometimes.” She readied herself to put it back on only to remember that she would be taking it off later anyway, so instead it was tossed onto the chair she had previously sat in while her eyes returned to the fire. They sat quietly for a while longer, until their cups were drained and the sky was a deep purple. “It didn’t work,” Red said quietly. “When I tried, it didn’t work. I changed. But…”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Red could see the Queen glance at her. “But?”

 

“I… I remember it – some of it. I remember finding Snow’s scent and running the opposite way. But I still… When I found someone else…”

 

“Sometimes it’s hard to control the urge to kill someone when you’re a human, I can’t imagine it’s much easier when you’re a wolf.”

 

“This isn’t a joke to me,” the brunette said harshly, the empty glass in her hand shattering before she realized she was squeezing it. Before she could say a word, the scattered pieces flew into the air in front of her face and reassembled.

 

“So it didn’t work,” Regina, unaffected by the tone or glare the other woman gave, stood and grabbed the floating glass to put it, as well as her own, back in the basket she had brought. “But it is helping.”

 

Red could feel resentment boiling up inside her. Yes, it was helping. And Regina was the only one who could help her take it further. “I must not have put enough in.”

 

“Evidently.”

 

“Can I ask you something?”

 

Regina turned back to face her, leaning against the table as she looked down at the werewolf. “Of course, dear.”

 

“Why are you helping me? And save me the ‘my kingdom needs it’ bit. I know that’s not true.”

 

“Ruby,” the glint in her eyes made Red pretty sure that she enjoyed using the fake pseudonym, “you need help, I can give you help. You’ve asked for my help, so here I am.”

 

“But what do you get out of all this?”

 

“I get to help a-”

 

“Spare me,” Red pleaded tiredly.

 

The Queen smiled and ran a hand over the purple riding coat she had worn, folding it and resting over the back of the chair she had sat on while they ate before she spoke again. “I know you started covering the mirrors, dear, but you can’t be so blind to as not have noticed just how gorgeous you are.”

 

Red’s gaze dropped to the fire again, the crackling sound comforting her somewhat. “You could have anyone in any of the kingdoms if you wanted. You’re just doing this to get back at Snow, aren’t you?”

 

“Would you even believe me if I said no?” Upon Red’s headshake, Regina laughed quietly. “You’re a smart girl, Ruby. But the only way she would find out would be if you were to tell her. And you’re not going to are you?” There was a long pause but Red’s answer never came, so Regina continued. “I could give you the wolfsbane dart, if you wanted. You could suffer on your own if that’s what you desire-”

 

“I couldn’t stay conscious long enough for it to work.” Red knew she was just finishing the sentence the way Regina wanted. “So you helping your enemy’s friend is just for fun, then?”

 

“Well, I certainly had fun last time.”

 

“I don’t trust you,” Red replied stubbornly as she forced herself to meet Regina’s warm brown eyes. “You’re doing all of this for a girl you don’t know just because you get to end up in bed with me?”

 

“We all have urges, Ruby. You should know that better than anybody.” The dart appeared in Regina’s open palm in a puff of black smoke. “But if you just want to cuddle, I’ll understand.”

 

Red stood and stepped towards the shorter woman and kissed her suddenly. Regina had been so caught off guard that the dart dropped to the floor, and before she could return the kiss Red had broken it. She stared down at the monarch for a moment before speaking. “I’m never going to trust you.”

 

Regina took her in for a moment before nodding, still managing to look regal despite her toned down attire. She bent down to pick up the dart and looked Red in the eyes as she raised it. In turn Red exposed the side of her neck to the woman while her hand came up to undo the knot holding her cloak together. It fell to the ground as the dart plunged into her vein, causing her knees to buckle at the pain.

 

Regina caught her. And even if Red didn’t trust her, she certainly wasn’t settling for a night of cuddling.

 


 

Another blow up from Henry, and this time it had unfortunately been very public. He had left Granny’s in a huff, spouting off about his real mom and upsetting the plates on their table before he left. She had taken him off campus for lunch and it had resulted in a glass full of milkshake shattering on the ground and splashing her shoes.

 

She could feel the eyes of the other patrons in the diner on her, eyes of people who would be too terrified to even whisper about what had just occurred while Regina was in the room, but would undoubtedly begin their gossip as soon as they could. Regina didn’t have time for the simpletons of her town, didn’t particularly care what they thought of her. There was only one opinion she cherished and it had just stormed off.

 

She bent down immediately to try to clean the damage (how she missed the days when a wave of her hands would do), only to come face-to-face with Ruby when she did. She was wearing those ridiculously short shorts – her small apron was longer – and a compassionate look.

 

“I’ll get this.”

 

“Ruby-”

 

“Really, Madam Mayor.” Ruby’s hand stilled on Regina’s, which had grasped the upturned cup. They hadn’t spoken much since their night together, nothing outside of the ordinary day-to-day small chat. Ruby smiled at her more, but other than that, little had changed. “I’ll get it. This one’s on the house.”

 

The oppressive stares from the other patrons had her nodding and thanking Ruby quietly while she gathered up her dignity and walked out the door. She found Henry’s form walking quickly down the street before turning in the opposite direction to head back towards city hall.

 

Her schedule for the afternoon was easily done away with, leaving her sitting at her desk alone, Daniel’s ring in her hand. Emma Swan. She had barely been in Storybrooke long enough to know her away around the town and she had already stolen her son away. She had two more hours of her day left in the office to stew about the confrontation with her son that afternoon. Her son.

 

The ring nearly went flying as she gave a start, a result from the knocking at the door. Regina swiveled her chair around to quickly double check her day planner to ensure that she didn’t have any meetings she had forgotten about, but she had been correct; her day was clear. Her gaze then shifted upwards toward the tempered glass, at the tall figure dressed in black and shifting from foot to foot.

 

“Um…” she paused for a moment, quickly scrambling to put Daniel’s ring away before she continued, “come in.”

 

Ruby stepped through the doors; chocolate hair, leather jacket, black jeans, studded boots – her fashion choices were always perplexing to Regina. The girl was definitely not a wolf in sheep’s clothing – she was more like a wolf in peacock’s clothing. More perplexing than her attire were the tray of drinks and the bag of food she held in her hands.

 

“I checked with the woman at the front desk and she said your afternoon was clear, so I hope it’s okay,” she raised the food then, “I figured you could use some lunch. Since most of yours ended up on the floor.”

 

Interesting. Regina the politician, the consummate actress who had been fooling the small town she presided over for twenty-eight years, began to clear her desk of things to allow space for the food Ruby had brought. But Regina the Queen was surprised. When Ruby had made no further contact for a few months, Regina figured their fling had been nothing but that; a fling. That their connection from the other land had indeed been cut. But now the girl had shown up with an above and beyond measure of friendliness and she couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Was it because of Emma? Was another full moon near? Was she just legitimately being unnaturally friendly?

 

“Madam Mayor?”

 

“Sorry.” Regina shook her head to clear her thoughts and took a sip of the drink that her left hand had managed to find; strawberry milkshake – a rare treat she indulged in, but Ruby remembered. She looked down at her meal and smiled a little: grilled cheese, sliced pickle on the side, and even a small container of ketchup to dip the sandwich in even though the waitress would always grimace when she did. “I was lost in thought. What were you saying?”

 

“I was just saying that it must be hard for you when Henry talks like that,” she paused as if she didn’t know whether or not to continue, “about Emma being his real mom.”

 

“Oh.” Regina stalled for time by taking a bite of the pickle set out before her. “Yes. Of course, I mean. I’m not sure what I did to deserve this kind of reproach from him.”

 

“I’m sure it’s just a phase,” Ruby offered with as much sincerity that Regina could hope for. She waved off the conversation after that and they spent the rest of their meal discussing the mundane town they resided in. It filled Regina in on more than she realized she missed about the lives of the people she once ruled over, and filled the hour even more quickly. Before she knew it, it was four o’clock and Ruby was finally collecting the remains of their late lunch.

 

“Thank you so much for the meal, Ruby. And for… this. All of this. Really, I… needed it.”

 

Ruby positively beamed as she dumped an armful of what was their lunch into the trash bin next to Regina’s desk. She seemed to stop, as if in mid-sentence in her own head and tapped her fingers against the smooth glass surface in front of her. “Happy to help. Really. Everyone else in this town seems so intimidated by you. I don’t get it. Well, I do,” she amends, casually pivoting to sit on the corner of the desk, “but… if they’d talk to you for five minutes.”

 

“It’s nice to hear that, Ruby.” She swiveled her chair just enough so that she was facing the younger woman. She was smart enough to catch the change in mood, was tired enough that she could allow herself to play the innocent prey. “Let me know if you ever need anything. I’ll be happy to help.”

 

“Well,” Ruby began, almost before Regina had even finished, “I’ve kinda always had this thing where I’ve wanted to have sex on a desk. Is that weird?” She cocked her head to the side at the same time she delicately crossed one leg over the other. “But if you’re not in the mood to help me with that, I understand.”

 

It turned out she was in the mood. To push Ruby back on her desk and kiss her hard enough to bruise those shiny red lips. To muscle her way under tight jeans so she could fuck the younger woman until several of the folders and kick-knacks on her desk had fallen off. She finished with a relieved sigh, her pent up aggression having left Ruby’s chest heaving as she gulped for air on the desk. Regina resituated herself back in her chair, feeling somewhat at ease for the first moment since she had woke up.

 

“Did it live up to your expectations?” she asked as the brunette sat up from the glass top of Regina’s workspace – sat up with a savage smile while she did her jeans back up. Ruby practically melted to the floor she moved so smoothly, nails lightly raking up the top of Regina’s thighs. “So, yes then?”

 

It turned into a struggle to remain silent as Ruby’s nails dug into her hindside, holding Regina in place while her tongue ravished her. She seemed positively feral, leaving little doubt in the Mayor’s mind as to whether or not it was wolfstime, and leaving even less doubt that Ruby had any misgivings about her, even with Emma around.

 

When they finished Regina walked to the windows and opened them wide, despite the brisk wind – the smell of sex in her office seemed less than proper for a mayor – while Ruby gathered her coat and zipped it back up, leaning back against the desk after she had, forcing Regina to face her.

 

“So…” Regina began, a diatribe about the appropriateness of a mayor in a small town having casual sex already on her tongue before she was interrupted by a kiss from the taller woman.

 

“So,” Ruby repeated when they parted, “I’ll see you around then?”

 

“In a town this size, it’d be damn near impossible,” Regina muttered before composing herself a little. Ruby was giving her an out. As well as an in. Whatever Regina chose to take. “I’ll see you around, Miss-”

 

“Just Ruby, please.” She leant forward to kiss Regina once more while her hands straightened out the blazer she wore over her dress. “I think it’s hot, Madam Mayor. When you say my name. Only you. And I don’t know why so don’t ask.”

 

Regina smiled and reclaimed her seat behind her desk, smiling up at the darkly clad girl as she relaxed back into her chair. “I’ll see you around, Ruby.”

Chapter Text

“Regina!” She could hear the animals in the immediate area around the small clearing in the Enchanted Forrest scurrying away like their lives depended on it. Again she shouted, “Regina!” but again she was met with nothing but the rustling of leaves and the far away call of birds. “Regina, come on.”

 

The mirror Red held in her hand was thrown down next to a tree in frustration and Red followed suit, dropping to her knees and grabbing each side of the frame that held the looking glass, gripping it as if it were the only thing keeping her alive. “Regina,” her words began harshly but faded to a plea, “Regina, I know you can hear me. Just… please come here.”

 

“I do so love making people beg.” The voice came from behind her so Red immediately stood and turned, trying to gather her dignity again. Regina stood not ten feet from her, leaning against a tree in one of her ridiculously opulent gowns, looking only mildly curious at Red in her own state. “Take a moment, dear. It looks like you could use one.”

 

She was without her crimson cloak; it had been haphazardly tossed aside when she made the sudden decision to do… whatever it happened to be that she had been doing. This confrontation. The only thing she had left the cabin with was the mirror she had just thrown in the dirt. It took miles of running to find a spot where she felt she was far enough away from the cabin she shared with Snow – far enough away to bring Regina out from the Dark Palace.

 

Out of breath and with dirt on her dress, Red didn’t much care about how she appeared in front of the Queen anymore. Their on-and-off monthly trysts had left Red feeling like she could be totally vulnerable in front of this woman, and Red hated it. Hated how humanizing the time had been. She saw Regina now. Regina who loved to ride, who always had a joke no matter the situation, who had been steadily helping Red control the monster she held inside her.

 

In three quick strides she was able to grab hold of Regina’s face and bring it to her own, kissing her roughly and without restraint. The Queen returned in kind after a moment’s pause, her own hands rising, one to Red’s cheek while the other rested safely at her collarbone. Her movements were gentle while her kiss was not, but Red was not going to let her have the upper hand.

 

“Why,” she began as she tore her mouth away, the Queen’s head still in her hands as she panted breathlessly, “does it still feel the same?” She could still feel the tingle, like ice sliding down into her stomach and cooling her whole body. Wolfstime had safely passed, the wolfsbane out of her system, but still she felt the affects of Regina’s touch.

 

“Puppy love?” She slammed the Queen back against the tree and turned away, pacing back and forth. “I’m sorry, dear. I have no answer for you.”

 

“It’s not supposed to be like this,” Red whimpered as she walked back and forth.

 

“And what is it supposed to be like, exactly?” There was a hint of disdain in her voice, a hint of amusement, and a strong overtone of boredom as she surveyed the surrounding forest.

 

“I don’t know,” Red snapped back at her.

 

“Then maybe this is exactly what ‘it’ is supposed to be like.”

 

“It shouldn’t be like this.” Red whimpered once more and crumbled to the ground with her next step, hands curling in the soft soil. “It shouldn’t feel good, especially when it’s not during wolfstime. It can’t.”

 

“Ruby,” the name was whispered in her ear and it sends unwanted shivers down her spine. She hadn’t even heard the Queen move from her spot but her arm was now securely around Red’s back. “It is what it is.”

 

She barely needed to turn her head to meet the Regina’s gaze, those warm eyes as sweet as chocolate, just like her murmured words. The Queen, she reminded herself in vain, Not Regina. The Queen. But it was Regina’s kiss she received. It was Regina who gently laid her back against the soft ground. It was Regina who stayed with her until the morning.

 

Red didn’t trust the Queen, but Regina, it seemed, was a whole other story.

 


 

Their trysts had become a frequent thing after the death of Graham. Regina needed to grieve, but grieving over a life you stole was something she still wasn’t sure how to do after twenty-eight years of living in this world. At least this time, the whole town was grieving with her. And Ruby was most definitely included in that. Sometimes Regina would pull her into the bathroom at Granny’s, and kiss her roughly, just to taste her again, hands gripping the taller woman’s forearms hard enough to bruise. Ruby didn’t seem to mind though. In fact, Ruby practically begged for more and it led Regina to wonder if Ruby was grieving over Graham for the same reasons she was. But her mind couldn’t wander there. She couldn’t create resentment towards Ruby. She just couldn’t.

 

When Emma wins sheriff and everything is settled, she’s waiting in Ruby’s room before the brunette had even closed up the shop downstairs. When she entered, Ruby jumped in surprise at the sight of her but made no further movement except to lock the door behind her as Regina advanced. Regina kissed Ruby until she couldn’t think anymore, fucked her because she needed to, and was out the door before the disheveled waitress could even find her shirt.

 

The next day when she sat down and ordered her coffee, Ruby smiled brightly and returned with a fresh brew – business as usual.

 


 

It was a rare occurrence for Red to wake up and still see Regina, let alone still see her sleeping, but she supposed that it wasn’t quite as jarring when she was in fact in the Queen’s own bed at the Dark Palace. It was accustomed for either one of them to leave after their rendezvous, but that unspoken rule had begun to slip, opening cracks in Red’s defensive demeanor and lessening the condescending jokes from the monarch. Now morning afters had become less and less odd for them.

 

In her defense, the Queen’s bed was glorious and had the softest sheets she had ever slept on, a full breakfast was always brought to them, and the sunrise over the valley that the Dark Palace overlooked was stunning. While Snow sits alone in our cottage, was always the first thing that came to Red’s mind, though it probably wasn’t true. Snow was off on her own mission and she had more friends to help her now. She had a love to fight for.

 

Regina didn’t, Red gathered from their time together. Regina didn’t seem to have too many people at all around her. She had picked up on the smell of wolves in the Dark Palace early on, but it seemed to fade and mix with the scent of a man. She had been informed that it was just the Queen’s huntsman and, judging by the lingering scent of him in Regina’s room, the Queen’s plaything as well.

 

“Why do you need me if you have him?” She had asked the second night she spent in the palace.

 

“Maybe I’m going for a full litter.”

 

Red didn’t bring it up afterwards; it really was none of her business. Not that Regina didn’t owe her real answers, she just found herself caring less and less about them as time went on. She stretched under the sheets before slipping out to get back into her dress, walking over to one of the large windows, and leaning over the edge to take in the world waking up around her. She wondered where Snow was. Looking for Charming. What else would she be doing?

 

“How does the day look?”

 

Red smiled a little to herself but kept her back to the Queen as she looked out at the valley. “It looks like a beautiful day to get ready for a monster’s night of pain and torture.”

 

“You’re not a monster, dear.” Arms wrapped around her waist, arms that were now covered in a black and violet silk robe, as if it were completely normal – which it was. Worst of all, she found herself leaning back into the embrace. “All you need is a little taming.”

 

“Do you really think that I’ll ever be able to control it?”

 

“Of course.” Her hair was pulled to the side as a kiss was placed on the nape of her neck – another thing that had become all too familiar. “With time.”

 

They’re silent for a long time as the pink sky turns to yellow and then blue, their breakfast having been taken in front of the same window and done away with just so they could resume their positions, though Regina stood next to her rather than behind her.

 

“Can I ask you something?”

 

“Ruby, I think we’re beyond the boundaries where you have to ask permission to ask me a question.”

 

“Why don’t you… why don’t you just hire an assassin to kill Snow? I know that she said you tried once, but she got away.”

 

Regina was leaning on the ledge with two arms, mirroring Red’s own position, her face blank. “I don’t want to kill her. I want her to suffer."

 

“Can’t you see-”

 

“Ruby, you brought up this conversation knowing the answer to your own question. And I don’t wish to discuss it further because it only seems to aggravate and hurt you.” She was stone-faced, but the agitation was clear in her voice.

 

I don’t want to kill her, rang through her head, I want her to suffer. It resonated for months after. Even if she was comfortable with the Queen, she didn’t trust her. She could never trust her.

 


 

One of the first things she learned about Ruby was that she liked her showers to be scalding hot. She emerged from her en suite in a towel, her hair up in a ponytail and only slightly damp, while her skin was a rosy pink, as per usual. Regina had been lounging on the bed, redressed save for the blazer that still hung on the back of the chair. She was running out of time, but still felt the need to linger. She liked lingering with Ruby. She needed to linger with Ruby – at least for a while.

 

“Your water bill must be ridiculous.”

 

“Oh, don’t worry.” She flopped on the bed next to Regina, face clean, hair up, smelling of body washes and lotions, and looking entirely too much like Red. But for the moment, Regina could look past it. Ruby was Ruby, Red was Red. She knew it. She just couldn’t forget it. “Granny docks it from my pay. Only because I’m a big fan of showering the day away, though.”

 

“Am I included in that of which you’re showering away?” Regina asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

It earned her a kiss before Ruby sprang from the bed to get dressed, any form of modesty gone between them. At least on Ruby’s part. “Shower away a fantastic orgasm? Not likely. Some people like to smoke, I like to shower.” She grabbed something from the top drawer and then turned and added with curious but pleased look on her face, “I love that perfume you’re wearing, by the way.”

 

Regina felt her heart stop for half a moment as she surveyed the girl in the corner. The last time she had put on perfume was well before Graham’s death, which must have been at least a few weeks’ time by now, and any discernible scent had surely faded from her clothes. She had the sudden, fleeting, terrifying feeling that the curse was lifting, that it was Red in the corner of the room, readying to pounce and kill her for what she had done to the town. But the moment passed as Ruby began to hum and redress.

 

“Thank you,” she finally managed, though her fists clenched at the reality of the curse slowly abating. If Ruby was getting her abilities back, if Graham had been seeing visions, if Gold knew, it meant it was weakening. All because of Emma Swan. Regina surveyed the brunette as her pink skin became covered with clothes, trying to shake the immediate rage that came to her. “Any word yet on our town’s newest visitor? You probably talk to him the most at the diner.”

 

“I’ve been chatting him up,” Ruby admitted as she slid on tight fitting jeans, “But he’s an enigma wrapped in a leather jacket. He tells me stories sometimes. About the places he’s traveled.”

 

“Do you want to travel, Ruby?”

 

“God, yes,” she replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. It was easy as that for Regina to start putting the pieces together in the puzzle Gold had dropped in her lap earlier that day.

 

“Well, if you’re looking for a job that offers the opportunity, I think you made the wrong career choice.” She stands from the bed then, smoothing out her dress before reaching for her blazer.

 

It was a seed. Small enough to slip in unnoticed, but what doesn’t go unnoticed is Ruby’s stint at the sheriff’s station. She’d be able to find the heart no problem. And Emma, as annoying and oblivious as she could be, could find the rest of the items needed to get Mary Margaret. Even if she had to sacrifice one of her only friends in the town, it would be worth it. Snow had to suffer like she did. It was as simple as that.

 

But it wasn’t. She was giving up Kathryn, the only friend she had in the town next to Ruby – whom she was also using as a pawn anyway. It was to get the vengeance she needed, she reminded herself as she dug the hole and placed Mary Margaret’s jewelry box inside. Kathryn who had been the first real friend she had made in twenty-eight years, and Regina sent her off to be at the mercy of Gold’s whim. Regina may as well have sent her to the butcher, she feared.

 

Ruby found the heart, the DNA sample was a match, and Mary Margaret got taken in. It should have been a banner day for Regina, but when she saw Ruby leaving the Sheriff’s station the night of, the guilt of the whole plan hit her hard at the sight of her distraught face of the young woman. The mayor watched from across the street as Ruby called someone on her cellphone and went on to ignore the vibrations of her own phone, clutched tightly in her hand. It wouldn’t be right, and Regina had had her fill of not doing to the right thing for that evening. She drove away unnoticed and fell into a troubled sleep when she returned home.

 


 

When she dreams – an occurrence that had become more frequent since the appearance of Emma Swan – it’s Red she sees, not Ruby. But it’s not the Red she knew, it’s a Red who exists in this world, free of make up and without her usual smile. She sees Snow White, even if she’s dressed as Mary Margaret, and Archie certainly doesn’t turn back into a cricket. It terrifies her to see the hate in Red’s eyes. She can accept it from anyone else, save Henry. Henry who hates her so much in real life that it doesn’t surprise her when she dreams of him plotting against her. But when she sees the hate in Red’s eyes, it’s like salt on a wound.

Chapter Text

“You promi-”

 

“Bite your tongue, dear. I did no such thing. And I would hate to have to make a liar out of you.”

 

Of course the Queen would cut her down before she even began. While the dwarves had attended to Snow’s body, Red had got on her horse and rode. And rode. And rode. Until her thighs were sore and she stood at the front doors of the Dark Palace, pushing her way beyond the stationary guards that were in position there. The Queen must have known she was coming, Red had received no resistance from any of her men as she made her way to the bedroom where she knew the Queen would be reveling in her victory.

 

The woman in question languished on a chaise lounge in a crimson velvet dress that hugged every curve. Her hair done up, make up on, the complete lack of surprise at the intruder who burst through her doors – she had definitely known Red was on her way.

 

“You said that she wouldn’t die,” Red spat, her voice heavy due to her laboured breathing. “You said that you didn’t want to kill her.”

 

“And I didn’t. She’s there, not dead, for the world to see.” With a wave of her hand an image appeared in her mirror, one of Snow in a glass coffin surrounded by the dwarves. “We could start selling tickets. I’m sure it would be quite the attraction.”

 

“I knew I couldn’t trust you.” Red grabbed Regina by her dress, forcing her to stand upright and meet Red’s gaze. “I knew it-”

 

“But you did anyway, Ruby,” the Queen replied, dark eyes narrowed slightly. “You know as well as I do that I have been nothing if not transparent throughout our little meetings. I gave you every reason to believe what I said would happen and never held back on my plans – don’t get angry with me for choosing not to listen.”

 

She was angry though. Red threw the Queen back down to her cushioned lounge. ‘I want to make her suffer.’ The Queen was right; she had been crystal clear with Red every step of the way. It was Red who had blinded herself into thinking she could play both sides and not see the inevitable destruction the woman before her had promised. “And how does this make her suffer? It makes everyone around her suffer, everyone she loved. Not Snow.”

 

“She’s not getting her happily ever after.” The Queen smoothed out her dress as she stood on her own volition. “That’s enough for me.”

 

“I could have stopped this. I could have stopped this all,” Red whispered to herself as a numbness swept over her body. She nearly buckled under the weight of the truth in her own sentence, choosing instead to lean against the smooth stone wall behind her. Why hadn’t she stopped it?

 

“Yes, you could have,” the soothing lilt that Red had come to accept seemed jarring as Regina stepped towards her. “But you didn’t, you came to me time and time again because I could help you.” Yes, Red thought as she closed her eyes to escape the brown ones staring at her, because I needed help. I did. “And then you stayed. Time and time again, because you wanted to. And at any point you could have killed me – thrown me out the window, a knife in the back while I slept, maybe you would have just transformed and ripped out my throat, who knows? I’m sure you would have been as creative as you were loyal. But where do your loyalties lie, Red?”

 

Her name sounded so foreign on Regina’s tongue that for a moment Red almost found herself correcting her, almost agreed with her, almost stayed with her and her soothing voice and warm eyes. Instead, she slapped away the hand that was coming up to touch her cheek and shoved past the monarch, heading towards the door. It closed before she could reach it but she refused to turn back to face the older woman.

 

“It’s rude to leave a question unanswered, Ruby.”

 

“You know where my loyalties lie, Regina.” She surprised herself with how level she had kept her voice. “And they're not in your bed.”

 

 


 

Regina had avoided Granny’s during the investigation, at least when she could see could see Ruby’s bright smile through the windows. She had refused each phone call, but it didn’t seem to take the waitress long to realize that Regina wouldn’t be picking up any time soon. And life went on. For a few days. Until Kathryn reappeared, out of the blue. And of course it was Ruby who had found her, disheveled and confused in the parking lot behind Granny’s.

 

Again she avoided the call from Ruby that evening. She also forwent a hospital visit to the woman who was the only friend she had made in twenty-eight years. It wouldn’t be right. She could only fake so many smiles, could only pretend so much that she wasn’t a force set out on destroying lives. She had visited Gold, but received nothing but smirks in return. Her whole plan had vanished and she was left looking guilty.

 

Even though Henry again rebuked her, it was David Nolan of all people, who set her off; though it shouldn’t have surprised her. Charming had always been a smarmy ass, but he was handsome. David turned her advances down, more gently than Henry had turned down her attempt at mothering him, but it was a slight nonetheless.

 

A slight that sent her out for a midnight stroll after Henry had been safely put to bed. She didn’t know where she was going, but Regina walked with purpose as she tried to decipher just why she was so unlovable. She must have circled around the small city center twice before she heard it: the ragged breathing as she neared the bar that could only mean one thing. But it was the familiarity of that breathing that had her treading quietly, even while she was safely across the street, to glance into the alleyway behind the building.

 

It was indeed Ruby who was having a midnight rendezvous, but it was her companion that truly surprised Regina. Jefferson had the young girl pinned against the wall in the alleyway that also served as the parking lot, his eyes closed tight as he thrust into waitress. An odd pair, Regina mulled distractedly as she watched Ruby bury her face in the scarf around the man’s neck, Attractive, but odd. It was over before Regina could feel voyeuristic, but even the way they parted had left Regina somewhat bemused, as it was so casually done. Jefferson pulled away and collected himself and Ruby did the same, but they shared a joke for a moment as he bent down to retrieve her underwear, which she in turn took with a ‘thank you’ before tossing them in a nearby dumpster, resulting in a charming laugh from her suitor.

 

As they parted, Jefferson choosing to duck back into the alleyway and head towards his estate while Ruby took a moment to smooth down her dress, Regina was left wondering if this thing had been a regular occurrence. It couldn’t be, the logical part of her brain told her despite the fact that her feet were already crossing the pavement to where the other girl stood. He’s just began to reappear in the town. And what Ruby does is none-

 

“My, my, aren’t we a busy girl?” Ruby gave a visible start, her hand flying up to her chest to land over her heart as she took in her intruder. She seemed to be trying to stand taller, taller than she already was, especially with those ridiculous heels, but Regina still felt like she had the upper hand.

 

“What do you want, Regina?”

 

“That’s Mayor Mills to you, little girl,” Regina sniped back, her feet still guiding her towards the younger woman, effectively backing her prey against the wall of the pub once more, though they were on the street for all to see – if anyone else had been up that late on a Thursday evening. There was less than an inch of space between them when her feet finally stopped in front of the taller woman and she surprised herself when she grabbed Ruby’s face, forcing the waitress to keep their eyes locked. She didn’t know why she was so angry, really. So possessive when she had been the one to cut the leash she had on this girl. But she was.

 

Ruby, however, had a surprise of her own as she swooped in to kiss Regina, more roughly than she ever had in the past, only to tear her mouth away as Regina’s grip on her jaw loosened. The waitress gave a small something, whether it was a whine or a whimper, Regina couldn’t tell, but the look on her face was undoubtedly agony.

 

“It’s not supposed to… Listen, I get it if you’re done with me but when I kiss you, god, when I even touch you…” Ruby jerked her head to the side as she collected her thoughts, distress lining her face as she tried to make herself understood. “It’s like drinking ice water on a hot day. I can’t expl-”

 

Regina backed away from the woman before her and it earned her a sudden silence from the brunette. The curse was weakening; more things were bleeding into this world. Yet she was still powerless as her life fell apart around her. All because Emma Swan had decided to stay, because she couldn’t have just left her damn past in the past. The irony wasn’t lost on Regina, but still, she couldn’t find it within herself to comfort Ruby like she so clearly wanted to be, she couldn’t provide the cooling kisses and touches that she craved. Ruby was Ruby and Red was Red. She decided a long time ago to stop blurring the lines.

 

“Regina,” she heard as she turned on foot and headed back towards her house. “Please, you can’t…”

 


 

When she pictured the angry mob, Red was one of the first in line. Hell, she was the one tying her up so they could kill her. When the real mob showed up, Red was there but she was trying to play the peacekeeper. Though she didn’t make a noise when they talked about locking her up, didn’t visit while she was in jail. Red seemed to have other things on her mind, and Regina couldn’t blame her, really. But she knew the real reason. Red would be far too afraid of someone being able to walk in on a conversation they’d have.

 

Those worries didn’t stop the brunette as she pushed past Regina and into her house under the cover of nightfall. The older woman was grateful for the intrusion; not only for the chance to speak to Red again, but because her large abode had been feeling far too empty without her son there. Red paced in the entryway for a moment and then looked at Regina as if she were waiting for all the answers to every question in the world.

 

“How about some of that scotch?”

 

Red was still quiet, even after half of her glass had been drained. She stood in the same spot she had the first night she had been in the study, but this time she faced Regina rather than the mantle above the fireplace. Stood there, staring at Regina. Waiting. Regina, meanwhile, finished off her own drink in slow, even sips as she studied the woman across the room from her, trying to decipher the mask that Red had apparently been working on.

 

“So should I call you Red or-” A glass hurtling towards the wall behind Regina interrupted her, though it smashed far enough away that the woman knew it was intentionally not aimed at her.

 

“How could you?”

 

“I told you-”

 

“You took away our lives.” The mask had fallen. Regina could read her clearly now: hurt, angry, betrayed, lost, scared, bitter. Everything was there for her to see. “You stole everything-”

 

“Oh, what did I steal?” Regina snapped back, shoulders squared. “I gave you everything. I brought you to a world with penicillin and civil rights and bras. And just like I promised you, I let you stay with your grandmother. I even gave you a job you liked, hell, I gave you a Camaro for god’s sake-”

 

“Forced me,” Red said suddenly, her face having previously been lost in concentration. At least she listened. “You forced me and everyone else into this life with no consent given on our parts. You made us forget who we were, who we loved. You tore apart families, you tore apart our lives for your own means and kept us trapped here. And, what, you expect me to thank you for that?”

 

Regina was without a comeback. She was tired. She missed her son. She didn’t want a fight. But still, she pressed on, sputtering out, “I brought you to a world where you didn’t have to worry about your little problem.”

 

“You made me the town harlot in return,” Red spat as she took a few steps toward her.

 

“What can I say? You’re a wolf, you love to howl.” She continued on when it looked as if Red was going to slap her, “I didn’t have control over everything. Some people’s personalities manifested in different ways like-”

 

“Me being a slut?”

 

Regina scoffed. “Just because you were in bed with me does not make you the town slut. It’s the twenty-first century, dear. At least, here it is.”

 

Red shook her head but the anger seemed to leave her for a moment. “What are you going to do now? You’ve pushed away everyone who cared for you and now you have a town full of people who would be happy to see you die. What’s next, Regina?”

 

“What’s next is I get my son back.”

 

“And how do you plan to do that, Madam Mayor?”

 

Regina eyed up the younger woman for a moment. “Why, magic, dear. It’s the only silver lining to this whole miserable thing.”

 

“Would you like my advice?” Red didn’t wait for a response. “Magic? Isn’t going to solve anything. It’s what created this mess. If you want that boy to love you, if you want anyone to love you, you’re going to have to try to redeem yourself. Not dig this hole deeper.”

 

She left without another word, glass crunching under her boots as she walked by.

 

 


 

Though she had swore not to, Red found herself slipping off a horse in front of the Dark Palace again, though this time the guards escorted her to her destination and didn’t leave until Regina waved them away. She was dressed in black as she surveyed the valley before her, while Red surveyed her.

 

“You can still stop-”

 

“Save your breath, dear. It’s futile.” Regina straightened but still didn’t turn around. “The wheels are already in motion.”

 

Red had never felt more helpless than she had at that moment – not even when Snow had told her what she really was. She stared at the back of Regina’s head, trying to will herself to run forward and snap her neck right then and there, but still she couldn’t. She was the only one who could, but she couldn’t.

 

“Please,” she tried again as she stepped further into the room. “I’ll do anything. Be anything. Just please stop this curse.”

 

“As much as I love hearing you beg me for things, I’m afraid there’s nothing left to be said on the topic.” She turned then, her face a mask to Red.

 

“Please,” once more, she had to, “whatever Snow has done to you surely can’t-”

 

“I wouldn’t speak of matters you have no knowledge of, Little Red.” The Queen’s voice brimmed with impatience, with anger and hurt and pain.

 

“She broke a promise, I know-”

 

“No, you don’t know,” came the snapped reply. “This curse… it’s happening. I’ve worked too hard, given up too much for it not to.”

 

The room was silent for a long time after the Queen’s words, even the birds and wind having seemingly disappeared. It felt deafening and suffocating and Red had to force herself to look at the woman before her.

 

“She’s pregnant.” That seemed to catch the Queen’s interest. Red saw the mask melt into a look she couldn’t quite place, one of penitence perhaps, maybe even a bit of longing. Red saw her in; saw her only chance to save her loved ones. “And that baby is as innocent as one can be. Even if you hate Snow, surely you wouldn’t separate a baby from its parents.”

 

Regina looked her over with an expression that made her feel as if she knew what Red was trying to do. “She’s pregnant,” she muttered to herself, turning away from Red once more. “No. No, Snow and her child won’t be separated. If it means so much to you.” It was a tiny crack in the defense, though Red picked up on the lack of mention when it came to the baby’s father. Nor had the tone the Queen had replied with gone by unnoticed. Regina turned back around with her usual flourish and smile, leaving Red feeling queasy at the sudden return to the norm. “Does the family lapdog have any other requests to make on their behalf?”

 

“Why do you do this?” Red snapped back. “Why can’t you just be human for a little while?”

 

“Am I being inhumane? Is that what you think of me, a monster?” A mock pout accompanied the questions.

 

“I think of you as someone who has taken a grudge against a young girl and let it lead you to destroy everything in your path until you’ve gotten your revenge.”

 

“Seems accurate enough.”

 

“But I also think of you as someone who used to be able to love. Who waited until that girl could defend herself before getting her revenge for whatever it is you two won’t talk about. I think of you as someone who helped me when I needed it the most, even if it was for selfish reasons. Even if you got something in return.” Red stood her ground and squared her shoulders. Regina had a way of seeming grandiose and she needed to surpass it, even as her voice softened. “I think of you as the person who would hold me at night and keep the fire at bay until the wolfsbane petered out, who came whenever I needed her. You’re better than this curse, Regina, you just won’t let yourself be.”

 

To her credit, Regina seemed to actually listen to her and even took a moment to let the words sink in before she spoke. “Are there any other requests you’d like to make?”

 

She hated Regina in that moment. Pure, unfiltered hate. But she hated herself even more. More than she ever thought she could. But the hate didn’t make her angry; it just bore down on her as she conceded to pleading once more. “Granny… well, she’s the only family I have-”

 

“I’ll see to it that you two aren’t separated,” Regina retorted as she turned back to look out the window.

 

At least she would get to be with Granny. Red had secured that, something she had desperately needed to do, even if she had to resort to beseeching the woman before her. She was thankful it hadn’t come to that. Regina had a heart, even if she didn’t bare it often. Red began walking towards the door, already exhausted at the thought of her ride back to the castle, where her absence must have surely gone noticed by then.

 

“I meant it,” Red said tiredly after a pause, not looking behind her as she strode forward. “You’re better than this curse, Regina.”

 


 

The weight of the gazes on her were almost too oppressive; Regina felt like she could hardly breathe as she pulled up in front of Granny’s. One couple outside, another inside and one patron alone – only five people and it felt like she still had to watch her back, powers and all. She pressed on however; earning the gaze of the woman she came to meet as the bell above the door jingled, signaling her entrance.

 

The young woman behind the counter stood as tall as she had when Regina had taken Henry away with her at the town hall, though her face was less defiant. She nodded almost indiscernibly when Regina paused; giving the woman the go ahead to walk further into the establishment.

 

“I took your advice,” Regina began in a somewhat low voice as she sat at one of the bar stools, “although I probably should have taken it before I set a small fire and terrified a room full of people.”

 

“Can’t argue with you there,” came the reply, voice neutral. She watched as the waitress sized her up and then knelt down for a moment behind the counter, reappearing with a bottle of whiskey and then two glasses to join it. The younger woman smiled a little when the drinks had been poured, holding out her own glass for Regina to clink hers against before they both downed their respective shot.

 

“I didn’t know the path to redemption would go down smoothly,” Regina commented wryly although her face surely betrayed her. She was grateful for this white flag, if that’s what it was. It appeared to be, judging by the smile and the way the brunette leant on the counter, relaxed but composed. “Red, I-”

 

“Ruby. I… I’ve been Ruby for twenty-eight years,” she said with an easy grin. “And you may have been right about my life here. I do love it. I didn’t pick it, but…” Ruby squinted as she looked out of the diner’s front windows, into the near-blinding orange glow from the sunset. “Who does get to pick their lives, really? But I love mine. And the stuff between us here…”

 

“I hope you don’t think-”

 

“You didn’t exactly have to twist my arm.” Hazel eyes met chocolate again as Ruby straightened behind the counter. “I may have been too quick to jump down your throat about that one.”

 

“I think most people here have earned the right to jump down my throat.”

 

“Only most?” Ruby asked as she poured them each another few fingers of whiskey.

 

“Not everyone had a fairytale life back there, you know. You actually do know, better than most.” Regina spoke slowly; afraid of the backlash she could receive for her reasoning. It was a thin line to walk, she knew that much. “Just because your favourite couple had everything together-”

 

“I know.” Ruby was looking down at the glass she held between both her hands on the counter while Regina looked at her. “I know that there’s got to be a lot of people who would have benefited from a life here, but you didn’t give us as choice to decide.”

 

“I know,” Regina parroted. “And… well, I’m on the path to redemption. Or trying to get there.” She took a sip of her drink. “I just don’t know where the road starts.”

 

“With Henry.”

 

“He’s safe with your best friend the prince, don’t worry.”

 

Ruby smiled brightly, bringing her gaze up to meet Regina’s once again. “Well, that’s definitely a start. Besides, it’s always better to make a guy come to you than chase after him, right?”

 

“Not sure if those rules apply when it’s regarding your son, but valued advice nonetheless.” It felt weird to be so at ease with Ruby again, unbothered by the past between them. Then again, Ruby had always seemed more forgiving than Red.

 

“So what’s your next step?”

 

Regina sighed and took another sip from her glass. “I don’t know. Going to Hopper and trying to sort through my feelings or something equally as painful, I suppose.”

 

“That sounds like a good plan to me,” Ruby replied.

 

“And what about… I know I wasn’t your best friend, but I did value… whatever it was we had. Both here and there.” Regina forced her eyes to look up from the amber liquid in her glass to meet Ruby’s hazel ones. She almost continued when the lone patron threw his bill on the counter next to where they were situated, undoubtedly giving Regina an icy glare as he did.

 

“I’ll meet you over by the cash register,” Ruby said calmly but sternly as she grabbed the bill. The man, whoever he was (because, god, there were so many people Regina just couldn’t place at a moment’s notice) turned in a huff and headed to the destination Ruby had given him. In turn, Ruby drained her glass of its contents and looked at Regina, again sizing her up, as if she were prey. Which, Regina supposed, she was. “You already know my Monday afternoons are open.”

 

“Is that how I’m going to redeem myself to you?” Regina asked as she tried to contain the smirk on her lips.

 

“Well,” Ruby began as she grabbed the drink from the former mayor’s hand and polished it off as well before heading to cash register, “it couldn’t hurt.”