It’s been about a week since the accident. And today is the first day that Ruby has been able to brave visiting Belle in the hospital.
It’s not that she hasn’t wanted to visit Belle, no. Of course she has, with everything in her. And if the circumstances were different, she’s sure she would never have left Belle’s side. It wasn’t seeing Belle hurt that scared her -- though it is something she couldn’t stand to think of -- but more that she couldn’t stand the thought of looking at Belle, the woman she had loved for so long, and having Belle look back at her… but with no clue of who she was.
When the accident first happened, Ruby had been the first to arrive at the hospital, and had stayed there for hours waiting for news, waiting to be able to see Belle. And then Dr. Whale had come out and said that everything had been successful, that Belle would be fine, after a few weeks of recovery. That had been a welcome relief to Ruby, at first.
No one was allowed to visit her until she woke up. That’s what Dr. Whale had said. So there had been another few hours of waiting. Then, when she had woken up, Emma had insisted on speaking to her first, as Sheriff, to ask her questions about what happened. Ruby wanted to protest, but thought better of it. She knew Emma had to do her job, so she allowed it.
It was Emma who told her that Belle had absolutely no memory of who she was.
Emma theorised that Belle had crossed the town line during the accident. But in some freak anomaly, crossing the line seemed to wipe Belle of all her memories, even her cursed ones. So she had no memory of the Enchanted Forest, and no memory of Storybrooke. No memory of Ruby.
No memory of Ruby.
Ruby had left straight away. She couldn’t face it, Belle not knowing who she was. Could barely stand the thought, let alone the concept in itself. But now, after a lot of talking herself into it, of Granny and Mary Margaret talking her into it, she’s finally brought herself to face it.
She finds Belle -- or, at least, the shell of what had been Belle -- in the patient’s lounge, as the nurse had told her she would. She holds a basket in her hand, a care package, something she thought would bring some comfort to Belle, and something she hoped would jog some memories.
She freezes in the doorway. Belle sits curled into the chair in front of the television. Even from behind, Ruby can sense that she’s different. Slightly hunched over, and she seems tense. Ruby chews her lip. Takes a deep breath. Now or never.
She walks into the lounge, slowly. Her fear suddenly rushing back to her as she rounds the chairs, and comes to stand closer to Belle, now able to see her face. Her heart flutters, but her head tells her not to get her hopes up. She won’t remember you.
She stands, a little awkwardly, until Belle realises she’s there for her. She looks to Ruby, and for a moment, it’s as though Ruby’s heart stops. To look into the eyes of the woman she’s loved for so long, eyes that are normally full of equal love and affection for her -- but stare blankly at her now. Ruby clears her throat, blinks tears from her eyes.
“So it’s true,” her voice wavers, and she swallows, “you don’t remember.
“I -- I’m sorry,” Belle shakes her head, smiling apologetically, “no.”
Still the same Belle in her, somehow. Even if she doesn’t seem like it on the surface. Ruby can’t help but notice that. The same Belle now as she always has been -- still good-hearted, apologising for something that’s absolutely beyond her control. Ruby smiles sadly.
“Did we know each other?”
The question Belle asks weighs heavily on Ruby. How could she even begin to answer that, when Belle has absolutely no idea as to who she is? It would be too much too quickly, she supposes. Especially when some of the details were still unclear to Ruby. She was still trying to untangle exactly when they’d met, in the cursed Storybrooke, and exactly how long they’d been together. She doesn’t want to overwhelm Belle with that, not just yet.
“Yeah, we did.” Ruby can’t keep the softness out of her voice, no matter how hard she tries. She sits down now in the chair beside Belle, reaches for the television remote to turn it off. She turns back to Belle. Time to reintroduce herself, she supposes. “I’m Ruby.”
There’s a flicker of... something (recognition? Ruby supposes she’s expecting too much to think this) in Belle’s eyes as she hears Ruby’s name. A moment of silence between the two as they look at each other. Belle’s expression softer now, a lot more like the Belle Ruby knows.
“Ruby. That name suits you.” Ruby laughs a little weakly as Belle speaks -- this was one of the first things Belle -- or rather, Lacey, in those days -- had said to Ruby, the first day they met. Whenever that had been. “I -- I don’t actually know my name. Some of the people that have been to see me call me Belle, some call me Lacey. The nurses can’t seem to make their mind up, either."
She tips her head to one side. “What did you call me?”
“Lacey, when I first knew you. Belle since. I thought that name suited you more.” Ruby chuckles weakly. She presses her lips together, tears prickling behind her eyes again. It’s hurting her more than she wants to admit. Though seeing Belle has eased the weight in her heart a little, and even though she can see that Belle, her Belle, is still in there, there’s still something missing. Something Ruby doesn’t know if she’ll ever get back.
“Well, you seem to know me better than most people who have visited me before. Or at least -- I feel like we know each other better, or did, in the past,” Belle smiles, even warmer now, “so I guess Belle does suit me best.”
Belle reaches out and puts a hand on Ruby’s arm. A gesture that shocks them both -- Belle retracts her hand, clearly unsure as to why she just did that. Ruby, who had felt a rush of hope at the touch, is left with that empty disappointment again, though does her best to disguise this with a smile and a subject change.
“I brought you a… a care package,” she reaches for the basket, which she had placed on the table, and rests it on her lap. “I thought it might bring some comfort. Or maybe give you some idea of who you used to be.”
“Oh… wow. That’s so thoughtful of you.”
“Well,” Ruby looks down at the basket in her lap, not to look at the contents, but rather to refuse to look to Belle, knowing that with what she’s about to say, it’ll hurt her too much, “you won’t remember this, but… you would’ve done the same for me, if our roles had been reversed.”
“If we were as close as you say we were, I don’t find that hard to believe.”
Ruby allows herself a moment to look to Belle, to meet her eyes. There’s some sort of lost affection in there now -- or at least, Ruby thinks she can see this. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking. But she’ll take it, either way.
“You -- you always loved to read. You actually ran the library in town. You were always talking about your favourite books and authors and trying to get me to read them,” Ruby laughs, reminiscing, “so I brought you some of your old favourites. Some of mine, too. I gave into temptation in the end.”
As an example, Ruby pulls out one of the books -- The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne (one of Ruby’s favourites, from Belle’s suggestions) -- and hands it to Belle. Belle looks at the cover, running her fingers over it. She smiles softly.
“I brought you some old diaries and journals too,” again, Ruby takes one out and hands it to Belle, who takes it gratefully, “I didn’t know if it would be too overwhelming for you, but I thought, even if it doesn’t restore your memories, it’ll at least tell you who you are and --” her voice cracks -- “who everyone is to you. People lie, Belle, but your own memories won’t.”
Belle studies the journal carefully. Clearly touched by Ruby’s thought in bringing her this. Ruby catches her heart fluttering again. Her head doesn’t tell her to stop this time.
“And also…” Ruby swallows, nervous to reveal her next gift, “I brought you some photos. Of the two of us. That might have been a little more selfish of me but I -- I wanted you to see them. So you could see some of the memories we have together, as well as reading about them.”
“Ruby, that’s really so thoughtful of you.”
“Well, like I said. You would have done the same for me.”
“Still. Thank you. A lot of people have been trying to tell me about who I am or who everyone is to me, or what memories I’m supposed to have. And a lot of them have been conflicting accounts,” Belle laughs, a little sadly, “but no one besides you has shown me who I was, or given me the chance to discover it for myself.”
Ruby laughs shakily. Her voice is thick when she speaks next.
“Well, you always were independent.”
It's been a few hours now since Ruby arrived. Not that Belle -- she's trying to get used to calling herself Belle -- is complaining, not in the slightest. She's not sure what it is, but there's a comfort the other woman brings her that no one else has brought her yet. And she isn't ready for Ruby to leave, not right now, at least.
Belle had become drowsy from her cocktail of medications a while after Ruby had arrived. The woman had offered to leave, but Belle hadn't wanted that. She felt she was finally getting somewhere with finding out who she really was, and she wanted to find out more. That was the excuse she gave, anyway.
Ruby had insisted on Belle lying down, at the very least. And that brings us to now, Belle lying in her hospital bed, and Ruby lying beside her, but on top of the sheets, not under them as Belle is. Belle holds in her hands the photos Ruby has given her -- she looks through them, and as she looks at each, Ruby tells her the memory she has connected to that, or what it means for them.
Belle looks at one photo now. Clearly taken from one of their phones -- the Ruby in the photo holds the phone out, smiling into the camera. The Belle in the photo kisses Ruby's cheek, holding a glass of wine. They're clearly somewhere in the woods -- Belle has heard about woods around Storybrooke before. Ruby smiles sadly as she sees the photo.
"That was on my last birthday," she explains softly, "you and Granny put together a picnic for me, without telling me, and you took me to my favourite spot in the woods. Just you, I mean. Granny didn't come to the picnic."
Belle laughs at this. Still looking at the photo. The Belle in that photo seems so happy, and so in love -- she's not so surprised, now, that she feels so comfortable around Ruby. There's clearly a lot of history between them, and a romantic one, at that. It makes Ruby's sadness seem even more upsetting for her. She can't imagine what Ruby must be feeling, to actually have these memories, instead of just being told them.
"It was one of the best birthdays I've ever had. Mainly because I got to spend it with you."
"We look really happy," Belle observes, unafraid to voice this now, knowing for sure how much she can trust Ruby. Others that had been to visit, Emma, Mr. Gold, Regina, she wasn't sure. She felt she had history with them, at least with the latter two, but she didn't know exactly what it was. Didn't know if they were to be trusted. She knows Ruby is to be trusted -- maybe she's the only one who is.
There's a sadness to Ruby's tone now. Recognising this, Belle quickly shuffles that photo behind the rest, coming to another.
The next photo on the pile shows Belle and Ruby posing for the photo. Sat side by side on some sofa somewhere, Ruby's arm around Belle, with Belle's head on her shoulder. Their costumes are strange -- Ruby dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, and Belle as -- well, Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. Ruby laughs when she sees this.
"Okay, so there is context to this one, but it's a really long story, and one of the things I think you'll benefit more from by reading about your own account. It can be a little hard to believe otherwise. But this was a party we went to a few weeks ago. Everyone dressed up as a fairytale character. It was a joke, it'll make more sense once you read some of your diaries."
Belle isn't sure why this is so funny, but Ruby's laugh warms her, flows through her like music. And she can't help but smile on hearing it. There's a fondness to the warmth she feels that she never expected to feel, when she woke up with no memory. Not this quickly, at least.
"You make a good Little Red Riding Hood."
Ruby chuckles again.
"Glad you think so."
Belle flips to the next photo in the pile. This Belle and Ruby are practically unrecognisable to her -- both dressed in clothes that certainly were not work appropriate, to say the least, with makeup so heavy it made both of them look entirely different. They sit on a motorbike -- Ruby at the front, hands on the handles as though she were driving it, and Belle behind her, gripping her waist. Both facing the camera with expressions Belle could only describe as smouldering.
"Gods, I barely recognised us in this one." Belle exclaims, once she manages to find words in her shock.
"Yeah, that one was from a few years ago. Around the time we started seeing each other, I think. Those were your "Lacey" days. Again, something that'll make more sense when you read your diaries."
Belle shakes her head, totally unable to believe that the two women sat on that motorbike were the two women lying side by side in Belle's hospital bed now.
"There was this guy, Billy, a mechanic. He was at the diner a lot, mainly doing work and stuff. But once he came just to hang, and he came on his motorbike, and after a lot of persuasion--" Ruby laughs tearily, "he let us sit on it, and took that photo. I don't think I ever thanked him. For anything he did, really."
"Maybe you can now."
Ruby smiles sadly and shakes her head.
"He died a while back."
"Oh. I -- I'm sorry. Did I know -- ?"
"Everyone thought I did it, actually. You were one of the only people who stood by me."
Sensing the conversation becoming more serious now, Belle turns properly to face Ruby. Sees that she's struggling not to cry. Belle chews her lip.
"Everyone thought -- everyone's always thought -- that I'm this monster. Something horrific and evil that doesn't deserve love or -- or anything good. They wanted me locked up, or dead." Ruby swallows, wipes a stray tear from her cheek quickly.
"You're one of the only people who never saw that. One of the only ones who saw the good in me, even when I couldn't."
"I don't know how anyone could see you as a monster," Belle admits, softly, "I have a -- a pretty good sense when it comes to people. And you -- you're no monster."
Ruby meets Belle's gaze. Holds it. Tries and fails to smile.
"I love how you still think that."
"I don't think anything could change it."
A silence falls between them. But comfortable, and understanding. Ruby sniffs, and wipes a couple more stray tears from her eyes.
"Come on. Let's see what else we've got here."
Taking the hint, Belle turns back to the photos (swallowing her own tears) and turns to the next photo.
In a diner now, the pair sit in a booth by the window. The Ruby in the photo looks at the Belle in the photo with a soft expression, and Belle seems to be laughing at something -- they hold hands across the table.
"You know, I don't actually remember this one being taken. I think Granny likes to take some candid shots of us when we're spending time together. Likes to see us so happy, I guess. But that's in our diner, mine and Granny's. We had quite a few dates in there. Last minute ones, you know. Like, you'd come in on a day when I was working to buy me lunch on my break, even if it was where I was working because I couldn't really get away."
Ruby's voice in itself is a comfort to Belle. She realises this now. She watches Ruby as she speaks -- notices the small smile that tugs at her lips as she mentions her grandmother at the diner, and how her voice catches on the word "dates". There's a twinge deep in her heart. She looks back to the photo.
"I love that she does that," Belle says, softly and thoughtfully, "your Granny seems like a lovely person."
"She really misses you. You two got on like a house on fire." Ruby pauses. "Maybe next time I visit I can bring her with me."
"I'd like that." Belle looks to Ruby, smiles. "You'll visit again soon, right?"
"You can bet on it." Another pause. "I'm sorry it took me so long to come and visit you before. It was just... with what we were, I couldn't stand the thought of you looking at me with no idea as to who I am."
"No, I can understand that. Especially now I can see how much we meant -- or rather mean to each other."
A smile plays on Ruby's lips as Belle uses the present tense. Belle catches herself looking at them for a moment too long. Turns her attention quickly back to the photos, before she makes a fool of herself.
A few more hours have passed, and Belle seems to be getting sleepy now. Though she's loved the time they've spent together (it feels like falling in love with her all over again), Ruby knows it's best to let her rest.
"Hey, I'm gonna take off, okay? Let you get some sleep," Ruby whispers softly, to a half-asleep Belle. She places the photos they were still looking through into the basket on the side of Belle's table, beside a bunch of flowers she assumes are from Mr. Gold, who still doesn't know how to take a hint. Pushes herself from the bed and stands.
"Wait --" Belle murmurs drowsily, reaching for Ruby's hand and taking it. Ruby freezes -- looks at their intertwined hands, and feels her heart skipping a beat. "Stay. Until I'm asleep."
"I --" Ruby swallows, unsure how to react, "are you sure?"
"Please. You're -- you're a comfort to me. Maybe if you're here I can sleep without them having to come and tranquillise me."
Ruby smiles. It's nice for her to feel needed again, especially by Belle. She nods, and moves to sit in the chair beside Belle's bed, still holding her hand.
"No. Here," Belle gestures to the bed beside her with a nod. "Like you were before. I liked having you next to me."
Ruby obliges, more than gladly. Takes her place lying beside Belle again. Belle rests her head on Ruby's shoulder -- Ruby tries to ignore how much her heart is racing. "Read to me?"
Ruby looks to the basket beside her. Reaches in to pull out a book -- Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island. She smiles. Fate.
"Okay, close your eyes," Ruby coaxes gently. When Belle does as she asks, Ruby opens the book, and begins to read. "Chapter one. "Are we rising again?" "No. On the contrary." "Are we descending?" "Worse than that, captain! We are falling!"..."
Some time passes. Ruby reaches the end of the second chapter, realising she got lost in her reading of it, totally forgetting space and time, only knowing herself, Belle, and the story she was reading. She looks to Belle -- the other woman has clearly fallen asleep. She smiles, fondly. Closes the book, places it back into the basket. Detangles herself from Belle carefully, so as not to wake her. She reaches into her bag. Pulls out a piece of paper and pen. Scribbles a note, which she leaves beside the basket.
Then turns back to the sleeping Belle. Watches her for some moments, tears in her eyes, but somewhat happier than before. She crouches down, presses a gentle kiss to Belle's forehead.
"I love you, Belle. I hope you remember how much soon," she whispers, so quietly that she assumes Belle won't even be able to hear her. She stays there for a moment longer, pushes hair from Belle's face. Then stands up, turning away and walking out of the ward.
She's not so scared to visit anymore.
Ruby's gone by the time Belle wakes. But, after a few moments, she notices the piece of paper left beside her care package from her. She reaches for it. The writing is almost familiar to Belle, and she can tell, almost instantly, that it must be Ruby's.
You have my number in your phone. Call me if you need help sleeping again.
I'm glad I got to spend time with you today. I hope you are, too.
I'll come to visit you again as soon as I can, I promise.