The next time wolfstime comes, Ruby is actually excited about it. She hasn’t gained her old confidence back yet, but she’s getting there. As a wolf back home she was mostly a soldier. Turning to attack or defend. Here she is allowed to run through the woods and be her wild animal self. She doesn’t want to turn in town and Snow - who is finally back safe and sound and really not so much Mary Margaret anymore - offers to drive her out into the woods (Emma doesn’t even ask why Snow just takes the keys to the bug).
Ruby sits in the passenger’s seat with her hood on, feet trembling.
“I’m glad you’re letting your hair grow back.”
“That haircut is on the list of things I really have to talk about to Regina.”
They share a laugh. It’s comforting, the two back together. Both would say they met during a scary time and their adventures weren’t glorious, but hard. Still they wouldn’t trade anything for those months they grew up together.
Snow parks the car and gets out. With another person Ruby might protest, but Snow knows the wolf like nobody else. So Ruby steps out of the car and smiles at her over the roof.
“You keep my hood safe, right?”
Ruby takes off the one thing that keeps her from turning and has just enough time to fold it up and put it on the seat. Then her world shifts.
As a human she does have heightened senses. And those are very strong. But when the wolf comes out it intensifies and finally everything falls into place. With slow steps the wolf rounds the car, coming to a halt a few feet away from Snow. There is still a smile on Snow’s face.
“Hallo, Red, it’s good to see you. Have fun.”
The wolf howls as a final goodbye and runs off.
The next morning Ruby awakes in the woods. The sun is up already and she has a long and lonely walk back home in front of her. That’s the less fortunate part about the plan. But she uses this time to remember as much about the night as she can. Sometimes it does get a bit fuzzy. And somehow lying down on the ground to fall asleep still feels like the right thing to do as a wolf.
After a long hot shower - all that magic could create, but no running water - Ruby goes about her day as usual. Her smile is a bit bigger though. Especially around lunch time when Belle comes in. Ruby serves her a grilled cheese sandwich.
Not that Belle ever orders anything. The agreement is silent, all Belle wants is to be surprised but never having to eat the same dish twice a week. And somehow Ruby always knows when a little snack or a full meal is in order. She writes it off as being a waitress for almost 30 years now. But if she’s honest she watches Belle very closely and can read her mood by now.
“Everything went well last night?”
“Quiet and peaceful. Although I may have scared some rabbits.”
A little joke Ruby would normally reserve for talking to Snow. But Belle isn’t disturbed the tiniest bit by the wolf. Still suddenly she looks at Ruby with a serious expression on her face. And before she forms those thoughts into a sentence Ruby answers her.
The thing is, Belle still hasn’t seen the wolf. It’s not that Ruby is really afraid she could hurt her. But it feels oddly private. And there is this tiny doubt that it could alter their friendship. Emma still doesn’t know about this at all. That’s another conversation waiting to happen.
“You know, I would never want to invade your privacy about this. But I want to get to know all of you, Ruby. You may be the only wolf in town, but you’re not alone.”
And Ruby caves. “Perhaps tonight you can come with Snow, she wants to take me to the woods again.”
Belle nods to that and comments on her sandwich to change the subject. She doesn’t need to talk about this further and is just there around ten to catch the ride.
“David told me how you held up last month. I want to thank you for what you did”, Snow says during the drive. Belle is sitting on the back seat, leaning in a bit between the seats.
“But I didn’t do anything.” She makes it a point to stare at Ruby. “I was chained up.”
“Oh, moral support is very valuable. And it’s not your fault someone is too stubborn for her own good.”
“As if you always do what others tell you to”, Ruby scoffs. It’s a lighthearted atmosphere and all three women enjoy this for different reasons. (Snow sometimes feels guilty that all the people she cares about get sucked into her drama and she is worried if she holds them back from living a life. So Red, well Ruby, finding such a good friend makes her happy. Belle is just glad that Snow really is everything Ruby promised. She easily likes her and understands why David is so in love. And Ruby is relieved that the two people she cares about the most get along. Wait, that’s a new thought and Ruby has to steal a glance at Belle.)
Snow parks in a different spot tonight, variety is key. “Okay, here we are.”
Ruby stands before the other two a bit awkward. She almost wants to blurt out a “don’t laugh”, as if she was showing off a hideous dress. But there is nothing funny about turning into teeth and claws. But she doesn’t want to think of the wolf that way. She is the wolf. It’s always her, just with a different point of view.
“Well, I’m ready for my nightly walk, please get home safe.” Ruby takes of the cloak and throws it to Snow. And the moment she gets down on her knees the magic sets in.
Belle looks at it with pure curiosity. The moment Ruby fully turns her senses shape up to their full potential. She can smell the women in front of her, she can hear their heart beats. Snow is steady as a rock. Belle’s breathing has quickened a bit, but not the way Ruby remembers from the countless soldiers she once attacked. They were struck by fear before she tore their flesh apart. Belle is calm, there is no sweat or skipped heartbeats.
“That’s how that works”, is all she manages to say.
Snow looks over at her, a bit puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“The clothes. Just turning with her. That was a part I didn’t quite understand.”
Snow lets out a laugh, imagining a naked Red walking around the forest, gathering her things. That would have made their lives even more complicated.
Belle doesn’t take her eyes off of the wolf. They just look at each other for a long moment. A bit the way they sat in the booth at the diner after they first met. It’s some sort of instant connection all over again. Until Ruby looks away first. Bowing her head to the ground as if being too self-aware. Belle smiles. A shy wolf.
“I see you tomorrow.”
On the drive back Belle is quiet. She gets it now, why all the stories talk about the big wolf. Because that was impressive. But she’s really frustrated about the little word bad that’s most often thrown in there.
“She will be fine. Red can take care of herself. I don’t think there is much to worry about here.”
Belle has the cloak in her lap, her arms intertwined in the fabric. And she holds on tighter now. “Letting a friend just stay out for the night feels weird.”
Even though the nights are getting colder, Belle leaves her window open tonight. A part of her just wants to feel the temperature drop, because Ruby is out there. The fur probably keeping her warm (Belle is cheating with a blanket anyway), but the thought is a bit disturbing.
Sleep won’t come. And Belle tries to listen for howl in the distance. She is not sure if she actually heard it or if her senses made it up to put her to rest. She squints at the clock, trying to decipher where the hands are in the light from the street lamp. Something after five am already.
She tries to close her eyes for a bit more, but soon after she huffs and just stares outside the window again. Or she wants to, because something is blocking her view and in the first moment Belle wants to scream.
A dark shadow is sitting right there. Yellow dots staring at her. It takes only a few seconds for her to realize it’s a wolf. And still a little moment longer her to call it Ruby. The dark grey fur matches what she has seen earlier. But even if she is not afraid of wolf-Ruby, anything showing up at her window at night like that is a bit - a lot - startling.
“Ruby?”, she whispers.
Only now the shadow moves, as if to answer. How long did the wolf just stare in here? It doesn’t look that graceful, but the wolf climbs through the window - which gives Belle another perspective about how big she is - and then… just lies down beside the bed.
And that’s it.
Belle waits a few minutes, before she dares to move again. She sits up and peeks over the edge of her bed. Right there, on the little carpet, lies a big wolf, all curled up. And breathes. It’s not snoring, just a not so quiet breathing sound. But that is oddly soothing and finally Belle falls asleep.
Belle wakes up the moment her alarm clock goes off and her hand shoots out to stop the ringing immediately. It’s eight in the morning and for a second she wants to turn around and just sleep in. But then her mind catches up and with it the memory why she was awake all night and who snuck into her bedroom.
Blanket still tight around her shoulders, Belle crawls to the edge of her bed again. And Ruby is still there. Human Ruby is now sleeping on the carpet. Her features completely relaxed and content.
Belle carefully gets up and closes the window. She doesn’t want to wake Ruby, but puts the blanket on her to at least give a little bit of comfort.
It is normal that friends sometimes sleep over, right? Ruby called it crashing once, but that had to do with being to drunk to go home alone. This is kinda similar. So Belle decides that the best course of action is to do nothing. Ruby is afraid to be treated differently, to be regarded as something else. As a thing.
It is almost nine when Belle sits in her kitchen, all dressed for the day, coffee machine running and a book on the table. She can hear Ruby waking up. The noise when the blanket gets tossed and feet are getting up. She focuses on the letters in front of her, doesn’t want to stare at the door when it’s opened.
“Hi”, Ruby whispers when she finally stands in the door.
“Morning.” Belle closes her book and smiles.
“I… this… I don’t…” It’s the first time Belle sees Ruby fumbling for words.
“It’s okay. Please sit down, coffee is ready any minute now.”
They wait until both have a sip of it. Belle wants to give Ruby some time to gather her thoughts. She does have a lot of questions, but she wants to hear how Ruby is feeling about this odd turn of events.
“I’m sorry”, is all she has to say at first.
“Don’t be. No wait, please be sorry for startling me. I did not expect you turning up. You are always welcome here, but I do prefer some sort of warning. But I guess that was out of the question, so it’s okay. If you could have asked, I would have allowed you to come in anyway.”
Ruby lets out a breath she’s been holding. “I’ve never done such a thing. I mean, I remember doing this. It felt right last night. I was in control, don’t worry-“
“There just suddenly was this urge to…” Ruby takes another sip of her coffee, before she looks up and straight into Belle’s eyes. “A part of me didn’t want to wake up all alone again.”
Belle reaches over the table and puts her hand over Ruby’s that is clenched around the mug. She gently strokes her wrist with her fingertips.
“Wolves are used to living in packs, right? So you are not meant to be alone. And you can always come here.”
Ruby stands up and with quick steps rounds the table to crush Belle into a hug. All the doubts she had about fully trusting her vanish in an instant. (How ridiculous she had been.) And are replaced with this feeling that she found a home again.