Red Riding Hood and the Woodsman

Now that the curse is broken, Ruby has been noticing some…changes. Can an old ally help, even if it means putting his children in danger from a wolf?

Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I affiliated with the television show Once Upon A Time, the ABC network, nor Disney except as a viewer. No copyright infringement is intended by this work of fiction.

Storybrooke, Maine—normal font

Enchanted Forest—italicized font

Author's Note: After watching the 11/11/12 episode "Children of the Moon," I've gone back and edited a few things. Mostly it's regarding Red's past as a wolf. Basically, assume that everything that happened to Red still applies, but the Storybrooke portion of the episode doesn't exist.


PART 3

The Woodsman watched the light fade as the sun disappeared behind the tallest mountain peak in the distance. Another day of fruitless searching for his children had passed. He should have stopped an hour ago and found a place to bed down for the night, but his need to find Hansel and Gretel had urged him on long after prudence should have told him to find a place to camp. Now he was left to try to find a stream and an unoccupied hollow tree or sheltered ditch to insulate him from the cold and keep of the snow that had been threatening to fall all day.

Taking a look around, he saw his chances of finding either appeared to be small. In the dark, it would be almost impossible. Which meant another night huddled under one of the pines, burrowing down into the decades of fallen needles for warmth.

He had just decided on a likely specimen whose long arms draped nearly to the ground, sheltering the bowl of the tree, when an angry shout cut through the air followed by the growl of a wolf. His heart thudded imagining his children in danger, half fearing it was them, and half dreading it wasn't. The Woodsman gripped his ax tighter and ran toward the sounds.

When he reached a small clearing created from one of the ancient trees having long ago fallen and taken several neighbors out with it, creating a natural fence, he found the lone timber wolf cornering a young woman against the trunk of one of the decaying giants. It was huge, and could easily have been an alpha, but there was no sign of any other wolves the clearing or the surrounding forest. Wolves hunted in packs, and a lone wolf was both more dangerous and less. They were less predictable, less likely to give up a meal, but since it was alone, it should be easier to fend off. Especially as the woman herself was not cowering, but wielded a long branch, taking swipes at the wolf when it tried to advance.

Dodging the spilled contents of the woman's basket and the red cloak she'd somehow lost, the Woodsman ran forward, swinging his ax at the wolf.

The wolf turned, snarling at the intruder, and took a moment to regroup. It lunged at the Woodsman, its breath steaming in the air. The Woodsman flipped the ax in his hand. He used the butt of his ax to drive it back. The heavy wood glanced the wolf's muzzle, surprising it. At the same time, the woman swung the branch and hit the wolf's side. The wolf yipped and backed away, swinging its head to look between the two.

The Woodsman felt his shoulders tighten in unease. He had never seen a wolf, even a lone wolf, act like this. Usually, if prey proved too troublesome, a predator would retreat and find food that was easier to catch. They didn't look as if they were trying to decide whom to attack first.

The woman swung again, and the wolf turned to her, growling.

"The sun will set any moment, wolf," she said. "Do you want to be around when the stakes become more even?"

The wolf seemed to pause and consider that enigmatic statement, confusing the Woodsman further.

Whether it understood the threat the woman posed, or it simply realized the two of them were more hassle than a quick meal was worth, the wolf released one final, almost derogatory growl, and ran off into the forest.

The two humans stood for a moment, watching the shadows beneath the trees, listening for any rustling not made by the overhead branches, any sighs not due to the wind, any sound of soft footfalls out of place as the threatened snow finally began to drift down. After the Woodsman's heart finally began to slow, the woman relaxed and let her branch drop to the ground.

"He's gone."

"Let's hope he's found a nice juicy deer to eat instead," he said.

"Mm." The woman turned to look at him and offered a smile. "Thank you for your help. I was getting worried."

"Don't mention it," the Woodsman returned. "I'm just glad I was close enough that I heard you yell."

"Believe me, I am too," she said, chuckling grimly as she went back to her spilled belongings. "I'm surprised to see anyone else out here, though. You're not from the village. I would have recognized you."

"There's a village close by?"

"The outskirts are about a quarter of a mile that way," she said, pointing west. "I was hoping to make it to my grandmother's cottage before it got dark, but I guess I underestimated how quickly the sun would go behind the mountain."

The Woodsman knelt to help her gather up the food and clothing spread on the ground as she pulled the red cloak back over her shoulders with a sigh of relief as the warm felt settled over her.

"In the village, do you know, have there been two children by?" he asked. "A boy and a girl? The boy has brown hair and eyes, and he's a little small for his age. The girl has blonde hair down to her waist, and she usually wears it in two braids. Their names are Hansel and Gretel."

"I'm sorry," the woman said. "I haven't been back in a while."

She stood up, prompting him to do likewise, and took the re-packed basket from him. She settled it in the crook of her elbow, frowning in thought.

"Granny might know, though," she mused. "If you wanted to come to the cottage with me, you could ask her. Really, the least I can do for you coming to my rescue like that are to offer you dinner and a chance to ask about your children."

"I'd appreciate that."

"By the way," she said, offering her hand. "I'm Red."

"Most people call me Cutter," he said, putting his hand in hers to shake.

"Nice to meet you. Now let's get to Granny's before something else happens."

"Agreed."

They set off through the forest at a fast walk and made it to the edge of the clearing which housed Granny's cottage in less than ten minutes. The warm golden glow of Granny's fire and the lanterns lighting her home were visible through the shutters, and Cutter watched as Red quickened her pace, almost running to the door.

"Granny!" she called. "I'm home!"

"Red!" he heard a woman's hoarse voice respond from inside, followed by a wet cough. When she was through, Granny called back, "One moment. Let me unbolt the door."

The sound of a solid wooden bolt being lifted came, and Red flung open the door and wrapped her arms around the old woman who was revealed. Red's Granny rocked back with the force of her granddaughter's hug and laughed, which quickly turned to another round of coughing.

"I'm sorry," Red apologized. "You should be resting. Come on, come back to the fire and I'll make you some tea. Oh, and we have a guest."

Red turned to wave him forward.

"Granny, this is Cutter. He came to my rescue tonight, so I invited him to have dinner with us."

"Rescue?" Granny asked as she moved away from the door.

"I found your granddaughter trying to fend off a wolf on her own using only a stick," Cutter said, smiling. "I was glad to have been near enough to help. The ax seemed to make a better impression on the beast."

"A wolf," Granny murmured, sharing a heavy look with Red.

"Yes, a wolf," she said, avoiding her grandmother's eys.

"Well," Granny said, "at least you're all right. Come inside, the both of you, and we'll bolt the door against any more nasty surprises."

When Cutter stepped into the cottage, he was pleasantly reminded of the little home he had shared with his wife and children not long ago. The cottage was snug, and the fire in the hearth brought light and warmth to the dwelling. The scent of the soup boiling in the pot hanging over the fire filled the air, mingling with a strong trace of medicinal herbs. By the look of the bottles and pots on the table where Red had deposited her basket, Granny was also the village Wise Woman. Every container was filled with tinctures and unguents and ointments. Cutter guessed by the woman's cough that there must have been sickness in the village lately, and Granny had caught it caring for the others. That worried him for a moment, but surely Red wouldn't be there if the illness was dangerous.

"So," Granny said as Red helped her settle into the large, comfortable-looking chair near the fire. "Pull up that chair from the table there, and Red can do the honors."

She pointed to the soup pot and nodded to her granddaughter. Red busied herself around the kitchen getting out bowls, spoons, and napkins, and cutting slices of bread for them each. She brought them over to the hearth and ladled out the rabbit stew. And when Granny had her fare, she looked at Cutter. "While we eat, you can tell me all about this wolf you came across."

"Granny, it was nothing," Red tried to reassure her.

"Even so," the old woman persisted.

"Really," he said, seeing Red's unease and assuming she didn't wish to worry her sick grandmother. "It was all over very quickly. I heard Red shout and went running. I found her trying to fend the wolf off with only a stick, so I joined in with my ax—I'm a woodsman, you see? And together, we convinced the wolf we were too much trouble to eat, so it ran off in search of an easier meal."

"See?" Red said, sitting down on the hearthstones next to Granny, careful to keep her long skirts and the red cloak she still wore away from the embers. "There was nothing to worry about."

"I can tell you this, though," Cutter mused. "A lone wolf is dangerous, and this one was big. Since a wolf is a pack animal, it would only be on its own if it was sick or not fit for the pack for some reason. Lone wolves are dangerous creatures because they're usually desperate and often crazy. If it was this close to a village, it may come closer. You will want to warn your neighbors to be on the lookout; maybe set up a hunting party."

Red and Granny shared a long look that Cutter couldn't interpret.

Finally, Granny said, "Thank you for your advice, Mr. Cutter. I may do that… This village has had quite a lot of trouble with wolves."

Red cleared her throat and quickly changed the subject. "Granny, Cutter was wondering if two children had come to the village recently. I wondered if you knew of any strays turning up, or if anyone had mentioned them passing through."

Cutter leaned forward, his feet braced wide on the floor, his bowl tightly clutched between his hands. "Please," he said. "My son and daughter are missing. The Queen abducted me from the forest in order to use my children to steal something for her. I'm not sure what—all I know is that they succeeded and she offered them a place in her court as a reward. They refused, so she sent them out into the Enchanted Forest alone and told me to go find them. They've been wandering out there for months. Anything could have happened to them. Please, if you've heard anything…?"

Granny frowned and shook her head. "I've only been back to the village for a short time, myself. They haven't been here in that time, and I never heard any talk two children passing through in the summer or autumn. I'm deeply sorry."

Truly, he hadn't expected otherwise, but it was still a gut-wrenching blow of disappointment coupled with near terror that Hansel and Gretel were still lost out in the forest, perhaps thinking that he had abandoned them.

"Wait," Red said, calling him back from his grim thoughts. "You said the Queen was the one responsible for separating you from your children?"

Cutter nodded.

"Then perhaps we can still help you." Red set her bowl aside and moved closer to his chair. "The reason Granny and I haven't been in the village much lately is because we've been in Snow White's camp, helping her and Prince James, her husband, fight the Queen."

"But…."

"The kingdom rightfully belongs to Snow," she continued. "She is King Leopold's natural heir. The Queen is only royalty through marriage to the murdered King. We are fighting to help Snow White regain her thrown and to avenge the Queen's many wrongs."

Red gave him a sad smile. "You're hardly the only person whose life has been affected by the Queen's evil."

"But surely they have better things to do than help me look for my children?"

"What I mean is, you should come back with me—since Granny's going to be laid up a while longer, until that cough goes away," she said, looking back at her grandmother in warning.

"You want me to join the rebels and fight the Queen?" Cutter asked, making sure he understood. "I'm no soldier."

"There are plenty of uses for a woodsman in camp," Red assured him. "We need help building shelters, cutting firewood, creating barricades and forts, clearing deadfall…."

"I have to find Hansel and Gretel," he argued.

"Not if we can get the Queen to tell us where they are," she argued back. "When we beat her, we can make her return your children to you."

"If you beat her."

"No, when," Red insisted. "I have to believe there is some justice in this world. The Queen has hurt so many people. She has to fall. It's a matter of time."

She reached out and grasped his arm with a warm hand.

"Come fight with us."

"It's got to be better than wandering around the Enchanted Forest hoping you'll run across them," Granny added, drawing their attention. "After all, if you hadn't heard Red's shouting, you could have passed right by her and now known she was there. You might even have missed the village completely if you'd gone even a quarter mile further east."

"Which means I may very well have missed Hansel and Gretel even if I was relatively close to them," Cutter admitted. "You're right."

He considered Red's offer and her reassurances that there would be honest work for him in the rebel's camp. When he weighed it against further wandering, he made his choice.

"I suppose fighting the cause of my grief is better than trying to remedy the symptom." He nodded to Red. "I'll come back to Princess Snow White's camp with you."

Red grinned at him and squeezed his arm with the hand that still rested against his sleeve.

Cutter wished he was less worried so that he could properly appreciate it.

And unknown to all of them, a large grey wolf crouched at the edge of the forest, his yellow eyes glowing in the light from the cottage as he listened and waited.


The shriek of what sounded like talons on the worlds' biggest chalkboard woke Michael Tillman from a sound sleep. Fighting off the blankets twisted around his feet, he managed to place the sound: not a giant chalkboard but the metal doors of his service garage, over which he had his apartment. The screech of something sharp dragged across the accordion door sounded again as Mike pulled his work boots on, not bothering with socks.

"Papa!" Ava called from her room next door.

"Stay there!" he called back. "Both of you! Grab a sling or a club just in case!"

Then, remembering the world he was living in, he added, "Call 911!"

He paused in his tiny living room only long enough to grab a Louisville Slugger he kept in the closet to use not only at his Thursday evening softball games, but in case some hot-head tried to break into his business to rob the safe. By the time he started down the stairs, the scratching had become banging, as if someone was throwing themselves against the heavy exterior office door located on the side of the building. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Mike started flipping every light switch within reach, although he didn't think it would do much good. This didn't seem to be a petty thief looking to lift some cash and equipment who would be scared off by knowledge that the owner was awake. Frankly, he didn't know what he was going to do, and luckily the decision was taken out of his hands.

The sound of a siren blared from the side street.

With one final shove against the door, the attacker let out a howl of rage and ran off.

Michael waited a moment as the police drew nearer before he cautiously went to the office door, unbolted it, and stepped outside. He kept a tight grip on the bat as he scanned the dark street. He couldn't see any shadows moving down the alleys or getaway cars peeling off down the road. As the red and blue flashing lights drew closer, Michael relaxed out of his batting stance and waited for the sheriff's vehicle to stop in front of him.

"How did you get here so fast?" he asked as David Nolan stepped out of the cruiser, a sword in his hand.

"I got a call from some folks not far from here complaining about noises coming from the edge of town," David explained. "Turns out Grumpy and Friar Tuck decided to see who could out drink the other and both ended up serenading the local wildlife to Jon Bon Jovi. I got the dwarves to take care of Grumpy, and called Robin and Little John to come get Tuck. I was just watching Tuck start in on the glam rock material when I got your daughter's call."

He grinned. "That's one tough little girl you've got. She kept her head and was able to give me a fairly good report over the phone."

"She's definitely the strong one," Michael agreed. "She took a lot on herself when her mother died—both here and in the Enchanted Forest."

"But she has you back, now," David said, his voice a little wistful, and Michael remembered that he'd lost his daughter twice and must still be missing both Emma and Snow White. He could understand that.

"So," David said, clearing his throat. "What's the damage?"

"I haven't looked yet," Michael admitted. "I'd just come out when you pulled up."

"Let's go see then."

David let out a low whistle when they rounded the corner to the front of the garage and got a good look at the doors.

"It looks like someone took a sword to them," the sheriff muttered, resting his own blade against his shoulder.

"No, not a sword," Michael said. "Look how close the cuts are. See here," he pointed, "and here. Parallel marks. It was claws. And look here." He reached out and pulled a tuft of dark brown fur from between one two of the sharp gouges in the door. "An animal did this, but I've never seen an animal, even one of the great bears in the Enchanted Forest, who would come into a heavily populated area and attack a metal door, leaving deep marks like this."

"Something big and stronger than a natural animal," David mused. The sheriff looked up to the sky, his face growing grim. "Damn."

Michael looked at his face and frowned. "You know what did this?"

"I don't know, not for certain," the sheriff admitted. "I've got a suspicion, though. How about you come into the sheriff's station later today to make an official statement? Then, you make sure you lock your doors up good and tight for a few more nights. If it's what I think it was, I can't imagine this was more than a random incident. Usually sh—the creature in question goes out to the forest, no matter where we are. It doesn't like cities any more than a natural animal does."

"So I'm just supposed to sit tight?" Michael asked incredulously. "That thing tried to get in. What if it had killed me? What would have happened to my kids? They could have died!"

"No," David insisted. "I promise you that whatever the reasons for this," he gestured to the door, "it wasn't malicious. Remember, with the curse lifted, there are a lot of people in Storybrooke who having strange things happen to them. Just give me some time to figure this out."

David glanced down at his watch and sighed. "It's almost six. Why don't you go on and get your kids ready for school? I've got to go make sure Henry gets up. Once he's at school, I've got a few people to contact about this."

Michael clenched his teeth in irritation, but he gave the man part of him still thought of as his Prince the benefit of his trust. "Alright. But you keep me posted." He sighed and shook his head. "How the hell am I supposed to write this up for the insurance?"

David chuckled. "Just put it down as vandalism. I'll corroborate if anyone questions it."

"Yeah." He rubbed the back of his neck and nodded to David, who got into the police cruiser, replaced his sword in the scabbard abandoned on the passenger-side floor, and pulled away. Michael went back inside the office door and up to his apartment where Nicolas and Ava immediately rushed him.

"What happened?"

"Are you okay?"

"Is anything broken?"

"Was that the Prince?"

Michael held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. First, it looks like someone did some damage to the security door of the garage. That was the noise we heard. Then they tried to get into the office. The sirens scared whatever or whoever it was off. Sheriff David is looking into it. I have to go make a statement at the station later today, and call the insurance adjuster."

Ava's brows were pinched, and Michael almost smiled at how much she looked like her mother when she was anxious.

"Is he going to catch whoever did it?" Ava asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Do you think they'll come back?"

Michael leaned the Louisville Slugger he still carried against the back of the couch and crouched down in front of his daughter. He reached out and pulled her close to look into her eyes. "We're safe, and I promise you, whoever vandalized the doors will not get you. I give you my word. Okay?"

"Okay," she said.

The alarm in his room went off, cutting off anything else they might have said.

"Alright," Michael said, standing up. "It looks like we're all up, so why don't you guys go get dressed and we'll head to the diner early, and see if we can surprise Ruby and Granny. Maybe we'll get hash browns today?"

Nicolas was kind enough to laugh, and even Ava relaxed enough to smile before they scampered off to their rooms. Ava had the spare bedroom that, while cursed, Michael hadn't known why he absolutely had to have in his apartment. Nicolas had what had originally been a storage space that Michael had—again, not knowing why—converted into a comfortable nook with a long pull-out couch and track lights on the ceiling. He wondered again if he ought to think about buying a house, but it seemed low on his priorities with the curse just broken and dealing with the aftermath of the Wraith attack. The two cars and a van that he had in the garage at the moment were the last of the vehicle repairs from damage caused by the Wraith.

Michael would start work on the van first, after breakfast. It belonged to a man who had been his friend for years in Storybrooke. His wife was clinically depressed and was often in the hospital and saw Dr. Hopper regularly—until the curse broke and he was able to make her laugh the way he had in the Enchanted Forest, regaining their happy ending. This time, without the goose, just a carton of dropped eggs.

They were all ready and out the door in less than a half hour. The three piled into Michael's Ford 4x4 truck, buckled in, and started across town to Granny's before the sun was even up. They sky was brightening from indigo to cerulean, and at the horizon the gold, pinks, and purples of pre-dawn painted the sky. It was one of the things he missed most about living at the edge of civilization: the ability to watch the sun come up without buildings in the way.

He was on a stretch of road between two traffic lights. Traffic was almost non-existent at this hour, so he was taking the opportunity to look out the window to watch the dawn sky when Ava shrieked.

"Dad!"

Michael stood on the brake before his eyes had even returned to the road, making the brakes squeal in protest. His right arm automatically shot out to brace Ava and Nicolas beside him on the bench seat as the truck jolted to a stop. They all thudded back against the seat when their momentum caught up with them. For a long moment, they sat, tense, listening to their heartbeats thud and their breath rasp in the cabin of the truck as the startled animal outside froze in the headlights.

"Are you both alright?" he asked.

"Yes," Ava gasped and pulled at the now too-tight seat belt.

"Is that a dog?" Nicolas asked, leaning forward to try and see over the truck's hood.

Michael kept his eyes on the animal staring wide-eyed into the headlights of the 4x4. It wasn't a dog, but Nicolas was close. And since wolves—especially one this size—were rare in Maine, it was likely this one had been brought over by the curse. And it that was the case, it meant it could be capable of anything. He thought back through his time wandering the Enchanted Forest in search of his children and all the strange encounters he'd had. There had been the talking frog in the southern swamps who would con young noblewomen into taking him home so that he and his accomplices could rob them, but a frog certainly didn't do this. Then there was the family that was turned into bears by a disgruntled witch who thought she deserved only the best of everything, even when her hosts were poor beekeepers. That was to say nothing of the chimera hoards and prides of manticore that roamed the forest.

Slowly, as if it might pick up on his fear even from inside the truck, Michael turned off the headlights hoping it would release the wolf's attention the way it did with deer and the other assorted wildlife that occasionally managed to make its way into Storybrooke. With the light doused, it shook its head, as if it was trying to shake away the stars and spots resulting from staring directly into the headlights. The wolf blinked away some of its stupor and started to back away from the truck.

The sun chose that moment to tiptoe over the horizon and peek between two shop-buildings, illuminating a rectangle on the ground directly in front of them. For a moment, the pale light brought auburn highlights to the wolf's milk-chocolate fur and showed lighter markings around its eyes and muzzle. Then it was as if a heat shimmer passed between Michael's eyes and the wolf despite the cool morning. The next moment, Ruby Lucas crouched in front of his truck.

She blinked once, swayed, and fell over in the street.

No one in the truck spoke for a moment.

"Did that seriously just happen?" Nicolas finally asked.

Michael had no idea how to answer that. Even in the Enchanted Forest, where the occasional animal could talk and if you angered the wrong person, you could end up a toad or snail or a swan, this was a new situation for him.

"I saw it," Ava confirmed.

Nicolas reached for the door handle while Ava popped the seatbelt that held them both in.

"Not so fast!" Michael stopped them. "I'm going out first. Both of you stay put."

They turned disappointed faces to him which he ignored. He had no idea what was going on, so he moved with caution. He made sure his children were going to listen to him (at least for a while) and then slowly opened the driver-side door. Rather than jumping down all at once, he stepped out onto the running board then eased himself to the ground. He left the door open to avoid making any loud noises and to keep his escape route clear. He reached into the bed of the truck and pulled out a long tire iron before he edged around the hood of the truck, wishing he still had his ax. He felt a little bad about that, but since he had no idea if this was really Ruby or an illusion or an imposter, being armed was a comfort. He had seen a lot in his wandering in the Enchanted Forest, and he wasn't about to discount anything until he had some answers.

When he made it around the truck and took a good look at what was laying on the ground, he started calling his own sanity into question. The woman on the ground certainly looked like the Ruby he saw every day, who knew his family's order by heart and was always kind to his children. True, this Ruby was dressed in tiny, faded red sleep-shorts and a baggy T-shirt with the iconic open-mouthed Rolling Stones logo on it, half covered by her bare, human arm, but the red highlights in her hair were the same, and there was a smudge around the eye he could see that looked like her eyeliner had not been completely washed off.

She also appeared to be well and truly out of it. She didn't even twitch in the cool morning air. She didn't stir at all when he sidled up beside her and crouched down to touch two fingers to her wrist, searching for a pulse. When he pressed hard enough to feel the thrum of her blood, it was slow and steady as if she were deeply asleep.

He heard the passenger-side door open as his kids blatantly disobeyed him. Not that he could blame them, Now that the shock was wearing off, he was as curious as they surly were. Though he doubted they felt as angry, as betrayed, as he was beginning to feel now that he had a chance to think.

"Is that Ruby?" Ava asked, cautiously staying near the truck.

"Yeah, it's Ruby," he confirmed.

"Cool!" Nicolas said as he edged closer. "She's a werewolf!"

Thanks to almost three decades in this world of Michael Tillman being a horror movie fan, he'd come to that conclusion as well. But he was much less enthusiastic about it.

"We can't just leave her in the road," his daughter pointed out. "Someone might hit her."

Michael wanted to protest that yes, they could do just that, and then turn around, drive his children home, and call the sheriff's office while subjecting Nicolas and Ava to his questionable cooking skills. But a sense of decency he'd only recently rediscovered told him that Ava was right. It insisted that there had to be a reason someone he knew and had once trusted would have kept something so big, so vital, so…well, relevant from him.

"Both of you, in the truck," he said.

While they scrambled back in, Michael propped Ruby up so that he could slip on of his arms around her back, then eased the other under her knees to lift her. He carried Ruby to the truck quickly and fought with himself over where to put her. His decency told him to pile her into the cab. His equally well-developed sense of protectiveness insisted he put Ruby in the truck bed rather than the cabin with his children. He listened to the later and maneuvered Ruby into the truck bed, away from his tools.

Ava opened the little sliding window, frowning at him.

"That's kind of mean."

"My job is to keep you two safe," he said. "I lost you both once because I wasn't being careful enough, and I thought nothing would hurt us. I am not falling down on the job again. So Ruby goes in the back, and you keep that closed."

Ava rolled her eyes, but closed the window. Michael had a momentary shudder wondering if this was his daughter at eleven, what would fifteen be like? He needed someone to help him handle this.

Still, her disapproval made him feel a little guilty. He shucked his jacket off and balled it up. Gently lifting Ruby's head, he placed the jacket underneath to serve as a pillow.

Throughout it all, Ruby didn't stir.


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