He reminds himself for the thousandth time that he shouldn't be staring at her. But he just can't help it. She is so damn beautiful.
He never would have paid her a second glance as Ruby, the insecure girl who was always trying too hard. But as Red she is strong, independent, with just enough gentle uncertainty underneath. And she is gorgeous. Any unattached man would have to be an idiot not to notice.
He jumps as she says his name. He hadn't realized he'd been staring.
"Are you all right?" she asks. "You seem kind of out of it."
"No, no," he says, shaking his head, trying to stop the heat from rising to his cheeks. "I'm fine. I - I just - I've been a little unraveled these days." He forces himself to meet her gaze.
"I supposed being kidnapped will do that to you." She looks sympathetic, not patronizing. Perhaps she didn't realize he was staring.
"Yeah, yeah," he says, not really knowing what he's saying. His encounter with Hook hadn't been pleasant, certainly. But there were other things that had caused him to feel unraveled.
"Coffee?" she suggests.
"Please," he says. He nearly begs her for it.
He puts his forehead in his hand and massages his temples with his fingers as she walks away. He glances down at Pongo, curled up next to him by the chair, who gives him a soft moan as if to say, You're pathetic.
He pulls his head back up to find a pair of hazel eyes staring into him. He mutters under his breath and tries to look inconspicuous, but she heads straight toward him.
"There would be worse men for my granddaughter to end up with," says Granny as she reaches his chair.
"I-I-" he stammers. "I didn't mean-"
"Oh, I know you didn't," she says softly so the other customers won't overhear. "My granddaughter isn't unattractive, and she's had several men call on her over the years." She looks him up and down. "You're a little older than her, but I expect you to be more honorable than most."
His hand goes self-consciously to his receding hair line.
"You are not very good with women, are you, Dr. Hopper?"
The question startles him, unsure of what exactly she is getting at. "N-n-no, ma'm," he says, unable to meet her eyes.
"My granddaughter isn't very good with men either," she sighs. "Not since she found out about the wolf. You two at least have that in common."
He looks up at her, unsure of what exactly she means. Then Ruby returns with the coffee and Granny walks away.
"What were the two of you talking about?" Ruby asks conversationally as she hands him the mug.
Not wanting to answer, he grabs at the cup hurriedly and takes a large gulp, nearly burning himself in the process.
"Careful," she says.
Frazzled, and tired of embarrassing himself, he stands from the chair, taking Pongo with him. He shakes his head, pulling some cash from his pocket. "I-I-I'm sorry. Here." He puts the cash on the table. "Thank you. For-for the coffee."
He hurries from the café, trying to put his embarrassment far behind him.
He'd acted like such an idiot. At least they could blame his oddities on the recent kidnapping with Hook. This time.
Halfway to his office, he turns to find Ruby running toward him, styrofoam cup of coffee in hand. He stops. She catches up with him and hands it to him.
"For the road," she says, and he can tell by her face that she's worried about him.
"Thanks," he says and, unable to think of something to say, he turns away, continuing his walk.
But then something stops him. "Ruby!" he turns and finds that she hasn't moved from her spot.
He wants to tell her how stunning she looks, but he can't get out the words, and all the while she is standing there and waiting for him to continue. "You're . . . you're . . . a wolf," he says.
She blinks. "Yes . . ."
"I-" he starts. "I know what it's like."
She smiles. "You were a cricket."
"It's not the same."
"Oh, no. That's not what I meant." He waves his arms, the coffee sloshing around in the cup. "It was being human that scared me."
She shakes her head. "You didn't rip people apart."
"Oh, no, I did." He nods. "I did. Not physically, like your wolf. But I . . . hurt them." She stares at him and he continues. "I know what it's like to be both human and animal. I know what it's like to have no control, to wake up every day afraid of who you are going to be and what you are going to do. I know what it's like to wish to be someone else. And now, here in Storybrooke, I find out what it's like to be both, to not be one or the other, to have to find a balance, because both are you in the end, even the part you don't really like. And I know what it's like to feel as though you have no one who can understand you, what you are going through. And I know that you're wrong, that there is someone you can talk to."
She's staring at him hard, unmoving, and he knows he's said the right words.
"I should go," he says. "I'm upsetting you." Her eyes are shinning.
"No," she tells him, shaking her head. "No." She doesn't move or say anything else.
They stare at each other for moment.
"I'll be in my office," he says, "if you want to talk sometime."
She nods, but says nothing, still looking at him with those intense eyes.
"Well," he turns to leave, then holds up the cup. "Thanks again . . . for the coffee."
He walks away, certain that she's still standing there staring after him.
Pongo lifts his head and makes a kind of moan that sounds like, Much better.