A/N: This is an older story I'm transferring from Tumblr. Thus it is now AU, as I wrote it immediately after watching S02E11, "the Outsider"
You don't see what you possess, a beauty calm and clear
It floods the sky and blurs the darkness like a chandelier
(You Are the Moon by the Hush Sound)
Her name is Belle.
Her name is Belle and she loves books, hot tea, happy endings, libraries, the color blue, seeing the best in people, horses, grilled cheese, snow, and, apparently, a man named Rumplestiltskin.
Her name is Belle.
That is, at least, what she has been told.
She's not so sure. Because 'Belle' sounds sweet and kind and lovely, and—yes—she enjoys the blue blanket they brought her and the scent of grilled cheese makes her mouth water in a programmed response, but she does not feel 'sweet and kind and lovely' like the saint they describe. How can she, when every time she sees the tired man with the cane, she feels absolutely nothing for him, aside from a detached pity when her ignorance breaks his clearly fragile heart?
'Belle', she can't help but think, would have done something by now—figured out the solution to her memory loss in one of her beloved books. That was what a wonderful, brilliant, magical girl like Belle French did.
A girl like that didn't lie in her hospital bed, itching at a phantom wound, trying (and failing) not to get frustrated as people rushed into her hospital rooms with watery eyes that bravely held back tears. A girl like Belle would have felt appreciative (not annoyed) when story after story was told about how kind and generous she was/is, and she certainly wouldn't feel the almost constant urge to kick everyone out with a shout that (she's sure) would have shocked and appalled them all.
Most significantly, someone like Belle wouldn't have the memories she has—wouldn't wake up with blood under her fingernails from where they had pressed into skin that seems too soft to belong to the woman she remembers (in foggy, dark, twisted dreams) herself to be (have been? It's not entirely clear to her, but then, nothing really is).
She had tried talking about it once—once and only once—to the man who was always, it seemed, present in her surprisingly large hospital room (a presence that could, apparently, be explained by the love he and she held for each other)—tried to ask him about why she had been kept alone in the darkness (because she can't, as hard as she tries, remember anything before that crippling loneliness). But his response had been evasive (a not-so-casual brush off)—a 'that time was over now' accompanied by a shushing sound and a pat on her arm, as though she were a child that needed soothing.
She had never asked again.
So the inky blackness remains in her dreams; the light of the day brings only unfounded reassurances and smiles she responds to with instinct but not emotion. The day brings visitors she cannot remember and an endless parade of well-wishes. And they keep telling her (again and again and again) that her memory will (surely) return. But then, they keep telling her a great many things.
She wishes they would stop with the 'telling' and commence with the 'letting her find things out on her own' portion of this fun little episode of their lives (The Curious Case of Belle French). Because she thinks she'll more likely than not end up throwing her bloody jello cup at the next well-meaning person who tells her how much she ('Belle') loves to read.
It's funny then, that when a knock sounds at her door and she (grudgingly) gives her permission to enter, the woman who slips through the door is carrying a book (and, curiously, a picnic basket, but that isn't the part that makes her want to growl in frustration, and is thus mostly ignored).
"Hey," the woman says. "I'm Ruby."
It's a remarkably odd entrance, at least compared to those she has encountered so frequently over the past several days. Mainly because it does not start with 'I know you don't remember me, but…' or 'Do you remember me? I'm…" or some other long explanation about the nature of the relationship she had with whoever it is who's introducing themselves. And while she hates it, the way people approached her for the 'first' time, now that someone has approached her so casually she doesn't quite know how to respond to it.
Nor does she know how to respond to the odd flip in her stomach that occurs at the sight of the woman herself. It's not recognition (not really) but there's something about her guest—something about the green eyes (sharp and soft at the same time), gently curling hair (brown except for a fading and seemingly forgotten strand of red, tucked away amid the other tresses), and planes of the face (prominent cheek bones and a defined jaw overlaid by soft-looking skin)—that simply… stand out.
The woman is strikingly beautiful—yes— but it's more of the duality of that beauty (the contrasts in the brunette that she, for some reason, thinks exist beyond the physical) that makes Belle… pause. She does not recognize the woman, but the feeling the brunette produces in her is distinct and almost familiar, and that is something entirely new (and incredibly noteworthy).
"Can I come in?"
Suddenly feeling exposed, despite the hospital gown and heavy blanket, she nods, drawing her knees up toward her chest, and wrapping her arms around them. The woman who had introduced herself (so simply) as Ruby seems to hold no such reservations, dragging a chair over alongside the bed and plopping into it with a sigh.
"So," she begins, placing the picnic basket on her knees, and the book on top of the stereotypical checkered tea towel that covers the basket itself. "What do I call you?"
Once again, she is taken aback.
"Don't you know me?"
Ruby shrugs. "You don't know me though, right?"
"I don't know anyone."
Her response is angry, and she's too distracted to hide it; Ruby, however, merely smiles.
"Well then, isn't introducing yourself the best way to go about fixing that?"
She can't exactly argue with that.
It's the first time she says it, and somehow, for the first time she feels as though it might be true. Funny that a simple introduction would solve that particular problem so effectively. Funny that it had only taken a few words from this one woman—a woman who had apparently waited a full week before coming to visit her. (She has to wonder why that is). It is not the first time Belle has wished for her memories back, but it is the first time she wants them back so as to remember a particular person, instead of people in general.
But Ruby just grins lopsidedly, unaware of the significance of the moment… or perhaps not completely unaware, because though her smile is wide and easy, her fingers fidget along the side of the book she holds with a grip that is perhaps tighter than it should be (as whitened knuckles attest to).
This is forced casualness, Belle thinks, expertly disguised, but forced nevertheless. Belle feels inordinately grateful for it.
"See? That wasn't so bad! So, what's next in this introduction?"
"Well, ah, what do you like to do?"
There's a flash of something on Ruby's face—it breaks through the projection of tranquility with the power of a lightning strike, illuminating in green eyes a level of heartbreak that nearly makes Belle gasp. But it disappears as quickly as it had come, leaving behind only the slightest hint of sorrow, and when Ruby replies, it is with a sort of irony that Belle cannot understand.
"Well, I do love books."
Her words don't match the tone they are delivered in, and Belle feels like the words are wrong—that they are spoken for the wrong reasons or by the wrong person.
Ruby smiles, like she's passed some sort of test, and the oddness of the scene fades away.
"Well, sort of. It's a kinda new hobby for me."
"Hence the book," Belle says, nodding toward the object in Ruby's hand (no longer being held in a death grip).
"Hence the book," she agrees. "Romeo and Juliet."
Belle looks at the battered cover and scrunches up her nose. "It doesn't look like it's been very well cared for."
"No," Ruby agrees with a smile. "But that's not my doing, I promise. A friend checked it out of the library for me. I've only just gotten around to picking it back up again though." Ruby's eyes shift away and Belle feels an odd tug in the pit of her stomach. "She once told me that she wished she could forget having ever read it, just so she could read it again for the very first time."
Belle sucks in a breath—sharp and not at all noiseless. Ruby's eyes shoot back up to hers and Belle thinks she may be drowning—sinking into the bottomless depth of memories she cannot bring forth.
"A—and are you finding it deserving of such high praise?"
"I dunno," Ruby says with a shrug. "I'm gonna reserve judgment till the end."
"That is probably wise."
Ruby glances over at the pile of books, stacked neatly on the end table alongside Belle's bed. "How's your reading going? Looks like you've got a lot to work through."
"I…I haven't started. I don't know where to start."
"Hmmm." The woman thinks on this for a moment. "Well, here," Ruby, still balancing the unexplained picnic basket in her lap, holds out the book, and it looks casual, but Belle feels as though the moment holds more (absolutely terrifying) significance than she can explain, and holds her knees closer to her chest. "Start with this, then."
"I don't know that I like books," she whispers (because it feels like some form of sacrilege).
But Ruby merely grins and leans further forward, waggling the book a bit. "It's a good time to find out, don'tcha think?"
Belle releases her knees, but does not reach out. "Now? While you're here?"
"Yeah! Why not? We can make it a group activity. I'll read it to you." The sentence is cut off abruptly, and Belle knows with absolute certainty how it was meant to end.
"Just hold it for a sec while I…" Ruby throws the checkered towel off the picnic basket and produces a thermos and a plate of what looks to be muffins. "Get the iced tea and maple muffins!"
"Shesh, what would you know?"
Ruby looks so stricken at her words, that Belle can't help but laugh. (Ruby's stiffness melts away at the sound, and Belle feels incredibly pleased)
"It's fine," she reassures the woman, shifting forward to take both the book and (reaching into the basket) the thermos. The action causes the top of her hand to brush against the skin of Ruby's inner wrist, and she hates to call it electric, the feeling that results, but it's certainly something. "I'm sure it's delicious. I've never had it iced before!"
"Well, prepare to be amazed," Ruby says, her eyes twinkling as she grabs a napkin (blue with brown polka dots) from the basket and places a muffin on it with an overly dramatic flourish that has Belle stifling a giggle. "M'lady. Care to switch?"
Still smiling, Belle returns the book to Ruby, trading it for the proffered muffin. She feels like laughing (loud and hard) because this—sitting in a hospital bed with a snack that will surely leave crumbs in her sleeping space and a thermos that will undoubtedly be split at some point—is the happiest she's been in…well, since she can remember. And she's willing to bet the last time she felt so carefree had involved the woman responsible for the feeling now.
Ruby flips the book open with ease, that wide grin (which Belle thinks must be the woman's characteristic expression) in place. And her eyes flicker up to Belle's (full of a fondness that makes Belle fell light and heavy all at once) before she returns them to the paper and begins to read.
Her name is Belle, and she does not know much else about herself.
But by the end of the night she knows she loves books.
And no one has told her, but she thinks she might love Ruby too.