A/N: So, I just wanted to take the time to thank anyone who is still following this story. I know that it's as slow as my updates but I really appreciate those of you who are taking the time to read it. Thanks so much and I hope you enjoy!
During the entirety of Emma's long and complicated story of why Regina was imprisoned, Ruby had somehow found a chair to stumble into. Regina could only see the side of the girl's face and took particular interest in the expressions that it made while Emma told her the details. Ruby's expression changed from confusion to sadness to anger and then repeated the cycle. What was most interesting, however, was that whenever Ruby's eyes seemed to darken with hatred, they weren't at points Regina expected.
Regina knew the wolf-girl, obviously, from the Enchanted Forest. She was Snow White's best friend, which made her an enemy by default. And there were a few occasions after the curse broke where the queen could have sworn she heard Ruby snarl at her as she walked by. When Regina accompanied Henry and Emma to the diner, Ruby was the only kind soul in the restaurant, but that was in large part to her also being Emma's friend. Regina furrowed her brow, studying the young woman. Here was another person she had simply discarded without a second thought. And now, instead of another mindless peasant, Ruby was actually someone... someone who was entirely unreadable. The thought sent chills down the queen's spine.
Emma's words had long since been blocked out. She didn't need to hear her sad sob story all over again. Tearing her eyes away from the two of them, Regina sat on the edge of the bed, running her fingers along the coarse stitching of the blanket that she could now call hers. The tiny cell wasn't meant to hold anyone for more than a night. There was no toilet or even a sink. Regina knew that there were facilities meant for the officers when they pulled long shifts, but she didn't want to think about how Emma was going to pull all that off yet.
She sat up straight, her torso still significantly sore. Emma seemed so proud of her previous healing that she seemed to have forgotten Regina was hurt elsewhere. Or perhaps she didn't care. Her face was the only thing anyone would ever see. Regardless, Regina was thankful for the pain. It allowed her something else to focus on.
She didn't want to think of what had just happened between her and the sheriff. Absently, Regina brought a hand to her face once more, running her fingertips along her cheekbone. Emma had done well, though she would probably never admit it. Emma's power was like nothing she'd ever experienced before, and though this was the second time she'd engaged with it, it didn't hinder its potency.
She probably should have been more concerned than she was. After all, she and Emma weren't entirely on the same side. But, when she felt Emma's fingers on her skin, the warm magic trickling beneath her skin, Regina found that she was filled with an intense amount of trust. She knew, in that moment, that the savior wasn't going to hurt her. How long had it been since she'd completely trusted someone? The thought caused her chest to ache and she lifted her head, bringing herself back into the conversation.
"So…here we are," Emma finished lamely, raising her hand awkwardly to gesture to Regina.
The queen lifted her chin, as she always did when she felt eyes upon her and Ruby turned to look her over. It was bizarre to see the evil queen behind contemporary bars. She still looked every bit as intimidating as Ruby knew her to be. In fact, she had half a mind to put up an "Animals in cages will bite" sign. Regina's eyes met hers then, and Ruby felt the hair on her neck rise, her fingernails subconsciously gripping into her own thigh. It was a knee jerk reaction of hatred. Ruby hated the sudden upheaval from her life, the twenty eight year lie, the treatment of her friends, her granny…Belle. And deep down, in her darkest depths, she wished revenge.
The image of Regina cowering on the floor came to her mind, and Ruby pictured what it would look like to stand over her, knowing she had no magic. What would she do? Would she give a swift kick to the gut? Mar the queen's countenance? Take out her knees so she would know what it was like to bow to tyrants?
Regina dropped her gaze then, inhaling a deep breath, wincing when it stretched her torso too far. It broke Ruby's train of thought and she knitted her eyebrows, watching as pain swam into Regina's features. The scene made her feel strangely uncomfortable, and Ruby shifted her gaze back to Emma. The sheriff paid her no mind, instead watching with rapt concern as Regina clumsily stood, trying to keep herself as straight as possible while avoiding everyone else's eyes. Emma's arms dropped from her chest and reached out slightly, before retracting, seemingly unsure of what to do.
It was an odd thing to see. Emma was always full of compassion but this rather sudden sympathy towards Regina gave Ruby pause. Was she really just a good person or was there all that much to be said for someone who raised your son for ten years? Ruby had no answer to this question, but she did remember when Regina, Emma, and Henry entered the diner that one morning. The town had treated Regina just like they always had, but the queen seemed…happy.
Suddenly feeling very ashamed of herself, Ruby stood as well, giving a large smile as her cheeks flushed. "Okay. I'll help."
"Really?" Emma asked breathlessly.
"Yeah," she answered, glancing over at Regina. "No one deserves that kind of abuse," she said more quietly, unsure if the queen heard her or not.
"Great," Emma said, running a hand through her curls, "So, did you happen to notice anyone missing from the funeral?"
"Everyone I know was there except for you. And judging by the crowd, more than half the town was there. That sort of narrows our search, I guess."
"But not by enough."
Emma sighed and reached for her keys, eyeing Ruby. "I have to pick up a change of clothes for her and," Emma paused to look down at her own attire, "and me, and…I guess dinner. Can you watch the place until I get back?"
As subtly as she could muster, Ruby looked over to the queen, but Regina was paying neither of them any mind. Emma said that she wasn't using magic, but that seemed like quite the clever excuse to play everyone to her whims. Ruby didn't know what to think, and she certainly didn't like the idea of her boss coming back to find Regina escaped and her in the form of a toad. But she trusted Emma, and that had to be enough for now.
"Yeah, no problem," she said easily.
Emma must have bought it, for she gave a grateful smile, sparing one last lingering glance at the queen before she strode out the door. The two remaining women listened in silence until the dull echo of leather boots disappeared down the hallway. Ruby closed her eyes for a moment, listening to the silence of the sheriff's station. It was always quiet there, save for the occasional phone or the scratching of pen on paper but now, there was nothing.
When Belle died, the entire town seemed to die along with her, at least for the time being. Ruby felt her eyes sting again, but knew she had no more tears to shed. She felt exhausted, and nothing seemed to matter anymore. Her granny had told her, over her third slice of apple pie, coffee cold in the cup, that it wasn't permanent. She would make it out. She would eventually see the light in everyone again and live for Belle. Such a logical thought when you're not suffering but now, it seemed like an endless void.
Ruby looked up, rubbing her shaking hands together as she took in Regina. She was still sitting on the thin mattress, staring straight ahead at the cinderblock wall, her back as straight as an arrow. Ruby thought back to the taste of her granny's apple pie and wondered if Regina hadn't made it out. Was she still stuck in the void? A void that had lasted for countless years?
The words came from Ruby's mouth automatically, the sound of them alone prompting her to wake from her stupor. Regina heard them too, and turned her head slowly towards the wolf-girl, her brow furrowed in confusion. Ruby felt her heart rate increase but nevertheless stood, heading over to the cell. Regina's eyes had blackened over to their usual unreadability that Ruby was used to, and it provided small comfort as she played with her fingertips, edging closer to the bars.
"I, um…" Ruby cleared her throat, feeling her cheeks start to warm.
Regina was staring at her, brows slightly furrowed as she awaited whatever was to come. Emma hadn't really asked Regina if it was okay for her to leave the two of them alone. For all the inept sheriff knew, Ruby could have been one of the accomplices in her assault. In fact, Emma was the only person Regina was confident could not have been in her home. Everyone else was fair game, and her protection had just walked out the door. Regina's muscles tightened at the thought, and she took a deep, painful breath to keep her palms from shaking.
Magic instinctually pumped from her chest and to her fingers, and she clenched her fists to keep it at bay. Magic had been her escape for so long even her muscles held the memory. It pulsed warmly through her, asking politely to be released. It would be so simple too. A wave of the hand and she could be gone from here. But where could she go? Her home was destroyed, her son was here. No. Regina felt her cheeks warming at the mere thought of leaving her situation. That would have been something her mother would have done. She wouldn't go down that same path again, even if it meant the death of her.
"I heard from…from Emma that you were, well, sympathetic, I guess towards Belle's…" Ruby drifted then, wringing her hands as she cleared her throat. It was still too soon to say it. "And I just wanted to say that it meant a lot…having time off."
Ruby felt herself flushing with embarrassment and fear but it did not stop her from keeping eye contact with the queen as she gave her thanks. For a moment, as she held those dark eyes, Ruby thought she caught a glimpse of humanity within the irises. It was brief, a mere reaction before it was blinked away, but it was there. Regina knew that she had seen it. She could tell by the wolfish grin peeking at the corner of Ruby's lips. A new kind of fear appeared before her now. This was the first person aside from Henry and Emma who had seen past the walls. This person was an outsider come to judge. Suddenly very overwhelmed, Regina said the first thing that came to mind, the first thing that would push Ruby away.
"How very eloquent. A shame the librarian couldn't have made you more well-read before she died."
A small sound emitted from Ruby's throat and for a moment it looked like she was going to cry again. But the moment passed and Ruby's shook her head, dismissing the queen with a wave of her hand.
"Un-fucking- believable," she said, enunciating the curse for the queen's benefit. "I can't believe I even tried. I almost fell for it too, you know. I thought I saw whatever it was that Emma sees in you. But now, I think we both have something that we can agree on."
She met Regina's eyes and her lip twitched slightly as she suppressed a snarl. "We can both agree that Emma's an idiot for ever thinking there a was a redeemable quality in you."
It stung more than it should have and more than it ever had. But she made no showing of it. Because the truth hurt and her ribs were an excellent example of that. So Regina merely stared blankly into Ruby's fiery eyes, challenging her to continue with a raised eyebrow. But Ruby didn't. Instead, she turned and resumed her seat at the far desk and waited anxiously for Emma to return.
The diner was packed tonight. And with Ruby at the station they were understaffed. A flustered but polite Granny took Emma's order without so much as a second glance to the fact that she'd ordered for three and ran back into the kitchen, shouting a timeline of a half hour after her. At this point, Emma didn't mind waiting. The din of the diner was enough to keep most of her thoughts at bay, and she found herself relaxing as she watched the cheerful faces of those around her. She had to admire them. Cursed, removed from their homes, losing a beloved librarian, the people of this town could still afford a smile or two. Happiness could be found everywhere, she thought to herself, and then chuckled.
Until a few months ago, that simple sentence would have been very hard to believe. But here she was, poster child for the word 'redemption' and smiling like an idiot as she waited on three cheeseburgers with fries.
The voice was gruff, mumbled, and could only belong to one person. Emma turned and felt Neal's hand on her back as he took a seat on the bar next to her. Granny came over once more and Emma smiled as Neal ordered a tuna fish sandwich with extra tomatoes. He'd always loved that sandwich. Emma used to make fun of him and ask if he wanted any tuna with all the tomato he piled onto it. Neal would just smile at her and they would laugh as his soggy sandwich fell apart in his hands. It seemed as if nothing had changed and Emma pursed her lips as he smiled at her again.
"So, pretty rough day," he commented, his eyes scanning the restaurant. "People seem to be handling it all well."
Emma nodded slowly, gesturing to the nice black suit he had neglected to change out of. "They're resilient."
"Yeah. How are you holding up? I didn't see you at the burial."
"Oh, yeah…well, something kind of came up."
Neal frowned a bit, and Emma looked down to fiddle with a napkin holder. She knew why she was getting that look. What could possibly be more important than someone's funeral? From her peripheral, Neal's eyes seemed to soften, and he nudged her side, gently.
"Need to talk about it?"
Emma smiled to herself. Neal was really good at talking. She pulled a napkin from the holder and began to twist the ends between her fingers. "Yeah, I guess I could use a friend right now. There's…some stuff going on with Regina."
Neal only raised his eyebrows in response. Emma glanced around the diner, ensuring that everyone was minding their own business. Then she leaned in a little closer, murmuring under her breath.
"Someone broke into Regina's house today, while everyone was at the funeral. They…they messed her up really badly."
"Is she okay? I mean, is she in the hospital?"
"No, no I…helped her a bit."
Emma raised her hands, which seemed to be her only way to insinuate magic. Neal gathered the reference, but thankfully he seemed to keep his judgment aside.
"So, does Regina know who did it?"
Emma shook her head. "She said they wore masks, didn't speak. I've got her at the station now and I've locked up the house. I'm trying—
"To weed out who did it," he interrupted with a proud smile. "Smart."
Emma rolled her eyes. "We'll see. I don't suppose you happened to notice anyone missing from the funeral today?"
"Just you," Neal shrugged. "Though, you're really the only one I know here."
"Well, if you happen to notice anything suspicious…"
"I'll keep an eye out," he promised, pretending to lock his lips.
Neal nodded, watching as Emma continued to roll the napkin in her hand. "You really like her, don't you?" he asked.
Emma looked up then, with the clever response of, "Huh?"
"Regina," he continued with a knowing smile. "You seem to really like her."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing," Neal said, raising his hands in surrender, though his cheeky smile remained. "Why so defensive?"
"I'm not defensive! I'm just…" Emma paused, trying to find the right word. She could feel her cheeks reddening and she crumpled the napkin in her palm.
Neal watched her do this for a moment, realization slowly dawning on his face. "Oh," he said quietly, "you really do like her."
"Christ, Neal, are we in high school? What are you talking about?"
"Well, Emma Swan, if I knew you'd swung that way earlier I wouldn't have been opposed," he said, laughing to himself until he saw that Emma was not amused. "What? It's not a bad thing. She's a very attractive woman. And, I guess she's the mother of your son, too, isn't she?"
"I…of course she is but," Emma shook her head, clearing her thoughts. She saw Granny approaching with her food and gave a relieved exhale before turning her glare back onto Neal. "Look, talking about the attractiveness of Regina Mills is a moot point because I'm pretty sure the trees get wood if she walks into the forest. But she's been violated. And I need to protect her. That's all I'm focused on right now."
She finished her speech just as Granny dropped the bag on the counter and wasted no time in grabbing it while simultaneously swiveling off of the barstool and out the door. It was a small blessing that Neal didn't follow her out the door because if he had he would have been met with a projectile cheeseburger and her aim has only gotten better since high school softball. Emma gripped the bag tightly in her hand as she crossed the street towards her car. Neal wasn't trying to be an ass, she knew that. But her mood wasn't exactly the best. Not to mention Neal's topic of choice wasn't really the first subject that came to mind when speaking with the estranged father of her son.
As the sheriff made her way back to the station, she pulled out her phone and groaned at the number of missed calls from her parents. She'd been missing for hours, but the number of calls to hours was still heavily disproportionate. Taking her bottom lip between her teeth, she dialed the number and smiled to herself when Charming answered on the first ring.
"Emma! Where have you been? Is everything all right? Where are you?"
"Which one of those do you want me to answer first?" Emma asked, hearing an audible groan.
"All of them."
"Ruby was pretty upset at the funeral. I've been helping her out. That's the reason I was calling, actually. Would you guys be able to watch Henry tonight?" The lie came to her quickly, as lies always had, and she suppressed a self-loathing eye-roll as she heard Charming's kind and relieved sigh.
"Sure, Emma, we'll take care of him tonight. He won't be too much trouble. That's nice of you to watch out for Ruby. Maybe we'll stop by too tomorrow."
"Yeah…maybe. I'll let you know. She's still pretty upset. Anyway, I gotta go. See you tomorrow."
"Okay, we love you, Emma."
"I…yeah," she choked out weakly, shutting her phone off and throwing it into the passenger seat and onto the small luggage bag of Regina's clothes.
It came so easily to them, love. Just as easily as it came to her with Henry. Why was it so hard for her to say it when Henry said it the moment he met her? However, as she pulled up to the station, those thoughts suddenly became irrelevant, and she quickly pushed them to the back of her mind as she grabbed the burgers and bag and proceeded inside to where Regina was waiting for her.
The moment Emma stepped through the door, she knew that something was wrong. It was a sort of sixth sense she got. Now that she had tapped into her magical abilities, she found herself more attuned to the environment, to the air. Whenever she used her magic, it crackled around her and lingered in the air. There was magic in the air now and she quickened pace down the hall and to her office.
Expecting the worst, she was pleasantly surprised to find that everything was still in its rightful place. Emma paused in the doorway and examined the two women. Ruby noticed her instantly and quickly hopped out of her chair, bounding over to the sheriff. Regina lifted her head at the movements, but upon seeing who it was she merely lowered it back to her hands.
"Hey," Ruby said, taking the bag from her hands and digging a burger out of it. "You mind if I take this to go? It's been a long day."
Emma knew that Ruby wasn't lying, but she was almost certain she wasn't telling the whole truth. She decided to let it go, however. There were some things that didn't need to be explained immediately, and she really just wanted to eat. Ruby flashed her a smile and headed out the door without glancing at Regina. They both listened quietly until they heard the tapping of heels walk out the door. Wordlessly, Emma headed over to the bars and slid her key in the lock, unlatching it and letting the door hang open as she dropped the bags on the desk nearest Regina. Without looking at the queen, Emma then left the room towards the break room.
The brunette eyed the open bars and the paper bag with grease collecting at the bottom and felt her stomach growl in anticipation. Then she recognized the small travel bag. It was hers, created by the curse and never used until now. She eyed it warily, standing slowly so as not to agitate her ribs, and made her way over to it. Regina listened for sounds of Emma's return and upon hearing none she grasped the zipper and tugged it open.
Her clothes were in the bag. Her belongings. Her private possessions. Emma Swan had been into her home and rifled through her drawers while she was stuck in jail. It was an odd thought. What made it even odder was that it didn't bother her as much as it should have. With careful fingers, Regina sifted through the clothes. They weren't the power suits she was so often used to, but rather the casual clothing that no one ever saw. Slacks and blouses and bras and underwear. There was even her toiletries in a small side zipper. The sheriff had thought of everything. It was a disconcerting thought and Regina closed the bag with shaking fingers, tossing it into her cell as she heard Emma return, two water bottles in hand.
Regina watched as Emma grabbed an extra chair and placed it opposite her own, lazily extending her hand in gesture for Regina to sit. The queen did as she was told, easing very slowly into the chair. Despite her best efforts, she still gave a small intake of breath as she sat. Emma's eyebrows shot up instantly, her cheeks reddening as she realized what she had forgotten to heal. Slowly, she extended her hands, her voice barely above a whisper as she asked, "Do you need me to…?"
"No, it's fine."
"Please," Regina interrupted a little more sternly, "please… just let it go."
Emma's mouth seemed to hang in midair for a moment before it finally closed and she offered a burger to the queen, taking out her own and ripping the bag open to expose the horde of fries. They ate in silence, Regina taking polite bites and chewing slowly, wiping her mouth after every bite while Emma decided it would just be easier to wipe off her face at the end. When they were about halfway through, Emma reached for a particularly crunchy fry and asked, "So what'd you do?" before throwing it into her mouth.
"Sorry?" Regina asked, taking the condensation from the water bottle into her hands and rubbing them together.
"Ruby. What did you do to her?"
"What makes you think I did anything?"
"I could sense it."
Regina raised a sculpted eyebrow and it took all of Emma's willpower to keep eye contact. "I could. It's like…magic. I can sense magic in the air now. Or maybe it was always there and I just know what it feels like now."
"I didn't use magic, if that's what you're insinuating," Regina bit, crumpling her half eaten burger up in the tin foil even though she was still hungry.
"I didn't think you would," Emma answered, taking another large bite and ignoring the eye-roll she received for it. "But, you said magic is fueled by emotion. I've had that happen before, where it just surges all around you. Did that happen here? Did Ruby do or…or say something—
"No, she didn't say anything at all," Regina said quickly. "She's a dutiful little watchdog and nothing more."
"Ouch, Regina," Emma said with a surprisingly serious tone. And for a brief moment, an apology seemed to flicker in those dark eyes before it was blinked away. "Are you sure you're okay?"
The queen paused for a moment. A number of answers to that question were flying through her head but she ignored them all and settled for a single nod. She didn't notice that her hand was shaking until she felt Emma's rest over top of it. It was greasy, and she could feel it seeping onto her skin, but it wasn't enough to make her pull away. Slowly, she lifted her eyes and met Emma's, taken aback by serious the woman could sometimes be.
"We'll figure this out, Regina. I promise."
Regina gave a half smile. "Don't make promises you can't keep."