lol after this chapter, I'm not 100% sure anymore about where things will go, but I'll still try to get in another update this weekend if not next.

Chapter Nine

Cries of pain coming from the other end of the camp made Belle wince and squirm.

She knew that Red was there. Being taunted and abused without mercy.

Hugging herself, Belle cringed at a particularly drawn out scream, so full of agony and fear and helplessness. How any of them could bear to listen to this at length… to be able tocause it… it was beyond Belle and she hated how it reminded her of the sounds of torture she used to hear coming from Rumple's dungeon.

She couldn't take anymore of this. She caused this and she couldn't stand to let it get any worse than it already was.

Belle stood up and was about to tell the sadistic bastards to stop, but Renard came and stepped in her path, blocking her view of the men hurting Red.

"You." Renard roughly took Belle by the shoulder and half pushed, half dragged her to a tree, pinning her against it. "You'd better not be growing soft and feeling sorry for the wolf."

Belle tried to squirm away, but Renard only increased the pressure on her shoulders, pressing her back against the rough bark. "The beast killed my son. Her own lover."

Avoiding eye contact with Renard, Belle could hardly think of an appropriate defense for those actions. The shock of this whole night still kept jarring her and she was still having trouble connecting the image of a snarling wolf with that of Red's helpless, pained form right now.

"Nothing like that can be forgiven." Renard continued, "And ifs I'd had my own way, I'd have cut her throat rightly open by now."

Renard's voice lowered to a near growl, "Instead, I gots to deal with those greedy bastards and their excitement for the queen's treasure. How's we supposed to know she's really going to give us a reward?"

It was even harder to look Renard in the eye now.

"You made a right mess of all this." He pointed a finger at her while his other hand increased pressure on her shoulder. "You better not be interfering no further."

After delivering that warning, Renard released Belle and went back to his spot at the camp.

A low wail died in an awkward-sounding gurgle at the back of Belle's throat. She ran her hands through her hair and tried to run through what her options were, but the mixed emotions all of this kept kicking up made rational thought difficult to process.

All she could focus on was concern and guilt related to Red, contrasting with betrayal and fear related to Renard.

How could this have happened?

Belle still couldn't grasp it because it just did not make any sense.

Something grabbed her cloak and before she could react or retaliate, Belle felt herself pulled back, now pinned to another tree, this time with the added measure of her own cloak digging into her throat, virtually tying her neck to the tree.

Grasping at her cloak in an attempt to loosen it, Belle only felt the cloak tighten further, then a voice whispered in her ear. "Cooperate and you're allowed to breathe. Otherwise…" The cloak grew even tighter, more constricting, making her heart hammer hard against her chest.

"Yes, ma'am!" Belle croaked, clawing at the cloak to no avail.

"What do they plan to do to Red?"

Panic and fear were clouding Belle's thoughts, but she drew enough sense from the rational part of her mind to recognize the voice as Mary's.

The cloak loosened slightly, giving Belle enough air to be able to speak, but not enough to wriggle free.

"They've sent for Queen Regina's guards," Belle answered, gripping the cloak in an attempt to put more space between her neck and the constricting cloth. "They want a reward for capturing the infamous wolf."

It grew tight again. Belle felt the back of her head digging into rough bark while her throat struggled with swallowing and tried to cough. "Then why do I hear her screaming?"

"Where were you?" Belle avoided the question, "Why weren't you there to protect her like last night?"

The cloak jerked back, no doubt bruising Belle's throat and reminding her of Mary's earlier warning. "I'm asking the questions here."

"Some of them wanted to see how much of a difference silver makes in injuring her." Belle's answer came out in a rapid jumble of words and barely a pause for breath because she could hardly even inhale.

The answer earned her more constriction, less breathing space. "Who told them silver could harm the wolf?" Even tighter, "I know you have a silver dagger."

"Didn't-mean-for-it-" Belle's attempts to pull at the cloak were in vain and she felt her head start to spin. "-to-turn-out-like-this."

"And whose idea was it to bring Regina into the picture?"

"Mine!" Belle's voice was more of a cough than an actual word.

Her answers earned her some slack, but from the tone of Mary's voice, Belle could guess that it was only because she needed to stay conscious for this interrogation to continue. If Mary didn't need Belle's answers, then this would be over by now and Belle would be passed out or dead.

"How many of them are there?"

"Seven including Renard."

"Peter's father?" The cloak tightened more out of Mary's shock than from lack of cooperation on Belle's part.

"You knew him?"

There was silence for a moment.

Belle tried again at pulling at the cloak, as well as trying to squirm out of it, but Mary pulled it higher and tighter, trapping it just below Belle's jaw, making it impossible to move her head.

"I was there." Mary said, then without clarifying, she went back to her interrogation. "Are all of them armed and experienced with fighting?"

"Renard's a blacksmith but he seems to know his way with daggers. Two are archers and seem to know how to use their weapons for hunting. The rest carry their own knives or daggers but I'm not sure how familiar they are with them."

"What're the chances of you running off and warning them if I let you go right now?"

"I won't." Belle promised, "I didn't mean for it to go this far and I'd give anything to be able to free Red right now."

The cloak was tight again. "I don't know if I can trust you."

"Who else can you trust?"

The men eventually grew tired of their game enough to leave her to drift away from the pain of consciousness. Exhaustion had her lying limp against the bars while exposure had her shivering under the red cloak, naked and bare and wishing for all the world that she could be back in the warmth of her grandmother's embrace.

Licking her cracked and split lips, she imagined the fresh milk she used to be given at night, accompanied by a biscuit, all as a reward for being helpful with tending to the chickens and the livestock.

It had been such a betrayal when Red discovered that Granny knew about the wolf curse all along and insisted on keeping it from Red.

If Granny had been honest about it, maybe Red wouldn't have insisted on tying Peter up.

Still, the fact remained that Red had been a vicious monster for still attacking Peter and tearing him to shreds when he was so defenseless, no doubt calling her name and pleading for mercy, or at least even a trace of recognition. None came because all the wolf saw was an easy meal.

Red shivered and winced at the pain caused by the smallest of movements.

She hated how just moments after finding out the truth, she had clothes thrust into her arms and immediately needed to flee from her Granny and her home and everything that was familiar since before she could even remember.

A hand touching her hair roused Red from her half-conscious stupor.

Fear piercing her heart, Red tried to jerk away from the touch, whimpering and recoiling. Pain laced through her wrenched shoulders and bound wrists.

"Red!" the whisper was urgent yet subdued, nothing like the boisterous laughter and heckling she'd been exposed to all evening. "It's me!"

"You." The wolf in Red growled upon recognizing who it was, fully aware that she was in this position right now because this nosy little researcher wouldn't just let things be.

Belle flinched at the growl, but persisted, grasping the bars of the cage-wagon and sticking her head through the gap. "I'm so sorry that things got so out of hand."

Another growl was Red's only answer.

The response seemed to jab at Belle, and she hesitated before moving on, "I've spoken to Mary and we have a plan to get you out."

If she was still in her wolf form, Red's ears would have swiveled to face Belle and show interest. Instead, Red just tilted her head towards Belle, though still maintaining a guarded, suspicious expression.

"She'll give us a signal and I'll get you out of this. She'll handle the guards and keep them distracted while I get you out of the camp."

Growing tired from keeping her head up to be able to look at Belle, Red lay back down and stared blankly at the opposite side of her prison. "Alright." Her voice sounded low and rough from screaming.

There was a prolonged silence between them, one in which Red felt all the more conscious of her naked, bloody state, full of nicks and gashes and scrapes and stab wounds. A number were half-healed, while others were burning and felt infected.

Red also felt more aware of the scent of pigs and chickens surrounding her, telling her this was a wagon normally used to enclose and transport animals, which felt wrenchingly appropriate.

Another touch made Red wince, but she forced herself to relax and allow Belle to examine the makeshift cuffs. "Can you take them off?"

They were burning her wrists to a point where Red almost wished her hands would just fall off. She could feel sores and blisters erupting along the skin where the silver was touching, while open wounds were where the tightness of the restrains were cutting into her.

The cuffs were improvised from someone's silver necklace, wrapped around her wrists and melted in place, keeping her not just trapped in a cage, but stuck in one corner and unable to move away from their daggers and knives. Her shoulders were already throbbing from being wrenched behind her and strained from her own thrashing.

"It's going to hurt." Belle warned, before setting to work trying to cut Red lose. It took a lot of prying and sawing and hacking and brute force to destroy the parts that had been melted together. The sounds of it almost awoke those sleeping nearby, and Belle had to yell obscenities at Red when the man standing watch turned to look at them.

Finally, the bindings came lose, though Belle had to pry some of the chain lose where the silver had burned and stuck to Red's skin. It was a small discomfort to pay for finally having her wrists free and Red immediately pulled her hands in front of her to cradle them against her chest.

"Red, I am so sorry," Belle whispered through the bars, "This was never what I wanted, believe me."

Eyes watering of their own accord, Red covered her face and couldn't truly believe those words. How could she when it was Belle who led these men straight towards Red? How could she when it was Belle's suggestion to have Red caged like an animal to be shipped to Regina? How could she when it was Belle who all but hinted that torturing Red would be more appropriate than just killing her?

"Red… please…"

Voice still hoarse and throat still raw, Red answered in a voice more gruff than earlier. "Let's concentrate on getting out."

On cue, one of the guards fell with an arrow to his leg, drawing the attention of those nearby until they were all crowding around him and effectively distracted.

Belle took advantage of the distraction and moved quickly, unlocking the cage and helping Red clamber down from it.

It was difficult to stand and stay upright when her entire body felt like a throbbing mass of agony, but Red forced herself to persist, leaning heavily against Belle, trying not to let the red cloak tangle up her legs and affect her already limping walk.

As she tried to put weight on her left leg, it gave way without warning, buckling under Red and sending her straight to the ground, further adding bruises and scrapes to her already tortured skin.

"Red!" Belle's whisper was urgent as she bent over Red before finally noticing the dagger still protruding from her thigh. The skin was red and raw and still bleeding and the smell coming off it was foul like an infection.

Red felt her eyes clouding over and the tempting embrace of sleep was difficult to resist.

"Hey!" That voice belonged to one of her torturers, "Over there!"

"Red, we have to move." Belle took hold of Red's arm, careful to avoid the ruined wrists and bleeding cuts. "Please, I know you can do it." With Red's arm over her shoulders, Belle strained to pull Red to her feet.

Through bleary eyes and a darkening vision, Red could see men starting to advance towards them until two fell with arrows in their legs. Unless she missed any other shots fired, there should be four more still.

The arrows seemed to deter their advance and one was fortunate enough to jump back before another arrow could come in and connect with his feet.

Biting her split lip to brace herself against the pain, Red leaned heavily against Belle and was half carried, half dragged another few steps forward.

"Hold it!" Renard's voice came in through the trees before he stepped into the light of the fire, an arm restraining Snow, a dagger at her throat. "You're not going anywhere, Little Red."

The four remaining men were now surrounding them. The three injured ones were limping but upright.

Fear was a hot and sticky feeling at the back of Red's throat, and a painful, pounding feeling in her chest.

Things were going to get worse.

They were and Red didn't know how much more of this agony she could take.

And were they going to do the same to Snow?

One of the men seized a handful of her hood, grasping her hair along with it. With a rough, jerking movement, he wrenched her from Belle's arms.

A howl filled the night air.

Taken aback, everyone froze in their tracks.

Emerging from the darkness of the trees, wolves flooded into the camp and descended upon the gang. Bristling fur and bared teeth flashed bright and orange against the firelight while ferocious snarls followed pained screams.

After the wolves came in, several men followed. One of them went straight towards Red, put his hands on her captor's head and easily broke his neck with one twist.

Before Red's legs could give way under her again, the stranger caught her and picked her up like she weighed nothing. "You will be safe with us, sister." His whisper was almost soothing to her ears, and his eyes seemed to glow amber in the night.

Over her savior's shoulder, Red saw the other strangers were shoving Belle and Snow to the side, pinning them against the wagon and growling at them.

"Friends," was all Red could choke out, weakly pointing in their direction.

Noticing what she meant, the stranger carrying Red turned to address his fellows. "Bring them. It is for our Alpha to decide their fate."

With Belle and Snow's safety settled, Red could hardly maintain consciousness any longer.

There was just enough time for her to hear a voice state that one of the men escaped but they should be able to track him soon.

Then blackness finally pulled Red into its soothing, painless embrace.