Will the Chains Hold?
Summary: When Belle decided to stay, she hadn't anticipated how wrenching it would be to watch Ruby shift into a wolf in Storybrooke for the first time.
Note 1: It's in Belle's POV, but I imply that Ruby already has feelings for her. Meanwhile, Belle's still kinda hung up on Rumpy, but feels strongly about Ruby without quite acknowledging it consciously.
Note 2: This is basically a scene I imagine taking place in Child of the Moon, a rewrite of Ruby's first night. If it turns out okay, I might do a couple more scenes further tweaking the episode. It puts a more painful and (for lack of a better word) 'real' twist to Ruby's wolf transformation coz I figure it'd be different in Storybrooke than it was in the Enchanted Forest. (because of the whole 'magic is unpredictable here' thing) It started with just a bit of fanart, and now here's it all written out.
Note 3: Lol I started writing this months ago (like April/May) and only got around to posting it now.
If the knitted brows and set jaw weren't enough to give away Ruby's tension, the fidgeting hands certainly were. It was as if every muscle was coiled and tensed, mere seconds away from springing or snapping.
Not used to seeing Ruby so distressed and agitated was concerning and Belle wished there was more she could do other than stand and watch as her friend flitted from one end of the sheriff's office to the other, heavy chains slung over her shoulders and trailing down to the floor. The loud scraping sounds of the dragging chains hinted at the weight but Ruby barely seemed bothered by it.
"Is there anything I can do?" Belle grasped the bars along the jail cell's door and leaned forward.
"No." The answer was short and clipped. Ruby looped one of the chains around a bar and locked it together. To test if it was secure, she tugged at it, jerking backwards, using both strength and body weight.
"Will the chains hold?" Belle took a step closer, entering the cell.
Ruby dropped the chain she'd just finished with and set about preparing the next one. "Hopefully."
"Then I'm staying." To leave Ruby alone in this state was out of the question.
"No." Putting more force into her tone, Ruby took a step forward, "You should leave." The forced posture of assertiveness to mask fear and distress almost reminded Belle of Rumple.
In an attempt to lighten the mood, Belle drew closer, placed her hands on Ruby's shoulders. It wasn't quite the same as it was with Rumple, and these shoulders were a touch higher than what she was used to, but Belle still found herself using a similar technique.
"Think of it as girl's night." Belle smiled, lifted here brows and titled her head.
Instead of softening, Ruby's expression hardened. "Just leave." Shrugging off Belle's hands, Ruby turned away and returned her attention to setting the last chain with more forceful movements than usual. "This isn't going to be some magical sight like in your books or movies."
Grasping the last chain, Ruby pulled at it several times, and while the chain itself held, the jail bars rattled. A groan of frustration rushed through Ruby's gritted teeth, almost sounding like a growl. "This isn't even going to be like it was in the Enchanted Forest. Gold said it would be worse."
"What did Rumple say?" On top of a lot of people giving her weird looks for being involved with him, Belle also still couldn't get used to them calling him Mr. Gold instead of Rumplestiltskin or at least The Dark One.
Still facing the bars, keeping her back to Belle, Ruby spoke again, this time with a much softer voice, a plea. "Belle, don't you want to go? It's not safe for you to be here."
"I'm not going anywhere." Belle kept her voice even and calm.
"You should." The force went back into Ruby's words. "Gold said that it's going to be really bad," She turned back to Belle, and continued speaking in that agitated, almost argumentative tone. "That it's going to be unbearable," Pent-up emotions rushed out of Ruby in a malicious, mocking imitation of Rumple's voice. "That yer gowen t'wish it'll just kill ye instead, dearie."
Too worried about Ruby to feel the least bit insulted by the jab at Rumple, Belle reached forward with her hand, hoping to convey her concern. "Ruby…"
She was pacing now, moving increasingly faster within the confined space of the cell. "I could've asked him for help." Breaths coming in fast gasps, Ruby's distress drew closer and closer to its peak. "He offered a damn potion that might've made it less of a nightmare than it already is, and he even had a place I could've used but NO!"
Belle flinched at the raised voice and stepped back a little when Ruby stopped pacing. The look on her face was of someone trapped and struggling to make sense of conflicting emotions in a stressful situation. Someone who might just burst into some action of recklessness. "I can't owe him a favor and I can't help him with what he wanted-"
In the middle of her rant, Ruby just stopped and stumbled backwards, deflating. Her eyes darted left and right. "I just couldn't." She finished without elaborating.
The fact that Rumple might be able to help meant something could still be done about this. "What did he ask? Maybe I could still talk to him." Despite how much Ruby kept trying to scare and beg her away, Belle couldn't shake off her concern and worry. Ruby was her friend. The first real friend Belle ever had in Storybrooke, maybe even ever. She couldn't be idle when there was even the slightest chance that she could somehow help. "Ruby, he'll listen to me. What can-"
"Dammit, Belle, just-" A sound somewhere between a yell and a groan came out of Ruby, keeping her from finishing her sentence. She fell to her knees, crumpling into herself, clutching her stomach, trembling.
Ignoring all the warnings form David and Granny about immediately staying away at the first signs of the transformation, Belle rushed to Ruby's side, crouching down next to her and touching her shoulder.
"Is it starting?"
A long, low groan was the only answer Ruby could manage. She tried to crawl away, only to collapse onto her side, body wracked by shivers, escalating into spasms.
Just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped.
Eyes snapping open, Ruby breathed heavily and looked just about ready to panic. She scrambled to her feet and moved quickly despite the unsteadiness to her legs.
"Should I call David?" Belle could see that the bout had left Ruby drained and breathless. She was too shaky to handle the chains, fumbling with them and barely able to stand without leaning against the wall. "Or Granny?"
"They're…" Ruby winced and grasped the bars to support herself. "They're busy." David had said he needed to deal with unrest King George was trying to start, while Granny set off to try again at finding Ruby's cloak. "And I don't want them to see this."
Using one hand to support herself with the bars, Ruby tried reaching for the chains again, only to stop and lean back, massaging her head with her free hand as if trying to nurse a headache.
"Belle…" From her slumped position against the bars, Ruby looked up. "Will you leave? Please?"
Still ignoring the warnings they'd all been giving her, Belle only moved closer, offering her shoulder for Ruby to lean on. "Let me help you."
For a few seconds, Ruby seemed to consider trying again at being insistent, but the fight left her eyes and she leaned against Belle. "I just can't get rid of you, can I?" Though it was delivered in a weakened voice that was almost a whisper and a bit of a whimper, Belle detected the attempt at a lighter, teasing tone.
"Not a chance." Belle played along, hoping to maintain this easier mood.
Ruby tensed again, this time letting go of the bar in favor of clinging to Belle. It was challenging to support Ruby's weight when her legs just gave way and her body began to tremble again. The spasms were jerkier and more violent this time, eliciting whimpers and cries from Ruby. She buried her face into one of Belle's shoulders and tightly grasped the other.
It took stumbling back and bumping into the wall for Belle to keep them from both falling over.
And just like the first bout, this second one eventually went away, albeit after taking much longer than its predecessor.
"It… It was…" When Ruby finally had the breath to speak, it was softer than ever. "'It was never this bad before." Still maintaining her grip on Belle's shoulder, Ruby tried to move so the majority of her weight was supported more by the wall than by Belle.
From where she was standing, Belle didn't see how Ruby could be much of a threat in this state. The transformation had barely even begun, but she already looked exhausted and just about ready to pass out. How could she even have any energy or strength left to attack anything after the entire transformation had finished?
"I… I should…" The tired, pained look in Ruby's eyes flickered, then a look of purpose shot through them. Fighting against her fatigue, she pushed herself away from Belle and the wall to stumble back towards the chains, ignoring the unsteadiness still affecting her legs.
"What are you doing?" Belle automatically turned away the moment she realized Ruby was undoing her top. David and Granny didn't say anything about this when they said Belle could help.
"It took me several months' worth of continuous shifts at the diner to afford this and I am not going to risk ruining it tonight." As if putting all of her energy into focusing on one task at a time helped with gathering her scattered strength, Ruby successfully removed the blouse and tossed it in Belle's direction.
Flustered and fumbling, Belle caught it and concentrated on collecting all the necklaces and bracelets Ruby was so fond of adorning herself with. By the time she was stripped to her undergarments, Ruby set about attaching the manacles to her wrists and ankles.
There wasn't a lot of time to dwell on any odd feelings or discomfort. Belle had just enough time to place Ruby's belongings on the sheriff's desk when screams and gasps filled the office again.
Moving quickly, Belle went straight to crouching next to Ruby. This latest bout was the worst one by far; contorting her face into a grimace of agony while cries wrenched themselves out of her throat. The sound of breaking and reshaping bones was loud enough to be audible now. Belle flinched at each sickening crunch and held onto Ruby while her body squirmed and contorted itself into arched or crumpled positions.
"You'll get through this." Belle kept her arms around Ruby, supporting her and mumbling whatever words of encouragement came to mind. "You're doing great, Ruby. It'll be okay."
The latest spasm arched Ruby's back until the sound of popping joints came in a string of noise that filled the air and elicited another long, loud scream of agony.
And it was over again.
Sweat coating her skin, eyes glazed over and shiny, Ruby was now breathing more in weak whimpers than in rapid gasps. She didn't resist when she was pulled closer to have her head cradled on Belle's lap.
You're almost there. You're almost done. Belle tried to say it but the words were lodged in her throat and refused to come out. They were lies. From the look of things, at the rate they were going, Ruby was likely to experience this pain for at least a few more hours. Every time her bones and joints tried to set themselves, they ended up reverting back to their original position, leaving Ruby stuck in her human form, dizzy from the pain and growing weaker with each bout.
Nothing looked even remotely wolf-like yet.
Ruby still had a long way to go.
"I don't think… I don't think I'll be in control…" Ruby was speaking again, voice softer than ever. "Dunno what's… gonna happen…" Now shivering more from the aftereffects of the pain than anything else, Ruby reached for Belle's hand and held it in a light grasp. "Should go… Leave."
"I told you." Belle ran her fingers through Ruby's hair, moving the strands away from her face and lightly massaging her scalp. "You're not getting rid of me so easily."
"Some girl's night, huh?"
The words had barely left Ruby's mouth when the fourth bout came. Her grasp on Belle's hand tightened. Her lips curled back, her eyes scrunched up, her brow furrowed.
It was even stronger, more forceful, more sickening.
Louder crunching sounds accompanied the distortion of Ruby's leg. It stretched itself taut. The ankle bent into itself with a pop. The heel jutted outwards, bone protruding and reshaping the tensed skin. Ruby was gasping and whimpering and screaming and gripping Belle's hand, clinging to it as a lifeline.
The sight was terrifying. Belle could only imagine how much pain could come from this kind of ordeal. "It's going to be alright." She continued to stroke Ruby's hair despite feeling wracked by guilt, concern and helplessness at the look of pain and fear in Ruby's eyes.
"It…" Ruby cried out when her leg snapped forward, the knee repositioning itself with more cracks and crunches. "Fuck, it hurts." Her grip on Belle's hand grew even tighter. The distorting leg's foot jutted outward, stretching itself into a new shape, already starting to resemble a less human form.
"You'll get through this." Belle touched Ruby's face, feeling the tension of every muscle there. "You're doing a fine job, Ruby." The library of words in Belle's head had gone off to hide itself, leaving her helplessly frustrated with the lack of eloquence.
She wanted to help, but she didn't know what to do. She wanted to offer words of comfort and encouragement, but only the default, typical clichés were all she could come up with.
Ruby's grip grew tighter, nails digging into skin, fingers squeezing the entire hand. It was starting to be more painful than merely uncomfortable, but Belle ignored it, knowing a squeezed hand was nothing compared to Ruby's ordeal.
The first leg was still at last. The other took its place in tormenting Ruby, knee crumpling, shin breaking into a more curved form, heel extending upward, toes reshaping. Ruby's back arched and more screams and gasps poured out of her.
By the time the pain subsided, Ruby was coated in sweat, sobbing in between gasps and too weak to move.
"Belle…" Ruby looked up, "You're… you're going to have to leave soon." Too drained to lift her hand and point, Ruby glanced towards her legs. Unlike with the previous bouts, the latest distortions had remained. The result was an unnatural sight that hovered somewhere between human and wolf. The nails were already in the beginning stages of narrowing to a point while hints of hardening skin at the soles of her feet were the start of padded paws.
"Sshh." Belle kissed the side of Ruby's head. "I'm not leaving you." And first thing tomorrow morning, Belle was going straight to Rumple and talk to him about this. If he was as good as he said he was going to be for her, then surely, he would help.
"No, I… I mean it, Belle." Ruby shivered, blinked back tears and tried to put more strength into her voice. "When… it happens… If I'm not in control…" A short, bitter laugh sounded more like something between cough and sob. "Which is probably gonna be the case-"
"I'll talk to Rumple about it tomorrow." Belle gave the only solid promise she could offer, the only concrete thing she could do to help. It was a solid plan she was definitely going to follow through with. Blinking a few times, Belle realized her own eyes had teared up. "There's got to be a way to-"
Ruby tugged at Belle's hand, "I'm going to black out, Belle." The look of combined guilt and fear was as bad as seeing that of pure agony. "It's gonna happen and the wolf… i-it…" Leaning her head back against Belle's lap, Ruby looked down at the ground. "It's killed before and it could kill ag-"
Another scream ended that sentence. Her body jerked sideways, struck by an unseen force. The crunch of a breaking and morphing ribcage filled Belle's ears. Against the arm she had around Ruby's body, Belle felt the rise and fall of hard lumps, varying in not just sizes but also how much they protruded. Feeling the movement of various bones under her friend's skin made Belle cringe despite herself.
"H-hurts." Ruby gasped, doubling over and wrapping her free arm around her stomach while the other maintained its grasp on Belle's hand. The sharp pains against her skin hinted that Ruby's fingernails were already beginning to shift into claws.
"I-it'll be alright." Belle said uselessly, panic fluttering through her chest. Nevermind a few punctures in her skin from a half-transformed wolf's claws. This wrenching distress was worse. Ruby was having it worse. She thrashed like her skin was on fire and her bones being crushed. "Ruby! Ruby, it'll be alright."
The only answer was a scream accompanied by Ruby curling up as the skin along her back rippled with the movement of a transforming spine.
"Remember the library key?" Maybe transporting themselves away from this experience and reminiscing better times would help. Belle was grasping at whatever she could think of, flailing and desperate to do anything when all she could really do was nothing.
"What about the fucking library key?" Ruby's voice came out deeper then Belle had ever heard it before, growled out and raspy, from a parched throat and through sharpened teeth.
Belle almost hesitated, remembering Granny's warning of how dangerous wolves could be. The green eyes that usually sparkled with cheerful energy were attaining a yellow tint and an eerie glow.
Then a whine came through Ruby's mouth as she shut her eyes and further tightened her grip on Belle's hand. The moving bones under tight, stretched skin pressed against Belle as Ruby leaned closer. "Make it stop… please."
The crunching, cracking sounds still filled the air, but they were growing softer again, a sign of this latest bout nearing another temporary end.
"I know you had something to do with it." Whatever Granny or David or Ruby herself might have said, Belle couldn't just leave. She tried again at the only way she could attempt to help. "Rumple might have had the key, but I know you talked him into it."
The bout had subsided again, leaving Ruby limp against Belle's lap, barely strong enough to maintain a firm grip on Belle's hand anymore, which was now riddled with light pink lines. A few looked like they might open into cuts soon.
"It was your idea in the first place for me to take up the vacant librarian position." Belle tried not to focus on the little droplets of tears clinging to Ruby's eyelashes or the way her fingertips were starting to resemble pads and claws or that her ribcage now seemed wider or that the ridges along her back were more pronounced than they should be for a normal spine. "I don't think I ever got to properly thank you for that."
She concentrated on Ruby's eyes, which were now back to their usual comforting, cool shade of green. They were teary and shiny and half-closed.
"Wasn't that hard." Ruby's response was soft, less than a whisper. Belle had to lower her head closer to Ruby's to be able to hear. "He… He pretty much…" Ruby swallowed and licked her lips, dehydrated after so much screaming and thrashing. "…drooled at the slightest chance of…"
A violent shiver wracked through Ruby's body, causing both of them to tense, expecting the worst bout yet. Instead, only stillness followed. Ruby licked her lips again and continued, "…of being able to win you over after..."
Unless Belle was mistaken, there was a distinctly bitter tone to Ruby's words at that, though it might have just been the shiver, and the curl of her lip could easily be tied to her sore body.
"And he did ask for another chance," Belle could still remember their talk in the library as though it had taken place just yesterday. It had been refreshing and lifting to feel more on equal ground with him then, given the opportunity to have a say without any of his usual dismissive or evasive behaviors.
"You deserve better." Ruby's heavily-lidded eyes had finally closed and Belle wasn't sure where such a random statement could come from.
"Ruby, I know you disapprove of him, but-"
"Better than him," Ruby's eyes flashed open again to focus directly up at Belle. "And better than me."
Belle's brow furrowed as she tried to wrap her head around Ruby's words. Was she so convinced she was a monster, that she thought Belle deserved better friends? "Ruby, you were the only person who really helped me get back on my feet after-"
Screaming, Ruby shot upwards, her head crashing straight into Belle's chin, sending her falling off balance to land on her back.
A longer rest would have been so much better for Ruby.
The haunting yells and cries rang in Belle's ears and she doubted she would ever be able to sleep well in the nights after this. Not after hearing the breaking bones and stretching skin and seeing the pained eyes and thrashing body.
Despite the throbbing chin and sore hand, Belle scrambled back into her crouching position next to Ruby.
She was on her hands and knees, curled up with her head and elbows nearly touching the floor. The chains rattled and shook with Ruby's every movement. Tremors went through her, escalating into spasms until she was reduced to a writhing mess, jerking into different positions, on her back, on her side, on her stomach, each movement punctuated by each nauseating crunch.
Belle wrapped her arms around Ruby and pulled her close again, trying to still her movements, hoping it offered some comfort, wishing it would actually be of any help.
Whimpering and screaming intermittently, Ruby's body continued to squirm and jerk against her will. Her hands flailed and clawed at the ground before finding their grip on Belle's clothing, bunching up big handfuls of the cloth and hanging on tightly. She felt the material stretching.
Despite Ruby's wild movements, Belle managed to hold on, pressing her cheek to the top of Ruby's head and whispering more useless encouragement into her ear. "You're Ruby."
"You're tough," the screams broke into uneven sobs, "…and you're strong," the shift of her shoulderblades, protruding through the skin of her back before plunging down into a lower position, dislocated her shoulders with a pop and another scream, "…and you're beautiful and you can get through this."
The jolt of her shoulders caused Ruby to involuntarily pull at Belle's clothes. There was a distinct tearing sound as the fabric was stretched and strained.
"Ruby, whatever happens," With one arm maintaining its grasp on the trembling body in front of her, Belle used her other hand to cup Ruby's cheek and guide her into making eye contact. The green was being tinted by yellow again, glowing and eerie and unfamiliar. It was turning more into amber or gold than green already. "You are not a monster."