A Lot More Alcohol
Word soon got around about Belle's renewed relationship as Lacey with Mr. Gold; and by all accounts, the pawn broker had an even more sinister air about him than before he reunited with Belle. Rumor had it Dr. Whale had a battered patient come in one night, but when questioned who caused his injuries he replied, "I would rather keep my tongue." The silent consensus amongst the townspeople was Gold was behind it; but strangely, when Snow had seen the supposed patient in passing, she chose to give Mr. Gold the benefit of the doubt.
Lately Ruby's best friend had not been the same, particularly after Gold had tempted her into exchanging the life of Regina's mother for his own. She had visited Snow once during her period of recluse to see how she was faring. There was not much she could say to comfort her. While Ruby knew how it felt to know you killed someone, the fact was that Cora died because of Snow's conscious decision. All she could do was be there for Snow, the way Snow had been there for her.
She snapped to attention when Lacey occupied the seat directly in front of her at the counter.
"Hi." Lacey flashed her a smile. "Ruby, right?"
"Lacey," she proffered before Ruby could call her 'Belle.' "I got my memory back."
Ruby absently bobbed her head. "So I've heard." She gave the counter a quick swipe with the dishtowel in her hand. "Can I get you anything?"
"A glass of white wine, thanks."
Remembering what Granny had told her of Lacey and Mr. Gold's date, Ruby asked, "Not a bottle?"
Lacey tilted her head and smirked. "I'm just stopping by."
Ruby poured her a glass and placed it upon a napkin on the counter. "If you want a drink why aren't you at The Rabbit Hole? I hear you already spend a lot of your time there."
"Are you seriously trying to turn away a customer?" Lacey scoffed as she brought the drink to her lips. "I don't think your grandmother would like that." She took a sip and said, "Anyway, I heard you used to go to The Rabbit Hole pretty often yourself."
Ruby lowered her eyes and continued wiping the counter. "Things have changed."
Ruby opened her mouth but closed it when she caught sight of the food in the kitchen window. It was a good excuse to break away from the conversation.
Lacey watched her move around the counter before taking another sip from her glass.
"Do you still read?" a boy sitting next to her inquired.
If memory served, and in her opinion it did, the boy was named Henry and was Mr. Gold's grandson. She raised her eyebrows and said, "Excuse me?" like she thought it was some sort of joke.
"You used to read a lot before your accident."
"No, I don't think so." Lacey swirled the wine in her glass. "I'm not much of a reader."
"Maybe you just haven't found the right book." Henry turned to his backpack on the counter and reached in, pulling out a large linen-bound book. He pushed it toward Lacey, who skeptically eyed the cover.
"'Once Upon a Time'? A book about fairytales?"
"They're more than just fairytales," he persisted. "You can learn a lot from these stories."
"What, like don't go walking in the woods alone?" She was patronizing him at this point, but Henry figured it would be better to simply show her.
He arbitrarily opened the book to a page depicting a woman with long dark hair wearing a red hooded cloak.
Lacey was initially disinterested, but as her eyes lingered on the page she squinted at the image. The woman carrying the basket seemed familiar.
"Henry, what are you doing?" a voice demanded.
The pair looked up to see Ruby rounding the counter, a panicked expression on her face.
"I was just –"
"Don't you have homework or something? Look, there's Emma." Ruby shoved the book back into Henry's bag and forced a smile. "See you later, okay?"
Henry looked at her like she was cracked. "O-kay…" He slid off the stool to join his biological mother, and it was obvious how relieved Ruby was when parent and child left the diner.
"What was that about?"
She turned to Lacey who was giving her a look similar to Henry's. "Just looking out for him." Ruby casually flipped a hand in the air. "I baby-sit him sometimes, so I can't help it."
Lacey emptied her glass and peered at her over the rim. "Is that one of those things that have changed?"
Ruby numbed, realizing Lacey was trying to pick up where they left off in their earlier conversation. She was used to talking to Belle, so she didn't know how to speak to the racy Lacey in Belle's body. Even talking to her while she was in the hospital was easier than this situation. Attempting to avoid the discussion, she replied, "Among other things."
"What about us?" Lacey swung the base of her glass between them.
Ruby blinked. She stood straighter and parroted, "Us?"
"Yeah. When you visited me in the hospital you said we were friends – or is that one of those things that have changed?"
The real change was that Belle couldn't remember who she was, but Ruby couldn't very well say that. "Um, no. We're friends, yeah." It was difficult to say because Ruby didn't really know who this person was; but if she could regain some kind of connection with Belle, she would accept it.
"Great! So are you free to come out tonight?"
Present circumstances hit Ruby like déjà vu, made worse by her response. "Um, tonight's actually not great…" she trailed off, finding it incredibly ironic that the person (sort of) who had saved her from a date with Billy was now putting her in a similar situation.
Thankfully, Ruby could count on Granny to break up a party. Her grandmother walked over and interjected, "She's doing the re-orders tonight. Supplies don't just magically appear." Ruby shot her grandmother a pointed look at that last remark, which Granny ignored.
"Oh." Something that might have passed as disappointment flitted across Lacey's features. "Some other time then."
Ruby awkwardly nodded. "Yeah, I'll let you know."
Lacey dropped a few bills on the counter, said her goodbyes, and left the diner. As soon as she had disappeared Ruby exhaled a breath of air.
Granny lightly jabbed her in the arm with the menus she brought over. "You're not going to start falling into old habits, are you?"
She rolled her eyes at the implication. "A couple of drinks won't kill me, Granny."
"No, but I will if you come home drunk. I can't have you working with a hangover again."
"That was one time. It's not going to happen again."
- Once upon a time... -
It was happening again. Granny knew it was Red who had killed the village's chickens when she recognized the scent mingled with the blood. She had hoped that the curse had skipped her granddaughter, but when Red was thirteen she became a wolf for the first time.
- Storybrooke -
The full moon cast its pale light over the town as Lacey walked the streets to The Rabbit Hole. Mr. Gold had some work to do in the basement; which was why when she was passing by the diner earlier that day she decided to scope out her so-called friend. Lacey had no recollection of being friends with her, but Ruby had been so sincere when she had visited at the hospital. She hadn't seen Ruby since her visit, although there were a few times later when the nurse had brought in a basket of diner food and books. Lacey supposed Ruby thought it best not to see her after her outburst during her first visit. Still, Ruby was thoughtful enough to send care packages.
She didn't expect them to hit it off right away when she saw her again, but Lacey thought Ruby would at least make an effort to be sociable. During her entire stopover Ruby seemed distant. It was unlike the attention she had given her in hospital. She had also turned down the first opportunity she had to go out with her. Maybe, like Mr. Gold previously had, who she wanted to see was not Lacey but Belle. Well if Ruby was going to think like that then she didn't need her. She didn't need a friend to have a good time.
Shrugging off the cold, Lacey was about to cross the street when sudden movement in the shadows caught her attention. The bizarre part was she could have sworn the dark figure she had seen was an animal the size of a bear. Did animals of that sort usually wander into town? Perhaps she should have been afraid at that thought, but more than that, Lacey was curious. She gave the block a cursory glance and then headed in the animal's direction.
Her pursuit lead her to the forest at the edge of town where she paused and stared into the wooded depths.
"You can learn a lot from these stories."
"What, like don't go walking in the woods alone?"
Lacey shook her head at the memory of her conversation with Henry. This was Storybrooke, Maine. There wasn't going to be anything dangerous here. She stepped into the forest and cautiously trekked further, using what moonlight shone through the boughs as a guide.
Soon Lacey discovered the most dangerous thing about the forest was its terrain, littered with leaves, pebbles, and fallen tree trunks. It did not help that she was wearing high heels. After sinking into another path of soft earth and cursing, she decided blindly searching for a mystery in the woods was not worth the aggravation. She yanked her heel out but overcompensated and rolled down a slope, hitting the bottom and striking a sharp pain in her ankle. In the dim light she couldn't see how bad the injury was, but it felt like she would have to limp her way back to town.
Then she heard it – rustling in the woods that was not caused by wind. Lacey backed up as much as she could, wincing at the pain moving caused. Slowly, something large and dark crept from behind wild brushwood. It was a wolf, black as night and of a size one could only imagine. Lacey was too petrified to shout. Her hands dug into the earth but otherwise she couldn't bring herself to move. It would have been pointless to attempt an escape anyway with the condition her ankle was in. This sucked. First she was shot, had amnesia, and now she was going to be killed by a wolf. If she was lucky, the wolf would be starving and this would be a quick death.
Her resignation to her demise was premature. Much to her confusion, the wolf sat rather than attacked. She stared at the creature, who stared back at her. The wolf tilted its head to one side and twitched an ear, which to Lacey seemed peculiarly cartoon-like.
"Uh… okay…" Lacey shifted her weight against the earthen slope. "You're not going to eat me, are you?" She knew she was being ridiculous, speaking to a wolf as though it could understand her, but she was nervous and the talking helped her composure.
The wolf lowered its head and pawed the ground before returning its gaze to Lacey.
The woman was stunned. Did the wolf just respond to her question? She didn't know what was happening, but whatever the case she needed to get back into town. She pushed herself up onto her good leg, eyes on the wolf as she gingerly hopped along the slope – but she froze again when the wolf stood and padded toward her. Her heart raced, but part of her rationalized that if she was going to be attacked the wolf would be running rather than walking.
The wolf paused, and then edged its nose toward the hand at her side. Lacey recoiled and the wolf looked up at her with eyes that might have been pleading. She still didn't know what to make of this animal, but at the very least it didn't seem interested in clamping its jaw on her. Warily, Lacey put her hand out. The animal bowed its head and closed its eyes. Lacey hesitated once – and then, gently, she placed her hand upon the wolf's head. The wolf remained still, so she stroked its sleek fur a few times.
"You're… really big for a wolf, you know?"
At her words the wolf opened its eyes, backed up a few steps and regarded her.
Lacey blinked. "What?" The animal continued to stare at her. "Don't tell me I offended you?" She could have laughed at the possibility. "I mean, you're really… tall?"
A moment passed and then the wolf returned to her side; or rather nudged her side.
"What – hey!" Lacey lost her balance and fell over the wolf's back, gripping its forest-scented fur. The wolf moved forward a few steps, then looked back at the woman draped over its body. Lacey swallowed. "Don't tell me you want me to get on your back?" The response she received was something that could be interpreted as a shrug. Uncertain about where this might lead, but daunted by the prospect of having to shuffle through the forest, Lacey swung her leg over and laid flush against the warm animal.
The wolf's lollop was not as smooth as the gait of a horse, but it moved through the woods as though it knew every part of the forest. Every so often Lacey would wonder if her decision had been prudent, but eventually the light of the town came into view. She thought the wolf would stop – a giant canine traipsing though town would be alarming – but it continued trotting along the pavement.
"Hey, wait – where are you taking me?" Lacey pulled on the animal's scruff but got a grunt as an answer.
Their destination was a surprise to Lacey only because she couldn't fathom how the wolf knew to bring her here. There must have been something about the way she smelled that lead the animal to Mr. Gold's home. She got dropped off at the end of the walkway, and Lacey wondered if this was because the creature somehow knew of the pawn broker's reputation.
The wolf studied her a moment, twitched its ears, and scampered back into the night.
Lacey stood on the pathway, staring after the wolf and attempting to make sense of this encounter. There was no way a typical animal could be so keenly empathetic. Then again, this wolf seemed like no ordinary wolf. She only moved to turn when she heard her name being called.
"Lacey." Mr. Gold was hobbling toward her down the walkway and wearing a curious expression. "You're back quite early."
"I, um – had trouble with my heels." She waved a hand in the direction of her muddy shoes. "I bent the wrong way and hurt myself. It's not twisted, just really sore."
Concern crossed his countenance. "Ah." He tapped his cane in front of him and folded his hands atop the handle. "Were you just speaking to someone?"
She hedged as she thought of how to reply. "Not exactly. Do you know anything about a wolf in Storybrooke?"
Mr. Gold's brow vellicated, but he smiled when he answered. "A wolf? Hardly. The largest canine I've seen in town is Dr. Hopper's Dalmatian Pongo. Why do you ask?"
Again Lacey wavered with her response. She didn't know why she couldn't bring herself to simply tell him about the wolf and what happened in the woods. "Stories around town. I thought it would be good to know if there was a beast lurking around." Even as she said it, Lacey felt there was something wrong with her wording.
His smile broadened. He stepped toward her and offered an arm, which she linked with her own to steady her as they moved forward. "I assure you, Lacey, you're quite safe with me."
- ... in a land thought to be myth... -
Red's mother had embraced the wolf the way her father had before her – that was why Granny had to take Red away from Anita, to ensure that her granddaughter did not grow to be a beast. The wolf inside Red needed to be hidden away from the world, and Red herself. Her grandmother would not burden her with the knowledge of what she was and what she was capable of doing.
- Storybrooke -
"She saw you," Snow stated. Ruby had just finished relaying the events of the first night of Wolfstime to her best friend. It was mid-afternoon and the diner had only a couple of scattered customers.
"Well she didn't know it was me, obviously, but yeah," Ruby replied in hushed tones. "I couldn't just leave her in the woods to limp her way home."
Snow leaned in further over the counter. "Red, don't you think Lacey is going to be wondering about this mysterious great wolf who rescued her in the forest?"
The way Ruby shook her head was reminiscent of a canine. "As far as she knows all she saw was some oversized wolf."
"Who let her ride on its back and carried her to Mr. Gold's." Snow took a breath and her demeanor softened. "Sorry if I'm sounding hard on you, but… I just think its important to think everything through before acting."
It didn't take more than a second for Ruby to understand why Snow was telling her this. She reached out and placed a hand over her friend's. "Snow, I know you're still upset about –"
Her expression turned pained. "Can we… not talk about that?"
Ruby's grip tightened and she tried to catch Snow's eye. "Not all choices are black and white."
Derisive lamentation appeared on Snow's face. "Right, it's just my name is Snow White and my heart is turning black."
Confused, Ruby said, "What?"
"Nothing – never mind." Snow pulled away and paid for her drink. "I'm going to check on how David and the dwarves are doing. See you later."
"Snow –" Ruby's plea fell on deaf ears as Snow bustled out, not even noticing as she brushed past a startled Ashley entering the diner.
"She's sure in a hurry," Ashley commented as she undid her baby carrier.
Ruby got out from behind the counter to relieve Ashley of Alexandra. "Yeah, she has a lot on her mind." The pair sat across from one another at a nearby table for two. "How are you and Sean?"
"We still have to make ends meet; although his father has been more supportive now that the curse is broken."
"I suppose it also means you don't need to get married – since you already are."
They shared a laugh and one of the other waitresses took Ashley's order to the diner counter.
"Yeah, and now we have Alexandra." Ashley rubbed a palm against her forehead. "I can't believe I've been pregnant for twenty-eight years. Elephants have had babies sooner than I have!"
Ruby chuckled and tugged the blanket down from Alexandra's face. "But she's finally here, and she's beautiful."
Ashley gazed fondly at her child in Ruby's arms. She remembered the night the town had gone after Ruby, believing her to have been a killer. Thankfully David cleared her name before any harm could come upon her. It was an intriguing sight; the 'big bad wolf' acting maternal. "Have you ever thought about kids of your own?" Her friend looked up with wide eyes so suddenly that Ashley had to bite back a giggle.
"Me?" said Ruby, the pitch of her tone higher than usual. "Nooo." She adamantly shook her head and dropped her gaze back to Alexandra.
The waitress returned with Ashley's order of tea and a slice of pie. The young mother picked up her fork and thoughtfully prodded it into the pie crust. "Well, I guess you'd have to find someone first." Ashley conspiratorially leaned forward. "Is there anyone?"
A memory from her past flashed in Ruby's mind. She slowly shook her head again, a repentant smile on her lips as she quoted Snow. "No. I'm not sure that's in my future."
- ... and a time of magic... -
The first time Granny moved up Red's curfew the thirteen-year-old girl had been stunned. She had thought getting older would mean being allowed out later, not the other way around. Her grandmother's reasoning was now that there was a wolf lurking about the village, it was not as safe to be out during the evening. When Red said she would be with Peter, Granny's expression hardened and she firmly told her that a couple of kids were no match for this wolf. It would be safer for Red to stay indoors and not see Peter for the next three nights.
- Storybrooke -
Lacey wound up not getting much sleep. Thoughts of the wolf she met in the woods continued to circulate in her head, staving off any chance of rest. Only until the sun began to rise through her windows did she find any peace, and she chose to sleep in while Mr. Gold left for the pawn shop. It was not until afternoon did she get out of bed and went down to the kitchen; but then the thought of putting something together and eating alone left her dour. Lacey got dressed, grabbed her wool jacket, and checked the pockets for cash before heading out.
She found herself paying more attention to her surroundings as she walked through town, and she foolishly understood it was because her subconscious was searching for the wolf. The wolf would not be walking around in the middle of the afternoon around town. If anything it was probably prowling somewhere in the forest. Still, now that her head was clear with daytime, Lacey was certain there was something special about the creature.
Her eyes continued to wander until she stopped in front of Granny's Diner. A red muscle car was parked in the road, but what caught Lacey's eye was what was in the car – a glass wolf imbued with red hanging from the rearview mirror. She quickened her pace and rushed into the diner. "Excuse me, whose red car is that parked outside?"
Rather than a verbal response, the few customers in the diner looked in the same direction – and when Lacey followed it, at the end she found Ruby standing at a table with a coffee pot in hand and her mouth half open.
The waitress swung back to replace the coffee pot behind the counter. "Is there something wrong with my car?"
"I noticed the charm hanging on the mirror." Lacey stepped up to the counter and sat down. "Sorry if this sounds strange, but do you know anything about a wolf in Storybrooke?"
Ruby froze for a millisecond, fighting the urge to show alarm in her expression. "I can't say that I do."
Lacey thought for a moment. "Really?" She had not pressed Mr. Gold for information about the wolf last night, but something told Lacey that Ruby knew more than she was letting on. She felt an annoyance akin to when Ruby had told her that the hospital's tranquilizers were giving her nightmares; but she was confident what she had seen was real. Ruby had said they were friends. If that was the case, she would use that friendship to get the truth.
"M-hm." Ruby briskly nodded and glanced toward the kitchen. "Would you like to order something?"
Amidst her preoccupation with the wolf, Lacey had nearly forgotten why she had come to the diner in the first place. She glimpsed the clock on the wall and asked, "Is it too late for a pancake breakfast and orange juice?"
The corner of Ruby's mouth quirked, and she genuinely smiled. "I'll make an exception for you."
- ... the safety of a village rested on the shoulders of one woman. -
Keeping Red indoors was not enough. Every full moon she would change into the wolf, and it was becoming tiring work for Granny to fix Red's room every morning before she awoke. Even more tiring was making sure she remained indoors during Wolfstime. While Red was for the most part obedient, she was entering that rebellious period of her life and the idea of her sneaking out in the evening was not out of the question. What Granny needed was something to prevent Red from transforming.
- Storybrooke -
It wasn't right to stare but Ruby couldn't help it. Belle had not taken to Ruby's liberal use of maple syrup, so it was a shock when Lacey picked up the syrup jug and poured its contents all over her plate.
She caught the waitress' eye and ran a thumb along the stack of pancakes, – "I kind of like when it gets on everything," – and licked up the syrup.
Ruby rapidly blinked and ruminated, 'Well that's… different.' She resumed working while Lacey chipped at her meal, exchanging casual conversation whenever Ruby returned behind the counter. These exchanges were preferable to the silent lingering looks Lacey would sometimes give her, for Ruby could not comprehend the reason behind them.
A small part of her considered perhaps Lacey knew she was the wolf; but if she did, Ruby found it unlikely that Lacey would not outright confront her about her identity. She remembered allowing Lacey to pet her head so she could earn her trust, but it was still bizarre because no one had ever touched her as though she was a domesticated dog.
"That was good," Lacey said when Ruby came to take her plate. "I really needed that." She leaned on her elbows and tapped the side of her glass of juice. "Think you could Irish up this O.J. while I use the washroom?"
Her request more or less didn't surprise Ruby. It was still strange to hear these words coming from Belle's mouth, but at the same time Ruby found it amusing. "Sure, go ahead." She rummaged for some ice and the vodka bottle while Lacey excused herself.
The diner bell rang as Ruby set about refreshing Lacey's drink, and she quickly had to rearrange her face from a frown into something more hospitable when she saw the man approaching her.
"Afternoon, Mr. Gold. Are you here for Lacey?" She had seen the other woman using her cell phone sometime during her stay and assumed the call was from him.
"Indeed I am." He eyed the cocktail Ruby left prepared for Lacey. "I hear you had an eventful evening."
Ruby glowered and instantly dropped the platitudes. "She was hurt; or would you rather I abandoned her alone in the woods?"
A genial, if mildly sarcastic, grin came over him. "No, of course not. But I was under the impression that you had found your red hood. If so, why are you traipsing through the forest on four legs?"
"I was out for a run." She placed her hands on the edge of the sink. "I didn't know she would follow me out there."
"Well, might I suggest that while Lacey is here you use some discretion." He shifted his weight to his cane and lowered his voice. "Or maybe you would prefer allowing King George to take your hood again?"
Ruby's eyes narrowed. "I didn't 'allow' him – he stole it."
This time Gold's smile was impish as he murmured, "Now it's not really stealing if he paid for it."
The meaning behind his words was not lost on Ruby. Her grip on the sink tightened and she seethed. "You did have my red hood. Why did you give it to Spencer?"
"I don't ask about motives, dearie. I merely make deals."
It was the first time since the curse broke that Ruby felt such anger. She grit her teeth to suppress a growl, but her irises blazed gold until she picked up the sound of heels on the floor.
Lacey had returned from the washroom, and her gaze shifted between the two. "Is everything okay here?"
Mr. Gold reverted to his cordial façade. "Yes, everything is fine. Are you just about finished here, Lacey?"
She looked from her boyfriend to Ruby, who briefly glanced in Lacey's general direction and muttered, "Your drink's ready," before picking up the coffee pot and making her rounds.
The waitress was affable as she tended to the customers, but refused to look at Lacey or Mr. Gold while she worked. It was obvious to Lacey that something had happened between Ruby and Mr. Gold to cause her disregarding behaviour. When she asked him he gave her an unsatisfying roundabout answer. Something about a bad memory.
Lacey read the clock on the diner wall as she drained her glass. No doubt Mr. Gold expected she would be accompanying him back the pawn shop; so she had to inform him otherwise. Her vague excuse was that she realized there was something important she had to do that day. Of course, Mr. Gold offered to go with her, but she passed it off as a matter that would be a trifle to him and it was better if he returned to look after the shop. A slight wrinkle came to his brow – they had been nearly inseparable since becoming an item – but in the end he let her go, paying her bill and surveying her form as she departed.
- Her name... -
There were a few weeks until the next Wolfstime so it was safe to leave Red with Peter's family while Granny was away. She was seeking out someone who could provide her with a magical remedy to Red's problem. There was word of a wizard by the name of Merlin who was renown for his magic in King Arthur's realm. Getting an audience would be a long shot, but it was preferable to going to a shady magic user – and that was when the Dark One appeared.
- Storybrooke -
The playground Regina had built near the woods was not the only playground in Storybrooke. It was an important fact, because in Hansel and Gretel's opinion, Regina's design looked too similar to the Evil Queen's castle to be a welcome children's attraction. The park where the siblings chose to play was in an open area by the sea. Nicholas and August were clambering after one another on the jungle gym while Marco kept a watchful eye.
Leaving the boys to play by themselves, Ava returned to where her schoolbag rested on one of the nearby benches. "I can't believe that kid used to be an adult."
Henry peered up from his book. "After everything that's happened that's what you don't believe?" he said with a half-smirk.
"Well I also can't believe the Evil Queen adopted you." The girl extracted a container of trail mix from her schoolbag and sat next to Henry. "I'm just glad that your birth mom is around now."
"I'm glad she's here too." Henry grinned and flipped a page. As an afterthought he added, "Regina did raise me though, and I turned out okay."
Ava bit down on the trail mix in her mouth. "Because she was hiding how evil she is from you." She nodded at the book in his lap. "You've read about what she's done. You know she tried to keep me and Hansel for herself; and when that didn't work she sent us into a never-ending forest."
"But she wasn't like that before. She can change."
"Really?" Ava said, sounding unconvinced.
Henry watched as she took another pinch of trail mix into her mouth. "… Hey… what's it like over there? Where you come from."
Ava glanced at him, chewing over the trail mix and possibly what she should say to him. "There's a lot of forest," she bluntly answered. "The land is divided into different realms with dangerous creatures and dangerous people. There's nothing like indoor plumbing to make life easier." She paused, watching her brother race August to the swing. "But even if life was harder there, what mattered was we had our father – our family." When she looked back to Henry he was smiling.
The boy born in a land without magic wanted to travel to the Enchanted Forest; but he wanted to go with his family – the family he reunited by bringing Emma to Storybrooke.
Ava's gaze turned upward and her brow furrowed. Henry twisted in his seat and spotted the cause of her misgivings walking toward them.
The brunette woman in heels, wearing a dress with a high hemline and accompanying wool coat, looked out of place at a children's playground. Regardless, Lacey smiled and greeted the boy as though he was expecting her. "Hi, Henry."
"Er, hi…" Recalling what had happened in the diner with Ruby, he reflexively closed the book.
She stopped next to the bench the pair was sitting on and pointed. "I was wondering if you would let me borrow that book after all."
"Oh…" His initial apprehension switched to delight. "Sure!"
Ava smacked Henry in the arm and gave him a reproachful look.
He quickly looked to Ava and then back to Lacey, not quite catching the significance of the girl's expression. "Ah… as long as you return it."
"I'm pretty sure that's what borrowing means," Lacey cheekily replied. She took the hardcover into her arms and lightly rapped the cover. "Thanks."
Lacey turned back up the path, walking past Jefferson and Grace on her way out of the park. The Hatter glimpsed Lacey, questioning her change, but deciding her appearance was still an improvement from frizzed hair and a hospital gown.
Grace bounded for the benches to meet with Henry and Ava. "Did Belle just leave with your book?" she queried Henry.
"I think you mean Lacey," Ava amended with a grumble. She offered the contents of her container to Grace, who picked out a pretzel to munch. "Rumpelstiltskin's new-old girlfriend."
"She's still Belle deep down," Henry insisted. He explained to Grace that if he let Lacey read the book it might help jog her memory. She seemed impressed, noting how generous it was of him to let a cursed Belle borrow his important book. Henry modestly replied he just wanted to help, while Ava rolled her eyes at the both of them.
- Still in Storybrooke -
She had discovered the key in her coat pocket and figured it must have belonged to 'that other person.' It was peculiar, to think that before her accident she had a different personality; but Lacey would not dwell on it. She knew who she was; yet if someone had seen her standing outside the library, the scene would be strange but familiar.
In the diner Lacey had looked to the clock to check if it was time for the elementary school to be letting out. While Ruby had been ignoring her and Mr. Gold, Lacey was reflecting during the lulls of her and Mr. Gold's conversing. She had seen something fantastical – Ruby's golden irises. It led Lacey's mind back to the moment when she had laid eyes on the pages of Henry's storybook. There had to be something there – a connection between the book and Ruby. Lacey realized the picture of the woman was familiar because she bore a striking resemblance to the waitress.
Locating the boy was fairly easy. All she had to do was ask a few kids in school uniforms, who were in awe of her for one reason or another, and they told her where Henry went after school. The girl she had found him with didn't seem to like her much, which Lacey found more droll than affronting – especially when she witnessed her reaction to Henry letting her borrow the book.
Now that she had the tome Lacey needed somewhere private to read. The sight of her solitarily reading a large book about fairytales in public would undoubtedly draw attention – and she didn't really want to be seen reading this fairytale book in public anyway. In retrospect it was fortunate that she had left the library key in her jacket as opposed to the fleeting notion she had of tossing it onto her dresser.
For good measure Lacey locked the door behind her before wandering deeper into the library and sitting at a table near the fire hose. She stared at the gilded cover, preparing herself for what she might find in the pages, and opened it. Her fingers lightly turned each page, her confusion growing with each subsequent picture on the paper. These characters she was seeing, some of them looked like a person in Storybrooke – Rumpelstiltskin, the Blue Fairy, Jiminy, the Evil Queen, Snow White… Red Riding Hood.
At this point in the book Lacey splayed her hand against the page and studied the illustration. The dark hair, the green eyes, the angles of her face… it was Ruby. She began reading the corresponding text. In the story the woman's name was Red and she lived with her grandmother. Red's village was being terrorized by a wolf, but the threat was not enough to keep her away from Peter, her love. Snow White came to the village and was befriended by Red, who insisted that together they kill the wolf. Misunderstanding and secrets brew tragedy, and…
Lacey's heartbeat had been quickening as she read, threads slowly coming together. She was now staring at a picture of the wolf, a wolf which looked like the one she had met in the woods. A flicker of fear passed through her when it dawned on her that she could have been killed – or rather eaten – like Peter; but the wolf in the woods had been cognizant, almost human in behaviour. The wolf, Red Riding Hood, Ruby… they were the same person, is what Lacey deduced – but that was ludicrous. Were these other fairytale characters Storybrooke citizens as well? Was this book someone's idea of a joke? Lacey ran her hands over her face.
She needed a drink – or preferably several.
- ... Widow Lucas. -
He said he knew of her granddaughter's 'condition' and what it was doing to their village. Conveniently, he had something which could help. In a puff of dark purple smoke, he produced a red riding hood and told Granny that as long as Red wore it she would not change into the wolf.
- Storybrooke -
"Ruby?" Granny opened her granddaughter's bedroom door when she didn't respond.
A massive black wolf sat on a rug on the floor beside the bed. Its amber eyes looked up at the woman.
Granny sighed and took up the red cloak draped over an armchair in the corner. "If you're staying in put your hood on. You'll shed a lot less." She threw the hood over Ruby and observed as the wolf shifted back to human.
Ruby leaned back and sat cross-legged on her bedroom rug, keeping the hood on so it obscured her face; but her grandmother didn't need to see her face to know that something was troubling her granddaughter.
She planted her hands on her hips and huffed. "What's the matter with you?"
"Gold had my hood," Ruby muttered. "That's how Spencer got it."
Soundless chagrin twisted Granny's expression and she threw her hands up. "I shouldn't be surprised. That wicked man – of course to fill his warped pawn shop he takes something from all of us." Her eyes fell to her granddaughter, who remained motionless. "But now you know you can still control the wolf."
"Spencer killed Billy." Ruby pulled the hood from her head and grimaced. "Gold giving him my hood helped him do it, so I would have to change and think I'd killed him." She drew a steadying breath. "I know he's Henry's grandfather and whatever now, but he's hurt a lot of people and enabled others to do the same."
Granny considered what to do with Ruby. She reached down to pull her up onto her bed before sitting beside her and slapping her thighs. "Like you say, he's Henry's grandfather; and his son is in town. That must mean something even to him. Plus there's Belle. I don't know how she can be with a man like him but she seems sensible enough to know what she's doing."
"Belle…" Her friend had let Ruby hideout in the library when the mob had been persecuting her. How much did Belle really know about Rumpelstiltskin? Did she know he and Regina risked killing Emma and Snow when the portal to Storybrooke opened? In the end it didn't happen because Henry convinced Regina to remove the trap – but surely Gold would have allowed them to die. Gold would probably continue to commit as many acts of selfishness as he could as long as he could hide it from Belle.
Ruby gripped her red hood; the recollection of Belle telling her she would stay with her, and Belle's touch on her shoulders surfacing. She considered what might happen if Belle found out Gold had given Ruby's hood to Spencer. Ruby voiced this to her grandmother, but the elder woman advised she not interfere in Gold's business. While a werewolf could stand up to a human, magic trumped the beast inside of her. Ruby threw herself back on her bed and groaned. She really needed to go for a run.
- Hunted. I was going to say hunted. -
Granny did not trust him one bit, but he guaranteed results. Of course, magic always came with a price. She asked him what he wanted in return for the enchanted hood.
Rumpelstiltskin wickedly tittered. "Ohh, a vial of werewolf's blood will do."