Virtual Season 3, Episode 10

The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
presents
Virtual Season 3
Episode 10
“We Can Be Heroes”

Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: RebelByrdie
Illustrated By: Konako
Edited By: Silverbluemoon

Advisors and Consultants
Characterization: Rushemiiaah
Research and Development Assistant: Archaeomedic

This series is Rated M for language, violence, drug references, and adult situations.
It is not intended for all audiences. Please use discretion.

Publication Date: 03/07/2015

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KI-T_crophe unholy screech of the electric alarm clock cut through her sleep and into her dreams. Ashley (or was she supposed to be Ella again?) reached out blindly and swatted at the machine.  Not that alarms back in the old world had been any better.  She had hated the bells that had connected her small closet-sized bedroom off of the kitchen to her stepmother and sisters’ room.  They, too, had woken her every day before dawn.  She didn’t have to worry about them anymore, though; she had her own family to tend to. She had a daughter now, and just thinking about her precious little girl got her up and moving. Her calves, still sore from yesterday’s double shift, were tight, and she winced when she put her full weight on her feet. She stood though and curled her toes into the the threadbare tan carpet. Her nightgown was a soft, oversized Storybrooke High Knights t-shirt that her false memories told her Sean gave her when they dated in High School, and it was almost too thin. The weather was getting cooler, and in Maine there was a very short time between falling leaves and falling snow.

She walked from her bedroom and into the living room. Thomas, her own Prince Charming, was asleep on the couch with Modern Warfare still flashing on the television screen, controller on his stomach. She turned away from him and walked to the second, much smaller bedroom. She had painted it pink when they moved in, because what little princess didn’t like pink? The fluffy white kittens and lace curtains matched the white trim she had fussed over. It was a perfect little room for her little girl. The only thing she hadn’t picked out was the furniture; the gorgeous oak crib, changing table and the bassinet had been gifts from Regina Mills. The Evil Queen had given her the furniture with a negligent flick of her hair.  “It’s not as if Henry still needs it, dear.”  If she had known then what she knew now she would have— Ashley shook her head, though. Regardless of where that thought has been headed, she knew she would have still accepted the gift. The furniture, though over a decade old, was gorgeous and far far nicer than what she and Thomas could have been able to buy.

Alexandra, her Little Princess, peeked at her between the bars of the crib. Her bright green eyes sparkled, and her little fist curled around a white stuffed cat toy that Ashley would swear she’d named “Ree”. Her baby’s smile was so big that her pacifier fell out from between her lips.

“Mama,” spoke the breathy tiny voice.

There was nothing in the world as magical to Ashley as hearing Alexandra call her “Mama”. Nothing. The little girl, all dimples and golden curls, abandoned her stuffed toy and reached for her mother, all ready for morning cuddles.

Ashley let herself revel in the moment, in the feel of her daughter, damp diaper and all, in her arms. The morning routine, as set in stone as any routine that involved a toddler could be, began.  She changed and dressed Alexandra and worried that even with tights, her daughter wouldn’t be warm enough. Though she spent hours combing through sales and bargains, there simply wasn’t a market in Storybrooke for toddler clothes. Which wasn’t really surprising, since Alex was exactly the second baby in Storybrooke in twenty-eight years. Thank God for Amazon, though, Ashley didn’t dare try to figure out how the shipments got over the line, she was just glad that they did. For the most part, she had decided that the seemingly strange exception of package mail had to be the result of some dark shopaholic streak Regina couldn’t control. She chuckled at the thought, and Alex, half-dressed in her tights and plain white cotton onesie, kicked and giggled, too, even though she had no idea what her mommy was laughing about. Finally dressed, complete with a fuzzy jacket with floppy rabbit ears on the hood and tiny sneakers with pink rhinestones on them, she planted Alex on her hip and walked out to the living room. She sighed and wondered, not for the first time, if she was doing the right thing. This wasn’t the happily ever after she was supposed to have, was it? A low-end apartment in a tiny town, a job she worked doubles at just to get by, and a Prince who seemed more interested in video games, fantasy football and hanging with his “boys” than their baby. Was this Happily Ever After?  She did not know. She flicked the overhead light on and off again until a groan rose from the lump on the couch.

Ashley and Sean 2

“Why’d you do that?”

Ashley counted to five in her head, “Because I have to shower before work, and Alexandra needs her father to take care of her.” Then, before he could complain, she deposited their child on his lap and hoped he didn’t have Dorito crumbs on his clothes—again.  Alexandra, very much a Mommy’s Girl, let out a small grumble that was usually the predecessor to a full blown tantrum.

“Mama,” Alex said breathily, reaching for her.

Ashley leaned over the back of the couch, “Be good for Daddy for a few minutes, baby,” and kissed her daughter on the top of her head.

Her shower—short because their hot water heater was about half the size of a normal one—was just another amenity of Forest View Luxury Apartments. Luxury, Ashley scoffed as she towel-dried her hair, what a joke. Also, the view only included the forest if you had binoculars, but since Mr. Gold was the landlord, exactly zero people complained. She finger-combed gel into her hair and twisted it into a serviceable bun before starting to dress, pulling her Diner uniform onto still damp skin. Thank God she had lost the baby weight so quickly. The short red skirt and fitted white shirt uniform didn’t leave much to the imagination; her matching red, off-brand canvas were by the door. She took one last look in the mirror before leaving to retrieve them, and saw not Ashley or even Ella, just Cinders-Ella—the girl who was forced to be a servant in her own home. Would she ever be a princess again? She wanted that life for Alexandra, not the one she’d been forced to live.

She shook her head; there was no time for fairy tales anymore, not when there was work to be done. The living room was full of light and sound; Sean was playing his game and the loud explosions, gunshots and shouting had him glued to the scene. Alex had her little hands over her  ears. Sean had popped her pacifier back in her mouth, or she bet the baby would be crying.

Ashley wanted to rip the XBox’s cord out of the wall.

“How many times have I told you not to play violent games with the baby right there?” she accused, hands on hips.

He didn’t even pause the game. “She doesn’t even know what it is, Ella. It’s just bright colors and stuff—shit!”  He jammed buttons and jerked to the side, as if his movement would help the character on the screen survive. It didn’t.

She counted to ten in her head, “Watch the language, she’s repeating!” She didn’t have to see his face to know that he was rolling his eyes. “Courtney will be over at eight to get Alex and then—”

He yawned, “Eight? That’s so late. I was about to head to bed. Can’t she just pick her up from Granny’s? I thought that old Wolf said it was okay for you to take her in with you.”

She sighed yet again. “The Diner during the breakfast rush isn’t exactly the best place for a toddler. She doesn’t just lay in her carrier and sleep through it all anymore.”

Instead of starting another round, Thomas let the controller fall to the floor negligently and stretched, “You should just quit.”

Ashley opened her mouth to scream. To scream they don’t have enough money for her to stay at home. Sean only worked four days a week at the cannery and his little extras like the XBox Live Membership, beer, and DVDs, often cut into the necessary budget items like diapers, groceries, and car insurance. She closed her mouth without a word and counted to fifteen in her head.

“Well, I can’t quit, and if I don’t leave in the next two minutes, I will be late.”

Sean turned to look at her, “We’re royalty, Ella. We shouldn’t have to work like dogs. Snow and David didn’t stick to their curse-jobs. They got to declare themselves rulers of Storybrooke. Like they were the only ones with a royal pedigree. You didn’t see Snow White rushing to make it the elementary school everyday—nope. They won’t even put me on first shift, do you believe that? I have to work second shift; it’s undignified.”

Ashley knew when Thomas said dogs, that his disgusted tone meant peasants, and for a prince born with a silver spoon in his mouth, there was nothing worse.

“And I especially don’t like you working for those monsters.”

It wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation, and Ashley could feel a headache coming on. She wasn’t even surprised by his reaction; she had already put Alexandra’s jacket on, a step ahead. She picked up her girl, and sighed. She had a double shift ahead of her, and a clattering, coughing, cheap Chevy Cavalier that she needed to coax into getting her where she needed to go, at least one more time. Just a few more payments, and it would be all hers. The tips that were waiting on her would make that payment, and working a double would make the difference between creative cooking with ramen noodles and fresh groceries. So as Thomas stumbled towards the bedroom to sleep, she walked to the door with Alexandra’s diaper bag over one shoulder, and her baby’s head resting against the other.

She was about to open the door to walk out into the morning air when Thomas’s voice stopped her.

“I could be a hero too, you know. You don’t have to run off to freaking Neverland to be a hero. I could be the best hero Storybrooke has ever seen if I got the chance.”

He didn’t have to be Storybrooke’s hero, Ashley sighed, if he could just be her hero again—or their daughter’s hero—that would be enough. She would have said that to him, but he had already disappeared into the bedroom.

Granny’s Diner opened at seven, and Ashley arrived with just enough time to park her car, settle Alexandra into a high chair at the end of the high bar with crayons and a coloring book full of puppies and kittens, and clock in.

She could smell coffee, which she grabbed a quick cup of, baking bread, and grease. It was all so familiar that she was sure she could run through the Diner with her eyes shut tight.

She started laying out silverware bundles and performing other small chores, and soon looked up to see Ruby enter from the connected Inn. She wasn’t wearing her Diner uniform, instead donning dark pants, a red plaid shirt, a gun, and Sheriff’s badge on her belt. She moved to her usual place behind the counter to help out for a bit, but not before stopping to see Alexandra.

Ruby was one of Alex’s favorite people and the little girl abandoned her crayons and waved her hands at Ruby.

“Bee!”

Ruby’s face was quickly split by a wide smile. “If it isn’t my favorite little bunny.” She tugged on the long ears on Alexandra’s jacket hood.

She knew that Ruby was a good person, her friend, but she couldn’t help but flinch and look at the handprints carved into the wall. Ruby wasn’t the girl next door anymore, not that she ever had been really, she was a werewolf, a killer, and Ashley wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

Ashley wasn’t sure about a lot of things anymore.

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KI-T_crophe sandwich board seemed heavier than usual, but Eugenia Lucas dragged it out in front of the diner anyway, feeling the town needed a little normalcy. Everything, including her home and business, was just a few inches from falling to the ground. While many complained, Eugenia, or Granny as most called her, thanked her stars that things hadn’t gotten any worse. They’d come very very close to losing everything—and everyone. The fact that not a single person had died was a miracle. There had been some close calls, and very serious injuries, but they had survived. There was a lot of damage but thing like cars, buildings, possessions, could be repaired and replaced—people couldn’t. Whether anyone liked it or not ( and most didn’t), they all had been saved by The Evil Queen. Regina had descended into the mine to stop the trigger, her fail safe, knowing she was weak from torture, and it would most likely kill her. Granny had her own opinions on what might have been going through the woman’s head, but she kept them to herself.  People came to her Diner to eat, not to hear an old woman ramble.

She looked up and down the street. The dwarves and men had been working from dawn to dusk clearing the debris. Main Street almost looked normal again—almost. There was still grass growing like jungle weeds most everywhere, though Ruby had hacked the stuff into submission on their property. She had also very carefully cut the trees that had speared into the diner away with a chainsaw. Ruby had done all that, along with as much of her usual shift at the Diner as she could manage, and in addition to the Sheriff duties she had taken on. Eugenia was damn proud of her granddaughter. Ruby had taken the stand-in sheriff position very seriously, more seriously than she’d seen the girl take anything in a very long time.

People forgot that in addition to being a child of the moon, Ruby was also a dyed-in-the-clothes war hero. She had fought on the front lines of Snow White’s army, had been there every step of the way. She had also been a trusted advisor and protector of the White court. The last twenty-eight years had given them all Ruby—a silly, flaky, irresponsible version of Red. Hindsight being perfect and all, it hadn’t been so bad. They had been free of the wolf and the bloodshed that came with it. There had been no fear of persecution, starvation, or disease. She was— they all were— back to their old selves, nearing the dawn of a whole new war. Granny didn’t need wolf senses to know that a fight was brewing in their quaint little town.

Eugenia loved her staff like family, and she worried that a civil war would take some of them away from her. She headed back inside and bit the inside of her cheek as Ashley none-too-subtly rushed over to Alexandra to keep her from Ruby’s grasp.

Ruby was dressed in dark jeans and a plaid shirt. Her hair was in a thick ponytail and the sheriff’s badge and gun rode on her hip. She still woke up to help open the diner. She moved around with the same routine as she had for the last twenty-eight years. The diner routine was familiar, easy, and the staff knew exactly what was expected of them. There was a stiffness in the air this morning, though; an aura of discomfort. Though Eugenia was pretty sure it was more than the fact that the diner was still being repaired, that the wall still sagged, the window still had plywood in it. Something sinister was brewing, and she was beginning to see signs right here, in the town’s heart.

The day’s customers, as regular and predictable as her staff, started to trickle in, and Granny stopped brooding on it and got to work. She watched, though, and noticed how the usually very friendly Ashley seemed stiff, almost disdainful. The only customers she genuinely seemed to smile at was Sean’s direct supervisor and his assistant. She was stiff and didn’t speak much to Ruby or anyone else. Her eyes had barely concealed dark circles under them, and Ashley had lost more than just her baby weight. Girl was run down, tired. So when she ducked back into the kitchen for an order, Granny caught her arm and handed her a saucer with scrambled eggs, toast, and a cup of juice.

“Go take a break and sit down with your baby for a bit, girl.”

Ashley pushed a still-damp-from-her-shower tendril of hair out of her face. “It’s not time yet.”

Honestly, Granny wanted to swat the girl, it was like she forgot who was in charge somedays. All her staff, especially Ruby, forgot that from time to time. “Go sit, no arguments.”

Ashley squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, “I don’t need charity.”

Granny rolled her eyes, “And I don’t need you passing out in my Diner. Do you know how much paperwork I would have to fill out?”

Ashley shifted from foot to foot, torn between taking a much needed break and sticking up for herself, “Fine.”

Granny chuckled, some days she felt like she had a competent staff, and other days, it was like she was herding kittens. Ashley sat down on the stool by Alexandra’s high chair and immediately smiled. “And don’t you forget,” Eugenia reminded firmly, making her way back behind the counter, “A mother is a hero.” Ashley sat with that for a moment as she looked at Alex, letting the baby grasp her fingers, before sighing and beginning to eat.

Granny wiped the counter with a cloth, a habit so deeply ingrained in her that she didn’t even realize she was doing it, and watched mother and daughter eat. A few minutes before eight, Ruby slipped out the door to start her day as Sheriff.

The nagging mama wolf in her started to worry because Ruby entered the town not as a citizen, but as a protector, and that put a bullseye on her chest. She knew, rationally, that Ruby could handle herself, but in her heart, she remembered Ruby at Alexandra’s age: all two-toothed grins and screaming tantrums, with little in between. A baby, her baby’s baby, who was too brave for her own good. A hero with her heart on her sleeve, and her life on the line.

There were more royals in Storybrooke than anyone knew what to do with, but the Diner and Inn? Here Granny was the Queen, and she would fight to keep her staff safe and happy for as long as she could. She would fight to keep her granddaughter safe from whatever might try to harm her, until her dying breath. Be that with words or by crossbow, was really up to the rest of the town.

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KI-Grumpy skipped breakfast with his brothers at Granny’s and rushed, just like he did every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, to the hospital. Since the disaster, he had begun making the trip every day. He arrived just in time, as he always did, to open the door for Nova. She was seemed to live more at the hospital than the convent these days.

She was dressed as Sister Astrid and her beautiful brown hair was pinned severely back, but nothing, not even a clown costume or one of the Evil Queen’s most daring gowns could change her honey brown eyes. No matter her name or her job description, her eyes held amazing warmth and kindness and her smile was quick, friendly, and for him, breath-taking.

“Thank you, Dreamy.”

She walked through the open door, her sturdy plain shoes almost silent against the tile floor.

“It’s really just Grumpy these days.” He followed her in, but didn’t really have an excuse to do so, since he wasn’t the janitor anymore..

“You’ll always be Dreamy to me.”

Her smile widened, and he felt his heart flutter in his chest. They walked down the hallway and along the way, the nurses handed Nova files and messages. One of the white clad women even handed her a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, and tubing.

“You’re really good at this, you know.”

She blinked her drown-in-me-deep brown eyes, “What do you mean?”

He grinned at her, “This hospital stuff. You would make a great doctor. Better than Frankenstein, for sure.”

Surprise came across her features like a wave sliding onto the sand on the beach, and then it receded, leaving amusement in it’s wake. “Me? A doctor? That’s not possible.”

He hated that she didn’t believe in herself the way he believed in her. “Yeah. I saw you. Around here, and when the fail safe destroyed the town. You’re good with the patients, kind, and you’re smart. You didn’t squeal and faint at the sight of blood, and you didn’t stop until every single person had been patched up. I mean it’s not like we have a medical school around here, but they could probably let you apprentice, like back home. Just because the curse made you a nun, doesn’t mean you have to stay one.”

“But I’m still a fairy. I like being a fairy.” Her smile waivered, “Besides I’m too clumsy to be a doctor.” They kept walking and the conversation came to an awkward pause.

He was sure that those words were straight from the Blue Fairy’s mouth. “When you’re really needed, when you were helping paramedics and nurses with hurt people, you were anything but clumsy.” Maybe he wasn’t some fairy, but he knew what he’d seen, and what Nova had in her. She had been graceful, glorious, greater then she would ever let herself believe. He had been in awe of her. “Don’t sell yourself short, Sister. You are amazing.”

She looked away from him and her face, with features carved by angels he was sure, started to turn red.

“You were brave too. You were out there, too, clearing away debris and saving people’s lives. Nicholas and Ava would have lost their father, again, if not for you.”

He was a dwarf—a squat five feet and four inches tall, built like a barrel, and had a gruff face that only a mother (if dwarves had mothers), could love. Her words, though, made him feel like a knight in shining armor. “I was just helping out.” He scuffed his boot against the tile as they walked, “I mean I am the guy you call when you need heavy things lifted.”

She stopped mid-step and turned to look at him. She shifted everything to one arm and reached out with one slender hand and put it on his arm, stopping him too. Her touch sent sparks up and down his arm, and he swore he could feel the heat of each individual finger through his flannel shirt.

She looked at him, her head tilted ever so slightly down so her extra inches of height didn’t seem to matter, and spoke seriously, “You are a hero.”

He wanted to scoff, and if it had come from anyone else had said that he would have.  “I—”  he started, then shrugged. “I’m just a dwarf.”

Her hand tightened around his forearm, “You’ve fought against an Evil Queen, you’ve found magic in a mine in Maine, you’ve pulled cars off of men, and you’ve climbed up onto roofs to stop the electricity so people would buy candles.”  Her smile seemed to be brighter than the diamonds he’d spent his life mining. “You are a hero. My hero.”

He felt himself blushing; he hadn’t realized she’d known it was him who knocked out the power on Miner’s Day.

“And I, for one, think that—”

“Sister Astrid.”

A sharp voice cut through the hallway like a dagger. The Blue Fairy, dressed in the same habit as Nova, appeared from around the corner, her chestnut hair styled in a perfect coiffe. She looked between the two of them and one shaped eyebrow quirked. Then something dark flashed across her face, as quickly as a lightning strike, her brows had furrowed and her lip curled, then her face was placid again.

Nova’s hand dropped away from Grumpy’s arm, and whatever she had been about to say went unsaid.

Nova Grumpy

“You have your duties to attend to, and I’m sure—” she paused to look Grumpy over with frozen hazel eyes, and jut her chin out at him, “Mister Leroy has somewhere else to be.” It was a dismissal if he’d ever heard one, and boy had he heard a few in his life.

Nova nodded, and left without another word, with only a glance in Leroy’s direction. He wished he could hear her thoughts or project his thoughts into her head because he thought he saw a tear in her eye and he wanted to comfort her, but the Blue Fairy walked beside her, one hand on her back, between her shoulder blades, and led her away.

If he was a hero and if their lives were all fairytales, why couldn’t he stand up to The Blue Fairy and get the girl? Instead, he watched their retreating backs and pined for a woman that he had spent most of his life loving. Some hero.

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KI-T_crophere were, despite many sarcastic remarks, other restaurants in Storybrooke. Kathryn didn’t come to Granny’s for the excellent coffee and the so-so lasagna (Regina’s was better and she would get that recipe one day). She came to Granny’s because it, far more than town hall, was the center of Storybrooke. It wasn’t just about food, it was about seeing and being seen. So she took care with her appearance and dressed to the nines in her favorite silk suit and baby blue blouse. No matter the season or realm, Kathryn was always very aware that clothing and make-up were a woman’s armor.

She arrived a little early, asked for a booth, and waited. She knew Belle regularly came to Granny’s for lunch, much like Regina had. Perhaps that hammered-in routine was part of being Mayor. All rulers, big and small, had routines. She had learned that early, and it had stuck with her for her life. It was often advantageous.

Her father had relied on gold and his golden touch to keep their kingdom in line. Kathryn, however, had watched her mother rule from the shadows until she had died. Kathryn still missed her. She did not, however, miss being Abigail. Being a princess had not been a Disney movie, not for her at least. The lessons she had learned from watching her parents run the kingdom were much more practical and lasting.

A princess did not have power, not outright power; her power came from influence and expectation and how she wielded both. No one expected a dainty and spoiled princess to have a spine of steel, or a network of spies. It had been a hard lesson for her. Life was all a chess match, and while she might have been a pretty pawn, she had become a self-aware pawn. And as such, she also knew that when pawns made it all the way across the board, by hook or crook, they became queens. It was all about strategy.

She and Jim (Frederick, too, preferred his Storybrooke name) had spent many nights talking and planning and wondering if their choice was the right thing for them and for the town they now called home. It was. She had to believe that because the game they played was a dangerous one. Even now, Storybrooke was on the precipice and with the most powerful pieces off the board in Neverland, perhaps never to return, their strategy had to work.

The brand new bell over the reconstructed Diner door rang once again and Kathryn looked up to see Belle French, the acting mayor, enter the Diner. She was yet another princess, however far down the line of succession she’d been, trying to discover life after a tiara.  Her clothes were professional and cute; it shouldn’t have worked, but it did. The long pencil skirt with the brown and tan tartan pattern, the ruffled white skirt, and the red heels would not have belonged in Regina Mills’ closet, but they worked for Belle. So did the Coach briefcase she was carrying.  Kathryn approved of the choice, and wondered where she’d gotten it. Maybe Rumpel had a stash of women’s designer clothing somewhere. It honestly wouldn’t surprise her if he did; she doubted anything would surprise her at this point.

Kathryn smiled and waved at Belle, “Come sit, Madam Mayor.”

Belle smiled and moved closer, “Please, it’s just Belle. When you say Madam Mayor I turn my head and look for Regina.”

Kathryn tilted her head and then took a sip of water, “And how would you feel if she were to return right now?”

Belle sat down across from her and dropped her briefcase on the chair next to her own. “I think I would hug her, give her her title back, and then run before she could throw a fireball at me for daring to hug her.”

The mental image made Kathryn chuckle. Regina was not exactly huggable. She remembered hugging her before, and it had been quite awkward—as if the other woman had no idea what to do with herself.

“Seriously, though, how are you holding up?”

Instead of verbally answering, Belle brought a sheaf of papers out of her briefcase. “I went through the binder some more and found money has been set aside for disaster rebuilding, but accessing requires it a council vote, and currently the council is a little scattered. The scrawled note beside it reads, ‘Just pay for it yourself and let the idiots fight it out amongst themselves while you actually take care of the situation’ is not exactly helpful.”

Belle sighed, massaged her temples, and looked around for a waitress. Kathryn could have told her that Ruby wasn’t working at the Diner, but decided to leave that specific issue alone.

“I also received estimates on some of the repairs. Getting the town patched up before winter hits will take a miracle, especially since the creator and caster of the Curse that literally created Storybrooke are gone.”

Belle had referred to the creator and the caster of the curse, but everyone thought Regina had done both. Kathryn tucked away that information for later consideration. Belle did have a point, though; it would take a lot of money and work to get Storybrooke ready for winter and they did not have much time.

“So a council meeting, huh?”  Kathryn waited for Ashley to bring them their regular orders before saying anything else, “Even Regina hated those.”

Belle poked  a fork at her portion of fries, “Regina hated pretty much everyone. She wasn’t exactly Miss Congeniality.”

Kathryn nodded. Belle, like herself, had a complicated history with Regina. Still, though, she had been a very effective mayor—kidnapping, imprisonment, mass murder, and curses aside.

“She was—is—a polarizing force. She hates everyone—except Henry—and they all hate her right back. Everyone has had something—someone to focus on, to worry about— whether it be Regina, her mother, or Regina again.” Kathryn personally thought that Rumpelstiltskin was a bigger threat than Regina, but just like when she was a princess, no one asked her her opinion. “With Regina gone and with Snow and David gone, there is a vacuum, and everyone is scrambling for power.”

Belle twisted the top of the ketchup bottle off and dribbled it across her still-not-touched fries. “I noticed. Everyone is about to be at everyone else’s throat.”

Kathryn nodded and ignored the club sandwich and fries on her own plate. The food was just window dressing.

“And you’ve got the job of keeping the town from coming apart at the seams.”

Belle looked down at her papers, “Lucky me. I have a town to rebuild while grown adults squabble like children in the streets.”

Kathryn looked around and catalogued the faces around them before continuing, “George is having meetings every night now. He’s preaching the restoration of the Noble and Royal classes.”

Belle regarded her, blue eyes sharp and suspicious, “And how do you know what he’s preaching about?”

Ah, now it was down to the heart of the matter. “Because I attend the meetings, of course.”

Belle’s head jerked back in surprise. “Whose side are you on, exactly?”

Kathryn took a sip of water, “Storybrooke’s, of course. This town is not a kingdom. We don’t need to go back to fiefdoms and bloodlines and treating people like serfs. Democracy and capitalism, as flawed as they may be sometimes, are luxuries that the people generally—and me specifically—refuse to give up.”

Belle narrowed her eyes, “But you’re a princess. Feudalism works in your favor.”

Kathryn quirked a brow, “You’re a princess, too.”

Belle’s eyes darted to the side and she shook her head, “How big are these meetings?” Kathryn recognized deflection when she saw it, but let it pass for now.

She took a single fry and bit into it. She savored the salty and grease on her tongue. “Big enough to be a problem.”

Belle sighed, “But like you said, the people aren’t simple villagers anymore. They’re educated, they’re independent, they’re business owners and property owners and they have savings accounts and lives. They will fight back.”

“Exactly. So you and Ruby are tasked with keeping everyone protected and happy. You two are the perfect choice to keep the peace until the others come home.”

Belle tilted her head, “The perfect choice?”

Kathryn wished it hadn’t come to this bluntness, but for better or worse, Belle had to understand. “Ruby is the peasant girl, the woman who fought at Snow White’s side against the Evil Queen, striving for goodness and truth and freedom.”

She smiled at Belle, “And you, Princess?  The woman who traded herself to the Dark One to save her people?  Even if you hadn’t done that, your mother—”

Belle’s fist hit the table hard enough to rattle the glasses, water for herself and tea for Belle. “Do not talk about my mother.”

The anger was quickly replaced by understanding, and Kathryn noted the exact moment Belle understood what had happened. Kathryn regretted manipulating Belle, but it had to be done. Storybrooke had to survive.

Belle very calmly put her papers back in her briefcase, put her napkin on her plate, and stood. “I believe I’ve lost my appetite.” She dropped a twenty dollar bill on the table, turned and left.

Kathryn watched her leave and hoped that her appetite was the only thing she’d lost.

“You okay?”

Kathryn turned to see Ashley with a  pitcher of water and a smile. “It looked like it got a little heated there for a minute.”

Kathryn picked at her fries, “It’s fine.  I was just giving Belle a life lesson, reminding her of her place, her birthright, her responsibilities.”

Ashley nodded, “Is she coming to the meeting?”

Kathryn shook her head, no she was definitely not going to a meeting. “I don’t think so, but Jim and I will be there.”

Ashley refilled her water glass, “Good.”

Decorative Line

KI-Afternoon had faded, and the sun kissed the horizon. It painted the Western sky with oranges, reds and yellows; sunset in Storybrooke was always pretty.  Leaves: grown, gold, red and yellow, blew across the cracked and pitted streets. It was a gorgeous sight—if you could ignore that the forest had invaded the town and there was destruction everywhere. Ruby was exhausted. Despite what Emma joked, being Sheriff wasn’t all paper-ball basketball and chasing down Pongo. There was paperwork, patrols, calls about petty crimes, domestic disputes, and her new favorite thing, traffic tickets. She’d thought Granny was a tough taskmaster. It wouldn’t be so bad, Ruby decided, if it hadn’t been such a sudden transition. She hadn’t realized there was so much to do when it came to being the law in a small town. She’d lived in Storybrooke for twenty-eight years, and had watched Graham, Emma, and David that whole time—had even helped out at the station from time to time—but hadn’t ever taken in the whole picture. And honestly, in her mind, the whole picture kind of sucked.

Except, of course, when it didn’t.

She recognized the red luxury sedan instantly, and it was parked in a handicapped parking zone.  And she knew Albert Spencer did not have a disability—unless you could count being a giant asshole a disability.

She parked the cruiser two spots away from Spencer’s car, in a legal spot, and popped open the glove box. There, stuffed behind a suspiciously large stash of Apollo candy bars, she pulled out the pad of blank traffic tickets. She had heard—well, saw on television really—that cops in real towns had electronic ticket printers. But since Storybrooke was still, in many ways, stuck in the eighties, she clicked her pen and started writing down the license plate and other pertinent information.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the angry voice erupted at her.

She battled her smirk into submission before turning to face the car’s owner, Albert Spencer. “You are parked illegally so I am issuing you a citation, Mister Spencer.”

He had a bag from Walt’s Pharmacy in one hand, and his grip on it was tight, his knuckles white. “You will address me as Your Majesty.”

Maybe once upon a time she would have lowered her head and done what he said. Not today. Not here.

“Pretty sure your license, which I need to see by the way, says Albert Spencer.” She pulled off the ticket off and held it out to him, folding the carbon copy behind the pad.

She watched his neck, ears, and face steam scarlet as he ripped it from her fingers. “Five hundred dollars? You must be out of your mind. I am not paying this.” He ripped the ticket into pieces and dropped it at her feet. “You have no authority over me. I am the King, and I don’t answer to mangy mutts.”

Ruby and Spencer 2

Ruby smiled; it wasn’t like she had expected any different. “So illegal parking, driving without proof of licence, a licence plate hasn’t been renewed, tail light out, and littering. You can head over to City Hall to pay these, or you can contest them in court—” she looked him up and down, “—but I’m sure you know all about that, don’t you?”

She watched as his face and shiny bald head turned redder than her shirt. “This—” he sputtered, watching as she flipped through the ticket pad, writing down the violations one by one, “—is utter garbage. How would you even know that my light is out in the middle of the day? You’re abusing the power the townspeople so foolishly granted you.”

She narrowed her eyes, and kept the growl burning in her chest, silent. “Oh I know, because on every Tuesday and Thursday night while Mr. Palmer is at the Bowling Alley with his League buddies, you visit Mrs. Palmer, and wouldn’t you know it, their house is right along my running path. So for the last twenty eight years or so, you’ve been knocking boots with a married woman, a former peasant woman. A former peasant woman whose husband is the president of the Storybrooke Chapter of the NRA, and a mean drunk. I don’t think a crown will stop a bullet, do you, Mister Spencer?”

She watched the red drain out of his face.

“Funny thing about small towns, Spencer, is that someone always sees what’s going on.” She leaned in a little, and knowing her eyes flashed yellow. Spencer was taller than her, but she was pretty sure a wolf trumped bravado. “Not to mention that Billy was Palmer’s son’s best friend.” It wasn’t a threat, just a reminder.

“This won’t stick!” Spencer all but screamed, “You’re nothing but a monster, a puppet set up to make all the slack-jawed lick-wits in this town feel safer while Snow White runs around playing hero.”

Ruby handed him the stack of tickets, “Right now, Mr. Spencer, I am the Law, and I suggest you pay your tickets, keep your nose clean, and remember that there are no kings or queens in Storybrooke. You’re just an out of work lawyer with a mistress and—” She looked at the plastic bag in his hands, smelling the ointments he’d just purchased. “—with a bad case of hemorrhoids.”  At that note, she turned and walked back to the cruiser.

“You’ll pay for this, Wolf! Things are changing in this town! You think you’re some kind of hero? You’re just a puppy running around for scraps under the banquet table!”

Ruby sighed as she walked away. She knew George was going to be a pain, but there was something nagging at her, eating at her, telling her that this man would soon be the least of her problems.

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KI-M_cropichael drove through the night from Manhattan to Maine, with only one stop for petrol and coffee. John felt a bit guilty about leaving all the driving to his brother, but his poor night vision combined with the glare of headlights on his glasses gave him migraines. Michael didn’t seem to mind very much, and even if he did, he didn’t complain. His little brother didn’t speak much, and rarely wasted his words on complaints. The GPS didn’t show Storybrooke, neither did the map, and careful questioning of the gas station clerk revealed that no one had ever heard of it. It was unsurprising, then, that no one had believed Owen when he claimed to have been there so many years before. They continued to follow Greg’s detailed directions, and as they approached their destination, John looked around. The two-lane road was surrounded by thick forest on either side, and stretched out before and behind them, completely empty in both directions as far as the eye could see.

The first rule of magic, John knew very well, was not to trust anything you could (or couldn’t) see.

Michael had driven them to the place they knew Storybrooke to be. They parked the car just within the treeline, and though they knew the road was infrequently traveled, they covered the eye-catching red convertible with brush and fallen limbs to camouflage it. John carried a duffel bag, and Michael carried a leather messenger bag with their electronics in it and, of course, the carpet bag.

They walked, side by side, until the buzz of magic made them stop. It was not a painful sensation, merely unpleasant, like a buzzing in their bones, just under the skin. It made them think of one thousand other places to be and things to do, their minds sliding away from the issue at hand. There was nothing there, after all.

John shook his head so violently that his glasses slipped off the bridge of his nose. Magic. They had spent so many years fighting magic that he could only barely recall a time before that fantasy became reality. John made a fist so tight that his nails bit into the flesh of his palm and the magic-induced fog cleared from his mind. It was replaced with years-old pounding rage. He hated magic.

He bent down, picked up a stone from the road, and threw it. It stopped two feet in front of them, in mid-flight, and the air rippled. He shared a look with his brother, no words needed. Michael sat the carpet bag, decorated with faded flowers, on the asphalt and opened it up. His brother reached inside, and his arm disappeared up to his elbow as he rummaged around inside the bag that was bigger on the inside. When he found what he was looking for, he straightened up, and from within the bag’s depths removed a long slender spear—a lance, technically speaking. It glowed in the sun, made of pure silver.

Michael handed it to him immediately, as he did not like traditional weapons. He fared well with a handgun or taeser, but preferred to leave the more manual work to others. The brothers didn’t didn’t talk about it, their roles and habits long since set. John, forever the big brother protecting his baby sibling despite the years gone by, simply took the lance in both hands knowingly. In his head, he took a moment to be thankful, once again, that they had made the Post-Mussolini trip to Spain and retrieved this jem.

Darlings

He jabbed the spear at the invisible shield. Gold sparks flew as he dragged the spear around in a large semi-circle, cutting a hole just big enough for a man to step through. They walked through the hole and watched as the sputtering gold shield closed after them. And before it fully disappeared, a thin “scar” formed in the shield to mark where they’d come through. He handed the spear back to Michael who secured it in the carpet bag.

“Tamara said the witch—the queen—Owen’s Mayor—is done for.” Michael’s voice was quiet and his accent much subtler and understated then John’s own. “So I doubt anyone would notice activity in her mansion.”

John nodded, and going from the maps and pictures Greg and Tamara had sent them, they started making their way down the main road and side streets towards Mifflin Street.

The Welcome to Storybrooke sign was the only witness to their arrival. Though, John mused as they walked towards their new center of command, the work of their group was done in-secret; they couldn’t be heroes because their work had to stay in the shadows, hidden from the innocents of this world. They were unsung heroes, destroying magic piece by piece, and person by person, and their newest target was the biggest they’d ever faced.

Decorative Line

KI-T_crophe television, as droll as it seemed, had become a window into the world she found herself in. It was very informative, especially the program Good Morning Storybrooke, as it blared out the town’s events and going-ons as if it were a public spectacle. News, it was called.

The newspaper, if she got the copy before the other inmates (her term; the guards/medical staff called them “patients”) got to it, was also informative. The Storybrooke Mirror; Maleficent couldn’t help but chuckle at Regina’s twisted sense of humor.

According to these sources (she was not, after all, certain how accurate they were), Regina, along with the blonde woman who had thrown a sword and slain her without even introducing herself (rude), The Dark One, Snow White, and Prince Charming, had all gone to Neverland. Maleficent shuddered. She had planned a horrific revenge on Regina, but Neverland trumped it. She was perfectly pleased she had missed that little adventure.

Other things she had learned (besides that she had a definite distaste for the chirpy morning news duo), was that the magic that had released her from her interminable purgatory had also destroyed the town. She pouted; more fun that she hadn’t been able to take part in. It was, however, apparently being rebuilt. She wished she could see it, but was trapped in a prison of padded walls and round the clock supervision. Worse, her magic was weak, like a fledgling witches. If she had a wand, or her staff, she would have a focus to amplify and direct her power.   Even a crystal or a mirror would do in a pinch, but she had yet to find anything suitable for her needs. While she would like to blame this imprisonment on Regina, too, she had a feeling that the Blue Fairy was the one behind it.

It was just after the slop that they laughingly referred to as food was served at noon that Belle French visited her again. She had on different clothes, less colorful than last time, but no less flattering to the her figure. There were so many different styles of clothing in Storybrooke, and it made Maleficent yearn to see them and touch all the fabrics; instead, she was stuck inside, in a gray dress that itched and hung on her like a sack.

“Hello, Mal.” Belle’s usually chipper voice was subdued, and her accent, a dead give-away of what kingdom she hailed from in their world, was a tad more pronounced.

“Good afternoon, Belle.” She paused and shrugged a single shoulder, “Well, they tell me it’s afternoon.” She looked around the dim room pointlessly, “It is a little difficult to tell in this place.”

Belle nodded, “Yes.” She frowned, “I remember. It’s easy to lose years in this place.”

Belle was out of sorts, not that Mal knew her very well, but she could see the hurt and confusion on the other woman’s face. Once, many years ago, she would have felt empathy for her, might have even genuinely tried to make her feel better—but those days were long past. “Oh that’s right,” Maleficent pursed her lips, “you’ve been a patient here before.” She used air-quotes, something she’d seen on Good Morning Storybrooke, to indicate that they both knew that patient was a misnomer.

“Twice.” Belle wandered over to the couch and sat. “The first time was thanks to the Evil Queen, and the second was thanks to Captain Hook.”

Belle shook her head and then massaged her temples with her fingers, “And after hearing myself say that sentence, I think I might still belong here.”

“Of course you don’t belong here.” Neither did she, but that argument was a bit useless at the moment. “You’re in your right mind, memories intact. You never belonged here anyway. You were—”  It was, Mal decided, time to up the ante a little. “Forced here. Trapped here. Manipulated by people, treated like a dolly that they didn’t want to play with anymore. It must have been horrible.”

Yes, the Dark One’s Maid. She had wracked her brain for the woman’s backstory. She had been a princess, a low-born one destined to marry some oaf who could swing a sword, before she’d traded herself to Rumpel to save her kingdom. Considering the way Rumpel liked to wheel and deal, and the level of humanity left in his twisted little body, she held no doubt that Belle would have little tolerance for manipulation.

“I am not a puppet!” Her shout made some of the patients start, and one of the white clad nurses moved closer, as if Belle was still a patient who needed to be monitored.

Ah, Mal had been right. This had been eating at the young woman. It struck a chord, had wormed into her, and had become a weakness. Maleficent knew all about weakness, and how to use it to her advantage. “Of course not. Sorry. I don’t get to have many conversations, and sometimes I’m a little blunt. You’re not a puppet. It’s just that people treat you that way, don’t they? Like you need to have decisions made for you, that you exist solely for their purposes. It is awful. I would rather die than be treated like someone’s means to an end.”

Well, that hit unexpectedly close to home, and Maleficent flinched, for real. Perhaps she knew a little more about manipulating people than most did, but at least she still felt guilt for what she had to do. Evil or not, some decisions left scars on the soul, and hers was a very disfigured one at that.

“The first time wasn’t so bad, you know.” Belle waved her hand to indicate the asylum. “I didn’t realize what was happening. The second time, it was rather traumatizing. People came to visit, they tried to help me, and sometimes I wonder if they were there for me or for themselves.”

Though some people—naive little princesses who got their happy endings and never looked around to notice the world around them—would say that, of course, they had visited Belle just to see Belle. Maleficent was not so naive, but Belle was teetering on the line, and Maleficent needed to handle her carefully. “You must be very special for so many to come and see you.”

A small smile graced the woman’s face, “It was just two people, and they care for me.”

Whomever it was, and Mal hedged her bets on the Dark One being one of them, it was definitely more than caring.

“Not that it mattered much, because I got some fake memories after that, and got to enjoy being somebody completely different than myself.” Bitterness turned her voice sour, her brows furrowed, and her anger started to return.

The level of derision that the word “enjoy” was given told Mal that it had not been enjoyable at all. “And now?” Because there was more to the story, there always was.

“And now—” Belle looked around, her crystal blue eyes darting from face to face, taking in the people she had been trapped with for so many years, “—I’m me again, but she’s still in me. Still some twisted part of me. I don’t like her—the other memories, the other person that I was.”

This story was as twisted as the afternoon television shows that so many of the other patients enjoyed. Maleficent admittedly found herself intrigued.

“Then don’t be her.” The words echoed in Maleficent’s own mind, like a mantra, “Be you. Don’t let people twist you around or make you do anything you don’t want to. Don’t be their dolly.”

Belle smiled, one of the too big, too happy smiles that made Mal want roll her eyes. “For an amnesiac, you are very insightful, Mal.”

For someone who had lived with the King of Deals and Betrayal, Belle was very easy to fool.  Mal grinned, “The doctors tell me I used to be evil. It must come as a package deal— beautiful, evil, insane and—”

“—and kind, thoughtful and encouraging.” Belle interrupted her and Maleficent was quite sure that if she hadn’t been so mindful of her reactions, her jaw would have dropped halfway to the floor. “Maybe you’re not as evil as everyone thought. I’m starting to wonder about how evil the so-called villains of the old world were, and how much of it was fear mongering and storytelling.  Maybe you were really a hero—one who hadn’t had her story told yet.”

Maleficent laughed, really laughed, for the first time in years and years. “And I’m starting to think that you’re the one with the talent for storytelling. Speaking of which—” She scooted closer to Belle on the couch. “Tell me about this whole earthquake/end of the world/adventure that is going on. The television people keep talking about it, but I don’t exactly understand what went on.”

Decorative Line

KI-Dressed in her Nun’s habit, Nova felt like she stuck out more then usual in the eerie hallways of the Asylum. She didn’t like the feeling, the aura, of the building. It was gloomy, and there was a feeling of desperation. In the hospital, the real hospital, there was hope and life mixed with the pain. It was a place of healing and relief, but there was no healing here. Here, the wounds festered and the patients were locked away, out of sight and out of mind, ignored and forgotten by most of Storybrooke.

She, herself, had never visited, before and asked for directions to the visiting area. As she made her way to the directed location, she became lost in her own thoughts—so lost that she didn’t notice the other woman walking down the hallway. They collided, and Nova lost her breath with a graceless “Oof!”

Belle French, the acting mayor, was the other woman. Nova wanted to disappear. Of all the people she could have run into, of course it had to be the de-facto leader of Storybrooke.

“I’m so sorry!” she sputtered. “I wasn’t paying attention, I’m so clumsy!”

Belle only smiled at her. “It’s fine. Sister Astrid, isn’t it? Forgive me, I’ve not met many people yet.”

“Yes, that’s me.” She smiled, not able to help it. “Or you can call me Nova, if you like.”

Belle nodded. “Nova, then. You look more like a Nova to me. Do you work here, too? I mean, I saw you at the hospital.”

Nova shook her head, “I’m just here to see an old friend.” Which was a loose definition of what Maleficent was.

She might have said that she was curing cancer, by Belle’s wide smile. Then again, nova knew Belle had spent years in the asylum, and probably would have loved visitors.

Belle collected her items from the floor and placed her hand on Nova’s arm. “Have a good visit.”

They parted ways, Belle headed out, Nova headed in, and Nova found herself wondering exactly what Belle, a woman who had been trapped against her will in the asylum for years, had been doing there. She left the question unasked; if she paused too long now, if she followed Belle to continue their conversation and ask those questions, she would keep walking right out of the door with her. No, she needed to do this. She had to understand what was going on.

She entered the room, a dim and unfriendly looking place, and jumped with a squeak when Maleficent appeared, as if by magic, just to the side of the main doorway, only inches from her.

“Hello,”  the voice from her memories spoke. “Sister Astrid, is it?

A single light brow quirked and full lips pursed, Maleficent was the same as she had always been—or was she?

“What brings you down here, Sister?”

Nova remembered the barely conscious woman from the hospital, and she remembered Maleficent, a fairy she had known. She also remembered Maleficent, the Dragon Sorceress, who had brought a kingdom to it’s knees. Now there was this Maleficent. Her curls were limp and mostly tied back, only a few coils of yellow hair left to frame her face, and dressed in a gray smock like the other patients. If Nova hadn’t known better, she would have thought this could not be Maleficent at all. She did know better, though, and more then that, she could see it in Maleficent’s eyes. The magic, the knowledge, the calculating intelligence. It was the same sort of look that the Blue Fairy had, the look that made her wish she was anywhere but in her presence.

“You know why I’m down here,” she stated plainly, pretty sure Maleficent remembered much more than she was letting on. She waited a beat and added in a quieter voice, “She put you down here, you know. Reul Ghorm put you in this terrible place, Mallie.”

She saw the flicker in the other woman’s eyes. So few people called her by that nickname—a nickname that, to her knowledge, was unknown outside of the fairies.

“Nova,” she responded bluntly.

That one word said it all; Nova knew the amnesia was not real, that Maleficent knew everything, remembered everything. Maleficent raised a hand and gestured to the table and chairs along the wall. They took a seat at one that had a half-completed game of chess on it. The chessboard was mottled with water-spots and faded. Some of the pieces were missing, some pawns had been replaced with bottle caps, and the black knight had been replaced with a green plastic soldier laying on it’s side. Both of the queens still stood, though. The white queen with her King. The black queen was in an odd form of check, the white knight on one side with a single white pawn on the other.

“What are you planning to do, Mallie?” It was such an important question, but one she was not sure she was ready to hear, or what she would do with that knowledge.

Maleficent toyed with the end of her ponytail in a way that might have looked innocent for anyone else. “I’ve just come back from the dead in a land that I’ve never seen before with strange wonders that I have no understanding of. I’m afraid dastardly plans have not been my priority.”

“You’re lying.” Wasn’t she?

There had to be a plan, for vengeance or glory or magic or something. Why else would Blue have put Maleficent in such a horrible place? The Forbidden Fortress was one thing, but this was something altogether different. “Why else would she do this to you?”

Maleficent tilted her head, “Why would she keep you away from your dwarf?

Nova jolted. “How do you know about hi—that?”  Nobody knew about Dreamy; Blue had said it had to be kept secret, that fairies could not love.

Maleficent leaned forward, “I know many things. One of them is that Blue is not anyone’s friend. She won’t let you be with him here either. Look at you; no wings, no pink, no smile. You’re wearing her color and doing her bidding.” Maleficent smirked, “From where I’m sitting, you’re just as much of a prisoner as I am.”

Nova wanted to stomp, and huff, and smack the other woman, “I’m not a prisoner. I’m a fairy.  I’m happy to be a fairy,” she stated with conviction, hissing each word and narrowing her eyes. She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation.

“So why—” Maleficent hissed right back, obviously looking her over. “—are you dressed like that then? And why do you look so miserable?”

“Well I—” Nova started, but stumbled over her words.

“Are you waiting for a hero to save you from this life you’ve fallen into? Wake up, Nova. There are no heroes anymore. There are no princes and knights, or even dwarves, waiting around for a damsel in distress.”

Maleficent’s words hit Nova like hammer blows. She flinched, even though knew that what the woman was saying was true.

The blonde reached out across the table and put her slender, bony, hand over Nova’s. “You have to be your own hero.”

Decorative Line

KI-It was silly, but when Belle stepped into the Sheriff’s Office, she immediately looked for Emma Swan and her father, even though she was there to see Ruby. She found her quarry hunched over a desk, pen flying across paperwork. It was the Sheriff’s Desk, Emma’s desk, and Ruby looked just about as comfortable sitting there as she had felt at Regina’s desk.

They didn’t need other people to remind them that they were just filling in; they both knew all too well.

“Hard at work, Sheriff Lucas?” She called, leaning against the door jamb, and smiled when Ruby startled and looked up, blushing deeply. Belle thought the small smile that came across her face was just too cute.

Ruby recovered quickly, though and grinned. “Wouldn’t want to disappoint my new boss.”

Belle walked across the small room and sat on the edge of the desk nearest Ruby, and bent to loosen the straps of her gorgeous heels. Her gorgeous, murderous, heels. Ruby gulped. Belle missed it and continued, grumpily, “Your new boss hates being your boss.” She closed her eyes, let her head fall forward, and eased her foot out of the shoe.

“Today I learned that there is a budget set aside for emergency rebuilding but to use it, the council has to vote on it. You and I apparently are now on said the council, along with several others. Regina left a note that read, ‘I would just pay for it myself to save the headache of yet another meeting.’ Did you know there are meetings just to schedule other meetings? Regina wrote in ‘New York Times Crossword’ by that in her Big Book of Mayoring.

Ruby chuckled, “Yeah, Emma left a note on her calendar, too. ‘Beat Kid’s score on Fruit Ninja’. I had no idea the Evil Queen hated meetings, though. Figured she liked to hear herself talk.”

Belle eased her other foot out of the t-strap heels, “Well, I do not. I do not want to chair meetings and make budgets. I want to hide away with a book and a glass of wine. A really big glass of wine, as a matter of fact.”

Their heights, usually so different, were offset by their positions so that Belle and Ruby are, for once, physically eye-to-eye. “How about you come over to my place, and I will introduce you to the best wine you’ve ever tasted.”

Belle smiled because it was literally the best thing she’d heard all day, but she wasn’t quite ready to put her shoes back on.”I’ve had the Diner’s wine, Ruby, it’s nice but—” she smirked, “—I wouldn’t say best.”

Ruby snorted in response, “That swill? Granny buys it in bulk from costco.com. I’m talking about my super secret stash.”

Belle quirked a brow.

“We can have it in my room so no one will ask you anymore questions about budgets.”

Belle slid her heels back on, “Sold.”

So they walked through the streets of Storybrooke as dusk slipped into true night. Ruby lead her up the Inn’s back stairway and to her room, a place Belle had never been before. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but would be lying if she said she wasn’t curious. It was the size of all of Granny’s room, but a different world altogether. It was not just the posters on the walls or the sleeve of a shirt sticking out of the closet door, but rather a feeling, a feeling that had Ruby all over it. Belle felt a sense of serenity and safety in the room. She looked around and was charmed to see that Ruby blushing, both embarrassed and happy to share her private space.

One of the walls, the one boasting a window that overlooked Main Street, was covered in neatly clipped pictures. Belle walked towards them, helpless to stop herself. “These are beautiful, Ruby.” Her fingers traced the lines of the Golden Gate Bridge, which she knew was in San Fransisco, California—the other side of the continent.

“Yeah,” Ruby smiled and tucked her hands into her pockets, “I—um, well its silly, but um—during the Curse, I really wanted to get out and see the world. Just see everything it had to offer. So I put these up here, and sometimes I wonder what it would look like to see these outside my window.” She moved around Belle to get closer to the wall. She pointed  to the pictures one-by-one, “Times Square in New York City, The Grand Canyon in Arizona.”

She moved behind Belle again, and her front gently brushed against Belle’s back. Belle felt a frisson of heat go up her spine at the light contact.

“Petra, Jordan,” Ruby continued, “and the beaches of Tahiti.” Ruby smiled when she’d named them all, and sighed softly as she stared at the pictures

“They’re all so beautiful, so different from what I’ve seen before,” Belle admired. It was a none-too-subtle welcome reminder that places outside of Storybrooke and the Enchanted Forest existed.

“Yeah,” Ruby’s voice was wistful, and that was because, Belle realized, Ruby knew she could never leave Storybrooke, not with her memory intact. She—they—would never see those beautiful places on that wall.

Belle turned around to look at the rest of the room. Some of it seemed odd, out of place, like the Ruby of the Curse had been a totally different person, but other things were very much the Ruby she knew. Except of course, for the very large flat screen television on the wall.

“They don’t sell those at the store here.”

Ruby blushed and tossed her ponytail over her shoulder, “Yeah, I kind of, um, do a lot of shopping online. You should look into it: clothes, books, practically everything. The internet is this world’s answer to magic.”

Belle looked at the shelf full of movies below the TV, “And you use this magic to buy movies, I see.” She chuckled, “I think you have more than the video store.”

Ruby, red with embarrassment, sat on the bed to pull her boots off, then padded barefoot over to a mini fridge that Belle hadn’t noticed before.

“Well, I think—” Ruby grinned, “I promised you the best wine ever.”

She had, but at this point, Belle would have been happy just staying in with Ruby, wine or no wine.

Instead of the glass bottle she had expected, though, Ruby brought out two pints of ice cream.

“Wine Ice Cream. Honestly, this stuff makes the Curse worth it. It is heaven in your mouth.” She held out two spoons as well, “Cherry Merlot or Chocolate Cabernet?”

Somehow, someway, Belle found herself being introduced not only to wine ice cream but also High Definition TV and BluRay. Her clothes were deemed too nice to wrinkle so she was wearing a pair of borrowed sweat pants that she had to roll up due to the fact that Ruby was a full 6 inches taller than her, and a t-shirt with three cartoon chipmunks in shirts on it. Ruby had also ducked into the bathroom and returned wearing another pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt that had  a cartoon wolf with it’s jaw wide open and its tongue on the floor. It’s eyes were bulging and steam was shooting out of it’s ears. Belle couldn’t help but laugh

“Yeah,” Ruby scoffed, “It was a supposedly Secret Santa gift from a few years back. I think Regina really really enjoyed her inside jokes.”

Belle licked the chocolate cabernet off her spoon, “You—it’s adorable. So what are we watching?”

Ruby started to explain that the classic they were about to watch was about a killer shark that eats people.

“And they can show that in movies and on television? So much violence!” Belle shuddered, “I will never be able to go to the beach when Summer comes back around.”

Ruby only grinned and  motioned her to climb onto the bed where she had already propped herself up against the padded headboard (red, of course, with cream-colored ribbon that sectioned it into diamonds), and covered her mile long legs with a quilt. The quilt, Ruby explained, had been one that Granny had patched together using Ruby’s old clothes over the years. It was a motley patchwork of reds, plaids, denims, and polyester. It was cozy and warm, and it smelled like Ruby.

When the movie started playing, Ruby slid her arm over Belle’s shoulders and pulled the quilt over them, “Don’t worry, I’ll let you hug me if you get scared.”

She winked, and Belle wanted to burst out laughing. It was so cheap and cheesy, that coming from anyone else it would have been downright offensive. From Ruby, though, it was just—different—adorable, really.

Red Beauty 2

Within moments, she realized all her worries, the stress and weight of her day, had slippedShark geddit away and she leaned over and kissed Ruby on the cheek. “My hero.”

. . . To Be Continued in Episode 11

Total Word Count: 12262 words

7 thoughts on “Virtual Season 3, Episode 10

  1. Not my favourite chapter so far. i guess it’s because I’m still thinking of it in terms of episodes and one that’s approaching mid season. i just missed the leads, as I would have in the show.
    Saying that, it’s understandable and I enjoy the direction we’re moving in. The stuff with the Royals, The illustrations, The Darlings crossing the barrier, and the RedBeauty stuff at the end were all great.
    Appreciate so much all the work you put into this.
    Excited to read what happens next.

    • We appreciate this type of feedback — a lot. In this case, these episodes were laid out very strategically, and these two (10 and 11) being set in Storybrooke and The Enchanted Forest, respectively, was extremely intentional *because* it is mid season and we have a cliffhanger in NVL. The hope is that our intention will become clear as the season progresses. Don’t stop thinking about it as episodes, though; that is also our intention. But we are not doing it the way A&E might; this project is all about how we would do it if we were the new show runners after the first two seasons. Also, we are writing the whole series, including the bits that were discarded or left out in canon. Like the search for Philip, like what was up in Storybrooke while the Nevengers were gone, etc, and fixing as many canon plotholes as we can along the way. Please keep coming back! And we really appreciate the feedback. Hopefully I gave you some insight into our process! You can also connect with us on tumblr or our virtual studio. These discussions are important! (PS. We’ll be back in NVL soon! Promise!)

  2. Very interesting to see what’s going on in storybrooke. However I guess I’m more invested in what’s happening in Neverland so I missed that. And also no Regina for two chapters, I’m really looking forward to th next one ;D

    Thanks for doing this for us! Again, very cool artwork 🙂

  3. The explanation of what’s been going on in Storybrooke was perfect. Those characters always had the potential for so much more than they were being given and I can’t wait to see what you do with those plots. Also the Red Beauty made my shipper heart squeal. 🙂

  4. Really enjoyed reading about the people in SB and how they eould have their fair share of troubles that does make a very interesting place for when or if the guys in neverland come back, I am looking forward to more about the dispute over the ruling of SB, I hope Maleficent helps in the end I like she interacted with Nova, the end is so perfect I fo wonder where it will go!

  5. I really like how Ruby and Belle is being handled, it’s becoming a solid friendship with hint of something more 🙂

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