Virtual Season 3, Episode 14

The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
presents
Virtual Season 3
Episode 14
“Trouble on the Homefront”

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

Advisors and Consultants
Characterization: Rushemiiaah
Continuity and Consistency: QueenOfAllSwans
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: 07/11/2015

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KI-R_cropuby’s even breaths echoed rhythmically against the pavement as she kept a steady pace. Storybrooke was more or less a quiet town, you know, save for freak earthquakes or the forest reclaiming its ground. In the hours just before the sun rose to greet the day, Ruby was out enjoying the serenity, hoping the peace could clear her ever-spinning mind. Right foot. Two breaths in. Left foot. Two breaths out. But this time as she ran, the air was different. Tasted crisper. Silence echoed between her breaths. No matter how hard she pushed or how long she ran, though, it couldn’t ease the constant pang for freedom in her blood (aka the massive amount of adrenaline) so close to Wolf’s Time.

She reveled in it.

It felt good, having control of her body once more. It was the one thing she could manage that had nothing to do with playing Sheriff and hoping the town wouldn’t crumble while Emma or Snow were away. No, now was her time. This was her element. So she ran a little harder.

She made her way down the pier and headed toward the downtown core, still in awe of how abandoned it looked this early in the morning. No matter how many times she ran this trek, it was always like sprinting through a ghost town. No one was awake, the hour too early even for Granny to start serving coffee. The cracks along Main and the decimated buildings made it look like a war zone.

There had been a time where Ruby had thought herself a hero—a vigilante so to speak. Her cursed self may have been christened the Town Gossip, but her true form—a hybrid of Ruby and Red and the Wolf—was the self-proclaimed protector f this town and knew this it better than anyone, save perhaps Regina. The sights, sounds, smells—she could pick up all of them by the shift in the wind. The town was her orchestra: the leaves bristled and the twigs crunched, the waves lapped against the shore, and the odd wind chime greeted her ‘hello’. They played their tunes like a soundtrack as she’d run through the town, making sure everyone was safe.

Dopey was still milling about the house he shared with his brothers, a ball of overworked nerves from yet another sleepless night. Even his cursed self had been an insomniac, though, so she couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was like for him to have two beings inside his brain now. Kathryn was halfway through her morning yoga ritual—the scent of jasmine candles and ethereal music filtered out to Ruby on a light morning breeze. Ruby realized she must have pushed herself harder that usual this morning, as she usually only caught Kathryn when she was coming out of Warrior Three and moving into Downward Facing Dog.

Even though the town was more or less the same as it had been when the Charmings and Regina had left, Ruby couldn’t shake the feeling she had failed as its protectress. Now that she had been slapped with the Sheriff badge and armed with an actual reason to deem herself a hero, she felt like she was already dropping the ball.

She pushed herself again. Right foot. Three breaths in. Left foot. Two breaths out. 

She had no plan. Nothing substantial, anyway, other than ‘don’t let anyone kill each other until Emma comes back’. But even that was starting to slowly fall apart at the seams. God, what would Emma do in this situation? Probably punch someone in the face. If only, Ruby sighed.

As the sun broke through the trees, Ruby slowed her pace enough to cross the street before heading back towards the diner. Maybe Granny would have been a better choice as Sheriff, she thought. No one would dare piss her off with that crossbow. Ruby grinned at that, suddenly thinking of the diner and the hot pot of freshly brewed coffee that would be waiting for her. A fog horn sounded in the distance as the fishermen made their way out, and she slowed her run to a jog. Suddenly, an unfamiliar scent hit her nose; she furrowed her brow.

This was. . . different. And make that two scents.

Her ears pricked up the sound of leather shoes slapping pavement accompanied by a deep voice, and she ducked quickly behind Game of Thorns. Nearby an engine stuttered to a stop, a car door opened and closed, and another set of loafers joined the first. This wasn’t making sense. That car sounded a lot like  Regina’s.

“The Home Office won’t be happy that Tamara and Owen left the job unfinished.”

Ruby’s eyes widened at the British lithe. What the hell was the Home Office? She had a feeling it wasn’t an office supply store, and if Tamara and Owen were involved, it was probably really freaking bad. She moved behind a dumpster and peaked through the open slit of the lid to see a tall man with a lean build and glasses, carrying grocery bags from a super centre she had only heard of on TV. He walked past the mouth of the alley and called out to the man behind him.

“Quickly, Michael,” he urged, as the second set of steps rapidly increased until Michael was in view.

He was shorter—comparable to the dwarves if Ruby was honest—and nearly stoic, as he too carried a bag of groceries and a peculiar carpet purse Mary Poppins would have been proud of.

“You don’t know what kind of magic still lurks here,” the taller man said.

Ruby’s ears perked up and her eyebrows rose in question. If these two were from out of town—and Ruby was certain she knew everyone in town—what did they know about magic?

“And Wendy, John?” Michael asked.

“We’ll get her out of Neverland,” John promised. “But we must hurry.”

That could not have been a coincidence that Snow and the others were off to Neverland, and suddenly two strangers come waltzing into town talking about it. After all, there was no such thing as coincidence in Storybrooke. Quietly, she tip toed from behind the dumpster and peaked her head out in time to see them turn away from Main and into the residentials. She knew a shortcut that would get her behind a catwalk connected to the house lots and caught up with this John and Michael. Her heart hammered in her chest and ducked back into the alley and snuck out through back parking lots to get to the entrance of the catwalk. For a moment, the only sound she could hear was the hollow ting-ting of Mrs. Ginger’s wind chimes blowing around softly. She blew air through her nose, angry that she had lost them. A lead in a possible case, and Ruby had lost them. She lowered her head. She should have followed their every step and—

Just then, her nose twitched as John and Michael approached and passed the catwalk, unaware of her presence at the other end. They continued on, striding determinedly down the street, and Ruby had intended to pursue, but— this was Mifflin. Not only was it was a dead end, but this was Regina’s street. She relegated herself to the hedges, listening to their loafers on the sidewalk and following their progress, until their rhythm suddenly paused. A gate creaked open. Ruby peaked out from the side of the hedge, inching out of the catwalk, only to see that the strangers were heading into the unlikeliest of places. Confusion and dread filled her as she watched them stroll without pause into 108. Decorative LineKI-It could have been just another day at Granny’s. Enjoying some breakfast. Catching up on the news. Having a cup of joe laced from his good ol’ personal stash. But Leroy hadn’t had a regular day since his birth. Why would today be any different? If he wasn’t destined to die digging out diamonds for fairies in one life, he was drinking his sorrows as a janitor and nursing hangovers that never quite went away in another. And whatever life he was living, he was always left with the cruel reminder that he and Nova would never work out. She was a fairy back in the Enchanted Forest, and here she was a nun. Talk about forbidden. Plus there was her sudden need to spend more time than ever at the nut hatch, and Grumpy was feeling every inch of his moniker. He took a sip of brew and winced. It definitely needed more juice.

“Bee!”

He started at the excited cry of the toddler, glancing from the corner of his eye at the shock of blonde curls so similar to her mother’s. Alexandra grinned, paper and crayons on the table in front of her as she occupied a booth not far from his perch. Her toys were forgotten at her excitement and for a moment, and Grumpy looked around to find Ruby—certain that she was present if the kid was that happy. He followed the child’s gaze over to the TV, however, where the waitress-turned-sheriff was making a statement from the Sheriff’s Office on the morning news. He sighed and downed half his cup of coffee. That was another can of worms he didn’t want to open. Ruby had asked him to be her deputy. Anyone else would have jumped on the chance to actually do some real crime fighting work, and working with Ruby? He wasn’t blind, even if his heart belonged to another. But he had his brothers to think about. They wanted to be together, all of them, just like the good ol’ days. Eating together, living together, mining together. Heigh-ho. But even in the good ol’ days he hadn’t always been like every run of the mill dwarf. His love for Nova set him apart. He internally groaned, back to square one, and finished off his coffee, hissing at the burn in the back of his throat both from the temperature and the whiskey he put in it.

Pongo’s groaning interrupted his mini pity party when the Dalmatian at Archie’s feet repositioned himself further under the table. Grumpy knew it was the Dalmatian because it was the only dog Granny allowed into the diner, save for herself and her grandkid of course. Archie, sitting at a nearby table with an iPad in front of him and a stack of neatly organized file folders across, suddenly focused on the television behind Grumpy’s head.

He followed his gaze to the old CRT display in time to see the screen split; Belle in the Mayor’s office and Hart Archer, his arm encased in plaster from the aftermath of the trigger, still in Good Morning Storybrooke’s studio. Well this should be interesting. He reached over the counter and dug up the remote Granny always left by the register.

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Belle’s voice, as he increased the volume, was more timid and aware than he had ever heard it, and it confirmed his suspicions that she would rather be facing a dragon than be there right now. “At this time, our number one priority is to repair the extensive damage to people’s homes and businesses before winter sets in. We are accessing an emergency fund to support anyone who needs it for repairs and medical bills.”

“Speaking of medical care,” Hart jumped in, “the hospital staff is overrun and over worked. Do you have a plan to help solve that pressing issue?”

Grumpy watched as Belle’s bright blue eyes widened. Come on, sister, you got this.

“As interim mayor, I am working to do everything I can to see that Doctor Whale and his staff get all the support they need.”

The dwarf glanced up in time to see Archie wince. He didn’t need to be an egg head to know that Belle had just walked into the reporter’s trap.

Hart, pleased with the development, pressed on. “As interim mayor, were you aware that there are several citizens upset about your sudden—and some would say secretive—appointment? Let’s reach out to the populace, shall we?”

The interview cut away to pre-recorded statements of Hart on the street asking citizens their thoughts on the fate of Storybrooke and the appointment of its town leaders.

“Typical royal behaviour. Causing trouble and letting us peasant folk deal with the repercussions,” a woman with four children behind her voiced with scorn. Grumpy couldn’t blame her for that thought honestly.

“I think it’s about time we got some fresh blood in our governmental systems,” a kid around Ashley’s age said. “They might not have been picked by the people, but at least they weren’t born into it.”

“If you had a choice, would you vote for them?” Hart asked the young woman.

“Most definitely.”

A wiry man came on next who was all limbs and flailing arms, “”It’s fixed. Fixed, I tell you! They might lure you into thinking they’re helping and fighting for the people, but look where they came from! The Queen’s best friend and the Dark One’s girlfriend. Yeah, that’s really who I want making laws and arresting people. Don’t piss off the royal family or the Dark One. It’s the Enchanted Forest all over again!”

The screen cut from the wiry man to a tall, slender woman. “Oh the Charmings left? I’m sure they’ll be back by the time we fix up the hospital. Honestly, I’m hopeful the new Sheriff and Mayor will do a better job.”

A man Grumpy worked with at the hospital came on screen, tying off a garbage bag and carrying it out back. “So if I break bread with the right people, can I be a Prince too?”

The screen flashed back to Belle, sitting owl-like in the Mayor’s Office, her eyebrows knitted together. Grumpy hoped the librarian didn’t start to cry; he figured living with Rumpelstiltskin must have toughened her skin some. Poor kid. She was just doing a job like the rest of them.

“Both Ruby Lucas and I,” she said finding her voice, “are doing the best anyone can in this situation.”

“And this situation,” Hart clarified intently, “has nothing to do with your—ahem—unique relationship with Mr. Gold?”

Grumpy growled loud enough to startle Pongo. Hart was a jerk, and if the balding reporter didn’t already have a broken arm, Grumpy thought he’d kick his ass.

Belle’s face hardened as she abruptly stood up. “This interview is over.”

The screen zoomed out, fading from the mayoral office to focus solely on Hart in the studio. He smiled brilliantly, tapping his index cards on his desk before pointing animatedly to the camera. “When we get back from this brief commercial break, we will be speaking with Sean Herman, though some know him better as Prince Thomas, about the community’s reaction to recent events — all exclusively on Good Morning Storybrooke.”

The breakfast crowd all turned to stare none-too-subtly at Ashley as the girl consciously ignored them, concentrating on filling her bin with dirty dishes. Damn. He really didn’t want to be her just then.

A trumpet fanfare Grumpy hadn’t heard since the Enchanted Forest days filled the TV speakers as King Midas, commonly known as Benjamin Banks, sat in the lobby of Storybrooke Bank and Trust. On a throne no less. You’ve gotta be kidding me. The once bland waiting area of Storybrooke’s only bank had lost its cream walls and grey furniture, only to be replaced with stunning gold. Gone were the American, Maine, and Storybrooke flags, and in its place high above Midas’ throne, was his banner. As if this commercial didn’t look enough like a gimmicky used car advertisement already, then Midas (in a tailored suit, a crown on his head, a gauntlet firmly secured on his right hand), pushed it right over the edge.

The trumpet faded, and the screen zoomed in enough that his banner and throne were prominent. “Things are changing here in Storybrooke,” he declared with a thump of his fist. “We have shed our shackles of our enchanted enslavement, and it is time to remember who we are. The Benjamin Banks who owned and managed Storybrooke Bank and Trust was a pathetic figure of the conjurings of the Evil Queen.

“I am not Benjamin Banks. My name is Midas, and I am a King.” He grinned and stood, making his way to the only pillar in the room that was still beige. Slowly he removed his gauntlet and touched it, the pillar hardening to pure gold instantaneously. “My bank will continue to finance this town. Crown Bank is dedicated to delivering the royal treatment to our valued customers and to watch over and to direct the financial futures of the customers who rely on us, who are endeared to us, who are loyal to us.”

The screen faded depicting a bold golden crown with Crown Bank written in cursive and entwined in laurels.

The annoyed and offended grumbling of the usual patrons behind Grumpy was enough to make him look like Happy. Midas—the name left a sour taste in his mouth—was lucky he had the ability to turn anything to gold because finesse and subtlety sure as hell weren’t his strong suit. He could just imagine the golden King fumbling his way through negotiations without his mighty power. Hell, he had managed to tick off all of the diner with a single commercial! Grumpy was sure that the “royal treatment” would only be extended to mere peasants if they swore fealty.

He couldn’t bare to think any more on it, when the intro music to Good Morning Storybrooke returned. Away from the news studio and now in the interviewing lounge, Goldie Lockesly motioned to the young man sitting across from her, his back straight and chin held high like any royal would.

“Good morning Storybrooke!” Goldie cheered to the audience. “Here with us today we have Sean—”

Prince Thomas, actually,” he corrected. “I don’t answer to my slave name.”

Goldie’s eyes flashed and her megawatt infectious smile faltered considerably. Grumpy was sure the voluptuous beauty was going to rip him a new one, and honestly, he was ready for a show, but she only nodded in acknowledgement and quickly composed herself. “Thomas then,” she clipped briskly. “You are one of the leaders of a growing group of citizens who want to return to a more traditional way of life. Tell me about that.”

“We were all ripped from our homes and lives because of two people,” he began in an authoritative voice that Grumpy was sure was a front. “Multiple kingdoms with traditions and monarchies and ways of life have been destroyed and forced into obscurity. Regina cursed us to this place for almost thirty years. That curse has been lifted.”

He looked directly to the camera as if addressing his people. “We are not Americans. We don’t have to bow down to the rules that Regina created. I am a prince, born to lead my people. I am more than what the curse made me.” He turned back to Goldie with a boyish shrug. “We are just trying to re-establish the natural order of things.”

“You want to have a throne,” Goldie pointed out. “The Evil Queen established a democracy but now that she’s gone, you believe we should have ruling class again?”

The Prince nodded. “That is the way the world works. Regina—” he ground out her name is obvious disgust, “established herself as Mayor and ruled over everyone. Now the true-born rulers are taking their rightful place again.”

“So you’re more worthy of ruling the citizens of Storybrooke, then?” Goldie continued.

“I’m a Prince.” He stretched out his arms invitingly. “Born from a king, son of a king, who was the son of a king.”

Goldie eyed him sharply and looked down at the cue cards in her hand. Her jaw shifted in contemplation before narrowing her eyes to near slits and gently placing her cards face down. Grumpy couldn’t hold back his smirk. There was a reason this woman was famous for fighting off bears.

“If I’m not mistaken,” Goldie began in a low, dangerous voice, “Regina is a queen, born from a prince, the son of a king and so on and so forth.”

The jab was delivered like a hard punch to Thomas’ gut, and the Prince sat straighter, face red from outrage. “You’re defending the Evil Queen?!”

Goldie shrugged and leaned back with a professionally innocent smile. “I’m just pointing out that if town leaders are picked by birthright, then Regina Mills is just as—if not more so—qualified than you. Not  only does she have thirty years of experience running this town, but last I remember, you were still waiting for your chance to sit on the throne.”

Both of Thomas’ fists came thundering down on the coffee table between them, but if Goldie was startled she didn’t show it. “She stole our happy endings!” he roared. “Cursed our memories, and tried to destroy the town! Not to mention that she is the daughter of the Queen of Hearts, one of the most evil villains in the history of our world!”

“And yet,” Goldie continued calmly, motioning all around them, “we have a place full of technology.” Her eyes remained fixed on Thomas. “We have modern medicine, schools, and job opportunities that never existed in the Enchanted Forest.”

“Jobs that we were assigned,” he spat out. “Not all of us landed cushy jobs sitting in climate controlled rooms reading from screens.”

“And not all of us were born with tiaras on our heads,” Goldie responded, without hesitation.

He laughed breathily and leaned back in his seat trying to appear nonchalant despite his earlier outrage. “Some people were born for greatness and others—”

She finished the statement for him, “—Others work for it. Struggle for it. Fight for it.” She echoed each point with a raised finger. “I noticed your lovely wife, who was born without a tiara, is working double shifts at Granny’s and she hasn’t been complaining.”

Goldie leaned in, her professional facade falling as her voice dropped so low the Evil Queen would have been proud. “Seems to me, the only people complaining about this so-called curse are the 1% of our world who never had to sully their hands with actual work before. Seems to me, that in this world, you’re just another peasant, Sean.”

“I am a Prince,” he reminded her, his rage building once more. He rose slowly from his chair, and stared down at her. His jaw was tight and the muscles in his neck taut. The kid looked like he was about to have an aneurysm, but Goldie just leaned back and looked up at him, smiling tightly. “My wife and my daughter are Princesses. We deserve more. We. Are. Not. Peasants. Not like you. And she doesn’t work at that damn diner anymore, anyway!”

With that he stormed off, ripping off his microphone and wires as he moved toward the exit. The staff of Good Morning Storybrooke really knew how to put on a show, what with two of their guests cutting out early. The program moved to commercial, but the jingle of some food product was lost to the thick tension at the diner.

No forks or knives were scraping plates, no waitresses were rushing to tables, and no bell was ringing as orders were up. Even Granny had stopped wiping the counter, her attention drifting from the TV set to the only royal in the room.

Ashley seemed to be the only one ignoring the tension. Alexandra was genuinely oblivious to the whole ordeal, too fascinated with her crayons and paper, repeatedly kicking her feet out against the booth, and entirely unaware of her daddy’s spiel. Ashley remained still for a moment, standing silently in the middle of the diner, an empty tray balanced on her hip, all eyes trained on her. Her own were cast downward. To the floor or to her uniform, Grumpy couldn’t tell. Her face was a myriad of complicated emotions he couldn’t read.

He couldn’t imagine what it was like to be her just then, what was going on in her head. Nothing good, he supposed. He may have spent the past twenty-eight years in a drunken stupor, but that hadn’t been much of a change for him between lives. Ashley, though, had spent the last twenty-eight years pregnant and working— not to mention the previous however many laboring for her stepmother. That girl deserved a medal—and more than a kingdom! He wasn’t sure if Sean was the one to give that to her to be frank. Even in his cursed life, the guy had no responsibilities until his hand was forced. Sister deserved better.

A count to ten and Ashley brought her head back up, chin tilted skyward. She placed the empty tray on the table in front of her, and reached behind herself to fumble with her apron tie, hands shaking. Tossing the apron into the bin, she stepped toward Alexandra and picked her up without a glance to Granny or anyone else around her. She  then turned on her heel and left, head still held high. Alexandra, still completely unaware of the circumstances, happily raised her tiny palm out from behind her mother’s shoulder in an open and close motion and said, “Bye bye, Granny.”

Granny didn’t wave back, but Grumpy knew her well enough to know that the tough old wolf was broken up inside by all of it. Jesus, was this what things were coming down to? Another rivalry? A civil uprising? He wasn’t the only one who had noticed Granny’s pain. Archie sat down his iPad, gathered his files, and moved to the counter next to him.Decorative LineKI-R_cropuby flicked off the TV with more force than necessary, a growl rumbling deep in her throat. Thomas and Midas were asses, cut from the same royal cloth. If only that cloth was made of sandpaper so that they could rub their no good a—she took a deep steadying breath. She couldn’t do anything about them now. Like Granny always told her, you can’t change people’s opinions, but it wouldn’t hurt to shove their silver spoon down their throat. Ruby had bigger fish to fry anyway.

She rolled her chair over to Emma’s computer desk, wondering about the strangers she’d seen. She had some names to work with: John, Michael, and someone named Wendy, but they might as well have been the John Doe family for all she knew. No, she reminded herself, I do have a reference. Michael, Wendy, John, and Neverland. Something had to be connected there. Maybe whatever Home Office they spoke of was really some secret militant organization based in Neverland, an Area 51 for abnormal stuff. Ruby shook her head; she watched way too many crime dramas. And sci-fi series. She’d have to look deeper. Detective she may not be, but Emma taught her a thing or two during her deputy days, and looking up potential criminals in a database was lesson number two (right after remembering to fill the coffee pot every morning).

She shook the mouse, bringing the monitor to life. The screen boasted an image of Henry and Regina, the latter with her arms wrapped around the child’s shoulders and her chin nestled on top of his head. Ruby rolled her eyes in sympathetic annoyance before opening up an Internet browser. A quick google search of the three mysterious names paired with Neverland brought up what she expected. Disney’s Peter Pan Wikipedia page. There were times it benefited from being the focus of this world’s fairy stories and times when it made work ridiculously frustrating.

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The odds that their names were anything but Darling was unlikely, and the tall one had mentioned Tamara, so taking a shot in the dark, Ruby googled office spaces in New York in the name of Darling. Bingo. She got a couple hits near the bottom of the search and cross-referenced them with the detective software Emma had taught her how to use. It looked like these guys were travellers, setting up shop in New York, London, Kansas, and New Orleans under the guise of “Executive Consulting Firms,” whatever that meant. They sure as hell didn’t look like lawyers. Ruby’s nose wrinkled in confusion. Aside from the locations, the software brought up nothing more. No history. No financials. Not even a goddamn website exaggerating their services.

“Talk about a front,” Ruby muttered to herself, minimizing the window. She rested her chin on her fist and stared at the Regina on the desktop. Never before had she wanted Regina, of all people, to be back. She’d have this thing solved already—as Queen or Mayor—and she’d still have time to make lasagna. “You’d know what to do, wouldn’t you?” Ruby pleaded with her image.

She suddenly sat up straight in realization. Unless Regina was a special case, Greg and Tamara had tortured the woman. And according to John, the Home Office was pissed they didn’t finish the job. This totally was not a coincidence.

Pulling up the software search and ViCap, Ruby began searching for similar crimes. A duo torturing seemingly random citizens. There had to be a link. She gasped, partially surprised she found it by herself, but more shocked with the countless cases referenced. Storybrooke hadn’t been the only place this John and Michael Darling had hit. Not if the pictures were to be trusted. The close ups of singed scalps and burnt flesh (from restraints no doubt), and eyes—dead, lifeless, and drained of their very souls—were proving too numbered and varied for her stomach to handle.

Ruby shuddered and sat back in her chair. Holy shit. She was in over her head. Wherever this John and Michael Darling had traveled, a string of murders and home invasions followed them. Ruby just hoped the pattern wouldn’t repeat itself under her watch.Decorative LineKI-N_cropova double-checked the watch on her wrist, subtly catching the time by pretending to be in prayer. She whispered a Hail Mary as she passed her sisters but slowed her pace as she got to the office doors. No one was allowed entrance without Blue’s explicit say so, and even then, your time in her office was limited. But Nova was on a mission. Blue wouldn’t be in her office to toss her out. Not yet at least. The head fairy was touring the gardens as she often did before lunch. Nova just hoped Blue didn’t notice the fact that Nova forgot to water her prized azaleas and they were starting to wilt. The head fairy would come rushing in to scold her faster than she could say ‘Rumpelstiltskin’.

Luck, or perhaps some divine force, was on Nova’s side as the usually clumsy fairy slipped into the office stealthily, without incident. As soon as she shut the door behind her, she moved briskly to the bookshelf where Nova stood on her tippy toes. She moved one of heavy crucifixes out of the way to reveal an ornate box at its base. The rush of misbehaving filled her as she opened the box, revealing what she had snuck in to retrieve. The Black Fairy wand.

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She wasted no time in dawdling. Hiding the wand up her sleeve, Nova replaced the box and moved the crucifix back to its original location, making sure it was in the exact same spot. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath until much later—long after she’d rushed pell mell from the office and far away from the convent entirely. Decorative LineKI-T_crophe stubborn grease stain just wouldn’t come out, even with her special cleaning solution. Granny ignored the fact that the stain had been etched into the diner’s countertop for the last thirty years, because she just didn’t care; she was on autopilot. She mopped at the stain vigorously with a damp rag. She’d get this place clean enough for any royal walking through her door! She sighed heavily, slowing her pace. Ashley was as much her granddaughter as Ruby was. No one else had looked after the girl, especially when she’d been pregnant during the damn curse. But in the end, Ashley hadn’t even spared her an apologetic glance or anything. Eugenia scrubbed a little harder.

Archie and Grumpy sat together at the diner counter, Pongo resting patiently by their feet. The diner was empty save for them, the breakfast rush long over. Bless these boys for sticking around instead of leaving an old lady to her wild thoughts.

“I see Ruby’s been busy lately,” Archie piped up and motioned to the television. Ruby’s piece had been the only  actually informative portion of the entire GMS broadcast.

Granny nodded. “She’s been doing a great job.”

“Better than good,” Grumpy added, warming his hands on a new cup of coffee (without the juice). “Sister’s kicking ass and taking names.”

The therapist adjusted his glasses. “Also a little smitten, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Aw, puppy love,” the dwarf sing-songed then chugged half his cup, hissing at the burn.

Archie ignored him and turned directly to the older woman. “It’s sweet, Granny. They’re actually a very cute couple.”

“Really cute,” Grumpy said into his cup before shrugging to look up at the two. “Besides, Belle deserves someone like Ruby.”

“Especially after all that Lacey mess.”

“Better than Mr. Gold too,” the miner grumbled.

Granny quit her cleaning, pushed the rag off to the side and wiped her hands on the front of her apron. She had noticed the signs of budding romance herself. Age she may have, but it didn’t require wolf instincts to see the spark between her granddaughter and the interim Mayor. “But what of my granddaughter then? What happens to her when they come back?”

The ‘they’ the trio were concerned about was obvious, but before anyone could offer their two cents on the subject, the bell above the entrance jingled frantically and the door slammed open. Kathryn, followed closely by her husband Jim, stormed into the diner, the latter just remembering to shut the door behind him.

“They’re rioting!” Kathryn announced breathlessly.

“The kids are safe at the school, but George has the town riled up with pitch forks and chants,” Jim added.

The duo at the counter looked at each other skeptically, but Granny simply tossed her dish rag in the sink and reached under the counter. No one batted an eye when her crossbow came out.Decorative LineKI-T_crophe mayoral mansion on Mifflin Street had never been anything other than Regina’s home. After the curse, separated families reunited under one roof, and residents fled Mifflin not wanting to live so closely to the Evil Queen. Some even took homes by force. But not the mansion, no sir. The mansion was and always had been Regina’s and never before had anyone dare cross that line.

Until now.

John and Michael Darling had easily picked their way through the front door. Honestly, John thought, a woman of such high standing and power needs better security. But it turned out lucky for them as they now had free reign to every room in the mansion.

“Looks like every rich home in the great U. S. of A,” John commented as they quickly found the kitchen and deposited their grocery bags there.

Michael nodded, making his way through the lower level rooms. He entered the dining room through the kitchen then stepping into the parlour, John met him there, and the men both studied the room intently.

“The decorating is out of a magazine.” John picked up a strategically placed home design magazine on the coffee table and flipped open to a page. He laughed when he spotted the same vase on the pages as the one on the side table.

Michael didn’t comment. Instead he squinted at a sculpture of a horse on the mantel piece and raised his eyebrow at the horse painting on the wall behind it.

John left the parlour and found the Evil Queen’s home office. It didn’t look like the lair he suspected she kept, but then again, nothing of her house resembled anything a murderous villain should have. Her study was generic in its design with a fireplace to the left, a large desk positioned in front of the windows, and two small couches facing each other in the centre. White panels, white wood, and white leather. Interesting. John noted the clock sitting on her mantle, an intricate thing that had prancing ponies engraved in it. Apparently the Queen had a horse fetish.

This room, however, was the only one with pictures of herself and the boy, lined up precisely on the wall and on her desk. He examined them carefully. Without context, the collection simply looked like a boy and his mum through the ages. No other family was pictured. There was no implication of other relatives. How Owen and Tamara failed their mission was beyond him. The alcohol at the side table had decanters filled with what smelled like cider. The whiff he had taken smelled delightful, and for a moment, John thought that perhaps the drink was cursed. Judging by the simplicity of the Evil Queen’s house, he thought against it though and quickly poured himself a glass. His eyes shut at the first sip. It was, by all means like everything else in this house, divine.

He continued his search, first to Regina’s desktop where he easily cracked her password and searched through her history. His nose wrinkled in distaste. Recipes, child psychology, online shopping. He thought he had come up the winner when he found a small safe in her desk drawer. Finally a breakthrough, he hoped! He rolled his eyes at how typical the Queen was, using her son’s birthday as the combination, but when he opened the safe, it was nothing more than a small sum of bills, passports, Henry’s birth certificate and adoption papers, along with a few choice child’s crafts. He rolled his eyes; how anti-climactic.

Then a thought struck him, and he strode across the room to her bookshelf, jiggling all of them in the hope of releasing a latch to a hide out. Anything to show how wicked she was. But there was nothing initer there either. There were cookbooks and town charters and the Harry Potter series, but no latch, and certainly no magic spell books or any lingering ingredients. “How boring,” he said aloud feeling rather put out and sipping from his tumbler.

Michael came into the office just then, holding out a thick, leather bound book in his hand and handed it to his brother. “Her diary.”

“About time,” John muttered, taking the book with his free hand. “I was beginning to think we were in any old rich woman’s home. I’ve found no magic at all.”

He set his glass on the desk and flipped through the book to the latest entries.

Michael picked up a photo frame off the oak desk and examined the picture. Regina had her arms wrapped around Henry, her chin nestled on top of his head. “Somewhere else?”

“She mentions a vault,” John answered with a concentrated knit to his eyebrows. He stopped flicking and tilted his head in contemplation. “Her mother was the Queen of Hearts from Wonderland. We haven’t had reports from there in ages.”

“Text Kansas?” The younger brother inquired, setting the photo down.

John shook his head. “No need to yet. Besides, without some beans, we can’t portal jump.”

Michael visibly shuddered, his eyes glazing over in memory. He was not a fan of portal jumping. His brother pocketed the journal and rested reassuring hands on his shoulders until his vision cleared. “No. We need to find this vault of hers. Tamara said the boy was keen on figuring out this curse. Go check his room again. Take a look at his computer and see what you can find.”

Michael nodded and darted out of the room, leaving John alone in the office. The eldest brother walked behind the desk and reached again for his drink. With a flop, he dropped into the chair and kicked up his feet onto the desk disrespectfully, retrieving the diary from his pocket.

“Long live the Evil Queen,” he toasted the room, voice laden with irreverence and disdain. He then drained the glass, and slammed the tumbler down onto the desk with finality.Decorative LineKI-T_crophe common room of the hovel Maleficent had been forced to call home was much cozier than her tiny, barred room. She had actually found herself becoming quite fond this land with its cushioned chairs and television and indoor plumbing and caffeine. She sipped a coffee and straightened up once the television program returned. The news was on again, only this time instead of infuriated monarchs or calling out temporary officials, the camera was focused on the so-called Royals, gathered outside Town Hall. She nearly scoffed at their chanting but downright laughed at their wardrobe. Faux-finery? And what was that a supposed to be? A fur coat wrapped around that woman’s shoulders? No, that was very clearly an imitation bear rug. Mal laughed into her mug.

Oh this was just delightful! Dear old Regina had unknowingly created a power vacuum when she’d dashed off to Neverland. Pity she wasn’t around to watch the chaos ensue. She smirked as the Royals hurled abuse at some imagined higher power. This would be the perfect show to go with a glass of wine, but alas, she had neither wine nor her old friend to prattle with.

King George seemed to be leading the riot. Quite frankly, she wasn’t surprised. George always did have a temper. Combine that with arrogance, short-sightedness, and simply being an ass and you had a winning combination ruling a kingdom. The Royals gathered around as he preached about how horrible Regina’s curse had been for them, stripped of their titles and meant to live among the populace like commoners. Judging by his suit, Maleficent was fairly certain he was one of the more well-off Royals during the curse. It wasn’t like he was stuck for thirty years, say, as a dragon. She rolled her eyes. There was a reason she didn’t like entitled pricks, and this was reason number one. George continued rambling on, proclaiming how the Royals should rule the town. They were the monarchs after all. Mal scoffed. No matter what world she was in, power—even the idea of it—was enough to start wars.

“They think,” King George’s voice boomed from the television, “that a beast and the Dark One’s Live-in slut can keep us safe?”

Maleficent winced and curled her lip. The bald king had always been crass and repulsive.

“Tonight is a full moon,” he continued. “We will have a monster running around town tonight. The so-called Sheriff will be loose on the streets, hunting our children!”

He turned and took a small blonde girl from her mother’s arms; the child squirmed and pushed at his hold. “Our children aren’t safe! We aren’t safe!”

The crowd around him erupted, yelling their agreement. It may have been small, but Maleficent knew it was the smallest and most rowdy of minorities who caused the most trouble. Some royals. Acting like children stripped of their lollipops.

Another royal—Thomas, if Maleficent remembered correctly—stepped forward, taking the child from George’s grip. The little blonde girl— apparently his own daughter— continued to squirm against him uncomfortably and reached for his wife just off camera. It made sense the young prince had a role in the riot. Coming from his mouth, their accusations made sense. It was no wonder why this world had branded him Charming as well.

Mal tutted and stirred her coffee thoughtfully. Storybrooke was working itself into a frenzy. It was amusing really how Regina had acted on the curse of all curses to tear their world apart when all she had to do was level the playing field. The tension was palpable even in the Asylum. Where would allegiances lie? Who would take over? Power was up for grabs and whoever was stronger could just snatch it. She could feel it, the energy in the air, the excitement, the fear, and . . .the dread. She had drunk from this exact poisonous pool for years and knew it well. There was no doubt it was a full moon tonight by the energies of the earth, but if that meant one thing, Storybrooke had more to fear than simple werewolves. The full moon could make monsters of them all.

While Storybrooke was separated into royals versus peasants, Maleficent had bigger things on her mind, like what the fairies were to do about it. Supposed benevolent creatures, Mal never believed that. Apparently having wings made them good, but once they were stripped away—she bit the inside of her cheek. Deep-seeded anger would get her nowhere. But Blue, the one in charge of it all, a fairy so good and so pure all the Royals looked to her guidance, was just as manipulative as the Dark One himself. No doubt Blue had something up her sleeve with this divide. As soon as she got her hands on that wand—speak of the devil! Or nun rather.

Maleficent grinned as Nova poked her head into the common room, looking around quickly before stumbling over herself once she caught Mal’s eye.Decorative LineKI-Grumpy narrowed his eyes and stood from the counter, subconsciously putting himself between the two royals and his two friends. “Why should we believe you? Shouldn’t you be banded together with the rest of the royals to show your loyalty?”

Kathryn narrowed her eyes, her chin held high and embodying every bit the spoiled Princess Abigail she once was. “I may be a royal, but I am not blind. What they are doing is wrong. They accept me, but we’re only there to make sure they don’t do anything stupid, and right now they’re doing something stupid so you need to stop it.”

Grumpy narrowed his eyes and glanced behind him at Archie and Granny. The former seemed accepting of the answer, but the therapist generally saw the good in all people. The latter was still as stoic as when she pulled out her crossbow.

“Look,” Jim cut in, taking a step forward. “My knighthood wasn’t a blessing of being highborn. It was hard work that my father was an excellent blacksmith and that Midas had a curse like no other. My family was a month away from starvation before our luck turned and I went from learning how to make swords to learning how to wield one. That was good fortune.”

He stopped and looked at Kathryn, a smile gracing his lips as he took her hand. “We, as much as anyone, refuse to go back to the days of old with arranged marriages and poverty. Here, everyone can live freely. But not if King George gets his way.”

Silence came over the five of them until Archie piped up from behind the burly dwarf. “I believe them.”

“Yeah,” Grumpy eyed them once more before sitting back down on his stool. “Me too.”

“They’re planning on marching to Town Hall,” Kathryn provided. “Tonight. They’re going to oust Ruby and Belle.”

Granny snorted, the first noise she had made in the last fifteen minutes. “I’d like to see them try. It’s a full moon tonight.”Decorative LineKI-T_crophe chanting outside Town Hall was growing exponentially despite the fact that Belle had shut the windows, drawn the blinds, and sat out of view. A migraine was coming her way. She never got migraines. Managing the library was always so calming. There was something serene about the smell of well-read books that put her at ease, but being in the Mayor’s office was a constant battle of pushing away the sting from behind her eyes. First the interview, then King George’s foul speech, followed by the chanting and chaos happening right outside the building. Today was a mess. She never thought she’d be happy for the day when Regina would return—just so she could take back the office and Belle could return to the quiet and comfort of her library.

By the time the sun was making its descent down to the horizon, Belle had called it a day. She locked up the Mayor’s Office—Regina’s office, really—and made her way down the hallway, grateful to escape. When she turned, she was met with a weary smile from the interim Sheriff herself as Ruby walked toward her, keys swinging wildly from her finger.

“All locked up?” The taller woman asked, meeting Belle halfway.

“Finally,” Belle said with a sigh of relief. “I thought a riot was going to break out.”

“Still might,” Ruby muttered.

Belle shook her head at the thought. “Well I’m ready for Emma and Regina to come back.”

Ruby nodded her agreement as they walked silently down the vacated premises. She held the door open for them when they got to the stairwell. “Ashley said she doesn’t trust me with Alexandra,” the werewolf voiced flatly before piquing in annoyance. “Well, Sean actually said it, but she quit the diner, you know. Suddenly I can’t be trusted with her daughter.”

“Ashley is an idiot,” Belle bristled.

“Now you kind of sound like Regina.” Ruby bumped their shoulders playfully. They reached the bottom of the stairwell, and Belle pushed open the door for them, escaping through the side and away from the small angry crowd.

“If I was Regina,” Belle added as they walked down the sidewalk, “King George wouldn’t dare call me what he did.”

“You’re definitely not that,” Ruby reassured. “He’s an asshole. I should have destroyed him when I had the chance.”

It was Belle’s turn to bump shoulders. “Now who sounds like Regina?”

The Sheriff laughed with a shake of her head and offered the crook of her arm. Belle took it happily as they stepped off the sidewalk and headed into the park.

Ruby scoffed. “She wishes she was as gorgeous as me.”

The librarian laughed. “She wishes she was as tall as you.”

Ruby leaned back and motioned to Belle’s shoes. “Says the woman wearing—what are those, four inch heels?”

“You used to wait table wearing heels like these,” Belle reminded with a roll of her eyes.

Ruby grinned wolfishly and winked. “I made it look damn good, too.”

Belle couldn’t argue with that truth as she squeezed Ruby’s arm in agreement. The sun was setting more quickly than she had anticipated, but this hour, the moment when day met night, was always so beautiful. The low orange and red glow of the fading sun was both picturesque and ominous. It was like the moment before something life-changing, whether good or bad, occurred. Maybe it was this moment or the magic of the full moon, but it sent tingles down Belle’s spine.

walkparkrb2

They walked in comfortable silence, following the path of the park and soaking up the crisp fresh air. From this far out, the chants of the royals, the grumblings of the citizens, even the cars from the downtown couldn’t reach them here. For the first time in what felt like ages, Belle felt like she was free to do as she pleased. The taller brunette led them over the to the duck pond, making it halfway over the bridge and stopping to lean over the railing.

Maybe the calmness wasn’t coming from the colours of the sky or the freshness of the air, Belle thought as she cast a shy glance toward Ruby beside her. Ruby had her eyes shut, soaking in the sound of the water lapping below them. There was something about the other woman that Belle trusted completely, no questions asked, and that trust was returned in kind. It was nice knowing she would never be lied to, unlike. . . Belle bit her lip and pushed that thought aside.

The sun finally disappeared for the night and for a moment, they were surrounded in complete darkness, the only source of light a few stars that had managed to make an appearance. As their eyes adjusted and the tension in the air increased to an almost musky taste, the moon, full and round, peaked through the tree tops in a shy hello, ready for the adventures to come.

“Wolf’s Time,” Ruby whispered.

“Your cloak?”

“I don’t need it.”

Ruby carefully extracted herself from Belle’s arm, and it was curious that the librarian immediately missed the warmth the waitress provided. But Ruby, who once feared the beauty of the full moon, made her way determinedly to the end of the bridge and walked toward the thicket of trees where the forest began.

Ruby turned her head over her shoulder and beamed. “Tonight, it’s all me.”

Belle stood in amazement on the bridge as Ruby faced forward. The moon was high now, bright enough that Belle’s eyes didn’t need to adjust to the darkness, but Ruby, she didn’t need such time. Her eyes flashed golden before she faced the forest, her feet grounded to the earth and her fingers spread wide as if opening herself up to the night. Belle always imagined the transformation from human to wolf would be a painful one, limbs cracking and contorting, skin ripping into ribbons of sinew and flesh, but she was wrong. All the books she had read about the Children of the Moon had been wrong. It wasn’t frightening at all. It was captivating.

Ruby’s body tightened, her chest pointed skyward and her head fell back before she fell forward to the ground on all fours. Before her very eyes, Belle watched as her shoulders stretched out and her brunette hair grew longer until her clothes gave way entirely to matte black fur.

Where Ruby once stood was now a giant wolf, proud and domineering, a monster by lore’s standards. The wolf turned back to her and the same golden eyes that had winked at Belle only minutes earlier seemed to shine with an awareness true animals didn’t have. This was no monster, no animal, no beast. Ruby winked and trotted her way over to Belle. The librarian hadn’t realized she moved until she met the wolf at the end of the bridge, cautioning a hand out. Ruby sniffed it then licked her palm. Belle laughed at the tickle there, and Ruby tilted her head, her tongue sticking out and her tail wagging like an excited puppy. She suddenly darted off, disappearing into the forest with a melodic howl trailing after her, echoing into the empty night.

Belle stood stock still, watching until Ruby was no longer in sight. The awe she felt watching such a vulnerable moment of her best friend had left her breathless. There was a beauty in the beast, and a beast in the beauty, yet they were one in the same. Belle couldn’t help but yearn to know more about Ruby—not just more, she realized, but everything about her. Her human side, her wolf nature, her. Belle wanted to walk with her, talk with her, know what it felt like to have her arms wrapped around her.

Balling the hand Ruby had licked only moments ago into a fist, she pressed it to her chest. Overwhelming realization thundered through her, the exhilaration continuing to leave her breathless, and suddenly she was face-to-face with the dawning she’d been skirting for weeks. She was attracted to Ruby Lucas. She felt it now more clearly than ever. The only question left though was if it was her who was attracted to Ruby or if it was Lacey.

With a sigh, she turned away from the forest and made her way back over the bridge. Her brief stint as Lacey and the residual memories left no doubt that she had been very, very much attracted to Ruby. Belle wasn’t blind that Ruby was beautiful and a great friend, but how was she supposed to differentiate what she really felt versus what a created alter ego felt. Lacey was created to be bad. Maybe her feelings weren’t even real. They sure felt that way though, the way Ruby looked at her and made her feel like she could do anything. But she loved Rumpel! Right?

She stomped through the park with more force than necessary and ended up getting a heel stuck in the damp grass. Lacey ruined everything, even inadvertently ruining her shoes. She would have gotten a good laugh out of that. Yanking her foot out of the ground, Belle continued her walk, slowly this time. How was it possible to be attracted to two completely different people? Lacey liked both. She loved Rumpel’s power, and she loved Ruby’s daring wardrobe and wild nature. But Belle liked Ruby more for just aesthetics. She loved her brain, and her comfort, and her understanding, and—

She looked up to the moon now more confused than ever. “I am not Lacey,” she whispered.

But the moon couldn’t talk back. It couldn’t explain these feelings rumbling up inside her. It moooooooooooooooncouldn’t say why Belle felt like a part of her was missing once Ruby disappeared into the forest. It couldn’t tell her that maybe what she claimed just wasn’t true. After all, Ruby was both beauty and beast. Couldn’t she be as well?

. . . To Be Continued in Episode 15

Total Word Count: 9844 words

3 thoughts on “Virtual Season 3, Episode 14

  1. A solid chapter. My shipper heart threw a ‘where is swanqueen goodness’ tantrum but what is happening in SB is interesting and important. There’s definitely something brewing there. The royals are really being asses. I am kind of dissapointed that Ashley just up and left the diner like that…it was the perfect time to distance herself from that useless boyfriend/husband of hers.
    Beautiful art.
    Anxiously waiting for more.

    4

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