Only a Monster
"It only makes sense," the doctor said, slinging a long arm across the counter in the path of her wash rag. He gave her a charmer's smile, one she knew for a fact had worked at some time or another on most of Storybrooke's female population. He reached boldly out to give her cheek a caress. "We're two of a kind, you and I."
Ruby edged away from his touch, moving around the surgeon to continue her cleaning. She wasn't sure if she was more startled by his sense of familiarity or the truth of his statement. It was something they'd talked about, a commonality they'd acknowledged, but it still unsettled her a little when he said it like that.
"If Granny catches me only half done with cleaning, she's going to kill me," she told him. She didn't feel the slightest guilt about using her notoriously fierce grandmother as an excuse to avoid his advances. Ruby only hoped Whale would buy it. The whole town knew that she had no problem defying Granny when she wanted to.
Dr. Whale spun to face her again, to follow her movements with a trained eye. His smile changed to a confident smirk. "You can't put me off forever, Red. You and I both know we're each other's best shot." He leaned in, and Ruby's keen nose wrinkled at the strong scent of his cologne. His lips were close to her ear as he whispered, "Only a monster can love a monster."
With another smoldering look, Dr. Whale sauntered out of Granny's. Ruby continued doggedly wiping the counter, but let out a sigh of relief when the jangling bell announced his departure. It wasn't the first time Whale had made a pass at her. During the Curse, he'd been almost as infamous as she was for cheap dates and one night stands. After the Curse broke, well, he'd stayed pretty much the same.
Pretty much the same but with the added weight of his true identity as Victor Frankenstein, maker of monsters.
All of which meant, he was still the town's ultimate playboy with already questionable morals, and on top of that he couldn't let go of the monster complex. He'd begun the process of accepting who he was - what he'd done. But for Victor, it wasn't something to move past. He would embrace his identity. He was the monster.
Maybe they both were. It wouldn't be too hard to make a case, and Ruby had done it herself when she tried to show him her own story. Now she couldn't tell if Whale's fixation on their shared inhumanity was a genuine conviction or a ploy to get her into bed. Chances were that it was both.
Her Curse memories might be a little hazy across all twenty-eight years, but she was pretty sure she'd never hooked up with him. And his current campaign wasn't anywhere close to convincing her.
But it did unsettle her. Only a monster can love a monster.
Shaking thoughts of Whale from her head, Ruby got on with her shift. The diner wasn't crowded, but there were orders to take and coffees to refill. She grabbed a full coffee pot and made the rounds. Returning to the counter, she topped off Mr. Gold's mug. He nodded in gratitude.
That was about all she ever got from him, but she decided that she had one of the more amiable relationships with him out of everyone in town. Ruby had never met Rumplestiltskin in the Enchanted Forest, though she'd heard plenty of tales about the famed and fearsome sorcerer. In Storybrooke, Mr. Gold had proved himself to be shrewd, calculating, vindictive, and more than a little frightening. But Ruby had never had problems with him herself.
Like most of the town, Mr. Gold was a regular patron of the diner, and he'd always been a good one. He was aloof and well aware of the town's dislike for their landlord, but he tipped well. And he'd always been polite to the serving staff, unlike some of the guests who thought Ruby's chosen attire was invitation for all kinds of lewdness.
In fact, she could remember one occasion when Keith, the not-so-honorable sheriff of Nottingham, had come in intent on getting more from Ruby than a cup of coffee. Even back in those days of the Curse it wouldn't have been too surprising for Granny to pull out a crossbow, but before she had the chance to intervene, Keith had taken himself out of commission, stumbling forward, smacking his head on the counter, and knocking himself out cold.
In his haste to get to Ruby he'd tripped over a conveniently placed gold handled cane.
Mr. Gold had never been friendly per se, but Ruby knew that he hated most of the town more than he did her. His unusual tolerance had even turned into a kind of grudging affection when she'd befriended Belle.
Even so, he surprised her by taking a sip of his coffee and saying, "That man's no good for you, dearie."
She didn't disagree, but a defiant voice in her was asking why it was any of his business. Ruby placed the coffee pot back on its stand, but then turned back to her customer with an inquisitive look. "Mr. Gold, under the Curse I must have had a hundred dates. You never offered advice about any of those."
If the rumors that had been rampant at the time of the Curse's end were to be believed, a hundred dates probably wasn't too much of a stretch. As much as Ruby might wish otherwise. And of the dates she did remember, most could have received the same warning.
The pawnbroker shrugged easily. "Contrary to popular belief, I wasn't actually awake until the tail end of the Curse."
"And you only do things when they suit you," Ruby supplied. She might like Gold more than most people did, but she knew his reputation came with concrete evidence.
Mr. Gold favored her with a close lipped smile. "Quite so," he agreed. "But the matter at hand is not how such advice suits me, but rather how Dr. Whale does not suit you."
Ruby sighed. Whale didn't suit her. He wasn't even a good match when she was under the Curse and they were far more alike at first glance. He might think he knew Ruby, but he didn't know Red. And she was most assuredly both.
"He thinks as a fellow monster he's the only one who really understands me. The only one who could love me." Ruby didn't know why she was spilling this secret to Rumplestiltskin of all people, but there it was.
He steepled his fingers a moment and gave her an evaluating look, as if he was appraising a new addition to his shop. "Are you a monster?" he asked.
"I'm a werewolf who ate her first boyfriend," Ruby said bluntly.
"That's not what I asked."
She let out a long breath through her nose. No one had ever asked her that before. They'd always made the call for her. "No. I'm not a monster."
Mr. Gold continued to study her a moment, then he nodded approvingly. "No. I've met monsters, dearie. You're not one."
The bell over the door jangled again, and Ruby's eyes flew to the sound. Mr. Gold didn't turn his head, refusing to be bothered by anyone without his choosing. Ruby smiled at their new guest and got a shy, but eager grin in return.
Archie Hopper, complete with umbrella, came into the diner and chose a seat on the other end of the counter where he had a clear view of Pongo tied outside. With a last glance at Mr. Gold, Ruby swept over to him with a fresh mug and the pot of coffee.
She was greeted with a "Good morning, Ruby," and another bright smile. Under the Curse, Archie had become a favorite visitor to the diner. He was always respectful and thoughtful, and Ruby had adored his dog. Once the Curse had been broken, she'd remembered him as her dear friend, and it hadn't taken them long to fall back into the pattern they'd once shared. While still a cricket, Jiminy had been someone she trusted and confided in, someone she shared and joked with - a true and good friend.
It was a joy to have him back, she thought as she fished under the counter for some cream for his coffee. Having him beside her in human form had taken some getting used to, but Ruby had soon grown fond of his sweet smile and the gentle touch that accompanied his familiar, soothing voice.
"How are you today?" her friend asked, his blue eyes earnest behind his glasses. He never asked just to fill the silence. He genuinely wanted to know.
Ruby shook her head a little and puffed out a laugh. Noting how unconvincing the sound was, she quickly followed it with a quip and a wink. "Much better now that you're here."
Archie's eyes narrowed worriedly, even as his cheeks flushed at her comment. She'd meant it with more sincerity than the passing flirtations she was known for, but Ruby had to admit that she enjoyed getting the psychiatrist to blush. He made it too easy, and she found it adorable when his face matched his hair.
But even embarrassed, Archie couldn't be put off the trail of something wrong with his friend. He studied her quietly, and she squirmed a little under his thoughtful gaze as she poured him a cup of coffee. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked softly, mindful of the public setting even if the nearest customer was Mr. Gold an entire counter away.
Ruby didn't know what she wanted. She shook her head again. "It's just Dr. Whale," she said, rolling her eyes and choosing to express aggravation at his entire personality rather than the deeper fear that he'd been right about love in her life.
Archie's red eyebrows pinched together. The mild mannered doctor looked angry as well as worried at the mention of Whale's name. "Did he say something to you?" He glanced around and lowered his voice. "Did - did he do anything to you?"
She noted the way his fist closed at the thought, and the unconscious twitch made her smile a little. Even without her power to turn into a literal wolf, Ruby was confident in her ability to defend herself if Whale's pursuit of her ever crossed a line. Yet she felt a feeling of safety sweep over her knowing that Archie Hopper was watching out for her, too.
"Nothing like that," she reassured him. "I'm okay, really."
"He said something that upset you," Archie observed.
Why did he have to be so good at listening, even to the things she hadn't said? It wasn't exactly the type of conversation to be had on the clock, but it was a slow morning and she'd already shared with Rumplestiltskin. Why not Archie?
She thought she knew why. It was the question about who could ever love her, and somehow what Archie thought was really, really important.
"Yes," she said simply, opting for honesty. "He had some opinions about monsters and love, and I caught myself wondering if they were true."
He let out a low breath. "Monsters?"
Surely he saw the connection, the common thread that linked her story to Dr. Whale's. Ruby didn't want to have to explain it to him. If he didn't already know, she didn't want to watch his caring eyes cloud over as he realized the truth.
Just when she thought he didn't understand, Archie shook his head emphatically. "No, Ruby, that's not you. We're all capable of doing monstrous things; you and I, we - we have done monstrous things," here she opened her mouth to correct him, but the sad smile he gave her reminded her of the story he'd trusted her with. There was darkness in both of their pasts - mistakes that could never be made right. "But that doesn't make someone a monster.
"And true love has nothing to do with the past." For the first time, his eyes slid away from hers, and he mused to the countertop. "If it were only for the blameless, no one would find it." Archie's eyes were back on hers, and Ruby felt her lips part at the intensity of his gaze. "Where's the grace in that? Love is about second chances."
Ruby had never heard it put that way before. Only a monster can love a monster, Whale had said. Love was fixed, equal to what the world decided you deserved.
Archie saw it so differently. Love is about second chances. There was power in that; there was freedom. Love was bringer of forgiveness and hope.
The furrow in Archie's brow told her it had been long moments since he'd spoke and she'd given him no response. "Thank you," she breathed. Then again, taking his hand, "Thank you for saying that."
She watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. "I don't know what Whale said, but please - please don't ever think that love isn't possible for you." He looked like he wanted to say something more, but he let it rest there, eyes solemn and pleading for her to believe him.
Ruby squeezed his hand, and Archie quickly flicked his gaze to where she held it. She smiled at him. "I'm beginning to think it's not impossible." Archie smiled back, and she loved the way laugh lines took over his whole face. "I should go check on the other customers, but I'll be back in a little while," she promised.
Archie nodded easily and toasted her with his coffee, turned tan by a liberal dosing of creamer. "I'll be here."
The waitress busied herself with checking in with the other few people in the diner and wiping down the tables recently vacated. She paused at the far end of the counter to see if Mr. Gold needed anything else. The pawnshop owner politely declined her offer of more coffee and pulled a hefty tip from his wallet.
Ruby nodded her thanks and began to clean up the space. Mr. Gold lingered, catching her attention once again. She followed his gaze to the red haired psychiatrist printing notes in his memo book. He wrote in a careful, clean hand, and his bright hair stuck up in a boyish way. Ruby could spy the freckles that adorned his wrists, and she knew they'd wander up his arms when he rolled his sleeves back.
She sensed that Mr. Gold's gaze was no longer on the one time cricket but again fixed on her. Ruby felt a blush creep into her cheeks to be caught staring. She deliberately met Mr. Gold's eye and waited for whatever he had to say.
The stylish pawnbroker regarded her carefully, then his lips quirked up in a tight smile. He tilted his chin toward her and made a noise of pleased understanding. "So you do have feelings for the good doctor," he mused quietly. "Just not the one the town might have supposed."
Ruby's eyes widened, and she was about to make a sharp retort. What could Gold pretend to know about her feelings? What feelings? She returned the coffee pot to its stand with far more force than she'd meant to, causing the diner's few guests to glance up in varied levels of curiosity and alarm.
Her inner monologue was silenced when her eyes met Archie's. His look held concern and care, checking to see if she was alright. Ruby remembered the way his fist curled in her defense, the only hint that the sweet and unassuming psychiatrist would deck Dr. Whale if she gave him a reason to. She smiled to reassure him, and when he smiled back she felt some of those feelings Mr. Gold seemed so aware of.
"Miss Lucas, I trust you'll forgive my blunt assessment when you come to see its truth," he began. The diner's other patrons, including Archie, had all returned to their own business and Mr. Gold kept his voice low. An onlooker might have assumed he was speaking to her about the quality of his coffee or the upcoming month's rent.
Mr. Gold didn't look at her directly, offering his advice to the wall of shelves behind her as much as anything. "You don't need someone who understands the monster," he said. "You need someone who celebrates your particular humanity - someone able to love you in all the mundane miracles of life."
He nodded once in Archie's direction and turned back to her with the same small smile. "It would seem to me that you've found someone who can." The smile still on his usually stoic face, he headed for the door. "A good day to you, Miss Lucas."
Ruby stood there stunned. It was probably the longest conversation she'd ever had with Mr. Gold, and certainly the most personal. She knew her mouth was open and that her face was her signature color, but her thoughts were racing too fast to correct either of those problems.
Gold actually made sense. She didn't just need someone who understood the monster. The wolf was part of her; the pain it had caused was a part of her story, but knowing the wolf wasn't enough. She needed someone who saw her as human - broken and flawed and hopeful and human. Gold was right. And he thought…
He thought she had feelings for Archie, and if Ruby was honest with herself those had been around for quite some time now. Losing him to Cora, albeit briefly, had forced her to confront how dear to her he was. She'd be lying worse than Pinocchio ever had if she pretended that her heart didn't warm at the sight of him. And having his solid presence close by stirred something deep inside her that had nothing to do with the wolf.
Rumplestiltskin was right. She was falling in love with Archie Hopper, a man who drank his coffee with cream and believed in second chances.
Ruby prided herself on being a woman of action. She knew how she felt, and Gold made an excellent point. Archie was someone who saw more in her than the monster. He was exactly the sort of man who was good for her, and if there was the slightest chance that he could love her, she was done waiting around with guys like Whale.
She marched back down the counter to where he sat, the distance suddenly seeming surprisingly short. Fitting, she mused. It turned out that the man she needed had been so close by all this time. This time she went empty handed. There was no coffee pot or wash rag to give her an excuse to be near him. Ruby was finished with excuses.
Archie smiled up at her in greeting. It was so in character for him that he would have had the same reaction to Mr. Gold, but Ruby thought she could detect a little extra happiness in his eyes when he saw it was her in front of him. She hoped she was right about that, because it hadn't occurred to her until this moment that he might not feel the same way.
A sharp prick of fear stabbed at her insides. She was suddenly certain that Archie Hopper was the right man for her. What if she wasn't right for him?
Her confidence threatened to topple over, but she had already approached him and something in his stance calmed her. Ruby returned the smile, a little more shyly than normal. "Would you like to have lunch with me?"
Ruby wondered what exactly had inspired this idea, and mentally kicked herself for how it sounded. Dinner was a more traditional date time, and she'd hardly hinted at anything more than a meal between friends. She used to be so much better at this under the Curse. Of course, Cursed Ruby would probably have just suggested drinks and forgone food altogether.
Archie adjusted his glasses, almost as if correcting his vision would help him process what he'd just heard. Ruby rushed on. "I don't have the lunch shift today, so if you're free … I thought maybe we could have a picnic? We can take Pongo, of course, and I can bring sandwiches, and we could walk out to the woods."
He was listening intently, surprise and a little confusion written on his features. Ruby slipped her hands into his. "Archie Hopper, would you go out with me?"
The diner seemed soundless. Waiting for his answer, Ruby wondered if she hadn't just made a horrible mistake. Archie was her best friend. If he didn't feel the same way, there was a chance she'd lost him for good.
But then he flashed her a smile, laugh lines rippling out from his mouth. He squeezed her hands gently, and even before any words were said, she knew she'd worried for nothing. "Ruby, I'd love to."
Love is about second chances. And as they made plans for their first date, Ruby was hopeful enough to wholeheartedly believe it.
Belle peeked around the corner of the shelf she'd been stocking to catch a glimpse of whoever was whistling in her library. She nearly dropped her armful of books when she was met with a cheerfully whistling Rumplestiltskin. "Rumple!" she called to him, surprise coloring her voice.
The pawnbroker approached her, still looking uncharacteristically happy. He helped himself to a stack of books from her cart and set about shelving them beside her, feigning ignorance at her questioning look.
"What could possibly have you in such a good mood?" she asked, cocking her head to the side. Belle was half-worried the answer was he'd been out raising rent or terrorizing the village folk, but something about his demeanor soothed her. There was nothing manic about this joy. It was almost carefree, boyish. Hopeful, she thought.
Rumple gave her a sidelong look and a small smile. "I ran into that werewolf friend of yours," he told her.
"Ruby," she corrected him, even as she waited for the rest of the story.
"Gave her a bit of relationship advice."
Belle felt her eyebrows lift. "Really?" She spent a moment trying to wrap her mind around that revelation, then shook her head. "What?"
Rumple's eyes were twinkling with amusement and a hint of mischief. "I merely pointed her in the right direction. They'll manage the rest themselves."
"And who did you point her to?"
He gestured in a way that reminded her a castle long ago. "To the person who can best love everything that she is - Archie Hopper."
Belle nodded appreciatively. She'd certainly noticed the spark between her two friends, but she'd not yet said anything to Ruby about it. To learn that Rumple had was both surprising and amusing. "You seem awfully confident about that."
He puffed out a dismissive syllable. "Eighty-nine percent of the deals I've made have had to do with True Love. With that kind of exposure, you grow quite good at spotting it."
Shaking her head, Belle slid another book into place on the shelf. She was about to reach for another when she felt his gaze on her. Rumple gently turned her to face him and quietly said, "There's also someone who's taught me undeniably what True Love is."
Books forgotten, Belle pulled him in for a kiss.
I will forever love Red Cricket. And there's some bonus Rumbelle there for you, too. Thanks for reading! Please tell me what you think in a review!