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The Ambassador and Her Assistant

Chapter Text

“You said to remind you that the Marine Corps Ball is in two weeks, and you still need to get your dress.”

Regina nodded as she signed through the stack of papers on her desk, handing them to her assistant one at a time. “Have you called Chief Hernandez to confirm his meeting for this afternoon?” The hesitation that answered her question had the brunette biting back a harsh comment. “As soon as we’re done here, call Chief Hernandez’s office and confirm his meeting. I will not have my time wasted waiting on a man who has no intention of showing up.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Regina’s grip tightened on the pen she was holding, causing her usual smooth signature to suddenly develop a hitch as she started the “M”.

“Sorry,” her assistant said, immediately catching her mistake. “Ambassador,” she corrected. “Not ma’am because you hate ma’am…”

Regina flicked the last signed paper up at the rambling so-called assistant. The woman had arrived in the office two weeks earlier with papers from the embassy declaring her Regina’s new assistant. In two weeks, it had become quite clear that the woman had not received the job based on prior work experience. Her computer skills were basic, her diplomacy consisted of nodding politely, and while transferring a call to Regina’s desk one day she had managed to hang up on the President of the United States.

The only thing she hadn’t managed to screw up in two weeks was the coffee. Regina picked up the still slightly steaming mug with one hand while she scrolled through emails with the other. She took a deep, calming drink of the dark liquid and gagged, coming close to spraying it across her desk before managing to swallow it down.

“Miss Swan!” She half-yelled, half-choked as she dug in her desk drawer for a bottle of water.

The blonde reappeared quickly in the door she had just left through. “Yeah?”

Regina drank a gulp of water, swishing it briefly to get the rancid taste out of her mouth. She pushed the coffee mug forward. “What the hell is that?”

“Your coffee?” the blonde suggested, taking a few tentative steps towards the desk.

“Miss Swan, I do not know what office you came from, assuming you’ve ever actually worked in an office before, but I do not appreciate pranks in mine. I do not have the time nor the patience to put up with juvenile behavior.”

“Hey, whoa,” Emma rushed forward the last few steps, “what’re you talking about?”

“My coffee, Miss Swan,” Regina spit out. “It tastes like…salt!”

The blonde actually paled as she looked down at the offensive mug. “Salt?” She picked up the mug and sniffed it. “I swear, Ambassador, I fixed your coffee the same way I have every morning. Freshly ground beans with two scoops of sugar…” she trailed off and glanced back towards the door. “Oh, those bastards!”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Marines,” Emma said as if that explained everything. “They’re the only ones that had access; they must’ve swapped out the sugar for salt.”

“And why would they do that?” Regina asked dryly.

Because they knew Emma took her coffee black and the ambassador didn’t. Because they knew Emma would catch hell for it and not them. Because they thought it would be funny to poke the bear.

“I’ll get you a new cup,” Emma said quickly, cradling the offensive mug to her chest.

Regina’s phone pinged with a two-minute reminder. “Forget it.” She snatched up her phone and jacket from her desk. “I have a meeting to attend. Do not forget to call the police chief.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Emma did not forget to call the police chief. She did, however, forget to tell the ambassador that the chief would be unable to make his meeting. When the time of his meeting came and went, Emma sheepishly remembered and knocked on the ambassador’s closed office door to confess.

Regina glared at her, one hand tightening into a fist hard enough to make her knuckles turn white. She remained silent as she crossed the room, closed the door behind the blonde’s back, and then made her way over to the small bar service she kept in the corner of the room. She poured a finger of rich brown liquid into one of the crystal tumblers. “Tell me something, Miss Swan.” She turned and faced the woman that wisely hadn’t moved away from the door. “Just how did you get this job?”

Emma shrugged nervously. “I applied and they hired me.”

Regina took a deep drink of the smoky bourbon. “And how exactly did you apply?”

The blonde frowned. “Over the internet.”

“And I assume you provided some sort of credentials to the people that interviewed you?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“You are unfit for this job, Miss Swan. You have no skill at it, and I find it rather impossible that someone thought it was a good idea to hire you.”

Emma’s shoulders straightened as her expression turned cool at the harsh assessment. “Yeah, well, they did hire me. So,” she shrugged, trying for a nonchalance that wasn’t there. “I guess you’re stuck with me.”

“Am I?” A dark glint entered Regina’s eyes. “I’m curious, Miss Swan, when they ‘hired’ you, which street corner did they find you on?”

Emma’s jaw dropped open. “Excuse me?”

“I mean, really, how many people did you sleep with in order to get this job?” Color rushed into the blonde’s cheeks and Regina took another sip of her drink before clucking her tongue. “Or maybe you just had to give them a demonstration of your oral skills? Was that it?”

Emma took a step forward. “Did you just-”

“Be honest, Miss Swan,” Regina snapped, cutting her off with a dark smirk. “Did you complete the interview on your knees? Or on your back?”

It was the blonde’s turn to have fists so tight her knuckles cracked under the strain.

“Or was it a panel interview?”

In a massive show of restraint, Emma turned on her heel without another word, jerked open the door so hard it smacked against the wall behind it, and left. The sound of the ambassador’s dark laugh followed her out of the office.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Regina felt a smile pull at the corner of her mouth as she entered the office the next morning and saw no sign of her assistant at the front desk. Maybe she’d actually be able to get some work done today. The smile slid off her face just as fast when she rounded the corner to her office and saw the blonde menace placing a steaming cup of coffee on her desk.

Emma straightened when she caught sight of the brunette. “Good morning, Ambassador.”

“Good morning.” Regina said warily, moving towards her desk.

“Don’t worry,” Emma said, gesturing towards the coffee. “I checked to make sure it wasn’t salt today.”

The ambassador set her things down and eyed her assistant. “Did you go with arsenic instead?”

The slightest twitch at the corner of the blonde’s mouth. “Not today. Two sugars as usual.”

Regina lifted the mug and took a sip. It was hot and rich; still the one thing she seemed to be able to do correctly. “Thank you.”

Emma nodded and pointed at the phone. “The White House secretary called. President Nolan will be calling you any minute now.”

“What? Why?”

“She didn’t say.” The blonde smirked as the phone rang, and she sauntered out of the office.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Good morning, Madam President,” Regina said as she logged onto her computer, hoping she hadn’t missed something that had warned her about this call. She hated being caught unawares.

“Relax, Regina,” the voice on the other end laughed. “It’s just Mary calling this morning.”

Regina sat back in her seat at the sound of her old friend apparently just giving her a social call. She glared at the closed door of her office and the insufferable blonde that was probably sitting on the other side of it laughing her ass off. “You gave me a heart attack.” She sat up and took a breath as Mary chuckled. “How’s David?”

“Oh, you know him. He enjoys playing First Gentleman. I think he’s visiting an animal shelter and a VA hospital today.”

Regina sipped her coffee with a smile. “I’m sure I’ll see the pictures on tonight’s news.”

“Probably,” Mary admitted, “but he’s not why I called.”

The ambassador sat up a little straighter. Social call or not, when the president had a point to make, it was best to pay close attention.

“How’s Emma doing?”

Regina dropped the phone and had to scramble to pick it back up.

“Regina?” Mary’s voice questioned as she got the receiver back to her ear. “Did you hear me?”

“I…yes,” she managed. “You know Miss Swan?”

Mary laughed. “Yes, Reg, I know her.” She added brightly, “I gave her the job.”

Oh dear God. And Regina had suggested…implied that the blonde had performed sexual favors for the position. “Why?”

“Oh, Regina, I know you aren’t much of a people person, but I thought you and Emma would be well suited for each other.”

Regina resisted the urge to bang her head against the desk. Before she’d been appointed ambassador by her old friend, it had been years since the two had spent quality time together. She’d forgotten how meddlesome the younger woman could be.

“And since you haven’t been able to keep an assistant, I thought Emma might be perfect for the job.” Mary laughed again. “She’s as stubborn as they come. You won’t be able to run her off easily.”

“But Mary,” Regina tried to grasp for a polite way to argue with the president’s opinion, “has she ever actually worked in an office before?”

“You know, I’m not sure,” Mary said lightly. “You should ask her.”

“I’ll do that.” The ambassador pinched the bridge of her nose; she felt a migraine coming on. “How exactly do you know her?”

“She’s a…friend of the family,” Mary said, then added, “I like knowing someone is there to help watch your back, Regina.” Her light tone hardened into the politician’s voice. “Are you receiving the security updates daily?”

“Twice a day,” Regina answered dutifully, “and my security team has been vetted multiple times.”

“The traffic is getting louder. The rumors are becoming consistent enough to not be rumors.”

“I’ll be fine, Madam President.”

“I know,” Mary said with a sigh. “You know I worry.”

Regina smiled. “I know.”

“Well. I’ll let you get back to your morning,” Mary said, brightening back up. “Tell Emma hello for me.”

Once Regina hung up the phone, she took a steadying breath and glared at her office door. She stood and shook out her hair, bracing herself. She walked out to the reception area and saw the blonde sitting at her desk; she felt her irritation ignite.

Emma spun around in her chair to face the ambassador. She smirked. “Told you. You’re stuck with me.”

Chapter Text

"Well, well, Miss Swan," Regina smirked as Emma slid ungracefully into the back of the dark sedan, "you clean up quite nicely."

The blonde grumbled something akin to 'thank you' while raising up slightly to untwist the floor length gown from beneath her.

After the president's call two weeks earlier, the two of them had reached a truce of sorts. Or, at least, a ceasefire on Regina's part. It seemed that within her assistant duties, Emma was actually putting forth more effort to be organized, and Regina was no longer verbally sniping her for every small missed detail. She still pointed them out for correction but she did so with less vitriol attached. They'd even managed to enjoy an entire lunch together on Friday that had caught them away from the office and without any other company.

Once she was situated, Emma handed the brunette an iPad. "I put your speech notes on here in case the prompter isn't working."

"Thank you." Regina glanced over them quickly, impressed the blonde had thought of it. "You seem quite friendly with most of the Marines at the embassy. Have you ever attended a Marine Corps Ball before?" 

"Oh. Well, yeah," Emma hesitated. "I used to date a Marine who was stationed at Pendleton." She saw the ambassador frown. "Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps base in California," she clarified. "What about you, Ambassador? Hung out with many Devil Dogs?"

"I've attended several balls over the years as a diplomat, but this will be the first time I am the 'honored guest'." 

Emma smiled softly as she looked out the window of the sedan. "Enjoy the cake, keep your remarks short, throw in a Semper Fi, and they'll love you."

Regina folded her hands in her lap. "I doubt that."

The blonde turned away from the window. "Doubt what?"

"I am only the honored guest because I am the senior representative of the U.S. government in the country. It wasn't exactly a popularity contest." She gave her assistant a small smile. "The Marines barely tolerate my presence, Miss Swan."

"That's not true. They respect the hell out of you." Emma grinned. "Apparently, it was quite the sight to see when you lambasted Robert Gold and had him thrown out of the garden party a few months back."

"I had him escorted out, Miss Swan, not thrown out."

Emma snorted. "You’ve righted the sinking ship, so to speak. You’ve brought the embassy back to a certain order which it was lacking under the previous administration. Stuff like that has made the lives of the Marines easier.”

“Yes, well, the previous administration didn’t seem too interested in following protocols.”

The blonde nodded. “You’ve also never once been rude to any of the Marines or talked down to them.”

"It's all part of the job-"

"And you've had food brought to them whenever they have to work holidays."

Regina looked down; she hadn’t known that anyone was aware she’d been responsible for that. "It's the least I can do when they're out there protecting us every day."

"The little things count, Ambassador, and Marines have a long memory." She straightened in her seat. "Looks like we're here."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Have a good time tonight, Marines,” Regina said, concluding her speech. She took a breath. “Semper Fi.”

A loud chorus of Ooh-Rah was shouted back at her as well as applause. She smiled, nodded her acceptance and made her way off stage. Emma was standing in the wings, waiting for her boss with a big grin on her face. “Nicely done, Ambassador.”

“Yes, well,” Regina cleared her throat. “Thanks for the tip.” She had cut out three paragraphs from the middle of her speech and ad-libbed the Marines motto at the end. “Now what?”

Emma handed her a bottle of water and they began to walk. “Time to cut the cake. The Marines will do that with the ceremonial sword, and you’ll be presented with the first piece. Take a bite and then hand the plate back.” She opened the side door ahead of the brunette. “They’ll play a few songs and then you’ll be escorted out of the room. Then you’re all done for the night, well officially, anyway. There’s still dinner and dancing afterwards.”

“Thank you.” Regina passed the water bottle back as an older Marine that she’d met earlier approached them. “There’s my escort.”

“I’ll meet you back here after,” Emma said as Regina took the proffered arm. “Enjoy the cake!”

The rest of the evening passed in a blur. As the honored guest, Regina sat at one of the large round tables filled with the highest-ranking Marines in the room. A few had wives with them but most didn’t. She recognized several women from the embassy and knew they were all from varying agencies. By the time the dancing started, it was obvious the alcohol was starting to flow more freely and people were moving from table to table visiting with people they knew. Regina’s Marine escort from earlier in the evening invited her out onto the dance floor and she was pleasantly surprised at his grace. Surprisingly, she was engaged with three more dances by different Marines before she finally made it back to her table for a break.

Emma was sitting in the chair next to hers, drinking from a glass of champagne and checking her phone. She offered a second glass of champagne to her boss. “You’re quite the dancer, Ambassador.”

She accepted the drink although what she really wanted was water. “Miss Swan, I hope you’re enjoying the party.” 

The blonde chuckled at Regina’s delicate sip of the bubbly alcohol and shook her head. She reached past the table decoration and brought out an unopened bottle of water. “Figured you’d want this instead.”

“God, yes.” Regina gratefully exchanged the champagne for the water. “Thank you.” She almost claimed the blonde woman was a life saver but stopped herself by sipping the water instead. There was no reason to get carried away by a simple gesture.

Emma laughed good-naturedly as though she knew exactly what the ambassador had stopped herself from saying. “It’s all right. You can say it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Regina said although she smiled back at her assistant.

A gentleman in a sharp suit that Emma recognized as one of the DEA agents approached the table. “Ambassador, may I have the next dance?”

“Of course,” she accepted gracefully but turned to Emma before walking out with him. “Miss Swan, can you check with the kitchen and make sure the to-go dinners I ordered have been prepared.”

An hour later, Regina finally made it back to her table. Her feet were killing her and she knew it was past time for her to leave. She was surprised to see Emma once again waiting for her at the table. “Miss Swan?”

The blonde grinned up at her and got to her feet. “Are you ready to blow this popsicle stand, Ambassador?”

Regina blinked at the vernacular but found herself wholeheartedly agreeing. “Yes, I think I’m going to call it a night.” She glanced around the ballroom at the increasingly energetic dancing. “I believe I should leave before I witness something I shouldn’t,” she muttered then frowned at the younger woman. “You don’t have to leave with me, Miss Swan. You should stay and enjoy yourself.”

Emma shook her head. “Nah, I’m done for the night, too.” She gathered up her phone and iPad. “I had them bring the car around, and the meals for the Marines on duty have already been loaded into it.”

Regina found herself once again caught by surprise at her assistant’s thoughtfulness. “Thank you, Miss Swan.”

The blonde shrugged but Regina reached out and lightly gripped her by the arm. Emma turned and raised an eyebrow at her.

“I mean it, Emma. Thank you.” She cleared her throat. “You’ve been a great help tonight.”

Emma looked uncomfortable and gave her a slight bob of her head in acknowledgment. “No problem, Ambassador.” A smile broke out across her face as she found a way to deflect the gratitude. “Just remember this the next time I screw up your schedule, okay.”

“I promise nothing,” Regina said as they walked towards the waiting car, but she silently added to herself that she would try, at least, to remember.

Chapter Text

The Monday following the ball was quiet and rather subdued in the embassy, but by Tuesday the offices were back in full swing. Regina attended three different meetings in the morning before finally making it back to her office just after lunch. Emma followed her into her office, clutching several messages but waiting for Regina to take a seat before launching into them. She’d learned that despite Regina’s insistence, the ambassador didn’t really do well with the walk-and-talk style briefing. She made faster decisions if she was given the half-second to stop and actually listen.

Emma was only halfway through explaining the second message, which she realized she’d forgotten to write down the name of the guy that had called, when a trio of loud pops sounded outside the office.

Regina frowned and turned towards the window. “What in the world-”

But Emma was already around the desk, pulling the ambassador out of her chair and down to the floor as the building’s alarms started to blare.

“Miss Swan! What are-” Her question was cut off as the blonde woman shoved her into the cubby space under the desk and positioned herself in front of Regina.

“Those were gunshots, Ambassador,” Emma snapped, blocking her from moving even as she peeked over the top of the desk towards the office door. “Stay down.”

Regina watched in shock as her assistant pulled up her pants leg and retrieved a pistol from a holster wrapped around her ankle. She was about to demand an explanation for why the blonde woman was armed when a loud bang shook the building.

“Where’s your vest?” Emma demanded.

Leaving her questions for the moment, the brunette pointed to the right. “Closet. Hanging up.”

“Don’t. Move.”

Regina watched as Emma made her way quickly over to the closet and yanked it open, her gun and attention still trained towards the front of the office. The blonde ripped the bullet proof vest off the hanger, throwing it towards the desk, then knelt down to retrieve the helmet from the floor, swiftly bringing it and herself back to the ambassador.

Regina awkwardly donned the vest, pulling it over her head in the cramped space beneath the desk. They’d conducted more emergency drills in this particular embassy than any other she’d ever served in; Mary Margaret had insisted on it. Regina knew the drill. She was to shelter in place until the Marine security detail arrived and moved her to a more secure location. It was supposed to take less than three minutes for the Marines to arrive at her office. She could’ve sworn she’d already spent an hour underneath her desk.

Emma crammed the black tactical helmet onto Regina’s head. “I need to go out to my desk and grab my gear.” Her dark green eyes held Regina’s. “I will be back in less than one minute. I need you to stay here.” 

“We’re supposed to shelter in place until the guard arrives,” Regina protested, horrified at the idea of Emma being out of her sight for even a moment, and appalled at herself for feeling that way.

Another explosion shook dust from the ceiling. Emma braced herself against the desk. “I think the Marines are a little busy right now, ma’am. Luckily,” she popped her head over the desk again and glanced around, “you’ve got me.” She grinned down at the brunette. “I’ll be right back.”

As soon as the blonde disappeared around the corner of the desk, Regina felt her heart begin to pound. Yes, she’d trained for situations like this, but living it was a hell of a lot different. No simulation could ever replicate the sheer panic she felt building in her chest nor the incessant, blaring alarm that was really not helping matters. They’d also never thrown down smoke or anything like it during drills and yet she could definitely smell smoke. But if there was smoke that meant something was burning…

The office door banged open behind her and she jumped, the helmet on her head banging against the underside of her desk. She cringed at the sound of booted steps hurrying towards her and frantically looked around for anything she could use as a weapon.

A bag dropped to the floor right in front of her face and she barely managed to hold back a squawk of alarm as Miss Swan dropped to a knee in front of her. The blonde was scraping her hair back into a pony tail when she looked down at the brunette. “You all right?”

Regina felt the question was absurd given the circumstances and was ready to bite out a retort when she took in the sight of her office assistant. The blonde was wearing a full tactical vest which she was still adjusting onto her body wrapping the Velcro sides tighter. The pistol she’d been carrying earlier was now securely tucked into a thigh holster and she’d changed into military style boots that were loosely tied. Was this really the same woman that could barely answer a telephone properly? “Who are you?!”

Emma gave her a wry grin as she keyed the radio that was tucked into its own pocket on her vest. “Command this is Oscar-3-Sierra, do you copy?” She let go of the radio’s mike and glanced over Regina’s business suit. “Do you have any boots here?”

It took more than a second for Regina to realize the blonde was addressing her. “What?”

“Boots,” Emma repeated, tapping her own shoe. “Do you have any here?” She keyed the radio again and repeated the same message she had said before. “Regina?”

The sound of her name made her focus and she pointed again towards the closet. Emma scampered towards it and returned handing the clearly never-before-worn boots to the ambassador. Her radio crackled to life. “Oscar-3-Sierra, this is command, over.”

Emma motioned for Regina to come out from under the desk but to stay low. “Command, I have the Queen and we are enroute to Rendezvous Delta, over.” 

“Negative, Oscar-3-Sierra, rendezvous locations alpha through echo have been compromised.” There was a brief pause. “Acknowledge avalanche.”

Hot fear rushed through Regina’s veins as she fumbled at tying her boots. She only understood about half of the conversation being held, but she knew the code word for the building being overrun.

“Avalanche acknowledged, Command.” Emma scrubbed a hand over her face. She glanced at Regina then comm’d the mike again. “Command, be advised I am moving the Queen to a secure location. I will update as the situation allows, over.”

The clear sounds of a gunfight sounded over the radio as Command returned a very terse acknowledgment.

“Okay.” Emma slung the backpack over her shoulders and unholstered her pistol. “Are you ready to move? We need to go.”  She didn’t wait for an answer and was pulling the brunette to her feet. “Stay as close to me as you can. Stay behind my back. If I tell you to run for it, run. Don’t look back.”

Regina followed as close behind her as she could manage as they made their way to the office door, but she couldn’t help herself. “My office was considered a fallback position during the drills.” 

“Whoever is attacking us right now has made it further into the embassy than they ever should have been able to,” Emma said as she cleared her area of the office with Regina at her hip. “If they’re looking for you, and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t want to take the ambassador hostage, then they probably know where your office is located. I’d rather you not be here when they finally arrive.”

Regina couldn’t really argue against that sort of logic.

Emma carefully opened the door leading to the outer hallway and peaked her head out. She motioned for Regina to stay still as she glanced down the corridor in the opposite direction. It was all clear and she gestured for the ambassador to join her. “Now Ambassador, less talking, more running.”

Chapter Text

Two hours later both women were gripping their knees and sucking in heaving breaths as Emma closed the garden’s kitchen door behind them. They’d made it to the relatively safe side of the compound. It had taken them close to an hour to make it from the top floor to the bottom floor using previously closed off service stairwells and ducking into offices to hide.

Emma had engaged in three unavoidable firefights, killing five men that Regina saw. The blonde had also picked up another pistol from a dead Marine in the corridor. She’d handed off one pistol to Regina after questioning if the ambassador knew how to use it. Regina did. Her father had taught her when she was young and she’d had refresher training when she’d taken the post. They’d run past multiple bodies; Emma had quickly checked for signs of life on two fallen Marines, her face a hardened mask, as she’d moved on, urging Regina along with her.

Emma had only explained her plan briefly. At the far corner of the compound was the pool and garden entertainment area. The Easter Egg Hunt was held there every year and was a favorite for the embassy families. Regina had only vaguely known the area could be accessed via an underground tunnel that the caterers used to keep the food fresh when they were hosting parties out there. Traversing the tunnel had been a harrowing five-hundred-yard sprint that left them absolutely nowhere to hide once they’d started.

Regina slid down a wall until her butt hit the concrete floor, letting the pistol slip from her grip. “Well, we made it.” She took the bulky helmet off her head and pushed sweat dampened hair back from her face. “Now, what?”

Emma let out a short humorless laugh as she dropped the pack off her shoulders, wincing as she did so. “Give me a minute.”

Regina watched as the blonde fumbled with the radio on her vest, her fingers shaking as she hit the mike. “Command, this is Oscar-3-Sierra, over.”

The brunette frowned at how breathless her assistant still sounded. Her own breathing was almost back to normal but the blonde sounded… “Miss Swan, are you injured?”

“Command, this is Oscar-3-Sierra, over,” she repeated, frowning and shaking her head at Regina’s question.

There was nothing but static in reply. Regina got to her feet and tried moving around to the blonde’s other side but the woman moved with her, keeping her right side out of view. Emma glared at her and tried her radio call again. Aggravated, the ambassador crossed her arms, resolved to find out what her assistant was hiding when she happened to look down and saw drops of blood on the floor. She gasped and closed the distance between herself and Emma before the blonde could react. She pulled the younger woman around and saw the sleeve of Emma’s black dress shirt sticking to her upper arm, and it appeared wet.

“Oh my God, are you shot?” she demanded, hesitantly reaching for the tear in the shirt she could now see.

“Fuck!” Emma hissed, pulling away from her and stepping out of reach. “No one is answering!”

Regina grabbed her by the vest. “Answer me, Miss Swan,” she demanded. “Are you shot?”

“I’m fine,” the blonde ground out, finally looking down at her arm. “It just grazed me.”

“A graze does not leave you dripping blood on the floor, Miss Swan,” Regina argued, pulling Emma by her vest to an overturned chair. “Now, I assume you have a first aid kit in that pack you’ve been lugging around?”

“Yeah,” Emma said caught a bit flat-footed at having the commanding tone of the ambassador suddenly reappear.

Regina righted the chair and pushed her assistant towards it. “Sit.”

“We don’t have time-” Emma argued, popping back up.

“I said sit down, Miss Swan. You said yourself that we have a few minutes.” Regina walked back towards the pack, snatching it up from the floor. She set it on the stainless-steel counter and dug around in it until she pulled out a clearly marked first aid kit. “You’ll leave a blood trail everywhere we go at this rate if I don’t bandage it.”

“But-”

The ambassador did not appreciate arguments. She glared at the blonde until Emma sat back down with a huff.

“Fine.”

“Good.” Regina took a steadying breath and then ripped the sleeve of the blonde’s shirt more so she could see what the damage was. “That’s a bit more than a graze, Miss Swan,” she breathed, examining the weeping wound.

“It went all the way through, didn’t it?” Emma asked, her voice catching as warm fingers gently touched her arm.

“Yes,” Regina said, taking in both sides of the arm. There were a clear entrance and exit wound. She swallowed thickly and opened up the kit, determining what she needed. “While I’m dressing this, I think you have time to answer a few questions, Miss Swan.”

The woman had the grace to look uncomfortable. “What do you want to know?”

“Who are you and why are you pretending to be an office assistant?”

Emma sighed, giving up any lingering pretense, “I serve at the pleasure of the president.”

Regina arched an eyebrow. “That’s usually my line.” She wiped away as much blood as she could with the antiseptic wipe and heard the blonde hiss. “Sorry.”

Emma waved her off. “Just do it. We can’t stay here long.”

“You’re avoiding the question.” She ripped open the package of gauze. “Who are you, and how do you know President Nolan?”

“Captain Emma Swan, United States Marine Corps, Special Operations Command,” Emma gave her a mock salute. “Mary Margaret was worried about your safety and assigned me to help protect you.”

Regina didn’t know which part of that explanation was more confusing. Surprisingly, she stuck with the least important part. “You call the president by her first name?”

“She rather insists on it,” Emma admitted wryly, tensing as the ambassador placed the bandage over the wound and held it in place. “I’m a close friend of the family. Have been for years.”

“I’ve known the Nolans for three decades.” Regina lifted the blonde’s arm slightly so she could begin to wrap it. “How have we never met each other before?”

Emma almost shrugged but stopped herself. “You’ve been busy politicking all over the world, and I’ve been all over the world...not politicking."

"Not politicking?" Regina repeated actually sounding amused.

"Well, combat missions pretty much happen when the politics have dried up, right," she said looking away from Regina as she spoke. "Anyway, I guess we never both managed to be in Storybrooke at the same time.”

Emma's obvious reluctance to talk about her missions was revealing in itself, so Regina let it go. "Yes, well it has been a few years since I made it back to Maine." She shook her head at the thought of her and Mary Margaret’s hometown. A quiet coastal sea village where both of them had cut their teeth in politics by being the mayor at one point. They both still had family homes there. “If we had been there at the same time, I'm sure we would've run into each other.”

"It is pretty small," Emma agreed.

Regina tore off a piece of tape and racked her brain for any mention Mary might have made regarding the blonde woman. Normally the woman couldn't keep a secret from Regina to save her life. She did recall a few stories about a woman named Emma now that she thought about it. And there was that one time- “Oh! You’re the Marine that saved her life a few years ago.”

"It was ten years ago, and she’s made way more of that situation than it actually was,” Emma grunted and looked down at her bandaged arm. “Are we done here?” She didn’t wait for a reply and stood up, patting down the tape the brunette had just finished placing over the bandage. “Looks good, Ambassador. Thanks.”

Regina nodded and started packing the first aid supplies back in their pouch. She heard the blonde trying again to reach her other Marines on the radio, and she made the mistake of looking down at her hands. She started shaking when she saw they were covered in blood. She rushed over to a sink, praying the building’s water was turned on, desperate to wash her hands clean. As long as she had something to do she was all right, but the lack of her next direction was allowing fear to creep back into her throat. She cleared it. "What now?"

"Well." Emma retrieved the pistol Regina had left by the wall and began reloading it. "Given that no one is responding to me on the radio, that's bad." She began pulling her pistol magazines off her vest and shoving them into the hip pockets of her pants. "There is a safe house we can hole up in about five blocks from here, but it's not going to be a picnic getting there."

"You want me to leave the embassy?!" Regina turned around, her hands dripping wet. "I can't leave. I am responsible for these people."

"Respectfully, Ambassador," Emma said solemnly, "there's not much of an embassy left. There's nothing you can do here except get yourself killed. We get out of here, we get to a safe house, and you can start working again." She took the radio out of its sleeve and set it on the counter before ripping open the velcro on one side of her vest.

Regina watched as the blonde gingerly reached for the velcro on her injured side. "What are you doing?"

With a grunt of pain, Emma pulled the vest off over her head. "We need to blend in on the streets. Vest kind of gives me away."

"The blonde hair gives you away," Regina snapped. "You don't exactly look local with that."

Emma pulled a Red Sox baseball cap out of her bag and put it on her head. "Best I can do." She gestured at the ambassador. "You can wear your vest under your blazer. Should cover it up well enough."

“I can’t abandon my post,” Regina said. It was said quietly but with conviction.

The younger woman dropped her head to the countertop for several moments as her hands flexed into white knuckled fists. After a minute, she straightened and very tightly bit out, “You stay here; you die.” She held the ambassador’s gaze. “Or worse.”

Or worse. Images of being dragged through the streets popped into Regina’s mind. Low quality video being taken of her as a prisoner and being shown to the world.

“Right now,” Emma continued, “we don’t even know who we’re fighting. We don’t know what they want. And correct me if I’m wrong, but this took us by surprise, right?”

Regina reluctantly nodded.

Emma nodded back. “That means the evacuation team wasn’t on alert. They weren’t staged and ready to come here. Which means the closest support we have is still hours away.”

“At least,” Regina admitted.

“So, we go to the safe house, we call the president or whoever and tell them the situation. We find out who we’re dealing with and you can start working on getting our people home.”

She hated it, absolutely hated the idea of leaving the compound. The idea of abandoning anyone who might still be here to a fate she wasn’t sharing with them grated against everything in Regina’s being. But Emma was right. There was very little she could accomplish by staying. Even if she walked outside right now with her hands up and surrendered herself, it didn’t guarantee they’d release anyone in exchange for her. There was also the fact that she knew Emma wasn’t about to leave her side. If she insisted on staying, Emma would be captured too.

“Come on, Regina.” Emma offered the reloaded pistol back to the brunette, breaking into her thoughts. “Live to fight another day.”

Chapter Text

They snuck out the East gate and past the cargo entrance. They could still hear sporadic gunfire as they made a run for it across the street and down a side alley. There was no one out on foot on the East side as sirens from the embassy blared and smoke rose into the sky. They could hear a crowd, and when they looked up the road towards embassy row, they saw a mob of people.

“Come on!” Emma urged, pulling Regina further down the sidewalk and out of direct sight.

As much as they wanted to run the entire five blocks to the safe-house, they didn't want to draw attention to themselves even more. Instead they both ducked their heads and walked quickly. They passed a few people hurrying in the opposite direction, but they kept moving without either side making eye contact. Neither of them spoke, all of their senses on high alert to everything around them.

Abruptly, Emma tugged Regina into a recessed doorway. “We’re almost there,” she said in explanation. “I want to get a look at it first before we both go walking up to ring the bell.”

Regina could see the sense in that. “I don’t even remember there being a safe house east of the embassy.”

Emma’s shoulders fell slightly as she blocked the ambassador’s body with her own. “That’s because technically there isn’t.”

“What?” Regina hissed.

The blonde held up her hands to calm her down. “It’s not a safe-house but it is a safe house,” she admitted, peeking around the corner. “It’s my house.”

“Your house?” Regina honestly didn’t know how to feel about that. She wanted to hit the blonde for lying, but she also couldn’t deny that she felt relieved at the idea. “You could’ve told me that!”

“Where’s the fun in that?” The corner of Emma’s mouth quirked upwards before she turned serious again. “The guard shack is empty. Looks like everybody got the memo to take the day off but us.”

“Do we go in?”

Emma glanced all around the street, looking the buildings surrounding them up and down. She nodded. “It’s still our best shot. We can check the news, make a few phone calls.” She tugged the pistol from her waistband and carried it down by her side. “Stay behind me.”

Regina nodded. She didn’t like playing backseat but the last thing she wanted to do was give Emma something else to worry about. The less the blonde had to worry about Regina doing what she was told, the more she could concentrate on what she needed to actually worry about. She did however follow the Marine's actions and took the pistol she was carrying out as well. Emma frowned at it but said nothing.

They moved out of their doorway and across the street to the gate of Emma’s driveway. No one was out in this part of the neighborhood and you could almost pretend it was a normal day. Emma strode towards a man-door near the side of the unmanned guard shack and punched in a code. The locking mechanism made a loud click and Emma pulled it open.

Regina started to move forward but the blonde held up a hand, motioning for her to wait until she cleared past the guard shack. Unlike when they’d walked down the street, Emma was now actively scanning with her gun drawn as they made their way to her front door. Everything seemed in order and in no time they were inside. Regina felt herself release a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Emma heard her and gave her a quick understanding nod. “I’m going to take a quick look around. Make sure nothing is out of place.”

The ambassador nodded and followed after her slowly, stopping in front of the television as Emma continued further into the house. Her hands twitched to turn it on but she waited for the blonde to return. She didn’t want to make any unnecessary noise. She did walk to the end of the couch and lift the phone from its cradle on the end table. There was no dial tone.

“It’s all clear.” Emma reappeared, her gun back in her waistband and carrying two bottles of water.

“Land line is out,” Regina said, gesturing to the phone and gratefully taking the offered water.

Emma clicked on the television and turned it to the local news station although as she flipped channels it appeared they were all covering the wreckage of the U.S. Embassy. There was a truck embedded halfway through the front doors. Smoke and dust, scorch marks and rubble were strewn everywhere. There weren’t any bodies visible but Emma saw what she knew to be blood stains smeared across part of the concrete. All the windows on the ground floor were shattered. Some looked like they had been blown out while others appeared to have had things thrown through them.

The reporter was talking about how no one had yet claimed the attack but all the indicators suggested it was a coordinated attack by multiple cartels. Emma frowned. If that was true, it was an incredibly bold move by criminal organizations against a sanctioned government. And a coordinated attack?  The different factions were working together against them?  She looked over at Regina, about to ask her what she thought of that assessment, when she saw the brunette holding her phone to her ear.

Emma didn’t want to interrupt her and went back to watching the news. The byline running at the bottom of the screen wrote out that the embassies of Greece, Denmark, and the United Kingdom were all reporting that they had taken in American survivors. It made sense; those were the three embassies closest to the U.S.

“I can’t get a call out,” Regina spit out, thumbs tapping angrily on the screen of her phone.

Emma wasn’t surprised. “Everybody in the country is trying to get a call out. Try sending a text. Sometimes those get out faster.”

“The President of the United States does not receive texts on her phone,” the ambassador snarled.

The blonde rolled her eyes and unlocked her phone’s home screen. “Try texting Pauline. She always answers.”

Regina accepted the phone. “Who is Pauline?”

“Mary Margaret’s personal assistant.” She headed towards her bedroom. “I’m going to change out of these clothes.”

The brunette scrolled through the contacts and quickly typed out – I’m with Emma. We’re safe for now.

The reply was almost immediate – Who is this?!

It had completely slipped Regina’s mind that she was using Emma’s phone. – Ambassador Mills.

OH THANK GOD. POTUS WILL BE SO RELIEVED. WHERE ARE YOU?!

Regina could easily imagine the assistant frantically moving to the President’s side, eager to relay the news. – We’re at Emma’s place. Embassy compound was compromised.

She almost dropped the phone when it started blasting music against her palm with an incoming call. She quickly accepted it and heard the president’s voice through a static filled connection.

“Regina! Is that -----when we didn’t --------thought the worst. Are---Emma---all right? -----else with you? W-----are you?”

Mary Margaret always did have a tendency to blather on. “We’re okay,” she interrupted, trying to answer some of the questions before they lost the connection. “Emma was…” Regina debated what she should say and finally went with how the blonde had described it, “grazed during a firefight.” She heard Mary’s squawk of alarm but kept talking. “We’re both okay. No one else is with us. How many people are accounted for?  Do we know who did this?”

The static was getting worse. “We think---still missing. No---claim--possibly---”

The line went dead and Regina swore under her breath as she stared at the now blank screen. She typed out another message, hoping it would still go through – Send updates and directives.

Shelter in place as long as safe. Check in every twenty minutes.

Those instructions didn’t really help her form a plan of action, but texting also wasn’t the way to coordinate a plan of attack. She hesitated then simply replied – Acknowledged.

When she didn’t receive another text in response she turned her attention towards the television. At least now they knew she was alive and not looking for her in the embassy. She watched with growing anger as a news helicopter circled the area showing the smoking devastation that had been the embassy, her embassy, her home away from home.

Her responsibility.

Oh how she had failed. All the traffic had been increasing that the cartels in the area were growing restless. They’d called for her head and left burning effigies of her hanging from multiple bridges, but nothing had suggested they would do something of this magnitude. How many people had died today whose deaths she could have prevented if she’d taken the threat more seriously? She closed her eyes against the images flashing on the screen. There would be plenty of time for self-recrimination later. Right now, she needed to think.

Based on what she now knew, this wasn’t suspected of being a state attack against the U.S. government. Who could unite the cartels and carry out an action of this magnitude? The answer was easy and so completely complicated. Regina opened her eyes and glared at the news screen. She muttered, “Robert Gold.”

Chapter Text

Once in the privacy of her own bathroom, Emma peeled the ruined shirt off, grimacing freely as the sleeve stuck to the skin on her injured arm. Standing in front of the mirror in just her blood-stained bra, she raised up on her toes to see the darkening bruise spanning the right side of her rib cage. One bullet had gone through her arm but her vest had thankfully caught its more accurate cousin. She probably had a couple of cracked ribs from the impact alone. Thankfully, Regina had just thought it was her arm that was causing her pain.

She checked her bandaged arm and was satisfied with the job Regina had done. It would keep for now and there was really nothing she could do for the ribs anyway. She swallowed a couple of aspirin and grabbed a hand towel, quickly washing her face and chest, the back of her neck. She resisted the urge to just dunk her head under the running water. Her hair smelled like smoke from the embassy, but she was able to get some of the sweat and grime off.

Leaving the bathroom, she crossed to her closet, shedding her dress pants as she moved, and reached for a pair of beige cargo pants that she usually saved for training days. She pulled out a pair of boots, a spare tactical vest, and a tank top. Stepping into the pants, she glanced over the selection in her closet and wondered if she could convince Regina to trade in her sensible pants suit for something a bit more durable.

“Hey, Ambassador,” she called, pulling the tank top on over her bra, “do you want to change clothes?” She sat down on the end of the bed, grimacing as she pulled her boots closer, and began slipping on a pair of thick socks. “I’m sure I have some things in here that would fit you.”

When she didn’t receive an answer, she wondered if the woman had managed to get a call through to the president. She tugged the boots on, leaving the laces loose as she got back to her feet. “Regina?” She walked towards the living room. “You want-”

Instinct alone saved Emma from the fist that came rushing towards her face from her right as she stepped out of her room. She ducked back just enough to miss the punch but the body the fist belonged to crashed into her. Pain flared in her arm and side as her attacker’s weight slammed into her and they fell in a tangled mess against the door and then down to the floor of her bedroom.

Years of training had Emma rolling with the fight, throwing the weight off of her and then slamming an elbow back against any target she could find. A satisfying grunt of pain whooshed near her head and she struck again higher with her elbow before slamming her fist down lower, hoping to hit the groin before she scrambled away. She’d barely gotten to her feet when she caught more movement headed her way and a second body barreled into her.

They landed on the bed, a heavy arm around her waist. She punched for the face with one hand and tried to reach the lamp on her bedside table with the other. A hand wrapped around her throat the same time something, an elbow maybe, slammed into her gut. She gasped but her fingers curled around the thin stem of the banker’s lamp and swung wildly with it. The blow wasn’t perfect, catching her assailant on the back of the neck and shoulder with the lamp’s base, but it was enough to loosen his hold. She kicked with her feet and managed to push herself right off the side of the bed.

She fell hard on her hip but was up in time to see the bloodied-face attacker at the foot of the bed raise his gun over the edge. Emma dove for the closet. She wouldn’t be able to ready the AR she kept in there in time, but she could easily grab the softball bat she’d used to hit more than a few home runs. A few swings with it and she’d be out of this room. She had to find-

“Emma.”

She stood up from the closet, bat in hand, to see Regina standing in the doorway. The brunette had her hands held up in front of her and there was a small trail of blood at the corner of her mouth. Emma readied the bat.

Regina grimaced and stumbled further into the room as the person behind her urged her forward. Emma caught sight of the gun digging into the base of the ambassador’s neck and then saw the man holding it. She had never seen the man in person, but she’d seen his pictures on every daily briefing she’d read since arriving in country. Emma tightened her grip on the bat. “Mister Gold.”

“That’s quite enough, dearie.” He jabbed Regina with the gun again. “Unless, of course, you want to see the Ambassador’s brains all over your bedspread.”

Emma eyed her two attackers as they both got to their feet. The one bleeding from his nose flanked his boss and the other slid off the bed to stand at Emma’s right. She looked Regina over from top to bottom. Her hair was mussed and there were red marks on her throat. “You all right?”

Furious, scared eyes locked on hers. “They came in through the back door. They had a key-”

“That’s enough of that,” Gold snapped, nudging her.

He jerked his head towards the side and the brute flanking him clamped a heavy hand on Regina’s shoulder, forcing her down to her knees.

“Hey!” Emma took a step forward, freezing when Gold’s gun swung towards her.

She heard a sharp click and saw the knife in the brute’s hand a second before he yanked Regina’s head back by her hair and pressed the blade to her throat. The ambassador gasped, eyes widening as the knife knicked delicate skin.

“No! Stop!”

Gold smiled. “Give it up, Miss Swan. You don’t have a play left.”

“Emma, don’t-”

Emma had already dropped the bat, her hands empty and raising towards the ceiling. The decision was made long before she saw the thin line of blood rolling down Regina’s neck. “Let her go.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Gold eyed the man at Emma’s side. “Take her.”

A dull heavy pressure struck Emma across the back of her shoulders. She dropped to her knees, catching her fall with an outstretched hand even as she heard Regina shout her name. A kick caught her in the ribs sending her sprawling towards the closet. Emma gasped for breath as fire burned in her chest and lungs. She saw Regina being dragged out of the room, a thick arm wrapped around her neck. Emma stretched out a shaking hand, reaching for her until her vision was blocked when her attacker knelt in front of her. He trailed the barrel of his pistol across her forehead, digging it into her cheek. She glared past his shoulder, refusing to look at him. Peripherally, she saw him swing his arm up and then pain exploded in her head and she knew nothing else.

Chapter Text

Pain dragged Emma unwillingly from the depths of unconsciousness. Her head felt like it was swollen two sizes too many and stuffed inside a metal box the same sizes too small. Her arm burned and throbbed in time with the ache pulsating from the entire side of her rib cage. Nausea rolled in her gut not helped at all by the blood and bile taste in her mouth. The constant vibrations rattling against her head and body were jostling her even more. As another bump shook her, Emma realized she was moving; she was in some sort of vehicle, and it was moving. Her eyes shot open to darkness.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

That wasn't good. A second location was never good, but that wasn't even her biggest fear. "Reg-ina," she coughed, tried swallowing sand. "Regina?"

"I'm here,” a rough, tired voice answered.

"Thank God." She was both relieved and horrified to hear the distinct voice of the ambassador. She couldn't see her because of a damn hood over her head, but she knew that voice. She bit the inside of her cheek as they hit another bump in the road, driving her shoulder into the vehicle's floorboards. Everything about the situation was getting worse by the second.

The ambassador made a noise in her throat. "Are you all right?"

No. No, she wasn't. Not by a long shot. Emma chuckled darkly as she rolled herself onto her back. The laugh turned into a groan as her hands were cuffed at her back and now pinned beneath her. Even relieving the pressure off her side was painful. Material fell against her face and she blew air at it to try and get it to resettle into a slightly less annoying position.

"I fail to see what's amusing about any of this, Miss Swan."

Emma lifted her head off the floor, trying to pinpoint the brunette's location. It sounded like maybe Regina was sitting up. "It's better than crying." She heard a suspicious sniff and wondered if the ambassador was crying. She would’ve never figured the ambassador as a crier; she didn't seem the type. "But, I mean, crying would also be a legitimate reaction-"

"I am not crying, Miss Swan."

Emma laid her head back down even though the vehicle's vibrations were doing nothing for her headache. She chuckled again. The situation was absurd and honest to God, she really did feel like crying.

"If you must know," Regina sniffed again, "my nose is bleeding."

Emma's cloth covered head lifted again. "Are you all right?"

“I’ve been better,” she admitted. “Although, I think I fared better than you.”

“Are you tied up with a hood over your head?”

“Yes, but you’ve been unconscious for a while, Miss Swan,” she hesitated. “I was becoming concerned.”

“How long is a while?” Emma asked. “And have we been driving that entire time? Do you know how long we’ve been driving?”

“I don’t…I’m not sure,” Regina said. “I was also unconscious for an unknown amount of time. We’ve been driving for as long as I’ve been awake, but I have no real concept of how much time has passed.”

“But long enough for you to be concerned I wasn’t awake?”

The ambassador sighed heavily. “Yes, Miss Swan.”

Emma was glad the brunette couldn’t see her grin. It seemed to genuinely pain the woman to admit that she had concern for her lowly assistant. The truck hit another pot hole and jarred both women; Emma barely kept her head from smacking against the floor board.

“The roads are getting worse,” Regina remarked almost quietly. “We’re not in the city anymore.”

Neither of them had to point out how bad that was for their situation. Emma cleared her throat. “Did you reach the president?”

“Briefly, I told her we were safe, but I was supposed to check in with her every twenty minutes.”

The truck bounced again, jostling them both as it turned and began to slow before finally coming to a stop. They listened as the engine cut off and two doors opened and slammed shut. Men’s voices could be heard talking to each other in greeting and explanation.

“Emma?”

Emma heard all the fear she herself was feeling in the ambassador’s whisper. “I’m here, Regina. We’re going to get through this.”

The tail gate to the back of the truck was wrenched open with an earsplitting crunch of metal. Emma felt hands wrap around her ankles; she considered kicking but there seemed to be little to gain from the action. She was pulled out of the truck and dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. She groaned when she hit the dirt, but felt relieved when another body was dropped next to her. The ambassador’s curse was unmistakable. At least, they weren't separated.

A rough command was given and Emma felt hands on her again, wrenching her upwards until she was on her knees. She jerked her shoulder away from the grip holding her in a small show of defiance and earned a few appreciative comments from the crowd she couldn’t see. She felt Regina leaned up next to her and then she was blinded by sudden light when the hood was ripped from her head.

Blinking, she tried to clear her eyes. A group of about a dozen or so armed men stood loosely around them in the fading light of the day. There was one standing directly in front of them, and she knew he was the man in charge. She felt Regina looking at her but she didn’t take her eyes off him.

He seemed to appreciate the attention. “It’s not often we get such esteemed guests.” He grinned and spread his arms wide. “Welcome to The Ranch.”

Chapter Text

Emma hadn’t slept. She’d tried, knowing she needed to rest, but it had been impossible. After their unceremonious welcome the night before, they’d been shoved into a concrete room with four walls, no furniture, and only a small sliver of a window high up on the wall. The window was just wide enough that she could see the slate gray light of dawn beginning.

Regina was asleep, half curled on the floor and half leaning against her; she shivered in her sleep, and Emma ran her hand gently over the older woman’s back. They’d taken the ambassador’s blazer and tactical vest leaving her in a thin silk shirt, dress slacks, and combat boots. Emma wished she had combat boots; her boots had gone missing sometime between the fight in her bedroom and the truck she’d woken up in, leaving her in a tank top, cargo pants, and socks. She supposed she should be thankful she’d chosen a thick pair of socks, but she really didn’t want to die in them.

In the span of twenty-four hours, she’d been almost blown up, shot, beaten, and kidnapped. Every muscle in her body ached with the slightest movement. Her headache was marginally better, but her arm was still throbbing. She didn’t like the heat that was radiating from beneath the dirty, darkened bandage but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

There wasn’t much she could do about anything at the moment, and she feared the day was only going to get worse.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

At midday, they were hauled from the cell. Even though neither of them resisted, they were cuffed, hooded, and frog-marched to another part of the ranch. When the hoods were yanked off, they found themselves standing in front of Gold in an opulent home office.

“Please.” He gestured to the leather upholstered chairs situated around a low coffee table. “Have a seat.”

The two women glanced at each other, and Emma waited for Regina to make the call. The politician’s mask was in full force as the brunette gracefully took the offered seat. “Thank you.”

Emma glanced around the office complete with roaring fireplace as she took her seat. She took special note of the single door and the six guards stationed around the room.

“I think we can remove the cuffs for now,” Gold said, directing his man to do so. He glanced over his shoulder at one of the men standing near the far wall. “Bring the fruit tray over. I’m sure these ladies are hungry.”

The large pitcher of water situated in the middle of the table called to Emma, but she held herself back as the guard set down a large tray of cheese and fruit with crackers. This was Regina’s arena and she let the brunette take the lead.

“Are you responsible for the attack on the embassy?”

The blonde swallowed a smile. Regina never had been one to lob softballs at her opponents. She went straight for the jugular.

Gold chuckled and shook his head. “It seems we’ve forgotten our manners.” He reached for the water pitcher. “You’ll have to forgive me, I don’t entertain often.”  He poured three glasses and handed them out keeping one for himself. “Now perhaps you want to rephrase your question.”

Regina sipped the water and then set the glass back down. The appearance of the politician was a bit disjointed with smudges of dirt and grime on her face and arms, as well as, the myriad bruising on her neck and wrists, but her posture was ramrod straight and her hands were folded neatly in her lap.

“Thank you for allowing me to rephrase,” Regina said, biting the words out. “By attacking the embassy, you have declared war on the United States. Are you prepared to face the consequences of your actions? And by consequences, I mean the full and destructive power of the U.S. military aimed straight at your heart?”

Emma almost choked on her water but quickly smoothed out her expression. Regina had leaned forward as she spoke, her elbows on her knees, and fire in her eyes. If Gold was surprised, he didn’t show it. He just smirked and using his cane pushed himself up from his chair. The blonde tensed, prepared to get in front of Regina if she needed to, but the drug lord simply moved towards his desk and picked up a phone.

“I haven’t declared war,” he argued, walking back over as he thumbed on the phone. “Not yet, anyway.” He set the phone to speaker mode and placed it down on the coffee table.

Regina frowned as the call began to ring through. “What are you-”

Gold held up a hand for silence as the line was answered.

Emma felt her heart sink as she immediately recognized the voice of Pauline, Mary Margaret’s assistant. He must've gotten the number from her phone when Regina had been using it.

“This is Robert Gold speaking. I’d like to speak with President Nolan.”

“I’m sorry but I’m afraid that isn’t possible-” Pauline started.

“Unless the president wishes to receive her ambassador back in pieces,” Gold cut over her, “I suggest you put her on the phone immediately.”

“Pauline, don’t-”

“Ambassador Mills is that you?!”

Emma saw the muscle in Regina’s jaw tick at being interrupted.

“This is Adam Taylor,” a new male voice demanded over the line, "to whom am I speaking?"

Emma glanced at Regina. Taylor was Mary Margaret’s Chief of Staff. If he was grabbing the phone from Pauline, it was entirely possible Mary Margaret was also close enough to overhear.

“This is Robert Gold,” he repeated. “I wish to speak with the president, and if anyone besides the president is the next voice I hear, your ambassador loses a finger.”

There was a strained silence before finally, “This is President Nolan speaking.”

Regina briefly closed her eyes, and Emma knew the ambassador was silently raging at the breach in protocol. The president never should’ve taken the call.

“Good afternoon, Madam President,” Gold greeted cordially. “Thank you for taking my call.”

“You didn’t leave me much choice,” the president snapped out, all traces of the usually mild-mannered woman were nonexistent. “You apparently have my people, Mr. Gold, which means you have my attention, although you may wish you didn’t.”

“Your people?” Gold repeated the phrase while looking at Emma for the first time with any real interest.

“Good afternoon, Madam President,” Regina jumped in. “My assistant and I are both here with Mr. Gold.”

“Ambassador Mills,” Mary Margaret breathed, “it’s good to hear from you. How are you and your assistant faring?”

Regina glanced at Gold. He looked amused and gestured for her to answer.

“Aside from a few bruises,” she ground out, “we are currently unharmed.”

“Very well,” the president responded after a moment’s delay. “I’d like to speak with Mr. Gold again.”

“I’m here, dearie.”

Emma could practically hear Regina’s teeth grinding together at the disdainful moniker.

“You called me, Mr. Gold. What is it you wish to discuss?”

“Ah yes,” he said, leaning back. “I wish to discuss your representation in my country. It needs to change; it needs to go back to the way it was.”

The hair on the back of Emma’s neck stood up. The shift in the mood of the room was palpable. As Gold settled in, his guards began to move until two flanked both her chair and Regina’s.

Gold continued as though nothing had happened, “Ambassador Mills and I don’t see eye to eye on issues of importance the way I did with her predecessor. She doesn’t seem to value the way we are accustomed to doing things here. She doesn’t understand that we don’t like change.”

The only warning Emma had was the slightest nod from Gold before his two thugs grabbed her from behind, hauling her out of the chair.

“Em-!” Regina’s voice was quickly muffled as a large hand clapped down over her mouth and she was held down in her chair.

Emma was thrown to the floor. She flailed and fought against their hold, knocking over the chair she had just been sitting on before they managed to pin her down, a knee dug into her bruised back and a beefy hand pinned her cheek against the floor. Someone else sat on her legs as she scrambled with her free arm against the hardwood floor.

“What’s going on?”

She heard Mary Margaret’s voice and saw Gold get up from his seat still holding the phone. “You see, Madam President, we are set in our ways here. Our methods may be old fashioned but they are tried and true.”

Emma could hear Regina’s muffled exertions and saw her feet pushing against the floor. She heard the coffee table get pulled away across the floor and then another set of hands was on her.

“For instance,” Gold continued as he crossed to the fireplace, “cauterizing an open wound with fire is an ancient remedy.”

Strong hands forced Emma’s injured arm to straighten out across the floor away from her side. The bandage over her wound was ripped away from her skin.

The chair Regina was sitting in rocked back on two legs before settling down again and Emma heard the woman’s half-muffled yell. “Don’t!”

“What the hell is going on?” Mary Margaret’s voice sounded through the phone.

Gold spoke over her as he withdrew a red-hot glowing iron from the fireplace. “I’ve found that over the years, purification through fire always seems to get results.”

Emma tried to get away. She would have clawed her way right through the floorboards if it had been possible. She felt her shoulder joint slip as she tried to pull away from the heat Gold brought closer to her skin.

Regina got loose again. “No! Don’t do this!”

“Do you understand what I’m telling you, Madam President?”

The metal seared Emma’s skin as Gold pressed it against weeping flesh. The smell of burnt meat quickly filled the air and sound tore from the blonde’s throat in a ragged scream.

“EMMA!”

She felt Regina fall on the floor next to her, and she had the absurd thought to try and comfort the older woman as Gold finally pulled the heated metal away from her skin. Its removal marked the passing of the worst of the pain into a deep throbbing blur. It was hard to breathe she was being held down so tightly, but she’d be all right. She blinked away the black spots in her vision; she could handle this.

“Remove the sanctions you’ve put in place on my exports, Madam President,” Gold said, his voice completely devoid of any emotion, “or I’ll remove your people. Permanently.”

He twisted his wrist and pressed the still smoldering metal against the other side of Emma’s arm. Another scream tore from her at the fresh assault and this time it was too much for her. The last thing she heard before she passed out was someone yelling her name.

Chapter Text

Two mornings later, Regina was only a few short steps away from panicking. They’d been left alone after Emma had woken on the floor of Gold’s office. They’d been brought back to their cell and aside from being given some granola bars, a few water bottles, and a bucket for their waste, they’d seen no one. Normally, Regina might chalk that up as a win, but Emma was a mess and declining rapidly. She, of course, insisted she was fine, but Regina could feel the fever radiating off the younger woman. Sleeping next to the Marine the night before had been like curling up next to a trembling space heater.

Regina was worried. The few hours Emma had been awake, her eyes had been glassy and unfocused. She’d told Regina not to worry and not to draw attention to herself, but the ambassador had made a decision. Emma shivered in her sleep against Regina’s side and she offered what she hoped was a comforting squeeze. She kept her gaze on the door. The sun was up which meant the men who brought her the morning granola bar would be by soon, and they were going to do a little bit more to earn their keep today. They were going to take her to see Mr. Gold.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Even though it had been her idea, Regina thought her heart might beat right out of her chest she was so nervous. They’d come back for her several hours after her request, and Emma had not taken her departure well. She’d tried to insist she be taken too. When the guards shook out the bag to put over Regina’s head, she admitted to herself that this may not have been her best decision ever. It was the first time she and Emma had been separated and she had clearly not given that prospect enough consideration. When the blonde realized it was happening at Regina’s request, furious green eyes had held fast to brown.

“Don’t do this.”

It was the last thing Emma said as Regina was led out of the cell. She heard the sounds of a scuffle before the door was closed and fists began to pound on it. She wasn’t entirely sure what Emma thought she was doing exactly, but she knew once they were reunited she was going to get an earful from the willful blonde.

After a several minute walk, the hand on her arm pulled her to a stop and she heard the guard knock on a door. A voice bade them enter, and finally the hood was pulled from her head. She shuddered to think what her hair looked like at this point, but she felt it sticking to her forehead as the guard removed the cuffs from her wrists. She didn’t bother hiding how she rubbed her wrists as she walked into Gold’s office once again. She couldn’t help but notice the fireplace was not lit this time.

The man himself sat behind the desk, a slight smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth as she approached. “Ambassador Mills.”  He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Can I offer you coffee or tea?”

Her mouth watered at the possibility of coffee, but she declined. She'd almost worked through her caffeine withdrawal at this point, no reason to reignite the pain in her head. “I appreciate you agreeing to meet with me on such short notice.”  

“But, of course.” The smirk remained. “My men implied that your request was such that it required an immediate response.” He spread his hands open towards her. “How can I help you today, Ambassador?”

She hated being in such an untenable position but there was nothing to be done for it. “My assistant, Miss Swan, requires medical attention.”

Gold leaned back from his desk. “Really, dearie?”

“Yes, it would seem that your traditional, tried and true method of healing,” she sneered, “was not so great, after all. She has an infection from her wounds.”

He steepled his fingers in front of his chin. “And?”

Regina cocked her head to the side. “And she’ll probably die if she isn’t treated. Soon.”

He shrugged. “Why should I care if I have one less mouth to feed?”

“Because,” Regina felt her own smirk rising, “you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to keep us alive this long.” She leaned back in her chair, mirroring his relaxed position. “You know as well as I do that we are much more valuable to you alive.”

“You, perhaps. Not her.”

“You made a point of telling the president that both she and I were alive and in your care.”

“I also made a point of torturing Miss Swan and ensuring the president knew,” he pointed out. “Now that I’ve done that. What is her worth to me?  After all, she is just an office assistant, isn’t she?”

She heard the curiosity in his tone and bit out, “She is an American citizen.”

“An American citizen that your president knows by name.”

Regina flinched internally but kept her expression blank. “Of course, the president knows her name. We are likely the only two still missing from the embassy. She would’ve been briefed-”

Gold waved off her explanation. “While I’m sure that’s all true, your president cried out the girl’s first name while I was torturing her. Em-ma.” His cocky self-assured expression was back in place. “So, tell me, Ambassador, who is this assistant of yours? This Emma Swan?”

She tried for nonchalance. “She’s my office assistant. She showed up a little over a month ago.”

“You and I both know she’s more than just an office assistant,” he said, leaning forward. He tapped the phone that was on the desk. “Now, if you want me to call a doctor for her, I suggest you tell me who she is, or I will let her die.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Regina was led back to her cell, her cuffed hands holding onto a small brown bag that contained an apple, a turkey sandwich, and a small bag of chips. It was easily the most food they'd been offered since arriving, but her stomach was clenched in knots about why Gold had been so generous. She'd given him information. Information about Emma that she hoped wouldn't come back to haunt her.

The guard’s rough hands grabbed at hers, sparking the fear that was on a semi-continuous simmer in her gut. The lewd comments the guards said back and forth to each other about her and Emma kept her on edge. She tried not to react as he unlocked her cuffs while making suggestions about how he could put the cuffs to better use. She still hadn't decided if they knew she understood their language and were trying to goad her, or if they thought she truly was the stupid American cunt they referred to her as.

The hood was pulled off her head as her second escort unlocked the door to her cell. Emma was slowly getting to her feet, using the wall to push herself up as Regina was pushed roughly inside. Another comment was made and then the door was closed behind her, the lock slamming into place. The ambassador exhaled a sigh of relief.

"Regina?" Emma stumbled towards her, fevered eyes raking over her appearance. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Emma," she said, catching the blonde by the forearms to steady her. She tried a smile and indicated the bag in her hand. "I brought lunch."

Anger flashed briefly in the green eyes before she closed them for several steadying breaths. "Don't ever...don't do that."

"Come on, Miss Swan," Regina tried, "let's sit down."

"No," Emma growled. "Promise me, you won't do that again."

"Do what exactly? What is it that you think I did?"

"Put yourself in harm's way for me." She shook her head and then seemed to regret the motion, slamming her eyes shut. She swallowed thickly. "I am not worth...your life."

The way the blonde swayed in her grasp without even seeming to realize it only reaffirmed Regina's decision. "I will make no such promise, Miss Swan," she said and began guiding the younger woman to sit down whether she wanted to or not. "You are a member of the American Embassy and as such you are my responsibility."

"S'posed to keep you safe." She watched Regina take a seat next to her and mumbled, "'Course I've done a bang up job of that so far."

"You've kept me alive this long, Miss Swan," she said, opening the lunch bag. "I'm simply trying to return the favor."

Emma frowned when a red apple was dropped in her lap. "What's this?"

"Lunch." Regina unwrapped the slightly mushed sandwich and began tearing it in half.

"Not really hungry," Emma said, toying with the apple.

The older woman sighed and snatched the apple out of the blonde’s hands, exchanging it for the bag of chips. Green eyes lit up at the unhealthy snack, causing Regina to shake her head. She had noticed more than once that Emma had horrible eating habits. "Honestly, Miss Swan, you eat like a child."

The blonde gave her a goofy grin and ripped open the small bag of chips. She then proceeded to layer several of the chips on the half of sandwich Regina gave her before taking a bite.

The ambassador pretended not to notice the way Emma's hands trembled. She took a bite of her own portion of sandwich. It was horribly dry but as empty as her stomach felt she thought it tasted pretty damn good. After a few minutes, she gamely broached why she had left in the first place. "Gold has agreed to send for a doctor for you."

Emma lifted her head away from Regina's shoulder not entirely sure when she’d rested it there. Despite her antics, she'd only managed two bites of the sandwich and had been well on her way to passing out again. "Why?"

Regina busied herself with wrapping the remainder of Emma’s sandwich back in the paper it had been stored in. "Because, that so-called graze of yours is infected, and it's making you sick."

"Yeah, I know," Emma finally admitted, looking down at the angry red marks on her arm, "but why would Gold care?" When the ambassador didn't answer her right away, Emma sat all the way up. "Regina? Why does Gold care if I live?"

She exhaled heavily, "He heard President Nolan yell your name when he was torturing you," she gestured towards the burned, blistery skin. "He gathered that she knows you."

Emma’s head dropped back to the wall. "Ffffuuuucccckkkk."

Regina agreed with the sentiment.

"What'd you tell him?"

This was the part Regina wasn’t so keen to admit to. “I told him you were a Marine and had been assigned to my office as part of my protection detail.”

Emma seemed to weigh the information before giving a small shrug. “More or less the truth. I mean, he saw me fighting at my house. He probably already suspected.”

“He did,” Regina admitted, “but that alone doesn’t explain why the president knows you by name.”

The blonde’s eyes were closed and she stayed quiet long enough that Regina wondered if she hadn’t fallen asleep. Then with seemingly some effort, her eyelids fluttered open. “What did you tell him?”

“That you had served on the presidential detail before this assignment, and that’s how she knows you. It’s fairly common knowledge that the president and I have known each other a long time. She assigned you to me when I began receiving threats.”

“That’s good.” Emma nodded before scooting back down the wall to lean against Regina again. She hadn’t protested before. “I can remember that.”

Her answer made Regina frown. There was still so much about this woman that she didn’t know. “Emma, how did you and the president meet?”

She didn’t get an answer as Emma had once again succumbed to her fatigue, her relaxed weight was heavy against the ambassador’s side. Regina gently shifted the blonde so her head rested in her lap; she murmured once then settled.

“One of these days, Miss Swan,” Regina said quietly, combing some of the blonde hair away from the Marine’s face, “you and I will have a complete conversation about your past.”

Emma shivered once as though she’d heard her, but Regina could feel the feverish heat coming off the younger woman’s skin. She dropped her head back against the wall and prayed to anyone who was listening that the doctor came soon.

Chapter Text

The doctor appeared late that night after the sun had already been down for hours. Regina had been half-asleep when she’d heard the lock on their cell door slide open. Adrenalin shot through her expecting nothing good to come into their cell in the dark hours of the night. An old man sporting a salt-and-pepper mustache, wearing a straw cowboy hat that had seen better days was quite literally the last thing she’d been expecting to see walk through the door. He held up an electric lantern and smiled genially at her before he slipped a weathered rucksack off his shoulder and knelt down beside Emma.

Regina flinched when he reached towards the sleeping blonde, pulling Emma tighter against her. “Who are you?”

Emma stirred at the sound of Regina’s voice, eyes opening and jerking awake at the sight of a stranger so close to her. “Whoa! Hey-”

He held up his hands in a sign of pacification. “I’m doctor.”

His English was heavily accented but Regina easily understood him. With a lack of options, she took him at his word and sighed in relief. “Can you help her?”

He nodded and gestured for Emma to lay back down. She did so, watching him warily, tensing when he laid the back of his hand against her cheek. He was looking into her eyes so she asked, “Can you help us?”

He nodded again. “I can help.”

He began to reach for Emma’s upper arm when she caught his wrist with surprising strength. “No. Can you help us?” She felt Regina tense beneath her head. “We’re being held here against our will. Can you-”

The doctor was shaking his head before she finished. He glanced towards the cell door. “No.” He pat the hand she held over his wrist with his free hand. “This,” he gestured to her arm, “I can help. Nothing else.”

Emma tightened her grip. “One phone call. Just one. To any embassy or military base. Tell them we’re here. That’s all. You don’t even have to go there in person.”

He sighed and shook his head. “No.”

Regina laid her hand over Emma’s when she saw the Marine was about to continue arguing. “Emma. Let him go.” She looked at the doctor, ignoring the glare Emma gave her. “We appreciate any help you can give us.”

He nodded again and began rummaging through his bag, producing an unmarked bottle of pills. He shook out two for Emma to take and then handed the bottle to Regina. “Two every six hours.” He glanced at their bare wrists and rocked his hand side to side with a shrug. “More or less.”

Regina felt a small grin pull at the corner of her mouth at Emma’s huff of indignation. Then the doctor pulled out a jar of cream that had both women grimacing when he opened it.

What is that?” Emma asked, her face scrunched up at the god-awful smell.

The old doctor grinned and scooped some of the pinkish paste onto his fingers. “Medicine.”

“Wait. You are not-” Emma hissed and clenched her teeth as he smeared the paste directly onto her burns. She groaned and felt Regina shift beneath her, trying to help keep her still. She felt her arm being moved and then rough, calloused fingers stroked across the burns on the back of her arm. Everywhere the doctor touched felt like he was dragging a knife through her skin…until it didn’t.

Emma opened her eyes in confusion as she realized the pain was fading. She frowned and craned her head to try and see her arm. She couldn’t tell if her skin was growing cold or just plain numb but the throbbing she had been living with constantly was fading dramatically. “Oh. Wow.”

“Wow?” Regina asked.

The doctor chuckled and dabbed a small amount of the paste on each of Emma’s temples before screwing the cap back on and handing the jar to Regina. “As needed.” He pointed at the bottle of pills. “All of them.”

Regina nodded. “I understand.” Emma would take every last one of the damn things if Regina had to shove them down the blonde’s throat.

He regarded them both closely for a few seconds before closing up his bag and gathering his lantern, clearly preparing to leave.

“Thank you,” Regina said hastily when she realized his intent.

Tipping his hat to both of them, he moved towards the door and knocked gently on it. It was opened immediately and Regina knew the guards had been listening.

“No wonder he wouldn’t help us,” Emma muttered already half-asleep against Regina’s thigh.

“He did help us,” Regina argued just as quietly. “Do you feel better?”

“Numb,” she mumbled, eyes already closed. “Some sort of local anastasia maybe…”

“Anesthesia,” the ambassador corrected half-heartedly.

“Yeah, that stuff.”

Regina closed her own eyes and leaned her head back. The sheer terror of meeting with Gold had been worth it. If the pills worked and kept Emma alive, it had all been worth it.

“Regina?”

She cracked open one eye. “Yes?”

“It smells like dead fish in here.”

“That would be your new medicine, dear.”

“Oh.” She paused. “Sorry.”

“Go to sleep, Miss Swan.”

“Mm-kay.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The pills worked. Three days had passed and Emma had gone from lethargic and sick to restless and hungry. She was driving Regina crazy.

“Come on, tell me,” Emma whined.

“I am actively trying to not think about it, Miss Swan. So, no, I will not indulge you.”

The blonde drummed her fingers against her knee in an irregular pattern. “I know what I’m having. Steak.” She closed her eyes as she imagined it. “Perfectly cooked medium rare with sweet potato fries and a side of roasted asparagus.” Then as an afterthought, she added, “And some pancakes.”

Regina shook her head certain she’d misheard. “Pancakes?”

Emma opened her eyes and grinned. “Hell yeah, I could destroy a stack of pancakes right now.”

“Yes, but with a steak dinner?”

“It doesn’t pair with it as well as a good white wine, I know, but still.”

The ambassador grimaced. “Please, Miss Swan, if you’re going to have wine with steak make sure it’s a red.”

Emma nodded thoughtfully. “Then what pairs with white?”

“White pairs well with shellfish. Some poultry or even salad.”

“And which is your favorite?”

The brunette almost answered until she caught the amused green eyes watching her and realized she was playing right into the blonde’s hands. Her eyes narrowed as she growled out, “Roast swan.”

 Emma laughed. “Oh, come on. For a couple of seconds there I had you actually thinking about something besides all this.” She gestured at their surroundings. “You can’t get mad at me for that.”

“I do not wish to discuss food when I’ve barely eaten anything besides granola bars and beef jerky for a week.” She held a hand protectively over her stomach.

“All right,” the younger woman held up her hands. “What about a different subject?  What’s the first thing you want to do when we get out of here?”

“Besides eat?”

Emma nodded. “Something you want besides food.”

“That’s easy,” she admitted. “Take a hot shower and wash my hair.”

“Oh, what about a nice hot bath?” Emma said, warming to the subject.

“No,” Regina dismissed the idea. “I have no desire to soak in filthy water. Shower first and get clean. Then a hot bath.”

“In a jacuzzi.”

“Preferably.”

“Okay, your turn,” Emma said. “You ask me something. Nothing too personal.”

They’d made a rule early on not to discuss personal information that could potentially be used against them. It kept the conversations rather boring in Regina’s opinion, but she understood the reasoning behind it. So far they had covered favorite colors, music, movies, cars, clothes, museums, games, and sports – both to watch and/or play.

Before she could think of a new question, they heard voices in the hall and then someone unlocking their cell. They both scrambled to their feet and stood shoulder to shoulder against the back wall.

“Saved by the bell,” Emma muttered.

Two guards entered the cell carrying hoods and handcuffs while two more guards stood just outside the cell door. “Mister Gold wishes to speak with you.”

Chapter Text

Unlike before, they weren't taken to Gold’s study. The scents of hay and horse were discernible even before the hoods were pulled off, revealing that the women had been brought to the Ranch’s stables. The man himself stood before them with two of his henchmen, including the one that had greeted them the first night, standing behind him. Emma could see another two men standing guard near the barn doors. She glanced around and saw plenty that concerned her including no actual animals being kept in the stables.

“Mister Gold,” Regina greeted, breaking the silence, “thank you for sending the doctor to treat Miss Swan.”

“Of course,” he said, eyes studying the blonde in question, “we had a deal, after all, and I never go back on a deal.” After a moment of uncomfortable study, he looked away from Emma and peered at the ambassador. “You, on the other hand, didn’t fulfill your end of the bargain.”

Emma glanced worriedly between the two and saw Regina’s back stiffen.

“In exchange for medical assistance,” Gold continued, beginning to circle the two women, “you were supposed to tell me all about Miss Swan.”

“I did-”

“I’ll admit,” he spoke over her, “that you did give me some key information that allowed me to find out more about her, but you were less than forthcoming with all the details. Isn’t that so?”

He stopped directly in front of the ambassador. Regina felt her lip curl in distaste. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

His head cocked slightly to the side as he studied her. “Hmm, perhaps you don’t.”  He looked again at Emma before stepping away. “You see, before our little chat regarding Miss Swan’s health, I was having very little luck retrieving Miss Swan’s embassy file through my usual sources. Turns out, I was looking in the wrong place as the Marines keep their information separate from staff. Captain Swan’s information was a little harder to come by.”  He held out a hand and the guard that had been standing behind him handed over a manila folder. Gold opened to the first document inside and held it up, allowing them to see papers with Emma’s military photo and information on it. “But once I knew where to look, it was only a matter of time.”

“How in the hell did you get that?” Regina hissed after a glance at Emma. The blonde’s jaw was locked tight as she glared at the drug lord.

Gold chuckled. “I told you before, Ambassador. This is my country. I own it and everyone in it.” He smiled, showing off a gold tooth. “That includes the two of you.”

Emma snorted and looked away.

“You disagree, Miss Swan?”

“Yeah,” she bit out, “you could say that.”

Regina glared at her. She didn’t disagree, but Emma snapping off an attitude at Gold would help nothing. “I believe what my assistant is trying-”

Gold held up a hand, cutting her off. “Let’s call your assistant who she is. We should be referring to her as Captain Swan, should we not?”  He looked between the two of them. “But then Swan isn’t your real name either. Is it, dearie?”

Regina frowned, wondering what game Gold was up to, but one glance at Emma changed her mind that he was playing a game. The blonde’s expression had gone as hard as concrete and her usually vibrant eyes were a cold, slate color. “Emma, what’s he talking about?”

“Nothing,” she snapped out.

“Oh, I beg to differ.” Gold chuckled. “You see Madam Ambassador, your assistant, Miss Swan, she changed her name when she turned eighteen and joined the Marines.” He looked gleefully at Regina. “Her name used to be Emma. Blanchard.”

Emma jerked against her cuffs and took a step towards Gold before the guard behind her knocked her to her knees with a hit to the back.

“Emma!” Strong hands grabbed hold of Regina before she could move towards the fallen blonde.

Emma pushed herself up from the ground and back to her knees. When the guard moved to hit her again, Gold held him off, allowing her to regain her feet. He squared himself in front of her. “Emma Blanchard, the unacknowledged, unwanted offspring of Senator Leopold Blanchard.” He pulled another piece of paper from the folder. “But your mother still listed him on the birth certificate. You know, before she died.”

Emma lunged at Gold, knocking him off balance before she was sent crashing to the floor again.

Gold stood over her watching dispassionately as two of the guards delivered several kicks ensuring she stayed down this time. “Poor baby Emma put into the foster system when she was only a day old,” he pretended to read from the file. “Even when Daddy dearest was contacted about you being an orphan, he declined wanting anything to do with you. Couldn’t have anything like you tainting his precious career. He left you to the dregs of the foster system.”

“Stop this, Gold,” Regina hissed, tearing her gaze away from the blonde curled into the fetal position on the ground.  

He held up a hand and the men backed off. His cold, dark eyes shifted to the ambassador. “You see Daddy Blanchard didn’t want anything to do with little baby Emma, but when her sister found out about her after Daddy’s death…” he smirked. “Well, I think we all know that Mary Margaret Blanchard-Nolan has a more loving heart than Senator Blanchard ever did.”

“Doesn’t…matter,” Emma struggled back up to her knees.

Gold looked over his shoulder. “What’s that?”

Emma nodded to Regina and the ambassador understood the silent message. “Captain Swan is right." She raised her chin. "This information you've gathered. It means nothing. The United States will not negotiate with you for our release.”

"Of course they will," Gold scoffed. “I have the president’s best friend and hand-picked ambassador.” He gestured to his men, and they hauled Emma to her feet. “I have the president's baby sister.” He sneered, “Oh, I think she’ll negotiate.”

Emma laughed and spit blood onto the floor. “Half-sister. And if you think you can make President Nolan cave to your demands, you have no idea who you’re dealing with.”

“We'll see about that." He closed the folder and dropped his hands behind his back. "I just need to remind her how much she stands to lose.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"String that one up," Gold said, gesturing towards Emma. "We'll start with the ambassador."

His incendiary words lit off a powder keg of movement. Emma stepped back into one of her guards, elbowing him and knocking him off balance long enough that she was able to sweep the legs of her other guard. Strong arms wrapped around Regina from behind and she began thrashing against his hold, the back of her head smacking against teeth and kicking out with her feet. But the two women were handcuffed and outnumbered three to one.

The fight was over before it started.

Regina was not a trained fighter and one solid punch to the side of her head weakened her knees and dazed her into compliance. Her hands were uncuffed from in front of her and quickly recuffed behind her back. By the time she managed to shake off the shadows that had gathered in her head, two of the men were moving her towards a long, low table that ran the length of the back wall. The fear that had been simmering in her mind since the day they'd been captured began to boil over.

"No!" She tried to plant her feet but the men easily dragged her forward. "No! Gold!" She yelled over her shoulder. "Don't do this!"

The grip on her upper arms tightened, pulling her elbows painfully together until they were almost touching. She could hear Emma yelling and cursing behind her. The sound of a fist hitting flesh silenced the younger woman. Regina tried to turn and see the blonde but she barely got her head around before her hip was hitting the edge of the table. Her feet were kicked apart and fear burned through her chest as she was forced to bend over the table.

In that moment, the politician was silenced, and Regina became a wild animal backed into a corner. The two men struggled to keep hold of her. It felt as though knives were plunged into her shoulders as her arms were pushed higher towards her head. She cried out as the full weight of one guard laid across her shoulders and head, pinning her to the splintered wood of the table. Emma was cursing again, and Regina was forced to watch Gold approach her. He was wearing a leather apron over his suit.

He held up a pair of pruning shears with a sharp, curved blade in front of her face. "I warned your president that she would get you back in pieces." He snapped the blades together a few times. "Time to cut the first piece."

He moved out of Regina’s line of sight and the two men tightened their grip. She felt her tears soaking into the wood scraping against her cheek, but she gasped when she felt Gold take hold of her hand. She tried balling her hands into fists but whimpered when her left pinky finger was forcefully straightened. She jerked and fought against their hold. Cold metal slid between her fingers, settling beneath her second knuckle. She heard Gold chuckle and then unimaginable pressure began to cut through skin and into bone.

Regina screamed.

"YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU HURT HER AND I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU, YOU BASTARD!"

Emma was raving and Regina heard her through what felt like a long tunnel. She heard the snick of the blades behind her as they slid against each other and her body went completely limp. She didn't even feel the guards release her; she barely felt herself sliding off the table, sinking towards the shadows. A jolt shuddered through her body as her hip hit the ground first and then white, hot pain shot up her arm and across her entire body as her bloodied, raw hand hit the ground. She tried to roll away from it, tried to control the nausea churning in her gut.

"REGINA? REGINA?! WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO HER?! REGINA!"

Regina forced herself to roll onto her shoulder and protect her hand. Her head dropped to the floor, and she breathed against the dirt on the floor. Her hand throbbed and she felt the slippery wetness spreading across her palm with rivulets rolling down her arm. It itched. "I'm...alive." Her throat choked on the words and she barely heard them herself. She coughed, body clenching against the pain the simple act produced, and tried again. "Emma." She could practically feel the blonde's attention focus in her direction. "I'm alive."

"Of course, you're alive." A booted foot kicked her thigh eliciting a groan. "As you pointed out earlier, you are of more use to me alive than dead."

“Leave her alone, Gold!”

“Oh, don’t you worry, dearie. I haven’t forgotten about you,” Gold called back, wiping his hands off on a rag. “Get the Ambassador a chair. She should have a front row seat for what happens next.”

Regina was hauled to her feet, the room spinning so much that she slumped against the guard holding her arm. Her injured hand brushed against his clothes sending another jolt of pain that clenched her stomach and her heart. If she’d eaten anything more than she had in the past week, she would’ve thrown up on him. He pushed her forwards, and she stumbled back to the main area of the stables.

“Regina?”

The brunette lifted her head when she heard Emma’s voice, and whatever semblance of calm she had managed evaporated. The blonde was standing between two of the stalls, her arms stretched above her head with handcuffs hooked over an iron mount seated into the beam. She was twisting around, desperately trying to look over her shoulder and see the ambassador for herself.

“Emma.”

“You all right?”

Regina shook her head, about to answer when the guard behind her undid her cuffs unexpectedly. She bit down hard on her lip to keep from crying out as her shoulders resettled and her hand was bumped again. Spots danced in her eyes and she blinked repeatedly, sucking in unsteady breaths, trying to convince herself to look at her hands.

“What did they do to you?”

Emma’s growl made her look down at herself. Her hands and arms were a bloody mess. She was shaking as she turned her left hand over and saw the ragged stump where her pinky finger had been. She gagged at the sight; there was a small splinter of bone showing.

“Oh God, Regina…”

Strong hands clamped onto her shoulders and pushed her down onto a chair. She instinctively cradled her hand against her chest, trying to protect it. The blood immediately stained her blouse and she wondered how much more of it she could stand to lose. She was already light-headed. A bandanna was thrown in her lap, and she stared at it in confusion.

“Put pressure on it before you pass out,” Gold said.

She gingerly plucked at the bandanna with her good hand. The lightest touch made her sick and now he expected her to put pressure on it. She didn’t know if she could do it.

“For fuck’s sake,” Gold swore, grabbing the makeshift bandage out of her hand, crumbling it up and jamming it down on Regina’s hand. She cried out even as he moved her other hand to keep hold of the bandage. “Now, keep it like that.” 

“I’m going to fucking kill you, Gold,” Emma growled, drawing the attention back to her, “and I’m going to make sure it hurts, you fucking bastard.”

Gold straightened and unbuttoned the cuffs of his long sleeves. “The ambassador has played her part, Missy. Now it’s your turn.”

Emma watched him roll up his sleeves. He was standing to the side of her, making sure she could see him. She could see Regina’s blood staining his hands and knew whatever he had in store for her wasn’t going to be pleasant. “Take these cuffs off me, Gold, and I’ll show you how to dance.”

He chuckled. “I don’t think so. I quite like you right where you are.”

“Coward.”

The smile disappeared from his face and his eyes turned dark. “You’re going to regret saying that.” He reached into the open stall and pulled out a coiled bullwhip. “I’m sure a woman like you has probably been whipped before, but I can assure you, this won’t be the kind of spanking you’ll enjoy.”

Emma’s lip curled up. “Fuck you.”

“Not interested.” He uncoiled the whip and walked out several paces. “Roll her shirt up and out of the way.”

“Gold,” Regina spoke up, her voice was rough but her gaze followed the whip as he expertly moved it around, “you don’t have to do this. If you want to get the president’s attention, I can assure you, you have it.”

“Your president has refused to take my calls. She’s gone to great pains to try and ignore me for the past week.” He cracked the whip out to the side, making the brunette jump at the sound. “But I think once she sees the video we’ve made of our time here today-”

“You’ve been filming this?” Regina interrupted absolutely sickened at the idea.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Did I forget to tell you?”

“You’re a sick fuck, you know that?”

Gold and Regina both looked towards Emma. The dirty tank top she’d been wearing for a week was rolled up to her shoulders and her bra was jammed up to her armpits. Her bare back and side were littered with faded blue and yellowing bruises.

“I think we’ll start off easy today.” Gold cracked the whip out to the side again. “Two strokes for every day that your president has ignored me. Madam Ambassador, if you’d be so kind as to keep count for us.”

Regina’s head jerked around. “Wha-”

The whip whistled through the air and split open skin upon impact. Emma hissed through her teeth, hands jerking against the cuffs.

“If you don’t count, Ambassador,” Gold said, resetting his feet for the next strike, “I’ll continue until I can’t raise my arm.”

The ambassador counted to seven before her assistant screamed.

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night, but Regina didn't sleep; her head rested against the cool wall of their cell, aching eyes closed, but sleep wouldn't come. She was exhausted and couldn't remember a time when she'd felt as tired and worn out as she did now. Her hand throbbed and the bandanna wrapped around it was soaked through. She held it protectively against her chest above her heart. The smell of blood permeated their cell. Regina rested her good hand on Emma's shoulder where the younger woman was passed out, her head lying against Regina's thigh. The cris-cross pattern of blood stripes on the back of the blonde's dirty tank top had all bled together making the shirt appear to be made of a black-red fabric.

Gold hadn't stopped at fourteen strikes.

"Fourteen!" Regina counted. "Stop! For God's sake stop!"

Emma was still conscious, but her head hung down and her legs had given out on her. Her whole body trembled as she hung limply from the restraints. She'd gone silent after twelve strikes.

Gold pulled the whip through his hand, slicking blood off of it and flinging it away. "There's just one last thing, Ambassador."

Regina barely heard him, her focus on Emma, watching her try to get her feet under her.

The whip cracked through the air; Emma cried out as it laid an unexpected stripe across her back.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!” A strong hand slammed Regina back into the chair when she tried to stand.

“Focus, dear.” Gold snapped and the guard that had been recording Emma’s torture handed Regina an index card. “I want you to read that to the camera.”

The words on the card blurred together and Regina had to concentrate to read them. It was a request to the president, a paragraph of lies begging the president to save her people and acknowledge Gold’s position. It finished with the promise that Regina and Emma would endure harsher treatment the longer the president waited.

Regina looked up at him. She saw from the corner of her eye that she was being recorded. She dropped the index card to the ground. “No.”

The corner of Gold’s mouth pulled upwards in a smirk. “I thought you might say that.” He stepped back and readied the whip. The lash bit into the marred skin of Emma’s back again.

“Emma!”

Gold struck the blonde again. “Let me know when you change your mind, Ambassador.”

“Don’t!” Emma yelled, surprising them all.

Gold hesitated. “What’s that, dearie?”

There was a low chuckle of pained laughter as Emma used the wall to try and steady herself. “Don’t.”

“Don’t. What?”

She craned her head around, looking over her shoulder at Regina. “Don’t do…what he wants.”

“I have to,” Regina admitted breathlessly, “I can’t just sit here-”

“Yes. You can.”

“So noble,” Gold sneered and let the whip fly through the air.

Regina tried to turn away, but she was forced to watch as another six blows landed before Emma finally fell unconscious. “Stop.”

The drug lord looked over at her.

“I’ll do it,” Regina said quietly. “I’ll read whatever you want me to read. Just…stop.”

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

And so she’d begged. She’d looked straight into the camera and begged the president to save them. She'd admitted that she'd handled the relationship between the embassy and Gold poorly and recommended Gold's agenda as a suitable contract for the embassy to pursue in the future. She’d promised that she and Emma would suffer even more if the president did not act.

Regina hoped like hell Mary Margaret never saw the video.

Emma stirred against her thigh and Regina looked down at her. The blonde groaned and started to move.

“No, Emma, don’t move,” she urged, gently pushing the younger woman to settle again. “Shhh, just stay still.”

“That…sucked.”

Regina quickly wiped away a tear of relief that escaped and felt herself chuckling at her assistant's gallows humor. “Yes, it did.”

“I lost count,” Emma said, her voice hoarse. “How long did I last?”

“Twenty-four.”

“Good. I was hoping…for an even two dozen.” She was quiet for a few moments. Then, “You stopped him, didn’t you?”

Regina brushed Emma’s hair back behind her ear. They weren’t in a position to really look at each other, but she could tell the younger woman’s eyes were open. “Yes,” she admitted. “I had to.”

“Yeah,” Emma said tiredly. “I know.” 

“He would’ve…” the ambassador’s voice broke. She took a deep breath. “He wasn’t going to stop.”

Emma felt Regina’s hand squeeze her shoulder, and she reached up and covered it with her own. She winced at the movement, but it was worth it when fingers moved to grip her own. “Thank you, Regina.”

“For what?”

“Stopping him. Saving me.”

The hand holding hers squeezed but no words were spoken. Emma didn’t mind. She was quickly losing the fight to remain conscious. She had just closed her eyes when she heard the ambassador’s whisper.

“I’m sorry. I'm so sorry for all of this.”

Emma wanted to tell her it wasn’t her fault, that she didn’t blame her, but the shadows dragged her under before she could offer reassurance.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The following day passed with minimal movement from either of them. They’d both slept on and off. Regina had insisted on using the last of the fish lotion on Emma’s back. When Emma had tried to get Regina to use it, the brunette had refused. They’d fought over Regina undoing the makeshift bandage swaddling her hand. Regina insisted she was fine, and Emma insisted she needed to clean it.

“Do you want to end up as sick as I was?” Emma tried. “I can do it for you. Just keep me steady; I don't want to roll over.” When the older woman still hesitated, she gentled her voice. “You don’t have to see it, Regina.” Startled brown eyes found hers. “You can close your eyes or just look away. I’ll take care of it.”

Slowly, Regina moved her hand across her body closer to where Emma was propping herself up on one elbow. Emma could feel her trembling. “It’s a good thing we aren’t trying to do stitches,” Emma joked, trying to lighten the mood.

“Why?” Regina asked quietly, surprising the blonde.

Emma looked up at her and saw she had her eyes closed. “The way both of us are shaking we’d be a mess. There wouldn’t be a straight line in sight.”

It was true. Emma was shaking from her effort to remain upright. Her back was screaming at her for every minuscule movement she made, but she needed to help Regina. “So, is it the sight of blood that makes you ill?”

Regina shook her head. “Not helping, Miss Swan.”

“Oh, right. Oops.” She began unwrapping the bandanna. The outer folds were stiff with dried blood. “Well, it’s your turn to ask me a question. What do you want to know?” She glanced up to check how the older woman was faring. Her lips were pressed into a tight, thin line. “You can ask me anything.”

“Anything?” the brunette groaned as Emma began unsticking the bandage from raw skin.

“Yeah. Sure. Gold has my entire file so I think our personal question rule can come off the table.”  She tightened her hold on Regina’s wrist, keeping her in place. “I’m going to pour some water over your hand. This is going to hurt.”

Regina nodded jerkily and then screamed deep in her throat, keeping her jaws clenched tight.

“You’re doing good, stay with me,” Emma said quickly. “Just keep those eyes closed.” She did what she could for the grisly injury which wasn’t much. “Okay, just stay still, don’t move. Keep your hand right where it is.”

Regina nodded tightly, holding perfectly still as Emma tried to wash out the bandanna as best she could. “Are you thinking of a question? Got something in mind to ask me?”

“Yes,” the brunette ground out after a few minutes of very deep breaths.

Emma had the bandanna ready to rewrap the hand. She swore under her breath. Even if Gold didn’t kill them, surely infection would. “Okay, keep that question in your mind and be ready to ask it. Don’t forget, okay?”

“I know you are trying to distract me, Miss Swan.” Regina sounded like her molars were grinding together. "Please just get on with it."

“Right.” Emma laid the bandanna as gently as she could on the raw, exposed wound and saw the ambassador tense up. Once it was in place, she quickly folded it over and began to tighten it down.

The ambassador slapped the floor with her free hand. “Fuck!”

Emma was so shocked by the curse falling from the politician’s lips she stopped what she was doing to look up at the woman.

Emma!”

“Right! Sorry!” She hurriedly finished tying off the bandage. “There! Done.”

Exhausted, they both collapsed. Regina leaned against the wall and Emma laid against her. The ambassador slowly settled her hand back into her lap. After a few minutes of simply trying to breathe through the throbbing, she managed, “Thank you.”

The blonde patted her leg clumsily, her own pain making her want to either climb the walls or sleep for a week. “Did you…keep hold of your question?”

“Nap first,” Regina said, already halfway to unconsciousness. “Question later.”

“Oh, thank God.”

Chapter Text

It was dark out before both women were awake again at the same time. They both needed to move and they both groaned and cursed as they shifted around. Once they were again settled, bodies throbbing in pain, Emma said, “Okay, hit me.”

“What?”

“Your question. I mean, I hope it’s something better than my favorite color because I could really use a distraction right about now.”

“Fine.” Regina shifted her weight to a slightly different angle. “How did you and Mary Margaret meet?”

Emma groaned. "Oh, come on. You've heard this story."

"I've heard this story without context," Regina argued, "and I've only heard Mary Margaret's version which we both know can be a bit..."

"Flowery."

"I was going to say exaggerated, but flowery works." When it looked like Emma was still going to protest, she started the narrative for her. "According to Mary, you saved her life."

"Okay, stop. I didn't..." Emma exhaled a frustrated breath. "I mean when you say it like that it sounds like I stepped in front of a bullet for her, and that's not what happened."

"But there was a gun involved."

"Yes," the blonde growled half-heartedly, "but it was just a stupid kid."

"Stupid kids can still pull triggers."

"I doubt it was even loaded."

"You didn't know that at the time."

"Hey, do you want to hear this story or not?"

"Yes." Regina smirked. "And please, start at the beginning."

"Well, you heard what Gold said about M&M learning about me as her sister and wanting-"

"Wait," Regina stopped her. "Did you just call the President of the United States, M&M?"

"Oh? Yeah." Emma grinned. "She hates it."

The brunette chuckled and filed the nickname away for a rainy day. "Very well, continue."

"Yeah, so anyway, apparently on his death bed, good old Leo confessed about me to Mary Margaret," Emma explained. "And I mean, confessed to everything. He'd kept tabs on me my whole life. The bastard even knew where I lived."

"I never liked that man," Regina admitted. "The one good thing my mother did while raising me was warn me to never be alone in a room with that man."

Emma grimaced at the implication. "Ew."

"Indeed."

The blonde frowned and tried looking up at the ambassador. "You didn't get along with your mother?"

"She was a very difficult woman," the brunette admitted tightly, then lightly slapped Emma's shoulder. "But I believe you were telling me a story."

"Ow, I'm injured here, you know." When she received only a raised eyebrow, she settled back down. "Anyway, as I was saying, M&M learned all about me the day her father died. Now, you know how she gets." She paused and got a very knowing nod from the brunette. "She was consumed with guilt and right after the funeral she set out to find me, and I do mean right after. She was wearing an all-black suit when I met her."

"And where was that?"

"As it turns out, I was on temporary duty at the Pentagon at the time, and she was in town for Senator Leo's funeral." Emma frowned. "Wait, were you there?"

"At the funeral?” She received a nod. “No, thankfully, I was on assignment in Belize at the time."

Emma nodded. "Anyway, to get away from the assigned quarters for a while, I was staying with a friend that lived in the area. The only problem was that he lived out on the eastern part of the Green line."

"Oh!" Regina understood immediately why it was a problem. The D.C. metro's green line was notorious for being the most dangerous part of the metro system.

"Exactly! And Mary Margaret in full-on grieving and guilt mode wandered out there by herself!"

"She was the governor of Maine at the time!" Regina exclaimed. "She should've had protection traveling with her."

"Yeah, well, apparently she gave them the slip at the funeral and hopped on the metro so she could go and find her baby-sister."

Regina pinched the bridge of her nose. "That woman..."

"So there I am, coming home for the evening, I step off the platform and not two blocks away I run into M&M getting held up by some punk kid. It was like a scene straight out of Batman; he already had her wallet but he wanted her jewelry, too."

"If I'm remembering my Batman lore correctly," Regina interrupted, "the Waynes were killed during their robbery."

Emma craned her head around to see the older woman. "You know Batman?!"

"Everyone knows Batman," she said, blushing slightly. "I was merely pointing out that you and Mary are both alive so it's not a very accurate comparison."

"Yeah, well, luckily the kid was so nervous he never saw me approaching him from behind," she said. "I knocked him on his ass, probably broke his wrist when I disarmed him, took back M&M's stuff, and let him run off." She rolled her eyes. "And M&M declared that I saved her life."

"And that's how the two of you met?"

"Yeah, so get this. I try to hand her wallet back to her and she's just staring at me all wide-eyed and slack jawed. I thought maybe she was going into shock but then she said my name. She knew my name," Emma repeated. "She recognized me because Leo had a whole freaking file on me including pictures."

Regina frowned. "That's..."

"Freaky, right?  Like class A stalker, creepster freaky.” She paused briefly. “Not at all sad that bastard is dead."

The brunette couldn't say she disagreed. "I have to admit that I didn't think Mary Margaret was able to keep any secrets from me."

Emma laughed. "Right? Like, you know classified stuff and state secrets, she's good to go, but anything personal for her and there are just no filters on that woman."

"I grew up with her," Regina said, tiredly. "Believe me, I know." She loved Mary Margaret, but she'd learned early on not to tell her anything until she was ready for others to know it as well. She wasn't malicious about telling things, she was usually just trying to help, but the road to hell and all that. "So, why then are you the one thing she kept secret?"

"This." Emma gestured to their surroundings, wincing when she moved too much doing so. "At first I wanted nothing to do with her, but she can wear a person down. Eventually, I got used to her, but then found out she was considering running for president. If I was a relative of the president, there goes my career in special ops." She sighed. "Her name isn't listed anywhere in my file. Never figured someone would go looking for my old birth certificate and connect the dots."

Regina growled. "I really want to know how Gold got those files."

“You and me both.”

Chapter Text

Emma jerked awake and froze. There was only the palest of steel light at the window indicating the earliest hours of morning. She was lying on her stomach, arms folded over each other for a pillow. The only sound was Regina’s quiet breathing as the older woman was curled into her side. Emma held her breath, eyes searching every corner of the cell that she could see. Nothing was amiss and still she waited. Something had woken her.

Then she heard it. She closed her eyes to try and listen more closely. Quick, quiet footsteps right outside the door of their cell. More than one person moving past it. Her heart beat sped up. Every combat instinct she had was on alert. Things were about to move very quickly and she didn’t know yet if it was for good or bad.

She reached to her side and shook Regina’s arm. The brunette woke quickly, never sleeping very deep, and frowned at her. Emma wasn’t looking at her; she was concentrating solely on the door and the sounds beyond it.

Regina looked between Emma and the door. She didn’t know what held the Marine’s interest. She whispered, “Emma, what is it?”

"Get ready."

"Be more specific."

Emma actually grinned at the ambassador showing up in Regina's voice. "Stay calm and keep your hands where they can see them."

"Miss Swan-"

She was cut off from saying anything more by a crunch of metal and the door to their cell being swung open. Two men in full tactical gear swept into the room while a third maintained position by the door. "Clear."

One of the men knelt beside Emma and lifted his night goggles up from his face. "Ambassador Mills. Captain Swan. We're here to take you home."

Emma heard Regina gasp beside her and felt the hand that was on her shoulder tighten.

"Can you walk, ma'am?"

Emma pushed up from the floor on shaking arms, gritting her teeth as the torn skin on her back pulled and stretched. "I'll damn sure walk out of here." She felt Regina slip under her arm on her left side, offering support. "Do we have time? Is the area secure?"

"We secured the area with extreme prejudice, ma’am." The Marine shifted his rifle and offered her support on her right side. “We have time.”

She waved him off; he was too tall. Regina was enough for her. "Lead the way."

"The Queen and Knight are secure. ETA for extraction: three minutes," the Marine at the door was reporting over his headset as the two women limped past him and out of the cell. He gave them both a respectful nod.

They hesitated in the hall outside the cell. The bodies of two of their guards lay on either side of the door. Then the extraction team was moving, escorting them to the end of the rough hallway that opened up into the stable area. Regina felt Emma's weight shift against her and she saw the blonde staring at the area where she'd been strung up and whipped. She nudged the younger woman. "Come on."

Emma grunted and stepped with her towards the weak light of morning. Regina had no desire to look around at all and kept her focus on putting one foot in front of the other. The team leader held up his hand at the opened doors, halting everyone.

"Thirty seconds."

The pause left Regina feeling completely and utterly exposed, standing and waiting. She wished she had the pistol Emma had given her what felt like a lifetime ago. She wanted to know she had some way to defend herself if they suddenly came under attack again. The fear at being so close to freedom but still being held back was a beast that was desperately trying to claw its way out of her chest.

"Hey." Emma bumped her hip like she knew somehow that Regina was spiraling. "They secured this place with extreme prejudice. We’re safe."

Regina blinked, trying to process what the blonde was telling her. "Gold?"

"Dead, ma'am," one of the Marines answered from beside her.

Emma chuckled over the wash and roar of the helicopter arriving. "Don't call her ma'am. She hates that."

With her arm still over the older woman's shoulder and the brunette's hand still wrapped in a bloody bandanna, they limped their way between the escort of Marines and onto the helicopter. When it lurched back into the air and began to climb in altitude, Emma finally relaxed. She felt Regina trembling beside her and grasped the ambassador’s good hand. Regina squeezed her hand in return. Within minutes, they were both passed out in exhausted relief.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The painkillers they administered to Regina during the flight home had kept her knocked out. When she woke, she had no idea what time it was or even what day. Blinking at her surroundings, she didn't even know where she was. She was in a hospital room if the monitors, IV drip, and bed rails were any indication, but she didn't know which one. The only thing she did know was that she recognized the person that appeared to be asleep sitting in the chair next to her bed.

She swallowed a few times, trying to moisten her throat. “David?”

The dark blonde head shot up as the man blinked blearily. When he saw Regina awake and looking at him, his face broke into an easy smile. “Hey, you.” He stood up and leaned over to kiss the top of her head. “You gave us quite a scare. How do you feel?”

“Tired,” she admitted easily. “Where’s Emma?”

“She’s in the room next door.” He almost reached for her hand but stopped himself and patted her leg instead. “Mary Margaret is sitting with her.”

“And is she…all right?”

“She’s going to be fine.” He smiled again and she could see the brotherly love he felt for the younger woman. “They’ve got her on some pretty high pain killers right now so she’s pretty knocked out.” He cleared his throat. “They had to do a lot of work on her back. She’ll probably need some skin grafts on it later.”

Regina picked at a loose string on the hospital blanket. “Anything else?”

“A few cracked ribs, some tears in her shoulder,” he looked down at the bed, “and her arm, of course. She’s going to have to put in some physical therapy time to repair the damage to her muscles. She can consider cosmetic surgery down the road for the burns, if she wants.”

Regina nodded stiffly. “Were there any other casualties from the embassy?”

David hedged, “We don’t have to talk about this now.”

She’d expected nothing less from the first gentleman. “Please, tell me, David. I need to know.”

He exhaled heavily. “There were seven Marines and two members of the embassy staff killed. A dozen or so non-life threatening injuries.”

“Any other hostages?” Her throat was tight and she had to force the words out.

“No,” he said, “only you and Emma.”

She nodded again; it seemed to be the only motion she was capable of that wouldn’t break her control. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Regina,” he said softly when she didn’t say anything else, “you haven’t even asked about your own injuries.”

“I assume I’m still missing a finger, yes?” she said, stiffly.

“Yes, they want to do surgery on it as soon as possible to…clean it up,” he answered. “You also have a broken wrist.”

“What?” Her eyes finally met his again before looking down at her heavily bandaged hand. She couldn’t even feel it. It was only then she noticed thick gauze wrapped around her right wrist as well.

“You had deep lacerations and bruising on both wrists,” he said, swallowing thickly. “Given the traumatic nature of the injury, the doctors guessed you might not have even felt the break.”

“I…didn’t,” she admitted, remembering the way she’d fought against the cuffs and the cold, dry feel of Gold’s hands wrapping around hers. She sucked in an unsteady breath to try and banish away the memory.

“Regina?”

“David, I’d like…” she closed her eyes, swallowing thickly. “I’d like to have a few moments alone, please.”

He hesitated then nodded. “Okay.” He stood up. “I’ll let Mary Margaret know you’re awake.” He leaned down and kissed her head again. “So glad you’re back with us and safe.”

She nodded against his gentle touch and waited for him to leave the room before leaning her head back against the pillows. She exhaled a shuddering breath and tried to blink away the tears building in her eyes. She brought her good hand up and wiped them away but more followed. Her vision blurred completely with the onslaught and her shoulders began to shake uncontrollably. She didn’t hear when Mary Margaret entered her room, but when the smaller woman sat on the bed and pulled her into a hug, Regina wrapped her hand in the president’s jacket and held on with all the strength she possessed.

Chapter Text

Regina stood at the side of her hospital bed, wrapped in a robe she’d had brought to her from home, and gave David a half-hearted glare. “I am not an invalid.”

He set the brakes on the wheel chair. “Hospital policy.”

She eyed it with disdain. “I can walk more easily from here to her room than I can roll a wheelchair.”

“I’m going to push you, your Majesty.” He’d found great amusement in the code name she’d been assigned by the Marines at the embassy. “Have a seat.”

Reluctantly, she sat down. “How is she?”

“Fidgety,” he answered easily, pulling her backwards. “She’s ready to get out of bed but the doctors don’t want her moving around for another day or so.”

Regina remembered the incessant finger drumming and toe tapping Emma did for hours once she was feeling better. There were many reasons to be thankful their imprisonment only lasted as long as it did.

“Oh, fuck you, August!”

Regina’s eyebrows raced up her forehead at the cursing she could hear coming from Emma’s room as they approached. She looked up at David and he shrugged. “Mary Margaret couldn’t stay with her all day.”

There was a distinct chuckle of male laughter when they pushed beyond the curtain that was shielding Emma’s ICU room from prying eyes. A scruffy looking man who was still shaking his head sat in a chair on the far side of Emma’s hospital bed. Knowing blue eyes looked up and his face settled into a satisfied smirk. “Ah, you have visitors.”

Emma was lying on her stomach; she turned her head against the pillow to see who had come into the room. Her face broke into a smile. “Regina!”

When the ambassador didn't immediately answer, David easily filled the silence, giving her a moment. "Hello to you, too."

The amount of bandages across Emma’s bared back had taken him by surprise the first time he’d seen them, too. He parked the wheelchair as close to the bed as possible, subtly bumping Regina as he did so.

The brunette blinked and found Emma’s eyes. She managed a brittle smile. “Miss Swan.”

Emma stretched out a hand towards her former boss. “I’m fine, Regina.”

“No, you’re not,” she argued automatically, taking the offered hand in her own and clasping it tightly, “but I am very glad to see you.” She sniffed and blinked a few times before looking over Emma’s shoulder at the man quietly talking to David. “It sounded like you were having an interesting discussion when we walked in. I hope we weren’t interrupting.”

“Oh, you heard that?” Emma colored slightly. “Yeah, uhm, it was nothing.”

“Not nothing,” the man said, smiling.

Emma sighed. “Ambassador Mills meet August Booth, foster brother, former Marine, and current pain in my ass.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ambassador,” he said politely with a dip of his head. “Please ignore my sister’s insults against my character. I was merely following orders from a higher authority.”

Regina raised an eyebrow in question. Emma rolled her eyes. “Mary Margaret left fairly strict instructions.”

“Instructions regarding what?”

“Ensuring Emma doesn't escape the hospital,” August supplied, “and no bringing in contraband for her.”

“Contraband?”

“Coffee,” Emma growled. “I wanted coffee, but someone didn’t trust me enough to leave and go get some.”

“I wonder why that is,” August said, tapping his finger against his chin. “Oh, right, because maybe you’ve pulled that trick on me before.”

“You have been known to disappear, Emma,” David said, crossing his arms over his chest. “You have a habit of checking yourself out.”

“Or telling us you were released by the doctor when you really weren’t,” August added.

“Or leaving before a doctor could even examine you.”

“Where am I going to go?!” Emma snapped, releasing Regina’s hand and hitting the bed with it. “I don’t even have a shirt! It’s not like I’m going to-”

“Gentlemen,” Regina interrupted smoothly, the perfect politician voice cutting Emma off as she growled into her pillow, “would you please be so kind as to go and get two coffees for us.” She did feel bad for the blonde. “I can assure you, that Miss Swan and I will both be here when you return.”

When August looked like he was going to object, Regina added, "I will take the president's wrath for any contraband being brought in."

David clapped August on the shoulder. “Come on.”

“She likes two sugars in her coffee,” Emma said, lifting her head, “no salt.”

August frowned at the instructions but followed David out of the room. Emma exhaled a huge sigh and buried her face back in the pillow, mumbling something.

Regina caught herself smiling at the younger woman’s antics. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

The blonde turned her head so she could see her visitor once again. “I assume you meant what you said and won’t help me leave.”

“I’m afraid I won’t,” she admitted. “It’s only one more day, Miss Swan. Then you’ll be able to get up and move around.”

“I don’t actually work for you anymore.” She adjusted her pillow with more violence than it required. “You can call me Emma.”

“Of course.” She looked down at her lap. “More habit I suppose then anything. Emma.”

Silence fell awkwardly between them.

“When do you-” “Did they tell-” 

They both spoke at once and then stopped at the same time. Flustered brown eyes met amused green ones.

Emma’s smile was easy. “When do you get to leave?”

“The hospital?” Regina received a nod. “Tomorrow.” She raised her cast-covered hand. “I have to come back in a month or so and have surgery.”

“So, you’ll get to have that bath you wanted tomorrow then.”

Regina thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I suppose so.” A wistful smile pulled at her mouth. “As soon as you’re able, I’ll take you out for that steak dinner you wanted.”

“And pancakes.”

“Of course, pancakes,” the brunette agreed easily.

Emma waited a beat. “What were you going to ask me?”

“Hmmm? Oh.” She’d already started thinking about restaurants that would serve a good steak as well as pancakes. The list was rather short, but she was sure she could pull a few strings. “Did Mary Margaret tell you how they found us?”

“No.” Emma was immediately interested.

“The doctor.”

“No way!”

Regina nodded. “Apparently, he listened to you. He waited a couple of days for it to be safe I suppose, but then he drove into the city, bought a burner phone, and called the F.B.I.”

“The F.B.I.? Why?”

“He’d seen their hotline on a television show,” she said, laughing lightly. “He told them about a ranch he’d gone to where he treated two American women, said it was about a hundred miles east of the city. He explained the layout of it and which building we were in.”

“That old buzzard.” Emma was astonished. “Do they know who he is? What’s his name?”

“No, he refused to meet with anyone. In fact, he hung up on them when they started asking too many questions.” She shrugged. “Thankfully, they took the information seriously and were able to find what they thought was the ranch. There were two heat signatures exactly where he’d said we would be and we weren’t moving around much. They were discussing options for further verification when…”

Emma knew why Regina’s voice trailed off. “When they received the video.”

Regina nodded, cleared her throat. “Yes.”

Mary Margaret had told Emma a little about it. The video of their torture had been posted on a site that was well monitored by the intelligence agencies. It was deemed to be authentic. The staff had not wanted the president to see it, but she’d insisted. She’d cleared the office of any non-essential personnel and viewed the video in its entirety.

“After they saw that,” Regina said tightly, “the plan for extraction came together rather quickly.”

Emma chuckled darkly. “The villain got caught monologuing.”     

The brunette frowned at the apparent non sequitur. “Pardon?”

“Gold and his stupid video. They gave away so much information with it,” Emma explained. “The video showed parts of the building we were in, the number of guards, what weapons they were carrying, the layout. The analysts were probably able to go back and verify the time and date of the heat signatures. When we were out of our cell and when we were back in it.”  Her expression was dark and humorless. “They buried themselves.”

Regina blinked. She hadn’t even considered or thought about any of that but she supposed it was true. However, if the extraction team had known precisely where they were on the ranch, it didn’t explain why they had swept through the main house, killing Gold. She wasn’t upset they had, but she looked up and found Emma watching her closely. “What?”

“Gold attacked American soil, killed Marines, and kidnapped you,” Emma said having watched the confusion cross the ambassador’s features. “I told you once before Marines have a long memory, and they don’t like getting thumped. Mary Margaret is a solid politician and leader, but you don’t mess with the people she cares about. After that video was sent out, Gold was a dead man.”

Understanding dawned and cleared anyway any lingering questions Regina may have been considering. “Extreme prejudice.”

Emma nodded. “Semper Fi.”

Chapter Text

Regina knew it was coming and still she flinched when the shots were fired. Seven Marines in their dress uniforms were firing three rounds each for a twenty-one gun salute. She stiffened for the second and third volleys. She was seated on the small stage next to David and Mary Margaret for the memorial ceremony. Emma was in the first row of the audience; her dress uniform resplendent in the late afternoon sun.

The president had given a speech and then as the fallen embassy’s ambassador, Regina had been asked to say a few words. She'd praised the Marines for their steadfast loyalty and fierce determination. With a silent nod she had acknowledged Emma in particular; the captain had made her promise not to do much else. As usual, Mary Margaret had managed to draw enough unwanted attention to both of them.

There was a reception for the families in an empty hangar following the service. Regina was absently rubbing the protective brace she wore over her left hand when she felt someone join her. She didn't even have to look to know who it was, but she did drop her hand down to her side. "Did the president leave?"

"Yep." Emma sipped from a water bottle, her service cover tucked under one arm. "She spoke with all the families before the service."

"I know." Regina had been there. Many of the families had spoken to her as well. In the self-sacrificing way that most military families seemed to be, the people she'd talked to had been offering her support and told her how glad they were that she was all right.

"We shouldn't even be surprised, really," Emma said, looking out at the dwindling crowd. "I mean, it was just M&M being M&M."

Regina glanced over her shoulder to ensure they were alone, but she still lowered her voice. "Doesn't mean I don't want to strangle her."

The blonde took another sip of water to hide her grin. "It's a good photo." She shrugged at the incredulous look she knew was receiving. "I mean, if it wasn't a picture of us...I'd probably like it."

The picture in question was taken by a Marine during their rescue from the ranch. Emma and Regina were at the center of it, their backs to the camera, framed between two columns of Marines. The blonde's arm was draped over the ambassador's shoulders while Regina's arm was extended around the captain's waist. The back of Emma's shirt was stained red and the bandage wrapped around Regina's left hand was darkened by the same. A helicopter waited in the distance to bring them home. Mary Margaret had dubbed the photo 'Perseverance'.

"At least you have on shoes in the picture," Emma grumbled finally drawing a light chuckle from Regina.

"At least, we managed to keep her from unveiling it in a special ceremony," the ambassador admitted.

"Truth."

As Emma looked across the hangar at where the photo was displayed with other items from the embassy, Regina took the opportunity to study the younger woman. They'd been in touch and seen each other occasionally since the hospital, but this was the first time she'd seen her former assistant up close in more than a month. "You look tired, Miss Swan."

"Yeah, well that makeup doesn't exactly cover up the dark circles under your eyes either, Ambassador." The blonde grunted then tossed her empty water bottle into a near-by trash can. "You ready to get out of here?"

Regina glanced around and deemed that she'd been present long enough. She nodded and followed the captain out of the hangar, watching as the Marine carefully put her cover back on without disturbing her elaborate knot of blonde hair. She slipped on a pair of aviator sunglasses to complete the ensemble and Regina found herself chuckling.

Emma grinned at her. "What?"

The ambassador put her own pair of designer shades on and shook her head. "It's just I've never seen you look so...Marine."

The blonde straightened and brushed imaginary dust off the ribbons she wore on the left side of her chest. "We dress to impress, Ambassador."

They approached the dark sedan that was Regina's car service and her driver opened the back door for her. "Can we give you a lift somewhere, Captain?"

"Sure." Emma circled the car to the other side. "Thanks."

Once they were settled in the car and leaving the airfield, Regina asked, "Where are we headed?"

"Base hotel." At the surprised look, Emma shrugged. "August accepted a contractor position in Phuket. He left last week. I've still got a few medical clearances left to pass this week before I can be considered operational again so I figured I'd stay on base for a few days."

Regina frowned. "I wish I had known that." The idea that Emma was staying on her own didn't sit well with her. "You could...come stay with me."

Emma was only half-listening as she scrolled through notifications on her phone. "Yeah." She chuckled. "Okay." When there was no immediate reply, she looked up and found Regina studying her with a raised eyebrow. "I'm sorry." She shut off her phone. "What were you saying?"

The brunette eyed her for another moment before facing the front of the car. "I have plenty of room at my home. You are welcome to come and stay there so you don't have to stay...here." She gestured at the plain brown building they were arriving at that was the base hotel.

"I, uh...thank you," Emma flushed slightly, "but, uh, no. I, uhm..." She swallowed and shook her head. "Probably not a good idea."

"Why not?" Regina asked, slightly taken aback at the unexpected answer.

The blonde chuckled but it was a nervous exhalation and her hand was already reaching for the door handle. "I'm just...I'm used to being on my own, but I appreciate the invite, really." She stepped out of the car and then leaned back inside. "You want to get dinner later this week?"

"Of course," Regina answered easily, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was off.

Emma thumped the top of the car. "Cool, I'll give you a call."

She started to leave but Regina called her back, "Miss Swan?"

She ducked back down. "Yeah?"

"Is everything all right?"

The easy smile disappeared. "I'm fine."

Chapter Text

Before Regina ever opened her eyes, it was the smell that took her breath away. The scent of old wood, leather tack, and hay. It could have been any one of a hundred stables she had stepped foot in throughout her life, but she knew it wasn't. She opened her eyes and found herself back in that same foreign barn that held no horses. Her breath came in a shuddering inhale as she looked around. Everything was exactly as she remembered. The double doors of the stable standing open, the far corner with a long table shrouded in shadow, and an iron hook seated heavily into the wood between two of the stalls. Her gaze as always was drawn towards the rust-red splatters beneath the hook.

"We had a deal, Ambassador."

Regina spun around. Where she had been alone moments before, she now found Mr. Gold and four of his faceless minions between her and the open doors. Shadows moved on her other side and she knew her escape was now completely blocked. She closed her eyes and dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand, trying to drag herself out of the memory. "This isn't real."

"Reg-ina. Help..."

Her eyes flew open and found Mr. Gold standing directly in front of her. He smirked, his gold tooth showing in his glee. "Turn around, dearie."

She didn't move until he grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to see the body of her assistant strung up between the stalls. "Emma!"

The blonde didn't react. She hung limply by her wrists; her head was bowed down with her chin touching her chest. The dress uniform that had been in pristine condition at the memorial service now hung on her in bloody tatters.

"What have you done?" Regina growled.

“Oh, I haven’t done anything,” Gold chuckled, his hands stroking down her arms. "You did this."

"No!" She gasped as she looked down and saw the whip clutched in her own hand. She tried to drop it but her fingers wouldn't uncurl from the grip. Gold put his hand over hers and began to draw her arm back to deliver another strike. He pressed his body against her back and she felt his hot breath ghost over her ear. "Answer your phone, Ambassador."

“Wha-”

Regina shot up to a sitting position, gasping for breath. She stared wildly around her empty bedroom before looking down at her perfectly clean manicured hands. She jumped when the silence of her room was shattered by her phone ringing. She scrambled to grab for it, glaring at the display showing an unknown number while the clock flashed at her that it was three in the morning. With a shaking hand, she accepted the call. “Amb- Regina Mills speaking.”

“Oh, Regina, thank God! I was so worried you wouldn’t answer at this time of night from an unknown number!”

“Madam President?!” Her covers were twisted around her feet and she was damp all over with sweat. She wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t still dreaming.

“For Pete’s sake, Regina. Do you really think I’m calling you in the middle of the night as the president?”

Well, yes.

She scrubbed a hand over her face. “Honestly, I can’t think of any good reason you’d be calling me in the middle of the night.”

Mary Margaret exhaled a heavy breath. “No, it’s nothing good. It’s…Emma.”

Regina threw the covers off and swung her legs out of bed. “What about Emma? Is she all right? Did something happen?”

“She’s been arrested. Well, no, not officially arrested. Not yet, anyway. She will be, but the officer recognized her and called her emergency contact number as a courtesy first which was Pauline’s number. Pauline, of course, called me. Unfortunately, Pauline is out of town right now. She’s not even on the east coast, and I don’t really want to start involving my assistant’s assistants in something like this.”

Regina pinched the bridge of her nose; she didn’t give a damn about Pauline’s whereabouts. “Mary! Where is Emma?”

“She’s at the GW Emergency room.”

“What!”

“There was a bar fight, apparently, and Emma threw her fair share of punches.”

Regina swore. She was supposed to have had dinner with Emma earlier in the evening, but the blonde had cancelled on her. She started grabbing clothes from her closet. “What do you need me to do?”

“The officer said if we get there before she’s released from care, he’ll release her to us and he won’t file any charges, but Regina, I can’t…it would be a circus nightmare if David or I went.”

“No! God, no." The press would have a field day. "That’s the last thing Emma would want,” Regina said, putting the phone on speaker so she could dress. “I’ll go.”

“There’s something else.”

Regina paused her mad rush, hearing the hesitancy in Mary’s voice. “What?”

“Emma was supposed to get her final psych evaluation today, but they didn’t clear her. They said she wasn’t fit for a return to active duty.”

When Emma had cancelled their dinner plans, she had been rather terse and only sent a text, but Regina hadn’t questioned it. It had been unexpected but they’d had to change plans before. Now she felt like kicking herself.

She picked up the phone and headed for the bathroom. She needed to look somewhat presentable in case she needed to intimidate anyone into seeing things her way. She reached for her comb and accidentally knocked the hypersensitive side of her left hand against the counter. “Shit!”

Mary’s concerned voice sounded through the phone, “Regina?”

“I’m…fine,” she breathed, cradling her hand against her chest. “Just hit my…hand.” She blinked through the pain and looked at herself in the mirror. “I can be at the hospital in twenty minutes. Make sure that officer waits for me.”

Thirty minutes later, Regina strode in through the emergency doors of the hospital. Even at four in the morning, D.C. still had traffic. Luckily, the department while busy wasn’t chaotic. The waiting room appeared half full as she walked to the admitting desk. The young orderly at the desk looked tired when he asked her what she needed.

“I’m looking for Officer Grafton,” she said as politely as she could manage. “He brought in a friend of mine.”

“Look lady,” he said unimpressed, “we’ve got more than one officer here with more than one patient. You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Ambassador Mills?”

Regina turned at the unexpected use of her name and saw a D.C. police officer, carrying a cup of coffee approaching. “Regina Mills,” she said, offering her hand. “Officer Grafton?”

He nodded, shaking her hand. “Yes, ma’am.” He gestured down the corridor. “Your friend is this way.”

She fell into step beside him. Even with her heels, he was taller than her, clean cut in his mid-thirties. His badge said he’d been with the department for eight years. “I was told you recognized her.”

He sipped his coffee. “I’ve got several buddies still in the Corps so I followed the embassy story pretty closely. Both of your pictures were on the news daily.” He reached a curtained off area and pulled it back. “She took a beer bottle to the head; she’s not going to feel too hot in the morning.”

Regina inhaled when she finally saw the blonde. Emma was passed out on the hospital bed; a curved line of stitches near her left temple coupled with what would eventually be a deep black eye. Dried blood crusted near the blonde’s nose and the light-colored shirt she was wearing was ruined with stains from blood, beer, and Regina didn’t want to think what else. A handcuff encircled her right wrist, keeping her restrained to the bed rail.

“Oh, Emma,” Regina muttered, gently moving some of the blonde hair away from her face. A clink of metal had her looking over in time to see the officer unlock the handcuffs. “Was anyone else hurt?”

He shared a wry smile with the ambassador. “Not anyone that would willingly admit to getting their ass kicked by a woman.”

She felt perversely proud about that. “Well, thank you, officer, for your discretion.”

“I figured she’s been through enough this year already,” he said, pocketing the cuffs. “As long as she had someone willing to look after her, I could let it slide this time.” He cleared his throat. “I won’t be able to again. You know, if I was to come across her in a similar situation.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that officer.” Regina turned her attention back to the unconscious woman. “I will make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Emma woke slowly; the return to consciousness was not a state she was welcoming. Her face hurt and she resisted the urge to open her eyes. She smacked her mouth a few times against the filmy taste it had acquired. Her head hurt but not with the dull ache she usually associated to a hangover, more like a sharp localized pain that spread down from her temple. She felt…weird.

Slowly, she managed to blink open her eyes and bring her surroundings into focus. She groaned and frowned as she pushed up to her elbows, the soft, overly poofy comforter falling down to her waist as her elbows sunk further into the comfortable mattress beneath her. There was only a slight bit of alarm when she realized she had no idea where she was. It wasn’t the first time in recent months she had woken up in a strange bedroom, but she usually wasn’t alone when she did so. And she usually wasn’t dressed as she looked down at the tank top and underwear she was wearing.

The natural light fading from the room was a bit of a concern as well. It felt like late afternoon light and not the early morning hours when she would usually make a stealthy exit. Although, looking around the room that looked like it could have come straight out of a decorator’s catalog, she didn’t know how stealthy she could be when she didn’t see any of her clothes anywhere. There was a robe cast over the back of a chair that sat in front of a vanity built from a highly polished dark wood. Emma frowned; the entire room screamed class and she hadn’t exactly been frequenting clubs where the higher echelons of society hung out much less hooked up with someone like her.

When her bare feet hit the carpet, she almost moaned at how luxuriously soft it was. The pair of slippers she spied beneath the robe would be a sin to put between her feet and the floor. She did grab for the robe though, shrugging it on over aching shoulders before leaning down to peer into the vanity’s mirror.

“Shit, Swan,” she muttered, seeing her reflection. Red, purple bruising surrounded her left eye, her cheek was swollen, stitches at her temple glared at her, and there were some shades of light blue along her jaw. Stitches meant she’d been at the hospital, and that’s when she noticed the bracelet around her wrist and the bruising and scrapes on her knuckles. Her hand was swollen too and she flexed it a few times wincing at the stiffness. She tried to remember what the hell had happened.

And how she got to wherever in the hell she was.

Movement in the mirror’s reflection caught her attention and she saw green leaves swaying slightly in the open window behind her. With a growing unease, she straightened and made her way over to the window to look out at an immaculate green yard with perfectly sculpted hedges and rose bushes. The yard even had a freaking apple tree at its center.

Emma swallowed thickly. There was nowhere in D.C. that had yards like this. She looked up from the window at the afternoon sky complete with a grey overcast and a weak sun. “No fucking way.”

She didn’t know how, but now that she knew where she was, she had a horrifying suspicion of whose house she was in. She moved back across the room on legs that weren’t quite steady and ripped open the door. She was greeted with the sight of a few more doors and a staircase leading down to an open first floor. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Gripping the rail tightly, she made her way down the stairs and followed the low sounds of music. Her stomach lurched at the scent of fresh brewed coffee. As she came around the kitchen’s corner, she was only slightly surprised to find Regina, sitting at the island, a pair of dark reading glasses perched on her nose, reading a newspaper. The brunette looked up as Emma moved into the room.

“You brought me to Storybrooke?!”

Chapter Text

Emma sat at the kitchen’s island, her face buried in her folded arms, and resisted the urge to bang her head against the marble countertop. Her face and head already hurt, and now her brain was spinning as Regina explained how she and David had helped get Emma all the way to Maine. It had apparently involved a light sedative, a flight out of Andrews on Executive One Foxtrot, and a somewhat misleading story that the first gentleman had flown back to Maine to handle some family business. They neglected to mention that the “family business” was being smuggled back into Maine without her knowledge or consent, but it was all about the spin.

A mug clinked against the marble counter as Regina set it down and slid it closer to Emma’s folded arms. The blonde raised her head at the warm feeling and scent of coffee; she accepted the mug silently as the brunette retreated a few steps but continued to watch her.

“Miss Swan, how are you-”

“You know,” Emma interrupted, cutting her off, “I think once you drug a person and kidnap them across state lines, you can probably call them by their first name.”

“Fine,” Regina said tightly. “Emma. How are you feeling?”

"Like shit.”

"Yes, I imagine you do."

“Next question.”

Regina had known the blonde wasn't going to be happy. David had warned her as much even if she hadn't already come to the conclusion herself. Frankly, she probably wouldn't have woken up happy either in this situation. With that in mind, she bit down on her harsher response to Emma's attitude and tried to put her diplomacy skills to use. "That being said, you should probably take it easy today. Rest." She put her empty coffee cup in the sink. "Dry out."

Emma chuckled darkly. "So, that’s what this is? I have one bad night and you stage an intervention?" She pushed back from the island and got to her feet. "Where are my clothes? I'm getting the fuck out of this place."

"There's a bag of your clothes in the closet in your bedroom. David retrieved them from your hotel room when he checked you out of it," Regina said, watching Emma closely as she spoke. She saw the telltale flash of panic that she'd been expecting when she mentioned the hotel room. "And let's be honest, it's been more than one bad night."

The blonde's jaw rocked back and forth. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"The empty liquor and beer bottles in your hotel room suggest otherwise." She crossed her arms over her chest as she leaned back against the counter. "The local watering hole that you busted up in a drunken brawl also paints a different picture. Really, Miss Swan, that attempt at deception was beneath your skill level."

"I'm not the only one working on deceptions though, am I, Ambassador?"

Regina flinched at the question. It was a slight twitch of her hand, a too fast blink, but Emma knew she'd landed a blow.

"Perhaps not," the brunette allowed, "but I'm not making a social spectacle of myself either."

"Drinking at home alone is not a great argument."

Regina ducked her head. "I stopped drinking over a month ago."

Emma's eyes narrowed. Her statement had the ring of truth to it. "What's your poison, then? Sleeping pills?"

Regina dropped her arms and pushed off from the counter. "I'm trying to help, Emma, but if you want to leave," she gestured towards the front door. "Leave. I won't stop you."

The blonde reached out and grabbed Regina's forearm as she walked out of the kitchen. "You didn't answer the question," she said. Evasion made all her warning bells go off and she was suddenly more concerned with Regina’s situation than her own. "You taking pills?"

Regina looked down where Emma's hand was holding her. The grip was warm but loose. Emma wasn't restraining her just holding her attention. She couldn’t meet the blonde’s eyes. "I only take the pills occasionally, if I have to be present for something the next morning. Otherwise..."

She trailed off, so Emma pushed, "Otherwise, what?"

Regina shrugged. "I just don’t sleep.” She pulled her arm away from Emma’s grip. “If you'll excuse me."

Emma watched her leave the kitchen. She wasn't lying when she said she felt like shit. It had probably been the longest stretch of time she’d gone without a drink in a couple of months. Thankfully, she'd been comatose for most of those hours, but she knew the peaceful oblivion wouldn't last.

She was angry over being brought to Storybrooke, but more than anything else, she was just tired.

Exhausted.

Slowly, she got to her feet. She rinsed out her coffee mug in the sink and noticed Regina standing in the backyard. The brunette was leaning against the apple tree with her back to the house. Emma guessed she wasn't the only one that was tired. She scrubbed a hand over her face and looked longingly at the front door before she turned and headed up the stairs. She could always leave later. After she’d slept.

Chapter Text

Emma doesn’t even have to look at the clock. It’s three a.m., a little before maybe a little after, but in the range. It’s the fourth night in a row that she’s awake at the ungodly hour. She’s managed to go to sleep just fine but after a few hours she wakes up, not necessarily feeling rested, but not able to get back to dreamland either.

Tonight, she’d already been awake for an hour (she’d gone to bed an hour earlier so really it makes sense) when she heard what sounded like a dog’s yelp. She sat up and strained to hear anything else in the darkness. She knew Regina didn’t have a pet but maybe there was a dog or something in the yard. When she didn’t hear anything else, she sank back into the covers. She rolled over and punched her pillow a few times for good measure. Just as her eyes closed to try once again for sleep, she heard movement in the hall and then down the stairs. She wasn't the only one that couldn't sleep apparently.

After a few more minutes of trying, she gave up. Cracking open her bedroom door, she saw Regina’s bedroom door was open. She padded quietly towards the room and saw the bed was unmade (a first!) with the covers tangled and strewn across the foot of the bed but no Regina. There were no lights on downstairs that she could see, but she’d seen Regina retreat into her study more than once and close the door. Dragging her hand through her sleep tangled hair, she ventured downstairs and saw there was a light flickering from beneath the library door.

She was tempted to not knock and surprise the brunette but thought that might be crossing a line of rudeness even for her. She gave the door a gentle rap and slowly pushed it open in time to see Regina brush a hand quickly under her eyes before turning to her.

“Emma? Is everything all right?”

The room was cozy and Emma liked it even in the day time with its dark woods and shelves full of books, but in the dark of night with the fireplace as the only source of light she found she might like it even better. She stepped further into the room, circling the couch to where Regina was sitting. “I thought I might ask you the same thing.”

Despite their acrimonious start their first day back in Storybrooke, they'd settled into a fairly easy give-and-take since. Emma didn't want to admit it, but it was nice to be out of D.C., away from all the assumed pressures of trying to return to her normal life like nothing ever happened.

Regina shrugged off the suggestion that something might be wrong and turned back to the fire. "I just couldn't sleep."

"Yeah, me neither." Emma plopped down on the couch, opposite the brunette, and faced the fireplace. It was a gas fireplace so there was no pop and crackle of wood actually burning but it was still a nice distraction to get lost in. She watched it for several minutes in the shared quiet. "I thought you weren't drinking."

The brunette jumped slightly as though she'd forgotten Emma was there. She looked down at the glass tumbler still clutched in her hand. "It's just cider." At the blonde's raised eyebrow she clarified, "Non-alcoholic cider."

"Ah," Emma said. She'd heard tales of Regina's infamous homemade apple cider and how it was always stronger than anyone thought. "Why did you quit drinking?"

She took a sip of her drink before answering. "I was drinking too much."

Emma frowned as she thought of the two embassy functions she actually saw Regina attending. "I never saw you drink more than one glass of wine."

There was a rueful curl of Regina's lips. "No one ever saw me drink more than that."

"So, what you went home and got sloshed every night?" She doubted it. Regina had always held her one glass of wine like a shield in front of her more than something she actually wanted to drink.

"Of course not," Regina snapped, clearly offended at the idea. "While we were in country I rarely had more than the occasional nightcap. I was never inebriated."

"O-kay." That Emma could easily believe. "Then what...oh." She really should've figured that out sooner; she blamed sleep deprivation. "You mean since we've been back."

"Yes. Oh."

Emma knew she should probably leave it alone. They were getting along pretty well the last few days; she really shouldn't mess that up by pushing where she wasn't wanted. Then again, she'd been pushed all the way from D.C. to Maine. "So, what happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"Come on, you know what I mean," Emma said, turning so she could face Regina. "Something must've happened. Some catalyst to make you quit drinking altogether."

"I didn't participate in a drunken brawl in a bar if that's what you mean."

Emma shrugged. She knew the comment was supposed to be an insult to her character, but since her face had finally stopped hurting, she actually found the whole thing mildly amusing. She knew she took out at least three of the idiots she'd been fighting. Maybe if she hadn't been three sheets to the wind at the time she could've taken down another two guys.

"I was having...nightmares, if you must know," Regina spat out as though Emma's silent musing had goaded her into answering. "The drinking helped."

Emma blinked. The yelp she'd heard earlier hadn't been a dog. "You're still having nightmares." The brunette's attention snapped so fast around to Emma, she wondered how she didn't strain her neck. "I, uh, might've...heard you earlier."

Regina glared at her and then threw back the last of the cider as though it were the hard liquor she clearly wanted it to be. "Wonderful. My mortification cup runneth over."

"Hey! Whoa, come on. It's nothing like that." Emma reached over and laid her hand on Regina's forearm. "It's just me here, and I think we can both agree that I've seen you in much worse circumstances."

"That's the problem, Emma. Those way worse circumstances. I can't get away from them. Every time I fall asleep I'm back in that...hell." She closed her eyes against the sheen of tears that had started to build. "The liquor helped...until it didn't."

Emma scooted closer, taking Regina's hand in-between hers. "What happened?" She could see Regina's jaw grinding as she resolutely faced the fireplace. "They say talking about it helps."

"Oh, really, Miss Swan?" Her glare was equaled only by the thick sarcasm in her voice. "Would you like to talk about why you've been out drinking to the point of oblivion every night?"

Emma felt her walls go up at the attack but the grip Regina had on her hand kept her from pulling completely away. She took a deep breath to try and calm herself the way she had those first two weeks as the ambassador's assistant. It's not like it was a surprise that the woman could eviscerate with just words. "I'm dealing with some issues," she managed to grind out, "probably similar to yours." She scraped her tongue along the back of her teeth. "I'm not in the best head space right now...but I'm working on it."

Regina looked down at their joined hands. "I'm sorry you weren't cleared for duty."

"Wha-?" Emma's head snapped up, then she swore. "Fuckin' Mary Margaret can't keep her damn mouth shut for anything."

The corner of Regina's mouth quirked up. It amused her that someone else felt the pain of dealing with the president's propensity for personal indiscretion. The amusement faded quickly like water through a sieve. "I lost an entire weekend," she admitted.

The blonde's head tilted to the side in confusion. "I don't..."

"I drank myself to oblivion," Regina clarified. "I was doing it nightly, and then one morning my phone was ringing. I was passed out on the bathroom floor. The last thing I could remember was leaving work on Friday but my assistant from the State Department was calling me because I hadn't shown up to work on Monday morning."

Emma's eyebrows raced up her forehead in shock. "You went on a bender."

The brunette cleared her throat, clearly uncomfortable. "Yes, apparently. But. I haven't had a drink since."

"More's the pity."

"Indeed."

"Get any tattoos?"

"I beg your pardon?"

Emma grinned. "Tattoos are the kind of thing that tends to happen while on benders. At least, from my experience."

Regina arched an eyebrow, recognizing Emma's attempt to lighten the conversation. "No, Miss Swan, I do not have any new tattoos."

Emma processed that reply for a second before she gave her head a slight shake. "New... You mean, you have tattoos?"

"I was an ambassador, Emma. Not a nun."

"Well, where are they? What are they?" Emma was thrilled at the idea. "Let's see 'em."

"Oh, I think not." Regina pulled her hand away and stood up to refill her drink glass.

"That means they're somewhere good! Oh, now you've got to tell me!" Emma turned with her, watching her as she poured two glasses of cider.

"I have a feather on my shoulder," she admitted, handing Emma a glass of cider. "And another one someplace you will never see."

Sitting cross-legged, Emma put her chin in her hand. "At least, tell me what it is."

Regina sipped her drink, a slight smirk showing over the rim. "No."

Emma sat back in a pout, privately thrilled to hear Regina chuckle at her antics.

The brunette sobered. "And in the spirit of sharing, I…am seeking therapy. I start sessions with Dr. Hopper here in Storybrooke tomorrow."

"Wait, so how long are you staying in Storybrooke?"

Regina gave a small shrug. "The foreseeable future. We've finished the part of the investigation for the State Department that required my presence. I’m sure there will be a hearing at some point, but for now I have no reason to stay in D.C."

"But, you're still an ambassador, aren't you?"

This time the chuckle was without humor. "No, Emma. I, uh...when you lose an embassy, they don't really give you another one."

"What!" Emma shot to her feet. "That's ridiculous! The attack wasn't your fault!"

"That's debatable." She watched the younger woman pace in front of the fire. "The official decision on that should be handed down in a few weeks."

Emma stopped. "What decision?"

"Whether or not I was negligent. We were aware there was growing unrest. Your presence there was proof of that," she pointed out. "So, the question is, did I do enough to safeguard the lives of American citizens?" She studied her hands. "In hindsight, clearly I did not."

“Oh, that is just bullshit!” Emma went back to pacing. “I mean, it’s not your fault the previous ambassador was corrupt as fuck. He’s the one that paved the way for the cartels and set all this in motion. If it weren’t for him, Gold would never have had all the information on the embassy that he had. He wouldn’t have been able to get our records; his men wouldn’t have known the layout of the damn compound. You wouldn’t have had to come in and upset the whole damn apple cart just to put things the way they should have always been.” She dropped heavily down onto the couch. “Oh, if Gold wasn’t dead already, I’d kill him.”

Regina quietly watched her rage. It didn’t matter that she agreed with most of the points Emma was making. The situation was out of her hands. She huffed a bit; the situation had been out of her hands ever since those first shots were fired.

“What?” Emma asked, hearing her exhalation.

“Hmm? Oh, nothing. Just thinking…everything goes back to that afternoon,” she said, shaking her head. “I had no idea that morning when I woke up that my life would be turned into such chaos.”

Emma looked at her for a long minute. “I'm so sorry, Regina.”

She dabbed a quick hand at the corner of her eyes. “For what?”

“I didn't keep you safe.”

“Emma,” she said with more than a hint of exasperation. “You did the best you could-”

“Which clearly wasn’t good enough.”

Regina bit her tongue at the muttered interruption. “No one could have done better than what you did. You got me out of there.”

“And yeah, look how well that turned out.” Emma shook her head. “I never should’ve taken you to my house. We should’ve gone to the other embassies.”

“When we escaped the compound, there was a riot on embassy row. We would not have made it, and you know that.” Regina reached out to touch Emma’s knee. “And maybe we would have gone to the embassies later, when it was safer. We just didn’t get that chance.”

“Yeah, because-”

“Because we were betrayed,” Regina spoke over her. "Because someone called Gold and told him where we were." She watched her words have no effect on the blonde's disposition. “Is that what this is about? Is this what’s been driving you out to drink every night?”

Emma glared at the fireplace.

“Emma?”

“No.” The blonde jerked her head side-to-side.

Regina slid closer to her, keeping her hand on the younger woman’s knee. “Emma, look at me, please.” When she still refused, Regina looked down and said quietly, “It was not your fault, Emma.”

“I was supposed to keep you safe!” Watery green eyes reflected the flames back to Regina. “I was only there for one reason, and I failed. I failed you; I failed the president-”

“You did not fail me.” Regina grabbed her by the chin, forcing her to hold her gaze. “You stayed with me, Emma. You kept me as safe as you could.”

Emma tried to shake her head no.

“Do you remember that day the president called me to ask about you? It was right after I suggested that you slept your way to the job." Regina raised an eyebrow in challenge. "I’m sure it was no coincidence that Mary Margaret just happened to call me and extol your virtues the very next day, was it?”

Emma was wary at the apparent change in topic. “Maybe.”

Regina gave her a knowing look. “Please, Emma. I am aware that you called her.”

The blonde jerked her shoulders in a shrug without admitting anything.

“Do you know what Mary Margaret said to me that day?”

“I can guess,” Emma muttered.

“She said you were stubborn,” Regina said, plainly. “She said I wouldn’t be able to run you off.”

Emma shifted her weight, uncomfortable. “Yeah, so?”

“Most importantly, she said that you would watch my back. And you did, Emma." She grabbed both of Emma’s hands in her own and held them tight. "You stayed with me. We went to hell and back, and you stayed with me. You could’ve dumped me off to the Marines. You could’ve left me in my office. You could’ve stashed me away in that garden kitchen, but you didn’t. You stayed by my side.” She squeezed the younger woman's hands willing her to hear her. “You fought to try and get to me. You laid down your arms and surrendered yourself in order to stay with me. And, you know, maybe it wasn’t enough to keep us from getting kidnapped, but it was enough for me. You did not fail me.”

Emma really, really did not want to break down in front of Regina, but the older woman pulled her into a bone crushing hug before she could run out of the room. Before she could stop herself, Emma returned the hug and buried her face against the ambassador’s shoulder. They were both crying, and they both hated anyone else seeing their weakness, but it was just them. There was no one else there just like there had been no one else in that cell. They had each other and for now, like it had been then, it was enough.

Chapter Text

6 months later

No one threw a Christmas party quite like the White House, but it was getting late and Regina was more than ready to leave. She’d really reached her limit for banal conversation, and her feet were killing her. For as many parties as the House hosted, one would think they’d figure out they needed to provide more seating. Then again, maybe that was by design.

Her unfinished glass of champagne had gone warm in her hand, but as long as she held onto it, no one questioned if she’d like something to drink. The only reason she hadn’t departed yet was because Mary Margaret had asked her to stay. So while, the President and First Gentleman took pictures with the guests for two hours, Regina was left to wait.

The Blue Room was always crowded with its magnificent, towering tree as the centerpiece, and she found herself as drawn to it as everyone else. Regina easily recognized Mary’s influence in the tree’s fairy tale theme decorations. A bit unconventional for the holidays perhaps, but who was going to tell the president she couldn't decorate a Christmas tree with Snow White and Prince Charming.

She felt someone arrive at her side, and she braced herself for another inane chat about the holiday weather.  

“I can’t believe she actually put a dragon on a Christmas tree.”

Regina’s head whipped around, shocked to find Emma grinning at her, dressed once again in her formal dress blue uniform. “Emma!” She moved towards the younger woman then stopped herself just as abruptly. “Am I allowed to hug you in uniform?”

“You sure as hell better!” Emma said, opening her arms and wrapping them around the former ambassador.

“When did you get back?” she asked. “I thought you were supposed to be gone for another month.”

“We finished the mission sooner than expected, and no one on the team minded me calling in a presidential favor to get us all home in time for the holidays." She pulled her jacket down to straighten it after they released. "We landed at Dover about six hours ago.”

“Well, I am so glad to see you.”

“Even though it meant staying at the party longer?” Emma asked, a bit of mischief in her eyes.

Regina frowned for a second then, “You’re the reason the president asked me to wait.”

The blonde's smile was absolutely radiant. “Well, I happen to know that politicians from small towns in Maine have a tendency to skip out of parties at the first opportunity. I had to slow you down somehow, Madam Mayor.”

The brunette rolled her eyes. “You heard about that, then?”

“Did you forget who I’m related to? Of course, I heard about it. I probably knew before you did,” she joked then sobered slightly. “Quite the step down from foreign ambassador though.”

“I’m only serving as interim mayor until they can hold a real election.”

Emma turned back towards the tree but then gave her an exaggerated side glance. “Still. No one in town is really grieving too hard over Spencer’s death. That guy was a real piece of work.” When Regina only hummed non-committedly, Emma looked at her curiously. “You thinking about keeping the job?”

Regina looked down at her drink glass. “I’m…considering a campaign.”

“You like being the big fish in the little pond, don’t you?” Emma said, grinning again. When she saw a slight blush on the mayor’s cheeks, she bumped her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Madam Mayor, your secret is safe with me.”

“Yes, well,” she cleared her throat, “what about you, Captain Swan? I understand your current commitment is up next year. Do you plan to continue?”

“Nah,” Emma shook her head, surprising Regina. “I’m done. Time to move on.”

“Really?”

Emma turned towards her. “You’re surprised by that?”

“Well, you worked so hard to get back to active duty,” she said, thinking of the many hours of therapy Emma had finally relented to. “I thought it was what you wanted.”

“I think that was more about just proving I could do it,” Emma admitted.

“I can understand that,” Regina said quietly having endured her own portion of hours on her therapist’s couch. She was still going twice a month; it helped.

After a few moments of quiet between them, Emma laughed lightly, looking up at the tree. “I have to admit, the twinkling fairies at the top are pretty cute.”

“I think they’re pixies.”

Emma frowned. “What’s the difference?”

“No idea.”

The blonde laughed and finally turned away from the tree. “Come on, I have it on good authority that there’s hot chocolate with cinnamon waiting for us in the residence.”

Regina happily walked beside her as they made their way towards the private area of the White House. “Did you know that Sheriff Graham is planning to retire at the end of next year?”

“No, I did not know that,” Emma chuckled. “Why would you tell me such interesting news, Madam Mayor?”

Regina grinned. “Speaking hypothetically?”

Emma nodded at one of the secret service guys that let them pass into the more restricted area. “Of course.”

“As the mayor, I would be expected to appoint someone that I felt was a suitable candidate for the position.”

“And I would be seeking new employment by then.”

Emma said it with a laugh, but Regina put her hand on the younger woman’s arm, stopping them in the hallway leading to the residence. “In all seriousness, Emma, I would be honored if you would consider taking the position. You are my friend; you are my family.” She gestured towards the sitting room where she suspected Mary Margaret and David were eagerly waiting for them. “I’d like nothing better than knowing you once again have my back. If it's something you'd be interested in, of course.”

“I’ll always have your back, Regina. Always.” She pulled the brunette in for another hug. “And I will consider your hypothetical offer since you aren’t actually the mayor yet.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. “Do you doubt me, Miss Swan?”

“Nope,” she answered quickly. “Never.”

“Good answer. Now let’s go drink some hot chocolate.”

They started walking again and Emma bumped Regina’s shoulder. “Looks like Mary Margaret was right.”

“Oh? About what?”

“You weren’t able to run me off,” Emma said happily. “You’re stuck with me!”

Regina laughed with her but felt a calmness in her chest that she hadn’t felt in more than a year. She smiled warmly at her former assistant. “I hope so, Miss Swan. I certainly hope so.”

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