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Behind Bars

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Emma rubbed her wrists, soothing the skin where the metal cuffs had irritated them. The over-starched new clothes scratched uncomfortably as she sat down on her bunk, looking around at the four walls which would be her home for the next eleven months. They were painted a depressing green colour and the archway through which she had just entered look out onto a corridor lined with identical rooms. There were two beds. The one on the left had clothes and books strewn all over it while the one on the right looked new, yet unwelcoming. At the foot of each bed was a metal cabinet.

She sighed and flopped back on the thin mattress. She was exhausted after her trial, transportation and processing. Her mind was racing as she considered the events that landed her in prison. Emma supposed it all started when she ran away from her last foster home. Seventeen years of the system had been enough for the young blonde and she had long ago given up trying to fit in to new families or make friends in new towns. Two months with her last "family" had made up her mind. Running away was second nature to foster kids and it had not been difficult to escape undetected in the dead of night and hop a bus out of town.

Admittedly, running away wasn't what had caused the recent turn of events in Emma's life. If only she hadn't been so drawn to the gaudy yellow car. If only her foster brother from when she was thirteen hadn't shown her how to break into cars so effectively. If only Neal hadn't been equally adept at petty crime.

Emma sighed again and rubbed her hands over her tired face. She felt anger flair inside her at the memory of her ex boyfriend. She thought her years in the foster system had jaded her ability to trust so much she would never allow herself to become dependent on one person. But she had. Neal Cassidy had become her whole world when she fell head over heels in love with him in the blink of an eye. She should have known better, Emma thought angrily. She should never have let herself believe she and Neal had something real. She should have known he could never have loved her. She was unlovable. That's what her foster father had told her at seven years old after she knocked over a lamp playing catch in the living room.

Emma was pulled abruptly from her thoughts when her bunk mate entered. She was tall, thin, and had waist length brown hair with a bright red stripe dyed into one side. She had managed to tailor her jumpsuit so it gave her slender frame shape and curves rather than hanging like the potato sack, as it did on most inmates. The lanky girl glanced over at the newcomer before turning to grab her toiletries from her cabinet. One last look at the young blonde and the brunette disappeared.

"That was friendly," Emma muttered under her breath.

Rolling onto her side, she rubbed a hand over her empty stomach, wondering whether there was any chance of getting some food. She had missed dinner because the bus had been held up. Perhaps the kitchen had held some back for the new inmates. Sitting up, she decided to go in search of something to quell her hunger.

Keeping her head down, Emma walked quickly from the bunks and down towards the common areas. Their tour upon arrival had been short but she remembered the way to the dining area. Food was never far from Emma's mind and she considered it of upmost importance to know where the kitchen was, even if the food she was to eat there would probably be vile. However, when Emma stepped into the correct corridor, the closed door and the darkness encasing the room at the end told Emma she was out of luck. Sighing, she turned and tried to remember the way to commissary.

Setting off down the overly bright corridor, Emma found herself outside the bathrooms. Realising she must have taken a wrong turn, she spun around and crashed headlong into another inmate.

"Shit, sorry!" Emma exclaimed as the shorter woman rubbed her forehead where Emma's chin had collided with it.

"No problem," came the meek response. The woman was petit with a cropped bob and a gentle looking face. When she raised her head, Emma smiled apologetically.

"You new?" she asked Emma.

"Yep, arrived this evening. Swan," Emma introduced, holding out her hand.

"Blanchard," the other woman smiled back at her as she shook the proffered hand.

Emma breathed a sigh of relief at having found someone who seemed friendly. "Could you point me towards commissary please."

"Of course," Blanchard smiled at her. "Far end of the corridor, take a right and then the second left."

"Thanks," Emma grinned. "See you around."

She found commissary without any more mishaps and joined the short line, her hunger increasing every moment. Emma knew to keep her head down and avoid confrontations in prison so she leaned against the wall, picking absentmindedly at her stubby nails. No one paid her any attention. As far as they were concerned, she was just another screw up youth who hadn't been smart enough to get away with their petty crime either.

When at last it was Emma's turn, she gave her name and prison number to the blonde behind the screen. After checking her computer, the young woman turned back to Emma.

"Sorry, but you don't have any money in your account yet," she said, not sounding sorry at all.

"Can't I owe you?" Emma pleaded, her stomach offering a rumble as proof of her hunger.

"Nope. Next!" the blonde called.

Helpless, Emma let herself get elbowed aside and turned dejectedly to head back to her bunk. Just her luck to take the bus from the court house which got a flat tyre and therefore delayed their arrival for two hours. Why did everything in Emma's life seem to get screwed up somehow? Shit things just got shitter. And things that seemed great led to shit things.

Emma crumpled onto her bed and curled up into a ball, facing the wall. She would not, could not cry. She had to be strong. That was the only way she was going to get through this.

She smelt rather than heard her bunk mate return. A clean, sweet cherry fragrance washed over Emma as she continued to stare resolutely at the painted breeze blocks before her.

"So what's your name?"

The voice made Emma jump. She hadn't expected any interaction with the seemingly cold girl after her earlier attitude. Emma sat up, wiped her eyes and turned to look at the other bed. The tall young woman was sat with her legs folded underneath her, brushing out her long brown hair. The red stripe was almost invisible now her hair was wet and her face looked softer without the harsh eyeliner that adorned it earlier.

"Swan," Emma said, forcing a smile. She was going to be living in very close proximity with this girl and she wanted to at least be amicable, if not friendly. "You?"

"Luccas," the brunette replied, "but everyone calls me Red."

Emma nodded, unsure what to say next. She knew better than to ask why Red was inside. Instead, she decided to find out how long she was going to be cellmates. "How long are you in for?"

"Fifteen months, I've got six left," Red explained.

"Any tips for surviving in here?" Emma asked.

Laughing, Red nodded. "Keep yourself to yourself. Don't get involved in stupid arguments. And don't trust anyone."

Emma laughed darkly. "That last one should be easy. I'll never trust anyone again."

"Is that what landed you in here? You trusted the wrong person?" Red asked.

"Yep," Emma nodded, wanting to change the subject before the brunette asked any questions about Neal. "What time do they serve breakfast in the morning? Our bus broke down and we missed dinner so I'm starved," Emma explained.

"Eight am sharp. Get there early or the scrambled eggs will be cold and slimy, they cook them en masse beforehand."

Emma wrinkled her nose at the thought but her stomach made an embarrassingly loud rumble at the mention of food.

"Hungry?" Red laughed.

"Famished," Emma admitted. "I've not eaten since before court this morning."

Red hopped off her bed and rummaged around in her cabinet for a moment. "Here," she said as she straightened up and tossed a packet of chips at Emma.

Emma caught the flying food with a look of surprise on her face. Everything she had been told about prison, even a minimum security unit like FCI, warned of unfriendly, hostile, aggressive women who would make her time inside hell.

"You sure," Emma asked tentatively.

"Yeah, I've plenty more where they came from and you can always give me a packet back when your commissary comes in."

"How'd you know I had no money in my account?" Emma asked as she tore open the bag and tucked into the salty snack.

Red shrugged. "Snow told me she sent you that way and I know how shit the admin system can be here."

"Snow?" Emma asked through a mouthful of chips.

"Blanchard," Red corrected herself. "We call her Snow because she's literally perfect, like Snow White, you know?"

"If she's so perfect, why is she in prison?" Emma asked before pausing mid-chew. She had forgotten the number one rule of prison. Never ask someone what they're inside for.

Red's face hardened slightly but she knew Emma was aware of her mistake by the way the blonde had frozen in place. "That's not for me to say," Red said, diplomatically. "But once you get to know her, you'll see why she got her nickname."

Emma smiled, relieved Red had allowed her some grace for her mistake. Finishing up the chips, she licked her salty fingers clean and dropped the empty bag in the trash at the end of her bed.

"Thanks, Red, they were amazing," Emma grinned, patting her satiated stomach.

"No problem," Red nodded. "You'd better go shower and brush your teeth. Lights go out in fifteen minutes."

Emma nodded and began to unpack the starter pack each new inmate had been handed when they arrived. Two tiny bottles told Emma she would be using all in one shampoo and conditioner and rose scented body wash. A skinny toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste were also provided. Her towel was laid on the end of the bed, clearly second hand but thankfully stain free, so she picked it up, smiled once more at Red before heading out of the bunk and towards the bathrooms.

The lukewarm water trickled pathetically from the grimy shower head, dampening Emma's hair before running in rivulets down her naked body. She leaned against the wall, gasping quietly as the cold tiles came into contact with her skin. Emma ran her hands through her straggly hair before reaching for the shampoo-conditioner combo. The watery liquid pooled in her hand before sloshing onto the floor. Cursing, she dumped the rest onto her hair and lathered as much as she could, which wasn't much considering the quality of the product. Rinsing quickly, Emma turned to the body wash. The sickly, old lady smell almost made her gag but she forced herself to give her whole body a quick scrub, using her hands since she had been unable to buy a washcloth from the commissary.

Once she was clean again, Emma shut off the water and reached for her towel. The material scratched her body as she dried off, but Emma didn't mind. It made her feel alive, invigorated somehow. Slipping her panties and bra back on, she wrapped her dripping wet hair in the towel and donned the beige prison regulation pyjamas before exiting the bathroom stall. A few other inmates were milling around the communal bathroom but Emma kept her head down and moved straight to the sink at the far end, set her toiletries down and began to brush her teeth.

Spitting her toothpaste out, Emma rinsed her mouth and straightened up to glance at her reflection in the mirror. She looked even paler than usual, her eyes sunken slightly and her face was thinner. She patted her cheeks, trying to bring some colour to them before she gathered her things to take back to her bunk. Just before she turned away, something, or rather someone, caught her eye in the mirror.

A woman with long, dark, wavy hair had emerged from a shower stall, wrapped in a towel and wearing a haughty, regal look. As soon as she headed towards the sinks, the few inmates at the far end moved aside to make room for the new woman, steadily avoiding eye contact. The few quiet conversations which had been happening fell silent. Emma watched in the mirror as the woman placed her bulging toiletry bag down and pulled out various face creams and lotions. As she began what was evidently her nightly routine a quiet bang echoed around the now silent bathroom. The brunette glanced to her right, looking directly at the blonde at the far end of the line of sinks. Emma's breath hitched as the dark brown eyes met her own. They held each other's gaze for a few moments before Emma looked away, blinking rapidly and fumbling to pick up her body wash bottle from the floor.

Regina watched the young blonde scuttle from the bathroom before smirking as she went back to applying her moisturiser.