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“We need a man on the inside.” Rumpelstiltskin rasped to the table full of allies. “The Charmings are even suspicious of you Madam Mayor.” He nodded towards Cora who sat with her husband to her left and her daughter to her right.

“The sheriff will never find evidence of our companionship, I assure you.” She drawled.

“I expect nothing less but that doesn’t change the fact that your people won’t be in his inner circle anytime soon.”

“Then what do you propose?”

“My son,” he gestured to the man sitting to his right, “Baelfire, is around the same age as the sheriff’s daughter. The girl just returned from a retreat and I hear she is available.”

“You want your boy to seduce her? And what? Would she even have any valuable information?” The mayor was skeptical.

“She is being trained for initiation into the family business as we speak, no doubt her parents will allow her access to knowledge other recruits don’t have.”

The mayor looked thoughtful. “And how will you arrange a situation where a gangster has access to her?”

“I don’t need to arrange anything. The annual holiday ball for the town is approaching, Baelfire will attend under a false identity.”

“The holiday ball, what a perfect opportunity.” She turned to her daughter, “Regina, you will also attend. It is a good opportunity to mingle among the elite. I trust we will see you there Mr. Gold?”

“I attend every year, much to everyone’s disdain. Luckily, Baelfire has been away and will be unrecognized.”

Regina let her mind wander, she wasn’t interested in mingling with politicians, but she was expected to be a part of her mother’s empire. She dreamed of the days that Daniel promised to spirit her away from all of the corruption but those were long in the past.

She looked over at Baelfire, he was handsome considering who his father was. She thought he looked entirely too cocky, but perhaps the perfect little Charming princess would be fooled by a pretty face. Regina didn’t see the appeal, then again, she hadn’t seen the appeal in anyone since Daniel.

She was smart, so she saw the merit in having a Charming wrapped around her finger, but she didn’t see how it could be of more use than the other plants they had in the police department. She figured she’d go to the ball and observe, get introduced to a few people, and be on her way while everyone else put their plans into action.

~*~*~*~

“I’ll be over there.” Emma pointed to the buffet table.

“But dear,” Her mother chided, “there are some more people I’d like you to meet, some with handsome sons.” She smiled conspiratorially.

“It’s ok mom. I’ll meet them later.” She started to shuffle away, ignoring the look on her father’s face.

“Do you think we made a mistake?” He asked his wife.

“Of course not, we acted in her best interest.” She smiled to the guests walking by.

“But she’s not the same.”

“That was the point, wasn’t it?” She guided him into the crowd.

~

Emma was trying to be discreet but mostly just wanted to fill her purse with candy. She didn’t know how she was going to get a frosted gingerbread man in her bag so she resolved to eat two before leaving. She knew her mother wouldn’t be happy if she left early but hopefully the woman wouldn’t notice. Emma snuck a glance at her parents, they were definitely in their element surrounded by adoring fans.

“You’re going to need a bigger bag.” A voice startled her and she looked at the man beside her.

“At least I have one.” She snarked, not being polite despite the nagging voice in her head.

He chuckled, “you’d be surprised how much suit pockets hold.”

She smiled, “I guess I’ll have to invest in one.”

“You’d look stunning, not that you don’t already.” She almost rolled her eyes. “Care to dance?”

She looked at the crowded dance floor and cringed. “I don’t know.”

“Come on, I promise I’m a good dancer.”

She scanned the room and noticed her mother looking her way. “Alright.” She grabbed his arm and caused him to stumble in surprise as she dragged him onto the dance floor.

She pulled him close and they swayed to the music. “I’m Neil by the way.”

“Emma.” She snagged a tootsie roll from her bag, popping it in her mouth before offering one to him.

He took it and smiled at her. “I didn’t think you’d share.”

“I can always get more. Plus my parents raised me to share.” She grimaced a little.

“How about I return the favor and take you out for a coffee sometime?”

She raised an eyebrow at him, “smooth.”

He chuckled, “it was worth a try.” They pulled back from each other as the song ended. “He pulled out a card. “My number, in case you decide to get more free food.”

She laughed and took it, “thank you for the dance Neil, I’m going to go powder my nose now.” She winked and sauntered off.

She entered the bathroom and sat on the counter rifling through her purse. She pulled out a pixie stick and tore it open, downing it’s contents. She sat for about 15 minutes when a woman entered. She had dark hair and a dark purple gown. She nodded to Emma before leaning against the counter to powder her nose.

“I didn’t think people did that anymore.”

The woman raised an eyebrow at her. “I didn’t think people hid in the bathroom either.”

Emma threw her head back and laughed. “Got me there.” She wiped a sticky hand on her dress before reaching out, “I’m Emma.”

The woman considered it for a second before grasping her hand, “Regina.”

“It’s a pleasure.”

She went back to fixing her makeup. “So why are you hiding?”

“I wanted to pig out in peace.”

“Is that true?”

“No, I would’ve left.” She admitted. “I don’t want to dance with loser boys who think all they have to do is flash a cute smile and I’ll drop my panties.”

Regina scoffed, “Sounds reasonable. They do need to be taken down a peg sometimes.”

“I bet you’d do well at that.”

“What makes you say that?” She put her compact back in her purse.

“I don’t know, you just seem like you wouldn’t take anyone’s shit.”

“And you would?”

“Gotta keep the masses happy.” She sucked on a lollipop.

Regina shrugged before quickly running her fingers through her hair and starting to head towards the door.

“Wait!” Emma hopped off the counter. “You seem cool, we should hang out sometime. I only just got back into town so I need some new friends.”

Regina hesitated, it wasn’t part of the plan for her to interact with Emma but the blonde admitted that she wasn’t interested in Baelfire so perhaps this was their opportunity. “Alright.” She pulled a card from her purse and handed it to Emma.

Emma studied it for a moment. “Wow, the mayor’s kid. I think we’ll get along better than I thought.”

“Whatever you’re assuming, you’re incorrect.”

“I’m assuming that you hate the pressure of never quite living up to your parent’s expectations while simultaneously wondering how far you’d get if you ran away.” She said it as a joke but Regina could hear the pain in her voice and felt an echoing tightness in her chest.

“Well, I guess you are right.” They smiled at each other.

“I’ll text you.”