After what felt like an eternity, Emma forcibly lifted up her head as blood dripped down from a deep gash above her right eye. Her blurry vision revealed the massive, dark-haired wolf standing on its heavily muscled hind legs, locked arm-in-arm with a much smaller woman. While Emma was certainly concerned about the massive creature before her, her gaze was stolen by the woman with dark brown shoulder-length hair. Looking further, Emma noticed the woman's eyes as they glowed a fierce shade of blue. Lastly, Emma took in the woman's porcelain skin that seemed to move in a blur as she struggled to hold back the imposing wolf that was trying to lock its wide jaw around the woman's exposed neck. As Emma's vision slowly began to narrow, her fearful eyes focused on the woman's bloodied grin, and Emma was taken aback as she saw the excited grin begin to widen.
Vision fading to black, Emma's mind began to drift back to how her life had led her to this moment. With one last living breath, Emma thought, I guess your life really does flash before your eyes at the end.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – THE BEGINNING
On the day that Emma was brought to the Second Chance Orphanage by an overworked but caring social worker from the Department of Children and Family Services, Emma first glimpsed what was to be her new 'home.' The building itself was an eclectic shamble of wood work that appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The social worker shifted the rumbling car into park, exited the vehicle, and went around to open the door for Emma.
"Alright, dear, we're here. It's time to go now."
Not really understanding at only seven years old, Emma used her small hands to unbuckle her seat belt and climbed down from the seat of the car and onto the cracked sidewalk that had struts of grass poking up from below. The social worker held Emma's Mickey Mouse suitcase and went to wheel it to the curb, but found it had a broken weal and instead she moved carry it.
Emma looked up in time to see the great door in the center of the building with its flaking green paint slowly open to reveal a grim-faced older woman.
The severe looking woman coughed and pulled out a small white handkerchief from her full-bodied violet colored dress. The dress itself was accented with puffs of white lace at the woman's neck and hands. Around the woman's neck was a black satin choker with a well-polished gold pendant that had a radiant ruby at its heart.
Emma, who was frozen in place, found herself being gently but firmly pushed forward by the social worker's hand that was placed on the middle of her back. With her feet moving, Emma and the social worker made their way up the worn stairs and to the waiting woman.
With her eyes on the social worker, the old woman coughed once more into her handkerchief and replaced it into the fold of her dress, asking in a droll sounding voice,
"Another one, is it?"
Looking and feeling a bit more tired than the social worker had been before climbing the steps, she replied, "Yes, Ms. Sarah. This is Emma Swan."
Ms. Sarah shifted her gaze for the first time to the small girl and looked her once over as one would as if sizing up livestock to sell. Emma was small for her age of seven. Emma had neck length blonde hair that was a mess of curls and knots, and her face was thin and angular which matched her slight frame under the oversized clothes she wore. While Ms. Sarah expected her to have the vacant expression like the majority of the children that made their way to her, but Emma had her jaw set, and her hazel eyes were bearing down the older woman.
"My dear, the first thing you will have to learn is that it's not polite to stare, especially if you ever dream of finding parents one day."
Feeling taken aback, Emma's gaze suddenly found her white sneakers, that were provided by the state, as had the rest of her small wardrobe, very interesting.
Ms. Sarah smiled in victory and continued, "You many call me Aunt Sarah, Emma, and I treat all of my children fairly, and I love each and every one of them equally."
Emma found herself suddenly looking up to her new Aunt Sarah and she said with confidence, "You're lying."
Aunt Sarah took a sharp breath in and scolded Emma with her piercing eyes and said with a raised tone, "And that's the second thing you are to learn, never talk back to your betters, and on that note, if you don't have anything nice to say, then I suggest you remain quiet."
This time, Emma felt more than taken aback and contorted her body to make herself smaller than she really was.
Feeling the tension, the social worker interjected, "Yes, well, I can see that Emma has much that she can learn and that she will greatly benefit from your tutelage."
Aunt Sarah replaced her smile and she returned her gaze to the social worker and replied, "Of course she can, all my children are the better for my guiding hand. Come along, Emma."
Aunt Sarah took the suitcase from the social worker and strode inside with Emma.
As Aunt Sarah was about to close the door, she looked at the social worker and said, "I'll be looking for the additional check for this new lovely child," and then she shut the door.
Aunt Sarah looked down at Emma, in more ways than one, and she dropped her suitcase on the ground beside the girl, and as the case landed, Emma could hear the side of the case spilt, and the bang that erupted startled her.
"Come here, child."
Emma shuffled her feet forward, and as she did so, Aunt Sarah's hand flew forth and landed across the girl's quickly reddening cheek. Emma looked up as the shock and pain spread through her. As Emma's hand clutched her accosted cheek, her mouth hung open in protest.
Aunt Sarah pointed one long nailed finger at the girl and said, "That is the last time I ever want to hear a word from your filthy little mouth. If I speak to you, then you will respond with all due courtesy afforded to me. You are in my home and you will do as you are told, or you will really find out what it is to be forgotten. Do I make myself clear, Ms. Swan?"
Emma nodded her head in compliance.
"What did I say you were to do when I speak to you?"
"Clear," was Emma could squeak out.
Aunt Sarah raised two incredulous eyebrows.
"Clear, Aunt Sarah," she said, through the searing pain in her jaw.
"Better. Now then, breakfast is served at seven in the morning and dinner is at five in the evening. If you're late, you don't eat. If you misbehave, you don't eat. If you don't like how I run things, well you can go and find yourself another place to live, and again you don't eat. Behave, and maybe, just maybe, one of the desperate parents that come through here will see you and take you home with them. Misbehave, and your pretty little face will never be seen by anyone, and the day you graduate high school, you're on the streets where the rest of the trash is kept. Any questions?"
Emma swallowed and tried to ignore the throbbing pain on the side of her face, and though she tried to be brave, the tears streaking down her face betraying her.
"Where do I sleep, Aunt Sarah?"
"Where ever you can find a bed. I don't really care. Now, if you'll excuse me, my dear, my stories are about to start."
Aunt Sarah turned from the child and strode into her bedroom and closed the door behind her.
Emma looked down at her broken Mickey Mouse suit case. Emma had never felt so alone in her entire life. Emma couldn't remember her parents. She had heard that she had been found in a wooden wardrobe in the middle of nowhere. Well, at least that is what she had overheard the from the social workers that had looked after her for the past few weeks.
Not knowing what else to do, Emma decided to try to find a bedroom, and she attempted to lift up her suitcase, but she couldn't budge it with her one hand. Reluctantly, she dropped her hand from the side of her face so she could use both hands to lift the case, but the most she could do was move it an inch or two. Feeling completely overwhelmed, Emma sat down and hugged her knees and began to rock back and forth as she cried. In between her sobs, she heard a faint sound approaching. Emma strained her ears to listen.
A small voice that was singing approached Emma.
"Little town. It's a quit village. Every day like the one before. Little town, full of little people. Waking up to say…"
Before Emma strode a small girl, about Emma's age. The girl approaching Emma had shoulder length brown hair that was tied in a neat ponytail with a blue ribbon. The small girl had a book up to her face as she was singing.
Hearing the sniffling tears, the girl shut the book and clutched it to her chest. Her eyes went wide with surprise. "Oh... Hello," she said, with her genuine sounding voice.
Emma pulled out one hand from her closed knees and waved shyly.
The girl, without fear, walked up to Emma and slowly knelt down beside her, saying, "Hi. My name is Belle. What's yours?"
With her tears slowing, Emma took in a breath and answered through her covering arms,
"Hi there, Emma," Belle said, shooting out a hand in greeting.
Emma just looked at the hand.
Seeing the other girl's hesitation, she attempted to disarm her with a smile and said, "It's okay, Emma. I won't hurt you. Not ever. I promise."
Emma saw no deception in Belle's eyes, and she extend a wary hand, and the two girls shook.
"See? There. Now we're friends," the brunette proclaimed.
The two girls smiled, and a giggle escaped them both.
"Whatcha doing in the hallway?"
Emma suddenly remembered that she had been abandoned here and began to cry again.
Alarm could be seen on her face and heard in Belle's voice as she said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry."
Emma wiped her tears away with her sleeve and replied, "It's not you. I'm—" but she couldn't finish the sentence. Still, Belle knew how the sentence ended as she often felt the same.
"You're not alone, Emma. I'm here, and friends don't let friends down, not ever. I'll be your friend forever," she said with excitement.
Emma couldn't help but smile at Belle's optimism.
"Emma, would you like to share my bedroom? I mean, there's other rooms here, but they've all got kids in them. It's just me in mine."
"Why is it just you in yours?" Emma asked with genuine curiosity.
"I dunno. I guess the other kids think I'm rather strange."
Emma sat up a little straighter and said, "Well, I don't think your strange."
Belle smiled and replied, "Come on, Emma. Let's go to our room."
Belle stood up and extended a hand to her new friend and Emma took it and the each carried up the suit case to the stairway that lead to the hallway that was lined with various bedrooms.
As the two girls were making their way up the stairs and awkwardly carried the suitcase between them, two Siamese cats came down with the long thin tails intertwined.
"Watch out for those two, Emma."
"Those are Aunt Sarah's cats. Their names are Si and Am."
As a staple of the orphanage, the two cats would often roam the halls of the building. While Aunt Sarah felt her precious babies could do no wrong, they would both terrorize the children, and they would often scratch at the meager furniture of the home. If a child got too close to either cat, they usually walked away with a deep scratch or two for their trouble.
As the two cats approached the two girls, the felines unlocked their tales and went gracefully around them with their small heads held high, as if they each smelled something they didn't like.
"Come on, Emma. They're just stuck up."
Hearing Belle speak, both cats turned back in unison with their slim and agile forms and let out a screeching unified hiss which sent the two girls scurrying up the final steps. As if satisfied, the two cats bumped heads and relocked their tales and they each let out echoing meows, before they made their way down the stairs.
Belle led the way down the narrow hall, and they passed the various open and closed doors, all of which Belle walked past. Not a one said 'hello' to Belle. Seeing this began to endear Belle to Emma.
Approaching the last door in the hall, Belle stopped and said, "Here we are. Home sweet home."
Emma looked at the door, and like the rest that they had passed, they were all painted with varying shades of brown. As Belle turned the handle of the door, it swung open to reveal a small bedroom with four beds. Three of the beds had a sagging mattress on top of a rusted metal frame, and the fourth, though it had the same features, was covered in a thick quilt of brown and red fabric that was neatly tucked in at the corners. The only other items in the room were a small and beaten wooden desk with an oval mirror and chair; a three-layer bookcase that had one busted shelf being propped up with tape and book acting as a splint; and a single doored closet. The only light in the room came from a window with a view of another building.
"So, what do you think, Emma?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's our room. Do you like it?"
Emma gazed around the room and looked at Belle, then hugged her new friend, her only friend.
As Emma settled into the orphanage, Belle began to show her the ropes. Together, they walked around the block of their neighborhood.
"So, when we're at meal time, it's best to sneak food into your pockets. but nothing wet. Things like crackers, things in packets, or fruit with thick skins, like bananas."
Looking incredulously at Belle, she asked, "Why?"
"Well, sometimes Aunt Sarah runs out of food for us, or we don't have enough to eat, which honestly is most nights."
"That's not right."
"Well, thanks, Belle. You've been a really good friend. Belle, can I ask you a question?"
Feeling cheerful to change the subject, as Belle's stomach began to grumble, she answered, "Sure."
"How did you end up here?"
Sensing her friend's unease, Emma quickly added, "We don't need to talk about it; I was just curious is all."
"No, it's okay. It's just hard to talk about."
Without thinking about it, Emma grabbed for Belle's hand, and she took it.
"My father was an inventor, and it was just me and my papa. Momma died when I was born."
At hearing that, Emma reassuringly squeezed Belle's hand and encouraged her with a warm smile.
"And so Papa was always inventing something. He was always so clever but couldn't afford to pay anyone, so he did it all while running his business. One night, he needed to make a delivery out to some rich guy's house, and he had an accident."
Belle began to cry and she found herself choked for words.
"I'm so sorry, Belle. We don't need to keep talking about it. It's okay."
Belle breathed out an unsteady breath and continued, "Papa was attacked by wolves. At least, that's what the police told me."
Emma stopped her friend from walking as they talked. Then, she spun Belle around and just hugged her until she calmed down. When Belle was able to pull away from the embrace, Emma saw her friend's tear streaked face. She wiped away Belle's tears before kissing her forehead.
"Thanks, Emma," Belle said with a small but growing smile.
"Of course, Belle. I'm your friend."
Looking to change the subject once more, Belle said in a happier tone of voice, "Oh, and this is where I wanted to bring you. It's the public library."
Emma looked away from Belle and took in the library. Emma could see the library was once held in a higher stature, but now it harbored boarded up windows, graffitied sides and defaced statues of what were likely lions at some point.
Belle, seeing her friends face, said, "I know it doesn't look like much, and they don't have a lot of books, but it's the best we have, and honestly, it's loads better than the orphanage."
"Wanna show me around?" Emma asked.
Belle's eyes went wide as she exclaimed, "Do I ever!"
Emma couldn't help but laugh as the two girls walked into the library.
As each of the girls grew up in the orphanage, they saw fellow children come and go. Perhaps the hardest thing about living in the orphanage was lining up for inspection for potential parents. Every few weeks or so, couples would tour the orphanage and pick out a kiddo or two to take home. As with all of the forgotten children, Emma and Belle would stand in front of their rickety beds and prepare for presentation with their chins out and their hands in their pockets. Emma and Belle came to think of it as the 'dog and pony show,' and neither one of them were ever picked. As each of them got older, they knew the likelihood of them ever being adopted grew slimmer and slimmer with each passing year.
It was not uncommon for Emma and Belle to be found together, huddled in a closet, wearing various stained and altered clothing. They would often cry together in one another's arms after taking part in yet another showing, and once again coming away unchosen.
"It's not fair," Emma would cry. "They only want cute babies."
Emma had begun to ball her hands into little fits and would hit herself in the sides of her head. Belle quickly took hold of her so the small blonde could no longer hurt herself.
While Emma was being held tightly by Belle, she suddenly felt her friend's breathing first begin to quicken then grow shallow.
"Belle?" Emma asked with concern.
When Belle didn't answer, Emma pulled back slightly, but she found that Belle had clamped tighter around her middle.
"Okay, Belle. It's okay. We didn't get chosen this time, but who knows? Maybe next time we will."
"It's not that," Belle said in a rush.
"Okay, well what is it then?"
But she didn't answer. Belle felt as if she couldn't answer. It started as it always did. She felt her heart begin to beat faster, as if her it had grown to just under her throat, and then she began to get a little scared. After the fear settled in, her heart rate went faster, which only served to intensify the fear and the sweat began to pour. With her fear boiling over, Belle's right arm began to hurt from the top down until her fingers started to tingle and then go numb. At this point, Belle's breathing from her mouth was so fast that it came in hard and shallow breaths. As Belle tried to close her mouth and get her breathing under control, she began to get the taste of copper in her mouth, as if it was full of old pennies. By now, all that Belle could think was, This is it. This is how I die. Oh my God, I'm going to die. I don't want to die. I can't die. Her thoughts only quickened and spiraled from there.
Since Belle had her first panic attack the night she was sent to the orphanage, she would have them on a seemingly random basis, and it was the randomness of the attacks that would frighten her the most; she couldn't predict them, and she felt powerless when they came on. The attack would begin then last for hours, and Belle would be left spent and scared for the remainder of the day, until the panic became a memory. Now there was a difference: Emma was there with her.
Running on instinct, Emma hugged and gently rocked Belle and repeated to her, "Shhhh... It's okay. I'm here, you're here, and there's nothing we can't handle together. I'm right here." After a few minutes, Emma had an idea and told Belle, "Bells, I want to try something."
Emma could feel Belle shake her head, but Emma continued, "I want you to try to match my breathing, and I want you to remind yourself that I'm right here, and that we're okay as long as we're together. If this is dumb, we don't have to do it again, but let's give it a shot, okay?" Emma didn't hear a response, so she asked patiently, "Belle, please."
Belle nodded her head into the hollow of Emma's neck and tried to do as she was asked. Slowly, Belle started to mirror Emma's breathing and she told herself over and over, slower and slower that, Emma is right here, and there is nothing we can't handle together. After a few more minutes passed, so did the anxiety.
As Belle loosened her hold on Emma, Emma whispered, "It's okay Belle. We have each other. It's you and me against the world, and the world is fucked."
Hearing Emma curse always brought a small smile to Belle's face, as Emma rarely did so, and she knew the effect of her words on the other girl.
Several years later, Emma and Belle had grown into teenagers, and the girls were still residing within the crumbling walls of the orphanage. Just as it had been when Belle had arrived, she and Emma and the rest of the children would go to bed hungry. On more than one night, Emma would lay in her bed clutching her well-loved stuffed Mickey Mouse to her chest, and Belle's heart would hurt more than her empty stomach. She would fall asleep to Emma's sobs. One night when Emma began to cry, Belle slowly got out of her bed, being careful not to make a sound. Belle crept over to Emma's bed and bent down to gently shake Emma's shoulder as she whispered, "Emma, it's me, Belle."
Emma rolled over on her shoulder to face Belle, and she sniffled as she asked, "Belle?"
"Come on, move over, will ya?"
While Emma was not quite sure of herself, she did trust the sincerity of Belle's words, and she did as she was asked.
"So, you're hungry too?"
Emma pursed her lips and she nodded her head.
"Me too, and I'm all out my stash. How 'bout you?"
"Empty," was all Emma could manage, and she began to cry.
Belle extended one finger and wiped away her tears.
"You know what I could go for, Emma?"
As the tears slowed, Emma squeaked out, "What?"
"I could really go for some thick and fluffy French toast, covered in butter and syrup, real syrup, none of that fake crap we get."
"That sounds good."
"I know, right?! Emma, what would you want with it?"
Emma thought, and then answered, "What about...sausage?"
"Heck yeah, sausage!"
A small giggle escaped from Emma, and she continued, "Oh, and coffee too. French vanilla."
Belle smiled and asked, "Can we have whipped cream too?"
With a smirk, Emma said, "In the coffee? Belle, that's gross."
Belle rolled her eyes and said, "No, you dummy. On the French toast."
More giggles came from Emma as she replied, "Yeah, I think we can do that."
On more nights than the two could count, they feasted together, and they stopped going to bed hungry. Neither was sure when exactly it happened, but the two of them had become family, as sisters.
As the two children grew into young teens, and then older teens, they began to think about their futures.
On a day just like any other, the siblings found themselves sitting in the common room, which was also the dining room, meeting room, and then bedroom at night for a few of the children.
"Belle?" Emma asked as she looked up from her criminal law book, glasses sliding up on her nose.
"Hmm?" she answered in reply as she read from her copy of the same book without lifting her gaze.
Feeling slightly annoyed, Emma placed her slender hands on both covers of Belle's book and slowly began to close it.
Belle attempted to ignore Emma, right up until the point she could no longer read as the book shut. For dramatic affect, she slowly replied, "Yes...Emma, what can I do for you?"
"What are you doing?"
"Well, let me see. I was reading my text book. I would like to pass this exam and maybe, just maybe, the class too."
Emma gave Belle a wry look that only a sister could and continued, "I didn't mean that. I'm telling you, Belle, sometimes I think you're as thick as a tree."
"Just spit it out, Em. What's on your mind?"
"Belle, we graduate from high school this June."
Belle had begun to clap in a slow, mocking fashion.
"Well done, Em. You can read a calendar."
Emma felt her agitation grow and with an open palm, she backhanded Belle behind her pony tail, flipping it up and over.
"Geez, Emma, come on," Belle whined as she rubbed the back of her head. "Emma, I know we graduate, and then we get booted from our ever-loving home. Do you really think that I don't know that?"
Emma sighed heavily, "But Belle, what are we going to do? No one is going to help us, and we have nothing."
Belle leaned back in her chair and folded her slender arms over her chest as she chewed on her lower lip.
She's nervous. She won't say anything to me. She's always trying to protect me. Emma knew her chosen sister better than anyone, and one of Belle's tells was that she bit her lip when she was nervous.
"Belle, we need to talk about this and figure it out."
Belle let out a deep breath and replied, "I know, I know we do."
The two sat looking across from one another as each tried to plan out their futures. As a meow echoed through the hall and into the common room, Emma sprang to her feet and gently closed the lone door, as to not attract the attention of either the cats or Aunt Sarah. When Emma turned back to walk to the table with Belle, she looked down at the criminal law book.
"Belle, that's it!" Emma exclaimed, forgetting her earlier plan of keeping quiet.
"What is?" Belle asked out of confusion.
"Emma, please speak in full sentences."
Emma gave her sister another look that she reserved just for her. "Belle, we join the Navy and we go for military police!"
"Em, be serious."
"Belle, I am. Think about it. We sign up for the Navy together, go into the M.P.'s, and the Navy will help take care of us."
Belle squinted her eyes and thought about what Emma said.
"Emma, I dunno. This is a really big decision. We should really think about this."
"Belle, we graduate in two months and then we're homeless. Homeless on the streets of Los Angeles? I don't really see that working out for us."
Emma looked at Belle and she could see the gears turning.
Belle stood up and began to pace the small room as she continued to wave her hands and said, "I mean, this could work. We could go in do our time and then be able to go to college. Emma, this could work!"
"Wow, I think your right. I only wish I had thought of that," Emma quipped, with large dose of sarcasm as she playfully hit the side of her head.
"You're such a brat. You know that, right?"
"You love me."
"You're lucky I do."
The next day, Emma and Belle went to the recruiter's office in their high school, Optimist Charter, which was anything but optimistic, as it was consistently ranked one of the top underperforming school in Los Angeles. The Navy recruiter was a real Captain America type, with short cropped hair, piercing blue eyes, a chiseled jaw, and a physique that left one feeling more out of shape than ever, in comparison.
As the two approached the recruiter, the girls read his name tag, which said 'Sergeant Major Valiant.'
"Good morning. Can I help you?" the Sergeant asked curtly.
Belle, who felt her nerves get the better of her, began to fall back, and Emma, sensing her unease, stepped up and extended a hand to the recruiter.
She replied, "Yes, we're hoping you can. My sister and I, Belle, are looking to sign up." As an afterthought she added, "Sir."
The Sergeant raised his eyebrows and replied with a tone that Emma could not quite read as sarcastic or serious, "First things first, Miss…?"
"Swan. Emma Swan, Sir."
"First things first, Miss Swan. Don't call me sir. Do you see bars, clover leaves, or eagles on my shoulders?"
Emma didn't quite know where she should be looking but replied "I don't think so s..." but she cut herself off before she could finish the word 'sir.'
"That's right. You don't. I'm not an officer; I'm an enlisted man, and I work for a living. You can call me Sergeant Major or Sergeant Valiant."
"Okay, Sergeant Valiant, my sister and would like to enlist."
The Sergeant looked at both 'children,' as that's how they looked in his eyes. He saw before him two slightly malnourished children in second hand clothes, but he also saw a light in their eyes that was not completely extinguished by whatever Hell that they obviously lived in.
"What makes you think you two are Navy material?"
Emma went to speak and realized that she hadn't thought of that, and she found herself scrambling for words.
Belle pulled her eyes from the floor and took a step forward, saying, "Sergeant Major, my sister and I have nothing. We live in the Second Chance Orphanage, and we have no real home, parents, or friends. We just have each other. We both know we want more than what life has given us, and we can both offer more; we just need to be given that chance."
The Sergeant mulled over the girl's words and he knew the kid had heart and guts to stand up to him; he always drilled the kids that came through his doors to weed out the ones that couldn't cut it before boot camp.
Emma looked at Belle and then returned her gaze to the Sergeant and replied as she stuck a finger towards her sister and said, "Yeah. What she said."
The Sergeant grinned for the first time in a long while and answered. "Well, alright then. What year are you both in?"
"We're both seniors," Emma answered.
"So, two things need to happen. First, you need to each graduate high school and then need to pass a physical exam." Sergeant Valiant saw the looks on the siblings faces and guessed their thoughts correctly, adding, "It's okay. The Navy will pay for the exam. Once you're in the Navy, we take care of our own."
Emma and Belle sat in a corner booth at Tony's Town Square Restaurant. Belle and Emma each had a small part time jobs as waitresses there, and the kindly owner, Tony, would occasionally invite them to a spaghetti and meatball dinner for just the two of them.
Emma was looking down at her heaping piled up plate and while normally she would devour her meal, today she found herself pushing her food from one end of the plate to another.
Belle looked up as she was slurping up a long strand of thick spaghetti and said with a full mouth, "Emma?"
"Huh?" she replied.
"Earth to Emma. You okay?"
"What? Oh yeah, I'm fine."
"Emma," Belle said, this time with a bit more force.
Emma looked up at Belle and saw the concern in her eyes and thought, not for the first time, I swear she reads my mind. I can't keep a damn thing from her. "I'm just nervous is all," she replied.
"Nervous about what?"
"What about them?"
"I haven't been doing that great this semester, and all my professors have told me the same thing 'I need to pass all my finals in order to graduate.'
"Em, why the hell didn't you say anything? You know I would have helped you."
Huh, maybe there are some things I can keep from her, Emma mused.
"It's okay, I'm going to buckle down, hit the books, and have a study marathon or something. I won't mess things up, Belle. I'll start studying tonight. Once we leave here, we'll go to the library, or I'll just go and study by myself. I know you're all set."
"Well, maybe not tonight."
"Why not?" Emma asked with a confused expression.
"Emma, it's your birthday today. Your eighteenth birthday, and unlike you, I didn't forget.
Tonight, I'm taking you out to Peter's house party and we're going to celebrate, and I don't want you to complain. Got it?"
"A party? You're taking me to party? You must be joking."
Back in the Second Chance Orphanage, Belle and Emma were both getting ready for the party in their shared room and Belle was standing in front of their desk that had an oval mirror attached at the back. Belle was slipping on a secondhand blue dress with white trim and humming to herself as she did so. As Belle was doing this, Emma looked on at her sister and grinned, thinking, No matter what is going, on that girl finds the happy. With a sigh Emma continued to think, I guess that's the difference between an optimist and realist.
Emma was pulling over her white blouse and answered, "Yeah, Bells?"
Turning to meet her sister, Belle replied, "Do you think you could do my hair?" as she held out their shared brush and her one blue ribbon with a grin on her face that melted Emma every time.
Emma let out a rehearsed sigh and dramatically rolled her eyes and said, "You know I'm rubbish with this girly stuff."
Belle's smile widened, and said her line, as she had done many times before, "But I like it how you do it."
As Belle said the word 'you' she made her hazel eyes go wide and sparkle.
"Oh, just stop it with the eyes. You win," Emma said as she raised her hands in defeat.
"My hero!" Belle cried out.
"Yeah, yeah. I got your hero crap right here."
"Do you want me to brush your hair or not?"
Belle motioned with her hands to signal silence by locking her mouth and pretending to throw away the key.
Emma let out a quick laugh, pushing her glasses up on her nose, and said, "Yeah, like that will last long."
Emma began to brush out her sister's hair with more practiced ease than she would ever admit to. While Emma would never say it to Belle, she secretly loved little moments like this with her sister. The soft feel and bounce to Belle's hair always soothed her and she often found herself playing with Belle's hair after they had their nightly talking feast which put her in such a relaxed state that she would quickly fall asleep and wake up when Belle sat up in the morning, as she would have to untangle her finger from the curls she had made during the night.
With a smirk, Emma said "You know, Belle, one of these days you're going to wake up with your hair shaved and I'll have nothing to do with it, and then you'll have to go a few months before you can wear that ribbon of yours."
Emma said with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes as she made to rustle Belle's pony tail, but Belle shook her off just in time.
"Oh, Emma," Belle sighed.
But before she could continue, Emma cut her off and said, "Wow, that was nearly five minutes before you broke off you little mouth lock."
"Don't tease, or I'll take back your gift."
Slightly tensing, Emma replied, "What gift?"
"The gift I got for you, silly. You only turn eighteen once, and the day of your birth is not to just come and go without something to mark the occasion."
Emma took a deep breath, as she didn't want to say something she would end up regretting.
"Belle, honey, you know we don't have money to throw away."
Emma knew just how stretched their finances really were. Just about all of Belle's and Emma's meager earnings from waitressing went to school supplies, extra bedding, clothes, and occasionally extra food, and neither had any left-over money to splurge.
Belle half turned in her seat and gripped the back of the wooden chair and said, "Trust me, Emma, I didn't spend a lot, I bought it second hand, and I got a really good deal."
Emma looked into Belle's eyes and she knew she was lying but instead of pressing the issue she took another breath and said, "Thank you, Belle. That was very thoughtful of you."
Belle's smile grew wider. Belle had been setting aside what money she could for the past year, while also taking extra shifts so that she could save up for Emma's gift. Belle hated to lie to her sister, as she did spend a lot more than she should have. She did not buy it second hand, and she most definitely did not get a good deal. Belle also knew that her sister was practically a human lie detector, so she was sure her sister knew that she had just lied, but she loved her even more for that fact she did not call her out on it.
"It's in the closet, in the back, behind the black bags. Oh, and it's in a white box."
Emma rifled through the sparsely filled closet, found the white box, and pulled it out.
Emma stroked the top of the smooth cardboard box and asked, "So, what's in it?"
"I dunno. I guess you'll just have to open and find out," Belle said with a dramatic shrug.
"Alright, here I go."
Emma opened the box and removed the tissue paper to reveal the gift from within. Emma caught her breath, taking in the red leather jacket as she ran her fingers up and down the stiff leather.
"Belle, I don't know what to say."
"You don't need to say anything. Just try it on already."
Delicately, Emma pulled the jacket from its box, and as the light caught the jacket it seemed to lighten and darken its shade of red, depending on how the light hit it. For a long moment, Emma just looked at the jacket, and then her curiosity got the better of her, so she swung the jacket through one arm and then the other. As the jacket settled on her frame, she looked down on it and tugged at it this way and that.
"Belle, it fits perfectly, like it's a second layer of skin."
"You know, seeing you in it, it looks more like armor."
Emma found herself looking into the mirror and zipped the jacket half way up as she looked herself over.
"You know, it does kinda look like my armor, and it really helps my boobs just pop."
"Oh, my God, Emma, you have such a potty mouth. Remember when you didn't? Cause I do!"
Laughing, Emma replied, "Kidding, Bells. Seriously, I love it. I really love it. Thank you so much."
Belle walked over to Emma and hugged her hard, saying, "Of course, Emma. We're family. Now we've got to get going."
"Do we have to? We could just stay in, Bells."
"Nope. Sorry. We're going, and you're going to love it, so move your ass."
Emma feigned indignation and said "Belle French, I never. Ahhh... such language. My precious ears."
As she said this, she clutched at her ears. Emma continued and said, "Where have you learned such language from, young lady? You tell me this instant."
"I must have learned it from watching you."
Emma and Belle both laughed together at this.
The two girls slowly and silently made their way through the creaking halls of the orphanage, but one thing that they had gained from living there for so long was that they knew were to step without making a sound. As the two girls tip toed passed the heavily snoring Aunt Sarah, whose two elderly cats slept curled up on her lap, they made their way to front door. Once outside, the girls breathed an easy sigh of relief and they quickened their pace to the ongoing party.
Belle brought Emma to their mutual acquaintance Peter's house, as he was throwing a pre-graduation party for his closest hundred or so friends. While Belle and Emma were not exactly invited, they were not not invited as well, or at least that's how Belle chose to look at when trying to figure out where to take Emma for her birthday.
As both girls walked up to the house, they were first greeted with the booming base of the speakers that were scattered throughout the house.
"Really Belle? This looks totally lame," Emma grumbled, as she gestured to the crowded house of teens. Belle followed her sister's gaze and took in the sight of everyone holding their red solo cups filled with various brews.
"Come on, Emma. We just got here. Let's just give it a shot."
With a groan, Emma submitted as Belle grabbed her hand and led her up the few stairs to the open door at the top of the landing. As the two entered, they found themselves in a sea of bodies huddled together in various groups throughout the crowded house.
"Alright, so what do we do now, genius?" Emma asked loudly, in order to be heard over the reverberating base.
Belle strained up on her toes to get a better view and craned her neck to look around until she found what she was looking for.
"The kitchen, let's go the kitchen."
Not letting go of Emma's hand, Belle led the way to the kitchen, and to do so, the two needed to squeeze through the various huddled bodies. As Belle passed by one unassuming boy, he looked up at her.
"Hey, why don't you buy me a drink first," he said with impish grin.
"Hey jackass, want to try that again?" Emma said with authority.
Belle, shaking her head, said, "Come on, Emma, just leave him," and she pulled her along.
This party is filled with pathetic boys, Emma thought in disgust.
Once inside the kitchen, Belle found what she was looking for on the table. Walking over to the table, Belle picked up an unattended chocolate cupcake, then fished in her pocket to produce a small birthday candle, which she placed through the top.
Smiling, Belle exclaimed, "Happy Birthday, Emma! Make a wish!"
With a grin, Emma said, "Belle, you're supposed to light the candle so I can blow it out."
"Oh yeah, that would have helped."
Without either of the girls noticing, a hand suddenly appeared with a metallic Zippo lighter and the candle was lit.
"Happy birthday," a male voice proclaimed.
Emma looked up and saw the first actual man of the party and a warmth began to spread to her abdomen as she found herself lost for words.
"Hey," the man said.
Emma found herself lightly licking her up lip, as her pupils dilated before she replied, "Hey."
Belle looked at the two in disbelief and interjected with mock excitement, "Hey."
With the spell slightly broken between the two, Emma shook her head and said, "Sorry. I'm Emma, and this is my sister, Belle."
The man grinned and replied, "The name's Neal Cassidy."
Emma looked Neal up and down and noticed his slightly shaggy dark brown hair that curled at the top, his confident brown eyes, and his slight goatee. Over his medium build, he wore an unzipped gray sweater which covered a V-neck gray shirt and ripped jeans.
"So, Emma, you celebrating or something?"
Emma felt herself getting warm as she answered, "Oh, yeah. It's my birthday today."
"Oh," Neal replied with a smile and continued. "So, how old are ya?"
"Really," he replied as his grin grew. "Well, you certainly can't celebrate your eighteenth birthday without a drink." Neal walked over to the tapped keg and pumped up three cups, and as he handed the two red plastic cups around, he said, "Well, Happy Birthday Emma. I certainly hope your next year is better than the last."
Belle coughed audibly once and said, "Well Neal, thank you for the drinks. It was really nice to meet you, but my sister and I are having a private little moment together, so if you wouldn't mind?"
Neal's face aggressively contoured for a moment, and just as fast it came, it was gone and was replaced with a practiced smile as he said, "Of course." Neal turned from Belle, then put his full attention back to Emma and said, "I'd really like to continue our conversation sometime." Then as if in after thought, he concluded, "Sometime soon."
Neal pulled a pen from his pants' pocket and wrote his number on a napkin, then handed it to Emma. As Emma moved to take it, Neal gently grabbed her hand, and raised it to meet his bent head, then placed a less than delicate kiss on it.
"'Til next time, Emma," he said.
Emma felt her face redden, and all she could do was stand there.
As Neal sauntered off, Belle gapped at her sister and said, "Wow, what a piece of work."
"Yeah… He's something else," Emma replied dreamily.
Belle rolled her eyes at Emma, then said, "Please, Emma, don't tell me that whole act worked on you? That guy was a total stooge."
Emma took a sip of her drink, felt the heat begin to recede from her face, and looked at Belle in disbelief before asking, "Belle, are you jealous?"
Belle's jaw dropped in answer, and then, finding her voice, she continued, "No, Emma, I'm really not. I'm just saying. He seemed like a bit of a… player to me. And wait a minute. Did you just drink that beer?"
Emma slipped her arm through Belle's, and answered with a grin "Belle, it was just one sip of one beer." Mockingly Emma raised up her free hand and said, "I swear I can stop drinking whenever I want to."
Belle let out a small laugh.
"And Belle, thank you for looking out for me. I probably won't even text him. Come on. Let's enjoy this cupcake already."
Hi, folks! Thank you so much for reading! We'd love some feedback, and we can't wait to hear what you guys think about the story so far!
The next day, Emma and Belle were both studying in the public library, in one of the few long tables that weren't taken up by various forlorn individuals looking for a quiet place to sleep or to charge their electronics. While Belle was lazily reading through her textbooks for the hundredth time or so, Emma found herself reading the same few sentences over and over.
While Emma was unable to keep her head in her books, she kept thinking about Neal. Should I call him? It's probably too soon. I mean, I don't want to come off as too eager. Oh, my God, girl. Just get a grip. He's not that good looking. Wait… Who am I kidding? Yes he is.
Belle stretched out in her chair and looked at Emma, asking, "How's it going?"
Breaking away from her thoughts, Emma looked up at Belle and asked, "Huh?"
"Answering a question with a question, huh?"
Sighing, Emma answered, "Sorry, Bells. I just don't know how you do it sometimes."
Belle scrunched in her face and asked, "What do you mean?"
Smiling, Emma stated, "Now's who answering a question with a question?"
"Yeah, that's a fair point."
"I just don't know how you do it sometimes. I study just about as much as you do, but you, you just get it, you know?"
Belle shrugged and replied, "I dunno, Ems. I just remember what I read is all, I guess that's my super power; you're a human lie detector, so that's yours. Come on. I'll help you. What part are you on?"
Just as Belle got up to shift her seat towards Emma, the crumbling but still functional grandfather clock chimed four o'clock. Belle looked up and said, "Shoot, Em, I've got to go to work. I'm so sorry."
"No, I get it. Go. I'll keep to the books," she replied, as she shook the heavy book in her hand for emphasis. "And Belle, thanks for picking up my shifts so that I can study."
"Of course, Emma, you need the time. You keep at it, and ask for help if you need it, okay?"
"Yeah, of course."
As Belle made her way out of the library, Emma tried to focus on her studies, but she kept seeing Neal in her head. Without thinking, Emma pulled her cell phone out along with the napkin with Neal's number on it. Text him, don't text him? Fuck girl, just fucking do it, so that way you can get him out of your mind and get back to studying.
Emma typed the digits into her phone, then wrote out the message, 'Hey hey, this is Emma.' She clicked send and saw the message go through. Oh shoot, what if he's like 'Who's Emma?' Crap, I can't text him again. Emma groaned and slid deeper into her seat. Just do it, already.
'Sorry, but I meant to type this Emma from the party last night,' and she clicked send again.
Alright, let's read this damn book, Emma thought with growing exacerbation about her upcoming finals.
As Emma began to read and understand her text book, her phone buzzed and vibrated on the table. Emma pealed her eyes from her book and shifted to her phone and read, 'Hey girl, been thinking about u, how u doin?'
Emma smiled, then felt the familiar warmth begin to spread in her abdomen.
Emma typed in excitement, 'I'm good, u?'
'Better hearing from u. So, what u doin?'
'Not much, so studying, what for?'
'Finals, what are you majoring in?'
'You know, college.'
'Oh, I'm in high school, I'm a senior…'
'Damn, girl, you strike me as a fancy college gal.'
'So, you almost done?'
'I'd really like to continue our conversation.'
Emma pushed her hair back behind her ear as she felt flush, then typed, 'I mean, I can be done at any time.'
'Great, I'l swing by and pick you up, and we'll grab coffee. Where u at girl?'
'I'm at the library.'
'Great, I'll swing by and pick u up. Meet me out front in 5.'
Unable to sit still, Emma haphazardly packed up her belongings into her back pack, then made for the exit.
As Emma stood outside, she began to slowly pace the cracked stairs and thought, Okay, just breathe, and play it cool. You got this. Emma looked at her watch as the time slowly crawled by.
Twenty minutes later, a rusted blue Ford sedan with a smoking tail pipe flew up to her its breaks squealing in protest as it came to a stop. Neal leaned over in his seat, then pushed open the passenger door.
Neal winked up at Emma, and motioned for her to come in.
"Hey girl, so glad you texted."
Emma's blush deepened as she pushed her hair back behind her ears, and she smiled a brilliant white smile which was slyly retuned from Neal.
"So, Emma, you like coffee?"
"Oh, yeah, totally."
"Great. Listen, change of plans."
"Ah… Sure, no worries."
"Cool, I just need to meet up with my boy for a quick minute, and then we'll grab that coffee."
As Neal drove, He kept one hand on the wheel and the other close to Emma's side, and instead of keeping his eyes on the road, he kept stealing glances at Emma.
"So, Emma, I've got to ask you a question."
"So, you said that chick with you is your sister, right?"
"You two don't really look anything alike. You got different dads or something?"
"Oh, no, we're not related. We live in an orphanage, and we pretty much adopted one another."
"That's cool. So, what, no parents?"
Emma felt her stomach drop a bit as she answered, "Not that I can remember. I… was abandoned."
Neal's eyes went wide as he said with surprise, "Are you for real?"
Emma slightly dropped her head and replied, "Yeah."
"Huh, that's kinda fucked up right there." Neal began to sense Emma's discomfort and continued, "Well, they must have been damaged, 'cause anyone that would have abandoned you has some serious issues."
Emma forced out a laugh.
"So, it sounds like you've had some scars, Emma, and you know what they say. 'Those that don't have scars haven't really lived.'"
Emma picked up her head and met Neal's gaze, then said, "Yeah, I've lived through some things."
Before she concluded, Neal interjected, "And you're stronger for it."
Emma blushed, but that blush became a flame as Neal placed his hand over hers.
Neal turned the wheel of the car roughly and Emma was rolled closer to him.
"Oh, hey there," Neal said with one raised eyebrow.
"Hey," Emma breathed out.
Neal pulled his gaze from Emma, then announced, "There's my boy." Neal turned into the side of the street and shifted into park. Neal opened the door and stepped out of the car, and as an after thought he bent down to look at Emma then asked, "You going to be here when I get back?"
Emma laughed and answered, "Yeah."
Neal winked then closed the door and jogged down the street towards his 'boy.'
Emma sat with her hands on her lap and looked about the car. The car's interior was littered with various old takeout containers, and the seats had rips of varying sizes. Emma shifted her gaze from the car to Neal. Emma could see the two men talking to one another, and they seemed to make an exchange. Neal turned away from the other man and began to make his way back to her. The closer that Neal got back to the car, the louder Emma's heart sounded in her ears.
Emma took a steadying breath, then thought, You're doing great, and he's great.
Neal opened the car door, and a metallic groan sounded. As Neal sat down, the weight of the car shifted. When Neal closed the door with a bang, he looked over to Emma and said, "Hey, I've got an idea. We're gonna go back to my place, and I'll make you that drink. That way we can have some privacy." After a pause, and just as Emma was about to speak, he continued, "Emma, I really would like to get to know you. I know we just met and all, but I got a good feeling about you."
Emma felt her mouth go dry when she heard Neal say, 'I got a good feeling about you,' and she tried to swallow, but found her mouth just as dry.
Seeing Emma hesitate, Neal continued, "Problem?"
Emma shook her head and answered nervously, "No, that sounds good." Emma looked down at her knees and continued, "I'd like to get to know you too."
Neal let out a soft laugh and held out his hand. As Emma took it, he asked, "Going my way?"
Emma giggled in reply, and Neal smiled to reveal his slightly yellowed teeth.
Neal led Emma up to his third-floor studio apartment and gestured for her to come in.
As Emma stepped over the threshold, she took in the apartment with its miniature white stained stove which was missing two of its four small burners; a small fridge with a large metallic handled covered in duct tape; a single bay sink with a bar of green soap on the side; a small plastic table, with two fold away chairs; a full size bed that was unkempt; and a bathroom door that was left half open that had a long dirty towel draped over it.
"So, what do you think?"
Emma heisted and then decided to lie, "It's nice."
Neal rubbed the back of his head and said, "Yeah, I know it ain't much, but its home. So that drink. Let me get that for you."
Neal opened the oven door, and took out a small sauce pot, then moved over to the sink to fill up the pot with water. Once full, he returned the pot to stove and placed it on a burner.
"Hey, I need to use the John. Make yourself at home."
After Neal closed the bathroom door, Emma took her phone and looked at her screen. Belle had messaged her, 'Heyya Emma, at work, study hard! I'll be home later tonight. Love you!' With a sigh, Emma returned her phone to her pocket and thought, I shouldn't be doing this. Belle is working for me so that I can study. I need to explain this to Neal.
When Neal came out, he appeared to be more relaxed than he was before, and with a smile he said, "So, that coffee. Here we go."
"Uhh… Your pupils are kinda dilated. You okay?"
"Er… Yeah. I've got a, um… I've just got a migraine is all. On that note, I'm gonna down some of these lights."
As Neal turned off the lights and shuffled around his small kitchen, Emma thought of how she could make the time to still study, but before she could, Neal was standing in front of her with a steaming cup of coffee.
"Drink it while it's warm, but first—" Neal raised his own cup "—to today and to what is to come. Cheers."
"Cheers," Emma repeated.
She took a drink of her coffee, and her eyes went wide when she tasted the strange brew.
Through his grin, Neal asked, "Everything okay there, Emma?"
"Oh, yeah, the coffee just tastes different."
"Oh, sorry. You looked kinda nervous, and you said you've been studying, so I figured you could use a pick me up. I made it Irish for ya."
"Oh, thanks. It's good," Emma said as she thought. Do not tell him this is only the second time that you've had alcohol.
"Hey, let's lay down. My back is a bit stiff. We can totally chill on my bed."
Neal plopped on his bed and rested his back on the wall, then stretched out his long legs. Once settled, he patted the empty spot next to him to signal her over.
This is fine. This is going well. I'll just sit for a bit, then I'll have him drive me back to library, Emma thought, as she made her way to the bed and slid into place.
Neal took a long hit from his coffee, then asked Emma, "Good?"
Emma took an equally long drink, and as the burning liquid traveled down her throat, she suppressed a cough, then said, "It's good. Real good. Thanks again."
"Not a problem," Neal replied, and as he did so, he slid his hand on Emma's knee. "So, Emma, I want to be real with you. I don't just bring chicks back to my place, but I can tell you're different. I don't know what it is about you, but you're special."
Hearing Neal call her 'special,' Emma felt an unfamiliar longing build up inside her as her pulse noticeably quickened.
"I'd like to know you Emma. Tell me about yourself."
As Emma finished her coffee, she asked, as her head began to swim through the rush of the alcohol, "Well, what do you want to know?"
While grinning, Neal replied, "Emma I just said you're special. Tell me everything."
Emma's eyes went wide, and she thought, He cares about me. I knew Belle was wrong about him.
As Emma went through her story, Neal slowly moved closer to her, and his hand began gently slide higher up to her middle thigh, then his other hand wrapped around her opposite shoulder.
By the time that Emma finished with her life's story, she was breathless, and she felt as if her skin was burning where ever Neal was touching hers.
Neal's eyes locked with Emma's, and involuntarily her lips parted slightly and then she uttered, "Neal."
At hearing his name, Neal moved in and roughly placed his lips over hers. As he leaned over Emma, he began to rub her abdomen over her shirt, and then he slipped his hand underneath. As he traced the outline of her navel region, Emma felt a tingling sensation slowly intensify.
Emma found herself no longer able to think and began to move on instinct as she opened her mouth in greeting to Neal's. Emma felt Neal's warm breath intermingle with hers, and then she felt his tongue touch her own.
Emma felt Neal shift his lips as he began to slowly draw her tongue into his mouth.
As Emma groaned out in ecstasy, Neal placed his hand from her naval, and moved both hands over Emma's slight hips, then easily placed her on top of him.
Without realizing it, Emma found herself beginning to straddle Neal's stiffening jeans while she continued to embrace their kiss.
Neal began rub Emma's hips in unison with her thrusting. Suddenly, Neal's breathing quickened, and he began to thrust back against Emma.
Emma felt a growing explosion begin to build inside her, and she quicken her already rapid place. Emma tore hear face away from Neal's and she looked skyward. As she closed her eyes, she felt herself spiraling in the growing pleasure. Emma felt she was moments away from becoming lost within herself when Neal cried out her name.
Neal with spent eyes placed his hands over Emma's to stop her in place.
Emma felt herself slipping away from her missed release and looked down in confusion at Neal.
In between haggard breaths, Neal said, "I think we should slow down. You'rereally important to me, and I don't want to build a relationship on sex, you know? You're more important to me than that."
Emma looked down at Neal as she felt her heart swell. That was when Emma realized that she was in love.
"You're important to me, too."
As Emma slid off her lover's waist, she didn't notice the widening soiled spot in the middle of Neal's jeans.
"Come on. I'll take you back to the library, and I'll call you."
Emma smiled as she said a quiet, "Thank you."
For the next several weeks, Emma would spend the majority of her time at the orphanage thinking about Neal, at the library thinking about Neal, or in the back seat of Neal's car. While Belle didn't ask Emma about Neal, neither did Emma volunteer any information; Emma hated not sharing what was going on between her and Neal, but she wanted this to herself. Emma and Belle shared just about everything, and now for the first time in Emma's life, she had something that was just hers, and she found her secret utterly intoxicating. At the same time, Emma felt the weight of the secret building tension between her and her chosen sister.
While Emma was daydreaming on her bed, Belle was getting dressed for yet another shift at Tony's. As Belle was tying her blue ribbon in her hair, she looked down at her sister and noticed that she didn't seem to be reading the text book before her.
At hearing her name, Emma begrudgingly pulled herself out of her daydream of Neal, looked up at Belle, and asked, "Yeah, Belle?"
"How's the studying coming along?"
"Oh… Good. Real good," Emma replied nervously without much thought on her studies.
Belle, who did not share her sister's gift for detecting falsehoods, still knew Emma well enough to tell that something was up.
"Emma, is anything going on? You seem different."
"No, nothing really," Emma answered, but as she said this, her phone lit up, which revealed Neal's picture as he called.
"Emma, you can't be serious! That guy?"
"Belle, it's nothing."
"What do you mean it's nothing? Why is that guy calling you?"
"We've just been spending some time together is all."
"Emma, are you sure that's such a good idea? I didn't really get a good vibe from him."
Feeling defensive, Emma replied with a slight tone, and said, "Belle, you don't really know Neal. He has really good heart, he cares about me, and once you get to know him, you'll understand."
In disbelief, Belle raised her hands, telling her, "Emma, all I'm saying is you need to make sure that you're being careful and taking the time to study. You know you need to pass your finals so that we can graduate, and then we can get into the Navy, and get outta here."
With a sigh, Emma replied, "Yes, Belle. I know, and I will. Trust me."
Belle knelt down beside her sister, and while looking into her eyes, she said, "Emma, I do trust you. We're family. Besides, it's not like anyone can lie to you and get away with it. If you say this guy is a good one, well, then… I trust you."
Belle reached out her hand to Emma, and the sisters embraced.
The brunette stood up, straightened her outfit, and said, "Okay, I've got to get to work now. Make sure you keep studying."
Emma looked up and mockingly said, "Yes, mom."
Belle laughed and as she walked out of the room, she said, "I love you."
"Love you too, Bells."
With Emma alone in her room, she turned back to her phone, and saw that Neal had texted her, 'Meet me outside your place in 15 mins.'
Emma felt herself smile as she sprang out of bed, and she left her studies behind as she got ready.
Thirty minutes later, Neal pulled up in his car, and Emma got right in. As a greeting, Neal kissed Emma and slid his tongue into her mouth, and then he pulled back, and said, "Let's go."
Trigger warning for non-con and drug use.
As Emma was straddling Neal in the backseat of his car, he asked her, "Hey, when was the last time you got some new clothes?"
Emma shook herself out of her excitement and thought first, then replied, "Belle bought this jacket for me for my birthday. But we usually hit up thrift stores at least a few times a year or so."
"So, you buy your clothes second hand? Man, that blows. Come on, babe. We're going to the mall."
"What? No. Neal, I don't have any money for new clothes."
"Who said you were buying? Let's go," Neal said, sliding Emma off his dampened pants, and the two climbed into the front row seats. Slamming on the gas, the two sped off toward the mall.
When the two arrived at the department store by the side entrance, they entered hand in hand through the automatic doors and headed towards the women's section.
Once they had arrived at their destination, Neal let go of Emma's hand and gestured to the waiting clothes, then said, "Alright, babe. For today, the world is your oyster. Have at it."
With a disbelieving grin, Emma looked at Neal, and asked, "Are you for real right now?"
Mocking a gesture of being hurt, Neal took Emma's hands in his own and said, "I'll never lie to you. Now, go already."
Sensing no deceit from Neal, Emma's grin grew wider. Emma was beside herself. Of course, she and Belle had gone window shopping before, but never had they actually bought new clothes together. While looking down at the brand-new jeans, Emma was reminded of how Belle had bought the jacket she wore now, and she marveled at how lucky she was to have two people in her life that truly loved her. Sure, Neal had not said the word 'love' before, but Emma fully believed that he did in fact love her.
Emma tried on several items of clothing as Neal sat at the table reserved for customers, texting someone on his cell phone. After what seemed to be a blissful eternity, Emma held out the brand-new outfit she had chosen.
Neal looked up from his cell phone and asked, "Now, are you sure this is it?"
Beaming with excitement, Emma nodded.
"Alright, babe. I'll carry that." As he took the clothes from Emma with one hand and held out his other for hers. The two casually made their way up to the register, but just as they began to approach it, Neal suddenly turned left towards the exit. At that same moment, alarms sounded in protest, and Neal tightened his grip on Emma's hand as he shifted his walk into a dead run.
Emma's eyes went wide in confused excitement, as they bolted through the opening door. Behind Emma, she could hear the raised voice of an employee cry out, "Wait a minute! You need to pay for that!"
Running to the car, Neal yelled out, "Get in!" As the two thieves jumped in, Neal turned the car over, and the engine roared to life. Neal jammed the shifter into gear, then slammed his foot on the gas pedal. As the car sped away, it left a gust of gray smoke and burnt rubber.
As Emma looked incredulously at Neal, she felt her heart pumping to the point that it felt in danger of bursting from within her chest.
"I can't believe you did that!" she cried.
As Emma heard her own words, she couldn't tell if she her exhilaration was from fear or excitement.
"Fuck those corporate pigs, babe. What has this world ever done for either one us? I'll tell you what! Nothing, that's what. You fuckin' deserve to be treated like the goddamn royalty that you are, and I'll make sure that you always will be treated like that. I fucking love you, Emma."
Emma felt her entire body begin to quiver with excitement as she bit her lower lip, and told Neal, "Pull over."
"What?" He asked with genuine confusion.
"Pull. The fuck. Over," she ordered, as she began to lose herself in the excitement at the sudden thought of losing her virginity to the man loved her in return.
Neal slowed down and pulled into a back street, and just as he pulled the shifter up to park, Emma was on top of him and kissing him with a new level of fierceness. Emma felt Neal swell beneath her and her own sex responded.
Breaking away from the embrace but without stopping her thrusting, she said, "I want you to fuck me."
Without a word spoken, Neal awkwardly slid his pants to his ankles, and Emma responded in kind. Emma felt the hard cock break through her, and an explosion of fireworks burst through her as she screamed out, first from the pain of his entry, and then from the new feeling of pleasure.
Emma began to rock up and down on Neal's sex. His breathing quickened as he shot his hands up and under her shirt. Emma felt Neal's hands slip under her bra and roughly grip her soft and firm breasts. Emma's nipples hardened under Neal's grasp as the waves of electricity shot through her. Just as Emma felt herself reaching her apex, Neal gasped out he suddenly pulled himself out of her and shot his spent load on her thigh. Feeling both deprived and exhilarated, Emma chose to focus on the rush of adrenaline as she resumed kissing Neal.
As their embrace ended, the two replaced their clothing, and Neal asked, "How was your first time?"
Emma wasn't quite sure of the answer, as she had no comparison, so she decided to air on the side of caution, as she replied, "It was magical."
Neal smiled as he said, "Yeah, it was."
The day before finals, Emma found herself in a sudden whirl of panic in Neal's apartment. Belle was working a double shift.
As Emma was pacing the small studio apartment, she kept thinking the same thought, over and over, I'm going to flunk out of high school. I know it. I'm going to fail…
After about fifteen minutes, Neal looked up from his text message conversation, and for the first time, he saw Emma looking as though she was at her wits end. Emma's hair was disheveled as her hands alternated between being stuffed in her pants' pockets to running them through her hair, and with rubbing her temples. Emma's face had become a look of abject horror.
Neal let out a long, frustrated sigh, and asked, "Babe, what's the matter? You looked stressed."
Without pausing her pacing, Emma snapped, "I have finals in the morning, and if I don't pass then I don't graduate."
"Well, who cares? What's the big deal?"
With her eyes going slightly wide, Emma looked at Neal lying comfortably on the bed, without a care in the world, and she answered with a trace amount of anger, "I care Neal, my sister cares, and I thought you cared too."
Neal rolled his eyes, and lazily got out of bed, then walked over to Emma.
While in front of the blond, her gripped her shoulders, to hold her in place, then said, "I do care babe, I love you, and if it's important to you to have some piece of paper, then I care." Neal broke his gaze away from Emma and looked at the bathroom door, then said, "Wait here a second. I've got just the thing."
Neal ended the embrace, then strode into the bathroom.
While alone, Emma's thoughts turned back to her fear of failing and with ruining her plans of joining the Navy with Belle. She's counting on me. I need to be able to do this for both of us, she thought in desperation.
As Neal came back in the room, he held up a bottle of small orange colored pills, and as he shook them, he said, "These little guys will help you study for sure. Here, I'm going to crush some up and you just snort them, and that way you can study all night. It's pretty much a smart pill. They're called Study Buddies. I sell allot of these to college kids trying to pass their exams."
Emma squinted her eyes in disbelief, then said, "Wait, what? You sell drugs? Neal, I can't snort these."
Neal crossed his arms defensively, then said, "First of all, Emma, yes I sell medication to people that need them, people such as yourself. I don't sell to junkies or anything like that. And what's the big deal? How is taking these little pills any different from the alcohol or coffee you drink? It's the hypocrisy of society trying to keep you down is all. But hey, if you wanna fail out of high school, be my guest, or you can have some of this, and pass. Your choice."
Emma felt the knot of fear grow in her stomach, as her inability to make a choice grew in unison.
Neal, who was not unfamiliar with reading a person's desperation, saw the indecision coming off in waves from Emma. Choosing his words with care, Neal said, "Emma, don't you trust me?"
Hearing those word froze Emma in place. With complete sincerity, the blonde answered, "Of course I do, Neal. With all my heart."
Neal placed one reassuring hand to the side of Emma's face, sending soothing waves of relief to her skin as he said, "Then trust me now."
With a grin, Neal walked over to the kitchen and grabbed a cup from the sink, then proceeded to crush three of the orange pills. Neal then scraped the dusted remains into a long line and motioned for Emma to do the deed. Emma ignored her better judgment, put her faith into the man she loved, and walked over to the table.
Neal grinned at Emma, then said, "Buckle up, butter cup. You're going for a ride."
Further obeying, Emma pushed her hair to the side, knelt down, then vigorously inhaled the crushed tablets.
Emma felt her nerves slightly abate as the powdered pills flew into her waiting body and dissolved into her blood stream.
A surprised expression came over Neal's face, and he said excitedly, "Damn, girl, you took that like a champ! Now, normally taking the pill whole, the affects kick in after about thirty minutes, but crushing 'em, knocks the time down to about ten minutes or so."
"Okay," Emma breathed out in relief. "Thanks again, Neal. This really means a lot to me."
"I got you, babe."
As the affects began to build within Emma, she first noticed a growing sense of calm come over her, as if she was suddenly wrapped by a warm blanket of serenity. Emma had always felt the safest when she was with Belle, but now she couldn't understand how she had ever felt scared or what it had felt like in the past. Emma moved to the kitchen table and placed all her books out in a row and began to read from them all. What she had thought was complexity, suddenly seemed utterly simple. While normally it was difficult for Emma to keep her focus on the majority of her text books for more than twenty minutes or so, she found that this was no longer the case. Now that she was under the influence of stimulants, Emma suddenly felt that the only thing in the world was her and her books, and those books were not only the only other objects in the universe, but they were also the most interesting as well. Emma studied with a fierce focus.
Six hours later, Emma's world came crashing down.
While at first Emma had found her focus to be the sharpest it had ever been in her life, she now found herself rapidly losing all control. Moments before, all of her thoughts had made sense and were in perfect order, but now, as the blonde looked down at her text books, it seemed she was looking a sea of words, and she couldn't make heads or tails of any of it.
"Come on, focus! I need to focus! I had this. I just fucking had this!" Emma looked down at her texts and began to wildly flip though pages, and out of her frustration, she shoved her geometry text book off the table, and it crashed with a echoing thud off the stove.
"What the fuck!" Neal exclaimed, as he was suddenly roused from sleep. Neal looked over at Emma and saw her bent over the kitchen table. He watched her body shake with the sobs coming forth.
As Neal cleared his throat, he stated with growing frustration, "Hey, finish up already. We need to go to bed."
Upon hearing those words, Emma was suddenly hit with disbelief. Here she was trying to study, so that she could pass her exams, and now her boyfriend was telling her to go to bed. With her tears suddenly dry, Emma turned around and placed her trembling hands over her hips, then said, "Don't you get it? I need to be studying. I mean, I should have been studying this entire time! If I don't pass, my life is over!"
Neal sat up in bed and he bore his eyes in Emma's, then stated coolly, "I thought I was your life."
As Emma regained her voice, she stated, "Back off, Neal. I mean it."
"Watch your fucking mouth. I said you're done," Neal growled.
Emma felt her rage building as she slammed an unsteady hand on the plastic table, and it buckled under her strike.
"Damnit, Neal. I need to fucking study. Can't you give me a little more?"
With a sudden burst of speed, Neal, threw off the soiled blankets, then strode three solid steps towards Emma. Without pausing, he drew back his stiffened hand, then he let the back of it fly across Emma's exposed cheek, which sent waves of pain radiating through her face.
With an unbridled fury in his eyes, Neal jammed one hard edged accusatory finger at Emma gapping face, then said, "I'm not going to have this conversation again, Emma. Get. In. The Goddamn. Bed. Now."
From the shocking blow, Emma suddenly forgot her resolve as it drained from her, and all that was left was the growing despair she felt in the pit of her stomach. As the pain and blood sprung forth from the side of her face, Emma no longer felt able to keep her gaze on Neal, and her head lowered in submission.
As Neal turned from Emma, he took two steps towards the bed and half turned his head back towards her. Without picking up her gaze, Emma too made her way to the bed.
As the two settled into the bed together, Neal moved to hold Emma under the sheets, and he was met without resistance. Smiling, Neal, said, "I really wish that you hadn't made me do that. I don't want to hurt you, but sometimes you just make me so crazy, and I can't really think." Holding Emma in a tighter embrace, Neal then softly whispered in her ear, "Forgive me."
As Emma tried to stave off her growing tears, she nodded her head in compliance.
"That's my good, girl. My very good girl."
As a few minutes passed, Emma found herself beginning to fall into unconsciousness, but then she heard Neal begin to speak.
"Babe, I can't sleep. I'm going to need some help here." Neal kicked up of their mutual blanket, then disentangled himself from Emma and said, "Help me out."
Emma propped herself up on one elbow, so that she could face Neal. As she was about to ask what he meant, she looked down and saw his erection tenting up from his boxers. As Emma began to mutter a protest, Neal cut her off with a steel eyed gaze that left no room for misinterpretation. Emma removed her glasses, setting them on the nightstand, slunk down to the end of the bed, then unbuttoned Neal's boxers which revealed his throbbing member. With one last silent plea, Emma gazed back at Neal and was once again met with his stare. Emma lowered her eyes once more, and with her left hand, she began to stroke Neal's sex.
Neal began to make soft moaning sounds that coincided with Emma's stroking. As Emma continued, not thinking of her force, Neal suddenly let out a soft yell, "You fucking bitch! That hurt! Can't you do anything right?"
As Emma looked on with horror filled eyes, her mouth dropped open in confusion.
"Just fucking suck it already," Neal commanded as he gripped the back of her blond hair and pushed her open mouth over his member.
"Oh yeah, babe. That's it. Don't fucking stop," Neal commanded over the sound of Emma gagging.
Neal, never letting go of Emma's hair, continued to thrust her again and again over his trembling cock.
Emma, trying not think about what was happening to her, told herself over and over, Neal loves me. I shouldn't have upset him. I'll do better. I'm just nervous about finals is all. It won't be like this next time.
As Neal came to a sudden completion, Emma felt the warm and thick fluid fill her mouth. Not knowing what to think, she simply swallowed and crawled back to her side of the bed. When Emma curled back into position, she felt Neal's long hand come over her.
Through long tired breaths, Neal stated, "Now we can go to bed."
Emma found herself in state of confusion. She knew she loved Neal, and that he loved her. She knew that Belle loved her. They both said they loved her. This is just a different kind of love is all, Emma reasoned. Not daring to think further on the topic, Emma once again closed her eyes, and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Emma slowly opened up her heavy eyelids and found herself blinded by the rising sun. Using her free hand to shield her eyes from the bright rays, she looked around the room. Emma could find no sign of Neal, as his side of the bed was empty, and there were no sounds to be heard, besides the noise of the city from outside. Stretching away the stiffness of sleep, Emma began to yawn, and was greeting with the stinging pain of her lip. Emma put her hand to her lip and was met with more discomfort. Emma, suddenly feeling a wave of nausea surpass her pain, felt the contents of her stomach suddenly burst up. Turning her head over the side of the bed, she repeatedly threw up down the side of the bed. Finally, Emma began to dry heave, as nothing else was coming up, but the regurgitation continued for the next several minutes.
Feeling a growing sense of panic, which Emma first assumed was from the physical pain she was left in, she went to use her phone's camera to assess the damage. As Emma picked up her phone, she saw two things: one, it was nine-thirty in the morning, and her finals started at eight thirty in the school auditorium. Two, she had dozens of texts from Belle that were all variations of the same message. 'Where are you?'
"Oh no!, No, no, no!" Emma yelled out in panic. As Emma flew from the bed, she hastily pulled on various articles of clothing, not caring for their cleanliness. Looking around in a horror, Emma searched for her shoes. After what seemed an eternity, she found them under the bed. Without looking back, Emma swung open the apartment door and stormed down the stairs. Breathing heavily, Emma made her way outside to the oppressive desert heat. Realizing the several mile distance from Neal's apartment to her high school, Emma felt an overwhelming desire to crawl back into bed, but she mustered her resolve and despite the heat, she zipped up her jacket. Thinking of what she could do, Emma pulled out her cell phone and dialed Neal, but after several unanswered attempts, Emma felt her terror grow. Wiping away her tears and sweat, Emma set off at a run for her high school.
I can do this, damnit, the determined woman thought as she ran from one block to another. Without thinking, Emma moved with pure instinct across the congested L.A. streets. Suddenly jarred from her fears, Emma was assaulted with the blazing horns of oncoming cars, and she dodged out of their way as she nearly collided with the glistening grill of an SUV. As the breaks of the SUV screamed at her, Emma held out her hands. Regardless, it bumped into her. Panting, Emma looked up to see the furious driver holding up her hands in rage. Mouthing the word, 'sorry,' Emma made her way across the rest of the busy intersection.
Feeling her lungs and leg muscles scream out in protest, Emma bent down and began to pant heavily. As the sweat dropped down her face, Emma pulled out her cell phone and saw that it was now ten in the morning, I have two more hours, she thought in horror. As Emma replaced her cell phone, she resumed her run, and did everything she could to ignore her body's protest.
By a quarter after ten, Emma bounded up the brick stairs, two at a time. Emma burst through the school entrance and ran past the truancy officer, then went straight into the auditorium. Emma's ears struggled to adjust the defending silence of the room as only random coughs and pencils marks could be hard. Emma strained her vision to find her sister through the several dozens of rows of chairs over three separate levels. Just as Emma felt herself beginning to cry in defeat, she saw her sister sitting the front row, with an empty seat beside her. With the last of her nearly spent energy, Emma rushed down the multiple levels, drawing sideways glances from several students as she made her way further down the auditorium. Emma sat down in the lightly cushioned metallic chair next to her sister. Just as exhaustion began to win over, Emma breathed a less-than-silent sigh of relief. An exhausted Emma unfolded her small retractable wooden desk that had various pieces of graffiti carved on it and placed her slick and trembling arms over the desk.
Belle looked up in disbelief at her sister, whom was nearly unrecognizable. Emma's long blonde hair was dirty and drenched in sweat. Her skin was glistening from perspiration, and her mouth, an angry shade of purple, was swollen on one side.
Bending forward, Belle whispered, "Emma?"
In between breaths, Emma looked with desperate eyes at her sister as she felt overcome with grief and terror. She knew there would be no way for her to pass her exams. No way to graduate high school. No way to join the Navy tomorrow. And no way she and Belle would remain together.
As Emma's bottom lip began to quiver, an unimpressed teacher walked over and dropped her inch-deep exam on Emma's lap and sneered, "Good luck, Ms. Swan," then walked away without another word.
Meeting Belle's concerned gaze, Emma concluded, I can't drag her down with me, not now. Holding up an open hand, she faked a small smile, and pointed to Belle's nearly finished test, then opened up her own. In her racing mind, Emma read, 'Question one…'
Emma walked out the auditorium, with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Emma had been one of the last students to stand in front of the patiently waiting teacher sitting behind a desk with a laptop, printer, and test scanner. As Emma made her way through the line of anxiously waiting students, she handed her test bubble sheet to the waiting teacher. The teacher slipped the sheet through the reader, and the results came out from the printer moments later. The teacher looked over the sheet and verified the information on the screen. The teacher then looked up through his rounded glasses with a saddened expression, and handed Emma her printed results, face down. While Emma had already known her results, she still found herself flipping the sheet over and saw the failing grade typed out in front of her. Suddenly seeing the fruits of her labor, Emma felt her despair reach new heights within her. Making her way up the stairs, back to the exit of the darkened auditorium, Emma crumpled her results, and as with her future, she then tossed the paper into the lined trash can. Emma prayed that Belle wouldn't be outside the double hinged doors, but she knew better. Stuck between the choice of hiding from her sister and seeing her disappointed expression, Emma chose to step through the doors.
With two feet out from the door, Emma was nearly brought back in the room, as Belle fiercely hugged her sister. With her mouth next to Emma's ear, Belle whispered, "Oh, my God Emma. What happened to you? I texted you, like twenty times, and then you show up over two hours late?"
Emma braced herself for Belle to begin to belittle her for tardiness, but instead, the girl explained, through falling tears, "Emma, I was so worried. Please tell me that you're alright."
First feeling confused, then overcome with her sister's concern, Emma did the only thing she could do, and she lost herself in Belle's embrace and added to Belle's tears.
"Bells, I really fucked up. I fucked up, big time. I failed my exams. I failed," Emma sobbed out.
Belle found herself lost for words as the two embraced in the deserted hallway that echoed with Emma's proclamation.
"Emma, I don't know how, but we'll get through this. Somehow, we will. I've got some money put aside, and now that we won't be in school anymore, we'll be able to pick up more shifts. We can stay in some hotel for a time, until we have enough for a down deposit on an apartment. We can do this, Em, you and me against the world, and the world is fucked."
Through her despair, Emma heard the growing resolve in her sister's voice, and her own began to rise up in her.
"Emma, I'm not going to leave you here. I haven't signed any paperwork yet to join the Navy. I won't leave you alone."
I can't let her do this, Emma thought as she began to realize her sister would never leave her. Emma began to have competing feelings with the unyielding desire to have her sister in her life and the desire to see her sister get free from their struggles. Emma swallowed the last of her tears and made her choice to protect her sister. Emma tightened her grip on Belle, not trusting herself to keep her face as resolved as her words.
Emma took one steadying breath before she began, "Belle. You're going to sign up for the Navy, and you'll do it right now. You're going to do it because that was the plan then, and it is the plan now. We just need to change the plan a little bit is all. While you're in boot camp, I'm going to study to get my GED, then I'll be right behind you. This way, you'll pave the way for me, and I'll follow you." With a grin, Emma added, "And do you know that means, Belle?"
Through her slowing tears, Belle asked, "What?"
"It means, I'll likely need to call you sir, for the rest of our careers."
As a small laugh escaped Belle, Emma half believed the beautiful lie she had just told.
As the sisters walked hand in hand down the school hallway towards the Navy recruiter's office, they had to squeeze by several dozens of students running past them. Many students were blaring airhorns, tossing up papers, and embracing each other after passing their final exams.
Emma felt herself beginning to lose her resolve once again, but when her sister simply tightened her hand over her own, Emma found the will to continue down the hallway, past the excited, newly-graduated students.
While Belle felt her anxiety lower a degree or two, her concern did not abate, as she stole glances at Emma's busted lip. Finally, unable to keep her silence, Belle asked, "Emma, what happened to you?"
Unable to face her sister, either to lie or tell her the truth, Emma looked straight ahead, and said, "I… ahhh… I was stupid is all."
Not understanding her sister's unwillingness to tell her what was the matter, Belle continued, "Em, this is me asking. What happened? You can tell me."
Emma both heard and felt the sincerity in Belle's voice. Debating with herself, Emma began to think, I can't tell Belle. She… She just wouldn't understand. It's my fault that I upset Neal.
Suddenly, the lie came as easily as breathing to Emma, as she answered, "Belle, it was horrible, Neal had left for work, really early, and I was getting ready to head to school. I was walking down the stairs and somehow, I lost my balance. I fell down the stairs and landed right on my face. Belle, it hurt so much, and by the time I got myself up, I missed the bus, and I had to run here."
Sensing that Belle had bought into her lie, and suddenly feeling confident in her own ability to show that she believed the lie, Emma turned to look at her sister as they walked. Emma's heart fell a little further as she saw her sister's tear streaked face. Emma straitened her shoulders back, then plastered the most confident simile on her face that she could to try to ease away some of her sister's concern.
"Come on, Bells. Let's wipe away those tears and get your ass into the Navy."
As Belle was meeting with Staff Sergeant Valiant in his sparsely decorated inner office, signing a mountain of paperwork, Emma was left in the outer office, as she no longer had any paperwork to sign. While leaning against the plastic-coated waist high counter top, Emma's phone buzzed in her jacket pocket. Emma reached in and grabbed her phone to find that Neal had texted her.
'Babe, where u at? And what's with this fucking mess in my apartment?'
At seeing the message, Emma was struck by a wave of emotions. Fear of upsetting Neal. Excitement from hearing from Neal. Then guilt at having to him that she had failed her exams. Emma had no idea what to reply.
After a few minutes of hesitation, Emma's phone buzzed again, as Neal had sent another message.
Feeling as if she had been stuck once more, Emma replied, 'I'm here Neal. I'm with my sister. She's signing her paperwork for the Navy.'
'What about the mess in my apartment?'
'I got sick this morning, I promise I'll clean it up when I get back.'
'You better. Not fucking cool.'
'I failed, I'm not going to graduate high school.'
'You don't need to graduate, what is some piece of paper supposed to do anyway.'
In reading Neal's reply, Emma found she was expecting to feel anger but instead felt a growing resignation, as she typed, 'but I was going to go into the Navy, with Belle.'
'Fuck that shit, you've got me. I'm your life. When you going to be home?'
'No fucking buts, I'll take care of you, don't I always?'
No longer sure of herself, Emma replied, 'Yes.'
'Didn't you feel better last night?'
At suddenly remembering the euphoric sense of focus of the night before, Emma's body began to tense and long for a return of that state in a new and unfamiliar way. Quickly, Emma replied, 'Yes.'
'U wanna feel like that again, or do you want to feel like shit?'
Emma suddenly rationalized that she did in fact feel like 'shit,' and she knew she didn't want to feel that way anymore. With slightly shaking hands, Emma typed, 'I want to feel good again.'
'Then behave, and I'll take care of you, from now own. Got it?'
'Yes Neal. I'll be good.'
'That's my girl. Listen, I'm not going to be home tonight but this place better be clean when I get back tomorrow.'
'Where you going?'
'I said CLEAN.'
Resigned to do as she was told, Emma typed, 'Yes, Neal.'
A few minutes later, Belle came out with a plastic folder with a printed Navy Carrier on it, a Navy lanyard around her neck, and a slightly guilty smile on her face.
Reading Belle's guilt, Emma walked up to her sister and wrapped her arms around her in a tight embrace.
Through a forced smile, Emma said, "You did it, Belle, I'm so proud of you."
"Emma, there's something I need to tell you," Belle said as she broke away from their embrace.
"What is it, Belle?"
"The bus for the physical exam and then boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, leaves tonight," Belle answered as her head fell at delivering the sudden and unwelcome news.
Summoning a false sense of strength, Emma gently lifted Belle's chin so that the two were looking at one another.
As she looked into Belle's eyes, Emma said, "Then I guess we need to get you packed, sweetheart. Come on. Let's go."
As the two sisters were packing up the bedroom that they had shared for the past eleven years, both Emma and Belle realized that this would be the last time either one of them would be in this room together. Emma, who was sitting at their desk and cleaning out their shared belongings, looked up at her sister, Belle, who was meticulously folding her few clothes, then placing them neatly in her bag.
Emma let out a small chuckle as she stood up, then asked Belle, "Do you think we'll miss this place?"
Belle looked around the familiar room, then answered, "I do."
Emma couldn't help but laugh, as she asked, "How do you figure?"
Pausing from her packing, Belle smiled at her sister, then said, "Emma, this is a horrible place, but this room, in the time that we had here, was ours. We had each other. I don't know what our future holds for us, but what I do know is that for years, we have shared this room, telling one another everything, holding one another when we were in pain, and having hundreds of make-believe feasts together." Belle walked towards her sister, then took her hands within her own and said, "Emma, it was here that I found my sister."
As the lone tear escaped from Emma's eye, she said, "Dammit, there you go Belle. Now you've got me missing this place already."
The two young women looked around them and realized that in the two small bags before them, that they had packed up all of their earthly positions.
"Ready?" Emma asked as she wiped away her tear.
"Yeah, I think I'm ready," Belle answered with a sigh.
With Belle leading the way, Emma was left closing the door on their childhood forever.
As the two girls made their way down the rickety stairs, they were greeted by the two aged cats, Si and Am.
"I wonder," Emma mused, as she knelt down and held out one cautious hand to the cats.
As one of the cats sniffed Emma's outstretched hand with suspicion, it then let out a menacing 'hiss.'
"Well, I'll give these two one thing: They're consistent," Emma said with a half-smile. "Come on, Bells," as she motioned her sister to the door.
"Were you two just going to leave, without saying goodbye to your dear old Aunt Sarah?"
As Aunt Sarah approached, she did so slowly as she shuffled along with the aid of a walker. Though the woman had clearly aged through the years, and the years had not been kind to her, the fierce fire in her eyes burnt just as bright as the day Emma had first met her.
Not knowing what to say, both girls just stood there in front of the unsteady old woman.
After a few moments of silence, Aunt Sarah continued, "Well, there is no use in pretending that we'll be missing another, but I will say this. You two are certainly lucky."
With her eyes going wide, Emma echoed, "Lucky?"
Placing her eyes solely on Emma, Aunt Sarah dryly answered, "Yes, very lucky. I've run this home long enough to know what happens to my children that don't get adopted, but you two beat the odds. I can't say I've really seen that before, and I doubt I ever will again."
At this, Belle locked her hand around Emma's, then said, "We are lucky, and perhaps, you could ensure that more children are lucky as well. I could suggest—"
But before Belle could continue, Aunt Sarah silenced her with a wave of her hand, then said, "Don't spoil the moment, dearie." Aunt Sarah then looked down at her oversized watch and said, "Would you look at the time. My stories are on."
Slowly turning her walker with effort, Aunt Sarah walked back to her room, and while doing so, she took a handkerchief from the top of her walker and wiped her face.
"Well, Belle, I don't even think you could say that you'll be missing that one," Emma said as she motioned to the receding woman.
"You've got me there, but I think Aunt Sarah cares more than she lets on."
As Emma rolled her eyes, she replied, "Yeah, you've obviously never been smacked by her." As Emma said those words, she saw and felt again the blow Neal had delivered to her, and she rubbed the side of her bruised lip.
"You alright there, Emma?" Belle asked out of concern.
Trying to distract her sister, Emma quipped, "Oh…totally. Come on, one of us has to be on time for the bus today."
"Emma," Belle said with a flat tone.
"What, too soon?"
As the sisters stood at the corner of the street that was the bus stop, they each felt the speeding of the clock move them along. Just as Emma's hand begin to tremble once more, the large silver bus turned down the block and made its way to the pair.
Belle turned away from the bus and looked at her sister then said, with a mix of fear and apprehension, "I don't want to go."
Emma embraced her trembling sister, then whispered, "Belle, I know you're scared, and I am too. We just need to both get through the next several months, and then we'll be back together."
Belle nodded her head in resigned agreement, then said, "I'll write as often as I can. I promise."
Sharing in her sister's conviction, Emma replied, "So will I."
As the bus neared, Belle pulled out a thin envelope from her back pocket and handed it Emma.
"What's this?" Emma asked out of confusion. "Did you already write me a letter or something?"
Suddenly looking serious, Belle answered, "No, its seven hundred and fifty-six dollars."
As the shock registered, Emma shook her head no, and said, "Belle, no. I'm not taking your money."
Swallowing hard, Belle replied in a tone of voice that implied her level on conviction on this topic, "Emma, it's our money, and I'm going into the Navy now. I won't need it. I'm not leaving you here with nothing. I love you, Emma, and I'm not taking 'no' for an answer."
Her head suddenly heavy, Emma's eyes dropped down, as she nodded her head, and said, "Okay, Belle."
Not completely understanding her sister's easy submission, as Belle more than expected a fight from her normally strong-willed sister, she then placed a soft hand on Emma's shoulder and simply said, "We're family."
At hearing the word 'family,' Emma's returned her eyes to Belle's, then said, "I love you, Belle French."
Before the squeal of the bus's breaks could interrupt the shared moment, Belle replied, "I love you too, Emma Swan."
The sliding doors of the bus suddenly flung open, and the gust of the cool air-conditioning shot out in greeting to Belle, which sent her long brunette hair flowing behind her. Belle, with her lone bag in one hand, straightened her hair with her other, then made her way up the first heavily treaded step of the bus. Turning to face her sister, Belle said in a serious tone, "Emma, be safe. I don't trust Neal."
Before Emma could reply, the doors closed in front of Belle with a groan. As the bus shifted into gear, it drove away with a piece of Emma's heart.
The tears fell as Emma continued to stare after her sister until she was completely out of sight. As Emma went to wipe away her tears, she realized that she was still holding the envelope that Belle had handed her. Emma opened the sealed envelope and found not only the promised money but wrapped around the cash was Belle's only blue ribbon.
"I can't believe she's gone," Emma sobbed, dropping her head into her hands as she sat on the edge of Neal's bed. "Now I've got no family. No home, nowhere to go, no dream, no life."
"Aww, c'mon, Em. It's not that bad. Who needs that dumb broad anyway?" Neal said absently as he typed a message on his phone.
Obviously, this didn't help.
"Fuck off, Neal," Emma shot back, furious buck lacking the energy to yell at him.
All she could do was slide down onto the dusty floor beside her knapsack, curling up and hugging her knees.
At the feeling of the shift in weight on the bed, Neal looked up from his phone, seeing that Emma was curled up on the floor, and groaned, "Shit, Em. You were really serious about doing this military thing together, weren't you?"
"Did you think it was a fucking joke?" Emma snapped, lifting her head and glaring at him with tears in her eyes.
"Well, gee, Em. I dunno… I mean, I haven't really seen you study once since I met you. Except that time I gave you my Adderall and you were bouncing off the walls."
When Neal chuckled, Emma finally found the energy to scream, "You are not helping!" before throwing her backpack at him.
Neal threw his hands up to block the heavy knapsack from hitting him.
As Neal took a steady breath to maintain his composure, "Look. Just relax, okay? I have something that will make you feel better."
"Listen, Neal, I really don't think your Oxy is gonna—"
"No. It's not Oxy," the young man cut her off, standing up to dig through the drawer of his nightstand.
When he turned around, Emma's eyes went wide.
"What the fuck is that?" she breathed, staring at the two capped needles in his hands.
Flashing his practiced smile, Neal asked, "Em. Relax. You trust me, don't you?"
"Well… Yeah, but—"
"And you want to feel better, right?"
"Then sit on the bed."
Reluctantly, Emma rose to her feet and sat back down on the uncomfortable bed. Heart palpitating as she watched him prepare the needles, the blonde waited with bated breath with conflicting thoughts flooding her mind. Am I really about to do this?
"I got you, babe," Neal whispered, kissing her temple as he tied the tourniquet around her arm.
When the needle went in, Emma flinched, but the rush washed over her quickly, and as she became light-headed and dazed, Neal leaned her back onto the bed to let her lie down.
Belle would kill me if she saw this, Emma was thinking.
"Oh, holy shit," Emma gasped, as she felt her gaze widen and the flood of euphoria wash away any last thoughts of her sister.
Warm skin, dry mouth, slow breathing, and a heavy feeling in her extremities followed, sending her spiraling too far down the rabbit hole to find her way out.
Nodding sluggishly, Emma shut her eyes and let the warm blanket of darkness chase away the pain of her hopes and dreams.
"You alive?" Neal laughed, poking Emma's side as she finally began to stir on the bed almost four hours later.
Emma's eyes fluttered open, and she closed them quickly as what little light in the apartment found her pupils. Letting out an agonized groan, Emma rolled onto her side and pulled herself weakly to the edge of the bed before expelling the contents of her lunch – the only meal she'd eaten all day – onto the floor.
"Stop fucking doing that!" Neal snapped, scowling at her. "You're picking that up this time."
"Why does it itch so bad?" Emma gasped, not registering his comment as she dug her unclipped nails into the crook of her elbow, where the needle had entered.
"Oh, damn," the young man commented, scratching his head and making his shaggy, unkempt hair look even messier than before. "You're one of those people. Only punks get sick and itchy when they use. That's pathetic."
Emma squinted at him, trying to hear what he was saying, but none of it stuck, and before she could even try to reply, her eyes fell shut again, and she fell into another deep sleep.
Emma slept all night, and almost through the morning. When she woke the next day – luckily with nowhere to be – the clock read 10:23 AM. At first, when she came to, she felt dizzy and nearly forgot where she was.
Where's Belle? she thought briefly, looking around the apartment. No… Belle's gone and I'm at Neal's. I'm at Neal's and… Oh, God. Why is the room spinning?
Again, Neal was gone. Where does he go, anyway? Emma wondered, as she struggled to focus her thoughts.
"Aww, c'mon!" Emma shouted, upon moving to get out of bed and inadvertently stepping in her own vomit, which Neal had obviously left for her to handle. "God fucking dammit."
After stumbling into the shower, which was caked with soap scum and mold, Emma allowed the scalding hot water to beat down hard on her body. This was her only natural coping skill, and it was one of the best things about moving in with Neal. Unlike at the orphanage, where the water felt colder than the North Pole, Neal's shower allowed her to turn up the heat until it hurt – really hurt – and when she did this, her body felt shocked back into life. She stayed in the shower until her skin turned a deep shade of pink, throwing up twice before she was able to sober up enough to step out.
As Emma knelt on the floor to clean the vomit next to the bed, still feeling her skin tingling, she sensed the dizziness returning.
"Hey, babe," Neal announced, interrupting her thoughts as he entered the apartment and slamming the door haphazardly behind him.
Emma looked up at him, clearly unamused by his light and airy demeanor.
She blinked a few times, taking him in gradually as she lifted her gaze, before asking, "What the hell is on your pants?"
"Huh?" he asked, looking down.
Cheeks suddenly red, Neal covered his crotch.
"Nothing!" he barked. "I just… spilled a soda."
Emma sat on her knees and stared up at him. He wouldn't lie to me, right? she asked herself, unable to deny that the wet patch on his jeans did seem just a little bit… suspicious. Then, she reminded herself, I mean, he hasn't yet, so…
"Alright…" she finally replied, using the bed to steady herself as she stood up slowly.
"So how ya feelin', champ?" Neal asked with a grin. "Better, right?"
"Are you kidding?" Emma groaned. "I feel like shit."
The more Emma thought about it, the more she felt the growing urge for the return of the enveloping oblivion from the night before.
"You just need another trip is all," he laughed. "I got you, girl. Just got some really good shit from my boy."
Emma raised an eyebrow. This is a bad idea. This is a really bad idea. But so was sitting in her despair, she reasoned, so she nodded her head and sat down on the bed.
"You got it, babe. Just wait 'til you try this shit."
"Just fucking do it already!" Emma shouted, growing impatient with her own misery.
"Hey!" Neal suddenly snapped, swinging his arm back before connecting the back of his hand with her cheek. "Don't fucking talk to me like that. You wanna feel better? Then shut the fuck up." Then, as an afterthought, he added, "You know I could put your ass back on the street tonight, right? Is that what you want? 'Cause I don't see anyone else stepping up for you right now."
Swallowing hard, Emma nodded her head, rubbing her cheek as she started to cry, and whimpered, "Please, Neal. Please. I can't take it anymore. Please, just make it stop."
With a toothy grin, Neal dug through his pocket for the rock of heroin and sat down on the bed beside his girlfriend.
"Hold still," he ordered, after melting down the rock with his signature zippo lighter and preparing the needle. "Hands and feet inside the ride at all times, 'cause this shit is gonna blow your mind."
As Emma lay passed out on the unmade bed, Neal sat at the kitchen table reading the letter Emma had written earlier that day.
How's boot camp? I miss you so much! You should be almost done by now. I remember the Sergeant saying it would be about seven to nine weeks, and it's been eight. I've written so many letters to you, but you haven't replied to any of them, and I don't know why. Are you mad at me or something? Anyways, I wanted to let you know that I'm okay. Neal has been taking really good care of me, but I miss my sister. I love you, Bells. Please write soon, or call Neal's phone. I don't have a phone at the moment.
Neal looked down at the letter and sneered. Pushing himself up from his chair, he walked over to the gas stove, then turned on a working burner. As the flame of the burner grew, Neal placed the edge of the letter into the fire, and watched it slowly burn to ash. Neal began to lose himself in thought, as he recalled of all the letters he had burned from both women these past few weeks. Forgetting himself, the last of the burning letter caught Neal's hand, which delivered a surge of pain.
"Shit!" Neal cried out, as he made his way to the sink and ran his hand under cold water.
"Neal?" a drowsy Emma slurred out.
"Go back to bed, Emma," Neal barked.
A few days later, Emma sat hugging herself and rocking in a chair at the kitchen table. She looked out the dirty window but saw nothing. Emma felt the sweat poring over her body, but it seemed like she was freezing. Emma tried to gather her thoughts, but she felt as if she was both moving in slow motion and speeding along, and the sensation left her stuck within herself. Just as Emma felt powerless to focus, Neal's phone buzzed and vibrated next to her.
At seeing and hearing the phone, Emma felt herself gain back a measure of control as she picked up the phone and read the unknown number that suggested it was coming from Great Lakes, Illinois. Emma pushed up her dirty glasses in order to try to concentrate.
I know someone in Illinois, Emma thought as she squinted her eyes and tried to will her mind to work. Belle, Emma thought through the haze, as she scrambled to move her uncooperative fingers on the slick screen.
As Emma succeeded at answering the call, she heard the concerned voice of her sister call out, "Hello, Neal? Is Emma there?"
"Belle," Emma half-slurred out.
"Emma!" Belle cried, which caused Emma to pull the phone from her ear as she winced in pain at hearing the sudden cry.
Emma shook her head, and lazily opened her eyes as she held the phone to her sweat-stained cheek, then said, "Oh… Hey, Belle."
Emma heard but didn't acknowledge the confused tone in Belle's voice, as she said, "Emma? Emma, are you alright, sweetheart?"
"I don't know." Suddenly confused, Emma asked, "Where are you? It seems like forever since I've seen you."
In an increasingly concerned tone, Belle continued, "Emma, I'm in Illinois. I graduated from boot camp today."
"Boot Camp?" Emma slurred out.
"Emma! What the hell is going on?"
"N-Nothing. Nothing. I'm just… on some new medication Neal gave me," Emma staggered out as her body begin to tremor.
"What the what, Emma? Are you serious? Neal is giving you drugs?"
"Belle, Neal is helping me. No one else is helping," Emma retorted as she felt her focus begin to sharpen and her anger begin to build.
Choosing to ignore the attack, Belle asked, "Emma… Are you high right now?"
With the sound of her heart beating in her ears, Emma swallowed, and said, "Forget that. You fucking left me. But do you know who stayed? Neal! Neal is taking care of me, because Neal loves me."
Belle took in a breath, then said, "I told you, Emma. I told you that I didn't trust Neal. I tried to tell you, but you didn't listen, and now you sound wasted. Emma, your scaring me."
Having not heard the tone of concern in Belle's voice, Emma screamed into the phone, "Don't pretend that you care about me. You left and never looked back. Have you once even thought of me?"
"What are you talking about, Emma? I've written you so many times."
Through her anger and confusion, Emma was unable to hear the truth in her sister's words, as she slurred out with the last of her strength, "You're…a liar… Belle. Just forget me and… go on with your p... perfect life."
Through her freshly fallen tears, Belle said, "Emma, I love you. You're my sister."
As Neal came out of the bathroom in a haze of steam, Emma saw the glistening needle in his hand. As Emma willed herself to speak, she felt her heart pounding dangerously fast, and she said in a flat tone, "I have no sister."
Emma hung up the phone, then walked with unsteady legs towards Neal. Before she reached him, she collapsed in a heap. Summoning her willpower, Emma raised up a shaking arm that was littered with bruised needle marks, silently pleading for her fix.
"Go sit down," Neal ordered, pointing behind her to the kitchen table.
Once sitting, Emma's head fell to the table as she held her arm out to receive the needle. Before Emma felt the razor-sharp needle slip into her flesh, she tasted her tears, and strained to remember why she was crying. As the warmth of the heroin coursed through her, Emma forgot her tears.
Belle found herself standing in front of the sterile wall that was lined with pay phones. For a minute, Belle just stood there listening to the dial tone coming from the heavy plastic phone. Hearing fellow recruits march by, Belle felt herself snap back to attention, and without thinking, she placed the phone back on the metal hook.
What just happened? How could she say that? It's supposed to me and Emma against the world, and the world is fucked. At seeing Emma in her mind, Belle felt her tears resume, but she quickly stifled them as she wiped her face with her hand. That was Emma, but not really, Belle concluded as she straightened her white Navy dress uniform. Suddenly, Belle heard the ticking of the wall clock and saw the time, remembering that she needed to be in room three, for placement testing. Belle replaced her cap over her tightly pinned hair, then briskly marched to the computer room.
As Belle compartmentalized her recent fight with Emma, she brought her full focus on her test as she sat in the darkened room, with thirty of her fellow recent navy graduates. With her expertly trained laser focus, Belle breezed through her test a full thirty minutes before any other students had completed their own. Her results indicated that she was eligible to enroll into the Recruit Training Command Program, an officer candidate school. While Belle expected to feel a sense of accomplishment at this high honor, she quickly realized that she continued to think about her sister, despite her best efforts.
When Belle closed out the training program and noticed the icon for the Navy command server, she felt her heart stop. Now's my only chance. I could search for anything… she thought, as she struggled at the idea of throwing away her career for the protection of her family.
Taking a steadying breath, Belle easily bypassed the security of the Navy command server. Belle, who was not one to break the rules, found herself doing so despite her fears. Belle typed in a broad search of 'Neal Cassidy,' and to her dismay nothing came up, other than his basic information. Belle audibly sighed in frustration as she thought, I'm right about Neal. Just because we don't have any information on him doesn't mean there isn't any to be found; it just means he hasn't been caught for anything. I should never have left. I need to get home, but how? As Belle's mind raced between one bad option after another, she settled on going to the base commander to inform him of her breach of security, in order to be discharged, likely dishonorably. As Belle was about to log off her computer, a thought came to her: Well, if I'm already going to be discharged, I might as well. In for a penny, in for a pound. Then she found herself typing in her father's name into the database.
As Belle read the non-redacted report, her eyes went wide as she read word 'werewolf.' Slack-jawed, Belle read deeper and found that her father's death had been ruled an attack by a pack of werewolves, as his remains showed signs of extreme trauma. His body was strewn with various bites and claws marks of varying size, suggesting he was attacked by multiple werewolves.
This isn't real. This is some kind of mistake. But as Belle scrolled down, her hand flew to her open mouth as a low gasp escaped her lips when she saw the picture below. Belle's eyes became glued to the screen as she saw the horrific picture of her father's bloodied remains. Belle found herself unable to recognize her jolly father, with his mop of messy white hair, bushy mustache, and easy smile, as all she could see was tangle of torn flesh covered in bloody lacerations revealing the half-consumed remains.
Belle hastily clicked out of the program, shut down the computer, and deftly stood up from her seat, then briskly marched to the commander's office across the campus. As Belle made her way through the grounds, she was greeted with the excited sounds of the graduating Seamen Recruits, the unified marching of training recruits, and training officers barking out their commands. Belle's eyes took in everything around her as she realized that moments before, her world had been much different. As Belle blinked, she found herself standing in front of the commanding officer's closed door.
Acting before she could talk herself out of her next steps, Belle briskly knocked three times on the oak door.
"Come," a deep male voice called out.
Belle resigned herself to her fate and grabbed the polished brass doorknob, then opened the door wide. As Belle made her way into the commander's office, she was first greeted with a haze of smoke coming from the admiral's half-finished cigar.
The admiral looked up from his stack of papers as he blew additional smoke. The admiral let out a long sigh and leaned back in his oversized, chestnut colored leather chair, then asked, "Seaman Recruit French, this is highly irregular. Do you think that now that you have graduated from my boot camp, you have full run of this facility? Would you like to sit in my chair?"
With her training kicking in, Belle snapped to attention and look straight ahead, then sharply replied, "Sir, no, sir, Rear Admiral Callahan.
"Then what is this all about, Seaman Recruit?"
"Sir—" Belle said, but realized the gravity of this moment. Swallowing hard, Belle continued, "Sir, I have come to report a serious infraction on myself."
Setting his smoking cigar down on a deep glass ash tray, the admiral commanded, "Explain yourself, Seaman Recruit."
Without breaking her stance, Belle continued, "Sir, I have misused Navy property, and I have accessed top secret material that was far above my clearance level."
As the admiral stood up, he clasped his aged hands behind his back, and looked at Belle with knowing eyes, then said, "Explain yourself, Seaman Recruit."
Automatically, Belle followed the command, and said, "I used the Navy database to look up my sister's boyfriend, sir. She called me and—" but before she continued, she was cut off by the admiral.
"Seaman Recruit French, do I look like I'm interested in your family drama?" The admiral spat out.
"Sir, no, sir."
Glaring at Belle, the admiral asked, "Is that all?"
Belle took an unsteady breath, and said, "Sir, no, sir."
With a vein beginning to pulsate on the side of his left temple, the admiral stated, "My patience is wearing extremely thin, Seaman Recruit French."
Belle found her gaze shifting from the wall in front of her, towards the admiral, and she said, "I looked up my father's death." After a noticeable pause, she quickly added as she flung her gaze back to the wall, "Sir."
Out of the corner of her eye, Belle saw the admiral's shoulders slightly stiffen under his heavily decorated uniform.
"And what did you find?"
Through clenched teeth, Belle retorted, "You know what I found, sir."
Snapping back, the admiral, barked out as bit of spittle escaped his mouth, "Are you talking back to me, Seaman Recruit French? Did you learn nothing about duty and honor in your training? Or are you just eager to face a firing squad?"
Catching herself from her sudden displaced anger, Belle answered, "Sir, no sir," and relayed all the information she had learned from the report.
As Belle reiterated the information, the admiral walked back to his chair and sat down heavily, then resumed puffing on his cigar.
The admiral chewed on the end of his cigar as Belle finished her report. Without breaking his gaze, Admiral Callahan asked, "Put yourself in a leadership role, Seaman Recruit French. What would you do in my position?"
Without hesitation, Belle answered, "I would place myself in the stockade to await a court martial, sir."
With a sigh, the admiral said, "That, Ms. French, would be a waste of the time and effort that the Navy has invested in you, not to mention the waste of potential."
"Sir?" Belle asked with mounting confusion.
"At ease, Ms. French. Take a seat," Admiral Callahan said as he motioned to the nearby chair.
Belle took a hesitant step towards the chair, sat down, and gazed back at the admiral.
As the admiral stamped out the butt of his cigar, he began, "What I am about to tell, or rather I should say 'confirm,' is that, yes, what you read is one hundred percent factual. Your father was killed by a known pack of werewolves. As far as we have been able to discover, some creatures of myth are in fact real. Werewolves and vampires have both been found, captured, and studied in great detail; there are likely more creatures out in the world that we have yet to discover. Of course, none of this information is common knowledge. Past the obvious reason of instigating civil panic, the US government has been studying these creatures for decades to not only assess the threat that these creatures represent but to also study them. For the most part, actual deaths from these creatures are relatively low, and while I can imagine the limited comfort that information provides, I thought you should know."
Hearing the pause, Belle interjected, "Sir, may I ask a question?"
"I'd honestly be disappointed if you didn't."
"Have the creatures that—" but Belle struggled to say the word and the admiral picked up on the pain in Belle's voice.
Softening his tone, the admiral answered, "No… Belle, those monsters have not been caught at this time, and not for a lack of trying, I might add. These creatures are smart – damn smart – and not to mention, they have off-the-chart levels of strength, speed, stamina, and a healing factor that makes them particularly hard to put down." Suddenly returning to his former composure, the admiral continued, "Now I trust you have one question left, Seaman Recruit French."
With a sudden and fierce desire, Belle asked, "When can I sign up, sir?"
The admiral pulled out a fresh cigar, then lit it with a long wooden match, and as the smoke blew out from the end of the cigar, the admiral said, "You just did, Seaman Recruit French."
A look of determination made its way onto Belle's face as she said, "Thank you, sir, but I have one condition."
Blowing out a gust of smoke, the admiral replied, "Setting terms, Seaman Recruit French?"
Without breaking her gaze, Belle said, "For my sister, for my family… Yes, I am."
A half smile escaped the admiral as he said, "Name it."
As Emma was lying on Neal's bed, she felt herself returning to reality, and she tried fighting the inevitable onslaught of withdrawals. Not knowing when it occurred, Emma found that she no longer gained the feeling of bliss from her drug, but rather without it she was assaulted with unyielding pain. Now, Emma didn't use to simply escape life; she used it just to get by.
"Neal," Emma croaked out.
Without hearing a reply, Emma slowly reached out over the bed without opening her eyes, but she felt herself alone.
"NEAL," Emma cried out.
Straining her ears, Emma heard the familiar sound of Neal snorting a line of what she assumed was cocaine. Emma slowly opened up her crusted over eyes and squinted in the direction of Neal, seeing him bent over with a rolled-up dollar bill shoved up his nose as he snorted another powdered line. As Emma sat up, she felt her stomach churn in protest.
"Come on, Neal. I need my fix."
Looking up from his recently snorted line, he said, "I'm fresh out of dope. Here, take a hit of this," as he motioned with the folded up bill for Emma to come over.
"Neal, that shit doesn't help. I need the good stuff. Come on, don't hold out on me."
With a serious scowl, Neal replied, "You want another fix? Well, this is what I got. Unless…"
With desperation in her voice, Emma asked, "Unless what?"
Grinning, Neal answered, "I need more cash to float us by, and I think you can help."
"H-How can I help?"
"Well, we can pinch a car, and then my boy can take it off our hands for a good payday."
Eyes going wide, Emma protested, "I can't steal a car, Neal!"
"HEY!" Neal barked, then continued, "You want your fix? Then you are going to help me jack a car. So, you'll do as you're told."
Emma nodded meekly in compliance.
"Now get over here, do a line, and take the edge off."
Doing as she was told, Emma shuffled over to the table and took the extended rolled bill. Then, she bent over and snorted the powder. As Emma pulled her head back, she felt the pain subside to a slightly more tolerable level.
With more strength than she had before, Emma made her way to the bathroom and took a scalding hot shower.
Emma stood in front of the bathroom mirror and wiped away the steam, which revealed a haggard looking woman staring back at her. Emma saw her bloodshot eyes, coupled with deep purple bags, her cheek bones looking more defined than normal. Looking down, the blonde rubbed the bumps of the track marks in her inner arms.
What am I doing? Emma thought as a wave of grief mixed with the unyielding pain that had become a part of her life. Emma pulled on her slightly baggy clothing, then she slipped on her glasses and looking upon herself, thinking, I still look like hell. As Emma reached into her jacket pocket and felt an unfamiliar object within her hand. What is this? Emma thought, and when she pulled it out, she looked down at Belle's blue ribbon. For a moment, Emma forgot her grief and pain as she caressed the ribbon in her rough hands. Looking up, Emma tied the ribbon in her hair, with forgotten practice.
Why did you abandon me, Belle? Emma thought as a lone tear escaped her notice.
As Emma focused on the ribbon tied in her hair, she couldn't help but smile as the flood of warm memories came back to her. Feeling suddenly surer of herself, Emma walked out of the bathroom and was greeted with Neal's sneer.
"You never wear your hair pulled back."
As Emma felt a small amount of confidence, she replied, "I do now. Plus, I don't want to get puke in my hair if I throw up again."
"Yeah, you need to stop getting sick in my place. Let's go."
Under the light of the full moon, Emma and Neal skulked around the car filled parking lot.
With growing unease, Emma said, "Neal, just pick a damn car already. I want to get the hell out of here."
"Easy, babe. My boy said there is Honda Accord EX-L with a 2.0-liter engine here."
"O—kay, and for those of that don't speak car, what does it look like?"
Audibly sighing, Neal answered, "She is yellow with red stripes."
"She, Neal? Really?"
"Do we need to have a conversation about talking back again? Or do you not want your fix?"
Feeling the verbal blow strike her, Emma solemnly answered, "No, Neal."
"I'm sorry, Neal."
"Better. Babe, let's split up. Head down there," Neal ordered as he pointed down the opposite end of the parking lot. "And here, take this," he added, as he handed Emma the metallic Slim Jim.
Emma made her way towards the other end of the lot. The more she walked, the more Emma felt her body begin to itch, and she did everything in her power not to scratch. Emma felt out of breath as a cold sweat began to sting her eyes. She stopped and wiped away the sweat from her brow. With her vision clear, Emma found herself standing in front of the yellow Honda Civic with red racing stripes.
This is the one! Let just get this done. The sooner this is done, the sooner Neal can give me my shit. With shaking hands, Emma attempted to slip the Slim Jim into the car, but as soon as she did the sky lit up with bursts of red and blue.
Emma dropped the Slim Jim, and cupped her ears as a booming voiced commanded, "Lie face down on the pavement and place your hands on the back of your head. NOW!"
As Emma did as she was told, she felt the cool pavement under her body. Unexpectedly, Emma felt a pair of rough hands tie her wrists together, then in a blink, the blonde was slammed onto her feat
"Ma'am, my name is Officer Danvers. Do you have anything that might poke me or cut me when I check your pockets?" The female officer asked Emma as she gripped her tightly.
"What?" Emma squeaked out through mounting confusion.
"Ma'am, I'm going to search your person, and things are going to go a lot easier for you if you tell me if you have any weapons."
Through her sobs, Emma answered, "No, I don't."
As the officer riffled through Emma's pockets, she began to read the blonde her rights. When the officer had neared the end of her search, her hand came upon a crumbled-up plastic bag in Emma's inside pocket of her jacket.
"What's this?" the officer asked, as she shown a light on the small dark rocks in the bag.
"But that's not mine," Emma protested in a confused and desperate tone.
"Oh, I bet you're holding this for a friend, huh? Either way, you're done, blondie."
The officer pushed Emma from the back, and she stumbled forward.
"It's really not mine," Emma pleaded with the officer.
"Yeah, yeah. I've heard that one before. Mind your head," the officer said as pushed Emma into the back of the cruiser.
Looking out the window, Emma caught a glimpse of Neal, huddled behind a darkened car, and the two locked eyes with one another. As Emma silently pleaded, Neal just looked on, then ran into the protective darkness. Turning away, Emma lowered her head in defeat as the pain of withdrawal overcame her.
Belle looked up at the nondescript apartment complex and verified the address of the print out in her hand.
This is it then, Belle thought as she walked into the building. Once inside, Belle was greeted by the common area with its rusted mail boxes against the wall, an elevator that had an 'out of order' sign which looked well aged, and half a dozen residents walking back and forth, seemingly with no place to go. Belle made her way up the three flights of stairs, two steps at a time, and within a few moments, she was one the third floor. Without stopping her soldier's stride, Belle made her way to Neal's apartment door. Looking at the cracked door, Belle tried the handle without success. Belle looked around the hall and saw that she was alone. Taking a step back, Belle lifted her left leg, slammed it against the door, and it burst open.
Belle stepped into the apartment and looked in. The bed was bare, and no items seemed to be left inside besides random pieces of trash. Belle searched the entire apartment but found no clues as to the whereabouts of Emma or Neal.
Emma, where are you sweetheart? Belle thought as she finished her search for a second time. Stepping outside of the apartment, Belle was met by a short man, dressed in dirty and torn clothes. As Belle looked further at the man, she could see the slight yellow tint to his sin, several missing teeth, and the repetitive scratching he was doing to his arm.
Stepping forward towards the man, Belle asked, "Excuse me, have you seen the man that's lives here or the blonde woman that has been with him?"
While the man looked suspiciously at Belle, he answered. "You mean Neal? I don't know the girl's name; she was a new one."
Emma, Belle thought with excitement. Collecting herself, Belle continued, "When was the last time you saw Neal? I'm trying to find him."
"Ah...It's been a while. Neal sorta shops for me. He hasn't been around, and I don't know if he is coming back. It's not like him to leave for so long."
They've gone, Belle thought as defeat washed over her. With one last effort, she asked, "Do you know of anywhere else Neal would stay?"
"Nah," the man said as he shook his head.
Sighing, Belle said sadly, "Thank you for your time." As Belle began to walk away, she stopped and turned around to the man, then added, "Listen, I'm not going to pretend to know you or what's going on in your life, but here, please take this." Belle handed the man a business card that read 'The Hills Treatment Center,' and said, "If you go there, tell them Belle French sent you, and they'll help you clean up. Everything has been paid for. You could get a fresh start. Your choice." Without waiting for a reply, Belle continued on her way, and silently prayed, Goodbye, Sister. Find me when you're ready. I love you.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – TWO YEARS LATER
"You don't wanna be here, do you, kid?" a tall brunette asked Emma as the blonde stood awkwardly by the table of refreshments.
"Not at all," Emma grumbled, barely glancing up at the woman addressing her.
Narcotics Anonymous was anything but Emma's idea of fun. Court ordered to attend after two years in prison for possession and attempted grand theft auto, Emma was furious, and her expression was defiant. She was sure that everyone around her would pick up on that, but she didn't care. She was in a new city, where no one knew her name, and that was as good as it was going to get for her, fresh out of prison. Regardless of what anyone else thought, this was the last place on earth Emma wanted to be.
"Well, why not?" the woman asked her. "We don't bite, you know. These canines are for steak only," she said with a playful grin.
"Because I'm not a fucking addict; that's why."
Raising an eyebrow as she extended her hand, the woman announced, "I'm Ruby. Ruby Lucas. It's a pleasure to meet you."
When Emma saw the extended hand in front of her, she couldn't exactly not look up, so she did. Seeing Ruby's beauty – she was radiant, to say the least – was startling. Emma looked at Ruby. She saw the woman's dark brown hair run past her slender shoulders and how her green eyes seemed to shimmer, even in the dull, flickering overhead lights. Suddenly feeling self-conscious in her second-hand jeans and t-shirt, Emma noticed how well put together Ruby looked. Ruby was dressed in casual but smart looking black form fitting jeans, and a white shirt that was accented with petite red buttons, that was left unclasped past-the third button down.
"Uh…" the blonde finally managed, shaking the woman's hand. "Hi."
"Your name?" Ruby laughed, letting go of Emma's hand.
"Oh. Sorry. Emma. Emma Swan."
Later that night, Emma found out that Ruby was actually the guest speaker of that meeting.
"I've been clean for five years now," Ruby addressed the small group with a smile. "And I've never been happier."
As Ruby and her fellow group members sat in a circle, Ruby told her story – a tragic tale of loss, grief, and terrible choices – Emma watched, captivated by her words. She was unbelievably charismatic. How could someone so beautiful, so calm, so composed and put together possibly have an addiction to anything? Or any problems at all, really. This woman sounded beyond confident. Not cocky. Just confident. And it stunned Emma even deeper into the silence she'd already vowed to embrace.
After the meeting, as many of the group attendees mingled and talked separately, Emma gathered her things and moved towards the door.
"Hey," Ruby called after her. "Can I give you my number?" When Emma stared at her, dumbfounded, she added, "You know. Just in case you feel like talking."
"I won't," the blonde asserted sharply. "I don't have a problem, okay? I'm here because I have to be."
"Regardless. Everyone needs to talk sometimes. And I'm here to listen."
"Yeah…" Emma conceded hesitantly. "I guess so."
"Look," Ruby started seriously. "I'm not going to push you to talk in this group, okay? You do you. I'm not gonna judge you or tell you that you have a problem. I'm just gonna give you my number and hope you call me if you're ever in a pinch. Or even if you just want to chat."
Raising an eyebrow, Emma watched carefully as the woman wrote her phone number down on a napkin and handed it to her.
"Don't hesitate. Any time, day or night. I hardly ever sleep."
"Yeah," Emma agreed. "Okay."
"Have a good night, hun. See you next week."
As had become their custom, Ruby and Emma began to spend more and more time together outside of meetings. A few months into their friendship, Ruby was cooking for Emma in her one-bedroom apartment. As was her usual preference, Ruby ate a rare steak with enthusiasm as Emma picked at her own. Slowly, Emma began to open up to the woman who had slowly become her only friend. As had become their custom, Ruby and Emma began to spend more and more time together outside of meetings. A few months into their friendship, Ruby was cooking for Emma in her one-bedroom apartment. As was her usual preference, Ruby ate a rare steak with enthusiasm as Emma picked at her own. Slowly, Emma began to open up to the woman who had slowly become her only friend. As Emma told Ruby the story of her life in Los Angeles, which she finished with showing her Belle's worn blue ribbon, she felt herself holding back tears.
"Belle means a lot to you, doesn't she?"
"Yeah, she was my sister."
"What do you mean was?"
"Well…she left me, Rubes."
Pausing, Ruby looked at her friend incredulously, then said, "Emma, sweetheart, I don't know why Belle never came back, but what I do know is that sometimes families have falling outs and that it doesn't change the fact that the two of you are family. Nothing that has happened can take away from your connection and the beautiful memories you have of her. My family has disowned me, but they're still my family, and Belle is still yours. Besides, we don't even know what happened to her.
"I… I guess I've never really thought of it like that before," Emma mused as she considered Ruby's words.
"Have you ever tried to search for her?"
"Once or twice, but every time I search for her online, I get zero results. It's the weirdest thing."
"Yeah, that is odd... Anyways, this Neal guy just… left you there? To get hauled off to prison?" Ruby gaped, upon hearing the beginning of Emma's story.
"Pretty much," Emma replied dryly.
"Wow. What a douche."
Seeing the look on her friend's face – one of melancholy disappointment – Ruby sighed, "I'm sorry, babe. That's awful."
"He ruined my life."
"He didn't ruin it, darlin'. You've got your whole life ahead of you. Plenty of people with a record live a happy, productive—"
"Okay, don't. I'm not 'plenty of people.' I wasted my life. I literally threw it away on a junkie who didn't give a damn about me."
Curled over with her head in her hands, Emma began to cry.
Ruby was quick to move in and wrap her arm around the woman's shoulders, saying, "It's alright, sweetheart. I got you."
"I want to use."
"Em… You know that's not a good choice for you right now, or ever, really."
"I miss it, okay? I didn't before but talking about this is tearing me up."
"I'm sorry, Em. I shouldn't have pushed you to talk."
"You didn't push me. You offered and I accepted, when I was ready. But it's all flooding back in a way I never thought it could."
After a long pause, Emma cursed, "Fuck."
"Maybe you were right, Rubes," Emma sighed, rubbing her tear-filled eyes. "Maybe I am an addict."
"It's alright, Em," Ruby cooed, gently rubbing her new friend's back. "I am too, but look at me now. I've been clean and sober for more than five years now. And you've got more than two years under your belt. You can do this." When Emma sobbed harder and found herself unable to speak, Ruby added, "And I can help."
"You need a sponsor still, right?"
Lifting her head slowly and wiping her eyes again, Emma whimpered, "You'd do that? For me?"
"I'd probably do anything for you, kid," Ruby chuckled, stroking her friend's hair back.
Blushing, Emma wrapped her arms around the brunette and squeezed hard, embracing her as she felt a rush of affection.
"Speaking of which," Ruby continued with a smile. "Didn't you say you needed a job?"
Blinking away some of her confusion, Emma nodded her head and asked, "So?"
"So, why don't you come work at the diner with me! We're looking for help, and I'd be more than happy to pass your application along."
"Wow, Rubes," Emma replied. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I'd really appreciate that."
"No problem, chica," the brunette replied, kissing Emma's cheek.
Suddenly, Emma asked, "Why are you being so nice to me?"
After a pause, Ruby answered, "Hey, do you remember those old L'Oréal commercials? The ones for the hair stuff?" When Emma just stared at her, obviously confused, Ruby explained, "L'Oréal: Because you're worth it."
"I don't get it…" Emma confessed, tilting her head.
"Because you're worth it, Emma," Ruby laughed, kissing the woman's cheek again.
"Ruby," Emma chuckled. "You're such a goof-ball. But you know what?"
"Rubes? You alright?" Emma asked as she sat down beside her friend at the next N.A. meeting they attended together.
Ruby was as white as winter in New England, and she looked like she was about to be sick.
"Ruby?" Emma repeated, when she noticed that Ruby was in a daze and hadn't responded.
Finally, the woman lifted her head and said, "Huh? Sorry, Em. Did you say something?"
"I asked if you were alright…"
"Oh. Of course," Ruby replied quickly, forcing a smile.
Emma knew the smile was fake, because she'd never seen Ruby wear a smile like this before.
"What happened, Ruby? Talk to me."
With a sigh, Ruby dropped her head into her hands and muttered, "I saw my ex, Dorothy, at the meeting in the North End yesterday."
Ruby went to meetings every day, and they weren't always held at Saint Anthony's Catholic church Downtown. So, sometimes, she had to attend meetings in other boroughs of Boston. Emma had never heard her mention an ex, so she was surprised to hear her mention one. But of course, Ruby had ex's. She was gorgeous, and Emma was sure that anyone would be lucky to have her as a partner. Still, Ruby wasn't one to open up about specific relationships. Sure, Emma had heard her tell her story at a few meetings – it was incredibly inspiring – but she always left out names and specifics.
"So, um… Rough break up I take it?"
"I ruined her."
"You what?" Emma asked, puzzled.
"Alright, guys. Quiet down," the leader of the group announced. "We're going to open this meeting up with a moment of silence for the addict who still suffers, followed by the Serenity Prayer."
Emma continued to stare at her friend with a pained look of concern, but Ruby ignored her and joined in with the prayer.
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change—" Ruby choked mid-sentence, but continued "—courage to change the things I can—" Emma noticed and put her hand on Ruby's thigh, making Ruby flinch "—and wisdom to know the difference."
After the meeting, when individuals were mingling near the refreshments table, Ruby gathered her things and stood up, avoiding Emma's piercing, pitying gaze.
"I'll see ya," Ruby mumbled, slipping into her worn, black leather jacket.
"Oh, no you don't," Emma asserted. "You're not getting off that easy. Tell me what's going on."
"Ughhh," the brunette groaned, flustered by Emma's persistence. "She was the last relationship I ruined with drugs, okay? I was using every day, cheating on her three nights a week, sleeping with anyone who'd spread my legs, and finally, she… Well, let's just say, she'd had enough and ended it. I was never the same. I went on a huge bender, and things just got worse and worse, until I saw her making out with this older guy in a car. That was it for me. Decided I was done with life, bought the biggest stash I could find, of anything I could find, and took it all. Woke up in the psych ward of Boston Medical Center – alive, obviously – and that was when it all changed. First, I was just pissed I was still alive. Then… somehow… I became grateful. I'd gotten a shitty hand in life, but I realized that was no excuse to give up, so I got clean and sober and never looked back."
Emma stared and simply said, "Wow."
"Yeah, I know. Pathetic. That's the part of my story I don't tell. I usually just tell people about how my pack disowned me, and that I finally got clean and stayed clean. That's usually enough to inspire people."
Emma let out a chuckle and asked, "Wait… Pack?"
Ruby's eyes suddenly went wide and she quickly replied, "Uh… that's just what we call our family; we're an odd bunch."
"Anyway… I meant… not wow that you did all that. Wow that you got through it and came out the other side, a changed woman."
Ruby laughed bitterly.
"Yep. And destroyed everyone I loved in the process."
Realizing that Ruby had gotten her off topic, Emma asked again, "So, wait… What happened when you saw Dorothy?"
"What do you mean? I walked out."
"Hold on. You said she was at the meeting. She was an addict too?"
"But she was at the meeting."
"Are you daft, woman? She wasn't an addict. Apparently, now she is. And there's only one explanation: Me."
"Ruby, that's ridiculous."
"You're being super invalidating right now."
"No, I'm being real with you and challenging your cognitive distortions. There's no way in hell that you made her an addict. She didn't use when you were together. How could you be responsible?"
"She wouldn't have even known where the fuck to find drugs if it wasn't for me. Or how to take them."
"Ruby. Stop. She made her choice, okay? At least she's going to meetings."
Upon hearing Emma's words, Ruby began to feel her temples begin to throb.
Her hands formed fists as she retorted, "At least? Seriously? God, you're a twat tonight."
"Ruby, I'm sorry. I'm just saying," Emma sighed. "What I'm trying to get across is that this isn't your fault."
"No, Emma. It really, really is."
As Ruby turned to leave the church, Emma grabbed her arm and told her, "I really am sorry, Ruby. I'm sorry this happened. I'm sorry you feel responsible. And I wish I could help. If there's anything I can do – anything at all – please, call me."
"Actually… Call me later tonight anyway, okay? I just… need to know you're okay."
"Uh…" Ruby started, blinking a few times before looking out the window. Noticing the full moon and going pale in the face, she answered as she took a steadying breath, "Tonight's… um… not really a good night. How about I call you in the morning?"
Not understanding her friend's sudden reluctance, Emma answered, "Uh, yeah, sure. I guess so. Just be safe tonight, and I'll make sure I have my phone on me all night."
"'Kay. See ya later."
Emma wasn't convinced of Ruby's commitment to this promise as she watched the woman rush out of the building, but it wasn't like she could force the woman to do anything she didn't want to. Emma just hoped that Ruby could swallow her pride long enough to make the phone call.
Ruby had always been strong. Emma knew this. But every bridge breaks down eventually. Even diamonds can be cut. Emma knew this, too, but it was still shocking to find her friend and loyal sponsor in a heap on the floor of her bedroom, next to an uncapped needle and a bottle of Crown Royal, after two days without receiving a call from her friend. Of course, Emma had broken in when she hadn't gotten a call by then and Ruby hadn't answered the door when she showed up to check in.
"Oh, shit," Emma breathed. "Ruby."
Emma rushed to Ruby, starting to sob, and knelt down before gripping her friend's shoulders, shaking them hard to try to wake her. She prayed to whatever gods there were that Ruby wasn't too far gone.
Just when it started to look hopeless, Emma swallowed hard and hesitantly pulled her arm back, then slapped Ruby hard across the face. All the anxious blonde could think was, Dear God, please let her wake up.
Apparently, it was Emma's lucky day, because Ruby was shocked into consciousness and shot up into a sitting position, immediately expelling the contents of what little food she'd eaten that day all over Emma's shirt.
Of course, Emma hardly noticed. She pulled Ruby close and kissed the top of her head, rubbing the woman's back as she gasped for air.
"Oh, my God, Ruby," she sobbed. "I thought I lost you."
"You should've fucking let me die!" Ruby screamed, suddenly shoving her friend away.
Emma's eyes went wide with horror at her words.
Once she'd recovered from the shock, Emma wiped her eyes and started, "Listen up, you ungrateful brat." Taking a deep breath, she then announced, "Your ass ain't kickin' the bucket 'til you're old and decrepit and shitting your pants on a regular basis."
There was no way – Ruby certainly tried – to stop the laughter escaping her lips as she looked at Emma with tears flooding her cheeks. Ruby couldn't imagine herself growing old, but suddenly realized that if there was anyone she wanted to grow old with, it was Emma.
Then, voice cracking, Ruby told her, "God, you're a pain in the ass."
"Yeah, but I'm your pain in the ass."
Each woman chuckled, both for different reasons.
Emma, for the first time since her childhood with Belle, she'd found a best friend.
Ruby felt time freeze. This woman – just some girl she'd met at a stupid N.A. meeting – had broken through her every wall and slipped right into her heart, a place she'd been blocking off for more than five years. Emma, she realized, was far more than just 'some girl.' She was… Well…
"You're my savior, Em," Ruby whispered, dropping her head to the woman's shoulder.
"Nah," Emma chuckled, stroking her friend's damp hair back. "I'm just me."
And that's all I need, Ruby thought. Just you, Emma Swan. Just you.
"Oh, and by the way," Emma laughed, interrupting Ruby's thoughts. "This puke-covered shirt is going in your dirty laundry, not mine."
A FEW YEARS LATER
With the bass reverberating throughout their favorite night club, The Bronze, it was easy for Ruby to feel the vibration of the booming music through the soles of her shoes. With her body close to her companion's, the woman was able to feel every shattering movement deep within her, and it sent shivers up her spine. Emma Swan was, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman that Ruby could see in the club, and the knowledge of this was both nerve-wracking and intoxicating. Inebriated by the sensations Emma was sending through her as they danced together, Ruby found herself lost in the music, and in the moment.
The spell was broken abruptly when her dance partner gaped breathlessly, "Holy shit, Rubes. Take a look at him."
Ruby's head whipped around to find a tall, handsome young man with bleached-blond hair standing near them, looking away. Feeling her heart drop at the painful reminder of Emma's attractions, Ruby froze and stared. Emma was nearly drooling, barely able to keep her hormones in check as she watched the man, mouth agape.
"Seriously? He's wearing a trench coat and he looks British," Ruby groaned. When Emma did not reply, Ruby teased, "Come on, Don Juan. I need a drink."
Over at the bar, the two women stood, leaning against the counter as they waited to be noticed by the distracted bar tender, who was flirting with a patron nearby.
"Hey," Ruby called out. "Can we get something to drink over here?"
When the bar tender did not respond, Ruby shrugged her shoulders and lifted herself swiftly up onto the bar, sliding over it and landing on the other side. As soon as she started pouring the glass of root beer, the bar tender finally noticed her.
"Hey!" the heavily tattooed female bartender shouted. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Well, you certainly weren't gonna serve me!" Ruby howled with laughter.
"Oh, shit," Emma cursed, spinning around as the two muscular bouncers from the front came storming towards the bar.
"Hey! Hey! I was just—" Ruby tried, but the first bouncer grabbed her arm and held it behind her back.
"OUT," he shouted, roughly dragging her out from behind the bar.
"You too," the second bouncer announced, referring to Emma as he poked a meaty finger at her.
Immediately, Emma put her hands up, not wanting to be dragged out, and followed the first bouncer as he tugged her friend across the dance floor and out the door.
"Don't. Come. Back," the first bouncer growled, slamming the door behind the ladies who had just left the building.
"What in the hell did you do that for?" Emma snapped, turning on her friend.
"What? I needed a drink, and that dumb hoe wasn't gonna—"
"Ruby! Enough. You literally just got us kicked out of the best club in town. What the fuck."
"Alright, alright. I'm sorry, okay? I got a little carried away, and—Emma?"
Ruby stopped when she noticed Emma's attention passing from her, to somewhere over her shoulder. Emma didn't move when Ruby said her name, so Ruby repeated it, louder, and touched the woman's shoulder.
"Em? Hello? Earth to Emma!"
"Ruby," Emma finally breathed. "That's… That's Neal."
"What?" Ruby gaped, staring at the man behind Emma, who hadn't noticed either one of them yet. "Em… Em… Take a deep breath, okay? Let's get out of here."
Before Ruby could pull her friend away from the undoubtedly no-good-very-bad-decision situation, the man turned and looked right at them.
"Oh, my God," Neal gasped, as he finally noticed his former lover standing nearby. "Emma?"
"Oh, fuck," Ruby grumbled, gripping her friend's wrist to hold her steady.
"Neal…" Emma said softly, staring at him as he approached without hesitation.
"Holy shit, Em. You look amazing. I didn't know you were in Boston."
"I didn't know you were alive," Emma shot back, anger suddenly flooding her piercing eyes.
"Emma, listen… What happened between us… I…"
"You what, Neal?" Emma managed to say, her voice cracking. "Seriously. What could you possibly have to say to me now, after everything you did to me? You left me to rot in prison for two years! I'm not the same girl you left for the police to find."
"Look… I was an addict. I—"
"Once an addict, always an addict," Ruby grumbled, interjecting.
"That's not true," Neal shot back. "I'm clean and sober now."
Emma looked back and forth between her friend and her former lover, feeling torn. Is Ruby right? Can I trust Neal, after everything that's happened? Maybe he's different. Or maybe not…
"Ruby's right," Emma finally ground out. "Once an addict, always an addict. It doesn't go away, even if you get clean."
"Oh, come on, Emma. You know that means you are too then, right? Surely, you don't believe in that Narcotics Anonymous bullshit."
"Listen, you little fuck—" Ruby started, as she took a step toward Neal, but Emma held her arm out, across Ruby's chest, to keep her from advancing.
"The point is—" Neal jumped in, ignoring Ruby. "I'm clean. I've been clean. And I'm going to stay clean." Then, he took a confident step forward towards Emma and added, "And I'd love to catch up with you sometime. That is, unless you're going to let your little friend here dictate who you spend your time with."
Emma blushed, feeling put on the spot. She didn't want to upset Ruby, and maybe Ruby was right, but here was the man she had loved for so long, standing in front of her, possibly a changed man. How could she ignore that? Well, really, she couldn't. Even the chance that he had changed was enough to intoxicate her, and she quickly felt the familiar sense of longing begin to stir within her.
"Yeah, alright," she finally decided. "I'll hear you out. Give me your number, and I'll call you when I'm free next."
"Seriously?" Ruby grumbled, under her breath, folding her arms across her chest.
"I really look forward to it. I'm glad I ran into you," Neal told her with a smile, as he handed her a scrap of paper with his phone number written on it. She took it and turned to walk away, but Neal added, "Oh, and Emma?"
Turning to face him, the blonde replied, "Yeah?"
"I've missed you."
Emma turned around too quickly to notice the scowl shared between Neal and Ruby.
"Are you fucking serious right now?" Ruby shouted, once they were back at Emma's apartment.
"What?" Emma challenged.
"What do you mean, 'What?' He was your fucking dealer for Christ's sake."
"He wasn't my dealer," the blonde shot back. "He was my partner. He just… had a problem…"
"And infected you with it," Ruby growled.
"Oh, great. So I'm 'infected' now?"
Ruby took a breath.
"Shit, Em… I didn't mean it like that."
"How did you mean it, then?"
"Emma, come on. I just meant…"
"You changed. Why is it so impossible to believe that he could have too?"
"Because he's in fucking denial. That's why."
Emma scowled brutally in Ruby's direction and ground out, "You don't even know him."
"But I know you."
"Maybe you don't."
"Emma, stop. I've been your friend and sponsor for years now. You think I don't know you?"
The pain in Ruby's voice was apparent, and Emma picked up on it, her mood instantly shifting from agitated to defeated.
"You're right. I'm sorry. I just… He was my first love, you know?"
"Yeah… I guess so," Ruby sighed, rubbing her temples. "Look. I just want you to stay out of trouble, okay? And this guy is definitely bad news. I can smell it."
"You can what?"
"Feel it. I can feel it."
"Right… Anyway. Like I said, you don't know him. And honestly, neither do I anymore. I want to give him a chance. At least just to hear his side of the story."
"Whatever, kid. I'm here if you need me. And please don't say I didn't tell you so."
"Oh, fuck," Emma gasped, her toes curling as they pressed uncomfortably against the inside of the car door.
The back seat of a car certainly wasn't the most ideal place for their reunion, but it wasn't like they hadn't done this before. In fact, the back seat of a car was an all too familiar scene. As Emma remembered this – how could she forget? – she felt her body shiver. Neal's hands were gripping her hips as he roughly thrust into her. The sound of grunts and ragged breathing filled Emma's ear as her companion reached his peak. Desperate for her own, she squirmed beneath the man and dug her nails into his back, trying to get him closer. Anything to make sure that—
Too late. Forever finishing too soon, Neal spent himself inside her with a low groan. Then, he pulled out, leaving Emma shocked and shaking from being brought the brink of her release and denied the big finish.
"God," Emma sighed. "You always do that."
"Do what?" Neal asked dumbly, looking down at her as a bead of sweat dripped from his jaw.
"Finish without me."
"You didn't finish? Shit… Sorry, babe. Guess I got a little carried away…"
At first, Emma was irritated with his response, but the crooked, quirky smile that tugged at his lips softened her expression, and she couldn't help but return the expression.
"It's alright," she lied. "No big deal."
"You're perfect, you know that?" he asked her, as he wiggled away and jerked his pants back up abruptly.
"Hardly," Emma returned, shaking her head as she pushed some of her hair out of her face and forced herself to sit up, even though she was dizzy.
"Listen, babe. I gotta go, but I'll call you in the morning, okay?" When Emma simply looked at him, saying nothing, he added, "I mean… if you want me to, that is…"
"Yeah," the woman finally replied. "Yeah, that would be great."
After she was once again decent and clothed, Neal helped her out of the car and walked her to her own.
"I missed you, Em," he told her, kissing her cheek as she stopped next to her car. "Thank you."
"You don't need to thank me," Emma laughed. Then, suddenly, her expression became serious, and she said, "I missed you too, Neal."
A month and a half later, Emma was in Ruby's bathroom with her gaze glues to the pregnancy test in front of her.
"Oh, my God, Ruby," Emma called out.
"What? What? What's it say?" Ruby replied loudly, anxiously bouncing as she sat on the edge of the bed.
"Get in here!"
Ruby wasted no time leaping from the bed and throwing open the bathroom door. There were few boundaries between them now, and they'd been best friends for what felt like forever, so it was no big deal to see Emma sitting on the toilet with her panties down. Except that…
"I'm pregnant, Rubes."
"How many did you do?"
Emma pointed to the three pregnancy tests in the sink.
"Holy shit, man," Ruby gasped. Then, putting her own feelings aside, she asked, "How are you feeling?"
"Aww, babe…" Ruby cooed, walking over to rub her friend's back.
"Ruby, don't! I'm on the friggin' toilet for Christ's sake!"
"Then pull your panties up and come sit down with me."
Sighing, Emma nodded.
Suddenly realizing that Emma probably wasn't really ready to talk about her feelings surrounding the pregnancy – or maybe she wasn't sure what she was feeling – Ruby sat quietly beside her friend on the bed for a while, until Emma finally started to cry.
"Em? Em, are you okay?" Ruby asked anxiously, wrapping her arm around her friend's shoulders. "Listen, if you don't want to have it, you don't—"
"No!" Emma cried instantly. Then, voice calmer, she explained, "It's not that. I just… I'm going to be a fucking terrible mother. And Neal's probably going to leave me."
"Emma Swan!" the brunette scolded her. "Don't say that! You're going to be an amazing mother."
"Thanks, Ruby," Emma sniffled, wiping her eyes.
"Hey, relax. Let me get those," Ruby said softly, reaching up with gentle hands to wipe her tears. "Oh, and if Neal leaves you? He's scum. Not to mention, I'll cut his fucking dick off if he hurts you."
"Ruby," the blonde laughed through her tears. "Don't."
"I'm just saying."
Ruby shrugged her shoulders with a smile and kissed the top of Emma's head, telling her, "I love you, kid. Always will. And I'll be right here the whole way."
THE NEXT DAY
"Neal, do you remember the last time we were here?" Emma mused as she and Neal were sharing a pretzel in the crowded mall food court.
As Neal chewed with his mouth open, he laughed, "Oh yeah, man. That dress looked good on you."
Despite herself, Emma found that she was blushing.
As Neal dipped a piece of pretzel in mustard, he asked, "So, what's the deal with you and what's-her-name? Ruth? Rosie? You know the one I mean."
"You mean Ruby? What about her?"
"Yeah, that's the one. She seems to have a real stick up her ass, or needs to have one in there," Neal mused with a smirk.
Emma folded her arms and glared at Neal.
Neal sucked on his teeth, then said, "Okay, fine," and he resumed eating the pretzel.
"Neal, Ruby is my best friend and has been for a while now. She's like you in some ways. She put her life back together, just like you did, sweetheart. And she cares about me, just like you do."
"Yeah, I guess so," Neal said, and as he saw the look on Emma's face, he continued, "Babe, if she is important to you, then she is important to me."
"Thank you for understanding, Neal," Emma said as she reached out her hand, and was met with his. "So, Neal, where do you see us going? Cause, I'm not going to hit repeat."
"Neither am I, Emma. Things are different this time. I'm different this time," Neal said as he squeezed Emma's hand.
"Well, that's good, but that doesn't answer my question."
Swallowing his last bit of pretzel, Neal answered, "I love you, Emma. When I look at you, I see home."
"I—I'm glad you feel that way cause—"
Slowly, Emma pulled out one positive pregnancy test with her free hand and placed it on the table, then she placed the second, and then the third.
"Babe, what—" but before he could continue, his mouth dropped as he looked back and forth from one test to another.
"Yeah, I had the same reaction myself. So…"
Neal let go of Emma's hand, then pushed himself up from his chair, and walked away from Emma without a word.
"Neal?" Emma asked in confusion as her eyes went wide, and to her surprise, he kept walking until he rounded a crowded corner.
Ruby was right. Belle was right, Emma thought as she began to absently rub her flat tummy. Alright, Swan, you're going to get up, you're going to walk out of this mall, call Ruby, and you'll figure out what to do next. Okay, here goes...
As Emma stood up and turned to walk away, she heard, "Emma?" As Emma turned around, she saw Neal, bent down on one knee, holding up an oversized plastic ring in the shape of a pearl.
"Emma Swan, I have loved you from the first moment that I saw you. My life with you has always been better with you than without. You make me want to be a better man, and I promise that I will always take care of you and our baby."
As a crowd began to form around Emma and Neal, Emma found herself lost for words as she thought, He really does love me.
"Come on, babe. Say yes."
As tears welled in her eyes, Emma nodded her head, then she held out a trembling left hand.
Grinning, Neal slid the toy ring onto Emma's hand, and as he embraced her, a cheer erupted from the crowd that had formed around them.
"Ruby?" Emma asked, fidgeting nervously in her seat beside Ruby on the couch.
Movie Night was always sacred to them. They never missed it. It was quality time, for just the two of them, that they both shared and treasured. Sure, the N.A. meetings were something they did together, too, but this was different. Movie Night was a time to relax and talk, just the two of them.
"Yeah, sweetheart?" Ruby asked, pausing the film and looking over at her friend as she wiggled closer to her beneath the shared blanket.
Feeling her heart begin to race, Emma said, "I gotta tell you something."
"Okay… So tell me." When Emma started to choke up, and Ruby noticed, she added, "Em? What's the matter, honey? Why are you crying?"
"I'm… I'm n-not c-crying. I just…" Emma managed, holding back the tears of fear that threatened to fall. She was obviously petrified, which confused Ruby enough to begin with, but then, Emma elaborated, "I j-just don't want you to be mad."
"Sweetheart…" Ruby said cautiously. "Why would I be mad?"
"Because I… Because Neal… He…"
"He what? Do I need to kill him?!" the brunette asked, speech pressured. "Because I'll kill him, no problem. Like, right yesterday."
"No, Ruby. No. He… He asked me to marry him."
Ruby dropped the glass of root beer she was holding, spilling it on the blanket, all down her legs, all over the couch, and all over the floor.
"Fuck!" she shouted. "Shit, Emma, I'm sorry. I know you just bought this couch. I'll clean it. FUCK."
"Ruby, wait. Hold on. Sit down back down."
"In the puddle of root beer?"
"Fine. Leave it, though. We'll talk in the kitchen."
Reluctantly, Ruby left the mess and followed her friend into the other room.
"Sorry again. I really didn't mean to—"
"Ruby. Drop it. It's just a couch. I'll grab you some sweatpants in a minute. Sit down."
Ruby sat and tried to perk herself up and feign excitement before asking, "So, what did you say?"
"I said yes." Ruby looked like she was about to drop another glass of root beer – luckily, she wasn't holding one – so Emma asked anxiously, "Are you mad? Tell me the truth."
"What?" Ruby coughed. "Of course I'm not mad. I—" I'm just broken-hearted "—I just want you to be happy."
Ruby's voice cracked painfully at the end, but Emma didn't notice. All she heard was her best friend's support.
"Thank you, Ruby," Emma said happily, throwing her arms around the girl. "So, um…"
"So, um, what?"
"Will you be my maid of honor?"
Oh, fuck, Ruby was thinking. Heart racing, she had to think fast. Say her piece, or support her friend? It was no choice at all. There was no way she was going to lose Emma over this.
Ruby forced the words, "Of course I will, darling," though her heart was withering like a neglected rose losing its petals. "You know what I've always said. I'd do anything for you."
Thanks for reading, guys! Buckle up for Chapter 9: Regina arrives! See you next week! P.S. We promise we hate Neal!
We are not trolls! We promised Swan Queen, and we will deliver! There is a journey to get there. Emma will grow!
On the day of Emma and Neal's wedding, Ruby promised herself that she wouldn't cry. At least, not in front of Emma. So, when she found herself alone in the bathroom, staring at Emma's dress as it hung on the back of the bathroom door, she finally let the tears fall.
"God, I hate him," Ruby sobbed into her hands, feeling her body shake with sorrow and loss. "But I have to do this," she told herself, wiping her eyes and turning back to the mirror above the sink. "I have to do this. For Emma." As she fixed her make-up – as it had been significantly smeared by her tears – she muttered, "It's just one day. One day…" With a sigh, she added, "One day of the rest of my miserable, unending, pathetic joke of a life."
Emma stood in a small lavender colored room that was lit from the multiple windows which showered her with dazzling rays of light. In front of Emma stood three full sized mirrors that reflected the radiating light as well as her own image, and she looked at herself – really looked at herself. Emma was never one to get caught up on her appearance, but today, not only was she expected to, but she also found herself wanting to. Emma's long blonde hair which was usually hung lose or quickly tied up with no particular care was today done up in an intricate braid that ran down to her shoulders. Her white silk dress was a tasteful blend between a classical design that covered most of her body and an accented display of her feminine physique.
On most days, Emma was toned and slightly athletic, but now the noticeable bulge of her stomach changed all that. I look like a bus, she thought but even though she struggled with the idea of getting married while pregnant, let alone eight months pregnant, her long manicured nails caressed her stomach lovingly as she felt her baby gently kick. As Emma traced her hands over her belly, so did her child from within, and Emma felt her love continue to grow for the baby she had yet to meet.
Looking down at her rounded stomach, she made a silent promise. Soon kid, very soon now, and I promise to always keep you safe, no matter what. Emma saw the small, yet tasteful engagement ring and a smile slowly spread over her glowing face as she thought back to how her life had led her to getting ready to walk down the aisle.
"Are you sure about this? Cause we can make a break for it, right now," Ruby said cautiously, tearing Emma from her thoughts.
"Yeah, Rubes. I think that shipped has sailed, and besides, I've seen these heels. Ain't no one running in these things."
"Yeah, but you look great in 'em," Ruby said as she took in Emma in her all-white dress. Ruby cleared her throat, then continued, "So do you have everything you need?"
"Umm…I think so."
With a forced smile, Ruby counted off with her fingers, "Well the dress is something old and new – thank you rich folk for donating to the Beacon Hill thrift store – and here, take this—"
Ruby took off her golden crucifix from around her slender neck and handed it to Emma.
"Ruby, I can't take this," Emma protested breathlessly.
With a more genuine smile than before, Ruby replied, "Sweetheart, this is something borrowed."
Blushing, Emma replied, "Now, that I can do. Thank you so much, Ruby. I don't know what I would do without you."
"Oh, I'm sure you would manage just fine without me."
"Ruby," Emma replied flatly. "No, I wouldn't. When you found me, I was a mess, but you, you put me back together. I couldn't and wouldn't want to do this without you."
Feeling herself go flush, Ruby reached for Emma's outstretched hands, and the two embraced.
As Ruby pulled away, she quipped, "Alright. Enough of that, Swan, or I'm going to have to fix both our faces."
Suddenly, Emma blurted, "Shoot, Ruby! I don't have anything blue."
"Ahh, actually, you do."
With mounting confusion, Emma asked, "What do you mean?"
With her face going red, Ruby pulled an old blue ribbon from her sleeve.
"I thought I put that away!" Emma proclaimed.
"Yeah… about that. I couldn't let you do this without it. When my family disowned me, it was one of the hardest things that ever happened to me. But no matter what came after, it didn't change the fact of all of the wonderful things that came before. From everything that you have told me about Belle, one thing is plain: Belle loved you, and she will always be your sister."
Unable to stop the tears, Emma hugged herself as she began to remember the first time that she saw Belle with her blue ribbon, the first that she helped Belle with her hair, and how Belle had given her the blue ribbon for safe keeping.
"Oh, Ruby. I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything. Now, come on. Let's get your hair and definitely your makeup together."
Emma found herself looking up the aisle towards her future husband, and she felt her heart skip a beat. As Ruby walked Emma up the aisle to the pace of the recorded organ music, the two women slowly made their way to Neal. While the small church was nearly empty, Emma didn't see the empty pews while her vision stayed focused on Neal, as he stood at the end of the short aisle in his rented tuxedo beside the kindly looking priest.
As Ruby and Emma reached their destination, both women shared the same thought, Is this really happening?
Neal smiled at Ruby then quietly said, "I've got her now," then subtly winked in her direction.
Ruby began to grind her teeth as she felt a surge of anger rush through her, and then, with a measure of hesitation, Ruby looked at Emma one last time before she let her go.
Ruby walked to her spot beside Emma, as her maid of honor, and found herself continuing to grind her teeth as her mind raced with less than pleasant thoughts about Neal.
The priest cleared his throat and began, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…"
As Mr. and Mrs. Neal Cassidy made their way out of the church to the busy Boston street, with Ruby trailing behind, they found a stretched limo before them.
"Neal? Oh, my God. You thought of everything, sweetheart," Emma said with reddened checks.
"Yeah—" Neal stammered out.
Before Neal could finish, Ruby interjected, "Actually the limo is my gift.. to the both of you. It'll take you all the way up to Storybrooke, Maine. I figured it would be nicer than taking the train up and getting a cab."
"Oh, my God, Ruby. That was so sweet and considerate of you. Will you be coming up with us in the limo?
"Well that was—" Ruby began but was cut off by Neal.
"Babe, I'm sure this limo is just for the two of us, I bet Ruby wouldn't want to interrupt us, on our honeymoon. Isn't that right, Ruby?"
Forcing a smile, Ruby answered Neal, "Yeah, I'd hate to interrupt the happy couple." Then she continued as she turned her attention to Emma, "Emma, be safe. I'll meet you up there."
As the young bride heard the words 'Be safe, Emma,' she froze in her tracks, thrown back into the memory of the last words her sister had spoken to her in person.
Quickly, Neal interjected Emma's thoughts, saying, "Of course she will be safe. She'll be with me. Come on, Emma. It's time to go."
As Neal stepped into the limo, Emma hesitated from a moment, then turned to Ruby and said, "Thank you, Ruby, for everything. And don't worry. I'll be safe. I promise."
Feeling slightly reassured by Emma's words and her smile, Ruby replied a simple, "Okay."
While standing from the curb, Ruby saw the limo drive away with her heart.
STORYBROOKE, MAINE – LATER THAT NIGHT
"Fuck, baby, don't stop," Emma panted, gripping Neal's hips from above as she was straddling him.
The hotel was probably not the best place to be loud, but they hardly cared about the neighboring tenants on their honeymoon night. All they saw was each other, in the pale light of the full moon that bled through the window. Nothing else in that moment mattered.
"Babe… Babe, I'm gonna—"
"No, no, no," Emma begged. "Please, please don't come. I'm so close."
Neal let out a heavy grunt and moved faster, desperate to bring her to her edge before he reached his own climax. She bit down on her lip until it almost bled.
But alas, Emma was not so lucky.
"Fuck, babe," Neal sighed, pushing his shaggy hair out of his eyes and removing his flaccid member from her core and dismounting her. "Sorry."
Eyes squeezed shut – she was too disappointed with him to look – Emma sat up and muttered, "It's fine. I'm gonna go shower."
Once she was in the bathroom with the door closed, she turned on the water as hot as she could stand it. Then, she reached into the small black bag next to the sink that contained most of their toiletries and shower products.
"Hey, Neal," she called out. "Where's the—" but she was quickly cut off by the realization that her hand had just touched a capped syringe.
Looking down, Emma also found a small baggie of what was clearly heroin.
Throwing the door open and making it slam with a crash into the wall, Emma burst into the room and threw the entire bag at her groom.
"You fucking piece of shit!" she screamed, not caring who heard her. "How could you?"
"Fuck. Babe, listen. I just—"
Emma wasn't sure if she was more furious at Neal for lying to her, or more furious with herself for never being able to detect his lies. Some superpower, she thought with mounting frustration.
"NO! I don't want to hear another fucking word. What could you possibly have to say for yourself? 'It's not mine?' 'I was holding it for a friend?' 'It's only a little bit?' 'I just wanted to celebrate?' Go fuck yourself."
"Emma, wait—" Neal tried, but she was already in the bathroom pulling on her maternity jeans, bra, and tank top.
"Eight months pregnant, Neal," she ground out, hand on the doorknob of the room's exit. "I'm eight months pregnant. You let me fucking marry you! You let me believe you were clean! You promised me!"
"I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry! I was stressed! It was a big day, and I was nervous!"
"Get fucked, Neal. Get. Fucked."
As she turned away, Neal felt one of his other old habits taking over: anger.
Unable to control it, he shouted, "Get. Back. Here. NOW."
Emma let out a strong, bitter laugh as she turned back around to face him, announcing, "I'm not the submissive little girl you got hooked on heroin, Neal. And I'm done with you."
As Emma gripped the doorknob and began to turn it, she felt Neal's hand tightly grip her free arm. Emma suddenly felt off balance as Neal roughly pulled her back into the room.
"Are you listening to me? I told you to get back here!" Neal sneered at Emma as he continued to squeeze her left arm.
Emma looked down at her reddening arm, then moved her gaze up to Neal and saw his spiteful face. Two dilated eyes stared back at her.
While breathing deeply, Emma said, "Let go of my arm, Neal."
As Neal's voice raised in astonishment, he said, "You're telling me what to do now? I don't think so, Emma. I'm your husband now, and you will do as you're told."
Emma sensed a rising sense of serenity wash over her, and she was astonished at how confident she felt. In that moment, she realized that when it came to Neal, she had always been in love and fearful of disappointing him. But now things were different. She had a child growing within her, and the knowledge that she was going to be someone's mother made her want to be more than she once had been.
Again, without raising her voice, Emma said, "Neal, I said to let go of my arm. I won't ask again."
In outrage, Neal shouted, "You listen to me! I'll let go of your arm when I decide to fucking let go, and not before. Understand?!"
Shaking her head in mounting disgust, Emma said coldly, "I was so in love with you. Why, I'm not really sure. I lost Belle, my self respect, and I became an addict because of the choices I made for you. I won't let you hurt my child like you hurt me. Goodbye, Neal.
With his eyes blazing, Neal spat, "You fucking cunt," and he reared back his hand and swung it towards Emma's exposed face.
Already expecting the familiar blow, Emma leaned back, and the backhand flew by where her face had been moments before. With cool determination, Emma pulled back her fist and let it land on Neal's unsuspecting face.
As Neal's head snapped back from the strike, he let go of Emma's arm and staggered to the side of the bed.
Finally free, Emma slammed the door behind her and ran as quickly as possible while pregnant out of the building.
As Emma ran into the chill of the night, she found herself guided into the woods by the light of the full moon.
The brunette was perched on the high limb of an oak tree, and she peered through the Storybrooke Forest as the light of the moon bathed everything around her in a brilliant glow. As the woman scanned the woodland area, she felt the swelling thirst climb through her throat as she licked her full, dark red lips with a growing anticipation. A cool breeze drifted by the waiting woman that rustled her long brown hair. The woman breathed in deeply and caught the abundant scent of a nearby animal. Suddenly, the sound of rustling leaves caught the brunette's attention, and she narrowed in on the sound. The woman methodically scoured where she traced the source of the pungent scent, and then saw she saw it. A hundred yards from the woman's position was a large deer that was nibbling at the loose bark of a white birch tree.
As the brunette's unblemished, marble skin tightly gripped the tree limb, her dark brown eyes slowly began to burn a fierce blue. A grin slowly began spread across the woman's face, and it revealed gleaming white teeth that were accented with two slightly elongated canines that ended in fine points. The woman's breath began to quicken from its controlled pace, as she began to tense her hardened muscles in anticipation of the feeding.
Just as the woman made to leap off the tree, her attention was suddenly diverted by the agonized howls of a woman making her way into the brunette's hunting ground. Whipping her head towards the cry, the woman's piercing eyes located the source of the pain.
At the edge of the hunter's vision, she saw a lean woman clumsily run into the forest as she began to rip off her clothing and left each article as she dropped them. As the approaching woman kicked off the last of her apparel, she lost her footing and fell to the carpeted forest in a heap. On her hands and knees, the woman's cries intensified as her skin began to redden and steam.
The brunette felt her breath catch as she whispered in a silken tone, "No."
The pained woman fiercely whipped up her head, which sent her long, dark hair swinging over her shoulders, which revealed the woman's distressed face. As the woman screamed out, her jaw and nose began to buckle then shift as the bones and flesh pushed out, which formed an elongated snout. As the distressed woman's mouth settled into position, the pitch of her cries deepened into an animalistic tone. The woman's long dark hair seemed to part as high angled ears began to stretch past her hair line. The woman held her hand in front of her face as her fingers flexed, then they appeared to break from the joints as they drew out into curled claws that caught the light of the moon. The woman's deep cries intensified as she fell back to the ground, revealing her now protruding spine as it stretched and her back lengthened in sync with her legs. The woman's knees became more pronounced as she sat back on her haunches. As the cries began to fade, the creature curled into a fetal position and long dark hair sprouted throughout its body.
The brunette's eyes glistened in astonishment as she mouthed, "werewolf," and leapt towards the creature. Within a few moments, the woman was standing twenty feet from the huddled werewolf. Suddenly, the werewolf took in a long nasal breath, and its body suddenly stiffened before it leapt onto its hind legs. As the werewolf faced off with the brunette, it let out a menacing howl that sent saliva from its ample toothed mouth. The brunette met the challenge by widening her posture while extending her hands, revealing her pointed nails.
In an equally menacing tone, the brunette addressed the werewolf with her own growl that sent the creature into a charging fury. The werewolf slashed at its opponent with its muscular right claw, which the brunette narrowly dodged. As the brunette was now to the side of the off-balance creature, she grabbed the top of its meaty forearm, and she secured it behind the creature's hairy back with a vicious twist.
With its arm pinned, the creature let out a pained howl.
A smile spread on the brunette's face, and just as she was about to further extend the creature's arm, she heard an echoing yell.
"EMMA, GET BACK HERE!"
From the momentary distraction, the brunette's grip loosened slightly, and the werewolf broke free of the hold. The brunette was caught by surprise, then she felt the werewolf assault her with a brutal strike across the face. The woman felt several savage gashes send searing pain though her body, just as a second blow caught her in the abdomen. As the brunette was struck again, she was sent flying into the woods. After a great distance, the brunette crashed into a splintering tree.
While the blood ran from several wounds, the brunette could feel several broken bones. Trying to lie still, the brunette worked to block out the radiating pain, as her body began to heal itself.
Emma slowly made her way over the uneven terrain of the woods. Feeling slightly winded, she placed one sweaty hand against the rough bark of a tree, and another over her belly, as she tried to catch her breath.
"Emma, I'm not going to tell you again. Get. Back. Here. NOW," Neal barked.
Without thinking, Emma called back, "Go fuck yourself, Neal! And don't worry; it won't take long."
Pushing off from the tree, Emma continued into the woods.
Just great, Swan. Where the hell are you supposed to go now? Emma thought as her anxiety began to mount.
With haggard breaths, Emma reassured herself, You got this, Swan.
A few moments later, Emma began to see the distant lights of downtown Storybrooke ahead of her, but her attention was suddenly diverted behind her as she heard the snapping of a twig. Stopping in place, Emma looked back and saw her husband.
"That's it, Emma, I tried to play it nice, but the gloves are coming off you BI—"
While Emma stood listening to Neal, she was suddenly struck by the dramatic shift in his expression. Moments ago, Neal's face was a picture of unbridled furry and his cheeks were a deep shade of red, as his mouth curved into a cruel grin. But as the moment passed, his face was suddenly drained of all color, his mouth went slack, and his eyes showed mounting fear.
"Neal?" Emma began to ask as she heard the booming sound of a loud growl, and suddenly, she was struck by a savage blow from behind that sent her sprawling onto the cold, hard ground. As pain erupted from Emma's belly, a new kind of fear took hold of her, just before she lost consciousness from the merciless pain.
In shocked horror, Neal held up his arms as the werewolf leapt at him. Neal Suddenly cried out as the wolf locked it elongated jaws over his hands. The creature shook its head in one violent motion, and without effort, Neal's hands were torn off. With bulging eyes, and a scream on his lips, Neal looked at the blood-pumping stumps of his arms.
To Neal's alarm, he heard the wolf first swallow the remains of his hands, then saw the its gleaming red eyes stare back at him. As the moonlight shown down, the wolf slightly opened up his blooded jaws, as predatory growl emanated forth. Slightly hunched over, the werewolf began to circle Neal.
Feeling his terror rising in beat with his heart, Neal let out a fearful cry as he held close his dismembered arms. Unable to stand in place any longer, Neal made a sudden dash, but without missing a step, the wolf leapt forth with extended claws that sunk deep into Neal's shoulders. With the extreme weight of the werewolf on his back, Neal crashed into the hard earth.
As Neal cried out from the excruciating pain, he felt the werewolf's teeth plunge into the flesh of his back and tear through muscle and bone. Just before the pain overwhelmed Neal to the point unconsciousness, he felt the wolf pull back its jaw and reposition to either side of his head. The last thing Neal Cassidy felt was his skull being compressed by two massive jaws, just before they clamped shut.
Just as Emma began to stir into consciousness, she rolled over onto her back and craned her head up in time to see a massive brown-haired wolf standing over Neal's body, as it repeatedly tore into his flesh. As Emma let out a weakened gasp, the wolf suddenly turned its hungry gaze towards her. The wolf let out a rumbling growl as it tensed its body, and within a moment it leapt into the air. With a deafening crunch, the wolf's front paws crashed onto Emma's collar bone. From the burst of pain, Emma coughed up a mass of blood. Emma began to choke both in terror and from the fluids building within her lungs.
The wolf opened up its wide jaws just above Emma's horror-stricken face, as she let out a gurgling cry of terror while razor sharp teeth were inches from her face. In a sudden blur of motion, the massive wolf was flung back from Emma, leaving the blonde alone as she gasped to breathe.
After what felt like an eternity, Emma forcibly lifted up her head as blood dripped down from a deep gash above her right eye. Her blurry vision revealed the massive, dark-haired wolf standing on its heavily muscled hind legs, locked arm-in-arm with a much smaller woman. While Emma was certainly concerned about the massive creature before her, her gaze was stolen by the woman with dark brown shoulder-length hair. Looking further, Emma noticed the woman's eyes as they glowed a fierce shade of blue. Lastly, Emma took in the woman's porcelain skin that seemed to move in a blur as she struggled to hold back the imposing wolf that was trying to lock its wide jaw around the woman's exposed neck. As Emma's vision slowly began to narrow, her fearful eyes focused on the woman's bloodied grin, and Emma was taken aback as she saw the excited grin begin to widen.
Vision fading to black, Emma's mind began to drift back to how her life had led her to this moment. With one last living breath, Emma thought, I guess your life really does flash before your eyes at the end.
As the wolf towered above the brunette, its salvia began to drip down onto the struggling woman.
"God, you are one disgusting mutt!" the woman spat out.
The brunette held fast to both of the werewolf's wrists, but as she slowly lost her footing, the rapid snapping of the wolf's jaws came closer and closer. Using the werewolf's arms for support, the brunette hoisted herself up and shifted her legs into position, then delivered a deafening blow to the wolf's snout.
The werewolf let out a whimpering cry as it clutched at its bloodied muzzle.
Capitalizing on the creature's momentary weakness, the brunette leapt onto its back and drove her sharpened nails into its backside. The werewolf reared back and let out a shattering cry of pain that only intensified as the woman dug her hands deeper into the creature's flesh. The werewolf attempted to shrug the woman off as it violently bucked from side to side, but the woman held fast. In desperation, the werewolf ran head long into a massive tree, then shifted at the last moment, and the woman crashed into the target. Once free from the dazed woman, the werewolf let out one last whimper before it ran deeper into the forest.
The brunette let out a painful groan as she growled, "Son of a bitch." As the woman picked herself up, the wind shifted, and the intoxicating scent of blood overcame her senses. For the first time, she took in Emma's presence. Suddenly realizing how thirsty she was, the brunette sprang onto Emma.
Emma let out on meager cry, as she barely registered the savage pressure on her exposed neck, produced by the brunette's sharp canines sinking into her soft skin. As Emma began to feel her life being drained away, her thoughts came rushing forth in incoherent spurts, Not Henry… Not my sweet boy. Please.
As the brunette continued to feed on the blonde's blood, she felt warm life spread throughout her own cold body. When the thirst slowly abated, she felt her mind become her own once again. Waiting for the woman's heart to stop before she ended her feeding, she heard something that she did not expect. While the blonde's heart was barely beating, another heart beat could be heard. Without removing her mouth from the blonde's throat, the brunette narrowed in on the quickly beating heart and suddenly realized that the woman was pregnant. In an instant, the brunette tore away from the lifeless blonde.
"No!" The brunette cried out in horror. "Please, no."
With desperation, the brunette struggled with the choices before her. After a brief, agonizing moment of time, the brunette made her choice. The brunette exposed her right wrist and plunged it into her waiting mouth as she tore into it. The brunette pulled her wrist back and saw the blood flowing from her veins. Then, the woman made to move her bleeding wrist over the blonde's frozen mouth, but hesitated.
Should I do this? Who am I to choose this kind of life for this woman? As the brunette struggled with the gravity of her choice, she caught the slowing heart of the child, and without thinking, she placed her exposed wrist over the blonde's mouth.
"Come on!" the brunette cried out. She felt nothing from the blonde after several agonizing moments. Just as despair took hold, the brunette felt the blonde's mouth weakly clamp down on her wrist. Then, after a few more moments, she felt a growing strength coming from the blonde. The brunette felt her life begin to pull away from her as it flew into the dying woman before her.
In a cry that bordered on pain and pleasure, the brunette called out, "No more," but the blonde continued to suck the life from the brunette's blood. With her head swimming, the brunette reared back with the last of her energy, and she tore away from the eager blonde.
The brunette rubbed at her wrist as the wound quickly healed over. Then, looking up at the blonde, she saw the color begin to drain from her face.
"Shit," the brunette cried out, as she thought of the dying unborn child. With remembered speed and skill, the brunette knelt down in front of the blonde's hemorrhaging abdomen.
"Alright, kid. Let's see if I remember how to do this."
108 MIFFLIN STREET – STORYBROOKE, MAINE
"Hey. Take it easy," the tall, dark-haired woman whispered, stroking the blonde's hair back.
Emma, having woken in a stranger's bed after an intense trauma she hardly remembered, let out a startled, petrified scream.
"Easy!" Regina cried, catching Emma by the wrist as the woman swung to hit her. "I'm not going to hurt you, darling."
"Oh, my God," Emma gasped. "WHERE IS MY SON?"
"Take a deep breath, sweetheart. He's alright."
"WHERE IS HE!"
"You're going to—"
But the infant's cries erupted before the older woman could warn Emma not to wake him.
"He's fine. You're both going to be fine," the woman cooed softly, lifting the infant out of the crib beside the bed and into her arms, handing him carefully to Emma.
Sobbing, Emma clutched her son close to her chest and rocked him gently.
"What the hell happened to me?" she finally asked, looking up at Regina with wet, shimmering eyes. "Who are you? Where's Neal?"
"Relax, honey. It's gonna be alright. My name is Regina Mills. I'll answer everything you ask, and it will undoubtedly scare you, but please, hear me when I say I will do anything to protect you. Both of you."
As Emma clutched her son to her chest while she sat up in the bed, she looked up at Regina in disbelief and asked, "What do you mean 'you'll protect us?'"
Regina folded her hands in front of herself, and patiently asked, "What's the last thing that you remember?"
Emma focused her thoughts as she began to think out loud, "Well, I was with Neal, and I left him, finally. I was walking to town through the woods I guess, and then… Oh, my God! What was that… that thing? And you! You were there!"
"Yes. I was, and that thing was a werewolf."
Emma shook her head in disbelief, then said, "What are you talking about? No, that's…that's not possible."
Regina stepped towards the bed, sat at the edge, then said, as calmly as she could, "I'm telling you the truth. There's a lot about this a world that you don't know. The long and short of it is I've got a lot to tell you, and I will tell you everything, I promise. And I meant what I said. That was a werewolf that attacked you and the man that you were with.
Emma saw the serious face that Regina wore, but she couldn't stop the laughter that escaped from her lips, as she said, "Okay, no. You are definitely not serious right now."
Just as Emma finished speaking, Regina, who had been sitting at he edge of the bed, was suddenly gone in a blur of motion, and in a flash was standing at the other end of the room.
As Emma gasped in surprise, she took in Regina who looked to be a living statue, and the only indication that she had moved was the slightly out of place hair that was slowly settling on her slender shoulders.
Emma swallowed, then said, "You're not kidding."
"No. No, I'm not."
Emma broke her gaze from Regina, then looked down at her sleeping son. His soft skin had a slight pink hue to it. His tiny head was peppered with a few strands of delicate brown hair. His soft breathing came in low tones as he comfortably sucked on his thumb. Emma's face stretched into a warm grin as she looked down at her son. As Emma became lost looking at him, she slowly remembered the other woman in the room.
Without looking up from her baby, Emma asked, "Neal, the man I was with… He's dead, isn't he?"
Still without breaking her gaze from her son, Emma continued, "Why can't remember what happened?"
Without moving, Regina, answered, "There is a reason for that, and it's a natural response to that kind of experience. The attack was a significant trauma, which impacts memory. Your mind was trying to protect you. I will of course explain further. I would just suggest that you put your baby down first."
Emma heard the sincerity in Regina's even voice and looked up at the still woman, then saw her pained face. Not feeling comfortable asking why Regina looked distraught, Emma, with graceful ease, slid out of the plush bed, then walked to the crib, and gently placed her sleeping child down.
"His name is Henry, and I'm Emma," the blonde said with a welcoming smile. "And you said your name is Regina?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Well I guess I owe you a thank you."
"You really don't, and you likely wont when I tell you everything."
"That's really my choice to make," Emma said with a settled tone.
Regina raised one eyebrow in response.
"Come on, we can talk in the other room, while Henry sleeps," Regina said as she motioned to the door.
Emma walked to the dark oak door and turned back to look at Henry, who was sleeping in his crib. Satisfied that Henry would be safe, Emma turned to face Regina.
"So, you have children."
With her face falling slightly, Regina answered, "No. No, I don't."
"Then why?" Emma asked with confusion, as she motioned back to the crib.
Resuming her half smile, Regina continued, "Come on," and she opened up the door.
Emma could see that Regina was not telling her something, but she chose to wait before asking further.
Emma followed Regina into the room and stole one last glance at Henry as she gently closed the door. As Emma faced the room, she caught her breath. Before her was the largest sitting room she had ever seen. The room was lit from large windows that stretched to the floor. Though the windows were covered with delicate drapes, they showed the view of a thick forest that was showered in sunlight. Hanging from the walls were various stunning works of art that depicted sunny landscapes. In the center of the room was a plush leather couch, chairs, a large wooden table, all of which hugged a grand fireplace that had a roaring fire within. As Emma blinked, she saw that Regina was sitting on the couch as she stared into the fire. Emma slowly walked around to join her and was stunned both by the woman's beauty and the stillness of her form. When Emma sat, Regina slowly turned her head and faced the blonde.
"So, werewolves are real," Emma said quietly. When Regina nodded her head, the blonde asked, "And that's what killed Neal?"
With a hint of irritability, Regina answered, "Yes, werewolves are violent creatures. Werewolves look like typical humans, but they can turn into great beasts at will. On the night of the full moon, the person is forced to change into the creature, and on those nights, they are at the most dangerous. Whenever a person chooses to change, they are in control, but on the night of the full moon, the wolf is purely an animal.
In realization, Emma said, "It was a full moon last night."
"Yes. I was hunting in the woods when I came upon it. Unfortunately, it overpowered me, and it got away. I'm so sorry Emma. If I had been a little faster, you and your husband would have been safe."
Seeing the woman's distress, Emma couldn't help herself when she placed her hand on Regina's knee.
"Hey, I'm not saying Neal deserved to die, but you saved me twice that night."
"No, Emma. I killed you that night."
In sudden confusion, Emma asked, "What?"
Regina gingerly moved Emma's hand away, then began, "Emma I'm… I'm a vampire."
Regina saw that Emma was not going to interrupt her, and she continued, "After the werewolf ran off, that's when you were in real danger. I hardly noticed that you were there at first, but with the wolf gone, all I could smell was your blood, and I wanted you. I wish I could say that I thought of my options first and that I had seen that you were going to die from your injuries anyway, but I didn't. When the thirst truly takes us, there is no thought and no plan. We act. Of course, you can gain more control, and I usually do, but in that moment, I wanted you, and I took you. It's very important that you understand that when you feed you, can only take blood from the living. Drinking the blood of the dead will kill you. Hence why I fed on you while you were still alive."
With her eyes going wide, Emma said, "Are you saying, that I'm—" but she found herself unable to say the word, and she instead finished, "—like you?"
As the pain mounted on her face, it crept into Regina's voice, and she said, "I'm so sorry, but yes, you are a vampire. I had to make the choice for you. I had to either let you and your child die, or to turn you."
In a flash, Emma was on her feet, and she blurted out, "Henry."
Suddenly, Regina was standing in front of Emma and was firmly holding blonde's tense shoulders, as she said, "Your son is fine. You just saw him."
As Regina finished, she dropped her arms back to her sides and took a step back.
"Is Henry like us?"
"I'm honestly not sure. As I turned you, your body was dying, and so was your baby." A single tear formed in her right eye, and although she quickly wiped it away, the action was not lost on Emma, as Regina continued, "I removed your baby from your womb as quickly as I could, but once again, I was too late. Your son was already changing, but I've never heard of an unborn child being made into a vampire before."
While Emma sat on the couch, her mind worked with a degree of clarity it had never had before, and she came to her conclusion, "Regina, Neal was dead, and Henry and I were on our way. I can't fault you for what you are. When the moment came, you did what you could to save us. I don't know what life will look like, but what I do know is that Henry and I will have a life because of you. I stand by what I said: you saved us. Thank you. Oh, and Regina… Please call my baby Henry."
"Oh, I didn't know if you'd want me to be so familiar."
With a small smile, Emma said, "Of course I do."
As Regina stepped back into the sitting room from an unseen kitchen, she held two metallic cups with lids on them and motioned for Emma to take one.
"What is it?" Emma asked curiously.
A small smile spread on Regina's face, which Emma found herself returning, and the brunette said, "I'll give you three guesses, but you're only going to need one."
"Oh," Emma said, but as the aroma of the warm blood made its way to her, she found herself moving in a blur of speed, and suddenly she was holding the cup to her nose and inhaling deeply. Pausing, she looked to Regina, and she saw the woman nod her head. As the blood drained into her mouth, Emma felt an new ecstasy overcome her, and she greedily took in its contents. Emma felt the warmth spread from her mouth then throughout her body. As Emma looked up, she felt herself breathing in heavily in sync with her pounding heart, and an unknown longing took hold of her. Emma looked down in surprise and saw that she had crushed the metal cup into a compressed heap.
"Oh, shit. Sorry," Emma said as both the blood and her shock made her flush.
"Don't worry about it. I have plenty. And in case you're wondering, you're psychically stronger than you were yesterday. Faster too."
"Huh. That's cool. So, where do you get this blood?" Emma asked as quickly as she thought as she thought about her lingering thirst.
"Well, sometimes when the medical supply truck makes its delivery to Storybrooke General Hospital, a few bags of blood go missing," Regina answered with a grin as she sipped at her cup.
"So… What, do you hypnotize people, or turn into a bat or something?" Emma inquired with a grin.
"Oh, no. We can't do anything like that. I'm rich, and I bribe the driver."
"Well, that was anticlimactic. So… How rich?"
Seeing the smile on Emma's lips, Regina shook her head as she laughed, "Rich enough."
"So, what else can we do?" Emma asked as the two women made their way back to the couch.
"Well, let's see. You're strong and fast, as you found out. Your senses are also enhanced, which means you won't be needing these any more," Regina said as she pulled Emma's glasses from the drawer of the coffee table.
Emma blinked as she realized she could see everything around her with perfect clarity. Emma looked at her glasses and she took in the chipped plastic with such detail that she could make out the fine scratches from the miniature screws holding the frames together.
Emma took the glasses from Regina's open hand, and with a broad smile, she said, "I've been waiting a long time to do this."
Looking down, Emma closed both hands over the glasses and crushed the contents in her hands.
Seeing Emma's excitement, Regina continued, "And that's just the beginning. I have a lot to tell you. Come on."
Regina led Emma back to the bedroom as the two looked on at Henry sleeping in his crib.
"Generally, you'll every morning when the sun rises, and you'll awake when the sun sets. You can feed on any type of blood, human or animal. If you're hurt, human blood will heal you much faster than animal blood. Drinking human blood can mean the difference between life and death, if you're badly hurt. As for which tastes better, I won't lie to you, human blood tastes much better."
Hesitantly, Emma asked, "And which do you prefer to drink?"
Sighing, Regina answered, "Emma, I've made a lot of bad choices in my life. Now, I mostly feed off animals, but as you found out, I do feed on humans occasionally. I try to supplement with my acquired human blood but sometimes— Sometimes I will hunt humans that are predators themselves. I'm not saying what I do is right, or that you have to do as I do, but it's an option." Suddenly growing serious, Regina continued, "It's obvious that you love Henry, but the thirst will always be there. If you stay fed then you can keep it at bay, but it's always there. As you age, you won't need to feed as often, but eventually the thirst always comes back."
"I won't lie to you. The thirst can be hard to live with, but as long as you want it, I will always be here to offer my help."
Emma felt the genuineness from the older woman, as she thought, She cares about me and Henry. It's hard for her to show it, but she does.
With her mind working quickly, Emma suddenly asked, "What about Henry? Doesn't he need… blood to drink?"
Suddenly slightly flushed, Regina looked away from Emma and towards Henry, as she answered, "I… I fed Henry a bottle of blood while you were sleeping. You… You were in a really bad state."
Suddenly concerned, Emma looked at her body, and felt for any pain but found none.
"Don't worry, your body healed while you slept, but I'm sorry. I didn't mean to over step."
Seeing Regina's distress return, Emma said, "No, no it's fine. I just—"
Realizing Emma's thoughts, Regina reassured Emma, as she said, "I understand, and I'm sorry I took that first from you, but I promise you'll have more, and I won't get in the way."
Feeling ashamed of her sudden jealously, Emma said, "I'm sorry. You were there for Henry when he needed you. We're lucky to have you, and I don't want to hear you say otherwise again."
Slightly taken aback by the assertiveness from Emma, Regina could only manage to meekly say, "Okay."
Emma walked over to Henry and gently stroked his chubby cheek as she asked, "What can hurt us?"
Without moving further into the room, Regina replied tonelessly, "Sunlight, fire, or destroying the heart. We burn in the daylight. The younger you are, the quicker you burn. I'm sorry, but you'll never be able to go into the daylight again. Thankfully, we heal quickly, so even if you are burnt, you'll heal. You'll heal faster if you feed on blood, especially on human blood."
Regina took a step forward, as she suddenly felt herself becoming protective over the two newborn vampires.
Without thinking, Regina said, "On my life, I will do everything within my power so that no harm ever comes to you two."
Emma looked into the deep brown eyes of the woman before her, and she felt her heart quicken as she said, "I know."
As Emma and Regina walked out of the bedroom, she noticed for the first time that the light from the room emanated were the windows. As her eyes grew wide, she took a instinctive step back, into Regina.
"Oh," Regina said as Emma brushed against her.
"Regina, the sunlight."
Shaking her head as she gently laughed, Regina said, "Sorry about that," and walked to the window to push back the drape and reveal the window.
As Emma focused her vision, she could see the pixilated screen behind the window, and in astonishment she breathed, "It's a video."
"Yeah, one of the things I missed after becoming a vampire was the daylight, and when I built this place, I had these installed." As Regina admired the simulated sky, she continued, "It's the closest thing to the real thing that I can get these days."
Reluctantly pulling her attention from detailed video, Emma replied, "Hmmm."
With a smile, Regina left the drape to the side as she elaborated, "So, your… anatomy is mostly the same as it was."
Emma tilted her head slightly to the side, as she asked, "How do you mean?"
"Well, as you may have noticed your heart still beats, a bit slower than a human but it still works. You can only take in blood. Your digestive system has rearranged some, but everything still works."
With her eyes looking elsewhere, Regina answered, "Everything."
"Oh… Well, that's good to know," Emma replied as she suddenly felt flush.
"Yes, well, and that's another thing… your appearance. Your skin will always be pale, but when you get… excited or happy, you can blush a little."
With a grin, Emma interrupted, "Like you are right now?"
With her blush deepening, Regina ignored the comment and continued as she coughed, "And I hope you like your appearance, especially your hair."
"You'll never age. If you get hurt, you'll heal to as you are now. If you cut your hair, it'll regrow to where it is now. So… I hope you like it."
Absently, Emma began to curl her hair and said, "I like my hair plenty."
"We'll it's—" Regina began, then said, "I'm glad. Do you have any questions? I know I've thrown a lot at you, and I know none of this is easy."
"Wait, what about Henry? Will he always be a baby?" Emma asked with sudden urgency.
With a level of concern, Regina answered as calmly as she could, "I honestly don't know. Worst case scenario, he will always have a mother that loves him, but as I said, Henry is different. We'll have to wait and see. Remember that I said you don't need to sleep? Well, Henry shouldn't need to sleep either, but he has been since we've been talking. I wish I had a better answer for you, Emma."
Emma mused for a moment, then asked, "So, I've never heard of real vampires or werewolves before. I take it this sort of thing isn't really talked about, is it?"
Regina explained sadly, "You're right. Very few people know about us. And for that reason, you can never have contact anyone from your past life. People would not understand. You will never age. You can't ever go back into the daylight like a human. That part of your life is over."
In shock, Emma stammered, "But… Ruby… She's my best friend. She's all I have left…"
Then, thinking also of her distant past and the sister she had lost, Emma reasoned, Belle doesn't want anything to do with me anyways, so how is Ruby any different?
"I'm sorry, Emma. I'm sure Ruby is very important to you, but there's no other way to keep you both alive."
"Come on, Emma, pick up your damn phone!" Ruby screamed at her cell phone as she clutched it to her ear.
"Hi. This is Emma. Please leave a message."
"God damn it!" Ruby yelled as she threw her cell phone against the motel wall, and the phone crashed to the floor in several broken pieces.
As Ruby sat on the edge of the motel bedroom, she was glued to the small TV before her.
A smartly dressed news reporter sat behind a desk with a laptop pushed to the side, as he was reading from the teleprompter off camera.
"Details are still scarce, concerning the brutal attack on a young couple honeymooning in the small town of Storybrooke. The remains of Neal Cassidy were found in the woods, just a half mile from town. Police have given a statement that Mr. Cassidy was likely attacked by a bear that had made its way close to the town. At this time the police have not released any information on Emma Cassidy. Police are asking for anyone to call in any information they may have…"
Ruby's attention trailed off as the news report continued, but her thoughts began to race, Emma, please be okay. If anything has happened to you... Oh God, please let her be safe!
As Ruby fell to the floor, she began to weep uncontrollably and she cried out, "Emma!"
"I fixed the room up for you while you were sleeping. It was mostly just storage before," Regina mused, looking around one of the many guest rooms in the mansion as she gestured for Emma to enter.
Hesitantly, Emma entered the room and took in her surroundings. Everything was so new and unfamiliar that it filled her with a feeling of unease. Still, Regina could not have been more welcoming, and it made it just a little bit easier for Emma to go and sit on the bed, clutching her son to her chest.
"Just relax," Regina said sweetly. "You're safe here."
With a weak nod, Emma stood up again and placed a sleeping Henry in the crib beside the bed.
"There's a bathroom just in the next room over. Plenty of clothes for you to use in the wardrobe," Regina announced. "They might not be quite your… style… but they should do the trick."
"Thank you, Regina," Emma replied softly, walking over to the closet and examining her many choices.
With a small smile, Regina nodded her head and said, "Goodnight, Emma." Then, turning towards the crib, she paused, then pensively whispered, "Goodnight, Henry."
When she was gone, Emma chose a neutral outfit and slipped under the silk sheets of the bed, relaxing against the pillows. After about an hour of tossing and turning with worry and thoughts of the overwhelming events that had just taken place, Emma finally drifted off to sleep.
Another twenty minutes after that, she woke up screaming.
"No!" Emma cried, thrashing beneath the covers before sitting up straight in bed.
Sweat dripped from her brow, and she felt her body shaking with terror as she stared into the darkness of the room and visualized the dream.
Emma opened her eyes, and they gradually responded. Her vision slowly focused and she saw stars twinkling overhead. Just as she marveled at the beauty above, the searing pain shot through her body as she felt a crushing weight slam onto her chest. Emma's view of the stars became replaced with that of the massive face of a wolf.
The wolf's long face was covered in dark brown fur. At the top of its head were two elongated ears that came to fine points. Under its hard brow bore two searing red eyes. But what Emma's eyes widened at was the massive elongated jaws that had rows or razor-sharp teeth that were covered in slick blood that shimmered in the moonlight. The wolf's jaw opened wide and Emma felt the hot breath and blood fall towards her. With a menacing growl, the werewolf pulled back its widened jaw then lunged forward towards Emma as she screamed.
It took Regina only moments to appear in the doorway, tearing Emma from the memory of the dream.
"Emma? What is it? What's wrong?" Regina asked anxiously, rushing to the side of the bed. "Are you okay?"
With a shaky voice, Emma replied, "N-No… I… I had a nightmare. It was… It was the wolf. Oh, Regina… It was awful."
"Oh, Emma," Regina sighed, sitting down next to the blonde on the bed.
It was then Emma noticed that Regina happened to be wearing a rather revealing black nightgown, trimmed with delicate black lace, that had ridden up her thigh to reveal the edge of a pair of red lace panties. Emma couldn't help but stare. But she was torn from her momentary stupor by the surprisingly warm sensation of Regina's arms slipping around her as the woman rubbed her back. Of course, this had required no thought on Regina's part, and she surprised herself with the gesture. But it was too late to pull away with embarrassment, so she leaned into the moment and held Emma gently.
"Come on," Regina softly urged her. "You can sleep next to me tonight. I'll move the crib."
Too exhausted from her terror to protest, and far too anxious to decline the offer, Emma rose carefully from the bed and lifted a crying Henry into her arms. He had been startled by her scream, but quickly calmed down once in his mother's embrace. As promised, Regina pulled the crib into her own bedroom, and Emma followed.
After placing a kiss on the baby's forehead and tucking him in, Emma looked nervously at the bed and asked, "Which side of the bed is mine?"
Emma gaped when Regina replied dryly, "It's all my side of the bed."
"Uhh… S-Sorry," Emma managed to say.
"I'm just teasing, Emma," Regina told her with a toothy grin. "You can have whichever side you want."
Blushing brightly as she laughed nervously at Regina's joke, Emma chose the side closest to the crib and slipped beneath the covers.
"Goodnight, Emma," Regina whispered softly, lying on her own edge of the bed, giving the blonde plenty of space.
As Emma lay under the bed, she felt the heated blanket warm her. With the increasing heat, she felt her heart rate slowly rise and began to curl her toes.
Regina, who was just beginning to fall asleep, felt Emma slowly shift in the bed as her breathing became heavier while the minutes ticked by. Lying in bed with her confusion mounting, Regina suddenly understood as her hand brushed against the heated blanket.
With her face feeling flush, Regina turned to look at Emma and said, "I… I forgot to mention something. So, as a vampire, your body is always cold. When you drink, the heat from the blood warms you… It feels good. And, well, you can sort of replicate that with a heated blanket. I can turn off your side of the bed if you like?"
"No," Emma blurted out, and then with a breath she continued, "No, thank you. You can keep it on. It feels… nice."
Grinning, Regina rolled away from Emma, and she drifted to sleep to the sound of Emma's heavy breathing.
We're going to show you Regina's backstory. This will include Regina/Daniel and some het sex. We hope you enjoy the chapter, and we'll be back to Emma and our favorite couple next week!
A week or so later, Emma found herself waking once more to the sound of her own screams.
Again, Regina appeared in the doorway in only moments.
"Another nightmare?" Regina asked gently, standing beside the bed as she put her hand on Emma's shoulder in a gesture of comfort.
Emma nodded weakly and wiped the tears from her eyes, whimpering, "I wish they would stop."
"I know, sweetheart," the brunette sighed. "I know."
Wanting to check on Henry, Regina let her arm drop to her side and made her way over to the crib, where she reached in and stroked the little one's cheek until he settled and stopped crying.
While Emma stood up and came over to lift the boy into her arms, Regina offered a slight smile, causing Emma to feel a wave of affection flood her. As Emma looked on at Regina, she felt her heart begin to pick up pace at the sight of the woman's supple breasts easily filling her nightgown.
"Come on," Regina said, tearing Emma from her trance and making her blush. "My room."
Again, Emma nodded and followed Regina into the bedroom. Regina was close behind her, moving the crib into her room in preparation for putting Henry down to sleep. Once this was done and the two were lying in bed, Emma realized that her heart was still racing.
Seeing the look of anxiety on Emma's face, Regina rolled onto her side to face Emma and whispered, "Deep breaths, sweetheart. Deep breaths."
"I'm scared to go to sleep," Emma choked out, fighting back tears.
"I'll be right here. I promise."
Letting out a shaky breath, Emma tried to nod her head, but it felt too insincere. She found herself unable to trust Regina. Her parents were gone. Belle was gone. Ruby was gone. How could she allow herself to trust someone else now, after all this time. But with Regina… things felt different.
"Emma," Regina said, somewhat sternly, bringing Emma back from her self-defeating thoughts. "Deep breaths, please. I need you to breathe."
Then, the tears burst through.
"I can't," Emma sobbed, as quietly as possible. "I c-can't."
"Can I touch you?" Regina asked suddenly, looking Emma in her tear-filled eyes.
Giving Regina a look of slight confusion, Emma nodded.
"I need you to listen to me," Regina said softly, placing her hand very carefully on Emma's stomach. "Breathe in slowly."
"R-Regina…" Emma tried to protest, but Regina left her hand on the woman's stomach and continued to stare her in the eyes with seriousness.
Letting out one last shaking sob, Emma took in a unsteady breath.
It wasn't exactly slow, but she was doing better, so Regina whispered, "Good, honey. Good. Out slowly. Take your time."
Whimpering, Emma let out her breath, and although her body continued to vibrate with fear, she was able to exhale for longer than she had inhaled.
"That's perfect, sweetheart. Keep going. Feel my hand rise and fall?"
Emma nodded, feeling the slow, steady stream of oxygen gradually ease her racing heart.
"Just feel your stomach and chest expanding as they fill to capacity, okay? Focus on your breath."
"It's h-hard," Emma whined, breaths starting to become shaky again.
"Easy," Regina cooed. "Easy. I know it's hard. I'll breathe with you. Listen."
Regina then took in and let out several audible, carefully paced breaths. Emma slowly began to breathe with her, calmed by both the sound of Regina's breathing and the increasingly steady flow of air through her lungs. Her body was slowing down, and her muscles were staring to relax.
"That's it. Good," Regina urged her. "Now, shut your eyes and keep going. I'll be right here."
"But I don't want to have—"
"It's alright, Emma. I'm right here."
Without thinking, Regina began to rub her thumb over Emma's abdomen to comfort her, and it worked. Emma's eyes finally fell shut as she allowed the sensation of Regina's touch to soothe her. Soon, she fell into a peaceful sleep.
SEVERAL DAYS LATER
"And that's how I ended up marrying Neal. Ruby and Belle tried to warn me, but he was my worst addiction by far," Emma concluded as she finished telling her story to Regina.
"You have certainly lived quite a bit, for one so young," Regina replied, as the two women sat around the pristine kitchen table, while Henry suckled on his bottle.
"One so young," Emma repeated. "Please. You're… what? Thirty-two, maybe thirty-three?"
Regina smiled from across the large dining room table and answered, "Well, a lady never tells, but let's just say I've been in my thirties for some time now. And would you look at that," Regain said in astonishment.
Following Regina's gaze to Henry, Emma's alarm grew, as she asked, "What?"
Suddenly taken aback, Regina replied "I… I wanted to confirm my suspicion."
"I didn't want to get your hopes up, but I filled his bottle with formula."
"What do you mean?"
Holding up her hands, Regina concluded, "I don't know what it means. I just… I just wanted to be able to give you some good news."
As Emma hugged a cooing Henry, she replied, "Regina, that's really sweet of you, but in the future, let's not turn Henry into a science experiment."
Smiling in relief, Regina said, "I promise."
As Henry began to fall asleep, Emma gently prodded, "So, who is Regina Mills, the woman that has been in her thirties for 'some time now?'"
"Emma, I haven't always been the woman that I am now. I've made a lot of selfish choices over the past seventy-five years," Regina confessed, dropping her gaze.
"So, what happened to you?" Emma asked carefully, with gentle curiosity.
Regina froze and lost herself in her past as she began to share her painful history with the woman that she had become so found of.
PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII - MAY, 1941
"Good Lordy. It is blistering hot out there. I'm fixin' t' take m' cap off," a nurse address Regina in a southern drawl, having entered the nurse's station on the air force base.
"How do you manage to complain about every change in temperature, hot or cold, Miss Le Bouff?" a young Regina shot back without looking, tucking her hair up into a bun and fixing her own nurse's cap on her head.
"Please, R'gina, call me Charlotte," the blonde giggled, sitting down on a bench beside the mirror in which Regina was examining her reflection. "You are awfully pretty, aren't you, dear?"
"Oh, please," Regina laughed, shaking her head. "Don't be daft, Miss Le Bouff."
Regina looked at herself in the mirror and stole a glance at Charlotte as she fussed with her nurse's cap. Charlotte's slender form was not lost on Regina, and she suddenly felt slightly self-conscious of her own body. While Regina was in shape, she was a fuller figured woman, especially next to the firm-bodied blonde next to her. Charlotte had a perky beauty about her with her bright blue eyes, pink lips, and rosy red cheeks that was brought together with the intense energy with which she carried herself, and it often left Regina feeling exhausted.
Offering a soft smile, but no argument, Charlotte sat and watched as Regina finished adorning her cap and pinning it into place.
"So what brought ya to Pearl Harbor, Miss R'gina?"
"You ask a lot of questions, Miss Le Bouff."
Regina was a modest woman, and private. At least, as private as was possible when living in close quarters on a base with other women who took pleasure in gossip. But there was something endearing about Charlotte. Something she couldn't quite put her finger on, or name. But she could sense it. Charlotte was… good.
"Are y' goin' out tonight with the girls?" Charlotte asked with a bright smile. "There's gon' be plenty o' fine young men there at the—"
"I don't feel the need to spend my time trouncing around with men like some cheap tramp," Regina interrupted, with more edge to her tone than she had intended.
The blonde's eyes went wide as she stared at the older woman.
"Well, shucks, R'gina. If I'd'a known ya felt that way, I wouldn't'a asked. I sure am sorry…"
Regina finally looked at Charlotte – really looked at her – and sighed, "You should get to work, Miss Le Bouff."
"I suppose you're right," the girl conceded with a shrug and another gentle smile. "See you around. Oh, and R'gina?"
"Yes, Miss Le Bouff?"
"Please. Call me Charlotte."
That afternoon, as Regina sat on alone on her cot in the barracks, she thought of her own words.
'I don't feel the need to spend my time trouncing around with men like some cheap tramp.'
Perhaps, Regina thought, I was a bit harsh with her. She's just a young girl, after all. Of course she wants to go out and have fun. And why shouldn't she?
Then, Regina blinked away what was left of her confusion and asked herself, Why shouldn't I?
When she walked into the loud, overpopulated bar she felt extraordinarily out of place. Soldiers and nurses mingled and held each other close on the dance floor, making Regina feel even more lost than she already had simply walking in the door alone.
To Regina's horror – and perhaps her relief – Charlotte saw her out of the corner of her eye and waved her over.
"R'gina, honey, come over here!" the beautiful blonde shouted, over the booming, brassy sound of Glenn Miller.
Regina blushed instantly and managed to squeeze her way through the crowded room over to the younger nurse.
"Hi…um… Charlotte," Regina stammered, forcing herself to use the young woman's first name, although it felt strongly out of character for her.
"Hello, dear! This is Naveen," Charlotte announced, smiling brightly at the dark-haired young man closest to her. "And this handsome charmer here is Daniel," she added, voice pressured and enthusiastic as she nodded towards the other gentleman with her.
Both young, attractive soldiers, they stood tall and proud. Naveen, clearly surer of himself than his friend, smiled confidently and looked directly at Regina as he waved at her. But when Regina looked at Daniel, she could see humility and honor in his eyes, and it made her cheeks flush with heat when he finally lifted his gaze to meet hers.
Regina had to force herself to relax before she was able to introduce herself as simply, "Regina. Pleasure to meet you both."
She'd been raised to be polite and proper, so introducing herself only by her first name, as Charlotte had done, felt unnatural. Still, she knew she had to at least make an effort to fit in. In the ranks of nurses on the air force base, she was known as, 'the more refined type, which didn't usually bother her, but right now, it felt highly inconvenient. Daniel was gorgeous, as his toned body fit perfectly into his crisp Navy uniform. But what Regina found herself most drawn to was the shine of Daniel's inviting blue eyes that looked at her as if she was the only other woman in the bar.
As soon as the song changed, Daniel stepped forward, toward the brunette and asked, "Perhaps this is too forward, but would you dance with me, Regina?"
Regina blushed and hesitated, but when she noticed that Daniel suddenly looked panicked and embarrassed, she nodded her head.
The look of relief on his face was adorable. The combover of his short, perfectly cut hair didn't help the racing of Regina's heart as she noted just how beautiful he truly was. Not to mention, charming and polite.
At first, the slow song afforded them the opportunity to ease into the closeness of the activity, but Regina found herself longing to be closer to him as he gazed into her eyes with an unconfident smile.
"You're a bit shy, aren't you, dear?" Regina finally asked, feeling her own cheeks grow warm.
Daniel nodded and replied sheepishly, "Yes, ma'am. I'm afraid I am. And dancing with a woman as pretty as you is quite intimidating."
"Please, don't say that. I'm not—"
"But you are, Miss. You're stunning. And I'm feeling unworthy of your generosity."
"Generosity?" Regina questioned, looking puzzled.
"Your generosity to dance with me. I'm beyond lucky to have the grace of being able to touch you like this."
When he said 'like this,' Regina felt his hand press just slightly harder against the small of her back, and she felt herself shiver beneath his modest touch.
"Oh, Lord, no," Regina finally managed. "I'm just a nurse. You could have any woman in this place." Then, she noticed the badges on his dress uniform. "You're a First Lieutenant. I'm the lucky one."
"Because of my rank?" Daniel asked, brow furrowing slightly.
"Oh, gosh. No, Daniel. I didn't mean it like that. I just meant… I'm blessed to have you spend your valuable time with me."
"Regina," Daniel sighed, taking a small step forward. "I'm not going to argue with you about who is the lucky one here. Perhaps we can simply agree that we were lucky tonight to find each other?"
Oh, God, Regina was thinking, as she felt herself melt into her dance partner. Regina looked up to Daniel as she offered a weak nod of embarrassment. This man is going to break me.
PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII – AUGUST, 1941
Three months into their time together, they were inseparable. Whenever both were off duty, Daniel wanted to be near her, and he made it clear.
"Dinner after your shift?" he asked one morning. "I know you've gotta work this afternoon. But I'm clear for the day, and I'd love to see you."
Regina chuckled girlishly, blushing as she always did.
"Of course, darling," she whispered, leaning in close to him as he put his hands on her waist.
"Good Lord, you are beautiful," Daniel sighed with a shy smile, staring deeply into Regina's dark eyes.
"Stop it," Regina laughed, trying to push him away as she felt the stinging juxtaposition of his compliment against her history of belittling comments from her mother.
But this only resulted in Daniel stepping closer and walking her gently, very gently, backwards, until she was pressed lightly against the wall of his private quarters.
"Daniel—" she tried, but he was leaning in, and she knew what he wanted.
To that day, she was still surprised by the desires he so clearly demonstrated. How can he still want me? she wondered.
But Daniel was relentless, in a loving, consensual kind of way, and she was always receptive to his advances.
"Daniel," she repeated, when he pressed his forehead against hers.
Daniel moved slightly and whispered in her ear, "I love you, Regina Mills."
Regina's heart stopped. Just when she felt it would never beat again, it kicked into gear and slammed against her ribcage, physically causing her pain.
Shocked to find unceasing tears streaming from her cheeks, Regina replied, voice cracking, "And I love you, Daniel Colter."
His lips pressed against hers just as Regina finished speaking, and they moved together slowly, savoring the taste of one another, until Regina abruptly broke the embrace.
Breathlessly, she asked him, "Why?"
"Why what?" he questioned, looking confused.
"Why do you love me?"
Daniel shook his head and laughed lightly, then asked in turn ,"Why do you love me?"
Without pausing, Regina answered, "Because no one else could ever make my heart beat this way, Daniel. No one."
Before speaking, Daniel gently gripped Regina's shoulders, then said, "I feel the same, darling. I shut my eyes and see your smile, and I don't think I could ever see anything else ever again."
PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII - SEPTEMBER, 1941
"We've been going together for a while now," Daniel mused, as he sat with Regina on a stone wall by the beach.
As Regina stared out at the lapping deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, her thoughts begin to drift in and out with the waves. Despite his insistence on them both being lucky, Regina still felt like the one who was blessed, having continued to maintain his affections four months in. It was unbelievable to her that he was still interested. Surely, there was some other motive…
"Regina?" Daniel asked, finally looking over at her.
"Sorry! Yes," Regina blurted, snapping out of her thoughts and moving her gaze to Daniel. "We have been going together for a while."
"I, um… I know it's still soon, but I…"
Regina looked up to find him moving away before standing directly in front of her. She remained seated, looking on with a sudden wave of shock as he knelt down in the sand. The man was wearing his dress whites and sailor cap, looking as handsome as ever. Regina had wondered why he'd dressed up for a simple trip to the beach but hadn't questioned him. Now, she knew why.
"Regina Mills," Daniel started. The woman could see the sweat forming on his brow as he asked shyly, "Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Daniel had never moved so fast in his life as when he saw his dearest love begin to sway, then lean backwards. He was on his feet in an instant, holding her steady as she fainted in his arms.
Of course, when she came to a moment later, all she could manage to say was, "Yes."
At hearing Regina's acceptance, Daniel bent down and passionately kissed his fiancé as the sun began to set.
PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII – OCTOBER, 1941
"Come with me," Daniel told Regina, squeezing her hand and tugging her along the pristine beach with one hand and holding the strap of his knapsack with the other.
She was somewhat confused and didn't like the idea of not knowing where they were going, but she trusted her fiancé completely now. They walked for a long while along the dimly lit shore before they reached the naval hangar.
"Let's go," he whispered, pulling her inside.
Her eyes went wide as she whispered back. "Aren't we gonna get in trouble?"
"Not if we don't get caught," Daniel announced, wearing a surprisingly confident smile. "Now, come on. I brought sheets and champagne."
"You brought what?" Regina asked dumbly, giving him a blank stare.
"Just come here already!" he laughed, letting go of her hand as he set out the sheets.
Daniel held out his hand and invited Regina to sit with him beneath a massive B-17 bomber.
Reluctantly, Regina followed him, sitting beside him on the sheet he'd laid out for them as he pulled a bottle of champagne and two glasses from his knapsack.
"Cheers," he announced, after pouring both glasses. "To us."
Regina shook her head and looked at the bottle apprehensively, saying, "You're a goof, you know that?"
Daniel smiled, as he answered, "And yet you still love me."
"I do indeed." Regina replied with a warm smile as she took the offered glass of champagne.
"I've never had alcohol before," Regina confessed shyly.
Daniel just smiled and said, "Only once for me. On my 21st birthday. Gosh… That was four years ago!"
Regina sighed, giving him an I'm-trying-to-scold-you-but-I-can't smile, then finally said, "Cheers."
Two glasses later, Regina felt a slight buzz, but knew she wasn't drunk. Just emboldened. So when Daniel slowly leaned her back on the soft sheet and fervently kissed her, she felt more than just heat coiling in her belly.
"Wait," Daniel said breathlessly, as he felt her small hands fumbling with his belt. "I don't want to rush you, and—"
"Daniel. It's okay," Regina whispered back, reaching up to stroke his hair. "I want to."
"No, I'm not," she asserted firmly, looking up at him with fire in her eyes.
"You sure?" Daniel questioned, knowing full well that he refused to take advantage of her.
Breath hitching in his chest, Daniel fumbled ungracefully with his belt. When she realized that he was having significant trouble, Regina pushed him away gently and unclasped it for him with slightly trembling hands. Once it was open, she slid her palm ever so slightly over the growing bulge in his trousers and smiled up at him. She was nervous, yes, but nowhere near what she would have been without a drink. Thinking clearly but with confidence, she continued the gesture when she heard the heavy breath escape Daniel's lips.
"Does that feel good?" Regina asked him nervously. When he nodded, she smiled again and added, "I can make it feel better."
His eyes fell shut as soon as she unzipped him and reached her hand into his underwear, grasping his stiffened member.
"Ahh!" he cried out, feeling the soft skin of her warm palm wrap around his most sensitive organ.
Raising one eyebrow, Regina playfully asked, "More?" while holding still.
He nodded desperately, eager to feel her stroking him again.
"Take these off," Regina ordered, tugging at the waistband of his trousers.
He nodded again and wiggled clumsily out of his pants before slowly sliding his hands up Regina's dress. She shivered when she felt the warm heat of his hands on her thighs. The heat spread further through her body, and she felt the muscles in her abdomen tighten involuntarily as he rubbed his thumbs over her hips.
When they kissed, Regina quickly became breathless. Their tongues danced together, not battling for dominance but sharing equal passion, until Daniel lowered himself onto her and pressed his body into hers. She could tell he was nervous by the way his hands shook when he palmed her ample breasts, but her desire to reassure him with words of encouragement was extinguished by the whimper that escaped her lips when she felt his length pressing hard against the fabric of her panties.
"Daniel," she said breathlessly, lifting her hips purely by instinct.
"Is this your first time?" he asked, panting from the effort of stopping himself.
Regina hesitated, then nodded her head and bit her lip.
"You're so sexy like that," Daniel sighed happily. "Biting your lip."
She shook her head, but he held her chin still and kissed her firmly on the mouth, teasing her lower lip with his tongue. Again, Regina whimpered.
"I love you," he gasped, feeling the sudden pressure of her hand fully gripping him and giving his length one light, careful stroke. "It's okay. You're not gonna hurt me." When she looked confused, he explained, "You can do it harder."
She blushed an obeyed, stroking more firmly this time, making his hips buck forward as he groaned softly in pleasure.
"It… It might hurt a little," Daniel told the young woman, looking down into her eyes as he stroked her hair out of her face. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Regina nodded her head confidently and stroked him one last time, dissolving his last bit of resolve and restraint. Then, his careful hands slid her lace panties down past her ankles and tossed them to the side. Regina shivered from the touch of his hands sliding down the smooth skin of her legs.
"Ready?" the man asked her, offering her a warm, encouraging smile.
"Yes. Please, Daniel. Please."
Biting his lip, Daniel pushed her dress up a little further, so it was out of the way, and positioned himself at her entrance. He pushed in carefully, groaning as he felt her heat sheath him, making sure to hurt her as little as possible. At first, Regina winced and let out a soft yelp, causing him to freeze.
"You okay?" he asked breathlessly. "Should I stop?"
He wasn't sure if he could stop, but he knew that he would if he had to. He would have done anything for her.
Regina shook her head and lifted her hips, pushing him in the rest of the way. When he pulled back, it no longer hurt. Instead, it sent a rush throughout her body that made her head spin. She could no longer keep her eyes open as he began to work up a steady rhythm inside her, still gripping her hips to steady himself.
"Harder," she whispered, wrapping her legs around his waist. "Please."
Daniel groaned, brought closer to the edge by her pleas, as well as her soft coos and whimpers of pleasure.
"Love those sounds," he managed to tell her, continuing his movements. "Oh, fuck. Regina—"
"Oh, God. Fuck," Regina echoed him, the lifting of her hips growing more erratic.
The rhythm was broken, and it only served to bring Daniel closer to his peak.
"Please. Please," Regina begged, reaching behind him and digging her nails into his back.
He moaned when she dragged them down, leaving small red welts in her wake.
"'Gina, are you close?" he panted. "I'm…"
"Yes, baby. Please, don't stop."
Daniel's pace increased, until his frantic thrusts brought Regina to her climax.
"Daniel!" she cried out, walls clenching around him.
The rippling of her muscles around his length sent Daniel soaring next, and before he could pull out, he was spent, giving her every last drop of himself.
"Oh, shit," he cursed, gasping for air as he jerked himself out of her. "Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck."
Frantic, his heart began to slam harder in his ribcage, and he felt his chest tightening.
It took Regina a moment to shake herself from the fog of the intense orgasm he'd just given her, but once she realized why he was upset, she felt her stomach drop. Oh, my God. I could get pregnant.
"I meant to pull out," Daniel blurted, speech pressured and fast. "I'm so fucking sorry, Regina. Maybe—"
"No. Daniel, it's okay," Regina assured him, after taking one slow, deep breath. "It's okay."
Tears started to well in his eyes, but he didn't cry. She could tell he was about to, though, so she grabbed onto his dog tags and tugged him down into a slow-burning kiss.
"I love you," she whispered, upon breaking away. "Just breathe. It's okay."
Chest heaving, Daniel slowly started to calm down. All he wanted – all he needed – was Regina's hands on him, soothing him, comforting him, telling him everything would be okay. And anyway, what was the worst thing that could happen? She could get pregnant. What did it matter, anyway? They were to be married in January. And if Regina wasn't angry… well… he wasn't either. Besides, having a child? With Regina? What more could he ask for? She was perfect.
Once he'd reasoned away his fear, eased by the sensation of Regina's soft hands tracing random shapes on his back, his heart slowed and began to swell with love.
"Would you want a child with me?" he asked softly, nuzzling her neck.
"I want everything with you, Daniel. Everything."
PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII – DECEMBER 7, 1941
"Okay, just tell him, Regina," the brunette told herself, straightening her uniform and cap as she looked at herself in the mirror.
Distracted by the bright glare of the early morning sunlight reflecting off the mirror, Regina hardly heard the other woman come into the room.
"Miss R'gina?" the fellow nurse asked, upon entering.
"Oh. Hi, Charlotte," Regina greeted the girl, offering a half-hearted smile.
"Tell who what, honey?"
Regina blinked several times and stared at the woman who had slowly become her friend.
"Oh, my!" the blonde cried, eagerly clapping her hands with apparent joy. "That's just wonderful!"
"I… I suppose it is, isn't it?" Regina replied, a small, shy smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Anyway, I know I need to tell Daniel, but… I'm scared."
"Oh, honey, he'll be thrilled!" Charlotte giggled. "He's been gunnin' for your babies for ages!"
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, it's obvious, honey. That boy is head over heels for you," Charlotte replied.
Regina's smile brightened as she replied, "Yeah?"
"Oh, Charlotte," Regina sighed, looking back to the mirror as she placed her hands over her stomach. "I never thought I could be so happy."
"Well, sugar, you sure have a reason to be happy now! You've got a handsome, strapping young man, who's gonna be a wonderful daddy to that baby of yours."
"He will, won't he?" the brunette mused, her lips curling back into a smile.
"Yes ma'am," Charlotte confirmed. "So, you shouldn't be afraid to tell him, honey."
"Alright. I guess I better go find him. He's supposed to meet me on the beach at eight, after his night shift ends.
"Well, go on then, sweetie. He's gonna be waitin' for you!"
Regina nodded, gave her friend a quick hug, and left the nurse's station.
The walk to the beach felt longer than usual, and she cursed the heels that she'd chosen to walk in. As Regina turned onto the beach, she heard a low rumble steadily grow. Not knowing where the sound was coming from, she looked around and saw a plane flying low in the distant horizon.
That's odd, she thought, as she cupped her hand over her eyes to block out the early morning sun. They don't usually run drills this early.
As Regina widened her gaze, she discovered that what she thought was a lone plane was in fact an entire fleet of planes soaring towards the harbor. As the planes flew over her head, she looked up to see the Japanese emblem of the rising sun under their wings. At first confused by the nationality of the planes and their low and aggressive flight patterns, Regina's confusion morphed into intense panic as the first deafening bombs dropped. As the sand on the beach flew high in the air from the nearby explosion, Regina's first thought was Daniel.
Forgetting her fear and her sensibility, she ran as fast as she could towards the opposite end of the beach where she was to meet Daniel, past the landing spot of the first bomb. Before she could reach the impact crater, she heard the sound of her name being screamed from behind her.
Turning reflexively, Regina looked in time to see the young blonde tossed by the second explosion what must have been fifty yards away. Regina cried out as she tore her heels from her feet and ran as fast as possible back towards her friend until her legs ached. As Regina approached Charlotte, she saw the mangled remains of her only friend. Covering her mouth in horror as tears and sweat mixed on her cheeks, she crumbled to the ground. It felt like ages before she could muster the strength to lift her gaze and look around, but the sound of a nearby bomb shocked her back into her brutal reality. Around her, Regina saw the carnage of the black smoke billowing from the broken ships in the harbor and the wreckage of the beach. The smell of black smoke permeated her senses and overwhelmed her.
"Regina!" a distressed male's voice called out, over the continuous sound of bombs crashing.
Hearing her name again, Regina's attention focused in the direction of the sound, where she saw her fiancé sprinting towards her.
The sound of the propeller of the last low swoop of a turning plane was the last sound Regina heard before screaming his name.
Regina ignored the raging bullets soaring past as they landed in the sand on either side of her, sending rocks and debris flying. Just as the two lovers were mere feet from one another, the bullets found their mark in Daniel's chest. Blood spilled out, reddening his pristine white uniform as he fell to his knees, then onto his back over the scorched sand. As Regina's eyes went wide at the nightmare before her, she raised out a hand to Daniel, was suddenly hit in the back by the raining bullets above, and she collapsed just inches from him, arm stretched out in agony.
"Are you sure you want to know the rest?" Regina asked with a trace of trepidation in her voice.
"Regina, of course I do," Emma said as she reassured the brunette with her smile.
Regina turned her gaze from Emma and lost herself within the flickering flames of the roaring fire within the fireplace.
As Regina became lost in the memory, Regina began, "Well, it all started on the seventh of December in 1941, and I survived the worst day of my life just to die that night..."
Regina was lying on the beach as the waves slowly began to creep up against her. The water rushed into the brunette's mouth, but she didn't care. Regina's burning eyes kept looking at Daniel. She cried out for him, but in her heart, she knew he was dead. As her voice grew weaker, the tide drifted closer and closer to the bleeding woman. The water crashed into Regina, and her eyes stung from the oil polluted water, but she couldn't stop herself from looking at Daniel.
Suddenly, Regina heard something she couldn't quite place, but she didn't care. Regina could hear the crashing of the waves all around her, the groaning of metal and explosions in the distance, and the screams of the dying. The screams never stopped. Regina wanted to die so she could be with Daniel. As her thoughts drifted further, Regina began to think of her baby.
Regina was lying on her stomach and she began to feel at peace. First the pain radiated from her back and shot through the rest of body in unyielding waves, and then she slowly began to feel nothing at all. Regina struggled to move her arm towards her belly. A small spark of panic grew within Regina, as she thought, My baby. Is my baby okay? Regina had just managed to move her arm a few inches when she saw a man approaching.
At first, Regina thought it was a medic coming to help, and she tried to cry out, but a wave crashed into her mouth and she choked on the polluted water. Slowly, Regina opened her stinging eyes, and she saw that the medic was closer, as he was huddled over a wounded marine. It wasn't until that moment that Regina realized that the beach was littered with hundreds of the dead and dying. It looked like the medic was holding up the soldier and whispering into his ear. It all seemed perfectly ordinary to Regina at the time, until he dropped the soldier onto the ground without a care. The man turned around, but Regina could see that it was no medic.
While his form appeared to be that of a man, it was like no man Regina had ever seen before. His short light brown hair was slicked back from the oily water. While his eyes had the same blue as Daniel's, his eyes were hard and hungry. His mouth had a faint outline of beard, which was covered in something red, and he was running his tongue around the outside of his mouth taking in the red liquid. Regina noticed that the man appeared to be in bliss.
Regina looked down at the soldier the man had just dropped, and she saw the waves crash into him, as the ocean pulled away red. Regina strained to focus her thoughts, as she realized what the red was. The brunette went to let out a cry, but nothing came out. A surge of fear welled up inside Regina, and suddenly she knew that she had to escape, but her body wouldn't respond. Regina attempted to strain every one of her muscles but could not find the strength.
The man stumbled forward, and he looked to be drunk. As he came closer, he lifted Daniel's body off the ground.
At seeing Daniel's body be dragged up, Regina's thoughts sharpened, and she cried out, "Stop!"
The man's eyes found Regina's, and he smiled as he tossed away Daniel's body back onto the beach. Something in Regina told her to look at the man, but all she could do was stare at Daniel's crumpled form. Her fiancé's back was facing her, and all Regina wanted was to see Daniel's face, just one more time.
The blazing tears streaked down Regina's face, and without warning, she felt two strong hands pull her to her feet. Regina didn't have the strength to support herself, but the man's arms gripped her into place with ease. The man shifted his stance and roughly grabbed Regina's chin, then forced her to look at his face. His eyes were dilated to the point that Regina couldn't make out the whites of his eyes. His skin was pale except for the bottom half of his face. The man was covered in blood, so much blood, and when he opened his mouth to talk, Regina could make out his red stained teeth that had bits of flesh stuck in between them. And the smell… Regina had been a nurse for almost twenty years, but the stench coming off him caused her to gage reflexively.
"Today has been such a lovely day. I've never been so full! I usually starve on this godforsaken sunny island, but tonight… tonight, I have taken so much from so many. I know I should stop, but I just can't help myself… and why should I?" the man said, as he looked Regina up and down appraisingly.
Regina could see the man's breathing begin to quicken, and he looked excited as a smile spread over his bloodied face.
"Please, no. I'm—" Regina tried to say, but the man lunged his mouth onto her neck.
Suddenly all the sounds of the harbor were drowned away, and all Regina could hear was the man drinking from her neck and the rapid beating of her heart in her ears. Regina knew she was dying on the beach, her training told her that much, but now she could feel death lurking closer still.
I thought dying would hurt more, Regina thought as she felt what life she had left drain from her. As the last of Regina's thoughts came bubbling to the surface of her dimming consciousness, all she could think of was her baby. Regina was ready to die, had wanted to die on that beach so she could be with Daniel, but she couldn't leave her baby. Regina tried to raise her arms to fight off her attacker, but there was no life in them, as they hung there limply. Without warning, the man pulled back, revealing his bulging eyes and mouth that was a river of Regina's blood.
He strained his face, like he was concentrating, and then he blurted out, "Are you with child?"
Regina tried to talk but the only sounds she could make were incoherent noises as her mouth failed to cooperate. Regina could feel herself slipping away into death. Just as the last of her senses were deafened, Regina felt something wet and warm enter her mouth. Without understanding, Regina's heart began to pound, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Regina felt new life pour into her, and it was exquisite. Moments prior, Regina knew death, and now she felt stronger than she had ever been in her life.
Regina began to devour the life-giving substance, and then she heard the man cry out, "That is enough!"
The man dropped her to her feet, but it didn't hurt. Standing there, on two steady legs, Regina felt her strength climbing still, and she opened her eyes. Regina gasped in wonder at the evening sky, as it was just like watching The Wizard of Oz, and she was seeing the world in color for the very first time. As Regina was admiring the night sky, stunned by its beauty, suddenly the pain started, a pain that Regina had never experienced. Regina didn't understand what was happening to her, but it was like something was being forced out of herself with great violence. Regina looked down in realized horror, as she saw blood gushing out from between her now trembling legs. She screamed out in agony. Regina fell to the reddened sand, and all she could do was sit there, rocking back and forth within her misery.
In despair, Regina realized that in that moment, everyone that she had ever loved was gone. As her thoughts began to race, Regina contemplated, How could I love someone I had never met before? I suppose it's because I loved Daniel, and this was our child.
Regina sat on that beach for what felt like long hours as she lost herself within her own grief. However long it was, the man was still there. As if on cue, the man pulled Regina to her feet, and they stared into one another's eyes. Regina realized that before his eyes seemed to be lustful, and now they looked repulsed.
"I suggest you listen to me," he spat out. "I have absolutely no interest in children—" but then he stopped speaking, as he must've read something on Regina's crestfallen expression. He took in fast breath, then continued, "You're a vampire now. The sun will kill you, fire will kill you, piercing your heart will kill you, and I will kill you if I ever see you again. Do you understand me? I don't care about you, and I don't want you in my life." The man looked at the purpled horizon, then turned back to Regina and continued, "The sun will be up soon. I suggest you find someone to drink and then bury yourself deep within the sand to sleep. You saw me feed, and I suggest you do the same, but I don't really care."
He released Regina, but she stayed on her feet without effort. Regina was confused, more confused than she had ever been, and more than she was confused, she was angry at being denied her life with her family.
As her anger swelled, Regina spat out, "Why? Why did you do this to me? Why couldn't you just let me die? I have nothing in my life now!"
"I… My wife, Marian, died in child birth, and our son—" But he paused and didn't say anything more.
As Regina blinked and opened her eyes, he was gone.
Standing there, surrounded by bodies, Regina began to wonder if he had ever really been there, and that's she suddenly smelled the blood all around her. To her, it smelt divine. It was as if her emotions suddenly vanished, or rather she suddenly didn't care about anything else, not her child, and not even Daniel. All that mattered was her thirst. Regina could smell the sweet aroma of blood, and she had wanted nothing as badly as to have the taste of it in her parched mouth.
As the cries of someone near, someone in pain, made its way to Regina's newly fine-tuned senses, she narrowed in on its origins. Acting on instinct, Regina knelt over a wounded sailor, and she saw he had a jagged piece of metal sticking out of his chest, and he had burns throughout his seared body. At first, there was a small amount of relief in his eyes, as he saw Regina's tattered and discolored nurse's uniform, and he thought that she was going to save him.
Still acting on instinct, Regina opened her jaw wide and plunged her mouth over his darkened neck. The newborn vampire felt her sharped teeth tear into his delicate flesh, which revealed the glorious fountain below, and Regina drank deeply. The brunette could hear the sailor's pitiful protests, but Regina didn't care, she kept drinking. Regina's body felt like it was fire. Every nerve ending cried out in delight. Regina wanted more, and she took more. The sailor's cries slowly began to die, and something within Regina told her to stop, some instinct perhaps, and she dropped the sailor, just as her maker had done to the first nameless soldier. Regina savored the last of the blood, then her eyes suddenly found Daniel. In a blur of motion, she was suddenly cradling him in her strong arms.
Regina held Daniel in her arms for hours, howling out in agony. Regina didn't know who or what she truly was, but she knew that she loved Daniel, and she didn't want to leave him. As Regina's cries continued, she felt the first stinging rays of rising sun peak over the horizon. Suddenly, Regina had the overwhelming urge to find darkness, but she couldn't leave Daniel. Feeling unsure of herself, the vampire's words came back to Regina: 'Bury yourself deep within the sand to sleep.' With the greatest of care, Regina laid Daniel's body down, and with a fever she dug a deep hole on the littered beach. Regina looked down at the inviting darkness and turned away from it. The brunette picked up Daniel's body and without any effort gently placed him in the hole, and then climbed over him as she buried their bodies together. Regina slept with her beloved for the last time on that unforgettable day.
Regina turned back from the now dead fire, and her eyes found Emma again. The blonde sat there without moving, except for the tears streaming down her face.
Regina took a deep breath in, then continued, "After that first day, I went back to the mainland, and drifted from city to city. I didn't really care about anyone or myself. I took who and what I wanted. Eventually, I realized that I was slowly turning into the bastard that turned me, and that's when I changed everything. I couldn't change what I had done over the decades, but I could start fresh, somewhere knew. One day, I found myself here. I mostly keep to myself these days, and I try to let the world just pass me by. I figure I've done enough damage for a few lifetimes. But that's who I am, Emma."
"I don't really know what to say to any of that… about what happened to you—" Emma breathed out.
"There is really nothing to say. It's in the past."
"Stop that. What happened to you was horrible. Your whole life was taken away from you in an instant, just like—" but Emma's words trailed off as she came to realize what Regina had done for her, what she had really done. Not only had Regina saved Emma's life, she also saved Henry's as well, but Regina had not been so fortunate in her own story. Emma turned her head towards Henry's bedroom, saw him sleeping in the crib, and realized just how lucky she truly was.
Emma moved slightly closer to Regina, and she continued, "I hear you. It sounds like you did some things you regret, but you made a difference in my life and Henry's. Regina, you did for us what wasn't done for you. I'll never be able to thank you for that."
A small smile eased Regina's pained face, as she said, "And you'll never have to, Emma."
ONE MONTH LATER
After putting Henry to bed and returning to the bedroom, Regina found Emma sitting on the floor behind the bed with her back against the wall. As she approached, she heard the sound of the blonde crying.
"Emma?" Regina asked carefully. "Emma, what's wrong?"
"I can't do this, Regina," Emma sobbed, not looking up as she left her head in her hands and held her knees close to her chest. "I can't do this."
"What do you mean, sweetheart?" Regina gently pressed, kneeling down beside her companion and placing her hands on each of Emma's arms.
"I need to see Ruby. I need to hear her voice."
"Emma," Regina's replied as her back stiffened, in a voice that was suddenly stern. "You can't."
"Regina, please. Please. She's my best friend. I can't do this without her."
"PLEASE. Just let me call her. I'll… I'll just…"
"You can't tell her where we are, Emma."
"Regina. I need to see her."
"Emma! You can't! This is how vampires end up in top-secret military museums! Don't you understand? If she says one word to anyone, we're all done for."
"Wait, the military knows about us?"
"Yes, Emma. They know, and they hunt us."
Emma's eyes went wide as she stared at Regina, letting the gravity of the situation sink in.
"They would find us."
Exasperated, Emma cried, "She won't tell! I know she won't tell! She'd never do anything to hurt me! Or Henry. Not ever. I knowher, Regina."
"Emma, no. I'm sorry, but it's just not possible."
Body shaking, Emma sobbed louder, "You have to let me do this. I need her in my life. I can't stay locked up here forever."
"Time will continue to go by, and you won't age, but she won't. She will die, Emma. You will have to watch her DIE, as you stay young, and your whole world falls apart around you. Please, believe me, Emma. It's easier this way."
'You don't understand," Emma wailed. "I can't do this without her. For so long, she's been all I've had left. I can't lose her, and Belle too. Regina, please don't ask me to live without her."
"ALRIGHT, dammit!" Regina shouted, rising to her feet and throwing her hands in the air. "You want to risk it? Fine. Whatever. You know I'd die for you, and I guess now's as good a time as any."
"Regina, stop it! She won't tell!" the blonde cried desperately.
With a sigh of resignation, Regina replied solemnly, "I hope you really trust her, because Henry's life depends on it."
Without pausing, Emma said, "Give me the phone."
Shaking her head as she accepted the devastating events that she was sure would follow, Regina's jaw tightened as she moved to the nightstand, opened the drawer, and pulled out a cell phone, reluctantly handing it to Emma.
"If you don't trust her, Regina," Emma said softly, wiping her eyes, "then trust me." When Regina simply gave her one long, sad look, Emma sighed and dialed the number she knew by heart.
Emma could feel the heavy pounding of her heart in her ears as she listened to the ringing. Nearly losing her resolve, she squeezed the phone until her knuckles were white, which began to splinter the phone in her iron grip. Realizing her strength, Emma loosened her grasp as she waited for the call to connect.
After several moments of ringing, a woman's voice finally answered, "Ruby speaking. Who is this?"
"Ruby…" Emma said, breathless. "God, it's good to hear the sound of your voice."
Ruby gasped and nearly screamed, "Emma?! Where the fuck have you been? The police found Neal's body torn shreds in the woods over a month ago, and there was no sign of you!"
"I… I can't explain over the phone. I need to see you."
"Just tell me when and where," Ruby answered quickly. Then, she blurted, "But Emma, what about the baby?"
"Henry is safe," Emma assured Her friend. "Meet me at 108 Mifflin Street in Storybrooke, as soon as you can."
"You're still in Storybrooke?! I'm on the way."
By the time Ruby arrived at 108 Mifflin Street, her heart was racing, to the point of causing chest pains. As Ruby drove up the darkened and secluded driveway of the two-storied mansion coming up ahead of her, she began to think, Emma, what have you gotten yourself into? Ruby parked her car behind the home, near a neatly decorated matching white gazebo. Ruby felt her heart continue to threaten to burst forth from her chest. Nevertheless, with shaking hands, she knocked on the door of the dignified mansion, anxious to see her dearest friend.
When Emma opened the door, her face was pale, and her own heart was racing.
"Oh, my God," Ruby breathed, throwing her arms around the blonde. "Emma."
"Hi, Ruby," Emma replied meekly.
She knew what Ruby was thinking and was simply waiting for the water works to begin.
And they did; Ruby began to sob uncontrollably as she clung to her friend, her face buried in the crook of Emma's neck as she refused to let go.
"What the hell happened to you?!" Ruby cried, finally pulling away just enough to look in Emma's eyes. "You look like death."
Emma wanted to laugh at this. It was so painfully ironic that she felt she could cry, right then and there. But she held it in and put her hands on Ruby's shoulders.
"Come inside," Emma beckoned her. "I'll… I'll try to explain."
When Ruby stepped into the house, she found Regina standing in the foyer.
"Who's she?" Ruby asked, a tone of defensiveness in her voice.
"Ruby," Emma warned. "Settle. She saved my life in the woods the night that Neal died."
"Listen, chica," Ruby addressed Regina. "I don't know you. And that's fine. All I care about is that you don't hurt Emma, or her son."
"Did you hear her say I saved her life?" Regina snapped, equally as defensive.
Turning back to Emma and ignoring Regina's comment, Ruby said, "I'm just so glad you're okay. Now, are you gonna tell me what happened or not?" After a brief moment of silence, Ruby added, "No. No, you're gonna tell me. There's no 'not' option. I take that back. What happened?"
Regina felt the anger begin to role off her, as she sighed audibly, which caught the attention of the two other women.
"Come sit down," the blonde sighed, gesturing to the dining room.
It was clear, as soon as Ruby sat down, that she was in a panic. Ruby was wringing her hands and fidgeting in her seat, anxiously making eye contact with her friend.
"Okay… Listen. You're not gonna believe this, but… I, um…"
"Spit it out, Em," Ruby said anxiously, leaning in closer to Emma.
"So… In the woods that night… There was this… this thing…"
Staring blankly, Ruby waited for Emma to continue, as Regina appeared behind them, with her arms folded across her chest.
"Go on," Ruby pressed. "Just tell me already."
"Jesus. Fuck. You're never going to believe me," Emma sighed, hanging her head in her hands as she rested her elbows on the table.
"Emma! TELL ME."
"It was a werewolf, okay?"
Ruby's stomach flew into her throat, and the knot it formed there made her feel nauseous.
The pitch of Ruby's voice raised, as she said, "Emma… That's… That's just silly. I'm sure you just saw—"
"RUBY!" Emma shouted, slamming her fist on the now splintered table. "I know what I saw, dammit! If you're not gonna believe me, just go. I told you this was gonna be crazy. If you never want to speak with me again after this, so be it. But I need you to believe me."
Ruby's jaw dropped as she saw the table, splintered from Emma's blow, and she choose to try to ignore it, as she hesitantly said, "Alright. Alright, go on."
"The wolf attacked Neal and obviously killed him. It went after me, but…"
"Emma. For fuck's sake. If you don't finish the goddam story, I'm gonna pull your fingernails off individually with pliers until you finally tell me what the fuck is going on."
From the corner of Emma's eye, she could see that Regina had taken a protective step closer, and she cast one reassuringly look to the brunette.
Turning back to Ruby, Emma cried out, "Okay, okay! It's just hard, alright? I know how crazy this is, and I'm scared you'll stop loving me, or think I'm fucking bat shit crazy or something when you hear the rest."
"I will never stop loving you, and I don't think your crazy," Ruby choked out, gripping Emma's hand tightly as she stared into her friend's green eyes. "Promise."
Taking in a steadying breath, Emma continued, "Regina is a vampire. She turned me to save my life, and she saved Henry, too. I owe her my life, but now… I'm a vampire too. Look, I know it's insane, and if someone had told me a year ago that this is how my life would end, I'd probably think they needed to be locked up. But it's the truth, Ruby. Please, tell me you don't think I'm crazy…"
Ruby sighed, thinking of her life and all the things she was raised to believe.
"Ruby?" Emma asked weakly, searching for any words Ruby wasn't saying. "Do you hate me?"
"I could never," Ruby said, leaning in to kiss the cold skin of Emma's cheek. "Shit, girl. Vamps really are ice boxes."
Emma had to laugh at this, and as Ruby laughed too, they both felt a slight wave of relief wash over them.
"I love you, Ruby. Jesus. I was fucking terrified you'd try to stake me or something."
"I'd never hurt you, Emma," Ruby said, surer of herself than she'd ever been. "You're my everything."
Emma threw her arms around Ruby and squeezed, holding the woman against her chest as they embraced.
"I love you so fucking much, Ruby Lucas."
"And I love you. Now, tell me… Do I get to see you turn into a bat, or…?"
Laughing harder, Emma shook her head and replied, "Myth. Sorry."
To Emma's surprise, Ruby's bright smile remained, and as she watched the joy in Ruby's face, she had the sudden realization that Ruby reminded her of her sister. Belle's radiant smile was just like Ruby's, and they both had the same effect on her: they were contagious. Emma couldn't help but find herself at peace and saddened at her realization.
"Okay, well, then… I wanna see ya do some crazy speed or strength shit. Go lift my car or something!" Ruby joked with a grin, not letting go of Emma's hand.
"Ruby! It's not a game," Emma scolded her, but was unable to put away the smile that Ruby had infected her with.
"Sure, it is. ARM WRESTLE."
Behind the two women, Regina just rolled her eyes as she watched in astonishment at the ease between them.
"Ruby, no," Emma chuckled. "I'd hurt you."
With a long pause, Ruby considered her options and the irony of the moment.
"C'mon, Em. Let's go," Ruby finally challenged. "I can take ya!"
"No, you really can't. Not anymore." Suddenly, Emma's voice was calm and serious as she added, "I'd never hurt you either, so don't ask me to."
Tilting her head in slight confusion, Ruby gave in and said, "Alright, alright. No arm wrestling. But do you at least have super speed too? Cause that would be cool."
"Ruby! It's not a joke!"
"PLEASEEEE," the brunette whined, trying – unsuccessfully – to hide her playful grin.
"You think this is funny?" Regina finally spoke up, walking over to the table.
"Uh, yeah," Ruby answered, looking sternly at Regina. "I really fucking do."
"Well, it's not," Regina growled.
"Regina," Emma warned, touching the woman's arm. "It's alright. She's playing. That's just Ruby. She's cool." Then, turning to Ruby, she asked, "Right, Rubes? We're cool? Top secret?"
"DEAD secret. GRAVE secret," Ruby assured her, finally allowing the grin to sneak back over her lips as she hugged Emma. "Won't tell a soul. Besides, who would believe me anyway?"
Smiling, Emma kissed Ruby's cheek and whispered, "You have no idea how much I missed you, Ruby."
"I missed you too, honey. God… All jokes aside… I thought you were dead. I mean… I mourned you, Em. I thought… I thought I'd never see you alive again."
"Technically… you won't," Emma sighed, pushing a hair through her loose curls.
"Aww… Em… Too soon! And I'm sure it's not that bad…"
"It kinda is, Rubes. I mean… I can't even look at the sunlight again. I'm… I feel lost."
"It's gonna be okay, sweetheart. I'll be right here for you. You're not alone."
Then, it was Emma's turn to cry, feeling deeply touched by her friend's kind words.
"I'm kinda surprised you didn't freak out, actually," Emma mused.
"Well… Everyone's got their own… um… stuff. Right?"
"I suppose so."
Then, Ruby suddenly shouted, "WAIT! Where's the kiddo?"
"He's sleeping," Emma explained with a smile, rising from her seat at the table. "Wanna meet him?"
"Are you sure, Emma? I just put him down for a nap," Regina pointed out.
"I don't wanna wake him…" Ruby said softly, biting her lip.
"He'll be fine. He hardly ever cries."
"Okay, okay. Let me see the little bugger!"
Gripping Ruby's hand in her own, Emma tugged Ruby into the living room, where Henry was sleeping in a cradle.
"Oh, my God, Em," Ruby said breathlessly, staring at the tiny, sleeping bundle of life. "He's beautiful. His name is Henry?"
"Yes, ma'am. And yes, he is beautiful."
Slowly lifting Henry into her arms, Emma kissed the child's forehead and passed him over to Ruby, who clutched him carefully to her chest.
"Jesus," Ruby said. "I feel like I'm gonna break him."
"Do try not to," Regina said dryly as she kept a watchful eye on Ruby.
Ruby rolled her eyes and looked back at Emma.
"You won't," the blonde assured her. "Don't worry."
Henry's eyes opened slowly as he looked up at Ruby.
"He's precious," Ruby announced, staring into Henry's eyes, already enamored with him. "Truly the most handsome little guy I've ever laid eyes on."
"He is, isn't he?" Emma replied, looking lovingly at her son.
While Ruby gently rocked Henry in her arms, Emma walked behind her friend.
At feeling her friend's slightly cool body brush up against her, Ruby felt a familiar tingle spread through her. The brunette smiled a wicked grin as she asked, "Hey there. Whatcha doing?"
"I'm returning what you let me borrow," Emma answered as she unclasped the neckless underneath her sweater. The blonde placed the golden crucifix around her friend's neck, then she looked down at Henry as he yawned.
"Thank you, Emma," Ruby said as she looked down at her heirloom. Turning to face her friend, Ruby continued, "Emma, seriously how are you doing… with Neal?"
Emma's eyes seemed to look past Henry while she answered, "Honestly Ruby, I thought Neal was going to kill me that night. In some ways, the werewolf saved me, and then Regina saved me from the werewolf. I was so blind with Neal, and I could never see it until that night. Don't get me wrong, I feel awful that he's dead, but I'm okay. For the first time in my life, I'm really okay."
With a nod, Ruby gently handed him back to his mother with a soft smile and watched as Emma rocked him slowly.
"You two are an awfully pretty picture," Ruby told her.
"Yeah, well… He looks pretty cute with his auntie too."
"His… His what?" Ruby asked blankly, staring at Emma.
"What? Did you not plan on being 'Aunt Ruby?'"
As Emma grinned at her, Ruby felt her heart well with love for them both.
"Jesus, Em… I just… I didn't think…"
"Easy, Auntie," Emma chuckled, winking and kissing Ruby's cheek. "Don't get too worked up about it."
"Oh, I will. And I'm gonna be the best auntie ever."
"I know you will be, Rubes. I know."
As Regina looked on, she couldn't help but feel the unfamiliar sting of jealousy.
"So, let me get this straight. You've got this whole mansion upstairs, and then you've got this whole underground secret lair?" Ruby asked skeptically while Regina was heating up a pot of formula on the kitchen stove.
Regina kept her eyes on the slowly heating liquid as she answered Ruby, "Yes, and how many times are you going to ask that? You've been staying here for the past two weeks now."
"Hey! Listen. I'm here to support Emma. And I mean, I get it with the whole no sunlight bit. You don't need to sleep in a coffin, which would be creepy cool by the way. Seriously, how much did this place cost you? Did you rob a bank or something?"
Regina clicked off the heat from the stove and kept her focus on pouring the warm formula into the small bottle as she answered flatly, "Not recently."
Ruby let out a laugh from her seat on the granite counter top, and then she saw the serious look coming from the other woman.
"Wait a minute, are you fucking breakfast cereal right now?" Ruby called out as Regina strode out of the kitchen, and into the moonlit library.
"Breakfast cereal?" Regina asked dryly, looking unamused.
"Yeah. You know… Serious?"
As Ruby's comment escaped Regina, the older brunette made her way into the large circular library that was lined with hundreds of books. She did not see any of her favorite works of literature, as her attention was drawn elsewhere. Regina's eyes dilated at the sight of Emma sitting in the oversized leather chair, as she shook a small plush pink owl in front of a giggling Henry. While Regina found herself lost in thought, the spell was broken as she heard the lovely sound of Emma's voice.
Shaking her head in response, Regina answered, "Sorry, I was just thinking."
You are so lovely, Regina thought as she looked at Emma. Regina marveled at the natural beauty of the younger woman, with her vibrant blonde hair tied back into a long pony tale, which revealed her softly glowing face as she stuck her tongue out at Henry.
Emma placed Henry on her knee, and the small child looked up at Regina as he sucked on his stuffed owl.
As Emma lifted her face to look at Regina's regal form, she said, "Well, it must have been some thought."
With a look of confusion, Regina asked, "What do you mean?"
Emma offered a smile, which Regina involuntarily retuned, and Emma continued, "Well, I can hear your heart beating from here, so…"
Regina's dark red lips parted slightly, and she was about to reply just as Ruby entered the room.
"Yeah, what up Regina? Nervous or something?" Ruby quipped as she walked up to Emma and picked up an eagerly waiting Henry.
Regina replaced her still face as she handed the warm bottle to Ruby, then lied, "Emma, I was thinking that it would be a good time to take you out hunting. We're starting to get low on our supply of blood. I'll get more from my driver, but in the mean time, while Ruby is still with us, I figured we could go out."
"Oh," Emma said with a faint trace of disappointment within the tone of her voice.
With rising alarm, Regina interjected, "If you don't feel ready yet, I understand."
"No, it's not that. I just thought you were going to say something else is all."
"Emma, how can you say no to that? I mean that sounds like the best date ever," Ruby teased as she fed Henry.
Looking sharply at Ruby, Regina asked, "Ruby, as much as I've really loved having you here, when do you think you'll be going home? Surely you have someone waiting for you back in Boston."
Actually, I'm right where I want to be, you douchey vamp, Ruby thought, and then answered, "I'm actually in between partners right now." As a moment passed, Ruby begrudgingly continued, "Unfortunately, I will need to leave in a few days though. They're not going to hold my job forever, and not all of us are so ludicrously wealthy."
"Wait, you're leaving?" Emma exclaimed as she stood up from the chair to face her friend, and she felt herself worry at losing her once again.
Misreading Emma's source of concern, Ruby smiled as she said, "Don't worry, I won't be gone long. I noticed there's a pretty busy diner here in town, Granny's or something. I figure I'll go back home and start to pack up our things. I'm sure the police will want to talk to me, and once that crap is done, I figure I'll get a place up here."
"Well, isn't that just great," Regina remarked dryly.
"Wait, what do you mean the police will want to talk to you?" Emma asked.
"Emma, you've been missing for over a month now. The police will eventually close your case and assume you're dead."
"I… I hadn't really thought of that," Emma said as her thoughts began to spin.
Regina, understanding what Emma was going through, took a step forward and said, "Emma, this was to be expected. It'll be okay. You're safe, and so is Henry, and that's what matters."
"Yeah, I guess so. I just hadn't thought about people assuming I'm dead," Emma said as she thought, Will Belle ever even notice?
"Come on, Emma. Some fresh air will do you good," Regina said reassuringly.
Emma forced a smile as she turned to Ruby and asked, "Ruby, do you mind watching Henry?"
Ruby laughed as she answered, "Just try to get him back. Come on, Henry. You and I will play while momma plays tag with a critter outside."
Ruby looked up from a giggling Henry and saw the nervous smile spread on Emma's face, then slowly, she found herself lost in the beauty of Emma's expression.
As Emma stepped off the front porch of the mansion, she realized that this was the first time she had been outdoors since she was attacked, and she reflexively wrapped her arms around her.
Regina, who was a few steps ahead, correctly read the dark expression that had passed over Emma's face. Regina walked back to Emma and laid a reassuring hand on Emma's shoulder, then said, "Hey, you'll be okay. I'll be with you every step of the way. Nothing is going to hurt you. Do you trust me, Emma?"
Feeling slightly braver than she was a moment ago, Emma looked deeply into Regina's confident eyes, and she began to feel safe. Emma dropped her arms, then said, "I do trust you."
As a playful smile spread on Regina's face, she said, "Good, now catch me." In a burst of speed, Regina shot forth across the secluded yard and was rapidly approaching the tree line in the distance.
Emma couldn't help but smile, and suddenly feeling spurred on by Regina's challenge, she sprinted forth. Emma felt as if her feet were hardly touching the freshly cut grass as she flew towards Regina, and to her surprise, she found she was catching up. As Emma kept running. A burst of laughter escaped her as she felt overjoyed at the power within her body. She felt no sense of fatigue. Rather, she felt more alive than she had ever felt. Emma saw that Regina was moments away from the darkened tree line, and she thought, Oh, no you don't. The blonde opened up the raging swell of power within her, and she suddenly felt herself leap clear into the star filled night sky. Soaring twenty feet off the ground, Emma's eyes took in the captivating beauty of the night sky. For the first time in her life, Emma noticed that the night sky was not merely black, but rather it was made up varying shades of blacks, dark grays, blues, and purples. Lost within the beauty of the sky, Emma's eyes shimmered at the brilliant twinkling white lights high above. When gravity began to pull down on Emma, she found her body responding as it angled itself into a crouching position, and with a thundering impact, Emma landed on the impacted ground inches in front the skidding brunette.
Shaking her head in amazement, Regina stated, "That, Emma, was cheating."
Holding her hand to her heart in mock-indignation, Emma replied, "Oh, I'm sorry. Did I catch you? Good! TAG!"
Emma shot off into the dense woods and dodged one tree root and branch after another until she was becoming a blonde streak in the dark.
Just you wait 'til I get you, Regina thought playfully as she ran headlong into the woods, and this time she held nothing back.
Emma first felt the roaring pressure behind her as Regina gained on her, then looked behind to see Regina rapidly catching up.
It's like that, is it? Emma thought, as she increased her own speed while she cried back, "Catch me if you can!"
Emma tensed her muscles as she again leapt into the air, and this time she controlled the surge as she skyrocketed up to a well-defined branch of a red maple tree. Just as Emma felt the branch begin to bow under her weight, she was already leaping from tree to tree, high above the forest floor. Emma again found herself grinning at her own new-found abilities.
Emma turned her head, and she saw that Regina had stealthily placed herself at Emma's left side as she matched the blonde step for step. The two women began to merge and divide from one another, first with lazy crossings, and then they swerved in intricate patterns above the forest floor. The pair's dance went on for several uninterrupted miles as the two found themselves completely in sync with their graceful movements.
Just as Emma was about the cross once again in front of Regina, she smelled something new. She skidded to a halt on a branch and breathed in deeply. Emma's heart began to quicken, and she closed her eyes, then followed the husky scent. Emma caught the tantalizing aroma, and she opened her now glowing blue eyes as she saw Regina patiently watching her. Without speaking, Emma sprang forward with Regina in her wake. Emma felt herself moving closer to the scent, and she slowed her pace as she began to slowly slink from tree to tree.
As Emma's foot delicately came to a stop on a study branch, she saw the large hazel colored bobcat stalking through the grass of the forest floor. Emma's head slightly cocked to the side as her mouth began to water at the sight of the wild feline. She tried to control her breathing, but Emma could feel her body quivering with the growing hunger building within. Emma looked across from her, and she saw Regina looking longingly at the large cat, as her muscles appeared tense under her black sweater. As her breathing came in erratic spurts, Emma found herself leaping off the branch.
Emma's jaw opened wide as she flexed her taught hands in growing anticipation. With a shattering crash, the great cat cried out, but Emma's instincts had already prepared her, as her jaw clamped around the cat's fur lined neck. Just as the warm blood poured into Emma's eagerly awaiting mouth, her eyes rolled back as the sensational warmth spread into her body from her rapidly pumping heart. Briefly jolted from her pleasure, Emma opened her eyes to see Regina had latched onto the opposite side of the dying cat's neck. Emma felt the animal's heart speed up into an erratic beat, then slowly began to fade as the beast went limp. Again, in unison, the two women tore free from the dead animal. Slowly, Emma's heart began to settle, and as she looked to Regina, she found it speeding up once more.
As Regina struggled to slow her own breathing, she addressed Emma, "You're a natural."
Not sure if it was from the blood or the compliment, Emma found herself blushing, as she answered, "Well, if I am, then I have you to thank for it."
"I told you, you don't need to thank me."
"Well too bad, because I am."
Regina chuckled as she said, "You're a real brat sometimes. You know that?"
"Yeah, I know," Emma said with a trace of defiance.
"So, are you ready to head home?"
Emma felt her heart cry out for Henry, and yet she found herself profoundly content in the forest with Regina. While Emma felt confused with her blooming feelings, one thing was clear: she did not want to share Regina with anyone else for at least a little while longer.
With a mischievous grin, Emma playfully asked, "Five more minutes?"
"Heya, Rubes, how's Boston?" Emma asked while talking to Ruby on the phone.
"Oh, you know, crazy traffic, crazy people, definitely not Maine," Ruby answered playfully while having her phone on speaker so that she could continue to pack up her apartment.
"How much longer are you going to be, do you think?"
"Well, the police said they're wrapping up their investigation soon. They said that you're likely dead, probably mauled to death or something," Ruby said absently. "I asked if it would be an issue if I packed up your stuff, and they said since you didn't have a next of kin that it should be fine. Besides, I think your dick of landlord is ready to rent out your apartment. So I figure it'll be about another few weeks or so by the time I'm done packing, and I'm going to need to find a place first. So maybe a little longer."
While Emma still struggled with the thought of being dead, she found herself thinking more of her future with Henry and Regina and a feeling of contentment spread through her.
"Well, maybe I could ask Regina if you can stay here for a little bit… You know, while you find a place."
Ruby chuckled as she answered, "Oh, I'm sure Fangs would love that."
Shaking her head, Emma replied, "Come on, Ruby. Regina isn't that bad. She's really…sweet."
Ruby felt her heart ache at hearing Emma speaking so fondly of Regina, and she coughed as she continued, "Well, I'll start looking for a place now while I'm wrapping things up here, and I'll get back to you, okay?"
"Okay, but keep in touch." Emma asked.
Smirking into the phone, Ruby relied, "Of course I will. Later, Em."
"Bye, Ruby," Emma replied as she ended the call.
Emma stood up from the rocking chair in Henry's play room, and she stretched absently, then walked over to Henry's playpen. As more time had passed, Emma found herself thinking of living with Regina as home. Just as she began to smile at the thought of feeling at home, Emma's heart dropped as she saw Henry that had somehow unlocked the miniature door of his play pen, when she saw that it was hanging open.
"Henry?" Emma cried as her panic began to build. Looking around the room, Emma felt her heart in her throat as she quickly walked into the hall and called out, "Henry? Regina?"
Regina heard Emma's cries from her study, which sent her rushing to meet the panicked woman.
"Emma, sweetheart, what is it? What's wrong?"
"It's Henry! I was just talking to Ruby on the phone, but when I went over to play pen, he was gone. Oh, my God, Regina, where could he have gone?"
Reassuringly, Regina took Emma's trembling hand, then replied, "It's okay, Emma. Come on."
Regina quickly led Emma back to her study and turned on the dual screen computer, then punched in a few keys on her keyboard.
Emma's eyes went wide as she saw that the screens revealed live feeds of the basement, top floors, and grounds of the mansion. "Regina?"
While Regina scanned each camera, she replied, "I know, Emma. I really don't like uninvited guests in my home, and I swear I'm not spying on you. I haven't even looked at this thing in ages. Now, he must be—Oh no! Emma, there!"
Regina pointed to the small squared picture to reveal that Henry was rapidly crawling up the stairs, which led directly to the main floor of the mansion.
"Regina, the sun!"
"I know. Come on!"
But before Regina could move, Emma had already bolted from the room.
Emma ran in a blur of motion as she flew from the study, down the long corridor, to the sitting room, then rounded the corner and up the stairs. While Emma reached the top, time seemed to slow down for her. With terrified eyes, Emma saw Henry crawling up the last stair, and his small hand was about to make contact with the rays of light peeking through the open door. Emma felt her muscles quiver as she leapt forth to shield her son, and in doing so she saw that she was too late. Henry's right arm and face were bathed in sunlight, and a moment later, Emma protectively scooped up her son. While Emma's pale skin was flooded with the daylight, she first saw her skin redden and blister, then turn a smoldering black. While Emma gingerly held Henry in her smoking arms, she cried out in agony, which was matched by Henry's wails.
"Emma!" Regina screamed as she caught up to the two.
"It hurts so much! But how's Henry?" Emma exclaimed as she found herself unable to look at her son for fear that he was as burnt by the sun as she was.
"I… don't believe it. Emma, please open your eyes. Henry's okay. He's just crying."
Through her sobs, Emma opened up her tear-filled eyes, and through her blurred vision, she saw that Henry was just as Regina had said.
"I don't understand," Emma said through clenched teeth. "You said we couldn't go out in the sun, but he's fine."
"Emma, I don't understand it either, but Henry is different. He sleeps and eats food as a human. He must have retrained some of his human genes, and honestly, I don't care as long as he's safe."
Through her tears of pain and joy, Emma could see Regina's own wet and reddened face.
"Come on, sweetheart. I'll take the baby. You need to feed. Trust me; it'll help you heal."
"Come on, Henry. Let's take a look at you while mommy has a snack," Regina said playfully to Henry as he giggled.
While Regina gently placed Henry in his booster seat at the table in the basement kitchen. Emma eagerly drank from a large cup of microwaved blood. Emma felt the rush of the warmth spread through her just as she sensed the skin of her arms beginning to heal. Slowly, the blackened burns faded to a dull red, then the skin gleamed their natural pale color. Emma looked down at her unblemished arms in amazement as she inspected them for any trace of damage but found none. Feeling reassured, Emma walked over to the kitchen table, slid a chair beside Regina, and sat down.
While Regina tried not to show her concern for the other woman, she couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief at seeing Emma healed. Regina was struck with a kind fear she had not known since another lifetime when she saw Emma in such pain.
"Emma, I know you said not to turn your son into a science experiment, but Henry has grown," Regina said cautiously.
Looking closer at Henry, Emma eyed her son's thick mop of brown hair and his cherub like form wiggle around his seat.
"I mean, I guess so. It's not like I've got a lot of experience here. What are you trying to say, Regina?"
"I'm saying that Henry is a month and half old, and his motor skills are that of an eight-month-old. He is still the right size for his age, but he is developing at a much faster rate. Fascinating really." Looking at Emma, Regina could see the concern on her face, and she continued, "I know it's been a while since I was a nurse, but I can assure you that by everything that I can tell, Henry is healthy. He is advancing quickly, just like you are. I mean, look how fast you have mastered your new abilities. Why would Henry be any different?"
Emma stroked the side of Henry cheek with a gentle hand, and while she felt slightly reassured by the woman's words, her concern remained.
"So, what does this mean for Henry?"
Regina took Emma's free hand in her own and as the two interlocked their fingers. Taking a breath, Regina began as she looked at Henry, "It means that Henry is special. He always has been, and now we know just how special. Unlike us, he is aging. He can go out into the daylight. Emma, Henry has a chance at a life that is more than just darkness. Henry is… unique."
"He's perfect," Emma replied as she squeezed Regina's hand.
You're both perfect, the older woman thought, then she said, "Why don't you take Henry back to his playroom. I'll make him some lunch, and I'll heat up two cups for us."
Emma looked with contentment towards Regina as she replied, "You're so good to us. I honestly don't want to think of what our lives would have been without you."
"I know my life wasn't complete before you two came along. I thought I had everything I needed here, and I realized before I was merely surviving, and now I'm living," Regina replied as she met Emma's inviting eyes.
While Regina was standing over the large stove, two separate pots slowly began to heat, and Regina saw neither. Regina stood not looking at the stove, but rather found herself seeing Emma holding Henry in her mind's eye, and she stood still, smiling at the thought. With her breath coming in slowly quickening bursts, Regina realized that she was gently biting her lower lip. The brunette willed the liquids to heat faster, as she felt the distance between herself, the young mother, and her son become too much to much bare.
Emma sat on the carpeted floor of Henry's play room, as he bounced on her knees, while the two them watched the movie "Frozen."
From the television came, "Let it go, let it go, can't hold it back anymore. Let it go, let it go."
At hearing the lyrics, 'Let it go,' Emma took Henry's chubby little arms and waved them in the air as she mirrored the lyrics as she sang, "Let it go!"
Upon hearing his mother's singing, Henry let out a jovial giggle, which sent waves of love flowing through the young mother.
Emma turned her son around and began to playfully kiss his face, which caused Henry to cry out with joy as he leaned his little body forward and kissed his mother.
"Henry, did you just give your momma a kiss? Huh? Did you give momma a kiss?" Emma asked playfully.
Henry held his arms wide, flexed his fingers, and cried out, "Mo…Mo…Momma!"
With her eye's going wide in amazement, Emma found her mouth spreading into an ear-to-ear smile.
"Henry, did you… Did you just say 'momma?'"
While Henry continued to bounce on his rear, he cried out once again, "Momma," and this time he said it clearer than his prior attempt at his first word.
"Emma, did Henry just…?" a stunned Regina said as she stood in the doorway.
More than anything, she wanted to step into the room and join the two, and yet Regina found herself unable to step forward, though her heart ached to do so.
Emma could not tear her gaze away from Henry as she said, "Regina, he did! Come on, get down here. Maybe he'll say something else."
Suddenly unsure of her place, Regina took a step back into the hall as she said, "Oh, Emma. This seems like a family moment. I'll come back."
This time Emma did turn back as she addressed the brunette, "Regina Mills, sit down. Now, come on, before you miss it."
Not feeling sure of what to do, Regina replied, "Ahhh… Emma, I'm not sure."
With slightly more force, Emma said again, "Sit down." Emma turned her head back to Henry, then encouraged him, "Come on, kid. Say 'momma' again. You can do it!"
Regina took several unsteady steps and set the bottle and two cups down. Then she sat by Emma's side with her eyes wide as she felt her heart swell at being part of this beautiful moment.
"Emma, you have… such a beautiful family," Regina choked out as she felt her face reddening.
Turning one eye towards Regina, Emma replied, "Thank you, Regina, and I do hope you're aware that you are part of this family too."
Fearing that she had misheard the other woman, Regina answered, "Pardon me… I mean, I'm honored that you would think, let alone say such a thing. But you don't need to say anything just to be nice."
"Regina, I meant what I said. Like it or not, you are part of our family."
With her eyes welling with tears, Regina answered quietly, "I like the sound of that. I like it very much."
Looking Regina in her watering eyes, Emma said equally as quietly, "I'm glad, and so do I."
As Henry let out a high-pitched giggle, he reached out with his delicate hand and grabbed Regina's finger, then he held his free hand up high as he flexed his fingers impatiently.
Emma smiled as she said, "I think Henry wants you to pick him up."
"Are… Are you sure?"
"I am, and so is Henry. Now, are you going to keep him waiting or what?" Emma asked playfully.
Regina reached out and gently picked up Henry, holding him to her chest. While the brunette soothingly rocked the dozing baby, she felt her joyful tears freely run down her reddened face. After a moment, Regina found herself humming a lullaby to Henry as he fell fast asleep. Unexpectedly, Regina felt a cool arm wrap around her as Emma placed her head on the brunette's waiting shoulder, and she felt her happiness swell once more.
Over the next few weeks, Regina, Emma, and Henry had become a family. The trio had quickly settled into a routine, as both Regina and Emma raised Henry. Both women were continually amazed at Henry's development. It was less than a month ago that the small child sounded out single words, and now he was stringing two and sometimes three words together. While the majority of the time all three family members could be found together, both Regina and Emma took turns hunting in the woods at night. Over time, both women noticed that their hunting trips became shorter and shorter, as both of them found themselves wanting to return to the other and to Henry as quickly as possible.
Henry's blood-curdling scream could be heard throughout the house, but it was especially loud coming from the next room over.
Like a bullet train taking off, Emma rushed into the living room where her son was sitting in the middle of the floor in front of the television. Regina followed her out of the kitchen, running nearly as fast, and stood in the doorway as Emma approached the infant.
As Emma knelt down beside him, though, Henry shook his head and pointed to the woman behind her.
The eyes of both women went wide as they stared at Henry. Had he really just called Regina 'Mumma?' Dumbfounded, Regina took a few slow, hesitant steps forward. When Emma nodded at her, though, offering silent permission for her to advance, Regina hurried the rest of the way to Henry's side.
As soon as she knelt down, a single tear sneaking down her cheek, Henry held his arms out, wordlessly asking to be picked up. Regina obliged, lifting the boy into her arms and rocking him gently.
"What's the matter, sweetheart? Did you get hurt?"
Henry just shook his head, suddenly smiled, and replied, "Play trucks?"
Emma put her hand over her heart and doubled over with laughter. He wasn't hurt. He was fine. And, Emma realized, he was just as in love with Regina as she was.
"That was pretty awesome today, huh?" Emma asked, as the two women sat at the table after putting Henry to bed.
"What was, dear?" Regina asked, puzzled.
"Henry. Calling you 'Mumma.'"
A flash of pain quickly twisted Regina's features, and thankful, just as quickly, it was gone before Emma could notice.
"What?" she managed to ask. "Why would that be awesome?"
"Did it bother you?" Emma asked with surprise.
"No! No, of course not. I just meant… I mean… Did it bother you?"
"Of course not," Emma echoed with a smile, reaching across the table to place her hand on top of Regina's.
Both felt an entire swarm of butterflies erupting in their stomachs as they looked into each other's eyes.
"Emma… I have to tell you something."
"I have to tell you something too."
"You first," Regina replied anxiously.
"No. You brought it up," Emma laughed nervously, knowing only what she was about to say, and having no idea what Regina was about to share with her. "You go first."
"I, um… I think…" Regina tried, sucking in a shaky breath. "I think I'm in love with you, Emma."
The blonde's eyes went wide at her confession as her heart palpitated in her chest.
"W-What were you gonna say?" the brunette stammered, anxiously searching Emma's eyes.
"I… I was just gonna say… 'I think I'm in love with you, Regina.'"
Feeling the wave of relief crash over her, the older woman let out a heavy breath and laughed.
"Wow, sweetheart. I thought you were gonna tell me you were moving out or something."
"Nope. Staying right where I belong. With you."
Regina could feel the heat of her love growing and spreading through her as she replied, "This will be your home as long as you want it to be."
"I'm pretty sure I always will."
"Good, because I don't ever want to lose you," Regina confessed with a smile. Then, sounding more nervous than a teenager on her first date, the brunette dared to ask, "Emma… Can I kiss you?"
With a small, confident nod, and a radiant smile, Emma leaned in and waited for their lips to connect. Regina moved in so slowly that it felt like ages before they kissed, but when it happened, the anxiety drained from both women, and in its place, a tenderness appeared in their eyes.
Emma thought she had known what true love was. She thought that she had it with Neal. But in this moment with Regina, Emma realized just how mistaken she had been. For the first time in her life, Emma felt the rush of True Love's Kiss.
"In all my years on this Earth – human and immortal," Regina said breathlessly, once they'd broken apart, "I've never felt anything like that."
"Me either, sweetheart. Me either."
They took things slowly, knowing they'd both been hurt in the past and that this would be a slow road to walk. Of course, being immortal, they both had all the time in the world to walk it. Little kisses here and there at first, then more intense kissing, which graduated to finding any excuse to touch one another.
This continued for some time, until one night, after Henry was asleep and the two sat on the couch together. Both barely paid attention to the television, which was showing a news report about the disappearance of Emma Cassidy, and how the police had ruled her and her husband's death as the result of an animal attack. While the two women focused on the taste of each other's lips, the news report ended with a police officer saying that the case was officially closed. As the two women continued to explore one another's mouths, it was easy for things to escalate and get heated quickly.
But Regina wasn't one to rush, so when Emma's hands began to slide up under her shirt, she put her hands on the blonde's shoulders and said breathlessly, "Wait. It's okay. We don't have to—"
"I want to."
"Emma… We should—"
"You want to, don't you? I can see it in your eyes, every time you look at me. Like I'm your most prized possession, and you can't wait to get me alone."
"You are my most prized possession, except that I don't really possess you. You're your own woman, Emma, and I respect that. And I expect nothing from you, okay? So we really don't have to—"
"Again. I want to," Emma asserted. When Regina bit down on her lower lip and said nothing, Emma continued, "If you don't want to, I need to hear you say it."
"Emma. Come on. You know I—"
"Say it. Say it, and I'll stop. But if you can't say it… If you can't say you don't want this… then don't stop me."
Needless to say, Regina couldn't stop her. At least, not without lying, which she was unwilling to do.
Downstairs, in their bed, which they'd shared platonically for two months, Regina pressed Emma into the mattress and leaned in, kissing her neck.
"You know, I've never tasted anything as sweet as you," she whispered, nipping Emma's skin without drawing blood.
Then, her face fell, and suddenly, she pulled away, looking deeply into Emma's eyes.
"What is it?" Emma asked. "Why do you look so sad all of the sudden?"
"I'm… I'm not sad. I'm just… I'm just sorry that I almost killed you. I could have taken your life. And Henry's."
"But you didn't, Regina. You didn't. Please stop torturing yourself with this."
"Yes, but I could have. And I almost did. And—"
"And now I'm here, with you, in your bed, naked. So if you don't fucking kiss me, right now, I'm going to scream and wake Henry and then you get to deal with him."
"Yeah, right," Regina laughed. "Like you'd ever do that."
When Emma opened her mouth to scream – even though she, of course, wouldn't actually follow through on the threat – Regina panicked and covered Emma's mouth.
"Don't!" she hissed. "It took an hour to get him to fall asleep!"
"I know," Emma laughed, having gently pried Regina's hand away from her mouth. "And you did wonderfully with him. You always do. Now, stop being a brat and kiss me."
Won over, Regina offered a weak smile and kissed Emma's lips, slowly, in a way Emma had never been kissed before. Soon, Emma's body was electrified by Regina's hands, which were moving up and down her sides, stroking her skin and setting each one of her nerves on fire.
"Regina," Emma panted breathlessly. "I need you."
"Are you sure?" Regina asked, suddenly nervous again.
"Regina! Yes, I'm fucking sure! I'm naked, aren't I?"
"Yes, but being naked doesn't equal consent, and—"
"Regina Mills. Make love to me."
MEANWHILE, AT THE U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY IN ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND
"Hey, French!" a Lieutenant called out to Belle. "C'mere a minute."
Belle was making her way back from a particularly grueling sparring session, where she left yet another fellow petty officer out cold on the mat.
At hearing her name, Belle adjusted her stride, and stepped into the office, poked her head into the door, and asked, "Yes, Lieutenant Gaston?"
"Check this out. This chick is from your hometown," the lieutenant replied, handing over the file to Belle for her review. "You know her?"
As Belle stepped into the cramped office, she came face to face with Lieutenant Gaston. Gaston was a tall and broad muscular man with shoulder length jet black hair tied back into a neat pony tail that was accented by his sharp blue eyes. The lieutenant had a cleft jaw that was usually set in a confident scowl while he berated his subordinates. Gaston had a reputation of being less than formal, but no one could deny that he knew just about everything there was about hunting vampires and werewolves. Belle had never met anyone as cold and calculating as Lieutenant Gaston while in the field. Belle had been attached to the lieutenant's command for over a year now. On their first assignment together, Belle had witnessed Lieutenant Gaston not only track a vampire across 200 square miles of dense forest, but when the creature was finally found, the lieutenant shot a specialized tranquilizer bullet into the vampire at seven hundred yards with a modified Mk 12 Special Purpose Rifle. When the creature still wouldn't go down, Lieutenant Gaston quickly and brutally brought it down in hand to hand combat. While Belle did not like the lieutenant's attitude, she couldn't help but respect the man's skill. No one hunts like Gaston, Belle reasoned.
Belle walked over to Lieutenant Gaston and took the offered file as she replied, "L.A. is a big place, you know," Belle grumbled, slowly opening the file. "And it's not exactly a hub for vampires and werewolves."
"I don't recall asking for your opinion. Now, just look at the damn photo, French!" the man ordered, scowling at her. "She went missing in some town in Maine supposedly called Storybrooke. Blood found all over the ground, but no body. Local police found her husband, Neal Cassidy, torn to shreds though. They tested for DNA, found her match in the system. Looks like she spent some time in prison for heroin possession. Oh, and get this. She was—"
"I'm taking this case," Belle interrupted abruptly, slamming the folder shut but staring at the cover where Emma's picture was paper-clipped to the front.
Scowl deepening when Belle interrupted him, the lieutenant finished, "—pregnant."
Instantly, Belle's shaking hands dropped the file, scattering papers all over the floor as her eyes snapped up to meet her superior's gaze.
While Belle asked, "She was what?" she also began to internalize her actions for the past several years. Emma was pregnant, and it was Neal's. She was in prison? Why the hell did I never think to look for her there? For years I looked for her, and nothing. If I had just done more, done anything…
"She was pregnant."
Face as white as a new set of sheets, Belle stared dumbly at him.
"Hey… French. You okay?"
"Yeah. Um… I knew her, Lieutenant. She, um… went to my high school."
Belle wasn't about to bring up the fact that she came from a group home to a lieutenant who hardly knew her story, but it barely seemed appropriate to hide that she knew the woman. Belle found herself suddenly torn from her loyalty to her family and to the Navy. Both had meant so much to her at different points in her life.
"Find it hard to imagine you being friends with a junkie, French," the lieutenant chuckled.
Belle scowled at him and shot back, "She wasn't always like that. She was a good kid."
Don't you fucking talk about my sister like that, Belle thought as she felt her teeth grinding.
"Junkies are all the same, French. They're all the same."
Belle felt herself flood with fury. She wanted to leap across the lieutenant's desk and strangle him. Snap his neck. And she probably could have, but she wasn't about to lose her chance at a life in the military over some douchebag lieutenant who apparently didn't know a goddam thing about addiction. Biting her tongue, Belle bent down, gathered the papers, saluted her lieutenant, and left the office without another word. Eager to crack the case – surely, Emma had to be alive – Belle immediately sat at her desk and tried to open the file, but all she could do was stare at the picture paper-clipped to the front. She hadn't seen Emma's face in years. Then, she felt the gripping horror of her heart contracting, aching, throbbing, and her chest constricting, nearly crushing her ribcage. The panic attack that held her in its vice was unstoppable. During her training, she was taught how to stay calm in situations of intense stress, such as torture, but this was beyond that. Yes, Emma could be alive. Or… she could be dead. And with child. Belle clutched her chest and dropped her head to the desk, her forehead slamming against the metal. Please, let this pass. Please.
But it seemed to go on and on, until Belle felt one of her acquaintances put her hand on her shoulder.
"Belle? Belle, you okay?"
"Fine," Belle gasped, forcing herself to sit up. "I'm fine, Ariel."
Belle looked up at the redhead and saw the concern on her face. Belle tried to reassure her with a forced smile, but Ariel saw through Belle's rouse as she saw the sweat streaming down her comrade's face.
The last thing Belle wanted to do was to talk about it. The second to last thing she wanted to do was let someone watch her have a heart attack and die at her desk.
But Ariel picked up on the panic attack, having had experienced some herself, and quickly knelt down beside Belle's chair, taking her hands in her own.
"Deep, slow breath, Belle," she whispered. "It's okay. Whatever it is, you can tell me. We'll talk it through. Just try to relax."
Belle squeezed her eyes shut and started to try, sucking in a hard, fast breath.
"Hey. I said take a slow, deep breath, not hyperventilate."
Belle squeezed the young woman's hands tightly, feeling as though she might break her fingers but unable to release them, and finally started to calm down as she felt her heart beat finally slow. But though the feeling of panic had mostly passed, it was replaced with the intense flame of fury that brought hot, angry tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I gotta go," Belle said, abruptly rising to her feet as she quickly wiped away her tears.
"Belle, wait—" Ariel tried, reaching out for Belle's arm but missing entirely.
The determined brunette grabbed her coat and the folder on her desk and hurried outside, knowing full well that she was about to flirt with the lines of her duty to the military. But Belle didn't care. All she cared about was finding her sister, no matter what that meant.
Belle stepped off the bus and was greeted with the picturesque view of small-town life.
So, this is Storybrooke, Belle thought as she looked at the small crowds of people walking about the modest downtown area.
Belle scanned up and down Main Street, then said to herself, "Definitely not L.A. I can see why you would have liked this place, Emma."
Looking down at her phone, Belle sent her a text on her secured phone to Lieutenant Gaston.
'Arrived at target location, proceeding to secure local supplies, then going camping. See you in two weeks.'
Once Belle hit send, she knew that her team would arrive in force in two days, prepared to capture whatever supernatural creature was here, which meant that she had less than two days to find the creature and kill it. It was Belle's job to track down any possible leads to either a vampire or werewolf. Though the Navy was unable to confirm that this was anything but an animal attack, Belle was more than happy to figure it out. Belle knew her orders and couldn't give a damn despite her training. If her sister was dead, then so was the bastard that killed her.
Belle would have preferred to travel with her typical gear of body armor, a rifle, her sidearm, and several grenades, but in order to remain under the radar she wasn't allowed to travel with any of it. Belle made her way to a small second-hand store, as according to her intelligence report, the shop owner should have the necessary hunting gear.
As Belle opened the store door, a bell chimed above. Belle was greeted with a mass collection of items ranging from basic household objects to exotic items that Belle found herself struggling to identify. While Belle explored the cramped store, she found herself distracted by an antique tea pot set. Just as Belle picked up a delicate tea cup with a slight chip, she heard slow paced steps approaching her from behind.
"Hello there, Dearie. Welcome to my shop. My name is Mr. Gold. Now that particular tea set came to my collection from an eccentric French prince. I'm sure we could work out a reasonable price."
Belle turned around and addressed the older man before her. The male before her was middle aged. He had neck length brown hair that was streaked with grey. While Belle took note of his clever looking brown eyes, she found her gaze drawn to his glistening gold tooth.
Belle steeled her attention, and allowed her training to kick in. Her mind conducted a safety assessment as she took in his unsteady gate as he balanced his frame on an ornate cane. She recalled from the dossier on the shop owner that he was particular shrewd business owner that craved the feeling of having the upper hand on his customers. Belle settled herself on her plan and fell into her role.
Smiling, Belle answered with an acted nervous giggle, "Oh, no, sorry. The tea set is lovely, but I'm actually shopping for my papa. He's a hunter you see. I've been so busy with work, and I completely forgot to buy him a birthday present. I'm driving up to Bangor. I saw your lovely store and I knew I could find something here."
As Belle finished, she flashed an innocent smile that Mr. Gold returned with his golden grin.
Belle could see that Mr. Gold had bought her story, and by reading his boisterous body langue, she could tell that he felt very much in control.
"Oh, Dearie. Well you've come just to the place. I couldn't bear the thought of you leaving this store without a present... or two for your dear papa."
Mr. Gold cast a knowing glance around his store, and suddenly, he cried out in excitement.
"I know just the thing," Mr. Gold proclaimed as he shuffled over to the other end of the store. With his free hand, Mr. Gold pulled out a large hard plastic case, then made his way to his front counter. With great effort, he placed the case down.
Belle widened her eyes as she said, "Oh, my. What's in there?"
As Belle looked up, she could see that Mr. Gold was expecting a large payday ahead, and that's all he was focused on.
"This here, Dearie, is a Raven R20 Sniper Crossbow with tactical scope for day or night time hunting. It'll even shoot an arrow at four hundred and thirty feet per second. Trust me. Your papa will love it."
"Oh, do you really think so?" Belle asked as she thought, This will do well enough, and if I need to hunt something at night, even better.
"Oh, I do indeed. Now, can we get your papa anything else?"
"Well... now that you mention it..."
Belle casually made her way out of town as she carried her purchased goods and her lone back pack. Slowly, Belle made her way across the town line and towards the dense forest outside of the quiet town. Belle fished her phone out her pocket, activated the GPS app, then followed the course to where Emma and Neal's attack was noted by the local police. Once out of the sight of any passerby's, Belle increased her speed to a brisk jaunt and within twenty minutes she reached her destination.
Belle looked at the scene before her and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Not feeling deterred, Belle dropped her bags and went to work. Belle slipped on the lightly padded full body camouflage suit, tied her hair back into a tight bun, then painted her face with a matching camouflage paint. Belle expertly unpacked her crossbow, loaded an arrow, and slung it over her shoulder. Next, the brunette tied her hip quiver in place, loaded it with arrows, sheaved her ankle knife, and took out her spray bottle of luminol and an ultraviolet flashlight.
Belle began to methodically spray luminol within a thirty-foot radius of the scene, and when finished, she switched on her UV light and began to move back and forth in a tight grid pattern. After her methodical work, Belle found two large areas with trace amounts of blood that glowed with the combined effect of the sprayed liquid and light. The first area showed large sweeping areas of blood spurts radiating from one spot. Belle widened her circle by the scene and found several large animal prints.
A wolf, and a big one by the looks of it, Belle thought to herself as she took out her phone and snapped several images.
Looking further, Belle suddenly became confused. Belle found three sets of foot prints, one large one and two smaller sets. The smaller sets were similar, but the treads were completely different. Belle saw that the large set ended at the area where the most blood was.
Belle realized this was where Neal had died. Belle, during her entire time in the Navy, had never once grown to enjoy violence, despite becoming well trained in it. Yet looking down at the outline of the blood, Belle couldn't help but visualize herself killing Neal for ruining her sister's life. Belle shook off the thought, then made her way to the second area.
Again, Belle found several large wolf prints and two smaller prints.
This is where Emma was. There was a large amount of blood, but not enough where she shouldn't have survived. Who the hell is this other person though? Belle thought out of confusion, and yet she found herself hopeful that her sister was alive somewhere.
"Where did you go, Emma?" Belle asked under her breath. With no other clues to be found, Belle packed up her half empty bottle of luminol, unslung her bow and attached the UV light to the bottom shaft. Belle knew her time was limited to track and kill the werewolf and find her sister before her squad came in force. Belle looked up at the steadily setting sun, then made her way deeper into the forest.
Ruby drove up the drive way to Regina's mansion as the last rays of the sun struck her rear-view mirror. While Ruby was less than thrilled at the idea of living with Regina for any length of time, it did mean more time with Emma. Over the past two months, Ruby's every action had brought her to her return to Storybrooke and to Emma. Ruby's heart had ached knowing how far Emma was from her and knowing that Regina had had all this time with Emma.
While Ruby was checking the contents of her cargo trailer, she heard the door open to the mansion and then her heart leapt as she heard Emma shout her name.
Ruby stepped out of the trailer, saw Emma at the front door, and as she blinked and opened her eyes, she felt Emma embracing her in a crushing hug.
"Em… Emma, I can't breathe," Ruby gasped.
Quickly, Emma let go of her friend and took a step back as she said, "Oh… Sorry. Regina has been helping me explore my strength."
With her heart suddenly going silent, Ruby asked flatly, "Um… What about your strength?"
"Oh, sorry. I just mean everything with my new abilities, like speed and stuff. I'm not saying I can fly, but I can fall with style." Emma let out a laugh and that saw her friend didn't join in with her, then she continued, "You know, like in Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear?"
Ruby shook her head, and smiled fictitiously as she replied, "Oh, yeah. Sorry, Emma. I guess I'm just wiped from the packing and the drive up."
At hearing Ruby's answer, Emma could tell her friend was lying to her, and she couldn't understand why. Trying to not focus on it, Emma replied, "Yeah, that totally makes sense, and thank you so much for packing up my things. Honestly, it'll be nice to have my own clothes again. Regina has been super kind about letting me borrow her clothes, but the shirts… don't quite fit, if you know what I mean.
When Emma gestured to her chest, Ruby smiled, just as Emma was hoping she would.
"Come on, Ruby. Someone wants to see you."
"Emma, come on. Don't lie. Regina didn't miss me that much."
Emma turned around as she was half way up the steps to the door, then said, "Ruby, what's up with you and Regina? She literally saved my life."
Sighing, Ruby answered, "Honestly, Em, I'm not really sure. It's just something about her that rubs me the wrong way. I mean it's nothing like with Neal, it's just something."
Emma could sense there was more to her friends answer, and at the same time she didn't hear any deceit from Ruby either.
Emma began to open her mouth to tell Ruby about her budding relationship with Regina, and something told her not to, so instead, she said, "Ruby, you're very sweet. I know you care about me, and that means a lot. Regina is important to me too, so please, for me, try to get along. I think you'll really like her once you get to know her."
Ruby took a deep breath before answering, "Okay, Emma. For you."
Emma grabbed her friend's hand, then said, "Thank you. Now, come on. Someone is still waiting."
Emma led Ruby into the front entrance, and the brunette saw Henry walking on two unsteady legs as he was being supported by Regina holding his hands above his head.
Unable to focus on Regina and with making a snarky comment, Ruby gaped as she saw Henry walking.
"Emma… Henry is walking. Are you seeing this?"
"Oh, I'm seeing it," Emma replied with a smile. She then turned around and bent down towards Henry, saying, "Henry, was there something you wanted to say?"
"What do you mean say—" Ruby began but then stopped as she heard the angelic voice coming from Henry.
"Auntie Wuby!" Henry cried out.
Ruby walked over to Henry, knelt down, and embraced the small child. As Ruby pulled back, her tear-filled eyes took in Henry's smiling face. Then her brain caught up as she re-heard the word 'auntie,' and though her heart flooded with affection, she also felt a growing despair at that particular title.
"Oh, Henry. You don't need to call me Auntie. Ruby is fine."
Emma walked over, and knelt beside her friend as she said, "Ruby, you're family, and of course you're his aunt."
Ruby again felt the flood of mixed emotions, and she did all she could not to focus on her growing sadness. When Emma had first told her that she would be Henry's aunt, it hadn't actually felt real for her. When Ruby heard it coming from both Henry and Emma, she began to painfully realize that this was all she would ever be to them.
For the first time, Regina spoke, and she addressed Ruby, "I would like to formally welcome you to my home. You're welcome to stay here as long you want. I know the plan is for you to find your own place, and in the meantime, this is your home too."
Ruby looked up at Regina, and thought, I doubt it was your idea, blood sucker.
With a smile, Ruby picked up Henry, and as he giggled, she replied, "Thank you, bloo— Regina. That is very kind of you. Luckily for you, I found a place near Granny's diner and I'll be moving in in the next few weeks. So, anyway, what are we up to tonight?"
"Actually Rubes, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind watching Henry for a little bit. Regina and I were hoping to go hunting. With Henry here, we haven't been able to go together."
Ruby raised an eye brow at hearing the word together, but the thought of looking into the meaning of that word caused far too much pain for her.
Once again smiling, Ruby answered, "What do you say, Henry? Wanna spend some time together?"
"Yeah!" Henry let out.
Belle found herself seven miles into the darkened forest, and she slowly made her way using her compass and night vision scope to navigate her way. Further along she found herself within view of a herd of deer feeding on a patch of long green grass.
If I was a blood thirsty predator, I just found my dinner, Belle thought as she looked on at the herd. Quietly and slowly, Belle crouched down by the side of a large tree, to help not only further camouflage herself, but to also mask her scent from the animals across the clearing. Without moving, Belle slowly began to settle into place as her breathing became barely a whisper. Time ticked away as the herd continued to feed on the grass.
Without warning, the lone deer at the edge of the group suddenly went ridged as it darted its head from side to side. With Belle's attention focused, she scanned the area, and like the deer, she found nothing. The deer continued to look startled while Belle continued to search, and as Belle raised her scope, she saw something.
Twenty feet above the deer was a dark figure methodically gliding across a tree limb, then stopping frozen in place directly above the deer. While Belle squinted in confusion, as she was expecting to find a werewolf, the figure silently dropped down onto the deer and crushed it into a heap. Belle followed her target and increased the magnification of the scope, then was shocked at what she saw.
Over the thrashing body of the deer was what appeared to be a dark-haired woman that was holding down the creature while her mouth was over the deer's reddening neck.
Vampire! Oh, fuck, Belle thought. As quickly as Belle registered the shock, it was replaced with rage. Belle realized that even if Emma had survived the werewolf, there was absolutely no way she had then survived a vampire attack.
Belle began to pace her breathing, and then began to time her shot between the pauses of her beating heart. She knew she had one chance to kill the vampire. She had to make her shot count. As Belle's crossbow aligned with the still form of the feeding vampire, she squeezed the trigger and the arrow shot forth.
In the next breath of time, the herd finally realized that there was a predator near them, and in unison, they ran. At the sudden movement, the figure shifted position, and the arrow sailed by. As the arrow missed by inches, the vampire turned in a blur of motion, and suddenly it was clutching the steel tipped arrow in its hands. Belle quickly reached for her quiver, placed an arrow in the shaft, then bore down on her scope and saw that the vampire was upon her. Belle went to squeeze off her next arrow, but the figure, whom Belle saw was a dark-haired woman clad all in black, gripped the top of bow which jammed the arrow in place.
The woman looked down at the crouching Belle and smiled a wicked grin as she ripped the bow from her and threw it across the clearing. Belle saw not only her bow and UV light soar across the sky, but she also felt the woman's cold hands roughly grip her neck, then she was slammed against the tree.
The breath flew from Belle's lungs as she uselessly clawed at the woman's hand, but she was held firmly in place by the woman's grip. Regina's dark laugh made the Belle shudder in her vice-like grasp.
Voice cold but tainted by her smirk, Regina told the hunter, "I hate the military type."
After experiencing a brief flashback to her own past, Regina snapped out of her momentary haze and blinked a few times to clear the mental fog before squeezing Belle into a tighter grip and forcing her to turn around towards Emma, who was hiding behind a nearby tree.
Then, Regina announced, "Emma, it's alright. Come on out. I've got her."
Emma obeyed and appeared from behind the large tree, watching the scene with fear in her eyes.
"Look at this little military dog. She thought she could—" Regina started to taunt, but when she saw what little color was left in Emma's face disappear, her eyes went wide, and she finished, "Emma? What is it?"
Full-on staring as the hunter froze in Regina's grasp, Emma suddenly blurted, "Don't hurt her."
"What?" Regina asked dumbly, shocked by Emma's seemingly unwarranted show of mercy.
The hunter was no longer struggling. No longer desperate to escape, or even to kill.
"Let her go, Regina," Emma said softly, looking pained.
"She wanted us dead! She tried to kill us!"
"I said, 'Let her go.' Now," Emma ground out, her voice nearly becoming a growl.
"She'll try to kill us both if I release her, Emma," Regina protested. "What is going on?"
"I know her, Regina."
While Emma looked on, a memory flashed before her as she saw herself saying, 'It's you and me against the world, and the world is fucked.'
Eyes wide with confusion, Regina hesitantly released the woman in her arms.
"Belle…" Emma breathed, still staring at the younger brunette's muscular frame as the woman stumbled forward out of Regina's grasp.
"Emma!" Belle cried, having recovered from the vice she'd been placed in. "I thought you were dead!"
Initially, Emma's eyes were locked on her childhood sister. Through the camouflaged paint on her face, Emma could see that it could be no one but her. But there was no blue bow, no bright smile, no sparkling eyes. No long, flowing curls. Only a cold, harsh stare bore back at her. Belle's uniform transformed her into someone fierce and serious. The hunter wore a form-fitting olive-green shirt with matching camouflage pants, with heavy, mud-caked boots. Emma could see the quiver of arrows hanging from her hip and the handle of a knife strapped to her ankle. This was not the sister she had known.
Sadly, the blonde finally dropped her gaze and sighed, "I am dead, Belle."
It took Belle a long moment to realize the implication and true meaning behind Emma's words, but when the epiphany hit her, she stumbled backwards, muttering, "No. It's not possible."
"You need to go," Emma told her more sharply than she had intended. "Now."
Regina, who had been standing quietly and allowing them to interact, watched closely for Belle's next move as the two shared the moment.
"I can't… I can't leave you."
"Then kill me, Belle. Do what you have to do."
"That's not what I meant, Emma. I came out here to look for you, not to hunt you! I wanted the beast who hurt you dead!"
"Yes, well, life has a funny way of changing people, Belle. I'm not the girl you used to know, and I never will be again. And the person you call 'beast,' the one who turned me, happens to be one of the most caring people I have ever met."
"Why do you sound so angry with me? You never wrote. Never reached out. Never tried to find me," Belle shouted.
"What are you talking about? I wrote you all the time. You never wrote to me! You left me. You knew I was alone, and you left me."
Feeling her anger flare up, Belle was unable to rationalize as she yelled, "You weren't alone! You had Neal," Belle spat, kicking a nearby tree stump. "You chose that piece of shit over me. You always did."
"That's not true!"
"It is true!"
There was another long pause between them, as the words soaked in.
"You could have left him."
"I did leave him, Belle," Emma said. "And… I got clean."
"Well, then what happened? Oh, that's right! You married him! So… what? You didn't think to reach out after that?"
"I tried, Belle. I searched for you, but you were like a ghost," the blonde sighed. "And why didn't you write me?"
"What are you talking about? I did write you, all through boot camp. Didn't you get my letters?"
Emma froze. Surely, Neal wouldn't have…
"He must've gotten rid of them," Emma sighed. "I never saw a single letter. I thought you hated me…"
"It doesn't matter now anyway. Look at you! You're hanging around with a vampire!"
"Who are you now? Hunting things you don't understand. Hunting to kill people you don't even know."
Belle found herself preaching the beliefs of superiors as she replied, "They're not people, Emma. They're things. They're creatures! They're not even human!"
For the first time, Emma felt intense heat and color rising to her cheeks as her fists clenched at her sides.
"I'm not even human," she growled, feeling her self-control waver. "Now, go, before I have to end you."
Belle looked horrified, angry, dejected, and confused, all at once, and when she made no move to leave, Regina interjected as she felt herself unable to hold her silence any longer, "And don't fucking come back."
At first, Belle looked like she might take a step towards Emma, obviously torn by her desire to save Emma, and the oath she'd taken to hunt and capture all supernatural beings. But when Emma's expression remained stone, she hesitated.
"Now!" Regina shouted, finally sensing that Emma was on the verge of losing control.
She couldn't have possibly known the depth of it, but Regina knew Emma was hurt, and that was all it took for her to become fiercely protective once again.
Hearing the merciless anger in Regina's voice shook Belle out of her confusion and doubt. Shooting Emma one last tragic look, Belle turned to leave, feeling her chest tighten. The nail in her coffin was Emma's display of her breaking point.
The blonde finally hissed fiercely and bared her extended canines, terrifying Belle enough to get her to turn and run. As soon as she was out of sight, Emma let out a blood-curdling scream and collapsed on the forest floor.
Belle ran, and kept running, until finally her legs gave out, and she collapsed on the forest floor. On her knees, Belle cried out as her heart pounded within her chest. With her thoughts racing, Belle found herself drowning in her emotions. Belle had thought of all the ways Emma could have died, but she had never thought of her sister becoming a monster. Belle was trained to kill monsters, and she had become an expert at doing so. At the thought of killing her sister, the contents of Belle's stomach emptied onto the ground. While Belle continued to vomit and dry heave, her thoughts continued to race. She had hoped against hope that her sister was alive, and now she didn't know what to think. Belle wanted to embrace her sister more than anything, and at the same time, she was hurt, more hurt that she had ever been.
What am I supposed to do now? Belle thought as her panic steadily rose. She knew it was a matter of time before her squad made their way to Storybrooke and then to Emma.
With her breathing having grown more erratic, Belle felt the the pain erupt in her chest and tear through her limbs. Belle collapsed onto the ground as her irrational fear took hold while she repeatedly thought, I'm dying.
Belle continued to lay under the canopy of the forest, and her fear grew in pace with the pain in her chest and limbs. She began to struggle to breathe as she felt a crushing weight settle on her chest. Just as Belle's arm began to go numb, her mind drifted back to the sister she had known.
'Come on, Belle. Breathe. You can do it. Slow it down a little bit more, sweetheart. That's it. You can do it.'
Belle's breathing took an eternity to slow with the aid of her memory, and as it did so, Belle gradually steadied herself on the ground. Feeling unable to move, as Belle's body went limp after the effects of her adrenaline receded. Instead of fighting, Belle continued to lay on the ground as she mourned the loss of her sister's love.
As Emma lay crumbled on the ground, Regina sighed and knelt down beside her.
"Come on, sweetheart," Regina whispered, gently placing her hand on the small of Emma's back. "Let's go home."
But Emma was inconsolable, unable to move from her heap, so Regina had to drag her to her feet and support her weight for the duration of their walk in darkness back to the mansion.
Despite her strength, Regina's stamina was waning by the time they reached the front door.
"Ruby," Regina screamed, kicking the door open. "Need a little help here!"
"Coming!" Ruby called out to them, setting Henry down carefully in his playpen. "Oh, shit," she breathed, upon seeing Emma's ragged appearance. "What the hell happened?"
"Long story," Regina grumbled. "Just—" eyes going wide, the older brunette started to sniff the air as she looked around the living room "—what the hell is that smell?"
"What smell?" Ruby asked, her stomach dropping, as she realized in horror that she was beginning to sweat profusely.
Ignoring Ruby as her eyes faded to a luminescent shade of blue, Regina asked Emma, "Can you stand?"
Emma nodded weakly and stumbled into the house, mumbling, "Going downstairs."
"Be careful," Regina warned. As soon as the woman was out of sight, she turned on Ruby, hissing, "You."
"What?" Ruby asked defensively.
"You bitch," Regina snapped, suddenly throwing her weight forward and shoving Ruby until she crashed into the coffee table.
"It was you!" Regina screamed, easily lifting Ruby off the floor by her throat. "You fucking cunt! You tried to kill her. And Henry."
"What are you talking ab—" Ruby started, but when her sense of smell kicked in, enhanced by the approaching full moon, just like her own pheromones, she let out a low growl.
The scent of vampire flooded her body, making her veins swell.
"The night I found her," Regina pressed. "It was you. I can smell it."
"There's no way. I'm not—"
"Not a wolf?" Regina shot back. "Not a killer?"
"No! I would never hurt her!"
"But you did. You almost killed her."
"I… I lost track of when the next full mood was. I was fucking out of my mind with that wedding and it was breaking my heart to see Emma marrying that prick… I would never intentionally hurt Emma. I love her!" Ruby shouted furiously, reaching out in a desperate attempt to break herself free from Regina's iron grip.
"I SAVED her from you!" Regina screamed as she ignored the depth of the other woman's words. "You were going to kill her and her child!"
"You didn't save her life. You ended it."
Regina's grip on Ruby's throat tightened until the woman coughed and choked on what little air she had left.
"The only reason I won't kill you," Regina whispered darkly, "is because it would break Emma's heart to find out what you did to her."
"Your kind are all alike. Ancient, entitled, well-bred pieces of shit!"
"That's ENOUGH!" Regina shot back. With her head pounding as her fury built, she continued, "Get out of my house, and don't fucking come back. You are no longer welcome in my home, you fucking dog. If I find out you've so much as contacted her with a text message, I will kill you. But not before I make you watch me tell her what you've done."
"Alright!" Ruby growled. "Alright. I'll go. Just don't tell her, okay? I'll go."
"Good. Don't. Come. Back."
Ruby visibly slouched and shrunk into a more submissive position as she solemnly left the house with the demeanor of a dog with its tail between its legs, leaving Regina, furious, to care for Emma and Henry alone.
Steadying her breathing while she unclenched both her jaw and fists, Regina made her way to check on Henry as she caught the sounds of his whimpers.
"Emma?" Regina questioned, when she was awoken by the soft sound of her partner's crying as they lay in their bed.
The sound of choked back sobs made Regina's shiver as she put her hand on Emma's back.
"D-Don't. I don't want to talk."
"Emma, please. What's wrong?"
"I miss Ruby," Emma sniffled. "She hasn't returned any of my texts or calls in the past six days."
Regina felt her heart, long dead, aching as she leaned in to kiss Emma's bare shoulder and whispered, "I'm sorry, love."
"I just don't understand it. I thought we were fine." When the dark-haired woman made no reply, Emma added, "Regina?"
"Sorry. I was just… um… thinking."
"Do you think she hates me?" Emma
"I don't know, Em," Regina said, and immediately felt guilty for her lie. "Maybe she's just, uh… busy?"
Too emotionally dysregulated to utilize her most treasured ability from the sudden and shocking losses of both Belle and Ruby, Emma could not sense the lie. Luckily for Regina, Emma allowed the statement to pass with the simple protest, "She always returns my calls, Regina. Always."
"She's my sponsor, you know. And she's never let me down before."
"She's your what?"
"My sponsor," Emma sighed, suddenly grateful that she was not facing Regina, and that the woman was unable to see the shame in her eyes. "There's a lot you don't know about my past life, Regina."
"Like what?" Regina asked anxiously, trying to pull back on Emma's shoulder.
Emma, though, had no interest in turning to face her lover, so she remained firm as she faced the wall and ignored Regina's attempts to get her to roll over.
"Emma," the older woman pressed. "Like what?"
Emma took a deep breath and answered, "I'm an addict, Regina."
With a heavy sigh, the blonde finally sat up in bed and hung her head in her hands, muttering, "Neal got me into it when I was eighteen. It was all downhill from there."
"When was the last time you used?" Regina asked.
Emma could hear the anxiety in Regina's voice. It was obvious that she was concerned, and this just made Emma feel more ashamed than she already was.
"I was nineteen," she assured her partner. "But, to be honest… it's tempting now. If Ruby can't even return my calls, I must be the lowest piece of shit on Earth. I mean, think about it. We were best friends. Obviously, I've done something horrible, or she wouldn't be ignoring me like the piece of scum I am."
"You are not scum, Emma!" Regina cried, wrapping an arm firmly around the woman's shoulders. "Very far from it."
"Then why is this happening? Why would she abandon me?"
Regina bit her lip and looked away, feeling her chest tighten.
Then, suddenly, Regina blurted, "Wait… You still have cravings to use?"
"Yes. Honestly, seeing Belle… being reminded of my old life and what we had… then having Ruby bail… It's all too much."
"I know, baby, but you don't have to use to—"
"You're not an addict," Emma snapped. "You wouldn't understand."
"I'm sorry, Emma. I really am. Just tell me what I can do to help. I'll do anything to make you feel better."
The look on Regina's face was pained and sincere. She was desperate to stop Emma's tears, which had continued to flow throughout their intense conversation.
"There's nothing you can do, Regina," Emma told her. "Unless you wanna go grab me a rock or an eight-ball."
"I'm just saying."
"You can't be serious!"
"I'm not, I guess. It probably wouldn't work anyway. Maybe Fentanyl though…"
"Emma Swan. Stop it right now. You are not going to use, after all this time, just because you have shitty friends."
"They're not my friends. I thought they were my family. Now, they're just people who abandoned me, because I'm a piece of shit. And hey, I can't really blame 'em. Neither of them needs me in their life."
"If you don't stop this right now, I'm going to—"
"You're going to what, Regina? You're gonna leave me too?"
"NO!" Regina shouted, pulling Emma tighter against her and embracing her fully. "Not ever. Do you understand me? Not ever."
"I would never hurt you, Emma. Or your beautiful, beautiful son."
"Our son…" Emma muttered, under her breath, in such a way that Regina could barely hear her.
"What did you just say?" Regina asked, dumbfounded by what she wasn't sure she heard.
"I said… I said he's our son."
Regina stared at Emma, tears overflowing in her own eyes, and felt the knot in her throat prevent her from speaking.
"Should I not have said that?" Emma asked. "Are you not his mother too? Because maybe I've been mis-reading this whole thing…"
"No! No, you haven't been mis-reading anything. I… I do want to be his mother."
"Good. Because he adores you. And you've been there to raise him just as much as I have."
Regina thought about this. Really thought about it. Emma was right. She'd been there from the moment of his birth through this very night, when she'd laid him down and put him to sleep. How could she have been so blind to it? Perhaps, it was too much for her to presume the role of Henry's mother. Although she and Emma were partners, she didn't want to assume that she had the same place as Emma in his life. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized, she was just in love with Henry as she was with Emma. He was her sunshine. The warm, summer light that she missed so much. The radiating beauty of every sunset she'd ever seen in her prior life. And Emma was her sunrise each morning. The rays of the sun were unneeded now, and she no longer yearned for them each morning, now that the lights in her life were present.
"I would never hurt you. Either of you," the brunette told Emma softly. "And I would do anything in my power to protect you both."
Sighing, Emma replied, "I know, babe. I know. And I'm sorry I'm like this. I'm sorry I'm an and addict. I'm sorry I'm craving drugs right now. I'm… I'm ashamed of myself. And you should be too. But I appreciate all that you've done for me, and all of the love you've shared with me and our son."
"You are the brightest lights I've ever had in my life. No one else could possibly illuminate my world the way you both do."
Emma blushed brightly, feeling both ashamed of herself, and overwhelmed with affection for the woman beside her.
"What can I do to help you feel better? Honestly. Please, let me help. I'll do anything, Emma. Anything to keep you safe."
"I need a rush, Gina. I need it now. I'm going to crack if something doesn't shock me from this raging sorrow. I can't shake it. I need to shake it, before I put a silver bullet through my brain. I'm sorry, but I have to be honest with you…"
Shocked by Emma's not-so-subtle, but no-so-direct confession of suicidal ideation, Regina stared for a moment before snapping out of her horror to press a loving kiss to the soft skin of Emma's temple.
"I'm here, baby. I'm right here. You don't need a silver bullet. I'll give you anything you want. Just tell me what I can do to give you that rush safely."
Biting her lip, Emma turned to face her lover more directly and placed her hands on Regina's bare waist, lightly rubbing her thumbs over the woman's hip bones.
"I… I need you," she whispered, blushing with embarrassment at her indirect request.
"Em… You're upset, and I—"
"You said anything. I am upset, yes. And I need a distraction. I need a reminder that someone does love me. I need you."
"Alright. Alright," Regina softly conceded, gracefully straddling Emma's lap as she reached out to palm Emma's breasts.
The blonde's eyes fell shut as she allowed herself to feel the ecstasy of Regina's touch. It was the only thing that electrified her anymore. The only thing that made her heart feel like it was racing, even when it was still and dead. The only thing that made her feel alive.
"Lie back," Regina ordered, gently pushing the woman down onto the mattress.
Emma whimpered when Regina reached between her legs and slipped one finger into her lover's core.
"There?" Regina asked, curling her finger gently.
"There," Emma replied breathlessly. "One more."
Regina nodded and slid another finger home, curling them together.
"Ahh!" Emma gasped, her back arching. "Fuck."
"Easy," Regina cooed with a smile, repeating the same motion with both digits. "I got you, baby girl."
Emma's breaths became ragged as she allowed her lover to penetrate her, allowed her to explore and care for her body. Regina always knew where to touch her, but also always found new ways to make her finish, and always loudly.
"That's it, baby," the older woman whispered, stroking Emma's sweat-soaked hair back with her free hand. "Come for me."
And that was her breaking point. Back arching again, Emma screamed.
The next morning, Emma sent the most difficult, desperate message to Ruby that she could have imagined sending.
'If you love me, you'll call me tonight.'
When Emma showed Regina, Regina's stomach dropped. This can't end well, she told herself, knowing full well that there was no good way for this story to finish.
Of course, the next morning, when Emma opened her eyes and anxiously checked her phone for missed calls, she had no notifications. Ruby hadn't called, and all Emma could feel with this realization was heartbreak.
Regina woke to the sound of Emma's loud, uncontrollable sobbing, far more intense than the night before.
"Em?" she asked. "What's going on?"
"She didn't call," Emma howled. "I needed her to call."
"I know, baby," Regina sighed, rubbing the blonde's back in a gesture of support and love. "I know."
"No! You have no idea what this is like!"Emma screamed, tearing herself away from Regina and sliding off the bed and onto the floor, where she sat up against the wall.
When Emma slammed her head back against the plaster repeatedly, Regina could see the wall cracking more and more each time when Emma lifted her head away.
"Emma!" she cried, diving for the most important woman in her life.
Carefully, she pulled Emma's shaking body close and cradled her head. Emma fought her hard, trying to tear herself away, but Regina was stronger and refused to let her go.
"I got you, baby," the older woman whispered. "I got you."
"Please, stop," Regina choked out, starting to cry out of pure panic and desperation to stop Emma from hurting herself. "Please. Listen to me. Listen."
"No!" Emma screamed, still fighting roughly, to the point where Regina's wrists were bruising.
"I need you to hear me."
"I can't do this," the blonde sobbed. "She hates me. I hate myself."
"Easy. Easy," Regina cooed, stroking Emma's hair to calm her. "She doesn't hate you."
"How the fuck would you know that? She never called!"
"She doesn't hate you," the brunette asserted, clearing her throat and wiping her eyes with one hand as she held Emma still with the other.
"Regina…" Emma warned, her gaze suddenly piercing and serious. "Why are you saying that, when you know she hasn't made a single effort to contact me?"
Regina took a nervous and unsteady breath in before answering, "Because… Because I told her not to."
Suddenly feeling her anger swell, Emma cried out, "You did what? Why?!"
"Because she tried to fucking kill you, okay?" Regina shouted, exasperated by the effort of keeping the painful secret to herself and not being able to stand Emma's misery and lack of control.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Emma shot back. "Ruby would never hurt me. Even if she abandoned me, she'd never hurt me."
"That wolf, Emma? In the woods that night? The one I fought off to save you and Henry?"
"What about it?"
"That was her."
Staring, dumbfounded, Emma breathed, "That's… That's not possible."
"I smelled her, Emma. That last night she was here, it was the night before a full moon. I didn't know until then. Not until she was starting her cycle."
"You're wrong," the younger woman protested weakly, pushing Regina away.
This time, Regina let her go and sighed, "I know what I smelled, Emma. I've been honing my sense of smell for seventy-five years now."
Swallowing hard at this realization, Emma's tears started to pour again.
"How could you?" she finally whimpered. "How could you keep this from me? How could you make her leave?"
"I didn't want to hurt you! And I didn't want her to hurt you. Or Henry!"
"I'm an adult. I make my own fucking choices about who the fuck I spend my time with. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?"
"Emma, please. Please, just calm down for a minute. Just listen. I—"
"No! We've fucking leaving, Regina. I don't want to see you, hear you, or smell you. Do you understand me?"
But the blonde was already storming from the room, posture stiff and clearly displaying her fury. Regina knew that this anger, this display of pure rage, was not something she could stop. Not something she could protest. Not something she could fight or persuade away. If Emma was determined to leave, Regina had to let her go.
Emma wanted to run, but with Henry, the risk wasn't worth it. With her new-found skill, she was particularly graceful, but she knew she was at the very edge of her rope, and she wasn't about to chance falling and hurting the infant. So, instead, Emma walked briskly towards Ruby's apartment, feeling torn and terrified of the story she might be told. Still, she reasoned, confronting Ruby was the only way. And if Regina wasn't on her side… she had to do this.
Just as she rounded the corner, past the diner, she nearly ran right into a woman with long, dark hair. When Emma froze, gasped, and looked up to see who she had almost just crashed into, her jaw dropped.
"Belle," she breathed, staring in shock.
Unsure of what the soldier would do, or the next move she would make, Emma clutched her son to her chest protectively and took two large steps back away from her sister. Belle stared back at the other woman as Emma regained her composure and recovered from the shock of seeing her sister still in Storybrooke. Just as Emma began to turn away, in order to bolt, Belle grabbed Emma's wrist and gripped it hard, knowing Emma could easily break away if she tried.
"Emma, wait," Belle said desperately, eyes pleading with her sister to stay. "I came back for you."
But Belle's attention had fallen away from Emma's piercing eyes and onto the infant in her arms. This must be her son, Belle reasoned, finding herself just as shocked as Emma had been.
"Belle?" Emma asked anxiously, noticing where her gaze had traveled.
"He's… He's beautiful, Emma…"
Finally, Belle lifted her eyes to meet Emma's, and Emma quickly saw that the woman's eyes were glistening with tears.
"T-Thank you," Emma replied, still frozen in place as she struggled with the strange moment that was unfolding before her.
Feeling like she was watching herself from outside her body, Emma remained still as Belle dropped her hand to her side.
"Please… Please, don't run from me."
"You need to leave," Emma asserted, her tone suddenly serious as she fought back her own tears.
"I can't, Emma. I can't. Not without you."
"I'm a monster. Isn't that what you think? Why are you here, if not to destroy me?"
"I didn't hurt you in the forest, and I couldn't hurt you now. I'm realizing that you might… You might be different now… but you're still my sister, Em."
Hearing this, Emma's defenses broke, and as she clutched her son closer, she fell to her knees on the sidewalk, sobbing. Belle quickly knelt down in front of her and lifted her chin, then gently gripped her arms.
"Don't cry, sweetheart. I'm here now, and I won't leave again. I promise you that."
Swallowing the rest of her sobs, Emma wiped her eyes, then nudged Henry to get him to look up. When he made eye contact with Belle, the brunette felt her stomach drop. This beautiful boy… He was Emma's. He was—
"Henry," Emma said softly, rising to her feet and stroking the boy's growing mop of hair. "This is your Auntie Belle. Say 'hello,' baby."
Henry smiled at his aunt, and Belle swore it was the brightest thing she'd ever seen as she reached out to stroke his cheek. Before she could touch him, he lifted his hand and squeezed his fingers into a fist twice, doing his best to wave at her.
"Oh, God, Emma," Belle sniffled, wiping her eyes. "He is so, so beautiful." When Emma bit her lip and found herself unable to reply, Belle added, "And I am so incredibly sorry. For everything. For letting him hurt you… For not keeping you out of trouble. For letting you down. For leaving you. I should've been there. I should've been the one there holding your hand when Henry was born..."
"All we have is now, Belle. And I know things are different, but… seeing you like that, in the woods… I can't… I just…"
"I won't leave you," Belle firmly promised. "I swear it. I swear it on my nephew's life."
"I love you, Belle," Emma told her sister, as Belle leaned in and kissed her cold cheek.
"I love you too, Em," Belle replied with a warming smile. "Will you go for a walk with me? I've missed so much. I want to know everything."
"I was… Well… I was kind of…" Emma tried to explain, thinking of Ruby. "Yes, I'll walk with you. I really should explain, anyway."
While Emma explained to Belle all of the events that had happened over the past several years, Belle walked with her sister, keeping silent and being careful not to interrupt her. Belle found herself amazed at all the things that Emma had experienced and proud of how far she had come. As Emma neared the end of her story, Belle felt her foot catch on something hard and stumbled forward. Looking down, in the dim light of the moon, she saw her bent but functional crossbow.
"Wow," she gaped. "Your girl is pretty strong, huh?"
With a slightly pained expression, Emma replied, "Yeah. I'm just glad she didn't hurt you."
Belle checked her crossbow to confirm functionality and slung it over her shoulder. The two continued walking, shoulders brushing every few steps as they stayed close together. When Emma finished her story, Belle paused in her tracks.
While Belle stood looking down at Henry, Emma's body suddenly went rigid as she looked through the dense forest. Belle looked at the alarm in her sister's face as she pulled away from Henry.
Already knowing what Emma was hearing, Belle asked coldly, "Which direction are they approaching from?"
Emma's eyes pointed due south, and then she looked back at her sister in confusion.
Before Emma could ask the question on her lips, Belle answered, "It's my squad, Emma, and they're early." Belle unslung her crossbow and bore down the sights. Looking through the scope, she could just make out the faint outline of ten soldiers approaching at a fast pace.
"Emma, there's ten of them. You need to get out of here, right now."
"Belle, I can't just leave you here!"
Turning from the forest, Belle addressed her sister sternly, "Emma, these are trained soldiers. They will capture you and Henry, put you in a lab, study you both, and when there is nothing else to learn, they'll kill you."
With her fear mounting, Emma asked, "Belle, how could you work for these people? This isn't you. I know you, and you're not a killer."
Henry began to sense his mother's tense muscles and started to fuss in his mother's arms. Emma tried to soothe him, but he continued to cry.
"Emma, we don't have time for this, but you're right, you do know me. I'm your sister. Now, let me be your sister one last time. Please. Run."
Belle took one last look at Emma's tear stained face, and the two warmly embraced.
Belle turned from her sister, aimed her crossbow, and barked "Go, Emma, and don't turn back, no matter what. Go NOW."
From a hundred or so yards away, Belle could make out the distant voice of Lieutenant Gaston, "Petty Officer French, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
Before Belle could reply, she heard Emma whisper, "I love you, sister."
As a rush of air pushed past her, Belle was alone facing ten heavily armored trained soldiers.
With her sights focused on her lieutenant, Belle ordered, "Stand down, sir."
With breaking their stride, the squad continued with Lieutenant Gaston at the front.
"Petty Officer French, I don't know what the hell has gotten into you, but you do not get to order me around."
When the squad was about twenty yards from Belle, the lieutenant raised one fist chest high, and the squad fanned out in a half horse shoe around Belle. Each soldier was clad in standard issue military gear which included a domed helmet with retractable night vision scope, light body armor, and all terrain boots. The soldiers each had their FN SCAR-L assault rifles with red dot sites trained at Belle, while she kept her lone battered cross bow aimed at Lieutenant Gaston.
Belle took in her squad mates and saw their blank faces as they followed their orders without question. When Belle met the gaze of her one friend, Ariel, the red head was unable to meet her eyes.
"French, you have one chance to stand down. I suggest you take it," Gaston growled out.
"I can't do that, sir," Belle challenged as she returned her focus to her commanding officer.
"Seriously, what the fuck has gotten into you, French? You were sent here to scout the area and identify what type of supernatural creature killed the Cassidy's and— Wait a God damn minute. That vampire you were with, she was blonde. That fucking junkie was a blonde."
"Her name is Emma. Now, call her a junkie one more time," Belle warned as she placed a steady finger on the trigger of the loaded crossbow.
"French, why do I get the feeling you have been less than honest with me? You're too well trained to throw you career – Hell, your life – down the shitter for some nobody you knew in high school."
Gaston looked on at Belle, saw her flinch slightly, and smiled, as he knew he was on target.
"You were – correction, are – close with this vamp, and if I'm not mistaken, she had a kid with her. You and I both know vampires can't have children. So, either she has stollen a kid or somehow your pregnant vampire gave birth. Oh, Petty Officer French, the things we will learn when we dissect that kid and junkie."
Just as Lieutenant Gaston finished saying the word 'junkie' Belle shot her arrow at him, and her aim was true. The arrow sunk into his muscular arm as it pierced his light armor. Without hesitating, three things happened in unison. First, Belle dropped her spent crossbow and unsheathed her six-inch knife that was honed with a razor-sharp edge on one side, and a serrated edge on the opposite end. Second, all nine soldiers took a step forward towards Belle as they placed their fingers on their collective triggers. Lastly, Gaston let out a loud howl that sounded to be a mix of surprise and excitement.
Belle squinted her eyes as she watch Gaston pull out the arrow and fling it to the ground as his arm ran red.
"Oh, I'm going to enjoy myself. Petty Officer French, I hereby place you under arrest for treason against the United States of America. But before we try, sentence, and shoot your ass, I'm going to fucking beat the shit out of you. I always knew that you thought yourself cleverer than everyone else, when you would look down at everyone while you read some training manual."
As Belle placed herself in a defensive stance, she replied, "I don't think that I'm better than everyone, just you, sir. It took a lot for me to see past the prejudice that the Navy indoctrinated into me, but not you or anyone else will ever lay a god damn hand on my sister ever again."
"Yeah, that's real nice, but I'm still going to kick the shit out of you," Gaston replied.
The lieutenant unslung, then dropped his rifle while he wrapped the rifles sling around his arm. With a painful grunt, Gaston tied the knot tightly around his arm. With his arm no longer bleeding, Gaston reached behind his back and pulled free his black steel Ka-Bar knife. Slowly, Gaston advanced towards Belle, and the two soldiers paced to and from one another, as the nine soldiers circled them.
Gaston lunged with his blade. Belle parried with her own, and a clatter rang forth as the two knives met. Gaston smiled a wolfish grin, as he lunged once more, and while Belle blocked his advanced, Gaston returned again and again.
Belle kept her feet moving as she knew that the officer was stronger than her, and her only chance was to tire him out, then make her move.
While Gaston delivered a savage blow that Belle caught with her blade, he grabbed the back of her neck and squeezed.
Belle felt the raging pain as stars danced in her vision. She refused to cry out. Placing her weight on her left foot, she drove her right back, and it landed home with a dull thud that was followed by Gaston cursing. Belle stutter-stepped away, then turned to face the lieutenant.
Gaston was gingerly holding his left ribs, and his grin was replaced by a scowl, as he spat out, "Alright, bitch. The gloves are coming off."
Belle, who kept her feet moving, was unaware that another male had told her sister those very words, in the same woods.
Not waiting for the coming attack, Belle stepped forward with her outstretched knife. While she made to stab at Gaston's left side, she drove a left hook across Gaston's jaw which sent the larger man staggering back.
Standing a few feet apart from Belle, Lieutenant Gaston spat out a wad of blood that held a tooth. At seeing the tooth fall to the ground, Belle smiled, which sent the man into a rage as he charged. Belle again blocked the dizzying blows delivered to her at near blinding speeds. While Belle felt her arm began to tire from the unending blows, she was suddenly caught off guard as Gaston silently lunged his thick forehead against her own.
The blow sent Belle sprawling to the hard ground. As she landed, Belle's vision faded in and out. The brunette fought to stay conscious, and she was aided as felt a heavy boot slam onto her hand. The pain pushed away the haze, and she ground her teeth to ride out the pain.
"I've certainly trained you well, French, and that's the only reason you've lasted so lon—" Gaston began but was caught off, as Belle crashed her free hand in between Gaston's legs. Gaston dropped his knife as he staggered back and a howl of pain escaped him.
Belle grabbed the lieutenant's dropped knife, then leapt to her feet as she held out both knives towards Gaston.
"You know what? Fuck you," Gaston said.
Then with a look of disgust, he unclipped his side arm, and shot his stun gun at Belle and delivered fifty thousand volts into the convulsing brunette.
While Belle lay paralyzed on the ground as the electricity poured through her, Ariel looked on, horror stricken at the scene before her.
Collecting himself, Gaston ordered his troops, "Let's tie up this traitorous cunt and get back to HQ. She'll talk. They all do, and after we'll collect her family."
As Lieutenant Gaston completed his sentence, he reared back, and shot a wad of spit at the shaking Belle.
Breaking back into the mansion was impossible with a toddler in her arms, so Emma resorted to desperately banging on the door. Hearing the booming sound fill the house, and knowing the sound of an emergency, Regina rushed down the stairs and threw the door open in moments.
"Emma!" she cried, seeing the sweat pouring from Emma's brow and the look of distress on her face. "Are you alright?"
"No. Belle's in trouble. I need to save her, and I need you to help."
Blinking away her confusion, Regina asked, "Are you serious?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding?" Emma shot back, holding Henry closer to her chest. "Are you going to help me, or not?"
"She tried to kill you," Regina protested, her posture straightening as she crossed her arms over her chest.
"No. She tried to kill you, because she wanted to protect me." When Regina stood in shock without offering a reply, Emma's eyes brightened into an intense shade of blue, and she added darkly, "You owe me this."
Regina swallowed hard. Emma was right. Her own betrayal meant that if she wanted to win Emma back somehow, she had to cooperate. As much as she didn't like Belle, or the continued threat she posed – they could've died in the forest that day – she knew she had to support Emma, in whatever choice she made. She'd already screwed it up once, and she wasn't willing to let her down again.
While carrying Henry, Emma followed Regina to the well stocked garage. While Regina unlocked her Mercedes, Emma opened the back door and buckled Henry into the car seat.
"Buckle up. I'm driving."
"So, how're we going to track her, Regina? I can bring you to the woods where I last saw her."
"No need. I know where they would have brought her."
"Wait, what?" Emma asked out of confusion.
"I told you that I don't like the military, but I also keep a close eye on them. The military has a classified base that they use for holding supernatural creatures in The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard down in Kittery."
"We need to get Ruby first."
"No!" Regina shouted, scowling. "No dogs."
"Regina. I make my own choices," Emma reminded her while ignoring the woman's quip. "Help or don't. If you want any part in my life, or Henry's, you'll do this."
Fists and jaw clenched equally as tight, Regina said nothing and made her way around to the passenger side of her Mercedes, holding the door open for Emma after buckling Henry into his car seat.
"Regina," Emma said firmly. "Hurry."
"Buckle up," Regina ordered curtly, before throwing the car into reverse and slamming on the gas. As she tore out of the driveway, Emma continued to sweat. Adrenaline made her own hands form into fists, and she felt panic terrorize her body as she willed time to pass faster. Is this what Belle felt when we were young? Emma wondered, sensing her chest tighten.
But they arrived at Ruby's apartment before the panic attack could fully take hold, and the rush of fear propelled her out of the car.
"Stay with Henry," Emma called out, as she ran towards the front door.
Banging loudly for what felt like ages, but was probably only fifteen seconds, Emma yelled Ruby's name.
When there was no response, she bit her lip. The last time this happened, Ruby almost died. I have to get in. Without another moment of hesitation, Emma kicked the door in, sending it crashing onto the floor inside. She wasn't taking any chances that Ruby was hurt.
"Ruby!" Emma cried, upon stepping around the splintered door and seeing the girl sprawled out on her bed.
But when the blonde got closer to the bed, she could hear Ruby sobbing. As soon as Ruby heard her own name, she lifted her head, and felt shock flood her body at the sight of her best friend.
"Em… What are you—" Ruby sniffled, face red and flooded with shame-filled tears of self-loathing.
Hearing Ruby slur slightly, Emma quickly asked, "What did you take?"
"N-Nothing," the brunette stammered, rubbing her eyes. "Nothing, Em. I swear. I j-just… I'm so sorry."
"Oh, thank God," Emma sighed, sitting down beside Ruby and pulling her close. She could tell from the slick feeling of Ruby's hair that she probably hadn't showered in days. "Oh, honey… Honey. It's alright."
"D-Do you h-hate me?" Ruby sobbed, burying her head against Emma's shoulder.
"No, sweetheart. I could never hate you. In fact, I thought you hated me."
"Never!" Ruby shouted back, squeezing Emma tightly for the first time. "I could never."
"Good. But listen, Ruby… I need your help. It's Belle. She's been taken by some soldiers, and I think they're going to kill her. I need you to be my wingman on this. I have to save her."
"Oh, my God. You found her?" the other woman questioned, rubbing the tears from her eyes.
"Yes. Ruby, I won't lie to you, this is going to be dangerous, for all of us. I won't ask you to come with us, but our family needs you."
"Regina's outside, isn't she?" Ruby sighed.
Emma nodded slowly and bit her lip.
"She's gonna eat me."
Emma laughed at this and kissed the top of Ruby's head, telling her, "I'd never let her hurt you."
Having felt Emma's cool lips kiss her head, Ruby felt the strange sensation of an epiphany wash over her. The way she'd felt about Emma – the way she'd always felt – had changed. All she wanted now was for Emma to be happy, and it suddenly didn't matter who with.
"Promise?" she asked with a weak smile.
"You scared of her or something?" the blonde teased her friend.
Ruby shook her head, then chuckled, "Maybe a little. She's brutal. Almost snapped my neck."
"Yeah. When she smelled me in my cycle and realized what I'd done… and I REALLY didn't know I'd done it, I swear… She grabbed me by the throat and lifted me off the floor and threatened to end me, man. No joke."
"UGH!" Emma shouted. "I wish you two would just get along!"
"Anyway. I'm In," Ruby announced with a sudden burst of confidence. "I'd do anything for you, princess. Anything."
"I knew I could count on you."
Outside, as Ruby made a move to get in the back seat of Regina's car, the older brunette called out, "Wait a minute. Put a towel down. The last thing I need is my Mercedes smelling like wet dog."
Smirking as she looked into Regina's eyes, reflected in the rear-view mirror, Ruby replied, "Don't worry. I'll just roll down the window and stick my head out until we get to the blood bank."
To Ruby's surprise, she saw in the mirror the corners of Regina's lips curling up into a playful smile.
Just as Regina turned her engine over, Ruby called out from the back seat, "So, I understand we're about to go into the battle for our lives and all, and don't get me wrong, I'm totally on board, but just so you all know, we've got a baby on board."
Both Regina and Emma looked back at Henry with startled expressions on their faces.
Emma cleared her throat, "Yeah, I really should have thought about that."
"Hey, what about Granny? I've only been working for her for the past few weeks, and she seems the maternal type."
"Ruby, I don't know," Emma said hesitantly.
"Actually, Emma, the dog— I mean, Ruby – is spot on there. I've known Granny since she was just a kid. She's a good person, and an ally of our community."
"Wait, she knows about us?" Emma asked in disbelief.
"Not everyone is like the military and wants to dissect us. Are you going to be okay with Henry staying with Granny 'til we get back?"
Emma saw the trust in Regina's eyes, and though she had many questions she wanted to ask, she filed those away as she said, "Let's go."
Belle slowly regained consciousness as she painfully opened up her right eye, while she found that her left was swollen shut. She slowly moved her head from side to side and felt no damage in her neck, but as she moved, she felt a radiating pain from the left side of her jaw. Belle looked down at the concrete floor, and she saw the blood trickle down from the side of her face. As her senses began to awaken, she gradually registered an ever-increasing amount of pain. Belle then looked up and saw that both of her arms were suspended above her head, as she was tied to the ceiling by a steel chain that bound her wrists. She tried to touch the ground with her boots, and she only felt air below her while the chains clanged together. Belle tried to take a steading breath in, and she felt a stabbing pain shoot through the right side of her ribs.
Well, something is definitely broken. Alright, Belle, you got any bright ideas? she thought. Belle scanned the room to see what she might be able to use. She saw that she was in a small rectangular room that held an old steel desk and chair, but nothing else. Looking forward, Belle saw that in front of her was a glass wall with a door built in front of it. She tried to squint her eyes to see into the darkened hall but couldn't make anything out.
I need to hold out as long as I can, Belle thought. The soldier knew that the minute she gave up her information on Emma and Henry, they were all dead.
The longer I can keep Gaston talking, the longer they have to get away.
Suddenly, a flickering light lit up the darkened hall, and Lieutenant Gaston appeared walking in as he pushed a small tray with a white cloth in front of him. Belle relaxed her face as she prepared for what would come next.
At seeing Belle hanging in the cell, a smile spread on Gaston's face.
"Oh, good. You're awake, Belle. You don't mind if I call you Belle, do you? I mean, your career in the Navy is done. Hell, your life is likely over too. It just really matters how you want this to go. Do you want this to go the easy way?" And as Gaston asked this, he pulled from his back a SIG P320 pistol and cocked back the slide and added, "Or do you want the hard way?" Gaston pulled free the cloth from the tray which revealed an assortment of surgical equipment including scalpels, two loaded syringes, and drills, saying, "Your choice."
Breathing as evenly as she could, Belle said flatly while she looked at Gaston, "French, Belle. Petty Officer First Class. 10232011."
"You've got balls, Belle. I'll give you that one," Gaston said.
Gaston stood over the table, selected a scalpel, walked over to Belle, then sliced the middle of her shirt. Gaston looked Belle over and took in her delicate breasts supported in her black bra, and her slightly defined abdomen that glistened with sweat. Gaston stared into Belle's eyes as he slowly traced a meaty hand from her jaw line, down her neck, over her left breast, down her abdomen, then stoped as he met her pants.
Grinning, Gaston asked, "Anything you'd like to say, Belle?"
Without breaking her gaze, she replied, "French, Belle. Petty Officer First Class. 10232011."
Gaston let out a long laugh, then said, "Ah, going to stick with the old name, rank, and serial number."
He then leaned into Belle's ear, and whispered, "I was hoping you'd say that."
Without warning, Gaston let lose a savage right hook to Belle's already broken ribs. She felt the searing pain spread throughout her chest as she struggled to breathe. Belle did all she could to keep the image of Emma and Henry in her mind, as that was the only thing keeping a panic attack at bay.
"Belle, your ribs don't look all that great. That's gotta hurt. You sure you want more of this?"
While she slowly gasped, Belle struggled to say, "French, Belle. Petty Officer First Class. 10232011."
"Belle, why do I get the feeling you're stalling?" Gaston asked as he walked back to the surgical tray. "I bet you're thinking that if you can just hold out then your junkie can get away."
Gaston looked at Belle, and saw she didn't react, and he felt the the heat in his throat rise as he tasted bile.
"Got nothing to say, bitch? Well, that's okay. You know what really sucks for you? I could torture you, cut your skin, pull out your finger nails, or hell, I could just fuck you till you bleed. Now any of those will work, and I'll enjoy all of those. Now, since we're friends, I'll be honest with you, all of that is going to happen. Fuck, some of those are going to happen more than once, and probably by more than just me."
Gaston picked up a syringe of clear liquid, then walked back to Belle.
"Now, Belle, do you know what this is?"
While ignoring the pain, Belle replied, "French, Belle. Petty Officer First Class. 10232011."
Gaston let out a low menacing chuckle, then answered, "It's epinephrine." Looking at Belle, Gaston could see the woman's eyes suddenly dilate.
Feeling pleased with himself, Gaston continued, "Unlike you, Petty Officer Ariel is loyal to United States and The Navy. Boy, you should have heard all the things she said about you. It really is true what they say: 'Hell have no furry like a woman's scorn.' Yeah, she told me everything about your panic attacks. You must have thought that you were so clever keeping that from me. Weak, that's what you are."
Gaston glowered as he looked down at Belle, then spat in her face.
Belle let the spit slowly slide down her face as she fought to keep her composure while her heart rate slowly climbed.
Stepping back, Gaston continued, "Those panic attacks must be a real bitch. Can you imagine what it would be like to have one over and over? Fuck, I've got a whole crate of this shit. Now I know what you are thinking: I'll shoot you with too much of this, but don't worry, we'll revive you. Then we'll start all… over… again.
Quietly, Belle began to say, "Gaston," and she was cut off, as he suddenly jammed the needle in her chest, then squeezed the plunger till the syringe was empty. Belle began to think of Emma and Henry, and she felt her heart beat faster. She suddenly felt out of control as her entire body cried out from the surge of panic. Unable to help herself, Belle cried out as the fear took hold of her.
As Belle screamed, Gaston said, "Let's help you breathe!" And he placed a clear plastic bag over head and held it shut.
With her heart racing, her eyes felt like they were bulging out of her head, as her lungs screamed for oxygen.
"You're going to die, Belle," Gaston said matter-of-factly.
In her panic, Belle believed him, as she gasped, and the bag ballooned and shrunk with every desperate breath.
Regina parked her car in a small parking lot by Prescott Park, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Stepping out of the car, the three women could see The Portsmouth Navel Shipyard about a mile across the bay.
"Alright, it's just after midnight," Regina commented. "We've got just over five hours before sunrise."
"So, whats the plan then? Let me guess: you've got a boat anchored somewhere?" Ruby asked with a trace of sarcasm.
"Actually, we'll swim. My yacht would draw too much attention."
"Wait, you have a fucking yacht? Damn! You really did rob a bank," Ruby replied.
"Enough, Ruby. We've got to get to Belle. Who knows what they're doing to her," Emma replied sternly.
"Sorry, Em, it's just… I'm not that great of a swimmer."
Regina turned to Ruby, then said, "You doggy paddle."
"Fucking funny," Ruby replied.
"I'm serious, Ruby. Transform, then paddle your way across."
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that."
"Come on. Let's go," Emma said as she jumped into the frigid ocean water.
With a splash, Regina was suddenly by Emma's side as they sped through the water.
Emma, with enhanced hearing, heard the muffled screams, shredding clothes, and tearing of bones and skin, while she swam on. Then, a few seconds later, a large wave over took her. Turning to her left, Emma saw a large brown wolf quickly treading water. Looking at Ruby, Emma was reminded of the nightmares that she first had when she moved in with Regina and the terror she had felt at falling asleep. Looking now at the wet fur, glowing red eyes, and rows of teeth, Emma felt a wave of love wash over her as her chosen family stood with her as they made their way to rescue Belle.
As the three women cut through the water, they made it past the half way point, and they glided past a darkened submarine floating in the frigid water. Emma felt a chill run down her spine, and she knew it wasn't from the cold, as her thoughts kept circling back to Belle.
Regina cut through Emma's thoughts, as she heard the older woman call over to Ruby, "See? What did I tell you? Doggy paddle."
Emma turned her head and saw her friend's menacing jaw open slightly as an odd high-pitched growl escape her throat. Emma could see the light in her glowing eyes, and realized her friend was laughing.
Who knew it would take something like this to bring them together, Emma thought in amazement.
As the trio made their way closer to shore, the coming tide pushed them along to a half-submerged dock. While Emma and Regina silently climbed to the top of the dock, the massive werewolf struggled as Ruby's claw caught the steel. A piercing ring went forth as Ruby made her way up. All three women froze in place, and no one seemed to take notice.
Emma took in the internally lit yard with its random steel buildings through the outcrop of the island. Several construction sites were in operation as several carriers and submarines were in various states of repair.
Regina took a step forward, and without warning, Ruby shook her entire body which sent jets of water splashing in all directions. Emma and Regina turned to face Ruby as they wiped themselves off. In a very Ruby-like gesture, she tiled her head to the side and raised her shoulders as if to say, "Sorry."
"Really, Ruby?" Emma asked.
"Alright, Emma. This is a big place. We may need to split up…" Regina began and then paused as she looked at Emma while a gust of wind drifted by.
While water dripped down her face, Emma held her head high as she breathed in the night air. Though Emma was still a newborn vampire, she had known Belle for most of her life, and her body knew Belle's scent. As she breathed in, she methodically cut through all the scents that weren't Belle, until she found her.
Looking up a hill at a nondescript building, Emma's eyes slowly began to glow blue. Without speaking, she led the other two women up the hill.
Quietly, the women made their way up the hill as Emma trailed Belle's scent. While Regina and Emma dashed from shadow to shadow without making a noise, Ruby took to the high ground. On all fours, Ruby jumped from various roof tops, crates, scaffolding, and cranes. Though she made noise as she landed and bounded off from one spot to the next, she was never in one location long enough for any of the numerous workers to see the massive brown werewolf.
Finally, Regina and Emma stood in the shadow of a stack of shipping containers as they looked on a unremarkable warehouse at the top of the hill. Suddenly, Ruby landed behind the women with a muffled thud. Hearing Ruby's low growl as she stood behind the pair, the three took in the scene.
The building itself was about fifty yards across and three stories high. It had rows of darkened windows on every floor. While there was a double-sided door in the center of the building, an open loading dock stood to the right of the building. Outside, several guards, in black uniforms were patrolling the parameter. Each soldier had a rifle in their hands as they scanned the area.
Whispering, Regina said, "Alright, we've got about three and half hours before sunrise, so we're going to need to move fast if we're going to search this entire building. All these guards are not going to make it easy. Once we kill a few things should be easier—"
"No," Emma whispered sternly.
Emma heard Regina ask, "What?" while Ruby let out a confused grunt.
"We're not the monsters here, and we're not going to act like it. Not like they are. We go in, get Belle, then get the hell out of here." Looking back, Emma saw Regina and Ruby exchange a look, then she continued, "Well, I mean, we can hurt them."
"Nicely said, Swan," Regina complimented. "I say we go through the loading dock. They'll be more guards, but it's more open space so we can move around, and some of us are not so small."
A low growl escaped Ruby, and Regina quickly said, "Hey, I'm just looking out for you. I'd hate to see you get turned into a hat or stuffed and mounted."
"I think I liked it better when you two weren't getting along," Emma commented as she felt a small level of relief while she worried about her sister.
Suddenly becoming serious, Regina said, "Remember, hard and fast. Don't stop moving. And you heard Emma. No killing. She's right. We don't need to stoop down to level of these bastards."
In a blur of motion, Emma and Regina set off, while Ruby leaped into the night air. Emma quickly found the back of a solider, and she delivered a blow that sent the man sprawling. Regina ran between two guards that were conversing and slammed their heads together, which sent then crumbling to the ground. Ruby, who was charging up the roof, slammed into two sentries before they could register her, and as she charged a third, a look of panic fell on the man's face while he raised his rifle. Ruby snatched the firearm in her two muscular arms, and as she growled, she bent the weapon in half. Horror stricken, the soldier looked up at the towering werewolf as her red eyes glared back at him. Suddenly Ruby felt a warm liquid run across her hind paws, and she looked down then saw that the solider had urinated on himself. A chuckling growl escaped from Ruby. As the soldier began to cry out, Ruby crashed her massive back hand across the man's face which sent him flying across the roof top. Ruby leapt down and rejoined Emma and Regina as they made their way into the building.
Emma led the way down the double wide corridor and followed Belle's scent, which grew stronger the further she made it into the building. Slowly, they made their way down the slightly darkened halls as the group made half a dozen turns without coming across any further resistance. From a distance, Emma could make out a soft buzzing noise, and she strained her ears to find the source of the sound.
"Regina, do you hear that?" Emma asked, and suddenly soldiers rushed the group from all sides.
Ruby let out a menacing growl as she faced the group from behind. Emma and Regina's blue luminescent eyes glowed brighter with the coming soldiers.
All at once the soldiers charged the three women. In each of the soldiers' hands, they held a three-foot-long steel black baton that sparked with electricity at the end. A group of soldiers rushed at Ruby from all angles, and as she made to leap over the coming soldiers, four batons struck her, and a surge of agony shot through her.
Ruby's limbs went rigid as the pain shot through every surface of her straining muscles. With her jaws clamped together she could taste the blood pooling in her mouth as her teeth drove into her tender flesh. More soldiers rushed Ruby, and a flurry of electric blows struck her repeatedly. Then, Ruby's knees gave out.
Meanwhile, Regina charged the soldiers with blinding speed. With a curled fist, she reared back, and it crashed into the jaw of the first soldier. Regina could hear the jaw break from her blow, and before he could fall to the floor, she sent a high kick under the the chin of another soldier. Regina grabbed the shoulders of another soldier and slammed her forehead into his own. With her arms still on the dazed soldier's shoulders, Regina used him as leverage as she swung her long legs to the side wall and ran across it. The group of soldiers turned their heads as they tried to follow Regina's path. Suddenly, she was behind the group.
While a level of apprehension coursed through Emma, she realized that she had never been in a fight of any kind before. She found her body reacting just as it had done when she first hunted. To her left, a soldier swung open a door and struck her with an electrified baton. The blonde cried out in agony, and through her painfully slowed movements she managed to slam the metallic door on the attacking soldier who was caught in the middle. After three blows, the soldier went limp. Turning her head, Emma saw Ruby surrounded on all sides as the soldiers continued to tase her friend. She ran as her anger overtook her. Then, she roughly gripped the first soldier and flung her against the wall with a deafening thud.
The furthest soldier, a young female with tightly wrapped red hair cried out, "Switch to live ammo!"
Emma snarled at the soldier just as the squad dropped their batons and unclipped their side arms. Emma quickly dodged the raining bullets, then she ran forth, but her foot caught Ruby's twitching leg, and she staggered.
With her momentary pause, a bullet landed in her left shoulder, another drove into her right thigh, and a third found its way into the middle of her chest. Pausing to look down at the outpouring blood, Emma could hear Regina cry out, "EMMA!"
At hearing Emma's named yelled, Ruby registered Regina's pain, and she quickly opened up her eyes in time to see Emma drop to her knees as her blood poured out. With an earsplitting howl, Ruby leapt to her feet, and lashed out at the circled soldiers. In her rage, Ruby forgot her promise to Emma as her claws sliced through the soldier's flesh, sending spurts of blood in all directions. Finally, the last soldier in front of Ruby was the young red headed soldier, who slowly staggered backwards while she repeatedly pulled the trigger of her empty pistol. With her arms wide, revealing her blood-soaked claws, Ruby charged forth as she let out another howl.
Feeling frozen in place, Ariel's eyes went wide. She cried out in horror and pain as Ruby's massive claws dug into her arms. She continued to wail as Ruby lifted the red head off her feat towards her snarling jaws. All Ariel could see were the rows of teeth and long tongue as her head raised into the massive jaw.
Ruby crashed her teeth into Ariel and violently shook her head from side to side. With a sickening tear, Ariel's head was torn from her body. Her lifeless body crashed to floor as it twitched.
Regina rushed to Emma's side and looked down at her blood-stained lover.
"Emma, sweetheart?" Regina whimpered as she shook the still woman.
Ruby slowly made her way to the pair, and she curled up next to the two women as she whined in agony.
With tears in her eyes, Regina's heart ached as she looked down at Emma.
Emma's eyes slowly fluttered open and she looked up to see both Regina and Ruby looking down at her.
"Oh… Hey, guys," Emma said weakly.
"Emma!" Regina cried out just as Ruby barked.
Wincing, Emma said, "Easy there, Rubes. My ears still work."
Emma reached out a shaking hand and stroked behind Ruby's fur lined ear.
At hearing the werewolf purr, Regina stifled a laugh which resulted in Ruby glaring at the older woman.
"Sorry, but I just realized I've always wanted a dog," Regina said jokingly.
While Regina laughed, Ruby lunged forward and ran her long, wet tongue over Regina's face.
With her jaw dropping in disgust, Regina wiped away the slobber left on her face.
"Yup, I deserved that one."
Reluctantly, Emma looked around the room and took stock of the bodies around her. This has gone way too far… but we can't stop now, she was thinking.
Straining to get to her feet, Emma propped herself against the wall, then said, "Come on. Belle is close."
As the group made their way further down hall, Emma saw a lone door at the end. Breathing in deeply, Emma could smell that her sister's scent ended there. Without pausing, Emma ran through the door as it violently came off its hinges.
Before Emma, she saw a soldier standing behind her sister. When she saw Belle, her heart broke. Emma saw her sister's hands tied over head, and where the metal chain wrapped around her wrists blood trickled down. Belle's face was a mask of ugly bruises of varying shades of purple. Her shirt had been torn open which revealed several large angry red welts throughout her chest. Below her dangling feet, a pool of blood slowly expanded. Behind Belle, the male soldier held a pistol to her head, and Emma could see that the hammer of the pistol was down.
Emma took a step into the room just as Regina flanked her right side and Ruby took her left.
"Not another fucking step," the soldier warned.
Emma raised her hands as she said, "I just want my sister, then we'll leave. No one else needs to get hurt today."
"Oh, you couldn't be more wrong about that, you junkie whore," the soldier snarled.
Belle stirred at hearing Gaston, and she found her body sluggish after it recovered from the effects of the adrenaline.
Reading Emma's confused face, Gaston answered the unasked question, "Oh, I know all about you, Emma Cassidy, and after today, I'll know a lot more about you and your friends. Where's that little child of yours? I can't wait to meet it."
With her hands suddenly clenching, Emma yelled, "You'll never touch Henry!"
Instantly, she knew her error.
"Henry. Henry is its name. Well, I so look forward to meeting Henry. I'm sure my scientists will love to see what makes him tick."
Working to control her anger, Emma didn't rise to the bait, but she heard both Regina and Ruby let out two screeching howls of anger.
Gaston smiled at the response.
Loosening her hands, Emma took a step forward, and before she could utter a word, Gaston's face dropped as he placed the gun in the middle of Belle's back.
"What did I just say?" Gaston snarled.
Belle bit her tongue, as her anger flared. Summoning her strength, Belle tensed the muscles in her neck and head, and crashed the back of her head into Gaston's nose.
Blinded with stinging pain, the gun went off and the full metal jacket bullet traveled through Belle. A burst of blood and steel shot forth from Belle, and the bullet streaked towards Emma and caught her in her upper chest. Emma collapsed on the floor as her hand flew to her reddening chest.
For the second time that day, Regina cried out Emma name as she embraced her.
Ruby bounded forth and crashed into Gaston as she slammed his hand against the concrete floor. Ruby flung the gun from Gaston's grasp, and she hovered over him with her teeth and claws bared.
For the first time in his life, Gaston knew fear as he felt himself lost in the seemingly endless rows of teeth before him.
Cradling Emma, Regina called out between sobs, "Come on, Emma, don't do this again. Please."
When Regina heard nothing after the long seconds that passed, her heart wept for Emma while her mind drifted back to Daniel, and the explosion of sorrow was too much for the brunette to bear.
Again stirring, Emma called out in pained gasps, "Belle? Regina, please check on her. I think… I think I'll be alright." When Regina didn't move, Emma asked again, "Please."
Unable to deny her one true love, as Regina knew in that moment that she couldn't add any more pain to her. Moving gingerly, Regina laid Emma down, then made her way to Belle. With her nurse's training and keen vampiric eyes, Regina assessed Belle. She could see that her right shoulder was dislocated. She was covered in dozens of superficial bruises, and while they would hurt in the days to come, they were in no way life threatening. The area of concern was the bullet wound that traveled the width of her chest. Straining her eyes, Regina could hear Belle's heart beat without struggle, although a bit fast, which she found understandable. Listening further, she could detect no signs of internal bleeding. Just as Regina peered into Belle's eyes, she noticed for the first time that the woman was staring back at her.
"Is she…?" Emma whimpered, feeling for truly weak the first time since she'd been turned.
Just when the blonde was about to speak again, Regina turned around with a triumphant grin of relief.
"Why are you smiling?!" Emma cried, feeling a large anvil of sorrow weighing down on her.
"Because, Em… She's gonna be fine. It's just her shoulder," Regina replied, still smiling.
"Oh, thank God," Emma breathed, then let out a wet, rattling cough as blood began to fill her lungs.
Then, Regina turned to Belle and told her, "Belle, I know we got off on a bad foot, but Emma cares about you, which means so do I. You've got a dislocated shoulder, and the bullet didn't hit anything important. I'm going to unchain you, relocate your shoulder, and then I'm going to drop a bit of my blood into your wound."
Regina saw Belle's eyes widen, and she continued, "Oh, don't worry. A small amount of my blood won't change you; it'll just help you heal."
Peeling his gaze away from Ruby's snarling jaws, Gaston listened intently to Regina's every word.
While Belle heard the sincerity in Regina's voice, she protested as she said, "Take care of Emma first."
Smiling, Regina replied, "Yeah, your sister asked me to take care of you, and I'm not going to be the one to tell her no."
Belle managed a painful laugh, then said, "Yeah, she's a real brat sometimes."
While Regina lifted Belle free of her chains, she replied, "Sometimes."
With Belle free, Regina bit into her right index finger and squeezed a single drop of blood into each of the bullet wounds. To Belle's amazement, the small wound quickly healed over with radiant pink skin. Just as astounded, Gaston continued to stare with wide eyes.
While Gaston looked in amazement at Belle, Ruby breathed in deeply as she too stared intently at the young woman as her scent flooded Ruby with long past memories.
"Alright, Emma," Regina called out as she turned to the blonde, and to her horror, she lay unmoving on the floor.
Belle blinked, and she saw Regina suddenly appear at Emma side as she wrapped her into her arms. Belle found her footing and ran over to Emma and fell to her side.
Ruby let out a whimper while she kept Gaston in place with a large paw placed on his chest.
"What's wrong with her?" Belle cried out.
"The bullet, it's shifted into her heart." Regina answered numbly.
"Oh… Belle… You're okay," Emma said as her vision blurred.
Addressing Emma, Belle said, "Come on, Emma. We just found one another. You need to hold on." Belle shifted her gaze to Regina, and asked, "What can we do for her?"
"What?" Regina asked in a daze.
Steeling herself with the aide of her training, Belle cried out, "HEY! She is not going to die! Now what can we do?!"
Stifling her tears, Regina answered, "She needs human blood, but she is to weak to move, and she needs a lot. She lost so much."
"What about me?" Belle asked hurriedly.
"It would be dangerous for you. She has never fed on a human before. She may not stop."
"No… Belle," Emma said weakly.
Looking down at Emma, Belle replied, "This is my choice, Emma. You'll stop. I know you will. You're my sister." Seeing Emma's defiance, Belle pleaded, "Let me do this for our family."
Belle gripped Emma's hand while she looked down at her tormented face. Hesitantly, Emma nodded.
"Belle, I can never thank you enough for this," Regina said as she gently squeezed the top of Belle's hand that held Emma's.
Belle nodded towards Regina, then turned down to Emma then said, "I love you, Em."
Belle lowered her neck to Emma's mouth. Emma hesitated a moment, then slowly opened her mouth and plunged her teeth over Belle's neck.
Belle's body stiffened as it registered the pressure of the bite, which was followed by a searing pain. Belle didn't fight the sting as she poured her unyielding love into her sister. In all of Belle's life she had never felt more at peace, as she knew that her sister would not only live past this night, but that she would have many more to come.
Emma felt her heart speed up as new life flowed into her. Emma had drunk human blood many times, but now she felt her body shake with ecstasy taking fresh blood from a living person. Emma's hand reached out for Belle, and pulled her closer as she drank deeper. Emma began to feel her body heal as her heart pumped with more ease. The bullets that were lodged within her were pushed out as the flesh reformed. Just as Emma felt herself lost within the blood, she heard Belle's heart began to slow. While instinctually she wanted to grip Belle tighter, she knew her sister was beginning to die. Without hesitation, Emma ripped her mouth back as she held Belle fast. While Emma cradled Belle as she slowly breathed, Regina again dropped a single bead of her blood onto Belle's neck and the wound began to heal.
Knowing Emma's distress, Regina said, "She'll be okay, sweetheart. We'll get her home and give her a transfusion with the blood at home. Do you want me to carry her?"
Feeling sure of herself, Emma answered, "No, I've got her." Looking down at her sister, she said, "I'll never let you go again. I promise."
"Come on, Ruby. Leave him," Regina called out as they began to make their way to the door.
Ruby let out one last growl, and to her pleasure she saw the fear in Gaston's eyes once more, then she made her way to the exit.
As the three were about to leave, Gaston muttered, "Fucking junkie."
Just as Gaston finished speaking, Regina ran back in a blur and with a fraction of her strength she slammed her fist into Gaston's jaw. With immense satisfaction, Regina felt the bones break as her hardened fist made contact.
Gaston cried out in pain as he made slurred and muffled sounds from his broken jaw.
Strained over the man, Regina crossed her arms as she said, "Say that again, and I won't stop at your jaw."
Regina turned away and smiled as she heard the increasing sobs emanating from Gaston.
By the time the four women made their way out of the compound, Regina saw that he sky had begun to brighten.
"Come on. We don't have time to make it across the bay."
Ruby, who was once again in human form and in the process of zipping up a stolen uniform, asked, "Well, do you have any brilliant ideas then?"
Peering her head around the island, Regina suddenly stopped her gaze as she looked at an old Jeep just up ahead of the women.
"As a matter of fact, Ruby, I do," Regina answered as she began to run towards the Jeep.
When Regina approached the Jeep, she opened the windowless door. She bent under the wheel of the Jeep and ripped off the plastic panel, revealing a mess of multi-colored wires. Delicately, she stripped two colored wires, then twisted them together. Suddenly, the engine roared to life.
"Regina, you can hot wire a car?" Emma asked in amazement while she gently placed Belle in the back seat with Ruby.
Regina slipped into the Jeep's driver's side seat, closed the door, then turned to Emma and said, "You know, you tend to pick up a thing or two in nearly a century. Besides, I can do a lot of things with my hands."
As Regina flashed Emma a wicked smile, the blonde felt herself blush.
"Oh, my God! T.M.I., Regina! Please just drive," Ruby called out from the back seat as she made choking noises.
Regina's smile grew as she shifted the Jeep into first gear, then slammed on the gas pedal as she sped away towards home.
With minutes to spare, the battered family made it back to Regina's home. Once safely inside, Emma called Granny and she brought Henry home. Within a few hours, the entire household was fast asleep, all except Regina. Regina lay in bed with Emma under the heated blanket. While Emma was sleeping soundly, Regina was propped up on her left elbow as she stared intently down at the blonde.
Looking down at Emma, Regina was struck at how utterly content she was in that moment in time. Not two hours ago, they were fighting for their lives to rescue Belle, and now Regina was at peace. Regina realized that her life before Emma had become very predictable within her set routine. With Emma and her family in the picture, Regina's life had become very complicated, and could become even more so if the military ever decided to come after them. Yet in that moment in time, Regina knew that she would do whatever it took to have Emma and her family in her life from that day forward.
With her smile deepening, Regina's canine tooth pierced her lower lip and a few droplets of blood fell down onto Emma's red lips. Not wanting to move, Regina stayed where she was as another few drops fell. A moment later, Emma's tongue delicately traced her lips, and when she tasted Regina's blood, she opened up her radiant blue eyes.
Emma raised one delicate hand to Regina's face and gently wiped away a single tear of joy from her cheeks. Regina looked back at Emma, and her breathing quickened at feeling her lover's cool touch.
At seeing Regina's quivering body, Emma pushed herself up and passionately kissed Regina's soft lips that were wet from blood and falling tears.
As the two embraced, they began to explore one another with their searching hands. Emma found her hands entangled in Regina's long brown hair more fiercely than she had ever before. Regina found the small of Emma's back as she made her way down to her firm backside and she squeezed it until she heard several soft moans escape the blonde.
Emma's lips left Regina's as she lightly kissed the side of Regina's face until she got to her ear. Emma began to gently bite Regina's earlobe which sent waves of slightly painful pleasure coursing through her.
Regina moved her hands up and under Emma's shirt and gently teased her raised nipples. Regina's mouth found Emma's exposed neck. Regina felt the blonde's neck respond as the goose bumps formed just as Emma began to shake.
Playfully, Regina pushed Emma back down onto their bed. Regina climbed onto Emma and begin to straddle the woman's hips as she resumed kissing her. As Regina used her tongue to stroke Emma's, she felt Emma's hands rub her abdomen, then slowly work their way up her tight shirt. Regina felt her bra unclip, so she pulled back from the blonde, then slid off her shirt as her bra fell free revealing her heaving chest.
Emma took both of her hands and slowly curved the underside of Regina's soft breast, and she could feel the woman shudder and catch her breath with each move she made. Smiling, Emma, took her thumbs and began to circle around Regina's slowly hardening nipples.
"Emma," Regina shakily cried out, as she felt Emma's mouth take in her left nipple.
Regina felt Emma's tongue tease her nipple, and just as Regina felt herself becoming more lost within her growing pleasure, she felt Emma delicately bite down on the hard nipple which sent a surge of excitement through her.
"Emma," Regina cried out again as she rocked harder over Emma responding hips.
As Emma pulled away from Regina's moistened nipple, Regina placed both hands in Emma's blonde hair and resumed kissing her. While the two reluctantly pulled apart to breathe, Regina got up from the bed and unbuttoned, then unzipped Emma's jeans.
Regina struggled to pull Emma's jeans off the blonde's long legs as her lover let out a playful giggle.
As Regina began to unzip her own trousers, she heard Emma softly protest. Regina with a mixed look of longing and confusion asked, "What?"
"Let me," was all Emma said, and she sat up on the bed. With outstretched hands, she pulled at Regina's pants. With the trousers off, Emma saw Regina's moistened womanhood. Keeping her eyes on Regina, Emma took one slender finger, and glided over Regina's clitoris, which caused Regina to buckle at the knees as growing moans escaped her. Emma took one delicate finger and gently inserted into Regina.
As Regina cried out from the pleasure, she grabbed Emma's hand with her own trembling fingers.
"You okay?" Emma asked.
Through closed eyes, Regina nodded her answer as she moved Emma's hand in a thrusting movement with an ever-quickening pace.
Emma smiled as she placed a second finger within, which caused Regina to open her eyes in surprise as she gasped out, "Faster." Then, Regina moaned out, "Yes," while she trembled in response to Emma's thrusts.
Emma's hand drove deeper and faster, and Regina cried out in climax before collapsing in Emma's glistening arms.
With labored breathing, Regina lay on Emma's chest. Unsteadily, Regina, pealed off Emma's shirt, then removed her bra.
Regina, with mischievous eyes, looked at Emma, then said, "I want to try something."
Letting out a seductive laugh, Emma retorted, "Like we haven't tried a lot already."
"Please," Regina asked in a longing tone.
As Emma nodded, Regina took Emma's hand and led her to the large tiled walk in shower. Regina turned on the multiple streaming jets. With the steam rising from the scalding shower, Regina set Emma on the stone bench. Regina shifted Emma to her side, and slid her firm legs between Emma's.
With a giggle, Emma cried out, "Well, hello there."
With a smile, Regina picked up Emma's exposed leg, and she slid herself further between the blond until their equally moist cores met. The two women embraced as the heat of the steam reddened their pale skin.
"Oh, God," Emma cried out, as each woman found themselves thrusting in rhythm.
The speed and force of the thrusting increased as the two struggled to breathe.
"Regina," Emma choked out as she found a new throbbing sensation spread through her. Following that sensation, Emma felt herself moving towards a state of explosive arousal as she slid deeper into her lover.
"I'm—" Emma cried out as she felt herself burst forth, then collapsed into Regina's waiting arms.
As Emma struggled to collect her breath, she felt Regina's slick body shift over hers, and then she felt Regina's teeth break the surface of her neck. Emma sensed a new type of ecstasy gliding through her as she felt Regina drink from her. Her body shivered despite the steam, and she grabbed onto Regina's back as she dug her nails gently over her flesh. Losing herself within the embrace, Emma plunged her own mouth over Regina's neck, and the two drank from one another and their blood exchanged back and forth. The two women lost themselves within this new rapture as their bodies clung to one another.
Regina pulled back as Emma did, and while they looked into one another's eyes they each breathlessly whispered, "I love you."
While the days turned into weeks, the reunited family settled into their new life together, under one roof. The New England weather began to turn cold as winter began to set into Storybrooke. As Regina stood behind Emma with her arms wrapped around the blonde, the two watched Henry sit on the floor with Belle and Ruby. Looking at the familial scene, Regina felt something change. Like a curse being broken. Like the first time she kissed Emma. Like the heavy weight of hatred lifting from her shoulders.
"Auntie Belle! Auntie Belle! Ho'd me!" the toddler shouted, bouncing and holding his arms out.
When Belle looked at Henry and laughed – a bright, beautiful ringing sound – they all watched her face light up with joy. This quickly ended when Henry, at the very limits of his short rope of patience, leapt onto her lap and wrapped his arms around her neck.
"Easy, buddy!" Belle winced, then laughed off the lingering pain. "You're gonna make Auntie's arm fall off."
The group laughed when Henry pulled away, whining loudly.
"Ho'd!" he shouted, squirming on her lap.
"Alright, buddy," Belle told him with a smile. "Just be gentle."
His little head fell into the crook of his aunt's neck as he cuddled close to her, Belle rubbed his back gently to calm him. Overwhelmed with a wave of affection, Ruby's reached out her hand and gently placed it on Henry's back. Not noticing this at first, Belle continued to rub his back gently as he began to grow quiet, and probably sleepy, until her hand bumped into Ruby's, and she realized just how close the three of them were.
With her broad, signature grin, Belle turned her head and smiled at Ruby, whispering, "Precious, isn't he?"
With a nod, Ruby replied, "You know… This family is pretty fucking dysfunctional, but I damn sure do love it."
"Ruby!" Regina hissed quietly, finally interjecting the picturesque scene. "Watch that potty mouth in front of Henry!"
Emma, Belle, and Ruby laughed quietly, all having to cover their mouths to keep the noise from waking the sleeping toddler.
"He's asleep, Regina," Belle promised Regina, still smiling.
"Out like a light," Ruby agreed.
Regina leaned in to check the facts on this and found them to be correct. Her son was fast asleep, dead to the world – in the figurative sense – and looked extraordinarily comfortable in Belle's arms. Just when Regina thought he couldn't possibly be any more adorable, Henry let out a soft whimper and lifted his arm, rested it on Belle's shoulder, and pushed his thumb into his mouth.
"Oh, Jesus," Ruby breathed quietly. "Look at the little tyke. Such a cutie."
Regina finally smiled, unable to contain her pride and joy as she watched her son sleep and realized that he really was safe with the women she had had such a hard time trusting.
"You two sure did raise a beautiful boy, Regina," Ruby told her, offering the olive branch of a warm smile.
Regina's eyes went wide as she took in the genuine compliment from Ruby. This kind of compliment, explicitly directed towards her, coming from Ruby, was a shock completely unexpected. Never before had they been so gentle with each other, and prior to this moment, Regina never could have pictured it happening.
"T-Thank you, Ruby…" Regina managed. "You're really great with him, you know." When she noticed that Ruby looked somewhat anxious upon hearing this compliment, Regina teased, "So, when are you planning on having your own little wolf pups?"
Emma's eyes went wide as she watched them, expecting this conversation to rapidly go south.
But Ruby laughed – as quietly as possible – and shook her head, answering, "When I find a strapping young alpha male to take care of me."
Emma's hands flew up to cover her mouth, and she doubled over, body shaking with silent laughter as she forced herself to choke down the sound.
Breathlessly, she finally dropped her hands and said, "Oh, God, Regina. You're hilarious."
"Okay, but really," Regina said, suddenly serious, "Why not have some pups of your own?"
Her expression of joy quickly falling, Emma froze and stared. Yep. This just went south…
Of course, Regina couldn't read their minds, and was actually being sincere. But then again, she didn't really know Ruby. Emma understood her better than anyone, but Regina? She was new to Ruby's dynamic.
"Well…" Ruby finally answered, taking in a slow breath. "Firstly, because I have a little prince in my life that couldn't be replaced by anyone else. Secondly, because I'm just about as gay as it gets, and – I don't know if you know this already – two females can't exactly reproduce."
Ruby forced a smile, and Emma bit her lip upon seeing the subtle hint of sorrow in it.
"Ruby…" Emma started, putting her hand on the woman's shoulder. "She didn't know."
"No, it's fine," Ruby assured her friend, shrugging her off. "Really. It's no big deal."
Emma could tell, watching her interact with Henry, that Ruby wanted kids. Really wanted them. As sincere as Ruby was about Henry being the only prince in her life, Emma knew that Ruby wanted more.
To Emma's further shock and surprise, Regina remained serious, refusing to let the subject drop, and sat down beside Ruby on the floor.
"Lots of kids need homes, Ruby. All over the world. You could adopt."
Emma continued to stare at them. Is this really happening? It was unbelievable to Emma that Regina could possibly have changed her tune so drastically. What the hell changed? Emma wasn't sure. Instead of pondering this too hard, she watched with bated breath as the two interacted more civilly than they ever had before.
"Yeah, right," Ruby said, with just a small hint of bitterness in her voice that all three other women picked up on. As the tension in the room grew, Ruby explained, "No human kiddo deserves to be raised by a wolf."
"Ruby," Emma cut in, squeezing the woman's thigh. "You'd be a great parent, and any child would be lucky to call you 'Mom.'"
"I would never, ever do that to a child."
"Ruby…" Emma tried again, but her friend cut her off before she could finish her thought.
"Can we drop it?" Ruby asked, her voice cracking as a lump formed in her throat. "Not to mention, I don't have a partner anyway. Like that would ever happen."
Ruby laughed, the bitterness finally apparent, and Regina quickly jumped back in with a sincere, "I'm sorry, Ruby. I didn't mean to upset you. I was trying to—"
"It's okay, Regina. I know you didn't mean anything by it."
Finally, Belle, who had been sitting silently, added to the conversation, telling Ruby, "Listen, Ruby. You're a gorgeous girl, with a big heart. You'll find your mate."
Belle using the word 'mate' caught the three other women off guard. Of course, Belle had extensively studied werewolves, and she knew that was what a partner would be to Ruby, but laying it out there like that was somewhat surprising, especially to Ruby. And the way Belle had said it was so nonchalant that it made Ruby feel unpredictably comfortable.
More relaxed than before, Ruby replied, "Thanks, Belle. I appreciate the kind words."
"They're sincere, Ruby. I mean them."
Ruby blushed and looked away, not believing in what Belle had told her, but feeling flattered by her sincerity.
Belle, knowing full well that Ruby struggled with this belief, put her hand on the woman's back in a comforting gesture and offered her a warm smile, just like she always had for Emma when the blonde had gotten upset as a child.
Emma saw the unmistakable similarity in the silent gesture and remembered that Belle's smile was almost always infectious. As she looked around the room, all three women were smiling, and she felt her own smile tugging at the corners of her lips, too.
After Emma and Regina tucked Henry into his crib for the night, Emma gently kissed Regina on the cheek.
"What was that for?" Regina asked as her cheeks slightly blushed.
Emma smiled, then answered, "Nothing, just wanted to kiss you is all."
Regina wrapped her arms around Emma and replied, "Oh, is that all you wanted?"
Emma answered as she kissed the other woman's lips, then after a moment pulled back and said, "Does that answer your question?"
Grinning, Regina replied, "I'm not sure if I quite caught that answer, you may need to tell me again."
"You're incorrigible, you know that?"
"You love it, Swan."
"You're lucky I do."
With her voice dropping slightly, Regina answered, "Yes, I am."
Emma gently lifted Regina's chin and asked, "Hey… What's the matter?"
"You almost died back at the base. I haven't wanted to say anything. The thought of losing you… I don't know what I would have done. Emma… I was so scared."
Emma wrapped her arms around Regina and soothingly whispered into her ear, "Hey… I'm okay. We're okay. We're all home, and we're all safe."
Regina nodded her head.
Emma slightly pulled back from the brunette, looked into her glistening brown eyes, and said, "I know you're used to living on your own, and I hope you know you don't need to bottle up your feelings. You can come to me with anything. I love you, and I always will. Okay?"
Regina managed to nod her head again, and embraced Emma once more.
The two women made their way out of Henry's room, and just as Emma gently closed the door, Belle came down the hall.
"You about ready, Regina?" Belle asked as she slung her backpack over her shoulder.
"What's going on?" Emma asked curiously.
"Oh. Sorry, Em. Your sister asked me if I would take her out hunting. It completely slipped my mind."
"You two? Hunting together?" Emma asked incredulously.
"Yeah… I've spent all these years hunting vamps, I figured why not switch sides? I mean I pretty much have anyway," Belle answered.
"You going to be okay for a few hours?" Regina asked.
"Get going you two. I'll check on Ruby."
Regina leaned in for one last kiss, then turned to Belle and said, "Alright, Tinker Bell. Think you can keep up?"
"Tinker Bell? Just keep that up, and we'll see who's faster: you or my arrow."
In reply, Regina ran in a blur of motion down the hall then up the stairs.
"Oh, I'm steaming now! Wait till I catch her ass." As Belle made her way down the hall, she called back to Emma, "Love you, sis. If Regina doesn't come back, you know why."
Shaking her head, Emma smiled and walked the house looking for Ruby.
So, this is what family is like, Emma mused, and with that thought, a feeling of blissful contentment washed over her. As Emma walked, she found Ruby in the kitchen eating from a jar of peanut butter.
"Hey ya Rubes."
"Hey, you know one nice thing about being a wolf? We've got really high metabolisms. I'm going to devour this peanut butter, and my ass will still look great."
Emma smiled at her friend as she said, "Well, I'm very happy for you and your ass."
Emma took a seat at the kitchen table with Ruby while she absently scooped at the peanut butter.
"Ruby, why didn't you ever tell me that you were a werewolf before all of this?"
Ruby looked up at her friend as she swallowed a mouthful of peanut butter then answered, "Well, let's see… You would have likely thought I was bat shit crazy or back on drugs." Ruby waved her spoon in the air then continued, "Better yet, you would have thought that I was bat shit crazy and on drugs."
Emma leaned in to her friend and said, "Ruby. You could have told me. If not then, why wouldn't you have told me when you found out that I was a vampire?"
Ruby sighed deeply, then replied, "Emma, vampires and werewolves have never gotten along. Not ever. I was… scared of losing you."
Emma placed a firm hand on her friend's and told her, "Ruby, you will never lose me. Do you hear me? Not ever."
"Thank you, Emma. That means a lot. I certainly do have… abandonment issues..."
"Ruby, I won't push. Just know that I want to know you, all of you. When you're ready. Okay?"
Ruby sat at the table staring to the side, then as Emma began to sit up, Ruby grabbed onto her hand.
"Emma, how old do you think I am?"
"Ruby, were the same age. We're thirty six."
"Emma, my parents are both werewolves. As a kid, I aged just like you. When I hit puberty, that's when everything changed. If you thought puberty was a bitch for you, try being a wolf. Talk about finding hair in new areas. I was born in 1971, and I'm 48 now. Yeah, I know. I look hot for my age." Pausing to laugh at her own joke, Ruby continued, "Once you become a wolf, everything is different. You can turn into a werewolf whenever you want, except when it's a full moon. When the moon is full, the change is automatic, and girl, it fucking hurts. When I choose to turn, I'm in control, but when I'm forced to, it's like I disappear, and the wolf takes control. Now you'd think that I would always remember when the moon is full, and most of the time I do, but sometimes I forget. It's one of the worst feelings in the world to be here one moment and gone the next. It's not something that I really look forward to. I forgot the moon that time in Boston when I told you that I saw my ex, Dorothy, at the meeting in the North End and again on the day of your wedding."
"Ruby, that sounds awful. I can't help but wonder, have you ever thought of getting a smart watch of something?"
With a look of confusion, Ruby asked, "Why?"
Grinning, Emma answered, "So you can keep track of the moon phase."
"Ha-ha. Laugh it up blondie."
"I'm sorry. I couldn't resist I mean, you did almost kill me that night."
"God, are you ever going to let that go?"
Emma smiled in response.
Sighing deeply, Ruby began, "Like I said, my parents are werewolves, Susi and Kurt. We are a very old family. We can trace our lineage to the wolf through the past five hundred years. I have a brother as well."
"Wow, wait a damn minute," Emma interrupted. "You have a brother?"
"Do you want to hear the damn story or not?" Ruby asked impatiently.
Emma waved her hands, and said, "Shutting up. Go on."
"As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted," Ruby began again with a grin. "Yes, I have a younger brother, and his name is Simon. My pack is old and proud. My mother is the alpha, and she doesn't take shit from anyone. I always said growing up, 'It's Susi's way or the highway.' She never listens to anyone's opinion except her own, and boy is she consistent. Life was fine, for the most part. We were nomadic, really, and we moved from one place to another after a while."
"How come?" Emma asked. "I mean, that must have been really hard. It was hard enough moving to the orphanage, and I was just a kid then."
Ruby shook her head, then answered, "It wasn't like that Emma. We lived in the woods. We would hunt and forage. Steal from hikers. I just didn't know all of that when I was kid. When I became a werewolf, that all changed. I was expected to hunt just like the rest of the pack, and there were a lot of us. I had no problem hunting animals. I won't lie; I really like it. But we hunt more than animals. Mom always said that we were the apex creature and humans were below us. I always made sure I was somewhere else when the pack was hunting some hikers. One day I wasn't so lucky."
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA – 1987
Ruby stepped out of her small sheep skin lined tent and was bathed in the moonlight. Looking up, the young brunette smiled at the night sky's beauty. Lost in thought, she didn't notice her younger brother come up to her.
"Whatcha looking at?" Simon asked.
Ruby looked at her brother. His shoulder length hair was a mess of knots and leaves. His youthful face was stretched into a warm smile. He wore a tight t-shirt over his muscled chest. A pair of baggy shorts covered his legs while his bare feet clung to the soil. Though the weather was below fifty degrees Fahrenheit neither sibling felt the chill of the night air.
"Just looking is all. It really is beautiful."
Simon looked up and could not find the beauty that his sister saw above.
"Yeah, I guess so. You about ready?"
"Ready for what?" Ruby asked.
Simon crossed his arms over his chest and answered, "You know what. Mom is going to be pissed if you don't come on the hunt with us."
"Well she can go piss on a tree then. I don't need bark every time she says 'heel.'"
"Yeah… Okay, Ruby. Go on. You tell her that, then we'll both see who's limping for a week. Come on."
Simon threw off his clothes revealing his sculpted form, and then he collapsed in pain as the change began.
Ruby strained her ears as she thought she could make out a faint sound, but the cries of pain from her brother drowned out the origin of the sound. When her brother bounded to his feet, they both heard the distinct shuttering click of camera.
Simon let out a low growl revealing his rows of teeth. With his muscles taught, he bounded for the tree line. Within moments the cry of a man could be heard from the forest. Ruby jogged to the woods just as Simon came out of the trees with his jaws clamped around the ankle of a human male.
Between his cries of pain, the man pleaded, "Please don't hurt me. I've been lost in these woods. I was out riding, and my horse got spooked. I didn't mean any harm."
Looking down at the old man, Ruby could see the pain in his green eyes. The man coughed up blood which landed on his bushy mustache.
"Simon, come on. Let him go. He's not going anywhere," Ruby ordered while she knelt down beside the man. "Give me your camera," Ruby said, directing the demand at the human.
With his unsteady hands, he handed her the object. Ruby looked at the camera, and not knowing how to destroy the film, she took the camera in both her hands and easily broke it in two.
"Can you stand?" Ruby asked hurriedly.
"I… think so," the old man stammered out.
Without waiting, Ruby lifted the man to his feet while her brother let out a low, confused whimper.
"Shut it, Simon. He's not going to tell anyone. He has no proof of anything. We can let him go."
Simon's anxious whines escaped him as a he dropped his shoulders while he looked up at his older sister.
"Come on, we need to get you out of here. Now, if—"
"Ruby, would you care to explain what you are doing here?" a stern female voice called out.
With her back to the camp, Ruby closed her eyes at the sound of her mother's voice.
"Mother, this man is no threat to us," Ruby asserted, as she turned to face her mother while supporting the man.
Susi stood with her hands on her sharply angled hips while standing ahead of her husband. Her fierce face had a scowl as her black eyes bore into her daughter. While the wind blew, her jet-black hair rustled in the wind.
"I will not ask twice, daughter."
Grinding her teeth, Ruby answered, "This man is lost. I'm helping him back to the road."
"RUBY! Would you expose my pack to certain death for this man?" Susi barked out.
"Mother, I broke his camera. Who's going to believe one man?" Ruby asked.
"P-Please I won't tell anyone. I swear." The man stammered out.
Susi's dark eyes moved from Ruby to Simon, and she asked, "Tell me, son. Where do you stand on this matter?"
Simon's gaze slowly went from his sister to his mother while his tail dropped to the earth as he whimpered.
Ruby nodded her head to her brother, and then he slowly made his way to his mother and stood by his father.
"Do you see that, Ruby? Your brother knows his place. Why don't you? If you would just listen, you would one day lead our pack."
"Mother, we don't need to kill humans. They're not our enemy. Come on. Look at this guy. Does he really look like he could hurt any of us?" Ruby said as she gestured at the man's bulging belly.
"Tell me, Ruby, do you want to lead this pack?"
"Mother," Ruby said tensely while she tightly gripped the man's arm.
"Answer me, Ruby. You obviously want to dictate what is done here, so you must want to lead. That means that you must want to challenge me," Susi said with growing anger.
"Don't do this. Please. Mother," Ruby pleaded.
Susi turned to her husband, then said, "Kurt, bring me the human."
Ruby was unable to read her father's face behind his large dirty blonde beard.
Kurt strode up to his daughter, pleading with his eyes, and whispered, "Ruby, stop this. Now, before things get out of control."
With his muscular hand, Kurt yanked the man from Ruby, and through his screams he was roughly dragged away.
With her drawn face, Ruby saw that the man's wallet had fallen. She bent down and picked it up and read his license: Maurice French. Flipping through the photographs, she saw that Maurice was holding up a smile child with brown hair that was all smiles in her father's arms.
108 MIFFLIN STREET – PRESENT DAY
With her jaw dropping, Emma interrupted, "Ruby, that's—"
Sighing, Ruby replied, "I know. That was Belle's father. I never put it together until we rescued her. I mean French isn't the most common last name, but when I saw her last night, I knew. Her scent was so strong in the room, and there could be no mistake."
With her thoughts racing, Emma said, "I… I just don't know what to say. Belle told me that her father was killed by werewolves. Does that mean…?"
"Let me finish, Em."
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA – 1987
Ruby held up the photo to her mother, and said, "This man, Maurice, is a father. He has a daughter. Will you orphan her today?"
As Kurt presented Maurice to his wife, she roughly gripped him by the back of neck while she said, "What will it be Ruby? Fall in line, or are you going to challenge me?"
Shaking her head at being placed in this corner, Ruby's began to shake, and her body exploded in fur. On all fours, Ruby reared back her snout and howled into the night, accepting her mother's challenge.
"Hold him," Susi commanded her husband. Susi ran forward and as the steam rose from her body, and she leaped in the air. As her clothes shredded and tore free, the massive black wolf landed on its hind legs. With her front claws stretched out, she let out a menacing howl towards her daughter. Ruby took an involuntary step back just as Susi charged forth.
Ruby shook off her fear and met her mother's charge. The two collided. Teeth and claws leapt forth, and the two delivered one savage blow after another. Ruby's jaws clamped around her mother's neck. With her teeth piercing her mother's flesh, Ruby tasted her mother's blood just as she felt an intense pressure on both sides of her face. Susi plunged her claws viscously into her daughter's skull and continued to apply the pressure until she started to bear into her flesh. Ruby cried out in pain as her mother's claws drove deeper, and in doing so, she broke her hold on her mother neck.
Susi pulled her daughter's face back. With her left hand she clamped Ruby's jaws shut, and with her right she tightly wound her clawed hand around her neck and squeezed. Unable to cry out, Ruby flailed out with raised claws. Though Ruby found her marked with each blow, Susi held firm.
Ruby's head began to pound, and her vision slowly began to narrow as her lungs screamed out. With her darkening vision, Ruby looked up at her mother as she snarled back at her. Moments later, Ruby was unable to support herself and she fell to the earth while her mother continued to choke the life from her. Just as Ruby felt the last off vision fade, she took as gasping breath in through her wide mouth as Susi dropped her daughter. Involuntary, Ruby turned back to her human form just as Susi did the same. Kurt tossed two robes to his wife. She slipped one on then dropped the second to her daughter.
Without any trace of feeling, Susi proclaimed, "Ruby, today you have been banished from this pack. You are never to have contact with any member of my pack ever again, from this day forth. If you ever attempt to come back—" and to finish, Susi walked over to Maurice where he stood quivering and she gripped both sides of her head and twisted. With Maurice's lifeless body falling to the ground, Susi continued, "You will meet the same fate. Go. Now."
After Susi made her proclamation, she turned her back to Ruby, and Kurt fallowed suit as a single tear strode down his cheek.
With her own tears freely flowing, Ruby called out, "Simon."
With his ears dropping, Simon slowly turned his large body from his sister. Gripping the wallet in her hand, Ruby reluctantly turned and made her way to woods.
108 MIFFLIN STREET – PRESENT DAY
"So anyway, that's when I went to Boston," Ruby sighed, rubbing her temples as she leaned forward and put her elbows on the kitchen table.
"But how did you—"
"My story at the meetings was legit. I was lonely. My pack had disowned me, like I said, and I just… needed… something. I needed some way to cope with being alone. But… then I needed money to feed the habit. So I… um…"
"You what?" Emma pressed gently, trying to look into Ruby's eyes, but noticing that the woman was avoiding her gaze. "Rubes? It's okay. You can tell me."
"The other part I leave out of my story at meetings is that while I was homeless on the streets, I… I prostituted myself, and pretty much did anything I could for Fentanyl. I mean, I let guys—Well, nevermind. That's not the point. Anyway, Fentanyl was my one and only love, you know? It was the only thing strong enough to make me feel alive. Plus, prostituting was the only way I could convince people that I was straight."
"But you're not—"
"I know I'm not straight, Emma. That's the point. I grew up during the AIDS epidemic, when homosexuality was considered by almost everyone to be an abomination. Just when I thought I'd made a friend who understood me and accepted my sexuality, the friendship ended. It ended with cold sweats and tears in hospitals, over and over again, until I couldn't stand it anymore. I still remember holding ice to their lips, holding their hands, trying to steady my shaking hand as I held up glasses of water for them at the end. I promised myself I'd stop caring about people. That the only thing I wanted was Fentanyl at that point. Pretty much any real friend I'd ever made was dead or dying of AIDS. And not caring? That worked for me. It worked for me for a long, long time. Fentanyl worked too."
Ruby dropped her head into her hands and started to cry, but Emma was beside her in an instant, arms wrapped protectively around her in a gesture of love.
"Years later, I met Dorothy," Ruby struggled to continue, choking on her words but knowing she had to tell her story. "She was so… different. So sweet. So innocent. So accepting. She was an angel, really. I met her at the soup kitchen where she was working when I was homeless and starving, and I think she fell in love with me when I told her how beautiful she was. I meant it, too. I fell hard for her. Things were good for a while, but I fell back into old habits. And new ones. And then, that's when the sleeping around happened. I was prostituting, but I was cheating on her constantly. I guess I don't really know why. I think maybe I was just acting out. Maybe it was self-sabotage. I didn't deserve her, and I guess I knew that. So, she finally got fed up and left me, I was a wreck, saw her kissing another guy, lost my shit, and tried to kill myself. Then I got clean and met you a few years later... and you… you've been my everything ever since."
Emma blinked a few times, soaking in everything her friend had told her. If vicarious trauma was truly a thing, Emma was feeling it then. How could all of this have happened to her? Life is so fucking unfair. She didn't deserve this, Emma silently argued, feeling tears fill her eyes. Then, Ruby's last words hit her – hit her hard.
"Ruby… I can't be your everything. I—"
"But you have been, Emma. Everything. And I mean everything."
Still not quite getting it and resisting the conclusion that was easy to draw, Emma bit her lip.
"I don't know what you mean," she finally confessed, not really sure if this statement was true or not.
Surely, Ruby wasn't saying…
"I've always loved you, Emma," Ruby sighed, rubbing her temples. When Emma didn't respond, the brunette added, "I've been in love with you for a long, long time."
"It's fine," Ruby blurted quickly, roughly rubbing the tears from her eyes. "What I really care about is that you're happy, and I see that you have that with Regina. I support you, Emma. I always have, and I always will. I'm not about to let my feelings interfere with that."
"I'm so sorry I made you feel like you had to hide this," Emma said softly, resting her hand on top of Ruby's. "I love you, Rubes. And I want you to be happy too."
"I didn't want to get in the way," Ruby explained. "And I won't. I'm going to support you – and Regina – through anything and everything. I promise."
In response, Emma assured her, "I know that, sweetheart. I know. And I want you to know that I would have given anything to save you from that loneliness. I love you, Rubes."
"I'm stronger for it now. The loneliness has made me who I am."
"And now you have a new pack. And we'll never leave you. I just. I don't know how to tell Belle."
"Neither do I, and I will tell her. I need to be the one to tell her. He is dead because of me."
"Ruby, you tried to save her father. Your mother put you in an impossible situation, and you still tried to save him. You risked your own life to try to rescue him, and it cost you everything. Ruby, you are one of the bravest people that I have ever known."
"Get over here, you goober!" Ruby exclaimed, wiping her tears again and pulling Emma off her chair and into her arms. "You're wonderful, ya know that, kid?"
"Don't call me kid," Emma laughed, embracing her friend tightly. "And you're pretty wonderful yourself."
"Merry Christmas, Regina," Emma announced, as soon as she saw Regina's eyes open.
The woman rubbed her eyes and laughed, saying, "How are you so peppy this early?"
"It's Christmas," Emma explained. "Get pumped! It's present time!"
Groaning, Regina rolled onto her side, closer to Emma, and wrapped her arm around the woman's waist as she nuzzled her face against the warm skin of Emma's neck. The heated blanket made them both exceptionally comfortable, and it was hard for Regina to imagine or tolerate the thought of leaving the warmth of the bed, or the tender embrace of Emma's arms.
"Shh," Regina whispered. "Stay. Just a little longer."
"Regina, come on! It's Christmas! Presents! I'm sure Belle and Ruby are already up!"
"I don't care if they're up," Regina grumbled, pulling Emma against her. "It's morning. We're not even supposed to be awake. Stay with me. Five more minutes."
Rolling her eyes, Emma laughed and lifted Regina's chin, softly kissing her lips.
Regina felt herself shiver, not from the cold, but from the heat of Emma's eager lips.
"Em," the brunette sighed, when the woman finally broke the kiss.
"Yes, my love?" Emma asked with a playful grin, then leaned in and gently tugged at Regina's bottom lip with her teeth.
"Ahh," Regina whimpered, her eyes falling shut. "D-Don't… Don't do t-that."
"Why not?" the blonde teased, biting down a little harder.
Regina's voice became stern, though it remained soft, as she warned, "Emma."
"You said five more minutes," Emma pointed out, sliding her hands down and pushing Regina's silk nightgown up her thigh before resting her hand on the woman's exposed hip. "I can make it happen in five minutes."
"No, you can't," Regina laughed, pushing Emma's hand away as she rolled her eyes.
Whispering, Emma argued, "Let me try," and made a slow trail with her tongue from the base of Regina's neck up to her earlobe, where she bit down lightly.
Regina whimpered and let her eyes fall closed again as she breathed, "Emma."
"Please?" Emma implored her lover. "You wanted me to stay in bed."
"So I could sleep, Emma," Regina protested. "Not so you could seduce me."
"Me? Seduce you? Why, I never!" the younger woman cried, feigning shock.
Regina rolled her eyes again and gently held Emma away, saying, "You're insatiable, you know that?"
"No, it's not that. I want to give today. It's Christmas."
With a cheeky grin, Emma wiggled down to the end of the bed and positioned herself between Regina's toned legs. When Emma slid the woman's panties down past her ankles and tossed them to the side, Regina gasped.
"Emma," Regina whined, when the woman dipped her head between the older woman's thighs.
Of course, Emma couldn't have been happier to earn this reaction from her partner, and when her tongue began to explore the intense heat of Regina's most intimate crevice, Regina's hips bucked. To Emma's surprise, she had caught Regina so off guard with the attention she was giving the woman's sex that Regina cried out.
"Shh," Emma laughed, surfacing from between Regina's legs. "The girls are gonna hear you, or you're gonna wake Henry."
"Shh, or I'll gag you."
Regina's heart stopped. Oh, shit, Regina was thinking, her eyes going wide.
"Oh… You want me to gag you, babe?" Emma asked with a grin, noticing the woman's intense reaction.
"Wait a minute… Maybe you don't want me to. Maybe you need me to…"
Regina blushed and squirmed beneath Emma's touch as the blonde dipped two of her fingers between her dripping folds. Again, she whimpered loudly.
"I figured you couldn't be quiet," Emma taunted with a grin, earning a scowl from Regina.
In one swift movement, Emma grabbed the nearest item of clothing and passed it to Regina, ordering, "Put it in your mouth and try to be quiet, would you?"
Regina felt her face go flush, and she hesitated before obeying the command by biting down on the fabric of the shirt she'd been handed. As soon as her mouth was covered, Emma plunged two fingers, knuckle-deep, into Regina's core. Although Emma could hear the sound of Regina's moans through the makeshift gag, they were no longer loud enough to be heard outside of the room, so Emma was satisfied.
Still grinning, she continued her loving assault on Regina's sex until the woman was thrashing beneath her.
"Good girl," Emma cooed, stroking her abdomen with her free hand.
Regina moaned at the encouragement, and that was all she needed to reach the peak of her arousal. She fell tumbling over the edge of it shortly thereafter, and Emma continued the curling of her fingers until Regina had ridden out the last of the waves of her orgasm.
"Merry Christmas, baby," Emma whispered, moving back up Regina's body and pulling the shirt from her mouth as she kissed the woman on the lips with passion.
Feeling dizzy and faint from the shattering climax, Regina just nodded weakly and shut her eyes again.
Twenty minutes later, after allowing her partner to sleep off the exhaustion she'd caused, Emma woke Regina again with a deep kiss.
"Time to get up, darling," Emma urged her, bumping their noses together in a gesture of affection.
Regina sighed and sat up, kissing Emma again before conceding that they did, in fact, need to get out of bed.
"Merry Christmas!" Belle and Ruby shouted in unison, as soon as they saw Emma descend the stairs with Henry in her arms.
"Merry Christmas," Emma laughed.
With a warm smile, Regina followed Emma down the stairs and put her hand on Emma's shoulder. Once they reached the bottom of the staircase, Regina turned Emma around and placed a chaste kiss on her lips.
"Merry Christmas, ladies," Regina greeted them.
"Come sit!" Ruby said happily, patting the spot next to her on the couch.
Emma nodded and plopped down between Belle and Ruby before receiving a kiss on the cheek from each of them.
"Present?" Henry asked, eyeing the several brightly packaged boxes beneath the ornately decorated Christmas tree.
Emma nodded and smiled, saying, "Regina, you wanna be Santa and pass out the presents?"
"SANTA!" Henry screamed, making a grabbing motion towards the enticing gifts.
The women laughed, including Regina, who nodded her head and sat down between the tree and the couch.
"Ready, Hen?" Emma asked, ruffling the young boy's hair. Henry continued to make a grabbing gesture, so Emma asserted, "Say please, Henry."
"Peeez!" he cried impatiently, staring at Regina as she shuffled through the large pile of presents.
"Okay, baby boy. This one's for you," Regina announced, passing him a large box.
Emma held it in front of him as he tore open the wrapping paper to reveal a massive train set.
"TRAIN!" he shouted, clapping his hands. "Play now?"
"After presents, buddy," Ruby assured him.
"You've got lots more," Belle added.
When Henry yelled, "More!" all of them laughed.
Henry opened several more presents before becoming exhausted and bored of tearing off the shiny paper, but he was equally as excited for every gift.
Finally, it was time for the adults to open their presents. They'd agreed that each adult would receive one present, so the suspense was intense as each opened their gifts.
"You first," Emma announced, handing Ruby an exceptionally large box as she choked back laughter.
Tilting her head in confusion, Ruby asked, "Why's it so huge?!"
"Cause it's epic, duh!" Emma explained with a grin.
"Just open it, silly," Belle encouraged her. "You're gonna love it."
Again, Emma choked back the noises of glee threatening to escape as Ruby gave up on asking questions and enthusiastically tore into the gift.
When all four women saw the massive dog bed revealed on the cover of the box, they howled with laughter.
"Oh, my God," Ruby sobbed, rubbing the tears from her eyes as she tried to regain her composure. "You guys are awful!"
"Hey, we just want you to be comfortable!" Belle cackled.
Emma clapped her hands, still giggling with thrilled joy.
"YOU NEXT!" Emma shouted, pointing at Belle.
Rolling her eyes, Belle said, "You guys really didn't have to get me anything. And I'm sure it's nowhere near as funny as Ruby's."
"Oh, it's epic alright," Emma asserted with a grin.
"It is pretty great," Regina agreed, offering Belle an encouraging smile.
The long, thin, rectangular box earned a significant wave of curiosity from Belle, but she opened her gift with slow, careful tears until the gift was revealed.
"Oh, my God, guys," Belle breathed. "Are you serious?"
The twelve-gauge shotgun made Belle's eyes go wide as she gave the box an intense, unending stare of disbelief.
"It's… It's a Remington 870," the soldier gaped in shock.
"Well, duh," Emma laughed. "Only the best for our strapping young soldier here."
Finally, Belle lifted her gaze and looked around at the women who had given her such a perfect gift.
"Thank you all so much."
"Just don't try to take me down with it," Ruby teased, beaming. "It wouldn't be fair. You guys are gonna make me all vulnerable when I cuddle with my dog bed."
"I love you guys," Belle sighed happily, squeezing the box against her chest.
"Love you too, Belle," Emma told her, placing her hand on Belle's thigh. "So much."
"Okay, okay!" Ruby cried, clapping her hands in anticipation. "Your turn, Regina!"
"But I—" Regina tried, blushing as she looked down at the gift with her name on it.
"Go on," Emma urged her. "Please, open it. It's epic."
"You've said that about everyone's gifts," Regina chuckled, looking down at her own present as she clutched it in her hands.
"Well, of course! It's true about everyone's gift!"
"You're right," Regina agreed, gently sliding her fingers through the openings in the wrapping paper with delicate fingers. "Couldn't be as good as what I got this morning, though."
Emma's stomach dropped as she stared at Regina in shock. Oh, boy, she was thinking. Here we fucking go…
"What present?" Ruby whined. "No secret presents!"
"Ruby. Shut up," Emma hissed, scowling in her direction. "It was private."
"Oh, you mean like a vibrator? You could've given that in front of us, Em. Don't be dumb. We all—"
"Ruby!" Emma cried, playfully slapping the woman's shoulder.
Laughing, Ruby rolled her eyes and let the subject drop as Regina finished opening her own gift.
"Oh, wow," Regina gasped, staring down at the object in her hands. "It's perfect."
The picture frame, decorated with a vine of roses around the edges, contained a picture of herself, Emma, and Henry, all smiling brightly at the camera. The word 'family' was etched in cursive at the bottom of the frame.
When Regina finally looked up, after several moments of complete silence, Emma saw tears in her eyes.
"This is the best gift I have ever been given," Regina told the group, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "I'm… I'm amazed."
"Good!" Emma said brightly, looking at Regina with all the love and affection she had to offer.
"Thank you," Regina sniffled, wiping her eyes again.
In reply, Emma teased, "Told ya it was epic."
With a nod, Regina stood up and faced the tree.
As Emma watched with confusion, Regina turned back towards the couch and announced, "Hey, Henry. I think I see another present, but it seems to be stuck in the tree. Can you grab it for me, buddy?"
Henry, who had been extremely quiet and fatigued throughout the exchange of the adults' gifts, nodded his head and reached out his arms for Regina to pick him up. When Regina lifted the boy into her arms, he smiled at her, but when she carried him over to the tree, he tilted his head in confusion.
"Look closely, my handsome prince," she told him. "It's between the branches, and it's very small. See it?"
"YES!" Henry shrieked, his hand darting out to grab the small square box inside in the branches of the tree.
"Now, can you give that to Mommy?" Regina asked, stroking his hair as he clutched the present tightly to his chest.
Henry nodded as Regina walked him back over to the couch and handed the tiny box to Emma.
Looking puzzled, Emma asked, "This is for me?"
Smiling broadly, Regina nodded and said, "Open it, baby."
Once Emma was almost through the wrapping paper, Regina passed Henry to Belle. Then, she got down on one knee and looked up at her partner, waiting for her to finish opening the gift.
When Emma opened the lid of the small, velvet black box, tears immediately welled in her eyes and poured down onto her cheeks.
"Reg—" she started, but was quickly cut off by Regina's soft, loving voice.
"Emma Swan… Would you do me the honor of becoming Mrs. Emma Mills?" Regina asked, with both her voice and hands shaking. When she realized that Emma was sobbing too hard to answer, she pressed gently, "Will you be my wife, Emma?"
Before she could speak, Emma moved forward and dropped off the couch and into Regina's waiting arms. Tears soaked Regina's skin as the blonde buried her face in her neck. Emma clung to her lover, squeezing tightly and trying to regain her composure.
Finally, she choked out, "Oh, darling. Of course, I will."
As Regina grinned proudly, feeling relief at having received a verbal answer, Ruby quipped, "Guess this means you'll literally be together forever."
Again, the group howled with laughter, each of them overjoyed with the company they were keeping.
The evening was bright with moonlight and warm enough to forego a jacket, so of course, as soon as Henry saw the moonlight that evening through his open bedroom window, he squealed happily and pointed outside. Emma sighed with a smile and lifted the toddler into her arms, kissing the top of his head.
"Outside, baby?" she asked, her smile growing into a grin.
She was exhausted from the day but knew that there was no distracting Henry from his ultimate goal of getting what he wanted.
Regina appeared in the doorway and sighed, "Really, Emma? You're gonna get him riled up now? It's almost his bedtime."
"Aw, c'mon, sweetheart. Let's go outside. It's warm out! Feel that breeze?"
"Yes, dear. It's warm out for Winter. I feel the breeze. Can we put him to sleep now?"
"No seep!" Henry shouted, squirming in Emma's arms. "Outside!"
"Oh, Lord," Regina groaned. "No hushing him up now, is there? You're both brats."
Emma grinned and cried, "Great! Let's go get the girls!"
Ruby and Belle had been staying at Emma and Regina's place to help with Henry and planning the wedding, and they were all grateful for the company. Still, Regina knew that the other women would be just as excited as Henry and Emma to go outside and that she was greatly outnumbered. So, with a sigh of defeat, Regina walked over to Emma and kissed her cheek before heading downstairs.
"Wanna go for a walk?" Emma asked the two women, who were sitting on the couch watching a film about giraffe's mating patterns. When Emma saw what was on the television, she gasped, "What the hell are you watching? Turn that shit off, man. Henry doesn't need to see that."
"Emma!" Regina cried. "Watch your mouth!"
Emma rolled her eyes with a grin and turned back to Ruby and Belle, asking, "So, are you coming or what?"
"Totally!" Ruby cried, standing up instantly and dropping the remote on the couch.
Belle nodded and stood up as well, joining the group as they left the house. Ruby and Regina took turns carrying Henry as they made their way down the sidewalk towards the park, while Emma and Belle hung back slightly and walked together.
Once they were at the park, Regina and Ruby placed Henry on the swing and took turns pushing him. Smiles inspired by the joyful sound of Henry's squealing laughter, Belle and Emma sat down on the park bench and grinned at each other. There was a long moment of silence before Belle took Emma's hand.
"So, I guess you're a vampire now, huh?" Belle asked rhetorically.
"Guess so," Emma replied, her grin softening into a smile.
"Pretty sure this means I can't hunt anymore," Belle mused. "Plus, I'll be on the run from the military forever now. And I mean, you've got a kid and are getting married soon. What am I gonna do with my life?"
"You're gonna be an aunt, Belle. And a sister. What else matters?"
Smiling back at Emma as she felt tears welling in her eyes, Belle leaned in and wrapped her arms around her sister and told the woman, "I love you, Em."
"I love you too, Bells. Always," Emma promised her.
Slowly, she reached into the pocket of her leather jacket and pulled out a small object, handing it to Belle.
With tears welling in her eyes at the sight of her old blue ribbon, Belle whispered, "You kept it."
Emma lazily blinked her eyes as she stretched out in the heated plush bed. Her hand brushed against Regina's pillow and found it empty.
With her smile spreading, Emma said, "I'm getting married today."
As if on cue, Emma heard a rapid nocking on her bedroom door.
Then she heard Ruby call out, "Emma, you better be decent, 'cause we're coming in."
"Ruby, we can give her a minute," Belle playfully chided Ruby from behind the door.
"Don't listen to your sister, Emma. We don't have a moment to lose," Ruby retorted as she opened the door.
"Ruby!" Belle cried out.
"What?" Ruby asked as she pointed a hand at Emma laying in bed. "See I told you, no sexy underwear or anything."
"Excuse me?" Emma asked in disbelief as she looked down at her AC/DC band T-shirt and shorts.
"Emma, let's just face it. You have next to no style. Well… except that leather jacket of yours."
Interjecting, Belle said, "Actually, I bought that for her."
"Really?" Ruby asked quizzically. "Anyways, my point remains. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."
Shaking her head, Emma said, "Ruby—"
In a mockingly high tone, Ruby proclaimed, "Let the dressing montage begin!"
Unable to resist her friend's energy, Emma let out a giggle. When she looked up again, Emma saw the joy in Ruby's face. Then turning to Belle, Emma noticed for the first time that her sister had her hair up, and it was tied with her blue ribbon.
"Come on, Emma," Belle said as she handed her a steaming cup. "Drink up. It's O-negative. Then get into the shower. I'll keep Ruby contained until you get out."
"You can try, Ms. Belle," Ruby said as she began to rifle through Emma's clothes.
Emma stepped into the large shower and was enveloped with the refreshing steam. Standing between the jets, she lets the water pulsate against her muscles in a rhythmic pace.
This is really happening, Emma thought as she felt her body begin to warm.
While she began to wash her hair, Emma's thoughts drifted to how her life had led her here. She looked back at her time at the orphanage where she found her sister Belle for the first time and how their bond had endured through decades of hardship. How her life had led her to Neal and to drugs. She had thought she had known what romantic love was in Neal, and all she had found was misguided lust that had cost her so much, then given her more in return. First with Ruby, then Henry, and now with Regina. Having everyone she loved in her life under one roof made her heart swell with the purest of joys. More than anything Emma wanted to have her own things growing up with having nearly nothing of her own, and now she wanted to share her love and life with her family. While lost in thought, Emma felt two cool arms wrap around her bare stomach and pull her close.
Feeling the familiar firm body behind her, Emma whispered, "You do know that it's bald luck to see the bride before the wedding. We may be tempting fate."
At feeling her fiancé gently kiss her neck, Emma found her herself gripping Regina's arms tightly.
Regina slowly moved her lips from Emma's raised flesh, then said, "Well, don't turn around then, Emma. And besides, I think fate owes us one, don't you?"
Emma's heart began to race at feeling Regina's hand glide slowly between her legs, and the only sound she was able to make in response was a low moan.
Smiling in response to Emma's body, Regina said, "I had to see you, just this once. I promise that the next time you see me, I'll be waiting for you at the end of the aisle."
With one last gentle push of her hand, Regina untangled herself from Emma.
Emma steadied her breathing then called back, "Wait. Regina, how are you going to get out of here? Belle and Ruby are in the bedroom."
Regina chuckled, then said, "My dear Emma, the day I can't sneak past a wolf and human will certainly be the day. Besides, I'll just use the secret passage."
"Use the what now?" Emma called out. At hearing only the steady spray of water, she turned around and saw that she was alone.
Oh, you and I will be having a talk, Emma thought as she heard her sister call out.
"Emma, you almost done in there?"
"Be out in a second, Belle," Emma called back as again as the realization that she was about to marry the love of her life set in.
Emma wrapped herself in a bathrobe, stepped back into the bedroom, and saw the Ruby was standing ready with a pearl white dress while Belle was at the table with an array of hair and makeup products.
Feeling her stomach turn at the sight, she asked with a trace of hope, "Shouldn't one of you be helping Regina?"
"Henry has that job. Now, come on. Take a seat and let's see if I can still do your hair," Belle said as she guided her sister to the chair.
Emma began to feel at ease at feeling her sister's familiar hands in her hair. Upon hearing her begin to hum, all apprehension left her. Over the next hour, both women prepared Emma from her hair to her toes.
"You know, the one nice thing about being a blood sucking vampire? You can sit like a statue."
While Emma smiled at Ruby's comment, Belle retorted, "Really, Ruby?"
"Ah, I'm just playing," Ruby said as she gently bumped into Belle, which drew a warm smile from her.
Both women stood back and saw that Emma was ready for her dress.
Emma slid on the simple yet elegant dress and looked in the mirror, then said, "Yeah, this one is me."
"I figured you would want to be yourself. That last dress really wasn't you."
Emma smiled at her reflection in the mirror, the said, "Nothing was really me when I married Neal. The only good thing about that wedding was Henry."
Emma ran her hands over her flat stomach and thought of her massive belly when she was pregnant.
Ruby saw the tears threatening to swell in Emma's eyes, then said, "Whoa, now. That's enough of that. I am not doing your makeup again. Come on. We just need a few more touches. Now the dress is something new."
"Now, last time I wasn't here to lend you this," Belle said as she deftly tied her blue ribbon in Emma's hair, "but I figure this can be your something old, something borrowed, and something blue."
Looking at her family, Emma asked, "How do I look?"
"You look… ready," Ruby answered as she wiped away her own tears.
Belle leaned into Ruby's ear, then whispered, "So much for not crying."
The sound of the waterfall greeted Emma as she stepped out of the passenger seat of the grey Aston Martin. Looking around, she took in the massive Elm trees that held traces of snow on their bare leaves. The ground had a thin layer of frost that crunched under Emma's footfalls. The faint sound of rushing water caught Emma's ear as she saw the winding path through the forest. Just as Emma felt lost in thought, she heard Ruby close the driver's side door of the car.
"So, Emma. I know this is yours and Regina's day and all, but do you think Regina would let me borrow this beautiful car? I think I may be in love," Ruby said as she caressed her hand over the angled hood of the car.
"Geez, Ruby. Keep it in your pants," Emma said playfully.
Ruby smiled, leaned in, and placed a delicate kiss on her cheek, then whispered, "See you there, Em."
Belle approached Emma, who was standing near a small path towards the woods, in a flowing light blue dress that fluttered at the end in the light breeze.
"Belle, you look… You look beautiful," Emma said as she looked towards her sister.
Belle tucked a lose strand of her long brown hair behind her ear as she replied, "Thanks, Emma. Ready to do this?"
Emma grabbed her sister's out stretched hand, then replied, "I really am."
The sisters walked hand and hand along the path which was lit with cast iron lanterns to show them their way. Walking further, the sound of the waterfall slowly became louder in the background.
Belle cleared her throat, turned to her sister and said, "Emma, I'm really sorry about everything."
Feeling confused at Belle's words, Emma asked, "What do you mean?"
"Emma, if I had been a better sister... I should have kept looking for you. Maybe if I had, so many things could have been avoided. Things could have been different. Maybe you wouldn't have gotten addicted to drugs and everything that went on with Neal."
Emma stopped walking, turned to face Belle while reassuringly squeezing her hand, then said, "Belle, you need to stop blaming yourself. I made a lot of choices in my life. Some were good and some were really shitty. Yeah, I wish that you and I hadn't lost so many years together, and through it all I believe I was right where I needed to be. If I hadn't been with Neal, then I would have never gone to prison, then I wouldn't have met Ruby, got back together with Neal and had Henry. Then if all of that hadn't happened, I would have never met Regina, and my life would never have been complete. She makes me better and I do the same for her. We fit together. It was a long road getting here, but I got here. So please, Belle, don't blame yourself. I know I don't blame you for anything. Okay?"
Belle smiled at her sister as her words sunk in, and then a she asked, "So, when did you get so philosophical and smart?"
Grinning, Emma answered, "Once upon a time, I had a really great teacher. Now are you ready to see how this story ends? Cause I'm dying to find out."
Belle resumed walking Emma down the path, and said, "Emma this isn't the end. This chapter is coming to a close, but the story never ends."
The two women walked the remainder of the way in silence, and as the two rounded a wooded corner, they were greeted with a cascading waterfall making its way into a gently flowing river. Perched at the far end of the outcropping was a snow-white gazebo strewn with deep red roses. Standing within the gazebo was Regina with her red lips stretched into a radiant smile. Her long, dark brown hair hung loosely over her shoulders. Her black suit jacket fitted snuggly over her light pink oxford shirt with a white collar that was accented with black suspenders. The top two buttons of her shirt were left undone, which revealed a circular silver tree neckless that hung in the middle of her pale neck. Regina's hands were clasped over the middle of her black pants as she stood before their friends patiently waiting for Emma.
Feeling her heart skip a beat, Emma stepped forward just as the wedding music started from a pair of hidden speakers. After what felt like an eternity, Belle led Emma to Regina and placed the blonde's hand into the brunette's.
While Emma felt lost in Regina's eyes, her gaze slowly moved to Ruby, who was dressed in an elegant red dress. Within Ruby's arms sat Henry, who was dressed in a smart looking tuxedo as he held a small plush pillow with two white gold rings.
Emma felt herself startled at hearing Belle begin speaking.
"Shall we begin?"
Emma turned to her sister with a quizzical look on her face as she saw Belle standing ahead of herself and Regina.
Knowing Emma's question, Belle answered, "I finished my online course this morning to be a justice of the peace," and then she winked back at her sister.
Belle clasped her hands together and began, "We are gathered her today to celebrate the joining of Regina Mills and Emma Swan. This is a day that has come together from a series of events, and while I don't think anyone could have predicted that the lives of these two women could have led them here, I have been reminded that we are all right where we need to be." Belle beamed at her sister, then continued, "I've known my sister nearly my entire life, and to say that I'm protective of her is an understatement." Belle shifted her gaze to Regina, and continued, "And I know that my sister is not only safe with you, she is also happy, happier than I have ever known her to be." Looking to both women, Belle finished, "Today, our separate families combine to form a singular family that will forever be joined. Our chosen family is one of love. Now, I believe both Emma and Regina have each written their own vows. Regina, please go ahead."
Regina, whose gaze never shifted from Emma's, gently breathed in as she felt her heart flutter.
Slowly she began, "Emma, I thought my heart died years ago. Before you came along, I thought I was happy, but I wasn't. I was making it day by day, and I didn't realize how much I was missing. Then you and Henry came along, and my life began again. My life is so much richer for having you and Henry in it. Having just one second with the two of you is worth all the life times that I could have ever have had alone. Knowing that I get to wake up every day with you by my side—" As Regina tried to continue her tears cut her off, and Emma gently wiped them away. At feeling Emma's cool touch, Regina continued, "Makes me the luckiest person in the world. I will spend every day of my life loving you as if it was our first day."
At the pause, Ruby glided into position with Henry and the two rings that he held on his pillow.
Regina looked down at Henry, and gently stroked the top of his head, as he cried out, "Momma!" which drew out another smile from Regina.
Slowly, she picked up the ring and turned to Emma.
Steadying herself, Regina breathed, "Emma, with this ring, I promise that I will love you with every fiber of my being, for today, and all the tomorrows yet to come."
Regina slid the ring over Emma's finger, and the brunette breathed a sigh of relief.
Turning to Emma, Belle said, "Emma, go ahead."
Without hesitating, Emma began, "Regina, I thought I knew what true love was. I thought I had it, and what I actually had was anything but. I never knew what I didn't have until you came into my life and showed me and our son such wonders. I have been truly blessed to be loved by two such strong women in my life, and to have a third that loves me for me is something that I never thought was possible. You have completed my life in ways that I can't adequately put into words. What I can say is that when I'm with you, I feel whole for the first time in my life. I know I'm strong, and when I'm with you, I know nothing in this world can keep up apart. More than anything, I want share that world with you, now and forever."
Once more, Ruby walked over with Henry as he held up the final ring on the pillow.
"Hey, kid. You got something for Momma?" Emma asked playfully.
"Shiny," Henry giggled as he held up the pillow.
Emma picked up the ring, then turned her gaze once more to Regina, and as she held the ring over the brunette's finger, she continued, "Regina, let this ring be a symbol of our unending journey that is just beginning. To our next adventure."
Then, Emma gently slid the ring over Regina's finger.
With her excitement escaping her, Belle's eyes caught Ruby's, and she felt her cheeks redden as she saw Ruby's do the same. Reluctantly, Belle returned her gaze to the couple, and said, "By the power invested in me by the state of Maine and the Universal Life Church online program, I know pronounce you a happily married couple. You may now kiss the bride."
All Emma could think at hearing Belle say, "a happily married couple," was how happy she was in this moment in time.
Regina gently cupped Emma's cheeks and brought her waiting face to her own and planted the most tender kiss on Emma's lips. Regina's lips crashed into Emma's with passionate intensity. Emma arched her back and threaded her hands through Regina's soft hair and kissed her hard. In that moment, Emma realized that Regina was now hers, and she was hers from now until the end of time. Regina gently pulled back and smiled back at Emma with her eyes sparkling.
Emma whispered, "Kiss me again."
"As you wish, princess," Regina said, and then the two fell into a warm embrace once again, and for all the times yet to come.
This ending has been bittersweet. We appreciate all the support of our readers, and we hope you enjoyed the ride! For both of us the writing experience was an enjoyable one, from plotting out the story, to working out the fine details of the individual chapters, to editing the chapters together to meld both our writing styles together and the best part of all was delivering to you the fans. We are both fans of Once, and it was a pleasure taking these characters out of their world and bringing them into one that we created. Along the way there were some readers that did not enjoy our story, and ultimately that is okay. Our honest hope is that not only did you enjoy what you read, and also that this story inspired you to write your own story to add to the fandom in your own unique story telling way. Thank you all so much!
– Ash M. Knight & R. W. Callahan