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“Daddy, pleeeeeeeeeease?” Emma begs.

Every eye in the room rolls. God, the heiress could be so annoying.

But her father, the man who would pay rather than interact with emotions, tenses and nods, “Alright. Of- of course, dear. We’ll talk to Katherine and get things squared away. When did you want to go?”

“Tomorrow?” she offers with a smile.

He chuckles and shakes his head fondly, “I’ll let Katherine know that time is of the essence. Now, I must get back to work.”

“Thank you, Daddy,” Emma coos, moving forward and kissing his cheek.

“Of course, Darling,” he mutters, moving back to his office.

Everyone in the room sighs when he’s behind the closed door. Emma slumps into a nearby chair and groans. 

“Isn’t it hard to act so whiny around him?” her friend asks.

“Shut up, Rubes,” Emma grumbles, throwing a pillow at her.

She laughs, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of you crying ‘Daddy’.”

“Ugh,” Emma groans, sinking further into the chair and covering her face.

“No, no, it’s good,” Ruby promises, sitting beside her friend, “You get to go on an adventure. Seeing new things? Finding new cultures? That sounds amazing,” she sounds wistful.

“You’re coming,” Emma tells her. No doubt in her mind.

“Ruby,” Mr. Swan calls from his office, “I’ll take my lunch now.”

Ruby gives her a doubtful look, “Like he’d ever let me leave.”

“He will if I ask,” Emma promises.

She says nothing, merely standing and moving to the kitchen to fetch Mr. Swan’s lunch.

***

“Uh...why are there so many people in the living room?” she asks as she stands in the doorway. The room is full. People are everywhere; some she recognizes, others she doesn’t.

“Emma, this is your expedition team,” her mother tells her with a giant smile. 

So it’s gonna be one of those days, Emma thinks to herself, she must be on her ‘medication’ again. She internally rolls her eyes and turns her attention to her father. “Daddy, you can’t be serious. This is way too many people. We can’t possibly all be going to look for uncontacted societies when we’re bigger than the societies themselves!” 

“Don’t exaggerate,” her father says with a wave of his hand. “They’re all necessary. Now, let’s start with introductions.” He starts with the man behind him, “You know David. He’ll be head of security on this little vacation of yours,” he says with a smirk.

It takes everything Emma has not to roll her eyes. Security? Really?

“He’s picked a fine team to travel with you,” her father continues. “We’ve got August, whom you already should know. Will Scarlet, who has driven for me in the past, and of course, Killian who will be piloting the plane.”

“Ello Love,” he greets with a grimy grin.

Emma curls her lip in disgust. This can’t be happening. The man is revolting. Oh god, please let this be a joke she thinks to herself.

He points to the blonde beside him, “You know Kathryn,” he adds with a smile that makes Emma roll her eyes. 

Of course she knows Kathryn, he’s been sleeping with their travel agent for years now.

“She’s been planning your trip. She found Miss Belle,” he acknowledges the mousy brunette beside David and the other men. “Who is the best map reader and linguist in the nation.” She blushes a bit under his praise. Emma rolls her eyes, great. “She also found Gus,” another stranger standing behind the couch waves to her. “He’s the best tech wiz and engineer around. He’ll keep the cars running and your satellite phones in working order.” His voice turns stern, “I expect to be able to reach you at any time, young lady.”

Emma holds in her eye roll and smiles affectionately, “Of course, Daddy,” she coos. 

It works and he turns his attention to the others in their home. “You remember Dr. Whale and Dr. Hopper?”

“A pediatrician and a shrink? Why would I need them?” she asks bluntly.

“Dr. Whale is a general physician not a pediatrician,” her father corrects with a raised eyebrow. 

Emma holds back a smirk as she sees the man in question turning red with righteous anger. The only good thing about him tagging along would be to get a rise out of him, it’s just too easy.

“And Dr. Hopper is an ethics specialist,” Kathryn explains softly, drawing attention to herself. Emma does everything she can not to throw something at the woman who pretends to be pristine and perfect at all times. “He’s going to make sure everyone stays safe and maintains the respect they deserve.”

Emma takes a deep breath, burying her emotions against the blonde, and nods at her father. “If you think I need this many people with me, I’ll trust you Daddy,” she promises sweetly.

It has the desired effect. Her father smiles at her praise and says, “But that’s not all.” He pauses for dramatic affect, “you’ll need a cook on this expedition.” Emma gasps, he couldn’t mean… “Ruby will be joining you on your trip.”

She squeals when she sees Ruby peek her head out from the kitchen doorway. “Excuse me sir?” she asks, surprised.

“You’re coming! I told you you were coming,” Emma shouts as she runs to hug her friend. They jump up and down until her father clears his throat. They stop but Emma holds tight to her best friend’s hand as she turns back to her father, a giant smile on her face.

Her father clears his throat, uncomfortable with the emotions in the room. “You’ll meet your guide on the ground. She goes by the name ‘Snow’ and she’s regarded as the best guide in the area.” He nods to everyone in the room, “Oh, and of course Kathryn will be joining you all to make sure everything runs smoothly.”

“I will?” “She will?” Kathryn and Emma ask simultaneously.

“Well, of course,” Mr. Swan states, “if something goes amiss I wish to be notified immediately and Mr. Nolan will escort you all to safety.”

“Yes, sir,” David says with a nod of his head.

Emma deflates, the excitement of her friend joining her is now masked by the knowledge that she has to spend her time exploring with her father’s mistress. Gross.

***

“Emma?” It’s her mother, peeking into her room from the doorway. Her eyes are clear, which means everyone has left the house and she’s no longer self-medicating.

“Yeah, Mom?” she asks as she stands in front of her closet, planning what to bring.

“Are you sure about this, Sweetie? You know, you don’t have to prove anything. We know you’re brilliant. You don’t have to do this.”

She sighs, her mother’s never understood. She’s never needed to do more, to be more. She’s only ever had to be a wife and mother. And she’s good at it, but Emma needs more. “Mom, I’m not trying to prove anything. I just need to get out and do something I’ve never done before.”

“So why don’t you go volunteer and pass out soup to the homeless?” her mother offers unhelpfully. 

Emma playfully rolls her eyes. “I want to discover something. See something I’ve never seen before. Experience new things, share something with the world. Be something...bigger.” She flops onto her bed disgracefully, “It’s hard to explain.”

Her mother sits beside her and starts rubbing her back soothingly. “I understand, Sweetie. You want to try new things, go on an adventure. I was the same way when I was young.”

She lifts her head to look at her mom, “Really?” she asks dubiously.

Her mother chuckles, “Well, I’ll admit I never went trekking through the rainforest to find myself. But if this is what you want to do...what you need to do,” she amends with a small smile. “Just promise me you’ll be safe. And you’ll check in once in a while.”

Emma nods, “Of course, Mom. You know I’ll always call you.”

She smiles, “You could call your father too, you know,” she offers softly.

Emma huffs, “I won’t have to. Kathryn will,” she spits in disgust.

“Oh hush now,” her mother whispers, pulling her daughter into her arms.

“I don’t want her there, Mom,” Emma whispers, relaxing into her mother’s embrace.

“It won’t you do any good to worry over something you have no control over. Focus on your adventure. Focus on Ruby being there with you. Everyone else will fall into line after that.”

“Do they really all need to be there?” she whines, looking up at her mother.

She sighs, “Yes, dear. You know your father always gets his way.”

Emma rolls her eyes. They’re quiet for a moment until Emma sits up and looks at her mother seriously, “Did Dad used to act like that with you before you got married?” At her mom’s confused look she elaborates, “When you guys were first together, did he flaunt you around in front of his first wife?”

“Oh Emma, please stop worrying about things out of your control. Nothing will change. Just pack for your trip and ignore the people he’s sending with you. Other than Ruby of course,” she adds with a smile as she sees the younger girl enter her daughter’s room. 

“Thanks Mrs. S,” she says with a smile as she plops herself on the floor in front of the two Swan women. “Now that all the kitchen stuff is packed, what am I going to wear?” she asks no one in particular as she scoots herself backward and into the walk-in closet.

The room is momentarily quiet, save for Ruby’s movements inside the closet. The silence is broken as Emma’s father peeks his head in the room, “Emma,” he starts. “Oh, Vivienne, I didn’t realize you were here.” He shakes his head free from whatever he was thinking and turns his attention back to his daughter, “I forgot to mention one more person will be joining you.”

She raises her eyebrows and waits, but remains silent.

“It’s Zelena. She’ll be here on holiday and wants to spend her time with her little sister.” 

Emma scoffs but her mother squeezes her arm. She sighs, “That’s...surprising.”

“It’s surprising that she wants to spend time with her little sister?” her father asks.

“She’s just not generally into adventure, or hiking, or nature of any kind.” Her mother squeezes her again, “But it’ll be great I’m sure,” she adds with a fake smile.

Her father smiles in return. “She’ll be here in the morning before you leave.”

“Great, Daddy,” she says through a gritted smile, “Can’t wait.”

His smile grows, “Wonderful. See you in the morning. Goodnight dear, goodnight Vivienne.” He moves away from the doorway and down the hall to his study.

Emma waits a moment until she can no longer hear his footsteps before she flops backward on her bed, groaning. “I can’t believe this. First, his slut, and now Zelena? He hates me. He absolutely hates me.”

“You stop that right now,” her mother chides. “Your father loves you.”

“And yet he wants to ruin my life.”

“He wants everyone to be happy and be together. Spending time with Zelena may not be a bad thing.”

“Except that she’s horrid and might actually kill me on this expedition.” Before her mother can cut in she continues, “Or at the very least ruin my chances of finding uncontacted peoples.”

Her mother shakes her head but rubs her daughter’s knee soothingly, “It may not be so terrible, maybe being stuck in nature together, no cell phone reception will be good for you both. It will give you a chance to bond.”

“Mom,” Emma deadpans, “We’re both adults, I think the time for sisterly bonding passed us while she was trying to kill me as a toddler.”

Vivienne rolls her eyes but ignores the remark, “Focus on packing. You need a good night’s sleep before all your travels.”

Emma sighs and nods, “Okay Mom.”

“Goodnight, dear. I love you,” she says, kissing her daughter’s temple.

“Love you too,” she mumbles, hugging her mom tight.

She stands, “Goodnight Ruby,” she calls into the closet.

“Goodnight Mrs. S,” Ruby says, peeking her head out of the doorway.

Vivienne leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

“Man, your dad is something else,” Ruby says, sitting beside her friend on the bed.

Emma groans again, “This trip is gonna blow,” she says, staring off into space.

“Nah, kiddo,” Ruby says, putting her arm around her friend. “If all else fails, we can always ditch the group and make our own way. Just make sure you have your credit card to fly us home when we’re done,” she adds with a wink.

“I like the way you think,” Emma adds with a smirk. They laugh together before Emma turns her attention to the closet. “We’ll have to pack light. We need things we can carry. It’ll be easier to travel, and I know Zelena’s going to bring her entire apartment with her.”

“Oh God, maybe I didn’t think this through,” Ruby says, eyeing the backpacks she sees sitting on the ground in front of them.

“It’s gonna be a blast, Rubes,” Emma promises, slinging an arm around her best friend’s shoulders.

***

The bags are packed. The entrance to their penthouse is overrun with bags. Emma only has one thought: Zelena. Emma groans as she sets down the two backpacks she and Ruby packed last night. 

David looks at her and nods, “These can go down in the first truck along with the kitchen supplies,” he tells one of the security men, who immediately picks up the packs and takes them downstairs. 

That’s when they hear it. The high pitched squeal of Zelena. “Oh hi Daddy,” she shrieks, running up to him.

“Hello, Zelena,” he greets, offering her one of his infamously awkward hugs.

“Oh, I’m so excited for this little adventure, Daddy,” she starts, making Emma and Ruby roll their eyes, “It’s going to be such a great experience. I’m sure Emma and I are going to have a blast.”

“I have no doubts,” he says distractedly. “Alright. Goodbye daughters,” he says to both Zelena and Emma.

“Goodbye Daddy,” they say in unison. As soon as he disappears from the room, Zelena heaves herself onto the sette, “I will not go without my amenities. And Daddy said I can take all of this because it’ll fit in the trucks.”

David nods and shares a look with Emma who merely smirks behind the redhead. “Of course, Miss Zelena,” he says, motioning for the other security to begin carrying her trunks and bags downstairs. 

Zelena looks over her shoulder at Emma and says, “Ahhh I missed being Miss Zelena. I can’t believe you leave this life of your own volition.” She pauses and gives a serious look. “I only leave because my mummy would die without my support.”

Emma rolls her eyes, “Then why are you coming?”

“Because I have to,” she says with a scoff. “Something along the lines of bonding with my sister and most likely my first interaction with my next stepmother.”

Emma curls her fist as Ruby grabs her arm, “Let's go downstairs and wait, yeah? Great idea!” She drags Emma with her to the door before they’re stopped by Emma’s mother just outside the apartment.

“Mom,” Emma whispers as she falls into her mother’s arms.

“All packed and ready, Sweetie?” she asks as she looks to see all the bags in the room have been moved.

Emma ignores the question, “Can’t you come with me on this trip? Instead of those other idiots? Please?” she begs, looking up at her mother.

She just smiles and shakes her head, “You know I’m not meant to trapeze through the forest. I’d be worse than Zelena.”

“I doubt that,” Emma grumbles, pulling away from her mother's embrace.

Her mother cradles her cheeks and promises, “You’re going to have a wonderful time, my sweet little duckling.” Using her daughter’s childhood nickname always gets her to smile. “You’re going to discover something astonishing, maybe even magical.” She swipes a thumb over her daughters cheekbone and smiles softly, “Just remember to call and check in.”

“I will,” Emma vows.

“I’ll miss you, Emma.”

“I’ll miss you too, Mom,” Emma says, hugging her mother once more.

Vivienne steps back and smiles at her daughter. “Goodbye Ruby,” she says, turning her attention to her daughter’s friend.

“Bye Mrs. S,” she says with a smile.

“Now, you two behave,” she attempts to say sternly, but the smile across her face knows they’ll get themselves into a bit of mischief.

“We’ll do our best,” they each say with a smirk.

“Go get ready, and prepare yourself to deal with people you never thought you’d have to,” Vivienne tells them.

They each nod and with one final hug for Emma, they head to the elevator, ready for their adventure to begin. 

***

The trucks are loaded and everyone heads to the airport. Thankfully, Emma hopped into the truck with David, Ruby, Dr. Hopper, Will, and August, so she doesn’t have to sit with Zelena, Kathryn, or Killian. Talk about a win. 

“Glad I made the normal car,” Ruby jokes as she nudges her best friend.

“No kidding,” Emma agrees.

The rest of their trip to the airport is relatively silent. David would sometimes radio to Killian to make sure everything was alright and that we were still on time for takeoff, which only ever led to inappropriate comments from the other car that left David fidgeting uncomfortably and Ruby and Emma groaning from the backseat.

“I’m going to kill him,” Ruby remarks after the third sexual innuendo in five minutes. “I’m actually going to murder him before we even leave the ground.”

“Now, now,” Dr. Hopper chides, “we need him to fly the plane.”

“Actually, I can fly,” August adds, “as can Mr. Nolan and Mr. Scarlet.” 

“See?” Ruby says to Dr. Hopper, “we really don’t need the handless wonder. He’s only dead weight.” 

“Not yet he isn’t,” Emma grumbles.

“He could be if you let me off my leash,” Ruby adds with a ferocious smile, snapping her jaws for effect.

It causes Emma to laugh, which was her entire purpose in the first place. This was her friend’s trip. And she wasn’t going to let a couple of idiots ruin it for her.

***

It’s not long before they arrive at the air strip where a plane is waiting to take them to South America. David unloads their truck and quickly places everything in the cargo space on the plane. Now onto the second truck that is filled with Zelena’s things. He shares a look with Emma before he begins taking things out and repacking much smaller bags to put on the plane. 

Zelena is too busy flirting with the plane mechanic until David has finished repacking a single backpack. “EXCUSE ME” she shouts, running at him and grabbing her things “What do you think you are doing?”

“Miss Zelena,” David starts, respectful as always, “we have no room to pack all these things and we certainly do not have the man-power to carry it all when we’re on the ground.” 

“That is not my concern,” Zelena says, haughty as ever with her nose in the sky. She reaches for her phone - most likely calling her father to complain.

“Oh hop off it, Zelena,” Emma says from her spot against the empty truck.

Zelena scoffs, absolutely affronted by the lack of respect she is receiving. But before she can press her father’s name in her contacts, her phone is abruptly taken from her palm. She gasps, “Give that back,” she shouts, trying to retrieve it from the man who took it.

“Sorry Miss Zelena,” Gus says, easily outrunning the redhead, “I just have to change a few settings before we leave the country.”

“You ignorant little pig,” she growls as she continues to chase him. “Give that back!”

As he is turning a corner, the phone “slips” from his grip and falls to the ground, shattering. “Oops,” he says, sheepish.

Zelena cannot believe her eyes, “Oh you will pay for that you little mongrel.”

“Well, if you had stopped chasing me, we wouldn’t be having this problem,” Gus says with a smirk directed at Emma. 

Yup, she likes this guy. “Come on, Zelena,” Emma says, directing her sister's hate-filled gaze away from poor Gus, “you wouldn’t have been able to use that thing once we got on the plane anyway. Just accept that this is the way it’s going to go and everything will be a lot easier. On all of us,” she adds with raised eyebrows.

Zelena huffs, “Like I’m going to make this easier on any of you idiots,” she growls, promising revenge as she spins around and slinks back toward the plane.

“Fantastic,” Emma mumbles as she returns to her spot next to the empty car, watching David continue to sift through her sister’s luggage.

***

Thankfully, Zelena remains inside the plane while David finishes going through her bags. He packs her two packs for her things, plus the backpack Emma packed to hold her sleeping arrangements.

The final bags are loaded as everyone files onto the plane. Emma flops onto one of the twin seats, plugging her headphones in and closing her eyes. She feels someone push her feet on the seat and she falls, gracelessly, to the ground. “Ow! What the-?” she starts as she stares in outrage at Ruby, who looks down at her from her spot in the seat Emma was just in.

“Sorry Em, full plane, you can’t hog the seats,” she says with a shrug. “Figured you wanted to sit next to me, but I can move if you-”

“No! No, no, that won’t be necessary,” Emma says, standing up and sitting beside her friend. 

***

The flight goes quickly, at least for Emma. She listens to her music and sleeps most of the way. For the descent, she is startled awake when Ruby grips her hand. “Hey, hey! I need that,” Emma whispers, trying to shake out her hand.

“Never done this before,” Ruby says, eyes shut tight.

“Never flown?” Emma asks, disbelief dripping from her voice.

Ruby shakes her head, refusing to open her eyes as she grips the seat rest.

Emma takes her friend’s other hand and squeezes it. “It’ll be okay, we’re having no turbulence, no issues at all. We’ll be back on the ground in no time,” she promises. She gives her friend a smile-not that she notices since her eyes are still closed tight. 

They land without incident and when David gives them the okay to exit. There are trucks waiting for them. In front of the trucks, stands a brunette with long, flowy hair pulled back in a loose braid. She wears long pants similar to the one’s Emma has packed, matching with the light colored long-sleeve she has wrapped around her waist. Emma adjusts the backpack on her back and shares a smile with Ruby, who looks a lot less green now that they’re on solid ground, before making her way over to the strange brunette. “You must be Snow,” Emma says with a tight smile.

Snow sizes her up before offering a small smile and shaking the blonde’s outstretched hand. “I am,” she answers.

“I’m Emma,” she explains.

“Your expedition?” Snow asks.

Emma rolls her eyes, “My father’s idea. I merely wanted to find an uncontacted tribe. My father was the one who thought I needed an expedition.”

Snow nods as David comes up to them and, after introductions, they begin talking about directions.

“Help!” Zelena says as she steps off the plane, waiting for someone to help her down. Emma rolls her eyes as Killian escorts Zelena down the steps from the plane. “Zelena,” she introduces herself to Snow, holding a hand out, “Charmed, I’m sure.” Snow scoffs, refusing the hand. Zelena pauses, “Do I know you?”

Snow pauses, “I highly doubt it,” she responds.

Zelena’s eyes narrow, “I hardly forget a face.”

Snow blinks, unsure how to respond to this woman.

Emma is distracted when someone shows up behind her, “Well, Love, here we are, half a world away, still together.”

She scoffs, “Only by default. Because my father seems to trust you for some godforsaken reason.”

“Careful, Love, I’ll start to think you don’t like me,” Killian says with a pout.

“That’s exactly what you should think,” Emma says as she walks away from him and towards David’s truck. She climbs in and waits silently for everyone else to join her.

After a quiet, short ride, they arrive at a lodge and while Emma is surprised, she’s not disappointed. She’ll gladly take a shower and a comfy bed over sleeping on the floor of the rainforest. 

They agree to shower and meet in the dining room to discuss travel plans before they all disappear into their rooms. Emma and Ruby arrive in their room only to find there are three sets of bunk beds. “Oh, you've got to be kidding,” Emma murmurs as she steps in.

“This is not going to end well,” Ruby agrees as she follows Emma through the door.

“What on earth are you doing in my room?” Zelena shouts as she walks in. She gasps and grabs at her chest, “You can’t be serious. This is my room?”

“Our room,” Emma corrects as she surveys the room, allowing it to sink it. All the girls will be sharing one room. She’ll have to share a room with Zelena. And Kathryn. Oh god.  

“This simply won’t do,” Zelena states, matter-of-factly, as she moves further into the room. “These bunks will have to be removed so I can sleep soundly. I will not be kept awake by anyone’s incessant breathing.”

Emma groans and throws her bags on one of the bottom bunks before she flops herself on the bed beside them. “I don’t even care, Zelena. Just stop talking so I can relax for five seconds before I go shower.”

Ruby chuckles at her friend as she places her pack on the bunk above Emma.

“I will not be showering in a common area like some sort of heathen,” she spits out.

It’s then that their guide walks into the room. Surveys the other women before choosing the bottom bunk closest to the door and murmurs, “After tonight, you’ll be rinsing off in any running water you find. I suggest you allow yourself such comforts like showering with the rest of us.” She grabs a smaller pack within her bag and disappears out the door with a murmured, “spoiled rich kid” that only Ruby hears, causing her to muffle a laugh.

That’s when Belle and Kathryn walk in, equally shocked. Belle quietly moves her bags to the top bunk next to Ruby, grabs some clothes from her bag and disappears again. Kathryn groans but follows Belle’s lead, placing her things on the only free bottom bunk and leaves with a handful of her things.

Zelena is still huffing, but Emma decides to leave her with her thoughts and grabs her things and leaves with Ruby. They walk to the showers in silence. Once there, they find several shower stalls and pick the two next to each other, furthest away from where they can hear Kathryn crying in the shower.

“Oh my God, is she on the phone with my father?” Emma asks, scoffing at the very idea.

“Maybe she’s trying to get sent back,” Ruby whispers with a laugh. 

Emma rolls her eyes, “Whatever,” she scoffs and moves into the shower, closing the curtain behind her.

The shower does little to the stress-knots in her back and shoulders, but at least it’s hot and clean. Emma sighs but goes about washing her hair and her body, almost mechanically. She’s trying not to think about the idiot blonde trying to ruin her life, or her redheaded stepsister, who might very well kill her while on this adventure. She loses herself into the rhythmic fall of the water against her skin, cleansing her, washing the day from her body.

It’ll be a new start when she gets out of the shower. Almost like a new day.

She’s done in the shower and opens the curtain to find Ruby lounging on the seat beside her clothes. “Rubes!” she whisper-shouts, surprise doesn’t even begin to describe how fast her heart is racing, “What the hell are you doing?”

Ruby shrugs, “Figured you’d need this,” she says, offering Emma a towel.

“Jesus, you couldn’t just leave it on the bench?”

Another shrug, “I suppose, but I didn’t really want to walk back to the room alone. You know, in case your sister tries to light me on fire. Again.” 

Emma chuckles at that, “Pyromaniac,” she mutters to herself as she dries off.

Once dressed, she and Ruby walk out of the bathroom and toward the dining hall where they’re greeted with a sight of David, Belle, and Snow pouring over some maps.

They look up to see Emma and Ruby moving in and David offers a quick smile while Snow doesn’t greet them at all. “We have a long day tomorrow,” she says as she looks back at the map in front of her. “We’ll leave before dawn and hopefully make it to the camp before dusk. If not, there’s a safe place to set up camp here,” she points to the map, “Where we can stay the night. We’ll be safe there, hidden from poachers, loggers, and any predators who might be hunting through the jungle during the night.”

David nods, not looking up from the map as Belle points to the place surrounding where Snow just showed them. She mutters something that Emma doesn’t catch, and David nods slightly while he glances at Emma for only a moment before turning back to the maps.

“So, why do they call you Snow?” Emma asks, looking directly at the brunette guide.

She looks taken aback, “What makes you think it’s not my real name?” she challenges.

Emma scoffs, “Your name is Snow. So, why? I mean, you’re obviously American. You still haven’t lost your accent. And Americans don’t just leave America for Bolivia to live in the forest. So, I’ll ask again, why Snow?”

The woman shrugs, “Not my choice.”

“Sooooooo, someone gave that name to you?”

She nods, “The locals,” she explains.

“So it is like the princess!” Ruby says, finally breaking her silence. “Because of your fair skin.”

Another nod and a shrug, “That’s what they told me.”

“So, what’s your real name?” Emma asks with a raised eyebrow.

Snow laughs, “Snow is the only name I have.”

Emma sizes the woman up, she realizes she won’t get a real answer out of this woman, at least not yet. So, she nods her head and lets the subject slide. For now.

The four talk a bit longer until Kathryn joins them, at which time, Emma excuses herself with the pretense of sleep. Ruby follows and together they enter the room in which Zelena still fumes. Emma groans and falls onto her bed, not ready to listen to her sister whine all night long. 

“Night Ems,” Ruby says as she follows Emma’s lead and crawls into the bunk above her friend.

“Night Rubes,” Emma replies as she pulls out her eye mask and covers her eyes. She then pulls out her headphones and puts them in her ears. Hopefully, they’ll drown out her sister’s whining.

Ruby looks down to see her friend, eye mask on, ear plugs in, and smiles, at least she’ll have this trip. No matter what her sister or Kathryn do, Ruby is going to make sure Emma has a good time and finds what she’s looking for. She follows her friend’s lead and pulls out the eye mask she packed herself. Unfortunately, she is not as immune to Zelena’s petulance. She groans and sits up, “Enough,” she finally says. 

“Excuse me?” Zelena growls, turning her attention to Ruby.

“Just go to sleep, my God. We’ve all got things on our minds. But stop your whining and go to sleep. We all need to sleep. And you’re going to stop us all from accomplishing that with your never-ending complaints.”

“You will speak to me with respect, Help,” Zelena growls.

It’s then that Snow walks in, “Watch your tone,” she warns as she moves into the room. “And she’s right. We all need a good night's sleep. So, go to sleep or we’ll kick you out.” She takes the bed her bag is on and lays down to sleep.

Zelena growls but with one glare from the guide she pushes Kathryn’s things off the lower bunk and attempts to sleep. Kathryn and Belle walk in shortly after, and since Zelena is finally quiet, Kathryn decides not to pitch a fit. She simply puts her bag above Zelena’s bunk and carefully climbs atop.

Belle follows her lead and climbs to her bed as well, trying hard not to wake the woman below her as she curls up for sleep. 

***

The morning comes too soon. Emma feels the bed shake. She groans, noooo. Then she finds herself suddenly on the floor. “ Ow!” She rolls over to find Snow standing over her.

“It’s time to leave,” she mutters, moving over to Zelena’s sleeping form. She quickly flips Zelena out of her bed before leaving the room. “Two minutes,” she warns as she steps through the door.

Emma quickly changes her clothes and follows Ruby out of the room, with both her backpacks-just in case. She notices Belle and Kathryn follow her lead, yet Zelena stays on the floor. Emma merely rolls her eyes, she knows Snow will either pour cold water on her or leave her behind. Neither of which sound appealing.

Snow chose the water that morning, finding a bucket full of ice by the maid’s quarters, pouring the icy water over the redhead. Emma could hear her sister’s shriek outside.

“Damn, I wish I had the balls to do that,” Ruby murmurs as they waiting beside the truck.

“No balls necessary,” Snow says as she walks out the front door and hops in the front seat.

“Badass,” Ruby whispers as she looks to her blonde friend.

“Don’t develop a girl crush on our guide Rubes,” Emma jokes.

Ruby scoffs, “I don’t have a girl crush.”

“Good,” Emma says quietly, turning her body toward Ruby to whisper, “I think she’s got to be a felon.”

“What?” Ruby asks, eyes widening in confusion.

“No American comes down to Bolivia, changes their name, and lives in the rainforest, hiding with the locals just for fun.”

Ruby shrugs, “Maybe she’s a free spirit, seeking spiritual something or other.” 

“Something’s fishy,” Emma murmurs but gets in the truck.

They drive as far as they can before they begin trekking by foot to the supposed place where a group of uncontacted people have been sighted. The walk is long, but no one is surprised, they knew it would be difficult to find these people, they work very hard to protect themselves from who they consider to be outsiders. The trip is fairly silent, save for Zelena complaining and Killian agreeing, and directions or warnings from Snow. Belle speaks softly when conversing with locals they pass along the way or when pointing out something on the map. Gus fiddles with their satellite phones, making sure they continue to work in spite of the thick foliage.

Finally, Snow pauses and looks back to Emma before tilting her head in the direction before them. Emma offers a small smile as she carefully moves ahead, excitement bubbling in her stomach.

She moves forward, walking through the last of the trees and into an opening where she can see people moving about, not noticing the outsiders. She gasps, it’s really happening; she found an uncontacted tribe. She quickly grabs a small notebook out of her side pocket and begins writing things down.

Zelena grumbles about wasting her time, but Emma ignores her, she’s too enamored by the people before her. She’s writing everything down until she sees it, people who do not belong to this tribe. She can see it in the way they walk, the way they talk; they’re not natives. She looks at the fair-skinned people with the group and wonders aloud, “What the hell?” Emma turns her attention to the people behind them. David looks ashamed but Snow shows no emotion. “These people aren’t uncontacted?” she asks, the deception hurting her.

“They are,” Snow explains, “They are uncontacted, they simply live under the protection of-”

“The good ole’ Christian Faith,” Emma spits. “They’re not uncontacted, they’re being converted.”

“Now that’s not how we see it,” a man says as he walks up to the group. David is immediately tense, stepping forward to stand beside Emma. “No need to get testy,” the man says with a laugh, holding his hand up-showing his cane-and taking a step back. “I merely came to extend our welcome to the young Miss Swan.”

“And who are you?” Emma asks, tilting her head up in defiance.

“The people here call me Mr. Gold.”

“A little on the nose, huh?” Ruby mutters from behind David. When Mr. Gold turns his attention to her, she quickly slinks back, hiding in the shadows.

He turns his attention back to Emma, “You are more than welcome to talk with the people here, learn what you need before you head back. Our people here are safe and protected in a way they weren’t before we came here.”

“And all you ask from them is that they disavow their spiritual beliefs in order to love and serve Jesus Christ, yes?”

Mr. Gold shakes his head, “I think you have the wrong impression of what we do here.” He hands her a business card.

Emma’s eyes narrow as she takes it, turning her attention from Mr. Gold the David and Snow, “I cannot believe you thought this would work. Did you really think you could pull the wool over my eyes? That I somehow wouldn’t notice these people are under some sort of ‘protection’? What the hell were you thinking?”

“We were following orders,” Snow says, showing no emotion.

“From my father,” Emma says softly, understanding washing over her. She rolls her eyes, “That was your last mistake,” she promises, turning away from them all and walking away.

“And what was my first?” Snow challenges.

Emma pauses, turning around to stare at the guide, “Underestimating me.” And with that, she takes Ruby’s hand and disappears into the forest, doing everything she can to stay away from Snow, David, and the rest of the people her father paid to deceive her. 

She’s furious. Worse than furious. She’s hurt. How could her father do this to her? To completely deny her wish to study an uncontacted tribe. To deceive her and pay everyone around her to keep up with the act. Everyone…

She turns to Ruby, “Did you know?” she asks. Ruby is silent. “Oh my God, you knew,” Emma accuses.

“Em-” Ruby starts.

“NO! You knew that my father was sending us on some goose chase and you didn’t say a word! You lied to me.” Her chest feels tight and she wants to scream, to punch something, and then lay down and cry. “I can’t believe this.”

“Em-” Ruby tries again.

“Don’t.” Emma says with a shake of her head, “Don’t even try. Just. Just go away. Go find the others, I need a minute.”

“I don’t want to leave you,” Ruby says, standing her ground.

“I don’t care,” Emma grounds out, turning eyes of fury on her supposed best friend. “I don’t care! You lied to me. You chose my father over me.”

“Some of us didn’t have a choice!” Ruby shouted. “You’re so wrapped up in your own damn life that you don’t realize I have a sick grandma at home. It’s not just about me. I have to pay for her treatments, and your father signs the checks. So, yeah, when he told me not to tell you, of course I agreed. I need this job. I can’t lose it because your feelings might get hurt.”

Emma shakes her head, “Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore,” she promises before she disappears into the foliage.

“Em,” Ruby calls after the blonde, hoping she will stop. “Emma!” Ruby calls again, attempting to follow the blonde into the trees. “Oh shit,” she mumbles when she realizes the blonde is gone. She turns to find Snow run between the trees, “She’s gone,” Ruby tells her. “She took off.”

“Without you?” Snow asks, not buying it.

“She found out her father paid me off for not telling her this was a ploy.” 

“Well, that’s not good,” Snow says as she spins in a circle. “But we have to regroup. We won’t be able to follow her if we’re not on the same page. Come along now, Red.”

“It’s Ruby,” she tells Snow as she stares at the back of the woman’s head.

Snow waves a hand, “Same thing. Red hair, rubies are red, so you’re Red.”

“I don’t need a secret identity to protect me,” Ruby mutters, accusingly.

This gives the other woman pause. She stops mid-step, before turning her head to look at Ruby, “You never know until you do,” she says cryptically.

“What the fuck?” Ruby whispers to herself as she follows the dark-haired woman.

***

Emma checks the compass she has and knows she’s going the right way. There’s another tribe to the north, one that is truly uncontacted; in an area so remote, no one tries to approach them. The terrain keeps out the missionaries and the loggers, but not Emma Swan. No way. She’s too brave and too stupid to stay out. So, she treks through the forest, one foot in front of the other, hardly stopping for a water break. It’s only when darkness falls, that Emma quickly pulls the hammock from her second bag and ties it between two trees. When it’s secure, she grabs her packs and crawls into the hammock. She pulls the fabric safely around her and waits.

Soon enough, it’s completely dark. True darkness, the kind where you can’t see your hand in front of your face; or when you look down, you can’t see your chest kind of darkness. The forest is alive with noise. Creatures squawk and shriek, thrashing around until the sound of felling trees reaches Emma’s ears. She takes a deep breath. She’s not scared of the dark, of course not, she’s just...never been in the rainforest before. At night. Alone. Hell, she’s never been alone anywhere. 

There’s always been someone with her. Whether it be her parents, her father’s security detail, or even a roommate in college; she’s never truly been alone. She clutches her packs tighter to her chest, flattening herself out in her hammock as the monkeys scream. Jesus , she thinks as the night grows louder. The vegetation beneath her rustles as an animal, a bigger animal than the creepy-crawly things already beneath her, runs below her hammock. Her breath catches and she quickly flips on her flashlight, cleverly tied to her line. There’s a giant flying bird the size of a rabbit before her. She holds in a scream, barely , because she hears a slithering in the trees above her which she hopes is not a python surveying their options for dinner. Her flashlight is off just as quickly as she turned it on as she hears the whirring on helicopter blades, probably looking for her. She hunkers further into her hammock, waiting for morning to arrive.

She doesn’t sleep at all. Her eyes hardly blink for fear she’ll miss the telltale signs of a predator hunting her, or of the people her father hired to find her. The forest slowly quiets, the sun unable to shine through the canopy of trees this early. Emma’s only notion of morning is the fact that the forest is not as noisy. The rustling leaves, merely whispers now, as the animals of the forest hide away to sleep. All she hears are leaves falling from above her, making it sound like it’s raining. She wants to close her eyes and sleep, finally rest after the whirlwind few days she’s had, but she knows Snow and the other’s are looking for her. Hell, if her father has anything to do with it, he’ll have called in every favor he has in order to find her.

This isn’t the first time she’s run away, or hidden from him and his employees. But it is the first time she’s done it to quite this extreme. In another country, outrunning his hired team, and in the rainforest to boot.

Emma pulls herself out of her hammock only to realize it’s raining. She doesn’t know for how long, but she can’t feel it. The leaves on the trees directly above her are larger than any umbrella she’s ever seen. She puts her hammock away in the pack she took it from and grabs a breakfast meal she packed when she and Ruby were raiding the pantry before they left. It’s nothing much, a sandwich bag with a couple handfuls of trail mix, a Snickers bar, a handful of dried berries, and an energy bar. She tucks the energy bar into her pocket for later and cleans up what little is still set outside her backpacks. She grabs her compass and sets off to where she believes the uncontacted tribe, Ese Ejja, are currently residing.

After walking a bit, she hears a beeping come from her backpack. “Shit,” she mutters as she quickly pulls the pack from her back and digs out her satellite phone. She groans, she’s being tracked. Of course she is, she ran away from her guide and protection detail-which she hates because she doesn’t need it. Sure, her dad is some big-wig-money-man, and people try to exploit him, but a whole protection detail? Seriously? If he didn’t do such shady business deals, maybe she wouldn’t be at risk for being kidnapped, especially in South America. “Oh shit,” she mutters after she shuts off the GPS on the satellite and then turns off the phone for good measure.

She hadn’t thought about the fact that some of her father’s shadier clients could come after her here in South America. Well, at least she’s safe-ish. If she can evade the top guide in the region, she can easily outwit some foreign drug lords, or whoever her father is laundering money for this time. She shakes her head, not the time to focus on who could be tracking her, she just needs to find an uncontacted tribe, study them, maybe even converse with them-if they don’t try to kill her-and then find her way out of the forest to find an airport and fly back to the states. That would be enough.

***

She has no idea how long she’s been walking, she’s had a lot of water, finished her energy bar, and eaten a bag of lunch food as she moved. Rolling her neck, Emma pauses against a rock and takes a deep breath. That’s when she hears it, running water. Perfect.

She moves toward the sound to find a running stream that leads to a decent sized lake. She sighs, “Thank God,” she mutters as she takes off her packs and pulls out her water purifier to refill her depleted water supply. While that’s filtering she takes off her clothes and quickly dips into the water to clean off her skin and wash off the dirt from the last few days. When she’s as clean as she can be, she steps out and sits on a rock to air dry as she looks through what she has left in her backpacks. She never once felt in danger, no creatures slinking beneath the surface, no water entered her mouth, and she was out as soon as she got the mud from the creases of her skin.

On the rock, when she feels dry enough, she pulls out another outfit of a long-sleeve shirt and pants. They’re loose enough to keep the bugs away, but breathable, which is crucial in this heat. She begins to repack her bags, not noticing the eyes watching her from across the lake. Standing and stretching, she grabs her now-packed backpacks and once she’s situated with everything on her back, she grabs her compass and groans when it just spins in circles, never settling on a direction. “Fuck,” she says as she taps relentlessly on the glass. She groans, this is not how she wanted things to go. Looking around, she decides to go in the direction she believes to be north. 

From what she remembers as she walked toward the lake, she’s pretty sure she’s going north. Then again, she could’ve passed this tree three times already, and she’d be none the wiser. “Shit,” she breathes when she’s sure she’s going in circles.

She has no idea what time it is, what direction she’s going in, or how long she’s been going in circles. But she finds herself at the lake one again. Damn. She throws her bags at her feet and roughly pulls her hands through her hair, trying to think of a plan. She checks her compass again, still spinning endlessly.

“Ugh,” she groans as she dramatically drops her body onto a rock near the water’s edge. She doesn’t see the eyes watching her from the other side of the lake. She lays back against the rock until her head is hanging off the edge, lower than the rest of her body; she lets the sun wash over her, warming her inside. Her eyes close, allowing her peace she hasn’t let herself feel in days. “Let them find me,” she grumbles to herself. She finds herself hopelessly lost, she might as well wait for reinforcements to come and extract her. Finding an uncontacted tribes seems like nothing but a pipe dream now anyways. What was she thinking? Attempting to be something she’s not. She rolls her eyes at herself. How ridiculous.

She’s too lost in self-pity to hear the change in rustling leaves until she feels the lack of warmth from the sun upon her skin. The hairs on her arms and neck stand on end, oh shit . She doesn’t move, for fear of triggering an attack of a predator. She lays still, holding her breath, hoping the predator chooses to ignore her. Please, she begs to anyone that’s listening, don’t let me die like this.

Then, she feels a sharp poke into her side. A decided human finger pokes into her rib cage. She lifts her head and sees human eyes, behind a mask that connects to an entire body piece, protecting the body beneath from sun rays and bugs, and one can assume it protects from other tiny predators.

There is absolute silence as Emma sizes up the person in front of her, who is this person? Where are they from? Do they speak English? Are they here to kill her? The spear held tightly in this person’s hand doesn’t instill confidence, but Emma refuses to show too much fear. She gulps as she sits upright. The spear is pointed in her direction, the person across from her is scared, scared of what Emma might do.

She lifts her hands and says, “I mean you no harm.” The spear is still clutched tightly in this person’s hand, but it’s no longer pointed at her throat and Emma takes this as a win. She attempts to smile at this person, “I’m Emma,” she says softly. She pauses, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The person across from her tilts their head behind the mask. The giant mask tilts sideways and Emma has to hide a chuckle, it’s too amusing to take seriously. Then, the person grabs at a chain around their neck and twists something at the end of the chain. “Habla,” comes the distinctly female voice.

“You speak Spanish?” Emma asks softly, wishing she’d been more attentive in her spanish classes. 

The woman behind the mask shakes her head and twists the necklace again, “Fale agora,” she says, waving a hand in front of her like Emma should continue. “Nao portugues.”

Emma narrows her eyes in confusion, “What language is that? Portugese?” 

Another shake of her head, another twist of her necklace, “Latine?” she asks. Before Emma can respond she twists the necklace, “English?” she finally asks. 

Emma wastes no time, “English!” she shouts in excitement. “I speak English!”

The woman with the mask nods, “Perfect. Now we can communicate.” Then she points her spear, “Why are you here?”

“Whoa,” Emma says, holding her hands up in surrender, “I got lost looking for someone. My compass stopped working when I stopped here earlier, and I haven’t been able to get out of this area since.”

“Compass?” the woman asks in confusion.

Emma reaches into her pocket, keeping one hand up as the woman points the spear closer to her. She pulls it out and hands it over to the woman in the mask. “It points out the direction you’re walking.”

The woman lifts it to her mask before looking back to Emma before she takes the mask off. Emma’s breath escapes her, she had no idea what she was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t a woman who could pass for a goddess. She does her best to control her breathing as she takes in the sight of the woman before her. She doesn’t know how long she stares, but suddenly the woman in front of her is snapping her fingers in front of her face. She gives a raised eyebrow and Emma gulps, embarrassed at being caught gawking.

“Sorry,” she murmurs, looking away.

The woman before her gives a smirk before she repeats, “And this...compass...leads you where you need to go?”

Emma nods, “Sort of,” she explains, “If you know where you’re going, it makes sure you stay in the right direction.”

“You choose not to use the sun?” this woman asks, confused.

Now it’s Emma’s turn to be confused. “The sun is hidden behind the trees, how could I possibly use that?”

The woman scoffs, “Gringa.”

“Did you just…” Emma asks through a laugh. “Do you know what a Gringa is?” 

The other woman tilts her head in confusion, “Is that not a word you use in your language?” she asks in sudden trepidation.

“I mean, I know what it means, it’s not English, but it’s used to describe someone who speaks English and has fair skin.”

“So, you are a Gringa then, yes?”

Emma scoffs, “I suppose, but no one has ever called me that before. Wait, how can you speak English if you don’t know what you’re saying?”

The woman points to the chain still around her neck, “My necklace offers me...certain powers...I suppose you would say. It allows me to speak any language, I just had to find the right one to communicate with you.”

The blonde is silent, eyes narrowed, “Powers?”

The woman looks unsure, carefully pushing her hair back from her face to give her time to compose herself. She nods, “Yes, powers. Everyone in my city has one. Some of your...people...wouldn’t believe in a power like this, which is why we are hidden so far away.”

“It’s just a forest. Eventually someone is going to stumble upon you,” Emma reasons.

The dark -haired woman shakes her head, “Not exactly. We have to want to be found,” she attempts to explain.

Emma raises her eyebrows, “You wanted to be found by me?” 

The other woman looks down, a small blush coloring her cheeks, “I was curious. You looked lost, and you kept coming back here, I figured something was wrong.”

She laughs at this dark-haired woman, “Well, I’m glad you did. I am horribly lost.”

“And what is it you’re looking for?” This woman asks, studying Emma’s face intently.

Emma pauses, deciding what she should tell this person. The look in her eyes tells Emma should definitely shouldn’t try to lie. She sighs, “I’m looking for the Ese Ejja people. I’m a researcher,” she explains, “Sort of,” she adds with a nervous chuckle as she rubs at the back of her neck, “I wanted to explore the rainforest and find out how people live here; how they not only survive, but also thrive in this environment.” The woman watches her closely, nodding softly as she interprets everything Emma is saying. But Emma’s nervous, so she rambles. “I mean, I just wanted to see something new and exciting. I’ve never done anything like this before, but I thought I could do it, you know? Take off to a new and exciting place, go on an adventure, see new things, try new things, but then my father had to warp my idea from something exciting and turn it into a boring work trip with lame idiots who don’t care about the cultures around us. They lied to me, deceived me . Some of them are kind, but most just wanted me to see an uncontacted group so they could return home. Hell, even my best friend lied to me while we were here. So, I took off after that. And then I found myself here,” she pauses to take a breath, only then turning her attention back to the woman before her.

“Wow,” the woman says, “You are lost.”

Emma chuckles nervously.

They’re quiet for another moment before the woman asks, “You study people?” 

It’s Emma’s turn to pause, “I suppose.” Then she adds, “Well, that’s what I went to school for. I mean, I know how to study them; what to look for, how to spot differences between their culture and mine. But also how they seem to survive so well in such an extreme environment.”

This woman looks like she wants to speak. But she merely shakes her head, like she can’t find the right words.

It’s then that they hear it. Movement out in the forest. It’s subtle, Emma barely registers it, but the woman’s head flies in the direction of the noise. She takes a step toward Emma, until their bodies are barely a breath a part. She leans into Emma’s ear and she surveys behind them. “We have to leave,” she whispers.

A shiver runs through Emma’s body that neither of them mention as she attempts to quietly clear her throat, “Why?” she finally asks when she regains control of her voice.

“There’s something out there. Too big to be an animal. Most likely another human, and I’d feel safer if I wasn’t exposed here.” She leans back to look at Emma’s face, studying her eyes, “It’s probably someone looking for you.” Another pause, still staring into green orbs, “Are you ready to be found yet?”

Emma doesn’t miss a beat, she immediately shakes her head, “No,” she whispers softly.

The woman nods, “Alright, follow me. And stay close,” she adds as she replaces the mask on her face and begins to walk into the trees behind them. Emma leaves her bags and does her best to keep up, but this woman was raised in this forest. She probably knows these trees as well as she does her own body. It’s as if she becomes a part of the forest, an extension of the trees themselves; easily crawling into spaces that Emma would assume aren’t for crawling, or jumping over things that give Emma pause. Finally, the woman sighs and takes Emma’s hand in her own. She moves slower after that, making sure Emma can keep up and isn’t stumbling too much.

Emma knows she’s not graceful; Hell, she’s a total klutz. But this woman moves as if she were a ballerina or a gymnast, the jungle as her playground and dance floor.

They make their way through a “doorway” of vines so thick, Emma grips the woman’s hand tighter so she doesn’t get lost. Finally, they’re free from the vines and are facing an immense mountain before them. “Oh my god,” Emma whispers, stopping her walk to look up at the massive mountain before them. “This wasn’t on any map I saw,” she states, turning her attention to the woman in the mask.

She chuckles. “Good,” is all she says before she turns her attention back to their walking. She begins the climb, with Emma closely behind her. With the terrain, their hands lose contact and both of them feel the loss. How odd, for both of them to miss something that wasn’t theirs to miss in the first place. 

It doesn’t take long at all for them to reach the summit, which Emma finds odd since it looks so big from the bottom. She’s hardly winded, which is a good thing. “Where are we?” she asks as she turns to the woman beside her.

“Almost to my home,” the woman tells her.

“And we’re safe here?”

“In all the years I’ve been here, in all the years my people have been here, we have never once had a human enter our home without being led in by one of our own,” this woman tells her. 

Emma nods, accepting this truth and allowing it to calm her, at least a little bit. “So, now what?” Emma asks, wondering where they go from here.

“Now, we jump,” the woman says with a smile that promises more danger and adventure than Emma has ever seen. 

“What?” Emma asks in a high pitch, eyes wide as she looks over the edge to see nothing but darkness.

“Come on,” she challenges, “It’ll be fun.”

“Dying will be fun? We can’t just jump into a vat of darkness!!”

The woman rolls her eyes, “It’s not a vat of darkness ,” she mocks. “It’s perfectly safe. But if you prefer the long way, the steps are that way,” she says as she points to her left. 

Emma looks to see a set of dark stairs leading down into the pit. “But-” she starts, unable to finish as she turns back to the woman.

“But you’ll be on your own,” she says. “I’m taking the shortcut,” she says with a wicked smile. She falls backwards, laughing as she falls into the darkness.

Emma rushes to the edge and peeks over, only to groan when she realizes she can’t see the woman anymore. She stomps her foot petulantly when she discerns that she will also have to jump. She is definitely not walking down those sketchy steps. This woman felt safe enough to fall off this cliff, Emma can do it. She has to do it. She clutches her arms across her chest and jumps.

The fall isn’t as far as she anticipated. She is on a pillow of leaves and dirt in no time, landing on her back. She groans and rolls to her side to see the woman standing there smiling down at her “Well done. Let’s go,” she says, putting a hand out to help the blonde up.

She stands and says, “I don’t even know your name.”

The brunette smiles, “Regina,” she says as she steps back from the blonde. The blonde merely stares at her. “Is there a problem?” she asks when the blonde says nothing.

“Does your name translate to English as well, or is that your real name?” Emma finally asks. 

“Regina is my real name. It’s not English, dear, it’s Latin and Italian. So, no it’s not a translation. Is that a problem?” she asks with raised eyebrows.

Emma immediately shakes her head, “No, of course not. It’s just...surprising that’s all. I was expecting something more-”

“More native?” Regina asks with raised eyebrows. “My mother spoke Italian,” she explains. “She was Italian,” she adds. When Emma looks more confused she chuckles, “Like I said, we’ve allowed some people to see us before. My father saw my mother lost near where I found you. Brought her back to our home, and she never left. She stayed with my father all her life.” She smiles softly. Then she blinks herself back to reality, “My full name would make your head spin,” she says with a chuckle, “But you can call me Regina.”

Emma smiles, “Okay...Regina,” she says with a smile. There’s a pause, and Emma realizes Regina is waiting for something. “I’m Emma,” she says with a chuckle. 

“Yes, I know. That was the first thing you said to me,” she said with a laugh. “Before I found the right language.” She motions for Emma to follow her as they make their way through the dark underbrush. After a few stumbles, Emma’s hand is engulfed in the warmth of Regina’s as she leads the blonde towards what Emma can only assume is her home.

They clear the last bit of trees and are immediately engulfed in a soft light. Emma’s eyes adjust and she can’t help but gasp. The scene before her is absolutely breathtaking. She sees a temple coming out from the mountain looming in front of her, the building massive in size but magnificent in its architecture. Houses built beside one another, lifting themselves into the air with giant blocks and stairs between leave Emma scanning the whole area. A river flows in and around the city, allowing for beautiful bridges and easy transportation. Roads and the river intersect seamlessly, making it possible for the townspeople to use carts and boats to navigate the city. Emma can’t stop staring, she turns her head too fast trying to see everything in all its glory. The light allows her to see the vibrance of the city and its combination of new and traditional technology. “But-” she starts, unsure where to start.

Regina raises her eyebrows, a nervous smile playing on her lips. She doesn’t know how the blonde will react to seeing their simple city. She’s never seen the outside world, but her mother used to tell her stories and paint the most astonishing pictures of what she saw before she met Regina’s father. She believes their little city couldn’t hold a candle to what this woman has probably seen in her life. She looks down, suddenly ashamed to show off the city she loves so much. If Emma doesn’t say something soon, Regina thinks she’ll allow the ground to open up and swallow her whole.

“My God,” Emma says, eyes taking it all in. Regina refuses to look up to see the look on the blonde’s face. “This is amazing,” Emma finally exclaims. Regina’s head jerks up in surprise, eyebrows drawing together. “How did you do all this? It’s extraordinary.”

“It is?” Regina asks, doubt plaguing her words. She’s always loved her city and its history, but for someone who’s seen so many places and to think her city is wonderful? Astonishing.

“Of course it is, Regina. This architecture, how old is it?” she asks, turning her full attention to the brunette.

She shrugs, “As long as the stories can remember. Many generations I suppose,” she adds.

“These buildings are amazing. The architecture is immaculate, and it’s so ancient!” Emma spins, looking at everything. “How long have you lived here?” she asks, stopping to look at Regina.

Regina tilts her head, “Since the beginning,” she answers, unsure of what Emma means. 

“The beginning?” Emma asks.

“The Creator placed us here, to thrive off this land and protect it from people who seek to hurt the land and those of us entrusted to protect it.”

“The Creator?” Emma questions, “Has this Creator been seen before? Do they visit?”

Regina looks confused and unsure, “The Creator is just that, the Creator. She doesn’t visit us, she is us. We live upon her back.”

Emma nods, “Would you mind if I write this down?” she asks, motioning to her pocket. Regina agrees and Emma quickly pulls out a notebook and pen where she starts jotting things down that Regina tells her as well as writing down everything she sees. “Aqueducts, brilliant,” she whispers as she writes it down. “Are those...robots?” she asks allow as she sees something human-like moving around the other citizens.

“Sort of?” Regina offers. “That’s not quite the word we use to describe them, but yes, they are created servants and each can perform their own unique tasks.”

“How did you make them?” Emma asks, “And why did you make them?”

Regina grows somber, “Our population has been dwindling,” she says softly, looking out over the city from where they stand. “We no longer have enough people to perform the jobs necessary to sustain our population. We had to improvise.”

“So you made servants?” Emma asks.

She nods, “We had to. We’re losing our food supply, we’re constantly protecting our borders from those that wish to exploit our resources. We have been for centuries, but now our people are dying, and we don’t know why,” she’s distraught. 

Emma can tell Regina cares deeply about her fellow citizens. She places a hand on the other woman’s arm and says, “I’m so sorry. I can’t promise to know what’s happening, but I’ll help in any way I can,” she vows.

“You will?” Regina asks, eyes lighting up in excitement.

Emma nods, a smile taking over her face.

“Oh thank you!” Regina says as she wraps her arms around the blonde, exhilaration rushing through her veins. “Oh,” she stops her movement and carefully untangling herself from Emma, “I’m sorry,” she starts, “I didn’t mean to offend you,” she says softly.

“Offend?” Emma asks in confusion, already missing the feeling of the brunette in her arms.

“My mother told me that Others aren’t as...affectionate...as we are here.”

Emma shrugs as she listens to Regina’s explanation, “It was okay, no worries,” she offers with a smile.

Regina nods and smiles back, “Alright. Then, let’s go this way,” motioning for Emma to follow her down towards the roads.

Carefully, they make their way down some steps and through the last bit of terrain before they make it to the ground level of the city. Emma can’t help but stare at everything she sees. She watches men and women carrying baskets and spears, beautifully crafted, as they move around the city. There’s a market nearby that Emma wants to explore, but Regina seems to be carefully avoiding the most congested places. She assumes it’s because with her fair skin, she’d stick out like a sore thumb. Without a word, Regina continues to lead Emma through the outskirts of the city. They make it to the river where a small canoe is tied to the dock, waiting for its owner to return.

“This is it,” Regina says as she quickly steps in to the boat and hands Emma a cloak. “Wear this,” she tells her.

“What is it?” Emma asks, studying the cloak before her.

“A cloak. To hide your fair skin,” Regina explains. “We don’t get many outsiders, seeing you would cause a lot of confusion and a bit of fear.”

“Why do you have this in your boat?” Emma asks her as she steps into the boat.

Regina just smirks as she pushes the boat away from the dock. 

Emma rolls her eyes at the cryptic woman and places the cloak around her shoulders. “Whoa,” Emma says, “This is, like, the softest thing I’ve ever felt.” She laughs, “And it’s so light. It’s like I’m not wearing it at all.”

Regina smiles and nods, “It’s amazing,” she says. Her smile softens, “It was my mother’s. A gift to her from my father.”

“It’s beautiful,” Emma compliments as she turns her attention from the cloak to the city around her as Regina expertly maneuvers the canoe through the roadways. They make it to the base of the palace, which has stone terraces and a sunken paved patio that Emma can see from their position on the water. The palace is at the base of the mountain, which leads to a temple on one side and a pyramid on the other. “Wow,” she whispers as Regina ties the canoe and steps up, turning to help Emma out before walking in the direction of the palace. “Wait,” Emma says, pausing where the dock connects to the shore. “Can we really just waltz into the palace?”

“Yes,” Regina says without hesitation. She continues to walk toward the side entrance.

“Regina,” Emma whispers, following, keeping her hood down. “What are you doing?”

“Going inside,” Regina says, turning her head to offer Emma a smirk as she continues walking towards the palace.

Emma sighs but follows her inside. She immediately sees a guard and starts to panic. But Regina doesn’t seem phased, giving Emma pause.

“Katari,” she greets with a nod. The man bows lowly, and while his left hand never lets go of his spear, his right hand crosses over his chest to thump twice over his heart. She says something that Emma doesn’t understand and the guard smiles before he returns to his upright position. Regina continues speaking to him quietly, not that Emma could understand what they were saying even if they were speaking at a normal volume. She’s sure they’re speaking their native language, which seems to have some traces of the Tacana and Araona languages. She is unable to understand what they’re saying, but she assumes they speak about her. Her suspicion is confirmed when Regina turns to her and motions for her to take her hood down as she continues to speak to this man she called Katari.

Emma follows Regina’s directions and lowers the hood. Katari’s eyes widen and he begins speaking, rather quickly, to Regina. Regina shrugs, responding calmly as Katari’s voice continues to raise in octave. 

Regina waves a hand at him, effectively shushing him. Emma may not know what they were saying, but it’s clear Katari is upset that she is here. He keeps pointing into a room with giant golden doors, Emma assumes that’s where their leader is. Regina calls to her, “Emma, let’s go,” she says as she moves towards the doors.

She steps inside, not bothering to knock or check if it’s okay. They must be pretty lenient here Emma thinks to herself. 

“Regina,” the old man greets as she walks through the doors.

“Papá,” she greets with a smile.

Or maybe she’s the fucking princess Emma thinks to herself with an eyeroll. How could she miss that? OF COURSE SHE’S THE FUCKING PRINCESS, who else would she be? Emma shakes her head as she carefully moves into the room behind Regina.

The old man on the throne looks between Regina and Emma and immediately starts to yell. Shouting at his daughter as she attempts to calm him down. They continue to shout at each other, throwing their hands every which way. 

Emma stands awkwardly just inside the doorway as the royals of this hidden city scream at one another. They grow silent and Emma lifts her head to look at them. Regina looks pissed, eyes spitting fire as she glares at her father, breathing heavy. And her father looks crestfallen. 

He shakes his head, “Leave me,” he commands. He throws a hand away from him, effectively shooing them from his presence.

Regina turns away from him and storms out, grabbing Emma by the hand as she passes. They march passed Katari, who wisely stays silent. Regina grabs an extra cloak as they make their way out of the palace. She puts it on as they step outside and immediately flips up the hood. She turns to Emma and lifts her hood as well, smiling sadly at the other woman before she walks toward the boat.

Emma reaches out and takes her hand, not stopping her, but offering her silent support as they sneak through crowds and make it back to the canoe.

Their trip is a silent one, Emma sits quietly and watches Regina brood as she maneuvers the boat out of the city. Once they’ve evaded the people within the city, Regina sits down, letting the boat drift further down the river.

“Regina?” she asks softly.

She sighs but turns her attention to Emma, “Yes?” 

“What happened back there?”

Another sigh escapes the brunette, as if it came from the very depths of her soul. “My father believes bringing in outsiders is dangerous.”

There’s a pause. “But wasn’t your mother an outsider when she first met your father?”

“Exactly!” Regina nearly shouts, turning her body to face the blonde. “He kept telling me that the world is a different place now compared to when they met all those years ago.”

“Has the world really changed that much in what, you’re no more than 30, right? The world can’t change that much, can it?”

Regina laughs. And she laughs. And laughs some more. She nearly falls out of the boat she laughs so hard. “Oh, Emma,” she finally gets out as she catches her breath. 

“What?” Emma asks, thoroughly confused.

Regina reaches across the canoe and takes Emma’s hand, “Dear, sweet, Emma,” she pauses and takes a breath, “I was a young girl when Bolivia first sought independence. My mother fought for native independence alongside Túpac Amaru II.”

Emma’s eyebrows draw downward. She attempts to remember her history and then do the math; her eyes grow wide. “But- but that would make you, like, over 200 years old…” she trails off in confusion.

She nods, “Correct. My father was a young warrior that helped protect our lands from the Conquistadors when they first arrived.”

“No,” Emma whispers, not buying that the portly man she met earlier was nearly 500 years old. “That’s not possible,” she reasons.

“It is ,” Regina tells her, clinging tightly to her hand, “You’ve just never seen it before.” She takes her free hand and grabs at her necklace, “Our crystals protect us; they extend our lives beyond those of an average human.”

“How do they do that?” Emma asks, looking up at Regina.

Regina shrugs, “That technology is much older than I am. We’ve always had them, as far back as the stories go.”

“But how?” Emma asks as she releases Regina’s hand to pull out her notebook to write these things down.

Regina lays back on the canoe and recounts Emma with as much as she knows about her people. Emma write down everything as fast as she can. They drift in the boat as Regina continues to regale Emma with her stories. They laugh and Emma holds Regina’s hands as she cries when talking about her mother. When she told her what happened to a significant amount of their population during the rebellion of thousands of native peoples, Emma wrapped her in her arms. She held Regina until she controlled her breathing and continued with her story, telling Emma about the missionaries that have been seen nearby, of the drug smugglers and loggers that all wish to exploit natives.

Eventually, they drift to the end of the river, coming to a tiny lagoon that drops off into a waterfall.

“Come on,” Regina entices, as she ties the boat and hops into the water to swim.

Regina jumps gracefully into the water, pushing her hair from her face as she resurfaces. “Jump in,” she tells Emma before she disappears beneath the water again.

Emma watches as the brunette swims below the surface, the water is so clear that Emma can see what natural Regina is in the water. 

She reemerges to see Emma has yet to leave the boat, she sighs, making her way slowly back toward the canoe. “Can you swim?” she asks with a tilted head, suddenly wondering why the blonde remains out of the water.

Emma nods, a gulp drawing Regina’s attention to her neck.

“Then why are you not in the water?” Regina asks, studying the blonde and her reactions.

Emma blinks away whatever fog is clouding her mind and nods. She pauses, “I don’t have a swim suit,” she finally says.

Regina hides her laugh in a smirk, “Do you need one?” 

“I suppose not,” Emma says, watching the brunette in the water.

“Then what are you waiting for?” Regina asks. When Emma says nothing, Regina thinks she’s lost in thought. She splashes water up at the blonde.

Emma coughs at the water, swatting at the air, “What was that for?” she asks, looking down at the brunette, still wading in the water beside the boat.

“Making me swim alone,” Regina says as she turns her back on the blonde. She swims away from her canoe and only turns back when she’s half way to the waterfall. She pouts at the blonde, “Won’t you join me?” Emma looks unsure, Regina sighs, making her way back to the canoe, “Fine, have it your way,” she grumbles. “At least help me out of the water.”

She reaches down to help Regina out of the water only for the brunette to twist her body, pulling the blonde out of the canoe and into the water with her. “REGINA!” she squeals as her head breaks the surface of the water again.

Regina swims out of Emma’s reach as the blonde flails in the water.

“Regina!” she shouts again, “I’m going to sink with all these clothes on!” She reaches for the canoe but it remains out of reach.

“So take them off,” Regina says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

Emma freezes, slowing her flailing as she watches the princess.

“You Westerners and your opposition to nudity,” Regina says with an eye roll. She swims over to the canoe and tosses her skirt and top into it.

Emma’s eyes widen as Regina swims passed her. She looks up to offer her some privacy and attempt not to gawk at the gorgeous woman swimming with her. 

Regina laughs and splashes Emma, “Grow up,” she scoffs as she swims around the blonde. “It’s just skin. We have the same parts,” she says, shaking her head. “Just take off your clothes before you drown.” Regina swims away.

It takes another moment of Emma treading water before she shimmies out of her pants and shirt, throwing them in the canoe along with her socks. She debates taking off her undergarments but decides against. She’s not ready for that yet. She swims after Regina, toward the waterfall.

“Better?” the brunette asks with a smirk.

Emma nods, suddenly shy. 

“Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad. I must look similar to some girls you know back home, yes?” 

She gulps, still trying not to stare.

Regina suddenly grows silent, causing the mood in the lake to shift dramatically. 

Emma notices the shift and turns to see Regina swimming toward their canoe. “Regina?” she calls after the brunette. She says nothing, instead attempting to reach into the canoe without lifting her body out of the water. “Regina,” Emma calls again, moving toward the brunette. She continues to ignore Emma as she pulls her clothes out of the boat. “Hey,” Emma says softly, grabbing Regina’s arm as she attempts to redress. “I’m sorry if I offended you,” she tells the brunette. She pauses, waiting for Regina to meet her eyes, “But in my defense, you don’t look like anyone I’ve ever met.” Regina’s eyes grow wide, “WAIT!” Emma says holding up her hands, “It’s not like that. I just mean that...I’ve never seen someone so beautiful.” 

Silence. They’re both quiet, watching one another. Emma takes the wet clothes from Regina’s hand and tosses them back in the canoe.

“I’m sorry if I made you feel like you’re anything other than the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen,” Emma says softly, looking away from the brunette. 

Regina swims over and stops directly in front of Emma, “Really?” she asks after she lifts Emma’s chin so their eyes can meet. 

Emma nods, “Oh yeah.”

Their eyes meet and Regina offers the biggest smile Emma has ever seen. She leans in, lips almost touching Emma’s, “You’re not so bad yourself, Em-ma.” And as Emma closes her eyes, and leans in to close the gap between them, Regina disappears beneath the water.

She groans, “Tease!” she calls after Regina as she resurfaces closer to the waterfall.

Regina laughs at her, “You just have to catch up.” She disappears again. 

Emma sighs, but gives chase, swimming after the brunette. She finally catches her beside the waterfall, wrapping her arms tight around her waist, “Gotcha,” she whispers in her ear. 

“About time,” Regina murmurs as she turns in Emma’s arms, sneaking her own hands around the blonde’s neck.

“You were playing hard to get,” Emma tells her.

“Always,” Regina whispers with a smirk. She leans forward, only an inch remaining between their lips. She pauses, eyes shifting back up to Emma’s eyes, waiting for her to close the remaining distance, hoping she hasn’t misread their back-and-forth.

She hadn’t. Emma closes the gap, sighing against Regina’s lips. 

It was soft, the softest of kisses, lips barely brushing.

Regina tightens her arms around Emma’s neck, pulling her even closer. Her feet stay planted on the rock ledge as she pulls Emma into her. Her hands move up into Emma’s hair, tugging just enough to make the blonde moan as she follows Regina under the waterfall. The water washes over them as Regina swipes her tongue across Emma’s lips. 

Emma eagerly opens her mouth, allowing their tongues to collide. She groans and Regina’s tongue slides against her own. She follows Regina, who continues to back up, pulling Emma behind the waterfall. The water stops falling on her head, but she’s too enamored with Regina to notice. That is until she’s falling forward onto Regina.

Regina’s legs wrap around Emma’s waist as she falls backwards, pulling the blonde on top of her as they fall onto a ledge of rock a few inches beneath the water. There’s just enough water around them to make their bodies slick and for Regina to hardly feel the weight of Emma above her. She tightens her legs around Emma as the blonde braces herself above Regina. “Wasn’t expecting that,” she murmurs as the brunette pulls her down on top of her.

“Full. Of. Surprises.” Regina mumbles between kisses and bites on Emma’s neck. The blonde groans under her ministrations. She reaches between their bodies and grabs one of Regina’s boobs, palming it before she takes two fingers to rub her nipple into a peak. 

Regina groans but doesn’t stop her attention at Emma’s neck. She bites at her collarbone and soothes it with her tongue causing Emma to pause her attention at Regina’s chest. Regina takes the opportunity push down the blonde’s underwear and palms her butt. This causes Emma to push her pelvis against Regina’s.

They both groan and the stimulation and Regina attempts to take off Emma’s bra. But she’s never seen a contraption that has a hook in the back. 

Emma can’t help but chuckle at the brunette’s frustration beneath her. She kisses away the frown and unhooks her bra before tossing it away. She turns back and is immediately flipped on the rocks. She grunts as she lands on her back but she doesn’t have time to question the brunette’s strength because Regina rests between her legs and begins rubbing her right leg against Emma’s center. 

Regina moves down and takes one of Emma’s nipples in her mouth. She runs the nipple between her teeth as her hand sneaks between Emma’s legs to rub at her clit. 

She squirms beneath Regina’s attention, feeling herself climbing higher and higher. Regina rubs her thumb in circles around her clit and slowly plunges two fingers into her dripping folds. 

Now it’s Regina’s turn to groan when she realizes just how excited Emma is. 

The friction her moan creates on Emma’s breast makes Emma shudder. “Regina,” she whispers, attempting to find something to grab onto.

Regina lifts Emma’s legs around her waist, placing the blonde’s weight on her shoulders. Emma puts her arms at her sides, helping her balance as Regina starts thrusting into her, further and faster each time. It was thumbing Emma’s clit and curled her fingers inside that pushed her over the edge. Slowing her thrusts, Regina let Emma ride out her orgasm as she slowly lowered the blonde back into the water. She kissed her way up Emma’s body. Started at her navel and moving up, paying special attention to her breasts before continuing up her neck and finally covering her face before Emma reaches up and pulls her to her lips. Regina sighs at the contact, feeling a bit smug and a bit relieved that she was able to please Emma in such a way. 

Emma doesn’t let that smug feeling last long before she’s flipping them and leaning over Regina with a smirk. She begins kissing her way down Regina’s body, kissing each and every freckle along the way. She notices each time Regina’s breath hitches, making sure to pay extra attention there. Making her way back up the brunette’s body, she lets her hands tease Regina’s inner thighs, softly caressing from her knees back up to the little hairs at her center as she kisses back up her neck, finding her pulse point and sucking as she slowly pushes her fingers inside her.

Regina groans, clawing at Emma’s back, looking for any place to hold onto. Emma continues her slow thrusts as she moves her lips away from the faint mark on her neck to her collar bone. She knows the exact spot she can leave a mark that Regina will be able to cover in an outfit similar to the one she was wearing earlier. 

The brunette stretches her neck and arches her back, her mind blissfully blank and she tries to keep up with Emma’s movements, but she’s finding it hard to breathe steadily and even harder to try and think anything remotely coherent. 

Emma brings her to the brink quickly and it’s one final nip at her collarbone and Regina felt waves of pleasure wash over her. Her heavy breathing the only thing filling the silence after Emma settles in the water beside her. No more water sloshing around their bodies, no more moaning, no more grunting, just silence and Regina’s breathing, slowly falling back into a normal pattern.

Regina laughs, laying beside Emma, finally catching her breath. Emma turns her head to look at her, remaining on her back as she asks, “What’s so funny?”

“I’ve-” Regina breathes deeply, “I’ve never done something like this before.” She shakes her head.

Emma sits upright, “What? Never? That was your first time? Oh shit, we should’ve talked about it or something. Shit. Did you even want to? Oh my god was it too much? Shit, why didn’t I ask you-”

Regina silences her with a hand over her mouth, “Em-ma,” she says softly, looking into deep green eyes, pupils still blown wide. She smiles, removing her hand when she’s sure Emma will remain quiet. “It wasn’t my first time, Emma. However, I’ve never had sex under the waterfall. And never with a stranger I’d only just met.”

Emma chuckles, “Oh.” She turns her head back up to the rocks above them.

Regina chuckles and sits up, not trusting her legs to hold her weight just yet. She decides to roll over Emma’s body, blocking her from the waterfall. She revels in the way Emma’s body responds to hers. She deliciously slides her core against Emma’s, causing them both to moan in appreciation. But Regina doesn’t stay on top of Emma, much to both their chagrin. She continues her roll until she’s at the edge of the ledge they’re on. She smiles, taking the blonde’s hand and encouraging her to follow. When Emma is up as well, Regina moves under the waterfall and back out into the open water. 

After a quick sigh and a quick thought, is this really happening? Emma follows her. By the time she is halfway across the little lake, Regina is already up on the sandy beach. She follows suit, climbing up beside the brunette. She lays on her back face up toward the sky, eyes closing as the sun shines down upon her drying skin. They’re both silent, allowing the sun to dry them as they lay upon the sand. Regina reaches over and take Emma’s hand as they rest under the sun. 

The sun begins to set and Regina sits up when it’s below the treeline. “We should head back,” she says, standing. She turns and helps Emma up, pulling her close and allowing their bodies to brush against each other, causing Emma to groan.

She wraps her arms around Regina’s waist and leans down to graze her teeth against the base of Regina’s neck. 

Regina groans, grabbing Emma’s head and holding her close, fingers threading through golden locks. “Emma,” she whispers, keeping Emma where she is. Emma smirks against her neck, Regina can feel it and she’s wet all over again. It’s when reaches down to grab her ass and attempt to lift her off the ground that Regina pulls back. “We have to head back. They’ll send a search party if I’m not back by nightfall,” she says as she carefully disentangles herself from Emma’s arms. She offers her a quick kiss on her lips as a consolation prize. “Come on,” she whispers against thin lips. She turns and makes her way over to their canoe, which has washed ashore since they left it earlier. She pulls out her cloak and clasps it around her naked form before doing the same with the cloak she lent to Emma. She fastens the clips around the blonde and smiles, offering another tender kiss before she pushes the canoe back into the water. 

**

They make their way back to the palace, and sneak in the side door. Regina takes Emma into her room and places her on her bed before she disappears into a side room.

Emma falls onto Regina’s giant bed and scoots her way to the center, elbows out to either side of her head, hands palm-up above her. There’s bed all around her, she doesn’t think she’s ever seen a mattress like this before. But she doesn’t have time to think about how big it is before she feels a dip above her. She attempts to lift her chin to look above her but even arching her back can’t help her see much of Regina. That’s when Regina places her palms on Emma’s, her fingers softly ghosting over Emma’s wrists. The difference in pressure is almost too much for Emma and she barely stifles a groan. 

Regina’s hands feel heavy, pinning Emma’s hands into the mattress and holding her still. While her fingers caress the skin on her wrists. She leans forward so her head is above Emma’s and smiles. “Is this okay?” she whispers softly, never once stopping the delicate way her fingers run over Emma’s wrists, writing their story into Emma’s skin in a language she doesn’t understand.

Emma swallows-albeit thickly-and nods, unable to form words.

Regina smiles and kisses the corner of Emma’s mouth before disappearing above her again.

This time Emma cannot stop the groan of frustration that leaves her. She feels rather than sees the smile Regina is wearing as she begins kissing Emma’s wrists. The pressure on Emma’s palms remains but where ghosting fingers just were, now she feels the lightest of kisses brush against the insides of her wrists. The contrasting feelings are too much for Emma and she squirms, the throbbing in her core intensifying. 

“Regina,” she whispers, attempting to move but finding herself rather immobilized.

Regina is above her to whisper, “Patience, Emma,” before kissing the side of her neck just below her ear, only to disappear from Emma’s view once more.

Emma huffs but closes her eyes, surrendering to the feelings Regina is creating for her.

Slowly, she makes her way from Emma’s wrists to her elbows, alternating each arm. Continuing her attention up Emma’s biceps, oscillating between licking and kissing, she finally makes it to Emma’s shoulders and neck. Her hands remain on Emma’s palms as Emma tries to find anything to hang onto, coming up empty. She sighs and resigns herself to merely feeling what Regina wants her to feel.

Regina continues kissing up Emma’s neck, licking behind Emma’s ear knowing it will make her squirm. She smiles into Emma’s skin as the blonde’s entire body trembles with the attention. She kisses her way over high cheekbones to kiss the tip of her nose and back down the other side. She makes her way to the corner of Emma’s mouth where Emma tries to turn her head and capture Regina’s lips with her own. Regina smiles as she pulls away to look into Emma’s eyes. She swears she can see the depths of the ocean in those eyes. She nuzzles Emma’s nose with her own before she continues her track down Emma’s body, staying away from those lips. Regina knows if she gives in and kisses Emma’s pale lips, she’ll forget her plan and they’ll be just as frenzied as before. This time she wants to take her time, worship Emma’s body the way she deserves.

So, she turns her attention to Emma’s jaw, kissing her way down to where her neck and collarbone meet, offering a nibble to the protruding bone, causing Emma to groan and squirm beneath her. With a smile, Regina continues her path down the valley of Emma’s breasts. She licks her way up to pull a pebbled nipple into her mouth, rolling it between her teeth. She feels the deep breath Emma pulls in and can’t help the smirk that overtakes her mouth as she continues lavishing Emma’s breast.

When she moves her attention to Emma’s left breast, her breath hitches as she feels Emma lift her head and take Regina’s breast into her own mouth. Regina’s brain short-circuits as Emma expertly pulls at her nipple until it’s hard as a rock. She closes her eyes at the sensation before continuing her path to Emma’s own nipple. After a few moments of mimicking each other’s movements, Reigna releases Emma with a pop, watching goosebumps immediately form. 

Regina proceeds to kiss her way across Emma’s ribcage and down to her bellybutton. She lets her tongue roam over Emma’s toned stomach and disappear into her bellybutton, causing Emma to kick out her legs in frustration. She’ll have to remember that, she thinks, as she moves her hands from Emma’s palms down to her sides to continue her dissent.

“Regina,” Emma whispers, frantic. She finds herself unable to move her hands, even though they’re no longer pinned down.

Regina backtracks, quickly moving up to Emma’s head, looking into her eyes and smiling, “Just relax, Em-ma,” she whispers, kissing the corner of Emma’s mouth again. She pulls back to look into the depths of Emma’s eyes once more, “Enjoy the ride,” she challenges.

“I want to hold you,” Emma whispers, trying once more to move her hands that are pinned down with some unknown force.

“And I want to remain focused. You’re quite a distraction, dear,” she says with a chuckle. One quick kiss to sate Emma and she’s back down to kiss along Emma’s hip bones.

Emma shifts, unable to handle all of the sensations her body is feeling. She lifts her head to kiss Regina’s stomach, she may not be able to move her hands, but she’ll find a way to continue touching Regina.

Regina continues her path, ignoring the apex of Emma’s legs to instead kiss down one leg, paying extra attention to Emma’s knee and ankle before coming back up the other.

Emma thinks she’s going to explode with all of the pressure building inside her. She squirms as she tries to get Regina to go where she most needs her. 

Finally, finally , Regina relents and kisses Emma’s outer lips. Emma throws her head back, finally . A swift lick up her core has Emma trembling beneath Regina. She’s so lost in her own ecstasy that it takes a moment for her to realize how close she is to Regina’s own core. She lifts her head and breaths in the heady scent before exhaling her hot breath against Regina’s glistening essence.

Regina pauses her own ministrations and tightens her legs around Emma’s head, never once slowing Emma’s persistence. She leans against Emma’s inner thigh as she bucks her hips into her mouth. After relishing in the new sensations Emma is creating within her, she returns to Emma’s own core with a sense of urgency.

Together, they bring each other to the brink, alternating between plunging their tongues into the other’s core and sucking against hard clits. They fall over the cliff together, each turning into a puddle after they were pulled so taut. Regina becomes a dead weight above Emma, resting her head against Emma’s thigh once more as she tries to regain control of her breathing. Emma doesn’t mind the weight above her, in fact, it does something delicious to her insides to know she’s the cause of Regina’s immobility.

Eventually, Regina is recovered enough to roll off of Emma and looks up at the ceiling, softly caressing Emma’s calf as she continues to breathe heavy.

It’s then that Emma realizes she has regained mobility in her arms and she rolls to her side and lifts onto her elbow to look at Regina. She leans over to kiss Regina’s ankle before she crawls her way over Regina’s body until she’s holding herself above Regina, finally face-to-face. “Hi,” she whispers with a smile.

“Hi,” Regina breathes back, lifting her arms around Emma’s back and pulling her down, releasing her entire weight onto Regina. She groans at the pleasurable pressure as she lifts her legs to wrap around Emma’s hips.

Emma rolls her own hips into Regina’s, causing them both to groan. Slowly, Emma brings Regina to the edge, relishing in the feel of Regina’s nails scratching down her back and the feel of Regina beneath her as she kisses along her neck and bites against her collarbone. She lifts a hand and reaches between their bodies to find Regina’s clit, flicking it as she continues to roll her hips against Regina’s. She plunges two fingers into Regina’s hot core and uses her hips to thrust deeper and deeper into her. With her thumb still pushing and rolling over Regina’s clit, Emma can feel how close she is. This, plus her deep thrusts has Regina on the edge and with a final curl of Emma’s fingers within her, hitting the spot that makes Regina’s toes curl and the hairs on her arms stand on end, she finds herself falling. Emma kisses along Regina’s jaw, easing her through her orgasm until she is limp beneath Emma. She slowly removes her hand from within her, smiling at the groan Regina releases, still overly sensitized. Emma continues to kiss down Regina’s chest but before she can pull one of her nipples into her mouth, Regina grabs her face and pulls her up to kiss her. 

It’s a searing kiss, one that leaves Emma breathless.

They’re interrupted by a knock at the door. Emma groans but Regina sneaks out from underneath her and moves toward the door, grabbing a robe from a chair and throwing it on. She looks behind to see Emma has rolled under the covers and she smiles at her before her smile turns into a glare as she opens the door. She has a terse conversation at the door before she slams it in someone’s face. “Ugh,” she groans as she moves back to the bed and falls back on it.

Emma picks herself up from her spot under the covers and moves over to Regina, “What?” she asks.

“My father wishes to see me,” she grumbles.

“And?” Emma asks.

“And I don’t want to,” Regina pouts.

Emma laughs, kissing away her pout. “Maybe it’ll be good,” she whispers over Regina’s lips. 

“Or maybe it will be terrible,” Regina says with eyebrows drawn down.

“You won’t know unless you go,” Emma promises with a smile. 

Regina rolls her eyes but knows Emma is right. She sighs and sits up, moving into her closet. Emma lays back down on the bed and waits for Regina to emerge. When she does, Emma’s glad she’s not standing because she’s sure her knees just gave out. “What?” Regina asks when Emma’s eyes nearly bulge out of her head.

“You’re gorgeous,” Emma tells her, unable to stop her eyes from roaming Regina’s body.

Regina smiles and moves over to kiss Emma’s lips, “Thank you,” she whispers before she stands up again. “We have to get you something to wear,” she says, noticing just how naked Emma is.

Emma sits upright, “I think maybe I should stay here while you talk with your dad.”

Regina nods, “I agree. Thank you for understanding,” she says with a smile. “But you still can’t just lay here naked. Unless you want someone to accidentally walk in and see you,” she adds with a smirk.

“I think they’ll be more concerned about my fair skin than my nakedness,” Emma challenges with a smirk of her own.

Regina laughs in agreement. “Very true, but I’ll still grab you something to wear,” she tells her before she disappears back into her closet. She reemerges and hands some clothing to Emma before there’s another knock on the door. Regina looks confused, but stands and moves to the door as Emma gets dressed. She barely has it open before there’s yelling. Emma stands up straight, half-way dressed as she sees how Regina’s body language changes. Suddenly, she’s taut, stress oozing from her every pore. She turns to Emma, face ashen, “I have to go,” she whispers.

“What?” Emma asks in confusion.

“There are intruders growing dangerously close to our western border.”

“Aaaaaand you have to go because?”

“Who do you think leads the army?” Regina asks, spine straightening in defiance.

Emma’s eyes widen, “You-you’re going to attack the intruders?”

“Of course not,” Regina states, as if it’s the dumbest question she’s heard. “We’re going to protect our land. Hopefully, distractions are enough, but I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my people safe.”

Emma gulps but nods, “Be careful,” she whispers.

Regina smiles and steps forward, kissing her softly, “I will be,” she promises before disappearing back in her closet. She reenters with a mask similar to the one she wore when she first met Emma, and her spear, held expertly in her hand. 

It’s then that Regina’s father steps into the room. “I thought I’d find you both here,” he says solemnly. Regina steps in front of Emma and her father holds up his hands. “I will not be making a scene as I did earlier,” he promises. “I’m here to warn you.” He turns his attention to Emma, “The people you were traveling with, how well do you know them?” he asks.

She’s taken aback, “Uh-” she stammers, “Some I’ve known for many years, some I’ve only just met. Why?”

“They’re on their way here,” he explains, “They’re the intruders to the west.”

“What?” she asks in confusion.

“I assume they’ve been tracking you since you left your home,” he surmises.

“But-” she shakes her head, “I left my things at the lake.”

“Not everything, I assume,” the king says with raised eyebrows.

Emma reaches over to the floor beside the bed and grabs her notebook and pen, “This is all I brought,” she says, looking them over with a critical eye. She groans as she opens her notebook to check her credit card holder, “Shit,” she whispers as she pulls out a card that doesn’t belong. She looks up, “I’m so sorry.”

Regina holds up a hand, “It’s not your fault. I should have been better prepared. I should have checked,” she starts.

“It’s no one’s fault,” the king says, interrupting them both. “Well, except for those that placed that tracker.”

Emma snaps the tracker in half before submerging it in the nearest glass of water. “We need to go and distract them,” she states. She finishes getting dressed in what Regina gave her, which is nothing like the clothes she arrived here in. But she finishes and makes her way toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Regina asks.

“To the western border. We need a distraction to keep those people out of here,” she says as if it’s the most obvious thing.

“No you’re not,” Regina states matter-of-factly. “You can’t properly defend yourself.”

Emma shrugs, “But I know them, I can distract them. Most of them, if not all of them, are only looking for me. They don’t know you’re here. If they see me, they’ll stop looking,” she promises.

Regina begins to disagree but is silenced when her father speaks. “You’re right.” He turns his attention to his daughter and holds up a hand to further silence her. She narrows her eyes, but remains quiet as he continues. “At least let her distract them. If she wants to return, then she may. But you first have to make sure our people are safe.” He turns to the blonde and steps toward her, making her nervous, but she holds her ground. “I hope my daughter isn’t wrong in trusting you,” he states warily. He lifts a necklace from his pocket and places it over Emma’s head.

“What?” she asks as it falls beneath the fabric covering her chest.

“The warrior that wore this before you used it to save the lives of hundreds of our citizens. I hope you have the same luck with it,” he tells her.

“But he died?” she asks, unable to keep the snark from her voice. She presses her lips together when she remembers he already doesn’t trust her, and now she’s being disrespectful to the king

“There were extenuating circumstances,” the king tells her. “But we can tell you all about that if you return.”

“I will,” she promises with a head nod.

The king sighs but acknowledges her with a mere nod of his head. He turns his attention to his daughter. He moves toward her and helps place her mask. He murmurs something to her that Emma doesn’t understand. Then, he turns his attention back to Emma. “You’re going to need to adjust your crystal,” he says softly. He stands before her, waiting for her permission.

She pulls it out of its spot between her breasts and lets him take it from her. 

He carefully twists the crystal on the chain and says, “There, now you’re ready to go.”

“Great,” Emma says, “How will I know that it’s working?” she asks.

“It already is,” Regina says with a smile. Hearing Emma speak in her native language makes her happy in a way she never thought it would.

“What? How?” Emma questions rapidly.

Listen ,” Regina says softly, taking Emma’s hand. “Listen when you speak.” 

“I don’t understand,” Emma says, but she notices. She notices the way it feels in her brain. It’s not like she normally sounds in her own head. “Oh that’s cool,” she whispers in awe.

Regina smiles, being able to share this with Emma makes her happier than she imagined. 

“Go,” the king urges, motioning to the doorway. 

Emma smiles and nods, moving toward the exit, allowing Regina a moment with her father.

“Thank you,” she whispered to her dad, kissing his cheek.

“Be safe, dearest.”

She smiles and nods before following Emma out of the door, tightening her hand on her spear as she moves. She stops by the entrance to the palace and grabs a mask, handing it to Emma, “This will help,” she offers. “There will be questions from the guards, but they’ll follow their training.”

Emma nods, placing the mask over her head, allowing the majority of her fair skin to be hidden. She follows Regina out of the palace and sees an army waiting for their leader’s command. It seems her generals already told them what to expect, or maybe this is something that happens often enough (or they’ve been around long enough) that they know what is going to happen. She waits patiently and Regina moves to her generals, speaking softly so others don’t hear what Emma assumes is her telling the generals who Emma is. She follows Regina through the forest, and once they separate from the main army, Regina takes her hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

They make their way to the lake where Regina first say Emma only to find all of Emma’s travel team standing around while Snow and David talk. “I have an idea,” Emma whispers to Regina. She points to where Ruby is standing, slightly adjacent to the rest of the group. 

Regina nods and leads Emma around the side of the lake. They take off their masks and quickly pulls the other brunette into the trees, covering her mouth tightly so she makes no noise.

“Ruby!” Emma whispers, standing in front of her friend as Regina holds her down. “Ruby, it’s me!” she says directly in front of her face. 

The American brunette calms and the hand is removed from her face, “Em?” she asks, looking behind her to see Regina, “What the hell is going on?”

“I found an uncontacted group, Rubes,” Emma says. She looks to Regina and laughs, “Well, technically they found me. But that’s not what’s important. Rubes, you’ve gotta get these people away from here. It’s about safety for everyone. And everyone has to leave,” she tells her friend.

“Wha- Why?” her friend asks.

“Rubes, I want to explain, I do, but if you guys don’t leave now, a lot of people could get hurt.”

“Em, they’re looking for you. If you just come with me, they’ll leave,” Ruby reasons.

“And they won’t question my new look?” she asks, motioning to her outfit.

“Oh shit, what happened to your other clothes?” Ruby asks, finally noticing her friend’s new attire.

“They...got wet,” Emma says, looking away from her friend’s gaze.

Ruby gasps, “You dirty slut!” she teases.

Emma laughs but shakes her head, “Shut up.”

Ruby turns around, “With her? For real?” she says motioning to Regina.

“Yes, is that a problem?” Regina asks, raising her eyebrows.

“Shit. You speak English?” Ruby asks, addressing the other brunette. A mere nod of her head has Ruby looking sheepish. “My bad,” she says. She turns her attention back to her friend, “I’ll do what I can, Em. But I suggest you change into your other clothes and come back with me.”

“I can’t Rubes, not yet. There’s something going on here that I can help with.”

Ruby looks unsure but nods, “Okay, Em. I’ll trust you on this one, but if you need help, you call in reinforcements, got it?” 

Emma nods, “I will,” she promises.

They share a smile, Ruby reaches over and hugs her friend, whispering, “I’m gonna need details, tramp.”

Emma pulls away, laughing and shaking her head, “Later, Rubes.”

Ruby leaves Emma and Regina and reappears back with the group. She tells Snow she has a feeling that Emma wouldn’t be this way. She says Emma would’ve continued North. Snow seems unsure but when David joins Ruby in agreement, she eventually relents. Emma and Regina watch as the group begins to retreat, leaving the water and heading away from Regina’s army. The only person to turn back as their leaving is Killian, because of course it is

“He’s going to be trouble, yes?” Regina whispers.

Emma shrugs, “I’m not sure.”

“Who is he?” Regina asks.

“He works for my father,” Emma answers, “He’s a driver, a pilot, a beck-and-call boy.”

“How long?”

“Years,” Emma explains, “He’s worked for my father for years.”

“How much do you know about him?” Regina continues to pester.

“What’s with all the questions?” Emma answers with a questions of herself.  “He’s a nobody , Regina. He won’t be an issue, aside from being one of my father’s henchmen,” she adds with an eye roll.

Regina studies her for a moment before she nods, “Alright, let’s head back,” she states, turning around to bring her people home.

The army returns as citizens and go back to their homes. Regina takes Emma back to the palace. Regina puts their protective armor away in her closet before taking Emma to her father’s rooms.

“Welcome back,” the king greets his daughter and Emma as they enter his chamber. “All is well?”

“They left without incident,” Regina tells him, sitting down across from his chair and motioning for Emma to sit with her. 

Emma follows, sitting beside Regina and looks at the king, “What can you tell me about all the recent deaths?” she asks, not wasting time.

The king sighs, leaning his face into his palm as he starts, “This has never happened before.” Emma nods and he continues, “We have had warriors die in battle, a few women pass during high-risk pregnancies and births, others have passed from eating poisonous plants and berries without realizing, but never has there been an unexplained death in my entire reign. Until last year. Then people of all ages were passing without a reason. Some disappeared completely, never to be seen again. Others disappeared and returned months later, missing their crystal, hysterical, and mixing up their languages, making it difficult to decipher what they were trying to say.” Emma continues to nod along, already thinking about what her schooling taught her about the effects the current mainstream culture and the majority of the population has on indigenous peoples around the world. “What are your thoughts?” he asks Emma.

Emma’s silent, mulling his words in her head. “Has anyone else made contact with your group recently?”

He shakes his head, “It’s been centuries.”

“Do you think something is causing the crystals to malfunction?” She lifts the crystal from against her chest to examine it, “What are they made of?”

“Adantoid.” 

“A gift from the gods,” Regina explains.

Emma nods, still studying the crystals, “And nothing else has changed? No change in color? You haven’t noticed any other changes other than the unexplained deaths and disappearances?”

“Nothing else,” the king tells her.

“Do you think it could be sabotage?” she finally asks, looking up from the crystal to stare into the king’s eyes.

“That is my fear,” he tells her softly.

“Papá,” Regina whispers. “You never said.” 

He shakes his head, “I could never be sure.” He turns his attention to Emma, “The gods warned of a man made of gold. A dangerous man willing to do anything for money.”

Emma’s eyes narrow, “A man made of gold?” Of course he would have something to do with this. “Have you ever met this man?” 

The king shakes his head, “No, but it was the Prophecy.” 

She does her best not to roll her eyes. It’s not that she doesn’t believe this king, but she can’t believe she didn’t realize just how shady Mr. Gold was when she first met him. “I know who is behind this.”

“You do?” the king and Regina say together.

Emma nods, “And I know how to reach him.” She stands, “How do I get back to your rooms?”  They make their way to Regina’s bedroom where Emma pulls the card Mr. Gold gave her from her notebook. “Now how do we get back to the waterfall?” Together, they make their way back to the waterfall in the canoe. Emma attempts to explain everything to Regina, but finds herself at a loss for words.

When they get to the waterfall, Emma finds her packs still hidden between two rocks. She pulls out her satellite phone, powering it on and calling the number on the back. In a few clipped sentences she tells him to get here. And to come alone. And she hangs up, but she leaves the phone on, knowing Gold will track her location.

She turns to Regina, “You’re going to have to hide,” she tells her.

“Why?”

“Because all Gold wants is to exploit your tribe and its resources. Right now, giving him the heir to the throne would only fuel his attack. You have to take the canoe and hide.” She quickly changes out of the clothes Regina gave her and puts on her clothes that were left in the canoe. They’re still wet, but they’ll have to do. When she’s properly covered, she looks at Regina and smiles, “Trust me, it’s going to be okay. You can watch from behind the waterfall or the rocks where you first watched me.”

“If you’re in trouble, I’ll step in,” Regina tells her, holding her sword in her fist.

“It won’t come to that,” Emma promises. She leans over the canoe and gently kisses the brunette. “Stay hidden,” she whispers as she pushes the canoe towards the waterfall. She watches as Regina and the canoe disappear behind the curtain of water. When she’s sure she’s safely hidden, she makes her way over to the rock she sundried on earlier and sits, waiting for Mr. Gold to arrive.

He doesn’t take too long. Emma hears helicopter blades and sees the bird shortly after; it lowers itself above the water and gets as close to the rocks as possible before Mr. Gold dissends. He is helped by one of his henchmen-er, missionaries-onto solid ground before he hops back into the helicopter and it lifts away.

“Quite the entrance, Mr. Gold,” Emma snarks from her spot on the rock.

“Well, I surely didn’t stand a chance trekking through the jungle like you did, my dear,” he responds as he moves to sit on the rock opposite of her. “Did you find what you were looking for?” he asks, attempting to sound innocent and uninteresting.

He failed. “Unfortunately, all I’ve found is some monkeys and a lot of trees. I seem to have found myself quite lost,” she tells him.

“It is a bit tricky to navigate through these trees,” he says looking around him. He turns his attention back to the blonde, “But why call me?” he asks, eyebrows raised.

Emma holds back an eye roll and tells him. “You seem to be the one who knows where all the indigenous tribes are. I want the chance to see a real uncontacted tribe. Not one that’s under you and your missionaries’ ‘protection’. That’s all I want before I go back to the states. I think I have a better chance of finding that with you than with the people my father hired.”

He chuckles, “And what makes you think I would know where these uncontacted tribes are? My entire job is to bring Christianity to these lost souls.”

She scoffs, “I think we both know that’s not your real job, Mr. Gold. My father is Rupert Swan. I know a con man when I see one.”

Mr. Gold grabs at his chest in mock outrage, “Ms. Swan, I am offended that you would think so lowly of me.”

“And yet you still came here and are entertaining my proposal.”

“Am I?” he challenges. “Or am I just here to distract you?”

There’s a scream and a splash before Emma sees Regina being dragged out from behind the waterfall by her hair. “What the hell?” Emma asks, jumping up from her spot on the rock.

“You see, dearie, I am a con man. I need this city as my new headquarters. No better place to hide my illegal pleasures than a city no one knows exists. And with crystals that will give me eternal life? Perfect. Now, you thought you were in control here, but you’re never in control when I’m around. So, now here’s what’s going to happen. You and your little princess friend here are going to take me to her city and we’re going to have a little chat with the king.”

The helicopter reappears and a ladder drops down. Mercenaries-they certainly aren’t any real missionaries-drop down the ladder and stand at attention before them. Emma immediately hones in on one mercenary in particular, one with a missing hand. “Killian,” she growls.

He winks at her, “Hello, love,” he greets, walking toward her and placing his hand possessively over the small of her back. She slaps it away, making him laugh and pull her roughly against him. “Glad you’re still feeling feisty. Give it a few days and you’ll be begging me to make you feel good.”

“You never could before, why start now?” she spits as she shoves against his chest. The other men around him laugh but he growls and makes an attempt to grab her.

“Enough,” Gold says, causing all the men, including Killian, to stand at attention. “Now, where are the others. Just in case the princess isn’t enough collateral,” he adds as he talks to Emma.

He turns his head, causing Emma to follow his gaze, watching as Zelena, Snow, Ruby, David, and the rest of their expedition team being led from between the trees. Their hands are all zip-tied in front of them and some of Gold’s men are prodding them forward.

“Emma!” David says, attempting to make his way toward the blonde.

“No,” Gold says, causing a man to step in front of him, blocking his path. “You will all follow as Emma and her friend take us to their city.

Emma looks at the people tied up before her. She turns her attention to the brunette woman beside them, still being held by her hair. She sighs, knowing there’s no other way. “Fine, but you need to let the princess go, she’s the one who can lead you to her city. I don’t know the way.” 

Gold studies her, weighing if she’s telling the truth or not. “Alright,” he says, motioning for his henchman to release the princess.

As soon as she’s free, she moves toward Emma.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Gold tells her, as one of his men moves in front of her. “Take us to your city, then you may talk to Emma again.” As he says this, Killian roughly grabs Emma’s elbow and pulls her back against him, attempting to pull her back towards her travelling companions. 

“How could you do this?” Emma asks. “You’ve worked for my father for years,” she accuses him.

“Yes, all because Daddy-dearest asked me to,” Killian tells her.

Emma’s lips curl up in disgust, “Gold is your dad ?”

Killian smiles a wicked smile, “He had me go work for your dad and funnel his drugs and guns through him. Poor sod still doesn’t know how much time he’s going to get in jail after we rat him out.”

“You wouldn’t,” David warns, attempting to protect Emma once more.

“We already placed a tip with the FBI,” Killian brags, “They’ll be at the Swan residence by tomorrow morning to find all the evidence they’ll need to put Mr. Swan away for life.”

“I’ll kill you,” Emma says, lunging at the one-handed man.

“Now!” Snow yells and they all begin fighting off the men surrounding them.

Thankfully, Gold was ridiculously overconfident, believing no one in their right mind would find off a team of highly-trained mercenaries with guns. Good thing the people they were fighting had nothing to lose.

Biting, scratching, choking, whatever the team could do, they did. Snow used her tied hands to strangle one man while David and the other men used their fists and hands to knock down and kill as many men as they could while Emma and Regina fought off Killian and Gold. 

Ruby watches as one of the men on the outskirts of their fight lifts his gun. He starts shooting and people around her start falling. But when he aims at Emma, her breath catches. She looks at the man on the ground beside her and grabbed his gun as the other man aimed at Emma. She screams as she pulled the trigger, she missed, but the man was spooked, looking in the direction the shot came from. Recognizing the threat Ruby posed, he aimed at her instead. She closes her eyes as the shot rang out in the clearing, echoing off their surroundings. But nothing hits her. She peaks out one eye to see the man on the ground, a puddle of blood surrounding him. She looks over to see Snow, holding another gun, relaxed. Ruby’s mouth falls to the floor as the brunette shrugs, “It’s similar to holding a bow,” she tells her. “I’ve got your back, Red,” she says as she moves back over to the rest of their group, sizing up injuries. 

Most are superficial, thankfully. After making sure Gold and his men are truly dead and moving their bodies away from the rocks for the animals to scavenge, Regina says, “Let’s go back.” It’s a tight fit, but the survivors are loaded into the canoe and Regina leads them to the palace.

They are all patched up by the doctors of the city. It’s a simple process since their crystals have healing capabilities. The king enters the room, every villager reaches their right hand over their heart, thumping twice. He rushes over to Regina, checking her for wounds. Finding none, he presses his forehead against her, “My darling daughter, I was so worried. You should have gone with soldiers.”

She smiles, “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, Papá,” she tells him.

Emma smiles at them and Ruby leans over, “What do you think they’re saying?”

Emma turns her attention to Ruby, “You can’t understand them?” she asks.

Now it’s Ruby’s turn to look confused, “You can? Since when?”

Emma looks down at the crystal against her chest. She lifts it up for Ruby to look at, “Since they gave me this.”

“I’m glad it served you well,” the king says to her, speaking in English for the benefit of the others.

She smiles, “I’m sorry it got so messy. I never meant for Regina to be in any danger,” she promises.

“I heard you were quite valiant during the fight,” the king tells her. “Perhaps some warrior spirit is left in that crystal after all,” he says, eyes misty.

Emma is silent for a moment, holding the crystal between her fingers, “Which warrior wore this?” she asks softly.

“The strongest warrior I’ve ever known,” the king says quietly. “My wife.”

She lets those words wash over her. This man, gave her his wife’s crystal, hoping it would protect her in ways it couldn’t protect his wife. Her eyes grow wet as she attempts to blink the tears away, “Thank you,” she manages to say.

Regina grabs her hand, squeezing it tight, her own eyes wet with unshed tears. 

The king turns her attention to the other people from Emma’s expedition, “I am terribly sorry for your loss,” he says, speaking of the men that were shot.

David nods, standing in the presence of the monarch. His own bandaged bullet wound nearly healed by the crystals, “Thank you for that, Your Majesty.”

“As a token of my appreciation for saving my daughter, and my city, I would like to give you all a gift.” He motions for Katari to bring in crystals. He begins handing them out to each person, carefully placing them over their heads. “These crystals will protect you, even when you’re away from our city. And they will always allow you to return, if you wish,” he adds with a chuckle.

“And they translate languages,” Emma tells them with a smile.

They all chuckle and stare in wonder at their new crystals, “Thank you,” they each murmur to the king who nods.

“But how do we leave?” Snow asks, suddenly nervous.

“Whenever you are ready, we will have our warriors show you to safety,” the king promises her. He smiles knowingly, “But you are more than welcome to stay. We would be honored to have such a knowledgeable woman working with our other guides to protect the edges of our city.”

She smiles shyly, looking from the king to David, “I don’t know,” she starts.

David smiles, taking her hand-obviously something happened while Emma was away, “I bet this is the safest place on the entire planet,” he tells her. “And probably a wonderful place to live,” he adds, smiling at the king.

He nods in agreement, “To have a man and woman like yourselves, so strong in honor, would be a blessing upon our city,” he promises.

“Well, I have to go home,” Zelena says, speaking for the first time since Emma saw her at the edge of the treeline. “Someone has to explain to Daddy why everyone is gone.”

Emma chuckles, “I’m glad it’s you, Z,” she tells her sister.

“I’m glad you’re happy, Emma,” she tells her little sister honestly. Then she stands up straight, all emotion leaving her face, “And I’m also glad I won’t have to fight for Daddy’s attention anymore.”

She rolls her eyes at her sister’s teasing, “I’m just glad you survived, Zelena, because who else would take it upon themselves to do such a valiant thing.”

Zelena holds a hand to her chest and nods, “It’s a chore I’m willing to do. And I can’t wait to see the look on Daddy’s face when he finds out his future third wife ran away with some random person I’ll make up. Oh, it’s going to be wonderful, Emma. So terribly, unfortunate you’re going to miss it. Perhaps I’ll record it for you. It’s going to be spectacular.”

Regina laughs at the sisters’ teasing, knowing from what Emma told her how shaky their entire relationship has been. 

“I have to go back too,” Ruby says, drawing attention to herself. She looks at Emma and smiles, “But I am definitely coming back to visit. And you need to keep a satellite phone so we can talk. We have loads to discuss,” she tells her best friend.

Emma shakes her head and laughs at her friend, “I will,” she promises.

“Before we go, you better call your mom,” Ruby tells her, holding out her satellite phone.

Emma nods, suddenly unsure of what to say. She dials the number and holds the phone to her ear, “Hey Mom,” she says when her mother picks up the phone.

“Oh, Emma! We were so worried! We haven’t heard from you guys in so long! What’s happening? Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, Mom,” Emma says with a wet chuckle, “Everything’s great. I found an uncontacted group,” she tells her.

“Oh, Sweetie, that’s wonderful!” She can hear her mother sit down as she asks for details.

“Well, I don’t want to take up all your time now, maybe I can call you later?” Emma offers.

“Sweetheart,” her mother says, “You can tell me all about it when you get home.”

“That’s the thing, Mom,” Emma starts.

“You’re not coming home, are you?” her mother says rather than asks.

“Not right away,” Emma explains. “There’s so much to study here. So much to learn. I can’t leave right away. But, but Ruby and Zelena are coming home. And I think David is going to stay with me.” She looks at the man across from her who smiles and nods, “So that should make Dad happy,” she adds, hopeful her mother will accept this.

“How long will you be away, dear?” her mother asks, crestfallen.

“I’m not sure, Mom,” she tells her honestly.

“Well, if it’s going to be long, I’ll just have to come down there and visit you myself,” her mother tells her.

Emma’s eyebrows raise, “You- you would do that?” she asks.

“Of course I would. You’re my daughter, Emma, and I love you. I’m going to miss you. But I’m so proud of you for finding exactly what you were looking for.”

She smiles into the phone, “Thanks Mom,” she tells her. “I’m gonna go now, but we’ll talk soon, okay?”

“Okay dear. I love you, Emma.”

“Love you too, Mom,” she replies before she hears a click. “Thanks Rubes,” she tells her friend, handing her back the phone.

“Keep it,” she tells her friend. “I had Gus remove the chip before-” she pauses, knowing the man didn’t make it. “Well, anyway, no one will be able to track this phone, and you’ll definitely need a way of getting ahold of me since we definitely have to keep in touch.”

Emma laughs, nodding along with her friend. She hugs her tightly and Ruby whispers, “I want all the details about your new royal girlfriend,” into her ear, causing the blonde to laugh harder as she hides her face in the crook of her best friend’s neck. Ruby continues, “And I’ll have to tell you if your sister and I both make it back to the states in one piece.”

Emma laughs and shakes her head, “Maybe she’s changed,” she offers as she looks at her sister, who seems to be sizing up the gem around her neck.

“Or maybe not,” Ruby tells her.

“Or not,” Emma concedes with a shrug. “Be safe, Rubes,” she says, turning her full attention to her best friend. “Tell your grandma hi, and hug my mom for me, will ya?”

Ruby nods. She leans forward and whispers, “Just tell her about your girlfriend before it slips up, kay?”

Emma chuckles and nods, “Okay.”

With one last hug from Ruby, and a surprising hug from her sister, the two are led away by two palace guards. “They’ll take them all the way to the airport,” Regina promises, moving up beside Emma and taking her hand.

“They will?” Emma asks, surprised.

Regina nods, “They know how to hide from the security there. And we wouldn’t want your best friend and your sister to get lost on their way home,” she adds with a smirk.

“Heavens no,” Emma tells her with a laugh of her own. “I’d never hear the end of it.”

They’re silent for a moment, everyone lost in their own world. “So now what?” Snow asks.

“I think it’s the start of forever,” David tells her.

“I like the sound of that,” Emma agrees, squeezing Regina’s hand with her own.