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 Letters from War

by hunnyfresh

Chapter 1

"It would do wonders for your image, Madam Mayor." Sidney followed Regina around the mayoral office with a few printed out documents and waved them all in her face.

She huffed and glared at him when the papers nearly caused a paper cut to the six-month old Henry strapped to her hip. "Watch where you're waving those," she hissed.

Sidney ducked his head obediently, his cheeks heating up under the brunette's steely glare. "My apologies." Despite his embarrassment, the small incident did nothing to draw him away from his track. "But just think about the headlines: Storybrooke's Mayor Supports the Troops. It doesn't hurt to have a few allies in the military, Regina, even if it is just a soldier."

Regina sighed and positioned Henry more securely into the space of her left arm before retrieving the papers from Sidney. "You do realize I adopted Henry only a few months ago. I am already juggling this town and motherhood. I do not have time to take in some stranger."

"You're not housing them. You'll only be pen pals, Madam Mayor. It builds morale in the army for homesick soldiers," Sidney reassured. After reading the Mayor's hesitant expression, he quickly added, "you're not enlisting into the war."

"Obviously." She leaned her head against Henry's when the boy pushed his own under hers to get a look at just what held Mommy's attention. Regina instinctively placed a kiss on top of his thin light brown hair, soothing the imminent fussing that was surely on its way from the child. When she glanced back up at Sidney after examining the paper, she glared at the reporter and motioned her eyes to the door. Without another word, he scurried out of her office and shut the door behind him.

Regina turned and sat at her desk, nestling Henry into her lap as she read over the information of the soldier who would be her pen pal. "I guess we'll be making a new friend, Henry. Do you like that?"

The boy gurgled happily, reaching out to grab any and all objects in his path before his mother could react. The move was futile for Regina was ever cautious and pushed away all her work to clear the space in front of her son. She kissed his temple as she read the soldier's name.

Private Emma Swan.

Fort Benning, GA

A grenade went off in the distance, the prevalent ringing pierced Emma's ear as she crouched down in a freshly dug trench large enough to house her, her sergeant, and two other soldiers in her troop. Beads of sweat dripped down her forehead onto the bridge of her nose as the burden of all her gear weighed down on her, bullets raining overhead as soldiers in hightowers shot strategically over the practise field of the camp.

The simulations Emma had been through in her infantry training were more often than not done at full speed with the very real threat of danger. The world was still shocked over the events that had happened a month ago in New York, so Emma's squad, and the rest of the United States Army, trained harder than ever.

Complete in full gear with the other half of her squad posing as the enemy, both had the same mission: neutralize the threat.

This particular training had Emma's team limited with nothing more than their entrenching tool. While she could use it as a weapon, close combat was the key to success in this one, and as soon as the gunfire ceased, she took less than a second to catch her breath as her fellow teammate properly surveyed the area. On his signal, they withdrew from the trench, allowing the darkness to cover them, and kept closely to the ground. Sergeant Booth had stayed in the trench, his role was to play a wounded comrade while in reality he was timing how quickly they were able to succeed.

Her team kept to the wall of a dilapidated cabin, listening carefully for any movement in the quiet of the night. The soldier in front gave the signal to move, but Emma, pulling up the rear, felt the metal of an AK-47 against her back. The other two members hadn't noticed, but the silence of the night told Emma that her foe had snuck away from his team and isolated what he perceived to be the weakest threat. She smirked to herself, placing her hands above her head in surrender as she turned slowly to see Private Cassidy, victory already in his eyes as he pointed the gun at the middle of her forehead.

"Sorry, Em," he said with little apology. Emma didn't blame him. It was life or death after all. Just not hers. She slowly kneeled as he approached, but at the last moment, she grabbed the mouth of the rifle and used her momentum to kick her legs out forward, kicking out the man's knees as she claimed the gun and turned it on him, pressing it firmly to the back of his neck.

"I'm not," she shrugged.

The overhead lights turned on to shine the field, and Emma could see that another one of her teammates had succeeded at knocking out his opponent. The other, however, was laying on the ground presumably dead with the enemy hovering over him with a rifle pressed against his head.

"You planning on getting killed, Johnson?" August pulled himself out of the trench and stormed over to the fallen soldier.

"No, sir." Johnson muttered into the dirt.

"Tell that to your family." August turned to the rest of the team. "Good work. Head back to camp."

Emma helped Neal to his feet, suppressing a smirk as the man groaned as he stood. She patted his back as they all jogged back to the compound, put away their equipment and gear, and headed off to hit the showers.

The routine was good for Emma. The discipline was even better. After sixteen years of being passed from group home to group home, being kicked out of school for truancy and violent behaviour, and more infamously, hacking the school's computer system in order to change her grades, Emma had appeared in front of a judge where the consequence was either juvie or boot camp. There was potential in her, the judge had said, and all she needed was a little bit of discipline in order to keep her steady. She had wanted to flip the geizer the bird, but she knew August, a foster brother she had clicked with in the latest home, was on a similar militaristic path, so why not?

The first six months at boot camp had kicked Emma's ass. She wasn't used to a place where the solution to her outspoken and vulgar behaviour was to do push-ups till she collapsed or to clean mess hall until she could see her reflection in the linoleum. She was used to playing up her female assets to swipe a chocolate bar from a corner store here and there, but that didn't matter here. All that mattered was obedience and smart thinking.

So she learned quickly, showing the officers yelling in her face that her orphaned ass could rise to the top of her division and take down men twice her size with nothing more than her bare hands.

Sometimes it was easier that Emma had no social attachments in her life. She didn't really have a home to get homesick over, and she beat the traffic at her graduation since she had no one to take her picture with. But there were a hell of a lot more times where on those weeks when she returned home from leave, she wished she had a place to go other than her Volkswagen beetle that was currently waiting for her at a storage unit in Boston.

She had August, though. Finding him to be her Sergeant when she was sent to Fort Benning was a blessing in disguise. Though they had seen each other as siblings, he was never more lenient towards her, but he was the closest thing she had to family since her parents dumped her on the side of a highway. Having him so close made her feel more grounded, sure, and confident in her skill. He'd never admit it, but Emma even had a better shot than him. She learned to tease him around some, claiming he better get on her level unless he wanted to see an early grave.

Emma arrived to her hall after the sweat and dirt were washed away just as the rest of her squad was filing in from their showers. She gave her cursory nods to her team as she passed the line of cots to where hers was placed at the corner. She was only one of three female recruits in her squad, and she was lucky enough not to be saddled in the middle with the rest of the men where the prevailing smell of BO lay. Though as she passed the other bunks, she noticed not for the first time how bleak and bare her corner was compared to the rest of the room that was covered with pictures, letters, and cards from loved ones. Hers, on the other hand, was the same manilla beige walls with forest green bedsheets as when she first arrived. She tried not to think too much of it as she dropped unceremoniously into her bed, using the free hour they got after work and before dinner to relax and shut her eyes as her Sergeant came in yelling out mail call.

The man in question disrupted her attempted relaxation time when he tossed an envelope onto her stomach with a knowing smirk. "Who's Regina?"

"Who?" Emma sat up, scooching all the way back so that she could rest her against the wall.

He motioned to the letter on her stomach. Emma picked it up and examined it as if she had never seen a letter before. Then again, she had no reason why anyone would ever send anything to her. In the years she had been affiliated with the military and the months spent enlisted, not once had she ever needed to be present for mail call. The only meaningful pieces of paper that held her name were her birth certificate and her warrant. So what the hell was this? Her thumb caressed over the return address, feeling the minuscule abrasions of the woman's penmanship under her pulse. Regina Mills.