Author's Note: This is complete AU, my friends. My Muse latched onto this idea and would not let up until I wrote it. And, 16,000+ words later, it's finally complete. For a brief run-down: Henry does not exist. Regina is still Mayor, but with decidedly more human issues (she's no Evil Queen in this one). Ruby is Deputy. She kicks ass. Graham and Emma are around too, and lots of others make cameos. Essentially, this should have been titled, "In Which Deputy Ruby Lucas Tries Desperately to Woo Mayor Regina Mills." That is all. I hope you enjoy. :)

Ruby covered her mouth and nose with the back of her hand and ducked her head as she rushed into the smoke-filled room. It was dark, and the haze made it even more difficult to see, but Ruby pressed on anyway, squinting against the darkness and treading carefully. The fire hadn't quite reached the mayor's office yet, but it was getting closer and Ruby knew she didn't have much time.

"Mayor Mills!" she called out, stifling back the urge to cough as she inhaled a bit of smoke. "Madame Mayor!"

Ruby ducked, eyes sweeping the room, trying to get a visual on the other woman. She knew the mayor was there; she'd heard the emergency response call just minutes before, and she knew Regina had been the one to make it.

Getting down on her hands and knees to avoid the ever-growing cloud of smoke overtaking the room, Ruby crawled forward, eyes still searching. She called out several more times, alternating between using the other woman's title and her name, her rising panic growing more evident in her voice when the mayor still didn't answer to either. It wasn't until Ruby finally reached the desk at the far end of the room that she heard it. The faintest of moans, followed by a cough. Ruby crawled quickly around the desk, and that's when she saw her.

The mayor was lying curled up on the floor, her face tucked into the crook of her elbow, trying to ward off the smoke, likely unsuccessfully. She wasn't moving. From what Ruby could make out, she was barely even breathing. Ruby moved toward her on hands and knees, reached out and gripped Regina's shoulder, turning her over onto her back. She peered down at the mayor, offering a faint smile when Regina's eyes fluttered open.

"Deputy?" Regina rasped, brow furrowing in confusion. She opened her mouth to speak again, but then succumbed to a minor coughing fit.

"Come on," Ruby said, grabbing Regina's hands and hauling her up into a sitting position, "we have to get out of here. We don't have much time. The fire's spreading quick."

Regina just nodded dumbly.

"Can you crawl?" Ruby asked.

"I—I think so," Regina managed to answer, nodding again.

She got to her hands and knees, pausing for just a fraction of a second to regain some composure, and then she followed Ruby, crawling quickly toward the office exit where bright orange flames were just beginning to lick and singe the doorway.

By the time they made it safely outside, the fire had engulfed most of the main floor of City Hall, and it was rapidly moving upward, spurred on by the air seeping in through the heat-fractured windows. Ruby hauled herself to her feet and lifted Regina unexpectedly up into her arms, her heart pumping pure adrenaline through her veins as her long legs carried them both away from the building.

The fire fighters had just arrived, and Ruby could make out the faint sound of more sirens in the distance, signaling that the sheriff and ambulances would be there soon as well. Regina clung to her like a life line, arms circled around Ruby's neck, her face buried in dark hair, and Ruby instinctively tightened her hold on the other woman, shifting her slightly and cradling her better so that she wouldn't fall.

When the first ambulance finally made it on scene, Ruby made a beeline for it. She was vaguely aware of Emma and Graham rushing up behind her as she handed Regina off to the paramedics. Their voices were chattering incessantly, asking questions and making Ruby's head pound even more than it already did.

There was an odd rushing in her ears, a strange feeling in her chest and in the pit of her stomach, a sort of churning like nausea accompanied by an intense burning in her throat.

And then, there was nothing at all.