"Did you really think you could get away from me forever?" The woman leaned down, taking Belle's chin in hand and looking into her eyes. Ok, normally the people she went after weren't the stereotypical cackling villains, but this woman certainly fit the description.

Well, Emma said that Belle should have gone blonde when they dyed their hair for this trip. Apparently she was right. If only she could get this damn gag off…

Contrary to what some of the people at the headquarters would probably believe, including Nicholas, this wasn't actually part of the plan. The plan had been to tail Mary Margaret until Regina locked on, and then to make sure that they caught her in the act, traced her back, and took her out. However, being kidnapped was certainly not what Belle had expected. There was a tracking device hidden in the sole of her shoe, so they probably would know where she was… but at this point it was imperative to make it clear she was not Samantha White.

However, most of the information about Regina's plot would probably be spilled if she kept up this ruse. If Ms. Mills was going for the psycho killer kind of approach, there was always the wonderful monologue to look forward to that outlined all the plans. But then, if she learned her plans and then divulged that she wasn't Samantha White, Regina would probably wind up killing her anyways because she knew too much. That scratched out plans A and B… but plan C was always a nice option.

In other words, play dumb. Look scared and play dumb.

"So, sweetie, before I kill you let me just say that it's been a pleasure chasing you down." Regina laughed. "I couldn't get a lock on your location at all- Gold did a good job. However, your little friends at the CIA fell right into my trap. I knew if I stirred up enough trouble it would attract some attention, and then things fell right into place. He led me to you, and then they had the misfortune to allow you to some here for your wedding."

"Into the lion's den." A man stepped forward from the shadows, his deep voice echoing through the truck. Belle shrank back into the corner, thinking of what she could do to make herself look innocent until she could work this gag off.

"Allow me to introduce Sydney." Regina smiled. "He's a friend of mine who has been gracious enough to help me along the way with hisparticular set of skills." The man wrapped an arm around her waist, Regina's features twitching slightly from her painted smile as he did so. She seemed rigid and uncomfortable, not leaning into his embrace the way Belle might expect someone would if they felt affection for the person embracing them. This man was just another pawn in Regina's grand scheme, and from the looks of it he was a pawn whose heart was involved. His fingers played on her waist lovingly, and still she looked like a statue of ice.

"In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not really involved in weapons distributions. I mean, I am involved, but not for the reasons we've led them to believe." She continued, sounding almost bored. "You should feel flattered- all of this, every grand scheme and minor detail planned out- was for you. You're going to die today, Samantha."

A chill ran down Belle's spine. As Regina spoke, the gag loosened even further- almost off, almost off… and Regina walked over and ripped the gag from her mouth angrily.

"Well?!" she shouted. "Cry! Cower! Speak!" Belle did her best to shudder- and tears! Tears were probably a good idea.

"Who- who's Samantha?"

Regina's jaw dropped, and she shoved Sydney away, turning to him in a rage.

"You got the wrong girl?" she asked, voice soft but menacing. However, her next words ripped through the air like a knife, and Belle cringed away from her in a way that wasn't faked. "You got the wrong girl, you bumbling idiot!" The older woman slapped Sydney across the cheek.

"Now what are we supposed to do with her?!"

"Regina, love-"

"Don't Regina me, Sydney!" she screamed, gesturing to Belle. "She has an Australian accent. Just listen to her! Now what are we going to do?!"

"Take her back?" he mumbled through clenched teeth.

"She's a liability. We have to do something." Regina began pacing back and forth, a feat in a moving truck.

"Please… just let me go." Belle whispered, finally forcing the faked tears through her eyes, taking in jagged breaths. It was a good thing she'd paid attention in high school theatre classes. Regina shook her head, seeming to think over the possibilities.

"We'll take her with us." She finally decided. "If she's useful we might even let her live."

X

"What the hell is going on?!" Nicholas Gold barged into the room that Jefferson and Ruby were monitoring the team from. Agent March watched from the side, apparently worried but asking enough questions to indicate that he didn't actually have much of a clue what was happening. James visibly flinched at Mr. Gold's outburst, but Jefferson seemed to be just as distressed as he was.

"Belle's been compromised. We're working on it." James said, turning back to the stream of coordinates on the computer screen. Ruby was speaking into a microphone, giving directions to Peter and Emma, who were out on the hunt for Belle by what he could gather. Mary Margaret must have been left with August, the fourth member of their small team.

"What exactly does compromised entail?" Mr. Gold asked, jaw clenched and knuckles white on his cane.

"Frankly?" Ruby turned away from the mic for a moment, the only one in the room bold enough to answer him bluntly at this moment. "Kidnapped. Normally we wouldn't assume so quickly, but she was a ways outside the city when we last got a trace, and she wouldn't have gone off on her own like that."

A stream of curses that could rival a sailor flew from Gold's mouth, so loud that Emma and Peter heard on the other end of Ruby's connection. The room was dead silent after he finished, absolutely fuming, but Emma's voice crackled through to break the moment.

"Who was that?"

"That was Mr. Gold." Ruby said quietly, gauging his actions carefully. Silence returned, washing over them like waves.

"Well, don't just stand there!" Nicholas cried. "Don't you have a job to do?" He huffed, turning to walk from the room, but one murmured comment from Gaston stopped him in his tracks.

"Oh my God. He's in love with her."

The stupid boy was joking, but only halfway. It took all of the strength her had left not to turn around and do something he would probably regret. Instead, he forced himself to hurry back out the doors, slumping against the wall in the hallway.

Jefferson was outside in moments, a curious expression on his face.

"What do you want, Maddock?" Gold snapped, attempting to keep his careful control.

"If you want to help Belle," Jefferson began slowly, knowing he was treading on dangerous ground, "I need to know everything you can possibly tell me about Regina, and I need to know exactly what went on between you two. You and Belle, that is."

"Nothing went on-"

"That wasn't nothing, Mr. Gold." His eyes narrowed, hands habitually straying to the brim of his hat. "That was the way I would react if it was Emma out there. Agent March isn't the sharpest crayon in the box, but I know what I saw." Mr. Gold was silent for a long moment.

"Regina has eyes and ears everywhere." He finally said. "If Belle's been kidnapped, it could mean one of several things, and I pray to God it doesn't mean she knows about her. About my… involvement with her."

"I'm assuming this is the worst case scenario?" Jefferson hadn't even batted an eyelash at the implication that Mr. Gold had a relationship with Agent French.
"Barring death? Yes." Gold rubbed his eyes, sending up a thousand silent prayers.

"Then let's come back to it. What are the better cases?"

"It's a kidnapping- there are no good cases!" Nicholas rolled his eyes, but Jefferson knew better. He was distressed- he needed time to recover that they didn't have. Mr. Gold continued with a sigh only a moment later. "Best case scenario is that Regina knows nothing and took the wrong woman. No doubt she picked up on Mary Margaret's activities, but she hasn't seen the girl in six years, most likely, and Belle…" She was close. Roughly the same height, dark hair, blue eyes…

"She dyed her hair before she left. Black." Jefferson nodded. "Emma did, too, just in case they'd been keeping tabs on the office. It sounds to me like this could go either way." Gold shook his head, frustration making his thoughts swim.

"I don't know which is worse, to be honest." He looked over at Agent Maddock, eyes wide and frightened, as opposed to his usual narrowed and shrewd look. "If she knows, Belle will probably be tortured for information, but that would buy us time. If she doesn't, then Regina won't waste time with trying to glean intel- she'll just kill her."

X

Belle didn't know how much time had passed before the truck pulled off the road and rolled down a long gravel path. When the back doors opened, Belle was dragged inside a small run-down shack by two burly men and tossed roughly to the ground. Two others followed close behind- they must have been riding in the front of the truck. The building seemed to be in a small clearing in a forest, meaning they had to be at least a few hours outside of Rome. The only lights were two streetlamps (sans street) positioned outside the front of the building.

She could have taken her guards, of course, but that might mean losing their only shot at catching Regina, and that wasn't something she was willing to risk. Letting herself be thrown around meant becoming rather bruised, but it also meant giving off the impression that she was docile and easily controlled.

Inside the shack there was a surprising array of computer equipment lining the walls, and Belle got the feeling that the outward appearance (old, dilapidated, abandoned, and generally structurally unstable) was only to ward off anyone who might want to come inside. There were only a few pale floodlights in the room, casting long shadows across the walls and floors, but you didn't exactly need a lot of light when your purpose was to work from backlit computer screens. A lap could be plugged in if one area needed light. Theatrics, every bit of it, Belle scoffed. They kept her hands and feet tied and sat her in a chair in the middle of the one-room shack, the dim lighting only adding to Regina's dramatic flair.

"So, sweetheart," she began, scrutinizing every inch of Belle as she approached, "What exactly do you know?"

"What?" Belle asked, shaking her head. Play dumb, play dumb, play dumb… Regina chuckled coldly, shaking her head.

"What do you know?" She repeated the sentence slowly, as if talking to a particularly dense child. When Belle didn't respond, she continued talking. "I don't want to hurt you. All I care about is getting my stepdaughter back, but I need to know if you know anything about her."

"I- I-" Belle stuttered, chin quivering. God, she hoped this was convincing. Tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes, more from forcibly not blinking than anything, but they had the desired effect.

"She doesn't know anything, Regina." Sydney said quietly. Belle's heart beat faster- this could be good or bad.

"You see, that was what I thought, too, until we took a peek at this." She pulled a small device from her pocket and waved it in front of Belle's face. Numbers were flashing across a tiny screen, too little to read from a distance. "You're transmitting."

"Transmitting what?" The panic on her face was real. Usually they told you not to show fear, never to panic, but in order to keep up the façade of fragile young maiden, she needed to show everything she felt. However, the ruse was failing quickly- if Regina had known she was transmitting, she's been playing along all this time. Perhaps she was smarter than they'd given her credit for (and they'd given her quite a bit of credit on that account).

"Don't play stupid with me!" The older woman yelled, voice echoing. "You're wearing a transmitter, and while we've got the signal blocked from here, you'd best tell me whatever you know."

"I don't know anything." That was when Regina finally slapped her hard across the cheek. Belle's head whipped to the side and she tasted blood, but it wasn't too serious.

"Oh, you don't?" her voice was coated with honey, but every word sounded like a threat. "During our little ride I looked back at some of the information I compiled, and you know, I discovered something pretty interesting." She held a hand out to the side, and Sydney stepped forward, a manila envelope in hand.

"Now, don't tell me you don't know we've had the CIA under observation for months." Regina continued, raising an eyebrow. Belle kept her mouth clamped shut as the dark haired woman pulled several photos from the envelope, flipping through them one by one. "A new hair color will only do so much." She finally held out one so that Belle could see it- a picture of her walking back to her hotel in the rain, face clearly visible. Regina's surveillance team must have been good to snap that one.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"And now, you're going to tell me what you know, or I will kill you- slowly and painfully." The woman practically growled her threat. She was dangerous on a good day, but now she was angry- angry because she didn't have what she wanted, and angry because Belle wouldn't speak to tell her how she could get it. Any second now she could put a gun to her head and pull back the trigger at the slightest provocation, and by the murderous look in her eyes it wouldn't weigh on her conscience in the least.

And Belle simply laughed.

It was more of a giggle, really, half-choked by the wild sense of panic and relief, but it was still a laugh. Regina recoiled, shocked, but only came back twice as furious.

"What?!"

"You're bluffing." Belle whispered, nodding slowly. "You don't have my signal blocked, do you?"

"Of course we do. You think just because we're in the middle of nowhere means we don't have the capability to block a tracking device?" Well, you'd have to be stupid to think that with the amount of computer equipment in the room, now wouldn't you? Oh, she was a good liar… but not that good.

"No. I think you have the capability- I even think you're prepared to do it, but you won't."

"And why is that?"

"Because you need me."

"Why on earth would you think a stupid thing like that? You're dispensable."

"I am, in a way, but I know you don't kill me." Belle was careful to keep her face calm, a mask. "I have information you need, and even if you don't get it then you can use me to press an exchange with Mary Margaret, and you're not about to give up that chance."

"I could kill you."

"And you would in a heartbeat, but smart people don't do that if they want information."

If Belle was a pawn, then she'd just managed to singlehandedly put Regina in check. The woman had nothing on her, no information to indicate where her family might be or anyone who they might be able to use against her. If you want information badly, you threaten loved ones and wait. If you want information quickly, you threaten the captive and hope they have a sense of self-preservation.

Unfortunately for Regina, Belle's self-preservation instinct had long been snuffed out.

The Mills woman didn't have time to wait on information or anything to gain from killing Belle, except to send back a body and prove she meant business. In reality, that approach would get both sides absolutely nowhere, and would probably set each of them back a step. The Interpol would have lost an agent, and the CIA would have doubled protection on Mary Margaret. Regina would have zero chance of satisfying what Belle was beginning to suspect was a psychotic homicidal urge to kill her stepdaughter. She wanted a bargain, and the only way to get a bargain was with Belle alive.

It would be tricky from here on out. Belle was safe for now, but that was only for however long it might take for the others to reach her. That is, assuming Regina was bluffing about blocking her signal… No, no, she would just have to have faith. Belle forced her face into an impassive stone mask, trying to be attentive and give away absolutely nothing at once. She might be able to gain some information while she waited.

Where were they?

X

"Where are we?" Emma asked, flipping the map around again, trying to look at the roads with a flashlight while Peter drove, blindly following wherever the locating device was directing them. She couldn't make heads or tails of the map, and she certainly couldn't figure out how Peter had any confidence at all in where he was going.

"Somewhere on the fast track to Nowheresville." He said matter-of-factly, taking another curve just a bit too quickly for Emma's taste. She was eager to get to Belle, too, but she did want to get there alive. Driving down a dark and curvy road at top speed probably wasn't the best way to manage that particular little detail. They didn't have a live signal any longer, which meant that either something had it blocked or the device had been destroyed (Emma refused to entertain the possibility that Belle might have been destroyed), so they were following the coordinates of the last spot someone had gotten a live signal.

That particular spot happened to be in the smack middle of a highway.

And that highway happened to run beside a pretty creepy-looking forest.

Peter parked on the shoulder, the car nestled in a small, tree-free area, and the pair got out to look around.

"It's too dark." Peter said dejectedly. "We can't do anything if we can't see, and that won't be till morning."

"No way." Emma started to walk off, determined to find something, anything that might indicate where Belle could be, but Peter grabbed her arm.

"Hey. Look at me, Swan." His tone was firm enough that she did, however reluctantly. "She's my friend, too, but we're not doing her any good by wearing ourselves out looking for something we can't find until the sun comes up." Emma hesitated, but didn't agree to stop the search. She still wasn't satisfied.

"Look, if you want we'll get up at the crack of dawn and drive back out here. I would offer to let you sleep in the car, but it probably increasesour chances of being kidnapped. We just need a little time, and I need you to do what you do best: breathe and focus. Ok?"

After a long moment, Emma nodded.

"Ok." She said slowly. "But we're back out here as soon as there's enough light."

X

Belle spent the next twenty-four hours in a state of meditation. It was one of the few things that helped her out in an extremely emotionally and physically demanding situation, and she could almost do it without even thinking about it. This situation wasn't quite as drastic as the torture situations that she'd used meditation in before (the only thing that even resembled torture was lack of food, water, and sleep, and it hadn't been long enough for these things to gnaw at her yet), but it certainly helped to keep her calm, and there was only so much you could do for amusement when your hands and feet are tied to a chair and your company consists of a psychotic killer and her henchman.

She didn't manage to gain much information about Regina just by listening- they weren't stupid, and they weren't movie villains who recite monologues while cackling. They knew she was listening, and they knew if they got what they wanted and made a hostage exchange, Belle would take whatever information she knew back to the Interpol and the CIA.

By watching the pair at work, Belle was able to pick up on a few things. Sydney wasn't a planner and he was very emotional, but he knew his technology. It was probably why Regina had brought him on in the first place. When Regina wasn't looking, he stared at her with this dreamy-eyed look that made Belle want to gag on her gag, but when Sydney wasn't paying attention Regina looked like she could murder him with a single glance. She'd threatened to torture Belle for information, but Sydney had talked her out of it every time for one reason or another. He actually looked afraid when Regina talked of torture, but he didn't bat an eyelash at murder. Maybe he didn't have the stomach for suffering?

Every now and then her thoughts would circle back around to Nicholas, and she would mentally cringe at the scolding she would probably face from both James and Gold when she got back to New York.

If she got back to New York.

That was actually what her thoughts kept circling around, the if.

There were far too many "ifs" involved in this story for Belle's liking. For example, she could get herself out of the chair without too much trouble, if Regina didn't shoot her first. She could run away and find the main road if there weren't too many guards outside. She could get help on her own if she could figure out which way to go. Perhaps the only thing that didn't involve an if was that Belle definitely did not speak Italian. She would have to find someone who spoke English to get directions.

But then again, that was all if she got out.

So much was riding on that little two letter word…

"So, I see your team has abandoned you." Regina spoke towards Belle, smiling smugly. Belle kept her face as still as stone. It had only been a day, which was child's play in the grand scheme of things, but she couldn't blame Regina for trying. Someone who had never been help hostage before would probably be in rather bad shape just now.

"Ah, sentiment. What a ridiculous notion." The raven-haired woman chuckled, spinning back around to face Sydney. "Get me a line to the CIA."

The man nodded and scurried off to tap on a keyboard. Apparently the equipment actually served a practical purpose beside just looking like equipment, and apparently Sydney was more competent than he seemed, because within a minute or two the phone was ringing.

And not just any phone, oh no. Mr. Price's phone.

"James Price. What's the emergency?" His voice came over a hidden speaker, echoing throughout the room.

This was his special line, the private line, the one single direct line that only went to him in the most dire situations. How the hell did he hack into that?!

"Hello, Mr. Price. What a pleasure it is to finally hear from you." Regina grinned maliciously at Sydney.

"Who is this? How did you get this number?"

"Oh, how I got this number isn't important, but what I'm about to tell you is. We've got your agent." She paused, waiting for the weight of the words to sink in.
"Regina." Good old James, perfectly calm in the face of fear. People like Belle and James, who tended to babble under pressure, were often the best at keeping their mouths shut.

"Very good!" False cheer practically dripped from her voice. "But don't bother trying to get a trace on me. I'm about to tell you where I am. Listen closely."
Regina rattled off coordinates over the phone quickly, and directions that Belle couldn't even follow.

"Why are you telling me this?" James asked, sounding suspicious.

"Simple. I want to make a deal. You have something I want, and I have something you want. Bring Samantha White to those coordinates in the next twelve hours and you'll get your agent back. If you're smart you'll keep this interaction between us. I have guards at the road directed to meet you for the exchange- don't think you won't be seen if you try something funny."

"And if we don't agree?" Always a good idea to ask.

"In twelve hours the sun will rise, and if you don't bring me my stepdaughter by then your agent dies at dawn."

Great.

Regina hung up the phone and looked at Belle. She probably had a good idea of what was coming for her if the agent got her bonds loose, but apparently she'd planned for that.

"Don't even think about trying to get loose, sweetheart. Even if you could, there's a passcode on the door that'll blow this whole place to kingdom come if you open it without entering it first."

Damn. There goes plan B.

X

"Ok, Ruby, get a lock on those coordinates and get our team out there now!" Mr. Gold had finally made his way back in the room, and he was looking pretty red in the face over this last development.

"What's the plan?" he asked, sounding more like a prayer than a question.

"We're not making the exchange." Jefferson said matter-of-factly. The look on Gold's face betrayed him: Panicking, the man was panicking, and the Hatter couldn't blame him for it. "Relax! We'll get Belle back, but we're not giving up Mary Margaret in the meantime."

It took another few minutes to lower Mr. Gold's blood pressure again. Jefferson understood that the situation was particularly stressful for him because someone he cared for was in danger, and he was powerless to do anything about it.

"What's wrong, Gold?" James asked, looking up from conversing with Ruby.

"Nothing." He grumbled, taking a seat and twiddling with his cane. Every fiber of his being was simply screaming for them to get Belle back, and he wasn't about to hamper that process.

"It's not nothing- you've been on edge since we found out about Agent French. Do you know something we don't know?" The director walked over, gauging Gold's movement carefully. Nervous, shaking. Worried?

Of course it would come to this, of course it would. Gold should have suspected all along that they would find a reason not to trust him at the very last minute- bring him in with all his charges intact, and damn whatever he'd done for them over the course of the investigation. The lure of a clean slate had been to enticing for him. It was just sitting there, ready for him to take it, and then they'd agreed. A new beginning.

He could never have that now, he supposed, not even if the CIA wiped the records as promised. Everything had flipped upside down the second Ruby had told him about Belle's kidnapping.

"Mr. Price, rest assured I want to bring your agent back alive as much as anyone in this room, but you must understand that Regina is forcing us into her game. We're so far in that if you let her win now she won't stop until every soul in this room is dead or beyond recovering in some fashion. Belle will only be the first on a long list of the fallen."

"What are you suggesting, Gold? Give up Mary Margaret?" Exasperated, completely exasperated. Nicholas would never get used to the director's attitude when he thought he knew best.

"I'm not suggesting anything, Mr. Price. I'm telling you that both sides know too much now. Regina's got one of our agents, and as much faith that I have that Belle hasn't divulged a word, it means she has a way of tracking us now. We know far too much about her motives and exploits for her liking. When you recover Belle you have to take in Regina, too."

Most of the room was staring at him now. He couldn't take this much longer, not when they should working to find Belle and bring Regina in. Mostly to find Belle, but he couldn't fool himself and think that she would ever be safe after this encounter without the bigger thorn in his side out of the way. Without Regina out of the picture, she'd just keep coming back. Arabella French would never be safe again, not while Regina still breathed. Even these few hours would be too much information to leave Belle alive in her book.

"Well, obviously that's the goal-"

"No, it's not the goal. It's our only option." Gold snapped. "You want to live, you bring her in tonight."

A moment of silence passed as his words sunk in, the tension in the room ready to snap at any moment.

"Why are you so concerned about Agent French?" James' eyes narrowed perceptively.

"Perhaps someday I'll tell you." The two gazed at each other evenly for a moment, neither daring to speak, before Ruby coughed gently to bring them back into the real world.

"Ok," she said, directing them towards a map. "These coordinates are in the middle of the woods. If what Regina says is right, then that means the guards are probably positioned here." She pointed to a seemingly random spot on the side of the road. "That's where the only road leading to a place anywhere near those coordinates connects with the main road."

"So that's our only way in." James said. "And Regina will probably have those guards sound the alarm as soon as they see us."

"The only shot we have at getting Belle back and taking Regina down is by surprise." Jefferson mused. "We have two agents guarding Mary Margaret, so only Peter and Emma are at our disposal. We can't take them down on our own."

"Maybe you won't have to." Gold said quietly. Three heads snapped in his direction, eager for any insight he might be able to provide. "I have more pull in different areas of the world than you might suspect. I can get you some backup if you can figure out a back way through the forest." He raised his eyebrows, waiting on a response.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" James asked, standing. "Get to work!"

X

"It's been eleven hours. They aren't coming." Sydney checked his watch for perhaps the millionth time in the course of the night.

"Of course they're coming. They're waiting on the right time to strike." Regina stood, beginning to pace back and forth.

"They know you're not going to kill her-"

"They won't risk it."

"Are you sure-"

"Yes, I'm sure!" she gestured wildly, stopping abruptly in the middle of the room. Belle watched silently with interest as Sydney put a hand on her shoulder gently, as if in comfort.

"Get away from me!" Regina whirled, shoving him away with both hands. "Don't touch me! After tonight I don't ever want to see your pathetic little face again!" He looked as if he'd been slapped. Well, this was a turn of events…

Regina's face twisted for a moment, and then she laughed, cold and humorless "What? Oh, don't actually think that I cared for you." Regina's nose wrinkled, and she brushed at her shoulder where he'd touched her. "Please. You're useful, Sydney. That's all you ever were, and that's all-"

Sydney suddenly reared back and punched Regina, driving his fist towards her eye with all his strength. Belle was shocked, but took the moment to begin struggling against her bonds once more.

"Next time you insult someone, you might not want to make all the guards wait back at the freeway." Regina crumpled to the ground, unconscious, and Sydney rushed over to where Belle was tied and gagged. She wasn't able to speak, but made a muffled alarmed noise.

"I'm not going to hurt you." He said, spinning around to untie the knots on her bonds. In a short time she was free, standing up on unsteady feet. Her legs were asleep, and it was difficult to walk very fast.

"Why are you doing this?" Belle asked, now free of the gag.

"Why did I do any of it?" Sydney shrugged, hanging his head. He seemed to have recovered from his shock quickly. "I thought she…" he trailed off.
"You thought she loved you." Belle whispered, almost involuntarily. Sydney sighed shakily, nodding, then shook himself back to the present.

"That doesn't matter anymore, does it?" he said sadly. "Go. Get out of here before her backup comes from the road- the door passcode is 08-12-19. If she wakes up there's going to be hell to pay." Belle could have stayed to ask more questions, but Sydney shooed her again, urging her towards the doors, and instinct took over. She ran, hoping that the CIA would wind up here before Regina's backup came.

As soon as she was out the door, two large hands immediately crushed her small body to the wall, pinning her there fast. It was dark, and she couldn't see her attacker's face, the only light coming from the dim lampposts around the building. Belle squeezed her eyes shut instinctually and lashed out, but her assailant held her fast. Harsh lights came from the side, searing through her eyelids- flashlights! This was the backup!

She struggled harder, screamed out, but to no avail… or so she thought.

"Peter, hold it!" A familiar voice came from the side, in the direction of the bright lights, and Belle wrenched her eyes open. Emma.

The grip on Belle's shoulders relaxed, the large figure backing away.

"Belle?! Oh my- I thought you were Regina!" the voice was easily identified as Peter, and Belle flung her arms around his neck, never happier to see a familiar face.

Yes, this was backup, but it was her backup.

Emma signaled a group of other people holding lights, and the Carabinieri, the Italian military police, came in behind her. They entered the building with Peter while Emma stayed outside to take care of Belle.

"It's about bloody time." Belle sat down heavily, rubbing her chaffed wrists.

"We were planning an ambush, but the guards at the road slowed us down… Are you hurt?" Emma asked, forcing her to sit while she checked her over. There were so many more questions to ask, but for now Belle simply nodded, letting the relief wash over her in waves. This experience hadn't been as bad as others in the past, but she was glad to be out of it nonetheless.

"Not badly." Belle shrugged, knowing there would be some awful bruising, rope burn, and probably some nasty cuts, but nothing serious. No stab wounds, no broken bones, no bullets lodged in her flesh, no poison ingested that required a three week stay in the emergency department to completely cleanse her of- all of which had happened before. Belle tended to be the one who had the most on-site accidents.

"Are you lying?" The now-brunette woman raised an eyebrow, and Belle smiled weakly.

"Can't hide anything from you, can I?" she asked. "Don't worry. I'm a little scraped, but nothing life-threatening." Emma breathed a visible sigh of relief, and helped Belle to stand. She ushered her back to one of the medics to be checked over properly for signs of shock and have her cuts and bruises patched over as the Carabinieri took care of Regina.

X

In the end, having the Italian government involved only complicated an already convoluted situation beyond untangling, even though Mr. Gold assured that no one asked too many questions. Regina was brought back to the CIA headquarters for questioning by all four government parties involved, as was her accomplice Sydney Glass.

The woman wouldn't crack, wouldn't even admit to more than the fact that she hadn't seen Samantha White since she ran away. Sydney Glass, however, was a different matter. He divulged everything, even down to the very last minute details of their plots, and that the overall plan had been nothing more than the eventual death of Samantha White. He wasn't convinced she didn't have something a little more hostile involved for after this plot, though. Regina's weapons trafficking may have been a distraction, but it was a very real distraction that had almost caused a very real war. She wasn't about to avoid charges with all the evidence that Sydney piled on her. Throughout the entire questioning process, he seemed so gray, so unfeeling, so completely numb that Belle almost wanted to hug him when she heard the tapes several months later. He did save her life, after all.

Samantha White, Belle French, and Nicholas Gold provided enough supplemental evidence and background information that finding a reason to jail Regina Mills wasn't difficult. They had her on attempted murder without a doubt, not to mention embezzlement, treason, and the case involving the death of Mary Margaret's father was reopened for further examination with the addition of new evidence from Mr. Gold. By James' call she would have twenty years at least, and more if they could gain enough evidence to prove the other charges.

In the end, after months of rigorous court trials, Regina was placed under custody in a highly secret facility, known only to a few top members of the organizations involved, for the safety of everyone involved. She wouldn't be bothering anyone again… well, ever.

As soon as Emma set a foot inside the CIA office, Jefferson proposed, declaring that "By God, if you're going to be going off on trips like that I swear I'm saying everything that I want to tell you before you leave in the future." Mary Margaret was planning the wedding.

Now there was only one matter left to attend to… Nicholas.

After the arrest of Regina, Belle had immediately been shipped straight back to Australia, stopping in New York only long enough for her to gather her things under supervision. The Interpol was keeping a close eye on her- there was even a car outside her house- but that meant several things. One, she couldn't really have any privacy, but that was alright in exchange for the assurance that she wouldn't be murdered in her bed. Two, she was stuck in Australia with her family, which was tolerable for the time being but without a doubt wouldn't stay that way. Three, she was stuck in Australia without Nicholas, and with no way to contact him without arousing suspicion, which was completely intolerable. Period.

Her sisters weren't completely stupid. They picked up that she was pining for someone, and pressed her for details, asking if it was a handsome New Yorker or a tall dark stranger. After a while Caroline started trying to set her up with people, but all Belle's polite refusals did was keep her working harder. As much as Belle enjoyed their light banter as opposed to sullen silence, she only missed Nicholas all the more. She missed him especially at night- though the nightmares didn't return, waking up alone on cold sheets was an extremely unpleasant feeling, especially when you knew you were in a house that didn't welcome you. Belle wanted his arms around her, to lay her head on his chest and feel his heart beating.

It was so strange to be home. She had started to think of New York as home, actually. As part of her job as an agent Belle was almost constantly away, and the break the Interpol sent her on (their term was more like "leave of absence," but Belle preferred something more akin to torture sentence) after this last assignment was beginning to feel more and more like a strange dream or a horrible nightmare.

She would have insisted on going back with Nicholas to Scotland, on staying in New York, on anything but this… except that they hadn't given her a choice. Even four months after the incident she was still undergoing questioning, and she hadn't been asked a single thing about why Regina had been so violent towards her. Nothing pertaining to Nicholas at all, actually…

Would she ever see him again?

One morning, after a particularly awful night's sleep, Belle came down to breakfast with her family as usual. The normal comments went around about the weather and the government, and which movies were playing, and as usual Belle simply listened. She didn't care much for this type of conversation- no time for movies, the weather was always hot, nothing interesting ever went on among the celebrities her sisters loved to keep track of, and she worked for the bloody government. The last thing she wanted to do was talk about her job over a meal. It was best just to say silent.

However, at that moment there was a knock at the door.

The entire family froze. No one knocked at their door any more. Everyone who went inside was scrutinized by the Interpol agents stationed at the house, and nearly everyone in town had noticed the car outside by now. Hardly anyone came calling- they went out instead. Odd.

Belle rose, still in her pajamas, to open the door. She held it open a crack, just to peer outside, get a handle on who it was… and nearly screamed.

Her father and sisters jumped up, alarmed, but Belle paid them no mind, hurriedly unfastening the chain and throwing herself into the arms of the man who stood on their front porch. Tears sprang to her eyes, breath coming in short, gasping sobs.

"Nicholas." She pulled him in for a kiss, urgent and desperate, and damn if her family was watching them with those stupid shocked expressions.

"Hello to you, too, dearie." He murmured, one hand on her waist to pull her in closer. Belle wanted to stay like this forever, resting her head on his shoulder and drinking him in, but a sudden thought occurred and she jumped back, panicked.

"How did you find me? Do they know you're here?!" No one would have let him have access to the records, would they? Of course, Nicholas had his ways, but if they found him there could and would be trouble.

"Did you not remember my price?" Nicholas raised an eyebrow, a bemused expression on his face. "A clean slate."

It took a moment for the realization to dawn on her.

Nicholas was free.

"Took a while for the bloody paperwork to go through, and then they wiped the systems and burned all said paperwork, and then I had to hunt you down afterwards..." Nicholas continued, a smile playing around the corners of his lips.

"I'm glad you did." Belle reached up to run her fingers through his hair gently. "I thought I might never see you again." Nicholas laughed softly, pulling her in close once more.

"Now what would give you the notion that I would ever let that happen?" He was about to kiss her again when there was a loud, suggestive coughing sound. They both turned back to the three staring members of Belle's family, and a blush slowly crept up her cheeks.

"Sorry to interrupt this little love-fest…" Caroline began, "But who the hell is he and when did you get a boyfriend?"