Warnings: Rape mentions, dark themes, prostitution.

"If you won't come pick this luscious red ripe fruit, I will"

"This way to peruse the merchandise," Cora smiled saccharine and extended her hand to usher the three weary soldiers in from the waning dusk.

A lick of cool air wafted through the cozy, lantern lit parlor, and alerted Regina to the arrival of new clients. She quirked an eyebrow as they entered. Standing, she smoothed her silks and instantly sized up the new customers' potential. Traveling soldiers were easily sated and even easier to swindle. She clicked her tongue in approval. The energy of the sleepy brothel changed from humdrum to pulsing and competitive in a heartbeat.

"Let your desire be known; don't be shy dear fellows," Cora nodded to the men and gestured to her girls as they lined up. They paired off quickly: a tall robust rugged man for Lady Red, and a lean and willowy bloke for Lady Snow. The third man was of much smaller stature than the others. His helmet hid his face, but Regina could tell from his stance and nerves he was young.

He hung back and shuffled in uncertainty, and Regina took the opportunity to present herself. She lifted his chin with her finger, so her caramel mocha eyes could seek shaded green orbs. Yes, so young. Regina's lip curled into a manipulative sneer: A half-hearted strip tease, along with the swift and well-timed use of her hand and he'd spend himself in minutes. She pushed her leg forward to expose her smooth bare thigh through the high slit of her gown drawing the young man's attention to her body.

"May I tempt you, my boy?"

A flinch, a swallow and a small nod was the only affirmation she received.

"Lay down your silver and accompany me to the loft," Regina drawled, holding out her hand for his leather coin pouch. It was handed over willingly, but his hand on her forearm stopped her as she turned to ascend the stairs.

"Could we go somewhere more private?" The voice was high but the tone was low. Regina showed no signs of alarm at the odd request. Most clients were so eager to commence they'd start and finish in the parlor if allowed.

Cora flitted over, always attuned to a situation in her house, "What is the trouble here?"

"No trouble, we wish to go for a stroll in the grove."

Cora gave her a pointed look, and Regina smiled; she had powerful defensive magic. She could turn his sword to water if things took a turn.

"Outside appointments are charged at the exotic rate," Cora tilted her chin and pursed her lips, and Regina handed over the boy's silver. Without looking, Regina took his hand and led him through the parlor. She stopped to gather a thick blanket, and they went on out through the backdoor together.

This wasn't the first man she'd worked for who barely spoke; Regina preferred the quiet ones to the loud obnoxious oafs who rambled incoherently as they rutted.

The night was cool, but not unbearably so. The first strains of autumn's notes were felt amongst the trees; orange and brown leaves littered the ground. They walked in the light of the new moon, through the rows of trees until Regina came to a stop under one. She spread the blanket efficiently, and plucked a perfect red apple from a limb.

"Each girl here has a tree to tend to. This one is mine," Regina kneeled on the blanket, as the soldier lowered himself to his knees before her with cumbersome difficulty.

"The fruit my tree offers is unrivaled amongst the rest," Regina purred, proudly handing over the apple to the silent man. Regina raised her hands to his helmet and began to carefully remove it. She was curious as to why he desired such privacy, and why he had kept the helmet on for so long when the others had removed theirs upon entry. Of course, if he was unfair she could replace it and tell him that it excited her more that way. The stranger gripped the apple firmly, as if bracing himself. Regina could feel the tension and fear in the body in front of her. She prayed he was no younger than 16 summers. She would turn him out along with her fee if that was the case.

The helmet slipped off easily and Regina couldn't hide her surprise when she revealed long blonde ringlets and the apple cheeked face of a woman.

"Oh my…" she breathed in wonder; she was half in shock and half in awe by the beauty she had revealed.

"Sorry…I didn't want to say…" the woman murmured in quietly. She looked up expectantly to Regina who willed herself to close her open jaw. She thought she had seen it all.

"You're a soldier?" Regina was amazed by the thought of a female who battled. The possibilities…

"I am on the run and in hiding. The men I am traveling with do not know of my…condition," The woman flustered, and bit her lip, "We can just sit here for a while, perhaps?"

Regina looked her over, her eyes coming to rest on the steel breast plates and the chainmail beneath them. They did not receive business from women clients and Regina only had opportunity to indulge her private desires while auditioning new girls for the brothel.

"What do they call you?" Regina moved closer to the woman and reached out to trace the clenched line of the woman's jaw. She kept her touch feather light and unassuming.

"Emma."

"You've already paid, my dear. Surely there is something I can do for you? And the men you've come with will not seek leave for hours. Now tell me whatever you wish and I will make it so," Regina cooed softly as she felt her heartbeat quicken. She wanted this woman.

"I-I want to…" Emma looked up to the sky, gazing at the moon between the twisted branches of the apple tree above her, "…feel safe for a little while."

Regina lost all sense of reason when she heard Emma's quiet admission, her mouth went dry as she unclasped Emma's armor, pulling it free from her chest, "Let me…"

The chainmail was next and then she untucked the soft billowy cotton of the tunic from Emma's leather britches. When Regina reached her bare stomach she placed her hands on her softly rounded belly. She stopped cold and stammered, "you're with child?"

Emma nodded shamefully, "My village was burned; I got away, but not before they…he…"

"Shh…" Regina wrapped her arms around Emma, the urge to draw her close and protect surging through her like second nature, "you're safe here...now."

Emma surprised herself when on impulse she leaned in and brushed her soft pink lips to Regina's red plump ones: A kiss of gratitude. Emma had long ago lost track of the time she had spent alone and fearing for her life and that of her unborn; the growing swell of her belly was the only indicator of the passing months. She only meant the kiss to last a second, but when she pulled away Regina's expression had changed. Regina cradled her face and pulled her closer, they hovered together, breathing the same air until Regina kissed her again. This time there was passion: a feeling Regina thought was dead and lost to her.