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Freedom

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What on earth am I doing?

The thought stops me dead in my tracks yet again. I'll never get away if I keep stopping like this. The king and Snow will be home soon enough and I want to be as far away as I can when they do. Perhaps now that Mama's gone and I'm married, that damnable spell of hers has been lifted. Or the fact that the king's left the kingdom means I, too, can leave.

Taking another deep breath, I run down to the stables and right into Rocinante's stall. His soft whickers are a balm to my battered soul. I've never been happier to see him than in these stolen moments we get since moving to this damned castle. I let him munch on an apple as I get him saddled up and place my hastily-packed meager belongings in the saddlebags. I could have grabbed so much more, but what I have will get me comfortably far away.

"What are you doing?"

Freezing at the voice behind me, I don't want to turn around to face whoever's there. And then, with the faintest sound of fluttering, combined with the lilting accent, I realize who's there. No, she won't stop me. She can't stop me.

"It doesn't matter," I reply, still not turning to face her. "Now go away before you bring undue attention to me. I'm leaving while I have the chance. I can't be happy in this place and I have to go before my jailors return."

"Jailors?" There's real confusion in her voice now. "I thought you were a queen."

Sighing, I turn to face her. "Were you really not listening when I said that they've made my life a living hell here? That I'm not allowed to do anything or go anywhere because of them? If he doesn't want a bauble for the other visiting royalty to ogle, she wants a glorified governess who does her bidding, no matter how insipid and insulting. I'm a prisoner in this castle and I need to get away."

A broad smile covers her cherubic face, eyes lighting up with mischievous promise. She steps closer, watching Rocinante from the corner of her eye as if afraid of him. "Come with me."

"What?" Narrowing my eyes to stare at her, I continue to pack my belongings in the saddlebags. "I hardly know you. For all I know, you're some sort of test from the king."

"And leaving with me is so much worse than leaving on your own?" Her eyebrows lift toward her hairline, reminding me vaguely of my first governess, Varia, when she caught me covering for Mama's punishments. "Regina, I'm a fairy, for goodness sakes! I have access to both fairy dust and pixie dust. Do you not remember me taking you fl--" She stops suddenly and glances around her before giving me another of those brilliant smiles that light up her entire being. "We haven't done that yet, have we?"

"Done what, fairy?"

"You know my name, Regina, so you might as well start using it."

I don't want to. I don't want to trust her. What if she really is working for the king? Or if Mama somehow sent her to spy on me? She could even be working for Rumplestiltskin, for all I know. I have far too many jailors. Oh Daniel, why didn't I let myself die of a broken heart to join you for eternity?

"Come on, Regina, you can trust me. I'm a fairy, remember? I'm training to become a fairy godmother like my mentor, Blue. Let me give you a taste of freedom that no one else could ever give you."

Something in my chest shifts and begins to blossom at the eager earnestness in her voice. A tiny voice telling me to trust her, that she won't hurt me. That she's not like the king, or Mama, or Rumplestiltskin, and only wanting what I can give them. That blossoming in my chest is now accompanied by the sensation of a meadow full of butterflies taking wing in my belly. The impression is so strong, a laugh bubbles up from deep inside.

"So you'll do it?" Her smile is infectious.

"Yes." I frown then, stroking my beloved stallion's neck. "What about Rocinante? I can't just leave him here with my things in his saddlebags."

She shrugs and reaches out hesitantly to touch his nose. "Bring him along. If you don't like flying, you'll need another way to travel, won't you?"

"But…" When the words of protest fail to come, I simply grab Rocinante's reins and swing up into the saddle. "Come with me, Tinkerbelle, let me ride to the clearing along the edge of the king's lands. I want to be as close to my freedom as possible when we try this."

"You want me to fly that whole way?"

"Well, no. Not unless you want to. Rocinante can carry us both."

She flits up to settle herself behind me on his rump, arms going around my waist, and rests her chin on my shoulder. "All right, Regina. Show me what horse riding is like, then I'll show you what it's like to fly. We'll see which form of freedom feels better."

"You're on."