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Complications of the Heart

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The dappled mare trotted to a stop at the top of the hill. Emma breathed in the fresh air as she spun her horse around and took in the massive White castle in the distance. Her family’s lion crest banners snapping to attention in the brisk fall breeze. Another horse and rider ambled up beside Emma and the horse pawed at the ground as he was halted, not ready to stop their nearly daily ride around the grounds.

“One more week, Emma,” the scruffy man mumbled next to her. “Are you sure about this?”

Emma sighed as she considered her very limited options as princess, future queen, and sole heir of the White Kingdom. “It’s not like I have a choice, Graham.” She flipped her long blonde hair out of her face as the wind caught it and regarded the handsome man next to her. “You do though. There are plenty of young women in the court that would be ecstatic to marry the commander of the royal army. You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes, I do. Besides, I could think of worse things than marrying my best friend and a princess to boot.” He smirked trying to hide the fact that he knew this arrangement would shut down any future he had for finding a love of his own.

Emma looked away guiltily, yet glad she could provide him the help he needed. “I’ll make sure your family is protected. They will live in the castle with us and anyone who tries to bring harm to them will be dealt the harshest punishment.”

Graham reached out to squeeze her shoulder. “I know. Our kind are nearly extinct, but thanks to your family we have a safe place to live. This is the least I can do for you. A princess must marry and produce an heir. At 25, you are practically an old maid, Emma, and we can’t have your subjects speculating about why you’re not already married.”

The absurdity of it all made Emma chuckle.

The marriage next week would be one of convenience and protection for both her and Graham. They had practically grown up together and were the best of friends even as little kids. It was always assumed the two would marry so both went along with it. Emma knew that consummation of the marriage and ultimately bearing a child would be inevitable, but thankfully, Graham was on board with only performing those duties as necessary for the conception.

She shook her head trying not to think about that, about having to cross that particular awkward bridge in their friendship. She hoped it wouldn’t change anything. That they would still be friends. She had told him that she had no problem with him seeking fulfillment elsewhere, but Graham being the noble manwolf that he was couldn’t even comprehend such a thing. Once committed, he was committed for life or until death.

A horn sounded in the direction of the castle, and the pair could barely make out the drawbridge being lowered over the moat.

“It looks like the first of our wedding guests are arriving for this week’s festivities. We better get back since we’ll be expected to attend,” Emma stated unnecessarily. It wasn’t uncommon when members of the royal court married that dances and parties started early, but this was a huge event that royalty from all the realms were invited to and expected to attend. Therefore, Snow and Charming had no limits on the extent they were going to in order to make Emma’s wedding the event of all the realms.

**************

Emma eased into the bath that the maids had drawn for her. The steam and heat drew out the soreness from her long ride with Graham earlier. She could barely hear the noise of the dinner party. When she was a child, her room had been located next to her parents, which was directly above the hall used for parties and other events. After many sleepless nights with festivities lasting until the early morning hours, she practically begged her mother as a birthday gift to be moved to the other end of the castle where it was quieter.

Since the royal family always kept quarters next to each other as was the custom, this was against Snow’s wishes. However, she couldn’t deny her daughter such a small thing and after a while gave in. Emma sighed with relief as she sank deeper into the hot water.

There was a soft knock at the large wooden door separating Emma from her bed chamber.

“Princess Emma, the festivities are beginning and your mother is looking for you. I am happy to assist should you require,” Emma’s personal maid called from the other side.

Emma’s stomach knotted at the hopeful sound in the young maid’s voice. She had wanted to give in so desperately, like the two had done barely a year ago when Emma had taken a break from a masquerade ball. The maid had followed her into the dark recesses of a hallway. The kiss had been frantic but tender as the maid stretched her full body along Emma’s curves, languidly seeking more. When Emma pushed her away at the sound of voices in the corridor, a curtain fell over the girl’s eyes as she stated in a clipped, official voice, “My apologies, miss. I thought you were my boyfriend, Ronald. It’s so hard to tell with these costumes.”

The girl disappeared into the darkness, leaving a shaken Emma in her wake. Emma realized then she wouldn’t have stopped had it not been for the fear of getting caught. Since then, she had avoided contact not only with the girl but with most of her female assistants and ladies of the court.

“Thank you, but I can manage, Stella. Tell my mother I will be down shortly.”

There was a long pause before the maid responded, her voice carrying a note of sadness, “Yes, m’lady.”

Emma sighed and closed her eyes. “Just a few more minutes,” she mumbled.

A hard banging at the door followed by an angry female voice made Emma startle awake, “Emma Eva White, get out here this instant!”

“Shit!” She blurted out before covering her mouth, hoping her mother hadn’t heard.

Emma stumbled out of the bath and frantically grabbed her wrap. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She started apologizing even before she got to the door and even after she crossed the threshold to rush past her mother.

She quickly began dressing, thankful that she was one of those women who could do little preparation and still look decent, and all the while avoiding her mother’s disapproving glare.

“Emma, really?”

The young woman finally turned to look at her mother who stood with both hands on her hips, tapping a foot. The petite queen’s dark hair was in an up-do in an effort to hide the gray streaks appearing at her crown. Aside from Snow’s stubborn streak and some facial features, Emma completely took after her father with his tall, blonde good looks and noble air.

“I’m sorry, Mom, really. Graham and I went for a long ride today, and I guess it tired me out more than usual,” Emma explained as she clipped her blonde, unruly curls to the top of her head and allowed ringlets to fall around her face.

Snow softened at the mention of the handsome soldier’s name. “Well, I guess I can’t fault you for that. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with your father before our wedding too.” The queen smiled sweetly at her daughter in remembrance. “However, your guests are anxious to see the bride-to-be, so please hurry.”

Emma straightened and checked her reflection in the mirror. Satisfied, she turned to her mother and took two long strides to stand before her. She leaned down to plant a kiss on her mother’s cheek. “Let them know I’m on my way. I just need to find my shoes.”

“Very well.” Snow turned to leave before spinning back around, continuing, “And Emma?”

The princess glanced up at her mother from reaching for her shoes in the closet.

“You look beautiful tonight. You will be the most beautiful bride this kingdom has ever seen.”

“Next to you.”

The two smiled at each other before Snow finally took her leave.

Once her mother was gone, Emma slumped onto the nearby stool in front of her dressing table. She closed her eyes, fighting back tears. “What the hell am I doing?”

********************

“To the prosperity and happiness of the future king and queen,” Prince Thomas saluted Emma and Graham. He was joined by his wife, Princess Cinderella, and the many guests. Her parents stood by smiling proudly.

Emma smiled down at her parent’s best friends and biggest allies. She didn’t feel the joy inside that her face tried to convey. To everyone though she was the picture of demure regalness. Next to her, Graham squeezed her shoulder in consolation. If anyone could read her silent messages, it was him. She smiled understandingly at him.

“Kiss her!” A cheer rang out from the crowd that was joined by raucous laughter and more chants of a similar nature.

Emma swallowed hard. She and Graham had never done more than hold hands in anyone else’s presence.

Graham set his glass down and raised his hand. “Such gestures are not for public consumption. My princess is a lady, and she shall stay that way in the eyes of her people.”

“Thank you,” Emma whispered in his ear.

“Anytime.”

********************

From the dark recesses joining the massive hall, Rumplestiltskin cackled softly to himself and twirled a crooked finger in the air. “Now, let the real party begin.”

**********************

Across the kingdom, hidden behind dark enchantments and forgotten by time stood the crumbling castle of the former queen, Regina Mills. Over the years, the subjects within the White kingdom had pushed the memory of Queen Regina, the Evil Queen as she was quickly dubbed, from their minds.

In the year before Emma had been born to Snow and Charming, the battle between Regina and Snow for control, power, and ultimately revenge, had turned desperate and bloody. In Snow’s mind, Regina was becoming more unstable and when the life of her unborn child had been threatened, that was the last straw.

Snow had sought the counsel of Rumplestiltskin, the most powerful practitioner of magic she knew next to Regina herself, for assistance in finally ridding her life of the Evil Queen. Charming, however, was more reluctant for he knew all magic came with a price, but Snow had lost her mother by refusing to use the magical resources at her disposal to stop her death and that wasn’t going to happen again.

With Rumplestiltskin though, there was always some fine print in the magical contracts he made with his victims. And Snow was no exception. Truth be told, he held a special place in his cold heart for Regina, having been the child of the woman he had once loved. If he could ever get Regina on his side permanently, they would be practically unstoppable and certainly could take over the kingdom and probably many, many others.

What Snow did not know in her panic and fear over Regina was that magic weakens with time if not reinforced from periodically by the caster. Snow couldn’t bring herself to kill Regina outright, after all the queen had once not been evil and had saved her life. She still held hope that one day Regina would turn from her evil ways and they could live in peace. Instead, Snow opted for a long-term suspension spell that would keep Regina frozen in time for thirty years. Snow reasoned this would give Emma time to grow, marry, and bare heirs of her own to the throne, making it harder for Regina to harm her. Then, even if Regina did manage to harm Emma, the kingdom was secure with a long line of heirs.

But the thirty years were far from up.

In the vacant hallways and chambers of the once great dark castle, a gasp was heard as Regina stirred for the first time. 

****************************

Cold stone impacted hard with Regina’s knuckles as she dropped gracelessly from the bed. Heaving to catch her breath, the former queen jerked her head wildly from side to side, every sound making her jump. Her dark eyes scanned the room, trying desperately to determine her location. The last image in her mind being of Snow White delivering her sentence at the hands of the very thing that had brought the moment on her – magic.

The room was damp and dark save for a few slats here and there high on the wall. It had been part of the catacombs beneath her castle, but now rubble fell from the walls, rats scurried past her, and vines crept through the thin openings above here. It carried the smell of death and decay from its former use and years of abandonment. Pushing shakily to her feet, Regina stumbled to the foyer at the base of the stairs leading up to the castle proper. She straightened her back and climbed determinedly toward the thin sliver of light above.

As Regina exited the dungeon, she found that the castle was in even worse state than the room below. Scattered across the floor was debris - tattered curtains and broken plates, drinking glasses and bottles of wine broken and long emptied of their contents, and bones of wayward animals chased to their death by prey.

A rage filled Regina at seeing her home disrespected and vandalized unlike any she felt before. This was her haven, her safe place. She ground her teeth and bared them with a growl. Looking down at her gown, once a deep, rich red, but now faded and torn by the animals and moths that must have scampered over her body in disregard, she ripped the material from her frame in several frantic attempts until finally succeeding.

She breathed in deeply, feeling an old familiar tingling starting in the tips of her fingers until the hair began to stand on end, first on her arms, then her neck and the top of her head. The rush of magic taking over her body was heady and seductive. She shook her fingers feeling the crackle of energy jumping from them. Closing her eyes she channeled the emotions of her awakening, the events that had led to it all, and the vision of the way her castle and life had once been.

A ball of fire appeared in her right hand first, followed by a second in the left. A wind began to blow through the broken windows taking the remaining glass with them, beginning to swirl slowly around the former queen. She raised her hands until both balls of fire touched, arcing between her hands a little unsteadily at first but then more powerfully as the wind picked up speed. In the middle of it all, Regina stood silent and unaffected, her eyes closed and mouth moving as she chanted the spell.

In a short time, the winds turned to a raging storm, eventually picking up the fire in Regina’s hands and swirling it around her as the stone slowly and violently disintegrated to dust. With a loud clap, Regina brought her hands together, squeezing them together as tight as she could bare, before flinging them out and away from her body. Purple smoke burst from all directions. It wasn’t until the smoke cleared that Regina opened her eyes.

The castle was exactly as Regina had left it before her last fated encounter with Snow White. A slow, knowing smile crept across her lips. Everything was in its place again just as it should be. A quick brush of hands over her body fixed the disrepair of her dress. Briskly, she walked out to the balcony that overlooked the valley before her. She swept her arms from left to right in an arching motion. Golden ripples spread out before her, eventually enveloping her castle and a large portion of the surrounding land.

Feeling more relaxed, now that her rebuilt castle was hidden from curious eyes, Regina took a deep, cleansing breath. Turning, she walked back into her castle and set her mind to her next task. She approached the dark mirror next to her dressing chamber and waved her hand in front of it. After a long moment, the glass began to ripple, giving it the appearance of liquid silver.

“Show me the White castle,” Regina demanded.

Slowly, a picture began to form and solidify. Bright banners appeared above the turrets as the remainder of the castle came into focus. Large groups of travelers crossed the drawbridge and music could be heard in the distance.

“Looks like a wonderful party, eh dearie?” Rumplestiltskin’s annoyingly nasal voice behind her made Regina jump.

“What are you doing here?” The former queen did little to hide her irritation. With Rumple, there was no need to bother.

The little green man perched himself daintily on the edge of Regina’s chaise lounge, one leg crossing the other, as he tapped his chin in consideration. “Since you can’t seem to leave well enough alone and I tend to specialize in hard luck cases, I thought perhaps I could offer my assistance.”

“The only thing I want your help with is telling me what is going on at that castle,” Regina stated clearly pointing out the window past the balcony.

Rumple chuckled in his knowing way. “Oh, that’s easy, dearie. You have been bested again by Snow White.”

Regina glared in the direction of the little man. She walks slowly toward him, her words slow and precise, “I am still here, and I am still breathing. Until either cease, Snow White will never win.”

Tilting his head slightly toward the menacing woman, he smirked as he deftly lowered the killing blow, “Ahhh, but what will eventually be your undoing is in that castle right now.”

Regina squinted her eyes, weighing her options, and as he giggled a little evil laugh, she realized that her options were very limited. She straightened her back and raised an eyebrow in indifference, as she turned away from him. “Very well. Show me.”

“Hmmmm, I knew you couldn’t resist,” Rumple hummed teasingly as he sauntered past her to the magic mirror. He waved his hands over the mirror and then brought the tips of his fingers together, barely touching the shimmering surface. The sensation was one of being a bird flying at the highest speed possible as the image in the mirror zoomed past the battlements and gates, doors and down hallways, until stopping at the interior of the castle grounds. The military training grounds to be exact.

In the middle of the grassy knoll was a slender blonde, clearly female, with long braided hair. Regina walked closer to the mirror examining the image with confusion. She cut her eyes to Rumple who was waiting patiently for what he knew Regina was thinking. She huffed out a growl, “Explain.”

“You don’t recognize the blonde hair and green eyes, not to mention the striking skill with a sword? I’m quite surprised at you, dearie.”

“Stop playing games, you miserable little toad, and just tell me!” Regina grumbled and came just shy of stomping her foot like an impetuous child.

This only made Rumple giggle again. He gestured grandly toward the mirror as if introducing two acquaintances. “Your Majesty, meet Emma. Princess Emma.”

Regina jerked her head in his direction, panic written on her face even as she tried to hide it.

“Yes, yes. The Child of True Love. The Savior. She goes by many names, but perhaps the most important one for you to know is Destroyer of all Evil,” Rumple finished with a flourish and clapped his hands together in maddening glee. That last title he had simply made up, but Regina didn’t need to know that.

Regina shook her head in disbelief as she spun away from Rumple’s mocking eyes. “No…NO!”

“Yes, dear, I’m afraid that pretty little thing will be your undoing. Perhaps if you graciously accept defeat now and throw yourself on Snow’s mercy, she’ll let you live…alone…forever…in your castle,” he goaded her and watched as the machinations of a plan began to stir in her fevered brain. Regina, if anything, was stubborn to a fault.

She shook her head, refusing to accept defeat. She would never give in to the likes of Snow White, not after the pain and suffering her existence had caused Regina. She should have let the little brat fall from that horse that day, and none of this would have ever happened.

“I have a better idea,” she said low and menacingly.

Behind her, Rumple smiled sickeningly.

She turned around to face him. “I need your help though. I need to get into the castle and that is beyond my abilities.”

He strutted toward her, his slimy green hand extended. “We have a deal then?”

Regina reached out but pulled back before he could make contact. “What’s in this for you? You never make a deal that you don’t benefit from.”

Rumple twirled a finger in the air. “That is very true, dearie. Let’s just say that being the Dark One is kind of difficult with do-gooders like Mr. and Mrs. Squeaky Clean around. You know all about that, I’m sure.” His voice then turned dangerous and dark, “They need to go. All of them. Starting with the princess there. Deal?”

She put out her hand and Rumple took it readily. The feeling of wrongness permeated Regina’s being, but she refused to give in to it. This had to be done. She jerked her hand away from his grip. “Let’s get started then.”

*********************

Emma ducked as a blade whistled over her head. The opposing soldier was taking it easy on her. She could tell because he smiled a little at her. Squinting her eyes, she doubled her efforts and pressed forward, her sword a blur as she worked the young man back into a defensive posture. As she held the soldier’s sword above his head, she used her speed and agility to quickly spin and took a close swing at the man. He rocked back on his heels and fell to the ground. She pounced on him, putting a heavy boot to his chest, and pointed the sword at his throat.

“Your plea?” She demanded.

“Done,” he gasped out. A light applause came from the gathered crowd.

She heard footsteps of the next attacker coming up behind and grinned briefly at the crowd before turning to block the sword coming down on her, dropping to one knee to absorb the blow.

“Good morning, m’lady,” Graham grinned down at the blonde.

“Took you long enough to wake this morning,” Emma groused as she pushed up to shove his sword away and stand. She immediately took her stance.

Graham laughed pleasantly. “You know I need my beauty sleep.” He tapped his sword against hers. “Care to dance, princess?”

She moved closer to her handsome friend and could feel the tension building in the crowd from that small interaction. “It’s been a little boring for our guests. Let’s spice things up a bit.”

Understanding the teasing for what it was, Graham smirked and leaned closer. For a moment, the crowd couldn’t tell if they were going to kiss or kill each other. When he puckered his lips in a fake kiss and fell back into his fighting stance, the crowd cheered wildly.

Emma chuckled and shook her head. “You want it. You got it.”

In true form, Emma came at him with her sword blazing, fast quick strikes that Graham easily blocked at first but gradually wore him down. He may have strength and could use that to his advantage, but as a woman, Emma had stamina and speed. Graham spun away to get distance and time to react to her moves, but her fast feet were on him too quickly. He lost his footing and like her last match, Emma went in for the killing move. However, Graham had other plans. He rolled away and then back to sweep her legs from under her. He rolled to his knees and planned to straddle Emma and pin her into submission. Before he could do it though, Emma threw her feet up in the air and kicked up with all her might, forcing her upper body off the ground and into a standing position. She pushed Graham back with a boot to the chest and advanced on him in his weakened state.

From the stands, Snow and Charming watched with interest. Shocked gasps were heard from the surrounding crowd and some cheered. Snow glanced at some of the dignitaries around her. The men were glowering at the spectacle while the women seemed somewhat amused. Among the children of these fellow kings and queens, the boys cheered on Graham to get up but the girls yelled for Emma to show no mercy. A couple of the young girls looked more than a little intrigued at Emma’s showboating.

Frustration bubbled up in Snow as she watched Emma stride arrogantly toward her husband-to-be and future king. Reaching inside a fold of her dress, she extracted a small mirror and leaned forward slightly. Hidden from sight, she caught the reflection of the sun on the mirror and directed it at Emma’s face.

A bright flash from the dias temporarily blinded Emma. She raised a hand to block the light and in a split second felt her back connect with the ground. All she could see were spots until Graham leaned over, blocking the glare of the sun.

“Your plea, m’lady?”

She looked to the dias. Her father leaned forward in concern, but her mother sat back in her chair with a cold look on her face. Anger rolled in her gut and she forced out the word, meaning it in more ways than one, “Done!”

The crowd cheered as Graham helped Emma to her feet. She followed protocol and bowed graciously to the crowd, but she never took her eyes off her mother.

“Emma, not in front of everyone,” Graham whispered in her ear. The anger was easy to read and he feared she’d only make things worse somehow.

He was right. This was not anyone else’s problem but her own. And she’d deal with it as such. She forced a smile and bowed again. Charming dismissed the crowd for festivities in the hall while the participants cleaned up to join them later for a jousting match.

Emma followed her parents and the other royals into the castle, waiting for them to split from the group as they usually do to freshen up. Before Charming closed the door to their quarters, Emma put a boot in the opening. Her father opened the door in surprise.

“Emma, my darling. Brilliant match! Are you in need of anything?” He asked her completely unaware of the problem.

She pushed into the room and made eye contact with Snow. “Yes, I need to speak with my mother.”

The king looked from his daughter to his wife, finally sensing the awkwardness between them. He closed the door behind Emma. “Certainly. What is the problem?”

Emma didn’t even acknowledge his question. She was focused on the dismissive air of her mother. “Why did you do it? I am to be queen. I can’t be seen as weak!”

Snow slapped the table next to her. “And your husband will be king! It is far more important that he be viewed as the strong and capable one, particularly in the eyes of the other kingdoms.”

“But we are equally capable and will lead together! We will rule how we see fit!” Emma argued passionately, her clenched fist punctuating her thoughts as she spoke.

“I am your mother and your Queen! You will do as I say,” Snow stepped close to Emma and bellowed in her face. “Do not think that anything gets past me, young lady. I know more about you than you think I do. You will get married to Graham. You will allow him to lead as king and you will dutifully follow as his queen. Do you understand me?”

Emma swallowed as her mother’s words sunk in. The queen’s eyes said far more than her words did, and in the presence of her father, she felt like her mother was holding back from saying it outright. She knew. She knew the marriage was a fraud, but Snow didn’t care.

Emma dropped her eyes from her mother’s judgmental stare and answered quietly, “Yes, Mother.”

“Good. Now get cleaned up. You smell like a man.” Snow turned from her in dismissal.

Charming watched in surprise as Emma passed him, refusing to look his way. He touched her arm but she pulled away, the door closing quietly behind her.

He looked to his wife. “What was that?”

Snow sighed in defeat. “Tough love, my darling. Tough love.”

****************************

Regina had worked with Rumple long into the night formulating plans and ideas for gaining passage into the inner workings of the White castle. Rumple had left long ago to allow the woman to brood in her quest for revenge. She had slept little as details to the plans kept shifting and changing. Even now as the morning sun rose higher in the sky, she paced the floor thinking of options.

In frustration, she finally gave up and decided to have a light breakfast. It was in the middle of taking a bite that an idea came to her and quickly she moved to the mirror on the opposite wall. Waving her hand, she searched and searched until she saw the lean body and bright blonde braid of the princess.

The young woman moved with the agility of a panther as she weaved and evaded the swords of her opposition. It was intriguing since Regina knew the girl couldn’t have gotten her grace from either of her parents, certainly not Snow.

“Hmmm, where did you learn to fight so, my dear?” Regina murmured as she studied Emma.

Regina’s gaze traveled the curves and valleys of the woman’s sleek body, the loose white shirt sticking to Emma’s sweat slicked skin. A wave of heat rose in Regina’s cheeks. She blinked quickly to break the spell she seemed to be under, but she didn’t miss the flash of light that crossed Emma’s face as she fell to the ground. Moments later, Emma jumped to her feet and chased after Snow.

The former queen arched an eyebrow. “Well, this is interesting.”

She followed the woman magically through the mirror as she chased down her parents, eager to hear what was said. She listened intently, a smile slowly breaking across her face until she was practically laughing with amusement. The princess was to be married to the soldier she lost to on the practice field, and it didn’t seem to be her preferred option either.

“A wedding? Really? I do so love a wedding, but it would be such a shame if it didn’t turn out as planned.”

**********************

Emma was jerked awake by the flash of sunlight that came in from the curtains being thrust back. She groaned and rolled over tucking her head under her pillow.

“Get up, Emma!” Snow’s voice barked from the doorway. She waved her hand and dismissed the maid.

The blonde sat up quickly but struggled to open her eyes, rubbing the sleep away. “I’m up. I’m up!”

The queen waltzed into the room, inspecting the fancy dress hanging over the privacy shield, her hands running over the material in appreciation before she turned to her drowsy daughter. “So it seems. Today is a very busy day. A day full of celebration with your wedding tomorrow. Tomorrow night you will be Queen-in-Waiting, ruling a kingdom with your handsome and noble husband, and a castle full of children to bring the next line of royalty. Sleep, my dear daughter, is no longer a luxury. Get up, get ready!”

With every word her mother spoke, Emma became more irritated and more alert. She rolled out of the large comfortable bed and caught her mother before she reached the door. “You know I don’t want to do this. Why are you pushing it?”

The petite brunette spun on her heel and sighed. The look on her face was cool and indifferent to Emma’s concerns. “It’s your responsibility, Emma. For the future of the kingdom to be safe, it needs strong and wide-ranging power. That is your job to ensure the safety of your people.”

“Mother,” Emma whispered pleadingly, tears hanging on the precipice.

“Get dressed,” Snow stated with finality.

The grounds were resplendent with music, food, and banners. It was an amazing sight for Emma to behold as the doors opened before her. Accompanied by members of her court, Emma exited the castle and walked the worn path to the dias where her parents and Graham waited. She ascended the steps with the requisite smiles and waves to the cheering crowd.

She took her spot at the front of the dias next to Graham with her parents behind her smiling proudly. Her mother had insisted that Emma claim her rightful place immediately among her people and the other royals and make the speech for the opening festivities. In spite of the nerves that shook her and made her feel nauseous, Emma calmly raised her hand and waited while the crowd quieted.

With a slight smile, she began her practiced speech, “Welcome, friends and allies! It is my pleasure to have you here for this wonderful and joyous event. Tomorrow will be a beautiful day, made all the more beautiful by sharing it with all of you and with our family.”

Emma turned slightly to indicate her suggestion of Graham and her parents. She turned back to the crowd and flinched as a strong arm curled behind her, a hand resting comfortably at her waist. She glanced with confusion up at Graham. His eyes danced with cool amusement at her discomfort. She moved forward enough for his hand to drop and raised her own hands out to the crowd, pushing the anxiety down. “Enjoy your day as we will enjoy tomorrow and all of our days forward.”

The crowd cheered and dispersed happily. “Well done,” Snow complimented over her shoulder. Her mother took her elbow and guided her off the dais. “It’s time to mingle.”

Emma was thankful the day passed quickly. Her parents moved her from one group of people to the next, chatting amiably and taking the proffered food and drink. Emma found herself uncharacteristically eager to talk to others because by doing so, she was able to distance herself from Graham’s desire to be as physically close to her as possible. It was unnerving and she fought the urge to slap his hands away or make side comments about him laying the act on too thick, but she never got a chance without risk of being overheard by her parents.

As the sun began to drop in the sky, small fires cropped up around the grounds as celebrants sought warmth in order to continue eating and drinking into the night.

Graham unexpectedly turned to Snow and Charming. “It is such a beautiful evening. Would it be out of line for me to ask to take my beautiful bride for a walk?”

Snow was instantly charmed by Graham’s dapper bow while Charming cleared his throat in fatherly discomfort. Snow answered for them both, “Of course not. Don’t keep her out too late though. She needs to be at her best tomorrow.”

“Of course.” Graham took Snow’s hand and kissed the back of it lightly before turning to Emma, “Shall we, darling?”

Emma looked from Snow to Graham, feeling a bit like a ball being played with by two kids. “Actually, I’m really tired. I had a hard time getting up this morning. I should probably get a good night’s sleep.”

“Don’t be rude, Emma,” Snow interrupted. Your fiancé wants to spend time with you before your big day tomorrow. Certainly you want to spend time with him. I know I couldn’t stand a minute away from your father.” Snow curled against Charming’s chest and gave him a loving pat to the stomach.

Emma’s chin dropped at her mother overriding her wishes, and it took a second before she gathered herself again. “Very well, but not for long.”

She turned indignantly and walked away from the trio. A moment later, Graham caught up with her by a grove of birch trees. Emma stopped at one of the trees and brushed her fingers over the dark notches highlighted against the lighter bark.

Graham’s larger hand reached over her shoulder and took her hand in his own, spinning the blonde around. “Are you okay? He asks concerned.

“I was going to ask the same of you,” she answered, the annoyance in her voice unmistakable.

He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Nerves, I guess. You?”

“Yeah, I guess I’m nervous too. I hope we’re doing the right thing.” Emma’s head dropped and she regarded their entwined fingers. She noticed, not for the first time, how rough his hands were and that everything about him was too much, too overwhelming, but tonight it seemed worse.

“Why wouldn’t we?” Graham scoffed.

Emma shook her head. They had this same conversation many times before. It was nothing new, yet Graham seemed completely baffled. “I’m tricking my family, Graham. My kingdom. I’m being dishonest and that’s…”

“Hey,” Graham quickly interrupted and tucked a finger under her chin, slowly lifting her head. “It’s just nerves. Every bride gets them. Okay? Just relax. It’s going to be fine.”

Slowly Graham leaned in and brushed his fingers along Emma’s chin. A split second passed before Emma realized what was happening and she quickly sidestepped him. “I believe we’ve been gone long enough. I’m feeling very tired now.”

“As you wish,” Graham gave her a slight bow. As Emma walked away, Graham smiled knowingly.

***********************

The fanfare had surpassed anything Emma had ever seen thus far in her life. Trumpets blew, banners flew, and people were everywhere. It was a surprisingly organized chaos. As she stood in the foyer of the castle awaiting the start of the ceremony, an occasional individual would approach her mother, ask a quick question, and then scurry away to attend to the matter at hand. It was clear that her mother had a tight rein on all of the day’s events.

Emma shifted uncomfortably in the tight dress she wore. Every time she tried to take a deep breath to relax a sharp pain bit into her ribs. Her shoes were too tight and the heels too high. Her toes were numb and her legs ached. As nervous as she was though, she couldn’t wait for the wedding to be over if for no other reason than to get out of the constricting attire.

All around her, maids and attendants fluttered and giggled. Someone kept fussing with her hair. It was partially in an updo but the rest hung in long fluffy curls past her shoulders. It was annoying and eventually she shooed the person away.

“Would you please stop fidgeting, Emma?” Snow scolded from in front of her.

“I just want to get this over with,” she grumbled back.

The Queen huffed and turned back around, motioning for one of her attendants to freshen her lip color. Snow and Charming wore their requisite royal regalia – white with entwined maroon and purple piping on the shoulders and edging of the sleeves. Charming’s military uniform was the same but included sword and gold tassels. It was a striking image that matched Emma’s dress and flowers and the more muted maroons and purples of the attendant’s dresses.

With a blare of a horn, the large wooden doors that opened to the courtyard rolled back. Emma swallowed hard as a wave of nerves and nausea hit her hard. She fought the urge to run away, to call off the craziness, but she knew it would never be tolerated by her mother. Everyone was here. Everyone was watching. She had gone too far to turn back now, and she fought the tears that suddenly stung her eyes. This was it. This was her future.

Slowly, she followed her parents to the platform where Graham and his entourage waited with the priest. To take her mind off what she was doing, she focused on her steps. Making sure one foot was in front of the other, that they were sure and solid. It was all she could do to keep from breaking down. The smiling faces around her, watching her, did nothing to cheer her.

Eventually, she climbed the three steps of the platform. She had to make herself look at Graham. He was excruciatingly handsome in his uniform, and she wished she could feel for him the way she should on this day. But it was all a joke, a farce, and she hated herself in that moment. He smiled down at her but it didn’t reach his eyes. That only made it worse. Every part of her heart ached as they turned to the priest who wasted not a moment welcoming the gatherers and beginning the ceremony.

Emma didn’t hear the words being said. She was sure she said her vows but she couldn’t remember them. All she could do was follow Graham’s lead as he turned her to him, preparing to seal the marriage with the required kiss. She was shaking. She felt her body quivering violently as she held onto Graham’s upper arms for stability.

An amused smile came over Graham’s face. “Relax, dear,” he whispered soothingly before raising his hand and brushing it over her face. Instantly, everything went dark as distant screams were heard in the background.

****************************

As the purple swirling smoke dissipated from around Emma and Graham, Regina appeared holding an unconscious Emma in her arms.

“Noooooo!” Snow screamed at the woman who held her daughter. She had tried desperately to keep Regina away from her family and her child. She knew now that she should have killed Regina when she had the chance, but there had still been a part of her that wanted to believe in Regina. But no more. She lurched forward but was pulled back by Charming.

He pleaded with Snow, “No! Don’t!”

Snow fought against his hold. “Let me go!” Then she looked to Regina, a vicious snarl escaping her throat, “Let her go or so help me I’ll…”

Snow’s empty threat was interrupted by Regina’s menacing laugh. She tilted her head as if she was going to kiss Emma before glancing up at Snow in amusement. “At least I wasn’t late for this wedding, dear.”

With a twirl of her hand, the two disappeared into a purple mist.

*****************

Snow doubled over in rage as her husband held her tight in his arms. “NOOOOO!”

For a petite woman Snow was strong and it took all Charming had to restrain her. He tried to calm her, whispering in her ear, “We’ll find her. It’ll be okay. We’ll find her.” His words though only seemed to make her fight harder.

Snow dug her nails into the back of his hand and he had no choice but to release her. She bellowed at the soldiers that stood around them in shock, “I want every soldier on a steed and combing every inch of this kingdom. I don’t care if you have to turn rocks and burn down houses. I want that witch brought back to me. Do you understand me?”

A few men mumbled their agreement but still stood motionless. Their Queen had never behaved in such a way before. They had never seen her so angry.

Charming stood and approached his wife warily. He nodded his head. “Yes, we’ll have her face justice and this time she’ll be confined eternally.”

His wife turned to him and began laughing. “Are you kidding me?” When he looked at her in surprise, she continued, her face screwing up in disgust, “You’re so weak!”

“What are you proposing, Snow?” He asked cautiously, ignoring the uncommon insult.

“Something I should have done a long time ago. Kill her. With my bare hands,” Snow growled.

Then he saw it, the darkness in her usually kind and understanding eyes. The softness was gone, replaced by a cruelty he had never seen before. His beautiful and loving wife looked sinister, worse than Regina had ever tried to be.

The image and the awareness broke his heart and he choked on his words, fighting the tears in his eyes but to no avail. This couldn’t be his Snow. He refused to believe it. “Who are you?”

Snow raised her hand in the air and in an instant, Charming was hoisted off the ground. He kicked furiously but it was no use in fighting. She shook her head and laughed without mirth, “I am your wife, you fool, but I’m who I should have been all along. I should have gotten rid of that menacing whore long ago and now I will.”

As if emphasizing her point and her ability, she flicked her clenched fist open and Charming flew backwards into the nearest wall.

The soldiers moved to draw their swords, but she turned and held up a hand in their direction. The command swift and final, “Drop!” Metal swords clattered loudly on the stone floor.

Charming scrambled to his feet, gasping for air. “But how?”

“With this,” Snow produced a ball of fire that crackled with angry energy between her hands.

His blue eyes widened. “When did you learn dark magic?”

She tilted her head. “Little by little, all my life, dear husband. But when Regina was locked away years ago, I refused to be surprised by her again and determined that if she came after my family again, that I’d kill her. No mercy.” She curled a lip in disgust. “Seems I didn’t cover all my bases and some facts may have been withheld from me about the curse.”

“Snow, please, if you do this, there’s no going back. This is not who you are. We can get Regina another way.”

“YOU ARE A FOOL!” She thundered. “You will NOT get in my way. Nothing will get in my way, no one will.” With the clap of her hands, a cage appeared around Charming with no door and no means of escape.

Charming fought at the bars, seeking any weakness in the metal, but there was none. “Please, Snow, don’t do this. Let me out. We’ll figure this out together, like we always do.”

“Not this time, my darling.” She walked away as he continued to plead with her to stop, the soldiers following her out the door with the flick of her hand.

********************

Regina and Emma appeared in Regina’s castle in a swirl of purple smoke, and as soon as the smoke began to dissipate, Emma stirred in the former queen’s arms. When she realized who was holding her, she began to struggle against the restraint. The more aware Emma became, the more fervently she fought until eventually she created enough of a space for release to drop and spin away from the woman holding her.

Emma dropped instinctively into a defensive stance and reached for a sword that wasn’t there. She raised her empty hands and pointed an accusing finger. “Who are you and what’s going on?” She screamed at the smirking woman.

Frustrated by the darker woman’s amusement, Emma tried to punch her but the woman easily ducked out of the way. Before she could recover, the woman raised her hand and flicked her wrist, sending Emma flying into the wall behind her. Her arms were flung out to the side against her will and light spun around her wrists as she was restrained again.

“You will know soon enough, princess,” the woman drawled as she sauntered a few steps forward, flicking her long coat tail behind her in an air of indifference.

“My parents will have your head!” Emma screamed as she bucked against the restraints.

Regina scoffs, “Been there, done that. Many times, dear.”

“This time will be different. And if they don’t, I will! When I get free, I will…” Emma ranted, but Regina again flicked her wrist.

Emma was silenced and try as she might no sound came from her open mouth. She struggled against her restraints, tears springing to her eyes. “Do NOT test me! I can make your silence permanent,” Regina growled as she stepped into the blonde’s space.

Her eyes traveled appreciatively over the blonde’s form in front of her. “It seems you were fortunate enough to get your father’s good looks. If you keep your annoying mouth shut, I will remove the enchantment. Can you be a good little princess?”

The defiance flashed in Emma’s green eyes, but eventually, she gave a quick nod. Regina smirked and with a flick Emma could again make noise. “Gods,” she gasped, already breaking the one rule the woman had declared she follow.

Regina looked at her with annoyance. “Really? It seems you inherited your mother’s lack of common sense too. I can’t believe I’m now married into this family.”

“We’re not married,” Emma grumbled defiantly.

With a flourish, Regina waved her hands around. “Ahhhh, but I seem to remember the priest saying ‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’”

Emma finally really looked at the elegant woman before her. “You’re obviously no man.”

Regina quirked an eyebrow playfully. This was going to be fun for her. She ran her hands over her chest and curves ensuring that Emma was watching the movement of her hands before speaking, “Do I disappoint?”

Emma swallowed and looked up quickly with a glare, realizing she had been caught ogling her captor. She refused to acknowledge the question though and instead focused on what she really needed to know. “What did you do with Graham? Did you kill him?”

The former queen sighed and rolled her eyes. “You really are like your mother. You talk too much. And no, I didn’t kill him.” She didn’t elaborate, not wanting to give away too much.

A silence settled as Emma considered her options. She watched the dark-haired woman walk around the room, and the location became evident as she saw a large bed against the far wall. It was dark, imposing, and larger than life, much like the woman strutting around the room nonchalantly. Her heart began to race as multiple scenarios played out in her head – some welcome, others unnerving, a few frightening.

“What are you going to do to me?” She finally asked Regina.

“Well, I’m tempted to put that silencing spell back on you at the moment,” Regina muttered. “Time will tell though. You just be a good little princess and all will be fine.”

Emma shifted uncomfortably. “Can you at least not restrain me? I won’t try anything. And stop calling me ‘princess’.”

Regina chuckled, “Very well, Emma. And no. You’ll be free when I know I can trust you. Unfortunately, your family tree’s history may make that an unlikely outcome.”

Emma’s cheeks reddened suddenly and she looked down. “But I have to…pee.”

Regina released an annoyed sigh but the tug at the corner of her mouth, told of her slight amusement. She stepped forward until she was a few feet in front of Emma. She made a slashing motion with her arm in front of Emma’s waist. “Better?”

Emma glanced down in surprise. The urge was gone. “How did you?”

Regina brandished a small fireball in her hand and smiled slightly at Emma’s look of surprise. “Magic, my dear wife.” She emphasized the last word before turning to walk away from a stunned Emma before spinning around again. “Oh, and I can conjure any food you wish. Just let me know when you get hungry.”

With that, Regina stepped from the bedroom, leaving Emma behind with her mouth open.

****************************

The steady thunder of hooves stamping the earth could be heard rising over the hill. A small contingent of soldiers appeared carrying the banner of the White kingdom, the red lion standing in stark contrast to the white cloth against a stormy sky. The horses shifted nervously. This small hill was the last barrier that separated the kingdom proper from the forgotten realm of the Evil Queen.

Like the former queen’s heart and reign, the land was scorched and desolate. Dead trees crumbled in darkened heaps as black birds circled the sky above seeking whatever remained of the decaying carcasses within.

The soldiers stared out at the landscape and the ruins of the Evil Queen’s castle billowing with black smoke in the distance.

“It seems someone got to that wretched woman before we did,” muttered the captain.

“Sir, should we search the ruins for remains?” A young lieutenant, eager to serve his king and queen with honor, asked beside him.

The captain considered the options before responding, “No. No one could survive this destruction, not even that witch.”

A second soldier from the other side of the captain spoke up, “With all due respect, sir, you saw how angry Her Majesty was at her very own husband. Would it be wise to return empty-handed? A bone of some kind, even an animal, would assuage her anger and be the prudent course of action, don’t you think?”

“No, I do not!” The captain barked. He gathered himself before continuing, “Our Queen is a just and fair ruler. There is no need for fear or a need to falsify information.”

The two soldiers lowered their heads at being dressed down by their superior.

Seeing that he had made his point, the captain turned his horse and addressed the contingent, “Come, let’s head back before the sun sets. I’d rather not set up camp near this area.”

*****************

“Where are they?” Snow drummed her fingers anxiously on the wood table. She watched as Rumple passed his hands in circles over a round stone. “Well?”

The fun of making Snow squirm and become more frustrated by the moment was more important to Rumplestiltskin than actually conjuring the magic needed to see the location of the soldiers. He was actually quite enjoying himself.

It didn’t stop him from jumping slightly when Snow slammed her hand down on the table. “Come on!”

He squashed his irritation at the magical novice and tilted his head slightly in supplication. “It is…fuzzy, Your Majesty. Perhaps Regina has cast a counter spell to block my efforts.”

“Right. And that’s exactly why I chose to learn magic from you because you could be bested in the practice by the one person I have sworn to destroy,” Snow quipped sarcastically. “That makes perfect sense.”

When Snow stood to refill her wine goblet, the large doors to the room opened. The captain and his lieutenant entered briskly and dropped to one knee before her. Flittering in softly behind them was The Blue Fairy. The captain addressed Snow with his head still bowed, “Your Majesty, we have come with good news.”

She looked around them as if seeking out someone then stared back down at them, motioning with two fingers for them to rise. “I do not see a certain prisoner in tow, Captain. How is this at all good?”

The lieutenant shifted nervously on his feet and glanced at his superior. The captain showed no signs of concern though and answered simply, “The Evil Queen’s castle is in ruins, Your Majesty. Nothing remains. No life.”

Snow leaned against the table and took a sip of her wine before responding, “Yet you didn’t bring me any proof.” She pushed away from the table and approached the soldiers. “Don’t you find it awfully convenient that her castle is destroyed…right…after…her little stunt at the wedding?”

The captain stared ahead blankly but a small bead of sweat began to trickle down his brow. “She has many enemies. I thought someone ended her for you.”

“Your job is not to think!” She barked at the startled man. “It is simply to do as I instruct you, and my instructions were clear, were they not? Bring back Regina Mills. I don’t care if all that was left was her charred skull! And there’s still the matter of my daughter. Or did you just forget that your Princess is missing?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. I mean, no, Your Majesty,” the captain stuttered and struggled to compose himself. “I will correct my error and head out at first light. There are numerous caves around her realm for hiding. I will check each of them personally. I swear on my oath.”

At that, Snow began to laugh. Not a giggle but a full-bodied laugh that even made Blue and Rumple look at each other in surprise. “A cave? Are you seriously suggesting that someone like Regina Mills would slum it in a cave?”

The captain opened his mouth to respond but Snow raised a hand to shush him. She slowly approached the waiting man and smiled sweetly before touching one finger to his forehead, causing him to crumble into dust.

She looked to the lieutenant who was visibly shaking as he stared at the pile of dust on the ground. “Return again empty handed, Captain,” she emphasized his new title, “and it’s at your own peril.”

The man bowed and waited for the wave of her hand to dismiss him. He walked somewhat unsteadily from the room.

Turning back to an amused Rumple and a surprised Blue, Snow questioned the fairy, “What did you find out?”

Blue fluttered above the table next to Rumple uncertainly, the shock that Snow had killed the captain of her royal army still evident. Finally, she cleared her throat. “According to the law, Emma and Regina are now married since it was pronounced by the priest.”

Snow shook her head in disbelief. She had feared the fairy would come back with that news, but she needed to be sure. She considered a possible loophole, “But there was no kiss.”

Rumple then piped up in his nasally whine, “That we saw, dearie. Who knows what’s happened between them by now?” He waved a hand around in the air and chuckled.

Snow grabbed the edge of the table, steadying her legs as she imagined the unimaginable. She growled at the pictures her mind conjured, knowing that Regina’s tendencies could be far more vulgar than her mind could even imagine. The mere thought of Regina touching her daughter sent Snow into a violent rage. She flipped the table making Rumple stumble back, the globe thumping to the ground, and Blue shrieking as she fluttered out of the way.

“I will find her myself if I must. If she laid one finger on Emma, I will cut all of them off and feed them to her one…by…one.”

The queen stomped away leaving Blue and Rumple alone. She merely glanced at the green imp as he giggled.

For him, Snow had turned out to be an even better protégé than he had ever hoped of from Regina.

**************************

After hours of pacing, Regina knew she should be tired, but she couldn’t seem to shut her mind down. She had achieved part of what she wanted. She had infiltrated Snow’s castle and taken the one thing more precious to her than anything else. The one thing that Regina ultimately had to stop before it destroyed her. She had taken Snow’s child. She had stoked the fires and was now waiting to see how Snow was going to try to burn her.

This is what they did, after all. This back and forth since the day she had rescued Snow from that runaway horse. From the moment Daniel had been killed because Snow couldn’t keep a secret, because a selfish child had wanted her play things all to herself. That’s all Regina was to Snow back then. A new, shiny toy for a spoiled, selfish child. All of the hope, peace, and love that Regina had ever experienced in life had been ripped away with the taking of Daniel’s heart, and in its place, anger and hatred had bloomed, fed by Snow’s inability to see her faults and role in it all.

If only some things had been different. If only Regina had been able to escape that night with Daniel. If only Snow had been able to let her go. Everything would have been different.

Regina wouldn’t be pacing restlessly, waiting for the next move. Because there was always a next move. She wouldn’t be wondering just what role the blonde princess played in her undoing as Rumple had called it. She wouldn’t be contemplating how to rid herself of the woman and take her final revenge against Snow. And she wouldn’t be feeling this ache in her gut at the mere thought. She had never purposefully killed an innocent in her war with Snow.

But as she stopped pacing and looked to the blonde across the room, she knew that was exactly what Emma was. Innocent. Emma didn’t know the full history Regina had with her mother, the other half of the story, and she didn’t understand the implications of her capture.

Slowly and quietly, Regina walked over to the sleeping woman, her blonde hair tousled and messy around her face. There was a small groan as she shifted against the wall, the magical bonds at her wrists tightening with the movement. Emma’s fingers were tinted blue from the lack of blood in her extremities. Regina made a small motion with her hand and the restraint loosened slightly. The lack of hold though made the girl’s knees buckle and she groaned louder but didn’t wake.

Regina sucked in a breath as she tightened the bonds again to hold her in place, then waited to see if she’d awaken. When she didn’t stir again, Regina waved both hands in the air to loosen her hands and made a smooth sweeping motion up with her hands to hold Emma in place before gently easing her to the floor. When she had her in place, she tied Emma’s hands together again, more for the sake of safety than to actually cause any discomfort, but this time in front.

Satisfied with her work, Regina stepped back and waited. Slowly, the princess’ head rolled back to rest against the wall. A long sigh escaped pink lips. It was a sound of near contentment to Regina’s ears. She couldn’t help the small smile that appeared on her face. A few seconds passed before she realized what she was doing. She spun in a huff and stomped to the balcony, where she hoped the cool, night air would calm her down. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, allowing the long, slow release to do its work.

Over the horizon, the faint orange of the rising sun could be seen. Regina hung her head in aggravation when the first thought in her mind was wondering if Emma liked pancakes or not.

***********************

Emma woke to find she’d been repositioned and was now much more comfortable. Not only was her position better, her hands and arms less constricted, but she was now cushioned by pillows and blankets from the hard stone floor of the castle. She looked around to find her captor sleeping on a chaise lounge not far away. Seeing her chance for escape, she tried to move but couldn’t. The move woke the woman on the chaise and a sultry smile greeted Emma.

“Nice try, Princess,” Regina drawled in a sleepy voice then sat up. “I guess building trust will take a little longer.”

Emma watched as the dark-haired woman stood and stretched. “Why trust someone who kidnapped me on my wedding day? And I thought we dealt with the ‘princess’ thing.”

“Maybe I just like calling you that, and you’re welcome,” Regina said, gesturing to the more comfortable conditions the princess woke up to.

Emma rolled her eyes and grumbled, “Thank you.”

“And not just for the pillow and such.” Regina snapped her fingers and a table appeared in a puff of smoke covered in food. “That wedding was a disaster waiting to happen. I saved you from a terrible fate.”

Emma licked her lips at the smell of the food. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until she saw it. Then what Regina said settled in, “How dare you! You don’t know me.”

Regina chuckled and dished up some food on a plate before setting it at one end of the table. “I know you better than you think, dear.”

Green eyes glared at Regina defiantly. “Oh yeah? Prove it.”

Regina sauntered over to the blonde and knelt down, the leather of her pants deafening in the otherwise quiet room. “Let’s just say that I don’t think the soldier was your…preference.” She scrunched up one side of her face, knowing she had hit the mark.

Emma’s face blazed red. “What do you mean?”

A smirk preceded Regina’s answer, “Oh, I think you know. That wasn’t pre-wedding nerves the other night when you wouldn’t kiss Graham. Was it?”

Realization hit Emma square in the gut. “You! It was you! I knew something wasn’t right.”

Regina laughed. “What young blushing bride-to-be with an ‘oh-so-hot’ groom doesn’t want to kiss him goodnight?” She stood and walked back to the table, sitting down. “The gay kind, perhaps?”

Emma’s face fell and tears sprang to her eyes. When the bonds on her wrists loosened and they dropped to her sides, she looked up at Regina. The expression on the brunette’s face was unreadable, yet understanding.

“Your secret’s safe with me, Emma.” Regina gestured to the table. “Come and eat. I’m sure you must be starving.”

Emma only thought for a moment and then stood to her feet gingerly, the long night close to the cold floor making her stiff and sore. At the table, her eyes immediately landed on a knife and without thought she reached for it, but it disappeared from her grasp. She looked up to see Regina’s hand in the air and the handle of the knife in her grip.

“Please, Emma. I don’t have intentions of hurting you, but you have to work with me here.”

Emma’s jaw worked as she ground her teeth together in anger. She sat down and looked at the food before her. Acquiescing to another’s will was not something she did well. Part of her wanted to refuse the food out of defiance to her captor, but she knew she’d need her strength too if she had any hope of ever escaping. “If your intentions aren’t to hurt me, then what are your intentions?” She picked up her fork and sniffed at the food before taking a bite.

“At the moment, I imagine your dear, sweet mother is wringing her hands in worry and fear. For now, that amuses me greatly,” Regina stated. She took a delicate bite of her own breakfast as Emma regarded her.

“So, you intend to hurt my mother,” Emma said in disbelief. “Yet you want me to ‘work with you.’ Are you as crazy as you look? What is this anyway? Some kind of ridiculous ransom plan?”

Regina laughed heartily at Emma’s comment and leaned back in her chair, watching the young blonde in amusement. Something finally occurred to her. “You don’t know who I am, do you?” For some reason, Regina had thought that Snow would have told the tale of vanquishing the Evil Queen far and wide, especially to her own daughter. Emma’s hesitance in responding was the only proof Regina needed. “Well, it seems there’s a lot to catch you up on. Eat up. Story time will be later.”

****************************

A soft blue light stirred Charming from his restless attempt at slumber. His arms, chained over his head, instantly spasmed as he tried to move. He bit back the pain, a low growl the only sign he was hurting, and forced his feet under his body so he could stand. Blinking his eyes quickly, he cleared his vision to take in the light flittering in his peripheral vision.

“Blue?” His voice cracked, evidence of its overuse as he had screamed for his wife to set him free for the last two days. He had finally given up and just been thankful when a guard came with some water and bread on a semi-regular schedule. At least he wouldn’t starve to death. At least not right away.

“Yes, Your Majesty. Please, keep your voice low. I shouldn’t be here,” Blue warned her disheveled king.

He was so relieved to see a friendly face that he nearly sobbed, but he caught himself in time, instead taking a deep breath to speak to the fairy. “What in the world is going on, Blue? I don’t understand.”

The fairy sighed, “You’re wife is not herself.”

“I think that’s obvious,” Charming retorted in irritation.

Blue smiled at him softly, knowing he was speaking through his pain and confusion. “She is sending out soldiers to scour the countryside for Regina and Emma. She killed the captain for not coming back with Regina.”

Charming hung his head in sadness. “Gods…Snow, what have you done?”

“I don’t think it’s all her doing, Your Majesty. I believe her anger and hatred of Regina is being fed and fueled by Rumplestiltskin. She has been in council with him repeatedly these past days,” Blue confided.

He looked up at the fairy in shock. “The Dark One? Did you know about anything of this?”

Blue shook her head. “Sadly, no. He made his first known appearance right after she had you confined. She called me into council and wanted me to find out more on the laws governing marriage, particularly if Regina and Emma’s marriage is valid.”

Charming swallowed, knowing whatever Blue found out would change the game completely. “And?”

“It’s actually a gray area because they were pronounced married, even if it was a farce on Regina’s part. However, we don’t know if a kiss happened to seal the law. Unfortunately, that’s where Snow truly seemed to separate from reality…when Rumplestiltskin teased about the possibility of more than a kiss happening between them by now.” Blue paused and flitted down to face her king directly, “Snow said she will hunt down Regina herself if needed. She is reckless in this quest and has no regard now for anyone’s life, not even her own.”

Charming eyed the fairy with determination. “I have to get out of here. I have to talk to Snow. I have to get her to listen to me. Our love is strong enough. I just have to break through this darkness that is clouding her mind. You have to help me. Can you use your magic to free me?”

“Of course I will help, but the magic holding you is too strong. I need a potion, but it’ll take time to get the ingredients,” Blue stated regretfully. A long moment passed. Blue knew she was jumping into dangerous waters, not only going up against Snow, her Queen, but against Rumplestiltskin too. Yet, she had to free her king and protect her princess. Her mind raced with ways to undermine Rumple’s power and in turn Snow’s. She looked Charming in the eyes. “I think I have an idea, but I’ll have to get help.”

He nodded his approval. Anything it took, any price to pay, he was willing to pay it to get his wife and daughter home and safe, free of the control of dark magic. He watched as the fairy flew high up on the wall toward the bars that brought miniscule light and air from the outside.

He called out to her before she got through the bars. “Blue?”

The fairy turned back. “Yes, Your Majesty?”

“Emma? Is she…,” he couldn’t say the word that caught in his throat. The very idea that Emma was no longer part of this world or suffering at the hands of the Evil Queen was too much to bear.

Blue smiled at him, absolutely sure of her answer. “I have not felt any distress from her since she was taken from us. The Queen has not harmed her, and our Princess is perfectly fine.”

Charming released the breath he had been holding. “Thank you, Blue.”

Blue nodded her acknowledgement and bowed before zipping away.

************************

The small red sphere expanded and contracted as lightening danced between Snow’s fingers. She was bored and becoming more frustrated by the minute. Her captain was due back today with Regina. There was no other alternative, and as the moments passed, Snow became more and more fidgety.

Across the room, Rumplestiltskin lounged casually in a chair and watched the Queen pace, the ball of light, fire, and electricity jumping in between her hands.

“Practice is good, dearie. I’m quite pleased with your progress,” he commended his protégé.

Snow only huffed in response as she walked out onto the balcony and looked into the distance for a sign of her soldiers returning. Frustrated, she extinguished the light and gripped the balcony rail.

Rumple smirked. “Do you really think that a mortal man can contain the Evil Queen or even an army of men? You above all people should realize that when it comes to Regina Mills that extraordinary action must be taken to bring her down.”

The Queen gripped the railing tighter at Rumple’s antagonizing words. “Of course I do!”

“Then why waste everyone’s time, dearie?” When Snow didn’t answer, he stood from his chair and approached the angry woman before continuing, “Especially when your daughter’s honor is at stake.”

Snow closed her eyes, her heart beat harshly in her chest at the mere thought. “Do not say another vile word!”

Rumple continued on as if he didn’t hear her, “It’s terrible the things that happen when a person, especially a woman, is held captive in an enemy fortress. If it’s not at the hands of her own men, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Regina herself would take some liberties with your child. We all know her appetites are varied and powerful, or so I’ve heard.”

“Enough!” Snow spun quickly and threw a fireball at Rumplestiltskin’s head, who deftly ducked out of the way in time.

“Impressive, but stupid!” Rumple threw out his hand in the imitation of a choke. Snow fell to her knees, grasping at her throat. As she struggled, he effortlessly lifted her from the ground and over the railing.

Snow’s dark eyes grew impossibly larger realizing the dire situation for what it was. Everything she had worked so desperately for would be for nothing. She would be dead and Emma would be a mere servant or worse at the hands of the Evil Queen. When Rumple suddenly loosened his grip, she grabbed at his arm in fear of dropping to the rocky ground below and quickly blurted out, “I’m sorry! Please! Please don’t drop me.”

Rumple tilted his head and teasingly relaxed his grip a little more. “You may be Queen, dearie, but you would be wise to not bite the hand that made a deal with you. I teach you the magic to take Regina’s heart, and in exchange, Emma will be given immortality. You get your revenge on Regina, get her out of your life forever, and Emma will never know death or pain. And your family will always rule this land. Now that you have a fresh perspective on the matter,” he smirked evilly at his play on words, “at hand, what do you say?”

“You’re right,” Snow squeaked. “I’m sorry.”

He squinted his dark, cold eyes at Snow, before bringing her back over the railing and dropping her carelessly to the floor. “Much better.”

**************************

Emma was guided to a room where a large tub of steaming water awaited her. The person guiding her, or at least Emma assumed it was a person in the dark cloak, silently offered her a change of clothes and gestured to the tub before leaving. The door closed softly and Emma surveyed the space. Far above her, a skylight on the arched ceiling provided the only light. Unlit candles sat around the room supposedly for whenever the bath was in use at night. She imagined the romantic ambiance it held at night as steamy heat danced among the flickering candles.

She pulled herself out of the daydream and walked to the tub’s edge and felt the water. In spite of Regina’s more than genial treatment, Emma still sniffed the water suspiciously. It was simply water though. Water with a light lavender scent that was immediately relaxing.

Seeing no reason not to partake and her body desperately screaming for the relaxing heat, Emma began to undress. Her arms were above her attempting to remove her shirt when Regina magically appeared behind her.

Emma jumped when she saw the figure over her shoulder. “Gods!”

For her part, Regina was caught off guard too, and for a long moment, her eyes got lost in looking over the pretty blonde’s curves. Realizing what she’s doing, she quickly turned. “I’m so sorry! I thought you’d already be in the bath.”

“You don’t always have to use magic, you know? Knocking is not that hard to do,” the tone in Emma’s voice clearly conveyed her annoyance. She was a little discomfited too with the way Regina was looking her over.

“Please, continue. I won’t look. On my honor,” Regina insisted.

Emma hesitated a moment. The comment was inconsequential on the surface, but something in Regina’s voice made Emma feel flushed and anxious. She quickly continued disrobing if for no other reason than to have something to do. She climbed in the tub and looked at the woman’s back. One of the booted feet tapped nervously, and as quickly as Emma was aggravated at the intrusion of her privacy, she was just as suddenly over it.

“Okay, you can turn around now.”

Regina turned slowly. “Sorry about that. I was just checking on you to make sure you have all you need. I don’t want you to feel like a captive but a guest.”

Slipping down deeper into the hot water, allowing her muscles to relax from the previous rough treatment, Emma sighed and looked at the dark-haired woman next to the tub. “Could a guest possibly get that story you promised?”

Regina sucked in a deep breath. She wasn’t expecting that. “Um…”

“I’m sorry,” Emma said quickly. “You just said you’d tell me more about what happened with my mother, and I thought…”

Waving her hand in the air, Regina shook her head. “You’re right. I did say I’d tell you. It’s just not the easiest thing to talk about.”

“Then why do you want to tell me?” Emma was genuinely curious. For a woman that seemed so powerful and in charge, it was odd that she’d want to open up, especially to her enemy’s daughter.

Regina looked down and dark waves of hair shielded her eyes from Emma’s view. “Because you deserve to know. I’m not even sure Snow knows everything and maybe if we’d ever had a chance to talk, most of our conflict could have been avoided. It’s as much my fault as hers though.”

Emma watched the other woman for a moment as Regina settled down on the side of the resting area by the tub. She was barely two feet away and the air between them was increasingly intimate. She reached over with her damp hand and took Regina’s own in it. “Tell me.”

Regina felt her heart leap in her chest at the touch, but she pushed the feeling away to try and focus on how to begin. “Well, I grew up here. In this very castle. My mother, Cora, married into royalty which was quite a step up from being a miller’s daughter. I think she always felt a bit inadequate and tried to overcompensate. She pushed me hard to live up to my father’s royal lineage, but I was content to ride my horse and be with Daniel.”

Emma smiled at Regina as her eyes looked off as if she was going back in time. She hated to interrupt but she was terribly curious. “Who was Daniel?”

Regina turned surprisingly watery, sad eyes on Emma, yet her eyes were full of a remembered joy. “He was my first love and a wonderful man. We were so young and desperately in love.”

“But?”

She wiped away a stray tear with her free hand and took a deep breath. “But, he was just a stable boy and below my rank. We made plans to run away, and on the day we made that decision, your mother came riding into my life...literally, when her and your grandfather were here for a visit.”

Emma tilted her head in confusion. “What?”

“It’s ironic really. Daniel and I were making plans to run away and your mother, only a young girl at the time, was stuck on a runaway horse that barreled past us. I took to my horse and chased them down, until I could get close enough to pull her from it. Of course, she was ecstatic that I saved her and told her father all about it.” Regina sighed and looked sadly at Emma. “Little did I know that Snow was already planning a way to make her association with me more permanent.”

Truly confused, Emma sat up a little and realized almost too late that she nearly showed her breasts to Regina. She flopped back down in the water and grimaced as water sloshed out onto Regina. “I’m sorry!”

“It’s quite okay,” Regina chuckled.

“Please, continue. What happened then?”

Regina straightened her back to stretch and then started again, “Your grandfather was naturally incredibly thankful that I had saved his daughter’s life and as thanks for doing so, he asked me to marry him. I wanted to refuse, but my mother accepted on my behalf.”

“Oh my gods,” Emma gasped.

“Later that night, I went to find Daniel at the stables. Snow caught us and told my mother. She didn’t let on that she knew though, and on the night we were going to leave, she stopped us.”

Emma was clinging to every word as she waited for Regina to tell her more. When she saw the shimmer of a tear slide down Regina’s cheek though, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know anymore.

“She killed him, Emma,” Regina’s words were so soft Emma had to lean forward to hear. “I knew she used magic, and she had been cruel in using it on me. But I just never thought…she…she ripped his heart out and crushed it, right in front of me.”

“Regina,” Emma whispered and reached again for the woman’s hand.

“Two days later, I was married to your grandfather.”

Emma sat in stunned silence for a long moment. She wanted to say something, anything, but there were no words that sufficed. There was nothing she could say that would change anything or make it all better. All she could do was sit quietly and hold Regina’s hand as tears silently fell down her cheeks.

****************************

The plaintive howls increased as Blue flittered deeper into the forest. The canopy of trees thickened and the air grew dark and still. Fortunately, the iridescent blue light she cast off made finding her way somewhat easier. She had not ventured into this part of the realm in several years, but it was known by all on Snow’s council to be the location of the shifters, or changlings as some called them. The dense foliage added protection to the gentle beings – stags, mountain lions, and wolves, among others – living there in spite of Snow’s law sentencing any person to permanent imprisonment for harming or killing shifters. Hunters still sought their furs, bones, and teeth for trade since they brought good money from black market buyers.

As Blue edged closer to the base of the mountains where the wolves hid in the caves, the howling was nearly constant – a warning to those inside taking refuge. A wolf with a rich brown coat, streaked with silver, a clearly aged being, leapt from the brush startling Blue. All other beings were silenced as the wolf howled commandingly. A lankier wolf with shiny black fur ambled out of the bushes to join the first. The two wolves stood on their hind legs and a whirl of smoke surrounded each of them. In moments, the two were transformed into their human form.

Blue visibly relaxed at seeing the two women. “Granny…Ruby, thank the gods.”

The lanky brunette sauntered up to the fairy. “Who else did you expect?”

“Well, it has been awhile,” the fairy glanced to the older woman behind her, “anything could have happened.”

Behind Ruby, she could see Granny cross her arms and if she did have her fur, it would have been bristling up. “If you think I’m going down that easy, fly, you got another thing coming.” If it was one thing Granny had no use for, it was disrespect.

Blue held up her hands. “I didn’t mean anything bad by it. Really.” She waited as Granny squinted her eyes in thought. When Granny gave a slight nod of her head to Ruby, she sighed again in relief. She looked back to Ruby. “I apologize for coming under these circumstances, but it seems our Queen and King have a big problem, particularly our Queen.”

As one of Snow’s lifelong friends, Ruby was immediately concerned. “What? What’s wrong?”

Blue dropped down closer to eye level with Ruby. She wished she could erase the worry from the young woman’s face. She always took on other’s hurt and pain so quickly and was loyal to Snow to a fault. This would be terribly hard on her.

“Snow isn’t herself these days, dear,” she began. Granny edged closer to hear, worry evident on her face now. Blue continued quickly knowing it was best to do this quickly, “Our Queen has taken up the dark arts and is taking counsel from Rumplestiltskin.”

“What?”

“Why?”

Ruby and Granny barked out in succession, then looked at each other in disbelief and shock.

Ruby shook her head and rubbed at the crease that appeared between her eyes. “No! Snow wouldn’t do this. Not willingly. What happened to cause this turn?”

“It appears that she’s been heading down this road for a while. It started years ago when she had Regina locked away and placed under that spell. The spell was cast by Rumple and apparently Snow was unaware of the consequences.”

Granny raised her eyebrows in question. “Which are?”

“Rumple failed to inform Snow that the spell would weaken with time and that Regina could technically be free long before her thirty year sentence was up. Which is exactly what happened, and Regina interrupted a wedding once again. This time much more dramatically.”

“Would you get to it already?” Ruby snapped at the fairy. She had had enough of the details. She just needed to know where things stood now.

Blue nodded. “Regina took Graham’s form and intercepted the wedding during the vows, taking Emma away in a whirl of magic.”

“What about my son?” A female voice spoke from the edge of the clearing.

Granny turned to the woman. “I’m sure he’s fine, Lucia. Right?” She looked back at Blue hopefully.

“I honestly don’t know. No one has seen Graham or at least his personage since the wedding day. Emma’s missing too obviously. It’s the general consensus that Regina has them both in her captivity,” Blue answered matter-of-factly.

Ruby stepped forward resolutely. “Then we need to go get them. We’ll get Snow’s army and between them and us, we’ll take down that evil woman once and for all.”

“It’s not that simple, Ruby,” Blue interrupted. “As I said, Snow is not herself. She’s using dark magic.”

“So be it!” Ruby yelled. “If that’s what it takes to stop Regina, then so be it!”

Granny placed a hand on Ruby’s arm, but the younger woman jerked away. She wasn’t going to be patronized. With a sigh, Granny looked away from the stubborn young woman to the fairy. “What do you suggest, Blue?”

She looked at the three women before her, eyes stern and resolute. She had to be firm in her assertion or none of them would go for her plan. It was for their own good though. “Snow is on the war path. She won’t stop and won’t let anything, or anyone, get in her way to get to Regina.”

“And this is a problem. How?” Ruby argued grumpily.

Blue had been patient enough. “I seem to recall the woman you want dead, now, had saved your life and your families by putting the changlings under her protection during her rule. I’d think you’d be a little more understanding right now. Besides, do you really want Snow attacking the castle where your best friend and Graham are likely being held without any warning?”

Ruby’s mouth opened and closed several times but nothing came out. Finally, she rolled her eyes. “Fine! What do we do?”

Taking a deep breath, she flitted close to Ruby to look her in the eye. “If it makes you feel any better, Emma isn’t in any danger. I haven’t felt any danger coming from her since she was taken.”

Ruby looked down, a little ashamed but also clearly sulking. “She could just be dead.”

“She’s not. I’d know if she was.”

They held eye contact for a long moment before Ruby acquiesced. “What do we do then?”

“Snow is sending out her soldiers. They’re headed in this direction, and I think it would be wise if all of you made your way to Regina’s castle. It will not only offer protection from overzealous scouts but also provide a fortifying defense should Snow attack the castle,” Blue paused.

“Two big problems with your plan their, fly. What makes you think Regina will even let us anywhere near her castle? And two, if she does are we even strong enough of a defense to fend off Snow’s attack?” Granny was skeptical.

“Actually, while you go on to the castle, I need to make another visit to someone who may be able to convince Regina we mean no harm. While I do that, Ruby, I need you to take your swiftest and stealthiest wolves to create a distraction and intercept the soldiers. Once you have the soldiers misdirected, come to the castle at once. Got it?” Blue sought the young woman’s confirmation.

Ruby nodded. “Got it.”

With a swift wave of her wand, Blue conjured a small vial that floated in the air before Ruby. “Take it. You may find it useful if you or someone else is trapped.”

“What does it do?” Ruby opened the vial and sniffed. It smelled of cat urine and grass. “Ugh! Please tell me I don’t have to drink this!”

Blue laughed. “No, it’s like an oil and you’ll use it as such.”

The young wolf woman sighed. She hated it when fairies talked in riddles. She took it though and decided she’d figure it out when the time came.

****************************

A soft cool breeze rolled in through the open windows of the spacious guest bedroom. Regina crossed the floor and closed the open doors that looked out over the valley below. A soft rustle made the former queen turn.

She smiled as she watched Emma stretch out on her side and yawn, finishing with a couple of smacks of her lips before settling contentedly under the sheet.

Regina rubbed at the goose bumps that peppled her skin and softly moved to the side of the bed. Carefully, she reached down for the coverlet and pulled it up to Emma’s chin. She tucked the soft, heavy material around Emma’s shoulders before sitting down on the side of the bed.

It had been a long day and even longer evening. The two women had stayed up talking well past the time of the moon reaching its highest point in the sky. Once Regina started talking about her life before becoming the infamous Evil Queen, she couldn’t seem to stop except to humor one of Emma’s many questions. By the end of the night, Emma had a new view of her mother and the incidents that had scarred the intersections of Regina’s and Snow’s lives. Emma had held her hand as she retold the many times she had been captured and nearly killed by Snow, but also the unspeakable acts she had inflicted on others in an attempt to hurt Snow.

She felt oddly sad yet relieved to have shared her past with Emma. She had feared being judged by the princess and immediately found at fault. Instead, Emma just watched her openly tell her story with the warmest and gentlest eyes she’d ever seen.

Sighing, Regina brushed the tips of her fingers over Emma’s cheek, the warmth instantly sinking deep into her own cold soul. As much as Regina knew she should keep her distance from the beautiful princess, she couldn’t bring herself to stop. Her head urged her to leave quickly, but her heart sung out at the feel of Emma’s soft, warm skin. Regina indulged one more pass of her fingers before leaning over and placing a soft kiss to Emma’s forehead.

“Sleep sound, my princess.”

Hesitating over the perfect pink lips, Regina drew in a deep breath, shaking as she let it out. It would be so easy to simply brush her lips over the other woman’s. She’d never know if she was gently enough. A soft groan made her pull away quickly and straighten her back. With a rough growl, she turned and left the room.

She didn’t see Emma open her eyes upon hearing the lock click shut or the way the blonde touched the spot on her skin where Regina had placed her lips.

Emma rolled to her back and stared at the expansive ceiling above her. It was then she noticed that she was not restrained and she sat up in bed already pushing the sheets aside at the realization she could escape. The prospect of freedom made her heart race; however, as soon as the thought entered her mind though, she felt guilty. Remembering her conversation with Regina tonight and how her trust had been broken over and over again, even by her own mother, Emma knew what little budding trust she was building with her captor would be destroyed if she left now.

She couldn’t leave. The thought that she may not entirely want to was pushed immediately from her mind. She dropped back on the bed then slapped her hands down on the bed with an angry growl. There was no way she would get any sleep tonight.

****************************

The captain held his sword out in front of him and hoped the slight quiver wasn’t noticeable to the others with him. As they moved through the forest, the darkness deepened and he struggled to see more than a few feet in front of him. The captain removed a lamp from the side of the satchel on his horse and lit it to see better and when he nodded, his men did the same. If finding the former queen was not such a pressing emergency, he’d have been willing to wait until morning to search. As it was, he liked his head on his shoulders and decided to press onward.

The entrance to one of the forest’s many caves should not have been much further so he urged his scout ahead of them. The young man disappeared under the brush then poked his head back out a few seconds later.

“It’s all clear, sir.”

“Good work. Let’s go,” he motioned the others to follow the scout and make safe passage for his entrance. Off to the left, the snapping of a twig was heard and he paused to look into the thickening dark. He held the lantern high, but saw no movement and heard no further sound. “Ah, just an animal,” he muttered before disappearing under the brush as well. Immediately beyond the brush, a large cavern opened behind the entrance and it easily held all his men.

Around the space were scattered pieces of pottery and the occasional bone.  In the back of the cave were tunnels that led further into the hidden labyrinth of the mountains.

“We’ll split up,” the captain addressed his soldiers. “You two take that path. You,” he tapped a young but strong looking man on the shoulder, “come with me here.”

The two groups edged their way into their tunnels. Only a couple of minutes in and a rumble was heard back toward the entrance. The captain instantly recognized the sound of falling rock crashing together, and he ran through the tight tunnel space back to where they came from.

“Everyone! To the entrance!” The captain bellowed.

The rocks piled higher as the group raced to beat them before the entrance became impassable, but they were too late. The group of men yelled for assistance, heedless to the warnings of their captain that more noise could bring the whole cave down on them. Finally, a stone in the middle about head high was moved from the other side. The men fell silent and waited. Two rabbits, freshly killed, were tossed through the opening.

The captain moved to the opening and looked out. “Who’s there? Let us out!”

A woman with dark hair and a bright smile appeared quickly making the captain jump. “Name is Ruby, and I’m sorry but I can’t do that.”

“Look, you! Let us out know, by the order of the Queen, or so help me I’ll…”

Ruby propped her chin on the stone in front of her. “Or what? You don’t appear to be in much of a position to be threatening anyone, especially someone who can help you.”

Irritated at being bested by a woman, the captain growled, “Very well. Will you please let us out dear lady?”

Ruby smirked. “Better, but still ‘no,’ not until you do something for me.”

The man huffed and looked at his panicked comrades, who were pleading with him to do whatever the woman asked. “Okay, okay. What do you need?”

She smiled at the man sweetly through the opening. “The Queen’s plans. What are they?”

“I can’t tell you that. It would be treason!” The man screeched.

“Well, if you don’t tell me, you’ll die in this cave anyway. So…” Ruby sighed and shrugged even though it couldn’t be seen. “If you tell me though, I can let you go free.”

The captain sneered at her. “What good is that deal? The Queen will still take my head if I don’t return in two days’ time with the Evil Queen.”

“Ahhh, but if I let you go, you’ll at least have a chance to escape the Queen and disappear into anonymity,” she paused as she watched the man ponder the possibility. “What will happen if you don’t return in two days? Aside from the unfortunate loss of that lump above your shoulders.”

Frustrated at being outmaneuvered and hoping the girl was good to her word, the captain gave over the information, “The Queen will come looking for me with the remainder of her army.”

A slow smile stretched across Ruby’s face. That was exactly what she needed Snow to do. “Thank you, good sir. You’ve been most helpful.” She placed the stone back in the open hole. When the men inside started screaming, she pulled it back out. “What now?”

“You promised to let us go,” the captain shrieked in obvious panic.

“Oh, I will. Just not today.” She smiled sweetly at the captain and pushed her leather pouch of water through the opening. “That with the rabbits should hold you for a couple of days.”

She quickly replaced the stone and secured it with a long stick into the soft dirt. Three others from her pack joined her. To move quickly through the dense forest, they transformed into their wolf forms and dashed away into the brush. There was no time to waste if she was going to get to Snow in time.

****************************

The petite matriarch stepped into the thin reed of light in front of Charming’s cell. Her husband sat on the dirty straw-covered floor and was propped up against the iron bars. She glanced at his chest and noted indifferently the slow rise and fall.

“You should eat,” Snow stated simply.

Charming didn’t open his eyes when he responded, his voice rough from lack of use, “Maybe I feel sorry for the rats being hungry.” He glanced up at his wife who looked down at him stoically. “I’ll eat when you stop this madness.”

She sighed and looked down at the food plate covered in rats and other pests. “Death by starvation is a terrible way to go, darling.”

He chuckled but it went into a coughing fit. When he stopped, he smirked at her sadly. “Better than living in this mad world you’ve created.”

Snow said nothing but turned to walk away. Before she could move completely into the darkness, Charming stopped her. “Why are you doing this, Snow? I know you hate Regina for all she did to you, but this is so extreme. You never let your hatred of her get the best of you. Why now?”

Snow didn’t turn around right away. She spoke over her shoulder, “Revenge isn’t enough?”

“Not for you. I know you, Snow, but I don’t understand this. Help me understand,” Charming pleaded.

She walked back to the cell and placed her hands on the bars. The look in her eyes was haunting and dark, almost sad. “Remember when Emma was born and that first night she slept, you said that you’d do everything possible to protect her.”

“Of course!” Charming smiled remembering that wonderful night as they placed their daughter in her new crib under the handmade glass mobile, the moon twinkling its light around the room.

“A few months later, she became dreadfully ill with that horrible fever. We thought we were going to lose her,” Snow’s voice still held fear at the thought.

He smiled at his wife as it warmed with the thoughts of their beautiful daughter. “But we didn’t. By some miracle, she pulled through.”

Snow’s eyes turned dark again and looked at him coldly. “It wasn’t a miracle. It was magic. It’s always been magic. When she fell from the horse and broke her arm and it healed remarkably fast? Magic. When she got cut by a sword for the first time and it looked like the bleeding would never stop…magic. See, my dear husband, I didn’t talk a good talk, like you. I did what needed to be done. Just like I’m doing now. Regina will never have my daughter. She will never have my kingdom. She will never have my throne. She sure as hell will never be queen again. Not as long as Emma lives.”

He shook his head in disbelief, the lack of food making it hard to follow her reasoning and machinations. “How?”

“Regina’s heart for Emma’s life. I get Regina’s heart for Rumple so he can control her and use her power, which almost rivals his own, and Emma will never have to fear death.” The first sign of emotion, a small tear tracking down her cheek, was the only reaction Snow had as she spoke, “Our child will live forever and so will our kingdom. As long as she lives, Regina can never have either.”

****************************

Regina looked down fondly at the young woman sleeping soundly – mouth open, pillow wet with a little drool, her hands folded and tucked under her chin. She fought the giggle that wanted to bubble out, and instead reached out to brush a strand of blonde hair way from Emma’s eyes.

The tickle against her cheek woke Emma with a start.

Regina stepped back suddenly and tucked her hands behind her back. “I’m sorry for scaring you, dear.”

Emma wiped self-consciously at her mouth and sat up. “It’s okay. You look…different.”

Gone were Regina’s restrictive clothing and fancy, jewel-studded royal gowns. In their place was a much more flattering, though in a completely different way, black riding pants and knee-high black boots complimented by a loose-fitting cream colored blouse and tailored vest. Regina’s hair was no longer in its tight, coiffed buns but hanging loose as well around her shoulders, the sides pinned back by a clip.

“Well, we can’t exactly go riding in fancy gowns, now can we?” She smirked at Emma’s appreciative inspection and congratulated herself on picking an outfit that pleased the young woman.

“We?” Emma asked in surprise. Perhaps she was still half-asleep but she could have sworn the queen had just asked her to go horseback riding.

“Yes, we, dear. I thought you could use some fresh air, and seeing as I didn’t restrain you last night and you didn’t take your leave of me, I think we may be getting past the distrusting stage.” Regina licked her lips and stepped forward. For some reason, it was really important for that last part to be true. She truly wanted Emma to trust her.

Emma glanced around, her eyes skittering from place to place, clearly nervous and considering if the request was a trick. Regina sighed and shook her head. “Forget I asked, dear. I’ll go riding alone and leave a guard to watch over you.” If this was how Emma wanted it, this is how it would be. Regina turned to leave, but Emma quickly rolled out of the big bed to run to Regina’s side.

“No, please! I’m sorry I hesitated,” Emma began to plead for understanding.

Regina shook her head and smiled sadly at the other woman. “It’s okay, Emma. I understand you don’t trust me. You have every right, but I hope eventually I’ll earn your trust.”

“You have,” Emma insisted. She tucked her head down and caught Regina’s eyes, the wounded sadness taking her breath away. “You could have hurt me at any time, but you haven’t.” Emma paused for a moment before saying something that could very well backfire on her, “I get it, you know.”

“Get what?” The former queen scrunched her eyebrows together.

“You’re lonely,” Emma whispered and waited for the explosion from the fiery woman, but it never came. Instead Regina dropped her head again, a sad sigh escaping her lips. “You’re lonely and any company is better than no company at all.”

Regina chuckled sadly. “You’re not just ‘any company.’”

Their eyes locked for a long moment, a feeling of understanding and acceptance passing between them. Emma finally cleared her throat and stepped back. “Let’s go riding then. Perhaps even a picnic?”

The lightness in Emma’s voice made Regina smile. “A picnic would be delightful. I think I can conjure something up.”

Emma arched an eyebrow playfully. “Think you can conjure some clothes?”

With the flick of her wrist, Emma’s nightgown was gone and in place of it was a complimentary outfit to Regina’s except in a rich, cowhide tan color that set off the blonde curls of Emma’s long hair. Emma looked down at her ensemble in surprise. “Not bad!”

“No, not bad at all,” Regina murmured softly in admiration. Emma glanced up with a smile and Regina cleared her throat, recovering quickly. “I’ll have the horses prepared. See you at the stables shortly, dear.”

Emma watched the woman leave, the short vest doing nothing to hide the impressive curves of Regina’s form. With a pleasant sigh, she turned and finished getting ready for her outing.

The ride out was not nearly as long as Emma had expected. The hill they were going to picnic on seemed much farther when Regina had pointed it out from the stables than in actuality. They tied their horses to a low branch of the tree they stopped under. The view was a perfect panorama of the lake at the bottom of the hill and Regina’s castle beyond.

“This is beautiful, Regina!” Emma said in awe as Regina procured two apples from her saddle bag to give to the horses. “If I lived here, I’d never leave this spot.”

Regina glanced at the woman as she took in the view and smiled. Her horse nibbled on the apple she provided. She tapped Emma on the arm and handed her the other apple when she turned around. Together, they fed the horses in silence.

“I used to come here all the time, when I was younger,” Regina began suddenly. “Daniel and I would meet here sometimes or stop when we were out riding, or I’d go out riding and just happen to run into him. That’s what I told my mother anyway when she inquired.”

Emma looked around the area, images of a young Regina, not so different in appearance from the woman before her, hopelessly in love and filled with hopes and dreams. She almost felt wrong for being there, as if it was a sacred place that she didn’t belong.

“Why did you bring me here?” Emma asked, the discomfort evident in her tone.

Regina patted the neck of her horse and turned to Emma slightly. “This is a special place to me, Emma. For some reason, I…I just really wanted to share it with you.”

Emma saw nothing in Regina’s eyes but sadness and sincerity. Her heart clenched and she wanted very much to make this a happy place for Regina again. “Thank you,” she whispered.

A small smile was her answer as Regina moved away from her horse. “Shall we eat?”

Relieved to move on from the sadness that had taken over them, Emma chuckled. “I’d love to. I’m starving!”

With a flourish, Regina waved her hand. An oversized blanket appeared with a large picnic basket in the middle. Rose petals were sprinkled around the edges of the blanket.

“Wow! It’s beautiful!” Emma smiled happily.

“Please sit,” Regina gestured. “I’ll uncork the wine if you empty the basket.”

“Wine?” Emma didn’t see any but as soon as she looked up at Regina, a bottle appeared in the queen’s hand. “Of course,” Emma chuckled.

Regina conjured two glasses as well and poured the wine. After setting the bottle aside, she passed one to Emma. Regina pointed to Emma’s arm as she settled onto the blanket beside the blonde. “Is that a tattoo on your wrist?”

Emma pulled up the sleeve and glanced down like she had forgotten it was even there. “This? Yes.” She held her arm out for Regina to inspect the design.

“It’s a pretty flower,” Regina commented. “Does it have any significance?”

Emma sipped her wine before answering, “I suppose so. It was supposed to be my grandfather’s crest.” She noted Regina’s slight flinch but continued hurriedly, “But Snow was repulsed that I’d do such an unladylike thing. Being that I’m very stubborn and insisted, since all the soldiers had the crest, we compromised. I could have a tattoo as long as it was something less obvious and more feminine.”

Regina smirked and sipped her wine. “That sounds like Snow.”

Emma nodded her head in agreement and laughed. “Yeah, I was just trying to be one of the men. After all, I’ll have to lead them, right?”

“Trust me, you could never be one of the men. You’re way too beautiful for that,” Regina smirked and sipped at her wine before realizing the way her words sounded.

She glanced at Emma who was blushing adorably. Laughing, she waved her hand as if trying to swat the words out of the air and quickly moved the topic back to safer territory. “So, does this flower from the crest have a meaning?”

Emma felt her stomach flip lazily at hearing Regina say she was beautiful. She was clearly flustered and Emma wanted to tease her. Instead she let her off the hook. “It’s a type of lyon flower which is supposed to protect against evil. That’s at least what I was told.” She was so busy talking that she didn’t noticed the way the color drained from Regina’s usually tanned face.

The queen couldn’t believe what she was hearing. A remembered conversation with Tinkerbell many years ago came back to her quickly. “It’s impossible,” she murmured.

“What’s impossible?” Emma asked as she took some grapes from the basket to snack on.

Regina smiled quickly as Emma looked up at her and handed her some grapes. “Nothing, dear.”

Emma chewed slowly and regarded the woman for a moment. “So, do you have any tattoos?”

For a moment, Regina considered lying to her but as hopeful green eyes looked into her own, she couldn’t do it. “I do actually. It’s a feather.”

Emma was actually surprised. The queen didn’t seem like the type to have a tattoo, but a feather seemed very fitting for her. Curiosity got the better of her then. “So…where is it?” When Regina opened her mouth but hesitated in answering, Emma laughed, “Oh my gods, it’s on your ass!”

Regina gasped in shock at such things being said to her. “No!” She exclaimed with a squeak.

“Where?” Emma reached for the woman’s hand and pushed up a sleeve. “Come on, show me.” She pushed up the other.

“No!” Regina pulled her hand away and laughed, trying to scoot away from the young woman’s grabby hands.

“Please?” Teasing green eyes looked up at Regina.

“Ugh, no.” Regina practically whined but found she was helpless against Emma’s charms. Finally, “Fine. It’s above my right hip.”

Emma smiled at her happy at getting her to confess, but she pushed her further. “Show me.”

Regina hesitated for a moment, considering what to do. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she felt warm everywhere from the way Emma was draped halfway over her legs as she had tried to scoot closer. When Emma pouted though, that did her in. She sighed and slid her legs out from under Emma’s arms and moved to her knees. She pulled the hem of her shirt from the tight pants and pushed the waistband down.

Reverently, Emma leaned over and ran her fingers over the tattoo. It was bigger than she expected, long and curved, filled in with white and edged in a purplish, blue tint. “It’s beautiful,” Emma whispered. She wasn’t sure if she meant the feather itself or the way it contrasted perfectly with the smooth tan skin under her fingers. She felt Regina shiver at her light touch and goose bumps suddenly appeared. Emma placed the flat of her hand over the feather to warm and soothe the spot she had tickled. “Sorry.”

Regina looked over her shoulder to see Emma rising to her own knees, next to her, the warmth of Emma’s touch radiating everywhere. “It’s okay.”

Emma couldn’t seem to move away. She felt frozen in place. Her eyes lingered over the queen’s face and settled on the rich mocha of her eyes. “Is it a special kind of feather?” Her question was barely above a whisper.

Regina nodded and couldn’t seem to stop from swaying in closer to the alluring blonde. “It’s a swan feather.” Something akin to understanding passed behind Emma’s eyes and she felt blunt nails curve into her hip. It was all she needed to close the distance between them. She expected Emma to push her away. She expected this wonderful and beautiful moment to come crashing down as all of them ever did, but when Emma didn’t move away but in fact leaned in more, she wrapped her arm around Emma’s waist and deepened the kiss.

****************************

The dark island came into view thanks to the light given off by the moon. Blue located a small group surrounding a fire on the beach. The dirty young men in torn clothes noticed the strange light that was coming closer to them and stood to get a better view. When they finally realized it was a fairy, they scoffed and turned from her.

Undeterred, she flittered closer. “I’m looking for Tinkerbell. Can you tell me where she is?”

The oldest looking of the group and seemingly the leader snarled, “What would a fairy be doing on this island?”

“I banished her here for breaking fairy law,” Blue deadpanned, having no use for his games. “I know of a few places I could banish you and your buddies to that would make Neverland look like a day in the park. Don’t push me, boy. Where’s Tinkerbell?”

The boy curled his lip at the fairy. He wanted to fight back to save face with his peers, but he knew enough about the power of fairy magic to step down. “About half a league northeast of here. Look for the caves.”

Blue zoomed off in the direction provided. As she came closer, camp fires began to light up the darkness. She could see what appeared to be a ramshackle, wooden fence backlit by the fires. The sound of raucous voices could be heard becoming louder the closer she flew.

It was Peter Pan’s camp.

She slowed as she came nearer, hovering outside the camp and looking for the caves the boy had mentioned. A loud crash and familiar curses came from behind a thicket of bushes. Blue sighed and muttered, “Sounds like Tink is still tinkering.”

Blue pushed through the overgrowth and saw Tinkerbell for the first time in over thirty years. While fairies didn’t age, Tink looked far older than Blue remembered her. The former fairy’s time in Neverland had not been good to her.

“Hello, Green,” Blue formally addressed the fairy as was the custom.

Tink spun around at the annoying voice she thought she’d never be cursed to hear again. “Oh, bloody hell! What are you doing here?”

Blue got right down to business. “I need your help.”

Tink dropped the tools she had in her hands on the table in front of her and put her hands on her hips. She laughed bitterly, “You really expect me to help you after you banished me?”

“You broke fairy law,” Blue countered.

Tink slammed her hand on the table. “By helping a friend!”

Blue closed her eyes and sighed, “Fairies don’t have human friends. It’s always been that way, Tink, for good reason.”

“I just wanted her to be happy.” The pain in Tink’s voice was still fresh as if truth of Regina’s loveless marriage was new information.

Blue’s voice was softer, more understanding now, “You stole and tainted my pixie dust with a false spell in order to show Regina her true love. A person that wasn’t even her true love. Not only did you steal from me, but you toyed with Fate at the expense of that man’s life.”

“He had a lion tattoo!” Tink yelled. “I just needed her to believe and take a chance. She was so scared!”

“Everyone in King George’s army had a lion tattoo back then,” Blue mumbled as she rubbed her temples, clearly exasperated with Tink. She watched as Tink turned to walk into the cave behind her that served as her home. Blue followed her but kept a safe distance even though she knew the fallen fairy couldn’t hurt her. “Look, it was a costly mistake, but I think I know of a way you can make up for what you did, if you’re interested.”

Tink didn’t say anything in response, but she did glance quickly at Blue over her shoulder.

Blue edged closer. “This isn’t for me, Tink. It’s actually for Regina. She needs your help. If you really care about her, you’ll take my offer.”

“I don’t need to be made an offer to help Regina,” Tink conceded.

A smile lit Blue’s face. “You’re going to get it anyway. Regina’s in trouble, in danger, and we need your help convincing her to make a truce with Snow White before she gets hurt, before a lot of people get hurt, or worse.”

“You mean she hasn’t managed to kill Snow yet?” Tink joked.

“Snow’s not the one at risk of being killed by Regina. More like the other way around,” the fairy clarified.

Tink was clearly confused. “It seems like much has changed since my banishment. Since when would Snow want to kill Regina? That’s not like her.”

“Since Snow began practicing dark magic at the hands of Rumplestiltskin.”

Finally, Tink understood the full implications of what Blue was talking about and why trying to head the problem off at the pass was so important.

Blue continued, “We have Ruby, one of Snow’s best friends, intercepting her and trying to talk her into standing down, but we need someone who can get past Regina’s emotional defenses and convince her of the direness of the situation.”

“Okay, wait a minute,” Tink raised a hand to slow the fairy down. “I know Snow and Regina have always had a bitter feud going, but something had to push Snow over the edge. What in the world could do that? And second, why in the world would Regina even talk to me, much less listen to me?”

“Try kidnapping Princess Emma on the day of her wedding and holding her captive in her castle. And because you were once friends.”

Tink covered her eyes, the news sinking in. Finally, she turned to Blue. “Okay, what do we do?”

Blue’s smile was triumphant. She practically beamed with happiness as her wings fluttered faster. “Do you think you’re ready to fly again?”

****************************

Snow shouted her commands from the top of her carriage, her quiver slung over her shoulder and her bow in hand, “And if any of you see that treacherous captain, shoot him on sight. The safety of our home is at stake, our family’s lives are at stake, and our own lives are very much at stake with that villainous witch on the loose! Let’s move out!”

A massive contingent of soldiers on horseback and foot moved out from the castle gates, led by their queen, Snow White.

Snow’s carriage lurched forward as the long journey to Regina’s castle began. She had ordered the men not to stop. There would be no sleep or rest. Those who could not or would not continue would be abandoned by the road. Snow settled in for the ride but kept a vigilant eye out for possible attacks. As she watched below the canopy of the trees, deep into the forest, she saw a familiar red cape. She hadn’t seen her friend in years. It couldn’t be her!

“Red?” She questioned to herself. Then she called out, “Halt! Halt!”

The lanky woman raced to the side of the carriage, out of breath and almost out of hope. “Snow,” she gasped as she climbed the side of the carriage to hug her friend. She took in the petite woman’s thin frame and paler than usual skin. Age may have been catching up to her friend, but her eyes were still bright and full of fire. “I heard about Emma, and I understand you want revenge. But please, don’t do this. You’ll always regret it. I know you and I know you couldn’t live with yourself if you killed Regina.”

Snow smiled sadly at her wolf friend. “You’re not a mother. Nobody comes between a mother and her child. Certainly not that bitch Regina Mills.”

“I get that, Snow. I love Emma too. You know that, but giving into dark magic to get revenge? That’s not you,” Ruby was nearly begging her friend to see reason and as she talked she could see the woman shutting down, “Let us help. Granny and Graham’s mother…the rest of the pack…they’re all going to Regina’s castle to get Emma and Graham back. Look, we’ll do this together. Just like old times, but not with dark magic. Please?”

With a resigned sigh, Snow nodded and reached out to stroke Ruby’s cheek. Her nods turned to head shakes as her fingers slid away from Ruby’s cheek and rose in front of the wolf. Snow leaned close, a sinister smile spreading across her face. “No.”

A blast of magic from Snow’s raised hand tossed Ruby into a nearby tree. Ruby was dazed but not unconscious. She stumbled to her feet and tried to run back to the carriage that was already moving again. She was stopped though by a line of soldiers who drew back their bows at her. Once the carriage was well out of sight, they sheathed their arrows and stepped back in line with their comrades.

All Ruby could do was watch defeated as endless columns of soldiers seemed to pass by. Once all had passed and the gate had closed, she ran to the far side of the castle where two steep hills merged behind the castle. At the base of the two hills was a secret entrance to the castle that only the Council members knew about. Ruby removed a short sword from her belt and worked the lock open. It was a trick Snow had once taught her when they snuck out of the castle.

She used her keen sense of sight and smell to sneak down the long, dark tunnel. At the dead end, she turned left. Going right would take you to the main part of the castle, but that’s not where she was headed. The dank and musty smell of sweat and death became stronger as she got closer. It didn’t take her wolf nose to notice it either.

The first cell came into view, but it was empty. It was also far too small. It didn’t matter that Snow was clearly out of her mind. One thing she knew was that Snow wouldn’t put her own husband in the most cramped and filthy cell they had to offer. She moved quicker as she caught a whiff of Charming’s scent. She had known him almost as long as she had known Snow. Picking him out wasn’t hard.

She ran toward the scent and stopped at the cell at the end of the tunnel. “Charming?”

She heard shuffling in the darkness and a hoarse voice calling her name, “Ruby?”

“Hey, I’m here,” she whispered encouragingly. As he came into the light though, he looked as bad as he sounded – filthy and unshaven, eyes red and gaunt with hunger. “I’m going to get you out of here, okay?”

“How?” Charming leaned heavily on the bars, clearly weak.

Ruby shook at the bars futilely, “I don’t know.” Then something occurred to her, “Hey! Wait a minute!” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the vial of liquid Blue had given her.

“What’s that?”

Ruby shrugged. “Something Blue gave me. She said it may be useful if someone gets trapped. I think this qualifies.” She cracked open the seal on the vial. “I would apologize for the smell of it, but no one would notice down here anyway. You may want to step back just in case.” Ruby placed a drop on the tip of her finger and ran it across one of the bars. The metal slowly dissolved from the place of contact to the floor until it was completely gone.

Charming smiled for the first time in days or he assumed were days since he’d lost track of time. He passed his hand through the empty space. “Yes! More, Ruby. Put on more.”

Ruby did as she was told until she had enough of an opening for Charming to pass through. As soon as she finished with the last bar though, the first one reappeared. “Oh no!”

“Hurry, put some more on the first one,” Charming told her.

“I’m almost out,” her voice panicked.

Charming put his leg through as the second bar began to reappear from the floor and the first one began to dissolve. That one needed to dissolve so he could get his head through, but the magic seemed to be working slower than before. The second bar rose as he waited, hoping to get his timing just right. Ruby was frantically trying to get every last drop from the vial, but she was completely out.

“Oh gods,” Ruby realized the space and opportunity was getting smaller and smaller.

“It’s okay…it’s okay,” Charming chanted as much for himself as for Ruby.

At the last minute, Charming ducked his head through the opening in the first bar and drug his leg over the second bar that was rising, falling to the floor of the tunnel in a heap. Ruby ran over to him and helped him up.

“Well, that was close.”

Ruby swallowed around the lump in her throat. “You were almost impaled.”

“Yeah, I know.” He looked at his friend and smiled in relief. “Thanks.”

She shrugged. “Anytime. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Where to?” Charming questioned as he walked behind her.

“Regina’s castle.”

****************************

The burnt remains of Regina’s castle spread out before Granny, Lucia, and the rest of the pack. The two older wolf women looked at each other, the fear and concern evident in their dark wolf eyes. Lucia stepped forward and released a mournful howl.

Furry ears listened with more intent than usual. In the distance, a weak whimpering howl could be heard. Lucia returned the familiar sound of her son and the rest of the pack joined in. They had found Graham, sort of, but they were puzzled at how he was in the midst of the ruins.

Gradually, members of the pack began to bark. Turning Granny noticed two figures on horseback descending the hill in the distance. As the two grew closer, the barks turned to growls of fear and protection. Her keen sight eventually recognized the approaching pair and turned to the pack with a vicious growl that silenced them into whimpers.

Seeing the dark-haired woman unsheathe a sword at her side, Granny decided that showing her true form would be wise. The blonde at her side barely let her horse slow down before she jumped from the saddle and ran to the elderly woman.

“Granny!” Emma hugged her fiercely. She hadn’t seen the older woman since she was a child.

Granny returned the embrace with surprising strength for her age. “My dear, Emma. You really are okay? You’re unharmed?” She pushed the girl back at arm’s length and looked her over from head to toe.

“I’m perfectly fine, Granny,” she looks to the brunette with a slight blush, “I’m being well taken care of. Wait, why are you here?” She expected someone to eventually find her, but it wasn’t the wolves.

Granny hesitated and looked to Regina, who was watching suspiciously, her hand resting on the hilt of the sword next to her, just in case. “We’re not here to hurt. We’re here to help.”

“And to get Graham,” Lucia said stepping forward.

“He’s safe and unharmed,” Regina assured them.

“How is that even possible?” Lucia pointed to the ruined castle.

Regina smiled down at Emma who looked completely confused. Nothing seemed to be odd with the castle that Lucia gestured toward. Regina waved her hand back and forth in the direction of the castle, and the crowd of wolf people gasped as Regina’s perfectly intact and magnificent castle appeared.

Emma shook her head. “How…”

Regina smiled down at her. “I never hid it from you, dear. Just from prying and potentially hostile eyes. Now they can see it as it really is.” She glanced at a shocked Lucia then. “Come, I’ll take you to Graham.”

Once everyone was safely in the castle, Regina guided Emma, Lucia, and Granny down the long corridors that led to the room where Graham was staying. It was a long walk into the far reaches of the castle, allowing the four women time to talk.

Regina couldn’t help her curiosity. “You mentioned helping me. Why? You used to be part of Snow’s Royal Council.”

Granny shook her head and smiled sadly. “Snow isn’t herself.” She looked to Emma, hating that she’d have to tell the young princess this way. “Blue came to us looking for help. It seems Snow has been practicing dark magic and learning it from Rumplestiltskin.”

“No!” Emma shook her head in disbelief and stumbled slightly back into Regina’s arms as her knees went weak.

Awareness struck Regina all at once, remembering their conversations from just days ago. “That son of a bitch,” she whispered. “He played us.”

“What?” Emma turned to her. “What do you mean?”

She laughed without humor and closed her eyes, the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. “He’s pitting me against your mother for his own nefarious purposes, my dear.”

“What purpose?” Granny wondered.

“I’m not exactly sure, but he never does anything without wanting something out of it for himself. All this time, he was playing at my weaknesses while he trained her to be able to best me. But why, I’m not sure,” Regina seemed to be talking to herself more than the group as she paced the corridor where they had stopped.

Emma came up to her and touched her hand. “We’ll figure it out. First things first though. Let’s get Graham back with his family.”

Regina nodded and the four women continued on. “We’re going to need more help than just the wolves. No offense,” she nodded at Granny.

The elderly woman shrugged. “None taken.”

“You mentioned Blue. Where is she?” Regina asked.

Emma just realized who was missing. “And Ruby?” The two, being nearly the same age, had played often together as kids.

“Blue simply said she had somewhere else to visit, but she’s coming back,” Granny offered and looked at Emma then. “Ruby, on the other hand, is giving us time to organize. Your mother had sent out her soldiers to hunt down Regina. Ruby is creating a distraction.”

“Something she’s quite good at.” Emma smirked.

“Indeed,” Granny agreed with a sigh.

The last corridor they entered wasn’t nearly as long as the others and at the end were two large doors. As they approached, Regina waved her hands and the large bolt slid back. The doors groaned as it opened and the four women entered. A large bed was in the middle of the room and two large windows looked out over the valley behind the castle. It was then that Emma realized it was the highest turret of the castle, and even if Graham had wanted to, he couldn’t have escaped.

“Mom?” A voice called from the corner.

Lucia spun around at the familiar lilt of Graham’s accent, and the two raced into each other’s arms. “My son,” Lucia cried into his strong shoulder.

“I missed you so much. I missed everyone so much,” Graham said with a slight wolfish whimper.

Straightening up, he finally saw Emma and the Evil Queen behind him. “Emma? And you!” He charged at Regina but Emma stepped between them.

“Graham! Don’t!”

“You won’t lock them up here! I won’t let you! Let them go!” Graham tried to get by Emma, but it was no use.

“She’s not here to lock us up! She’s freeing you!” Emma yelled.

When the words sunk in, Graham looked down at Emma in shock. “What?”

“It’s true,” Regina said behind Emma. “You’re free to go. All of you are.”

“But we’re not,” Lucia added.

“What?” Graham asked, then shook his head. “I’m so confused. What’s going on? She’s the Evil Queen. She took me captive. She’s freeing me, yet we’re not hauling ass out of here.”

Granny laughed then and patted Graham on the shoulder, leading him away from Emma and Regina. “Come on, pup, your mom and I will explain everything.”

Emma turned to Regina. Her head was down, seemingly engrossed in a button on her vest. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Regina responded and looked up a little, barely making eye contact with the blonde.

Realizing that the other three had turned the corner, leaving them alone, Emma leaned forward and kissed Regina on the cheek. “You did good, but you know,” Emma said, glancing around the room with a raised eyebrow, “you really need to work on your kidnapping skills. These are some very nice accommodations.”

“I never wanted to hurt either of you,” Regina stated again, even though she had said it before. She needed Emma to know for sure.

“I know.” Emma reached out and brushed her fingers over Regina’s cheek. “And everyone else will know too.” Regina’s answering smile was tender. She scrunched up her nose, adorably, making Emma smile happily.

“Let’s just start with dinner. I’m sure your wolf friends are starving.”

“Our friends,” Emma corrected.

Regina smirked as she offered Emma her arm. “Our friends.”

The feast that evening was amazing and filled the entire hall. Regina conjured a vast array of meats for their wolf friends and no one left with an empty stomach. The celebration continued on late into the evening as eating transitioned to drinking and dancing.

“Is Her Majesty ready to retire for the evening?” Emma bent over to whisper in Regina’s ear as the former queen sat at the head of the dais.

She smirked and looked to Emma at her left. “Are you tired?”

Emma held Regina’s eyes with her own, a slow, teasing smile spreading across her face. “Not yet, but I hope to be before the night is over.”

The suggestion made Regina suck in a surprised gasp. A knowing look was returned. “Let’s get on with it then.”

The two of them stood and bid their farewells to Granny, Graham, and the others at their table. Emma leaned down to give Graham a friendly hug goodnight.

“Have fun,” he teased, smirking at his friend.

“Oh, shut up!” Emma nudged his shoulder and laughed.

The walk to Regina’s chamber took an agonizingly long time, and every time someone stopped them to chat, Emma wanted to beat them with the hilt of her sword. Eventually, they arrived. Regina paused at the door and looked over to a waiting Emma.

“Are you absolutely sure?” Regina had been in the position of having no choice in her partners before, and she would never take that choice away from Emma.

Emma took her face and kissed her soundly, allowing her lips to linger over Regina’s. “How’s that for an answer?”

The normally confident queen smiled tremulously at Emma before sliding the bolt back and pushing the heavy door open. With the flick of her wrist, the room was bathed in soft candlelight as Regina conjured possibly hundreds of candles to be scattered about the massive space.

“Are you going to scatter rose petals over the sheets?” Emma teased trying to lighten the tension.

Regina stopped with her hand in mid-air, wondering if Emma was perhaps a mind reader. She dropped her hand. “It crossed my mind briefly.”

Emma took Regina’s hand and turned her so they were facing each other. “You don’t have to do all of that. I’m not going anywhere. I want to be here.”

Swallowing with emotion, Regina brushed the back of her fingers over Emma’s cheek. “I want to though. I want to give you everything.”

Emma moved in closer, the warmth of Regina’s body enticing her even more. “I already have everything. You’re right here.”

The kiss started soft and exploratory, like the one earlier today at their picnic, learning the other and memorizing the taste and feel of the other. Emma wrapped her arms around Regina’s waist and pulled her closer, their breasts grazing against each other through the thin material of their gowns and shirts.

Regina groaned softly, her need building, as she ran her hands over Emma’s strong shoulders and into the loose curls of her hair. The softness contrasted with the muscular curves of Emma’s body against her own to drive her desire to the next level. She broke the kiss and tasted her way down Emma’s neck, flicking out her tongue to caress the tender spot behind Emma’s ear before traveling down to the groove between neck and shoulders.

Emma rolled her head back as Regina’s teeth nipped in the dip behind her collarbone giving the woman more access. Her hands wandered up Regina’s spine, her nails digging into the thin material as they traveled down again. She heard Regina’s hiss and felt another, more insistent nip to her neck. She did it again and was rewarded with another bite that verged on painful, making her legs feel weak.

“Too many clothes,” Emma gasped and frantically began seeking the ties that held Regina’s corset closed. She growled with frustration when the dress didn’t loosen fast enough and Regina giggled. “Don’t laugh,” Emma chided, but she couldn’t contain her own chuckle.

“We have all night, dear.” Regina stepped back out of Emma’s embrace, causing the blonde to huff in annoyance. Regina slid the straps of her dress off her shoulders as Emma watched. “Besides, I made the rest of it easy for you.”

When the dress fell to the floor, Emma’s mouth fell open. Standing before her was the most regal and beautiful creature she’d ever seen, completely naked and completely hers.

Regina smiled at Emma’s obvious state of surprise. When Emma looked up, she crooked a finger at the blonde. “You’re turn. Come here.”

While Emma had good intentions of doing exactly as she was told, her feet couldn’t move. She was mesmerized as Regina chuckled and stepped forward. Long, delicate fingers reached for Emma’s belt and deftly undid it along with the ties. Nails teased the exposed skin of Emma’s lower stomach. Finally, coming back to herself, Emma somehow managed to unbutton the short, military-style jacket, tossing it out of the way, as Regina loosened the ties of Emma’s undershirt for it to join the jacket.

Regina took a moment to admire the ample breasts suddenly on display before her. She used the tip of her finger to touch one of Emma’s nipples, watching as it tightened. She couldn’t resist the urge so she dipped her head and took the pert nipple into her mouth.

Emma gasped at the sensation as Regina’s warm and wet mouth enveloped her. “Oh gods!” Hands flew up to hold Regina in place, and as Emma looked down at the sight of Regina suckling her, any remaining doubts flew away as well. “Regina,” Emma breathed out and the dark eyes of her queen looked up, riveting her in place as the hot mouth continued to work Emma’s breast. Emma saw the question in Regina’s eyes. “I need you.”

Regina stood quickly, taking Emma in a searing kiss, breaking only long enough to speak, “And you shall have me…all of me.” She pushed Emma’s pants down, exposing Emma’s sex to the cool air of the room. “And I shall have you.”

“All of me,” Emma shook at the awareness. She would willingly give everything to Regina. She felt herself being guided further into the room and closer to the bed until her hips hit the edge of the mattress.

“Get on the bed.”

Emma did as she was told, waiting as Regina pulled off Emma’s boots and pants, dropping them carelessly by the bed. It was only then that Emma noticed that Regina was on her knees. Regina scooted closer using her hands on Emma’s knees to spread her legs. Emma felt incredibly exposed and also incredibly aroused as Regina slid her hands up Emma’s thighs to use her fingers to open Emma to her view. Emma didn’t miss the way her eyes glazed over with desire or the way she licked her lips. She was so amazingly wet. She could feel her wetness dripping from her and with every look or gesture Regina made, the sensation only increased.

Regina was surprising even herself with how wanton she was being and at how much she desired the young woman before her. It was all she could do to not devour her completely. She licked her lips as her mouth watered, the scent of Emma’s sex driving her mad with need. She bit her bottom lip to maintain a sense of control before squeezing Emma’s inner thighs. She looked up at Emma through a messy curtain of blonde curls. “I want to taste you, Emma.”

Emma drew in a shaky breath and nodded her consent. Below her, Regina placed Emma’s thighs on her shoulders and slid Emma’s sex closer to her mouth, opening her wider. Her upper body fell back but she braced herself on her elbows wanting to watch the wonder that was Regina Mills. When Regina’s tongue snuck out to take its first taste though, Emma lost all ability to focus. She fell back to the bed with a long, low groan. “Yes,” she sighed at the amazing sensation of Regina’s tongue dipping into her folds.

The first taste was beyond anything Regina had imagined – a tangy sweetness that filled up the last bitter places in Regina’s soul. When Emma groaned her approval, Regina closed her eyes and simply worshipped the beauty and wonder of her lover. She wasn’t trying to make Emma orgasm. She didn’t even care about her own though her sex throbbed with need. All she wanted was to love Emma, to truly make love to her. She did exactly that – slowly and thoroughly – until she felt Emma quiver many minutes later. She moved her tongue up to Emma’s hard clit and entered her gently with two fingers as her mouth continued to work Emma’s body into an excited frenzy. Her fingers pushed deeper becoming more forceful and demanding as Emma arched from the bed, seeking and needing more.

Regina gave it to her, entering her with a third finger and curling them upwards.

Emma shook with the force of her orgasm, her breath coming in loud gasps trying to slow down her racing heart. For a long moment, she laid there with her eyes closed not quite believing what had just happened. She felt the bed dip beside her. She opened her eyes to the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. She rolled to her side aware of Regina’s fingers still inside her causing new shivers of delight to pass through her. Once settled, she brushed a finger over Regina’s swollen lips and down through the dampness that remained on her chin. Curious, she leaned forward and ran her tongue over Regina’s chin then leaning back and licking her lips.

“Well?” Regina asked with a little apprehension, noticing the way Emma’s eyebrows scrunched together. Slowly, she removed herself from Emma and brought her hand up between them.

Emma held her eyes for a long time, so long it almost made Regina wonder if she’d heard her question, and then she unexpectedly took Regina’s fingers in her mouth, sucking long and slow, her tongue curling around each digit.

Regina’s breath hitched at the image before her and the sensation moving surprisingly from her fingers to her core. She pulled her fingers from Emma’s hot mouth and kissed her with abandon, rolling to her back and deepening the kiss. The kiss went on and on as the two women lost themselves in the other, legs intertwining and hands mapping the dips and curves of the other’s body.

Emma broke from the kiss and looked into the dark eyes of her lover as one of her hands teased at Regina’s nipple. Regina’s gasp made her immediately yearn for more. She wanted to see Regina losing control, clawing at the sheets and her back trying to stay grounded. Emma replaced her hand with her mouth, gently tracing the outside of Regina’s nipple. When Regina arched her back seeking more contact, she closed her mouth around the pert nipple and was instantly rewarded as Regina buried her hands in Emma’s hair, holding her right where she wanted and needed her.

“Dear gods, Emma,” Regina breathlessly exhaled.

Emma gave Regina’s nipple one last sweep of her tongue before looking up. “I take it you like that.”

All Regina could do was hum in appreciation, her body still vibrating from the sensations Emma had given her.

Emma used her knee to move Regina’s legs apart and guided her hand between their bodies. She watched the changing expressions on Regina’s face as her fingers dipped between damp folds. Shock was followed by a smug smile on Regina’s face. Emma couldn’t stop the smirk on her face. “Is that what you want, Your Majesty?”

Slowly, Regina opened her eyes and looked at Emma. Her hand came up to tuck a strand of blonde hair behind Emma’s ear. “I want you, Emma.”

Emma swallowed at the vulnerable sincerity in Regina’s eyes. The realization that no one had ever given Regina what she wanted, not just intimately but emotionally, hit Emma hard. She not only saw the pain in Regina’s eyes at all the remembered slights in her life but she felt them as well. She softly kissed Regina, trying to convey everything she felt in that touch, before slowly moving her fingers lower and deeper. “You have me, Regina. You always will.”

Regina’s eyes fluttered closed and she took in a shuttering breath at being filled so completely, and not just physically. Regina could feel the completeness, the feeling of coming home, in her very soul. Her heart no longer ached with loss or longing, but soared from the joy of the moment and the understanding that passed between her and Emma.

And Regina gave herself over to it. No titles, no family feuds, no vengeance. Just two people who finally found a home.

Regina pulled Emma into a kiss as she neared the edge, breaking it only as she fell over the precipice, holding tight to Emma knowing she’d be caught.

They stayed like that for a long moment as Regina’s heart slowed and her breathing evened out. Gently, Emma moved to her back. “Come here,” Emma urged in her half sleepy state.

Regina curled into Emma’s side, her head resting on her shoulder and an arm draped lazily over Emma’s waist. Emma managed to reach the sheets and pulled them up. Eventually, she settled comfortably and kissed the top of Regina’s head. A soft deep breath came from Regina and it made Emma smile. The words that sat on the tip of her tongue and tattooed now on her heart were fighting to escape. With Regina clearly asleep, Emma whispered them, “I love you, Regina.”

Regina stretched against Emma’s side and nestled closer, her words barely audible and somewhat muffled, but there was no mistaking them to Emma. “Love you too.”

****************************

A soft kiss to the back of her shoulder was the first thing she felt. Then a brush of fingers across her stomach. Warm thighs pressed into the back of her own. Emma decided then and there that this was the best way to wake up, and she wanted to do so, exactly like this, every morning. She stretched and yawned, pressing her body into the soft curves behind her in the process. Breasts teased across her shoulder blades.

“Mmmmmm,” Emma hummed pleasantly as she turned slightly to look at Regina.

Regina was enjoying her ministrations. After being awake for a good half hour and being tortured by the sensuous and silky skin of her love so close, she couldn’t resist any longer. Little kisses to the shoulder, a curl of her leg along Emma’s thigh…a light caress of fingers across Emma’s stomach. It took all of Regina’s control to not run her hand over Emma’s delectable ass and between her thighs where she had easy access to Emma’s sex.

Which is exactly what she did now that Emma was waking up.

“Good morning to me,” Emma smirked as she pulled Regina into a lazy kiss.

“And me,” Regina agreed, losing herself in the feel of Emma’s body responding to her touch.

A knock at the door to Regina’s chambers broke the spell the two women were under. Regina growled at the interruption, “What is it?”

Granny called through the door, “You two need to come up for air sometime. At least hydrate and eat something…else.”

Emma’s eyes were huge as they stared up at Regina, who side-eyed Emma nervously at them being caught.

“How did she…?” Emma started.

“Wolf hearing. You two kept all of us awake most of the night,” Granny interrupted, proving just how keen her hearing really was.

“Sorry!” Emma called out, wanting to crawl under the bed and never leave again.

Granny’s laughter could be heard through the door, “No worries, child. Breakfast is ready though when you two are.”

Emma fell back into the covers with a grumble. She covered her eyes. “Oh gods, how do I face everyone now?”

Seeing Emma embarrassed, Regina’s natural instinct of self-preservation kicked in. She released Emma and sat up in bed, immediately looking for her clothes. “Well, dear, why don’t you just tell them it was a mistake? You were weak, lonely, or better yet, I put you under a spell and seduced you.”

Emma didn’t miss the cold and self-deprecating tone, and she sprung to her feet to catch Regina before she could escape the bedchamber. “Whoa, wait just a minute! This wasn’t a mistake. Unless you think it was. Do you, Regina?”

“Of course not,” Regina whispered, tears already welling up in her eyes.

“Then where did that just come from?”

Regina squeezed her eyes shut, willing away the tears so she could talk. “A lifetime of never being good enough. Why should now be any different?”

Emma understood then. Regina embodied the very fears that Emma held of herself and her relationship with her parents. She knew that if Snow found out that Emma preferred women that she’d never be good enough either. While Regina had faced all those fears, Emma had ran from them like a coward. She’d been willing to hide away in a loveless marriage just to avoid disappointing her mother.

Emma cupped Regina’s face, bringing dark eyes up to look into her own. “How could I not love someone as brave and beautiful as you?”

“Love?”

Emma smiled softly at the other woman. “You are perfect for me, just the way you are.”

Regina kissed her, if for no other reason than to prove this moment was real and not some crazy dream. Then a thought occurred to her, the pessimistic side of her brain always nudging its way forward. She pulled back and looked Emma in the eyes.

“Emma, you need to be sure about this, about us.”

“I am!” Emma insisted.

Regina raised a hand to stop her from going on. “Wait, think about it. Snow could very well be taking us into war. If she finds out about us…” Regina shook her head, “one of us probably won’t make it out alive. You could lose one or both of us.”

Reality seemed to hit Emma then and she stepped back a couple of paces. Regina waited, her nerves on edge. Emma turned and walked a few steps toward the window.

“I’m not giving you up, Regina,” Emma finally said over her shoulder. “We need to get through to my mother somehow. We need to find a way. However, we do it though, we do it together.”

Regina went to Emma and wrapped her arms around her waist from behind. She nuzzled into the warmth of Emma’s neck, placing a soft kiss on the spot behind her ear. “Together.”

With the wave of her hands, purple smoke flew out in all directions from Regina’s hands.

“What are you doing?” Emma turned in her arms.

Regina took a deep breath and ran her fingers along Emma’s cheek until one tucked under her chin. “I took away the cloak on the castle. If we’re doing this together, there can’t be any hiding.”

Emma nodded and smiled coyly at Regina. “I think you’re talking about more than the castle.”

Regina raised and kissed the back of Emma’s hand. “You’d be right, my princess.”

******************************

“Nice of you two to finally join us,” Granny quipped at Emma and Regina as they entered the grand hall. The elder wolf woman couldn’t care less about royalty or protocols. There was a lot of work to be done yet, and the presence of the two women was essential.

Emma immediately blushed and ducked her head at the comment. Graham’s smirk from his place beside Granny only made her blush harder. She walked around behind him to make her way to the far end of the table where Regina was headed and smacked him playfully on the back of the head. “Oh, shut up!”

He laughed and raised his hands in surrender. “What? I didn’t say anything.”

Emma mumbled back, “You didn’t have to.”

Clearing her throat, Regina brought all eyes to the head of the table. Before them, spread out along the table, was a map of the castle grounds. “It looks like we have some strategy to plan. Have scouts been sent out yet?”

“I have a team of scouts covering all directions,” Granny confirmed.

“Good,” Regina nodded, going easily into Queen Mode, her focus completely on planning for Snow’s attack. “When should they be expected to return?”

“Any minute now,” Graham said, tapping his hand on the table nervously. “They were sent out just before dawn.”

Regina heard Emma’s nervous sigh next to her. “Are you okay?” She ran her hand gently over Emma’s back to calm her.

“I’ll be fine,” Emma smiled and leaned into the touch.

Granny and Graham averted their eyes at the tender moment, one so odd to see from the former Evil Queen.

“I’m hungry. Anyone else hungry?” Graham jumped in re-directing the moment.

“Starving!” Granny added.

They left Emma and Regina alone and went through the door that adjoined the grand hall to the kitchen.

“We should probably eat too,” Regina said as she slowly caressed Emma’s back. “There’s nothing we can really do until we have an idea where Snow is coming in from.”

Emma curled into Regina, dropping her head to the other woman’s shoulder. “You don’t have to tell me twice.” She stood back up straight then. “Feed me, woman!”

*****************************

Blue and Tinkerbell had flown through the night. Both were tired but continued on, determined to get to the castle in time. As they topped the hill, both came to a halt in mid-flight.

“I thought you said the castle was under a cloaking spell,” Tinkerbell looked to the elder fairy.

“I did. I hope everything is okay. Come on.”

Cautiously, they flew across the grounds. Rabbits, squirrels, deer and other woodland animals were happily munching at grass and nuts, but scampered away as they approached. It felt oddly more like a place Snow would be, with her penchant for animals, than Regina. Closer to the castle, men and women socialized merrily, paying little heed to the fairies nearby.

“Who are these people?” Tinkerbell asked.

Blue slowed and finally stopped, fluttering in mid-air. She looked to Tinkerbell and shrugged. “I have no idea. I don’t recognize any of them.”

Taking the initiative, Tinkerbell flew lower and approached a man standing near the drawbridge. Before she could get his attention though, a loud trumpet sounded causing the fairy to jump in surprise and fly back to Blue’s side.

The large castle doors opened. Blue was surprised to see Graham and Granny doing the honors. She was more shocked though by the pair exiting the castle behind them. With Regina’s arm looped through Emma’s, the two women walked forward to greet the fairies.

Granny had a relieved smile on her face. “Glad you made it!” She looked to the blonde fairy, dressed daintily in green. “And you are…?”

“Tinkerbell,” Regina answered from behind Granny. “It’s been a long time.”

The two fairies transformed into human size. Tink walked toward Regina, her heart aching from the look of hurt and sadness in Regina’s eyes. “Too long.”

“Maybe for you,” Regina snarled at her former fairy friend.

Tink noticed the movement of the blonde woman next to Regina as she seemed to step forward to defend Regina.

Blue quickly interrupted the trio before their interaction could deteriorate. “Princess Emma!”

Tink pointed at the blonde and looked at Regina. “Princess? As in the one you captured…that princess?” The fairy smiled knowingly as Regina glanced at Emma nervously and the way the two women were constantly touching only solidified her conclusion. “Wellllll, that’s one way to keep a person captive!”

Blue looked at Tink confused before truly taking in the image before her – the touches, the glances, the way both seemed to have a tired but happy glow about them. “Oh no! Do you two have a death wish or something? When Snow finds out this is for real and not some crazy seed planted by Rumplestiltskin, you,” she pointed at Regina, “will be very much a dead woman walking. You do realize what you’ve done, right?”

“We have to try to get through to my mother,” Emma jumped in on Blue’s worried rant. She motioned between Regina and herself. “Because this, isn’t changing.”

“Great! Well, I certainly hope you two have something outstanding planned,” Blue sighed in resignation.

Regina changed the subject, not ready to admit they hadn’t come up with a plan yet, “So, why did you bring her?” She gestured to Tink.

“I thought she’d be able to get through to you, seeing that you two were so close once, and get you to release Emma and then hopefully go to Snow to call a truce. It looks like we missed the boat on the first part,” Blue smiled at the pair but Regina wasn’t in the mood to be amused.

“Missing the boat seems to be a problem for fairies,” Regina said, cutting her eyes to Tink.

“Oh, bloody hell, Regina! I was only trying to help. I thought if I could get you to leave Leopold under the belief that your true love was out there, then you’d have a chance at happiness. That’s all I ever wanted for you,” Tink came closer as she pleaded her case, something she had never gotten to do before she was banished away to Neverland. “I’m sorry the man died because of my stupidity. I really am, but he’s still gone. Staying angry at me won’t bring him back either.”

Regina closed her eyes and shook her head disbelievingly. “You think that’s why I’m upset? Unbelievable.” She shook her head again and spun around to go back in the castle.

For a long moment, Emma stood there awkwardly with the fairies as she watched Regina stomp back into the castle before turning to follow her.

“That went well! Good work, Green.” Blue patted Tink on the back and walked away.

“Wonderful!” Tink threw her hands up in the air and followed Blue into the castle.

Before she could make it through, the sound of hooves could be heard racing hard in her direction. “Our King!” She heard the chant grow louder along with the hooves. When she turned, she was face-to-face with a handsome blonde man, in spite of his disarray, and a strikingly beautiful brunette in a red cloak, or she was at least face-to-face with their horses.

The man dismounted quickly and handed over the reins of his horse to the nearest person. Making eye contact with Tink, Charming questioned her first, “Where is my daughter, the princess?”

“Inside with Regina, Your Majesty,” Tink answered appropriately once she realized who she was talking to. “I’ll take you to her.”

******************************

Emma moved from her spot on the bed to answer the persistent knocking at the door of Regina’s chamber. The two had barely sat down and began to talk when the knock came, and the interruption was irritating. There was more to the relationship between Regina and the fairy, Tinkerbell, and Emma wanted to know everything.

She swung the door open to see the fairy causing all the problems standing there, but her frustration was cut short by a familiar but disheveled person appearing from around the corner.

“Father!” Emma launched herself at Charming, noticing his thinner than usual frame and foul smell. She pushed back to look into his eyes, that though tired, were beaming with joy. “What happened to you?”

“We need to talk, Emma.”

At that moment, Regina walked up to stand beside Emma. Charming stretched up to his full height and watched Regina to see what she would do or say.

Emma looked between the two people she loved the most, feeling the tension grow. She finally put her hand to her father’s arm to get his attention. “You can talk in front of her. It’s okay.”

Charming hesitated, clearly uncomfortable with the idea. “She kidnapped you, Emma. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“She did,” Emma confirmed, “But…some things have changed…obviously.” She held her hands up to show she wasn’t bound.

“It could be a trick,” Charming said falling back on his known understanding of the former queen.

Emma took a deep breath before finally reaching for his hand and taking it. “She’s on our side. You’re just going to have to trust me on that. She could have hurt me, but she hasn’t. In fact, she gave me the chance to leave.”

“And you didn’t take it?” Charming was more confused than ever.

“No. I didn’t want to leave.” Emma waited on his reaction, but it never had a chance to come.

A young boy came running down the hall calling for Regina. “Your majesties, the scouts have returned. Granny is asking for you all to join her in the grand hall.”

When Regina, Emma, Charming, and Tink entered the hall, they saw Granny, Graham, Ruby, and Lucia gathered around the table.

A lanky man stood between Granny and Ruby, pointing at the map in front of them. “I saw at least 200 soldiers, led by the Queen, about a half day’s ride out coming from the Northwest.”

“Led by the Queen?” The look on Charming’s face was heartbroken. He glanced at Ruby, who had told him all about what Snow had been doing while he was locked away. “You were right.”

Emma took his hand reassuringly. “We’ll figure something out. Somehow we’ll stop her and this madness.”

“What are the odds of a night attack?” Regina asked the group. “If she’s a half-day’s ride away, she could camp for the night on the other side of the hill or she could attempt a more unexpected sneak attack at night.”

“A night attack is risky. A lot could go wrong,” Graham offered.

Regina nodded in agreement. “True, but Snow isn’t exactly acting logically right now and taking the low risk approach,” she looked at Charming with understanding, “and we know how impulsive she can be.”

“Unfortunately. Putting me in the dungeon was proof of that,” Charming grumbled in agreement.

“What?” Emma asked in shock, before shaking her head, and adding, “Never mind! I think we need to prepare for a night attack. It’s better to be safe than sorry. There are too many lives at risk.”

“I agree,” Regina said. “But I have an idea that will take some guess work out of it for us.”

“What?” Emma looked at her questioningly.

Regina’s smile had a devilish glint to it. She motioned to Charming. “I need your wedding ring.”

“What for?” With the chaos around his family and his wife, the ring meant even more to him now than ever and giving it up wasn’t so easy.

“For some magic,” she admitted. She noticed how he pulled back. “You’re just going to have to trust me this time.”

Charming looked to Emma who gave him an encouraging nod. Finally, he removed the ring and handed it over to Regina. She walked to a large mirror at the far end of the hall. Emma followed behind a few paces and waited once Regina stopped a few feet from the mirror.

Holding the ring between two fingers, Regina held it up and closed her eyes to concentrate. The mirror began to transform, rippling and swirling with purple smoke. As the smoke cleared, Snow’s face appeared atop her carriage. Behind her was what seemed to be an endless procession of soldiers.

Charming approached the mirror and stopped next to Emma. He put his arm around her shoulders as Snow’s face came into view. The angry scowl on his wife’s face made her look far older than her years, but underneath he could only see the beautiful princess he’d fallen in love with twenty-seven years ago.

Regina dropped her hands, breaking the connection. She turned around slowly. “Good, it works.” She looked to Charming. “Leave this with me. I’ll check in periodically to see if she stops for the night or continues on.” Then she addressed the group, “In the meantime, let’s gather our arms and anyone capable of holding a sword and get prepared for anything.”

“Regina?” Charming stopped her as she began to walk away. When she turned, he took a step closer not really wanting everyone to hear, not sure if he could handle the answer in front of all of these people. “What will happen with Snow, if we do go to war?”

“I don’t know.”

****************************

The remainder of the day passed slowly. Reports came in occasionally from the makeshift military Regina had established among Granny, Ruby, and the other wolves. They had just over one hundred able-bodied soldiers among them, making them still easily outnumbered. When Regina wasn’t magically keeping an eye on Snow, she was conjuring weapons for the soldiers as fast as possible. Fortunately, she had some already in her castle but not nearly enough for everyone since her primary stores were raided long ago.

Unfortunately, the constant use of her magic was draining, and as day began to turn to night, Regina felt her energy waning.

“Hey, are you okay?” Emma reached for Regina’s arm, steadying her as Regina swayed precariously on her feet in front of the mirror.

“I’m fine, dear. Just tired.” Regina allowed the support at her side as she closed her eyes, focusing on the ring in her hand to conjure Snow’s location. She hadn’t told Emma but with every attempt, it became harder and harder to get a clear image.

Emma nodded and simply held the other woman. She wasn’t sure what made her do it, but she closed her eyes and imagined her mother’s face. A warmth started in her chest and spread throughout her body like a wave of warm water flowing over her skin.

“Emma?” Regina’s worried and surprised voice made her open her eyes.

The normal purple smoke that Regina conjured was now mixed with a soft pink. “That’s new,” Emma said next to Regina’s ear. “What is it?”

“I…I think it’s your magic.”

“But I don’t have magic,” Emma couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Regina smiled at Emma, who was still watching the mirror swirling with their magic. “Yes, you do. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. True Love. You’re the child of True Love, and True Love IS magic.”

Emma finally looked away from the mirror and stared at Regina. “Seriously?”

She nodded at Emma. “Yes, and I think I know how to stop your mother before this gets out of hand.”

Emma began to pull away, and Regina instantly felt the power of Emma’s magic leaving from their connection. Her legs buckled. “No, stay! I need your magic, Emma. I need your help. I’m too tired from using up my own.”

“Okay.” Emma renewed her grip on Regina’s arm. “What do I do?”

“Exactly what you did before.” Regina’s eyes were already closed as she concentrated on the connection in the mirror. Emma followed suit and slowly the rolling mist in the mirror cleared. In the center of the frame, Snow stood at the front of her carriage, talking to the soldiers that surrounded her. From what she could gather, Snow was preparing to camp for the night.

“Good. This is perfect.” Regina smiled. “My plan will work even better now.”

****************************

After a short break to rest, Regina gathered Charming, Granny, Ruby, Graham, Blue, and Tinkerbell again into the grand hall. Charming sauntered in with his sword at his side, looking more like his usual self after a good bath and shave. The others weren’t so well off having been out with the wolves all day, organizing and practicing with the new weapons Regina had conjured.

“The good news is that Snow seems to be taking the more reasonable option of camping for the night just beyond the rise in the northwest. Graham went out with a scout and confirmed they are actually holding,” Regina began. “This not only gives us more time to prepare, but I also have a plan that could avoid a weapon ever being drawn.”

“Great! Let’s hear it!” Charming’s response was immediate. He was willing to do anything to help Snow and the rest of his family and friends to come out of this unscathed.

Regina tapped the table contemplating how to best explain her plan before stepping back to pace as she talked. “I don’t think Snow is that far gone yet. If she was, this castle would be under siege right now. I think there’s enough of Snow present to get through to her, and as we know, by her own admission,” Regina paused to acknowledge Charming’s information from earlier about Snow’s reasoning and plan for wanting Regina’s heart, “she was trained by Rumplestiltskin. Now, I don’t know what his goal is in this, but that miserable little imp always has a purpose for making the deals he does and tutoring those he does. Snow’s no different. But that’s not what we need to worry about right now. Stopping Snow and getting through to her is what we need to worry about. And, the only thing that can get through to Snow is love.” She looked at Charming and pointed. “Specifically, your love.”

Charming threw up his hands. “You had me until that last part. She won’t even talk to me, Regina. She locked me up, remember?”

Regina nodded with a smirk. “Oh, I remember, but I don’t intend on giving her a choice in talking to you or not. In fact, you’re going to do one better. You’re going to kiss her.”

“What?” Now Charming was sure that the former queen had lost her mind. “She’d kill me first.”

“A true love kiss?” Emma asked and Regina nodded in agreement.

“No, she won’t,” Regina said with absolute certainty in response to Charming’s worry. “Tonight, as Snow sleeps, Emma and I will transport ourselves to Snow’s tent, capture her, and bring her back here, using magic of course. Blue will conjure a binding spell that will allow you to not only get close enough to talk to her, but to kiss her as well. A true love kiss that will break the spell Rumplestiltskin has placed on her.”

Graham stepped in, concern evident on his weathered face. “This is too dangerous. With magic at her disposal, she could already be aware of your plans. She could be waiting for you and…hurt you before you can get away.”

“Got a better plan?” Regina questioned. “This is a better option than having her lay siege to the castle and possibly kill most of your people.”

Graham sighed, knowing she was right. “Why Emma?”

Regina looked around the group, not sure if she should say anything or not. Emma did it for her. “Because it seems that I have magic too thanks to my parents and their true love for each other. I can help Regina and make sure nothing goes wrong.”

“Besides, Snow is less likely to hurt me if Emma is present. Her focus will be on Emma,” Regina added. “Any other questions?” She waited to see if there were other concerns. When there wasn’t, she continued, “Emma and I will continue checking on Snow to see when she goes to sleep and then we’ll act. Blue, you stay with us. This would be a good time for the rest of you to get some sleep. Blue will let you all know when something changes.”

Everyone left except Blue and Charming. He walked over to Emma and Regina. “I’m not leaving.”

Emma shook her head. “You’re tired. Mom put you through a lot and you need some rest. I’ll be okay.”

“I’ll look out for her,” Regina promised him.

He found that hard to believe after all of the history that had passed between them over the years, but something in Regina’s eyes made him believe. It was then that he noticed how Regina had a hand protectively resting on Emma’s lower back. It wasn’t real obvious, but it was enough that Charming understood finally what was happening right in front of his eyes. Regina Mills was in love. With his daughter. And the feeling was mutual.

He looked to Regina again, being sure to make eye contact with her. “I expect you to.”

Regina nodded in understanding.

****************************

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Regina asked of Emma one more time as their hands held tight to each other. The shimmery image of Snow sleeping beckoned them from the mirror in front of them.

Emma looked at the mirror. Even in slumber, her mother looked hard and angry from the toll her rage had taken on her. Taking a deep breath, she looked back at Regina and gave a swift nod.

Regina glanced to Blue who was hovering at a respectful distance. “Be ready.”

“I will,” Blue promised, her face deadly serious.

Regina faced Emma fully and nodded. Emma followed her cue and closed her eyes, focusing completely on the image of her sleeping mother in her mind, imagining appearing in the tent with Regina. At their feet, a swirling cloud of purple began swirling, slowing expanding upward and encompassing their bodies. When the spinning mass dissipated, Regina and Emma were gone.

Blue flew from the room to inform Charming and the others.

In Snow’s tent, the cloud carrying Regina and Emma began to manifest itself.

The transition shook Emma. She wasn’t sure what she expected. Somehow she thought being magically transported would hurt, but all she felt was incredibly dizzy as her feet seemed to float off the floor for a few seconds and then softly be set back down. She held tight to Regina’s hands as the cloud disappeared and she got her bearings.

Regina gave Emma’s hands a silent squeeze to get her attention. When the blonde glanced at her, she mouthed, “Okay?”

Emma nodded and she looked to the cot on the far side of the tent where her mother was sleeping. Following the plan she and Regina had agreed to, Emma quietly tiptoed to the side of the cot, holding tight to Regina as she did so.

“Eh, eh, eh,” Rumplestiltskin’s nasally whine came from behind them. “That’s my toy, dearies, and I don’t like to share.”

Emma and Regina stopped dead in their tracks. With a quick tug on Emma’s hand, Regina glanced at her out of her peripheral vision. Snow began to stir as they made eye contact and in a flash, Rumplestiltskin conjured a bright ball of fire in his hand.

“Who said anything about sharing?” Regina sneered.

Everything seemed to happen at once as Snow sat up in bed, Rumplestiltskin threw the fireball, and Emma and Regina lunged for Snow. Regina managed to tackle Snow around the waist as Snow stood up, taking Emma with her. The fireball exploded nearby, the heat unbearable and a shooting pain traveled down Regina’s legs. With the last bit of energy she could muster, she conjured the cloud to transport them back to the castle.

All three women landed in a heap on the grand hall’s floor. Snow instinctively began fighting against the hold on her, taking most of her punishment out on Regina, who let out a guttural scream of pain.

The sound coming from Regina made Emma panic. She grappled with her mother to pull her off of Regina and tried to physically hold her back. It was no use and Snow easily rolled away.

“Blue!” Emma called, looking around for the fairy. The doors that opened to the corridor were wide open and the fairy was nowhere to be found.

“Move away, Emma!” Snow marched in the direction of Regina, lightening arcing between her hands as she approached.

“No! Don’t hurt her!” Emma begged, crawling over to Regina’s still body. It was then that she noticed the burned edges of Regina’s shirt along her back.

“Move!” Snow demanded louder. “She destroyed everything, but I refuse to let her destroy you too.”

It was then that Emma stood up and faced her mother. “You will not hurt the woman I love.”

For a long moment, mother and daughter stared at each other. When the words finally sank in, Snow shook her head. The lightening still arcing in her hands, intensified. “No.” She refused to hear it. “No.” Even more so, she refused to believe it. She would destroy Regina if it was the last thing she did. “NO!”

As Snow raised her hand to deliver a killing blow to Regina, Emma also raised hers. A bright flash of light flew from her hands and knocked Snow off her feet. Snow was stunned as she struggled to right herself, but she was also angry. The fire in her dark eyes flashed in Emma’s direction. Before she could move though, gold bands appeared around Snow holding her in place.

“That was a little too close for comfort, Blue!” Tink admonished the other fairy.

Emma spun in shock and saw everyone entering the hall. Her father rushed forward, followed immediately by Graham. “Are you okay?” Charming asked as he looked over Emma for injuries.

She nodded numbly, realization finally setting in. “Regina!” She broke free and ran to Regina’s side. Blue joined her and ran her hand over Regina’s face. The despondent look on the fairy’s face made Emma cry out. “No!” She shook her head. “NO!”

“I’m sorry. I don’t think she’s going to make it, Emma.”

A whiny, unfamiliar giggle was heard in Snow’s direction. Everyone turned to look but no one was there except the petite woman safely bound in magical chains.

Blue flew to Charming’s side. “You have to break her free from Rumplestiltskin. Only your love can do it.”

He nodded and ran to where his wife was being held. He took Snow’s face in his hands, looking into her eyes and trying desperately to connect with her again. “I love you, Snow, but this isn’t you. I will get you back. One way or another. I will keep fighting for you, for us, to get you back.” With that promise, he kissed Snow with all of the love and emotion he had in him.

The reaction wasn’t immediate, but once Snow started kissing him back, light began to shimmer and dance around the couple becoming faster and brighter until Charming broke his hold on her.

“Charming?” Tears came to Snow’s eyes in an instant. It was then that he knew his wife had been returned to him. She was free of the spell Rumplestiltskin had placed on her.

“It’s okay.” He glanced to Blue with pleading in his eyes, and the fairy removed the magical chains. He swept a tearful Snow up into his arms. “It’s going to be okay now.”

Snow held tight to her husband’s strong shoulders, but when she opened her eyes, she saw Emma bent over Regina’s motionless body. “Oh gods, Emma!” Snow pulled away and ran to her daughter’s side. She carefully placed a hand on Emma’s shoulder, unsure how her child would react to the touch. “Emma, I’m so sorry.”

Broken eyes turned to Snow. “I…I love her, Mom. I…I don’t know what to do.” Emma shook her head as she collapsed in Snow’s arms.

Snow held her daughter, her own heart breaking at seeing her child hurting and hating herself for being so weak to bring this on her family. Then she remembered something Regina had told her the day Regina saved her from her runaway horse. “Love is the most powerful magic of all,” she said out loud.

“What?” Emma asked leaning back to look at her mother.

A smile, mixed strangely with sadness and joy, came over Snow’s face as she took Emma’s face in her hands. “If you love her, Emma, show her. Kiss her.”

It only took a second or two for Emma to register what her mother meant, but when she did, it seemed like time stood still as she took in Regina’s nearly lifeless body stretched out before her.

“She’s getting weaker,” Blue added, hoping it would spur Emma to action.

The father in Charming took over then, and he began to urge everyone to leave the room. Whether the kiss worked or not, it wasn’t a moment to be witnessed by others.

Emma didn’t notice the doors click softly closed. The only thing she saw was Regina. She was all that mattered, and the extent of her feelings for Regina danced with anxiety and anticipation under her skin. No matter what happened, she knew this kiss would irrevocably change her life. But if it worked, it would change both of their lives.

Gently, Emma slid her arm under Regina’s shoulders and pulled her up into her lap. The heat from the burn on Regina’s back radiated through her clothing, but she refused to let Regina go. She brushed a strand of dark hair behind Regina’s ear and caressed her face. “I just found you, Regina. You can’t leave me now.” She leaned over, allowing her lips to brush over Regina’s forehead and ghost down next to her ear. “I love you. You better come back to me, okay?”

Emma hovered over Regina’s lips and with every ounce of faith she had in their love, she kissed her. The touch between them was instantly electric, but instead of pushing Emma away, it seemed to pull her in closer. A humming in the center of her being that rolled out in waves pushing outward. A wave of energy shook the contents of the room – glasses fell over on the table, books fell from shelves, the ceremonial swords on the wall clattered to the floor.

Regina’s hands came up to tangle in Emma’s blonde hair. Every inch of her body hurt, except for her heart. That was the one part of her body that felt brand new.

“I love you too,” Regina whispered when she broke the kiss.

Emma smiled as tears fell from her cheeks. “Don’t you ever do that to me again!”

Regina smirked. “Just keep kissing me like that, and you won’t have to worry about it.”

“No problem with that,” Emma murmured as she pulled Regina back into another kiss.

****************************

In a dark room, a loom spun as gold strands piled up. A maniacal giggle accompanied the obsessive motion, “Spin, spin, spin…until everyone dies, dies, dies!” Another giggle, “This is not over, dearies. Nobody steals from Rumplestiltskin.”