Emma glared at the group of maids that had fallen silent as she swept past, on her way from a council meeting to yet another meeting about the wedding. She didn’t really know what could be changed only a week from the event, but the palace matron demanded a meeting every day anyway. That wasn’t her real annoyance now. The servants around the palace had all been falling strangely silent as she walked past. It unnerved her. Servants were never truly silent. They whispered even as royalty went by them, bowing and curtsying quickly as they kept gossiping. They only fell silent if you were the topic of gossip. Emma did not have time to be the topic of gossip. Or at least she didn’t have the time to pay attention to it, but there was something nagging at her.
She shook her head and pushed the feeling aside. It could be dealt with after the wedding. She didn’t have the time to pull aside a group of maids and badger them until they finally blurted out the latest gossip until then.
But every single servant she passed, from the smallest page boy to highest ranking maid fell silent as she passed and sent her the strangest glances. Whatever gossip was floating around the palace was big. She slowed her steps. If it was big enough to have the entire palace chattering on then perhaps it might be worth the time to pull aside some maids. She sighed, she really wished Regina was with her instead of getting her dress fitted. The other woman would know what to do in this situation.
Emma was about to turn the corner when she froze, hearing her title in a hushed voice just loud enough for her to hear.
“—Princess might be under the knight’s spell!” an enthusiastic voice whispered.
“No, that’s ridiculous, wouldn’t she act odd if she was?” Another, older voice asked.
“Dunno, but the Queen has started an investigation into the knight. The Queen thinks she might have put the Princess under a spell, so there might be some truth to it.”
“Psh, that means nothing. Investigations have been started before with absolutely no proof.”
“But by the Queen?”
The older voice hummed. “You have a point, but you’ve seen the knight around the palace. Does she seem the spell casting type to you?”
“Well, no, but you never know. I hear that witches can be sneaky.”
“You probably think they’re green too.”
“I do not!”
“Child, your generation hasn’t seen a real witch. No one has since King Leopold outlawed magic years ago.”
“Still. What if the Princess is under a spell?”
“Then I suppose the Queen will take care of it.”
Emma couldn’t take it anymore. A spell? Placed on her? And an investigation. She needed more information. And once she had more information she was going to go straight to her mother. This was too far if it was true. It was one thing to not like her fiancée, it was quite another to launch an investigation into her.
She stepped around the corner and cleared her throat. “Ladies.”
The women jumped out of their skin and hurried to curtsy. “Princess, I beg your pardon,” the older woman said. She was wearing an apron covered in flour, a cook then.
Emma looked at the younger woman, in the outfit all the chamber maids wore. “What do you know about the investigation that my mother has launched?”
The girl looked at the floor. “Not much, your highness, only what my friend, Mattie, told me. She said that your mother was looking into a spell being placed on you so you would marry the knight, Regina. It’s all anyone has been talking about today.”
She turned back to the cook. “And is this the first you’ve heard about it today?”
The woman shook her head. “Some of the girls in the kitchen were going on about it, but they weren’t saying any more than Rissa here.”
Emma sighed. “Does anyone actually believe that I’ve been put under a spell? That Regina would actually put a spell on me?”
“Well, Princess, if you don’t mind me saying so there are more than a few who are wondering if that’s the case. You act very differently from when you met her only a few months ago. Personally, I just think you’re growing up, but there are those in the palace without any experience raising children.”
“I appreciate your honesty.” She nodded. “But I’m not under a spell. If I was then I think perhaps this would all come much easier to me.”
The older woman nodded kindly.
“But wouldn’t you say you weren’t under a spell if you were under a spell?” The maid asked.
The older woman glared. “Hush child, that sentence doesn’t even make sense. By that logic she’s under a spell no matter what.”
Emma smiled at the two women. “If someone was going to take the effort to put a spell on me they might want a little more bang for their gold piece than they’re getting right now. Besides, Regina isn’t the type of person to spell someone into marrying her.”
“No, I would rather think not,” the cook said, more knowledge than she was letting on sparkling in her eyes.
Emma nodded. “If you’ll excuse me, I do believe I have some business to attend to with my mother. Thank you both.”
“You’re quite welcome, your highness.” They both curtsied.
Emma inclined her head before turning around and stalking towards her mother’s office. With court over for the day and the council meeting done that was where she would be, tying up loose ends and making sure the kingdom had what it needed to run smoothly. Emma wished that for one single day she and her mother could go without some sort of snippy word exchange and one week without a knockdown, drag out fight, but this was not going to be that week. Emma knew that as soon as she walked into her mother’s office and said anything at all about the rumors yet another shouting match would begin. She wasn’t really quite sure that she felt bad about that this time. Her mother needed to lay off in the worst way.
Emma knocked on the indistinct wooden door of her mother’s office. She never had wanted to draw too much attention to her workspace. Her mother’s voice called for her to enter. Emma put her hand on the door knob and took a deep breath before pushing it open.
“Mother,” she said, shutting the door behind her.
The Queen looked up from her desk, eyes narrowed. “Emma, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
Emma walked over and perched primly in one of the chairs in front of her mother’s desk even though her mother did not ask her to sit. She kept her posture extremely rigid as she looked over the woman in front of her.
“Quite a few rumors have been spreading around the palace today.”
Snow White scoffed. “As if there aren’t five different rumors flying around by lunch. You know how the servants are, they live off of gossip.”
Emma hummed noncommittally. “Be that as it may, the normal five rumors as you say are one single rumor. It’s led them to all fall silent just as soon as they see me. Surely you can understand how unnerving that is, mother.”
“Of course. If need be I could do something about this.” Snow leaned forward, a look of almost real concern on her face.
“There’s no need. It’s only unnerving when you don’t know what they’re saying. Handy thing about being royalty is that servants can’t really say no to you. I asked a few and they told me just exactly what was going about the palace. Do you know what today’s rumor is, mother?”
Snow looked back down at her paper. “I don’t have time to deal with the frivolities of the servants. If you’re such a good princess now you should know that you don’t have time for such things.”
“I’m well aware.” Her hands gripped onto the chair’s arms hard enough to make the wood under her fingers squeak. “But servants can be quite the wealth of information when asked. They see and hear everything within the palace.”
“Surely you don’t believe them? They wouldn’t know anything if knowledge kicked them in the face.”
“I’m not so sure about that. I have more than enough evidence that the servants are right in this regard to at least follow up on the rumor.”
Her mother shot her a skeptical look. “And why have you come to me with this inquiry? Surely you know I have no time for your silly little games.”
“No, mother, it’s I who don’t have time for your silly little games.” Emma glared at her mother. “You see, the rumor around the palace today is that you’re staging an investigation into Regina to see whether she’s cast a spell over me.”
Her mother’s posture stiffened just slightly. It was enough to give her away to Emma. The servants were right after all. Anger bubbled inside of her, hot and acidic.
“And where could a servant have possibly heard this?” Her mother scribbled her signature on a document Emma was quite sure she hadn’t actually read. She found herself vehemently hoping that it would be something that came to bite her in the ass later.
“It’s as I said, mother, servants are everywhere and hear everything.”
“Surely they were mistaken.” She straightened her paperwork and looked up at Emma again, green eyes so like her own boring into her, hoping to make her flinch.
“You see, I don’t think they are. With how you’ve been acting towards Regina lately this is not that far of a leap, now is it? Especially with what you said not even a week ago about her turning me into a monster. You know she has magic, of course you would come to the stupid conclusion that she was corrupting me with it or else taking over my mind so I had no idea of what I was doing.”
“I’m your mother, I can’t be too careful. I have to protect you and the future of this kingdom.”
“I am twenty years old. I can protect myself.”
“You’re young and naïve, no you can’t.”
Emma stood and slammed her hands down on her mother’s desk. “Naïve? My own mother tried to marry me off to the first good looking noble in order to stabilize the kingdom. Naïve went out the window the second I had to keep beating off men that only wanted two things from me, my kingdom and my virginity.”
Her eyes found her mother’s again, gaze hot and furious. “Like you don’t know it’s true. Gods know if you hadn’t found father when you did you would have been subjected to the same exact thing. I’m not that little sixteen year old anymore who only wants her mother’s approval but doesn’t have it. I’ve learned to stand on my own.”
“If I left you to truly stand on your own you would fall within the day.”
“You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
“I think I’m well aware.” Her mother rose of her chair and came face to face with Emma. “And I’m also well aware that that woman has some sort of influence over you and I will find out exactly what it is.”
“You want to know what it is, mother? I’ll tell you exactly what it is. She is the first person in this entire kingdom to actually teach me how to rule. She is the first person to take me aside and truly explain to me exactly what my foolish actions could cost the kingdom. She is the first person to truly agree with me on how this kingdom needs to be run. She’s the first person to truly see me as how I really am. The first to fall in love with me. The first that I have any possibility of falling in love with myself. The only one who complements me in ways I never thought possible. The only one in so many years to be on my side for once. You may not see it, mother, but I do. What you deem as a spell or some sort of unnatural influence is a real and true friendship and the more you push the faster it’s turning into something more. It has not been forced. Our relationship just is genuine, unlike anything you tried to force on me four months ago.”
“You fail to listen, Emma. I shouldn’t be surprised since you’re under her spell, but she’s bad for the kingdom and you fail to see it.”
“Name me one way she’s bad from the kingdom. Just one. Because what I see is that she’s beloved by the peasants, has all the knowledge of politics already, and is beautiful enough that people will underestimate her. These all sounds like qualities that are good for the kingdom.”
“She has magic.”
“Which she rarely uses because she’s so damn afraid of it.”
“That doesn’t matter. My father banned it for a reason.”
Emma fought the urge to reach out and grab the front of her mother’s frilly dress. “Because he was about to be overthrown by a coven of witches!”
“And that isn’t bad for the kingdom?”
“It wouldn’t have been because your father was a horrible king to the peasants!” Emma’s chest heaved. “This family is built on a throne of lies and the only thing in this gods damn palace that is real you are trying to rip apart just to keep up appearances. I may be somewhere in-between a friend and lover with Regina, but at least our relationship is the gods damned truth!”
Her mother pulled back. “Well, it isn’t true love, so how real can it really be?”
Emma went completely still and just stared at her mother for a long second. Her burning anger changed into icy fury. The room seemed to drop twenty degrees around her. She felt completely unhinged yet completely rational at the same time.
“If true love makes you act like an utter fool who thinks they’re some sort of omnipotent god, then I don’t want it. You’ve proved to me that there are many, many better things.” Emma turned to leave. “Funny how you didn’t care about true love when you were pairing me up with the nobles. We’re done, Snow White, I may be the princess of this kingdom but I am no longer your daughter.” She swept from the room, her mother’s office, the room returning to a normal temperature after she left.
Regina found her later, curled up on the battlements of the outer walls surrounding the palace. She shot a glare at the two guards who had accompanied her, obviously disapproving of the fact they’d let her get so far outside the protection of the palace walls in such a state. Emma, however, saw none of her anger. A hand appeared on her back and a calm voice spoke to her, warm flowing honeyed milk ensconcing her as Regina kept speaking. She didn’t hear any of the words, but her thoughts calmed just a bit in the wake of the comfort Regina was offering her. She knew she shouldn’t be out here like this. She was showing her vulnerability in the worst way possible. Regina should be angry at her, but instead she was trying to coax her down from her position on the wall.
“Come, princess, you’ll catch cold. It won’t do to have you sick during our wedding. Though, I wouldn’t be opposed to you sneezing on some of the council members, it wouldn’t do for the show of power the kingdom needs.”
The practical words finally broke through to her after minutes of soft expressions of care and understanding. Emma swung her legs around and hopped off the wall. The dress she was in was surely ruined, but it wasn’t like she didn’t have a closet full to replace it. Maybe she should reduce the clothing allowance of the royalty when she was Queen. Gods knew that that would save them quite a bit of money. New outfits were only really needed when meeting foreign dignitaries, it didn’t really matter if servants saw them in something less than extravagant. Yes, that was a good idea.
She allowed Regina to lead her back to her rooms. The cold fury she had felt earlier had left her numb to everything outside of her own mind, but she did still manage to feel Regina’s warm hand on her back. She kept her head high and her face blank and walked as Regina had taught her, even while being led. It wouldn’t do to forget every lesson the other woman had taught her all in one day.
The doors to her chamber were opened and she walked through, Regina still at her side. She went immediately to her own room and pulled off the ruined dress, slipping into her favored pair of riding breeches and loose shirt. She heard Regina calling for one of her ladies maids and requesting dinner to be sent up to them. A relieved breath left her. She didn’t want to face her mother. She didn’t want to face what she had done. She was such an idiot. Regina was right all those months ago.
She came back into her sitting room and folded herself into her favorite chair, staring at the fireplace and the small fire built there to ward off the coming chill. Fall would truly be upon them soon. Regina came back from dealing with the servants and sat down in the chair nearest to Emma.
The blonde turned to her fiancée. “How was your dress fitting? Was what Margret made you satisfactory?”
“More than satisfactory, darling. That woman has quite the way with fabric. I’m sure even the council will not have any objections about it not being showy enough.” Regina looked at her all the while, eyes trying to probe deeper, to see what was truly wrong.
“Good, good, she’s very good at what she does, even if my mother does not think so.”
Regina’s brow scrunched. “The woman sings Margret’s praises, you and I both know she was more after your tastes than Margret’s craftsmanship.”
Emma sunk further into her chair. “True enough.” She fell silent, watching the fire flicker. She felt Regina’s curiosity, but the other woman didn’t push.
She sat for long enough that their dinner was brought to them. The kitchen girl set everything in front of them on the coffee table, curtsied and left. Emma ate silently, not able to stomach much more than a few bites. Her brain kept screaming that she was an idiot and she was not inclined to disagree. She shoved her plate away with less than half of it eaten.
Regina sighed at her lack of appetite, but picked up a mug of hot chocolate and placed it in Emma’s hands. She smiled weakly up at the other woman. So Regina had remembered what her favorite beverage when she was young even though she told her that ages ago. It warmed the numbness slightly. She took a sip of the hot liquid and was warmed further.
She spoke when the mug was half empty. “She’s launching an investigation into you.”
Regina didn’t have to ask who ‘she’ was, she was already well aware. “I know.”
Emma turned to Regina. “You know?” Her brow scrunched. “How are you not storming into her office and demanding an explanation. You told her of your magic in confidence and now she’s using it against you.”
“Nothing is truly ever told in confidence to a ruler, especially when you break their trust by marrying their daughter. Besides coming after her like that would look terrible on my part, it would incline more people to believe the outrageous stories that she’s spreading.”
Emma sat silently for another long moment. “You’re right.”
“I take it that you did go confront your mother.”
Emma nodded. “I did.”
“And it didn’t end well.”
“Does it ever with my mother anymore?” She sighed and set the empty mug on the tray in front of her.
“No, but I always cross my fingers that it does. I don’t like to see you so distraught.”
“And I don’t like to see you accused of mind control and gods know what else.” Her fists clench. Regina reached out and unclenched one of her hands slowly, pulling her fingers from her palms gently, but with enough force. She ran her tanned fingers over the crescents that Emma’s nails had left in her palm softly. Emma sighed and laced her fingers through the other woman’s.
“It went even worse than normal,” she said after the warmth from Regina’s hand in her own had allowed her to truly feel in what felt like hours.
“I told my mother that I’m not her daughter anymore.” The words froze her again. Saying them out loud made everything seem real. She had almost convinced herself that she wouldn’t be so stupid, that yelling at her mother like that was some sort of dream.
Regina reached up and turned Emma’s face so she was looking at the other woman. “Emma, I need you to tell me exactly what you said to her.” Her eyes were hard and serious, no longer tender anymore except for a tiny little spark almost quenched by everything else swirling in her brown eyes.
“I told her that I may be princess of the kingdom but I was no longer her daughter.”
Regina relaxed just slightly. “You expressly said that?”
“Yes, Regina, I just said that.” Emma scowled.
“Then you didn’t give up your claim to the throne.”
“No, of course not.”
“Good, ok, you haven’t done anything overly stupid.”
Emma felt anger flare up again, melting away the last of the numb feeling. She was so very tired of being the stupid one, the one who knew nothing. For once, just for once she didn’t want to be called out on her actions. She wanted more than anything for whatever she did to be right.
But as fast as her anger had come on it faded again. That wouldn’t happen anytime soon. She was a fast learner, but this was bigger than anything she’d ever done before. And everyone except Regina was fighting her every step of the way. Her mother. Something within her cracked. A sob ripped itself from her throat. And another, and another until her form was shaking like a leaf and tears were streaming down her cheeks. What in the world had she done?
She felt Regina hesitating for just a second before she drew Emma into a hug that crushed the air out of her lungs. Emma’s arms came up around Regina’s back, curling into the fabric of her off duty clothes so hard she heard the seams groan under the pressure. Regina started to card her hands through Emma’s curls gently, untangling the hair under her fingers deftly and painlessly. She sobbed and sobbed into the crook of Regina’s neck until the skin under her was soaked and the neck of Regina’s shirt was damp and sticking to tan skin. Regina made no attempt to calm her besides the hand running through her hair, letting her cry as much as she needed without false promises and platitudes ringing in her ear. Emma was more grateful than words could describe just for that.
With one final sniff she stopped crying, but made no move to extricate herself from Regina’s arms. She didn’t want to move for the rest of eternity. If only it was an option for her to stay within the safety of Regina’s grasp and not face the consequences of her actions. Regina, for her part, kept running her hand through Emma’s hair, breathing deep and even under Emma’s head.
“It’s just—” Emma drew in a shuddering breath. “I got so angry. Any advice you gave me about how to handle her just slipped out of my head. I was angry enough that she was launching an investigation into you, but then at the end when I had her backed into a corner argument wise she just, she pulled out the true love card and tried to invalidate everything we have together and I just lost it. I know we’re not truly there yet, or at least I’m not, but you’re one of the most, probably the most important person in my life right now and I just couldn’t take her trying to diminish what we were and I’m just so tired of everything she’s been doing recently that that’s just what happened and oh gods I’m so stupid.”
Regina’s hand stilled in her hair. “I’ve said it before and I will say it again, your mother is a fool. True love might be a magical phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean that every other type of love is somehow lesser because it cannot break curses. Whatever is between us, whether it evolves into romantic love or stays as the type of love shared between close friends, all that matters is that it is between us, that it is ours. Nothing else matters as long as we are happy with what we have.”
The words soothed Emma greatly. Her eyes blinked closed, soothing the dry scratchiness that crying had left behind. “You really think so?” she asked, voice still rather thick.
“I know, darling.”
“Ok.” She snuggled into Regina’s embrace just a little more. She was just so tired and Regina was so warm and comforting.
“The days ahead might be difficult, but I have a great amount of confidence that you and I will overcome anything put in our path.”
“I hope so.” Emma sighed. She felt herself drifting off to sleep. She really should get up and bid Regina goodnight, but she made no move.
Just as she was about to drift off for good she heard Regina mumble into her hair. “I don’t think you’ve ever truly heard me say this, you knew even with my saying it, but I love you Emma. I seem to fall just a little more in love every day watching your hardheaded self fight against the council for what’s right and with every brush of your hand against mine. Perhaps I’ll find the courage to tell you this when you’re awake sometime soon, but I do not want to pressure you, darling.”
Warmth suffused Emma’s being. She wanted to wake up and hug Regina just a little harder, but she was too far gone. She felt herself being lifted off the couch they had ended up on and carried easily into her room. Regina laid her on her bed and Emma curled up immediately. Her skin tingled for just a moment and suddenly she wasn’t being constricted by a corset anymore, but in one of her nightgowns. The covers were gently pulled out from under her and then pulled up to her chin. Regina left her with a gentle kiss to her forehead and a quiet goodnight. Emma sighed happily and finally let sleep take her to sweet dreams where Regina always seemed to be the focal point.