Emma took a deep breath. Then another. And another. But it never quite felt like she was pulling in enough oxygen. Tomorrow. Tomorrow was the day. She swallowed hard. Oh dear gods above. How in the world was she supposed to survive this?
Her nerves had kicked in as soon as her last handmaiden had left her for the night and hadn’t stopped since. Now the moon was high in the sky and Emma knew she wasn’t anywhere near sleeping. Worry after worry plagued her. Regina’s and her own mother played a large part in those worried thoughts, but they weren’t the largest part. Her mind kept returning over and over to Regina and if the woman would be truly happy with her. She was so inexperienced. She was always relying so heavily on Regina, wouldn’t the other woman get tired of that eventually? Emma was trying to learn, trying to be better, but what if she didn’t learn fast enough? They would already be married and there would be no backing out for either of them. What would they do then? Present a united front even though they weren’t? That would get around the court quicker than a stable fire. If they didn’t work out then there was no real way they could find anyone else for them. They would both be miserable and without love.
She started to pace. She should have already worn a hole in the floor from all the pacing she had done already throughout the night. Perhaps falling through the floor at this point would be a blessing. Then she wouldn’t have to think about such things. But then again that would leave Regina without the protection being engaged to her provided. If she died her mother would have Regina’s head within the day. She groaned and tossed her head back, still walking. Her legs knew the path so well by now she didn’t have to look.
She wondered if pre-wedding nerves were this bad for couples that were already in love when they were getting married. She wondered if they were better or worse for those Princesses who had to marry to someone without knowing them at all. At least she did have a relationship with Regina before tying the knot, even if it wasn’t a romantic one. Yet. Her stomach flipped in an odd way at the thought.
And as much as she worried about the other woman’s happiness in their marriage she wanted Regina there more than anything to soothe some of the worries. Emma wasn’t quite sure if the brunette was there if she would share the worries over their future married relationship, but she would be there to quiet some of the worries about her mother, and that was worth more than anyone would ever know. Just Regina’s presence would calm her, she knew. But that wasn’t an option since they had to spend the night apart. Not like she didn’t know at least three secret tunnels that would get her near enough to Regina’s room that she probably wouldn’t be caught, but Regina had been totally on board with the idea, so she wasn’t going to take that away from the other woman.
She walked over to her bed and sank down. Half a year ago all she had wanted to do was go riding and exploring the countryside, doing whatever she pleased. She had never even begun to imagine that things would be so complicated in her future. Being a princess didn’t interest her really, she hadn’t known just how complicated everything could get. Now she did and even that was compounded by every single decision she had made. Deciding to marry Regina had been the best decision she had made so far, but it had by far been the most problematic of them all. Those problems wouldn’t go away because she was permanently bound to the other woman, she knew. They were worth it, but gods damn it she didn’t want to have to feel like she and Regina were fighting for a little bit of stability.
Regina, she supposed, was used to that fight though. Her mother wouldn’t have provided anything near a stable environment for her growing up. Hell, a kingdom away from her mother and Regina’s life was still being rocked to its foundation by the woman. How were they supposed to win like this? How were they supposed to fall in love? Was it even possible? Would Regina come to resent her for all the problems she had brought into her life? Resent her for her mother finding her again? Just because she didn’t now didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen someday.
She got up and walked to the window again. The countryside was peaceful outside her window. Everyone else had extinguished all of their candles long ago so she couldn’t see the houses that dotted the hills around the palace. She looked up at the sinking moon. It wouldn’t be long now before the sun rose and she was whisked off to primp and prepare for her own wedding.
When she had imagined her wedding as a small girl this was not what she had in mind at all, in any aspect. She had pictured something so like the description her parents had given her of their own wedding, something filled with love and a huge horde of well-wishers and friends with more flowers than she ever thought possible, complete with her own prince that would sweep her off her feet gazing lovingly into her eyes as they vowed to spend the next eternity with each other. The wedding was going to have flowers, that was about all her real wedding and long ago fantasy wedding had in common. The prince had turned into a princess and she hadn’t quite been swept off her feet yet. The well-wishers were wolves in sheep’s clothing. There were more politics in her wedding than she ever would have thought before.
She really hated being Princess sometimes. She didn’t hate the fact that she could help people, but everything else…well that was up for debate. Most days she just wanted a normal life, not one of royalty.
Emma started to pace again, thoughts circling right back around to where they started, her problems with her mother and what baring that would have on the wedding. She didn’t stop walking again until the sky started to lighten. She sighed and looked out. There was no point in trying to sleep. Her ladies in waiting would be here soon enough to start to get her ready. She might as well just stay up and save herself the trouble of being pulled out of bed much before she was ready.
She continued walking until the first knock came on her door. She took one last deep breath, relaxed the muscles in her face so her expression seemed impassive, and went to open the door. Servants flowed into the room around her as soon as the door was even cracked. Emma closed her eyes for a fraction of a second. Oh, it was going to be a very, very long day. She wished that she could be anywhere else but being dragged to her bathroom while a line of girls filled the tub with hot water.
Emma let herself drift. Her servants would bend her and pose her the right way. She really didn’t have to be all there for this. She didn’t want to be all there anyway. She yawned as the bathroom around her started to fill with smells of extravagant bath oils, soaps and perfumes. She was just so tired now, mentally and physically. All that nervous energy she had just a few minutes before was just gone. Her brain crawled forward at a snail’s pace. Her limbs moved like lead as a few of her ladies in waiting stripped off her night gown and threw it to the side. In her wildest dreams this was not what she was supposed to be like on her wedding day, but at the same time she couldn’t snap herself out of it.
She was lowered into the bathtub and the warm water started to relax her muscles, still tense from pacing almost the whole night through. It felt lovely but the sensation was not enough to draw herself out of her head again. She felt her limbs lifted from the water one by one and scrubbed clean, felt herself lifted from the water at the end so the rest of her body could be scrubbed, her hair was washed gently and all of the soap rinsed from her yet again before she was taken from the bath.
She idly wondered as she was helped into a chemise whether she would be like this all day, float through her wedding in nothing but a haze. Had she really spent all of her emotions the night before worrying? Regina didn’t deserve a wife who was no more responsive than a doll at her wedding. She didn’t want to be a doll for herself either. This may not be her first choice, and gods was it all so complicated, but she truly did like Regina and she was beginning to wonder if it really wasn’t more already. They should have a happy memory together because gods knew when the next one would be with potentially both of their mothers out for their heads.
Even that wasn’t enough to pull her out of her own head. She was directed to sit at her vanity as the servants went about drying and brushing her hair out carefully. Emma watched carefully as her hair was braided into a complicated up do that looked stunning on her. She wondered vaguely who had come up with such a style as she definitely hadn’t picked it out herself. She had told them she wanted something simple, her normal princess curls perhaps with a few strands of jewels woven through for an accent that would please her mother. But looking now she thought this was much better, even if there were enough pins in her hair now to kill something. She looked…older, more in charge somehow like this.
Then her reflection was blocked as a girl stepped in front of her and set to work on her makeup. Here she had requested simplicity as well, but wondered after her hair if she would truly get it. She couldn’t imagine that being heavy handed here would look good though. Emma was young and pretty on her own, only accents were needed or it would look like she was trying too hard, at least she thought. Still, she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to voice her last second opinions, mind still floating ten feet above everything, there but not. It didn’t matter, when the girl pulled back a handful of minutes later her makeup was done, simple, light eye makeup that made her eyes look that much bigger and a covering of foundation to smooth out her skin tone.
Emma took in her whole reflection. She truly did look like a bride with her perfect hair and makeup. She heard the rustle of fabric behind her. The image would only be enhanced by her dress. She moved for the first time of her own will to turn and look at the dress being laid out for her. She smiled slightly seeing that Margret had followed her directions and hadn’t changed a single thing about it. It was the only thing in this whole production that was really and truly hers and she was glad it had stayed that way.
The girls motioned her up and she obeyed, walking over to the little stool they had set up so they could more easily fix her dress once she had it on. She stepped into the dress carefully, leaning on a girl so she kept her balance. Her ladies in waiting pulled it up and she slipped her arms through the delicate sleeves. The next second the laces of her corset were being pulled so tight Emma was sure she would pass out, but she managed to find a breathing pattern that kept her upright. She stepped up on the stool when the tugging was done and the girls set to work straightening everything to perfection.
She looked over at the mirror again and the corners of her mouth tugged up farther. She may not be able to breathe or think straight right now, but she looked…it wasn’t quite how she imagined it when she was little, but she looked like a true bride. That shy smile she always saw on her face when she was little wasn’t there, neither was the happy blush, and her eyes were slightly glazed over in thought, but somehow it all still worked. Emma liked the picture in front of her. She wondered what in the world Regina looked like if she looked this good. She would probably have a hard time breathing when she saw the other woman, maybe lose the rhythm of her steps. She found herself looking forward to the possible humiliation of looking like an idiot in front of so many people. Regina would be there, that was what really mattered.
The door opened behind her and a page boy stepped through. He bowed low after staring at the Princess for just a fraction of a second longer than was really proper, but Emma just smiled at him. “Begging your pardon, your highness,” he said after he rose, “but they’re calling for you downstairs. It’s almost time for your entrance.”
Emma nodded. “Thank you, I’ll be right down.” She stepped from the stool and took as deep a breath as she could. It was time.
She waved the girls away from her and their last touches. She would look how she would look now. It wouldn’t do to be late for her own wedding that would look much worse than having a stitch out of place. Her legs didn’t feel stable anymore and yet she was still standing. She walked forward and they held her, still. Perhaps maybe all that training that Regina had put her through really was coming in handy.
Her servants formed quite the party behind her, still fussing over her despite her earlier dismissal, but Emma was on another planet, paying no mind. If they could keep up with her clipped pace to the throne room then then could fix whatever they pleased. As she neared the site of her wedding the numb feeling that had enveloped her since the sun had risen started to clear. At first it felt nice, to be able to feel again, but then came the terror that the numbness had replaced hours before. Except this time she couldn’t breathe through it. The corset she was wearing was stopping her. She pulled in gasping little breaths and knew that if she didn’t start breathing at a more normal pace soon she would be on the floor and that would look even worse than being late.
But she knew she couldn’t stop walking now. She was in the public eye, to stop now would be weakness. But so would fainting. Oh god, what was she going to do. This was all out of control. She wasn’t Regina, she didn’t know what to do half the time, or any of the time really. She wasn’t worth the other woman. Regina should marry someone confident and capable in some far off kingdom where her mother-in-law wouldn’t send word to her mother of her whereabouts and everyone took her seriously and no one feared her because of the magic she was born with. Somewhere the complete and total opposite of the White Kingdom with someone the exact opposite of Emma, that’s what Regina deserved.
And despite her erratic breathing she made it to the holding area where she was to stand until the music that cued her entrance played. She looked around disoriented. How in the world had she managed all of this? She really was the foolish princess that Regina had called her on months ago, never paying attention to what was around her, acting as she pleased. She wasn’t worthy of any of this.
She tried to peak around the curtains hiding her from view. Oh god, what if Regina’s mother had actually come? How could she let herself space out at a time like this? She had to be on her guard.
Emma was starting to feel faint now. The shallow, rapid breaths were getting to her finally. She leaned against the wall slightly, not enough to mess up her hair and dress, but enough to support her. She felt her maids in the back of her start fussing into over drive, cooing over the nervous princess. They all thought she had the regular wedding nerves and cold feet. Emma felt like laughing. Oh, if only. That would mean she was just another silly girl getting married, not the princess and heir to a throne. Whatever she and Regina had it would always be polluted by that.
Then the music was playing for Regina to walk down the aisle. Emma lunged forward just a little and managed to stick her head out just far enough that she saw the other woman walk out from behind her own set of curtains straight across from her. The breath flooded back into Emma in one startling gasp. Regina was beautiful, painfully so. Emma wanted to run out and touch her, she couldn’t believe the vision in front of her was real. Emma had gotten a glimpse of what the other woman would’ve looked like as a princess in dresses, flowing around the palace gracefully, but now was when she truly believed it. Regality oozed from every pore of Regina, her presence owned the room. Emma heard the gasps around the throne room as Regina passed them.
And Emma’s mind finally, finally settled. Whatever was between her and Regina was theirs. It wasn’t tainted by her being princess of the White Kingdom. What they allowed into their relationship was their call alone, and sure her being a princess had started everything, but that was no means how it had to continue. They could be anything and everything to each other except for princess and knight, or soon to be fellow princesses. That was their choice. For every other choice that could be made for them whatever was between them was their choice alone.
Emma stood up off the wall, head not spinning so fast now that she finally had her panic under control. She was ready when the music changed and the curtains were drawn back. She stepped forward confidently and kept perfect time to the music. She focused on nothing but Regina in front of her. She felt it still, the panic from earlier. If she let herself think of anything but Regina she would lose it right here right now in front of hundreds of people. But Regina was her anchor. Everything was possible with her, if only in their relationship, not outside of it. But they would do their best to make sure everything they needed outside of each other was easily reachable as well.
She could read the same war within Regina’s eyes, the slight panic, driven away by the sight of her. It seemed they were of one mind today. Emma smiled at her and immediately the smile was returned. Everything was ok in that moment between them. Emma stepped up beside Regina, finally at the end of the aisle. All other concerns faded to the back of her mind truly now.
The high priest of the realm stepped forward and joined their hands together. Emma’s breath caught just slightly as her skin came into contact with Regina’s. She had touched the other woman before, but this was different somehow. She looked up from their joined hands to Regina to find her staring at Emma already. She shrugged almost imperceptibly. She wasn’t quite sure what had just happened either, but she had felt it. Emma would ask her later when they weren’t standing in front of a few hundred people. Perhaps it was nothing, but…Emma just didn’t think it was.
“We come here to join these two, Emma of House White and Regina of the Dark Kingdom, in marriage,” the high priest began.
Emma had no real interest in what the old man was saying. It was all complete and utter hot air anyway, playing up just how great the White Kingdom was, how lucky Regina was to be marrying into such a kingdom, what great rulers Snow White and her prince were and just a quick mention of how competent Emma herself was as a princess. It was all posturing and it wasn’t what Emma wanted to remember from this ceremony at all. She focused on Regina instead, focused on how the white of the woman’s dress lightened the color of her eyes to a dark honey color, focused on how the callouses on her hands felt good against her smooth skin. Anything about the woman in front of her was concentrated on and damn the world around them in that moment.
Regina’s dress was styled similarly to the one she wore. They had both chosen sleek over poofy, though it looked like Regina had more room to breathe than Emma did. Emma was slightly envious just of that fact alone, but then Regina filled out the dress so much better and looked gorgeous enough to stop someone’s heart and Emma was going to get a complex from the woman, she just knew it. She really wanted to reach out and trace her fingers along Regina’s bare shoulders, the wispy off the shoulder sleeves showed off Regina’s toned arms. A small smile made its way onto Emma’s face. She couldn’t help but think that Regina had told Margret to leave her arms bare on purpose to remind everyone just what she did as her day job. She may be covered in silk from Qin, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t dangerous.
She caught Regina’s eye again after surveying the other woman’s body. Regina smiled at her, eyes sparkling knowingly. Emma blushed, caught in the act, but then she felt the weight of eyes sweeping up and down her body as well and she blushed for an entirely different reason.
The high priest finally let go of their hands and reached behind him for the binding cord. Emma sighed. The first step in a list of many more than necessary. It was ridiculous what White Kingdom tradition dictated a marriage ceremony consist of. The priest tied the cord around both of their wrists, only instead of laying there mundanely as it was supposed to the cord lit up white-gold for a few seconds before fading. The priest stared for a few long seconds before glancing up at Emma. Emma cocked an eyebrow at the man.
“I have a vague clue, your highness, but I do not believe in the middle of a ceremony is the place to discuss it. It does nothing to the validity of the ceremony either way.”
Emma nodded and looked back at the cord. Her eyes met Regina’s. There was worry there and Emma didn’t blame her. Had the cord reacted with Regina’s magic somehow? Did the cord glowing have something to do with the spark that had flown between them earlier? Emma really needed to do some research on magic later, this hole in her knowledge would not help her in the long run, damn what her mother and the laws of their kingdom said.
The priest continued the ceremony, handing them chalices while one set of their hands remained tied. They drank from the other’s goblet as the priest went on about fidelity and whatever other values a married couple was supposed to have. The little page boy that had attended Regina during the tournament slipped from the wings, holding onto a pillow with their rings on it. Regina smiled widely at the boy. He returned the smile and held the pillow up to her eagerly.
Emma took a breath as Regina picked up the white gold ring off the pillow. Everything had been real before this moment of course, but she was about to receive something solid that would represent everything that was happening to her right now. It was about to become a physical thing, and for some reason that held much more weight with Emma at that instant.
Regina grabbed her bound hand and slipped the ring on. “With this ring, I, Regina of the Dark Kingdom, wed Emma of the White Kingdom.” Her voice rang out across the huge crowd.
Emma flexed her fingers just slightly, getting used to the weight of the metal on them. The page boy slipped over to her and held up the pillow. Emma grabbed Regina’s ring and took hold of Regina’s unbound hand. The ring pushed on easily, with just enough to resistance so it wouldn’t fall off the other woman’s hand.
“With this ring, I, Emma of the White Kingdom, wed Regina of the Dark Kingdom.” Her voice wasn’t as clear, didn’t reach every corner of the hall as Regina’s had, but she knew it was firm enough. No one would question her later about her commitment.
The priest nodded beside them. “Then with the power invested in my by the gods of this kingdom I pronounce you married. You may now kiss to seal the covenant.”
The butterflies in Emma’s stomach went into over drive. They had hugged before and she had kissed Regina on the cheek in a fit of bravery, but this was different. This was a kiss on the lips, their first kiss. Emma took a deep breath. This didn’t have to be their first anything if they didn’t want it to be. What was between them was theirs and this…well this kiss was anything but between them at the moment, forced on them by social custom and a huge crowd of people. Regina would understand later if she explained why she didn’t think this was their true first kiss.
Emma took a step forward just as Regina slipped a hand onto Emma’s waist. The knight drew her in gently, lowering herself just slightly so their lips met in a chaste kiss. Emma’s eyes fluttered closed.
Kissing had never felt so…before she could come up with a word Regina was pulling back again. Emma turned to the crowd who were clapping politely. Above them the bells in the towers of the palace rang and rang, signaling that they were married to all those who hadn’t been in the room. Emma glanced over to Regina. This wedding hadn’t been anything like she had ever imagined, but somehow she wouldn’t change it for the world.
Regina pulled them down the aisle as their exit music played. Now they only had to get through the feast and they were home free for at least the night.
Immediately after they exited the throne room another flurry of servants were in front of them. Emma’s ladies maids were squealing over how beautiful the ceremony was while quickly fixing anything that had come out of place. Emma waved them off after a minute. People would be drunk soon enough that it wouldn’t matter what she looked like. The whole time they kept walking towards the banquet hall. Emma felt like she was being herded like common cattle. Beside her Regina was fending off the worst of the servants queries and for that Emma was grateful. She needed six seconds just to take a breath before diving into the next thing, but only Regina seemed to get that.
When they reached their places at the head of the banquet table Emma heard the rumbling behind her signaling that everyone who had been in the throne room was making their way towards the food. Her eyes flicked over the table, and oh food there was. Living at the palace there was always an overabundance of food at every meal, but no more than the servants could finish off after the meal was done. This…there was enough food to feed a small regiment and then some. Emma held down the anger at the excess. The servants would find someone to eat the food, she was sure. There were more than enough peasants in the street to finish off whatever they didn’t. But that was still poor consolation for an act that should have never happened in the first place. The food they were wasting today could have been put in the stores to help the peasants survive the winter when the insane taxes her mother would impose to pay for the wedding took food from their bellies.
Nobility and foreign royalty flooded in the banquet room as Regina and Emma stood behind their chairs. Emma plastered a smile on her face. It wouldn’t do to seem like an ungracious host, especially with a few kingdoms attending who were on the verge of attacking them. She felt Regina’s hand slip into her own and the smile became much more genuine. A meal and some dancing, that was all they had to get through. She just had to keep repeating that to herself. When this was all over she could start to deal with the consequences brought about by this fool’s errand.
Everyone found their seats quickly. Emma applauded whoever made the seating chart, it kept key players as far apart as possible and yet still managed to put people beside others that they tolerated. Her eyes swept up the table to those sitting nearest to her and Regina, her parents were right beside them of course, but the others sitting near them were actually people Emma didn’t mind as much. She really would have to thank whoever had made the seating plan, they had made this evening that much more tolerable.
Regina looked over at her and Emma nodded. Together they reached down and grabbed the glasses in front of them, already full of wine. Emma tapped her fork gently against the side of her glass. The sound wasn’t extremely loud but the room fell silent anyway. She smiled at everyone looking at her and cleared her throat.
“I’m so glad that everyone could come to help us celebrate our wedding.” She shot a loving look at Regina. “We’re both so happy. It’s a blessing from the gods that we found each other.” She looked back out over the tables. “And our kingdom will be much stronger for it. But, as everyone does know, the best part of the wedding is the food, so without further ado let us sit and eat.”
Everyone around them chuckled a few times before sitting down. Emma had to stop herself from flopping down in her chair dramatically. Everything about this was completely exhausting. Regina leaned over and set her chin on Emma’s shoulder.
“That was a rather well thought out commencement,” Regina whispered in her ear.
Emma laughed once humorlessly. “Thank you, but there wasn’t much thought to it,” Emma whispered back.
“Yes, I know, not thinking is bad, but Regina I’m a little fried right now. I do have instincts about these things after all these years even if I don’t use them at points. You’ve taught me enough that winging it isn’t so hard.”
Regina huffed. “Fine, but if you’re really that exhausted then why don’t you let me do the talking.”
“Because you can’t do all of it or people will think something is wrong and I don’t know what’s worse, them thinking I’m an idiot with a foot in my mouth or thinking I’m your puppet or something.”
“Fair point, dear.” Regina’s thumb started to make circles on Emma’s hand. “It’s just that you look so tired, I see it in your eyes, and I don’t want you to do something you’ll regret.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t sleep last night and I already regret that, so perhaps it’s a bit late for that.” Emma sighed. “But thank you for trying. It’s only a few hours now before this is all over and we can take a break from being political beings.”
Regina nodded. “Alright, but if you find yourself lagging in any way I am right here. It’s now literally my job to support you through these things.”
Emma laughed, truly this time. “As if it hasn’t been for the last few months even without the ring.” Emma’s spun the ring on her finger with her thumb. The weight of it felt odd there.
Regina drew her head back and smiled at Emma. “Well then, why don’t we eat? I think the cooks might have outdone themselves.”
“Maybe a little too much,” Emma mumbled under her breath, but set about filling her plate anyway. The food was in front of her, she might as well do her part to consume it. She sat back and started to pick at her food, waiting for the vultures to descend on them.