Emma stared down at the parchment in front of her, brow creased in concentration. Paperwork in the Enchanted Forest was somewhat more confusing for the Sheriff. Apparently, it wasn't bad enough that she had to write with a quill, now everyone had reverted back to their old persona's and had started using English that wasn't exactly commonplace where she came from; reading it was a pain in the a—
Her head snapped up and her eyes brightened at the sight of Regina. On most days, the best she could hope for was not to have a headache by the time she returned to the Palace. On an even better day, which were far more rare, she would be whisked away from the daily grind and be shown something new, something interesting—and potentially dangerous—because Regina would come to her and request her help.
"Hey," she said. "What's up?"
"I'm not interrupting anything important am I?" Regina stepped into the room and closed the door; a pleased smile on her face due to the fact Emma seemed relieved by her presence.
"I suppose that would depend on who you ask," Emma admitted as she dropped her quill. No doubt the paperwork was important to the Kingdom, the King and Queen—better known as her parents—in particular. "But since you asked me, I'm going to have to say; Hell no. Please save me."
Regina glanced down at the parchment as she came and stood by the blonde. "Still struggling with understanding the language?" she asked and the question was one of genuine curiosity; she had helped the blonde on numerous occasions and was more than happy to do so again.
"Uh no," Emma drew the negative out, her tone taking on a mild poshness that caused a grin to appear on dark lips. "The language I am perfectly fine with. There is, however, a fine line between eloquent and obnoxious that some people haven't seemed to grasp. Some of the words they use are so obscure that I had to go and ask Belle for a fricken dictionary just to sign my name on a piece of paper."
"I don't imagine that went well for you," Regina chuckled and the annoyed huff next to her was all the answer she needed.
"Seriously, why the hell aren't dictionaries a thing here? You all just grew up knowing the meaning of every single word in existence?"
Shaking her head, Regina sat on the edge of the desk and crossed her legs at the knees. The move caused the split of her dress to reveal a significant portion of an olive toned thigh, which neither of them missed though both pretended to ignore—one more capable than the other. "Literacy was much less common here than in your world, mostly it was the nobility who learned to read and write," she explained. "I imagine something similar existed at one point but as far as I know, the only way to discover the meaning of a word you didn't understand was to find someone much older and simply ask. I honestly think some of the tutors that were around when I was a child were older than dirt itself."
"Look at you using comparisons I understand," Emma grinned and Regina laughed softly, patting the blonde's shoulder with a fondness that, to most would seem strange, but had become one of many familiar gestures between them. Emma was merely thankful she hadn't patted her on the head, which she found rudely condescending and knew Regina only did so when she felt like irritating her.
Six months in the Enchanted Forest, feeling as though they were both outcasts in their own way, and with numerous adventures together under their belts, friendship had been a natural next step in their shared experiences. Henry was overjoyed that his mother's preferred teasing each other now instead of fighting, and the two of them were comfortable with their developing relationship, neither all that used to the feeling of being understood and accepted to the extent they understand and accept one another.
"So," Emma started as she stretched, raising arms above her head and forcing her shirt to ride up her stomach. A tongue darted from a mouth to wet lips and she smiled to herself, mouth forming a thin line once chestnut eyes rose to meet emerald once more. "Was there something you needed, or did you just miss me?"
"Oh yes," Regina drawled, tone mocking as she continued. "I had hoped to find you shovelling food into your gaping maw when I stopped by, the sight always sends my heart a flutter—and your outfits, oh my, how could I possibly survive an entire day without missing you, Miss Swan."
Slapping a hand to her chest, Emma feigned surprise, fingers hooked over her heart as though it were about to burst from her chest. "Oh Regina, your words leave me breathless with desire; if only you weren't twice my age, we could wed on the morrow and share our love with the world."
There was a gasp, followed by the sound of a hand hitting flesh and Emma laughed as she rubbed her arm. Narrowing her eyes at the blonde, Regina informed with no small amount of haughtiness, "Biologically, I am less than six years your senior, Miss Swan and I thank you not to bring up my age—ever again."
"Fine fine," Emma replied. Her voice lowered an octave and she openly leered at the brunette as she added, "You certainly don't look your age, Your Majesty." She leaned back in her seat and grinned as the comment caused widening eyes to darken slightly.
Regina cleared her throat and looked away. "The scouts discovered another cave," she answered Emma's earlier question, ignoring the heat in her cheeks and—other areas. "I informed your mother I would be taking you with me to have a look, as I know how you detest being cooped up in an office for so long."
"See now, there's the woman I know loves me." Emma wagged her eyebrows and stood, patting the brunette's thigh with affection. Her hand lingered a little longer than it probably should have, but neither acknowledged it as Regina joined her and they made their way out of the room.
Their walk from the Barracks to the Palace was silent. In private, they were friends who might, on occasion, blur the lines between flirting and downright foreplay, but amongst the general populace, one was the Queen's Advisor while the other was the Princess, heir to the White Kingdom. Granted she dressed like a Prince, swore like a Pirate and ate like a starved street urchin, but she was the Princess nonetheless and appearances were—as her mother reminded her constantly—important.
As soon as the doors opened to permit them in to the Great Hall, Emma spun on her heel and—a hand clasped her forearm, thwarting her escape attempt as nails dug into flesh and she winced. "Leave me to suffer this alone and I will claw your eyes out," Regina threatened.
Emma whined in the back of her throat and reached for the hand, prying it from her forearm as she turned back around. She linked their arms and plastered a smile on her face upon seeing her mother approaching them, keeping her voice low as she asked out of the corner of her mouth, "How far away is this damn cave?"
"Quite the distance, I'm afraid." Regina murmured, resisting the twitch of her lips caused by the responding groan as she inclined her head to the Queen. "Snow, Emma was just telling me how much she appreciates all this trouble you've gone to; you really needn't throw such an extravagant party to see us off."
Snow beamed and Emma tried—so hard, in fact, that a throb started to form behind her eyes—to resist the eye roll that came despite her best intentions. "You'll both be gone much longer than you usually are," she said. "I simply wanted to give everyone the opportunity to wish you both well, and to remind my darling daughter how many people would appreciate she not do something stupid to get herself killed."
"I love you too, mother," Emma deadpanned before she dragged Regina over to the tables lined with food.
"That wasn't very Princess-like, dear," Regina practically purred the words into her ear and Emma wrinkled her nose in distaste, even as a shiver shot down her spine.
"Keep that up," she warned, piling enough food on her platter to feed at least three fully-grown men. "And I'll spread a rumour about how you have to keep visiting the tailor because you're getting fat."
Regina chuckled and stole a slice of apple as she replied, "Do that and I'll tell everyone it's because you got me pregnant."
"You pregnant..." Emma hummed, head tilting at the thought. Leading them to a table, she shook her head and sighed wistfully. "Nope, you'd be far too attractive; I'll need to think of a different rumour."
The hand that had dug painfully into flesh only moments earlier gently squeezed her bicep before Regina disentangled their arms and took her seat. Emma smiled as she sat down in the chair next to her, placing her food on the table in the space between them. There was a reason she often took more than she needed and as she beckoned the servant with the wine over, she watched from the corner of her eye as Regina plucked a grape from the platter and popped it into her mouth.
It had taken somewhere between two to three hours before Snow would let them leave, and the only reason it didn't take longer was because Regina lost her temper and demanded the woman stop fussing. Emma thought it amusing at the time, but ever since then it had been quiet and though they could sometimes spend an abnormal amount of time around one another in complete silence, the brunette was generally, and unnaturally, talkative whenever they went on one of their trips.
Having lasted the better part of an hour, she sighed and glanced sideways at her. As lost in thought as Regina appeared, Emma knew better and there was barely a minute before their eyes met. Regina nudged her horse closer and Emma grinned. "Her smothering doesn't really bother you that much, does it?"
Regina frowned. "There was a time when I likely would have set her on fire for it," she said, smile curling her lips. "But no, your mother is the least of my concern. You remember the encampment we found a few months ago—the one with the book?"
Emma nodded. She remembered how she felt when one of the men they were travelling with had stumbled across it, the waves of darkness that rolled off the pages, growing in strength the longer the book had remained open. As Regina's balance in magic, she was the only one able to attend the brunette while she studied it and it had been one of her more harrowing experiences, to say the least.
"The scout that returned this morning said he started having nightmares after he found the cave and I recall a passage in the book that mentioned a talisman that allows the one who wields it to control the shadows within a mind," Regina quoted. "I thought it utter gibberish at the time, but now that I think on it, everything he told me seems to point to the possibility that this talisman truly does exist."
Digesting the information, Emma cleared her throat after a moment and with a lopsided smile she asked, "So, uh, why are we going to this cave again?"
"Don't tell me the self-proclaimed badass is scared."
"Terrified actually," Emma admitted without a trace of shame. "When you've been inside my head, then you can tell me it isn't worth wanting to avoid some random weirdo taking control of my dreams."
Inwardly scowling at her thoughtlessness, Regina reached out and placed her hand on the blonde's thigh. "I apologise, I sometimes forget how alike we are at times." Emma inclined her head, accepting the apology and Regina confessed, "I'm not sure I'm looking forward to the return of my nightmares any more than you are." If she could provide her with a way out, she would, but as the only person in the Enchanted Forest with light magic that is compatible with her own, neither of them had much of a choice.
Within the following hour, it started to get dark and Regina lead them to a small clearing a mile or two off the road. Emma set about preparing their camp for the night, while Regina wandered the perimeter and set down a few protections. Most would ward off any animals that might roam too close, while others would alert them both should something—or someone—of a more magical nature come close to stumbling upon them.
When she re-entered the clearing, their tent was all set up and Emma sat cross-legged in front of the fire, head in her hands as she stared into the flames. Regina frowned at the sight, taking her seat beside the blonde who glanced to her briefly and offered a faint smile before her gaze drifted back to the flames. She wanted to ask if something was wrong, but knew by now that Emma would tell her if she wanted to talk about whatever was bothering her.
Waving her hand, she summoned her satchel from her horse's saddle and retrieved the book from within. Another wave and she rolled out the bundle that appeared in her hand between them, revealing bread baked only hours earlier and an assortment of meat slices. No matter what she had on her mind, Regina knew Emma wouldn't be able to resist the chance to eat and as expected, the blonde accepted the sandwich she fixed.
"Thank you," Emma said with a small smile.
Regina picked up her book from beside her as she murmured, "You're welcome." She managed half of her own sandwich and was three pages into her book before Emma spoke again.
"Do you ever think about fate?"
Looking up from the page, Regina hesitated a second or two and then nodded. "When you've lived a life such as mine, fate is a rather difficult subject to ignore," she replied. "So yes, I find that I am often thinking about it."
Emma shifted in her seat and turned her body to face the brunette. "Do you think we follow a specific path, one set in stone that is unchangeable?"
With a sigh, Regina closed her book. She had no clue why Emma was asking about fate, but she answered despite the utter confusion she felt. "As someone who has changed her fate, no, I do not think that."
"You mean the Evil Queen thing?" Emma narrowed her eyes as she asked and Regina chuckled, shaking her head. It amused her that Emma seemed unable to mention her past without wanting to start a fight with someone in her defence. It was endearing, in an odd sort of way; that she wanted to argue with herself for daring to ask such a thing.
"No dear," she answered, smirking as Emma's face relaxed with another smile. "I was referring to a period of life before then, in which I almost sacrificed what little freedom I had because 'fate' decided I should be in love with a complete stranger."
"The man with the lion tattoo," Emma said, a derisive sneer contorting her expression. Regina snickered and patted her leg. She had mentioned the story in passing a few weeks after they discovered Robin Hood and his merry men lurking the forests. Emma disliked him almost instantly and never once hid her feelings from Regina.
"Shame he has such a strong aversion to magic," she commented offhandedly, "he's rather cute."
"Ugh," Emma grimaces. "He spits when he talks and smells like moss all the time. Not to mention, he's such a horrible marksman, he needs a magical bow to hit a target. Total loser."
"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were jealous."
"Please," Emma dismissed with another eye roll. "I bathe regularly, can explode things just by getting angry and I'm royalty, not some homeless peasant bandit."
"You forgot that you also look better in leather pants," Regina supplied and Emma nodded.
"I have a great ass," she agreed.
Indeed, Regina thought. She hummed, keeping that particular concession to herself as she started to read once more.