Regina stands like an insult to the people below her, watching the servants run about the valley as they tend the land and prepare for the feasts that will be upon them nightly in the upcoming weeks. The edge of the woods towers behind her now, her solitary walk having been completed but the noise drawing her from her path back to the castle. As she stares down from her hill, she feels a wave of resentment like never before hit her, every laugh she hears in the distance making her stomach turn. The Queen wants them to be angry, to be cursing a king who would dare make them work in the blistering sun, but they seem all too content as they mill about. Regina can’t remember when she started to hate the subjects of her kingdom so much, it had happened so gradually, a toxin slowly taking over her mind.
Everything from the expression on her face to the dress she wears – the colour of a late Novemver sky, a pale blue-white that is too simple and far too expensive for her surroundings, its sharp corners making her look like a pillar of jagged ice standing above them; her elegant heels not made for traipsing around the forest, her jewelry bright and shining in the summer sun – all of this is intended to be a vicious slap across the face of every poor, nameless worker below. Everything about her flaunts the title which she holds and hates, because if she can feel no freedom, she will at least feel superiority.
She looks down. Her gaze stops on a shock of chestnut hair, at the sight of the blue-green eyes that belong to the young girl whose head is craned up to look at her as if there is nothing odd about the icicle growing from the top of the hill. Regina freezes in spot, her lungs barely doing her the kindness of breathing in air as she remains trapped by the stare that's holding her. She sees the somehow sharp yet relaxed ease in which her mouth hangs, the bright, glimmering brilliance of her eyes that seem to be taking in every minute detail of Regina's form despite their distance away. Regina knows immediately that she will be the most beautiful girl Regina will ever see in her life, one that has no right to claim the spot with her sharp features and lithe frame, but will hold it nonetheless, unquestioningly and unequivocally.
The Queen knows she will not be able to move from her spot unless the girl bids her to do so, knows she is as trapped as a bug in a web, waiting for the spider to come kill. The way the girl looks at her doesn’t feel like a curious glance as Regina’s had been, it seems far more like an act of dominance with the way her calculating features take in the older woman, as if they were animals in the wild establishing their territory. Regina wants to counter, wants to find a way to twist her expression into the scowl that had adorned her mouth earlier, wants to remind this girl of who is looking down on whom, and the monarch tries to do as much as her studious eyes take in the full sight of the girl rather than be blinded by her face. The ax she holds in her calloused hands, the sheen of sweat that covers her body, the ragged dress she had chosen for her task. It’s a blink, too easy to miss unless you were the two of them, that has Regina not relaxing, but deflating. A small quirk of the girl’s head in response to Regina’s scrutiny, her eyes narrowed and teasing despite her neutral mouth, welcoming the invasive gaze. This is what has Regina turning on spot, desperate to get away.
Like most things in her life, however, Regina isn’t meant to have this want of hers, and she finds herself stopping a few feet away when she sees her husband’s steward approaching her, his plain face already glowing from the sun’s rays. “How do you do, Your Majesty?”
“How do you do?” she replies in kind, both wincing at the volume of his voice and grateful for it. Part of her wants her station said for all to take witness to, for that insolent young girl below to hear. To remind her, if she doesn’t already know or had forgotten, who was seated upon a throne at the end of the day and who was returning to their servants quarters. Another part of her never wants neither herself, nor anyone else, to be reminded of the ring on her finger. “I was just coming back from my walk and wanted to see how the festivities were coming along.”
“Let me join you down the hill at least.” She accepts the outstretched arm and walks with all the regality she can muster, listening half-heartedly as he explains the progress made on the plans she had been a part of creating. They near the girl with each step, Regina watching as she bends to pick up the sharply cut logs of wood and collect them into a wheelbarrow, the muscles in her arms becoming more pronounced the closer the royal party drew to her. Watching as the girl picks up the ax once more upon the discovery of a few more whole logs, her brown eyes follow the downward swing of the blade. A shiver runs through Regina as she watches the wood split into two pieces, the accompanying ‘thwack’ of the edge hitting the tree stump below sounding like music to her ears. It’s repeated a few more times, and each swing has Regina hoping that the movement brings aches to the girl’s muscles, the vibrations pain to her joints; hoping that her hands – adorned with graceful, long fingers no servant has the right to have – are red and raw from the wooden handle.
When the steward meanders to a halt he is approached by a worker and his attention pulled for a brief moment that allows Regina to look back at her cohort, this time finding those mischievous blue-green eyes to be accompanied with a matching smile. She looks as if she always expects Regina to be there, as if the Queen is always there watching, this being another run of the mill meeting between the two. The young woman sustains the insolence of looking right at Regina, impervious to the thought that she should give into the concession to glance away, as the girl certainly has no right to not do so.
Off in the distance a woman yells and the girl’s head whips around as a dog’s would when its master’s voice was heard. The spell between them is broken in an instant, without another glance or impish smile from the beautiful young girl who picks up the wheelbarrow and cuts across the field to the waiting figure of an old woman. The exit is as loathsome as the stare was, as if Regina holds no consequence at all to the girl, and it makes the young queen seethe with anger as she watches her disappear across the grass.
“Don’t we have men for such tasks?” Regina snaps, causing her companion to jump next to her and follow her gaze to the young girl.
“Oh. Oh, yes, of course. The Lucas girl. She and her grandmother are new – her grandmother works in the kitchens and I believe the girl helps the kennel master. But they’re both so invaluable – they come from the country, so they’re sort of jack-of-all-trades, Your Majesty. Cooking, sewing – I believe the girl designed the princess’ dress for the festivities and her grandmother put it together – and when it comes to any manual work, they’ve got the serving staff beat by spades. It is a shame though, having such a pretty girl out here rather than in the castle, but…”
“But?” Regina insists, impatient and tired from the sun.
“The King enjoys keeping her busy all over. Seems she makes the young men work harder.”
“Are they trying to impress her or are they just being worthless men?”
“The latter,” he responds at once, a quirk at the corner of his lip. Regina decides in that moment that she will keep him, when all is said and done. Seems a shame to lose a self-aware man after all. “It appears that Red isn’t quite as personable as the young men would like. Or the young women for that matter. She doesn’t seem too set on making friends amongst the staff.”
“Red?” she asks somewhat absentmindedly as she watches the girl and the older woman disappear on the horizon.
“Her name – apparently.”
“Regina!” Snow crows delightedly, jumping from her spot in front of her vanity, her arms smacking a few things over in the process. She is still getting used to their reach, it seems, a late growth spurt having plagued her late in her sixteenth year and left her beautiful and regal as she stands now, seventeen and radiant.
“I’m sorry to startle you, dear,” Regina drawls as she steps into her stepdaughter’s room. Stepdaughter. The one who isn’t even a decade younger than herself. That fact seems to slap her in the face these days as the girl grows more and more beautiful while Regina remains the same. Her eyes flit about, never landing on any particular thing for too long, let alone Snow’s face. “I heard you had a new gown sewn for the festivities.”
Snow’s face splits into a bright smile at the tiniest bit of attention from Regina, from the idea of her stepmother taking any kind of interest in herself or her life at all. She grabs Regina’s hand and pulls her to her wardrobe, opening the doors with no preamble to reveal the dress inside. It hangs like a work of art, the beauty not found within the layers of chiffon and lace like so many other dresses of their time, but in the simplicity of the cut and style combined with the intricately embroidered flowers that hang from the bustline as if they had sprouted from the fabric. There’s nothing ostentatious about the periwinkle colour, but the silver threads that swirl around the bodice remain eye-catching, undoubtedly designed to dance in the flickering light of fire.
“It’s just stunning, isn’t it?” Snow coos, reaching over to run a reverent hand over the fabric and Regina has to stop herself from snapping at the younger girl for daring to touch her own possession. It doesn’t seem like it should be able to be touched, this symbol of that insolent girl in the field. “Red and her grandmother have been absolute godsends. They finished this within a few days, you know. I tried to convince father that this should be their jobs full-time but he says they’ve become quite invaluable to the staff.”
“Then why have I only heard of them in the last few days? Is this not my castle as well?”
Her question is far too bombastic for their conversation and Snow shrinks in return, fingers curling helplessly around the skirt of her dress. “I-I’m not sure, Regina. I guess you’ve just never shown much interest in the staff before…”
There's an almost sensual pleasure in stomping her way through the forest, still far too exhilarated from her ride on Rocinante to turn in for a night of tedium with the King and his insipid daughter. Regina snaps branches from the trees and tosses them away for the hell of it, desperate to make some claim in this land she supposedly reigns over, to see the destruction behind her when she glances over her shoulder to look at the path she’s created. The humid summer air has been combined with a bitter chill from the approaching autumn season, turning the nights damp and cooling her to the bones, leaving her breath floating in front of her when she stops and lets out a huff.
The sound is echoed behind her and the Queen whips around and finds herself face-to-face with an ivory-coloured wolf. Regina's breath catches in her throat and all memory of the magic coursing through her is forgotten as the animal eyes her from the short distance, its ears pinned back but its face neutral. A branch snaps behind her and Regina, still frozen in fear, reluctantly turns her gaze to the right, blinking at the sight of the girl.
She looks as if she belongs with this backdrop, the slowly darkening forest behind her a much better fit than the sunny fields in front of the castle. “You should be careful in the woods at night,” she warns, a coy smile on her face as she pats her thigh, calling the wolf over from its spot behind Regina. “The wolves can be dangerous.”
The wolf lopes towards the girl, indifferent to Regina as it passes her to stand at the side of the one calling it forward. Regina wants to snap at her for daring to speak to her in such a way, for having the insolence to look her in the eyes and continue smiling so coquettishly, but all that comes when she speaks is a question she doesn’t mean to ask. “And what about yourself?”
The smile blossoms, a laugh refusing to break free from her mouth, and Regina’s own lips twist downwards in response as she relaxes. “The wolves like me,” the brunette explains as her hand runs over the top of the canine’s head. “But they can be picky.”
"Your Majesty," Regina snaps, remembering herself as she finishes the girl's sentence for her. Her stature returns to her, her sense of regality, even here in the dank forest.
“Of course, Your Grace.” Her head bows in deference, but the smile on her face manages to remain even as her lips form a straight line. Regina has never wanted to slap someone more than she does in this moment. “I’ve been most rude. I hope you can forgive me.”
Regina stops for a second as she thinks of all she could do to this girl, whether by the hands of the guards or her own. Thrown in the dungeons until she was on her deathbed, perhaps. The rack. The chopping block. "And why should I?"
"You've no reason to at all, Majesty."
"You're nothing but a poor servant."
"More common than dirt."
"Indeed, as even dirt isn't permitted inside the castle, Your Highness."
Thrown in the stockades, Regina thinks as she stares at the wolf waiting obediently by the girl’s side. Perhaps that would force some humility into this pathetic child. Regina is aware, somewhere deep inside her, that her thoughts are attempting to trick her into more hostility when she knows full well that she’s struggling to keep her mouth turned downwards. “What’s your name, girl?”
“Red, Your Grace.”
“That’s not a name.”
“It’s the only one I have.”
The wind rustles in the trees, providing them with their only sound in the ever-darkening forest, and it leaves Red’s long, dark locks to float around her serene face. She keeps waiting for the scene to be ruined, as they always are, but nothing comes. Regina shudders and masks it by adjusting her riding jacket before she looks at the girl once more, face stern and cold.
“You’ll come to my chambers tomorrow evening when you’re finished with your tasks for the day.” The girl’s head bows demurely once more in recognition. “Bathed, of course. I’ve no interest in seeing a mongrel show up at my door.”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
Regina turns on spot and briskly walks towards the towering castle in the distance.
The day goes by agonizingly slowly, no matter how Regina tries to pass the time. Two rides on Rocinante, three-quarters of a novel, making changes to the food orders – none of this can keep the young queen preoccupied for long before she feels like she is going to burst from her skin. Eventually Regina retreats to her tower, passing the guards who stand at the door which separates the solitary hallway from the warm and inviting castle. The Queen’s quarters are rarely greeted with visitors these days, but she informs her men that she’s expecting one tonight.
She stands at her balcony and stares at the blurry figures running around the open field, trying desperately to spot the girl from her perch, thinking she has managed to once or twice until the person drifts close enough for Regina to spot her mistake. It’s infuriating, how much this child plagues her mind, how many times Regina finds herself in front of a mirror to detect any sort of imperfections in her appearance, when she’s... nothing.
As the people in the field begin to disperse in the fading light, Regina tries to remind herself who she’s waiting for. A poor girl doing a slave’s work for a pittance, her mind coaxes as she smoothes out the simple lavender dress she’s chosen, critically eyeing the way it fits to her form. She follows her own movement with pointed interest, the image of her hands blurring with those of the young girl. Her long, slim fingers, the way the tendons strained against her skin as they fanned out from her wrists, the small scars and imperfections that graced her skin. Peasant hands, she emphasizes, but her heart jumps to her throat all the same at the knock on the door.
Bidding the girl to enter, Regina steels herself in the middle of the room, standing erect and proud after she hastily brushes her hair behind her shoulders. The servant pushes past the door and closes it behind her, stepping into Regina’s chambers with a neutral expression and shining hair. Her dress is made of plain cotton, but the way the lines draw the gaze upwards to her face has Regina stopping for a moment as she looks at the girl in the naked firelight.
Regina has been trying to acquire a talent for unnerving people and she thinks of no better time to practice than now. The fire crackles but Regina gives no sound after the door slams, stepping forward to circle around the girl slowly, gaze taking her in with a cold precision. She’s far more beautiful up close – her eyes a lovely pale green, grey around the edge, copper around the center; her lips full and pink. Her skin is clear and only sporting the barest of tans despite her long days in the sun, and a faint smatter of freckles covers the bridge of her nose when the Queen looks closely. Red doesn’t cower under the scrutiny, in fact she seems to invite it; holding her chin high and keeping her gaze obediently forward. Her amusement from the previous day, however, has disappeared.
Regina reaches forward to curl her finger around a stray lock of chocolate hair, tugging on it when she catches herself doing so. The girl doesn’t wince.
“Why have you been staring at me?”
Red doesn’t miss a beat. “You’ll forgive me, Your Grace, I am from a small village and not yet accustomed to being in the presence of royalty.”
“Are you being insolent with me?” Regina asks sharply, teeth clicking together. “I could have you whipped for that.”
“I meant no insolence, Majesty.”
Regina watches her mouth, waiting for her telling smile, but it doesn’t come and she accepts the girl’s words at their value. “No more titles.”
“How shall I refer to you?”
“You won’t.” Red nods and remains staring forward. Regina grabs her sought after hands, surprised to find the skin so smooth despite the occasional rough patches centered around the pads of her fingers and folds in her palms. “Do you find the days working in the fields long?”
“And at the end of the day? Are you quite exhausted by the time the sun sets?”
“Yet these are not the hands of a labourer.”
“I have many titles under your steward’s orders.”
Regina drops the hands as if they’re on fire and looks over the girl suspiciously. “What were you before you arrived to work for my husband?”
Red meets her eyes then, a hint of a smile on her lips again. “Just a girl.”
There’s something vicious behind the gaze that has Regina’s eyes shifting towards her open balcony, tapping the thumb on her right hand to the tip of each finger and repeating the process as she blocks out her mother’s voice in her head, scolding her for fidgeting even the slightest in front of company.
“You designed Snow’s dress?” Red nods and her expression remains unchanged, but Regina sees her eyebrow twitch slightly, as if she was almost about to show her own intrigue as blatantly as Regina is. “It’s quite beautiful.”
“Thank you.” Her voice doesn’t sound all that genuine, it’s a statement rather than a show of gratitude. She’s well aware the dress is beautiful, her tone says it all, but there’s no boasting in that fact. The dress is as it exists.
“You have an eye for detail rather than superfluous displays.”
“Chiffon is a bastard fabric,” Red replies when sufficient time has passed to alert her that she is meant to.
“And if I demanded a dress made only of the most loathsome of fabrics such as that?”
“I’d have it for you as soon as I could.” Regina's lip twitches again as her eyes calmly take in the sharp edges of her teeth as Red speaks.
“Snow had little input.”
“Is that a question?”
“No. I imagine she asked to see the final sketches, however.” The brunette nods. “She’s an idiot who isn't aware of talent when she sees it. I won’t ask for such a thing from you.”
“But you’ll demand chiffon?”
Regina allows the smirk to bloom and gestures towards her desk, where a tablet sits with papers, pens, and ink on top with charcoal sticks on the side. “I wasn’t sure if you had any of your own. I’ll need it by the time the festivities are upon us, of course.” She clears her throat and smooths her hands down her hips. “You’ll have access to any materials you need from fabrics to jewels, just ask the steward.”
Green eyes slide over to land on the instruments and Regina sees the fingers on her left hand jerk together once. She doesn’t wait for permission before stepping forward and retrieving the items, grabbing one of the finely sharpened charcoal sticks and eyeing the point critically for a second. Red turns back to Regina, a single sheet of paper on the tablet in her right hand.
“I’ll just need a moment to make a quick sketch. Then I can finish the rest at home.”
“As you wish.” Regina watches as the girl doesn’t hesitate before grabbing the chair set it front of her vanity and placing it in the middle of the room, taking a seat and looking at Regina with an unabashedly critical eye. She’s proud, but not overtly so – she, like the dress, exists as she is, there’s no ostentation behind it. Red’s left hand holds the charcoal, but it doesn’t move for a long time as her green irises travel down the Queen’s frame. In turn, Regina stands unperturbed under the scrutiny, staring straight back at Red now that she has been given the opportunity to do so openly.
“How did you get that scar?” Red asks as her hand lifts and begins moving up and down in smooth, even lines on the paper.
Regina’s tongue darts out to press against the indent on her top lip, a subconscious tic that occurs whenever someone mentions the blemish, one that she’s been trying to break. “The barn on my family’s estate was home to a few cats and one of them got the best of me.” The tip of her thumb moves to press against her other fingers once more as she inexplicably adds something she rarely mentions, let alone to strangers, “My mother was furious with me for getting a scar.”
Red doesn’t comment, only glances up occasionally with her hand paused and waiting overtop of the paper before dropping back down when her gaze returns to the drawing. But each small look makes Regina feel as if she’s standing bare before the servant. It only a takes a few minutes before the girl stands abruptly and declares she should be able to finish it on her own. She returns the chair to its spot, bows and offers her thanks for the opportunity, and takes her leave before Regina can let out a breath.
The crackling fire suddenly seems to be overheating her skin as if it’s an inferno in her room, and Regina reaches up to shove the sleeves down her shoulders and the bunched up fabric over her hips, leaving her naked in the center of her quarters. She walks briskly over to her balcony, leaning on the rail in the cool night air as she overlooks what is meant to be her kingdom. One day, she thinks as a wind picks up and sends goosebumps pebbling down her arms and breasts, it will be hers, but for now she knows she holds about as much power as a peasant in her realm’s eyes.
She sees a lone figure cross the courtyard, a uniquely feminine shape, the girl’s dark hair a shadow against the smooth stone path she moves across. Her long legs carry her down the path towards the village at an inhuman pace, the tablet drawn to her chest. Regina watches until she disappears into the darkness stretched out beyond the grounds, hands gripping the rails as she catches her breath. She wishes, suddenly and fleetingly, that she had been in this state of attire when the girl asked to sketch her for a moment, but Regina quickly reminds herself that this girl was from nothing and could provide her with nothing. Except, perhaps, a beautiful dress.
The next few days pass with little fanfare. Every morning Regina dresses and goes through the motions until she can break away without questions, off to the stables or to walk through the forest. She strolls along the trees that line the valley, always looking for the girl and finding her with ease, as if her eyes inherently know where to fall. No matter how long she watches, Red never seems to lose steam, whether she’s putting together a stage or weaving flowers into long strands to stretch over the grounds. Regina doesn’t allow herself to be spotted, just waits patiently beyond the bushes and leaves when it suits her, always catching herself wringing her hands together or tapping her thumb to her fingertips before she does.
She receives word from her handmaid that a half an hour of her time is requested that evening to get her measurements and Regina nearly finds a smile breaking through at the news. Instead she nods coldly and grants the girl to deliver the time when she’ll be free, going about the rest of the day with the same icy precision. She chokes down dinner, speaking occasionally when either Snow or her father remember her presence and call upon her. The breaks in her involvement allow her to drain more than her fair share of cups of wine, tearing apart chunks of bread when she feels the need to destroy something.
Finally the time comes and her handmaid announces that the servant is here to do the fitting and takes her leave, her exit proceeded by the woman’s entrance. She was the one who had called upon Red in the field, her grandmother, Regina assumes by her age and the similar sharp look in her eyes. The beautiful queen can feel her cheeks heat up at the insult the young girl has given her, sending this woman in her place when Regina’s wants were more than clear. But she stoically allows the woman to step close to her with a measuring tape in hand, occasionally writing down a few measurements on the paper and tablet Regina had lent the girl.
For the rest of the night her anger is palpable to every servant who comes in to wait upon her, those who have to return with hot tubs of water for Regina's bath getting the brunt of her ire due to their frequent trips in and out of the room. The water scalds her skin as she sinks down into it, not stopping until it’s burning everything under her collarbone. Regina’s thankful for a temperature that matches her soul's, angrily scrubs and exacerbates her skin until it’s raw and aches all the more in the heat.
When she’s finished with her bath, Regina stands naked on her balcony again, allowing the wind to dry and numb her skin as she glares off into the distance. Tomorrow the servants will be working well into the night given their day off following, and Regina tries to make herself feel some satisfaction, some vengeance for her hurt pride. But the insult remains, as if she had been slapped in the face and it still stung.
Even with the sun inching towards the west, the day remains humid and hot as Regina makes her way through the forest, breaking off a branch from a tree and occasionally using it to tap against Rocinante’s hind leg. In turn, his tail flicks at the small pat, as if he was trying to swat her back. The leaves are keeping the air trapped amongst the trees and Regina reaches to undo the top few buttons of her jacket as she sways back and forth, squinting into the increasingly orange light as her horse leads her back onto a trail.
She stops the animal abruptly by pulling on the reins as dark chestnut hair becomes apparent amongst the tree-lined path. Red meets her gaze without hesitation, a basket of wildflowers in her hands and her shoulders draped in a red hood that seems unnecessary given the heat, but looks so exquisite on her that Regina wants to tear it to shreds. The Queen stops herself from snapping, desperate to contain her displeasure and embarrassment at feeling led on by the girl.
Every moment of silence from Red feels like another form of betrayal, but Regina knows that neither of them truly need to speak to talk to one another, let alone here in their woods. Still, she can’t keep her words simmering behind her lips for long and she knows that. “Why didn’t you come?” Regina asks, one hand curling around the leather reins and the other gripping the switch as if it's holding her steady as well. “Why didn’t you come to do the fitting?”
“I didn’t think it would matter to you which servant came,” Red replies demurely, her gaze level and voice steady. That teasing lilt is there once more and it makes Regina seethe as she looks down to spot the black marks on her left hand from the charcoal and ink. “Or did it, Your Grace?”
Regina feels her cheeks burn at the insinuation, at Red’s sheer audacity. She wants to dig deep and harness every bit of magic in her veins and call upon a storm to match the rage she feels towards this girl. Instead, she goes a more basic route without any conscious recognition as her arm lifts automatically, whipping the branch in her hand across Red’s face and leaving an angry raised welt under her left eye. Regina doesn’t blink before she spurs Rocinante on and speeds away from the scene to the safety of her bedroom.
Regina brushes out her hair with rigid precision, washes her face and arms before getting dressed in a simple nightgown of sheer cotton. Her bed is turned down and waiting for her, the fire in her room simmering quietly. Regina had asked to be settled in early tonight and her staff gave no qualms or questions about the change in pace, only began their evening tasks when their mistress showed up before the sun had set, sweaty and disheveled from her ride.
Looking in her mirror, the monarch tries to see what about her has changed over the last few years living in this castle, but the only difference she can spot is the cold expression that is reflected back at her. She clenches her right hand as she thinks about how she had struck Red, how she had marred that beautiful face. Regina is both pleased and sickened with herself when she thinks that she might have left a scar.
She doesn’t hear the sound of the door opening, but she sees it happen over her left shoulder in the mirror, sees the girl in the red cape step forward into the room as it closes behind her. She’s fresh from work, no doubt, a sheen of sweat still lining her skin. Regina eyes the welt on her cheek as she draws near, then turns primly in her seat before standing to face her destiny head on, and in turn, the young woman’s face is austere and borderline cruel in its expression as she stares Regina down. When Red draws close enough, Regina’s hand lifts to cup her jaw, her thumb reaching across Red’s cheek to press boldly against the cut, earning her a hiss from the girl before she silences herself by pressing her lips violently against Regina’s.
Regina's first act is to try to jerk away from the girl, but Red’s thin frame holds far more strength than it lets on, and she can more than easily subdue the Queen, paying no mind to the fists pushing at her shoulders. The young girl tears the thin straps of Regina’s nightgown so she can tangle her hands in the fabric and drag it down her back. In kind, Regina gives every indication of fighting back, of trying to escape, but she’s greedy as she leans up to return the kisses Red is attacking her mouth with.
Red seems to have little interest in Regina’s responses, whether she’s scratching at the front of her dress to rip through the ties holding it together, or biting down on her lower lip until they taste copper in their kisses. She moves with no concern for Regina’s involvement, seemingly more than easily lifting her and throwing her back onto her bed, pausing for only the briefest moment when Regina reaches up to push her hood off. She watches it warily as it falls from her shoulders and then returns her attention back to Regina with renewed vigour, dragging her teeth across the Queen’s neck at the same time her hand blazes a trail down her tanned stomach to the apex of her thighs.
The groan Regina gives sounds downright animalistic to her own ears, feral and strained, but as Red seems to be paying no mind to her reactions, Regina does the same. She hates herself for the noise, but she knows it’s beyond her control, that there was no other way for her body to react to anyone, let alone this girl, in any other kind of way when it was responding like this. Sharp teeth are tugging at her breast and Regina can feel the bruises blooming across her body, left by the unnatural strength this girl seems to possess. So she counters the best she can: digging her nails into the girl’s skin, raking her hands down her back, thrashing underneath her hold. But nothing seems to deter the young woman, nothing seems to alert her to Regina’s presence at all, outside of her body.
She may not be an expert in this particular field, but Regina can tell there’s little-to-no experience or skill behind Red’s movements. However, there’s clearly something to be said for enthusiasm because Regina feels as if her skeleton is about to burst from her skin, she’s so deliriously lost at the feel of her stomach tightening. At some point she had succumbed to ceasing her counterattack, nails now digging into Red’s skin unconsciously rather than to inflict any damage, pulling her closer rather than feigning to push her away. Her moans are high and frequent, and she knows she’s in danger of alerting the guards (as she probably should be doing), but the only thing that dampens the sounds is Red’s mouth returning to hers.
Now that she’s stopped struggling against her hold, the younger woman seems to return to her task with something that’s almost akin to tenderness, though it still remains far too detached to claim the word. Red doesn’t seem to appreciate the submission as much as she just revels in it, kissing Regina until her lips are bruised, her idolized hand thrusting into Regina with an unwavering momentum that’s leaving the Queen breathless. Her skinny arms, her lithe frame – there’s just no way Red’s small body could possibly contain so much power, but Regina’s mind flashes back vividly to the sight of her in front of the chopping block, snapping massive logs of wood with a simple stroke.
She can’t help but sympathize at this moment, as Red drives three fingers into her, as her stomach tightens and her body twists like a spring set to snap. The build is excruciating, testing every bit of patience in Regina’s soul, and she can hear the fire smoldering in her corner react to her nerves, flaring up and casting the room in oppressive light and heat. She has to be careful before she torches the whole room, but at this point, Regina truly doesn’t care. She’d rather succumb to a fire than stop this now, would rather alert the guards to someone in her bed than kick the girl out herself.
When it’s over, Red rolls off her and the two lay breathing heavily, staring up at the ceiling as Regina gasps and gasps, shivering at the loss of heat from her skin, the fire in the corner having returned to its ankle-high glow. Every muscle in Regina’s body seems to ache, and she can count a number of bruises littered across her chest with a quick glance down, but the hum through her veins is new and addictive, more than easily leaving her buzzing brain to drown out the pain she’s sure she should – and will – be feeling. Her brown eyes slide over to the girl but Red still remains absolutely unaware of Regina, her hands flexing on the bed and a sigh leaving her lips before she rises and redresses as if there isn’t a queen watching her.
But Regina does, staring at the shadows the moon creates in every divot in her skin. When Red reaches for her hood she has to turn back towards the other woman in the room, and that’s when Regina notices her eyes shining like two gold coins, starkly different than the sea green ones she was accustomed to.
“What are you?” Regina asks breathlessly as she takes in the colour of the moon reflected back at her.
This seems to spur the Red she knows back into attendance, a mischievous smile having returned to her lips as she fastens the knot above her clavicle, the front of her dress now being held together by one hand for fear of it falling down her frame. “I’m a child of the moon,” she replies with a small laugh before she exits the room.
Regina slides off her bed when she’s left in silence, suddenly feeling a desperate urge for a bath to rid herself of the feel and smell of the insolent peasant. She has a thought to call for her servants in her current state; make them to endure not staring at her naked body as she stands bruised and battered before them, whisper things to them of the peasant girl who broke into her room and forced herself on the Queen. But as she comes to stand in front of the mirror, a twisted smile makes its way to Regina's face as she takes in the marks across her skin, letting out a breath and enjoying the lingering pulse that’s still strumming through her body. Pressing a finger against a dark spot on her breast, the Queen hums and thinks of the cut across Red’s cheek, turning to find a robe so she can head to the library and start her research.
Child of the moon. Regina knows she's heard that term before, but when she finally stumbles upon it in an dust-laden book, the sun is peaking its way through the trees. She returns to her bed with the knowledge of shapeshifters in her head, and sleeps well into the next day, as naked as she had been when she had left the room the night before. She dresses when she rises, critically looking through her wardrobe for something that will do. Her riding clothes will keep her hidden enough for the afternoon, but if she’s dragged into dinner with the King and his daughter, Regina knows she’ll have a tough time finding something in to cover her neck and arms.
She waits patiently throughout the day, spending the time brushing down Rocinante and walking lazily throughout the woods. Regina stays on the edge of them, watching for the girl in the field, but not finding her amongst any of the workers. She does see the old woman who came to do her measurements though, and the sight immediately has her shrinking back amongst the foliage when her piercing blue eyes seem to find Regina's at once from a hundred feet away. Regina waits in the woods, stopping by a small stream to splash her face as she watches the sun sink below the mountains, feeling oddly at ease for the first time in years. She likes to lean back on her bruised arms and feel the rocks underneath her press against her tender skin, but as the chill begins to set in the air, she finds herself with a need to be mobile once again.
Regina supposes she shouldn’t feel safe walking the woods at night alone, but she’s never felt more at peace than when she is. She would be alone no matter what, but her cavernous room only seems to exemplify the fact to her, so the young woman sticks to being surrounded by the trees, running her fingertips across the rough bark and breathing in the rich smell of the soil. Regina stops short as she sees a flash of red, a hood without a head to cover as it hangs neatly folded on a nearby branch. She reaches out to reverently touch the fabric, feeling the familiar hum of magic in the material as she brings it up to her face and inhales the sweet scent of Red: the smell of baking, of sweat, and of dirt – all wonderfully intoxicating when combined.
The heavy breathing can be heard before the crunching of leaves and twigs under its paws, enough to alert Regina to turn around and face the dark wolf as it approaches. It’s docile and calm, walking toward Regina with a graceful ease that she recognizes immediately, even before she even takes note of the golden eyes staring back at her. When she holds the cape out, the wolf walks to it immediately, sliding underneath and standing tall as the insolent peasant girl in an instant.
“Child of the moon,” Regina whispers absentmindedly as her hand comes up to rest against her cheek, her thumb running across the welt that had shrunk inconceivably in size overnight. Red leans into her palm, large eyes wide and trusting as the digit falls down to brush against her lower lip. When Regina leans in to kiss her, they meet sweetly, like two innocent children trying the act for the first time. Red submits more than willingly to her touch, leaning in to press her lips more firmly against Regina’s, a quiet desperation underneath all of her movements. She aides in the removal of her clothes, her only defiance of the night coming forth when she stops Regina from unravelling the knot she had redone on her hood.
“Not out here,” she murmurs quietly against Regina’s lips, sounding almost afraid to say the words, but Regina relents as her hands carefully reach around to undo the clasps holding her dress up. After last night, she was sure she would want to inflict the same damage on the girl, hold the same power over her, but with Red giving it to Regina so willingly, there’s nothing for the Queen to do but revel in the canvas stretched out before her. She can still take pleasure in pressing Red back against the cold, hard dirt underneath her hood, at possessively running her fingers across her taut stomach to watch the muscles flutter underneath, to press her lips against the sharp bone that juts from the skin covering her hip. The air is damp, but the shapeshifter’s shivering stops when Regina’s lips continue down her pelvis.
Regina has never cuddled someone, she’s never had the chance, but she’s certainly not opposed to it as she feels Red’s cold nose nuzzle against her neck as they wrapped up in her cape. The girl’s whimpers had filled the forest until they crescendoed into a high moan, allowing Regina the moment to delight in her flushed body’s reaction. There was something glorious in bringing a woman of inhuman strength to a trembling mess amongst the grass and leaves, to feel Red curl her slim form around Regina’s body when she takes the spot next to her.
“Almost seven years.”
“Have you ever killed anyone?”
“As the wolf?”
Regina’s fingers sift through the soft tendrils of her hair, curling a wavy strand around her index finger as Red’s arms hold more tightly around her waist. She should probably let the girl redress, but neither of them seem in much of a hurry, though warm eyes are staring up at her as if imploring her to continue her questions. “I think I have my answer.” Regina can see her breath hanging in the air above them, see the leaves and the stars beyond that. She doesn’t want to move, and no matter how much she’s craving a glass of wine right now, she doesn’t want to lose the taste of Red in her mouth. “Tomorrow’s the last night you’ll be able to change for the month.”
“Yes,” Red replies, though the words hadn’t required an answer. “More than likely.”
“The King is going hunting tomorrow.” This statement hangs in the air between them, unaddressed by either as Regina stares up at the leaves and Red stares at her neck, her lips brushing against Regina’s collarbone with each breath she takes. She moves to stop Regina when the Queen readjusts, but surrenders when the older woman only turns on her side to face her, relaxing as long fingers come up to trace her sharp jaw.
“Anything,” is Red’s only response, the only one Regina had wished to hear. The Queen kisses her again with renewed fervour at the word, pushes her back and covets her body once more before the rising moon finally forces her to return to her room before a search party is rallied to find her.
For the first time in nearly seven years, the castle is greeted by the bright young woman who had walked through the gates with the Princess at her side. From the moment she opens her eyes, Regina feels exuberant and the change in attitude is bestowed upon not only the Lords and Ladies of the court, but the serving staff attending the woman throughout the day. Regina surprises Snow with an invitation for a ride, greets the girl and her father jovially for dinner, and grants her presence as the royal hunting party takes its leave.
The smile on her face is genuine, and each and every one that is returned to her fills her with a spiteful bliss as she thinks about how easy these sheep are to trick, even with a wolf hiding so plainly amongst them. Regina turns to the fields as the horses trot off, the long tables and stages prepared and decorated for the feasts in a few days time. She hasn’t seen Red since the night before, her only parting words had been a mention of her hope that the steward should make it out. She supposes she should have set up a place and general time for them to meet, but it doesn’t seem to matter when the moon dips and Regina finds a chance to steal away, Red’s cloak in her hands.
The night is quiet and clear, and before she even nears the woods, she can hear the sounds of the rustling leaves from across the field, drawing her closer, enticing her to hurry when Regina knows she could be waiting all evening. The thought doesn’t slow her down though, her pace remains unwavering as she nears the brush, and Regina wonders where Red is as she steps amongst the trees. Wonders if she’s walking on four feet or two, wonders if she’s waiting patiently by the royal camp, or is bounding towards it.
She forces herself to sit still when she finds an overturned tree that seems as good a place as any to wait for whatever may happen tonight, taking a seat and primly folding the hood in her hands before placing in her lap as the forest comes alive around her. Regina sits so stone still that the animals come out into the clearing, a rust-coloured rabbit nosing its way around her feet before it jerks in place and whips around to look out at the trees. She watches the rodent become just as frozen as she is for a long minute, until it kicks off out of position and jumps into the brush, just in time for the heavy panting to be heard.
The wolf steps out amongst the shadows, its muzzle blood red and dripping as it lopes forward. A crossbow bolt is jammed into its hind leg, but other than a slight limp, it doesn’t seem to be bothering the beast at all. Sliding from her perch, Regina approaches slowly, waiting for the inevitable truth that she has been denied her wishes once more. She throws the hood over the animal and watches as the girl appears, towering above her and still covered in blood, her yellow eyes shining while her lips slowly turn up into the insolent smile that first caught Regina’s attention. The Queen lets out a disbelieving breath, still expecting for the crushing news to come, but Red’s grin only grows, her white teeth coloured crimson as she reaches forward to hold Regina’s jaw, just as Regina had held hers the night before.
“It’s over,” Regina says more to, and for, herself, trying to force her brain to accept the fact as the relief makes her chest feel light for the first time in half a decade. The monarch turns her head and presses her lips to Red’s wrist, holding them there for a moment and closing her eyes, waiting a second before reaching forward blindly with her hand to locate the bolt still sticking out of the girl’s thigh. She yanks it free, and before Red’s gasp of pain can even leave her blood-stained mouth, Regina’s covering it with her own and tasting copper in their kiss.
The last two days have been spent feigning grief, acting her way through moments of consolation, and crying when she feels like beaming for everyone to see. The King is dead, attacked by a vicious wolf on his hunting trip. The only survivor of the night had been his steward, who had tearfully delivered the news to Regina when they found the Queen sitting in the gardens that evening. She hopes she’ll be able to whip the man into better shape, it certainly seems easier than hiring a new staff during this shift in her power. If not, Regina can always find another steward. Plenty of worthless men to choose from.
The funeral is set for the end of the week, allowing dignitaries from other lands time to send representatives to show their respects. Regina doesn’t care. The occasion has at least given her ample opportunity to enjoy her days alone, claiming the mourning was far too unbearable to deal with in public. She had received sympathetic nods in return and could barely contain her laughter until she had turned the corner. Standing at her balcony, she basks in the warmth of the sun, wondering how many servants below were confusing the action with a grieving wife staring up at the heavens and waiting for an answer. It leaves her gleeful at the fact that she is the only one with any answers to give.
Regina turns at the knock at her door, watching her lady-in-waiting step through with a hesitant pause. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Your Highness. The girl was quite insistent that you wanted the dress the moment it was finished. I tried to tell–”
“Send her in.” Red enters as her handmaiden bows and takes her leave, the garment stretched over her arms concealed in a sheet as she steps forward. Her lazy grin returns to her lips as the door closes behind her, green eyes bright in the afternoon sun. “I’m not sure I’ll have any occasion for a gown in the upcoming weeks.”
“I think we both know that’s a lie.”
Regina smirks in response and waves her hand to indicate that Red should lay it out for her. The servant girl does just that, carefully stretching it across the Queen’s mattress and unrolling the cloth covering it. Regina stops her though, stepping up behind her and sliding her hand to tangle in her wavy, chestnut hair and pull her head back. Red’s smile only grows against her lips as she twists to face Regina more, her arms sliding leisurely over the monarch’s shoulders as she leans into her, not allowing Regina to pull away until she’s good and ready to let go.
Her nose nudges Regina’s as she steps away, pink lips still stretched into a teenaged grin before she returns to her task, and Regina is left reeling for a moment when she reminds herself that this is the same girl who tore out the King’s throat and maimed four armed guards, not three nights prior. It thrills her to see the child who had blood running down her chin so woefully domestic as she reveals the dress, and Regina decides she’ll be moved into the castle before the night is through, because she can’t imagine Red not being within reaching distance anymore.
As the dress is revealed, her attention is pulled, and Regina is left with something she had never imagined but ardently hoped for as she steps towards the garment, reaching blindly behind her to undo the strings of her corset. “Help me out of this…” Regina demands in a murmur as she takes it in: the sleek shape, the sharp shoulders and the twisting material around them, the rubies inlaid in the bust, trailing down to the skirt like blood raining down. She’s impatient to be in this thing so clearly made for her, and nearly rips her own dress in the process as she shoves it down her body and steps into the masterpiece laid out before her.
It fits perfectly, of course, Regina hadn’t even considered that it wouldn’t. The material of the sleeves stretches down her arms and across the backs of her hands to twist around her middle fingers, the slivers of crimson in the fabric seeming to change direction with every move of her wrist. The skirt forms around her hips and falls down, clinging to her frame but feeling like a second skin rather than a foreign object, made of the same material as the material on her arms, making the swirling red lines to look like trails of blood from the rubies above.
Regina’s hands run down her sides before she steps to look at herself in the mirror, wishing she still had the King’s blood on her mouth from her kiss with Red, knowing it would complete the image like no other when Red steps up behind her. She meets Regina’s gaze in the mirror before dropping her head to the Queen’s shoulder, turning to nestle her nose against her neck, looking like a natural addition to Regina’s form rather than a separate entity.
“Anything?” Regina asks evenly as her hand reaches up to stroke Red’s cheek.
“Anything,” Red confirms, green eyes closing as she relaxes against the Queen Dowager's back, her hands sliding around Regina’s waist and resting against the jewels decorating her stomach.
Regina’s smile blooms on her face, wicked and wonderful as she turns her neck to press her lips against Red’s forehead, her hand falling back down to cover the one on her hip. She thinks of Snow across the palace, dressed in mourning clothes and crying under a portrait of her father. “Then let’s make this castle ours.”