"Why do you wear those?"
Her question pulls me from the report I've barely been paying attention to. I think I've read the same paragraph at least three times in the last forty-five minutes. It still doesn't make any more sense to me than when I first read it. Or when Snow first tried to explain it to me. When the question is repeated, I look up over the rim of my glasses.
"Wear what? Pajamas? It's cold out and you're not snuggling with me yet."
"No," she says with a roll of her eyes. "Not the pajamas, Regina. Stop trying to be adorably obtuse with me. You know very well what I'm talking about, just as you know that I'll snuggle with you when you're done staring futilely at that paperwork." She smiles when I start to protest, continuing on as if I haven't made a noise. "You don't like it when I disturb your work, so I'm letting you finish first. Snuggling will be your reward."
A slow grin spreads across my face, curling up the corners of my lips. "Oh! Well, in that case…" I get up to toss the report onto my desk with a flourish and hold out a hand to her. "I'm done and I'm in the mood for snuggles."
"You really haven't changed a bit from that annoyingly idealistic young girl that I first met all those years ago, have you?"
There's a fondness in her tone that makes me feel exactly like that young woman who dared to travel to the desert surrounding the Forbidden Fortress, searching for the famed sorceress to be my teacher. Star struck and enamored of everything about her was how I felt then. I'm not ashamed to admit that I still feel that way about her even now.
"No, I haven't. And I know there's a part of you that is pleased with that fact. I gave the dragon back her fire and then she ignited a fire in me that I hadn't known even existed."
She chuckles and tugs on my hand as she stands up. The movement throws me off-balance enough to stumble forward against her, face buried in her chest. "Mmm, someone's definitely in the mood for more than just cuddling, I think," she replies, almost purring under the words, and grips my hips to help steady me. "But these" -- she taps the frames of my glasses -- "have to go. I can't do this when you're looking all Mayor Mills."
Leaning back, I quirk a brow up at her over the rims. "Are you kidding me? You won't cuddle or get frisky with me if I'm wearing my glasses? That's what you're going with, Maleficent?"
"I can't help it!" she says, shrugging her shoulders, but she doesn't loosen her grip on my waist. "You look…"
Her words trail off as those clear, expressive eyes unfocus slightly. Her distraction gives me an opportunity to study her face again. From the first time I met her, Maleficent has always intrigued me in ways beyond explanation. The way her eyebrows lower when she's angry or upset; the way they lift in perfect arches when she's amused or curious. The sharp angles of her cheekbones have always drawn me into wanting to trace them with fingertips or lips equally. Her lips have this way of pursing together when she's annoyed that always makes me want to kiss away anything that's upsetting her. Or throw a few fireballs at it. Whichever works to make her smile again is what I'll gladly do.
Suddenly her lips are on mine, fierce and possessive, demanding my submission. In the right mood, I'd fight her tooth and nail for dominance. But tonight is not the night for me to have one of those moods. Tonight is about… Okay, I don't know what tonight is about for Maleficent. All I'd wanted was a little cuddling after that asinine repor-- Damn! How does she do that with her tongue?
"Upstairs," she growls as she stares at me, draconic fire in her eyes. "Right now. Kneel next to the bed. And leave the glasses on."
I want to laugh, to tease her about changing her mind, but the look on her face and the way dominance is emanating off of her cuts off all powers of speech. Without another glance at her, I nod and take off for the bedroom at a speed that's probably unsafe, but I just don't care. My slippers are new enough to still retain all of their nonskid, which allows me to race up the staircase. I pause slightly on the landing to catch my breath as I see her walk across the foyer and put a foot on the first step. She looks up at me, hunger in her eyes, and my mouth goes dry. Other parts of my body clearly have taken up the slack, making up for the lack of moisture in my mouth. I dart up the rest of the stairs and race around the hallway to our bedroom.
A small part of me is more than grateful that Henry is staying at his other mother's house tonight. Mal doesn't like to get this predatory when he's around. She won't admit it, but he's grown on her over time, mostly because he has the Charming genes for, well, charm, and because he challenges her way of thinking. Just like I do.
"Are you just standing there, Regina?" she calls, pulling me from my thoughts, and I can see her starting up the upper half of the staircase. "Must I punish you for disobedience in such a simple task?"
Swallowing thickly, I fumble with the doorknob, then stumble into the bedroom. My face is on fire from the embarrassment of being caught lollygagging like that. A quick flick of my wrist has the candles lit around the room and the curtains open to let the moonlight in. Satisfied with that, I flick my wrist again to set the logs in the fireplace ablaze, then kneel next to the bed. Eyes trained on my knees, I clasp my hands at the small of my back and wait.
I can feel her presence before she comes into the room. Without looking up, I know she's standing in the doorway, just watching me. The urge to squirm comes over me again, but I fight it, wanting to please her. She hums softly, and I assume it's approval of the extra steps I've taken with the ambience of the room. Biting the inside of my cheek makes sure that I don't smile in satisfaction of a job well done. She doesn't take kindly to that sort of thing when she's in a mood like this.
"Such a good girl you are," she says as she steps into the room. The door clicks shut behind her, signaling that it's just us now, no outside distractions can intrude unless they involve Henry. "I should reward such good behavior, shouldn't I?"
I suck in a breath, holding it as I try to determine if I'm actually supposed to answer her or not. Sometimes silence is the best policy. I start to chew on my bottom lip as I wait, shoulders tensing against the fear of disappointing her.
"That's a good girl," she finally says, stepping closer to stroke a hand over my hair. "It's not for you to decide on rewards and punishments, is it?" She waits a moment, then adds, "You may answer that one."
"N-No, Mistress, it's not my place. You have the sole decision in rewards and punishments."
She continues to stroke my hair, the sensation easing the tension in my shoulders. I want to nuzzle against her thigh like the kitten she used to liken me to all those years ago, but it's not the right time yet. I'm still not entirely sure how I need to please her tonight, so I'll just wait for her command.
She moves to sit on the chaise in front of the fire, stretching out to bask in the heat and glow like a goddess. She's not even naked yet, but I can see her pale skin turned golden in the firelight in my mind, and I want nothing more than to worship and please her. My fingers practically itch at the desire to strip her bare to the world and touch every inch of her body.
"Come here, kitten," she purrs, crooking a finger.
I follow her siren's call, crawling on hands and knees, eyes still down, then resettle on my calves next to the chaise. She strokes a hand over my hair again before tightening her grip, forcing my head up so that I meet her gaze. There's a certain glint in her eye when the predator in her takes hold. Right now, I am staring into the eyes of the very dragon that both intimidated and emboldened me so long ago. Even now, with magic in this land, Mal doesn't let her out very often. Mostly, I suppose, because of me trapping her in that form for nearly three decades.
"Where are you right now?" she asks, grip tightening in my hair hard enough to pull me from my thoughts.
"L-Lost in thought, Mistress." I close my eyes at my lapse in judgment. "I'm sorry, it won't happen again."
For a long moment, the only sound in the room is the crackling of the fire. Her grip is still tight in my hair, but there's a different feeling in the air. I don't understand what this means.
"And where did you go to get so lost in your thoughts?" Her voice is deceptively soft. I want to believe this is concern from my lover, but I'm not sure. It could be a test, and I desperately don't want to fail her again. Another handful of heartbeats passes before she loosens her grip and asks, "Leopold?"
The use of my safeword startles me enough to open my eyes and stare at her. "What?"
"Do you need a moment, Regina?" She strokes her hand through my hair, then cups the back of my neck, massaging the muscles there. "You sound like you're miles away from our play tonight."
"No, I--" Words escape me as I lean into her touch.
"I know we didn't plan this, Regina, and we don't have to continue if you're not up to it," she says. "I'm not sure what came over me. You were being so cocky, so sure of yourself in those glasses, and I just wanted to see if I could knuckle that self-assured, glasses-wearing witch under my thumb." She lightly taps my glasses with her free hand. "These, in conjunction with your snark, apparently bring out the dragon's lust for the hunt."
That makes me laugh, easing a bit more of the tension I didn't fully realize I was still holding in. She smiles then, and leans in to press a light kiss to my lips.
"I want to play, Mal, I really do. I just got caught up in my thoughts."
She shifts then, patting the freed up space on the cushion. "Come up here and we'll talk about it. If we're still interested in playing afterward, we can. And if not, we'll just cuddle like I'd actually promised you. It's all right either way with me, Regina."
"All right," I reply, moving to join her on the chaise. It's a bit of a tight fit for both of us, and requires a bit of jockeying for position, but I don't want to have to move over to the bed. It might be enough for me to chicken out of this conversation. Without thought, I take off my glasses and poof them to the nightstand. When Mal lets out a disappointed sound, I smile tentatively at her. "I only need them for reading, so it feels odd to sit here and stare at your face with them on."
"And I'm sure the low light isn't helping much, is it?" When I shake my head, she smiles and starts to massage the back of my neck again. "So where did you go? Your whole body language changed so abruptly, it worried me."
"I--" I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Do you still resent me for trapping you in your dragon form for so long?"
"Is that what this is about?" There's the faintest hint of annoyance in her tone, enough to make me close my eyes rather than meet her gaze again. "Regina, we discussed that, remember? In fact, we even went down into that same cavern and had an all-out magic brawl over it at least the one time. I kicked your ass rather soundly, if I remember correctly."
"You did," I whisper, still unable to look at her.
"And then I healed all of your wounds and brought you back here to take care of you and make sure you weren't seriously or permanently harmed by my rage."
"Then why did this come up again tonight? Did I do something to make you feel I was punishing you for that?" When I shake my head, she moves her hand to cup my chin, forcing my face up. "Open your eyes, Regina, and explain to me what happened. Please?"
Swallowing thickly, I force my eyes to open and meet her gaze. The dragon's fire is mostly gone now, which saddens me and makes me feel guilty for being so stupid about all of this. The fun and games of Mistress and her kitten have been ruined for the night. All because my mind is perverse and kicked in with my fears again.
"There was this look in your eyes," I finally say, voice so soft even I can barely hear it, but I know she can. "The dragon was in full predator mode and ready to make me the kind of prey that doesn't survive the stalking."
"You know I'd never hurt you like that when we're playing," she replies, "not without discussing limits first. You and I have too much history to do something like that. And despite what some may say, I have a very strong hold on my dragon side. If she's going to go berserk, then I already have in human form."
"I know. But I saw that look in your eyes, and then I remembered our last meeting in the Enchanted Forest, and how I trapped you here, and…" I can't finish the words, vision blurring from the tears filling my eyes.
"And you thought maybe I was still holding a grudge deep down inside that might be seeping up to the conscious level?" My miserable nod gets me pulled into a tight embrace, her lips pressed to my forehead. "No, Regina, I wouldn't do that to you. Yes, I occasionally have bouts of anger pop up about that, but I usually go down into the cavern and shift so I can burn the rocks. Or I'll go out into the woods and change, then fly around a bit. I've been known to steal a cow or two when I've been angry enough to want to destroy something. The food helps to calm me down."
"But you're still upset with me for what I did."
She goes quiet for a moment or two then, her eyes losing focus again, but not like when we'd been in my office downstairs. It's different now, and I force myself to wait for her to answer my statement.
"I suppose," she finally says, blinking to clear that vacant look in her eyes, "that there is always going to be a small part of me that resents what you did for those twenty-eight years." As if she knows how much that verification hurts me, she pulls me into a closer embrace. "But I understand why you did it."
"You were hurting and upset. You were lashing out at anyone and everyone around you because you'd let the darkness and the need for vengeance take over your heart and soul. I turned to the sleeping curse rather than deal with my pain and grow stronger. You turned to… Well, you became what you promised yourself you wouldn't: you became your mother. You let power and revenge consume you. When you came to me, wanting the dark curse back, I knew you'd gone too far. I tried to talk you out of it, but you were so caught up in what you thought you wanted, you wouldn't listen."
"No, I wouldn't." The words hurt to say, but the truth often hurts, doesn't it?
"When I wouldn't easily give you what you wanted, when you took the dark curse by force, I knew that I would be punished for my lack of support if you actually cast it. Your punishment was brilliant, by the way. When I could rationally think about it, I was so impressed by the levels of your sadism in how you chose to get revenge on all those who you felt had wronged you, myself included."
"No, Regina, no buts about it. You did what you thought was right in your less-than-sane state of mind. We've had multiple little fights about it, especially in the beginning when I came back, as well as that one big magic battle. Yes, it will still come up from time to time, but the fact that we are together should be testament enough to how much I've forgiven you for what happened. I don't want to kill you for it, and I'm not plotting any sort of grand revenge for what happened. I've dealt with it, I've had my chance to beat the hell out of you, and we've talked about it. It's likely that we'll talk about it again, or several times, at some point in the future."
"But those talks are because you're still processing your own guilt and responsibility over your actions, not because I still harbor some need to punish you for them." She leans in to press a soft kiss to my forehead, benediction and declaration of love all rolled up in one. "You have many things from your past to atone for. I know it will take some time, and I know we'll revisit this again as part of your process. But I want you to know that I hold no animosity toward you for what happened, Regina. And if, for some strange reason, I should ever feel the need to punish you for it, I'll just discuss it with you and then take you down to the cavern and beat the hell out of you again." She shifts closer to my ear to whisper, "Don't think that I don't know you prefer the physical punishment to your own mental self-flagellations, Regina Mills. That hasn't really changed since I first met you all those years ago."
Her words finally loosen the floodgates and the tears fall as they will. Maleficent tightens her grip around me as I sob against her chest, shifting to let me curl against her body even more. I lose track of time as I wallow in my cathartic grief, eventually losing consciousness.
When I finally wake up, we're curled up in bed and there's a cool cloth over my eyes.
"Maleficent?" My voice is so rough from all of my emotional upheaval, it hurts to speak or swallow.
"Shh, I'm right here." She squeezes my hand, then reaches up to stroke my cheek. "You're just fine, Regina."
"You passed out from all the crying, so I used magic and got you into bed. The fire's still going, but I put the candles out. I cleaned up your face, got you into dry pajamas, and put the cloth on your eyes because they were so red and puffy. I didn't want you to have any issues when you woke up."
"You're too good to me. I don't des--"
"If you finish that statement, Mistress is going to spank her kitten and not in a way that the kitten likes."
That gets me to giggle, which causes a bit of a coughing jag from being so dry. She gently helps me to sit up, removing the cloth from my eyes, then hands me a glass of water.
"Sip that, Regina, but do it slowly. I don't want you choking at all."
I roll my eyes, which hurts, but do as she says anyway. I know how dehydrated I can get after a major crying jag. The water tastes good and it's so cool, too. It eases down my throat, and I let out a little hum of contentment. That earns me a chuckle from my lover. I can't stop the blush warming my cheeks at her reaction. There will always be that tiny part of me that craves her approval, just as I did so many years ago. She encourages me to be my best.
"Thank you," I finally say softly, setting the glass on my nightstand when my stomach protests any more. "For everything, I mean. I'm still trying to figure out how you can be okay with what I've done to you."
"You still love your mother despite what she did to you, don't you?" When I nod, she smiles and strokes my cheek. "And there's your reason. The emotions of that organ you and your mother fixated on so much are stronger than you think. They can overcome abuses and horrors that we don't think they should. Sometimes they can't, and we learn to accept that and live our lives. But there are times when we can accept and love the person, but hate their actions. And there are other times when we can forgive the person's actions, as well. The last is pretty rare, especially if it's a major hurt, but if you can do it, I think that means you understand and can love the person because they weren't themselves when they hurt you."
I lean into her side, feeling exhausted still, but more settled in my skin. "When did you get so wise about these things, Maleficent? And why didn't you teach me sooner?"
"I tried, but you weren't ready to learn yet," she says softly. "And when you were ready to learn, I wasn't here to help you."
She presses a finger to my lips to stop me. "But I am here now, and I'm helping you in any way I can, just as you helped me with Lily. Or tried to."
The pain that flits across her face is palpable. "I will never stop trying to reunite you and your daughter, Mal. She just needs time. Like Emma did with her parents."
"I know. I've waited this long to find her and be her mother. I can wait as long as it takes."
That makes me smile. Her constant positive patience about Lily is part of what keeps me on track with my own redemption and my relationship with Henry. I can't help but think that we're each other's support system when no one else wants the job. It's not Daniel, not by a long shot, but I think it's better. Maleficent and I are world weary and jaded in our own rights, but we understand each other.
Which is how we got to where we are tonight.
"I love you, Maleficent," I say, leaning in close enough that our breaths mingle. "I hope you know that."
She grins and moves the final infinitesimal distance to press a languid kiss to my lips. All of the love built up between us over the years is evident in this kiss.
"I love you, too," she finally says as she pulls back. "And tomorrow night, Mistress is reserving the right to punish her kitten for being sassy. Will that be acceptable to you?"
"Does the kitten need to wear her glasses for Mistress?" I quirk a curious eyebrow at her, wondering if she'll make another attempt at that new fetish or not.
"I think the kitten had best have her glasses on unless she wants a punishment she won't like at all."
I can't help the thrill of excitement racing down my spine at her words. "Yes, ma'am, she'll be wearing them." And then I remember something. "Mal, if you changed my pajamas…"
"Oh yes, I changed everything," she replies with a knowing grin. "And I know exactly how turned on you'd been." She kisses me again. "And I'm sorry that we weren't able to play it out properly tonight, but I'd rather we get this issue of my cursed imprisonment taken care of again. You are always more important than the game, Regina. Don't forget that."
"I w--" A yawn cuts off my words, making me blush again. "I won't. I may need a reminder from time to time though, if that's all right?"
She nods and shifts to settle us down on the mattress again, making sure to fluff the pillows nicely beforehand. "That's perfectly all right. Now, it's time for you to get some rest, Regina. We both will need to be in top form tomorrow night. And we'll need to see about Henry staying with Swan or her parents again. I have plans for you."
"I'll talk to Emma in the morning. She and I have a meeting to go over the departmental budgets for the next quarter. I'm sure she'll be thrilled to have Henry again. And if not, I'm sure Snow and Charming will love to spoil him."
"Good." She pulls the covers up over us and cuddles closer. My personal heat source in the winter. "Maybe you should negotiate the next two nights."
"Two?" I'm sure my eyes are as big as saucers right now; curiosity will definitely kill this kitten one day.
"Like I said, I have plans for you."
I am in the best kind of trouble tomorrow night. And I can't wait.