Actions

Work Header

We Can Be Heroes

Chapter Text

Regina was at the head of the cavalcade, riding Midnight and letting the mare walk at a steady pace while pulling the covered wagon. She felt blessed to have the sun shining down on her like this. It was as if Cavilthura was guiding her and her people on their journey. She appreciated the sentiment. Her father had always told her that the sun was Cavilthura’s torch, and that the moon was her watchful eye.

The Queen snuck a glance over her shoulder at her family, all of whom were relaxing in the shade of the wagon. She chuckled when she noticed her wife’s legs propped up on the edge of the wagon in an admittedly-laughable attempt to get a tan.

“Careful, darling,” she warned, “You’ll get a sunburn.”

After a beat, Emma’s legs immediately disappeared back into the shade. Regina chuckled and shook her head in amusement, turning back around to take in the scenic view. This was another reason she enjoyed taking the long route across the hills. She had always been in love with the beauty of nature.

Her decision had been final.

This was the way they were going, no matter how many times her wife and son complained. Arcadia, having grown up in the outdoors, didn’t seem to mind. If she did, she kept it to herself.

After a few minutes, Henry began to fuss for the tenth time in that hour alone.

“How long till we get there?”

“I’d say about another six hours, sweetheart.”

“Ugh,” the boy groaned, “Mom, I have to pee.”

Regina sighed. “Henry, we just stopped twenty minutes ago. Why didn’t you go then?”

“Because I didn’t have to at the time!”

“Here, just pee in this bottle,” said Emma.

Regina frowned. “Absolutely not! Our son is not relieving himself in a bottle!”

Emma laughed. “Sorry, kid. You heard the lady.”

“I’m no lady,” said Regina, “I’m a Queen, and—”

“‘A bit more refined?’” asked Emma, “Yeah, we’ve all heard it before.”

Regina shot her wife a smirk over her shoulder. “On second thought, maybe you should try getting a tan, Miss Swan-Mills,” she teased.

Arcadia sat in contented silence, amusedly watching her mother and stepmother bicker. It was all in jest, of course. Aside from the breathtaking scenery and her conversations with Henry, this was the only form of entertainment she had. Oh, and having to constantly scratch the wolf behind his ears, lest he start to whine again.

The wolf had really taken a liking to her. He currently had his head in her lap, snoozing, but Arcadia knew that if she stopped scratching— even for a moment— he would awaken and continue whining. He truly was a spoiled creature, but she loved him anyhow. They all did.

“You’re awfully quiet, Arcadia,” said Emma.

The young brunette shrugged. “I haven’t thought of anything to say.”

“Fair enough. Wanna play Twenty Questions?”

“How do we play?”

Emma smirked. “Well, I ask you twenty questions, and you answer ‘em.”

Arcadia chuckled. “Of course. Ask away.”

“Oh, and they can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions,” Henry added.

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Emma, “Thanks, kid.”

The two bumped fists.

“Alright,” said the blonde, “Think of something— anything— and I’ll try to guess what it is in twenty questions or less.”

“Very well.”

“Okay, let’s see. Is it a person?”

“Yes.”

“Is it a woman?”

“Yes.”

“Is it Regina?”

“Yes.”

Emma threw her fists up in victory, singing, “I am the champion! I AM THE CHAMPION! No time for losers, ‘cause I am the CHAMPION—”

“Emma,” Regina snapped, “That’s enough.”

The blonde snickered, knowing precisely how much that song drove her wife up the wall.

“Sorry, ‘Gina.”

She turned back to her stepdaughter (she was still having a hard time getting used to that, seeing how Arcadia was almost ten years older than her, but whatever).

“Okay, your turn.”

Arcadia smiled. “Is it human?”

“Yes.”

“Is it a woman?”

“Yes.”

“Is it Mother?”

“……Yes?”

Arcadia chuckled softly. “Is Mother all you ever think about?”

“Uh, yeah,” Emma said sheepishly, blushing, “Well, her and food. And Henry. And you. But mostly her.”

Regina let out a rich, hearty laugh, and Arcadia swore she saw Emma’s eyes dilate.

“You never cease to amuse me, my love,” said the Queen, “but why don’t you try thinking of something else? It won’t be fun if you only think of me.”

“But ‘Gina,” Emma pouted, “you’re tons of fun.”

Regina scoffed a bit. “And you’re a mess.”

“But I’m your mess.”

Emma didn’t have to look at her wife’s face to know she was smirking.

“Always, my sweet.”

“So, can I pee, or what?” asked Henry.

---

They were currently at a halt, allowing Henry to relieve himself behind the brush. As they waited on him, the three women decided it best to get out and stretch. Regina helped her wife down out of the wagon, as she was still getting the hang of having legs.

Arcadia was petting Midnight’s mane affectionately, watching with a smile as her mother and stepmother shared a kiss, whispering sweet nothings to one another. A blush spread across her cheeks when the conversation took an explicit turn.

“When we stop for the night, I’m going to take you out into the trees, far enough away so that no one will hear us,” Regina husked, “and I’m going to fuck your beautiful brains out.”

Emma groaned. “God, you’re amazing.”

“You’re the one who’s amazing.”

And they kissed again, this time rather hungrily as they clutched at one another’s faces. Arcadia’s blush deepened and she had to turn away, not wishing to intrude upon such an intimate moment between the pair.

“Gods above,” Regina breathed, “I want to worship these gorgeous legs of yours so badly, but I’m afraid I’d be punished for idolatry.”

“Screw that,” said Emma, “If anyone’s gonna punish you, it’s me.”

“Oh? Is that so?” the Queen purred, “And how, might I ask, do you intend to do that?”

Emma grinned almost deviously. “I’m still brainstorming, but who knows? Maybe I’ll bend you over and spank that perfect ass—”

“Okay, I’m done!” Henry shouted as he hurried back from the brush.

Emma’s smile faltered, swiftly replaced by a pout. “Damn,” she whispered, “How the hell am I supposed to go another six hours like this? It’s not like we can just make everyone wait for us while we get it on in the woods.”

Regina chuckled and kissed her wife softly. “Don’t you worry, my little duck,” she murmured, “I promise you, once everyone’s asleep tonight, we’ll have our fun.”

“But what about now?” Emma whined.

Regina simply patted her cheek. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

“Can I ride with you on the horse?”

“Of course, darling, but something tells me it isn’t the horse you wish to ride.”

A blush crept onto the blonde’s face, giving Regina her answer. The Queen took Emma’s hand gently, guiding her towards the horse.

“Come along, dear,” she said, “I’ll help you up.”

“Can’t you just, I don’t know, ‘poof’ me?”

Regina arched a curious eyebrow. “‘Poof?’”

“Yeah, you know, like teleport.”

The Queen sighed. “Very well,” she said, “but just this once. Next time, you’ll have to do it on your own. It will be good for you.”

Emma was clearly skeptical. “Whatever you say.”

With a quick wave, Regina transported Emma onto the saddle and climbed up so that she was sitting in front. Once everyone was situated back in the wagon, they continued on their journey. Regina could sense her wife’s unease, likely due to having never been on a horse before.

“Just hold onto me,” she said softly.

Emma immediately snaked her arms around Regina’s waist, gently resting her head on the brunette’s back. Regina couldn’t help but smile, placing her hand over Emma’s and brushing her thumb over her wife’s pale knuckles.

“I love you, Emma.”

“Love you, too,” the blonde mumbled, somehow already half-asleep.

Regina chuckled. “Sweet dreams, my love.”

Chapter Text

Arcadia watched curiously as Henry reached into his bag and retrieved a small stack of what had to be the thinnest books she’d ever seen (not that she’d seen very many).

“What do you have there?” she quizzed.

“Comics,” the boy told her. The look on her face made it clear that she didn’t understand, so he elaborated. “Books with pictures.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Do you wanna look at them?”

Arcadia stiffened. “No, that’s alright,” she said, forcing a smile.

If Henry noticed she was faking it, he didn’t bring it up, for which the young brunette was grateful. He just shrugged and turned his attention back to the colorful pages.

Regina turned to peer over her shoulder at her daughter, having overheard the brief interaction. She could sense her daughter’s sudden unease, even without the use of a psychic potion. She didn’t need one. There was no greater bond than that between mother and child (aside from the one she shared with Emma, that is).

She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was troubling her daughter. She didn’t wish to put Arcadia on the spot, however, so she decided to wait until they stopped again before looking into it.

And so she waited.

---

They wound up stopping nearly two hours later, near a river, and settled down to have lunch. As Henry and Emma dug into their meals, Regina was concerned about Arcadia, as the young woman hadn’t left the wagon. She was just sitting there with the wolf, who was now awake and peering up at her in confusion. Her eyes were locked on Henry’s comics. She seemed sullen, which Regina found worrying.

“Hey,” the Queen said softly, “What’s the matter, darling? Aren’t you hungry?”

“I am a bit, I suppose,” said Arcadia, “but I don’t really feel like eating.”

“Why not? Did Henry say anything to upset you?”

Arcadia shook her head. “No, nothing like that,” she said, “It’s just— he offered to let me read his books.”

Regina blinked in confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

The former thief let out a sad sigh, hanging her head as if in shame. Her fists tightened in her lap.

“Arcadia?”

“I— I can’t,” Arcadia paused, “I can’t read, Mother.”

Regina’s eyes widened in surprise and realization, yet they were sympathetic all the same. She reached out and gently rested her hand upon her daughter’s arm, drawing the young woman’s misty gaze.

“Robin never taught you?”

“Well, he tried,” said Arcadia, “but for some reason, it just never stuck. He would always point to a word and have me pronounce it, but the letters kept shifting. At the time, I believed he was the one making it happen. Like it was magic. He was insistent that it wasn’t him, but he seemed to think I had been cursed, though he never did find out who was responsible. That was another reason he detested magic.”

“Wait, did you say the letters kept shifting around?”

Arcadia nodded. “When I realized I couldn’t read, I just sort of,” again, she paused, “stopped trying.”

“Oh, Arcadia,” Regina said somberly, “You aren’t cursed.”

This seemed to surprise the young woman. “I’m not? Then what is wrong with me?”

“It sounds like you have something called dyslexia.”

Arcadia frowned. “Dys— lexia? I don’t understand.”

“It’s a learning disorder,” Regina explained, “Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure, but believe me, it can be helped.”

“How?”

“If you’d like, I can help you figure out a way to decode words.”

Arcadia was skeptical, yet at the same time, she desperately wanted to accept Regina’s offer. But how could she, when she couldn’t even read to begin with? She had never had any real reason to read before, but now that she was with her mother— a poet— she felt humiliated for her lack of ability. She felt stupid. That was the last thing she wanted to feel, especially in front of her mother.

“I don’t know,” she said reluctantly, “I think it’s far too late to start learning to read.”

Regina patted her arm. “It’s never too late, Arcadia. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“This may not be one of them,” said Arcadia, “but I have many things to be ashamed of, Mother.”

The Queen clasped her hands around Arcadia’s. “I understand, darling, I do. I just want you to be confident in yourself. You’re a strong, smart, beautiful young woman, and you have so much potential, my Princess.”

“I’m neither smart nor beautiful, Mother.”

“Of course you are. Don’t ever doubt yourself, darling. Know that if you do wish to learn to read, all you have to do is ask. I’ll always be there for you, Arcadia— and your beauty is a blessing from Yvo.”

This seemed to shock the young woman. “You would compare me to Yvo?”

“Absolutely.”

“No one is that beautiful. Certainly not me.”

Regina smiled. “You are in my eyes.” She extended her hand, offering her daughter a bit of honeycomb. “Here,” she said softly, “You should eat something.”

Arcadia accepted it reluctantly. “Thank you, Mother.”

“You’re welcome, my Princess.”

Arcadia chuckled. “I’m still trying to get used to that. I never imagined my mother would be royalty.”

“How did you imagine me? Before we met, I mean?”

The former thief just shrugged. “I don’t know. I tried not to dwell on it too much. I suppose I always had a certain image of you in the back of my mind, but it was hard to make out. Maybe that was just my mind trying to keep me from think about it.”

She bit into her honeycomb, chewing slowly as she enjoyed the silence between her and her mother. Of course she liked talking to her mother, but sometimes, it was best not to say anything at all. She had always found that silence said far more than words ever could.

The sweetness and the crunch of the honeycomb made Arcadia feel much more at ease with herself. She felt incredibly relaxed, so much so that it was becoming increasingly-difficult to keep her eyes open. She dozed off, resting her head against the smooth canvas shielding her and the wolf from the sun’s rays. The last thing she heard before falling asleep was the sound of her mother’s voice.

“I love you, Arcadia.”

She remembered wanting to say it back, but was unsure if the words had actually left her lips. She supposed it didn’t matter. Her mother knew she loved her. Right? She certainly hoped so.

---

Arcadia found herself in a dark bedchamber, crying out into the night as thunder roared outside her window. Even as the words escaped her, she couldn’t seem to make sense of what she was saying. Rain was pounding against the glass as if trying to break its way inside. Her heart was racing like a wild stallion. Tears were streaking her reddened cheeks.

The room was too dark for comfort. She could barely see her own two hands in front of her. Only the faintest hint of their outlines. They were a lot smaller than she remembered. Hell, she felt a lot smaller than she should have been. The room, even in its unnaturally-dark state, seemed far too big for a normal bedroom. So, too, did the bed seem colossal.

Suddenly, the door swung open, revealing the silhouette of a woman with a torch flickering upon the wall behind her. Arcadia found that the presence of this woman, despite not being able to see her face, brought her immense comfort.

“Lambkin?” the woman murmured.

Arcadia knew then and there that this woman was her mother. The Queen. The woman moved to sit on the edge of the bed, pulling her into a warm embrace and gently stroking her back in an effort to comfort her.

“What is it, my angel?” asked the Queen, “Were you having another nightmare?”

“No, Mama,” Arcadia sniffled.

Mama? Where had that come from? It was in that moment that Arcadia realized she was inhabiting the body of a child. She was a little girl again. But how could that be? She knew this was nothing more than a dream, but it felt all-too real, like a memory. A moment in time that never was. Perhaps this was how things would have been had the King not stolen her away from her mother.

“What is it, darling?” the Queen cooed, “Did the thunder scare you?”

Arcadia just nodded. It wasn’t entirely the truth, but the thunder was beginning to make her a little nervous, just as it always had when she was a girl.

“Well, don’t you worry, my sweet. That is just Cavilthura, delivering her divine justice to some wicked soul. You have no reason to be scared. You are innocent. You are pure. My precious little lamb. Mother loves you, more than you can possibly imagine.”

“I love you, too, Mama.”

Arcadia felt her mother’s lips upon her forehead, soothing her with a gentle kiss and easing her back onto the bed. The Queen stroked her hair affectionately.

“Sweet dreams, Danielle.”

---

Arcadia awoke with a jolt, startling Henry and the wolf. She apologized quickly as she tried catching her breath. She realized then that the wagon was moving, and seemed to have been for some time.

“How long have we been moving?”

“About two hours,” said Henry, “at least, that’s what it feels like. Are you okay? You looked like you were having a bad dream.”

Arcadia offered the boy a tight smile. “I’m alright, Henry,” she said, “Just a tad overwhelmed, is all. Don’t you worry.”

Henry handed her a small piece of parchment, on which a boy was drawn, holding hands with what looked a bit like her. Arcadia assumed the boy was supposed to be her newest brother. Her smile was genuine this time.

“Thank you, Henry,” she said.

“You’re welcome.”

“You have quite the talent. When did you draw this?”

“Thanks,” said the boy, “I started working on it when we were having lunch. Mom said you were sad, so I thought this might cheer you up.”

“That is very sweet of you, Henry. You’re such a kind boy. I’m proud to call you my brother.”

Henry grinned. “I’ve never had a sister before,” he told her, “I’m glad it’s you.”

He moved to hug her, and she was quick to return the gesture, smiling down at him fondly.

“As am I, Henry,” she murmured, “As am I.”

Chapter Text

When they all set up camp for the night, each of the families went to work building fires, but Regina was quick to aid them with her magic. Try as she might, she was finding it increasingly-difficult not to use her powers. She desperately wanted to live a simple, honest life, but the temptation— the beckoning whisper of the energy flowing through her— was far too strong. The Gods had gifted her with magic for a reason. Perhaps they were the ones urging her to use it, and to never let go of her abilities. Still, she wanted to use them as little as possible. She wouldn’t allow magic to control her life. Not the way it once had.

As she sat around the fire with her own family, Regina couldn’t help but smile as she saw just how perfect they were. Her beloved wife. Her handsome young Prince. Her darling daughter. Yes, they were perfect in her eyes, even if they couldn’t see it for themselves. Alas, her smile fell a bit when she noticed the uneasy expression on Arcadia’s face.

“Is something wrong, Arcadia?”

“No, everything’s fine,” the young woman said quickly.

Her defensive tone, in addition to her tense posture, gave her away. Emma and Regina shared a worried glance. They both knew she was lying. Unlike Regina, Emma knew nothing of the secret Arcadia had revealed that day. Regina moved to sit closer to her daughter, bringing an arm around the young brunette. Arcadia relaxed almost immediately, much to the Queen’s delight.

“Are you sure? You know you can tell me anything, sweetheart.”

Arcadia looked to her with uncertainty. “Could we speak in private?”

“Of course, darling. Would you like to sit in the wagon?”

Arcadia could only nod.

“We’ll be back shortly,” Regina explained to the others, following her daughter towards the wagon and carefully climbing inside.

They sat across from one another in silence. Arcadia seemed incredibly tense, conflicted about what to say. Regina simply waited for her to find her voice, not wishing to push her into anything she wasn’t ready for.

“Mother, I— I had a dream,” she said at last, meeting Regina’s gaze with tears in her eyes. “I dreamt that I was a girl again, but I was in an enormous bed, in a dark room with tall windows. It was storming outside. I remember being scared. I cried, and you came to me in the night to comfort me. It was nice. You made me feel safe. It felt so real, so vivid, like it wasn’t actually a dream, but then you— you called me…”

She paused, breathing shakily.

“…Danielle.”

Regina felt her blood run cold. She bit her lip so as to stifle the sob that was threatening to escape.

“Was that what you would have named me?” Arcadia murmured, “Danielle?”

Regina gave a small nod. “Yes,” she said softly, “though had you been a boy, I would have named you Henry, after my father.”

Arcadia hesitated, debating whether or not she should voice her thoughts. She pushed them to the back of her mind, focusing on an entirely different matter for the time being. She wasn’t quite ready to express her true feelings.

“I want to learn how to read and write,” she whispered, “Will you teach me, Mother? Will you help me overcome this— what was it you called it? Dys…?”

“Dyslexia,” said Regina, “and yes, of course I will, my darling girl. When would you like to start?”

Arcadia shrugged. “Just whenever you’re not busy.”

A smile graced her mother’s lips and she felt her heart swell at the sight of it. Then, to her surprise, she found herself being pulled into a warm embrace, much like she had in her dream.

“But I just want this to stay between us,” she said quietly, “Aside from Robin, you’re the only one who knows. Not even my brothers know about it.”

“Of course, dear,” said Regina, “Unlike some people, I know how to keep a secret.”

The two brunettes shared a chuckle. Regina rubbed her daughter’s arm gently.

“I’m grateful to have you in my life, Mother.”

“As am I,” rasped the Queen, “my angel.”

A single tear slipped down Arcadia’s cheek. “That was another thing you called me. In my dream, I mean. I like it.”

Regina’s smile widened. “I’m glad,” she said, “because you, my dear, are most certainly an angel.”

She sensed there was something else the young woman wanted to tell her, but was hesitant to do so. If Arcadia wasn’t ready to say it, then Regina wasn’t going to pry. The two of them sat together in contented silence, simply enjoying one another’s presence. It brought them both a sense of warmth and comfort, but when Arcadia’s stomach began demanding sustenance, they each agreed that it was best to finish their dinner.

---

After getting her fill of fish and honeycomb, Arcadia returned to the wagon to rest. As expected, the wolf followed her and lied down beside her on the pile of furs and quilts lining the inside of the wagon. His silver pelt only added an extra layer of warmth, for which the young brunette was grateful.

It wasn’t long before Henry joined them, lying on the other side of the wolf. He was asleep in minutes, snoring softly, but not enough to truly bother his newfound sister. Before long, she, too, began to fall into a deep slumber. As Arcadia’s eyes drifted shut, one final thought crawled up from the depths of her subconscious.

‘Take me in your arms, sweet Saran, Empress of my dreams.’

---

“Oh, fuck!”

Emma moaned around her wife’s fingers as they pushed their way between her gasping lips in an attempt to muffle her delicious cries of pleasure. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her legs were trembling almost violently. She would have fallen had she not been clinging to the tree with shaky hands, and if Regina hadn’t been clutching tightly at her hip.

They were as deep in the forest as the Queen’s enchanted cock was in her wife’s pussy. The leather phallus was the largest she had ever used on Emma, knowing that if it was any bigger, it likely would have caused the blonde pain, and she simply couldn’t allow that. Regina was driving her leather cock into Emma at an almost-merciless pace, taking the quivering blonde roughly behind a large oak tree.

“You’ve got to keep quiet, my love,” the brunette husked, “Can you do that for me? Hm?”

“I’m— oh, God— I’m t-trying!” Emma gasped, “But it’s so— so—”

She whimpered uncontrollably as the cock hit that sweet spot deep within her core. The second it did, she went weak in the knees and her newly-acquired legs collapsed beneath her. Regina managed to catch her, holding her up by the waist while continuing to fuck her from behind.

“Come for me, my beautiful,” rasped the Queen, “Come for Her Majesty. We both know you want to. Show me what I do to you, Em-ma. Sweet, precious Emma. Say my name.”

As her wife writhed and whimpered, succumbing to a powerful orgasm, Regina was far too caught up in their shared desire to notice that there were numerous auras emanating from the distance, and that they were moving closer.

It was only when Regina heard a shockingly-familiar voice that she realized they were not as alone as she’d like them to be.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the Evil Queen. Long time no see, love.”

Chapter Text

“…Long time no see, love.”

Regina gasped, swiftly pulling away from her blushing bride and shielding the blonde with her body. She found herself face to face with that smug pirate, smirking devilishly at her as his dark eyes— each of them accentuated with an excess of eyeliner— snuck a quick glance at the leather cock strapped to her hips.

Thank the Gods she was still wearing pants.

Feeling Emma shaking behind her, the Queen took the blonde’s hand and gave it a tight squeeze, silently assuring her that no harm would come to either of them.

“What have we here?” asked the black-clad pirate, “The Evil Queen, having her filthy way with a wench? What is it with you and blondes? And why the Devil do you have that thing around your hips? If the lass wants a cock so badly, I’d be more than happy to provide it.”

He winked at the wide-eyed blonde.

Regina’s eyes narrowed and she bared her teeth in anger. “Don’t you dare speak to her that way! This is my wife!” she spat, “And I was under the impression you preferred the company of men. What is it they say about pirates? Always in search of booty?”

Even in a time like this, Emma couldn’t help but snicker, only to fall uncomfortably silent when she noticed the way the man was leering at her. She felt Regina’s grip on her hand tighten as if to reassure her, though it did little to ease her nerves.

“Don’t mock me, witch,” said the pirate, “I don’t have time for your games.”

“Nor do I,” Regina countered, “What the hell are you doing here, Captain? Don’t you have some cabin boy to defile?”

The pirate rolled his eyes. “Enough of this.”

He snapped his fingers and a swarm of men came stalking out of the shadows, stepping into the moonlight that flooded down through the trees. A short man with a red toboggan stood next to him.

Emma studied the pair carefully. Pirates, she thought. These guys looked like pirates. A gleam caught her eye, and she found herself staring at the polished hook where the man’s left hand should have been. Her eyes widened in disbelief. She looked back at the short man with the red hat. Pirates. Hook. Red hat.

“Oh shit,” she whispered, “Is that—”

“Captain Hook?” asked Regina, “I’m afraid so.”

“And the little guy? Is that who I think it is?”’

Regina gave a small nod. “Yes, dear.”

“Oh my God, this is fucking insane.”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself, darling.”

Hook studied the blonde carefully. “This is your wife, you say? Never imagined you’d marry again, Your Majesty. Whatever happened to that plaything of yours? What was her name? Mara?”

Judging by the anger that flickered the Queen’s eyes, he knew he’d struck a nerve.

“Don’t you say her name,” Regina hissed, “Don’t even think it!”

“Very well,” said Hook, “I’m merely curious.”

Regina’s frown deepened. “About what?”

The Captain gestured towards Emma with his hook. “Your woman here looks an awful lot like the harlot.”

The Queen’s rage manifested itself into a ball of flame within her hand. “How dare you call her such a thing?!”

Hook was visibly taken aback, not by the Queen’s magic, but by her lack of awareness. He laughed, more so in surprise than in amusement.

“Are you really that naïve, Your Majesty?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your old plaything— she who shall not be named— was a tavern girl. A harlot. A concubine. Call her whatever you like. Before you outlawed the oldest profession, she made a decent wage, but then you put her out of work. Because of you, she was left with nothing. She had no one else to support her, and so she turned to Her Majesty for aid. She did what she did best. She gave pleasure for pay.”

The Queen scoffed. “You’re lying! It wasn’t like that! I gave her food and coin because she needed it. It had nothing to do with our affair!”

“That wasn’t what she told me,” said Hook, “You see, just because you make something illegal doesn’t mean people will stop doing it. She spent many a night warming my bed, telling me all about how the Evil Queen had fallen head over heels for a mere courtesan. She always seemed very amused by it all. She was using you, Your Majesty. She never cared about you. Not really. All she wanted was your money, and you gave her more than enough, so she kept coming back to reap the benefits. For what it’s worth, she did express just how phenomenal you were in bed.”

The Queen looked like she was about to explode. “LIAR!”

She released Emma’s hand, now conjuring twin flames with a clear desire to burn the pirate to a crisp. The Captain seemed completely unfazed by this, however, which only fueled the Queen’s rage.

“Regina! Let’s just get out of here! You don’t have to fight them!”

“But I want to!” the brunette said through clenched teeth.

The anger on her face subsided— though only a little— when she felt her wife’s arms snake around her waist, holding her close. They were both overcome with a sense of déjà vu, thinking back to the time when Emma had been the one shielding her from Snow and the wannabe-Prince.

“Please, Regina,” Emma rasped, “Just take us back to the camp.”

“I’ll send you back, my darling,” said Regina, “but I’m staying. I’ll come back, Emma, I promise. This is something I have to do. I love you.”

Emma’s eyes nearly burst from their sockets. “Regina, don’t—”

But she was already standing back at the camp, startling those around her. They all gave her bewildered looks. She ran her hands through her hair, visibly distressed.

“Christ! She’s going to get herself killed!”

“Ma? What’s going on?” Henry asked, having been awoken by his mother’s outburst.

“It’s Regina!” cried the blonde, “She’s out there with a bunch of pirates! She said she was gonna take ‘em all on by herself! I tried to stop her, but she sent me back here! She’s all alone!”

She received no response, which left her exasperated.

“Well don’t just stand there! We’ve got to help her!”

Arcadia was the one to say what everybody was thinking. “Um, Emma?”

“What?”

The young woman’s face was bright red. “Y-Your pants. They’re....”

Emma’s eyes grew wide when she realized her pants were down, barely clinging to her knees. Thankfully her tunic hadn’t left her entirely exposed. The last thing she wanted was to traumatize anyone. She swiftly pulled her pants back up, but was too concerned with her wife’s wellbeing to be embarrassed. She turned and ran back towards the trees, only to be thrown back by a powerful burst of magic. A wall of purple energy surrounded the forest.

“Damn it! She’s trapped herself in there with Captain-fucking-Hook!”

“Captain Hook?” asked Henry, “Like from Peter Pan?”

“Apparently so, yeah. He kept rambling on about some woman named Mara, and how she was a prostitute! It really pissed Regina off!”

“How are we supposed to get inside?” asked Arcadia.

Henry gasped as if in realization. “Hey! If it’s blood magic, then maybe Arcadia can take it down!”

Arcadia shook her head. “I don’t have magic, Henry.”

“But you might! Maybe you just haven’t been able to use it! Ma has magic. Maybe she could, I don’t know, give you a boost or something!”

“Smart thinking, kid,” said Emma, “It couldn’t hurt to try. Come on, Arcadia. We’ve gotta save Regina!”

The young brunette reluctantly climbed down from the wagon and went to stand alongside her stepmother. She wasn’t sure about any of this, but there was a sickly feeling in the pit of her stomach that left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“Alright, give me your hand.”

Arcadia did as she was told.

“Now hold up your other hand. Aim it at the barrier.”

Again, Arcadia obeyed. The second she did, she felt a rush of raw energy surging from Emma’s hand and into hers. It jolted through her arm, quickly spreading throughout her entire body. It left her trembling uncontrollably as it reemerged from her fingertips, blasting the purple barrier with a beam of blinding green light. Arcadia felt as though she couldn’t breathe. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was agape in awe. She’d never seen anything so beautiful in her life, nor had she ever felt anything so— so— incredible. That was the only word that came to mind.

To everyone’s amazement, the wall came down just seconds later, fading out of existence as if it had never been there at all. Emma and Arcadia gathered up those who could fight, leaving the rest to watch over the children. The wolf clearly wanted to join them, but Arcadia ordered him to stay in the wagon and protect Henry. He seemed to understand what she was saying, but it was apparent that he didn’t particularly like these instructions. Still, he obeyed, standing in front of the boy so as to keep him from leaving, and anyone else from getting in.

---

As the Queen found herself in a standoff with the crew of the Jolly Roger, she realized that the scoundrels had yet to actually make a move. They were just standing there, watching her in a mix of curiosity and amusement. As puzzling as this was, it did nothing to help her mood.

“What the hell do you want, Guyliner?” she snapped, “Did you seriously come all this way just to torment me with your sick lies? How did you even find me?!”

The Captain held up a hand as if to show he meant no harm. “Relax, Your Majesty. Despite what you think, we didn’t come here looking to fight.”

Regina scoffed. “Is that so? Then why would you say all those horrible things about Mara? That’s just asking for a fight!”

“Apologies,” said Hook, “I know I went a bit overboard with my description, but it’s all true. Every word. She was a prostitute. It was the only life she knew.”

The flames in Regina’s hands began to die down. “How do you know so much about her?”

“She often frequented the taverns near the harbor,” the Captain explained, “I always sought her out. She was a troubled woman, but she did the best she could. She felt there was nothing else she was good at. You see, she confided in me many a time that she had no family. No friends. Nothing. All she had was that life, and she felt you had taken it away from her.”

Regina’s fists tightened. “She never said anything about it. Gods, if she had just told me, I would have—”

“Would have what, Your Majesty? She was a concubine, even after you made her line of work illegal.”

“Stop calling it that! That isn’t ‘work!’ It’s— it’s— indecent! Dehumanizing! Selling one’s body to strangers? It’s wrong!”

“I can understand where you’re coming from, but she did it because she believed it was her only option. She wasn’t a seamstress, nor a nursemaid or a Priestess. The only one she felt she could confide in was me. I showed her kindness.”

The Queen was in tears.

“And I didn’t?! I would have given anything to make her happy! I loved her! Hell, deep down, I still do! I thought she loved me, too! And now here you are, telling me it was all a lie! That she was just using me! That I meant nothing to her!”

“I misspoke,” said Hook, “I know I said she never cared or you, but it was different after she became ill. She sent a letter to me while I was away at sea. I still have it. She told me to give it to you. That you deserved to know the truth.”

He retrieved a folded piece of parchment from within his dark coat and offered it to the Queen, though he didn’t step any closer to her. Regina snapped her fingers and the parchment vanished from the pirate’s hand, reappearing in her own. She eyed him warily as she unfolded the worn parchment. She was surprised it was in such good condition, being over thirty years-old and all. She moment her eyes registered the scribblings of her former lover, the color drained from her face.

~~~

‘Dear Killian,

I am dying, my friend. I know not the cause of this unbearable illness, but I fear I may not live long enough to see you again. I am afraid that by the time you return to Knife’s Head, I will already be gone. I am not a good person, Killian. I do the best that I can in life, but like my body, my heart and soul have been corrupted. I have lied, not only in Her Majesty’s bed, but to her face. What a beautiful face it is. I admit, I have often wondered if she is Yvo herself. Have I been deceitful to a Goddess? If so, then I am surely doomed.

I have dined with her in her chamber, sat with her by the fire, sipped her wine. Many a time have I partaken in that which she deems her Forbidden Fruit, and how sweet it is. I have many regrets, Killian Jones. I have made many mistakes, but my biggest regret is lying to her. She has treated me, a common whore, with nothing short of kindness and respect. She is not evil. Take away her magic and her crown, and we are not so different. She is merely misunderstood.

She told me she loved me, more times than I can count. At first I thought it deception, but she said it time and time again, and each time she did, it felt more genuine than the last. I believe her, Killian. I believe her now. I just wish I could tell her myself. I am afraid this insufferable disease, whatever it is, has taken away my ability to speak. I can barely move. Each second I spend writing this brings with it an agonizing pain. I want to scream, but the sound never comes.

I fear I have been cursed by the Gods for my deception. Perhaps it was Cavilthura, punishing me on behalf of the Queen, easily her most devout follower. Gods above. The longer I sit here writing this, the more I wish to die.

Have mercy on my soul, Malatás. End my suffering.

May Seph grant you safe passage across her watery kingdom, Captain Jones. I cannot help but smile, even at a time like this. I know how much it bothers you, hearing me call you that. I thank you, Captain, for being my friend. My only friend. If you receive this letter, I ask only one thing of you: that you personally deliver it to the Queen.

I want her to know that I am truly sorry for my deceit. It was wrong of me to take advantage of her generosity. So very, very wrong. For all the times she told me she loved me, I always said it back, but I never meant it. At least, that was what I kept telling myself. I was afraid to love her, and to let her love me in return. No one ever had. I felt that if I gave into my feelings, she might use them against me as I used hers. I did not want to believe that anyone could ever love me, but now I do. I most certainly do, and I am saddened by the reality that I will never see her again. Perhaps in death, or in the next life, but not this one. Of that, I have no doubt. I do not wish for her to see me like this. I cannot allow it.

I told myself I could never love her, and that she could never love me, but things are different now. I do love her, Killian. I love her so much. I hope it is not too much to ask, but I wish for you to deliver this letter to her personally. I wish you all the best, my friend.

Never forget me,
Mara of Knife’s Head.'

Chapter Text

Regina wiped the tears from her eyes, shaking her head in disbelief. The evidence of Mara’s betrayal was all here on this piece of parchment. She wanted to be angry, or simply sullen, but in that moment, all she could feel was a soul-crushing numbness. She stared blankly at the letter, gripping it with trembling hands.

‘Oh, Mara,’ she thought sullenly, ‘Sweet Mara. How could you betray me like this? After all I did for you? After all the times I took you in my arms and told you I loved you? All those hours we spent making love? Did that mean nothing to you? Well, I can tell you that it meant everything to me. It is said that the dead can hear the thoughts of those they’ve left behind. If you are hearing this, Mara, I want you to know that I still love you. I am saddened by your betrayal, angered even, but my love for you continues to thrive. It pains me to know what I was to you— or rather, what I wasn’t, but I still grieve your death. Sometimes it feels as though you are still with me, Mara. Like you never truly left.’

She was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of shouting. She turned quickly, gasping when she saw her wife and daughter leading what was left of her cavalry through the dense forest. She locked eyes with Emma and immediately began to panic.

“Emma! How did you get through the barrier?!”

“I’ll tell you later! Have these bastards hurt you?”

“No,” said the Queen, “They haven’t moved.”

Hook and his men remained silent, just watching the interaction between the Queen and her blonde bride. The Captain couldn’t take his eyes off of Emma. It had been hard to tell when she was standing behind Regina, but now it was all-too clear to him that this woman bore an uncanny resemblance to Mara.

It was more than just the hair. Their eyes, while different colors, bore the same determined gleam. As the blonde locked eyes with him, any doubts the Captain had were promptly put to rest.

“Mara,” he whispered.

Emma frowned, unable to make out what the man was saying. “Got something you need to say?” she snapped.

Regina studied Hook carefully, taking in the sullen look he was giving her wife. As she turned towards Emma, she came to the same realization. She had suppressed the notion for months now, but with her former lover at the forefront of her mind, it was now impossible to deny the similarities between the blondes.

Emma glanced over at her wife, who was staring at her in shock. She blinked, visibly puzzled by this bizarre behavior.

“Regina?” she asked tentatively, “What’s going on?”

“You’re her,” rasped the brunette.

“What? Who?”

“Mara.”

“Huh? Uh, last time I checked, my name was Emma.”

“In this life, yes,” said Regina, “but in the last, you were my beloved Mara. It would seem the Gods have given you another chance. An opportunity to make amends. A chance to love me.”

She smiled, even as tears slipped down her cheeks, and approached the bewildered blonde with open arms. She pulled her wife into a tight embrace.

“Oh, my dearest love,” she murmured, “I should have seen it all along. I feel so blessed.”

“Regina, I don’t understand. Are you saying I was somehow reborn?”

“Reincarnated, yes,” said the Queen, “It is rare, but possible, if the Gods deem a soul worthy of a second shot at life. In the back of my mind, I always knew the two of you looked alike, but I didn’t want to believe it. It was too painful, but now— now I feel the tear in my heart has finally been mended. It’s no wonder I feel so drawn to you. Your soul, though it inhabits a new body, has been calling out to mine the moment you rode into Storybrooke. I love you, Emma, and I always will, no matter what form you take on.”

She pressed her lips to Emma’s in a soft kiss, drawing forth a moan like water from a well. Emma stared back at her in awe. It was clear to her that the blonde was still trying to comprehend all this. Hell, they both were, but it seemed Regina had a much easier time accepting it. Unlike her, Emma knew nothing of the Gods or reincarnation. She was going to have to change all that.

“This is heavy,” uttered the blonde.

Regina offered her a look of sympathy. “I can help you understand, Emma. At least, I can try.”

Emma nodded slowly as if in a daze. “Yeah, uh, that— that’d be great, thanks.” Her eyes were drawn to the paper in her wife’s hand. “What’s that?”

“A letter,” Regina said softly, “from Mara. Hook came all this way to deliver it, which reminds me.” She turned to look at the man in question. “How did you find us out here?”

“We had heard rumors that the Queen had returned, and so we traveled to your ‘Godstown,’ but were told that you had already set out for Grimsbane. I figured the quickest way would be through the forest. If I’d known I would find you and your woman— oh, shall we say, ‘giving praise to Dura?’— I never would have taken this route. Apologies for that.”

Regina’s face reddened. “Yes, well, I never imagined anyone would be creeping through the woods while we were ‘giving praise to Dura,’ as you so eloquently put it.”

Emma frowned. “Who’s Dura?”

Hook blinked in surprise. “How do you not know of Dura? Have you been living under a rock?”

Regina narrowed her eyes at the man, placing a hand upon her wife’s shoulder. “Emma here isn’t accustomed to our beliefs, Captain,” she said, “Where she comes from, most people worship only one God.”

“Only one God? How does he maintain the universe all by himself?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Regina, “It is said that he exists entirely outside of nature.”

Hook scoffed. “How can one exist outside of nature? To exist is to be one with nature. To be one with nature is to exist.”

“Is everyone around here a philosopher?” Emma deadpanned, “And who is this ‘Dura?’”

“The Goddess of Love,” Regina explained.

A deep blush spread across the blonde’s cheeks as it occurred to her what Hook had meant. She bit her lip and lowered her head, clearly flustered, and her eyes landed yet again upon the letter in her wife’s hand. Regina seemed to notice where she was looking and offered the parchment to her.

“Here. Look at it, if you want to.”

Emma blinked, curious. “Really?”

Regina simply nodded.

Emma carefully took the letter in her hands and was stunned to find that Mara’s handwriting was near-identical to her own. As she read it, she began to feel physically sick. Flashes of grief and misery flickered through her mind. She suddenly became dizzy. The world around her seemed to spin, and then, she felt as though she was falling into a bottomless void of darkness.

---

She found herself sitting before a crackling fire, letting out a quiet gasp as an arm snaked its way around her waist, pulling her close to the unseen figure whose lap she realized she was perched upon. She shuddered uncontrollably when she felt this figure’s warm breath upon her ear, nipping rather playfully at the lobe. The unseen figure chuckled softly, and Emma immediately recognized the laugh as Regina’s. It was unmistakable.

“Are you comfortable, my darling?” the Queen purred, “Do you desire more wine? Perhaps a bit of bread? Cheese? Ask, and you shall receive, my dear, sweet Mara.”

Emma’s eyes widened. ‘Oh fuck,’ she thought, ‘She thinks I’m Mara!’

Whatever this was, it felt more like a memory than a dream. It was so real, and so heartbreaking, knowing what she knew. Knowing what the Queen didn’t know. She wanted to turn around, to tell Regina the truth, but she couldn’t move. She realized then that she was not the one in control of this body. It wasn’t hers. She was just a passenger along for the ride, looking out from the inside.

The Queen’s fingers lifted her chin gently, turning her head so that they were eye to eye. She found the utmost desire burning in those dark eyes. The sight caused her heart to race and a rush of heat to pool between her clenching thighs.

“Is something troubling you, my beautiful?”

“No, My Queen.”

It was not Emma’s voice that escaped her lips, and although she swore she’d never heard it in her life, it sounded oddly familiar. She felt the Queen shift rather awkwardly behind her.

“You know how much I hate it when you call me that,” the brunette murmured, “When we are alone, you may call me Regina.”

“Apologies.”

The Queen’s hand cupped her cheek. “You need not apologize, Mara. You have done no wrong.”

As their lips met, Emma was overcome with a vile feeling of guilt eating away at her. The Queen seemed to sense her discomfort and pulled back to look at her. There was clear concern in the brunette’s eyes. The Queen actually cared for her wellbeing, despite her being a common whore.

Emma was bewildered by these thoughts, until she realized that they were not her own. They were Mara’s. She had never even considered getting caught up in prostitution. She may not have had much dignity, but she did have it. However, if what Hook had said was true, then the Queen had no idea that Mara was a prostitute. She had no idea that Mara was just taking advantage of her love and her kindness.

How tragic that Emma had ever lived such a heinous life— that is, if this whole reincarnation thing was real. Why now? Why hadn’t she had these visions before? None of it made sense to her, at least not from a scientific point of view.

She knew nothing of these mysterious Gods that Regina was always speaking of nowadays. She’d never been involved in any faith. It was difficult enough for her to believe in one God. How was she supposed to believe in an entire Pantheon? How was she supposed to believe that they controlled fate and the universe? And reincarnation? How was that even possible?

She was pulled from her thoughts by the worry in the Queen’s voice.

“What is troubling you, my sweet? Please, speak to me. Do not tell me there is nothing wrong. I can sense it. I cannot bear the thought of you suffering. Your pain is my pain.”

A tight smile graced Mara’s lips. “I am merely overwhelmed by your generosity, is all. Who would have guessed that Her Majesty would ever fall for a peasant—”

She was cut off by yet another kiss from the Queen. A low moan escaped her before she could even think to stop it. Her eyes slipped shut and she allowed herself to lean into the kiss. The Queen’s arms tightened around her, clutching almost desperately at her back as they kissed.

“You should know by now that none of that matters to me,” rasped the Queen, “I care deeply for you, dear one. Aside from my father, you are all I have left. I love you, Mara, and I always will. In this life and all that follow.”

---

Emma awoke to find that she was lying in the wagon with a cool, damp rag draped over her forehead. She let out a groan, which caused the wolf to perk up. This, in turn, caught the attention of Henry, who was supposed to be watching her but had begun dozing off. He blinked quickly, rubbing his tired eyes, and poked his head out of the wagon to call for his mother.

“Mom! She’s awake!”

Regina hurried over to the wagon. “Emma? Emma, my love, are you alright?”

Emma groaned once more. “What happened?”

“You just collapsed when I handed you that letter,” Regina explained, “and you seem to have acquired a fever. You’re burning up.”

“It feels like someone ran over me with a truck,” the blonde uttered, “only the truck was on fire, and it was full of a bunch of guys with shotguns. Oh, and they were all shooting at me.”

“Oh, Emma, you poor thing,” Regina said sullenly, “Here, drink this.”

She handed a cup of bright blue liquid to the aching blonde, who took it with trembling hands. Emma brought the cup to her dry lips and sipped it slowly, surprised to find that she not only liked the taste, but that it was actively soothing her fever.

“Tastes like Jolly Ranchers,” she said, smiling. “Thanks, ‘Gina. I feel better already.”

Regina was quick to return the smile, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “You’re very welcome, my darling.” She turned to Henry. “Sweetheart, why don’t you and the wolf go sit with Arcadia? I’m sure she could use the company.”

The boy’s eyes lit up. “Okay! Come on, Wolf.”

As he climbed down out of the wagon, the wolf was quick to follow, heading towards the fire where Arcadia sat. She had a blanket draped around her and a bowl of lukewarm broth in her hands. They were trembling. She stared blankly into the fire, completely oblivious to the fact that she was no longer alone.

“Arcadia?”

The young woman jumped a bit, letting out a small sigh of relief when she realized who it was standing next to her. She brought a hand over her heart, willing it to be still.

“Henry,” she murmured, “you startled me.”

The boy suddenly seemed reluctant. “I’m sorry,” he said, feeling guilty, “Mom said you needed some company.”

Arcadia offered him a tight smile, gesturing for him to sit next to her on the log. He did so, and the wolf sat next to him, resting his head on the boy’s lap. Henry stroked the wolf’s head absently as he turned to his sister. She looked shaken, though he couldn’t understand why. As curious as he was, he knew it was probably best that he didn’t say anything. In the end, he didn’t need to.

“Do you know what ‘dyslexia’ is, Henry?”

This surprised the boy. Of all the things he was expecting her to say, this definitely wasn’t one of them.

“Uh, yeah,” he said, “Why?”

“Mother thinks that I have it.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I wish I could help.”

“That’s very sweet of you, Henry. I’m honored to call you my brother.”

Henry brought his arms around her, leaning his head upon her shoulder. “I love you, Arcadia.” He peered up at her curiously when he felt her tense. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s that name,” the brunette murmured, “‘Arcadia.’ I like it. It’s a nice name, but it— it just doesn’t feel right, you know? Like it was never meant to be my name.”

“Well, what do you want to be called?”

The young woman hesitated, but after a moment, she looked at him with determination in her piercing eyes, and she smiled. For real, this time.

“Danielle.”

---

Regina stroked her wife’s back gently. “So what was your dream about, darling?”

Emma reluctantly met the brunette’s gaze. “I think I was having some kind of flashback,” she said, “only it wasn’t one of my memories. It looked like Mara’s.”

Regina tensed. “Oh? And what was it?”

“We— I mean, you and her— were sitting in a chair together in front of a fireplace. She was on your lap, and you kept saying all these nice things to her, but she seemed like she didn’t want to accept them as truth. She felt guilty when she told you that she loved you. Maybe it was because she was afraid to love you. I can understand how that feels. Being scared to let people in, I mean. But you, Regina Mills, are the first person I really opened up to, aside from….”

The Queen wanted to ask, ‘who?’ But she quickly realized the answer. “Aside from Henry’s father, you mean?”

Emma gave a small nod. “Yeah.”

“Will you tell me about him, Emma? It doesn’t have to be much. At least give me his name. Please?”

The blonde hesitated, but relented. She couldn’t bring herself to hide the truth from her wife. Again, she nodded.

“Okay,” she whispered, “His name is Neal. Neal Cassidy.”

“And how did you meet?”

Emma chuckled, though it seemed more sullen than amused. “Funny story,” she said, “I was homeless at the time. Nowhere to go. No money. Nothing. I was trying to break into a car in the middle of the night. It was parked out in front of a sleazy motel. I liked the model, so I picked that one. I got inside, and lo and behold, there he was.”

“He caught you stealing his car?” Regina asked incredulously.

“Wasn’t his car,” Emma told her, “He was trying to steal it, too. It’s currently parked in our barn back home.”

Regina was shocked. “Emma Swan-Mills, are you telling me you stole that beautiful death-trap?”

Emma threw her head back and let out a hearty laugh. “Oh, so it’s a beautiful death-trap now, is it? I’m flattered, Regina.”

The brunette swatted her playfully on the arm. “It’s not as beautiful as you, my little duck.”

Emma gave her wife a warm smile before realizing something. “Hey, what happened to those pirates?”

“They’ve set up camp in the woods,” said Regina, “I have a barrier surrounding us in case they try anything, which reminds me: Arcadia told me that you helped her discover her powers. That was very smart thinking, Emma.”

“Thanks, but it was actually Henry’s idea.”

“Perhaps, but it was you who helped put that idea into action. I am so very, very proud of you. All of you,” said Regina, “Still, I specifically put up that barrier to keep you safe. You could have been killed, Emma.”

“But I wasn’t,” Emma argued, “and I had to go back for you, because I thought you might have been killed. Don’t you know how terrified I was? And while we’re on the subject, do you realize you sent me back here with my pants down to my knees? That was pretty embarrassing, Regina.”

Regina simply gaped at her for a moment before erupting with rich laughter. “Oh, Gods, if only I could have seen that! Apologies, Emma. I didn’t realize you were in such a compromising position. I hope you know I never would have done that to you intentionally. I’m not quite that evil.”

Emma leaned her head onto her wife’s shoulder. “I know you wouldn’t have,” she murmured.

Regina pulled the blonde closer to her. “I love you, Emma.”

“Love you, too, ‘Gina.”

Chapter Text

It was morning now, and was Hook standing at the edge of the forest, close to the barrier, but far away enough that its magic wouldn’t send him flying through the air. Alas, he was growing old, and with that came the constant aches and pains. The last thing he needed was to bring himself even more misery. He took a sip from his flask as he watched the villagers go about their business, packing their things back into their wagons and preparing for the rest of the journey to Grimsbane.

“Captain?”

Hook turned to find his first-mate standing behind him with a worried expression masking his round, bearded face. The short man was wringing his toboggan nervously in his grubby hands.

“What is it, Smee?”

“What are we going to do about the barrier, sir?”

“I’m not worried about the barrier,” said Hook.

“Why not?”

“Because, Mr. Smee, I’ve already done what I came here to do.”

“Wait, so that’s it? We really came all this way just so you could give her a letter? You aren’t going to try reasoning with her?”

Hook remained silent. Instead, he stared out through the enchanted barrier and into the mismatched eyes of the wolf. The creature seemed to notice the man staring and perked up a bit, recognizing his scent.

“What is it, Captain?”

“That wolf,” Hook uttered, “It was his.”

“Whose?”

“That rugged beast of a man who haunts my dreams,” said the Captain, “There are rumors that he worked for the Queen, but there’s no sign of him here. Only his wolf. He never went anywhere without that wolf. I have to know what became of him.”

“Who are you talking about, sir?”

Hook turned to look at the man with a sullen expression. “The Huntsman.”

Smee’s eyes widened. “You fancy the Man-Beast of Misthaven?”

Hook gave a small nod. “Aye,” he whispered, “I knew him only for a night. He wandered into the tavern in Knife’s Head and drank nearly three times his weight in mead. I watched him from afar. We locked eyes and I knew that I had to have him. I was far from sober, but I remember every second of it. I took him back to the ship with me, but when I awoke the next morning, feeling as though I’d taken an axe to my skull, he was gone. I tried to find him, but he never returned to any of the taverns. It wasn’t until much later that I heard stories of how he was a servant to Her Majesty. I intended to seek audience with her about this, and to deliver the letter, but the curse had already ravaged the land before I had the chance.”

“I had no idea you felt this strongly for anyone, Captain. Not since—”

The Captain held up a hand, silencing him. “No. Don’t say her name.”

Smee bowed his head. “Sorry, sir.”

---

Henry noticed the wolf staring towards the barrier and followed the creature’s gaze. He was stunned to see a group of pirates standing there, just watching him. He backed away slowly, heading over to the wagon where Regina was busy packing things away. Emma was sound asleep, and Arcadia was feeding Midnight an apple as a reward for hauling the wagon all this way.

“Mom?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“The pirates are watching us.”

Regina paused what she was doing and peered around the side of the wagon at the pirates. She locked eyes with Hook, arching a curious eyebrow at him. The man gestured for her to approach, silently asking to speak with her. She placed a hand on Henry’s shoulder, not once taking her eyes off of the Captain.

“Wait here, darling.”

“You’re not gonna take down the barrier, are you?”

“No, Henry. Not until I know it's safe.”

Henry seemed to accept this, as he didn’t question her any further. Still, he kept a close eye on her as she made her way towards the barrier. She snapped her fingers, and suddenly, sound began seeping through the energy-field. She could speak freely with the pirates while keeping them out all at once.

“What do you want now, Hook?”

To Regina’s surprise, the man looked sullen. He was staring over her shoulder, so she turned to follow his gaze. His eyes were locked onto the wolf. The Queen looked at him quizzically.

“Why are you so interested in the wolf?”

“Because it was his.”

“His?”

“The Huntsman’s.”

Regina’s face fell. “Oh. Right. Of course.”

Hook was taken aback by the sorrow in the Queen’s eyes. “Where is he, Your Majesty? I have yet to see him.”

The Queen hesitated. “He’s gone, Hook.”

All the color drained from the Captain’s face. “…What?”

“He was killed,” Regina murmured.

The Captain turned away suddenly, not wishing to let the Queen see the tears welling up in his eyes. He tightened his fist, overwhelmed with a dangerous blend of rage and despair. His entire body was shaking uncontrollably.

“Hook? What’s going on? What connection do you have with the Huntsman?”

“I knew him well,” said the Captain, “but only for a night. I’ve been searching for him ever since.”

Regina’s eyes widened in surprise, having read between the lines. “I had no idea,” she whispered, “I’m sorry, Hook.”

The Captain looked back at her with misty eyes, stunned by her apology. “It wasn’t your hand that took his life, then?”

Regina shook her head. “No. I came to know him as a friend. He was left to die in the street after Snow White shot him down with her arrow, but I didn’t realize until later that it was Rumple who delivered the final blow. Perhaps just to put him out of his misery, but murder, all the same. I tried finding Rumple in my mirrors, but he was already long gone.”

“You say it was the Dark One who took his life?” the Captain seethed, “First the Crocodile takes my ladylove, then he takes my hand, and now he takes the man who has haunted my dreams for the better part of thirty years? Where is he?”

“I don’t know, Hook. Before I knew he was involved, I traded him a potion in exchange for Jefferson’s hat.”

“Jefferson? As in, the Mad Hatter?”

“That’s the one.”

“I take it that’s how you got back here?”

Regina nodded. “We’ve been here for almost three months, now.”

“And what of the Huntsman? His body, I mean.”

“He’s buried alongside Daniel and my father,” said the Queen, “beneath a shady apple tree. I’m sure he’s resting peacefully in Espheron.”

“Aye,” said Hook, “Shame I’ll never set foot there.”

Regina offered him a look of sympathy. “There is still time to redeem yourself, Captain. I’ve been doing my best to atone for the things I’ve done. You can, too. I believe in you.”

Hook gave the woman a tight smile. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” he said, “I don’t expect you to believe me, but I’m sorry for the things I said last night. I’ve just been bitter as of late. I know that isn’t an excuse, but it is a reason.”

He hesitated, shifting from one foot to the other like Henry tended to do whenever he was uncomfortable.

“I hope it isn’t too much to ask, but I’d like to go with you to Grimsbane,” said the Captain, “My men and I need to eat, too. Besides, I thought we could catch up. It’s been, what, thirty years?”

“Twenty-eight, to be exact,” said Regina, “and yes, you may join us, but only if you agree to hand over your weapons. Each and every last one of you— and I do mean all of your weapons. That includes your hook.”

The Captain gazed down at the polished barb in question. “What am I without my hook?”

Regina smiled. “Simple,” she said, “You’re Killian Jones.”

---

Emma eyed the Captain warily as he sat across from her in the wagon, offering her a sad smile. This puzzled her at first, though after five solid minutes of him staring at her, it did nothing but make her angry. She’d had enough.

“Why are you staring at me?” she snapped, “You’ve only got one hand. Do you wanna lose an eye, too? How about two eyes, huh?”

To her surprise, the man began to chuckle. This only pissed her off even more.

“What’s so funny?”

“You remind me so much of her,” said the Captain, “Mara, I mean. She was quite fiery from time to time. It was easy to push her buttons.”

Emma’s features softened at that, shifting from a look of fury to one of uncertainty. She bit her lip, tightening her fists in her lap and clinging to the blanket covering her legs. It had begun to rain, and the wind was picking up, chilling each and every droplet. She was grateful for the canvas shielding them from the cold morning shower.

Henry was asleep next to her, snoring softly as he rested his head upon her shoulder. She slipped her arm around him, holding him close to her so as to provide warmth. The wolf was lying at her feet, also sleeping.

The Captain continued to observe her with a faint smile gracing his lips. He didn’t seem all that menacing without his hook. In its place was a gloved hand, likely wooden. Emma was still angry at him for the way he had upset Regina, and he seemed well-aware of this fact.

“What’s your motive here, Hook?”

“Please, call me Killian,” said the Captain, “and aside from finding livestock at Grimsbane, I have no ‘motive.’ All I want is to find food for my men and I, and once that’s done, I’d like to travel back to Godstown.”

“Why? So you can ransack the place?”

“If I wanted to do that, I would have, but as far as I’m concerned, my deal with the Queen still stands. I won’t raid her territory. Besides, there’s nothing there that I wish to steal.”

“Then what is it you’re after?”

“I wish to visit the grave of the one known as the Huntsman.”

Emma’s eyes widened. “Graham,” she whispered.

“Pardon?”

“Graham,” Emma said again, “When I knew him, he was Graham Humbert, Sheriff of Storybrooke. He had asthma. He loved apple pancakes and cranberry juice and giving pep-talks. He was a good man. He was my friend. And now he’s gone.”

She studied the Captain closely for a moment, taking in the curious look in his eyes as he pondered this information. Before he could say anything, Emma reached into her tunic, revealing the pendant around her neck. It was a bronze necklace, bejeweled with rubies and sapphires. Hanging from it was a cross, though it was clear to Emma that the Captain had no idea what it represented.

“This was his,” she said, “He gave it to me not long after we met. It was very important to him. Now it’s important to me.”

“What does it mean?”

“It’s a rosary. Mostly a Catholic thing, I think. I’m not well-versed in religion, but I guess Catholicism doesn’t exist here.”

“I’ve never heard of such a faith. What Gods does this ‘Catholicism’ worship?”

“Just one,” said Emma, “Well, him and his son, Jesus, who died on a crucifix to save humanity from its sins.”

“What is the name of this God?”

“Most people just call him ‘God.’ Some call him Yahweh, or Jehovah. I don’t really call him anything. I’ve never had much of a reason to believe in a higher power. I never wanted to believe that any merciful God would allow people to suffer the way I did, growing up.”

“And how was that?”

“Up until about a week ago, I had no legs. I was born without them. Turns out it was because my father poisoned my mother while she was pregnant, but only because she poisoned him first for not telling her she was pretty. Or something like that. It was puzzling, really. I don’t understand what either one of them was thinking.”

“Who are your parents?”

Emma hesitated. “I don’t have parents,” she said quietly, “but it was Snow White and Prince Charming who brought me into this world. They didn’t raise me, though. They sent me through a magic wardrobe before the curse was cast. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around all that. You see, where I come from, magic isn’t real. It is here, though, and it’s absolutely incredible. It’s because of magic that I broke the curse. It’s because of magic that I now have legs, and it’s given me so much more. More than I can even begin to describe. Regina says that love is magic. I guess she’s right. I broke the curse when I kissed her. She was cursed, too, but had no idea. I freed her. I freed everyone. I guess that really does make me the Savior.”

“How poetic,” said the Captain, “The Savior and the Queen, destined to fall in love. It’s nice to see that she’s happy. She deserves it, you know. She’s been through so much. I’m also surprised to know she has a daughter, but again, I’m happy for her. Take good care of her, Swan. I can see how much she loves you, and you her. I just wish I could have that again.”

---

Regina was stunned by her daughter’s confession, but the notion warmed her heart. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, though that did nothing to keep her from smiling. The young woman had insisted on riding the horse with her, clearly wishing to get something off of her chest.

‘I don’t want to be Arcadia anymore, Mother,’ the former thief had whispered, ‘I want to be Danielle.’

The Queen was taken aback by this. “Are you sure?”

“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”

Regina’s smile widened. “I have to admit, I’m touched,” she said, “I love you, Danielle.”

The name felt right to both of them. Danielle wrapped her arms around Regina’s waist, unable to stop the tears from slipping down her pale cheeks.

“And I you, Mother,” she rasped, “Thank you. For everything.”

So, too, did Regina’s tears begin to fall. “You are more than welcome, my angel.”

Chapter Text

Danielle listened intently to the rain as it pattered against the window. The gentle sound, combined with her mother’s soft voice, helped to soothe her. She was struggling to keep her eyes open as her mother hummed softly to her, a nightly ritual that never failed to help her sleep. She felt a comforting hand caressing her face and leaned into the touch.

“I love you, Danielle,” murmured the Queen, “more than you can possibly imagine.”

“I love you, too, Mama,” the girl mumbled.

The Queen smiled lovingly at her daughter. Each glance at this precious child reminded her just how blessed she was. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing Danielle. She very nearly had. She’d begged the King not to take her child from her, and thankfully, He hadn’t, though it had taken much persuasion. A wave of nausea washed over her as she recalled the depraved and vile acts He had forced her into performing in order to ‘persuade’ Him, though in the end, she supposed it was worth it, for it had saved her daughter’s life.

The girl was to live with her grandfather in the estate up in the hills behind the imposing palace. The King, as cruel as He was, permitted Regina to visit her daughter each night, but under the condition that she could never tell anyone of the girl’s existence. The girl would never set foot within the palace for as long as she lived. The King couldn’t allow word to get out that His wife had given birth to another man’s child. It was unthinkable. Those who had witnessed the birth had been sworn into secrecy under threat of execution. Six years later, and they had yet to told a soul.

Regina remained resentful of that wretched King and his spawn, but was no less grateful to have a daughter of her own. A daughter she could love unconditionally, and who would love her all the same. A daughter who wouldn’t see her as a disappointment, or as a monster. As she sat here with the precious child, she felt a sob threatening to escape her lips.

The girl was a perfect blend of both her parents. She was the embodiment of innocence. The innocence Regina had lost so long ago. Danielle’s eyes had long-since drifted shut. She was now breathing softly— steadily— as she fell into a deep slumber.

“Take this precious child in your arms, sweet Saran,” murmured the Queen, “and bless her with the most pleasant of dreams. May she sleep soundly and not roam the halls this night.”

As Danielle dreamt, she felt as though she was hovering, watching from the edge of a forest as a cavalcade rode past. At the head of the cavalcade was a young woman who seemed oddly familiar, yet was a complete stranger all at once. The young woman was on horseback with an older brunette who Danielle recognized immediately as her mother.

That was when her eyes flew open.

She shot up in her bed, and upon seeing that the bolt on her door was still latched, she was relieved to find that she hadn’t left her room during the night. She had been sleepwalking for as long as she could remember, always wandering aimlessly through the long corridors as if in search of something, but what she was looking for, she hadn’t the faintest idea. Fortunately, it seemed she didn’t succumb to the inexplicable phenomenon this time.

The lock was her idea. In fact, she’d insisted it be placed there. Her mother had been entirely opposed to it, but Danielle had managed to convince her that it was for the best. If her grandfather hadn’t sided with her, she knew her mother never would have agreed. She rose slowly out of bed and went to her wardrobe, setting out her favorite outfit: a simple yet elegant dress, all black. It left her shoulders exposed and was cut off mid-thigh, allowing her more freedom of movement. She could run if she wanted to, and right now, she most certainly did.

Trading her nightgown for her dress, she expertly braided her hair, letting it fall over her shoulder, and retrieved the golden key from the top of the wardrobe. She unlocked the door before putting the key back in its rightful place, and quietly shut the door behind her.

The sunlight flooded in through the windows as she darted down the corridor, completely barefoot. She reveled in the warmth of the sun on her pale skin, smiling uncontrollably as she rushed into the dining room. It was here that she found her mother waiting for her, giving her that classic raised eyebrow.

“Danielle, please, must I always tell you not to run in the house?”

Danielle grinned even wider. “Sorry, Mother. I just really feel like running.”

The Queen’s face softened into a loving smile. Her hair was still dark, though it had long-since begun to turn gray. There were faint wrinkles around her eyes, but the ones around her mouth were far more prominent, likely from years of constant smiling whenever she was with her daughter. She had tried to hide it with her magic at first, but after a while, she just let it happen. It was Danielle who convinced her that she would always be beautiful, no matter what— the very words she’d been telling her daughter since the moment she was born.

Regina stood to greet the young woman with a tight embrace. Tears welled in her eyes, knowing she would have to let go eventually, but desperately wishing she didn’t.

“Happy birthday, my darling girl,” she murmured, actively fighting back the tears.

Sensing the sorrow in her mother’s voice, Danielle pulled back in concern. “Is everything alright, Mother?”

The Queen nodded. “I just wish your grandfather was here to see you,” she said, “I know he would be just as proud of you as I am.”

Danielle clasped her hands around her mother’s. “Why don’t we go see him?”

“That sounds lovely, but breakfast is nearly ready.”

“I think that can wait, don’t you?”

The older woman planted a soft kiss upon her daughter’s cheek. “I think you’re right, my little Princess.”

Danielle blushed. “I am neither little, nor a Princess, Mother.”

“You always will be in my eyes, dear.”

The two brunettes linked arms as they headed out into the meadow behind the estate, where a pair of tombstones rested side by side beneath a tall apple tree. One read, ‘Henry Mills— Loving Father. Gone But Not forgotten,’ and the other, ‘Daniel Colter— Beloved Stableman.’

“Hello, Daddy,” the Queen murmured, “and Daniel, my love. I trust you two are resting peacefully in Espheron. I miss you both, so very much, and so does Danielle, of course. Oh, Daniel, if only you could have met her. She’s so much like you, it’s uncanny. I know you would love her. She has your eyes. Today is her birthday. She’s thirty-eight. I can’t believe how quickly she’s grown up. Though I am without you, Daniel, I am still so blessed to have our child by my side.”

She turned to her daughter with a sad smile.

“I know she would love you, too, Daniel. Even after all these years, she remains innocent,” said the Queen, “If only you could leave this place, Danielle. If only you could go out and see the world you’ve only read about in books. I hope that in time, you will get the chance. I don’t want you to be trapped the way I’ve always been. The only freedom I have is when I come here to visit. I find it incredible that you hold no resentment, my darling. Not for anyone. Not even that wretched King. You have every reason to hate, and yet you choose to love instead. My mother was wrong. Love isn’t weakness. It’s strength. It takes strength to choose compassion over contempt. I am so proud of you, lambkin, and I always will be. So was your grandfather, and I know your father would be, too.”

Once more, they embraced. Neither of them wanted to let go.

“Mother?”

“Yes, my angel?”

“I had a very strange dream last night.”

“Were you wandering the halls again?”

Danielle shook her head. “No, not this time,” she said, “but I dreamed that you and I were riding together on horseback. It wasn’t Rocinante, though, and I was dressed like a man. Oh, and you looked like you were about my age. I know not what to make of it. The horse was pulling a wagon. The strangest thing of all is that I’ve had dreams like this before— more times than I can possibly count— though this was the first time I saw you there. Well, at least this version of you. Do you know what it could mean, Mother?”

The Queen was puzzled by what her daughter had just told her. “I’m sorry, darling, I don’t. Perhaps I should speak to the local Priestess. She may be able to interpret it.”

“Oh, will you, Mother? It would mean so much to me.”

Seeing the joy in her daughter’s eyes brought a smile to the Queen’s lips. “Of course I will, lambkin. I’ll do anything for you, especially on a day like this. I love you, Danielle.”

“And I you, Mother.”

“Now then, why don’t we go inside and have breakfast? After we eat, I shall give you your gifts.”

Danielle smiled. “That sounds perfect.”

“The perfect day, for the perfect daughter.”

As the two brunettes enjoyed a breakfast of ham, eggs, fresh fruit, and honeycomb, they sat in contented silence, both of them realizing that the day was indeed perfect. After she and her mother decided they’d had their fill, Danielle insisted that the rest of the food be given to William and Asha, two of the servants from the palace who had witnessed her birth. Seeing how they already knew of her existence, the King had (reluctantly) permitted them to see she was taken care of following the death of her grandfather.

She was oblivious to the fact that her mother had been forced to ‘persuade’ Him once again, as He was still a bitter and manipulative brute. Even after all these years, Danielle had never laid eyes on the monster whose name alone brought with it immense terror and dread. The monster who tormented her mother. The monster who forbade her from ever leaving the estate, lest someone find out she existed. This saddened her. It angered her. But she tried to make the most of what little she had. She was just grateful to have a mother who loved her unconditionally, despite her many flaws.

“Mother?” she asked softly.

“Yes, darling?”

“I’d like to try reading again today.”

The Queen was surprised by this. “Are you sure? I thought you would want to skip that today.”

Danielle shook her head. “I enjoy it,” she said, “I feel closest to you when we read together.”

The Queen smiled. “Very well, dear, but first, I’d like to give you your gifts.” She rose from her chair and extended a hand to her daughter. “Come, darling. They’re in the study.”

Danielle and her mother walked hand in hand from the dining room and towards the study where she used to sit with her grandfather while he read to her. He did this because he realized how difficult it was for her to decipher the shifting letters. Even now, she had a hard time reading, but she did the best she could. Her mother and grandfather had always been very encouraging, though neither of them knew the cause of her inexplicable affliction. Her grandfather had feared it was a curse, but her mother had detected no traces of magic, light or dark.

And so it remained a mystery.

When Danielle entered the study, she found a fire crackling within the mantel and a large assortment of beautifully-wrapped gifts piled upon the desk. Her eyes lit up in wonder.

“Wow,” she breathed, “Thank you, Mother.”

“You’re very welcome, lambkin. Why don’t you go ahead and open them?”

Even now, Danielle still felt and acted like a teenager. She had no reason to really grow up. She had no responsibilities. She didn’t know what she would do without her mother, William, or Asha.

It was hard enough losing her grandfather.

She’d awoken one morning and gone down to the dining room, only to find him absent. This was odd, as he was always up well before her, enjoying hot tea alongside a biscuit or two. It was different that day. He wasn’t there, which meant he was probably still in bed. This wasn’t like him. He never slept in late. Danielle wandered to his bedroom and knocked quietly on the door, but received no answer. She waited patiently for a minute or two before making a second attempt, but again, there was no answer. That was when she opened the door to find him lying in bed, completely still. She thought he was sleeping at first, but when she tried to wake him, he wouldn’t move. Being twelve at the time, it took her a short while to realize he was gone. It wasn’t until her mother arrived that evening for her nightly visit that Danielle finally allowed herself to cry. They’d buried him in the meadow the next morning.

As her thoughts drifted back into the present, Danielle fought back her tears as she opened her gifts. She tore into them one by one, shocked to find an abundance of blank scrolls and jars of ink, along with an exquisite feather, plucked from the tail of a graceful peacock. She turned to face her mother and immediately pulled the older woman into a tight embrace.

“Thank you, Mother. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“Oh, I have a pretty good idea,” said the Queen, “but you are very welcome, my darling girl. I have one last gift for you.”

She clasped her hands around Danielle’s, placing a cool, smooth object into the young brunette’s palm. Danielle blinked at it curiously. It was a simple yet beautiful ring, fixed to a thin chain, equally-silver.

“This is gorgeous, Mother. Thank you so much. Wherever did you get it?”

“It was your father’s,” murmured the Queen, “He gave it to me not long before his death— and now, my sweet child, it is yours.” She smiled, kissing her daughter’s cheek ever so gently. “Happy birthday, Princess.”

Danielle put the chain around her neck, clutching the ring in her hand as tears slipped down her cheeks. She smiled despite her tears.

“I love you, Mother.”

“And I you, dearest. Let’s get to reading, shall we?”

“I’d like that very much.”

The Queen fetched a book from the shelf near the desk. It was an old collection of fables about the Gods that her father had read to her when she was a girl, and that she had, in turn, read to Danielle. It was this book that they’d been going over as of late, for she was trying her best to help her daughter overcome that bizarre condition.

“Alright, darling,” she said, “Why don’t we start with the story of Tzulla and Agamir?”

“That sounds perfect.”

The Queen sat down alongside her daughter on the chaise and turned to the middle of the book, where she knew she would find the story in question. She had long-since memorized the order of each fable, having read it hundreds, if not thousands of times. She set the book between her and Danielle so that they could both see it clearly.

“Would you like to start, or would you like me to?”

“I’ll try it this time, Mother.”

Danielle studied the page carefully. The letters were already shifting around, but the first sentence didn’t seem too difficult to make out. She focused on the letters in each word, counting them out and trying her best to rearrange them into semi-coherent phrases.

“O-Once there was a— a sapling?” she paused, glancing up at her mother, who gave a small nod. “A sapling,” she said again, “and a— b-b-biulfetau? Belafituu? Luftiubea?” She sighed. “I can’t do it, Mother. It’s never going to get any better.”

“You don’t know that, Danielle,” the Queen said softly, “and the word is ‘beautiful,’ which is precisely what you are, my dear, sweet child.”

Danielle smiled faintly, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered, “but I have a difficult time believing that.”

“You don’t think you’re beautiful?”

The young woman just shrugged. “I don’t suppose so. I wouldn’t say I am unattractive, but I certainly don’t think I am beautiful.”

“Oh, Danielle,” murmured the Queen, “You are. Very much so. Don’t ever doubt your beauty or your abilities. I know you can overcome this if you really set your mind to it. You can do anything, my darling.”

“Will I ever leave this place, Mother?” Danielle asked suddenly.

The Queen clearly hadn’t been expecting this, at least, not right then. “I— Someday, lambkin, when the King has died. Only then will we be free.”

Danielle blinked. “We?”

“Yes, dear,” said the older woman, “We can be happy. We can be together, you and I. I can move in full-time, rather than just visiting. You won’t need servants anymore. I will take care of you, my little Princess. I love you so, so much. I don’t know what I would ever do without you.”

“Nor do I, Mother. You mean everything to me.”

“And you to me, Danielle Mills.”

---

The former thief awoke with a jolt, startling her mother.

“Is everything alright, Arc— err— Danielle?”

“I had the strangest dream, Mother, although it didn’t feel like a dream. I was living in an estate with servants near a palace, and you were so old. You came to visit me every day, but you couldn’t live with me because the King forbade it. He made it so that I could never set foot on the palace grounds. It was so— so real. I know not what to make of it.”

“Perhaps you were envisioning what could have been,” Regina mused.

“What do you mean?”

“The life we could have had, if only He hadn’t stolen you away from me."

Chapter Text

The dreams didn’t stop. Each night for the next week, Danielle— in her lonely estate— grew more restless, witnessing unfathomable yet endearing visions each time she closed her eyes.

“What are you trying to tell me, Saran? What does it mean?” she asked one morning, having seen herself— or at least, some version of herself— and her mother, venturing into a prosperous farming village at the base of a valley. Of all the words spoken, she remembered only one.

“Grimsbane,” she whispered.

She got dressed, throwing on a simple gray shift, and headed down to the dining room, still clutching the ring hanging from her neck. It was here that she found her mother speaking with William and Asha. They spoke quietly, as if they were concerned about being overheard, yet there was an obvious mirth in their eyes, and they all looked as though they were fighting not to smile.

“Mother? I didn’t know you were coming this morning,” said Danielle.

Her presence drew their attention. The Queen hurried over to her, pulling her into a near bone-crushing embrace. This left her a bit stunned, not realizing her mother still possessed such strength.

“M-Mother? What—”

“He’s gone, lambkin.”

“Who’s gone?”

“The King,” said her mother, “He died in his sleep.”

The joy in the Queen’s eyes was unmistakable, not that Danielle could blame her. What the young brunette didn’t know was that for all these years, with all the abuse her mother had endured, there had been a far greater retaliation, though it had been subtle.

The Queen had been looking into her mother’s old spell-book, concocting a number of potions. Oh how she wished she had done it sooner, though in hindsight, she knew that if the King collapsed mysteriously at the table, she likely would have been accused, seeing how she had the most to gain from His death. She also knew that no one would suspect her if she slipped Him a potion that would make Him impotent. Permanently. That was precisely what she did. The King was convinced that His ‘little problem’ was the result of the Queen no longer being beautiful. She was too proud of what she had done to feel insulted, though it certainly gave her enough of a reason to lace His drink with just a hint of Devil’s Snare. Oh, how He had suffered, and oh, how she had reveled in his pain. In His mind, He was being tormented by the enraged spirit of His first wife.

Yes, the Queen did love seeing Him suffer.

The court physician determined that the King’s heart had just stopped during the night. There was no evidence of poison or dark magic. There was nothing magical about Devil’s Snare, and it was untraceable once digested in its powder form. His heart had stopped alright, presumably when the Queen appeared in His chamber in the dead of night, having also studied teleportation.

He awoke to find her looming over Him, like a phantom. The terror in His eyes was all too evident as she plunged her hand into His chest, ripping His heart out. How she loved seeing Him cower the way she had under the shadow of His whip. She was amazed this wretch even had a heart to begin with. No matter. He didn’t have it for much longer. She had crushed His blackened heart to dust, just as her mother had done to her beloved Daniel.

‘Good riddance,’ she’d hissed, not unlike a serpent. Her words had dripped with venom. She had been in fear of this tyrant for so long, but at the same time, she had carefully plotted His demise. He was far too petrified to scream, forced to endure the excruciating agony of having His life stolen away from Him the way He’d stolen Regina’s.

Now, as she pulled her daughter into a tight embrace, she couldn’t help but smile, for there was nothing stopping her from being happy now. The King had lived far longer than Regina expected Him to, but He was gone now, so it no longer mattered.

“We’re free, Danielle,” she whispered, “Free at last.”

---

Grimsbane was much larger than the former thief had imagined, but the villagers seemed beyond generous. She’d even caught a number of young men eyeing her as she rode by, clearly interested in seeking her hand. There were even a few women, she noticed, though they were much subtler about it. While the men ogled her, the women merely snuck the occasional glance, but the desire in their eyes was evident.

She wanted to think that maybe it wasn’t her they were staring at, but rather, her mother. However, she quickly came to the realization that this was most certainly not the case. Their eyes were definitely on her, she discovered. It didn’t make her uncomfortable— at least, not in the way one might expect. It embarrassed her, for when it came to carnal knowledge, she was illiterate.

When they’d stopped at the local inn, the old innkeeper had been generous enough to let them keep their wagons out back and their horses in the nearby corral. Regina insisted on paying the man, but he had refused, for kindness could not be bought. Mead, on the other hand, was a coin per cup.

When the young brunette ventured outside after having her fill of mead, her mother was quick to follow.

“Are you alright, Danielle? You seem,” Regina paused, “distant.”

Danielle hugged herself tightly, hanging her head as if in shame. “People were ogling me, Mother. Men and women. I’m embarrassed.”

“Perhaps because you’re so beautiful, darling,” said Regina, “Why are you embarrassed? Do you not like them staring at you?”

“It’s not that I don’t enjoy it,” Danielle confessed, “I do. Very much, actually. It’s just that I’ve never gotten that kind of attention before.”

“Never?”

The former thief shook her head. “No, Mother. I’m still a maiden.”

There wasn’t much that surprised Regina at this point, but her daughter’s confession was most certainly one of them. She was visibly taken aback.

“You? A maiden? I must say, Danielle, I’m shocked. I never would have guessed.”

“…Is it a bad thing?”

Regina’s brows furrowed in confusion. “Is it— no, sweetheart, of course not,” she assured, “You have nothing to be ashamed of. I just didn’t expect you to be a virgin, is all. I’m sure you’ll find that special someone. Who knows? You might even find them here in Grimsbane.”

The Queen winked, or at least, she attempted to, which earned a chuckle from her blushing daughter.

“Mother?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Could you keep this between us?”

Regina smiled. “Of course. I won’t tell a soul.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome.”

They embraced before Regina headed back inside to bid Henry goodnight and see that her wife was well taken care of. Danielle remained out back with the horses, where she was approached by a young man with spiky blonde hair and two women, one brunette, the other blonde.

“Hello,” said the man, “My name is Malcolm.” He gestured to the blonde. “This is my sister, Luna.” He then looked to the brunette. “And this is Vega. She’s deaf.”

The former thief gave a tight smile. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Danielle.”

“We saw you riding with the Queen,” said Malcolm, “Are you her servant?”

Danielle chuckled. “No, I’m her daughter.”

“I didn’t know the Queen had a daughter.”

“Yes, well, we only just found one another. I was stolen from her at birth.”

Malcolm was stunned. “Gods, I’m sorry,” he said, “Would you like to come to a party with us?”

“Party?”

Luna smiled. “We’re celebrating a plentiful harvest. Gadd be praised.”

“Oh,” said Danielle, “Of course. Let me tell Mother—”

“You’re a grown woman,” said Luna, “You don’t have to have your mother’s permission.”

Danielle hesitated. “I suppose you’re right. Very well. Lead the way.”

She followed the trio through the woods, scanning the area for signs of wildlife. She could hear birds and crickets chirping, along with the low croaking of frogs somewhere in the distance. The sun was setting, and the eye of Cavilthura was just beginning to open, shining down upon them with its ethereal light. They wandered through the woods until they reached a clearing, wherein a large group was gathered around a fire, laughing and talking amongst themselves. The group murmured curiously to one another when they noticed the raven-haired stranger.

“Everyone, this is Danielle,” said Malcolm, “She’s the Queen’s daughter.”

This really drew the interest of the crowd, as they were now all staring at her in a mix of awe and disbelief, silently judging whether or not she looked like her mother. She did, in fact, and in their eyes, that made her all the more attractive. There was one pair of eyes, however, who didn’t need to look at her to see just how beautiful she was.

Danielle, having never been to a party, wasn’t exactly a social butterfly. She was completely on-edge, stuttering her way through conversations she didn’t know how to have.

‘Where are you from?’

‘Are you married?’

‘What’s the Queen like?’

She was from nowhere, yet everywhere all at once. She hadn’t even considered marriage, for she never settled down long enough to give it much thought. Describing the Queen was a difficult task. All she knew was that the Queen was her mother, and a kind, loving one at that. Nothing else mattered, at least, not in her mind.

Thankfully, the Gods seemed to take pity on her by leading the other partygoers away from her, and guiding her to the quiet woman standing on the sidelines. Danielle felt drawn to this woman like a moth to a flame, unable to stop staring at those mysterious, milky eyes. This woman was blind, she soon realized.

“Hello,” said the blind woman, surprising the brunette, “My name is Kulamaine, but most people call me Kula. Danielle, I presume?”

“Yes,” said the former thief, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Kula smirked a bit. “Is it, now? I don’t believe we’ve quite met one another yet. We can’t exactly say whether our acquaintance is well-received. Well, I can assure you, Miss Danielle, that yours most certainly is. You have a very warm aura, yet I sense a storm brewing within you. Your heart is racing like a stallion with its tail on fire. You feel immense guilt. I can feel it flowing off of you in waves. You are also overcome with a great sense of loss, and of humiliation. Why is that, Miss?”

Danielle was stunned. “H-How do you know all this? Are you a seer?”

Kula chuckled. “I assure you, Miss, I am definitely not a seer. I do not see, for I am blind. I sense aura. So, too, do I rely upon my other senses. I hear the apprehension in your voice and the pounding in your chest. I smell the sweat on your brow and the honey mead upon your breath. I imagine your lips taste just as sweet. Shall we test that theory?”

“I— I’ve never—”

“Never what? Kissed anyone?”

“No,” Danielle said quietly, “Never upon the lips, anyway.”

“Would you like to?”

Danielle hesitated, unsure how to respond. She studied the blind woman carefully. Kula was an older woman, likely in her forties. Maybe even her fifties. It was hard to tell. She had tan skin and dirty-blonde hair, tied back in a tight bun with her bangs hanging loosely to the left. She was still smirking, though Danielle couldn’t quite understand why.

“I— I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” said Kula, “I’m not easily offended. Being blind has given me pretty thick skin. Before you say anything else, I already know what you’re going to ask me. You want to know if I was always blind, or if I was cursed. The answer is yes. Yes to all of it. I’ve never been able to see. It happened because my parents couldn’t pay their taxes to a local warlord called Bo-Peep. They stood up to her, and she took her wrath out on me because of it. You might think I’ve suffered all my life, and you’d be right, but it’s got nothing to do with me being blind. I get along just fine— even better than most, actually. I may not be able to see things the way you do, but you certainly don’t see things the way I do.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

Kula’s smirk softened into a genuine smile. It was almost sullen. “Because, Miss Danielle, I sense great potential in you. I sense the Gods hold you high in their favor. If anyone has been blessed, it is you.”

“How am I blessed?”

“You have every reason to hate, and yet you choose to love. That takes great strength. It takes courage. It is easier to hate someone than to love them, and you have still made the difficult decision. I am now certain that it is, in fact, nice to meet you. It seems the feeling is mutual.”

“You’re incredible,” Danielle said, completely enamored with this blind stranger. “I’ve never met anyone who does what you do. Read people, I mean.”

“Why thank you, Miss. I must admit, I’m touched.” Kula placed a hand on Danielle’s knee, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I do hope you enjoy your stay here, Danielle, however short it may be. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go home and rest. Tomorrow, the entire village will celebrate this year’s harvest. I hope to see you again, Miss Danielle.”

She turned away from the crowd, offering the young brunette a small smile.

“Welcome to Grimsbane.”

Chapter Text

Regina was pacing back and forth, always stopping to look out the window each time she passed it. She was wringing her hands behind her back and biting her lip to the point of bleeding.

“Regina, why don’t you just come back to bed?”

The brunette looked to her wife with tears in her eyes. “Because, Emma, she just disappeared without saying anything. If she isn’t back within the hour, I’m going after her, and I swear, if I see so much as a scratch on that girl, there will be hell to pay.”

“I’m sure she’s fine,” said Emma, “I heard the innkeeper saying something about a party. Maybe that’s where she is.”

“She could have at least told me where she was going, damn it!” Regina snapped.

She was immediately overcome with remorse when she saw the shock on her wife’s face. She hung her head in shame and let out a heavy sigh.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m just worried, is all. I only just found Danielle. I won’t lose her again.”

Emma offered her a look of sympathy. “If she isn’t back soon, I’ll help you look for her, alright? I can’t stand seeing you upset, babe.”

Regina smiled softly, sauntering back towards the bed to plant a soft kiss upon her wife’s lips.

“Thank you, Emma. You don’t know how much that means to me.”

Emma was quick to return the smile. “I have a pretty good idea.”

Before either of them could say anything else, they heard laughter outside and hurried over to the window to find Danielle wandering back towards the inn with three other people— a man and two women. They were stumbling around, visibly drunk, even in the darkness, and both the women were clinging to Danielle, showering her face and neck with an abundance of sloppy kisses.

Regina was fuming. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It left a sickly feeling in her stomach. Her fists tightened and her jaw clenched in rage. Emma looked at her in concern, sensing the anger flowing off of her in fiery waves.

“Gina?”

“Look at them,” the Queen hissed, “taking advantage of my daughter like she’s some kind of harlot.”

“Come on, Regina, you’ve never had a drunken fling?”

“No, Emma, I’ve never had a ‘drunken fling!’” she said bitterly, “If I find out they laid so much as a finger on her without her consent, there will truly be hell to pay.”

She vanished before Emma could even react, reappearing before the inebriated partygoers in a plume of purple mist. The four of them froze mid-step, gaping at her like deer in the headlights. Even in the shadows, Regina could see that Danielle was paler than normal, and that her eyes were dilated.

“Danielle,” the Queen said quietly, though the anger in her voice was evident, “go inside. Now.”

The two women were visibly disappointed when the young brunette pulled away from them, stepping closer to the Queen. Danielle was overwhelmed with remorse when she saw the look of disapproval on her mother’s face.

“Mother, I—”

“Go,” Regina said, a bit more firmly this time, “I’ll speak with you in a moment.”

She watched Danielle head back inside before turning back to the drunken trio. She raised her head, peering down her nose at them in contempt.

“What did you do to my daughter?”

“W-What? Nothing,” said Luna, “We just invited her to a party, is all. Tomorrow’s the Harvest Celebration.”

“She’s drunk,” said the Queen, “and I saw you and your friend here putting your mouths all over her. You had best tell me the truth, because you don’t want me to have to force it out of you. Did any of you, or anyone else, take advantage of her?”

Malcolm was furious. “Your Majesty, you can’t seriously be suggesting—”

Regina arched an eyebrow at the man, silencing him. “Oh, I am ‘seriously suggesting.’ Did you, or did you not, have your way with my daughter? Because if I find out you did, you had best believe that I’m going to cut it off.”

Malcolm’s face paled. “I-It? Oh, Gods,” he uttered, “I’m telling you, Your Majesty, it wasn’t like that! We would never do such a thing! I swear!”

“Swear upon your Gods,” said Regina, “That way I can be sure. If you make a false oath in the name of the Gods, they will surely strike you down.”

“I swear, in the name of Gadd, and in the name of Rig, that neither I, nor anyone else, defiled your daughter. Please, Your Majesty, we’re telling you the truth! Just ask Danielle!”

“I most certainly will,” said the Queen, “and if so much as a word of her story is different than yours, the wrath of the Gods will pale in comparison to mine. That I swear.”

She folded her arms over her chest, looking at the three of them expectantly.

“Now then,” she said, “Why don’t you tell me your names? Know that if you don’t, I’ll find out anyway.”

The young man swallowed. “M-Malcolm,” he said, “Malcolm Jacobson.”

The Queen nodded, looking to the blonde next to him. “And you?”

“Luna Jacobs, Your Majesty.”

“Ah, so you’re siblings, then? I thought you two looked alike.” Regina turned to the brunette. “And what about you?”

“This is Vega Michaels,” said Luna.

“I believe I asked her,” said the Queen.

“She’s deaf,” Luna explained.

“Oh. I see. Apologies.”

“So, what now?” asked Malcolm.

“Now? I don’t care what you do,” said Regina, “so long as you stay away from my daughter.”

Luna frowned. “We didn’t do anything to her, Your Majesty. We were just having fun, is all.”

Malcolm nodded in agreement. “Aye. Besides, she’s not a child. She can make her own choices—”

He was quickly silenced by a glare from the Queen.

“You listen here, Mr. Jacobson,” she hissed, “it took me thirty-eight years to find that girl, and if you think for a second that I’m going to let anything happen to her, you’re dead wrong. I’m not about to let you tell me how to be a parent. This conversation is over.”

She vanished before any of them could even think to react.

---

“Mother, please, it was just a party!”

“You could have told me where you were going, Danielle!”

“I didn’t think it would matter! I’m an adult!”

“I don’t care!” Regina snapped. There were tears in her eyes. “It doesn’t matter how old you are! You’re still my daughter! I was afraid something terrible might have happened to you! Please, Danielle, don’t just run off like that! I wish you had told me before you left with those people, whom you only just met! What if they had taken advantage of you? What if they had done to you what the King did to me?”

Danielle’s eyes widened. “Mother! You really think they would do such a thing?”

“I don’t know, Danielle! I don’t know them, or anything about them, and neither do you!”

“They didn’t do anything like that!”

“I saw those little harlots putting their filthy mouths all over you! Gods above, Danielle, you’re covered in lipstick!”

“It was just kissing!”

“And did you want it?”

“What?”

“Did you want them to kiss you? Or did they take without asking?”

“I— well— I didn’t ask them to, but—”

“Then they violated you.”

“No! It wasn’t like that at all!”

“Then what was it, Danielle? You didn’t want it, and they did it anyway!”

“I never said I didn’t want it! I just didn’t ask them to! I also didn’t ask them not to! Did you see me protesting?”

“You’re drunk!” Regina argued, “You can’t consent!”

“Well, so are they! That means they can’t, either!”

The Queen opened her mouth to retort, but promptly shut it. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Danielle had a point. That, she couldn’t deny. She sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of her nose in sheer frustration.

“Danielle, please,” she whispered, “I’m just worried about you. I don’t know what I would do if I lost you again. You have to understand how terrifying that was, not knowing where you were.”

“I’m fine, Mother. I promise.”

“You’re sure nothing happened?”

“Just the kissing,” said Danielle, “but I don’t consider that being violated.”

“It is if you aren’t sober.”

“They aren’t sober, either. Does that mean they violated themselves?”

Regina just shook her head. “I was hoping you would understand,” she murmured, “Perhaps you will in the morning.”

Danielle frowned in confusion. “What happens in the morning?”

“You’re probably going to feel as though you’ve been trampled by horses.”

---

Regina awoke to the sound of someone vomiting outside. She slowly made her way to the window and found Danielle emptying the contents of her stomach out onto the grass. The young brunette was hugging herself tightly, clearly miserable. Once there was nothing left in her stomach, she began to dry-heave. It was at this point that the Queen realized her daughter was in tears.

“Danielle?” Regina asked softly.

Danielle turned to find her mother looking at her in concern. She panted heavily, wiping away her tears with the back of her hand.

“M-Mother.”

“How are you feeling?”

Danielle groaned. “Like I’ve been trampled by horses.”

“Come back inside, darling. I’ll make you a potion.”

“What kind of potion?”

“The kind that gets rid of hangovers.”

Danielle let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank the Gods.”

Chapter Text

This Harvest Celebration was actually quite the ordeal, as it turned out. The entire village was in attendance, from what Danielle could see. But she couldn’t see Kula. Then again, Kula couldn’t see her, either. At least, not in the traditional way.

Just about all the adults and teenagers— and even some of the children— were drinking, but Danielle would have none of it. She couldn’t understand why anyone would willingly poison themselves. Was it supposed to be fun? Having a hangover certainly wasn’t. She’d never had one before, nor would she ever again. That potion may have taken away her pain, but it didn’t take away the memory of said pain.

Danielle was watching from the sidelines, standing alongside Henry and enjoying a bit of honeycomb. There were people dancing in the street. Several young women were throwing flower petals around, while others were going around giving people crowns made from white lilies or wild berries. From what Danielle could see, it was the women who got the flowers and the men who got the berries. Such was the case with her and Henry.

“Are you gonna dance, too?” asked Henry.

A light blush crept onto Danielle’s cheeks. “I’m afraid I don’t know how.”

“Do you wanna learn?”

“That’s alright, Henry. Thank you.”

Henry smiled. “You’re welcome. Let me know if you change your mind.”

Danielle was quick to return the smile. “I certainly will.”

The entire crowd suddenly fell silent as a man up front began blowing into a curved horn. He was an older man, likely no more than sixty. His hair was thin and gray, and he had a goatee. His eyes were dark green, like the forest, and beneath them were dark circles. He sounded just as tired as he looked. He cleared his throat.

“Welcome, one and all, to this year’s Harvest Celebration,” he announced. His voice was like granite. “First thing’s first, the High Priestess shall select one of you to light the pyre.”

Hushed murmurs arose from the crowd, but quickly faded back into silence when the Herald led a middle-aged woman in a red shawl up onto the platform behind him. Danielle’s eyes widened. It was Kulamaine.

Kula was the High Priestess? That certainly explained the unusual abilities she’d displayed the previous night. Why had she been at the party? Why hadn’t anyone made a big deal out of her being there? It certainly seemed to be a big deal now. Danielle couldn’t make sense of it.

“Welcome, people of Grimsbane,” said Kula, “and welcome, travelers, to the Harvest Celebration. Praised be the mighty Gadd for blessing us with such a bountiful harvest this season. Let us begin this sacred feast by selecting one of you fine people to ignite the Sacrificial Pyre.”

She scanned the silent crowd, despite not being able to see a single one of them. They didn’t question this, for she was the High Priestess, and there was always a reason for her actions, no matter how miniscule. A soft smile graced her lips.

“This year, the honor shall go to,” she paused, “Danielle, daughter of Queen Regina.”

Danielle’s eyes nearly burst from her skull. Her heart was pounding like a violent war-drum, and her entire body was shaking uncontrollably. She had no idea what was going on, but with the crowd ushering her forward, she felt she had no choice but to obey. She reluctantly made her way up to the front of the crowd, where she found herself face to face with the High Priestess.

Kula’s smile widened. “Hello again, Miss Danielle.”

“H-Hello,” the brunette said sheepishly, “What’s going on here? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Worry not,” said Kula, “All you have to do is fire a flaming arrow into the logs behind me.”

“That’s it?”

The Priestess nodded. “That’s it.”

“Very well,” said Danielle, “I am a very skilled archer.”

“Which is precisely why I chose you.”

“You mean you already knew? How?”

“I saw it in a vision,” Kula explained, “but that isn’t all I saw.”

Danielle frowned in confusion. “What—”

“Come, Miss,” said the older woman, “Light the Sacrificial Pyre.”

The Herald handed Danielle a sturdy bow, which she took tentatively, and led her behind the platform where dozens of logs were stacked carefully together. The crowd came around to watch in anticipation. The Herald then presented the brunette with an arrow.

“Isn’t it supposed to be on fire?” asked Danielle.

“It’s enchanted,” said the Herald, “Once you release it, it will catch fire.”

Danielle just nodded, drawing back the arrow in the sturdy bowstring. She aimed carefully at the logs before letting go. The Herald was right. The second she fired it, the arrowhead ignited and pierced the logs, which went up in flames almost immediately. She was stunned, having never seen anything burn so quickly. The crowd cheered her name, filling her with an overwhelming sense of pride. She turned when she felt a hand on her shoulder and found Kulamaine smiling warmly at her.

“Well done, Miss,” the older woman murmured, “I knew you could do it.”

Danielle returned the smile, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Thank you.”

Kula clapped her hands together in delight. “Now then,” she said, addressing the crowd, “I’d like all of you to throw something into the Pyre, as a sacrifice to Gadd in return for his generosity. Know that it doesn’t have to be much, but anyone who fails to throw something will risk enduring the wrath of the Gods.”

Everyone in the crowd began hurling things into the flames— mainly food, from what Danielle could see, but also flowers and coins. Danielle began to fret, for she had nothing to throw. She’d already eaten her honeycomb, and her pockets were empty. The gentle hand upon her arm helped to ease her nerves.

“Relax, Miss,” Kula assured, “It was you who lit the Pyre. You’re the only one who doesn’t have to throw anything.”

“Oh,” said Danielle, “Right.”

Kula chuckled softly before flipping a coin of solid gold into the fire. Danielle gaped at her in awe. None of the other villagers had thrown in gold. Hell, she’d never seen anyone throw away their gold. Once again, Kulamaine proved to be some sort of mind reader.

“I am well-off in the way of gold, Miss, though I feel shameful for confessing it. I care little for wealth or glory, but I must admit, it is an honor to be able to give back to the Gods, and to my fellow man.”

“You never told me you were a Priestess,” said Danielle.

A slight smirk graced Kula’s lips. “You never asked,” she said, “Besides, it certainly didn’t take you long to find out, now did it?”

“No,” Danielle acknowledged, “I just didn’t see it coming.”

“Understandable. Why don’t you come and visit me at the Temple tonight? I would truly appreciate the company.”

Danielle’s smile was genuine this time. “That sounds nice,” she said, “I’ll try to be there, though Mother may not allow it. She was upset with me for going to that party last night. I don’t regret going. I just regret scaring her the way I did. I never meant for her to worry so.”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” said Kula, “but we all do things we later regret. It’s just a part of life. We’re only human, after all.”

---

“I’m going to the Temple, Mother,” said Danielle, “I want to speak with Kula.”

"Kula?" 

“Kulamaine, the High Priestess.”

“Since when are you and the Priestess on a first-name basis?”

“Since last night.”

“Last night?”

“Yes, at the party.”

“Why was the High Priestess at a party?”

Danielle shrugged. “I don’t know, but it was almost like she was expecting me. She seems to know quite a bit about me. It’s strange. It’s like she can read my mind or something. She said she wasn’t a seer, but I have my doubts about that.”

“And you’re just going to the Temple, right? Nowhere else?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Very well,” said the Queen, “Just promise me you’ll be back before sunrise.”

Danielle nodded. “Of course, Mother.”

Regina planted a light kiss upon her daughter’s cheek. “I love you, Danielle. I’m sorry if I overreacted last night.”

“It’s alright,” said the young brunette, “I understand now, but I also want you to know that I never meant to upset you.”

“I’m sure you didn’t, lambkin. You may go to the Temple now. Give my regards to the Priestess.”

Danielle smiled. “I will. I promise,” she said, “Goodnight, Mother.”

“Goodnight, my little Princess.”

---

The sun had already set while Danielle was on her way to the Temple. When she arrived, she found Kula standing in the archway, smiling warmly in her direction.

“I was hoping you would come,” said the Priestess, “I sense you’re nervous. You have no reason to be, I assure you. Please, come in. I have tea on the stove. There is much we need to discuss, Miss.”

Danielle blinked, puzzled. “About what, exactly?”

“We’ll get to that in a moment. I don’t want to overwhelm you.”

Danielle followed the woman reluctantly, maintaining a slow pace as Kula felt her way down the dimly-lit corridor.

“So, Miss Danielle,” Kula said as they entered the small kitchen across from the sanctuary, “what do you think of Grimsbane? Did you enjoy the celebration?”

“It seems like a very nice place,” said the brunette, “and yes, I found it refreshing. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Up until I met Mother, I never stayed in one place long enough to attend a party. I feel honored that you chose me to light the Pyre. Thank you, Kula.”

“No, thank you,” replied the Priestess, “It pleases me greatly that you accepted my invitation, Miss. You have no idea how special you are.”

She poured them each a cup of hot tea and carefully handed one to Danielle, who accepted it with a smile.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, Miss,” said Kula, “I have seen things— visions from the Gods— within my dreams. I have seen you as you are now, and I have seen the woman you could have been, had the King not stolen you away.”

Danielle’s smile fell, swiftly replaced by a look of uncertainty. “Who are you, really? You claim you aren’t a seer, yet you know so much about me and my personal life. Too much, in fact. That’s beginning to worry me.”

“Don’t be frightened, Danielle,” Kula said softly, “You have no reason to be afraid. Certainly not of me. I began having these visions long before you arrived. There isn’t much I don’t know about you. I know of your struggles, most notably your difficulty when it comes to reading. I can help you with that, you know, if you’ll let me.”

“R-Really?”

“Yes, dear.”

“How?”

“Why, it’s simple, really,” Kula said, gesturing to the tea. “Just add magic.”

Chapter Text

Emma gasped and moaned as Regina took her from behind, squeezing her hips tightly and fucking her at an almost merciless pace. As she and her wife rocked together on the creaking bed, Emma had never been more grateful for silencing spells. Regina leaned down and bit rather harshly at her sensitive earlobe, making her whimper.

“Do you like this, my love? Do you enjoy having your Queen fuck you with her big, leather cock?”

“Oh God, yes!” Emma said, groaning.

“What would you say if I told you I could turn it into a real cock? Hm? Would you like that?”

“Fuck, that’s hot.”

“Answer me, Emma, and be honest. How would you feel if I had a real cock? If I came inside you? Is that something you would be interested in? Would you like me to make you a mommy again?”

“Oh f-fuck,” Emma breathed, “Oh, FUCK! God, why does that sound so fucking hot?!”

Regina gave a rough smack to her wife’s ass, causing the blonde to yelp.

“You had best answer your Queen, my darling, lest you wish for another spanking.”

Emma moaned. “Fuck, I don’t know. I don’t think I can handle childbirth again, but goddamn, you are so fucking sexy.”

“What if I was the one to carry a child, then?” whispered Regina.

“W-What? But you can’t—”

“I know, darling, but perhaps there’s a way to undo it. I could always talk to that Priestess Danielle seems so enamored with.”

“What Priestess?”

“The High Priestess, Kulamaine,” said the brunette, “Danielle spoke of her rather fondly. I sense there may be more to their friendship than meets the eye.”

“You think Danielle has it bad for the Priestess?”

“Perhaps,” said Regina, “but not nearly as bad as I have it for you, my love.”

She emphasized her words with a sharp thrust, making Emma gasp in pleasure. She slapped her wife’s ass once again, without warning.

“Gods above, you have such a perfect ass,” she groaned, “I’d love to see just how much it can take.”

“Ah, sorry, babe,” Emma said, shifting awkwardly, “I’m not really into that.”

She could sense her wife’s disappointment, but to her surprise, Regina didn’t say anything else about the matter.

“Apologies,” whispered the Queen, “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine, Gina, really,” said Emma, “I’m glad you at least warned me before you tried anything like that.”

Regina gave a tight smile. “I just wanted you to have a choice in the matter. I never did.”

Emma stiffened. She felt like she had ice in her veins. She turned to peer over her shoulder at her wife, who had pulled away from her and was now moving to gaze out the window.

“There’s a full moon tonight.”

Emma couldn’t help but notice Regina’s bare ass. She licked her lips. “I’ll say,” she teased, hoping to lighten the mood a bit. She moved to lie on her back when Regina turned around to face her, and met the brunette’s solemn gaze with a look of concern.

“You alright, babe?”

Regina made her way back to the bed without a word, discarding the leather cock with a wave of her hand and climbing silently beneath the sheets. She kissed Emma softly on the lips.

“Just thinking of a time when I couldn’t defend myself,” she murmured.

“I’m sorry, Regina,” Emma said quietly, lacing their fingers together, “I wish there was something I could do to make you feel better.”

Regina smiled, but it was genuine this time. “You make me feel better simply by being here, my little duck.”

She fell into Emma’s loving embrace, reveling in the warmth and comfort it provided her as she drifted off to sleep with her head on her wife’s chest. She had her ear pressed over Emma’s heart. The steady beat was what ultimately led her to the waiting arms of Saran.

“I love you, Emma,” she mumbled.

Emma smiled. “Love you, too, babe.”

---

Danielle sipped her tea in silence, staring absently into the dancing flames before her. They were almost hypnotic, drawing her focus to them as though she was a moth. Kula was sitting in the chair to her left, also drinking the hot tea, but with a calm smile.

“Your soul is at war with itself,” Kula said out of the blue.

“What?”

“The two halves of your heart are battling for dominance, when they should be in balance. You are struggling, Miss Danielle. Terribly so. You seem at a loss as to who you are, who you should be, and who you believe you want to be.”

“Who I should be? What is that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it sounds like,” said Kula, “You were never meant to be raised by the man called Robin Hood, and yet it is the only life you have ever known.”

“Was it not the will of the Gods?”

“Not in this case, no. It was the work of evil spirits that led you to be taken from the Queen. I have seen visions of you— a different version of you— in another land, much like our own, but where the timeline flows in a different direction. In this other realm, you were never taken from Her Majesty, though the both of you still suffer immensely. Although you are together, it seems far worse a fate than the one that played out in this realm.”

“How can it be worse?”

“In this other world, your mother never met the Dark One, which means she never became the Evil Queen. The only magic she learned was crafting potions, which she used on the King. Other than that, she was completely helpless to stop him from tormenting her.”

“What about me? He really didn’t try having me killed?”

“Not in this alternate timeline, though he wished he had.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“Because, Miss,” said Kula, “soon, the world as we know it will cease to exist.”

Danielle frowned. “What does that mean, Kula? What are you saying? Speak clearly.”

“When the winter solstice arrives, the planets will align, and the two realms will become one.”

“What?! How can that be?!”

“I have foreseen it,” replied the Priestess, “The Gods have spoken.”

“I don’t understand. Why is this happening? What is the cause?”

Kula shook her head. “That, I do not know. We may never understand why, Miss Danielle,” she said, “but we must be prepared for the coming solstice.”

Chapter Text

Emma was downstairs in the tavern gambling with the pirates while Henry sat in the corner, drawing on a piece of parchment. He saw someone approaching from his peripheral and looked up to see the Captain walking towards him with a seemingly-kind smile.

“Hello, lad,” said the dark-haired man, “You mind if I sit?”

Henry was a bit uncertain, but figured he would be safe considering Emma was only a few feet away, and the Captain was unarmed.

“Okay,” he said.

Killian took a seat across from the boy and peered curiously at the parchment.

“What’s that you’re drawing?”

“This is Thor,” said Henry, “He’s the God of Thunder.”

The Captain raised an eyebrow at this. “I’ve never heard of such a God.”

“Well, where I come from, he’s an ancient God. I don’t think people worship him anymore. At least, not a lot of them.”

“Interesting. You’re quite the artist.”

“Thank you.”

“And so well-mannered. I would expect no less from the Queen’s boy. You seem to make her very happy. I’m glad. I’d say she deserves to be happy more than anyone. She’s been through so much.”

“How come you know so much about her?”

“We worked together from time to time. We had an arrangement where she would give me a certain amount of gold each month, and in return, I wouldn’t raid her ports.”

“So you blackmailed her?”

Killian chuckled. “I suppose that’s the right word for it.”

“That’s not very nice.”

The Captain shrugged. “Perhaps not,” he said, “but what can I say? I was a pirate.”

“Was?”

“I took a page out of your mother’s book and changed my ways. I haven’t plundered or pillaged in ages.”

“But you still call yourself a Captain?”

“My men call me Captain,” said Killian, “Old habits die hard.”

“Why did you want to come with us?”

“I was hoping to make amends with the Queen, though I was also hoping to return with you to your ‘Godstown’ so that I could pay proper respects at the Huntsman’s grave.”

Henry’s eyes widened in surprise. “You knew the Huntsman?”

“Aye. Only for a night.” There was sorrow in the Captain’s eyes, though he maintained his smile.

“Were you friends?”

“Not quite,” said the former-pirate, “though we certainly weren’t foes.”

Henry wasn’t sure what the Captain meant, but he didn’t question it any further. He simply shrugged and continued to draw. Once again, he became lost in his own little world as he filled in the lines and shaded when necessary.

Killian studied the drawing curiously, genuinely impressed, as he’d never been able to draw all that well. It was difficult enough, having to learn how to write with his right hand. He had always used his left hand until that damned Crocodile had severed it at the wrist. After a few minutes of watching the boy draw, Killian stood up without so much as a word and walked to the counter.

“More rum, Captain?” asked the innkeeper.

Killian shook his head. “Make it mead,” he replied, setting a copper coin onto the counter. “I’m afraid rum just isn’t going to cut it, this time.”

“Sure thing.”

---

Regina stormed into the temple with fury blazing in her eyes. A young priestess happened to notice her when she entered the sanctuary and offered her a kind smile.

“Greetings, Your Majesty. Have you come to worship?”

“Perhaps another time,” said Regina, “I’m looking for my daughter, Danielle. Have you seen her?”

The priestess’ eyes lit up. “Ah, Miss Danielle? Why yes. She is in the guest quarters.”

“She stayed here all night?”

“As far as I am aware, yes. Shall I fetch her for you?”

“That would be much appreciated, thank you.”

The young priestess nodded. “Of course, Your Majesty.”

She turned and went back the way she came, rounding the corner. It was about five minutes before she returned. Had it been any longer, Regina would have become agitated and gone to find her. The Queen was not a patient woman.

Finally, the young priestess returned with Danielle in tow, and what Regina saw left her speechless. Danielle was wearing a crown made of leaves and berries, as well as a simple yet elegant red dress. Her lips were painted red to match. She was barefoot. Her arms and legs were covered in intricate, swirling patterns which resembled dark vines. Her eyes held an inexplicable haze. She seemed as though she was in some sort of trance.

“Danielle?” Regina asked worriedly, “Are you alright?”

The young brunette grinned. “Of course, Mother. Never better.”

“What is that you’re wearing? And what’s with the markings?”

“It’s a dress the priestesses wear,” said Danielle, “and the markings are supposed to enhance my magic.”

“And what about that crown?”

“It’s to honor Gadd. Doesn’t it look beautiful?”

“Yes, darling, but what’s wrong with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You seem, I don’t know, out of it. Have you been drinking again?”

“Just herbal tea,” Danielle replied, swaying a bit.

“Right,” said Regina, “and what sort of ‘herbs’ were in this tea?”

Danielle shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said, “but I’m absolutely famished.”

Regina pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration, already having a pretty good idea what her daughter had ingested.

“Alright, let’s go,” she said, leaving no room for debate, “You’re coming with me to the inn, and you’re going to stay there until we leave tomorrow.”

“What? But we just got here!”

“We didn’t come here to get high, Danielle. We came to purchase more livestock. We leave first thing in the morning.”

Chapter Text

They had returned to Godstown two days prior. Regina was in the center of the village with Danielle and a dozen young men and women, all of whom were familiar with carpentry, on some level or another. Among them were Johan and Luca, who were both desperate to help construct the new temple, not only to honor the Gods, but also their late father, who had been a deeply spiritual man.

“I don’t understand why you can’t just use magic to build it, Mother,” said Danielle.

Regina smiled. “The Gods blessed us with good, strong hands, Danielle. We’ve got to use them every now and then. Otherwise, we are taking them for granted. If you do not use your hands, then you might as well lose them.”

It was midday when everyone decided they needed a break, and so Danielle went to visit her brothers, who had taken up refuge in her mother’s house. When she entered the main room, she found them resting before the fire. Seeing this brought a smile to her face. Her presence seemed to draw them out of their slumber, as they all began waking up one by one. Roland was the first to wake.

“’Cadia!”

The boy jumped up and ran to her, clinging to her legs as if never planning to let go. Danielle chuckled and ruffled his curly hair playfully.

“I’ve missed you, Roland,” she told him, “How have you been?”

“Great! We got shells from the beach!”

He gestured to the various piles of seashells all lined up in front of the fireplace. It seemed the boys had all sorted out the shells they’d gathered individually. Danielle’s smile widened, even more so when the other boys came to greet her.

“Father said he misses you,” said Tucker, “He’s been really sad ever since you left.”

Hearing this made Danielle’s face fall. “Where is he?” she asked quietly.

She hadn’t seen Robin Hood since she revoked him as her father. She hadn’t even thought about the man, certainly not when she was busy getting drunk on mead and high on herbal tea. He hadn’t been bound to the tree where he was when she last saw him. Where could he possibly have been?

“He went hunting a few days ago,” said Mathias.

Harlan nodded in agreement. “He went with the nice ladies. They said the village was running low on meat, so they invited him to help them get more.”

“Did you say he’s been gone a few days? Hunting never takes him that long,” said Danielle, feeling physically ill all of a sudden. The color drained from her face.

“What’s the matter, ‘Cadia?” asked Roland, “Are you sick?”

“No, it’s just— something isn’t right here,” she uttered.

She bade her brothers goodbye before venturing back outside and making her way towards her mother, who was chatting with Emma and Henry while the three of them enjoyed lunch. The Queen looked up to find Danielle wearing a mask of worry and immediately became concerned.

“Danielle? Sweetheart? What is it?”

“I just learned that my— that Robin— went hunting several days ago and has yet to return. I feel like something is wrong,” said the young brunette, “so very, very wrong.”

Regina stood up and went to comfort her daughter with a tight embrace. “Don’t worry, my darling. I’m sure he’s fine. Perhaps he’s tracking down a stag right this second.”

Danielle shook her head. “No, I have this awful gut-feeling. Something has happened. I don’t know what, but it isn’t good. It’s truly beginning to frighten me. Please, Mother, we’ve got to find him. I know he did despicable things, and that I renounced him as my father, but at the end of the day, he’s still the man who raised me. I fear something may have happened to him. I just have to know.”

“Very well,” said Regina, “I will not keep you from him, though I am sure everything is fine. Wait here, darling. I will find him.”

She summoned a small mirror to her hand, and within it, the image of Robin Hood appeared. She gasped at the sight in utter shock and horror. The man was barely conscious, hanging upside-down with both eyes bruised and swollen shut, and blood dripping down his face and chest. His feet were bound together, strung up by a rope which was tied to a sturdy tree branch. The other women from the village were surrounding him with looks of disgust, hatred, and primal rage.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

“It is because of you, Robin Hood, that our husbands and our brothers were massacred!” declared one of the women, a scowling, middle-aged blonde with a bow and arrow.

“What do you have to say for yourself, you fiend?” demanded another.

Robin’s lips parted and he let out a quiet groan. “A-Arcadia,” he rasped, “Forgive me.”

---

Regina transported herself where Robin was being held prisoner, startling the angry women. They turned to face the Queen in shock. She was alone. She wouldn’t dare bring Danielle to witness a sight so gruesome.

“Y-Your Majesty!”

Regina was furious. “What is the meaning of this?!”

The women were visibly taken aback.

“We’re seeking vengeance,” said the middle-aged blonde, Tabitha, “for our husbands, our brothers, and our sons.”

“That’s right!” said another.

“Yeah!”

Regina’s eyes scanned the group warily. “I understand where you’re coming from, believe me, I do, but this is not going to bring them back,” she said, her voice full of remorse, “Besides, the man responsible for their senseless deaths is currently mutilated beyond recognition, hanging in the village.”

“If it hadn’t been for Robin, the King never would have attacked us!” Tabitha protested.

Regina looked at her sympathetically.

“That may be true, but again, the King is dead. Robin is by no means an innocent man, but doing this makes you no better. Don’t you see? You cannot fight hatred with more hatred and expect to come out victorious. Vengeance is not necessarily about physical harm. If you truly seek revenge, then let him live. Let him suffer as he wallows in his guilt and self-hatred. Believe me, there is no greater pain than that. I have endured it a thousand times over.”

---

Danielle paced apprehensively as she waited for her mother to return. Something in the distance caught her eye and she turned to see Hook, Henry, and the wolf standing under the tall tree upon the hill, gazing down at the three tombstones that lied before them. She didn’t have to hear them to know what they were saying.

Hook’s eyes were filled with sorrow, though he did not shed tears. Pirate or not, a man like him simply didn’t cry. He wasn’t sure he even knew how. He stared at the tombstone of that rugged Man-Beast he had known so long ago— that wolfish fellow who haunted his dreams— with remorse.

“If you can hear me, Huntsman, know that I have never forgotten you, and that I long for the day when we meet again.”

Henry looked up at the dark-haired man with uncertainty. “Hook?”

“Yes, lad?”

“Do you love him?”

The Captain seemed taken aback. “Love? I— I hadn’t thought of that before. I don’t know if that’s the word I would use,” he said, “but then again, I can’t exactly say it isn’t, either.”

“It’s okay if you do,” said Henry, “Everyone deserves to be happy. Everyone deserves to be with the ones they love. That’s what Mom told me once.”

A faint smile graced the Captain’s lips and he patted the boy’s head ever so gently.

“You’re lucky to have one another,” he said, “You and your mother. Both of them.”

Henry smiled back at him. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Regina cut Robin down and propped him against the tree, running her hands over his wounds and healing them rapidly. The man groaned and his eyes fluttered open, only to widen in horror when he found himself staring face to face with the Evil Queen. He gasped, scrambling away from her, but was quickly apprehended by the women who had tortured him for hours on end.

“Y-Your Majesty!” he cried, “Have mercy!”

Regina sighed as she stood up. “You fool,” she said calmly, “Have I not already shown you mercy? Have I not healed your wounds?”

Robin opened his mouth to speak, but promptly shut it. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, the Queen was right. Regina watched him carefully, studying his features closely as she approached him. She grabbed hold of his stubbled chin and held it firmly.

“You listen to me, Robin Hood,” she said, leaving no room for argument, “You will return with us to Godstown, and you will apologize to Danielle for all the wrongs you have done. Do I make myself clear?”

Robin looked at her as though she’d grown a second head. “Danielle? Who is—”

“Oh, right. You wouldn’t know about that, would you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“That brave, beautiful young woman you once knew as Arcadia Robins has adopted the name she was meant to have,” said Regina, “Danielle Mills.”

“What?! No! I forbid it! I’m her father! I named her!”

“Not according to her, you aren’t,” the Queen retorted, “and even if you were, you have no right to say whether or not she can change her name. Our names are our most personal assets. Pity we don’t get to choose them ourselves. Well, Danielle has made her choice. She has rejected her former name, just as she has rejected you. I do not think ill of you, Robin, despite what you believe. All I want is for you to give a genuine apology to my daughter. And for the record— I named her first.”

---

Danielle looked on as Emma placed the ornate rosary over the Captain’s neck.

“I know you don’t believe in Jesus, and neither did the Huntsman, but when I knew him, he was Graham Humbert, the kind, god-fearing man,” said Emma, “He wanted me to have it because he cared about me, but I didn’t know the real him. You did, though. I always know when someone is lying, and you, Captain, aren’t. I want you to have this. I think he would have, too.”

A sad smile graced the Captain’s lips. “Thank you, lass,” he said softly, holding the crucifix in his hand. “This is very beautiful, though I know not what it means. Could you explain it to me? Please? I wish to know more about this ‘Jesus.’”

“His full name is Jesus Christ. He was the son of God,” Emma explained, “Born of the Virgin Mary. He could walk on water, and turn water into wine. He preached peace and love across the land, and because of this, he was betrayed by his friend Judas. His hands and feet were nailed to a cross, and he was crucified. That’s what the crucifix represents. I’m not particularly religious myself, but it’s said that he died for humanity’s sins and was resurrected three days later. That’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge about Jesus, other than Easter and Christmas, which I think is coming up soon in the other world.”

“Christmas?” asked Hook.

“Most people see it as Jesus’ birthday,” Henry noted, “but he was actually born sometime in the spring. Either way, Christmas is great! You decorate a tree, give each other presents, and spend time together as a family! It’s about togetherness, and celebrating the birth of Christ, but I feel like a lot of people just like the ‘getting’ part.”

Hook chuckled. “Interesting. I know not of this ‘Christmas.’ Only the Winter Solstice.”

“What happens then?” asked Henry.

“Well, everyone embraces each other as a show of good faith, and we make a sacrifice to the Gods,” said the Captain, “After that, the children are sent off to bed while the adults get together and—”

“Okay, slow down there, Captain!” said Emma, “No need to traumatize the kid!”

Again, the Captain chuckled. “Apologies. I’ve not had to hold back my language in many a year.”

Henry looked befuddled. “What were you gonna say?”

Hook locked eyes with Emma, who simply shook her head. He sighed and placed his hand on Henry’s shoulder, giving the boy an awkward smile.

“Sorry, lad. I can’t remember what it was I was saying. Perhaps it will come back to me some other time.”

---

Robin Hood was marched back into Godstown in shackles. The women practically had to drag him along, seeing how he could hardly walk. When Danielle paused from working on the new temple, she was stunned to see the man she’d once called Father, as well as the state he was in.

“Arcadia,” he groaned, “Please, tell me it isn’t true. Tell me you haven’t abandoned me completely!”

That was what snapped Danielle out of her mild trance. Her brows came together in a deep frown as she locked eyes with the rugged-looking man. As much pain as he appeared to be in, the glare she gave him seem to be far more excruciating, though there was no pain greater than the pain he’d put her and her mother through.

“That isn’t my name,” she said bitterly, “Not anymore. Never again.”

“But—”

“No!” Danielle snapped, “You don’t get to speak! As far as I’m concerned, you should be rotting in a dungeon somewhere!”

Robin looked like he’d just been stabbed through the heart, but he said nothing. He just stared at the young woman he had raised as his own with a pleading look, silently begging her to give him another chance, though deep down, he knew it was never going to happen. In trying to bring his family back together, he had only driven them further apart.

He had screwed it all up. Everything. And now, after all this, his own daughter— though they didn’t share blood— he had lost her entirely. She had rejected him as her father, and now she’d gone and abandoned the name he had given her. Just like that. The name he had deemed perfect, just like her. Arcadia. That mythical place. Magical, even. That ethereal grove where Gods and spirits came together in harmony. He had thought that if there was any chance a mortal could enter the lush forest of legend, it would be her. Of course, he still wanted to believe this, but he wasn’t quite sure what to believe anymore.

Robin had prayed and prayed to the Gods for forgiveness, but it seemed that even they had turned their backs on him. At this point, he accepted the fact that he had forever fallen out of their favor, and it was this notion that brought with it great suffering. He squeezed his eyes shut and hung his head in shame, no longer able to look his daughter in the eye. He couldn’t bring himself to witness the hatred he saw when he met her gaze. Rage burned within those eyes, though they were frigid and blue like ice. It was unsettling. Hell, it was mortifying.

“You’re right,” he whispered.

“What was that?”

“I said you’re right!” Robin snapped, still not meeting Danielle’s angry gaze. “I know now that I messed up! Terribly! I did a horrible thing, and I know you won’t forgive me— much less believe me— but I want you to know that I’m sorry! Truly sorry! All I ask is that you at least consider forgiving me for my sins! The Gods won’t answer my prayers! Between you and them, I’d much rather have your forgiveness! You may not believe it, but I do love you! And I always will! Even if you don’t!”

Danielle’s face was unreadable, but her eyes said it all. Behind her rage was immense, incomprehensible sadness. She opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by a sudden rainstorm. Instead, she simply shook her head and let out a heavy sigh of what sounded like defeat.

“I never did like rain,” she said, “It seems the Gods are weeping.”

She turned away from the man she once knew as her father and faced the woman she now knew as her mother. The anger in her eyes had vanished. Now there was only pain and misery.

“I can’t face him any longer,” she murmured.

Regina cupped Danielle’s face ever so gently. “You don’t have to,” she assured, “but if you change your mind, he’ll be in the brig.”

“The brig? Since when do we—”

Regina snapped her fingers. “Since just now.”

Danielle turned to see a small hut in the center of the village that hadn’t been there before. The women restraining Robin were now dragging him towards it. He was too weak to put up a fight, but he still managed to look at her over his shoulder. They made eye contact, though only for a second, before he turned his head back around and allowed himself to be imprisoned.

Danielle slowly made her way back to the house, with the wolf in tow. Once she was gone, Tabitha approached Regina, having ensured the brig was secure.

“What now, Your Majesty?”

Regina scanned the forest, narrowing her eyes at the half-dead army the Shepherd-King had brought with him. She was certain that most of them had already kicked the bucket. They were still bound tightly to the trees, having been starved for weeks. All they got was a cup of filthy, salty seawater each day (whether they wanted it or not), and perhaps a scrap of bread or two, if they were lucky. The bread was usually stale. Sometimes a bit moldy. The seawater was never clean. If they didn’t starve, they would die of thirst. If they didn’t die of thirst, they would freeze. And if they didn’t freeze, they would succumb to the parasites from the contaminated seawater.

“Just put them out of their misery.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

“And Tabitha?”

“Yes, Your Majesty?”

Regina’s eyes darkened and her voice lowered. “Next time you plan on dragging that man out into the woods, you had best come to me about it first. That man is a prisoner. I will not have him let loose. I will not risk the lives of my people. Not when half of them are dead because of his reckless actions. Do you understand?”

Tabitha was not afraid, but rather, in awe. “Yes, my Queen,” she rasped, “I understand.”

Regina’s expression turned to one of mirth. “Wonderful.”

And then she turned to go back into her home to prepare dinner for her family, including Danielle’s young brothers. Although they were Robin Hood’s boys, she had no issue with them being under her roof. They were not to blame for the sins of their father. She had to wonder if they even knew the severity of his crimes. Likely not. Either way, they were only children, and Regina Mills was never one to let children go hungry. After dinner, Regina took her wife’s hand and led her to their bedroom, locking the door and sealing the room with a silencing-spell. She and Emma fell onto the bed, laughing in delight as they shared a number of playful kisses.

“I want to ride you,” she breathed, “like a prized steed.”

Emma groaned. “God, you’re amazing.”

Regina simply smirked as she flicked her wrist, making a large, leather strap-on appear around her wife’s hips. Emma’s head fell back and she let out a deep moan of pleasure when a second wave of magic gave the cock sensation.

“That feels so fucking good.”

The Queen climbed her way onto the blonde’s lap and held the cock steady as she lowered herself onto it. They each moaned as she sank down onto the leather cock, enveloping it in her tight pussy. It had been some time since she’d allowed anyone to fuck her like this, but she felt content knowing that the cock was attached to her beautiful wife. Her soul mate. She grabbed onto Emma’s hips as she began to ride the thick leather cock, and Emma reached up to cup her ass.

“God, Regina, you’ve got such a perfect ass,” Emma rasped, “and you’re so fucking tight. I can feel you squeezing me. You’re like a goddamn boa-constrictor.”

Regina couldn’t help but chuckle softly, though it quickly became a moan when she sank back down onto the cock, hitting that sweet spot deep inside her. She bit her lip to keep from crying out, but then she felt Emma thrust almost instinctively and she let out a soft cry of pleasure, throwing her head back in ecstasy.

“Oh, Emma!” she gasped, “That feels divine!"

Emma’s grip on Regina’s ass tightened as she began thrusting more rapidly into that drenched pussy. She could feel it coiling and clenching around her, essentially drawing her in even deeper. She wasn’t sure she could go much deeper, if at all, but she didn’t want to risk hurting her wife. She continued to thrust each time Regina came back down on her temporal cock. It didn’t take much longer for Regina to come, and when she did, Emma could do nothing but gape it her in wonder. Emma’s name escaped her gasping lips in a wanton cry of ecstasy, and her olive skin took on a flushed glow with the intense power of her climax. She was left a writhing, whimpering, sweaty mess as she collapsed onto her wife, panting heavily. Emma’s arms slipped around her gently.

“Finished already?”

It took a moment for Regina to catch her breath. “It’s— It’s been a while,” she murmured, “I haven’t let anyone fuck me like that in nearly forty years.”

She seemed sullen, which troubled her wife.

“Hey,” Emma said softly, “You alright? You wanna talk about anything?”

Regina gave a slow shake her head. “No,” she whispered, “I think I just need to lie here for a little while, in your arms.”

“I’m sorry if I brought up any bad memories.”

Regina squeezed her eyes shut. “You don’t have to apologize, Emma. It wasn’t your fault.”

“No, but I’m still sorry. If I’d have been there, I’d have cut that sorry bastard’s dick off.”

The brunette chuckled a bit darkly. “I like the way you think,” she teased, “Of all the things I regret, not doing that is high on the list.”

“If you could go back and change things, would you?” Emma asked her.

“I don’t know,” Regina said truthfully, “My life has not been an easy one, but if I didn’t go through the things I did, I would never have adopted Henry. I would never have met you. I never would have met my daughter. I think that despite the pain I’ve endured, it was worth it, because not having the three of you would be the worst pain of all.”

Regina lied her head gently on Emma’s chest and closed her eyes, listening to the blonde’s steady heartbeat in content. A faint smile graced her lips when she felt her Knight’s arms tighten around her. She felt protected. She felt at peace. She felt loved.

“I promise, Emma,” she murmured, “we will continue this later. Right now, I just need to rest.”

Emma smiled as she kissed the top of her wife’s head. “Fine by me, my Queen.”

Chapter Text

It had been a full month since Danielle last saw Robin. She couldn’t bring herself to go and visit him in the brig. Her brothers often went to see him, but she refused to so much as speak the man’s name. Just hearing it made her physically ill. She wanted nothing to do with him after the things he’d done to her mother. He may not have whipped the flesh from Regina’s back, but if he hadn’t made a deal with that damned Shepherd-King, none of that would have ever happened in the first place.

The temple had already been completed, and so the troubled young woman found herself kneeling in prayer within the otherwise-empty sanctuary. She hadn’t prayed to the Gods in such a long time. She feared they might not listen to anything she had to say, but she knew she had to at least try. She supposed she could look to Cavilthura for guidance, seeing how that was her mother’s favored deity.

“Please, Sky Goddess, hear my prayer,” she said softly, “Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Was it true, what Kulamaine said? Is there truly a prophecy? She told me two worlds will become one. What does that mean, exactly? And why is it so terrifying?”

Danielle failed to realize that she was being watched from afar. Regina stood in the doorway, curious as to what her daughter would be compelled to pray about after so many years. She knew she shouldn’t have been eavesdropping, but she felt proud of Danielle for finding faith in the Gods again. It brought a smile to her face. After a few moments, however, she decided it would be best for her to leave. She didn’t want to intrude upon her daughter’s privacy.

And so, the Queen ventured out of the temple and back towards the house, where she found Henry at the table with Robin’s boys. The boys were watching, mesmerized, as Henry worked on another one of his drawings. Again, Regina couldn’t help but smile. Henry’s birthday was just two days away, and she couldn’t wait to celebrate it with her ever-growing family. Regina and Emma had already gotten Henry’s gifts, which were currently stashed away in the wooden chest in their bedroom.

“Hi, Mom,” said Henry.

Regina’s smile widened. “Hello, my little Prince. Having fun?”

Henry was quick to return her smile. “Yeah.”

“Good. I’ve got to discuss something with Emma. I’ll be back shortly to prepare lunch.”

“Okay.”

Henry resumed drawing, and Regina made her way into her and Emma’s room, where she found the blonde snoozing in their new bed with a book in her lap. The Queen’s eyes shone with affection as she climbed into bed next to her beautiful wife.

“Emma,” she said softly, causing the blonde to stir, “Wake up, darling.”

Emma mumbled incoherently as her eyes slowly opened. She looked to Regina with a warm smile, which only widened when the brunette greeted her with a gentle kiss.

“Morning.”

Regina gave a quiet chuckle. “It’s almost noon, dear.”

“Yeah? What’s for lunch?”

“What would you like?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Emma, “Anything you make tastes amazing.”

Regina smiled and laced their fingers together. “I’m glad you think so,” she said, “I wanted to talk to you about Henry’s birthday.”

Emma tensed, but she did her best to maintain a smile. Regina saw right through this and looked at her with concern.

“What is it, Emma?”

“I— I just, um, feel awkward about the whole birthday thing.”

“Whatever for?”

“Well, you know, I wasn’t exactly there for the past ten. I know he would never say it, but I can’t help thinking Henry resents me for it.”

“Oh, Emma. Of course he doesn’t resent you. He loves you. Don’t you know that by now?”

Emma gave a tight smile. “I know,” she said, “It’s just that, well, I’m overwhelmed by the whole thing. I never imagined I would see my kid again after I gave him up. I figured it was for the best. I always thought he would hate having a freak for a mother.”

Regina frowned. “Emma—”

“I know, I know,” the blonde said quickly, “It’s just hard for me to get out of that mindset. I’ve felt that way my entire life, but even now, with legs, it’s still hard not to get caught up in that headspace.”

Regina kissed her wife once more, this time letting it linger. “Does that help?” she murmured.

Emma’s smile was genuine this time. “Totally. I love you, Gina.”

“And I you, Emma.”

Chapter Text

Henry’s birthday was going well. The whole village was in attendance. There was an enormous chocolate cake with blue frosting and eleven candles on top. Everyone sang the birthday song and Henry proceeded to blow out the candles.

Regina cut the cake and used her magic to give everyone a piece. Henry, of course, was the first to get one. Afterwards, he opened up his presents. Seeing his eyes light up made Regina’s heart swell with pride.

He got dozens of gifts. Comics, paper, colored pencils, markers, several hand-carved animals, a plaque with his name engraved in it, a leather-bound journal, a bottle of ink, and a fountain pen. He thanked everyone profusely. The day was perfect.

That is, until the storm came rolling in.

Everything went downhill so quickly. Regina transported everyone back into their homes and gathered up all of Henry’s things, sending them into his bedroom with her magic and ushering him into the house.

“Inside!” she ordered, “Now!”

Everyone rushed into the house and huddled up together in the living room, staring fearfully out the window. Dark clouds enveloped the sky, swallowing the sun and turning day into night. A black cyclone came down from the Heavens and touched the ground. When it cleared, there was a lone figure standing there.

It was a man His face was bronze, gleaming in what little sunlight was left. He wore all-black, save for the golden crown atop his head, and a cloak of dark feathers with a silver chain holding it in place. His eyes were a murderous shade of red. In his hand was a jagged, silver dagger.

Regina bore a look of utter horror when she saw him. “By the Gods,” she whispered, “It’s him.”

“Him?” asked Emma.

“Leopold.”

“What?! But I thought he was dead?”

“He is. At least— he’s supposed to be. I don’t understand.”

“Regina!” the Dark One roared, “I sense can your power! Come and face me, you treacherous wench!”

Regina swallowed fearfully. “I have to face him,” she said.

Emma frowned. “What?! No!”

“I have to!” cried Regina, “If I don’t, he’ll destroy you all!”

“Let me help you!” Emma demanded.

“No! I forbid it! You don’t have enough control over your magic to face off against the Dark One!”

“Regina, wait!”

But the brunette was already out in the storm, her hair whipping wildly in the wind and fire radiating from her tight fists. “Leopold!” she shouted, “How is this possible?! I killed you!”

“No, not you, but your counterpart! Well, at least she tried! She crushed my heart in her hand, but before my soul descended into the Underworld, the Dark One came to me and gave me a new heart! One much, much darker!”

“You mean Rumplestiltskin?”

“Do not speak his name!” the King roared.

“How did you manage to kill him? He was easily the most powerful of all the Dark Ones!”

“He was weak!” shouted Leopold, “He practically begged me to end his pathetic life!”

Regina started to retort, but someone else beat her to it.

“You see, I highly doubt that.”

Regina turned with a gasp and found none other than Rumplestiltskin standing a short distance away. He gave her a small nod before turning his attention to the Dark King, whose eyes burned with primal hatred and fury.

“YOU!” cried the King, “You are supposed to be dead!”

“Not in my timeline, Dearie.”

“What are you doing here, Rumple?” asked Regina.

“I will explain later,” Rumple told her, “Right now, it seems we must face off against an inferior Dark One.”

The battle was short, but admittedly-glorious. With the combined power of Regina and Rumplestiltskin, the Dark King was struck down and paralyzed by their magic.

“This isn’t right,” said Rumple.

“What do you mean?”

“That was far too easy.”

“Mother?” came a voice.

It was Danielle.

“Danielle? What are you doing out here? Go back inside,” Regina ordered.

“No, Mother,” Danielle said firmly, “This is the man who tried to have me killed— or at least, some version of him— and so he must suffer.”

“He will, dear,” Regina told her, “Please, just go back in the house.”

“I refuse,” said the young brunette.

She rushed past Regina, and when her mother tried to stop her, her body emitted a powerful burst of magic that sent both Regina and Rumple flying back almost violently. Danielle spotted the jagged blade in the sand and grabbed it quickly.

“You will pay for what you have done, you monster! Prepare to die!”

The King chuckled darkly. “Do it, girl,” he goaded, “I dare you.”

“DANIELLE!” Regina screamed, “STOP!”

But it was too late.

Danielle had just driven the dagger into the heart of the Dark King, and he died with a wicked grin forever frozen on his bronze face. Suddenly, Danielle found her hand beginning to turn from its pale white to a shimmering, metallic silver. She gasped, staring at her hand in a mix of fascination and horror. She realized then that both her hands had begun to transform, and suddenly, she found herself blessed with a vast amount of knowledge regarding magic, the world, and the secrets of the universe.

She held the dagger in her hands ever so gently. Its letters had shifted. No longer did they say Leopold, but instead, what she knew to be her own name. Danielle. The letters were no longer scrambled. They were clear, and she finally understood. She slowly rose up and turned to look at her horrified mother with a faint yet chilling smile. Her face was silver and her eyes were purple.

“Danielle,” Regina sobbed, “Oh Gods! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!”

“I do, Mother,” said the young brunette, “and I’ve never felt better in all my days.”

As everyone looked on in utter horror, Danielle just laughed maniacally as she stood over the body of the Dark King. And so, as the Winter Solstice drew near, a new Dark One was born.